FIREBRINGER • by Therese Arkenberg

With the knowledge of the god he almost was, Prometheus knew his story would be told someday. With the knowledge he had of mankind, he knew it would be mistold. For all his knowledge, he did not know how it would end. He wasn’t sure if it would end.

The valley below the mountain face where he lay chained was cloaked in morning mist. He couldn’t see the sky; the cliffs rose too sharply and too high all around him. The wound hurt, a flap of skin hanging where it had been torn loose by them when they came, came for whatever part they had chosen to rip out last night. They always came in the night. He never saw them, but he could hear: flapping, screaming, cackling, chewing. And he felt their cold, rough claws and what they did.

Deep within the mist he spotted a spark, tiny, flickering red-yellow. His gift to the ones below, stolen from the ones above, who punished him for it now. But he knew the good it did the people in the valley, and did not regret it.

It warmed the shepherds before they went with their flocks into the hills, and in the evening it made tender and sweet the mutton eaten by the old and young and sick, and at night its light kept the wolves away. Nothing could keep away the creatures that visited him in the night, but in the valley the people were safe.

As his wound began to heal, he became aware of other pains. His wrists hurt; his weight pulled against the shackles. He knew he could break them, if only he had enough leverage. The art of metal was still new to both gods and men, and its first works were poor and brittle — yet strong enough to hold a prisoner to the mountainside.

He wondered what his tale would be like.

Something stirred on the slope below him. Looking down was almost as hard as looking up, but he tried, and was rewarded by brightness: berry dyes in the wool of a child’s tunic. There were two, a boy and a girl, leading goats to one of the mountain’s meadows — he thought at first, until he saw there were no goats.

Even the knowledge of gods had limits. He knew humans were cautious, and therefore he thought they would not risk the displeasure of those who had chained him.

The boy carried a rock, a dark, heavy thing. The girl pointed up, at the prisoner, at the mountain face around him, and sketched a path with her outstretched finger. The boy formed a pocket by tucking his tunic in his belt, placed the rock in it, and began climbing.

“Go back!” Prometheus called. His voice was weak, but he was almost a god; it carried.

“No,” the boy said.

“You will be punished.”

The boy shrugged, nearing him now. “The flappers won’t come for us. We have fire.”

Prometheus frowned, remembering how the creatures came only at the dark of night, and wondered for the first time why the gods had refused to share the power of fire.

The boy stopped beside him and, with several good blows, broke the cuffs on his wrists. Prometheus almost fell, but the boy caught him, and together they crawled down the face. The child had the nimbleness of a mountain shepherd, and Prometheus — the grace of an almost-god.

The girl smiled but said nothing, turning to lead them into the valley. The boy helped Prometheus walk, but already the Firebringer grew stronger.

With strength came knowledge. Someday these children would be forgotten, turned into a single hero, a man with too much power to be fully human, and with too much fault to be anything else. And the story of the rescue would be little but an addition to the story of why it was necessary, why he was first chained.

Someday this would be forgotten, and his tale would become a moral of how one is not to go against the will of the gods — but for now he knew that it didn’t matter.

Therese Arkenberg is a student from Wisconsin. She works part-time at her local library; unfortunately, this work does not include test-reading. She has been writing for at least four years, mostly speculative fiction. While her only pets are some fish, she has quite the extensive collection of stuffed animals. Her work has previously been published in M-BRANE SF magazine, Kaleidotrope, and the online anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments, and a short story of hers will appear in Sword and Sorceress 24.

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