The Call of the Elements: A Kiss of Fire
A Short Story by Sky Luke Corbelli
Copyright © 2012 by Sky Luke Corbelli
This is a work of fiction, with all that that implies.
So keep in mind, it's basically the author telling lies.
The Call of the Elements
I've heard people say that the Forbidden City and the Elements are myths.
My own grandchildren laugh at the stories my father told me, of a time when men lived in cities a thousand times the size of Eastpoint-by-the-blight or Silverfall, when they sailed the sky in ships made of metal and were masters of all they saw. Even my son considers the tales of Fire and the Second Sun or Wind and the City that Fell from the Sky to be nothing more than bedside stories or the ramblings of a senile old man.
I fear that we have lost all we once were, as the Pact of the Elements fades from the memory of man, vanishing into the mists of the past.
When I was but a boy, my great grandfather, lying on his deathbed, sat me down and looked hard into my eyes. He was a ferocious man who would never tell a lie, and he said to me, "Ezekiel, you listen well. Your father never held with the stories, and so now I'm telling you. Every one of them is true, sure as the sun and moon and ground beneath your feet. You mind your letters, and you keep those stories alive, or so help me I will come back and take it from your hide."
I nodded solemnly; he has never yet proven himself to be a liar.
So here I am, Ezekiel Masukawa, last of the true Scribes, in this two hundredth year since the Return of the Elements and the Fall of Man. I commit these truths to paper and ink, that they might be remembered and heeded in the days to come.
We must never forget that we are not alone, that the Forbidden City still sits within a ring of stone and fire, shrouded in mist and guarded by air and lightning. They live in opposition to the natural order of things, waiting to reclaim the world they have lost.
But I am getting ahead of myself...
A Kiss of Fire
I shall begin with that which is passionate and beautiful, as an old man is wont to do. Fire, who consumes and destroys even as she gives light and warmth, loveliest of the Elements. She locked herself away, hidden in a land of snow and ice, fearing the power that burned within her. More's the folly: we brought her back.
Among the Lilies
Playing With Fire
Among the Lilies
“Lena, my darling, the stars weep at the sight of your beauty, for they know full well that they may never compete in the hearts of men.”
Lena giggled from beneath the midnight veil of her hair. “Quiet, Marcus,” she breathed, cheeks flushed in the dim light of the flowers around them, “someone will hear you.”
Marcus gave a slow smile. “Tonight, my love, I have you all to myself, to bask in the warmth of the lilies amidst the falling snow.” He wound an arm around her supple waist, pulling her body to his, feeling the softness of her. “To be seen and heard by none but the jealous stars.” With a growl, he lowered his mouth to her graceful neck, peppering her with kisses.
The woman sighed appreciatively before giving him a playful swat on the shoulder. “Mr. Garcia, I didn't come here for that,” she teased, making no effort to move. “I wanted to know what you thought about them.”
Marcus nipped her gently, lips brushing her smooth skin as he spoke. “Them who?”
Lena pulled away, making a little exasperated sound. “The travelers, of course! First there were the falling stars off to the east not three nights ago, and then they mysteriously arrive, like something out of a legend. Who do you think they are? There's nothing else out that way, not even real roads, and you saw the... thing they rode on.” Marcus followed her gaze back to the shadowed town in the distance. The Heart of Fire loomed over the walls, dark against the night sky. “A ship that sails on the air, just like in the stories old Nan used to tell.” She eased back into Marcus's embrace, her eyes drifting up toward clouds. “Don't you think they're interesting?”
“I know of many things more interesting than some men from out of town.” He breathed in the scent of her, distinct and tantalizing even amongst the flowers. “And I pity those who will never know such things, doomed to travel the world upon their flying ships, forever deprived of your touch.”
Lena snuggled against Marcus, foot idly toying with one of the ember lilies. The flower cast swaying shadows in every direction. “Anthony thinks they're very interesting, you know.”
