Jaws of Fire

Mexii was so tired she could barely walk. It was night-time, and the moon was in, so she couldn't even morph to her silhouette-form and travel on the coat of one of the centaurs.

Mexii kept herself to herself on the long marches, as was her wont. After years of persecution, neglect and loneliness she was used to her own company, not the company of over a dozen centaurs marching towards certain death. Mune and Juliexus had attempted to talk to her, and the centaurs from the other clan seemed wary of her. Mexii was so used to weird stares and avoidance that she was more frightened of Juliexus and Mune's attempts to talk to her.

The plain was unforgiving. Baking hot by day, and icily cold by night. There was rarely an overcast day, and when the clouds had come over today the humidity had soared - most of the company was drenched in sweat.

At last the Birch Bark clan chief, Logon, called a halt. With sighs of relief his men and the Trinity came to a halt, beginning to unpack the camp.

Once the fire had been lit, Mune and Juliexus beckoned to Mexii, now completely invisible unless she was stood in front of the fire.

"Mex," said Mune quietly. "We need to talk."

"What about?" said Mexii.

"Herothi," said Juliexus. "He's coming."

"How do you -" began Mexii, but then saw the amulet around Juliexus' neck. It was glowing brightly

"This amulet shines when its powers are activated," said Juliexus. "Herothi must be close."

"Must I fight him?" said Mexii, frowning.

"You are the only one who can fight him," said Mune. "We know scarce amounts of sorcery, but they will be no use unless we combine our power."

"What do you plan on doing?"

"We will use you as a beacon to summon all the Shadows in the land. We will only prevail with their support."

"Can we best him?"

"Not until we can cut him off at the source of his power. It resides at the top of the Tafta Tower, and we have no hope of approaching any closer unless we can resis -"

But her words were cut short. Herothi emerged at that moment, congealing from the curling smoke from the fire, his Shadow-essence fringed with red, his eyes burning from within.

"What has happened to him?" gasped Mexii, staring at the red ribbons of essence undulating around him.

"He has grown powerful," said Mune,

Herothi's mouth opened to reveal a throat of gorging flames, siphoned from the ground twenty feet below. He began to dive, his essence streaming behind him -

- to meet the full force of Juliexus' amulet, spraying light into the inky blackness like a beacon. As if the demon's eyes were burned from the brightness, he veered to the side.

Mexii had advanced, her eyes gleaming in the light from the fire. As Herothi dived again, she reached up and seized his smoke-horns, turning them away from the nearest centaur's chest. The centaurs sent swarms of arrows peppering the demon, but they made no change to the cycling globule of blackness. Herothi snapped at Mexii, but she held him at arms' length, dragging him away from the fire.

Mune uttered a few weak curses and sent them spinning in Herothi's direction, but they did no more than aggravate him. Juliexus' amulet was fading as the fire flared and Mexii kicked Herothi away as if he was solid -

- and then the fire was extinguished. The only thing audible on the vast plain was the faint crackle of exploding sap in the glowing firewood before them.

Mexii came staggering into the camp, half-exhaused from the battle. But by the light of the fire, Mune and Juliexus saw a gleaming smile on her shadowed face.

"What is it?" said Mune.

"I am fulfilling a purpose," said Mexii. "I feel my essence strengthen every day. By the time we battle Herothi for the final time, I will be human again."

Then her face fell as she remembered something else.

"I have one regret ... to return to my human state I must cast down Herothi. Force him back to the Underworld. And he told me ... he was my father ... he is the father of all Shadows."

The End

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