Griffon, Herald of Valdemar
"Shut up shut up shut up shut up!" Griffon screamed, clutching at his head as fire roared around him, Harevis prancing under him, eyes rolling wildly.
It had started as usual except he was needed elsewhere, desperately, but couldn't go because these blasted constructs were getting across the border and it was better that one Herald were here and freeing up the other guards to go and help block the trap turned invasion. All he wanted to do was help and he had been, until this he had been essential and was on his way to being the Lord Marshal's Herald and he still would be but he hated being shunted aside like this he hated hated hated it –
White hot flames surged outward and he whimpered, knuckles white in his hair as he strained to pull the flames down around him. It was all he could do to keep the flames from eating up all the air Harevis and he needed to breathe, stopping the blasted buzzing just wasn't a major priority right now!
He had hated it so much and suddenly, somewhere between the third and seventh construct it had just clicked, what Sunpriest Dinesh had been saying, what had been carefully implied and danced around this entire time was just there, staring him in the face.
"Heartbeats," the cautious voice echoed in his mind, "Voices – they're all, they're all vibrations, they hum."
All you had to do, Dinesh had said that frost-coated morning, was listen.
Listen to heartbeats, to breathing to that heady rush of breath moving into lungs listen to them living and he got it, he finally did. What did Firestarters burn?
"Nononono," he murmured, voice choked and clogged with tears and ash, "No children, there weren't any children."
He heard it, then. As the seventh-eighth construct in as many hours crashed towards him and his guard escort, straining for any edge to help him, he got it and it was like the world suddenly splintered open before him. The construct roared in pain as it went up in flames, Griffon suddenly hearing the mages that were responsible, shielding aside, and knowing that all he had to do was just twitch –
But he had reached too far, Harevis barely able to get him away from the guards and plunge into the Hardornen regulars that were slowly blinking their way into awareness just in time to see white death descend on them in flames. It was all burning, he couldn't stop it there was just this buzzing all the time and it wouldn't leave him be!
Then, on the edge of his range, was a sudden increase in pitch, a thundering chaos of buzzes and hums that he could already recognize as being distinctly human and gods no hadn't he killed enough random bystanders today?
The fires started dying.
Griffon shuddered, watching in disbelief turned to desperate hope as the new arrivals plunged ever closer into his firestorm and the buzzing quieted in their wake, subsiding to levels he could ignore. His focus narrowed to what was left and he shoved at it, trying to follow the example – now that he knew it was possible, knew it could be done, he had to try it, he just had to.
The firestorm's remnants shattered around him and he opened his eyes to Harevis' relieved voice, :Chosen.:
:Harevis,: he gasped, slumping forward along the Companion's neck, :Harevis I'm so sorry it just wouldn't stop.:
:It's all right Chosen, it's going to be all right.:
"Herald Griffon," the voice startled him and he flinched back, then panicked as he felt flames flare up and the buzzing skyrocketed before abruptly settling back down and he shuddered, trying to calm down before he set more things on fire.
He looked over at the new arrivals and could have wept; he should have known. Who else could have stopped the flames but the Firestarter that told him of the blasted buzzing in the first place? Covered in ash, grime and blood, the Firestarter cut a grim figure, Anur not looking much better in his equally destroyed Whites.
"I couldn't stop it," he said quietly, words suddenly tumbling out of him as he tried to justify himself, his utter failure as a firestarter, to these two who knew so very well the destruction his Gift-curse could cause, "I finally got it I got it with the constructs and then the mages were just there and all I had to do was reach for them and I needed to we need the help up north I had to finish up here and go but something just snapped and the buzzing the blasted humming it just wouldn't stop – "
"Easy, easy Griff," his brother Herald was suddenly there, Companions bracing one another and ash stained Whites wrapping around him, "You're all right just breathe for me, okay? Breathe and calm down."
"Remaining calm is vital," Sunpriest Dinesh said, Griffon shuddering and burying his face against Anur's uniform. He didn't want to see the barren ash-land surrounding him, the molten metal pieces that were all that remained of a not insignificant Hardornen force. "Especially now."
"I don't understand, how is it – how can everything just light like that?" Griffon shuddered again, finally looking up to meet the Sunpriest's gaze, something strangely like sympathy in those eyes.
Kir, Sunpriest of Karse
Kir saw a shade of himself in those eyes, confused and utterly terrified as a taste of the sheer danger that lived within him was finally realized. His first weeks after discovering that buzz were filled with random fires and fever outbreaks – he couldn't believe that he hadn't realized that someone with Griffon's immense strength (brute forcing multiple massive constructs to catch on fire? Griffon was powerful) and little understanding of theory would probably have no idea of what to do when things finally snapped together.
