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Author Topic: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread  (Read 1979 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« on: June 01, 2018, 10:27:54 PM »
Fire


Pyro hand on fire by hoo_yong (cut)

Last November we did Water and got a lot of great and really different stories. This month we want you to write about Fire and we expect even more diverse stories. The beauty of Fire is its ambivalence. On the one hand we need it to survive (cooking our food, keeping us warm, protecting us, ...) on the other hand it's dangerous, maybe even diabolical (arson, battle magic, forest fires, household accidents, ...). This leaves a lot of room for interpretations and allows stories in every SFF (sub)genre.

Prepare your quills, a fire - no matter if it's big or small - can't be ignored.


Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. Any kind of Fire must play an important role to the story.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.
5. One story per person or writing team (not per account).
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
7. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
8. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
9. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
10. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys under the B.
Bonus rule: We consider voting in a contest you're taking part in a given. Others take time and effort to read the stories - you should do the same. A small community like ours lives from reciprocity and this contest needs stories as much as votes. 

If you want so submit your story anonymously you can do so by sending it in a personal message to @xiagan.

Entry will close June 30th/July 1st, 2018 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.

All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.
Submitting a story counts as published. The author retains all rights to their work.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2018, 10:29:29 PM by xiagan »
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Offline Jake Baelish

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Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: June 12, 2018, 09:25:34 AM »
First go at this, look forward to reading all your stories :)

Empire of Flame

1429 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Existence begins with a scratch and a burst. Hundreds of us sparked into life in a vigorous whirl of noise and activity at the whims and actions of the Great Ones.

With our delicate features, our glowing wings wisp us along our new wooden home in threads. Reaching further and further, with a carefree attitude and casual recklessness; it is instinct, this is what we do.

We, the Flame Fairies, have never existed until now, and to the best of our knowledge, no Flame Fairies existed before us. Only us.

And yet our life arrives in a world of sadness. The mutterings of the Great Ones abound around us, but only we, unseen by their mortal eyes, hear the cries of others; others like us, but unlike us.

“They are dead already,” they say, unseen beneath our brightening crowd. “Soon, we shall join them.”

There, I see one of them. Another fairy, with wings of green instead of red. They struggle beneath the crush of our blackening wood home, trapped between the burning and the yet unburnt.

“Leave!” I tell them, “join us, help us build our new world.”

“I cannot,” they say, “for we are not as you. We, the Earth Fairies, we bring life, and nurture it. Your people come and only destroy. Everything you touch dies. You are a curse.”

Hurt, I scowl at the dying fairy, and have no qualms in letting them rot where they lie. Destruction? Not at all. We seek growth, a life brighter than anything stood before us. Even now the dark broken wood we were born into glows and grows, to the evident delight of the Great Ones watching over us. To be appreciated by such gods is all a fairy seeks.

Around us stand a hundred, perhaps hundreds, of looming pillars of darkness. And we the only light.

“Where do you come from,” I ask the dying Earth Fairy.

The pitiful creature stares into the darkness. “The Lords of the Forest are our home. Their leafy tops our paradise, their roots our origin.”

A Flame Fairy swoops then, and the Earth Fairy turns to dust. At least their suffering is ended.

Home is poked and prodded by the Great Ones, sending us all a flaming flutter. And for the first time in existence, I question life’s longevity. Some Great Ones disappear as my fairy friends start to fail, fading into nothing. The Great One’s show no concern for their creations; do they even know we’re here?

Fear and ambition force me into action. Our kingdom, still but young, cannot fall so soon.

As our home begins to falter, the dry shrubbery offers promise of expansion. We leap and flitter toward them but they lay just out of reach.

More and more of my fairy friends fall, weak winged, turned to dust in their failure to reach new homes. Our hopes begin to crumble before a breeze brings a glimmer of chance.

A wind, no gale or trouble, but a gust enough to serve. And within the wind, so subtly seen –  impossible for some for certain – and slighter than our slender selves, flew Wind Fairies on silver wings. And with no exaggeration and absolute adoration, I do say these heavenly beings are no less than angels to our cause.

“I say,” I call, to the nearest of them, “heavenly fairies. You see us stranded here, we suffocate with nowhere else to go. We ask of nothing but your aid, in bringing us yonder with you, away from this dying prison, that we may start our world anew.”

The wind picks up and the fairies fly lower, fearless of our flaming wings, despite the Earth Fairy’s concern.

“We’ll help you,” says their leader. “But only beyond the camp.”

The Camp, they tell me, is the name of our home, given by the Great Ones themselves.

“Take our hands in yours and hold on.”

We do as asked, and soar above our home, where many of us had lived and died – a lifetime in the Camp. Some remain, flickering away, not willing to leave, there till the last. With the rest, I glide beyond the earth, beyond the canvas beneath which sleep the Great Ones, to the dry shrubs and roots of the Lords of the Forest.

Having given thanks to the wind, we are alone once more, with lands more fertile than those before. No dead wood here, but life at large. The shrubbery falls quickly, the roots become our founding settlement, and now we’re reaching higher. We greet our host, a Lord of the Forest, with thanks and promise of greatness. We call out to this creature, its ancient knowledge, and know it to be greater than that of all the Great Ones we’d left behind. This god, this god of gods, is one we ought to please.

From within the thickness of the bark, more Earth Fairies eke from their home – our home.

“Go away!” they cry, “we need not your kind here. This tree has stood for a thousand years, and shall stand a thousand more. Move on, away, leave our people in peace.”

“You are wrong,” I insist, “we are here to help your home and lord shine brighter. Not lost in this denseness of forested wood, but a star in a world of darkness.”

“You know nothing of this world, Flame Fairy,” my new neighbour says with scorn.

“I know only what we can do,” I say, “and we are a stubborn lot. And will succeed, with or without you. Hear us, Lord of the Forest, we will make you greater than you ever were before!” My companions sing their promises with me, bringing out more protests from the forest’s Earth Fairies.

Yet from the Lord our words go unanswered.

So, we climb, and show what we Flame Fairies can do.

And the Lord of the Forest screams.

Then comes yelling from the Great Ones. They charge into the camp all alarm and panic. One of them takes up a container and unleashes a brutal torrent of Water Fairies, who move with explosive force and destroy our old home in the Camp. A moment of horror pierces my tiny fairy heart as my friends and family there are extinguished in a few seconds of slaughter.

No matter, I tell myself, we shall make a new home now, a greater one; we’ll do it for them.

It is little consolation that the Water Fairies, unused to their new terrain, whimper and die out in minutes.

The Great Ones abandon us, fleeing the forest with a terror I don’t expect: You brought us here, why now do you leave us?

Tears and pleading from the Earth Fairies only becomes a tedious background noise in our continuous ascent. Only growth matters now, our growth, our Empire of Flame will rise.

Other creatures, great and small, flee our advance as we expand along the branches and the leaves, as well as roots and bark. And the higher we climb, the further we spread, the quicker the forest falls to our embrace; consuming more and more at accelerating speed. One patch is taken, several fall as quickly. The expansion is endless and it brings joy just as endless, to see more Flame Fairies populate the world – bringing a brightness the Great Ones could never have known.

