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Champions: at fire's end

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The Immortal Olympian Ares is living a quiet life within the peace forged by a shaky truce between the Titans and Olympians. However, when his decision to rescue the mortal he has fallen in love with reveals his true identity, his actions launch a series of events that devastate the town of Caria and destroy the fragile Immortal truce. Catapulted back into their eternal struggle, Ares must decide – take arms once more against the Titans, or stand with the mortals he has risked everything for.

Set one hundred and fifty years earlier, the FREE bonus chapter to Champions: at fire’s end shows the events which ignited the current feud in which April Fall and her fellow mortal champions now find themselves.

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CHAMPIONS

At fire’s end

Charlotte Jain

The Champions series

Book 1

CHAMPIONS: At fire’s end

Copyright © 2015 Charlotte Jain

Charlotte Jain asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

All characters, names, places, and incidents in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.

Cover illustration © Victoria Suhanova  | Dreamstime.com |With Beyond Wonderland by Chris Hansen

ISBN: 0992586933

ISBN-13: 9780992586935

The Champions Series

 

Champions: At fire’s end

Champions: Amid ember’s betrayal

Champions: Under fractured brilliance

 

More details coming soon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mythology of the Champions series

 

The Champions series is inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, which I absolutely adore and had the chance to study during University. However, the mythology drawn upon throughout the series is fairly freely adapted to allow the narrative and these characters to take on a life of their own. The Champions series doesn’t aim to present a strict retelling of the original mythology, but rather aspires to create a modern narrative that has mythological aspects as foundations to build its own world around April, Kyle and the Champions. All the mythology needed is presented within the story of the novels, so no extra research or prior knowledge is required to enjoy the story. Understanding of April and Kyle’s world is assumed to begin from scratch, and will build as we travel along with April, Kyle, and the Champions’ adventures and challenges. Some further notes are presented in the book’s final pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Champions Solution

“And so the war stretched on between the Immortal Titans and Olympians, never ceasing, forever to wage and carry unknowable destruction in its wake. Yet all either faction knew of victory was endless defeat. And so we constructed the Champions Solution. Pairs of mortals were sent forth to commence the final battle in our place, each gifted with abilities to rival those of any Immortal. Their purpose was to find each other, and destroy their opponents. Once complete, the outlasting Champions would have brought victory to their faction, which would rule completely once and for all. And so now we watch on as our world falls in their hands. And risk rising up or being brought to our knees. By nothing but mere mortals.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

Unleashing the Flames

 

Hermes

 

In the depths of the Underworld, Titans and Olympians met to decide a new world order. Eerie, ghostly echoes whistled low and soft. Barely audible, but always present, even within the silence stretching between us now. Crumbling, cold stones rested under our feet and above our heads. A silver-purple waterfall plummeted not far in the distance, the crashing sound of waves not quite reaching us, caught instead in the thick, swirling air. The absence of natural light had always risen within me a strange envy for true ground, and an unknowable longing for the sun. In its stead, calmly bubbling rivers of souls cast their silver-grey glow, which reflected from the cavernous landscape above back down to shower everything on the Underworld’s surface in that same dimly shining false light. Moonlight would have been more welcome. So would have darkness.

I stood, resolute, looking at four stone pillars, each with a glowing Flame sitting atop them. Opposite, a crowd of Immortals had positioned themselves to also gaze over the strange, unnatural Flames which now held various pieces of their elemental controls. It was an odd grouping, and one which would never have set foot in the same space for any other purpose. All powerful in their own right, and eager to play their part in the events now unfolding before us. Almost beyond their control. Almost.

I glanced to four beings – two men, two women – standing at the front of the gathered crowd. They were the only beings capable of putting a halt on proceedings, and to whom I looked for final approval. True to form, the Immortal High Council started bickering.

I should have felt glad, for the High Council were forging agreement amongst themselves through discussion, rather than battle, in a way forced upon them by the truce which enabled each pair of Titan and Olympian leaders to rule the Immortals collectively.

Still, a deep weariness creeped through my bones, as impatience boiled through my body. Wishing for them to shut up and let us get on with it.

“Is this truly our solution?” one of the women stated. “We cannot murder each other, therefore we let mortals do the killing for us?”

“But they are so good at it,” one of the men noted.

“We are certainly not setting them a task that is beyond their people’s skill set,” the second woman, this time. The High Council members spoke in quick succession, almost completing each other’s sentences with their own thoughts in a practiced style refined only with time.

“Still…”

The man spoke again.

“This is the way to end our war.”

“You are too certain.”

“The Champions Solution will be our salvation.”

“There has been too much destruction at our hands to continue as we have done.”

“But millennia of the same, and the mortals persist. We persist.”

“Is change necessary?” Finally, the second man broke his silence. “Is this?”

“More than we are capable of comprehending,” the second woman voiced a thought we were too unsure of to speak for ourselves. “I am certain of this.”

The first woman went to speak, but noticeably thought against continuing. They all fell silent in beleaguered agreement. Hastily, I proceeded, praying to complete my objective before those who could prevent the upcoming events – the four ruling Immortals now glaring in any direction but at each other – acted on that ability.

I stepped into the centre of the four pillars, and the four Flames now brimming with Immortal power. They flickered red, blue, green, and yellow in the eerie glow of the Underworld, and embodied the solution to an eternity of war between Titans and Olympians.

“The terms,” my voice sounded sharp and weak against the Underworld’s silence and cavernous echoes. Terrifyingly, everyone listened. “Each Flame will find a child to reside within. To grow within. A mortal who will take control of the elements with abilities we have provided each Flame. Water, fire, earth, and air,” I noted and gestured to each of the blue, red, green, and yellow glowing Flames in turn. “And a few… additions…” I went on, hesitant and eager to proceed before someone changed their mind, or decided to start bickering about the components of the Flames. Again. “While the mortals’ battle wages, all Immortal parties have agreed,” I glanced precariously to the High Council, who remained quiet, “not to wage our own struggles in the Mortal Realm. The existing truce will continue, until such a time as one set of Champions prevails. At which time,” and this was the toughest to sell, the final hurdle over which years of tireless effort from all sides could stumble, “the victorious and the defeated shall abide by the Law. And the defeated shall abandon their claim to rule.”

Silence. Peaceful, unbelievable silence. But it felt too good to be true. A voice rose from the back of the crowd.

“Why children?”

I was relieved at the simple query, and relieved that the High Council members provided a response in my stead.

“The only type of mortal with endless potential.”

“Capable of anything.”

“Capable of growing with the Flames.”

“Of shaping them.”

“And of being shaped by them.”

Another voice echoed a long shared query.

“Sending two without Immortal guides seems a foolish endeavour.”

My gaze fell to a tall woman with dusty blonde hair in the crowd.

“We must let them value their mortal lives if we can,” the woman’s delicate, angelic tone flittered over her words with a resounding lightness and timeless authority. “We may forget, but a bounded life is precious. It is not our wish to destroy these mortals. But rather for them to destroy each other when the time comes.”

The woman caught my eye as the Immortal who voiced the concern spoke again.

“It seems a narrow distinction, Lady Themis, and a weak ambiguity. We remain responsible for this all, do we not? For the undoubted weakness of mortals who are not provided guides.”

“Will you then take on the weight of all mortals who have lost their lives in the midst of our battles through their Realm? Will you – will we – face justice for the countless souls our actions – direct, and indirect – have sent here?” Themis gestured to the Underworld around us. “Our responsibility is to cease our destruction of the mortals we are meant to be tending to.”

Silence fell once more. I waited.

“If there are no further queries…” I stepped to the nearest Flame, moving to lift it into my hand, but held for a moment longer. The process to reach this point had been long drawn-out. Yet, finally, lifting any one of these Flames would end years of struggles and power plays involved in deciding which abilities each Flame would contain, and the terms of our agreement.

Nothing.

“Then let us begin.” Swift, I scooped the flickering green Flame into my hand and stepped around the circle to gather the rest. I moved as rapidly as could be afforded while keeping the illusion of patience and care intact. As I looked down at the four Flames nestled in my hands, all I saw was a source of exhaustion, bored with this entire process, and weary from having to deal with mortals and concern myself with their Realm.

Without offering another moment for interruption, I nudged the Flames lightly up with my hands. Each hovered for a moment in the air before us, casting a rainbow of light through the Underworld’s dim gloom. Then they rose and flew lazily off in opposite directions into – and through – the cavern over us towards the Mortal Realm far above.

A handful of Immortals disappeared before my eyes.

The woman who had defended our process earlier, Themis, stepped to greet me in the centre of the now empty stone pillars. She was tall, with olive skin and dusty blonde hair hanging long and uncharacteristically unbound. A sweeping ivory gown rustled over bare feet. She seemed messy, her face drawn and tired. Although she stood grounded and strong, her shoulders hunched slightly with the same looming grief capturing my own heart. I took a glance down at myself. The same messiness clung to me now, too, the same bone chilling weariness. Unshakable.

“Best of luck, Lady Themis.”

I stretched a hand across to her, waiting.

“Luck will play no part in my victory.”

The woman spoke with calm authority, but without aggression. Regal, or as noble as any of us could be, at least. She reached out a hand in reply.

“Then the victory will be mine.” I said, as we shook hands and stepped away from each other.

“Perhaps.”

Lady Themis vanished with ease before me.

I returned my attention to the once crowded area behind me. Everyone was gone. Almost. A lone figure looked back at me, his hand lingering over the stone pillar which had only moment before held the blue Flame. Ares. An Immortal trained in war and holder of a skillset much needed for the battle ahead.

A mess of dirty blonde hair fell over his ears as the lean Olympian pondered our collective future. His absence of weaponry was striking. While the process to forge each Flame had been long, so too was the attempt to convince each Immortal present to attend the gathering unarmed, save for their own innate abilities.

“The war beckons, my friend.” I said. “Shall we oversee its end?”

“They will only be children…”

“All mortals are children.”

“But they will not be ready for so long… Perhaps until near adult-hood…” Ares looked to me. “Hermes, much can happen in the time it will take for them to master their Flames… So much has to go right…”

“And we will contend with all manner of challenges. We must. The mortal, and our people, now depend on us.”

Silence. Then Ares addressed a far more practical issue.

“You do not know how to raise a mortal, Hermes…”

“Neither do mortals. At first.”

“Perhaps if Nadia assisted…”

“She’s to play no part in this unless absolutely necessary.”

Ares let out a small huff. For a moment, I allowed his concerns to take hold. Concerns that I had been trying to force from my mind for fear they would paralyse me. His concerns were valid, of course. For, while the other Immortals now gained respite from our exhausting process of negotiation and faltering diplomacy, Ares and I were to continue on to deal with mortal affairs which neither of us cared for any more. Everything had simply taken too long, and I could no longer be certain if any of this was worth it.

Warily, I spoke again.

“We had best begin.”

“But what now?”

“We wait. And we work.”

Tired and weary, I gave Ares a weak smile. The war between Titans and Olympians had dragged on for too long, and taken too many mortal lives. Or so we had been forced to agree with. Regardless, if this was the way the High Council chose to bring resolution to their endless disagreement, then victory in our final battle would be mine. No matter the cost.

CHAPTER TWO

Caria nights

 

Eighteen years later.

 

Kyle.

 

Eyes bore down on me from all directions. They glared as if they knew, as if they saw me for what I was, for where I was heading. A sea of cheerful faces surrounded me. I moved decisively through bustling streets. Head down, hands buried in my jacket pockets, I continued on, sure to avoid eye contact with anyone who might be watching. I dropped my gaze and let a deep, purposeful breath fill my lungs. Calm. I forced myself to see the truth. There was no danger here, only townsfolk going about their business in Caria’s streets and alleys which had come alive with nightfall.

The night air was mild and coloured with a comforting hint of summer. Bright melodies interlaced with soulful blues as I strode through vibrant night streets. Each alley way was illuminated by streams of white globes hanging from eaves of rickety, aged buildings. Thatched, tiled and rusted tin rooftops mixed into a patchwork of ageing brick, stone and wooden buildings. They had been pieced together over time using whatever was on hand, including any remnants of Old Caria that could be salvaged in the wake of its destruction over a hundred years ago. Lining, or more like forming, the alleyways were tall, short, narrow and stout buildings, many with a noticeable lean that closed in over the streets in a way that narrowed the view from street to sky and made the stars above feel close enough to touch. But, as I moved through the crowd-filled streets, anyone could be watching. Or no-one might be out there at all. And yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that something ominous was slinking in the shadows, just beyond the corner of my eye.

Each alley folded into the next and became steadily narrower until, finally, a clear view opened out before me. Cobblestones turned to red dirt. I caught sight of a three-storey cream brick building standing tall and looking reasonably solid across the street. As casually as I could manage, I leaned against a crumbling wall opposite to take a glance rapidly up and down the street. It was filled with townspeople walking in and out of stores, homes, and establishments. Concern filtered through my mind as I realised that I was not the only one who would see this street for what it was – perfect cover. Music and ruckus voices echoed from the building. I spied an open gate which led to the bar’s loading dock. I weaved between cheery townspeople and stepped off across the street. Amidst the distractions of daily life, no one noticed a single pedestrian slip from view. With a final glance over my shoulder, I ducked into the loading bay.

Breathing fast, I scanned the empty dock now shrouded in darkness. Thin slivers of moonlight sprawled over the walls and floor to illuminate a small, wooden door. Anxiety threatened to crush me to a halt. The sound of muffled footsteps reached my ears. In a rush, I slid through the open basement door and clicked it shut behind me. They were always watching, but this was something different. Maybe spending too long in their world had made me paranoid. What am I talking about ‘maybe’? Of course it had. I drew a calming breath and crept down a flight of worn stairs that were made of stone and carved into Caria’s bedrock. I was relieved to find that the basement beneath, with its carved stone walls, was empty.

With sure footsteps, I strode to a far corner. There was a heavy, rusted iron ventilation plate fixed into the bottom edge of the wall. An odd place for an old vent but, then again, this was far more than simply a pathway to an external wall. It was a long forgotten remnant of a saving grace that I now hoped would bring my salvation by taking the opposite path as that which had carried Caria’s original people to safety. The iron grate lifted in my hands with a gentle creak. I climbed through, closed the grate once more, and started running through the darkness of the narrow tunnel which now lay before me. With a flick of my hand, a bright blue orb illuminated to cast an eerie glow that bounced from the rock tunnel walls. Enough to light the way. A faint creak echoed across soft stone, or did I imagine it? I must have; the sound was too soft to be real, too distant… But still unnerving. Darkness always enjoyed playing tricks on me.

The blue orb fell from existence as I climbed crumbling steps cut into heavy soil. My hand came to rest on another iron grate. He has to be here. But what if he isn’t, and I am truly all alone in this war? I heaved open the grate above my head and dragged myself out. I suddenly found myself scrambling to my feet within the shattered remains of a once grand clock tower, now nothing more than a skeleton littered with rubble and scarred with scorch marks. In silence, I stood for a moment to look out over a field of ruins that held Caria’s broken Old Clock Tower at its epicentre. All life and energy had long since faded. Now, the only movement came in the scurrying of mice and the crumbling of a civic centre long forgotten but forever remembered in the hearts and minds of New Caria now thriving a short distance upstream.

I took care to step on solid footing and skipped hurriedly down crumbling stone stairs that held ghosts of grandeur atop a clearing that once took pride of place in a flourishing town. It was the site where, we had been told during school field trips, terror had pitted neighbours against each other until the town tore itself apart. I took in a steadying breath and then made a run for cover. And for an old friend.

“Where are you?” I spoke to the shadows of a town now built on ghosts. A man dropped down from above, and landed effortlessly on the shattered cobblestones before me as if a three storey drop from an unstable building meant nothing. A lanky figure with unkempt, dirty blonde hair strode towards me, menacing. “Not sure jeans and a t-shirt do you justice, Ares.” I noted as I watched the powerful Immortal figure reach me.

“An attempt to fit in. Or stand out less,” he explained. He appeared calm but wary, curious but bored, in control but ready to snap at an instant. Everything about him seemed mortal, as you would expect from anyone else walking on the street, except for the long blade sheathed across his back. Menace melted abruptly into a wide grin.

“So. You’re still alive, then?”

“Afraid so.” I grinned.

Ares drew me in for a rough hug, then stepped away, reluctant to let his guard down under the watchful gaze that always followed their Champions. It was a curiosity to see someone who seemed to care so little for everyone else care so much for a single person who meant barely nothing to the rest of the world. Ares looked at the field of ruins surrounding us.

“Old Caria truly was magnificent,” he said, reminiscent.

“Until they all turned on each other. Over a witch.” I scoffed. “Fear, more like it, for whatever it was that the town couldn’t understand. They flipped out and decided that setting her and her sister on fire was their best option.”

“You should be less flippant, Kyle. Fear is powerful. It brought you here, didn’t it?”

I hesitated. He was right.

“Ares, I don’t know what to do,” I let out, rushed and suddenly breathless.

Ares smiled.

“Kyle Haze not knowing what to do,” he appeared to revel in it. “Well, well, isn’t this a change? What can I do for you?” Rustling and crumbling echoed from the ruins behind us. “Not here.” Ares noted, wary, and took my arm to hurry to cover behind another set of ruins.

“I need a way out,” I went on, more urgent than before. “These abilities you gave us. I need a way to get rid of them.”

Curiosity illuminated Ares’ ageless eyes.

“And here I was thinking you had always enjoyed your abilities, young mortal.”

“Not for me. My future’s sealed. But hers… She doesn’t deserve to be part of this world.”

Another chunk of ruins crumbled nearby. My head spun around to look, but all I could see were shadows cast between moonlight. And maybe the faint red glow of a sunset that should have reached the ruins hours earlier…

“Caria’s a good place, Kyle. It is worth our war.” Sadness filtered through Ares’ usually effortless, powerful tone. “These people are worth it, worth our sacrifices. Don’t let centuries of battle have been for nothing. I implore you to make this end. You, and April, are the only beings who can. And we are waiting.”

“Maybe just me, then.” I replied. Ares threw me a stare filled with questions at my mention of my fellow Champions and holder of the red Flame. “April is… nowhere. She hasn’t contacted me in nearly a year, since she left. What if something happened?”

“You shouldn’t worry about her. She’ll come back for you.”

“Is there a way? To hide her?”

Ares paused. His eyes glanced to the shadows with what was a keen skill developed over centuries of battle and deception.

“No,” he replied, distant. “It seems the Immortals have already expended their quota for meddling in her life.”

“What does that mean?” But we were interrupted by the unshakeable feeling of being watched.

“Someone followed you here,” Ares whispered, urgent. “There is a way to achieve what I think you’re looking for. But you’re not going to like it.”

“Anything.”

Ares smiled, then leaned closer to whisper in my ear. He leaned away to once again send his attention to the shadowed ruins around us. “You should take appropriate steps,” he added. “Should you both wish to survive this.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Yes you do. You simply don’t want to.” Suddenly, Ares raised a finger to his lips and glanced to the ruins above us. His gaze locked on mine, suddenly fierce. “Get out of here,” he whispered and drew the single blade slowly from behind his back.

You get out of here.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Ares grinned and nodded in the opposite direction. “Now!”

Bright blue orbs of water burst to life in my hands and we dived into the ruins in opposite directions. Crumbling pieces of stone and wooden debris erupted around us. Tiny chunks flew skyward and then rained down with force and precision only possible using Immortal power. Stone pieces catapulted towards me. I did my best to shoot them down in jets of glimmering bright blue water. My eyes dashed over the scene but, with every glimpse of the assailant, shadows took their place. It was as if traces of light folded in on themselves to leave behind only darkness. And a faint, red glow that seemed oddly familiar… Our attacker was agile and fast, but not as fast as Ares, who darted around the ruin field blocking attack after attack with ease.

Another cluster of debris flew our way. I blasted out at it with a wave of icy water that shattered through and crunched into a rickety stone pillar in front of us. Whoever was out there was sticking to the shadows, using abilities to keep the light away and remain hidden. Using abilities to channel the light… Water fell away in my hands, useless, as realisation dawned. I stood motionless and defenceless in the middle of the debris field, wide open. But it can’t be. There’s no fire.

“You’re back…” I mumbled under my breath and on the edge of silence.

A heavy piece of stone ricocheted towards me, but I didn’t react. I couldn’t.

“Kyle!” Ares shouted. He leaped towards me and dragged me to the ground. I heard him cry out. The onslaught ceased. Debris fell away around us to return to its ghostly home among the ruins of Old Caria.

“Ares!” I rushed to gather his shoulders in my hands. The powerful Immortal lay sprawled across shattered cobblestones.

Blood oozed from a chunk torn in his side where our attacker’s stone had struck him instead of me. But the blood stopped. Muscle and skin twined themselves together beneath my hands as the gaping hole seemed to repair itself. In moments, Ares was brushing himself off. The bloodied tear in his shirt was the only reminder of a near miss.

Footsteps fell behind us. Rage boiled to life behind Ares’ eyes.

“Jesus Christ, April!” he shouted at the darkness. “You could have killed him!”

“He was supposed to move,” a girl’s voice defended, with reproach and strength that I never thought I would hear again. A tall girl with olive skin and flowing dark hair threw a hand at Ares and dragged him from the ground before pushing him aside.

“Get away from him,” she warned Ares as if I wasn’t there.

“Not sure if you witnessed which of us tried to kill him,” Ares pushed her in return, but they both stood down. “Much can change in a single mortal year.”

Her reply was scathing.

“Do the High Council know you’re down here?”

“They do, as a matter of fact,” Ares’ grin returned. “Bet they didn’t know you were here, though. You shouldn’t’ve stepped from the shadows.”

Ares glanced from me to April, regaining his composure.

“Right. That’s me done,” he noted with a glance skyward. “Kyle. April. Always a pleasure.”

“You are back,” I let out, astounded. I dusted myself off and clambered up from the debris. Ares vanished into the shadows.

“I am,” she noted. “You’re rusty.”

“Nice trip?” I asked, ignoring her and the fact that she had almost taken me out.

“Not at all.”

“Hermes tried to murder me.”

“That’s not surprising,” she paused, and then let her matter-of-fact tone slip into something that sounded almost compassionate. “I’m sad to hear it, though. Do you want to…. talk about it?”

“No, I’m good. All part of the job.”

I scanned the crumbling ruins. April had cast shimmering white-red light to hide herself from me and Ares. I felt a pang of jealousy at the thought of the second elemental control which the Immortals had felt necessary to bestow upon her Flame. But the telekinesis… no matter how long she’d been away for, there was no way that kind of power could have manifested with such strength. Was there?

“When did you learn to move things through the air like that?” I asked and gestured to the pieces of ruins littering the ground around us.

April snapped her fingers.

“I didn’t.”

I blinked. The battle field wasn’t there anymore. Instead, the ruins looked as they had before objects apparently started flying through the air. I looked back to April.

“But I can make you think I can,” she quipped and tapped her forehead with a wink.

“Telepathy,” I could have sworn the debris had been real. And yet, with a show of strength I hadn’t seen before, April had made sure none of it had been real at all. “But Ares… a chunk tore straight through him…”

“Friendly fire.” April gestured to the pillar my last blast wave had collided with. A hefty chunk was missing. Webs of ice crystals plastered at the blast crater’s edge. “Watch what you’re blasting at, Kyle.”

“I thought I was…” Confusion took hold for a moment. I was suddenly in awe of the strength of April’s telepathy – the unexpected strength. Something was there that I didn’t know about – some reason, some event, that had led to the rapid shift in capability. Something April might tell me later, but probably wouldn’t. When I’d last seen her a year before, there was no way she would have been capable of messing with my mind like this. Yet, in the entire altercation, she hadn’t used her primary elemental control once.

“But why? Why isn’t this place on fire?”

“Sorry for not wanting to break you. Even though it looks like I almost did anyway.”

“When did you get back from Japan?”

“Last week,” but her voice rose, then fell in an obvious lie. “Figured I should come find you.”

“A text would’ve done the trick. Rather than stalking me through Caria’s streets. New and Old.”

She shrugged.

“I missed Caria.”

In that moment, seeing her again standing in front of me, I felt a deep sense of loneliness wash away as if the year without word had never happened; replaced with comfort, warmth and belonging, that only existed when we were together, and that had vanished while she was away. I stepped closer and drew her in for a rough hug.

“It’s good to see you.” I broke into an unshakeable grin.

“You too.” I felt her smile against my neck before she stepped away.

“Feels familiar.” I noted, still grinning. The mood between us relaxed. “Last time you were hunting me through the streets, we found out what we each were and they threw us at the drama in Bayside City.”

April laughed a laugh I had almost forgotten, but that seemed uncharacteristic to the stone cold hunter who faced a devastated world head on.

“They had to do something. We’d almost ruined a wing of Caria getting to know each other.”

I cast my thoughts back, amazed at how much can change in eighteen months.

“We really didn’t get along back then.”

A comfortable silence fell.

“So…Ares, huh?”

“You and Hermes were nowhere. I needed some advice.”

“About?”

A moment’s hesitation fell over me before I could bring myself to speak.

“I found one.”

April seemed surprised, but relieved.

“While you were in Japan, I kept searching here,” I explained with a grin. “Six months ago I struck gold. It’s taken seventeen years, but I found the third Champion.”

“Are you sure?”

“I saw it. The air element. I saw someone use it.”

April threw me a smile that lit up the dark night streets.

“That’s brilliant.”

“Did you find any traces?” I asked. “I know it’s not why you were away, but… still.”

“No, nothing,” she replied, cold and sharp. “Only… only that our Flames should have been drawn together by now. They were supposed to find each other eventually…”

“Are you serious?” Anger flared. “So we could have just waited here for them to find us?”

“But we want them to be on the back foot. Them not knowing who we are is the best advantage we’ve got.”

Tension and uncertainty lingered between us. I reached a hand into her jeans pocket and withdrew her phone.

“You’ll be back in school now, yeah?” I asked, unsure, and began typing an address.

“It’s been a while, but I’ll be there.”

“Great,” I smiled and handed back the phone. “Then meet me in the tree line, here. Tomorrow morning before school. I have something to show you.”

“Ok.”

And with that, April turned away and began walking back through the disaster zone that was Old Caria as if it were nothing more than a Sunday afternoon stroll. I watched her disappear into the ruins of the Old Clock Tower with happiness and trepidation. I no longer had to do this alone. Yet April’s return marked the beginning of the end. I thought we’d have more time before the final battle began. I thought I’d have more time to hide her. But Ares was right. The people of Caria are worth our sacrifices. Not even a year apart could falter a resolve which had been instilled in us since birth. But we still had a chance to survive, and I was going to take it.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

Discovering white

 

April.

 

The sky was pale blue and cloudless. Crisp morning sunlight shone down brightly on the perfect tree-lined street, not quite reaching the dense tree line from which I was to observe. I briefly brushed by hand through my hair, my bracelet rattling as it went, gazing up and down at the quaint vintage brick homes and manicured front yards that made up the residences there. I looked down at my wrist, seemingly scar-free, to gaze at the delicate silver chain links that hung lightly; its two tiny lock-shaped charms dangled, a tiny blue bird encrusted into one, an equally tiny yellow-gold rose on the other. My mother had given the bracelet to me when I was born, engraving ‘April’ in delicate, swirling script on a tiny nameplate held gently between silver chain links. A tiny piece of harmony in a world divided.

Beginning to lose patience, I read the address again which had been typed into my phone by Kyle the night before. I was in the right place. And yet one look at this street’s perfection told me that nothing like us had ever tainted this place. Ares was right. A year was a long time to be away, but I wanted to believe in Kyle, and I was trying to.

I lifted my gaze back to the scene before me, assessing the street and house. There seemed to be nothing of interest to us there. It appeared to be a peaceful, quaint street. Nothing more. The kind of place where neighbours greet each other warmly by name and children play safely together in the street. I didn’t fit in there, in that perfect, good neighbourhood, but, if Kyle was right, then our years of hunting might just be over. I would never have strayed into such a beautiful, quiet place otherwise. There was a happiness lingering on the air and it was not my place to disturb it. Part of me hoped that we were wrong. But maybe, just maybe, our long search could finally end here. And so I had waited, watching the door of a dark brick home with wooden shutters protecting its gentle windowpanes from the bright sun.

A shiver ran down my spine as sudden rustling reached my ears from the bushes behind me.

“Keep watching. The girl.”

Laughter broke out over the peaceful silence. A girl with rich tanned skin bounced through her home’s white front door, taking her bag and mobile phone as she went. Her face was soft and framed in short brown hair cut into a neat fringe just above her eyes. She hurried across the thick green lawn and bustled her way out of the home’s white picket front gate.

A tall boy with dark hair followed her, waving cheerfully back into the house before clicking the door closed behind him. He flipped a small silver object and caught it in one hand before stowing the tiny thing into his pocket and taking a stack of flattened cardboard boxes from the girl’s arms. She bustled along carrying rolls and rolls of coloured paper. They both wore our school uniform – a checked dress for the girl, dark shorts and a white short-sleeved, collared, button-down shirt for the boy. The pair laughed and joked as they ran the two blocks across neatly lain pavement to their bus stop.

“Good morning, Mrs. English,” the girl called cheerfully to a tall woman watering the neighbouring home’s roses as she and her friend trotted briskly down the pavement.

“Morning!” the woman replied. She threw a brown paper bag full of what could only be cookies to the girl, which she caught with ease. “Baked too many last night for the kids.”

The girl smiled.

“Thanks!”

As they continued their short journey to the bus, the delicate girl gave a big smile to everyone, which in turn gave them a reason to smile back at her. Behind every greeting and every wave to every person she saw was a cheerful thought or compliment. She seemed to find the good in everyone, even if it was only a tiny glimmer, and was able to bring out that glimmer of good with one smile.

And then there it was. It happened so fast that if I’d blinked, I would have missed it. While skipping merrily through the bright morning sunlight across crisp pavement, her friend close at her heels, the girl clipped back her short brown hair. Delicate hairpins twinkled through the air, moving effortlessly to hold her fringe from her eyes. She didn’t glance to the hairpins. But she didn’t touch them, either. A twitch of her finger, that was all. And that was all I needed to see. Finally, we had found our adversary.

I turned around to see Kyle casually leaning against a tree in some bushes behind me, but found it impossible to hide my surprise.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t little old happy-friends-with-the-world Kim. Interesting.”

Kyle stepped out from behind the bushes. His light hair was messy, as usual, but it had the air of having been styled that way. He was wearing his school uniform and held an apple in one hand, his warm sapphire-blue eyes dazzling. Just like I remembered. The peculiar blue band that was fastened securely around his wrist shimmered in the sun as he lowered the apple from his mouth.

“She’s happy,” I replied to the question in Kyle’s worried eyes, trying to reassure him, “I can hear it in her thoughts.”

“You’d be happy, too, if you didn’t know the purpose you’d been designed for.”

Her name was Kim. She was seventeen, like us. She was shorter than myself and the other kids at school but it never worried her, probably because she made up for her height with her amazing ability to jump.

“I remember Kim being the district high jump champion…”

“From back before she knew what she could do,” Kyle explained, but he wasn’t following.

“But she’s… pudgy.”

Kyle finally caught my meaning, realising that my most recent memories were of the athletic Kim from a year ago.

“She took the summer off training.”

Elements of a new reality started clicking into place as I started to make sense of a home and of people that I had left behind. It made me wonder what else had changed while I’d been away.

“Who’s that with her?” I asked.

“Noah,” Kyle replied, but the name didn’t ring a bell. “Noah Alexander.”

“And a year ago he was…?” I prompted.

Kyle thought hard for a few seconds.

“The short kid from soccer who you dropped to the ground that time.”

Realisation dawned.

“Oh. That kid? He looks completely different.”

“Yeah, he got really tall right after you left. He’s Kim’s best friend.” There was an unmistakeable hint of bitterness in his words.

“Is that a problem?” I asked.

“No.”

Although his uniform was the same as Noah’s, the way Kyle wore his seemed to show a sense of strength and confidence that were vacant in Noah.

“Tell me about her.”

Kyle moved to join me at the tree line.

“She’s a prefect. Her favourite subject is literature. She is…” his explanation faded away for a moment as if he were thinking of being somewhere else, “positive and enthusiastic and kind. Equality and fairness are her main ideals in life, coupled with compassion that I don’t really… understand,” he looked across at me. “She’s a good person, April. A really, really good person.”

Kim’s eyes glittered with hope as she made her way to the bus with her best friend. Kim and Noah reached the bus stop and, with a cheery greeting to the bus driver, alighted the bus and were gone. She knew. And now there was nowhere left to hide.

“She doesn’t deserve this,” Kyle added.

“Do any of us?”

As Kim’s bus drove away I gazed back to her home just as a women’s hand gently pushed open the shutters of a front window. Bright sunlight gleamed sharply from the polished panes, dazzling across the garden. A glint of shining silver hit my eyes. Cold and piercing. Fire everywhere. Burning flames through the darkness. The next wooden shutter popped open. Such close perfection. Yet such a distant nightmare.

“I told you I’d found one of the Champions,” Kyle’s voice caught my thoughts. Compassion from earlier had vanished, replaced with the calculating, logical Kyle that I remembered.

I pushed the glint of hard silver and flames from my mind and turned to face him with feigned calmness.

“Looks like we might have it a bit easier than we thought.”

“I wouldn’t say seventeen years of hunting across the globe was easy,” he replied. “Which do you think she is?” Kyle glanced at me before turning his longing gaze in the direction of the bus stop.

I wondered for a moment, thinking through the weapons that my mother’s story had described, our gifts of control over the elements. The children we had been tasked to find, train, and destroy.

“There’re only two left now,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Hmm…”

“But I agree with you. Air for sure,” I continued, watching Kim’s house closely. “There’s no way the earth element could move objects with such precision,”

“Not to mention less destruction,” Kyle chimed.

We both let out a wry laugh but refrained from meeting each other’s gaze.

“That’s a bit of a problem, though, isn’t it?” Kyle asked, serious again.

“Perhaps the earth element hasn’t manifested yet,” I replied, losing the optimism that I’d hoped to convey as the words left my mouth. “We might be able to get to them before whoever it is accidentally levels the city.”

“I can see the headlines now,” he said, gesturing with his hands and turning to face me. “city destroyed. Sole survivor blamed. Burnt at stake.” He thought about it for a moment. “Actually, let’s not let that happen.” Kyle threw his half-eaten apple over one shoulder into the foliage from which he had appeared. After picking up on my indignant stare, he added with a shrug, “apple tree.”

I felt a small grin cross my features, turning my focus onto reaching out to Kyle’s mind, ready to try a new trick. “Kyle,” my gaze locked on his, “pick up the apple core, and plant it in your garden.”

His expression became washed with momentary vacancy. “Yeah, my bad,” he responded, monotone. Robotic, he turned and walked behind the bush, picked up the apple core and stuffed it into his pocket. “I’ll plant it in my garden.”

Clarity returned to his eyes, seemingly unaware of the catalyst for his noble actions, and the half eaten apple now residing in his pocket.

“That’ll give Hermes even less reason to visit it. How are those roses growing?” I asked.

“Good,” he grinned back at me. “As yellow as ever. You’d be proud.”

I smiled at him and turned back to face Kim’s perfect home, remembering. Kyle and I had found each other a year and a half before, and ever since we’d been working together to find the others like us – the remaining two Champions. We would have found each other sooner, had our individual quests not driven us to opposite ends of the globe, only to end up in the very place we had begun. Kyle had found another, but I feared that he had become too close in the process. And I still hadn’t lived up to my end of the bargain.

“It’s time we welcomed the newbie into our world…” Kyle added, sadness echoing through his words.

“We can do this,” I pressed, feeling an energy of confidence rush through me. The first spark of hope in far too long. “Our entire lives, all our sacrifices, have led here. And we’re so close.”

“Yeah. Yeah we are…”

“I’m sorry it has to be her.”

A hint of desperation tinted Kyle’s response.

“I really like this girl, April.”

“I understand.” I didn’t, but sincerity masked my shock, unsure that Kyle was capable of caring for anyone but himself. “But it’s us or them. And I won’t let you disappear.”

“Bit selfish?”

A genuine smile found its way through my features, in awe of Kyle’s warmth.

“You two could Romeo and Juliet-it. I reckon I can manage the fourth champion on my own. But you’d really have to commit.”

Kyle grinned in reply and held out a hand to me as he walked closer.

“Does your dad know you’re here?” I asked to change the subject. “He’s still around, right?”

“Haven’t seen him in a few days, but he’s probably somewhere.” Kyle gave me a wry smile although the sad undercurrent that always showed through whenever we spoke about his father appeared. He shook his hand at me impatiently, distracting from the flaw in his armour. “Are we going to get out of here or not?” he asked. “I’ve got gate duty.”

“Right. Well, sucks to be school captain.”

I eyed his face curiously for a moment. The agonising look had vanished, leaving only his pleasant, happy exterior.

“Not really.”

“I’m glad I’m back. I had to walk here. Like I’ve had to everywhere in the last year.”

Kyle took a chance to ask.

“If you’ve only been back for a week, where were you the last six months?”

“Around. I spent some time in Vocamus Valley.”

Kyle was surprised.

“It’s nothing but forest.”

“There’s no better place to relax than somewhere no-one thinks about. Drop me at my place,” I went on, changing the subject, “I want to check something with Themis.”

“Then school?” Kyle sounded hopeful.

“I think I can manage.”

“Does anyone know you’re back yet?” Kyle asked, curious, and seeking a very specific answer to a seemingly broad query.

“Just you.”

“Steve misses you. He’ll lose it if you just show up again, unannounced.”

“He’s a big kid, he’ll be fine.” I reached out to take Kyle’s hand.

For a moment, I let myself gaze into those calm, dancing blue eyes that contained a warmth which I could never hope to accomplish. He could see the world, and run it. He didn’t have to be trapped, he could be anywhere, but still he stayed. Because of me. And, in that moment, I wished I could be more like him. But for the moment I watched his smile, finally letting myself feel glad to be home.

Everyone who lived in Kim’s quiet street had left by now, and those still around were hidden in their homes sleeping or cleaning or doing any number of things that ensured they weren’t looking out into the trees under which we were standing. No one saw two people standing under the trees, watching the street. No one saw them grip hands tightly. No one saw them vanish.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Faltering foresight

 

April.

 

Grass was replaced in an instant with paving beneath our feet as brick walls rose up before us.

“You still live here, right?” Kyle asked from beside me, gesturing to the house whose front garden would let two people who appeared out of thin air go unnoticed.

I opened the leadlight and mahogany front door.

“Awkward if I didn’t,” I replied with a smile and stepped inside. Kyle lingered on the doorstep for a moment but finally vanished before my eyes without another word. Telepathy might have been my favourite trick granted to me by my Flame, but teleportation would always have been more useful.

Inside the entrance hall, a grand marble staircase rose high to an upper floor and the bedroom I had almost forgotten while away. To my right was an open wall that led into a large front living area, predominantly used only for appearances sake, while in front of me sat a plain, dark wooden door. On entry, any regular guest would safely assume that it led to something unimportant, a broom cupboard perhaps, or a store room. However, it was through that door which I left the entranceway in search of my mother and immortal guide, Themis.

The inconspicuous door opened onto a narrow hallway carpeted in rich, yellow-gold. Soft, warm light glided down across the walls to delicately illuminate the area. Themis had designed the house with two thoughts in mind – protect us and hide our secret, and it was for these reasons that the decoy front room had been constructed and the house’s inner workings masked behind a broom cupboard door.

I passed door after door, glancing across every now and then to steal a look at the memorabilia hanging delicately from the walls. I gained a welcome glimpse of flames blazing in an open hearth through the kitchen’s empty doorframe as I went.

When I finally found Themis, she was relaxing in an armchair in front of a warm, inviting open fire in a library hidden deep within the house. Row after row of books rose high above on shelves that covered the room from floor to ceiling. From the doorway, I gazed longingly into the open fire as it burned with ease through the wooden logs which fuelled it.

My mother looked carefree, barefoot, with her sleeveless, floor length ivory gown gathered around her and long blonde locks partially pinned, loose, at the back of her hair to hang around her face and over her shoulders in a way that seemed effortless. Even timeless… An old, leather bound book sat in her lap, but its thick parchment pages appeared to be blank.

“Themis, would you mind?” I asked, tentative, with a wave at the door. “I have to see something.”

I stepped with renewed determination through the narrow hallway towards the front of the house to return to the open doorframe that led to our home’s warm, snug kitchen. Themis’ light footsteps followed me. She would always be here for this, no matter how frustrating I could be, or how busy she was. Looking ahead was simply safer when done in pairs, one grounded in the present while the other’s mind is thrust into a malleable future. And she loved me too much to risk me not coming back.

Taking a bowl from the sink and filling it with water, I moved to sit before an open fire burning in an elaborate fireplace. I gazed into the dancing flames for a moment, watching embers burst, extinguish, only to burst again without any apparent fuel source. Clarity returned to my mind – a peaceful calm too easily lost to anger and anxiety.

Themis observed from afar while leaning gently against the kitchen counter, showing me more patience than I had afforded her. With light fingertips, I reached out and plucked a single flame from the open fire. Panic rose up within me. The flame fell back into its home.

“The last time I held my own fire was…”

A night I hoped to forget.

“If you focus on that which you wish to accomplish, you have nothing to fear.”

Themis’ words were welcome and settling. Foresight was as yet the strangest of abilities gifted to me by the Immortals, and still the least within my control. Gazing into the future was a rarity even in their world, and so powerful that Themis and I had kept my ability hidden from all but a few. Even from Kyle, my greatest ally. It wouldn’t have been much help, anyway. I could only ever view my own future, and only to a short time ahead, making my powers practically useless in our attempt to find the other Champions. But now, with three of us so close together, the fourth Champion must be out there somewhere, closing in, even if whoever it is doesn’t realise they’re being drawn towards us.

I plucked another flame and held it in my hands beneath the bowl of water and watched, calm once more, as thin wisps of water vapour rose up. I gazed over the water surface. The eyes staring back at me seemed to flicker from grey-blue to red before my mind plummeted into the tangled mess of an uncertain future. But, in an instant, I felt myself plummeting into something more. Into water. The taste of chlorine filled my mouth as my skin began to burn. Terror took hold. And then there was silence and darkness. Fear subsided. In the distance, a faint light caught my attention. It grew brighter and brighter, until its brilliant green filled my senses.

A sharp gasp of air drew into my lungs as the open fire snapped back into view. The bowl fell suddenly from my hands and shattered across the tiled floor.

“What did you see?” Themis sounded strained, urgent.

Confusion littered my mind as I attempted to make sense of images that should have been clearer. Inner turmoil reigned, and yet I was sure of the truth in my words.

“The fourth Champion is close. We’ll find him,” I looked up to Themis, concern filtering into her effortless features as I forced my mind to regain clarity, “tomorrow.”

“Who?”

“I’m… not sure.” Fear rose up within me at an unfamiliar uncertainty. “The vision was blurry. I could barely hold it… it’s always been clear. It should have been clear.” I took in a calming breath to ease the rising sense of panic. “Something’s wrong,” I stood up, “My telepathy is stronger than ever, but this. What’s happening to me?”

Themis didn’t skip a beat, as if she’d been waiting for that very question just like she’d been expecting me to take my first steps, to speak, to run. To throw fire. Just another step in growing up.

“Your abilities were gifted from the Immortals themselves. Mortal bodies aren’t built to contain such power. Wearing down was… to be expected.”

“I didn’t think it would be so gradual.”

Themis smiled.

“What was your alternative? That you would remain the same until bursting into nothingness?”

My reply was filled with frustration and impatience.

“I expected to have won by now.”

“Then why haven’t you?”

Her words were not menacing, or sharp, they were simply stating what we were both thinking. My reply was scathing.

“Because none of you would help me find the others.”

Tiny embers burst to life without warning at my fingertips.

