Flame and Shadow

By Joshua Carr All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Other

Chapter 13

“OK, Sera. Now is your chance to show us what you’ve learned.”

Mahsa charged me within the training area. I took a quick look around, and saw that no one else was observing. It was just me, Mahsa, and Doshi. I took a deep breath.

“So. I’ve unlocked my power, right? So now I just…use it?”

“When in the life-and-death situation, your latent nature awakened, yes. Now, just focus. Focus on bringing the energy in the spiritual dimension into ours. You can shape it in any way you desire, as long as it’s within the reach of the power level you were blessed with.” She pointed at a rubber, human-shaped target. “Now! Show me what you are capable of! Unleash your full power on that target!”

I stood in front of the manikin-like bag, and breathed deeply. OK. I can do this. I have powers now. Like Johnny Storm. Yeah. It was inside of me, and all I had to do was let it out. I can do this. I’ve done it before. Psych myself up. Alright. Prepare to meet your end, Angry Bob!

I closed my eyes and clenched my fists. My brain visualized burning the target in a fiery inferno. Nothing was happening, so I focused harder. Come on! I couldn’t figure out which muscle to flex to create flames, but I tried to move every one. I groaned and squeaked from exertion, but could feel no burning heat. My eyes still clenched shut, I gave it all that I could, and rapidly extended my hand.

My ears detected a quiet “piff” sound, and my eyes flew open, startled. There, on the left pectoral of the target, was a tiny flame. It flickered dimly like a tiny candle, but it was a fire. I made that!

Elated I flipped around to face my mentors.

“Did you see that!?” I exclaimed with eyes and mouth agape.

Instead of appearing mesmerized by my performance, they both stared at me with expressionless faces and blank, half-closed eyes.

“I can control fire! Isn’t that amazing!?” I pressed, looking for some encouragement.

None was given. Then, Doshi raised up his hands out in front of him. Suddenly, a torrent of water came spiraling into existence from thin air. He swung his arm to his left, and it flowed up into a swirling vortex above our heads. The sound of the rushing was almost deafening as the water moved. Doshi motioned downward with a powerful stroke, and the spiraling deluge struck like an enormous water snake with no head against the target.

My miniscule flame was obliterated in an instant, and the cascade of water continued for several seconds until there was nothing left to be found of the rubber man.

The shear aquatic force from the attack had nearly hit me, and I fell onto the floor on my butt to avoid it. I looked from this position in awe at the power Doshi possessed.

“Whoaaaa. That was awesome!”

The young man did not respond to my praise.

“Fiery One. Ha!” He spat, and, turning on his heel, left the room.

As I sat there on the floor, I struggled to hold back tears. I had never been so embarrassed, or disappointed, or aware of my patheticness. “Fiery One”? “Subject of ancient prophecy”? Ridiculous. Whoever that Fiery One was, it certainly wasn’t me. I would be “Zippo Girl” at best. I had let everyone down already. Tears of despair began to fill my eyes. What was wrong with me? The pain from holding in my sorrow began to be too great, and I started to cry.

“Stop crying!” Mahsa ordered.

She had not left with Doshi, and had stood in the same place, with her arms crossed. I looked up at her through my tears.

“Sorry.” I sniffled. “Sorry that I failed you all. My powers are as worthless as I am.”

“Yes, they’re worthless, and so are you.” Mahsa agreed. “But not everything is just left to fate.” She motioned for me to follow her. “I’ll show you. Come with me.”

Still sniffling, I picked myself up off the ground, and we walked in silence toward the physical training room. She opened the door, and held it open for me. I entered the bright room, and looked around. No one was there, but there were many heavy bags and speed bags hanging in various places.

“No one’s training?” I asked, so curious as to why we had come to this abandoned room and what Mahsa would show me that I forgot about my sorrow.

“No one does.” She said shortly. “All the maggots in Nahalore are as much of a crybaby as you. If they aren’t blessed with incredible ‘powers’, then they assume that they were destined to bake bread or knit scarves or something. BULLSHIT!”

Boy, this was one intense woman. I stared wide-eyed as she talked.

“Now Sera, would you like to know what my elemental power is?”

I nodded. She must be powerful to be one of the highest ranking members of the whole organization.

Mahsa picked up a water bottle from a nearby shelf, and poured it out in front of her. She held out her other hand to catch the stream, and it froze solid.

