Fire Scrape
Fire Scrape     Night turned to twilight, twilight to night. The sun vanished, replaced by the darkness that coursed across the sky on magic winds. Heading deeper into the gloom, Sven, Damek, Brenna and Tover crossed Low Desert. They switched from night travel, staving off the sun’s heat, to day. Without the sun, the twilight offered little warmth. Were it not for the sand, Brenna would question if this was a desert.

     The water and ice mage, Damek strode up to Sven. “Should we set camp?”

     Sven peered around at the bleak sand dunes for a place to rest. “Ask Tover, I can’t see far in this false morning.”

     Damek fell back by Brenna and Tover, who were walking in silence. The long miles withered conversation. “Any good places to camp around here?”

     Tover scanned the landscape. His lumen eyes, adapted for the darkness of caverns deep in the earth, took in the desert terrain with clarity. He saw the brush of desert plants amongst the sand dunes, and lizards dart from stone to stone. Overhead, a desert bird circled, searching for a meal. 

     “There,” he pointed northeast. “A tall outcropping of stone.”

     “I can’t see it.” Damek squinted. The sand appeared darker than the sky on the horizon. Their trip across the desert was taking too long. Damek longed to find the source of the dark sky. The duty fell to him to destroy it and save the human kingdoms from the war with the dark elves. They would flee for cover if their magic failed to blot out the sun.

     “Follow.” Tover picked up his pace. 

     “Ah, there it is.” Damek pointed and Sven nodded. The party trudged across the desert, their feet sinking into sand with every step. The outcropping, as large as a city building in Forfarshire, jutted above the sand. 

     Tover circled the rock to find the best way up from the desert floor. They climbed out of the dunes and frigid wind to a sheltering cleft, part way up the structure.

     Brenna flopped back onto the stone, closing her eyes while the others drank from water skins and chewed stale bread. Liquid black clouds thrashed across the sky, blocking out the setting sun. 

     “You should eat something.” Damek shifted on the rock.

     “Not hungry.”

     “You need to keep up your strength.” He handed her a piece of jerky. 

     She sighed, hesitating, before taking a small bite. Exhaustion left little room for anxiety about the task ahead. 

     Rubbing the scar ending at his chin, Sven stared at the terrain they needed to cover. “We’ll take a short nap here, then press on.” He climbed higher for a better view, and Tover followed. 

     The smooth top of the rock lacked traction. Prepared for a burst of wind, Sven kept low for balance. “Grimhorn Hills is just there on the horizon. It’ll take another day.” Sven shifted his gaze to Tover. “What is it?”

     Tover’s attention focused north instead of east. “Hellhounds.”

     Sven squinted in the gloom. “You sure?”

     “A large pack. Maybe twelve. Headed this way.”

     “I can’t see them.”

     “Just there.” Tover pointed.

     Sven held his breath and examined the shadows of sand. He tried to make sense of the shapes, but nothing stood out. He crawled across the ledge, closer to see north. There, in the gloom, outlined against the lighter sand, something approached. Sven and Tover returned to the others. “Dogs.”

     “Dogs?” Damek slipped his pack over his shoulder.

     “Hellhounds.” Sven gathered up his supplies. 

     Brenna sat up, concerned.

     “Where?” Damek searched the darkness, face grim.

     “On the other side, coming in from the north. Tover says a pack of twelve or so.”

     “Can we run?” Brenna brushed strands of dark hair from her eyes. 

     “They’re too fast.” Sven pulled out his swords. “Tover, go back up and watch. What I wouldn’t give for an archer just now. Come back when they’re close; we’ll stay put. Hopefully they’ll pass, but if not, this is a good place to fight. Room enough for us, but too tight for them.” 

     They waited tense with anticipation. Sven leaned against the stone, hand on the hilt of his sword. The only movement about him was his hair, pushed by a breeze. Damek shifted from foot to foot, eyes closed. Brenna’s grip on her staff was tight enough to leave her knuckles white against the black wood. 

