Chapter 38 Blood Fire

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The land is dark. The air is heavy with palpable energy. Something is about to happen.

Kiphy and Ime stand at the top of a dormant volcano. The mountains where Ime trained appear smaller in the distance. The land stretching between, though dark, has plants growing plentifully.

The volcano reminds Ime of his home and the rich soil a similar volcano provided his people.

“Why are we here? What’s the third lesson?” Ime asks.

“Come,” Kiphy says, leading the way down into the crater. “We’ve honed your body. We’ve honed your mind. You must’ve felt the difference when you used your magic in the darkness.”

“I have a stronger connection. I thought it would be weaker from lack of use, but I felt something inside I’ve never felt before when I used my magic.”

“You felt the core of your magic. Tell me, what did it feel like when you found the strength to fight back the darkness?”

“A strange warmth I’ve never felt before.”

Walking towards the center of the crater, Kiphy nods his head. “Your fire magic is still inside you. It was and can never be taken away.”

“You said my fire source was taken. But if I’m able to tap into the main source of my magic I could gain stronger fire.”

“What did it feel like when Klaeon stole your magic?”

“My strength was pulled from me, preventing me from fighting against him. My fire was ripped from inside me like a knife cutting into flesh. My other magic tried to stop it, but something kept it back.”

Kiphy stops and face Ime, his expression a mixture of grim and serious. “I haven’t told you everything, Ime. You remember what I told you about Blood Magic?”

“It chooses who will wield it. One who can’t use magic,” Ime answers.

“It chooses, because it’s a living magic.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Blood Magic is alive. However, without a host it’s nothing more than wind through the trees. When it finds a host it grants the being the gift of magic, but at a cost. The living magic becomes one with the host, feeding on his or her life force. Normally this would kill the host quickly.” Kiphy leans down and builds a small fire.

“You’ve spoken with Wynsil of Eraunel, I saw several of his men with your group. I’m sure he explained the origins of Klaeon. The village Klaeon came from has learned how to communicate with Blood Magic and in so doing, learned how to keep themselves alive. Each Magic is different, but I’m guessing in order to satisfy the power inside of him, Klaeon must feed the Blood Magic the sources of others.”

Ime’s mind races and his hands clench into fists. “Magic that eats magic? Then how can Klaeon use my fire? How could he give it to Teron?”

“Like I said, each Blood Magic is different, unique. As a gift to Klaeon for feeding it, the Blood Magic must give him some back. The power he’s shown is similar to my own. Manipulation, only unlike me, he’s limited to magic he’s consumed. But the magic he produces will never be as strong as the original.” Satisfied with the small flames of his fire, Kiphy stands.

“I remember the fire Teron used. It felt like my fire, but at the same time not.”

Stepping closer to Ime, Kiphy crosses his arms. “Your fire magic. Are you ready to get it back?”

Ime’s body tenses and he nods his head.

“Good. In order to get it back, you must prove to fire you are worthy and won’t lose it again.”

“How?”

Raising his hand over the fire, Kiphy collects the flames. He concentrates and the flames grow larger and hotter. Kiphy stomps his foot on the earth and a hole opens beneath him. Throwing his hands down, the fire disappears down the hole, deep into the earth at their feet.

Confused, Ime is about to speak when the ground shakes violently. Ime braces himself as the earth calms, but he can feel another violent shock coming.

Kiphy places a hand on Ime’s shoulder and meets his eyes. A strong emotion is present in the old man’s eyes. “Prove your worth, Ime.” Leaping quickly out of the crater, Kiphy stands at the mouth of the volcano and watches with his arms crossed.

The ground shakes again, growing in intensity. Ime stretches his magic into the earth, feeling the movement of rock…and magma. A sudden violent pulse shoots through the crater and cracks form around Ime. He’s thrown off his feet and lands on the still smoldering ashes of Kiphy’s fire. He rolls off as another jerk knocks him flat onto his stomach.

He can feel the earth screaming. The volcano is coming back to life.

Vents open, releasing steam, which whistles through the air. Bulges in the surface precede small eruptions of molten rock. The shifting of the earth is tearing the ground beneath Ime apart.

Climbing to his feet, Ime dodges falling molten rock, but new vents appear all around him. Lava explodes behind him and he feels his clothes and the hairs on his arms and legs singe.

The lava burns him. The realization frightens him.

A larger explosion sends rock into the sky, opening a hole at the center of the crater. Ime uses his earth magic to create a cover over him. Lava and cooled rock slam into him from above and the lava melts through his rock shield. He notices it almost too late and narrowly avoids injury.

The ground beneath him splits further and magma rises, pushing its way through the cracks. The solid earth melts away, leaving a few slabs of rock floating on the liquid fire.

Ime uses his air magic to keep the slab of rock beneath him cool. It takes most of his focus in order to prevent the ground beneath him from melting.

The heat surrounding him is intense and what little immunization from heat he has is easily being overpowered by the power of the volcano. The slabs of rock around him move too far for him to risk jumping to try to escape. He’s secluded on the tiny island beneath him.

Another violent shake from deep within the earth sends a tremor through his body. He feels the earth releasing a powerful surge of energy. Lava erupts into the air around him, enclosing Ime in a giant dome. It stretches high above him before descending to the earth and to Ime.

The heat is suffocating and Ime prepares for death. But a strange feeling fills him, the same feeling that filled him in the dark cavern four days ago during the second lesson. It fills his body and he stares up at the fire racing towards him.

He is unafraid of the fire. He remembers the feeling when he used fire, his fire, for the first time. At the time it had been an uncontrollable monster threatening to eat him alive until he began to understand how the fire danced.

And he loved how he could make fire dance. He wished he could feel it once more.

 

 *      *      *

 

Intense eyes bore into the cooling rock. Kiphy squeezes his crossed arms tightly with his hands. His lip is a thin line, and his forehead is furrowed deeply.

“It was too soon.”

Even as he speaks the words, Kiphy feels a part of him not believing it. A part of him whispers, give him time. But how long can one wait for someone buried beneath molten rock? Even Magic users need to breathe…and Ime wasn’t impervious to being crushed.

A shudder shoots through the earth. The volcano is falling back asleep. And Ime is nowhere to be seen.

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Chapter 37 Blood Fire

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A field covered in fog, waiting for battle. Two armies, one black and made of shadows and blood, the other white and made of light and stars stand on either sides of the field. The first army is larger than the second, creating a black wall at one end of the field.

Meah stands on the soon to be battlefield at the center of the two armies. She’s unseen, a ghost of the land.

She looks up to the sky to see fire raining down and a blood red sun. The fog fades and horns sound from both sides of the field.

The two armies charge forward. Fighting erupts around her, but there’s no sound. She walks through the fighting and everything seems to slow down.

Each figure moves with a graceful slowness. Blades slowly stab into men and screams of pain are nearly frozen on faces.

She moves through the armies and finds the ones she’s been searching for. Ime and Klaeon fight in an open area, free of distractions. She tries to scream Ime’s name. Suddenly, the fighting speeds up and Klaeon strikes Ime to the ground with his blood red fire.

Meah runs to Ime, but Klaeon turns to her, seeing her clearly. Ime reaches for Meah as blood pools beneath him. Klaeon raises his hand and fire roars towards her.

The fire disappears as an arrow of light cuts through it. A third army appears in the distance. This one is made of men and a powerful man sits at the head wearing armor of white light.

The army of men charges, joining with the army of light, and pushes the black army back. The man in white armor joins Ime and attacks Klaeon, forcing the man away. Ime stands and he and the man in white armor overpower Klaeon.

As the two deliver the final blow, Meah awakens and sits up, gasping for air. A name echoes in her head.

“Gaeren Banish.”

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Chapter 36 Blood Fire

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Cleaning the small camp they’d called home for over three weeks, Kiphy takes Ime deep into the mountain range. The mountains surround them like towering walls and the terrain is purely rocks and large boulders. It takes them two days to reach the sight of the next lesson.

