Chapter 4: The Man Within the Flame
I awoke in a familiar landscape. A blackened field drowned in an ocean of fire. I stood up on what felt like ashen soil as a gust blew through the area, spreading the flames. A storm had arrived in this place and it had covered the land in a cleansing flame. I looked around and saw nothing but immolation. That is until my eyes detected something different. A man stood in the distance looking outward. A man I remember seeing before. A man I felt compelled to get to.
The wind howled at me like a fearsome wolf. I struggled to push on through the stormy plains as fire was kicked up like dust. I felt my feet battle for grip within the sand beneath me. I felt like I stood on a shoreline, within the sand dunes. The field of grass was much like the bank of shore. I slowly trudged forward as the man in the distance stared outward to a black sea. Trails of flame glided ahead of me through the sand and carved borders through the grass. The closer I got to the figure the stronger the winds became as I forced myself forward. I had to get to him. I had to get to that man. He was important. Something within me pulled me towards him as if his existence was pivotal to my own. The wind was growing more and more ferocious as I carried on. It was as if the wind’s soul purpose was to repel me no matter the cost.
At last I had gotten close enough to make out the details of this masculine figure before me. He stood only slightly taller than me. Draped over him was a heavy leather trenchcoat with a collar made of wolf’s fur. The tails of his long coat fluttered in the infernal wind that painted a hellish backdrop. As I moved closer towards the man I saw him turn to face me. He looked a lot like me, but his hair was slightly longer and he had a bit more scruff growing on his face. My eyes widened with realization as I witnessed the man’s mask. This man was my father.
“Father?” I spoke in a stutter as I struggled to find breath.
“Hey there kiddo.” said my father with a smile.
My mind reeled. This couldn’t have been real. Could it have?
“B-But I watched you die! How can you-!?” I exclaimed as my mind was sent into a spiral of confusion.
“Relax, this is all in your head. Just ask him.”
I turned to see a split image of myself standing next to the image of my father. There was only one difference between myself and the mirror. His eyes were the color of blood and glowed like the embers arising from the sodden ground. He looked as if he was angry with me.
“You and I need to talk. I bet you have a lot of questions and there is no better time to ask them than now.” spoke my doppleganger.
My father interrupted before I could even finish voicing my concern.
“She’ll be fine. This place is a part of your mind, time moves as slow as you want it to here. You can stay as long as you like and still be able to protect Terra.”
I took a minute to think. This place. This burning field, the shoreline, the black ocean. All of it was a part of my own mind. This was a dream, for lack of a better term. I turned to face my doppleganger. It was clear who he was supposed to be. The mirror was what my mind imagined the “other voice” looked like. My mind assumed he was a part of me since he lived within my body. The only difference was those eyes. His red eyes were the only thing that truly belonged to him it seemed. He gave me a stern glare before I finally asked my first question.
“I only want to know one thing.”
I felt the eyes of the “other me” fall upon me, as if he knew what I wanted to ask.
“Why am I alive?”
“You were saved. You were taken in by Professor Lockhart. He is a scientist who experiments with humans, turning them into walking weapons. You are his newest creation.”
“That’s not what I asked! Why am I alive!?”
“He must think you are important. After all the whole purpose of this experiment is supposedly to push humans passed their limits.”
“But why me!?”
“Wish I could tell you kid. There are things even I don’t know.”
“Then what are you supposed to be?”
“Lockhart refers to us as Second Personalities. We are almost like an artificial intelligence. We serve as a voice from within that can warn our host of danger and help them manage their abilities. We can also take control over the host’s body and enhance combat abilities.”
“What sort of abilities do I have?”
“If I am remembering correctly, manipulation of light and dark matter.”
I saw the image of my father step forward upon the “other me” concluding his explanation.
“Listen to me son. You may never understand why you were saved, why I died while you survived. But please understand this. I was happy to lay my life on the line for you. I am an old man, you have a full life ahead of you. The life you have may not be ideal, but anything is better than dying at the hands of another. Live out your days until you can die on your own terms.”
I spoke nothing as the words hit me. Were these thoughts my own? Where they simply what I’d imagine my father would say? Did my knowledge of my own father create a version of him that could speak as he would? So many questions seemed to pile up in place of what few were answered. Through my confusion my father’s voice spoke again.
