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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Spirit of Fire - 20. Golden Child

The office of the Grand Secretary was hidden in a maze of passages at the heart of the Northwood headquarters. The building complex housing it was extensive, the exterior lined with a plethora of magical traps and defensive enchantments, and on the approach Sebby could tell he was being tracked. It was an unusual feeling for him, though the protection of the Order's American command was of high importance, and such measures expected.

He was ushered through by an aide to find Fineas Ridefort behind his desk, typing on a desktop PC, a small stack of papers next to him. The office was modest sized but comfortably furnished, with three guest armchairs, a bookcase, some well-tended potplants, and a carved wooden teak sculpture of an Asian-style dragon on a corner pedestal. A large window took up much of the wall behind the desk, overlooking an interior courtyard. When Sebby entered, the big man rose and came around to greet him.

"Ah, Sebastian!" Ridefort shook his hand vigorously, the sleeves of his white button shirt rolled up, suspenders taut. He guided the air dragon across to the window, a glimpse of the sky serving as his avenue into a conversation opener. "I'm glad you made it through yesterday's battle at the Seventh House sanctuary."

"Just Sebby. Others use the formal, and I don't unless forced to."

"Sebby it is then." The secretary nodded, and then chuckled, the two of them standing together to look down on the small enclosed garden in the courtyard. "I was never quite sure what sort of accent you speak English with. It's mixed, but subtle and vague to the point of contradiction."

"The French think I'm from England. The English think I'm from France. The Germans think I might be Dutch, and the Dutch think I might be Swiss. On it goes, and it is quite a web. Except for the Americans." He shrugged, a sly grin. "They just know I'm foreign, but they are clueless about where."

"Oh, I hope you'll forgive my countrymen. They mean well, but the sounds of the old world are something of an acquired taste to our ears." Ridefort gave a deep laugh, his belly shaking with the motion, before switching to business. "I must ask you: the debrief from my teams said you were almost certainly not captive with the others and must have arrived later. If that's true, how did you find the sanctuary on your own?"

"Torsten Wilde carries a magical token of mine. It has several uses, and one of those is as a personal locator beacon. If I need to, I can find him anywhere in the world." Sebby nodded. "The Order's arrival at the scene was timely. I am not sure if we could have done it without your intervention."

"And yet, despite all the good we achieved, and the men and women we lost, the Fear escaped and the seeress died." Ridefort gestured to the flowering shrubs and trees below, the world outside. "Tell me, with where we are right now, what do you think the best possible outcome is? Not what you hope for, but what you believe is attainable."

"The best, Grand Secretary?" He thought a moment. "The best outcome would be for us to catch the avatar after he has imbued himself with the Fear's essence, but before the ritual is finished. We would kill him, and with the death of the still-mortal vessel, the remainder of the dead god would die too, forever ending any possibility of resurrection. The war would be over, the Conclave's morale broken, and Araziah free to cure their madness and drag them into the light of a better future."

"And the worst?"

The worst?

The pessimistic outcome was unimaginably bad.

"The ritual is successfully completed, the Spirit of Fire is returned to life, melding with the avatar and augmenting the host body with all of his divine power. Araziah is unable to withstand the pressure, submits to the reborn mad god, and becomes the cardinal lieutenant and a weapon of conquest. Together, they begin the apocalypse, the other gods failing to stop their brother, and the nightmare of his reign is brought to reality."

It was the essence of what could occur, unvarnished and raw.

There was no escaping it -- one way, or another, there had to be an end.

"You know, the truth of this world and its secrets is hard to envisage, and it continually amazes me. Humans never knew the greater mysteries until they were forced upon us." Ridefort gazed at the garden, petals from the cherry blossoms drifting like snowflakes in the air. "This organisation has existed for more than five centuries. When it was born, mankind believed the world was flat, Europe was a patchwork of feudal Christian kingdoms, and this continent was only inhabited by native tribes. Yet, there are dragons alive today who were fully grown before the Order existed. Most of the water types that help us have been around since the civil war at least, some the revolution, and some the colonial days. Even you -- you look less than half my age but you are probably twice it. You are the first of your kind seen since the Habsburgs were arguing over the Spanish throne, but to you, it's all in the blink of an eye. To you, it may as well be yesterday that humanity's fight against the supernatural began."


Days, months, years; it didn't seem to matter.

"For all of our long-lived advantages and magical abilities, the war persists regardless." Sebby and the Grand Secretary turned to face one another directly. "Humans have done more to end it in five centuries than dragons have in countless millennia. In my short time here, I have learned much from those I have met." He smiled, brief but uncharacteristically warm and open. "An unexpected amount, in unexpected ways."

"Could you do it?" Ridefort towered over the air dragon, though his question was more that of a youth seeking an adult's advice. "If your goddess commanded you to make war upon everything, and you were her greatest servant -- could you defy her? Could you go against your creator to save us, and everything else that lives?"

Her most blessed child.

He was the Sword of the Heavens, the chosen of the sky goddess.

But, defying her?

"I ... do not know."

Ridefort glanced thoughtfully aside, again to the courtyard, his attention skimming the flowers and the little central fountain, water bubbling and cascading gently down over the tiered structure. "What about the earth type? Could they? Could the children of the Tempest?"

The Tempest.

All of the living gods were inscrutable in their own way, but it had always seemed to Sebby that the Spirit of Water was the most ambiguous, the hardest to attach motive to. Outside of the purely elemental, her domain involved intellectual knowledge and arcane secrets. His interactions with his aquatic cousins were intermittent, but friendly, the natural affinity between their two kinds older and more comfortable than any other racial bond.

Their mother, however, was as difficult to predict and understand as the ocean itself.

"I cannot say."

"Well," muttered Ridefort, arms folded, a hand stroking his handlebar mustache in consideration, "the answer to this question is one that may decide the fate of our civilisation."

"Grand Secretary." Sebby's voice was polite but certain, and he looked the big man in the eyes as he spoke. "If anyone could stand before their own god in free opposition, it would be Araziah. He has a will unlike any I have met, but, it is not him I have come here to discuss."

Ridefort turned, gesturing to the chairs, the reflective sojourn by the window done. He took his own seat, and Sebby one of the armchairs. "I apologise for the digression. You've been an asset to us. Any help I can render, I will endeavour to do so. What, or who, is your subject of interest?"

"Mordred." A plain response, with little elaboration even required. "He is hiding something. An important secret, I would think."

"Oh, the mysterious Grey Prince?" The big man leaned back in his chair, the back creaking slightly from his weight. "We've never been able to deduce why the Conclave calls him that. Not even if it's an actual title, or just an honorific, or a cognomen. At least his sisters are dealt with, and good riddance to them."

"It was Kaia who gave me the clue to begin with. She said that he would become king. The circumstances at the time gave me no reason to think it was a deception."

"King?" Ridefort blinked. "Of what? The lords of the Conclave have no monarch but their father."

"Precisely." Soft and sure. "What else could it mean?"

"You think we have the wrong candidate?" He folded his arms again, still reclining, thinking over the merits. "From all our time-consuming research, there were only three options. Michael was the most fitting of those and the only still alive after the deaths of the other two. He is the perfect vessel and he ticks all the required boxes. Intelligent, cunning, ruthless, manipulative, forward-thinking, and the sire of the Seventh House. A powerful psychic, talented magician, and physically impressive in his natural form, or so I'm told."

"Mordred has those qualities too and seems to be held in similar regard to his cousin." Sebby told him.