Kiphy stops them at a giant hole in the earth. Peering down into the darkness, Ime realizes it’s an entrance to a deep cave. He’s reminded of the cave the group traveled through on their journey to Kellahn and of a similar large cavern they passed through. Though it hadn’t been as large as this one. He wonders if Kiphy chose this spot because of that knowledge.

“Lesson two,” Kiphy says, catching Ime’s attention. “Now that we’ve your body at the level required, it’s time to work on your mind and spirit.”

“Mind and spirit? Wasn’t that what the meditations were for?”

“The meditation was preparing you for this. Before we begin, however—”

He moves quickly, kicking Ime in the stomach. Ime’s shock at the sudden attack doesn’t last long as he realizes he’s quickly approaching the bottom of the cave.

Tapping into his magic, Ime uses a huge rush of wind to slow his descent. It’s a strange sensation through his body. He hasn’t used his magic for three weeks and he feels a stronger connection than before. He feels it flow through his muscles and realizes the reaction is faster. He lands softly on the ragged rock below.

Landing as gently on the hard earth, Kiphy stands above Ime on a rock jutting from the side of the wall. “Lesson two will take place here and unlike lesson one, I won’t be administering it. I’m going to leave you down here alone.” Peering around the large cavern, Kiphy seals any exits out. “I’ll also be sealing the top as well. I’ll leave only an opening large enough for me to observe you through.”

Ime searches the cavern. It’s much larger than it looked from above. “You said this lesson was about the mind and spirit.”

“Magic is powerful. But what fuels magic can be just as or even more powerful. The point of this lesson is to find what fuels your magic and to fight the darkness that threatens to poison you.”

“The darkness?”

“You’ve seen those who’ve allowed their magic to be tainted by darkness. Most go insane, others lose control. Some…well, you’ve fought the Blood King.”

A surge of rage fills him, but relief cools it. “So I’ll be meditating in the dark?” Of course, the first lesson was physical. The second would be purely spiritual.

A wry smile covers Kiphy’s face and he disappears from the rock he’s standing on. He appears kneeling in front of Ime and thrusts his hand into Ime’s chest where his heart rests. Ime’s mouth opens in shock. He waits for the pain of death, but he can’t even feel the pain from his flesh being pierced.

Risking a glance down, Ime sees light emitting from Kiphy’s hand buried in his chest. Kiphy pulls his hand out revealing a blade made of white light. Reaching into Ime’s chest with his other hand, Kiphy pulls a strange blackness from Ime’s chest and throws it into the shadows of the cavern around them.

Kiphy leaps back onto his perch on the rock above and Ime touches the area where the blackness came from. There’s no wound only flesh.

“What did you do? What was that darkness?” Ime demands, glaring at Kiphy.

Kiphy climbs his way to the top of the cavern, closing the opening until only a thin streak of light streams down from above. The darkness closes in around Ime and strange sounds rise from the shadows.

“You must overcome the darkness in your heart or else it will swallow you whole,” Kiphy calls through the small hole.

The sounds in the shadows grow louder. Ime feels a strange coldness in his chest. It threatens to spread throughout his body, but he fights it back. He’s reminded of his fire magic, but the sensation he’s feeling now is unknown, alien.

His eyes search the dark cavern for the source of the strange sounds. Movement catches his eye and he sees the mass of blackness Kiphy pulled from his chest. It’s growing and materializing into the form of a large beast with many legs and horns covering its body. Its mouth is large and full of razor sharp teeth. The tail swings back and forth, crushing rocks in its path. The beast grows larger until it stands heads above Ime. Its black eyes roll around in its head and land on Ime. The creature roars and it’s loud enough to shake the earth beneath Ime’s feet.

Ime winces, grabbing his chest. The coldness in his heart grows and he realizes the Darkness Beast is having an effect on him. He fights the cold back, but when he looks at the Darkness again it’s attacking. He dodges clawed legs that dig into the ground where he stood. The jaws of the Darkness snap shut so roughly the wind it generates hits Ime as hard as a punch. Before he can recover, he’s knocked to the right when the Darkness’s tail strikes him from the shadows.

Crashing into the wall of the cavern, Ime feels rock dig into his flesh. He manages to stay on his feet, barely. He places a hand on the rock wall then pulls his hand forward. Spikes made of stone appear from the wall. Ime steps forward and thrusts his hand forward, sending the spikes flying towards the Darkness. With his other hand he creates more ammunition from the floor.

The Darkness dodges the spikes or crushes them with its tail. It roars again and the coldness in Ime’s chest feels like a stab with a knife. The sharp pain breaks his concentration and the spikes fall to the ground as he grabs his chest.

The Darkness attacks, using the many horns on its head to try and run Ime through. Ime raises a wall of rock, but he doubts it’ll stop the beast. He shoots a gust of air to his right, helping him run to the side away from the wall. The wall crumbles and the Darkness crashes into the wall of the cavern. It collapses to the ground, stunned.

Ime pulls large boulders from the walls of the cavern and throw them towards the Darkness. The Darkness slowly rises to its feet and shakes off the collision, pieces of rock falling to the ground. The boulders hit it from either side and Ime throws a third on top of the beast, trapping it.

A laugh escapes Ime’s lips, but it doesn’t last long. The Darkness changes from beast to smoke and escapes its prison. It reforms free of the boulders and charges Ime. Cursing, Ime pulls more boulders from the walls and throws them at the Darkness.

The Darkness dodges easily and closes the distance between it and Ime. Ime pulls a long spear from the stone floor and throws it after a larger boulder, hoping it will hit the beast as it dodges in its solid form. There’s a moment it seems it will work as the Darkness dodges into the path of the spear. The tip of the spear stabs into the Darkness’s mouth, but the beast immediately turns to smoke. Luckily, the beast is smoke when it rams into Ime.

Wounds appear all over Ime’s body, mainly cuts, but he feels hits on his side he knows will bruise. The Darkness stops, surrounding Ime in its smoke. Ime’s blinded and he feels the coldness in his chest growing stronger. His mind is slipping as the smoke gathers around him. The Darkness threatens to swallow him.

But his thoughts suddenly fill with images of Meah and her voice echoes in his head. A new strength surges through him. The coldness fades and is replaced with warmth.

The Darkness roars around him in pain and pulls away, freeing Ime from the blackness. It returns to its solid form and backs away from Ime.

Ime knows why. Meah has become his strength. When he doubts himself or fears she’s there to help him become strong and fight through them. This Darkness is the physical representation of those doubts and fears. He only needs to remember the strength Meah gives him in order to win.

With his new strength filling him, Ime attacks creating heavy weapons from stone. The strikes hit the beast, but never damage it. Roaring angrily, the Darkness charges Ime. Changing the heavy weapons in his hands to sharp blades of stone, Ime strikes several times until finally cutting the hard flesh. Heat flows from the wound and Ime moves out of the beast’s path.

The Darkness crashes into the wall and falls to the earth. The heat flowing from the wound repairs the cut flesh, healing the Darkness. Ime understands.

He can overpower the darkness, but he can never destroy it.

Walking up to the Darkness, Ime drops his weapons to the ground. The Darkness struggles to its feet and stares into Ime’s eyes. Ime holds his hands out to his sides and the beast changes to smoke.

The smoke encircles Ime, the darkness once again blinding. This time, the cold never threatens to overpower him. Ime feels the darkness returning to his heart and the beast disappears for good.

Silence fills the cavern and Ime’s knees lock and he falls to the hard ground. His body feels heavy. Strong arms grab him and carry him up to the top of the cavern. Kiphy lays Ime onto a blanket.

Ime stares at the stars in the night sky. It’d been midday when they arrived at the cavern. Had he really been fighting for so many hours?

“You’ve won. The darkness in one’s heart can and should never be eliminated. It’s essential to growing stronger. Balance is the key to strength,” Kiphy says, cleaning Ime’s wounds.

“How long?” Ime’s voice is raspy as though he hasn’t spoken in a long while.

