Copyright © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Tylor Kranyak
Author of Legacy of Krazatan
Playing With Fire
     It was yet another cold evening on the steppes of Horagothien as they continued their way south. They had ridden through a short shower in the morning, but the sun had come out shortly after to dry off their clothes. There were some areas on Kai's shirt and pants that were still damp so he was looking forward to when they would stop for the night so he could fully dry off in front of the fire. Kai passed the time chatting with Kim as he normally did. The topic of conversation had drifted toward education at some point. When Kai told Kim about the extent of his own schooling and that of his peers back home the girl was appalled at how little the priests of Order offered. Kai never thought his schooling had been lacking in any way, if anything he always felt it was too much boring information to take in, which was probably why he always fell asleep during Father Kenneth's lectures. However, when the girl started talking about the quality of her own schooling he quickly realized that it wasn't the quality of his own education that was too low, but that Kim's expectations were too high. She completely lost him once she reached the topic of currency.
     "I'm sorry, exactly why do different countries have to trade their coin? Don't they use gold and silver like us?"
     Kim moaned in dismay. "Yes, but you're not getting it."
     "Clearly," Kai muttered under his breath.
     "It's called currency exchange, and it's important because different countries put different amounts of metal into their coin."
     "Why don't they all just use the same amounts?"
     "Because there's no way for everyone to coordinate a metric standard, in order to do that you'd need every nation in Pangaea working together to regulate and enforce a standard global currency. You'd have better luck bringing about world peace."
     "Okay, so why is it important to keep track of everyone's... exchange rates was it?"
     Kim let out an exhausted sigh. "Different countries put different amounts of metal in their coins, so while one gold coin from Riviran may be worth just that in its own country, in Horagothien that same coin is worth a gold and three copper."
     "Why would they put copper in their gold?"
     Kim frowned. "I don’t know why I bother, it's like I’m talking to a brick wall. Why don't you just leave your money problems to Lukan? You'll probably end up going broke in a week otherwise."
     Turning in his saddle, Lukan asked, “Since we’re on the topic of exchange rates, have there been any major changes lately?”
     Kim nodded. “The Austranvia to Horagothien rate went up by one copper early last year.”
     “So that makes it one gold and seven copper now, correct?”
     “That’s right. A new gold mine opened up just outside Farrengate, so the king increased the measurement standard for all the country's mints by a grain. It’ll take a couple more years for most of the old coins to go out of circulation, not that it matters all that much to us right now. I doubt anyone’s going to be crossing the channel for business until the war is over, which could be a decade from now for all we know.” She shook her head. "War tends to put a damper on trade."
     Kai looked up to see the sky slowly changing from a fiery orange to a deep purple as the sun began its slow crawl under the horizon. Turning to Lukan, he asked, "Shouldn't we stop to make camp soon? If we wait any longer we'll be pitching our tents in the dark."
     The older angel looked around until he spotted a patch of field where the grass was much shorter. Pointing at it, he said, "That spot should do well." They came to a small dirt patch where they could start a fire without having to worry about the surrounding grass catching aflame. They got to work unpacking their things from the therasi's backs. After Lukan finished removing his camping equipment from Rana he climbed back into the saddle. "I'm going to scout the area for predators. Since we're camping in the open we need to make sure nothing dangerous is close enough to sneak up on us during the night. Get started on the fire before you set up the tents, that way I can find my way back when I'm done."
     "All right, be careful out there," Kai said before the angel rode off.
     Once they got the last of the camping equipment off of Trak Kai took the opportunity to take off his armour so he could move his arm around a little easier while setting everything up. Kai sat down and started unstrapping his armour while Kim set up the base of their camp fire with their reserve of firewood. He started from his wrist and worked his way up, placing each piece on the ground next to him as he went. He stopped when he got to the shoulder plate strap because the damn thing had knotted itself again. The knot was directly over his collarbone so he couldn't turn his head far enough to see what he was doing if he tried to untangle it himself. Turning to Kim, he asked, "Can you give me a hand?"
