“We kill her,” My words hang heavy in the air. The only one who doesn’t seem bothered by the idea is Selene, not that I’m surprised. Andrei seems to have zoned out, a faraway look in his eyes. I remember what Kaede told me about what that girl put him through. The fire in my chest roars out for vengeance. I’m inclined to agree with it, for once.
I feel the cave wall rumble under my hand. Something hits the outside, and then again. Small stones tumble down from the ceiling.
“She’s trying to force a cave-in,” Nik growls, his jaw taut. “My walls are stronger than that.”
“Kae, stay with Selene. We’ll draw her away from the Camels. When the ways clear, get her out of here, ok? I’ll find you as soon as we can,” Caroline whispers. Kaede nods, kneeling next to Selene. She’s clutching her shoulder where red and black liquids ooze out through her fingers.
“There’s no time to waste,” I hiss. The sight of the ooze brings back the all too recent memories of Ryan. Now I know that this girl was responsible for that too. She won’t leave this desert without knowing the pain that Ryan had to endure. I’ll make sure of it.
The cave wall shutters again. I take that as my cue to rush her before she has a chance to build up another blast of energy. The sand is hard to run on and I don’t move as quickly as I’d anticipated. My vision blurs and suddenly I’m back inside the dim-lit cave again with my back against the wall. Andrei’s face hovers almost nose to nose with me.
“What are you doing? She has a gun, she could have shot you too!” he scolds, hands clamped around my shoulders. His voice, a mixture of panic and anger.
“We’re sitting ducks in here!” I protest, “What else am I supposed to do?”
“I will not lose you to her. Out of all of us, I’m the fastest. I can dodge her bullets without any damage. I’ll go,” he insists through his teeth.
I feel my voice quiver in my throat, and I barely manage to force out the words. “What if, when you see her, you forget?” He knows what I mean.
“What?” he stutters, looking flustered. “I – I won’t forget. How could I ever forget…” he says in a raspy voice, tangling his hands desperately through my hair. His face looks conflicted, shifting between regret, pain, anger, and sadness until he settles with a sad looking frown.
I shift my gaze as the wall behind me rumbles again. I meet the dark eyes of Nik and nod toward the outside. He smiles wickedly. His body crumbles into the sand and in the dark, I just barely see a ripple out through the mouth of the cave. Caroline follows right behind him, water absorbing into the sand.
“I won’t let her take you away from me again,” I growl. Even saying it makes my blood boil. The fire scratches at the edge of my mind, but I hold it back. Not yet.
He looks to the side, frowning deeper. “I won’t either,” he grunts. Is he embarrassed? When he looks back up at me, I barely have time to think as he quickly presses his lips to mine to assure me he means what he says.
I grab onto the collar of his shirt in case he decides to take off dramatically. “You can move fast, but she can’t shoot me if my body isn’t there,” I whisper with a wink. “You can’t keep me out of this.”
He looks at me, confused. “Your body? What?” he asks.
“Bullets pass right through flames, Andrei,” I roll my eyes. “Remember last time?”
“Oh, right,” he nods, a determined look on his face. “Let’s do this together, then.”
I wait for him to let me go. He steps back, kneeling down to rummage through his bag. He pulls out the little sword keychain and unsheathes it. The rapier grows in his hand and he drops the now full-sized sheathe. I have to admit, the sight of him like this, ready to fight, is somewhat distracting. I push back those thoughts for later, although I wonder if that would piss her off more if we didn’t fight but fooled around instead. I snicker under my breath. I wish I could remember her face so I might imagine her disdain.
He looks to me, feet apart, ready to dash forward. I nod once, and he disappears in a blur. I’m quick to follow, giving into the flames. They explode out of me in a rush, faster than ever before. I don’t see the others at first, but as I step into the night, the whole area is bathed in my light. The sand turns to glass in my footsteps.
Two spots in the sand circle the cave. I’ve only taken a couple of steps when I feel an impact on my shoulder. It takes me off guard because that shouldn’t be possible. When I look down, the fire on my shoulder is absorbed in a black energy, before disappearing. I stumble away from the black orb. My shoulder reforms, but it stings something awful. What the hell was that?
I scan the area. The camels grunt and tug at their reins. When I look, I notice a pair of legs that don’t match among them. That’s a cheap move. I click my tongue and wave my arm. The air above the camels fills with a hundred little fires, flooding it with light. Her pale face shines like the moon, with bright red lips and hair, black as her heart. Her cold eyes fix on me with a hatred, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Her lip twitches as she takes in the image of me wreathed in flames.
