Elemental

Wow…I didn’t expect to get likes and followers. I started this blog just to show my friends what I was up to in my writing. So I guess I’ll mention that I LOVE critiques. I want to better my writing as best I can, so constructive criticism is always appreciated. And this story sure as hell needs it. I accidentally stuffed in a bunch of politics, all because I wanted to change the beginning so that the story didn’t open with someone waking up in bed. So now I don’t know if any of it makes any sense.

Short story: Sci-fi fantasy.

Gabriel checked around them to make sure no one was near, then leaned in close. “I’ve got something to show you. Tonight, after Carus hits high.”

Orias shook his head. After the second moon reached its apex would be well in the middle of the night, heading towards morning. “Can’t you just show me tomorrow?”

“It has to be tonight.” Gabriel turned to race off down the corridor, shouting behind him “Don’t forget!”

Orias watched him go, realizing that he really didn’t have to worry about it. There was no way Gabriel would wake in the night for anything – it was a chore for anyone just to get him out of bed in the morning. He was briefly disappointed before the notion entered his head that they were better off without whatever Gabriel wanted to show him. If it was anything like Gabriel’s previous adventures, it could never end well. He was just one year younger than Orias; it was time for him to quit causing problems for everyone around him.

He walked in the opposite direction to the one Gabriel had run, towards the south wing of the cloister and the servants’ quarters. Immense windows stood to his right, the setting sun burning oranges and pinks in the sky, tossing veils of color onto the usually pale marble walls and floor. A gold-trimmed table flashed brilliant in the fading light. The cold extravagance of the hallway warmed for a moment. Orias paused to admire the view of the horizon.

A carrier rose into the scene, leaving from the landing yard behind the western turrets. It ascended slowly, sunlight glinting off the hull as it turned lazily, positioning itself. Then it shot off into the sky above, diminishing to only a dot of light in the distance as it sped towards open space.

Strange. Orias didn’t know of anyone planning to leave planet-side. He turned back to walk the way he had come, rifling through schedules in his mind to find anything he might have missed.

He didn’t have to walk far to find answers; Sarie – a young knight Orias knew well – caught him on the stairs.

“Ah good,” he said, “I don’t have to search you down now. Barbatos wants to see you.”

So something was going on. “Do you know what about?”

Sarie shook his head. “No, but nobody’s happy, whatever it is.”

Orias thanked him and walked faster, now with a destination in mind. He took a shortcut through the old servants’ stairway that no one used anymore, as evidenced by the webbed homes keepers had constructed in the nooks of the stairs. When he made it to Barbatos’s meeting room, he found Gusion there as well. The two of them were bent over the great round table, speaking in hushed tones. Uneasy and excited in equal measure and not wanting to show either, Orias wiped all emotion from his face and stepped towards them.

Gusion noticed him first. “Here’s Orias. I’ll go confirm the plans with the shipyard.”

Barbatos nodded and watched him leave. When he looked at Orias, there was none of his usual warmth; instead there was a hint of anger in his face. As he spoke his tone was clipped even as the words were casual. “That was fast. I just sent Sarie after you a minute ago. Come sit down.”

Orias looked over the flimsy on the tabletop as he passed. A starmap, too complicated to place at a glance. He passed the great plush throne of an armchair that he couldn’t recall anyone ever sitting in and sat on the wide couch. Barbatos remained standing, his back to Orias, still studying the map. He studied it for so long Orias wondered if he were so lost in thought as to forget he was there. He shifted in his seat, wishing the flimsy was projecting a carbon so he could see what Barbatos was. looking at.

“Stolos says you’re doing well with the new lessons,” Barbatos said suddenly, back still to him. “The breath catching spells. They’re difficult for a Nanta. Took me years. But you’re doing as well as one can I hear.”

“I suppose so, Ashii.”

“That’s good. Very good. I think it’s a bit much. Never even bothered with it when I was your age. But Stolos wants you rounded out in everything.” He paused again.

Orias wondered for a moment whether he had done something wrong and was in trouble, and had to remind himself that this was Barbatos’s way. No matter how pressing the situation, always start with small talk.

“Are you helping Gabriel in it? He’ll need a little more work.”

“Aye, Ashii.” He didn’t state that Gabriel was hopeless at breath catching spells, as he was hopeless at all spells.

It was likely Barbatos already knew that, and took that moment to change the subject. “You know the Murabah, do you not?”

“Aye, Ashii.” Everyone in the cloister knew well enough the neutral region that separated them and much of Exarn space from Nanta territory.

