The Purifying Fire Laura Resnick

"Ghost warden?" Chandra said. "What's a ghost warden?"

"Normally, it's a spirit from the land of the dead summoned to protect the living," said her host, Samir Mia Kauldi.

Chandra's young companion Brannon cried, "I've heard about ghost wardens! They've got flowing white hair, and white armor, and no real legs, just wispy trails of white dust where their feet should be! They float around in silence, spying on their masters' enemies!"

Chandra looked to Samir for confirmation of this description as they walked through the forest, the dry twigs and leaves crackling under their feet.

He nodded. "'Spying' might be an exaggeration. As I said, they normally serve to protect, but the Order uses them to monitor the forest."

"They have arms without hands, and white lightning bolts shoot out of the place where their fingers should be!" Brannon said.

"I'm told that it feels more like a sharp sting than a lightning bolt," Samir said. "It startles more than anything else."

Samir Mia Kauldi was one of the Keral Keep's staunchest allies in the Great Western Wood. He was well respected among his fellow elves and shared the Keralian values concerning personal freedom and the right to self determination, but most importantly he understood the consequences of the Order of Heliud's ever-increasing influence on the plane of Regatha. If the Heliuds, a sect of mages that demanded a strict adherence to the Divine Law, were allowed to continue asserting their "civilization" agenda of on the rest of Regatha, it would, sooner or later, mean an end to the elves' way of life. Their tribes would be broken up and individuals would be relocated to camps where they would be "trained" as productive members of society. The forest, stripped of its protectors, would become a resource for the cities, the trees a commodity to be managed by the Ministry of Conservation. Samir had heard how some of the smaller forests in the distant east had been clear-cut and used for lumber only to be replanted in neat rows so that their next harvest might be more efficient. The linear alignment of the trees and the grid-work of roads that crisscrossed the areas cut the living spine of these groves and all but stopped the once verdant flow of mana. Elves lucky enough to escape the camps and cities told tales of unrecognizable terrains; pine barrens, mono-cultures of ash and spruce. The Order had broken these forests into pieces and made sure they would not go back together.

Samir had told all of this to Mother Luti, the unofficial leader of Keral Keep, an age-old monastery atop Mount Keralia where fire mages from all over Regatha gathered to learn from one another and share in their knowledge of pyromancy. But for years the assaults on the forests had only been stories. Now it was becoming a reality. But Luti, however her fighting spirit raged, was not getting any younger. Because the journey down the mountain to the forests below was physically demanding, she seldom made the trip herself anymore. But she did insist on regular contact with the races of the woodlands and often sent others in her place. They had to keep the Order's power in check, especially since the mountains seemed to be next in line for the Order's brand of civilization.

It's true that the Keralian pyromancers and the races of the Great Western Wood led independent existences, but they all shared a desire to limit the Order's influence to the plains and the cities of Regatha. As Luti said, "we must teach them that fire and forest, much like their government, know nothing of mercy."

Among the woodlanders, Samir Mia Kauldi actively agreed with Luti about this. He realized that the ghost wardens and mounted patrols that accompanied them were only the begin¬ning. Still, many in the forest remained unconvinced and dismissed the Order's encroachment as border skirmishes. Most believed that the stories of entire forests razed and replanted in the east would be impossible in an area as vast as the Great Western Wood.

Samir was short for an elf with smooth skin the color of freshly-turned soil. He had a lithe build, a soft voice, and a round face that looked older than his years, possibly because of the perpetually harassed look he carried with him like a empty coin purse; that is to say, without enthusiasm. Although he was a respected tribal chief and skilled summoner, his exhortations against the Order were met with little acceptance by other inhabitants of the woodlands. That isn't to say he did not have support. Samir was known far and wide to summon the greatest beasts of Regatha. His status as chief had remained unchecked because of this, and no tribe would dare challenge his authority, but might did not necessarily make right among the woodlanders. Much as it was with the Keralians, tribes -- and the individuals who made them up -- were given the right determine their own future, whether for good or bad, so long as it was not disruptive to the harmony of life in the forest.

Samir first came to the monastery as a suppliant, a lone voice calling for aid against the hieromancers of the Order of Heliud, and he found a sympathetic ear in Mother Luti. Since then, the Keralians have been prepared to offer whatever assistance necessary.

Chandra, who relished opportunities to leave the monastery, often volunteered to act as a liaison to Samir and his loose association of druids, elves, and oufes.

