Emrys could do nothing but run in the aftermath of warfare.
Broken homes and bloodied weapons left him an orphan. A lone child roaming the vast lands of Ashal. He ate what berries he could scavenge in the forests, drank the clear water from streams, and spent nights mourning the loss of his home. Tears would blur the moonlight at dark.
He couldn’t run from the black bear that singled him out.
A nearby monk heard his cries—a man dressed in a maroon robe rushed to his aid. The bear swiped, tearing into Emrys’ arm as he cowered against a tree. Bark scratched against his neck. Blood streamed down his elbows. The monk approached and punched at the beast with fists set aflame, shattering its jaw with ease.
The blazing fire consuming his fists gradually dissipated.
The monk trembled as the power within settled.
He led Emrys to a mountain village, a monastery where they cleaned his wounds and gave him a place to stay. The monks glimpsed potential within the boy. A desire to train. They also recognized a brash recklessness, a thirst for battle, and decided to keep him focused on chores until the fury passed. Emrys spent his days washing dishes and scrubbing floors.
He grew impatient within hours. The barbarians that destroyed his home would soon be too far to catch up with. From the window of his room, he’d watch the monks spar in the courtyard—they would call upon the spiritual phoenix to emblaze weapons in bright orange flames. Emrys stopped his cleaning and approached his mentor. He bowed his head and asked if he could be taught the same.
“Tame the phoenix?” the monk replied. “Boy, you can barely leash it.”
With animosity that would not settle, Emrys sneaked into the hidden archives at dusk. He found dust-ridden tomes with cracked leather spines that read of calling upon the spirit realm. Books containing practises for those of strong will. Believing himself ready, he recited rituals until the sun rose, then challenged his mentor to spar on the new day.
A chill wind blew across the mountains, shifting the flowers planted in each corner of the courtyard. Porcelain tulips and crimson roses. Monks meditated, watching, ready to see if the orphan could hold his own. The man who saved him from the black bear took form and beckoned him forward.
Emrys invoked the phoenix,
and set the world ablaze.
The bird cried out, a spectral form rising into the sky. Flames erupted off of Emrys—infernal waves that torched everything in sight. Flowers were reduced to ashes in a blink; grass burned to dirt. His mentor flailed within the powerful fire, unable to control it, meeting his end. The surrounding monks suffered scaldings that would never heal.
They exiled him without a second to explain.
Emrys, horrified, wandered without purpose.
He struggled within the grasp of the phoenix. The power trembled his limbs and seared the skin off his back, yet still kept him strong enough to stand. Nights spent meditating calmed the phoenix to a mere warmth at his fingertips. Mornings roaming the lands of Ashal, reflecting on his errors, returned it to its blazing heat.
Months passed by. He took up work cleaning inns, or as a farmhand, benevolently helping those in need—learning the discipline his mentors had tried to teach him ages ago. As the months became years, he found himself past the mountains, in the wintry regions of the Frostlands.
His bare feet melted the snow as he walked. Trails of steam rose beside him. In the land of tundra and cold, he met natives adorned in white and teal coats who named themselves Frost Piercers. They controlled the ice in the palms of their hands, creating breathtaking monuments, or weapons of war against primeval forces.
They invited him to their surprisingly warm home for a meal.
Neither did they have a solid grasp on their ability. Once they channelled their power of cryomancy, they had to rid themselves of it without hesitation. A second too long within it and they would freeze into statues—their blood would run cold.
Emrys began to wonder if controlling the phoenix would ever be possible.
It dismayed him to hear of warships arriving at the shores of Ashal. Word came of an invasion from overseas, a full-scale attack aiming to conquer the land. Colossal ships carried thousands upon thousands of soldiers—the expansionist rule of the desert region looking to widen their grasp on the world.
The Frost Piercer who told him so, a very enthusiastic girl, waved her arms around as she spoke to emphasize the invasion.
“The ships are this big,” she said, stretching her arms out. “And, and, with enough soldiers to rule a continent! Is that not crazy? I thought we were alone on this land, but there’s a whole world out there!”