Barbatos sighed, turning his back on the table. There was no more anger in him. Now he only looked drawn and tired. “Fourteen hours ago the Nanta set down on Dougga. It’s a planet nearest to their border but within the Murabah. It could be that they plan on inching their way in. Testing the waters. I just sent someone to go there and scout.”

“Aye, the runner took off not twenty minutes ago.”

Barbatos blinked in surprise, then he smiled softly. “Ah, nothing gets past you, does it?”

Orias flushed, resisting the urge to turn down his gaze.

“I’ll be leaving myself first thing in the morning,” Barbatos continued,” to meet with the Exarn.”

“But surely this is their responsibility?”

“It is, but we must make sure they take the intrusion seriously. They likely will anyway, but just in case I want to be there to remind them that Gabriel is technically residing in their lands. That would be a hard loss should the Nanta reach far enough.”

Barbatos saw something in Orias’s face and smiled again, this time in reassurance. “Don’t worry. Nothing will come of any of it. The Exarn will raise a fuss and the Nanta will fall back into their own space. It’s all a bunch of posturing at the end of the day. Ziminiar feels it necessary to remind me every once in a while that he’s there and that he could do whatever he wanted if he only felt like exercising his powers.”

It was the most Orias had ever heard Barbatos speak of the head and god of the Nanta. Most of Orias’s knowledge of Ziminiar was purely academic, learned from Master Stolos. Still, everyone in the cloister knew Ziminiar as a remnant from Barbatos’s past, and felt the lasting effects of that fractured connection ripple throughout the politics of all Enoch.

“Now on to why I called you here.” Barbatos frowned, serious now. “The guard will be reinforced while I’m gone. I know you’re well aware of your own place in that, but I must stress it anyway. Keep both eyes on Gabriel. There is a chance that the Nanta will use this as a distraction. You should treat it as such and assume the worst.”

Orias was expecting this, and only nodded. “Aye, Ashii.”

“Others will be keeping watch as well, of course. Don’t suppose you’ll be alone in that. I don’t want you losing sleep over this. If you need help, ask for it.”

Orias wasn’t sure how to respond to this, and so said nothing.

Barbatos studied him a moment, face unreadable. Then he walked over to the couch and sat down next to Orias. He put his hand on Orias’s shoulder, and looked at him intently.

“I say again, this is nothing. Only a minor irritation that has to be put in its place with some debate and negotiation. It won’t even be worth mentioning in a year or two.”

Orias understood then why Barbatos had called for him. It wasn’t to press on him the importance of guarding Gabriel. The truth was that he could do nothing if anyone came after Gabriel. Others with more fighting experience than spars in the training field and more ability than magic chanted from a book were here in the cloister to protect what he couldn’t. In that moment he felt his age and helplessness, the fact that he was yet only a boy. And Barbatos had called him here to calm any fears he might have felt on hearing about the Nanta incursion.

“I understand,” was all he said.

 

***

 

Hours later, a voice hissed at him from the surface of sleep. “Riley, wake up.”

Orias tossed his arms about as if he were swimming to a surface, struggling to wake. “What…what is it?” he shouted. Or tried to shout, but it only came out as a mumble.

He was shushed anyway. “Quiet. It’s time to go.”

It was Gabriel standing beside his bed. Orias looked around for evidence of morning, but the only light came from a torch Gabriel held. “Why? What’s wrong?”

Gabriel frowned as if he were suffering some great annoyance. “Nothing’s wrong. Gods, I told you to be ready.”

Orias remembered Gabriel in the corridor, telling him it had to be tonight. He groaned and fell back into bed, turning his back to Gabriel. “Leave me alone then if that’s all. I’m not going to get enough sleep as it is.”

“Riley, get up,” Gabriel spoke as if Orias’s lack of sleep had nothing to do with this. “We still have time to reach the place, but we need to leave straightaway.” Sounds indicated that he was rifling through Orias’s closet and gathering his boots.

“What are you going on about?” Orias turned his head to watch Gabriel out of the corner of his eye. “How did you even get out of bed?”

“Never went to bed. Get up.” Gabriel ripped back the blankets covering Orias, letting cold air struck him. Something close to a growl left Orias’s throat.

“Tell me where we’re going then.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of a surprise before?” Gabriel gave that grin that always indicated trouble was lying ahead and that Orias was sure to come along anyway. “You’ll regret it if we miss it – it won’t happen again for forever.”

