The son of two avaricious fortune hunters, Ashe accompanied his parents on dozens of adventures in his early childhood until his father perished in an avalanche. His mother supported him for another five years until she abandoned him to fend for himself. Ashe taught himself with his mother’s discarded mancy books through his adolescence, working as non-contracted labor in Decadia’s smelting factories. The endless hours toiling with white-hot metal sparked a lifelong admiration of the uses of fire. The day after his eighteenth birthday, he offered his services to his employers as an apprentice pyromancer. They did not look fondly upon his aspirations and attempted to murder him on the spot. Ashe had prepared for this eventuality. He ignited the air his assailant’s lungs, incinerating everything in their ribcages. No others barred his departure.
Ashe then stabbed out into the realms on his own as a fortune hunter. The prospect of earning or stealing his livelihood enticed him. After a two initial, nearly fatal failures, he succeeded in thieving an unpolished, wooden wand that amplified his power. He amassed both valuable possessions and a ruthless reputation, one so prolific that his mother sought him out to help her in a desperate scheme.
The following Stelfire.com exclusive scene depicts the reunion between Ashe Stelfire and his mother, Jillian. It takes place 39 years before Chapter 1 of the REPENTER novel. ADVISORY: It contains explicit content.
Cigars with Mom
By James McGowan
The Dusk Hour of Pyrene 44th, 1511
Jillian Stefire swayed through the crowded café’s narrow confines with familiar confidence. Dim lights gleamed upon a few dozen stool-sized tables, though the majority of the patrons stood and mingled. Most wore dress attire, dresses or suits. A few of them glanced at Jillian’s many black tattoos with passing interest before returning to tepid conversations to match their luke-warm beverages.
Ashe sat at a small table in the back of the café. He tightly clutched his steaming, red tea in its ceramic cup. The heat calmed him enough to repress enraged shivers, but not enough to stop his racing mind. He hated her, yet here he sat, early for a meeting in one of the Cosm’s many social clubs with his mother.
She still wore form-fitting attire, a rose-hued, fiber-mesh, mancer suit. Her fingers brushed through her thick red bangs. A few strands of white drew her son’s notice. Time had not stood still for either of them. At forty-six, she was only seventeen years older than his twenty-nine. Ashe released his beverage and gestured to the chair in front of him with what he hoped was a blank expression.
His mother grinned. She pivoted the chair when she reached the table, sitting in it backwards with her elbows draped across its back. She held a cigar in each hand. Jillian placed one cigar in front of Ashe and pointed her finger at the end of the other in her hand. A small flame erupted and immediately extinguished, leaving a red-orange ember. She took in a deep drag and blew it out above their heads. The spicy-sweet scent did not call to mind tobacco. It smelled of autumn, of leaves burning upon cinnamon. Ashe did not take his mother’s offering, leaving it untouched in front of him.
Her green eyes never left his. In the silence, more aromatic puffs of smoke wafted from her nostrils and mouth. Jillian sat up straighter, running a hand down her vest. She spoke around her cigar. “You dress in black, like your father.”
Ashe took a long sip of tangy and bitter red tea, his grip on the cup unfaltering.
“But you still have my eyes, my hair.” She bobbed her eyebrows. “My talent. You’re a pyromancer on the rise.”
The son looked past his mother searching for anything, anyone that didn’t belong. The press of bodies in the narrow interior limited his surveillance, but nothing appeared amiss.
His eyes returned to her. Jillian stared at him with the cigar now in the center of her lips with smoke fuming from her mouth. She removed it and tapped a few ashes on the floor. “See anything?”
Ashe shook his head.
She rubbed an eye with one of her palms. “I don’t expect forgiveness, sweetie. I left you. I knew you could die and I still did it. I also know you don’t care why I did it.”
“Wrong,” he said.
Her brow furled for a moment. “Dear gods you sound just like Stahn.”
Ashe released his tea cup. “I guess I do. I can’t remember Dad that well.” He snatched the unlit cigar and examined a red and white snake emblem imprinted on its brown wrapping. “Tell me why you left me, Jill.”
He got the reaction he wanted at the use of this mother’s first name, an ever-so brief glimmer of hurt in her eyes. It vanished when she took another puff. “Money and power.”
“TELL ME WHY!” Ashe shouted it in her face loud enough to interrupt the café’s clamor. Many eyes turned in their direction. “Tell me why. Specifically.”
She didn’t speak. Moments passed while she smoked her cigar with a stern and cold expression. At last, the din of conversations returned. She spoke in the renewed privacy. “I had a deal with Baron Jonas in Sufrinzon. He offered me the world to come work for him. He wanted you as a blood sacrifice to enhance our power. I left you and told him you ran away. I started working for him after that.” She lowered her cigar with a plume of smoke. “Until I stopped.”
“He’s after you,” Ashe said with bitter certainty.
She nodded. “Nothing I can’t handle. He doesn’t have friends here in the Cosm.”
“He can hire someone to find you.”
“We’ll be gone by then.”
Ashe leaned against the round back of his polished, wooden chair. He rolled the cigar between his fingers. “Tell me what you want, Jill.”
She took her first name in stride this time. “Gaun herbs. These cigars add a month to your life after you smoke them. They cost me plenty. Forboda has a stash of pipes sitting in one of their secret vaults. Five-hundred of them. Each worth a five million decalits in Decadia. The pipe’s bowls continually regrow the herbs. If you have one, you’re set for life. A very long life. I know where the vault is. I need your help breaking in.”
Ashe ran his cigar along the bottom of his nose, taking in the strong, bitter aroma. He then drank down his red tea in two gulps. Its heat did not scald his tongue and throat. No heat harmed him while he wore his cloak. He placed the cigar in a pocket inside the black vestment. “Thanks for the gift.”
“Sweetie, wait.” Jillian reached toward him.
He swatted her hand away and stood. “You’re a fool and a waste.”
His mother pointed her cigar’s glowing ember at him. “Don’t let anger get in the way of this. We are talking about billions of decalits.” Her eyes widened to show a few bloodshot, zig-zagging lines. “Billions.”
“Yes, we are.” Ashe held up a finger. Fire ignited upon it. “One of two things will happen. Either you’ll succeed in raiding a Nagus Queen’s treasure trove. And if you do, I’ll find you and take the pipes from you by any means necessary.” A second finger joined the first, also alight with a flame. “Or you’ll die trying. Then, I’ll find out the location of this vault and steal the pipes.” He closed his fingers into a fist. The fire around his entire hand brightened to a red hue before vanishing. “Either way, I win and you lose.”
She tapped her thumb against the back of the chair. “If I’m a waste, what does that make you?”
“Someone who’s going to be very rich very soon.” He narrowed his eyes. “Count on it.”
“I’ll break in without you, then.” Jillian rose to her feet. “And you’re welcome to try to steal the pipes from me.” She placed the cigar back in her mouth and blew smoke in his face. “In fact, I dare you.”
“I dare a lot, Jill. It’s how I thrive.” Ashe pulled his cloak’s hood over his short red hair. “For what it’s worth, I hope you succeed. I very much want to take them from you.”
More smoke huffed from her mouth. “You won’t.”
Ashe turned his back on her and shoved his way through the crowd.
He never saw his mother again. Two days later, a Nagus Queen petrified Jillian Stelfire into stone in Forboda and shattered to her body to pieces. When Ashe Stelfire learned of it, he shed no tears. For his cruelty, he will one day repent.