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Authors: R.M. Prioleau

Enflamed (Book 2) (7 page)

BOOK: Enflamed (Book 2)
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Kaijin shook off his trance
and looked at Nester. The brownie had his hand extended to him, a wide,
gap-toothed smile plastered on his mischievous face. Ignoring the gesture,
Kaijin settled his gaze on Zarya. “There’s something very familiar about this
orb when I hold it.”

“Familiar?” Zarya asked. “What
do you mean?”

Kaijin thought a moment.
“Something ... something about it makes me feel compelled to keep it close to
me—to protect it. It’s as if it’s calling to me—as though it belongs to me. I
can’t explain.”

“But is it wise for us to take
it from this place? What if it’s cursed?”

“No ... It’s ...
It’s
warm. I feel like it belongs to me.”

Zarya lifted an eyebrow.

“’Ey now!”
Nester broke in, reaching for the orb. “Why don’t we
see if someone in town can identify it, aye?” His gloved fingers touched the
sphere, and he yanked his hand away. “Ouch! That smarts!”

Kaijin eyed Nester, who had
pulled off his glove and began sucking his wounded fingers. “Did it burn you?”
he asked the brownie.

“Sure did!” Nester showed him
the wounds. He cast a glance at Zarya. “Think you can fix this, beautiful?”

Giving the brownie a half
smile, Zarya reached into one of her belt pouches and retrieved a small roll of
white bandages. After unraveling a modest amount, she quickly wrapped Nester’s
minor wounds and then returned the roll to her pouch. “There.”

Nester looked at his newly
wrapped fingers and frowned. “Aw, that’s it? Just a couple of soddin’
bandages?”

“The bandages are spidersilk.
Your fingers will be good as new in a few hours,” Zarya explained. “Have
patience.” She turned to Kaijin. “This is all very strange. Does the orb not
burn you, too?”

Kaijin regarded her, confused.
“No, and I don’t understand why this thing burned Nester. It’s like it has a
mind of its own!”

“That’s puttin’ it mildly,
mate,” Nester said.

Aidan held his clawed hand out
to Kaijin and said, “Give to Aidan.”

Kaijin clutched the orb more
tightly. “I ...”

“This just looks like simple trinket
with pretty colors. Aidan thinks Nester is exaggerating. Now, give to Aidan.”

“‘
Exaggeratin
’?!”
Nester blinked. “You call
this
‘exaggeratin’?!” He showed Aidan his
bandaged fingers. “That thing nearly burned my fingers off, it did!”

Kaijin pursed his lips.
Slowly, he held the orb out for Aidan to take. His hands began to shake as he
fought against the urge to keep the sphere close, to keep it safe.

Aidan snatched the orb from Kaijin’s
hands. Seconds later, however, the creature’s eyes widened, and he let the orb
drop. Hissing, he shook his hands, which were burned almost to the bone.

Kaijin’s eyes followed the orb
as soon as it fell from Aidan’s hands. He dove for the object, landed hard on
his stomach, and caught it before it hit the ground.

“By the goddess!”
Zarya exclaimed. She rushed to tend to Aidan’s
injury.

“Good catch, mate!” Nester
said to Kaijin. He looked at Aidan. “Are you all right?”

Another snake-like hiss
escaped Aidan’s lips. Once they were healed, he examined his hands again. “Yes,
yes, Aidan is fine. But why is Kaijin the only one who can touch that thing?”

All heads turned to Kaijin.

Kaijin got up from the mud,
his clothes and face smeared. “How in the hells am I supposed to know?” He
wiped the excess mess from his eyes as best he could.

“Maybe you really
are
a
druid, Kaijin.” Zarya said.

Kaijin shook his head firmly,
flinging more mud off his face. “No, I assure you, I’m not. I know absolutely nothing
of the druidic arts. Look, why don’t we just find someone that might give us
some insight on what this thing is?”

Zarya sighed. “I still do not
think we should take that from here.”

“Well nothin’ bad’s ’appened
to us yet, ’as it, beautiful?” Nester asked.

“Nothing except those nasty
burns you and Aidan received?” Zarya responded.

“Aidan might suggest
consulting Celestran aurorium in Faywald about it,” Aidan broke in.

Nester blinked. “Wait! We
can’t leave! We ’aven’t even finished explorin’ the rest of
th

place, yet!”

