Authors: K. Gorman
Tags: #teen, #urban, #young adult, #magic, #power, #science fiction, #fire, #elemental, #element, #fantasy, #adventure
The Mieshka Files, Book One:
Into the Fire
Amazon Kindle Edition
Copyright © 2013 by K. Gorman
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from K. Gorman.
Cover art by Streetlight Graphics
Editing by Derek Prior
Cuong is awesome.
The bomb broke over the valley. Its concussion cracked through the shadowed backs of Lyarne’s Uptown skyscrapers. By the time Robin saw it, shrapnel had spread into a great grey cloud, outlining the slight curve of the city’s shield. Echoes percussed her ribs. To her left, traffic sped at a light; two women handed fliers to passersby; and the crowd rushed into the station behind her. The city ignored the blast.
Lyarne’s shield was bombproof. Nothing got past.
She watched the smoke spread.
The busy Uptown street turned down into its shadow, and Lyarne’s lower city glittered in the valley. The bomb-smoke stretched its dirty grey fingers like a bad omen. The twin peaks of the Sisters rose in the backdrop, their jagged, snow-capped crowns scraping the blue sky.
A glint flashed to the Elder Sister’s left; a tiny fleck in the brilliant sky might have been the bomber returning to its base. Robin shivered. Lower Lyarne might bask in the light, but Uptown was already shaded by the mountains backing it to the west.
She spotted her friend at the lip of the subway’s stair. Meese was a new friend—her real name was Mieshka, but ‘Meese’ had stuck from the first day of school. She was a refugee from Terremain, standing a couple of inches taller than Robin’s five foot six. Today, she’d pulled a blue beanie over her orange hair. Robin wished she’d thought of that this morning. Winter came quickly in the mountains. Instead, she hunched her shoulders and drifted through the crowd to Meese, who stared at the sky.
“I see the war’s still on, eh?” said Robin.
A small howl of wind was her only answer. It pulled her toward the subway stair, pushing through the cotton of her hoodie. She angled her shoulder against it. “Don’t worry. Nothing gets through the shield.”
Meese’s brown eyes slid sharply to Robin’s. She did not speak. Robin noticed a tension in her friend’s body as Meese’s stare returned to the sky.
Quietly, Meese spoke:
“Nothing gets through except for good news.”
The newscast’s slogan. Robin smiled.
“That’s right. Ready for Jake’s one-liners tonight?” The anchor was famous for his bomber jokes.
The red-head shrugged and slipped down the stairs. People filled Meese’s absence immediately, piling down into the subway. Wind flapped the sides of Robin’s hoodie as she lost her friend in the crowd. Maybe Meese didn’t appreciate Jake’s jokes.
It took Robin a bit longer to find a spot in the rush. Her backpack, heavy with textbooks, made her teeter down the stairs. Around her, the crowd flowed like a stream, and she followed it through the tunnel, going steadily deeper until they were well beneath the streets. The wind followed her down, its howl hushing the stamp of several hundred feet.
In a minute, subway gates opened to her left, shops on the right. Her toe caught on the raised floor stripes meant for the blind. The crowd shifted, and she stumbled into a newspaper stand.
She caught up to Meese at their gate. Together, they flattened their school cards against the sensor and walked through. The train schedule scrolled across a marquee near the ceiling.
“We’re going to Sale, yeah? Five minutes?”
Meese nodded. Already, queues had formed where the car doors would stop. Meese and Robin stood between two of those, toeing the red line that warned of the platform’s edge. Three tracks lay in the dark gravel four feet below. The middle one was yellow where the paint had not turned into a dark rust-brown. On the other side a concrete wall rose, papered with several recruitment posters. In each, a female soldier held a large gun, the snow-stubbled peaks of the mountains rising in the background.
Meese stared at one, stiff as a board. Robin followed her gaze, recognizing the artillery insignia on the soldier’s left breast. The sergeant stripes put a sharp yellow on the moss-green uniform.
“Your mom was a soldier, wasn’t she?”
Meese turned away, her hands clenched. Below the crackle of announcements on the PA, Robin heard a quiet whine. Meese’s shoulders shook.
Meese slipped into the crowd with a tiny sob. Stupid,
, Robin thought as she went after her. She needed to be more careful. Meese wasn’t a normal friend. People shoved between them, trapping both girls momentarily. Robin glimpsed Meese’s beanie as she turned in a slow circle. Then Meese pushed past a suited man and burst out of the gates like a frantic racehorse. Robin swore, shoving past the crowd. The gates snickered apart. She tripped against their side as she cut the corner.
Meese had turned left, away from the entrance. Robin followed her friend deeper into the tunnels, past subway gates, stairs to other levels, and snack kiosks. When she passed the last set of gates, the crowd began to thin. Both girls opened into a sprint. Robin’s sneakers pounded against the tile, her backpack jostling her as she ran. She dodged around a corner, eyes glancing down an empty hallway. Halfway down, Meese slumped against the wall.
As Robin watched, Meese slid down into a crouch, curling away from the hallway.
Robin paused for a moment, considering. The few shop stalls here had closed for good, sliding metal curtains guarding their faces. One had upgraded to a metal cage, behind which the glass windows advertised a sale six months expired. Rubble and ruin filled the room behind the dusty window.
