That’s the thing about the city at night--you never know what monsters are lurking--and not humans ones.
Isaac dashed to the door of the burning building. It was blocked, purposefully. Someone had left up a barrier--a magic barrier. Whatever demon spawn had started this fire wanted the victims trapped.
Wanted them dead.
But a crowd of people had gathered, some three hundred feet away--or further, Isaac couldn’t judge distances well, so some safe distance away--and most looked like they’d dressed for a fancy night out at the restaurant that was burning in front of him.
“They didn’t want any mortals hurt,” he said to Sia and Amethyst, who had followed him. Sapphire, B, and Adoree were further back, planning what to do next.
“Mortals? Dude, we can die too,” Sia said.
“I mean, Talentless people.”
“Like, Talent with a capital T? Because they must be good at something,” Amethyst mused.
“Look, we need a way through the barrier. Half a ton of rubble, conveniently on fire, in front of the door, enchanted to stay there. What could possibly go wrong?”
“How do we know they didn’t escape? That they’re fine and outside, in the crowd?” Sia asked.
“We have, what, three mind-readers here? Someone has to be able to find them.”
“Okay,” Amethyst said, pressing her hands against the hot stone of the restaurant wall. She closed her eyes and frowned.
A few long moments passed.
“There are two of them in there. Their names are Emerald and Luna. They need to escape, badly, but all their exits are blocked off. Luna is barely conscious--smoke inhalation, I think? And she’s saying something I can’t understand. She’s so afraid that she’s going to die. Se wants Emerald to know that she only pretended to be better than her and that her pyrokinesis makes her feel like the enemy. She’s worried that if she dies, there won’t be enough Champions and countless innocents will be killed by the Pyline. And--oh my gosh--she’s fireproof, like a Pyline minion, and thinks that Emerald might die and it will be her fault, since she didn’t protect her. She’s so upset that someone named Franklin controlled her,and that he tricked Emerald in so many ways. The burn scars he gave her have faded off her skin, since she's immune to fire. And this Emerald girl is so afraid that she won’t be able to help anyone, since the flowers she was using to try to escape have all died and they’re hopeless--”
“I don’t need that much information, but thank you. Where are they?” Isaac interrupted.
“Didn’t I already say that? The back kitchen. The floor of it, to be precise.” Amethyst smiled. “Man, a real rescue mission!”
“Hey, why are we trying to get in through the door? We’re magical! Isaac, use your earth power to move a tunnel under here--or move the wall? We should do it from the alley so we aren’t seen.” Sia barked out directions as they dashed around, trying to get in. They had less than a minute, Amethyst informed them, before the girls inside were close to death.
“B! Come over here! I need you to create a distraction. I heard you were good at shapeshifting. Can you do inanimate objects?”
“Yeah, just not for long.” The girl fidgeted with her robotic fingers. And this is gonna be in or on it, until I turn human.”
“Do a fire truck.”
“Okay!” she ran down the street and ducked around a corner. The fire department still hadn't arrived yet. What was wrong?
A loud siren broke the darkness, flashing lights filling the streets. A man in the crowd cheered--the restaurant owner. The crowd was hundreds of feet from the burning building, but Isaac still saw the relieved looks on their faces.
Until the fire truck barreled down the road and hit the fire hydrant, sending a spurt of water up in the air, none of it reaching the restaurant whatsoever.
The people all shook their heads. Help obviously wasn’t coming. Or, helpful help.
But Adoree and B had been planning this.
The graceful girl leapt from the tree she was hiding in, slamming her hands down on the stream of water. It began to freeze below her, the ice stopping the spray.
People watched in wonder as a teenage girl froze water below her hands, the liquid turning solid as she concentrated on the flow.
But soon the water had frozen into an elegant ice sculpture, and wasn’t nearly useful for anything except damaging the pipe below the hydrant.
But Sapphire smashed her way through the ice, sending a million shards into the air. They hit the ground, doing nothing.
The crowd let out a gasp.
With a wave of her hand, Sapphire created a bubble of darkness around them, preventing them from seeing the magic at hand. “Sorry I didn’t do that already.” She nodded at the bubble, which they could see through, the people inside protected from the danger and the magic. They slowly fell asleep, slumping on the road like it was a soft bed.
“Now what?” Sia asked.
“Now you come over here! I’ve moved a bit of wall!” Isaac shouted to them. “We should be able to fit! But there is some fire on the way.”
The shards of ice, left on the ground after Adoree’s magic, began to float into the air, breaking through the warped window and melting into water, putting out some of the fire. There was now a path through the restaurant.
The group stood outside the crack, looking at each other.
And they entered.
“Luna...what is it?” I begged her. The heat from the chains was stinging my skin, and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before it burned me.
“Emerald, I’m fireproof, smokeproof, lavaproof--anything related to fire, it can’t hurt me. But...if one Champion dies--that’s you in this case--then the rest will start to lose their powers and fade away.”