"Not everything," he corrected gently, pointing at the metal slag, "Simply – the living. Living flesh, of any sort, plant, human, animal – it always burns easier. Formerly living flesh, like wood, is easier as well, but the concern right now is the fact humans are remarkably easy to ignite."
He ignored the shudders running through both Heralds. He had hoped, had tried, to avoid this entirely but that had gotten them nowhere beyond massive destruction, thankfully their enemy's. "There is a core of heat – for males, it is near the center of their diaphragm. Women have theirs lower, in the abdomen. Flaring that is relatively simple and sets them alight from the inside out. That is what I did to the witch that day we met – if you ignite it fast enough the flames consume their internal organs without destroying their skin, depending on how quickly you suppress the flames. It makes for a dramatic death."
He looked around at the scorched earth around them and grimaced, recognizing charred bones mixed in with the slag of metal. "It looks as though you did not have that much control in this instance."
"Oh gods," Griffon groaned, pulling away from Anur and leaning over Harevis' other side, retching until all that came up was bile.
While he did that, various patches of their surroundings started increasing their pitch and Kir quickly tamped down on it, not wanting any more fires to spring up, especially not considering they were the only easily lit things within easy reach. It had taken them a half-mark to reach Griffon from their meeting point, and the amount of destruction the Herald had wrought was impressive – though more impressive was the fact that no Valdemarans had been harmed. That was promising.
"I can't let you leave without regaining some form of control," Kir informed him, "Even now I'm actively intervening to keep anything else from lighting on fire."
"It just won't stop," Griffon said, tone clearly winding into hysteria and Kir snarled, flaring the air surrounding him to a shimmering heat-wave to draw Griffon's subconscious attention as well, "Enough," he said shortly, "I have neither the time, nor the patience for hysterics. You have lost control of your ability. I will help you regain it, quickly, but only if you can remain focused and cease with the panicking. Understood?"
Griffon flinched as though he'd been physically struck, Anur shooting Kir a half-hearted glare which the priest ignored, instead focusing on Griffon. The firestarting Herald finally looked up at him and nodded shortly, saying lowly, "I accept your terms."
"Good. Then we will begin. Dismount," he ordered, following his own command and looping Riva's reins around the horn so the horse wouldn't trip on them. "Herald, please retreat at least five meters beyond the scorched zone – if you would ensure Herald Griffon's military escort is all right, that would be appreciated. Witch-horse Harevis, kindly go with."
"Harevis helps with control," Griffon blurted, "I wouldn't have been able to keep from burning myself up without him."
"Well then you'll be better motivated," Kir said coolly, sending up a silent prayer that this method would actually work. Half his control had been obtained simply because flames started going wild around him and he needed to regain control of his powers before either he lit himself on fire or he was accused of witchcraft.
Self-preservation was a powerful instinct. Besides, he had enough control of his personal 'buzz' that Griffon would have to do something extremely impressive to light him on fire – but if all his focus was on remaining alive and keeping the firestarting Herald alive, he wouldn't have much energy to spare towards keeping their compatriots alive and he didn't want to risk that.
The red-haired Herald's Companion whickered, nudging his shoulder gently and waiting for Griffon to nod hesitantly before heading out, following Anur and Riva, who had already started for the edge of the scorched zone.
The two firestarters were left staring at each other over the scorched bones of Griffon's enemies. "I just wanted to get the mages," Griffon said quietly, "That's all I wanted to do."
"That's all you intended to do," Kir corrected, arms crossed and hands hidden up his sleeves, letting him keep his white knuckles from view. "I think you'll find that you wanted quite a bit more."
Griffon hesitated, clearly debating his response, before nodding reluctantly. Kir took that as a positive – so much of this power relied on instinct that lying about what one internally wished for was a devastating misstep. If Griffon could be honest with himself, the odds of Kir being implicit in a Herald's death were lessening.
Anur had finally exited the danger zone and was continuing, apparently following Kir's request to contact Griffon's assigned guardsmen. Good, that would keep him much further out of range – this was going to be big to start with.
"Put out the fire, Herald!" Kir smirked over at him, taking a few steps back, ash puffing up around his feet, "That's all you need to do."
Griffon blinked, opening his mouth to ask something before Kir's vision of him was blocked by roaring flames, a storm of flames, fueled almost entirely by his own will given how dead the earth already was, surrounding them entirely. Kir dropped to his knees and rested his palms on the ground to get a better sense of the firestorm's range over the land. He took a deep breath, hot air burning at his lungs and ash coating his tongue, a grin on his face nonetheless.
