© 2010 Bonnie Watson
Eamon fights the king's brother in the beginning but loses. As he's about to die, Eamon has a flash back to a week prior to the event...
~ One Week Ago ~
It was a sense of duty that drew the young man to the Temple that windy morning. With a hand holding a cowl over his head and cape billowing behind, he approached the doors with difficulty and flung them open to be rid of the chill. Warm air greeted him with the promise of sweet-smelling incense and lanterns soon to be lit. As he removed the cloak to hang on the wall peg, amber eyes glowed with a fire within while he searched out each stand in the dim morning light.
He knew the place by heart now, knew each lamp's location. A light touch to the nearest wick produced a crackling flame no normal person could hope to create. Wick, as the villagers nicknamed him for this talent, quickly set about to complete his daily tasks. He lit the remaining lanterns before burning a few sticks of incense at the Temple's altar. The decor was not much these days. Stories of past wars could be heard from every corner of the village. It was even present on the Temple's outside walls. Scars, rubble, even holes where explosions had taken place could not be missed. The Temple served as a symbol of Hope, for it had been the only building left in tact after years of battle, and now served as a place of communication between Wick and his family.
A descendent from a clan of Ember Mages, Wick was the only elemental-user known to the Englaed Isles. Upon the first day of his arrival, he knew the people must have thought it odd, for what interest in a series of islands surrounded by nothing but water could hold a fire-user's attention? Though Wick himself was not entirely certain, he hoped the stories behind the islands' development held the key to his travels.
There was still some time before the chaplain was due to arrive, so Wick set about building two more incense trays and setting them upon the altar. After positioning them to his liking, he lifted his hands to ignite the wood. Eyes blazed with an intensity of the flames itself as it roared to life, dancing and popping with deadly radiance that could have scorched any other living creature within reach.
Calmly did Wick stand, never taking his gaze from the fire. An Ember Mage was little concerned with heat, having been raised in the fiery pits of the Wastelands. It was a place said to be so unbearably hot that the only other creature to endure it was the elusive Fire Bird. Rare though they were, Wick was not interested whether one had been spotted as the flames gathered in a ring to create a window. In this opening did a picture begin to materialize, and soon his parents were in plain sight as though they were standing in the room with him.
"Kali-mora," he greeted in their tongue.
"Greetings, Eamon," his father replied, using his true name. "Always a blessing to hear from you. What news from the Englaed Isles?"
"The stories are so many, and so vast. There are so many viewpoints, and yet no secret worth becoming Guardian have I found. I often fear my journey may have been in vain. I do not know why the pull, and yet I still feel as though I'll find something...somewhere."
His father smiled with the patience of an understanding parent. Presently, two other siblings joined the view alongside his mother, and they waved in recognition before moving elsewhere.
"Remember, son," his mother said, "to become Guardian is to protect a secret with the potential to set off a chain of events, whether they be for good or for evil. But you are still very young. You have much to learn in our ways before that time is right. Be patient. Trust in your abilities, and one day you will join our rank as Guardian. Our family line has always been the most successful in that task. We have high hopes for you. You will find what you seek."
"I will make you both proud." Wick bowed his head.
"We know that you will," his father answered. "Be well, my son, and take care."
The image died with the flames releasing the circular form. When at last it was extinguished, Wick quickly cleared the ashes from the altar and went to open some of the doors to let out the heat. A fresh breeze swept through the place before the shutting of the entrance door announced the chaplain's arrival.
"Phew!" Wick heard, and he turned at the approach of a middle-aged man. "You aiming to roast the congregation this morning? I hope the pews are still in tact."
Wick laughed. "Sorry. Morning mass with the family."
The chaplain waved the comment aside.
"Any other day, please!" The man grinned, dimples deepening on either side of his pudgy face. "Don't forget. This week's service is remembering the past. A lot of people are planning on coming, maybe even the King himself."
"The King?" Wick asked in surprise. "He's practically bathed in stories. Will he be speaking too?"
"Maybe." The chaplain set a pile of books upon the altar. "Do you mind placing these on the pews for me? I've got some more to bring in."
Wick finished placing all the books on the pews, then went to help the chaplain bring in extras. While they worked, Wick was delighted to hear a story the chaplain had been preparing for his opening sermon concerning the formation of the islands.
"There are many theories based around the appearance of other Ember Mages," the chaplain said, "but by the end of the last war all the islands had formed, save but one. That one supposedly sank with the king's brother. With his death ended a bitter feud, and a fresh start for the rest of us."
"Sounds like a good opening to me," Wick said. A quick glance out the window revealed the first few morning islanders approaching. "We ready? I'll go open the doors."
It did not take long for people to quickly fill the pews. Wick made sure to greet everyone that entered. Many returned the greeting with smiles and nods of thanks. There were still a few pews to fill when Wick decided it was time to shut the doors. He was slightly disappointed the king had not shown, but reasoned it was to be expected. Still, he scanned along the beaches to see if anyone else was coming when he noticed movement off the shore.
