Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 29

My vision slowly returned, and I found myself in my room. It took me a minute to realize that I was not where I had passed out the night before. Rather than curled up on the floor, I was in my bed, atop the heavy comforters. My black and white Converse shoes were sitting at the foot of my bed. Then, my heart dropped again as I recalled the events of the previous day. My torment and rescue was completely overshadowed by the discovery I had made about Josie. Where was she?

The icicle that had blocked the door was no longer there, but the doorframes were severely damaged from its effects, proving I didn’t imagine it. I had to find her! Who knows where she could be, or what had happened to her? As I leapt out of bed, my legs gave out and I crashed to the floor. I guess my body hadn’t recovered from all of the strain it had suffered over the last few days. My muscles objected as I forced myself to my feet. I had something I had to do. My little sister needed me, and nothing was going to keep me from her.

I gasped with pain, but was able to hold back a cry. Once fully standing, it was not too hard to walk forward. I slowly made it out of my room, and through the halls of the mansion. Where could I look first? Maybe Mahsa or the other students would have some idea! That would be my first stop.

It took quite a while, but by the time I had reached the training center, I was getting my legs back. There was a class being held. Mahsa had recovered enough to lead training, and Reese and Bethany had also returned. Kyle was with them, but not truly participating very much. When I approached, Mahsa ordered her students to stop.

“Sera.” She called. “I heard that you were back, but I wasn’t expecting you to rejoin training again so soon, after what you went through.”

“I’m not here to join.” I quickly stated. “I need to find Josie. Have you seen her anywhere?”

Mahsa shook her head.

“Nope. I’m afraid not. What’s wrong? Is she OK, or in some kind of trouble?”

Obviously, the two bullies couldn’t miss an opportunity to get in a cruel jab.

“Oh, she’s run away? And we’re surprised why?”

“Huh! I was wondering why today’s training had been so much better!”

I didn’t bother to answer any of them, and hurried away to continue my search. As I racked my brain for where she might have gone, it occurred to me that I would have no idea of what to say to her. What could I possibly say? I had never come across anything like this before. What possibly could have happened to have put her in that condition? Was there any hope for her at all?

If anyone knew the answers to these questions, it would be Todd Kopek. That’s where I’d go next! I’d see if he knew where she could be, and while there, I’d ask him if he had any idea what to say to my friend.

A few minutes later, I arrived at the chapel.

“Todd?” I called out. “Todd? Are you here?”

There was no immediate response, so I continued looking around. The amphitheater was completely empty, so I moved into the large church building where the Cardinal and chaplains kept their offices.

“Hello? Is anybody here?” I asked again.

“Hey! Stop all that shouting!” Was the gruff response.

It was Cardinal Hobbes. He had a scowl on his face as he approached me.

“There’s no reason for you to be yelling like that in this sanctuary!”

“I’m sorry.” I apologized quickly. “Is Todd Kopek here?”

“No. I haven’t seen him. Now, if you have no other business, I suggest you move along.”

Well, if Todd wasn’t around, maybe Hobbes could help me. Honestly, he would never be my first choice, but there was a chance that he’d be able to give me an idea of how to talk to Josie, or at least another place to look for where she might have gone.

“Um, I actually have a question for you.” I hesitantly began.

“Go on.”

“There’s this friend of mine, and she’s…well…she’s suffering with something. It’s a problem I think she’s had for a long time, and it’s been even worse for her lately. I was wondering-“

“What’s the problem.” He interrupted impatiently. “I can’t do anything if I don’t know what the problem is.”

I frowned. My intention was to not go around telling everyone Josie’s secret, but if it meant helping her, I guess I had no choice.

