Welcome to Emberly

What do you do when you find out that you can do things other people can't do? Simple- you wait. Eventually, someone will show up on your doorstep, tell you that you're the Chosen One, and send you off on some mildly perilous quest to save the world.
At least, that's what the plot of every fantasy novel ever written tells you should happen. But sometimes, real life isn't quite as simple as the books you read, and when you've spent years waiting for destiny to come knocking on your door, the idea of being patient a moment longer can make you mad. The question, then, is this: when fate leaves you on your own with the power to change the world, what so you do?
Believe it or not, the answer to that one is just as simple.
You take matters into your own hands.

*FINALIST in Movella of the Year 2017!*

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12. Phenomenal Cosmic Powers

The wind was cold against Raegan’s skin as she stepped outside, slipping her phone into the back pocket of her jeans with one hand and using the other to tug her hood up around her face. She eased the front door shut behind her as quietly as she could and took a deep, cold breath, feeling that sharp chill of air shuddering down her throat and spreading through her body, letting it numb her from head to toe. Then she shoved her hands deep into her pockets and stepped down into the driveway. As she walked, she listened to the soft crunch of the gravel beneath her feet, hearing her footsteps ring through the blackened street and spiral into the black, silent sky. Everything was dark and still and silent. She was scared, but she kept going. Down the empty road, past empty gardens and empty windows and empty fields that stretched all the way to the empty horizon. Every step she took sent fresh waves of fear shivering through her messed-up mind.

If she’d been doing this for her own sake, she would have turned back as soon as she stepped outside, but she wasn’t doing it for herself. She was doing it for the boy she had put in hospital in Year Seven, the girl she had knocked out during a dodgeball game in Year Nine, all the people who’d had something unexplainable happen to them that, in one way or another, could be traced back to Raegan and her stupid, stupid anger. The thing was, stuff like this happened to her all the time; but she, being as lazy and dim-witted as she was, just found it frustratingly easy to forget. More often than not, she would find herself banishing these incidents to the darkest corners of her memory with a light-hearted Huh. That’s weird.

But tonight, that was going to change. Tonight, she was doing something stupid, something dangerous, something unbelievably illogical; but then again, logic was pretty much dead at this point anyway. At the age of eleven, she’d punched logic in the face and watched it bleed on the floor. At fourteen, she’d knocked it out cold and waited forty-three agonising seconds for it to wake up. And today, she’d watched it crush itself into irrelevance beneath the wheels of a gleaming red convertible, multiplying and dividing its way through an equation she couldn’t remember to try and kill her, but somehow- somehow- she’d survived. As she walked through that maze of shadowy streets, seeing how the night had frosted everything black-and-white, breathing in the cold and the dark and the emptiness, she knew that she had no right to be walking or seeing or breathing at all. But here she was. She’d taken her one-percent chance and smashed it into oblivion with whatever power she had inside of her, and tonight, she was going to find out why.

Of course, the only lead she had to follow was a text message sent by someone who didn’t exist, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her.

She pushed the iron gate open and listened to the metallic screech of the rusted hinges, listened to her footsteps smother themselves in grass as she stepped onto the black lawn. She had arrived at Sherwood Park- a small patch of sodden, muddy grass on the edge of the city, boasting a small swingset and a couple of rotten benches and thus crowning itself the go-to spot in Emberly if the weather was nice, which it never was. She leaned back against the fence and pulled out her phone, noticing that she had a new text from Ember. She allowed herself a brief moment to process how ridiculous that sounded in her head before tapping the screen to open the message. It read, Meet me by the lightning tree. Raegan knew what Ember meant; a year ago, lightning had struck one of the big oak trees at the north end of the park, splitting it cleanly in two, and now, it acted as a weird landmark of sorts for the kids who met up here on the regular. She was at the south end of the park now, so she replied with a quick ok and slid her hands back into her pockets, walking along the diagonal of the square lawn until she reached the north corner. The lightning tree slumped against the fence in front of her, branches folded down to its roots, blackened and burned and dead. Morbid meeting spot, she thought to herself. Guess Ember has a taste for the dramatic. As she recalled the black clothes and shadowy smiles and crazy glowing eyes from the videos, she didn’t find this too hard to believe. Her phone vibrated against her hand, sending shivers along her skin, and she drew it out of her pocket to read the new message. Are you there?

