by, 11-10-2010 at 12:35 PM (855 Views)
His eyes closed, awareness unfocused, the word fell across his ears without leaving an impression. Breathe.
The word's repetition caused certain of his mental processes to stir, and he felt the tendrils of the world insinuate themselves back into his consciousness, pulling him against his will into the here and now.
The tiefling's eyes opened, red-gold orbs flecked with obsidian black. Focusing on the figure in front of him, Chant rose from his cross-legged position on the cushion to assume a respectful standing posture.
"My apologies, Master Fell," said Chant. His voice echoed with overtones of smoke and fire common to tieflings, a hoarseness that seemed to crackle at the lower registers. His tail twitched slightly, but otherwise he betrayed none of the nervousness that gripped him. For one of the Spiritus Fornax to visit someone of Chant's rank--in his private chambers, no less--meant something momentous, but he was at a loss to think what that could be.
"You were far away, I think." Master Fell cast a piercing stare at Chant, who quickly lowered his eyes. "No shame in moving yourself into the Beyond, as long as you take care to leave yourself a pathway to return." Master Fell, as Praepositum Militum Arcana of the Flamehearts, was not only Chant's superior officer, but himself well-versed in the myriad ways an Arcanist could lose himself to the mysteries of the Universe. As gentle as it was, the older tiefling's remonstration enhanced Chant's discomfort. Why was the old man here, anyway?
As if in response, Master Fell stepped into Chant's quarters and, without waiting for an invitation, seated himself comfortably at the plain table, examining the remains of breakfast without interest. "I am here for two reasons. The first, and most trivial, is that Hubris has left the Flamehearts." Chant recalled the man, with a soft voice and a humble nature that utterly belied his name.
"He fell in battle?" Chant asked.
"Alas, he fell to love, an altogether more difficult obstacle for us to overcome," replied Master Fell with the smallest of twinkles in his emerald eyes. "Our own Claustro would be able to resurrect him if it were something as simple as death. However, on his last engagement, Hubris met a woman who overcame him as easily as brushing aside a cobweb, and she used, by all accounts, nothing more than the honest character of her love for him to do so. He returned yesterday and bade a tearful farewell to Mistress Keen and the Sicarii before he set out on his new life." Fell sighed, "It is one of the greatest dangers to those of our Brotherhood who join us from an early age--that they never learn life outside our walls, and are unprepared for the sorrows and joys of the great world."
He clapped his hands to his knees, "Be that as it may, all of the Brotherhood ranking below Hubris have been summarily promoted one rank." He studied Chant, who struggled to keep his face impassive. Competition among Flamehearts was fierce, and rank within the organization conferred immediate privileges and status. While re-ranking usually occurred at midsummer, special circumstances, such as the death or retirement of a member, could sometimes be used to reshuffle the membership. Regardless of the reason, this promotion put Chant in a new class among the order of the Flamehearts. The corner of Master Fell's mouth twitched. "I am not so far removed from you in years that I have forgotten what you are feeling," he said, "but believe me when I tell you that this is truly the most trivial of the reasons for my visit."
That stopped Chant's thoughts cold. The Master had mentioned two reasons, and something like a mass promotion would hardly be reason for him to visit someone of Chant's rank, even newly promoted as he was. He brought his full attention on the Master and straightened his posture. "Yes, Master Fell."
"This promotion puts you within the ranks of The Order the Manus Igne. The lowest-ranking member, to be sure, but nonetheless, ready to represent the entire Corona Cor Igne." The repeated use of the ancient names of the Order of the Flaming Hands and the Brotherhood of Flamehearts instantly put Chant further ill-at-ease. This visit began to take on the character of a formal meeting between a superior officer and his lieutenant.
"You still maintain an Imp as a familiar, am I correct?" Chant felt his Book Imp stir around his midsection, its interest heightening. The query was a pleasantry, Chant was sure--Master Fell would not have asked a question to which he did not already know the answer.
"Yes, Master Fell."
"Excellent. The Corona Cor Igne charges you to travel to the Cloister of Fiaell, in the foothill of Acanthras, to examine an artifact said to be housed there, the Prism Ostracon. You are then to return to us and report your findings." He handed Chant a scroll bearing the seal of the Corona Cor Igne, the Flamehearts, and again fixed Chant with a piercing stare. "Have you heard of this artifact before?"
Chant thought for a moment, "A minor relic of the Drywkirdara, I think. I have read some texts that hint at connections to other worlds, or planes, but…" he paused, letting the implication sink in.
"Just so," said Master Fell with a smile. "You, of all of the Manus Igne, will be uniquely capable of evaluating this artifact, and your familiar may lend an even deeper insight. You leave at dawn, two days hence." He rose slowly from the table and faced Chant. "Stay true to your purpose, Chant, no matter what you," he hesitated the barest fraction of an instant, "encounter." Chant covered his chest with his right hand, the gloved fingers brushing the Flameheart Tattoo underneath his robes. Master Fell returned the salute, turned from the chamber, and left without a backwards glance.
The next two days were filled with preparations and congratulations. All members under Hubris shifted one rung up the ladder of rank, which granted them each a new cell. As a member of the Magnus Igne, the Flaming Hands, Chant's new quarters included a luxury he hadn't had in seven years of living at the Corona: a curtain across the doorway. More than anything else, this modest nod to privacy drove home Chant's change in station to him, although he also noticed the wine at evening meals was markedly less vinegary.
Finally, his pack filled by the Corona's quartermaster, his spellbooks and reagents securely packed, and enough gold to see him through the journey, he set out on the road toward Acanthras, his thoughts filled with memories of Master Fell's final words to him. What concerned the old man enough that he felt compelled to warn Chant?