     Tover scurried down and nodded. The hellhounds closed in, yapping and barking to each other. 

     Brenna had a feeling the beasts had picked up their scent. The pack split in two, bearing down from each side of the rock outcropping. She held her breath as they came into view. One smelled the ground, another the air. Hellhounds looked much like large dogs with sharp fangs and fierce claws, but they had a voracious desire for killing. They were known to enjoy ripping prey to shreds of flesh and blood. 

     The yapping faded as the largest one, the alpha, turned his head toward the cleft, targeting the party. He growled, and the pack darted in, claws flying and teeth gnashing the empty air. 

     Chanting softly, Brenna and Damek stood a step behind the barbarian warrior, one on each side. Tover climbed the wall to see over their heads. Brenna doubted his short dagger’s worth in this contest. 

     Sven swung both swords as the monsters closed, pawing up the stone. They left scrape marks and dislodged pebbles. He braced himself, slicing as the monsters dodged.

     Damek threw acid hail. The yellow ice dug raw, blistering wounds where they struck. A hellhound yelped, and fell back. Brenna released a wave of small fireballs, hitting several beasts. Flames spread on their fur, and they rolled in the sand, extinguishing the danger. The hellhounds darted in and out, avoiding the sharp blades of Sven’s swords. The leader waited behind the pack, watching the fray. 

     “Why do they hold back?” Brenna whacked one in the skull with her staff.

     “They’re wearing us down.” Sven jabbed and sliced a leg. The animal fell back, howling. Others took its place. “Smart dogs,” he muttered. “Climb up! I’ll hold them back.”

     Damek grabbed Brenna’s arm and pushed her. “You first.”

     Too distracted to take offence, she looked around for Tover. Where was he? Brenna climbed up the rock with Damek behind her. At the top, she found Tover adding stones to a pile near the edge.

     “Come on.” Tover threw stones at the dogs below. Brenna joined him while Damek continued with an onslaught of ice, giving Sven cover.

     Sven began to scale the outcrop when a hellhound bit down on his boot, stopping his progress. Another latched onto his leg, drawing blood and shredding leggings.

     Damek reached down, took Sven’s hand, and heaved. 

     As Sven topped the lip, the dog on his boot fell. Tover stabbed into the neck, causing the other hellhound to release Sven’s leg. It yapped as it dropped in a heap. Its paws twitched before it lay still. Dead.

     The rest of the pack followed up the rock, this time with the leader in front. 

     Sven sliced the flank of a small hound dodging in from under the leader. He brought the hilt back, landing a blow to the skull of the pack’s alpha, followed with a jab from his free sword. The lead hellhound fell below, while the scrappy one slammed into the wall and stumbled back. The pack hesitated. 

     Sven sheathed his swords and grabbed at a large boulder near the edge. “Help me!” 

     Damek and Brenna lightened the boulder with a levitation spell. Tover helped Sven knock it down the path into the hellhounds below. The dogs scattered.

     A hole beneath the boulder sucked in air creating a sharp draft. As Tover investigated, fire sprang out, flattening him in the large blast. The intense light speared his sensitive eyes, sending a bolt of pain deep into his head. Rubble fell down the sides near the hole. 

     The licking flames crackled as the fire raced in an expanding cone, taller than any man. Coal black eyes emerged in the head, it lifted arms of flame, turning to face the group. A beacon in the twilight, the fire elemental hated the living. 

     “Fire or fang?” Damek asked.

     “Fang, if we’ve a choice about it.” Sven drew his weapons. “The hellhounds have scattered. Get down!”

     “Brenna, you first.” Damek lifted his staff and began to chant.

     “Why me? Fire is my element. Tover can go first.” Brenna ignored the streaks in her eyes, caused by the sudden light of the elemental. She pulled deep at her magic and shot a gale of heat. The fire beast paused as the heat wave hit, then it grew. Brenna despaired at the adverse effect. Her frame slumped.