“Well, she’s always thought she wasn’t good enough, and then she, um, hurts herself. I’m not really sure-“

“Whoop. Self-abuse, huh? I’ve dealt with this plenty of times before. It’s an outward sign that she has a great sin in her life. She knows that she’s a wicked sinner, and is trying to punish herself for it. She needs to stop doing whatever sin she’s doing, and come to confess here in the chapel before man every day for three weeks. Then, maybe she can be forgiven. If it’s gone on for as long as you seem to think it has, it’s possible she’s not even one of the elect. God’s children do not struggle with such things. It’s impossible to be in such bondage when you have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

“Yeah, but-“

“And that’s another thing!” He continued. “If I didn’t believe that you were the Fiery One before, I certainly know you’re not now! You’re weak, you’re brash, and you dare to defy the order and beliefs that we have followed for over three thousand years! You’re no use to anyone here, much less any prophecy inspired by God! Just stay out of our way if you don’t want to get hurt!”

With that, the Cardinal turned and stomped away. I was left alone, feeling crushed by the weight of inadequacy and condemnation. Could Hobbes’ words be true? Was Josie suffering this because of some hidden sin? And was my existence nothing but a blasphemous joke? I don’t know if it’s supposed to be this way, but it seems that every time I went to a church, I only felt worse about everything. Is this how God operates? Through guilt, fear, and condemnation?

I sank onto a bench in despair. Just as I was beginning to give up hope, I heard a voice behind me.

“Sera? You’re back! Are you alright?”

I lifted my head, and saw the friendly chaplain, Todd, walking toward me. I shook my head. He came and sat down beside me.

“What happened?” He asked.

I shook my head again.

“I don’t really know. My brain is all screwed up, and my little sister is hurting, and I can’t even help her, and…”

I paused to swallow, and attempted to continue speaking without allowing tears to escape, which only made my head hurt worse.

“I don’t blame anyone for not believing in me, because I don’t even believe in myself. I’m not the Fiery One. How could I possibly any sort of prophesied one when I can’t even save those closest to me, much less all of mankind!”

With that, some tears began escaping from my eyes. The water moving down my face toward my nose and mouth brought back vivid memories of my captivity and torture, which freaked me out even more. My heart hurt from sorrow and terror, and I started to hyperventilate. The idea that a weak, imperfect, psychotic creature like me could ever be used in any sort of divine capacity was utterly ridiculous!

Todd slowly rubbed my back and shoulder. After I had calmed down a little bit, he spoke in a comforting voice.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry about all of this. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Did Hobbes talk to you?”

I nodded without meeting his eyes.

“I’m sorry. I had some business I needed to take care of, so I wasn’t in my office for you to talk to, and he got there first. You know, he used to do the same thing to me. Making me feel small and useless, and God could never use me.”

I looked up at my friend and sniffed.


“Yeah. Actually, I’ve wanted to leave Nahalore for a long time now. I’m not sure that anything we believe in here is actually right. Where else would I go, though? I’ve been here my entire life.

“Here’s the thing. I’ve been reading in the Bible; I know. Crazy. A chaplain actually reading the Bible. But I’ve been discovering some amazing stuff, that certainly doesn’t go with the teachings that Hobbes has been forcing down our throats. Just to keep it short, I’ll only tell you a small bit. God sent his only Son to die for us, that whoever believes in him is saved. So there is no “elect”. There are people who consider themselves “elect” that actually don’t believe, and there are those who are not “elect”, but if they believe on Jesus, then they’re saved. Putting your faith in anything else for your worth is just not right. An organization, teaching, feeling, power…”

With that, he took my hand and held it palm up.

“Show me your fire, Sera.”

I conjured the largest flame I could. So, about the size of a flaming marshmallow that got too close to the campfire.

“You see; God makes everyone exactly the way he wants them. You may not be the Fiery One, with incredible, world-changing powers. But God can use exactly what you have. Maybe you’re only meant to create a spark. But that spark can light up a blaze that you could never even imagine.”

He released my hand, and showed me his.

“Look at this, Sera.”

A small amount of water began to form on his hand, and dripped to the floor.

My initial reflex was to pull back in fear. He had water powers! But then I saw that he was showing me the extent of his ability.

