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Part Three

Of Greed, Guilt and Guile

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Karien didn't ask how I knew. We got to our feet and raced through the orchard towards the school buildings.

The dust still hadn't completely settled by the time we arrived in the courtyard. One whole section of the roof had collapsed, and people were still milling about in confusion. I could see flames licking out from one of the windows on the upper floor.

Brainard! someone screamed. I didn't recognize the voice as my own. I shoved my way past the crowd and took the outer steps three at a time. I could hear my footsteps echoed. It was Karien.

We burst into the school, almost tripping over the rubble that had fallen down the center stairwell. We didn't stop until we got to the third floor.

"I'll take the roof," he shouted. "You go check the classrooms."

"Right!"

When last I had tread that hallway, it seemed a lot shorter than now. I opened the door to the first classroom. It wasn't there at all, and fading daylight streamed in through where the walls used to be. I went on.

The second classroom was the same. From what I could guess, the explosion had taken out part of the west wall and the roof. I gave up on the classrooms, and sped down to Brainard's chambers, at the farthest end of the hallway.

The dust was thicker here and the smoke, and I had to slow down, else be tripped. It took me several frantic moments to get the door of his chambers open, and I gasped when I saw what was left.

The roof and the entire west wall were gone. Most of the flooring was gone, as well as most of the south wall. I could see through to the previous two classrooms. I cautiously moved the door open further, hoping to see Brainard. Flames were licking the wooden floorboards that were left, and creeping through the rubble toward me.

A groan from behind the door made me look before I opened it further. What had been blocking the door was Brainard himself. The explosion must have thrown him back in this direction, I thought. In the forefront of my mind, I was calculating the vectors and force of the blast, just as I had learned such things from Brainard. The rest of my mind shrank from having to touch the broken and bloody body behind the door.

I began to clear the rubble around him, not looking at Brainard. It helped to keep my stomach in place. Marginally.

Arikian and another instructor came to the door, just as I had cleared a space. "Careful," I cried out.

I was unceremoniously pushed aside, as Arikian began to pray. "Get ye someone with a board," he ordered. "An' don't come back with it!" The other man beat at the flames, to little effect.

I grabbed a canister, still surprisingly upright, from by the door and flipped it upside down. "Here, use this," I instructed. "Cradle it so, and use the hose to direct the stream. There should be another one around here somewhere." I choked a bit when I remembered how Brainard had first gleefully shown me his invention. I gave the man my canister, showed him how to depress the nozzle and searched quickly for its companion. I had just laid hands on it, when Arikian shouted at me. "Get the board, Surier!"

I raced down the hall, glad to get out of the room. I met several men coming up the stairs. I gave them Arikian's instructions and turned to go back. I felt I had to.

"Not that way, boy. Down here," a gruff voice said. "Go down with the others."

"But..."

I was given a push toward the stairs, and much to my guilt, I went.

Karien met me at the foot of the stairs. "So, you got kicked out, too? Good. Then I'll have company."

I didn't notice that he had grabbed my arm in a companionable way, or that he was leading me off the Temple grounds and into the town.

"In here," he whispered suddenly.

I looked up in surprise. "But this isn't..."

"Oh, for pity's sake, Surier, just get in." I 'got in'. I would be in enough trouble when the Masters found out what I knew and what I'd done. What could one more transgression do to me?

'In' was a dark, seedy-looking place, obviously a bar. Karien spoke with the barkeeper and we were shown into a back room. We sat down in overstuffed chairs and waited for the landlord. He quickly brought a large bottle of something and two glasses. Karien filled both glasses, setting the bottle on the small table between the chairs.

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