Marginally late on this one. It’s still Tuesday in North America, right? No? Ehheh.
We’re back with our favorite fire elemental. Well, maybe not your favorite, since we now have two of them in the story. I’m not sure if I can pick favorites anymore, now that both Ketan and Meese are main characters. I’m still oscillating as to whether or not to do a pre-order on Firebird. Haven’t viewed all the pros and cons yet. I feel like I’m a bit late to the game. It’s never too late to catch up, though!
Today’s chapter is chock-a-block full of elementals and mages. Enjoy!
The central Uptown subway wasn’t as packed after rush hour. People milled on the platforms, bundled up against the bite of Lyarne’s above-ground winter. Vendors served coffee, restocked shelves, switched signs from breakfast to lunch. A janitor picked up the stray newspapers that had blown across the walk.
Snow clung to Mieshka’s jacket. They’d left the car on the street and followed Roger, Sophia, and a driver down into the station. Jo had ditched her hip holster in the car, though Mieshka knew she had one strapped to her ankle. Roger, too, had relieved himself of his more obvious weapons—but even up here, above-ground, under the subway’s strained fluorescent lighting, there was something about him that marked him as dangerous.
People parted for them.
The fire mage’s ship sat underneath a memorial dedicated to their home world. It had been built for convenience—a central location for all Lyarnese mages to mourn their dead. But that had been twenty years ago, when there were more than three mages living in the city. Times changed, people moved. The office tower the tunnel connected to had changed ownership, filed bankruptcy. As Mieshka left the main subway, closed metal shutters replaced open storefronts. The tiles grew grungy, worn. The air had a stagnant air to it. Noise from the subway faded, died.
Few walked this path anymore.
Soon, they came to the memorial.
A marble archway stood at the top of a small staircase, its pale, ornate frame wrought in the shape of leaves and tree branches. Beyond, the hallway lay dark.
It used to be lit. Back when Mieshka wasn’t a fire elemental, it had been lit by the blue light representative of the water element, casting the flagstone floor and stone walls in a shivery, translucent light. Aiden’s ship, buried in a hangar below the memorial, had powered the light.
But then Mieshka had absorbed the ship’s power crystal and had taken the memorial’s power source away.
Sophia pulled out a flashlight and checked her watch.
They filed through the door.
Each wall had a carved relief, depicting mythical creatures, beasts, and monsters. The flashlight made the shadows jump as they moved through, made the creatures seem to twitch and move. She spotted the Phoenix halfway down the hall, remembering the location from previous visits to the memorial. The bird flew close to the relief’s sun, its wings and tail alight with fire. Two longer tail feathers trailed after it.
That’s what slept inside her, fused to her spirit. What she’d felt inside of her yesterday, guiding her fire against Michael.
The hallway opened up into a shallow amphitheater.
Two steps led down to the sunken floor, and a series of ribbed, hard-edged pillars separated the center of the room from the walkway that encircled it. The air was closer in here, more humid. Sophia’s light reflected in a pool of water that took the that had once been a fountain. Green algae stained the ledge that had once been a waterfall.
Maybe that’s where the smell came from. Stagnant water. Mieshka scrunched her nose, glanced up. There used to be a projected Lost Tech screen above the fountain, back when the place had been working.
Sophia headed to the back. The water rippled as she walked past.
Pain twinged as she walked up another two steps, re-entering the perimeter walkway. The monsters had returned, leering at her from the wall. Someone closed in behind her, their footsteps scuffing the flagstone floor. Her shoulder ached from the crutch.
Behind the fountain, the wall was a solid, glossy black. Lost Technology. Sophia popped the flashlight into her mouth and flexed her fingers. Blue light danced on her skin.
She splayed her hand against the black surface, and the light glided across the inky blackness like a sharp blue knife. Lines spread from her hand, sliding out to form a large, vertical rectangle in the black.
With a small hiss, the hidden door slid open. The two non-magical doors behind it were less quick to open.
The group filed in.
It wasn’t Mieshka’s first ride in the hidden elevator. Nor, she thought, would it be her last. The hangar had been the first thing Aiden had shown her, back when her powers were still in question. The ship had the diagnostic tools other sets of Lost Tech did not.
