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The Cascade and The Firebrand

Copyright © Emmi Lawrence

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission from the author.

Short Story (Approx. 5400)

He wore the water, a cascade flowing down his torso and crashing at his feet. The spray rose into the air, catching the sun’s rays so perfect that rainbows flickered in and out of existence as he walked. His steps, strong and sure, were accompanied with the roar of the falls. A roar that echoed against the promenade’s inner wall and spilled out between the columns of the opposing side.

Parolai the Firebrand could feel the spray of the water as the man passed. It kissed his cheeks, the mist so fine there was no question it had been created by a primordial denizen. The smell of it had Parolai pausing, savoring the intoxicating mix of freshwater and power.

Forgetting where he’d been going, he turned and watched as the other man strode away. Deep bronze skin splashed in and out of view. Tantalizing. Appealing. Individual droplets clung to the man and reflected sunlight directly into Parolai’s eyes.

He watched until the man disappeared around the corner of the promenade. Then sighed and shook himself. But even as he turned to stride in the opposite direction, he knew he’d be back. He’d be back because someone that majestic deserved to have Parolai the Firebrand’s personal attention.

It took mere days to collect the information he wished. Days to file away a name—Saiyu the Cascade—a family and a plethora of drama that seemed to center around a particular sister named Rydai the Turbulent. A few more days to create a legitimate controversy. Another day to implement it.

By the end of the week, Parolai’s diversion had part of the city in an uproar over the false scandal of a stolen denizen. Rydai the Turbulent at the heart of it all, the poor woman suffering through the inquest with an aplomb even Parolai admired. But his admiration was short-lived because he had better things to do.

Saiyu the Cascade lived within Watertown. Naturally. Parolai would have expected no less. However, he had been surprised to discover Saiyu preferred a building toward the base of the town. The smallest of the three waterfalls, the Ever Falls, soared above the streets and fell into the sky, yet the hill and plateau and the buildings built upon them blocked the view. Parolai had thought to find the man dwelling in the uppermost part of the town so that he could look down on the crystal lakes of the plateaus and feel the spray of the Ever Falls on his veranda.

Parolai strode through the street, ignoring the tiny rivulets that ran constantly within the cracks of the cobblestones. Most of the buildings in Watertown were based in water. Their walls flowing and bubbling, some of them even frothing like the waves of the ocean. Random houses would sit stagnant, waiting for a water denizen to add his or her spiritual touch, but most danced to their denizens’ wills, rippling with power. Sea foam decorated archways. Water lilies speckled the roofs. Frogs hopped from cobblestone to cobblestone, playing on the edges of the streets before pressing their little bodies snuggly into the corner of the nearest buildings to let the water flow across their backs as they hid from searching children.

Parolai stopped at Saiyu’s modest house, noting the collection of smooth rocks that surrounded the base. The walls were one continuous stream, a squared-off waterfall. It left a hovering mist encircling Saiyu’s home. A spray that tickled at Parolai’s clothes suggestively.

He pressed his hand through the water knocker and cocked his head to watch as a ripple pulsed through the walls. The ripple grew quickly, rebounding, cracking itself into pieces before slowly settling into the cascading rhythm of the falls.

A moment later the water broke and the door opened. Saiyu stood there, framed by a waterfall, wearing his cascade and looking good enough to send Parolai to his knees. But he smiled instead.

“Saiyu the Cascade. My name is Parolai the—”

“The Firebrand,” interrupted Saiyu. Brown eyebrows lowered in suspicion. Full lips tightened in consideration.

“My reputation precedes me.”

“Your reputation is in shatters. You have been rumored to have instigated the Tangled Vine Rebellion, to have taken part in the black-market trade of weaker denizens, to have scuttled one of the royal navy’s ships and started bottling and selling the Heaven Falls all across the plane.”

Parolai gave a short bow. “Rumored,” he stressed as he straightened. “Every inquest has cleared me.”

Saiyu leaned against the door frame, water pouring over his shoulder. The waterfall he’d been wearing suddenly dropped so that his torso was conspicuously bare, the water beginning its constant cascade right under Saiyu’s very tempting bellybutton.