“Finding each other was designed as a marker, to know when our Champions are ready for the final battle to begin. Assisting in your search is not our place.”

A tense silence fell between us.

“I thought I knew what I was doing,” I said, reigning in my brief outburst and forcing the embers to subside. “But I’m not so sure any more.”

“Our objectives are easily forgotten through our challenges over time. It is why reminding ourselves of our history, of our purpose, is so important. The High Council sent me here as your guide. I guide you to do what you have to do in order to achieve your original goal. Which is to win the war.”

“So that you can rule again.”

Silence fell, but I waited.

“As your guide, I want you to win the war for the sake of my people,” Themis replied finally. “As your mother…” She turned her attention to the bowl lying shattered across the floor. With a flick of her wrist, the shards lifted and pieced themselves back together. “Victory is essential for your survival, and your survival is what I wish to ensure,” her eyes fell back to me. “I raised you so you would have the opportunity to make your own choices.”

“There’s no choice here, Themis,” I shrugged, my words icy. “There never was. It just took me seventeen years and a string of burning buildings to work that out. These abilities make me a monster, and they have one purpose. I accept that. So should you.”

“If that’s true,” Themis’ words were cutting but filled with warmth and care, “then why haven’t you trained with your fire since your return from the Underworld? Why now, to refuse to wield your most striking ability? When you are so close.”

“Incinerating innocent people has nothing to do with winning your war,” I replied, scathing, and began walking from the kitchen. “Which I will do, so that you and the rest of them can return to your precious thrones upstairs and get back to drinking too much wine and revelling in your own magnificence.”

With that, I plucked my bag from a hook in the kitchen wall and was walking. Through the house, out the front door, and into the streets of Caria towards another day at a school that people were continually surprised to see me attending.

As I strode through familiar landscapes, I realised that I shouldn’t be snippy with Themis, but also that I didn’t really want to stop. I was just so sick and tired of the Immortals and their bullshit war that I was meant to be some gallant hero in.

I’d only been above ground for a week, but that was no excuse to be so cruel to the woman who raised me. And yet I knew Themis would understand, as she always did. She knew better than anyone that I was having a tough time dealing with my emotions, with the events that had sent me away from Caria a year ago, and with the far more damaging tale which saw me dragged back here again. I was furious at myself that I couldn’t find the other Champions, but then remembered that I can’t be furious because the smallest hint of anger would send my ability to create Immortal fire blazing out of control. And yet I was happy to be back here with Kyle and working together like we had before. But I was back in the same place I’d always been – attempting to simultaneously get my shit together and murder some strangers. And not doing particularly well at either.

The sight that greeted me on my way to class certainly didn’t help my situation, as I still attempted to force another wave of white hot flames to hide themselves back within my fingertips. Walking through a crowded hallway from the opposite end, I could see Kyle throwing high-fives and fist bumps to literally anyone within reach, but having that not be seen as strange by anyone at all. Which made sense, since Kyle had won the Boy’s School Captain position in a landslide in the final days of the previous year, so by definition everyone loved him. The Captain’s position among the girls had been a far more contested race. So much so that I was actually blanking entirely on who won. It wasn’t me – not even who I was back then was good enough to snag that little honour. And apparently Kim was only a prefect, so she’d missed out somehow, too.

They loved him for no reason at all other than because they do. And yet the sight of him makes me feel at home, like I don’t have to be lost anymore. It made the pang of jealousy an easier pill to swallow, along with the realisation that I would never be able to inspire that same depth of loyalty, for the same lack of reason, as Kyle could manage with a single charming smile. Even when I’d known everyone’s names like Kyle did, the way people’s eyes light up at the sound of their names from Kyle’s lips was incomparable, and something I could never manage. It was a characteristic of Kyle that I loved and despised, and couldn’t hope to understand.

A tall, floppy haired boy caught sight of me at the door, moving to lift me into a hug that, a year ago, I would have welcomed.

“Hey Steve…” I managed, flinching out of his reach and watching the excitement and joy fall from his face. I glanced over his shoulder, as Steve seemed mercifully to do the same over mine.

With a wave to Kyle, I stepped away abruptly to walk into class with him instead. A heavy sob echoed to my ears from a girl with chocolate brown hair in the middle of the corridor, glaring at her phone and running from the building. Fiona, one of the few people whose names I actually cared to remember. Steve rushed after her, and they were both gone.

“What’s that about?” I asked Kyle, sitting at a table beside him while trying to ignore the stares of my class mates.

“You haven’t heard?”

“Heard?”

Kyle’s voice dropped to a whisper.

“Fiona’s dad suffered some kind of breakdown. He’s been in the hospital for weeks, shouting all sorts of things at nothing. They’re about to have to transfer him to Arctic Falls.”

The name struck a nerve. Arctic Falls was a place far from Caria, deep within the mountains, but what Kyle really meant was the clinic there. A world leader in mental health, and a place that was very nearly my home, before Themis convinced the mortals I’d be healthier with old friends halfway across the world. More appropriate practices, she’d said. She wasn’t wrong. Little did they know, my issues came from an utter inability to control the fire which my Flame enabled me to create. Maybe Arctic Falls would have helped with the struggles I’d faced so devastatingly back them to cope with my own anger, but I guarantee I would have accidentally burnt that place down in the process. Where I ended up instead was much better for everyone.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied, genuinely sympathetic to Fiona and her father – a respected police chief’s – plight. “The police… they have to see all sorts of horrible things. If there’s any chance to work it out, it’s with the staff at Arctic Falls.”

“Yeah. Fingers crossed, right?”

Hesitant, I went on.

“And Steve and Fi are…”

“Together. Yeah. You left, April. You left all of us. The best thing for you wasn’t always the best for everyone else…”

“I know.” My reply was light, automatic, but then I thought it through. “Well, actually. You’re all not on fire, so… big plus.”

“Right. How’s that going, anyway? In the ruins, I didn’t see any flames…”

A tall, gangly teacher with fluffy, thin, mousy brown hair strolled into class.

“Mr Sheppard’s still here?” I sighed as Japanese class began.

“He might be useless,” Kyle grinned, “but he landed a new three-year contract.”

“Spectacular,” I noted, unimpressed, as a final pair of students took their seats.

After a toxic, useless class, the bell finally rang to sound our getaway. Kim popped into class, speaking excitedly to other students as she gathered bags full of blue streamers, flags, and merchandise. Kyle got up to join her.

“What’s all this?” I asked, curious.

“The swimming carnival’s tomorrow. I’ve got to go help Kim with setting everything up. I won’t be around much… today, or tomorrow…”

I caught Kyle’s arm and drew him around to face me.

“She needs to know about us. About what we are. What she is.”

“What did you have in mind?” he asked, suspicious.

“Invite her to your house after the carnival. If you’re as close as you say, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Not with you there. You’ll…”

“You’re skipping a step in our mission, Kyle. Find the other Champions. Train them to use their abilities. Then win. I want this to be a fair fight, otherwise I would’ve pushed her in front of that bus as soon as you showed me what she is.”

“Fine. Looks like we’re back,” he said with a grin.

“Looks like.”

“See you some time tomorrow, then…”

And everyone’s favourite strolled casually from the room with Kim, leaving me to fend for myself in a jungle I barely remembered how to survive and thrive within. But finally feeling ready to finish what I’d been given these powers to do.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

Remembering life with April

 

Kyle

 

The days went by too quickly. Time spent with Kim should have been wonderful, and it was, but I was too distracted by April’s return to enjoy myself. Our upcoming induction of Kim into our world played on my mind. I was riddled with anxiety the entire time we were helping a battalion of students set up the aquatic centre. Kim didn’t know what I was, or what I could do. Or what I had done to reach this point. We needed her to trust us, but that seemed impossible if, instead, she thought of me as a thing of nightmares. I knew this moment would come, but I’d been avoiding it with everything I had. Yet, through all the tension, the prospect of working with April again sent a thrill through my body that I hadn’t felt for so long. It was a sensation I had almost forgotten. The uncertainty and unpredictability of our world, the outrageous adventures we’d been through together, constantly pushing ourselves and each other to do more. To solve a problem in a more interesting way. To stretch our abilities for no better reason than to see what we were capable of, and press through untested limits.

I was glad to once again have the only person in the world who could actually relate to the absurd situation we’d both grown up in. Excitement bubbled through me. April being back meant I was finally able to use my abilities without having to hide who I was and what I could do. April’s return also meant I wouldn’t be bringing Kim into our world alone. April had always been so much better at understanding, and explaining, the Immortals. Maybe with her help Kim might not be afraid of me. She might not hate me. Worse case, April would probably let me blame the whole thing on her and take the fall like she’d been doing since we met. With people at school, with the Immortals, even with my father. She would take the brunt of the blame, of the anger and of the disappointment, because we both knew she was better at contending with it all that I was.

 

We had planned for everything, except Kim. And everything had been running according to plan. Until the most peaceful moment under dazzling, warm summer sun had been forever ruined by a single chance observation. Of a hairpin. April was worried. I could see it in the way she kept glancing to Kim from beside the pool deck. With menace masked by a smile. She was biding her time, and waiting for our battle to become a fair fight. Then Kim, and whoever the fourth Champion was, wouldn’t stand a chance. I barely did. I gazed out across the sea of students, any of whom could be our final opponent.

“Kyle?” Kim’s quiet voice echoed through my thoughts from beside me on the grass.

Blue banners hung, vibrant, through the air amidst a sea of red, purple and green glitter and mascots. The swimming carnival was in full swing around us. We took a moment between races to sit together beneath a tall oak tree overlooking the bustling swimming complex. I turned to see Kim smiling at me, warm and caring. I smiled back, trying to be here and now and not to let the strain filter through.

“Pardon?” I asked, light and curious.

“Nothing,” she replied. “It’s just, sitting here with you reminds me of…”

I laughed and squeezed her body closer to mine, an arm wrapped around her waist

“Yeah?”

“Of when I knew I really liked you,” she finished, momentarily unsure of herself.

“Our picnic, beneath the Old Oak at the top of town…”

“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it. Forget I said anything.”

“No, I… I get what you mean,” I went on hurriedly but couldn’t help but look away.

“You do?”

Suddenly bashful, I forced myself to look back and gaze into her eyes. But then, reluctant, I remembered the question I had to ask, and the reason I was really there.

“So, tonight. If you’re not doing anything, maybe, would you want to come over to my place? After the carnival?”

She smiled this warm, incredible, kind smile, and took my hand.

“That’d be great.”

Relieved, but worried, a moment of peace fell. Then the crowd started cheering my name. I glanced to the poolside to see April walking towards the deck and a band setting up on stage on the other side of the water. They were missing a keyboard player.

“I think the relay’s up,” I laughed, and we stood up to head to the pool.

“Good luck!” Kim replied, cheerful but sincere, and kissed me.

Together, we walked to the poolside. A girl with striking platinum blonde hair crossed our path in a hurry.

“Erin, hey,” I called. She looked over and stopped moving. “You playing today?” I asked, gesturing to the empty keyboard on the other side of the pool.

“Yeah, I’m running late. We should’ve started already.”

“Have fun,” Kim chimed, bright and positive. “I love hearing you play.”

Erin dropped her shoulders, humble and unconfident beneath Kim’s praise. “Thanks,” she said and took off towards the stage, running. Straight into April.

She was falling. I could feel her mind reaching out as a rolling wave of terror clawed at her heart. It tickled at the end of my own senses and threatened to take over. The swimming carnival was roaring on around us. The entire crowd was still cheering my name. But the voices were hard to block out. They whispered restlessly, tirelessly urgent, never ceasing but never making much sense. Shouts beckoned from the pool side into the calm waters beneath, towards a figure trapped in a watery prison. April flailed in a tangle of brown hair and long limbs, sinking.

“She can’t swim!” I exclaimed and made a running leap for the only person capable of loving me for who I was.

Chilled water surrounded my body, and a sense of calm fell over me, coupled with rising strength that plunged my limbs effortlessly through the water’s cloudy depths. I pushed a hand towards April. Her dark eyes locked onto mine as I gulped in a breath which had been forgotten above the surface. A faint blue glow emanated from my outstretched hand, barely noticeable through the water’s blue chaos. It forced water to drain from her reddening skin in a fresh pocket of air. She drew a sharp breath. I wrapped an arm around her waist and dragged her to dry land.

As quickly as I could, I bundled her singed body against mine, tore a towel from Steve running to assess the commotion, and wrapped it around April to cover her blistering skin from view. Ruthlessness faded from her startling dark eyes and, for a moment, there was no war, no fear. Only right now. Only us. But only for a moment.

“Thanks Kyle,” she whispered, regaining her powerful ethereal radiance, and shrugged me off.

“No problem,” I replied, relieved yet surprised by her speedy return to strength once above water. “That’s why we come in pairs.”

But she continued to stare at me.

“Did you just… breathe?”

“About that…”

I heard my name being called over the loudspeakers.

“I’m so sorry!” Erin was running to April’s side, graciously interrupting a conversation I didn’t really want to have but knew was inevitable.

I picked up an abandoned blue mask to slip over April’s reddened face – her skin seemed to almost burn on contact with the pool water – before I took her hand lightly in mine.

“Hold still.”

Within moments, a pale blue glow spread from my hand across April’s skin, leaving behind a thin layer of opaque light blue clay hidden beneath the towel. The glow subsided. She was blue, but no longer in pain. Just another handy trick the Immortals had so graciously provided us, but being able to heal ourselves was really just a reason to keep us out of doctor’s offices and emergency rooms.

“Shouldn’t look too out of place tonight,” I added with a grin and a nod to the bright blue people around us. “It’ll fade when you heal.”

“I’m so sorry!” Erin appeared beside us, visibly distressed, with Noah closely trailing behind. They were both wearing their best purple pirate outfits.

For a reason I could never work out, Erin spent a lot of time with Noah, who looked boringly plain in comparison. He had dark hair that never seemed to fit him, and seemed blank and unable to express much emotion. Even April could manage a wider range of expression, and she was ice cold to the core. Erin existed as Noah’s polar opposite – small, thin and eccentric, with short white hair that made her bright blue eyes all the more noticeable. Her musical talents covered a brilliant spectrum of endlessness, while Noah was more of a one trick pony. If he had any tricks at all.

“I swear I didn’t mean to almost drown you. I was just talking to Kyle then time got away from me!” Erin blustered.

We returned April to her feet.

“Read the sign, Erin!” I pointed wildly to a coloured sign on the pool deck. “No running!”

“It’s ok,” April was saying. “I’m ok. Walk next time, yeah?”

But I could feel something off about April, as if she was not entirely present. I heard my name bellowed over the loudspeaker again.

“Go race, Kyle, I’m fine.” She smiled that melting smile.

“Fi.” Erin gestured for Fiona, our blue team captain, to take April’s arm with Steve. “I’m meant to be playing,” she nodded towards the band set up on stage on the opposite side of the complex, complete except for an empty keyboard.

Fiona stepped in to finalise April’s status. I felt a swell of admiration. Instead of being with her family, where we’d expected her to be, Fi was there with us and leading everyone dressed in blue in chants while at the same time working with the other blue captains to make sure every race and event was filled. The swimming carnival was one of the major events of the school year; Fi wouldn’t have missed leading her team for the world. A faint sense of suspicion lingered in her concerned eyes as she gave April a quick once over.

Reluctant, I left April with Fiona, Steve, Kim and Noah in favour of making my race on time. A final glance backwards showed April, as strong as ever, returning to a world that she commanded. A world that she owned. And I wished I could be more like her.

The race was over and won before you could say Kyle Haze. It was true that I’d trained since forever, but endless hours spent in the pool had been to strengthen my abilities, which were heightened when in their element. My body glided to victory with ease, as if the water itself was pushing me through. When the cheering crowd had subsided, there was April once again beside me, joining me in the shade of a leafy tree.

“I swear I’ve seen you swim, though…”

April lowered herself onto a towel beside me.

“It burns,” she explained. “The water. I can, if you like swimming through embers.”

“Says the girl who can actually swim through fire without a care in the world.”

“Only a care that the fire is beautiful…”

“I can breathe underwater,” I blurted out before I could stop myself.

“How’d you find that out?” she inquired, unfazed.

“I… fell off a cliff. And what’d’you know, was about to drown. But then my last breath… wasn’t my last…”

“I’m glad,” her smile illuminated cunning in her eyes. “Is Kim heading to yours tonight?”

I nodded.

“Brilliant. Then we’re on.”

I looked back out over the crowd of students. We couldn’t know for sure that the fourth Champion was there, but… I don’t know. The way April was carrying herself, the way she was acting… It was like all the times before, when she’d been so confident in an outcome that had been impossible for me to predict. Like she knew. And all I could do was trust her.

“Who is it, do you think?” I asked.

“How are you so sure they’re here?”

“Our Flames are drawn to each other, you said. I mean, we travelled the whole world searching just to find Kim in school. It’s been seventeen years. The fourth Flame’s got to’ve pushed its bearer to us by now. Or pushed us to them…”

“You realise that, even after all our training, we were hugely unsuccessful at finding the others.”

“But we dominated controlling our powers,” I countered, “and we’re about to nail training the others, and winning the war. Three out of four objectives isn’t bad.”

We looked out over the organised chaos of the carnival. There was Kim, cheering by the poolside having led a gun decorating team able to turn the area surrounding the pool into a sea of coloured flags and banners. The air was thick with cheering and happy chatter, broken only by the announcer’s booming voice over the sound system. Then there was Noah. He was strolling back to the poolside, covered head to toe in purple. But he wasn’t alone. Ryan, a tall round-faced boy from our class, stamped by, moving in the opposite direction as Noah, and slammed his shoulder into Noah as he went. Noah stumbled, straight into Michael and the next bump as the pair kept walking. Andrew was next, and pushed Noah further off balance into Nick and the ground. Tall, beanstalk-thin, pale, sickly-looking Stephanie pointed and laughed as she hopped over to join the fun with her pack of wolves.

“They really give that kid a hard time,” I noted. “What’s he ever done to them?”

“We should really do something about that,” April suggested from beside me as the posse rounded on Noah, jeering.

Other than me, Noah, and, well, everyone by the looks of it, Kim had five ‘best’ friends. Kelly and Alice, the smartest of the five, led the pack, with the other three, Amanda, Stephanie, and Emily, playing supporting roles in the alliance. Them, plus Ryan, Michael, Andrew and Nick, had always enjoyed taunting Noah and pretty much anyone else they felt like. The shock in the girls’ eyes when Kim, their sporting superstar, had shown up after a few months break and a healthy-looking extra few kilos on her tiny bones was priceless, and a little heart-breaking.

“Kim’s got this,” I added casually to April with a nod towards Kim now emerging from her sea of blue.

“Hey!” she shouted at them as she jogged to Noah. “Leave him alone, guys.”

Noah rose back to his feet.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ryan mumbled.

“No problem, Kim, you got it.”

“Later, Chumbawumba,” Alice stuck in a final jeer at Kim before Kelly and her minions dispersed, leaving Noah to dust himself off.

“You ok?”

“Yeah, nothing to worry about…”

“Do you wanna…?” Kim gestured towards the forest in the opposite direction as the cheering crowds. Noah seemed to agree, because they started walking away together.

“Look at that!” April’s voice rose in hurried awareness hinted with a tinge of curiosity. “They’re… leaving.

“They’re not the type to bail out,” I sat up on my hands for a better look at Kim and Noah as they disappeared through a gate leading to cover beneath the surrounding forest. “What are they doing? Can you see?”

“Kim’s one of us,” April replied, thoughtful. “Her Flame’ll trap me. But Noah…” She flashed a maniacal grin and propped herself firmly against the tree we were sitting under. “Ready to watch Noah vision?”

“You love this, don’t you?”

She smiled, a genuine, cunning smile.

“More than anything, I missed this. And maybe you,” she added. “Relax.”

The moonlight shimmer of April’s eyes faded into a vacant stare. She reached out to tinker, first with my mind, then cast her telepathy to Noah’s. Images played before my eyes, scenes that belonged to another’s vision and senses. I was seeing what she was. And she was seeing through Noah. April reached out, first to Noah’s thoughts, then his sight, his hearing, his smell and finally the feeling of movement of his limbs and body. Soon enough, we found ourselves looking through Noah’s eyes into Kim’s and wondering what to do next. Everything moved and continued like normal, as if we were in the forest with Kim. Noah’s mind was shaky, stressed. It was clear that he trusted Kim and that she trusted him, yet he was still riddled with anxiety at being alone with her.

“Are you ok?” Kim was worried.

“Yeah, fine,” Noah was nonchalant, covering his insecurity with a nervous laugh. “What’s up?”

Kim appeared lost in her own thoughts, staring out across the forest scraping the sky beneath a brilliant sunset. A thick silence fell between them, lightened by the gentle, beautiful piano melody now floating from the band. From Erin.

“You’d never bail on me, right? I mean, I help you with the others – I add value…” Kim spoke quietly, and turned to eye him, cautious.

“No, you know I wouldn’t,” Noah replied almost automatically, but then went on. Thankfully, he seemed to realise his insecurities weren’t the only ones in play. “And I don’t hang out with you because you add value by getting those kids off my back. You’re important to me because you’re my best friend. Because you took me in when no one else wanted a bar of it, after my parents disappeared…”

Kim waited for a moment, pondering.

“Then I have to show you something,” she said after the pause. “Can you keep a secret?”

We knew. He was her most trusted friend, of course she was going to tell him.

Stop this. I hissed at April through the link she had delicately constructed in our thoughts. He’ll ruin the plan!

A hand reached out and palmed my chest, pushing my body back against the tree.

Wait.

Noah’s heart skipped a beat and we could feel butterflies welling in his stomach.

“You know you can tell me anything,” he said, awkward yet slightly reassuring. “I’ve got your back.”

Kim turned away from Noah and looked around the forest floor as if sizing each object up. Her eyes fell on a mossy stone sitting some three metres in front of her. Kim raised her hand in the stone’s direction.

She’s lost it.

At first, it didn’t move. Kim left her hand in the air. He eyes scrunched with effort. Then, as if instructed, the stone lifted itself into the air, hovered for a moment, and shot across the clearing.

Noah was rooted to the spot with a silent scream running through his mind. Kim turned her attention to two small logs about a metre closer to her. This time she raised both hands, one pointed at each. The scrunch of concentration returned and, with a flick of her wrists, the logs lifted into the air. They floated at head height, and began twirling and whirling in circles around each other.

It was mildly amusing, perhaps even funny, but Noah didn’t laugh. He didn’t move. He didn’t think. His silent, terrified scream had subsided and been replaced with something else, something much less helpful – panic. The one person he’d opened himself up to and trusted completely was some sort of freak with magic powers. How could she do this to me? Why can’t she keep it to herself? Why can’t I just be normal?

We felt something inside him break. A strange image filtered into his mind, distant and faint – a cheery, dark haired girl. Something about her looked eerily familiar, although I’d never seen her before. And a name. Claire. White-hot flames burst into life around the girl’s pale face as my own memories threatened to trickle through a moment of confusion. No, not mine. April’s. I was still seeing and feeling what she was.

Noah tried to comprehend objects flying through the air, logs dancing with each other, that name…

“What do you think?” Kim inquired, pleased with herself.

Noah didn’t move. He couldn’t bring himself to look at her as he ran the visions of what he’d just witnessed over and over. Feelings of fear, love, friendship and terror crossed his mind. An intense fear and longing that neither of us had expected rose up within him. Single images flew through his eyes, images of time he had spent with Kim, good times. Kim cared about him. Then the name, again, like a dagger to the heart. Claire. But nothing seemed to matter anymore. His best friend was a freak he couldn’t understand. Logs weren’t supposed to dance. Stones weren’t supposed to throw themselves. By the end of Kim’s demonstration there was only one word left in Noah’s mind – Bail.

“I…” He stared at Kim, bewildered.

I’m out of here.

“I…”

“Gee, spit it out Noah.”

Kim punched his shoulder lightly. Noah flinched. A silent scream echoed through his mind again.

“I…I hate you,” he blurted out. He took one more terrified look at Kim and ran as fast as he could for the gate. “Stay away from me, you freak.”

He ran. Through tree lined corridors. Across the carnival. Down silent, empty streets. Over bubbling waters. Noah ran and ran and ran until his legs couldn’t carry him any further, leaving Kim standing alone in the middle of the darkened forest. Trees with their high, lofty boughs glared down at her under fallen sunlight and cast eerie dancing shadows, judging. When Noah finally stopped, he fell to the ground under an oak tree in an empty field across town. I felt the air forcing its way through his body. His heart pounded in his chest. Silent screams of panic, fear and anger still echoed through every inch of his mind. And there was the girl, lingering. Claire. I saw… something in the distance. A light, almost, coming closer. Bright green and glaring.

Someone was tapping me on the shoulder; only it was my shoulder that I felt, not Noah’s. But wait, not mine, April’s. I felt her release me as she pulled herself from Noah’s mind one sense at a time. But it didn’t work. I blinked to clear my eyes of a moment’s lingering confusion. The cheering crowds fell back into view around me. But a quick glance into April’s long lost eyes told a different story.

“April.”

I was already reaching out. Her shoulders were in my hands. I tried to shake her awake. Nothing.

“April!”

Still, vacancy greeted my gaze. Steady panic rose up. What if she couldn’t let go? I shook her shoulders once more. And again. With a jolt, dark eyes flickered with presence, but were doused in exhausted fear.

“What did you see?” I hissed urgently. Panic eased. I lifted her shoulders towards me to hold her warm body against mine.

“We have to abort.”

I looked at her sceptically. With one hand, I lifted one of her arms and watched it fall softly into my hand like a rag doll. Completely beyond her control.

“Why? What did you see?”

Her hand closed on mine.

“He’s… one of us…” she finished – her last act before falling into a deep, dark, unwelcome sleep.

For all our training there was nothing I could do about this. A heavy weight of powerlessness crushed down, coupled with desperation to get her to safety. To someone who can help. I concentrated on an entrance hall, with towering ceilings, and magnificent white marble stairs leading to a glorious upper floor. But, from the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Kim trudging her way to the exit. If I teleported with April, Kim would be gone before I could get back, and she needed me. I couldn’t leave. But I couldn’t leave April. Torn, I looked back to April. But she was gone. All that remained was a faint blue glow emanating from my hands which had held her motionless body only moments before. Surprised, but with no time to lose, I leaped to my feet and ran for Kim. A light grin crossed my features. Noah wasn’t going to be a problem. And neither, it seemed, would April. Or the limits of my abilities.

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

Air and water

 

Kyle.

 

Abort. Really, April, right now? I glanced to Kim. She was trudging her way back across the shadowed tree line towards waves of colour and chanting which she had so effortlessly created hours before. Each step fell heavier than the last. Strain grew more evident across her face with every movement towards the exit. She believed she was all alone, and she was running. Abort. One word had been all I would’ve needed before, when trusting that April knew what she was doing had been so easy. When our powers had been a game to both of us – a menacing pastime at which we both terrifyingly excelled. But that trust has to extend both ways, because Kim is more than just a piece in our war games. Because I am just as capable as April. And because we are so close to victory.

“I’m sorry, April,” I muttered in the wake of her emptiness, “but some of this can still work.”

I sprung to my feet and dived through crowds of bustling students, weaving in and out between waves of bright blue, green, purple and red.

“Kim! Kim, hey, wait up!”

Her tiny body spun to face me. I caught her arm and let go. Deep hazel eyes greeted me, but held an uncharacteristic gloom over Kim’s usually rosy cheeks. Once perfectly straightened, sleek locks of chocolate brown hair hung in a stringy mess of tight curls. Her features seemed hunched and drawn. Kim’s air of strength and power melted away and left the dazzling blue and white outfit of half an hour ago seeming vacant and fragile.

“Kim, what’s wrong?” I asked, drawing her in closer.

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

Stubbornness burned to life and she twisted abruptly away to leave.

“Kim, please.”

My rough hands caught her hips gently. As we stood there together, an uneasy yet calming peace fell between us. She just looked at me with those big brown eyes, their spark of hope dwindling and on the verge of collapse. I wished I could be that hope when everything around her crumbled. But I also knew that I didn’t think I could be.

“Noah,” she stammered, “we’re not…” Kim drew in a steadying breath to gather herself. “Congratulations on your win,” a forced smile appeared, “but I have to go now.”

“Wait,” I hurriedly caught her hand as she turned again to leave, and felt my own heart breaking. Hiding was tearing us apart. Noah’s exit – a scene I should never have witnessed – played over and over in my head. For a moment, I stopped pretending. There had to be something I could say to let her open up to me. To let her know I could be there. Whether it took love, anger, comfort – it didn’t matter. Anything was better than her walking out.

“You’re forgetting how tough you are, Kim.”

Anger flared in Kim’s eyes.

Nailed it.

“Tough?” she turned on me with only a split second to brace myself and rally. “My best friend just called me a freak and ran away! I don’t care about being tough. What I care about is showing up to school tomorrow and having nobody.”

“What the hell am I?” I replied, a little hurt, but she wasn’t listening.

“I took him in,” Kim blustered, “when he had no one, he had me. I tried to find his parents. I got him to school every day. I called off Alice and her goons. Now who’s he going to hang out with, Erin?” Her words tumbled into a wild rant that still somehow considered Noah’s wellbeing. “Who cares? I don’t. Do you? Nope. Does anyone? I should’ve let the vultures attack! But you know what? They all hate me, too. They think I’m fat!” Kim dug a manicured fingernail sharply into my chest, “and ugly! Bitches gotta stick together, they said. Yeah, until the bitch gets fat, and asks them to stop pushing around Noah and all the other kids in this school!” Her gaze locked on mine, fierce, furious, alone. Quiet, she went on. “He has no idea what I went through for him. And he just leaves. My best friend. Bailed.”

“Make new friends…” My suggestion was lacklustre, but it’s what I would have done – my own survival strategy.

“It’s not that easy,” Kim’s reply bordered on the edge of silence. “We’re not all you, Kyle.” A single tear fell, the only tear I’d ever seen in Kim’s eyes. “Noah was the only thing I could count on, in that whole school. Everything else I had to do on my own. But with Noah, he was always there. Always. But at the drop of a hat, his go-to reaction is to hang me out to dry…”

“You’re not alone, Kim.” I held a hand out and finally realised she was talking about more than simply not having a lunch date at school tomorrow (although where I figured into her mystical companionship equation, I couldn’t tell). But I was taken aback by her rapid breakdown, and hit with sharp awareness that a life of learning to fight someone else’s war hadn’t left me with the social skills required to handle this particular situation. All I had was the best I could manage, and did my best to trust instincts that I’d tried to suppress. “Come with me.”

Kim’s shaking hand met mine. Her gaze held firm.

“Where?” she hesitated.

“Do you trust me?”

A momentary pause gave away an answer so clearly absent from her words and features.

“Of course I do…”

Her hand closed firmly on mine. Then the swimming complex, with its joyous students and glittering colours, melted away into dusty darkness.

Kim recoiled in surprise. Her eyes darted to take in every corner of our dingy new surroundings beneath the day’s fading light. Dark walls rose up around us. With sure footsteps, I walked between two dark green armchairs to a magnificent open fire in the wall furthest from us. A tiny glass cylinder sat beneath the fireplace’s heavy grill. It encased a palm-sized flame flickering within. “Light,” I instructed and reached out a hand to gesture. A wave of brilliant embers burst into life, warm and inviting – another piece of April’s charm that meant we would never escape each other even in our most private moments. I turned back to face Kim who was suddenly illuminated by the waves of glowing light bursting from the now roaring open fire.

“Welcome to my lounge room,” I said, hesitant and suddenly self-conscious. “This is where I live.”

“What?” Kim spun around slowly. After taking in the room, her steely gaze returned to me.

“You’re not alone,” I repeated, thinking of how to explain. “I… I’ve known for a while. About what you can do. I can do… other things as well. Like you.”

Silence. Kim glared across at me with a mix of surprise and betrayal. April would’ve known what to do. Then again, April may very well have lit Kim up like a bonfire right there on the spot. Or lit me up for bringing Kim here, and trying to explain, on my own. So maybe her not being here was for the best.

“Do you remember our picnic,” I went on, “beneath the oak tree overlooking the town, last month?”

Kim nodded. “We’d been together for three months. It was lovely.”

“I thought I was alone, too,” I lied. “Lost in a world that I had no chance of fitting into,” it wasn’t entirely untrue. “Then your hairpin slipped out of place. Your fringe almost fell into your eyes. Until it didn’t.” I smiled, recounting the terror I felt in that moment as a marker of confusion. “And I knew I didn’t have to be alone anymore.” Another lie. Wasn’t it?

She seemed surprised. “You knew all this time? And you didn’t tell me?”

“I didn’t know how to…”

“But you can do things?” she asked. “Things that aren’t possible?”

I nodded. “Like getting us here, instantly. Because it is possible.” I held out a hand for Kim to see. Shards of glittering blue light emerged, piece by piece, until a ball of shimmering, bright blue crystals danced within itself, ice cold. “It can be scary, though. I know. But you don’t have to be afraid.”

Kim stepped forward to meet me in the centre of the room. The blue glow subsided to leave a transparent rose in its wake. Kim reached out, apprehensive, but drew her hand back suddenly. Slivers of blue light erupted and vanished as the rose tumbled to the floor and shattered. Kim gasped.

“Is that… ice?”

I nodded. “It’s what I do. That and, and water. I control water. Well, I make water,” I clarified, and turned my attention to the web of glittering ice crystals that formed the rose’s remains. “Controlling real water is a bit trickier. But I control anything that my abilities can make.”

A moment’s focus, and my ice crystal webs began to slowly crawl through the carpet beneath our feet.

“How did we get here?” Kim asked, without noticing the ice crystals.

“Teleportation,” I replied. I hoped she was taking my explanation at face value. Glittering crystal webs crept further. They reached the walls at last to begin their ascent. “When I was a little kid, I remember hiding under my bed every day, afraid. I felt so trapped that I could barely breathe. Just needing to get out. Because I couldn’t carry any of it anymore. My dad and I had taken a trip to Rome, and I had this little postcard of the Colosseum that I just stared at and stared at. Then one day, my eyes opened, and I was there. In the Colosseum, Gladiator style.” A light smile filled my features.

“What happened?”

I laughed.

“I ran around Rome for a week before Hermes found me, and taught me to harness it. So now I teleport wherever I want to.”

“To run away?”

“It started that way. But now, it’s freedom. Because I’ve found a reason not to run away anymore.”

“Your dad knows?”

“He can, um, do stuff too. So he helped me figure it all out.”

“When did it start?”

“A while ago. Hermes and I had only just moved here for the first time. It was the middle of winter, but we were walking not far from here, by the river. Its surface was iced over, and Hermes told me to stay on the river banks, but I wanted to slide over the ice. Keeping my balance was so easy on ice, easier for me than balancing on dry land. But I tripped and fell through the ice. Hermes dragged me out. He threw his coat over me, and hugged me to keep me from freezing. But I wasn’t cold. At all. I remember reaching out to touch the ice again, and we both watched the gaping hole glow blue then re-form as if nothing had happened. I dropped Hermes’ coat and walked away.”

“But you said you’d first come here when you were six…”

“Sounds about right.”

“How have you known? For so long? When I only just realised…”

A thick breath forced its way through my lungs. This was April’s territory. And a blatant lie that would probably cost me dearly.

“I don’t know how it works, just that I’m so lucky to have found you…”

I took her hand in mine and glanced beyond us. Her eyes followed. Webs of ice crystals had spread to cover the walls, the ceiling, until each tiny shard twinkled above us like millions of stars in the night sky. Kim’s breath turned icy, and I reached out and drew her into my arms.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said. “The cold won’t hurt you.” But she looked up at me, confused and shivering. “If you let go of all that stuff you used to be, and embrace this, who you truly are. Then, you won’t feel the cold.”

“What do you mean?” She wasn’t buying it. “It’s freezing. Beautiful, but freezing.”

“No. It’s not.” I smiled and drew her closer into my arms. “Close your eyes. And imagine. For a second. There’s just you and me, standing together, with brilliant powdered snow falling over a sweeping mountainside. The sun setting, and there’s a single snowflake, floating. Just out of reach.” A single snowflake fell from the ceiling above. “But you can reach it, Kim. Just let go, trust me, and reach.” Eyes closed, Kim held out a hand toward thin air. The delicate snowflake became surrounded in white gold light. It hung, motionless, for a moment before it floated into Kim’s outstretched palm. Kim’s hands stopped shaking. In a rush of a blizzard-like gust, flickering blue ice overtook brilliant red flames burning within the open fire.

Kim opened her eyes, calm, and smiled.

“I’ve never been to the snow.”

“Let’s change that.”

I held a hand towards the glistening ceiling. Delicate snowflakes began floating down around us.

“It’s incredible…”

A snowflake landed on Kim’s cheek, and I reached out to brush it away lightly.

“It’s got nothing on you.”

Kim’s gaze was filled with warmth and wonder. She looked at me in a way that felt impossible.

“You never have to be alone again, Kim. If you don’t want to. If you want… me.”

“But you could leave whenever you wanted. Go wherever you can dream of.”

“But I won’t. Not without you.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because I love you.”

My eyes fell to the floor.

“You what?”

Impossible to hold back, a grin broke into life, rallying courage. I took in a deep breath. I knew full well the consequences of my emotions and hated myself for it, but lifted my eyes to hers.

“I love you, Kim, and I will always be here with you.”

Her lips found mine. For that moment, lost with Kim beneath only the gaze of flickering, ice cold flames, there was no war, no destiny, no struggle – and no April.

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

An idea of monsters

 

April.

 

The night swirled around me, crushing down on where I lay. Slivers of moonlight glided across the room. Images of Noah, Kyle and Kim flashed in front of my eyes as my surroundings dropped in and out of focus. A man, a different stranger, loomed, standing tall before me. But I couldn’t see, instead being lost to nightmares or hazy visions of the future or a twisted mix of both, now indistinguishable.

A glint of silver. Piercing fear. Sudden terror consumed my three-year-old self. But it was wrong. There was fire. Bright, dazzling, fire, burning all around. There shouldn’t be fire. Burning beams fell to the floor. The tall figure came closer. He was holding something, the fire light dancing from its delicate edges. I was old again. There was fire, my fire, and Kyle, with Kim. They were still. Motionless. Sprawled out across the floor. The stranger stepped forward, and whispered. “Now you’re just like me.”

Golden light rained down around us. Rose petals, filling the room, falling like snowflakes. Blinding light. Dazzling. Then fear. Terror. Panic. Confusion. Burning. The glittering blade struck, and plunged, slicing through snowflake-filled sky as if tearing its fabric apart. Leaving behind rising flames, now threatening to crush me. A hand dragged me from the flames, into somewhere… into darkness. He pushed my body forward across a heavy, rich mahogany front door of a home, into a shadowed hallway beneath the cover of night.

Pale walls glowed green, emanating through the darkness. Cracks, in the walls, the ceiling, like spider webs rattling through a once solid home. Shaking beneath my feet stole attention from searing pain burning where the blade struck a tiny shoulder. A shimmering blue ice chandelier hung effortlessly from the ceiling above, creaking as it swayed unsteadily under its own weight, its eerie blue glow casting dancing shadows through the green. A deafening crack pierced the air. Splits tore across the ceiling. Chimes twinkled to my ears as I watched, helpless, from the dancing shadows. It was the sound of crystal. Ice crystals. Falling. Falling. Kyle. But it was too late. I was too late. Quakes ripped through the hallway. The eerie blue and green glow illuminated Kyle. Sprawled, beneath a shattered ceiling. Lying still. As broken as the glittering heaps of crystal ice shards splintering the floor around him. Shattered in his own creation.

I woke up with a terrified gasp, my right hand jerking suddenly to a jagged white scar snaking across my left shoulder and the remains of melted skin across my lower back, then fell, heavy. The scars were now nothing but a constant, haunting reminder of powerlessness and broken hope. I forced my eyes to focus on the room around me, but all I could make out through the spinning was the shape of a bookcase and a set of spiral stairs. Bright morning sunlight streamed through a high, round window set within a tall bookcase. No ice, no fire, no friends, no enemies in sight.

Taking a deep breath, I let my head sink back into my pillow, looking over to the beautiful golden-yellow rose sitting on the bedside table. I reached out to it with a heavy arm to touch its soft, shining petals as it bloomed in the bright morning sunlight, tracing the petals of the stunning rose that never wilted and never grew dull. My fingertips reached an empty space in the bloom where one glorious golden yellow petal had gone missing, never to grow or bloom again.

Warmth of hope filled my body as I watched the beautiful rose bloom once more. A tiny vial sat beneath it, filled with a softly spiralling orange-yellow liquid which I knew only too well. I reached a clumsy hand out to take it, and swallowed its contents in a single gulp. Panic eased, the weight on my limbs began to lift. There were whispers, now. Real whispers, drifting in from beyond my bedroom door. My brothers, then a stranger.

“She’s awake.”

“She’s awake.”

“Finally.” Themis. She sounded relieved.

But there was something more, a decision lingering in the back of my memory like a long forgotten dream, impossible to hold onto. And a question. Are you sure? More like a puzzle left in the wake of haunting confusion. Sure of what? I’d never told Kyle about that moment, so long ago, that still haunted my every thought and dream. And I certainly wasn’t ready to explain the reason I had finally returned to Caria. He wouldn’t understand. I didn’t completely understand yet, either. There was a knock at the heavy wooden door.

In an instant I was downstairs, completely dressed in my school uniform, a half-eaten bowl of cereal sitting before me.

“Pardon?” I asked.

But why?

A thin woman sat across from me, golden hair flowing over a draping ivory gown. Her nervous gaze watched my every move. Panic rose within me as I glanced rapidly over surroundings that seemed unfamiliar.

A kitchen. My kitchen.

“Try to focus, April,” the woman instructed, her tone effortless yet filled with unease. “Hold onto every moment… Or your abilities will spiral your mind out of control.”

Themis, April, it’s Themis.

Recognition filtered back as I blinked to take in my mother sitting across from me in our home’s small, cosy kitchen, the hearth fire burning brightly in a rich open fireplace. Themis rose, but flicked in and out of focus. In an impossible instant, she was sitting, then standing. Then I was standing.

“Right…” I nodded absently and collected my school bag, although a memory of its packing continued to elude me. “They said I had more time…” I heard myself murmur to a visibly concerned Themis. “It doesn’t help that I’m haunted by moments I can barely recall anymore. My powers shouldn’t be breaking like this, not yet.”

The heavy wooden table was suddenly clear, with no sign of bowls or cutlery.

“What day is it?” I asked.

“Thursday. You woke up almost four hours ago.”

Great. A full day has passed since the swimming carnival.

“People are so used to your absence, a missed Wednesday at school should barely be noticed.”

“That’s not…” I tried to gather my thoughts. A day away from school was the least of my troubles, as my abilities buckled yet again, risking once more to spiral beyond my control.

“Here.” Themis handed another vial of the strange orange liquid from earlier that morning.

But how much earlier?

A shaking hand – my shaking hand – reached out to take it. My stomach churned as if I were falling, only to catch myself standing completely still. My hand suddenly closed. On a pencil case.

“April?”

Bright sunlight caught me off guard, streaming through high classroom windows, dazzling. A classroom. Every seat filled.

I stared at Kyle through glazed eyes as I tried to piece it all together. Everyone was present and accounted for. Kim was sitting behind us, and Noah was sitting alone across from us, looking exhausted and confused. Kyle appeared to be expecting some kind of explanation that I did not and could not offer. The memories simply weren’t there. Suddenly, his deep blue eyes grew wide. He reached for my hands beneath the desk, taking them into his own, and sent out a thin layer of ice to cover them.

“April!”

