This is a contest where the community selects the next book to publish. Authors can submit a book by May 31, 2018, then users will have the opportunity to choose one.
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Fire Princess and the Outcasts chapter 6
Gretel sipped on her teacup as she read the headline on the tabloid. “Avalanche in the Roheisia Mountains Critically Injures 6,” it said in bold letters. She scanned the paragraphs of text describing the victim's physical states, and how the natural disaster had caused quite the stir a few days ago in Livony. Farmers on the outskirts reported hearing a loud clap in the sky right before the avalanche’s inception, while a hunter in the area described it as thunder on a clear day. An odd phenomenon indeed.
But what a pity: the victims. They would be bedridden for months. Hopefully that would allow them to reflect on their incompetence. Though she expected as much the moment she hired them. Gretel returned the teacup to the saucer, expression neutral while she took in the morning sun’s rays on the veranda. An elegantly dressed waiter dropped in to refill her cup and withdrew the empty breakfast plate, informing her truffle cake would be out shortly. She sat with her chin resting on her palm as she admired the streets livening up for a new day.
Her favorite cafe always softened her mood, not to mention the number of customers was low at this hour which made it perfect so she didn’t have to deal with noisy tables. In a way she could say this was her favorite time of day. She did have servants in her manor home to prepare the same tea and meals, but she would lose the serene strolls from the hills on the way to town that offered spectacular views of the sun poking out from the ocean’s horizon. She’d considered going for walks at daybreak, then returning once she entered the city limits to have breakfast at the manor. The problem with that was she also enjoyed the experience of eating out, something relatively new for her.
“Maybe… just maybe I’ll spare this town,” Gretel proposed, a light grin grew on her from the songs of chirping birds. Tiny steps patted up the stone staircase.
“E-excuse me, Miss. Dewblight…,” said an infantile voice. Gretel straightened and regarded a boy dressed in mangy clothing that made her want to take him out on a shopping spree. “I… I have a message for you.” His head was down and he held a piece of paper in both hands at his chest as their eyes met for longer than a second. His pudgy cheeks seemed to hold back a smile. A big improvement. He was starting to feel more comfortable in her presence.
The ends of her lips stretched ear to ear. “Orak! How nice to see you again, sweetheart.” She clasped both hands together, delighted. “Come. Have a seat, my dear.” The boy shuffled to the table and sat across Gretel all while staring at the ground. He struggled a tad to hoist his bottom on the chair. Gretel could help him but that would only take from the experience of watching this little boy persist. The way his round fingers ardently grappled the seat’s back rest to climb, and then anchor his stout body with both buttocks had her heart squealing louder than a noisy pig pen. Abrupt puffs of air escaped his pudgy cheeks. The nail in the coffin was when his belly button spilled out, jiggling on every motion. If this continued, she'd have to order that popular, new tea blend she's been hearing about among housewives at the market that supposedly relieves the body of stress.
“My name’s not Orak, remember?,” he complained in a whisper as he played with the paper. “It’s Misha…” His cuteness peerless. She combed and parted his messy, brown hair to the side with her slender fingers.
“How have you been doing, sweetheart? What happened to the clothes I bought you last week, hmmm? I even got you a new belt to go with the blue vest.” Misha pursed his lips and glanced sidelong. Those gestures usually indicated his older brother had “borrowed” something from him, or he’d endured another round of ruthless teasing from the neighborhood bullies. He was surprisingly mature boy to not cry about it, always acknowledging his bad luck as inevitable parts of life. Even so, knowing he tolerated these things struck a chord in her. “That’s no good. You mustn’t let him walk all over you like that, Orak. He’s already taken the hat and new shoes from earlier this year. He may be your brother, and you may love him so. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t draw a line when it comes to your property,” she said guessing the former. The fact he didn’t correct her meant she was right. “Just what am I going to do with you?” Gretel breathed out a sigh.
Excusing himself, the waiter came in and slipped the slice of truffle cake and a new fork to Gretel’s side. “And an extra glass of milk, please.” She slid the plate and silverware to Misha without taking her attention off him.
Seeing as she ceded the cake to Misha made the waiter menace at the little boy as if he were a leper, then Gretel shot the man a death glare over the shoulder, sensing vibes of scorn.
“C-certainly, madam,” he stuttered and strode back inside. She checked him until he disappeared into the kitchen, not afraid to walk out, cake and all, without paying if he dared look back in disgust. Or she could have him fired or shut down the restaurant. After all, her influence wasn’t just limited inside the league.
