After the Tilt: Book 2

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Chapter 28: The Rise

“A long time ago, before the tilt, people used to go camping as a leisure activity. They even had special parks for it called campgrounds. At these parks they would pitch their tents in neat rows, on small, cleared areas, separated by a few trees. They would then play at roughing it in the wilderness without electricity and running water, like it was some sort of a game or make-believe adventure. It’s hard to imagine now that anyone would put themselves into that situation by choice, let alone have it bring you joy and relaxation. Life must have been so different then.” Evian had spoken these words while staring into the firepit.

The planes had come and gone three more times, always the same; flying low above the tree line, making a few passes, then disappearing again. Unsure of Hardi’s intentions or the military’s next move, we had all agreed upon the status quo. So, we decided to sit tight and wait for our opportunity.

Winter would not let go; life was going by slowly, and I was avoiding Meyer and Evian as much as possible. Secretly, I had tried honing my Heighten Characteristic, but I didn’t know where to start. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack… except the needle was my unknown potential and the haystack was my body. I could have enlisted Meyer; I should have asked him for his help, but I couldn’t get past my pride… and neither could he, it seemed.

But tonight, we were all together. Evian had insisted that we join him. I was less than enthusiastic; I just wanted to be left alone.

As always, Evian had a grave expression on his face. It was hard for me to look at him for what he was: my little brother. We had been here under his care for just over a month, yet, I hadn’t been able to grasp his true character through the probable mask of dire expressions that he constantly wore. I felt no affinity with him. None. Too much had happened, too quickly, and I was still unsure how I felt about it all. I had to be wary of him, wary of everyone around me. Was he going to sell us out? I had no real sense of his motives.

For these reasons, I avoided him. But it was getting harder and harder to do. As time went by, as the planes returned again and again, a sense of urgency slowly developed and began to take hold of us all. Prisoners of the weather, we could only count the days until the temperature would become milder, allowing us to disappear deep into the woods. Evian spent more and more time with us; always watching, never participating. Sometimes, I’d catch a glimpse of him, lost in his thoughts. It scared me. His thoughts scared me. His ability to control thoughts scared me. I feared him.

Tonight, was different though. He wasn’t just watching. He was engaging. He had insisted that we all be here today.

Thus, here I stood by the edge of the fire, uneasy in his presence. So, I shifted my focus to Eli. She was right across from me, between Fiori and Meyer. The flames dancing between us were being reflected in her eyes. Her hair and skin had an orange glow, her lips, more of a dark red.

Staring at her is easy, I thought, as my heart flinched.

That sudden pinch in my chest was upsetting.

Is that how I feel about her? Have I ever felt like that about anyone else before? Eva? Maybe?

When did it start? The other night? Before?

She was looking directly into the fire; the usual frown of determination dominating her face.

What is she thinking about?

By her side, Fiori stood erect. He too, was staring straight into the fire. He didn’t have his usual smile. He looked tired. Still injured from the explosion, his recovery had been slow. He was after all, only human. He was a natural born leader and amidst everything, I was glad to be under his command. But since the explosion he had never been the same. If you looked closely enough, you could see it in his eyes from time to time. He didn’t protect his wife; he couldn’t protect my sister. That was the kind of burden this man lived with.

Jefferson, I thought.

Fiori moved ever so slightly closer to Eli. He whispered something in her ear. His hand reached out and squeezed hers. The frown on her face relaxed. They were still both staring into the fire. It was my turn to frown.

Evian was still talking. Something about Heighten Characteristics. I wasn’t really paying attention, as I was fixated on the two hands. I knew Fiori and Eli had become good friends. I knew they had been spending most of their time training together. So much had happened since the first explosion.

A lifetime will never be enough for me to catch up on everything. Including my own life. At that thought, my chest tightened again. My eyes hadn’t left their hands.

Is that jealousy? I wondered.

Their clasp finally released as Eli stepped forward. Evian had called her. I had no idea why. I really should have been paying attention. I watched her with anticipation.

She reached out into the fire and grabbed a piece of ember. She shrieked and dropped it.

The smell…

The palm of her hand was raw. I could already see the blisters forming. Her jaw was clenched. She was in obvious pain. Fiori gently poured some water on the burn to soothe her.

It isn’t jealousy. It’s envy.

Evian resumed his address.

“There are three Heighten Characteristics currently identified by scientists. As we all know, Eli possesses one of them. She has regenerating properties, allowing her to recuperate and heal from an injury or overexertion at an incredible speed. Of course, it does not prevent her from getting hurt or feeling pain, but it greatly increases her chances of survival.”

Eli was now flexing her hand. The blisters were gone. The look of pain on her face was too. Her hand was still red, still tender looking, but it was a far cry from what it had been just a minute before. No one was surprised, after all, we had all seen it already. So, what was the point of bringing us here tonight? Why did Evian feel the need to showcase Eli’s characteristic?

The fire had gotten bigger. Meyer had been consistently feeding it more wood. The heat was becoming unbearable, at least to the others. They all took a step back as the flames rose up higher in the sky.

What is he going to show us next? I wondered.

Surely, he wasn’t about to ask Eli to walk through the fire, as we could all agree, he had certainly made his point already!

Eli is amazing.

My heart skipped a beat.

I sighed.

Amazing? Is that what she is to me?

I chased that idea out of my head. As if he had heard me thinking, Fiori set his piercing eyes on me. He was now the one frowning. I swallowed hard.

“Fenn!” said Evian.