It had been two days since her heated discussion with Brother Sergil about the stolen scroll, and Chandra had been happy to make the journey to talk to Samir. She was still a bit upset so she decided to bring her young friend Brannon along as company on the long trek to Samir's small village deep in the woods.

The boy was clearly excited by the news that ghost wardens had been seen in the Great Western Wood.

"So what does a ghost warden do, besides float around and sting people?" Chandra asked Samir.

"It only stings," Samir said, "if threatened."

"Whatever," Chandra said. "What good are they if they don't do anything?"

"The order uses them as spies," Samir said. "Rather than have them protect a living being as was originally the intention of a ghost warden, they have them watch over the forest in general. It is believed that the summoners share a psychic link with the warden and are able to sense when things are out of the ordinary."

"Its summoners? You mean the Order of Heliud?"

"Yes. It is said that the summoner, once alerted by the ghost warden, will dispatch a patrol to the area in question."

"You're sure about these sightings?" "So sure," Samir said, "that I have recently returned from Zinara, where I went to speak to Walbert himself. And I tell you Chandra, a more ridiculous place you will never find. They put plants in pots to decorate windows that look out on other windows with still more potted plants. They contrive fountains, which are absurd stone structures that trickle water in a meek imitation..."

"Wait, I know what a fountain is. The High Priest of the Order agreed to see you?" Chandra asked in surprise. Walbert III wasn't reputed to be a very accessible man.

"Only after I spent two days insisting I would not leave the grounds of the Temple until I was granted an audience. It was a harder task than you can imagine sitting on flagstones amid those tortured trees. Can you believe they top the trees to stunt their growth? Imagine the arrogance that imposes Heliudic aesthetic values on nature. Even flowers are made to look like wounds on their hideously stripped stalks."

"So you confronted him?" Chandra said with relish.

"Of course. I demanded to know by what right the Order sent soldiers into our land to arrest us. I demanded that these ghost wardens be withdrawn from the Great Western Wood."

"What did Walbert say?"

Samir made a disgusted sound. "It was infuriating, my friend. Walbert claimed that, in the interest of 'unity' throughout these lands, the laws which govern the cities and the plains are being extended to govern the woodlands. The ghost wardens have been summoned to patrol this vast woodland for our 'protection.' And the soldiers are only enforcing 'fair and just' laws that have been passed in the interest of preserving safety and . . . order."

Chandra was appalled. "Walbert is claiming the Order has authority over the woodlands?"

Samir nodded. "And he's enforcing that claim with the might of his soldiers and the skill of the temple mages."

"He can't do that!"

"I said that to him." Samir shook his head. "In response, he offered me some pompous title in exchange for encouraging my people to abide by the laws of the plains. That, or I could remain in violation of a law concerning 'loitering' and he would jail me. I decided to retreat and fight another day."

"So he's trying to take over the Great Western Wood." Chandra said in outrage. "That's unbelievable!"

"He will find it a more difficult task than he supposes," Samir said darkly. "The other tribes have been reluctant to enter into conflict with the order, but if they continue to arrest druids for summoning hunters, perhaps I can bring others to my side."

"What will they want next?" Chandra said with contempt. "Control over the Keral Keep? Do they think they can spread their laws to the mountains?"

"That is surely not beyond the scope of their ambitions," Samir warned her. "They see the monastery as a threat. They think the Keralians are destructive and their teachings dangerous."

"It wasn't enough for them to outlaw fire magic in their own lands? They think they can outlaw it on Mount Keralia?" Chandra shook her head. "They'd have to be crazy to believe that."

"Why do they hate fire?" Brannon's red eyebrows creased in a frown on his young, freckled face. "I like it. And everyone needs it, after all."

"They hate it because fire takes no holiday, kiddo," Chandra said, but the boy only looked back confused. Truth be told, Chandra was confused by the statement, too, but she had heard Mother Luti say it so often that it seemed appropriate here.

"They don't hate fire, precisely," Samir said to the boy. "I'm not even sure they hate fire magic."

"Of course they do," Chandra said. "Why else would they punish pyromancy with death in Zinara?"

"They punish it with imprisonment," said Samir. "You only get executed if you commit violence with your fire magic."

"Whatever," she said. "Either way, they obviously hate fire magic. Or else they're afraid of it."

"I think what they don't like," said Samir, "is the nature of those who wield it. The Order of Heliud believes that no one is above the Law. The Law equalizes." He shrugged. "Isn't it true that you Keralians believe there is no law greater than the will of fire? You believe fire burns the criminal and the prosecutor equally, yes? The Heliuds believe that the righteous may pass through fire unscathed."

