The Druid and the Igniad Ch. 01

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August Ames

Lu let one of the fire ferns lick through her thick hair of black smoke. Its tendrils drew in nutrients then receded into its tube-shell, which was attached to the rock walls rising over the magma pool. She plucked a lava guava from a silver-leafed, basalt-barked tree, and sucked on its glowing nectar. The fire sprites danced and skipped into her garden from the magma flow, as they were wont to do on a whim. Lu giggled as they skittered over her bare body of supple obsidian. They darted up into her hair and frazzled it mischievously.

Her eyes flared, violet as burning potassium salts, and with a nettled huff, she conjured a spray of flames from her hands, whisking away both the fire sprites and her hair of smoke, leaving herself a short-crop. The sprites chittered away back down the lava tube.

Lu was sad to see them go. She didn’t get company very often at the top of her mountain, and sometimes it was bad company, like the grebbers who braved the climb up the mountain to break off the purple branches of the mountain’s crystal trees. The shards of a crystal tree were very receptive to magical energies, and were coveted by wizards for enchantment.

Lu hated wizards. Even though she had never met one, she was affronted by the idea that they would seek to use her trees for their own selfish purposes without bothering to ask the tree for permission, or to listen to the song of her trees and truly appreciate them.

The grove of crystal trees was why she even existed. When the scintillating seed of the first tree rose up through the newly formed magma tube and took root in the fresh cracks of the cooling rock, her mother, Gaia, the earth goddess, gave birth to her out of a crystalline flower that grew from the onyx-dark wall. She awoke as the flower bloomed in fire, her first sensation being the gentle caress of flaming pedals.

She was born fully-formed, naive but immortal; a corporeal spirit, a conduit of magic and possessing of beauty befitting the daughter of a goddess. She had flesh, miraculous of substance and brimming with natural magic. Her bones were made of diamond, and her organs an alchemical orchestra of mineral biology and etheric energies. She even sweat out of pores in her skin, a fire-proof oil that gave a lustrous sheen to her body. She was what was known in the lore as an igniad, a cousin of both the dryad and the nymph.

She knew her mother wished for her to protect the crystal trees, otherwise mortals would surely greedily harvest every last one. Crystal forests took a very long time to grow, and only a mature forest could spawn seeds from the tap root that grew deep down through the mantle of the world to the magma sea.

She loved to listen to the quiet song of the trees as they sung to one another, a melody so fast and complex, it almost sounded to the inattentive ear like one long note. Sometimes, the trees would sing with her, and slowed their notes so they could harmonize with her.

She protected her grove fiercely. When the grebbers came, the trees would cry out to her, and she charged down the slope of the mountain, her bounding strides sowing steam as the snow melted in her wake. The mortals, usually human males, ran in fear of her fiery approach. She would conjure a fan of flames to frighten them and would singe their clothes if she got close enough.

One time, there was a knight who came to defeat the “demon” that resided at the top of the volcano. Luckily, he challenged her verbally instead of attacking her outright, and she found she could communicate with him empathically, like she could with the trees. He felt her anger, the anger that came from her assumption that he was there to break her crystal trees, to cause them pain.

He was mesmerized by her lithe form alight with fiery splendor. Her feelings influenced him. He decided that she was not a demon, for how could a demon feel compassion for trees that were, he realized, so beautiful? He talked to her, though he dared not come too close. After a while, Lu could speak as he did, his language coming naturally to her through her empathic link.

Although she had just met him, she took a liking to him, and began to appreciate the things about him that were beautiful, especially his youth and strength that would be gone all too fleetingly in his short lifespan. She wished he could have stayed longer, but her mountain was not hospitable to humans.

Nor was she.

Once word got out that there was an igniad residing on the mountain, she occasionally got visits from greedy and sinister mortals come to kill her, hoping to chisel her diamond bones from her cold corpse and become fabulously wealthy selling them. She had to kill them. They often tried to hurt her trees to draw her into a trap. Her vengeance was swift and overwhelming, leaving charred husks in blackened armor. Mortals would leave her alone for a while after each attempt on her life, but much to her frustration, she needed to refresh her reputation every once in a while.

