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Heat and Arrows [story]

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[To consume time until next week, for the next several days I'll be posting stories previously written two years ago on Kannadi's Lodestone blog. This one follows "Rain and Monsters." 1572 was certainly a busy year for her.]



The sun beat upon Camp Horizon in a rare break between the unnatural yet lately common rains. Heat drank the pools of standing water and turned the air into soup. Black and gold flags celebrating the Saint Daniffen School’s Thirtieth Junior Hunter’s Competition had no wind in which to flap. Most of the children had thus dispensed with their archer’s hats and left their clothes as open as they could.


“Notch!” Shouted the thick-shouldered battlewarden. Ten teenagers’ sweating hands flew to their belt-mounted quivers and fumbled with loading their bows.


“Draw!” Ten strings pulled. Two arrows slipped and were hastily nudged back into place.


“Loose!” Ten arrows flew, six hit their marks, and one little boy cried out in pain.


The event’s medic rushed to the line of competitors. Part of a white fletching was stuck deep in the boy’s index finger.


Sitting among the audience in the collapsible two-level bleachers under the shading tarps, Kannadi winced in sympathy.


“Oh my,” she said. “He stuck out his finger.”


Next to Kannadi sat a short teenage girl with bows in her boartailed hair. She sucked her teeth in shaming disappointment, snapped out a fan and fanned herself.


“Dumbass,” the younger girl said. “He was on a freakin’ roll. Mom’s gonna chew his ass off if he loses ‘cause of it.”


Kannadi did not fan herself, which many among the sweltering audience found odd. The shade allowed the more lightly-dressed spectators to hover at the edge of comfort, but Kannadi was covered neck to ankle in her gray robe. She hadn’t removed her broad black hat, let alone her thigh-high toadskin boots.


“Don’t worry, Nadra,” Kannadi said, not the slightest bit uncomfortable. “He built enough of a buffer in points.”


“Yeah, watch him blow that too.”


“You ought to have faith in your brother.”


Tssch.” And that ended the conversation.


While most children of Ul’dahn wealth spent their private school days on manners, business, and how to meet and defeat powerful people, Haytham Albedo had spent his childhood in Saint Daniffen’s. It was a snooty conservative institution which valued the sort of physical education that Ul’dahn aristocrats enjoyed: power from afar, delivered with precision, by pulling a string.


To call the competitors “hunters” was self-flattering high-brow hyperbole. The event utterly lacked the cultural value it might have had in Gridania. It was a game in which children served as proxies in their rich parents’ constant one-upsmanship. The biggest creatures the competitors had ever shot were marmots in a pen.


Still, being freshly fifteen years old, it was Haytham’s first eligible year. He had to participate,thanks to the enormous pressure from two parents, five siblings and one nearly deified grandmother.


Only Nadra, the youngest of his elder sisters, bothered to brave the humidity to serve as the strict and criticizing immediate-family representative. That fact was not lost on him. Fortunately, his cousin Kannadi was there too. He greatly preferred her to his siblings. They hadn’t given him all those books on archery, for one thing.


“Were you trying to shoot your finger off, you stupid dodo?” Nadra snapped as he approached.


Haytham made a fist to hide his injury. The bandage was pink, for some Twelvedamned reason.


Kannadi tapped her chin. “The Satrapi boy did it,” she said, “so you thought it might be advantageous.”


Haytham nodded.


“Except that chicken feathers are softer than eagle feathers,” Kannadi continued, “and glue of drake scales dries both harder and grittier than that of animal bones. Such abrasiveness at launch velocity would snag in anyone’s finger.”


Nadra blinked at Kannadi. “Huh?”


“I’m just comparing the simple and efficient construction of common bronze arrows to that of those ridiculously overpriced things your father gave him.”


“Hey!” Nadra stamped her foot. “Those were the finest red coral arrows, I’ll have you know! Heads like razors, shafts like iron!”


Haytham’s head jerked between his sister and cousin as they traded barbs, apparently oblivious to the rest of the spectators around them.


“Then why not pin them to his tabard?” Kannadi calmly bit back. “All your side of the family wants is to flaunt its wealth, after all.”


“Oh, like you’re any better? What about that robe?”


“This is my work robe, cousin.”


“And it cost a mint!”


“But it’s effective.”


“And Dad’s arrows aren’t?”


“Yes, they are--”






“But nothing, I won!”


Haytham risked an “Um.”


Nadra haughtily flipped one of her bows. “See? Haytham agrees with me.”


“The battlewarden’s coming back out,” he said, pointing his pink bandaged finger.


