Rhianon sat on the rickety wooden bench by the bonfire outside Thelsamar, watching the festival dancers scurry around the fire-pole, absently nibbling on a sampler of Midsummer Sausage. The sausage casing was deliciously charred, crackling in her mouth as she bit into it, and the chef who had whipped up the filling had been liberal in his use of spices. The tiny morsel the vendor had given her burned her tongue, its heat unlike anything she had ever tasted. As she ate, she memorized each spice she tasted, hoping to replicate the flavors later in her own kitchen.
“It’s unbelievable! Watch Master Firewalker Belco Copperpocket trod across live, burning coals! I promise you that not even the wonders of the North compare to this sight!” A new festival barker, a garishly dressed gnome, had appeared and he was now making his way around the bonfire, pressing pamphlets into the hands of the festival goers. “Firewalking is an ancient art, created by the Earthen themselves and perfected by the Master Copperpocket!”
Rhianon choked on her piece of sausage and the festival barker took the opening to stuff a pamphlet into her hand. She glanced down at the paper, a simple flyer decorated with a huge picture of a gnome dancing across flaming coals. “Master Belco Copperpocket, Fire-Walker Extraordinaire” was scrawled across the bottom of the drawing, followed by “Showings Regularly Outside the Thelsamar Tavern. Support the Master’s Work! Donations Appreciated!”
Her interest peaked, Rhianon finished off her sausage sampler and made her way across the town to where the Fire Walker Extraordinare had pitched a small, largely unimpressive tent. A gnome wearing what appeared to be cast-off chain mail and an old antler cap crafted for a druid stood outside the tent, tending a long strip of smoldering coals. He looked up as she approached and motioned her over to join the gathering crowd by his tent.
“The show will start momentarily! Please – remain quiet so that I may focus on the elemental powers of the Fire!”
She snickered, but obliged and took a spot next to a lollipop-sucking human child. After running a rake through the coals one last time, the oddly attired gnome (apparently Master Belco) straightened up and turned towards the crowd.
“Fire walking! Is an ANCIENT! and IMPORTANT! art known ONLY to a FEW!” He spoke at an uneven pace, waving his hands in the air. “IMAGINE! This! Walking through fire! As it burns! And charrs the SKIN!”
He turned around and tossed the contains of a copper pot onto the strip of coals. They immediately burst into flame, tongues of fire licking at the sky and heat rippling the air. The crowd gasped. “To Walk! One must UNDERSTAND and KNOW! The true power of FLAME!”
“Would any among YOU DARE! To WALK the FLAME!” This last statement was clearly not intended to be a question and the gnome continued without pausing for a response. “I was TRAINED by the ANCIENTS themselves! To Walk – “
Rhianon cleared her throat and the gnome stopped short. He glared at her and then continued to speak. “I was TRAINED by the ANCIENTS them – “
She cleared her throat again and this time the gnome snapped at her, “What is it, goat-girl?”
“I’d like to walk the flame,” Rhianon said simply, smiling at him. “You asked if anyone dared – and I would like to try it.”
“FireWALKING is a MIRACULOUS! ART! Known ONLY – “
Rhianon decided to let the gnome carry on and she broke away from the crowd, approaching the strip. The fire was still spitting up around the edges of the coals; the gnome was obviously using his long speech to give the flame time to die down until he could walk across with some safety. She stared down at the coals, listening to the fire’s voice as it sung and hissed.
Rhianon had never taken much time before to pay attention to fire. Water had always been her friend, its voice soft and sweet, easy against the heart. Fire had always seemed wild, handled only by the shaman who didn’t fear its bite. Yet, now, as she watched the coals, she began to notice the beauties of the flame: its ruby colored fingers, the way it twisted in the air like a seductive dancer and its voice – harsh but strong, like a commander urging on his troops. The voice pressed against her soul, hot and vivid.
Are you afraid, child?
Rhianon shook her head and said aloud, “No. And I’m not a child. Not anymore, at least.”
She then stepped forward, placing her hoof on the burning coals. The crowd behind her screamed in panic and the gnome was shouting for the guards, throwing a fit that his show was being stolen. The fire bit at her hoof, wrapped around her ankle and leg, burning and gnawing – and then stopped.
She felt calm. Calm and powerful, like a flame sure of its strength and brightness.
Rhianon walked forward, stepping across the coals as if they were simply pebbles in the road. When she reached the edge of the strip, she faced Master Belco and the crowd, saying, “Are you certain these coals are hot? They don’t seem that way to me.”
The gnome’s beet-red face knotted into a snarl and he pulled at his antler-hat, tearing it to shreds. She giggled and hopped off the strip, winking at the gnome. “Thanks, Master Belco!”
“Excellent work, Respected Shaman Rhianon,” a voice called out. The onlookers stepped aside, letting a male draenei make his way to the front of the crowd. He smiled at her, adding, “And tell me, was that your old chain-mail that Master Belco stole or was it another shaman’s?”
“She’s a SHAMAN?!” The gnome was even more flustered now and began spitting out that it didn’t matter that SHE could walk through the fire since she was a shaman and shamans were crazy and did things and he still deserved a show and a crowd and…
Rhianon eyed the strange draenei, raising an eyebrow. “Do I know you?”
The man shrugged. “Probably not. I am an assistant engineer on the Skybreaker. Not important enough to stand up on the deck to maintain the cannons…but important enough to stay below and make sure the thing stays afloat. I’ve seen you come aboard with your colleagues several times.” He offered his hand to her. “My name is Tinkerer Ludovik.”
“Oh.” She shook his hand. The story seemed reasonable enough. “I didn’t realize that there were people below deck.”
“How do you think it stays in the air?”
“Magic?” Rhianon replied, grinning.
Ludovik chuckled and gestured in front of him, saying, “Please; let me offer you something to drink. The bartender here pours a fine ale – almost as good as Drammin, I’d say.”
“Oh, you’ve never had it? “ Ludovik sighed, shaking his head. “What a pity. It’s a fine brew. Dark and clear, cold and strong like a moonless night on Kaarinos. Or at least that’s what my father always says.”
“I don’t usually drink much,” Rhianon explained tentatively, letting Ludovik escort her through the Thelsamar street.
“And you don’t usually walk in fire, no?” Ludovik stopped beside the door to the Thelsamar tavern, his sharp blue eyes resting squarely on the young shaman’s face. “I’d say that there’s always a first time for everything, don’t you think?”
Rhianon hesitated. She reached up to feel her mother’s beads, expecting to feel their smooth surface and coolness, much like the rippling waters of Serpent Lake. Instead, the beads were hot to her touch and she dropped her hand down to her side, eyes meeting Ludovik’s. “Yes, of course,” she said, softly.
She walked up to him and let him open the door to the tavern for her. As she walked in, she felt his hand on the small of her back, a hot poker against her skin.
This is what the flame is like, then, she mused to herself. This is what it is like to walk the path of fire.