Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 33

The day following the attack, the entirety of Nahalore was sitting in the amphitheater-like chapel. Everyone sat in complete silence. There was no idle chatter or cheerful conversation. The illusions of safety and superiority that the Ircabim had possessed were shattered by this invasion. Nearly every person had lost someone that they knew, and it was difficult to even attempt to act as though all was well. I wasn’t even sure how many innocent people had been killed, but whatever the number, it was too high.

I had been greatly relieved to find that Kyle had survived the battle by hiding in the restroom at the school. He sat beside me now, as we waited for the organization-wide address to begin. Bishop Oro Sherman stepped forward on the stage. It was rare for him to publically speak, but this was a situation that required the words of a strong leader.

“My friends! It is with great anguish that I have gathered you here today.” He began with a powerful voice. “There is no need for me to tell you all about the loss that we have suffered. Let us have a moment of silence for all those who have lost their lives.”

The eerie silence again settled in the air. Several quiet sobbing cries were audible like gunshots in the deathly silent amphitheater. After a few seconds, Sherman continued.

“Last night, our secure home and very way of life were infiltrated by a malevolent force. They are known as ‘Teklos’. This was not the first time that they have struck. The last occurrence was nearly three hundred years ago. At that time, Nahalore was decimated, and nearly wiped out. It was then that the leaders of the organization moved our headquarters from the Mesopotamian area to the newly-discovered North American continent. Shortly thereafter, construction was begun on our underground haven.

“Since then, our only struggle has been against our mortal enemy Tsalderek. Teklos was nearly forgotten in ancient history, and it was widely believed that they were gone altogether. Obviously, that was not the case. They have struck again, bringing death and destruction, and disappeared into the shadows.

“HOWEVER. This time was different. For some unknown reason, they retreated after only killing around 40 people. Observing their departure, one of our strongest and most clever warriors, Mahsa Sadeqi, managed to attach a tracking device to an opponent she was fighting.”

A beehive-like murmuring sound came from the crowd as they marveled at this news. It also excited me. Way to go, Mahsa! I had seen her fighting that weird guy, but it was just like her to have the presence of mind to attach the tracking device. That way, we could follow them!

Sherman continued speaking, in a more passionate and animated manner.

“This time, we know exactly where they’re hiding! This time, we’ll show them what it’s like to be exterminated! When we’re the ones on the offensive, there is no one that we cannot defeat! We are Ircabim! We are the chosen ones! Our foes will be crushed by our divine power! This is our time to destroy this menace once and for all!”

The audience also grew to be more enthusiastic. They cheered and shouted triumphantly, enthralled by his encouraging words. At times like this, I could easily believe that there was no force on earth that Nahalore could not defeat. The very ground shook with the power emanating from the Ircabim.

“We may have been knocked down, but we will never fall for good! Nothing can match our incredible power! Nothing! We’ll make Teklos pay for what they’ve done, and then, Tsalderek will be next! Our destiny will finally be fulfilled!”

Immediately following the meeting, I attempted to seek out Mahsa. Kyle came along with me. It was difficult to make our way through the milling crowd, and even more difficult to reach Mahsa. She was very popular at the moment, and there was no way for us to get to her. After a few minutes of fruitless attempts at making it past the throng, Kyle and I were pushed back to the outside.

“Why do you need to talk to her so bad?” Kyle asked me.

“Sherman didn’t mention when the attack against Teklos would be, or who would be going.” I replied. “I need to go. I want to help in this fight.”

Kyle looked nervous. “Sera, why would you want to go? It’s gonna be really dangerous! Why in the world would you want to intentionally put yourself in danger, when you know that Mahsa and Doshi and a whole bunch of other amazing fighters can handle it?”

I was silent for a moment, before answering.

“I’m not sure. Maybe I’m not meant to be a warrior, I know. But somehow, I feel like I need to be a part of this. Even if I’m not some prophesied one, I’m still Seraphina. And Seraphina will fight. If there is any chance that I can do something to help, I’ll be there. And I have this feeling that they’re gonna need my help.”

My friend nodded, but still looked unsure. Just then, I heard a voice behind me.

“I’ve seen that in you, Sera. I’ve seen your willingness to serve.”

I turned, and saw Chaplain Todd Kopek sitting on a bench.

“If you were some exalted big shot prophesied Fiery One, you might not be willing to get down in the dirt to help other people. Maybe God gave you your seemingly insignificant power to teach you humility. That way, you wouldn’t be too high and mighty to offer aid to those in need, like some people I know.”

I nodded. I’d done a lot of thinking about stuff like that. God used a young boy David to beat Goliath, and He used a cowardly guy named Gideon to conquer an army. Maybe it was in His plan to use a little Zippo girl like me. I walked over to where my wise friend was resting, and Kyle followed me.

“That being said, I would advise you to stay out of danger. Everyone serves as a part of the body of Christ, and everyone has a job that they are meant to do. No one can do everything, and everyone shouldn’t do the same thing.

