Flame and Shadow

By Joshua Carr All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Other

Chapter 19

It was Wednesday, so classes ended at around noon. The rest of the morning passed more or less uneventfully. I somehow managed to stay awake, most likely due to the extra sleep I had gotten. After a mealtime, the rest of the day was spent training for the Exosia division. We would train in combat, as well as in strengthening our powers. Honestly, I wasn’t great at this.

Bethany and Reese were blessed with immense natural talent. Their elemental abilities were incredible, and they didn’t even have to work at them to improve. They were just good. I, on the other hand, had to work hard to even stay alive here. Because I’ve trained my fighting skills so much, I could hold my own in our training routines, but I knew that I was still woefully insufficient for actual usability in the Exosia division. Kyle…I’m still not sure why he’s here. He has about as much power as I do, and seemingly very little skill at anything. Plus, he didn’t seem to have too much of a drive to get better. He wouldn’t give up, though. For six years, he’s been toughing it out. I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty impressed that he keeps trying, no matter how much he gets beat.

When we arrived at the training area, Mahsa was waiting to make an announcement. By her side stood a small girl. It was hard to tell exactly how old she was, but I would guess about 13. What was she doing here?

“Alright, maggots.” Mahsa declared. “I want you to meet a new member of Exosia: Josie Morelo.”

The girl shied away, with her arms behind her back, and her head looking at her feet.

“Her family lived outside of our city, working in one of the supply stations. Due to some…complicated circumstances, she has come to reside here. She has expressed significant spiritual potential, so I have been tasked with training her.”

I looked quizzically at Josie. There was something odd about her. Not just that she was shy, but something different. She only stood about 5 feet tall. The girl’s long brown hair was tied in a tight braid that reached halfway down her back. It was her eyes that were strange. The physical appearance was beautiful; a frosty shade of blue. However, they revealed something inside of her soul, that I couldn’t quite place.

Mahsa continued.

“Although she’s only 14, I have determined that the closest team to her skills is this one.”

The anticipated moans came from the two most advanced students, and they whispered about their displeasure to each other. Over the years, though, they had learned not to question Mahsa’s decisions. To her face, that is.

“Her power level has not yet been classified, but she has shown ice-type characteristics. I trust that you will all receive her well, and make her feel like family.”

Just then, Mahsa’s phone buzzed. She lifted it to her ear, and spoke a couple of words. Then she hung up and turned back to us.

“I have to go. I’ll be back later. Start training while I’m gone, and try to include Josie if you can.”

With that, she hustled out of the area in response to her call. Reese and Bethany waited about 7 seconds before advancing toward the girl.

“Listen here, brat.” Reese was the first to make his threats. “You don’t belong here. We know it, you know it.”

“Yeah, it’s bad enough that they let these losers join.” Bethany gestured at Kyle and me.

I smiled and waved. Their verbal abuse had very little effect on me by now.

“Now, they’re putting little kids in serious situations with real trained soldiers? Idiots.”

Josie looked up at the older students, terrified. Reese pushed his way back in.

“We’re not going to stop making you miserable until they pull you out, or you quit.”

“You can look forward to a living hell for as long as you try to fit in here, you little bitch!”

I couldn’t just watch this happen. I could take them being jerks to me. I would always stand up for Kyle, because he couldn’t stand up for himself. But this, they were terrorizing this innocent girl, who they had known for all of 5 minutes.

“Hey! Leave her alone, slimeballs! She didn’t do anything to you!” I started approaching them, fists clenched.

Although they obviously weren’t afraid of me, they must have thought this confrontation wasn’t worth their time. They slowly turned away from the girl. Then, like a snake, Bethany stomped at her, pretending like she was going to hit her.

Josie put her arms up to defend herself. Her light-blue accented uniform jacket had sleeves that were far too long, that covered most of her hands. When Bethany saw this, she couldn’t let an opportunity slip past. She grabbed the girl’s wrist like a clamp. Josie squealed in pain.

“What’s this?! Your shirt’s too big? You’re so insignificant they couldn’t even get the right size for you? Or maybe you’re just so small and weak they don’t make ’em that small!”

OK. That’s it. I grabbed Bethany by the back of her collar, and yanked her down and backward. She stumbled several steps and tumbled to the ground.

“It’s alright, don’t worry.” I comforted Josie, and tried to put my arms around her. She pulled back, still crying in pain.

“I’m not going to hurt you. I was in the same spot you are, once.”

Then, I spotted blood seeping through her long sleeves. That creep! Bethany had drawn blood! I took Josie’s veiled hand in mine, and lifted it up. It was then that our eyes met. What I saw in her eyes hit me like a water balloon in the face. They were reminiscent of a dead tree. Hollow, somehow. They were full of fear and sorrow, and appeared like they had lost something, and had given up hope trying to find it.

I could almost feel her hurt through her gaze. For her young age, she had seen too much, and experienced things no one ever should. As quickly as it started, our eye contact was broken. She whipped her hand away, and backed away slowly. Wait, she’s not afraid of me, is she? I quickly turned around, just in time to see Bethany about to fire an energy beam at me. In one fluid movement, I closed the gap between us, and knocked her arm upward. The beam streaked through the air at an angle to the ground, and hit the ceiling at the other end of the room. The force of the blast knocked down a rain of debris, and part of the ceiling was destroyed.

I hopped backward, and ignited the fire in my right hand. Reese and Bethany both faced me, glaring daggers at me and the one I was protecting. I was positioned between the innocent girl and her tormenters. We stood in lethal silence for a long moment. The palpable tension could erupt into a fight in an instant.

“Guys, I don’t want a fight here.” I explained. “All I’m asking is that you treat Josie like a human being.”

Kyle glanced nervously back and forth between the two sides, silently hoping that nothing would happen.

Abruptly, a door creaked open. Mahsa must have been returning. Reese and Bethany dropped their fighting stance, and started to walk away.

“You’d better not say a word about this to anybody!” Bethany breathed odiously. “I swear I’ll kill you if you squeal!”

While the two antagonizers were leaving, Josie pounced on me, and bear hugged me, burying her face in my chest.

“OH! You’re so awesome! Thank you! Thank you!” The girl gushed joyously. “You stood up to those guys! You must be really awesome! And I don’t even know your name! What’s your name?!”

Oops. I guess I hadn’t even introduced myself properly. I had gotten used to everyone knowing who I was, but Josie had just come here, so she had no idea that I had fulfilled any sort of prophecy or whatever.

“Oh, my name. I’m Seraphina, but you can call me Sera. That guy over there is my best friend Kyle-“

“SERA!” Josie looked up at me again, with her big eyes. “You’re so awesome! I think I love you!”

My face flushed red a bit, and I looked over at Kyle. He also looked uncomfortable, and shrugged.

“Um…OK…”

I wasn’t sure what to say in this situation, so I tried to pull away from her nigh constricting hug. My efforts were of no avail. Great.

By this time, Mahsa had reached us, and looked around in confusion.

“Where are the other two?”

Josie and I pointed in the direction they had walked.

Mahsa shook her head.

“What am I going to do with all of you? I should have been a swine slaughterer like I always wanted. Anyway, I just came back to tell you that training is canceled for today. I have a mission tomorrow, and I need to prepare. Reese and Bethany are coming on the mission, so if you see them, please inform them to come to the command center.”

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