First fire, sear my soul;
Second fire, make me whole
- MasVerde folk saying
“Trust me,” he said, smiling his familiar smile—heart-meltingly warm, breathtakingly wise. Her foot slipped on the edge of the escarpment. Brittle pieces of flinty rock broke away, falling into the lava below. The heat lashed her legs, seized her lungs. Tendrils of sulfurous air clenched her throat, made her sway with dizziness.
“Quickly,” he rasped, reaching farther, their fingertips inches apart. “That whole edge is going to crumble any moment.”
She breathed deeply, then lunged forward, her eyes welling with tears as she gagged and gasped on the toxic updrafts.
As their fingertips brushed, he pulled back and she fell. A blossom of lava embraced her. Her scream burned away in the incinerating heat.
And she awoke.
Gasping for breath, irrationally surprised it was cool autumn air in her lungs, Elelle climbed slowly from the bed, trying not to disturb Tahmed, who was sleeping, as usual, on the low cot beside the bed. Before she could escape the tangle of blankets, she felt his hand, strong on her shoulder.
“What is it?” His voice, as always, was warm. Calm.
She fought the urge to melt into that compassion-filled voice.
“The dream, again?”
Afraid to speak, she nodded, a quick dipping motion in the dim light. Ever since the dream had come to her, three weeks before, back when he still shyly hid his ruined face behind his scarf, he had kept a rush-lamp burning at the bedside. The tiny flame was guttering, almost extinguished. She realized Tahmed likely couldn’t even see her nod.
Suddenly, even his touch was too much, especially against the network of keloid scars covering her shoulders, throat and back. She squirmed away, flinging off the covers. The pre-dawn air felt good against her bare, scorched skin.
Not scorched! Curse the dream!
“Could you see his face this time?” Tahmed asked, his soft tone shot with fierceness, as if he would climb into her dream and fight her foe.
Elelle shook her head, still not speaking, lying to him as she had for the past weeks. She couldn’t tell him, wouldn’t tell him the face in her nightmare was his.
She felt him peering at her, waiting. What else can I give?
That was unfair, for Tahmed never had asked for anything, always thankful for her magic, damaged as it was, grateful more for her mere presence. Always smiling. His hazy, damaged eyes didn’t see far, nor well, but always seemed to sparkle when she was near. Green-gray, fog-over-swamp eyes, bright in that betrayer’s face.
She sensed rather than saw his anguish. She liked his eyes, the golden flecks she saw there, but three weeks of her dark dream had dimmed their sparkle, and she hated herself for that.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she muttered, trying to ignore the tiny knives jabbing her throat, on the brink of telling him her nightmare secret: That even before he had dropped the scrap of silk and let her see his scarred visage, she had dreamed about her foe, the man who wore the same face.
Just say it. It’s not like you really know him. Mayhap northerners all look alike to some degree.
“Can’t do what, Elelle?” That low voice. So full of concern.
She searched her mind for a diversion. A lie, she admitted with another pang of self-loathing.
“I—I can’t hide in this nothing place on the edge of nowhere. Mute, or the same as. Crippled.”
She knew if she talked more than a few sentences, she would feel the blood trickling down her throat, then the nausea that sent her stomach into a heaving paroxysm of pain and vomit.
Tahmed homed in on the sound of her voice. She backed away, knowing he meant to embrace her. Shrinking into a corner, she raised her arms and hands to cover her face.
“Your thoughts are awry,” Tahmed said. “You seek to grow stronger, but deny yourself the means. Does a flower reject the sunlight and say ‘I must do this on my own’? Does the lamb say, ‘I need neither water nor clover to thrive’? Help is just that: Help. Freely given. It seeks to assist, not to dominate.”
It was quite the longest speech he had ever made. She moved her hands from her face to her ears, in case he wasn’t done.
She was still crouching there, ears covered, when his strong words rang out in a spell of healing. Bright as brass, the glowing sounds painted the air. Blue-green calmness grew within the swirls of sound.