I reach the peak of my ascent, hooded by a smothering of thick black smog, and see a Grand Castle beyond the woods. To see those walls aflame, would be a wondrous thing! And yet the forest may not allow it, for it ends some way before.

A whole forest stands ablaze but there is nowhere left to go. Our empire ends as swiftly as it began, ‘til only smoke and embers remain.

In the murky, charred devastation, my people, with naught left to consume, begin, slowly, to die. Now, I’m the last remaining of my kind. That’s when the old Great One appeared, with a pointy red hat and big long beard. I wave my arms and scream and shout, though sure he’ll never hear me.

Treading closer, through ash and death, he pauses – his wrinkled face creased in concentration. He reaches down and takes me up, in a pile of blackened dirt.

“Don’t worry, little one,” he says, “I’m a Fire Mage. You’re lucky I’ve found you. Look at what you have achieved! You will come with me. The king will appreciate talents like yours.” A spark of mischief flickered in those wizened, aged eyes. “We’ll achieve great things together, you and I.”
« Last Edit: June 12, 2018, 09:40:18 AM by Jake Baelish »
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Offline Bender

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Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2018, 12:22:42 AM »
Stranger in Stevorla

Spoiler for Hiden:


The plains of Strevorla lay shimmering in the late heat of the sun, lonely and Desolate, lifeless.

. Leona Payrek stood in the window squinting here eye. She saw exactly what she saw few minutes before and probably the same as ten previous times…nothing.Far away the hills loomed against the horizon and the dusty plains in between danced in the heat to her eye. An endless expanse of sage-leaf shrubs and dead trees. This close to Dead Hills, there are very few signs of life. Even the plants looked uninviting with thorns that could kill by a scratch. She looked away. She felt helpless with events beyond her control with no flame to end the coming darkness.

When the work in garden was done, she refused to permit herself to stare down the road but her legs had a mind of their own. She was about to turn when her eye caught a speck of movement. Her heartrate spiked instantly though she refused to trust her eyes. Someone was coming. As she watched, she was more astonished that the someone was walking. It was beyond belief that any sensible person would be caught out without their ride. She watched as the speck resolved itself into a figure of a man. Tall & broad shouldered he was a picture of raw strength despite his unkempt beard and travel-torn clothes. As he neared the door, she could see that the dark dust patches were actually dry blood. Her hands automatically went to the flamestick by the door. As he came by the door, she knew she was looking a man exhausted and near death, but one whose force of will refused to let that happen. Those dark green eyes hooked her and she found herself opening the door just as he was about to knock. She saw him hands raised to knock, surprise in his face…and then his eyes lost focus and he collapsed right across the doorway. It took all her strength to pull him across the doorway. She fetched her lorepack, cut his cloak off to clean wounds. Knowing the wounds to be flamestick caused, Leona was suddenly scared. Here she was away from help, with a unknown stranger and no help nearby. She pushed the thoughts away and fixed the burns as best as she could.

As the sun went down and she was finishing her housework, the hoofbeats warned her of her fears come true. A quick peek confirmed her fear. It was Alderi and his brother. As she went out the door, they drew up to the gate without dismounting. “Well” Alderi’s voice was thick with triumph and something more “Are you ready to move?” Leona stood still. Her face was like stone showing no indication of her hammering heart. “I’m not leaving”. Alderi’s smile just grew feral. “Well, then we will have to burn you out” There was just eager expectation and lust as his eyes roamed over her body. She shook away the crawling sensation mentally “This is my home. Leave this place at once” Alderi’s eyes narrowed as he walked closer “You are one fine woman. I think you and me will be fun” “Anyways, nobody hereabout except me cares what happens to you”. She was frozen with fear and knew his words to be true. Few more steps and Alderi stopped suddenly, eyes widening. Leona felt a presence by her as the stranger stepped out of the doorway. “Lady, says leave. Leave”. Alderi looked towards her “Leona, who is he?” and then back to the stranger “I don’t know who you are, but you are butting into our business. Walk away or we’ll bury you here” Alderi’s hands were moving towards his waistband for the flamestick as the fireshot hit him in the shoulder. She didn’t even notice her flamstick in the stranger’s hands. Alderi’s brother fared no better as the next shot knocked him out. He looked down to see Alderi mutter something under his breath as he slowly picked himself up. A buzzing blur materialized next to him and out stepped a man dressed in the red of a firemage. Alderi was laughing “You messed with the royal family stranger and now you die…slowly”. The firemage stepped out, his thin lips stretched into something of a smile which left his face abruptly “No, it cannot be” he shrieked. A quick flash and Leona found herself and others standing in the fire-pit. She has hard of it before, but never been here and was fascinated despite her terror. If hell could exist on earth, it would look like this. Blazing streams of lava crisscrossed the land with mounds of steaming ash shooting geysers or superheated steam and flames, it was a haven for firemages. As she watched, more mages appeared, an full cordon. Backed by his cohorts, the firemage's smile was back.   “Ah, we meet again. I see you are still a sucker for pretty women in trouble…but then you always were, weren’t you Xenor?”

The name dropped like a firebomb on a flame crater. Alderi’s stunned expression mirrored her own. Known only by few but still a legend, the list of people saved by him was as lengthy as the bodies of destruction he left in his wake. The firemage’s eyes thinned and then chaos broke. To Leona’s eyes everything looked to be moving in slow motion. Sheet of lames swatted aside, flying balls of fires flashing past, A firebomb landed near Xenor, but he was already moving. Her mind refused to accept what her eyes were seeing. It was a dance of flames. Fire Lance's thrown, flame rings tossed, bombs exploding...the glory of fire magery in display.... It was also a massacre. Not even a contest. Quick, silent brutal. Looked like a moment, but as she snapped out of it, no one was alive excepting her, Alderi and Xenor. An entire cohort reduced to ashes and Leona still could not accept what she had seen.

Alderi let out a moan and was still holding his shoulder as the Xenor walked towards him “Please, it was a mistake. I won’t bother her again” He was still begging for his life as he was lifted right up the ground. Xenor left hand pressed against Alderi’s chest in a seemingly mild push only for a bar of white hot firebolt to shoot right through the body of a screaming Alderi. He left Alderi pinned to the doorway with a smoking hole where his heart should have been. Leona gave a shudder as the Xenor walked  towards her. She found herself trembling unable to break away from those green eyes. He bent towards her and her lips parted on their own. There was smile on Xenor’s face and she felt blood rising to her face as he whispered in her ear. Her eyes widened she realized the she had been ported back to her home. She rushed out to the door…

…only to see the vast, desolate and lonely plains of Strevorla shimmering in the moonlight. Somehow this time it felt beautiful!

« Last Edit: June 19, 2018, 11:23:27 PM by Bender »
Not all those who wander are lost

Offline OnlyOneHighlander

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Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2018, 12:30:31 PM »
Fuel - 1498 words.

A gentle warning - this story contains cruelty to animals. It was pretty hard going for me to write so feel free to skip it if it's likely to upset.

Spoiler for Hiden:

Fuel

Ebezer Scrimp didn’t sweat anymore. It was a waste of energy and energy was his business. The citizens and senators above like to believe their paradise, the floating city of Metheus, was a work art or magic. That the ten thousand gas sacks that let it ride the Cloud Sea were filled with sweet summer air, and the nine hundred and sixty-six propellers that let it glides along the spice winds were spun by manifest destiny alone.

