Writer's Wednesday!

Apocalypse 6–Back from the Dead

Shattered chain lying on the road.
“The chains shattered in a clinking jolt…”

Ash’s world went fuzzy. No. No, that wasn’t possible–what this man was saying was impossible. Objectively impossible. Subjectively impossible. Improbable, too, yet from the inflection in the Original’s lofty voice when he said those words, she knew they were true.

Jax’s sister was alive. Alive and there, somewhere deep in the bowels of the caravan where a girl escorted from a cage on a leash was commonplace. One of them was alive, and Ash couldn’t even fathom how. 

It was a story he had shared so many times throughout their journey, recalling details as they drifted from the ruins of place after place: remembering his sister’s eyes in the soot-stained capital, the beam that trapped his father in the backwoods of Virginia, how he strained against the crumbling pieces of house that had trapped his family. The imagery was as vivid in her mind as if she’d been there–Jax had seen the fire, the smoke, tried as hard as he could to lift the beams and rubble that trapped them in the dining room. 

At that moment, the moment when those words dropped from those moist and frothing lips, she forgot all about her designation, her future, her horror at the endless suffering, her terror at her impending fate. Jax’s countenance held a fragile spark of hope weaved with the shock. He was hopeful, and she knew it would all come crumbling down. Soon.

Her plan could ruin it all, any chance for him to see his sister, but she knew she must. She refused to kneel there silently and become that awful man’s plaything. It wasn’t right. 

Shoulders flexing, convalescing her energy, veins rushing, Ash knelt at the feet of a sociopath. Twitching. Panting. Don’t look up. Don’t move. Don’t blink. Now. 

BOOM. A resounding thud pounded the road as her face slammed to the asphalt. Cheek pinned to the ground, stinging like a flurry of hornets stabbing her skin, Ash shot her legs out to the side in a wide scissor. Snap! The chains shattered in a clinking jolt, exactly as she’d expected–the rusted-out link was even weaker than she thought. A hand rushed at her shoulder and she rolled out of the way, clamoring to her feet.

Flash of metal. Her back seared, blade slicing deep through the thin fabric, shearing off hair. Punch. Fist. Connection. Burning through her knuckles. Sharpness, a whirl of arms and feet, sneakers slapped skin and metal tore through flesh and Ash fought and fought and fought. A blur of motion. A knife clattered to the ground. She seized it, slicing at the mass of bodies crowding around her, slashing at the remains of her chains. 

The crowd thinned. The air was thick with blood and metal. She had made a dent in the tide; guards howled with their wounds, staggered back, fell to the road. They would keep coming. She didn’t have time to recover. Those people who Rita had referred to only as Them clouded Ash like mosquitos, returning in thick, overwhelming swarms the instant she batted them away. 

She caught sight of Jax, kneeling in the fray. She pushed towards him, slashing a path with her knife, ripping herself from the desperate hands. 

She reached him. He was screaming something. She couldn’t hear him, couldn’t make out the lip movements or attribute them to words. Slashing down hard, his chains shattered under the blade. Jax leapt to his feet, grabbing a man by the ear and ripping the blade from his hand. Then he paused, glittering knife still clutched in his calloused fingers. Ash thought he looked like an angel from an old scripture: a young man with golden hair, streaked in sunlight and soot, frozen in the churn of battle. 

The image seemed so familiar, so ironic that it took her a hot second to retract from the fantasy and move her limbs. He looked beautiful, so perfect, so blazing and glorious. Why was he standing there? Why wasn’t he fighting?

Ash jabbed her elbow out, sensing a presence, felt the crack of bones under her skin. Blood sprayed her brow. A quick glance, Jax was still frozen; a wild man careened towards her. Flashing metal—razor blade bared in his palm.

He lunged towards her. She tripped back, flailing for balance and a pair of arms grabbed her in a visceral grip, throwing her to the ground. Knife spun away across the highway. The world swayed above her. Black tread above her. Blank faces above her. The blue sky, clear and dulcet loomed above her and she panicked. Bucked uselessly.

The boot descended.

Her air exploded from her lungs. A beat of rest like an orchestra on a grand pause, she attempted to roll over and heard a pop, not good, and the boot descended again, hurtling into her side. Hot bursts of pain crackled through her ribs. She clawed the simmering ground. No purchase. Where was he? Where was he?! 

Ash roared and kicked up, nausea tossing her stomach through a roller coaster loop, vision like a poorly produced action movie with an unsteady camera.

  Four figures lifted her off the ground, one for each limb. Ash writhed, a demon of messy hair and snapping teeth, searching for a victim to rip into. She couldn’t reach. Couldn’t reach. Where was he?

She heard the clamp of manacles encircling her wrists. Exhausted. Pathetic. Tired beyond lifting a finger, Ash was laid yet again at the feet of the Original. The one she would serve for the rest of her foreseeable future, forever and ever until she was shelled out and hollow of fighting spirit.

“Would you still like this one to be your Wife? Or should she be staked and roasted, like the other Rebels?” 

Ash thrashed once. A plastic face against a blue sky. This wasn’t what she wanted. This shouldn’t be her last memory. She should be in school right now, climbing out the bathroom window, scaling the wall down to sneak off to the ice cream shop on the corner. 

“No. This one has a spirit to her. I believe she has a special set of skills which could be useful for more than my own pleasure.” Her eyes bugged. She wouldn’t be a Wife, so what was the use for her? And still, where was Jax? Resentment joined in with the delightful tea party in her gut, other guests being the usual: terror, fury, denial, hopelessness, regret. 

Fury because he could’ve saved her. Regret because she had set him free, and he had stood there while she was beaten and restrained. Hopelessness because Ash could have escaped without him, and she had squandered her last shot.

“Knock her unconscious. I will attend to her later.” 

A fist flew at her skull. The world went black. 

*************************************

Voice. His name was being called somewhere in the crowd. Young, desperate, pleading voice that cut through the battle like an arrow and his eyes roved over the swell of people and… 

Jax’s breath hitched. He stood completely still, frozen in time and she was there. Far off in the distance. The knife in his hand slipped and clinked to the ground, quickly snagged by an emaciated figure and carried away to god-knows-where. He didn’t care. The world collapsed and folded, and the same tunnel vision he had during football games clicked into place. All that he knew were a few facts built into this moment in time.

Number 1: Caroline was alive, far away in the writhing mass of chaos in the caravan.

Number 2: The people of the caravan were rioting. Everywhere he looked there was blood and blades, and if the sole goal was to capture Ash, this would have been over in seconds. Something was happening. There was unrest.

Number 3: His chains were broken. Slashed and clattered to the road. And nobody had noticed, or maybe nobody cared about one skinny bag of bones. This was his chance.

Jax was sprinting. Yelps and battle cries flooded the air around him; he cut through it all like a swimmer propelling through the water, the individual groans and screams condensing into a static held in the back of his thoughts. Background noise: how easily a cacophony became background noise when your sister’s voice rang in your ears. Your dead sister.