“However, I’m not going to try and tell you exactly what your part is. That’s between you and God. Life would be so much easier if we came born with little tags that said; ‘Chaplain’ or ‘Teacher’, or ‘Warrior’. But we don’t, so we need to figure it out on our own.”

He stood up, and looked around to see if anyone was listening.

“I know that if I don’t tell you, you’ll just find out by yourself, so here we go. Mahsa and a group of other powerful Ircabim are leaving here at around two this afternoon. They’re taking two helicopters, so that would mean about 16-18 people. I’m not exactly sure who’s going, but I know that you and I aren’t, so that narrows it down a little.”

Todd smiled, and I couldn’t help but following suit.

“Thanks, Todd. I knew I could count on you!”

“No problem. I know you didn’t really take my advice last time I told you to be careful, but I’m going to say it again. Please be careful. You made it back alive last time, somehow. I hope you can do it again.”

“Oh, yeah! I’ll be back alive. This should be a piece of cake!”

“I do like your confidence.” The chaplain said. “I know very well that you can’t be deterred. Just be careful, OK?”

I waved farewell, and Kyle and I started walking down to the mission preparation area, where I knew Mahsa would go next. On our way over, Kyle cleared his throat, and began to speak.

“Sera, um. You know that I can’t come with you on this, right?”

I nodded.

“Yep. I understand.”

“I’d really like to, but, although I don’t know what part of the body I am, I know what I’m not.” He continued. “I’d be totally useless in a battle situation, so I think I’ll just stay behind and pray for you guys, or something.”

“That’s just fine, Kyle.” I said honestly. “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt. Plus, there’s no one telling us that we have to, it’s just if we want to or not. I do, you don’t. No problemo!”

He lowered his head, and closed his eyes.

“Thanks for understanding, Sera. I just need to sit this one out.”

“Hey!” I tapped him on the shoulder. “That’s fine! I’ll see you after the mission tonight!”

“Yeah, uh, bye Sera. Be careful.”

I waved goodbye, and we parted ways. Several minutes later, I made it down to the mission prep center. There was a number of Nahalorian soldiers getting themselves ready. There were still about three hours left before they were to leave, but there was honestly not that much to prepare. All of the men and women went completely unarmed, so there were no weapons or ammo to worry about.

I noticed that Reese and Bethany were among those making ready for the immanent battle. Although it irritated me that they were chosen and I wasn’t, I could understand it. Their power was much higher than mine, and they had already been on a mission. They saw me as well, and wasted no time coming over to harass me.

“What are you doing here, little match?” Reese mocked me. “Coming to wish us luck?”

“Honestly, you’re probably demoralizing the men, just being here.” Bethany scoffed. “Considering how high everyone’s hopes were that you were some Fiery One or whatever.”

“I’m coming with you.” I stated flatly.

Bethany laughed.

“Your brain’s as dim as your flame! Don’t you know this is war? We’re going where the big kids play. You’d just get yourself, and probably other people, killed.”

“I’ve seen battle. I was in the middle of Teklos’ attack yesterday, and I’m still alive. Where were you?”

Bethany’s cheeks colored, and Reese burst out:

“Th-that’s not important. What is important is that we were chosen, and you weren’t.”

“Plus, there isn’t any more room on the choppers!” Bethany added. “You couldn’t come even if we wanted you to!”

Just then, Mahsa entered the room.

“Alright, maggots, listen up!” She barked. “Doshi’s still recovering from his injuries from yesterday, so he won’t be joining us. We can’t delay the mission, or they might figure out about the tracking device. Does anyone have any ideas of who could take his place?”

My hand instantly popped up. Mahsa had a look of confusion on her face.

“Uh, yes? Sera. Who do you think could- what are you even doing here? I don’t remember assigning you-“

“I volunteer! I’d be very happy to volunteer!” I shouted.

Mahsa put her face into her hands.

“Sera…you’re not ready for something like this. You’ll get yourself killed. It’s going to be dangerous-“

“I eat danger! Danger is part of a nutritionally balanced breakfast!”

Mahsa shook her head again. I pushed my way through the group of staring Exosia toward my commander. Upon reaching her, I spoke in a hushed tone only inches from her ear.

“You once told me that you wouldn’t let anyone tell you what you were or weren’t capable of. Well now, you’re on the receiving end. I’m coming with you. I know my power isn’t all that, but somebody I know taught me how to make the most of it, and that’s just what I intend to do.”

Mahsa smiled.

“Wow. I guess I was quite the bitch when I was getting trained, huh? Well, what goes around comes around.”

Then, she raised her voice.

“Alright, everyone! We will be accompanied on this mission my Sera. There’s no need to give her any special treatment or protection, she knows what she’s getting herself into.”