“Is it really okay?”
“Hmmm? What, my dear?.” She returned to Misha, smiling.
“The cake. Can I eat it?” He dared not look at it.
Giggling, she caressed his left cheek with a black fingernail. Could he be any cuter? Impossible. This was the pinnacle of cuteness. Whoever was his mother was a lucky woman who undervalued him.
“But of course,” Gretel assured in a tender voice, tendrils of raven hair pouring onto the table as she tilted her head, petting the boy. “I ordered this cake specifically for you, sweetheart. Last time I could only give you a fraction because you showed up unannounced and you refused my offer for a whole slice.”
“I was busy.”
“Reserved and too well mannered is more like it. Despite the uncouth upbringing, you’re educated and civil, unlike those neighborhood boys and that egomaniac brother of yours who only revel in the misery of others. Pfft. Not that I’m any different,” she giggled again. Misha brought a chunk of fluffy cake into his fluffy cheeks.
“I don’t really understand but thank you for the cake!”
“No need to thank me, Orak. Eat to your heart’s content and if you want more don’t hesitate to ask. I’d be more than happy to splurge on you. You know that.”
He swallowed his fourth mouthful, the chocolate euphoria manifesting on his blooming face. “Thank you, Miss Dewblight,” he said. “My nana once told me to compliment people who’re nice to me, and the red paint on your eyes makes you look pretty.”
“Hearing that from you makes my day even better. Red is my favorite color. But some people, unfortunately, think it’s too ugly and scold us for thinking so.”
“Really?” He batted his lashes. “Why?”
Gretel wiped off chocolate residue staining his chin with a napkin. “I have no answer. It’s a scary thing that others would pursue you for such trivial matters, something you cannot change about yourself.” As Misha continued his feast, an impish grin curved the woman’s lush lips. “But that is why I am here for.”
The man in crutches fell to the ground head first, eyes wide and mouth agape, supplicating for oxygen.
“Is it true?,” Gretel demanded, voice low and black as her hair. She curled her fist in the air. The man in front struggled to breathe, saliva trailed out of his mouth.
“He… he said it… as a joke… promise.”
“Your pitiable excuse and ugly face are a joke. My eyes bleed just looking at you. You miserable goons must’ve taken me for a fool thinking I’d allow such treason. Does it look like I was born yesterday?” Though she threatened, Gretel found pleasure in adding her voice a coquettish tune to juxtapose her barbarism when dealing with males. Watching their faces twist in terror matched the excitement she felt when Misha let her spoil him.
“I- I’m sorry…” His feet kicked in the air. “Please… it wasn’t our… intention.”
Time seemed to stall as the bounty hunter’s brutal gagging filled the back alley’s otherwise charming seaside setting. The good thing was they were far from the busiest streets, away from any windows where the grannies usually lounged as they watched merchant carts and passersby go about their day, hoping to catch anyone committing petty crimes and shout from the safety of a high balcony. This area was narrower than what you’d get near the market square. Most of those were congested with shops and businesses where your every move went observed.
“You say that now, but if everything had gone according to plan, then what?” The bounty hunter’s complexion went from purple to blue and she clicked her tongue, letting go. He landed on both knees and gasped swaths of air into his lungs amidst hoarse coughs. “So,” she started, pulling out the tabloid from the confines of her midnight gown and tossing it. “What’s this about an avalanche? Witness testimonies say there was a loud clap right before it happened. Care to explain?”
“I dunno.” He coughed. “The sound was like… a catapulted boulder hittin’ a castle wall, only… it was packaged.”
“An explosion! Quit being so roundabout and say it properly,” she snapped flashing her teeth.
“Forgive me! I’m just a bounty hunter... and dunno about those things.”
“Because you’re stupid and uneducated. All you good-for-nothings know how to do is bash each other on the head for money and fornicate like wild animals. No surprise the higher class use you as pawns for their dirty work.” Gretel stomped and twisted her heel on his thigh, the bounty hunter yelped. “Keep your voice down.” He slapped a hand over his mouth.
Pacing the alley floor, she pondered the new information.