“But...Celeste and Maya were Champions!”
“It takes a while. Have you noticed that Maya doesn’t use her magic anymore?”
“Huh, I’m about to die, I don’t think it’s on my mind.”
“It weakens. They weaken. You know why they’re on the Homeworld? Because magic is easier to use there.”
“I don’t find it harder on Earth!”
“Well, I’m sorry you haven’t been spying attention. But...The Pyline has killed off half the Talented people--there were whole cities and villages--all gone now. Then they thought Maya and Celeste and their friends were the Champions...and now us. It takes years for Champions to be born--well, not years, but almost everyone with Talents has manifested them already. You become a Champion when they manifest, you know. If you die... or if we somehow survive this but someone else dies...Well, it’ll be a while before there can be anyone to take our places. And… I don’t think we have much longer to wait. Wait any longer and...How long will it be before we’re all dead?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s hope we can get out, then. Or that someone wills save us.”
“Are you kidding me? No one's saving me.”
I would have said something witty if the world hadn't started to spin and blur....
Isaac went in first, looking at the inferno around him. Only the water from the melted ice protected the path he walked along. All around him were flaming tables, chairs, and menus, but thankfully, no people.
He looked at the wall of pure fire in front of him.
That was the entrance to the kitchen.
Isaac swallowed, looking at it.
“They’re alive,” Amethyst confirmed. “Just... not doing so well. Oh no...I don’t think that’s gonna heal well.”
“Great,” Isaac said. “I’m going in.”
He reached for the wall of fire.
“Isaac, don’t!” B shouted. “You are not making the same mistake I made!”
He pressed his hands against the burning rubble, pushing it out of the way with all his strength.
He turned to them and smirked.
“Glad I packed fireproof gloves.”
He stepped into the kitchen drawing his stone blades. He turned around, the glare of the fire reflecting in his eyes.
There! Two people--girls a little younger than him--lay on the floor, unconscious and held with glowing chains. They weren’t made out of molten metal, but a strange material that was hot but not on fire. Either way, they’d be dead soon.
Isaac swung his stone sword, slashing through the chains. The redhead one in the torn, stylish blue dress didn’t make a sound, but the blond one in the ragged clothing gasped as she fell to the floor.
Isaac wasn’t sure what to do, but Amethyst and B raced into the burning room, Amethyst holding a long pole as a weapon and B screaming about the fire department finally arriving.
Isaac picked up the blond girl carefully, dashing out as Amethyst picked up the redhead and B screamed something about the ceiling caving in.
“Run!” Sia and Adoree shouted, Sia peeling her shadow off the ground and using it to hold up the crumbling, flaming rubble that would crash down and block the only exit any second. Adoree grabbed her ice shards and threw them at the fire, trying to extinguish it so the rubble wouldn’t fall, burning, to the floor.
Isaac and Amethyst ducked around Sia’s shadow, B running after them, shouting something about the other Champions.
They dodged the flaming tables, falling ceiling bits, and general danger, leaving the minefield of the restaurant--
“MINEFIEEEEEEELD! ISAAC, THERE’S A MINEFIELD!”
“WELL, WE AREN’T CROSSING!”
Memories of a game he used to play with his sister and her friends field his head. More and more came as they snuck away under the cover of Sapphire’s shadow-dome.
“I’m a Champion. You’re what, the brother of one?”
“I’m Maya's brother. And Maya’s gonna change the world.”
Memories exploded outwards as they dashed into the trees, through the park, and out of the woods, carrying their unconscious burdens as they ran back to the sea. They’d awaken them on the shore.
“Isaac, I’m so proud of you!”
“Well, I am, too. You’re a Champion!”
“But you’re my brother. And you just got an important position! We’ll save the world together!”
Isaac numbly laid the blond girl on the sand, his mind spinning as a familiar face danced in front of his eyes.
“Isaac, why are you going?”
“To tell Mom and Dad about my promotion.”
“Personally, I mean.”
“It’s alright, Maya. I’ll be back in two days. Two days? That good? You’re thirteen now, you can be without your brother for two days.”
“Okay, but... I want you here.”
“I’ll be back soon, I promise.”
In the end...it was his fault Maya was dead.
He’d abandoned her.
And he knew there was nothing he could do, but…
I woke up lying on the sand. The sky was dark black, and my eyes stung with smoke. My arms and legs were covered in burns, and I felt groggy and weird.
Also, a boy was staring at my face, his brown eyes and brown hair looking almost black as the moonlight shone around his head like a halo. His face was familiar, though…
“Maya?” I asked.
The boy looked shocked.
“How do you know her name?”
“She saved me about a month ago. The fire-cat was gonna kill me.”
“Maya…”the boy shook his head. “It must have been someone else.”
What he said next made my blood run cold.
“Maya died two years ago.”