“No!” she croaked. “No.” The healing spell blanketed her. As she spiraled into its healing oblivion, part of her wailed. She would never grow stronger if he didn’t let her fight it on her own.
She slumped in the corner, sobbing, as the man with the traitor’s face sang his healing song.
The hot MasVerde day had decrescendoed to an evening of fitful breezes and cricket-song, air as heavy as her heart. More than one kind of storm before morning, Elelle thought, resenting what was to come. Baylle and she had delayed this day for more than a month, had fought over it each day—her own urge to be the protective big sister, her sister’s tendency to conciliate.
Late evening, those precious few minutes before twilight, always had been her favorite time, but this day brought no joy. She scowled into Manorhome’s fountain pool, watching Ikkydo play in the waters.
The hoarcat, its distinctive dappled coat of white and pale grays shimmering as if it had been dipped in winter frost, was after the razorfish again.
“Ikky-idiot!” she called affectionately. “You really don’t want to go fishing in those waters!”
The cat ignored her, swiping again and again with its oversized paws at the luminous blue and orange fish just beneath the surface. Suddenly a yowl echoed through the garden and Ikkydo leapt away. She sat down on the flagstones and furiously began licking her abused paw, staring at her mistress as if she was to blame.
Elelle reached out one slender finger and rubbed it lightly between Ikkydo’s eyes. Although the hoarcat studiously ignored her, Elelle smiled as she felt the cat’s head press against her finger, a silent plea not to stop. “Tender babe,” she said, adding a Tone to her words, albeit softly. She felt the cat’s pain dissipate. Would that the world was as easily solved.
Thunder rumbled in the distance.
Or am I the infant? She turned to study her reflection in the pool and felt a pang of guilt: This was Manorhome, Center of the Center, the MasVerde Root. And she was First Caller. So why was she just hiding here, in the garden, instead of helping Baylle get ready for the Flamelords’ visit?
The medium-tall woman who stared back at her from the pool’s depths, light eyes and bright hair darkened by the evening shadows across the water, didn’t have a ready answer.
The Flamelords and their minions had, for the past decade, marched steadily south, using fear and magic to snap up the duchies and principalities along the MasVerde border. They were reputed to have killed the last of the dragons and subsumed their powers, but Elelle thought that was an exaggerated claim—a tale told by victims and losers. They were just greedy, brutish men, grasping at whatever was in their reach.
Not our cause, the Congress of Callers had said—and now the Flamelords were eyeing at the great prize itself, a raptor ready to strike MasVerde.
Tonight, Elelle promised, they would learn that MasVerde was beyond their reach. She didn’t know how she would keep that vow.
Speechless. That’s a fine thing, Elelle thought. Speech was the foundation of magic, and the strongest and most controlled voices belonged to the Callers. And she was speechless.
Probably clueless, too. No doubt Baylle would agree with that assessment.
“We have to greet them,” her sister had urged. “You call me self-effacing, but I realize, as do you, that we are the most powerful magic-users—the ones all the MasVerde Callers will look to for leadership. And we must lead them in peace!”
“It’s bad enough that they come uninvited to our lands,” Elelle had retorted bitterly. “You make it worse for us by tacitly admitting the barbarians can do whatever they want! You say we’re strong, so we must show that. We have responsibilities!”
Brave words, but she had failed to live up to them. Leaders should lead, not dither as she had done.
“I fear they can do whatever they want, little sister,” Elelle whispered now, admitting to the reflection in the pool what she wouldn’t say to Baylle. “We merely pose as equals, as hostesses, not vassals. But that’s all it is—a pretense.”
Why did it have to be so difficult? She didn’t want to be the strongest, the smartest, the leader. All she wanted was to be left to her studies, her mentoring of the young.
Baylle be damned. Flamelords be damned. “Responsibilities” be damned!
A swirl of razorfish pirouetted across her reflection, interrupting Elelle’s musings. She flinched at the imagery. What was moving inside her, unknown, dangerous, too painful to grasp?