- - -


“Ladies and gentlemen!” Shouted the warden at the aetheryte. “We will now begin the final event: the Trophy Hunt!”


The men and women in the shaded stands applauded, if only to stir the air.


The warden gestured to the line of sweating boys and girls behind him in the sun. Each had an adult at their backs; Haytham had Kannadi.


“These fine competitors,” he shouted, “will now range with their designated chaperones, hunt the most impressive game they can, and teleport back, all within the next hour! Depending on the prey taken down and the cleanliness of the kill, massive amounts of points may be awarded! It's still anyone's game!


“Now, boys and girls!” The warden spun on his heel to face the line of competitors and spoke, for once, without shouting. “The fewer strikes you make, the better your score. Our game inspectors came all the way from the Quiver’s Hold at great expense to your mommies and daddies, so don’t think you can trick us by pulling arrows out.”


Several children gulped.


“That goes for you too, chaperones,” the warden continued with a practiced glare. “No tricks. We know what arrow holes look like. Fresh wounds on the carcass made by anything else means disqualification for your young charge. Understand?”


Kannadi had her ice brand by her side. The other adults were armed with anything but a bow. They nodded or grunted acknowledgment.


“Very well.” The warden spun back around to the audience. “The Trophy Hunt will now commence! Competitors, best of luck!”


The audience clapped and the line shattered, each child and adult running off in all directions. Kannadi held her hat down and dashed after Haytham, mildly regretting teaching him how best to sprint.


Once the youths were out of sight, the warden resumed shouting. “Now while we wait, ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy a special performance paid for by the generous contributions of Saint Daniffen alumni! Join me in welcoming Gridania’s favorite musical troupe, the Homunculi!”


Nadra and several other young girls squealed with delight. Payment for tolerating the heat had come.


- - -


Haytham finally ran out of breath after a half of a malm and took refuge in the shade of a rock. One of Western Thanalan’s famous weathered-out chasms yawned nearby. Kannadi waited in the sun, hat and robe and boots and all.


“How can you stand it?” He asked.


“You’ll have to be more specific.”


“The heat!”


“It’s an acquired temperature. I don’t mind it.”




She decided to leave the discussion about loose clothing and air convection for another day.


Heat shimmered the muggy air. Haytham flapped his school uniform tabard.


“Thanks, by the way,” he said. “For being here. Y’know.”


“You’re quite welcome.”


Haytham filled the silence with more ventilation flapping.


“Dad’s got a lot of trophies,” he said at last.


“I know.” Kannadi bit her cheek to restrain her opinion that her uncle had purchased several of them.


“He doesn’t teach me anymore.”


“I know.”


“This one time? We were out hunting? And he shot a dodo right in the eye at twenty -- no, thirty yalms.”




“It ran around all squawking and flapping, fell off the cliff edge and landed on its face. When we found it, the arrow’d gone right through the back of its head.”


“I suspect it would.”


“It was awesome.”


“I bet.”


Haytham stopped his flapping and picked up his bow.


“Know where to find a really fat dodo?” He asked.


“I do, as a matter of....”


Kannadi let her sentence trail off. She looked at the sky, then toward the chasm.


“What is it?” Haytham stood up.


“Listen,” Kannadi said.


He listened.


He heard buzzing.


Haytham’s whisper came laced with excitement. “Gnats.”


They came as if on cue. Twenty vile gnats buzzed out of the chasm, headed away from the shady rock. Their collective buzz set Kannadi’s teeth on edge. The recent bizarre aetheric disorder in the land had enlarged many monsters, but few by such a degree as the common gnat. They were bigger than her, now.


Haytham breathed excitedly. “I never saw Dad shoot a gnat. He’s scared of them.”


“As well he should be,” Kannadi said. She could nearly feel her teeth rattle.


One gnat in the swarm split away and alighted on a rock bridge spanning the chasm. Kannadi could see it had something wriggling in its grasp. The gnat began eating its prey, and it stopped wriggling.


Haytham gripped his bow and began stalking towards the rock bridge. Kannadi seized him by the shoulder.


“No,” she said.


“It’s right there!” Haytham protested.


“Then leave it there.”


“But I can kill it in one shot!”


“All respect, cousin, I doubt that.”


“I just want one shot at it! If I make it I’ll win for sure, and if I don’t, I’ll only have wasted one arrow and then we can find a dodo.”


“And when the gnat turns aggressive on you?”


“Then you can show me how strong you are by killing it yourself. And I’ll pay you a lot.”


Kannadi blinked, exactly once. He was certainly his father’s son.


