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Descent Into Chaos
Torliana stood with the other new acolytes; Kindling was the proper title, as the ranking members of the temple waited for the arrival of the new High Priest of Mount Veri. She chided herself again, he was the Keeper of the Flame, she had been here two days, she should at least be thinking with the proper titles. She forced herself to focus on the events she was to be a part of, despite wanting to enjoy the antics of a small purple fairy dragon that was flitting near the right wall. Dragons were rare in Shokar and considered a bad omen when they appeared. She, however, thought the creature was beautiful and worthy of admiration. Besides, she didn’t believe in omens—good or bad. Fate was what you made of it; not something preordained.
She had felt uneasy since coming to the temple of Hellavar, but she was determined to succeed. She knew the task she had set herself would be difficult, particularly as an elf, whose very nature rebelled against strict order. Yet, here she was seeking that order.
She watched as a man came riding into the courtyard, his horse held to a slow walk. His armor while emblazoned with the fires of Hellavar seemed loose as he slowly slid from the saddle. One of the Kindling dashed forward, bowed and took the reins of the horse and led the mount to the sables. So, this is the one everyone has whispered about since I got here. Torliana studied him beneath veiled lash. How can this man be the one they call the Great Bringer of Law, Hellavar’s Blazing Judge? She suppressed a smile when the man seemed to stumble a bit as he took a couple of steps. Saddle sore and yet he travels the length and breadth of Shokar, a respected judge even by Tormasus’ High General and Dh’Mark’s King. This cannot be the one who will be taking over leadership of the temple.
She fought the frown she knew was on her face as Rynalia, Mistress of the Brotherhood of the Flame, the order of monks Torliana had been accepted into, stepped forward, bowed her head to the priest, and then offered to escort him into the temple. The priest nodded to the Mistress of the Flame, then let his gaze wander over those assembled in the courtyard. His eyes widened as they met Torliana’s and she bowed her head slightly.
She had enough discipline to recognize that despite her opinion of him, his position was still that of Keeper and she would respect the position.
~ * ~
Torliana moved quietly through the temple corridors and leapt down to the roof of the causeway. She waited until the two armor-clad guards passed then tossed herself over the wall and out of the temple. That was easy enough, she thought. Then again, people are not usually sneaking out of the temple.
Branches snatched at her, trying to capture her as she made her way through the forest that surrounded the temple. But she was determined to make it out tonight. She knew the clearing she was seeking, having been assigned to escort one of the clerics a few days ago as they gathered herbs and plants.
Entering the clearing, Torliana looked up at the full moon that shone down on her. She still had time; the moment of the equinox had not been reached. She quickly checked her pack and was thankful the branches that had scrapped against the case had not harmed the delicate fabric inside. She glanced again at the moon and the stars shining in the clear night sky and took a deep breath. She looked forward to the luxury of a simple moonlight dance to celebrate the season.
The temple frowned on such things. Dances, with the exception of the Flame Dance, and other such chaotic affairs were not taken to be within Hellavar’s choices of entertainment. Still, she was an elf and the arrival of spring sang to her soul in ways the Order of Hellavar would never be able to.
She scanned the clearing as she removed the robes she wore as a Kindling of the Brotherhood of Flames. The flowers were already blooming and the scent was intoxicating. She smiled as she looked skyward. She did enjoy the dawn and the dusk with its radiant colors, but the open night sky had its wonders as well. She was rarely able to take night walks. The Brotherhood kept most of their Kindling constantly practicing, meditating, and studying. This was her little escape, if only for a few hours.
She removed the gossamer dress from the pack but frowned. She recalled the teachings of the Keeper. “If you are not ashamed of your acts, then they should always be done in his light.” Why did his voice haunt her mind sometimes, she wondered. Maybe it was because he held the entire temple in such ordered control. How many people could hold both a holy order of knights and a brotherhood of the flame within their temple walls? It was astounding to her that Keeper Eglis had ascended to this role at his age. Usually only a venerable cleric would hold such a position.
She could not shake his words. She looked at the clearing and knew there was a fire pit already in its center from travelers. She quickly gathered enough wood for a small fire. Hellavar can peek at the dance she thought, but let’s keep it our secret. She prepared a small fire in a very disciplined manner. Most people didn’t understand the true relationship between the flame, heat, and fuel. She had been trained well and hoped to dance with the flames some day, but she also knew how to build a nice slow-burning fire that required no tending. Her flint sparked the twigs to life.
She smiled as she changed into the almost translucent gown, which shimmered in the light of the fire. She imagined she was back in the Johran Woods among the elves there. How they loved to dance. She tried to remember the music of the spring celebration. She found those lovely notes in her head and let them take hold. She glided across the grass and the flowers, her body reacting not only to the imagined music but also to the crackling of the fire. Was Hellavar singing for her to dance as well? She smiled to herself then stopped in shock.
Brular Eglis, Keeper of the Flame, stood before her regarding her. He was looking straight into her eyes, the windows into the fires of the soul. They stood that way for several minutes and she dared not lower her gaze. He finally lowered his eyes and immediately became redder than the flames of the fire. He turned away from her.