“I’m sure it won’t.” Orias knew how prone to hyperbole Gabriel was, not to mention imagination. The surprise might well be something only Gabriel would find interesting. Nonetheless, Orias dragged himself out of bed, Gabriel pacing restlessly around him as he pulled on warmer clothes and hooked his Kal knife to his belt.

He followed Gabriel down the servants’ corridors, their boots in hand to muffle their footfalls. They exited into the night through a storeroom. It was cool but windless outside, the lamps on the walls glowing bright in the clear air. It was silent, and Orias felt every rustling step he took in the grass could wake someone behind the dark windows above them.

When Gabriel broke off to race across the grounds to the wall, Orias grabbed his shoulder to stop him.

“We can’t cross the wall. They’ve increased the guard.”

“That’s changed.” Gabriel’s voice was little more than a breath. “There might be one or two more, but most are watching the sky.” He took Orias’s hand from his shoulder and used it to pull him towards the wall. Confused, Orias didn’t protest further, and couldn’t question Gabriel for fear of being overheard. Why would so many guards be monitoring space?

At the wall, Gabriel told Orias to open the way. It was his last chance; he could still turn back, tell Gabriel that this was the worst of times to go rummaging out in the woods at night. But Gabriel hissed at him to hurry up, and he shook reason from his head. He spoke the words to open the hidden door, and the spirits guarding it rolled back the stone piece by piece. It was perfectly silent by design, as all hidden doors should be. They ducked through the opening and it closed behind them, sand and mortar rising back up to fill the spaces between the stones.

They crept over the grass, Orias expecting a cry from the wall at any moment. He didn’t dare send a spirit to check where the guard was, and it was bright enough for someone to see them running towards the trees. Only when they were under the cover of the woods did he realize he had been holding his breath. He remembered vaguely a breath spell for making one less conspicuous, but he found he couldn’t fully recall any of the spells he had learned that week.

Gabriel led on, first down a path they had helped trod down themselves, then took a sharp turn into thick brush that they didn’t travel at all. Gabriel stopped for a moment to switch on a torch.

Orias’s eyes darted about the woods like a deer’s looking for a predator. “We can’t go this way at night. You’ll hurt yourself. It’s bad enough if we get caught, but if you spill blood – ”

“It’s fine,” Gabriel drew out the words. “I’ve been here before.”

When were you here before?”

“You haven’t noticed what night this is?”

“No, I haven’t.” Orias stopped walking, enveloped in leaves and branches. “And I’m not going any further until you tell me something.”

Gabriel looked round at him. For only a moment, his eyes were wide with surprise. Then he smiled, as if this were a game. “All right. We do have a bit of time. One thing I’ll tell you. Make it good.”

Orias didn’t hesitate. “Why was the guard thinned to monitor space?”

The smile dropped from Gabriel’s face. “How boring,” he complained. But he answered.

Gabriel had been called to visit Barbatos shortly after Orias left. There were no directions or reassurances such as Orias had received; there was only a short explanation of events. The purpose of Gabriel’s visit was to inform him of the Nanta’s movements and strategies. Gusion even remained in the room to save time.

They had all stood surrounding the table and its map, Barbatos pointing to their position, then the place of the planet the Nanta had invaded. Barbatos began to explain why they were invading at all.

Gabriel interrupted him, pointing to a starry symbol by Dougga, then to its corresponding symbol on the other side of the map. “Because this planet’s gate gives passage to that gate. And from there, another gate allows them to come directly to us.”

“There would be a single waypoint between Dougga and us,” Gorsion explained, patient as always. “But the gate connecting Dougga and that waypoint has been broken for centuries. That is why the signs for the gates are yellow on this map.” He pointed to one of the symbols to illustrate.

But Gabriel knew how to read a starmap. “The gateway is broken on Dougga’s side. The Nanta could repair it.”

Gorsion shook his head. “No one could repair it. They couldn’t use that route.”

“It’s been done.” Gabriel would have said this as if commenting on the weather, not really caring one way or another whether he convinced Gorsion or not.

Gorsion had started to protest further, but Barbatos broke in.

“No,” he said. “It has been done. Two hundred years ago the gate at Coba was repaired. And it’s still operating.”

“Yes, two hundred years ago,” Gorsion replied. “The person who did that is long dead.”

“So are the spirits we employ. If anyone could do it, then the Nanta…”

The words hung in the air as they all considered it. If that gate was fixed, the Nanta force was comparatively a stone’s throw away. They could show up within a hundred hours with an entire fleet of warships. Gorsion admitted that, though it was a stretch, it was a possibility.