“How long were you down there? Ten days.” The shock on Ime’s face makes Kiphy laugh. “I bet it only felt like hours to you, didn’t it?”

Nodding, Ime places his hand on his chest. Kiphy hands him jugs of water and as the cool water touches his tongue, the dryness of his throat burns. His stomach grumbles loudly and he suddenly believes he’s been down there for ten days.

After cleaning and wrapping Ime’s wounds, Kiphy gives him food and Ime eats greedily. The stars shine brightly and Ime becomes lost in their beauty.

“It’s been forty-seven days. How long will the next lesson take?” Ime asks, his energy restored.

Kiphy finishes his meal and eyes Ime. “One day, if you survive. We rest and leave for the site of your final lesson in two days. It’ll take us another two days to reach the location.”

“Why so much time?”

“You need to regain some of the muscle you lost during the second lesson. We’ll resume some light sparring in the evenings. For now, rest.”

Ime lays his head on the ground and is immediately pulled into sleep.

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Chapter 35 Blood Fire

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The following day Kiphy sends Ime to run around the lake twice. When he returns, Kiphy has him do one hundred push-ups. Once Ime finishes, Kiphy send him off for two more laps. Again when Ime returns he drops to the ground for another hundred push-ups. This continues until Ime has finished ten laps and five hundred push-ups.

Kiphy lets Ime rest for a few minutes as he fills two buckets with water. “We’re going to jog up the mountain side. You’ll carry these buckets up and back down. When we make it back down you’ll do thirty push-ups then immediately pick up the buckets and head up again. We’ll do this ten times. Let’s go.”

Handing Ime the two buckets hanging from the ends of a thick staff, Kiphy takes off at a light jog. Ime catches up and finds the sloshing water in the buckets making it hard for him to find a perfect balance. He feels water hitting him and he nearly drops one bucket as his footing slides on the rocky mountainside. The climb up is exhausting and Ime is grateful when Kiphy turns them around to head back down. Once they reach the bottom, Ime drops the buckets to the ground, spilling the water and collapses to his hands and knees.

“Push-ups. Thirty and then back on your feet,” Kiphy demands. He takes the buckets to refill them as Ime reluctantly begins.

They continue the exercise until finally Ime finishes his last set of thirty push-ups. His arms barely managed to lift him for the last two sets and several times the buckets fell off the staffs, sending him to the ground as he climbed the mountainside. As soon as Ime struggles to complete his final push-up he collapses to the ground, breathing heavily. Sweat soaks his clothing and his head is light.

He doesn’t remember passing out, but Kiphy kicking him in the side wakes him with a start. Kiphy holds out a cooked piece of meat and bread. “Eat.”

Ime sits up, feeling his muscles tighten painfully. He takes the food and eats in silence.

“How are you feeling, boy?”

Drinking a large gulp of water, Ime wipes the sweat from his forehead. “Sore and a little angry. I thought I was in better shape than this.”

“This training is meant to wear you out. The fact you completed everything I asked of you on the first day is impressive. Most would’ve stopped after the first run up the mountain. Be proud of that.”

“Impressed enough to move on to magic?”

An amused smile appears on Kiphy’s lips. “No. But it means I may move on to more severe training earlier than I planned. Training the body usually takes two and a half months. You might be able to lower it to one and half month if you keep up this pace.”

Ime moves his arms above his head, feeling the burning sensation of worked muscles. His legs feel heavy and he wonders if he’ll be able to stand.

Finishing his meal, Kiphy stands and stretches. “Take your time with your meal. There’s more food in the basket behind you. Eat, replenish your strength and then we’ll move on.”

Without answering, Ime grabs the small basket and takes out two more helpings of food. Kiphy sits away from him, meditating. Once Ime’s stomach can fit no more food, he stands. His legs shake at first, but Ime stretches the sore muscles and practices a few kicks.

Kiphy appears in front of him, his eyes glowing with anticipation. “The afternoon is for sparring. When you’re ready, attack.”

The match ends quickly with Ime’s muscles sore and slow to respond. He can’t even come close to landing a hit on Kiphy and the old man doesn’t go easy on him. He fights with full strength, throwing Ime roughly to the ground. But Kiphy is careful not to cause any serious wounds.

Once Ime can’t stand any longer, Kiphy allows him to rest. Ime sleeps for a few hours before Kiphy awakens him for another meal. They don’t talk while they eat. Ime’s muscles scream at him and he winces as he lifts handfuls of food to his mouth.

To Ime’s great relief, the next part of training is meditation.

“The goal of this training is to give you a deeper connection to your body. In order to do that you need to listen to your body. But if you think this is simply more time to sleep then be prepared for very rude awakenings,” Kiphy explains.

Ime finds a flat, smooth rock next to the lake and sits in silence. He concentrates, feeling each ache from every muscle in his body. But as distracting as the pain is, he can’t keep his mind from drifting back to Kellahn and Meah. He wonders what she and the group is doing as he sits on a rock.

A smack on his head brings Ime back to the lake. He turns angrily to Kiphy. “I wasn’t sleeping.”

“You weren’t listening to your body either. Don’t worry about them. They can handle everything.” Kiphy walks away.

Releasing an aggravated sigh, Ime closes his eyes and listens. Hours pass and the sun disappears behind the mountains. Kiphy has Ime run five laps around the lake. With his legs weak from the day, Ime finishes the laps well after the moon has risen high in the sky. He washes in the lake and then collapses to the ground by the small fire Kiphy has lit. As soon as his head hits the earth he is asleep.

Five days of the same workout schedule pass. Ime’s muscles fight him the second and third day of training, but by the fourth and fifth he finds everything easier. His muscles hurt less and his stamina increases.

The eighth day of training the two men rest. Ime sleeps for most of it, but when he wakes he finds the lack of movement unbearable and swims a few laps in the lake to stretch his healing muscles. Kiphy allows it on the condition Ime only does enough to warm his muscles, not work them.

The morning of the first day of the second week of training Kiphy changes the fifty push-ups after every two laps to one hundred. The jog up the mountain now requires Ime to carry four buckets of water instead of two and with thirty push-ups instead of fifteen waiting for him at the bottom.

They eat lunch, but instead of having food waiting, Kiphy has Ime catch his own food. He gives him a knife and Ime manages to catch a deer and several fish.

After their meal, Kiphy adds weight lifting. Ime lifts different sized boulders not only with his arms, but also with his legs. Then they spar. The ground Ime gained from the final two days of the previous week are gone as his muscles ache from new pains. He is able to take more hits, but he still can’t come close to hitting Kiphy.

They eat dinner, Kiphy kindly cooking left over meat from earlier. Ime meditates, keeping his mind on his task and feeling the blood flow through his growing muscles. Blisters on his feet and hands toughen and new calluses form. Kiphy has him run ten laps around the lake and swim ten laps before sleep.

The second week goes by faster and Ime notices a change in his fights. He’s able to keep up with Kiphy’s speed much better even though he can’t land a hit. He even nearly catches Kiphy in a chokehold when he spots a chance to get in behind the old man.

The eighth day is for resting, but Ime decides to hunt for more food for the final week. Kiphy joins him for fishing and Ime tells him about their travels from the Arena. Kiphy is particularly interested in the tales about the cave beasts, asking curious questions.

The third week is similar to the second week, but with the addition of fifty push-ups after every odd lap and one hundred after every even lap in the morning, rocks instead of water in his buckets, heavier boulders to lift, and fifteen laps of swimming after dinner.

The eighth day for resting Ime uses for more meditation and a few hours of practicing new fighting movements. He practices moves he’s seen Kiphy using and uses a thick tree trunk as a sparring partner.

The fourth week begins with more additions. Run ten laps with one hundred push-ups after every odd lap and two hundred push-ups after every even lap. Swim five laps across the lake. Run up the mountain, no buckets, however at the top Ime is required to do thirty push-ups followed by twenty sit-ups and at the bottom he does sixty push-ups and twenty sit-ups.

