On the run after an act of revenge goes horribly wrong, an Elemental is recruited by rebels trying to overthrow the Elemental Overlord.
The sun began to set over the city of Doma, its deep yellow light turning the low buildings amber and gold.
In the middle of an empty square, Nalla checked her armor for the fourth time. The brown leather was smooth and pliable but tough enough to stop a sword point. Pockets and pouches covered most of it, everywhere she could easily reach, and various items held by leather ties circled her waist: wood, metal ore, a water flask, animal bone, and feathers.
Faces peered from every window, silently watching, waiting as she waited. She began to pace as the shadows lengthened, wringing her hands on an almost perfectly straight black stick as her eyes scanned the streets leading to the square.
She finally heard the echoes of booted feet on cobblestone and turned to face her adversary.
"Nalla! Looking good, girl," said a tall, broad man with a smirk that betrayed no hint of fear. He was dressed similarly to her only with more pockets and pouches.
An advantage of size, she thought. She grit her teeth as his eyes wandered over her body. "Hello, Andor. How's the trollop?"
Andor's eyes flipped up to meet hers. "Is that why you issued the challenge? I thought it was to save your Order's ranking."
Nalla's eyes flashed in anger. Andor smirked again. "You know you can't beat me. How about we go get a drink instead and I'll remind you how good I was to you?"
Nalla brought the black stick up to touch her forehead and held it, waiting.
"No, huh?" Andor lifted his own stick, dark grey except for one blackened end. He touched it to his forehead. "I'm going to miss these little spats."
Nalla pointed her stick at Andor and ran two fingers down the length. A bolt of jet black shot from the tip and flashed across the square. Andor dove aside just in time as the cobblestones exploded where he had been standing.
"By the Seven, what wood is that?" he asked in disbelief.
"Black ironwood," Nalla replied, grinning fiercely. "I got it just for you."
She sent another bolt at him. Andor's hand came out of a small pocket with a lump of raw iron. He rubbed it and a thin iron disk formed on his forearm, blocking the bolt. He grimaced in pain at the impact but got to his feet in time to stop two more bolts before the iron cracked and broke apart.
"My turn," he said, throwing a handful of sand. The grains leaped forward with incredible speed, leapfrogging across the ground with enough force to scour the cobblestones.
Nalla had no time to reach her components. She spit into her hand and flung it in an arc. A wave of water jetted from her hand, snatching the sand out of the air and washing it away.
"There was a time you wouldn't have thought of that," Andor said, brushing off dust. "You used to rely solely on your components."
"You always did underestimate me," Nalla said.
"I won't again." Andor crushed his hand around a dried vine. Vines leaped from beneath the cobblestones at Nalla's feet, flinging themselves around her ankles, legs, arms. Nalla struggled against them as they drew tight, yanking her to her knees and holding her to the ground.
Nalla pointed the stick awkwardly at one of the vines and rubbed her thumb against it. A weak bolt flashed out, snapping the vine and freeing her other hand. She whipped it through her hair and flung it at Andor.
Andor saw the motion but didn't see what she used for her attack. He rubbed the iron again and another shield formed, ready to block, but Nalla's hair snaked around it, wrapped around his wrist, around his torso, covering him from neck to feet in a tightly wrapped cocoon.
Nalla used her bolts to snap the rest of the vines. She approached Andor, stick ready.
"Nice one, babe. Didn't see that coming." Andor struggled against his bindings. "Wendalina was powerful, almost a match for me. I couldn't resist her."
"You're not about to yield, are you?" Nalla asked, eyeing him warily.
"You know me. Always got something up my sleeve." Andor grinned wolfishly as his skin darkened and became rough. Nalla gasped as he turned into wood.
"You can't alter flesh!" she said, flinging bolts at him.
Andor flexed and snapped the hair bindings. The bolts blackened the wood but didn't seem to harm him. He advanced on her like an animated wood statue.
"No, you can't alter flesh. I figured out how." His voice creaked as he spoke. He reached into a pouch and drew a piece of amber. Limbs creaking, he threw it at Nalla.
Nalla used a dried vine of her own, throwing it to the ground. Almost instantly she stood inside a ball of vines, shielding her as the amber struck and expanded, covering the vines with sap. Nalla broke through the back, catching her sleeve on a bit of sap. She pulled but the sap was impossibly strong, holding her fast.
"You can't win," Andor said. "Yield now before someone gets hurt."
"Hurt?" Nalla's anger boiled up. She yanked her arm so hard it ripped the leather, spilling pebbles from a torn pouch. "You dare speak to me about hurt?"
She swung her stick, striking the tip against the cobblestones to spark the flint concealed there and igniting the oil-soaked wood. She thrust her hand into the flame. Andor just had time to raise his arms as a jet of fire engulfed him.
The fire stopped just short of Andor's wooden flesh, held back by the protective force of his armor. The armor changed color from brown to blood red.
"Stop! You'll maim yourself!" Andor yelled through the roar of the fire. His wooden skin began to smoke from the heat despite the protection.
Nalla screamed as her hand blistered and burned, but she kept pouring fire onto Andor in a desperate need to beat him. When she could no longer stand the pain she dropped her arms and collapsed to the ground, cradling her burnt hand.
Andor was rolling on the ground trying to douse the flames covering his body. Nalla became aware of his screams as his skin hissed and popped like dry firewood. She quickly drew her flask and poured water into her hand, dousing the flames with a jet of water.
Andor's cracked and blackened wooden skin still smoldered, deformed by heat and burning. He wasn't moving. Nalla desperately tried to wake him as spectators emerged from their homes and businesses. A few rushed to help, but it was too late. Andor was dead.
Nalla stood uneasily, suddenly aware of the angry and scared looks all around her. She was surrounded, trapped by concerned citizens.
"Make way!" a Guardsman shouted, pushing his way through the throng. Nalla caught a glimpse of the splendid half-plate armor. The law was clear, she was responsible for her magic. She would be arrested and her Order would be disgraced. She would lose her sponsors, the supporters who paid for damages and for her components. Her life was crumbling as the crowd parted to let the Guardsman take her.
Nalla met the Guardsman's eyes. He sensed trouble and brought his pike to bear, the head glowing brighter. Nalla bowed her head, ran her hand through her hair, and spread her arms, a black feather caught between her fingers.
Black feathers spread down both arms and with a powerful thrust Nalla leaped into the sky, twisting and turning to avoid the white bolts the Guardsman shot after her.