Pragmaclast - September 2004
The Tongue of Fire - Anna Novitzky
Eagle - Alia Sheikh
Goderick - Cat Ward
(page 5/7)
Pragmaclast
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The Tongue of Fire

A spark winked in the darkness and was gone, but for the memory of its brilliance. Atar crept forwards out of the undergrowth, craning to see where it had come from. A moment later she jerked back as a torrent of flame burst towards her. She felt the heat on her face as she stumbled into a tree, cracked her head on a branch and cursed loudly. A voice out of the gloom said uncertainly, "Atar?"

Atar stood up carefully and brushed herself down. "Who else?" she said.

"What are you doing here?" the voice asked.

"I came to see you, Anton. To keep you company."

"Do not call me that. It is disrespectful. I am called Uriel, now. You are not allowed here."

"I know. How are you feeling? Nervous?"

"No. Why should I? I have been waiting for this."

Atar paused, then said, "Can we have some light, please? I want to see you."

"Of course."

The spark appeared again, caught on the torch in Uriel's hand, and turned into a flame. He carried it to the pile of wood in the centre of the clearing and set the fire. Atar stepped out of the trees and sat down next to him in the little pool of light.

Eagle by Alia Sheikh

"What were you doing?" she asked.

"Practising. Tomorrow it must be perfect."

Atar looked at him, then said quietly, "You don't have to do it."

Uriel glanced up from the smouldering twigs. "I do. I must."

"But why? I don't understand it."

"You know why. Because it is Fire's Eve. Because it will be the Solstice of the Ashes. Because it is my role."

Atar reached up and stroked the intricate tattoos on his cheek, running her fingers over the bumps and hollows of the scar tissue. "I thought you loved me."

"I do. But this is beyond that. We have said our goodbyes, Atar. We are past this now."

"Anton..."

"I am not Anton! I am Uriel! I have cast off that shell, and you know it. You attended the ceremony. I am not who I was, and you must accept that Anton is gone."

"It's not too late. We could go, now, and you would never have to see them again. We could go away, where they don't know what you were supposed to
do. Come with me."

Uriel shook his head and turned away. "You do not understand. I do not expect it of you. I was born for this. Tomorrow is my time for glory. It is what I am for."

"No it isn't! You weren't born for it, you were chosen. Because you're good. That's all. If you don't do this, you can be something else. You can have glory another way."

"No! I am Uriel! They are my people, and I am their chosen one! It is my time! For one night I will set the world ablaze. I will be the stuff of their dreams, their idol, their phoenix."

"You aren't Uriel! You aren't their Flame of God! You are Anton! In five years' time there will be another chosen one, and it won't even be another Servant of the Fire. You will be forgotten, because you will have done nothing real."

"I will not. I will be named in the Golden Halls, and I will be there forever."

"No one knows the legacies of the Halls, Anton. You will be another dusty name etched in bronze and no one will care. Except me. Why are you doing this to me?"

There was a long silence. As Atar stared at Uriel, she became aware of the distant sound of heavy, rhythmic drumming floating up the hill from the settlement. Uriel stood up and walked off into the shadows towards the sound. He stopped at the edge of the ring of light, listening. The distant fires could just be seen between the thinning trees. "Do not do this," he said over his shoulder, "You make it too hard. This is how it must be. Remember Anton well."

Atar followed him and put her hand on his arm. She kissed him on the unmarked cheek and said, "I will. But I will remember Uriel with hatred."

She turned and ran out of the copse. Uriel gazed after her for a while, then went back to the fire. He picked up his torch, relit the end, then lifted it and swallowed the flame. He spat it back out into the darkness, savouring the brilliance of the fire, the crackle of the sparks and the heat on his lips.

As the sun set on Solstice Eve and the moon rose on the Festival of the Lighted Candles, the priestess slicked thick lines of kohl under the eyes of Uriel, the Flame of the Gods. He stood up slowly, the candlelight glinting off the gold paint on his tanned skin and playing across the black webs threading his face. The priestess stood back and he turned around deliberately, admiring his reflection in the full-length mirrors that lined the walls. The priestess nodded and he went to the door. In the corridor, a priest handed him his torches, and Uriel stepped out into the firelight.

Goderick by Cat Ward

The roar of the crowd hit him like a wave. The combined heat of the mass of spectators and the bonfires brought him out in a sweat as soon as he stepped into it, and he smiled regally. He raised his arms and the noise gradually dropped away. Two priests hurried forwards and lit Uriel's torches with brands taken from the bonfires. Standing tall and proud, he looked around at his audience: at the masses jostling silently in the pit below him; at the elite of the aristocrats and the priesthood in their roped off enclosures; at the foolhardy few who had braved the wooden supports around the platforms and ziggurats in order to get the best view. There, perched on a ledge high above the dais, grim-faced among the joyful crowd, was Atar. In her plain, dark shift she stood out from the shimmering crowd like a blot of ink on a rich tapestry. Uriel felt her smouldering stare burning into him as his eyes passed over her. He looked away, lifted his chin and bowed deeply to the crowd.

With an imperial flick of his wrist, Uriel commanded the pipers to begin. They struck up the ritual air and the Dance of the Flames began.

Stepping lightly in the prescribed movements of the Dance, Uriel felt the power radiating from the bonfires on and around the platform as his Aspect came upon him. He became the Flame of God, the Solstice Phoenix, crackling with all the life and death of the turning year. The blast of raw energy surged through him, devouring the last vestiges of Anton, the person he had been, purging him of all thoughts for himself or for Atar, of everything but the rite and the dance. He flickered between the fires like a salamander, the torches in his hands whirling in intricate traceries that seared blue-green lines across the vision. The licking flames reflected brilliantly in the golden paint on his torso, turning him into a glowing spirit of the night. Again and again he swallowed the fire and spewed it from his mouth, letting it erupt in furious tongues of red and orange and white. The crowd worshipped him in silence, for this was their saviour, their deliverer, the bringer of light and life and the sun.

Uriel danced on under the wheeling stars until they began to fade and die in the lightening sky. Although the stars disappeared in the east, the fires burned on, fed by priests through the night. As the sky turned pink before him, casting long shadows between the ziggurats, the dance slowed. Streaked with sweat and tears, Uriel faced the dawn of the new year, his arms raised above his head once more. He stared up at the still-eager crowds on the stone steps and the wooden pillars, and smiled a beatific smile of consummation and fulfilment. Then, taking a deep breath, he ran to the end of the platform and launched himself into the air in a swallow dive. The first ray of sunlight of the year caught his golden skin and blazed into a star of morning as he descended into the flames.

Anna Novitzky



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