     Kim looked at the knot and groaned. "Again? How in the world do you keep managing to tangle it up?"
     "Don't ask me," Kai told her as she got to work sorting out the mess of knots. "I swear, this strap has a mind of its own."
     "If you'd stop plucking the end of it all day long you wouldn't have this problem."
     "I get bored, all right? It gives my hand something to do." Once Kim got the strap loose, Kai took off the piece of armour and rolled his shoulder to get some of the kinks in his muscles out. "Thanks."
     "Now you can do something for me. Light the fire, will you?"
     Kai opened his mana link and focused on the element of fire. He directed the flow of energy down his arm, letting it collect in his hand. When it was ready, he pushed it all out of his palm. A stream of flame spilled over the pile of wood, and in moments they had a steady camp fire to keep them warm.
     "It must be great being able to do that whenever you want," Kim said as she sat next to the fire, pulled her knees up to her chest. "How do you do it exactly?"
     "It comes with being an angel," Kai explained. "Lukan told me all angels have metaphysical links in their hearts that tap into an energy from their souls called mana."
     "Mana? Is that something only angels have?"
     "No, every living thing has mana. Lukan once told me that mana is like blood for the soul, or something like that. Angels are the only ones who can tap into it to fuel their magic."
     Kim nodded, but Kai could tell from her slight frown that she was having trouble wrapping her mind around the concept. He couldn't blame her, like her Kai had grown up believing angels were divine beings from the heavens. It was tough to go from having such an engraved belief to realizing that not only were angels mortal like everyone else, but their source of power came from something every other human being in the world possessed.
     "What else can you do besides the fire?" Kim asked with a hint of eagerness.
     "Well..." Kai wondered if he really should be messing around with his magic, he didn't want to get in trouble from Lukan for showing off since the older angel would definitely see it as being reckless. However, he wouldn't do anything big or dangerous, just a few little tricks to amuse Kim while they warmed up by the fire. After all, he did need to put in more practice controlling his mana, so If Lukan caught him Kai could rationalize that he was just training.
     Kai held out his gauntleted hand. Using his bad arm for magic was starting to become a habit for him. Ever since the incident in Bahn a part of him always got nervous when he used magic, so he started using his left arm for it whenever he could. That way if he ever had another accident he wouldn't be putting his good arm at risk. He opened his mana link as he always did, directing the warm yet refreshing energy to his left hand. He focused on the element of electricity to start, let the energy of it trickle ever so slightly into his gauntlet. Kim's eyes lit up with excitement when tiny sparks started jumping around the metal. Enjoying her reaction, Kai funnelled a little more mana into his hand until the sparks became bigger and made audible crackling noises.
     "That's amazing," Kim mused as she stared at the magical feat. Kai caught the girl starting to move her hand to touch the crackling gauntlet, and an image of himself writhing in that dirty alley rushed into his mind.
     He moved away before she could reach him. "Look, don't touch," he told her. To drive his point home, he reached out to a long, bent blade of grass and touched the end of it with his electrified finger. There was a loud pop and a flash of light, and in an instant the blade of grass was reduced to a shriveled pile of char.
     Kim visibly cringed. "Thanks for the warning." Brightening up a little, she asked, "What about ice? Can you do that thing you did to that guy's therasus again?"
     "I can try," he said, knowing she was referring to the bolt of ice he shot into the leg of the Crimson Cartel thug's therasus the night of her attempted kidnapping. He focused on ice, letting the cool energy of it flow out of his gauntleted hand until white mist began to gently roll around his fingers. Like before, he pushed the energy out through his palm, and a chunk of ice materialized in his hand.
     Kim stared at the ice with absolute wonder and amazement. "What I wouldn't give to have powers like you. You've got to be one of the luckiest guys in the world." Kai considered that debateable when he thought about everything he had been through up until now, but he kept that thought to himself. He didn't want to spoil their fun by bringing up his past troubles. Still eager to see more, Kim asked, "Can you do something with fire again?"
