Nights and the Sun

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Chapter 10

The sun shines brightly in the cloudless sky. The rays of light striking everything within their great reach. The heat is nearly overbearing and all who are forced to work outside in the fields are dripping with sweat. They glance wistfully at the castle, wishing they were inside its cool walls. Cassidy is with Nathalie in the castle's dinning hall. Surrounded by the safety of countless guards and stone slabs. Colin is around, in the kitchen preparing them a lavish meal for the happy couple. The door is wide open allowing Colin to keep giving them teasing looks whenever one or the other looks his way. They laugh at him even as a blush spreads rapidly across their faces. Sparks is nowhere to be seen in this picture. The half elemental's presence is not felt by the younger humans. They do not appear to notice, however. Or if they do they are not worried by his absence from Cassidy's vicinity.

The sand is the color of the shinning sun. Yellow and gold and gray all at once. There is no wind to move the sand. All is still in the desert. Even Spark's hair is still. The flames all but gone from the visible world. The half fire elemental stands, barely breathing, amongst the sandy nothingness. His nostrils flare in vain attempt to catch a nonexistent scent on the windless air. Sparks has wandered deeper into the plains than he has ever gone before, in search of his light hating prey. His tense muscles tremble in anticipation. He takes a step forward, then another. He begins wandering again. His amber eyes scan every minor rise in the fine terrain. Leather clad feet make a soft crunch with his every step.

A slight movement. Sparks stops walking. He swivels to assess the newly formed mound. A feral look overtakes his face. His eyes burn wildly. His lips curl back in a smile that, if any were around, they would call frightening. His canines, sharp for a human and especially so for an elemental, gleam like twin daggers in the sun. Suddenly, he is moving once again. His legs propel him across the sand with inhuman speed. His feet pound the sand together. He no longer cares if he makes a sound. He has his prey in sight. A hand extended. Fire swirling in his palm. He lets out a roar as the fire is unleashed. It flies over the sand. Encompassing the mound in a matter of seconds. The beast within it screams in protest. It leaps away, from sand and flames. It skitters across the sand madly. It is still on fire, having not complete escaped the element. Sparks watches it. Deriving joy from the others pain. His own pain lingers in the background. A festering reminder of why, exactly, he was out here.

Sparks snarls. The flames slowly eating the spider explode. Leaving nothing but a crater. He came here to forget. And if he could not do that. Sparks spits a still burning lump of coal into the sand. Then he would hunt until the fire burning inside of him is satisfied. Which, Sparks thinks as he looks up at the burning mass of his patron, is an impossible feat. He closes his eyes, mouth hanging open as if to eat the sun. He sways slightly. Upper body moving to a nonexistent rhythm. Moved by an unmoving wind. He is so enraptured by his patron that he does notice the shifting of the sands behind him. Does not notice the shadow that overtakes him. He does notice the fangs as they sink into his shoulder. He yells out in pain. It turns into an infuriated snarl. His hair and eyes erupt in an angry inferno. The inferno is quick to overtake the half elemental's body. Sparks falls from the fangs' grasp and onto the sand. His flame covered body moves with wild abandon. Sparks can no longer feel the pain. All that is left is anger and hunger.

Sparks stands. What used to be his eyes lock on the giant spider in front of him. This one is larger than all that he had seen, and killed, before. It stands well above the largest of the dunes and Sparks briefly wonders why he had not seen it before. The spider chitters at Sparks. A series of irritated, sharp sounds that mean nothing to the young elemental. When it gets no response the spider rushes forward. Faster than Sparks can see. And react to. The rush does nothing to harm him, however, as Sparks' full fire form allows the spider to pass through him. The spider emerges with flames wrapping around five of its eight massive legs. Sparks spins around to face the truly giant spider. Eyes wide. The spider turns as well. It shakes off the flames with a shudder of its massive body.

The sun stares down at the two competitors. An anxious spectator to their fight. It is heavily invested in this. This competition between two super powers of their kind. Sparks' flames begin to spread across the sand covered land. Searching for anything to feed on other than the sun's light and warmth. The spider gives a high pitched screech before starting to charge. Its fangs dripping with a sickly green toxin. Sparks takes in a deep breath. He can feel the possibilities burning within him. He can feel his power. He knows without knowing his fullest potential. It scares him. While at the same time. A toothy grin splits his face. Excites him. Sparks gathers his fire to him. The flames obey. They circle him forming a tightly bunched blaze of more light and heat than is imaginable. The spider attempts to stop its charge. It can feel the danger radiating off the young half fire elemental. Sparks growls low. The sound less of a growl and more of the crackling of a thousand fires burning as one. Sparks tilts his head to the side. A rather apt description, he muses. He regards the spider in front of him. The beast has taken to shifting nervously in the sand. There is no chance the spider would back down. This is its territory. And this boy. This man. Has killed many of its kind. This is a fight to the death, both participants can see it as clearly as they can see the sun hovering above them.

