Coal smoke shaded the city from a sun that provided no warmth. Dirty grey snow blanketed the streets, as it had every day of Ffraid’s life. The three-storey stone buildings lining the Broadway created a natural path for the winds howling down from the Sheet which covered Rakkes’ western mountains. Whitewhirls spun in odd corners and wind gusts splattered small ice crystals across Ffraid’s face. Her breath misted out from beneath the hood of the heavy coat her father insisted she wear. Tiny rivulets of sweat ran down her brow, tracing a grey path through the soot on her neck and between her breasts.
She kept her head down, so no one would see that she didn’t shiver. Despite the five thousand souls that still called Rakkes home, it was rare to see anyone in the streets. If she was seen, they would just assume she was keeping her face out of the wind and cold.
A cold Ffraid didn’t feel.
Her father feared for her—for the life of servitude her gift would force upon her. She was one of three, the Sun-Kissed, blessed by Fieran the Summer King, the Elemental of Flame. But Rakkes hadn’t seen a summer in over two hundred years and Fieran was king of an empty kingdom.
Commerce had disappeared in the wake of the Long White. There was still some trade, but only for food and fuel. And weapons. Weapons that allowed those remaining to take food and fuel. Every household tried to maintain a sunhouse, and Ffraid and her father had a small one, but their meagre glass chamber barely provided enough food to feed the two of them. They couldn’t trade fuel; they needed it for the forge. That left weapons.
It made her father uncomfortable to make knives, spears, and arrowheads. He worried that he was arming those who would take his daughter away from him. So did Ffraid.
The miners they traded with had a less than savoury reputation—a reputation that had taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks. People were missing down near the mine. When—if—they were found, what remained was unrecognizable.
It’s hard to identify someone without his skin.
First Light originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of On Spec if you’d like to read more.