"Young Flames"
Forest/Fire, Part 1
by Edward Bolme
Read The Shadow Geyser, Part 5

Tryn bolted awake, fear running madly down her frayed nerves. She cast about quickly in the dark cave, for a moment not remembering where she was. Then she saw the grim stone walls, the ever-present brambles, and the jagged crystalline flowers that shed their miasmic light. She was in the Core!

She began to panic, but then she saw a tiny arbolit burning quietly by the opening to the small cave in which she sat, and suddenly it all came back to her. She had foolishly entered the Shadow Geyser with Evu, thinking that between the two of them, they could defeat the evil eruption. Evu, befuddled old Magi that he was, had wandered off, and she had almost been...

Barak. Barak had saved her, and the two of them had managed to survive down here since. Many times the Cald warlord's strength and alertness had kept the two refugee Magi safe. Funny, Tryn thought, funny how I grew up hating and fearing fire, and now I've come to depend on it.

With a sigh, she settled back to try to sleep some more, and abruptly found herself leaning against Barak's well-muscled shoulder. Her eyes popped open in surprise. Had she fallen asleep resting her head on him? Had she moved in her sleep? Had he moved her? Her body tensed with uncertainty, and she tried to peer out of the corner of her eyes to see if the warlord were snoozing or not.

"We should probably move," Barak said quietly in his full, baritone voice. Tryn couldn't find any hint in his tone as to whether he had noticed her sudden tension, nor any clue that might betray what he thought of her... or her leaning...

Confusion roiled within her. She stood up, businesslike, and brushed off her skirt. "I hate the way this place smells," she muttered under her breath.

"Yeah," said Barak, "I know what you mean. Give me good, clean brimstone any day."

"Eeewww! That stuff stinks!" said Tryn.

Barak just laughed. He gathered up their few things and said, "All right, let's go."

Tryn tapped one of her rings and dreamed up a plith to scout ahead for them, and the two Magi began moving quietly through the dreary caverns of the Core.

Far off in the darkness, some nightmare creature howled; a horrid, lingering tone that echoed eerily in the blighted caves. Tryn couldn't tell if the beast was exulting in some victory or crying out in pain. Was there even a difference, down here where everything was corrupted?

Careful to conceal their movements, they headed back toward the vile laboratory that they had seen when they had first wound their way down to this forgotten place.

After their hasty flight, it had taken them weeks of exploring to re-discover the laboratory's location, and they had taken to spying on the activities of the Core Magi therein. They had learned that the Naroom Shadow Geyser had collapsed, and they had watched as the Magi had prepared their great magic spells to create a second Shadow Geyser to erupt in the Underneath. The two of them had watched as the massive nightmare had unfolded, scouted the exterior of the magical maelstrom from a safe vantage, and seen the effects as that geyser, too, had collapsed.

"So, um, Barak, why are we going back to spy on the lab?" asked Tryn. "We've seen the geysers, and we don't have what it takes to defeat the spell."

"Isn't it obvious?" asked the Calder.

Tryn crossed her arms and gave him a withering glance.

"Er, right," said Barak. "If it were obvious, you wouldn't be asking me, right? Right. Yeah, okay." He grinned lamely, then recovered his composure. "Look, Tryn," he said, "these Magi, they're not going to stop. They've had two geysers collapsed, but the Magi themselves haven't been harmed in the slightest. They're going to try again, with a new geyser erupting somewhere else, maybe Paradwyn or d'Resh or someplace where they think it won't be found right away. I'm certain they're going to try a third time, and when they do, I intended on riding the geyser out of the Core to safety."

Tryn's jaw dropped. "You're crazy."


"It--it can't be done," Tryn stammered.

"Sure it can," said Barak. "Gar and I used to put on our magma armor and detonate volcanoes for the fun of it, just so we could bodysurf the explosion."

"Is it safe?" protested Tryn.

"Not really," said Barak, "no. Not at all. But look at it this way," he added, draping one arm over her shoulders and sweeping the other to take in the whole Core landscape, "the only alternative is to stay here and enjoy this wonderful landscape for the rest of our short lives."

Tryn shivered, partly from the idea of never leaving the Core, and partly from Barak's warm, firm touch.

"Okay," said Tryn, "I'll go with you." Then she suddenly blushed, and added, "Out of the Core."

Barak's face broke into a wide, warm smile. "Great! Now let's go and listen."

* * * * *

Two sets of footsteps padded down the dank, corrupted cavern. One set was quiet, almost noiseless, with a short regular stride; the other was loud, haphazard, and frequently scuffed the floor or kicks rocks.

"Can't you ever be quiet, Korg?" hissed Zet.

"WHAT? Whaddaya mean?" bellowed Korg as he punted a largish rock ahead of them. It cracked and thudded its way down their path, echoing in the darkness.

Zet just gritted his teeth and hissed.

"This is real exciting, you know," said Korg after a pause. "We're going to erupt our fifth Shadow geyser!"

"Third, Korg," corrected Zet. "This will be our third Shadow Geyser."

"Third," said Korg, "Uh, yeah. I was just looking forward to the fifth. You know."

"Ooohh, yes, Korg, I know," said Zet meaningfully. Naturally, Korg did not catch the implication in Zet's tone.

"So, uh, which where do we go?" asked Korg.

"That way," said Zet, pointing to a branching passageway.

"Good. Hurry up," said Korg, "I don't want you making me late!"

Zet paused in his stride to glower at Korg's back as the larger Magi walked down the side passage.

"See?" bellowed Korg over his shoulder. "You're such a slowpoke! C'mon! It's this way! Time for some dis... ray!"

Zet shook his head and trotted after Korg, his topknot bobbing along in the darkness. The diminutive Magi did not notice as two shadows detached themselves from a crack in the hall. The larger took the hand of the smaller, and the two followed Zet toward the site of the next Shadow Geyser.


Read Part 2 "Emergence"

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