“It is alright, Keeper, I am clothed. The dress is said to be made of moonbeams.”
“Yes, and little else I may add,” the Keeper whispered.
She moved to pick up her robes and the clearing went dark.
“There is no need for that. My spell will provide well enough for the moment.”
She stood there waiting for him to pronounce judgment. He was the respected judge who had arbitrated disputes between several of the cities and passed judgment on Kings, Lords, and High Mages. “I wait for your judgment, Keeper.”
“Judgment. What am I to judge?”
Her head jerked back and she blinked. “I have left the temple to participate in a function that is not sanctioned.”
“You did not have Mistress Rynalia’s permission then?” His voice was still soft and low in the darkness.
“Then she shall judge you, not I. You have offered no affront to Hellavar or myself. You made a fire so you could honor him with being able to watch. There is no sin here.”
She smiled at the understanding in his voice.
“I do recall that the Kindling of the Brotherhood have whispered that Mistress Rynalia keeps a brush with a single bristle that is used for cleaning the meditation chambers for just such a disobedience.”
She laughed for a brief moment until she realized the Keeper did not.
“I do not jest, Kindling. That is what they say,” the Keeper said.
A raindrop fell between them and Torliana looked up. Her sky was gone; the clouds had come. She reached down for her robes.
“No, Child of the Flame, continue your dance.” He chanted for moment and waved the clouds away.
“Keeper, does not the canon of order forbid interference?” She almost choked on the last words as she realized she was questioning his understanding of the world’s design.
“Yes, but interference in moderation does no harm as long as balance is preserved. The rains will come in an hour and when they do it will be with some force to counter my little intrusion in nature’s plan. Has Mistress Rynalia taught you to step between the raindrops yet?”
She smiled at the indirect reference of the Brotherhood’s practices. “No, she has not. So, you say I should continue with the dance, then be on my way to the temple.”
“Yes, and you shall submit to her punishment. Do I have your word, Kindling?”
“Yes, Keeper.” She bowed her head, though she knew the spell of darkness prevented him from seeing her.
The spell faded as Keeper Eglis walked away.
“Do you wish to stay, Keeper?” She chided herself for being so silly.
He stopped, his gaze locked with hers. Neither of them moved as the silence stretched between them. Finally, he said, “I respect your race’s ceremonies even though they stem from a sense of anarchy and distain of true order. However, I prefer to see the Flame Dancers in their true glory. I would see one dancer show me her strength and brilliance as she frees herself of her heritage and joins in his divine plan. When you are ready, I will witness your beauty and dedication, Torliana. But, for this night enjoy yourself, I am sure Rynalia will make the price for it quite high.” He nodded, then walked away, his shoulders straight. He didn’t look back.
She flushed. He had called her beautiful and even by name; rare praise from the Keeper. She closed her eyes and let the magic of the spring dance take her. Now, there was the music, the crackling fire, and his words to guide her steps
The dance lasted for over an hour. Too late did she realize her mistake; the clouds had come and they were dark. She gathered up her pack and quickly changed. But, the rain was already falling in the clearing. She sprinted all the way back to the temple as the rain seemed to chase after her. She was sure that it did. Was this a joke by the keeper or further punishment for not heeding his words?
The temple gates were open, which was an odd occurrence for this late hour. She assumed Mistress Rynalia waited for her return. Breathless she ran past the gates just as the rain licked at her heels. The elf gasped for air as footprints sounded behind her. It could not be more than two figures approaching.
Mistress Rynalia’s face was impassive as her hard gaze raked over Torliana. “Torliana, it would appear, you, young Kindling, are hardly right for the fire. I believe you can dry out in the meditation chambers.” She grabbed the pack and threw it into the courtyard just as the sky opened up and sent needle-sharp spikes of rain down upon them.
Torliana opened her mouth, but said nothing as she caught sight of the Keeper in the shadows near the edge of the courtyard. He had asked for her word. She would obey regardless of the consequences. She nodded to the Keeper and followed the Mistress of the Flames to the meditation chambers.
The one bristle brush was indeed a myth; it had two. Torliana wiped at the sweat on her brow as she toiled at her task and listened to the rumble of thunder echo against the stone walls of the temple. She fought back tears for the loss of her last pleasant memories of childhood, now stripped away and thrown in the mud. Her hands hurt and her body ached, but she continued till morning as she had been directed to do. Mistress
Rynalia permitted only a short respite so she could change into new robes and eat. She saw no sign of her pack as she passed the thoroughly flooded courtyard on her way back to her chambers. Even in Johran, she had never felt at ease, as if she belonged somewhere else. But, during the time of the spring celebrations a part of her soul was freed to be a part of everything around her. The dress was the only thing she still had of that time and now it was gone. A high price indeed.
Her room was simple with only a bed, a chair, and a table. She pulled out her chair and looked up to the back of the door. Her gown hung on a nail and her muddy pack sat in the corner. She reached for it and held it against her face. “Thank you, Keeper.”