I jolted back to sudden awareness. Flickering flames had sparked into life at my fingertips, now extinguishing beneath the ice – the price of a lost temper. And the entire reason using fire was a thing of my past. The spinning and breathlessness started to settle as I forced myself to recall as much as I could of the last day and a half. All I could manage was to recall a curious mosaic of fiction, past, and future which I could no longer differentiate. Visions of the future had once presented themselves so clearly, yet my foresight was faltering right when I needed it the most. Fury rose up at the thought of my abilities betraying me.

Then Kyle was gone. So was the classroom. A rough jolt left my head spinning, spinning, trying to catch hold of time that was slipping from my grasp. Bright sun was shining warmly down on bare arms – my bare arms – and there was a sandwich in my hand. Kyle sat down beside me, on grass, in the school yard. Kim was sitting with Kelly, Alice, Amanda, Stephanie and Emily at a table nearby, and Noah was nowhere to be seen. Kyle was speaking, but my thoughts were stuck in a less caring conversation across the grass.

“Who cares about Noah,” Alice was snarling over at Kim, but I couldn’t work out if I’d been listening in for a reason, or for gossip, “he’s just some fag with no friends.”

“Noah’s straight, Alice,” Kim replied. She took a bite of a salad sandwich.

“And how would you know? Hmm?”

Kim fell silent. Amanda glared at Kim’s salad sandwich over her own tiny handful of carrots.

“You’re really eating all that?”

“Um… yeah. It’s lunch.”

“Oh…”

Kim was confused. “I’m gonna… go.” She repacked her bag, and walked away without another word. I should stop listening in, but where was I again? Reaching out, I took hold of Kyle’s wrist, panic rising, and tore my attention back. Grounding myself once more, forcing myself to be where I should be – firmly in the present, holding onto every moment. Through a settling breath, I nodded towards Kim disappearing into the distance.

“Right,” Kyle got to his feet to follow Kim. “See you later, yeah?”

The spinning was subsiding again. Thankfully. “Sure.” And Kyle walked away, to follow a girl I barely knew but who seemed to mean so much to him.

Noah was our latest conundrum. The earth element, we’d been warned, was the most difficult to harness. Each of our abilities were dangerous in their early uncontrolled stages, but the earth element could level the entire city without even trying. We had to be certain that Noah was what we thought he was. And that he knew that as well. Options filtered through my mind, until finally the choice became obvious. And I realised the meaning of my waking dream question – are you sure?

Yes. I’m sure.

That night after school I met up with Kyle and told him my idea for Kim and Noah.

“Are you crazy? We’re not going to steal them!” he said, shocked. “You’ve come up with some doozies but this one definitely takes the cake!”

“This is how it’s going down, Kyle.”

“No,” he replied, defiant, “it’s not. I listen to you, April, and I know you listen to me. This is too risky. We are too out of practice together. If something goes wrong…”

“And if we leave him to find his abilities on his own, and he can’t control it?”

Kyle was thoughtful. “It might not even be him,” he noted.

“Then I’ll block his memories of it all, and he’ll be none the wiser.”

He wasn’t convinced. Whether it was in my plan, or the strength of my abilities, I couldn’t tell.

“It’s only for a little while,” I told him. “We’ll just borrow them.”

“Borrow them? Can you hear yourself? You can’t borrow people.”

“It’ll only be for a little while.”

“Be smart April. We need them to trust us. How are we going to manage that after we kidnap them?”

“They’ll be perfectly safe the entire time. We won’t put a scratch on them.”

“How can you guarantee that?”

“You’ll be there the entire time,” I spoke calmly. “You can guarantee it for yourself.”

A heightened sense of urgency rose up within me – urgency that had been rising with every broken piece of time. It felt as if a weight was building, pressing down on me, aching, clawing at my insides as a wave of fear and panic threatened to transform into sweeping paralysis.

“We take them both. Tonight.”

“Why?” Kyle’s question sounded hollow in my ears. “We’ve waited seventeen years, surely we can wait a few more days?”

“You think our numbers will give us a few days either way?” I snapped, knowing only too well that I was running out of time.

“How long do you have?”

“Long enough to get this done.”

“It’s a Thursday, April.”

“I don’t care. It’s time.”

“And what happens tomorrow? When we don’t show up to school? You know what they’ll do to us if we risk exposure.”

“We won’t be risking anything, because we’ll be here.” Kyle was taken aback. “Our whole lives have led to this, have prepared us for this. If we can’t explain the situation and convince them to work with us in a night, then what sort of Champions are we? We tell them what they need to know, they deal with it, and we move on.”

“They deal with it? We’d be giving them eighteen hours to comprehend the world flipping upside down, and expect them to show up to school all peachy like a regular day.”

“If they can’t, I can always make them.” I tapped my forehead. Kyle was sceptical.

“Both of them? For a whole day? You can’t sustain that, April. We’re both already falling apart at the seams.”

“That’s why this is happening, Kyle. Because we’re running out of time. Help, or get out of my way. Better yet, why even drag them into our world, when I could finish this war off myself?”

A genuine hint of fear struck Kyle, fear that he wouldn’t have the power to stop me doing exactly that.

“It wouldn’t be fair.”

“What part of any of this is fair?”

“We don’t have any rapport with Noah.” Kyle was coming around. “He hates me because Kim and I are together. And he hates you because… Name one time you’ve ever even spoken to him, besides dropping him to the ground on the soccer pitch.”

“I’m not even going to try,” I replied blatantly. “Never. Ok? Or maybe ages ago. But he’ll take to it like a duck to water.”

Kyle let himself laugh. “Because our transitions were so smooth and incident free,” he replied sarcastically.

“We’ll be there. We can contain the situation if necessary.”

“Please, April. Think about what you’re suggesting.” His voice dropped to a hurried whisper. “You’re going to kidnap two of our classmates.”

“And a year ago, you would’ve done the same thing.”

“How would you know? You weren’t even here.” His reply was scathing, yet coloured with a hint of unmistakable abandonment. “But she was…”

“Remember what happens if we lose. And Kim doesn’t know you, not really.”

“I showed her my abilities…” he murmured.

“But did you show her everything? Did you explain where we both come from, what we’ve been through, and why we’ve been trained the way we have? What we’ve done to get here? Or was she just amused at your icy party tricks?”

Kyle fell silent.

“We have three options,” I went on. “We win, we lose, or we run out of time. I plan on winning. You?”

Kyle nodded and replied, sarcastic but sincere. “For a moment there, I forgot that you could be so pleasant, April Fall.”

A wry smile crossed my lips. “You just forgot that we’re monsters.”

“He’s not going to listen.”

“Then I’ll make him listen.” Flames burst to life at my fingertips in a flush of anger. Kyle took my hands in his and sent an icy wave through my body.

“I think you’ll have to.”

For a moment, I released my loose hold on reality. An attempt to ease the rising panic. A mistake. The world started spinning.

There was a sharp jolt, and I found myself in a car park, watching as Kyle and Kim walked away together, with Noah not far behind. I let out an exhausted groan, tired of letting time slip away from me.

Stick to the plan.

Noah climbed into the driver’s seat of his car. Kyle took a step towards Kim. I shielded his mind from the onslaught and sent a shockwave of sound ringing through Kim and Noah’s minds. The sound reached every inch of their thoughts, blocking every sense, every thought, every feeling. Kim and Noah lurched forward, hands over their ears. Kyle closed his eyes, knowing what was coming next. A flash of blinding, beautiful red light blasted Kim and Noah. They both collapsed, overwhelmed and unconscious.

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

The borrowing of Noah and Kim

 

April.

 

There was no escape – he was trapped.

“Where…?”

Noah’s question trailed off as he woke to take in his surroundings. Dark, cold stone walls made the empty sitting room of Kyle’s house feel more like a jail cell than a lounge room. There were no windows, and the only exit was a single arched doorway leading off into a long, narrow hall. The room was dark, or at least it should have been – all lights were turned out and it was the middle of the night, but there was a soft red glow filling the room. Glowing flames covered the walls and door in a fiery wall of light. Noah glanced urgently to Kim lying across the room, wrapped in a blanket, head resting softly on a fluffy pillow.

“Kim!” he shouted and rushed over to her. “Kim, wake up!” Noah took her in his arms. “Please wake up!” He glanced, terrified, from Kim to the fire and back.

“Noah,” she muttered, slightly afraid and rolled away from him suddenly.

“We have to get out of here!” Noah told her in a rush and moved to lift her from the floor. Kim flinched and brushed his hand away, throwing him a puzzled look. “The fire, Kim!” Noah pressed. “Look around you!”

Kim was still groggy as she tore her eyes from Noah.

“Huh…” she muttered after admiring the flame walls trapping them together. Her voice was calm. “Where are we?”

“I don’t know,” Noah replied hurriedly, “but it’s burning down!” He threw his arms out wildly in the direction of the tall fiery walls. Kim laughed and stretched out in her makeshift bed. Noah stared at her, blank and pale. “This is serious!” he shouted. “We have to run while we still can!”

“What? Do we run through the tall walls of hot, burning flames?” she stared him down with furious eyes. Her voice rose. “If you haven’t noticed, Noah, there’s no exit!” She rolled over again and settled herself amongst the blankets with her back towards Noah. “Wake me up when whoever put us here comes back.”

Noah stood still as a statue in the centre of the room, casting a deep shadow across the floor in the dim glow. “Have I missed something?” he asked, still bewildered.

Kim let out an annoyed sigh but didn’t turn to face him. “Yes, Noah,” she said shortly. “The fire isn’t moving.”

Noah shifted his gaze from her into the foot of the flames. Kim was right – nothing was burning beneath them. The walls of glimmering fire were stationary.

“That’s impossible…” he muttered.

“Like it or not, Noah, just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” Kim’s voice was beginning to rise again as she called to him over her shoulder.

Noah fell silent and plonked himself down in the centre of the ring of flames, holding his knees to his chest. “Kim,” he murmured after a while. “I, uh, I’m really sorry, you know, for how I reacted in the forest.”

“Ba bow!” Kyle’s voice came from behind me as he re-entered the room and took a seat on the couch beside me. “Wrong move, Noah.”

“I agree. Poorly timed.”

“You’re sorry?” We saw Kim retort angrily, sitting up and reeling around to glare at Noah.

Noah was shocked. “Well, what did you expect?” he exclaimed.

“I didn’t think you’d completely freak out!”

“Freak out? I didn’t freak out!”

“You were my best friend, and you took one look at me and sprinted away.”

“You don’t have to be such a bitch about it!”

“Oh, I’m being a bitch?” Kim’s enraged glare continued. She put on a high-pitched false voice as she imitated Noah. “I, I, I hate you – stay away from me you freak!

I glanced at the clock and held out a hand to Kyle.

“Ten minutes before he apologised,” I noted calmly.

Kyle reached into his pocket and withdrew a black leather wallet. “Ten minutes exactly,” he sighed and placed a note in my outstretched hand. “How do you know these things?”

I smiled and tucked the note into my own pocket, thankful for whatever small benefits I could milk from the remainder of my foresight before the ability fell away entirely. “Lucky guess.”

Kyle and I laughed at Kim and Noah’s frustrated antics as we watched on from a room nearby.

“Be right back.” Kyle vanished into thin air before the echo of his words had fallen into silence.

I took a moment to take in the dark, cold room around me, which had seemed such a distant memory when I’d been so far away. When I’d been happy. Until I ruined that, too.

The room was, as Kyle called it, Hermes’ theatre. It was small and gloomy and ice cold. There was something about the chilling, dense stone walls that seemed to suck the heat straight from the air. Hermes had constructed the room that Kim and Noah were being held in for one purpose – observation. It was complete with an entire shimmering double-sided wall that allowed anyone in the adjoining room – us, for the moment – to have a clear view into the cell-like holding area. Lounge room. Whatever the hell it was. Usually thick, heavy black drapes hung in front of the wall, however they’d been pulled back and gathered into loose bundles to either side. As I waited, my eyes couldn’t help but become lost in the shimmering mass, searching for a reflection that wasn’t there, that couldn’t be captured in the surface’s motion. Kyle re-joined me on the rich couch, holding out a stack of pizza boxes.

“Where’d you go?” I asked.

“Rome – I got hungry. The rest are in the kitchen.”

“The rest?”

He grinned. “You have to try the whole menu before you can specialise.”

“The guests?” I nodded towards Kim and Noah.

In an instant, Kyle vanished only to reappear in a shadowed corner of the room, drop the pizza boxes, and vanish once more to return to my side.

“And the distance isn’t a problem anymore?”

“I got skills, April. Got there in one jump,” Kyle boasted proudly from behind the remaining pizza boxes, but part of his reply sounded dismissive and he gestured to the empty open fire. “Light it, would you?”

“You must have matches around here somewhere,” I replied, evasive.

“Yeah, if I wanted to take half an hour to make a fire.” Kyle waved a hand impatiently in the fireplace’s direction. “Just light the fire, April. This room is gloomy.”

“You don’t feel the cold, and I run a natural sixty Celsius temperature.” I reminded him. “Gloom or not, it’s not like we’re freezing.”

Annoyance greeted me.

“We’re trying to build rapport. A cosy fire is a good start. Just light it.”

I hesitated. “I don’t do that anymore…”

“Sorry that lighting a single fire is too easy for you.”

“No, I mean… I don’t do that anymore.”

“What?”

“Fire. I… well… losing control… it’s the whole reason the Immortals threw me back to Caria. I thought I’d found my place in the world. My people.” I tried to explain, lost for the right words to express a complex set of events and emotions that I hadn’t come to terms with yet. “But I screwed it all up, like always. Because I couldn’t control the fire. I lost it. Buildings burnt down. And… and people died. So. I don’t do that anymore.”

Kyle threw himself to his feet, taking in a heavy breath, thinking and obviously trying to remain calm.

“First of all.” He turned on me, hands pressed at his waist. “I’m your people. Why is everyone having such a hard time seeing that? First Kim, now you. What? I’m here. All the time. Our place in the world is together.” He spun to face the slowly pooling mirror wall, but then turned back to me to take a hard look in my eyes. “You’re joking, right? You control fire, April, it’s who you are.”

I laughed. “Control is a loose term. I keep it contained. End of story. If I don’t use it, it can’t get out of control. Nobody dies.”

“April, this is serious,” he said, rigidity overcoming his usual casual frame, as frustration and irritation showed through. “Your fire is the best weapon we’ve got. How do you propose we win the war without it?”

“Telepathy’s all I’ve been using these past six months. It’s strong, it always has been. And don’t forget some of us control more than one element,” I took the easiest dig I could think of to hold my ground. “I still control light.”

Light? Six months?”

“It’s no big deal, Kyle.”

“No big deal? We were given these abilities for a reason. And you’re ignoring the most basic part about yours?”

I stepped up beside him, reaching out to touch the liquid-like mirrored surface and glancing to Kim and Noah on the other side.

“Ignoring it? You think it’s easy, willing myself not to burst into flames every hour of the day?”

Kyle brushed this off. “Oh blah. You think I don’t want to unleash and freeze this entire house? Deal with it. We need to be at our best.”

“And I am,” I stressed. “I’m diversifying. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, since all you’ve got is ice and water.” A blank face responded. “They’re the same thing, Kyle.”

Kyle shook his head. “Sending us on a rash mission after you only just showed up again is bad enough. Now you’re out of practice and unprepared. Great. This night’s bound to end well…” Kyle moved to the empty hearth. “Just watch them.” With a flick of his wrist, a ball of light burst into life and ignited in the fireplace to burn a crackling blue. The image of Kyle under shattered ice crystals, lifeless, struck me.

“You’re not wrong…” I mumbled to myself.

“If you’re not using fire,” Kyle pointed to what appeared to be flames surrounding Kim and Noah, “then what the hell are those made of?”

“Light. They’re not even hot. Surprised those two haven’t frozen yet.”

“So they can just walk straight through if they wanted? And you didn’t think that was something you should have mentioned?”

I shrugged. “You thought it was fire, they think it’s fire. They won’t try to walk through it. Problem solved.”

As if on cue, a tiny ball of fur sauntered with a fading air of elegance into the room. Kyle lifted the small cat into his arms, an aged pale grey tortoiseshell with white and beige markings, and a cute white nose. I watched her as she padded over Kyle, her tiny silver bell jingling as she went. Kyle reached out to tear off a small chunk of pizza from the box nearest him and gave it to the cat, letting our argument take a break in tense silence.

“Are you ok, at least?” Kyle asked, regaining his casual air of charismatic concern.

“As ok as any other time.” But he seemed overly worried. “Is there… something else?

His gaze caught mine.

“Just… So many cases of people breaking down and having to be shipped off to Arctic Falls… I don’t want anyone to send you away again, to anywhere.”

“Cases? I thought it was just Fi’s dad.”

Kyle pushed his hand through his hair.

“There were two people before him. Before you got back. And now…” He picked up a newspaper and handed it across to me.

“A husband and wife?” I scanned the front page of the Caria Guardian. “They’re not named but… showing up at the emergency room with whip marks all over them, and losing their minds…” I looked to Kyle. “What is this?”

“Everyone’s saying they showed up yelling and screaming at nothing and had to be sedated to sort out their physical injuries and get them to Arctic Falls. It’s the same as what Fi told me about her dad.” He took the newspaper, dropped it back to the table, then said finally, “What if something like that happens to us?”

“Kyle,” I took his arms in mine, trying not to think about the way my own abilities were crumbling and taking me along in the process. “We’re going to be fine. We’ll win this war, and the Immortals will take away these powers that are crushing us and let us live mortal lives.”

I lifted Whiskarus Maximus into my arms briefly, before setting her down gently on the floor.

“Do you think we can have some fun now?” I asked, light and with a smile, nodding towards Noah. “Challenge each other. Achieve an objective. Just like old times?”

Kyle glared at me for another moment, before finally throwing on a cheeky grin.

“Always.”

No longer visibly annoyed with me or stressed about life and the universe, Kyle flicked off his shoes to place bare feet on the chilly stone floor, and spoke at the tiny cat.

“Find a safe place, Whiskarus Maximus.”

Whiskarus Maximus toddled off.

Kyle vanished.

Then so did Kim.

Fiery walls fell into nothingness.

I turned my attention to Noah. After a shaky second of observation, he stepped into the darkened, narrow hallway as a crushing sense of déjà vu swept over me. I calmly moved into the hallway, hiding amongst the shadows. Kim was standing behind Kyle in a far corner, and realisation dawned that the plan hinged on a hope that Kyle’s presence, and a rushed explanation, would satisfy Kim’s curiosity.

Suddenly, a ball of brilliant blue light burst into life through the darkness, throwing eerie blue shadows around the hall. Kyle threw it into the ceiling, where the glimmering ice crystals stuck and rained shining blue light down around him. Glistening webs of ice flakes climbed up the walls and across the ceiling, twisting into a crystal chandelier that glowed faintly blue. Hanging effortlessly, or perhaps precariously, from the solid ceiling. Glimmering light danced through the hallway, casting ghostly, disorienting shadows across the floor. Shadows that I had seen before. Kim gasped. Her eyes didn’t move from the gleaming, soft glow of Kyle’s newest masterpiece.

Noah hit the floor, tripping on an inexplicable patch of ice. Blue light flashed, blinding, and illuminated the area around him. Noah cautiously rose to his feet, only to see Kyle stepping from the shadows to stand at the end of the hall.

“You don’t have to fight us, Noah,” Kyle said calmly.

“Kyle!” Noah exclaimed. “You kidnapped us?”

Kyle smiled.

“Where’s Kim?” Noah took a cautious step towards Kyle.

A ball of water flew from Kyle’s hand. “Oops,” he let out. He threw another glimmering blue water ball at Noah that burst across his chest.

“Let Kim go, and we’ll be on our way,” Noah said, again rising gingerly to his feet. “Since all you can do is throw water bombs at me.”

Kyle returned Noah’s smug look. He lifted his hand over the water that had fallen across hardwood floors. Shimmering, rock-solid ice stretched out in its place. Kyle was beside Noah in an instant, pushed him into the floor and then was gone.

“What the hell?” Noah said. “How did you…?”

Ice hit Noah.

“Ah”

Kyle threw another barrage at him.

“What have you done with Kim?”

“Oh, you know, locked her in a tower, sent her to a deserted island, left her in the middle of an enchanted forest with Hansel, that kind of thing.”

Yet another ball of ice hit Noah. He couldn’t move without falling and yet Kyle seemed to glide with ease across the icy floor.

“Where is she?” Noah shouted, watching Kyle move towards him. Another glowing ball of ice burst across Noah’s chest. His body started to shake. “What did you do with her?”

Kyle’s barrage continued.

“What do you think kidnappers to with pretty girls?” he taunted.

“If you hurt her!”

“What are you gonna do about it, Noah?” Kyle replied through the bombardment. “You can’t even handle a bit of snow – how can you save her?”

Anger rose up in Noah.

Here we go.

Noah’s eyes began to glow bright green. The brilliant light spread across his face, surrounding his torso and reached out across his entire body. The ground beneath him began to quake. Within a matter of moments, the entire house was shaking. Silver-green sparks burst to life across Noah’s chest. Electricity. Chimes twinkled to my ears from the hallway now glowing a rich green through the darkness. Kyle retreated backwards down the illuminated hall. Deep cracks broke through the icy floor and it shook and broke away. Tears appeared at the bottom of the walls that grew larger and larger. Shaking beneath my feet. A crack opened up the floorboards. The house was falling apart. A spark of electricity crashed into the wall. Vibrations rippled through Kyle’s chandelier. And there he was, foolishly standing beneath it.

“Where is she?” Noah shouted.

In a surprising burst of speed, Noah leaped forward and struck Kyle to the floor. Kyle vanished, then reappeared behind Noah and booted him into the nearest wall.

“What the hell was that?” Kyle shouted through a grimace at the shadows.

“He’s fast.” I shouted back, urgent. “Lock this down. Now!”

Kim stepped from the shadows.

“Noah stop!” the shock of hearing her voice brought Noah back, but only slightly. “You have to stop this,” she told him sternly. Kim took careful steps towards Noah across the shaking, ice-covered floor, holding the wall for support. “Kyle’s like me,” she told him.

The green light coming from Noah subsided slightly as the quaking and sparks began to ease.

“This was all to show you that you were one of us… with abilities.”

“One of you?” Noah yelled. “I’m not one of anything!”

The quake began again, this time more violently. Kim stumbled back. Green light burst from Noah as the quake tore across the ceiling. Kyle’s elegant ice chandelier bore the full force of the blow. Dancing shadows filled the hall. The sound of crystal sparked through the air. Ice crystals. Falling. Kyle didn’t see, didn’t hear. His attention was entirely focused on Noah, just as mine had been only moments earlier. Just as mine would have been in what should have been my greatest mistake. Then Kyle looked up and gasped as his masterpiece catapulted towards him in a mass of crushing ice.

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

An explanation in Flames

 

April.

 

A brilliant jet of flame shot across the ceiling. Kyle dropped to the floor. One hand outstretched before me, I blasted the falling masterpiece from existence. Purple, steaming mist hung on the air – the only remnants of an altered path, of one more day.

“You!” Kim seethed, pointing at me as I emerged from the shadows.

“This ends now.”

More quakes ripped through the hallway, as forks of silver-green electricity sparked into the walls and ceiling. Kyle clambered back to his feet. Not a scratch. With a shaking hand, I pushed him out of the way and sent a shockwave blitzing through Noah’s mind. Noah bent forward, clutching his ears, and fell to the floor immobilised once more. The shaking stopped. I took hold of Noah’s upper arm.

“Come on, we need to talk,” I said, and dragged Noah roughly down the hall into the dimly lit lounge room further back in the house.

Noah was dazed, his legs dragging across the floor as I heaved him through the house with one hand and dropped him onto a rich white rug where he landed with a soft thud and a loud, protesting groan. The room was small, as if it should have been a bedroom, but there were no beds to be seen. Instead, two comfy dark green armchairs with gold stitching sat facing an empty fireplace.

“Argh!” I let out, and angrily blasted the empty fireplace to leave a roaring blaze that cast a fiery warm glow.

Relief threatened to overcome me as if a weight had lifted from my shoulders. But only for a moment. Kyle and Kim joined us in the room, taking up an armchair and a place on the white rug opposite Noah. My hands began to shake. Heavy beams emerged from the blaze, burning white hot and falling. On me. As my own fire tore our life to pieces. But it wasn’t real, it wasn’t now. I clenched my fists, feeling unhinged, and on the edge of losing control. Again.

“Story time,” I announced, brief and clear, forcing myself to focus on the plan. On this moment, before time spun out of my grasp. Now, as the war was drawing into its final stages, was not the time to be breaking. Pressing both hands skyward, a wave of dancing flames cast out from the roaring open fire. “Kyle.”

He opened his mouth to protest my abruptness, but fell silent and followed my lead, raising his hands to welcome a battalion of glowing blue orbs into the air above us. There, red and blue shone for a moment, floating stationary in the centre of the room, then began to swirl together and apart, changing shape as the story began – to depict a tale we had been raised with to strangers in the easiest way we could think of.

“Once upon a time,” I began as our story always had, “in a world of chaos and turmoil, two mighty powers existed – powers so strong that they controlled the very air we breathe and the earth on which we stand.” Fire and ice merged into opposing giants, filling the room with their dazzling, formidable presence. “But with the strength they possessed came duty, and together they were bound to watch over the land forever.”

Dazzling giants shot to the ceiling as an open landscape rose beneath them. Us, and our world.

“At first, they found peace in light of their common responsibility,” Kyle continued recounting a tale which had so often been recounted to us at bedtime, splitting the giants into rows of tiny figures, people almost, dancing together. “But the powers were of different times and, as eternity drew on, the novelty of their newfound harmony wore off. They grew tired of their peaceful monotony until finally each decided to overthrow the other.”

The glowing figures divided, half to either side of the room, then appeared to fall to the open, fiery landscape floating in the middle of the room.

“A fierce conflict raged between the two groups, dividing the land of their chosen battlefield for centuries, and divided the powers themselves.” I went on. Glowing figures fought, falling only to rise again and re-join our miniature staged battle. “Although attempted, the challenge of immortality could not be overcome and the Immortals began to grow tired of their endless battle. But, with no better way to spend their forever, the war raged on.”

With a wave of our hands, we swept the plane clean. Two shapes rose up as the landscape moulded into an open field filled with a single, giant oak tree.

“Millennia after the battle had begun, a solution was found through the most unlikely of pairings.” Kyle retold. “The solution would form an uneasy truce among the Immortals, and end the war once and for all. And so, in the middle of a dark, still, moonless night, the unlikely pair, acting as representatives from each side, were sent to a grassy field located in neutral territory, each carrying their group’s final hope.”

“The field in which they met was unremarkable. It lay, silent and unwatched, overlooking a tiny, yet magical, town.” I continued, recounting my favourite part of Themis’ story, as Kyle’s icy flames stretched into snaking alleys beneath the Oak. “Farmhouses dotted the land below them, their sleeping residents unaware of the magnitude of the events unfolding on their doorstep. Two figures glided over the land like shadows, making their way to the centre of the field beneath a large, ancient oak tree. One of the figures, a simple messenger, towered over the second representative. The air around him seemed to darken with his very presence, aware of a menacing intruder moving over those peaceful, calm meadows.” Fiery figures met, spiralling around each other before us.

“The figures spoke for a moment,” Kyle went on, “before holding out their hands for the other to see. In the dark night air, a series of brilliant, dancing Flames ignited in their palms, where they hovered, dazzling. Each Flame seemed to flicker, although the night was still, and burned brightly, casting a rainbow of light around the two figures. With a short movement of their hands the Flames were released into the air, where they floated as if being instructed. The coloured Flames shot from the field in opposite directions. The two figures watched the Flames fly out of sight, and then looked at each other, and vanished.”

“Each coloured Flame was to come to rest in the soul of a human child,” I finished, “each of whom would grow to become Champions for the warring parties. The children who bore the Flames would be bestowed with weapons decided upon by the mighty powers themselves and the truce between the groups would continue while they watched on and waited for the war to draw to a close. In the depths of night, the field was left empty and silent while the Flames were safely hidden, where they would lie undisturbed and dormant until such a time as the final battle would begin.”

Fire and ice drained from the room, extinguished, leaving only the open fire’s soft glow to illuminate the room.

“We’re telling you this now,” Kyle added, serious, “because the end of the war is about to begin. It’s time to prepare. And we need you.”

Dizziness fell upon me as the room began to spin through my vision. Warm flames invited me towards them, forcing my body to take a place in the empty armchair.

“After their meeting, their solution,” I forced the words to tumble out, “all combatants withdrew from the field. From here, from our home. Waiting for, and watching, us. The Champions solution bound the Immortals to a truce – so none of them can fight each other on mortal land while the Champions draw out their final stand. The truce has saved countless innocent lives, who otherwise would have been lost in the crossfire.”

“We’re their Champions,” Kyle explained. “They need us to win their war on their behalf. So they can rule in peace. So the fighting can end once and for all.”

Kim was silent, but Noah wasn’t buying it.

“So, let me get this straight,” he announced, sceptical, having regained full movement and capacity during out retelling. He started counting on his fingers. “You kidnapped Kim and me,” he paused, “to tell us that you, me, Kim, and… you’re April, yeah?” I nodded, unsure whether I cared that he remembered me, “have magic powers,” he counted off, cynical, “and that we have to fight other people with magic powers to win some mythical war that’s waged for eternity. Just because. Right?”

“Pretty much,” was my response, general annoyance filtered on the edge of unprovoked, unbridled fury. “But not just because. We do this so the Immortals stop killing any mortal that steps in the crossfire, and so they’ll take their bullshit elsewhere and stop demolishing entire towns, entire livelihoods, that they don’t even care about. This isn’t a difficult tale to take on, Noah. My mother would recount this to me as a bedtime story.”

“Well sorry to have not been raised by… I’m assuming your mother is immortal.” I nodded again. “Great. Where was my storyteller, huh?”

“Here. Right now. You’re looking at us.” Kyle told him, watching me cautiously from the corner of his eye, and taking over. “We had guides – Themis, April’s mother, and Hermes, my dad – to help us. Now it’s our turn to guide you both. To do what we were given these abilities for.”

“Besides. It was either you each get a storyteller,” I mimicked Noah’s useless tone, impatient, “and make your abilities manifest from childhood, or you get to live a regular, mortal life for as long as possible.”

Mortal lives that would be longer than any Kyle and I could dream of, too, since gaining access to our abilities also marked the beginning of those powers steadily crushing us. But I kept this to myself, for fear that the practicalities of our abilities would do nothing more than scare them away.

Noah glanced nervously around the room, looking for an escape route. Having been watching him for the last couple of days, I was impressed to discover how rapidly he assessed exits like a fine tuned habit.

“You can’t seriously believe this, Kim,” Noah gazed across at her pleadingly. “It’s insanity. What they’ve told us can’t be real, it can’t exist. It doesn’t exist. You’re crazy to think it does.”

“Crazy?” Kim glared at him, breaking her thoughtful silence. “Then how else do you explain what we can do?”

The fire was warm and burnt brightly in the ornate fireplace, the only thing about this house that wasn’t ice cold and unsettling. A feeling of home washed over me as I felt the flames’ warmth touch my skin and watched Whiskarus Maximus prowl in and pad around Kyle. A scene Kyle and I had imagined a thousand times was playing out before us, but it was Kyle who attempted to explain our abilities as my own flickered on the edge of failure.

“We control elements,” Kyle blustered. “Each of our Flames lets us do that. That’s where the glow comes from, that you saw just now. It’s a product of the Flame inside each of us, that appears when we use our abilities.”

“Like the blue and green in the hall before,” Kim noted, “and the red in,” she pointed to the centre of the room where our retelling had been staged, “whatever that was.”

“Exactly,” Kyle continued. “Each Flame has a distinct glow, so we can get an idea about which elements each of us can control. I scored the blue Flame. Water. Easy. April over there got landed with the red Flame. Fire.”

“So green is?” Noah asked, still not buying it but at least a touch more curious than before.

“Earth. And Kim, the yellow one picked you. So, air,” Kyle added. “We think.”

“You think?” Noah argued. “Great. So you’re not even sure of the parts of the make believe you’re spinning?”

“We should each be able to control a second element, too,” I stepped in and ignored him, fighting off a rising wave of shaking panic-stricken paralysis. “I control light. And Kyle got,” I laughed, “ice. In other words, he got screwed.”

Kim chuckled. “Because they’re the same thing,” she noted, amused.

“They’re different, okay, guys.” Kyle shook his head at us, but he knew we were a little bit right. “Your other elements will show up,” he went on. “We’re not sure what they are yet, so don’t aim anything at each other. You could be throwing anything.”

“What about at you two?” Kim asked.

“Kyle and I have had more practice at this. We can defend whatever you might throw at us.”

“Plus,” Kyle added, “she’s fire proof, so not much can hurt her.”

But Kim’s concern wasn’t for me. I shared a knowledgeable glance with Kyle. He pushed his arm into the open fire – not exactly something we should try at home. Kim gasped.

“Kyle can take care of himself, Kim. Or his Flame can, at least.” I said.

Kyle held his arm out for Kim to see. There wasn’t a single burn mark in sight. “Feel it.”

Tentatively, Kim reached out to feel his arm, which now shone a thin, shimmering blue.

“It’s… slippery.”

“As soon as anything touches me, my skin reacts like this to stop it,” Kyle told her. “But it can only hold back up to certain temperatures before I end up freezing myself.”

She sat back, thinking.

“Our Flames also make our bodies more resilient, physically,” I went on. “So we have slightly greater strength than the average mortal. Well… than the above-average mortal, actually. But not as much as the Immortals themselves. They were very clear on that fact. And we still take on injuries just like everyone else. Which is why the Immortals also weaved in the ability to create a kind of healing cast, so that we can repair our own breaks and bruises without having to show up at a doctor’s office too often.”

“We also have…” Kyle hesitated, glancing to me for a better explanation, “extra abilities. Powers that grew in us as we went along and developed more out of necessity than anything else.”

Confusion.

“Our Flames reflect who we are, and they’re designed to develop and change with us,” I clarified. “So that, as we grow, our abilities grow too. They evolve, often out of sheer will power and desire, without us even noticing. For example,” I continued, “Noah, you can move extremely fast,” he looked shocked at this observation. “You weren’t surprised at how quickly you moved to drop Kyle in the hallway?” He nodded in comprehension. “That tells us that, while your abilities were first forming, something made you feel that you needed to be faster. And I mean you desperately wanted it. So that’s what you got. Two elements, and super speed.”

Noah eyed us cautiously. “What can you two do?”

Kyle grinned over at me and vanished. There was a rustling in the kitchen across the hall before he reappeared, sitting in the same spot as before, but holding a pizza box. Noah and Kim stared at him in awe.

“I can travel to any place I’ve been to or seen,” Kyle explained, “and take people and things with me if I’m touching them.”

“What about you?” Noah’s tone was blunt and coloured with impatience.

I smiled.

I can read your mind.

They both jumped at the sound of my thought ringing through their ears. I threw a ball to Noah which he caught with ease.

And make you see things that aren’t really there.

Noah blinked. His hands closed on empty space. The ball was gone. Or had it ever really been there at all? Kyle held in a chuckle. Noah was silenced.

“Our Flames let us produce our elements,” Kyle continued. “I can make water and ice. April can make fire and light. That’s the easy part.”

“The tricky part,” I added, “is learning to manipulate our elements as they exist in nature.” I glanced to Kyle.

“I can move real water, like in a swimming pool. I just can’t do it all the time…”

“We’ll teach you to control what you can do,” I went on. “Give you the chance to grow strong in your own right. But,” I looked to Kyle, uncertain how best to proceed, but knowing that he wouldn’t let me near Kim any time soon. And that having Kim and Noah in the same room for this long without a brawl breaking out was some kind of miracle. “It might be best if you work with me, Noah. And Kim works with Kyle. You know, for the time being. Since you both hate each other now.”

“Suits me,” Kim announced, blunt and uncaring.

Noah was panicking, obviously repulsed by the tales we’d told, and us.

“I’m not gonna deal with this,” he moved to leave. “I’m out of here.”

“There’s one more thing,” I added rapidly to stop him. “Each Flames’ powers were gifted by the Immortals themselves. The thing is, mortal bodies aren’t built to contain Immortal powers. If we don’t reach a resolution before they remove these Flames from our heads, our Flames will consume us. We can run, maybe for years and years, but eventually our abilities will defeat us. And, you know, everything and everyone in the vicinity of us when we lose control and our abilities tear us apart. So it’s imperative we defeat our opponents first.”

Kyle laughed at the Immortals’ sick twist of fate. “A nice little catch that the Immortals felt would be entertaining, no doubt.”

“To make sure we get the job done,” I went on. “Or to save them from having to clean up their mess if we don’t.”

Tense silence fell for a moment.

“We’ll help you learn, to make sure you’re up to scratch,” Kyle finished.

“No thanks,” Noah walked for the door. “You’re out of your mind if you think I’m gonna believe this shit. Stay. Away. From. Me. Or I’ll tell everyone that you’ve lost it and they’ll sent you away to the help you definitely need. Just like all the other loons in this town.”

Noah stormed to the front door and was gone without giving us the chance to stop him. Because he didn’t want us to.

“We’re just gonna… let him leave?” Kyle asked, pointing to the front door.

“It’s a lot. Let him take it on board. I’ll deal with him later.”

Kyle threw a noticeable glance around at the dwindling pizza supply.

“Then, pizza?”

“Yep,” I agreed, exhausted, and rose from the armchair. “Be right back, Kim.”

Kim nodded, moving to sit closer to the blazing open fire, as Kyle and I walked out of the lounge room and crossed the hall to the kitchen.

Kyle’s kitchen was ancient and very dungeon-like. While the majority of the walls of his house were made of dark red brick, the kitchen was made entirely of blackened stones and slate in much the same way as the observation room. I never asked why. The walls were thick and the room was always ice cold, even in the middle of the day with the open fire burning. There were no windows. The only feature I liked about the room was its lack of reflective surfaces, but it was small consolation. When Kyle closed the heavy mahogany door, the room was instantly soundproofed and Kyle’s Flame was rendered useless – an idea that Hermes considered to be one of his best.

My legs fell out from underneath me. Kyle caught me with ease and drew me into his arms close against his body, watching, helpless, as flames risked flickering into life at my fingertips, threatening to consume us. An icy chill raced through my body, dousing any sign of fire.

“You really can’t control it anymore, can you?” he whispered softly in my ear, his cheek resting gently against mine.

“I told you that already,” I replied.

“Well, that’s why we come in pairs. You have to trust me, April. Believe that whatever you set fire to I can extinguish.”

“But you can’t.”

My response was cold, but stated the obvious and something we both knew all too well.

“What are we going to do?” Kyle asked after a moment.

“Train them,” I replied, stepping from his grasp, “and win. They’ll take these Flames out of our heads, and we live happily ever after.”

“I don’t like this, April.”

“Neither do I.”

I thought back to Kim and Noah, happy, walking to the bus together. We were supposed to be here to help people, not ruin their lives. Dragging my gaze from the cold stone walls, I looked to Kyle and spoke a thought that had been ever-present since we first found each other.

“Could be time for another visit to the High Council.”

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

The curious case of Noah Alexander

 

April.

 

Noah was nowhere. For an entire week. It was as if he’d dropped from the face of the Earth. My earlier promise to Kyle that everything would be fine after our rushed borrowing and explanation hadn’t factored in Noah’s mistrust. Or was is critical thinking? Either way, I should have listened to Kyle, a fact that Kyle knew but mercifully wasn’t taunting me with. We were sitting together with Kim, Steve and Fiona at the end of a Chemistry practical class. Fi was putting on a brave face, but the strain of her dad’s absence was showing through.

“We’re thinking of heading to the Old Clock Tower for Grievances later.” Steve said, watching the final minutes of the class tick by. “If you wanna join?”

“That’s already?” I asked.

“Festival’s next week. It’s the hundred and fiftieth.”

The Festival of Caria was one of the moments I had missed dearly while away. Held annually, the festival Celebrated and commemorated the rise of New Caria and the fall of Old Caria, which had been signalled by a series of events one hundred and fifty years before that resulted in the townspeople burning two of their own at the stake and turning on each other. Fear had twisted petty grievances into fuel to pit neighbour against neighbour and tear the town apart. And so the festival was started, to remember the day we had let fear tear us apart, and ensure nothing like the loss of those two sisters ever happened again. In the month leading up to every year’s Festival of Caria, the foot of the Old Clock Tower was restored to its previous glory and everyone could write down a grievance which they’d aim to settle before the festival’s end. It was voluntary, and all the grievances were burned almost as soon as they were written, but the process had become part of the cultural fabric of Caria, and an event that nearly everyone took part in at some time or another before or during the festival.

I glanced to Kyle.

“Yeah. We’ll be there.”

“We’ll?” Steve shot an annoyed glare at Kyle and Kim, seemingly irritated that I could somehow speak on behalf of all three of us.

“We were already heading into town together,” Kyle explained.

The bell rang to signal the day’s end.

“Have you guys seen Noah today? Or this week?” I asked as the classroom erupted in a flurry of school books and chatter.

“I think I saw him in the art rooms earlier, just before lunch. So he’s here today,” Fi replied and scanned the classroom to find him absent, “somewhere… Working on his folio, maybe?”

“Noah takes art?”

“Yeah. He, like, won a bunch of prizes last year.”

“Huh.” I glanced to Kyle as Fi and Steve made their getaway. “See you in a bit.”

“Right.”

I searched for Noah’s face in the crowds of excited students now bursting from classroom doors and rushing through corridors. Nothing.

“Art rooms it is.” I mumbled to myself, and started climbing the stairs to the school’s top most class rooms.

When I found him, Noah was standing at an easel, at work on a dark, impressionist-looking Carian nightscape. He had changed out of his uniform, opting instead for a paint splattered plain t-shirt and jeans.

“Hey there, Noah,” I said from the door, walking in to sit on a table. “Nice to finally see you again.” My breaking the silence startled him and he quickly glanced behind me, as if checking to see if I were alone.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him. “No funny business. I’m only here to talk.”

“About last week?” He sounded calm, but there was an undercurrent of panic breaking free through his gaze.

“Yes.”

He stopped work, setting down his brushes and reached for a water bottle from his bag. After taking a gulp, rummaged through his bag once more.

“Interested?” He handed a fresh bottle to me.

“Cheers.”

I reached for the bottle, twisted, heard the seal break, and took a sip.

“I’m going to live life pretending last week never happened, that I don’t know you, and that ground doesn’t move when I get mad,” Noah stated.

“I wish that were an option.” The look in his eyes told me he thought as much. “Not because I say so, but because of the devastation you can unleash by not being able to control your abilities. We’re only growing stronger, and shaking down Kyle’s house will become the least of your troubles.”

“That’s not really the most pressing issue here, though, is it?”

“How do you mean?”

“I’ve had some time to think about the story you told us.”

“And?”

“I think you honestly believe that there’s a war. And to win means murdering your opposition. What you – what we – can do is undeniable. We have abilities. But I’m not about to buy into the story you’ve thought up to explain it all to yourself. To justify the inexplicable. You, and Kyle. That determination to kill people who stand in your way. That’s real. Whether you have to or not, you’re going to try to kill actual people. And you’re both going to, even if this delusion you’ve cooked up ends up being just that – a delusion that needs to be treated by doctors, not more imaginary role play.”

I tried to stand, but stumbled and fell back to the table, noticing a peculiar churning in my stomach.

“I think you left out a few details from your precious story,” Noah kept speaking, tense but forcing his words to keep a casual pace. “You – and everyone here – think I’m so stupid, and dull. But I listen, rather than run my mouth any chance I get. And you know the one thing I didn’t hear in your story?” He watched me, compassion and regret in his eyes mixed with a steely glare I hadn’t seen before. Drawing in a sharp breath, I noticed it was too shallow. “You didn’t mention how many of us there you reckon there are. If there’d been eight Champions, you would have mentioned it. Because, if there are only four, then you were telling a story to the people you were about to kill.”

