• ...He had found her once more. In that same interrogation room, he faced her. "Why did you run?" He queried. "You know that we must be harder on you now."
    "I had to," she said, without hesitation, looking at him full in the face, "you know why."
    "Of course. But that does not change things. The master has been displeased, and you know of his powers."
    "Master? I ceased using that foul title the day I got these." she pulled at her shirt, revealing six long scars that ran from her shoulder, across her back, to her opposite hip. If one were to touch them, they would be ice-cold, especially in comparison to her steaming skin. Yanking her shirt back down, she stated flatly, "I have no master."
    "Running was not the thing to do. Even now, I work to bring him down. Why did you kill my agents?" The question hung in the air, as he awaited her answer.
    "Your agents," she spat, " were tailing me for no apparent reason. When I revealed my identity as a phoenix, they did not show respect for me, or my true self, as they should have. I disposed of them for their lack of respect and trust. They deserved their punishment."
    "I understand that you are also working against him," she continued, "but that does not change the fact that we are still on different sides." she let a small sigh escape her vermillion lips and the longing in her voice was easily detected by his keen ears.
    "You know what I must do now." He was silent for what seemed like centuries, not wanting to do this. Finally, he drew a simple flute out of his dark trench coat. He raised it to his lips, and began to play. The tune was one of sorrow, but one of commanding. Six golden cobras emerged from the shadows, heeding their master's call. At his direction through the tune, they wrapped themselves around Fyrehiste, binding her to the chair.
    "I can give you one last chance. Come to our side, and we will not be so harsh." The tone of pleading in his voice was evident. She made no move to struggle as he ceased his playing. She opened her mouth to respond,
    "I know of what you have done. We fight for the same cause and yet we also fight each other. That is the way it has always been and I will not change that now. You know where to find me. I must take my leave now." and with that she burst into flames. She was a brilliantly golden and scarlet firebird, shrieking her beautiful song as she opened her wings. As the true phoenix she was she flew towards him. In an echoing tone that seemed to come from everywhere she said again "You know where to find me. I will be waiting" and she disappeared once again. Thoughts reeled through his mind, the largest being ' Damn, that was solo hot, but she has GOT to stop doing that.'
    With a puff of smoke and a sound like a splash, his body disappeared. Some claimed to see a shadow, trailing the phoenix over the barren, snow covered ground, but none were certain. All that was known was that when Fyrehiste finally landed and took her human form again, he soon appeared from the shadows. Silent as the night, he stole after her, following her through the camp, and into her quarters. Suddenly, he spoke. "I don't believe I dismissed you."
    "I don’t believe I care," she snapped, "You really need to be a bit more stealthy and a bit less predictable. I knew you would follow me, which is why I didn’t attack you on the way. Well, that’s not the only reason.” she turned her face upwards, and he gasped upon seeing the full beauty of her features once more. “I can’t stand being on opposite sides, but we can't be on the same side either. Stupid tribal laws, stupid mythic barriers, I can’t stand it any more! I can’t, Salin," she collapsed onto the floor of the small cabin, finally showing that she wasn’t as strong and composed as she had acted back in the interrogation room.
    He sat beside her, the ring on his finger steadily glowing. "I followed you to ensure your safety. I am surprised you are not yet aware of the spies the master has throughout the ice-lands. If it were not for my protection, you would have been taken down. I shielded at least four arrows, which all would have killed you. Face it, Fyrehiste, your glow is just too bright." He leaned in, taking in her fine features and her immense beauty.
    "Entirely too bright.....mmmmm," she sighed and leaned closer to him. Just as quickly she leaned away, knowing she would burn him with the slightest contact. "Sorry," she muttered. "I could kill you with a touch, but I just cant stay away. We wouldn’t have that problem if you had let them kill me. Why did you stop those arrows? Wouldn’t things have been better with me dead?”