Weird. How could there have been an explosion atop a mountain? That meant someone had to have had adequate materials for such a chemical reaction. Someone well versed in chemistry. She bit her lip. Last time Gretel was aware, the girl was but an easily persuadable child, enchanted by fairytales and legends, embellished stories of the past and magic. Or maybe, just maybe-- No... it couldn’t be. She shook her head. There was no way that could happen. There was an unbreakable deal in play. The Fate Spirit would never think of going against her at these heights of the contract. To go against it was equivalent to betraying herself, and there was no way a spirit could be that foolish.
“Speak! Did the princess cause the explosion?”
The bounty hunter squirmed under her authority. “N… n-n-no.”
“Then who?” Her hand readied and he noticed.
“...Elf?,” she repeated, jaw slowly dropping.
“Yes! The elf did it! The elf tricked us into believin’ she was gone but came back. I even told Mic we should go after her. If he’d just listened to what I’d say… we coulda avoided it altogether!,” he lipped.
Gretel placed her chin between her thumb and forefinger. She turned around and walked towards the opposite wall. “Interesting. They picked up an elf along the way.” She stayed unmoving for several seconds. The elf was the cause of the explosion, another fighter in their ranks? With this piece of news her previous worries began to fade. Still, she had to discuss it with the Fate Spirit. Any drastic changes would be detrimental. With that in mind, she smiled impishly and faced the frightened bounty hunter, heels tapping the cobblestone floor. “You saw the boy, didn’t you?” He nodded.
“Yes! Black hair, tall.”
“And what happened to him?”
“He…” The bounty hunter swallowed, sweat trickled down beside a prominent vein on his neck. “Mic went after’ im when he ran into the woods. And it boggles me he took’ im out…. The runt took out Mic!”
“Hmph! It figures,” she jerked her chin. “That’s why the tabloid mentions only six of you.” Gretel squatted to be at eye level with him, keeping the grin alive. “Does that mean he’s dead?”
The mere idea gave him chicken feet. It looked like he wanted to deny it or negate it ever happened. Weird, abrupt noises erupted from his throat. Instead of his leader to come out of the forest: a well trained and experienced man in the art of war, it was the man they called Hudson: a nobody, a city folk as average as they can get.
“Mic is dead, isn’t he?”
“Fool! If he’s not here then where?,” she retorted and nudged his forehead with a finger. The bounty hunter whimpered on every thrust. “That imbecile is dead, and you know it. That large body of his is probably feeding the animals at this point, traveling down a vulture’s digestive track and turning into excrement. Before you know it he's fertilizer for the plants. So quit sucking your thumb, feeling sorry for yourselves and grow a pair already. You’re acting worse than a sheltered child.” Gretel stood and strutted out the alley, stopping at the corner before leaving and threatened the man she had shaken into a bundle of nerves one last time. “That corpse better not be here tomorrow. If so, your skin will make a great trophy on the empty space in my mansion living room.” Sunlight enveloped her as she walked out.
Gusts of sandy wind had been blowing for hours and Gretel saw nothing ahead of her but walls of sand. Luckily, she was one to be prepared. Shielded by a transparent orb of wind she’d conceived halfway through Coil Desert, she could walk in peace without even a grain making it into her eyes. Traveling around it was a viable option, too. The problem with that was the travel time would double and frankly, she didn’t have the luxury of taking it easy. Right now, Gretel had to be at the temple, even though the scheduled date was months away, it was imperative she discuss the doubt nagging at her mind.
Before the bounty hunter mentioned anything about an elf, she feared the worst when she deduced the reason for the avalanche by process of elimination. Only an explosion could have caused the loud clap, which in turn generated the avalanche. And the princess had the capability. The key word here was “had”.
Now that she knew the elf was responsible, her worries of it being the princess decreased close to zero. Even so, she wanted to snuff out all possibilities to be absolutely sure nothing had changed during the years.
As the day passed, the sandstorm subsided. Grass replaced the trillions of salty grains, flora ousted the mounds of dunes. The further she went in, the thicker it became. She hiked up a pre-established trail amidst a tunnel of trees, leaving behind crippled statues of a once worshipped entity. This area was nostalgic, except not the good kind where fond memories were immortalized. She fought away goosebumps the crept up her spine, acid boiled in her entrails. Gretel summoned wind to her feet when she came upon a ledge, touching down on flat ground on what would’ve been an unsightly descent for a proper lady like her. From there was a lofty hallway of crumbling architecture, tangled in nets of vines and trees that lead to a set of doors beyond a staircase blanketed in sand. Sunken, eroded statues lined the corridor, their faces melting from elemental exposure for who knows how many millenia. Gold beams of afternoon light penetrated the ceiling cracks, bounced off the granite and dew layered foliage.
