AN: The proper pronunciation of the main character's name, Serae`al, would be: s(eh)-ray-(ou)l.

This is the first of a two-book tale. When From the Ashes: Pyre is completed, I will begin posting From the Ashes: Rebirth. Enjoy!

~ Of Old Scars ~

"My king, a dark warrior comes. He shall break the back of your flying fire, shatter tradition, and lay waste your hold the skies."

"What can be done? Can we find him, kill him?"

"Nay, my lord. The dark warrior hides from mine eyes. I cannot see him clear. Even more, a darker strength hangs behind him. Striking him directly will only bring destruction. However, seek one of fire-red and golden-eye. Strike down this child, for this one guards the sanity of the dark warrior."

} • {

Uncaring hands hauled the boy up from the cold stone. He tried to fight when they severed the binds and clapped too-large, gold bracers around his forearms, then, pinned the child's arms against the cavern's smooth wall.

"Don't struggle." The voice, cold as the desert-night and heartless as the war-eagle's cry, pierced the air. "Wriggle too much and he may miss. Don't want him to catch your wrists, do you?"

"Wrists?" the boy's voice came cracked, desperate, and shaky.

Before he could puzzle the meanings or lift his eyes from the snake-like smile of lifeless malice, agony exploded in both hands and raced down his arms towards his brain. A savage scream ripped his throat in protest of the sudden anguish.

In that moment, he couldn't breathe, and he couldn't see. All he knew was the black terror of this merciless torture that extended past the mere physical deep into his very soul.

A strangled cry pulled him from hell, and he jerked upright in bed, to convince constricted lungs to breathe. He lifted shaky hands to prove to himself there was no blood—like there would have been if his nightmare continued. Instead, his eyes trailed over the darkened line on the center of each palm that extended from the heel to the pad just between his middle and third finger. He shook his head and checked the backs of his hands as well. No blood covered the matching scars there. No matter how many years passed, those scars just wouldn't fade.

Serae`al flopped back and ran shaky fingers through his dark hair. The tower-bell rang, informing him he only had half-an-hour to get to class. What a way to start a day: waking up late with nightmares coursing his veins.

He groaned and rolled out of bed; his star-chart caught his gaze. Great, just great: today was the Feast of High Praise, which meant he had to wear ceremonial robes instead of his school-uniform. Man, today was going to be amazing. Maybe his mother would even show up. He shuddered and drew a quick line with his index finger across his forehead to ward off such a jinx.

After hurried preparations for the day—he wasn't going to have time for breakfast—he left his small room in the hive-like dormitory. Down the hall, his neighbors chatted in a windowed alcove. One pointed subtly in his direction and laughed while making a mock-terrified face.

They must have heard him.


Class, just get to class, he encouraged himself, his irritation rising as he darted through hallways with stately vaulted-ceiling. He was late, the groundskeepers had already been by to extinguish the hallway lanterns.

Serae`al locked his jaw as he forced one foot in front of the other. If he'd woken on time, he'd already be sitting in class, and the courtyard would have been empty when he passed through it into the main doors of the main building. But no. That would have been too easy on an Ellnavian Holy Day.

He ignored his fellow students' catcalls and jeers as he made his way past the massive marble fountain constructed in honor of the 'great' phoenix- and dragon-tamers. Already irritated, the sight of it stabbed at him. More like constructed because the whole world rolled over for those arrogant pricks. Most people would probably call his loathing of the tamers sour-grapes. After all, Serae`al had put in a bid to join the phoenix-tamers when he'd first arrived at Kelmarin's capital, Restag.

And screw 'em all, he growled to himself, losing to his frustration. His relief when the tamer-order flatly rejected his application had only been matched by the dread he'd felt when his mother first informed him he would be coming to Kelmarin. In the end, Serae`al would do almost anything to keep his overbearing, Kelmarine-mother off his back, even live in a place that was, in his book, three-steps above hell. Stars and spirits, why couldn't she have just quietly settled into life in Ellnavin like a normal allegiance-bride? Noooo! They had to send one of the top, most stubborn dragon-tamers in all of Kelmarin to wed his father; she wouldn't 'sit around idle, damn it', and she'd 'see her dragon's scales fall off before she watched her boy grow to be a weakling-Ellnavian!'