Meal then lifting more boulders with arms and legs, increasing the weights higher than the previous week. Sparring follows, but Kiphy now forces Ime to wear arm and leg bands made from heavy stones. Dinner follows then meditation. After meditation it’s ten laps running and twenty laps swimming before sleep.

The thirty-third day of training dawns and when Ime awakes, Kiphy is gone. It doesn’t take Ime long to discover where the old man’s gone. In the dark of the early morning, the light from a small fire is seen on the mountainside. Ime makes his way up the familiar incline to where Kiphy stands waiting for him.

“No training today. Only fighting. Attack me.”

Ime is confused. “I can still profit from more training. Why do you only want to fight now?”

Sneering, Kiphy attacks, knocking Ime back, but not to the ground. “Attack me or I will kill you.” He kicks at Ime’s neck, holding no strength back. He’s aiming to break Ime’s neck.

Reacting quickly, Ime dodges and lunges for Kiphy. They fight ferociously. Kiphy starts strong, keeping Ime on high alert. But Ime realizes his arms and legs respond much faster now that the arm and leg bands are gone.

Kiphy forces Ime to the edge of the mountain. Ime allows Kiphy to land a kick on his side, but he grabs the leg before it causes damage and shifts his weight to throw Kiphy away from him, a move Kiphy used many times on Ime in the past three weeks.

Recovering quickly, Kiphy closes the distance between the two in a second and kicks Ime’s legs out from under him. Ime uses the momentum of falling to the ground to roll away from the edge and leaps to his feet behind Kiphy. Without missing a beat, Kiphy throws a punch, turning to face Ime. Ime maneuvers back a few steps, feeling the breeze from Kiphy’s punch. He waits, readying himself for Kiphy’s next attack.

Kiphy runs at him, readying another punch. As Kiphy swings, Ime drops to the ground, leaning to the left and sticking his right leg out. With his momentum, Kiphy can’t stop and trips over the extended leg. Slamming a hand to the ground, Kiphy cartwheels into his feet. As he pulls his hand from the ground, Ime grabs Kiphy’s wrist, using the old man’s momentum to pull him to his feet. He lifts a leg straight in the air and brings it down on Kiphy, holding the wrist tight. But Kiphy catches the leg in his free hand. Ime tries to twist Kiphy’s hand to immobilize the old man.

Kiphy jumps up and places both feet on Ime’s chest. Ime loses his balance and leans back to counter balance. Kiphy leans forward, throwing off Ime’s balance so he starts falling back. Ime releases Kiphy’s wrist and tries to catch himself. Kiphy drops his feet to the ground and, now holding Ime’s leg with both hands, he lifts Ime over his head and swings him towards the ground. Ime throws both hands in front of him, meeting the hard earth and immediately kicks at Kiphy with his free leg. He hits the old man in the stomach and Kiphy’s knocked back, releasing Ime’s leg.

Standing, Ime leaps for Kiphy and punches from all sides. Kiphy has trouble blocking every hit as he gasps for air, but he quickly learns the pattern of Ime’s hits. When he raises his arm to block a hit, Ime adds a kick, changing the pattern. Kiphy barely manages to block, but Ime grabs his arms and slams his head into Kiphy’s face. Kiphy notices the hit at the last second and turns his head slightly to prevent a broken nose.

Kiphy stumbles back, but Ime pulls him close and knees him in the gut. Kiphy fights to stay on his feet as Ime places his leg behind Kiphy’s. Ime slams Kiphy to the ground, kneeing him again in the stomach as he lands.

He pulls a fist back, aiming for Kiphy’s nose. As he throws all of his strength into the punch the air sizzles around him.

Stopping the punch inches from Kiphy’s face, Ime jumps back. Fire covers Kiphy’s body and chases Ime. Ime dodges the surge of flames and watches them disappear over the lake. Breathing hard, Ime faces Kiphy.

The flames around Kiphy’s body disperse as he stands, holding his stomach. Blood rolls down from a cut on his eyebrow and he smiles. “Be proud, Ime. You’re the first to ever force me to use magic while still in the first lesson.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re ready for lesson two.”

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Chapter 34 Blood Fire

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“Though it was simple, your description of how you perceive your magic shows me you understand that magic is based in the body,” Kiphy starts, placing a hand on his chest for emphasis. “Therefore, the first step is to train your body.”

“My body’s well trained from fighting in the Arena.”

“Yes, but that was survival fighting in the basic sense.”

“Basic sense? We fought for our lives. Some lost limbs, minds, or their lives.”

Kiphy raises his hand to calm Ime. “I don’t intend to demean those who lost much in that horrible place. When I speak of training your body it’s in terms of tapping into the source of your magic. I doubt other than physical training you had very little time to train your magic. You’ll need a deeper connection to your body beyond what many others will ever experience.”

Standing, Kiphy waves his hand at the fire, extinguishing it. “The first part of your training will focus on your body’s physical strength and speed. Until I’m satisfied with your strength we won’t even touch magic. Attack me. No magic.”

Ime stands across from Kiphy and lowers into a fighting stance. Kiphy mirrors him, tensing his muscles.

Leaping forward, Ime tries to strike the older man with his left fist. Kiphy leans to the left, grabbing Ime’s wrist. He twists Ime’s arm and steps to the right. He uses Ime’s forward motion to throw him over his shoulder. Ime lands hard on his back and releases a gasp of surprise. He hadn’t even seen Kiphy move.

Stepping back, Kiphy waits, watching Ime with calm eyes.

Ime climbs back to his feet. He attacks again, lunging forward. Before Kiphy can grab his arm, Ime pivots on his left leg and steps behind Kiphy. He punches Kiphy’s back, but the old man drops to the ground and uses Ime’s momentum to throw him onto the ground again. Kiphy places his foot on Ime’s chest, smiling.

“Again.” Kiphy steps back and waits.

Without giving Kiphy time to react, Ime jumps to his feet swinging his fists. Kiphy dodges and blocks with ease as Ime attacks the same way over and over. Kiphy follows the pattern easily and raises his hand to block Ime’s fist for the dozenth time.

Kiphy’s legs are knocked out from under him as Ime kicks instead of punches. Kiphy’s expression fills with shock and Ime readies to bring his elbow down on the old man’s chest. Kiphy throws his hands to the ground, leaning back, and manages to do a back handstand, narrowly avoiding Ime’s elbow. He uses the force of gravity to help him flip back onto his feet and before Ime can make his next move, Kiphy kicks him in the chest, sending him flying onto his back again.

The wind is knocked from his lungs and Ime tries to sit up, but Kiphy places a foot at his throat. Ime grabs Kiphy’s ankle to keep the foot from cutting off his air as he gasps to replenish his empty lungs.

Kiphy searches Ime’s face for concession, but all he sees is determination. Ime’s grip on Kiphy’s ankle only tightens and he can see Ime’s mind working, trying to figure out a way to free himself while at the same time catching Kiphy off guard and switching their positions.

A smile grows on the old man’s lips and he removes his foot from Ime’s throat. Ime sits up and rubs his throat to make sure nothing is injured.

“I see you’re very good at thinking on your toes. You’ve learned much in that Arena. Now, I’ll raise you several steps higher,” Kiphy says, holding his hand out to Ime.

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Chapter 33 Blood Fire

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Gentle voices sing, growing softer or louder when the music calls for it. The song is calming, almost a lullaby. The damp, darkness fills with the voices, bringing small warmth to the cell.

Ime, sixteen years old, curls into a tighter ball on the hard bed. His tear-streaked face is hot from his silent crying. His eyes, stinging from his tears, open slowly as he listens to the calming singing.

Whispers echo from other cells. Some join in, humming where they don’t know the words. Other whispers are of surprise. They’ve never heard the ones from this cell speak, let alone sing.

The voices stop as the song comes to an end. Creaking signals Ime’s two roommates turning on their beds to face him. Ime remains still, not wanting to meet the eyes of the two strange men.

“Hey. You feeling better?”

“Kylii, give him more time.”

“Why? He’s stopped crying. That means he’s good enough to talk.”

