Shad and Saura: Black Fire - Part Seven
Art by ssjelitegirl
“The answer is always the hardest to find when it’s right under your nose,” Kanrik said quietly.
The flames spread – or did they? It rather looked like the Faerie’s body turned into black fire and gradually lost its shape, becoming one single raven flame, roughly the shape and size of a rosebush, sizzling quietly on the cold hard ground.
“And I do hope I was right about this,” the Gelert added, stepping forth, right into the fire.
The brothers exchanged glances. Then they stepped closer very carefully. The huge cold flame, a little bluish near the center, felt a little...
“Saura,” Shad muttered. “Can you feel it? It doesn’t cast coldness. It drains heat.”
“That explains the thing with the volcano, at least...” his brother replied quietly.
Kanrik was almost completely covered by the flames, only his purple cloak flapped around behind the fire. Then, without any forewarning, he stepped out.
“That’s more like it,” he stated rather cheerily, fingering his throat.
Shad and Saura glanced at each other again, then at the black fire that had been Incendia, and then at Kanrik.
“What did it feel like?” asked the Lupe.
“Like standing in a cold wind.” The Gelert shook himself, then stepped away from the flame. “As I was saying. Faeries don’t die. They dissolve. Technically speaking, all Faeries of the same element are one, namely a small part of that element, and when they’re harmed, they go back into the original state, thus being able to come back later fully healed.” He grimaced, looking at the blazing flame. “Usually rather angrily too. Though she could at least be grateful for me having completed her life’s work for her.”
“So she’ll turn back into Incendia one of these days?” Saura asked, his mind already trying to figure out just how angry the Faerie would be and how many innocent bystanders it would consume.
“In a few weeks, I reckon. I’ll hopefully be far away by then,” said the Gelert.
“But why black fire?” asked Shad. “I’d think they all turn into regular orange fire.”
“They do. But not this one.” Kanrik rubbed his forehead. “You know how there are... mixed Faeries, right?”
The brothers stared at him.
“No?” Shad asked back.
“Yes, you do. All those Snow and Negg and Soup and Island Faeries. Well, there are six basic elements. But a Faerie’s soul has two levels. In most of the cases, both levels are one, inner and outer, Fire Faeries for example are fire within – hence the playfulness – and fire outside, hence the ability to generate fire. But in some cases, the core is different. Know the Snow Faerie? She’s an Air Faerie, but with a Water core. The Soup Faerie is a Light Faerie by nature, but with an Earth core, hence all that helpfulness and being close to Neopets unlike all those other Light Faeries who flutter around in the clouds and such. The Space Faerie is a Dark Faerie, but her core is Light, and the core is the more important part, so she’s everything but your average Dark Faerie. And so forth. But very, very rarely, a Faerie, any type of Faerie,” he looked at the black fire, “gets a Dark core.”
Shad’s tail waved around. “So when Saura said that there’s something dark about her...”
“He was right. That little Faerie is evil, through and through. Neopia was very lucky that she decided to concentrate her energy on that research instead of, say, blowing up Faerieland. She would’ve succeeded easily. Fire is a powerful thing, and all Dark Faeries secretly wish to command it, hence their purple little magic-flames they like to cast. But only a Fire Faerie can command real fire; that’s how these things work.”
“And once she comes back?” Saura asked sharply.
“I’ll pop into Faerieland on my way back to the Guild and leave the queen a little note,” grumbled the Gelert, in the reluctant voice of a kid who doesn't want to clean his room because it keeps getting messier faster than he’s making progress.
They looked at the black fire. It was sizzling quietly, staying the same size, not really looking like it’s planning to spread and consume everything. Granted, down here in the cold cave it didn’t have much to consume.
“So the legend of black fire, and the age-old Fire Faerie?” asked Saura.
“That’s what I looked up in their library,” said Kanrik. “She was the same type, yes. Dark core. And she lived here in Shenkuu, somewhere in these caves, I believe. There are paintings and carvings in walls somewhere farther away that have been deciphered and recorded. Apparently she was a lot smarter than our scholar here. She knew what she was, and knew how dangerous she was, and kept herself under control. Left a message for next generations before flying off to Terror Mountain that last time, as I understood. That’s where I found out about the double-soul. It’s not widespread knowledge.”
“Whoa now,” said Shad, who had been listening intently. “She lived here? In these caves? Those are not natural caves, I can see that, they’re a fortress. Built for defence. And she lived here before any Neopets.”
