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Her Elemental Dragons: Light the Fire: Chapter 11

The closer we got to the volcano the more desolate the landscape became. The ground under our feet became black from ancient lava now hardened, and plumes of steam and boiling water would sometimes burst up without warning. The air grew hotter too, and began to smell of burning weeds and rotten eggs. Valefire raged on without care, sending white smoke up into the air and making the land rumble beneath us, and all I could do was trust that the Fire God would keep his end of the bargain.

Once we reached the base of Valefire, we were all covered in a thin layer of ash and sweat, and now came the hard part—the climb. We took a quick break to drink water and eat some of the sliced pork Derel had brought, gathering our strength as best we could before the final part of our journey.

‘Do you think it will erupt?’ Falon asked, as he wiped sweat off his brow.

‘Not if we make it there soon,’ I said, hoping I was right. I straightened up again and hefted my bag over my shoulder with a groan. At first it had seemed far too small considering all the things I’d left behind, but now it felt like a load of bricks on my back. I started to wish I’d been even more selective when I’d packed.

“Here, let me help you with that,” Falon said, as he reached for my bag.

“Oh. Thank you.” I rolled my shoulders with relief.

He threw my bag onto his back. “Gods, this thing must weigh a ton. What do you have in here?”

“My clothes and some other things.”

“And a stack of books, no doubt,” Roth said.

“I only brought a few!” It had made me sick leaving any of my books behind, but I couldn’t exactly carry them all.

“How many is a few?” Derel asked.

I bit my lip. “Um, four?”

Falon laughed. “Four? No wonder this thing is so heavy.”

“If we divide them up between all of us it won’t be so bad,” Derel said.

“All right, but I’m carrying my bag again after that,” I said, as I took it back from Falon and opened it up. I handed each of the guys one of my small leather-bound books, and they slipped them into their own packs. Except for Blane, who stared at his.

“This is the one I got you,” he said. “You brought it with you.”

“Of course I did. It’s my favorite.” Blane had picked up the book on one of his journeys to the Air Realm, which was known for its amazing libraries and museums.

He opened his mouth, but no words came out. When he looked up at me, emotion flickered across his face. “Why?”

“Because it came from you.” I leaned close and pressed a quick kiss to his lips, while the other guys watched.

Blane pulled me closer and pressed his lips to my ear. “I love you.”

I nuzzled my face in his neck. I should have realized the true depth of Blane’s feelings when he got me the book, but it was nice to have no doubts about them now. “I love you too.”

We broke apart and began to ascend the mountain. The climb was grueling, especially when we were already exhausted. The hot sun on our backs didn’t help, nor did the thick layer of smoke as we got higher and higher. I coughed constantly and felt like I would never be clean again, assuming I could make it to the summit without passing out. The men didn’t seem to be faring much better, and would often stop to readjust their bags or wipe sweat from their brows. The relentless heat and the horrible smells only made it worse. Would we ever get used to this?

When we finally reached the summit, my knees were weak and I could barely find the strength to stand. But there, rising before us, was the temple of the Fire God in all its glory—our new home.

The temple was a large building made entirely of obsidian, the black volcanic glass so common in this part of the Fire Realm. In Sparkport we used it for many things—arrowheads, tools, jewelry—and many traders sold it in other parts of the world. But I’d never seen an entire structure made out of it.

Night had fallen sometime during our ascent, and the black temple was highlighted from behind by the eerie orange glow from the great open maw of the volcano.

‘We’re here,” Roth said. “Now what?’

I hesitated. ‘I suppose we go inside and make ourselves at home.’

Derel and Falon moved to the great temple door and tugged it open with some difficulty. As they did, a rush of dust fluttered out into the humid air. The room inside was pitch black, and I summoned a ball of flame into my palm as we stepped inside.

With the feeble light shining inside the expansive room, I caught sight of something. A flash of light and dark. A whisper of movement. A hint we weren’t alone.

I gripped Blane’s arm. ‘What was that?’

‘I didn’t see anything,’ he said, although he drew his sword anyway.

‘It looked like a shadow,’ Falon said with a frown.

‘Rats probably,’ Derel added.

