Zohak, the evil brother of the Firestarter Atar, has made the ultimate pact with the demons. He learns that the power the dragon-snakes have given him does not come without a cost. He is horrified to find that they require human brains for food.
Atar is faced with the final test. The winner gains the throne of the Persian Empire. Meanwhile, the kingdom is wracked with disturbances. The drought has caused famine. Zohak institutes a monstrous tithe, and Kava the blacksmith loses his family.
The Army of the People rises under Atar and Kava, but they are faced with an Imperial army now composed of full and part blooded demons, sorcerers, and wizards. Their only hope is the power contained in the body of Atar the Firestarter, but he must first find a way to activate it.
The drip, drip, drip of water cut through the air. Each drip reverberated in his head. Zohak opened his eyes slowly. At least the clanging hadn’t started. His limbs were heavy. He tried to speak, but only a low moan escaped his lips. He thrashed his head and moaned louder. He saw the figure in the doorway. It was dark, but rays of light made a fiery backdrop. He moaned again and tried in vain to move. The figure casually set a huge mace down and pulled a wicked-looking knife out of its sheath. Zohak recognized it as the knife belonging to his foster father, Melik of the Stout Ribs. He had given it to Zohak just before he was murdered.
The man’s face was visible now. It was Atar the Idiot, his half-brother, and the real heir to the throne. Zohak wanted to plead with him. Atar’s face was impassive. All of its anger was gone. He pulled off the covers to reveal Zohak’s naked body and then, as if working with a deer carcass, he began to flay Zohak. Unable to scream, Zohak moaned in torment and terror.
Instead of the torment ending in death, he was roughly dragged out of his bloody bed and it was then that the clanging began. The dragon snakes were already writhing in agony with their master, but now their frantic movements maddened him.
Clang, clang, clang!
Another figure appeared at the door. He was a huge man—yes, it was the blacksmith Kava. He was carrying iron chains. He took these and wrapped them around Zohak’s burning body and they made his flesh sizzle like roasting meat. Zohak was overwhelmed with the horrifying odor of his own burning flesh. The blacksmith eyed Zohak for a moment then reached back to something he’d set on the floor. He put an ox yoke on Zohak’s neck.
Zohak could see the agony in the man’s mind. He saw the blacksmith’s daughter, the one his dragon snakes had eaten. His skinless body burned at the memory. He could see and feel the agony of every person he’d fed to his snakes. In response, the snakes vomited a vile-smelling substance that tortured him as it spilled over his exposed flesh.
The men were making him walk. They moved on and on until they reached a mountain that looked horribly black. They led him into a cave deep in the mountain. The blacksmith held a hammer in one hand and a long iron spike in the other. He was unable to move as the man hammered the spikes into his body, pinning him into the rock. Zohak realized that the man was being careful not to harm his vital organs.
The two men left him in the darkness and suddenly Zohak found his voice.
Zohak’s screaming brought the guards, his viziers, and even his wife, Jahi the Lovely. “Bring the astrologers and magicians,” he croaked.
His hair was in disarray and he hadn’t changed his bedclothes. Urine soaked the front and back of his robe, but Zohak didn’t care.
“So what does this dream mean?”
“We cannot be certain…”
“It can mean several things. Perhaps not all bad,” another astrologer said.
“Guards!” Zohak roared. “Prepare to have these men all flayed alive. They are hiding the truth for fear.”
An old astrologer, the chief, stood. “I will tell you. The reason we hesitate is that there is no good news. The dream means this: Everyman is born not for his parents, but as a tithe for death. No person—not even the highest king, can escape death. It means too, that your evil deeds have earned you a terrible reward. The man they call the ‘Firestarter’ will come back and he will destroy you. The blacksmith of your dream represents the many people you have killed to satisfy the greed of your snakes. Because of that greed, people have risen against you. You cannot escape your destiny, which is endless suffering as an eternal captive in Mount Damavand. The iron with which they bound you represents good over evil. The blacksmith works with iron. Iron represents forces that work against demons. It means, in short, that you are now not a man, but a demon. For you, death would be a blessing.”