“You have a fine career ahead of you in Ul’dah, cousin,” she said, laboring to not let sarcasm slip in. “Now watch your footing and stalk downwind.”


Haytham’s stalk was more of an eye-drawing lurch across completely open terrain. He was about as hidden as a mountain as he approached the gnat on the rock bridge.


Kannadi kept both eyes on him, but allowed her attention to drift to the thing the gnat was eating. She had thought it was a marmot, being about the same size. The problem was that marmots weren’t that fat. Or white.


She squinted. The prey was bald, too. And clearly too long to be a diremite larva.


“Darkness descendeth,” said a man’s voice behind her.


Kannadi turned around, taking up her brand in the same motion.


No one was there. The voice continued regardless. “Open thine eyes, ye seeker of truth!”


Kannadi heard an electric sizzle behind her. She spun to see her cousin alone on the bridge.




The gnat had vanished. Haytham looked back at her, genuinely confused. He shrugged.


The gnat reappeared between them in a burst of electricity. It aimed itself at the boy.


Chainspell Stoneskin!” Kannadi screamed.


Aetheric stone enveloped Haytham an instant before a violet beam of lightning blasted him off the bridge. He shed insubstantial shards of the protective spell as he arced into open air.


The gnat descended after him.




The gnat exploded.


Kannadi sprinted toward the rock bridge. She stopped short at the edge.


“Stoneskin,” she muttered. And she leapt into the chasm.


- - -


Kannadi hit the ground. Her spell absorbed her impact, freeing her of bits of rock that were invisible before and after they fell off. Haytham lay still on the ground. Before she could call out to him, he stirred.




She strode to her cousin’s side. “I’m here, Haytham. Hold onto me, I’ll teleport us back to Horizon.”


Haytham smacked her outstretched hand aside. “You can’t! I haven’t got a trophy yet!”


“Your life is more important.”


“Nadra’ll tell Mom and Dad I screwed up!”


“We can’t stay here, Haytham, the chasms are rife with deadly monsters!”


“Oh yeah? Where?”


Kannadi paused and looked around for the first time. She and her cousin were alone, save for the plants that had capitalized on abundant water and relative shade. A thin blue spire of glowing light stood out some distance away.


“There… well, there ought to be something. That’s the Footfalls node over there, there should be diremites crawling about.”


Haytham dusted himself off and walked to where his bow had fallen, luckily unbroken. “Big ones?”


“Their tails are taller than you.”


“Really? I bet that’d be worth a ton of points.”


Haytham bent to grab his bow. Only then did he notice the thing it had landed on. It looked like a giant white sausage with teeth -- or rather half a sausage. Something had chewed on it.


Haytham, exercising typical juvenile foresight, picked up the curiosity and brought it closer to his face for inspection. The thing twitched and he jumped clear off the ground.


“Ew, ew! What is that?!”


The offending sausage turned over and over in apparent agony, oozing thick yellow-brown gel from a jagged wound where the rest of its body once was.


Kannadi covered her mouth. Haytham stared slack-jawed in the disgusted awe typical of his age.


“This is serious, Haytham,” Kannadi said behind her hand. “Do you know what a sandworm is?”


Haytham maintained his wire-tight gaze on the writhing annelid. “That?”


“Sandworms are enormous beasts that roam the empty quarter of the desert. That, cousin, is a newborn. A sandworm would have to tunnel through bedrock to reach here and lay its eggs.”


Haytham grasped his bow and used it to poke at the stricken white thing. “Is it still around? The mom, I mean?”


Kannadi scanned the chasm. Suddenly the absence of monsters made terrible sense. And yet….


“No. Sandworms don’t rear their own young. They deposit eggs and leave forever. Those gnats must have found the cache and made off with it.” She exhaled. “There’s no danger of encountering a sandworm here.”


“Aww,” awwed Haytham as he retrieved his spilled arrows.


“Don’t aww me, cousin. I couldn’t so much as scratch one. Luckily the gnats took care of—”


Kannadi bit off the rest of her thought and started a new one aloud. “Why were they fleeing?”


“They got full?”


“Gnats never swarm away from food! There had to be a predator! And down here, there’s….”


Kannadi looked to the nearest cave and found herself correct. A reptilian head fringed with rainbow feathers stretched into the sun on a long hooded neck. The monster seemed to slither even as it walked.


“A basilisk peiste.” Kannadi drew her ice brand. Behind her, unseen, Haytham wordlessly notched an arrow.


“Haytham,” she said without turning, “I want you to run to the node. I’ll keep this creature at bay. Do you understand?”


An arrow whizzed past her hat.


It struck the dirt between the basilisk’s clawed toes.


