“Feel it on your scales Sam,” the Crone’s voice seemed to surround him as Samazzar stared into the roaring inferno that had been the cave’s simple fire pit.
“Everything has some heat,” her words were almost swallowed up by the roar of the flames. “You, the rest of your litter, the rats that scurry in the deeper caverns. All life creates its own heat to live. Even the rocks you are sitting on absorb the warmth of the fire and the sun, only to slowly release it over time.”
“Move closer to the fire boy,” Tazzaera’s voice took on an imperious tone. “This isn’t about warming your scales to stave off the winter chill. You need to really feel it. Let the heat overwhelm your entire being.”
“Taste the fire,” her voice took on an almost musical tone, as if she were reciting poetry. “Let the rock burn you. Feel your scales blister and crack. Magic isn’t a safe or comfortable thing. It won’t give without taking something back.”
Samazzar scooted forward, blinking his eyes against the waves of dry heat. Already he could feel them tearing up as the inferno dried him out. Frantically he opened his mouth, tongue lolling out as he tried to cool himself by panting only for the fire to steal the moisture from his throat in a second.
He shifted uncomfortably as he felt his body temperature grow. Every instinct in his body demanded that he shy away from the fire. That he run into a corner of the cave and hide like the weak, skittering thing that he was. Closing his eyes, Samazzar grabbed that urge and crushed it.
His eyes reopened, blazing with almost the same intensity as the fire itself. He was a dragon, and dragons did not fear heat or flame.
Samazzar might temporarily be trapped in the body of a kobold, a weak shell of thin scales and tepid, stringy muscles, but that was not who he was. No matter what, he would not let anyone or anything, be it monster or natural obstacle, stand in the way of his ascension.
The fire would not defeat him. For now it might be beyond his grasp, but deep in the core of Samazzar’s being, he knew that it was only a matter of time before it bent to his will. Almost in a trance, he reached toward the fire, the flames swirling around his arm but not quite touching his outstretched claw.
“Good!” Crone Tazzaera cackled, her pipe and leg injury forgotten as she stood in her alcove, pointing a withered claw at Sam and the fire. “The first catalyst is always a baptism. You must suffuse yourself in your mystery while grasping its very nature.”
“Think,” she continued, raising both claws above her head, inspiring the fire to swirl around Samazzar, stopping a mere claw length from his scales. “What does heat mean little dragon? It is the death of liquids and the end of cold. It bakes and sears, stealing the breath from your lungs. It is also life. Think on the cold nights without fire. Without heat, you would shiver, suffer and die. Right now, it surrounds and assaults you, just as ready to take your life. Without balance, heat destroys.”
Samazzar fell to his knees, the searing rock floor burning his scales almost instantly. Every word the Crone said was true. They resonated with the very core of his being.
On some level Samazzar would never be able to truly describe or understand, Tazzaera’s voice sank into him, igniting a previously dormant torch of understanding. He choked down a breath of stifling air, his lungs burning from the waves of dry heat pouring into them.
“You’re almost there boy!” he couldn’t even see the crone outside the cocoon of fire she’d wrapped him in. “The catalyst is inside you, changing you. Embrace it!”
He screamed. A trilling, chirping sound that was supposed to be a bellow of agony and triumph, thankfully swallowed by a fire. The noise was altogether too cute. Dragons were majestic and imposing, not cute.
Samazzar closed his eyes. His body ached, assaulted by the inferno from all sides, but now he could feel it. A strange sensation filled his chest, as if something was swelling inside him. He ignored the pain and focused on the feeling, excitement skittering through his veins.
In his mind’s eye, Samazzar imagined the sensation as a bubble. A pocket of gas rising through boiling water toward the surface. It hissed and expanded, somehow absorbing the heat from his surroundings and deadening the omnipresent pain. He concentrated on it, trying to understand exactly what had invaded his body and what it was doing to him. Under his intense focus, it expanded quickly before it burst.
His vision was filled with white light as Samazzar collapsed to the cavern floor. In an instant, the fire was gone, returned to its former sedate state in the cave’s fire pit. Around him the other hatchlings of his litter scurried about in concern, most hiding as far from the firepit as their claws could take them.
He looked at his hand in confusion. It was glowing a dull red. The floor beneath him blazed, a blinding reddish white. He lifted his head up. Crone Tazzaera was sitting in her alcove once more, breathing heavily with a wide grin on her muzzle. Just like him, she glowed. She took a puff from her pipe, and for a brief second the embers in the bowl glowed, visible through the bone.
“Maybe little dragon isn’t such a joking nickname after all,” Tazzaera chuckled, her hands shaking slightly as she lifted the pipe to her muzzle once more. “Less than a half hour and you’ve awakened as an initiate of heat. We’ll make a magi out of you yet, Sam.”
He pulled himself to his feet, wincing at the burns covering his body. Samazzar blinked, returning his vision to normal. A broad smile consumed his muzzle. He ignored his frightened siblings as he turned to face the Crone once more.
“What’s next?” Samazzar practically bounced from foot to foot. “Should I focus on the next step of heat, or is there another mystery I need to prioritize first?”
“Next?” She snorted at him, the smoke from her pipe expelling from the nostrils on either side of her muzzle. “I’m exhausted is what’s next. Fire is meant to rage and destroy. Controlling it so that it won’t burn an overeager hatchling is a tall task. Even if you were ready to ascend to the next step, and you’re not, it’ll take me at least a day to recover from that.”
