The Midnight Inferno

Submitted into Contest #203 in response to: Start your story in the middle of the action.... view prompt

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Fantasy Fiction Sad

The roof collapsed in on them. Flaming debris fluttered down from the hole in the ceiling. The two young women cowering inside the building stared up in horror, though they couldn’t see anything through the rising smoke. A shrill scream ripped out from one of their mouths, but it got lost in the commotion outside. Shouts and screams filled the air, combining with the roar of the flames and the cracking and collapsing of the nearby buildings. 

“Go, go, go! We’ve gotta get moving!” the one who’d been silent shouted once her senses returned to her. She pushed the other one towards the door of the building, half dragging her when she didn’t move. The young woman had frozen in terror, still staring up through the gaping hole. 

Wooden beams split and cascaded down around them, delaying their escape. She could feel the smoke creeping into her throat and lungs. The other young woman started wheezing. They dodged falling chunks of roof as they made their way to the exit, forced to thread themselves through narrow passageways formed by the destruction. Another beam split above them, landing precariously on one that had fallen in their path. Their window to freedom shrank significantly.

“Evie! We can’t get through! We can’t get through!” shouted the woman being dragged along.

“We’ll crawl under!”

“And what if it falls on us?! We’ll be trapped!”

“We’ve got to try Lizzie!” The young woman who’d taken the initiative to leave, Evie, dropped down to the ground. The air was slightly cooler down there. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was cooler. The air tasted cleaner as well, though she still had to hold back her cough. The other young woman, Lizzie, stayed standing, watching her with a tear-streaked face. 

She crawled towards the opening left beneath the two fallen rafter beams. The fire would lick at her skin and she was likely going to lose some of her hair, but she had to get out. And if she managed to make it through, she could help Lizzie get out. Another distant roar shook the air and Lizzie began crying again, but she had to focus. Her face scraped along the ground; the heat from the fire bore down on the side of her face and neck. She knew what direction she needed to go, but the smoke and tears in her eyes made it impossible to see.

Another loud crash came from inside the building and she peered up in dread. What was about to fall down now? Would this piece crush her? Would it impale Lizzie? She couldn’t think about it now. The air and the heat and the smoke was making her dizzy. She needed to focus.

“Is there anyone in here?!” The voice wasn’t Lizzie’s. It was a different voice. She didn’t recognize it. But it came from the door and she focused on crawling towards it. 

“Help! Help! I’m over here!” Lizzie shouted back at the door. She coughed between her words. “And my sister! Evie’s crawling under the debris!” 

Evie heard more crashing from around her as she slowly crawled towards the door. Her eyelids felt heavy and her chest burned. She tried not to think about the stinging pain on her cheek or the intense heat on the other. She ignored the throbbing pain of her knees and elbows. She shut her eyes to help herself focus better. The floor felt so much cooler than the burning things above. Her limbs stopped moving for a moment while she tried to orient herself.

And suddenly, the heat above her diminished. A dark figure stood above her, distorted by the wetness in her eyes. A part of the darkness moved towards her and she assumed it to be a hand. She hoped more than anything she saw a hand reaching for her. She reached up for it weakly.

A firm calloused hand gripped her forearm and helped pull her to her feet. She stood but her legs wobbled pathetically under her. Before she could fall, the hooded figure swooped down and lifted her into its arms. She buried her face into its chest, letting the tears stream down her face into the fabric of their clothing. 

“D-did you get Lizzie…?” she asked into their chest.

“Your sister is safe.” She sighed in relief. 

The door had felt so far away when she was crawling towards it. But it felt as though the hooded figure only took a few steps. The figure placed her gently on the ground, helped her stand, then took a step back. As soon as the cool, night air reached her lungs, her body demanded more. She gasped and shivered and sobbed. She could still hear shouting and crying and wailing around her in the midst of blazing fires and distant roars, but she felt safe. Even if the safety would only last a moment, the muscles in her body began to relax. And then the pain finally started reaching her.

Her knees, elbows, shoulder, palms, and cheek stung from where they’d scraped along the floor. Each of those areas felt slightly damp, no doubt from blood trickling out of the wounds. The parts of her body more exposed to fire hurt and burned, especially when the wind would hit them. She felt more air on her neck than she was used to. Her crying hadn’t stopped but the tears burst from her harder and she slowly fell to her knees, causing more pain as the wounds dug into the soil. She buried her face in her hands.

“Evie! Evie!” She lowered her fingers enough to see her sister, sprinting towards her with her arms open. She had scrapes on many exposed parts of her body and part of her hair had been singed off. Her beautiful silky hair. 

“Lizzie!” she rasped. Her throat ached as she spoke. Lizzie wrapped her arms around her carefully, but it still hurt when she touched her skin.

