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Chapter 79

Yangin-Atep, Loki, Prometheus, Moloch, Coyote, the hearth fires of the Indo-European tribes, uncountable fire gods were one and many. He, she, they had the aspect/powers of bilocation and shared minds. Pleasure or pain seeped from lands where a lord of fire and mischief might be worshipped or tortured.

Every cook fire was a nerve ending for Yangin-Atep. Whandall could feel the god's shape, the terrible freezing wound at his heart, the numb places where parts of the city were abandoned and no fires were lit, the long, trailing tail through the Firewoods. He felt sensation where Lord and Lordkin armies had passed, the path of Whandall's escape and return.

Yangin-Atep stirred rarely. It was only his attention that moved ... but where Yangin-Atep's attention fell, things happened. Fires went out when Yangin-Atep took their energy. He put out forest fires. Cook fires he allowed to burn. If he snuffed them too early, they were of no use.

Fires indoors went out. Yangin-Atep in Whandall's mind remembered why. An ancient chief had bargained with Yangin-Atep, had woven a spell to prevent his nomad people from settling in houses.

Cook fires gave him his life.

But there was not enough magic even in fire. Every several years, Yangin-Atep fell into deathlike sleep. Then fires raged unchecked, even indoors. Yangin-Atep's famine-madness would fall on receptive worshippers, and people called that the Burning. In his coma Yangin-Atep might not respond to the Burning for clays, yet his chosen would feel the casing of his hunger, his growing strength. Their own grief was eased by the fires.

When Yangin-Atep revived it was all in a surge. He took fire where it was hottest, and though some fools might continue to throw torches, the Burning was over.

But now the trickle of life in Yangin-Atep was trickling away, and a line of bleeding emptiness crawled toward him from the sea. It was water, water come to challenge him. The manna that kept a water elemental alive was the life of Yangin-Atep.

The fire god's attention moved across the Burning City and centered on the Black Pit.

Tar and oil.

The pond water that covered the Black Pit had been rolled up into the greater mass of the sprite. Tar lay naked and exposed. Yangin-Atep's attention set it afire. Flames cradled the sprite. The sprite danced like a bead of water on a skillet, trying to withdraw from the fire.

Ancient dead animals played in the flames. Sabertooth cats pawed at the air, swatting at the water above them. Great flaming birds circled. A mastodon formed, then grew until it loomed above the sprite. Behemoth stamped down with both forefeet... and was gone, and the sprite was unharmed.

The child Whandall had seen these ghosts as holes in fog. Now they were flame... but Whandall's perception saw more. Yangin-Atep was summoning them to absorb their manna. The fire god was eating the ghosts.

Morth lay limp on the far side of the Pit. Whandall made his way around the fence toward Morth, his haft and blade forgotten in his hands. It was a long way around. He could barely see, hear, feel, with the fire god's senses raging in his head.

The elemental knew what it wanted, and Yangin-Atep felt it too. Yangin-Atep raised fire to block the elemental from its prey, from Morth of Atlantis. The elemental countered with a blast of wild magic, gold magic, nearly its last. If Whandall couldn't feel magic, the fire god could. Yangin-Atep's attention snuffed out, then snapped back.

And Morth, half dead beside the Black Pit fence, snapped awake and strong, awash in manna. He spilled his pack, stripped to the waist, and smeared his arms and chest with white paint, all in great haste. He faced the Pit and his arms began to wave.

To Whandall it looked like he was conducting music or a dance. Indeed, lire-beasts danced in response, even as they winked out one by one.

The war was half seen, hall' felt, half hidden. Whandall wasn't perceiving it all. In flashes of clarity he made his way to Morth.

Morth's back was turned. "Just stay clear," he said without turning around. Gold rings glittered on every finger.

"Can't I do something?"

"Clear!" Morth danced on.

Then Whandall's only senses were Yangin-Atep's. !

Water wanted to cool fire. Fire wanted to burn water. Yangin-Atep wrapped the elemental like an eggcup around an egg. Water sizzled. Fire dimmed. Both were dying.