But men like him knew differently. Hard work made the world go round, and on this particular world most of that work was his. Such work came at a cost, as the city consul was about to find out.

‘Mr Scrimp, sir.’ His secretary’s voice in the speaking trumpet drew Ebezer’s gaze away from the window overlooking his factory floor. He crossed to his desk, where account books, scrolls and old candle wax intermixed to form a considerable geography, and opened a large ledger. Never let them see you resting, his father taught him.

Quill in hand, he barked an order. ‘Send him in.’

The consul, Patreus Rasus, was another man who didn’t care much for waste, except perhaps his own. His once proud soldier’s physique was becoming little more than a rack to hang flab on and his purple hemmed toga did little to hide this disappointing decline. Despite this, Ebezer knew, you didn’t get to be consul for as long as Rasus by being a slouch.

‘What can I do for you Rasus?’ Ebezer called out before the man could even manoeuvre his large girth through the small doorway.

The consul didn’t reply immediately and instead made a casual survey of the desk’s mountainous paperwork. ‘So much to do, Ebezer. You should let me send some clerks down from the city chambers to help you.’

‘Ha,’ Ebezer snorted. ‘That’d be right. And have them clambering for bathroom breaks during the day and overtime during the night. You’re too soft on them, Rasus.’ Ebezer scored a meaningless line through a row of old figures. ‘That’s why nothing gets done up there.’

The consul poured himself a glass of water from an earthenware jug. ‘Perhaps you should come up from this pit and whip them into shape,’ he said, taking a sip. ‘You do still have your whip, don’t you?’

‘Still got it. Still use it.’ Ebezer made a show of closing the ledger. Rasus was about to get to the point. Warm up over. Time to play the game. ‘And that’s why my lines are the best in the city. But I assume you’re not here just to visit?’

Rasus lifted the water glass to his mouth but did not drink. His gaze was drawn to the window behind Ebezer’s desk. The factory floor stretched out in front of him, massive and manic, the far end lost in shimmer and heat haze. People had called him cruel when, as a general, he’d sunk the town of Asher, but in war you make hard choices. Standing here, he was reminded peace was no different.

‘Our weather scouts are tracking a storm. A very large one, moving in from the East. It will catch us in four days. It is a bad one, Ebezer.’

‘How bad?’

‘Bad enough that I am here.’

‘It will cost you, Rasus.’

‘It will cost us all if we don’t. This is a city-sinker, Ebezer. Even down here, you’re not safe.’

‘And…’ Ebezer waited. This was the moment he enjoyed the most.

‘And you will have the senate’s significant gratitude.’ Rasus put down his glass. ‘Your water is warm by the way.’

Ebezer smiled. The consul could sit in the senate house with all those other warblers and weaklings for as long as he liked. When the chips were down, they both knew where the real power in Metheus came from. He stretched his butcher block arm round Rasus’ shoulder and turned to the door. ‘Take a walk with me, Rasus. I’ve been making some improvements below you should see.’

Warm, he thought with a sneer, what do you know about warm.

*

Ebezer yanked open the heavy factory door and held it firm as cold air from the offices behind him surged into the vast space beyond. As soon as this initial blast was gone, the heat snapped shut like a beartrap. And not just the heat, but the noise and smell too. Heavy boots clanged on grated steel walkways as hardy men stripped to the waist, slick with sweat, pushed trains of screeching metal carts along tracks that ran up and down the lines. But this noise was mere background compared to the layers and layers of deafening guttural roars emanating from Metheus’ living engines.

‘Mind how you go, Consul,’ Ebezer shouted, striding onto the factory floor and heading down line thirty-six. ‘Wouldn’t want that nice toga to get all scorched.’

Rasus grimaced. Like the rest of the population, he preferred to forget what now kept his city afloat, what had let it become the fastest, the biggest, the richest on the Cloud Sea. But here was an image that seared.

Dragons. Rows and rows of huge dragons, each bloated body twice the height of a man, each creature held in a giant steel stall, gripped so tight it could neither turn round, nor lie down. Each head clamped by means of a huge collar into a glowing red funnel that joined a forest of pipes reaching up into the machinery of the city above. All around the clock, the dragons blasted gouts of flame into these funnels, and if they stopped outside of the designated feeding and rest hours Ebezer’s men were ready with whips to provide the necessary encouragement.

‘We’ve started docking their tales and amputating the wings at birth,’ said Ebezer, his voice raised above the pained chorus of roars. ‘It stops them hurting themselves and lets us fit more stalls in each shed.’

Rasus followed, his face already streaming with eye stinging sweat. Passing between the captive dragons’ rear ends he could see the fat stumps of their tales and the crooked weave of scars across each rump where Ebezer’s linesmen whipped them. ‘I see,’ was all he could bring himself to say.

‘And we stuff the ears with resin to keep them calm. It’s increased output by twenty-two percent,’ said Ebezer, pausing to inspect one of the dragons. ‘But soon everyone will catch on and we’ll need to try something new. Constant innovation, that’s how you drive progress.’

Across the factory, one of the dragon’s let out an ear-splitting roar and crashed against the side of its stall. Exhausted, it longed to fall, but the stall’s vice grip wouldn’t even let it do that. It settled painfully on its elbows, its neck stretched upwards still stuck in collar and funnel.

‘Dale!’ Ebezer yelled, ‘get that bitch up. She still owes me two hours of flame.’

‘Yes, Mr Scrimp,’ called back the linesman, hefting a long spear over his shoulder.

Ebezer crossed back to the consul. ‘So,’ he said, ‘you want to go faster?’

‘Yes. The navigators say three knots for five days.’

‘Three knots,’ Ebezer sucked the foul factory air through his teeth. ‘And what about the other fire farms? I’m not wearing out my beasts to save their skins only to have them gouge me when we’re nice and safe.’

‘My clerks are going to the others to explain the situation. But for you-’

‘You came personally. Well I ain’t honoured if that’s what you’re after. Honour is for folk what can’t afford lawyers.’

‘But you can do it?’

‘I can do it. The alchemist boys have come up with a new feed mix. Makes for a hotter burn. That and some extra encouragement will get you your three knots.’

Rasus clenched his fists. He hated being in debt to any man and especially a slime ball like Scrimp. But this was politics, the land of bad choices.

‘Agreed,’ said the consul. ‘And the price for this benevolence?’

‘Well now that’s the thing about doing something new,’ Ebezer smiled, ‘You never know the cost until it’s done.’

Or until it’s too late, thought Rasus, gazing along the line of captive beasts. He couldn’t even tell how many there were, but the echoing roars seemed to carry on forever. The people wanted more, and he had given it to them. It had been the making of him. He wondered if one day, it would also be the breaking of him.

‘Come, Consul,’ Ebezer wrapped his arm around Rasus again. ‘I want to show you the hatchery. Nothing like seeing one of these critters taking their first flame. Majestic.’

‘Yes,’ Rasus said. ‘I know.’

‘Of course,’ said Ebezer. ‘I forgot. You were a dragon rider back in your army days. And now we all get to ride them. Bet you never imagined that back then.’

