Don’t miss the conclusion of “The Burning Flame”

In Part I of “The Burning Flame,” Brutus escaped the mountain of Belmont to find his son, Lorenzo. On the mountainside, Brutus finds a body scorched by plasma blasts. It looks just like Lorenzo and, knowing nothing of mirrorbeasts or the outside world, Brutus assumes it is the slain body of his son. He returns with the body to the guarded entrance of Belmont, trying to understand and trying to remain faithful to . . .

The Burning Flame

Part II

BY FRASIER ARMITAGE

Brutus neared the force field that shielded Belmont’s Gate.

His child’s corpse weighed heavily in his arms, and he struggled to reach for the device Julius had slipped him. He replaced his breathing mask over his mouth and pressed the device. The force field’s amber glow flickered before extinguishing like a dying ember, and the huge gate opened automatically, its grinding gears churning in a metallic scrape.

The Gatekeeper towered before Brutus, gripping his axe with hands of iron.

Brutus emerged from the mountain’s mist with Lorenzo in his arms.

“What do you seek?” the Gatekeeper asked.

“I come to return my child to the flame.” Brutus’s voice could barely be heard.

“None may pass.”

Brutus shook his head. It was that kind of talk which had killed his boy. His brows knitted together, contorting his face into a rage. “Tell me, if I were not permitted entry, why did the amber haze disappear? Why did the gate open for me?” Brutus asked.

The Gatekeeper pondered for a moment. “The gate has never opened for anyone.”

“None may pass,” the Gatekeeper said. Photo by Daniel Burka.

“Which is why you must let me pass.”

The Gatekeeper shook his head. “I must speak to the Council of Belmont first.”

“Speak with Councilman Julius,” Brutus said. “The Hoodsman will permit me entry. Tell him . . . ,” Brutus choked on his words. “Tell him . . . I have my son.”

The Gatekeeper spoke into his robe. Brutus fought back the bloodflame surging through his veins, urging him to wrench the limbs from the Gatekeeper and shoulder his way past. None would prevent him from returning Lorenzo to the fire below the mountain.

“Let him pass,” a voice called from behind the Gatekeeper. Antony stood panting, bent with his hands on his knees. “The Council wishes to see you, Brutus. Quickly.”

The Gatekeeper lowered his axe and stepped back. Brutus hurried with Antony through the levels and the smoke, down to the pillars. Antony didn’t speak a word to Brutus. He knew better than to stir the coals of a flame that was already too wild.

Up through the lift, the gears whirred. Doors opened. Brutus carried his son into the circle of robes.

“You disobeyed our order, Brutus.” The Council’s spokesman flashed his fingers in a ritualistic gesture.

“Then you should have left me on the mountain,” Brutus said. “Why did you allow me to return?”

“We are not without pity for you, brother. Besides, it is our creed that all who flout our ways be judged within this circle.”

“You would dare judge me?” Brutus yelled. “You who worship at an altar of sin!”

The Hoodsman glanced around his fellows. The shadow beneath his hood revealed no features, concealing his open jaw and the disbelief across his face.

“You worship flame, but your fire has done this to my boy.” Brutus held his hands towards them, forcing them to consider his son’s charred remains. “Look at his flesh. Look at it! See it scorched, as though he had fallen into the molten river. Your fire promised me that I would see my boy, and look! It has devoured him and spat him back out. And you dare to tell me that I have sinned, when you would have left him like this! Left him to rot beneath the fury of that torch beyond Belmont which sears the sky!

The shadow beneath his hood revealed no features, concealing his open jaw and the disbelief across his face. Illustration by Joe Cross.

“Had you stayed inside the mountain,” the Councilman replied, “you would never have
known his suffering. It is your own impudence which has brought this grief upon you.
Sentence shall be pronounced.”

“There can only be one sentence,” Brutus interrupted. He laid Lorenzo’s body on the ground and removed his breathing mask. “The sentence of death.” Brutus pounced towards the Councilman and slammed the mask into his hood. Blood spurted from where his face should have been. Brutus’s hands clasped at his throat. Years of mining trained Brutus’s grip, and the Hoodsman’s neck snapped beneath the pressure. He collapsed to the ground.

Around Brutus, robes flew. Hoodsmen attacked the fellows at their side, gowns flapping like wings as ornate blades sliced neon red through the chamber, and blood spilled into the circle. After the carnage, a stillness settled, and Julius emerged, peeling back his hood.

“Brother,” Julius said, “you truly are a fire. Too long has it taken to rid Belmont of its traditions. Your name shall be remembered for all time, alongside Portia the Great, our Guardian and Founder. Behold, Brutus the Wise, our Fire and Liberator.”

The remaining Hoodsmen stepped over the bodies of their fallen comrades, crowding around Brutus.

“My son.” Brutus reached through the litany of robes and crumpled Lorenzo’s body to his chest. “I ask to send him down the river, so that he may rest.”