“Come on. You want a fight, don’t you?” I call to her, as Andrei appears behind her. She doesn’t take the bait, dodging his blade. She waves her hand, letting loose a wave of energy. He stumbles back and glares at her.
“No, deary, I don’t want to fight you. I just want what I came for,” she sneers sweetly.
A growl emits from my throat. The fire of my body flares even brighter, fed by my anger. How dare she talk to him like that. Disgusting.
“You won’t be leaving here at all,” I state bluntly. “Come out here, coward.” The sand lights on fire and it races between the camels’ legs toward her. She rolls away from the flames, throwing her hands out in front of her. The fire disappears a foot in front of her, absorbed by a black spot.
She’s moved a few feet away from the camels, but that’s not enough. I walk closer, waving my hands as I summon more fire to chase her back. She continues to move away from the camels, creating little holes in the ground in their path. I give the camels a wide berth, careful not to burn them.
As she’s busy putting out fires, she doesn’t notice Caroline reform behind her until a spear of ice is hurling toward her. She ducks, but it catches her cheek as she moves. A tiny trickle of blood mars her porcelain skin. I hope it scars. Andrei follows her in between the lines of fire, sword out. She holds one hand in his direction, ready to blast him. He stays a foot or so back, wary.
The sand under her feet trembles. She looks down, eyes wide, as the sand erupts. She mutters a few words and she disappears into thin air. As the dust settles, a rocky hand sinks back into the sand. We wait, holding our breath. This is new to me. I’ve never seen someone disappear like that.
Caroline screams. She falls forward, her water form explodes and she hits the sand in her regular body. Samantha hovers over her, preparing another attack. I thrust my being forward like a torpedo. The fear of losing another friend gives me blinding speed. I lose form in the impact, and we tumble several feet in the sand.
She grunts as I land on top of her. Disoriented, I push myself up and shake my head. My shoulder throbs and I wince. What the hell?
There’s no time to check. She pushes against me, her hands surrounded with dark energy. It burns against the exposed skin of my clavicle. I flinch with a gasp, making the pain in my shoulder worse.
I stretch out my right arm, summoning a flame in the shape of a blade as I bring it down. I aim for where I assume she has a heart. Unfortunately, she doesn’t sit still and I miss, the flame blade plunges into her chest above her breast.
She screams, scratching at my face with her blackened fingertips. I catch her wrists as her nail catches my throat. She growls, a grin on her face. With a quick maneuver, one I’ve used many times before, she flips our position. With my back against the sand, a sinking feeling fills my gut. The sinister glee in her eyes as she hovers there sends a chill down my spine. The hair on the back of my neck stands on end as I feel energy gathering under me.
I panic, thrusting the butt of my palm into her nose. Blood spurts from her nose, splashing on my face. She leans back, cursing. Her hand moves to her hip, unhooking the holster. As I look down the barrel of the gun, my blood runs cold. I hold my breath.
The trigger clicks, and I flinch. There’s a strange sound. When I look up, the front half of the gun falls into the sand beside me. The blade of a sword hovers in the air between us. Her surprised expression is probably a mirror of my own. I follow the sword up, taking in Andrei’s epic stance, standing over us, murder in his hazel eyes.
The girl rolls off of me, stumbling to her feet with hands up. A dark translucent shield forms in front of her just in time to block Andrei’s next swing. He moves fast, and it seems to be all she can do to evade his advances. I prop myself up on my elbows, watching him take swing after swing.
Sam stops and changes gears. She plants her feet in the sand, pushing him back with a force blast. He covers his eyes from the sand. She drops the shield, building up a ball of dark energy between her hands. Specks of colourful light swirl in the ball. I’m confused an entranced; it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’m so bewitched, I don’t even realize it’s getting closer.
“Kat!” Andrei shrieks, a millisecond before he’s crouched over me. His face scrunches up with pain as the shock wears off.
“Andrei! Are you alright?” I sit up, cupping his face in my palms. He leans forward, placing his hand on the ground beside me to hold himself up. I catch a glimpse over his shoulder of the frayed edges where his shirt has been torn apart.
I behind him, Sam’s face falls with regret. She takes a tentative step, then dashes across the sand. “Why?!” she demands, hands hovering over the wound. “Andrei, I’m so sorry! I – I didn’t want to… hurt you… Why? Why’d you take that for her?” Her voice is strangely smooth, yet thick with confusion and disdain.
Andrei grinds his teeth, moving carefully to glare over his shoulder, “Because I love her!” he shouts, wincing with the movement. She reels back as though slapped in the face. That’s… odd.
