This story was written for a flashfiction challenge created by Chuck Wendig some time ago – back in May 2013. The challenge was ‘Must Contain Psychic Powers‘, which delighted me to no end, and I wound up immediately rolling my d20 and getting started on a story, which I wrote in one day.
Possibly partly because my randomly-drawn superpower was pyromancy. I took five minutes or so to calm down from my excited giggles (I do love fire, and fire divination was a new thing for me to write about) and then settled down to listen to the story this character wanted to tell me. This story is exactly 1,000 words, riding the wordcount limit.
Summary: Kennet has served his tribe ever since he was a child, using his gift for their benefit without compliant. What could make his conviction waver?
“Diviner, your skill is needed!”
Kennet jumped, blinking away the blaze in his eyes from staring at the candle in front of him. He sighed, eying the innocent flame with its lack of any subterfuge, complexity, or foretellings.
It had been relaxing, simply watching the play of a flame, even such a small one.
It seemed that he so rarely got a chance to indulge in that simple pleasure – he was so often being called upon to use his gift, to invite and pull images, visions, prophecies from the flames.
Kennet rose, closing his hand around the small flame, and walked outside.
“Diviner, please, we need you.”
Kennet sighed, looking at the figure kneeling on the dirt before him, quite unnecessarily. “Aye?” he prompted, stepping forwards and resisting the urge to nudge the boy to his feet.
“The raiding party will leave in the morn, and your skill will smooth their path, and allow us to know their fate!”
Kennet nodded, though this was not one of the things he preferred to Look for in the fire. It was true that often he could See enough to allow such parties a safer passage, or even a more assured victory.
Even if, often, the things that Kennet saw turned his stomach or made him want to weep. He had given up protesting many years ago, however, when he was still a child – this was his gift, and it belonged, through him, to his people.
At least, when they had Kennet to guide them on their path, the sacrifices to the gods could be reduced, and often kept only to livestock, at each of the major points of the year. Even knowing why, it had wounded Kennet sorely, watching the young men and women be taken to their deaths.
Especially the young women.
The fire was prepared but not, of course, lit, when Kennet made his way to the stone circle, and he carefully concealed his tiredness and his lack of enthusiasm from those gathered around.
Building the fire was a long-familiar and simple task for Kennet, and he took care to prepare himself mentally, as much as he could, while his hands worked. Eventually it was large and hot enough to Look into – and to assure the observers of its power.
Kennet crouched close enough to the flames to feel his skin tighten from the heat, and reached inside – himself, the flame, the indefinable space beyond reality. He pulled at his gift, his eyes aching as he shifted his focus to Look.
A swirling mass of colours and heat and confusion, and then images bloomed in the centre of the flames, though Kennet knew only he would truly see them – only a blur of something magical would be visible to all who watched him.
The faces of warriors he knew – familiar both in his village and through his Sight – swam in the flames, at first reflections of their awed and expectant visages now, then blurring into the future.
Fighting and killing, a successful raid, small things that Kennet could warn for . . . followed by an almost unqualified victory that he could assure them would come. A good use of his Sight, and a short one. . .
Kennet paused. The flames were twisting viciously, uncertain and resolute at once, and he opened the connection a little further, this time not pulling at his gift, or at the flames themselves, but allowing himself to be pulled instead.
Future blurred into now, now blurred into past, and Kennet Looked. The moon of two nights before was in the sky, but the scene being shown was a shock.
A ceremony that was painfully familiar, and a ritual fire in this very spot. That connection allowed Kennet to not only watch, but feel, as a young girl he only vaguely knew – respected as he was, for his gift and for his usefulness, Kennet was somewhat apart from his tribe – was led through a dance and bound by flowers.
Then she was bound by ropes, and her hair torn from its braids to spill over her shoulders, her body arching back at a harsh pull, and-
Kennet felt himself, his body, firmly in the reality of the now, make a small sound of horrified pain as the girl’s throat was slit, and her heart stabbed. The blood flowed over the hands of each of the men in turn, the warriors Kennet sought to aid this day.
A sacrifice, a pact, and a pain that had not been necessary – and had been hidden from Kennet, as though there was anything that could be hidden from his gift.
Kennet had to force himself not to be sick – not at the Sight he was shown, he was long used to that, but at the reflection of the pain from the girl, however willing she had been at first, and the triumph from the others.
The faces in the fire, painted with blood, fell away as Kennet released the fire and closed himself; not completely, but enough for his head to slowly stop spinning.
There was a choice that must be made here. And quickly.
Kennet eyed the fire and did something he rarely did – he Asked.
Images swirled, and Kennet tried not to Look, his head aching, until they settled a little. What would happen from his choice today.
Kennet Watched, and Saw . . . and chose.
Kennet pulled from the fire with a dizzy whirl and a panting attempt to catch his breath, someone offering him a chalice of water, someone else patting his back carefully.
Kennet’s mouth twisted. The hand at his back had, two nights before, plunged a knife into a young girl’s heart; the fingers cradling the chalice alongside his own had soaked in her blood, revelling in viciousness.
“If you wish to be successful on your raid. . .” Kennet began, his voice rough, vision tinted fiery in the aftermath of the Sight.
Kennet is an old Gaelic name and means ‘born of fire’. (Sometimes I like name symbolism.)
Like the other results of my playing with the Terrible Minds flashfiction challenges, Fire Sight was originally posted on my account at AO3, here, where it and its fellows (including those yet to be posted here) find their first home.
By the way, I have a new post at the Rabid Rainbow Ferret Society blog as of yesterday. You can find it here.