Corpses toppled in his path. Ragged women grabbed at his shirt, dying men on the ground yanked at his shoes, undoing the laces beyond what he could run in. Kicking the strings in front of him, Jax’s gait fell into an awkward pattern, he looked up and she wasn’t too far. Caroline. A necklace of iron clamped around her neck, a man holding her on a chain-link leash. His legs burned beneath him. She screamed and his heart failed, stomach retching acid through his throat when Caroline thrashed against the chains. Throwing one foot in front of the other, he watched as her eyes widened and–

“Jackson! Watch out!” He turned just in time to see a man barreling towards him. He leapt to the side, a great whoosh of air as the man dove to the ground. A sick crunch of bones erupted through the static and Jax realized suddenly that the man hadn’t been coming for him. He had been tackling someone, a small child with close-cropped hair. And it sounded fatal.

The burly man quickly moved on, charging after a slave with the intensity of a bull in a room of red flags. Jax didn’t look at the crushed body of the child, couldn’t bear to even if he tried; the tunnel vision was gone. Plundering forth with renewed energy, Jax reached Caroline in moments and got his first good look at her.

   The bouncy, gravity-defying pigtails perched on her head were long gone. The silky blonde hair their mother had stroked looked like dried corn husks: matted and dull against her scalp, unwashed, limp. Her legs were twigs on her body. A smear of dirt wiped across her brow. The infuriating iron collar around her neck, the one that tethered her to her keeper, a cage looming over them, casting its shadow down onto her thin figure. 

What he saw in her eyes scared him. It wasn’t an empty, glassy surface on emotions forced away. This was the stare of someone who felt everything, incapable of pushing aside her fear and despair. Gaze broken. Horrified. Haunted. 

Caroline was alive. Tethered to a guard–a guard. Argh. 

Jax faltered back when he was just steps from her, ignoring the pleading in her eyes. Why hadn’t he kept that knife? Why didn’t he pick it up? Fighting away panic, he searched the area. Finally he spotted a blade on the road in a dead man’s grip. He didn’t waste time prying it from the still-warm fingers. 

The guard growled when he approached, baring a dull-edged shiv. Jax winced inwardly but couldn’t conjure a solution to get close enough without being cut. So he did the unthinkable.

He threw the knife. It sliced through the air, embedding itself in the man’s upper chest. He bellowed, deafening roar splitting the cacophony. He toppled. Blood blossomed from the wound. Caroline gasped and ran to Jax, throwing herself against his chest; she was so thin he could feel every rib in her body through his shirt. Gently as he could manage he threw her over his back, weaving through the crowd. They were reaching the outer left edge of the caravan, riot still roaring around them under the blistering sun, and finally, finally, they broke through. 

Jax didn’t look back for a moment. He sprinted into the field, snatching on thickets, skin stinging with burs and thorns. He didn’t look back, not until he could no longer hear anything but the rush of his blood in his ears and the thump of Caroline’s sneakers on his shoulder blades. He lowered her down.

Overgrown field
“a tangle of overgrown wheat and thorns…”

“Caroline, I…” he searched her eyes for the answers to a question he couldn’t formulate. “How did…why are…you? What…why…I just don’t–” 

She took his hand, holding a finger to her lips, and he glanced around. Was there someone watching them? Was someone coming?

“Jackson, I’ll tell you everything. There’s a few things I need to say and they’re really important, so I need you to listen.” His eyes widened. Her speech was so articulate, measured–she’d called him Jackson, just like she always did. He hadn’t heard that name in a long time. It seemed like forever. He nodded mutely. If Caroline wanted to speak she would speak; whatever she had to say was five times as important as him.

“I do have a lot to say. Starting with the sun. At the house, I watched through the window as it burst and glowed red, brighter than all the stars in the sky. It scorched the Earth. The Sun’s Burn.” Jax nodded, tilting his head quizzically.

“What about it?”

Her lips quirked into a smile, freckle-sprayed nose scrunching like she knew a secret he didn’t. He rolled his eyes. 

“What about the Burn, Caroline?” 

“I predicted the expansion and scorching of the Sun.” She smoothed her hair back like she was the slyest person in the world. “I don’t need to say it, but here it is,” she paused dramatically, heaving a breath,

“I told you so.” 

Jax groaned and pulled her close. And somewhere, far off through a tangle of overgrown wheat and thorns, Ash was unconscious, surrounded by a caravan of murderers and slaves.

Writer's Wednesday!

Apocalypse 5–The Choosing

“[He was a] tiger at the zoo, throwing [his] lean body against [the] shackles….”

Chains. Biting into his skin like venomous snakes. Rubbing the flesh raw. Rattling a persistent reminder that he was doomed. A caged animal. Doomed to die. A tiger at the zoo, throwing its lean body against its shackles, baking under a hot sun and the mockery of the people. Unable to run free. Unable to love and be loved. What worse fate was there?

It had taken only a moment to sink in: the reality of his existence was painful, hot shards of glass piercing his skull, a throbbing redness boiling his blood. The world was this, and only this, unorganized elements in this catastrophe of human life:

Strangers.

Surrounded by them. These people. Revolting. Smeared in their own feces, criss-crossed with scars, a patchwork of torture that seemed to never end. Dead eyes. Crude gazes. A disgusting distortion of human intelligence, boring into him, blind eyes that saw nothing and everything all at once. How was it that such shells of people could send such a message? Each and every bloodshot, glistening orb said the same thing: you’re going to die.  

It had been an hour since Jax woke up in chains. 

But as much as it hurt to wake up in chains, it was worse to watch Ash return to the world. She gasped to life. Squirming. Burning. A bundle of sweaty clothes and clinking shackles. 

She used the first breath she drew for a scream.

No. Not a scream.

An earth shaking.

Gut wrenching.

Blood curdling shriek

Her eyes were wild, inspecting her arms, the backs of her hands, her palms. Roving over the pink skin. Searching. What? What was she looking for? Jax wished he didn’t know. He wished he had to ask her. He wished he could indulge himself in curiosity, a brief release from the terror. But he already knew what she was looking for. 

She was looking for a brand, a crudely marked scar. She was looking for the mark of an Original’s wife, a mark that would ensnare her forever as a slave. Her skin was unmarked.

“Ash!” he whispered. She looked up from her flesh. There was no relief in her eyes that she hadn’t been marked. No glint of hope, the kind he was sure was still inside him. Just a dead-eyed certainty that her fate was decided. That she was fated for the same destiny as Vixen—Rita—but without the escape.

Jax couldn’t bear to think about it. A dread so profound, so intrusive and deep, had wormed its way into his chest. The reason was simple. Stupidly simple. No matter what became of Ash, his fate was decided because of one thing alone. 

There was no use for him. 