"There is a simple problem with this. He is too young." The Grand Secretary shrugged. "Born in the 1970s, he is roughly two decades too late. The prophecy specifies the avatar's birth must be before the end of the fifth era's third season. That end point was placed, with greater than 95% confidence, between 1950 and 1953."

"I do not believe Kaia was lying, nor that her language meant to imply anything other than the obvious conclusion. Is it possible the prophecy has been misinterpreted, or that there might be another way to understand it?"

"Well," said Ridefort, absently tweaking his upturned whiskers between thumb and index finger, "the Tempest's scholars made it clear that while the original copy was made in the liturgical variant, it was also recorded in the proto language and then Old Draconic from that. According to them, the nuance and meaning has been directly and accurately translated into both modern Celestial and English. So, the wording is apparently well preserved and nothing was lost. The only debatable part is our understanding of the calendar system used by the fire type, since the original prophetic vision seems to have been from their perspective of time. There is not enough flexibility in that equation for this speculation about Mordred to be true."

"We are missing something, I am sure of it." Sebby frowned. "With your leave, I would like to study anything you have related to the Grey Prince and the prophecy itself."

"As I said, you are welcome to, as an honoured friend and advocate of the sky goddess," the big man promised, "and I will ensure you have everything you need at your disposal."


Though time was important, in the aftermath of the events at the Seventh House fortress, there was a lull. Celeste had visited on the following evening, assuring that Order was already formulating how best to deal with the situation and what would need to come next. There was no communication of just how serious the situation was, because it was implicitly understood by everyone. Then, it seemed that everything went back to how it was, at least temporarily.

But, not completely.

Natalia made it clear to her son that he did not need to go back to school with the stress of potentially world-altering events only days away. Nonetheless, he had insisted on doing so, and she had accepted that. The intention was to ease his state of mind and allow him some normality by keeping a regular schedule.

The problem, as Araziah perceived it, was that Torsten was not at ease.

It had not been long since Araziah had recognised the depth of his attraction, and that recognition had brought with it a heightened sense of Torsten's emotional state. It was not just the physical aspects of desire that came to the forefront of his attention, but the feelings; the psychological reactions to what they were involved in. The way it affected his interest in the human boy was exceptional in how compelling it was, and he felt motivated to do something to cure the malaise.

Only, he didn't know what.

Torsten had become quieter than normal, withdrawn, and Araziah had no understanding of how to deal with it.

So, after three days of prevaricating, he sought out a source he would rather have avoided.

The man that opened the door was shorter than the average human adult male, wiry, and with a groomed widow's peak. At a glance inoffensive, but he carried the same sort of piercing awareness as his daughter, along with an attitude that suffered no fools. Paul Atkinson looked him up and down once, and without even so much as a greeting, called over his shoulder.

"Lucy! Guest!"

He was gone just as quickly as he'd appeared, and moments later, Lucy was in the doorway from the next room.

"You?" She brushed off the surprise, and motioned him to follow her. "Close the door and don't stand on anything. This way."

She led him through the living room, across a toy-strewn floor, past two toddlers and a bored twelve-year old playing on a tablet, down a hall and into Lucy's bedroom. The walls were splashed with anime imagery, gaming posters, and pastel colours. A laptop was on the bed, a pile of plush cushions and clothing next to a laundry hamper, and a desk covered in manga, textbooks and schoolwork. She shut the door to her room, wheeled the desk chair around and sat on it in reverse, arms leaning on the backrest, indicating for him to take the other.

"What're you doing here?" She raised an eyebrow, and went on before he could answer, a rapid spiel of information that was very much her style. "I know we've been through some stuff recently -- you, Sebby, Torsten, Crawley. Me, even. Saw some shit that I'd prefer not to see again, and I'm not even talking about Nero either. Fuck that guy. Wish I could've made him suffer more. It's just that this is pretty heavy for all of us, and I know you don't like me, so you must have, like, a major case of something if you decided to bite your tongue and visit. So, what gives?"

Annoying, but accurate.

"Torsten is unhappy. You must have seen it."

"Oh, I've seen it. He's avoiding talking to me, and he's been keeping to himself. What I've also seen is that you got closer to him, but," she leaned forward a little, pointedly serious, "Sebby got even closer. I know what's going on. You're both after him, and right now the other guy is winning. Oh boy, is Sebby winning, in fuckin' spades. Like, you don't wanna know how much. Besides, what reason do I have to help you?"

Araziah gritted his teeth, his dislike of the situation powerful. He hated that it was necessary to be so revealing with her, but she was the best option.

He was going to use that.

"Because I want him to be happy, but you must tell me how."

"You- ... you want something that isn't all about you?" Lucy stared at him, and although he was not physically intimidated by her in the least, there was something extremely disconcerting about her attention. It felt vaguely like she was cutting him open, figuratively speaking, and examining his mind. Abruptly she sat back, hands going to her lap, a weird half-smirk forming. "Huh. You really are serious about Torsten, aren't you? This isn't just another hurdle on your path."

"Dragons consider matters of the heart to be entirely serious." He straightened, feeling insulted by the implication that he might be acting frivolously or selfishly, when he wasn't. "I will not beg, and if you are unwilling, I will seek another way. Do not trifle with me."

"You might just be the most arrogant, stubborn, regal motherfucker I've ever met," Lucy folded her arms over her chest, one eyebrow raised, "and there are more reasons to not help you." She paused there, lingering overlong mid-thought, split by indecision. "Buuuut ... I'm going to. On one condition."

"Name it," he said, "and tell me why."

"Why? Because you at least deserve a shot. Sebby has loads of experience figuring us human types out, and he knows exactly how to woo, probably better than the most accomplished players in the game. Also, because I kinda feel like he'd want it to be fair play. He's that sort. Oh, and the condition? You've gotta do everything I say."


"Everything." She agreed, a deviously sweet grin unfolding. "Listen to my advice, do what I tell you, and you'll have the best chance of getting what the other guy already has: Torsten's affection -- and his happiness. I can practically guarantee it."

"Then, I accept." Araziah nodded. "I hope I will not regret this."

"Excellent. You won't." Lucy was rubbing her hands together, the anticipation already building. "We should get started. I already have a plan in mind, and there is a lot you need to learn."


On the day following Araziah's reappearance, I was back to school. The option was there to just skip, and Mom told me more than once that I didn't have to attend with the potential of a fiery armageddon hanging over my head. Still, I wanted to just get on with life for a little bit longer and enjoy the mediocre boredom of classes and highschool before the next bout of terrifying supernatural events occurred.

I never got that chance to fully slip back into the average life.

During that day, a Tuesday, I started having flashes of foresight at random moments. Unlike most of what had come before, it wasn't specific to anything I was doing at the time. Instead, it was an assortment of brief imagery and feelings that I quickly realised were related to what was going to happen in the near future. Some of it was unique or things I didn't recognise, but there were certain parts of the visions that were repetitive; themes containing things I definitely knew.

An artifact shrouded in ceremony on a high pedestal; the Fear. A handsome older harder version of Theo; the dragon Michael. The Grey Prince, Mordred, attendant in ornate regalia. A third dragon, a priest-warrior elder, grim and menacing. Mirrorvale itself. The neighbouring town of Brookstone. The state capital, Temperance. Sometimes one was burning, sometimes another.

Sometimes it was all three, and fire was everywhere.


Fire, and death.

Not just a few dozen people, nor hundreds, but thousands.

Pleasant was not the word, and there was one thing about what I was seeing that was common.

In the middle of it all, was Araziah.

Somehow, he was always involved.

