Adara flashed a grin at Charlie, then hurled a fireball straight into its chest. The creature blazed orange against the starry night. A heartbeat later, it burst, spreading a cloud of gray ash over the prairie grasses.
Charlie shook his head in mock dismay. “Geez, ‘Dara, you could at least let ’em get a little close. Y’ know, let ’em think they have a chance before ya snuff ’em out.”
“Please. You’re just being lazy. You don’t want any more of my fires to quench than absolutely necessary.” Keeping one eye on the Indestructible horde surrounding them, Adara set a handful of grass ablaze. The flames danced above her fingertips, a bouquet of fire—Adara’s favorite kind.
Charlie shrugged, but his lips stretched into a crooked smile. “Maybe.” His fingers twitched upward. A geyser ten feet tall erupted from the ground, drenching a wayward fire creeping toward the battle.
All around them, members of the Indestructible fought against the Warriors of Adara and Charlie’s Cell. In the middle of it all, Adara and Charlie stood, their fingers a careful inch away. She set the Indestructible ablaze, picking them off through the field of Warriors, while he kept her fires under control. A few feet away, Manny—their Cell’s Healer—tended the wounded on hands and knees.
The combat had started with even numbers. Her Cell now outnumbered the Indestructible almost two-to-one. It made Adara’s task more difficult: fewer targets with more obstacles. If only the Clan would let me unleash my powers and kill them all in a single blast. But no, Clan rules meant she couldn’t disrupt the natural environment, despite these unnatural things attacking them.
Besides, one giant fire was dangerous for Adara. It was harder for Charlie to check, so it would consume more. The more her Flames consumed, the more they wanted. The more they demanded. If she gave into them, even for a moment…
Adara clapped her hands together, snuffing out both the thought and her pet fire. Refocused on the fight, she reached down and ripped off another handful of grass. This one she mashed into a ball. Her russet gaze bright in the starlight, Adara scanned the skirmish for an opening to injure or kill. Her fingers pulsed in and out of her ball of grass.
“Charlie? Charlie, can I get your help over here?” Manny called from the ground.
A sandy lock tilted over and fell into Charlie’s blue-green eyes as he whipped toward Manny.
Manny’s hands pressed against a Warrior’s thigh. Black blood bubbled between his fingers.
Charlie returned to Adara, reaching toward her waist. He stopped short. They couldn’t touch, not when their powers were active. “You’ll be okay if I go help Manny for a bit?”
“’Course I will.” Adara winked. “I’ll even be careful, just for you. But hurry back. You know how I hate prudence.”
Charlie chuckled. “I do indeed.” His index finger wagged at Adara while he backstepped to Manny. “Be careful. I love you.”
“I love you too.” Adara’s gaze followed Charlie until he bent next to Manny and set to work. With Charlie’s touch of Healing assisting him, Manny would have that Warrior up and fighting in no time.
Clutching her soon-to-be fireball, Adara surveyed the battle. The Indestructible had vacated the southern end nearest her. Wise move, you beasts. Now, shall I move east or west first? Hmmm, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west…so I guess east first, then circle toward the west.
With her wild ponytail swishing against her bare shoulders, Adara stalked toward those fighting on the eastern side. Her head tilted as she analyzed the brawl, searching for a safe angle of attack. When a Warrior ducked down to slash at one’s legs, Adara didn’t hesitate. She flung her ball of flaming grass. It whistled over the Warrior and hit her target, this time in the upper arm. Although the creature survived, fire crawled down toward its wrist and up toward its neck. Like an idiot, it tried to pat her flames out. Panic twisted its face.
The Warriors near the blazing beast wasted no time. One knocked it onto the ground. Before it could react, the other slammed a stake into its heart. A breath later, there was nothing but dust. After a nod toward Adara, the two Warriors split to join the combat farther away.