In this caravan, there was no task for him to fulfill. If what Rita had said was true–and he had no doubt it was–he would be judged as too young for labor, and too weak for captive protection. Those cold emerald eyes had no reason to lie to him. He would be cannibalized. Jax would, without a doubt, be eaten alive.

“Ash, calm down, you’re going to get–”

“Jax!” Ash panted. His heart leapt into his throat. That sound. It was guttural. Feral. A noise he barely recognized as human, much less one of a cool, feminine voice. 

“Jax, my neck, did they mark me?” He shook his head. Had he ever seen someone so distraught? So crazed? The tightness of her face. The wrinkles on her brow. The pooling pond of insanity in her gaze, it soaked into him. A shadow giving way to the sun. He had never felt an empathy so deep as this, a hopeless kind of empathy that said “I understand. I understand, and I can’t do anything about it.”

“Ash, listen to me. Look at me!” It took a long second for her eyes to center. She was shaking now, hands tensing and releasing, nails digging into the wooden planks. He’d never seen her hair so wild; the constant jerk and rumble of the cart mussed the strands so they stuck up from her scalp at all angles.

 It would’ve been a cute look, he thought–spiky, spunky, a little punk–but paired with the puckered gashes on her brow and downcast gunmetal eyes, she looked less like a rocker and more like a severely abused porcupine. A porcupine with so much pain in her heart that it seeped into him. Hurt him. Drowned him. Her eyes focused.

“I just….I just want you to know that we’ll get through this. No matter what, because, because…” Because why? What could get them through this? They were enslaved. Grieving their families. 

“Because we’re together.” It was weak. So weak, so nonreassuring, so baseless. 

Jax scooched across the cart. Pushing aside a sleeping woman, he moved into position beside Ash. Lowering his voice to a whisper, he leaned close, whispering, 

“Rita escaped. We can too, because we’re stronger than her. We can get out of this. Together. Right?”

He expected a nod at least. Acknowledgement, maybe, something that said she’d heard his words. Maybe her spine would straighten a little. Maybe she would wince into a half-smile. Maybe she would make a joke, or a tiny jab at his gut with her elbow. A witty remark. A sob. Anything.

 She didn’t move her gaze from her lap. And she didn’t say a word.

Ash was in shock. Denial, maybe? Jax wished he’d paid more attention in psychology. Her calloused fingers ran tracks down her arms, back and forth, back and forth. He had the selfish urge to grab that hand, hold it in his. He needed her. Her affection, even a morsel. Her attention, just a glance. He wanted to intertwine their fingers so bad it physically hurt not to.

The cart pounded the road, sending him sprawling away from her; he clawed himself back. Pothole after pothole just like this. And for what?

 Why? Why, when he was shackled to a rickety cart, orphaned, fated for cannibalism, could his only concern fall to her admiration? Stupid, stupid, stupid. I dumped girls back home for being clingy! And this is what I do? Pine over her? Get irritable when she won’t hold my hand? Dumb. Shameful! 

Yet when the time slunk by, traveling down the road in chains, not once did he think of himself after that moment. He only thought of Ash. Ash: her trauma, her fingers inspecting her arms, the sickening thud of the boots on her back when they had been captured. He only thought of Ash, and how much he wished she would take his hand.

Jax could never be sure how long they sat there. Time–time that used to be so rigid, so strict–had taken an ambiguous form, like the off-brand Jello in the school cafeteria: lax, bitter, unsettlingly slippery. After forever, they stopped. 

He watched as the caravan unloaded. Car doors opened, expensive wagons cleared. Girls in cages were extracted from the enclosures, leashed up like dogs with hair twice as coarse. A cacophony. 

A set of men unlocked his chains and pulled him up. His legs felt like a TV screen when the signal goes out, all numb and static-y in a way that felt like needles driving into his toes. Jax was sure he would have fallen over immediately if not for the strong grips of his guards. 

Squinting in the sun, he looked out over the never-ending trail of horror and gasped.

It was incomparable to any parade, any gathering on the planet. A crowd so immense it was like nothing you could imagine. Miles and miles and miles of bikes and carriages and people. Young children led out of cages, whimpering, smeared in their own feces. Women with sad eyes emerging from wagons, hair mussed, too-tight chokers restricting blood flow to their faces. Emaciated men dragging themselves across the ground, screaming from the heat, scorching their bodies just to keep up. Helpless slaves gathered in carts, newly branded, sobbing under the sun’s bite. Every last person was sunburned, skin peeling, some with tumors and blackened teeth and hair falling out in clumps. 

He understood now why the people had turned away from Rita so rudely when she spoke of Them. Because they had seen it. Those men and women and children, those with pinned up or gelled hair, those kind folks who dressed in Amish-like clothes had seen this monstrosity of human nature. Maybe more of them had been in this caravan than they would like to admit. No matter your age or position in the procession, one fact was clear: this was no peaceful community with an ill-fated 3rd class. This was a death march for all.

All…except a few. They were easy to spot. Because even with this swarm of poverty and demented tortures, five men sparkled. From the moment their shoes poked from the royal wagons, Jax knew who they were. The Originals. The founders of the caravan.

Rita hadn’t attempted to describe them. Jax now knew why; it was utterly and completely overwhelming to do so. Five men dripping in diamonds. Coiffed hair, seemingly gelled, unmussed by the bumpy ride. Adorned in capes. Crowns. Rings. Necks spilling with gold chains, fingers studded so heavily with sapphires and emeralds and precious gems that they practically had the rainbow spread across each hand. Purple silks. Leather boots. Pale, unblemished skin, an aura of plasticity strong from caked on makeup. 

They were unbranded, just like the people of Jax and Ash’s cart. But the people of the carts–Jax and Ash included–were demolished. Morally. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. The Originals, however, did not look demolished. They looked smug. Smug. And free. 

Royalty, he thought as he watched them exit, servants and tired women quivering on their knees in front of them. These men are royalty. Ash glanced at Jax, fear clouding her gaze. At first he couldn’t tell exactly what she was afraid of, there was so much: the burning men, the starving, the sick, the tumored, the ugly, the slaves, the dirtied, they all coalesced in an ongoing rush of miserable people in miserable attire under a miserable sun. 

An Original made a gesture and the flurry of motion immediately stopped. Jax, against his better judgment, found himself frozen in place. He knew what this was. Easily. Ash had predicted this; he should have listened, but the thought was hard to think, a mental image that tore at his mind, itched and burned. This was the Choosing. 

He was lifted forward by the men, feet still bound, arms squeezed too tight, remarkably tight. Ash was brought forward alongside him. The sleeping woman he had moved to sit by Ash was dragged awake, muttering something low and sweet, reminiscent of a lullaby. 

Jax imagined a grand buildup. A painstakingly slow progression forth, onward to his demise, the guards building suspense and halting abruptly, his legs deadweight and swinging between them. What actually happened, however, was shockingly unceremonious.

