There’s nothing like waking up and feeling stiff as a board. It was like my entire body was made of wood, even though I really hadn’t done much other than walk. I was pretty sure it was around dawn when I woke up, because I could see the sky turning orange outside and the fire was only small embers. I thought I was going to sleep longer, but I really wasn’t tired anymore. Nobody else was up, but I was bored, so I got up and started looking around more.

All the bone statues and figurines were insanely well-carved. I had been to some craftsmen who had made really cool wooden carvings before, but even those didn’t have the kind of detail that they had. I looked at one which was yellowed a little and probably really old. It was a creature that looked like Geren, but it had more feathers, a bulkier form, and a long, sharp beak. The nostrils on the beak were tiny perfect circles, and every feather was individually carved. Covering the creature’s torso was something like a toga, which looked soft and silky even though it was carved into bone. Even for how foreign the creature looked to me, I could tell by its expression that it was smiling. Its rigid beak was slightly open and its eyes seemed like they were glowing with joy. For some reason it sparked a feeling of nostalgia in me, followed by a brief wave of melancholy. I couldn’t tell, but whoever this statue was, was somebody he cared about. I went to pick it up and look further, but I noticed a piece of paper next to it and it dawned on me that I was definitely snooping on this guy’s personal creations. I pulled my hand away and looked over my shoulder. I hadn’t heard anything, but I saw Geren standing by the door, looking at me. His eyes were heavy with sleep, but he had a slight smile on his face. His eyes weren’t looking at me though, they were looking at the figurine I had gone to hold.

“You may hold if you like.” Geren’s voice was almost silent, and he began quietly knuckling his way toward me.

I picked it up and took a closer look at the details in the feathers, the way they swirled and layered like waves on water. “Did you carve this?”

“Who else would?” He quietly chuckled. “You can’t keep them forever… but remembering how they look… can make anyone immortal.” He reached out for the figure and I obliged. He held it close to his eyes, then lowered it to its shelf and looked at me. “What would you do… for people you love? For kin? Fight? Kill? Die?” He waited for me to answer.

“I don’t know. Probably all of that.” I had a hard time keeping eye contact. His gaze was piercing.

“You want to travel. Capture fireblood. More?” He looked at me again and I nodded. “I see youth. Inexperienced. You say you will die… you will kill for them? Maybe. But do you love them? Like kin? Like friends?”

I nodded again, unsure where this was going. His eyes turned toward the figure and a longing look filled his eyes.

“Then you must love them… enough to let them… die for you. You cannot save all. They will try to save you. Someday you will have… to live for them.”

He finally turned back to me and I just slowly nodded. I didn’t know what to say to that. It felt random and emotionally charged. I could only think that the carving was probably somebody who he cared about. His words were ominous and I stood there looking dumbly at him.

He smiled and said “You’ll understand when… you’re old too.” We both noticed Desmond’s ear twitching and he began rolling over. “Let us wake them.”

Geren’s beak seemed to unhinge from the rest of his face, opening wide and releasing a shriek like tires skidding on pavement right next to my head. I covered my ears to muffle the sound and I could see everyone else shoot up, except Desmond, who was screaming and holding his ears. After a few seconds, Geren’s miserable shriek ended, and everyone was awake with panicked looks on all of their faces. Geren chuckled loudly.

“Welcome all to… fireblood class.”

* * * * *

After they miserably ate a breakfast of dried meat, Geren brought everyone outside into the field of spiraling flowers. The grass was dewey and the morning breeze was chilly and refreshing. The fog had gone away, so we could see around the entire homestead. There was a four-stall wooden stable and field filled with trees, where those strange six-legged squirrel dogs were climbing up the trunks and chewing on branches.

“Have you seen fireblood?” Geren looked at all of us expectantly. I shook my head, and everyone else did the same.

I spoke up for everyone. “We haven’t seen them or heard anything about them before the mother told us about them.”

Geren’s face looked confused like he was trying to figure out how that was possible. In his raspy, slow way, he told us that firebloods are creatures that live underground near breaks in the rock where heat comes up. He said they are largely indistinguishable from surface creatures, and can pass as any other creature that dwells on the surface. What sets them apart is that their fur or feathers are typically the color of blood, their actions are erratic and unpredictable around surface dwellers, and their flesh is the color of pure snow or hot magma. They attack with near unbreakable claws and teeth like whetted swords that they use to consume the blood of surface dwelling creatures, often having poison as well.