“Yep, you got it. This is it.” He closed his hand, and set it back on his lap. “I’m only a level 2 water-caller. You can be sure that I got some wonderful treatment from my family and classmates. ‘Drips’. ‘Mr. Leaky’. ‘Raindrop’. I had the approximate destructive power of a leaky faucet. I felt that I could never possibly do anything in life. But I felt God’s calling to become a chaplain, and now I can help people almost every day.

“Now, I’m not telling you that you need to be a chaplain. Only God can tell you that. I’m just saying that God made you exactly how he wanted you. For example, there are electric-callers that can fire bolts of lightning to strike down their enemies from far away. But there are also electric-callers who can’t even create a spark. However, they can detect bio-electricity and provide valuable support on a mission. There are also earth-callers who can’t create a mighty tremor, but can detect vibrations through the ground, and beam-callers that don’t shoot powerful energy, but diffuse a wide ranging light to illuminate an area. My point is, you don’t have to think you’re awesome for God to think you’re awesome. He can use you no matter what, as long as you trust in him.”

I looked at him with wide eyes, still full of tears. This was like nothing I’d ever heard before. On one hand, I felt a little silly for always working so hard to try to make myself better, when God could use me despite me being me. On the other hand, it was an incredible relief to hear that it wasn’t all my fault. Nahalore seems to instill a sense of guilt to anyone who they don’t think is holy enough to be one of the “elect”. If Todd is right, I just need to do all I can, and believe that God will take care of what I can’t.

“Do you get what I mean, Sera?” Todd asked gently.

For the first time since before I was kidnapped, I had a smile on my face.

“I think I might. Thank you very much, Todd.”

“No problem! Um, did you want to talk about your friend?”

“Nah, I think I’ll just give her a little of what you’ve given me!”

I left the chapel with renewed energy. Maybe I wasn’t all that I wanted to be, but I was good enough for Him. Now, I just had to find Josie before she did something to herself that couldn’t be undone. Where could she have gone? Unless she managed to get outside, she had to be within the enclosed cavern that housed Nalahore’s small city. I already knew where she wasn’t. Training area, Mansion, chapel. Hm. If I were in her situation, I would try to find a dark, secluded place where no one would find me. Somewhere where no one would want to spend too much time. Where do you go when you’re down in the dumps?

The dump. Of course! Nahalore had a waste area at the corner of the underground city, where all of the garbage was stored. Once per week, a huge truck would take the accumulated waste through the tunnel and out to be disposed of permanently. It was the furthest point away from the city that one could get, and it seemed like the best bet to be Josie’s hiding place.

Several minutes later, I had arrived at the dump. The stench was very potent, and I could somehow feel it even when my nose was clamped shut. Josie wasn’t crazy enough to bury herself in the garbage heap, was she? Without climbing into it, I looked out over the pile. Good, no sign of her being actually in the garbage. I walked around the outside of the dump to see if maybe she was nearby. I nearly missed her, but my eye spotted a small figure in the back corner between the dump’s perimeter and the back wall of the cavern.

That must be her. While searching for the words I would say, my feet carried me into the shadows toward my friend. She was sitting on the ground in the very corner, with her legs pulled up in front of her body, and her arms and head on her knees. I came in silently, and sat down beside her. Either she didn’t yet know I was there, or she was ignoring me, because she didn’t budge. I reached out and stroked a small strand of her hair.

“Go away Sera. I’m so screwed up. Don’t try to tell me I’m not. I’m just…a horrible…”

Her words faded off as they were interrupted by tears. I just continued to pet her hair.

“Josie, it’s OK-“

“No it isn’t!” She burst out, raising her head violently. “It’s not OK! It’ll never be OK!”

Then her tone softened in resignation.

“Don’t you see? I deserve to be miserable. I’m just a stupid, clumsy idiot who only makes everything worse.”

A flash of anger burned in me for a moment, but I let it be quenched with waves of love for my little sister before continuing.

“Josie, who told you that? Who’s been saying these horrible things to you?”

She looked down, but said nothing.

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, but I’m always here for you, no matter what.”

There was a long period where there were no words. I hoped that my presence and sympathy would have a positive effect, even if she wouldn’t open up to me. Eventually, though, Josie spoke.