“Would you help us defend what’s ours?” Emrys asked.
She looked around to the other Frost Piercers, her face going red.
“We’re…busy with our own problems. But I’m sure you’ll be alright!”
Emrys left at once. They allowed him to ride a mammoth to the border before bidding farewell.
Legions of desert soldiers in cloth and leather wraps marched through the fields of Ashal. A brigade broke into a village, slaughtering innocents, breaking morale. Emrys descended from the hill and picked up a blade.
Spearmen quickly surrounded him.
With no other choice, he invoked the phoenix.
The spirit cried an ear-piercing scream, its spectral form spreading its wings into the sky. A tempest of flames engulfed Emrys—his skin burned hot, scalding, his left arm charring black. Fire raged in his eyes. The sword in his right hand caught aflame, raining loose embers, burning the leaves beneath him to ash.
Imbued with the phoenix’s power, he struck the invaders in a frenzy. Embers burst off his sword with each strike. Fire formed on the fingertips of his charred left hand. The flames coalesced in his palm, creating a stream to torch those around him. The untamable spirit flared brighter and hotter with each passing second.
He stood among corpses as the battle came to an end. The phoenix left his body in ruins, his skin burned beyond healing. Emrys understood, at last, that no mortal being could ever bend the heat of the phoenix to their will. Agonized, he wrapped his arm in cloth and staggered towards the mountains.
He arrived to find his old village destroyed. Emerald green fires still burned in the gardens—bodies were left obliterated by weapons of alchemy, the likes of which he’d never seen.
Only a few surviving monks remained, sorting through the wreckage.
Emrys reached out a hand.
They hesitated to accept, as they refused to overlook the past. Yet, Emrys bowed his head and told of his years of wandering, reflection, and charity. He apologized and asked for nothing more than guidance—the monks sensed the change within him and accepted his help in rebuilding.
With their help, Emrys honed his control of the phoenix. He readied himself for war. Time spent meditating and learning to direct the spirit’s fiery wrath prepared him for the inevitable conflict. He refused to let his land fall prey to the desert’s rule.
Outnumbered by the hundreds, Emrys fought to exhaustion. His sword caught aflame in the fields of Ashal. He cut down men riding armoured scorpions, grabbing the riders with his charred left hand and burning them within his grasp. When the battle seemed lost, Ashal’s soldiers no match against the desert’s numbers, a spike of ice erupted from the ground to disrupt them.
A girl wearing a white and teal coat slid by, a trail of solid ice beneath her feet, and waved to Emrys.
“Keep up,” the Frost Piercer said, “Flamewalker.”
She leaped off the ice, hitting the ground, running fast. Icicles formed above her—sharp, jagged pieces each the length of a spear. A cyan mist emanated from her eyes. She ran, throwing her arm forward, the projectiles launching through the air.
Sunlight reflected off the glimmering ice.
They cut wind, each spike impaling the desert soldiers. The girl stopped and stomped her foot against the ground. A spike of ice twice her size broke from the dirt. It led to another—a chain reaction of pillars following the bulk of the army.
Another Frost Piercer slid by and shattered them. The pillars exploded into razor-sharp shrapnel, blinding and maiming. The army shouted for a retreat. Emrys raised his sword to the sky, flames bursting off the steel. He called to press the attack, and Ashal’s forces listened, charging forward.
Once they routed the enemy, Emrys loosened his grip on the phoenix and approached the enthusiastic Frost Piercer. Her breath fogged the air in front of her despite Ashal’s warm temperature. She stretched her arms out behind her; frost built up and cracked on her jacket.
“I thought you had your own problems to deal with,” Emrys said. He stepped around the frozen corpse of a soldier. “What brought you here?”
“It’s our land, too,” she said, “even if it’s not the cold side.” She reached out a gloved hand. “There’s not too many of us, but you can bet we’ll be the difference needed in the battles to come.”
With his charred hand, Emrys shook with her.
Together, they would lead Ashal to a rightful victory.