The tales of an unapologetic nerd
The following is a companion tale to "Disasters 'n Danger," my current Dungeons and Dragons campaign, which is live-streamed every Monday night on Twitch. This story follows the current struggle of my character "Fable Frost," an Ice Genasi Phoenix Soul Sorcerer. In short, a character who is quite literally both fire and ice. In a recent adventure, a new ability manifested itself as Fable was about to be slain by an enemy, and the phoenix spark within brought her back to life. But, all magic comes at a price. And while the fire has saved her many times over, it has taken as much as it has given. What's more is, Fable herself does not know or understand where this power comes from, or why she is the one to wield it. Now, she can feel its pull more than ever, and she has a choice to make ...
The forest was quiet and still tonight. No creature was disturbed by the extra bodies of the Archivists and their rescued prisoners. Barely a wind rustled the leaves overhead, or tossed fallen plant debris across the small clearing where they’d made their camp.
On any other night, Fable’s own silence would have been a curiosity. She often told stories by the fireside, or listened to Screebers’ mad tales with rapt enthusiasm. But tonight, when all was still, her quiet melancholy blended right in with the exhaustion of her fellow explorers. No one questioned it. No one so much as batted an eye. Nor did anyone ask why she sat so far from the others tonight. No, not from the others … why she sat so far from the fire.
She could still hear it calling … that spark that had ignited within her as had she fought the very trees. As she had struggled to keep herself from shattering and melting and exploding all at once.
As she had died.
Fable looked down at her hands, where she could still see the angry red and purple lines running through them like veins of ore. She had been sure she was dying. Her normally blue flame had turned a strange and unfamiliar crimson, as if tinged with her own blood or … or something. Even now, she could remember the feeling of her skin cracking, the ice breaking around her at every blow until, suddenly, there was nothing of her left. None of Fable Frost, the circus performer. The loving friend. The adventurer.
There was only Fable Frost, the living flame. Consumed by a fire that burst out of her from within, threatening to roast her friends alive and set the entire forest ablaze. And, for the first time, the flame had a voice. Not Fable’s own. Not even one that entirely had words or a proper language … but she could hear it all the same. She could feel it in her head and in her heart as the fire clawed its way through her and gave her its strength, forcing her to live. To fight. To survive. Its voice sounded like fear and the snarling of a caged, feral animal. It sounded like wings and the rushing wind that fanned a massive bonfire, and felt like the moment right before that contained inferno caught itself up on something outside its pit and began to spread.
It sounded like the circus big top burning while its patrons were trapped inside. Like losing control again, and being forced to run and hide and escape. Fable might have been caught in the explosion for mere seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. A lifetime of memories, all crashing down on her at once as she felt the guilt and shame and terror she had tried so hard to leave behind in the circus. But here it was, happening again. She had lost control in her panic, and in her weakness. Only this time, she knew better. The circus had been an accident … the first indication she had any gift with fire at all. It could have happened to anyone, any of the young magicians and performers and freaks still growing into their talents. She had told herself over and over and over in the year since she’d run that it wasn’t her fault. Now she was sure: the fire inside her had a life of its own. And it wanted something.
It wanted her alive.
Fable closed her hands tightly into fists and hugged her knees to her chest, trying to squeeze herself into as small a form as possible. Something so small that, perhaps, her companions would forget about her. Then she could slip away into the darkness, and find another place. Another company. Another family. Again.
Tonight. She would go tonight. She volunteered for the final watch as usual, the pre-dawn cold agreeing with her more than most. She made certain her things were packed and carefully tucked away just inside her tent flaps, out of sight of anyone who might ask questions. And then, after a sufficient but nightmare-plagued sleep, Fable took her place by the dying fire to keep an eye out for trouble, her egg cradled in her lap.
“It’s not that I want to go,” she whispered to the still and quiet shell. “I never want to go. But I never want to be the reason anyone else dies, either.”
Fable could hear Treasure snoring from her shared tent, and she felt a pang guilt stab at her.
“Saraid was right,” she admitted to the egg. “We all chose this. And we choose to keep being here, no matter the dangers. But … but what if the danger isn’t some great monster or someone chasing one of us, it is one of us?” Fable shook her head, a grimace of irony and frustration on her face. “I always worried he’d track me here, if he even survived the fire. Now Treasure’s the one with a bounty on her head, and I’m back where I started. Only this time I’m not running from him, I’m running from myself.”