March forth. Push aside the crowds. Silent crowds. The young, caged girls had ceased to wail. Blind stares locked on the Originals. Ash and Jax and the others in their cart were practically thrown down at the feet of one of Them. No introduction. Just a choppy line of ten or so people, the first row of many unbranded and fearful innocents. How was it possible that so many survived the Burn? How was it possible that such a dreadful caravan of Them could travel for so long without Jax knowing? Was this preventable, had they ignored the signs of other human life when they were steeped in despair?

Ash was sixth in line, Jax eighth, the old singing woman suspended between them, unable to kneel on her own.

 The first woman was judged as meat. Too elderly. Thin. Weak. Not attractive enough to be a wife–no use to the Originals. A group emerged from the crowd and lifted her away. Jax didn’t know where to. His chin was crunched to his neck like all the others. 

The second was judged a guard. Unsurprising: she was lean, yet muscular, with a body like a triathlon winner and arms like a crossfit instructor. 

Third person. A boy, about the same age as the same height. Meat. Lifted away without a scream, a hand clamped to his mouth, legs kicking in Jax’s peripherals. His heart was in his ears. Calves twitching, Jax struggled to hold his breath; if he let it loose he would scream.

Fourth. Woman. Declared a Cleaner. Jax envied her, her and her future of feces and urine and vomit. Nothing was as bad as being eaten alive by your own species. Nothing he could imagine. 

Fifth. A man. Old. Senile, maybe, probably in shock. Jax remembered the term from his Psychology Class. A lot of good this knowledge was to him now. The fact that he was in shock and overwhelmed by senility didn’t change the cold inflection of the Original’s order: meat.

Sixth. The pounding of his heart stalled. All saliva evaporated in his mouth. Dry as the chalkdust air of an old schoolhouse. His tongue suffocated him. Ash’s turn. 

The Original man’s voice was monotone, unbefitting of a royal or even a savage cannibal. A voice of a bored emperor, flat and dry as he pronounced,

“Wife. My own, to be branded immediately.” One other Original shifted, looking upset, as though Ash was the last piece of licorice in the candy jar. Jax couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. Ash was right. She would be like Rita. And if she ever escaped, she would be just as cold and heartless as that vixen girl.

He didn’t hear what became of the singing woman. Didn’t care. If she was meat, she was meat, and Jax could do nothing, just as he did for Ash. Sit. Wait. Sit. Wait. Just like every other person in this rotten hell hole. 

His neck hurt. The woman was lifted away.

Jax’s turn for the Choosing.

Distraught, he turned his face heavenward. The plastic face of the Original stared down at him. Lips too bright. Hair too shiny. Eyes too large. And proclaimed, monotone as ever,

“I know you.”

“What?” The response leapt from his lips before he could restrain it. Jax winced, hair catching the sun as he bowed his head again.

“I know you, child. I know a little girl–exactly like you, with the same features. A little girl from the cages.” A grin played on his cheeks. Jax glanced up to see him smile at the crowd. Dread settled on him like a blanket.

“Ladies and gentlemen of this empire, rejoice. We have found a sibling pair, for the first time in the history of the Burn! I know this boy.” He clicked his tongue, smacking his too-red lips.

“I know this boy because I imprisoned his sister.”

Writer's Wednesday!

WW-Elementals–Silver and Screams

Ambulance image from Parkway East hospital

Shock registered in his eyes. A smirk threatened my lips, even in the face of torture in a blood-soaked alley. Mouth twitching, I began to sneer…then I stopped. My speech had been impressive: beckoning on my gruesome fate, stating that I would never leave this alley alive, the alley where an innocent young girl named Daria died for the Artemisian agenda. A girl with the power to manipulate the sea: it was a power wasted, barely used before she was brutally kidnapped and mortally wounded. 

My name is Selene, goddess of the moon and starlight. I was one of five Elementals: myself (starlight), Talia Thorn (storm), Zara Nightlock (earth), Daria (sea), and Kenna King, embers and fire. 

We were humans with godly powers, a new race of hybrids with the combined powers to overthrow the Olympian gods and goddesses: the ones out of myth, the ones that shook the Earth, blazed through forests, and crushed ships in fits of rage and petty quarrels. We were united, if only for a few minutes. But just as soon as we’d been united, we’d been torn apart: Daria shot, Zara chasing after an illusion of her late sister, Talia and Kenna fleeing from Artemis’ mercenaries. 

It was foolish of me to smile, to take satisfaction in the fact that I was a sitting duck, waiting to die, staring down the shaft of an arrow. The man–boy?–standing above me was in no way menacing, too fragile a gaze to even seem dangerous at all, though his nocked bow said otherwise. Large green eyes and a smatter of freckles all scrunched up, nose twitching with nerves, arrow jittering left and right with his severely shaking arms. 

Something about the glint in his eyes screamed surprise, perhaps even downright terror. At me? Holding a dead body in my arms, face streaked with tears, starburst necklace torn from my throat? Arrogant of me to think that, but my lips began to quirk. I thought, for a split second, that his unwillingness to release the arrow was because of what I’d said, how he would have to defy Artemis’s orders and kill me if I were to leave Daria alone in that alley.

A second later, when I followed his gaze, all satisfaction plummeted from my chest.
Daria was alive.

Inexplicably, her eyelids snapped open and shut, blinking in the darkness of the alcove. A shuddered breath rose and fell on my lap, her bloodsoaked chest expanding with a breath of air. Daria was alive. And her eyes were the brightest gold I’d ever seen.

I’m ashamed of what I did next. But I did it anyway. Instead of feeling relief…I felt horror. I reeled back, slamming my head against the wall. I slid her off my lap frantically, with half the sense to gently place her head so it didn’t crack on the concrete. 

She sat up. Fresh and dried blood had intermingled in an artful pattern on her back, like an abstract painting that would fetch millions in a modern art museum–a painting with random splashes of grotesque brown and dripping crimson, a splattered canvas that looked like nothing that ever existed and everything in the world all at once. Her gaze fell briefly on me, golden eyes disturbingly bright, hair falling limply around her large shoulders, the shoulders of a swimmer. 

Less than a second passed, enough for me to feel uncomfortable at the fact that somewhere under that bloodsoaked suit, Daria’s heart was pulsing and thrumming with life when moments before it had been irrevocably stalled.

Wavering on her feet, Daria stood, movements wobbly and uncertain, joints audibly groaning like a reanimated corpse from a horror movie. I saw her stare flicker to the mercenary, eyes glittering, the unnatural gold so unlike her original irises that it was as though they had been touched by the angels themselves. For the red-headed boy, that one glance was enough. 

He shot.

But he didn’t shoot Daria. 

He shot me.

Daria leapt forward, careening towards me to block the arrow. Colors blurred: I barely registered the gleaming silver tip until it embedded itself in my chest, a devastating slice as flesh was torn by metal. 

