The Lair

The guy at the end of the bar looked like a lifelong homeless man at the end of his final bender. His clothes, which were numerous and layered to make up for how thin they were, didn’t have a spot that wasn’t soiled. He stunk like an abandoned Honey Bucket. His hood was pulled over his head and the other drinkers gave him a wide berth, because of the smell or the look of desolation Victor couldn’t tell. Not that The Lair was a respectable joint, it was a dive bar with poor lighting to hide all the stains from bodily secretions of every kind. Criminals would’ve loved to turn into a den of dealers and pimps, but it was Vic’s place and that didn’t fly.

Ronnie had brought the man to Vic’s attention.
“You want me to toss him out?”
“No, he looks like a stout fella. I’ll take care of it.” Ronnie looked relieved.
“Thanks boss. You know I don’t like…” He made a pushing motion with his hands. “Confrontation.”
“Yeah I know Ronnie. That’s why I hired you.”
Which was the truth. Vic learned the hard way that he had be careful not to get some dip shit kid looking to make a name for himself. Ronnie was perfect, meek, friendly when you got past his shyness and smart. Vic could handle the heavy work. He thought of working with Doctor Zartron in the good old days. It brought a smile to his face and he wondered how Doctor Z was doing.
“Alright. Time to eighty-six the homeless guy.” Vic said to Ronnie.

Vic walked over and stood next to the man. I’m gonna’ smell you for weeks, he thought. The man didn’t move didn’t acknowledge him in any way.
“Hey buddy.” Vic said.
“Are you the bartender?” The man asked.
“The owner. No offense pal but you have to go, you’re hurting the business.”
The man didn’t say anything. Vic leaned forward to look past his hood.
“Hey look at me. You on drugs? I don’t want to call the cops but I will.”
“I’d like your cheapest vodka, pleas. I have money.” His hands shook as he pulled a handful of dirty bills and coins from his pocket and placed them on the counter.
There was something familiar about his voice, Vic couldn’t place it but he was sure he heard it before.
“Look pal. We’re not serving you tonight. Take your money back and get lost. I ain’t asking nice again.”
The man turned to face Vic. His face was grimy and bruised with dried blood on his lip and cheek. His eyes were empty, a man waiting to die. Ready to move on and meet the next life or no life.
“I just want a few drinks. I don’t cause trouble.”
Vic just stared at him, wide-eyed. He was looking at a ghost. Trent Snow was dead, better known as Quicks, but still dead. Trent stood up and broke Vic from all the questions running through his head.
“I’ll leave.”
“No. Don’t worry about it. Wouldn’t throw a man out who’s clearly had a rough night.” Vic said with an awkward smile. “Ronnie line him up with a nice vodka.” Trent tried to object. “Don’t worry I’ll give you the good stuff for the cost of the bad.”
“Thank you you’re a kind man.”
Trent grabbed the glass as soon as he Ronnie poured it. Ronnie gave a Vic a questioning look.
“Leave the bottle. It’s the least we can do.” Vic said. Trent finished the first glass and poured himself another.

“What’s going on boss?” Ronnie asked when they were at the other end of the bar.
“I don’t know, but you should take the rest of the night off. Let the regulars know we’re closing early and then lock the door on the way out.”
“Okay. You’ll let me know?”
“Soon as I do. Ronnie do it slowly. I don’t want the guy at the end of the bar to know.”
Ronnie nodded and went back to cleaning behind the bar. Stealing glances at the man at the end.

Vic took a seat in the back corner booth and made a call. He kept his on Trent.
“Brainiac what’s the good word?” Vic said.
“The good word is I’m free, clean, and not interested in any of your schemes.”
“Alright. Take it easy I’m not calling about a scheme. Jesus how long has it been 10 years?”
“Still the same Vic.”
“Man that is hardly fair. How long are you gonna hang Claire’s death on me?”
“Maybe until she comes back to life is that fair!”
Vic almost snapped the fun in his hand. He breathed deeply and reminded himself Trent Snow, aka Quicks was a live and drinking in his bar.
“Look, I didn’t call for a fight. I just wanted some information on those Quicks theories of yours.”
“You laughed at me the last time I brought those up. Why the change of heart?”
Vic paused. “No reason, just settling a barroom wager.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“What do you mean what’s in for you? I just want a little information Brainiac.”
“Search the net and my name is Brody.”
“Yeah, but that’s the name for a douchy jock.”
“It’s my name Victor.”
“Fine. What do you want, Brody?”
“My support group needs a better place to meet. I hear you have a bar.”
“We’ll, no guarantees on it being a better place. I’ll give you Sunday mornings.”
“That’ll work. What’s your email address?”
“Ahh, mrfixit@aboo.com. Why?”
“So I can send you the research I’ve done, Jesus you were never the brains.”
“Yeah not my gift. Thanks for the help Brainiac.”
“Sunday, 9am.”
The phone beeped twice and Vic slid it back into his pocket.