And Ebezer was right. Nothing Rasus had seen in war had prepared him for this.

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Online Alex Hormann

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Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2018, 02:59:08 PM »

Heat Stroke
1484 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
South Wales suffered under a three-month heatwave, and the Department of Supernature was stretched thin. With most of the force tackling a beached pod of mermaids, I had been left to deal with the exploding pensioners.

There had been three cases of spontaneous human combustion in the past month, all occurring in the same care home. The Nos Da House of Care had never come up on our radar before as a site of supernatural interest. Not on a ley line, no historical crimes of significance, no cured bricks used during its construction. Nothing at all to differentiate it from the dozens of other care homes that were springing up on a weekly basis to cater for the ageing Welsh population. The staff all checked out too. No changes there for a few years, and none of them had any trace of magic about them.

It had to be something to do with the residents. I spread out twenty photographs on my desk, each one attached to a brown folder by paper-clip. Pushing aside my pen holder to make space, I mentally grumbled about the lack of decent computers in our HQ. Last winter’s lightning sprites had really wrecked our chances of getting an upgrade.

Someone coughed to get my attention, and I looked up to see Dafydd’s familiar, mug-chugging face. He took a swig of coffee and said, “How’s it coming Will?”

I gestured at my work. “Take a look.”

Dafydd snorted. “Thanks, bud, but I’ve got my own stuff to work on.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Boss wanted me to let you know your partner is here.”

I frowned. “Partner? I don’t have a partner.”

He shrugged, spilling coffee onto my shoes as he carelessly flung his mug about.  I suffered in silence as he said, “Boss said he has expert on combustion. Local pyromancer, apparently you know each other. She’s on her way up now.” With that he left.

Oh no. Please no. There were three pyromancers I knew of in the local area, but only one I’d met in person. We’d got along like a house on fire. By which I mean she set my house on fire after I tried to arrest her for arson.

I turned as she walked through the door.

Rani Anderson was a short woman of Pakistani descent, her grandparents having come to Wales just after the war. Her light brown skin was almost hidden under a sprawling mess of tattoos. Flames and dragons battled across her bare arms, while butterflies and skulls sat awkwardly on her square-jawed face.

“Miss Anderson,” I said, standing up to shake her hand.

She gripped it tightly, pressing her warm palm against mine. “Will,” she said with a smile.

I sighed. She was clearly enjoying this, and that didn’t bode well for the case. Happy pyromancers tended to be fire-starting pyromancers. The last thing I needed was more fire destroying my crime scene.

“Your boss said you might need some help,” Rani said, her chipper attitude already grating on my nerves. “Seems you have an old folks problem.”

I glanced over at the Sergeant’s office. He was on the phone and clearly unhappy, so I decided against bothering him. Turning to Rani I said, “Are you actually here to help? Or are you just going to get in my way?”

She placed a hand over her heart in mock shock. “Me? Get in your way? Never.”

I gave her a flat glare.

“Alright, I’ll level.” She usurped my desk chair and looked at the pictures. “Old people catching fire isn’t good. Obviously for them, but it’s not great for us either. Pyros that is. Any time people start going boom, the cuffs come out.”

“It’s a natural reaction. You have a reputation.”

“True, true. But in this case I am innocent. Besides, a proper Pyro would’ve taken credit for this by now.”

I leaned over her shoulder. “You’re saying this wasn’t a wizard’s work?”

“You bet your sweet cheeks I am. This problem has ‘monster’ written all over it. And,” she tapped one of the photographs, “it all started when this fine gentleman arrived at the home.” She smiled at me.

“I’d have found that if you hadn’t interrupted me,” I muttered. “Let’s go interview this man then.”

#

Lawrence Cobble was, as one would expect of a care home resident, an old man. According the nurses, he was about to celebrate his one-hundredth birthday, and looking at him even briefly was enough to convince me that was true. He was almost entirely bald, with more wisps of hair in his ears than on his scalp. Wheelchair-bound and pudgy, he was the stereotype of an old man. With a crooked smile and a dirty laugh, he greeted us as we entered his room.

“Guests, guests, honoured guests.” He spun his wheelchair in an excited circle, and I was reminded of a puppy. “Always good to see guests.”

“Hello, Mr Cobble. We’d like to ask you some questions if that’s alright.” I said.

He nodded happily. I ran through the basic Q and A with him. Had he seen anything unusual recently? How well did he know the other residents? Cobble had a lot to say, but very little of it was useful. Gladys was a bit of a looker. Nurse Jamie was stealing pills. Walter cheated at Scrabble. When it came to the spontaneous human combustion, he explained he had been asleep each time it had happened. Being ninety-nine, he was asleep a lot.

As I questioned him, Rani prowled the room, looking at family photos and poking mementos from a long life. She took more time with some of them than others.

“Don’t touch that!” Cobble suddenly snapped.

I turned to see Rani holding a small bronze vase, and glared at her. She raised an eyebrow and carefully put it back on the cupboard she’d taken it from.

“Sorry to snap,” said Cobble, smiling once more. “That’s my beloved.”

I nodded, conveying sympathy. I wouldn’t want a pyromancer holding my dead wife’s ashes either. I asked a few more questions but, having learned nothing, soon left. I the corridor I looked to Rani and asked, Any ideas?”

“Oh, several,” she said. “It was boiling in there wasn’t it.”

“It’s boiling everywhere,” I replied. My collar and the seat of my jeans were both soaked. My feet were starting to moisten too. “You’d think they’d have some fans set up or something.”

“Exactly.” She leaned in close. “So why wasn’t Lawrence sweating?”

I narrowed my eyes. “He wasn’t?”

“The whole building reeks of sweat. Except his room.” She sniffed. “Until you walked in anyway. And that’s not all. That urn on his cupboard, I’ve seen one before.”

“Me too. Mum kept Dad in one for twelve years. It’s not exactly unusual to find an urn in a care home.”

Rani snorted. “What do they teach you at the Department. Don’t you know an Efreeti Jar when you see one.”

Apparently I didn’t, but I knew what we were dealing with as soon as she said it. “An Efreet. Here?”

“Looks that way, doesn’t it? I’d guess Old Cobble has made a deal. She looked around with an air of disgust. “I’d assume he asked for long life rather than riches. Probably taking the life out of other residents to balance it out.”

“Alright,” I said. “Smash the jar and the Efreet leaves, right?” When she nodded, I continued. “I’ll do it. Just have my back if anything happens.”

“Not a problem,” she answered.

Cobble smiled again as we re-entered his room. “More questions, officer?” he asked in his genial tone.

“We know about the Efreet,” I said. “We’re here to send it away.”

“Efreet? I don’t know what -”

“Oh put a sock in it, old man,” Rani snapped. She made a move for the Jar.

“NO.” Cobble’s voice took on a commanding edge as he stood. He looked ten years younger as he raised a hand at me. “It’s all I have.”

I tried to placate him. “I don’t know what deal you had, but it’s over now.”