Yes, she texted. Are you? For some reason, she’d been afraid to continue using her usual lazy text-speak once she had found out who was on the other side of the screen. Maybe her brain had just dismissed the idea of using lols and wtfs to communicate with a being of godlike powers as disrespectful.

I am, but I need you to understand a couple of things before I let you see me. Firstly, you don’t come too close.

Raegan couldn’t help herself. Why not?

Ember’s reply took a few minutes to arrive, and Raegan was expecting it to be long, but it wasn’t.

I like my personal space.

Raegan had a strong feeling that Ember was lying, but she knew better than to pursue it. I understand. Me too.

Lol. I know, came the reply.

She frowned, then replied. Do you have any other rules I need to know?

Yes. You don’t ask me any questions concerning myself, who I really am, or how I know what I know.

Again, Raegan found herself questioning the response, but then, as if she was reading Raegan’s mind, Ember sent another text. I know, that one’s a bit weird. Don’t worry about it. I just like having a secret identity. It’s cool to me, you know? Being anonymous.

Okay. Why question it? The quicker she agreed, the quicker she would be able to do what she came here to do.

That’s it.

Then, I’ll be down in a sec.

Raegan frowned. Down?

Then, suddenly, her vision was a blur of black shadow and red light as a figure dropped from the blackness above and landed in a crouch on the grass in front of her, one hand on the ground, one extended towards the sky. The person stood up, holding Raegan in a crimson stare, and in that moment, in an icy rush of adrenaline that chilled her blood and froze her heart halfway up her throat, Raegan realised how horrifically messed-up this all was. She’d always been a firm believer in the paranormal; why, then, was her hand grasping wildly at the fence beside her to steady her shaking body, her eyes widening to make room for the immeasurable impossibility of what she was seeing? Seeing, she realised, wasn’t always believing; she could barely believe what was happening even though she was staring right into its red, glowing eyes. And similarly, believing in Ember before couldn’t quite make up for the fantastical reality of what she was seeing now. Suddenly, surviving a car accident at seventy miles per hour seemed very, very normal indeed.

“Hey, don’t be scared!” The voice sliced cleanly through the darkness, slightly inflected, Raegan realised, with a Geordie accent. For some reason, after all those years of watching Ember in videos, Raegan had never once thought that that shadowy figure might have a voice. Or, as much as she and Valerie had argued about it, a gender. The person in front of her was clearly female- she, like just about every girl on the planet, was shorter and thinner than Raegan. Raegan couldn’t make out her face; it was masked by the black shadows that dripped down from beneath her hood and the red light that bled from her eye sockets. As she stepped closer, Raegan realised that she was wearing something across the lower half of her face, too- a red-and-white bandana, fashioned into a makeshift mask. Everything but those hellish, glowing eyes was hidden beneath black clothing or shadow or light- her hair, her nose, her mouth, even her hands were covered by black gloves. Ember, Raegan realised, was taking no chances.

“Um… hey.” The words slipped out on their own, and although Raegan was immediately aware of how stupid she sounded, Ember just laughed.

“Hello, Raegan. I’m really glad you came, actually,” Ember said. Raegan heard the warm darkness of a smile creeping into her voice from beneath that mask. “It probably sounds kind of stupid, but I’m pretty sure I’m more excited about this than you are.”

Raegan cleared her throat. “Uh, why?”

Ember folded her arms and cocked her head to one side. “I spent so long wondering whether I was the only one. Part of me kind of wanted to be, you know? But I guess that was just me being selfish.” She put her heel on the ground in front of her as if considering whether to take another step forwards, then apparently decided against it and went back to standing with her feet apart. Every move she made radiated confidence and control, and somehow, Raegan could feel the power Ember wielded from fifteen feet away. It felt… electric, somehow, and restless, like it had a mind of its own. Raegan imagined that power coiling around her, yanking her off her feet, burning her, ripping her apart, shattering her into nothing. What would it be like, she wondered, to have that kind of power trapped inside her mind at all hours of the day, writhing and seething and screaming for her to let it loose?