“Ooh! Cool! You can freeze stuff!”

“Yeah.” She smiled sardonically. “I can freeze stuff. My power is a level 2 ice-caller. All I can do is create a pocket of -10 degrees Fahrenheit air about two feet in diameter. An ability that is completely worthless in combat. When it was first awakened, I was the laughingstock of my classmates, and everyone expected me to quit. But do you know what?”

She leaned forward.

“I didn’t.

“I wouldn’t let anyone tell me what I could or could not do. They all talked about ‘Predestination’ and how it was not my place to be fighting against what God had given me. Although He hadn’t given me powerful abilities, He gave me a strong will. I was going to work hard until I showed them what I could do.”

With that, Mahsa turned and faced the array of punching bags in the room. She took a breath, and focused her mind on what she was about to have her body do. Then, quick as a flash, she began. With super-fast flowing movements that were unlike anything I had ever seen before, the instructor shot forward and released a barrage of attacks on the first bag. Then she did a flying kick to the next, and spun to strike another.

With incredible precision and skill, her demonstration involved every target in the room, hitting them all with enough force to send them swinging. Then, at the very end, she kicked off of one, doing a sideways flip into the air, then landed and delivered a double-palm strike to the final heavy bag, simultaneously releasing her icy cold power. The combination of freezing the water-filled weighted bladders within the bag and her powerful strike made the bag explode into pieces of stuffing, ice, and vinyl coating.

“That was amazing!” I shouted as she turned back around to face me.

“My ability can’t be used as a standalone force, like Doshi’s. But when I incorporate it into my physical attacks, it becomes lethal.” She explained. “You’re like me. Life didn’t hand you incredible powers on a silver platter like it may have for your classmates. But that doesn’t mean it’s over. If you are willing to work hard, I can teach you how to make the most out of your gift, however small it may be.”

Was she serious? I didn’t even know how to make a fist properly! There was no way I could do all of those amazing martial arts moves.

“Um…I’m not sure. I don’t know if I can ever do that stuff. I just don’t have natural talent.”

“That doesn’t matter, if you try hard enough.”

“Still…”

“Make your decision, and say it in front of everyone. We’re meeting in the classroom, with your fellow students in half an hour. Think about it.”

Mahsa spoke with her back to me as she walked away, leaving me alone in the room with the punching bags still swinging back and forth.

Thirty minutes later, all four of us students were in a room full of desks and bookshelves. We stood at the front, before a group of executives of Nahalore, including Sherman, Doshi, Mahsa, and Hobbes. Reese and Bethany had smug expressions on their face. They felt confident that they were getting rid of the weaklings in their group, allowing them to be unhindered by anyone on a slower pace.

“Well, the time has come to make a choice.” Mahsa, as the instructor, addressed us. “We in the council have observed you, and evaluated your abilities and skills, but the choice is ultimately yours. All of you are here because you have been determined to have the potential to display angelic powers, but everyone will be different.”

My stomach felt like it did before the recital. Everyone already had heard how much of a loser I was. They knew that I was a failure, and about as dangerous as a candle. Some Fiery One. Mahsa had told me to make a decision, but I hadn’t been able to. Her story had inspired me, but I wasn’t her. What chance did I have?

“Kyle Gouda. Your power is poison caller, level 2. The extent of your ability is to secrete a toxic substance from your hands. Coupled with your lack of any particular skills in any area, there is very little chance that you can be a useful member of the Exosia division.” She paused. “Do you want to continue to train, or drop out?”

The poor boy had his hand over his face in embarrassment. With tears in his eyes, he nodded.

“I’ll drop.” He choked out.

“Very well. We will find a place for you in society, where you can learn something that you can share with Nahalore.”

Then, she turned to me. My heart flipped.

“Seraphina. Although we’ve never seen a fire caller before, we classify your power as a level 2 as well. All you are capable of creating is a small, insignificant flame. You also have no prior skills or training in any applicable area.”

I gulped.

“I know.”

Even though it was true, it still hurt. This isn’t what I had expected when I was told that I was the Fiery One.

“Do you want to continue to train for the Exosia division, or blend into Nahalore as an ordinary citizen?”

I was silent, struggling. The answer should be obvious. I had nothing to contribute to the organization, and would probably just get killed if I tried to go into combat. But still, I couldn’t just give up…

“Sera! What is your answer? Will you stay and fight, or run and hide?”