“I love you son. You are my pride and joy. My slice of Heaven. Live on. Fight. Live to be older than your dad.”
My eyes began to water. As my tears began to glide down my pale cheeks I finally began to feel a warmth in my heart and a sense of belonging to the world outside the confines of my head and the burning seaside within. Some would call it fate or destiny. I don’t believe in those things. To me, destiny is a word used by people who can’t decide for themselves. They rely on something beyond them to choose their path for them almost at random. Sometimes they even let other people decide for them. To me the very notion of being unable to control my own life disturbs me. Maybe it is that disgust that made me so afraid to keep on living.
“You can wake up whenever you are ready, but once you do you are going to have to choose. You can fight Nina and protect Terra, or you can run and let her hold her own. You can’t avoid it any longer. Now is the time to stand.” said my “other me” as I stood there absorbed in my own thoughts.
My father placed his hand upon my shoulder as I prepared to ascend.
“Go foward son. Fight!”
With a brief flash of light and rush of pain, I awoke. I saw beauty burning to ashes. The greens, reds, and blues had all melted into a black mound of floral corpses. My body laid almost lifeless on the steaming wooden floor riddled with embers. As I came to my senses I saw something moving behind the flames. Then came another. Two figures fighting with savage ferocity.
I would always read stories when I was a kid. Stories about some princess locked away, helplessly awaiting the end of her world. Then she was saved by a handsome knight or a prince. This was such a strange reversal of roles to find myself in. I was the princess, locked away in a cage of flames. While Terra donned armor of stone and fought Nina tooth and nail. She was so strong, and I knew at that moment that this was the kind of person I had always looked up to.
Terra slammed her fist into the wooden floor and exposed the stone foundations beneath. I watched as rocks and rubble gathered at her arm and shielded her skin. Terra’s arms had been covered by stone armor. She lifted her foot upward to her stomach before slamming it down into the floor. I felt the ground shake and the floor collapse underneath Nina’s feet. Nina had wrapped her body in her flames and had vanished into the embers in the nick of time. Nina appeared behind Terra and lashed her in the back with whips of flame. Terra flinched and dodged the second strike with inhuman instinct. Terra turned and threw a punch into Nina with her rock entombed fist. Nina flew back into an ashen tree stump and spat out a wad of blood as she hit the torched bark. Terra dashed towards Nina and felt her fist collide with the tree stump. Nina leapt out of the way as Terra punched the burned tree, uprooting it in an instant. Nina struck out her hand and guided a gust of flame to Terra. Terra stomped her foot causing a ton of rock to shoot up from the dirt and create cover. The flames were divided by the upshot rubble which shielded Terra. Terra dashed towards Nina. She screamed as she ran, her fists raised and ready to pound into Nina’s perfect pale face. Nina grinned and caught Terra in her trap. Flames spat out from the ground as Terra stepped forward with fury. I watched as Terra was burned to a crisp and launched backward from the blast. I could hear a bone shattering sound as she impacted the ground and her face was buried in the charred wooden floor. I couldn’t take my eyes off that image no matter how hard I tried.
My eyes widened as I watched Terra lay flat on the ground. After a few seconds she began to struggle back to her feet. I watched as Nina approached her with her hands burning white. I remember thinking so many things at that time. So many thoughts racing passed my eyes like cars on a superhighway. One stood out above them all. Just one stood out. It stood out like the rustiest most agonizing jalopy on the motorway. I remember exactly what words I thought.
“Not again… I am not letting anyone die again!”
The memories of my father, and the image of him that had been left to live eternally in my mind, flashed by like a film reel. I couldn’t let it happen again. I wanted to go back to the swingset. I wanted to talk with her some more. I wanted to get to know her more. Instinct took over after that. I knew what I had to do. It was time to stand.
“Hey… If you can hear me, and I know you can. I need a weapon.” I spoke softly under my breath hoping the “other me” would listen.
Within seconds I felt a tingling sensation in my palm followed by a strange beam of light shooting forth and manifesting into the shape of a broadsword. Despite the shape it felt practically weightless.
“This sword is made of light matter. It requires very little movement on your part to wield. It is completely weightless and can be swung at incredible speed. Keep that in mind.”
“R-Right.” I spoke nervously as I nodded.
This was it. There was no turning back now. I had finally chosen to stand.