“Ell! They’re at the gate!” Her sister’s voice crackled across the garden like summer lightning. Oh ho, Elelle thought. Don’t take that Tone with me! She easily fended off the Summoning threaded within Baylle’s voice. Baylle was a powerful Caller, but no match for one who knew her better than she knew herself, no match for the one who had taught her to speak Power.
“Coming!” she answered. Her bell-like tone echoed through Manorhome’s garden, seeming to grow, silencing the crickets’ singing, leaving a moment’s void in its wake. Sit Still/ Shut Up/ Don’t Push/ I’m Older/ Wiser/ More Powerful, her magic said. Prettier, too.
Elelle felt her Power dousing her sister like a dash of cold water, putting Baylle in her place. Brushing her fingertip across Ikkydo’s brow a final time, she rose reluctantly to go into the manor and greet their guest-foes.
The hoarcat paused in its cleaning, watching her go. A moment later, it was circling the pool, waiting for the razorfish to swim close again.
Elelle paused in the archway, studying the two men. Such arrogance, to walk into a house of Power without escort! Like they owned the place, she thought darkly.
They were tall, with ginger hair, dark eyes and red-brown beards, clutching goblets of cinnamon-colored blaze-brandy. They were wearing more clothing than any MasVerde would think prudent on a hot summer evening, and the predominant reds and oranges of the heavy garments gave the impression they were exuding heat.
The shorter of the two was talking to Baylle, stroking a bump on the bridge of his nose with broad fingers that sparkled with red-gold rings thick with gems. Dragon tears, Elelle thought, though she never had actually seen the mythic jewels. She shrugged. The rocks could be garnet and topaz. Or colored glass, for all she knew.
Her sister, Elelle noted, her skin crawling with irritation, acted—Goddess knew, probably not an act!—as if she was avidly listening to the man’s words.
Baylle, she admitted as she watched her sister, had an intensity that made her desirable, a quality that transformed her plainness into something attractive. It’s wasted on the Flamelords, she thought.
They are the enemy, sister.
“We deem it fitting that you share your plenty with those in need,” the man was saying to Baylle. By her expression, it was the most interesting thing she ever heard. “It’s cold in the north; these hot lands suit us well.”
I bet they do, Elelle thought.
If the taller man was attracted to Baylle, he didn’t show it. He seemed to be paying scant attention to the others’ conversation as he looked around the room with glittering dark eyes that seemed ready to burst into flame.
Too late, Elelle wished she had paused farther back in the shadows. His bold, hot gaze touched her eyes, and she looked down.
Why did I look down? Because I am admitting who is the master here, who has the power?
Something that was equal parts loathing and—relief?—churned within her. If it was beyond her control, then it was beyond her responsibility. She savagely thrust her self-loathing aside and embraced her anger.
Crossing the room quickly, she raised her hand in the traditional splay-fingered, silent greeting of the MasVerde: Nothing to hide, no Words seeking control.
“My sister, Elelle,” Baylle said. “First Caller, Mentor-Leader of the MasVerde.”
They know who I am, sister, or they wouldn’t be here.
“These are Bruget,” Baylle nodded at the man nearest her, “and Garryd, come to represent the Flamelords.”
Garryd hadn’t taken his eyes off her since that first inadvertent glance, Elelle realized.
Elelle, knowing that Baylle expected it of her, raised her head to meet Garryd’s haughty gaze. She still hadn’t opened her mouth, and her sister kept looking at her.
I know what you’re thinking, little sister. You are wondering if I am going to Shout at this invader.
After Baylle’s third glance in as many heartbeats, the other man, Bruget, began staring at her, too. All pretense of conversation ground to a halt. After a long, uneasy moment of silence, Elelle opened her mouth to speak.