    "As you said when I had captured you the first time, ‘a world without you is no world at all.’" His golden ring grew brighter still. "I could not live my life without you. We are two sides of the same coin, Fyrehiste. My way is of the stream, and yours of the flame, but does it really mean we cannot love one another? The master weakens daily. Help us, Fyrehiste, and his dark influence may be destroyed. The tribal leaders may banish us both, but at least be will be together." His voice cracked with passion and his ring grew so bright it was blinding to both. When it finally faded, a sleek blue dragon was in his place. He quickly took on a human form, embarrassed at this loss of composure.
    She laughed, a light, musical sound. Careful not to touch him, she leaned in again. "I adore you, so much, Salin," While relishing the feel of his name on her lips, she took a darker tone, " but I don’t think we could ever be together, even if the master falls. I could burn you to nothing and you could crush me without notice. We cannot be together, Salin, it simply isn’t possible. We could kill each other!! I couldn’t bear to live in a world where you don’t exist. I would go to the master myself and beg him to kill me. I would beg him!! " Her voice rose in its passion and the heat that radiated from her golden skin was so painful he retreated two paces. Taking notice of this she calmed herself and stole to his side again. "I’m sorry," she whispered, "but this is exactly what I mean! If we were ever to lose control---if we were ever to slip, even for just a moment, next thing we know someone is dead and cold and the other is wishing the same"
    He chuckled lightly. "Speaking of cold, could you warm things up in here? I'm beginning to solidify." After she did so, he continued. "Thanks. Yes, it’s all true, just as you say it, but please, love, don’t worry. Perhaps we can find a way to be together. We were both born under Rectursem, The Changer. If we can learn to control that power, we may be able to change ourselves into normal beings, leaving behind the marks our tribes left upon us. We would be free to love. Freedom, Fyrehiste, do you know what that means? We may be the beginnings of the new tribe mentioned in legends." He reached out his hand. "Come, we shall go to the sages in the mountains. Perhaps they can teach us to use our inner powers."
    She considered his offer while his hand hung in the air. When she responded she worked hard to control her passion again, " I cannot leave my tribe. I cannot leave them behind, alone and scantily protected. I cannot change myself into a- a- human!" she spat the word and he dropped his hand as thin jets of flame shot from her fingers and began to scorch the floor. He put out the small fires with a wave of his hand. She spoke again, " I will not become a mortal, no matter what the reward. Our tribes need us, Salin, we have to keep fighting for them! When the master falls, I promise, we will go to the sages, but not a moment before! And it will be to ask them for control, not for mortality." The finality of her words rang in the air and he knew there would be no persuading her.
    His ring suddenly began to glow black. "I- I must leave!" He said, turning for the door. Suddenly, the door burst open and a dark mass of shadow was revealed. Fyrehiste did not know why Salin was so frightened, but reverted to her natural form, so she could fight. Salin caused the door to close and seal, and immediately forced Fyrehiste into her human appearance. He became but a shadow, and snatched her off the ground, ignoring the burns that began to appear. When the door opened again, a force probed the room, searching for their presence. It could not find anything. They were gone.
    They soon arrived in a dark cave, on the border of the ice-lands. "He cannot find us here." Salin panted, collapsing onto the ground.
    "Salin!” she cried, snatching him before he hit the ground and propping him on the wall of the cave in a less than a second, thankful once again for her incredible speed. "Oh, Salin, what have I done?!?!" she surveyed the extent of his burns and listened to his harsh breathing. "Oh Salin, I’m so sorry!!" she kept repeating. Trying to gain control of herself, for she knew her passion would only make things worse, she cautiously asked, "Who was that? What was that? Why were they after you?"
    "After us, my love..... It was.... The Dark One. He somehow knows of our...." He groped around in the air, looking for the right word. "alliance. But that is not important now. There is a gate, outside this cave. Take my flute, and the gem in my pocket, and go through the gate. Play the flute, and show the gem to those who will come. Tell them of my condition, and send them for help."