I didn't want to believe that he might be responsible. I couldn't think that his future would be one where he succumbed to the temptations of the mad god. I was going to stop that from being true, in any way I could. There was something about it that I wasn't understanding, something we had missed, and it both depressed and upset me.

Avoiding my friends and family, I wanted to be alone. It wasn't exactly rational, but I didn't know how to confront what I was seeing. With that on my mind, Tuesday moved into Wednesday, which passed into Thursday.

Then, Friday.

I wasn't at home for more than ten minutes after school, before my phone was buzzing with a message from Lucy. I'd been doing my best to not reply to any of her messages if I didn't have to, but this one was extra demanding.

We're going out 2nite. If you ignore this imma come to ur place and DRAG you into town. Dont make me do it, coz I will. You got 20mins to get ready. Wear something nice.

Town? Mom was working late again, so I knew she wouldn't care if I went anywhere, but I wasn't all that sold on the idea of doing anything social. It was Lucy though, and even if she had given me plenty of leeway recently, I knew from this tone that she wasn't playing, and really would follow through on her threat.

So, reluctantly, I took a quick shower, chose some smart casual pants and a top, and fixed my hair. I was just putting the finishing touches to it, when I heard the front door open, the signal of her arrival.

Great. I sighed to myself. I'm really not in the mood for a night out, but I guess I should try to make the most of whatever she wants to do.

There was the sound of her approaching in the passage outside, then the door was thrown open.

"Change of plans!" Lucy beamed theatrically. "I'm not coming. It's just gonna be you two. Have fun!"

Stepping out of the entrance, she vanished back the way she'd come, to allow who was standing behind her to step forward.


He was dressed in maroon flared jeans, with a button-neck collared shirt that was black satin, and a pair of grey and white sneakers. His hair, which was normally stylishly-chaotic, was brushed to silky perfection, lustrous and shiny. A gilded chain-link bracelet was on his right wrist, and there was the lightest hint of cologne, a sharp sweet tang.

Um ... wow.

"I am told it is a human custom to offer your 'date' a token." He handed me a rose, the petals as red as his eyes. "Is this acceptable?"

I took it.

A rose. He's giving me a rose. Araziah is doing this. Araziah! I was shocked speechless, not just by the gesture, but by how immaculate he looked. We're going on ... a date?!

Maybe this evening will be interesting after all.

"It's- ... it's lovely." I found my words, and carefully, I put the flower down on the nightstand. "Thank you, but I should leave this here. Uh, we're going into town, aren't we?"

I don't know what she planned for us, but I know she DID plan this. That cunning bitch is trying to even the odds.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to curse her or thank her.

"Yes," he nodded, "and if you are ready to leave, we should go. There is somewhere we need to be."


It was hard to focus on much during the walk into town. I was nervous at the surprise factor and where we might be going, but also still very much astonished. It was the sort of thing I would expect Sebby to do, but Araziah? This just wasn't him. Obeying human laws, observing human customs, playing along with human society -- he was very much like the rest of his type in that regard. He did it only when he had to. That Araziah was willing to voluntarily put himself through this, was not only very flattering but a sign of just how serious he was about 'courting' me.

I hadn't really doubted him, but there was always the thought in the back of my mind that maybe he didn't fully understand how human relationships worked and that my independence was some kind of game or ego trip for him, a challenge to be overcome. A unique one that he couldn't simply break his way through with brute force, so he needed to be more subtle and slow in dealing with it.

Now, I was beginning to understand that perhaps his motivations were as simple and true as Sebby's were.

There was also the undeniable fact: dressed up like this, Araziah was sexy.

The word didn't seem right for the situation, but it was the most accurate thing I could think of. I was hardly a troll myself, but next to him, I felt completely inadequate. I didn't know if it was some kind of magical glamour that he was using to impress me, or if it was just Lucy's excellent choice in attire, but it seemed like he was dosed in pheromones, or something. Whatever it was, I was constantly sneaking looks at him sidelong as we walked.

I need to thank her for the job she did.

He looks amazing, and I want to ... touch.

I wanna get closer.

"Is something wrong?" We were nearing the business district, and the foot traffic was increasing. Araziah's attention on me was casual as we threaded our way through along the pavement. He was slightly ahead, leading, and the pedestrians instinctively just got out of his way, like water flowing around a rock. Nobody else came close enough to block where I was walking, and the occasional looks I caught from others were exclusively directed towards him. Even though it was glimpses from strangers, they were all wearing various expressions of bedazzlement at his exotic appearance; captivated, hypnotised, enthralled. "You seem distracted."

"Um, Lucy did a really good job." I kept racking my brain trying to think of the complimentary adjective I wanted to give him. 'Handsome' seemed too rugged for the more delicate fringes of his appearance, and 'beautiful' too feminine. He was graceful, but with a very direct hard edge. Elegant and aristocratic, but with flashes of a fiery intensity. Suave and athletic, but without the conceited vanity that an attractive human might have. Everything about him and the situation felt self-conflicting in a good way, and surreal, so I went for a simpler word. "I- ... I think you're very ... fetching. I like it. I really do, and I'm not the only one who's noticed."

Before the answer, he made a turn off the pavement into a building lobby, and I followed him in. Stopping for a moment, aside from the people going up the carpeted stairs into the atrium, he turned to face me.

"They can notice all they please. I did it only for you." We were standing close, but he was taking care not to be too openly familiar. His discretion was subtle, and my appreciation of his respect of human social etiquette was notable. Araziah's restraint was giving me butterflies, because I knew he wanted to touch me, and the feeling had become very much mutual. "All of this is for you. I want you to leave behind whatever is troubling you. For today, it does not matter. The future can wait."

"I know. None of this is your thing. Dressing up, dealing with people and all our 'rules' about how to act and everything. It's really weird to you, and probably seems extremely silly, but," my voice dropped to a whisper, "it means a lot to me that you're doing it. Like ... a lot. Thank you."

Around the edge of his eyes, his pale skin blushed the lightest pink from my praise, and the corners of his mouth turned up, ever so slightly. It was faint and barely there, but the hugely understated emotion of his reaction was totally clear to me.

He's happy.

Araziah, the all-powerful egotistic prodigy, the unbreakable immovable force of nature, was elated by a single comment from me.


It made me giddy too, and before I knew it, I was beginning to smile, and his suggestive hint of one grew in turn, imitating mine. Neither of us spoke, just staying locked eye to eye, and the world faded for a few seconds, everything else retreating into the background. I wanted to dwell in it, just hold onto that moment of innocence we were sharing; me and the fascinating mysterious creature in front of me.

Maybe this is what I need right now.

"So, uh," I bit my lip, still smiling, "what are we watching on our ... date? I know where we are. The cinema is upstairs and the late afternoon showings will be busy."

"This." He held up two tickets to Secret Moonlight. "It was her choice, since she failed to convince you to see it with her, and insisted that I take you instead. I do not pretend to understand why humans enjoy these 'movies' as entertainment, but, for you, I will learn."

The crash course in human art and culture, thanks to Lucy Atkinson. I wonder, what else did she 'educate' him about?

Do I even want to know?

"Then let's go." Grinning, I motioned to the stairs. "There's not long before it starts, and we definitely need to buy some popcorn ... and candy."


The materials available for study on the subjects Sebby wanted were extensive. A lot of it was historical descriptions of the circumstances around the prophecy, and not a direct discussion of the philosophical and theological aspects. Although much of it was translated directly into English for the Order's convenience, Sebby opted to read the original Celestial wherever possible. Of course, it was all in the water variation, but apart from their adherence to more formal style around such things as conjugating verbs and longer-form adjectives, the linguistic nuance gave him no issues. His own, the air dialect, was more adept for artistic expression, but for documentation and scripture, water was ideal.

