Despite the strength of the yeti, the ground had become too steep and rocky in the final stretch, so Captain Frederick Morgan set off on foot at the head of his band. In the high altitude, the air was thin, and even icier than at the foot of the mountain.We were all used to the warm air of Worsan, and were puffing and gasping as we drew near the summit. Despite her determination, Julia was falling far behind, and she was near the end of her endurance when we caught sight of a flame billowing off a short stone tower.
When Mythron first formed their empire, 200 years ago, they built a network of beacon towers throughout their territory, from which flashing signals could be sent from Reedus to Guaire in minutes. Although many towers collapsed or were plundered after Rainos’ independence was established, several remain in isolated spots, and this one had remained practically untouched since the garrison deserted.
As I rounded the final bend in the path, I saw a cloaked figure standing in front of the flames, which billowed in the gusts raging up the slope. As his cape flapped, I recognized him as the Mythronian from Warson, whom Consul Romulus had identified as Coriolanus. Who was this man?
Silently, the Enalicans took up positions around Morgan, and I wound up squeezed behind him unable to back away. I waited for Morgan to speak.
His voice rang out clear, piercing the wind. “In the name of Enalica and Troytonian Imperium, I place you under arrest. Stand down, and be placed into my charge. I, Frederick Morgan, say this.” Little trace of his pirate accent remained as he challenged Coriolanus, yet I noticed his tight grip on his cutlass, and around me the other Enalicans shifted and prepared for an attack.
Turning, Coriolanus leaped from the tower, and landed easily at its foot, facing us. “I, surrender? To you?” he said disdainfully, and his eyes seemed still to reflect the glow of the bonfire above. “You fools! Far bigger things are afoot in me than you shall ever know. Give me free passage from here, and you shall be spared.”
Before I fully thought over what I said, I yelled back at him: “We may not know who you are, but we’re going to put you back in prison! Where you belong!” Murmuring, the other soldiers looked at me uneasily, but Coriolanus had heard me clearly.
“Then so it be,” he said softly, yet full of concealed menace about to spill out. As we stared, his eyes seemed to grow brighter, but only Morgan noticed sparks beginning to spill out of his hands.
He first muttered, then yelled his warning: “An ignimancer. @*&$ *$# it, he’s an ignimancer! GET DOWN!” The note of urgency in his voice could not be disobeyed, yet we started to move too late.
As we started for the rocks, twin jets of flame shot from the hands of Coriolanus, and we leaped from the ledge to escape the searing heat. He laughed, a hard, fierce laugh, as we collapsed on top of each other on the path.
“Go for the ships, Ernest, Paullus, Grezgo! Send every man aboard up here in any way you can!” Morgan yelled as we hit the ground. The grer archer and two militiamen ran down the mountain, closely followed by a jet of flame. One of the Enalicans went down alaze, but the other two were soon out of range and hurrying back to the sledge.
The rocks were no protection from Coriolanus, though. Mighty spirals of fire coiled through the air like two writhing serpents, snapping and biting at a rat. “Rub snow on your clothes!” one of the remaining Enalicans suggested, and the flames were fended off slightly.
Morgan and I guarded Julia, who was frightened out of her wits by the fireballs, as best we could, while the two militiamen tried to catch the flames with their swords. Again and again fires hot down from above, yet abruptly the fire faded away; and after a moment's pause waiting for another flame, Morgan led the charge up the path. “Enalica!” he yelled, as the rest of us joined in raggedly and followed him.
Coriolanus’ fire was coalescing into a spinning hoop, and as we ran the air beyond the loop began to shimmer and spin also. Morgan must have been hoping to catch him off guard, but Coriolanus was too quick for him.
Whirling, he sent a sudden burst of flame straight into Morgan’s chest. Morgan never had a chance to parry, and he dropped backwards onto a step of the path. As the rest of us halted, Coriolanus, without a moment’s hesitation, leaped off the cliff and seemed to pass through the rapidly solidifying loop, and vanished without a trace.
I laid Morgan down on the snow, as his helmet rolled off his head. Unhopefully, I checked his pulse, but miraculously he still lived.
“We must bring him down the mountain so he can be treated,” declared the brown-haired militiaman. “Coriolanus’ gone, and there ain’t nothin’ we can do to stop him now.”
“No!” Julia countered, speaking with vigor despite her fear and weariness. “He wouldn’t stay here for any of us if we were hurt. Ernest and Grezgo will have made it to the ships, and there’ll soon be reinforcements on the way, but that portal’s going to collapse before they get here. We have to go!” She looked around, but the Enalicans were doubtful, and seemed far better pleased to wait for the reinforcements to arrive and let someone else take responsibility for Coriolanus. Weary and cold, Julia seemed to collapse inwardly as her resolve disappeared.
“Come on, then!” I said resolutely. “We may never get another chance at Coriolanus; are you ready to explain why he escaped? You must decide quickly!” I wasn’t exaggerating- light had begun to show through the portal, and the flames supporting it were faltering.
After an agonizing pause, they answered: “We’ll come.”
“Come on, then,” I cried, as I charged up the hill. The portal was fading fast, but the fire still held. I pitched myself off the cliff and through the portal.
Nobody, not even a Mythronian (sorry :P), would be stupid enough to volunteer for mountaintop signal duty without some form of shelter, so this cave was adapted into a place for the guards to rest between signals. Surprisingly, the interior remains almost unscathed after its period of disuse, even after being abandoned almost 70 years ago.
This is the technique I used to connect the fire pieces together. The small pegs on the base of fire elements snap into one of the gaps, as shown. It might take a little trial and error to find the right slot, but when they're connected, it yields a startlingly secure fit. I don't pretend to take credit for this technique- I've seen it all over the place on Flickr, and have no clue who first thought of it.
Finally, a little message for my fellow Enalicans: Second!