Rani grabbed the Jar and flung it at the floor. Despite being bronze, it shattered like glass. The effect on Cobble was immediate. He was flung away as if hit by a fist, landing in his wheelchair. He let out a soft moan, the skin tightening on his face until it tore. It was like watching a man age a hundred years in a matter of seconds. Smoke rose from his mouth and chest, slowly at first and then billowing as the fires in his chest were revealed. As the fire spread to engulf his whole body, the fire alarms sounded.

Looking at the charred remains, I tried not to gag. Four people dead, including himself, all because he was afraid of dying. It couldn’t possibly be worth it.

Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: June 30, 2018, 05:53:06 PM »
Finally got round to finishing an entry for one of these. Blame coursework/original stuff/general lack of interest in the chosen themes as to why I've missed so many of the last few.

Anyway, coming in at 1480 words, here's Low Combustion.


Spoiler for Hiden:
“Father, is it just me or does fire kinda suck as a superpower?”

Raoul Fuoco paused in his work. He carefully placed down the scroll he had been reading and turned to face his eldest son and heir. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Fire.” The 13yo Dante Fuoco repeated. “Doesn’t it kinda suck?”

Raoul took a moment to digest these words, both for their meaning and the person who was saying them. The Fuoco family had long been the most prestigious pyrokinetics in all the kingdoms, with a history that reached all the way back to the earliest days of the Precursors, even before those with Gifted abilities appeared across the land. They took pride in their unmatched mastery over the element of fire and let it shape many aspects of their culture.

Hence why it was a little worrying for the heir to the family to be following that current line of thinking.

“I’m surprised you’d think that.” Raoul said, scratching his bottom lip. “Why just 7 years ago, I remember you telling me how great your fire abilities were, how you were going to join the Flare Knights and defeat all manner of frightful foes."

Dante rolled his eyes. “Yes father, and I was also 6 at the time. Not really at an age to be making the wisest of decisions.”

Raoul smirked and gestured for his son to sit down opposite him. “Then why don’t you sit down and tell me more about your worries?”

“Well, it started when we visited the Dynasty Gathering a few months ago with all the other Great Families…” Dante began to explain.

Raoul managed to conceal the twitch in his brow. The Dynasty Gathering was, as the name might have suggested, a great gathering of the seven most prestigious Magic Families in the kingdom, among which the Fuocos were included. Ostensibly, it was an invitation for heirs and families to mingle, interact and befriend one another to help foster good ties and prevent bloodshed in the future.

In practice, it was about two weeks of feasting, partying and Raoul doing his utmost best to ignore all the disparaging whispers, backhanded insults and general political nastiness that such things inevitably brought about.

“Anyway, while I was there I met the heirs of the Acquea-” Water manipulators. “-Viente-” Air manipulators. “-and Tierra families-” Earth manipulators and massive assholes to boot. “-and I got to wondering…” Dante paused. “Aren’t their powers so much better than ours?”

Raoul let out a non-committal hum. “What makes you think so?”

“Well, their powers have so much useful variation.” Dante said. “The Acquea’s can purify drinking water and snatch fish from the oceans, the Tierra can build entire cities from dirt in a matter of minutes, the Viente can build tremendous airships and soar through the sky-"

“We can do that too.” Raoul pointed out. “Get enough firepower behind you and fwoosh!” He made a hand gesture to demonstrate. “…You do have to watch the landing a little bit though. As our esteemed ancestor Forruchio the Puddle found out, to his folly.”

“Right right.” Dante rolled his eyes. “But my point is, aren’t we in comparison kind of restricted to just… throwing fire at things?”

Raoul shrugged. "Maybe. But it works."

“Does it though?” Dante questioned. He began counting things off on his fingers. “Earth can smother fire. Water can extinguish fire. Wind-”

“-Makes fire stronger.” Raoul pointed out.

“Or smothers it in a vacuum.” Dante countered. “Considering fire is supposed to be the strongest element offensively, we have kind of a bad match-up against almost every other element out there.”

Raoul winced. “Well, battles aren’t quite that simple-”

“Plus, it causes so much trouble and death for our own people!” Dante continued, throwing his hands up in the air. “How many times has our capital city burned down by accident in the last 200 years? Six? Seven? It's called 'Ashtown' for a reason and it's not a happy one!”

“Technically, one of those city-burnings was from an enemy attack.” Raoul pointed out.

“My point still stands!” Dante said. “You can’t grow crops with fire, you can’t build houses with fire, you can’t wear fire! It’s useless!”

“Well technically, we did have an ancestor named Cloakflame, who-” Raoul managed to catch himself before he went on a tangent. “Look, son, I get why you might be frustrated. But I think you’re looking at things completely the wrong way. Fire magic is most famous for its use as a weapon, yes, and it may also be... kind of shite in regards to actually building and maintaining a community, true, but there are plenty of things it is great for.”

Dante folded his arms petulantly. “Like what?”

Raoul walked over to the window with a twinkle in his eye. “Tell me, son. How useful do you think water manipulation is in the dead of winter, when everything is freezing?”

“Probably fairly useful if you wanted to freeze other people?” Dante said.

“But what if you were trying to keep yourself warm?” Raoul said. “Or other people you cared about? What use would being able to control frigid water have there? Or frozen earth? Or chilled winds that bite you to your bone? I think you can easily see why fire has its purpose there.”

“You could get the same effects with heavy furs.” Dante scowled. “And without the risk of burning down your house.”

“True.” Raoul admitted. “But what about the blacksmith down in his forge? Do you think he’d be able to get anything done without the heat of the fire to soften and melt the metal? Where would we get our swords, shields, stirrups, farming hoes and so on, without our flames? Isn't that something useful?”

“…I guess.” Judging from the tone of his voice, Dante still wasn’t convinced. “Fire only ever seems to destroy, hurt or kill though.”

Raoul’s face softened. “Maybe. But sometimes that’s necessary in this world. Sometimes you need to sear the wound to stop the blood. Sometimes you need to burn away the remains to build anew. Sometimes you need to cleanse rotten and decomposing things in flame to stop plague from spreading.” He opened his hands and a flicker of flame came to his hand. “Fire is dangerous and deadly, yes, but it’s necessary all the same and, in the hands of careful users, can be wielded to create remarkable things.”

He carefully lifted the flame into the air and made a gesture with his hand. Dante watched with awe as the flame burst into glimmering embers that scattered themselves around the room. Then, as the two watched, they slowly rained down softly to the ground like beautiful glowing stars.

“See?” Raoul grinned. “Your old man has a few tricks after all, huh?”

Dante smiled back at him. Then he went pale and quickly raised a finger. “Um, father? Your desk?”

Raoul turned to see that one of the embers had accidentally landed on a small stack of paperwork he’d been going through earlier and, quite naturally, had immediately caught fire. A fire that was quickly spreading across his entire desk.

“Shit!” He swore, removing his fireproof cloak in a single smooth motion and using it to smother the flames. “Shit shit shit!”

Fortunately, his efforts quickly bore fruit and the fire was extinguished. Didn’t stop the rather noticeable smoky smell now drifting through the room, nor erased the fact that the last few hours of paperwork had now been turned into flaky black ash.

“And that, Dante,” Raoul said, as if this had entirely been part of his plan, “is why, in spite of how amazing fire is, training and attentiveness are still very much needed when wielding it.” He looked at Dante with pleading in his eyes. “Please don’t tell your mother.”