“It’s just us four,” I answered, nausea taking hold as a sickening burning sensation stretched through my limbs. My heart beat faster. Too fast. “But we’re exploring some other options. Kyle and I won’t harm you until we know for sure it’s the only way to end the war.”

“Great,” Noah scoffed, “other options. While you lead us to the slaughter for a figment of your imagination.”

“I’m being completely honest with you, Noah,” I snapped, choking. “That’s rare for me. Until we sort this out, at least work with me to harness your abilities. Even if it’s only enough to prevent you unleashing an earthquake beneath Caria. I like our town.”

“What happens if I don’t?”

“Then your abilities will control you,” I replied, trying to explain a phenomenon that was all too familiar while forcing the words. “Mortal bodies aren’t capable of containing powers meant for the Immortals, not really. So we wear down. With practice and experience, we can manage our abilities, but without, there won’t be anything standing in the way of our flames being unleashed into the world.”

“That’s great and all,” Noah didn’t budge, chaos lingering behind his calm exterior. “But what you’re telling me isn’t enough. You want me to buy into your fantasy, when all you’re really doing is waiting for a better chance to murder me. And that’s gonna mess with my family, which has already fallen to shit what with the suspicious disappearance of my parents and all that. Not to mention your delusion also includes killing Kim, which isn’t on the cards here. We might not exactly get along right now, but she’s still the best person I’ve ever met, and she doesn’t deserve to have her life ended by some lunatic. She’s also too kind and compassionate to make the tough call and keep you out of our lives. My best friend and I being murdered’s not exactly in my life plan, so…”

Weak and aching from a sharp, splitting pain, my legs fell away from beneath me, sending me sprawling to the floor. Noah didn’t move.

“No one missed you while you were away for a year. Barely anyone even noticed you’d come back. No one’s gonna miss you now. They’ll all just think you went travelling again. And I get to live peacefully without some lunatic threatening my life, and the piece of what little family I have left.”

“What did you do to me?” I choked out.

“Kyle’s not the only one who’s good at chemistry…”

“You poisoned me?”

Lying, barely able to move, on the floor of an art room, I couldn’t believe what was happening. Stupid, dull, boring, plain old Noah was about to achieve something I’d spent my life training to prevent. Fear – genuine, bone chilling, paralysing fear – took hold. As poison spilled through my body, all I could do was panic. The panic, the fear, took hold of me, stopping me from thinking, from breathing, from acting, just like it had in the house fire that had landed me back in Caria. And then I started laughing. A high pitched, hollow cackle burst from my throat. This couldn’t be it for me, dying at the hands of some idiot who’s claim to fame is carrying around tainted bottles of water.

“I admire your rapid jump to getting rid of me before I can get to you. And your observation skills. And the trick with the bottle.” My voice was barely a raspy whisper as I forced my limbs to move. To push up from the floor. “But.” Weak arms took hold of the table, pulling me up to stand haphazardly in front of Noah. I held my arms out low at my sides. “I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you.”

Fire burst to life in my hands. With a thought, spiralling embers stretched out up my arms, then over my entire body, then cast inward. I could feel my own flames bursting through every cell in my body, by blood my organs, my mind. Warm and strengthening. Glorious. The ball of flames reached out, then subsided into tiny embers at my fingertips. Then to nothing.

Noah stood, watching on in terrified awe, as I brushed off the ashen remains of my school dress, revealing a tank top and high waisted shorts underneath. I straightened up, reeling from the sudden burst of power and revelling in the strength that always accompanied being surrounded in my own fire.

“Themis, my mother, casts magic over most of my belongings to make them fire resistant. To a point.” I said, low and precise, as Noah’s eyes followed the ashen chunks of school uniform. “It’s the same magic that prevents me and Kyle from dying at the hands of our guides, since they have to train us, and since that’s quite a dangerous business. But that was a new dress, Noah. You probably owe me a new one of those now.”

“But you just… what was…”

“Oh. How am I not dead from the poison you slipped me?”

Noah gave the tiniest, meekest of nods, watching on without moving an inch.

“Kyle calls it ‘Phoenixing’.” I explained, cold, and feeling that same edge rolling through my body that came with losing control. “Really just setting my entire body on fire. Purges anything that’s not meant to be there. Since I’m entirely fire-proof, because of my Flame and everything. Not great for painkillers and birth control, but super convenient for poisons and insect bites. Snake bites too. Really anything venomous. A little showy, but it gets the job done.”

The momentary relief from using my powers had subsided, replaced with rising pressure. I balled my fists, trying to hide the shaking, and tried to press on to keep myself focussed the present and something other than being furious.

“Anyway. I really didn’t see that coming from you,” I walked up to within a few inches of a stationary Noah, glaring at him up and down. “Nice job for surprising me. Keeps me on my toes. And to think, I thought you were so harmless. But you’re a little bit dark, aren’t you, Noah? Little bit ruthless? Little bit do-what-it-takes? I almost died just then. If I’d been unconscious, I would’ve. I mean, I was in real trouble. Knock me out next time, is the lesson you should be taking away from this. Oh.” I pressed my face in front of his to glare into those pale, beady eyes. All steel and menace had been vanquished. My voice fell to a commanding rumble. “And that I can burn you alive with the snap of my fingers. Literally.” I snapped my fingers beside me. A tiny ember burst to life, and faded. Noah flinched, cowering in on himself, visibly afraid and defensive but standing his ground.

I gestured to the art supplies.

“Pack this shit up. We’re meeting the others to do Grievances, then going to Kyle’s to train.”

Noah was hesitant.

“What?” I pressed.

“I was planning on doing Grievances alone…”

“Why? No one sees what you write.”

“It’s still personal.”

“Well, I’m going so I can get it done before the Festival and this time of year’s always so busy I might not get another chance. And you’re coming with me, regardless of whether you write yours now or leave it to later. Or not write it at all. I’m not sure about… you know… how into the cultures of Caria you are. Are you even from here?”

Noah’s reply sounded defensive.

“My family helped build New Caria, thank you very much. And my parents were still major benefactors to the town. Are you even from here?”

I ignored him.

“Were? Where are your parents?”

“They disappeared. A long time ago. It seems that way, anyway.”

“Oh. Sorry to hear that.” But he still wasn’t moving. “Pack up. Now.” Finally, Noah started to hustle, swiftly replacing paints, brushes, and canvases either in his bag or against the art room wall.

“What’s your deal?” He found his voice again, sounding curious. “In terms of actual parents.”

“Actual parents?” I scoffed.

“I’m covered in paint.” Bag packed, he spun a hand in the air at me and pointed to his shirt. “Eyes to the door.”

“Right.” I faced the door, but cast my telepathy back to touch his mind enough to be able to tell if he were making another attempt on my life, or an attempt to run. Learning from my near-fatal mistake. “‘Biological parents’ is the term you’re looking for here. They adopted me to Themis when I was a baby. But no one can know that, because the Immortals think any questions like that, from everyday mortals, could risk exposing them for what they are.” With Noah done, I turned back around and shoved him towards the door. “So don’t tell anyone, if you don’t want some mysterious accident to befall them. Truce or no truce, the Immortals are united in their views on revealing their existence to mortals.”

“I could run.” He stepped out of my reach, but sounded a bit shaky.

“Ok.” I stepped back, knowing that he was referring to his sudden burst of speed exhibited in Kyle’s hallway. While waiting, I tipped the poisoned water down the sink and its bottle in the trash, then walked back to Noah. Nothing happened. “Shame you don’t know how to. Yet. Come with me, and you might be able to work it out sooner than you could alone.”

I grabbed him by the arm and shoved him in front of me towards the door again. His feet shuffled forward haphazardly. Another shove, and he started moving at more of an average speed. He moved to swing a sweater over his head, but I pushed him forward again and grabbed the sweater.

“Give me that,” I threw it over my own head. Although my abilities meant I didn’t feel the cold, night had fallen outside and I didn’t think the tank top and shorts look would cut it for people who thought I’d be freezing. The sweater felt huge on me. “Jeez, when did you become a fucking giant?” I looped one edge around a finger and tied it in a knot at my waist. “Get moving.”

As we made our way out of the school and towards Old Caria, I looked Noah up and down over and over again, trying to see where I’d gone so wrong. He looked like a nobody. But a nobody who’d just slipped me a fatal dose of poison without so much as batting an eyelid. Glaring over that plain, boring exterior, I felt an inkling suspicion, unsettling, that perhaps Noah was a little more than he appeared. He could prove to be interesting, after all.

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Grievances

 

Kyle

 

Since the school day had ended, all I’d done was fail. Kim was meeting me in town later to attend Grievances, April was who-knows-where with Noah, and Hermes was out, so I spent the afternoon practicing alone in my house. No, actually, I spent the afternoon failing alone in my house. I had a single ability to work out. That was all. But somehow I was still at it when I left my house and reached the gym in the middle of town as the sun began to set. The gym was in a grand four storey high stone building down one of Caria’s central snaking alleyways. It’s section of the alley was wide and spacious, before the streets began to narrow the further from the centre of Caria they went. The alley was bustling with people. A cheerful melody reached me, filled with deep brassy undertones and coming from a group of buskers on the corner.

I took a final chance while I waited outside in the street for Kim. I stared with all my concentration at the pen in my hand. A soft blue glow surrounded the pen, then burst. Again. Another blue glow, but it didn’t stick. Frustration took hold at seeing again that I couldn’t make it work.

“Hey.” Kim placed a hand on my arm, light and happy. She looked at the pen in my hand. “What’s this?”

“Nothing.” I sighed and put the pen away. “I’m trying something new.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I should be able to teleport things and people without going with them.” I explained. “I’ve done it before. It’s not working.”

Kim’s reply was bright and hopeful.

“You’ll get it. Just keep trying.”

“Yeah. I… OK. I’ll do that.” I stammered, but I was unsure how to respond to such optimism. I pointed roughly in the direction of Old Caria. “We should…”

“Meet the others. Yep. Ready. Thanks for waiting.”

“You’re training again?”

“Uh, yeah. Kind of. Come on.” She smiled at me and took a skip towards Old Caria. She reached out for my hand. “The other’s’ll be waiting.”

The walk together to Old Caria was far more enjoyable than my previous solo mission. One, because Kim was with me. Two, because last time I’d visited the Old Clock Tower was in the very early morning when not even the people of Caria, who revel in the night, would stray so far beyond the modern city borders. Not for anything, even cultural tradition. Old Caria was not a place for respectable townsfolk beyond about midnight to sunrise, no matter the time of year.

Hand in hand, we strolled through the edges of New Caria and into fields of ruins to join the trail of a sparse crowd. People walking alone or in small groups were dotted along the path and moved leisurely in the same direction. The river bubbled slowly on our right as we made our way downstream. Strings of lights that hung along the edges of the buildings Central Caria had been extended for the festival and now lit the way to Old Caria with a soft white glow. Street vendors and buskers lined the widest sections of the path.

We took our final steps into Old Caria. An expanse opened before us. Spacious town square stretching from the foot of once-grand shattered stone stairs. Most of the debris had been shifted or swept to the sides of the cobblestone square. The ruins beyond the square were in darkness. White lights meandered along the ruins of the Old Clock Tower. Tables and chairs made from bits and pieces of whatever everyone in the town could spare were dotted around. People were milling about the tables and a large bonfire now ablaze at the foot of the Old Clock Tower. Little stacks of thick parchment and a bundle of pens sat on each table.

“There.”

Kim pointed towards the staircase. Through the dim lighting, it was difficult to make out, but I thought I could see April. Still holding my hand, Kim darted easily through the crowds and lead the way. April, Noah, Steve, and Fiona had found a table and some spare benches just out of reach of the bonfire’s blazing heat.

“Hi!” Kim threw her bag down and was hugging Fiona and Steve. I reached out to follow suit, wrapped April in a brief hug, and sat down with the others.

Grievances was one of my least favourite parts of the year. It was a time before every year’s Festival when everyone in the town was encouraged to write down a conflict or dispute they were having with someone else, then burn the slip as a vow to take appropriate steps to address that grievance before the week-long Festival of Caria ended. The aim was to empower people to sort their shit out before disputes festered and became engrained in their attitudes and lives. A Grievance wasn’t a prayer, or a wish, but more of a way to clarify the negativity in our lives, and focus on a problem to sort out before the end of the Festival. We could write as many or as few as we wanted, and it was voluntary, but had become part of the cultural fabric of the town, so most of the townspeople took part anyway.

Grievances were held every year on the site of St. Nadia and St. Selina’s pyre. For the month leading up to the Festival, and the following week of the Festival itself, the Old Clock Tower was transformed into what it must have been like on Nadia’s wedding day, before she became a Saint, and moments before her and her sister were burnt at the stake. Right on spot of the bonfire. Grievances had happened every year since, and the town hadn’t fallen apart yet. I just hated having to reflect on my life any more than Hermes made me.

“Fi, it’s great to see you.” I said through the chatter. April was happily talking with the others, but I couldn’t help but notice the glare she was throwing Noah’s way. “How’s your dad doing?” I asked.

“Better now that he’s out of Caria.” Fi managed a tiny smile.

“It’s good to hear.”

“What are they doing about the police chief job?” Noah interrupted a friendly, compassionate exchange with his usual stupid bluntness.

“The usual, I think.” Fi obliged him patiently. “My dad stepped down a few days before he got sick, so they’re looking for a new police chief at the moment. He wanted to spend more time with mum and me before I go to college next year…” Her eyes scanned the cheerful, yet sombre, people gathered together around us. “We were meant to do Grievances together. But I was so busy with prepping the swimming carnival. Then he got sick…”

Regret, and sadness. Great. Trust Noah to ruin a perfectly good evening by reminding everyone about how horrible life can be.

“Hey.” We all looked up suddenly to see Erin ducking her platinum nest of a hair-do our way. She swung her bag off her shoulder, pulled up an extra log from a nearby table, and sat to join us. “Noah said you were all doing Grievances.” Erin explained in a clatter of words that responded effortlessly and efficiently to everyone’s surprise at seeing her. “He texted.”

April looked to Noah, amused.

“When?”

Noah shrugged and tugged at his shirt with a faint grin. April glared at him, but as if she were almost impressed. Erin dropped a hand to rest on Fiona’s.

“I’m sorry to hear about your dad. Hang in there. The staff at Arctic Falls are good people. They know their stuff.”

It was a blustery and strangely rapid exchange that on the surface looked insincere, but the tension through Fiona’s features eased. Erin lifted her hand from Fi’s and picked up a pen and a piece of parchment to start writing.

“Have you all gone yet?”

“Oh, no, definitely not.” Steve answered.

“Great, I haven’t missed it.”

Erin put pen to paper and started scribbling. Reluctant, we all followed her lead.

“So what is it? Name…” Steve said.

“For accountability to myself.” Erin noted and we began recounting the couplets we were taught in primary school every time the festival came around.

“Grievance that I have with someone…”

“Billy stole my lunch.”

“And… thing that I’m afraid of that I want to confront…”

“I fear that Billy doesn’t want to be my friend. And that if he does, he’ll be mean to me.”

“Nice.” Steve set his pen down and looked up. “Done.”

Fi wasn’t convinced.

“Did you just write the Billy example from school?”

“No,” his voice rose in pitch. “I… thought about mine in advance. See, always prepared.”

Steve folded the parchment in half and stood up. He held a hand out to Fi.

“Milady.”

But there was an unmistakable glance to April while Fi was still looking at her slip of parchment. Then it was gone. And there was no further sign of whatever April and Steve used to have, which neither of them had ever let slip.

They walked to the bonfire. We finished up and joined them.

“Ready for another year’s set of preventative confrontations?” Steve laughed.

“Why not?” Fi tossed her piece of parchment into the bonfire. One by one, we each did the same.

Each parchment slip burst with a yellow-green flare and fell to ashes within the flames. April glanced across to me. A green flare? Her voice played through my mind. The parchment? I thought, still able to feel April’s telepathy reaching out. The strange, thick parchment was a product of one of the original industries that had made Old Caria great. But now, the only time it was rolled out was during Grievances and as a product to sell to tourists, who enjoyed exploring the old factories in New Caria and the ruins of their original locations in Old Caria. That, and the soft white light…

“Kyle, thank you so much for jumping in the pool after April.” Out of nowhere, Erin’s arms were around my shoulders and moving on to hug Fiona and Steve. “And April. Again. So sorry about the whole almost-drowning-you thing.”

“That’s fine. Don’t do it again, and we’re square.”

“Perfect.”

As quickly as she’d shown up, Erin was strolling of into the crowd.

“That girl’s like a little whirlwind,” Fi noted, then took Steve’s hand and turned back to me and Kim. “We should be off, too.”

“Of course. Give my best to your mum and dad.” Kim said, and Fi and Steve mingled away through the chattering townspeople.

“Great. So.” April rounded on us with a look of excitement twinkling in her eyes. “To Kyle’s. We have some work to do.”

“No thanks.” Noah started walking away, but April took his arm.

“You have something better to do?”

Noah didn’t reply.

“Don’t make me have to go through this with you again, Noah.”

“I’m not a child, April.” With his free hand, Noah pushed April away. He pushed her. Without hesitating.

“Just give it a try,” I stepped between them, still surprised at Noah’s gumption. “One night. April might actually teach you something.” I looked to Kim for support, but she threw her gaze to the distance and pretended Noah didn’t exist.

“Fine.”

Noah started moving towards New Caria. We walked together through the night. The entire way, April and Noah walked almost level with each other, and kept throwing sideways glances at the other across the two or three feet of air separating them.

“So Erin is… interesting…” April asked the question directed very deliberately at Noah.

“No.” Noah replied, blunt. “I have to be here right now, but I don’t have to tell you anything about Erin or anyone else. Her business is her business. And I’m not gossiping with you weirdos.”

“Fair enough.”

I tried my luck.

“Kim?”

“Oh, yeah, I don’t know anything about Erin. She keeps to herself, mostly, with all the instruments she plays and the classes she takes and the languages she speaks. Always go-go-go. But she seems nice.”

“I don’t really remember her from before I left…” April added.

Silence.

“Noah?”

Nothing. I could see my gloomy old street up ahead. A few silent steps later and Noah couldn’t help himself.

“That’s because she was in Arctic Falls for a while, at the clinic there,” he blurted out. “But she’ll tell that to anyone who asks, so it’s not a secret. Everything else is none of your business.”

“We’re here.”

We walked over a flaky lawn towards the only house in the street that didn’t look like it’d had the life drained from it. Darkness had settled on the street steadily over time from Hermes’ – or my – presence, and most of the neighbours had seen sense ages ago and moved out or abandoned their houses altogether.

I felt April tense beside me. Her feet stumbled to a stop. I looked up. There, sitting in a chair on the porch, was Hermes.

“We have to introduce them to him,” I whispered to April.

She hesitated, but started moving again.

“Fine.” She grumbled, but then stopped speaking.

When we reached the porch, Hermes grinned up at us and surveyed Kim and Noah with a sharp, dark stare. He had short, fluffy brown hair and was wearing boots and a loose-fitting cream-coloured tunic that looked like an airy shirt when belted into his dark trousers. He didn’t look more than thirty.

I couldn’t hide my surprise.

“You waited up for me?” I asked my father. Then I thought it through. Hermes’ absence that afternoon, his sudden reappearance when we’re all about to train together. The fact that the Immortals can watch our every move. Disappointment took hold. “You’re here for April.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw April instinctively shift herself to stand between Hermes and Kim and Noah. Something dire must have been playing out in her head, since it was the first time that night that I’d seen her turn her back on Noah.

“Everyone, this is Hermes, my dad.” I introduced the new Champions. “Hermes, Kim and Noah – the…” I mumbled over to April. “What colours do they have?”

“Green and Yellow,” she whispered without taking her eyes off Hermes.

“The Green and Yellow Flame bearers.”

Hermes let out a ‘chuff’ sound and seemed unimpressed.

“Took you long enough.”

“Thanks for your help.” April sounded defensive.

Hermes set his ageless stare on her.

“You’re welcome.”

“Where have you been?” I asked.

“Looking into something that I do not believe is any of my concern. These breakdowns have caused quite the stir among the High Council.” His cunning, dark eyes flickered for a moment but didn’t stray from April. “However, you both have something more to enquire, don’t you?” His face curled into a dark smirk.

“Wait for us inside.” I said and Kim and Noah shuffled off inside the house. I pushed April into a chair opposite Hermes and dropped onto a bench beside her.

“They’ve been watching you, April. Quite the selective use of fire. Or selective non-use…” Hermes’ features wound their way into a twisted grin.

April’s reply was ice cold. “I don’t do that anymore.”

“A waste.” His reply sounded pleasant, but maintained an ominously light tone.

“Kim and Noah don’t deserve to be crushed by your world,” I cut in. Tiny flames were appearing in April’s hands – a tell-tale sign that she was about to offer more trouble than help. “We want another way out of this”

“You should speak to the Fates.” Hermes smiled his toothy, cruel smile. “Isla will be more help.”

“You’re my guide, Hermes. Don’t send us around in circles. We know what Isla would say. We’re looking for creative alternatives.”

“And Isla would say?”

A telling silence fell for a moment.

“She’d advise us to speak with the High Council,” I spoke, feeling a sense of hopeless déjà vu wash over me. “But we tried that already.”

“This is useless!” April rose up and went for the door.

Hermes grabbed her arm to stop her.

“Don’t touch me.”

She pulled away from his grasp.

“Set up the meeting,” I spoke over April at Hermes.

“They will desire something in return.”

“And we’ll provide it. As usual.” I nudged April into the house ahead of myself.

I closed the door on my father, annoyed at having to deal with another of April’s little unpredictable outbursts, but knowing there wasn’t much she could do about it.

“I love you, April. And we’ll get what we want. Just get your shit together and stop pissing off my dad.”

I took her wrist and sent a weak wave of ice across her skin. Embers faded.

We stood together for a moment, at peace. Like so many times before. Then April stepped away.

“Noah!” Her voice rang through the entire house. Noah ducked out of the kitchen.

“Yep.”

“Out the back.” April waved toward the shadows of the far end of the house and walked off.

“She ok?” I heard Kim ask from the lounge room.

“She’ll be fine. Some anger issues, that’s all.”

I joined Kim in the lounge room and picked up a bowl of apples I’d placed there before leaving the house that day. Frustrated – at April and the dark – I conjured a glimmering cluster of ice crystals and threw them into the ceiling. Shimmering blue light rained down around us to illuminate the tiny room.

I held an apple out to Kim.

“Can you move this from my hand to… anywhere, really?”

With barely a scrunch of concentration, Kim sent a soft yellow glow to surround the apple. It lifted from my hand and floated onto the fireplace mantelpiece.

“Easy,” she chirped brightly.

“Thought so. What about a moving object?”

I threw an apple into the air, but it fell with a soft thud on to the rich white mat in front of the fireplace. We went on like that for an hour or so, until Kim finally started to become a little annoyed. Her nose started to wrinkle, and her lips pressed tighter and tighter together in concentration.

“Focus, Kim. You can do this.”

“How?” It was as close to a shout as Kim seemed possible. She slumped down into the armchair by the fireplace. “If it’s so easy, you do it.”

I tossed another apple into the air and blasted it into the wall with a jet of jet of water. Moving the apple through the air was beyond me, but at least I could show that hitting a moving target was possible.

“Well, how did you learn to do the ice and water thing?”

“It just happened. Then Hermes taught me.”

“But how? How do you make it do what you want it to do?”

I tried to think about how to explain something that had become second nature to me.

“I imagine it.” I came up with, finally. “As in, I sort of see it, in my mind, the outcome I’m trying for. If I want a snowman, I visualise a snowman and hope my Flame will do what I’m telling it to and help out to make that it a reality. When I’m trying something new, I have to imagine the outcome more actively. But for most things, like, the basics, it happens without me noticing what I’m doing. Like the hairpins. You can move them into your hair without thinking, right?”

“Right. So I should…?”

“Stare at the apple. Then hold an image of it in your head. And visualise it being surrounded by the yellow glow your abilities make. Then keep your eye on the apple, and we’ll see what happens.”

“Got it.”

Kim got out of the chair, and I tossed an apple. It plummeted to the floor, just as the others had.

“Focus. Try again.”

Kim’s face scrunched in concentration. She held her hand out in front of her again. I launched another apple.

Ready for the thud. But it didn’t happen. In the middle of the room, the apple hung on the air, suspended by a yellow gold glow that surrounded it.

We threw out arms in the air and shouted out in victory. Kim jumped into my arms. Any thought of training slipped away. We heard the apple thump to the floor. But the moment dissipated unexpectedly. Kim twisted around in my arms to face away from me, her body still tight against mine.

“So…” she tilted her chin up and back to look up at me. “You love April?”

“I… You heard that?”

“Your house is not that big, Kyle.”

“Well, yeah. I mean, she’s my best friend on the whole planet. We might not have known each other the entire time, but we grew up in the same world. The same circumstances. We understand what the other’s been through, more than anyone else can ever be capable of. We don’t have to hide from each other.”

“You don’t have to hide from me, either.”

“Yeah, I know…”

“You know that she’s straight up crazy, right?”

“That’s just it. She’s not. It just looks that way to anyone who doesn’t know what she’s – what we’ve – been through to get to this point. And if you think that about her…”

“I don’t think that about you.”

“But we’re the same.”

“You’re completely different.”

“How?”

Kim spun around slowly.

“You have real compassion, while she only pretends to. You live like an average person; April lives in that rich-kid villa thing barely anyone gets to set foot in. You care about the people around you; she only cares about herself.”

“If you knew her like I do, you’d say most of that stuff in reverse…”

“Maybe. I don’t think so, but… There is one other thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m not about to be making out with April anytime soon.”

I pointed to myself, surprised. Kim threw me a little nod and trailed her fingers to my neck.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Playing to strengths

 

April.

 

Noah was struggling. He doubted himself, and me, and everything else that was barely keeping him from sprinting towards the horizon. Still, I never took my eyes off him, and made sure he was – or I as – always beyond arm’s reach. A dim light poked out from beneath the house’s eave to illuminate the backyard around us, which was peculiarly spacious in contrast to Kyle’s house’s gloomy and cramped interior. I could see Noah subtly scanning for exits.

 

“Here.” Reaching down, I scooped up a pot plant filled with soil and a not much else. While the side garden was Kyle’s to care for, responsibility for the backyard had always rested in the negligent hands of his father.

Noah looked from the pot to me.

“Not sure I know what you’re expecting here, April…”

My reply was impatient.

“For you to do what your Flame gives you the ability to do.”

Noah seemed vacant.

“Visualise the soil in the bowl quaking, to show your Flame what you want it to do.”

“You said you’d teach me how to run.”

“Later. This first. You need to be able to defend yourself. With more than running away.”

Noah grumbled, lifting up a hand to the pot. Reluctantly he tried to move the dirt, and failed. Again and again, until we were at odds, impatient and infuriated at each other.

“Try, Noah.”

“I am.”

“Not enough.”

“I am.”

“Do it again.”

“How?”

Feel the Flame inside you. It wants this. Let it.”

Noah turned on me, irritated, his hand falling to his side.

“How do you know what it wants?”

“Because all our Flames want the same thing.”

“And what’s that?”

“To destroy each other.” I stepped up to him, close enough to feel his breath. “But you already know that.” I raised a hand.

“I… I’m not sorry for what I did to you. I’m only sorry it didn’t work.”

He stumbled back a step.

“I know.”

Noah was shrinking away but standing his ground.

A flash of bright red light blared in his face.

“Ah!” Noah stumbled backwards. Another blinding flash knocked him off balance as I advanced on him.

“Stop!”

Another flash. He stumbled back and tripped and fell into the back fence. I was standing over him, cowering in the garden bed against the wooden fence palings with his hands in front of his face. A white-red glow gained intensity in my palm, getting ready for another blinding burst of light.

“Stop!”

A roar of silver-green electricity charged out, striking me. The force sent me flying into the opposite wall.

I heard something crumble. The wind knocked out of me, as a sharp pain split through my ribs from the landing rather than from the charged blast. I caught my breath, rising back to my feet and walking over to Noah. I held out a hand.

“See. You’re not completely useless.” I noted, calm and dragging him roughly to his feet. “If electricity is easier for you, then that’s where we’ll start.”

He dusted himself off, fear still clinging to his body, and pushed me away.

“How didn’t that hurt you?”

Used every ounce of willpower to stop my arms from rushing to my throbbing ribcage. I was breathing as normal, and hadn’t heard a crack, but instinct implored me not to let Noah see even the smallest of damage. Yet the sheer force of Noah’s blast wave wasn’t something I could brush off, and sent a wave of fear through me.

“My Flame makes my body insulated, as well as resistant to heat and fire. I found out when everyone was doing that thing where you rub your feet on the carpet and static shock each other. Static electricity, turns out, not a big problem for me. Not that I’ve tried to electrocute myself or anything.”

“Uncomfortable situations – or circumstances that push us to our limits – are often where our abilities – our Flames – advance the most,” I explained, moving to sit gingerly on an old park bench. “Your Flame’s go-to was the electricity thing you can do. So we’ll begin with the thing that’s easier for you. Get that first. Then move on to the next thing, and the next, until you can wield the Flame’s power in its entirety.”

Noah seemed sceptical.

“I didn’t learn to use all my abilities at once, Noah. Neither did Kyle. Fire showed up pretty early. Then telepathy a few years after. But light didn’t appear until much later. It’s actually pretty recent. We all have different paths. Kyle’s second element hasn’t even manifested yet, and we’ve both been at this for the same amount of time. But water extends to control over ice, so he can make it seem like both elemental abilities have shown up. Feel your Flame. Be flexible enough to listen when it’s pushing you a certain direction, but rigid enough to challenge it and yourself to develop your own powers in the direction you want, too.”

Noah was still standing back, poised for another barrage that didn’t come.

“You talk about being able to control fire. But the two times I’ve seen you use it, you always look… I don’t know… sick. Jittery.”

“The price we pay for losing control, and trying to hold back. When I use fire, I’m strong. It’s what happens when I stop that can be tricky sometimes. Anger, and deep emotions, can send our abilities off kilter. Like what happened to you in the hallway. Fear, rage, regret, panic, all mixed into one uncontrolled blast of power. Your Flame was trying to protect itself, and you.”

“If using fire makes you strong, then why not use it all the time?”

My thoughts strayed to the house fire I’d ignited, to Hermes finding me and dragging me from the flames. From my flames. It was something I might have spoken with Kyle about, but Noah was a different story.

“I use fire when I have to. But we’re not here to talk about my control issues. We’re here to overcome yours.” I grinned, but Noah was on the verge of walking out.

“No. I’m done here. Stay away from me.”

He took a step for the gate.

“What’s the deal with your parents?” I asked, loud and mimicking the ignorant tone of his earlier question about my own parentage.

He glared at me, but turned back rather than continue for the gate. Held in place for another few moments, at least.

“Come on, Noah. You know I don’t know anything about you. Sorry if you not having any family is meant to be common knowledge.”

“Fine,” he let out, exasperated. “The year before you showed up at school… Well, I went home one day and no one was there. I waited and waited but no one came home. I reported my parents as missing the day later. They just vanished. Kim was the only one at school who’d met them. The police did everything they could but there was no trace. And no one’s seen them since. It’s not a long story, April, but it’s the way things are.”

“So it’s just you, then? No other family? Siblings?”

“Nope, it’s just me. And my uncle,” he added, almost as a second thought, “who I live with. In my house. And Mercedes and Jasper work there, to tend to the house and gardens.”

“To tend to the house and gardens…” I laughed. “And people think my house is too much. At least I don’t have staff.”

He glared back at me with reproach.

“Where do you live, anyway?”

“Alexander Drive. Across.”

“Alexander?” I shook my head at the sound of Noah’s surname being used as a street address. “How have I never heard of your family before now?”

He shrugged. “We keep to ourselves.”

“And where’s Kim fit into all this? You know, the once-best-friend.”

“Kim and her parents took me in. I lived there for a while. It’s why we are… we were… I don’t know. Kim picked up the pieces, and got me to call my uncle. But she can’t even look at me now…”

“So your parents just vanished?”

“Into thin air.”

“Then perhaps there’s still hope for them.”

“Since when did you jump on the hope bandwagon?”

I shrugged. “Never. But apparently me not giving a crap leaves you unsatisfied,” a cold grin found my lips as I added, sarcastic, “you make me a better person.”

Noah laughed. “And you drive me to murder.”

The icy mood that had fallen between us melted, but only for a moment.

“We can’t run from what’s inside us, Noah, from who we are.”

“I can’t fight anyone, April,” Noah’s voice shook. “This is ridiculous!”

“That’s my whole life you’re talking about.”

“Then maybe your life’s not all it’s cracked up to be!”

“I’m here to get the job done,” I retorted. “It’s what I’ve been working towards my whole life. You and Kim get it easy. You get to rock up last minute, happen over some cool magic powers, throw some stuff around, and then think you can judge me? We want to teach you to stay alive.” I finished, losing my patience. “They’ll come for you, Noah. If it’s not me, or Kyle, it’ll be one of the Immortals here to clean up our mess. There’s nowhere you can hide where they won’t find you.”

“I can try,” his words were hauntingly cold. “Running from monsters is kind of my specialty.” Noah’s words echoed to my ears, resounding with connection that his vacant demeanour wouldn’t usually inspire. “Why should trust you, April? Why should I be here with you, when as soon as I work all this out you and Kyle are going to make me disappear?”

That was a very good question, and one with no easy answer that made any sense to either of us.

“Because you just should.”

Noah gazed out into the distance. “That’s not good enough.” he turned to face me. “You seem so perfect, April, so together,” his voice was soft and heart breaking. “You know exactly who you are. You’re not afraid of anything. And you can do everything. You don’t get what it’s like to have something taken from you. Or to not have it at all. And you don’t see what you’re asking me. You want me to trust you, with everything that I am. Just because?” His eyes fell back to watch horizon. “It’s not enough.”

I followed his gaze toward the midnight-blue sky above.

“I’m not what you think I am, Noah,” I said sincerely. “I only look like I can do everything because I’m afraid that the day will come when I can’t do enough. I used to be like Kim. Do you remember? Happy and content. Full of love and hope. I used to care. If you want to see what I’ve lost all you have to do is open your eyes. And look at me.”

He didn’t move. He simply stood, hands in his pockets, gazing off into the stars.

“You don’t see what’s at stake here, Noah. But then again, maybe you do, since you already jumped me. We live or we die, based on our actions from here on out. Using our abilities is going to be crucial to that success, or that failure. I just… I need you to understand how much I want to survive. Winning or losing doesn’t matter so much. But I will do whatever it takes for me to live. And to give you and Kim the fairest chance to do the same.”

“So Kyle is in there right now,” he pointed back into the house, “telling Kim that she’s probably going to die?”

“Probably not,” I replied, breaking into a short smile. “But would you rather I filled you up with tea and biscuits and tried to get into your pants, or learn the truth as quickly as possible so you can have a chance at getting out of this mess and back to your regular life?”

“Well, I definitely don’t want you anywhere near my pants.” A cheeky grin crept into Noah’s features. He let himself fall back into a rickety wooden bench beside me and dropped his gaze to mine.

“How do you know what to do?” he asked, sincere.

“I believe in who I am,” I smiled the faintest of smiles, “and I have faith that who I am is worth it… and that who I am is good enough.”

Noah was thinking.

“You said we have extra powers that manifested out of need – to protect us,” he spoke with a curiosity for our world that I wasn’t expecting. “Running. Teleportation. They’re ways to escape. But why can you do what you do?”

“I’ve never really needed to escape,” I began to answer Noah’s query as he listened intently. “Yes, I’ve been hiding and fighting since they stuck this Flame in my head. But my fire always took care of me. My telepathy, it protects me, just in a different way than what your speed can eventually do for you. Growing up, there were always secrets, whispers around corners. Like everyone was in on some kind of huge, universal joke, except me. Then my abilities began to grow and suddenly there were more mysteries, things that Themis and everyone else would tell me eventually but it was always too late – I’d missed my chance, made mistakes that could have been avoided, if only I’d known their secrets earlier. If only they had told me, if only I’d been privy to their whispers in shadows. Knowledge is power, and my telepathy let me get beyond the whispers. It let me uncover secrets, let me hear the words that were so pertinent to my survival,” I gazed into the darkness. “One day, I just started knowing things. Things I couldn’t possibly have known. I began seeing images of events that I hadn’t been a part of, or even heard of taking place. I knew everything. But I couldn’t control it. I kept hearing thoughts, seeing events, reading the minds of everyone around me. Everyone. Subconsciously knowing what they’d been doing, what they were going to do, what they were saying to each other… I heard every whisper, around every corner, and in every shadow. Just like I’d always wanted. But nobody should know that much. Some secrets are secret for very good reasons, and it drove me mad before I finally learnt to control it. Before I could turn it off. You and Kyle can have your vanishing acts, but knowledge is my shield. Being able to see what others see has saved me more times than I can count, just like your speed – once you get the hang of it – will get you out of endless tricky spots in the near future.”

“How does it work?” he asked. “You can just hop into my head and see everything I’ve ever done and said and thought?”

“Kind of. I filter through until I find what I need, and then I get out. Different paths lead to different places, usually to different ages or types of memories. Usually the stuff I’m looking for is pretty recent, so it’s right on top and easy to reach. The older the memory, the harder it is to seek out. Then there’s a path of long forgotten memories, those times that are out of reach – that we need to forget. Hidden back there, and lost. Even to me. Some things are best left buried, and forgotten.”

For once, the world felt quiet. Still.

Noah looked over at me, utterly sincere once more, his eyes filled with the torment of ghosts.

“I can’t be who you and Kyle want me to be. Not anymore,” he told me. “I don’t want this. I don’t want to be part of another dangerous world. I just want to be normal. Go to school, play sport. This isn’t real…”

Sad, distant eyes stared back at me. In that instant I realised that there was so much more to the plainness of Noah. More than even Kim knew.

“I don’t want to feel the way I feel right now, April. War. War is for soldiers and heroes, and I’m neither. This is your world. What you’ve grown up in. What you understand. You and your little gang in there,” he waved a hand at the door pointing to Kyle and Kim, “can go play assassins all you want. Leave me the hell out of it!”

“Then leave,” I said. “Run away. Do what you want. But just know this,” my voice darkened. “Keep running. Never stop. Because Kyle, and the Immortals, will hunt you. And they won’t stop until they find you.”

Conflict raged within him. “I don’t want this!” He rose abruptly to his feet and strode out through the gate at the back of the house.

“None of us do…” I mumbled to myself.

I sat for a moment, a little confused and angry at Noah’s getaway, wondering if he might decide to come back. But he was gone.

I stood and walked back into the house to see how Kim and Kyle were doing. Apparently they were doing quite well, because I walked in to find them huddled together on the couch happily making out.

“Oi!” I called out and, with a clap of my hands, the dim room illuminated.

“Ah!” Kyle jumped off the couch and stared at me wildly. “I thought you were…” he hurriedly shot a glance at the door behind me.

“Training?” I asked with a wry smile.

“Um… yeah.”

“Noah bailed, so I was heading out,” I told them.

“He did that again?”

“Problems for another time. Kim.” I waved at them both and walked back, alone, into the dark night air.

The force of Noah’s charged blast, and the potential to do so much more, played on my mind. Although he looked plain, boring, and like he should be a complete pushover, he was stubborn, and too capable of thinking for himself. Too ready to do what it takes to survive. Noah was proving to be more of a threat than I’d expected. And spending more time with him would only give him more chances to find my weaknesses. With too much practice, he might even be able to exploit them.

With every step towards my house, a niggling, competitive feeling grew. That training these two didn’t make sense. When had I ever through that training a direct threat to my life was a good idea? When I’d met Kyle, was the answer. He’d always pushed for this outcome, for fairness, and I’d been too hung up on his pretty blue eyes and the Immortals pushing me to do the same to question whether training the others was really the best option for me. There was every chance that something I taught Noah would soon be used to destroy me. And I had no clue what Kyle was teaching Kim. So what the fuck was I doing?

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Fares of life

 

Kyle

 

Mid-year exams showed up. Not the most exciting of times, but one of the most important for the other seniors. Five days of exams that could elevate or destroy our final results. Not that results mattered all that much to me. Or April, I suppose. She’d been away for a full year but still somehow came out of each exam seeming confident. We’d never really talked about our future plans. I didn’t even have one beyond trying not to die. The week’s pressure wore on Kim and the rest of our classmates. By the last day all any of us could think of was that the Festival of Caria couldn’t come fast enough.

We were sitting separately in rows in our class room during the last exam. Final seconds ticked by. From my view in the back row, I could see the wave of relief and stress playing out. Some people were still scribbling frantically, but most were finished and waiting for Mr. Sheppard to call an end and take our papers so we could get out of here. Breath some fresh air. Steve and Fiona were up the front, Alice and her goons were chuckling to themselves in the back corner with Kim, Erin and Noah were in the middle of the room, and April was sitting in front of me.

At pens down on the final paper, Fiona burst into hysterical sobs. Mr. Sheppard swiped her and Steve’s papers straight away and mumbled something with a gesture to the door. Steve wrapped an arm around Fi’s shoulders and lead her out of the room. We could still hear her when Mr. Sheppard had finished collecting our papers and let us go.

“What was that?” April asked quietly. We made our way for the door.

I could see Alice and her goons sniggering among themselves. Kim edged away. I caught Erin as she walked by on her way after Fi and Steve.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Fi’s dad came back to Caria,” Erin explained in a hushed and hurried tumble of words. “They said he was better. But it all started again. The yelling at empty space, the tears across his skin…” She shuffled away quickly with her usual confident stride.

April walked up beside me and tucked her phone in her pocket.

“Themis messaged. She wants to see us. All of us.” She looked to Kim, who was standing silently among Alice and her gang, and to Noah, who was still sitting awkwardly at his desk and looking lost in the wake of Erin’s hurried exit.

“High Council?”

“Looks like.”

“Can’t wait to see what ridiculous task they conjure up this time.” If I hadn’t been so bored of the High Council’s tasks I might have been excited.

“Something we don’t have time for, for sure.”

April retrieved Noah while I waved for Kim to join me.

After a moment, we all walked together upstairs to the art rooms on the top floor. They were dim and silent at this time of day, and the perfect place to vanish from unnoticed.

“Themis asked to see us,” April explained. “So we’re going to my house.”

She held out a hand to Kim and Noah, but Noah swatted her away.

“Just hold her hand, Noah,” I said, impatient, and grabbed his other hand. I reached for Kim. “Ready?”

“Yep.” April looked to Noah with a gratified wink. “You might want to close your eyes for this.”

I concentrated on a single image of a very specific bushy treeline. And we were gone. Out surroundings folded in around us. An instant later, soft grass appeared beneath our feet. Bushes rose up around us. Noah looked a little pale.

“Told you,” April said. She stepped out and lead the way to the front door of a double storey red brick home. Mansion. Villa. Thing. April’s house was better than mine. It also held a more interesting basement.

“Themis,” April called out. Her voice sounded light and filled with love and respect. More respect than she bothered to show most of the other Immortals. And yet her attitude towards them, and her confidence when among them, had always made them listen to her.

We walked through the sophisticated, grand marble colossus that was the house’s entrance hall into the front-most, main sitting room. The room was made of wooden floorboards and warm white plaster and stone which rose into carved cornices. Bay windows overlooked the front garden. Comfortable chairs and a pair of couches filled the front of the room and made the most of the street view. A wooden dining table and matching carved seats were laid out in the back third of the room. A grand piano took pride of place off to one side. Themis was playing when we walked in.

“Come, come.” She swept across the room to gesture us to the dining table. Themis left us for a moment through a light wooden door in the far wall. She returned with a tray of tea and cakes.