Then they had spent hours discussing a completely different set of plans. They had no time to waste on Barbatos shipping out to meet with the Exarn, so he and Gabriel sent out their Kas and spoke with them directly, ensuring that they would send out their own fleet to support them. Then Barbatos began to insist that he and Gabriel leave the cloister and move to safety.

Gabriel refused.

Orias was taken aback. “Why would you refuse?”

“I can’t leave this place if people are going to fight to keep it for me,” Gabriel said. “It makes no sense to defend an empty castle.”

“That’s foolish talk. If battle were to happen, you need to be safe. People aren’t fighting for a piece of land – they’re fighting for you.”

“Can’t it be both?” Gabriel looked sallow and sunken in the torchlight. “And shouldn’t both be here to defend? So many of these people won’t leave the cloister. Several have sworn to protect it, some in my name. I’m not leaving them alone here to defend stone and iron.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Orias sighed. “I can’t believe Barbatos went along with that.”

Gabriel shrugged, frowning. “Maybe I explained it better to him.” He looked up at the sky. “It’s almost time. We better get going.”

Orias looked up as well and noticed for the first time that all four moons were out – three of them round globes in varying states of waxing and the fourth a thin sliver barely visible through the branches. It was a rare occurrence, but not so rare that anyone really made any show of it. Orias couldn’t remember the last time he had been out on a four-moon night.

The branches snatched at their clothes as they plowed on into the brush, and soft moss clutched at their boots. The trees crowded closer here, but there was still light enough to dodge the branches even without Gabriel’s torch. Gabriel’s words ran through Orias’s mind, tangling around each other and turning his stomach. The cloister had always been so far away from everything, so secure. But now war suddenly seemed so close.

A cold breeze brushed past him, rustling the leaves and momentarily drowning out the softly strangled caws and croaks of the tinier animals in the underbrush. Despite Orias’s thoughts, or perhaps because of them, the forest seemed more alive, more present, and he took the opportunity to open his Ba to the woods. A spirit came into his second sight from a tree on his left. Orias reached down into the earth and felt spirits roiling within, slowly drifting in the soil around each other like bubbles in a liquid. They felt him there and were momentarily startled. He had contracts, and his presence frightened and awed them. He no longer had to push branches aside, they opened a way for him to walk through, as if afraid to touch a man of such power. He felt a surge of pride at the recognition of his being, his abilities. He was little more than another servant at the cloister, but here he could command. He could bind these spirits to his will.

Well, he could ask politely. But some of them would likely listen. Master Stolos said he had worked up a fairly strong pull on the spirits. Gabriel, on the other hand…

The sound of trickling water caught Orias’s ear. Gabriel crouched and motioned for Orias to do the same. They crept that way, low to the ground, to the edge of a low outcropping that jutted over a creek. The water glittered with strips of moonlight as it trickled around the rocks in its path. But there was nothing there that explained why they were creeping up on it.

“Good,” Gabriel whispered. “Not here yet. Get down, Riley.” He was stretched out in the grass as if to hide from something.

Orias joined him, eyes searching the creek and the woods beyond. “What’s not here yet?”

“You’ll see.” That excited whisper again. “Keep as low as possible. Don’t use any hiding spells.”

“Why not?”

But Gabriel only shushed him, so he settled in and waited and watched the creek flow by below them. In spite of himself, he yawned. Lying down had reminded him that he had just been pulled out of bed, and the sound of the water was like a lullaby, the light of the moons soothing. He struggled to keep his eyes open.

Just as he was about to rest his head on his arms for a moment too long, Gabriel grabbed his shoulder. His eyes flew open and he looked at Gabriel, forgetting that they were watching for something. He turned his attention back to the creek and the woods, but he could see nothing.

He squinted. There was something. There, far off through the trees, weaving between them, was a whisp of white. It billowed like a cloth in the wind, blinked bright and dim like a pulse. A spirit of some sort? But such a visual one.

It walked straight towards them as if it knew they were there. Orias very slowly put his hand to his Kal knife, just in case. Just to give him some comfort.

As it came closer, long wisps of hair and long wisp of gown became apparent, though transparent, snow white and crystal. Gossamer – that was the word. It looked like the cliché ghost from a spooky story. Orias had never seen anything like it. He silently noted the irony.