“That’s rather the opposite of running, cousin.”


The basilisk lowered its head and charged, baring its needle teeth.


Haytham nocked another arrow, breathing rapidly to keep from shivering himself apart. “Kannadi,” he said, “I have an idea.”


“Hang your idea! Slow!


Black light cascaded over the basilisk without effect.


Haytham shot his arrow and fled before he could see it miss. The basilisk veered to chase him. Kannadi pointed her brand.




Yellow light sparkled across the long spiked scales of the basilisk’s back. The creature spat a hiss over its needle teeth and jerked to a standstill.


Haytham hid behind a tall weathered-out pillar of rock and nocked another arrow. He glanced at his quiver; he had two shots left.


“Kannadi!” He shouted. “Don’t pull it off me!”


Kannadi ran straight towards him. “Nonsense! I’ll drag you out if I have to!”


“Shadowbind!” Haytham shouted. He loosed his arrow at a low arc and pierced Kannadi’s shadow. Black thorns erupted from the shade and bound her painlessly in place.


“Why you insufferable little…!” Kannadi struggled, pinned upright. Of course the stupid boy would bindher out of range of the basilisk. “How did you learn that?!”


Haytham fumbled with his last arrow. “Dad paid for really good tutors! And your books really helped! I’m sorry, I really need it mad at me!”


“Then tell it you’re its cousin!”


Haytham circled the pillar halfway, putting him squarely between it and the monster. The bulging eyes focused on him with murderous intent, and he could see the restrained twitching of the basilisk’s muscles set to sprint at first opportunity.


Haytham’s legs trembled, but his hands didn’t. He nocked his final arrow. He drew the bowstring.


“Hawk’s Eye,” he whispered. “Hawk’s Eye!” He yelled.


“Haytham, don’t—!”


The yellow light broke its hold. The red coral arrow flew. Freed from paralysis, the basilisk drew back its head to strike, meeting perfectly the arc of Haytham’s too-high shot.


The arrow sank into the basilisk’s right eye. Reptilian blood spurted. The enraged creature charged.


Haytham’s wobbly legs stepped him slowly and carefully to the right of the pillar.


Blinded in its right eye, the basilisk aimed its strike with its left, which in its surge of predatory rage did not register the stone pillar as a collision hazard. The toothy jaws snapped shut so close to Haytham, his hair moved. It was the creature’s last action. The full force of forward momentum and wood-tough striking neck muscles hammered the arrow from its eye to its brain.


The basilisk’s mouth, neck, shoulders, legs, tail, and body slackened and flopped to the ground one after another. It was a long and magnificent collapse, like a crumbling tower.


Kannadi finally broke free of her bound shadow and dashed to her cousin, too shocked to even scream. To her amazement he remained absolutely stock-still without so much as an eyelid twitch, the basilisk’s forked tongue lolling out between his feet.


In a spreading pool of liquid, she noticed.


- - -


Four marmots, three dodos, one mole and one tiny cactuar were in the process of being measured and weighed as the music stretched into the climax of its allotted hour.


A golden-haired hyur, lead singer of the Homunculi, tossed his head at the end of his song, throwing off beads of sweat which sparkled in the air and on his exposed chest.


The older members of the audience politely applauded. Nadra and seven other girls in the stands bounced and screamed and wept and vibrated their gleefully-clenched fists close to their chests, squealing incoherent vowels of adulation.


The bard and two backup players each gave an extravagant bow.


The air thrummed. A very dead basilisk suddenly lay directly behind the performers, limply gawping as Haytham and Kannadi stood on its back. Haytham held onto a dorsal spike taller than him.


The bard's adoring fans continued screaming.


- - -


“Presentation is nine-tenths of victory,” Kannadi said later under the setting sun.


Haytham had insisted on walking back to Ul’dah with his cousin, despite the weight of the first-place trophy he carried over his shoulder.


“Dad’s gonna flip! And Mom! You know what Mom’ll do?”


“What, Haytham?”


“She’s gonna backflip!


“And what will your siblings do, somersault?”


“Oh the heck with them. Now they can’t ever say I’m the weakest.” Haytham threw back his head and shouted at the sky, “I killed a basilisk with one shot, Twelve! Give me a sandworm next!


Kannadi sighed. “Darkness descendeth,” she muttered. There was no telling how long ago the sandworm came. With all the recent climate changes, monsters even worse than that were bound to be stalking closer to civilization.


But they would have to contend with her and scores of other adventurers.


And also, she thought, with that phenomenally lucky, bandage-fingered boy shouting hubris to the skies.

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