     “Stop it Brenna! You’re making it bigger!” Sven charged in. He sent a fury of blades down upon the fire, and they glowed with heat. 

     “Come on, Tover.” She looked up as she edged her way down the rock. 

     Tover stood, covering his eyes. 

     Brenna never understood his quiet ways, but he always faired well. Maybe one of the magic stones he carried in his satchel was imbued with luck, kept him safe. “What’s wrong?” 

     He shook his head.

     “Do you need help?”

     “No,” Tover said. “Go on. I’ll follow in a moment.”

     She shrugged and climbed down, keeping alert for lurking hellhounds. 

     Damek released an ice spear, impaling the fire giant. It faltered, slowing its attack. The spear melted into steaming slush. 

     Sven stabbed into the heart of the demon fire. His sword glowed bright with heat, burning his hand. He released his grip. The fire elemental pushed the barbarian to the edge. Sven planned to jump and slide down, hoping he was faster than the fire beast on his tail. Why’s Tover still up here? Sven couldn’t help him now. He jumped.

     The elemental threw up its fire arms, shaking them in the breeze. An airy roar echoed through the rocks. It leaned over the edge.

     Before the fire elemental could follow, Tover threw the rock in his hand. The flaming beast turned and rushed him. Tover threw his dagger into its middle, the same place Sven had struck. The elemental stumbled. Tover heard the voice again, louder than ever before, louder than in his dreams. 

     “Reach in, the fire is her way.” It sounded like a whisper on the wind.

     Tover realized the voice belonged to his God, Brujar, the God of Magic. Calm flooded his every pore. Without hesitation, Tover lifted his hand and reached into the fire, into the wound created by the ice spear, blade and dagger. Inside, he felt something solid. His arm felt cool as though the red flames were but a blanket of soft snow.

     The elemental trashed on the end of his arm. The flames crackled, turning a deeper shade of red. It brought its hot fists down on Tover’s shoulders. He bent with the blow, but didn’t fall. His tunic seared, but didn’t burn. His singed hair smoked, but it didn’t burst into flames. The air reeked with the smell. 

     “Push.” Another whisper.

     Using the solid piece as his anchor, Tover pushed the elemental backwards, to the edge. The fire elemental fell down below and vanished in a booming explosion that sent dirt and rocks flying into the air. Tover, his hand raised holding a necklace of gold, heard the voice once more. Pebbles thrown high from the impact landed at his feet. Fine dust floated in the hot air.

     “Reach in, the fire is her way.”

     He reached in many times recently, into these travelers and into this desperate quest. He reached into the fire elemental. The fire was her way, Brenna’s way. Tover looked at the golden bird talisman on a chain as the others returned.

     “What happened,” Damek asked.

     Brenna saw the necklace in Tover’s hand. “It’s a phoenix.” She ran her finger over the body of the bird. 

     Tover felt it pulse in response to her touch. 

     “Where’d you get it?” she asked

     “It was..” Tover paused. Who would believe his hand rested inside living fire. “The elemental left it.”

     Damek and Sven exchanged a glance.

     “Elementals can’t carry things without burning or melting them,” Damek said.

     Tover tucked the necklace away in a pouch. “I know.”

     Hellhounds yapped in the distance.

     Tover changed the subject. “They’ll come back.”

     Sven rubbed healing powder on his bitten leg. He nodded. “We’ll press on.”

     “What if they follow us?” Brenna asked.

     “They will for awhile. If they don’t look for easier prey, we’ll have to kill them.”

     “Let’s hope they give up. I don’t want to waste time.” Damek headed into the desert followed by the others. 

     Sven caught up to him. He mentioned that lumens are a strange race. “What more can be said? We’ll never know what happened with the fire elemental.”

References: Sven, Damek, Brenna, Tover,  Barbarian, Human, Lumen, Hellhound, Dark Elf, Elemental

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