Chapter 17
The Firegiver's Revenge

Monteverde, Arma

"Great men are supposed to find fulfillment in their works, but what happens when their efforts go unnoticed? Even worse, what happens when they see the praise for those works die out in their own lifetime? When you suffer for someone and are forgotten, anger seems to be the only emotion, revenge the only option. Men who are truly great live in spite of their works, not because of them."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

It was a three-day walk from Scotia to Monteverde. Once it came into view, Mark realized that the name was rather ironic. Besides some fringes of vegetation near the base of the mountains, it was like a massive grey wall that stretched out for miles on end.
Had the miners' camp in Gladius been allowed to develop into a full-fledged town, it would probably resemble Monteverde. It was not particularly big, probably supporting only two or three hundred people, nor was it built up like the mining community in Eagle. Monteverde exported its ore in raw form and as a result, it had no need for extra facilities to process and refine the fruits of their labor.
Because the town was so small, there was no garrison or guards roaming around to give them any trouble. That meant they could move around unimpeded and settle things all the sooner. Since the magistrate had come on official business, the town hall was the most likely place to find him and the best starting point for their search.
Because citizens were welcome to watch the deliberations of local politics, the group freely entered the town hall. Mark recognized the magistrate from before, and his clothes easily set him apart as a member of Porto Sul's gentry. The magistrate appeared visibly irritated at being ignored while the mayor's attention was devoted to a conversation with other officials. In order to get a better grasp of the situation, the group sat down and listened in on the discussion.
Unfortunately, listening to the conversation did not avail them much. They were speaking in Portical, and while they might know Bannish and Imperial, they had no need of it while talking amongst themselves.
The situation was not entirely hopeless. Besides the lessons Felix had given him, Mark had been studying Portical ever since the group arrived in Scotia for the first time. The language was closely related to Imperial, which made it easier for him to learn. Thanks to his natural talent with languages and dogged studies, he had gotten to the point where he could make out most of what was being said.
"We've received no word from the third hunting party," one of the officials said. "I think it's safe to assume they met the same fate as the last two."
"The bosses can't get the miners to work," another complained. "If we don't do something about this problem soon, we'll lose all our business."
Holding his forehead in exasperation, the mayor grumbled under his breath.
"Our own people have failed," he said. "Three teams of bounty hunters have failed. What about using some of the swordsmen from Scotia?"
"No word, sir," a third official replied. "There are rumors that Princess Regan was kidnapped. King Breandan would obviously put that as his first priority."
The mayor grumbled some more and buried his face in his hands. Glancing through his fingers, he noticed the group in the back of the room and looked up to address them.
"You there! Who are you? I've never seen you around here before."
Mark replied in stumbling and no doubt atrociously pronounced Portical, "We, we've come to speak with the magistrate from Porto Sul. I hope we're not intruding."
Looking somewhat disappointed, the mayor waved his hand dismissively.
"If you have business with him, have at it. I won't be getting to him for a while."
The comment obviously unsettled the magistrate. His expression was quite unpleasant when the group walked up to him.
"What do you want?" he asked in annoyance.
Mark pulled out Felix's contract and the charter from King Breandan. He started by handing the contract to the magistrate.
"I hope you remember me," Mark said, switching to the more comfortable Imperial. "Six weeks ago, my associate and I made an agreement with you in exchange for a waiver to charter a ship." He placed the charter on the table. "We've obtained a charter of our own. It's for a ship of the Scotian fleet, complete with the seal of King Breandan himself. He said we needed to talk to you first."
Ignoring the contract entirely, the magistrate pulled out a reading lens and examined the Scotian charter.
"It certainly seems to be authentic," he said, glancing back at Mark, "and you do not look like the type who could make a forgery this convincing. It must be legitimate then. Give me a moment and I will prepare my seal."
While the magistrate dug through a bag held up by an assistant, one of the officials leaned over to the mayor.
"Did you hear that?" he whispered. "A charter for a Scotian ship. King Breandan doesn't give those to just anybody. These could be the people behind all those rumors floating around, like the ice beast in the North."