When Gretel stepped forward, the heel echoed endlessly as if she'd set off a chain reaction. Birds fluttered off, their feathers twirling down the void. She neared the stairs and something moved below the sand near the entrance and she calmly brought up her hand. Piles of bones emerged. They arranged themselves systematically, every part connecting where it should as on a human being. She watched as they climbed one another like insects and screw into place even though the necessary tissues had been long gone at this point. Last but not least came a skull escalating the spine. It spun a few times when it reached the top and ricocheted after clicking into position. Now complete, the skeleton pulled out a weathered sword and shield out of the sand mounds. On every action it took, the bones cried dryly at the hinges.
It regarded her with hollow sockets where the eyes should be, its mouth widened but no voice reached her ears. Her lips curled as it warned not come any closer. This pathetic show of force only startled the likes of amateurs, unlike her, a refined woman who could stand on her own. Never would a pile of filthy bones subdue her prowess. To call it an opponent would be an insult.
Cocking her arm upward as she strutted for the doors, Gretel slashed the air. A blast of wind hurled the skeleton warrior to the far right wall, bones cracked in half on impact and bounced off in all directions. It never knew what hit it.
“Maybe I overdid it?,” she said taking the stairs.
Gretel scanned the entrance up and down. Each door was one giant slab of rock as high as a two story house. It had intricate lines carved into it that overlapped like the plethora of vines in the hallway. Depictions of the Fate Spirit’s creation ran along the edges starting at the top.
Without her having to lift a finger, the giant doors opened enough to let her in, rock grinding loudly as the massive slabs drifted on the grainy temple surface. The interior matched Gretel’s hair: black as a moonless night.
She stepped inside, pompous grin stretching her face, and the doors closed shut with a roar. “Temples are sacred grounds, Gretel,” said a frail, dainty voice up ahead, “and should be treated as such. Though I won’t lie and say I haven’t considered capitulating the reminders.”
As she became used to the darkness, a beam of light struck the floor from the ceiling. It was so bright yet the surroundings remained bathed in shadows. The glow revealed webs of dangling, red strings that stretched even beyond the cone of light, and the further down her sight traveled, the more concentrated they were to the point one could lounge upon them. Below was a large bed of pure white flowers. The rounded petals shone blindingly in a holy aura.
Perched on the strings was the owner of that frail voice, face gazing upwards as if connected to a higher plane of existence. Gold hair draped her petite body down to the floor like a running waterfall. She dressed in a white mantle with yellow filigree embroidered on the hems, a skin tight, white robe outlined the contours of her slim frame.
The entity lowered their head, eyes opened slowly and revealed black rings in place of human irises. Her jawline was equally thin and tapered like a sword at the chin. The way she cradled in the strings made her look easy to break from the slightest tap on the shoulder, let alone a kiss on the forehead might shatter her into hundreds of pieces. “Nonsense,” Gretel threw her hands up in a shrug, “why should I when this is practically my domain as well? I can do as I please.”
Not impressed by the smug remark, the entity heeded Gretel in a patient manner. “You wouldn’t want a guest taking out your guards whenever they visited your estate. Am I right?”
“They wouldn’t because I have no need for guards at my mansion.” She brushed her hair aside. “Second, I’m fully capable of wiping out anyone who dares set foot in my territory without prior permission. And last but not least, hiring guards means less money I can put into my mansion. Is that not obvious?”
Pursing her red lips, the entity held back. “But was destroying him like that necessary?”
Gretel chuckled. “Fate...then you should’ve done something about his nasty attitude if you knew it was me. Secret admirer or not before he breathed his last, you think I’d treat him kindly after what he did? Why not ask for another from the netherworld? I’m sure there’s still one left who reveres you the same.” The entity frowned.
“You do not understand how we spirits function. It’s not so easy to ask for the resurrection of a soul when there are thousands --millions who would do anything for the opportunity.”
“Don’t you mean ‘die for the opportunity’?” Her remark came with more chuckles and the Fate Spirit gave up, waiting for Gretel to take their dialogue seriously. But Gretel couldn’t help herself. The moment she predicted the sentence word for word she had to make the joke. If Fate didn’t find it funny then that was her problem. Her laughs reverberated over the dark chamber.