All at once, events cascaded, transcending time in a fuzz of action. Daria grabbed my hand, a blur of motion. I willed my feet to move. Held my chest with one hand and her fingers in the other. My arm grasped, a thin, sticklike hand; the boy! His grip was strong but Daria tore me free, viciously dragging me from the alley. My legs felt numb. My chest throbbed. I knew what to do. I had done the same with Daria. I grasped the shaft of the arrow tight. Fletchings tickling my tensed wrist, I yanked as hard as I could.

Pain shot through me, a train hurtling off the tracks. A morbid sound: of flesh tearing open, of capillaries bursting under impact. Daria gasped as I let the arrow fall, faltering to rip cloth from my shirt. Footsteps behind us. Running steps. Boots. 

“Where are we going?” 

“Busy road, the busiest we can find. I won’t let you die because of me!” Her voice was hoarse, emotions unexpectedly raw and heartfelt. What’s wrong with her eyes? Why is she here? Where am I? My heart pounded through my ribcage. The questions all blurred together. I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight: my throat was itchy with the urge to scream. All I could manage was a gasp of agreement…we needed to find help. 

The next street we turned down was the one. Daria knew it. She glanced over her shoulder, a split second move that would only cost us time. He was right on top of us. I pressed the cloth harder to my chest, blood seeping through the fabric, sticky on my fingers. 

“No, Selene, don’t go–”

He was right behind us. No time. I pulled Daria through to the street, through to the busy thoroughfare crowded with people, when it struck me why she had paused. The people weren’t congregated on the sidewalk. They were all clustered, bees to their native hive, in the road. 

This was bad. Daria had wanted to find a small group of people, or even an individual that would quietly drive us to the nearest hospital. What we had gotten was a mob. My thoughts faded in and out, dizziness sent my mind toppling back and forth between answerless questions and impossible scenarios. The boy reached out to grab my arm, a million possible actions rolled through my head: block his grip, kick his shins, lash out with my fists, throw myself into the street and beg for help. Anyone of those would do. I prepared myself, tensing my wrists for a strike…

I screamed. Motionless, I didn’t have the sensibility to attack the mercenary, defend myself, tend to my own wounds or Daria’s mysteriously healing ones. Do I wish I wouldn’t have defaulted to the damsel-in-distress wail? Maybe, maybe not. But the reality is that I didn’t spring into action. I planted my feet. Tensed my wrists. And screamed. 

Immediately all eyes snapped to us, the droves of people prying their eyes from whatever was in the road. Looking back, I can see that I probably made the right choice; in the eyes of those people Daria and I were two helpless girls, mortally wounded, obviously aggressed by the wide-eyed boy with a bizarre hunting bow. A moment passed. I wondered what they would do, how long the hunter would wait before he struck us down under the suspicious eyes of the public, how Daria had dragged herself from the grip of death and how I could do the same. 

The people charged. Flocks of faces rushed toward me, a blur of diverse eyes and faces and freckles and not. Hands gripped my arm. I was led into the crowd. Daria disappeared in the buzz. A man’s yelp. A head of fiery red hair dropped to the ground, swarmed by fists. Shop. Blazed through the door, items crashing to the floor, a table newly cleared. Hoisted up. Beads of sweat. 

“Daria!” I thrashed against the hands. I was held firm, pinned on the table. Red first aid kit. Bandaids spilled. Aspirin clashed to the tile. Gauze pressed to my chest, pain like glass shards ripping my heart. I couldn’t see. The world started to blur. Eyes wouldn’t focus. Hair tickled my clavicle, a worker bending to examine the wound.

“Bloedgroep? Bloedgroep?” I blinked, squeezing my eyes tight. It sounded like  “blood group,” should I respond? Would human medical treatment even work on me? It was hard to tell what memories were real and what memories were shown to me in a slideshow by my mother to give the illusion that I’d always lived in Ohio. Had I ever truly been injured before my life plunged into this insanity?

The mass of people pressed gauze to my wound, dialed numbers furiously on their phones, asked me questions in Afrikaans that I had no clue how to answer. Through the cacophony of noise I heard a voice,

“Selene, what’s your blood type?” I froze. My arms fell from where they were thrashing. I knew that voice. It was a voice that had been embarrassed in the desert, torn with emotion, a voice that now sounded pleasant, with a soft British accent and a steady rhythm. Talia? 

“A-negative?” I could just barely recall my mother…well, not my mother…Melissa? Telling me that I had a rare blood type, one that didn’t really match up with my mother and father’s. No wonder. They weren’t my family at all, just some greedy farmers with a freaky desire to control something beyond themselves. How could I never have asked them about it? My blood type, my affinity for the night where they were morning people, my obviously different appearance, resembling neither one of my “parents” in any way. 

“Selene? Come back to me! Come on!” I snapped open my eyes again. They felt like they had immense weights pressing down on them, trying to drag me into unconsciousness. Above me, through a curtain of loose-hanging blond hair, Talia wriggled her fingers. 

Little droplets of water splashed on my nose. I blinked harder, the shock of cold water stinging my skin. I felt her other hand on my wrist, then I convulsed. A sharp pain stung my skin! Throwing my hips off the table, I yelped. A bolt of electricity! Did she just…shock me? A fizzling warmth climbed through my body, activating every nerve, buzzing and thrumming with power.

The fog hanging over my thoughts began to recede, alternating shocks of cold water dribbling down my nose and electricity fizzing in my veins. Alertness began to return as the jolts of energy spiked in my blood. 

“Where’s Daria?” I felt another shock, Talia’s eyes intently focused on the crowds of people unrolling gauze and conversing with authorities. I felt myself lifted off the table. Canvas under my dress. A stretcher. “Talia! Talia!!!” My throat ripped with the words.
“Shhhh…” Talia ducked close to my ear, waddling alongside the stretcher. The world swayed, a jangle of bells as we passed through the door frame, chest stubbornly throbbing from the wound. 

“Kenna’s with her, she’ll go to the same hospital as you. Try to use your power if you can…I think it helps heal you,” she paused, climbing in alongside me as I was lifted into the ambulance. After the doors shut, she hastily added, “I don’t know for sure though.” Like if my power didn’t do anything to help, she would feel guilty. As though I would feel betrayed if her advice didn’t work. 

I would’ve smirked at that. But my head pounded. My eyes stung from the harsh fluorescents. Blasts of noise seemed to blare from every orifice it could: sirens, heart monitors, voices, wheels, even the buzz of the filaments in the overhead lights. I barely grasped what Talia was talking about when she continued, 

 “But you have to try. Keep it contained, close, maybe restrict it to your fist. You already stand out enough with…” she gestured vaguely to my silver dress, wet with blood, sea spray, and vomit from rough days on the ship. “Lord knows you don’t need any of the suspicion that inevitably comes with the usual…you know, harnessing starlight, summoning beams, drawing an aura of pure silver or gold around you like an angel, the like.” I registered the words, dimly. Her shocks were wearing off, the raindrops had become calming rather than startling.