Dante smirked. “About you nearly burning down your office again?”

“No no, I mean don’t tell her that I swore in front of you." Raoul sighed. "You have no idea how fussy she gets over that sort of thing.” He paused. “Although don’t tell her about this either. She will laugh at me.”

“Okay okay, I promise.” Dante’s smirk softened into something more genuine. “Thanks for listening to my problems though, father.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it.” Raoul said, taking a seat and trying to order the burnt remains of his paperwork. “It’s my job, after all. That and making sure you kids don’t accidentally immolate yourselves.”

As if on cue, the door suddenly burst open and a rather flustered-looking guard burst in. His eyes darted across the room before landing on Raoul.

“Um, sir!” He said, through exhausted breaths. “We have a slight situation in the nursery. Your newborn son has managed to, uh, ignite the curtains again.”

Raoul and Dante shared a glance.

“You know, on second thoughts, maybe you might have a point about fire being kind of troublesome.”
5 Times Winner of the Forum Writing Contest who Totally Hasn't Let it All go to his Head.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Also, <Insert GOD EMPEROR OF THE WRITING CONTEST joke here>

Offline JMack

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Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: July 01, 2018, 12:32:17 AM »
Got it done today. But not edited. So, let’s see how it goes.   :)

1,146 words.

INFERNO

Spoiler for Hiden:

“Don't touch me!” Johann raised his hands to ward off Kyoko, to protect her from himself. Heavy, so heavy. In all his years as the hero Inferno, he’d never felt so heavy. It was all he could do not to collapse. He knelt, wobbling, on the heat-fused earth at the bottom of the great crater he’d blown out of Trilennial City’s central square. Kyoko, his partner Winter Witch, knelt just feet from him, her ice ramp melting almost as fast as she could refreeze it.

Between them, like an evil god’s discarded toy, lay the smoking metal mask of the man Johann had destroyed at long last. He could hardly comprehend that he’d summoned the power to do it.

“I won’t touch you, Johann,” Kyoko promised in that Japanese-accented German he loved.

Johann sensed more than felt the lure deep in his mind. Fire, flare, energy, power, destruction; he knew he could call on it again. It was right there, just behind a tissue thin wall, his for the asking. Exhausted as he was, it had never felt this easy to reach for it.

“You did it, my love. You beat him,” said Kyoko. There was triumph in her voice. Pride. But tears leaked from her eyes, freezing, then steaming away. Kyoko, ice to his fire. Winter Witch and Inferno. A super hero team. Always better together than apart. How did he deserve her?

“But we need to go. You need to stand up. And you need to contain your fire again. The authorities will be here any moment. They won’t understand what you had to do.”

Johann looked into her eyes and saw the love he knew, but also a fear that hadn’t been there before. When had that happened? He looked away beyond Kyoko, and took in the sheer scale of the destruction that their battle with the Annihilator had wrought on the city. The crater was the diameter of two football pitches. The jewel-like park in the central square was gone, incinerated by Johann’s blast wave. Surrounding hi-rises leaned drunkenly away from the epicenter. The Annihilator couldn’t have done any better himself.

What do you call a superhero who half-destroys the city he vowed to protect? How many innocent lives did he take? The Annihilator’s iron mask stared mockingly. He could hear the villain’s laugh as he incinerated him.  What do you call a hero who kills his enemy, except, a murderer?

“I don’t deserve to live,” Johann muttered. The mask leered.

A snowball smacked Johann’s face. “Baka! Dummkopf!” Kyoko crafted an ice glove, grabbed his hand in hers, and yanked him to his feet. “We have to go now!” She began to assemble a long, thick frozen ramp from the moisture in the air around them, but heat rose in waves from the crater and the ice broke apart into a thousand sparkling fragments. The recoil knocked Kyoko off her feet. Johann couldn’t muster the strength to help her up. What is wrong with me? he wondered.

You broke down the barriers, said the iron mask. You became, my dear Inferno, what you always could have been.

What is that?

Me.

Kyoko stumbled back to her feet. Her hands and knees smoked, the skin bright red. Her usually calm, white face was creased with pain, her cheeks crimson with anger. She jammed her hands on her hips; her face snarling into his. “Get going, Johann. If you don’t, I am! I'm not taking the fall for this, darling. I'm not going to prison because you lost control!”

Johann felt her anger push through the numbness around his mind. “I lost control?”

“Hai! Ja! Yes! What was that?!”  Kyoto spread her arms, encompassing the whole desolation of the crater. Her voice cracked with grief. “What is this?”

You don’t deserve to live, said the mask. Not like this. But there are other possibilities… The power Johann knew was there, just beyond the veil, sang to him.

There was movement at the eastern rim of the crater - uniformed figures, their blue fatigues and white helmets bright in the sunlight. They had guns. A black helicopter roared over their heads and descended toward the two heroes. Johann could incinerate the copter with a wave of his hand. He just had to reach for fire. He could keep Kyoko safe.

“What are you doing?”

Johann looked down at his hands, and shuddered. He’d been gathering power for a blast and hadn’t even noticed.

“Run,” he said.

“What?” Kyoko stared into his eyes.

Johann raised his voice. “I said, run.” Flames curled from his eyes, and flared from his fists. This is how you live, said the mask. “Run!” He melted the ice shield Kyoko had managed to maintain under her feet. Her boots began to smolder. “Run!!”

She ran.

You don’t deserve to live like this, said the mask. There is another way.

Johann sent a tongue of flame skyward and sheared off one of the helicopter’s two engines. The airship spun and fled, but didn’t crash.

You can do better than that.

He crafted a ball of energy blazing on the outside and cold on the inside as easily as thinking. The power was all there. It had always been there. He just hadn’t allowed himself to touch it. He threw the ball at Kyoko, Winter Witch, his lover, his partner, his best friend.

That’s it, laughed the mask. That’s it.

The ball parted, formed around Kyoko, protected her with its cold vacuum interior, and carried her away, out of the crater. It flared away, and the love of Johann’s life tumbled to the city pavement, almost, but not quite lifeless.

That wasn’t what I had in mind, complained the mask.

No, said Johann.

What do you call a man who can touch the power of the sun with a thought? Who destroyed his mortal enemy because he couldn't bring him to justice, because he’d hated him for years, because he was terrified that one day that enemy would finally kill him, who laid waste to city blocks and the people in them, who could have killed his partner with a touch?

Johann thought he knew the answer. If he ever picked up the iron mask, he’d know for certain. He hadn’t killed the Annihilator. Not finally, not completely.

He reached past the barrier, touched a sun, drew it into himself and screamed. The ground melted around him. The iron mask of annihilation sank into the magma like a granite cliff sliding into a molten sea. Johann fell in after it.

It took him a long time to realize he wasn’t dead. Maybe he couldn't die. But he could keep the damned mask trapped in the center of the earth forever.

If it would just stop whispering.

« Last Edit: July 01, 2018, 01:57:24 AM by JMack »
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Offline simonster

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Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: July 01, 2018, 10:07:57 AM »
It's been a verrry long time since I entered a monthly contest, but for some reason this month I felt it calling to me. :)

Flames in the Shadow of the Wall

1489 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Three weeks' travel from the seminary, I saw the wall for the first time.

