Chapter 20:

The Ember

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

The crowd settled down as Kasumi came out of the conference room carrying a sheet of butcher paper. She whispered something to the mayor, who dashed off and returned with an easel, on which stood a rectangular frame with brass brackets.

Kasumi seemed unimpressed. "Uh, do you have a projector or something? This is kinda small."

Without a word, the Mayor clipped the paper in at the corners and twisted a handle on the easel's side. The frame stretched up and to the sides, dragging the paper on and on till it filled most of the space behind the podium. No tears, the easel, paper, and Kasumi's sketches all expanded together.

"Oh, neat."

The Mayor stepped away, leaving Kasumi alone at the podium.

Just from the sketches, Mylo couldn't guess what she was about to say. He'd never have guessed it was a cityscape, were it not for an overhead view labeling streets. All the buildings were alien, both to him, and to one another.

"Ahem." Kasumi fidgeted at the podium for a moment. The crowd waited, expectant, so many eyes on her. Kasumi's voice wavered. "Well, uh, you see. It's sorta if this town were an ice cream, it'd be the store brand, you know? It kinda sucks, right?"

Utter silence. The audience stared at her, restless. They'd just had the most exciting town hall meeting since the vote to ban rugby. A weak following act wouldn't survive for long. People started to grumble. Mylo and Ezre wondered what she was getting at.

"Hold on a second."

Kasumi waved her hands around, pressing empty air in a manner that was starting to not-surprise Mylo, but was new to everyone else. Reaching behind her back, Kasumi pulled some accessories. She put on a sequined top hat, star-shaped sunglasses with yellow plastic rims, and a purple feather boa.

She boomed, "This town sucks and you all know it! Go on, try to deny it. We all know the young folk of this town leave the first chance they get."

Kasumi stood straight now, not clenching the podium for dear life but leaning over it to accentuate her point.

"People, not cars nor coin, are the blood of a place, and Edule is bleeding dry!"

"Holy shit," said Ezre.

Mylo nodded astonished agreement. Kasumi's voice rose and fell in swells. The accessories looked ridiculous, but once she put them on, suddenly Kasumi had cadence.

The crowd settled down and listened.

"Imagine, a modern Edule. One that tourists and teenagers alike see as a shining star in the north. Not some quaint little town, waiting to crumble into the tundra. We've got magic, we've got space, we just need to use them. And how does Edule show its vigor? Skyscrapers, people."

It wasn't the greatest oration in the Jagai's realm, but it was a big improvement over how she'd started.

Mylo leaned over to whisper in Ezre's ear, "What's happening? How did she get good all of the sudden?"

His breath tickled. He was very close.

Ezre cupped a hand to his ear and answered. "You haven't been in combat parties, have you?"

Mylo shook his head and Ezre's hand made brief touchdown on his blonde hair.

So fluffy.

"But you're registered with the guild, so you've heard of items with bonuses at least. Stack acid resistant clothes for fasral, right? You can do the same with charisma bonuses."

So that was it. Mylo could sort of see it now. The top hat, star glasses, and feather boa altered the way Kasumi talked. Made her a better speaker while equipped, but Kasumi was the one who chose what to talk about, and she was tapping into concerns he'd heard the townsfolk voice before.

"Oh. I think I get it. Thanks."

Ezre watched Mylo settle back into his chair. Whispering was nice. Something about saying words that only he would hear jazzed her up—if only the subject matter had been more intimate. Another time, perhaps.

They turned back to Kasumi's presentation. The figures were boggling. 120 stories, in Edule? Mana for lighting and appliances in every building, every room?

Mylo tuned out. Did the outcome have any bearing on him? Sure, it would keep Kasumi in town a while, but when it was complete? He had seen her in Old Edule, when they got to the top of a rubble pile or got up on the a bit of old walkway. Kasumi always looked to the horizon. Edule would be too small a town for her for a while to come, even if they built every skyscraper and shopping arcade she proposed.

