Shad and Saura: Black Fire - Part Two
Art by ssjelitegirl
Shad and Saura shot a glance at each other before looking up into Incendia’s slanted eyes. The single gas lamp burning on the wall cast a shadow on her face, but in that shadow something burned in the depths of those eyes. The Fire Faerie looked like she was two steps from insanity, or genius – sometimes the line is indeed fine.
“Black fire,” said Shad. “Never heard.”
“No wonder, it’s an ancient myth, so old that even old books refer to it as an old myth.” Incendia shrugged. “As is the case with most myths; nobody really knows where they started. But, well, it’s a Faerie thing. You wouldn’t understand even if I explained it the whole night.”
“Try us,” said Saura, coming closer to the desk.
Incendia rubbed her forehead, scowling. She was clearly not in the mood for talking, but apparently she had longed to share the tale with someone in order to clear her own mind, get the details in order and perhaps notice something she hadn’t noticed before.
“Well, I’ll try to make it simple and short. You know white fire, right?”
“Right,” said Shad, as Saura nodded in agreement.
The Faerie leaned her chin on her palm, gazing into nothingness. “Yes. White fire is a powerful, horrible force. It can blind you, it can vaporize metal and stones... it’s the ultimate pinnacle of,” she flicked her fingers, producing a small orange flame, “fire as we know it.” Her eyes narrowed as she added more power to the flame which turned light yellow and then went out with a quiet ‘plop’. “So fire, as you saw, is a scale. It can get hotter and brighter. But all scales have two ends, don’t they?”
The two brothers stared at her.
“Cold, dim fire?” Saura asked. He was about to add "But fire doesn't work that way", but thought better of it.
“Black fire,” Incendia nodded. “Cold fire.”
“Sounds like that blue or purple stuff Dark Faeries produce,” said Shad. “Though theirs is-“
“Magic!” snapped the Faerie. “Nothing but magical flames. Illusions. Visual games. Only Fire Faeries can produce real fire.”
“So what’s it supposed to be?” Saura asked quickly. “What do the myths say?”
“Not much,” she admitted. “The story is written down here, but it’s a legend rather than any decent guidelines.” Incendia picked up a ragged book that had lain open on a chair. Dust flew all around when she turned a few pages back.
“Goes like this,” she began, and the brothers fidgeted for a more comfortable position. “It’s a story written down by someone who heard it from a third party, and a lot has probably been added, but it gives a general gist of things.”
Moths fluttered in the light of the gas lamp and the silky curtains waved in the wind emerging from the open window as Incendia read, her voice sounding oddly different as she drifted away in the story that had become the core and meaning of her existence:
“There once was a great Catastrophy, and many fled in terror, for the big Volcano in the north of Neopia had awakened from his long slumber and was erupting in great rage, spitting fire and ashes everywhere, burning everyone who dared to near him. Even the Faerie Queen, the powerful Fyora herself was unable to stop him, for her magic simply dissolved in the masses of primordial fire. So she called for an old Fire Faerie, older than she herself was, asking for her help.
“The wise Faerie lived far away, in mountains no Neopet had ever inhabited, but word reached her fast, and she came, by the summon of her Queen. And she went to the Volcano, and no living soul knows what she did, but she entered the blazing flames and moments after, they turned black. A great fear came over the spectators when they watched from miles away as the Volcano turned raven. Then he cooled down rapidly, and turned into a great Mountain of Ice.
“In time, Neopets dared to approach the Mountain again, and eventually it was even inhabited, yet the name remains, and from that day forth Terror Mountain bears the memory of the Volcano and the Fire Faerie who once tamed him and whom nobody ever saw again.”
Incendia fell quiet. Shad and Saura exchanged glances. The moths were still fluttering around the light, the curtains were still moving, but somehow the whole world seemed different after hearing such a story.
“So you’re trying to figure out what she did,” said Shad. “How she cooled a raging volcano down.”
“Yes.” The Faerie sighed. “There are snippets of info here and there but it’s quite a load of work to put together. But I’ve been making progress. One day I’ll get there.”
Shad yawned widely, gazing at the full moon that had already begun to sink behind the hilltops. The sky was getting lighter. “What I’d like to know is what black fire’s good for. I mean, once you find it, then what?”
There was a notable change in the atmosphere.
“It doesn’t matter,” the Faerie growled. “My work aims to find black fire, not put it in use. That’s completely beside the point.” She turned around on her chair, spreading her semi-transparent wings like a shield between her back and the two brothers, and it was clear that there’d be no more words from her that night.
“She’s indeed strange,” Shad mouthed to his brother, curling up on the tatami again.
Saura nodded and scowled. “She seems nice,” he half-mouthed, half-gestured back, “but there’s something in her... something dark.”
Somehow they both drifted back to sleep, unsure whether the strange conversation in dim lamplight had been a dream or reality...
The next morning, bright and cloudless, shed no new light on the story. Incendia was a quiet, somewhat abrupt, yet tolerant host who barely paid attention to the two brothers and spent most of her time reading or taking notes. She didn’t mention a word about the conversation of the previous night or anything else about black fire, so the brothers set off to Shenkuu in the afternoon, both puzzled about whether or not it had been a dream.
“I wonder...” muttered Shad, absently sniffing the bag of black cherry tea Saura had bought.
“You wonder what?” asked Saura, his own voice absent and thoughtful as well.
“I wonder that when one’s able to use fire for both good and evil...” said the Lupe, casting a sideways glance at his brother. For his relief Saura’s face lightened up remarkably.
“So it wasn’t a dream,” he said. “You know, I honestly thought... but I see your point. Fire can be used for both good and evil, so I’d assume black fire would be the same.”