“Let’s cut to the meat of the matter. We’re all adults here, leaders,” Garryd interrupted, with a smile as broad as it was insincere. “There’s no need for pretense. It’s quite simple: We are here. You of MasVerde will remain in domestic control of internal matters, but all foreign affairs—and control of your magic-users—will be given over to a ruling governor appointed by the Flamelords.” He smirked.
Elelle almost choked on the word. Give up control of our magic? Bile filled her mouth. She should have spent the last months summoning—compelling, if necessary—the other first- and second-level Callers to a Grand Chorus, leading their massed Power in a crushing blow against these upstarts. Now it was too late, and any of her people who resisted would be picked off, one by one. How could she have been so blindly hopeful, so weak?
Why had she listened to Baylle? “Avoid confrontation.” “Don’t appear threatening.”
Are you listening now, sister?
Garryd smirked again, Elelle thought—and acknowledged her question with a short bow and flourish of his red cape that caused its yellow satin lining to shimmer.
“I am sure we can reach—”
“Shut up, Baylle,” Elelle said, her voice carrying the whip crack of Power. Baylle’s mouth moved for a few more seconds, but no sound came out. Elelle shrugged a quick apology in her direction.
“I have a counterproposal,” she said sweetly—so false a note that both Flamelords scowled in distrust as her sister stared, mouth agape. “Why don’t you take your barbarian ways, your sweating bodies and your stinking presumptions and head back to your dragon caves, or privy holes, or wherever you live!”
Garryd’s tone was almost jovial. “I am glad we can dispense with false expressions of cooperation. Just so we understand each other: You will surrender your power and live under our rule. If you treat us with respect, you will be treated kindly in return. But, easy or hard, you will submit.”
“You do not dictate terms in MasVerde!” Elelle felt her voice rising, though it was all anger, no Power. Too late, too slow, a frightened, lost part of her wailed.
“We don’t have to. There is nothing to dictate,” the other one, Bruget, interrupted. “We have said how it will be, and it shall be so. We have tried to be polite…”
“…as a slavemaster deigns to be polite to his chattel!” Elelle blazed. Baylle was making frantic gestures to silence her. Elelle waved a hand dismissively.
“…or a dragon to its prey,” Garryd said. His smile had grown dangerous, and it seemed like his teeth had taken on the sharpness of a predator’s. His handsome, florid features were as red as his clothes. “You Callers and your big Voices, your legacy, your history! Old! Outdated! We can match you Voice for Voice, Shout for Shout, and we have the Flame of the Dragon on our side!”
“Dragons?” Elelle scoffed. “Save your lies for someone who will believe them. Dragons? Dumb lizards like chattering magpies who collected gold baubles, and were too stupid to ignite their own breath to save themselves from freezing! Who has even seen a dragon in the two centuries? You seek to scare us with myths and monsters! IT WILL NOT STAND!”
Her last words were delivered in a Shout that set the chandelier overhead swaying as molten wax rained from its candles. The candles lining the mantel all were snuffed simultaneously, and one of Baylle’s treasured stained-glass windows shattered into a thousand fragments of rose and green. Bruget staggered backward, and Garryd’s brandy goblet burst in his hand. Blood and cinnamon liquor dripped to the carpet.
“No, sister,” Baylle whispered. “This is not the way.”
The words that formed in Elelle’s head were old and alien, crossing some unspeakable barrier between protection and destruction. They were barbed, hideous things, waiting to be given Voice. She opened her mouth, inhaling so deeply that black and red spots danced before her eyes…
…and Garryd out-Shouted her, spewing controlled, hot words in his northern dialect, words laced with venom and the heat of a thousand fires. The heat of dragonfire.
Elelle fell to the floor, her lungs afire. Magenta and azure flames danced across her skin. Somehow, she managed to croak a protective spell, the Sound barely forming a bubble of silver energy over herself. She stretched it toward Baylle with a whisper, watching the edges of it fray into silvery threads that glowed, charred, blew away in ashy wisps.
Bruget belatedly had joined in his companion’s Shout, and the room was ripped apart in a tornado of fire. The smell of burned flesh gagged Elelle and her eyes streamed with tears.