“Brutus, my brother, you need not ask our permission.” Julius tore the robes from the body of their former leader. He wrapped the garment around Brutus’s shoulders and bequeathed him a ceremonial knife. “I hereby appoint Brutus to the Council of Belmont. Let the word go out among the people. There shall be a ceremony at Thinveil, where we shall send our fallen kinsmen to journey along the river of fire. The whole city will attend. Lorenzo will be given a noble procession, my brother.”

The Councilmen performed their solemn gesture in unison.

“Now, go,” Julius said. “Go to your family.”

Brutus staggered to the lift and back through the habitats. He coughed and sputtered as the smoke infected his lungs, but he cared not.

The airlock washed him clean of smoke as fresh air pulsed against his skin. He drank it in, soothing his throat where smog still festered. Beyond the threshold, Ophelia stood, her hands covering her mouth.

She shrieked as Brutus entered the hab.

“What is this?” she cried. “Sylvia, Rodrigo, leave us!” The children ran from the room, too afraid to question their mother.

“My love, I am sorry. But we have only a short time to prepare him for his journey downriver. I could not stand to embalm him anywhere but our home.”

“Who is that?” Ophelia demanded.

“Do you not recognize your own child? I’m so sorry, my darling wife. I thought I could return him to us, but I was mistaken.”

Ophelia’s eyes widened. “No. You get that creature out of my hab!”

“Creature? How dare you speak of Lorenzo that way!”

Ophelia quivered, her pale body thrashing as she reached for a kitchen blade. “You get that thing away from me, or I shall kill it!”

Brutus laid the body in the airlock and stepped between Ophelia and his son. She lunged at the corpse, but Brutus caught her hand and snatched the knife away from her.

“Get it out!” she shrieked. “It is not my son! My son lives. He lives, Brutus!” Her crimson eyes bled tears.

Brutus nodded. “I gave you hope, and you are not ready to let go of it.”

“Can you not see? You have brought a stranger into our home. My son lives. Where is my son, husband?”

She shook in his hands, and he released her. Ophelia paced through the hab, her limbs shivering, and she muttered her son’s name over and over.

A chime signalled from their door.

“Come,” Brutus said.

Julius entered, stepping over Lorenzo. “Brutus, I came to assist you with the embalming.”

“You are most kind, brother. But I shall wrap him myself.”

“Get it out of here!” Ophelia screamed.

Brutus rushed to Ophelia and leaned to her ear. “Leave us.” He signalled to the door, and Ophelia fled from the room.

“Does she know your son will sail the river with a hero’s honor?” Julius asked.

Brutus shook his head. “Ophelia does not believe that is our son. Look at her. She’s riddled with a maddening hope that he still lives.”

Julius raised an eyebrow. “And what of you, Brutus? Has hope abandoned you?”

Brutus flung the robes from his shoulders to the floor, covering Lorenzo’s body with it. He returned the kitchen blade to its place, and grasped the decorative knife of a Councilman, fixing it to his waist upon the cord which sheathed it. “May I ask you, Julius, why you are really here?”

He grasped the decorative knife of a Councilman, fixing it to his waist upon the cord which sheathed it. Photo by Yaroslav Korshikov.

Julius nodded, and removed his hood. “You are shrewd indeed, my friend. I came to find out what you intend to say at Lorenzo’s mourning. You shall have the whole of Belmont before you. What will you tell them?”

Brutus shrugged. “What would you have me say?”

“That there is yet hope, Brutus. That Lorenzo dreamed of a day when fire might pass beyond these walls, and Belmont might take its place among its brothers, in a world beyond this tomb.”

“You seek peace with the world, Julius?”

The Hoodsman nodded. “It is written: ‘We must sow peace.’”

“Is it not also written that ‘There is no peace without sacrifice’?”

Julius took Brutus by the arm. “You speak truth, brother. I am sorry that the sacrifice which will bring us peace is yours to bear.”

Brutus pointed to Lorenzo. “You really think there can be peace in a world which can do that to a child?”

“You must see the future, Brutus. You must dream of what Belmont will become. Can you not see the fire of Belmont purifying the world of its fear? Of its hatred? The flame feeds all, and when it does, we shall bask as one in its heat and light. Speak of this. It is what Lorenzo would have wished.”

Julius turned to leave.

Peace. His son lay dead and Julius preached of peace. More lies.

Heat blazed through Brutus’s mind, devouring it. He snatched at the ceremonial blade. Its neon laser hissed. “No!” he screamed as he buried it in Julius’s back.

Julius cried out, but Brutus stifled it with his hand.

“I am a flame, Julius,” Brutus whispered. “I shall burn through this mountain and consume the world. And when the world is turned to ash, only then will there be peace.”

Julius’s eyes bulged. “Brutus!”

A twist of the blade snuffed the life from the Hoodsman, and he slumped to the ground beside Lorenzo.


Thinveil struck, and the city gathered in the lowest depths of the mountain. Behind breathing masks, the whole of Belmont crowded in the antechamber. At the far end of the cavern, a ledge fell away to the river of magma which flowed beneath the crust of the Globe. Beside the ledge, a group of Hoodsmen stood, blessing the embalmed bodies at their feet.

A ledge fell away to the river of magma which flowed beneath the crust of the Globe. Photo by Pawel Czerwinski.