“I’m shocked you wouldn’t want to take credit.”

“I am a shocking man,” agreed Parolai. He stepped closer. “I am also a very well-connected man. I believe your sister has been having difficulties recently.”

The suspicion grew in Saiyu’s expression, just as Parolai knew it would.

“In fact, I’m hear to discover whether I can be of any aid.”

“Are you responsible for this slander? I know my sister. She would never steal another’s denizen.”

“Undoubtedly the inquest will clear her then. I’m not worried. Are you?”

Saiyu seemed to consider his words carefully before he spoke. “Worried? No. Disgusted? Yes.”

“At?”

“At whoever started this mess.”

Parolai let his smile widen further. “Ah, but who’s to say? Certainly not me.”

“What do you want?”

“Put simply, you. You are beautiful and your water denizen obviously cares for you so very much. Catarracta, is she not?” he asked, rolling his r’s perfectly in the way his mother had taught him. Saiyu sucked in a breath, but Parolai held up a hand and lied through his teeth. “I am not a thief, but…I would love to see her once more.”

The suspicion hadn’t completely left Saiyu’s face, but now confusion vied for dominance in his expression. “How do you know of her?”

“She was my mother’s. Before being yours. She wore Catarracta as well as you do. I didn’t think I’d see her in action again after my mother died. Do you mind?” he nodded and motioned with one hand to indicate inside Saiyu’s home. He even stepped forward, not so far that he would crowd Saiyu, but enough to give that slight push for entrance most people would allow.

And Saiyu was no different than most people. He backed up and held the door open as Parolai stepped inside. The door closed with a quiet splash, leaving them in a water-falling heaven. A column of clear water continuously poured through the center of the room, a living, breathing pylon that shifted with Saiyu’s desire.

At the moment, it blocked off nothing but a thin stretch of the room straight ahead. The back left corner of the house was obviously the bedroom. The corner to the back right was a kitchen that spilled fluidly into the dining area that sat directly to Parolai’s right. And to the left was a small sitting area, the table made of wood, the couch covered in crocodile skin.

After his cursory glance, Parolai barely gave the room any attention, opting instead to focus on the two small totems hanging at the crest of the column of water. One, he recognized as the cascading Catarracta. The other was a representation of an air denizen. Parolai instantly dismissed the second and stepped forward until the most recent totem of Catarracta danced before his eyes, the small, water-tied figure flowing in the falls.

Without asking for permission, Parolai reached out and let his fingers graze the water. The liquid bent and shifted against his skin—Catarracta saying hello. The water cascaded across his wrist, misting upwards so that it kissed him in welcome, saying silently, I know you.

Behind him came Saiyu’s awed voice. “I thought you were lying.”

Parolai gave a wry laugh. He had been lying. Just not about that. “No,” he whispered, allowing a tear to form at the corner of his eye. He brushed it away and gave a reminiscent smile to Saiyu. “There is a time and place for trickery. This is not the time.”

Saiyu stood close. Close enough Parolai could feel the vibrations of his water-falling clothes against his own pants. He didn’t have to fake the heavy breath he took. Nor the lust in his gaze as he stared over Saiyu’s body.

“You are truly beautiful.”

Saiyu’s lips curled up. “Damage is being done to my sister’s name right now.”

Parolai waved a hand. “Cleared within the day, I’m sure.” Because he was sure. Then he reached out and curled a hand around Saiyu’s hip. Stroked his thumb over damp flesh. Leaned nearer so that his lips brushed against Saiyu’s shoulder. Happy when Saiyu didn’t immediately pull away.

The waterfall Saiyu wore gave a hiccup, letting Parolai get a glimpse of a beautiful cock. Not hard, but growing. So, the gorgeous Saiyu had not been unaffected by Parolai’s touches. He lifted his head, allowing his lips to graze along Saiyu’s neck until he reached his ear.

“I told you, it is you I want.”

“Is this—” Saiyu had to pause in order to clear his throat. “Is this some sort of mother-complex?”