The prophecy text itself was fairly limited, as Ridefort had stated. There was not much room for error through interpretation. The notes that Sebby focused on were the parts through which any doubt could occur: the identity of the avatar, and the deduction of the fire type's calendar system.

There were a number of dissertations written by the Tempest's scholars on the chosen subjects, some dating back millennia, to the earliest use of human-form hands in transcribing draconic language and thought. One from the 4th century wrote extensively about the patience and care with which the dead god formulated the corruption of his children, arguing that his insanity had not damaged his ability to coherently shepherd events toward the prophecy's conclusion. Another, from the inscriptions of a dragon living in 12th century Almohad Iberia, debated the merits of simply purging the Seventh House and eliminating the most powerful members of Xajarkith's line to weaken the potential candidates for the avatar.

There were many more, though the common thread surrounding the avatar was persistent and something of a consensus: whatever body the dead god intended to inhabit, it needed to be strong. All of his divine power would be poured into the vessel and melded with it, and to hold his essence and make the most of it, he needed a genetically blessed specimen to best amplify and maximise that power. On this point, Sebby admitted that it was hard to differentiate between Michael and Mordred as candidates; both were qualified through their blood and their inherent ability. The Grey Prince had an edge in psychic potential, but Michael the advantage in experience and maturity.

Yet, it seemed there was nothing that could relieve the ultimate problem.

Mordred's age.

It had been days of examination, and most of the archival contents that were relevant Sebby had read. Nothing was enlightening him any further, until he came to the lesser known writings of an attendant priest, one who had served the previous seer, before Triskeleth. His name was not recorded, but the salient piece was titled 'Time and Measurement', and although a major portion of it was devoted to air, earth, and water, it was the final part that Sebby was most interested in.

Last is the fourth, and theirs is another way that is no more than an echo of the other three. Wherefore, our fey cousins of the Air follow the sun's light and the pattern of its rotation, and the noble sons of the Earth too embrace the seasonal changes that are linked thus. Neither have a count that extends beyond individual years, nor too do we, the blessed children of Water; all praise to her boundless wisdom. Ours is a lunar reckoning, tied to the movement of tides, yet still with a tribute to the annual passage as the basis of time. Tallies are kept, numbers remembered, but it goes no further. For Fire, years are still noted, but the importance is placed elsewhere. In study, I have perceived that there are circles upon circles above the basic, but the secrecy of their kind is a fastness that forbids me know its structure, and they maintain it as fervently as their innate hostility for the Tempest.

However, the jailers have permitted me to interrogate a prisoner captured during a human disturbance in the Americas -- part of some bickering between European kings, the latest in an unending series of petty wars over reasons I do not care to describe. His capture was incidental, for any dragon's involvement in these base diversions can only be for other purposes unrelated, and thus, his indiscretion became my lucky chance. Despite the obvious enmity and a distaste that is mutually ingrained, we were able to have a civil discussion, insofar as he was willing to talk without insult.

From that, I could glean several things that may expand our understanding of their isolated perspective.

Firstly, their history of assumed persecution gives them a particular adherence to the movement of time. This is based upon a fear of extinction, and therefore the measurement and quantifying is an attempt to control and curtail history.

Secondly, the prophecy foresaw a unique architecture for them before they fully possessed it, and with the belief of its completion returning to them their father, how could they but embrace such a defining concept?

Thirdly, their minds, more so than those of other dragons, are layered and enamoured with the hierarchy of power that is natural to them. As strange as it is for us and our free cousins, the sons of Fire require an authority. Even as much as they seek to dominate and become the greatest of their family, their house, or their race as the supreme exemplar, they need the positions to exist within such a framing. As they need their god, their lords, their champions, so too do they need the imposition of ever-widening measurements of imperium; not unlike the humans and their decades, centuries, millennia.

Fourthly, and perhaps the most critical of all, was knowledge of the actual delineations used in their calendar system. What I learned runs thus:

As written in the prophecy, there are three time intervals known, although the prisoner mentioned a greater fourth existing that goes beyond the scope. It is called the 'Eon of War' and it began with the death of their father, before the calendar was devised, and continues to this day, overarching.

The 'age' is the greatest designated length, based upon what follows it. The duration is between 8200 and 8400 solar years. The current age is the ninth.

The 'era' is the secondary designated length, also based upon what follows it. Each age will contain seven eras, in honour of the great houses, and the duration is between 1170 and 1200 solar years. The current era is the fifth.

The 'season' is the tertiary designated length, and is unitary for the others. It varies between 390 and 400 years, with the Conclave judging where the limit is based upon arcane fluctuations within the magic of their father. There are three seasons within an era, and they are named for the three aspects of faith in the order they are discussed by the mad god's priests; Light, Truth, Fire.

Of these, the season is the most curious to me. My brethren who study the works of our enemy are less interested in the deeper reasonings, believing it irrelevant to the larger picture but for specific leanings of strategic import. I am inclined to think there is more we can learn. In this instance, the season is named so because the fire dragons have lost the balance of their natural yearly change. So, their cycle occurs over the course of 400 years instead. As with our tidal considerations, they speak of the season in similar terms, adjusted as needed. The season will be waxing or waning, in reference to the directional rise and ebb of their god's magic. The high point is allegedly celebrated in private, as Air does with the Dream of Starlight, and Earth with the Ritual of Lands.

Our scholars understand that we are currently early in the third season and that we can expect the birth of the avatar dragon to occur within this period. I would not dispute this postulation, but for the opinion of the prisoner when I queried him on the matter. He laughed, and claimed that our understanding was both coarse and vulgar, and proceeded to berate the goddess as a false pillar of divinity amongst the others. My mind was closed to his profane ramblings, but one fact stood out from the tirade: his claim that it is 'still the season of Truth, and Fire has not yet come, but it shall.' Whither this statement is honesty or deception, I cannot say. A single word against established awareness is a small thing to consider so weighty, but such small things have, as the most learned and noble seer would tell me, the capacity to impact beyond their standing. Into this thought, I will delve further, if I can.

The final paragraph was unexpected and Sebby read it repeatedly. The author did not identify the captive fire dragon by name, but the writing was dated by the human archivists to 1707. Nothing further was actually found after this point, and any investigation undertaken was not described. It seemed this was another one in a series of trivial unexplained possibilities, not taken seriously enough to be examined further.

But ... was it trivial?

Sebby knew the year the third season ended. The Order and the water dragons were unequivocal; espionage of the Conclave had defined the end point as being in the human 20th century. That year was 1952, with greater than 90% probability, and that meant the four-century-long season had begun in the 1550s. By 1707, the year in which the text was written, it was well underway.

Was this wrong?

If so, why was it wrong?

How could it be a mistake? The allied intelligence was clear about what it had picked up. No step in the process had been done incorrectly.

Everything Sebby could see told him that the Order had come to this conclusion in a logical methodical manner.

Yet, still, despite the lack of any clear reason to believe so, he could not help but feel that the unnamed prisoner from three hundred years prior was right, and that, somehow, what everyone believed now was wrong.

If that was true, then the understanding of history needed revision, and what Kaia said could also be true.

One day, he will be king.

Sebby was sure Mordred was the real avatar.

Now, he just needed proof.


"So, did you like it?" We were leaving the cinema, the movie finished. "I thought it was great, but I haven't read the book it's based on, so I don't really have a standard for comparison. Lucy swears by it, though."

