Teaser Tuesday once again! Per popular request, today's excerpt comes from Project NaNo, or Peacemaker.
As a bit of set up, our intrepid hero Caleb has been captured by Cheyenne Dog Soldiers. The old shaman that leads them has forced Caleb into a magical duel with one of the braves, and things have gotten a bit out of hand.
The Indian man threw one hand out toward the remnants of the large fire, and the flame answered, rising in one sinuous line like a great serpent, the head weaving back and forth menacingly. In the trees overhead, leaves and twigs popped softly, the sap in them boiling in an instant. The scent of burning foliage permeated the clearing. They had only moments before the entire forest ignited, tinder-dry as it was.
“No!” Horrified, Caleb watched the serpent, careful not to be entranced. Like the snake it resembled, fire could ensnare the mind, luring people to their deaths with false promises of escape. The trick was not to look it in the eyes.
Regardless of where it originated, fire was pure energy, and this Caleb could grab. The hungry monster within him gleefully launched itself at the serpent of flame, gulping greedily. He felt the searing heat of it as it entered his body, and the blue flames around his fists turned orange, singing the hair from his forearms. The fire serpent hissed and writhed, coiling over and over itself in an effort to escape, but Caleb had a large gaping hole within himself. There was more than enough room to capture and hold it.
Dimly, he heard Ernst yelling for him to give it over, to bleed off the power that was never meant to be encased in a human form. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he had to. Give it up, or burn with it. But oh, it felt good, the heat coursing through his veins. Even with his eyes closed, he could see the world tinged in shades of red and gold and at the very depths of his vision, the blue of hottest flame. If he let go, he could be part of it forever, his energy blended with the eternal energy of flame. He’d known, ever since Chicago, that this would be his fate.
Something struck him across the face, hard enough to jar his senses. When he opened his eyes, he found the ancient shaman standing before him, hand drawn back to slap him again. Seeing that he had Caleb’s attention, he shoved Ernst into the Peacemaker’s arms, the jackalope’s antlers gouging him through his shirt. His blood steamed where it oozed from those scratches, and others.
“Caleb, please give it to me. Please.” Ernst sat up on his haunches, quivering little nose nearly pressed to Caleb’s. His voice echoed, taking on the crackling sound of a burning fire. “You have to give it to me, or you’ll burn. Please.”
Yes. He’d seen men burn from within. Their fingers turned black and the skin curled, flaking away as ash. The fat bubbled, and they smelled like sizzling bacon. That was why he could never eat it. And to a man, they’d died with smiles on their faces, seduced by the very power that devoured them alive.
“Yes.” His own voice was barely audible, the air in his lungs too hot for his vocal chords to handle. “Take it!” Inside, the fire roared its denial, and it scrabbled at him with searing claws, not wanting to relinquish a ready meal.
Through the heat, he could feel Ernst’s forehead pressed against his, antlers pricking painfully. The brown fur was blessedly cool to the touch, and it cleared away some of the heated delirium from Caleb’s mind. The fire left him, kicking and screaming, but drawn inexorably out nonetheless. That tremendous power funneled through the tiny form that was Ernst and away into wherever a familiar put such things.
Caleb was left cold and sweating, hugging the furry form close to his chest. There was no need for him to say thanks, unless it was to the Almighty for sending him Ernst in the first place. He would be so lost without him.
Someone touched his shoulder, and he looked to find the old Indian peering intently into his eyes. After long moments, the ancient one nodded. “Epeva’e.” Whatever it meant, he was obviously finished with Caleb. He handed the staff back.