He could feel Griffon, sudden spike indicating panic and the immediate surge in the power of the storm making him laugh – there was the problem. Griffon had been trained to harness emotions into his Firestarting; maybe not consciously, but he had been either because of teachers or previous records. So whenever he experienced a sudden spike in emotion, particularly one like fear or anger, one that got the heart pumping, his witch-power flared whatever fires were already around him or started their own.
With how powerful Griffon was, the amount of energy pouring into this firestorm was incredible – it was all Kir could do to keep his own breathable air from being consumed, so Griffon's continued survival indicated that his witch-power, at least, responded to base self-preservation. A good sign.
"You're feeding it Herald!" he shouted, thinning the flames between them so they could face one another, Griffon swaying where he stood, Kir grinning up at him. Judging by the flinch, it wasn't a particularly comforting expression. "I can't hold it forever!" he continued, jumping into exaggeration next, "You realize you're heading for Valdemar now? Your own people, tsk. Even that Firestorm of yours managed to avoid friendly fire!"
The firestorm had advanced a half-meter towards Valdemar, though it had grown immensely in height.
"Stop it!" Griffon shouted, panic clear in his features and tone, "Stop it! I can't!"
Kir felt his own internal temperature rise and he let some of the Hardornen side of the firestorm go free so he could clamp down on it, a snarl twisting his features and he rose to a predatory crouch, intentionally remaining very primal in actions – he needed Griffon's reactions, conscious and subconscious, to sync and if that meant he needed to be the threat – so be it.
"Trying to kill me Herald?" he laughed wildly, "You really think killing me will stop this storm? This is your storm now, Herald, all I'm doing his reining it in! Kill me, and this storm engulfs nations! Try it! Do it! Wake up in a barren wasteland, everyone cursing your name as demon or worshiping you as a vengeful god-king! I dare you!"
"No!" Griffon shouted at him, and Kir could feel it suddenly come together, everything the Herald had suddenly switching from fueling the flames to crushing them and he quickly pulled his will from the storm, not fighting for it as he could have. It was a waste of energy, and he needed Griffon to shut it down and realize he could shut it down, not fight for control of some monstrous firestorm.
Flames finally vanished, slag even less recognizable as it had re-melted, bones now reduced to powdery ash and the entire blackened land shimmering as heat released from the earth. Griffon stood, panting and shaking from exertion, Kir not in a much better state and bracing himself on his knees. "Congratulations, Herald," he gasped, shooting the Herald an honest smile this time, "You did it."
"I did?" Griffon asked blankly, blinking for a few moments before just what he had done finally dawned on him. "I did! I did it!" he crowed, looking around at the flame-free earth, "I actually – Kir! I did it!"
He spun to face him, Kir suddenly staggering back as the Herald launched at him, arms wrapped around his waist and the Herald crying into his shoulder, repeating, "Thank you, thank you," over and over.
Kir worked one of his arms free to drape it over the Herald's shoulders, looking to the north where a pair of white blurs raced towards them, "You're welcome," he said simply, exhaustion finally starting to sink in, "Glad it worked."
Before he pronounced the entire thing a success, he flicked a small fire, no larger than a campfire, into life behind them.
Griffon snuffed it within moments of the embers flaring.
Kir chuckled, "Feel that?"
"I just – it was automatic!" Griffon pulled back and stared at the place where the flame had been in shock, "I mean, I realized it wasn't mine and it just – went out!"
"It will take a bit of work to not snuff every suddenly lighting flame within reach, but that is much easier to work with safely than flaring every flame within reach," Kir shrugged ruefully, "It was a quick fix."
"It worked," Griffon said in quiet amazement, "I thought – I was so scared, Kir. Ah – Sunpriest."
"We just nearly burned one another alive," Kir replied dryly, "I think that deserves first name basis."
Griffon laughed, "Agreed."
Any response was interrupted by Aelius and Harevis skidding to a halt beside them, Anur launching off his Companion and crashing into them, shouting, "What are you trying to do, kill me?"
Anur, Herald of Valdemar
Before he'd even gotten within shouting distance of the milling guards waiting for Griffon, a firestorm just erupted behind him and Aelius whirled around, Anur screaming aloud, "Kir!", echoing the cry with a mental shout of :Griffon!:
:Chosen!: Harevis broadcasted, Anur not even considering how unusual it was for him to be able to hear another Companion.
:Back!: Aelius roared at them both, launching back towards the border, Riva and Harevis following hard on his heels. Anur's attention was locked over his shoulder at the surging mass of unnatural flames behind him, heat striking him like a blow, hard on the heels of the knowledge that his brothers were in there.
