Read Fire Heart (The Titans: Book One) Online
Authors: Dan Avera
By Dan Avera
Cover Art by Feli Pugliese
by Dan Avera
This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are invented by the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author.
Thanks to my family, for all their
And thanks to my readers at the now-defunct Shur’tugal Fanfiction; you’ve all helped me so much. For those of you who knew me as Fenris, thanks for introducing me to the wonderful art of writing. For those who knew me as King Agamemnon, thanks for helping me to perfect it. You know who you are.
Table of Contents
Long ago, in the age before time began, there were six Titans. Ancient and powerful beyond imagining, they were the first of the creatures of the Void to recognize their own existence, and thus became the first gods. For eons they traveled the glittering waves of darkness, swimming through the Great Black in search of others like themselves. But their hunt was in vain, for the rest of the beings they found were feral and cruel, seeking only to feed on the strength of those greater than them. So the Titans created for themselves a haven, a palace deep within the abyss where they could live apart from the chaos of the Void. They called it Ataavtic Vinouac, and within its shining halls they found the solace they so greatly desired.
But soon they grew disillusioned with immortality and their own pointless existence, and decided to create a realm of perfection—a place where they could live and be happy. They combined their energies and knit from the fabric of the abyss the stars and all the heavens, and with a shout of joy cast them out and away from the Void. Thus was born the universe, and the realm of Life. Even the Titans were awed by the beauty and majesty of their creation and, for awhile, they were content.
But even a thing of unmatched beauty grows tedious to look upon, and soon they were discontented once again. It was Dinn, the oldest of the Titans, who suggested they add something solid and substantial to the twinkling lights, and thus by her design was the world born into existence. The world, however, was a cold and desolate rock. Seeing this Koutoum, master of fire and strongest of all the Titans, created the burning sun from his own immortal flesh and hung it high in the sky. But the sun scorched the world, turning it as red and inhospitable as a blacksmith's forge, so Beros created the great oceans and the winding rivers, and Sorr breathed the winds upon the steaming earth. When the chaos settled, there remained an orb of brilliant blue and white and grey, hanging in the sky as a shining testament to the power of the Titans.
But something was still missing.
And so it was that Forod, wisest of the old gods, gave his blessing to their creation: he took each of the elements created by his brothers and sisters and, combining them with a piece of his soul, fashioned the beasts of the earth, water, and sky, and created the plants for them to feast on. Last of all he took some of his own precious mind and bestowed it upon the race of men, that they might think and act with purpose. And men, seeing the gifts the gods had given them, rejoiced. They called themselves humans, and they named the world Pallamar.
Finally the Titans were able to sit back and admire their handiwork, and they were pleased with what they had wrought.
All the Titans, that is, but one: Keth, the youngest and second only to Koutoum in power. He looked privately upon the world and saw that, like the gods who had created it, humanity was becoming discontented with immortality. There unending lives left them yearning for more, for a place beyond their world. Keth saw this and was saddened.
So Keth, the Lord of Time, gave his gift to the Titans' creation: death. And from then on men grew old and died, and then returned to the darkness of the Void. But mankind found his new mortality frightening. Old age and mortal injury, words unknown to them before, were now on their tongues every day. Disease claimed the lives of many, and even some of the beasts, once peaceful, now feasted upon flesh. Men warred upon each other out of anger and fear, and soon humanity cried out to the gods for deliverance. And Keth was horrified by what he had done.
The other gods soon learned of Keth's actions, and the knowledge made them furious. Who was he, they asked, to destroy what they had worked so hard to create? Who was he to bring the misery of the Void into their paradise? Only Koutoum refrained from the abuse, for of all his siblings he loved Keth the most. But though Keth tried desperately to explain himself, the others would not listen, and soon all but Koutoum decided to cast him out into the darkest reaches of the Void forever. Eventually, wracked with guilt and estranged by his family, Keth went mad. It was then that he decided to bestow his second
crazed gift upon the world.
From the swirling chaos that was the essence of the Void were born a thousand myriad monstrosities, the children of Keth's insanity. And Keth, his mind now twisted and warped beyond recognition, took for himself the moniker of the Dark One. He unleashed his creations upon the world and they burned and slaughtered everything in their path. Mankind, united once again by the common threat, fought back bravely. But they were no match for Keth's children, and soon, despite the greatest efforts of their mightiest heroes, all seemed lost. It was then, at the height of history's darkest
, that the Titans made the ultimate sacrifice: leaving their seats of power in the Void, they descended upon the earth and took human forms, exchanging their indestructible essences for bodies of frail flesh and blood.