Zarya frowned. “You have done
enough in desecrating these grounds with your thieving. What Kaijin is holding
may very well be cursed.”

“If it is cursed, then ...
then I will take that chance.”
It’s too intriguing to ignore.

Zarya looked at him in
disbelief.

Aidan huffed.
“Enough trinkets.
Enough exploring.
Aidan would rather rest. It is late.”

Nester stamped his foot.
“Nay!
We came all this way, and—Oy! Put me down!”

Aidan had grabbed Nester by
the back of his jerkin collar and lifted him off his feet. He raised the
brownie to eye-level and scowled. “We are leaving.
Now.”

Both Kaijin and Zarya gazed at
the creature, wide-eyed.

Nester’s face paled.
“Ah ... Ah ... Aye!
Of course.
W

whatever you
say. I think leavin’s a great idea. I was only jestin’ before, y’know?” He gave
a nervous laugh. “All in good fun, aye? Uh, p

please don’t ’urt me!”

Unamused, Aidan set the
brownie down and pointed. “Lead us out of this marsh.”

Color returned to Nester’s
face as he took a moment to catch his breath. He scrambled ahead to lead the
group.

Aidan beckoned Kaijin and
Zarya to follow with a slight tilt of his head.

After exchanging a glance,
Kaijin and Zarya proceeded to follow Nester without protest. As Kaijin tucked
the orb in his haversack, the voice in his mind said,
“Kaijin Sora ... my
greatest treasure.”

 

 
 
 
 

VI

 
 

After leaving the swamp,
Kaijin, Nester, Zarya, and Aidan rested for the night, camping out in the woods
not too far off the main road. The following morning, they set off again and arrived
in Faywald’s vicinity by midday.

When they were within view of
the city gates, Nester sprinted ahead of the others, rushing past the guards
and disappearing into the city. Miele hovered high above, trailing Nester. She
soared over the gates and was soon out of sight.

“Did he forget that I’m the
one carrying the orb?” Kaijin muttered aloud.

Zarya chuckled.
“Looks like something else has caught his attention, instead.”

“The festival begins tonight,”
Aidan said absently. His gaze drifted toward the lush countryside.

“Oh, yes, I forgot,” Kaijin
said. “Nester did make mention of that. Well, hopefully, he’ll be distracted
long enough for me to finish my business and leave.”

“Where are you going next?”
Zarya asked.

Kaijin thought for a moment,
then
shrugged. “I don’t know, yet, but I hope I will get
some direction, soon.”
Very soon.

 

* * *

 

Nester arrived at the plaza
and skidded to a halt. The place was heavily decorated and lighted from the colorful
lanterns hanging from overhead lines. The booths, however, were devoid of
customers. He deflated.

“You’re a few hours early,” a
man’s voice said from behind him.

Nester jumped,
then
spun around. He gazed up at an armored guard, and his
eyes widened in shock. “I didn’t do it! I swear on my pa’s grave, I didn’t!”

The guard scoffed. “Oh, it’s
you, Nester. Look, the festival won’t begin for another hour, so find something
else to keep your grubby little hands preoccupied—and that
doesn’t
mean
thieving!”

Nester was about to speak out
in protest when he spied his other companions in the distance. He brushed past
the guard and ran to meet them.
“Looks like there won’t be
any festival yet.”

“Lovely.” Kaijin rolled his
eyes. “Whatever will you do in the meantime?”

Nester grinned. “I’ll just be
taggin’ along for a little while longer—at least long enough to find out what
in th’ soddin’ ’ells that shiny is.”

Kaijin sighed. “I was afraid
you’d say that.”

 

* * *

 

The front doors of the
Celestran aurorium slowly creaked open, allowing the outside light to pour into
the stone-covered interior of the main atrium.

Kaijin breathed in the cool,
crisp air, lightly scented with honeysuckle. He welcomed the pleasant aroma,
after the stench of the fetid marsh.

Nester sniffed the air. “You
smell that?”

Zarya inhaled deeply and
smiled. “It is honeysuckle. It represents the goddess’s sweet fragrance.”

“Aye, but ...” Nester’s gaze
shifted sidelong to Aidan, who appeared lost in thought.

“Come.” Zarya beckoned as she made
her way down the red-and-gold carpet of the center aisle.

