Fire Dance is a short multi-part story taking place in the same world as Pyrrhic Victory, a few decades before the events of the game. While battles are won and lost and nations are often at war with their neighbours, there is much besides war that happens as well. From the deserts of Slahor to the frigid Wajanderu lands, the lost son of Slahor comes to terms with his gift and his curse. A tale of magic and might as O’in struggles to find both his place and some peace in a world constantly beset by war. Families splinter and new unexpected bonds are formed as nations fight nations and O’in comes to terms with his gift-curse.
In the first Chapter, O’in learns of his gift-curse; he is a Firecaster. Sentenced to death by his own father, O’in flees with the help of visiting merchants and his childhood friend Chack.
O’in enjoyed the strange feel of the Rupanian Plains beneath his feet and the warm sun on his face after the difficult trek out of Slahor and through the frigid mountain pass of the Yao Feng Divide. He left his home country of Slahor to get away from his father who had tried to kill him after discovering his son was cursed with magic. While the group of merchants he escaped with were traveling through his country he’d remained in a hidden hole under the bench in the wagon so he wouldn’t be spotted by soldiers searching for him. It was a tediously long trip and when he was finally able to leave the box his legs were so cramped from its confined space that he couldn’t properly walk for half a day.
The further east they travelled through Slahor the more rugged the land became. The caravan dipped through sudden valleys and crested low hills as the cloud-like mountains grew nearer. O’in was fascinated by the nearing mountains of the Yao Feng Divide. All his life he’d lived in a desert with barely a hill to speak of. As they rode closer he could see the rocky slopes rise from the ground as though they were a natural wall separating Slahor from its neighboring country of Rupani. Trees and other flora climbed the mountain sides until the barren cold took over the heights replacing shades of green with white and gray.
“How will we get across those mountains? They’re too high to climb,” O’in asked Aldo, who sat across from him in the wagon. One of their horses neighed and shook its head jingling the harness. O’in was glad when they’d traded their Slahorn camels for the thick-furred horses that now pulled them. He hoped he’d never have to see the spitting beasts again.
Aldo chuckled, “We won’t be climbing them. Hundreds of years ago all the nations with Slahor, Rupani, Kosekya, and Wajanderu with the Narsput Islanders, combined their magics together to create paths through the mountains so that all citizens could cross safely. It opened up trade and created unity. Magic users still maintain the trails to keep nature from taking over even though that unity is somewhat fractured now. This pass is maintained only by those who travel through it rather than the coalition of years past.”
O’in was thoughtful as he stared at the nearing mountains. Fractured peace, he thought. Does that mean war? I know tensions have been high lately because of broken trade treaties, but that wouldn’t mean violence, right? It just means a few less goods going in and out of the countries until new agreements can be reached. When he said as much to Aldo his friend grunted in answer and continued to pour over the ledgers in his portable writing case.
The following day the caravan began its journey through the mountain pass. O’in, in a borrowed cloak over his desert clothing, stared in awe as the mountains soared over them. The pass was relatively flat so the horses had good footing. He could see where the stone and ice had been magically pushed aside to make way for travellers. The path was free of ice although blowing snow created drifts along the sides. Towards the evening a low rumbling warned the group of an avalanche. Aldo barely made it out of the wagon in time to stop the tumbling snow from crushing the caravan. The force of the avalanche and Aldo’s magic created a snow roof over their heads. Beads of sweat rolled down his face as he used his magic to blow the snow back towards the peaks in a harmless snowfall. Even with his attempts to keep the snow off the path he was but one man so a thick layer of it still ended up in the mountain pass around them. O’in guided the exhausted man back to the wagon to rest, then explored the snow for the first time in his life. He winced at the cold pain in his hands, but couldn’t help but laugh as he watched the snow melt and the water run through his fingers. Being a fire magic user meant his body temperature was higher than others which melted the snow quickly.
“Aldo,” O’in ran up to the wagon showing the man a melting snowball. “I can melt all of this snow and clear the path.”
Aldo smiled weakly, “That’d be fine, but the cold would soon turn that to ice and make it a treacherous path for any who follow behind.”
O’in’s excitement froze and his smile fell into a sheepish grin. “Ah, then maybe we should just let the wind take care of it.”
The wind rose and fell throughout their journey through the mountain pass. It pulled their cloaks every which way making it difficult to keep them closed about their bodies. It seemed to tug in all directions at once. Sometimes, it hardly blew at all, but at all times it was icy. O’in’s teeth chattered and his cheeks and lips soon grew chapped from it. The journey took two days and once they were out of the pass O’in heard the wind in his dreams for days afterwards.
As he walked through the Rupani Plains O’in tied the leather wraps of his sandals together and slung it over one shoulder. The journey through the mountain pass had been difficult for him, so he tilted his head back for a moment and smiled as he felt the warm sun on his skin. The grass he walked on was mostly soft, but he’d learned the hard way how to see the plants with the small, barbed seeds that dug into the skin. As he dodged one such patch he winced in remembrance of pulling each seed free from the bottoms of his feet for the first time. Faint tracks disturbed the plains in front and behind him and the occasional painted wooden markers gave directions to the caravan.
