Chapter 1: Firestone

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            Jarrod knelt down on the grass he had trampled on a few moments before, eyes scanning for the doe. The tracks had led him to this spot and it was surely nearby he calculated. Jarrod nearly jumped when he heard the crunch of leaves to the left of his hiding spot. He took aim as the doe came into his field of vision. He began to stretch the bowstring back slowly as to not alarm the deer of his presence.

            Jarrod was fifteen, short a year until manhood. His dark eyes lay under his thick brow. A hunting knife was sheathed in his leather belt and a travel pouch hung at his side. His longbow aloft parallel to the ground beneath his belly, arrow pointed towards its target.

            The deer had led him deep into the Spine, a range of uninhabited mountains that extended up and down the length of Aionaegaria. Tales are always heard relating to the mountains, usually ill bode. Despite this, Jarrod was the only hunter he knew that dared to track game anywhere near its notorious domain, but he wasn’t one to let stories stop his hunting. If he did not fell the deer, he would have to return home empty-handed. His family needed the meat for the rapidly approaching winter and could not afford buying it within the village. Their hard-earned harvest would not last them through the season alone.

            He stretched the bowstring a bit farther. A little more and our belly’s will be full for the winter. His heart pounded so loud in his chest that he was afraid the deer would notice his presence. The deer stretched its brown-covered neck upwards and pulled on a tree branch, snipping leaves with each pull. She flicked her ears in every direction as she delighted in her morning feast.

            Jarrod waited for the hunter’s “feel” to let the arrow loose. He didn’t feel right. Somehow he felt something big would happen, something that would change his life. This feeling scared him, but simultaneously he longed for it. He pushed the feeling down to the center of his being and forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand.

            He was going to let the arrow loose when a loud boom rang from his right, making him flinch. The deer’s ears perked up in fright and made a run in the opposite direction from whence it came. There was no way Jarrod would let his prey escape, so he kept his arrow aimed at its moving target. He could feel his fingers sweating where they touched the arrows length. He was losing his grip! He made an attempt to tighten his hold on the arrow, but it was too late. The arrow hissed through the air and missed its target by a hairs length with a low pock.

Jarrod stared at the arrow pinned to the ancient trunk before him. He let out a deep sigh. That was the third time this week that he missed by a blasted inch. He’d have to wait until tomorrow to pursue the small doe again. Crouching down, he plucked the arrow and slid it into the quiver hanging on his back.

He stood up and gazed around to see what had made the loud boom that thwarted his hunt. He could not see anything immediately so he walked farther towards the direction he had heard it originate. The trees were far more crowded in this direction, leaves hanging like veils of curtain in an elderly’s house. He lifted the veil and continued walking. A scent reached his nostrils. It was a smell anyone would be able to describe without a second thought. Something’s burning. I must be near the flames. He ran to the source of the smell, guided only by his nose.

He entered a low valley covered with dead leaves. The small valley lay smoldered, the pines bare of their needles. Smoke snaked its way up to the heavens. Smokey mist swept over the ground in a thick carpet, emanating around a wildfire and the blue stone in its center. Jarrod walked closer cautious of the fire around him. He didn’t want to get cut off by the flames with no escape. His aunt and uncle would probably pull his soul from the afterlife just to bicker him about doing dangerous things like this. He was sometimes surprised at how angry they could get. It was a force of habit. How could he change that? Besides, he was a natural explorer.

To his surprise the flame did not spread out any farther. It concentrated around the blue stone, surrounding it in a ring. It was the strangest thing Jarrod had ever seen. He had seen magicians perform in the village before, but this topped them all. He inched closer and stretched his hands towards the flame and quickly retracted his hands as they were swallowed by the fire. The flame that clung to his hand was pulled back into its collective in a thin fiery string. The flame had not burn his hand. Actually, there was no heat coming off it; it was cold as ice. Jarrod walked into the ring of fire wary of his being engulfed entirely by the flames as he passed through, shuddering. The ground was jet black on this side of the flame and powdery. It moved like sand under the shuffle of his work boots. He took a step towards the stone, but didn’t need to go any farther as the stone rolled towards him, stopping at his feet.

Jarrod took a closer look at the stone as he crouched down, not touching it. It was a gleaming dark blue, except for the white lines and lighter blue around it. It was smooth, smoother than any stone he had laid his eyes upon. Unconsciously, Jarrod picked up the stone before he could stop himself. It felt like a tug on his hand and there was no way he could resist. Although, he thought it was his own curiosity that led his hand. He was too entranced by the stone to argue with himself. It was cold to the touch, like marble with a thin layer of water flowing over it.

Well, at least I’m not going home empty-handed. This could be extremely valuable at the market. I’ll just have to omit the part about non-consuming flames. Jarrod slipped the stone into his travel pouch and turned for home.

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