An image burned: A woman’s body, arteries glowing incandescent as the heat of a thousand dragons coursed through them, each vein and capillary ignited in a tracery of fire and agony that illuminated the whole, incinerated the soul.
So this is how it ends, sister, Elelle thought.
And the darkness came.
Elelle awoke to the sound of thunder and the fresh smell of rain. Lurid lightning flashed through the gap where the manor’s wall had crumbled. She put both palms on the floor, heedless of the shards of broken glass, and pushed herself to her knees and then to her feet.
Made dizzy by the jagged light, she saw Baylle silhouetted against the far wall and staggered toward her. She reached out a trembling hand, realizing as she did that the burned-flesh smell in her nostrils rose from her own skin.
“We have to get out of here, sister,” Elelle croaked, knives of agony slashing her throat. And she realized that it wasn’t Baylle’s silhouette, nor her shadow, but the ash of her cremated body, burned into Manorhome’s alabaster wall.
Elelle held the hoarcat against her chest as she staggered through fields thick with the stubble of harvested crops. The road would have been easier, but she knew the Flamelords would eventually return to Manorhome. She wasn’t sure why they had left her, unless they had assumed she was dead. When they found her body missing, they would come for her. Better to flee than to be their puppet.
Ikkydo’s plaintive mewing grew louder and she realized that she was squeezing the cat. “Sorry, girl,” she whispered, and suddenly, after a day’s northward wandering in which she never had shed a tear, she couldn’t stop crying. Reaching a field’s border, she slumped against the rocks piled there and cried in great, gasping gouts that caused her to retch and spit blood.
Sorry, sister. So very, very sorry.
After a time, she fell into exhausted sleep, and dreamed of Baylle. A gentle wisp of a smile played on her sister’s lips, her right eyebrow cocked in an amused expression. There was no sound, but Elelle could read Baylle’s words: No fault for you. No pain for me. Let go. Move on. Live and grow for both of us.
Elelle cried out in her sleep, but a shadow of a smile crossed her face, the shadow-twin of Baylle’s dream smile. The hoarcat huddled closer, moonlight dancing across its white-silver fur.
She awoke to a gust of chill autumn rain, remembering every moment of the dream, yet her first words were curses at herself. “Happily ever after” could live warm in dreams. She, a sister-killer and failure, had to walk the cold, hard roads of reality.
Afterward, she never knew how many weeks she roamed, feverish, as her ill-tended burns blistered and burst. The only thing she knew was that she was heading north, seeking to hide in the only place that the Flamelords wouldn’t suspect—their homeland.
After the last of the farms disappeared and the farm lanes dwindled to rough footpaths, she kept going north, climbing ever higher into the hills, until the afternoon when she misstepped on slippery pine needles and pitched headfirst through the underbrush, flailing, falling, thrashed by roots and branches, bruised by rocks.
When motion ceased and she finally came to her senses, she was lying half in a half-frozen creek bed, Ikkydo licking her face. She tried to get up, but couldn’t find the strength.
And so, Baylle, I’ll join you soon—and will you still smile at me, and forgive?
The pale sun found the corner of the hut where Elelle was curled and woke her. She stirred, cold and cramped, though the day was a mild one by far northern standards.
Tahmed had put a blanket around her but had not tried to move her. Ikkydo was curled in her lap, but leaped down at her first movement and stalked to the open door. The pampered manor-cat had grown quite adept at finding mice and birds, often laying her victims at Elelle’s feet.
Three weeks, she thought, and Ikkydo already is adapting. When will I? Will I?
Yet she was so much stronger than when Tahmed, mysterious and yet not alarming with a bit of ragged silk about his maimed face, had found her, semiconscious in the creek, and carried her to the hut. She heard him now, outside, trying to split firewood again.