A few of the regulars were already heading out they gave him a nod as they left. Good job Ronnie, Vic thought. Quicks still sat slumped at the bar. The bottle almost empty. What the hell happened to you? Vic pulled the plug on the open sign by the door. Across the street was an SUV decked out in bullet proof armor with a grill guard a warlord would envy. This part of town wasn’t bad enough for reenforced muscle like that. Some war-zones aren’t bad enough. The lights flicked on and the motor turned over. It had powerful roar but an odd electrical hum. You’re getting sloppy old man, shouldn’t have been gawking at our friends for so long.

Quicks here, an unmarked g-man carriage parked across the street. This night just keeps getting better. “Yo Ronnie.” Vic waved him over. “Call a cab for everyone on my dime, one for you too.”
“You sure? I’m just two blocks up.”
“Yeah I’m sure. Get everyone out of here now don’t worry about spooking our friend I’ll just freshen up his bottle.”

Vic poured the remaining liquor into Snow’s glass. He dropped the empty in a bin under the bar and pulled out another bottle. “Ta-da.” Vic said as he knocked on the bar.
“You still with us?”
Snow lifted his head from his arm. “Yeah.”
Vic tapped his full glass.
“I can’t afford that.”
“How about a trade? Tell me what happened to you tonight?”
“One or two assholes having some fun with someone who doesn’t matter.” He grabbed the glass and took a long drink.
Vic opened the fresh bottle and topped off the glass.
“These assholes have it in for you?”
“They have it in for everyone.” He took another long drink and Vic filled the glass.
“You hold your liquor well.”
“I have a fast metabolism. You have any pretzels?”
“Yeah. One sec let me get the bowl.”

At the other end of the bar he saw Ronnie heading out with the last of the customers. The bowl of pretzels looked barren he picked up the bag to refill it, but stopped. “Awe fuck it.” He said and carried the half empty five-pound bag back to the other end of the bar.

He set it with the mouth of the bag facing Snow. “Help yourself.” Snow looked at the bag then looked at his hands. “Don’t worry you can take the bag if you like them.” He reached in and grabbed a handful and set the pile down on the bar. Snow popped them into his mouth one at a time.
“Why are you being so nice to me? I can’t do anything for you.”
“Can I ask you something? This might sound crazy but how did you get to be here?”
Snow slammed the glass back in one shot. Vic filled it again and he drank it even faster.
“The same way we all do. Bad choices. Trusting the wrong person.” He tapped the glass for another refill.
“Whoa buddy I don’t want to kill you.”
“I haven’t done it in 10 years, I doubt you’ll do it in one night.” Vic noticed his words picked up a slight slur.
“Okay, but you have to tell me your name.”
“Trent Snow.” He tapped the glass.
“Trent, the names Vic.” He filled his glass almost to the brim. “What did you do before all this, Trent?”
“Why do you care?”
“Just curious. You don’t seem like the type of man who ends up homeless. You have a family?”
Trent finished the glass of booze and stood up. “Thanks but I have to go.”
“Whoa easy. Didn’t know family was a touchy subject. Sit down I’ll pour you another, you don’t have to answer anything.” He filled the glass again.
“You do. What do you want from me?”
“Nothing. You just remind me of a guy I used to know. Long time ago he did me a huge favor and I never repaid him. We cool?”
“Yeah.” Snow sat back down. Vic pulled out another bottle of liquor.
“I’ll leave you be.” Vic said. “I’m heading into the back to do some, inventory.”
“Inventory?”
“Yeah,” Vic smiled, “it’s a slow night might as well get something done.”
Trent looked around the room realizing it was empty for the first time. “You’re not worried I might steal something?”
“No, something tells me I can trust you. You need anything help yourself. Radio’s across from the register.” He walked off into the back room.