“Let him decide when he’s good enough.”

“But that could take days.”

A slap is heard, followed by a small cry of pain. “It hasn’t even been the first night. Give him time.”

“Fine. But don’t hit me again, Daniil-li.”

Silence fills the cell. Weeping rises from the darkness from another cell. Ime holds a hand out in front of him. He reaches deep inside to where his fire used to be. He tries to bring it back. But nothing changes. He can feel his other magic working to bring his fire forth, but his fire is gone.

He stares at his hand, willing his fire to appear. After a moment with no success, he lowers his hand on the bed. He listens to the cries from the other cells and the distant sounds of men pacing back and forth.

Rolling to his other side, Ime stares at the two sitting on their beds. “Can you sing again?”

The smiles that greet him fills Ime with hope. Hope that he may survive his new home at the Arena.

Ime sits up quickly. The Arena fades before his eyes as the gentle voices begin singing. They’re replaced by a single voice. The dark walls disappear and become tall mountains. The weeping men change to animals calling across the plains.

Daniil and Kylii become Kiphy, sitting on his rock with a small fire burning before him. He sings as he cooks a row of fish. His pale eyes look at Ime and his singing stops.

“Ah, you’re awake. I’ve some food prepared. Eat.”

Ime moves closer to the fire and sees cooked fish resting on a rock. He picks up two and begins eating. “I’ve heard that song before.”

Kiphy removes the last of the fish from the fire and grabs one to eat. “I assume from Daniil and Kylii. Their mother used to sing it to them whenever they’d cry.”

Without warning, Kiphy throws a large stone at Ime. Ime raises a hand and the stone stops in mid air. He throws the stone back at Kiphy who simply leans to the side, dodging.

“You’ve good control of your magic. I assume you had to compensate for the loss of your fire by mastering the other elements,” Kiphy says, taking a large bite from the fish in his hands.

“I didn’t have my fire as long as my other magic before Klaeon took it away.”

“They came to you one at a time?”

“Yes. Earth, air, water, and fire. But even though fire was last, I felt a deeper connection to it than the others.”

“That’s because you can create fire. You don’t need a preexisting source.”

“I’ve seen others create their own fire.”

“Yes, but they can’t control the other elements, can they?”

Thinking carefully, Ime reaches for a new fish. “Is there a possibility I could create my own water and earth?”

Furrowing his brow, Kiphy leans his head to the side. “You mean without a source of water and earth? Possibly, but there’s no real need to. There’s plenty of earth and water for you to use. Let’s stay focused on your fire, for now.”

They finish their meal, eating every fish Kiphy prepared, and Ime goes to the lake to wash up. When he returns, Kiphy motions him to sit. “You should rest more. You’ll need to be fully energized.”

“I’m fine.”

“You should get as much sleep as possible. It’ll be hard to come by in the next month.”

“No. I want to start now.”

Staring indifferently at Ime, Kiphy leans forward. “Fine. Tell me about your magic.”

“You know about my magic.”

“Yes. But tell me what you know about your magic.”

Ime takes a moment to gather his thoughts, remembering how he explained his magic to Meah back at Jaxon’s village. “Each magic is different. It comes from a different place. My air magic is an extension of my body, using the air encircling me to reach out to move everything around me. Earth comes from my center, using the power of my legs to shift the ground beneath me and my air magic to help maneuver and direct it.”

Kiphy crosses his arms. “But you don’t need air magic to move the earth, do you?”

“No. I can shift the earth below however I need to, air magic increases the speed.”

“Water?”

“Water is the most pleasant feeling out of all of them. My entire body goes into controlling it. I can feel the water in me telling the water around me what to do, like a second thought.”

“And what about your fire?”

Ime slowly places a hand over his heart. “My fire comes from here, the burning in my chest. But I feel all of my other magic working together to bring the fire out. I had to learn fire last.”

“What you speak of when you describe your magic and where it comes from inside you is very important. Though your descriptions are a bit childish,” Kiphy says.

“Why childish?”

“Childish because it’s only the surface. Where you feel your magic is only where it manifests into our world. In order to fully understand your magic and to get your fire back, you must understand where it comes from before that.”

Ime shakes his head, confused. “I don’t understand.”

Laughing, Kiphy rolls his eyes. “Of course you don’t. That’s why I’m here. To help you understand.” He waves his hand over the small flames of the fire. He turns his hand upwards and a flame dances on his palm.

“You can use fire?” Ime asks, his eyes widening.

“No, I can manipulate things around me, but that’s not important right now. This fire. Tell me how it’s made without magic.”

“Gather wood to burn and create sparks.”

“A simple explanation. But where do the sparks come from?”

“Rub two sticks together. A more practical way is flint and stone.”

Nodding, Kiphy plays with the flame on his hand. “Again, a simple explanation. But what I asked was where do the sparks come from?”

Ime shakes his head, not understanding.

Kiphy places his hand over the flame and stretches the fire. He slams his hands together and the flame goes out. When he pulls his hands apart, small sparks are seen twinkling between his palms.

“These sparks come from things we can’t see. Reactions occurring at such a small level, human eyes can never view. When flint and stone strike or when two pieces of wood rub together, these small things unseen by our eyes create what’s needed for the spark to happen. Thus, creating the very thing needed for a fire to start.”

The sparks stop and Kiphy rubs his hands together.

Ime’s eyes lighten with understanding. “You’re talking about the source.”

Placing a finger on the side of his nose, Kiphy smiles. “You’re catching on. Magic comes from a source. All magic. Beneath that source are divisions that determine what type of magic, such as Healer, Seer, Elemental, and so on. These divisionary sources are ingrained into us from the moment we’re born.”

“The main source. What’s that compared with the divisionary sources?”

“The main source is what gives all magic the power to come into being. However, it can never be taken away. Divisionary sources can.”

Ime’s eyes darken. “Klaeon took my fire source.”

“But he can’t take away the main source of your magic.” Kiphy pauses and his eyes search Ime’s face. “Do you know why there are forbidden magic?”

“It’s unnatural magic. Magic that shouldn’t be.”

Kiphy laughs and shakes his head. “All magic is unnatural, Ime. We’re all users of things humankind shouldn’t be able to do. It’s only become something normal, but it will never be natural.”

“What about beasts that use magic?”

“They’re products of magic. Their ancestors were powerless at one time. The magic introduced to them, shaped them. Maybe thousands of years down the line humans will be shaped by the magic and then it’ll be natural. But for now, it’s still something we as humans shouldn’t be able to do. But back to the question.”

“Why is there forbidden magic?”

“I will only speak of Blood Magic since it’s the only kind you’ve witnessed yourself. Of all the forbidden magic, Blood Magic is unique because it’s only found in one place. A village no one has ever seen that practices the darkest of magic. Blood Magic is their most powerful and can only be used by one person once a generation. What makes it forbidden is it chooses whom it will grant its power. The one it chooses is one who doesn’t have a source of magic in them. It can only be used by one who is never meant to use magic.”

“Klaeon is a non magic user?” Ime asks in shock.

“Yes. Forbidden magic is magic that isn’t connected to the main source of magic. It’s separate. Creating its own source and surviving in a way no other magic can.”

“How is that possible?”

“It’s one of the things we’ll never truly understand about magic. The rules of magic are known only to the gods.”

“What’s the main source of magic?”

“We don’t know. We only know there’s a main source and divisionary sources. No one’s ever been able to find the source.”

“But since Klaeon couldn’t take away my main source, you think if I can tap into it, I can bring my fire back.”

Kiphy smiles. “No. The fire he took was only the first step of your magic. What I plan to do is release your true fire magic.”

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Chapter 32 Blood Fire

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The Festival of Magic is ending. Celebrations are quieting and celebrators are heading home. Though most groups’ aim was home, one group walks through the city with oddly energized strides.

The Great Hall is a large white building sitting high in the western wall of the canyon. There’s only one large room in the building. The ceiling, made up of a mosaic of the canyon and city, towers above a huge mosaic of a Hok. Large windows allow the Great Hall to peer over the entire city.