He looked at Gabriel out the corner of his eye, not daring to move. Gabriel was stock-still just as he was, eyes wide. So maybe he had some idea of how dangerous this was. Not enough to keep away though. And to think he had come here before alone.

Orias looked back at the spirit. He could pick out some details now, through they drifted in and out of his vision like a dream on the edge of memory: downcast eyes, bare feet, slender neck, lithe hands that moved with an eery, almost exaggerated grace. The show was worth it. She was beautiful. She was everything the forest and the moons and the night was. She was cold winds and soft sounds from the underbrush. The invasion of the Nanta was far off, the conversation with Ashii long ago. There were no acts of war and no shortcomings. There was only her, soft and shining and terrible.

She came so close that Orias feared she would scale the ledge and come upon them. But she stopped when she met the creek, quickly as if startled to see it there. Then she stepped into the water, her feet not making any impression on the surface – it continued flowing on as if nothing impeded it. At first it seemed she was vanishing, until the water began to flow into her, up her legs and her dress, the paleness driven out of her by the cool moonlit darkness of water. Another viewer might say she was becoming the water. Orias knew better; she was pulling the water out from within her to join the creek. She was an elemental.

Orias barely dared to breathe. If they could remain silent until she had turned herself over completely to the water within her, if they could stay still until her being fell into the creek and joined the water flowing there, then there would be no problem. Her arms were turning now, rivulets rising from the tips of her fingers, finding their way to her elbows, her shoulders. The tips of her thin sheet of hair seemed dipped in water, moved like liquid. Orias guessed that once the change reached her center, she would fall like rain to join the creek. He watched her turn under the moons, gossamer to wave of water. A breeze came past her, sending the surface of her rippling in waves before she settled again, the silver threads of the moons dancing in her the whole time.

There was a crack beside him. Gabriel had moved, lifted himself up on his hands to see better, and bent some twig or dislodged some rock. The elemental’s eyes shot open, looked in their direction for the first time. Those eyes shone with moonlight – too much moonlight. They were cold silver orbs full of fear and hate and a predator’s vengeance. They looked on Gabriel.

The water rushed away from her, back into her fingers and toes, replaced with that evanescent white. Then her mouth fell open as wide as her eyes, wider, stretched as if to swallow the stars, and she screamed. It was a scream of breathless hate, of eternal indignation of having her ritual, her migration from one body of water to another, witnessed, interrupted. Gabriel clapped his hands to his ears at the unbearable pitch and unbearable emotion of it. The thing rushed forward. It all took no more than a few seconds.

Orias was already moving. He drew up his knife. Slashed it once lightning-quick across his left forearm. Tossed it in a spinning arc past the thing, into the woods beyond it.

For a fraction of time he worried he had run the knife too quickly through his flesh or hadn’t cut deeply enough for blood to stain the blade. Or that he would miss, the knife thrown wide, not close enough for the elemental to notice it, noticing instead the line of blood on his arm.

But the knife touched blood, passed straight through its head, and the elemental turned without pause. It rushed away from them to attack the bloodied knife that had caught its attention.

Gabriel at least had the presence of mind to get up and start running, though he stopped and came back to grab Orias and pull him along. There would have to be a talk about that. They ran together through the woods, the elemental’s shrieks fading behind them. Faint relief came when they came upon the worn path they were used to taking, but they didn’t stop running until they were through the wall of the common, back across the court, and against the buildings.

They collapsed on the grass, gasping for breath. Orias could again see the moons above, though two were now hidden from him behind the roof of the south wing. Staring at the two he could see, he tried to tell his heart that they were all right now and it could slow down.

Then Gabriel did the most ridiculous thing he could do – he laughed.

“What in all the names of Hell are you laughing at?” Orias snapped. With no trees to shield the moonlight, he could see Gabriel well. He was grinning like he had lost his mind.

“Don’t worry,” Gabriel said. “I’ll go back in the morning and get your knife back.”

“The knife is gone, you fool!” Orias stood, snarling. “That thing will have taken it into the Erebus with her to keep the blood. It’s no longer in this world. It’s gone!”

Gabriel gaped at him as this sunk in. Orias wanted to scream at him, no longer caring who might find them. It didn’t matter now anyway. Gabriel’s stupid stunt had cost him his Kal knife. Gods knew what would happen when someone else found out, what sort of newly-invented punishment Orias would have to go through before he would be able to own another one. Two straight weeks of twelve-hour hand-to-hand combat training sounded about right. But that would be nothing; from now on, to Master Stolos and Ashii he would be known as “That kid that lost his Kal knife.”

