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The sky was full of fire.
Crackling balls of flame hovered above the crystalline towers of the Prism Palace. The faeros—elemental entities that lived within stars—had arrived in all their chaotic destructive glory, summoned by the agony of a madman who believed the fiery creatures would protect the Empire against the Shana Rei.
Mage-Imperator Jora’h stood among his awestruck people in the plaza, looking up at the entities that blazed brighter than the seven suns. He wished he had been able to stop Rusa’h from making such a deadly summons. Jora’h could feel the throbbing terror that emanated from his people … terror that he himself felt, but he quashed it so the reverberations would not tremble out through the thism. Every Ildiran could feel what their Mage-Imperator felt, and now more than ever Jora’h had to feel strong, brave, confident.
It seemed impossible.
Jora’h had led the Empire through many disasters, including the previous invasion when the faeros had destroyed cities, incinerated countless people. And Rusa’h had just called them back, blithely assuming the Mage-Imperator could control and guide them against the creatures of darkness.
The fireballs clustered high in the Ildiran sky, but even here down in the Foray Plaza Jora’h could feel the blistering heat. Many people had fled into buildings, while others gathered outside to share their strength with Jora’h, a strength that he sorely needed.
Beside him, his consort Nira shuddered but controlled herself. She grasped his hand. “We have to do something before they attack.”
Their daughter Osira’h, who had once controlled the faeros at the end of the Elemental War, said, “Rusa’h’s death-agony summons has made them listen—for the first time.” She shook her head, still staring upward. “Rod’h and I tried to ask for their help, but the faeros fled. We cannot control them. They are terrified of the Shana Rei.”
Her friend Prince Reynald of Theroc also stood close, along with the Kellums, a Roamer family rescued from the planet Kuivahr. The refugees had come here to be safe from the Shana Rei, but now they might all be wiped out by a different enemy.
The faeros pulsed in the sky, flames crackling around their incandescent cores. Waiting. Jora’h stared at the fireballs until his eyes ached. He knew that mad Rusa’h had called them here for him. “They are waiting for me. I have to go.”
“But I am the one who can communicate with them,” Osira’h interrupted. “Let me do it.”
Alarmed, Prince Reynald grabbed her arm. “It’s too dangerous.”
She shook her head, and her face was drawn. “It is all too dangerous! But we have to survive.”
“How will the Empire survive, unless I can make this work?” Jora’h said, exuding a confident determination he did not feel. “The faeros are waiting for me, the Mage-Imperator. I will go.”
His heir, Prime Designate Daro’h, stood in the crowd. The faeros had burned his face during their previous conquest of Ildira, and his voice reflected his tension. “They will burn you, Father, steal your soulfire—the Ildiran soulfire. That is what they want. They are hungry!”
“No,” Osira’h said, sounding uncertain. “They are … terrified.”
“As we all are.” Jora’h embraced his beloved Nira. “As destructive as the faeros may be, the Shana Rei are worse. They mean to wipe out all life.” He paused. “If there is any chance the faeros will help us, I must be the one to face them. Rusa’h may not have been wrong.”
In his Solar Navy uniform, Tal Gale’nh looked grim, recalling his own recent military battles against the creatures of darkness. His unnaturally pale skin flushed under the blazing heat. “The Shana Rei want to erase the Galaxy—perhaps the universe itself.”
Jora’h stepped away from his loved ones. “If I do not succeed…” He let his words hang for a long moment, before turning to Daro’h. “Then you will become Mage-Imperator sooner than you expected. Lead the Empire well.”
As he strode toward the Palace, he could feel threads of hope from the crowd woven together into a lifeline through the thism. Everyone watched him, believed in him … and Jora’h had to believe in himself. He would face the fiery elementals, knowing they shared an even more fearsome enemy.
Entering the Prism Palace, he climbed staircases that brought him to the highest pinnacle. He stepped out onto the wide rooftop that had once held a botanical garden including small worldtrees that Nira herself had planted. The light and heat from the faeros were blinding.
The air crackled, and he sensed the elementals’ hot and blazing presence reaching out to him. The air smelled of smoke and death—but not from the elementals. This was where Rusa’h had set the greenhouse on fire and immolated himself amid the burning trees so that his agony issued a summons that even the faeros could not ignore.
As the Mage-Imperator stepped through the crumbling ashes of the greenhouse and past Rusa’h’s blackened bones, he called out. “I need your help! We all do. The Shana Rei will destroy us, and they will destroy you—unless we fight.”
In ancient history, Mage-Imperator Xiba’h had also allied with the faeros and saved the Empire from the Shana Rei. This time, though, the creatures of darkness were attacking more than just planets. Their black nebulae oozed through space; their hexagonal ships struck the Solar Navy and tore apart colonies, and they were infiltrating the thism network itself. Jora’h had felt the darkness inside him, and he had seen possessed Ildiran mobs wreaking bloody havoc. He could not predict or control the shadows, but as the center of the entire thism network, Jora’h knew that their taint had reached into him as well.
The swirling faeros dropped closer, their pulsing flames like a wall pressing him down, trying to intimidate him. When he called upon the thism, he saw the shadows there. Despite the blazing light of the faeros fire and the seven suns in the Ildiran sky, the Mage-Imperator felt cold inside.
Copyright © 2016 by Wordfire, Inc.