He sat down at the overflowing desk and turned on the monitor that showed the bar. Snow was knocking back bottles of liquor like they were cans of beer. Christ, Vic thought, this is gonna cost me more than I thought. When he finished his last bottle he moved from the stool to behind the bar and back to the stool so fast he barely left a streak on the monitor. “Quicks.” Vic said. A harsh light filled the bar Snow turned just as the door burst open. “What the fuck!” Vic yelled. Snow was gone before he finished yelling.

Outside in the cold Trent Snow ran faster than light. The world stopped, light became patterns of colors rolling like waves in an ocean. He smiled. The pain was a dull throbbing in his head thanks to all the liquor Vic had given him. He felt good, the best he’d felt in years. Tears streaked off his face and became motionless before falling behind him.

Vic ran out to the bar and a sonic blast knocked him to the end of the bar. He crawled out from behind the bar and saw four people standing in front of him. Three men and a lady. All wearing corporate suits all tactical and drab, no sense of style. The lady lifted him up, impressive as she barely reached his chest. She was strong, and from the looks of it some sort of rock mutation afflicted her skin. It was off grey and tiny pebbles blemished her skin. She shoved him against the wall. “What did you give that man? What did you tell him” She demanded in a gravely voice.
“What man? What the fuck are you talking about.”
Her hard stone hand struck him across the face. Vic was starting to get mad.
“Listen sweetheart I got rights and until I see your writ for use of meta powers I’m not saying shit, but get the fuck out before I call the cops.”
“No writs needed when intervening in a meta crime. Looks like Mr. Fix-It has returned to his old ways.” One of the guys in the back said.
Vic shook his head. “You fucking moron. My old ways of robbing my own bar! You want it the hard way that’s fine, I could use the exercise.”
Energy grew and crackled from the hands of the douche bag on his left. That ones raring to go, so he’ll go first, Vic thought.
“No that won’t be necessary.” The tall one said “Base wants us back on target. Consider this a fortunate night.”
“What do you care about some bum?”
The tall man stepped forward. “I suggest you forget about him, if you value keeping this dump.”
Vic drove his hand up and between the rock ladies arm and yanked her off-balance. He punched her in the face and she staggered back. She turned to strike him but the tall man placed an arm on her shoulder. “Not now Roxy.”
Vic stood with his hands to his side. “Get outta my dump.”

Milton

I shall call him Milton.

He was an average man. So normal and plain that most people never really saw him. He was always moved to the back of a conversation, or mitigated to a silent observer for a monologue. Which always brought a deep moment of clarity for the speaker. They would often proclaim him a great listener and surely he would be thought of as such if they ever thought of him. But they didn’t.

If you picture Milton as a slumped, rumpled, chump you’ve done him a disservice. For Milton always stands tall. Though he isn’t tall. He’s too short to be tall, but too tall to be short. He’s just sort of middling in stature. He makes the average feel tall, the short feel taller, and the tall, well they always feel tall. I’ll say one more thing, though you may find it strange, some days it seems as if his height has a range.

Now, if you picture a face that was pale and downtrodden once more you’d be wrong for his countenance was never sullen. Milton had a smile that made you feel welcome. It was far from glamorous, but so familiar that you’d smile back with thoughts of old friends, family, or home. It was this way, of setting people at ease, that got them talking as much as they pleased. But his smile never stood out on its own. You couldn’t get one person to picture it clearly for it just called to mind thoughts of home.

Now I come to the biggest revelation, that Milton is not one of us, no, he’s a stranger. I don’t mean an unknown person. I mean he comes from some other planet. How else could he be so fittingly normal? He makes us all talk and go on much too much, and then we forget him like a pleasant dream upon waking. We’re just left with this feeling that something’s occurred.

But now I know this Milton for what he, or it, is. And I’ll get to the bottom of his dastardly scheme. The only thing that stands between the world and he is me.

I wrote this nearly a week ago it seems. Now, for the life of me, I can’t recall who Milton seems to be.

Fire Nation Fables – Tales from Avatar

Kenta was small for his age, but possessed a certain tenacity that caused more trouble for him then he deserved. Though he was short and frail he had a gift for fire bending. Because of his size he was often overlooked by the instructors who favored a mix of physical might and bending abilities. The Nation frowned on any sign of weakness from its people and Kenta’s size was a sign of inferiority. The Instructors kept him out of advanced teachings, even though he had bested all of the students in that class. The students retaliated by holding him down and burning obscene gestures into his skin. Shortly after that Kenta left the school. His parents didn’t mind and used it as an excuse to throw their son out of the house.