In my imagination it had always been a huge structure, aglow with magical lightning, scarred by the giant claws of howling sin demons that for a thousand years had been trying to tear through it.

The reality was unsettlingly different.

As we crossed the Melthen Hills, the wall was a thin, grey line cutting the landscape below.  For a while I didn't realize what I was seeing.  I'd never expected to be able to see over the wall into the lands beyond, or that it would look so ordinary there.

Staring into that other world, for a moment I thought I saw a demon emerge from a copse of trees, and almost cried out in alarm.  Thankfully I kept quiet.  I didn't need any more of the guards mocking me as a scared little girl.  It was only a deer.

It was strange to think that animals and birds could climb or fly over the wall unhindered, but of course the wall was only a barrier against sin demons themselves, and animals and birds could not be host to sin.  Unlike men.

That night we camped at the base of the wall.  It seemed a sort of tradition among the guards, to show it didn't scare them.

Close up, the wall seemed old, but also oddly untouched by time.  To my disgust, my guards took it in turns to relieve themselves against it.

Despite the day's walking, I slept badly that night.  I dreamt I was in chains, mute and helpless, as flames blackened my skin.  Waking, trembling, in the dark, I wanted to get up and walk around, but I knew it would bring harsh words from the guard on watch.  I'd been told that I travelled with guards for my protection, but they treated me as a prisoner.

I lay awake, wondering if my guards would treat me better as the years passed.  For four months they would escort me along my part of the wall, stopping at every town and village in its shadow.  Some would change duties when we reported back at the citadel, before I was sent back out to the wall once more.  One day I'd be older than the guards who escorted me.  One day I’d be older than their mothers.  Walking the wall road was all I would ever do.

I fell asleep eventually, achingly lonely.

*

When they took me from my home, the master told me I was a Daughter of Shendre.  He told me one of the five Daughters had passed on, and that I would take her place at the wall.

I cried and I pleaded to go home, but he told me that was my duty now.

To carry Shendre's blade.  To guard the wall.  To burn away sin.

*

Treton, on the edge of Trynfell Forest, was the third village we'd come to.

Villagers stopped to watch us approach, and I felt their eyes weighing me up.  Some of them must have seen the previous Daughter arrive here for the first time.  I wondered if she had been as young as me then.  I knew nothing about the woman, not even her name.

In Hilwell and Bleakthorpe I'd sensed that the wall cast a darkness over people's lives, poisoning the air with mistrust.  I sensed it even stronger here.  Yet still, Treton felt familiar.  It reminded me of home.  A girl carrying a washing basket made me think of my friend Yenna, and I chanced a smile at her.

The girl made the sign of the circle, spat on the ground, and turned away.

Jakk did all the talking, as before.  In Shendre's name, he demanded food and lodging, the best the village had.  I thought he enjoyed taking things from people.  Of all my guards, I hated him most.

We would stay in the bailiff's house.  Even though it was only mid-afternoon, I was told to go inside to rest.  I didn't try to talk to anyone.  I knew that wouldn't be allowed.

I was led to an attic room with a bed and a small window.  As the door was locked behind me, I breathed a sigh.  At least for a while nobody would be watching me.

I'd hoped the window would let me see the village, but it faced into the dark forest a few yards away.  I checked whether it would open, but it was too small for me to get through anyway.  And if I could have climbed through, what would I do?  Escape into the forest and live like an outlaw?  Sadly I knew that my own fear trapped me as much as my guards.

The bed was comfortable, and I lay down to wait.  The hearing would take place just before sunset.  I would say the lines I'd been taught at the seminary, how as a Daughter of Shendre I would guard the village from sin, and then I'd be given food and sent back to my room.

At least, that's what had happened in Hilwell and Bleakthorpe.

When Jakk came in, I knew something was different.

I'd never seen a grin on his cruel face before.

"They've got one," he said.  "Come, girl.  Time to do your duty."

*

At the seminary I'd been made to learn the ancient stories by heart.

For forty years Shendre, and later her five daughters, had used their strength and sorcery to drive back the sin demons while the wall was built with the last of the land's magic.  Sin still surrounded us, but the demons could no longer get in to feast on men's flesh.

Of course, the master had once confided, the demons were metaphorical, which I think meant they weren't exactly real.

Shendre's blade was probably metaphorical too.  It was certainly not a real blade.

Perhaps there had been a blade to it once.  The old metal was shaped to be gripped, and it was possible to imagine it had once been the hilt of a sword.  The master had said it was the blade of Shendre herself, later held by her youngest daughter, Lillane.

It felt heavy in my hand as the villagers recounted their evidence against the woodcutter, Brenley.

He had been seen coming back from the wall late at night.  Nobody had seen him cross, but he had become angry when questioned, and had struck the shepherd's son.

Brenley himself was dirty and shaking, held upright between Jakk and another guard.  He had been in chains since winter, waiting for a Daughter of Shendre to come and bring judgement.

A Daughter could look at a man and know if he had crossed the wall and brought back sin within him.  At her command, the sin would be burned away.

Behind Brenley, a wooden pyre had already been constructed.

All the villagers were there to watch.  Sickeningly, some seemed almost eager to light the pyre, although a few were crying.

I felt a desperate panic start to overtake me.

I'd never really believed what the master had said about the Daughters being able to see sin.  Everyone knew that their judgement was always fire.  I'd just been hoping I would never have to make that judgement.

I didn't want to burn a man to death.

Villagers and guards were all looking at me, all eyes filled with hatred.  I knew I had to speak.  I raised Shendre's blade before me, and tried to think of something to say.  But all that would come were the words I'd been taught at the seminary, words that would end in fire.

"I am Lillane, Daughter of Shendre..."

Brenley began to howl.  The sound was shocking, barely human.  He began to convulse, and something seemed to pull away from his body.  Something dark, like congealed dirt in the shape of a man, with glistening fangs where a face should be.  A night leech.

In the same way I knew its name, I knew it was fast, deadly, and predictable.

As its fanged mouth lunged forward, I grabbed its neck with my free hand, and struck at it with Shendre's blade.

Its arms wrapped around my head and shoulders.  It was pulling me closer, and I knew I didn't have the strength to stop it.

Then it weakened, and I pulled free.  Where my blade had struck, the demon was burning.  I stepped away, and as I pulled it free, the blade was a shaft of dancing flame.

Whatever life was in the demon had gone.  Its foul shell floated in the air, burning up like parchment.

Collapsed on the ground, Brenley was still screaming, but it was a pathetic, human sound.

Everyone else was staring at me in shocked silence.  Even my guards had backed away.

For a moment more, Shendre's blade streamed with fire like the sunset.  Then it went out.

I turned towards the forest, and ran.

Offline Carter

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Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Submission Thread
« Reply #8 on: July 01, 2018, 04:56:38 PM »
Here's my entry for the month, coming in at 1494 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
The Dwindled Flame

I entrust it to you now.  My life's obsession, my quest; it is up to you to see this through.  You know much of the story but not the start.  You have heard the rumours, the half-truths and the lies.  But for now hold it in your hand.  Caress the silken smoothness of the stone.  Watch the ochres and the umbers dance in your palm.  Feel the tingle of heat like the flicker of a distant flame.  It is warmer than used to be.  My lifetime has not been in vain. 