It would drive me insane, she thought.

Then, I wonder if she’s gone insane yet?

“Anyway,” Ember said, “do you want to ask me anything? Chances are, I won’t know the answer, but I thought I might as well put myself out there, you know? In case you wanted to feel…” Ember laughed. “Mentored.”

Raegan thought for a second. She decided that the most sensible question should come first, and said, “Yeah. What exactly are your, uh, powers?”

“I can fly. Obviously. I’m also telekinetic- that means I can move stuff with my mind. And I’m pyrokinetic, which-”

Raegan nodded. “You can start fires. Valerie taught me that word.” She took a deep breath. “And… what are mine? I mean, I figured I’ve got something, considering you wanted to-”

“Yeah. That I’m not sure of, but I’m thinking you’ve got- and this is, like, the bare minimum you could possibly have, by the way- super strength and some level of invulnerability. That’d explain how you survived that car accident and all the people whose faces you’ve destroyed.” Ember laughed.

Yep. Definitely insane.

Suddenly, Ember’s head whipped round, following a sound that Raegan only became aware of a few seconds later. “Damn,” she said, “Someone’s coming. You wanna get out of here?”

“I guess.”

Ember held out her arm. “Come on, then.”

“Uh…” Raegan stepped forwards and took Ember’s arm. Then she felt something wrap around her waist, making her gasp in surprise, but Ember just laughed.

“Sorry,” she said, “Does that hurt? I’ve never tried this with anyone else before.”

Raegan frowned. “Tried what?”

“This,” Ember replied. “You’re not afraid of heights, right?” Ember turned to face her, the blinding glow from her eyes filling Raegan’s vision with red-and-white spots, and it was then that Raegan remembered the don’t get too close rule. She wondered why Ember was breaking it now. She didn’t have long to wonder, though, because at that moment, Ember said, “Just kidding. I know you’re not.”

Then she raised her free hand, and Raegan gasped as her feet left the ground and she and Ember rose together into the sky.

Raegan watched in silent awe as the lawn and the trees faded into the darkness beneath her feet, the floodlights that surrounded the park shrinking away into a delicate constellation that quickly found itself drowning in an endless, star-studded sea of light as they rose higher. As the shadow of the highest skyscraper slipped down over her shoulders and dropped away into the darkness below her, Raegan realised that, from up here, the dirt and the gloom and the misery that defined Emberly was utterly invisible; all she would see was light and dark, woven into an impossibly intricate tapestry against the gentle curvature of the earth. It was…

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Ember said quietly as they stopped ascending.

Raegan couldn’t help herself. “Yeah.”

“I first saw it two years ago. I was trying to limit myself to one night out, but…” She sighed dreamily. “I couldn’t get enough.”

Raegan tore her eyes away from the city below her and looked at Ember. Her red eyes were wide, spilling their bloody light messily across the pale sliver of skin that was visible above her mask, and although they were expressionless, they weren’t empty; there was emotion there, deep in that crimson hell. Raegan said, “What are the, uh, limits of your powers? Like…”

“I don’t know. All I know is, I’ve lifted twenty-three cars at once, which adds up to about thirty-five, forty tonnes. Why do you ask?”

Raegan hesitated. She didn’t want to sound selfish, but she figured that she might as well tell Ember the truth. “I was wondering what the limits of mine might be.”

Ember laughed, and this time, the laugh was cold, sharp, shuddering through Raegan’s head like thunder. When she stopped laughing to speak, her words were spiked with the venom of a not-so-friendly smile. Raegan’s fingers tightened around Ember’s black-clad arm, but it was too late.

“Let’s find out, shall we?”

Then she splayed her fingers, and Raegan screamed as she tumbled down through the darkness like a stone.

For a second, she was surrounded by nothing but hundreds and hundreds of feet of deep, heavy blackness, and her own scream was all she could hear. And, while part of her was thinking, I’m going to die, the rest of her knew better.

Before she even had time to question her life choices, she was lying on her back in the wet grass, sucking in air that tasted like dry metal, feeling absolutely nothing, and Ember was landing like a dainty fucking fairy right next to her.