“What’s in…?” Kim mumbled to me quietly.

“The kitchen.” I explained and joined her and the others around the table.

“Kim, Noah, this is my mother, Themis.” April started pouring tea and handing cups and cakes around the table.

“Lovely to meet you Kim, Noah.” Themis smiled. She took a seat at the table. “I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances.”

“What’s wrong?” April asked.

“It appears the High Council have set you all a trial.”

“The price for meeting them?” April didn’t seem happy, or surprised.

“Indeed. A creature has strayed within Caria’s bounds, and persists to make a nuisance of itself.”

“The breakdowns…” I gathered. “They’re not a mortal sickness…”

“Correct.”

“What’s doing this?” I asked.

“And why aren’t the Immortals sorting it out themselves?” April added.

“Hermes and I have looked into the situation enough to come to the conclusion that an Immortal creature is to blame. Further investigation is required to accurately identify and contain the creature. However, any further interference strays beyond our bounds as guardians, and risks straying beyond the bounds of the truce.

“How is it possible that the Immortals can’t work this out?” April asked. “You can see literally every second of a mortal’s life if you want to. But you can’t identify a single creature?”

“Our vision only extends so far when it comes to our own,” Themis replied, short but in control. “Our abilities aren’t infinite, April. Since we exist in the same state in perpetuity, our abilities also do not evolve with us, as your do. Something to remember. But yes, we are unable to identify the source of Caria’s latest issue. And are not prepared to risk the truce to enter the Mortal Realm and resolve this issue for you. Caria is therefore extremely fortunate to have four townspeople with the exact skills and experiences needed to solve the problem for them. So… get to it.”

“Get to it?” April looked around. “We’re a touch busy right now.”

Kim, Noah and I sat and watched on in tense silence. Noah took a sip of tea. Kim and I glared at him.

“What?” He took another sip.

“How much do you and Kyle value the opportunity to speak with the High Council? How much to you really value the people of Caria?”

April didn’t reply.

“In exchange for a meeting,” Themis went on. Lightness returned to her tone. “The High Council encourage you to resolve this issue of strange apparent break downs rampaging Caria.”

“Encourage?” I asked.

“You don’t have to, of course. You are their Champions; they have to see you if you request an audience. Eventually. Although they can be sluggish when having to deal with anyone – even us – by forced obligation. Also, since it is your town being damaged, the High Council thought you would enjoy the chance to sort this one out for yourselves. Since they have decided not to participate on this occasion.”

“Real dick move, Immortals.” I heard April mutter up at the ceiling. It was a sentiment that I felt, but wouldn’t dream of speaking aloud, since the Immortals watch our every move. Our entire existence came into being from the desire to free mortals from the Immortals’ tyranny and foolishness. There was no way could walk away from this when we had a chance to stop these horrible things happening to the people of Caria. To neighbours, friends, good people.

“The High Council will meet with us at a time of our choosing, once we halt the spate of strange illnesses currently plaguing Caria? An example of which is Fiona’s father.” I recognised that April was re-stating the terms of our agreement. We had, long ago, come to understand that the Immortals enjoy weaving loopholes into their agreements.

“Yes.”

“And you have authority to make this bargain?”

Themis smiled.

“Yes.”

Themis handed a slip of heavy paper across to April. April showed it to me. The seal, the spiraling ink – a note of High Council Ascent. I handed the note back to Themis.

Yes?

A single word rang through my ears, and mine alone.

We sort of have to, right? I thought, and nodded back at April.

“OK. We’ll see what we can do.” April said finally. Themis seemed relieved, and grinned around at us all.

The mood shifted almost instantly from strained to colloquial. By the time we had finished our tea, Noah was playing a piece on the piano that I probably should’ve recognised, and bright chatter had developed between Themis, Kim, and April. It was easy to forget for a moment that we were at war. But then Noah finished playing, and it was time for us to get back to business.

From the front steps, we waved a cheerful goodbye to Themis and walked together back across the front lawn to the bushy treeline. Kim looked to me, wide-eyed and joyful.

“The High Council? Who is that? Why are you meeting?”

“The current leaders of the Immortals.” My reply was evasive. “We need to finalise a few details. Formalities, that’s all.”

“Regardless, this’ll be a good chance to practice in a real world situation.” April added. Every piece of the good mood around us died. “And maybe help some everyday people along the way.”

“Why do they always want us to do something just to gain an audience with them?” I let out, annoyed.

“Because they think it’s funny.” April replied. “And they’re complete arseholes.”

I shrugged. She was right. The Immortals had always enjoyed watching us squirm, always under the guise of trying to teach us a lesson.

“Come on.” I held out my hands. “Time see how Fiona’s doing.”

In an instant, we found ourselves hidden in a back garden shed that had hosted Fi’s birthday party the year before. Noah’s eyes were darting over our latest surroundings. Our feet had landed on a dusty concrete floor. Tools, boxes and stored possessions covered the walls. The smell of dog fur lingered on the air and radiated from a luxurious kennel that took up one corner of the shed. Dim light streamed in through a skylight in the insulation-lined tin roof.

I moved to make my way to the front of the house.

“Going in empty handed?” April’s question stopped me in my tracks.

“Right.” The shed vanished around me and I was suddenly standing in my own bedroom. I grabbed a box of chocolates from a desk drawer and was back with April in a few seconds. I shook the box of individually wrapped goodies and hoped Fi wouldn’t notice a couple missing. Noah and Kim were still staring at me in awe.

“Ready.”

I took Kim’s hand and started walking for the door, but Noah followed. A little frustrated that he wasn’t catching onto the plan, I turned back and pressed a palm to his chest to stop him.

“What d’you think you’re doing?”

“Coming with you.”

“So, we’re all meant to be walking into the house of a devastated girl who barely knows two of us?”

I looked from Noah to April, who hadn’t moved.

“Best if we try not to overwhelm Fi any more than we will by showing up asking questions,” April explained.

“And chances are Steve’s in there, too,” I added.

“We’re not on the best of terms…” For once, April sounded almost uncomfortable. Maybe even self-conscious.

“But…” Noah tried to complain.

“April can do her mind-link-thing,” I cut him off. “It’ll let you both see the entire exchange.”

“Oh…” Noah became quiet. Finally.

“Wait here,” I said.

Kim and I walked for the shed door and peered out. The backyard was clear. I felt the unmistakable tickle of April in my mind as we made our way to the house’s front door and left April and Noah to watch from afar.

Knock. Steve answered the door. Smiled at the sight of Kim. Relieved.

“Kim, thank God. Please, come in.” hurried us in. “I don’t know what to do.” Leads them into the lounge room. See Fi sitting there, face puffy. Kim rushes in to sit beside her on the couch and wrap her in her arms. Held a hand in the air to me. I lobbed the box of chocolates over.

“Hey Kyle. How’s it going?”

“Yeah, not bad. Kim wanted to check on Fi. I hope we’re not intruding…”

“Not at all. She couldn’t have shown up at a better time. I don’t know how to… Nothing like this has ever happened before. None of my family have ever been this sick or anything. I don’t know how to help. I don’t think a boyfriend’s what Fi needs…” We looked across to Kim and Fiona, holding hands and crying and talking. Steve smiled. “She’s actually speaking.”

“think it helps if you’re just here. So Fi knows you won’t bail out when times get tough. I think. But I don’t really know how this works, either…”

We joined Fi and Kim in the lounge room. Fi was explaining her family’s latest disaster in a kind of devastated babble, as if she were trying to hold her emotions together but feeling safe enough with Kim to let go of having to look strong.

“… and he was getting better and thought it’d be fine to come back. But then the day after he arrived back it all started again and he just got worse and worse. As if his skin was tearing itself apart. Screaming and shouting for us to get away from him, that he was sorry, that he did what he had to, that the money wasn’t worth it, that it wasn’t what they were for.”

“Money?” I asked.

“By the end, he was just rambling. And throwing himself, and everything he could reach, at empty air.”

I finally took a good look around the room. Apart from the chairs and table nearest us, everything else was knocked over or lying broken on the floor. Deep holes were dotted across the walls and part of the front window was shattered. I fetched a dustpan and brush from the kitchen and started sweeping up the shards of glass.

“Was he still sick on the way from here to Arctic Falls, the first time?” I asked.

Fi shook her head.

“He was sedated the whole time, and then he was better on the way back. But he got here and lost it all over again.”

“And he’s going back?” Kim asked. “To get better again?”

“They’re loading him into the ambulance now… from the hospital.”

But Fi burst into thick sobs again.

I tossed the bits and pieces of glass and window into the bin and helped Steve briefly tidy the rest of the room on the way back to the front door.

“Fi’s worried about the transport,” Steve explained with a glance back at Fi and Kim. “The first time the ambulance took her dad to Arctic Falls, everything went fine. People had been moved there before and after, with no troubles. But last week, they tried to transport another two people – a married couple – and both ambulances were in some kind of accident. They found the couple running through the forest, raving, along with the paramedics and doctors who’d been on board. I… I don’t know if her dad’s ever going to be able to come home…”

“The medical staff will sort something out. Give it time.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Thanks for dropping by.” Steve left me at the door.

I caught Kim’s eye and gave a tiny wave, then walked back into the front garden. Kim only lived a few blocks away. With the other three of us on the trail of whatever was doing this, there was no chance Kim was going to leave her friends in distress just to help out with a situation that was already covered.

I walked far enough away from the house to be out of view, then made a run to the shed. I felt April break our connection.

“There’s got to be a reason why the patients are getting better in Arctic Falls,” I said. “A barrier, maybe, some reason whatever’s doing this can only wield its power inside Caria…”

“Or that it can’t in Arctic Falls…” Noah added a reasonably helpful observation.

“So… either some kind of boundary. Or something like the cold, or the elevation, or the wind, or the snow, or anything particular to Arctic Falls.” Saying it aloud made me realise that we’d barely narrowed anything down. “But we actually have no idea, because we can’t tell whether the victims experience this on their way between here and Arctic Falls.”

“Well… not no idea.” April said.

“How do you mean?”

“Fi’s dad might be unconscious, but that doesn’t mean we can’t know if something’s following him.”

“What would you say to a trip to Arctic Falls?”

“I’d say that I’ve missed the snow.”

“Snow? Mountains?” Noah piped up, but we ignored him.

“The hospital?” April asked, and held out a hand. But I hesitated.

“I’ve never been there before.”

“Why does that matter?” Noah shot.

“I can only go places I’ve seen.”

April was already flicking through her phone.

“Here.” She showed me an image of the emergency wing of Caria’s hospital and pointed to a far corner of the building. It looked quiet enough to appear from thin air without anyone noticing. I took their hands and held the image in my mind.

With a bit of a bumpy landing, we appeared behind the hospital. Noah lost his balance. While he got to his feet, April and I could see a group of paramedics loading a man into the back of an ambulance.

“Is that Fi’s dad?” April asked.

“Yep.” I turned to Noah and spoke as clearly and as simply as I could. “We’re about to climb in that ambulance. You and me in the back, April in the passenger seat. Move decisively. Act like you belong here. April will make sure everyone else thinks we do.” I looked to April. “Right?”

A cold grin lit her features. Excitement twinkled in her eyes.

“I’ve been waiting all day week for something like this.”

I felt April’s powers reach out to my mind again.

Noah, if you want to speak to us, just think it. We’ll all hear. April’s words echoed in my head. Noah jumped.

“Come on,” I said and walked as casually as possible to the back of the ambulance. A quick glance beside me showed April’s face scrunching in concentration. Then the tension eased. I reached for Noah’s wrist to make sure he was with me.

“Hey. The Arctic Falls transport?” April was asking a paramedic who was about to climb in the driver’s seat.

“Yep. On our way now.”

“Great. We just got assigned.” April hopped into the passenger side and nodded back at us to get in the back.

A doctor was already sitting in the far end of the ambulance beside a stretched carrying a heavily sedated man. I nudged Noah in ahead of me and closed the back doors with a slam.

“I’m Kyle,” I reached out to shake the doctor’s hand. Noah did the same.

“Doctor Alexei. Pleasure.”

“How’s he doing?”

“As well as can be expected. Once we reach Arctic Falls, he’ll be in safer hands. They’re far better equipped for these kind of impossible to diagnose instances.”

She gave us a short, hopeful smile. I was relieved that April’s telepathy was holding and making the doctor and paramedic think we were similar professionals capable of helping people, too.

Relax. Both of you.

I heard her words in my mind. She spoke for our benefit, but mostly for hers. Our Flames could easily eject the intricate telepathic link she’d wound between us, and the more we struggled the more effort she would have to exert to keep the link intact. April never looked back from her view of the road. I kept watch, but felt increasingly as ease knowing that an ever-reliable April was watching my back. Together, we could handle anything that happened from here. Then we were on our way, waiting for something horrible to happen and carrying precious cargo toward a mountain that barely anyone travelled to in search of a solution we couldn’t even fathom.

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Team building

 

Kyle

 

Three hours later, April was fumbling in her bag and I was still sitting beside a fidgety Noah and an unconscious Fi’s dad in the back of an ambulance with a doctor who thought we were actually trained to be in that ambulance. April’s telepathy was still spread between making the driver and doctor think we were paramedics, and maintaining the link in our thoughts so we could communicate. I was interested to see that the strength of her telepathy she’d exhibited that night in Old Caria wasn’t a fluke. Three full hours without a single flicker or loss of focus was impressive. Both of our abilities had grown stronger since last time we’d battled together in Caria, before Themis had shipped April off again. But whatever April had been doing this past year had sent control of her telepathy to another level. Mountains came into view out of the front windshield.

You guys have to do things like this all the time? We heard Noah ask.

The Immortals like to give us trials. I replied. At first, their requests had been fun ways to advance our abilities. Now, as the war drew into its final stages, their trials were becoming tedious.

To test our abilities. April added. Or challenge us, or to do something they can’t be bothered with. Like now, for instance.

The truce is fragile, April…

Her reply sounded bitter.

If they wanted to sort this out themselves, they would. But they’d rather watch us squirm and waste our time.

The mountains of Arctic Falls drew nearer. Brilliant white snow stretched out over their sky-scraping peaks. We’d been gradually driving up hill for the last hour or so. The air was that bit thinner and that bit icier than anything we’d have in Caria. Even the foot of the shortest mountain – our destination – looked covered in a thick bed of snow and ice. I felt my Flame glow within me – the ice was welcome sight.

An itching sensation dragged my focus from the landscape to my own thoughts. There was something pressing down on my mind, a noise building and building. I tried to remain calm and instead berated April over the link she’d constructed between our minds.

April, seriously. Stop screwing with my thoughts.

A sharp pain ran down my back.

I’m not. April kept her eyes on the road in front.

Then what…?

Haunting voices started playing out in my head, so much worse than the usual terrified nightmares. Taunting. I looked to the doctor and gave a force congenial nod and smile. The doctor shifted her gaze to watch the upcoming mountains through the front window. My eyes trailed along her long arms to slender hands. One rested on her lap, while the was pressing against Fiona’s dad’s arm. Out of view under the blanket covering him, I could feel my knee nudging against one of his feet.

The doctor. Not a doctor.

I felt Noah tense beside me.

How do you know? April asked.

I took the chance to reach slowly for my back, but withdrew my hand quickly when the doctor drew her gaze back to her apparent patient.

I’m bleeding. Like the victims.

Act normal. She might not notice the power is crossing through Fi’s dad to you. April sounded logical over the terrifying taunts bringing up fears I didn’t even know about. For once, I was pleased that April could see and feel what I was experiencing. But so was Noah.

April kept looking ahead.

What about the driver? She asked.

I can’t be sure.

Nobody panic.

April’s voice rang through as a saving grace. I could feel Noah relaxing slightly and realised that we were both relieved that someone was taking control of the situation.

On three, do what I tell you and do it calmly. Noah. Smile at me and look like you’re checking on the patient. Kyle. Move your leg. Ready? One, two, three.

April looked back and offered a distracting wave to the doctor and Noah. He leaned forward to get a better look at Fi’s dad.

“How’s life in the back?” April smiled. “Not far to the railway track now. It’s a wonder they never built a road up the mountain…”

I pushed my knee a fraction beyond contact with Fi’s dad. The horrifying taunts ended. Pain thrummed at my back, but eased in intensity and stopped getting worse. Happy, but concerned, and knowing that Fi’s dad was likely still experiencing the same thing.

“Too much upkeep,” the driver was explaining and sounding jolly about his job. “Considering the snow, the rail track was always the easier option. Maintenance-wise.”

“You don’t say?” April asked in a voice that matched the driver’s deep interest in history and pride in the fact that his job let him travel to and from a mountain that he was clearly very fond of. “Did they ever try to build a road?”

“Once, after the first few years of crossings. For supplies between one side and the other. Bus it iced over too quickly. They didn’t have the machinery to clear it regularly, see, so they abandoned the road and used the railroad instead. The one they’d built to build the road to begin with.”

The doctor sat back. April faced the driver and became lost in conversation about mountain engineering and exploration.

Almost there. She said, but still smiled and laughed along with the driver’s stories. Something about the boundary of Arctic Falls pisses this thing off. So, get ready. Noah, that includes you. You’ll have to hold your own on this one. Go for lightning. Always lightning. See it in your head, trust your Flame.

Panic shot through Noah’s face and he grew noticeably pale.

“Are you alright?” The doctor asked.

I froze.

“Yep,” Noah blubbered out. “I…um… was born in Bayside City, by the sea. The cold air… Caria’s chilly enough for me.”

“You grew up in Bayside?” I asked, enthusiastic. “I love the coast. My dad taught me to surf there during vacations.”

“Oh yeah?” Noah asked, bright. The doctor lost interest and peered out the windshield. “I was too small to learn by the time we moved, but the water was water. The ocean. The sand. Mmm. Caria’s nice, but nothing can beat summer by the sea.”

A calm peace fell over us both as our thoughts strayed to the ocean. Water. Ice. Where I belong.

Suddenly, a jolt rocked the ambulance back and forth. All memories of brilliant coastline faded.

“Oop. Gets bumpy from here,” the driver called back cheerily. “It’s all stones the final bit, ‘til we hit snowfall. Few more metres. Then a ways more ‘til unloading.”

In a rushed scramble, the doctor lunged over Fi’s dad at me. Manicured nails had transformed into long, pointed claws aimed directly at my chest.

“Ah!”

On instinct, I threw my hands over my body and blasted out. A shock of glimmering blue ice shards pummelled the doctor into the cab’s far wall.

“Oi!”

The driver turned to see the commotion. April caught his face in her hands and locked her eyes on his.

“Park the ambulance. Stay inside. You don’t hear or see anything out of the ordinary. Everything’s fine.”

April leaped out of the passenger side door. The telepathic link between us fizzled away. The doctor dived forward again with a deafening, haunting scream.

“Everything…fine…” I heard the driver mumble.

I scrambled back against Noah’s knees and kicked out. The doctor – or whatever it was – slammed into the back doors but pushed off and kept coming. Clear sunlight and crisp air beamed through as the doors opened from the outside. The creature’s claws reached for my throat. April raised a hand from the doorway, but saw something behind me and dropped to the ground.

Silver-green sparks erupted from Noah’s hands, caught the woman, and sent her flying out the back.

“Nice,” I let out, impressed, and patted Noah on the back.

Together, we clambered out and jumped on the rocky terrain. April got up from the ground. She was eyeing Noah with suspicion but couldn’t hide that she was as impressed as I was at his progress. There was hope for him, yet.

“The body…”

There was no trace of the doctor anywhere in the rocky landscape.

“Whatever happens,” I said and slammed the ambulance doors shut, “make sure the ambulance is fine…”

We stood beside each other and scanned the scenery.

“There,” Noah pointed to the sky.

We looked up.

The creature had dropped its mortal façade to reveal a monster with long, thin arms and gaping bat-like wings circling high above us. A torn up tunic wrapped in heavy strips around its body flailed in the wind. Wild red hair flared out. It turned on us with an ear-splitting screech.

“Fire would be helpful right now,” I scolded April.

“Maybe not.” She pointed to the snow, which spread out in a thick blanket beginning under the front wheels of the ambulance. A peculiarly precise place for the creature to make its move.

“Get me out of here!” Noah shouted and shook my arm. I pushed him away.

“I can’t teleport anyone out without leaving, too. And I’m not leaving April and Fi’s dad and the driver…”

“Giuseppe,” April added.

“And Giuseppe, just so you can run from a chance to try your abilities!”

“Run from…” Noah grabbed my shoulders and pushed my view to the sky. “My powers aren’t what I’m running from!”

The creature’s stretched body blocked the sun directly over us and dived straight for the ambulance.

“Noah, get in the ambulance,” April ordered.

“No,” I gripped Noah’s arm. “He can help. We can help him help us.”

But it was too late to argue. The creature’s wings were outstretched and dropping its body clawed-feet first to grip the van’s top edges.

Bright blue ice crystals spread over my palms.

“Break a wing,” April prompted.

With all the strength I could muster, I sent a beam of ice crystals hurtling towards the creature’s unfurled wings. I felt the ice set against its left wing forearm and crushed my fist together. A sickening crack rang out. The creature shrieked and tumbled backwards through the air. Steam rose from where the blast caught the membrane of one of its wings. A faint hissing sound rose from its skin. But it kept flying, and climbed higher and higher above us. As it climbed, the creature’s motion grew steadily less lopsided until it looked like nothing had injured its wings at all.

“What was that?” April chided. “Full strength, Kyle. Use full strength.”

“I did!”

“So shouldn’t it be frozen?”

“Maybe we can ask it when it’s ripping us apart and sending us mad!”

“Guys!” Noah pointed back to the sky where the creature was preparing to launch its next assault.

April’s voice fell to a curious hush.

“What is this thing?”

Then it was my turn to be amazed.

“Did it… heal?”

“Quicker than any Immortal I’ve seen,” April noted. “Not even Themis heals that fast, and she’s… ancient.”

“Themis mind you calling her old?”

“It’s an historically accurate observation,” she cut back with a smile. “And I never said anything about old.”

“Again,” Noah sent a dirty scowl our way. “Get your shit together and get me out of here!”

April and I rounded on him and shouted almost in unison.

“Pull your weight!”

Heavy wing beats struck the air above us, only this time the creature flew in a headfirst dive. Its wings curled around its body and hurtled toward us in a protective freefall. Dark, bulging eyes locked onto us. The creature roared out a concussive blast wave of sound.

“Move!” I pushed Noah from the impact path.

The blast tore through the ground and sent us sailing in all directions. The creature unfurled its wings to catch itself and let its clawed feet scrape the ground. A single wing beat and it was soaring high above us again.

My body crunched to the ground far from April and Noah, who I could only narrowly make sense of through the ringing in my ears and blur in my vision. I tried to push up and scramble to April, but the dizziness and ringing took hold and I stumbled back to my knees. In the sky above, I managed to glimpse the creature diving again. Towards April. It had pushed us apart on purpose. April finally came into focus. She was on the ground, looking in the opposite direction. Her hands were on her head as if she were still trying to overcome the same disorientation that grounded me. But Noah was on his feet already, staring up at the creature hurtling towards them.

“Noah!” I shouted to him from the ground. Noah looked back at April in fear. “Do the thing!” Green sparks ignited but faltered, over and over, in Noah’s palms. “Do it now!”

Finally, April managed to gain some perspective on the field and looked to the sky. The creature twisted its wings around its body once more and dropped. Too fast. And Noah was too slow.

“Shit.”

I locked eyes on Noah, vanished, grabbed him, locked eyes on April, vanished, took hold of her wrist, conjured an image of the far side of the ambulance, and appeared with them in their original positions beside it. Right as a concussive explosion erupted where Noah and April had been only a moment before.

April stumbled at Noah and pushed him hard against the ambulance.

“Thanks for nothing, Noah. You’re useless to us if you can’t contribute. Stay here, and keep out of the way.”

“That’s what I…” Noah stammered.

“Disappointing.” I dragged Noah by the arm and forced him into the ambulance passenger seat beside Giuseppe. I couldn’t believe I’d thought we could rely on Noah at all, much less for his gangbuster abilities. He needed more training before he was anywhere near ready for something like this.

“It’s time to drop this prick into the snow.” April sounded like she’d finally regained her bearings. “Height?” She bent down with her hands cupped at her knees.

I grinned. Not having to explain my every decision and strategy was exhilarating.

“Angles,” I agreed and stepped one foot into her hands.

With strength gifted to us by our Flames, April boosted me into the air and onto the top of the ambulance in a single swift movement. I stepped to the back edge and glanced down to April who was running in a straight line directly behind the ambulance.

The creature screeched and swooped for the back of the ambulance. Glimmering blue ice crystals wound in webs over my hands and arms. But I wasn’t the Champion this creature needed to worry about. Hands thrown skyward, April blasted a jet of blinding red light directly in the creature’s face. The shock sent it tumbling forward in mid-air.

I struck the creature again with the strongest beam of ice I could muster. Red light fell away. The creature shrieked and whipped out, but still tumbled through the air towards the front of the ambulance. Over the thick blanket of snow. April was running for the ambulance. I heard her body crash against the back of the ambulance and her scrambling to pull herself up and over.

“I can’t hold this much longer!” I called to her as she joined me on the roof. I could feel the weight of my own abilities overwhelming me from the inside.

The creature was still flailing wildly above us.

“A little more,” April took a knee and locked her hands together again. “Go!”

My icy onslaught ceased. A sickening hissing sound rose from the creature’s damaged but healing skin. I ran at April. A final step pressed into her hands and she launched me into the air. High enough to be above the creature’s head. With both hands pressed together, I sent a final jet of ice that pummelled the creature into the snow and held it down.

My feet landed easily in the soft snow. The creature stopped writhing. The battle ended. April climbed down to admire my handiwork. Noah slid from the ambulance and joined us. The creature that had terrorised Caria was lying in front of us, encased in a thick layer of solid, shimmering blue ice.

“See, frozen,” I said to April. “I just needed a starting point.”

“Solid effort,” she winked at me and we chuckled at her dumb pun.

“What is that thing?” Noah asked, but for once didn’t shout or sound appalled. He seemed curious, and stepped up to touch the ice surrounding the creature.

“I…” April was shaking her head and looked to me with glazed eyes. “You?”

“Nope, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Decisiveness returned to April’s expression. She set her gaze on the driver, who was waiting patiently as if nothing had happened.

“You can see and hear. You feel safe. Continue the journey to the Arctic Falls Clinic on your own.”

“Safe… clinic… own…” he muttered, and started driving without another word.

“It’s not permanent,” I explained to Noah. His hand pulled back suddenly from the ice. “But it’ll give Giuseppe time to get Fi’s dad into the mountains, and time for us to get out of here.”

“Shouldn’t we… take it with us, or something?” Noah asked.

“Well… It’s fully encased in a solid block of ice…” I thought aloud with a glance to April.

“Can you teleport something that large?” She asked.

“Maybe. But where to?”

“Themis?”

“So, your house? You have a place capable of holding this thing?”

“Can’t you make one of… you know… the Immortals come to us and take it?” Noah asked. It was a good question. Surprisingly.

“We could,” April replied. “But Kyle’s teleportation is more direct. The Immortals can all do something similar, but they – oddly enough – have more movement limitations than what Kyle’s Flame lets him do. It’s something they’ve never been too happy about.”

“Can you immobilise it if it wakes up?” I asked.

“The strength of this thing… I’m not confident. Maybe, but not for long. And probably not at all.”

We took a moment to think in silence. Icy winds were starting to gain speed across the ground and dark grey clouds were rolling in on from the mountain peaks.

“What about the observation room?” April asked. “It can be completely sealed from the outside. Big freezer?”

“Hmm… that could work.” I surveyed the creature again. It had taken most of my strength to capture it, and now we needed to move it? A challenge that could easily go wrong. “It’s risky to take all three of us and it at the same time,” I explained after a minute. “I’ll drop you back with Themis, then come back for it, and meet you at mine.”

April and Noah took my hands and we were suddenly standing in April’s house’s entrance hall.

“See you in a bit.”

The now frozen landscape reappeared around me.

I took my phone from my pocket and started dialing.

“Yes?”

Hermes’ face appeared on the screen.

“We stopped a thing.” I pointed the camera at the ice block filled with our latest deadly assignment. “I need to keep it frozen. Can you make sure the observation room’s clear?”

“Fine.”

He seemed about to hang up but must have heard the strain in my voice, because Hermes added gruffly, “Pleased you didn’t die.”

“Yep.”

I ended the call and waited. A minute later, a message arrived.

Go.

With a steadying breath, I pressed my hands against the ice. An image of the observation room rose in my mind. Focus. Focus.

Blue light stretched out from my hands over the ice block, then around it, then under it. Terrified, urgent voices screamed in my ears, but they were my ghosts this time rather than the creature’s taunts.

Shut up!

I squeezed my eyes shut tight and pressed my palms harder against the ice. Then the pressure eased.

“Kyle.” April’s voice struck me. I let go of the ice block.

“Step back,” I said and blasted every inch of the room with solid ice. A final layer of ice crystals followed me as I stepped from the room and slammed the door shut.

Hermes, Themis, Noah, and April are waiting in the adjoining room. They were watching the creature, motionless, through the double sided wall. I let myself fall into the couch, exhausted and trying to fight back the rising terror that always built in my mind whenever I pushed my abilities.

“What is this?” April asked. “What have you sent us after? Because whatever it is, we’re not equipped for this. Either you were holding back when we spar, or this thing is more powerful than you, Themis. We barely stood a chance. With all of us.”

Hermes and Themis share a worried look.

“Were there any more of these?” Themis asked.

“What? No, of course not,” April replied. “One creature, terrorising the good people of Caria. Delivered. Now. As for our meeting…”

Hermes stepped toward the slowly moving mirrored wall and observed the creature on the other side.

“We were previously unaware of the identity of the being running rampant. But now that we are…” Hermes turned to us with that look that meant bad news. I saw embers burning, untamed, at April’s palms, but she barely seemed to notice anymore. “They exist in threes.”

“They?” My voice rose. “Threes?”

“An analysis of the victims’ injuries led us to certain suspicions,” Themis explained. “Yet we wished them not to be accurate. That creature is an ancient Immortal being called a Fury. Fearsome, vengeful creatures who have been punishing mortals since… well, since there were mortals to punish. They’re a tricky being, though. You see, they do not bring any kind of objective justice that would later be found in processes of order and law. Rather, they gain their power from terrorising mortals whom others claim to have done them wrong. Irrespective of whether the crime against the accusing mortal occurred as described. Messy business, too. The Furies originally used real lashes to carry out their very chaotic sentences, but found soon after that the power rested not with the weapons they had found, but with themselves. They realised they could tear a mortal to shreds with a simple touch. And terrorise the minds of mortals only by being within eyeshot. In an effort to control them, the Immortals, long ago, banded together and cursed them with a single weakness which we were capable of exploiting with ease. As you have very deftly uncovered for yourselves,” Themis looked in at the ice crystals containing the creature. “Excellent work.” She smiled before continuing. “They can change their mortal shape, but always have a consistent Immortal form, which you see before us now. This one is… I believe is…” Themis peered in at the creature and bobbed her head to get a view from all angles. “Alecto. Wouldn’t you agree, Hermes?” He nodded. “Which means its siblings, Tisiphone and Megaera, may still be at large.”

“Then why are we dealing with this?” April asked, sharp. “We’re not powerful enough, even working together. We barely got away from one!”

“And… I can’t manage that again any time soon,” I added. I tried to move my body on the couch to point to the creature locked in ice, but failed.

“Then leave it,” Hermes spoke with authority, but there was an edge of concern in his words.

“And you’ll intervene? To get rid of them?” April asked.

“No,” Themis’ reply was simple. “Do so in the knowledge that the High Council, and the other Immortals, will not enter the Mortal Realm to assist. Hermes and I have also been ordered not to intervene. Beyond a support capacity, any further action by us will break the truce, and the Immortals will once more wage war amongst themselves across Caria, and the rest of your world.”

April was growing more and more furious.

“Then we’re not stopping,” April’s voice steadily rose in pitch. “Our whole purpose for being the way we are is to free the mortals from Immortal bullshit. To paraphrase. And if no one gets rid of these Furies, no one in Caria is safe. You refuse to interfere with the Mortal Realm. But that’s rubbish, because you mess around here all the time. So we’ll sort this out ourselves! Argh!”

Enraged, and looking as exhausted as I felt, April’s hands shot out in front of her and sent a stream of burning hot flames at the mirror. The wall continued moving as if unaware of the impact dissipating across its surface. Embers subsided. April’s eyes glazed over again and swirled with a milky white emptiness. Then, she collapsed. Themis rushed to catch her, and there was chatter, but I couldn’t hear it anymore. I was tired of fighting monsters, and tired of believing in Noah and Kim when they might actually be completely unreliable, and tired of April losing control. I saw Hermes’ eyes rest on me. But the nightmares slipped in, and I welcomed them, because our situation was steadily becoming worse and worse and all I wanted was to go to sleep. Maybe, when I wake up, things might be different. But probably not. At least my abilities will be refreshed and I can fight whatever monster the Immortals throw at me next.

 

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

The fluidity of time

 

April.

 

I gasped when I found myself suddenly turning a heavy handle and stepping through a sturdy mahogany front door.

“Welcome back.”

Delicate, angelic words echoed softly from the high, intricately decorated ceiling and dark, hard wood floorboards in reply to a greeting I couldn’t recall speaking. A grand marble staircase rose high to an upper floor. My floor. My home. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But wasn’t I just…

To my right was an open wall that led into a large front living area, while in front of me sat a plain, dark wooden door. It was through that door from which the angelic voice had floated and through which I left the entranceway as I made my way towards the kitchen.

A mirror caught my eye, and I stopped for a moment, staring into it. My dark grey-blue eyes looked back at me and yet I felt as if I were watching a stranger. They flickered a fiery red, then were grey-blue once more. I blinked, brushing my hair from my eyes, and looked again. Nothing. Merely a trick of the light on a tired mind. I turned away and walked through an empty doorframe into the warm, homely kitchen. The open fire burned brightly in its large decorative fireplace in the far wall, forever throwing warmth into the kitchen and the house’s main living area.

“We have an idea to capture the others,” I said, vacantly without really hearing my words or remembering when we had come up with any plans. Looking up, I saw Themis in all her beauty sitting across from me and my already half eaten meal, wearing an expression thick with worry.

But I just opened the door. How did I…

“How?” her voice was kind, but confusion shuddered through me.

“I… um… I don’t know. We might. What are we capturing?”

Themis stood up and stepped lightly across the room with her usual near-gliding bare footsteps, then returned to me. Her delicate and kindly appearance fooled many, and she was all of those things, but beneath it there was much more. For Themis was also strong, tough and cunning, and possessed a quality that made her truly formidable – patience. She held out a hand, showing me a vial of orange liquid. I took it and swallowed its contents without question, trying to push through the fog settling over me and to force my surroundings to stop spinning.

“What do you last remember?” Themis asked, sitting at the table across from me.

“I…” I tried to grapple hold of my most recent memory, but it kept slipping from my grip, changing and then shifting to something different entirely. “The creature.” I caught Themis’ eye. “The creature. In Kyle’s house. That’s what we captured. Hermes was everywhere and Noah almost got me killed again. I lashed out at the mirror wall, so I wouldn’t set fire to the house again because I couldn’t control it.”

“I brought you back here to rest. You woke up as usual.” Themis explained, unusually calm and suddenly deeply concerned. “You were at Kyle’s all day yesterday.”

“Yesterday?”

“The Fury was captured on Friday. Then you were at Kyle’s yesterday, Saturday, and now most of today. It’s four thirty-five p.m. On Sunday.”

“That can’t… be…”

I stood squinting blankly at Themis, trying but failing to recall anything of the past day and a half. The entire time was foggy, like a long forgotten dream fading beyond my reach.

The Immortals had known from the first instance that our weak, fragile bodies couldn’t contain our abilities for long. For Kim and Noah it wasn’t so bad. Their abilities had only manifested within the last year. But for those of us who had been controlling our powers since we were five years old…

“An entire day,” I mused in a low murmur, resigned to an unchangeable fate, “and a bit. That’s probably not great. At least we knew this was coming eventually. But they said I had longer. They said I had more time.”

Dragging myself back to focus on the present, I glanced across the room to the fireplace. The flames within it still burned brightly, and yet not as brilliantly as they once had. Rummaging in my bag, I drew out a glass vial filled with orange liquid and gulped it down.

“The Fates see such tidings,” Themis’ voice was rich, warm and reassuring. “The best we can do is prepare, and make the most of right now, and the time we know we have left.” She reached across the bench and took my hand in hers.

The Fates. I remembered our first meeting, at five years old, like it was yesterday. Although, with their perception of time, there was always the possibility that it actually had been yesterday and that time had somehow folded in around my five-year-old self. Not a day went by without wishing I had never met them.

I had been playing hide and seek in the house when there came a sharp, sudden tap on the front door. It felt usual enough back then but, now that I look back on that moment, it seems strange that such beings should have to follow the formalities of knocking on front doors. Themis jumped when she heard the tapping and found me in an instant.

“Stay in the kitchen,” she had instructed in a hurried whisper. “I will return soon with guests. You are to be on your best behaviour.”

I smiled and obeyed her words, bouncing my way down the hall to the warm kitchen. Not a lot about the room had altered since that time. The only difference was the cold, empty fireplace that would, soon, represent my first accomplishment using my newly developed control over fire. I sat myself down on a thick, heavy red mat that lay on the wooden floor in front of the empty fireplace, excited at the prospect of having guests in the house.

“Leah, Isla,” Themis’ soft, warm voice drifted in through the open kitchen door, “it is good to see you again.”

A gentle female voice responded. “You as well, Themis. It has been long since we ventured into this realm.”

“How have you found it thus far?” Themis asked conversationally. Her voice had not come any closer.

“Much is accomplished in fifty years, for ones so devoid of knowledge…” a second, harsher female voice replied.

“Now, now, Leah, there is no need for such negativity,” the second voice reprimanded the first. Her tone had sharpened and was no longer coloured with tenderness but instead seemed filled with strength and authority. “To business,” the voice continued. “We have come to see the child, Lady Themis. Take us to her, we haven’t much time to stay.”

I heard footsteps moving towards the kitchen door.

“How is her shoulder?” The voice belonging to Isla had asked.

“Healed,” Themis replied, “but scarred.”

“It was fortunate that you were present, Lady Themis,” Leah. “The situation may have been dire otherwise…” her voice trailed off.

“The events are vivid in her mind?”

“No,” Themis replied, “they have slipped away. And I will not allow you to find them for her.” Silence, then Themis had continued. “Have you seen the others yet?” she had asked.

The delicate voice’s reply meant nothing to me. “The boy, Kyle,” it had explained, “is learning with Hermes. He is safe, Hermes has made sure of that. The unguided mortal boy remains with his family. The girl has been relocated. She will not know. Their souls will not be tainted by our affairs until they must be, as were Sia’s wishes.”

Themis entered the kitchen, her long flowing gown hanging as serenely as ever. Two women robed in white glided through the door behind her.

“Hello,” the first said to me. She had long black hair that streamed over her shoulders and down her back, and spoke with an air that told of unknowable age and wisdom. Her tone was warm and yet seemingly laced with a ruthlessness that I understood immediately. “My name is Leah,” she greeted, smiling calmly down at me with brilliant green eyes, “do you mind if we sit with you?”

I shook my head and she took up a seat on the opposite side of the mat.

The second woman, the shorter of the two with long flowing golden curls, also took a seat on the mat. To my surprise Themis did not join them, instead choosing to take a place at the kitchen table behind us.

“My name is Isla,” the shorter woman said, “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She and Leah stared into the empty fireplace for a moment before speaking again.

“You have, no doubt, met some wondrous beings in your short life so far,” Leah spoke matter-of-factly, as if she had performed her speech hundreds of times before.

I nodded.

“We are among them,” she went on pointedly.

“You see, little one,” Isla continued, “Leah and I are members of a group called Fates.”

I had heard the name before, never really knowing what it meant.

“There are only ever three Fates at one time,” Leah explained, “and together we spin, measure and cut the threads of life.”

I blinked but did not move, trying to comprehend their rapid yet concise explanation.

“We are the only constant of the Immortals,” Leah went on, “and so cannot side with either Titan or Olympian, as you have encountered in Themis’ tales.”

“We have the power to give immortality, but not to take it away,” Isla explained.

Leah finished their explanation bluntly. “And the dead are not our concern.”

Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. “But there are only two of you.”

They shared an uneasy glance before Leah spoke.

“Quite observant, little one. Our third sister, Sia, retired not long after you were born.”

“Why?”

Leah glanced to her equally beautiful sister, but it was Isla who replied. “So that you could have a chance, little one.” She reached out and squeezed by cheek with an elegant, slender hand. I still didn’t understand why these beautiful women had come to visit Themis. Isla was observing me closely, as if sizing me up.

“You’ve such power in you, little one,” Leah said. “But such strength comes with great hardship. You must follow Themis’ instruction and hear her stories and thoughts, for she has much planned for you, and will guide you as best she can.”

I nodded to show that I was listening for fear that the glaze over my eyes would tell them otherwise.

“Can you light this fire, little one?” Isla broke in abruptly. “Concentrate. Try as hard as you can.”

“But it will fade…”

“We will make it stay. For as long as you are alive.”

I nodded and raised my hand to the fireplace. With some effort, a ball of bright red fire burst into life in my palm. I dropped it into the open fireplace, where each flame burst and folded over itself until the ornate fireplace was filled with fire that burnt brightly. I blinked as I gazed into the brilliant, homely fire and the flames now dancing within the confines of the fireplace. I returned my attention to Isla and Leah but, to my surprise, the flames did not subside as I had expected them to.

Isla gazed solemnly at the newly formed flames as if something about their existence saddened her. She stretched out a delicate hand and plucked a single flame away lightly. With her other hand, she took my wrist and guided the shrinking chunk of fire to my bracelet, where it found a new home safely within one of the charms, dancing behind a tiny clear window. She formed a second charm and encased within it the second half of the fire. The charm floated over her shoulder, where Themis plucked it from the air.

“Nineteen,” she had said, before gliding to her feet.

Leah followed her lead. I caught a glimpse of the terrified expression that Themis had not yet had time to wipe from her features.

“We learn from our mistakes, Lady Themis,” Leah added darkly. She had turned to face me still sitting on the mat. “We have left a present for you with Themis,” she told me. “It belonged to our sister, Sia, but you will have to wait until you are older to receive it.”

I nodded, knowing somehow not to challenge this woman.

“Goodbye Lady Themis. Goodbye little one,” Leah said. “We will meet again.”

With that, the two women, the Fates, had vanished into thin air.

Themis’ angelic voice brought me out of my reverie as a desperate sense of fear washed suddenly over me.

“Leah left them, not long ago,” she was saying. “It is only Isla now.” Deep concern flickered into life behind Themis’ steady gaze. We both knew what it meant – with only one sister out of three remaining, the probability of mistakes increased dramatically.

“Lucky for me,” I said, cold, “my prophecy was made before their ranks fell apart…”

With a sigh I rose to take my leave, but something stopped me. I held a hand to my left shoulder, thinking of the jagged white scar that ran across it and the shards of memory that haunted me, and that had fallen too far from my reach.

“The day I got this…”

“Is a day you must remember on your own.”

But distant memories of faded scars were superseded by the dread that always accompanied any reminder of the Fates’ visit. Understanding of the meaning of the number spoken by the Fates that day came many, many years later, on the day Themis explained life threads to me. A life thread can be cut before it reaches its final length, but it cannot be extended, Themis had told me as we were overlooking endless rows of brilliant silver-gold threads stretched over carved wooden racks. The Fates do not give time, Themis had gone on, they measure destiny. My destiny just happened to be nineteen years long. Back then, as a six-year-old sitting on that comfy mat and gazing up at these gorgeous people, nineteen would have seemed like forever. Now? Not so much.

