A snap of the fingers, and the torch burst into flames. The fire was mesmerizing, calming, and encouraging all at once. Shadows danced across the face of the rocks, casting an orange warmth against the turquoise walls of the cave and bathing the large tunnel with light. Zollo loved fire. Fire was everything. A pet to be commanded. A monster to be feared. A lover to be kissed.
Maybe not that last part, Zollo decided. Fire was comforting, but you had to be careful not to get too close. It was insatiable.
It was that insatiability that had guided him here in the first place. The harder a thing was to ignite, the sturdier a flame held. At least, that’s how glyphs worked, but it was fire just the same.
Zollo picked up a loose pebble from the ground and etched the glyph onto it with a claw. He had no idea what kind of rock it was, but even rock ignited easily. Tossing it into the air, he snapped his fingers again.
The stone erupted in the air, and fell to his feet. Within seconds, it began to crack, and once the rock split in half, the glyph faded and the fire died.
These stones burn and die too easy, he thought. That was the exact opposite of what he was looking for. The rumors he heard were lies. This was no ‘Temple of Ancient Fire’, and there was no fireproof relic here. Far from it. A few well placed glyphs and he could have this whole cave engulfed in hours. Maybe minutes, if he found an air shaft. He would show them what real fire was.
But then, he heard something. A soft… flowing? It had to be water.
Zollo let out an involuntary hiss at the notion. To lie about the Temple was one thing, but to send Zollo towards flowing water?
“Blasphemers… Heathens… Scoundrels…” Zollo muttered, his voice low.
He rounded a corner, and the cave widened, stretching outwards and upwards as it continued on.
Here, it was a veritable cavern. Large enough to build a house in. Or perhaps a Temple… Perhaps there was some grains of truth in the lies he was told.
To one side of the cave was a thick tree, and behind it a stream of water trickled in from above, and a hole in the ceiling directly over the tree gave some hints to the source. The water pooled a little around the tree, and it made something of an island of the flammable blue rocks it stood upon.
Zollo cocked his head. This was no Temple. But it had been too long since he had seen true fire. He would allow himself just this one treat.
Carefully, he dropped rocks above the small stream so that he could safely walk across without getting wet. Still, even with a safe path, he couldn’t help but skitter across hastily to get away from the water.
With a hesitant snort he snuffed out the fire on his torch and set it aside, then, crooning in anticipation, he turned his attention to the tree. Zollo trailed his claws against the bark, feeling how sturdy its skin was. “Yes, yes,” he hummed. “This will burn nicely.”
The question was, how many glyphs? Would one suffice? Probably. Wood remained his favorite, even after experimenting for so long. He glanced back to his tail, and it twitched with remembered pain. He still had black patches. But it was worth the effort.
One glyph would do, he thought, but where? Tapping against the bark, he listened for any good sounds. He tapped for some time before finding a good spot near the base, in between two roots.
He carved the fire glyph into the bark. Zollo was so excited, he almost snapped his fingers before he allowed his other hand to finish the glyph.
As always, the glyph ignited immediately. It burned, throbbing slowly as it tasted the bark. It chewed thoughtfully, almost carefully. It seemed hesitant to burn any more. “Too long, too long,” he cursed. He drew another glyph. Then another. And another. He set them ablaze immediately, but they didn’t burn quickly enough for him. Zollo continued drawing glyphs. More and more. Soon, the tree was littered with glyphs, and the bark started to snap and crack, groaning against the sheer heat.
Zollo scampered away in delighted terror, sprinting across his pebble bridge to reach safety.
By now the tree was roaring, and the inferno scorched the wall of the cave behind it. The turquoise rock started to blacken.
But at that moment, his eyes caught movement at the base of the tree. Not the collapsing of branches or the peeling of bark. Deliberate movement of something else.
Zollo crept up to the stream to get a closer look. A tiny little thing seemed to be rolling around in the flames, seemingly unaffected.
Temple of Ancient Fire, he thought. A fireproof relic inside… Could it be?
He squinted, worried. What should he do? Dare he risk the flames? The answer came immediately. He would never be able to live with himself if he didn’t find out what this relic was.
With a quiet whimper, he scurried across the bridge again and dove into the fire. He held his claws out, desperately grasping for the relic. He caught it. Something smooth. A stone? No time to think. He pulled it out as fire licked his claws. Howling in pain, he dropped it immediately.
The egg, already somewhat fractured from the movement inside, shattered against the impact against the stone.
A huge explosion, and Zollo ducked his head. The tree was starting to collapse. It took longer than he had anticipated, but somehow he didn’t care so much about that anymore. He scooped up the remains of the thing he had dropped, and hustled to safety.
As soon as he was safely across the trickling stream and a good distance away from the blazing heat of the fire, he inspected his burden.
The little creature had vermillion scales and tiny wings that folded over most of its body. It was hot to the touch, now that Zollo had time to inspect it. What sort of cave tree lays eggs, he wondered.
Was this the fireproof relic? He could test it right now by carving a glyph into it. Part of him wanted to. But the thing was so small it would be hard to draw with such precision. Plus, it was easy to carve into wood and stone. Not so easy on scale. Not that it stopped him from experimenting on himself, but fire was everything.
No, this little bird thing seemed different. He would keep it. Perhaps it could learn the ways of fire like he could.