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Wildfire!

Part I: The Bargain

The dawn sky was streaked with purple and rose, but the beauty once cherished he now ignored. The waking birdcalls in the bushes and trees of the Isle that once were as music fell now on deaf ears. He who had once longed to create in living stone what his eyes saw and his ears heard now sat on a narrow ledge of rock, his eyes closed and his thoughts turned inward. For the dreams of childhood had long since shattered: no shaper he. No talent did he possess either to shape or to grow beauty. Only the most terrible of powers came to his command.

Bandaged hands above a neat pile of kindling and wood, Newdawn strove to clear his thoughts, as Tinar had tirelessly coached. For a moment, he wished that the Elder's calming presence was in his mind. But the Isle would never be safe as long as an Elder controlled his horrible powers for him. He must do it alone.

The magic stirred in his mind, flickering with the restiveness of flame itself. Newdawn thought calmness to it. He tryed to soothe its presence, to make it no more than the warm glow of embers. It almost seemed to protest, snapping, then simmered, glittering -- burning. Newdawn felt his body take a long, cooling breath, and willed himself deeper, as it to sink into the burning depths. Word-thoughts faded, and the world seemed to shift. This would blaze with little resistance; that other would resist little more, burning hot and long. That which would burn sat on stuff that did not resist, but rather let the fire flow so quickly that it could not burn. And all around it was dark, chilling cold, that resisted fire, and could destroy it.

He willed a tiny fragment of the simmering fire to detach itself from the greater whole. He willed it to be but a single flame, reaching for the light stuff. A merest spark, dancing, calling fire from within the small stuff. Spark-light, merest flicker, arcing from within to without --

He was a fool to think he could control the wildfire.

The fire rippled under the thought-words, and the spark flared brightly. Fear. He tried to dampen the spark, afraid, but it only blazed more brightly. Dark emotions flared into his awareness, and he struggled to push them away, even as the magic began to shift and move. Hatred, loathing, scorn -- no, he must not think them, he must soothe the blaze, calmness, assurance -- be still! But the magic only flared more brightly. With growing fear and self-awareness, Newdawn struggled to push the emotions and fire away. But they mingled, the one feeding the other. The magic flared bright and dark, ever growing. It burned as he tried with increasing terror to somehow dampen the rising flow.

He was losing control!

Hatred/fear/loathing/hatred/fear --

Panic!

Wildfire!

Newdawn screamed as the magic in his soul exploded, as the fiery stuff blazed through and outwards, utterly out of control. Part of him was carried up on that magicked fire as it tore a swath through the green, living cover of the Isle. He sensed the resisting pain of the living plants, and then, terribly, the agony of burning skin. Screaming again, he felt -- as if in his own body -- the searing pain as three elves, alight like torches, flung themselves towards the cold surface of the Lake. But they moved so slowly--!

Something seared through his ribs from back to front, slamming Newdawn back into full awareness with a choked cry. Muscles spasmed, sending him to his feet, before a wave a weakness sent him crumpling to hands and knees. Opening his eyes, Newdawn saw a bloody arrowhead jutting from between his ribs. With a kind of disbelief, he lifted a shaking hand and touched it. Someone had shot him. Someone had tried to kill him.

He didn't try to resist the darkness that took him then. He only hoped he would not waken.

You - you - human!" Though yet pale and trembling from her effort to keep her son's spirit in his body until the Healer could attend to him, it nevertheless took two strong elves and the Eldests to keep Vaerrain from attacking the pinioned elf. "How dare you try to kill my son!"

The gray eyes that glared back at her were as cold as a winter sky. "How dare you keep alive a misbegotten that has killed once, and nearly three times more?" he demanded. "A misbegotten that wants to die!"

The four elves, combining strength and sending, barely kept Vaerrain still. "Misbegotten?! You - you scum! Rat droppings! To think I once desired you! To think I chose you to sire my son! I'll kill you for this!"

