Flame and Shadow

By Joshua Carr All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Other

Chapter 31

Kyle, Josie and I walked from the school building down to the training area. We had finished the day’s classes, and afterward we walked together toward the next activity.

I turned to Josie.

“Hey, how long’s it been since you’ve seen the lumberjack?” I asked.

“It’s been a whole week!” She gleefully replied, then her countenance turned down. “Well… four days, actually.”

“Nice! That’s really good!”

The girl smiled again.

“Thanks.”

Kyle gave us a baffled look.

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh…” Josie and I met each other’s gaze. “Nothing.”

I was still the only one in the world who knew the girl’s secret. However, we created a code so that we could talk about it without divulging any sensitive information. I thought it would be good for her to be part of a secret code, as well as to keep talking about her affliction. We’d make it through this!

“OK…” Kyle said, before muttering: “I still don’t get it.”

The three of us continued to the gym. Mahsa was waiting for us, along with Bethany and Reese.

“We aren’t late, are we?” I apprehensively asked.

“No.” Mahsa answered. “We’re just early. Are you ready to practice precision control?”

Precision control actually came quite easily to me. Considering that I could generate only the very smallest of flames, I had no problem forming it where I wanted. Kyle, although he could only secret a tiny amount poison from his hands, seemed to demonstrate effective control over his power. I wasn’t sure about Josie.

Mahsa retrieved a metal ruler, and marched over to us.

“Show me your precision. Only activate your power in the finger under the ruler.”

Reese held out both of his hands, fingers open. Mahsa held the ruler over his left middle finger. The young man formed a spark from that finger into the metal object. Mahsa jumped back with a shock. She then fetched a plastic ruler, and repeated the training. The ruler hovered over finger after finger, moving ever faster. It was impossible to see for sure, but I imagined Reese’s eyes darting back and forth beneath his dark sunglasses.

“Very good, Reese! Excellent precision.” Mahsa praised. “Alright, Bethany, you’re up next.”

Bethany also did well, although her reaction speed was nowhere near Reese’s. Our teacher then moved to test Josie.

“Alright, Josie. Make just a small icicle on your finger just beneath the ruler. I know it’s your first time trying this, but that’s no excuse.”

With that, Mahsa quickly flipped the flat rod out above the girl’s left index finger. She panicked, and a massive icicle instantly emerged from the ground between them. Josie was knocked flat on her back by her own power, while Mahsa did a flip to dodge, and landed on her feet.

“Imagine…if I had powers like that…” I barely heard her whisper to herself.

That was what Mahsa had always wanted, but she made due with her nigh negligible ability. It was then that I realized something I had never thought of before. Maybe that was the reason God had given her such a weak power. So she could sympathize with and help out other people with pathetic lack of ability, like Kyle and myself.

“Alright, not bad.” She stated, brushing herself off. “Now, everyone keep working on this on your own. Josie, I would recommend you keep a little space from the others until you get the hang of it.”

After the day’s training, I decided to practice a little overtime. After saying good night to Kyle, and telling Josie I’d be home in a little while, I worked on my forms until they were perfectly crisp. Using the precision which I had been practicing, I was able to direct my small flames into effective parts of each and every strike. So I’m not the chosen one. So I’m just a worthless little weirdo. So what? Even a weirdo can make a difference. In fact, it’s possible that a weirdo is exactly what it would take to do something important. I had helped Josie, right? If my life were just to do little things like that, I would be perfectly content. However, if I could get strong enough to do big things, that would be even better. I just had to be as strong as I could be to make sure I was ready, if my chance ever arose.

Just then, the very earth shook with a muffled rumble. The lights all around flickered, before going out. The thing about having an underground city is, when the lights go out, it’s pretty darn dark. My blood pumped faster in terror, but I forced myself to remain calm. It was probably just a simple…um…earthquake…in Ontario Canada…many miles from any fault line…that knocked out our power. Hm. Maybe it would be a good time to panic after all.

I felt my way out of the physical training room toward the main gym, and was able to make out a number of faint glowing light sources. Several low-level beam callers were lighting the way for a small party of people to enter the city’s power station.

