Kitti Laki

How the Ashen gained their Powers

The "Ashen" are the race of people who live in the Fire realm in Dalivar, a world separated into to elemental lands. The Ashen have black marking called Scriptures all over their bodies from which they get the power to create fire. This is the legend of how their people came to have those powers.

Several miles from the border of the fire realm, Kaena was helping her mother rip out a shrivelled bush from the hard, pale desert floor. Dust and sand blew around them, and she lifted her arm to shield her face. Her mother wore a leather headdress which protected her eyes from the ash-filled wind. That was why they were called the Ashen folk; the fire realm was a vast desert and canyon-filled landscape, pocketed with volcanic geysers, which filled the air with bits of ash that layered their village homes’ walls. Kaena owned one of the headdresses, but refused to wear it today, despite her mother’s cautions. The headdress belonged to her father, and today would have been his birthday.

Kaena gave one last violent tug to the plant, and finally uprooted it. Her mother, Ilaya, carefully unwrapped the thin woven satchel bag from her arm, uncovering the skin there. As Kaena snapped the brittle twigs in half and placed them in the bag, she noticed that one of her mothers’ scriptures had grown. The thin, delicately patterned black markings that usually grew down to Ilaya’s forefinger now spread slightly towards her thumb as well. Kaena looked at her own hands in disappointment. She was only twelve years old; her scriptures would not extend down to her arms for a while. She thought about how much she would rather look delicate and patterned like her mother, and not have thick, weaving scripture patterns stop at her shoulder blades.

When they arrived back at the village, window sheets were being rolled back up, and doors were being opened again after having been closed to protect from the winds. No matter the weather, they had to go and forage for kindling; the nights in the fire deserts were cool, and the village was quickly running out of firewood. As they rounded the corner of the road, Kaena could hear Old Man Lan coughing from inside his hut. Her mother gave an involuntary sigh. The lack of food and fire in the village was becoming devastating, but it still hit a new degree of sadness for her mother to think that poor Lan would never get cremated if they did not gather enough kindling in time. In the fire realm, cremation was a tradition. A tradition that her father would never get. He had gone hunting four years ago, and never came back.

They reached the main circle, where a large circular raised platform stood, covered by a thick canopy. They placed the broken bush parts into the small pile of burnable fuel, arranging into a neat pile. The villages’ communal flame provided fire for all the households. Fire purified their water and cooked their food. Fire disinfected healing tools and melted special herbs. Fire provided warmth during the cool desert nights, and helped send their deceased loved ones to the Gods.

But the fire was running out, and her village was dying. Kaena and her mother stood there for a moment, staring into the small flame the burned above a raised cage. Underneath the flames, Kaena could just make out an orange flower petal – the last fire flower. The fire flower was what was keeping them alive. It was a small flower with yellow and orange tear-shaped petals, and a wide opening in the centre. From this opening dripped thick nectar that was extremely flammable when heated. One single fire flower burned a small flame for several weeks, as long as it was protected from the rainy season. This fire flower would burn out in the next week or so. And then they would have nothing.

They made their way to their hut and walked under the dome archway. Kaenas’ brother, Toren was sitting on the edge of his bed, sharpening his blade with the edge of a carving stone. Even weapons were rare in these parts, as you had to travel far to find the right stone and rock to make them. It had been a gift from his father when Toren was fourteen. He was eighteen now, and itching to use it.

Kaena went into their main living quarters and started to sweep out the dirt that the window sheets hadn’t blocked out while they were away. It was boring, menial work, but it made the hours go by faster. “Alec should be back with the flower soon.” Ilaya reassured her. Kaena looked out the window hopefully. Even Toren stole a glance. Alec had elected to go on the journey to the outskirts of the fire realm, where the mountain-ranges of the air realm began. Within that realm divide grew the fire flowers, but for years now the air realm had begun to claim the fire flower land as theirs, and sold them to the Ashen in exchange for animal meat and hides.  Every month, the strongest individuals went on the long trip to negotiate with the Sorans – the people of the air realm. They sacrificed their supplies and healthy warriors to hunt for the air realms’ desire for rare foods and clothing, in exchange for survival.