**And wound your son still further?**

Dlen's clear sending seemed to reverberate from the stones of the Great Hall. Vaerrain stopped fighting, trembling, then broke into sobs. Gesturing the two elves away, Aerva took the other elder into a gentle embrace, sending a soothing, compassionate reassurance on a wordless level. With no trace of compassion in his face, Tinar stepped toward the pinioned elf. At a gesture, the elves guarding Shadow forced him to his knees. The black-haired rockshaper tried to resist the contact, crying out in agony as the Elder relentlessly brought their minds together. With a final spasm, Shadow's body went rigid. The room echoed with a silence unbroken by Vaerrain's sobs.

Tinar stepped back. Shadow collapsed in on himself as his guards released him. The Elder looked down at him, lips thinned with distaste. "You see yourself as another Haliil Brave-Hearted, striking down a life to save lives. But you are wrong. Haliil acted from love. You have acted from hatred, from poisoned grief, from a humiliated, self-centered pride that allowed resentment for another to ignore the desires and needs of your own son. Were it my decision, I would have Silverstree force healing on you, even if it required the melding of all the Elders' strength with hers. But the others do not agree. Therefore, Shadow, you are given this choice: accept the Healer's touch, and let your inner poison be drained. Else, exile from the Isle, until such time as you send to us your desire for healing. How do you choose?"

Shadow staggered to his feet, his face almost as white as Tinar's hair and beaded with sweat. But there was no repentance in his expression. "I would choose to end that misbegotten's life before he ends all of yours! He is no son of mine!" he said, a snarl twisting his face. "You are all fools, as blind as that weak-bellied farwalker!"

**We are neither blind nor fools, to abhor the killing of elf by elf,** sent Tinar evenly. **Make your choice ... Tekar.**

Shadow blanched at the use of his true name. "I - I will take exile," he stammered. "Better to face wolves and human spears," he snarled, recovering, "than more of your meddling!"

**So be it.** Tinar paused, then sent so all in the Isle could receive. **Shadow, son of Moonsinger, son of Swanwood, is exiled to the shore, for his attempt on Newdawn's life. Once this day and the next have passed, let no one give him aid, until such time as he asks, in heart-felt sending, for healing and for forgiveness. If any prefer to share his exile, they are free to depart, but may not return before him.**

Two moons had not appreciably lessened the youngster's emotional pain. Farseeker shifted on the stuffed, furred lounge, futilely searching for a less uncomfortable position. Nor had the time done much to ease the shocked horror and unease--even fear-- felt by the elves. A lad wielded a fire-making talent that was out of control: a talent that could--and had--killed.

And it should never have happened. Would not have happened. If he had been awake and whole when the children were born. If he had been able to teach and talent-seek, as he had for so many others. If he had been himself--Farseeker--instead of this blind, half-crippled, half-mad weakling who could do nothing more than sit and feel sorry for himself--

A cough startled him. He jerked, then flushed with self-anger. Not only blind, but deaf as well! To not know anyone was in the room--!

"You're a mess, uncle," said a cheerful voice. "Anything I can do?"

"No," he said shortly, shifting position again. "Go away."

"Sorry, can't," Nightblade said with undiminished cheer. "I need Danaan Farseeker, and I'm not minded to leave until I get his attention and his help."

Sullen resentment trickled through his thoughts. His niece was like everyone else, expecting him to still be his old self, after everything that had happened. "I can't help you."

"Not even to help save the life and sanity of a youngster whose soul bears at least as much pain as yours?"

Farseeker froze as the words lashed over him like a fall of icy water. Newdawn. The void of tearing grief and guilt in the other's soul, that was so much like his own. It had called to him - it still called to him, when he did not turn away, did not immerse himself in his own pain and guilt to the exclusion of all else, because he could not stand to sense that other and be so helpless --

"I-I can't," he whispered, voice breaking. "I tried. I couldn't - couldn't stand ..."

"I'm not asking for anything you can't do, uncle," Nightblade said, the teasing lightness gone from her voice. He felt her sit down on the edge of the lounge, and flinched a little when she took hold of one hand. "But I do need your help, if I am to help Newdawn."

