Krilk Blazingfist stood facing the opening of the tent. To his right, a Royal Guardsman stood at attention facing him. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he knew this was not a good situation to be in.
He could try to run. The guard would bellow and a hundred soldiers would immediately respond. Besides, he had no weapons to defend himself and the only direction that he could run would be into the waiting arms of the enemy, an even worse prospect.
Patting his pocket, he felt the little stone that had brought him so much pain and suffering; a burden he could not throw away.
A strange thing, he thought, that such a small rock could calm my troubled heart in this place and time.
He tilted his head to look past the General’s tent to the granite spires of his former home. He was not welcome there anymore. He expected that seeing the spires once again would feel uncomfortable. He felt nothing. Even childhood memories meant little to him. Except for Kragfury, his childhood friend, who had stayed by his side and remained loyal through all the betrayal.
Looking down the hill to his left, he saw the surgeons tent. The smell of disinfectant, blood, and death wafted up to meet him, mingling with the wild mint, lavender, and tuberose that grew in this valley. He heard the sounds of physicians and nurses scurrying about trying to fend off death in a losing battle. He wondered if Kragfury survived, if nurses were tending to his wounds, or had they given up on him. Just like their kin had given up on the two of them.
If somehow Blazingfist survived the next hour, would he use the power of the stone again? If it meant saving Kragfury or himself from pain and suffering? Without question, without pause.
Angry voices shouted inside the command tent. The General and his advisers discussed his fate while he stood outside under guard.
He had done it to himself, he knew. He had no right to blame anyone else, even if he had wanted to, which he didn’t. He knew the risks and had avoided discovery up until now.
He also knew it was the right thing to do.
“If the Council of Thirteen feinds oot dat we knew ‘bout dis,” a voice from inside the tent proclaimed loudly, “dey’ll ‘ave our ‘eads!” The voice was gravelly and hoarse. Blazingfist didn’t recognize it.
The Council of Thirteen was the ruling council over everyone. It wasn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when they would find out about his use of Kyanite. They always found out. Punishments were dealt swiftly and sternly on the non-Grey Seers who attempted to use the power.
“Not ‘if’,” another voice boomed. “Will! Da Council will find out. We should take ‘im in da for’st ‘n take ‘is ‘ead.”
“’E’s a KyanThruster. We ‘ave no idea what ‘e is capable of,” gravel-voice said.
“Come on, Deathreaper, he’s an untrained Cloudviper at best. His hair isn’t even white.”
This voice was younger, refined in a way Blazingfist had never heard before. It sounded like he and the bearer of that voice were about the same age.
“Maybe it’s colored.” The last word came out cul-r-d.
Gravel-voice must be Deathreaper, Blazingfist thought. He wondered briefly why he was trying to piece together who was in the war-council. It wouldn’t matter much if they marched him out into the forest to take his head. Would I defend myself with magic, he mused, but he already knew the answer. He patted his pocket and felt reassured by the small stone.
Blazingfist’s mind began to drift back to the day he and his friend Qhrulk Kragfury found the old shack and the book of runes that changed his life forever. His reverie halted short as the refined voice spoke.
“Let me speak with the soldier. Alone.”
The refined voice must be the General, Blazingfist thought. There was only one General that could be that young — Qhun Skullcutter, son of the infamous Qhun Skythrasher, the senior-most member of the Council of Thirteen.
One by one the war-council exited the tent. One by one they each scowled at him, some with anger burning in their eyes, others with fear. The last one to exit was a fearsome specimen of a warrior.
Holy Shuzbah! Blazingfist thought. He’s a mountain! A real live walking, breathing mountain!
He was huge. Not just tall, though he stood at least a head taller than Blazingfist. He twisted as he passed through the flaps of the doorway, sending one shoulder through, then his chest and head, followed by his trailing arm. Each bicep was larger than Blazingfist’s thigh. When he straightened his back, arching it to relieve the strain of hunching over inside the tent, he growled in ecstasy.
Then he straightened and began adjusting his accouterments, chest plate, and sword belt.
As he did, he looked Blazingfist up and down, mostly down, assessing his prowess. He grunted, then walked away.
Deathreaper, Blazingfist thought. Don’t get on his bad side!
Before he could muse on the thought, a stern voice called from inside the tent. “Guard! The prisoner!”
The guard spun around, grabbed an arm and began leading Blazingfist into the tent. With a complete lack of concern, the guard pushed a tent flap away from his face while pulling Blazingfist through. A seam of the tent door flap caught Blazingfist on the chin.
The force of it all would have nearly taken his head off his shoulders, making the General’s decision for him.
I’m about to be questioned by a baby, Blazingfist thought. Good thing my lips aren’t moving, right now.
Qhun Skullcutter looked younger than he was. His shaved face and short hair cut at least five of his twenty-five years from his countenance. He wore gold plated armor over a red padded shirt. Finely woven silver chain-mail covered any spot exposed in the mail. He remained seated behind a portable desk at the rear of the tent.
Shelves lined the sides of the tent, filled with tomes, maps, and jars holding things Blazingfist could not identify.
“That will be all,” Skullcutter said, eyes never leaving Blazingfist.
The guard bowed slightly, the returned to his spot outside.
“Sir…” Blazingfist began when the silence aged old and uncomfortable.
“Do NOT speak,” Skullcutter said sharply, then calmed to continue quietly, “until I ask you a question. And then, if I don’t like your answer, I’ll remove your head. Understand?”
Blazingfist remained silent, fearing another outburst, which was the wrong thing to do.
The General stood up and marched around his desk and backhanded Blazingfist.
The force of the blow snapped his head around and nearly caused him to lose his balance.
“Is THAT understood?” the General demanded, staring his prisoner in the eye as he straightened.
“Yes… Yes, sir,” Blazingfist stammered.
The General stared for another long and uncomfortable pause. “Good,” he said at last.
Then he turned his back on the prisoner and slowly walked back to his chair, but he stood behind it, resting his hands on the back, instead of sitting down.
“I need soldiers who obey,” the General began. “Chaos and disorder lose wars. By not disclosing your abilities, you brought chaos; you sow disorder, you struck at the enemy with power I did not authorize, without regard to timing, without respecting the larger distribution of forces.”
Since he did not ask a question, Blazingfist remained silent.
The General looked down at the chair. “Now I have to decide what to do with you. If I do nothing, I appear weak and invite others to follow your example. If I am excessive in punishing you, I sow fear. I want soldiers who obey of choice, not fear.”
Shouldn’t conscript men into war then, Blazingfist thought.
The General sighed, and sat down in the chair. He leaned back, placing his hands behind his head, and regarded his prisoner for a long time.
“If you are albino, your mother did an excellent job of hiding you from the Grey Seers.”
Blazingfist remained silent, but shifted his weight on his feet.
“Or you might simply be divergent. Which is it?”
“Sir, I don’t know what that means.”
“Of course not!” he snapped. He stood up quickly, knocking the chair over, then grabbed the edges of the desk and, lowering his head, breathed calmness into his demeanor. “Guard!”
Instantly the guard reappeared at Blazingfist’s side.
“Scourge, then take him to the Grey Seers.”
“Sir!” the guard said, then whipped Blazingfist around and half dragged him out and away from the tent.