Fire: Demons, Dragons, & Djinns

Fire: Demons, Dragons, & Djinns

by Rhonda Parrish (Editor)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781928025917
Publisher: Tyche Books Ltd.
Publication date: 08/14/2018
Pages: 260
Sales rank: 412,243
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.59(d)

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CHAPTER 1

She Alone

Blake Jessop

1.

IN THE VAST, vaulted halls of the sunken city, great walkways form concentric paths through a sea of magma. The Empress' palace is far beneath the waves, but the grand dome rises so high that it could be a dark summer sky. The empire the heroes have leapt hither and thither through time to destroy is a monument to hubris, to the infinite reach for power, forever exceeding the grasp of the souls who seek it.

"Crack the seals," Jinn says, "I'll keep them away from you."

"Alone?" the Soldier cries.

For an answer the little creature smiles and rockets skyward. Rising, there is nothing to her but the abstract beauty of a violent sunset. It's her descents that are meteoric. The Guardians crane their necks, then yelp and scatter.

Jinn is an Ifrit, a fire spirit from the misty past, born of pure magic. The talons and cogs that make the Guardians so fearsome represent the extinction of her race. The Guardians are weapons made to build an empire, banish doubt, bring order. To do a lot of things she doesn't believe in. The rivalry is personal; they would have used Jinn's soul to power one of these monsters if she'd let them, so she turns the air they breathe into a spiralling inferno. Chaos and anger swirl in her heart. She shares them freely.

While she does, the Soldier swings the Titan Arm into the mechanism. Like the Frog, the knight who refused to be kissed, he is not the same man he was when the tale began. How he came to wear the arm of an ancient golem is a part of the story that varies more than most. They all agree he opened the door, though, so he sinks the infinite weight of the Titan's fingers into the lock.

He glances back just in time to see a Guardian charge down the walkway toward him. There is nothing he can do with the arm buried in metal. The beast is going to plough into him at a terrifying sprint and use its great teeth on the parts of him that aren't invincible magical artefacts.

Jinn saves him, again. She streaks into the monster sideways, a comet tail dragging behind her. The impact would kill anything merely human. It barely slows her down. The Empress was right to fear her kind. The Guardian ploughs up a rising wave of magma then disappears beneath it, drowning in fire.

Jinn arcs back as the Soldier finally frees his arm. They hear the grinding of titanic gears as the way forward opens.

"Too close," he says.

Jinn dimples and bares her entire array of fangs, joyously panting smoke, when an arm erupts from the lava and grabs her by one tapered ankle. The Guardian is a skeleton now, everything living burned away. It drags her under the surface in a final vicious plunge.

Her mouth opens wide, as if to say something before she vanishes; their passage marked by nothing but ripples. The Soldier pushes fingers through his steaming hair. This habitual gesture would once have required his left hand, but he only made that mistake once.

He calls her name. Heat shimmers and little bubbles pop. He raises the ancient hand to reach in for her, wondering if it can stand the heat but stops when he hears a slap.

Jinn clambers out of the fiery lake, first one palm, then the other. She drags herself back onto the walkway as magma pours off her, a maiden emerging from the pool. She tries to rise back into the air and finds herself too heavy. Laughing, she shakes herself and wrings molten stone from the burning mane of her hair. The Soldier realizes the Ifrit didn't have anything to confess in that final moment; she just needed to hold her breath.

Far away, the Prince, his one true love, and the Frog fling the great doors open and fight their way into legend. The Robot, the only one of the band of heroes culled from the future, slams the gates closed. The Soldier and the Ifrit still need to join the Prince; the story isn't finished yet.

There are many ways down to the Mammon Machine. Many paths to the end. They find a funicular and descend toward the heart of the palace. The lift is redundant for her, but it's a chance to rest.

"There's something we haven't said," Jinn sighs, "the Titan's arm, your eye, your heart — they're all powered the same way the guardians are. I was born magical. If we win — if we destroy the machine — we won't just change history; we'll erase magic from this world entirely. Neither of us will live."