Yeah, screw you too, mom. Really, what was she thinking? He had no skill with the battle words and even less with any of the battle arts. In what fantasy had she imagined he could be a phoenix-tamer? His name was Serae`al for crying out loud! Even in Ellnavin, it leaned towards 'girly'; hell, in Ellnavin, given his magic-abilities he leaned towards 'girly', since only women possessed the gifts. In Kelmarin, these things made him all but a pantywaist. At least no one knew about his 'talent'—though everyone knew his name and could see his face.

"Come on, S'rail, blow us a little kiss! We're starved for girls' affections."

That's because you're morons. And it didn't help his mood that absolutely everyone butchered his name—okay many not butchered; but no one even tried to get close. Maybe it was a stupid name, but spirits and stars curse it all, it was his name and he didn't appreciate it mangled!

"You know why the phoenix-tamers rejected you, don't you? Because you should have applied to the dragon-tamers!"

You'd piss your pants if you found yourself face-to-face with a phoenix. I at least didn't break gaze. Sure, it was only one encounter, and he'd sure as hell wanted to wet himself, but the key detail was he didn't.

"Do you shave your legs, S'rail?"

You shave your dick so you can find it?

A whistle: "C'mon! Lift your skirt and show us, sweetie!"

It's not a skirt! Spirits, how could the elite of Kelmarin's aristocracy be so unbelievably, unbearably ignorant? He was obviously Ellnavian. Ellnavians wore robes on their high holy days, regardless of where they were. Just because he happened to be in some pathetic, barbaric country didn't mean he could ignore who he was. Even if just one of them made an effort to seem less like an arrogant prick then maybe—maybe what? Maybe he'd come to appreciate Kelmarin? Maybe he'd stop hating his life and wishing he could die?


When Serae`al realized the tallest of his harassers now stood directly in his path while the others closed in around him, he pressed his lips into a thin line and stopped to scowl up at Rokine. Damn it! Which spirit or god thought it a good idea for Ellnavians to stand so much shorter than Kelmarines? Oh, he bet whichever it was, was now tucked away on some hillside laughing himself unconscious over this situation: a short Ellnavian against a tall Kelmarine. Why not pit a pantry-mouse against a desert-cobra? That would be about as fair.

"You got a problem?"

Serae`al shook his head. Getting into a scuffle would probably result in several bruises and maybe a couple of broken bones for him, and though they wouldn't get off uninjured, he wasn't foolish enough to think he could best all four—or even just two of them if they were feeling generous. He really didn't want to listen to his mother's lectures about losing another fight. She never had, after all, and he was her son. "I don't have time to play; I'm late for class."

"Is there a reason you walk around all the time like you've got a stick up your ass?"

Maybe it's because you jerks won't leave me alone. "I'm Ellnavian." He knew it wouldn't answer anything for the brute, though it should: no one bothered to know about his people, just demanded he fit their molds. Normally, he would think it reasonable; one goes to live in another country, then one should live their culture and tolerate when it's not his or hers. However, constant bullying wasn't culture: it was a lack of culture.

"Flying gods, they're here," someone breathed from Serae`al's right.

All at once, the attention transferred to settle firmly on the small group entering the courtyard from the direction of the main practice grounds. Rokine didn't move, nor did his bully-friends, but luckily, Serae`al short stature allowed him to slip away without them noticing.

Serae`al readjusted his robe closure as he glanced over his shoulder, trying to regain control over his exasperation. Looking at them was probably the wrong move. If he didn't hate the tamers so much, he would have let himself admire them like everyone else. Unlike the typical blue and gold of the rest of the student body's required attire, the phoenix-tamers wore ebony-trimmed white while the dragon-tamers wore black with snowy trim. And, spirits, did the tamers stand out. Yeah, their outfits brought out the arrogance in their eyes—and the perfection in their faces.

Ignoring his last thought, Serae`al turned to pass beneath the tall archway to the main academic hall, leaving the attending student body to fawn over them. Serae`al grated his teeth as he remembered his first meeting with a tamer other than his mother. He's thought they'd be a little high-handed and conceited; after all, it was due to them that Kelmarin stood at the pinnacle of their world. No country except Ellnavin could hope to stand against their force of dragons and phoenixes. However, he never expected that level of absolute-ass; of course, neither had he expected them to be breathing perfection.

