"Does pacing while you read reports help you think?" Jaina asked dryly, watching Kir do just that out of the corner of her eye. The majority of her attention was focused on the accounting books she was checking over. Ensuring accuracy each moon made the annual tallying near Midwinter much less stressful – given, so did the whole matter not being solely her responsibility, but there was no reason to procrastinate.
"If it's distracting I can stop," Kir said, pausing mid-circuit to look at her, "But I've been sitting most of the day."
"So has Bellamy," she pointed out, the Enforcer only humming acknowledgement while he turned the page. Etrius and Seras had spent weeks debating which text had the most engaging and informative narrative on the history and traditions of the Order, resulting in three books being pressed on the Enforcer when he arrived. Kir had evidently given him an overview, but their focus had never really been on the Order itself during those chats.
"Anur doesn't sit still," Kir pointed out, nodding towards his Enforcer who was sitting with one leg slung over the arm of his chair and his head tilted back over the other so he was nearly upside down. He'd been like that for at least half a mark – undoubtedly he'd be twisting into some other absurd pose without looking away from his book soon enough.
"Fair," she acknowledged, smiling faintly as she watched Kir continue his pacing.
It had nearly been a year since Solaris' Ascent, since her brother had returned to Sunhame and taken the gold-edged burden of Incendiary from her shoulders, and on a daily basis she still startled at the plain black-on-red trim of her robes, feeling that rush of relief all over again. Jaina had never wanted to be Incendiary, had never wanted more than a comfortable spot in the priesthood, perhaps a student or two of her own one day, enough status to voice concerns if she wanted.
But there hadn't been anyone else willing or able to become Incendiary, and their Order would not have survived without a Head. Not with Lastern in power and ever-hungry for more. Her investiture had been a desperate move, and the whole of their Order had known it. It had given her leeway within the Order, a credit beyond her abilities with flames, for taking that burden, but the Firestarters hadn't been the only ones to spot that and her first years had been spent proving again and again that for all her lack of ambition, she was no less vicious or capable.
Yes, Solaris' Ascent had worked out very well for her.
What had once been a corner bedroom near the back of the Hall had long ago been converted into a secure office for the Incendiary. Kir and Bellamy had taken to hauling work with them to the kitchen or the courtyard, but despite the wonderful early autumn weather they were working inside today – mostly so Kir and she could discuss details without worry for eavesdroppers. They could take the busywork outside tomorrow.
"Jaina, would Tristan and Valerik be able to work together long enough to check on the Ruvan-Hardorn border-zone? The mercenary company is due to arrive within a moon and they're closest," Kir asked, Jaina frowning as she thought about it.
Sitting back she met his gaze thoughtfully before saying, "Those two should be able to work together for a few weeks. But make sure Colbern has no chance at all of running into them – and have the route end with Tristan heading towards Lumira for a check-in with her Hardornens. They get along fairly well and it will delay his return to Sunhame. Valerik's first days back in town are always rougher."
"So many feuds," Bellamy grumbled as he sat up and twisted so his chin was hooked over the back of the chair. It was a good thing they used sturdy and non-decorative furniture here, she could practically hear her old dorm-master's scolding for ruining perfectly good chairs by not sitting them as they were meant to be sat in.
"Oh you're one to talk," Kir scoffed, casting his Enforcer a fond glance as he set the current report aside and went for the next packet of papers, "Loshern still can't meet your eyes without flinching."
"I think having one priest twitch - "
"The one you stabbed quit," Kir interrupted, "But his friends still flinch – Rodri says Etrius tracks them down to practice intimidating stares sometimes."
"Having one priest and three students flinch - "
"Ulrich twitches when you're brought up," Jaina offered, chuckling at the nonplussed look the two men sent her before elaborating, "Apparently Seras mentioned something about how you reminded him of himself."
"Ah – not the guard captain, the exorcist. So that's three students and two exorcists so far," Kir summarized mockingly, "What was that you bemoaned? So many feuds?"
"Ulrich isn't a feud! He's just misinterpreting something Seras said – Seras actually said that?" Bellamy directed the last to her, a wary look on his face, "When? And in what context?"