"I'll follow you," the Soldier says, "either way." They descend in silence.

"Do you still wish I'd been born human?" the Ifrit says after a while. They would both be dead already if she had been.

The Soldier replies. No one knows what he said. Jinn laughs, the doors open, and they head into battle to die.

2.

I LOVE THE legends. I love the tale of the Prince and his bride and the Robot and all their friends. This is not a fashionable position; my parents are very traditional and it drives them nuts. What did they expect? If our holy books had a Frog cleaving titans to pieces with his legendary Sadamune blade, I'd have paid more attention.

In their defence, they've always made a point of disapproving quietly. It's the same for my work; when I first took an apprenticeship as a steam engineer my parents forbade it. How could their daughter labour in the heat, and immodestly clad at that? I broke a lot of delicate things and stormed out, never to return. It worked out well. We're all closer now, though it still surprises me that I could be their child. They're so mild; grateful just to be free of the endless wars of the Southern Continent and safe in the North. I'm short and round like my mother, however, and I inherited some of the green in my father's eyes, so at least my parentage isn't in doubt.

It's a hard walk up to the famous bluff — the sheer cliffs give a wonderful view, and the tree is the oldest on the entire coast — and takes a while if you're only five feet tall, counting your hair. I make do.

Grit goes with being an engineer; climbing to fit brass pipes makes every part of you strong, and knowing the city will get very cold if you stop makes you tough, if the occasional scalding hasn't already. I have to give myself both time and a fine ploughman's lunch to make the ascent before sunset, but make it I do. Every autumn, on the same day. I have the timing down to an art.

I'll never get used to how fast the northern summer fades away. You sweat during the climb and shiver when you stop. I hate being cold, but cresting the ridge and catching sight of the bare tree with sunlight glinting through its skeletal branches is pure delight. This is the place where the time-travelling Prince and his friends made a pact to save the world from the Empress who tried to steal all of history for her own.

It's a good story and parts of it are probably true. Not the Frog who refused to be kissed, obviously. There isn't really any magic in the world, but there have always been people trying to control it. Anyway, wouldn't the first woman to detonate gunpowder have been a sorceress? If I could take a peasant from the year 600 and show him what I do for a living four hundred years later, he'd think I was some sort of fire goddess.

So I ignore the chill and forget my blisters. Coming here is as close as I get to faith. Have you ever grieved without having lost anything, or at least nothing you knew you had? Explain that and you'll explain this. I have no homeland, and being here gives me a sense of place.

Unfortunately, I won't be alone. Someone is standing in my usual spot, precarious, right up on the point.

Tall and fair, he hears me with a start. He's thin, and his left arm scarcely fills its sleeve. It's been replaced with struts and cogs, which makes him a veteran. It hasn't been so long since the North fought its own war to banish those who would rule without mercy or concern for others. I'd rather be by myself, if you can be alone in a place with so many spirits, but this year I'm out of luck. We assess each other awkwardly.

"Hello," he says, "what's your name?"

Not much of a conversationalist.

"Kassia Kamina," I say.

He looks at me with momentary incomprehension. I have to explain where I was born often, even though a single glance at my amber skin ought to do it for me. While I explain, I realise that this man may not be well. He has a queer look, and he's struggling to say something. Or not say it.

"Is that so?" He shakes his head with a kind of desperate negation, "I thought your name might be Jinn."

That stops me. I stare at him and the wind quiets. Time fails to pass.

"Only my friends call me that," I say.

It's the best my mates can do pronouncing Djinn, which is what Southerners call desert spirits. I adore the nickname. I think it's supposed to be mildly insulting — Djinn are capricious and wild — but giving you a pet name is how Northerners show they like you. I try not to feel either wild or capricious, but the idea that this man knows me is disconcerting.

"I'm sorry," he says. He runs a distracted hand through his hair. I was right; this is a man on the edge. He stares at me with such intensity that I start thinking the smart move would be to turn around and take off.