By the time she quieted, Fate asked her another question. “Let me try this again, and starting from what I should’ve asked at the very beginning to avoid this senseless fuss.” Gretel tilted her head sideways and put a hand on her hip, smirk still fresh. “It is rare for you to come months ahead of the next session. Unless your reason for being here is something different like advice or wor-- what am I implying?” Fate planted her face in her palm and voice lowered to a whisper. “To think you’d come here for worship is inconceivable, not after the pain I’ve put you through all these years.” Gretel did not budge. “Certainly,” Fate resumed, “I believe an expedition was sent out to the Roheisia Mountains six months ago, yes? You’re here to report on the results?”
Gretel clapped. “My, my, we’re on to something here,” she chimed and fanned her arms as she paced side to side. “Of course. Why else would I drop by to say hello?” She stopped and allowed her gaze to wander. “The job didn’t go as planned, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a fiasco --rather, it offered novel insights on what I’m working with.”
“.... more people.”
“You heard right.” Their eyes met. “One of that brute’s underlings clued me in on a little discovery. Apparently, the princess picked up an elf along the way, and not just any ordinary elf, but one versed in potion making from what I’ve deduced.”
Fate inched up her brow. “How so? Did he tell you outright about any potions?”
“Not quite,” Gretel responded as she walked over with a slight prance, gown fluttering behind. She weaved through the labyrinth of strings, sights on the entity, and scrutinized her pitifully. Her wind could totally knock down Fate like it did the skeleton. Gretel fancied the idea. “There was an incident at the mountains. The brute died fighting the boy you beckoned and his underlings injured in an avalanche.”
“The boy did... what?,” asked Fate in shock as if she’d missed a detail.
“My only explanation is that the elf specializes in potion crafting or has extensive knowledge in chemistry. I mean, if it were magic, why not wipe out everyone in one fell swoop and get it done? Right?”
“Not all magic is used for combat. You should know that better than anyone.”
“You can,” Gretel corrected. “Us mages are taught how to use any magic for combat.”
“Really? Hmmm? Then explain how people fight using the healing arts?”
She squinted at the entity, smirk fading as she knew she'd look juvenile fighting that rebuttal. It’d be best to pretend it never happened. Gretel gave Fate the cold shoulder and returned to her original spot."I had another thing in mind, actually. Something I couldn't get off my chest since hearing an explosion was the cause of the avalanche. You might know more or less where I'm going with this based on context."
Fate lowered her head in thought and brought it back when she had a clearer idea. "Does it have to do with the House of Vermillion, and their ties to the fire spirit?"
Gretel smirked, pleased that Fate was smart enough to not feign ignorance with her as she turned to meet her gaze. "Tell me our contract is still in effect. Because if that's not the case, I'll do the same to you like I did your beloved skeleton lover, except I'll take my sweet time and assure you'll have it worse a thousand times over." Gretel wasn't opposed to challenge a spirit had there been no other way. This plan had to be carried out by the book to take down the King of Ponderosa, and she was willing to move mountains by any means necessary to see those plans come to fruition. She made her point clear as she raised a hand like when she summoned the wind. Despite the warning, however, Fate made a face that said she'd grown accustomed to these repeating scenes and sighed.
"Your worries are for naught, Gretel. Rest assured Fire Spirit won't rest until he sees the Vermillions learn their lesson," she said.
"Empty promises won't do you any good." She piled on the warnings. "The one who knows him best is you, Fate. I can only take your word and follow as per our contract and trust that every word that comes out of those little, red lips of yours is pure honesty." Fate sat silent. "I know I haven't been what you'd call 'an ideal successor'. Surely you'd trade me for someone more suited, someone who'd revere you like you ought to be. Someone who'd dedicate every waking moment bowing at your feet for giving them a second life. But understand this isn't just for me. I do this for the benefit of my people."
"I had hoped once that those twisted methods of yours would change, but have come to realize that desire was but a foolish delusion."
"Hmph!," Gretel blew air from her nostrils. “Sorry to disappoint. I've stated my intentions from the beginning and will not alter them.” She laid emphasis on the last sentence in a lower tone and the entity nodded to move the conversation along.
“So why did it take so long to find Scarlet?”