Brutus approached from among the Hoodsmen and peeled back his hood. A horn blasted.

He raised his arms and the people fell silent.

“Hear me, brothers and sisters,” he began. “There is fire and family, and that is all. This is the creed which we have lived by. But my family has been taken from me. Not even my wife has the strength to witness the Great Passing today, choosing exile in her hab rather than bestowing her blessing upon our child. And so I grieve with you, my brothers and sisters, for the loss of my son.”

The people stamped their feet, and a thunder boomed around the cavern.

“Is it a coincidence,” Brutus continued, “that on the day Lorenzo was taken from us, a scourge robbed us of our most beloved Councilmen? If the flame has sent us an omen, it is better to heed it. But what meaning could there be in the death of one so young?”

“I have searched the runes and the oldest writings for an answer, and I see the fire’s wisdom in the words of my friend, and our beloved Hoodsman, who is no longer with us. Julius was the finest of men, with the noblest of hearts, and dreams greater than the smoke we breathe.”

“He once told me that if a fire cannot spread, it dies. There is truth in this. My son believed these words. As do I. Do you not agree with Julius’s wisdom?”

Again, the people stamped and slammed their chests.

Brutus nodded. “Julius saw a future beyond the mountain. And who among us has not yearned for what lays beyond these walls? The priests tell us that segregation is purity. But segregation has trapped us, and stopped us from spreading. Consider the mountain. The ore which we refine must first be mixed with stone and impurity. Only after it is mixed can it be refined. This sustains it. And so, too, must we think beyond this chamber if we are to sustain our ways, lest the fire die.”

Brutus coughed on the smoke in his lungs and turned his filter to its maximum output, tasting fresh air to calm his chest.

“Portia the Great,” he said, “the Guardian, and our city’s founder, established a policy of separation so that we might not leave this mountain and crave the delights beyond. We could never abandon the mountain, for every flame needs to be stoked, and that is why we must not lose sight of our ways. Yet, it was never Portia’s intention to prevent us from growing. Like a flame, we must spread, or the dream of Belmont will be over.”

The crowd gasped. A murmur rocked the chamber.

“Think of the children. My own, Sylvia and Roderigo, play games. They laugh. They live. As do your own children. But they will all end up as Lorenzo if we do not act now. Julius appointed me as Brutus the Wise. Heed my warning. If we remain trapped, more will die. We will suffocate in our pride. My son’s death has brought an end to the old ways. If we fail to take the lesson of his passing, then we too shall end up dead, with no-one left to sail us on the river of fire.”

The people roared with one voice. They beat their breasts and stamped so hard the stone beneath them splintered in cracks.

“I make a pledge to you, faithful Belmontians,” Brutus yelled, “that this day shall be the spark which sets the world ablaze. I shall not rest until our fire has burnt through the mountain. Our fire will judge those beyond this city. Any who take our ways to heart will be purified by the flame. And any who do not will choke on its smoke. We must consume the world. Now is our time. Who is with me?”

The crowd erupted in a cheer that shook the walls. A chorus of arms raised, saluting Brutus.

He waved, and it calmed the people. The remaining Hoodsmen behind him stirred.

“There shall be nothing hidden from the people,” Brutus cried. “Any of our leaders who refuse to lower their hoods to the people’s wishes will find their heads floating upon the lake of fire. What say you, Councilmen?”

The Hoodsmen glanced at one another, before they lowered their hoods and bowed before Brutus. The crowd’s frenzy grew, heat from their flailing arms matching the lava below.

The crowd’s frenzy grew, heat from their flailing arms matching the lava below. Photo by Hasan Almasi.

“It is settled,” Brutus said. “Our fallen family will feed the fire, and our kilns will rage all the better for it. But let us not fashion our ore into farmer’s tools or hover-barges. Let us forge weapons for ourselves, the likes of which no army can resist. And let us take the purity of our crusade to any who would question our ways.”

From among the crowd, verses of chantrock broke out. The same chant he had heard once before. “We are the mountain, and you are the flame,” they sang. “Rise and burn. Rise and burn.”

He lowered his son, along with the other bodies, over the crevice. Magma licked their limbs away, until they were no more.

“I am the flame,” Brutus sang, responding to their chant. “I am the flame, and the fire rises.”


If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Frasier’s “Pillars of Smoke,” which kicked off the entire Globe Folio series, and then Frasier’s “The Voice of Beasts.”

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on their way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Brutus must learn how to keep faith in the Burning Flame

In “Pillars of Smoke,” Lorenzo escaped Belmont and an arranged marriage. But he left behind his parents, Brutus and Ophelia, and the twins. Three days have passed since the “Night of the Rocket,” but none in Belmont are allowed to know of the life outside. In the city beneath the mountain, the Belmontians try to preserve their way of life and stay faithful to . . .

The Burning Flame

Part I

BY FRASIER ARMITAGE

Three Veils passed, but Lorenzo hadn’t returned. 

“Where can he be?” Ophelia asked. 

Brutus sat with his hand on his chin. 

“Brutus! Didn’t you hear me? Our son is missing these three Veils, yet you say nothing?” 

