Sweat sprang mercilessly from my back as my arms were placed in the heavy manacles. The heat from the great urn, so many feet away, was already too hot to be pleasant. A great roar rang out from my left; they had placed out the secondary urn this time, to tempt the rabble.
The secondary urn was lit with fire that sprang high into the air. The large square platform it sat on was covered in straw thick enough to cover the stone beneath. The soldiers, their swords flashing in the firelight formed a ring around the platform. None had ever heard why they faced towards the urn, rather than the undulating crowd behind them, it was just so. From the crowd, men would spring forth towards the urn. Often women would scream out warning, their arms waving impotently as their words were swallowed by the rising howls. The men, usually young and brash, would try to reach the urn, often engulfed instead by flames in the process. A burn across your arm was seen as a dangerous act of defiance. I often snorted in derision at such claims; such a small act was not worth the notice of the mages; I was in the place they reserved for true defiance.
The mages had not always been the power in our great city; once normal men dominated the councils and the warriors chosen to protect us. Time had made us complacent and they had appeared slowly in our midst and insinuated themselves into places of power before we realised what was happening. Their soldiers with thin swords and stony faces had replaced our trusted warriors and the city had changed from a place of philosophy and hope to one of fear. And still, nobody knew what the mages wanted. Wizards, they sometimes called themselves, their old hags cackling and stamping their brooms to the ground.
A streak of light and a sharp crack, like a whip, rent the air and the city fell deathly silent. I became aware, again, of the heat at my back. It was going to be soon. A breeze from the sea cooled my back and forced a shiver from my body. I drank in the details, unsure whether I would ever see my city again. The lengthening darkness of sunset crept through the maze of stone buildings and the dying sunlight shone through the tufts of green on each rooftop. My eyes followed the lines of colour upwards to the great hall; its magnificent structure thrust towards the sky and dwarfed the dwellings around it.
A horn blew, and I knew it was time. The great urn, filled with its liquid fire, would be flung away from the city across the vast ocean that stretched outwards from our position on the cliff tops. I had seen a man try to evade the liquid fire while flying through the air once. He had almost avoided the largest globule when the chains hindered his movement and his arm simply disappeared. The rest of his body instantaneously caught fire and the ball of flame that was once a man merely followed the urns arc into the sea.
The pain in my arms was agonizing as they were wrenched out of their sockets and popped back in. The noise from the crowd lasted only a few seconds before the howl of the wind rushing past my ears overwhelmed me. I craned my neck to see the great urn and jerked to the right as a small piece of liquid fire sped towards me. It was harder to move than I had anticipated, but I managed to avoid it, and began twisting my body to face the water instead of the sky. Seeing the contents of the urn everything else faded out of my consciousness, if I missed even a small amount of the deadly substance my life was forfeit. I could see some of the liquid wriggling free and knew this was my chance. I pulled the chain, propelling myself closer to the urn and brought my hands together. The chains clanked and relaxed for a split second as the molten material hit. I cried out in triumph as the chain disintegrated and I saw the urn churning further ahead of me.
Heat rose in the shackles around my arms, yet the chill wind cooled them back quickly. I realised that my eyes were stinging and watering and the distance to the sea became frighteningly clear. The light had faded significantly since I had stared out across the city, it felt like a lifetime ago. My nose began to detect the saltiness of the water and crispness of the air. I knew they would have seen my escape from the burning liquid, but would it make any difference? I tried to pull my legs under my body, but instead found myself flipping through the air. A pounding began in my head and the first real hints of fear coursed through me. The water raced toward me. The heavy chains dead weights on my arms. I couldn’t breathe in enough air to scream. Was this the end after all? I closed my eyes and curled into a ball as my body smashed into the water.