"I have no idea," Jaina admitted, "The summoner and I crossed paths and he asked after Kir, when I mentioned you he twitched and upon asking why, he gave that answer. I rather thought he and Seras were friends though, or at least amicable colleagues."
"They probably are," Kir pointed out, pulling a letter with a broken seal out of the packet with a bemused expression. She didn't blame him, why go to the effort to reseal a letter in another envelope, rather than just seal the letter again with fresh wax? For that matter, why send an already opened letter?
"You don't need to want a person duplicated to be friends with them," Kir continued, shooting a sly glance Bellamy's way as he said, "Two of Anur would be a spice-cake fueled disaster."
"Rude!" the Enforcer laughed, Jaina chuckling with them and basking in the fact that she wasn't alone.
It was only because she was watching the Enforcer try and come up with some retort rather than continuing to check the books' arithmetic that she caught the start of Kir's panic. Bellamy's laughter cut off and he was already setting his book aside when she heard Kir's sharp inhale, and by the time she was on her feet Bellamy had already caught him when Kir's knees gave out and guided him to a seat.
Witch, a corner of her mind hissed.
Talented, she forced herself to correct. It was rare, the pair were good at keeping their eerie synchronization within understandable, normal bounds but there were moments when every hair on her neck stood on end and decades of training crowed at finding another witch to cleanse.
There was a reason Bellamy had been accused of being a Demon Rider, Jaina had known that for moons. An adult lay-person showing signs of controlled witch-powers? Colbern had pulled her aside with murmured questions right before Midsummer and she wouldn't be surprised if some other Firestarters were sitting on questions of witch-powers and child-smuggling and just how long this pair had known Solaris was coming.
On questions of just how much longer it would take for them to be trusted with that knowledge.
"Easy," the Enforcer was murmuring, kneeling by Kir's side, their foreheads pressed together, "Easy Kir, breathe with me – there. That's it."
"I'm not dead," Kir said blankly.
"…That is true," Bellamy replied cautiously, "That's – very true. And I'm glad it's true. Is this – is this a surprise?"
"No, no not for – not for me," Kir's eyes shut and his knuckles turned white around the letter and Jaina swore under her breath, walking over to take a seat on the low table and leaning to rest her hand over Kir's. None of the Firestarters had received double-sealed letters, but she had heard of a few adult priests getting such missives.
It so seldom ended happily.
"Jaina?" Bellamy asked lowly, sliding his hand down to grip Kir's arm when her brother sat back, staring at the ceiling. "You know what this is?"
"A guess," Jaina said, grimacing as she glanced between them. "Your family?"
"They want to know how I died," Kir said flatly, chuckling abruptly and meeting her eyes, "What should I write, Jaina? So sorry to disappoint, still breathing? Busy killing blood mages, no time for a reunion? Wait a few years, Ancar will try his hardest – "
"Kir," Anur's voice cut through the growing hysteria and Kir bowed his head, breathing harshly.
"You're not dying anytime soon," Jaina said sternly, "You're not allowed to die until I'm not the one stuck with your job afterwards – so at least ten years. Understood?"
"Where'd ten years come from?" Bellamy asked, tone light and she rolled her eyes, allowing the brief distraction when she replied, "I don't think Rodri will be ready for the job before that."
"Not if he keeps blowing up buckets of pistachios," Kir said dryly, rolling his own eyes at Anur's triumphant glance her direction, "Really, brother? No – I know, I don't – I don't seek it. I just… Sunlord, what do I say?"
"You're asking the wrong person," Bellamy pointed out, "You're the one who taught me to write reasonable letters to my family, remember? You're just lucky I've learned something or I'd be suggesting a note saying 'not dead, busy killing blood mages, Kir Dinesh, Incendiary'."
"It does get all the necessary information out there," Jaina pointed out, only to hastily continue at their thoughtful looks, "I'm not actually suggesting that!"
They sat in silence for a few moments, Kir's head bowed and expression blank and Bellamy just watching him worriedly. Jaina looked between them a few times before squeezing Kir's hand and saying, "I'll go get some tea, shall I?"