“It was my dad.” She paused for a moment, as if deciding whether she wanted to share her darkest of stories with me, but then continued. “My family lived in a nearby town called Bindmont. It was just my dad, my mom, and me. Dad worked to send supplies into Nahalore from outside, and I just went to school like a normal kid. My dad used to be an alcoholic, but he stopped. When I was six, he started drinking again. Sometimes, he would get really drunk, and hurt my mom, and sometimes me. When he was really angry, he would tell me everything was my fault. He’d call me stupid, and clumsy, and worthless. When I was old enough, he started to do…different things. My life was a nightmare, but I didn’t know how to make it stop. There was nowhere to run, or hide.

“When I was 12, I started… I…” She swallowed. “I started doing what you caught me doing. Cutting myself. I knew that I was a terrible person, but maybe if I punished myself, Dad wouldn’t have to. Maybe making me bleed could wash my slate clean.

“But I was wrong. From then, everything was even worse. My dad hated me even more, and even my mom was disappointed in me. When I saw that it wasn’t working I tried to stop, but I couldn’t. Every day was the same. I’d get up in the morning, swearing I would never cut myself again. I’d feel weaker and weaker throughout the day, and at night, I would hurt myself even worse than the day before. Then, I’d go to bed wishing I would just die, and the cycle would start all over again the next morning.”

“Josie…” I moaned, but I could think of nothing else to say.

“The longest I ever made it without cutting was four days. I thought maybe I was coming out of it, but then I just fell right back in.”

The girl took a deep breath.

“One day, my mom had enough. She just left. She abandoned me, leaving me alone with my dad, without saying anything to either of us. That night, he got even drunker than ever before, and was screaming mad. He said I had ruined his world, and made his wife run away. He said he was going to kill me, and I think he would have. Just before he did, well, it happened. I accidentally created a giant icicle from the floor, and it almost killed him. I had no idea that I had any powers. That was the first time anything like that ever happened.

“After that, they put my dad in jail, and brought me here to the city. I was hoping that with my parents not around to make me feel guilty, I could start fresh. But it didn’t happen. Even when there was no real reason for me to, I still cut myself. It feels…like I’m addicted. I want to stop, but…I can’t.”

Josie’s bitter tears streamed unabated once again. I could feel her pain and anguish. I never knew my parents, so I could only imagine how unspeakably awful it would be to be abused or neglected by your own family. What could I possibly say to mend a broken heart? I’m no psychologist or counselor. I’m just a girl.

Without being able to look at Josie, I held my hand out in front of me, and ignited what little flame I had. Lord, please help me to light up her soul. I don’t have much, but you can use it anyway.

I turned off my fire, put my arm around the girl’s shoulder, and pulled her close to me until she stopped crying.

“Josie. I want you to know something.”

“Wh-what?” She said, sniffling.

“God hears you. He hears you whenever you cry, and whenever you think you’re most alone. Since the day he created you, He knew exactly what you’d do. When you were born, He already knew that you would be abused, and that you would abuse yourself. But He didn’t just strike you dead the second you were born. Why do you think that is?”

“I…don’t know.” Josie gasped.

“It’s because He loves you. He loves you exactly the way you are, scars and all. He isn’t up in heaven, waiting for you to screw up so he can strike you with lightning or something. His heart breaks every time yours does. All he wants is to hold you in his arms. There’s nothing you can do that could make him love you less. You’re HIS, no matter what.”

The girl struggled not to cry again. I could tell she wasn’t sure if she believed it or not.

“Can I tell you something else?” I lowered my voice as I continued. “The same goes for me. I don’t care what you’ve done, or even what you’ll probably do again. You’ll always be my friend, and my little sister. I won’t leave you, no matter what.”

With that, Josie started bawling. I held her tightly, and she clung back to me.

“Thank you, Sera! Thank you for everything!”

“Hey, no problem. You were meant for so much more than all of this. I know that you’ll make it through. I promise you will.”

I tilted her head up against my shoulder, and held her for a long time. Boy, being a big sister is harder than I thought.

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