She stands up straight, stepping back. Her expression returns to anger. “No, it’s not right. You said…” she mumbles under her breath. “You said you’d always love me. It’s no fair that you leave me alone!” her fists clench and her eyes go wide, realising what she’s just blurted out. She glances between us and the cave. Her eyes narrow slightly. “This isn’t over. I will be back,” she growls, taking another step back. A familiar dark portal opens and she disappears.
A long moment of silence passes. I stroke Andrei’s cheek, studying his face. “Are you okay? Do you think you can heal it?” I ask, not waiting for a response, calling over my shoulder. “Caroline?”
The blonde crawls over, covered in sand. She looks over his back, her face skeptical. “I can try, but I don’t think I have enough energy left to heal it completely…”
I bite my lip. “Andrei… I could do it… but…”
He sucks in air before he speaks. “I don’t care about scars. Do what you can,” he says as he begins to sweat.
“It’s not the scars that I’m worried about…” I mumble. “Are you sure?”
He nods, a determined look in his eye. “It’s fine. Just do it. I can handle it.”
I slide my hands down from his cheeks, down his chest and under his arms. The skin of his back is raw, and he inhales sharply when I touch it. I squeeze my eyes shut, willing it to heal, begging the fire not to hurt him. Just let me heal it, spare him the pain…
I feel his body relax, as he rests his forehead against my shoulder. “Hey, that wasn’t as bad as I remember,” he chuckles as I remove my hands from his back.
“Really?!” I’m flooded with relief. Thank you, I think to the fire.
Caroline leans over, examining the aftermath. Her brows raise. “There’s hardly any scarring too. It looks like just a minor sunburn.”
I gawk at her. “What? How…” I crane my neck, trying to see around him but his head is in the way.
“I don’t know what you did differently, but seriously, it’s not that bad,” Andrei lifts his head to smile at me.
I search his face, hopeful. “Really? You’re okay?”
“Thank you, Kaitlyn. You’re amazing,” he kisses me, firm but all too quick.
“That’s a relief… I guess we should get moving then. Do you think you can ride?” I ask both of them. “Where’d Nik go?”
“I think he followed after Kaede and Selene,” Caroline says, glancing at the camels. There are still four of them by the cave.
“Um… How are we going to bring all of them? There’s only three of us now,” I frown at the large hairy beasts.
“I think I can manage, though I’m glad I packed extra clothes. I need a new shirt,” Andrei stands up slowly.
“We can tie the extra one by the reins to one of ours. It won’t be a problem, I don’t think,” Caroline says.
We help each other up and go into the cave to collect all of our things. I find my phone sitting on top of Andrei’s bag, not where I left it. When I open the screen, I see a map with two pointers on it. One seems to be moving.
“Um… What’s this?” I mumble, more to myself than anything.
Caroline leans over my shoulder and smiles. “That’s a GPS signal,” she points to the moving dot. “That’d be Kaede. We just gotta follow this and we’ll find them. Did he leave you any messages?”
I swipe down from the top of the screen to see the text. “<Selene’s not feeling so hot. Come find us. We need to find help. PS; follow the ping. When you get closer it will turn solid>,” I read it out loud. I look at Caroline, then Andrei, standing over my other shoulder. This is bad.
Andrei tilts his head, looking down. He gently takes the phone out of my hand, shining the light on the holes in my shirt. “What’s this?” he reaches around with his other hand and lifts the collar away from my skin, shining a light down on my chest.
Caroline leans in to look. “Wait, that’s like mine!” she gasps, lifting her shirt to show her side, where she was hit. “I tried to heal this but I couldn’t. It’s different, somehow.”
I look down my shirt. A pulsing black web-like pattern spreads across my chest from my right shoulder to my left, and down my left arm.
“This must have something to do with her power,” Andrei muses aloud. “She’s gotten stronger, it seems, or maybe she’s just never showed anyone how capable she is,” he reaches down to poke one of the lines. “Does it hurt at all?”
It was throbbing before, but I was so distracted by the fight that I barely noticed. When his finger presses against the line, it feels sort of like when your foot falls asleep and you accidentally bang it against something. I recoil inward with a yelp, clutching my arms over my chest, pulling my sweater over the marks. I’m almost more surprised by my reaction than they are. Why does it hurt so much? A bullet wound is less painful!
“I’m sorry,” he pulls back quickly. “If Car can’t heal this, we definitely need help. But how do we get help in the desert?”
“I don’t know…” Caroline frowns. “But we need to get to Kaede and Selene. Maybe Nik can help us.”
I nod. “We’ll at least be safer together.”
By Krystyna Yates