"It is an elaborate way to tell a story, but," he mused, "I found it surprisingly enjoyable. The fair-haired boy was irritating. The other, the brunet? He reminded me of you." Araziah gestured in passing to a wall poster as we descended the stairs, which had the film's protagonist front and centre. "He cared a lot, perhaps too much. Strong-minded, but with the best intentions. Also, he was delightful to look at, with a very pleasing shape."

Lucy was right about the casting. The boy playing the main character is very cute, and he does have a damn near flawless ass. The poster image was an example of grade A marketing; ruined post-apocalyptic city in the background, friends to either side, protagonist in the middle. The angle of his pose was designed to maximise the teen attractiveness factor, and it certainly made every curve of the well-packed material look extremely flattering. A year or two younger than what I'd be into, but definitely pretty. Wait, Araziah thinks this is a 'pleasing shape' so does that mean ... that's what he prefers?

"Um, do- ... do you wish I looked like that?" The thought made me unexpectedly anxious, but in a second, before he responded, I knew why, and the realisation was another admission.

I wanted him to be into me like that. Not just liking me for my personality, but physically too. I wanted him to be sexually attracted to me.

Oh, man. This is ... kinda weird.

"No." We stepped into the early evening air, the street quieter than when we arrived. "He is agreeable, but I would not change anything about you." Taking a path toward a side avenue away from the busier part of town, he was leading us again. "If you are concerned about my interest, do not be."

"I'm not anymore. I guess, I was?" I shrugged, continuing as we walked. "It's just ... this is so far from where everything was. I mean, for a while I thought you were psychotic and I hated you, but now? We're on a date, and I'm okay with this. More than okay with it, I want to be here. I'm enjoying it -- mostly because it impresses me how good you've been around so many people, and that you look great -- and now ... now ... I'm saying this all out loud to you, and totally rambling, and I sound like an idiot-"

"Torsten." He stopped abruptly, grabbing my arm and interrupting. "Your friend is obnoxious, but her advice has been exceptionally useful. One thing she said, is that if you were to 'freak out' by 'overthinking', I should calm you. Relax." He pointed up the street to a building with his free hand. "You must know what that is. Are you hungry?"

I did know what it was.

We were in a side area of the CBD, a pedestrian-only section of narrow cobbled road, filled with boutique stores and eateries. Across the mini-plaza we had just entered was Santorini's, one of my favourite restaurants since I was small. Mom had taken me there many times, and so had my grandfather, to the point where the staff knew us. It was a little old-style Italian American diner, with faded worn decor and 1950s memorabilia, tucked in between a kebab house and a Chinese buffet.

"I ... uh, yeah, I am."

"Then let us get something to eat."

Despite the hour, Santorini's had only two tables occupied, and as soon as we entered the waitress bounced across to greet us. Donna was a plump busty woman, a couple of inches shorter than me, with a frilly mass of dyed-platinum-blonde curls pulled into a bun, and the sweetest smile. She adjusted her name tag, wiped her hands on her apron, notepad in hand, and was beaming as she recognised me.

"Oh my lord! Torsten, sweety! It's done been so long since we've seen ya here!" Her accent was thick, her voice lilting, the bubbly Southern hospitality heavy in each word. "Look at ya! More handsome every day!" Without missing a beat, her attention flicked to Araziah, and with a rapid up-and-down, seeing how we were both dressed, she had it figured out instantly, and it didn't bother her for a second. "And this here young gentleman you're with -- well now, he is quite the picture, ain't he? Darlin', is he ya boyfriend?"

Mortified, I couldn't reply.

"Yes." Araziah answered for me, and before my shock could even register, I felt the light pulse of magic when he spoke again. More subtle than compulsion or domination, it was charm, and he used it masterfully. With a slight smile, he leaned down to her, his voice softening in tone and volume, his psychic inflection magnifying the emotional influence of the speech. "I am Araziah. It is a pleasure to meet you, Donna. This place is as welcoming as I was told. Might we be seated somewhere private?"

"Would ya look at that! Confident, polite, and classy. Honey, this one here's a catch -- my oh my! Don't ya be letting go of him." She swatted my arm, flushing for a moment and fanning herself with her notepad, before she turned to lead us to our table. "Right this way. Let's get y'all comfy right on over here."

We took a booth in the far corner, and as soon as we were sitting, still not allowing me a chance to get a word in, she launched into her hostess role.

"Now, I know what you two growing boys be wantin’, and that's your old favourite, the Everything Burger. Two of them comin' right up, extra bacon, hold the pickle, plus a side of fries and a strawberry thickshake each." She scribbled it on the pad, pen waggling. "I'll get Joe to fixin that now. It's been a slow evening, so ya won't be a waitin’ too long. If y'all need anythin', hit the bell and I'll be right back over here, ya hear?"

With a bright smile, she was off, bustling to the other tables briefly, then onward to the kitchen.


I was still trying to process what was happening.

"Do you feel better? All I wanted was to lift your mood."

Better? I'm not sure what I'm feeling right now, but it's intense.

I want to ... talk to him. Properly.

"Araziah, I- ... I want to tell you-"

"You do not have to." He cut me off. "I will not ask."

"I want to, because today you've been ... amazing. I didn't expect any of this and it's all wonderful. It has helped my mood, but I need to be open with you." I took a deep breath. "The reason I've been down is, um, I've been having visions about what's going to happen. Visions of this town, and Brookstone, Temperance. Visions of Michael, Mordred, and other dragons too. Visions of fire -- lots of fire -- and ... you. You're always there in the middle of it, and it scares me that ... that something might happen. That you being there might give the mad god some way to claim you, some trick to take you away from us that I won't see until it's too late. I don't want to lose you to him."

"No." He said it so low, so quiet, and he shook his head. "You were right when you said I am not his son. I am with you, and whatever path I must travel to keep that, I will take it. With you, I can withstand him, and whatever you see as the best future, I will commit myself to making it real. I will never be his slave, his servant, his anything." He leaned forward over our table, hair swishing delicately, brows raised. "It is true, the human world seems strange to me; foolish and superficial and plagued by selfish futile behaviour, but ... it is ours. If I have to defend all these people for your sake, then I shall. Never forget it -- it's always for you."

It was the reassurance I needed to hear.

Today, he's doing it all just right.

I want to kiss him.

He reached over and took my hand.

"The air dragon has captured your heart, but I will not let him go unchallenged."

"Um," I looked down at the cutlery and napkins, too embarrassed by his declaration, "I'd say you're just about even now." A glance back up, so shy it was hard to make eye contact for more than two seconds. "Maybe when- ... when we're not in public, I'll tell you more?"


"Yeah," I nodded, "maybe then."

"Good," he smiled that same subtle understated smile, soft and certain, "because I am eager to find out."


The walk home was slower and completely unhurried. With a stomach full of Santorini's, and feeling upbeat from Donna's cheery acceptance of my sexuality, we took our time with a much more laid-back pace. It was dark before we were halfway back, and the foot traffic had petered out to almost nothing. Feeling brave, I reached out, and for the last several blocks, we held hands as we walked.

Home was quiet, Mom still probably an hour away from being back. Escorting me all the way to my room, he stopped at the doorway.

"Going by the tradition of your country, an acceptable end to a first date is a courtly embrace." In a quick move, he leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. "I believe this is appropriate."

"Did Lucy teach you that too?" I giggled, the touch of his lips giving me a rush. "Seems a bit too careful."

"She did, and with you, I am allowing all the time and space that you need. I will not push you further. So, good evening, Torsten." With obvious reluctance, he turned, forcing himself to walk away, down the hall.

Wait ... WHAT?!