There were still burn marks from Mieshka’s last visit to the elevator. The walls—a kind of brushed aluminum that had previously made only a blurred reflection of the elevator’s occupants, now had a tarnished, warped look to them. The ceiling light casing had melted to its side, the distorted plastic a scaly black texture from the smoke. If she focused, she could still smell the raw, chemical scent of the burn.
When they got to the bottom, the doors opened onto a dark room, throwing a square of light onto the concrete floor. Sophia checked her phone again.
“Three minutes. Lights?”
Jo filed out, the sound of her boots echoing in the dark. A draft slid over Mieshka’s face. Taking care of the crutch, Mieshka hobbled over the threshold. Immediately, the room felt bigger. Vacuous. The air had a fresher quality than she was used to in the Underground—despite the Underground’s abuse of air cleaners/fresheners. With so much air, there was nothing much to insulate it. If Mieshka understood it right, the top of the hangar was actually not that far below the surface.
Thunk. A row of lights, attached to the rafters some fifty feet above her, switched on, revealing the stark, pock-marked concrete sides and exposed wiring of the walls. A second later, the next set turned on. Two seconds later, a third.
The hangar was massive. She wasn’t sure exactly how much it had meant to house, but there had obviously been more mages—and more mage spaceships—in Lyarne’s past. The fire mage’s ship, a sleek, tapered design that reminded Mieshka of a jet fighter, looked entirely too small in the space.
Something stirred inside of her at the sight of it. Warmth. Heat. Fire tingled in her fingers, just underneath the skin. A slip of flame shivered across her knuckles.
Maybe the sight of the ship had woken the Phoenix inside of her. It had, after all, lived in the ship for nearly twenty years.
She tapped it down. Now was not the place to get all fiery. Not when they were expecting guests.
Jo re-joined her side, giving Mieshka a once-over. Had she noticed?
“Two minutes.” Sophia had stopped, midway to the ship. She’d cocked a hip, checked her phone. “Damn, no signal. Roger, do you think we could link—”
“No,” Roger said. “Not unless we run a new tunnel in. This place isn’t connected to the Underground. The closest terminal is over a kilometer away.”
Sophia frowned. “But I like my Internet access.”
The room slipped back into silence. Cool air pricked around the edge of her bandage. One side of the material had worn down into the crevice between her thumb and forefinger. Bruises had already formed from the crutch.
“How are they getting here?”
It seemed like such an obvious question, given the isolated location of the underground hangar. She’d heard of the ships’ inter-dimensional capabilities—they were the sole reason so many of Aiden’s people had managed to escape the destruction of their last world.
But she’d never really pried.
Sophia answered: “You know how mages can teleport? Our ships can, too. I gave Derrick the spatial co-ordinates of this place. With luck, he won’t run us over.”
Roger crossed his arms in front of him. In the quiet, Mieshka heard her knee joint crack when she shifted.
“Aiden said that he can’t carry anything big with him when he teleports?”
“Yep. Nothing bigger than a backpack, and nothing alive. Well, no humans anyway. I heard someone did it with a small dog, once, but—”
A ship screamed into the room, cutting her off. Sound pierced Mieshka’s eardrum, ripped into her body, bounced off her bones. Wind blasted at her face. Her crutch fell to the ground as she raced to cover her ears.
Then, it stopped.
Mieshka’s head rang.
A ship, a larger twin to Aiden’s, hovered above the ground, utterly silent. Air rippled around it like a desert mirage, folded like currents of heat above a campfire—but Mieshka felt no fire. The ship’s jet-black exterior warped the light as it shifted, fixed-wings tilting and adjusting as it hovered.
Slowly, it inched to the ground.
“He’s early.” Sarcasm laced Sophia’s tone. She and Roger started forward, toward the ship.
Jo picked up Mieshka’s crutch and held it out.
“Thanks,” Mieshka said, taking it. Her legs twinged as she hobbled forward. She’d jumped when the ship had appeared, and now her stitches ached.
Jo said nothing, watching her walk.