They lingered in the middle of the dusty street, pondering. The street was rather crowded but the people mainly gathered around the little booths that lined the street so nobody was really listening.
“How would anything that cools down volcanoes be useful?” asked Shad. “I mean, it could come in handy in the Battledome, but other than that-“
“It could keep food cold.” Saura, the chef of the family, grinned.
“How would you tame it?” Shad’s face was surprisingly serious, which didn’t happen to him too often. “You know what fire is like. Easy to get out of control, quick to destroy everything in sight. Incendia didn't look like an old and powerful Fire Faerie who knows what she’s doing.”
“Extremities,” Saura said coolly. “White fire is equally uncontrollable. Maybe some... moderately dark fire would be of use somehow, depending on its qualities.”
They looked at each other and then snorted in unison.
“Let’s face it, this whole story is-”
“Ridiculous,” Shad finished his brother’s sentence. “And Incendia is a little-”
“Nuts.” Saura nodded. “So I noticed. But she’s still our host, and she seems harmless enough.”
The shadow Lupe scowled. “Harmless? She’s a Fire Faerie. None of the Faeries are harmless, and Fire Faeries are practically the worst kind. But, uh, remember what she said about inner fire? Well, it kinda looks like she has her Faerie vents blocked or something. She directs all her fiery energy inside. While other Fire Faeries mess around and play pranks on people and sometimes make volcanoes erupt, Incendia uses her fire to think. And if anyone’s able to discover black fire, provided it exists, then it’s her.”
Now the Zafara scowled too. “And then what?”
For a moment both brothers shared the same mental image: flames of darkness spreading across Neopia, turning it into a cold, deserted wasteland.
“Then she had better thoroughly inspect all its qualities,” said Shad.
Days passed. Shad and Saura had remained living in Incendia’s little hut, paying her the rent every morning and occasionally helping with household chores. They had no real reason to stay, they’d done most of the shopping, but they both figured that at the moment they had a choice between going back home or looking around in the still vastly unexplored Shenkuu. And now that they had a place to stay and enough Neopoints for the time being, why not stay for a while?
There were more tourists than locals in Shenkuu at that time but word spread like wildfire among locals and soon everyone knew that the two stepbrothers were staying at Incendia’s house. As the time passed, the brothers learned that the little Fire Faerie had a somewhat specific image in Shenkuu.
“A really lovely girl,” people would state hastily as the conversation drifted to the topic, “really lovely indeed, but a little...”
Strange. Weird. Different. They heard all those words many times, always accompanied by lopsided smiles to indicate that they always meant it in the nicest way possible. But something still shone through, something a bit like fear.
“We’ll get the same reputation before we can say ‘cuckoo’,” stated Shad, curling up on a bamboo mat. They were sitting in a small roadside tea house filled with oaken tables, chattering locals, and the scent of strong green tea. The Shenkese had already come to accept their presence, despite the fact that most tourists didn’t stay for long and they weren’t used to strangers actually sticking around over longer periods of time. But they were nice and hospitable, and the brothers had already got numerous invitations to stay at different houses as vacancies opened between one tourist leaving and the other arriving. So far they had turned everyone down, and always encountered the same reaction: a sort of disbelieving, confused smile. Why would anyone voluntarily wish to stay at Incendia’s?
“Well, she is a nice girl,” Saura said a bit hesitantly.
“Even if the whole Shenkuu is amiably and firmly trying to claim the opposite?”
“People have been wrong before.” The Zafara was scowling. If the Shenkese had been distant and grim, he wouldn’t have minded. But these people were sincerely trying to help them, to get them away from the small Fire Faerie’s house.
They fell quiet, staring sulkily at the table, paying next to no attention at all the strangely clad tourists who entered and exited every once in a while. You’d see all sorts of folks in Shenkuu: rich Altadorian aristocrats who owned summer cottages here, weary travellers who didn’t seem to be accustomed to the warm climate, grim pirates who, unlike their fellows in Krawk Island, didn’t seem all too eager to chat about their adventures, shady characters in dark cloaks who came and went without a word and preferred single tables – well, if a roadside tea house had had single tables on high season. So it was no wonder that all of a sudden someone appeared at the table of the two brothers, asking in a rather quiet voice, “Mind if I sit here?”
“Not at all,” said Shad, edging a little aside to make room. His sensitive nose registered the usual little details about the newcomer – dust, clay, dried sweat, the distinct scent of Gelert fur, some hints of leather and metal – as the rest of his brain fell back into the same sleepy afternoon lethargy the rest of the house was lounging in.
Saura was a little more attentive. If he ever saw a shady character, then this was one, wrapped in a strong plum-purple cloak that had seen better days, yellow eyes gleaming sharply from the depths of the hood. But then again, you did see a number of interesting characters in Shenkuu, and once you’d accustomed to the mindset of that calm land, you’d learn to accept just about anyone who came along. So he turned back to his cup of Spicy Herbal Tea... only to be interrupted by a loud squeal.
“Like, ohemgee!” It was the Shoyru waitress who’d come to take the order of the newcomer. “You’re Kanrik! Like, you’re so totally cool! I read all about you in the Neopian Times back after that big battle with the thieves and-“
“Yeah, yeah, wouldn’t I know about that battle,” muttered the cloaked Gelert, taken slightly aback by the attack – Saura, whose ears were still ringing, suspected that Kanrik’s ears were as sensitive as his. “Could I just have a Gobi Fruit Tea?”
When the waitress stumbled away, heads turned to look at the newcomer. The temperature seemed to drop by several degrees.
To be continued...