A world of Fire and a world of Ice collide.


1. Fire.

Ember sat in the window of her tower room looking out over the courtyard. The flames from the torches on either side of her waved and danced in the breeze, the comforting heat caressing her face. From her perch she watched the littles from the nursery playing with their first matches, faces alight with wonder at the tiny flames. Over the other side of the courtyard, she watched the initiates listening to the instructors explaining their training, all of them bubbling with nerves and excitement. She remembered her training, she'd been dreading it even as she began, though she never showed a hint of fear. Not once. Fear was seen as a weakness and Ember would never let anyone think her weak. Fear, she knew, was anything but a weakness. Fear kept you alert, fear kept you alive.

Across the other side of the courtyard she spied a tall willowy figure stretched up picking pieces of smouldering coal from the hanging basket torches lining the walls. Ember watched as she slipped a few into a small drawstring bag on her belt and quickly slipped away, disappearing round the corner. Fern. Probably taking more coal for her art. Smiling to herself, Ember leaned inside her window to grab her backpack from the curtain hook. Shouldering her bag she eased herself out of her window her foot reaching for that first familiar foothold. She then climbed down the tower with the ease and agility that came with familiarity, alternating between gaps in the old stone of the tower and the torches set at intervals as hand and footholds. She jumped the last couple of meters landing in a crouch her bag slipping of her shoulder. "You know you could always use the stairs like a normal person." Ember stood up suddenly, staring in shock at the boy in front of her, the boy she had thought was lost or dead. She couldn't move, her gaze sweeping over his familiar features; his smoky black hair, the familiar shape of his eyes, his high cheekbones and his cocky little side smile that was slipping from his face as she stared at him. He reached out as if to touch her arm, "Em-?" She slapped him.
She slapped him with all the worry, all the anger and all the hopelessness she'd felt and had to hide for the past months. And before he could recover she threw herself at him and hugged him with everything she had left. With her arms around him and her face buried in his neck she breathed in his smell and held back her tears. When she let go it was his turn to stare at her in shock. She went to slap him again but he caught her wrist, "Ember! What did I do?"
Ember made a sort of strangled noise, half a laugh, half a sob. "I thought you were dead!"
"I take it you missed me then?" he said, the grin returning to his face. "Seriously, if I get a hug like that every time I get back, I'm going to go away more often."
"Shut up or I'll hit you again." She warned.
"Ash! I said inside, now! You can see Ember and the other ladies later!" One of the instructors shouted from across the courtyard.
"I'm on my way!" he called back. "I've got to go Em, but I'll see you later. Okay?" and with that he turned away and jogged back to the instructor.

The calm Ember had woken with this morning was utterly gone, she was shaking, a chaotic whirlwind of emotion. She ran off to the left of the courtyard and round the corner where she had seen Fern disappear earlier. She needed Fern's calming presence to help her relax. Fern always knew what to say, she was more like a sister than a friend and she was the only person her age other than Ash that saw her as more than just the tough front she put on.

Ember jogged round the corner and up the steps to the upper courtyard and the entrance to the main living quarters. Fern's room was right at the top of the quarters but Ember knew she wouldn't be there. Instead she jogged through the common room and out the back to the massive stone balcony. There she found Fern adding the last touches to the swirling chaotic pattern she'd made on the great stone wall. Fern stood back and inspected her work. Seemingly satisfied she reached into her bag and pulled out her delay matches, lit one and placed in in a small hole near the base of the wall where her pattern started. She stepped right back to where Ember was stood and together, under their breath, they muttered "One, two... three." And on the count of three the match flowered its little flame and the dark pattern caught fire and the whole wall burst into flame, revealing the pattern to be a huge regal looking dragon atop a mountain breathing its flames into the sky. As quickly as it appeared, the flames died and the dragon with it. It was simply... "Beautiful," Ember put her hand on the girls shoulder. "Seriously, Fern. That's definitely your best so far."
"You say that every time you see one." Fern laughed turning to Ember.
"I know, but it's true."
Ember looked at Fern's warm brown eyes, which were watching her closely. "What's wrong Ember?" There was no fooling Fern, she always knew when something was wrong.
"It's Ash, he's-" Embers words were cut off by the sound of the gong. The gong sounded once if something unusual was sighted to ready the fighters, and twice for an immediate risk of attack. The seconds seemed to last a lifetime, and just when Ember thought they were okay the gong sounded a second time.
An attack.


Fern locked eyes with Ember and grabbed her hand, saying everything with a squeeze of the hand and a tight lipped nod, before turning and jogging off in the direction of the courtyard. Ember knew what Fern was trying to say and Fern already knew what Embers answer was. Yes, I’ll be careful. No, you can’t talk me out of this. And I love you too.

Technically Ember wasn't allowed to fight, you didn't get drafted until your 18th birthday. But Ember knew she'd be a Warrior, and with her eighteenth only a month away she didn't see why she shouldn't fight. Fern had been drafted to be a Warrior, she was an amazing fighter and wicked fast. But Fern’s first priority in any situation was to protect the littles. Everyone knew how fiercely she cared for the kids in the nursery, she'd defend them with her life if it came to it, and so her appeal to change drafts to the Nursery was approved.

Ember ran to the edge of the balcony, crouched and peered over the edge, shielding her eyes from the setting sun. She didn't see any movement anywhere outside the compound; the attack must be on the other side.  She stood up and just as she was turning she saw a flash like a reflection of sun from just below the wall. She leant over scanning for movement and there! A figure was running parallel to the outside wall, keeping close with one hand trailing along the bricks. They were dressed in a Scout uniform with the hood pulled up and their face in darkness. Probably just one of the returning Scouts, heading round to the southern door, Ember thought. Just as the figure was about the round the corner, they stumbled over the loose rocks landing hard on their hands. Their hood slipped back slightly revealing a pale-faced, tense looking girl with a strand of shockingly white hair framing her cheek. She stood up quickly pulling the hood low over her face and darting round the corner. On the floor where the girl’s hands had been were two glistening patches that looked like… was that ice?

This could be bad, if the Ice were attacking after so many years of uneasy peace… And they had an Ice Mage! Despite herself Ember was filled with wonder at the thought of a real Mage. There hadn’t been a Fire Mage chosen in Embers lifetime, of course Ignatius was a Mage back in his day but his power had long since faded. To have the power of fire within you… The very idea was both exciting and terrifying. Mages held the power of their element in their very soul, and were able to literally conjure it at will. In the past true mages could perform unimaginable feats. An ice mage could use ice and snow to create great storms, build beautiful structures and construct deadly weapons. Fire Mages powers were deadly and powerful and could be used to destroy almost anything, but it could also be beautiful and mesmerising. The entire compound of the Fire Clan was built by the original Fire Mages, the walls crafted from volcanic rock. The centre fire was made by the strongest of the mages as a fire that would never go out just like the spirits of the Fire Clan.

Snapping back to the situation, Ember frantically tried to come up with a plan. A single girl would usually pose no threat to Ember, but if this girl really was a Mage then Ember was way out of her depth. The girl would reach the south door in minutes, leaving no time for Ember to get help. She would have to run to the south door and hope she bumped into help on the way. But, no matter what, that Ice Mage could not be allowed to enter the compound.


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