Serae`al half-believed he wasn't accepted into the tamer ranks due tohis looks. It wasn't that he was dog-ugly, but he was ordinary, especially in Kelmarin. His eyes, which couldn't decide if they were green or brown, held little distinguishing sparkle and were just a little too large for his face. His features, while leaning towards the more-defined Kelmarine shape, held the smooth lines of a typical Ellnavian, too 'girly' to be a Kelmarine man, but too firm for Ellnavian aristocracy—and he was short on top of that. Even worse, the tint of his skin, much too dark to be a Kelmarine, was not nearly the shade Ellnavian's always bore. Instead of the rich brown most similar to the deep cherry woods of their ancestral homes, his skin adopted the shade of roasted almonds. At least his hair had decided which race it wanted to be: Ellnavian. Firm, straight hair that wore a shade of deep, deep brown, the color of fresh coffee, though in the sun, there were hints of red; nothing like the feathery hair of every shade from black to fire-red the Kelmarines sported.

He slipped into a small alcove with a decorative window of painted glass to try and calm himself. Staying irritated would only make things worse. That's right, Serae`al, he encouraged himself, leaning his head against the cool, blue stone wall. Just let it go.

Serae`al glanced through a clear portions of the window to find a phoenix wheeling high in the sky and his breath caught. When his mood wasn't twisted straight into the pits of hell, even he had to admit they were beautiful—grace in motion with their blood-red hues in sharp contrast with the sky and the edges while their wings sparked with every flap…

"Good-morning, young Ellnavian."

Serae`al slipped out of the alcove and nodded to the ancient teacher who taught history. It was probably appropriate, he'd been around for most of it anyway… and he liked to talk. Still, his rendition of the last great Ellnavian-Kelmarine war left a little to be desired in the way of fact. Ellnavian women may command magics, but it was rare they joined the army, certainly not enough to fill entire units. There simply could not have been the mage-destruction he went on and on and on about. No, any Kelmarine-force leveled by 'devil-craft' would have met their doom because they were attempting to pillage a town or village—against the war codes—because the aggressive magics were only used in defense of the women's homes, not the front lines.

"Good-morning, Towa-Grelt," he replied. "Excuse me; I should be on my way to class."

"Ah, yes," Grelt replied. "Don't let me keep you, young Ellnavian. I know how long it takes for your kind to get places. Good-day."

As the old man brushed by him, every measure of his anger came roaring back, making Serae`al's skin prickled and his jaw. Just because his people didn't rush around like mindless ants, didn't mean they were slow; they just tended to take their time. One missed less that way. Screwy old man with his twisted histories and his unnatural love for all things stone-based—like Serae`al cared what he thought of Ellnavin or her people.

"You've got one hell of a martyr complex."

Serae`al's lips lift in a snarl before he could rein the disgust back to concealable bounds. He raised his eyes to meet the mocking gaze of his least-favorite person possibly in the entire world. "I don't know what you're talking about, Karse." The cold tone would have frozen pure alcohol, and Serae`al wished he had some; but no, he couldn't even have that. Damn the Kelmarine and their screwy ideas of alcohol not 'being good for a person'. It sure as hell was good for Serae`al.

Karse's blue eyes glittered, set deep in his perfect, smug face. A few strands of his fire-red hair escape their restraint to dance before his eyes. "Sure, you don't. That's why you walk around with that perpetually-offended expression."

Serae`al had had enough. He shook his head and moved to walk away. A hand slammed against the wall in front of him, blocking his path; the sound echoed in the hallways as if to mock his relative helplessness. Just once I want to get through an encounter without him trying to 'change me'. Serae`al looked the arm and wondered why Karse had decided Serae`al was an appropriate target for his constant harassment, him and his star-cursed white uniform that looked like it was painted on his faultless body for the perfect fit. Serae`al scowled. "Just because you happen to be a cousin some fifty-times removed doesn't mean I have to play by your rules."

Karse grinned. "No, it doesn't."

