"Think he'll actually come back?" Captain Ulrich asked his second co-conspirator, Greich shrugging as they watched the priest leave from the sergeant's office window, just after the dawn service.
"We have a report ready, if he doesn't," Greich replied practically, "But I wouldn't be so quick to assume he'd leave. He's as much invested as this fight as we are."
"You could see as well as I that guilt's been tearing at him since that new recruit was eaten by Furies," Ulrich replied with a shake of his head. "That's what the men think he goes to do, judging by rumors. To hunt and kill every Fury herd he can as atonement."
"Well thankfully for our Firestarter's life-expectancy, he has friends across the border as well, who are in a better position to drag him from that guilt than we, or at least distract him from it," Greich said, unhestitatingly keeping the deception regarding the truth of the conscript's death. "Though I would not be surprised if he does start doing that."
Ulrich just shook his head and left, heading for his own offices. Greich sighed, and gave stern mental orders to a Herald he'd never met to take care of their chaplain. The look in the man's eyes when he'd pulled Greich aside in the midnight watch – it had been a look he'd seen before, in men who had subsequently thrown themselves into the fight and died for lack of caution and care. Duty alone could only chain someone to the world for so long.
"You're coming!" Anur grinned, recognizing the fuller saddlebags intended for a longer journey, and the fact his friend didn't wear his Sunpriest field robes for once.
"It wasn't an invitation I could bring myself to refuse," Kir replied, a small smile on his face. "The unit will do well enough in my absence, so long as I do in fact return a few days before Midwinter. Hello Herald Griffon."
The red-haired Herald smiled in response, gladly continuing the Valdemaran conversation, "Hello Father Kir. Hope you don't mind my tagging along. I'm going in a vaguely similar direction so thought we might as well travel together."
"He also wants to pick your brain," Anur stage-whispered, Kir shaking his head as the one horse and two Companions turned towards the road.
"I can't imagine I have much more information to give you," Kir told the duo, "The essential gist was in the explanation I gave in person, those monographs were true detail-oriented pieces, and the rest is all trial and error."
"See, that's where I'm running into trouble," Griffon replied, "I can't afford much 'error' – when I go wrong, I go wrong in a fantastically bright and destructive manner, especially with your methods, since I put way too much power into them. Harevis is getting better at power-level judgements, but I keep overloading it."
"How do you lot train your witch-powers?" Kir asked.
"Gifts," both Heralds corrected automatically, exchanging looks and laughing at the echo.
"Gifts then," Kir corrected, making a mental note to not fall back on his distinctively Karsite term for their abilities.
"We take classes in it, along with our other studies at the Collegia," Anur explained, "Usually we start in the third year or so, sooner if it's really powerful. Griff, didn't you start your second year?"
"Just some basics so I didn't keep flaring fireplaces when I walked by," Griffon shrugged, "For the most part I was held back with my yearmates, so third year. We group them by type – so there's the farsight group, then the mindspeech and similar Gift group, and the fetching group. Firestarting is in the fetching group, but it's pretty rare – last time a powerful gifted had it, they were taught completely separately. The reason I was grouped with the fetchers was mostly because the best instructor for me was also teaching the fetchers – he wasn't alarmed when I accidently made a fire too bright or too hot."
"What about theory?" Kir asked, brow furrowed. Griffon seemed to be missing an inherent point about the sorting methods, which were definitely (hopefully) not just by virtue of the fact the instructor was the only one who wasn't terrified of his abilities.
"What about theory?" Anur tilted his head curiously, "We mostly just practice it. Sure there are stories and warnings, so we know not to overuse it, or not to try moving living things with fetching because it takes too much, but no essays or anything. Some historical things I suppose. With the mindspeaking group we spent most of our time on ethics after we got shielding down. Fetching we practiced a lot so we'd get used to it, expanding our range, precision, things like that."
Kir stared blankly at them, remembering the hours per day over the course of years he spent reading up on historical Firestarters, attending burnings of all sorts of offerings, heading off to find his own fires to investigate and examine – Sunlord! No wonder Griffon was so amazed by the volume of knowledge he had, if that was his standard. Whatever scraps he can get from his predecessor (apparently ancient, from the implications) and he could figure out on his own in spare moments?
"What about you? Something different I imagine, with those monographs!" Griffon asked, the pair apparently realizing that Kir was shocked.
"I studied to be a Firestarter for years," Kir replied, still in a state of shock, "Hours were devoted on a daily basis to the study of creating, controlling and the simple nature of flame. There are no real records of the particular method I use, but I had time to study it. I was encouraged to study it. Anything I wanted to set alight, so long as I came up with a decent reason and it wasn't too expensive, it was mine to burn. When I was studying with the others – as apprentices – we had hours long discussions on technical details and theories."
"Well. That's different," Anur said after a few moments of mutually shocked silence.