Alright. It’s going to be alright. They’re going to get the power fixed, then we’ll figure out what’s going on, and everything will be fine. Suddenly, one of the gentle pink luminescent spots went out, followed by another.

OK. Maybe everything isn’t going to be alright.

With the smothering darkness no longer perforated by the small beacons of light, it was impossible to determine what was going on. Of course, this could all be coincidence. Maybe it was just an earthquake that knocked out the power, and those light-makers may have just fallen asleep, or tripped over their own shoelaces. Right. I had to assume the worst.

At that point, the lights came back on. It was full-strength pseudo-sunlight, unlike the late-evening imitating light which had been on previously. The people who entered the power station must have been electric callers, and were able to personally activate the manual backup generator. The entire underground city was once again bathed in light. Everything within the cavernous underground chamber was revealed.

Frankly, I kinda wish it wasn’t.

Immediately after the exposure to the garish fluorescent beams, the sound of gunfire erupted from near the center of town. Not long after, a series of screams also reached my ears. My heart took off beating wildly. Was this real? Were we really under attack? I stood stunned with fear for just a moment. Then, I came to my senses. The natural response would be to run and hide at the sound of shooting and death. But that’s not what I was made for. Maybe there was nothing I could do, but I wasn’t going to sit around and let people die while I could still fight.

I took off running toward the sounds of battle. Was Tsalderek attacking us here? I didn’t even think that they knew where our headquarters were. It’s possible that they tracked us here after our latest skirmish, but why would they wait for so long? Maybe there was another enemy of the Ircabim that I didn’t even know about. Whoever they were, it seemed as though they were on a murderous rampage.

After several minutes, I reached the area of the city where the fighting had begun. I put my hand over my mouth, as I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. On the ground all around me were a number of bloody corpses. There were a few dressed in black masked combat uniforms, but the majority were members of Nahalore. I had never seen so many people killed like this before. I took a closer look at the bodies. Most of them were not wearing the outfits of the Exosia division, making them civilians. At this time of night, most civilians would have been either in bed, or at least in their houses. Whoever did this, actually dragged people from their homes, and murdered them in the streets.

I stood in the street, overwhelmed by the brutality that had occurred, and the battle noises that still surrounded me. Just then, I saw a man run around a corner, a look of terror on his face. He was another Nahalore civilian, and he clutched a small child to his chest. For an instant, I caught his eye, and saw the fear and pain in his face. He couldn’t have been much older than me, and the baby he carried may have been his young child. Before I could make another move, I saw him fall to the ground, his body twisting painfully in a splatter of blood. He had just been gunned down from behind by one of the invaders.

My heart burned with sorrow and anger. Why was this happening? I was so terrified and furious, that I couldn’t even move. I stood there, in the middle of the corpse littered street, clenching my fists until they turned white. My body shook with suppressed fear and fury. The soldier who had killed the man and his baby must not have seen me, because he continued forward toward the center of the fight. After recovering my courage, I dashed after him. I wasn’t even really certain what I would even do if I caught him, but any punishment that I could inflict would not be enough for this monster.

My target was a very big, mountain-like man. He had some kind of rocket launcher strapped to his back, but to kill the man from before, he had just used a hand gun. As I closed in on him from behind, I formed a flame in my hand. I was going to give him a taste of his own medicine, and it wasn’t going to taste like a Klondike Bar. More like eating a charcoal briquette.

Just as I was about to strike, the ground beneath me underwent an upheaval, sending me into the air. I crashed onto my stomach, and skinned my arms to a bloody state. The wind was knocked out of me, and I had smacked my face against the ground. I moaned in pain. When I looked up, the man I had been pursuing had turned to face me, and pointed his gun at me. The massive hulk had angry looking features and an enormous nose. The combination of his huge size and honking nose gave him semblance to a rhinoceros.

As I looked into his cruel face, I realized that he was the one who had created the tremor that had knocked me down. An Ircabim! Why was he attacking Nahalore? He must have been the one to cause the earthquake and knock out the power.

“What are you doing?” I gasped the question through clenched teeth.

“Bringing the end.” The man answered. “Starting with you.”