Suddenly, confidence began rising up from within me. I felt the burning flames again, but instead of hurting, they made me feel stronger. I wouldn’t run. I wouldn’t hide. This was what I was born to do. If I’ve gotta work, then I’ll work as hard as I can, while there’s still a breath in my body!

“I’m staying! I want to train to become a part of the Exosia!” I burst out with assuredness.

The face of every member of the council appeared absolutely flabbergasted, with the exception of Mahsa’s. One corner of her mouth turned up into a faint smile. None of them were as shocked as Reese or Bethany.

“What!?” Reese shouted. “No! You don’t belong here! You don’t have a chance!”

“Why would you stay, when you’re so worthless?!” Bethany demanded.

“I don’t know.” I admitted.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Sherman asked.

“What? Because my powers are weak? You know, someone once told me that I was something important. That the fate of humankind depended on me.”

Sherman looked a bit uncomfortable as I continued.

“I don’t remember anything changing since then. If the prophecy’s true, then I’m still the Fiery One. And to make a difference, I’m going to have to work hard. So I’m in.”

“Sera, maybe your destiny isn’t to be a fighter. Maybe you were only meant to serve as a loyal follower.”

“No offence, sir, but maybe ‘destiny’ is wrong. I can change it, if I try hard enough.”

Sherman settled into his seat as Mahsa tried to suppress her smile.

“Very well. I accept you into the Exosia training program.”

This set Reese and Bethany off like volcanos, and they began to make a complaining ruckus. Kyle, however, was showing a very different emotion.

“Uh…excuse me, um…hello? I’d like…to…”

His voice was completely drowned out in the commotion. Kyle looked around helplessly for a moment, then shouted.

“HEY! YOU KNOW WHAT?! I’M IN TOO!”

Everyone froze. Kyle? He never spoke, and when he did, it was just senseless apologies.

“Wait, what?” Doshi asked incredulously. “What did you say?”

“I-I want to stay in Exosia as well.” The boy stammered. “If Sera can do it, then so can I!”

“Uh…are you sure about that Kyle? You’ve never shown any kind of ambition or…talent of any kind before. Why the sudden change?” Sherman asked.

“Uh…I dunno…It just seemed like a good idea…”

The most furious by far were the two powerhouse students.

“You can’t just let them in! They can’t do anything! Why would you let two almost powerless brats come and waste our time?! That just ruins everything!” Bethany stormed.

“It’s not always about you.” Mahsa stated flatly. “OK, Kyle. I’ll give you the chance to prove yourself. Honestly, I’m not expecting too much from either of you, but there’s always a chance that one of you could amount to something.”

The room was in total chaos, with people trying to talk over one another, arguing, complaining, etc. Amidst the commotion, I gave Kyle a smile and thumbs up.

“You go, man! Good for you!” In response to my congratulating him, he blushed and scratched behind his head.

Later that evening, I looked around the dimming lights of our underground town. It was impressive, all of this engineering stuff, but there was something missing.

The stars. Although they tried to mimic the outside world with light cycles and even plants that could grow by the fluorescent lights, there was no replacement for the stars or moon. After the light sources on the “ceiling” went out for the night, the only illumination came from street-lights which were set up around the city. It was nice, but it didn’t have the magic of real starlight.

As I was contemplating this, I became aware of another presence with me.

“Um…hi Sera.”

It was Kyle. What was he doing out here at this time?

“Hi Kyle. What’s up?”

“N-nothing. Um…what are you doing out here?”

“Ah, I just miss the stars. That’s all.”

I looked around at the empty “sky”, wondering if there were clouds in the real sky right now.

“Stars? Hm…I’ve never seen the stars.” Kyle confessed. “I’ve been underground pretty much my whole life, and the only times people ever took me out, it was daylight. I’ve heard about the stars, but never-“

“What?! You’ve never even seen the stars?” I could barely believe it. “That’s gotta change.”

I looked seriously into his eyes.

“When you went outside before, how did you get out?”

“Um, through the garage.” He nervously answered. “There’s a door that the cars and motorcycles and stuff get out, and we receive shipments from outside.”

“C’mon! Let’s go!” I took off running toward where I thought the garage must be. Startled, Kyle started running after me.

“Where are we going?” He called from behind me.

“Outside, of course!” I yelled back.