“I-I-I…!” Lizzie stammered then broke down into sobs. “I didn’t…I don’t…”

“You’re all right…”

“How’s the progress?” The hooded figure’s voice caught her attention. She looked over to them, finally able to see them. They were little more than a silhouette over the inferno consuming the city, but she could see a mask covering the lower half of their face. Their eyes seemed to glow in the firelight; copper or maybe light brown, but it was hard to tell in the night. Another figure stood across from them, wearing the uniform of a knight dragoon. The man looked exhausted but still stood tall.

“The first group sent in was forced to retreat, but the second group has it down. It should be finished within the hour.”

“And the evacuation?” They had a soft voice, epicene voice. 

“It’s rough. We’re clearing buildings, but it’s hard to get in a lot of them without the Ventus Legion.”

“They should be here before long.” The man who’d come to speak with the hooded figure nodded, gave her a half-hearted smile as he turned, then hurried away. The hooded figure turned towards her, gaze softening as their eyes met

“Is —”

“Can you walk?” She stared up for a while, then down at her legs. Lizzie stood and offered her arm, and she struggled to her feet. Her entire body had been exhausted. Her legs felt like gelatin beneath her.

“I can stand. So, I should be able to walk.” Lizzie held her up and they took a step forward together. The hooded figure nodded. 

“Good. Head towards the south gate. The Umbra Legion is helping transport refugees to the nearby fort.” The two young women nodded. “One of the men at the gate should be able to get you to the carts safely. But try to hurry.” They nodded again and turned to head towards the gate. But a question ate at Evie. She patted her sister’s arm and gestured to turn back around.

“Is it really a —” The figure nodded before she could finish, saving her throat some of the tearing she forced on it. “But it’s been years, hasn’t it? Decades. I thought they were all gone?”

“So did we.” A fire sparked in their eyes, and it wasn’t the one reflecting off of them. They turned back towards the building, brow furrowed and staring at a distant but close thought. “Go get to safety. The knight dragoons will take care of it.”

Lizzie nodded and turned the two of them around. She headed for the south gate as quickly as she could without hurting Evie. As they’d been told, a man waited at the gate for evacuees, directing them to their next stop. Neither of the young women could see the carts, other evacuees, or the Umbra Legion, but that had been intended. They’d congregated under what had once been a copse of lush trees in a barrier of shadow. 

The Umbra Legion — or they assumed by the matching dark attire — waved them over. One of the Umbra Legion, a young woman with dark hair slicked back and dark eyes lit by the firelight, beckoned them over. She held a roll of parchment in her hand and a quill in the other. Inky black encased her fingers and dripped from them. 

“Your names?”

“Elizabeth and Evelyn Freitholm,” Lizzie said before Evie could open her mouth to speak. She hadn’t heard her full name in so long. “Why do you need our names?”

“To help in future search efforts.” They nodded. “The next cart is about to leave. Go hurry on.”

The two of them nodded again, then hurried towards the carts. Another person in Umbra Legion greys and blues ushered them onto the cart. Four others sat on the cart with them, looking as worse for wear as the two of them. Ash in their hair and smeared on their clothes and faces. Skin reddened from the fires around them. Eyes wide and wet from whatever horrors they’d experienced. Their heads hanged down.

“Do you think we’ll be safe to go back home soon?” Lizzie asked in a voice a little above a whisper.

“Do you think anywhere’ll be safe anymore?” one of the other passengers in the cart replied. 

Her throat hurt too much to do anything but cough uncomfortably. But even then, she had nothing to say. She slid to the side so another pair of evacuees could slide onto the cart beside, followed by a member of the Umbra Legion. They whistled at the person sitting at the head of the cart and they started on the road to the nearby fort. 

It was the dead of night, but the sky burned red and orange. Smoke rolled out from the city, obscuring the tops of buildings and towers — if any still stood. The wind blew the smoke in the direction of the nearby forest, from which bursts of white-hot light shot out at random intervals. All of it melted away as the tears welled in her eyes again.


June 21, 2023 18:31

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3 comments

J. D. Lair
01:14 Jun 28, 2023

Really interested in more of this world! Welcome to Reedsy. Keep writing and stay a while. :)

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John Siddham
00:56 Jun 26, 2023

Nice read, Janie! Excellent piece with descriptions of the terrifying experience and the rescue. Well done!

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L J
15:42 Jun 24, 2023

This was a good read. Just a couple of suggestions: When you use "Their", that is plural. It was confusing as I didn't know exactly how many knights were there. Also, the sentence that read "Their heads hanged down", I would suggest to leave that out. The paragraph is very powerful without it.. I will look forward to reading more of your work. Please try to sharpen your descriptions of your characters. I want to get to know them better! I Think this has the strength to be a good YA fantasy

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