Kenta walked along the street with his friend Himi. They talked of great fire benders and struck dramatic poses bending an imaginary fire. Distracted by their day dreams and play they walked right into an old blind woman.
“Please young man spare a coin for an old woman?”
Himi looked at her filthy rags and gnarled hands and pulled away in disgust. But Kenta took pity on her. He knew what it was like to be looked over without mercy.
“I don’t have much Honored Grandmother, but what I do have is yours.” he said with a bow. Himi looked shocked as Kenta emptied his purse into her hand. It wasn’t much. Barely enough to buy two meals.
“Bless your pure heart my boy. I heard you speak of great Fire Benders. The greatest of all lives down the river. Burns cover his body from the power he’s embraced. When you see him do not scream.” she squeezed his hand and left.

“I don’t know who’s crazier that old lady or you for giving her all your money.” Himi said.
“Do you think there really is a great fire bender down there?” Kenta asked.
“Now I know you’re crazy. When was the last time you saw a great bender with burns? That’s part of the skill not getting burned.” he shook his head and made a mocking face at Kenta.
“You’re probably right. I guess I’ll have to catch my dinner tonight. You want to go fishing with me?”
“Nah, I have a delivery to make for Santo. I’ll catch up with you afterwards though.”
“Okay, I’ll catch some for you.”

That afternoon Kenta walked further down river than he had before. When he saw the makeshift camps he realized he was well outside the city bounds. It would be dark soon and he hadn’t even started to fish. He wondered if he should head back. This far downriver wasn’t a safe place alone. Two men in dingy clothes eyed him closely as they walked toward him on the river path. They unnerved him, but kept walking. Don’t be a coward, he thought, just catch some fish and go.

Dusk settled in before Kenta had even caught his first fish. By the time he had caught four it was well into the evening. He grabbed a willow branch and twisted leaves around the end to make a torch. From out of the darkness two men emerged. The same pair from earlier, only now they held daggers.
“Give us the fish and your money.”
“I have no money.” he said as he tossed the fish to them.
“No money. Then what have you got in the coin purse?”
“It’s empty. I gave all my coins to an old lady.”
“Well lets just have a look!”
The two men charged at him and knocked him to the ground. They turned his purse inside out and pulled at his clothes.
“Where are you hiding your money boy? Tell us or I’ll kill you.”
Before he could answer another robbed figure stepped into the moonlight.
“You best get out of here and mind your business, if you know what’s good for you.” one of the thieves said.
With the flick of his wrist the robbed figure shot the most brilliant and precise beam of fire Kenta had ever seen. The lead thief screamed as it burned a hole through his hand causing him to drop the dagger.
“Get that bastard!”
The other thief charged slashing with his dagger. Before it could make contact a glowing disk of fire appeared. It melted the dagger and the hand that carried it. The thief screamed in agony and dropped to his knees. The robed mans shirt turned to ash and flaked away where the disk of fire had protected him. The mans chest was covered in burns, Kenta’s eyes widened with hope.
“Thank you.” he said as he stood up.
The man nodded and turned to leave.
“Wait. I have never seen anything like what you just did. Will you teach me?”
“The price of what you learn is great.” he said.
“I’ll pay it. I want to be a great Fire Bender more than anything in the whole world.”
“Why?”
“So people will respect me.”
“That isn’t a good reason.”
“Because when I bend fire it’s the only time I feel whole. Sometimes when I bend it’s like the flame is alive and it accepts me. It’s the only thing that ever has.”
“To be a great bender you must also accept the flame. Are you willing to do this?” he pulled back his hood. The man had no hair. The baldness a result of horrible burns that had melted the flesh of his head and part of his face. The melted skin held an unnatural glow. Kenta gasped.
“I am willing to accept the flame.” he said.
“Then I will teach you.”