Adara trailed them, searching for another victim. She smothered a sigh. This type of fight was her least favorite, with all its watching and waiting. Usually, Charlie stood by her side, cracking jokes and amusing her while they waited. Without him, the urge to charge in and set them ablaze left and right swelled within her. Her power throbbed at her fingertips, begging for release. It was almost…undeniable. But Adara had promised to be careful.
“A little…help…here,” a Warrior grunted from behind Adara.
She spun around. While she focused on the east, the Indestructible had swarmed the west. No Warrior had thought to warn her until it was almost too late.
“Just a sec.” Kneeling, Adara gathered handful after handful of the tall blades. Her copper stare assessed the battle between the Warriors and the Indestructible while she molded the grass into a ball three times the size of her normal ones. If she did this just right and if they cooperated…
Adara’s head snapped around. One of them had snuck around the ranks of fighting Warriors. It charged toward her.
Adara rose into a crouch, preparing for the force of a thousand cars to crash into her. At the same time, she summoned every ounce of her Fire. The Indestructible were impossible for most Fire Diviners to ignite directly. Adara wasn’t most Fire Diviners.
It sped past her.
If there’d been time to be stunned, Adara would have been. The Indestructible always came for her first. In control of the flames that demolished their kind, she was the most dangerous of the Diviners huddled in the middle. As such, she had to be taken out first. Anything less was suicide. Of course, attacking her was suicide as well; they never lasted long enough to scratch her, let alone kill her.
But this time, it didn’t come for her. No, it stormed the two Healers bent over the wounded, oblivious to the battle surrounding them. One of those Healers was her Charlie.
Rage tinged with dread engulfed Adara. She lifted the ball of grass the size of a raccoon over her head. Her arms wound up. She bit into her lower lip. Charlie, Manny, and the injured Warriors were too close to her target.
But there was no time. It was no more than a bodylength away from her Charlie. If she waited, it would kill him. Her Fire would not, not with Charlie’s talent with Water and all their practice. Charlie would shield himself and those around him from her Flames.
Adara launched her fireball—the largest she’d ever created—with two hands. It exploded with a roar over the beast’s back. Her Flames leapt to devour the stray member of the Indestructible.
Adara grinned, her teeth blazing white in the firelight. Her Flames danced over its dying body. When the creature turned to ash, they begged for more.
And why not? They’d just saved her Charlie, why not give them a little reward? After all, there was plenty of fuel around them. And Charlie would keep things under control. And she’d wrap up this fight and not endanger any more of her Cell tonight.
Yesssss, the Flames agreed, Charlie will take care of usssss.
Adara fed the Flames the Indestructible, flicking tongues of fire into any and every part of their bodies. She stoked the fires until the Indestructible became torches blazing beneath a broad starry sky. There was only the howl of the Flames, their tangy scent, their rainbow of red and orange and yellow and the brightest blue, brighter than even Charlie’s eyes.
Still the Flames wanted more. So more Adara gave them. All these dry prairie grasses, the Flames could have them. Was that a stunt of a tree? More to burn. A scraggly shrub? It could burn too. It all could burn. It all would burn.
Her heart pounding in her chest, Adara sprang upright. Sweat evaporated off her hot skin like steam. Harsh memories flooded her mind. Hours later, the Flames had released her and she’d found… No, she would not think about that. That was years ago. Years and years and years ago.
But the memories would not yield. Flashes of charred bodies appeared before her eyes. Adara’s arms wrapped about her core. Bile crawled up her throat. Why did the memories continue to torture her after all these years?
We can sssssshut them off.
Yes, that was it. Surrender to the Flames, become their vessel once more. They would take care of her. They would protect her. She’d never have to remember again.
Adara ripped herself off a lumpy bed that smoldered behind her. Her hands trembled with the power beating in her fingertips. Soon, she promised the Flames, soon. In ripped jeans and a dirty tank top, Adara rushed out of the motel, down the street, and into the forest. She climbed up the foothill. Its dry pine needles crackled beneath her feet.
“Soon,” she whispered, “soon.”
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