She rose slowly, shedding the blanket. Walking to the doorway, she leaned against the frame enjoying a rare moment of just being as she watched Tahmed hack clumsily at the log,
With his damaged sight, it was a wonder Tahmed hadn’t chopped off a finger, or a foot. Unsummoned, the questions intruded again: Whatever his past, it hadn’t been as a peasant woodman.
Stepping into the yard—circling wide on the theory it was undesirable to startle a sight-damaged man holding an axe—she approached Tahmed. He laid down the axe and beamed at her. Sitting on the stump he had been using as a chopping block, he beckoned her closer.
“Feeling better, Elelle?” In the daylight, his damaged eyes and scars were even more noticeable. She felt herself blushing at the intensity of his gaze.
“Tahmed,” she began, placing a hand on his shoulder and feeling him press against it, eager for her touch. She was reminded of Ikkydo, all those months ago in Manorhome garden. Steady, she told herself. Ask, and be done with it.
“I haven’t told you of my past,” she began again. “And I appreciate you letting me take my own time finding the words. But I must tell you this—the face in my dreams is that of the man who did this to me, the man who killed my sister: the Flamelord Gar—”
“Garryd,” Tahmed answered, his smile fading. He reached up and put his hand over hers. “And your hesitancy in telling me has been because of—of what? That the First Caller of the MasVerde has been sharing the home of a man who has the same face, albeit a bit worse for the wear, as your mortal enemy?”
Elelle’s heart sank. So it was all a trap, made more bitter by Tahmed’s seeming kindness, when he had known all along! She tried to pull back, but he had risen now, still holding her hand.
“In your nightmare, you sometimes call out, and while I might not see well anymore, I hear just fine,” Tahmed said, his tone neutral. “You know, my brother, half-brother that is, would welcome me back if I brought you as the price of re-admission.”
She tried to jerk free, only to hear him laugh—the laugh she had come to love over the last few weeks, genuine and warm, filling the cold and empty spaces within her.
“I am not my brother,” Tahmed said. “Scarcely am I his brother. Can’t you tell, if not by the way I have treated you, then by the Power I have offered to try and help heal you? I, too, was transformed by the Flame of the Dragon—at Garryd’s side, in fact, and not a whit’s difference in talent between us—and I rejected it, Elelle. He embraced it and became what he is. I fought it, and became what you see.”
He lingered over the last word and his bark of laughter was harsh, ironic. Realizing he was still clenching her hand, he let it go. She didn’t move.
“Those who use Power to beget power…I have no use for them. Power should support, should assist, not compel. Garryd…disagreed. And he was right, insomuch as doing this—” Tahmed gestured toward his eyes. “—makes him right.”
“I hate your brother,” Elelle said hoarsely. “I want to kill him, make him feel my pain, my sister’s pain.”
“I felt the same way for a long time,” he answered, his tone darker and harsher than she had ever heard from him. “Probably still do, somewhere deep inside. But if I live in that rage, am I living at all? Or is he living my life, through me? I would not surrender me to the likes of him!”
Elelle had no answer.
“Come,” he said, his gentle ways returning. “If I’ve chipped away enough small pieces, we can light a fire and make a meal.”
“And when Garryd comes to finish the job?” she muttered, picking up the kindling. “What then?”
If Tahmed heard her, he gave no sign.
The next morning, she awoke to find Tahmed standing over the bed.
“I have been thinking about your words,” he said. “If he comes—and he surely will; Garryd’s not one to leave threads unknotted—then he will win.”
“We are far away, in a direction he won’t think of looking,” she said sleepily. “Perhaps you are right to let your hate go, or at least bury it deep.”
“We’re not far enough to be beyond his power,” Tahmed said, throwing back the covers, allowing the cool air to swirl around her, bracing even through her nightclothes. “Remember that I have felt the Dragonflame, too, and know it ever hungers inside Garryd. He will not rest—the power will not let him rest—until he has dominated you and consumed your magic.”
He paused, dim eyes made even smokier by painful memories.
”And there are things more important than my feelings, buried or not. Like us.”
Elelle was wide awake now, her heart thudding.