Parolai chuckled under his breath. “If it is, it is the best kind. I would have tracked you down regardless, but the fact that you had Catarracta simply gave me more incentive to have something to offer.”

Saiyu put a hand to Parolai’s arm, the action neither pulling Parolai closer nor pushing him away. “And you thought attacking my sister would benefit you somehow? I’m struggling right now with the urge to throw you out of my house.”

He must also have been struggling to control his own attraction because his water-made clothes gave another hiccup.

Parolai steered his expression to one more cocky. “You constantly blame me without proof. I’m beginning to be offended.” He held up his hand again to stall Saiyu’s heated response, this time dragging his fingers gently down Saiyu’s chest as he continued. “However, I had thought that the knowledge that this particular inquest is being headed by the man your sister has been striving to attract might win me some points, yes.” He smiled brightly at Saiyu’s shocked expression.

“She… How could you possibly know…”

“I hold two denizens as well. One of which is from the cosmos—a keeper of secrets.” He rubbed his nose against Saiyu’s. “Trust me,” he whispered, putting all his charm into the words to make them a promise Saiyu couldn’t refuse. “I’ve done nothing but hand your sister something she’s been craving for years.” He cocked his head as he stroked Saiyu’s sides. “And the cosmos told me of one of your secrets as well.”

Saiyu clamped his mouth shut and swallowed thickly. “Did it?” he asked in a voice that didn’t sound quite right.

Parolai brushed their lips together, enjoying the pheromones wafting off Saiyu that made him practically irresistible. “You are a lonely man. Aching for company. Dying inside, one long, agonizing day at a time. Your job has been eating away at you for years, with every body you send forth into the Undying River.”

“And you think, what? That you are an answer to my prayers to the Heaven Falls?” he asked incredulously.

“I am an answer to no man’s prayers.” Parolai chuckled at the amusing thought. Then he glided the tip of a finger through the swirling crest of Saiyu’s cascading pants to touch bare skin. “But you did let me greet Catarracta so…”

He grasped Saiyu’s hips, met his eyes and then slowly knelt. The water rushed over his fingers and trailed down his arms. From his underarms to his waist his shirt quickly soaked up the stream, leaving green fabric damp against his torso. He ignored it, focusing instead on the catch in Saiyu’s throat and the telltale widening in his eyes.

“You are,” he whispered, pitching his voice so that it could just be heard over the rushing water in the room, “absolutely gorgeous. And if I can remove even a shred of that aching in your soul… I will.”

The waterfall surrounding Saiyu’s body gave a hiccup, then folded in on itself, seeming to swallow itself up until nothing was left but a light spattering of droplets lingering on Saiyu’s skin. Beautiful. Parolai tracked a single drop as it slid down Saiyu’s cock to mix with the precome at his tip. Then, with a teasing glance up, he licked that drop off Saiyu’s dick, feeling a satisfying pulse in the muscle as his tongue licked on the red tip and tickled the sensitive underside.

“You…” said Saiyu, but he didn’t seem to have anything else to say, his words probably lodged tightly between desire and confusion.

So Parolai did the only thing he could do—he forced the desire to overrule the confusion so Saiyu’s uncertainty would fall by the wayside. He opened his mouth wide and took Saiyu deep, letting the comfortable fit of heavy cock slide over his tongue.

“Oh yes,” choked out Saiyu.

His hand landed on Parolai’s shoulder, as if Saiyu didn’t seem to know what to do with it. And when Parolai chanced a glance up as he sucked, he saw Saiyu staring down at him with an astonished expression. It must have been some time since Saiyu had partaken in the finer things in life. Good for Parolai. In more ways than one.

Saiyu’s cock wasn’t long, but he more than made up for it in width. Parolai’s jaw had to stretch to accommodate that thickness as Saiyu became truly excited. He went with it though, pushing himself to keep his mouth wide, letting his spit gather and spill so that Saiyu had an easy glide.

It didn’t take long. Not long at all.