With the sermon in session, Wick decided to investigate and headed down to the water. The tide was out, allowing the young man to roam around large rock formations, peer into tidal pools of starfish and minnows, and view large, colorful shells. Circling one of the rocks, he started to head back to the Temple when he came upon a curious sight.
See's her clothing lying on the rock....
She was around Wick's age, he reasoned as he watched the girl dive just off shore. The wind had died down from that morning with the sun peeking through the clouds enough to warm the coastal waves. Though the service was still in session, Wick could not help but notice movement down by the rocks.
She stayed underwater a good four and half minutes before resurfacing. As soon as the the sun touched the top of her golden hair, he let out a breath in relief. Having to go in the water to save someone when they should have been in the Temple was not the best idea for a fire-user.
"I take it you don't like morning mass," he said while leaning against one of the shoreline rocks.
"Shouldn't you know me by now?" She grinned and caught the towel Wick threw her way. She turned her back while drying, though she knew he could not help but watch. What male, even an elemental-user, could resist the beauty of a semi-nude female dripping wet?
Wick cleared his throat.
"I've seen you before, though I don't know you by name."
She laughed and tossed the towel back.
"Kira. You?" She ducked behind a rock to dress. Every few seconds her hand would grab another piece of clothing draped over the boulder's smooth top.
"Eamon, but everyone around here calls me Wick."
"Ah, so you're the little church mouse I'm been hearing about." Kira stepped into the sun once fully clothed. "Should've come down sooner when I found the latest treasure. Could've used the extra help."
"Treasure?" Wick walked alongside as the two started down the beach.
"Well, to me it was." She bent to pick up a large shell. "I collect things from the water. You never know what the tide will bring from distant places." Kira's eyes shone with pride as she spoke of drift wood and shells, glass pieces and even rocks. "But the biggest of all is the one I found this morning. It's quite heavy too. It's like a piece of lava rock hardened over the color of honey. Sometimes if the light hits it, it glows like your eyes." She grinned. "And maybe your hair."
Wick passed a hand through his tousle of fiery red and white hair.
"Lava rock's hard to come by around these parts. Would take a mighty storm to bring one even from the Wastelands."
"No, but one with the colors you described seems strange. Do you mind if I have a look?"
More transitioning here...
Kira's place was just a little ways from the beach, back in the shade of overhanging trees. As Wick waited on the front porch, he could not help but admire all the items she had spoken of earlier. Conk shells lined a path to the steps with drift wood as railings around the porch. In every corner there was a series of rocks in every shape and size. The colors were remarkable, but nothing compared to what Kira had in her arms when she appeared in the doorway.
Wick quickly rushed to help, and together they placed the large, black rock on a table constructed from an old crate. Sunlight was not needed to catch the glow of amber beneath the spindly surface, and the Ember Mage's face quickly paled.
"This is no lava rock," he whispered, running a few fingers down the glowing cracks. "It's a Fire Bird egg. How it got here, I have no idea."
"Egg?" Kira pulled away slightly. "Okay, when you say Fire Bird, does that mean..?"
Wick slowly nodded. "Say goodbye to everything green." He sighed. "It probably hasn't hatched only because it's been in the cold water. But since you've pulled it out-"
"There's more amber in it now," Kira interrupted. "It wasn't like this when I first found it."
"Then it's nearing that time. If this thing hatches, everyone will be in danger!"
"What about putting it back?" Kira asked. "Would it still hatch? Maybe the water would douse the flames?"
"Doesn't matter. Even underwater, a hatching Fire Bird can cause massive tidal waves. I've seen them. They'd engulf all the islands in a matter of seconds!"
Kira shook her head in disbelief.
"Why did I have to find this?"
"What if you hadn't?" Wick replied. "You'd still be in danger."
"What about you?" Kira asked. "Water and fire don't exactly mix."
"True. I'd more than likely end up in the same situation as the rest of you." He tried to think of a solution. Going back to the Wastelands was out of the question. From the amount of color showing, the egg was already in its final stages of development, and would soon crack. No matter where it was, several miles surrounding it would be instantly scorched. "I need to use the Temple, and fast!"
more drama here
The chaplain seemed disappointed to stop the service early, but in order for Wick to communicate with his parents he needed the Temple empty. On the altar he placed multiple trays of incense. The smell itself was almost overpowering when he ignited the wood and waited for the window to open within the circle of flames.
"So soon, my son?" Wick's father answered the summon. "Have you a secret for us?"
"I'll say," Wick's expression was a look of worry, "a secret that's been lying beneath the water's surface, but may be too late to help."
"One of the islanders discovered a Fire Bird egg just off shore. The color is changing fast. Soon it will hatch, and you know what that means."
"A Fire Bird?" His father's eyes widened in shock. "Eamon, there's no possible way one of their eggs could have traveled by sea. Someone or something must have placed it there."
