This scene is set about fifty-eight years before the events of Sorcery and Stardust. Enjoy!
Tall, stately trunks bore silent witness as he paced, steps brisk with a restlessness that could no longer be denied. All morning he’d fought it off, managing by some gods-given miracle to get his younger sisters on track for the day and complete his chores without either of his parents noticing. Though, truth be told, with harvest eve approaching he could’ve stripped naked, rolled in honey and feathers and leapt from the roof making bird noises and his parents wouldn’t have noticed.
Clenching his fists until he felt the blunt bite of nails, he took his billionth deep breath of the day. It wasn’t his parents’ fault – they were nature sorcerers. Deeply attuned to the environment around them, they gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘free spirited.’ Just this morning, he’d had to remind his father that underwear did not, in fact, go on his head, and the place he’d put his single sock was not appropriate for the teenage eyes of his youngest daughter.
His father had laughed, the deep bellied sound so full of life it’d drawn his mother from the meditative trance she’d assumed to commune with her flowerpots. The love the two shared was all consuming, vibrant and raw – and embarrassing, particularly when his mother leapt to correct his father’s wardrobe issues. It’d been all he could do to ferry them out into the greenhouse before they did something that would scar his sisters for life.
Nature sorcerers. Ugh.
“Tak? Are you out here?”
He stiffened at the lilting sound of his middle sister’s voice. Gods but he hated his bloody name, couldn’t wait to change it – because really, what sort of people named their children by putting alphabet tiles in a cup, shaking it, and then cobbling together whatever landed face up to create an abominable approximation of a word?
Nature sorcerers, that’s who. Nature sorcerers who thought that Veritax, Lurien and Ellynaeven were perfectly respectable atrocities to label your biological offspring with. The only saving grace was that he’d managed to convince them that Tak, Lu and Elly were passable pet names – when they looked up from their seedlings long enough to remember they existed, of course.
“Over here, Lu.” Because, whether he felt up to it or not, he had a responsibility to care for his younger sisters when his parents, despite their endless love and determination, couldn’t. Tak had been wiping his sisters’ asses, getting them dressed, braiding their hair and kissing their scrapes for as long as he could remember. He didn’t resent it, loved them more than life itself; but there were days, like today, he’d have liked to be a normal seventeen-year old male enjoying a perfectly reasonable bout of hormones.
Lurien came skipping into his line of sight, skin flushed and creamy curls escaping the bright blue ribbon she’d tied them back with. At three years his junior, she was bubbly, sweet and drop dead gorgeous, even with puberty making her limbs more than a little gangly. She danced through the trees to grab both Tak’s biceps, lean in and plant a smacking kiss to one cheek.
“What are you doing all the way out here?” Lu asked, her creamy coloured eyes full of laughter. “I thought I’d have to send out a search party.”
Tak stared into her precious face and wondered, not for the first time, what school of magic she’d imprint. All sorcerers, before they imprinted at around the age of eighteen, were considered blanks – pale skin, pale hair, pale eyes. Once their bodies had matured enough to meld with the elemental magic that was the cornerstone of their people, their hair, eyes and skin would change to reflect the element with which they were one.
“I needed some space,” Tak admitted – because unlike the serious Elly, who was eight years his junior, he hid nothing from Lu. “I feel a bit off.”
Lurien looked him over, taking in his less than average height, nondescript build and uselessly tousled hair. “You look fine, but you feel hot.”
She tightened her hands on the bared skin of his arms. “Like a fever.”
“I’ve been doing speedy laps of this clearing for the past hour, sis. It’s probably that.”
The theory sounded reasonable, but they both knew it was a lie. He’d been feeling a steady build in internal pressure for near-on a week, and his temperature had been ratcheting up in response.
Lurien bit her lip. “I don’t like this. We should see a healer.”
“I’m fine.” Sliding her hands from his arms, he squeezed her fingers. “It’s nothing.”
Lu narrowed her eyes. “Promise?”
Tak opened his mouth to reply, but the words were stolen by a sudden rush of heat that sent him to his knees. His gut clenched and his vision narrowed to the hands he’d inadvertently clenched around his sister’s. She was talking, bending until they were eye to eye, but all he could hear was the blood pounding in his ears.
“Get back,” he gasped, releasing Lurien through sheer force of will.
“Back!” Tak shouted, the words ending on a scream. Agony wracked his body and he dropped to all fours, fingers digging into the forest floor. Steam began to leak from his very pores, as though he were a kettle on the stove that had been left to sit too long.
Too early, he thought. It’s happening too early.
Almost a year too early – but there was no denying the way his blood turned to lava in his veins, the heat invading his bones until it seemed they would shatter. Through it all, the pressure in his chest built and built, until the terrible weight threatened to crush him. Tak had a single second to register his sister’s horrified expression, to note with relief she’d backed to the opposite side of the clearing, then the bomb inside him detonated.
Fire shot through his veins, unmaking that which he’d always been and building something new, something other. It was rapture and agony and all things in between, a maelstrom of elemental fury that was, in that instant, everything. Just as quickly it was gone, and he fell flat on his face in the dirt.
With a rumbling groan, he got his hands underneath him and pushed to his knees. The clearing was black, the closest trees no more than smoking stumps. For a moment panic stopped his heart, then Lurien peeked out from behind one of the thicker trunks.
“Fire,” she whispered, cream eyes wide as she looked him over. “You imprinted fire.”
He couldn’t help it; he grinned. “Told you.”
Lurien rushed to his side, mapping soot-streaked limbs with her much paler hands. “You’re too young.”
“Your hair is orange!” She gripped his face, fingers digging into his jaw as she turned his head back and forth. “Your skin is like, like… gods above, I don’t know. Brown? Bronze. Like perfectly baked cake, or cookies.”
“Burnt toffee. No, carnelian. And you’re so warm.” Lurien shook her head. “This is amazing, Tak.”
“Not Tak. Not any more.” Grinning wide, he leant forward until their foreheads touched. “Flare. My name is Flare.”