Spirits, just one good magic-coated fist to his face and Karse would never smirk at Serae`al that way again. It'd be soooo easy. But no. That wouldn't be something he could shrug off and say 'maybe it was someone else' because there was no such thing as a Kelmarine magic-user, and he was the only Ellnavian in Restag's Elevated School. If he ever hurt someone with his abilities, his mother would find out that not only had he failed to join the phoenix-tamers, but even by Ellnavin-standards, he was some kind of girly-boy. Even his generally-understanding father would be a little disappointed to find that out—probably mostly out of pity.

Karse's voice brought him back to reality: "I saw you running away. You should have come to say 'hello' this morning."

"I wouldn't seek you out if my hair were to catch fire otherwise."

Karse caught Serae`al when the shorter youth shoved by. "I could arrange that with my feather-brain." He draped himself over Serae`al's shoulder and tightened his arm across the Ellnavian's chest as he pulled Serae`al's long braid over his shoulder to dust the end over Serae`al's nose. "She loves games."

"Don't touch me!" Serae`al whirled and shoved both palms against the unwelcome chest as he could, staggering backwards a few steps himself. If he didn't stop Karse, he almost feared a part of him would begin to actually… enjoy… No. Dangerous thoughts. He hated Karse, and that was it.

Karse laughed, easily catching his balance. "You know, Aunt Dredlit told me I would enjoy your reactions. I never thought she'd actually be right."

Serae`al almost let his jaw drop. His mother said that? Had she purposely made his life harder in Kelmarin? Probably. Probably wanted to 'toughen him up'. Hag.

"Karse, are you coming? We're late."

"In a minute," he called over his shoulder to three of his phoenix-tamer friends who stood in the archway beyond.

Serae`al only had a moment to flick his eyes towards the other individuals. The two at the back of the small cluster faded into the faceless perfection of the tamer-ranks. The closest, however, outclassed all tamers in looks. He was, hands-down, the most attractive Kelmarine Serae`al had ever encountered. Yrivn was a medium-height tamer with short, fair hair and light eyes, even for a Kelmarine. Unlike most Kelmarine, however, his build was nowhere near the typical solid-set structure of his peers, but far more-muscled than anything Serae`al could ever hope for. Still, if anyone ever decided he was an easy target because, they would find themselves sorely mistaken, just like that tamer from a neighboring city who'd wanted to prove himself against one of Restag's Phoenix-Tamers—the best in the world. Serae`al would lay odds that the idiot still walked with a limp.

"Stop wasting your time. Come on." Yrvin's tone announced his impatience with the situation and his condescension that Karse would even lower himself to speak with someone like that.

Karse grinned and shoved Serae`al aside to saunter towards his friends.

Serae`al turned away, fighting the indistinguishable emotions roiling in his chest as he pressed through the crowd of students.

} • {

Later that day, in arithmetic class, his eyes trained out the open window at his left. In Ellnavin, they'd have class outside on a day like this. They'd take advantage of the spirits' grace and the beauty of their nature. But no, Kelmarines had no appreciation for such things. Even worse, it seemed like every class tailored to the tamers. Really, only a tamer would care or even fully understand the problem Towa-Quardrin posed about the speed and angle required to appropriately avoid cannon fire mid-air. Now, if the question was about the appropriate angle and force required for blasting one of their arrogant cans out of the air, then he'd pay attention. He smiled to himself. Yeah. That'd be pretty great.

He looked up, sitting back further when he realized that the towa stood beside his desk. He frowned as he looked up at the scowling face glaring down at him.

"It seems I've bored you," the man commented. "The topic is too simple, perhaps?"

Serae`al lowered his eyes. "No, Towa-sir."

"Then, it must be my teaching-style you find so unworthy of your focus. Would you care to improve upon my format? I hear that Ellnavians are especially good teachers."

Serae`al pressed his lips together in attempt to control his breath as his face flamed. "No, Towa-sir."

"Then, perhaps you should pay attention."

"Yes, Towa-sir."

The towa returned to the front of the room amidst the low chuckles and condescending giggles of the rest of the class.

"Don't mind him," the girl in the desk at Serae`al's right leaned over to divulge in a loud whisper. "He's bitter because he lost the chance to teach at the Grand Citadel to an Ellnavian scholar. Don't let him get to you."