“Where are Sylvia and Roderigo?” he said, absently. 

“They are readying themselves for the service.” 

He nodded. “That’s good.” 

“What of Lorenzo? What did you say to him?” 

Brutus scowled. “You think this my fault? That our son would flee and not return because of me?” 

“You were the last to see him! To speak with him! What else am I to think?” 

“I have done nothing but care for this family and honor the flame. What more can I do?” Photo by Chirag Nayak.

Brutus stood, rising with the fire that burned inside him. “Our son is missing, and now you lay the blame with me! I have done nothing but care for this family and honor the flame. What more can I do?” 

“Please do not scold me. I worry for my boy. Is that so wrong a thing?” Ophelia shrivelled, tears cascading down her cheeks. 

Brutus unclenched his fists and wrapped his arms around his wife. “Come now, let the twins not see us like this. I’ve sent word to the Council. There are eyes in the smoke. If he is in the city, we shall hear at the service.” 

“And if he is not in Belmont?” 

Brutus released Ophelia and retired to his chair, his hand returning to his chin. “Worry not, my love. If he cannot be found in Belmont, it will fall on me to decide what must be done. Let’s not fret over what we do not know.” 

Ophelia wiped her red eyes and puffed her chest, forcing an empty smile to her lips. “Sylvia! Roderigo!” she called, and the twins ran through the hab. 

Sylvia reached around her father’s leg and gave it a squeeze. He didn’t stir. He just sat there, staring into the distance. 

“Come,” Ophelia said. “Let us go and pay our respect to the flame.” 

The family departed through the airlock into the smoke-laden street. They grasped each other’s hands and peered through their breathing masks at the shadows of the other families of Belmont, all mingling outside the Pillars of Belmont. The whole city crowded around the sacred monument, and a single light blinked from a balcony cut into the foremost pillar. 

“Children of smoke,” a voice boomed through the city, bouncing off the stone which encased them in the mountain’s core. “We gather to cleanse ourselves. Fire purifies all it touches. Let us pass through the fire as one.” 

“Amen,” the crowd responded. 

“They grasped each other’s hands and peered through their breathing masks at the shadows of the other families of Belmont, all mingling outside the Pillars of Belmont.” Photo by Jacob Boavista.

A horn blasted three times. 

“Confess, and let your sins burn away.” The voice of the minister resounded among the people. Whispers echoed from each of them as, through closed eyes, they made their confessions. 

“Forgive me,” Brutus whispered so quiet that none might hear. “I should’ve listened better to Lorenzo. I should’ve heard him, instead of dismissing him the same way I would any fool who questions the wisdom of fire. I am as blind as a man who stumbles in smoke. And now my son is missing. Let him come back to me. Guide me to him. Let me see him just once again.” 

The horn blasted three times more. 

“Your words have been heard,” the priest’s voice thundered. “Now let the fire answer.” 

A scorching mist billowed from the pillars, blown across the river of purified ore that flowed from between the two titans. The mist spread through those gathered, dispersing its heat among them. 

“You have been heard. Now let the smoke wash you clean, children. May this Thickveil be a Holy Veil. And may you have peace.” 

The horn blasted a final time, and Thickveil struck. 

“Amen,” the people parroted before they turned back to their habs.

“Let me see him just once again.” Photo by Om Prakash Sethia.

Brutus turned, and Ophelia squeezed his hand. 

“Brutus!” a voice called from the crowd. “Brutus!” 

Brutus stopped and waited for the shadow that rushed towards him. Antony emerged from the mist. 

“Brutus, the Council will meet with you,” Antony said. “Come. They gather as we speak.” 

Brutus looked to the pillars, and offered a silent prayer of thanks, before he twisted to his wife. “Take the children, Ophelia. I shall return shortly.” 

She vanished into the mist with Sylvia and Roderigo. 

Antony led him through the milling crowd towards the foremost pillar. A stone door scraped open, and they moved inside the pillars. A crunch brought the stone behind them, sealing Brutus in. 

The hiss of air sucked the smoke out of the chamber, and Antony unhooked his breathing mask. Brutus followed, and the floor shook. 

Gears whined. A rumble caused Brutus to stagger as the lift drew him up the colossal shaft, through the pillar, to its peak. The lift emptied him into a dimly lit room, where men and women gathered in a circle, their bodies covered in hooded robes, and blood-red eyes glowed from the shadow where their faces should’ve been. 

“Come.” One of them beckoned Brutus into the circle. It was the same voice which had led the people in the cleansing ritual. “Speak.”

Brutus stepped into the midst of the Council of Belmont. “Is there news of my son?” he asked. 

“He is not in the city, my child. If he lives, he has abandoned us.” 

Brutus’s shoulders slumped. His fingers rubbed his forehead. “He may still be covered in mist. You know the mountains conceal all. It may not be too late for him.” 

“You know the law of exposure. Not even the minister at the gate has the freedom to reveal his face to an outsider.” 

Brutus shook his head. “If I could just get onto the mountain, I’m sure I could bring him back without anyone seeing.” 

“It is forbidden.” 

Brutus’s lips quivered. “But . . . he’s my son.” 