Once the door was shut behind her, she could hear the faint murmur of conversation but none of the words. Kir and she had practically grown up together, but this wasn't something she could be much help with. Between her younger brother and her sisters' brood her family had three burned children on the records.
They wouldn't want to see one of their killers.
"I don't know what to do," Kir said quietly, the click of the door shutting behind Jaina deafening in the silence that had fallen.
"That's okay," Anur assured him, a chair dragging itself across the room to let him sit without losing his grip on Kir's arm. "You don't have to know. Hells, you don't have to do anything if you don't want to."
"I – I think," Kir bit down on his automatic denial, his automatic response that of course he had to do something, he had to send something back because –
They'd named her after him.
"Kir, what is it?" Anur murmured, watching him worriedly, "They asked after your death – it's been twenty years. That's not unusual."
"They know," Kir said, choking on the next words and he couldn't – he couldn't say it, he had known, had always known that his family knew there were two options for him, two paths and while he'd never consciously thought about it – he had known which path they'd prefer he take. Then this Kiara Dinesh had written, captain in her own right and how fiercely she must have fought for that. Even in a family known for women who captained, known for women who heard the superstitions of females on board merchant ships and cackled, it would have been hard.
How long had it taken, for her to be seen as more than his replacement?
:Kir, brother. Let me help you, please,: Anur said, hands wrapping around his and Kir shuddered, leaning forward to let their foreheads rest against each other and he tried to form words.
:The way I was taken – they would know the only way I could survive would be as a Firestarter. There would be no other path in the priesthood I could take,: Kir finally managed, something easier in thinking the words, rather than having to get them past his choked up throat.
:And they ask after your death – Kir. It's been – they might not remember that, not consciously. Or if they do they might not – it's different now. It's only been different for a short while, but it's different and you being alive may have simply not occurred to them.:
:They also may not have thought through how you could have survived,: Aelius pointed out gently, :They may very well have assumed you dead the moment you were taken, rather than risk thinking of you living in Sunhame, in a priesthood they feared. Losing a child is traumatic, they could very well have simply – not thought about it.:
:And if they do – if they do prefer to think you dead than acknowledge you as a Firestarter, that's their loss,: Anur said fiercely, voice strident, :Their loss! You're my brother and if they won't take you as you are you still have me. And Aelius. And Solaris, and Mara, she'd never reject you – actually if this goes bad we can't tell Mara, she'll blackmail Markov into dealing with them and I don't - :
"No," Kir said, aghast as he pulled back because he could see that happening, "We are not setting Markov on anyone."
"I completely agree," Anur said, innocent tone not fooling Kir because he had heard the gleeful speculation in that last mental rambling. If Kir decided to reach out he would have to work very hard to make sure Anur never got enough information to find his family – not until he knew how they'd respond.
But who would claim a Firestarter as kin?
"Me," Anur said simply.
Kir blinked and Anur gave a small smile, "You said that out loud, actually. No broadcasting required. I would claim you as kin, Kir. I have. My whole family has, including Markov, which I never thought would happen. I'd claim Jaina – and Rodri, he's adorable. I'd probably claim all of you – as cousins at least. Maybe second cousins, Seras is pretty terrifying. Solaris has claimed you as brother, you know Rodri adores you – Kir. Being a Firestarter, being a priest, is a social obstacle, true. It's not a deal-breaker."
Kir stared, running through the list of names in his mind, the list of those who yes, he would agree considered him kin and it – it wasn't nonexistent. It wasn't empty.
He would think about this letter from a sister he had never met, he decided, looking up when Jaina walked in with tea and Rodri peering around her worriedly and unable, unwilling, to suppress his smile. He had loved his blood-family, they had been his world when he had been taken and memories of them had been his anchor while he found ground to stand on.
He did not need them any longer.
So he would write back – how, he had no idea, but Anur's joking suggestion was not half-bad. He would write back, and see what came of it.
But he'd always have one brother.
