The blog has a full Table of Contents and Reference page for Part One: Inundation. It is also advisable that one reads the added scenes with the new character Brisa tu’Onr. (PDF download) Otherwise, we are beginning part two of When Comes the Firetide: Emergents.
WHEN COMES THE FIRETIDE | PART TWO: EMERGENTS
Chapter Five: Like Tears Of Wine
“Where are you from, Onatiel?”
Venerate Onr guided her toward the hearth room, a small hall that drew them in with a sense of welcome as relatives beckoning them in from the cold. The fire still burned bright. The spice of the mulled cider filled the room with a welcoming aroma. Although Oroa was not one for physical contact, the man’s hand on her back soothed as they walked, as if dear old friends.
“Before that. Your accent is Northern… from the west.”
“Oh,” she blinked in realization of this fact. When they sat, he took her hand, of which she thought nothing strange. “I grew up in a small city north of the capital. Too big to be a village, but not the size of Ejade.”
Surprised he knew of it, she nodded but offered no remarks. He did not press further on it. J’reth glanced over at the Elihaet as he seated himself nearby. The smaller, quieter man seemed more intent on her now than before, some query posed to J’reth in private. “Your sister’s gift,” the Venerate met her eyes again. “It is not unusual for siblings to be gifted as well.”
“I’m not. We are not related by blood. I just care for her.” Why did she say that? Why would she say that? Oroa looked away in her confusion. “May I have a drink? I believe my own exhaustion may be taking hold.”
At a gesture from the Venerate, the other gathered mugs then presented each with a warm, steaming drink. The smell alone was a comfort. As he released her hand, J’reth’s fingertips fell to rest on her knee. It felt as comfortable as the nights spent before the fire with Satass, merely company shared, no more.
J’reth did not drink, his own mug set aside as he watched her, his solacing hand never moving. “I am very troubled by the ordeal you endured. Lake Moriar was a lovely village. To think of it ravaged… and your sister in turn.”
“Both will heal,” she replied into her mug with a wary mumble.
“Yes, Iridiah seems quite talented at healing. Does not such a gift enable one to also kill?”
At this, Oroa lifted her eyes to him, confusion wrought in her gaze. “Does it?”
“Most Necromantis accidentally discover this before their ability to heal. One is far easier than the other.” No accusation leveled at her. The man, still gentle as he had been, showed concern. “Even had she not known before, I would think during the trauma of such horrifying events… rare gifts are instinct, like breathing.”
Addled and without voice, Oroa stared into her mug. Such a simple thing, such a gaping hole in her story. Any lie, of course, was not without flaw, but how was such harsh violence enacted upon Aila if she could so readily defend herself as he claimed? “I don’t know. I came too late. Perhaps she had been rendered unconscious or…”
Squeezing her knee in assurance, he urged, “I am not accusing, merely surprised, that is all. If more than one attacked her, perhaps she feared being killed before she could defend against them all. I do not judge.”
“Y-yes. Perhaps that was it.” The woman was unbalanced by his suggestion. Lost, she stared at the tiny dots of nutmeg and cinnamon floating in her dark amber cider.
“So, you have no family then? You lost everyone?”
“I have someone, a lover, I suppose, but Satass is not here.” Her distant eyes remained glazed as she pondered what manipulations Aila twisted upon her. “He seeks the missing Jaed.”
“Oh? A soldier then?”
Her mind was warm as the cider in her hands. J’reth’s hand upon her leg was like a fold of silk cloth across a bare thigh. “He was. Disgraced now. But if he can find the missing Jaed, or the female Nelenr.”
“Khes Adaia?” J’reth’s voice whispered with worry and a hint of pain. Oroa nodded then hummed, barely taking note of the Elihaet as he lurched forward in his seat with a cautioning gesture. The man was less gentle with his next question, “why would he want her?”
“With her we can destroy Massafera Tyque, take back what is ours. We just need to find her pair, the twin to join them. Then we can take the Cattedrale.”
Moments passed, Elhia exchanged with his Elihaet, she assumed. It should concern her, yet it did not. Oroa’s patience remained unwavering. Leaning forward, the Venerate spoke in a soft tone full of regret, “and if I told you she is dead? The Jaed also?”
Lowering her mug, she turned her gaze to him with a somber pout, too soft for a face used to a more rigid countenance. There was no reason to doubt his words. The lamentation was raw in his eyes, fresh and lacking closure. “That is unfortunate, but I suppose I am still indebted to Aila.”
J’reth’s hand shot up to silence Calihl. “Aila, that is your sister, the girl accompanying you?”
Like a bath of warm milk, Oroa felt enveloped in serenity. “Yes. But she, as Hunerahs, she chose the name Iridiah… at least while we are here. I am Oroa but, she thought Onatiel would be best. There are some here who may know me as well.”
“A Shae named Maris and the Nelenr’s sibling. Maris-salla would see me dead, though, I was not the one who disfigured him.”
“I see.” J’reth grimaced with realization. Even in her disconnected state Oroa could read the emotions writ upon his face.
“He has told you? Do not pity him. He is a pasheth.” Her disgust was palpable to her own tongue. She raised her mug to wash the taste away.
Calihl sat forward interjecting with pure confusion in his voice. “So… you and Iridiah came here looking for the Jaed and Khes, nothing more?”
