She was lying in the river when her world changed forever. The edges of the world crumbled in on itself like burning paper, and the sun turned dark. The Fire was born of the sun and quickly burned everything it could touch, including the sky—the blue changing to red. Then the flames caught the unrelenting breeze and took hold of the trees. The air above the trees became a hostage to the smoke that overtook it, but Adara floated in the current the same way she always did. Birds swarmed away from the flames and creatures of the forest ran crying, jumping, and flying over the stream. The mountains in the distance lit up red and tears replaced the wonder in her eyes.
The cool waters kept Adara alive while the Fire overtook the surface of the river. Out of the depths, the mother spirit rose with a wall of water surging toward the flames. Her mother pushed Adara to the bottom of the river, safe from the heat. The river embraced her to protect her from the heat of the burning world. Even through the murky waters, she could see how the world burned. In the depths, Adara could see her mother fight them. A wall of so much flame and color that it shocked her.
Adara first encountered the river by cruelty but stayed for love. Boys chased her into the river. Her skin ached from where they prodded her with a hot iron, mocking her for things she couldn’t control like her ratty hair or lack of clothes. The river was her only hope of salvation, a boundary line between fear and hope. As they chased Adara, she ran as hard as she could, splashing into the marshy banks. She plunged her body into the icy water that cooled her feverish skin. She burrowed herself into the river, digging her fingers into the mud.
The river began to heal Adara. The angry red welts of hatred smoothed into healed skin as the water brushed over the marks. Her body felt strong and powerful. For once in her life, Adara felt strength in every part of her body and soul. As the boys caught up to her, the river began to change.
Out of the water came a beautiful woman. Her body was a gorgeous green, and her hair was roaring currents. Even as she stood, the river continued to flow in its endless cycle; the stream was never broken. Fish continued to swim up the length of the woman, rising with the base of her form, passing through her face, and falling back into the river along her other side. Her eyes flashed open as if abruptly waking from a long sleep. Her hard gaze fell upon Adara.
Waves cascaded the shore, trampling them until they screamed and then gasped for air until they were beyond the trees. The waves retreated back into the river, encasing Adara in watery comfort. The boys never dared to return to the river, and Adara never left.
Now, ten years later, water ran through Adara’s veins and pumped her heart. Her new mother taught her to behave like an ancient river: calm and unforgiving. Leaving behind the human world, she embraced her new world.
Nothing was impossible for the river, and neither was it, for Adara. She was no longer afraid of the world. The line between human Adara and river Adara became blurred. She learned all that the ancient woman knew: how to heal and how to fight. She learned the ways of the river: how it moved and how it lived; until Adara’s body was just another wave in the current.
Those bringing pollution and civilization were chased away by the mother spirit and the river girl until none dared touch the miles and miles of their domain.
The currents of the river were ever-changing like the maturing Adara. It pushed and pulled, and Adara flowed with it. When the sky grew angry and storms came, Adara lied in the current and welcomed the rain home, safe in her river. She was more river than girl.
When Adara could no longer breathe, she was forced to surface in a world of flame. Flames were taking control of the trees, and Adara could hear their cries. Black smoke took over the sky. She commanded the water to lift her to the bank and to put out the flames. The water hastened to help its earthy companion, and the waves washed away what destruction it could. With Adara’s powers and the help of the river, the flames died only to leave behind scarred earth. The air was no longer fresh, and she tried to spit it out. Rivers are centers of life; they should not be burned. Coughing, Adara crawled her way back into the water. The sobs wracking her body lessened when her body touched the warm water. It embraced her until her cries slowed. When she came back to herself, she expected to look up and see her mother cradling her, but her only companion was the rocking of the water. Pushing and pulling. Confused, she dove to the depths of the river, searching the deep for the mother spirit. Upon breaking the surface, the tears started again in earnest. After all this time of being loved, Adara was alone again.
Fire was taking over water in every place she could find. The river girl tried to heal the land and bring back the spirit protectors of the trees. Every time Adara healed one tree with her magic, the flames would descend to decimate it once again. The battles along the river were tough, and she would constantly find herself lighting the fire of rage in her heart, screaming so hard it felt like she was breathing fire.
