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Chapter 2: Shadows and Flames

The small chapel was empty in mid-afternoon on a workday, with sunlight slanting through the stained-glass windows depicting pivotal scenes from the history of the Church and onto the empty rows of pews. That the chapel was consecrated to the Silver Flame would be obvious to even the most casual observer, for silver was the dominant color in the banners and on the flame-styled decorations around the windows and doors. At the front of the chapel was a small altar upon which sat a brazier; within it burned a fire that was never permitted to go out and had been tinted with powders or magic to burn with a distinctive silvery hue. It was not the true Silver Flame, of course – even the great Flame beneath the Grand Cathedral in Thrane, said to mark the site of Tira Miron’s last battle, was only a manifestation; the true Silver Flame was everywhere, and nowhere, even as were the evil forces it had been created to contain.

On the wall behind the brazier was a painting that depicted a young woman in gleaming armor; she wore no helm, so that her beautiful, determined features and flowing hair were plainly visible. One of her hands was raised in blessing; the other rested on the hilt of a sword that pinned beneath its tip a writhing shape of darkness. This was Tira Miron herself, prophet and first paladin of the Church; pinned beneath her blade was her enemy, the demon Bel Shalor who was also known as the Shadow in the Flame.

A cloaked figure quietly entered the chapel and walked towards the altar with careful steps, as if she still half-expected the sanctified ground to turn against her. Reaching the front of the room, she knelt before the altar and lowered her hood, revealing a youthful face framed by blonde hair that was newly cut short; Thyra Entarro looked up at the portrait of her namesake, and began to pray.

It wasn’t a prayer with words; Thyra didn’t even know what she might say anymore, but it was nonetheless a supplication and a need for blessing. Once, there had been a time when she had thought she might join the priesthood of the Flame herself, become a cleric battling evil and bringing light to dark places, but that had been before she discovered that she carried the taint of ancient fiends within her own blood. Thyra had made peace with that truth, to the extent that she could, but she still knew in her heart that her life had been set upon a different path and there would be no return to the dreams of her childhood. She might – she hoped – continue to follow the cause of the Flame, but she would never serve the Church as a priestess.

Nonetheless, she feared still that the demons – the ancient creatures called the Lords of Dust – were not finished with her, and hoped that somehow she could accomplish enough good to make up for whatever dark destiny she had been born to. And so she prayed, for blessing and guidance,

The Flame didn’t respond with words, of course; the Keeper of the Flame and some of the Cardinals were supposed to be able to communicate with it through Tira Miron’s spirit, but Thyra expected no such privilege. The Flame wasn’t a person, the way the gods of the Sovereign Host were said to be; in the strictest sense, Thyra wouldn’t even consider it a god. It was the embodiment of an ideal, and a power that enabled those who would strive for that ideal, not something a mortal human being could interact with. And yet, as she prayed, she felt comforted, as if merely knowing that the Flame had existed since ancient days and would still be there long after Thyra Entarro was gone reassured her.

Someone coughed behind her; Thyra jumped to her feet and spun, cloak whipping behind her, only to relax when she saw that it was only an old man in priest’s robes. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said; like Thyra, he had a slight but audible Thranish accent, which struck her as comforting somehow. “I was just coming to check on the fire; I didn’t realize anyone was here. I’m Father Tathin.”

“Thyra,” the young woman said, bobbing her head in a slight bow that the priest returned. “I didn’t mean to get in your way, Father; I just needed to take a moment with the Flame. I’ll be going now.”

She moved towards the door, but Father Tathin held up a hand. “You seem troubled, young lady,” he said. “People who come in here at odd hours usually are. Is there anything I can help you with?”

Thyra chuckled darkly. “I’m sorry, Father,” she said, “but I really doubt it, and we’d be here all day if I tried to explain. Let’s just say that my life lately hasn’t turned out at all to be what I’d expected; I think I know what I need to do, but it’s still just so overwhelming I feel like I’m completely out of control. I’m probably going to be leaving Sharn by the end of this week, and I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to find another chapel, so I thought I’d take a minute to pray and get my thoughts together.”

“Well, this is a good place for it,” Father Tahin said, smiling. “I don’t know what you’re going to be doing, and I won’t bother you about it – it sounds like something private. But if you would answer me this – wherever you’re going, will you keep the Flame in your mind and heart, and Tira Miron in your memory? Will you hold true to her example and succor the needy, protect the innocent, and thwart the guilty? In short, do you think this business of yours will leave Eberron a better world than it was before you began?”