The grasp on his hand was firm, but not so much that it hurt his swollen joints and crooked fingers. Farseeker breathed deeply, forcing himself to relax and consider her words. Which were mystifying. "How can you help Newdawn?" he asked, after a long pause. "If Tinar could not teach him to control his talent, then how ...?" Something else occurred to him. "And aren't you supposed to be on Pass Watch?"

"I was." Anger ghosted her voice, then thickened. "Uncle, what do you know about what happened with the wildfire?"

"Just ... just that Newdawn lost control. He burned a swath straight up the Isle and set three elves on fire. And that's when Shadow shot him--Eagle deflected it just enough that the arrow didn't go through his heart."

Nightblade made a sound that was more than half-snarl. "Of course. After seventeen years of doing no worse than singing his own arms, Newdawn just suddenly loses control."

Frowning, Farseeker tried to figure out Nightblade's point. "Isn't that ... what happened before? He just ... lost control?"

"No!" The sudden rage made him flinch. "Curse it, Farseeker, must you be as obtuse as the rest?! The first time, Newdawn was standing directly above that cave-in we shaped during the Years of Sorrow when he killed his first animal, and the death-shock and lingering magic made him feel all the pain, terror and anger of the humans on that site! He's as sensitive as you are, he was hiding his revulsion at the thought of killing, and Cliffclimber and Silverbranch didn't realize it, didn't realize they had trailed into the middle of that power pool! The wildfire didn't just happen then, and it didn't just happen now!"

"And so will the great hunter deign to tell the rest of us what we have so obviously missed? After, of course, you explain why you left the Pass without leave."

Farseeker felt Nightblade jump as Tinar's acid voice came from the entrance, and felt a vague comfort that he wasn't alone in being surprised. She dropped his hand and stood up, and the rage in her voice did not lessen. "I left the Pass to find out the truth. You still think Newdawn's emotions fed back into his control, and made him lose it, don't you?"

"That is what I told you two moons ago, when you asked. It is clear enough from his own memory, what happened."

"Is it?"

"Yes."

A short pause. Farseeker could easily guess Nightblade's stance--feet well apart, hands on hips, and glowering. "And have you ever tested Newdawn's ability to block out the thoughts and emotions of others?"

Tinar did not answer immediately. "Why don't you just tell us your explanation for what happened."

"I intend to." Nightblade's voice held more edge than ever. "The reason it took me so long to return from the Pass is that I tracked down Eagle and asked him a few questions."

"He told us what happened ..."

"In sending?"

Tinar's silence was answer enough. "You know we've all believed for years that Eagle and Shadow have shared their names," she continued. "We were right--and Eagle admitted what I suspected before I talked to him. Shadow wasn't just watching his son try to call fire. He had his arrow notched before the wildfire came! He was hating Newdawn for Silverbranch's death, and waiting for him to fail! He triggered the wildfire!"

"That's impossible!"

"No, it isn't! Newdawn didn't know he was there! Newdawn's sitting in the biggest pool of power in the Valley, the focus of blood-kin's hatred, and he didn't know!"

Farseeker shivered. None of his closest kin had ever, in word or thought, blamed him for the deaths of the children. But the bitterness of those who did was hard enough to bear even in his isolation. If Newdawn truly was as sensitive as Nightblade claimed ...

"All right, maybe Shadow's emotions affected Newdawn," Tinar conceeded irritably. "But what difference does it make? I doubt the lad will ever try to call fire again, even if we can persuade him to stop trying to die."

"You very right--he isn't going to try and call fire again while he's sitting here in the Isle," Nightblade agreed. "But while you may have given up on Newdawn, I haven't. And I know what to do--take him away from the Isle, far away from all the emotions and all the power. He goes with one person--one person who can teach him, one person who believes in him, who knows he can learn control."

"You?"

"Me."

"You're not a firemaker."

"No one is. But I do know how to block sendings--or have you forgotten who my father was?"

Tinar breathed heavily. "Never. I don't know if you could teach him what he needs to know or not--but you'll never get the chance. That lad'll never agree to your idea."