The mass of contained fire rushes forward. The spider meets it head on. Its pain filled cries wrack the air. Those cries are answered by many others. Sorrow filled ones coming from everywhere in the desert plains. Amongst the golden sand. The fire fans out. Spreading over every grain of sand it can reach. The plains, known for their heat during the summer, now become a literal hell. If anyone were to look out at the plains now all they would see would be fire and smoke. Both of which are rising to the sky. Feeding on it.

The flames come surging back to Sparks. Massive waves rolling over the truly barren desert plains. Sparks pulls the fire back to him. Roping them. Harnessing them. Caging them. Forcing them back into his being while he returns to his human, corporeal, form. His natural form. Sparks stands, in a part of the newly scorched plains he does not know, alone and tired. His limbs feel heavy after the liberation of his full fire form. He is glad that the sun still burns, or else the new wind against his bare skin would be chilling. With a suffering sigh he turns and begins walking back to the castle. He bare feet drag along the sand. The small stones scraping against his soles.

"Sparks what in the high seas happened to you?"Aquanious asks when he sees the younger elemental limp into view. He had been asked to help find Sparks when the younger elemental didn't return to the palace by nightfall. Aquanious is glad that he was the first to find the man. None of the others would have held themselves together enough to help him. As it is, the water elemental is having a difficult time himself. Sparks' golden patchy skin is pale and cut in places. His eyes and hair are dim. After the sun had descended, regretfully leaving its child to the night, Sparks had quickly begun to lose strength.

The young elemental merely blinks at his friend before collapsing into his arms. Aquanious holds him close. He forces his element back to reduce any harm he might bring to the other. He feels Sparks begin to shiver in his arms. He knows he has to feed him. It is the how he is struggling on. Sparks obviously had no strength, all of it spent on reaching the water elemental's lake, and could not possibly eat anything solid, like bark. Aquanious strokes a hand over Sparks' face soothingly as the wind blows angrily around him. His hair, barely discernible in the low lighting, is a shifting cacophony of grays with the faintest streaks of pink sewn throughout.

"You are never welcome here," Aquanious forces out between clenched teeth, "but as of this moment your presence could not be any more uncalled for. Leave, if you know what is good for you." The wind stills. It hovers there, static. Suddenly, in a massive gust, it blows past Aquanious. Flying to the moon in a swirling mass.

"Aqui any sign of him?" Colin's voice rings true through the night like a life saving bell. He is carrying a torch. The water elemental turns sharply to him. His hand outstretched and open.

"Hand me the torch," he orders. Colin obeys. Golden hazel eyes widen at the sight of Sparks as the light falls upon him. Someone he had always seen strong, except for once many years ago. He hastens to comply. Aquanious takes the torch roughly then shoves it into the face of the elemental in his arms. Slowly, wakened by the sudden warmth, Sparks begins to stir. Bleary amber eyes open to stare up at his friend. He smiles in thanks before passing out again. Aquanious sighs in relief. He brushes a lock of flame colored hair away from Sparks' face. His hold tightens briefly before he looks back at Colin. The chef gives him a weary smile.

"Cass is nearby. When he gets here he can carry Sparks back into the castle." Aquanious nods at the words. Sure enough the light of another torch appears nearby and begins moving towards the group.

Cassidy nearly drops his torch when he sees Sparks. Only his years of training keeps it secure in his hand. He strides over to Aquanious purposefully. He hands Colin his torch then bends and picks up his sleeping guardian. Sparks shifts in his sleep. Moving towards and curling into the new source of heat. His hair begins to glow faintly as his body unconsciously begins the exchanging and recycling of heat that would provide him with food. With a nod to Aquanious and the silent order to follow to Colin, the snow headed prince walks off. Colin waves at their friend, who waves absently back. His sapphire eyes follow the bobbing lights until they are gone. Even after they disappear into the black abyss he continues to stare. Eventually fatigue catches up to him and he allows himself to be pulled back into his water. The night could never pass faster.

Word of Spark's recovery spreads amongst the small group of friends faster than Sparks' fire could burn down the fields. The boys can feel their relief as it spreads through their body when they bare witness to Sparks, scrapes healed and fire burning once again. Even Nathalie, whose upbringing still largely influences her feelings towards the half elemental, is relieved. She laughs, if uncomfortably, along with Cassidy and Colin as Sparks tells them the story. How he had not expected to run into a spider that large and how he had foolishly used so much of his energy fighting it. Nathalie squirms as Sparks talks. About how he still has a lot to learn about his element and about elementals in general. Cassidy rests his hand over hers and gives her a comforting smile. She smiles back. Sparks' voice tapers off until he stops talking entirely.

