BLACK FIRE, SILVER SCARS

PROLOGUE

It was the dead of night. All was silent and still. It seemed as though everything, even the wind, had fallen into an irreversible sleep. It seemed as though the creatures who roamed the fields at night had stopped their wonderings.

It could even have been as though there were no living things left on the earth, for nothing could even be seen, so complete was the darkness that enveloped the world. Nothing. Not even the shadows of the enormous trees that lined the valley of Hiep could be discerned.

But then, something did move. The darkness moved; something blacker than black was slinking ever closer the the small village that occupied the valley, and it came with an evil intent that any listener of the wind could feel in the marrow of their bones.

Just as quickly as the evil shadow appeared, it had come to the village. All inhabitants were asleep and could not prevent what was about to happen. The shadow slipped around the outskirts of the village; its intentions seemed, at first, uncertain. Finally it crept to the center of the town, needing no concealment.

In a nearby home, a girl tossed and turned in her sleep. A darkness with creeping fingers slipped into her dreams. She could almost feel it grasping at her mind. With a jolt, she sat up and was about to gasp, but her senses were screaming for silence, and so she suppressed the breath. Immediately came another feeling; a feeling of deep, diabolical evil.

Vahala Agria wrenched herself out of bed with a sense of great urgency.

Alerted to the presence of a conscious mind, the shadow-being leered to the darkness and sent a spark of Ember towards where the mind was. Its machination would not be stopped by an over-intelligent brat. It then concentrated on the five stone statures in the middle of the town just a few feet from where it was standing. Reaching out two midnight-like arms, the thing felt the power flowing from his tainted core towards the figurines. The Ember shot from his outstretched fingers and encased the stone carvings in a black, glowing fire.

Stone was not supposed to burn, but burn it did, the glowing conflagration racing over the smooth surfaces. When all the statues were truly ablaze, the shadowy figure turned towards the buildings. Within moments, everything made of wood was aflame.

Racing to the door, Vahala yanked it open, or at least tried to. It wouldn't budge. Tugging on it with all her might proved fruitless. By this time, she could hear screams issuing from neighboring houses. The yells of her friends and family, who had now awakened, combined with the feeling of depravity that was still nearby, made Vahala frantic.

Turning from the door, she automatically sought to find a way out of her bedroom, but just as quickly realized that there was, of course, no other way out; there were no windows in this part of the house. A few seconds later, she heard her mother and father yelling her name and shouts from her friends. Fire.

There were bangs on her door. Vahala could smell the smoke. She could not, however, feel the heat of the fire. The fact that she could not only added to her growing hysteria.

She fought down screams that were rising in her throat. Forcefully reminding herself that panic would probably kill her, she tried to calm herself and think of a way to get out. Looking around the room, the girl frantically looked for something that might break wood; she found nothing.

Racing back to the door, she could hear her mother still screaming her name over the roar of the oncoming fire. Her father was banging on the door with something, but to no avail. Fear finally engulfed her and she began shrieking incoherently, pounding futilely on her door.

Over the resounding cacophony now ringing through the village, she heard a yell from one of her parents: their house had finally caught. A sense of vague premonition settled on Vahala, and with it came a strange calmness and detachment. The girl ceased her efforts and stumbled, trembling slightly, back into the middle of the bedroom. Turning slowly in circles, she was certain there was nothing she could do to escape.

She could still hear her mother and father's voices, but it seemed as though they were at the opposite end of a tunnel that was miles long. Echos of yells sounded in her ears. She could just understand what her father was saying. Something about it being too late... no exit. It sounded as though he was trying to get someone or something out of his way.

Vahala was beginning to cough, but she didn't pay attention to polluted air. She was concentrating on a different aspect of the fire: there was still no heat associated with the impending flames. As a matter of fact, she noted that if anything, it had gotten colder.

The girl walked steadily over to a small table against the wall. She carefully picked up a small wooden case that held her most prized possession. It was a small harp that had been hers for as long as Vahala could remember. Obviously it had been a gift from her parents; they had said so themselves. What she could not figure out, however was where they had gotten it. They had always refused to tell her. There was no place in the village to buy it from and neither of them traveled to any of the cities, where they could have gotten it. It had crossed her mind several times that it could have been stolen, but she thought that very unlikely. Holding the case tightly, she sank to the floor.

And still Vahala did nothing to protect herself. She had no interest in the oncoming inferno. Her mind was elsewhere, completely unaware of the fact that the walls surrounding her were beginning to smoke. She was picturing her mother and father, probably standing outside the town watching their only home crack and crumble before their eyes.

Another image formed in her mind. Her brother. Edril was nine years older than Vahala and had moved away to another village in the valley over after he had married. He was of course in bed, ignorant of the fact that his entire family was in various levels of peril.

The fire had finally found its way into Vahala's room. However, it was not the fire itself that brought the girl back to reality; it was the icy feeling creeping into her veins that roused her. Snapping her head up, she stared at the enormous blaze rapidly eating its way towards her. It was black, black as the creature who had summoned it. With it came a blast of freezing air, so cold it felt like real fire.

Vahala was starting to have trouble breathing when the first of the beams came down next to her door. This seemed to bring her to awareness, at least a little. She quickly crawled over to sit against the bed, knowing it was probably the safest place to be. Putting her forehead against her knees, she tried to breath normally, an effort that resulted in a horrible coughing fit.

Closing her eyes, Vahala listened to the roar around her, rubbing her arms, trying to keep warm. She knew it was a useless act, but it gave her something to focus on; something other than the inescapable and imminent prospect before her. More pieces of the ceilings fell.

The conflagration had now surrounded her completely and was closing in. Her body was completely numb by now and she could bring herself to do nothing but sit and wait.

A few moments later, there was a tremendous rending and crashing noise. As the world slowly dissolved into darkness, the only thing Vahala could think about were the flames that had finally found her flesh. Unimaginable pain. Then nothing.