Just before he pulled the trigger, a wall crumbled off a neighboring building, and crashed in between us. I was nearly crushed, but managed to roll out of the way in time. The building must have been toppled by the tremor this attacker had created. He must have either been satisfied that I was dead, or decided that it wasn’t worth his time digging through the rubble to find me if I were still alive. The huge man continued on his previous path.

Left alone again, I lay for a moment in the settling cloud of dust and debris. Coughing the crap out of my lungs, I forced myself back to my feet. Clearly, I was out of my league here. The smart thing to do would be to run away, but what would that do? These guys probably wanted to exterminate all of Nahalore for some reason, and if I didn’t fight now, then they’d just come for me later. I started to make my way toward the center of battle again. After climbing over some rubble of the fallen building, I hurried down the street, attempting to stay out of sight. Suddenly, one of the invaders came around a corner right in front of me.

Reacting quickly, I dealt him a hook kick to the chest, and followed with a flame-imbued palm strike. He went down, with his black uniform on fire. When I came in toward him to knock him out of commission, I was hit from behind by the hard metal of a machine gun. The soldier must have been accompanied by another who followed back a ways to cover him. I tumbled to the ground, holding my back. The second attacker lifted his rifle, and fired.

The bullets struck the ground only inches from my body. At the last second, a blurred form had flown in, knocked the gun to the side, and taken the soldier out. With vision dulled by pain, I was able to make out my rescuer. It was Mahsa! She grabbed the man that she had struck, and flipped him onto the guy whose jacket was still on fire.

“Get out of here!” Mahsa shouted. “What are you even doing?!”

I scrambled to my feet. My back hurt so much that I forgot about my other injuries, but I wasn’t giving up as long as I was alive.

“I’m trying to help!” I responded.

“You’re just going to get killed out here! I’m not going to let that happen!”

A male and female invader attacked, but Mahsa dispatched the woman with a jumping kick and spinning elbow strike, then continued the spin into a low sweeping kick, knocking the man flat. She then hit him with a palm strike, simultaneously releasing her icy power, freezing him to the ground.

“I want to help! I’m not going to leave you guys!” I said defiantly.

Before Mahsa could say anything else, her attention was drawn to a soldier on top of a roof. When she moved out of his line of sight, we saw another nearby. In a moment, we were completely surrounded by the invaders. My teacher clenched her fists and turned in a stationary circle, surveying her enemy. Mahsa was an incredible fighter and strategist, but I couldn’t see how even she could make it out of this one. And by the anxious look on her face, I didn’t think that she could either.

I feared that it was the end. These merciless soldiers would stop at nothing until we were lying dead on the street. Out of nowhere, a roaring wave of water swept across the south part of the battlefield. I freaked and instinctively jerked away from the water. My eyes opened wide and my heart raced in terror at the appearance of the element. I couldn’t control my fear. My mind flashed back to the horrible memories of my captivity and torture. However, the water wasn’t meant for me. A number of the soldiers were washed away by the wave, and the others immediately turned their focus to the new development. A figure walked through the ruins of a building, and stood next to Mahsa and me.

“Doshi.”

“Mahsa.”

Doshi, the brilliant water-caller, had come to help fight! With his arrival, the battlefield didn’t look nearly so hopeless. Although I was absolutely petrified of his ability, I could respect that he was an incredibly powerful fighter. If there was any way we could beat these guys, it was with Doshi on our side.

“Ready to kick some ass?” Mahsa asked.

In response, Doshi caused water to start flowing up from the ground. The man then directed the stream of water toward the nearest soldier. Mahsa placed her hands directly by the flow, and immediately the rushing torrent started to freeze. The icy solid stream arced through the air, impaling the enemy. Doshi continued to turn the water flow toward the other invaders, Mahsa continuing to freeze it into ice.

The remaining soldiers saw what was happening, and began to open fire on us. Doshi altered the direction of the water, and Mahsa froze it again, forming a shield of ice. The teamwork between these two was amazing! After the sound of automatic fire diminished, Doshi removed his concentration from the frozen water, making it disappear. He then formed a giant wave and sent it toward the soldiers. Mahsa ran up and froze it solid, trapping the remaining enemies.

“OK. That was awesome.” I expressed my awe at their incredible skills.