"But who or what has come from the Wastelands carrying such?" Wick questioned. "No one leaves without being checked. The same if someone comes. I had thought about returning and bringing it with me, but it took nearly eight months to get this far, and that was using the fast-travel spell."
"Then I will send someone to you," his father replied. "The older ones are far more powerful and can reach you in less than two weeks."
"But we may not have two weeks!" Wick exclaimed. "This thing's ready to pop now!"
"I'm sorry, son. I have no other answers. Perhaps if I took this to the council, they might have a better solution."
For a moment, Wick was silent, mulling his father's words over. Suddenly, he perked up.
"I could guard it!"
"What! Eamon, no! You're not old enough for that! The council would forbid it. You can search out secrets for others, but not for yourself. You're not ready yet."
"But it's the only way to keep the Englaed Isles safe!" Wick argued. "You know it would. That's what being Guardian does. It stops a chain of events from happening."
"Or puts it on hold," his father said. "Let's say someone did bring the egg. They would be looking for it. Do you honestly think you'd be strong enough to stop them?"
"Yes, but they still couldn't get through me without a key. We are the Lock Keepers. A secret would certainly be safe for the time being. And you know a human wouldn't get too far with fire as my element."
His father gazed elsewhere, as though trying to focus on other thoughts. With a sigh, he refocused on his son. "Eamon, let me speak with the council first. They will know how to take care of this. Wait for my summon. I will return soon."
Kira was glad to see Wick running through the sand toward her place. She had been watching the egg ever since his departure. More cracks of amber were showing, causing the whole thing to glow.
"Thank goodness you're back!" She engulfed him in a hug. "I thought once or twice it would surely burst. I thought I saw movement." She took a breath. "Did you reach your family?"
"Yes." Wick held out his hand. In it was a short dagger with the hilt resembling that of a key.
"What is it?" Kira stared curiously at the object.
"I have asked to become Guardian - or at least the council granted guardianship for a short period of time. They are sending their fasted travelers to come get the egg. Apparently, they have stories of an Ember Mage leaving centuries ago with several eggs. They were meant to be used in creating new land masses. In one such story, Englaed Isles was that result, but back then it was all one land mass. How it got to be small islands, I'm not sure."
"Do you think this one was lost?" Kira asked. She flicked her gaze back to the egg.
"My father seems to think it was placed in the water on purpose. It that's true, then I may not be the only Ember Mage here. There are ways my kind can keep an egg from hatching over a period of years. Otherwise, this thing would have surely hatched by now."
"But that would mean someone's trying to destroy the islands. But why?"
"Don't know. We'll need to wait 'til the Elders arrive."
"How long is that?"
"Two weeks. Maybe less."
Kira looked skeptical.
"So what now?" she asked, then pointed to the dagger Wick held. "How is that going to be helpful?"
"This is the key to everything I'm about to do, but you need to stand back. This is the first time I've done this and I wouldn't want you hurt in the process it." With the key held firmly in one hand, he had barely placed his other hand over the egg when it began to tremble.
Wick was not sure what happened next. One moment he thought the egg had burst. The next he was lying on the sand with Kira bending over him shouting his name. His eyes flickered open.
"Did it work?" he said out loud.
"Did what work?" Kira was near tears with worry. "All I know was when you touched the egg, fire suddenly sprang around you. I couldn't see you at all! Then something flew out of the fire. It looked like a letter opener and went speeding that way." She pointed back to the Temple. "Then you came flying out. But there's something in the sand where you were standing. I didn't go over to it because it looked like it was moving."
"Really?" Wick tried to sit up, but winced in pain and held a hand over his heart. "Yep. It worked." He groaned slightly. "The lock has been set. What you saw was the key. To unlock the secret you have to find the key. And then whoever has the key has to go through me to open the chest."
"I don't understand," Kira said. "Are you saying you're the lock?"
In answer, Wick took her hand and placed it just under his shirt. Pressed against his skin, he could feel the beat of his heart. Yet there was something else, and when Kira touched the cold, metal surface she withdrew her hand in a jerk.
"What is that?" she demanded. "What have you done to yourself?"
"You were right to say it was moving." Wick painfully turned over on his side and tried sitting up once again. "It is." He stole a glance to what seemed to be a miniature treasure chest embedded in the sand. A thin, red haze pulsed around the outside, quickening whenever he moved. "It's my heart that keeps the chest closed. A lock now guards my heart."
"And the key?"
Wick blinked up at her.
"The chest will only open if my heart stops beating."
Kira flung herself away.
"That was no key then! That was a weapon! Where is it? We have to find it to take you safe!"
Wick choked out a laugh.
"Kira, relax! That was the whole point of sending it away. Someone's got to find it first. The islands are safe now, and the Elders are on their way. There's nothing to fear." He sighed. "Course, it does bring a whole new meaning to guarding with your life. But whoever put the egg here probably doesn't know it's being guarded. Everything will be fine. You'll see."
To Be Continued…