* * *

Kenta had practiced with Bukuro for the past two months. He was so dedicated he had rarely seen Himi. It seemed it had been to long as Himi sought him out down river.
“Kenta!” Himi waved as he called to his friend.
Kenta paused his Flowing Lava movement and waved to Himi.
“Bukuro may I go and see my friend.”
“Of course friendship is a blessing.” Bukuro continued his movements as he spoke. Kenta bowed and ran up to his friend.
“Himi it’s great to see you it’s been too long.”
Himi smiled and Kenta noticed a burn on his chin. It was about the size of a fist and looked severe.
“What happened to your face?”
Himi tucked his chin in. “Those jerks from school. It’s nothing I can’t handle. How’s training going?”
Kenta was angry. Himi couldn’t bend, the others had no right to attack him like that. He swallowed his rage.
“Going great! I’m more powerful than before and Master Bukuro says I have a fire guru in me. Do you want to see something incredible?”
“Always!”
“Watch this.”
Kenta moved his hands in a series of fluid arcs and dives. His breathing deepened and soon a little ball of fire danced in his right hand. He flattened his hand and spread his finger. The fire thinned out and covered his hand like a glove. Kenta curled his fingers a few times and then made a tight fist. The flame burned brighter and retracted into his fist. When he opened his hand the flame had taken the shape of a flower. Kenta flipped his hand and shot the flame against a wall of rocks. It exploded over them and extinguished in the blast.
“Whoa. Flower Power.” Himi said with awe. “I’ve never seen anyone control fire like that.”
Kenta looked proud.
“Do you want to go into the city for lunch? I have a few coins.” Himi asked.
“Yeah that would be great. I haven’t had much besides fish, and what little veggies we can forage, in a while. A city meal would be delicious.”

On the walk to the city the two friends talked endlessly about childish concerns and dreams. Kenta shared tales of his training and of the night he met Bukuro. “Oh I almost forgot to tell you the coolest part.”
“What’s that?” Himi asked.
“Master Bukuro has an ancient sun scroll.”
“No way.”
“It’s true. It has some heavy movements in it to. I’ve been practicing this one called the Sun God. It’s the most powerful of all movements. I almost blew up when I first tried it. You create so much power and energy. The heat is so intense that I almost lost it.”
“That doesn’t sound safe Kenta. Maybe you should wait on that one. Not even the Masters at your old school practiced the movements from ancient scrolls.”
“That should tell how skilled those ‘masters’ were.” Kenta shook his head and thought of the day he would show them all just what he was capable of.

When they got to the restaurant Himi stopped. “Lets go to another one.”
“But Reiko’s is our favorite.” Kenta said. Then he noticed the kids from school. They were pointing at them and laughing. One of the boys rubbed his chin where they had burned Himi and they all laughed.
“No.” Kenta said. ” They don’t get to push us around anymore.”
“That’s easy for you to say you can control fire better than any of them. I can’t even bend. And I’m the one who still stays in the city.”
Himi looked worried and upset. But all Kenta could think about was using his new skills to teach them a lesson and show them they should never pick on Himi again.
“Don’t worry Himi. If they try something we’ll just leave.”
Himi looked doubtful, but followed his friend inside.

They had just sat down when the boys flung a pea at them. Followed by a cry of “What smells like river trash!” and loud obnoxious laughter. The waitress was clearly tense when she came over. “Do you boys have money to pay for your meals?”
Himi pulled out his coins and placed them on the table.
“That should be enough for two kebabs and soup.” he said.
“We are out of kebabs and soup. You cannot afford anything else on the menu.”
The table of kids laughed and mocked them. Kenta grew more and more furious. He stood up from the table in a fury.
“You’re just saying that because of those idiots! You have plenty of kebabs and soup.”
“Kenta it’s okay let’s just go.” Himi said.
“No! I’ve had enough of them acting like they’re better then us and ruining our lives. They aren’t better. They’re rotten and SUCK AT BENDING.”
“You need to leave now. You’re spoiling other people’s meals.” the waitress said.
“We’ll go when we’ve had or Kebabs and soup.” Kenta said and sat back down with his arms crossed.
“Then I have no choice but to have you thrown out. Sudon!”
From the back of the kitchen a big meaty cook emerged. He was a giant compared to Kenta and Himi.
“What is it?” Sudon said
“This boy is refusing to leave. He’s being a nuisance and ruining our guests meals.”
“Okay boy time to go.” Sudon said as he leaned over the table and gave a threatening glance to Kenta. Kenta said nothing, he just matched Sudon’s stare.
“Let’s chance to walkout on your own two feet.” Kenta didn’t move. Fear froze Himi in his seat.
“Fine have it your way.” Sudon tried to grab Kenta but a burst of flame struck his hand and he pulled back in pain.
“A goddamn fire bending river rat!” Sudon cried. He pulled a large knife from his apron. “You’ll pay for that you filthy bastard.” he swung and Kenta brought up his hand burning with a white-hot fire. He caught the blade and it melted in his hand. The burning metal dripped onto the cooks foot and he yelled in pain.

