Just a little bit, just a little, please, just a tiny spark, it's all I need, please let it work just this one time...
A desperate litany marched through Kai's head as he focussed on the candle. A drop of sweat trickled down his nose, hung on the tip for a second, made a wild leap for his upper lip, only to be licked away by a tongue as dry as tinder. Every particle of the young man's being was focussed on this last task, this make-or-break event in his life; if he could finally tame the raging inferno that leapt and danced inside him, he would be worthy of the highest honour his community could bestow.
But if he failed, he might as well be dead.
Just one tiny spark...
The candle wick burst into flame. For a wild second, Kai believed he'd finally done it-and that one moment of triumph was enough to turn victory into defeat.
The tight rein of control Kai held relaxed and the fire took immediate advantage, leaping skywards to hungrily devour its candle, and the ones next to it, and then the whole circle in a roaring untameable conflagration. The flameweavers behind the candles yelled in shock and scrambled to escape and Master Tharyn, taken by surprise, stumbled backwards with his hair flaming. He soon extinguished it, but by then the main blaze had taken firm hold on the wooden candle holders and the grass on which they stood and was rushing with greedy speed towards the village. Forgetting his apprentice in the immediate threat of incineration, the Master joined his flameweavers in a desperate battle to crush the blaze before any real damage could be done.
Kai, meanwhile, stood in his own silent territory of utter shock and pure horror. He didn't notice the fact that he was standing on the only patch of untouched grass in the whole area, or the way the flames formed a perfect circle around him, leaping and bowing in what seemed to be some sort of strange reverence. He only knew that, once again, he had failed, and that had been his very last chance. He would be dowsed. Lose the touch of the flame, forever.
And, at the same instance reality returned with a vengeance and he felt the fierce heat on his face and his lungs filled with the thick, choking smoke, he knew that he couldn't let it happen. He would be dead within the week, from sheer despair. Defiance welled up, and he turned his head to look for an escape route.
Only then did he finally notice that he was entirely surrounded by flames.
For an instant he panicked; primeval instincts that still remembered a time when fire was pure danger threatened to swamp him with ancient terror. But rationality swiftly reasserted itself, and reminded him of what he was.
Fireweaver, weave the fire...
Summoning up every scrap, every drop of the talent he knew he possessed, Kai walked forwards and stepped through the flames. Warmth carressed his body for an instant, threatening to become burning heat, but then he was through, back into the cool air of the early evening.
Now that was talent, he thought, pride welling up. Only the Masters can do that...
The moment of pride was fleeting, soon overcome by shame as he saw the shapes of the other fireweavers, silhouetted against the angry orange-red inferno that his 'tiny spark' had become. Despite their best efforts, some of the outlying houses were already burning.
Danger, Kai thought. I'm dangerous. Perhaps it's better if I am...dowsed...
The very idea made his soul shrivel. No matter how much he rationalised it, he simply couldn't face giving himself up to have part of his life cut off, leaving him cold. He hated the cold. All fireweavers did.
No. He'd leave instead. They'd never have to worry about him again.
Without giving himself any more time to think, he began to run.