In the Fire of Her Eyes

Reading Time: 4 minutes
(Image created by Anais Aguilera using Firefly.)

Before she was a god, she was a girl: of braided white hair and nut-brown skin and sapphire-blue eyes that were clear as the ice-holes she’d fished in as a child, when her body was her own. When she wasn’t yet Mother Uba, the latest incarnation of the goddess of the wilds, her right eye the sun and her left eye the moon, the raging fires of heaven bound in a vessel of flesh and blood.

Oh, what she would give to just be Uba again. To huddle in the warmth of her sister’s embrace. To take back the footsteps she’d carved into the snow on the night that she’d fled, shielding her ears from her father’s accusations.

Murderer. Monster. Words that he’d screamed over the corpse of Uba’s mother, burnt to a crisp in the fire of Uba’s eyes, after Uba lost control.

Better to be gone. Away from the guilt and the bone-deep grief. Safe in the ice that kept her blessedly numb, that dampened the burn of the fire in her skull. The fire she feared.

Who else would she hurt, would she kill with its heat?

So, she kept her eyes shut. She ran deep into the wilderness. And as the sun flickered out, and the sky went black, and she held all the light of the world behind her eyelids, she tried to pretend she could bury her pain, and she wouldn’t die alone in the cold of the mountains.

But maybe that was what she deserved.


After almost a year of solitude, someone came searching.

“Mother Uba?” said the girl, as she entered the cavern in which Uba had made her home. Slipping on months’ worth of untouched snow, she stumbled to the ice-block where Uba’s body still lay, frozen in time.

Uba kept her eyes shut, afraid of what would happen if she let herself out. The fire of the sun crackled hot in her face, ready to burn whoever stood in her way. Whoever came too close.

The intruder didn’t notice. A child, from the sound of her chattering teeth, the fear in her voice. “Please, Mother Uba, I’ve traveled so far to find you. My people are dying. Without the sun, we can’t eat. We can’t grow any crops.”

But Uba didn’t answer. Not even when the wind blew chilly in the cavern, and the girl laid down, wheezing in the cold, and Uba thought back to the girl she used to be. Who she hoped to be again, if the goddess would only let her.


For three long days, the girl didn’t leave.

“I’m Nikita,” said the girl. “I’ve heard all about your powers—how you captured the sun. How it only shines bright if you open your eyes. Please, won’t you open your eyes, just a little?”

A tempting request, if only just to see her. To know how a child could be so brave. Much braver than Uba had been at her age, running from her family, her problems, her life.

She decided, after the first night, she admired this girl.

Nikita stayed close, arms wrapped around Uba in her self-imposed prison. Telling her all about her father, sick at home, and her mother, so worried they wouldn’t make it through the winter. Not without a miracle. Not without the goddess who was supposed to protect them.

Always, Uba stayed silent. Desperate to hold her, to wipe away her tears.

Until the third night, when Nikita lay shivering, her lips blue-black with frost.

Uba shifted in her ice. Bit down on her fear. And she cracked open an eye—the tiniest amount. No more than a sliver. Not able to see into the darkness of the cavern. But she let herself smile as Nikita’s breath softened, Nikita shivered a bit less, and she huddled up close to the trickle of warmth that spread from Uba’s right eye.


The burning came soon after. White-hot and searing. Thick with the guilt and the pain of running away.

Even with her eyes shut, it didn’t get better.

Uba’s body sizzled. The more she resisted, the more the skin around her eyelids started to crisp.

She fell to the ground, legs melting through the ice. Crushed by the heat and the weight of the goddess on her small, trembling shoulders. The weight of what she’d done. Of being alone.

But no, she wasn’t alone. Nikita was there, her frost-dusted fingers on Uba’s hot cheeks.

“Let it out,” begged Nikita. “You have to let it out.”

How fiercely Uba wanted to. But she knew if she let go, she couldn’t go back. The fire would make her lose control, just like before.

“Please,” said Nikita.

Still, Uba resisted. Until she couldn’t hold it in. Her whole body numb. Tired and broken from so many years of heartache.

So, she took a deep breath. Squeezed Nikita’s hand. And with a prayer for her own soul, she cracked open her eyes, desperate to see the last good thing in this world.


Later that night, Uba’s body still smoldered.

Nikita sat in front of her, a smile of relief on her nut-brown face. Safe in the ice Uba thought she’d needed. The ice that was her friend. Now, she’d made a new friend. A shield from the hurt she’d tried so hard to run away from. That tempered the fire like the ice never could. That kept her in control.

“I’ll stay here for as long as you need me,” said Nikita, and she touched Uba’s cheek, her smile so radiant in the light of Uba’s eyes.

Uba huddled up to her, afraid to let go. Held onto Nikita as morning arrived, and they shared each other’s warmth, and the sun burned bright in the sky high above.


Edited by a Fallon Clark and Sophie Gorjance.

Ryan Cole is a speculative fiction writer who lives in Virginia with his husband and snuggly pug child. He is a winner of the Writers of the Future Contest, and his recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clarkesworld, Voyage YA by Uncharted, Gallery of Curiosities, and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated anthology Mother: Tales of Love and Terror (Weird Little Worlds Press). He is a full member of the SFWA and HWA. Find out more at