The kids from the school had rushed over to his table and encircled him. They began shooting blasts of fire at him. The waitress screamed and ran for cover as the cook scurried back. Flames exploded and burst windows. The other guests fled knocking over tables as they scrambled for the door.

Kenta was easily diverting the flames and grabbed Himi’s hand. “We have to get outside. Go now!” Himi ran and Kenta stopped the blasts of fire from hitting him.
“You’re even more pathetic then I remembered.” Kenta called to the ring leader before turning to run out of the building.

The students chased after him and Kenta knew he would have to make his point fast before the city guards arrived. The students lined up to face him.
“You’re the pathetic one you tiny little river rat. And today were going to fry you good!” the leader shot a big blast of fire at Kenta. He motioned with his hands and took control of the flame. It stopped just short of hitting Kenta. The leader still thinking he was in control tried to fuel the fire more and press it toward Kenta. But it only grew bigger. With out warning two arms of fire shot forth from the flame and grabbed the leader’s hand forcing them into a fist. Kenta’s own hands curled just like the flames and as he pushed them down the fire roared and burned the leaders flesh. He screamed in pain and Kenta held his stance as sweat ran down his forehead. He sensed the heat of someone charging him from behind. With a quick turn he blasted the guard away with a burst of fire.
The leader of the students curled up on the ground screaming in pain. His flunkies looked on him in horror. “You’re in for it now river rat, his mom is the Constable!”
Kenta barely heard him as he concentrated on dealing with the guards. They weren’t just better trained than the boys, they were also trained in taking down benders. He dodged their fire easily, but twice they came close to binding his feet or hands. The more he dodged the more of them seemed to show up until they overwhelmed him. They bound his hands and feet and sat him on the ground. He felt great pride when one of them said, “He’s a tough little bastard ain’t he?”

Kenta realized Himi was gone. He thought he must have run off once he got outside, a smart move. From behind him he heard a women yell, “Where is he?” “Constable Etzuko the boy who burned your son’s hands is over there.”
He heard heavy foot steps, then a heavy boot kicked him to the ground. Several more kicks landed on his side and head. Blood spilled from his moth and he felt dizzy. A cruel hand yanked on his hair pulling his head up to see the Constable’s face filled with fury.
“You filthy bastard! You’ll die for what you’ve done.” She dragged him across the cobbled ground by his hair and kicked him onto his side so he could see her son.
“Look what you did! It will be the last thing you ever do.”
Kenta saw the kids hands. They were nothing more than charred balls of flesh. His forearms had burned to just below his elbow. “He’ll never bend again.” she said with disgust and pulled Kenta up by his hair. Two of the guards put the boy onto a makeshift stretcher. “Will he live?” Kenta asked.
“Yes.” said Constable Etzuko, “But you will not.”

* * *

Kenta heard her threat but it didn’t sink in until he saw the brutal injury he inflicted on the boy. The Constable dragged him by the hair into the center of the cobbled street. Kenta kicked and twisted to loose her grip, but only caused himself further pain.
“Please stop!” he cried. “It wasn’t my fault I was only defending myself! Don’t do this!”
The Constable yanked his head up high and turned to face the gathering crowd.
“When you defy the guards. When you break the laws of the city. When you try to kill a member of the city’s Order death is your reward!”
The crowd cheered as the constable raised her hand. Kenta struggled and screamed for mercy.
The Constable and several guards began to move in unison. As they completed the dragon stance a huge ball of fire formed before them and with their final push the fireball shot forward with a crackling whoosh. It stopped before it was even halfway to Kenta. He looked up when it did not hit him. In front of him was Master Bukuro. He had captured the fireball and had turned it into a seven headed dragon. A crackling roar came from their jaws of fire snapping at the guard’s and the Constable.
“This is too far for a foolish fight amongst children. Your boys outnumbered my pupil, his death would be an injustice.”
“Bukuro.” the Constable said with malice in her tone. The guards took a fearful step back.
“You are teaching this boy?”
“Yes, but some of what he did he has not learned from me.”
Constable Etzuko was angry, but not foolish. Bukuro was a legend among the Masters she didn’t like their chances even if the Masters of the city were backing her.
“Take your pupil. But if he ever enters the city again he will die. Do we understand?”
“Yes Constable Etzuko we understand and thank you for your compassion.”