While the Immortals refused the entire time to offer any assistance, Kyle and I took too long to find the other Champions. We were meant to train them, then win. And yet, sitting in the same kitchen as I had the first time I heard my number with seventeen – almost eighteen – years already crossed of, our original plan didn’t make sense.

Noah and Kim were showing promise and vast potential, alongside life threads that would undoubtedly extend far beyond my own, yet they still struggled to call their abilities at will. Training them could take a year – a year that I barely had – only to send them into battle against myself at their peak at a time when my own abilities and sanity would be dwindling. If our final stand had taken place three, two, even one year earlier, maybe our battle could have been fair. But now? Did Kyle realise we’d been setting ourselves up to lose the entire time? I had listened to his declarations for this plan for so long that I questioned whether or not, since I’d met Kyle, I’d ever had a plan of my own. Battle by battle, yes, I went in knowing the best options for me, but the long game… I was sure I’d planned for the long game, somewhere, sometime… Perhaps in the moments that fell from my memory. Perhaps never at all.

One way or another, this has to happen. Kyle and I had spent so long trying to convince the High Council of an alternative, any alternative, only to have them refuse us constantly. Our latest meeting would be no different. This war needs to end, and it needs to end now. Otherwise, I’ll be trampled into the dust as yet another mortal who died in the Immortals’ crossfire.

 

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Assassination 101

 

April

 

An hour later, I was sitting on the edge of my bed upstairs where I’d been since leaving the kitchen, questioning what felt like every decision I had ever made and every action I had ever taken while plotting for every possible series of upcoming events I could imagine. A clear vision of what had to be done to survive didn’t help my shaky confidence, knowing that every time I used my abilities and stretched them beyond their limits my mind and body were sent into a spiral where I lost track of time that was bordering on the loss of recollection of entire days. Somehow I was still functioning during that time, but failing to remember vast stretches of my own actions was dangerous. For me, and for everyone around me. Dread clawed at my chest at the thought of the devastation I might inflict if I forgot how to control – well, tame – my abilities. Caria would burn just like all the buildings I’d set alight to reach this point, and just like it did the night the townspeople threw those two innocent women on a pyre. I refused to risk being my city’s end.

I reached out for the forever-blooming yellow rose glowing softly on my nightstand, searching for any form of comfort that could settle my doubt and nerves. Tracing over the glorious, warm petals with my fingertip, I noticed another petal was gone, never to bloom again. Opening the nightstand drawer, I found that it had once more been refilled with rows of glass vials, all containing the strange orange liquid designed to hold back the crushing weight of these powers. I plucked a handful from their velvety beds, moving across the room to lift my shoulder bag from the floor and place the vials safely within a pencil tin stowed at the bottom. Similar soft velvet as used in the drawer closed around the vials to hold each safely encased within.

“Okay, Noah,” I mumbled to myself as I sat at a desk running along the entire length of the wall closest to my bedroom door and started up my laptop. “Where do you live?”

Kim’s address was easy, since Kyle had so casually typed it into my phone not long before, but all I knew about Noah was that he lived on a street that bore his own surname. Ludicrous. I’d never even heard of his family, yet they have a street named after them in one of the oldest parts of town? Please. Clicking through a web search, I found a series of old news reports, in writing and in video.

I opened a video of a man at a news desk and a woman reporting from the scene of a crime. From Noah’s house. People in police uniforms were walking in and out of a grand manor carrying things – possible evidence, maybe – in brown paper bags. In the video, there was a strange black powder dusted across the door frame and window ledges. Fingerprint dust. They were investigating the disappearance of Noah’s parents.

“Because that was successful,” I mumbled and paused the footage. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my own voice seemed to respond, “I’m sure they tried their best and are still looking,” but I pushed the internal monologue away. I’d seen all I needed to see. I snapped an image of the house with my phone, closed the laptop, and walked out of the house without saying goodbye to Themis. I couldn’t fight the niggling feeling that she might stop me, although this was the entire reason she had been sent into the Mortal Realm to begin with.

I walked towards central Caria, scrolling through a map of Caria as I went. Noah’s house was further away, so I figured I’d make the long walk through town to it first, then visit Kim and have a shorter, faster escape route back to home. That way, I should end up back at my house in the fastest route possible having won the War and survived.

From the image I’d snapped, Noah’s house looked like a grand old manor that must have been built at the height of Old Caria. The structure could have been a replica, but something about the house made that option feel less probably. It felt peculiar to see a relic of Old Caria that had somehow withstood the Great Fire enough to be restored to its prior glory. Most of the houses shown in the footage along the street shared the similar historic elegance of Old Caria that we were told about and shown in school, museums, and during the Festival.

But it made sense once I expanded the map view to see both Old and New Caria. Alexander Drive rested at the far edge of the boundary of New Caria, yet also at the nearest boundary of Old Caria, in a way that made it capable of existing within both. Passing itself off as part of New Caria might explain why none of our school trips had ever taken us to this part of town while learning our city’s history. That, and the fact that Alexander Drive was enough of a distance from central Caria that no one other than its residents ever had reason to stray that far. And it was too close to New Caria and too far from the river to make the small neighbourhood worth including in any festival or ceremonial path to the ruins.

The streets of central Caria greeted me with open arms and stunning music at every corner. Darkness was falling and the strings of white-yellow street lights across the buildings were bursting to life to illuminate snaking streets and alleyways. The streets were bustling with vibrant life of everyday people working hard to build good lives for themselves and their families and friends. I moved slowly through town, soaking up the energy of a place I loved to call home. I wanted to see Caria again and watch it change over a passage of time not afforded me. And yet, as I took a final step beyond central Caria and strings of lights grew fewer and farther between, I was suddenly struck by something more, something unexpected – realisation of just how much it would break my heart to see the town and its people burn under the foils of the Immortals. All these people were all relying on me to keep them safe from the Immortals’ endless internal squabbling, and they didn’t even know about it. The never would. What was more, so many people had already died in the wake of me learning to harness abilities that I was never meant to be able to control. I couldn’t let that loss – loss, not to me, but to the loved ones and communities left behind – be in vain. Failure on my part would mean it was all in for nothing, and would leave Caria and its people vulnerable to an Immortal onslaught.

By the time I arrived in Alexander Drive, night had fallen and the lights in house windows were beginning to switch off. Hiding across the street from Noah’s mansion, I waited. A woman moved behind the front windows, switching lamps off and closing blinds. A relative, maybe. No, the housekeeper, Mercedes, that Noah had mentioned once before. He’d also mentioned someone else, and an uncle, but there was no sign of either.

At last, the final house lights along the street blinked into darkness. I heard the clock tower striking, but quickly lost count of the hours it tolled. Moving swiftly, I crouched low and snuck to the back of the house. I made my way as quietly as possible to a low window, hidden from view of the neighbours by a set of flourishing, bushy pot plants. With a final glance to check that the room beyond was clear, I placed my palms to the glass and called on my Flame.

Keep breathing. Keep breathing.

A thin layer of embers spread from my fingertips across my palms. I felt the glass softening under the heat. With my left hand still pressed to the slowly melting glass, I pressed my right hand through and swiped carefully from top to bottom. After a few minutes, the glass was nothing more than a smooth ball pressed into my hands, still malleable from the heat. Quickly, I wrapped the ball in a shirt from my bag, stowed it away, and climbed through the empty window frame.

My feet found solid ground, but the world started spinning. Using my control over fire, even for the shortest of time, had left me shaking and edgy. With fumbling hands, I grabbed for a vial of the potion from my bag, drank it, and returned the empty vial.

Keep breathing. Keep breathing.

The room fell back into focus, where I hoped my surroundings would stay for at least the next few hours. I was in what looked like a storage cellar with stairs leading to an upper floor. I didn’t know exactly where Noah’s room was, so I crept around for a bit until I finally peered into the room I was looking for.

Noah was fast asleep. I moved quietly, knelt beside his bed, and placed a hand to his temple. Senses were so much easier for my telepathy to tamper with than memories. Sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell, they all sat right at the top of most people’s minds, waiting to be used without thinking. Focussing on one at a time, I blocked each so that they were just too distant for Noah’s mind to use. Now, he wouldn’t feel a thing. Connections to his organs – his heart, his lungs – were trickier to tamper with, but could be blocked with a bit more effort. But I hesitated, concerned at pushing my abilities into uncharted territory. The rise and fall of Noah’s chest slowed, and stopped. I readied to take the final step that would push me over the point of no return.

“Stop this, April,” came a calm whisper from the shadows.

I gasped and pulled back. Noah started breathing again as Kyle stepped forward to join me in the dim gloom.

“How did you know I was here?”

Kyle pointed to a tiny light above the doorway coming from a sensor of some kind, then flashed his watch at me.

“Thought you’d end up here eventually.”

“How did you know I was here?” points up – to a tiny light coming from a sensor of some kind, then flashed me his watch. “Heat,” he replied. “You still run a ~ degree temperature.”

“A heat sensor,” I whispered. “Smart.”

“You still run at a ridiculous temperature.”

“So do you,” I pointed out, blunt. Our Flames made us impervious to heat and cold, respectively, but also meant that our bodies functioned at the kinds of temperatures they were capable of resisting. He shrugged.

“It isn’t fair if we don’t have time to train them first. We always said we would. It isn’t fair if they don’t even have a chance to defend themselves.”

“What part of any of this is fair?”

“Nothing that the Immortals set up. But we’re not them, April. We can choose to have the aspects that we control be what we wish our lives had been. Just because the Immortals sent them here without guides, doesn’t mean we have to leave them out in the cold.”

“But by the time they’re ready, they’ll be better than us. We’ll be worn down, while they’ll be at their peak. We won’t stand a chance against the very opponents we made it our mission to train.”

“They’re still practically fully mortal, April. We’re here to protect mortals.”

“By winning the War. By eliminating two of our opponents.”

“I can’t let you do this, April,” his voice was strained and thick with emotion. “Not yet.”

“It took us too long to reach them.”

“I’d say the timing was perfect.” Kyle walked over to me and gripped my upper arm. His voice remained calm, but filled with authoritative menace. “Drop whatever you’ve done to Noah, and get the fuck away from him.”

After a moment, I let the walls I had built around Noah’s mind fall.

“Done.”

Kyle dragged me up from the floor and pressed my body tight against his with an unbreakable hold.

“And if you try anything like this with Kim before we’ve finished training them,” his eyed locked on mine. “I don’t care if you’re my battle partner. I will wipe the board and be the last one standing. Understand?”

I glared back at him, our faces close enough to touch.

“Fine,” I pushed back. “But a pair of assassinations would be much more efficient.”

“Yes. But it’s not how we do things.”

Our surrounding shifted suddenly around us. Bushy shrubs. Tall trees. Kyle had teleported us back to the front of my house. I felt him release my body, and then he was gone.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

A second guardian

 

Kyle

 

I’d like to think April respected me enough to stay put. I transported us both to her house and then left on my own. I had meant to travel straight back to my bedroom, but at the last second my thoughts shifted to the person I desperately needed. To Kim. Or, Kim’s house, to be more precise. Which was how I ended up dumped into a tree fork across the road from Kim’s house. It seemed as good a place as any to ponder the night’s peculiar events.

April and I had been through some scrapes together, but this was different. I’d never been this afraid of her before. I should have been. Without any warning, she’d almost achieved a feat that should have been my burden to bear. This move was always coming, but I expected her to act in a month or three, not right away. Perhaps, if I’m honest, not even at all. As soon as I could slip away, I’d placed sensors in each of Noah and Kim’s rooms to detect any change in temperature that was typical of April’s body heat, but only as a precaution.

We should have wanted the same thing. We did want the same thing. So why couldn’t I shake the unsettling feeling that rattled through my bones?

The early hours of Monday morning were taking hold, as well. Hours of sitting rigidly in the treeline wore on me. Kim’s perfect street remained just that – utter perfection. I let a smile creep to my lips. The worst was over. I conjured an image of my bedroom in my mind and prepared to teleport.

A shrill beeping sound rang out. I jumped and glared at my watch. It was flashing and beeping wildly, but then suddenly stopped.

“Kim…”

In an instant, Kim’s bedroom materialised around me.

“Stop,” I let out, but there was nothing to stop.

April was pressed up against a wall with her arms and legs splayed at odd angles. My stomach lurched and my eyes searched the room wildly. Kim, looking terrified, was squashed against her bed head with her knees held to her chest. In one hand, she clutched her blankets over her, but in the other…

I let out a sigh of relief.

Kim’s other hand was pointed directly at April, and glowing. A second survey of April showed rings of glowing yellow air encircling her ankles and wrists. I glanced above the door searching for answers. My heat sensor was a smoking mess.

“My parents were snoring,” Kim’s voice shook. “It woke me up. Then she was there!”

In disbelief, I looked from Kim to April and back. Then back again. I stormed over to April. Kim’s hand dropped, and April crumpled to the floor.

“What did you do?” I spat out in a horrified whisper.

April rose defiantly to her feet.

“I went back.”

“But…” I looked to my watch, then back at April in horror. “How?”

April’s response was chilling.

“My telepathy reaches beyond bedroom doors, Kyle. Your sensor only covered the inside of the room.”

There was no pride in her voice, or any hint of the rich sense of victory we had been led to believe would exist in each final step toward winning the War. A mix of fear and anger raged. I loved April but all I could feel when I looked at her was disgust at the monster standing before me. We were so similar, though. For the first time, I truly saw my own monstrosities reflected in the mirror of April Fall.

“Come on, Kim. We’re leaving.” I held a hand out to Kim and she scrambled across to take hold. “How could you do this?” I asked April, mortified.

“Kyle, it’s the only reason we exist the way we do. We are their Champions. The War must have resolution, and we’re the only ones who can make that happen. If we don’t end this, all those people who the Immortals will mow down like nothing. All those lives that will be destroyed. Or just these two… This is what we were raised to be. What we were raised to do. Don’t you see?”

I was more terrified that April’s words made sense to me than I ever had been of her. I looked her up and down. After all these years, the reality of our War finally sunk in.

“I see.”

The room around us was rapidly replaced by the heavy gloom of my own lounge room.

“My parents,” Kim blustered and tried to push by me to the door, “I need to go back for my parents.”

I pulled her against my chest and wrapped my arms around her body.

“You don’t have to worry about them. April won’t hurt them. They won’t even know she’s there. I promise. Please, Kim.”

“How do you know?” Kim let out a sob into my shoulder.

“I know April. And she’s right. We’re not here to harm mortals, we’re here to protect them. You’re the only one in danger here. You’ve gotta believe me.”

“When you said ‘what did you do’…?”

“I…” Kim shrugged out of my hug. “I think she killed Noah.”

Although the words tumbled from my lips, I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. Kim let out another heavy sob and turned away.

“Noah…” she muttered into her hand.

“You have to stay here. It’s the only way I can make sure you’re safe.”

“Stay here?” Kim grew suddenly still. “You mean, move into this hell hole, with you and Hermes?”

“I know it’s not your home, but it’s the safest place for you…”

“I don’t think so, Kyle,” Kim turned back to face me and wiped her eyes. “I have my own life, and my own house, and my own family.”

“But she’ll find you.”

“April can find me anywhere. Following you around every hour of the day isn’t gonna change that. You want to protect me. I appreciate it. But I can’t be with you every second of every day of every week of every year until either me or April is dead.”

“She tried to kill you.”

“Which I had covered.”

I remembered the white-gold rings of air that pinned April to the wall. Kim had a point. She’d done all the heavy lifting. All I did was a cheap party trick to get us out faster.

“Before we got together, I was living perfectly fine doing things my own way. I can handle my own business now that you’re here.”

“Are you…? Are we breaking up?”

“No. Geez, no, Kyle. They’re two separate issues. Why is me leaving the first assumption you make? Come on, Kyle, be reasonable. I’m making a life for myself, and you’re welcome to be in it. You just can’t control every single second of it. That’s for me to do. Not you. Not anyone. I need you to love and support me as equals, not be another force of oppression in my life. We can work this out together, later. For now, I’m going home. Well, I’m going into town first,” she added, hurried, “but then I’m going home. By myself.”

“But… you need to run.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Then… I can make you go. I can teleport you away.”

“I’d just hold onto you and make you bring me back. Or find another way home.”

“I can teleport you away within travelling with you.”

She held out a hand.

“Then do it already.”

But she knew I couldn’t. I should be able to, but I couldn’t. it was yet another haunting reminder at how much greater April’s abilities had grown in the past year than mine had.

“I’ll see you in school,” Kim said and left the house.

I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that my abilities had barely advanced in the year since I had seen April, while she had gone and returned as a methodical battle machine.

“Hermes!” I called out, but there was no response. “Hermes!” I walked by the observation room only to find it empty. He must have taken the Fury to lock it away somewhere, probably in the Underworld.

Fine. I’ll deal with this on my own, just like everyone else seemed to be doing.

Rocky shore materialised beneath my feet. The sounds of a bubbling river met me. I could see the sun beginning to peek over the horizon. A renewed sense of serenity fell over me as I knelt down and held out a hand to feel the chilled water bubble over my fingertips.

Footsteps echoed to my ears, moving smoothly over the stone and gravel shore behind me. I didn’t turn to look at the source of footsteps which I recognised but which were not those that I had hoped to hear. Instead, I let my gaze and thoughts wander with the flowing water.

“Heard you calling.” Ares’ voice sounded relaxed but resonated with compassion that was always vacant in Hermes’ words.

“For Hermes.”

“Same same.”

“I needed to speak with him.”

Ares stepped forward to join me by the river’s edge.

“Hermes is busy with the Fury you trapped,” he sounded amused before a hint of something more like hopelessness found its way to his tone. “April… did not what was right, nor what was wrong.”

“You were all watching?”

“Yes.”

“What did you think?”

The words cut like a dagger to my soul.

“Some among the High Council already wanted all four of you thrown into an arena. Hermes and Themis thought that would be unjust, and even now are still imploring patience.”

“Throwing us all into an arena,” I threw him a grim smile, “might not be a bad idea. At least I wouldn’t end up murdered in the shadows.”

“Is that truly what brought you here?” Ares asked. “You always have me, Kyle. I will always be here to step in should Hermes be indisposed. Like I always have been.”

Minutes stretched by while we listened to the calm bubbling of the river beside us.

“I might not be as good a guide as Hermes, but I’ve been around longer. I can still help you, I think…”

My eyes fell to Ares, who looked younger than Hermes and yet was an eternity older.

“My abilities are lagging. April’s little demonstration showed me that first hand. Then, at the swimming carnival, my teleportation did something strange,” I explained

“I need to make it do it again, but I’ve been trying and I don’t know how.”

“Explain it to me.”

“April was there, then there was a blue blur in her place. Somehow, I teleported April to her house without travelling with her.”

Ares grinned a cunning, curious grin. “Nice effort.”

“It’d be great,” irritation showed through, “if I could ever actually do it again.”

Appearing thoughtful, Ares lowered himself to sit on a chunk of driftwood lying across the loose rocky shoreline.

“Tell me about what happened. Exactly. Step by step.”

“I…” I tried to think back to a moment that had been filled with such unease. “April passed out. I couldn’t do anything for her, but I had to get her back to Themis. But then Kim was leaving, and I couldn’t take April and be back before Kim was gone. And I couldn’t be with Kim without leaving April behind.”

“And you felt like…?”

“Like… Like I needed to be in both places. To be with April in her house, and to make a run for Kim.”

“Then that’s your answer.”

But I didn’t understand.

“What is?” I asked, bewildered.

“To feel – to be – torn between here and there. By needing to be in two places at once, it looks like you ended up momentarily some place in between, where you no longer had to travel with April to relocate her.”

“Some place in between…” I murmured.

“Here. Let’s try,” Ares stood up and gathered a pile of pebbles from the shore. “I’m going to start throwing rocks at you.” He tossed a stone to me and appeared to delight in his latest bright idea. “Catch each stone in your left hand only, and drop them. I’ll stop when you drop that stone from your right hand onto my feet. Without moving. Left hand catch drop, right hand move. Got it?”

“Wait, what?” But there was no time for questions. Ares began pummelling pebbles at me with quick-fire speed, laughing to himself as I failed to both catch and relocate the stones.

“Come on, Kyle, I can do this all day,” Ares laughed as his onslaught brought me to my knees. “Or all eternity.”

Suddenly, an image of Ares’ feet burned into my mind. The immortal was not going to defeat me in this like the Immortals took pleasure in doing for my entire life. In pain and so sick of Ares’ onslaught and April’s decisions, my mind became suddenly clear. Determined. My left hand reached out to grab a stone hurtling towards my face just as a faint blue glow illuminated the stone in my right.

The barrage ceased. There, on Ares’ feet, sat a tiny pebble. And my right hand was empty.

“See,” Ares noted, as carefree as ever, “two places at once.”

I broke into easy laughter as Ares lifted me back to my feet. Yet something about my laugh sounded off, as if there was a hint of hysteria hidden beneath.

“And I’m pretty sure Hermes has put you through worse than a little pebble barrage,” he grinned. “Keep practicing. You’ll get it.”

“But will I figure it out in time?” I asked, sincere.

“Yes,” Ares’ words were strong and clear, “because you have to.”

“Please tell me how to get Kim out of all this?”

Ares turned his back to me and looked away. He threw his hands in his pockets in a sign of frustration.

“The only ones capable of removing your Flames are the High Council,” he spoke to the river, not me. “The Fates… might help you. But I doubt it. They’re ever so skilled at remaining neutral in our little debacle. Who knows. They might rule in your favour.” Ares didn’t sound confident.

“The Fates can’t do that, can they? Go against the High Council?”

“That is…” Ares turned back to me as he considered his words carefully, “a tricky question, young mortal. The Fates have incredible magic, which they wield to maintain balance. But their magic, and their neutrality, also gives them the power to enforce our agreements. The High Council might make all the decisions when it comes to Immortal affairs, but the Fates’ word is final. Should any Immortal fail to fulfil their obligations to an agreement, like our present truce for example, the Fates can rain down a wave of retribution beyond anything any of us can defend,” for a moment, I thought I saw genuine fear lingering behind Ares’ eyes, “Should they justify taking an alternative stance,” he went on, lighter, “the High Council and all Immortals must abide by their overruling.”

“Has that ever happened?”

“The night of Caria’s Great Fire,” Ares appeared thoughtful. “The Fates took control to establish the High Council, and our present order, to begin with. You’re welcome to ask them about it at the audience you’ve requested. If you ever get there.”

“If…” I replied, defeated.

“You will get through this,” Ares said. “However, when you do meet with the High Council, be sure to take April. You are not seeing eye to eye, I understand, but she is better with them than you are. Having her with you could be helpful.”

Ares threw me a pebble and disappeared.

“Of course I’m gonna take April,” I spoke to thin air, tired of Immortals telling me what to do and irritated that I couldn’t stand to look at April but needed her more than ever. “I’m not insane.”

My eyes locked onto the piece of driftwood Ares had been sitting on earlier. Irritated, I threw the pebble into the air, caught it and launched it at the stray log with as much force as I could gather. My hand glowed bright blue. The pebble vanished then slammed into the dried, frail hunk of wood. It hit with a force as if it had only just left my hand and shattered the driftwood to pieces. I felt the weight of my Flame crushing down on me.

“Yet.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Finding balance in the rift

 

Kyle

 

Monday was exhausting. The lull between mid-year exams and the Festival was always brutally tiresome, since we were still stuck in school even though we wouldn’t start studying new content until after the Festival. Students were darting in and out all day, like they would be all week, setting up components of the Festival throughout the town, and there was no point starting anything new without everyone being in class. But having nothing to do coupled with the aftermath of April’s late night shenanigans took the usual fatigue to a whole new level.

Kim and I were sitting on the grass basking in the afternoon sun when April finally decided to show up. She sauntered across the school yard as if she owned the place and joined Steve and Erin at a sunny table with a cheery wave. Steve had mentioned earlier that Fi was back with her family in Arctic Falls, and that her dad’s condition was improving again. From here, it looked like Erin was sketching something – probably music – in a visual arts diary while chatting with Steve and April.

Beside me, Kim was quietly losing her shit. Her eyes were still bloodshot and puffy from bursting into tears at the sight of anything that reminded her of Noah. Literally anything. Seeing the spot where he usually parked his car had sent Kim into an entire first class filled with muffled sobs and streaming tears, all while conscientiously copying notes and answering questions. But I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t feel much for Noah – I’m not sure that anyone other than Kim, and maybe Erin, really did – but if Kim or April had been the one that ended up dead, I don’t know what state I’d end up in. Nothing good, that’s for sure. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? Kim’s loss was made even worse because not a single person mentioned that Noah was absent, so every outpouring of grief was completely inexplicable to everyone around us.

“The nerve!” Kim exclaimed in a hushed voice that no one would overhear and with a watery glare at April. “To sit with Erin? After what she did to Noah! April should be hanging her head in shame somewhere, not making friends and pretending nothing happened.”

“I’m sure April’s hurting on the inside.” I drawled, but it was only half a joke. The War took its toll on everyone involved, and there was no better example of that than what it had shaped April into. Before we knew we were both Champions, she was just another classmate. She was well liked, worked hard to stand up for and lead the other students, and was being earmarked to potentially take up the Girl’s School Captain spot when our senior year rolled around. I’m pretty sure she was even dating Steve, but even back then she was fiercely private, so no one really knows.

The cheery, bright, enthusiastic girl she’d been two years ago was in stark contrast to the reclusive, mistrusting, gloomy April sitting across the yard from us and pretending to be charming so she’d fit in with Steve and Erin and look like nothing was wrong.

“Why does she hate me?” I heard Kim ask in a desperate sob.

“She doesn’t, I don’t think. She didn’t do… last night… because she hates you. She’s afraid. We both are.”

“But you’d never try to kill me.” Kim whispered the word ‘kill’ and glanced around her to see if she’d been overheard.

“I, um…”

“Would you?”

“The War’s complicated. From April’s perspective, what she attempted was the best move. Efficient, effective, and pain free. For you. For Noah.”

“For Noah?” Kim sounded appalled. “He’s dead,” she spat. “I had to tell all these people that he went away with his uncle, because I don’t know what else to say. It’s not news. No one’s talking about him. I went to his house expecting to find a body and he wasn’t there. No one was there. No one even knows what happened!”

“The Immortals are good at keeping things under wraps,” I tried to explain without sounding like a complete, emotionless jackass. “They don’t want to risk being exposed for, you know, existing. It’s very Ancient World, you know? But, that wasn’t what I meant. Our abilities hurt us sometimes when we push them too far. The power April would have exerted to achieve what she did… I’m surprised she’s conscious. Themis must be helping her somehow.”

“No.”

Kim was gripping the grass beneath us. Her tight fists started to glow.

“Huh?”

“No,” she repeated with abrupt force. “You don’t get to make this about war and April and the greater good and balancing the scales and some mythological bullshit that doesn’t make sense. Noah was right, and I should’ve listened to him before that sociopath murdered him in cold blood because she’s bat shit crazy. My best friend is dead. No more. Gone. I’m never ever ever going to see him again. There’s no silver lining here, Kyle, there’s no ‘oh, it’s okay because he’d want you to be happy and move on’. No. I feel like I can’t breathe, like my whole world just fell apart. It’s gloomy and sad and wrong and unfair. There’s no meaning here, Kyle, there’s no ‘everything happens for a reason’ because the only reason for the loss and anger I feel right now is that Noah isn’t here with me anymore and he’s never going to be here with me again. And the only reason for that is April, because she spun some story to justify burning down buildings and believed that killing Noah was the only way to achieve some made up objective. When all she is is a pyromaniac with a god complex who should be locked in a wing somewhere in Arctic Falls and never see the sun again. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, and you don’t care. You don’t feel it. Nobody here does. You all just go on, because your best friend is still alive, at the end of a phone or across the courtyard or in the same room. Mine isn’t. And my life is endlessly worse because of it. I’m not the same without Noah. And the world shouldn’t be, either.”

“How can you feel this way for someone who abandoned you when you needed him the most?”

“So he panicked when he saw my powers. Who cares? Noah’s not – he wasn’t – ever that great at dealing with change and taking on new information. We always got through it. With time. Which we don’t have anymore. Which April took from us.”

I hadn’t really known Noah and couldn’t possibly comprehend the grief and despair Kim was feeling. Pretending to understand seemed disrespectful, but I couldn’t seem to figure out the right way to show her I was there for her, either. All I knew was the devastation cutting through me at seeing Kim hurting like that and not be able to do anything about it.

“I’ll ask someone,” I said quietly after a while. “Try to find out where they put him. Ask if they can create a story, instead, to let a funeral happen.”

“Ask, don’t ask, I don’t care. Noah abandoned me,” Kim spat my own words back at me. “And now he’s gone. So everybody wins.”

Kim stormed away in a mix of what I could only imagine was grief, anger, sadness, and everything else swirled into a concoction of sorrow that I was struggling to offer any comfort from.

“Ah!”

Out of nowhere, Alice’s tiny body barrelled across the grass towards Kim. Another high pitched scream rang out from Alice right as her shoulder connected with Kim’s chest and knocked her to the ground.

“I’m sorry about the lies!” Alice was screaming with her eyes locked onto something in the distance. Her legs pinned Kim down and she was pounding her hands against Kim’s body. “I think your fat but I’m sorry! I’m sorry I made everyone call you that. I made everyone hate you, but please make it stop!”

Everyone nearby was running to see the commotion. I dived to wrench Alice away, but she kicked me in the chest and threw me off with impossible strength.

“Make it stop!”

“Get off me!” Kim threw her arms at Alice as if to use her abilities. Nothing. Specks of blood started rising through the back of Alice’s dress. “What?” Kim looked to me, panicked.

The crowd started screaming.

“Woah!” April rushed over and slid a hand to Alice’s temple. Alice grew suddenly still. “Bad trip,” April called out and caught Alice’s fragile body in her arms. “Someone call an ambulance, and find a teacher.”

I saw Steve sprint to the other side of the school yard towards a foolishly unaware Mr Sheppard. April set Alice down gently on the ground.

“Is she…?” I whispered.

“Dead?” April hissed at me and tugged at my sleeve to follow her. “No, Kyle, she’s asleep.” She grabbed Kim’s upper arm to pull her to her feet and then along with us. “We’re not here to hurt the mortals.”

Once we were in a secluded part of school, April finally released Kim and stepped away.

“Not the time for your abilities to malfunction, Kim,” April mocked her but took up an open stance in front of a wall opposite Kim. “Get a handle on them before you put someone else in danger.”

“I’m sorry that being assaulted twice in two days is a bit more than I can handle!” Kim shouted back.

“It’s gonna get a lot worse.”

“Well I don’t want it to be worse!”

A pocket of white-gold air roared towards April and threw her across the yard.

“You done?”

April jumped to her feet again and stalked towards Kim.

“Not a bit!”

Another blast wave from Kim took April’s feet out from under her.

“Junk, Kim. Seriously.” April was up again and taunting Kim. “I tried to murder you and that’s the best you’ve got?”

Arms outstretched, Kim threw another uncontrolled burst that careered into April and battered her hard against the far wall.

“Stop,” I let out but my voice sounded weak.

Sparks of white-gold air faded. April slumped to the ground. She looked worse for wear, but still struggled to her feet. Her eyes locked onto Kim.

“Come at me, Chumbawumba.”

April’s jeer was like a hammer strike across the quiet lull. Rage and despair fuelled Kim’s abilities and risked sending them beyond her control, but April wasn’t even trying to defend each onslaught. I could see Kim gearing up for another attack, enraged by hearing a hideous nickname Alice had recently started spreading.

“Don’t call me that!” Kim threw her arms in front of her and sent a glittering white-gold blast straight for April, who didn’t even move.

“Stop!”

My surroundings shifted. In an instant, I was standing between April and the blast wave. I flung my hands up and braced for the full force of Kim’s unhinged abilities. Shining blue ice crystals sprung to life from my palms and gathered rapidly into a wall of ice. My eyes squeezed shut as the ice took the brunt of Kim’s blast. When I opened my eyes again, the barrage had stopped. April was pressed between my back and the far wall. Her body felt tense against mine. The centre of my own ice wall looked paper thin where Kim’s blast had almost shattered through. I held a hand to the ice and made it shatter to the ground.

“Stop this! April, what are you doing?” I moved away but remained firmly between April and Kim. “Defend yourself, come on. Yes, you did something bad and you hate yourself a little bit more for it, but letting yourself get crushed into a broken mess isn’t the way to fix what you did or how you feel about yourself.” April got shakily back to her feet and I turned away. “Kim, I can’t bring back Noah, and killing someone else isn’t going to achieve that, either. All it’ll do is make you the kind of monster you see April as right now. Please, stop this so we can work out what the fuck is going on here. Kim, why is Alice coming at you like that? How is she so strong all of a sudden? Is this the Furies we’re meant to be stopping? Hmm? Don’t you think helping the people of Caria is worth setting our own shit aside for the moment? Alice was screaming at nothing and her back looked torn up. Same as all the others. So how about we stop these attacks, then get back to your little showdown later. Yes?”

“Fine,” April grumbled.

“Whatever,” Kim scoffed but joined me beside April. “You’ll get what’s coming to you, April.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“Why did the Furies target Alice?” I interjected and tried to power through. “Kim, she was yelling something about spreading lies and making everyone hate you. What’s that about?”

“Because she has been. But, I’d never said any of that to anyone. The only place I’d even written it down was in my Grievances.”

I shared an uneasy look with April. The Furies’ source of information on their victims was suddenly clear.

“Grievances.”

With a single image held in my mind, I took April’s and Kim’s hands and transported us to the edge of the Old Clock Tower.

A small crowd was milling around the tables and bonfire, but there weren’t near as many people as when we had been there to write our own Grievances.

“We need to test…”

As calmly as possible, we moved to one of the tables, scribbled on a piece of parchment each, and walked to the front of the bonfire just as we had done before.

“Throw.” April instructed.

At the same time, we tossed our sheets of parchment into the flames. They burned with an odd fizzle.

“Did you see that?” April threw in another piece of parchment. It was whisked to ash with a faint fizzing sound, but I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

“I don’t follow, April…” I said.

“Watch.” She tossed another sheet of paper into the fire. “The flames.”

I leaned in to look closer. Finally, I saw what April was noticing. A shimmering yellow-green overlook the paper briefly, then faded.

“What is that?” Kim asked.

“Something in the paper, maybe? The ink? The fire?” I suggested.

“If it’s magic, Hermes and Themis can help,” April added.

“Themis, on this one,” I said, but April seemed hesitant.

“Magic seems more Hermes’ territory.”

“He’s out,” I explained. “He took the first Fury away.”

“Themis is it, then.”

I gathered a pen and a sheet of blank parchment from the nearest table. I glanced around to make sure no one was watching us.

“Now,” I said. April thrust a hand into the fire to grab a piece and kept it burning in her palm.

She rummaged through her bag and took out a blob of glass. It seemed to heat and reshape in her free hand. After a few moments, April set the bonfire flame on a bed of glowing embers and sealed the glass.

“You carry blobs of glass around with you?” I asked.

“It was, um, a window from Noah’s house, and one from Kim’s. Hadn’t, you know, cleaned out my bag since last night…”

I wasn’t impressed.

“So you barely use your fire, but you can use it intricately enough to melt panes of glass?”

“I should’ve done it cleaner – some of the glass was left behind. And it took too long.”

“You’re unbelievable,” I groaned.

“Some strange coloured fire. Wonderful,” Kim said, sarcastic. “But how do you explain creatures reading burnt notes? Riddle me that, April.”

“They must be transmitted somehow,” April ignored Kim’s and my disdain and looked around. “We can take these, but we need to find the lair. Figure out how they’re seeing the contents. Stop it if we can, without engaging the Furies. Then we’ll have more to work with.”

We stood there together looking around with no clue what to do next.

“So… lair, huh?” Kim asked.

“There should be some kind of magical trail or something,” April explained thoughtfully. “Some link between the bonfire and wherever these creatures are hiding out…”

I couldn’t hide my frustration any longer.

“You’re clutching at straws, April. Even if there is a trail to follow, we can’t identify anything like that. Our abilities don’t work that way. We have elements, not magic.”

“I’m not sure we need it.”

“We should go back to Themis and Hermes for advice.”

“We’d just have to come back later, and how many more victims could there be, even in a short time? We can figure this out ourselves.”

“How?”

April seemed to be enjoying herself, but Kim had pretty much checked out and was gradually edging further away.

“Easy,” April chimed. “Just follow the flames.” She threw another piece of parchment into the bonfire and reached for the strange green fire that erupted within. “They burn out because there’s nothing to sustain them. But this little guy should be enough to show us the way.” In her hand, April held a tiny, flickering green flame. She waved her hand to her left, but the flame shrunk, then flared brighter when she turned to her right. “This way.”

Intrigued at the challenge, I took Kim’s hand and together we followed April. With every step away from the bonfire towards the outer edge of the Old Clock Tower’s main square, the green flame grew. April continued on, all the while shifting the direction of her hand to test that we were traveling in the right direction.

“In here,” April whispered and pointed into a crumbling old house with a tin roof that had fallen in on itself long before. She pushed open the rickety, charred doorway and stepped through.

There was nothing inside but ashes and broken remains of a life left abandoned when Old Caria fell, and yet the green flame continued to steadily grow. We moved cautiously through the crumbling hallway and checked each tiny bedroom along the way. I struck up a volley of ice crystals in my palms, ready for anything, but the house seemed empty. The hallway opened out into a small room with a fireplace and what looked like a wood-fire oven. The kitchen and communal living area all rolled into one in a way that was typical of so many of the houses of Old Caria, and many of the earliest establishments of New Caria.

“There,” April pointed ahead to a sturdy butcher’s table in the centre.

Once we reached the table, the green flame in April’s hand flared once more then burst from existence in a puff of silver smoke.

Within the debris littered over the table sat a thick, torn up old book and not much else. Kim started flicking through. From over her shoulder, I could see that each page contained handwriting from what appeared to be individual Grievances scrawled within it.

“They’re… exact copies of the Grievances,” Kim noted.

My heart sunk as I realised each copy included the name of its author, which we were foolish enough to think were burned into anonymity by the bonfire.

“Look, Fi’s dad,” Kim ran a hand over one page, but I reached for the book to close it.

“Another time. We should go,” I said and tried to force the sense of unease to subside. We were holding something no townsperson was every meant to see – a tome containing every person in Caria’s most recent dispute and most current fear. Including mine.

A clutter sounded from the back of the house.

“Hide.”

We left the book behind and rushed into a gap in the wall. Hurried, we crouched down on charred and battered chunks of wood and debris. I felt April’s telepathy reach out to once more link our minds.

No words. April’s voice rang through my thoughts, but then she issued an instruction to Kim. Think. We’ll hear.

“The High Council have Alecto.”

A lithe man was arguing with a tall woman. Both of their bodies seemed stretched beyond possibility to end in lengthy, thin torsos and limbs.

“We can still obtain power from these mortals.”

“Their gaze is upon us, now. The High Council have sent their precious play things after us. Time to leave.”

“The mortals of Caria form such a rich source of power that is so infrequently available elsewhere. We need to recoup our strength enough for another century of slim pickings. We cannot persist as we have done, in squalor and weakness. We need to be able to conceal ourselves among mortals as we did before our power waned. Caria’s mortals can accomplish this. Alecto is also beyond our grasp without access to our full strength.”

“Very well. We stay. However, prepare yourself. Alecto may be lost to us for some time. We must be patient.”

The two remaining Furies started pouring through the book we had left behind.

“This?”

“Boring. Only the greatest of broken oaths shall reap the most reward.”

“Then why waste our time on the cruel mortal girl?”

“We required a means to rid us of the Champions’ gaze. What better way than set one of their friends upon the weakest one?”

I felt Kim tense beside me.

“This?”

“Try again.”

We need to steal it. I thought to the others.

Steal? From them? Kim’s voice found us.

Kyle, get their attention and run. April gave orders as she always had. Get out of sight before you teleport away. Don’t let them see who you are. Kim’ll grab the book. Then we’ll run and meet you back at my place.

I glared at April and dived headfirst into a silent argument.

That would’ve worked. But now? There’s no way I’m leaving you alone with Kim. You lead them away. We’ll get the book, and meet you at yours.

And how am I supposed to get free of these things without teleporting to safety?

Figure something out.

Really?

Your actions have consequences. We said we’d train them both, and I’m not leaving you alone with Kim until we do.

Then we distract them, grab the book, and teleport out.

I’m not doing the heavy lifting for you this time. You run. We get the book.

Then why can’t you just teleport the book out from here?

Because I have to touch it and take it with me. Just lead them away, April. Stop wasting time.

Fine.

April pushed away from me and silently snuck forward.

Kim, make something fall on the other side to get their attention.

Kim wasn’t pleased to follow an instruction from April, but complied. Part of the far window fell to the floor with a heavy thud.

“What was that?” One of the Furies jumped.

“Go and see.”

“You go and see.”

“We both go and see.”

They finally agreed and strode to the far wall to investigate. April crawled to the far edge of the table and reached up to touch the book. A spark of red light illuminated her palm.

“Hey!” She called out at the Furies and threw out a blinding flash of red light.

“Champion!” One Fury shouted.

“You bet!” April sprinted back down the hall with the Furies on her trail.

They’re a lot stupider that I thought they’d be. Kim remarked.

Old age must be screwing with them. I hopped out of our hiding place and grabbed the book, then took Kim’s hand. “Better for us. Time to exploit our youth.”

My own lounge room opened out around us.

“I thought we were going to Themis,” Kim said.

“So does April. Best to have a look at this ourselves first, though.”

I wasn’t keen for April to see my own Grievance, but wanted to read hers just as much and knew she would share my view on the matter. But then I looked down again, eager to flick through the pages. All that remained was a battered chunk of wood cradled in my arms where the book should have been. Where I thought it had been.

“April.”

A single word played across the fading telepathic link in my mind. April’s voice.

Consequences.

“Shit.”

I played the events back in my mind, but found that I couldn’t tell which moments were real and which were April’s abilities messing with my perception. She’d touched the book, I remembered. That had to be the only chance she had to switch it out for a piece of wood we’d been hiding near. But the rest? Had she even led the Furies away?

“Where is it?” Kim asked, bewildered.

“April has it. Her telepathy,” I tried to explain. “She can make us see things that aren’t really there. Dammit!” I cast the lump of wood into the fireplace with a jet of ice.

Kim took my hand.

“Then to April’s,” she said, calm, and I teleported us to the leafy tree line beside April’s house.

The front door sat ajar as if April was expecting us. Regardless, I knocked, then skulked in feeling outplayed.

“Looking for something?” April’s voice answered. She was sitting in the front lounge room and waved the book at me. Themis, who was sitting opposite April, beckoned for us to join them. She was holding the tiny flame encased within what remained of Noah’s and Kim’s missing window panes.

“Was any of that real?” I asked and plopped myself, defeated, to the couch.

“Everything.,” April explained. “Up until when you sent me on a suicide mission to be chased through the streets by monsters with wings.”

“Not the first time.”

“But it’s the last.

“Did the Furies even know you were there?”

“No. Kim’s distraction was real. But from there, I switched the book and hid beneath the table. I made you both, and the Furies, see the same thing – me blinding them and running from the house. After a certain distance, the telepathy on the Furies would have worn off and they hopefully thought they lost me in Caria somewhere. It was tricky, but over a short time… well, achievable. I called Themis to teleport me out. And here we are. The town’s Grievances are quite interesting.”

I could see a handwritten note copied across into the open pages of the book sitting in April’s lap.

“How are the bonfire and that book linked?” I asked to try to cover my unease.

