The Warmth of the Hearth

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A Bitter Reunion

A feeling of extreme cold hits Luke’s entire body, making him shiver as he continues to scan the area around him. The water he was just in seemed to be horrendously polluted, a river where broken bottles and dead fish can be seen floating on its surface. Luke attempts to get up and is surprised to see that he has enough strength to do so. He feels a surge of energy inside of him, despite the freezing temperature.

Luke spreads out his arms in front of him and conjures his flames. His eyes glow a bright white, and white flames immediately erupt from the palm of his hands and swirl all around him. The warmth engulfs Luke’s entire body. A sigh of relief escapes him as the water on his skin evaporates with a sizzle.

A rustle can be heard in the tree line behind him as dozens of animals can be seen scattering, as if running away from something. The ground shakes, and Luke hears a thud, followed by another. The trees seem to shake as the sound grows louder and louder. Luke brings out his flames, ready to burn whatever was about to appear.

A teen boy enters the clearing, about as old as Luke. He had a shaved head with goggles on his forehead. His clothes were tattered, holes evident on his tunic. A robe was wrapped around his shoulders and he was carrying a weird mechanism on his right hand. Behind him, an enormous creature that resembled a tree appeared, its branch-like limbs slow in their movements. The boy stops, the creature behind him pausing as well. He spots Luke, which causes the young mage to instantly hide his flames.

The boy speaks, pointing at Luke with the object in his hand. “Oi! What are you doing in that muck? You’re gonna need a good scrubbing to get that stench off ya!” He walks towards Luke, jumping over the rocky terrain with ease. The creature lies still, not moving from the spot, as if frozen. He now stands in front Luke, the black stains on his face now visible to the young Laisren. The boy extends his free arm, introducing himself. “Sup? The name’s Nieko! Pleasure to meet ya!”

Luke focuses, checking to see if there was anything fishy going on. He senses a faint glow of blue from the boy, the scent of Llyr. This catches Luke off guard, he has never seen anyone with such a weak magical aura. A fierce glow catches his eye, a violent green light coming from behind the boy. The creature he was with was basically oozing with manna, leaking out in every direction. Luke looks back at him, taking his hand. “Pleasure’s all mine! The name’s Luke Laisren, and say… is that a Treant behind you?”

Nieko looks behind him, then back at Luke. A smile is plastered on his face, pride evident in his eyes. “You bet it is! That’s my buddy Tyrone. He’s a bit shy so uhm, he said he’ll stay a good distance away from ya.”

Luke looks at the Treant, his branch arms waving at him. The young mage waves back, and he sees Tyrone’s face light up, with a smile that seemed to be firmed by splinters. “He looks friendly, how’d you Bond with him?” Bonding was the act of befriending a creature of the elements, like Treants and Pixies. This allows a human to form a contract of trust between the two which means that the bonded creature will lend its power whenever needed and vice versa. Bonds can be formed in many ways, depending on what creature is involved.

Nieko looks at him, confused. “Bond? What’s that?” Luke’s eyes look at him, as if he thought that Nieko was joking. Nieko notices this and continues. “No idea what you’re talking about mate. I met Tyrone in the forest fending off hunters that were attempting to illegally cut down what’s left of the trees, and I helped him out.” He turns to look at Tyrone, now chasing a butterfly that happened to be fluttering around. He sees Nieko looking at him and he smiles, which Nieko returns gladly. “He’s a good friend of mine, saved me a couple of times.” He turns to Luke, still smiling. “So, I’m guessing you’re a mage as well?”

Luke asks sarcastically, “What gave it away? Was it the outfit?” He points at his training gear, a hole present near his stomach.

Nieko laughs, pleased by Luke’s humor. “That, and the fact that Tyrone was so eager to see you. He only does that when there are mages around and trust me mate, there aren’t a lot of you here in The Slums.”

“The Slums? Is that where we are? And by ‘as well’, you mean there are others?” Luke asks, confused.

Nieko nods, his smile now gone. “Not others, just another. An old sod that came crawling at our doorstep all bloodied up, scared the living hell out of me. He arrived yesterday, burns all around him and a missing eye. Think you might know him?”

Luke is now certain that something was wrong, first him being thrown out and another mage injured in The Slums. “Yeah, might be someone I know. Can you lead me to him?” He was certain that he could trust Nieko, and that meeting this was the only way that he could find out what was going on.

A loud rumble occurs and they both turn around to see Tyrone on the ground, examining a frog up close. Nieko puts a hand on his face and turns to Luke. “He’s doing swell, if being half-cooked is swell.” He turns around and gestures for Luke to follow him. “Come, it’s not far from here.”

Luke follows him into the forest, where Nieko skillfully maneuvers his way through. Luke easily follows behind him, as Tyrone struggles to squeeze his way through trees. They arrive at another clearing. A huge meadow, its wilted grass swaying with the breeze. In the middle, an adequately sized cabin can be seen, with shattered windowpanes and an ancient wooden frame. Luke wondered how it still managed to stay up, based on the way that it looked. They head in, with Tyrone remaining outside. Nieko leads Luke to a room brightly lit by candles. There he saw a familiar figure laying on the bed, an old man sitting on a stool beside him.

“I see that you have brought company Nieko. To whom do I owe the pleasure?” The old man struggles to speak, wheezing in between words. He attempts to stand up but fails, eventually receding to simply extending his hand.

“Grandpa, this bloke’s name is Luke Laisren. Luke, this is my grandfather Souyer.” Nieko introduces the both of them with a smile.

Luke takes Souyer’s hand and shakes it. “A pleasure to meet you, sir.” He approaches the bed to check on the mage, who seemed to be unconscious. His skin was badly burnt, a bandage covering his left eye. It was hard to identify who it was with the burns on his face. He looks at Souyer before continuing. “May I?” Souyer simply nods.

Luke pulls down the sheets, checking to see if the mage had a crest. He sees the familiar red and blue robes that his house boasted. A glint catches his eye. On the right chest, the butterfly pin that House Laisren bestowed to its head butler can be seen, the pin that was supposed to be with his uncle. A realization hits Luke, his heart sinks. Uncle Olin? He hovers his hands over the injured mage, breathing deeply as he prepares himself. A bright white light engulfs the room, causing Nieko and Souyer to cover their eyes from the flash. As the light fades, they turn to look at Luke, and were surprised to see all of the mage’s injuries gone, as if they never happened. Olin stirs, his right eye opening. He sees Luke and his hands above him, a white flame swirling around them. “Luke?”

Luke smiles, putting down both of his arms. “Hey Uncle Olin.”

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