Who Walks in Flame

Who Walks in Flame by David Alastair Hayden

Book: Who Walks in Flame by David Alastair Hayden Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Alastair Hayden
Tags: Fiction, Fantasy
Who Walks in Flame

    With claws like sabers, a house-sized paw rips free from the earth and uproots a giant elm. Another bursts forth, sixty paces away. Between them, an angular head explodes upward and topples a stone granary. A scaled body the length of two villages snakes up after it, driven by eight powerful legs. Dirt crusts its scales of crimson, gold, and amber … until a dismissive shiver casts a cloud of dust so large it obscures the moon.
    Flaming eyes open.
    Ancient malevolence views the world once again.
    A flick of its spiked tail decimates a stand of olive trees. Then the behemoth lowers its head, opens its razor-fanged maw, and out rolls a dark, oily tongue. Wrapped within that tongue is something like a man, a being not seen in three millennia.
    This … man … of an old, forgotten race breathes. 
    He remembers.
    “Khuar-na,” he says, naming himself as he slides from the tongue. He rubs a scale on the lowered snout of the behemoth and murmurs: “Old friend.”
    Khuar-na runs scarred hands along his body, touching the pockmarks where wounds once bled. Deep, deep within the hot earth, the magic of the Scorch-Walker healed them. Their gamble paid off. The nightmare has ended.
    Khuar-na scans the lush fields around him. How many centuries have passed? he wonders. This was hot barren waste when we dug in. Our glorious homeland. The splendid sands are gone. It is naught but the stink of human fields and orchards now.
    Faint footsteps, hushed cries. The Scorch-Walker snaps his head up. Khuar-na turns and a smile spreads across his reptilian face. 
    A family fleeing a farmhouse: A panicked husband and wife urge their four children to run as fast as they can and stick together.
    My sons and daughters. Where are they now? Dust of centuries. Murdered by the humans who overthrew me.
    With one hand, Khuar-na caresses the rune-carved amulet of dark-iron hanging from his neck. I used to be merciful. There was a time when I would have regretted this. He extends the other and a gout of sulfurous hellfire springs from his palms and streaks unerringly toward its targets. The humans burst into flame. Their flailing limbs light the night like maddened fireflies.
    Khuar-na is pleased, and into his mind, the Scorch-Walker laughs. They are one in their joy and united in their desire for vengeance.

    ***

    Under the ashen light of the Dark Moon, Bregissa the Skald sings druid songs as smooth as spider silk and with a curious magic draws the egg from her womb. With trembling hands she places it in a root-tangled hollow beneath a giant, lightning-charred oak.
    There her egg will wait, perfectly preserved, until fertilized by a man chosen by the gods. What purpose this will serve, she does not know. But henceforth a terrible magic will strike down any who approach the tree without the blessing of the gods.
    “I have done what the Goddess asked of me,” Bregissa tells her companion and lover, Kerenthos, who stands between two twisting clay pillars adorned with forgotten runes, watching in silence.
    She wants to tell him the alternative the Goddess gave her. But it’s so unbearable she can’t bring herself to say it aloud, even to brave Kerenthos.
    Blessed lady , she prays in silence, your desire is beyond my ken and far beyond my skill to interpret.
    Bregissa dresses, putting on a golden ceremonial robe she normally wears only on the great festival days. Then, incongruously, she straps a saber and a wind pistol to her waist.
    “We should go back now,” she says.
    Kerenthos makes no reply. He is still staring at the barren oak, as if mesmerized. His hands are trembling. 

    ***

    The palace sits, broken and eroded, on a treacherous mountaintop in the far reaches of the West Kingdoms. Forgotten, except by the … humans … who live in the valley below. The Scorch-Walker and Khuar-na burn a path of destruction all the way to this valley, humans fleeing before from them. But the people of the valley do not retreat, for in song

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