The doors of the Great Hall stand closed. Ruler of Kellahn, Altan Hogan escaped to the empty quietness after finishing his duties for the festival. He needed a place to relax and wait for his mind to clear before heading home.

When the doors to the Great Hall burst open, Altan’s screams echoed loudly and he fell from his chair.

“What do you want?” his voice cracked from fear.

Altan’s chair sits on a raised platform looking down on those who meet with the ruler. The chair is marble and reflects light. Now Altan peers from behind the seat with wide eyes.

“My Lord,” Deven calls as he rushes to his ruler and helps him to his feet. “I apologize for the intrusion, but our guests demanded to speak with you.”

Altan’s eyes bulge more. “Now? But the Festival is finished and it’s very late.”

“I’m sorry, but I think we’ve waited long enough to speak with you,” Meah says, walking forward.

“And you can wait a little longer until morning.”

“Technically, it is morning,” Kylii says. Daniil elbows his brother in the side.

“Lord Hogan,” Jaxon begins.

“Altan. Just Altan,” Altan says.

“Altan, we’ve traveled a long distance, suffered losses, and have a lot of work to do before Ime returns.”

“Ime? You mean the Elements Mage.”

“Yes. He’s currently training with a Magic Master named Kiphy. He’ll be returning in about three months.”

“Three months? When did he leave?”

“Thirty minutes ago.”

“And you can’t wait until the sun rises to speak with me?”

“You’re already up and unless you sleep here, which I don’t see a bed, you still have to walk home. Since you’re awake, a little preemptive talk about the upcoming war doesn’t seem to be too much to ask,” Daniil says. The group faces him, staring at him in surprise. “What? I’m tired and I want to get this over with.”

“The reason I’m in here is because all night I moved from one celebration to another giving uplifting speeches and drinking with my citizens. I’ve had almost two barrels worth of beer and I don’t like people seeing their leader stumbling down the alleys,” Altan speaks quickly, slurring only a few words.

Kylii whistles and elbows his brother. “Wish I could talk like that after two barrels of beer.”

“You never talk that clearly,” Daniil probes.

Kylii glares at his brother, but doesn’t respond when he sees Meah giving him a look.

“While Ime’s gone, we need to start discussing our plans and sending messages to allies,” Meah says, facing Altan. “The three months he’s gone isn’t for us to relax. If we relax while Klaeon continues gathering forces we’ll lose before we even reach the battlefield.”

Altan carefully moves forward, taking in Meah curiously. “And you are?”

“Meah Flandine.”

“The Life Healer. I’ve heard a lot about you.” His eyes scan the rest of the group. “I’ve heard a lot about all of you.”

“My Lord,” Deven begins, but Altan holds his hand up.

Placing his hands behind his back, Altan’s expression changes from the frightened, drunken man the group walked in on to a confident ruler. “Very well. Let’s discuss war preparations. But first, I’ll need to know the names of the rest of you.”

Meah grabs Jaxon and pulls him forward. “Jaxon Parth, leader of the Black Caravan.”

“Former leader of the Black Caravan. I’d prefer to be known as the Blue Fire Mage,” Jaxon says, bowing his head to Altan.

“The Lakeen brothers, Daniil and Kylii,” Meah continues.

Daniil and Kylii step forward.

“Ice Mage,” Kylii says.

“Fire Mage,” Daniil says. “And this is Tanith.” Tanith steps forward and sits next to Daniil.

“And you said Ime Gurek is training. What kind of training?” Altan asks.

“Blood King Klaeon stole his fire magic from him. He’s training to get it back,” Jaxon says.

“Stole his magic? I didn’t know such a thing was possible.”

“It’s a rare, forbidden magic that allows the Blood King to steal another’s magic.”

“Altan, I know we may seem overly excited about gathering forces, but I promised Ime we’d take care of everything while he’s gone. Now, how many allies does Kellahn have to call on and what are the projected numbers of soldiers from each?” Meah asks.

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Chapter 31 Blood Fire

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The two men don’t speak as they pass through the city. Ime is unsure of where Kiphy is leading him, but the old man knows his way through the streets and alleys of the city better than most.

A path leading up towards the top of the west wall of the canyon appears before them and they begin the ascent. A similar gate to the one on the eastern wall signals their departure from the city. The top of the canyon appears much similar on the east side as the west side.

Kiphy continues walking out into the plains surrounding the canyon, never slowing his pace. Ime follows, curious as to where the old man is leading him…and what the mysterious training will be to regain his magic.

“I hope those two didn’t cause you too much trouble,” Kiphy speaks suddenly after the canyon disappears from their view. “They’ve always been quite the tricksters.”

It takes Ime a moment to realize Kiphy is speaking of Daniil and Kylii. “They’re good men. Inseparable and loyal to their friends.” Searching Kiphy’s back for any reaction, Ime picks up his pace to walk next to him. “Meah wasn’t the only one to notice the resemblance.”

“What’s your relation to that Life Healer?”

“Is it important?”

“It may be.”

Debating how to answer, Ime realizes he doesn’t wholly trust Kiphy. He remembers feeling the same when he met Daniil and Kylii the first time. “There’s no relation.”

Laughing loudly, Kiphy’s entire face changes as a bright smile spreads across his face. He turns his head at Ime. “That must be why you nearly got yourself killed fighting that faux magic user.”

Ime’s cheeks burn red with anger and embarrassment. “If you already knew the answer, why ask the question?”

“Questions are the most important things that can come from a person’s mouth. Ask questions. If you don’t, it may get you killed.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.”

The silence falls over them again as they continue their uninterrupted path across the plains. The night sky is full of stars and a crescent moon smiles at the two from its perch high in the sky.

Never-ending seem the plains until the first light of dawn brightens the sky behind them. In the distance, Ime sees mountains growing from the earth. These are different mountains than he’s seen before. Their peaks reach so high in the sky clouds block the tops from being seen and snow covers the sides, creating a line where it begins and ends.

It isn’t until the sun has peeked above the horizon Ime can even see where the bottoms of the mountains begin. Even then, it takes several hours more for he and Kiphy to make the smallest bit of progress.

“You’re very quiet,” Kiphy says after hours of silent walking.

Jumping at the old man’s voice, Ime responds, “I don’t know what to say so I stay silent.”

“A skill many men never learn.”

The sun rises to its highest point in the sky when Ime and Kiphy approach a lake at the base of the mountains. The water is a deep, dark color and trees line its banks. Birds fly across the still water. The mountains tower over like giant guardians. But with the clouds blocking the tops, a feeling of unknown hovers in the air.

Kiphy leads Ime to the water’s edge, sitting on a large rock. He motions for Ime to join him and Ime sits on a second rock across from the old man.

Crossing his arms and taking a moment to think, Kiphy releases a long sigh before meeting Ime’s eyes. “Before we begin your training it’s my custom to tell those I train a little of my history. It won’t serve you any purpose, unless you find some meaning in it. But it’s a tradition I find hard to break.”

Ime nods his head. “I don’t mind.”

“Good. Where I was born is unimportant. It no longer exists, destroyed during a war many won’t remember or haven’t been alive long enough to remember. My magic appeared during that time, but I’ll talk about that in more detail later.

“After my home’s destruction I travelled for many years, surviving off the land and training my mind and body. Why? In order to properly seek vengeance on those who destroyed my home. Did I succeed? Yes. Did it satisfy my needs and life? No.”

Kiphy’s eyes grow distant as a wave of emotion falls over him. “Revenge is a strange thing. When the focus of your anger decays before you can fulfill your desire, is that truly revenge? I found the ones responsible for my home’s destruction. But I was too late. They were already dying from their own destruction. Another more powerful group had beaten them, many killed. The ones I found who were still alive were too crazed to understand why I was there. My revenge had been taken from me…and yet, I was spared from what comes with revenge.

“I turned my back on my revenge and travelled farther and farther across the world. I sought masters of magic and though we were different, we learned from one another. They helped me to find focus and I found myself travelling down a new path, a path of enlightenment. I wanted to learn all I could about magic.”

