Flames licked into the sky in this secluded cove; thin, translucent tongues of yellow, orange, and pale blue. The rocks and surf they hissed from were dark with salty smoke, then shrouded white with a wisp of steam. And almost blending into the dark crags, blue-scaled bodies lazed in flame like living ropes of azure and onyx.
Alibaba stared at what had to be the biggest nest of basking salamander kraits anywhere, and wondered if they could feel his heart pounding harder than the waves. “They’re lethal, right?”
“If they bite you? Most of the time,” Jahan agreed. “They’re very good-natured, though. For snakes. I’ve seen my own grandchildren pick them up to play with them. Which has earned them all a swat or two.” He hmphed. “Gentle never means safe. If they think you’re trying to eat them they will bite.”
And people did kill them, Alibaba knew, for the rare scales that let fire flow off them like rain. Rare, valuable skins, almost never seen; though looking at the living creatures now, he recognized the same patterns as the silky gray lining inside Jahan’s over-tunic. No wonder the man hadn’t been afraid to pluck him out of the ocean, flames or not. “Why are you letting me see this?”
“A secret for a secret,” Jahan shrugged. “If the wrong ears heard it, your name might be as deadly as their venom.” The old merchant smiled. “Besides. You need to practice. And let you throw fire around near the kitchen gardens? I’d never hear the end of it!” He waved at shore, sea, unimpressed kraits. “You won’t burn anything here.”
“Practice.” Alibaba tasted that word like it was in Tran; foreign, and filled with shades of meaning he might never suspect until it was too late. “The Sinbad stories didn’t say anything about practice.”
“Of course not; the man sprang full-formed from the heavens with perfect command of earth-shaking magic,” Jahan said dryly. “Or so some of the stories would say.”