When Eli accidentally frees a dragon hatchling that burns his village down, his fascination with fire leads him to raise it as his own. However, the secret of how the dragon appeared in his village and his slowly spreading reputation as a dangerous arsonist prove to be more trouble than he could have imagined.
It was late at night, and the inside of the empty barn was unlit. They had taken a torch for sight, but even that made Bard highly uncomfortable, for more reasons than one. One of those reasons was the fact that there was hay strewn all over the ground and it led to large bales of hay stacked up against the walls. The other reason was the younger, dark-haired boy in front of him who had insisted on being the one who got to hold the torch. Exploring the barn belonging to one of the foul-mouthed farmers was his idea, so obviously, he should be the one to hold the torch. Bard tried to reason against that decision without making it obvious that he was afraid, but his effort was in vain.
The boy swung the torch around and Bard flinched, feeling the heat move across his face. "Hey now, Eli," he told the boy. “Be careful. And watch how you handle that!”
Eli stopped and turned to face Bard. They had been friends for years, so he didn't even need to shine the light on him to know what Bard's face looked like. “No need to worry, ‘careful’ is my middle name!” Eli responded joyfully. The way he held the torch shone light on Eli's bare right forearm, showing burn scars which sent chills down Bard's spine.
The boy had earned the nickname ‘Fireslinger’ over the years. He had been born and raised in the town, and it was a common joke among the adults that as a baby he had always been reaching for the fireplace. Whether that was true or not was no longer a debate. The boy's unusual tendencies had appeared around the age of four, and he suffered his first injury shortly after. It was when he didn't stop putting himself into possible danger that the parents began to worry.
Eli tiptoed over the hay and clumps of dirt that lay scattered across the floor, swinging the torch around and trying to get a look at everything. He had noticed the farmer that owned the barn had been significantly more of a jerk and lurking around the barn, so he decided to call Bard and force him to explore with him. So far, it was all just hay and dirt and wood, nothing interesting. It was all flammable, though, something that Eli found very amusing when he noticed it. There was not a single stone in sight. In fact, even the pack Eli had slung over his shoulder was flammable, but he knew better than to put his torch there. He wouldn't dare burn his own pack.
“Why'd you bring your pack?” Bard asked, interrupting Eli's train of thought. “Are you planning on stealing anything?”
Eli chuckled with mischief obvious on his face. “Well, who knows what we might find?”
Just as he said that, his eyes caught a glint from across the barn. It was a silvery shine under a cloth. Without hesitation, Eli ran to it, ignoring the heat dangerously close to his face and with Bard in tow to make sure he wouldn't kill them both. The cloth was on a long table, and it looked like it was hastily thrown over the table to conceal whatever was underneath it. Whoever did it, they had done it poorly. Eli pulled back the cloth with a flourish, and Bard took a step back.
What lay in front of Eli was a long broadsword with a glistening silver hilt. There were worn, brown strips of leather wrapped around its hilt, presumably for better grip. It was truly a work of art and one of the finest weapons either of the boys had ever seen in their lives. Eli bent over to get a better look at the hilt of the sword, where there was a white diamond embedded at the top of the handle. Fascinated, he put the torch and his face dangerously close to the diamond, where he could barely read some faint inscriptions in the rock. In his awe, he tapped the diamond.
There was a flash of light and the next thing Eli knew, he had been knocked back, the torch had fallen out of his hands and Bard was shouting something he couldn't understand. The shock of what had just happened had almost paralyzed the boy. Bard was still shouting and possibly cursing, but Eli couldn't pay attention. Seconds before the hay bales burst in flames and he felt the heat flare up against his back, he noticed the silhouette of whatever had knocked the torch away on top of the sword. Bard helplessly shoved the contents of a bucket full of water on the hay, but to no avail. Eli was still frozen in place.
“Eli!” Bard shouted as the flames crept up the walls, and the boy finally heard and snapped out of his reverie. “We need to leave! The entire barn is going to collapse!”
He looked around, and despite the heat, Eli's blood ran cold when he realized the gravity of the situation. Without hesitation, he pushed himself to his feet and ran back to the table. Bard shouted his name in protest, but ran to catch him either way. Eli took off his pack and shoved the figure and sword in them before Bard reached him and started dragging him out by his arm. It didn't take long for Eli to get the hint and start running alongside his childhood friend.
Just as they ran through the opening of the barn, the wooden supports came crashing down behind them. Eli held his pack tighter, the sword's hilt sticking out. They would have stopped running then, but when Bard turned back to check the situation, the two adjacent houses had already caught fire and the flames were creeping along the grass. Eli hugged his pack and watched the barn collapse in horror, yet Bard could've sworn he saw the boy smile gleefully, if only for a second.
“Now you've really done it,” he hissed.
“I did?” Eli asked softly, awe leaking through his facade. He opened his mouth to speak, but at that moment the woman in one of the burning houses let out a shrill scream bound to wake the neighbors.
Bard knew it hadn't been Eli. Bard knew it was whatever came out of the sword that had set fire to the barn. He also was well aware of Eli's reputation and why exactly they called him Fireslinger. He heard all the things that they said about him in the market and at the pub. He knew that if the town burned down, unless Eli was leagues away, the blame would fall on him. They wouldn't listen. The people who had always been suspicious of the boy's self-control would lynch him without hesitation.
So he did the only thing they could do.
“Run!” he shouted, urging the boy forward. Eli followed close behind Bard, knowing he would lead them somewhere safe. He trusted Bard with his life.
The flames spread quickly after the first few houses and Eli felt like they were following him. He felt the heat at his heels when there was nothing there. Dogs they passed barked rabidly at him, as if he were something else completely.
Eli didn't know anything about him being anything other than human. He didn't know what was with the inscriptions on the diamond. He wasn't sure why he felt drawn to the sword. What he did know was that he had to run, and whatever had pushed him back was alive.
It was alive, and undoubtedly, a dragon.