Landing gear unfolded from the ship as it descended—three black, spindly legs that looks incapable of bearing its weight. It parked in front of the other ship, tail swinging into position, feet scraping on the ground. Like with Aiden’s, it had no obvious doors or windows. In Mieshka’s limited experience with Lost Technology, this lack of features was the norm. Only Aiden’s engine, re-built and re-purposed and re-fitted with computer and engine parts from Mieshka’s world, had obvious lines.
For everything else, one required magic to operate it.
Sophia stopped a short distance from the new ship. As Mieshka limped up, the hull twisted their reflection in a gritty, dismal light. Maanai. Wasn’t that what Michael had called it? Exposed Maanai. A sheen of the color of an apocalyptic rainbow trailed across the surface, like a permanent oil slick on water.
The air hummed. A low vibration shivered through her skin and bones.
Then, as if someone had flicked a switch, it stopped. A soft whine wound down the engine.
“So, Kitty’s in there?” Mieshka asked.
“Yes.” Roger, standing to Mieshka’s right, shifted. As he re-crossed his arms, she noticed that the bandage from his right hand—a memento from Kitty’s last visit—had vanished.
A clunk came from within the ship. Blue-violet light flared on its side.
A second later, the door hissed open.
Kitty was the first to jump out. At 5’5”, she was the shortest person in the room—just a shade shy of Sophia, who shared the electric elemental’s earthy skin tone and straight black hair.
At least, that was the color Kitty’s hair had been the last time Mieshka had seen her. Since then, she’d added a splash of purple to her bangs, which poked out from under a skull-print bandanna. A dirt-smudged, camouflage-colored tank top and ripped jeans completed the rebel-girl ensemble. A thin, pink scar marred the skin on her left wrist.
She dropped to the floor with a feral, athletic grace.
Two men followed her out. One had a similar look to Kitty, with dark eyes, dark hair, and a dark edge to his smile. He wore an oversized khaki shirt—borrowed from Terremain’s base, by the looks of it.
Its baggy sides made him seem slight, almost waif-like.
The other looked more middle-eastern. Dark hair shadowed his head, and his skin had a bronzed, olive-tone to it. Taller than the others by at least a head, he paused on the sill of the ship, one hand touching the edge of the door, and looked over the crowd.
Sizing them up.
Wait. Hadn’t they only expected two people?
Sophia voiced the thought: “I see you brought company.”
“He’s my plus one.” Kitty strode up to Roger. Teeth edged her grin as she copied his pose.
“You couldn’t have brought someone else?” Sophia’s lip curled as she sized up the third man, not bothering to hide her distaste.
Mieshka turned her attention back to him—only to find him studying her. She cocked her head. The man was impeccably dressed. Apart from the roughness around his collar—judging by recent events and the trending dress code of the day, she’d guess that he’d worn it yesterday, too—the shirt had a thick, sheer, expensive look to it. The dark gray jacket and slacks would fit right in with Lyarne’s more high-end business class.
Chalky dust coated his leather dress shoes.
His dark eyes shifted over her, lingered on her crutch and bandages. When he spoke, his voice was low. Quiet.
She nodded. “Mieshka, actually.”
“You’ll excuse her if she doesn’t shake your hand, Gobardon.” Sophia’s lip curled as she spoke.
Gobardon. Was that his name, or a swear word in Sophia’s old language? Hard to tell by Sophia’s tone.
He stepped down from the ship, eyes flicking from Sophia back to Mieshka. They lingered on her bandages. “What happened?”
“Your father happened,” Sophia said.
He was Michael’s son? Adrenalin shot into her blood. She stiffened, lifted her head. Did that make him an earth mage, too? Her element stirred within her. Heat crackled under her skin. Now that she knew to look, she saw the familial similarities. Gobardon stood taller than Michael—6’2”? 4”?—but shared his facial structure, the curve of his nose, the hardness of his lips. A solid, muscular body pulled the fabric of the suit taut.
His eyes held the same darkness.
He was Kitty’s plus one?
Beside her, Jo eased her weight back, slid into a casual guard. The ankle gun would be useless against an earth mage—any mage, technically—but, from what Mieshka had seen, that wouldn’t stop Jo from trying.