Shaking her head, Oroa peered at Calihl with sadness. “I found her sobbing and broken in the woods. Satass and I promised her vengeance.” Lowering her gaze into her mug, Oroa sighed to expel a great weight from her heart. Sense filtered in between the spicy aroma of cider and the occasional waft of J’reth’s woodsy musk. A clever man, so gifted with the Elhia she overlooked how he lulled her. What better interrogator than one of charm and gentility? Even in all her years working beside Druje in service to Massafera, she never met another Erahs with such a skill. Like his sister, he seemed particularly gifted at manipulations. What gift did he, as a sibling, possess, she wondered. “In Solstis, I knew the hands and gaze of many cruel men, men who could cut the skin from a young woman’s body. I have felt such torments, shared drinks at their side as if they had done no such things. Even when they played at innocence, the darkness was behind the sparkle of their eye, the lust and hunger never left.”
Oroa’s gaze lifted to his. “Skillful as you are at wielding the Elhia to entreat a confession from a seasoned spy, I see no such malice in you. But neither have I seen it in Aila, so I am left to doubt my own mind.”
The man withdrew his hand then sank back into his own chair. Averting her eyes to the fire, she felt the blanket of his presence lift from her as if a chill breeze blew through. “I am sorry.” His gaze fell away with his voice. “It is not a part of my ‘gift,’ as you call it, which I choose to cultivate.” He fussed with the hem of his vest. “When I touched your hand upstairs, this glamour Aila cast… I saw through it. I thought it kinder to ask why before assuming malicious intent.”
“I am exposed then.”
“No. Calihl still sees Onatiel.” J’reth gestured to the Elihaet who watched in conflicted silence. “A very subtle alteration, for you, of course. Aila…” He shook his head. “I know now why she refused to speak. Far greater effort is needed to disguise a voice.”
“Why was she banished?” Oroa’s gaze lifted to his, intent she would not be denied an answer. Such was the least owed to her. Both men shifted in discomfort. The Elihaet looked away, the Venerate’s eyes showed signs of a still fresh wound.
Turning his gaze to the fire, J’reth’s voice was a strain to hear. The reason why was evident enough. “The list of crimes is long but, among them are acts of death magic involving sacrifice, torture, casting curses upon our clan and… bartering our own to slavers to suit personal whims.”
“She–” Oroa felt rage boil up in her as a kettle ready to burst. Her voice hissed out as steam, “she sold people of your– her own clan to slavers?!”
A mere glance from J’reth confirmed it to be true. This was no manipulation of Elhia, no lie. Her mind was clear, his hand was nowhere near to her. The woman sank back, set the mug aside with a convulsion in her gut, a fight to contain bile surging to rise. “I will kill her myself–”
“No.” The man reached out toward her but made no attempt to touch her. “You have learned what it is you sought to know. Confirm it with the Shae if you like, it is no lie. Myself and their Jyotishr have seen the proof of it. Stay or leave as it pleases you. I will deal with Aila. She is my responsibility.”
“She is here solely to kill you. I brought her with the promise to aid in this. That makes her mine.”
J’reth shook his head at her again. “What I said of the Necromantis is true. If Aila wanted me dead she could have killed me the day I stood before her with the casting stone. My sister’s desires are never so vitreous.”
Resting her elbows upon her knees, the woman rubbed at her temples. “Will you tell the Commander of me? He will know the name Satass, perhaps mine. He is sly enough.”
“I assume you mean Satass Druje.” At his casual statement, Oroa gestured with a hand, not lifting her head, so thoroughly defeated. J’reth continued, “He would, but I have no reason to tell him if neither of you pose a threat. As I said, if information was all you sought, you have it. Truly, if you seek to overthrow Valk Malvud Tyque, it rather sounds as if you are on the same side.”
A cough of a laugh sputtered from the woman. “Make no such assumption on this point. Our reasons may differ from Tyque’s but the belief that the Jaed Aonach was in need of dissolution is one we shared. One you should share as well as you sit in a Shae fortress with nothing to your name, entirely at the mercy of our old masters.”
With an understanding nod, J’reth regarded her, his thoughts not readily visible upon his face. “Much in Tybraes is in need of change. Unlike my sister and Valk Malvud Tyque, I do not agree this best comes with blood.”
“Just the right words twisted in the right way?”
Brows knit, the man considered this a moment then rose from his seat. “The Elihaet and I will say nothing of you or Aila’s presence for now, but know you are watched. It is not for me to interfere in the matter between my sister and yourself. Your feelings toward Aila are your own. I will only ask that you are… wise.”
With a hesitant pivot, he departed and left her by the fire. The Elihaet rose to follow, but paused near her. “You are very brave and bold to have attempted such a thing. Such passion for your cause. When one way fails we are forced, however, to look for others.” He gently rest a dark teal hand on her shoulder, his gaze registering her true face. “Perhaps there are many more paths to consider than just the few your Ganroth lover has set before you, ones he had not considered either. Examine most what it is you truly want.”
Oroa fixed her eyes on the fire. The Elihaet pat then rubbed gently, a gesture of parental comfort. Though he meant to guide her toward why she sought to find Khes and the Jaed, her ultimately goals in aiding Druje to overthrow Massafera, Oroa’s only thoughts were what she truly wanted to do about Aila. Who to believe was not a question she ever had to ask herself before. Truth was a finely finished diamond in the eye of every person she met. She could spot it, define it for its flaws or if it was a fraud entirely. Always. Never had she been wrong. If ever she had a ‘rare gift’ it had been this. In this she failed, and amidst her own kind no less. The sense of betrayal stung even more with a sense of shame. In the corner of her eyes, she could see the vibrant red inks Aila infused into her skin with magic. A House name now reflected the light like heated metal glimmering in her skin. It seemed as a searing brand from within. An Iridas bestowed by an Elihaet could be removed with their sacred oils. Oroa stared now at the patch of marked flesh and pondered if the only way to strip magic from her skin was to strip the skin itself.
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