Once he had processed what he had been told, the mayor's eyes narrowed and his whiskers bristled as a sly grin crossed his lips. He stood up, placing his hands on his hips to appear authoritative. Noticing how Mark was conversing with the magistrate in Imperial, he also switched to make sure the point got across.
"Before you can get the magistrate's seal," he declared, "you must go to the mountains and slay the creature that is attacking my miners."
"You cannot put conditions on my work, Don Fernan," the magistrate protested. "If you want to entice these people to do your dirty work, you can offer your own reward."
"You have a lot of competition for your position, Magistrate," the mayor said extortively. "It would not look good for you if I filed a complaint about your behavior. I would hate to for the Viceroy to lose his confidence in you and find someone else for the job."
The threat was enough to silence the magistrate. He handed the bag back to his assistant and folded his hands.
"You heard the man," the magistrates said coldly.
Mark had to play the interpreter and relay what had just happened. His companions were less than pleased at what they heard, especially Edward.
"Ridiculous!" the Prince shouted. "I've had enough of this nonsense! Mark, if you have any sense, you'd let us go down to Porto Sul and take a ship once and for all. What have we got to lose? It's not like we have any plans to return here."
Although none of the Armans could understand what Edward was saying, the anger of such a burly, well-armed man needed no translation. The apparent discontent on the faces of all the other well-armed people was not lost on them either. The mayor knew he was in trouble and had to act quickly to salvage his plan.
"N-now w-wait a minute," he stuttered. "S-surely I could offer additional compensation."
Likewise, though the Prince did not know what the mayor was saying, he could tell it was an attempt to talk the group into following along.
"I won't hear of it!" Edward bellowed imperiously.
"Faciemus," Mark said.
His companions were able to tell by his tone and demeanor that he had agreed to the terms.
"Damn you!" Edward screamed, terribly frustrated at his will being subverted once again.
"Look," Mark said sternly, "even if I let you commandeer a ship, none of us are sailors. We'd never be able to get back to Gladius on our own and we can't hire a crew without clearance from the magistrate. You may be prepared to steal, but are you prepared to kidnap, too?" This left Edward at a momentary loss for words, and Mark pressed his advantage. "They've given us a perfect opportunity to get what we need. One more task and we'll be on our way home. Even I have my limits and this is it, okay?"
Believing Edward to be pacified for the time being, the swordsman then looked to the magistrate. "We've been to every corner of this land just so we can get a ship to go home. We lost a good man because of your nonsense and it's a miracle we didn't lose more. We'll do this one last task and in exchange you're going to give us an able-bodied crew that can take us back to Gladius and all the provisions we'll need for the journey. And now, this is my warning to you: If you try to put any more conditions on us, I won't stop this large, angry man from rampaging through your docks. I'm sure you don't want that."
It was not in Mark's nature to resort to intimidation. Part of it was a simple psychological ploy, but he had in fact reached his limit. With the unending parade of one thing after another, he was actually beginning to understand how Edward must have felt from the very beginning.
It was rather clear that the magistrate saw the damage caused by a man like Edward could be every bit as ruinous to his career as the mayor's threat to undermine him. Facing imminent defeat from all angles, he nodded in meek acquiescence.
"If you do this, I will grant you everything you ask for," he said. He eyed Edward fearfully. "Please, do not let the big one cause trouble."
The Prince growled at being treated like a wild animal, but made no further outbursts. With that settled, the mayor's advisors provided Mark with all the information they had regarding the recent problems. Production was falling in the mountains closest to the village, but if the miners mover further out, most of the facilities would follow, spelling the end for Monteverde. To prevent this, the mayor passed an ordinance requiring all the veins in the existing mines be totally exhausted before the mines could be abandoned.
In spite of the danger, the miners were being pushed to excavate further and further into the volcanic depths. About a month ago, the first signs of trouble appeared. What seemed to be scattered accidents quickly spiraled into full-fledged attacks on whole teams. Survivors described a walking flame in the shape of a man. As with the Ice Golem, it sounded like another throwback from the Great War.