They walked in silence until they were outside of the city and down the river road.
“You read the Scroll of the Sun God.”
Kenta did not answer. He walked with his head down and shoulders slumped.
“You are a foolish boy to practice such a dangerous skill. One wrong breath and you could burn yourself alive. I doubt you will stop practicing no matter what I say. So I will instruct you. The scroll does not tell all there is to know about the Sun God.”
Kenta looked up surprised that Master Bukuro was not mad at him.
“I thought you would be furious with me and that you would no longer train me.”
“I have no love for the city. Most of the scars I have are from their Masters after branding me a heretic for my practice. I would have stepped in even if you hadn’t been my pupil. That boy though, he did not deserve the punishment you gave him.”
“I know. Once I captured their fire it was exhilarating. I’ve never been in control of so much power before. I lost myself in it.”
“It is strong Kenta. You must be stronger.”

Weeks passed and Kenta learned to control his powers and expand them. In one sparring match he had actually bested Master Bukuro. Kenta felt great and had settled into his life of training and fishing, the banishment from the city a distant memory. One day while Kenta was fishing upstream he over heard two travelers talking.
“It would be far to morbid, leaving was the right thing to do he is just a boy.”
“Still to see the Masters use their powers at his execution would be amazing! We would witness one of the greatest sights in history. And the boy had it coming he tried to kill the Constable’s son. You saw, the poor kid lost his hands!”
Kenta was shocked. He foolishly hoped it was not Himi they spoke of.
“Excuse me sirs, do you know who this boy is that will be executed?”
“Yes, his name is Himi he is a devious criminal and a powerful fire bender. A threat to the whole city.”
“Have they executed him?” Kenta said tugging on the mans arm.
“Not yet. They plan to at dusk.” he pulled his arm back from Kenta.
Kenta looked at the sky, if he ran he might be able to make it. He left his pole and gear and sprinted for the city.

* * *

Kenta ran until his lungs felt like they would burst, and then he ran some more.

He couldn’t lose Himi not like this. He never thought they would hold him responsible, he couldn’t even bend. He didn’t even fight! They, the city, had taken so much from him. It had tried to crush his spirit and ruin his life. It had humiliated him and hurt him. He wouldn’t let it take his friend. He dug deeper and his legs kicked higher and faster.

When he reached the entrance to the city it was practically empty. Everyone was at the execution. He could hear the clamor of the crowd coming from the center of town. It’s not too late.

He ran down the cobbled street and the crowd fell silent, but he didn’t notice. All he heard was his own voice saying “I’m going to make it.” Then the buildings glowed an eerie red and a hot gale blew through the city. “Nooooo!” Kenta cried. I was so close, it can’t be! he thought. But when he pushed his way through the crowd he saw the body of his friend Himi on his knees and tied to a stake. His whole body charred. His charcoaled face set in agony. The stake burned to cinder in the middle. It snapped and fell on Himi smashing him to dust. The crowd cheered.

Burning tears ran down Kenta’s face. He broke through from crowd and ran to the ashes of his friend. “I’m so sorry Himi.”

“River rat!” the cold voice of the Constable called from behind him. “You were warned about returning to the city. Don’t cry, you’ll soon be with your friend.”
Kenta legs moved into the sun god stance. His hands followed.
“You may have bested a few youths, but you’re no match for the city masters.”
Kenta turned his eyes were burning with rage. Tears fell from his face and sizzled on the hot street.
“You monsters. He couldn’t even bend.” He felt the Sun God’s power swirling inside him. Flames began to flick and crackle forth from his body.
“Masters kill this criminal quickly!” the Constable ordered.
They sent flame and lighting blazing at Kenta. He deflected their attacks and used their fire as his own.
“It’s to late for that.” Kenta said as flames flickered from his mouth. With one movement the Masters burned alive. Kenta’s arms became great tentacles of fire. They lashed out and consumed all they struck. The fire spread to his chest burning away his clothes and flesh. It consumed his head and legs until he became a being wholly of fire, the Sun God.
The Constable watched in horror as her city fell. Her people burned to ash. The Sun God roared above her. He towered now the size of a giant. She screamed for mercy, but was given none. The Sun God clutched her in his giant hand of fire, and he watched as she screamed, and burst, and burned.