Thyra paused for a long moment, remembering Taras’s words about the Key and what it could potentially do, and the thought of thwarting the Lords of Dust, perhaps forever. “Yes,” she finally said. “I think so. I hope so, anyway.”

Father Tathin smiled. “When you get to the heart of the matter, that’s all the Flame really asks of us,” he said. “And I believe that if you go forth with that in mind, that it will go with you, and Bless you.” He made a gesture of blessing with one hand. “Good luck, Thyra, with whatever mysterious journey you are undertaking. The Flame shine on you.”

“And on you, Father,” Thyra said, returning she gesture. The priest nodded and turned back towards the fire, and she too turned to leave the chapel. As she did so, she felt lighter, and somewhat at peace; the old priest hadn’t given her any concrete advice or aid, and yet Thyra couldn’t help but feel that he’d taken part of a burden from her shoulders.

///

The sound of music echoed through the opera house, leaving the audience enraptured as they listened. The voices of the singers on stage were powerful and expertly pitched, weaving complex webs of song that left listeners spellbound, with equally capable accompaniment from the orchestra. The lyrics were in an archaic form of the Elvish language that few in the audience understood, and the story was equally ancient, dating back to the Age of Giants and the long struggles of the elves in their ancestral homeland of Xen’drik. Rinnean, though an elf himself, wasn’t familiar with this story, and in all honesty cared little for it; he was here because of the music and the spectacle – and to watch one of the performers in particular.

Even now, the music died away as she approached the front of the stage for her solo. Vaelynn d’Thuranni was young by the standards of elves but was considered a rising star by a number of The Sharn Inquisitive’s more prominent music critics. Tonight she was wrapped in a dark gown that accented her pale skin and jet-black hair; from what Rinnean had read in the program, her character was supposed to be some legendary oracle who exhorted her fellow elves to stand against the giants and their tyranny. He had no idea how much of it was true; elves had long memories but not that long, and this opera was set in the days long before the birth of the Undying Court. Still, he had to admit as Vaelynn began her song, the part suited her well.

“Enjoying the show?” the man in the seat beside Rinnean’s, a portly, well-dressed gnome, whispered; apparently he’d noticed Rinnean leaning forward when Vaelynn’s solo was about to begin. “Sure is something, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” the elf said quietly. “You don’t know the half of it.”

The gnome grinned, excited, as many of his kind were, by the prospect of intrigue. “Do say on, friend,” he said, leaning in close. “They say House Thuranni produces more than just entertainers. You seem like a knowledgeable man. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to share if those rumors are true?”

“No,” Rinnean said, eyes still on the stage. He was already wearying of this conversation. Maybe coming here tonight had been a mistake, he thought. Someone here was bound to recognize him sooner or later – someone more knowledgeable than an overly inquisitive gnome – and that could lead to some very awkward conversations. Still, when he’d seen an advertisement in the paper that Vaelynn would be taking a starring role in a new opera, he’d been unable to keep himself away.

On the stage below, Vaelynn’s solo finished; she turned to leave the stage as the next scene’s cast took their places, but as she did so, her gaze flitted up to the balcony. It was a far distance to pick out details, but elves have keen vision; her eyes and Rinnean’s the exact same shade of dark blue-violet, met. She gave a faint acknowledgment, a nod so slight no one would notice it if they weren’t looking, and then she was gone.

At Rinnean’s side, the gnome had pulled out his program and was staring intently at the cover, a portrait of the singers with Vaelynn prominently displayed near the center. He ran a finger along the ink thoughtfully. “Say, friend,” he said, “you look an awful lot like…” The gnome turned towards Rinnean to make his observation, but his voice trailed off. The seat beside him was empty.

///

Later that night, Rinnean crouched on the roof of an apartment building overlooking the opera house, watching the crowds streaming out into the night, conversing about the performance in loud voices he could almost make out. Scowling, he stood and began to pace back and forth along the edge, idly tossing a dagger and catching it in one hand. Finally, he heard the sound of soft footsteps behind him.

“I was wondering if you’d find me,” he said, turning to face the newcomer. Vaelynn d’Thuranni regarded him with arms crossed; she’d changed out of her costume and into a plain, loose-fitting shirt and pants and wore her black hair pulled back in a simple tail, but still she was unmistakable. Rinnean knew her face better than he knew his own.

“Hello, Rinnean,” Vaelynn said, looking him up and down. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it… brother?”

“It has at that,” he replied, shaking his head. It had been more than a year since he’d last spoken with his twin sister, but still neither sibling made a move to embrace the other, or to cry tears of joy at the unexpected reunion. Their last argument before Rinnean had stormed out of House Thuranni and never looked back had been far too heated for that.