“He is a child of smoke. We all suffer this loss. But you know the writings of the Guardian. The Gospel of Portia clearly states that none may leave the mountain. You wouldn’t question the founder, would you?” 

“No.” Brutus clenched his fists. “I’m a loyal Belmontian. I follow the path of fire.” 

“A pure soul of Belmont. May the flame always warm and feed you. Amen.” They moved their hands up, rising to mimic a flicker of flame; the time-honored symbol of worship. 

The Council dispersed and Brutus turned back to the shaft. A hoodsman joined him as the lift descended. He peeled back his robe. “Brutus, I am truly sorry for your loss.” 

“Thank you, Councilman.” 

“Please, call me Julius.” 

Brutus bowed to him, but Julius grasped his arm and lifted him upright. 

“My friend,” Julius said, “not all among the Council approve of its piety. Or its decisions. In fact, there are some of us who are even—” Julius looked around him, although he knew they were alone as the chamber whirred lower and lower still. 

“Even what?” Brutus asked. 

“Can you be trusted with a secret, Brutus?” 

He nodded. 

“There are some among us,” Julius whispered, “who believe that Belmont should not be cut off from what lies beyond the mountain. That if a fire cannot spread, it will fade and die.” 

Brutus’s eyes bulged, and he grasped his chest. 

“Does this shock you?” Julius said. “When the Guardian wrote her manifesto in which she recommended to limit contact with the others beyond the mountain, it was only so that those who mined inside this rock may not become discontent. Complete seclusion was never her aim. She sought contentment for the people. How much contentment do you see among this new generation of Belmontians? Was your son content here, Brutus?” 

Brutus shook his head, stifling the lump in his throat. “He wished for a life beyond this place.” 

“And he was wise to do so.” Julius rested his hand on Brutus’s shoulder. “The priests preach that segregation is purity, but what is worth more: a lump of pure iron, or the mountain in which it forms? Blind devotion to smoke and fire will only lead to ash. I know you are loyal to the flame, and this talk is new to you. But I sense a purpose for you which Portia herself would smile upon. One in which you may prove yourself a true Belmontian.” 

The war within Brutus erupted across his face. The hoodsman spoke heresy. Yet, instead of rejecting it, Brutus listened. And more than that, he saw a spark of sense in it. Was this the heat that had tickled Lorenzo’s ears and led him to abandon his home? Lies. Lies. All these words, lies. And yet, they spoke to Brutus as the lift lowered through the pillar, and he couldn’t turn his ear away.

“What would you have me do?” Brutus asked. 

Julius smiled. “For many Veils, our group of adherents have sought to start a fire of our own in Belmont. But we’ve yet to find the spark to ignite it. Your son could be that spark, Brutus. I saw you clench your fists when you were denied the chance to search for him. What if I could give you that chance?” 

Brutus’s eyes danced aflame. “You mean it? You can get me past the Gatekeeper?” 

“Bring Lorenzo back to Belmont, and we’ll burn through this mountain.” 

Brutus nodded, but his chest sunk. “Julius, none will be hurt when this fire of yours is lit, will they?” 

“Brother, we seek harmony with those beyond. Peace brings no harm with it. You know this.” 

Brutus pictured Lorenzo’s face. He’d petitioned the flame to see his son one time more, and he had been heard. He grasped Julius by the shoulder. “I will be your spark, Julius.” 

“Meet me at the gate at Halfmist.” Julius returned his hood to cover his face. “For Belmont.” 

“For Belmont,” Brutus repeated. 

The lift hit the ground, and they disappeared into the plumes of smoke shrouding the city. 

Brutus’s breathing mask hissed as it worked to stave the smog of Thickveil from his lungs. He strode a path along the river, its molten heat radiating with a comfort that settled his beating heart. All the omens favored this decision. He glimpsed shadows through the mist, knowing the smoke held unseen eyes. Always had he believed the smoke concealed them, yet now he knew that all things were exposed to it. That even the shadows were consumed by its all-seeing haze. 

He scanned his hand against the access panel of his hab. Beyond the airlock, Ophelia waited for him. 

“What news?” she asked. 

“I must leave at Halfmist,” he answered. 

“Leave? Where?” 

The less she knew, the better. He trusted his life to Julius, but the lives of his family were another matter. “I cannot say. But know that there is hope, my love.” 

Tears welled in her eyes. Her hands quivered. “You speak the truth?” she said. 

“It is all I know how to speak.” 

“Oh, Brutus. Do you have to leave? I’m not sure I can cope without you.” 

“All will be well, my dear Ophelia. Light a fire for me, and hope it doesn’t fade.” 

“Hope. Is that all you can give me?” 

Brutus folded his arms around her. “What else is there to give?” he said.  

“Hope is a dangerous thing to possess, husband. Hope alone would drive a person mad.” 

He pulled Ophelia to his chest and cradled her. He wished to tell her that he would bring their son home again. That all would be well. But silence settled in the hab, a silence he couldn’t bring himself to break.

“A father will always find his kin.” Photo by Ante Hamersmit.

Sylvia squealed from the playroom, and Ophelia pulled herself from his hold. 