    Tears rolled un-ashamedly down her face, some splashing onto the stone and others soaking into his scorched clothes. As leaned over him to slide the flute from his pocket, more tears landed on him. He looked down at his chest, startled and puzzled. Then a look or recognition passed over his face and a ghost of a smile played about his pale, beautiful lips. "You're... you're healing me." he said. She looked down with a gasp and saw the burns receding into his skin. "But...how....oh!!" she gave a small cry. "Of course! Phoenix tears have healing powers!! I cannot believe I didn’t realize sooner!!" an enormous smile ripped across her face. "This changes everything!!" she hugged him, hard, her talon-like nails digging into his shoulder. "Careful, love," he said. But she simply let her tears continue to fall, wherever she found pain. He smiled with her.
    In his healed form, Salin was excitedly slipping between appearances. "We should get out of this cave, and into safety. I know just the place." He led Fyrehiste out of the cave, and with a flick of his wrist revealed a cast iron gate. There was a teardrop shaped space in the center, into which he placed a sapphire that fit exactly. "Come, Fyre. Welcome to the Riverlands. Tread carefully, because of your element. It may be a free-for-all in the icelands, but not here. The entire realm will be against you. Travel alongside me, and you will be safe." He hugged her gently, uncaring of the burns, knowing he would be healed by simply entering his realm. The two walked through the gate, and it clanged shut behind them.
    She gasped, audibly, and stared around her in wonder. The land was everything she had dreamed it would be-and much more. The sky was pristine, a beautiful and cloudless blue. Willows in varying shades of aqua and green swayed gently on the cool breeze. Pixies sang from their perches on smooth river stones, their harmonies mixing with the flow of the gorgeous and glass-clear river that ran merrily beside them.
    She laughed, and sprang away from him, twirling around and around, skipping and leaping, almost flying down the path. As she strayed ever further from his side he suddenly cried, "Fyrehiste, No!"
    He leapt forward with blinding speed, throwing himself in front of the giant wave about to cover her. His intent and passion was all it took- a silvery bubble surrounded them, which not a drop of water could penetrate. The bubble surrounding them, he turned to his companion. "What did I say before we entered?! Stay by my side! The realm does not trust you here. Not until I have granted your passage." He turned away from Fyre, in the direction the wave had come from. He immediately spoke, not in words, but in a language that sounded like flowing water. The waves receded, and he dissolved the bubble into the seas. "When we approach the elders, take on your true form. They like honesty."
    "Fine," she said, slightly subdued at this attack. "You'd think, that as a creature of fire, I could pose more intimidation. But, no! They try to stop me with a wave! Oooh! Scary!" Her face was alight with her smiling sarcasm. "You didn't have to do that, I could take it." Turning away from him to face the river she shouted, tauntingly, "Come on! Show me your best!" The waters rippled, shrinking inwards and then growing to a great height. It came crashing towards her. Salin started forward to shield her again, but stopped abruptly. Her eyes were set and fierce as she held the wave at bay. Her hands were lifted, flames licked over her arms and steam billowed between the opposing elements. Finally, conceding defeat the wave shrank back into the river and continued rippling gently as if naught had occurred. "See?" she said, with another smile ripping across her face. "It’s nice to have you here to protect me, Salin, but really, I can take care of myself." Still smiling she gripped his hand and tugged him forward again. His bewildered expression was positively priceless.
    Salin was quick to recover, and was soon angry. "You think this is the least of the dangers? Oh no, this is just the outer ring.... but, I should probably figure out how to do that" He groaned. "I would love to kiss you right now, but we cannot. Not while we are still a danger to each other." He forged on, stopping as he realized Fyrehiste wasn't with him. He turned around, to see her resting against a tree. "Watch out! Spiders live in those trees!" He laughed as Fyre jumped away with a shriek. Noticing his laughter, she began to chase him down the path. Salin soon stopped at an arch of trees. He lifted his hand, and the scenery behind the arch suddenly shifted. He led Fyrehiste through, into the chambers of the tribal elders.
