Flash Fiction – One Less

This week’s flash fiction is a snippet from ‘Air, Book Two of the Akasha Series’ to be released next month.  Kaitlyn, the main character, and Vayu, a wind elemental I introduce at the beginning of the book, are sent to battle a manmade fire:

 

A thick wall of flame came into view. Vayu stopped. “Here. This is the front of the fire.”

He turned to me and I realized how wildly unprepared I actually was. Wind was the most unpredictable of elements, the most difficult to control. I hadn’t had much practice with it.

Vayu was able to read my face. “I don’t have time to teach you, but we can do this one of two ways. You can either feed me energy or you can try to copy what I do as best as you can.”

It didn’t take me long to choose, remembering what happened to Micah last time he willingly gave me his energy. “I’ll try it on my own.”

Vayu scrutinized me for a moment, trying to judge my abilities as if he could by just looking at my face.

I frowned. He hadn’t seen any of what I could do. “Vayu – Micah wouldn’t have left me if he didn’t think I could handle it.”

Vayu accepted my reasoning. In a weird sort of circle pattern, that in turn gave me more confidence. Amazing how Micah could change things without even being there. Vayu took a deep breath in, and flows of energy left his body as he exhaled. It was an all-encompassing net that went out from his body. The net expanded, retracted, and grew thicker or thinner at Vayu’s will. I felt it letting air through in some places and blocking it in others. The net quickly grew to the left and right of us, expanding beyond my sight. Somehow Vayu knew what to do in the places he couldn’t see.

Following his lead, I took a deep breath in and immediately sputtered on the smoke. Vayu spared a sideways glance at me but kept most of his focus on the job at hand.

I thought back to all the other times I had used my powers. I had either drawn energy from within myself, drawn energy from another element, or used raw emotion to conjure weather. I decided I couldn’t draw energy from within and risk my baby; it was the least I could do as a mother. I also lacked any significant emotion, barring the fear building up in the pit of my stomach. I had never really operated on fear before. It was anyone’s guess how the elements would react.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on the elements around me. Water was obviously in short supply, the air was tainted and I didn’t want to interfere with Vayu’s element. That left fire and earth. Could I possibly draw energy from the very element I was trying to defeat? I shrugged my shoulders.

“Why the hell not?” The fire was far too loud for Vayu to hear me. Good – the less crazy he thought I was the better.

I began, this time without taking a deep breath, and started to draw energy from the fire. I worked gingerly through Vayu’s net. Before the energy returned through the net to me, I shifted its direction and in the process it simply converted itself to wind. Perhaps it was following my will or even Vayu’s example. I directed the wind more over the fire than around it, quelling what flame I could and cooling the entire area.

“Good,” Vayu called over the noise. “That is helping – very good.”

He looked surprised, and I smiled. I liked surprising people, as long as it was with my skill and not the lack thereof. I continued to concentrate on my wind, cooling down the fire and occasionally letting a gust blow over the top of Vayu’s net to cool us down.

We were making progress. The evidence was in the blackened landscape left behind as the fire was pushed back. We moved constantly, to the sides, and forward, following the fire. Suddenly, several loud bursts to our left shocked us from our concentration. A small grove of trees had succumbed to the fire and were literally exploding into flames, one right after another.

“Move your wind to only that area,” Vayu yelled.

I refocused my efforts as Vayu’s net grew more intense. I worked for what seemed like hours, no longer sparing wind to cool us down. I was drained. Hopefully the fire was experiencing the same effect.

A strong wind on our right caught me off guard and nearly blew me over with such a force that it could only be described as malicious.

“What are you doing?” I yelled at Vayu.

“Not me – when a fire gets too hot it creates weather of its own.”

Despite the heat, chills crawled up my back. We were no longer fighting just a fire; it was a living, breathing monster. A crafty one, at that. The fire’s weather pushed quickly through Vayu’s net on our right and we angled our bodies to combat it. We had to move backwards to avoid being singed ourselves. Now we were on the losing side of the battle.

We were pushed backwards into burnt terrain.

Something caught us from behind and we both ended up on the ground.

Vayu recovered faster. “Damn log.” He got up quickly and rebuilt his net.

“Vayu.” I swallowed hard, not moving. “It’s not a log.”

“What?” He shouted down at me without looking.

“It’s a person.” I sat, frozen for a moment, then finally shuffled around the charred body and looked for signs of life. The hair was mostly burned off leaving only sporadic patches of fuzz, but judging by the size of the body and width of the shoulders, it was a man. He was lying on his stomach, his head turned toward me. Finally his back rose slightly, a shallow, somewhat regular breathing pattern.

“Is it Shawn?” Vayu asked, not able to spare a glance down at the body.

I looked at his face, and shook my head. “No.”

The man’s eyes, probably the only unscathed part of his body, were a light brown, not Shawn’s icy blue stare. Strange as the stare was. There was too much white. His eyelids were almost completely burned off. Bile rose in my throat.

He began to gurgle in an effort to say something.

I whispered back though he probably couldn’t hear me, “Shhh…..don’t say anything. I’ll get you help.” I touched his shoulder gently and bits of something flaked off. I couldn’t tell if it was skin or clothing. The entire body was either black or red; he wasn’t going to make it no matter what I did. I felt physically ill. I looked at him again and mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry’.

Recognition flashed in his eyes. I believe I had just been so kind as to help him realize his own death was close at hand. I lay down next to him, oblivious of the fire around us. The least I could do was stay with him until the end. Vayu was yelling something, but my priorities were clear. I wasn’t a Gaia right then, nor was I Kaitlyn. I was simply the last connection this man would have in his life, or this life, anyway.

Vayu, still yelling, rustled around in the pack on my back for something. My body jerked as his search became more frantic.

The man resumed his attempts to speak, despite my insistence he lay still. I leaned in closer, trying to interpret a phrase he said over and over. Only two words in the garbling were comprehensible, and they were enough to freeze me in place. “One less, one less.”

He began shifting his body and grunting; I couldn’t subdue him with my hands for fear of causing more damage. Finally he leaned away from me, pulling out a bag from underneath the blanket. It was shiny; possibly fireproof. Inside the bag was a thick, neatly bound document. He must have been protecting the document while sacrificing his own body. The white pages were a stark contrast to the blackened earth below and his charred hand. He pushed the document feebly toward me. He left streaks of ash behind on the pristine paper as he pulled his hand away. On the cover was one simple symbol, the same symbol worn on my shoulder as a permanent scar of Shawn’s doing.Suspicions confirmed, my body went numb. The charred man smiled. “I was chosen to be one less.” Triumph and self-importance emanated from him. His smile, no matter how much it anguished him to do so, was the last thing I saw.

 

So there you have it. Now is your chance to let me know what you think; before I release ‘Air’! Please leave a comment!

3 thoughts on “Flash Fiction – One Less

  1. the actual talk a bout the magic was a very tiny bit confusing but I believe strongly that is only because I was reading a tiny morsel of the whole the only other thing I can say is
    WOW! YES!
    that line about the smear of ash as he dragged his hand away – vivid – it was the last phrase to really set the image of the scene
    Very well done
    (and I’m not the type to give undue praise for the authors vanity)

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