Desperate for anyone to help her, she ventured out to the human lands, which she had not returned to since that first fateful day by the river. Adara had no human possessions. She didn’t deign to wear clothes in the river, but to travel vulnerable back to the place she received so much hatred was not an option. She asked the long grass on the bed of the river to help her, and the strands woke to do her bidding. The grass and the leaves wove themselves into armor that would encase her body and her hands. Donning her armor, the water of the river aided itself to her once more, molding itself into a transportable vial of water, and she gladly took the magical gift on her journey.
The town she was born in was burned to the ground. The barns and the animal pens she knew used to exist, were gone. Not even a trace of what happened to them. Her bare feet crunched on the charred grass. It was so dry, there wasn’t even a trace of water in the land. This was no place for her, a river girl.
A man of Fire, a predator of destruction, appeared on the edge of her vision. She rose, dust rising with her, and she saw it stalking after a woman that was running through the ruins. The woman stood no chance against it; you couldn’t outrun air. She watched as the Fire took the woman. She couldn’t make a sound because the Fire’s hand burrowed its way down her throat.
The Fire burned the woman out of her body, leaving only flame in her place. The Fire became weaker, flickering like coals left in the hearth, as it gave part of its life to make a new flame. Adara charged at the flame, her bare feet biting into the stone and dirt. The flame turned to her in a vengeful strike. It moved like smoke; it was light and fast. She unleashed her water on the flame and forced it to its knees. Every stream of water unleashed on the flame sent vapor spewing into the sky. She hit it with the water until it was nothing but steam, the anger surging through her heart with every strike.
The newly made woman of fire did nothing while Adara slew its friend. Looking at her, she saw that her eyes were like a living flame. Adara did not have much water left, but she commanded the last drops to heal, and she pushed them down the woman’s throat. Smoke left the woman’s eyes until brown replaced the red that was there. The woman’s knees hit the ground, and she reached her hands out to the scorch mark that was all that remained of her attacker. Her fists hit once. Twice. Three times. Over and over again till her skin was cut and red blood splashed. Adara sat next to her, letting her fists get angrier until the pounding stopped. Throughout it all, the woman’s eyes remained dry.
Adara was tending to her bare feet when the woman spoke. Her eyes on Adara’s fingers against the soles. Her feet were bleeding water, and Adara’s magic was weaving that water to heal the scratches and burns. The vacant eyes on Adara filled with hope, and she stopped her healing. Using the water she bled, Adara brushed it over the woman’s hands, making the angry gashes into minor scratches.
Only then did the woman begin to cry. They were gentle, the tears that slid down her face. Adara reached out to her face to steal a tear. Her fingers brushed against the saltwater, and she played with the drop between her fingers, loving the way it felt to hold someone else’s pain.
“What are you,” the woman asked.
Adara didn’t answer her question, but the two sat in silence for a long while, watching the red moon drop from the sky. When fiery light appeared on the horizon, the woman stood, saying nothing.
Adara watched as the woman went beyond the dead trees, away from her.
The days became weeks, and Adara was no longer accepted as a river spirit. The river rejected her attempts to consume it or control it; therefore, she had to befriend the tree spirits and the earth, who had long since been dead. Adara no longer had the powers of spirit, but she did have the water, and the magic still left in her veins. Not much grew in the soil anymore, but Adara could use her powers to help heal the small piece of land she now held to create food and the semblance of nature of her previous home.
There was still water in her veins, though it was quickly being replaced by human blood. The more Adara depleted the gifts the river gave her, the more human she became. To be human in this world was to die. She constantly found herself with a hand on her chest, wanting to feel the spirit she lost, of the soul she lost. All she felt in her chest was pain. Adara fought against the desire to lie in her river until death came for her. Lying in the river, staring up at the black smoke in the sky, the pain left her body. The water of the river caressed her cheek brushing away the saltwater and inviting it to come home to the river. She felt the tender touch of the current rock her as the pain left her body in violent screams. Once again, she felt herself being comforted by the river without the caress of her mother. Adara was the last protector of this river, and she would free the spirit. And so, Adara sought out the villains.
