The fire bearers were deep in winter country. Here in the cold crags of the highest peak lay the Vale of Morning and its miraculous flowering slopes. From there the fire bearers would drive out the barren winter and bring the fertile spring.
Skon raced into the darkness ahead of the fire bearers. She cringed as the torches flared to light her way. Somewhere in the velvet night was her unspoken. The unspoken was a dark twin, grey of skin with jagged teeth and torn mouths, who thrived only in the long nights and could not bear the light. Everyone had one and should the sacred torches go out, the unspoken would overrun those who walked in the light. Or so the elders said. The elders also warned that the unspoken were always nearby, waiting to snatch the unsuspecting into their bleak world.
Skon was not so sure. She felt the presence of the other woman. There was despair and fear, but no loathing or evil in the unspoken’s being. Skon sped up, but there was no outrunning the light. She was an innate fire bearer and the light of the sacred torches found her no matter how far afield she wandered.
“Can you feel me, too?” she whispered into the frosty air. The rasp of hardy evergreens swaying in the bitter wind all but drowned out the faint ‘yes.’ Skon looked around for her unspoken, but the shadows were too deep. Suddenly, the sacred fire flared in a halo around her. Her dark twin stood inches away, weapon in hand.
Noks flung herself from the deadly blast of light and scampered up a large fir tree. The brave blood-born screamed and ran back to her people.
She is out of control. You must destroy her. Her mentor advised. He was the oldest in the group and like the rest he was bound to one of the noisy parasites marching through the snow below. Nosk felt a stab of pity. The woman did not seem as bad as the rest. She was curious and did not take more than she needed.
What was more, she had done something Noks had not seen in a millennia.
She could hear me. Noks said. Her mentor frowned and shook his head.
No, she heard the wind.
She might be like the blood-born of old. Noks squinted and tried to find her charge amid the glare of the torches. The ones who walked on both sides of the night.
Those days are long over, Her mentor’s shoulders shook with laughter as they drifted forward, pulled by their bond with the blood-born.
Kill her and be done with it. Her mentor looked at the blood-born in disgust. More will appear in the spring. There are always more. They out strip their food supplies, foul the water, and twist the weather to suit their needs.
Noks could not deny the toll the blood-born took upon the land. Even now this party marched into one of the incubators of their kind with the express purpose of ending the snowy weather. She watched as they gathered around the slab where the first blood-born came forth.
Skon shivered as the torches containing the sacred fire were driven into the ground around in the heart of the vale. The vision of her unspoken leapt out at her each time she blinked.
“Are you alright?” one her companions asked. His voice was kind, but his eyes said ‘I told you so.’
She nodded and hopped up on the squat rock called Fallen Dawn. Fallen Dawn was wide with a flat top and horizontal stripes that mirrored the colors of a sunrise.
Skon searched the vale until she found the skulking shapes of the unspoken.
“Hurry!” she said. Her fear made the torches flare. “They are in the Vale.”
The other innate fire bearers joined her atop Fallen Dawn, while those who studied the art with the masters manned the torches. The skittish apprentices stood within the ring, ready to spring into action should something go wrong.
The students began singing and the sacred fire danced to their tune. Skon closed her eyes and tried to feel the fire’s song, but nothing could tamp down the fear that her unspoken was ready to kill her.
“Just dance,” someone whispered. “It will come to us.” Skon opened her eyes and saw that the others on Fallen Dawn could not connect with the sacred flames.
They moved around awkwardly, but the flames did not arc across the vale. Without the dance of the flames, the warmth of the Vale of Morning could not be released.
“Something is wrong,” an apprentice cried.
Something was wrong.
Noks watched the blood-born scurry around the blood stained slab in a panic.
What happened to the fire dance? Her mentor sounded concerned. He crept closer to the group in the vale. The blood-born turned, tense and wide-eyed.
What are they doing? Noks moved into the open and locked eyes with her bonded blood-born.
The group gathered around the rock let out a cry and charged the entrance to the vale.
Get back! Her mentor pressed himself against the sheer rock face, but Noks held her ground. The torch bearers charged past her screaming at the top of their lungs. The light singed her flesh and seared her pupils.
Where are you going? Noks blocked the passage of her blood-born. The woman was terrified. She looked past Noks at the dwindling lights, but did not cry for help. What went wrong?
“We are locked out of our powers,” the blood-born answered. “Are you going to kill me?”
That’s not possible! Her mentor came forward and stared at the woman. She shouldn’t be able to hear us.
“Why not?” the blood-born asked. Once again her curiosity overcame her fear.
Her mentor did not answer. He stared intently into the dark forest muttering: Not possible.
Suddenly, he took off running. The others took off behind him
Come. Noks said to her blood-born. The woman nodded and kept the pace. The others shot bewildered looks at the woman, but she did not seem to notice.
The group of blood-born were well ahead of them. Too far ahead.
The light bearers were stopped at what should have been the main gate to their town. Instead they stood at the edge of a vast clearing.
“What happened?” Skon called out to them. They turned and gaped in absolute terror at the unspoken.
“Run, Skon!” one of the fire bearers stepped forward and brandished his torch at the unspoken.
“Stop!” she said. “They have not hurt me.”
Can you hear me, blood-born? The fire bearer’s unspoken came forward, his flesh sizzling in the light of the flame. The man fainted. His torch fell to the ground and snuffed out in the snow.
“They can speak?” another light bearer came forward. His voice shook as he said, “come forward my dark twin. I want to face my death with bravery.”
I’m not going to kill you, the man’s unspoken came forward. You have done nothing to deserve my wrath.
The man grinned and reached out for his unspoken. The unspoken looked to the mentor who shook his head ‘no.’ The mentor looked angry as the fainted man’s unspoken helped him to his feet.
There is something very wrong, the mentor said. First you could not get the fire to dance and now the village, along with both of our peoples, is gone. Worst of all, you can hear us.
“Worst?” the elder light bearer asked. “You have plunged us into the bleak world of grey death!”
Except we are here too, the mentor said angrily. As are your sacred lights.
Let’s go back to the vale, Noks said, I don’t think this clearing is safe.
Both unspoken and blood-born nodded in agreement, then headed into the woods.
“I will not follow, these…these…” the elder snatched a torch from one of the fire bearers and jabbed at the retreating figures.
Well until we figure it out, the mentor shook his head and turned away from the clearing, we are all we got.
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