    Again, gasping audibly, she stared in wonder. The walls of the chamber were a light, liquid blue. A soft glow filled the room, coming from no visible source. Courtiers of varying status were standing about the four thrones. In the beautiful gilded chairs sat four water spirits of enormous power. She could tell they were of great command because she felt very faint, standing unprotected in her human form. Remembering what Salin had said before, she transformed. Her skin glowed brighter--golden and burning. Her hair turned smoothly into scarlet feathers that, shimmering, covered her now bird-shaped body. She was about four feet tall, with beautiful golden plumes and enormous wings. However, most impressive was that she was now covered in fire. It waved and flickered, licking around her gorgeous form. She began to shriek, softly, the song she heard when she first met Salin. The courtiers surrounding the room fell back, some crying out as the temperature in the room rose. She turned to Salin and he gestured her forward. She flew, with Salin loping gracefully at her side, to the thrones.
    "My liege, I bring a fighter against the dark one. Fyrehiste, a known rouge, outside of his command." Salin spoke aloud, as a courtesy to Fyre. One of the elders brought a hand across his throat, signaling that Salin should speak telepathically. A long silence followed, but Salin finally turned back to Fyrehiste. "The elders do not yet trust you, but are willing to allow you to fight with us. I will no longer be able to enter the riverlands until the battle is finished if you accept. I will, however, be able to tap into its power, heal, and keep contact with the elders. One move they deem to be wrong, and I must drown you. Do you accept the terms?" The question hung in the air, and Fyrehiste realized how much hung on her answer.
    "I accept,” she whispered, so that only Salin could hear her. She knew what it would do to him if she were to slip up. I f he was forced to drown her, he would do just what she had told him earlier, in her quarters. He would ask the master to kill him. He would beg. She knew that she must help these people, though. Then, louder, she lifted her head and shrieked in what she hoped was a regal tone, "I accept these terms!" The council looked slightly surprised, but made no comment, none aloud anyway. She turned to Salin again and whispered, "I must leave. Now. I am too weak to remain in this form with this much opposing power so close. I feel as if they're almost trying to hurt me." She backed out of the room without waiting for a response or a dismissal. When she was in the cover of the trees again, she collapsed back to her human form in a burst of flame. With a shudder, she leaned against a tree and closed her eyes.
    Salin bowed, and was quick to follow. He sat next to Fyrehiste. "You're lucky they were so lenient. The last time a phoenix came, the elders killed it. Of course, that phoenix was uninvited." He shifted to his dragon form, coiled himself around the tree, and slept. When morning arrived, they woke at the same time, and spoke at the same time. "We should leave." A wave of Salin's hand, and they were back at the gates. Recognizing their master, they opened to admit Salin and Fyrehiste through to the icelands. The two took to the skies, heading for the mountains.
    They landed lightly, on a rare patch of grass. Salin shifted to his human form just as Fyrehiste turned to face him. "Well," she said with a bright smile, "That was fun wasn't it? Truly, they made me feel so welcome! I mean, if they hadn't threatened to kill me for existing, and forced me to make a promise I wont and cant keep, oh, and, attacked me by breathing to show off their brute strength, I would love to visit more often!!" She pulled a bottle of frank's from her jingly, yellow jester's boot and took a swig, much to Salin's incredulous disgust. "What?" she shot at him, still with a grin on her face.
    Salin sighed. "I hate those things. Too spicy, and all that rubbish. Anyways, here is where we meet with the other members of the resistance force." Salin pulled out his flute, and began to play, a jaunty, lifting tune. A band of ruffians, all from the water tribes revealed themselves. "Salin!" shouted one, who appeared to be a leader, with an Irish accent. "Welcome back! Who's this young lass?" Fyrehiste was quick to retort. "I am Fyrehiste, phoenix of the fire tribe. and likely much more powerful than you, so watch it." she spat. Salin tried to calm her by placing a hand on her shoulder, but she threw it off. "Fyre, stay calm! These are our allies! Save your energy for when we actually have a fight on our hands!" A dark soldier strode from behind a large rock. His voice seemed to be omnidirectional, a sign of great power. "Such as right now?"
    Salin began to laugh, much to Fyrehiste's confusion. She had already taken on her phoenix form, but stopped to listen. "Nice try, Orculon. Don't start messing with her mind, okay?" He turned to Fyrehiste. "Orculon there specializes in mind tricks. He can make a person hallucinate, think certain things, a whole mess of other stuff. He also moves like a shadow in the night. Only thing he can't do is fight with his fists. Watch your back."
