Kir looked up from where he was tending the wounded, checking the flow of battle. He had started working with the corpsman in major raids soon after he was stationed here, and now that Hardornen regulars were assaulting them in addition to bandit squads, he only got more practice in medicine. Especially with reinforcements few and far between, their fifty-man unit only receiving replacements for those who had died or been sent back, too wounded to remain. After all, they were not actually at war with Hardorn.
How he loathed politics.
Grabbing his long-knife from beside him, he slammed it into the gut of a Hardornen who stumbled too close, shoving the man off the blade into a heap with disgust. The corpsman shook his head over the man they were tending, saying, "We must move him back."
Kir examined their surroundings. The way back was quickly growing obstructed as the fighting spread out from its initial grounds, but they should be able to make it.
"Very well," he said, "You carry or shall I?"
"I will," the corpsman said, lifting the man carefully and beginning the steady jog back, Kir keeping a weather eye out as he followed. He only just caught the blur of a crossbow bolt out of the corner of his eye, crying an alarm and shoving the corpsman to the ground, the wounded man groaning in pain at the jolt.
The bolt flew overhead, and the corpsman swore, "Crossbows!" he grumbled, "Damn them we won't make it with getting shot at."
Kir got to his feet and snarled. This was frustrating. Bandits were one thing, he knew how he was to deal with them: he wasn't. The guard dealt with it and only called him in if they needed rites read or a fire started. But these attacks needed every hand they could get, even if no one would trust him to watch their back he could at least help with the wounded and the cremation pyres at the end.
He was sick and tired of all the blasted screaming!
He spotted the crossbow bearing soldier further back, protected by some of his comrades with halberds, and he grinned, not noticing the corpsman quail back in face of that smile. He raised his long-knife, pointing the blade at his target and focusing. That vibration of life, present in everyone, indicating a beating heart, flowing blood – if he just poked at it, gave it a little nudge then he wouldn't have to hear the screams.
"Burn," he said lowly, target barely having a moment to widen his eyes before he was consumed by a pillar of white-hot flames, roaring up to the heavens. Grinning, he let his knife fall and he raised his hands, allowing his focus to be entirely on the flames he'd brought. Not letting them vanish for lack of fuel, he split his fingers and with a practiced twist sent the pillar twisting down, sweeping the field in an angrily devouring spiral, leaving twisted metal and ash in its wake, screams swallowed in the consuming roar of flame.
He halted the flame when it reached an area where Karsite regulars were mixed in with the Hardornen troops, ears dull to the cries of alarm and shouted orders in mixed tongues as he slammed his hands down, flames flattening into nothing immediately. He scowled out at the ashes and the now total route, before picking up his blade and sheathing it, turning to the pale-faced corpsman, still on the ground.
He mutely bent over and lifted the semi-conscious wounded man, walking back towards the safe region with full confidence that no one would be trying to shoot him in the back. The remaining Hardornens were otherwise occupied.
He tried not to think about what this might do to his constant balancing act with the men.
Sergeant Greich approached him after the battle was done. Kir was performing his usual duty and setting pyres of their enemies corpses alight. There were fewer than usual as he had gotten much of the burning out of the way during the fight itself.
The small crew assigned to help him this time were all pale-faced and flinching when he made sudden gestures or set a pyre to crackling with a flick of his fingers and sharp glance. He had always made a point to use the longer chants and gestures common to ritual Firestarters, including tributes to Vkandis, a few recitations of verse, and at least one elaborate arm-wave. He did not see the point any longer, not after his dramatic revelation of ability earlier that day. He was tired of the game, nothing had happened to make it worth the effort he put in beyond his continued survival, and even that was in question if he kept this gulf between his practicing abilities and his actual ones now that they were in an undeclared war.
"Your Holiness," the Sergeant said, Kir looking over at him from where he had been watching the pyre being built for the next batch of Hardornen's, the officers that had escaped his initial fire, stripped of valuables and letters no matter how banal.
"Yes, Sergeant?" he said mildly, inwardly sighing at the return to full formality. He had gotten the Sergeant to call him Father Dinesh for the past year and a half, but that seems to have been lost.
"I was under the impression you needed to invoke Vkandis and wave some hands around to Firestart," he said gruffly, the unstated question clear in his crossed arms and wary gaze.
Kir snapped his head around and gave him a hard look, the Sergeant unable to refrain from flinching away, though it was slight with him, and Kir said bluntly, "I was hoping to avoid people flinching from my every gesture and sharp look. People realizing you can set them alight with a glare seems to cut down on the number of them willing to actually speak with you, and I, as a weakness, like talking to people."