My head lolled to the side; even her soft whispers had begun to grate my ears. I wanted so badly to fall asleep, drift through the yawning doorway and into the darkness. They must be feeding me a sedative through the IV…so that was what the prick was from? But I let the light flow to my limp palm. Visualizing the stars through the ceiling, beyond the clouds and daylight, beyond the atmosphere, beyond our Earth. Blazing somewhere high in the heavens, glittering, burning, yearning for my call. I was ready to receive it. But there was one thing I had to do first. One question looming in my mind.

“Talia?” She was at my side immediately.

“Yes?”

“What were all those people gathered around?” I saw something flash in her eyes. Her arms tensed, she stepped back slightly, knitting her brows. With a sigh, she gripped my hand and said,

“It was Zara. She was struck and…” she took in a deep breath, a shuddering breath, a sad breath. “She let go and I, I–Zara’s gone, Selene.” I stared at her, blankly, unable to register her words. Daria had been gone too, but the way she said it, “she let go…”

Sensing my hesitancy, Talia sighed.

“The doctors will do everything they can for you and Daria. But Zara didn’t have a chance. She’s dead, Selene. And she’s not coming back.”

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! Into the Crypt

*This is a continuation of a series. Find the rest in the archives under the Elemental series.

Crisp daylight fell in choked slivers through the cracks in the crypt door. Dust danced in the bright white light, falling and settling restlessly down onto the hard concrete slab of the tomb.  The cloying stench of death and decay stifled the air as he hastily sucked in a breath, prying the door open with a resounding creak. The thick layer of dust stirred on the concrete coffin as a cold wind howled into the damp chamber for the first time in years.

His calloused fingers hesitated on the lid of the tomb. A deep chill permeated the air as though a faint whisper of the tortured soul imprisoned within the crypt still lingered, seething at the injustice of her death long ago. 

The huntsman had slaughtered innocents in the name of his mistress Artemis, tracked prey around the world, stared into the wide eyes of a poor man and slit his throat because of a simple accident when he had stumbled upon Artemis in the bath.

 All of it in her name; just to see satisfaction light the goddess’s cold yellow-hazel eyes that he loved so much, just so he could hear the barely perceptible hint of admiration in her voice, sinning endlessly to earn a love he knew she would never give. 

But at least those innocents had been sacrificed at the request of his lady, for some greater heavenly purpose. This task was his least sinful on paper, but as he stood still in the light-flooded secret crypt, he felt chilled to his bones. Every fiber of his being tingled and shivered with a cold as deep as the ninth circle of hell. Please forgive me.

Orion lifted the cover of the stone tomb and immediately recoiled. Pungent aromas of blood and decay exploded into the crypt. A body lay crumpled in the confined stone case, barely recognizable with the rotting skin and glassy eyes: Inara Nightlock. Dried brown blood stained her forehead in a nasty wound, her fingernails caked with grime from fighting back against her kidnappers, ebony hair matted and tangled. 

Orion thought of the Earth girl, of the brief moments he’d seen her jetting across the waves with his captives, hope still tangled in her heartstrings that her long-lost sister was out there somewhere when all the while she’d been here. An innocent murdered and dumped in a dusty crypt, her name engraved into the cement lid by the sick, twisted killer that had left her here. A man Artemis killed years ago! She has already been avenged, and my lady Artemis using her to weaken the rebel goddesses is nothing more than a way to honor Inara. I have already failed my lady, and now she has sent me here to do a simple job. I can’t fail her again.

Even as he thought it, he knew what he was about to do was vile in his culture. In any culture. The very marrow in his bones shuddered with cold now, the harsh daylight doing nothing to warm his shivering frame. With Artemis’s cruel, ethereal face hovering in his mind, he resealed the lid. Dragging the chisel out of his pocket with a quaking hand, he brought down a mighty slash straight across her name. In a spray of grit the meticulously etched letters were scarred beyond recognition. 

Orion was still for a second, his uneven breath rasping in the death-like silence. It felt as though his heart suffocated in his stomach as the realization of what he’d done set in: he’d just desecrated the tomb of an innocent, even if that tomb had been sealed by a murderer. 

Out of the blue everything went dark along with the screech of the crypt door being shut. He heard a muffled heartbeat faster and faster, reminiscent of the Tell Tale Heart. Artemis’s tinkling laugh bounced off the walls, becoming more and more demonic each second and all the while the tick of the heart raged on. A young woman’s scream sounded from the dark, echoing around the huntsman from every side. 

“Please! Let me out!” Orion groped blindly for the door. Sobs tore his throat, darkness swallowing the room whole like he was in the damp maw of a beast. He found no knob, no handle. Each limb of his fine-tuned body shook uncontrollably from a bone-rattling fear that sent him spiraling into hysteria. 

“Your sins have caught up to you, huntsman. Did you think I would not judge you because you have some convoluted love for a maiden goddess? You will perish as you have made others perish: slowly and without a shred of dignity.”

A sharp sting pricked his throat, fire spreading through his muscled neck. His eyes bulged as the memory came back to him in flashes as though it was trickling slowly through a leaky faucet. Beady black eyes of the scorpion. Artemis, an avenging angel above him. The crunch of the scorpion under her boot. Sic itur ad astra. But before that, something that the world was sure Orion had long forgotten under a haze of ambrosia and ebbing pain. 

“I love you too.” Artemis. His one true love. On some level, he knew that memory was Death’s last gift to him before the pain of all his sins caught up to him all at once. Yet he still extended one final reach for life.

“Artemis! Please, have mercy!” The deep cold dragged him into the darkness with the force of the undertow pulling a sailor into the depths. With his back plastered to the cold crypt wall, Orion screamed, his head splitting, and prayed for the sliver of light to reappear. It was time. After years and years, he knew it was time. But he couldn’t let go. Could she?

🌍Zara

Inara ducked down another side street, her shadow flitting out of view. The pound of her boots pummeled her legs with each thumping step. Time was an amorphous deity, dragging on at seconds where each bounding stride was a shot of pain and then racing ahead like a bullet train; one moment she was on the street, Inara just a spot on the skyline, and in the blink of an eye Zara found herself in an alley with her long-lost sister directly ahead of her.


It’s not her… her brain hissed. Instinct was riding high– her whole body itched with the wrongness of the figure she chased. It’s not her… They always said you can’t trust your eyes. You have to trust your gut. And her gut? It felt like a hurricane was ripping through it, flurries of fears and false hope funneling into a roiling vat of searing frustration. Frustration… frustration that Inara was just beyond her reach around every turn, that her whole village, destitute and droughted, wanted to burn her at the stake for bringing prosperity to the land, at the reality that she had been traveling with a mysterious stranger for the past day and would probably never see her family again.