“Michael did this?” Kitty said. She, too, sized up Mieshka’s bandages. “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of him.”
A chill spread across Mieshka as she processed those words. What exactly did “take care of him” mean? The way Kitty said it, it sounded somewhat… final.
Gobardon’s eyes flicked between them. “I have no intention of hurting her. Whatever my father’s goal, it is not mine. I can assure you of that.”
“Ainet briag aun le smiet,” Sophia muttered. “Your entire family’s fucked up, you know?”
His eyes slid half-closed. “Oh, I know.”
Sophia sneered. “Whatever. You fuck with my Underground—you fuck with Meese—and I will hunt you down. I don’t care about due process. Not with you.”
“Understood. Kitty?” His chin angled toward the door.
Kitty pouted. “But this was just getting fun. I like fights.”
With one last look at Roger, she fell into step behind Gobardon.
Mieshka stood between him and the door. As he passed, something shifted inside of her. Feathers of fire brushed the edge of her consciousness, illuminating the link between her and that sixth sense that was her element. Eyes the color of white-hot coals pierced into her mind.
The crutch clattered to the ground. Fire crackled over her skin.
“Sophia,” she said. “It’s happening again. It’s—”
A hand clamped down on her shoulder. Cool magic spread over her skin.
“Shh, shh. You’re okay. Relax. Bring it back.”
Her vision blurred. Heat warped the air in front of her.
Gobardon had paused a few steps past her. As Sophia’s element cooled her body, she felt all eyes on her. Even Kitty had stopped, out of reach of the heat.
“Breathe,” Sophia said.
Mieshka took in a ragged breath, forced herself to relax. She used that to ground herself, counted to ten.
Her element retreated.
Behind her, the electric mage chuckled. “Fire elementals are so fun. She’s like a little bomb.”
Great. Just what Lyarne needed. A bomb within the shield.
“Hey, her eyes are glowing,” Kitty said. Behind her, Gobardon looked on with interest.
Great. Another earth mage she needed to look out for.
Sophia squeezed her shoulder. “Meese, turn around. Let me see.”
There wasn’t much to see. Already, Mieshka felt her element shift back into her mind. The heat faded from her eyes. As Sophia’s face came into sight, Mieshka recalled their conversation from earlier.
“I think you’re right,” she said. “That was definitely the Phoenix.”
“Mhmm. Well, it’s gone now.” The water mage patted her shoulder. “All’s good. Make sure you tell Aiden.”
Like he could fix it. He didn’t even know how she’d absorbed the crystal.
The electric mage pulled a suitcase out of the ship. “You ready, Fie?”
Sophia straightened. “Yep. Let’s go.”
They started walking back. Gobardon already waited by the elevator. With a sinking heart, Mieshka realized there was only one way out.
Keys jingled. Jo leaned down and picked up her crutch. Again.
“You look peaked. You wanna go back to the office and nap?”
Mieshka winced as the crutch’s wooden cushion pushed into her latest bruise. Yes. A nap sounded good.
The office was dark when she woke up. And it smelled like gun oil.
Jo sat on the couch across from her, the assault rifle from earlier across her lap and a cleaning rod resting on her knee. Snow fell outside. The room was so quiet she could hear the sound it made as it hit the windows.
Mieshka stirred. By the twinges of pain, she could tell that the last round of painkillers had worn off. Pinpricks tingled her shoulder as she shifted. The bruised muscle ached as she propped herself up.
Buck and Aiden had returned. Recently, too. Snow still clung to their jackets. The fire mage clutched a file folder in his hand.
“The President’s a dumbass,” Aiden said. He flopped the file down on Mieshka’s feet and shrugged off his jacket. His voice grew muffled as he stifled a yawn. “She took me away from maintaining to shield to order me to maintain the shield.”
“I didn’t vote for her,” Jo said.
“You can’t vote. You’re not a citizen of this country.”
“Doesn’t stop me from not voting for her.”
Aiden sighed. “No. I suppose it doesn’t.”