“A transfer charm,” Themis explained. “Many of our most important documents use the same concept. There is one master copy shared across one, or many, duplicates. In this case, each parchment containing a single Grievance acted as a master copy which was duplicated into an existing book. The magic still persists. If you look to the back, you can see new Grievances entering the pages as they are burnt in the bonfire.”

On second glance, I could see that the back pages were emanating a soft glow that illuminated and faded at odd intervals.

“The Furies have this kind of magic?” April asked.

“Not by themselves,” Themis went on. “This is the work of someone else entirely, most probably offered in trade without knowing the Furies’ intended use. There is a powerful witch, an Immortal not bound by our truce, whose power is wafting from this charm. The wish to annihilate Caria is strong in her, however, the means of vindication does not suit her. I don’t think she is anywhere near this, and not someone you need worry yourselves over. The Furies are the most pressing matter.”

“Who else can manage charms like this?” I asked Themis.

“Me, Hermes, the Fates, a handful of others. But risking the truce for a pointless show of meddling in mortal lives is not worth using our magic in this way.”

“And the victims?” I continued. “Why these people?”

Themis plucked a tablet from the coffee table and handed it to April.

“I think they all promised something, but broke the oath, and the Furies were raining down retribution on them because breaking their promise pissed someone else off. See.” April said and handed the tablet across. It was filled with searches on each of the victims which April could only have managed to compile over the weekend. While Kim and I were skimming through the details, I couldn’t help but notice April’s discomfort. She was hiding her reaction well, but it seemed almost as if she was seeing her own research for the first time just like Kim and I were.

“Since when are there rumours that Fi’s dad took a bribe?” Kim asked, incredulous.

“It looks like he turned himself and his ex-partner in,” April said and passed the Grievances book over to us. “That’s why he resigned as Chief. The partner wasn’t super pumped about it.”

I read the Grievance April was pointing at, but it didn’t belong to Fi’s dad. It was his partner’s.

“So the partner complained about Fi’s dad, and the Furies went after him without even caring that the partner had broken the same oath,” I summarised. “Just because no one complained about him, too? These Furies are arseholes.”

“What I don’t get is Alice.” April looked to Kim and took the book back. “There’s no oath there. No vow. You were just friends.

“Yes there was,” Kim said. “Kind of.” She pulled her keychain from her pocket. It was filled with jangly bits and pieces, mementos of favourite places and friends. She rustled through the chain to free a tiny silver wedge with what looked like an ES inscribed. “In the summer vacation leading into senior year. When you put all six together, it’s a pizza shaped best friends charm. Ironic, since Alice became a nightmare as soon as I gained weight.”

“Huh.” April seemed appeased. “Peculiar. But, from the looks of the damage on Alice, that counts, apparently. Well, we don’t need this anymore.” April held up the Furies’ book and set it on fire. “They might have duplicates, but at least this one is gone.” She tossed the book in the open fireplace and watched it burn. “Still not going to change the fact that the two remaining Furies have set their sights on Alice and are still terrorising the original victims. So,” April turned back to Kim. “Why don’t we sort this out, and promise not to murder each other before that?”

“No thanks,” Kim walked for the door. “I’ve had enough of you, April. Stay away from me. You and Kyle are welcome to work this out on your own, like you should have done in the first place.”

“Wait, Kim.” I ran after her, but the front door slammed shut in my face. “Happy?” I glared at April.

“She needs to toughen up. Too unquestioningly cheerful.” April joined me at the door and held out a hand. “Mind dropping me in the middle of town?” She asked, but sounded distant while she was still scrolling through the tablet full of, apparently, her own research. “I’ve got work.”

“You work?”

“Yeah, at my brother’s pub in the middle. I’m already late – we’re prepping for the Festival.”

April stopped scrolling suddenly and looked up with shock on her face. I hear Themis lightly stand up and vacate the room.

“Your brother?” I asked blankly. I heard my voice raise. “But you’re an only child – we both are.”

A tense silence fell between us as we both realised her mistake. In a moment overwhelmed in Immortal drama, she’d let something slip.

“Let me by, Kyle,” April demanded with a grimace and tried to push by me for the door.

I stood my ground.

“Themis and Hermes are the only family we have!”

I took a step toward her. My freezing hand pushed into her and threw out dancing blue shadows.

“Tell me!” I shouted with desperation.

She pushed my hand roughly away and flung me against the wall.

“I was adopted Kyle,” April shouted. “How could it possibly work otherwise?”

Comprehension dawned. She released my shirt and pushed by me with ease. My blue light was no longer dancing across the walls – it had gone out.

“What?” I asked in a quiet voice.

April stopped walking.

“You have a family?” I asked quietly. “How?”

April took a deep breath.

“When I was born, they felt the need to give me up to Themis. But Themis made sure I always knew them.”

“Do you think I… Hermes…?”

“I don’t know what Hermes has been up to, or who he’s spent his eternity with. But we both had to come from somewhere…”

“A brother?” I asked, awestruck.

April hesitated.

“Two, actually… and two sisters. I’m the youngest.”

I felt the weight of understanding crush down on me and took backward step against the wall to steady myself.

“Who…?”

“The Lavender Family. My next door neighbours. Themis changed my name to avoid putting them in danger. And so it would be less obvious for… for you to notice…”

“You always knew? You didn’t say…”

After a long moment April said, “I really do have to go, though.”

“Right,” I responded vacantly. “Bye.”

A darkened hallway in my own house materialised around me. April had always had more than me, but I had never realised just how much more. She had an entire family. A real family. But for me, family was just another thing the war had stripped from my life.

The events of the last two days took hold. April had pushed Kim away, made Hermes leave to lock away a monster determined to gain power through tormenting the people of Caria, and now in a single slip up she’d shattered yet another piece of me with her lies. She was better than me. End of story. And every single thing she did pushed me further towards nothingness.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

An orphan’s gift

 

 

Kyle.

 

“You lied to me.”

My voice was barely more than a whisper in response to light footsteps echoing tentatively down a hall darkened by midnight. Moonlight failed to reach through dusty windows. Instead, slivers of light kept distant from the faint blue glow radiating across cracked walls. Hermes stood above me in silence. He surveyed where I’d ended up sitting against the cold hallway wall with my knees held tight to my chest.

“On many occasions,” Hermes agreed, calm but tense. “About something specific?”

Urgent voices whispered, calling, shrieking in my ears with fresh intensity. Images of Hermes floated in and out of vision so rapidly that they were rough around the edges and difficult to make out. The terror was heightened. Fear. Longing. Need.

“April has… brothers.

“And sisters.”

Hermes walked into the kitchen. Before I knew it, my feet were under me and I was following him, furious.

“You knew?” I shouted.

Cries were replaced with more shouting, harsher this time, uncaring. Trapped. With no escape. The fire, it was brighter. Hotter. My legs wouldn’t carry me. A woman shrieked. A man groaned in muffled agony. A baby cried out. Blinking to clear my vision, only to find that no one was there. Only Hermes.

A shimmering water ball burst to life in my hands. But the urgent voices refused to be silenced. And the flames were so hot, so close. Bars rose up, caging me. There was no escape. Pressure crushed down on me, shining blue blasted in a shockwave into the rock solid kitchen walls, threatening to consume me. I heard something crumble. Lost in ghosts, I couldn’t get where I needed to be. Which was somewhere, anywhere. To someone. Someone important. Despair rushed through my bones. After days of holding it together, the pressure of my abilities was once more taking hold and slipping beyond my control.

“Of course I knew.”

Hermes stepped from behind the kitchen door and slammed it shut. A weight seemed to life from my mind. The voices eased. Glowing water fell to the floor, extinguished and useless. Hermes rushed toward me and lifted my wrist.

“Let me see.”

We had long understood that something in me was broken beyond repair. To the point that my body couldn’t hold all, or any, of my abilities. The blue flame residing in my mind was the only remnant of the days when my body could hold all of the abilities which gave me a chance in this life. Instead, Hermes had bound my unstable abilities within a solid object locked away inside a blue band securely fastened to my wrist, unable to remove it. I often wondered if that’s what we all were inside, shattered by a world that none of us had ever wanted to be a part of. Hermes waved his golden wand over the deep blue band.

“Intact,” he noted, perplexed and worried. “The charms are holding.”

My arm fell from his reach. I brushed him away.

“Your abilities are hurting you,” he explained. Rare emotion found its way into his words. “We knew this would happen. Why else do you think I enchanted the kitchen to block your powers?”

“Because you needed a way to trap me here,” I retorted.

Pain flourished in Hermes’ menacing gaze. “Because I needed to know there was somewhere that the weight of your abilities could be eased. To allow you a place to think clearly.”

He was right, of course. I knew as soon as the door closed that clarity would return to my thoughts, and it had. The voices were gone, the mounting pressure and fear had eased. But it was at the cost of my abilities.

“Surely not being able to use my abilities isn’t worth it…”

“You value your sanity too little. Of course it’s worth it.”

I let my body falter to lean against the cold, stone kitchen walls.

“Where’s the Fury?”

“In the Underworld. Imprisoned.”

“We can’t defeat something that powerful…”

“You did once. Only two more.”

“But that took everything I had. And I’m meant to be using my abilities to win the War, not wasting what control I have left on errands!”

“Would you leave the mortals without a protector?”

“Where’s the one they’re meant to have? The Immortal one!”

“Long lost, I’m afraid. Strategy, not strength, seems your best option instead. If you work with the others…”

“Kim barely wants anything to do with me. And April’s a lunatic!”

“We each bear the costs of our gifts in different ways.”

“Gifts?” A cackle on the verge of madness issued from my throat. “Twenty-five!” I shouted. “Did you know that? Of course you did. The Fates showed up at our door, you let them in. You let them spin their precious threads over my head in whatever stupid destiny bean counter they use and accepted the twenty-five years they so graciously provided me. You always knew our bodies couldn’t deal with these powers!”

Hermes calmly stood his ground. “The Fates do not give time, Kyle. All they can do is read strands of the universe which are nothing more than air to any but them.”

Silence fell.

“Where is my family?”

“You don’t have one.”

“But how? How does April? How does she get to have the only thing I ever wanted more than anything?”

“You’re an orphan. By the time we found you, your home had burnt to the ground, your parents along with it. That’s probably what you see and hear in the voices. Memories that are lost to you. You were the only survivor. I am sorry,” he added with an uncharacteristic heartbroken sincerity.

“What would you have done,” I continued as anger gradually subsided, “if my family hadn’t…”

“Taken Themis’ lead. Compel your family, as Themis did long ago with April’s, to hand you over, to be raised in our world but alongside a family blissfully unaware of our struggles.”

“So April’s siblings don’t know about us?”

“They have seen some of her abilities. Her fire was always difficult to control, and hide, particularly from those closest to her growing up. However, they only know her abilities as mutations, rather than… what they are.”

Anger bubbled to the surface.

“Your war took everything from me. Your lot made me a monster. You took my only chance at a mortal life. Or what little time I had to have a normal life. You put a flame in my head that’s been slowly wearing me down since I was born. Family was the one thing I thought I never had to begin with, so it couldn’t be taken. And now I find out that April, April, who is worse than me, has everything that I ever wanted. Power. A chance at life outside this world. And a family.”

Hermes took my shoulders and bundled me into his chest. “I am your family. I raised you to give you the best chance possible at winning, at surviving. Because then, when this is all done and you are standing over the other Champions, victorious, the Fates will remove your flame. And you will have your chance at the long, mortal life that has been taken from you.”

Taking in a few long, deep, calming breaths, I stepped away and reopened the heavy kitchen door. Urgent whispers flooded back, but they were quieter now, easier to ignore. Defeated, I walked into my room, closed the door behind me, and crumpled to my knees on the floor. Welcoming yet another day trapped in my own body, in my own house, by my own ghosts.

CHAPTER TWENTY

Losing grip

 

April.

 

I took off and started running for the town square of New Caria, which would now be plunged into a final round of vibrant preparations to commemorate Old Caria’s destruction during next week’s festival. With every stride Kyle felt more and more lost to me. Under the burden of fatigue and distraction, I’d let my guard down and said too much. Much of my life was built on lies and the secrets were becoming difficult to keep track of. While I had been away, living with people who knew every truth, life had been easy. But I had become too comfortable, and let slip a part of my life I’d been protecting Kyle from since we met.

Something caught me around the waist mid leap and catapulted me into rugged pavement of the spacious Tower Square.

“What’s the hurry?”

My brother’s bar was in the middle of Caria, close enough to my house, but far enough to have to run. Darkness had fallen over Caria and warm night air blanketed the now bustling Main Street. Shopkeepers opened their doors with inviting cheers and grins to bright passers-by, all continuing their business with renewed enthusiasm that only the night could bring. Cheerful, elegant melodies of street performers filled the air, entertaining the milling crowds. Alleys filled with boutiques, venues, and houses held within enchanting buildings as old as the town itself meandered off Main Street in every direction. No one minded the steady darkness gathering around the town, broken only by the soft glow of rows of white-yellow globes strung along every shop front and veranda, illuminating the alleys, stores, and footpaths beneath.

I wheeled around to find Steve sprawled out across the cool stones beneath me, warm hands still holding my waist and dragging me into a rough bear hug.

“Care to get off me?” I greeted and pushed him away.

Steve released me and we clambered to our feet.

A soothing melody, vibrant but calm, caught us and I glimpsed a girl with white hair sitting at a faded, war-torn street piano. Peace momentarily fell over me, a sense of calm that I had long forgotten, as I smiled and watched Erin’s hands flutter with effortless precision across the aged ivory keys. I’d missed this. Every street and alley was filled with gorgeous buildings, some rising high, others only small, and vibrant people going happily about their night. The town never stopped and, when night fell, a majestic, excited atmosphere filled the air.

“Sorry ‘bout that. Guess I lost my footing,” Steve said, but I could see something was amiss in those beautiful blue eyes that I could only dream of while so far away. We’d known each other for so long, from way back when he was the star athlete and I was the skinny dancer who couldn’t even leap onto a high jump mat. But that was all gone now. I looked around to buy some time.

Tower Square complemented the streets of Caria perfectly, reaching out from the grand front steps of the town’s heart – its magnificent clock tower. It was wide and open and paved to form emblems of the town in rich browns, reds and ochres. The foot of the clock tower was the site of any and every community gathering, carnival and festival and was always delicately lit with the same white-yellow globes as the rest of Caria’s twisting alleys. Crowds of brightly dressed people were streaming in from alleyways in all directions towards Tower Square, cheery and grateful on what was a joyous yet sombre occasion.

“Convenient. I was about to message you.”

“Really?” I looked around, suddenly uncomfortable with holding a conversation with Steve alone. “Fi’s still in Arctic Falls?”

“Yep. Her dad’s getting better again, though, so that’s good.”

“That’s great news. Hopefully everyone who’s sick will be able to return to Caria.” Glancing over my shoulder, I added, “I’m late. See you at school?”

I turned to leave, but Steve took hold of my wrist. He recoiled immediately.

“I… Just talk to me for two second, April. Please.”

“We talk at school.”

“But that’s just you having to fit in. Same as you always have, dealing with meeting new people and new classes, new schools. We grew up together, remember? And… everyone’s always around, you know? It’s been fun chatting about whatever with the others, but… well… you’re a tough person to get alone.”

I shrugged.

“You seemed busy. With Fiona, and everything. There’s a lot going on.” I glanced around at nothing, then thought I may as well find out. “When did that happen, then?”

“You were gone, April.”

“I know.” But it was Steve’s turn to watch the milling crowds.

“Four months. We’ve been together for four months. And a bit.”

“Ok.”

Steve let his hands fall to his sides and stood awkwardly beside me. Any ounce of warmth that usually filled his expression had vanished.

“You went overseas. Then nothing. No letter, no phone call, not even a postcard. I went to your house, but they wouldn’t tell me where you were. Themis said you’d been hurt. Then you show up at school like you’d never left and start hanging out with Kyle again. The arrogant, lazy, irresponsible jerk you hated since he first showed up in school. I just want to know what happened to you over there.”

His speech was rehearsed, yet heartfelt, as his gaze held mine.

“A house fire,” I let out in a shaky rush. “I was caught in a house fire. And injured. I got better. End of story.” My gaze dropped from his and I turned again to leave.

“Why won’t you stop and talk to me about where you’ve been? We used to share everything.”

I stopped.

“You don’t want to know me. And I didn’t want you to see me. Not like this…”

“Like what? You’re exactly the same! And you left me…” Rare hints of anger and emotion coloured his tone. His voice fell to nothing more than a whisper. “I missed you. I still do.”

Silence fell.

There had been a time when Steve and I had spent almost every hour together, having fun. But a lot had changed since then. I had changed. The world had changed. War and despair were written across the sky. And pain and fire were all that I could see on the horizon. What right did I have to throw him beneath it?

“Bye, Steve. See you at school,” I said after a moment and turned abruptly to continue my path before he could stop me, leaving him standing alone in the magnificent Tower Square.

I wound my way through the gathered crowds and ran through thriving markets that snaked their way down the alleys of Main Street, growing narrower as I continued further on. Strings of gently glowing globes lit my path as I watched the bustling, tiny alleyway open out before me. I had often wondered about just why our flames had come to rest in this area but, when night fell and the air began to teem with its vibrant, magical atmosphere, I wasn’t left thinking for long.

A pale three storey building emerged from the alley before me, housing the bar’s three levels, and I stepped inside right as the majestic clock tower struck nine. Music blared over the shouting, dancing crowd of locals who filled the cramped, ancient building beneath a shower of spinning bright lights. Out of nowhere, a black shirt flew across the room at me.

“Thanks,” I called out to seemingly no one and flung the shirt over my head.

A tall figure with floppy brown hair smiled at me from behind the bar.

“Nice catch,” he called at me.

I walked through the counter to stand next to him.

“Nice to see you back on your ever so agile feet again. How’s the head? And the arm?”

“I’m back in the game,” I replied with a smile. “Where’s Charlie?” I looked around the packed bar in search of the manager’s face in the crowd.

“Checking stock in the basement,” Will explained as he handed a drink to a patron across the bar. “Mind putting those up?” He pointed to a stack of crates filled with strings of coloured bunting.

“No problem.”

I picked up a crate but bumped into the bar on the way to the crowded dancefloor, leaving bunting tumbling across the floor.

“Woah,” Will dropped to his knees beside me, gathering the decorations roughly back into the crate.

“My bad.” I threw the last string of bunting back with the rest.

“Distracted?” Will asked. “You get clumsy when you’ve got things on your mind,” he answered my unspoken question cheerily.

“Kyle’s pissed at me.”

A woman shouted over the bar at Will, looking for the bartender.

“He’s a good friend. You should sort that out,” Will said simply while handing me the crate full of decorations. The woman waved a twenty dollar note impatiently over the bar. “Duty calls,” Will smiled and went back to pouring drinks.

It was nice to spend a few hours in the real world for a change, as I weaved through the crowds setting up Festival decorations across the walls of a regular pub filled with everyday people with everyday concerns. But when that time came to an end and I waved goodbye to my brothers, the brief reprieve from Immortal drama gave way. I left the loading bay to sink once more into Caria’s snaking alleyways, toward Kyle’s house. Deep night had fallen over Caria, the moon sitting high in the midnight air. I needed to see him, to make sure he was ok. I wound my way back through the much quieter streets and alleys, crossing the river as I went, it’s deep, dark waters bubbling beneath – the richest, clearest blue any river could be. I stood still on the walk bridge, leaning against the railing and gazing down at the waters, calm and inviting, yet slightly shallower than usual. The war was growing more complicated as it drew to a close. Better to get it over and done with sooner than later. But there were too many unanswered questions – too many possibilities. And I was running out of time. In more ways than one.

The garden on the far side of Kyle’s house was overgrown with dense shrubs and twisted through with rose vines – ideal for concealing an iron trapdoor beneath a single beautiful yellow rose bush beside the exterior wall to Kyle’s bedroom. Glancing around to make sure no one mortal was watching, I wrenched open the trapdoor and climbed into the cramped tunnel beneath. An icy draught pierced my heart as I climbed precariously up a long since rusted ladder, and knocked. There was a faint blue glow emanating from the platform above my hand, casting eerie shadows across the narrow brick tunnel beneath my feet. I heaved the platform to the side with my shoulder. It lifted with a creak and slid aside, leaving a gap large enough for me to squeeze through. Straight into Kyle’s closet. I knocked again. Ice cold fingertips clawed the closet door open a tiny fraction, and I clambered the rest of the way up the ladder and into Kyle’s bedroom.

The faint blue glow was coming from floor level, illuminating Kyle sitting rigidly beside his bed. Still on my hands and knees, I went to sit next to him. He was freezing cold but he didn’t seem to mind. I leant across to whisper in his ear.

“You’re glowing.”

Kyle straightened his legs and held his hands out in front of him, observing the faint, eerie glow emanating from his entire body. His fists clenched tight. The glow subsided. From beside him, Kyle lifted his arm and held out a delicate, brilliant yellow rose, one from the bush covering the trapdoor.

“You’re favourite.”

With a smile, I took the rose lightly. It looked perfect.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, and put it down on the floor beside me.

He didn’t meet my gaze. I took his hand. We were sitting in the middle of a small, neat bedroom at the edge of a comfortable, warm single bed. A wooden desk lay at the opposite end of the room with deep sets of shelves covering every wall except the one that Kyle’s wardrobe opened into. There were no windows or lamps. An alcove in the ceiling held the room’s light source, a stunning glowing ball of shining white and pale blue light that Hermes had put in place long, long ago, raining warm, soft light down on us. It was so neat. Not a book was out of place in the high shelves. His desk was empty as if all his things had been neatly replaced elsewhere – not at all what you would expect of the messy haired boy that Kyle appeared to be.

“I’m so mad at you, April.”

“I know. But they didn’t want me to tell you about my family.”

“Why not?”

“They’re just normal people, Kyle. They don’t know about this world. They shouldn’t have to risk being dragged into it because of me.”

“Hermes says I’m an orphan.”

“Oh…”

Kyle released my hand and pushed it away.

“I’m sorry I drove Kim away,” I said, quiet. “I’m sorry that I failed to win the War that night.”

“You’re sorry that you didn’t murder my girlfriend?”

“I’m sorry that it has to be done,” I tried to explain, but logic took over though the pain. “Only two of us survive, Kyle. It’s us or them. You know this.”

“Why aren’t you afraid of anything?” Kyle asked.

I looked away, afraid and unwilling to hold in any more secrets. “I’m afraid of losing control,” I spoke in a whisper. “I can feel myself slipping away, Kyle. I’m losing time, whole chunks of it, that I can’t remember what I did. The searches on each victim, on the tablet. I didn’t remember ever seeing that before, but Themis told me I’d been working on it all weekend. I’m losing my mind, Kyle, we both are. And I am afraid, because I’ll forget how to control my abilities, and there won’t be anything anyone can do to stop the burning.”

Kyle looked up at me, his gorgeous blue eyes filled with torment and anguish. “What was your number?” he asked, “The one the Fates gave us when we were born?”

I was trying to be open with Kyle, but I couldn’t shake the niggling worry at the back of my mind – the fear that his number might be larger than mine. It had always seemed that the less I said the number aloud the more I could pretend that I’d never met the Fate and never found out the length of time I had in the world.

“I’m not going to tell you,” I replied. “You have your own number. You shouldn’t have to worry about mine as well.”

“But they can be wrong, though, can’t they?”

“Sometimes. But what they see is usually fairly accurate,” I replied, sad. “What they can’t see is if a life thread will be cut short. So… we might actually have less time – the number’s a maximum.” But he already knew that. The number. Everyone got one. Very few people knew theirs. I wish I had never been told mine.

“Why don’t you just get out of here?” I asked after a while. “You can teleport yourself anywhere in the world. Away from all this.”

Kyle’s anguish returned to his features. “Hermes is the only piece of family I have. I can’t leave.”

“Have you been training?” I asked.

“That’s just it,” he said after a moment. “I feel I’m getting stronger. But all the time, I’m getting more and more unstable. I feel like I’m losing my mind, and every training session is just speeding that up.”

“Do you know what it is? The visions, the flames?”

He shook his head. “I can never make any sense of it. Hermes thinks they’re memories…” Anger suddenly flashed again in his eyes. “You left me here,” he let out, his voice heavy with an emotion I’d forgotten he possessed. “On my own. And you were gone too long. You don’t seem to get that things have changed, that we’re changing. Everything up to now was just stories and games. But as soon as you stepped from those shadows in Old Caria, as soon as they saw you were back, that all changed. It’s not some stranger anymore who we have to wipe out. They’re people, April, real people. Classmates we’ve known for years without seeing what they were.”

“But what about everyone else? It’s two people, Kyle, for peace. Or we unleash the Immortals over the earth for them to fight their endless battle over people who don’t live for eternity. Who’ll be snapped and crushed like twigs in their crossfire. People who know nothing about our world will be put back in danger, their homes returned to being a warzone, because we didn’t do what was necessary. Are you going to let that happen?”

Silence fell.

“No,” Kyle spoke. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t another way. The High Council. As soon as we get rid of these Furies, they’ll speak with us. We have to try.” He turned suddenly to lock his gaze to mine, fury written in his dazzling blue eyes. “Why did you leave me? And where the hell have you been for the past six months?”

“I don’t know what you want to hear,” I replied, evasive and taken aback.

“Tell the truth. We always tell each other the truth. Even when we wanted to tear each other apart. It’s what makes us… us.”

“The truth?” I threw him a dark smile, “You remember Taguchi, right?”

“And Kei and Yuki, his grandkids. It’s where you stayed whenever Themis sent you to Japan. Taguchi helped train you to use your fire. But they’d never show me where it was.”

“Well,” I went on, stone cold and monotone. “They’re all dead. Because I lost control and burnt their house down with us all inside. After Hermes dragged me from the flames, they locked me away in an Underworld dungeon that could hold the full force of my abilities. That’s where I was these last six months. On fire in a pit at the end of the Earth, where I couldn’t hurt anyone else. Even Hades and Themis were afraid. Not for me, but for what my abilities could do to them.”

“Oh, blah,” he spat. “You’re not the only one whose life turned to shit six months ago. Did you know Hermes drove me off a cliff into the river? It’s where I figured out I could breathe underwater, because I panicked and took in a lung full. Then I watched him drown only to heal so that we could do it all over again at his convenience. So have a cry, April, because I’m tired of you not dealing with anything. You throw fire. It’s literally what you do, and it’s what you’re best at. You’re throwing your best weapon away because you can’t handle that it’s part of who you are. Because you don’t want to be the monsters that we are. That they made us.”

“No. I don’t. We don’t have to be them, Kyle. They wreak havoc over mortal lives, not us. But that’s all my control over fire ever did.”

“You should’ve told me about your family.”

“I had to protect them from all this, from what we are.”

“And what about me? You didn’t want to protect me?”

“I was. From this. They’re everyday people, Kyle. No magic powers, no way to defend themselves like we can. We’ve worked our entire lives to live in their world. You’re not the one who needed protecting.”

“Thanks, partner,” he pushed me away. “Get the hell out.”

“What?” I knew Kyle was upset, but throwing me out of his house came as a painful shock.

A charred smell of smoke reached by nose, my eyes, my lungs. But it wasn’t real. It wasn’t now. The room began spinning out of view.

“You heard me. I’ll deal with this one on my own. Like I’ve done for the past year.”

In that single moment, I felt myself lose grip on the present. To be everywhere and nowhere all at once. Time slipped from my reach and my mind plummeted into a spiral of moments that would never be remembered, lost instead to the steady shattering of my abilities.

In what felt like a confusion riddled instant, I was in my kitchen holding a bowl of water. A tall woman was preparing chicken soup at the far bench.

Themis, it’s Themis.

“What’s this for?” I asked the mother I was struggling to recognise.

Themis swept across the room to me, handing me a vial of orange liquid to gulp down. Memories started to mercifully click back into place. Kyle had thrown me out and I’d walked back, but my recollection was blurry and my hands were shaking.

“Breathe,” Themis spoke in a soothing tone hinted with an edge of fear.

Almost automatically, I sat in front of the blazing open fire, breathing deeply as I plucked a tiny flame and held it beneath the bowl.

“I was looking ahead,” I stated, finally recalling why I was holding a bowl of water rather than delicious soup.

I gazed into the water’s calm surface, waiting. Kyle’s anger at me, alongside Kim’s perpetually existence and growing strength, coupled with Furies on the loose and our potential meeting with the High Council made me uneasy, and I had entered the kitchen hoping to see an outcome so that I could change it if necessary. But nothing happened. Puzzled, I returned the flame to the fireplace and plucked out another. Steam rose from the water, and I breathed it in deeply as I always had. Still nothing. Only my own reflection greeted me in the water’s surface. Frustrated and distracted, I threw the bowl into the fire. My answers were beyond my reach.

“Argh!” I shouted as flames devoured the bowl.

Themis rushed over to me.

“What did you see?” she queried, concerned.

“Nothing!” My voice rose into a panicked, high pitched shriek as loneliness took hold. “I’m blind!”

“Only your rage blinds you.”

I sucked in a heavy breath, but confusion took hold. Feeling lost and empty, I looked up to meet Themis’ gaze.

“If I can’t see, then how will I know what to do?”

“The same way as with every other situation which you have not used foresight to see,” her words were reassuring. “You have reached this point without using foresight to see every single moment in time, only those you deemed most important. You are more than capable of confronting the future without seeing it beforehand.”

I hoped she was right. “But it’s not just my foresight that’s faltering,” I went on, regaining my composure. “I’m losing chunks of time. More than just a few minutes. It’s hours, days, that I can’t remember what I did.” I stood up from the floor. “What’s happening to me?”

“It’s to be expected,” Themis replied, sadness filtering into her word. “Of all Immortal abilities, foresight requires the most effort to maintain. It is not part of your elemental abilities, though, only an addition. Your flame will abandon it in an effort to maintain its own primary, elemental controls. It makes sense that you would hold onto your use of fire and light over foresight. As your flame attempts to consolidate and hold itself together, in times of stress it chooses for you – to either function in those moments, or to remember them. There will be times where you cannot do both.”

“So I hold onto my abilities, or my memories. Not both?”

“It seems.”

“But they said I had more time.”

Themis said nothing. She just looked at me, anguished, and placed a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“It has started,” her words were low and sorrowful as she spoke about the gradual deterioration which we knew was coming all along. “Time is on the verge of defeating us. We must take steps to secure victory before that day comes. Foresight is the first of your abilities that your flame will discard in an effort to maintain itself and conserve your primary abilities. But you don’t need it.” A delicate smile illuminated her face as she squeezed my shoulder, steadying. “Trust yourself, and you will prevail.”

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Kyle vs. the world

 

Kyle.

 

I woke up sprawled across my bedroom floor with a yellow rose stuck to my face and urgency escalating in my mind. I was sick and tired of feeling weak and stupid, and frustrated at not being able to get rid of these Furies and not being able to see the High Council when I needed to the most. All I wanted was for this War to end, or at least my part of it to be done. But the image of Fiona crying in her torn up lounge room refused to budge. Her dad, like all the other victims, was safe for the moment in Arctic Falls but for how long? With the Furies still in Caria, they’d be terrorised again as soon as they left the mountains. At the same time, I could feel my abilities twitching inside me with an unquenched desire to be set loose.

Kim had abandoned ship, and who could blame her? And yet the only way out for her was through the High Council before April had a chance to finish her assassination attempt. They’d have to see me immediately if I brought news of the Furies’ demise. They’d have to.

“Ah!” I peeled the rose from my cheek and threw it in a bolt of ice across the room. Exerting my abilities brought brief relief, but frustration quickly overtook. It was time to take my chance.

I ran a hand through my hair, conjured an image in my mind, and vanished.

A sturdy butcher’s table seemed to materialise before me at the centre of the Furies’ lair. I gasped. Still in their mortal forms, one Fury stood at the table chopping herbs. I could see the other stirring something at the wood fire stove directly in front.

“Mortal!” The closest Fury yelled to the other, but it was too late.

A torrent of ice was already streaming from each of my hands. I could feel the sheer power moving through me as both shrieked and were pinned against the opposite wall.

“Fun time’s over, you monsters!” I shouted and continued the barrage. “Get out of my town.”

Ice crystals webbed over their torsos, then their arms and legs. With a final exhausting effort, shining blue ice sealed over their faces.

“Victory…” I mumbled and called the ice and water at my palms to a halt. At last, I felt the pressure of my pent up abilities and frustration easing in a sustained moment of relief.

Hermes had advised strategy and caution but a blaze of glory had worked just the same. Pleased, I strode across the room and reached for the ice of the Furies’ latest prison. An image of the observation room rose up in my mind. A final breath, and we’d be gone.

A sharp scraping sound forced my eyes open. High pitched cackling broke through the air.

“No…” I stepped back.

Steam rose from the ice as cracks splintered through.

I threw another wave of ice crystals over the surface, but cracks tore through again. I stumbled back as my final attempt came up short.

Leathery wings sprouted at the Furies’ shoulders, slowly at first, but then unfurled. Shards of ice went flying in all directions. Their mortal forms twisted and shifted with a sickening lurch. Greying, near-transparent, stretched skin took shape. Elegant hands and feet expanded into clawed talons. The Furies stood tall before me in their true form with vengeance in their eyes.

“I…” I tripped and clambered backwards. “I didn’t mean it?”

Cackling ceased. The nearest Fury thrashed out and sunk a clawed hand into my arm.

“You teleport like them,” the Fury growled. “We have grown accustomed to such an ability. Teleport now.”

It was a challenge, not an opportunity. The Furies were testing me. Thing is, they were expected my teleportation to be exactly the same as the kind used by the Immortals. I almost let out a laugh. The Immortals’ envy of this one particular ability must not have spread to the Furies’ corner of the Realms.

A blue glow surrounded me, then the creature, but the Fury held me back somehow. I felt its claws digging deeper into my arm. With all my concentration, I forced myself to be in two places at once like Ares had shown me, to try to leave the fury behind, but I didn’t budge.

“What?” I felt myself panicking.

“A shame.”

The Fury’s claws dug in deeper then launched me across the room. I tumbled headfirst into the far wall and crunched heavily to the floor. Air sucked from my lungs. My head started spinning as if I were tumbling while lying completely still.

“Should we kill it?” I heard one of the Furies ask from beyond my teetering vision. A shadow cast over me. I tried to reach out, but one of them pinned my arm to the floor with a clawed foot.

“Not yet,” it said. The edges of the room seemed to dim and become blurred. “These things are important to the High Council. Keep it to trade for Alecto.”

Overwhelmed and broken, my vision faded to black and I became nothing more than helpless prey.

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Struggle for strategy

 

April.

 

After being booted from Kyle’s house and having my abilities give way, fresh morning sunlight peering through my bedroom window was the least welcome sight I could think of. My entire body was aching when I finally managed to drag myself to school. I spent morning classes trying to shake off the sluggishness that had taken hold and forcing myself to think as clearly as possible.

Lunch break had sounded and I was chatting with Erin and Steve at a table in the sun. Fi was still in Arctic Falls with her family, while both Steve and I acted as if our meeting the night before hadn’t happened. I went on pretending everything was fine in a show that was a well-practiced means to keep prying eyes out of my business and my abilities. In a flurry of arms, Kim came rushing over to me.

“April. A second?” She asked, gesturing away from the table.

“Kim, you okay?” Erin looked Kim up and down.

“Yeah, fine,” she turned to me, breathless and flustered. “April.”

“Right,” I got up and gave a short wave to Steve and Erin. “Later.” Regarding Kim cautiously, I followed as she rushed us out of earshot.

“Kyle’s not here,” Kim let out in a fierce whisper.

“And?”

And. I went to his house at recess when he didn’t show up today. Nothing. Hermes said Kyle wasn’t there all morning.”

“Kyle leaves sometimes,” I replied, dismissive and knowing Kyle’s propensity for popping back and forth across the globe whenever he chose. “He’ll be back.”

“Hermes was worried.”

That piqued my interest.

“How worried?”

“Enough to be mumbling something about Furies to Themis when I walked in.”

“Themis was at Kyle’s house?”

“She smiled at me and then vanished into thin air.”

“That idiot,” I exclaimed. To my surprise, Kim slapped me on the arm in reproach.

“Don’t call your mum an idiot.”

“No, I… Kyle. Kyle’s the idiot.” I started walking towards town. Kyle, cornered, was a fierce animal. Fierce, but brash. Overconfident, even, and overly prepared to throw strategy to the wind in favour of brute force, an approach which, let’s face it, I’d taken up nearly as often as Kyle. But at least I could recognise when I was making hasty, risky decisions. “He’s gone after the Furies himself.”

“What?” Kim jogged to catch up. “Then what are we doing?”

“Going to sort this out, finally. If we’re lucky, they’ve kept Kyle as a plaything.”

“That’s not good!”

“Powerful Immortal creatures, Kim. They could snap his neck like a toothpick if they wanted. Being kept around for amusement’s the best outcome here. At least I might retrieve him alive.”

“You? I’m coming, too.”

“Why?” I asked, stopping in my tracks.

“Because. He’s… in trouble.”

“I’ll be there, too, though.”

“And I’ll forget that you murdered my best friend long enough to help Kyle,” Kim snapped back.

“You better pull your weight.” Kim shifted uncomfortably beside me. “Pun not intended. As in, do your share of the work. I’m not about to carry some free loader. If you’re coming with, be prepared to help. Geez, Kim. Come on.”

Once we were clear of the school grounds, I started jogging. Kim didn’t follow.

“Sorry I can’t get us there as fast as Kyle could,” I said, impatient and jogging back to her, “but a bit of effort would be appreciated, Kim.”

“Running’s off the table. Injury. High jump,” she pointed to her leg and then to a tiny blue car not far down the hill. “But I do have my car here.”

“Of course you do.”

“You don’t?”

“I get a lift to school.”

“Who from? You hate everyone.”

“I don’t hate… I have a bit of shit going on right now, Kim. My neighbour takes me.”

“The Lavender Family?” Kim smiled. “They’re lovely. I used to have a huge crush on William when he was still at school. He was two years above us.”

I cringed.

“Do I look like I care? Get in the car so we can finish this and I can get back to clearing you from my life.”

With a little huff, Kim climbed into the driver’s seat. I clambered into her tiny car in the passenger seat beside her.

A few minutes of absolute silence later, the car rolled to a stop along a street in Old Caria lined with ruined houses just beyond the crumbling Old Square’s edges.

“Ready?” I asked as we slid as quietly as possible towards the house containing the Furies’ lair. Kim nodded.

Covering familiar ground, we crept into the house and down the broken hallway until we could peer into the main living area.

“There,” Kim pointed to Kyle, lying unconscious on the dirt floor with debris cluttered around and over him.

“Wait,” holding an arm in front of Kim, I nodded to the back window. We could see the Furies outside in the back of the house pushing each other and arguing while fussing over something giving off silver and green puffs of smoke.

“What are they doing?” Kim asked quietly.

“Probably trying to forge another book to regain all the Grievances from the first one,” I replied, gesturing towards Kyle. “Move him to us,” I whispered. Kim hesitated. “With your abilities. Like, now.”

Kim was shaking her head. I frowned at her and got to my feet, making her follow me back outside so we wouldn’t be noticed.

“What, Kim?” I asked, standing in the street in the middle of the day. “You can crush me into a wall, but you can’t move Kyle across a room?”

“That was different. I didn’t mean to… This isn’t the same.”

“Of course it is. It’s a big version of the thing you do with your hair clips.”

“But if I mess up, I could hurt him.”

“He can’t get much worse than he already looks.” My words didn’t seem to reassure her. “What’s going on here, Kim? Seriously. You can move objects with barely any effort, and you almost broke a couple of my ribs with that little show after Alice came at you. But now you think you can’t do any of that? It’s like you’re not seeing what you’ve been doing up to now. Kyle’s in a bad way, trapped in a lair of monsters. Now’s not the time for a crisis of confidence.”

Kim looked like she might burst.

“I can’t help it, okay?” She let out in a hushed shout.

Please. It’s the same pressure as competing at States and Nationals. Imagine you’re high-jumping.”

“Someone’s not trying to kill me at a high jump meet!”

“I won’t let that happen.”

“Won’t you?”

Pushing aside the apt sentiment, I powered through.

“You can get injured doing high jump, but you do it anyway. You can get injured here. Same pressure. So deal with the same way as you always do.”

But Kim still looked shaky. I pushed the argumentative tone from my voice, trying to sound more compassionate than demanding.

“I’ve already promised not to try to murder you until we get rid of these Furies. Okay? We can get out of this together.”

“That’s not…”

“What’s going on, Kim? Kyle needs us. Speak, and speak now. Or you can wait here while I go get him.”

After a moment of time ticking contemplation, Kim finally blurted out an explanation.

“I haven’t been the same since I got injured. I didn’t stop training because I wanted to. I stopped because I messed up my leg and couldn’t even walk anymore. I’ve been doing rehab in the gym in town all year but making it look like I was back and taking it easy so that no one would notice I couldn’t do the one thing I was really good at. I tried to jump again, I did, and my leg looked good enough, but I couldn’t do it. Because all I could think of every time I landed was my knee twisting the wrong way again and having to go through this all over again. Plus, I got fat, so the added weight threw me off balance and made me worry even more that the added pressure would screw my leg again. I blew my scholarship offers, and now I can’t even get good enough grades to get into a college based on academics, so I’m completely screwed. I used to thrive on pressure – it made me better – but now any sign of stress makes me crumble into blubbering mess. I could barely get through mid-year exams. I can’t do this, April. Our powers are a fun party trick, but that’s all. I can’t make them do anything else. Because I can’t do anything else.”

Unknowingly, I’d gained front row seats to a set of brutal insecurities similar to those I’d been forced to deal with when figuring out how to control my Flame. Suddenly, seeing Kim as the competitor and huge threat she was didn’t seem right. In front of me was an incredible woman, and it seemed ludicrous to me that Kim couldn’t see that, too. An odd twinge of something like heartache surged at the thought of Kim undervaluing and doubting herself. The desire to leave Kim behind evaporated as I realised the kind of self-doubt and lack of self-confidence plaguing her was a set of emotions Kyle would never be able to help with or understand because he’d never had to experience it.

“Few things,” I said, patience returning. “You look great. You always do, regardless of what you weigh. End of story. But I understand how the prospect of putting extra weight on your bung leg would be scary.” Kim gave me a dirty look at the word ‘bung’. “I’m sorry to hear about your injury. You’re really good at high jump, and seeing you fly through the air at athletics carnivals was – is – incredible. There’s still half a year ‘til graduation – plenty of time to get back in the game and impress college scouts if you want to. A sports psychologist, maybe? Anyway, the point. You control air, Kim. Me, and Kyle, we have to dodge attacks, but you can stop anything that comes at you in mid-flight by putting a barrier of your own air in front of you, or around an attack, like a little vacuum. Your abilities mean that you don’t even have to move to succeed. You can own this whole battlefield by just standing here and telling the air what to do. You don’t have to be stuck even though you’re grounded for the moment. You still have power here, Kim. You can still do amazing things. Screw Alice and Kelly and those pricks. They’re just pissed because you’re better than them and you have a smoking hot boyfriend and a happy family and a well-rounded life. Which you’re about to throw away by letting them get into your head. Now,” I looked back to the fire-damaged door of the house. “I can wake Kyle with my telepathy, but he’s too exposed and if I do he’ll wake with a start and give away his position. We need him to wake up with us, in the hallway, away from the gaze of those monsters. But only one of us can make that happen without giving up the element of surprise. Would you mind if we went back in and you sent a layer of air under Kyle’s body and slowly hovered him across to us?”

“I…” Determination finally made it to Kim’s features. “I think I can do that.”

“You think you can?”

“I will do that.”

“Better.”

Carefully, we made our way back to our vantage point at the end of the hall. The Furies were still cooking up a storm and bickering outside, and Kyle was still unconscious.