There was a substantial amount of mumbling around the room; some of it seemed good natured, some seemed very negative. However, no one openly objected. I guess I’m in! My stomach suddenly knotted, like a child’s who asks for something, then isn’t exactly sure they wanted it when they get it. There’s no way I’m backing down, though!

When it was almost time to leave, Bethany approached me.

“I’m not going to pretend that I’m happy about you coming with us.” She began. “But…I think we should try to make the best of it. Here.”

She handed me a small bundle of something. I unfolded it immediately.

“It’s…uh…a pair of socks.”

“Yeah. They’re, um, fire-proof socks. I figured that you could use ’em, that way your feet won’t catch on fire or something when you use your powers.”

Wow! I honestly can’t believe Bethany would do something like that! “Bethany, that’s great! Thanks a lot!”

“Yeah, uh, you’re welcome. They’re kinda for the mission, so, ya wanna put them on now?”

“Oh, sure! I really appreciate this. They’re awesome!” I took off my Converse sneakers, and hopped up and down trying to get a sock on.

“Oh, Sera? There are some chairs in the prep room back there.” She pointed to the next room over. “You wouldn’t want to hurt yourself right before going on your first mission!”

“Ah, good idea. Thanks!”

As I hopped out of the room, I thought about the gesture. What exactly did she mean by offering a gift? Did she want to bury the hatchet, and be friends, finally? If so, that would be A-OK with me. She didn’t seem like a bad girl at heart, once you got to know her.

While I was getting the second sock on, a voice sounded over a loudspeaker.


Crap! I’d better hurry! I forced the sock on, then ran out of the prep room to where I had left my shoes. Grabbing the right one, I slid my foot into it…right into some kind of disgusting slime.

“What the-“ I exclaimed, and pulled my foot out.

When I inserted a finger into it, the inside was even grosser and slipperier than I had thought. EW. What the heck was this, and where did it even come from? I stuck my left foot into the other shoe, only to find it was in the same condition.

“For crying out loud!”

The helicopters would be leaving without me if I had to go find more shoes, but I certainly couldn’t fight in a life-and-death situation wearing these! This conclusion was further evidenced when some of the greasy mess seeped out of my shoe after taking a step, causing me to slip and crash to the ground. While sitting on the ground in bewilderment as to what could have happened here, I suddenly started craving hamburgers.

“Hamburger grease. Brilliant, Bethany.”

Bethany, quite likely with the assistance of Reese, must have filled my shoes with hamburger grease. What a dirty trick! I oughtta…well, I couldn’t do anything now, until I found another pair of shoes. As fast as I could, I ripped off my now-ruined old trusty shoes, followed by the socks. Fire-proof socks! How could I fall for something so stupid?

I knew that the choppers would be taking off very soon. I had no time to lose! As fast as I could in bare feet, I ran to the supply room, which was next door to the preparation center. Luckily for me, there were extra socks, and some plug-ugly gaudy white Nahalore shoes. They were nasty compared to my black-market Converse that I had bought off of the driver of a delivery truck a year ago, but they’d have to do for now. I crammed my feet into them, and ran to the aircraft hangar…just in time to see the second helicopter flying out of the hidden door.

Great. Now what? Just then, I got an idea. I could try to catch up to them on one of the organization’s motorcycles, or at least follow behind if they wouldn’t land to pick me up. It took a couple of minutes for me to run at full speed down to the garage. I was totally out of breath, but that wouldn’t stop me from this! It was very important for me to go. I could feel it!

With squealing tires, I throttled the motorcycle, and took off. The garage was the entry point for Teklos’ invasion the day before, and the power was still out in the area, leaving security systems disabled. This actually worked out in my favor as I tore up the ramp and out into the early afternoon air. The helicopters hadn’t made it very far. Great. Maybe I have a chance!

I altered my course to follow them, until I was within 50 feet of the lower flying one. They hadn’t ascended very high yet, so I could still see the passengers.

“Hey!! Hey! Wait for me!” I shouted at the top of my lungs.

Bethany stuck her head and shoulders out of the side door, smiling wickedly. She mouthed the words I can’t hear you while pointing to her ear. I motioned with my hand for them to lower down, while still trying to keep my balance on the motorcycle. The girl shook her head, and waved her hand toward the base as though to tell me to go back. Well, so be it. I tightened my grip, leaned my body forward, and braced myself for the ride. If they weren’t going to let me up, I’d just follow them on the ground.

My antagonist seemed to recognize my intentions, because her expression darkened. Then, she released a powerful bolt of energy toward me. I attempted to swerve, but the force of the blast knocked the bike into the air. I was thrown clear as both my vehicle and I tumbled to the ground. Helplessly, I watched the helicopters disappear into the distance.

Groaning, I forced myself to my feet. I was covered in scrapes and bruises, but otherwise alright, thankfully. This would have been a good time for a normal person to give up, but not me. The harder they tried to keep me from coming along, the stronger my resolve to defy them and come anyway. Now…how to follow them…

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