“Are you crazy?!” He shouted. “We can’t go outside! Especially not at night! It’s dangerous, and we’ll get in so much trouble!”

“Not if we don’t get caught! And I’ve been outside of here my whole life! It’s not so bad!”

“Well, we’re going the wrong way! The garage is over there!” Kyle pointed to our left.

“Gotcha! Thanks!” I changed course to follow his direction.

After we ran for a while, we made it to the garage. The door to the garage was right before us. Panting, I looked around, and entered the area for vehicles.

“OK, let’s see if there’s a little door around here somewhere.”

“This is such a bad idea.” Kyle said again, but I ignored him.

There were several tough-looking Jeeps and motorcycles parked in an orderly fashion on one side, and delivery trucks on the other. It was easy to see the large overhead door for the vehicles, but it took a bit of investigation to find a small door for people.

Eventually, I came across it.

“Here we go! Come on, Kyle!” I exclaimed, and he reluctantly followed.

We emerged from the door onto a path within a rocky cave. It was very dimly lit by yellowish running lights. The tunnel-like cave sloped upward toward the night air, and we could immediately feel the chilly draught. It had no effect on me, but I noticed Kyle shiver. I couldn’t see anything at the end of the tunnel, and when we reached it, I could see why. There was a large, metal door barricading the entrance.

“Now, how do we open this?” I wondered out loud.

“There’s probably a keypad or something nearby.” Kyle offered.

After a brief search of the walls around the door, I found a panel. There wasn’t an actual keypad, but there were several switches.

“I wonder what these do.” I flipped the farthest one to the right, and the tunnel was instantly plunged into darkness.

“YAH!” I heard Kyle’s startled cry in the pitch black cavern.

“Sorry!”

My fingers madly fumbled in the darkness, attempting to find the switch for the running lights again. Instead, the large metal door slid open, and a faint light crept in from the world outside. It was dim, but seemed like a floodlight compared to the smothering darkness I had accidentally created.

“Yay! Almost there!” I jubilated.

Kyle just looked around nervously. My feet carried me excitedly up the last of the tunnel. Although I had only been in Nahalore for a few days, it seemed like forever since I had seen the stars.

At the rim of the large cave, there was a great deal of plants and shrubs. Of course, that was to hide the entrance!

“Hurry up!” I called to Kyle, and pushed through the vegetation. He followed, hesitantly. I looked up to see if the sky would be clear, and was not disappointed.

The inky sky was completely clear of clouds or light pollution, and every star appeared as a brilliant point of light. It was glorious. Even Kyle was blown away. He stared up, and nearly fell over backward.

“Wow! I had no idea…”

“It’s pretty awesome, huh?”

He nodded. The two of us surveyed the heavens in silence for a long time. No matter how crazy everything got, the stars would always be the same. There’s something comforting about that. During our little astronomy observation, I noticed Kyle slowly edging toward me. Hm. He must have been cold or something.

When he started getting really close to me, I posed a question to try to get his attention off of, whatever was on his mind.

“What do you think? Cool, huh?”

“Amazing. Sera, thank you so much for bringing me out here. It’s…so beautiful…”

“No problem.” Then, I thought of something else I wanted to ask. “Hey, Kyle, I was wondering, what made you decide to keep going with Exosia? I mean, it doesn’t really seem like your style, ya know?”

“Well,” He looked at the ground self-consciously. “I just wanted to… uh…be with you, wherever you go.”

“Oh, um. Thanks.”

“Sera, I was wondering…um…there’s something I wanted to ask you too.”

“OK. What is it?”

“I thought maybe…Um, I was thinking…that…um…I was wondering if…” YOU WOULD BE WITH ME FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!!! “…if…uh…if we could be friends?”

“Oh, that? Sure! I already thought we were friends, but we can make it more official if you want.” I straightened up and looked at him. “I, Seraphina, um, don’t know last name, declare you, Kyle, to be my friend. We’ll stick together, and make it through training together.”

He was still looking at the ground, but nodded his head.

“OK. Thanks.” Then he looked up at me. “I feel better about this already.”

I didn’t notice his hand reaching for mine, so I started to walk away, causing his hand to bump my thigh. I looked at him, quizzically. Even in the dim light of the stars, I could tell he was glowing as red as Darth Vader’s lightsaber.

“S-s-sorry. There was a…uh…mosquito on you.”

“Oh, OK. Thanks Kyle!”

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