Just then, another man appeared on the street, walking towards us. Doshi immediately sent a mighty pulse of water in his direction. When it reached the target, it vanished. The man continued walking on his course, with his hand extended in front of him.

“What the-“ I was shocked to see the inefficacy of the attack.

Doshi also seemed surprised, but he remained calm, and generated another wave. With a sweep of his gloved, extended hand, the newcomer completely neutralized the attack. How was he doing that? He couldn’t be an Omni-caller, only Sherman had that power. As he grew closer, I could see his unmasked face. He was a very handsome man, with long brown hair that fell behind his ears. His expression didn’t emit loathing or fury like rhino-nose, but instead looked almost jovial, with a twinge of cruelty in his eye.

Doshi nodded at Mahsa, before spraying a solid stream of water at the enemy. Mahsa used her ice power on the jet, turning it into a veritable ice beam. The powerful attack simply disappeared into thin air as the man continued to calmly approach us, still holding up his hand. Suddenly, he sprung forward and attempted to strike Mahsa. She did a backward handspring to avoid, and Doshi blasted him with water to counter. The attacker nullified the liquid, and continued to move on the offensive.

He blocked one of Mahsa’s kicks, pushed her away, and moved like a panther toward Doshi. The water-caller’s elemental power was nigh unmatched, but he had very little hand-to-hand skills. The enemy easily overwhelmed Doshi with lightning fast attacks, before connecting with a powerful palm strike to his target’s chest. Doshi flew into the air several feet backward and landed hard.

With substantial effort, he released water all over the ground beneath the enemy’s feet. Mahsa saw what he was doing, and quickly pressed her hand to the floor, and froze the water into a sheet of ice. She then performed a jumping side kick from behind. The man was able to cross block the kick, but it sent him sliding a great distance along the iced over street.

Everything happened so fast, I had no idea how to join in. I had never even seen a real battle before, and this fight was a level above anything I could match. Doshi rose to his feet, and he and Mahsa stood side-by-side, staring at their foe. He only laughed.

“I’m very impressed with you, Nephilim! Most people completely lose it when they see the effect of the Clist Nullifier, but you! Damned if I’ve ever seen anyone put up such a good fight!”

Mahsa and Doshi said nothing, and only looked on with cold rage. I thought it looked like they were about to start fighting again, when I noticed something off to my right. There was a large number of invaders running in a single direction. In an instant, it occurred to me where they were going. They were attacking the mansion where some of the highest ranking officers of Nahalore lived. Oh, God, Josie was there too!

I knew that Mahsa and Doshi could handle their enemy, so I left them, and headed toward the manor. I had to do something! Pushing the pain in my back and legs out of my mind, I sprinted at top speed to where I lived. Staying out of the path of the attackers, I took the shortest back road to the mansion, and managed to beat them there. When I burst forcefully through the front door, I shouted at the top of my lungs.

“Everyone! Get out of here! The soldiers are coming! Run! Get out of here!”

I spotted Butler Francois, and dashed over to him.

“Francois, where’s Sherman?!”

“Ah, he is not here. I think he may be at zee chapel.” The butler responded. “He is safe.”

“OK, great! Find everyone you can, and get the heck out of here! I need to find Josie!”

“Oui Mademoiselle!” Francois affirmed, and ran off in the direction of the kitchen.

I hurried to my room, praying that Josie was there, and not out in the battle in danger. I threw open the door and called her name.

“Josie! Josie, are you here?”

She poked her head out of the bathroom.

“Y-yeah. I’m here.”

I rushed toward her.

“Are you alright?”

I noticed that there were no bloody razors laying anywhere. Good. Maybe she was just hiding in here.

“I-I’m sorry!” She cried, tears filling her eyes. “This is all my-“

I violently slapped my hand over her mouth.

“Don’t you dare say this is all your fault. This is not your fault. There’s a lot of evil in this world. People like you and me just try our best to make it through, but bad things still happen. It’s nobody’s fault. Got it?”

She nodded, my hand still over her mouth.

“Alright, good. Now let’s get outta here!”