Kanrik grinned. “Fascinating, isn’t it? Actually Neopets, some old forgotten race, lived here and disappeared before she came, in the beginning of time. History is pretty fun once you get into it.”
The brothers looked around, trying to wrap their minds around the immense age and history of the Shenkese caves. They failed.
“And that legend?” asked Shad. “The Bori people and Terror Mountain you talked about?”
Kanrik’s eyes glinted. “Ooh. Well. It’s hard to describe, really, you’d have to see it to get the full picture, and the Boris wouldn’t let you near, and the maze has been caved in anyway. I think I’m the only non-Bori who ever saw it. It happened about a week after that whole Bringer-incident you already so conveniently know about...”
Kanrik was striding up the hill, eyes narrowed in the head wind. He had no desire to face the Bori people again, especially now that the battle was beginning to fade into the blissful oblivion of time, but he was the new leader of the Thieves, and as such, he had been summoned to discuss the future relations between the Guild and the Boris with the Keeper of Time.
He snorted, wrapping himself more tightly in his cloak. Negotiations and good relations are nice things, of course, and it’d be nice to have no hard feelings, now that he’d practically switched sides – again – and was leading the force the Boris had fought with, but they were thieves, not some political grouping, and he didn’t feel like getting pushed into some the-Boris-shall-not-be-robbed contract either. But he had to go. The Guild didn’t get offers of alliance – or staying on good terms, at least – every day.
It turned out, though, that the Keeper had no intention to claim special rights.
“While I don’t approve of thieving,” he said, walking down a glistening tunnel of glassy ice where Boris were running back and forth, packing for their upcoming move to Neopia, “it’s not my place to tell you how to live your lives. Though I would, of course, appreciate it if you didn’t steal from Boris.”
“We believe in equality,” said Kanrik, his face carefully blank.
“I don’t like special treatment either,” agreed the Keeper. “We’re about to integrate into Neopia and we can’t very well do that when all the other species are scolding us as privileged. I am, however, going to ask you for a very special favor. It’s important.”
“How important?” asked Kanrik. They had come far already; there were very few Boris in sight, and their voices had become a distant echo in this cold crystalline world.
“So important that when defied, it can easily result in the whole Terror Mountain melting down,” said the old Bori.
“Oh,” said the thief, still poker-faced. “That sounds important, all right.”
“You see,” they now turned into the thief-carved tunnel that led to the Heart of the Mountain, “nobody ever seems to wonder how the Heart came into being. Or what would happen if it were to be stolen. But we have a legend about it. A true story, in fact.”
They came to the vast room where, on an icy pedestal, stood the glistening red crystal, the Heart. Kanrik looked at it indifferently, red light reflecting from his teal muzzle.
“The Boris would’ve died, as I understood,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter any more, does it?”
“That’s exactly it,” said the old Bori. “We’re leaving the mountain and won’t depend on the Heart anymore. The tunnels will be caved in; nobody in Neopia will have a chance to get here, and only the thieves know the actual way anyway. Which is why I’m asking you, as the leader of the Thieves, to make sure that nobody comes, nor brings the necessary equipment to reach the Heart.”
“You have a good reason, I assume,” said Kanrik.
“Do follow me.” The Keeper started down a smaller, narrower winding path that led off from a farther corner in the room. Kanrik didn’t remember it; then again, he doubted that anyone had even noticed it in the ruckus of the battle, what with the passageway being in a rather dark corner.
“When the Boris originally came to these caves,” the Keeper continued, leading the way in the dimness, “we were certain that we were doomed. We had no food, nothing to keep us warm, we had no way of surviving. And then, as the story goes, came a Faerie, from the depths of the mountain, and created the Heart to keep us warm and nourished. Then she went back from whence she’d come and we remained here until the big battle that united the Key with the Heart and brought the Bori people back.” His small eyes glanced back at Kanrik. “What do you think of this?”
“Not sure what to think,” said the Gelert. “Where are you getting with this?”
“Here,” replied the Keeper, stepping aside and revealing – a cavern.
It was a small but high one, with smooth, somewhat wavy walls rising towards the ceiling in curly frozen shapes. Everything, including the floor, was made of ice, and glistened in the dim light of the Keeper’s staff, multiplying and amplifying it and lighting what stood in the middle of the cave.