Anur was not going to read the letter Kir had received without being invited. He wasn't. It was sitting on the desk in their room, just sitting there. Open. He could see handwriting. But Kir hadn't said he could read it. He wasn't going to. Not even the name at the end. Or the salutations. It was too short to see much anyway he'd have to get closer –
He yelped, and flailed, and ended up on the ground because he'd been overcompensating for his desire to lean in and get a closer look by leaning the other way and then Kir had startled him and he'd fallen off the bed. Staring up at Kir's amused face he scowled, "I wasn't doing anything!"
"You sound about as believable as Rodri when he said the scorch marks and shattered windows in the kitchen weren't his fault," Kir said dryly. "But everything appears intact, so that at least is promising."
"To be fair, I didn't know pistachios were flammable either – much less explosive when in a confined space," Anur pointed out, accepting Kir's hand getting to his feet.
"Why would you ever try to set pistachios on fire? Why were the pistachios in a large clay jar and not on a tray or in a basket? Why would you ever try to burn something inside an enclosed jar?" Kir rattled off the list of questions Rodri apparently was supposed to have thought of, rather than thinking something along the lines of roasted almonds are delicious, maybe roasted pistachios are too.
To be fair, roasted pistachios were delicious.
To be equally fair, nothing was roasted by setting it on fire inside a sealed jar.
"He could have thought it would be funny if someone opened a sealed jar of pistachios only to find they were pre-roasted?" Anur suggested, grinning at Kir's disbelieving look. It didn't make much sense, no, but he'd done stranger things for stranger reasons.
He'd decided to become an Enforcer in a nation where legally he was less than human because his fellow Heralds made him uncomfortable while they were temporarily sharing a base with him. He was going to be answering equally incredulous questions by this time next year.
He coughed slightly when Kir handed him the letter, glancing at it quickly before meeting Kir's gaze and saying, "You don't need to let me read this."
"It's very short," Kir said wryly, sitting down and Anur settled next to him. "And I don't know how to respond."
"Again, I think you're asking the wrong person, but I'll do my best," Anur said doubtfully, and immediately set to reading this letter that had so disturbed Kir.
It truly was short.
To Whom it May Concern,
We of the Dinesh family are writing in regards to our kinsman, Kir Dinesh, taken from home some twenty-three years ago in service to the Sunlord. We would appreciate an accounting of his demise, and desire only the truth of his death, seeking no compensation.
By my hand,
Kiara Dinesh, Captain of the Sundancer
:Do you think they named her after Kir?: Aelius asked, sounding intrigued, :I wonder if there are customs behind that…:
:There are, and they undoubtedly did,: Kir replied directly, Anur jumping and Aelius broadcasting shocked surprise. The Firestarter just smirked at Anur, continuing, :You were broadcasting.:
:I most certainly was not!: Aelius insisted, :I know you don't care for mindspeech, I wouldn't broadcast if I didn't intentionally want you to hear what I was saying.:
Kir's brow furrowed and Anur echoed the expression, wondering what could have changed because he and Aelius had private conversations all the time – they both only dragged Kir in when there was a direct reason for him to hear the conversation or if he had initiated the mental contact. Hells, they'd had some of those in the last few days and Kir had given no indication of hearing them.
Kir carefully moved so their shoulders weren't pressed against each other, so there was no contact between them at all, and said aloud, "Try again."
:Physical contact would explain why he didn't hear our conversations earlier, but that doesn't account for everything,: Aelius mused, Anur watching Kir's face carefully while he responded.
:I think he's stopped unconsciously blocking it,: Anur offered, :With Cora – he's better. A lot better, now. He didn't even twitch when she spoke to him – and he replied, and he called for Kari himself…:
:Self-sabotage?: Aelius hummed thoughtfully, :I can see that very easily. Well. Seems we'll have to work on our shielding then.:
"Anything?" he said aloud, Kir shaking his head, clearly worried.
"Well Aelius and I have a theory," he continued, scooting over so they were braced against each other again. "You were all right with Cora – and you finally learned proper mental shielding. Can I state, yet again, that it's a blessed miracle you made it to adulthood sane without knowing how to properly shield yourself from mindspeech?"
"It was close, some days," Kir admitted, some tension easing, "A reasonable explanation. But you don't need mindspeech to use shielding?"