Years Maltepe Escort passed, and she nurtured her grove and her garden, dancing with the sprites and singing with the trees. She would give herself completely to the joy of music, even when she felt lonely and sang sweet songs of sadness that resonated through the whole grove.

One day she was bathing in her magma pool, gently giving herself some affection as her fingers circled her nipples poking up into the hot, wavering air, her breasts like islands in the yellow-hot liquid. The lava was dense as stone, and within it her body was particularly buoyant.

Lu had just begun her bath, but wouldn’t take long. Even though her body was steeped in the elemental magic of fire itself, the lava became uncomfortably hot if she lingered in it too long. Her body did not absorb the heat of the molten rock, but reflected it with her magical link to the essence of fire. She wore a crystal cup perfectly fitted for that most sensitive place between her legs, to protect it. She had asked the trees to grow it for her, enchanted to hold its place against her without any other means of being secured. Its gentle, constant pressure was comforting.

As well, the crystal cup helped absorb magical energy that flowed out of her womb once every dark moon. It was a painful shedding, and the trees lovingly made the cup to help ease the suffering of their protector. It flared elegantly just above her pubic mound, reminiscent of a flower. The entirety of the crystal always seeped a gentle, electric purple light, reacting with the energy of her body, but it flared blood red during the shedding. She was between cycles that day; the dark moon was not for a fortnight, and she knew a full moon would rise into the sky as soon as evening came.

She heard a change in the song of the crystal trees, a tune she had never heard them make before. They were announcing an arrival, though the song was devoid of fear. The trees always felt trepidation with visitors, but this time they were calm and joyful. She was overcome with curiosity.

She rose up, rivulets of liquid stone sheeting off the curves of her sculpted form. She bounded up out of the shelter of her crater and stood tall on an outcropping of obsidian. Gazing down over the canopy of her grove that hugged the top of the mountain, she saw a figure filtered through the fractal branches, moving between the crystal trunks.

Suddenly she brimmed with hope. Perhaps it was her friend, the knight who spoke to her so long ago. But the spark of hope in her dimmed, for surely the man had died of old age, if not from battle. She wondered who else would come alone to her snowy, wind-swept mountain, and not try to take branches from the trees at the edge of the grove? If the mortal had come to kill her, she thought, it was a fool to try alone. Then fear and anger flared in her heart at the thought that it could be a wizard.

The trees did not seem to think the stranger was a threat, however, and she trusted their intuition. She slid her hands over her body, smearing flames where she touched. She wrapped herself in a fitting dress of blood-red fire, which helped keep the cold wind off her bare skin.

She waited, listening to the whispering notes of the trees and watching the figure make his way up to the top of the forest, close to her crater near the peak. She could see he was a man by his dark brown beard under his hood. He wore no armor, only some leather and furs, and was not bundled against the frigid air like others she had seen. He carried only a waterskin from his hip and a straight staff in his hand.

He reached out and touched the oldest crystal tree, its faintly luminescent trunk supporting a kaleidoscope of branches. Her breath caught, for she feared he might harm the tree, but was taken aback when he seemed to commune with it, speaking to it. She had never seen anyone else talk to her trees. She was touched, and felt her heart warming for the stranger.

She skipped from crag to crag, then touched down in the snow, sinking down into it as it melted instantly at her touch, down to the rock, producing steam at her feet. She sauntered forward with her smoke hair billowing silently in the breeze. The man noticed her approach, but did not seem alarmed. He spat out something he had been chewing, leaned his staff against the crystal trunk, and bowed to her.

“Why have you come to my grove, human?” She asked. She tried to extend an empathic link to him, but could not, as if he was somehow protected against her charms, and she feared once more that he was a wizard.

He was indeed warded against an empathic link. The charms of nymphs and their like were not unknown to him, and he was not about to let his guard down. He knew that though well-intentioned, the nymphs were often careless with the hearts of mortals, as one had been with his in the past. He had never met an igniad before, but he had heard that they were powerful Cevizli Escort and temperamental.