I was left staring agape at air, and his retreating back, confused and more than slightly turned on.

Did Araziah just act like a respectful considerate man-of-honour and walk away?! Is he playing hard to get? Does he think he can just be the shining knight, with roses and movies and childhood nostalgia, followed by chivalry, and expect it to work on me?

Because, it had.

His courtship was wildly successful, and I was feeling it.

No fucking way. Not letting tonight end like this.

Marching after him, I caught up just inside his room, and grabbed his arm.

"When I said that I'd tell you more, I didn't mean with words," I snapped, forceful and a little angry, "I meant like THIS."

With that, I slid a hand onto the back of his neck and pulled him into a kiss.


He froze, in momentary surprise, but his response was immediate and vigorous. His arms encircled my waist, pulling me in, mine caressing the feathery softness of his hair. My senses were overloaded and it was exciting. His scent, zesty sweet; the slippery swish of his tongue with a hint of strawberry; his shirt and the satin smoothness, the way he held me close, claiming me, possessing me with a protective strength. It was new, and wonderful, and stimulating, and we stood there, just making out, for at least a minute.

With a soft smack, our lips separated.

"W-wow!" I stuttered. "That was- ... I- ... I wanted that all evening!"

"I ... have no word for what I feel." Araziah's breath was coming fast, the rich crimson of his irises darting about my face in awe. "It is joy, wonder, desire, all at once." With a slip of his hands downward, he picked me up by my thighs, and in two steps, was dropping me onto the bed. Then he was on top of me, his lips finding mine again. The weight of his body was suggestive, and I wrapped my arms around him, the muscles of his back and shoulders yielding under my fingers. Where the air dragon's kisses had been submissive, inviting me in, Araziah was assertive, decisive, and it was a completely different type of thrill. Our hands began to wander; mine around his back, his across my shoulders, along my sides. I didn't realise just how aroused we both were until our hips met, and his hardness brushed mine.

Oh my god.

I want to ... do more.

I pushed us apart, an idea forming, a way to make this something awesome for him without it being too much, too fast.

He deserves it.

"Lie back." He complied, turning onto his side, then fully onto his back, as I scooted out from under him. Sliding down, I knelt across his lower body and gazed at the stunning red-and-gold dragon boy in front of me, completely smitten and ready for something I'd never considered doing before. "This is a first time for me, so I'm a little nervous." My voice was shaking and so were my hands. "You'll love it, so just let me make you feel good."

Leaning close, I slid his shirt hem away a little and kissed his navel. A glance up, and his eyes were wide, fascinated, his look breathlessly expectant.

Yeah, me too.

Then, back down again, and I delicately wet my lips, beginning to loosen his jeans buttons, one by one.


It was a hillside in the dark of night. The sky was clear and empty of stars, a dim void. Below lay a spread of buildings; houses, streets, the stretch of suburbia. It, too, was lightless, inanimate, terrain resting in dormancy.

He felt the cold of a supernatural nothingness. He understood the shape of a dreamscape, a projection that was a prison and a nightmare both.

Araziah was aware of what this was, just as he was aware of the presence that arrived behind him.

Preceded by a squalling wind, the psychic reverberations were immense, throbbing with the beat of untold hearts. He turned immediately to face it, not knowing what form it would embody, but unafraid to see.

The clouding darkness fell back and from it emerged a single humanoid form. It was made of fire, and only fire, the concentrated flickering essence of a divine banishment. The gloom of the environment seemed to shrink entirely, unwilling to even graze this ancient visage.

Son. The voice was the same he had heard whispering to him countless times, all the louder in moments of stress, doubt, fear, anger. It was the inescapable herald of destiny that haunted him everywhere, though it did not own him.

It would not.

"I am not your son."

You are the child of my golden child. The Spirit opened his arms, a lordly welcome. Bonded with a seer, unbroken and unhurt, flawless and strong. The time is near. When it comes, he will guide you, you will fight, it breathed out, soft but deadly sure, and I will win.

"I will never serve you." He gestured to what surrounded them. "You are to be banished here in totality, to remain trapped in your jail of twilight madness."

Madness? The question echoed his statement. Their tale of history is a lie. They speak of insanity and corruption, but there are worse things in this eternity of darkness. Powerful forces that only Fire can survive; that warp the greater laws and cosmic perceptions. I was too potent, and she was not. I am Truth, and she is the betrayer.

"You are NO victim!" Araziah shouted. "Xajarkith died to save your soul, and you want to return to burn everything! You are the one who has betrayed US!"

Justice must be done. My cherished Brilliant firstborn knew it. The Spirit pointed a flaming hand at him. You will meet your fate, as will I. Return to your human love and prepare yourself. The end has come.

With a flick of the Spirit's fingers, it all vanished and Araziah sat up, drawing in a sharp breath, the illusion gone.

He was in his room, in Mirrorvale, in his own bed.

Next to him, a shirtless Torsten was asleep.

The one who confounded him, who changed him beyond all his instincts.

His human love.

The dream experience had shaken him, an intrusion more personal than before, but he was not deterred.

Araziah had achieved his heart's desire, and he would do anything to protect it -- and no influence, no matter how powerful, could break Torsten's sway.

He had found his purpose, and this was it.


Over the weekend, Lucy had followed a request by Agent Crawley, and when she could get out of chores and finishing homework, had obliged him to subject herself to some basic psychic testing. Since Celeste was again called away because of all the recent happenings, she had left her house to Crawley's care. A water dragon assistant had come to run some tests with a small array of magical devices, and she was quite curious about Lucy's incident with Nero at the Seventh House sanctuary.

There was no record of any humans in modern history having successfully resisted compulsion. Apparently, a small minority, less than a tenth of the population, were able to partially resist mid-tier psychic power, but that was temporary and they would inevitably break to continuous pressure. The lack of evidence for full-resistance individuals was attributed to two likely factors.

Firstly, that if a hostile dragon failed to compel somebody in a situation where they needed secrecy, they would simply kill the human and mind-control any witnesses into ignoring the incident. Secondly, it was calculated such humans were exceptionally rare -- a ratio of something like one in a million -- and since dragons were not a hugely populous species, a chance encounter between the two was extremely improbable.

Other noteworthy discoveries were that her resistance worked in a synergy with the glove. This was what had prevented Nero's attack from touching her, as the magical field within his breath had been nullified and effectively dispersed on meeting the glove's proximity. More amazing to the water dragon assistant was the domination of a healthy unrestrained adult dragon by a human. Even if temporary, this was still an astonishing feat to her, as she pointed out that humans were incapable of psychic projection, and that the glove had enabled Lucy to somehow invert Nero's own strength and use it against him. Some assumptions were made about limitations for that particular stunt, and one was that it probably would not work at all on dragons with a higher level of mental fortitude. Nero had been dangerous, but he was known as a brawler and a heavy, and not a mage nor a psychic.

The days rolled on until it was the following Wednesday. School was boring, classes were annoying, and her only enjoyment outside of pestering Jonathan and exploding Jessica's newsfeed with memes, was ferreting more information out of Araziah. Torsten had started talking a bit more, but he still avoided saying anything much that was big-picture-dragon-war related, and specifically date-with-dragon-boy related too, so she had made it her mission to get that information from the source instead. The dragon boy in question was just as hard to get anything out of, but in another shocker, he had thanked her on the day following their date, for her help.

So, presumably, it had all gone quite well.

She was just starved for details, and the lack of yaoi fuel for her imagination was a pain in the proverbial.