    "Yeahhhhh, uh, HE better watch HIS back. I don't handle strangers in my mind very well, they usually end up rather charred." Fyre said, the smile slowly returning to her face. "So Salin, gonna introduce us or what?" She surveyed the rogue-ish band with approval. Each face showed determination, strength and hope. It made her confidant, and it showed. Her skin began to glow brighter and hotter. Once again, Salin backed away a pace or two, as did the rogues. She laughed, and grew brighter still. This was the feeling she loved; being confident and exuberant. Feeling alive, it's not something she felt very often. She could tell that these were the men that would help them, these men would be victorious. Like an extra sense, she just knew.
    "Sorry about that, " she said with another laugh, and dimmed her glow, "It's just so good to see such strong fellows fighting for something good. I know this will end well for you." She turned to the dark one, who had spoken before. "So, Your strength is of the mind, I admire that greatly. You will be a valuable addition to our resistance. But, your name...?" she trailed off, expectantly.
    "Orculon," he replied in a low, rough voice, "and you shan't forget it again." And she wouldn't, she could feel it being branded into her memory. "Alright, alright, thanks, but remember, keep outta my head if you don't want to look like you fought with a forest fire, and" she added with a laugh, " lost, of course."
    Salin began to speak to all. "We fight at dawn. You all know your battle plan, and if not...." Salin was suddenly smiling mischievously. "Wing it. No pun intended, Fyre." He said, with a flirty wink. He turned to a clear orb, shining a soft blue, and positioned his palm over it. Water poured forth from his hand and over the surface of the orb. The light from it became brighter, but extended no further. Suddenly, they were all in a camp, within a forest. Salin turned to a tent. "I expect all of you awake and ready at the crack of dawn. We depart at five minutes past first light. Those of you not awake..... It should suffice to say the wolves will eat well tomorrow." He entered the tent, not noticing Fyrehiste close behind him.
    "'Wing it?' Really, Salin? Jinkies. I have got to get you some better books." Then her face turned serious, her golden eyes were piercing, but innocent and...fearful? No, Fyrehiste can't show fear, it defies nature. She stepped closer to him. He could hear her unnaturally fast-beating heart beating even faster. It was almost a hum. Her breath was burning on his face, but he didn't pull away. He let her put her arms around his broad shoulders and pulled her close to him. Every burn felt like a caress to him. Then she was whispering in his ear, "Salin, what did they mean? The elders, when they said 'one move they deem to be wrong'? What is 'wrong'? Is this wrong?" and her hands were snaking under his shirt, up his back and over his chest, tracing his stone-like muscles. He said nothing, but his hands were moving, too. Over the open back of shirt, around her hips, in her hair. "Is this wrong?" she asked again. He responded, in a sweet smelling breath, "Yes."
    A twitch of Salin's finger was all it took him to throw up a shield against the elders view. Wordlessly, he leaned in, but then broke away. "I can't. Not until we have defeated him. You know what love does to my magic, a kiss would destroy me." He turned to his bed, stripped down to his underclothes, and climbed in. "You are free to stay the night, but don't try to get in the bed with me." He said, with a flirty wink. A metal, fireproof bed appeared with a wave of Salins hand. Soundlessly, he dropped into the world of dreams.
    'Damn.' she thought, absolutely breathless. She kicked off her boots and place then with her hat that had fallen when he pulled her to him. With a sigh, she dropped onto the end of his bed, being very careful not to burn anything. As she watched him sleep, she thought about what she was doing. She knew the impossibilty of everything she wanted. She wanted him, sooo much, but it wouldn't be possible, not even with the master dead. 'Well,' she thought, 'I can still enjoy myself while I can. The irrevocabilty of my love for him ought to be reason enough for what happens now. If being immortal means destinity in Hell, I should get as much fun done here before I take over down there.' With that, she placed her hand on his forehead, making him change his mind about the whole bed thing. Glad to have kept that little talent a secret, she settled down next to him, over the covers so as not burn him further, and closed her eyes. For the first time since being human, he heart felt real again. Smiling, she joined him in the land of dreams......