Finally she saw something. A lone figure, approaching from the West. “He’s back!” she shrieked, and ran outside to greet him. Outside, several other villagers had also joined Kaena in their greeting, but were met with a dishevelled-looking Alec. His hair matted to his sunken face by sweat and dirt, his woven shirt ripped along the shoulder. There was a red stain where blood had dried.

His younger sisters rushed to him, examining his wound and asking how he had received it. By now most of the village was outside, waiting for his answer. He looked up, sadness in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, swallowed, and tried again. “The Sorens have demanded more animal hide in exchange for the flower.” He said, his voice dripping with disdain. A silence of shock, realization, and dread poured over the villagers. Kaena looked at the last fire flower, burning in the central circle. Nothing.

As his sisters and some other villagers took him into the healer’s tent, Kaena went home to tell her brother what had happened. She looked in his room, and in the back circle, but he wasn’t there.

Toren walked through the front door just as Kaena was about to leave. His expression looked stony. “Where were you?” she asked him. He waited a moment before answering her, looking away. “Speaking with the Chief.” Her mother entered then. “Come on, Kaena.” She said gently, placing her hand on her shoulder and leading out into the main circle. Beside the fire canopy stood the Chief, tall and built, he trained the young men in the village the art of survival and combat; skills they would need to keep their families alive.

His voice boomed as he addressed the crowd. “The Sorens have demanded more game. We have no choice but to hunt again.” Several people shouted in protest, others dropped their heads in defeat. Kaena felt a surge of anger swell inside her. The Soran race were exploiting her people. And now someone else had to risk their lives just so that the air realm could have fine skins and rare meat.

Toren stepped towards the canopy, and the crowd parted for him. Kaena looked at her mother’s grave face, and knew what he meant. She gave a cry and tried to move towards him, but her mother held her shoulders and turned her around, looked her in the eyes. She was giving her a silent message: He has made his choice. Kaena looked back up at Toren, fear and anger curdling in her stomach.

“Toren Fei d’Ashen has volunteered as our Hunter. May the Gods bless you with strength and courage.” The Chief handed Toren the ceremonial warrior’s belt. Some people cheered; most looked on gravely. Kaena ran inside, fell onto her bed. She didn’t want to see anymore.

*****************************************************************************

Toren had hugged Kaena when he left, but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything. She wished she was strong enough to be allowed to go with him. She knew the hunter’s paths, she knew which parts of the land were the most dangerous, because she had asked Old Lan himself.

By nightfall the village had returned to foraging what last bits of hopeful kindling they could before the cold set in, except for the children. Kaena heard Marra, Sidae and Ammi whispering behind one of the divider walls. She had thought she heard them say her brothers’ name.
Kaena set down her sack of crushed plants and crept closer to listen.
“How could he have fought them off all by himself?”
“Well they said there was only one – “
“But still! A Rahn - !”
“Alec is an experienced fighter, Sidae.”
“After all that work to not get a flower, only to be attacked by a Rahn...”
Kaena snuck away. When she was out of earshot, she unceremoniously flung her bag onto her shoulders and bolted home.

There are Rahn out there, she thought, panic making her run faster. Did Toren know? The Rahn were blood-thirsty monsters that inhabited the Outer Lands of the realm. They had black scales and tendrils that they used to catch their victims with. They gave off high pitched shrieks and moved like a whip. Hunting while they were outside of their borders in the Outer Lands was suicide.

She slowed down as she approached her home. Her mother lay snoring in her bedroom. Kaena pulled out a dusty survival back from under her shelves and fastened it to her belt. She would find Toren, convince him to come back before it was too late. Before he disappeared like their father had. On the outskirts of her village, she looked behind her to make sure that no one was watching. All she could see was the central flame, creating the only light in the growing darkness.

She walked along the flat desert planes for what felt like hours, until she finally reached the incline of the rocky hills. The moonlight was strong, and cast a faint blue glow on the landscape, Below here were the cavernous canyons; Great, curving planks of rock hung over miles of open space, creating a series of caves and tunnels. Toren would have headed around these canyons, following the trail furthest above ground. Kaena kept walking.
When her feet began to ache after several miles, she placed a hand to rest near the edge of the canyon drop. Behind her, she could still see the small flickering light that was their tiny fire. Ahead of her she saw the moon, and the long shadows it cast upon the canyon bowl. She heard a rumbling in the distance. Coming from the other side of the canyon. No.