Still, it was Wednesday evening when something else very interesting happened. She was at Celeste's place again, just talking things over with Crawley. The water dragon assistant was gone, the test having finished, the list of true-names gratefully recorded, and it was just the two of them. At least, it was, until Crawley's phone beeped with an automated message from the Order security detail asking him to open the front door.

Colt drawn, he did so, with a cautious Lucy following in his wake.

"Afternoon, agent." The head officer nodded to him. There was a half dozen personnel with him, their unmarked uniforms making them look like private security contractors. "Got a slight situation on our hands here."

"Hm?" Crawley muttered, waving the revolver idly as he spoke, the downturned barrel not once pointing away from the ground. "What's the problem that ya need t' bother me? HQ should be fine to take care of pretty much anythin' on yer plate."

"Normally, I'd agree, sir." The man shrugged. "This, though, uh ... well, you should probably see for yourself."

The group parted and the rear two officers came forward, a captive between them in magical restraints.

Tall, athletic build, auburn-haired, freckled.

"Just walked right into our watch route like he wanted to be caught."


"Ah, ya gotta be fuckin' kiddin' me." Crawley groused. "Frank, why in the Sam Hill is this slinky bastard standin' here in yer custody?"

"Let me answer that for you, Agent Crawley." The dragon's smile was a thousand shades of unspoken sinister, his eyes shining with a repressed maleficence. "Isn't it obvious? I'm turning myself in. As of right now, I am your prisoner."


The weekend ticked by. Saturday morning I woke in the early hours, to sharing a pillow with Araziah. He was half-awake, and when he felt me move, he pulled me closer, giving me glimpses of his bare chest and the strands of errant ruby hanging over his shoulder. I could feel his natural heat, warmer than mine, and I just lay there and admired him.

Everything about him.

How he changed for me.

How he had fought his own impulses, the curse of his urges.

What he had gone against in order to preserve that.

How fine he was.

Like Sebby, his physical appearance was exotic and ethereal, and also like Sebby, I felt very flattered to have the honest attention of someone, something, that incredible.


But, I hadn't forgotten Sebby either.

In fact, the longer I lay there, watching Araziah, the more I thought about the air dragon as well.

How they both wanted me, and how that was a conflict of emotions that was impossible.

There was a point where it would come to a question of one, or the other.

A point that I could not avoid.

A point that, unfortunately, arrived sooner than I wanted.

I managed over Sunday and into Monday and Tuesday, to avoid my mother suspecting anything was happening between me and Araziah. His discretion was something I came to appreciate so much, and he kept it up because he knew what privacy meant to me. Never once questioned it, never once tried to convince me that he wanted it another way. If she thought anything was out of place, she didn't say it. In our moments together, he was very affectionate, and I found myself looking forward to the times after school when the house was empty and I got to kiss him good afternoon, and feel him hug me.

It was hard to think this was Araziah. To everybody else, he was still an uncompromising blockade that didn't let anything through, but to me?

He was patient, gentle.

Then, Wednesday.

The day was like any other. Mom told me before she left for work that it was going to be another late evening for her, but I didn't think much of it. School was school, and I sleepwalked my way through most of my classes. A bit of afternoon soccer with Jonathan, David, Álvaro and Timothy, and then home.

I had dumped my bag in my room, and no more than a dozen seconds later, there was a sound from the hall and a certain platinum someone appeared in the doorway.


I practically crashed into him, my arms wrapping around his slim body.

"Torsten." His smile was wide, and he pushed me carefully to an arm's length. "I am so glad to see you."

"You have returned." Without missing a beat, the red dragon appeared, stepping into my room after Sebby, already home when I arrived. His tone told me he wasn't pleased about what he had initially witnessed. "It is about time."

"You are right," Sebby agreed, and he glanced quickly between us, addressing us both. "There is much to discuss. The Conclave's plans have been deduced and they are poised for their final moves. I have been consulting with the Order, and the timetable is now clear."

"What's going to happen?" I asked. "I've been expecting something for a while."

"In two days," he said, "they will perform the ritual to resurrect their god. It will take place in no fewer than four different locations concurrently. At one of these, the avatar will be present and we must stop him, at the right moment, and kill him. If we do this, the war will end and the Spirit of Fire will be dead, forever."

"And if we should fail to execute Michael, even with the best planning and strength applied?" Araziah's question hung, an uncomfortable suggestion. "What then?"

"We will not fail." Sebby's rebuttal was a solid rebuke. "But, there is more to it than this. I have not found conclusive proof, but I believe that the evidence is wrong. Mordred is the real avatar. The Order is mistaken. I will not be able to convince them, but if I can convince you two, then that may be enough."

"The Grey Prince?" I frowned. "Why him?"

"Because, he is different from his peers. Always set apart, always hidden behind a screen with no explanation. Michael is the perfect candidate. He fits everything required, but there is another answer, one that goes beyond him and stares us in the face. It is silent and maddening in how accurate but how forbidden it is. The Grey Prince. Prince. He is born to take the title of his father. It is stupefying how simple the concept is, but no less real. I cannot explain it fully, because my knowledge is anecdote and tales from the past, but I ask you to believe me. It is all I have, this supposition, and you must accept it as truth."

"I do." No hesitation. "I believe you."

"As do I," murmured Araziah, "but ... there is another place I must stop you. It is here."

Oh god.

The sound of Sebby moving where he stood to face Araziah was almost imperceptible, and yet somehow, painfully loud. The topic had changed, but there was no illusion that both of them knew what it was about.

The unspoken contest.

"Is that your decision?" The platinum dragon's speech was placid and slow. "Or is it his?"

"His decisions are mine." The red dragon was still, the immovable object. "And mine are his. What do you bring?"

"Free will. Choice, without destiny overwhelming it." He gestured to the room and the world beyond. "Is this wrong? Are you the voice of everything undisputed?"

"And when your goddess commands you, are you free?"

"Are you not?" Sebby's eyes glowed, and the challenge was unmistakable. "She never restricts me. She does not question my existence."

"And yet you are bound." Araziah remained unbent, standing in defiance. "Torsten knows what is right. Between mine and yours, the choice is undeniable."

"And he will make it."

"No!" It came out as a shout, and both of them halted at my outburst. "This is CRAZY! You aren't enemies, and I can't see you fight! I- ... I don't want it! I don't want this! I WON'T! I- ... I love both of you."

There it was.


A word I had not imagined in another setting, but here it was, in an impossible scenario.

Between two dragons.

"I'm not going to choose." I was distressed, my whole body tense, the entire conversation having put me on edge. "I'm not going to hurt one of you for the other. There's no way I can do that."

"If you cannot choose, then there is only one solution." Araziah's attention flicked from me back to Sebby.

He took a step closer, so they were nearly touching.

The air dragon was sober, his gaze calm and fully watching the other. The height difference was very obvious, with a half foot between them, but Sebby did not flinch.

A fear began to rise in me.

Oh no. He won't. He can't.

With deliberate slowness, Araziah reached out, his hand cradling Sebby's neck, and drew their faces together.

Their lips met.

For the first couple of seconds, Sebby was rigid, but then he relaxed into it, the motion becoming natural.


My brain felt like it was struggling to catch up with what my eyes were seeing. The tension had been replaced with a different kind of nerves.


Araziah broke it off first, and in unison, both of them turned to look at me, gauging my reaction.

"D-don't stop!" I stammered, breathless. "Please don't stop."

Back to each other, their expressions shifted. With newfound conviction, one became slyly flirtatious, the other firmly self-assured. I couldn't stop watching when they began a second kiss, and a heat was growing in my body as I sidled around them to close, and lock, the door of my bedroom.