Serae`al glanced over and his expression morphed to distrusting confusion. Why was she talking to him now of all times? Just as Yrvin was the best looking of all the phoenix-tamers, Kalrin was far-and-away the most gorgeous of all the dragon-tamers. Her amber eyes stood in perfect balance on either side of her slender nose, ebony hair fell over her shoulders like clouds, and her smile? Oh stars, it could knock any man flat on his back if she really tried. Serae`al couldn't help but glance down. The top three buttons of her midnight uniform were undone allowing the side-flap to drop open, lying as a triangle over her ample chest—drawing attention to it. He wanted to roll his eyes. If any of the non-tamer girls pulled a stunt like that, they'd get detention for a week. Not that he really could say he minded: it was the principle. He'd probably do cartwheels if all the girls were allowed to run around like that, but only if it was all of them. Okay, he wouldn't, but he would certainly look and appreciate.

Kalrin leaned closer. That bright smile twisted her lips, attempting to trick him into drooling. "I was thinking, Seral. You should come to the training fields with us this afternoon." A dark element entered her eyes as they narrowed. "I'm sure there's an un-tamed dragon that would take to a cutie like you right away."

He snorted and turned away, her taunting words releasing him from her hypnotizing spell. "Whatever."

"That it!" Towa-Quardrin shouted. "I've had enough of your disrespect, Se'rael. Detention! Now!"

For a moment, Serae`al didn't move as he stared in disbelief at the angry teacher. One word against Kalrin's entire conversation? Not even the close-ish pronunciation of his name softened the unjust blow. At length, he slammed his books closed and shoved them into his bag. Lurching to his feet, he glared at the smirking girl.

She waved!

With a snort of disgust, he stomped out of the classroom and stormed through the hallways towards the closest detention hall as hatred and rage rose like a choking flood to gnaw at the back of his mind.

He just barely suppressed the urge to kick the door open to the narrow hall—a simple room with a single column of four student-desks in a line and a large towa-desk facing them. Such a disruptive action would only further irritate whichever unwilling towa currently manned the position. He had no desire for a week of detention.

"Ah, welcome, Ellnavian," the middle-aged woman smirked. "I imagine I should again mark down your reason for coming here as 'nothing'?"

"Damn straight."

He slammed himself into the last seat as a measure of relief rose in his heart. At least Towa-Ayrin was the one towa—rather the only person—he actually liked in all of this spirit-damned country. She was good-natured and laid-back. She let him speak as he wished and didn't have enough conceit to fill a teacup. Even more, when she called him 'Ellnavian', it had never sounded patronizing or sneering—she'd even asked him to coach her on how to say his name properly; apparently, she actually cared whether she butchered it or not. He'd laughed at her and given up when her attempts started getting worse. He just asked her to call him 'Ellnavian'. It worked. He'd forgotten about her this morning.

"Well you're in good company." She giggled, smoothing her ever-frizzed, chestnut hair. "Young Rivak there didn't do anything either."

"Untrue," retorted the only other individual in the room. His tone was completely unconcerned—as one so assured in his own correctness he found no reason to invest any energy in fighting about it. "I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Just because that idiot can't remember what I am and am not responsible for does not mean it's something I am required to do."

"Yes, yes." Towa-Ayrin grey eyes laughed as she made a brushing-away motion with her hand. "I'm not worried either way. As long as I don't see blood in the next four hours, you two can do whatever you want." She lowered her attention to her book—probably one of her fantasy novels about a strange place that lacked both the spirit-magics and the great beasts but had a different kind of magic altogether: science. Crazy stuff those books.

Serae`al raised an eyebrow when the youth in front of him spun in his chair and leaned his arm against the desk Serae`al now sat at. He grinned, revealing perfect-white teeth. "So what didn't you do?"

"I was not talking in class."

"I see." The other laughed, shaking his head to toss a few strands of his curly, auburn hair out of his eyes—eyes as deep as the onyx pool in the Eternity Caverns. "You have Quardrin, then, do you?"

Serae`al raised an eyebrow. "How do you know?"

He grinned. "I can't tell you how many times I've been here because I wasn't talking in that old goat's class. A tamer screw you over, too? My name's Rivak by the way."

"Ayrin told me," Serae`al returned. "So what was it that you did do?"