Chandra frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"I am talking about the Purifying Fire."

"The what?"

"The Purifying Fire." When Chandra and Brannon just stared at him blankly, he said, "Oh. Of course. Neither of you has ever been to Zinara?" They shook their heads. "And probably few members of the monastery have been there, either. Or know much about the Order of Heliud." "Mother Luti tells us that relations between the monastery and the city have been tense for years." said Chandra. She also knew that the woodlanders had been on civil terms with the people of the plains and the city until Walbert's ambition began changing that.

"Yes." Samir nodded. "Those who feel the lure of Mount Keralia have little in common with those for whom order and structure are paramount. It's a very…different sort of perspective."

"It certainly is," Chandra said with distaste. "So what does fire have to do with the Order of Heliud?"

"The Order's power is said to come from something called the Purifying Fire. No one I know has ever seen it, and it is said that only a very select few within the Order have access to it, but it is believed to be a source of pure mana that dances perpetually like a flame in the ancient caverns beneath the Temple. The legend says that Heliud was a holy figure in the city of Thold across the Great Sea. He was accused of heresy, crimes against his city, or some such thing. Regardless, Heliud was exiled along with his followers. He claimed that he was a messenger of the Divine Will and that he and his followers had been chosen to found a shining city where all would live in harmony under Divine Law. The rulers of Thold put them in ships and sent them on their way, happy to be rid of them, I'm sure. But the journey across the sea was long and they lost many of their number to sickness. When they made landfall many more were lost to the vagaries of the wild.

"When they finally arrived at the site where Zinara was founded, Heliud's followers were beginning to doubt his plan, or even if he had one. He was facing opposition by one his followers, in particular, a man named Zin who believed they could go no further. They should settle, he said. Heliud was unfit to lead them. The promised land he spoke of was a fever dream. Zin had the support of the majority and Heliud, emaciated and weak from the journey, was facing exile again."

"You seem to know a lot about this Samir," said Chandra. "You got some sympathies you aren't telling us about?"

"During the time I spent in protest on the grounds of the temple, an acolyte would come out and educate me on the his¬tory of Heliud, an effort to convert me, no doubt.

"Anyway, to get to the point, Heliud returned to camp some days later in peak physical form except that his once lustrous black hair had gone as grey as the silver fox. When questioned about his transformation, Heliud said that he had found the physical manifestation of the Divine Will in a flickering white flame in nearby caverns. He had thrown himself into it as penitence for failing to recognize the signs he'd been given, but rather than dying as he had expected, he emerged revived, stronger even than he had been before, proof of his righteous¬ness. He claimed the fire had cleansed him of both doubt and error. He claimed it had chosen him as the sole arbiter of Divine Law on Regatha.

"Zin still had loyal followers, many of whom believed that Heliud's revitalization was somehow demonic in its origin. Heliud challenged Zin, saying that the Fire would be the judge of right and wrong. They must go, one and the other, to face the Purifying Fire. As you might imagine, Heliud emerged."

"What happened to Zin?" asked Brannon.

"It's interesting that you ask, Brannon, because I wondered the same thing. Heliud told his followers that Zin's body had vaporized in the flame. The followers of Zin did not believe this explanation, but without witness, and never having found the body, they had little choice. They could venture off on their own, a daunting prospect considering what they had already been through, or they could believe in Heliud. They were eventually mollified when Heliud named their settlement in Zin's honor. They hold Zin sacred still, saying that his opposition was divinely inspired to test the truth of Heliud's leadership.

"Walbert is the successor to Heliud's legacy and the custodian of the Purifying Fire"

"Well, that figures," said Chandra in disgust. "The members of the Order have forbidden fire magic to everyone in their land while drawing their own power from fire? Or from something that's just barely similar to fire?"

A flame that was "cold" and "white" didn't sound much like fire to her. It sounded as rigid and deadly dull as she imagined the members of the Order were.

Chandra was passionate about the heat and fury of fire magic. She loved the gold, orange, yellow of explosions -- the blood-red blazes of pyromancy. What was the point of something cold, white, and hidden underground? Surely there was no beauty in that. No glory, or passion, or thrill.