Marcus chuckled. “Ah, poor Anthony. Give him a new fairy tale and he'll be obsessed with it for a month.” He bowed his head, placing a gentle kiss on Lena's ear, whispering, “He doesn't know all the wondrous things he's missing out on, here in the real world.”
“He says they're from the Forbidden City.”
“Of course they are. Probably sent by Lightning himself to hand down divine retribution for our sinful ways.” He grinned. “Speaking of which...”
Lena eased away. “He says he's going to meet my father tomorrow.” Her dark eyes glittered with the reflected light from the lilies. “He told me he has proof.”
Marcus scowled, releasing the woman and rising to his feet. He retrieved his bow, checking the string before letting out a sigh. “That's just what I need. I'll have to have a talk with him.” He ran a hand through his dark brown hair. “My brother will fill your head with all kinds of nonsense, given half a chance, you know he will. Next he'll be hiding lilies under sheets in town and saying that fire demons have come to get us.”
Marcus glanced glanced back to see Lena absently toying with a lily, her fingers running along the stem to caress the flower. She looked pensive. The flower's petals shielded her from the worst of the heat, of course. Marcus had heard rumors of lilies in far-off lands that didn't have little flames burning within them, but he had a hard time picturing that.
“Your brother is the most well-read man in a hundred miles, and you know it,” Lena said, letting go of the lily and fixing him with an inquisitive look. “And you still didn't answer my question. What do you think about the travelers?”
Marcus shook his head, shrugging. “I don't know. They must travel around a lot, or come from really far off or something. Any of the traders from down south would have mentioned seeing ships that could fly, you can be sure of that. And if the tribes to the north knew about a metal ship that flew through the sky...” He shuddered a little. “I don't even want to think of what they'd do. They're worse about that kind of stuff than old Nan or my brother ever were.”
“They said they've come all the way here, to Blessing, just to visit us. Why do you think they'd say something like that?”
“I bet they say that wherever they go.” Marcus snorted, then paused, taking a moment to consider. “But here...” He let his eyes roam over the field of ember lilies, their soft flames twinkling like stars up toward the heavens. The snow melted into a warm mist just above his head, catching the light from the flowers and setting it sparkling all around them. “Here, I can believe it. There can't be anywhere else in the whole world like this place. Why do you think we named the town Blessing? Every second here is a gift.”
“Now who's bringing up old legends?” Lena teased.
Marcus groaned and ran a hand through his hair again. “It's a nice story, that's all.” He scowled back at her, glancing toward the town. “I'm not a kid, Lena.”
“There's nothing to be ashamed of,” she said airily. “I'm sure lots of p
Marcus rolled his eyes. “I just meant that the flowers are pretty, and special. I mean, why else would we have guards just for them, right?” He hefted his bow meaningfully. “I'm sure there are lots of people out there who would... I don't know, steal them and go worship Fire in one of the Churches of the Elements, or something. Some nonsense like that.”
“The things you say,” Lena gasped in mock dismay. “I shall have to say a prayer to the Mother on your behalf. Come now; kneel here with me, before Lightning smites you for your blasphemy.” She cleared her throat, clasped her hands, and closed her eyes. “Oh Mother of the Elements, hallowed be thy name...” She cracked open an eye, smiling at Marcus.
“Oh, because you're so righteous.” He grinned back, laughing as Lena stuck her tongue out at him. “Seriously though,” he said, tone sobering, “please tell me that my stupid brother hasn't been spreading his 'Forbidden City' tripe around the rest of Blessing proper. If your father hears that he's gotten people worked up over nothing, I'll never hear the end of it.”
Lena rose to her feet, taking a swaying step toward Marcus. “My father,” she said, trailing one delicate finger across his shoulders, “the mayor, is far too busy entertaining our guests to be listening to any silly town gossip. Besides...” Her eyes danced in the lily-light, playful and wicked. “And since when have you cared what my father thought?”
Marcus's hands found her sweetly curved hips almost