The sound of swords clashing against swords and armor rings true through the air. Squires of all ages are pitted against each other in a friendly tournament. Their knights watch on, betting on who will win and who will lose and how. Laughter and cheers erupt periodically alongside grunts and groans. There are only eight squires remaining. Most of them the older, more experienced squires about to attain their knighthood. Cassidy fights amongst them, only a year or two away from his own ascension. His snow drift hair fluttering with his every movement like a waving flag. Surrendering, however, is the last thing on his mind. Cassidy spins leading with his blade and creating a deadly arc through the cloudy gray sky. It is one of those days that feels like it should rain, but with no rain forthcoming. Sparks prefers it this way. As he stands leaning against the barracks wall, his eyes half lidded, arms crossed tightly over his chest, one foot pressed flat against the stone wall.

He notices little else around him. His amber eyes, visible as slits between his eyelids, follows his charge's every move. He does notice Nathalie as she walks up to stand beside him. She is facing him, her eyes downcast. Sparks' eyes slide from the prince's form to hers. He notes that her hands are bunched tightly together amidst the cloth of her light blue dress. His eyes raise to stare at her face. They open fully, revealing his inner fire. An eyebrow raises as well. It brushes against a floating cluster of hair, all colored various shades of orange and red. Gray eyes dart upwards, catch Spark's amber, then dart back down. Sparks sighs. He pushes off from the wall and stretches tense muscles before settling again.

"May I aide you in something?" he asks. Nathalie starts, as if she hadn't known Sparks was there. Or perhaps just didn't think he would be the one to initiate the conversation. She relaxes, if only a little, after her initial surprise wears off. She turns and sinks against the wall next to the half elemental. She is silent for a moment before opening her mouth to speak.

"I used to be scared of you," her voice is as soft as it always is. Holding the slightest of trembles. Sparks resists the urge to snort. Used to? He asks himself as his eyes pass over the girl beside him. She seems to know what he is thinking for she continues.

"I still am, to an extent but," she exhales deeply, "only because you hold so much possible destruction within you. I have heard the tales. Of what elementals have done just because they could. How the winter that killed Colin's parents was so bad because of elementals." Sparks' eyes flare. Stopping her from saying anything more. She flinches despite herself.

"And you think I will use that to harm people?" he asks. His voice is a rough hiss. Nearly a growl.

"No! I have seen how you treat Cass and Colin. You love them, everyone can see that. You would do nothing that is not within their best interests," she hastens to amend. "It is just. It is no secret how you feel about, everyone else. And how they feel about you. I..." She stops talking and looks away, even though she had not been looking at him in the first place. Sparks snorts.

"It would not be beneficial to Cass' reign if I burned his subjects. Even if they serve no beneficial purpose in the first place," Sparks remarks. His voice holds a dark kind of amusement. Nathalie blinks.

"I suppose so," she murmurs. They fall into silence. One simultaneously uncomfortable and all to welcome. They go back to watching as Cass slowly climbs the tiers in the tournament. His Knight stands at the far end of the field watching him. A proud smile on his wrinkling face. Most of the squires who had been knocked out of the battles linger in groups nearby. Watching in awe as their prince fights with more grace and power than they had thought him to possess. Gone is the boy who reminded all who knew her so much of his mother. Gone is the boy who depended fully on his sole guardian. Here is a man who will rise to knighthood, then to kingship, long before the inevitable death all humans must face.

"He is truly great," Nathalie speaks again. Sparks nods in silent agreement. "Nicer than any noble I have ever met. More, human, than any of them." Sparks does not even try to stop his snort. Nathalie spares him a glance. Her mouth is open to retort when a cheer bursts forth from Cassidy's Knight's lips. Both she and Sparks whip their heads to see Cassidy, standing tall, pin the last of the Squires standing in his way to victory. The audience cries out in excitement. They clap and cheer for their future king. Calling out praise to him. Cassidy smiles at them. He steps away from his opponent, reaching out a hand to help the older squire stand.

"That was a good fight. I am pleased to have lost to you."

"You fought well. I was hard pressed to win that round. Surprised I did, really." The give each others hands a sharp pump before parting. Cassidy turns and spots Nathalie and Sparks. Both smiling; Nathalie's large and full of unconstrained joy while Sparks' more subtle. The ends of his lips quirked upwards. Pride burns as fiercely in his eyes as his fire does.