A log in the dying fire snapped, letting loose a shower of sparks that made Fable jump and turn around, her eyes falling on the innocent collection of embers and spent timber. Only, it no longer looked so innocent. Something was waiting in the flames, poised to strike. Fable cradled the egg closer to her and stood slowly, ready to run. She tried to move her feet, to bend her knees and just move. But she found she couldn’t tear her eyes away. The dance of light and shadow was intoxicating and alluring. She wanted to reach out. To touch it. To be enveloped by it once more, and hear its voice even as it melted her.
“I’m not afraid of you,” she lied, shaking where she stood.
The flame laughed in her head. She could feel it vibrating through her mind and heart and stomach as her hands began to warm and spark in answer.
“Stop it,” Fable growled. “Whatever you’re doing, stop.”
For a moment, the laughter grew, and the fire snaking its way around Fable’s fingertips spread through her arms and all the way up to her shoulders. Panic filled her, and she wanted to scream. To wake the whole camp, to tell them to run, get out, save themselves before she exploded again and couldn’t stop it. But no sooner had the thought crossed her mind than the flames subsided. The laughter went quiet, though the sensation of being watched from all around was still strong. And Fable, catching herself just before she made a sound, let a slow and triumphant smile stretch across her face.
“Interesting,” she murmured. None of the camp stirred, so quiet was her voice, but the flame heard her. It felt her, she knew it did. “You play with my life, but you need me, don’t you? You need something only I have. So then, why don’t you want me to run? You could have me all to yourself, but you went quiet when I was about to scream.”
A different kind of warmth spread through Fable’s body now. Again, it was a jarring sort of communication. The flame had no proper words, at least none that she could understand, and translating it was a bit like watching the mimes at work. And yet, this feeling was familiar. It wasn’t the warmth of fire, but the warmth of family. Of comfort. Of feeling safe with the people around her. Fable knew it well, but she hadn’t felt it this strong since she’d left the circus.
“You need me,” Fable repeated, slower this time as she tried to work out the meaning behind the flame’s unspoken words. “And you think I need them.”
She realized she could move her feet again, and Fable slowly turned to take in the dark and silent camp. But I do need them, she thought to herself miserably. I need them alive. And what’s more is … I’m pretty sure they need me, too. It would still be so easy to run. To hide. To disappear again and not look back, and simply hope they survived. Like she hoped her family, fellow performers, and innocent patrons had survived the circus fire. She could live her whole life hoping and wondering and being afraid to know the answer. Or … Fable squared her shoulders and held her head a little bit higher as she turned to face the remnants of their camp fire. Or, she could take charge of what she did know: she finally had leverage.
“I don’t know what you are,” she said, her voice even and eerily calm, even to her. “And I don’t know why you came to me. I don’t know what you want, where you’re from, or how your magic works around mine. But I know one thing for absolute certain.”
Fable set her egg aside and crouched down right next to the fire pit. She leaned so close to the dying embers and sparks that her entire body felt impossibly hot. And, with a voice that sounded more like hardened ice than Fable had ever heard herself, she growled right into its heart, “I know that if you ever turn me and my body against my family again, you won’t get anything from me. You can consume me alive from the inside out, burn away my frost, and run rampant through my mind like a nightmare, but I won’t help you.”
Fable had never seen an element look afraid. But now, as she glared viciously at every spark that dared fly, she felt as though all of them were shaking in terror. “You want me?” she said. “Then you help me protect them. We’ve got too many games being played right now for me to be an unstable piece on the board. So figure out a way to work with me, not through me. Understand?”
Without waiting for an answer, Fable stretched out one hand and cast a thick blanket of ice over the fire pit, stifling the last of its glow. Satisfied, and still shaking from it all despite her calm and confident tone, Fable went back to sit with her egg in her lap, prepared to wait out the rest of the night’s watch in peace. There would be no running tonight. Only quiet and darkness and the comforting chill of the pre-dawn hours in autumn.
And then a soft whisper, so subtle it might have merely been the wind, found Fable’s ears even as she turned her back on the frozen fire pit. The voice made her shiver and sweat all at once. It sounded both hauntingly sad and dangerously powerful. But now, at least, Fable knew what it wanted. The whisper echoed in her head until morning, and even then it could barely be pushed aside by the waking of her companions and the preparations to set off for the day. In fact, Fable found herself worrying that it might always be there, reminding her. Calling to her. Begging her.
Kaitlin Bellamy is a freelance actor, indie author, and all-around nerd. Welcome to her world, adventurer. It's gonna get weird.