And yet, their blood kinship was obvious to even a casual observer – even that fool gnome had picked up on it in the opera house, working from a picture of Vaelynn that wasn’t, in Rinnean’s opinion, even a particularly good likeness. In person, it was even more striking. The twins had been able to effortlessly pass themselves off as each other during their childhood, much to the consternation of their parents and tutors. As adults, they still could, given the right clothing and time to prepare. But of course, there was one key difference that in the culture of House Thuranni meant all the world.

Vaelynn had a dragonmark, and Rinnean did not. That division between them hadn’t been what drove him from the House, but it as sure as Dolurrh had been a start.

“I’m surprised you came tonight, brother,” Vaelynn said. “Wouldn’t think you’d want to risk running into someone from the House who’d be rather less understanding than me. Some of them still think you’re a traitor, you know.”

“Well, I could hardly miss my baby sister’s performance, could I?” Rinnean asked with a grin; Vaelynn rolled her eyes. He was older, but by less than an hour; even to short-lived humans, it was barely a difference. “And besides, I… wasn’t sure when I’d get a chance to talk to you again. I’m leaving Sharn before too long, and I’ve no idea how long it will be before I get back.”

“Leaving? What?” Vaelynn asked. “I’d heard you’d taken up work for some scruffy mercenary; by the Traveler, don’t tell me that’s true. Talk about a family embarrassment.”

Rinnean waved her teasing away with one hand. “It’s not so bad, really,” he said. “The job isn’t too hard, the pay is decent enough, and the fact that I’m easily the best looking one on the team is a fact I can always comfort myself with. But… well, we’ve gotten mixed up in something I can’t easily explain, and the captain’s decided to drag us halfway around the world, to Sarlona of all places. And she’s the one who pays me, I can hardly say no.”

“What have you gotten yourself into now, Rinnean?” Vaelynn asked, but her expression softened. “You don’t have to do it, you know. Come home, brother. We can talk to Father, and he can talk to the Baron and smooth things over. Whatever happens, Mark or no, you’re still a Thuranni.”

“No,” Rinnean said firmly, pulling away. “You weren’t there on that last assignment, Vaelynn. It was bad. I may not have many standards, dammit, but I have a few. And I’m not comfortable with being part of a House that thinks murdering its rivals and their families is acceptable business practice.”

Vaelynn sighed. “I had a feeling you’d say that,” she said. Then, unexpectedly, she stepped forward and wrapped her brother in a hug; Rinnean tensed for a moment and then returned it. “But you’re still my brother. Good luck with whatever it is you’ve gotten yourself mixed up in, and come back in one piece, all right? And if you ever find yourself somewhere I’m performing and need help with anything… get in touch, and I’ll be there. I promise.”

A sudden warmth blossomed in Rinnean’s chest; he tried to fight the pleasant feeling down, but wasn’t able to completely. “Thank you, Vaelynn,” he said. “It’s good to have someone you can rely on out there.”

Vaelynn pulled back and grinned. “Why not? Someone has to be the responsible one.”

///

We continue our character focus here, in this case looking at both Thyra and Rinnean. Religious Studies is my area IRL, and it certainly influences my desire to explore the religious lives of my characters; this is particularly true of Thyra, who is both very devout and has a very complicated relationship with her Church. Thus, the chapel makes an ideal venue to explore some of the ways she’s changed after her decision to stop fighting what she is last fic.

We also get some light shed on Rinnean, one of the less-focused-on mercenaries in the previous fic. I’d alluded to someone being tied to a dragonmarked house in one of my previous author notes, and he’s the one, a Thuranni out of favor with his family. Rinnean was a hard character for me to get good insight into earlier, which may sound odd considering I created him – I knew he was an elf rogue, and the most selfish and morally dubious of the team, but it wasn’t until I determined he had a falling out with his family that I realized just who that family was, and the key piece of who Rinnean was as a person fell into place. We’ll get more on his backstory later on. For now, I will say that nobody, not even Len, knows he’s a Thuranni – but Yhani has her suspicions.

Speaking of the Thuranni, Vaelynn is actually a character I created for another storyline that’s yet to get off the ground; she
was a Thuranni from my first conception of her, and making her Rinnean’s twin sister (and giving her a cameo here) fit neatly into place after his backstory fell together. Like many members of her house, she leads a double-life as an entertainer and something rather shadier – opera singer and spy respectively, in her case. I may tell her story someday, or maybe not. Either way, Rinnean may find an opportunity to make use of that favor before the Game of the Ancients storyline is over…

-MasterGhandalf


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