Dinn became the Lady of the Mountain. With her command of the earth she raised armies of stone gollom to fight the hordes of darkness, and summoned impregnable fortresses of rock for the wearied humans to rest in.
Beros became the Lord of the Sea, and built mighty fleets of ships for mankind to defend the oceans. To help them he gave the gift of life to the merfolk, who dove to the darkest depths in search of Keth's children, and with a wave of his hand he created the first towering spires of the City in the Waves, a keep so vast and strong that his forces would never lose their foothold in the sea.
Sorr became the Lady of the Sky, and from her will sprang Falcos, the flying city. From there she clashed with the flying demons, and it was there that she taught the brave men and women of the Fa'Shaad to ride the mighty gryphon into battle.
Forod became the Lord of the Forest, and at his command the beasts and trees of the earth sprang into mortal combat with the enemy. Where he willed it, great groves of trees rose from the ground to shelter the fleeing humans, and from his power leaped the Dark Forest, a realm between this world and the Void that would provide safe haven to all who sought it.
Only Koutoum hesitated, for even the monstrous deeds his brother had committed could not shake the foundations of his love. But finally, when he saw that without him his brothers and sisters could not prevail against the Dark One, he gave in to reason. With a heavy heart he leaped from his golden throne to join his siblings.
But Koutoum knew that men, though created from good, could be easily corrupted. “I am the strongest of us all,” he said, “and so if I am to take a mortal body I shall split my soul in two. Our brother has shown me that this much power should never belong to any single being.” And so from his immortal flesh came the Dragon King and the Phoenix Empress, and with their hearts of fire they burned the ranks of Keth's monstrosities to dust until the creatures fled back to the deep, dark parts of the world.
As their final act the Titans bound Keth's soul to the Void forever, ensuring that he would never visit his madness upon Pallamar again. Their work done, they prepared to shuck their human shells and ascend once more to the heavens.
But they had underestimated their brother.
Weakened though he was, the Dark One gathered his strength and with one final burst of fury bound the Titans to their human bodies—bound them forever to a life of pain and suffering. And thus began the age of the Immortals, an age which has lasted to this day—for they watch over us still, waiting for a sign that the Dark One's power is growing again and protecting us from the horrors of the night.
The beat of war drums was closer now—close enough that the man could feel the vibrations running through his gilded throne like the pulse of a sickly heart. The din reverberated around the sunlit throne room, louder and louder as the unnatural thunder drew near, shaking his body to its core. He closed his eyes and let his head fall slowly into his hands, his golden hair flowing like a waterfall around his face and fingers. He was a large man, tall and muscular and beautiful as a god should be, and yet hunched forward in his throne he looked so much smaller—he cut a tragic figure, beaten and world-weary. A desert breeze blew through the open windows, tousling his locks and bringing with it the scent of sand and heat and summer, but he barely noticed it. In the past such a thing would have comforted him, but to a man whose soul had died such things held no pleasure.
His name was Davin, and he was the Dragon King. For six hundred and thirty years he had watched over the world, safeguarding it from the will of the Dark One. He had survived mortal wounds that would fell a lesser man in an instant; he had razed cities with a thought and a wave of his hand; he had battled countless horrors in single combat and emerged victorious and unscathed. And yet now, in a single terrible act of betrayal, he was about to be undone.
He breathed a sigh and listened to the drums, feeling the pain deep in his chest as each rhythmic thud scoured away a little more of his soul.
She is coming for me,
No. Not her. A wolf in sheep's clothing.
would never do these things.
“Sire,” said a soft voice, and Davin raised his head with a tired smile. It was Borost, the Lord Commander of the Dragon Guard, his thick body encased in plate and mail armor and the black and red livery of the Dragon King. Fang, the jeweled longsword borne into battle by all of the Lord Commanders before him, hung ready at his hip. He was a handsome man, rugged and stoic like his father before him, but with the soft edge of his mother as well. He was a singular human the like of which Davin had met only a few times before.
“Borost. I am glad you came.” Davin stood and placed his hand on the man's shoulder. “It is good to have a friend here right now.”
“The Dragon Guard stands ready to die for you, my king.” Borost knelt and bowed his head. “Death does not frighten us. We are with you to the end.” He looked back up at Davin, and all of the softness was gone from his eyes. Now there was only steel and stone, and the resolute fury that made him such a terror on the battlefield. “To the very end.”
The Dragon King could feel the painful beginnings of tears forming in his eyes, and he blinked them away. “You and your men are the greatest that have ever walked this earth,” he said softly. “You have died for me, you have sacrificed yourselves so that thousands may live, and you have done it all without ever asking why.” He shook his head. “And that is why I am sending you on one final mission. One that will save more lives in the long run than can be counted.”