Rivak laughed: a clear, hearty sound that the walls amplified and extended. "I did everything required to take care of my assigned phoenixes and dragons. I don't care what that spoiled princess says. It's not my job to shine their stinking saddles—though I do take care of the undersides; otherwise, it's the dragons and the phoenixes who suffer. So you got a name?"

For a moment, Serae`al could only stare. Was this a joke? First of all, Serae`al had no idea what he was talking about as far as the phoenixes and dragons: his uniform was blue, just like Serae`al's, which mean he wasn't a tamer. Even if he was, why would he have anything to do with a dragon anyway? It seemed even less likely that he didn't know Serae`al. Everyone knew about the antisocial Ellnavian the phoenix corps passed over. And a spoiled princess? Surely he wasn't talking about a tamer?

"Heeellllooo?" Rivak called, a hint of a song in his voice. He tilted his head to the side and waved his hand up and down in front of Serae`al's face.

"I… don't understand," Serae`al admitted at last.

Rivak grinned. "Well you see, in general, when you meet new people, they tell you their name, then, you tell them yours. It's the way it works, see? For example: Hello, I'm Rivak K'ta. Nice to meet you. And you are?" His voice dropped to a whisper. "Now, this is the part where you tell me your name."

"You really don't know?"

"Of course I know," Rivak laughed. "I was just trying to be polite. Be a pal and play along, won't you?"

Serae`al felt a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. He shook his head and offered a slight chuckle. The sensation felt strange. It felt like millennia since he'd been able to appreciate any sort of humor. "I'm Serae`al ne Ahsein." Rivak didn't need Serae`al's Kelmarine-middle name. He might try and use it.

For a moment, they were both silent as Rivak only stared at Serae`al, a prompting-look upon his face.

"Uhm… it's nice to meet you?" he finished.

"There ya go!" Rivak praised as he reached over and hit Serae`al's shoulder. Of course, the action didn't hurt, and felt entirely jovial in nature. Strange.

"Rivak… uhm… what did you mean before?"

"Well, I figure you probably got a lot of people just assuming they know you, so I thought maybe you'd like it if –"

"No. I meant about the dragon," Serae`al cut him off, unsure whether to be offended at his response. After all, he could tell that Rivak knew what he'd actually asked about.

"Ah." He grinned. "Silly me. I'm a beast handler."

Serae`al blinked at him, waiting for more. Nothing. He shook his head and couldn't help but smile. "Fine, I'll bite," he sighed. "What's that?"

Rivak leaned closer; his smile grew conspiring and sardonic. "Surely, you don't think those spoiled little do-nothings clean their beasts' paddocks themselves? Someone has to make sure the scaled and feathered creatures don't curl up and die from neglect."

"So, you take care of the phoenixes and the dragons for their tamers?"

Rivak sat back and leaned against the wall as he stretched out his legs. "Yep. Most everything. The only thing I don't do is fly the poor things." He snorted.


"Because I'm a handler and not a tamer."

"No, I meant why do you have that job?"

Rivak laughed. "Because someone has to do it; it pays for this school's ridiculous tuition. Besides, you'd be hard pressed to convince those fluff-heads that they should take care of their animal, and you'd be even harder pressed to find even one that had any idea how to go about it if you could somehow convince them to do so."

Serae`al felt his jaw drop in disbelief. "You… you don't like the tamers?"

"What's to like?" He shook of his head. "They're so far up themselves they're practically inside-out. Twits. They think they're amazing because they can fly their beasts. I'd like to see how tractable the beasts would be if the punks had to take care of them, too. They don't have a clue. The phoenixes would all be feral in three months and the dragons, four."

"I…" Serae`al stopped when Rivak turned towards him. He shrugged and looked away. "I've never met someone quite like you."

"Would it be alright if I pretend that's a compliment?"

Serae`al chuckled a little and nodded. "It was a compliment."

Rivak grinned.

AN2: So there it is. Questions? Comments? Opinions? Give that center button a click to let me know. This one will probably update quite slowly, especially at the beginning. Thanks be to my betas: Elkica (http : / / www . fictionpress . com / u / 585135 / elkica) and Fadded (http: / / www . fictionpress . com / u / 728778 / Fadded) *hugs*