He marveled at the statuesque woman that greeted him. Her ebony skin contrasted the snowy mountainside with a luster the likes of which he had never seen. There were faint, marbled squiggles across her body like natural tattoos of topographical lines. He wondered if her skin was real obsidian or merely mimicked its appearance. Flames licked up over her body from her knees to the swell of her breasts, the fire glowing with a hard light that drowned out his view of everything in between. The flames fitted to her form, however, allowing him to make out her waist, hip flare, and wide pelvis, rightly, he thought, embodying an archetype of feminine beauty.

“It is an honor to meet the protector of this crystal forest,” he said. “My name is Gern. I have traveled far from my order’s grove in the glyphwood forest. I am a druid.”

Lu examined him carefully. He was lean and healthy, and exuded the quiet strength and confidence of maturity. His beard was short and his mane long and wavy. His eyes were green, complementing a kilt of dark green leather scales shaped like leaves. His shoulders hosted a mantle of fur, though his chest was bare under it, showing his spiraling blue tattoos.

“That does not answer my question,” she said impatiently.

“I have spent this moon meditating on fire, as I spent the past moon meditating on water, and air the moon before that, and stone before that. Tonight the moon is full, and I have come to this sacred place to commune with the fire of the earth, and receive its blessing.”

“Why?” She asked, curious to know what would motivate a mortal to seek such.

“I am to become the leader of my grove. This is the way of my order; I must attune myself to the energies of Nature if I am to be a greater servant to Balance.”

“You are…interesting,” she mused. “I have never met your like. In truth, I am relieved that you are not here to harm me or my home.”

“I would be incapable of doing harm to such tremendous beauty,” he said sincerely.

Without an empathic link, she wasn’t sure if he meant her trees or herself, but both notions moved her, and she blushed.

“I do not know how you will fulfill your quest, Gern,” she said, “for if you tried to approach the fire of the earth in my crater, you would surely die.”

“I can ward myself from specific elements, and fire is my speciality. Even so, I have come here to ask your help. Tell me, what is your name?”

“My name? I am Lu. I named myself after the sound of my trees. How do you think I can help you?”

“It is said that your kind can protect from fire as well as harm with it. I humbly ask that you grant me this blessing, so that I can know fire more intimately.”

“I do not know how to protect you.” She shook her head. “I have never tried that.”

“Please, will you try? I know the risk. Take me to your crater, and if the heat is too much for me, I will simply meditate as close as I can.”

“Very well, Gern,” she said, her curiosity growing. “Follow me.”

The human had a slower time of climbing than Lu. She leapt up to the ledge ahead of him and turned, asking: “What is a druid?”

“You have never heard of a druid?” He queried back, his voice strained from the arduous climb.

“I have not.”

“We keep the Balance of things. Like a gardener, except the world is the garden we tend. We are servants of Gaia.”

“You are a servant of my mother?” She blinked.

He looked to her, then smiled and gave a nod.

“I also serve my mother,” she said, “in my way. You and I have something in common.” She beamed a brilliant smile of white calcite, fracturing bits of light into colors. Seeing it brought a smile to Gern, and he climbed on.

“A druid can be many things,” he continued, “and each one is different. We are teachers, advisors, poets, diviners, mediators, and alchemists.”

“Which are you?” She bounded up to the next ledge above him.

“I am not an alchemist, exactly, but I started my focus of study in metallurgy, since as a boy I worked in a village smithy.”

“What is metal-lurgy?” She crouched down and hugged her flame-wrapped knees, sheltering herself from the chill wind, which threatened to blow out her dress.

“It’s about making things out of the minerals of the earth, and the means to mix them together to make something new. We can make metals stronger and extend its life against rust or wear. It is a sacred art of skill, knowledge, and discovery.”

“What sort of things do you like to make?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Swords?”

Gern reached her ledge, and he paused to take a breath.

“No,” he said, meeting her gaze. “There are others who make weapons, and it is important for the defense of our tribe. But I prefer to cast cauldrons.”

“Cauldrons? What are those?”

“They are big bowls of iron,” he chuckled at her innocence, making a dished shape Atalar Escort with his hands. “Just as the sword represents the mind and spirit, so does the cauldron represent the qualities of heart and soul. In them we brew magical elixirs.”

“What are those?” She asked with unabated curiosity.