"Oh, yes, he will. Because I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse."

If the Elders were not shouting, the emotions were no less intense. Farseeker clutched at his furred robe, desperately wishing that they had taken the argument elsewhere. The wrath was not directed at him, but it might as well have been. The anger hurt, and he wanted desperately for all of them to just go away.

"--and I don't care what you say--the idea is insane! I forbid you to talk to him!"

"Fine!" snapped Nightblade, her temper adding to the anger seething through the room. "Then why don't you just give him a knife, before he finds a way to elude your gaurdianship! It would be less painful than what he's going through now!"

Silence shuddered into the room, blazing and flickering with tension. Farseeker bit down on a finger to keep from whimpering. Nightblade was right; her idea was the only real chance Newdawn had, but Vaerrain would never agree and none of the other Elders really wanted to believe that Nightblade had found a solution that had eluded them.

"Why don't we ask my brother's opinion?"

Farseeker tried not to cringe as their attention focussed on him. He did not want to take part in the argument, for there was only one thing he could say. He dreaded the thought of making Vaerrain angry with him. She would not want to forgive him for a very long time. If only he could stay silent!

**Uncle, you know what he's going through, if anyone does. I need Danaan Farseeker, and I know he's been listening. I'm asking him--what should we do for the Firstcomers' last grandson?**

He tried to straighten in his lounge, feeling amber eyes--and hazel--boring into him. If he remained silent, then would he not share in the blame when Newdawn found a way to end himself? To feel Vaerrain's anger would be less a burden than to --through refusal of duty-- bear the weight of another death. **You know the ways of magic as well as anyone,** he sent at last. **You are Liria's blood as much as your sister; as much as I. In, in heart, Newdawn is as mortally wounded as was any fighter during the Years of Sorrow. It festers, here. He must be allowed to leave. Nightblade will take him. And ... and I will try to resume my duty, to farspeak to those on shore...**

Newdawn lay curled on his side, facing the wall. They had made him live, to feel the guilt of what he had done, to feel the dread of one day triggering the wildfire again. He would give anything to die, to at least be rid of the dread, since not even death would ease the guilt. And maybe the pain would be less. And the loathing. There was nothing and no one worse than him. He was a killer of other elves. A fire-killer, answering scorn and doubt or pity with hatred and flames.

There was a bright flare of altercation near his room. Without trying, he knew whose voices were raised in the silent argument. Several of the Elders, and her. Her. The one who had kept him from killing himself after the first time. The one who had forced him to live. The one he couldn't stand to be around. He couldn't stand to have her eyes on him, knowing. He feared her. He wished he could hate her.

The argument was soon over, and he sensed Nightblade drawing nearer. Biting his lips, Newdawn buried his face in the pillows, knowing that she was coming to see him. And he couldn't get away from her this time. He was cornered in his room, surrounded by elves stronger and faster than himself. She was going to laugh at him, call him a fool.

The footsteps of a hunter were silent, but he knew when she stood inside his room, even before she spoke. "You are dismissed," he heard her say. "The Elders gave me permission to talk with him alone."

Newdawn's eyes flew open. The Elders were going to leave him alone with only one person? Why? He thrust the question aside with sudden hope. Maybe, if he was fast enough, if he could take her by surprise ... but it would mean facing her.

Gathering the tattered fragments of his courage, Newdawn rolled over on the bed. Nightblade's attention was on the departing elves, her face turned away. Disappointment burned the faint hope to ash, for she was not wearing her sword. Or her knife. She had on nothing he could use to kill. Despairing, not wanting to guess what awful reason she had for being present, not wanting to meet her eyes, the young elf began to turn back to the wall.

With the speed of a striking cat, she pounced, grabbing his upper arms, forcing him to sit up. Shutting his eyes, he turned his head away. Freeing one hand, she forced his head back, while sending a thought that knifed through his resistance.