"The Order has forbidden fire magic in their lands," Samir agreed, "and now they want to restrict our way of life in the Western Wood, too. Certain practices are still allowed, Walbert told me, because he says the laws issued by the Order are not 'unreasonable'. But now other supposedly 'dangerous' practices such as summoning are forbidden to us." Samir's normally gentle expression grew thunderously angry. "And the ghost wardens are the Order's means of spying on us in our own land!"

"They have no right," Chandra said.

"None!" Samir rarely raised his voice, but he did so now.

"But at least a ghost warden doesn't sound like it can be a very good spy," Chandra said with a frown. "I mean, I'd sure notice it sneaking up on me, if it looks like what Brannon described."

"Me, too!" said Brannon.

"Actually, it's more effective than you suppose," Samir said. "It's completely silent, after all. No feet or hands. We have many unusual things in the forest -- "

"No argument there," said Chandra.

" -- but we're not used to entities without any limbs. Well, apart from snakes, but you get my meaning."

"I don't like snakes," Chandra said frankly.

The shadowy forest felt claustrophobic to Chandra who was much more used to the scenic vistas of mountain living. The woods were teaming with life, much of it strange and unnerving; carnivorous flowers whose sweet scent lured the unsuspecting, poisonous insects that posed as plants, ill-tempered beasts that resembled moss-covered rocks, and monsters that looked like trees. Dirt, noise, fungus. None of it appealed to Chandra, but it did offer time away from the other Keralians who could become quite boring in their devotion.

Even so, sitting on the dry ground outside Samir's leafy hut, and politely pretending to drink some insipid beverage flavored by mashed plant roots, Chandra felt eager to return to the mon¬astery and tell Mother Luti what she had learned. If creatures of the Order were roaming the woods now, how much longer would it be before they tried to intrude on Mount Keralia?

"Hardly anything moves through the forest without making a sound," Samir said. "But these creatures do. Lately, numer¬ous woodlanders have been surprised to notice a ghost warden watching them without having any idea how long it had been there."

"That would be creepy," said Brannon.

"For example," Samir said calmly, "ever since you arrived and we sat down here together, I haven't glanced at those bushes to our left until just a moment ago." Now he turned his head and stared hard at the lush shrubbery. "So I don't know how long that ghost warden has been listening to our conversation."

Brannon gasped. Chandra jumped as if she had been bitten; leaping to her feet in the same motion as she whirled to face the direction Samir was looking.

She saw a white creature there that was as motionless as a rock. It didn't breath. Its pale eyes didn't blink. It didn't even react to Chandra's sudden movement, nor to Brannon pointing at it and crying out. Even its long white hair remained still despite the breeze that caused the leaves to rustle gently on the bush obscuring it from Chandra's view.

She circled around the clearing, moving to get a better view of the creature. From her new position, Chandra saw that, exactly as Brannon had described, it had no hands or feet, although four appendages were attached to its torso in a disturbing suggestion of arms and legs that trailed off into whirls of glittering white dust where toes and fingers should have existed.

"How does it work?" Chandra asked Samir.

The ghost warden turned its head toward her when she spoke. Somehow, the movement was even more disturbing than the creature's stillness had been. Its motion was fluid and refined, like the passage of time.

"Work?" Samir, too, had risen to his feet. Now he pushed Brannon behind his body, shielding the boy from the creature.

"Can its master see through its eyes and hear through its ears?" Chandra asked, still staring at the ghost warden. "Can they see and hear us right now? Or does this thing have to return to its master to convey what it has witnessed?"

"I'm not sure," Samir said. "But, as I said, they are said to trigger an alert to patrols."

"I don't think they can do that," Chandra said decisively. "We should kill it to test the theory."

At this, the creature displayed an almost eerily human reaction, shrinking away from her in recognition of the threat she posed.

"Chandra..." Samir said uneasily. "That might be unwise at this juncture."

The very thought of a fight elevated Chandra's heartbeat. As her pulse quickened, so did the fire inside her. She could feel it bloom in the base of her skull as her hair crackled in anticipation of the mane of flame it became in full combat, before moving down her spine and out to her hands which lit like torches.

"Be careful," Samir warned. "It has been unseasonably dry this year."

The ghost warden pointed a wispy limb at Chandra and a bolt of white light shot forth from the floating, shiny particles in its fingerless tendrils.

"Ouch!" Chandra staggered backward as it hit her in the stomach. The blow was enough to quench the fire that burned around her.

She doubled over, trying to catch her breath. She heard Bran¬non shouting her name. A moment later, she felt a hand on her back and heard Samir asking if she was all right.

