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.
O’in sat on the dusty dirt floor with his back against the rough brick wall. His forehead laid on arms perched across his knees. His cell was small and without windows so he didn’t know how long he’d been held, though he estimated three days. The thick metal door had a grate at the bottom that could be raised to slide a plate of food to him. Normally, torches would give him a little light, but they’d been removed so he wouldn’t be tempted to use the flames to try and escape. He’d been given a blanket, which lay crumpled and unused by the door. Other than a small bucket in one corner, there were no furnishings.
He heard the guard bringing his food shuffling down the hallway. A very faint flickering told him that a single torch lit the guard’s way from the end of corridor. The grate at the bottom of the door opened and a small earthenware plate of fresh bread and vegetable stew was shoved through.
“Please,” O’in cried, crawling quickly towards the door. “Please tell me what’s going to happen to me! Tell the Governor I wish to speak with him!”
The guard ignored him and walked away. The light shut off abruptly as the hallway door was closed. O’in began to cry into his hands, not for the first time. Why, he thought, banging his fists against the floor. Why did it have to be me?! I’m the son and heir of one of the most powerful men in the kingdom! Is this my punishment for not being a worthy leader?
He crawled back to the wall, ignoring the food, and sat there staring into nothing until he fell asleep. Hours, or days later so it felt to O’in, the hallway door opened again, but this time footsteps hurried towards his door while the brightening light told him the guard carried a torch. Keys fumbled in the lock and a voice cursed quietly as the keychain was dropped.
“Chack,” O’in cried out in surprise. “What are you doing?”
Chack picked up the keys and finally opened the door. O’in held his arm over his face until his eyes could get used to the light.
“We have to move quickly,” Chack said picking his friend up off the floor. “Your father has decided your fate and I couldn’t stand around to let it happen. We only have a couple minutes to get you out of here before the guard comes back. Hurry!”
The men rushed out the door, closing and locking it behind them, and down the side hallway to where it met with the main dungeon corridor. Chack set the torch back in its holder and dropped the keychain on the table by the main entrance. They rushed out of the dungeons and down the hall to the stairs. As they rounded a corner, light flickered ahead warning them of the returning guards.
“They’re coming back too soon,” Chack groaned.
“Under the stairs, quickly,” O’in hissed. The two rushed forward, rolling their feet to quiet their footfalls and slid to a stop in a small niche under the stairs just as three guards came into view.
“False alarm, then,” one said, holding aloft the torch.
“Nevermind that. Let’s start a new game,” the second guard rattled a cup he’d tied to his belt. Dice could be heard rolling around inside.
“A new game,” laughed the third guard. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to get us to forget your debts!”
The second guard sputtered. “My debts?! You still owe me a pitcher of ale after our last game!”
The guards continued joking as they made their way into the dungeon. O’in and Chack didn’t move until they heard the door creak shut, the slam echoing through the short hallway. Chack crept out first and helped his friend crawl out of the small opening. Still muffling their steps, they slipped up the stairs with Chack leading the way. He peaked around the corner as they made their way to the top of the stairwell.
“Thank you, my friend,” O’in breathed quietly. “I hate to ask, but what did Fah decree?”
Chack cleared his throat and led the way out an unguarded side door. “He, uhm, he ordered you to be flayed alive in the town square. It was set for tomorrow morning.” O’in stopped and stared at his friend in shock.
“He didn’t. Fah doesn’t hate me that much, does he?”
“O’in, he declared you a traitor not only to Chantha, but all of Slahor. He said that you being from a ruling family means your crime is that much worse. That is why your execution was to be more than just hanging. Once we get you out of here, you can’t come back. If you are caught, the decree will stand and you will be flayed.”
O’in leaned against the wall feeling empty. “I’m a traitor now. I suppose I knew that all along anyway.” He scoffed and crossed his arms, scratching the stubble sprinkled across his chin. “Where will I go, though? It’s not like I have friends elsewhere that would accept me as I am now.”
“There’s a Wajan merchant caravan leaving tomorrow morning. They know of your – illness – and are willing to help you cross the border.”
“Will they hide me until they leave as well? I can’t very well walk around freely right now.”
“Of course. One of the wagons has a false bottom you can hide in.”
O’in sighed. “We can’t stay here too long. Guards will be patrolling here shortly. Let’s go.”
“I can’t take you any further than here. My shift starts in five minutes and if I’m not on patrol, it’ll arouse suspicion. Follow the wall east until you get to the Wajan camp. The false bottomed wagon will be the one closest to you. A man is waiting inside to help you hide.”
O’in grasped Chack’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “Thank you, my friend. I’ll not forget what you have risked for me.”