He turned away from the Sergeant and waved the squad back. They scrambled over themselves to get away from the built pyre and he muttered, "Burn," flames crackling merrily over the flesh of the deceased moments later.
The Sergeant departed, and after one more pyre their duties to the Hardornen corpses had been completed. The four-man cremation crew gathered the valuables they had recovered and fairly fled from his presence. He repressed a sigh and made his way to the infirmary, knowing his next duty would depend on the numbers there.
He spotted a battle-tithe pyre, indicated by the Karsite bodies lying near it, and he almost did sigh this time, making his way through camp and the few meters past to the pyre's position. He made a point of memorizing the faces of those faithful he sent on to Vkandis, at least as much as he was able. The numbers were growing large enough he was starting to lose track except in his dreams.
The muted whimpers he heard as he approached brought him up short. He stared at the group of six, two already dead of injuries, but the other four were still taking shuddering, doomed breaths. Face white and feeling a burning anger that they would even think this of him, he whirled around and roared, "Why have these men not been granted mercy?!"
People scattered, and he snarled at the lack of response. He knew very well, they thought he would set living Faithful on fire, as he had not, ever, just because of his actions on the battlefield. How dare they. Turning on his heel, he walked over to one of the wounded and crouched down next to the man, Sunlord, he was barely more than a boy, now dying of a gut wound.
Pain-bright eyes stared up at him and cracked lips whispered, "Your Holiness?"
"Easy lad. You're getting mercy," he informed him gently. "Is there anyone - ?"
"Second squad, Devek. He'll do it," the boy bit back a whimper and Kir touched his face gently, that burning in him spreading to consume Ancar as well. He had seen too many of these children set alight because of that father-murdering demon-spawn.
"The Sunlord will welcome you," he assured him softly. "And you can watch us all burn Ancar to ash from Sunheart."
That won him a small smile, Kir looking over at the squad's tents and relieved to note that there were a few making their way towards him, hopefully those who were to give these sufferers mercy.
"Rest easy lad," he murmured, standing and moving to the next, lung collapsed and second one badly punctured, judging by the struggling breaths. He murmured assurances to that one too, grateful eyes all he could use to judge if he'd helped, the man, older than the last and actually able to grow a beard, no longer able to speak.
He managed to get to the last two before the mercy-givers arrived, murmured exchanges of words with their comrades ended with sharp knives. Kir set the two already dead on the pyre in the meantime, memorizing their faces and deaths so he could pray for them tonight. Turning to the now dead four, he was helped in the corpse stacking by those who'd given mercy, before they stepped back to join the ranks who had formed to witness the tithe and burial.
"Vkandis Sunlord," he said formally, standing half-way between the first rank and the pyre, "We ask that you accept these soldiers of faith into Sunheart, where they might rest easy, knowing that their comrades fight on."
He included no thanks for victory, or the typical request that Vkandis take the sacrifices as a tithe. He had always hated that, in both respects. There was no victory until there was a truce, and even then it could be broken. And human lives were not tokens to be counted by some tax collector. He had never included those parts, always using some variation of the one he had said, but judging by the surprised inhales he heard from a few of the people standing behind him, at least some of them had never noticed. They were probably too used to simply blocking out the words of the priests who lit the fires, a fair number of them were transfers or new. Only the Sergeant, Scout-Master and a cook remembered when he had first arrived. The rest were either retired or dead.
He felt so old, creeping up on thirty and looking an early twenty, but he felt forty. And a tired forty at that.
He ignored it and walked over to the infirmary again, deciding he could at least offer his services to the corpsman again. The wounded would be too pained or exhausted to flinch away.
He missed a conversation between the Captain, only stationed with them a year, and Sergeant Greich. "He was angry that they weren't given mercy," the Captain, a just-past-thirty man named Ulrich, said, obviously surprised as he watched the burning pyre.
"His Holiness Dinesh insisted on giving mercy before the tithe, always has," Greich replied solidly. "He wasn't angry, Captain. He was insulted."
"And he needs none of the rituals, he can just – burn?" the black haired man sighed at Greich's nod, running his hand through sweat-soaked hair tiredly. "I suppose I owe him an apology."
"Wait until you can meet his eyes without blanching," Greich snorted and the Captain smiled wryly, "And I suppose the fearless Sergeant Greich never wavers?" he said.
"Oh I flinched," the sergeant admitted, to his captain's surprise, "And I need to apologize for that."
"So we should not be worried?" Ulrich asked, needing the last confirmation, as he looked over at the rows of wounded, black-lined red-robes clearly visible amongst those giving treatment.
"No. We are lucky to have him."
"Yes," Ulrich said slowly, watching as the priest calmly soothed a wounded youngster into sitting still for his stitches. "Yes, I think we are."