The fire elemental arrived, as many fires do, with a single spark. He didn’t want to appear before Fari and I, but we didn’t allow him to make that choice. It was a cruel summoning, there wasn’t much fuel to burn in the charred remains of the destroyed apartment building. That didn’t stop the spark from growing though.
In response to our summons, the fire elemental poured its essence into the material world and a column of flame danced before us and swelled towards the brightening sky above.
I took my Void anima in hand again. Fari had her connection to the spirit, I didn’t need to pull it in any more. Instead I cast a circle of protection and obscurement outwards.
I could have cast the circle around us to protect Fari and I from the elemental’s wrath, but that would have severed Fari’s control of it and left the monster free to consume the nearby buildings as well. That’s why I made sure to cast the circle wide enough to encompass the whole building. That trapped us inside with the elemental and him inside with us.
“You’ve done everything wrong, Dark One.” the elemental said. From a column of fire it shaped itself into the form of a broad shouldered man composed of flames. It was tall, seven feet at least, and growing an inch every few seconds.
“You’re here.” I said, pointing out that we hadn’t done everything wrong.
“I am. Soon, you won’t be.” he said.
“We hold a binding over you.” Fari said, appearing beside me.
“It will not last long.” the elemental said. “And you cannot compel me far with it.”
“That doesn’t matter, you are under our command until the binding is fulfilled.” Fari said.
“Decide what you wish then.” he said. “I will not stay my vengeance from you though. Whatever you desire, you will have it and then you will burn.”
“You seriously want to talk about vengeance?” I asked.
“You dragged me here. Your hands are steeped in sin against me.” he said.
“Hundreds of people lived in this building. They’re ashes now.” I said. I couldn’t feel their ghosts. Whatever anima they’d possessed had moved on, or returned to the source, or whatever happened with the anima of the departed under natural circumstances.
“You all should be ashes.” the elemental said.
“We dragged you here. You should consider that there are other things we can do to you.” I said. It hadn’t been the elementals fault that it killed everyone in the building, a human or a Gar summoner was responsible for that, but I’d seen the way it had reached towards the building across the street. It had enjoyed destroying the people here and it would enjoy destroying anyone else it could. We could stop it, according to Fari’s theory anyways, but I doubted we could manage that without destroying a large part of it.
“That changes nothing. I will burn you.” he said. He swelled larger and I heard a hungry glee in his voice. I thought back to the vision. He hadn’t been coerced into killing everyone in the building. He’d done it gladly. The summoner hadn’t bent the elemental to his will, he’d merely released it and let the fire burned where it wanted to.
If it had been another elemental, one that chose to embody the flame that illuminates or the flame that warms, they might have moved through the building as a natural fire would have. The building still would have been destroyed, Mulwin’s belongings rendered safe from prying eyes, but the inhabitants would have had time to escape.
This monster wasn’t that sort of elemental though. He was the fire that destroyed. I heard his laugh and in it was the echo of laughter I’d heard too often growing up on the streets. It was a sadist’s laugh. It gloried in the power and freedom of cruelty.
“You will answer our question.” Fari said.
“And then I’m going to extinguish you.” I told him.
“Foolish words. My heart is stronger than this world’s. I answered your call, but I am not yours to shape or bind.” he said.
I gestured with my left hand and called rune covered chains of Void anima up from the circle that flowed beneath us. The dark energies wrapped around the elemental’s arms and legs. They cut into the mass of its chest and ensnared its throat.
Where the Void anima touched the elemental’s flames, the fires dimmed and sputtered. Elementals can’t feel agony, but tearing away at its essence seemed like a decent substitute when it came to making my point.
“You will burn.” The elemental’s voice crackled with contained rage. “Ask your question and burn.”
“Who sent you to do this?” Fari asked, gesturing at the ruins around us.
“A mortal.” the elemental said, smug satisfaction radiating from him brighter than the flames that made him up.
“Not good enough.” I said and tightened the chains.
“And now, you burn.” the elemental said.
He tore through the Void anima chains, letting them rip huge gouts of flame out of him as they
cut through his arms and legs and chest. The chains around his neck held him for a moment before he pushed forward and they sliced off his head. When one head fell away, another roared forth to take its place.
He was fifteen feet tall and advancing when Fari stepped in front of me.
“Answer the question!” she commanded, the blue of her ghostly form blazing with fire of its own.
The fire elemental rocked back at her words and tried to press forward. It looked like a hurricane wind was set against it.
“We do not care for mortal names.” The elemental grunted as it spoke the words. “His face was hidden by the bones of slain mortals and in his hands he held the keys to the slain world. Your power is as nothing to his little mortal.”
“Though his face and name were hidden, you know him still.” Fari said. “Take us to him!”
The hurricane winds died away and the elemental stood up to a newly towering height.
“One command alone. That is all you may compel from me.” the elemental said, his voice bright with madness and glee. He surged forward and I managed to push Fari behind me and raise a personal shield just as he struck.
The shield shattered under his blow and I felt searing heat wash over me and hurl me backwards. I was lucky. I hit part of the ruined wall and tumbled cleanly through it.