"What the hell are they doing?!" he demanded, Aelius apparently deciding they were far enough back and stopping, turning again so they could observe from a relatively safe distance – given how fast it had erupted, he doubted anywhere in sight was truly safe.
:Control – Griffon couldn't stop the flames, all he could do was flare them. My guess is this is an effort to force Griffon to start putting fire out while panicking rather than putting more power into them,: Aelius replied.
Harevis bobbed his head and broadsent again, saying, :That was the problem earlier, he was so alarmed by what had happened that all control went out the window. Between stress, panic, and the fact that everything we've found has trained his Gift to respond to adrenaline inducing emotions with flames – it wasn't pretty.:
:That is remarkably a remarkably short-sighted training mechanism,: Aelius pointed out, :Please tell me his source wasn't the Firestorm chronicles.:
:Where the hell else were we supposed to get information?:
Anur groaned aloud, saying, "Oh, I don't know, anywhere? Firestorm could only barely control his Gift, even I remember that much from lessons!"
Harevis just tossed his head angrily, no longer broadcasting his thoughts. The guards had apparently decided to approach and were now within speaking distance, the ranking officer of the small squad saying nervously, "Herald?"
Anur looked over at him and quickly swept his gaze over all four of them – to a man they were pale faced and shaky, too nervous for him to really want them around in what he didn't doubt would very quickly become a delicate situation.
"Unfortunately," he said, almost automatically spinning a believable version of what happened that would get them out of the way, "there is not much you can do now, it's a matter of Heraldic Gifts. If you could report in to the main camp that Herald Griffon has eliminated the mages responsible for the constructs but is being held up due to a temporary loss of control because of magical backlash, I would be much obliged."
"Of course Herald," the man saluted, gratitude clear on his face as he turned to lead his men away from the rapidly heating area. Anur grimaced against the scorched air, looking back over at the firestorm in time to see it shift and surge suddenly, increasing yet again in size before starting to collapse in on itself.
Before the firestarters at the center were even visible through the flames, Harevis had bolted forward. Aelius waited until at least their outlines were clear before following, Riva huffing and following close behind. Anur made a mental note to ask about how the gelding was holding up to the repeated interference on Aelius' part but that was soon drowned out by relief, seeing Griffon and Kir both still standing in what was now an ash-stricken wasteland.
Aelius had caught up to Harevis and they both slid to a halt, ash scattering around them in a cloud and he launched off the saddle, grabbing the two into a fierce embrace, demanding, "What are you trying to do, kill me?"
Kir, the bastard, just laughed at him and patted his shoulder, "No Herald. Simply burn Hardorn to the ground."
"Well you made a good start," he retorted, "What the hell Kir? Griff, did that actually help?"
Griffon grinned up at him, ash stained and clearly exhausted, but just as clearly thrilled, "It did! It actually did Anur, I can control it again!"
"Oh well that's a relief," he drawled, "I'd hate for my panic to be for nothing!"
Both firestarters just smiled, Anur quickly noticing that they were very near a complete collapse. Hells, he was surprised they were even conscious. "Right," he said briskly, confident here at least that he could manage things, "Griffon, you get on Harevis. I'll tie you on, just get in the saddle. Kir, are you going to be able to stay on Riva?"
The priest grimaced and shook his head, "Doubt it."
"Okay, you'll ride with me then," Anur decided, Harevis kneeling next to them and Griffon shakily getting into the saddle. Aelius came up to support Kir while Anur dealt with securing Griffon and stood patiently while the two of them got settled, Riva just watching curiously.
Anur looked to the south and sighed, if it had been just him and Kir, he'd go for Karse and one of those pilgrimage chapels, but that was risky enough with a Herald who could speak fluent Karsite. Add another Herald, very clearly not Karsite and basically incapable of speaking the language and the risk far outweighed the benefit of cutting a good mark off their travel time.
"We're heading into Valdemar, guard station you went to last time, Kir, it's closest," Anur said aloud. Griffon's response was a snore and Anur shook his head ruefully, his headache was going to be awful when he came back around; just as well they were heading to the guard post, they already had ridiculous stocks of reaction-headache brew.
Kir sighed and slumped against his back, requesting, "Let me know when we get close, I'll switch over to Riva."
"That's really not necessary," Anur pointed out, the Companions picking up an easy jog northward, Riva snorting and keeping pace alongside.
Kir didn't reply and Anur rolled his eyes, making a mental note to wake Kir up when they were just outside of sight of the barracks. It was a rather pointless request, but most certainly doable so there was no real reason not to do it.
Riva picked up the pace to a lope, the Companions following and he cast a bemused glance towards the horse. He really did need to check in with Kir, that couldn't be the horse's natural stamina.