"I suppose you had broader topics to study, since your duties are broader. We're primarily focused on Writ and Word during the early years and then as apprentices we're trained in the more specific duties of our stations," Kir allowed.
"I wouldn't be so sure," Griffon frowned, "I think the topics are comparable, with different perspectives, of course, but priests have to act as judges and civil authorities as well as religious, right? And history, of course, some politics I guess – mathematics and writing, healing basics."
"Little to no military studies," Kir refuted, before frowning as well, "Not much as far as foreign languages go. But you're right, there is a fair amount of overlap."
"I think the main difference is length," Anur said finally, "We only study for four or five years, on average. How long were you at the – what is it called, academy?"
"Academy, I suppose would work. We're initiates, at that stage, and after a few years you become an acolyte," Kir shrugged, "Acolytes, then apprentices, then priests. I was an acolyte until – oh, I was twelve, I think, when we started as apprentices. Seventeen when I received my assignment, I was ordained a few months before that – five years as an apprentice. So…ten years? That does vary, depending on age of arrival, but ten would probably be a good average."
"Wait – you started when you were seven?" Anur stared, aghast, "Seven?"
"You attend the feast of the children starting at five and until thirteen," Kir shrugged, "It's not particularly young."
"Ten years?!" Griffon was stuck on the main point, "What could you possibly spend ten years teaching people!"
"How to efficiently light fires, apparently," Kir replied dryly.
"Valid," Anur grinned, Griffon chuckling.
"Back to the sorting, are you certain it's just because this instructor wasn't scared of your abilities?" Kir asked, dragging the conversation back to his initial track.
The distracted looks on their faces meant the Companions had something to say. That must be how a lot of their knowledge from the older times was restored, Kir mused, these Companions could serve as a collective knowledge base, and could at the least contact others who were more ardent students of history.
"Harevis says no, it was an old tradition," Griffon said slowly, "It's just been so long since a powerful firestarting Gift was in the Heralds that the fact Dirk wasn't going to freak out if I messed up was highlighted."
"Wait a minute – you mean they're – hey!" Anur straightened, comprehension gleaming in his eyes, "That's what you mean! What you do, your Firestarting method – it's Fetching really tiny things to make friction, to make flame! So Fetching and Firestarting are basically the same, except for scale!"
Kir grinned and nodded, Anur whooping gleefully, "So does that mean I could learn to Firestart, or Griffon could learn to Fetch?"
"No," Kir shook his head, "The size difference is so great – what is the smallest thing you can Fetch?"
"I… have no idea," Anur frowned, "We started with pillows and scrolls."
"Hmm. Which is more difficult, pillow, or scroll?"
"Err… depending on what we're doing. Like that letter I sent you? Pillow would be a lot more difficult, but for line of sight? Probably the scroll?" Anur shrugged at Kir's raised eyebrow, "I honestly don't know for sure. There's not much occasion to throw pillows."
"Well, you can probably see it," Kir continued, Anur nodding in agreement, "What we 'fetch'," he waved his hand between himself and Griffon, "Is miniscule. It cannot be seen. Everything, everything, has that 'hum' to it that I described. Some are… 'louder' than others. But you certainly can't see it. The flames are just a visible result to an invisible act."
"How did you get to that 'hum'?" Griffon demanded, "Because I can hear it sometimes but it's really hit or miss, and it just isn't obvious. Did you just always hear it or is there something I can do to cultivate it?"
He had been so happy they'd avoided this topic the last time the technical exchange came up. Blast.
"Heartbeats," he said finally, the two Heralds staring at him in joint confusion. "Voices – they're all, they're all vibrations, they hum. When you – you listen. And eventually it just… expands."
"Listen to heartbeats," Griffon mused, before saying brightly, "I can do that!"
Well that was one way to deliberately misunderstand what he'd been implying. Kir decided to let it go, if they didn't want to push the issue, he certainly didn't want to discuss it. Not with Gero's un-burned fate lurking in the back of his mind.
"Huh. What is the smallest thing I can fetch?" Anur mused after a few paces of silent riding. "Now I'm curious."
"And can you use it on already moving objects?" Kir asked, "Because swatting arrows out of the air before they hit you would be very useful."
The two Heralds just stared at him, before grinning, "That's brilliant!" Anur laughed, "But we'll be starting with tossed pillows."
"There goes my dastardly plan," Griffon joked, "But really, that would be fantastic! And maybe you could throw things at enemies! Or tug them off horses! Or – "
Kir just listened as the two of them started raving about possible applications. There were a few he doubted were even remotely possible, but the fact they had finally gotten to thinking about them was good. Asking questions about what their witch-powe- what their Gifts, could do was the first step to really understanding them beyond their basic use.
And half the things he could do, his old Firestarting Master had considered impossible, so they might as well try it. Their witch-horses could keep them from doing something completely stupid.