AN ECHO OF FIRE
A Fireheart Novel
© 2023 Amber Lynn Natusch
The sky was cast in ash and fire—everything around me burned. Mother lay on the ground next to me, unmoving, her bright red wings stained with blood and soot. Even though I was only four years old, I understood that she wasn’t just sleeping. Somehow, I knew she’d never hold me again. Never tell me how much she loved me.
I stepped out into the blood-coated streets and slipped several times, trying to navigate the battlefield in little more than bare feet. I saw movement at the far end of the road; a figure cloaked in smoke and dust. But I could see wings in that silhouette, and that was all I needed. I ran as fast as my little legs could carry me, hurtling toward the unknown with reckless abandon.
Because I was afraid.
Because I was full of hope.
The air seemed to split, allowing a mountain of a male to step through, his black wings tucked into his back. Behind him were two others. The three of them fanned out to take in the carnage. They hardly even noticed my approach until I was only yards away, not slowing. I skidded to a halt just before I slammed into them and looked up at each one, smiling. Then my eyes fell on the leader, and my heart leaped in my chest.
I had seen his face a handful of times before.
My father had returned.
“Baba!” I screamed, latching onto his leg. He reached down to pull me off, and I gripped it tighter.
He said something to the others—words I was too young to understand—then slowly bent down to look at me.
“What is your name, child?” he asked, his dark eyes fixed on me. Had it been so long since I’d seen him that he had forgotten me? Then I looked down at the blood and dirt caked all over my body and I understood.
“It’s me, Baba.” I tried to wipe my face clean so he could recognize me. “Ariel…”
His brow furrowed. “Where is your mother, Ariel?”
I looked back down the road toward the remains of our home and pointed. His dark gaze followed my gesture, then he nodded.
One of the other men bent down and spoke into my father’s ear, the two of them looking me over—especially the oxblood wings tucked in tight behind my back. The ones far darker than my mother’s.
“She comes with us,” my father said, picking me up.
“She comes with us, and that is final,” he snarled at the one who had dared challenge him. The man lowered his gaze and took a step back to allow my father and me to pass. I wrapped my little arms around his neck and held on tight as he took to the air.
We flew until the sun began to rise and the mountains grew tall, until we arrived at what looked like a village, though it was far different from the one my mother and I had lived in. Warriors walked around everywhere, their black wings spread wide and bodies strapped with weapons. This was to be my new home, I thought. Baba and I would live here together forever.
He took me to a building filled with children. They ran around like wild animals, shirtless and covered in dirt and blood. They fought and played and screamed with delight and pain and everything in between. Mikroús polemistés, he called them. His little warriors. It was then that I realized I was the only girl. The only girl in a crowd of little boys destined to be mikroús polemistés. The only pair of deep red wings in a sea of black ones. I was different, that much I knew.
What that really meant, I would come to learn over time.
As soon as my father left, the others circled me like predators, moving closer with every step. One of the bolder ones reached out and tugged at my wing, stretching it to the point of pain. I cried out, and another one punched me in the face. I fell to the ground, sobbing, and they began kicking me, shouting words I didn’t understand. Names I couldn’t comprehend until I was older. I called for my father over and over again, but he never came.
Someone else did instead.
A boy, only a couple years older than I, tossed the others out of his way as though they weighed nothing. He didn’t stop until the blows quit landing and only he stood in front of me. He reached his small but mighty hand toward me, and I took it.
“My name is Hemming,” he said, a faint accent to his words—one different than my mother’s—than mine.
He looked at my wings and nodded, understanding in his pale eyes. “Welcome to Daglaar, mikros drakos.”
Then he walked away, the others parting to let him by.
From that day forward, the boys in the camp thought twice before messing with me outside of our training. Because I was Hemming’s mikros drakos—his little dragon—and whatever he was had them all running scared.
Years later, that would include me, too.
Special Preorder for Early Ebook Delivery
Preorder your copy of An Echo of Fire directly
from my website with early delivery on August 31st!
Preorder From Me Now
Coming to Major Retailers September 14, 2023
Check out the the extras you get when you back the project!