O’in was thankful to be past the hot deserts of his home in Slahor. The box he was forced to hide in cramped his legs and the heat inside was enough to make him delirious at times. Aldo was kind and gave him plenty of water, though he’d declined most offers of food. The closer they got to the Rupani mountainous border the more the caravan was searched by his father’s warriors. During one such search the lid to his hiding spot popped open because of the heat mixed with moisture blowing towards them from the high, snowy mountaintops. O’in dug his fingernails into the wood until they bled to hold the bench top closed while the cabin was searched. His bottom lip was still healing from where he’d bitten it to keep from crying out in pain.
“We should reach the town by nightfall,” Aldo said from the wagon next to O’in breaking him out of his thoughts.
“That’s good,” O’in sighed. “I’ve always wanted to try Rupanian food. We tried some of their dried berries back home before, but I imagine they’ll taste better fresh. And the fish! Meat from the water seems so strange. Do you think we’ll see the ocean?”
Aldo laughed. “Not this time. We’re heading away from it, although there is this fish sandwich they make at the coast that you’ll be able to try tonight. It’s brought inland these days especially for travellers like you.”
The caravan reached the small farming village just as the sun was beginning to set. The buildings were arranged in a wheel with the town inn at the center. Lush fields full of wheat, corn, and cultivated fruits surrounded the town with several roads dissecting through them. Although the town was a major stop on the road, its citizens preferred to live humbly, though they enjoyed the beer served at the inn now and then.
The caravan stopped in front of the inn. The owner bustled out barking orders at the young teenaged boy following at his heels, “Go prepare stalls in the barn for the horses, Boy! Make sure to lay down fresh hay and give the poor beasts plenty of food and water. Welcome back, Aldo,” the portly man said in the same breath to Aldo as he climbed out of the wagon. The boy ran to do as he was bid. “You’re back sooner than I thought. We weren’t expecting you for another fortnight,”
“Ah, yes, Akili. We didn’t make any other stops after we left Chantha.” Aldo glanced at his ward standing next to him. “We need to get to Wajanderu quickly.”
Akili looked at O’in in surprise taking in his stained desert clothes. “Another one, Aldo? One of these days you’re going to get caught. They’ll hang you as sure as the moons rise.”
“It’s worth the risk when it means another life saved; don’t you think?”
“Quite right, quite right.” Akili stared at O’in as he looked at the new surroundings.
“Is that statue made of ice?” O’in exclaimed as he noticed the figure between the inn and barn. “How do you keep it cold enough to not melt? How do the limbs not break?” A tree made of shimmering water sprang from a small pool as though it had grown there. It was twice O’in’s height and was shaped after the Pingo, a tree that produced yellow and oval hand-sized fruit that tasted sweet at first, but finished with a tart aftertaste.
Akili chuckled, “It’s not ice, but water only. I formed the statue from that very pool before leaving for my first war.” He patted his protruding belly. “Not like I’ll be doing anymore fighting soon. It doesn’t take much energy to keep the shape, although I’m told the branches wilt a little now when I’m sleeping. I suppose it means I’m getting old.”
“Fascinating,” O’in said as he walked around the tree slowly taking in the delicate details. The water was crystal clear and the sunlight filtered through creating sparkling diamonds on the ground around it and on his hand as he held it out. He stared at the tree in awe as the setting sun change the white diamonds to red and orange gems and smiled to himself. Unable to help himself, he touched one of the branches which seemed to melt as his fingers passed through it. The end of the branch that had been disconnected fell in a sheet of water over O’in. He shook wet hair out of his eyes and looked guiltily over his shoulder at Akili, who chuckled again while Aldo bent over in a fit of laughter.
“I-I’m so sorry,” O’in said.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s easy enough to repair and it happens more often than you’d think,” the innkeeper replied.
O’in watched, mesmerized, as Akili approached the tree, closed his eyes in concentration, and held out his hands. The branch started growing back slowly as he pulled the water into shape; leaves and fruit appeared as the sections of water elongated and thickened. The pool beneath the tree grew noticeably shallower. Once the new branch was in place he turned to O’in. “I could have taken the water from your skin, but decided to teach you a lesson instead. Next time don’t touch a water statue, eh? They may look sturdy, but are actually quite delicate. Now, if you would, there’s a well on the other side of the barn. Fill the pool back up for me.”
O’in grinned sheepishly and made his way to the indicated well. As he walked he heard Akili ask Aldo, “Where did you find this one?”
“He’s the heir no-more of Chantha. Had his friend not rescued him, the poor boy would have been tortured to death at the order of his own father.”
O’in didn’t hear Akili’s whispered reply as he quickly turned the barn corner, fists clenched, to get to work and escape the man’s pitying gaze. At the well he rested his hands on the stone wall surrounding it and watched sudden tears fall into the water like rain. He leaned forward tempted to fall in and let the water take him; instead he took a deep breath and picked up a bucket tied with rope lowering it into the depths. He worked to fill up the extra buckets beside the well as he cried. Once the two larger buckets were full he sighed and sniffed, wiped his face with the bottom of his jerkin, and set to fill the pool. Before he rounded the side of the barn he carefully arranged his face to appear more cheerful than he really felt.
Written By: Jenni Chan – Artwork By: Patryk Kowalik