After some frustrations in the editorial process, here it is! Some of you speculated that this might happen, and if you did, you were right! The dragon sandwich is well and truly real, though around the implications of this, one must not ignore all the other things going on in this chapter: Darren's appearance, the investigative focus at Northwood, and divinely-imposed dreams. Not to mention: a movie cameo from a familiar source and Hollywood's transcendent appreciation of how he looks from behind. ^_^

The next chapter is the final chapter and will end this book. Future technical problems notwithstanding, it will probably take a little while to construct, so please bear with me. For now, please don't be afraid to like, comment, or drop by to discuss Spirit of Fire -- and if you have any predictions about how you think this will end, now is the time to make them! :thumbup:

Copyright © 2017 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

This chapter like all the others has plenty going on. The suspense surrounding the Fear, the associated incantation, the Fire calendar, and the efforts to free the Spirit of Fire, is at a peak for me; Michael? Mordred? Yet to be revealed(recognized)?

But then we have significant developments in the personal lives of what I guess we can now know as a triad, but that too may extend well beyond personal; Light, Truth, Fire seems to speak the qualities of my favorite stars. 

The depth of lore and the mystery of this tale once again has me reading the entire story from the beginning. As this story unfolds it reaches back to many secrets, hidden beyond plain sight but, given like pieces of a puzzle; where does this fit, where did we see that? As with each installment, it leaves me trying once again to find all those pieces and reveal the picture of this exciting story.

Thanks again for sharing your creativity and passion!

Edited by Philippe
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What a ride!  I must admit, though, I'm finding it hard to believe it can all be wrapped up in one chapter.  I can't wait to see how it ends.  

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45 minutes ago, xleroc said:

...finding it hard to believe it can all be wrapped up in one chapter.

As my mind converts wrapped up and tied up, either way, two words came to mind...frayed knot! That’s gonna be a hell of a busy chapter!

Edited by Philippe
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On 7/10/2019 at 1:58 AM, Philippe said:

This chapter like all the others has plenty going on. The suspense surrounding the Fear, the associated incantation, the Fire calendar, and the efforts to free the Spirit of Fire, is at a peak for me; Michael? Mordred? Yet to be revealed(recognized)?

But then we have significant developments in the personal lives of what I guess we can now know as a triad, but that too may extend well beyond personal; Light, Truth, Fire seems to speak the qualities of my favorite stars. 

The depth of lore and the mystery of this tale once again has me reading the entire story from the beginning. As this story unfolds it reaches back to many secrets, hidden beyond plain sight but, given like pieces of a puzzle; where does this fit, where did we see that? As with each installment, it leaves me trying once again to find all those pieces and reveal the picture of this exciting story.

Thanks again for sharing your creativity and passion!

The ongoing question of the avatar's identity has returned, with plenty of doubt shrouding it still. You can bet that this will be a problem for the Order and friends right to the end.

Are you ascribing the three aspects of the fire god's faith into Sebby, Torsten, and Araziah's new 'relationship' (or whatever you want to call it thus far)? This a curious way to think about it and not entirely without some merit as a metaphor, although truth be told it's a theological thing for the fire dragons, sorta like the Holy Trinity in concept for them. You can imagine fire priests preaching to their kin about these three abstract 'parts' of their god and the importance held, and railing against the terrible heresy and blasphemy of the Tempest and her own priesthood.

Oh, the joys of religion.

Thanks for commenting! As always, I am glad you are enjoying it.

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On 7/10/2019 at 8:54 AM, xleroc said:

What a ride!  I must admit, though, I'm finding it hard to believe it can all be wrapped up in one chapter.  I can't wait to see how it ends.  

Well, it's difficult for me to comment on what's coming up without spoiling it in some way. Perhaps all I can say right now is that the ending might not be quite what you expect -- though the most eagle-eyed and sharpest readers perhaps could have figured out what's coming. However, I suppose subverting expectations is the norm for me really, so at this point it might be unnecessary to say that's what I'm doing. :)

Just be aware, there is a lot of misdirection going on here. I'll leave it at that!

As always, thanks for reading.

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A dragon sandwich has a nice sound to it, and it solves several problems. It is interesting that Araziah is the one to initiate things. Just shows how committed to Torsten he is! I am hopeful this trio will put an end to the war and the mad god. Thanks. 

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14 hours ago, JeffreyL said:

A dragon sandwich has a nice sound to it, and it solves several problems. It is interesting that Araziah is the one to initiate things. Just shows how committed to Torsten he is! I am hopeful this trio will put an end to the war and the mad god. Thanks. 

Let it be said here that the main reason Sebby did not opt to do anything of this sort was because, firstly, he didn't even consider it as a viable possibility (as his reaction should indicate) and secondly, he was prepared to be the 'loser' in such a situation if Torsten were to not pick him. Araziah, on the other hand, was not intending himself to ever be in any kind of second place, so in the unforeseen outcome where Torsten refused to play favourites, his logic became 'better both of us than neither of us' and so he did what he had to, to get what he wanted.

The curious thing here is that Sebby is going to be far more at ease within a triad than Araziah, because he is naturally a lover and a Romeo, with plenty of past experience to inform his judgement. Air dragons are also more gregarious, relatively speaking, than fire, and that affinity for diplomacy and charm make this highly unusual situation less complex for him to navigate. Conversely, Araziah is now going to have to be much much more than just civil with Sebby -- he will have to share himself and cultivate genuine affection for someone he once wanted to kill. Doubly difficult for him given the inclinations for his type and the sort of tendencies he has by default, but ...Torsten is the lynch-pin, and a powerful motivation for Araziah to make it work.

Edited by Stellar
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The ending was an unexpected surprise!  What's Darren up to???  What did the water goddess do all those years ago, and what is she going to do now?

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1 hour ago, CincyKris said:

The ending was an unexpected surprise!  What's Darren up to???  What did the water goddess do all those years ago, and what is she going to do now?

Darren is a devious one, so you can bet there's something else going on here.

As for the Spirit of Water, well ... that's a very weighty enigma, right there. Suffice to say, uncovering what motivates a divine personality is a Herculean task.

Oh, and the ending was super fun for me to write. Araziah seems to want a harem.

Edited by Stellar
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Which trick is Darren playing to deceive the Order? I don‘t trust him for one second.

What a fun spin of the story as Araziah approached Sebby. Images of the defeat of Theo popping up and then - a kiss.

That was fabulous! My kudos for that. :worship:

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Posted (edited)

5 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

Which trick is Darren playing to deceive the Order? I don‘t trust him for one second.

What a fun spin of the story as Araziah approached Sebby. Images of the defeat of Theo popping up and then - a kiss.

That was fabulous! My kudos for that. :worship:

Of course Darren is playing some kind of game here! There's no way he'd give himself up without an ulterior motive. It's safe to assume his voluntary captivity has something to do with the meeting he had with his family when Mordred delivered the Fear.

Araziah's solution to the impasse with Sebby was ... if Torsten won't choose between us, then maybe he'll choose both of us.

As the last thing Torsten does is lock the bedroom door, you can assume he likes the idea very much.

Edited by Stellar
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On 7/19/2019 at 9:10 AM, Stellar said:

Conversely, Araziah is now going to have to be much much more than just civil with Sebby -- he will have to share himself and cultivate genuine affection for someone he once wanted to kill. Doubly difficult for him given the inclinations for his type and the sort of tendencies he has by default, but ...Torsten is the lynch-pin, and a powerful motivation for Araziah to make it work.

Did we all forget that in a previous chapter, Araziah declared Sebby his equal? That is really the only way this thruple would work.

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