Instead I stand my ground and stare back into his solitary blue eye. A hard patch covers the left one. He looks too young; most veterans are late in their middle age. He has a chilly gaze, but my eyes are little explosions of brown and green. Besides, I have two.

I win, and he's the one who looks away. When I see his profile I try to imagine him with both eyes. I begin to see a resemblance, though I can hardly remember to whom. He looks like someone who's about to slip and fall. A long time ago, I saw that look on the faces of other refugees. I've seen it on my father's face. Never in the mirror, though.

"I'm sorry. I came here to meet someone. I was about ready to give it up."

This actually makes me feel better about him. I have a soft spot for that kind of story.

"That's romantic," I say, and step past him toward the bluff. Blades of cold light slice through the clouds. The name was just a coincidence.

I stand in the same spot he did. He could push me off, I guess, but I don't think he will. He's just a little lost. That's something I have seen in the mirror. "I'm sorry she didn't come."

"So am I," he says, "but I didn't really think she would. You look like you've been here before."

"I've stood here every fall since I was old enough to ride the trains alone. I love old books, and this is a famous spot. The Prince and his one true love were reunited here, and the heroes made their pact under this tree. I start dreaming about them the instant the leaves turn. When I was young, I thought I'd meet my one true love here, too."

"You want to meet a prince?" His tone is half-mocking.

"Not exactly," I say. I might be blushing. How did we start with this? "The Prince isn't my favourite character. I like the Frog, he makes me laugh, but my favourite is the Soldier who wears the Titan's Arm and opens the door. I'd rather meet him."

The veteran looks like a brass pipe hit with a hammer.

"It can't be," he says.

"What?"

"I said I came here to meet someone. I think it's you."

"We've never met," I may sound angry. I usually can't tell.

"We have. Not in this life, not even in this world, but we have." His certainty is vast.

"Make sense," I say, "or I'll leave you here to wait for whoever you think I am."

"If I do, you'll think I'm insane," he says.

"Fine," I already knew that much, "jump off a cliff."

"Wait," he says, "please, wait. You said you had dreams about this bluff, about who you'd meet. Tell me the best one."

I really, really ought to leave him alone with his hungry ghosts, but I've never been good at turning away. I sigh.

"I don't dream about them, I dream I am one of them. I'm the Ifrit. I can fly. I'm small and fast and I burn. I'm with the Soldier. I know the legend says they all faced the Empress together, but we're alone. We're riding an elevator in the sunken city, which is silly because I can fly, and I've just saved his life, and I say, 'do you still wish I'd been born human?' and he says —"

"'Yes,' which makes you angry," the veteran interrupts, "so you ask him 'why?'"

Wonder starts a war with anger in my heart.

"And he says —"

"'Because as it is I can't touch you, and I already love you every other way there is.'"

The broken soldier really does reach out to touch me, then, and I raise a hand to stop him. Normally he'd get slapped for that, but he's right. It's not in the legend. No one knows what they said; it's just what I dream they did. My heart thumps. We both need to pull away from the edge.

"Come and sit by the tree," I tell him, because this is simply too strange to let go of, "and tell me how the story ends."

3.

THE DESTRUCTION OF the Mammon Machine is a cataclysm that should have been impossible. The Empress had power and will and all the time in the world. All the heroes had was each other; the Prince's courage, the icy intelligence of his one true love. The Sadamune and the Robot's guns. The Soldier's arm and the Ifrit's fire. None of them could have taken even the first step on their own but together, they topple an empire.

When the Prince strikes the final blow and takes his lover's hand, every kink and fray in time draws itself inexorably straight, and they are thrown through the maelstrom one last time. They have changed history, written magic and immortality out of it, drawn truth and equality in.

The Soldier's magical heart no longer beats, as inert as if it never had.

Jinn cannot escape the vortex of time no matter how hard she flies. The Ifrit fades, flakes away as she tries to hold onto the Titan Arm, her grasping fingers burning parallel grooves into its palm. The tears that fleck into space as Jinn loses her grip are molten pearls. She is sucked into the eye wall a half second before him. Every heartbeat is composed of two parts; push and pull, life and absence. The emptiness that pulls them apart is the end of magic itself.