The girl paused for a fraction of a second in the middle of the intersection, looking back. Zara’s breath hitched at her sister’s pale jade eyes staring back at her. Inara. Ebony skin dashed with off-white flour, long hair loose and flowing as though it had been hastily tied back and then had fallen out again. 

“Zara? Is that… is that you?” Her musical voice carried on the rustling breeze. Zara’s knees were weak, legs shaking like the jello her family never could afford from the “big-city” markets of Kommetjie. The words that left her lips next were a blubbering string of emotion-choked sounds.

“Yes–I–can’t believe you’re alive! Where have you–do you own a bakery now, like you dreamed? Why haven’t you contacted us? Inara, it’s been…” 

“Years?” She offered with a strained laugh. A funny look crossed her face, an unbecoming blankness, emotionless as shards of ice: lips set in a hard line, glazed eyes, perfectly smooth brow. It melted away as quickly as it arrived. Zara took a careful step closer, just feet from her sister. The traffic light above them flickered uselessly… the street was eerily quiet for a few long seconds. 

“Are you okay, Inara? The police searched years for you! You ran away, I could have sworn you were dead–” 

“Where are your friends?” Inara blurted. 

“What? How could you–” Her sister’s shoulders tensed, the delicate gold flecks in her jade eyes brightening wildly. They had always been a light tone but with each passing second, it seemed to Zara that the gold was taking over Inara’s soft eyes. 

“Answer the question,” Inara hissed, ripping away her flour-dusted jacket to reveal a tank-top. Crimson bloodstains darkened the white fabric. Scars marred her arms in poorly-healed-over pink gashes. A cloud passed over the sun abruptly, throwing shadows over the intersection. 

“Talia is with the others, helping Daria. She’d been shot with an arrow… please, Inara. Stop. You need to see a doctor right away. This,” she gestured vaguely to the sky, the air, the world itself, “can’t be real. I’m mixed up in something bad, Inara. And it looks like you are too.” 

Inara’s eyes were solid gold marbles in their sockets, not a trace of the pale jade. The perfect skin of her forehead was peeling away in grotesque layers to reveal a bloody gash, the smooth ebony facade on her wrists falling away to reveal rope burns. She didn’t look like Inara, the aspiring baker that loved the city. She was a blunt-force trauma and kidnapping victim reanimated. She was a demon.

“Little sister, you’re wrong about one thing. This is real. Even if I’m not.”

Zara stepped back, tripping in a pothole and plummeting, black hair flying. Panic mounted in her heart. Nausea barraged her stomach in hot waves like her gut saying a huge “I told you so!”, bile searing her throat.

“Who are you?” She gasped. “Where is my sister? Why are you doing this?” The bleeding girl cocked her head, an uncanny portrait of Inara painted with blazing gold eyes. 

“Lots of questions, little goddess girl, all with easy answers. My name is Artemis, huntress and eternal maiden. Your sister is dead.” Before Zara had time to gasp, Artemis laughed, flakes of the facade falling and taking to the breeze. “And why am I doing this? Well, two reasons. One: I wanted to crush your heart. Like mine has been for thousands of years. You’ll find eventually that you prefer it that way… it hurts more at first but you will never feel another pain. For who can break what is already shattered?” 

Those last words hung on her lips as though they were meant to be a rhetorical question, but she had discovered an answer. Eyes flitting to the sky, Artemis tensed, suddenly on high-alert. It reminded Zara exactly of the feral look on a wolf’s face when they catch a whiff of a rival pack. Artemis had undoubtedly heard some kind of signal, one that answered her own question. Whatever it was, it was from something or someone that could break her heart for good. With a decisive motion, she slammed her shoe down onto Zara’s shin. A sickening crack sounded.

“Second reason? To lead you away from your friends. The plan is simple, really. Break all of you pathetic goddesses down one-by-one, luring each one away until all that is left is my target. Selene, my best friend.” A cat-like grin spread over her face, one that didn’t linger. 

“There’s nothing you can do to find them. I led you miles away, and you followed as willingly as a gullible puppy dog. Goodbye, Zara. It’s a shame I won’t get to see you die.” 

Artemis disappeared, taking with her the only trace of Zara’s long-lost sister. Crumpled on the ground, her shin wasn’t the only thing shattered. For her sister was dead… and Zara would never visit her grave. Just as she summoned the strength to cry out, a bus hurtled through the intersection. The wheels screeched like a banshee, in perfect harmony with her screams. The world. Went. Dark. 

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! 🌎⚡Earth 1- Storm’s Quest

Image from ColourBox

*This is a continuation of the Elemental Series! You can find the rest in the archives. Comment below who your favorite Elemental is and why and I will give you a shout out in the next edition!

Blood stained her black swimsuit, gushing steadily from the torn flesh of her gut. Her incredibly wavy hair was soaked with sticky crimson that took over everything in an unforgiving tide, strong as the sea that lurched beneath the deck and twice as merciless. Seeping into the gnarled wood, the ropes that bound her wrists, the other girls’ clothes. Life flickered weakly, in and out; a grim reaper hovering just out of reach, ready to pounce. Salty ocean spray nipped at her pallid cheeks, the bronze fading into white like a waning moon.

Daria’s dreams were plagued with visions that danced across her mind like a rambunctious squirrel leaping into the road to interrupt the endless black of unconsciousness.

 A girl with ebony skin and the greenest of eyes, eyes that held a million memories overflowing with life. A green as deep as glinting emeralds far below the surface, as glittering as dewy wildflowers under the morning sun. A sheen of black hair dark as craggy mountains silhouetted in the dusk. The fiery sun lit up her bottle green eyes so they glinted like shattered glass. 

What she was standing in was the exact opposite of the life and warmth she exuded. Dead. A dirty, desolate landscape as far as the eye could see; the only sign of life were the sparse patches of dying yellow grass dotting the ground and the weak, spindly fingers of leafless trees clawing the sky. Everywhere you looked life was being quenched like a fire doused with water: cracked earth, remnants of animal bones scattered across the dirt, flurries of dust suffocating the dry air. 

The girl raised her hands in a beckoning motion. The earth shook, thrumming with power as grass emerged in waves, green spreading over the dirt like the sun leaching darkness from the sky at dawn. Trees sprouted up, growing and aging in seconds, the skinny shoots expanding into gnarled trunks under a single, delicate touch of her fingers. 

A horde of dark figures rushed across the rapidly growing field like the tide creeping up the shore in front of her house, leaping flames punctuating the ends of their torches like a crackling exclamation point. A blonde girl with eyes like raindrops thundered ahead, pushing through the mob and screaming at them to stop. Clouds coalesced, darkening the sky like a gray stain. Boom! Crack! With one sweep of her dainty hand, lightning split the sky, sending the green world spinning into blinding white.

Daria awoke with a gasp, sucking in air like a fish out of water. She tenatatively pressed a hand to her aching stomach, lips light with a prayer that this had all been a dream. The boat. The pain. The woozy, chemical smell of chloroform intermingling with the metallic stench of blood. Her hand came back sticky with red. Daria’s breath hitched in her chest, panic rising as she jerked her wrists wildly, watching the blood-stained rope darken as her skin chafed away to blood. 