Saiyu’s frantic need stoked a heat in Parolai’s own groin. A fire that simmered hotter as Saiyu’s fingers curled, nails digging into Parolai’s shoulder, as if trying to pierce through his shirt. His own desire swirled tighter as Saiyu’s breath came ragged and his hips started pumping quicker and quicker. When Saiyu shuddered, the violence of that uncontrolled motion echoed through Parolai as well.

Words came incoherently, almost gibberish as they spilled over upon one another. “Yes, that’s—oh the gods have—I don’t—can’t—please—hells, this is…” Saiyu paused, gave a single great groan and pulsed bitter cream into Parolai’s mouth. Cream that tasted of success and satisfaction against Parolai’s tongue. He would have smiled in heady achievement had Saiyu’s huge cock not been filling his mouth.

Saiyu slouched over Parolai, body quivering, and short, desperate moans escaping his throat as the aftershocks released their hold over him. Parolai swallowed quickly and licked over Saiyu’s cock, eliciting a few more adorable shudders. Then he rocked back on his heels and stood to grasp Saiyu firmly around his waist so the spent man wouldn’t collapse.

This was going far better than he’d anticipated. His own penis pressed hard against his pants, exited and aching. Saiyu’s desperation was so very hot. He guided Saiyu toward the bed and cradled him tenderly as he laid him down.

“That was—”

“Shh.” Parolai put a finger over Saiyu’s lips. “I prefer to hear your moans.”

He received a flicker of a smile.

“May I fuck you, Saiyu the Cascade?” asked Parolai formally, though he let a twinkle enter his eyes.

Saiyu blinked, then laughed. “You’ve already invaded my home and me in every other way… Why the hells not?”

“I hope it was a good invasion.”

“So far,” agreed Saiyu, his gaze lingering on Parolai’s lips, the obvious urge to kiss exciting Parolai even more. For kisses led to sex and sex led to exhaustion and exhaustion led to… Well, it all led in the right direction.

So he took Saiyu up on that unspoken desire and pressed their lips together. He kissed Saiyu with a lust he’d kept banked since he’d first seen Saiyu on that random promenade. Kissed him with need that could be mistaken for caring. With respect that could translate to devotion. With passion that could easily be read as love if one did not watch his heart.

When he finally pulled away and stood to look down at Saiyu’s prone form, he had almost convinced himself of his act.

With purposeful movements, he slipped off his clothes. One article at a time. Letting Saiyu see every part of him. Especially his long dick and how it leaked in unbridled want.

“Does anyone tell you that you are gorgeous?” asked Saiyu, some of that previous cynicism sneaking into his tone.

Parolai smoothed his smile before he responded, hoping he didn’t get this wrong. He tossed his first inclination to joke, to say something like, All the time, opting instead for the more truthful, “Not as often as I would prefer.”

“That is sad. Because you have the brightest smile, even if it is tempered with cockiness.”

“Cockiness?” asked Parolai as he stroked up his dick.

Saiyu’s gaze followed the action closely. “Cockiness,” he agreed quietly. “Come here.” He patted the blankets next to him. “Let me touch you.”

Parolai knelt before stretching out next to Saiyu. He sighed in contentment as their skin rubbed, the hair upon their legs pulling gently as Saiyu shifted so that they faced each other. In the center of the room, Catarracta rose in pitch for a moment, then the waterfall spread past the foot of the bed, closing them off in the bedroom, the water a never-ending current surrounding them. The rolling sound of the falls was the same comforting presence Parolai had grown up with.

“You miss her,” said Saiyu. He traced Parolai’s ear with a finger, then ran it down his neck.

Parolai hummed in the back of his throat, closing his eyes to cover up his hesitance to answer. When Saiyu’s finger lifted off his skin, he reluctantly opened his eyes and said, “She is a memory of my mother.”

“And you loved your mother,” breathed Saiyu against Parolai’s lips.

“I did.” Then he kissed Saiyu so that talk of his mother wouldn’t ruin his erection. Now that Saiyu had allowed him into his bed, Parolai took that as permission to be more forceful, more reckless. He stroked over Saiyu’s body, dipping his fingers into the curve of Saiyu’s bronze ass. He wrapped Saiyu’s leg over his own, then played lightly with the sensitive sacs he’d exposed.