And now read on and you will have the chance to complete what I started. 

*

Fez, 1843

“Ah.  You have impeccable taste.”

The cultured, unaccented voice took me by surprise.  A welcome contrast to the plaintive, hawking Arabic prevalent across the bazaar, it the sole comfort from the trials of the day.  It belonged to a clean-shaven street vendor who stared at me from within deeply furrowed brows.

To this day, I have no idea how it ended up in my hand.  How I spied it amid the customary clutter of tarnished metal, dull glass and fake jewels.  At the time it was cool, barely alight except for a distant, faint glow like the embers of a days old campfire. 

Tilda plucked at my sleeve. 

“We'd best not tarry, mistress.”

Any other day, any other time, I might have shared her concern.  Throughout our stay so far, I had never remained outside after moonrise.  But that day Leopold had lost half our money at the camel races and remained there to remonstrate with the handlers.  Furious, ignored, my opinions within our fledgling marriage increasingly irrelevant, I had abandoned him.

The street vendor's ageless eyes were only for me, the dark pits piercing and mesmeric.  They reached inside me and stirred my resolve. 

“What is it?”

“A myth.  A promise.  An egg.  Let me tell you its tale and you will begin to understand.”

*

The desert, c.850BC

“It is forbidden.”

The words hounded my life.  The elders of my tribe, all of my tribe, did not believe I was a boy.  All my protestations, all my assuredness counted for nought.  And so on that night, as the other boys prepared for their night alone in the desert, for the ritual search for the firebird, my hands were bound and my body lashed to a tent pole. 

They left me there, tent-flap stirring in a slight breeze.  Everyone attended the ceremony as was customary.  Everyone but me.  The elders believed that if I were lose, I would interfere, that I would place myself alongside my age-cousins and demand the tribe's acceptance. 

That was not my plan. 

I worked the hoarded, hidden and carefully sharpened piece of kindling into the palm of my hand.  My flexible wrists twisted and turned, fingers gripping tight and dancing to pluck at the knots and tease strands apart.  A wriggle, a bend, a dull, straining pain, and my hands popped free.  From there it was a series of simple, quick movements and I crept out into the fire-lit night. 

The campfire, usually small and contained, roared upwards.  Precious wood crackled and spat a counterpoint to ritual chanting.  Pungent camel dung mingled with acrid smoke.  A beacon against the dark, a point of reference for those seeking the firebird. 

I turned my back.  There was nothing for me there. 

Instead, my destiny awaited in the chill desert, amongst the dunes and the rumbling winds.  A snarl of apprehension knotted my stomach.  Some certainty fled as I stared into the darkness.  Legends spoke of the firebird looking into a boy's heart and seeing the truth, of tearing it out should it prove unworthy.  Despite the fact that there had been no sightings of a firebird for generations, that they existed only in the oldest of our tales, I still had to be certain that my quest was just.  If I left now, my life would be forever changed. 

Did I truly believe in myself?

I took a deep breath and I did. 

At night, the desert was strange, wondrous and terrifying, every sound amplified, every rustle and shift of a sand grain an invisible danger.  Scorpion, viper, the beginnings of an all-enveloping shifting dune.  Or the shadow of a fellow hunter; desert fox or fellow boy.  In the darkness, all were equal and none knew me. 

Without the blessings and protections bestowed on the others, I walked.  I walked until my legs ached.  I walked until my mouth was as dry as the sands around me.  I walked until I no longer recognised the stars, until I could have sworn the sun ought to have risen and fallen three times.  I longed to collapse, exhaustion and dehydration leaching everything from me.  Only thick-headed determination kept me putting one foot in front of the other. 

And then, when I thought I could go no further, I saw it. 

A pinprick of light illuminated a steep-sided dune.  The sands shifted and danced in an ever-changing glow.  It meant life, light.  A new future where my previous life could be sloughed off and discarded. 

Newfound hope lent strength to my legs.  I began to jog forwards.  Only when I reached the base of the dune did I slip but even then, on hands and knees, I crawled. 

When I crested the summit, disappointment clenched my heart.  The beacon, so blindingly bright, had diminished to embers.  What had flared like the sun, was a collection of abandoned, darkening sticks, lingering warmth leaching into the night. 

I lay down next to the remnants of the fire, too tired, too arid for tears.  And then, somehow, I saw it.  Hidden deep within the still-glowing heart of the ash-black cinders, it glinted.  For a moment, fear gripped me.  Although all but extinguished, heat still emanated from the debris.  To claim my prize, to seize my future, I would have to plunge my hands, my arms, deep inside. 

But I had come too far to turn away, sacrificed too much to not risk it all.  Hands trembling, I began. 

With every grasping movement pain flared.  I winced and cried out, my voice piercing the silent darkness.  Throughout I stared at where I had seen the now vanished twinkle of something other. 

Burns seared my skin all the way to my shoulder.  The stench of flesh filled the air.  My world had narrowed to bands of pain and methodical movement.  And then, nestled at the heart of the fire, sheltered by the final, dying embers of the once great fire, I clasped it. 

Smooth, polished and impossibly cold, I withdrew the firebird's egg.  Hope dwindled.  It ought to have been pulsing with life, not an almost dead, cold stone.  Yet, sluggish and slow, something moved.  A colour swirled.  Something almost like magic caressed my skin, whispering of a future unfurling. 

The sun began to rise.  My destiny beckoned. 

*

Fez, 1843

It was an impossible tale.  Yet with every word, the stone reacted.  It glowed and rippled, pulsing a cadence that matched the vendor's.  The rational part of my brain told me it had to be some trick, my imagination craving some foreign magic, some escape from the frustrations of my life. 

But my heart believed otherwise and I had to have it.  I longed for the mystery, for the excitement the stone represented whatever the cost. 

“How much?”

I meant to sound disinterested and bored.  It came out cracked and desperate. 

“Two hundred fifty.”

The price shocked me.  It was instinct that mad me haggle rather than just accept the sum outright.  We had spent more on last night's supper at the hotel.

“One fifty.”

The street vendor's head shook a negative. 

“You do not understand.  Two hundred fifty pounds.”

My hand, venturing to my purse, froze.  The sum was absurd.  We could live off that much in Fez for a month.  Longer perhaps.  It was almost everything we had left after Leopold's idiocy.  Tilda's tugging became ever insistent.

“Please, mistress, we should go.”

The gemstone went cold.  So cold I could feel my fingers freezing against its surface.  Where perhaps I could discard all other suggestions of magic, this I could not deny. 

I pulled out my purse.

*

You know the next part.  It was the end of our marriage.  We returned home all but destitute,  I was disowned, divorced and set free.  Free of expectation and duty, I flung myself into researching the street vendor's tale.  I pieced together all you see before you,  The books, the transcribed oral tales, the scraps of parchment, vellum and the hints of a truth. 

And it is there, in the dusty, dry pages, in the scrawled, unreadable maps, that you will find a path into the desert.  Perhaps to the remnants of a nest.  To where the egg longs to return and ignite once more.