“Feral ones are easy catch… but some are smart. Blend in with people. Have intellect… but all need to feed. Cannot resist to kill. Your kinds cannot tell… but firebloods smell… to keen noses… stink like rotted egg.”

Desmond raised his hand. “Are all the ones that blend in bad? Can’t they just eat animals or something?” He had a tremor in his voice for a second.

“Perhaps scouriad look… like Jorlad. Like you. Fireblood eat animal… but still hungry. Fireblood fight Jorlad… lose arm… eat Jorlad… now feels full. Fireblood blends in. Grows arm back. Grows hungry. Hunts many Jorlad. Always wants more Jorlad. Cannot control hunger. Scouriad are this. More questions?”

Brenden stretched and asked, “Okay, so where do they come from them? Do they have a nest or something that we could take one from. Are there more than just the scouriad ones?”

Geren squinted at Brenden and shook his head. “Not so simple. Fireblood come from dead. Unburied bodies from war. From death are taken… corrupted… converted… deep underground… become hungry beasts. Crave heat and blood. Trick the living. Eat their former kind. Scouriad one of many. Others more rare.” Geren turned and pulled an entire wagon toward us. His massive frame seemed to have no struggles lugging it. He lifted a cage that looks like it could fit a person, and set it in the back. “Defeat fireblood alive… put in cage. Cage imbued with sigil… fireblood cannot break free. Take corty to pull wagon.” He pointed his finger at the pen full of those creatures, corties. He raised his beak into the air and swiveled it around. His head finally pointed toward the forest down the road. “Smell of rotted eggs… on wind up road… twenty minutes away…in forest.” He gave us rods that had loops at the end of them, like what they use to catch large animals.

He taught us how to put reigns on the corty and said fighting this fireblood would be about being quick, not fighting. Without anything else, he sent us off, keeping eyes on us until we were out of sight. There was something weird about the end of the conversation. It felt bad that we weren’t getting any real training, but I didn’t think he would just send us to our deaths.Maybe it wouldn't be difficult with the four of us.

Desmond seemed to remember the way that Geren described almost perfectly. He told us exactly when to get off the road and take the wagon into the woods. The wagon had thicker wheels, which made it easier to keep from getting stuck in the mud. Most of all, it was just nice to sit down and travel. We spent a while planning and decided on Desmond and I using the rods with loops so Adam could wrestle its arms down and Brenden could tie it up.

“We’re getting the jump on it,” Desmond said, “so as long as we stick to our plan, we should be able to do it without getting too hurt. Adam, you can probably use Tells’ shield to block its claws from hitting you while Brenden is tying it.”

“What if it’s stronger than me though?” Adam was being cautious. “I don’t want to doubt my ability, but if that thing is like a roided up version of a person, I might not be able to hold its arms down.”

“Seriously?” Brenden sounded cynical. “If that thing can overpower you, what makes you think it won’t just kill us all on the spot. I don’t think Geren would just send out a bunch of untrained assholes to go get killed by a fireblood. He sounded like he hated them.”

A thought occurred to me. “He said they’re usually feral, so they probably don’t have any strategy or anything like that. It would probably be like catching a big dog or cat. So if-”

Brenden cut me off “-a big dog or cat with crazy sharp teeth and claws and may or may not be smart enough to seem like a human.”

I tried to continue my thought. “Yeah, so if we-”

Desmond cut me off this time. “Hold on guys.” He stopped the wagon and looked around, raising his face in the air. “It’s nearby. In that direction. Let’s keep it away from the corty while we get it. Get your stuff.”


About the author

Ren Cory

Bio: I'm an amateur writer, but I've got a story in my head that I want to tell. What I write won't always be amazing, but I really think it will get better with experience. I love reading and watching anything fantasy, scifi and anything in that sort of wheelhouse. I've always been inspired by those genres to be creative and do my own thing, creating entirely new worlds, histories, creatures, plants and the whatnot. I like trying out new ideas in the genres I love.

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