The officials dispatched several teams of volunteers to slay this walking flame and only a few escaped to tell the tale. They then looked to outsiders, offering a generous bounty to anyone who could succeed where the locals had failed. Three groups of bounty hunters took up the offer one after another, but none of them returned. Now it was Mark's turn to try his luck.
While the group was being led to the mines, Mark explained the situation to the others. Ignatiy was the exception to the rule, fascinated by the idea of a walking flame, practically drooling at the prospect of seeing it firsthand. As for the others, they did not like what they heard, and were not likely to be much happier when he told them his strategy.
"It'll be too dangerous in there for anyone not protected by magic," Mark said. "Only Sonia, Ignatiy, Stefan, and I will be going. The rest of you will wait here. If we aren't back in two days, assume the worst has happened and do what you can to get back to Gladius on your own."
"I can't believe this," Edward growled. "You volunteer for this fool's errand and you're going to leave me behind!?"
"You stupid drunkard," Sonia jeered, "don't you know anything? Inside a volcano, that armor of yours would get so hot that it'd turn you into roast. There's no way you'd survive."
"And how do we know you'll survive?" the Prince retorted. "If we lose the only people who can wield magic, how are we supposed to fight Randwulf and the warlock? It's not worth it."
"It has to be done," Mark insisted. "The alternative would make us just as bad as our enemies."
"It's madness," Stefan grumbled. "You're a madman and fool, but if you're going to have any chance of surviving this, you're going to need my Water Pendant." At first, Mark almost entertained the notion that Stefan was coming around, but then he added, "There's no point in letting you get yourself killed here when you can at least take a few Gladian pigs when you die over there."
It was disheartening to see that both Edward's intransigence and Stefan's hostility had not let up in the slightest. Still, there were no strong challenges to Mark's plan, so they went ahead with their preparations. They left as much gear behind as possible. In particular, Mark had Ignatiy part with his bomb sack, lest the contents detonate from the heat of the volcano. Once they were ready, a boss of the mines led the way into the primary shaft.
They traveled about an hour before they reached a particular branch of the tunnel. The secondary shaft from that point crossed a vent that led directly to the volcano's core. After giving the four warriors directions, the boss took his leave of them and hastily made his way back to the surface. Absently, Mark wondered if the boss was the same man who gave the fatal instructions to the groups that had went before them.
Without the boss's torch to light their way, Ignatiy conjured a small flame to travel before the group. Although it had been warm ever since they entered the mountain, they did not truly feel the heat of the volcano until they were well into the vent. Before the temperature became unbearable, Sonia raised a barrier to protect them, insisting that Stefan save his strength for the fight against the monster.
They reached an open chamber with jagged walls jutting out in layer upon layer of uneven cliffs. The chamber glowed a dull orange from the pool of molten rock dozens of fathoms below. Even with the magical shield, the hot, sulfurous air made breathing nearly impossible. If they were going to meet the flame creature anywhere, this would be the place.
They moved forward cautiously. The footing was hardly favorable and it was a long fall for anyone who slipped. Sonia and Stefan were sure-footed enough that there was little worry, even with the occasional rumbling of the mountain, but Ignatiy was a different story. Mark kept the firebug close to him. Not only was Ignatiy an ungainly sort to begin with, but his fascination with the magma below could have easily led to him going over the edge.
As they ventured out a little further, they began to find a few scattered black piles, all that was left of some unfortunate bounty hunters. Mark looked at one of the piles more closely and saw that the iron plate of the deceased's brigandine had fused to his bones. It was a powerful statement of what they were up against.
While Mark was looking at the remains, laughter began to echo throughout the chamber. A man approached them from the distance. He had the same wild, fiery red hair as Ignatiy with a beard to match, his eyes shone as two bright red burning suns, and his limbs were like pillars of unquenchable flame. His chest was bare, drawing attention to the charred bird skull hanging from his neck and the long scar running below the rib cage on his right side. Taking a few strides forward, he stopped about fifty paces from the group.
"Interesting," the burning man said. "You're much stronger than the other trash they've thrown at me, but you'll end up the same." He scowled. "You humans disgust me. They wanted to enslave you. I felt sorry for you wretches and gave you the power to stand up to them. When they punished me, when they chained me to that rock, did any of you try to save me? Even one? NO!"