“‘Why’?,” Gretel repeated as she raised a brow. “Your creator only knows-- wherever he is.” She waved a hand dismissively. “But my guess is they most likely detoured for a while, laying low out of the spotlight is what the maid probably suggested they do. And somewhere along the way they ran into the elf,” she said veering left. “You’d think with all those fairytales I crammed during Scarlet’s childhood she’d shortcut for Roheisia promptly for her rotten little miracle. Girls her age are still naïve, especially the nobles who get everything handed to them on a golden plate at every beck and call. They’re spoiled at the core, Fate.”
“What will you do now?,” Fate asked. “Nonetheless, I doubt this will stop you in any way.”
“Exactly.” Gretel turned and walked back. “Taking into account what just happened, I was thinking instead of someone bringing Scarlet to me, I should have her observed temporarily, and now that I think about it, even protected from the king's bounty. I do need her alive after all.”
The expression on Fate made her look jaded. In order for Scarlet to truly switch sides, she'd have to show the princess levels of trust unlike any she'd ever been given back at the House of Vermillion. Her father, king of Ponderosa, was an evil man capable of invading any region for the kingdom's expansion without shedding a single tear of regret. To him it was the law of life, nature’s cycle. The strong would prevail and make resources of the weak from their flesh and bones until their last breath on their deathbed. Ponderosa was fine and splendid on the outside, but the inside was more rotten than any sewer.
“What’s the matter?,” Gretel asked as she twirled some hair around her index finger. “You look like you’re about to vomit. By the way, do spirits even get sick? All I know is you’ll eventually kick the bucket because of your creator.”
“We don’t experience symptoms of nausea!,” she said. Her words came down like a bite. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if you caused me any.”
“My my, what a way to talk back,” she said with rhythm in her voice. “Save your attitude for the session, Fate. You can take out all your anger on me now that I’m here.” Fate eyeballed her hard. “What? Don’t believe me?” She wasn’t surprised. These things were far beyond unpleasant. And labeling them “unpleasant” sold them short of their sensation.
“No… I believe you. I just thought you’d come back on the actual date we previously agreed on.”
“Oh please!,” she pleaded. “Why would I want to make another trip in such short amount of time? I may control the winds at an advanced level, but gods, is my schedule not full for leisure travel across the desert. Anyway,” she resumed, “get on with it.” The room's thick darkness dropped on Gretel’s shoulders and her knees twitched. The surprised look on Fate was expected and one she hid to deceive the entity, including herself.
They stared at each other and the entity found no cracks in her resolve as she examined the skin between Gretel’s brows. Convinced she was ready, Fate stuck an arm out and aimed. Air blew in Gretel’s direction, she shut her eyes and shoulders shuttered, and her hair waved about until it settled back in front to cover her chest. The midnight gown had been blown off completely. Smiling, she glanced at the entity that sat comfortably in her hammock of red strings adorned with white flowers underneath, petite frame shining with a star’s intensity.
“Knock yourself out.”
“I didn’t make the rules. Neither did Netherworld.”
“I know,” Gretel shrugged. As she stood bare, the olive pigment in her skin washed out to a pale white like a corpse with grotesque patchwork of burn marks everywhere of various sizes. Her hair, once the color of ink and flawless, black enough to blend in the night, faded into frizzy, tangled webs of white fibers. The hazel shades of her irises decayed grayish pink when she blinked after the transformation, and she teared up while championing her smile.
“For a rotten person yourself, you are braver to endure the loss of your identity for your people. Hang in there just a little longer, Gretel.”
“Thank you,” She wheezed through chapped lips. “Though I think I'm more beautiful this way. More so than when I look like a Ponderosan.” She giggled. “…. Do it.”
Fate nodded slowly, eyebrows slanting backwards. She wished for the king to feel her pain, and for that, Gretel was willing to stand through fire if it meant raising the chances of success. Out of thin air, tiny blue flames budded from the ground around her feet. They danced and swayed, multiplying as they stretched towards the knees. Gretel closed her eyes. Tears fell and evaporated in the heat before they could hit the temple floor. “Forgive me,” whispered Fate. Suddenly, the flames erupted with a thunderous boom as if provoked. The massive fireball cracked and popped, spitting out tendrils in all directions that tore the air, howling like war hungry monsters.
Caught in the midst was Gretel’s silhouette. Her body seemed to billow, distort from the blaze as ear splitting shrieks disturbed the temple. She writhed, she cried for mercy.
Fate counted down a little faster than usual for Gretel’s sake.