Leaning forward, Kiphy rests his arms on his legs. “At the prime of my life, I found a new home. I found a wife. But I couldn’t stay. Travelling was ingrained in me and staying put in one place was wrong. My wife didn’t understand, but she accepted it. She told me I would always have a home to return to when I needed it.

“For years, that was how I lived. I crossed the lands in search of masters of magic and when I found them I’d return to my home, my wife. One year I returned home and two boys were waiting for me. They were two years of age when I met them for the first time and they didn’t know who I was. It took several days for them to understand that I was their father, even with their mother constantly reminding them.

“Then I left again, this time for many years. Returning home I found my new home gone. Fires still burned. My wife was dead, but my boys…they were alive. Their mother hid them when the attack began. And afterwards they managed to survive by scavenging food and clothes from the destroyed village. I vowed to stay with them, to keep them safe. But I didn’t know how to raise children, a cruel fact that filled me with guilt for leaving my wife alone for so many years.

“Two years we lived together. I taught them to fight. I taught them how to survive. Then I woke one morning and they were gone. Stolen in the night while we slept. I still don’t know how they were spirited away from me, but I searched for them for months before realizing they were gone forever.” Kiphy pauses. His mind races with memories. “I continued my travels and found that Arena in the desert. Two years had passed since my boys disappeared.”

Raising a hand as though reaching for something, Kiphy sat up. “And there they were. Twelve years old and killing full grown men with their magic I didn’t even know they had. I considered rescuing them, freeing them from their enslavement. But my cowardice at having to explain why it took so long for me to find them prevented me. I left them there and never returned to that Arena.

“I started taking on pupils as the wisdom from other magic users filled my mind to overflowing. I taught how to improve one’s magic, make it stronger. But none ever surpassed what I believed they could do. A few came close, one nearly surprising me with her ability to learn quickly. But even the ones I praised highly still fell short.”

Kiphy’s eyes fill with fire and he locks eyes with Ime. “Ime, you will get your fire back, I promise you that. But you won’t surpass my belief in you. You’re a rare magic user and your source is strong. What you’re able to do with it depends on you.”

Furrowing his brow, Ime shakes his head slowly. “Source, you said that before. What do you mean?”

Kiphy takes a deep breath and crosses his arms over his chest. Exhaustion fills his eyes. “That’s another long conversation we’ll have. But first, sleep. You’re about ready to fall off that rock and I know it isn’t from my enthralling storytelling.”

Ime’s eyes droop, reminding him he hasn’t slept in over a day. He struggles to keep his eyes open. “I can continue. The sooner we begin the sooner we can return to Kellahn.”

“If you aren’t fully rested, the training will be useless.” Kiphy points at Ime.

Ime feels a surge of magic wash over him. He lowers to the ground and his eyes close. He’s so surprised by the sensation he doesn’t have the strength to fight it and falls into a deep sleep.

Standing, Kiphy stares down at Ime’s still form. “The fight for your magic will be difficult. But all things we truly love must be fought for.”

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Chapter 30 Blood Fire

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Jaxon steps closer Ime and crosses his arms. “I’m glad to hear those words from you. In regards to how you are going to stop Blood King Klaeon,” Jaxon starts.

“You said you knew a way for me to regain my fire,” Ime interrupts.

“Yes. I do.”

“Wrong. I do,” a voice says loudly. “Stolen fire, eh? Forbidden magic was used on this poor boy.”

Ime and Meah step away from the man who has appeared standing between them. His white hair is pulled back behind his head. Thick, white stubble covers his lower face and his pale eyes stare at Ime incredulously. His clothes are made of light material, but hug tightly to his body, showing the muscles beneath. Though at first glance, the man appears old, he holds himself with a youthful gate.

Instinctively, Ime moves to stand between the man and Meah. “How did you know my magic was stolen by forbidden magic?”

Sneering, the man shrugs his shoulders. “Not hard to miss when I take a peek at your source.”

“Source?”

“All in good time, boy. You, snar eyes.” The old man turns his attention to Jaxon.

“Snar eyes?” Jaxon grumbles, irritated by the nickname and for being interrupted a second time.

“Snar?” Meah looks at Ime, who only shrugs.

“A snar, my dear, is a furred animal, much smaller than your Khorgois there. They’re notorious for being clever, sly, and camouflage by burying themselves in the ground or changing the color of their fur using dirt, mud, feces, or anything else they can find. It’s said their eyes can never be trusted because they’re such clever liars.” The old man never breaks his gaze with Jaxon.

Smiling slowly, Jaxon’s eyes grow dark with anger. “Are you saying I can’t be trusted?”

“I’m saying, I can’t tell what goes on behind your eyes.” Finally breaking eye contact with Jaxon, the old man sighs. “But, you were the one to call me. You wouldn’t be a very clever liar if you called me to help with the boy.”

“Help?” Ime walks to Jaxon. “Is this what you meant when you said I could get my fire magic back?”

“Yes. Though I’m starting to regret my decision,” Jaxon says.

A tug on Meah’s dress pulls her attention from the three men. Tanith is gently pulling her away. Raising her eyes, Meah sees why. Daniil and Kylii have both paled. Daniil is as still as a statue. But Kylii is gripping his brother’s arm tightly and moving slowly back, attempting to bring Daniil with him.

“What’s the matter with you two?” Meah asks, walking towards the two with Tanith at her heels.

Both brothers look at Meah with wide eyes. Daniil is the first to look away, turning so his back is to her. Kylii forces a smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Nothing. I just want to go see if there’s any food left at the festival square.”

Tanith rubs her nose against Daniil’s limp hand. But he doesn’t move to touch her or look at Meah. Kylii turns away from Meah and tries to pull Daniil forward.

“Running away again?” the old man’s voice cuts through the air like a sharp blade, freezing Daniil and Kylii. “What do you think will happen this time? There’s no Arena to hide in this time.”

Meah turns to face the man. His pale eyes watch Daniil and Kylii intensely.

“We weren’t hiding,” Daniil’s soft voice responds to the old man’s sharp words. There’s a dark tone, unfamiliar in the usual joking nature of his voice.

Kylii turns to face the old man, but he can’t bring his eyes to go any higher than the ground at the old man’s feet. “We didn’t run away.”

The old man takes several steps towards Daniil and Kylii, his expression stern. The brothers visibly shrink as he approaches, as though the force of the old man’s presence were pressing against them.

Meah steps between the old man, Daniil, and Kylii. “Stop it.”

Looking at her for the first time, the old man’s eyes move up and down her quickly, taking her in. His lip twitches and Meah believes she saw a smile.

“A Life Healer. Quite a rarity in this world.”

Fear grows in Meah’s stomach the longer the man stares at her. But she stays between him and the brothers. Finally, the man’s lips curve upwards into a humorous smile and she sees a familiarity in his face that catches her by surprise. Her eyes widen and she looks back at Daniil and Kylii. She again looks at the man and the realization causes her to take a step back.

Crossing his arms, the man releases a small laugh. “I see you understand.”

“Understand isn’t quite the word,” Meah answers, “Shocked recognition is closer.”

“Boy, come here,” the man turns to Ime.

“My name is Ime.”

“Ime, boy, Rare Kind, they’re all technicalities. But for now, boy will do. Come here.”

Ime hesitates, but Jaxon gently nudges him forward.

The man places a hand to his chest. “Name’s Kiphy. I can help you retrieve your stolen fire magic. But you must do exactly as I say. Are you sure this is what you want?”

Nodding, Ime answers, “I have to defeat Klaeon. I can only do that with all of my magic.”

“Good. We leave now.”

“Leave?”

“Yes. Your training can’t be done here. We leave now.”

“But what about gathering armies? How long will this training take?”

Leaning his head from side to side, thinking carefully, Kiphy makes an annoyed sound. “If we’re lucky, three months.”

Ime and Meah stare at Kiphy in confused silence. Jaxon, Kylii, and Daniil aren’t surprised by the news.