The burning man's shout caused the whole chamber to shake. Bits of rock broke loose and tumbled down into the bubbling magma. The man started to pace in agitation, his head occasionally jerking in the group's direction.
"They probably don't even know who I am," he muttered to himself. "None of them do. After all I did for them, they've forgotten me!" His mood swinging wildly, he bared his teeth in a wicked grin. "Well, they'll learn. They'll know who I am. The day of reckoning has come." He stopped and faced the group, stretching out his arms toward them. "Now you will feel the revenge of Prometheus firsthand! Burn, wretches! Burn and suffer!"
Massive twin jets of flame shot from the burning man's arms and Sonia's barrier was barely able to withstand the attack. Prometheus only laughed at the resistance to his power.
"You're quite skilled, woman, but I gave Man fire. How can you hope to best me?"
"Ignatiy!" Mark yelled. "Boost Sonia's shield or we won't survive another attack!"
"I can't fight against Lord Prometheus!" Ignatiy protested. "This is our chance! We would only be so lucky to be consumed by his flames!"
"Dammit!" Stefan cursed. "Don't you ever grow up!?" Clutching his pendant, he looked to Mark. "This won't last too long. Tell that woman to move the shield over to my position before this spell runs out. Now cover me!"
Mark fired off a several bolts of lightning at Prometheus, all of which dissipated harmlessly around him. While this was happening, Stefan channeled energy into the pendant, wrapping his body in swirling waters. Taking advantage of Prometheus' distraction, he charged headlong at the burning man. Though clouds of steam streamed from the fighter's body as he closed the distance between himself and his opponent, the waters continued to shield him. Giving his opponent no room to maneuver, Stefan engaged Prometheus in close-quarter hand-to-hand combat. Even without a finesse even vaguely resembling Stefan's combat artistry, Prometheus proved incredibly resilient to the fighter's assault and surprisingly competent at defending himself against the barrage of swift blows.
For all his skill, Stefan could not hold out for long splitting his energy between fighting Prometheus and maintaining his shield. Mark sensed the fighter was near his limit and motioned for Sonia to charge forward. Stefan performed a springboard kick off Prometheus' chest, landing within the confines of Sonia's barrier just as his spell ran out.
Knowing his lightning spells were useless against Prometheus, Mark had already pulled out his Earth Pendant and summoned a column of rock to shoot out of the bridge and strike the reeling Prometheus in the back of the head. While Prometheus was holding his injured skull, Sonia shot a quick glare at Ignatiy.
"If you don't raise a barrier when I give the signal, we'll all die," she hissed. "If that happens, I'm going to find some way to hunt down your ghost and kill you again. You got that?"
Possibly fearing her threat even more than he revered Prometheus, Ignatiy nodded timidly. Not wasting any more time on him, Sonia turned to the others.
"Follow my lead on this one." She nodded to Stefan. "Make sure he does the same. It may be our only chance."
Mark quickly relayed Sonia's order to Stefan, who was too caught up in the thick of battle to object. All of the sudden, something flashed in Mark's mind. He could see Sonia's plan, exactly what he had to do to make it work. There was no time to wonder how he was able to see it, only to execute.
Ignatiy did his part, his own barrier coming up just as Sonia was diverting her energy back into herself. With her body trembling from the extreme focus, a huge ball of fire burst from the pool of magma. It tore through the cliff's edge and swallowed Prometheus whole. Instantaneously, Stefan loosed an intense stream of water that engulfed the fireball and extinguished the flame in a huge cloud of steam. All that was left was the finishing blow. Through the power of the Earth pendant, Mark forced the ball of rock to implode, hopefully crushing the burning man trapped inside.
The fragments of the rock ball fell into the lake of fire. There was no sign of Prometheus' body and once the rock ball vanished in the magma, the group could only assume he was dead. The stood by waiting, just of be sure, when the ground rumbled under their feet. Apparently the fireball had caused more damage to the cliff than they had thought.
With little time to escape, they made a frantic dash back to the vent, but they would never make it at the rate they were going. Thinking quickly, Mark raised a wall of stone behind them and drove it forward to push them into the vent just before their footing gave way.