     Kai couldn't help but indulge her, the more he showed off his abilities to the girl the more childlike Kim became. It was both charming and amusing, and Kai would admit he enjoyed seeing someone so enraptured by his abilities. He tossed the chunk of ice off to the side. Focusing on the element of fire again, he gathered his mana into his hand and pushed it out to create a flame in his palm.
     "Wow..." Kim mused, her gaze transfixed on the flame.
     Smirking, Kai said, "It's more interesting than exchange rates I'll bet."
     Kim just frowned. "Please, that's not even scratching the surface of economics. If I tried to explain compound interest to you your tiny little brain might explode."
     Kai countered the comment with, "If I put you in a boat you'd probably sink it before you even left the dock."
     Kim merely rolled her eyes and went back to watching the flame. "Can you make it bigger?"
     "Of course I can," Kai told her, giving in to his inner child that wanted to show off. He funnelled a little more mana into his hand, making the flame grow. He couldn't help but smile at the girl's childlike expression, so he focused even more mana to make the flame larger yet until the main body of the flame was as big as his head. He started to feel that first twinge of exhaustion that came with using too much magic, but just as he considered finishing off his little performance and killing his mana flow a strong gust of wind suddenly blew in from the side, taking his flame with it and spreading it onto the tall patch of grass next to him.
     "Shit!" Kai shouted. He and Kim immediately sprang to their feet as the flames began to consume the grass.
     "You idiot! Why'd you make it so big?" Kim demanded.
     "Excuse me? You're the one who wanted me to make it bigger!"
     "You didn't need to make it that big!"
     "Are you kidding me?"
     "Shut up and do something!" Kim shouted as she pointed at the steadily spreading flame.
     Kai bit back whatever smart remark he had to focus his attention on the more pressing matter at hand. He tried to think of a way to put out the fire, but his panic-stricken mind kept coming up blank. He looked around the camp for something he could use when he saw the chunk of ice he had made a minute ago. Realizing what he needed to do, he opened up his mana link again as he focused on the element of ice. He threw caution to the wind as he blasted the flames with white mist. The fire sputtered and wavered under the cold frost, gradually shrinking to nothing. Using both hands, he spread the mist over a wider area to cover more of the flames. Even as that familiar exhaustion deepened and his legs began to shake he didn't let up, not until every last ember was snuffed out.
     Once the crisis was averted, Kai collapsed into a sitting position to catch his breath. "That was close," he said as he stared at the soggy burnt patch of grass, thankful he'd been able to act quickly.
     Kim nodded. "Yeah, good thing Lukan wasn't around to see that."
     A fresh wave of panic tore through Kai's chest at the thought of Lukan finding out what just happened. When the older angel got back from scouting he would notice the clearly burnt patch of grass. "Shit, Lukan!" Kai sprang forward and starting tearing the charred remains from the ground. "We've got to get rid of all this before he gets back!"
     "What's all this we talk?" Kim asked. "You're the one who started the fire."
     "You told me to make the fire bigger!"
     Kim held out a finger. "First of all, I didn't tell you to do anything, I asked. You didn't have to show me anything at all. Second, I'm just an innocent girl who doesn't understand how dangerous magic is, and you're supposed to be the responsible angel who knows not to play around with his powers."
     "You little..." Kai growled as he got to his feet. With a handful of grass, he pointed at the girl and said, "If you don't help me then I'm telling Lukan all of this was your idea."
     Kim's gaze tightened on him. In a slightly stuck-up tone, she said, "An honourable angel like you wouldn't do something like that."
     "Wanna bet?"
     Kim frowned hard before throwing her arms up in defeat. "Fine, I'll help!" She joined Kai at the burned patch and together they started pulling out the dead grass. As they worked furiously to remove the evidence of their mishap, Kim asked, "What are we going to do with this stuff? We can't just throw it away, the wind might blow it back."
