This story is by A.R. Harlow and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Morning dawned bright, almost burning the sunlight into her skin as a permanent mark of its rising. Before her lay a smoldering village, almost nothing left but ashes and unstable buildings. She could hear nothing in the village. There were no cries of people. The silence surrounding her was deafening and each breath she took felt too loud. Cracks, creaks, and crash sounds were resounding as buildings collapsed into themselves or onto the brick and cobblestones below. There was no turning back. Her powers had ruined everything. Everyone in the village was probably gone, or at least all badly burned. Her curse seemed to set her apart, she had never seen another person in her village struggle with a curse like hers and that made it even worse, her hands had caused this.
She was startled by the rumbling sounds she heard, carts carrying water that sloshed all over, some slipping through the cracks of the tall stones she was hiding within. Water lapped onto her legs and it seemed to quell some of the fire that was burning within her. She couldn’t hold back the sobs anymore. “What have you done, Maeleva?” Her words were forced out by the hoarse sobs that shook her entire body. The entire village had burned up. When her emotions got away from her the night previous, she ran to try to reign it in before it was too late. From just her earlier glance, she gathered it had been too late. There was rubble and ashes, smoke still billowing into the sky. She could not find the strength within her to get up.
She inhaled deeply to hold in the sobs. She could hear distant talking and her heart started to lift, though in the haze of her mind, she could not discern who this set of voices belonged to. Steps were falling all around her and more water sloshed between the rocks she was hiding in. It almost felt as though burns were spreading across her skin where the water touched.
“-ey the village can be reset. Could be worse.”
“Yeah, coulda had causalities and all that like.”
“Yes, mun. It is the first reset we have had to do since ole Alfin was a mere boy. I remember, when his wind gift came and blew down the whole thing, there was bits of me mums house for miles around. Poor kid thought he would be executed, I remember it fondly now.” The voices passed out of her range and she exhaled her breath. That was a strange. A wind-gift? Reset? What did all of that mean? She didn’t have much time to wonder about it. She heard steps that were nearer to her.
She pressed her ear between two rocks. This time came a familiar tell-tale cracking of a cane on the walkway. She knew it must be Alfin, the village wise man, and her most beloved friend. He was the one everyone went to when they had a problem or needed a friend. But. She was the one who spent the most time with him. Often sitting for long hours by the fireside listening to his recounting of many things of old he had done. “Yessir, could have been much worse. It can be reset. No lives lost, no objects even touched by the flames. We came off good.” He chuckled, his cane cracking along the rocks with ease
A crackling like a loaf of break breaking open resounded. It must be the baker, Prog. “Not like that time when some young fool with a wind gift let his affections for someone get out of hand and he blew away the whole village and all their belongings laid five towns over.” He joked with Alfin.
Alfin chuckled. “Aye. There was that time. No harm done then, either, though some boy was rather frightened. Nobody had mentioned a reset.”
The baker broke the bread again from the sounds of it and must have handed off a piece. With his own mouth full of bread he continued. “Has anyone seen Mael?” His nickname for her made her believe maybe she was not in that much trouble after all.
“No. Nosir. She hasn’t been seen, I think we ought to start searching for her she -“ the conversation was cut off the more water sloshing and the distance they had put between them and the rocks that Maeleva was listening from. Her heart tightened. She had two options.
She could run far away and never look back. Never finding closure to this event. That was probably the wiser of the two options. The second option, the one that she was going to follow, was going into the village and asking for their forgiveness and acceptance. After the confusing things she had heard, she couldn’t just let those go without finding out about them, and moreover, she could not walk away from her home and family. Her hands trembled and small flames licked her fingers as her emotions flooded her. A small scorch mark appeared on the ground beneath her and the curse she had began to flare once more. She inhaled calmly and exhaled calmly, the flames dying down from the brilliant red to a faded shade that blended with the skin tone at her fingertips. The only remaining coloration were the permanent marks that told everyone she had a fire-curse.
She walked with her head down, below to the village. The remnants set her heart with ice. She fell to her knees in the middle of the courtyard, only small stones of it remaining. “I give myself to my fate. My fire-curse has destroyed my beloved home. Our beloved home. I am eternally sorry and I know I do not deserve forgiveness for my terrib-“ she was cut off.
“You are forgiven, Maeleva.” Alfin walked over and lifted her chin and let her see the looks of concern. “The village has seen events like this before, ‘tis not a curse you bear but a gift.” He pulled her to her feet and brushed off her knees, his knobby hands banging against her legs awkwardly. Maeleva could not see through her tears. “Why, when I was a young man with my wind-gift, one I called a curse for many a year. I blew away everything. Injured countless. Elmep, she has a water-gift, hers flooded us every spring for six years in a row. There have been many before you, and many to come after, that will bear these elemental gifts and it is well.” He grinned widely. People of all sorts of elemental gifts giving a small display in the palms of their hands, exposing the branding of their elements that she had never even seen before.
“But, why am I finding this out now?” She questioned quietly.
A collective laugh came from the village. “Because, youngling, you had to first learn that your abilities were out of control, to learn to control them.” Prog stated, he put a hand on her shoulder. She saw the friendly faces, the people she loved, some had soot on them from the burning, but otherwise everyone appeared unscathed.
Mael let out a breath she had held in. “I can stay? We can… reset?” Her voice nearly broke under the weight of the what-if answers.
Alfin let his cane drop to the ground. It rolled over three times, and the village shifted. The burning fires went out and each building started to come back alive again. Stones fell into place, wood pillars and beams stood. In moments, the village was whole once more with no signs of the night before. Mael held her hands over her mouth and watched in awe of what happened. After it was finished, Alfin picked up his cane again and laid his hand on Mael’s arm. “You must stay. How else can we train you to use your gift? It has already done much to keep us warm during the cold snaps and start fires to roast on. You have much more to learn, Mael.” Alfin spoke more clearly than he had in years. There seemed to be a spring in his step and something in his overall appearance changed, though Mael did not give much thought to it at the time.
“The gift is never something to apologize over. The control you need will come with time and proper training. Just remember, one day, you will have to show some youngling that they are redeemed.” Alfin put his other arm around Prog. Mael looked at the marks on her hand and for the first time, she felt like she did not have to apologize for what she had. It was her gift.