For a long time, they didn’t speak at all, both of them enjoying the quiet moments and soft gasps while Saiyu’s cock slowly regained its thickness.

Parolai nuzzled Saiyu’s neck, finding him willing and biddable. The easy way Saiyu allowed Parolai to tug him into positions was…strange. Not in an undesirable fashion, because having Saiyu twist and turn with every silent command did create an interesting dynamic that Parolai was more than willing to explore. But…

“You’re thinking far too much,” whispered Saiyu. He lay upon his back, one knee pressed against Parolai’s shoulder and his hands rubbing up and down Parolai’s torso. “Far, far too much.”

Something nudged at the back of Parolai’s mind. He glanced around the room, checking the waterfall that blocked them off. No shadows lurked beyond the water’s edge. Catarracta shook slightly in the water, unconcerned. The air totem at her side seemed just as happy. No one else was here. There was only him and Saiyu, and Saiyu was doing everything Parolai wanted. Everything…

Parolai looked back down at Saiyu, suddenly on edge. Saiyu’s expression went from confused to concerned and he pushed himself up on his elbows.

“Do you need to leave?” He lifted his chin and Parolai heard the curtain of water part.

“No.” Parolai put a hand against Saiyu’s chest and tried to push him back down.

For the first time, Saiyu resisted, pushing against Parolai so that he sat up, putting them at a more even level. “Then what’s wrong? If you don’t wish to continue, that’s fine. If you just wish me to be quiet, that’s fine too.”

“Why would I want you to be quiet? I told you, I love listening to your moans.” Parolai leaned closer and brushed his cheek against Saiyu’s.

“Some men prefer if I don’t speak,” said Saiyu dryly. “I’ve been told I can be distracting and you’ve already shut me up twice with your mouth.”

Parolai hummed again as he ran his fingers down Saiyu’s tantalizing flesh. Whatever had been scratching at the back of him mind in warning had faded away with Saiyu’s token resistance and honesty.

“Not me,” said Parolai, though he didn’t dispute the fact that he’d used his mouth to shut Saiyu up before. Then he bent into Saiyu’s body, this time pushing him back down with more force so that he landed on top, their cocks rubbing against one another deliciously. “You have a sexy voice.” He kissed across Saiyu’s face, spending special attention on Saiyu’s bottom lip. “And I want to hear it falling apart again.”

He sat up to finish slicking his cock, then pressed against Saiyu’s hole. Gently, at first, but more insistently when Saiyu’s lids closed partway and he bore down. With an uncontrolled groan of his own, Parolai pushed all the way in, feeling warm walls close around his dick. He struggled for a brief moment, coercing his orgasm to remain at bay despite how long he’d been waiting for this. When he’d regained his composure, he saw a smirk hovering on Saiyu’s lips, the expression banishing the last of Parolai’s worry.

After a single kiss, Parolai straightened, grabbed Saiyu’s thighs and began a steady rhythm. He pumped to the music of the cascades. Thrust until Saiyu’s breaths became ragged moans and his words unintelligible. Held Saiyu’s body tight and sped up, taking Saiyu deep and quick, riding against his prostate so that a never-ending rush of sparking nerves would keep him in thrall.

Sweat formed on Saiyu’s body, replacing the misting droplets from Catarracta. His expression twisted into one of eager urgency as he grabbed for his own cock and became to pump himself. There was no finesse, no skill or expertise. Just pure need driving Saiyu’s fumbling over himself as his moans rose so loud that they competed with the house itself.

“That’s it,” said Parolai, feeling an intense satisfaction, far greater than before, as Saiyu stiffened and spat warm cream across his own stomach. Parolai continued to thrust as Saiyu shouted out his orgasm, drawing it out, forcing Saiyu to feel every last tingle and shudder as his come dripped down the sides of his torso and his ass tried to squeeze Parolai’s brains out through his cock.