She would go, sooner than later. And if Paul's little hero-search worked out, Mylo might be on his way somewhere more her speed: Dioon.

At the podium, Kasumi was winding down. "I know it's a big plan, but I believe we have the ability and the will to see it through. Thank you."

Polite applause ensued. Someone got up and spoke briefly, voicing concerns about how much this would cost. The Mayor took the podium to answer by pointing out they just lost their summer crowd & revenue mid-season. If they couldn't bring in people next year, well, the crumbling ghost town of Stangeria to the north stood testament to what happened to a tundra town that relaxed into a death spiral.

The vote that followed was narrower than the last. Most were in favor as the count wound its way through the rows. Mylo thought he would abstain. If he left soon with no plans to return....

Ezre had her say first. She rose without the ecstatic jump she'd performed when her turn came in the nationalization vote. This time it was all determination. Ezre's "aye" was solid, and as she began to sit, she sent a hopeful glance Mylo's way.

Alright. For you, Boss.

Mylo voted yes.

For the older citizens, this was home. Many of them didn't want it to change, but none of them wanted it to dwindle into nothing. The measure passed by a modest margin.


The citizenry of Edule filtered out of the atrium and into the twilight. Mylo waited by the pot of a scale tree for the crowd around the podium to thin out. Ezre waited beside him, humming.

For a town hall meeting, it had been quite exciting.

Ezre hummed a jaunty little tune, and alternated between cracking her knuckles behind her back and twirling a bit of hair by her ear.

"Hey, Mylo. We won." She said it as if she didn't believe it yet.

Mylo hadn't seen Ezre smile often. A little turn up at the corners, along with an approving nod was the most she offered anybody at the pumping station. That was okay—in that situation nothing more was called for. But it was nice to know that she could close her eyes and just beam.

"Yeah, we did. I guess Mr. Morin's going to slip out of town?"

"Hope so. But he'll probably hunker down in that ridiculous house of his instead."

They waited in silence a moment. Enough people had left that the doors outside now stood clear and available.

"Hey, Mylo."

Mylo looked to Ezre. She stood there fidgeting with a hopeful look in her eye.

"Um, would you like to go to dinner? To celebrate—I mean."

Mylo saw right through the feeble qualifier. The letters with his name on them, her embarrassment at his embarrassment, the tenderness in her voice while he was in laid up at the healer's. Heck, Mylo might have realized it even if Ezre hadn't spent half of Kasumi's speech checking him out.

For his first few months working at the station, he had crushed on Ezre pretty hard. Admiration spiraled out of control fast. And she was lovely—he didn't care for ponytails at first, but she'd made a convert out of him. But in those early days he didn't want to draw attention, which flirting with the boss would certainly had done. It was easier to cap a gyre, but he had learned you could do the same to a heart.

Sometimes seeing the future was easy. Mylo could see himself with her, true. The embers of his old flame were still there, waiting to be stoked. But that would mean staying here, in Edule. Maybe, now that he could explore under the ruins, and Kasumi was revamping the town, maybe that wouldn't be so bad?

But another, more alluring future beckoned. A few questions wavered in his mind, demanding answers. He'd regret not knowing.

He couldn't delay deciding forever, but maybe just a little longer?

"Can we raincheck to another day? There's someone I really need to talk to."

Ezre let out a little disappointed growl. "Okay, but you are showing up bright and early for training tomorrow. My place. Wear something easy to move around in."

"Sure. I'll be there."

With a little wave and a few glances back, Ezre slipped out into the night.

Mylo sauntered over to the podium. The cluster of people had thinned out to the Mayor, Kasumi, and a couple others chatting. He asked to borrow her for a moment and led Kasumi a few paces away.

"Pelgram, do you want to get something to eat?"

A smile spread across her face, and Kasumi succumbed to giggles. "Are you asking me out on a date?"

"No. I'm hungry." Mylo's voice dropped into a lower register. "And I'm not dating you until you explain exactly what 'NPC' means."

Ataga Corliss
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