There Was Fire
By Ashlin Awerkamp
There was fire. He felt it in his core. A flicker of a flame.
Sitting on the stone floor with his legs crossed, Plume could hear Master Tadon breathing the rhythm of the fire within him. Light. Ebb. Burn. Fade.
“Good,” said Master Tadon. “Hold steady.”
Plume closed his eyes and held the spark contained in his stomach.
One minute passed. Two. The tapping of Master Tadon’s feet reverberated off the stone walls of the cave before receding back to a silence broken only by the drip, drip of water trickling down one wall. Plume still didn’t know where the black-magic dealer went during each lesson, leaving him to meditate alone.
He sat, breathing the flame. Light. Ebb. Burn. Fade.
Five more minutes passed. Or had it been twenty? Surely he’d been sitting at least an hour. He was tired of the lessons always dragging on like this. The dankness of the floor was seeping through his clothes and penetrating his skin. A chill flickered up his spine, and he shivered. He was ready for more. Master Tadon didn’t think so, but Plume knew he could handle it.
Muscles aching, Plume shifted, and the flame within him flared. Enchanted, he loosened his grip and felt the fire stretch its limbs, reaching up to tickle his ribs. He welcomed the warmth, the way it doused the chill.
He opened more, letting the fire run loose and free. It bubbled in his veins, warm as a summer’s day, filling him with heat. He undid his cape and let it fall to the floor. He laughed and pumped his fists in the air. Sweat trickled down his back. He pushed up his sleeves. The flames burned brighter, climbing higher and higher.
Should he call for Master Tadon? He wiped his face. No, he could handle this. He would prove himself stronger than the other apprentices. They were weak. He would succeed where they had failed.
He jumped up and pushed against the fire, trying to force it back into his core. It pushed back and exploded into an inferno, searing his lungs and scorching his heart. Plume’s breath came in ragged bursts. He looked around the cave and ran to where the water dripped down the wall. He pressed himself against it, wishing the stone would forgive him and temper the fever coursing through his veins. The moisture merely sizzled on his skin and evaporated in the air.
“Master Tadon!” Plume called as he fell to the floor, writhing as the flame filled every crack of his body, becoming his body, consuming his body.
Within minutes, his screams had ceased reverberating off the stone walls, and the cave was once more filled with only the sound of the drip, drip of water.
Master Tadon stepped out of the shadows by the tunnel’s entrance, where he had been watching the whole time. A servant carrying a broom and dustpan followed him. Hands clasped behind his back, Master Tadon gazed down at another of his failed experiments. He shook his head and turned on his heel, leaving the servant to kneel over a pile of ash, sweeping it into the dustpan.