Relatively safe in the vent, they peered over the edge for one last look. There were no signs of Prometheus, only the raging fires of the deep. As far as they could tell, the matter was settled. Heading back, they did not stop or even slow down until they were a good distance from the volcano's great heat.
When it was cool enough for them to lower the barrier, they took a moment to rest. Tossing her head back, Sonia chuckled to herself.
His curiosity piqued, Mark asked, "What is it?"
"I can't believe what I did back there," she said. "It goes against all my training, a leap of faith like that... I jumped right into my plan without telling you any of the details. And yet, somehow it still worked..."
Wondering about it himself, Mark scratched his head, saying, "Even though you didn't tell us anything, I could see it. I could see your plan and by the looks of it, Stefan and Ignatiy could, too." Then it came to him. "I think it was Catherine. She must have linked our thoughts to make sure the plan worked. She might have even prompted you to act the way you did. You said it wasn't it like you, after all. Maybe she knew we were running out of time and hurried things along."
"She can do that?" Sonia asked curiously.
Mark smiled. "You'd be surprised at what she can do."
Stefan was noticeably silent. Mark remembered what Stefan had said about Catherine not using her powers when the Marauders invaded Byrn. No doubt he was disturbed by the thought of Catherine using her powers now. While part of Mark felt sorry for him, he could not help seeing this as a sign that Catherine would soon be awake again, and for that he was exceedingly glad.
Ignatiy, on the other hand, was anything but happy. He sat apart from the others, moping and muttering to himself. He repeated the same thing over and over, raising his voice a bit each time until it was loud enough for the others to hear. It did not mean much to Sonia, as he had reverted to Byrnan.
"Lord Prometheus gave us fire... If people forgot what he did for them, they deserved his wrath..."
It was reminiscent of the incident with the Wyvern ten years ago, when he refused to help fight the creature out of reverence for its mastery over his beloved flame. Mark had not forgotten about it, and neither had Stefan. While Mark was willing to let it pass as long as no one was hurt, Stefan had been angry then and he was every bit as angry now. Although Ignatiy had raised Stefan's ire, Mark intervened before the short-tempered fighter could deliver any verbal or physical abuse.
"Leave him be," Mark said. "You know he's always been like this. Getting mad won't change anything."
Apparently unwilling to pick a fight with Mark, Stefan backed down, grumbling to himself. Mark knew there was nothing to be gained by letting Stefan and Ignatiy continue to brood, so he rose up and dusted off his trousers.
"Let's get going," he said.
When the four companions returned to the surface, they were met by the rest of the group. The mayor and his officials were also with them, as was the magistrate.
"Is it dead?" the mayor asked.
"There's no evidence he survived," Mark said.
The mayor frowned. "That's not good enough. Where's the proof? How can I believe you?"
A swift punch from Stefan sent the mayor crashing into the ground at least a fathom away. While he held his injured jaw, the fighter's fist quaked in irritation.
"We came back alive where everyone else died. I don't care if you believe us or not. We risked or lives for you and this is the gratitude we get?"
While no one but Mark and Ignatiy know what he was saying, the sentiment got across rather clearly. In the same way, the others could tell the mayor was giving them trouble even without knowing a word of Imperial, and they were none too pleased. The mayor was no fool, and he had a strong sense of self-preservation. Seeing so much anger in so many well-armed and experienced warriors was enough for him to back down.
"F-forgive me for doubting you," he stammered. "P-please feel free to name your reward."
Mark stepped forward to help the mayor up, but the skittish man jerked away.
"We've already stated our terms," Mark said. "A crew to get us back to Gladius and provisions for the trip. I'm sure you won't mind covering the cost for your friend the magistrate."
The mayor had little choice but to agree. Some of the others, Edward in particular, thought Mark should have pressed the mayor for more, but the swordsman was not going to let greed cost them their best chance to return to Gladius.
The next morning, the group set out with the mayor's caravan. After walking all over Arma for the past two months, it was a great relief to ride in carriages for a change. The road had been long and hard, but they were finally on their way back to Gladius.