"I'm fine," she croaked. "I feel like I've been... stung by the biggest wasp that ever lived, but I'm fine. Never mind me! Get that thing!"

"It's gone!" Brannon cried.

"Gone?" Chandra raised her head and looked toward the bushes. There was nothing there now but greenery. "Damn!"

"I see it!" Samir, whose eyes were far more accustomed than theirs to the shadowy forest, spotted the creature as it fled through the trees. He pointed. "Over there!"

"Let's go!" Clutching her throbbing stomach, Chandra ran in the direction that Samir had indicated.

"Can we kill it?" he shouted, running after her.

"Let's find out!" she shouted back. Ghost or no ghost, Chandra thought she should be able to turn anything into a pile of ashes if she got it hot enough.

"This way!" Samir shouted behind her, veering off to the right and disappearing into the greenery.

Chandra turned to follow him. There was a very broad thicket of bushes in her way. Rather than waste time going around it, she forced her way through it. This proved to be a mistake. The clinging shrubs and their thorns clutched at her clothes and scratched her skin. Within moments, she found she was stuck, unable to move forward. The harder she tried to free herself, the more entangled she became.

"I see it!" Samir cried, his voice significantly further away now. "Come on!"

"I'm... coming!" Chandra winced as she struggled to free herself.

She was panting, she was in pain, she was falling behind, and, worst of all, she was trapped by a damn bush. Exasperated, her temper flared as a burning heat rushed throughout her body erupting in an aura of flame that set the thicket on fire and turned the offending bush into a charred cinder.

She had only taken a few steps when she heard shrill screeching and chattering overhead. Something heavy fell down onto her back from the overhanging branches of a tree, wrapped its limbs around her neck, and bit her shoulder.

"Agh!" Chandra fell to the ground and rolled over on top of her attacker. She struck the small, struggling combatant with her elbow and, as soon as she felt its grip loosen, leaped to her feet and turned to face it.

An oufe? Chandra stopped cold. She didn't like these small woodland creatures, but she had no quarrel with them, either.

Graceful green limbs, tiny features, and rather immodest rough clothing blurred in a tangle of movement as her attacker jumped to its feet and launched itself at her again, baring its sharp little teeth in a growl of rage.

Chandra instinctively threw a bolt of fire at the oufe. It leaped back shrieking in fear and pain, which made her feel guilty. The little creature was barely half her size, after all. The bush she had just destroyed might have been its place of worship or something. Oufes were a little strange that way. But the frantic little creature wasn't seriously injured by her fire strike.

"I'm sorry about your bush! But I don't have time for this!" she said and ran in the direction of Samir's distant shouts.

She heard more shrill chattering behind her and risked looking over her shoulder. Chandra saw that her attacker was being joined by two more, but tripped over a tree root and decided to keep her eyes on where she was going.

"Samir!" she shouted.

"Over here!" he shouted back.

"Chandra!" Brannon cried. "I can see it! Hurry!"

Chandra heard more screeching behind her, but she didn't look back again, not even when the noises reached a fever-pitch. She ran through a tight-knit grove of trees, jumping over fallen branches and toppled tree trunks, following the sounds of her friends' voices as they screamed for her to catch up.

When she finally neared Brannon and Samir, they were at the edge of a glade.

"There! Crossing the stream!" Samir cried. "It's just ahead of us now!"

He was breathing hard as he turned to look at Chandra when she drew up alongside him. He looked past her, and his sweat-beaded face underwent the most astonishing transition.

"Why," he asked, "is there a load of oufes chasing you?"

"What?" Chandra looked over her shoulder. "Oh, no."

"Gosh," Brannon said. "They look really mad."

There appeared to be about twenty of them bearing down on her, screeching with murderous fury as they brandished sticks, spears, and daggers. Their eyes glowed with feral rage, their sharp teeth were bared, and their skin was flushed dark green with anger.

"What is it with oufes?" she muttered.

"This could be a problem," Samir said.

"What are they going to do?" Chandra said dismissively. "Nibble on my ankles?"

Samir said, "Well, given the opportunity..."

"I'm stopping that ghost warden!" Chandra spotted it floating above a narrow stream as it fled across the glade.

Samir said, "But what about -- "

"You're a chief! You deal with it!"

Chandra closed the distance between her and the ghost warden, spreading her arms wide as she felt power flow freely through her, answering her summons with satisfying heat. She shaped her will into a burning projectile and threw it at the ghost warden.