“Three months? Klaeon could attack during that time!” Ime says angrily.

“That’s the time frame. Anything less depends on you.”

“It should still take Teron’s men at least a month to report to Klaeon and even more for him to prepare an army to move. You should have enough time if you don’t dawdle,” Jaxon says.

Crossing to Ime, Meah places a calming hand on his shoulder. “Go with him. Jaxon, Daniil, Kylii, and I will take care of everything here. Get your fire back.”

Ime meets her eyes and places a hand on her cheek. He kisses her and nods. “Fine.” Taking a step towards Kiphy, he says, “We leave now.”

Kiphy turns to lead Ime out of the tower. But he stops in front of Daniil and Kylii. He doesn’t speak, waiting for the two to fight to meet his eyes. His face softens for a moment and he places a hand on each brother’s shoulder. The touch shoots through them like lightning, widening their eyes, and catching their breaths in their throats.

“I’m happy you both made it back to me.” Kiphy speaks the words softly, meaning for only the brothers to hear.

Moving past them, Kiphy regains his stern expression and lifted walk. Ime pauses at Daniil and Kylii to give them words of encouragement, but the strong emotion apparent on their faces keeps him silent. They manage to keep the tears back, but their choked sobs are still able to force their way past their lips.

“Boy!” Kiphy calls.

Ime pats Daniil and Kylii on the back as he hurries past to catch up to Kiphy. The two disappear across the bridge, growing smaller as they reach the west side of the city.

“Are you two all right?” Meah asks, walking towards Daniil and Kylii.

“We’ll be fine,” Daniil says, his voice shaking. Kylii only nods, unable to speak without making a pained sound.

Jaxon looks at Deven. “Thank you for finding him.”

“We keep records of every person who travels through our city. Honestly, I didn’t think he was still here. He tends to come and go without a word.” The brothers make an amused sound at that. But Deven ignores them and continues, “How did you know he was here?”

“When I asked the Seers of Eraunel for information on anyone who knew how to restore magic, they eagerly gave me his name. Of course, if I’d known we were travelling with his sons, maybe I would have asked them to talk to him for you,” Jaxon says, staring at the brothers.

Moving away from Daniil and Kylii, Meah places her hands on her hips. “Enough talking about that. We’re wasting time. We have work to do.”

“Work?” Kylii manages to choke out, regaining his usual tone. “What kind of work?”

“Too much to talk about here where anyone can overhear. Deven, is Altan available to meet with us?”

Deven’s eyebrow rises. “Now? The festival is only just ending.”

“So he’s free. Let’s go.” Meah grabs Deven and pulls him across the bridge. Jaxon, Daniil, Kylii, Tanith, and Saunem follow quickly.

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Chapter 29 Blood Fire

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Moving slowly through the city, Meah and Ime pass those still celebrating. Many have already started heading home, as the night grows longer. Several people watch as the two walk past, but when they see Ime’s wounds they quickly avert their eyes to appear less rude.

Passing too close to lit torches causes Ime to wince, his burns sending waves of pain through him.

“Let me heal you,” Meah says, trying to lead Ime to a nearby bench.

Forcing her to continue walking forward, Ime shakes his head and eyes the diminishing crowds. “Not here. Somewhere less crowded. Private.”

Reluctantly, Meah agrees and they continue moving through the city. They begin the cross along the largest bridge of the city. It’s wide and made entirely from thick stone. A large tower, supporting many other bridges of the canyon, signifies the halfway point. Stairs allow people to reach the other bridges and the top of the tower.

Meah and Ime reach this tower, passing through the doorway, leading into a large, open circular room. Curved stairs lead up or down and benches are lined along the wall. A single couple appears from the lower level and exits the opposite doorway, leaving Ime and Meah alone.

“I’m going to heal you,” Meah tells Ime, not asks. She helps him to a bench and kneels before him. She places her hands on the large burn on his side and he inhales sharply. “I’m sorry. It heals faster if I’m touching it.”

Waving his hand at her, Ime says, “It’s fine. It’s been…a while since I’ve been burned.” A shadow crosses his face. “I thought I could control it. But it seems when Klaeon stole my fire he stole my ability to resist its burn.”

“Does other fire burn you?” Meah asks as she concentrates, feeling skin repair itself and dulling the nerves causing pain.

“No. I can stop it from burning me. I just can’t control it.”

Slowly raising her eyes, Meah hesitates before asking her question. “Was Teron telling the truth? Was he using your fire?”

Ime stares at his hand where small burns cover his skin. His eyes narrow and he clenches his hand into a fist. “I don’t know. It felt like my fire, but…”

Finishing the large wound on Ime’s side, Meah takes his clenched hand in hers. She smiles gently at him. “But also not like your fire.”

“It’s hard to explain.”

Meah begins healing his hand, as she finishes she moves to his arms and legs, healing any burns she finds. “I’m not one to ask about magic. The only magic I know is my own. I was the only magic user in my village. Magic users from other villages didn’t share much the few times I ever met them.”

Moving to Ime’s face, Meah places her hands over small burns Ime hadn’t even realized he had received. “Though, from what I can tell,” Meah continues, “Klaeon’s Blood Magic is forbidden magic for a reason. No man should have this kind of power to take away magic and give it to those who shouldn’t have it. If we’re going to defeat him, we need to learn how his magic works and how to defend against it.”

Ime watches her work in silence. He knew the talks of war were to come. But he’d been avoiding the discussions since they escaped the Arena. Even when Jaxon tried to speak about it during the festival, Ime had avoided the subject. It seems fitting the first serious talks about the war are with Meah.

Finishing the last of the burns, Meah sits on the bench next to Ime. Snaking her arms around his left arm, She leans her head on his shoulder.

Gazing at her face, Ime can see the dark circles forming under her eyes. The tiredness weighs her body down and she fights to keep her eyelids from drooping.

“Teron made it sound like Klaeon’s army is larger than we believed it to be. Do you think he was telling the truth?” Meah asks.

“I do. Unlike us, Klaeon has been in one place. He’s had plenty of time to gather more forces to his army. We’ll need more men than this city has to offer.”

“Ime! Meah!” Voices call to the two.

Meah and Ime sit up and look through the doorway leading to the west side of the city. Daniil, Kylii, Jaxon, Tanith, Deven, and Saunem run towards them. As they reach the tower, Ime and Meah stand.

“What the hell? Meah gets kidnapped and you go off on your own without telling us?” Kylii demands.

Crossing his arms, Daniil frowns at Ime. “It could’ve been a trap and you both could be dead right now.”

“We’re fine,” Meah says, calmly.

Nodding his head, Ime eyes Jaxon. “I had no choice. Teron sent one of his men to make sure I came alone.”

Jaxon raises his hands, defensively. “I tried to tell them that, even had Deven and the woman held at knifepoint explain it. But they wouldn’t listen to me.”

“One of our riders could’ve used a Hok to aid you without the enemy knowing,” Deven joins in.

Meah squeezes Ime’s arm. “Everything’s fine. Ime defeated Teron and we made it back.”

“Until more of his men come after you!” Kylii yells, angrily.

Ime and Meah give each other a look.

Immediately, Daniil and Kylii step closer. “What?”

Locking eyes with Jaxon, Ime says, “Teron sent the rest of his men back to Klaeon.”

Confusion fills Jaxon’s face. “Why?”

“Klaeon knows the location of this city.”

Understanding replaces the confusion on Jaxon’s face. “And therefore he already knows of this city’s army. Our element of surprise is gone.”

Ime pulls away from Meah. “No. It’s only been increased.”

“How?” Deven asks.

“He knows this city’s army. So,” Ime returns to Jaxon his sword, “we’ll find more cities, more armies to add to our power. You’re the one who said there are many others who don’t agree with Klaeon’s rule, Jaxon.”

Smiling, Jaxon takes his sword. “So, you’re ready to take this seriously, then?”

“Klaeon must be stopped and I have to be the one to do it.”

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