I am so done with this bullshit.

As she stood up and opened her mouth to speak, something, deep within her mind, snapped. Why?” She was screaming like a child, tears streaming down her cold face, heartbeat rattling pointlessly in her throbbing chest. “Why me? Why us? What’s this…” Raegan took a deep breath, swallowed her tears, swallowed her fear and said, slowly, quietly, “What’s this all for?”

Ember sighed coldly. “I’m really sorry, Raegan, but I don’t know. Nobody’s bothered to tell me. As far as I know, there’s no prophecy, no Chosen One, no magical schools or camps or safe places for…” She paused for a moment, letting that smile creep back into her voice. “People like us. But I like to think that that’s a good thing.”

Raegan cleared her throat. “Why?”

“Because I get to do whatever I want.” She laughed again- that mad, cold laugh of hers. “Seriously, though. There aren’t any magical prophecies to fulfil, no dark wizards to defeat…” Ember raised her arms and her feet left the ground. “Phenomenal cosmic powers! AND all this space to use them in!” She dropped back to the ground again. “Trust me, Raegan. It’s bliss.”

She’s completely batshit fucking crazy.

Raegan wiped a cold hand across her face, still shaking, and said quietly, “What am I supposed to do now?”

“Anything you want. Fuck shit up, rob a bank, prank your friends…”

“Help people?”

“I mean…” Ember frowned. “If you want.”

“You don’t want to help people?”

“Uh…” Ember looked away, and Raegan could have sworn that she saw, deep in those fiery eyes, an ice-cold stab of regret. What had Ember done? As soon as the question popped into Raegan’s head, the answer did too, and it stopped her heart dead in her chest.

“You did Ashwell,” she said. “Didn’t you?”

Ember looked up, her eyes leaking red-hot fury onto her skin and throwing angry shadows across the blackened ground. “You know I could kill you right now, right?”

Raegan went cold. “Y-yeah.”

“I don’t give a shit that you’re invincible on the outside. I’ll rip you apart from the inside. I’ll burn you until you’re nothing but ashes. And your family won’t even fucking miss you, will they?” Then she did something that unnerved Raegan more than anything else could: she sobbed. She buried her face in her hands and began to shake, steam rising from between her fingers and twisting upwards, vanishing into the darkness. Raegan realised that she was crying. Then she said, “I’m so sorry, Rae. I don’t want to hurt you. I’m not going to hurt you, but I’m…” She lowered her hands and took a step back, and Raegan realised that her eyes were no longer glowing red. They were… normal. “I fucked up. I fucked up, so, so bad, and now…” She took a series of staggering steps backwards. “Now, I don’t know what to do….” Raegan watched with horrified fascination as the ground at Ember’s feet began to move, clumps of grass uprooting themselves and spraying dirt through the air, and the fence behind her began to warp and twist like it was melting, iron crumpling like paper in the grip of her electric anguish. One of the benches nestled under the lightning tree tore itself into splinters with a crunch, and the remains flew through the air to join the swirling vortex of debris that surrounded Ember’s shadowy form. She stood there in a pool of light, drenched in white, surrounded by a cloud of spiralling blackness. Then she snarled, and between those flying fragments, Raegan saw that red glow re-igniting in her eyes as she raised her hands and flung them downwards, throwing the debris to the ground.

When Ember spoke again, her voice was so cold and calm that it sent a shiver down Raegan’s spine. “The main reason I asked you to meet me here today, Raegan, is because I don’t want you to end up like me. I used to be a normal kid like you, but then… I went power-mad. It’s too late for me. It’s not too late for you, though. You’re still… good. Please…” She took a deep, shuddering breath, and in that moment, Raegan felt a pang of recognition stabbing deep into the pit of her stomach. When she spoke again, something in her voice was different, though Raegan couldn’t quite tell what it was.

“Don’t let it make you crazy, Raegan.” She lifted herself into the sky again and looked down at Raegan with cold, black sadness dripping from her hot, red eyes.

“Don’t become a monster.”

Then she raised both hands above her head and vanished into the darkness above.

No trace.

Just like always.

Raegan fell back against the fence, pressed her shaking hands to her face, and cried.

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