Synopsis: Wind and Fire: A Deadly Combination
Since the Beginning of all, the Fire Clans have fought the Ancient, the elemental fire at the heart of the world, with the binding power of the Firedance. Suddenly, the Ancient has grown clever and bold, and the Dance has begun to fail. Now fire is running rampant in the village of Annam, where the Delvers mine the precious containment stone that is the only other safeguard against fire. Only Jetta ak'Kal, a failed master, and her partner, the most inept journeyman in all of the Fire Clans, stand in its way.
To Jetta's horror, fire isn't the only danger in Annam. Windriders live there, masters of air, the Ancient's most deadly fuel. With danger riding on every breath of wind, if Jetta fails, no place will be safe from the deadly firestorm...
This fire was malicious. Jetta felt it the instant she stepped through the door of the flaming houseplace. Fear struck her like a raptor, draining her strength as if great claws had pierced all her veins and bled her life away. Heat blasted the naked skin of her arms and legs; smoke stung her nose. Startled, she took a step sideways, and shied again from hot grit crunching under her bare feet. She stopped just inside the door, heedless of the flames running up the lintel beside her. Shuddery cold swept through her, for all that the hot breath of the fire was in her face, a reek of charred wood and scorched stone that swept her straight back to a damp spring night laden with screams and the smell of destruction.
I can’t. Not again.
Fire exploded from the wall on her left. Jetta spun toward it, and shied back from the sight of white stone crawling with flame, paling rapidly from sullen red to eager gold. Here was no tame hearth fire escaped from its bondage to take vengeance on its captors. Only the deep fire, the heartfire of the world, the Old Man himself, could eat stone.
The Ancient was coming.
She retreated a step, shaken so badly that for an instant even her training deserted her. All she saw was fire writhing in febrile, hungry curtains. Like last time. Reaching for her...like last time. Out of control. Like last time.
A scream reached her, high and frightened, piercing the laughing roar of the fire like a thin-bladed knife. She jumped, and all around her fire leaped back. Jetta spun all the way around. The fire retreated, uncertain now.
Shame drove through Jetta’s fear. She took a step—forward, not back. Fire fled on the right. She jerked her right hand up, palm out in imperious demand. The fire recoiled out of reach. The smothering heat suddenly lessened as though winter had breathed on the flames. Jetta laughed and stepped into the Dance.
Bare feet ground soot and ash underfoot; the flagstones cool now against her soles. She shoved off from her right foot into a leap and spin, completely over a knee-high flame trying to sustain itself on bits of a charred chair. Fear spun away with the turn; Jetta landed on smooth-polished stone and twirled on one foot, arms raised, exulting in the sudden cool rush of power swirling up through her. All at once the air tasted of damp earth and the green density of living forest.
She stamped an infant flame into non-existence, the smoke of its death curling impotently around her legs. Step, step, turn, her feet grinding flame underfoot, her arms stretching outward in the demanding arc that drew a line that flame could not cross. Fire leaped and roared around her, licking eagerly into the air that was its goal, its life, its escape from its prison in the earth.
Another scream, fainter. Jetta faltered. Heat suddenly blasted at her; smoke tasted bitter on her tongue as the sustaining cocoon started to shred around her. Malicious fire….
Jetta closed her eyes, drawing reassurance from the quicksilver feel of the Dance shivering like a lightning storm along her skin. It all but shoved her straight up off the littered floor to defy the fire eye to eye where it roared over her head; she moved, a quick step and turn into the heart of it. Time now was precious, before the fire learned to call its terrible parent. Now, while a Third Rank master could still hold it alone, now while the Dance ran in her like a flood, the only flood that could tame heartfire.
Training and a lifetime’s conditioning shoved down the memories. Jetta clapped her hands and pirouetted in place, willing the barriers of the Dance back up around her. She looked closer at the flames running over the pallid stone, and saw that this was surface fire still, pale, but not yet the white heartfire no water could quench. She heard no hissing pop of collapsing rock as flame consumed the air in the porous windstone. This fire was malicious, aye, but as yet it was only the forerunner of the ancient fire that lived in the deepest core of the earth; it was not the foe itself that the Fire Clans had hunted since time began. The yellow of these flames was well diluted with the base red that spoke of uncertainty. This fire had not learned—yet—how to use its malice.