Chack smiled, one side of his mouth higher than the other. “Speak no more of your thanks. You and I have always been stronger than blood, right?”
“That we have,” O’in grinned back before turning and opening the door. He peered around the frame quickly to make sure no one was around and slid out into the night. He hugged the outside perimeter of the palace, its walls still warm from the sun that had just set, as he made his way around the outside of the city until reaching the Wajanderu camp. He paused, falling to a low crouch, as several soldiers passed by. Once they were out of sight he ran towards the nearest wagon as fast as he was able and jumped in shutting the door behind him.
The wagon was made for passengers and had seats on both sides topped with plush cushions. The man who sat inside stared at O’in calmly; in his hands was the ledger he’d been reviewing while waiting with elegantly long legs crossed to create a form of table. He wore the simple trousers and belted tunic of his trade, though the linen weave was richer than O’in was used to seeing on such a man.
“I’m O’in,” he said, crouching to avoid hitting his head on the wagon roof. “I believe you were waiting for me?”
The man stared at him a moment before sighing and setting the ledger on the bench beside him. “You may call me Aldo,” he said. His voice was deeper than his visage implied. “I take it you are to be my cargo.”
“I – uhm – I am, I suppose.”
Alarm bells in the city suddenly rang out. O’in stared out the small window, fear filling him.
Aldo uncrossed his legs. “Well then, it sounds like we need to get you settled then. Pardon me, a moment.” He politely pushed O’in to take over his seat before bending down and releasing a hidden catch in the second bench. He lifted the top revealing a small space behind it. Turning to O’in, he glanced from the boy to the hole. “Well? Are you going to stare at it or would you rather be hidden when the guards search the camp?”
O’in rushed to squeeze himself into the hole and folded in his arms and legs as comfortably as possible. Aldo closed the lid and resorted to sitting on the bench to allow the latch to fall into place. O’in heard him take up his ledger and sit once more across from him.
The alarm bells were slightly muffled, but still loud enough to ring in his ears. Sweat mingled with tears as both wetted his face, hair, and tunic. The box O’in was in wasn’t meant for live cargo, so he hoped he wouldn’t have to stay inside the whole way to the border, though he was thankful Chantha was on the western edge of the country.
The wagon lurched from side to side as it made its way across the border into Rupani. It had been a long, hot ride for O’in. He’d hidden most of the way as word of his escape made its way across Slahor quickly. The caravan was searched many times over, though his hiding spot was never discovered. Once out of sight of his country, Aldo gave him the freedom of choice on how to travel for the rest of the journey. O’in chose to walk as he’d never been outside Slahor and was curious at the softness of the grass beneath his sandals.
One morning, when he walked beside the wagon, Aldo spoke to him of his illness. “There are others,” the merchant said. “They survived your country’s persecution of magic as well. It is their practice to teach all those who escape. I know of a stronghold I can leave you to learn, if you wish.”
“Learn magic,” O’in asked. “I am Remedon Za’Abat! Creator of destruction to my people. How can I learn how to harness evil?!”
Aldo looked at his hand as it seemed to vibrate of its own accord. A cool wind moved around O’in lifting his hair and rippling his clothes against him, yet the ribbon-like flags of the caravan did not stir.
“Magic is not evil,” Aldo said in his deep tone, studying his hand. “Other Remedon Za’Abat believe it is a boon from your gods. Those same gods decreed that your bodies are to be consigned to the flames upon death as a reward, so wouldn’t it make sense that they also give fire magic to those who are worthy of it in life? Most of us who wield it do not use it for evil. Even now, I could blow you over and cause you harm yet I cool the sweat from your brow instead. Magic is used to advance medicine, allow families to know their loved ones are alive, to right a floundering ship, to stop smoke from choking people,” he paused releasing the magic. His hand no longer vibrated. He looked to O’in once more and rested his hand in his lap.
“How can that be evil? I have seen Remedon Za’Abat from Slahor save countless lives by redirecting fire from its victims, they cauterize wounds, and create stories in the flames for children to enjoy. What I have not seen is Fire Magic used to destroy the innocent. Yes, it is used in war, but so are spears and swords. Are those weapons evil in themselves? No. It is those who wield the weapon that make it evil.”
O’in walked in silence for the rest of the day thinking of what Aldo said. Could I really help people? Everyone in Slahor says I’m evil, but I don’t want to hurt anyone. He held out his hands and stared at the callouses his Claymore had caused. My weapon isn’t evil because I am not. He started, realizing the sun was setting. He paused and watched the first moon rise. As darkness settled over the land, O’in smiled to himself before moving to talk with Aldo. Yes, perhaps he could learn magic. What could it hurt?
Written By: Jenni Chan – Artwork By: Patryk Kowalik