“I’ll tell them,” Gabriel said, serious for the first time that day. “I’ll tell them it was my fault.”

“It doesn’t matter! I not only followed you into the woods without protest, but it was even the middle of the night. I practically deserve to lose that knife.” Orias thrust his head into his palms, hopeless and tired. A terrible quiet had fallen over the world, as if all the animals that had been so present in the woods had been driven into silence. Possibly he had shouted. Maybe it would bring someone running to find them. Fine, get it started. He didn’t want to have to spend the rest of the night and most of tomorrow in suspense of the inevitable.

“I’ll find it,” Gabriel said with determination. “Tomorrow.”

Orias shook his head. He had no more words. Neither of them did.

 

***

 

Late next morning, Orias limped to lessons. No one knew yet about the knife, and as such the thought of it weighed heavily on him. He could think of little else, including his morning training. He had missed blocking a kick to his knee that at any other time he would have seen coming a mile away. Injuries never stopped the training; Guy took such cases as opportunities to fight under stress and pain. Orias now had plenty of both. He was only bandaged and sent off when it was time to join Gabriel for history lessons.

He took his time, not only because of his knee, but more for the fact that he didn’t want any extra time to chat with Gabriel before Master Stolos started his lectures, if Gabriel would even want to chat. He felt more shame than anger now. He shouldn’t have shouted at Gabriel. It wasn’t his place to do so, but damned if Gabriel wasn’t so thick-headed he didn’t need it once in a while despite his station. But it was more than that; Gabriel was his friend. When they said their goodbyes mere hours ago in the dusk, it had been forced and awkward.

So Orias was surprised to see Gabriel waiting for him by the door to the far wing, the door he always took coming to lessons from morning training since it passed him by the kitchen. He was sometimes able to bother a bit of yesterday’s leftovers from the cooks to make a brunch.

Orias looked to the ground, unsure whether he should say anything, but Gabriel ran to him as he came nearer.

“You’re late! I thought maybe Guy had beaten it out of you already.”

Orias shook his head, still not looking up. “Nah, but he did knock my leg something awful for not paying attention.”

“Maybe we can get you out of sword practice today.”

“Hey, I can still fight.” Orias smiled. Things were okay after all. “Let’s go, or we will be late.”

“No, hold on. Here.” Gabriel held out a knife still in scabbard. A Kal knife. It was Orias’s Kal knife. “This is yours,” he added needlessly.

Orias took it in disbelief, slowly, as if being handed a holy relic. “How… That’s impossible. How did you – ” His words cut off as he unsheathed the knife and noticed the notch in the hilt, next to the blade, and then the blade itself. He threw his arms down as if he would throw the knife itself to the ground and sighed in exasperation.

“Gabriel, this is your Kal knife. You didn’t even cleanse the blade properly. Your blood is still a residue on it.”

Gabriel only shook his head, unphased. “It is yours now.” He shrugged and added in less formal tones “You can cleanse it if you need to. You’re better at that stuff anyway.”

“You can’t just give me your Kal knife. Put it away.”

He held it back out to Gabriel, but Gabriel shook his head again.

“I couldn’t find your knife. I tried. I went out there at dawn and looked, but you were right. It’s gone.”

Orias noticed then the dark circles under Gabriel’s eyes. Gabriel hadn’t slept either last night.

Gabriel continued “You saved my life last night. I’m not so dumb as to not realize that.”

“I did what I had to. There’s no sense in you getting punished for what I lost.”

“I’ll get a stern lecture. We both know that. You don’t deserve whatever you’d get for what was my idea.” Just as he could be exceeding careless when running off into trouble, Gabriel could be passionately grave when faced with a dilemma. He was like that now, a fire lit behind his eyes. It was certainly not the first time Orias had seen that fire, but it was the first time Gabriel had directed it at him in such solemnity. That fire said that he wouldn’t back down. Orias would see it often in the years to come.

He began to speak again, in a final protest, but no words came out.

Gabriel didn’t give him time to find any words. “This is yours. Take it.”

Just like that, it was Orias’s knife. But he was already holding it, so all he could do was wrap both hands around it and give an clumsy nod.

The fire in Gabriel’s eyes switched over, from somber pyre to jubilant flame. He glanced up at the windows above as if he had forgotten all about their lessons. “Ah, now we really are late.” He held out something else to Orias as they ran through the doorway – a package wrapped in brown paper. Meat from the kitchen. They gulped it down as they ran up the stairs two steps at a time.

 

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