“Things we drink,” he motioned with his hand as if quaffing a potion. “Oils of primrose and vervain, special extracts of plants to journey into our own minds, salves to sooth the spirit, or to awaken vitality in our bodies.”

“Hm, need help with vitality, do you?” She stood with a playful smirk then bounded away.

“I don’t — it’s not that I…it’s got nothing to do with ‘need’!” He called after her, then grunted in exasperation and continued his climb.

Lu waited impatiently at the edge of her crater, watching Gern’s powerful legs propel him up the steep slope, and his arms hoist him over ledges. She found him handsome, and his politeness was charming. She lamented that she could never touch him without burning him.

Lu could control her innate power if she concentrated, but holding that concentration was difficult to maintain, and no matter how much she tried, she could never touch snow without melting it. The more passionate her heart, the more potent her magical discharge of heat, and knowing this saddened her since it meant she could never truly know intimacy with a mortal. She imagined how wonderful it would be to be able to embrace a man. She did not want to hurt this one.

Gern reached the edge of the crater, and he stood beside her. She could reach out and touch him, if she wanted to. There was sweat on his brow, and she wondered if the heat of the volcano was getting to him, though it may have been from the arduous climb. He took a long draft from his water-skin. The heat from her magma pool wafted over him, but he did not seem uncomfortable. He gazed down at the orange glow and threw off his mantle. He took off his soft-soled leather boots, then undid his belt.

“What are you doing?” She asked.

“It’s quite warm,” he replied with a smile. “I wouldn’t want my clothes to burn. I intend to put them back on when I leave.” He unabashedly dropped his fur-lined leather kilt. She flicked her gaze up and down. His bare body was hairy in some places, but smooth-skinned in others. He was a beautiful man-thing, she thought to herself, and hoped he would not be able to tell she was blushing.

He grasped a small leather bag hanging around his neck and uttered a long prayer under his breath, then set down the talisman on his kilt. He descended into the crater. Lu followed close behind, watching in amazement as this man subjected himself to heat that should have rendered a normal human unconscious. The hot stone should have burned his skin, and yet he walked barefoot upon it. She saw it was true: druids had special power to endure extremes of the elements.

Gern reached a ledge above her magma pool, brimming with fire ferns. He gazed in awe at the surroundings, said: “This place is spectacular.”

“Thank you, Gern. This is my garden.”

“You are a wonderful gardener, Lu. Thank you for permitting me to see this place.”

“I’ve…never shown my garden to anyone before. None have dared to come so close.”

“I feel safe here with you, Lu.” He smiled. She blushed more, speechless. No one had ever felt safe with her unless she imposed it with an empathic link. All mortals considered her dangerous and were wary of her magic. This man was a mystery to her, and she was fascinated with him. She watched as he sat cross-legged on the black ledge and began to meditate.

“Just pretend I am not here,” he said, his eyes closed. “I must make myself receptive to the spirit of this place.”

“Of course. Stay…as long as you like.” She wanted to talk more, but did not want to be rude. If he was just going to sit there with his eyes closed, she decided to go back to her bath. She dove off the ledge beside him, shedding her dress of fire on the way down and dipping sleekly into the molten rock below. She came back up quickly, tossing her head and letting the smoke of her hair loose itself, spilling over her shoulders and wafting over the rippled magma.

Slowly, she slinked through the bright, viscus fluid, letting the flowing stone wick away the oil of her smooth skin; the churning heat burning away all impurities that clung to her body. After a while, the moon rose above the glow of her garden, and she began to feel too hot. She sauntered languidly up into the shallows, brushing off droplets of lava cooling into semi-molten stone that stuck to her.

Half her form was illuminated by the red glow of the lava pool, the other half by bright moonlight that cast sharp shadows in her garden. She let the fire ferns comb through her hair, and she glanced up to the druid, fearful for a moment that he might have passed out from the heat at some point, but to her surprise, he was looking down at her. He quickly averted his gaze and closed his eyes. Why was he watching her, she wondered, and why would he look away? Was she distracting him? She wondered if he was too polite to say something, so she bounded up to his ledge and knelt beside him, skyclad except for her pelvic crystal.

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