COMMISSION: Cinder and Smoke
After one of my pet projects, Tusk Love, picked up a lot of traction from the Critical Role fandom, I ran a giveaway for a three-page short story for my followers on Twitter and the ones on Tumblr.
Tony Martell (@Mizutanitony) was the Tumblr winner and commissioned a heartwarming short story involving two of his original characters, Nami and Atreides.
We discussed what the short story could be about, and after putting me up to speed on the lore behind Nami and Atreides, I proposed two stories, and so Cinder and Smoke was born.
Cinder and Smoke
It was not long before the columns of smoke peaked over the canopies of the Skeijin woods. Dark and foreboding, they reached for the skies and pierced the white clouds with ease. Nami knew all too well what they meant. Running supplies in between towns at the Argent Soul’s request took her almost everywhere. Three centuries and counting, the Elf had become somewhat numb to the feebleness of humankind and their squabbles, but as for helping the downtrodden, that was something Nami could never walk away from.
Picking up her pace, the monk aimed to reach the source of the smoke, before the sun shined above the crest of the world. Her modest wagon rattled with the speed, the wooden wheels bumping on the poorly kept roads. Nami wondered, how the people faired around here before flames took their livelihood, if not their lives. Like expertly cut amethysts, her eyes scoured the treelines to the East and West, hoping for signs of live, but even the wild had grown silent. The smoke was a fading dark grey, so she reckoned the flames had long died down, perhaps, the quiet came from the weeping of the woods. Maybe, that’s what they would be called now after that unspeakable act.
As the trees parted, Nami could finally lay her eyes on the smoking cinders of the small town that first stood there. Deep inside, she had hoped for a battlefield, for consenting sides fighting for a meaningless resolution, but alas, her eyes teared from the smoke of faded burnt houses. The smell of charred flesh still lingered, and necrophages would certainly find an endless feast to fill their stomachs. Nami pulled on a tarp from her wagon and covered it, keeping the curiosity of birds or anything else from picking at her supplies. She parked it next to what seemed to be the smouldering remains of an inn and began walking the dead streets.
Everywhere she looked, blackened planks of wood gave way to ashes and dust. Piles of burnt homes still flickered with embers being gently awakened by the breeze. Out of the corner of her eye, to the Northwest, Nami saw movement. As she approached, the growling grew louder and soon, she saw a wild mongrel tugging at a leather boot, still attached to a leg. Nami thought about what to do. The dog was surely starving, yet eating the corpse of whom could have been its master was too foul to be allowed. She waved her arms and cursed in common, stomping her feet with every step forward. It looked at Nami with desperate eyes and burnt snout. Before it could snarl her way, she threw some jerky from her pocket the opposite direction, and Nami would swear she never saw a dog run so fast before.
Nami crouched over the burnt leather boot and sighed. Many monks called her stern and sometimes unjust in their punishment or critique, but her heart would forever ache with the sight of live squandered, when the flicker of life got snuffed. The irony was not lost on her, but when Nami pushed the crumbled wall off the body, she was grounded once more. A woman laid there, her back turned to Nami. On further inspection, she had been sheltering something. Nami took two steps back, her lips quivering with heartbreak. She bared her teeth as to ward away the pain. Behind her, the cracking of old wood made her snap at attention. Nami turned, adopting the defensive wide stance of the Earth element, the resolute expression washing over the tears. As her fingers curled into fists, the boy scavenging in the ruins retreat quickly.
The Elf exhaled and sheathed her caginess. As soon as she turned to face her mistaken foe, she ran after him.
“Wait,” she yelled, the gruff of her voice scratching her throat. “I mean you no harm!”
“Leave me alone!” cried the boy, his stride almost a gallop.
He stumbled over a toppled palisade tower, yet climbing the cracked wood wall easily. Nami struggled to keep up, as her senses unravelled the subtle chaos of the burnt down town. She darted to the left with a lowered head, avoiding the beam defaced by bright orange embers. The boy kept running and Nami kept chasing, and the fear of getting lost was swallowed dry, deprioritised over the life of a young scavenger. After taking a right and arriving at the end of the street, the boy reached the broken remnants of what seemed to be a barn. The curved rough had caved in, beams protruding from the fallen wall. Its red colour had turned to a blood charcoal, and the grains inside surely contributed to its demise.
The boy ran inside, and if the building had still been on fire, Nami would have hesitated to follow, but she followed him still, hoping he would listen.
“Please, I have supplies I can share!”
His voice bounced off the walls in the quiet barn like birdsong among mountain tops. It was high but tired. As her eyes pierced through the desolate surroundings, they met his face. Red, touched by fire deeper than the one that encompassed the barn however many days before. His horns absorbed light, its rough almost stone like edges seemed as dangerous as they were enthrallingly beautiful. With eyes like molten gold, he seemed to curse Nami, before dropping down a trap door, surely leading to a hidden cellar. Instead of following the boy, Nami stayed back.
“I am going for my wagon, child. I will bring you food and clothing.” Nami leaned in further, only to make sure he could hear, “You are safe, do not fear me. I am with the Monastery of the Argent Soul. Be calm.”
Nami’s elven senses aided her where humans would have been lost before. She made her way back to where she had left the wagon, when she first walked into the nameless burnt town. Whatever they had called it before, with no survivors, there was no rebirth in its ashes. Passing by the fallen tower, houses and inn, Nami found her supplies untouched by the inquisitive crows lurking atop stripped thatched roofs. Their heads cocked when she approached the wagon, but their call was ignored by the Elf.
She sat by the large barn doors, with a wheel of cheese, bread and smoked meats at her feet. She threw a blanket over her shoulders, opened a book half way through and began reading. Sunset came and went and the sun was laid to rest once more. Days passed, but her determination was unyielding. The small Tiefling boy would have to come out eventually. It seemed somewhat cruel, to starve him out, but like one would water and care for the sapling in a seemingly dead forest, Nami would help the boy, regardless of his attitude.
With every hour, eventually came remembrance. She was needed some place else, and the supplies behind her where needed in towns where disaster had yet to strike. Grief clawed at her heart, but Nami had no choice. The contents of her wagon were not hers to give, not entirely. Her voice was quieter than the last time she spoke.
“Child, I must go. I have waited for two days for you to see my intentions as pure, but I cannot wait any longer,” she stood up, took the blanket from her shoulders and folded it against her chest, “I leave these supplies for you, and I hope you find goodhearted folk to care for you.”
Nami placed the blanket of the floor, picking the food and laying it on top of the warm wool. She turned on her heels, pulled on the leather handle of her wagon and led it away from the barn. She looked at the barn a couple of times and it remained stagnant, unmoving, with only the smell of smoke creeping through the air. Nami had passed the inn, before she could her wagon shift, newfound weight rocking its frame. The Elf glanced over her shoulder, expecting the dog looking for more food, but finding the small Tiefling boy, wrapped in his blanket, gnawing at a piece of bread.
“My name is Atreides,” said the boy softly, meeting her gaze, “Nice to meet you.”
(These characters belong to its commissioner.)