It was a mass of Rahn, several packs joined into one army. Terror gripped Kaena. Surely they couldn’t see her from this far away, this high up, with no light source? Then she looked behind her. She saw the tiny flickering light. The village flame.

Kaena ran back, her legs having a mind of their own. She could not think, all she could do was run. She had to warn the village. She had to do something. Silently she prayed as her feet pounded the earth. She came to a strip of elevated rock, creating a half archway into the desert lands. She could see the Rahn approaching from the distance, in a roiling, screeching mass.
She tried to scream but fear clenched her throat shut. She couldn’t beat them to the village in time. She would watch her own village die before her eyes. She tried to scream again, and began to cry as her voice turned more hoarse and frail.

She dropped to her knees, desperately clinging to the loose dirt on the rock overhanging. Anything, please, she prayed. Anything to save them, please. Please, father. Her tears soaked the earth underneath her face. Through her blurred vision the Rahn were halfway to the arched rock entrance. If only she could divert their attention somehow. She scraped the earth with her fingernails, her fingers becoming raw.

Her hand grazed along something. It felt like a root. Kaena dug more, dusted off layers of dirt. A stem. A petal. Orange. Fire flower. She wrenched the spark stones out of her pouch and with shaking hands, ignited the tiny flower’s centre. It burned like hope, so hot and real that it made her cry more. From behind her, where the outcropping of rock began, she heard a crack. She had an idea. She looked at her little flame, burning inspiration in the darkness of the night time.

She stood at the very tip of the overhanging. She held up the flame and waved it back and forth, first facing the village, then facing the Rahn.

The monsters were nearly at the entry way when they saw the second flame from above them. There was confusion, commotion, and finally some of them began to crawl up the canyon, toward the light. Kaena backed up slowly towards the tip of the outcropping. They wanted the flame. She could see their scaled hands reaching towards it greedily. They didn’t run towards her because they could see the drop behind her. But the did not see the crack. Kaena glanced below her. The rest of the Rahn were hoping the flame would fall toward them, and their attention was distracted from the village.

It had to be now. She flung the flower forward on her side of the cracking rock. The Rahn all dove for it at once, every single one. The weight of all of them sent the layer of rock and rubble plummeting towards the remaining Rahn. In that moment of descent, Kaena saw her village, many little lights popped up inside the homes, and knew they were safe.

The pyre was made of every last ounce of wood that could be found. No one would deny this true honour to their peoples’ hero.

It had taken all night for them to dig up the remains, and when the had finally found her body, they saw that her arms and legs were covered in bright scriptures, red, orange, and yellow. Ilaya said she looked like a fire flower with her coloured scriptures, lying there peacefully.

That morning when the pyre was completed, the town gathered in mourning, and in honour. No one spoke a word until the next day.

Toren woke with a heavy heart. He had heard the rockslide, and came back home. He wished more than anything that he could have stopped them. Not his sister. His good sister. He moved to wipe his eyes, when he noticed that the scripture around his wrist was a bright crimson colour. He has up gingerly. All of his scripture had changed. Now they glowed crimson and red. Just like Kaenas’. He stood up quickly to find his mother.

He found her by the hearth with her back to him, her arms tightly wrapped around her knees. Toren slowly places a hand on her back, which was also decorated with wispy orange and yellow scripture. Her back rocked from the force of her sobs. Toren smoothed her hair back, and she looked him in the face. She was smiling. Crying and smiling so deeply that Toren thought she had lost her senses. He spoke hesitantly. “We all look like her now.” Toren said. Ilaya with shaking hands, took her sons’ in hers, palms facing up. “More than that.” She whispered, tears streaming. She looked down at her palms next to his, splayed her fingers out. A small, hot, glowing, glorious orb of fire danced inches above her palm. Toren had to blink from the sudden light so close to his face. Now he was staring at her hands in complete wonder.

Outside in the central circle, Old Man Lan took tiny shuffling steps towards the dying flames of the last flower. He stood before it, and very slowly uncurled each of his stiff fingers until he could hold out his palm. He held out his arm under the canopy, and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, a small ball of fire lay just above his palm. He held it for a moment, relishing the warmth it gave to his cold hand, and then tossed into the embers.
The central flame burned like promise, inspiration, like hope.