**I have a bargain for you, Newdawn,** she sent. **You come with me outside, and obey me, for an eight of eight years. If, at the end of those years, you have not found a reason to go on living, then I will kill you myself, if that is what you want.**

Newdawn snapped his eyes open, staring at her, going limp in sudden shock. **You ... the Elders ... how could you ... you would kill me ...?**

**It would be a knife in my own soul to kill you, but I would do it rather than watch you suffer from a wound not even my sister can heal.**

**Then kill me now!** he begged, lunging forward, grabbing her arms. **Please, Nightblade -- I can't live with what I've done, what I could do! I thought I could learn control, but I can't! I'm a danger to the Isle, to everyone! I can't live with knowing that someday I'll release the wildfire again! Please kill me -- please!!**

**No.** Her grip tightened. **I know why you have failed to learn control in the Isle, and I know why the wildfire came! There's too much power and too many emotions here! That's why I want to take you outside! Out where there won't be enough magic to create wildfire, and out where the only person close enough to affect you believes in you! Newdawn, you have to try again. You must!**

**No!** He began to struggle to pull away. **I'd end up killing you! I won't try again -- I won't! Just let me go now, Nightblade -- just kill me!**

She refused to let go. **Newdawn, it wasn't yourself that triggered the wildfire this time! It was the kinbond with your father! He was hating you, he was wanting to harm you, even kill you! You couldn't keep him out of your mind, couldn't tell him apart from yourself! That's what triggered the wildfire!**

For a moment, he stared at her, stunned. Then, he tried to deny it. **N-n-no! H-he c-c - wouldn't - M-m-my fault- **

**Shadow's the elf that tried to kill you, Newdawn!** she retorted, shaking him a little. **Listen to me -- you know I can't lie in sending! Yes, you have part of the responsibility for what happened, for never asking yourself why you couldn't learn! But the Elders should never have tried to teach you here, where our magic is so strong! Don't you understand what you are, what happened!? You are so sensitive, you were trying so hard, your controls were overwhelmed! You became a conduit for power!**

**N-no!** He tried desperately to deny her, though he knew she was telling the truth. **How do you know what went wrong!? You weren't there! You weren't there!!**

**I know because I know what happened to you the first time you set off the wildfire. I know because Eagle was there. And Eagle knew what Shadow was feeling; and he saw what Shadow did.**

**But why do you care?!** he demanded, fighting not to believe her. **Why do you want to keep me alive -- why won't you let me go!**

Her hands tightened. **I have several reasons,** she replied after a moment. **I will tell you one: I also feel responsibility for what has happened. I knew you were not truly ready to hunt; I knew you were hiding something. I knew you were not a shaper, but I did not stop Cliffclimber and Silverbranch from taking you out. If I had listened closer to my instincts, I might have prevented the tragedy.

Surprised and puzzled, Newdawn stared at her. **I don't understand. It wasn't your decision to take me out.**

**No,** she replied. **But I am the Hunt Leader, so the ultimate responsibility is mine. If I had told them not to take you out, the Elders would have backed me.** She paused, staring into his eyes, until he looked away. **Now. Do you want this bargain? Or do you plan to continue hoping that the Elders falter in their vigilance so you can kill yourself, no matter how much pain that would bring to your mother and your friends?**

Newdawn flinched, white-hot claws of pain slicing into his soul again. He knew beyond all doubting that his mother desired his life, and that there was very little she would not do to make him stay. He didn't want to hurt her, and yet ... But beyond her, was Spring. His closest friend. Only this morning past, she had come in, sat down beside him, taken one of his hands. When he had finally -- reluctantly -- looked at her, so she would say what she would, then go away, she had sent. Three very simple little sentences. **You're my friend. It wasn't your fault. Please, try to live.**

Spring loved him as few others did. He had nearly killed her: she was one of the elves caught in the wildfire. She had burned nearly to death, it was all his fault, and yet she loved him. Loved him, and without words had shown him that it would hurt her even more, if he took his own life --

A sob tore itself out of his throat, and he crumpled forward. "Please," he begged, between sobs. "Please -- help me. Just .... just help me..."

Part 2