I nodded and continued forward, tampering down my fear while moving across the stone floor. I made the flame bigger to illuminate more of the room, and gasped at what the light revealed.

Shadowy figures with dimly glowing eyes stood around the great hall. They looked almost like humans except for their long claws and the way their bodies tapered off near the bottom. As those glowing yellow eyes turned toward us, cold fear shot down my spine.

‘Shades,’ Blane said, as he pushed me behind him.

Impossible. Shades were a myth, nothing more. They were stories parents told to their children to keep them from misbehaving. Shades were said to once have been friendly spirits, but were now twisted, deadly ghosts trapped between this world and the next. Worst of all, they were hungry…and nearly impossible to kill.

The shades rushed toward us, trailing across the floor with their insubstantial bodies, moving through anything in their way. Roth, Derel, and Falon all drew their weapons too, swiping at the nearest ones alongside Blane. Each of the men knew how to fight, while all I could do was stand behind them and pray. Except their blades went straight through the shades as if they were nothing but air.

“Weapons don’t hurt them!” Derel called out.

“We need fire,” Roth said, as one of the shades tried to claw at his arm.

Fire—of course. Like the elementals, shades could probably only be stopped by fire, water, air, or earth.

That meant I had to do something, but how? I wasn’t a fighter. I’d never killed anyone before. But we were in danger and I couldn’t let my men get injured. I summoned the Fire God’s gift into my palms, the heat giving me clarity and strength. As the shade lunged for Roth again, I threw my ball of fire at it. The magic hit with a loud sizzle and flames flashed all over the shade, before the creature vanished in a cloud of black smoke. I felt a split second of triumph, before more shades crowded around us.

Now that we’d seen what my fire could do to the shades, I summoned even more of it. Blane grabbed a torch off the wall and swept it through my ball of flame, lighting it instantly. Falon picked up a discarded chair and broke it over his knee, splintering the wood into pieces. He tossed them to Derel and Roth, and they gestured for me to light their stakes as well. Roth hesitated as his stake lit up with fire, no doubt remembering how he got his injury, but then he guarded me from the shades with the others.

We backed up behind a discarded bookshelf and some tables, but the shades moved right through the furniture without slowing at all. Blane rushed the closest one with a roar, swiping his torch at it. The other shades surrounded us almost instantly, and I could barely summon fire fast enough to blast them before they got to me. The men fought them off with their improvised fiery weapons, although the shades’ claws still managed to rip through their clothes and slash their skin.

As another of my men cried out, fear swelled within me and I prayed to the Fire God for help. We were in his temple, doing his work, why wasn’t he helping us? Was this some kind of test? Were we on our own?

But he’d given me a gift, and even though I barely knew how to control it, I felt it flickering inside me. My fear and determination to protect my mates only made it flare hotter, and I let out a roar and spread my arms, calling forth the Fire God’s wrath with power I didn’t know I possessed. Each shade in the room suddenly burnt up with a piercing scream, turning to ash.

As the power left me, I crumpled to the floor, completely spent. Derel rushed over to me and asked, “Are you all right?”

I nodded. “Yes, although it seems I need a little more practice with my magic.”

The other men were immediately at my side, though they were all bleeding from various minor cuts from the shades. I was just relieved we were still alive.

Blane brushed back a damp piece of blond hair from my eyes. “I think you did a damn good job with your magic already.”

“You were incredible,” Falon said, touching my cheek lovingly.

Roth suddenly swept me up into his strong arms. ‘Let’s find you somewhere to lie down.’

‘Really, I’m fine,’ I said, though I didn’t protest too much because I liked being held like this against his hard body.

He grunted and carried me through the dark temple, while the others lit torches where we could find them to brighten the dark halls. The room with the shades had been some sort of grand entrance hall, with tall ceilings and a huge statue of a fiery dragon in the center. Other doors led down hallways to more rooms, including kitchens, storerooms, bedrooms, and washrooms. Tomorrow I wanted to fully explore, but at the moment it took everything I had to keep my eyes open.

I barely remembered Roth setting me down, or the others tucking some blankets over me. All I knew was that each one kissed me goodnight, and I fell asleep wondering if this would ever feel like home.


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