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.
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O’in wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm and grasped his two-handed claymore as he settled into the first stance. Time in the practice yard was always a good way to work out any anger that festered throughout the day. Anger ballooned in O’in’s chest as he worked his way through Dancer’s Posture. As his sword and body moved with a practised and deadly grace, he thought of his father’s disapproving gaze as he made yet another mistake. Fah always looked at his son with disappointment. How could my son, my heir, be so weak as to want to give mercy, the latest look said.
O’in brought his weapon down as though he were cutting off his opponent’s head and spun to attack the imaginary enemy behind him. Mercy is strength, he thought. If we sent every person that disagreed with Fah to the lash, every citizen in this gods forsaken desert would have scars on their backs! All Ashta said was that a raid on Dagbi wasn’t wise at this time of year. I couldn’t agree more. It’s high summer and anyone who tried to move through the desert would find every single oasis between Chantha and Dagbi dry.
Moving gracefully through the Posture, the heir of City-State Chantha worked out his anger many times until even the spark of it was gone. O’in finished the practice by stabbing his claymore into the dusty ground between his legs. He stood straight, staring into the distance as he was taught. Muscles burning, he let go of the weapon and watched as it teetered on the verge of falling. He only counted the Dancer’s Posture practice complete when his weapon stood upright in the ground, as his weapon’s master taught him. Breathing heavily, he smiled when the claymore stayed erect.
O’in wiped his sweat once more. Pulling the sword from the ground, he cleaned it with an oiled rag before sheathing it by his side. He walked into the cool shade of the stables, breathing in the warm scents of horse, hay, and sweaty grooms. Grabbing the ladle from a nearby barrel of water, he drank his fill then dowsed his head with the remaining liquid. Grooms bowed to him as he made his way through the long stables and out the other side to the castle courtyard. O’in tried to ignore the servants and soldiers as he walked, as mandated by his father, but it was difficult to act as though they were beneath him. No man is worth less than another by anything but his actions. Station should have nothing to do with how we treat each other, O’in thought. He wasn’t Governor yet, but tradition required he be respected as Governor-Heir. Since his father’s advisors could be watching from one of the many windows, O’in did as he had been taught and treated the men and women around him as if they didn’t exist. Fah payed his advisors well to tell him everything going on in his territory.
He passed through the gate, barely seeing the portcullis hanging above, as he made his way into the interior courtyard. Here, gardeners used precious water to create and maintain a small, yet miraculous, garden. Bees imported from Rupani were kept in a hive nearby to help keep the flowers blooming. The honey they created was used only by the Governor’s family and honored guests. Pathways meandered through the plants so the high-born men and women could walk together and enjoy the foreign beauty surrounding them. Those walking the grounds paused and bowed as O’in passed by.
O’in knew no woman would walk with him in his sweaty state. He wore his practice uniform. The leather jerkin was stained with sweat and sand and his pteruges slapped against his legs over a dirty white skirt as he walked. Warriors wore the pteruges, a belt with studded leather strips sewn to hang down to their mid-thigh, with only a skirt and small clothes underneath for ease of movement as well as to symbolize their status as soldiers. In battle, greaves were added to protect both shin and thigh. Even if I look atrocious, no woman would walk with me here. This place is for lovers and women-friends. At nineteen, O’in was considered too young to marry. No woman would look at him with interest for a few years yet, and even then his wife would be chosen for him.
O’in entered the palace through large double doors made of precious oak imported from Rupani. He sighed in relief at the slightly cooler air that hit him. Summer in Slahor meant blistering days and nights cool enough to warrant a heat source. The thick walls were made of bricks that were plastered to create a smooth finish. Several large windows let in light and air. He’d heard buildings to the north had glass in their windows, but here that would be foolish as it would not allow the air to move and cool the rooms. A wide and open entry loomed in front of him. The palace was four stories tall and the entry hall ceiling rose to the same height as the third floor roof. The fourth floor was used as the Governor’s family quarters. Balconies from each tier overlooked the main entrance; guards stood at each one with bows and spears ready. Sentries also stood beside the open door, two to each side, and bowed to O’in as he passed through and headed toward the main staircase.
“O’in, there you are,” his second brother, Allek cried. “Fah’s been looking for you. He says you’ve been neglecting your duties again.”
O’in groaned inwardly. “He gave me two hours off to go to the practice yard. Isn’t it our duty as Slahorn citizens to always be ready to protect our lands?”
“Yes, but you know when he says two hours, he means one. You really should have come back sooner to sit in on the court proceedings. He’s been asking for your whereabouts since the meeting started.”
O’in glanced at his brother. Allek was more suited to be Governor as he was decisive and strict, just like their father, but he was born as second son so the duty fell to O’in. Allek wore a clean leather jerkin over a white cotton short-sleeved shirt. The jerkin was inscribed with vines that led to the family crest on his upper right chest. The impressed eagle shone in the light from the windows as it spread its wings as if flying away from wearer’s chest; it held a spear in one talon and hammer in the other to pay homage to the male gods. The leather strips of his pteruges were also decorated in vines, which seemed to wave as the strips flapped over his white cotton skirt. Their sandals scuffed against the mosaic floor depicting the Battle of Trivent fought nearly one hundred years before and was the only water battle Slahor decisively won.
“I should have known to come back sooner, Allek, but sometimes a man needs his sword more than he needs his father.” At Allek’s frown, O’in sighed. “Don’t tell Fah I said that.”
Allek shook his head and looked his brother up and down, “You don’t have time to make yourself presentable.” The brothers reached the grand staircase and climbed to the second floor then turned right following the balcony to the large room where their father held court. “You’ll probably receive another deserved punishment. Maybe in time you’ll realize you are almost a man and need to pay attention to what Fah says. You should have been paying attention all along.”
“I have been – “ O’in paused as they came within earshot of the petitioners that lined the doorway. They all bowed to him, only glancing at Allek, as the guards opened the door to admit them.
O’in bowed to his father as he entered the room, as did Allek. When O’in looked back up, his father’s face was red with suppressed anger at his son’s tardiness and appearance. He walked carefully to his seat beside and slightly lower than his father’s chair that was elevated by a dais, sitting with his back straight and eyes forward. He felt his father’s eyes on him, but could not bring himself to return the gaze even knowing it will add to his punishment for being late. I am a coward, he thought to himself as his father turned attention back to the petitioner begging for more water for his growing family.
Written By: Jenni Chan – Artwork By: Patryk Kowalik