Some power remained in the Black Pit to feed the ghosts of the ancient animals, and that power was being used now. Yangin-Atep reached out for more and was blocked at the fence. But there was enough.

The sprite died in a blast of live steam.

Whandall covered his face with his arms and fell to the tarry ground. Heat scalded his hands. Morth's arms never missed a beat, but Whandall heard his howl.

Yangin-Atep hunted. If there had been a trace of the water elemental, Yangin-Atep would have eaten the manna in it. But the water thing was dead, myth, gone. Yangin-Atep reached farther.

There was nothing outside the Black Pit.

Now Whandall felt claustrophobic terror, a sudden shrinkage. From occupying the valley's vastness, enclosed by forest and sea, fed by cook fires, Yangin-Atep was numb and paraplegic beyond the border of the Black Pit. Some enemy was weaving-had woven-a wall!

Yangin-Atep twitched to the rhythm of the spell and sought a new enemy, and found him too late. Whandall recognized Morth of Atlantis, his dancing arms and fingers, but the wall was complete and Morth was outside, untouchable. Manna streamed thinly from the stars, but Yangin-Atep couldn't feel it. Morth had woven a lid to the box.

Yangin-Atep pushed against it. Whandall heard Morth's bellow of agony, dimly, but he felt the fire god's agony. The magical barrier was pitifully thin, but it was water magic.

Yangin-Atep hunted with the ferocity of a Lordkin, and found ... a Lordkin.

Then Whandall and Yangin-Atep were two aspects of the fire god. The fire god reached down and picked up his haft and Lordkin blade.

Whandall Feathersnake let it fall.

Yangin-Atep stooped to pick up the spear, stooped and reached, bent his knees and reached, desperate to make this body move. Move! Why wouldn't the Lordkin move?

Morth danced like a marionette, his back turned. Whandall Feather-snake stood at peace with himself and the god raging in his mind. Whandall was familiar with the hard sell. Every merchant in the world thinks he can make you buy, but he can't. Listen, nod, enjoy the entertainment. Offer tea. At the right price, buy.

Whandall felt the fire fill him, running down his arms. Little flames licked his fingernails. Fire lit his mind. The Toronexti! We'll burn them out! Houses, gatehouse, forest paths, men, we 'II burn them all! Take the children hostage to hold the women. Next, the Bull Fizzles-

What you offer has value, of course, but how can I risk so much? If I lose, my people starve, my family, all who trust Feathersnake. No, your price is too high.

Flame licked his fingertips. Rage!

Frivolously high. Fire, you can't be serious.


Control. Relax. Stand. Smile. Breathe.

There was no manna left. Yangin-Atep faded to a dying spark.

Not here on the surface, but deep down beneath the tar where no wizard could ever have been, the last trace of the fire god found a last spark of manna. The fire god sank, faded, and was myth.

Yangin-Atep was myth.

Whandall's face hurt. Clothing had covered the rest of him, but his hands and the left side of his face and scalp were hot with pain. His hand found no eyebrows, no lashes, no hair on that side.

Morth was a stick figure, bald as an egg. Clothing charred black across the front of him, and his arms waved, conducting unseen musicians. Whandall dared not interfere. There was no trace of ancient animal ghosts now, and every fire was out.

Morth lowered his arms, bowed, and fell on his face.

Whandall rolled him over. Morth's eyes were half open, seeing nothing.

Whandall said, "The sprite is dead, Morth."

Morth sucked air. Alive. "Can't know that."

"Morth, I strangled it myself and ate every trace of it. It's dead. Excuse me, did I say? I was being Yangin-Atep."

"Feathersnake Inn."

"All gods welcome. I want no more of it, Morth."

"Won't happen again. What's left of Yangin-Atep, I wove deep into the tar. Whatever the fire god has been doing to this town, it's over. Ten thousand years, maybe more, maybe forever, Yangin-Atep sleeps below the tar. Maybe you can make something of that. I'm burned. Get me to the sea, for the manna. Wash me with salt water. Wait. You sure the sprite is-"



Chapter 78 | The Burning City | Chapter 80