“Kenta! You must stop this!” Master Bukuro called. “This is not who you are.”
The Sun God turned and saw the scattered ashes and buildings engulfed in flames. He smoldered to the size of Kenta. His face became more human.
“I can’t control it.”
“You can Kenta. Together we can find away. Trust me. Trust yourself.”
From behind him Kenta sensed a guard calling up fire. He spun around the Sun God burning within him. He turned the blazing flame back on the guard and turned him to ash. Bukuro grabbed him by the shoulder and the Sun God sent a volley of fire with the wave of a hand. The blast knocked Bukuro back and left his skin smoldering from the heat. Kenta once again took control.
“I’m so sorry. I never wanted any of this.”
“It’s okay we can–”
“No it’s not okay!” he looked up at the fading sun. “It will never be okay. I know what must be done.”
He once more gave into the Sun God and exploded into the air. Rocketing into the sky and over the horizon.
Bukuro jumped to his feet and ran after him, but Kenta was gone. He climbed to the top of a building and saw the Sun God flying toward the sun. He lost track of his light as dipped below the horizon. A moment later there was a bright flash across the sky that illuminated the world. The Sun God had returned to his kingdom.

A Short Trip To The Store

Tom and Jenny were heading to the store. It was late, but they had run out of wine and were in the mood for more. They made in-jokes as they walked along and once Jenny had to stop because she was laughing so hard. They were the only ones on the sidewalk, which was rare as they lived in a very active neighborhood, but they thought nothing of it. At the end of the block something came around the corner and quickly entered the door to the supermarket. Tom stopped and pulled Jenny back.
“You saw it!” she said.
“What was it?”
“I don’t know. Let’s find out.” Jenny smiled big and her eyes were full of adventure. Tom looked a little frightened.
“I… I think it was, or it looked like a werewolf.”
“That’s what I thought too!” she exclaimed with a kind of joy that can only come from having a secret revelation confirmed. She tried to walk on but Tom held his ground.
“Why would you want to keep going knowing that we just saw a werewolf? That’s crazy. Think of every bad horror movie we’ve seen, this is where we start making fun of the people for getting themselves into theses situations. We should go home.”
“What? No. No. We are probably mistaken in what we saw. I bet it was just a mask.”
“How do you explain the hands? And the way the ears seemed to twitch?”
“A good mask?”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Come on, come on, it will be fun. It will be a microventure for the Mystery Team!” she flashed a flirty smile and Tom was willing to do anything for her. I see how they get into these situations he thought.
“Well, it would be the first big adventure for the Mystery Team. We have been drinking wine so perhaps my senses have dulled enough to make that costume look so real in the dark.”
“See, see it will be fun I bet in the bright lights of the store it will be a silly cheap plastic mask and we’ll both laugh. Now let’s GO’s solve a mystery, Mystery Team! Wwooooo!” she threw up their hands.
Tom smiled and looked down the sidewalk to the entrance. There wasn’t even a homeless person their asking for change. He quickly looked up and down the street their were no people in sight. He though about it and recalled he hadn’t even seen a single car go by.
“Wait.” he said pulling Jenny back toward him. “Why is there no one out? Where is everybody?”
“I don’t know maybe it’s late.”
“It’s barely after 10pm there should be plenty of people.”
“Oh come on, I bet there are plenty of people in the store. If we don’t go we might never solve this mystery! What if it exits on the other side? We’ll never find out what it was.”
“They close the other entrance after 7pm this is the only way in or out.”
“So you’re not going to check it out?” her tone was nearing frustration and he worried this might lead to an argument. The night had gone so well he didn’t want to see it end badly. Besides it was probably the wine werewolves don’t exist, but angry girlfriends do and they can be down right terrifying.
Tom smiled with his mind made up. He knew Jenny well and she knew him better. He let go of her hand. She was already looking mischievous. Her body leaned slowly into a running stance.
“How about we go in after the next person goes in or out?”
She nodded and leaned back in to him to give him a kiss. She looked down.
“Your shoes untied.”
Tom looked down they weren’t. Jenny was already halfway to the door with a big grin when she yelled, “The next persons going in!”
“Hey wait!” Tom yelled with a smile as Jenny disappeared into the store. Tom sprinted after her.

Tom and Jenny were never seen again. Somethings are worse than an upset girlfriend.

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