“Hello. You must be Sea,” someone said airily with a sing-song tone like a flute’s song. She whirled at the voice, cautiously eyeing the pale black-haired girl that sat straight backed with her hands bound.

“I don’t- how did you know about my powers? Who are-” Daria paused, wincing and touching another careful hand to the torn flesh,”you? Other than the night girl from my dreams.” The girl raised a precisely trimmed brow.

“I wasn’t aware that I was in your dreams, Sea. All you need to know is that I am Selene, and that is Kenna,” Selene said, gesturing to a tan, dark haired girl thrashing against her bonds. She stopped to wave to Daria before throwing herself back into a wild fit. 

“You are one of five goddesses that control the Elements. I am Starlight, crazy over there is Embers- fire, if you prefer- and you are Sea. Now… what did you see in your dream?” Utter confusion and a wave of exhaustion rolled over Daria as blood seeped between her fingers, the flow slowing slightly under the pressure. At this point, there was no point in questioning it. She tried to recall the lapping of water on her toes. 

“A girl growing things,” she inhaled shakily, pinpricks of pain spiking all along her bronzed skin, “A mob. It looked like trouble- a big mob calling her a witch. She was a witch. But then a blonde girl made a storm and then everything was over in a flash of light.” 

As soon as the sentence was over, she sighed. Heavy lidded eyes fluttered shut just in time to see Selene smile. As she dozed off Daria heard Selene’s beautiful voice in fluent Italian,

“Storm did it. We have hope after all.”

**********************************

Dust rampaged through the dry desert air, caking peach sand over my pale skin. Hot wind carried the cries of the townspeople, venomous words floating on the breeze like a hungry vulture gliding on the currents. They were words I could understand in any language, words I’d heard countless times over the last few days. Witch. Unnatural. Threat.

I tore through the small, decrepit village, the dirty huts and collapsing buildings flying by in an indistinct haze. The journey from the beautiful, colorful coast of Italy to the dry expanses of the African savannah hadn’t been easy. 

Days upon days hitchhiking and trekking across the desolate land from dawn to dusk. Matting my hair into dirty strands, clogging every pore with dust that floated thick on the air like smog in the London streets, sand clinging to my clothes. Exhaustion was setting in with each time I used my powers, sprinkling myself with cool rain and beckoning the northern breeze to combat the brutal heat. Hiking over miles of cracked land with no guide but my instinct and a niggle in my gut urging me on.

Image from English Stack Exchange

Through the sweltering streets, I could see the blazing torches of the mob swinging wildly like drunken fireflies. Cutting through a shadowy alley, I rammed into the crowd, shoving forward. Malnourished children clawed at me, some shouting at me in a language I didn’t recognize, others screaming in choppy English. Bodies pressed in on all sides. Hot. Sweat-slicked. Tense with anger and fear. Clamoring through the masses, dodging swinging torches and children hurling spears. Trampling feet. Pounding heart. Trembling hands. Angry people wide-eyed with fury. Writhing masses. Guttural screams that split the air like an arrow piercing an apple.

Over the dark tide of people I caught a glimpse of the goal. All I could do was stare with wonder at the sight before me. 

Trees were rising out of nowhere, the cracked earth crumbling into dark soil that sprouted grass. Waves of green crashed over the dusty landscape, life springing up in seconds. Wildflowers rose up, dotting the carpet of lush grass like fireworks bursting in a dark sky. In the middle of it all, trembling with the effort, was a dark girl with long black hair cascading down her back. Earth. 

I pushed forward, tearing through the hordes of people. The girl cried out, her thin frame convulsing under the ratty dress. Breaking free of the pulsating crowd, I kneeled beside her. She looked up at me, starry green eyes glimmering with terror before glancing helplessly at the oncoming tide of citizens.
“Can you speak English?” I asked. She nodded meekly, tears streaking down her dirt-stained cheeks. Even as she convulsed with the fatigue, I could feel the earth below me thrum with power, renewed life coursing through its veins. 

“My family- my people,” she gestured towards the mob, thin hands shaking with the effort. “I just tried to help undo the damage of the years. They call me a witch. Please help. Please. I can’t do this much longer.”

“Stop using your powers. It’s okay, I can help. I’m a witch too,” I said, clasping her hand in mine. The earth rattled and she rose, the tide of people edging closer and closer. I had to save her. I had to let it rain. Raising a hand to the sky, I clenched my fist, pulling it down with all my force. Thunder boomed, the roar of a vengeful beast crackling in the heavens. Clouds swirled overhead, the endless periwinkle sky splashed with ominous gray. Rain began to drizzle, pouring down faster and faster. Drops splattered the new leaves, the small canopy sheltering us from the worst of it. Flames were quenched, plunging the world into darkness. 

“What’s your name?” I shouted over the din, thunder rumbling like a bowling ball striking the wood. People shrieked, raging on as their torches died out one by one, rain pounding the newly grown grass.
“Zara!” She shouted between cracks of thunder.

“My name is Talia. I’m going to make a distraction, and then you have to run as fast as you can in the direction of the nearest port,” I yelled, gusts of wind howling like a banshee. Pelting rain came down in torrents, stinging my skin. The heat still clung to the now humid air, each lurching breath pulling in the suffocating air. Zara parted her lips as though to ask a question, staring at me in wonder as though I was the strangest girl she’d ever seen. I probably was, actually- it’s not everyday that you see a pale Londoner in the middle of Africa starting a storm with nothing but willpower. 

With a deep, rattling breath, I squeezed her hand. Bites of rain nipped at my skin, cool and stinging like a blizzard’s icy kiss. The mob of people crashed over us, tearing at my clothes and ripping at Zara. I held on, squeezing my eyes shut as hands raked my skin. Vicious. Merciless. Just like the storm.

Summoning all my power, I raised my hand towards the sky again, forcing my mind to go blank. The cacophony of thunder and pounding rain, of screaming children and guttural yells, the warmth of Zara’s calloused hand in mine, the pain itching in my veins- all of it melting away. With everything I had, I brought down my fist. Lightning cleaved the sky, striking the earth with a bang! The world was lost in blinding white. Screams erupted. Feet scrambled. Smoke tinged the humid air.

 Everything was lost as Zara pulled me away, my feet stumbling across the terrain. We separated from the panicked horde of people, sprinting through the lush grass as rain pelted the world furiously.

Through the chaos, I could imagine Selene smiling at me, Kenna joking with a playful grin, Daria filled with hope (though I had never seen her face.) Thunder roared, the storm raging on as the power drained from my body little by little. Stumbling through the torrents, trembling with adrenaline, all I could think was, you did it, Storm. You saved her from her death. Saved Earth. There is still hope yet.