Spirit of Fire - 1. Where It Began
Everyone in this world has a story.
No two are exactly the same. Life is full of struggle and triumph, anger and joy, fear and love. Each experience, each circumstance, is the product of a million little things that are as unique as the individual living them.
These were wise words from my grandfather to me, when I was a little boy.
He used to tell me I would be famous one day. Successful and accomplished, the world would be at my feet. You've got the right mind and the right heart, my lad, he would say, and you will go far. Never doubt it. I don't.
I didn't either, though I was still young enough that the future he had described was a dream, a distant goal to work towards. Undefined, it was just a thing that I would shape and one day achieve. Still, of all the futures he might have imagined for me, what happened instead was ... something very different.
You see, other people can introduce the story of their life with a few basic facts, and I guess I can do that too. I'm sixteen years old. I live with my mother and go to high school. I enjoy soccer, fantasy novels, online RPGs and have taken up archery as a hobby. I don't have any living grandparents, and I'm not fond of my father; a man who I have not seen in years. I only have a couple of close friends, and the closest is a girl.
Yet ... that's not real. It is accurate if you consider facts, but in the end? It's just background noise that's not telling you anything important. If you want the true introduction to what has -- and is -- defining my life in a meaningful way, then it's short and simple, and goes exactly like this:
My name is Torsten and right now, I am witnessing the beginning of the end of the world.
This is not an exaggeration.
I should explain what I mean, because there is a lot to explain. For that, you'd need to know my story from the start.
For me, it all began with a really strange dream.
Since I was barely older than a toddler, I have had an active imagination. Dreams were part of that package, and I had plenty of them. Dreams about the latest book I had read, the latest TV show I had watched, about people from my life in situations that made no sense at all. There was the occasional nightmare too, which was basically inevitable. My dreams were sometimes strange, sometimes scary, sometimes just plain nonsense and stupidity.
All in all, it was pretty normal.
That changed one day, months ago, when I had a dream that was different.
From the second it began, I knew. I didn't have to wait until I was awake to understand what was going on and reflect on it in the light of day. I was fully aware of what was happening as if I was conscious, even though I was still fast asleep. I had heard of lucid dreaming, but this was beyond that. I had stepped onto another level where there was perfect clarity.
Asleep, but awake.
I was standing on a hillside at night, with darkness all around. Above, the sky was cloudless and dim, and not a single star visible. In front and below where I was standing, there was the faint outline of buildings, streets and an urban sprawl. It was a town or a city, only barely detectable; as lightless as the sky and my surroundings. All of it had an aura of expectation, a scene held in suspense until the cameras could roll and the sound and light would begin. There was potential.
Then, behind me, there came a presence.
I didn't know what it was, or where it came from.
I simply knew it had arrived.
I could tell in the same way you can feel when a storm is approaching. The taste is on the breeze, the pressure shifting, skin prickling and sky murky. There are signs that are small but significant.
This was the same.
A wind rose and fell in erratic bursts in the space trailing, before it evened into a steady gust; the leftover currents off a hurricane's fringe. The air swirled, the eddies dying away with the final moments of arrival, the hints of a magnificent force coming to calm, and then, I heard a sigh of exhaled breath.
I was no longer alone.
That moment, even within a dream, I knew beyond doubt that this presence was there. It wasn't a phantom, it wasn't imagination, it wasn't something dredged up from my brain's subconscious. Asleep, in my mind, that didn't matter.
It was real.
I stepped back from the darkened hillside, and began to turn around. Afraid of what I might find, I moved slowly. So very slowly, not knowing what kind of horror to expect and what I would see.
But ... there was nothing. Just a wall of black, the same featureless dimness; space with no starlight.
Even so, there was still something there, right in front of me.
It spoke, a voice rising out of the dusky silence.
It was no more than a whisper, but it seemed to echo and reverberate around me in stereo. Deeper and with more dimension than the heaviest bass of a movie supervillain, it was neither menacing nor friendly. There was no readable tone and no possible way to tell its intention. Enigmatic, it gave nothing away, except for a strange sense of restraint, a desire that was only just held back.