“It’s okay,” Brutus said. “I’ll check on them.” 

Ophelia nodded, her shaking fingers covering her lips. Brutus entered the playroom and roared as loud as a kiln. The children scattered through the room, fleeing his stomping feet as he bellowed, giant as the mountain. 

“Where are those children? I’ll lick them up in my flaming arms!” 

The children ran, but he caught Sylvia and swept her into his grasp. He nuzzled his head on her stomach and blew kisses over her. She laughed, kicking her legs. Roderigo tapped his father’s knees. Brutus slipped Sylvia under one arm and scooped Roderigo in his other, peppering him with the same affection. 

“Father’s a fire!” Sylvia said. 

“Nice and warm,” Roderigo answered. 

“I burn for you, my children.” Brutus remembered the same game he used to play with Lorenzo. “There’s no hiding from your father, no matter how hard you try. A father will always find his kin.” 

“Is that true, Father?” Sylvia asked. 

Brutus pictured Lorenzo, lost in mist. “If I said it, it’s true.” 

They played the game again and again. Ophelia sat in the doorway and watched them play. Then the horn blew across the city, chiming an hour until Halfmist. 

Brutus kissed his wife’s cheek and left his family playing together. He grabbed his mask, his pickaxe and his jacket, and without another word, vanished into smoke. 

Through the city, Brutus ascended one level at a time. He climbed beyond the colonnades and above the pillars, where the once colossal drill had first chiselled out their mountain home. Smoke rose in a cloud, growing ever thicker as he reached the top of the shaft.

“Smoke rose in a cloud, growing ever thicker as he reached the top of the shaft.” Photo by Adam Bixby.

Julius waited for him in shadow. “Brother,” Julius said. “You are ready?” 

“More than you know.” 

A smile crept through the glass plate of Julius’s breathing mask as he shepherded Brutus along the passage towards the gate. “Have you ever met a Gatekeeper, Brutus?” 

“Not that I can recall.” 

“They are the most loyal of all Belmontians. They serve in isolation, shielding the mountain from outsiders. And yet, they must touch the outside and allow it to pass in safety within this rock once every six Veils. For how else are we to be fed with food and air? You see, Belmont is not so alone as you might think.” 

Brutus remembered Lorenzo speak of food and air, which Belmont traded with the other cities of the Globe. He had not wished to listen then. But he listened now. 

“We had a Gatekeeper join us once,” Julius continued. “Many Veils ago. But the Council discovered the plan to drop the gate, and he was banished forever. The gate opens once every sixth Halfmist to allow goods safely in and out. But we would’ve smashed the barrier that blocks us from leaving, the same wall which keeps that Gatekeeper from ever returning. So I ask you, are you ready, Brutus? You know what is at stake?” 

Brutus imagined the smiling faces of his dear wife and children. He must return those smiles to their eyes. Until Lorenzo was found, their eyes would never gleam again. What choice did he have? Even if he, too, might become banished from Belmont, he had to try. “I understand the risk.” 

“Good.” Julius clapped him on the back. “Here.” From beneath his robe, the hoodsman pushed a small device into Brutus’s palm. “This will draw the gate once, and once alone. It is how you must return, with Lorenzo in your arms. Do not use it until you are finished in your search. One use is all that it can produce.” 

“A gift from your Gatekeeper friend?” Brutus asked. 

“A relic from a former time. Which is what we will all become, unless you can bring your son home.” 

Ahead, the smoke thinned, and a group of Belmontians with ore-scorched masks huddled, waiting. Julius guided Brutus into the core of them. 

“We are the mountain, and you are the flame,” they chanted. “Rise and burn. Rise and burn.” They stomped their feet as they pushed through the thinning barrier of mist, repeating their chant. As their footsteps quickened, their voices raised, until they were running in the clear air, screaming the anthem at the top of their lungs. 

Through the thrashing limbs of those around him, Brutus glimpsed the giant air vents sucking up the smoke, and the tunnel which led to an amber force field, shielding a huge drawbridge and open gate. Beyond the gate, a cavalcade of hovercraft lined up with supplies for the Belmontians. 

The Gatekeeper stood at the far end of the drawbridge, between the open gate and the misty mountain beyond. Photo by Sergey Nikolaev.

Halfmist struck, and the force field collapsed as the horn shuddered the walls, rippling up from the kiln below. The Gatekeeper stood at the far end of the drawbridge, between the open gate and the misty mountain beyond. 

“Hold!” the Gatekeeper roared, as he ignited the laser of his axe and scythe. 

The masked men swarming around Brutus lit their picks. They broke formation, charging at the Gatekeeper. Shards of electrum flashed where the laser of scythe met pick, and the men wrestled the Gatekeeper from his post. 

Momentum carried Brutus ahead. Julius was nowhere to be found as Brutus left through the open gate, stumbling onto a new kind of rock. The men behind him dispersed, and a force field shot up the side of the mountain, masking it in an amber haze. 

Brutus gathered his footing. The mountain beneath him splintered into pieces. It seemed so unsteady, so fragile. Not like the solid stone carved inside the city. The safety of his refuge crumbled with the pebbles which scattered at his feet. 