Her palms lingered on the pebbles lying on the river bank until they leaped out of the water eager to do her bidding. She wove them together, making a sword of river magic. Each step she made along the scorched earth, she left green in her place. The girl of water became a girl of nature, as she healed the earth around her bank. Adara made to leave when the water of the river overcame her in a last embrace. A wave sprouted from the river rising above her head and bathed her in the tangy taste of the river. The droplets hated to leave her, but they drifted away back to their home. Adara felt each drop pass over her; touching each one to say goodbye and thank you as she crossed to the other side of the boundary line.
The smoke was so thick she could barely see the scarred trees in front of her. Adara fought for every breath and urged the water she had to protect her breath. Adara clutched her river sword with both hands, fear sparking in her heart, so empty of water. She shied away from every lick of heat. Adara didn’t travel far until she found a target for her grief. Out of the darkness, she saw a bright light appear, blinding her. Her world lit up red, and she felt its heat.
“Take my world but not my home,” she screamed at the Fire. It didn’t attack as she thought it would. It did not rush to her. The Fire crept its way to Adara, and she hastily struck it with her river sword. It avoided her blow with the speed she was expecting. The light moved in and out of her vision as she threw blow after blow towards the Fire. It toyed with her, choking her with smoke, making each strike labored by exhaustion. It struck her, sizzling her skin where it touched. She attacked with a vengeance, finally landing a blow with her sword, sending steam skyward. Adara breathed in the moist water vapor. She struck again, sending more steam into the black smoke. It broke apart showing her a glimpse of the sky. On her last strike, it reached out a fiery hand to crush her blade in its grip.
Once again, Adara found herself running to the river to save her life. She threw water splashing behind her, slowing her pursuer. She flew over the trees, burning her feet with every step. Red, human blood, ran down her arms. With a crash through the dead trees, she saw her river. With a glance back, Adara saw waves of flames cascade down the mountainside, barreling toward the last piece of water. The Fire behind her was taunting her, making Adara lose hope as she got closer to her home. She ran to the bank, making waves as she splashed into the banks. Running and splashing deeper into her river as Fire was nipping at her heels. The smoke overtook her and filled her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. She rose the water to protect her and to return her breath. Steam hissed as it met the Fire. Adara pushed forward, trying to go deeper into the center of the river, hoping the Fire could not leave the earth. Mud and weeds tangled her feet until she could go no farther; the water, which usually made Adara swift, slowed her down. She was trapped on her bank of the river. She pulled at the water, asking it to help her again, but it attacked her. Dousing her in water, again and again. Stealing her breath like the smoke. For the first time, Adara thought she could drown. Just as quickly, the water abandoned its fight. The mud encasing her feet turned dry and held her like rock. As she desperately tried to free herself, the steam that was still surrounding her took shape. There was her mother once again.
Adara stopped moving at once. No longer was she a beautiful woman of water; now she was a woman of vapor. The smoke of the flames was lending itself to form her body. Her body that was once flowing like a stream, was swirling and changing like the wind. The flames burrowed all of the water out of her until only steam was left of the magnificent river spirit. Adara screamed for her. Screamed for the river to save her. Screamed.
The flames, that were held at bay, surrounded her, singeing the ends of her hair and licking the flesh of her arms. Her bank didn’t have a drop of water. Her mother had her arms raised, holding a wall of water in front of Adara. She had seen her mother in action, and she knew what was coming. Her steaming fist thrust forward, and Adara held her breath as the wall of water came towards her. The water pooled and shaped into a dome prison surrounding Adara, the Fire, and her mother.
And the Fire spoke to her.
She forced her mouth closed as pain encircled her body. The flames were spreading to her face, making her scream again as it touched her eyes. It raced down her throat, and she couldn’t do anything except try to breathe.
The flames formed manacles around her wrists and pulled her body back until Adara was lying on the bone dry bed of the river. The traitorous water coiled around her body like a snake ready to bite, forcing her to take the pain and keep taking more. The body of a man appeared before her in the flame; he reached toward her with its hand, tendrils caressing her face, running along the length of her body until it was touching every part of her.
As its finger pierced her chest, Adara could feel the last of the water burrow out of her veins, leaving steam and human blood in its absence.
Adara was different. No more water lingered in her heart. She was born again as living, breathing flame. Adara understood where her loyalties lie now, so when the Fire pointed its finger at her mother, Adara did not hesitate. No longer was she on the side of life. She was on the side of death.