Champions at Fire's End
About the Author
We had planned for everything, except Kim. And everything had been running according to plan, until the most peaceful moment under dazzling, warm summer sun had been forever ruined by a single chance observation. Of a hairpin. April was worried, I could see it in her eyes, the way she stared at Kim with menace masked by a smile. She was biding her time, waiting for our battle to become a fair fight. Then Kim, and whoever the fourth champion was, wouldn’t stand a chance. I barely did. I gazed out across the sea of students, any of whom could be my final opponent. I glanced to Kim as she trudged her way back across the shadowed tree line towards waves of colour and chanting which she had so effortlessly created only hours before. Each step fell, heavier than the last, strain growing more evident across her face with every movement towards the exit. She believed she was all alone, and she was running.
I sprung to my feet and dived through crowds of bustling students, weaving in and out between waves of bright blue, green, purple and red.
“Kim! Kim, hey, wait up!”
Her tiny body spun to face me as I caught her arm and let go. Deep hazel eyes greeted me, holding an uncharacteristic gloom over Kim’s usually rosy cheeks. Once perfectly straightened, sleek locks of chocolate brown hair hung in a stringy mess of tight curls, her features hunched and drawn. Kim’s air of strength and power melted away as she caught my gaze, leaving the dazzling blue and white outfit of half an hour ago seeming vacant and fragile.
“Kim, what’s wrong?” I asked, drawing her in closer.
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
Stubbornness burned to life and she twisted abruptly away to leave.
My rough hands caught her hips gently. Standing there together, an uneasy yet calming peace fell between us. She just looked at me with those big brown eyes, their spark of hope dwindling and on the verge of collapse. Wishing that I could be that hope when everything around her crumbled. But knowing that I don’t think I could.
“Noah,” she stammered, “we’re not…” Kim drew in a steadying breath to gather herself. A single tear fell, the only tear I’d ever seen in Kim’s eyes. “Noah was the only thing I could count on, in that whole school. But at the drop of a hat, his go-to reaction is to hang me out to dry…” “You’re not alone, Kim.” I held a hand out, finally realising she was talking about more than simply not having a lunch date at school tomorrow. But I was taken aback by her rapid breakdown, and hit with sharp awareness that a life of learning to fight someone else’s war hadn’t left me with the social skills required to handle this particular situation. All I had was the best I could manage, trusting instincts that I’d tried to suppress. “Come with me.”
Kim’s shaking hand met mine, her gaze holding firm.
“Where?” she hesitated.
“Do you trust me?”
Her hand closed firmly on mine. Then the swimming complex, with its joyous students and glittering colours, melted away into dusty darkness.
Kim recoiled in surprise. Her eyes darted, taking in every corner of our dingy new surroundings beneath the day’s fading light. Dark walls rose up around us. With sure footsteps, I walked between two dark green armchairs to a magnificent open fire in the wall furthest from us.
“Welcome to my lounge room,” I said, hesitant and suddenly self-conscious. “This is where I live.”
“What?” Kim spun around slowly, taking in the room, only to return her steely gaze to me after a moment.
“I thought I was alone, too,” I lied. “Lost in a world that I had no chance of fitting into. Then there was you…”
“But you can do things?” she asked. “Things that aren’t possible?”
I nodded. “Like getting us here, instantly. Because it is possible.” I held out a hand for Kim to see. Shards of glittering blue light emerged, piece by piece, until a ball of shimmering, bright blue crystals danced within itself, ice cold. “It can be scary, though. I know. But you don’t have to be afraid.”
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