“Lorenzo!” he called out. His voice carried through the mist. “Lorenzo, my son!” 

Brutus unhooked his breathing mask, and gulped the air. It dizzied him in an intoxicating rush. Never had he tasted air so light and yet so dense. It enveloped him, more so than the fog. 

He staggered down the mountainside, the only sound his echoing cry and the scuff of his footsteps over uncertain clumps of disintegrating rock. 

“Lorenzo!” 

He wandered for hours, calling out. As he neared the foot of the mountain, golden rays of sun broke through the mist, and he threw his hand up to shade his red eyes from the light. Never had he seen so bright a flame as the ball of fire in the sky. Everything blurred, so intense was the glow of morning. The stone reflected the light back to him, forcing his eyes shut. He stumbled blind until the ground leveled off, weeping tears in the heat. His skin burned. Sweat poured from his tattered clothes. 

“Lorenzo!” 

His foot struck a lump. It wasn’t rock. A soft, spongy form stretched out below him. He knelt to feel it and recognised its touch as flesh. 

Brutus ran his fingers across the body that lay before him. He dared to open his eyes, and there he saw the scorched remains of his son. 

“No!” he wept. “Lorenzo. My son. My boy.” 

He cradled the limp body to his chest. Tears drenched his child. Brutus cried out, his voice louder than the horn blast at Thinveil. 

“I asked that I see my boy once more. But not like this. You deceived me!” 

He slammed his fist against his chest, beating it as he screamed at the fire which had brought him here. 

“Why would you do this to me? Were the omens not good? Did you not answer my plea? Fire is supposed to be pure. But you are not a pure flame! You lie. Lies. Lies. All these lies. No more! You are to blame for this! I curse you, and I curse this ground, and I curse the world. Oh, Lorenzo, my boy. Can you ever forgive me?” 

Brutus picked up the body and turned back up the mountain. Into the mist, he disappeared, to return his son the way he’d come. All the while, he kept repeating the chant of Julius’s men. “We are the mountain and you are the fire. Rise and burn. Rise and burn.”


If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Frasier’s “Pillars of Smoke,” which kicked off the entire Globe Folio series, and then Frasier’s “The Voice of Beasts.”

On Friday, we bring you Part 2 of “The Burning Flame.” Brutus returns to the guarded entrance of Belmont with what he assumes is the body of his son. He is called before the very Council he defied. And he must reconcile the loss of his son with his faith in the Burning Flame.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Night of the Rocket–Belmont

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the first of six stories set on a single planet but written by four authors. We will release one story each Friday. Please bear with this short introduction to the planet and the five cities. It will be worth it. I promise!]

On the planet simply known as the Globe, all the residents live along the Elizabeth River in or near one of the five nation cities. In the wilds in between live the beasts and the bandits, but under the protection of the five cities, the people prosper. Trade travels along the Elizabeth River. Except for the Seven Day War between Whitehall and Finsbury, there has always been peace. What more could one want?

Generations ago, their ancestors fled a war among the stars and settled the Globe. They dismantled their ships and built cities. Now, they only look to the stars to admire their cold, distant beauty.

So no one expected the descent of the rocket. Only those watching the night sky on that historic night saw the lurid, purple glare as the rocket landed in a field near Whitehall. A night that would always be remembered as the “Night of the Rocket.”

The City of Belmont

Furthest north in the cold mountains lies the City of Belmont and its iron and coal mines. Eternal mists mix with billows of smoke to wreath the underground city in permanent clouds of smog. The mysterious Belmontians stick to their own, and some say they are so inbred they have red eyes.

This story is set in Belmont on the Night of the Rocket …

Pillars of Smoke

by Frasier Armitage

A horn blasted through Belmont, carried in the smog. In another hour, Thinveil would chime. Lorenzo deactivated his pickaxe and stumbled into the elevator, a shadow among shadows as smoke saturated the air, turning everything into a haze of itself.

Bodies piled out, past the molten lake. Its liquid fire flowed from the Pillars of Belmont where a pneumatic kiln smelted ore in a river of purified iron. Photo by Ian Stauffer.

The lift ascended through the mountain’s core, and the Great Kiln’s pounding rhythm guided droves of spent workers from the mine.

“Hab-level,” the elevator squawked.

Bodies piled out, past the Pillars of Belmont, two colossal monuments carved inside the mountain. Between the pillars, a molten lake flowed. Its liquid fire traced a path through the habitat as the ancient kiln smelted ore in a river of purified iron. The pillars towered over the shrouded city, chiseled into the mountain’s heart. A temple to the fire.

Lorenzo tottered through a swarm of masked workers, naked save for their tools. None needed the extra weight of fabric when mist preserved their modesty better than clothing, and the city’s heat blazed as the sun.

He found his hab-unit, and his fingers smothered the iron keypad. Vents sealed behind him, pumping the air clear, revealing smudges of coal across his sweat-drenched body. He unclasped his breathing mask and hung it with his goggles on the wall. Pulses of air washed over him, cleansing him of the mine’s stain. A chill rippled his skin, and he clothed himself before he stepped into the hab.