“But what am I supposed to do until then?” Samazzar asked with a frown.
“Look around you,” Tazzaera motioned with a claw around the cave. “There is plenty for an industrious hatchling to do.”
“For one,” the crone pointed a claw at him, tiredness dragging at her voice, “You can look into finding us some food. The winter is a harsh one and food is beginning to run low already. It will be several months before the mountain passes thaw, meaning that our gatherers can’t search for roots and seeds.”
“The clan chief provides all of the creche caves with merit tokens each week,” the Crone reached into a dingy pouch strapped to her waist. Her claw returned to the firelight with a scant four wooden tokens in it. “Things are getting harder for the tribe. This is all we are meant to survive on until the next ration day.”
Samazzar cocked his head to the side in concern. Like his siblings, he was skinny, surviving more on scrounged mushrooms and grubs than the stew provided by his tribe. Still, four merits wasn’t a lot. It almost guaranteed starvation for the smaller of his littermates.
Nervously, he glanced at the other hatchlings. Now that the fire had calmed down most of them returned to their previous spots in its warmth, napping. His heart began hammering in his chest as he realized with the small pile of merits meant. No food, and no hiring other kobolds to collect firemoss. Soon, some of his litter would be joining Tasara.
The tribe didn’t have enough to eat, and in times of hunger, those who couldn’t work were the ones that went without. The burden fell on the young, elderly and the sick. As winter dragged on, even if the cold didn’t kill his littermates, starvation would.
“Can we ask the Chief for more merits?” Samazzar asked tentatively, his yellow eyes darting to the sleeping forms of his siblings. “The tribe can’t have many fire magi. I’m sure he doesn’t mean for you to starve with us.”
She snorted before shifting her weight slightly in the stone alcove. Briefly she winced in pain as the transfer put pressure on her right leg.
“The Chief knows of my age and injury,” the crone responded with a sigh. “He’s heard how I cough in the morning. Duromak knows that even if hunger doesn’t claim me, I probably only have another two to three years left in me anyway. When a winter gets this bad, the Chief has to make harsh decisions about where to allocate what little food the tribe has.”
“Plus,” the old woman muttered darkly, “he has that orcspawn Lellassa rubbing her tail across his like she’s in heat. All the while whispering treacherous lies into his ear. I should have smashed her egg in before she could show the world her deceitful scales.”
“Why would she rub her tail across his?” Samazzar asked, cocking his head. “Tails are really sensitive! That sounds like it would be incredibly uncomfortable.”
“When two kobolds love each oth-” Tazzaera cut herself off. “You now what Sam? It’s nothing a precocious hatchling like you needs to know. I’ll let you know when you’re older.”
“Ah,” Samazzar nodded knowingly. “One of the more advanced mysteries. I need to learn the required minor truths first.”
“Sure,” the older kobold rolled her yellow eyes. “Why don’t we just go with that. I’ll let you know what it means when you’ve learned the required minor mysteries first.”
“Great!” He responded cheerfully. “I’ll just go to Center Cave and let them know how hard things are in the creche. I’m sure someone will give us the merits we need to make do. The guards that come by on patrols are nice. Sometimes they even bring us stalk grubs.”
Samazzar smacked his lips thinking about the juicy and sweet morsels.
“Never lose your optimism boy,” the Crone replied with a snort. “Unfortunately, the kobolds of the main branch are about as indolent as your kin. Which reminds me.”
Tazzaera threw a rock at a sleeping hatchling. The kobold snapped awake as the rock bounced off of her tiny reddish orange scales. She looked up at the crone, confusion furrowing her brow.
“Takkla!” Tazzaera shouted at her. “I told you to sweep out the waste and change the water in the cistern hours ago. Do you care to explain to me why the waste corner is still fouled and why the water is brackish?”
“It was cold out Crone Tazzaera,” Takkla whined, her ears flipping downward. “I’ll do it later, I promise. I just wanted to get a quick nap in first.”
“Get a move on girl,” the Crone grabbed another small rock to chuck at the hatchling. “Don’t think that I didn’t notice you playing ‘tag’ and ‘tunnel spiders’ with your siblings while it was ‘too cold’ for you to do your chores just because I was in my sleeping chamber.”
Sam and Tazzaera watched Takkla slink off toward the midden corner, her ears low and her tail dragging. He felt for her. Tazzaera had deadly aim when throwing rocks.
“Just like that,” the Crone shook her head. “As soon as it’s a hassle, nobody around here wants to work. No wonder half of the tribe is cold and starving.”
“I don’t mind work,” Samazzar chirped cheerfully, puffing out his thin, scaly chest. “I’ll never be able to evolve into a real dragon if I just laze around all day. Tell me what to do and I’ll help out right away!”
“I know you don’t mind,” Tazzaera’s expression softened as she turned back to Samazzar. “It doesn’t really matter what you do. Scavenge, hunt, clear tunnels, muck out homes. Our creche needs merits, and we need them badly. Earn us some food and I’ll make sure you have another magic lesson.”
“Great!” Sam jumped up, the burns on his feet and his dry, sensitive scales all but forgotten. “I won’t let you down!”
He scampered past his sleeping siblings toward the tunnels that led deeper into the kobold warren, a cheerful song in his heart.
“And buy me a coat!” Crone Tazzaera shouted after him, the volume of her voice causing some of the hatchlings to stir restlessly in their sleep. “The cold is too much for my old bones. I can’t teach you magic if I freeze solid!”
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Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night