That night I went to sleep with stars in my eyes and the wind playing a sweet breeze across my face. My vine tangled hair tickled my face and the smell of honeysuckle lulled me to slumber. It was a perfect summer night.
I woke up screaming.
I woke up to screaming.
The sound tore through my ears as surely as it pumped adrenalin through my veins so that it pounded through me, hot and vile. The hairs on the back of my neck stood taut as I gripped the bark of my sleeping tree with panicked fingers. The sound keened pain and fear and the hopeless gasp of death.
But the sound wasn’t human. No, it wasn’t. But it’s source was just as alive, and more vital to me than air.
Honeysuckle turned to smoke, and I choked on ash.
Somewhere, the forest was burning. My forest. My heart and my breath and my life on fire.
My name was sharp on Harper’s tongue. “Sara!”
She crashed through the bracken, stumbling, eyes skyward, looking for my perch in the treetops. Her face was a mess of ashes and tears, and in that moment I saw the first glow of flames.
I jumped, petals flying from my blooms, and landed on my feet in front of my best friend.
She didn’t flinch, just grabbed my shoulders and pulled me to her. Her face was hot on my shoulder, though it shouldn’t have been on this chilly night. She leaned against me, heavy, her breath coming too fast. She smelled of smoke and the tang of heated metal, and her eyes burned orange in a forest that shouldn’t have been so bright. As an Ironsprite, the heat of fire could melt her. I had to get her out.
I had get me out.
I had to get us to Eli.
“Harper,” my voice was like sandpaper, I could feel myself wilting, “who started it?”
She shook her head.
The forest started to glow. We spun in circles looking for a path.
“I don’t know, but I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Sara, it’s heading for Home.”
Her eyes told me the rest. She wasn’t talking about her Home, the creek beds where an Iron Sprite whispered to the precious metals that were embedded in the sand and drew power from the silt and the mineral wash of the water. This fire could melt her metallic core and damage her sure as that sun rises, but as long as her Home was safe she could be revived. Burn a Leafsprite’s Home tree, and she’s as good as dead. I was as good as dead.
“Where is Eli?” I asked her.
“The coast,” she said, quivering.
“Of course.” Where else would a Watersprite be? It was a mile or so, but to me it seemed like thousands.
“What do we do?” She asked me. I could barely see her through the haze of smoke. Sweat trickled down my back, making the leaves embedded in my skin itch.
“Run,” I said.
She grabbed my hand and shot for the edge of the forest. We were slowed by the weight of smoke in our lungs and the trapping burn of fire. We weren’t fast enough. The fire hemmed us into the edge of the trees, creating a wall of hell that threatened to swallow us. I stopped dead in my tracks, knowing my vines would burn in a second if I tried to jump through fire. It was our only escape.
Harper tugged my hand. “Sara, we can jump it!”
“Go!” I told her, “I’ll be behind you. Get to Eli. Tell him we need help.”
Her eyes were desperate for me to follow her, but she must have seen me turning to ash. She kissed my forehead and ran for the fire. I wanted her disappear into it, hoping she’d stay in one piece. Shouts filled the air, and screams, and the crackling push of flames and death. Sprites of every type falling victim to the element only one of our kind could fight. Where were all the Watersprites? Where was Eli?
I picked myself up from the forest floor, my limbs moving stiff and awkwardly as my skin started to blister. I coughed, my hand coming away from my lips bloody. I tripped into a run, leaving Harper’s path and choosing one that would take me Home.
I collapsed into a heap at the base of my Home tree, blind and sick, singed and gasping for breath. The flames followed me, devouring every plant in their wake.
I was going to die, but I would not let my Home tree go with me. The ancient oak would not be taken by fire if I could help it. I was weak, but as I pressed a blistered palm against my Home’s trunk my veins glowed green with Leaflight, and the veins of my Home’s bark lit up. I pulled the light, stretching it so that it covered the entire tree from roots to leaves, creating a forcefield that would protect her. I tried to pull myself into the light, but it wouldn’t work on me. It didn’t work that way.
I was past saving, my vines withering by the second. The heat crumpled me into myself so that all I could see was the battle of my Leaflight and the glow of flames. Choked by smoke, my lungs shuddered and fought for air. I was out of breath. Hands fisted in earth, eyes shut against the burn I waited for the fire to claim me. Flames licked at my skin, and searing pain hit me as my vines started to burn.
… to be continued.
For more amazing art by Catherine Langwagen, please visit her Deviant Art page (cassiopeiaart.deviantart.com). Stay tuned for Rebecca’s answer to this prompt on Wednesday. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.
Artwork © Copyright, Catherine Langwagen 2011. All rights reserved. Used with permission.