Mieshka’s shoulder shook. She lowered herself back down to the couch. The movement gained Aiden’s attention.
“How are you feeling? I heard you had a bit of an… incident?”
“She got pretty hot and bothered in the hangar earlier,” Jo reported.
The fire mage leaned over, picked the file off Mieshka’s feet, and got her to scooch over. The couch dipped down as he sat.
“We should probably talk about that glowing eye thing.”
“We should probably talk about a lot of things,” Mieshka said.
“We should. But, glowing eye thing first. What did you feel earlier? What happened?”
She shrugged—and winced as it pulled her stitches tight. “I’m not sure. It just came up, out of nowhere. One minute I was fine, and the next…” She trailed off, images of the Phoenix rising in her head. Memories of fire flicked over her skin.
“And your eyes were glowing?”
“Like beacons,” Jo said. “It happened after Gobardon walked by.”
That was true. She hadn’t thought of that. “Could the Phoenix be defending itself? I mean, I did just get attacked by his dad.”
“It’s possible,” Aiden said. “In my experience, the Phoenix has a mind of its own.”
Yes. Mieshka remembered that part well. While still imprisoned in the power crystal of Aiden’s ship, the Phoenix had actively undermined the fire mage. The Phoenix had almost transferred into her. Without anyone’s permission.
If Michael had seen that, maybe he wouldn’t be so antagonistic toward her.
Then again, she doubted being wrong had ever stopped him.
“It’s good to know that it’s alive and kicking,” Aiden said. “I might worry about you less.”
“I worry about self-immolation,” Jo remarked. “She went hot enough to roast marshmallows on.”
“The fire won’t hurt her. Elementals don’t work that way. Fire from other elementals might hurt her, but not her own—nor any other fire. Back on Lur, we used to have competitions on who could get the hottest.”
“Sounds droll.” Jo paused, gave Aiden a once-over. “I’m guessing you didn’t win.”
“Ha ha.” Aiden sank against the back rest, puffed out his cheeks. He did that a lot when he was thinking.
“Did you see the Phoenix?”
“Did it look any different?”
“Redder,” she said. “It’s not as big as before. Way smaller.”
“That’s not surprising, given its recent death. It’ll grow. This time, it’ll grow with you. Now, back to this glowing eye thing.”
Was ‘glowing eye thing’ the technical term for it, now? Mieshka cycled back through her memories. “This was the first time I really felt the Phoenix. The first two times, it was just… warmth, I guess? I barely noticed. It—”
“First two times?” Aiden asked. “So this has happened three times, now?”
“Yeah. First with Roger, second with Michael, third with Gobardon.”
“Roger’s messing up the common denominator on that one,” Jo commented. “Wasn’t that just before…?”
“Before Michael attacked me?” Mieshka said. “Yes.”
“Hmm.” Aiden puffed out his cheeks again, studying the ceiling tiles. “Maybe we should step up your training. Try to replicate it.”
“Tomorrow. I’ll make time, and we can go hide ourselves away and make things burn.”
Ooo. That sounded fun.
“Not my crutch,” Mieshka said.
“Not your crutch,” Aiden agreed. “Maybe we’ll get you a metal crutch.”
“It’ll interfere with her bandages,” Jo said. “Best to stick with the shitty wood one.”
“Cool.” Mieshka pushed herself up. Hair stuck to her cheek. “What now?”
“Now I go burn my Presidential orders to maintain the shield, blame it on you, and go maintain the shield.”
“Will that get me in trouble?”
“No.” Aiden rocked himself up off the couch. Smoke curled up from the files in his hand. “Loose fireballs are a part of a fire elemental’s training. Ask anyone.”
Flame engulfed the papers.
Mieshka eyed the combustion. Hope that wasn’t her chances of a normal life burning up. The paper blackened, curled around Aiden’s hand, covered in orange fire. He flicked it to the ground and turned toward the door.
“What should I do?” she asked.
Aiden waved dismissively. “Go home. Get sleep. Relax. Try not to burn anything.”
Love it? Hate it? I’d love to hear from you!
And, as always, here’s my shameless plug for Into the Fire, Firebird’s prequel, which is free at the following stores: