It’s a very original title, I know, but it’s all I could think of off the top of my head. Anyway, this is a rewrite of a short story that I wrote about a year ago… the original is buried somewhere in my posts, but it’s not that good, so I wouldn’t advise looking for it. Any critique is appreciated and encouraged. [Insert convincing—ahem, I mean, persuasive—encouragement here.]
Shadows flickered uncertainly around the alleyway, growing steadily darker as the light around them grew brighter. That light was caused by the flames that licked up higher and higher, feeding off of the small house.
There the girl stood, her face washed in the light, staring at the building. For a moment, all she could do was stare before the realization really began to hit home.
My house is on fire. My house caught fire!
The shock slowly turned to anger. She whirled around towards the shadows, where a slim figure was trying to hide its face. “This is your fault!” she cried. “All your bloody fault!”
“Mine?” the returning voice spluttered, just as angry. “I wasn’t the one who let the gas out of the stove like that before lighting it! I also wasn’t the one who stared at the flames as they burned your curtains.”
A flush burned at her cheeks, which only made her all the more furious. A small, sensible piece of her mind, buried way back where she almost didn’t hear it, reminded her that this was not the place nor the time to argue. Smoke was slowly filling the alleyway, tickling the back of her throat, and the flames had grown hot enough to get rather uncomfortable, even from several feet away.
“No,” she agreed after a pause, pushing the words out harder than she wanted to say them. “But you distracted me. That’s why it’s your fault.”
That was the last straw, which was exactly what she had intended. The shadowed figure stormed back out into the open, where her scowl was easily seen. “Distracted? Why must you blame everything on me, Sasha! This isn’t my fault anymore so than it is yours. Now stop yelling at me. I’m trying to find a way out of this blasted alleyway before it fills with smoke entirely, in case you don’t mind.”
She turned back towards the shadows, but stopped when Sasha’s eyes narrowed. Both knew exactly how to get out of the alleyway long before the smoke got too thick.
“Don’t even think about it,” the other woman said softly. “That is not an option.”
“Do you even have any choice?” Sasha snapped back. “Eva, there’s no other way to get out of here!”
“We can climb the walls.” Eva jerked her thumb to the building behind her, which wasn’t yet burning, though that would likely change in the next few moments, if the wind had anything to say about it. “It’s only two stories, and the smoke isn’t that thick yet. Get up and onto the roof.”
“And from there?”
“What if it doesn’t work?”
“Improvise.” She turned around towards the wall and reached her hands up, searching for a plae to hold on. The bricks were rough, but not enough for real hand or footholds, so it went nowhere. Sasha watched for a moment, curious despite herself to see if it would work, but knowing deep down that it wouldn’t.
“Eva, just do it,” she said. “We’re going to die in here otherwise, trapped between flames and two buildings.”
Eva tried again, but when she couldn’t get a good enough grip to even pull herself up off the ground, she gave up. Trying to hide her frustration, she turned towards Sasha again. She was no more than a silhouette, lit up from behind by the flames. “What happened to being angry at me?”
“Just get us out of here. Eva, please.” Sasha’s voice was pleading.
Eva shook her head. “I—I can’t,” she whispered. “The last time I tried… I only made it worse.”
“Just try! Try or we’re going to die!” Sasha’s voice rose in pitch, desperate now. She no longer tried hiding the insecurities she’d always felt. She had used to hide her feelings behind contempt and her temper. But now, her need to survive pulled it all away. Eva now saw clearly Sasha’s jealousy and disappointment at being normal and nothing like her.
Eva smiled bitterly. She was the one who should have been jealous of Sasha, not the other way around. “It hurts,” she whispered, then relented. She laid her hand on Sasha’s shoulder and squeezed her eyes shut.
Without even really trying, she could feel it fading out of her, draining her. Even if she couldn’t see it in front of her, she knew there was a wall made entirely out of light surrounding the two of them. Outside of it, the flames grew stronger from the energy they found in the wall. Opening her eyes again, she saw exactly what she expected to see. A small, four foot tall wall surrounded the two girls, made out of light. It kept the flames away, but she could see on the other side of it, those flames were brighter, stronger, and hotter.
“See?” Eva said softly, not even realizing she was talking out loud. “It’s a paradox. The wall keeps the flames away, but it’s made of energy, which only fuels the fire. It grows stronger, which means I have to make the wall even stronger to keep it back.”
Sasha looked up from where she knelt on the ground and met Eva’s eyes. Now, she understood. “But if you break the cycle, the flames will take us.”
“That’s the price of magic, sister. There’s only one way out.”
“Somebody has to find us.”
And that, both knew, wouldn’t happen in time. They were trapped in the alley, between flames and an unclimbable building. The only way someone else would be able to find them is if the flames were put out, and by that time, Eva’s energy would be gone, allowing the wall to collapse and the fire to engulf them.
“I’m sorry,” Sasha said. “For blaming you for everything.”
“I know. It’s not easy having a sister with magic, is it?”
“It scared me, and yet fascinated me. I know you’ve said it’s only problematic, but I felt jealous. You were the special one, while I’m boring and ordinary.”
“You’re anything but boring.”
“Don’t flatter me.”
Eva smiled, but it was a weak one. She had fallen to her knees beside Sasha, using her sister’s support to stay upright. It was hard enough to focus on the conversation. Eva knew she shouldn’t be talking at all, but she didn’t want to spend her last moments silent.
“I’m sorry, too, Sasha,” she said, hesitating a little, despite herself. “I haven’t been the best sister, either, not since Mom and Dad died.”
“At least we have each other now, though.” It was as she spoke this sentence that Sasha made the realization. “Eva, let me help you. Maybe if we both take the strain…”
Eva shook her head slightly. She couldn’t manage to do anything more, but it felt to her that it didn’t show her feelings on that well enough. “No. Absolutely not. If you even touch the magic, it will take you entirely. You’ll be a slave to it, just like I have been.”
“What else can I do, Eva? Let me help.”
She was silent. She knew that if she let Sasha help her, not only would Sasha take the magic, but Eva would be released from it. But as much as Eva wanted to be freed from magic’s curse, she didn’t want to subject her sister to it.
Before she could come to a decision, however, Sasha took her hands in hers. Just the little touch, and Eva felt a weight lifted off her shoulders, one she wasn’t sure that she’d been aware of holding. She’d had it her entire life, after all, and had grown used to it.
The wall around them strengthened. For a moment, it looked almost like it was real. Then Sasha gave up too much. The light radiating from the wall pulsed, and, knowing what would happen, Eva instinctively covered her eyes. That light could have blinded her permanently. As it was, when she looked again, the place was still incredibly bright.
But several things had changed. Sasha had collapsed to the ground, laying still at Eva’s knees. The fire was gone. All that was left was ash and smoke. The wall, no longer having a source or a purpose, had faded away as well.
Eva stared a moment, then turned to her sister. She shook her roughly, but she could see how pale and still she’d gotten. “Sasha! Wake up!”
The girl didn’t move.
Eva felt her eyes start to tear up. “Sasha, I warned you,” she whispered. “The price of magic is too high. You shouldn’t have done that.”
But it was too late now. Her sister, she knew, would never move again. She had sacrificed herself to protect Eva from the flames. For that was the price of magic—it took your life.
Tears falling unabashed now, Eva stood up. She vowed, right then and there, that she’d avenge her sister. She’d find a way to stop magic from taking innocent people’s lives, just because they’d inherited it. Or, in Sasha’s case, taken it for her sister to protect her.
“I love you, Sasha.”