"Oh Cass you did it! I knew you could do it. I just knew it!" Nathalie cries. She flings herself into the prince's arms. Crying and laughing at once. Cassidy holds her tightly, whispering calming words into her ear. Sparks looks away. Not daring to intrude on them. Even in such a minor capacity. His eyes catch sight of the King standing in the shadows provided by the castle at this time of day. The King is frowning, that much Sparks can tell. His eyes are trained to Cassidy and Nathalie. Sparks tenses and growls. He moves to stand between them and the King's gaze. Sparks meets the King's eyes defiantly an open challenge only they are privy to. The King's eyes narrow. Their eyes stay locked for a long time until the King turns sharply and walks away. Sparks watches his stiff back as he retreats into the stone walls of the castle.

"Sparks?" Cassidy's voice cuts through to Sparks. He straightens, muscles screaming in protest. He looks back at his charge, his friend. He is still holding Nathalie close to him. The girl's gray eyes are staring at Sparks like a rabbits', curious and scared at the same time.

"Everything okay?" Cassidy asks. Sparks looks back, once more, at where the King had stood. He nods slowly. A gentle breeze brushes his wild hair back.

"Yeah, everything's fine." Cassidy smiles at the assurances. He begins to talk animatedly about the tournament. Sparks allows it to bring back memories of many years ago. He smiles. A bittersweet smile of one who knows everything is about to end. He walks behind his prince and the girl. His smile hidden from them. He would only worry, Sparks tells himself, he does not need me to ruin his happiness.

Cassidy is called to the Main Hall nearly two weeks since the tournament. He walks in demanding attention while at the same time staring at his father with an uneasy curiosity. He doesn't look at the nobles lining his walk to the throne. The nobles whispering amongst themselves. Standing behind them are the lines of guards forever stationed in the giant room. Sparks walks steadily behind the prince. His own head held high and hair falling to his shoulders coils of moving flame. The nobles simultaneously take a step back as they pass. Their footsteps echo off the stone walls. Light shines in from the windows, though it is kept away from the young prince by the wall of nobles. Cassidy stops in front of the steps leading to the throne. Sparks stopping just a step away from him.

"Father?" he questions. The King stares down at him with narrowed green eyes. The throne he is sitting on is one of many. Large and carved of a single stone brought down form the mountain marking the border between the Empire and the Kingdom. Its white stone body is dressed with large cushions in an emerald green fabric. The King himself is dressed simply, for a king, with only an elaborately embroidered green shirt and pants of a darker shade.

"You are no longer allowed to see the kitchen girl." His voice is low and condescending. It grates against Sparks' nerves and he holds back a growl. The words send a cold shiver running through Cassidy. He stands straighter and stares at his father in open shock.

"You cannot be serious!" he cries out. The King silences him with a sharp glare.

"You will obey this order, Cassidy. You will not be spending any more time with her. I tolerate your friendship with the chef but his assistant is going too far. Sparks!" he barks. The half elemental raises amber eyes to meet with the King's. "You will see to it that my son sees no more of the girl, yes?" Sparks clenches his teeth, grinding them together. He nods reluctantly. Eyes burning with tears instead of flames. He doesn't them fall, though, as he does not intend to follow the order. Like he followed the last one given to him by the King. Cassidy spins around, shooting Sparks a betrayed look, then leaves the hall. The whispers follow him. Sparks continues to stand in front of the king. While he understand how his charge is feeling it still hurts him to think the younger does not trust him after all this time. Sparks turns after one final look at the King. A look turns into a glare when he notices the King's absence of thought. Sparks feet leave little flecks of flame along rug behind him. The flames die out quickly but their scorch marks mark every place the fire elemental had stepped.

Sparks finds Cassidy again in their room. The room that has not changed much since Sparks had first seen it the day of Cassidy's birth. There is a large bed where the cradle had once stood and the books have since been replaced almost completely. The prince is sitting on his bed, eyes tracing the stitching of the fabric in the dark purple curtains.

"I am not going to keep you two apart," the older male announces quietly. Cassidy looks away from the curtains and up at him.

"You're not?" he asks. Voice small. Sparks shakes his head.

"But my father ordered you to!" Sparks snorts.

"The only order I've ever listened to from my uncle was the one ordering me to look after you. And I will be following that order by disobeying the new one," Sparks states. Cassidy beams. He leaps from his bed and hugs his guardian.

"Thank you," he breathes. Sparks nods into his charge's chest. Anything for you, he thinks as he wraps his arms around the prince. Returning the hug. Conveying all emotion he can into the simple gesture.

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