It almost worked. Parolai arched and cursed as his own orgasm ripped through him without warning. The explosion rocked him hard, making it difficult to keep up his pace and then downright impossible. He was conscious of Saiyu’s lips around one of his nipples and Saiyu’s ass pulsing around him, milking him in a tender attempt to keep Parolai flying high. Then he was crashing back down, suddenly conscious again of the sound of the waterfalls and their heavy breathing.

They fell back against Saiyu’s bed, the blankets a mess around them, the mist from Catarracta blowing over their sweaty skin. Blowing in a way that told Saiyu that the air denizen hanging next to Catarracta was sending the light breeze.

Parolai became aware of fingers stroking along his chest, playing with his hair. He closed his own hand over Saiyu’s, dimly conscious that he was fighting the urge to sleep.

“Unexpected,” said Saiyu in a tired, but satiated, voice. “But that was quite…”

“Amazing? Breathtaking? Perfect?” suggested Parolai.

“Nice.” There was a considering quality to Saiyu’s tone that Parolai ignored in the face of the insult.

“Nice?” Parolai rolled onto his side and looked down at Saiyu.

“Don’t be offended,” said Saiyu with a low chuckle. He ran a soothing hand over Parolai’s shoulder and across his back, giving him a light tug. “It was a complement. With your reputation, I had expected something a little less than nice.”

Parolai snorted. “You are listening to the wrong rumors. You should pay more attention to the ones about my incredible sexual prowess and my seductive ways. All the rest are lies by jealous people.” He winked for good measure, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Saiyu.

“It was nice,” said Saiyu again, this time with the air of one feeling the need to coddle a child. “Very nice.

Parolai sighed and rolled over so that his back was to Saiyu. “I give you two hours before you’re rolling over and begging for more of that ‘nice’ loving.”

Saiyu chuckled under his breath. “So sensitive,” he said, quiet enough Parolai wondered if he’d been meant to hear. Then Saiyu rolled so that he could gather Parolai against his chest. This time his words were whispered practically in Parolai’s ear. “For a man so sensitive, it makes me wonder how you created such a reputation.”

Parolai held down his snort of disbelief that Saiyu could be so naive. The afternoon had been more pleasant than he’d expected, Saiyu more accommodating than Parolai would have ever guessed him to be.

Closing his eyes, he feigned sleep, keeping his breathing steady and his body relaxed. Easier than it should have been. He had to catch himself from sinking into the black depths that kept teasing the edges of his mind seductively. Saiyu’s arms were warm and comforting and would squeeze whenever Parolai sighed. The occasional kiss Saiyu dropped against Parolai’s neck held that tender quality that would exist between long-term lovers. Also seductive, in a dangerous way that had disappointment and doubt stirring in Parolai’s mind.

He coerced himself to ignore the feelings, concentrating on Saiyu, counting his breaths. When Saiyu’s arm became dead weight and quiet snores escaped his mouth, Parolai gently extracted himself.

He gathered his clothes quickly, but paused at the archway Saiyu had left near the foot of the bed. Saiyu slept on, a blanket twisted around his calves, his come dry on his stomach. Parolai grimaced, not envying Saiyu the mess. As he stood there, Saiyu sighed and turned in his sleep so that he rested mostly on his back. His cock lay limp against his groin. Dark brown hair covered one ear and his face had no trace of skepticism. His lips were lax, yet still begging to be kissed at least once more.

Parolai almost stepped back. Almost gave in to the urge for a final sweet kiss. Perhaps a good-bye. Maybe more if Saiyu awoke wanting another round.

Then he shook his head at himself and his fancy and ducked under the watery archway. He tugged on his shirt, pulled up his gray pants and shoved his feet into his shoes. Then he pulled out an older totem from his pocket. It had belonged to his mother at one time, now just a shell with no denizen attached to it. But he knew how long Catarracta had been linked to the blue-stones and rushing water of the little figure.

He held the totem up to Saiyu’s, letting the water drench it. Leaned near. He slid his fingers into the roaring column and gently coaxed Catarracta into her old link. The water-falling column swirled uncertainly for a moment, the mist becoming stronger as she hovered.

