-9-

Half a week later, Sri reclined in a luxurious room in one of the rooms of the Tsar of

Hrangtya's palace, chatting to Laza and eating grapes.

Apparently, the Wraith that they had managed to banish with the help of the Head

Demon had been secretly holding the Tsar and his various courtiers prisoner, therefore

causing Sri , Vak, Jori, Araun, even Laza, who had hardly done anything, to become

national heroes, although, (since Hrangtya was a particularly sexist country,) the males of

the group got a lot more attention than Sri or Laza did.

Even so, Sri and Laza weren't particularly worried about this, as the men, as opposed

to being able to laze around and sleep like Sri was spending most of her time doing, were

forced to attend, for fear of offending someone high up, lavish banquets where the

delicacies were often things such as fried newts, unicorn hoof and the aptly named "rot

flowers" that all looked, smelled, and tasted appalling to all.

Drowsily, Sri closed her eyes, half-listening to Laza's chatter about this courtier and

that one… and was suddenly whisked into the presence of her brother. Sri was

immediately wide-awake and alert.

"Vak, what is it?" she asked, her voice not betraying her edginess.

"Him," Vak pointed to Inferno, their father, who floated on his customary ball of

azure flame.

"Sorry to disturb you two," Inferno began somewhat cautiously, "but the fire elementals

want me to put a proposal to you."

"So…?" Sri impatiently queried.

"They have said that they want one of you to join their ranks".

"Who?" Vak wondered.

At this point, Inferno was seemingly embarrassed, as he said,

"That's just it. Only one of you gets to be an elemental, and the other stays human. You have

to decide which of you will accept this offer."

Two pairs of burning eyeswidened in surprise at this proposal, so soon after

they had realised the truth of their fiery ancestry. In the brief time that they had managed

to share together they had found the affection of siblings that have a lot in common.

They looked at each other, then an idea emerged at the same time in both of their minds.

Sri shook her head decisively and said, "I will not take this offer. I already have too

much happening for me. I would be leaving too many behind." Suddenly an image of

Jori appeared in her mind. She was almost certain that she saw Inferno wink at her.

"What was that all about?" she thought in interest.

Then Vak said, "I do not wish for the burden of everlasting years until I am killed that

goes with the title 'Elemental', and nor do I wish to miss getting to know my sister

properly," he said with a smile in Sri's direction. "No, we are afraid that we must decline

from acquiescing to this gift of yours, Inferno."

Inferno suddenly looked upwards unseeingly, and then grinned, showing jagged

pink teeth. "The fools have another suggestion now, he said in amusement, they want

you to each have these." Inferno held out a pair of pendants that he seemed to pull from

the air above his head. Sri took hers, and carefully studied it. The pendant appeared

to made of glass, was teardrop-shaped and glowed softly, as well as giving off faint

warmth. And inside it, was a burning coal. There was some writing on the back, Sri

could feel the engraved letters against her hand. She turned it over, and there it was.

"EMBYR". She looked at Vak, and as though he read her mind, he turned his up to

show her. His said "PYRO", in the same black, curly writing. Sri was about to put hers

on, when she had a thought.

"Hang on, what do these things actually do?"

Inferno started to cackle. Actually, that's an understatement. Tears ran down his

cheeks in mirth and turned to steam as he gasped in glee.

"Ha ha! Always the canny one Sri! If either of you had put one of those on in my presence, I

would be forced to make you an Elemental there and then! Never put them on around your

neck. Tie them to your clothes if you wish, or around your wrists, but never around your

necks! Then as suddenly as he had first appeared, Inferno was gone in a flash of indigo

smoke. Sri and Vak were still blinking from the resulting flash of magic when moments

later, Jori rushed into the room, pushing back the richly embroidered

curtain with a look of frustration on his face.

"I heard the whole thing! I was about to come in here and ask Vak something, when

that Elemental stopped me from coming in!" then Jori's annoyance changed to anger as

he cried, "and how dare they try to make you choose between immortality and life as it

has grown to be!"

Vak looked curiously at him, and asked, "What's it to you?"

He was intrigued to watch as Jori flushed scarlet, and stuttered, "I…I…"

Sri came and saved him, when she put her arm around him and said softly, "I

wouldn't've gone without you anyhow. I'd miss you too much. Besides," she said in a

lightly amused tone that was far more characteristic for her, "who's interested in living

forever anyway?"

Jori looked down at her, then gathered her up in a hug that made Sri's feet leave the

floor as she let out a muffled squeak of annoyance at being lifted so high.

"Why isn't this the pretty picture."

Jori dropped Sri in his irritation at being interrupted as he turned around and glared at

the person who had so rudely interrupted.

It was the group of thugs that had been beating up Vak when they had first met.

"You know, I never actually got why you were thumping Vak before," Sri remarked

thoughtfully, "pray tell me why?"

Looking as though this was the most stupid question that they had ever been asked, one

of the thugs deigned to answer her, "Because we don't like him."

Sri's eyebrows were raised so high that they were hidden behind her fringe. "Well, then

you boys will understand why I have to hurt you now then. Because I really don't like

you."

Sparks shot out of Sri's eyes. Nervously, a different tough cried out desperately to Vak,

"What, gonna let a girl fight for you weakling?"

Vak smiled sweetly at the sight of Sri's figure advancing on the toughs who were trying

to back away without looking like they weren't. "Yep."

Taking that as a signal, Sri launched herself at the toughs.

"You think that you'd be able to handle my sister?" Vak asked Jori as he languidly

surveyed the scene, "you know better than I that she is rough as sandpaper."

Jori musingly watched as Sri dealt out bruises to the toughs, and said, "Yeah, I think

we'll be fine…" He continued his casual observation of Sri dispersing the toughs like

dandelion seeds for the second time that week, then turned and walked onto

Vak's balcony, to watch the ship the Ravensgift that (Araun now owned and captained

because of his "outstanding service to the Tsar",) leave the harbour.

He glanced back at Vak, and then grinned suddenly. "Tell you what though, if

you think that the fun is over now, think again. This journey is just getting started…"

As he winced at the sounds of pain coming from the thugs that his sister was

beating up, Vak couldn't help but agree.

6