Palm to the ground, tiny little beads of yellow air trailed out from Kim’s hand and meandered their way to Kyle.

“Without his neck and head moving,” I added.

“Wait, why?”

“If he’s broken anything, we need to keep it stable.”

“Right.”

Each softly glowing golden chunk of air lined up until they formed a layer between Kyle’s body and the ground.

“You’ve got this, Kim.”

Slowly, Kyle floated an inch from the floor towards us. A darting glance to the Furies showed them still arguing with each other over the puffs of smoke outside. Kyle reached us.

“Nice one.” I said, running my hands over his body, against his head, neck and spine. Then smiled. “A concussion, probably. But everything’s where it should be. You can put him down.”

Kim’s golden battalion evaporated, dropping Kyle the gap to the ground.

“Oops,” Kim let out. “At least you’re still holding his neck?”

I smiled.

“At least.”

Pressing a hand to Kyle’s temple, I concentrated on nudging his senses back into action. In seconds, his body lunged forward with a gasp.

I grabbed him in a rough hug and let go as Kim did the same.

“Nice you’re not dead,” I said, noticing the glimmering blue ice still plastered to part of the already shattered walls. “What did you do, walk in here and start attacking head on?”

“I… Um…”

“Hermes – a master of strategy – told you to do that?”

“Well, not exactly.”

I glared reproachfully over his dishevelled appearance to his bare feel in what was a picture of neglected preparation.

“You’re not even wearing shoes,” I noted in disdain.

“Because I didn’t need them, since everything was meant to be covered in ice,” he snapped.

“And what about now?” We both looked around at the room littered in jagged chunks of stone, wood, and glass debris. With a jolt, one of the Furies pushed the other from in front of the magic they were cooking up to clatter into the outer wall.

“Not sure shoes are my biggest issue right now!”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Guys,” Kim’s voice sounded squeaky. “What are going to do?”

“We’re going with my plan,” I said. “Because I actually have one.”

“And that is…?”

“We distract them. Kyle, you touch the Furies and teleport them to the Underworld. We’d struggle to defeat them outright on our own, and the Immortals won’t intervene.”

“But only in the Mortal Realm,” Kyle was catching on. “Once they’re anywhere else, the Immortals can take over.”

“Exactly. All we have to do is get close enough for you to dump them in the Underworld, and the Immortals down there will have to do the rest.”

“I’d never be able to get them off me when we land” Kyle said, dusting himself off and pressing a hand over his head. “April, I know I told you to lead them away on your own that time, but you actually had a chance. Taking them with me… I’d never get back.”

“Then don’t travel with them,” I said, seeing shock light in Kyle’s eyes. “I know you’ve been practicing, Kyle, I saw it when I was last in your mind. Briefly. I didn’t go snooping,” I added hurriedly.

“I already tried something like that already, but I haven’t quite got it on command yet…”

“What do you need to make it work?” I asked.

“To have to be in two places at once. Like, emotionally. And literally.”

“Huh,” I thought about it for a moment. “Easy. Here’s where you’re going.” I cast an image of my most recent trip to the Underworld into his mind, making sure his travel location was vivid and fresh. “And this is why you need to stay.” Roughly, I booted Kim out from cover. (to the Furies).

“No!” He cried out, diving across towards Kim.

“Your way didn’t work. It’s my turn.”

“The mortal’s escaping!” One of the Furies shouted out.

“Where?” The other growled and launched itself through the already frail wall. Pieces of debris collapsed through the room as wings unfurled.

“Deal with that one!” I shouted, pointing at the creature launching itself at Kyle.

“Like I can ignore it!” He barked, scathing, as I ducked to the other side of the room to draw the second Fury away.

“Three Champions will make a better bargain,” the Fury roared at me from the torn tin roof and slashed at me with deadly precision.

I ducked and weaved, glimpsing Kyle doing the same and standing between the second Fury and Kim. At last, Kyle’s hand took hold of the Fury’s ghoulish arm. His eyes shut tight, then opened in terror.

“It didn’t…” his eyes locked on mine. “April!”

The Fury threw Kyle aside while my own challenger clipped me and sent me sprawling to the rubble. Kim staggered backwards as the tall creature strode menacingly toward her.

“Shit,” I muttered under my breath. “Hey!” I called out, leaping from my own struggle toward Kim. A bombardment of blinding light forced the Fury back as Kyle struggled to his feet nearby.

I suddenly found myself standing between Kim and the Fury, only now the second creature – which had been split away dealing with me – was rounding on us as well. Steps faltering over the uneven ground and debris and arms held out in front of me toward the creatures, I pressed backward covering Kim.

“We can talk about this,” I said to the Furies stalking toward us. “If you could, you know, leave Caria alone. Problem solved. Right?”

“Leave Caria alone,” one of them scoffed. “Why? When we have found a place plunged in power?”

“Power… What’s so special about Caria?” I asked, genuinely curious, but the Furies merely laughed at me.

“Nothing you will exist long enough to discover.”

I braced for impact as the nearest Fury struck out.

“Down!” Kyle’s voice rang out.

I dived over Kim and wrenched her to the ground. Still lying across the ground, Kyle had a hand clamped to an ankle of each Fury.

“Hands off, pest!” They tried to shake free, but Kyle didn’t budge. Glowing blue light radiated from Kyle’s hands and quickly engulfed both creatures.

With a shriek, the light extinguished, taking the Furies along with it.

Laughing in disbelief, I let myself collapse to ground beside Kyle.

“It worked,” I clapped him on the back.

“You didn’t think it would?” he rolled [with effort] onto his back, a huge grin illuminating his features.

“You almost lost me after that first little blip,” I joked.

“It just took some time.”

Kim was still standing above us.

“How dare you use me as bait!” she scolded.

“It worked, didn’t it?” I looked to Kyle. “Didn’t it?”

“I guess… I thought of the image you’d shown me. They’re not here, so… yes?”

“I can’t stand you, April!” Kim turned on Kyle. “And she’s right. You’re an absolute idiot!” She stormed out of the house.

“You called me an idiot?” Kyle asked as we got to our feet.

“Like, all the time,” I joked. “But seriously. This was a complete nightmare. Going it alone, with no plan? Don’t do this again, okay?”

“Looks like the High Council owe us a meeting, though.” He took my hand.

“You’re exhausted. Your abilities are shot. We can wait a day.”

“And give you another night to take out Kim? No thanks. We go now.”

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

The High Council

 

Kyle.

 

Charred remains of the abandoned house fell away around us. An ancient oak tree rose up in their place, its hefty boughs reaching skyward. We stood for a moment, hand in hand, and took in Caria’s beauty below us. The Old Oak sat in an open field atop the highest point of a ridgeline overlooking Caria. The entire town stretched out across the forest-lined valley beneath. I couldn’t help but feel bitter at a constant reminder of my limitations, since the Oak represented the only place I couldn’t teleport into on my own.

“Just touch the tree and teleport,” April instructed with a sparkling grin. “The High Council awaits.”

My hand landed firmly on the Old Oak’s gnarled tree trunk. Everything else vanished. I looked around and stepped away from the ancient Oak.

We were standing in a grand, white expanse. Wispy white clouds swirled, smoke-like, around our ankles. I bent down and brushed some away to view the scene beneath. A layer as thin as paper and as clear as crystal separated us from the world below. The sky and the earth spread out far beneath our feet. Mountains rose up like tiny dimples on the land, while the mortals, visible only as tiny specks, milled around going about their lives. The world looked so peaceful. From here, they could see everything, everywhere, anytime they wanted. I tore my gaze from the world below to find April doing the same. Together, we began walking across the emptiness of everything beneath us.

The delicate, swirling clouds swept aside as we stepped across the grand expanse, uncovering more and more of the world beneath our feet. My world. Huge white marble columns rose high into the air in support of a glorious ivory-coloured canopy that stretched over the Council Chambers. My heart beat fast, unable to adopt the calmness feigned on the surface. And yet April walked confidently. She had always been far more comfortable when it came to the Immortals than I could ever dream to be. We kept walking steadily with the misty clouds still sweeping from our path as we went, until we reached the edge of the pillars. We took one final, settling moment, and stepped inside.

My feet found a richly carpeted altar. I looked around. Arranged in a circle stood the thrones of the Immortals we were fighting for. Twelve seats sat on either side of the circle, with a further four majestic chairs at the head of the grand altar. Three smaller, more conservative seats were raised on a platform behind them. Each place was beautifully decorated and carved in glorious aged white marble. The seats lay empty in the mist. I glanced to April, waiting for her to take the lead.

“We request an audience with the High Council,” she called out into the emptiness. An irritating formality, since they’d probably been watching us and knew we were coming.

“Welcome.” A rich voice carried from over my shoulder. We spun around.

The seats at the head of the altar were no longer empty – the four High Council members had chosen to grace us with their presence. We walked down the altar towards them, glancing behind them to see another Immortal, a woman wearing a white robe, taking the middle seat on a platform behind them, her golden hair cascading over her shoulders in delicate ringlets. Isla, the last remaining Fate, had joined us, as the Fates always did when the High Council was called together. April and I stood before them, silent and unmoving, watching them as they watched us.

They were four. Two men, two women. Older than eternity itself, and yet somehow timeless. With forever written, not in their bodies, but in their eyes.

“Cronus, Hera,” April greeted them.

“Zeus, Rhea,” I gave each a respectful nod but my eyes never strayed from theirs.

“Our brother, Hades, is hard at work [repairing] the debacle you deposited in the Underworld,” the woman, Hera, spoke with bitterness and boredom. She wore a laurel wreath as timeless as herself in her hair, which was pulled back loosely over the cream-white of her flowing gown as her piercing stare bore down on us.

“You wanted them dealt with,” April replied calmly. “You never specified how.”

“We appreciate your diligence regarding the matter, as your townsfolk would also,” Hera said in what sounded like a required sentiment spoken in as few words as possible.

“It has been some time since your last visit.” The second woman, Rhea, interjected but spoke earnestly. She wore a simple dress coloured a light and rich earthy brown, her cropped dark hair wild around her gentle face. “How go your travels, young Champions?”

“They are of great interest to us,” the man seated beside her, Cronus, added in an ominously cheerful tone. His dark eyes fell on April. The pair appeared to be slightly older than their fellow High Council members, and spoke calmly with an air of curiosity and strength. An undertone of clear boredom flickered through their words.

“Okay, I guess…” I stammered when April didn’t reply.

“You seek something from us, child?” Rhea inquired warmly and in stark contrast to Hera’s icy demeanour.

“Yes,” April replied.

“Speak,” Zeus announced. Like Hera, he also wore a laurel wreath atop his head.

“Spare Kim. Take her Flame. Free her,” I explained.

They did not look impressed.

“Pairs were sent forth for a purpose,” Rhea responded.

A voice rose from behind them. Isla.

“The Fates tell of a battle between four Champions, not a solution using only two,” a regal looking woman with tumbling blonde curls and a white gown spoke. “All four Flames are required.”

“We hear this again and again,” Cronus’ voiced and appealed to his counterparts. “Are we not settled on this matter?”

I looked down to the sharp, shining sickle held in his hand. Ancient, although not as ancient as the High Council member would have liked. It was commonly known that Cronus’ real sickle, the one made for him by his mother, Gaia – the one with the power to kill Immortals – had been stolen long, long ago, by the witch, Hecate.

“The Champion’s request seems valid,” Rhea said to them, calm.

“No more valid than previously,” Cronus voiced his frustration. “The request remains unchanged. As does the High Council’s decision.”

Zeus joined the fray.

“He speaks the truth, children. You have made similar requests many times over. The ruling has been given.”

Hera leaned forward in her seat to look over at Rhea. “We must be consistent in our judgements, mother.”

Rhea turned, not to me, but to April. “Has the situation changed, young Champion?”

We didn’t have an answer to her question.

“These abilities, as well as the rapid healing, take a toll on our bodies,” April told them instead. “Remove Kim’s abilities and status as Champion. Let her have her life back. Their normal, mortal life.”

A menacing grin crossed Cronus’ features. “How are those nineteen years of yours dragging on?”

I become suddenly still at the sound of April’s – very small – number. Twenty-five felt instantly like all the time in the world. But she returned Cronus’s grin unfazed.

“Very well. How’s eternity feel? Endless?”

A thin smile crossed the other Council members’ lips.

“Now, now,” Rhea continued. “The High Council is well aware of the strains such abilities take on mortals.”

“We know who the other Champions are,” I tried. “That has changed. We hadn’t found them before.”

“If a different pair were called upon to take their places,” Zeus inquired, “would your request be the same?”

Yes, it would have been. But they already knew that. Cronus grinned. I looked past them, over their shoulders, to where Isla sat peacefully overseeing their judgment. She shook her head lightly. Not to me, but to April.

“Intriguing mortals, this Noah and Kim,” Hera continued.

“Colourful pasts,” Rhea added with a hint of intrigue.

“And undoubtedly entertaining futures,” Cronus chimed.

As one, the Immortals rose from their thrones. They moved to stand at four corners around us.

“Have they proven themselves yet?” I spun around to see Hera speak. “Have you?”

“Kim’s still learning,” I responded, defensive.

The four walked slowly and calmly circled us.

“Perhaps they should learn faster.” Cronus.

They moved faster, now, yet still walking calmly.

“You are also yet to prove yourselves, young Champions, much less end our War.”

Zeus, this time. I turned on the spot, staring around at them wildly. Their feet lifted from the floor.

“We completed your trial, long ago,” April told them.

“There is more to learn within the challenges you will face than simply control over the elements,” Rhea spoke clearly.

The now floating Immortals circled faster.

“Stay away from them!” I shouted.

“Who will make us?”

“The Law,” April added, desperate, and clutching at straws. “You can’t harm your Champions.”

“What do you know of The Law?”

“The truce,” I shouted. “You have to be peaceful until the War’s decided.”

“We must be peaceful amongst ourselves.”

They stopped circling, all eyes on me and April. I threw a wild glare toward Zeus. “You can’t interfere!”

His gaze held mine, measured and unwavering. For that moment I saw forever, hidden behind a veil of exhausted humanity. Zeus spoke, untold strength buried in every word. And the world listened.

“In mortal affairs. And the Mortal Realm. You, however, are something much more than that. As are your fellow Champions.” Zeus stepped forward and placed his hand on my shoulder. He let something fall.

The tall marble pillars and grand expanse of their Realm vanished before our eyes. But it was not the High Council who had moved – we had. I looked around. I was standing beneath the Old Oak, on grass instead of smoke, with sky above my head, not beneath my feet.

“Look out!”

April pushed me to the ground.

“Kyle! April”

We spun around. Kim was running towards us. April took me around the shoulders and dragged me heavily to the ground behind the Oak, crouching down beside me. I looked at her, puzzled, as Kim dived across to join us.

“What are you doing here?” I hissed at her. I glimpsed something shiny resting in open ground a few metres away. April saw the same.

“Be right back.”

At once, April and I sprinted low from cover to the shining objects. Two softly glowing thin cylinders rested gently on the ground, one gold, one silver.

“Perseus!” April cried out and dove for the silver cylinder just as I shouted “Theseus!” and took the gold cylinder for myself. The ground exploded around us as we dived back to cover. Kim glanced quickly over her shoulder just as something heavy hit the tree trunk we were hiding behind. April and I stood to get a view of our attackers. There were four of them, two male, two female, decked out in their battle attire, weapons in hand, stalking towards us.

“Kim?” April hissed sharply.

“I woke up here,” she replied in a hurry. “One moment I was getting the hell away from you. Next minute I’m surrounded by goons shooting arrows!”

I swallowed, risking another peek at the assailants. “They’re not goons.”

“What?” Kim voice rose and grew suddenly wild.

“Kim,” I said in a rush, “meet Ares, Athena, Apollo and – “

A dazzling silver arrow flew by my shoulder and landed firmly in a tree close behind. I looked back to see where it had come from. One of the women, shorter than the rest, wild and slender, stood holding a brilliant silver bow aimed in our direction.

“Artemis,” April finished.

“Gods of War, meet Kim.”

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Trial and error

 

April.

 

“I’ll have you out of here in no time.” Kyle threw Kim a weakly reassuring grin.

“Who are these people?” Kim demanded.

Kyle and I chanced a glance at the battlefield beyond our cover. Two figures stood strong on opposite sides of a small ridge overlooking the field, bows held, waiting, before them. Both wore tall leather hunting boots and wrist guards, and we could see carefully crafted quivers slung over their shoulders. The woman, shorter than her brother, was slender, with chestnut hair pulled back into a messy side bun and held from her eyes with a black band. Her ivory dress fell above her knees, wrapping effortlessly around her and leaving her shoulders and arms bare. The man wore ivory and gold to his thighs, held in place with a heavy belt and wrapped over one shoulder, leaving his chest and arms exposed beneath a mess of chestnut, shoulder length locks.

Between them, drawing nearer, were a fierce golden-haired pair, their golden knee-high boots and wrist guards catching the fading light. The second woman, to the left, wore a dark gold chest plate covering her shoulders over a cream dress wrapped with a tint of deep gold that fell above her knees. Her counterpart wore a similar golden wrap to the male archer, only with both shoulders covered, and no chest plate in sight. We could see a heavy, tall sword in his hands, and two smaller blades held by the golden-haired woman shining in the falling light.

“The two archers,” Kyle explained as briefly as he could, “are the twins, Apollo and Artemis. Apollo can’t lie. And Artemis likes to hunt.”

“But they’re not the ones you have to worry about. Ares over there,” I gestured to the familiar lanky blonde man wielding a single blade, “is the War team captain. Then there’s Athena, embodiment of reason and wisdom. She’s also the favourite child, so can throw a decent thunderbolt. Watch her, ‘cause she’ll be calling the shots.”

I tried reaching out to their minds, but failed. “My telepathy’s gone,” I noted.

Kyle blinked but failed to vanish.

“They’re messing with us,” Kyle snapped, peeking out to assess the incoming Immortals.

The golden-haired pair closed in as their cover took aim.

“You see that only Athena is wearing armour?” I noted.

Kim snuck a peak and nodded.

“They’ve grown complacent in their immortality,” I explained. “They think we’re a joke.”

I grinned across to Kyle, but had to hide the rising panic pressing down on me and fury that I should have seen this coming. With four of the most powerful Immortals drawing closer, light would be of little use against skilled hunters immune to the effects of anything we can throw at them. Anything but Immortal fire.

“Let’s make them take us seriously,” I shouted across at Kyle. “Partner.” Brilliant crimson flames burst into life in my outstretched palms.

“I thought you didn’t do that anymore.” Kyle sounded concerned. So was I.

“We could be in trouble here,” I justified, to myself as much as to Kyle, trying not to think about everything that could – and probably would – go wrong. But Kyle wasn’t buying it.

“You’re out of practice. You said it yourself, you can’t even manage to clear an entire window. Let me handle this!”

Kim ducked as a brilliant golden arrow whizzed by above us.

“But you can’t hurt them!” she cried.

“They heal, but they still feel,” I replied and looked to Kyle. “Let’s do this,” I urged. “A life of hard work doesn’t just vanish overnight. And I got most of that window.”

Finally, Kyle yielded. Water, glittering deep blue and ice cold, rose in his hands.

“Kim. Stay hidden.”

“April!” A voice rose, calm and loud.

Apprehensive, Kyle and I stepped out. We threw our hands out before us and sent forth blistering jets of sparkling blue water and crimson fire. The jets entwined, forming a double helix of fire and ice spiralling at our targets. Ares and his immortals didn’t flinch. They stood, unmoving, as they watched our best efforts fly towards them.

There was a spark.

“Don’t cross the streams!” I shouted at Kyle, but was really only shouting at myself.

And another.

“Control your fire!” Kyle called back.

And another.

Fire crashed into an elegant helix of water, steaming, and sent out a wave of explosions across the open space. I took in a short breath and looked back to the wall of misty destruction, then to Kyle.

“I hate it when that happens,” he let out, and pushed me in frustration. “Get it together, April!”

You get it together!” I pushed back, too furious not to, and on the edge of losing it entirely.

“It wasn’t my fault!”

“I know!”

“Uh, guys…” Kim’s voice made us spin around to her, and we followed her hand, pointing out to the battlefield we’d just failed to command.

They were so calm, Ares and Athena, as they emerged from the chaos and drew their weapons. Ares was tall with a lanky, thin figure and overgrown, dirty blonde hair hanging in his face. His voice carried with ease over the shortening distance between us.

“Nice try.”

The other three stepped from the fire, unscathed and bored.

“My turn.” Ares’ face illuminated in a menacing grin, but it was Athena who spoke next. Her eyes never left us, as a soft-spoken order carried over her shoulder.

“Artemis.”

Clouds parted in darkened sky. Moonlight beamed down, illuminating the now eerily silent open plain. Slivers gleamed from silver-blonde chunks through the woman’s chestnut hair as she stepped forward on the ridge and drew her dazzling silver-grey bow. Apollo, too, drew his bow, golden like sunlight. Artemis and Apollo’s bows were as legendary as their archers, and there was only one bow in existence that could rival them – that used by the Hero of Old, Theseus. A trail of shining silver whizzed by our heads.

“Did she just chuck a moon beam?” Kyle’s voice had risen in pitch as he threw a jet of ice between us and them, rising swiftly into a dense, shimmering ice wall separating us and them.

Without warning, Apollo vanished.

“Why can they still teleport?” Kyle asked, appalled.

Ares’ blade pierced the thick wall of solid ice, shattering it with ease to rubble

“I’m kind of more worried about where he went.”

“Right.”

As suddenly as he had vacated his post, Apollo reappeared holdings something – someone – loosely by the arm.

“Time to return this, I think,” he said, pushing the figure forward. A shaky figure stumbled toward us.

Beside me, Kim was clambering to her feet, squinting off into the distance.

“Noah?” she muttered, then broken into a run.

“Kim, wait!” Kyle tried to catch her, but she was already sprinting through the battlefield.

“You run when you think it’s worth it,” I mumbled, irritated, but felt my stomach lurch.

Tottering our way and throwing himself into Kim’s arms was Noah, the most unwelcome stranger I could think of.

“Kim!” he cried out, jubilant. “I’m sorry I bailed on you. Please forgive me. I was so scared without you.”

“Of course I forgive you. Where have you been? I missed you so much! Tell me all about it.”

Noah stepped of Kim’s embrace, instead turning to stare at me. Terror gripped me to the spot.

“You brought him back to life?” I shouted in disbelief at the Immortals. “How? Why? Is he still mortal?”

“He never even died,” Athena drawled, sounding just as bored as the High Council had only minutes earlier.

“What?”

Noah had started stomping my way.

“I woke up, you nutcase!” he yelled at me. “Then some Immortal loon dragged me out of my house! Before I had a chance to finish what I started in that art room!”

Kim and Kyle looked shocked at Noah’s revelation.

“He tried to poison me first, if that makes you feel any better,” I added in vain, but then turned my attention back to Apollo. “And you kept him all this time? Why didn’t you give him back?”

“Our dear Noah had an issue of faith to resolve,” Apollo replied. “You’ve not proven to be the most convincing of storytellers, April.”

“I don’t think you’re delusional anymore,” Noah said to me. “Just an unhinged, run of the mill sociopath.”

“Good to know,” I smiled. “But not going to matter. I’ll spar with these guys, learn whatever lesson the High Council are trying to teach us, then kill you again and take Kim down, too.”

“Hmm… about that,” Ares stepped forward. “We didn’t stop Noah from dying the first time.”

“Then how is he here?” Kyle asked. “Wrenching souls from the Underworld’s not possible without…”

“Yes?” Athena prompted, but was searching for a response from me instead.

“Without being charmed before the fact,” I answered. “But Noah’s not… Who could possibly be protecting him like that?”

“You can thank a particularly intricate set of charms placed over all four Flames from their inception,” Apollo explained with an alarming grin. “You and Kyle have some experience with such charms, I believe. To protect you from fatalities at the hands of your guides.”

“But Noah’s guide didn’t end his life,” I retorted.

“How foolish do you think we are?” Apollo scoffed. “We have waited and waited for the Flames, and for you four, to reach this point. You really think we would risk the Champion pairs being able to kill each other?”

“But that’s the whole point…” Kyle’s murmur barely carried through the distance.

“Oh, no, no, no, I’ve misspoken. You can kill each other.”

A plummeting sense of despair overcame me as the pieces of Apollo’s meaning clicked into place.

“But we can’t fatally wound our partner…” I said, defeated with a look to Noah, then to Ares. “He’s the second Titan Champion?” I asked, incredulous.

Grim, Ares nodded.

“Afraid so, young one.”

“Powerful magic to overcome those charms,” Athena grinned. “A force far beyond your capabilities. For now, at least. You’re little telepathy trick is not enough, I’m afraid”

“But you never… Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Noah took a step away from Kim as her face fell, once more losing her best friend.

Apollo and Artemis spoke almost as one.

“This should be,”

Very interesting.”

Ares threw his arms into the air.

“You are running out of allies…”

All four of us lifted from the ground and went flying.

Noah and I landed heavily on Athena’s side of the field, Kim and Kyle on the other.

“You murdered me!” Noah shouted and dived for my throat. With a duck and weave, I deflected him into the ground beside me.

“Kyle?” I called out. “What the hell is this, Athena, some kind of test to see how long it takes me to wipe out Noah?”

“You can try, however, his soul would simply return from the Underworld as rapidly as it were whisked away.”

Apollo and Artemis launched an arrow each, whistling overhead, piercing the sky. Gold and silver struck explosively in mid-air. Glittering shards rained down around us to form a fluid silver-gold transparent barrier down the centre of the field. A barrier only they could move through. I ran to the edge of the sparkling wall and put my hand to it. Kyle was on the other side looking in, with Kim standing bewildered and terrified behind him. For the first time since we had discovered what we both were we found ourselves cut off, unable to reach each other.

“Far from it,” Athena spoke.

I glanced back over my shoulder to Noah, unprepared and unaware, not to mention laser focussed on returning the favour, then to the four specialists drawing closer to us in time-tested formation. Noah looked from their formation to me, nervous and thankfully distracted from enacting his revenge.

“They do this a lot, don’t they?”

“I’ll get you out of here,” was all I could find in me to reply.

“You didn’t really think we would send down one pair with guides, and one without, did you?” Ares drew steadily nearer.

I moved forward to meet them, sending out a blinding flash of bright light their way. An arrow flew by me, aimed at Noah. I shot it down in a jet of fire, but more came. And more. Within an instant, the sky began raining silver and gold, plummeting towards us. Too many to knock down. Too many to dodge. Ares and Athena were drawing nearer, weapons in hand, but I was too busy blasting down the rain of arrows that threatened us. Bright blue and yellow flashed in the corner of my eye.

“This can’t be happening!” I cried out, “you didn’t tell us!”

“Of course we did,” Athena responded, but it was Ares’ dark words that finished her sentence.

“You simply failed to listen.”

Athena was almost upon me, drawing nearer with every calm, calculated step. Taking my attention away from the sky would mean certain doom. Failing to pay attention to Apollo and Athena’s oncoming onslaught would mean the same. But I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t get Noah to safety. I couldn’t reach Kyle. I couldn’t sink my claws into Kim. But there must be a way, there always is. There has to be.

A thunderous CRACK ripped through the air. Thin fingers of lightning flashed across the sky, lighting up the horizon with glittering, electrified sparks. Silvery-green electrified sparks. Above us, the sky filled with flashes of rich, green light. Arrows caught, mid-flight, in the sparking air and fell, lifeless, to the ground. I turned, overlooking the scene now littered with fallen arrows. There, standing with his hands held up to the sky, was Noah. Determination that I’d never seen in him before filled his features. He stepped forward to stand beside me once more.

“I won’t leave you to do this alone, April,” he said. His tone was suddenly and unexpectedly strong. “Let me fight with you for a change!”

I looked to the sky and saw that Noah’s glittering, electrified mist still hung around us, reaching from high above all the way to the ground. The charged mist sparked, catching any arrows that launched our way, but failed to reach through the barrier separating us from Kim and Kyle. They were on their own. Noah and I were immune to the now charged mist hanging on the air. But so were our attackers.

Now how do you feel about finishing your precious war, with Kyle on the other side instead of me?” Noah asked, quiet.

An eerie silence fell, contemplating a future I had foolishly never even considered. I could feel myself losing focus as an internal battle between self-hatred and fury raged.

“Not great.”

We looked out over the battlefield, from looming war specialists to Kim and Kyle, blue and yellow flashes still crashing through the sky. Taking Noah’s lead, we saw Kim cast out her own shimmering golden cloud which caught any arrows mid-flight.

“Let’s just get out of here,” Noah said, quietly defiant. Brilliant green sparks burst to life in his hands.

Apollo and Artemis made no sound and showed no emotion at their arrows’ inability to travel through the sky. There was no frustration or anger in their eyes, simply resignation to move to plan B – or was is C, or D… – coupled with steel and menace as they were forced to descend from high ground to re-join the battle. Moving as one, they held their bows aloft in one hand. Noah and I watched on in horror as both bows straightened and stretched into shining blades. Yet another reason why the twins’ bows were truly legendary. Athena and Apollo closed in on us from the left, while Ares and Artemis closed in on Kim and Kyle. Who I had no choice but to forget.

“They wanna split the field,” I called to Noah. “Then let’s split the field!” I knelt down in the shimmering mist and touched the ground beside the Immortals’ transparent barrier, concentrating.

It began as a tiny fireball bursting to life in my palms. Each flame folded over and over the others, flaring and dancing together before us along Apollo and Artemis’ silver-gold barrier. A heavy weight crushed down on my mind as the surge of scarlet flames wound their way into a ‘T’ shape across the battlefield in front of us. I stood, holding on as best as I could, and lifted my arms into the air. High walls of dancing flames rose up from the ground, cutting the landscape in half down the middle and blocking the four Immortals’ path to us. Painfully aware of the damage the red Flame’s fire could inflict, Apollo and Ares glanced rapidly to their own battle partners and dived through their own barrier to switch sides as the flaming wall rose. Noah and I stood, waiting. Fire was all around us now, burning hot, but Noah wasn’t even breaking a sweat. Ares’ voice rang out.

“Is that the best you’ve got?”

CRASH

Armour-plated fists beat against the earth at the foot of the flames and sent a deep crack shattering through the soil, forcing the weakest wall of fire to be consumed by the ground. The Immortals stepped over effortlessly. Surprise hit them. For they were no longer moving towards us in formation, but instead found their number split down the middle by the second wall of flames stretching out before them – Ares and Athena on one side facing Noah and me, Apollo and Artemis on the other.

Ares glared at the second wall with unexpected frustration and threw a fist into it. “Ah!” he cried out and rapidly withdrew his singed fist, shaking it while fresh skin entwined into place, yet with a noticeably pale tinge. He slammed his palm once more into the soil beneath the flames only to find them erupt and rise once more. They were just as trapped on either side as we were.

“Interesting, young Champions,” Athena called.

Mildly surprised, they kept moving, almost upon us on the left side. Noah and I stood firm together at the edge of the wall, ready.

“You’ve been practicing,” I called to Noah, impressed.

“I didn’t want you to think I was lazy. Just don’t ask me to do anything with the dirt.”

Ares swung a heavy blow at Noah. He dodged to the side, throwing a ball of electricity that broke across Ares’ face. I held up a hand to Athena who had closed in on our position.

“Surprise!” I shouted, and pushed my hand forward. Blinding flashes of light shot in her eyes. She cried out, momentarily blind, and stumbled backwards. But they kept coming. Glittering green electrified mist still hung in the air. Burning flames leapt from the high wall that stretched out before us.

“How can we stop swords?” Noah shouted to me.

We both jumped back, Ares and Athena’s blades sweeping past us by millimetres. I held out the glowing silver cylinder that I’d picked up when we first landed there.

“With more swords!” I called back.

Noah stepped away, watching as a shimmering silver blade grew from the handle. I blocked a blow from Athena, the blades sending out sparks as they met, and held her there for a moment staring into her eternity-soaked gaze. Heat swept from my hands, across both blades, to Athena’s. Her grip loosened. I pushed her away, tearing at one of her swords as I went. She stumbled back, surprised.

“April!” Noah waved an open hand at me, urgent.

Uncertain, I threw Athena’s blade to him. To my surprise, he caught it and blocked Ares’ blow with ease. I couldn’t help but notice that his skills were peculiarly proficient. Glittering silver-green flashes of lightning shot out at our opponents. With one hand, I threw out wave after wave of scarlet flames, being careful to keep clear of Noah, where they mixed in the air with Noah’s electricity. Light flashed across the sky, red and green, ringing out with a terrifying CRACK that continued so that nothing could be heard over the sound of the sky tearing itself apart.

The Immortals’ attacks grew more intense. They were coming at us ruthlessly, unhindered my any fears for their personal safety. Why fear anything when you couldn’t die, when you could barely even be hurt? Athena’s remaining blade sliced through the dense air aiming, not at me, but at Noah.

Brilliant waves of gold and silver rose up from Kyle’s side of the wall as a flash of heavy thunder broke across the sky as if echoing a warning. Athena threw herself skyward, reaching out. Silver-gold sparks struck her outstretched hand. Thunder cracked through the air once more. Flashes came from Kyle’s side – gold, silver, blue, white – dancing on the sky. Ares dove at Noah, unfaltering. High above us, Athena grasped the silver-gold sparks and drew a powerful, golden flash of splintering lightning from the sky. Sparking fingers drove through our wall and shattered the flames like glass, sending shockwaves blasting through its now brittle surface. Flares of fire burst from it, illuminating Athena’s landing as the wall of flame shattered down around her.

I could see Kyle once more, his attention momentarily lost in an Immortal display of sheer power. Noah’s grip loosened as he, too, watched the display in awe. A glint of silver flew from Athena’s hand – icy steel drawing nearer, nearer.

CLANG. Ares flew at Noah, untiring and unstoppable.

Noah didn’t see. Blue and gold sparks hung in the air beside us. Athena stood, calm, watching. I caught her blade in my own once more and wheeled it away from Noah into the crumbling ground to my right. Ares came in sharply on my left, aiming his blade at Noah’s stomach. He moved with all his might and speed, his eyes filled, not with the expected fury, but with reluctance.

“No!” I cried out.

My hands dropped my own blade, the force of Athena’s sword striking it to the ground. I stepped in front of Noah. Ares was there. Silence fell. The deafening flashes through the air stopped. The Immortal onslaught ceased. Ares stood still before me, a steadying hand grasping my shoulder.

I gasped, short and sharp. And looked down. There, plunged through my stomach, sat Ares’ blade. My hands ran to it and I turned my head briefly to look behind me. Noah stepped back, unharmed, and caught me around the waist, watching me in terrified disbelief.

“Ares… how?” My words felt choked. “I grew up with you.”

Ares’ hand squeezed my shoulder. And I understood.

“So did Kyle,” he said in a pained, gentle whisper and stepped away. “It’s time.”

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Fire and lightning

 

April.

 

I looked up from Ares’ blade. Artemis, Apollo and Athena shared a look tinted with a strange mix of reluctance and anger, and vanished. Ares’ dark eyes found my own, his hand still holding the hilt of the weapon running me through.

“Trial complete,” he spoke calmly, even caringly. “Nice job, kid. Have fun with Noah.” Wisps of smoke rose up from below me. Ares gently squeezed my shoulder once more. “Until next time,” he said.

Our surroundings disappeared, replaced with tall walls inside a house and a grand marble staircase. I felt Noah holding me around my waist. We were alone. Silver-green mist no longer hung on the air. But images from the battlefield rattled through my mind. The silver cylinder containing the blade of one of the Heroes of Old clattered at my feet.

I sucked in a heavy breath and swiftly ran my hand to my stomach. A smile filled with relief and disbelief spread over me. I was solid and in one piece. Noah stepped back, staring. I blinked and looked around. We were standing in the entrance hall of my home with no Immortals in sight.

Panic rose up, threatening to catapult me into a fit of terror. Gasping for air, I clung to Noah’s shoulder at waist height. Rapidly, I dropped to my knees with him and patted him down, running my hands from his head to his face and down to his feet, checking for injuries.

“Themis!”

No reply. Noah stared back at me, confused. His voice sounded weak.

“You saved me…”

I caught his gaze.

Breathe. Breathe.

“You expected different?” I asked through a steadying gasp of air.

“You just…” his eyes strayed to my stomach. “The sword… you stepped in front of it,” he looked back into my eyes but his mood shifted to become suddenly worried as he noticed me slipping further and further into panic. Worry… Or was that twinkle in his eye something else?

Breathe. Breathe.

Strong and defiant, Noah looked me square in the eyes.

“You deserve this,” he whispered. Silver light radiated from the floor. Without missing a beat or looking away, Noah plunged the blade that had helped free us from the Immortals deep into my abdomen.

With a muffled cry, my hands slid to Noah’s shoulders for support. Fresh blood trickled from my side as the world around me began fading from view. Slipping from Noah’s grasp, my hands found his neck. In a final gasping breath, I gathered what little strength remained.

“So do you,” I whispered.

A sharp twist, then a snap, and Noah’s body tumbled like a rag doll to the cold marble floors. I crumpled beside him, looking up at the high, carved stone ceilings and wondering who crafted them. Probably someone who would have liked more time.

Certainty of the War’s end slipped away. If Apollo was right, we’d wake up to wage the final battle of an endless war. But what chance did I possibly stand with Noah?

 

 

 

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The Immortal Olympian Ares is living a quiet life within the peace forged by a shaky truce between the Titans and Olympians. However, when his decision to rescue the mortal he has fallen in love with reveals his true identity, his actions launch a series of events that devastate the town of Caria and destroy the fragile Immortal truce. Catapulted back into their eternal struggle, Ares must decide – take arms once more against the Titans, or stand with the mortals he has risked everything for.

Set one hundred and fifty years earlier, the FREE bonus chapter to Champions: at fire’s end shows the events which ignited the current feud in which April Fall and her fellow mortal champions now find themselves.

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The journey so far

 

The High Council

*
p<{color:#000;}. Zeus

*
p<{color:#000;}. Hera

*
p<{color:#000;}. Cronus

*
p<{color:#000;}. Rhea

The Olympians of War

*
p<{color:#000;}. Athena

*
p<{color:#000;}. Ares

*
p<{color:#000;}. Apollo

*
p<{color:#000;}. Artemis

The Champion Guides

*
p<{color:#000;}. Themis

*
p<{color:#000;}. Hades

*
p<{color:#000;}. Hermes

*
p<{color:#000;}. Ares

The Champions

April – Carrier of the Red Champions Flame. April was raised my Themis, and has gained control over fire and light. April also has the ability of telepathy.

Kyle – The Blue Flame bearer. Raised by Hermes, Kyle controls ice and water. Kyle also has the ability to teleport within and between realms.

Kim – Kim holds the Yellow Flame, which gives her control over air and the ability to fly.

Noah – The Green Flame gives Noah control over earth and electricity, and also manifested in super speed.

Titan-Olympian timeline

 

The Void

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The First Immortals emerge from the Void.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Realms form (Earth, Sky, Water, Underworld).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The First Titans enter the world.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The Realm of the Titans is constructed.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Cronus battles Ouranus and becomes Ultimate Ruler. Ouranus and Gaia vanish from the world, but the Flames which contain their powers are left behind and contained by the Titans.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The First Olympians enter the world.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The second generation of Titans begin to emerge.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Zeus frees his siblings from the oppression of Cronus. War wages between the Titans and Olympians. Conflict ends with the Titans (first and second generation) imprisoned in the Underworld. Zeus becomes Ultimate Ruler. Hades gains control over the Underworld. Poseidon takes control of the Water realm.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The second generation of Olympians begin to emerge.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The Titans escape. War erupts once more. A truce is reached. The High Council is formed, in which the leaders of the Titans and Olympians rule collectively.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The Great Fire of Caria. The original truce crumbles. The Champions Solution is reached, and the Final Truce is forged.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The four Champions Flames are constructed and released.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Each Champion gains full control over their abilities.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The Final Battle begins.

Now

The Titan-Olympian Family Tree

 

table<>. <>. |<>.
p={color:#000;}.  

|<>. p={color:#000;}. The Void

 

|<>. p={color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>\3. p={color:#000;}. The First Immortals | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}.   |<>. p={color:#000;}. Gaia

(the Earth)

 

|<>. p={color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. Ouranus (the Sky) |<>. p={color:#000;}. Pontus (the Sea) |<>. p={color:#000;}. Ourea (the Mountains)

 

| <>. |<>\3. p={color:#000;}. The First Titans (the children of Gaia & Ouranus[+)+] | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. Oceanus |<>. p={color:#000;}. Coeus |<>. p={color:#000;}. Crius | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. Tethys |<>. p={color:#000;}. Phoebe |<>. p={color:#000;}. Mnemosyne | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. Hyperion |<>. p={color:#000;}. Cronus |<>. p={color:#000;}. Iapetus | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. Theia |<>. p={color:#000;}. Rhea |<>. p={color:#000;}. Themis

 

| <>. |<>\3. p={color:#000;}. econd generation Titans | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. [_ (Oceanus/Tethys)_]

Sea nymphs

Rivers |<>.
p={color:#000;}. [_ (Coeus/Phoebe)_]

Lelantos

Leto

Asteria |<>.
p={color:#000;}. [_ (Crius/Eurybia)_]

Astraeus

Pallas

Perses | <>. |<>.
p={color:#000;}. [_ (Hyperion/Theia)_]

Selene

Eos

Helios |<>.
p={color:#000;}.  

Aphrodite |<>.
p={color:#000;}. [_ (Iapetus/Clymene)_]

Atlas

Epimetheus

Menoetius

Prometheus

 

| <>. |<>\3. p={color:#000;}. The First Olympians (the children of Rhea & Cronus[+)+] | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. Demeter |<>. p={color:#000;}. Hera |<>. p={color:#000;}. Poseidon | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. Hestia |<>. p={color:#000;}. Hades |<>. p={color:#000;}. Zeus | <>. |<>\3. p={color:#000;}. Second generation Olympians | <>. |<>. p={color:#000;}. (Demeter/Zeus) Persephone |<>. p={color:#000;}. (Hera/Zeus) Ares

Hephaestus |<>.
p={color:#000;}. (Zeus)

Athena

Hermes

Dionysus

(Leto/Zeus)

Apollo & Artemis |

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Charlotte Jain is an Arts graduate from Melbourne. In her spare time, she enjoys relaxing on the couch with a good movie and attempting to create tasty treats that are perfect with a nice cup of tea. Champions: at fire’s end is her first book. She is currently finalising the remainder of the Champions series.

 

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www.charlottejain.com

 

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The Immortal Olympian Ares is living a quiet life within the peace forged by a shaky truce between the Titans and Olympians. However, when his decision to rescue the mortal he has fallen in love with reveals his true identity, his actions launch a series of events that devastate the town of Caria and destroy the fragile Immortal truce. Catapulted back into their eternal struggle, Ares must decide – take arms once more against the Titans, or stand with the mortals he has risked everything for.

Set one hundred and fifty years earlier, the FREE bonus chapter to Champions: at fire’s end shows the events which ignited the current feud in which April Fall and her fellow mortal champions now find themselves.

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Champions: at fire's end

Seventeen-year-old best friends, April and Kyle, are thrown into the final battle of the Titan-Olympian war. Locked into an endless struggle, the Immortals have finally reached a solution – bestow mortal Champions with control over the elements to wage their final campaign. Bestowed with control over fire and water, April and Kyle were raised by Immortals with a single purpose – win the war. After finally uncovering the remaining Champions’ identities, April and Kyle must launch themselves into their final battle for survival. Winner takes all. But the Immortals are growing restless, and time is running out. Four mortal champions Two immortal factions One eternal victor

  • Author: Charlotte Jain
  • Published: 2017-01-01 11:05:26
  • Words: 74300
Champions: at fire's end Champions: at fire's end