“Of course, my King.” Borost stood and placed his right fist over his heart. “Command, and I shall follow. Should you wish it, I will seek out all seven traitors myself and—”
“I need you to live.”
Borost's brow furrowed. “We will fight harder than anyone ever has, my lord, but there are too many. I do not think we can survive this.”
Davin smiled again. “And that is why you will not fight this battle.” He patted the man on the shoulder and turned away, walking toward one of the tall windows that offered a view of the barren Kahara Desert outside. The noon sun glared down, baking the earth and distorting the air with waves of heat. His fortress stretched out before him in a magnificent display of Eastland architecture, a bastion among the desolate dunes that stretched off into the distance for leagues untold. It had been a beautiful place once, a city where men and women and children could live and love in peace, never fearing for their safety. But that had all changed, and to Davin the Dragonskeep now seemed little more than an empty shell.
Taken away by one woman,
he thought absently, and his hand ran slowly along the stone
edge of the windowsill.
He could see her there, sitting on the lip with her legs dangling out over the edge, her dark hair billowing in the wind. He imagined his arms around her, his lips against her neck, her laughter in his ear, and now the tears flowed freely. He squeezed his eyes shut and covered his face with his hands.
“You must leave the Dragonskeep now, Borost,” he continued, pulling himself from the memory and turning once more to face his friend. “Leave with all of your men—none of you will stay. Go to Feothon. The Dark Forest is the one place the traitors will never be able to penetrate.”
“But we—!” Borost began. Davin held up a hand.
“I will suffer no argument on this matter. You will do as I say, or I will send you there in a chariot of fire.” Davin grinned ruefully. “A rather unpleasant mode of transportation, I think, but it will have to do.” He stood for a moment in silence, one hand on the grey stone wall as his gaze roved the arid landscape outside. And then he looked to the east, and his shoulders slumped. “The Empress is here, Borost. Go now, please.” His gaze met the Lord Commander's for the last time. “Stay alive, my friend. You must await the return of the next Dragon King. And please...take care of Serah.”
For a moment it seemed Borost was about to say more. His face contorted slightly, and his mouth opened for a brief moment, but then he turned on his heel and walked away without a word. It was only after the great oaken doors to the throne room had closed behind him that Borost allowed the tears to stream down his face.
The host the Phoenix Empress had amassed was, Davin had to admit, astounding. The Dragon King could not remember having seen such a gargantuan force in all his years; he could see dozens of banners from across the world, and the light from the scorching desert sun shone off of weapons and armor both familiar and alien. He saw legions of mail-clad men-at-arms from Karkash and barbarians from the Northern Hinterlands, marauders from Ainos, even a band of the mysterious tallmen from the Aerik plains, their dark bodies covered in nothing but grass and wood. Great beasts of war—some of which Davin had seen only once or twice in his long life—bayed, trumpeted, and roared, their calls mixing with the shouts and battle cries of their masters.
And at the head of the massive horde of bodies stood the new Phoenix Guard, the sun gleaming magnificently from the weapons and golden armor that belonged not to them, but to the women who had borne them in Castle Phoenix—women long dead now, a handful of victims among countless others. In their midst stood Talyn, the Phoenix Empress, architect of the horror amassed before the Dragonskeep.
not the architect. She is only the tool.
The legion did not trouble the Dragon King. In his lifetime he had felled armies and slain countless nightmarish beasts single-handed. Fear was an emotion that had long ago become foreign to him, and the horde of bloodthirsty warriors did not evoke it.
She was garbed in dazzling golden armor, the Void-forged plates intricately beaten into the likeness of a bird. Only her head was left bare, and her long black hair blew serenely in the hot desert wind, framing the fine-boned features of her pale face. In her right hand she carried Ember, the ancestral longsword of the Phoenix Empress, looking amiss amid such a vast horde of evil; in her left she held a round shield emblazoned with a golden phoenix. Even from his vantage point atop the colossal central tower of the Dragonskeep's wall, Davin was awed by her beauty.
The army came to a halt just at the edge of the keep's shadow, standing in the desert sun as though afraid to touch even the idea of the Titan city. The warriors ceased their battle cries, and then even the beasts fell silent. The only sound was the ever-present desert wind, and overhead the occasional scream of a carrion bird waiting impatiently for the coming feast. The Phoenix Empress moved to the front of the army and stood in the shadow of the Dragonskeep.