Dear child, I waited too long for this time. Ages came and ages went. I watched the empires of man rise and fall. Each season of war and peace has come and gone, but now, it exhaled again in heady anticipation, savouring the moment, no longer. The waiting and watching is done, for here you are.
"Wh- ... who are you?" I could reply, though barely. "What are you?"
It did not address my words, and continued as if I had remained silent, the question ignored or unheard.
You. A warm mist brushed my face, almost a reverent touch, a gentle caress. You are the only one. None are as faithful. None are as pure. It is you, dear child, that will set right the broken world. It inhaled, then exhaled yet again, revelling in it. It is close now, so close to real. No more silence and solitude. No more the realm of haunted shadow.
"What do y-you mean?" I stammered, staring crazed up at the enormous formless thing that was right there, the proximity undeniable, but still ... not. "What is this? What's going on?!"
The voice chuckled, a rich throaty laugh of inexplicable amusement. Soon, dear child, you will know. The misty warmth began to wane and with it went the feeling of vicinity, the voice fading in tandem. Soon, it sighed, the time comes.
"Wait!" I called, desperate to know anything. "Just- ... just tell me who you are, if nothing else! Please!"
Light. It fell to a hum, the atmosphere dispersing with it. Truth. No more than a dying murmur, it gave me only a single final word, in the most hushed undertone, before it was gone and I was once again alone.
Then, I woke up.
"Yo." She punched me, the thump of it a jolt. "Dude. Focus!"
"Hey!" I complained. "What the hell?
"You were spacing out." Lucy grinned, and hiked her school bag up. "Don't make me lay the smack down on your bitch ass yet again. Pay attention."
I rubbed my shoulder, glaring at her, and she shot back a 'what are you gonna do?' look of no-fucks-given. "Jesus, Lu. Why are you taking it out on me?"
"Torsten, you look like shit today. You didn't even respond to old lady Sterling when she said good morning, but nothing will excuse ignoring me."
We were on our way to school, halfway down the street I lived on. It was about a twenty minute walk from my house, and twenty-five from hers. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I was exhausted, my sleep completely messed up by the extremely crazy dream I'd experienced just an hour or so earlier. I was in the company of one Lucy Atkinson, my closest and best friend.
As far as friends went, there were a couple of other boys in my year that I sometimes hung out with at school, but they weren't as close as Lucy was. She was unique in more than a few ways, and was never going to be part of the crowd. Our introduction was in kindergarten, and in typical fashion even so young, she took no shit from anyone. Another kid had stolen one of my toys and when he and his friends refused to return it, she took matters into her own hands. Violence ensued and of course a teacher was called, but the end result was three crying boys, a victorious Lucy, a returned toy and a disappointed parental phone call.
It was the beginning of a long friendship.
She was fierce, stubborn, opinionated and perfectly capable of beating up boys -- and girls -- two to three times her size. Though she was just 5'6 high, wiry and something of a tomboy, Lucy was well practiced at kickboxing, knew basic self-defence and played soccer with me for fun. Fiercely protective of family and friends, she was as frightening to our school's population of bullies as an avenging demon, and even though I was quite fine on my own, having those idiots give us a wide berth did make life easier. Appearance-wise, she was what guys considered to be 'cute'; an impish innocent look, hair cut short in a pixie style, and a preference for jeans and t-shirts instead of 'all that girly crap the others love'. She did have a hidden feminine side, though it was well concealed and only showed up in ways that most people didn't see.
Except for me, of course.
"So, as I was saying, there's a new guidance counsellor after Mr. Cohen resigned last month. It's a shame, I liked him. He let us do anything we wanted when he subbed health class." She shrugged wistfully. "Whatever. There's new students too, I heard. Weird to start on a Friday though, right?"
"Mmm," I mumbled, still not really concentrating.