Parolai held his breath and eased the totems closer together. Then smiled as Catarracta slid free and into her previous totem, transferring to an old comfort, a familiar link. Parolai felt her power flicker in his veins, different than the fiery attitude of Fax. Then she settled, recognizing him and accepting.

As he tucked the old totem into his pocket, the waterfalls began to fade. He hurried to the door, knowing the lack of noise could easily wake Saiyu. As he slipped out of the house, the walls stilled, the water no longer roaring, becoming stagnant but for a breeze rippling across its surface.

Parolai let out a happy breath as he strode away through the streets of Watertown. He glanced back once at Saiyu’s calm house. A mistake, for a pang of guilt followed him as he crossed the bridge under the Ever Falls. It dogged his steps as he skirted around the even greater Heaven Falls and headed toward Ashburg. He took the Riverfell Steps two at a time down into Ashburg, his heart lifting the nearer he got to home and his own two totems. Both left there so Catarracta would be more likely to submit to his entreaty.

In his pocket, Catarracta murmured in contentment, occasionally sending out a request to be useful, but he kept her quiet, not wanting to announce what he’d taken. What he’d stolen. Though…Saiyu would have no way to prove anything, not when Catarracta no longer dwelled in his totem. Parolai smiled to himself as he stepped around the corner.

There his steps slowed as he came up to his own complex. The fires of the apartments roared against one another, some orange heat, others a bright dangerous blue. His own burned just as merrily as those on either side. An orange-yellow fire flickered and licked against its neighbors, always ready to incite irritation. Like its occupant, some said.

But something was missing.

Parolai paused on the walk. Paused again on the steps to the second story. Froze outside his door as he suddenly realized what he wasn’t seeing. The sparkles that normally twinkled randomly underneath the fire of his home weren’t there.

He slammed open his door and raced for the hearth, almost falling to his knees as horror rose up in his chest. Only one totem hung there. Fax, his fire, his namesake.

The keeper of secrets, Arcanus, no longer sparkled at her place. Her black stone and wood totem that had reflected the cosmos in its depths was now gone. Parolai ground his teeth angrily. The irony wasn’t lost on him, but at least he’d had the decency to speak to Catarracta, to request her rejoin his family. To enter his own totem. He hadn’t simply walked in and stolen Saiyu’s totem like whoever had stolen Arcanus.

Still angry, Parolai reached up to stroke Fax, a part of him relieved that one had been left—

The fire sputtered when he touched Fax’s totem. Sputtered and died in an instant as if it’d never existed. His house stood quiet and empty. The walls dead ash, soot-streaked and waiting for a fiery denizen to wake it back up. The ceiling no longer flowed with heat. He felt suddenly cold as Fax’s totem fell to the ground and broke apart. Nothing but a spelled doppelganger. A vision of his totem, left to conceal the theft from anyone who might have noticed.

Parolai sank to his knees, feeling as empty as the house. He reached for Arcanus and then for Fax, but their power was beyond him. Catarracta responded to his pain though, burbling up and taking over the house until it rippled and poured and hissed against the fires of his neighbors.

It wasn’t until he stood on shaking legs, grasping Catarracta’s totem in his hands, that he noticed the neat note sitting upon his small kitchen table.

Scrawled letters. Brown ink. Cracked lines stretching across the paper. The lines thrummed with life, filling with blue tendrils that spoke of one who had the power of earth and water running through their veins.

He picked it up gingerly, already feeling the dread settling thicker in his gut.

It simply read, Your secret is safe with me. Nothing else.

A turbulent quake violently ripped apart the note and a splash of water bled the ink straight off the paper. The resulting pieces of soggy wood glowed blue for mere seconds, the hot fire turning them into ash. An ash that taunted him by swirling into a name before gusting away, straight into Catarracta herself to be washed out of existence.

“Rydai the Turbulent,” he whispered, his fingers clenching hard around the small totem. Then he added, a little more darkly because he knew what Rydai’s name meant, “Saiyu the Cascade.” An odd mixture of fury and excitement stirred deep within his gut. His cock gave an echoing twitch. Looking down at Catarracta’s totem, he said grimly, “I guess he means war.”

The End

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