Gold shimmered on the high
ceilings from the midday light that poured in from the stained glass windows.
Two winding staircases on opposite ends of the room led up to two higher
stories, where bookshelves in open lofts could be seen from the ground floor.
Several robed clergymen and women walked about, toting books and stacks of
parchment. Two rows of five pews stretched down the middle of the atrium,
leading to an exquisite grand altar trimmed in gold and silver. Statues of
dragons and beautiful, nude women posed with swords were placed throughout the
hall, adding to the regal atmosphere.

At the base of the altar knelt
an elderly, white-robed
priest.
His head was lowered
in prayer as he tended to a middle-aged man who also knelt, holding his left
arm as if in pain. Standing next to them was a young, robed boy, who held a
small golden dish.

Kaijin, Nester, and Aidan
quietly shuffled down the aisle, following Zarya. When they were midway, Zarya
held her arm out in front of them, barring them from continuing.

“Wait,” she whispered. “We
mustn’t disturb him whilst he is convening with the goddess.”

Kaijin watched the two men a
moment. “It’s fascinating that he is able to heal that man by praying to the
goddess.”

Zarya nodded. “The goddess is
the source of our powers, Kaijin. If we are not faithful to
Her
,
then we are powerless.”

“Oh, so if I stub my toe or
somethin’, all I gotta do is
say
a few nice things
about th’ goddess, and it’ll be all better?” Nester asked in a whisper.
“’Ow convenient!”

Kaijin groaned. “I don’t think
it works like that, Nester.”

Zarya shot them both a glare.
“Enough, you two.
Be quiet, and watch.”

The priest placed his hands on
the man’s injured arm. A faint blue glow emanated, trailing up the man’s arm to
encompass his entire body. The man winced before relaxing. The priest looked at
him and smiled. “The goddess has answered this day, Ulric.”

Ulric opened his eyes and
lightly touched his arm where the injury was. He smiled. “The pain is gone!
Thank you, Honored Father. I can finally go back to work.”

The priest shook his head.
“Don’t thank me. It is
She
who has brought you
healing. Go now. Walk in Her steps.”

Ulric lowered his head
reverently. He placed a small donation of coins in the dish,
then
backed away from the altar.

“Oy!
Watch it!” Nester exclaimed as the man nearly backed
into him.

Ulric jumped in surprise and
looked over his shoulder. “Oh! Excuse me, sir!”

Nester crossed his arms,
frowning. “Right, just be careful next time, aye?”

Ulric did a double take and
quickly left without another word. Kaijin and the others advanced to the altar.

The priest smiled in greeting,
assessing each of them. His gaze rested on Zarya the longest. “Yes? May I help
you?”

Zarya stepped forward and
lowered her head.
“Greetings, Honored Father.
My name
is Zarya, an aspiring priestess of our beloved goddess, Celestra. This is
Kaijin, Aidan, and Nester.” She gestured to each.

“’Ello, Your
Majesty!”
Nester said with a broad
smile and a wave.

Kaijin nudged the brownie and
muttered, “He’s not a king,
you
fool!”

Nester frowned. “Well ’ow in
th
’ soddin’ ’ells do you properly address a ’igh-rankin’
warder, then?”

“I think ‘sir’ would suffice.”

Nester scoffed. “That’s too
bland, y’know? I would think someone who talks to gods an’ things would want
somethin’ a little fancier than that, aye?”

Kaijin rolled his eyes.

“Nester, you’re not being
facetious, are you?” Zarya put her hands on her hips.

Nester made an exaggerated
gasp. “What? Me? Of course not! Why would I do such a thing, beautiful? I meant
every word, I did! I really
am
impressed by all the wardin’.”

“Nester ...” Zarya began.

Grinning, the brownie pulled
the bandages off his fingers and showed off his unscathed fingertips to everyone.
“Look! I’m all better, see? I should be bowin’ down to your amazin’ skills,
too, beautiful!”

Zarya frowned. “Don’t mock—”

“It is all right.” The priest
smiled at the two.

Zarya and Nester looked at
him.

“I appreciate your willingness
to humble yourself within these walls, Nester,” the priest continued, “but such
fancy titles are not necessary toward the clergymen. We are simply mediators.”