“FENN!” he called again.

It startled me.

“Ugh? Me?”

My mind started racing. Once more I had the sinking feeling I should have been paying attention. Evian was calling my name, but I was clueless as to why.

“Just trust me,” he said.

Trust was not a word I was ready to use with him.

“I know you can do it!” he added.

But, do what!?! I asked myself.

My heart was throbbing out of my chest unable to calm down.

Evian had spoken. He was now next to me, gently pushing me towards the fire.

“I… I… I don’t understand,” I babbled.

“Do it,” he whispered. “Walk through the fire.”

He smiled.

I was dumbfounded.

A million thoughts crossed my mind.

This is suicide! I am not Eli! I don’t have any regenerating abilities.

I looked at Evian in panic.

“Trust me,” he said again.

“No! NO! Are you out of your fucking mind!” I blurted out.

Evian heaved a sigh.

He put his hand on my shoulder. I shrugged. I pushed him away from me. On my back, I could feel the heat from the fire. Or was it the heat of my anger?

From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Fiori making his way toward me. The intensity and sense of purpose in his stride scared me.

What is he going to do?

I braced myself.

“Fenn, you need to listen to what Evian says. Just give it a try. Sooner or later, you’ll have to trust him. He knows things we don’t,” Fiori warned me.

Why is he siding with Evian?

I looked up at Eli. She was faintly smiling at me. She too wanted me to try.

Total betrayal.

I kicked the ground with my foot. Jamming my toes against the frozen dirt.

Only Meyer was avoiding my eyes. He was intensively staring at his feet. He had been so quiet since all of this had started, which could only mean one thing: he was part of this set up.

Evian moved closer to me. Before I could notice him, he whispered in my ear: “And how do you think you survived the second explosion…?”

I spun on my feet and faced him. I was a good head taller than him. I was bigger too. My whole body had tensed up in a surge of rage. My lips were tightly pressing against one another. My fists were clenched, ready to hit.

He had knowledge.

He knew things.

Just the same way Hana had known things.

But they weren’t telling me anything.

No one was telling me anything.

I was always left to guess.

Always in the dark.

Always left to piece back together little bits of information.

And that was really starting to piss me off!

He was calmly looking at me. That alone made me angrier. I raised my arm and took a full swing at him.

Before my fist could connect, Fiori grabbed me from behind.

“Fenn listen to me. I get it. Ok! I get it! I get your anger. This whole world is one big fucking lie. But THIS is bigger than all the bullshit you’ve been through. This is bigger than all the lies you’ve been told. Lies that allowed you to get where you are! You have a chance to make a difference. You can do it, and it starts here with Evian.”

He released me. I didn’t know what to do. My fists were still clenched.

Everything in his voice was genuine. I had no reason to distrust him. As a matter of fact, Fiori was the only person left that I could trust. That I could really rely on! I closed my eyes trying to clear my mind. Trying to calm down.

I hadn’t noticed but my heart was doing this weird thing, as if it couldn’t settle into a rhythm. I placed my hand over my left chest. I could feel the pumping. I could feel the heat too. The heat on my skin and the heat inside my body. I opened my eyes. Eli was right across from me. Only the fire separated us. So beautiful. So powerful. So amazing. For all that it’s worth, I wouldn’t walk through the fire for Evian, but I would do it for Eli!

I think Fiori knew that too; he whispered to me: “Time to show her what you can do!”

What I can do…?

I inhaled deeply and took one step forward. What happened next, I still can’t explain.

It was like time stood still. Everything and everyone around me froze. The fire stopped dancing, but it was still there. Evian and Fiori stopped breathing, but they were still alive. The heat should have been unbearable, but it wasn’t. Then a wind, a powerful wind, picked up and I was at the center of it. I was a funnel of wind. A tornado of fire and ashes. I spread my arms and took it all in. I felt my body burn but it wasn’t painful. It felt good. It felt amazing. Like a surge of power. I wanted more. I stepped forward and took it all. One step at a time, leaving a trail of ashes where the fire once burned.

Then as quickly as the wind came, it was gone.

I was standing directly in front of Eli; her mouth and eyes were wide open. I turned around to see what she was staring at…

I smiled.

I looked at my hands and I smiled.

Evian and Fiori walked over what was once the fire. They walked straight through it, lifting a cloud of ashes from the bed as they moved.

They had the same look on their faces, that Eli had on hers.

It was Meyer that broke the silence: “Heat is energy. You were able to absorb the thermal energy from the fire, consuming it. You did the same when the bomb went off, didn’t you? It’s embedded in you. At least that’s what your file says. It’s an automatic self preservation reaction from your body.”

He took a minute before continuing, giving me the time to let it sink in.

I glowed with pride.

The fire was burning within me.

I was the fire.

Meyer took a step forward. It was a challenge. He spoke loud and clear for all to hear: “Now the question is, what else can you do with it? How else can the energy transfer be applied? Your file says you should be able to give energy back, but you’ve never mastered that skill.”

“You must master that skill, Fenn!” pleaded Evian.

“The planes, they will be back. Sooner or later the military will make their move. We are all training as hard as we can, but Fenn, we need you. We all need you if we hope to get out of this alive,” Fiori softly implored me.

I knew he was right. Fiori was always right, even when he was wrong.

It was unlike myself, but with absolute certainty I declared: “I’ll do it. I can take energy. Now I will learn to release it!”

“Like a weapon,” Eli pondered out loud.

“Like a human super weapon…” Evian said lost in his thoughts.

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