The creature flinched to escape a direct hit, a sign, in Chan¬dra's estimation, that it could indeed be destroyed. It wouldn't expend energy fleeing or defending itself if it weren't vulnerable to her attacks. Chandra leaped over the narrow stream that her floating quarry had crossed only moments ago.

She heard a horse whinny somewhere beyond the glade as she threw another fireball that missed the ghost warden. Her next two also went wide into some underbrush that immediately burst into flames.

"Hold still, damn you," Chandra muttered, trying again as she heard thundering hooves approaching her on one side while oufes shrieked noisily on her other side.

The ghost warden truly seemed to fear the fire, its entire form sliding horizontally away from the flaming projectiles with only a scant moment to spare. Then it returned two beams of white light in quick succession. Chandra dodged the first one, then met the other with a deflective ball of flame.

"Oh, no, you don't!" She threw another fireball, and another, and another after that. The area surrounding the glade was a wall of flame by now, each successive explosion of fire adding to the blazing fury. The oufes were in hysterics, and Samir was shouting words she couldn't quite hear.

Still moving at a run, Chandra circled the glade to block the ghost warden's only remaining escape route. It hovered uncertainly, facing Chandra, and surrounded on all other sides by fire.

The approaching horses were now so close that Chandra could hear the jingle of their bridles directly behind her as she threw three more fireballs at the creature in quick succession. Its rapid, evasive movements managed to dodge the assaults; but the result was a bonfire that could not be avoided. Soon the ghost warden was consumed in flame.

Over the roar of the fire and the shrieking of elves, Chandra became fully aware of the rattling bridles and snorting horses behind her, as well as the sharp exclamations of male voices. She was already turning toward these sounds when she realized what Brannon was frantically screaming at her.

"Chandra! Soldiers! Behind you! Soldiers on horseback!"

There were four of them. Their horses were dancing nervously, frightened by the fire. The soldiers, all wearing boiled-leather armor over pale blue tunics, looked stunned as they gazed at her. Three of them had their swords drawn. One appeared to have entirely forgotten he was armed, and just stared at Chandra with his mouth hanging open.

She grinned as she raised her arms high, a mane of fire swirling around her head and shoulders. Flames licked across her skin, surrounding her body in a flaming aura. The torches at the end of her arms grew immense as she shouted, "Leave this forest! Never come back! Tell Walbert what you have seen! The Order is finished here!"

Since they seemed to need some encouragement, she threw a fireball over their heads. One of the horses pranced sideways, its eyes rolling with fear. Another reared up, nearly unseating its rider.

When Chandra threw a second fireball, letting this one come a little closer to hitting one of the men, they all four turned and fled. The sight of their horses galloping away made her grin with exultation.

She watched until the green woodland swallowed them up, hiding them from her view as they fled, she supposed, in the direction of the plains. She felt someone tugging at her sleeve.

"Chandra," Brannon said, his eyes wide as he looked up at her. "Samir says we should leave before the oufes strip the flesh from your bones and feed it to wolves."

"What?" Chandra frowned as she glanced over her shoulder in Samir's direction. "Oh."

Samir was holding back a mass of the woodland creatures with an undulating green net of tangled, writhing vines that he had conjured between them and the glade, Some of them were flinging themselves at the barrier, squealing as they got tangled up in it, while others were trying to climb it, in an attempt to go over the top and proceed from there.

All around them the glade burned. She had started a forest fire, one that was raging completely out of control.

"Oops."

Oufes, she knew, could be very touchy about this sort of thing.

Indeed, Samir was taking quite a risk by interceding to protect her. However, she had destroyed a ghost warden and chased away four of Walbert's armed soldiers. Hopefully, when the oufes calmed down, they'd realize that she had acted for the best.

At the moment, though...

Chandra started toward Samir, intending to help him.

He glanced in her direction, and an expression of horror contorted his face when he saw her approaching him. "Go!" he ordered. "Go now!"

Brannon grabbed her by the shirt. "Chandra..."

Samir was right, she realized. Her presence was only increasing the oufes' frenzy. She hated leaving Samir to deal with this alone, but that was the best choice available at the moment.

"All right, yes," Chandra said, grasping Brannon's hand. "Let's go. This way."

They ran across the glade together, their footsteps carrying them into a wall of fire. Knowing that no forest-dweller could follow them this way, they fled through the welcoming embrace of the flames.

*****

Excerpted from The Purifying Fire by Laura Resnick. Copyright (C) 2009 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.




 

 



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