     "Umm..." Kai looked around the camp again when his eyes stopped on the camp fire. He took all the grass he had and dropped them into the flames, where they sizzled into ash. The two of them went back and forth between the burnt patch and the campfire until there was no evidence of their accident left. The fire belched black smoke from all the burning grass, which caused both of them to cough when it blew in their faces, but it wouldn't take long for the last of it to burn away and they'd be in the clear.
     "I think that's the last of it," Kai said after clearing his throat one more time.
     "Yeah, but now what? Now we've got a huge empty patch of wet dirt that wasn't here before. I'm pretty sure Lukan's going to notice, especially since the rest of the grass in this field is up to our chests."
     "Shit, you're right." Once again Kai looked around the camp, this time searching for something they could use to cover up the patch. They couldn't set up one of the tents over it, Lukan would notice the damp spot the minute they went to bed. Then his eyes settled on Trak. The therasus stared at them with a look of annoyance, or as close to one that an animal could manage.
     Kai went over to his mount. Grabbing the animal's reigns and pulling him over to the damp patch, he said, "Come on, Trak, we need you over here." Trak grunted in annoyance as Kai led him to his new spot. "Now, stay here," Kai commanded, but Trak merely grunted again as he turned to head back to his old spot. Kai jerked the reigns to get him to come back. "I said stay!" In response to the command, Trak inhaled deeply and let off a huge, sharp snort right into Kai's face. "Agh, gross!" Kai shouted as he wiped desperately at his face to remove thick bits of snot.
     Kim sighed audibly before saying, "Step aside." She caught Trak by the reigns to lead him back to the spot they wanted him. In a firm voice, she said, "Stay." Trak curled his upper lip back to flash his fangs, but just as he began to growl Kim gave his reigns a sharp tug before repeating louder, "Stay!" For a second Kai was afraid Trak would bite the girl's face off, but to his amazement the therasus lowered his lip and relaxed a little. Kim let go of the reigns when Trak turned to settle into his new spot. With two long strokes of his legs Trak scraped the ground with his talons and kicked dirt right at Kai before settling down into a laying position.
     Once Kai shook the dirt off his clothes he asked, "How in the name of Terralus did you do that?"
     "You've got to be firm with a therasus, otherwise they'll walk all over you. It also helps to distract them before they have the chance to work themselves up, since that's when they're most likely to lash out." She crossed her arms and frowned at Kai. "I'm surprised he hasn't torn you apart by now with how nervous you are around him."
     "He tried to bite my arm off once, in case you forgot."
     "Case in point."
     Kai started to say something, but stopped when he heard the heavy thud of therasus feet approaching. Lukan rode into the camp a moment later. As he climbed out of Rana's saddle he said, "Everything is quiet out there, nothing but skyles and insects. We should be safe for the night." He glanced around the camp, and for a moment Kai's heart stopped. "I thought you would at least have one of the tents up by now."
     "We were just about to get started on that when you came back," Kai told the older angel.
     Lukan frowned. "What have you been doing since I left? It couldn't have taken you that long to set up the fire."
     Kai scrambled for an excuse in his mind but couldn't come up with one. Thankfully, Kim stepped in and said, "The firewood was still a little wet from the rain this morning so it took us a little longer to get the fire going." She nodded toward Trak and added, "Plus, Trak was acting out again. We only just got him to settle down for the night before you came back. I swear, you need to teach Kai how to take better care of that animal on his own."
     Lukan seemed satisfied with the girl's answer. "I've been meaning to find the time to give Kai some lessons. If we continue to make good time in the next couple days then we'll take an afternoon off from travelling so I can do just that." He gave Rana a pat on the neck before moving over to their luggage. "Come on, I'll help you with the tents."
     While Lukan's back was turned Kai looked at Kim and silently mouthed, "Thanks." In response, the girl simply rolled her eyes.