“Indeed,” Zarya said. She cast
a hard stare at Nester before acknowledging the priest again. “If we may have a
moment of your time
... ?”

The priest nodded once.
“Of course, my dear.”

Zarya gestured to Kaijin while
she continued. “During our trip in Houndstooth Marsh, we discovered a very
mysterious and intriguing artifact hidden in the ruins there.”

Kaijin pulled the warm,
shining orb out from his haversack and presented it to the priest.

“You bet, it
was mysterious!”
Nester exclaimed,
his eyes widening in excitement. “As an
explorer,
I think that’s
th
’ most amazin’ thing I’ve ever seen! It’s so amazin’ that
I don’t even know what in th’ soddin’ ’ells it is, but it’s amazin’, I tell
you!”

While Nester continued
rambling, Aidan went up behind him and put his hand over his face, leaving just
enough space for Nester to breathe.

Nester’s muffled voice became
agitated. He attempted—futilely—to pry Aidan’s massive leathery hand away.

Aidan nodded for Zarya to
continue.

The priest briefly scrutinized
the orb and then turned to the boy beside him. “Get Geoffrey and Rose,
quickly,” he ordered.

The young acolyte nodded, rushed
toward the east transept, and bounded up the stairs to the library. Moments
later, the boy returned with two more robed clergy—a middle-aged man and woman.

“Is everything all right,
Elder?” Geoffrey called as he approached, looking concerned.

The elder nodded and beckoned
them over. “Please, come see this.”

Geoffrey and Rose acknowledged
Kaijin and his group. The orb, with its swirling fire inside, drew their
attention.

“They say they found it in
Houndstooth Marsh,” the elder said.

Rose blinked and then looked
at Kaijin.
“Truly?”

“Houndstooth Marsh?” Geoffrey
repeated. “That’s the druids’ ruins, is it not, Elder?”

The elder priest nodded.
“Indeed, it has been abandoned for hundreds of years.”

Zarya nodded. “Do either of
you know what it might be?”

Geoffrey rubbed his chin.
“It’s certainly druidic in nature, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge
of it. However ...” He stepped forward and reached out for the orb. The heat
emanating from it increased. He winced and yanked his hands back.

Everyone gasped.

Rose asked, “Are you all
right?”

Geoffrey shook off his
startlement.
“Y

yes.
I am fine.”

The elder looked at Kaijin,
who still held the orb. “I am rather curious that this orb has not harmed you
while you hold it, young man.”

Kaijin swallowed.
I can’t tell
him anything. He won’t understand.
“Ah ... I ... I don’t know, either,
sir.”

“While I do not sense the
presence of the goddess within this artifact,” the elder continued, “I do sense
something ... something beyond the simple element of fire inside. This is
something powerful, young man.”

Kaijin quirked his brow and
then looked at the rest of his comrades.

Aidan finally released Nester
and gestured for him to shush.

Nester regarded the giant
sourly and crossed his arms.

“Is the orb cursed, elder?”
Zarya asked.

“No,” the elder replied.
“That, I am certain.”

“Could the power inside it be
divine flames?”

“Yes, perhaps. But such a
phenomenon eludes me.”

“It’s as if the essences of
the world are infused in this one artifact,” Rose mused aloud.

Essences
of the world?
Magical
essences, I wonder?

“There’s probably magic
inside, too,” Geoffrey said, nodding. “Not that any of us would know that for
certain.”

Kaijin chewed his bottom lip,
watching Geoffrey.
Gods,
don’t let him suspect me
of anything!

“It would be worth the effort
in finding out,” the elder said. “Kaijin, I think you should try consulting the
mages in Ghaeldorund. They may be able to provide further clues.”

Kaijin blinked. “But with all
due respect, sir, Ghaeldorund is a magocratic city. Does that not trouble you?”
Is he unaware that mages are despised around here?

The elder’s white eyebrow
rose. “Trouble me?
Of course not.
Though we are well
aware of the fear of mages and the city’s problems, the aurorium does not take
sides in these affairs.”

Kaijin nodded slowly. “So,
you’re saying the aurorium would provide a safe haven for mages?”

“The aurorium is a safe haven
to all—so long as peace is maintained within.”

“Soddin’
’ells!
So, we
gotta travel all th’ way north to that city?
It’s a three-day journey,
y’know!”

BOOK: Enflamed (Book 2)
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