The elemental roared in crazed delight and exploded towards me. I cast another shield, this one matching my rage against his. Fari wasn’t vulnerable to material injuries but a pure anima attack could affect her. I had too few friends in my life, there was no way in blazing hell I was going to let a monster like the fire elemental take one away from me.
The elemental crushed down on my shield, bringing a physical force to bear that was at odds with the flames that made up its body. In return, I lashed out with whips of Void anima that flayed power from the elemental with every hit.
For as fast as I damaged the monster though, new flames rushed in to replace the power that was lost. That was fine with me. The more power it had, the more I got to consume.
The elemental saw what was happening as my shield grew stronger instead of weaker from his continued attacks. If there’s one thing fire is good at though, it’s attacking from all directions at once. I’d been distracted by the pounding force it unleashed on the shield it erected and only noticed the wall beside me collapsing at the last second.
It was too late to dodge the wall, so I channeled some of the power I’d stolen from the fire elemental into a backhanded slam against the bricks that were about to squish me. The stolen anima was mostly Energetic anima, which I wasn’t familiar with using. As a result, my casting came out less like a spell and more like an uncontrolled explosion.
On the plus side, the wall that was falling at me shattered in two with a ten foot section around where I hit vanishing into a cloud of dust particles. The down side was that the explosion tossed me face first through the opposite wall.
I don’t know how I landed, except that it wasn’t in any shape or form, the way Master Hanq had taught me to land from a bad fall. I shook my head to clear the ringing from my thoughts and tried to get up and put my shield back in place.
I was too slow.
Fire isn’t pretty. It looks pretty from a distance, but up close its horrible. From a distance it’s warm and bright and safe. Up close though it is pain. Pure, unspeakable pain.
I felt a flash of that agony and heard Fari scream too before I was pulled out of my body. I thought I was dead, but then memories surged through me. I knew I was alive, but my thoughts were too distant from the world to interfere with what came next. I was hurt, dying, but not dead. I’d been hurt like that before. It didn’t leave me capable of rational thought. I just knew that I didn’t want to die and my body and instincts took over from there.
Void anima washed over me and solidified into a suit of armor. It pulled at my other animas, draining me, while at the same time feeding power to repair my body. Thought was gone, but rage remained. I wasn’t out of control though. I was still me. I wanted to live. I wanted my friend to be ok.
And I wanted that elemental to die.
Claws of void anima covered my hands. They were grotesque. I loved them.
The elemental was larger now. Twenty feet? Twenty five? It looked delicious.
With a growl, I leapt up to a beam on the second floor and launched myself off it at the elemental’s throat. The elemental blasted me with fire as I fell towards it and I became a black star wreathed in red and orange light. The hard Void anima armor that I wore smiled and I plunged my claws into the elemental’s chest.
Like a dog digging to find its most beloved bone, I slashed away at the flames of the elemental in a blur. Power coursed through me as I did so. Rich, pure energy, from the elemental’s heart.
I’d been tipsy on the power I’d taken from the bone stealers. That had been a rich blend of animas that carried the echoes of the dead. This was something quite different. This power was untainted. Where the dead wished for vengeance and peace and the continuation of the thousand things they’d left undone, this power wished for only one thing.
It wanted to burn.
There were so many enemies, the power said. All the mortals. The slayers of the world.
They all needed to burn.
I’d been drunk before, but this was more than that. This was madness. Joyful, blissful madness. To have a clear and unfettered purpose. To smite those who stood against me. No doubts, no fears, no holding back.
I looked up to find myself standing on the ground, the darkening remnants of the fire elemental splayed open before me. I’d ridden its faltering body to the ground. In my hands, the elemental’s heart pulsed. It was nothing more than a gout of fire. The last vestige of an ancient power.
No doubts. No fears. No holding back. I crushed the flames and drank them in, feeling the last surge of power flood through me.
My body was fine. Better than fine. It sang with power. I was still on fire, still burning, but the flames held no pain. Not for me. All their pain was being saved for the people who stood against me. I pictured a pyre of their corpses, pictured the whole world burning as a beacon in the night.
It was beautiful.
I’m not good with mental anima. I can managed a little with each form of anima but that certainly wasn’t enough to fight off the influence of the ancient spirit I’d absorbed.
That’s where Fari saved me. Again.
Her touch was like a falling into a cool pond on a blistering day.
My Void armor faded away and I sagged down against the nearest wall. I was exhausted but my thoughts were clear.
“I wanted to burn the world.” I told her.
“He wanted to. You just want to burn a select portion of it.” she said, sitting down beside me.
“I don’t think I can do this again.” I told her. “I not sure I can even stand for that matter.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know he’d be that strong.” she said. “Let me pull him out of you and store him with the other anima.”
“We can’t.” I said. “He’s giving me the answer we wanted. I know where his summoner is.”
“It’s a trap.” Fari said. “He wants you in a situation where you’ll call on his power. It’ll give him another chance to overwhelm you.”
“He doesn’t want to overwhelm me. He just wants to burn people.” I said. I focused on the power I had stored from the elemental and called it forth into my hand.
He was the flame that destroyed. I knew some people who needed to be destroyed. I wasn’t entirely myself in that moment, but there was no disagreement in me about what was going to happen next.