“There is a way to win, if you are strong enough and brave enough. Put on warm clothing while I pack some food. We’ll be spending the day in the hills, mayhap the night as well.”
The cave, its weathered lip crumbling, was no different than others they had passed—except for a low, quavering moan issuing from it. Tahmed gripped her hand and pulled her through the cave mouth. Elelle hesitated beside a boulder, allowing her eyes and ears to adjust.
What had seemed like a moan were dozens, perhaps hundreds of Tones, different pitches and volumes. The overall effect was more song than moan, she decided. It was as if the earth itself was singing a lullaby.
“This way,” Tahmed said, slipping his hand under her elbow. Elelle jumped, startled. The boulder she was leaning against coalesced out of the dimness: the skull of some great beast, as wide and long as two ox-carts.
The skull of a dragon.
They wound deep into the cave, passing more dragon bones—skulls, great ribs, cruel talons like scimitars. The empty jaws, wreathed with shadow flames, seemed to laugh at Elelle, and she recalled her long-ago mockery of dragons and felt abashed.
The lullaby had grown into a roar, and the change gave her pause. “Is that a…dragon?” she asked.
Tahmed’s teeth gleamed in the dim light. “Not exactly. Say instead that it is the essence of a dragon, preserved by magic.”
They entered a great chamber. Centered in it, awash in flames that were a blend of all colors and none at all, was a blackened dragon skull, its charred edges lost in the shadows. Twice the size of any they had passed, it seemed to float in nothingness.
“The Flame of the Dragon,” Tahmed said. “The way to turn power into Power and Power into POWER.”
Elelle shrank back. “I will not become him! I’d rather he slay us in our sleep than become another Garryd!”
“Ell,” Tahmed said, turning to her and raising her chin with gentle fingers, so that she was looking into his ruined face, his damaged eyes. “You forget. I went through the Flame, too. It didn’t turn me into another Garryd. If you are not like him in your heart, you will not become like him. And we are working together, not contending. We will prevail.”
The cavern’s shadows, or the hunger in his words, or both, made him seem a feral creature.
“But how do I truly know?” she whispered, thinking of her dark moments, her anger, her guilt, her desire for vengeance.
He seemed to read her mind. “If you can wonder those things of yourself, you won’t succumb. Those who worship themselves never think such thoughts.”
If only I was sure, Elelle thought.
“If you give all, trust all, subsume your magic to the greater, you will prevail,” he said eagerly. “I fought it before, even as Garryd embraced it. I was wrong. I should have seized the Power. The difference is that he let the Power rule him. Together, we can embrace it and yet control it!
“With your heart, and my help—” the last words were a yearning whisper…a plea?…a proposal! “—we can never lose.”
The Flame in the ebony skull roared its unearthly thunder. With her eyes firmly fixed on Tahmed’s smiling face, Elelle stepped forward. As the flames embraced her, she understood what the solution must be, and joy and pain mingled in her tears, in her heart.
All that is flawed will burn away; all that is good will become stronger.
But would Tahmed understand?
Before Firstsnow, the Flamelord Garryd came to the small farmstead in the high valley. The man and woman there, marked by scar and flame, greeted him with polite silence and offered him fresh milk and newly baked bread.
It was not these things he craved, and with a curse for the north wind blowing cold against him, he turned south again.
Click Here for Easy-to-Read B&W Format
If this contribution met with your satisfaction, please consider making a contribution of your own so we may pay our authors and keep the magazine delivering great speculative fiction far into the future. Thank you for visiting.
Copyright 2008, TW Williams. All rights reserved.
TW Williams has been a journalist for more than a quarter-century, recently relocating from Ohio to the Chicago area. He is the author of dozens of short stories and two fantasy novels, as well as co-editor of Carnivah House, a fantasy publishing endeavor. His writings include the serial characters Rai Memory-chanter, John Humble and Sefryn Skullface.
For more about TW Williams, including his published works and future plans, visit his website.