The two of us dashed out of the room, and through the mansion. There were fleeing staff and officers heading for the doors as well, as the pandemonium of the inside of the building equaled the sounds of war on the outside. At last, Josie and I made it out the front door.

“Yes! We made it out! Everyone, run for shelter!” I shouted.

Taking a quick look around, I saw that just about everyone had made it out OK. I spotted Chef and Butler Francois among the others. That’s a relief. Suddenly, the sounds of screams came from within the mansion. Josie gasped.

“That’s Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac! They’re still in there!”

Before I could stop her, she started running back into the mansion.

“No, Josie! Don’t!” I screamed, but she turned her head to face me.

“Sera! There’s a lot of bad people in the world. But I’m like you! I can’t just let that happen! I need to do something to stop it!”

Just as I was about to give chase to her, gunshots erupted in our direction. I dropped to the ground, and Josie darted into the building.

“Damnit!” I cried, and sprinted after her.

Once inside the building, I could see no sign of her.

“Josie!” I called, but there was no response. “Josie! Where are you! JOSIE!!”

Like the sound of a dropping vase, an enemy soldier crashed through a window only a foot in front of me. Reacting quickly, I kicked him as hard as I could. When he bounced off a wall back toward me, I grabbed his arm, and hit him in the face with his own gun. Another invader came through the window. I threw a punch at him, but he was ready, and blocked it. He attempted to counter, but I spun to his side, elbowed him in the ribs, and did a fire-incorporated spin kick which knocked him to the floor.

While still finishing with the first two, I found myself surrounded by more soldiers. They must have entered from other parts of the mansion. There was nothing else I could do, but I was certainly not going to surrender. I doubted they would show any mercy whether I raised my hands or not. Just when I thought they were going to fire, one of them was struck from behind, and fell to the ground. Everyone turned to look at what had happened.

Chef Francois was standing there, a large metal ladle in his hands. He said something in French that was totally lost on me. Just when the soldiers prepared to shoot, a vortex of wind pulsed through the wind like a horizontal tornado. The gunmen were knocked for a loop, many of them dropping their weapons. I flipped around, and saw Butler Francois, standing dignified and proper in his suit.

“Butler Francois! You have Ircabim powers?” I asked, incredulous.

“Oui Mademoiselle. Wind-caller, level six. I use my talents to serve and protect my masters from unseemly slovenly slugs like these.”

After a moment, the soldiers recovered from the attack. Some were able to retain their guns. The Chef brandished a large butcher knife, and commenced to dispatch the closest adversary. The Butler demonstrated a highly impressive aptitude for martial arts, performing dizzying spins and acrobatic kicks, combining them with whirling wind-based attacks. In only a few moments, all of the invaders were lying dead or unconscious.

“Wow! That was incredible! Thanks guys!” I gave my gratitude.

Chef Francois bowed, and began to speak in unintelligible French again. Abruptly, he was cut off. Blood dribbled from his mouth as he gurgled weakly, and fell to the floor.

I gasped, and put my hand over my mouth. He had been stabbed through the back by some kind of long Japanese Chokuto. Standing there, menacingly, was a heavily armed woman. She was tall, with dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was clad in a black uniform, with a number of guns and ammo strapped on. How did she sneak up on us like that, and kill Chef Francois without us even seeing her?

Butler Francois let out a cry of rage, and attacked with a flurry of gale-force wind attacks. An instant before they reached her, the woman vanished. I questioned what my own eyes had seen, and blinked a few times to make sure. She had just disappeared. Suddenly, Francois was slashed from behind by the same sword. He whipped out a large knife and deflected the cut before it became a lethal blow. The woman had teleported behind him! He made a quick slice with his weapon, but it whiffed through thin air. Instantly, she was on his other side, and slashed her blade across his left leg.

The teleporter continually moved from one spot to the other, completely untouched. Out of nowhere, I felt a powerful strike across my face, knocking me to the ground. I never even saw her. Several more seconds passed with the woman beating him savagely. Francois would not give up, continuing to resist long after he should have quit.

“Just die.” The attacker growled.

Jamais! I will protect mademoiselle with every gram of strength in my body! It is my purpose for life!”

“We’ll see how well you do that when you can no longer breathe.”

