chapter 8

55 0 0

The people of Tidur wanted to hold back the four programmers, to give them gifts and other other signs of their gratitude. It was with difficulty that Marceau finally persuaded them to defer their kindness. They had to move on into the night, if they wanted to reach the capital as soon as possible. The townspeople provided them with food and water for the journey, and saw them off on a travel cloud.

Their new ally was asleep as soon as Beika leveled into the night sky, with full abandon, the way he was in the cave. Lan was also stretched out on the travel cloud, with his back to Marceau and Beika. He stared out into the trees and hills below them, fading into the darkness of the evening.

Marceau did not know what she wanted to do, to keep awake with Beika or to doze off, if she wanted to doze lying down or sitting up. She planned out what she would do as soon as they reached the capital. She had to warn the defense committee. She had to inform them of the attack on Tidur. Everyone had to be warned of a full-scale invasion. She had to report that she had found the new Crimson Master, but he was an unreliable fire programmer at the moment.

But her thoughts strayed. The chill in the evening breezes might have been one reason for it, but she also found herself looking down at Lan. Her thoughts returned to what Beika and the firespark kept saying: She was not there when it happened. She did not understand.

She was not part of the defense committee yet when the last Selatan siege happened. She was still a civilian, from one of the elite families. Her family was sheltered quickly under the government buildings, and evacuated soon after the firestorm ended.

Marceau bent down and tapped Lan on the shoulder. “Firespark.” She held out an open palm. “Memory jewel. Now.”

He did not turn to face her. “What for?” he mumbled.

“You say I don’t know. I demand to know. Hand over your memory jewel.”

“You know what happened,” he muttered, his back to her.

She crossed the other arm over her chest as she maintained the open palm. “You keep saying I don’t. So enlighten me. Hand it over.”

Lan’s jewel would hold his memories of the event, as he saw them, as he thought through them. It was more objective than recalling the memories by mouth. Marceau would know the events the way Lan knew them. She would never let them use that excuse on her again, that she did not know or understand.

Lan sighed deeply as he reached into a pocket. He sat up and placed a large ruby into Marceau’s hand. It was strung on a thin gold chain. “I want it back, green hag,” he said, then looked away from her as he faced the fields below them. He frowned.

Marceau closed her hand around the memory ruby. “Resurface the memories,” she encoded.


I know how the firestorm started. It started with me.

I held on to the memory ruby strung to my neck. It was rather heavy. Or maybe it was the weight of responsibility. The Crimson Master made it for me, when I finished the apprenticeship. All the programs he had taught me, all the code sequences, all the deactivate commands, they were all there.

I could now be called the Crimson Master, too, he said. There were many fire programmers, but only one Crimson Master in every generation. One of the most respected masters in the guild. The one assigned for defenses in battles, for it required great power that not every fire programmer had. But I did not feel worthy of the name. There was only one, and it was him.

My master was only as tall as I was, yet his very presence commanded respect from people around him. It was not that he had a powerful physique that made people look toward him. Neither was it that he wore ostentatious clothes — he did not; his clothes at times were even simpler than mine, and I wore shirts that were three years behind the current fashion. His cape was one of the most threadbare things I have seen among the teachers and older fire programmers in the guild. He did not brag about his rank in the guild; he was even embarrassed when people honored him as the Crimson Master. But Master Corespasa walked with a sure step, especially when tasked to do what only he could do. He always spoke with wisdom, with deep knowledge, with good judgment. He supported everyone who sought to do good, discouraged anyone who wanted to do evil.

ActivatedWhere stories live. Discover now