It was a block of ice, bright and transparent like glass, and inside it stood a Faerie. Her head was lowered, so Kanrik had to bow lower to see her face, as much as it was to be seen behind the frozen, thick bangs that partly covered it. It was a beautiful face, timeless but stern, reflecting immense age. The eyes were blank and the lips were slightly parted, as though she had been concentrating hard.
And apparently, she had been. Her hands, pale and slender, were brought together in front of her chest, and between them, inside that solid block of ice, burned a black flame, flickering merrily in that otherwise so quiet and immobile world.
“What...?” began Kanrik, turning around with a flabbergasted look on his face.
“If anyone was to come to the Heart of the Mountain,” said the Keeper, his voice now bearing a sorrowful note, “then they’re bound to have more time than the thieves had during that battle. They’ll look around. They’ll come here. And should anyone break this block of ice, even try to move it, they would destroy the Faerie. She’s safe here, but only until nobody comes here. If it breaks before she has enough power to come back, her soul, that black flame, will break loose. She’s a Fire Faerie. Can you imagine what will happen when the pure soul of a Fire Faerie breaks loose?”
Kanrik could. He edged away from the frozen Faerie very carefully. “I see. Thieves do have their code of honor, Keeper. Nobody will come here as long as I can still do anything about it, and you can take that to the bank.”
The Bori nodded. “I was counting on that.”
“Which means,” Kanrik finished, “that should you two leak that info to anyone who might be interested, I’ll personally hunt you down and have, as it were, a little word with you, understood?”
“Yessir,” said Shad, his voice very quiet, then added a bit more loudly: “But if she’s... burning in there as a flame, healing herself until she can come back, how could she return to save the Boris?”
The thief shrugged. “I suspect she’s very much aware of what’s going on around her. Maybe she broke out before the time was right to help the Boris, and thus elongated her own restoration time. Faeries don’t care much about passing time; for them it holds very little value since they can live so long.”
“So one of these days,” asked Saura, “she is ready to form herself into a Faerie again, and will just... fly out of the mountain?”
“I should think so, yes,” agreed Kanrik.
“I hope I’ll live to see this,” muttered Shad, his eyes gleaming eagerly. “That oughta be one heck of a sight.”
“Wouldn’t that turn Terror Mountain into a volcano again?” the Zafara asked grimly.
“It’s had centuries to cool down. I doubt it has any heat left,” said Kanrik. “Well, so much of this. I think I’ll go pick up my stuff and hit the road before our lovely host here regains herself and comes after my head. Hopefully she’ll pick up another goal to work towards, else we’ll have one evil straightforward mind running loose with nothing to devote itself on, and that’s never a good thing.”
“She could become a teacher,” Shad guessed, getting up. “She’d be a good one. Saura, we should probably go home too. Can’t exactly live in her house when she isn’t around, and she won’t be particularly cheery when she returns either.”
“Good point,” muttered the Zafara. “Which way is the closest way out?”
The leader of the thieves took them to another tunnel that was a little higher than the one they had come from, actually almost halfway up the side of the cavern, and as Saura was about to step in, he turned around to look at the big prehistoric hall one last time.
Was it the height that made him feel dizzy for a moment, or was it something else?
He leaned his hand against the rock for support and looked up at the stone arches, then down at the mist. For a moment he thought he could see... what? Shadowy figures moving across the floor, swords poised and arrows whizzing, or just the play of the white fog?
And that sound just on the edge of the hearing range of his keen ears – was it the wind howling in the caves, or the distant echo of a raging battle?
He blinked, and it was gone, nothing but a quiet misty cavern again. Shad and Kanrik looked at him in slight confusion, then turned to look down as well.
It was indeed quiet, solemn and tranquil, nothing but a huge cave lit by crossing rays of light here and there, semi-transparent haze hovering over the floor. For just a second, they thought they could see a tiny figure walking across the floor, a vague hint of long auburn hair, black silky dress and big smooth wings... but surely this couldn’t be real?
“Lore,” Kanrik said softly.
“Stones have a good memory,” Saura agreed, his voice rather quiet. “Shall we?”
They climbed into the tunnel, one by one, and returned to the bright daylight, leaving the semi-forgotten maze of caves the land of Shenkuu was built on and the semi-forgotten memories Shenkuu itself was built on; leaving it wrapped in silence and tranquility, interrupted only by the sizzling of black fire.