Robin approached her friend slowly, sneakers tapping quietly on the scuffed beige tiles. In the distance, muffled by many echoes, she heard the chirps and announcements of the subway. A thin wail followed her up the hall. She knelt beside Meese, putting a gentle hand on her friend’s shoulder.
Meese trembled. Between her hands, she held a crumpled Kleenex. Her head bowed, orange hair falling straight like a curtain where it hadn’t caught under her backpack.
“I don’t think I should go to Sale today.” Meese’ voice broke like a corrupt music file.
“I shouldn’t have asked. I wasn’t thinking.”
Meese curled away. A few tears splattered on the floor. Robin heard a weak laugh.
“I’m not a good friend. Friends should be able to talk about anything.”
“That’s not true. It hasn’t been that long since…” Robin cut herself off. She wasn’t going to go down that path again. Glancing around, she looked at where they’d ended up. She hadn’t been down this way for a while.
Her eyes caught on a set of stairs that rose at the end of the hallway, their top yawning into an archway. Through the arch the hall turned dim, light flickering within. She recognized the place. “Say, we don’t have to go to Sale. Not today.”
Meese followed her gaze up the stairs.
“What is it?”
“The Fire Mage’s temple.”
“Temple?” As Meese eyed the end of the hall, Robin saw wet streaks on her face. Meese’s eyes were raw and red. She sniffled again.
The temple would be good, Robin decided. People didn’t go there anymore—too concerned with going from Point A to Point B to bother about much beyond the gates, she supposed. It would be like hiding.
“That’s what everyone calls it. They say that the Fire Mage’s ship is under it. You know about the ships, right?”
The Mages had crash-landed on this world. They’d used their ships—special ships, all black metal and magic—to slice through the dimensions, fleeing from their old world. Technically, they were refugees. Three lived in Lyarne, and a fourth in nearby Terremain. They used elemental magic. They had built the city’s shield.
“I’ve seen pictures.” Meese stood up, swaying a little as she balanced against the wall. The thin wail of the distant subway tunnel howled up behind them, with sounds of many, many people. Robin stepped ahead of it, leading the way. The noise was just echoes, and it faded as they passed under the archway.
Their shoes tapped on the stone floor, and Meese’s ragged breaths seemed to grow louder. The hallway was so quiet she heard the books in her backpack shift. Where earlier she’d felt the press of people, she now felt their absence.
Past the threshold, the dimness enveloped them just like the quiet. Light moved as through water, rippling in lines and arcs across the walls. It struck her as odd for a fire temple. Stone walls rose on either side. The watery light illuminated the concrete ceiling in a dim blue glow.
Carved into the walls were monsters.
She stared at them. In the light, they seemed to move in the corners of her eyes. Not all were monsters. A winged horse flew above a kraken. An eagle skirted the sun. She looked closer. No, not an eagle. A firebird. She fished for the name: phoenix.
Running water grew louder ahead. The two girls crept toward it.
The hallway funnelled them into a large, circular room. Robin remembered this. The room had two parts: a shallow, circular pit and a pillared hallway. The pit took the heart of the room, separated from the hallway by two stone steps. The light had changed again. Robin, expecting this, followed the outer wall around. Above her, columns upon columns of words glowed a fiery orange. She stared at the letters, recognizing the Mages’ old language. The characters had a strange Asiatic-Cyrillic shape, glowing on the wall like lines of fire on charred wood. Watching one, she saw it flutter into flame.
This was the Fire Mage’s temple, after all.
Her hand traced the wall, monsters rising and falling to her touch.
Greco-Roman pillars bordered her left. In between were the steps down to the pit. In the pit, backing the opposite side, was the fountain. It had three layers of waterfalls and three small, wizened trees in front. Above the fountain was a screen.
It hovered in mid-air, its orange base translucent like a holograph. She’d heard it was powered by Lost Technology—stuff from the Mages’ old world. It definitely looked magic. She bet she could throw something right through and it wouldn’t even blink.
This kind of screen could not be replicated, no matter how hard Lyarnese scientists tried.
On it, glowing the same bright yellow-orange as the rest of the room, were more words. These ones were not in columns, but a line.
She smiled up at it, wondering, then turned back to Meese.
Her friend had paused by a pillar, a toe exploring the steps down to the pit. Shadow hid her expression. From behind, the burning orange letters made her hair seem blonde. Her eyes slid around the room in a slow circuit. Robin’s smile faded. Finally, Meese looked up to where the orange screen carried its message above them all. Its single line of words glimmered in the air.
Meese stepped down, and Robin’s worry rose.
In this light, Meese looked skinny. She hunched over, one arm gripping the other across her abdomen. The walls limned her in orange. When she stepped forward, the screen’s light blazed onto her face. Her eyes remained dark.
Robin felt something go cold inside her.
Meese stared at the screen for a long time. Her next words haunted Robin.
“This isn’t a temple. It’s a memorial.”
Aiden, Fire Mage of Lyarne, sat behind his desk staring at the computer screen. Windows lined one wall, and the light filtered through the dove-grey blinds on his right. The sun had set, and twilight produced a dim, watery effect on the room.
He watched a graph. One line plotted the energy output of the city’s shield over time. The second showed the stored energy. The first was a relatively flat line. No slope. The second declined at an alarming rate.