With that, she teleported to his right side, twisted his arm, and flipped him into the air. I watched helplessly from the ground as she vanished again, and impaled him to death on her sword. Then, she teleported directly in front of me.

“Why are you so important that they’d give their lives for you?” She muttered.

The woman reached down, grabbed me by the shirt, and lifted me off the ground. As she reached her sword back to thrust it into my throat, our eyes locked. I glared defiantly back into her face. If this was how I was going to die, so be it. I’d done my best, and there would be no groveling or weeping from me.

Upon looking deep into my eyes, a look of absolute horror came across the killer’s face, and she nearly dropped her sword.

“No…it can’t be…” She whispered, and dropped me to the ground.

I had no idea what had just happened. Did she know me, or did I know her? The woman looked around quickly, before grabbing me by the shoulder. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the ground in the same position, with the teleporter still holding my shoulder, but we were outside of the mansion. She must have teleported from the building, and taken me with her. Then, she released me, gave me a final look, and vanished again in a blink.

Before I could even contemplate what had just happened, the manor was rocked with an enormous explosion. I was knocked backward, rolling due to the force emanated from the blast. The entire building was decimated. Everything was either blown to pieces, or a flaming ruin due to the bomb. It’s a good thing we got nearly everyone out, because nobody left inside the mansion could have survived. Then I realized; that woman had just saved my life. She had not only intentionally spared me from her sword, but had taken me to safety before the powerful explosion had destroyed everything.

Despite the elation at being alive, my heart was still saddened by the death of Francois and Francois. The poor men had been willing to give up their lives to save me. I didn’t know if they actually believed that I was the fiery one, or if they were simply loyal because they were assigned to serve me. But now they’re gone, and I’m still here. That’s just wrong. I pounded my fist into the ground. It’s all my fault. I’m nobody special. How could I be, when Nahalore could be attacked, and people could die, and the only thing that I could do is get more people killed! The Francois’s would have been fine if I hadn’t run back into the building to try to save-

“JOSIE!!”

Josie was still in the building at the time of the blast! Why did I let her go!? I promised that I’d always be there for her, and now she was dead! I scrambled to my feet, and ran as fast as I could toward the wreckage.

“MY GOD!” I screamed on my way. “How could I fail again! So many times! Why do you put such a worthless creature in charge of people’s lives?! WHY!?”

I climbed through what remained of the building. The heat from the flames had no effect on me. My skin was absolutely fireproof. My jacket was, too, I just had to be cautious with my other clothes. They could easily burn if exposed to open flames. While making my way through what had been my home for the last six years, I cried out Josie’s name.

“Josie! Josie! Talk to me! Sister! Are you there?”

After over a minute of searching, I had all but given in to despair. No one could have survived that, especially not such a delicate icicle such as Josie. I saw no signs of life whatsoever. Just then, I noticed something behind a pile of rubble. Thinking it could possible indicate a survivor, I rushed over, and peered around the debris.

There, with my own eyes, I saw Josie. She was on her knees, holding her hands out in front of her. The scars on her wrists were exposed because she had pulled back her long sleeves. Directly next to her were the servants: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two were laying on the ground behind her. The girl had formed a half-dome of ice to shield them from the blast. Josie was sweating with exertion, and the ice barrier was nearly melted through, but they were alive!!

Josie turned her head to me.

“It’s…it’s over, right?”

I nodded, clenching back tears.

“I…I did it, didn’t I… I did something right…”

I closed the distance between us in an instant, and grabbed her in my arms.

“You sure did. Oh, Josie, I’m so glad you’re alive!”

The two of us shed tears together, and the tragedy of the day was lost in our sisterly embrace.

*SLAM*

“WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THEY FOUND THE FIERY ONE?!”

“I didn’t know myself until fairly recently. Don’t worry, our informant has been punished duly.”

“Why didn’t you tell me as soon as you found out?!”

“I assumed…correctly I might add…that you would have difficulty completing the culling if you had knowledge that the prophecy was nearly complete. I know you don’t enjoy that sort of thing.”

“I would have done whatever was necessary, sir.”

“It matters not. The wheels have been set in motion. Everything will come to pass very soon, now. Your duty is nearly at an end.”

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