4.

I SHIVER. IT'S cold up here, and the end of the story you read in most libraries is a lot nicer than that. The heroes all go back to their own times, except for the Prince and his one true love, of course, who stay and get married.

"I can't imagine myself doing that."

"If you'd seen how the world ended you could," the veteran says. "You did."

"I'm sure I'd remember that," I say, although I've had nightmares that contradict me. "Besides, there's no apocalypse in the legend."

"Of course not. The world didn't end. The Empress never got a chance to get bored with it."

That makes an illogical kind of sense.

"Well, at least in your version they still win," I say.

"We did. Though dying for what you love is hardly the difficult part."

5.

SPAT FROM THE void, the Soldier opens his eyes with a start and says the Ifrit's name. He is staring at a wall covered in names. There are flowers leaning against the base, and the monument stretches far in either direction. Citizens are walking along it, heads covered against the drizzle, fingers tracing for names as though they were despondent children drawing in sand. The rain is so fine it's almost mist, but the peak of his uniform cap keeps his face a little dry.

He coughs, almost retches. Alive. Resurfacing in a world he helped create but has never seen, thrown back out of the well of time. A wave of residual anguish washes over him. He looks down at his hands. The right is calloused and strong, the hand he remembers. His left arm is loose in a drab regimental sleeve, the hand a skeletal claw supported by a crosshatching of fine wires and tiny cogs. It has three fingers and one thumb. When he flexes it there is a tiny creaking, the squeal of metal bathed in rain.

His heart would beat hard now, if he had one. The thought invades his mind and he reaches the living hand to his chest. Finds a hum under the brass buttons. Be still. Think. He breathes while his heart hisses along with the wind. Finally, he reaches up slowly to touch his left eye. Finds nothing but a hard patch. So that is beyond this new world, he thinks, and finds his good eye hazy with tears.

One of the memorial's attendants, black-clad and carrying an umbrella stops by his side, glances at his uniform.

"Are you well, Captain?" he asks. A train clatters and exhales steam in the distance.

"Alone," he says, "that's all."

6.

I SIT UNDER the tree and listen. The veteran is an unconsciously talented narrator. He tells the story better than anyone I've ever heard, and the tale of waking up in a new world gives an ethereal sense of shifting currents in time. The grass trembles less than his voice, and when the Mammon Machine shudders so do I.

"Honestly, it never occurred to me that I'd survive," he finishes, and the strangeness sets back in. "No soldier ever imagines what comes after war. I came here to stand on the edge and wait for you. I knew you wouldn't come. I was sure that magic died with you. With us. We fell into the vortex less than a heartbeat apart and you beat me here by twenty years."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "FIRE: Demons, Dragons, & Djinns"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Rhonda Parrish.
Excerpted by permission of Tyche Books Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Introduction By Rhonda Parrish,
She Alone Blake Jessop,
Strange Attractor Kevin Cockle,
Magnesium Bright Lizbeth Ashton,
Permanence Dusty Thorne,
Old Flames V.F. LeSann,
The Hatchling K.T. Ivanrest,
The Djinni and the Accountant Hal J. Friesen,
The Second Great Fire Laura VanArendonk Baugh,
Bait Krista D. Ball,
Double or Nothing Mara Malins,
A Girl, Ablaze with Life Claude Lalumière,
Light My Fire Susan MacGregor,
Ring of Fire JB Riley,
Aladdin's Laugh Damascus Mincemeyer,
Phoenix Rising Heather M. O'Connor,
Cold Comfort Gabrielle Harbowy,
Aitvaras R.W. Hodgson,
Midnight Man versus,
Frankie Flame Chadwick Ginther,
Breath of the Caldera Wendy Nikel,
Cilantro Annie Neugebauer,
The Midwife and the Phoenix J.G. Formato,
Biographies,

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