"No, any Talents would find them useful, it's a practice of mental discipline more than anything," Anur shrugged, "People with mindspeech or empathy need it to function, but even without it, students with pure fetching or firestarting would be put in classes for it. It's important."
"Good. Because I want to teach Rodri – I think it might help explain that buzz. It'd be much better for him to find it without – external factors," Kir winced and Anur made a mental note to chase down that story too. Between that one, the story of Phyrrus, just how Kir got snatched into the priesthood and just why and how Kir got drunk enough to nearly melt down Axeli's forge that one time, Anur was going to have plenty of overly-imaginative nightmare fuel.
Fantastic. Just what he needed.
Shaking his head, he decided instead to focus on the question Aelius had started this whole mess with, saying, "So they probably named her after you then? What are the customs?"
"Depends on the region," Kir said hesitantly, brow furrowing in thought this time, gaze going distant, "I don't – really remember. I was the youngest, never saw a naming but – I think the lake people – my grandmother's, my father's side, they named children as a tribute to something or someone, a way of honoring them but my mother's – I think they'd only pass on a name if the original person was dead."
"Ah," Anur winced, staring at the letter in his hand again. Very bland, very controlled – but we desire only the truth – it was hopeful. The idea that they wanted details, wanted to know how and when it had happened, not just that it had.
Asking about details to cheering when the answer is Kir's alive was something of a leap, but he'd seen larger ones. He'd give them the benefit of the doubt.
"I have no idea what you could write beyond my half-joking suggestion," he admitted, meeting Kir's gaze with a wry smile. "Though I guess signing as Incendiary might leave room for misinterpretation – it's probably not a particularly well known title outside the priesthood itself."
"No, I'd have to sign as First Order Firestarter for clarity," Kir agreed, taking the letter from Anur's hand and staring at it. "Probably also include that I'm usually with the Sunsguard, but visit Sunhame regularly – in case they want to write again."
"Being able to contact you directly would be a good thing," Anur nodded, watching Kir head for his desk and get settled to write a reply, "I don't know that you'd need to include anything else – or even if you should. Not without knowing..."
"Without knowing how they'll respond?" Kir finished dryly, laughing softly at Anur's wince even as he set ink to paper, "Brother, I could hardly expect them to react well, you know that. You talked me down today – writing a pages long letter wouldn't be worth the effort if they just discarded the whole thing in disgust. It's worth being aware of."
Anur couldn't say anything to that, so simply watched Kir write his letter – a few sentences, perhaps a touch longer than the letter he had received. Probably more informative than the first letters he had sent to his own family at first though; Kir had always been better at written communication. His post-scripts had taught him the letter-writing formula far better than any scoldings from his family or half-hearted etiquette lessons in the Circle, and been appreciated by his family besides. Which raised a fair point –
"Can I add a post-script?"
"It would hardly be fair of me to forbid it. Perhaps your postscript will be more informative than my letter – that would be a fair change from the norm. Here, I'll sign as Incendiary, that will give you something to be informative about."
"My letters have gotten plenty better!"
To the Dinesh Family,
I cannot offer details on my own demise, as none but the Sunlord know when that will occur. My primary duties place me as chaplain in the guard, but I hold the office of Incendiary under Her Eminence, Solaris and am in Sunhame relatively often. Letters addressed to me in that manner will reach me, should you wish to continue correspondence.
Vkandis bless and guide,
Kir Dinesh, Incendiary, Chaplain of the 62nd
To the Dinesh Family,
Kir is my sworn brother, and I will have no supposed misunderstandings twisting his heart. Incendiary is one of the formal titles for the Head of the Firestarting Order, only able to be held by a First Order Firestarter. He tells me that his taking to the priesthood made his fate as Firestarter self-evident, but I will not leave that to chance.
Any hurt you inflict on him will be made knowingly.
Vkandis bless and guide,
Anur Bellamy, Lieutenant-Enforcer
A/N: Well well well, the infamous Reunion Arc begins at last! (Or so I've been calling it in my head since, oh, the moment I realized there was more to this story than the one-shot beginning). Hope to do monthly updates, have some scenes and a plan as usual, but stitching them together is the time-sink. Hope you enjoy!