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Fireblade: Chapter 8

THE SOUND IS COARSE and strident, the words within the hiss resonating as if they are inside my head.

Why do you come? You are a stranger here, trespassing in my place!

The impact of this sudden revelation has me standing, immobile with shock, trying to redefine everything I have assumed up to now. Why didn’t Shan’domir or Farhaz tell me their Fire Elemental still inhabits their place of power? Is it a well-guarded secret known only to the Nishan? Or did they agree to train an outsider secure in the knowledge that I would soon be reduced to a blackened cinder?

I draw my weapons instinctively but make no move to attack, sensing that it would be utterly futile and only provoke a deadly response. I can’t be sure if ordinary speech is the way to communicate with this formidable being but I am not giving up without a protest.

“Shan’domir sent me here to train, to learn the skills of the Nishan, now that Annubia is allied with Samaran in this new war.”

Another hiss and the coils withdraw a little, as if the monster is moving back for a better look. The fire surrounding his sinuous red-gold body grows and spreads until it licks fiery tendrils around my limbs, but like the flame-water inside the cave it does not burn, running through me like a thousand ants, painful yet exhilarating. I feel as if I could run for hours through the desert, even in the full glare of the sun.

You have the power of Ice and Shadow already in you.

“Yes. I can work with the Samarian Elemental.”

The hiss becomes almost deafening.

Abomination! This is like Nagal!

“No. Not like that. I have agreed to work together with the Shadowblade to defeat Nagal. That is why I am here. I was sent to ask for your help.”

I hope Shan’domir won’t mind me taking liberties with his actual instructions but I need to turn the dragon’s attention away from suspicions about my legitimacy and lay some of the responsibility for solving the problem back onto the monster himself.

The words hissing inside my head suddenly bear a new warning.

To work with me is to risk instant death.

I suspect that being rejected as unworthy bears a far worse penalty than a quick death so I conceal my fear of being incinerated as best I can.

“I am not afraid. I believe it is my fate to follow this path.”

So be it.

His fire blasts through me, ice and flame fighting for precedence in my veins. And then it’s gone, as quickly as it came, leaving tiny ripples of fire running across my skin and through both crysteel blades.

The dragon moves powerful sinuous coils again, circling at ground level this time in order to get a better look at his handiwork.

You are still alive. This has not happened for hundreds of years. Come.

The surprise and relief at not being incinerated is making it hard to think or even move, but I stumble behind him as he turns back once more to the great rock pinnacle of Rahimar.

Now that I am facing the cave opening I came out of, I notice that the tall pillars of rock on either side of it have been carved into human form, one male and one female.

They must be ancient. Centuries of windblown sand have rounded their contours and smoothed away any fine detail or facial features. But my eyes are drawn to the shape of the woman, so agile and graceful, her slender body arched in a fighting stance of perfect poise and skill, as if she would burst forth from the russet sandstone to challenge any intruder bold enough to approach.

Could this be the original Power Mage of Rahimar?

Then my gaze is abruptly jolted into focusing on a more immediate human form right in front of me.

Farhaz is standing at the entrance, a furious scowl clouding his face as his eyes track from me to the glittering scaly dragon towering above me.

“I did not give you permission for this.”

After the terrifying encounter I have just been through, this feels radically unfair.

“Farhaz, be reasonable! You should have warned me there was a red-hot fire-drake still living here! If you have a powerful ally like this, why are you not working together and helping with the war effort?”

The scowl turns to a frown of frustration. “None who attempted this binding have survived the initiation. Not in living memory. I do not know why you succeeded. Without it, none of us have been able to communicate with the Guardian of Rahimar beyond a few exchanges of mutual respect.”

“Farhaz, I don’t know why I survived either. Maybe the Ice-power I received from the Shadowblade gave some protection.”

He still looks suspicious. “What will you do now?”

“I don’t know. First, I need everything you can tell me, and quickly. I can sense the dragon is getting impatient.”

“There is not much to tell. Our ancestors found a way to share the power place with the resident Elemental, instead of driving him out as happened in Samaran.”

“Or creating a corrupt pairing as in Rapathia?”

“That only happened recently, in the time of the Usurper. We do not understand it. For your purpose, you must ask the dragon for his name. Once given, you can work together, but he will not simply obey you. He is pledged never to harm Annubians, but that command came centuries ago from the original Power Mage who had the strength and the will to forge the agreement in fire. Beyond that constraint, he will be headstrong and unpredictable. With great power comes great risk.”

“The Blade is no different. This is a risk I have to take.”

“So be it.”

I wish Farhaz looked a bit more confident but I turn back to the dragon, ready for another painful blast of fire.

“I need to know your name.”

Shailan Al Haladin Zandaraz. Unless you want the full version.

“That is more than enough already, thank you. My head is currently too full of new languages to add anything complicated. You’ll have to make do with Zandar.”

It sounds like a derisive snort, but maybe it was just another variation of hiss. Either way, I don’t think Zandar took too much offense.

Where do you wish to go?

I open my mouth to say, “Samaran,” then decide that might not be such a good idea. The pledge Farhaz spoke of means that Zandar will not harm Annubians––but until I get more of a sense of just how ‘unpredictable’ this flying firestorm actually is, it might be better to show some goodwill to our new allies first. Perhaps I can add strength to this precarious alliance by going to the aid of the Annubian army on the western border. Then I might be able to judge how dangerous it might be to risk an encounter with mere allies in another country.

“We go to Rapathia. It is our duty to save the Annubian military from defeat in this war.”

As you wish.

The dragon lowers his head and I take this as an invitation to climb up to his neck and wedge myself behind the wing-like ears. Like the Shadowblade, Zandar’s size and form seem fluid and variable, growing larger with the need to carry me. The wings that had seemed small and easily folded for worming his passage through the tunnels, now stretch and grow until they become two vast leathery sails arcing above us.

A great leap into the air and we head into the blood-red sunset above the western dunes.

I run my hand experimentally down the length of one flaming crysteel blade.

Seems like we could be landing in the thick of a battle.


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