“In the midst of the turbulence, we hang onto hope.”
— Lailah Gifty Akita, Pearls of Wisdom: Great mind
The sky was a poisonous yellow, streaked with vicious green. Billows of black smog oozed across the field, making visibility difficult through the haze.
The soldiers kept coming.
“It’s no use!”
Another explosion sounded off in the distance.
“Ma’am, there’s too many!”
The former mayor of Little Willow, now the de facto leader of fighters from what was left of their town, glanced at the speaker. “Give the order to retreat,” Dina said softly. Only when the man had run off did she wipe away the stream of blood from her nose.
The cry echoed down along the scraggly line that made up their little army. Barely a handful in comparison to the dark mass steadily approaching.
A few brave fighters tossed off a few attacks as they ran, shooting plumes of fire or icy darts, while others carried the wounded. One woman yanked at a body.
“Leave the dead!” Dina shouted. “That’s an order!”
Another woman pulled the first away, and they joined the others in running into the forest, their last and only defense.
Dina lingered, watching that all her people — those who were alive, anyway — escaped. One man, however, stood still in the center of the battlefield. He seemed not to notice the bodies at his feet, nor the ever-encroaching army.
“Wilson!” Dina cried, running over to the man. “Retreat!”
He didn’t respond. The ground vibrated as massive amounts of footsteps thundered across the field. They were so close now.
“Wil!” Dina grabbed his shoulders, whirling him toward her. “What the hell’s wrong with you? We have to run — ”
“Can’t you hear it?” said Wilson hoarsely. His eyes were glassy. Dina frowned and gripped his arms tighter.
“I don’t hear anything,” she snapped. Wilson was one of her best fighters and a good friend; it wasn’t like him to ignore her. “I gave the order to retreat! Do you want to die out here?”
He shook his head, seeming confused. “I . . . ”
A thin keening sound rang out, higher and more piercing than the march of the soldiers.
Wilson’s eyes widened and his face turned ashen. “It’s Becky and Sam!” The words tore from his throat in a strangled half-scream, and he ripped himself away from Dina. “Becky! Sam! Where are you?!”
“Becky and . . . Wil, your children aren’t here, they’re back at the camp!” Dina tried to grab Wilson again, but he swung at her with wild fists.
“I can hear them!” he cried. “Becky! Sam!” He began running away from her — toward the enemy.
“Wilson, no!” Dina shot desperate bolts of blue lightning at him but missed.
A ball of green fire burst at Wilson’s feet, and he was knocked to the ground. Dina summoned her own power and fired off an electrical bolt toward the attacker. This time, her aim was true and the soldier crumpled.
Wilson was staggering to his feet by the time Dina reached him, and shoved her away with yellow sparking hands when she tried to touch him.
“No! I have to save them!”
“Wil, they’re not here, there’s no one here!” Dina pleaded. “Come back, I’ll show you that your kids are fine, they’re . . . ”
Now that she was closer, the keening was louder, almost unbearably so — and it sounded like crying. Human crying. Like small children sobbing for their very lives. Dina’s heart twisted.
“Sam! Becky!” Wilson screamed, and tried to run but stumbled.
Dina reached out for him again. “It’s not them, it’s not them! It’s . . . ”
The tower. She could see the red light blinking even through the smog. She had thought it was transmitting orders to the soldiers, but now . . .
“It’s fake! Wil!”
He had taken off, hobbling toward the now very near soldiers, who had their weapons out and ready.
“They have them, they have them! They took my kids! Becky! Sam! Daddy’s coming!”
Dina managed to block the white fireball with a flare of electricity shot from her fingertips. “Wilson, I know where your kids are, come back!”
The sound of sobbing increased, and now she could hear voices.
“Help us! Help us! Please! Help!”
Tears came unbidden to her eyes, and she wiped at them furiously as she ran after Wilson, who was fighting off a small group of soldiers, matching their multicolored fire with his yellow lightning bolts.
Dina flinched as Wilson let out an inhuman scream, one that thundered with pain and frustration and anger. His eyes glowed bright white, and his hands crackled with enormous flares of yellow energy that rippled across his whole body. Looking like a human-shaped mass of pure electricity, he viciously blasted the entire bunch of soldiers away, some disintegrating before Dina’s eyes.
It was power that she had seen only rarely. And she knew it couldn’t last.
Wilson fired bolt after bolt at oncoming soldiers, but even as they died, more replaced them. Dina took down as many as she could on her way to Wilson. The energy streaking off him was incredible, and if her own power hadn’t matched his, she knew she too would have withered away on the spot. As it was, she had to cloak herself in her blue electricity to even get close. Green sparks crackled all around in response, and she had to scream to be heard over the noise.
“Wil! Stop! You’re going to burn yourself out! Your kids are safe! It’s a trick!”
“No! They have them!” His voice was raw with anguish and stuttered by the amount of electricity sparking everywhere.
“They’re not here! I know where they are!”
Another pulse of lightning surged, and a few more soldiers dropped around them. But Dina could sense Wilson was weakening, either due to finally listening to her or simply running out of energy.
Taking advantage of his hesitation, Dina grabbed Wilson from behind, wrapping herself around his chest and pinning his arms down. Her teeth rattled as he tried to shock her with his power, but it merely scattered around her self-made shield, sending out darts of green electricity.
“Let me go! Becky! Sam!”
“Help us, help us! Please!”
Dina squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m sorry, Wil.”
A burst of blue energy knocked Wil forward violently. He hit the ground face first with a sickening thud, and the yellow electricity around his body abruptly shorted out. Steam rose from his cooling skin.
Barely having time to summon her energy again, Dina knocked away soldiers with more blue blasts. Once clear, she hoisted the unconscious Wilson onto her shoulders in an awkward fireman’s carry, and began to run. Away from the enemy and toward the forest.
Wilson was heavy and she was tired, but they had to make it back. Back to the camp.
Back to Becky and Sam.
This story was inspired by a sort of daydream / brainstorming session I had. The idea of a parent hearing the sound of their child crying, and being unable to help them — even knowing that it’s a trick — was both tragic and interesting to explore. The way I presented it here probably works better in a visual medium, what with elemental powers from everyone, but that’s how it worked itself out in my head. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