"Oh, hey, speaking of Friday, you wanna go see something tonight? Your mom isn't home 'til late, right?"
I shook my head, trying to properly wake myself out of zombie status. "Uh, yeah, she'll be back at like ... 9pm. What did you wanna watch?"
"Well, there's this new sci-fi movie just come out, based on this book series I've read. I saw the trailer for it, and damn, does it look sweet." Her enthusiasm was irritating, and she knew it, but she kept on anyhow. "The boy they cast as the lead role is perfect, I don't think they could have chosen better."
"Uh, really?" I rubbed my face, trying to decide whether I was going to regret asking. "Is he a good actor or something?"
"I dunno," Lucy grinned, shrugging, "but he is adorable. Like, total pretty-boy with the hair and the eyes, and let us not forget the most important thing: his butt. Oh my god. It's amazing. It looks so round and bouncy. I wanna play the drums with it." She mimed in front of her with both hands in the air, a gratuitous squeezing motion. "Mmmm. Squish, squish."
"Really, Lucy? Really?" I blinked, not sure what I had just heard. "Are you trying to traumatise me?" Before she could answer, I continued. "Wait, isn't that the online series by the guy with the alias, the one you mentioned to me a couple times? Don't remember the name but wasn't it basically a B-grade sci-fi slash fic?" I wrinkled my nose in aversion. "You've got such perverted interests."
"It's called Secret Moonlight, it's not B-grade slash, and I'm not perverted," she huffed. "It's quality fiction, and besides, jocks fantasise about lesbians fucking all the time and everyone's all 'haha boys will be boys!' like it's no big deal. So, what's wrong with my enjoyment of the same, genders flipped?" She punched my arm again, much less roughly than the first time, the message clearly outlined. "The correct term for a girl of my refined tastes is a fujoshi, my young padawan. You need to be educated on these matters."
"Whatever," I shrugged back at her. "Sounds like another badly-written piece of space-porn. The internet is full of that stuff. You're still a weirdo for being obsessed with guys screwing each other, and for liking sci-fi that much. Fantasy is more my thing; I'll take Lord of the Rings over Star Wars any day of the week."
"Please?" She stepped ahead, turning around to walk backwards right in front of me, a salesman trying to pawn off a used car. "Please come with! Who else is going to see it if you don't? Jessica? Danielle? Louis? Can you fucking imagine?" She pulled a disgusted face at the thought. "I don't have any other open-minded intelligent options. You might even like it. Come on!"
"I dunno, Lu," I sighed, frowning, Lucy managing to keep pace in front, even in reverse. "Can't promise it's something I'd like. I'm really tired, and not in the mood for this, but ... since I'm such a nice guy, if we go to the bookstore first, I'll think about it."
Her eyes lit up. "Is that a maybe?"
"It's an 'I'll think about it'," I grumbled, "so don't get your hopes up."
Deft and quick, she turned back, resuming the normal path forward along the pavement next to me. "It's totally a maybe. It's going to be a yes. You just have to accept it, Torsten."
The mid-morning sun glinted off the pond. A flotilla of ducks was dispersed through it, chasing thrown bread from children, whilst the occasional swan sailed past, idling in bored regality and plucking at the reeds. Passersby were infrequent, but the park was still busy for the ending of the week, and the foot traffic sporadic.
He sat down on the bench, and gazed at the view. Next to him, the man in the suit reading the newspaper turned a page. Neither looked at one another and no acknowledgement was given, but the man immediately began to speak.
"You are late, Nero."
He gave a low rumble, of irritation and defiance both. "You would rather I be identified? Caught?"
"I would rather you be less careless and more punctual." The reply was measured, but with an acerbic note of caution to it. "If only you were more like-"
"Spare me," Nero interrupted, not caring to hear the incoming lecture. "Why did we come here?" He drew a breath, a contemptuous angry lungful of air. "Being around so many of these ... people ... it incenses me. Their hubris, their self-interest; it is revolting. It urges me to their destruction."
"We are here," murmured the man, "because all that I have learned tells me this town is where our future will be realised." He turned another page, browsing the local herald with a mild curiosity. "However, you will be pleased to know your next task will take you away some distance, at least temporarily." A hand went into a pocket, and then a slip of paper was placed between them. "On good authority, I have the exact location of the incantation."
Nero took it, and pocketed it himself. The implication was clear, and a keen hungry grin widened, his mood lifting. "The incantation. Oh, yes." His perpetual anger was turning to thirst, the idea of acting openly too appealing to ignore. "You wish me to steal it from under the enemy's nose?"
"Steal it. Copy it. Burn the place down for all I care. Just make sure you are not captured and that you return with the whole thing, start to finish."
"Of that you may be sure," he growled, "for I could never ruin such an honour."
"Good. This piece is essential and the opportunities have become slim, so you must not fail." The man in the suit stood, folding his newspaper and with not a word more, walked away out of the park.
The time was getting closer.
Most of the rest of the day was a blur. Thankfully, Friday was a quiet day. By the second to last period English class, I was nearly falling asleep and barely noticed the couple of new students being introduced. One was seated right next to me and I was dreading being forced to pay attention and speak with my new neighbour, but the teacher didn't bother me about it. I was one of his best students and he must have noticed how tired I was, because even half-slumped over my textbook and folder, he didn't say anything. The final period following that was a complete blur, and as soon as the bell went and school was over, I was packed up and out the door with the crowd, not bothering to wait.
Lucy caught up to me when I was passing the cineplex next to the mall, which was only a few minutes walk from the school. She was just as talkative as in the morning, glad to be finished for the week, and though I was too, my desire for conversation was at an all-time low. She could tell and simply didn't care, and I just humoured her, my responses as brief as possible.
Entering the bookstore was a relief, as we split up in search of our own interests. This particular store, Fantastic Things, sold many genres of fiction but it specialised in all kinds of comic-book stuff too, including toys, figurines and the associated geeky accessories. I found a quiet row and began browsing through their library, not really looking for anything in particular.
"Guardians of the Galaxy, huh? Are you a fan?"
I looked up at the interruption, comic in hand. The interloper was another boy. Taller than me, athletic and lean, he had a straight nose, serious hazel-brown eyes and a respectable but tidy mane of ruddy chestnut hair. In cargo pants and a t-shirt, schoolbag stylishly slung over one shoulder, he was holding a comic too, and he gave a half-smile, the left side of his mouth curling upward slightly in a weird knowing expression. For some reason, my breath caught for a moment and my mind went blank on what to say, but it didn't matter because he spoke again. "Unless you just like Jean Grey."
The Guardians cover had the aforementioned mutant on it, exploding in a burst of psychic heat. "I, uh ... no, not really. I mean, they're okay, I guess, but I wouldn't say it's a favourite."
"Me neither. Not quite my style." He held out his hand in casual easy friendliness. "I'm Theo. It's Torsten, right?"
We shook. "How do you know my name?"
"I was sitting next to you in English class, though you were too busy studying the desk to notice."
"Um ... crap." I shook my head, apologetic. "I'm sorry, I wasn't paying much attention to class. Short on sleep."
"It's fine." Theo brushed it off, airy and forgiving, and he smiled properly, fully, this time. It had a magnetic warmth to it and an effortless awesomeness. My breath caught again and inexplicably, my heart fluttered. Despite my fatigue I felt drawn to talk to him.
What- ... what's going on with me today?
"The phoenix is an interesting mythological creature," he continued, "but comic-based superheroes are overrated. I like more ... standard fantasy."
"Standard?" I blinked, placing the comic back on the shelf, and he mirrored me, doing the same with his. "Do you mean Harry Potter standard or Forgotten Realms standard?"
He raised an eyebrow, smile widening. "I appreciate Ms Rowling's ability, but no, something a bit darker and more adult than that, like George R R Martin or Brandon Sanderson."
"Martin is good," I agreed. "I like both the show and the books."
"Jaime Lannister. It's an odd choice, but I have my reasons." A shrug. "Who's yours?"
"The Kingslayer? Huh." He mused, thoughtful for a moment. "He is an odd choice. Mine? That's easy. There could only be one, and that's Daenerys Targaryen. It's because she finds a way to get what she desires, and," he locked eyes with me as he finished the sentence, "she has fire on her side."
The way he was looking at me, the way he spoke, and the subtle intensity that filled that word made me mentally recoil in pure shock. It all seemed a little too direct, too focused.
Am I going crazy?
The same word, the same hidden suggestion of meaning that I didn't yet comprehend.
What the hell is happening?
I didn't know what this was all about, but I wanted to leave. I had to leave. My emotions had bounced between good, bad and freaking-out over the course over the last couple of minutes of conversation with Theo and I wasn't in the right state of mind to deal with the impossibility of the day's events. None of it seemed to make sense or even be normal.
"Hope you don't mind if we exchange numbers. I like making new friends. Always fun to talk to someone who shares interests." Theo's hand was on my wrist, the skin unexpectedly warm, and he was writing a number on my palm with a red biro. "You should text me sometime."
"Y-yeah," I stammered, pulling my hand away as soon as he was done, hiking my bag up at the same time. "Don't want to be rude, but, um, I have to go. I'll see you later."
I barely noticed his reaction in my haste, though his voice followed me as I exited the aisle, oddly unsurprised and undisturbed at my swift departure. "Sure. See you later, Torsten."
Got to get out of here.
I felt like I couldn't breathe.
Something bizarre was going on.
Want to leave this place, to go away from people.
Outside the store and halfway down the street, Lucy caught up to me, evidently having seen me leave in a hurry. She was carrying a paper bag and seemed oblivious to my mood, launching straight into an unwanted and unstoppable conversation as soon as she reached me. "Wow, you are walking quickly, what's the rush? Oh! So I found a new paperback I haven't read yet," she jiggled the bag, just in case it wasn't already totally obvious what was in it, "but much more importantly: Torsten. Dude. That boy was flirting with you."
I stopped straight away and turned to glare at her, incredulous.
"What? How did y-"
"In the next aisle, heard him say hi," she interrupted without a beat, "I won't lie, I kinda eavesdropped and I'm not even sorry, but I stand by it. He was hitting on you, hardcore."
"I don't t-"
"He was totally into you. Who else approaches a stranger to talk about random shit like that? He was trying to get acquainted and I mean, he gave you his number." She grinned like a puppy that had just found a shiny new chew-toy. "To top it off, he is fine as hell. If you don't text him, I will be very disappointed."
"Lucy, fucking STOP IT!" My outburst shut her up immediately, the surprise clear, but I didn't finish there. "You don't know what's going on, and I'm sick of this badgering. This isn't a game for your amusement."
"Whoa, slow down." She held up a hand. "You need to chill out. I'm not s-"
"No," I snapped, cutting her off. "I don't. What I need is to be left alone. I'm going home." I took a deep breath and practically spat the final word. "Bye."
Then, I turned and walked away, leaving her standing on the street.
The whole walk home, my mind was a confused mess. The previous day, my life had seemed kinda boring, but today? It was a combination of unreal and mysterious. Mysterious because of Lucy's pushy suggestions and unwanted stage management, and also because of a chance meeting with a new classmate that made my emotions dance like a marionette after mere seconds of knowing him. Unreal because of that one word and, not least of all, the dream that preceded it all.
I still couldn't wrap my head around it. What did it mean? What was that ... thing ... that spoke to me? It was definitely supernatural and I had no doubt that it was real, but I wanted some clue to explain all this.
Something to piece it together.
There was a note stuck to the fridge from my mother. Pulling it free, I read it as I walked to my room to dump school stuff, and nearly tripped over the box sitting outside my door.
Hi honey. I'll be back around 9.30 tonight. Left some ravioli to reheat for your dinner. If you don't have any homework, there's a box of your grandfather's things outside your room. It was hidden away in the attic and it must have been sitting there since the lawyers wrapped up his estate when you were little. I know you don't have many memories of him, so I want you to have a look and see if there's anything you might want to keep. I'll be doing a proper clean-out this weekend. Have a good day and don't do anything silly. Love, mom. xoxo
Curious to see what was in it and glad to have something to temporarily take my mind off the day's events, I threw my bag to the floor and plopped down on the bed, opening up the storage container. The inside was dusty, my mother apparently never having opened it, or at least not for a long time. There were a bunch of old photos of my grandfather with her when she was a lot younger, including one when she was pregnant with me, and more of him in Asia, a couple of decades ago. Also, there were a number of papers, most of which seemed to be copies of some kind of official documents used in his work. With those papers were several diaries; undecorated, with plain leather covers and tightly bound. Lastly, there was another smaller shallow wooden box with a carved hinged lid on it. I cracked it open, carefully, and peered inside.
It contained an assortment of rocks and stones from all over the world. I knew that my grandfather was a geologist from my own scattered memories and what my mother told me, but here was concrete proof. Each item was tagged and labelled with a paper slip attached by string, that listed a date and location. All were precious stones of some kind, of varying quality and size, though most were pebbles or small enough to fit inside a clenched fist. Some had no more than flecks of colour or veins inside actual rock, while others were much more filled out, either partially or nearly completely pure.
Out of the collection, the two most noteworthy were also the largest by far. One was smooth on the surface, close to flat but with a slight convex curve. Almost like a polished roof tile but smaller, it was maybe four inches long and three wide, and less than half an inch thick. Pale sky blue and slightly translucent, the stone had a gorgeous vibrant colour, and although it was the only one that didn't have a label attached, I knew enough to make an educated guess that it was probably a sapphire.
The other had an uneven surface and was a long thin shape. The edges were rough, like it had been a part of a bigger formation before being broken off. Angular ridges protruded along the length of it, and it was about five inches long and one in diameter, a long asymmetrical splinter that was nearly sharp enough to cut the skin. More opaque than the sapphire, it was a rich bloody red. This one did have a label, and it said 'aluminium oxide, chromium repetition (red corundum/ruby) -- Thailand, July 2009'.
I stared at it, the way the light glanced off the surface and was highlighting the planes and facets of the gemstone's odd shape. It wasn't uniform or perfectly clear like a gem you could find in a ring or necklace, but the lack of imperfections in the stone itself and the strength of the colour was mesmerising and I found myself turning it over and over in my hands.
If this was given the right treatment by a professional, I bet it could be worth a lot of money.
The buzz of my phone vibrating snapped me out of it. A glance told me all I needed to know. Ugh. She just won't fucking quit. I didn't want to read her texts or hear whatever stupid justification she was going to make, so I turned the phone off and dumped it on the nightstand. Slumping back on the bed, I stared at the ceiling and gritted my teeth. What if she decides to come here because I'm not texting back? She'd probably do something like that.
I didn't want to speak to anyone. I wanted to be left alone, so I could clear my head.
I wanted to understand.
It took all of ten seconds to make my decision. Sitting, I emptied my bag of its academia-related contents and put the collection box in it, along with my MP3 player, a blanket and an unfinished novel. Then it was to the kitchen, grabbing an apple and a bag of potato chips, and following that, out the door.
Our town, Mirrorvale, wasn't really small, but our house happened to be on a bordering side right next to the hills that half surrounded the suburban area. Crossing the back yard and over the boundary fence of our property, it was onto public council land, an undeveloped stretch of grass about the length of a soccer field. After that was a tiny drainage creek, not more than a dribble of murky swampy water, and then the thick brush and thin ranging trees that cluttered the lower slopes.
I had explored this area a few times before and never once run into any people. The forest wasn't really good for hiking or anything much; it was very closed in, the branches were scratchy and tangled and the ground could get slippery and muddy in the winter. Nobody was going to come find me, and that suited perfectly. Still, I was looking for a particular place to sit and contemplate for a while, and I knew that there was more than just trees.
Further up, there were several limestone rock cliffs, well hidden under the forest growth. Some of them had cracks in them and a couple had more than that; full limestone caves, disappearing into the hillside. The smallest were only big enough to crawl into, but the largest had enough space to fit a modest-size truck inside. It was this one that I was searching for, and once I found it, I retreated back until I saw a shelf elevated high enough to sit on, laid down the folded blanket as a cushion and sat back, leaning against the cave wall.
Sunshine filtered in from outside, and there was still plenty of light though I was a few feet back from the entrance. Earbuds went in, the MP3 player was turned on, and the apple retrieved. I bit into it, glancing around my shelter. The floor, walls and roof were fairly flat, with only a couple of little cracks making inroads into the rock here and there. A few stalactites clung to the ceiling, though these caves had long ago dried out and the water formations were small and stunted. A half dozen little shelves, like the one I was sitting on, poked from the walls, and close by my feet was a scratchy depression filled with a few oval-shaped rock bubbles, in appearance a bit like the surface of a geyser or mud pool, only frozen into immovable stone.
I balanced my backpack upright on the ground and pulled out the novel and the box. This was my own little private spot that no-one knew about, and I was glad I had never shared it. Not that I was expecting to use it to escape from my best friend, or anyone else for that matter, but I definitely needed some solitude.
A chance to think.
The new boy.
What does all this mean? Still leaning back against the wall, I idly opened up the box and gazed at the contents as I thought over my day. Grey, brown, white, orange, green; muted layers, stripes, dots and splotches of colour and texture. Common stones, rare stones, precious stones.
Blue and red.
Turning the ruby splinter over and over in my fingers, tracing the irregular surface and feeling the solid hardness of it, I shut my eyes and sighed. I had the impression that someone was messing with me somehow, but nothing about my day had seemed orchestrated or fake.
I just want to know what the fuck is going on.
What explanation could there be? Where did this come from? I was still pondering those questions and more besides, the sliver of precious stone in my hand, my mind churning over what was probable and possible, when the fatigue and my lack of rest began to finally take hold. Completely without meaning to, and with the box in my lap and ruby in hand, I relaxed against the cool limestone wall of the cave and in moments, fell asleep.
It was a sound that woke me up. I gave a jerk of surprise and sat up straight, blinking. Light was still coming in through the entrance, barely any dimmer than before. It would not have been more than an hour at most, and I rubbed my eyes, grimacing at the discomfort in my back and neck from the posture I was sleeping in. Before I could even muster a coherent thought, the sound repeated itself, louder and more demanding.
The crackling of rock as it snapped and broke.
It was coming from right next to me.
Looking down, something was happening to the formation on the cave floor. The closest rock-bubble was glowing red-orange hot and the surface of it was breaking ... and moving.
In shock and surprise I jumped up, the box falling off my lap, the backpack tipping over as I tripped and stumbled, coming about to press myself against the far wall at the absurd and mystifying sight.
The surface of the bubble pushed up, the rock fragmenting as something thrust through it from below. The protrusion widened and the surface gave way as a shape began to emerge from the glowing oval.
A living shape.
It was at this point that my stupefied brain started to understand what I was seeing, and it was not a thing I ever expected to see in reality with my own two eyes.
With a shove, the top of the egg burst completely, the heated protective corona of birth finally giving way, and the creature climbed from within. It rose on its hind limbs through the wreckage, forelegs clutching at air, thin reptilian body drawn as tall as it could muster, a tiny pair of wings extending on either side in a defiant greeting to the world.
I was originally hoping to have this done in tandem with the release of the new season of a certain show (you know the one!) but my timing was slightly off.
Nevertheless, welcome to Spirit of Fire! I have a tale to tell -- are you ready for a little ... magic?
A discussion thread is available here. Commentary, reviews and likes are all greatly appreciated, as always!
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