“Your time has come, King of Flame,” Talyn called, and her voice, normally high and clear, sounded hoarse and choked—lifeless and dead. Though she was far away her words carried clearly to Davin's ears and echoed up the walls of the keep. It sent a chill down his spine.
Davin stepped forward to the edge of the parapet, giving Talyn and the army a better view of his person. He wore no armor, carried no weapons; he was dressed only in a plain red tunic and breeches, a black dragon embroidered upon his breast. His long golden hair blew out behind him as a breeze gusted against his face. He waited for it to die away before answering.
But the wind continued to blow, caressing him like a mother's soothing touch. He closed his eyes and smiled as he realized what it was. “Serah,” he whispered, and suddenly he could feel comforting hands on his shoulders, strong arms encircling him, soft lips kissing his cheek. He felt rain dot his face and he opened his eyes; the desert sky was clear and blue, with not a cloud in sight. The stone beneath his feet pulsed as though alive, humming a soundless tune that beat in time with his heart. A carrion bird swooped down to his shoulder, its yellow eyes gazing at him with uncharacteristic intelligence, and then it touched its forehead lightly to his before leaping once more into the air to rejoin its fellows. Serah, Borbos, Renne, Feothon—his brothers and sisters were all there lending him their strength. He wished he could see them one final time.
He smiled, his soul comforted, and breathed in the scent of the desert air once more before responding. “Talyn,” he said, his deep voice echoing down to the Phoenix Empress, “stop this now.”
“You know it is too late for that,” she hissed. Her voice was dead, devoid of emotion. “Join us now, Davin. Join me. Make us whole once again, and we will raze this world to the ground. We will make way for a new order, one ruled only by the strongest. Ruled by us.”
She leaped suddenly into the air and in the same instant a column of flame bloomed beneath her feet, lifting her higher and higher until she crested the edge of the parapet. The fire seemed almost to shy away from her, refusing to touch her even as it carried her. It lowered her gently down to the tower a moment later before dissipating with a crackle and a faint, almost relieved sigh, and then Talyn began to walk toward the Dragon King.
“Think of it, Davin,” she said. “We could destroy our siblings, the traitors, and even the Dark One himself if we wanted. Nothing could stop us!” She angrily cast her shield aside, and it skidded across the stones before its progress was halted by the low parapet along the tower's edge. Talyn pointed at the weapon. “We would never need such things again. We do not even need them now!” She gestured and the shield burst into flame, the emblazoned phoenix warping in the heat like candle wax. Soon all that remained was a small pool of molten gold and a pile of ash, which fluttered away on the swirling winds. “Trifles!” she cried. “Useless tools for lesser beings—not for Titans!”
She moved forward quickly then, discarding her sword and seizing Davin's face in her hands. Ember hit the stone with a metallic wail, sounding for all the world like a beaten child, but Davin barely registered the sound. She was kissing him, brutally crushing her lips against his and pulling him into her with her fingers entwined in his hair. It was passionate and sensual, angry and tender all at once, and she melted against him.
Davin almost gave in then; the emptiness within him, the void in his heart created by Talyn's absence, yearned for his compliance with her wishes—for his submission. But just as his will began to crumble, he felt once more the reassuring touches from his brothers and sisters, and he opened his eyes and pulled gently away from the one thing in the world that made him complete.
“No,” he whispered, and the word was a lead weight in his heart. “Our duty,” he continued, cupping her cheek in his hand, “is to protect. To serve. We created life, and we exist now only to ensure that it continues.” He searched her eyes. “Talyn...this is not you. Have the traitors left nothing of you in this body?”
Her face softened suddenly at his words, and her eyes fluttered. She seemed dazed and confused, and she leaned into his caress, murmuring almost drunkenly, “Davin? I...” Her voice was as he remembered—clear and beautiful and perfect.
But then her face hardened once again, and her emerald eyes were as cold and hard as stone. She pulled forcefully away from him, extending her hand so that Ember leaped into her grasp. When she spoke, her voice was hoarse once more. “So be it,” she rasped. “If you will not join us, you shall be imprisoned for all time within the Black Fortress. Our new world will continue...without you.” She turned and began to walk away.
Davin could not delay any longer. He had stalled what was to come only because of the clinging hope that there was still something of Talyn left in the Phoenix Empress' mortal shell. He had seen it, and he had seen in that brief, final glimpse of the woman he loved—the other half of his soul—that she was irrevocably lost to the seven traitors. The realization made his next actions easier.
He reached deep inside of himself, down to the very core of his being where the power was strongest, and
. By sheer force of will he awakened the soul of Koutoum, drawing from its ever-growing energy. Something stirred deep in his chest, growling warily as it sensed Davin's intentions.