“Lorenzo’s back!” his mother called out. Sylvia and Roderigo scurried to him, hugging his legs. His mother pulled the twins from him.

“At the rate they’re growing, they’ll be knocking me down soon,” Lorenzo said.

“We have news. Thank the flame.”

“Never. Your legs are strong as the two pillars.” She smiled.

“My son,” his father entered from the study. “Today is a good day.” He stood opposite Lorenzo and pressed his hands on the young man’s shoulders, his red eyes beaming. “We have news. Thank the flame.”

“What news?”

“You’ve been matched, my son.”

Lorenzo’s head dropped. “Father, I—”

“Narissa is to be your mate.”

“You know my feelings, father. How can you rejoice?”

“Shouldn’t I be happy you’ll have prospects, security, a wife?”

“A cage.”

His father released his arms. “Roderigo, Sylvia, go and play in the other room.”

The children disappeared, shepherded to the playroom by their mother.

“There is more to the world than smoke and mist, father.” Photo by Thomas Tixtaaz.

“How many times have I told you, son? You shouldn’t speak ill of Belmont.”

“There is more to the world than smoke and mist, father.” Lorenzo’s shoulders stiffened. “This city chokes us.”

“The fire warms and feeds us. Smoke keeps us safe.”

“You’re wrong. It’s the others, the outsiders who—”

“Hush, Lorenzo. Do you want the children to hear?” His father glanced over his shoulder. “Never speak of the outsiders. You know the law.”

“The world is a kiln. It forges us in its flames.”
Photo by Viviane Okubo.

Lorenzo threw his hands up. “What would we eat if we didn’t trade our minerals for their food? What would we breathe if we didn’t recycle their air? We’re prisoners inside this mountain.”

“We’re protected.”

“You mean concealed.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” His father pinched the bridge of his nose. “We hide in mist. We abide in safety. You know this.”

“What you call safety, I call a prison. We’re trapped here.”

“Trapped from what? What is freedom, son? What would you do with it?”

“I wouldn’t marry. Or stay in Belmont.”

“You want to leave? Leave the mountain which has cared for you. Abandon the mines that have welcomed and taught you? Are you so ungrateful?”

“Are you so blind? Would you rather I rot in this cage, father? This is not the only city in the world.”

His father rubbed his eyes. “What do you know of the world? The world is a kiln. It forges us in its flames. You can’t escape the fire.”

Lorenzo’s eyes glowed hot, burning red. Bloodflame seared hatred into his bones. “Look beyond the smoke, father. The outsiders could help us.”

“You know nothing of the outsiders, son.”

“You’re wrong. I’ve seen them.”

His father stilled, statuesque. “You’ve what?”

“From the mountaintop.”

“Since when have you been outside the mountain?”

Lorenzo puffed his chest. “I found an abandoned vent. The mist was thinner in the open. And at Thinveil, before our kiln pumps smog into the air, before the smoke thickens the mountain’s fog, I could see the lights.”

“There’s more beyond this mountain.”

“No, Lorenzo. I won’t hear it.”

“They were faint. But I saw them.”

His father shook the words out of his head. “You’re just a child, my son. You don’t know what you speak.”

“I know enough. There’s more beyond this mountain.”

“There is fire and family. And that is all.”

“Maybe for you, father. You can’t leave. You have the children, and mother. But I have no wife. No ties. Why shouldn’t I go?”

“Do you think me a slave, Lorenzo? That Roderigo and Sylvia imprison me? No. They’ve freed me. We’re all children of smoke. You’re free here. Belmont is free. Don’t you see that?”

“I see a tomb.”

His father paced the hab. “Maybe you’ll understand one day, when you and Narissa have children of your own. Come. Today is a good day. Accept your match and let’s eat.”

Lorenzo’s fists shook. Tears welled in his eyes, branding him in rage. “I won’t be buried in this mountain!” He turned to the airlock and snatched his breathing mask.

Mist blanketed everything, yet his eyes had never been clearer. Photo by Jackson Hendry.

“Lorenzo!” his father called after him. But it was too late. Smoke filled the hab, and Lorenzo vanished within it.

Through the city, he climbed. He scrambled to the derelict service hatch, and shimmied up the vent. Thinveil struck. The horn blared below as Lorenzo lifted himself onto the mountainside.

Mist blanketed everything, yet his eyes had never been clearer.

There is more, he thought. More beyond the smoke. More beyond Belmont. More waiting for me.

As if in answer, the sky erupted. A lurid purple spark, bright as molten ore, lit the mountaintop. Lorenzo shielded his eyes, but nothing could prevent the flame blazing across heaven, slicing through his sanctuary of smoke. As the light touched Lorenzo, it held no warmth. No comfort. And for the first time in his life, there was nowhere for him to hide.


If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

And make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on The Globe, “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson. Set in the desert city of Westminster, it’s filled with action, intrigue, and swirling sands.

Finally, view the beautiful, original photos used to illustrate “Pillars of Smoke,” learn about the photographers, and follow links to their other work.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the entire Globe Folio series (to date) from beginning to end:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross