Closer. Closer. The torch was so close. It brushed against the oil soaked kindling, and the wood burst into flames. The fire licked greedily at the logs, dancing around Lydia’s bound feet. Her clothes began to smoke, her face twisted in pain as she struggled against the ropes that held her. “Burn the witch!” someone bellowed from the crowd. “Down with the she-devil!” More voices joined in, a jumbled mix of shouts and jeers, taunts and insults. Rotten vegetables flew through the air, landing at the foot of the stake to which the girl was bound. At the back of the crowd, hidden in the shadows, Brenna closed her eyes. It should have been her on that platform, tied up and burning at the stake. But Lydia had practically thrown herself into the mob’s awaiting arms, and her desperate screams that “It’s me, I’m the witch!” still echoed in Brenna’s ears, the words chasing themselves around and around in her mind. Lydia had saved her, so now it was time for Brenna to repay the favour. Reaching inside herself, Brenna latched on to the swirling maelstrom of power at her core. Invisible threads of magic stretched from her, extending endlessly into the world, tethering everything together. She yanked one of the threads, pulling and pulling until she could see the effects of her magic on the physical world. Dark, angry storm clouds rushed to fill the sky, covering the sun and casting the world in shadow. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed, drowning out the voices of the townspeople. “It’s the witch!” the butcher, Andros, roared as the rain began to pour. It fell from the sky in torrents, grey and heavy and cold. The fire at Lydia’s feet went out, hissing and smoking as it drowned in the watery onslaught. Andros shoved through the scattering crowd, advancing on Lydia as he pulled a knife from his belt. He pressed the blade to her throat. “Stop this now, witch. Or we’ll make you regret it. I may not be able to kill you with this, but I can sure as hell make you wish you were dead.” He pushed the knife harder against her throat as if in demonstration. Brenna’s eyes narrowed, blazing hot with rage. Andros would be the first to die. Reaching once more for the magic that dwelled within her, she grabbed on and pulled. The threads resisted, staying true to the laws of magic; light was the hardest thing to manipulate. Sweat beaded on her brow, and Brenna dug her nails into her palm so hard she felt blood well up. The storm above her began to unravel, the rain stopping as quickly as it had started. As she released the tempest and focused solely on the threads of light and shadow, she felt them begin to give way, bit by bit, until finally they collapsed under the force of her will. White light flashed, engulfing the town square and blinding the panicking onlookers. Screams rose from the cacophony of pounding feet. Brenna charged forward, shoving through the swarm. Someone tripped her and she lurched forward. An elbow struck her cheekbone and sharp pain cracked through her head. Reeling, Brenna fought against the mob, clawing and thrusting her way through the terrified throng of people. Through the gaps in the crowd she could see Lydia, just briefly, eyes wide with fright and pain as Andros' knife pressed against the delicate skin of her throat. Time stood still. Brenna’s eyes zeroed in on the bright scarlet sliding down her sister’s neck. No. Her magic erupted, flames roaring out from her and engulfing the square. People screamed as their clothes, their hair, caught fire. As their skin charred in the heat, Brenna advanced, eyes blazing, fists clenched around tongues of wildfire. “Get away. From my sister.” There was nothing human in her expression, in the way she snarled, in the way her eyes glinted and reflected the inferno around her. Andros backed away, the knife clutched in his white-knuckled hands. Lydia’s blood dripped from the blade, stained his shirt, splattered across the wooden platform. “You,” he spat. “You’re both–” He threw himself at Brenna, knife outstretched, hate in his eyes. “Wrong. Just me.” It took her but a moment to kill him: sidestep, a tug on those threads of magic. And he crumbled to ash at her feet. Brenna spun and raced to her sister’s side. In less than a breath, she had Lydia untied and was catching the bleeding girl in her arms as she fell. “Lydia,” Brenna breathed, her fire dying around her. She brushed sweat-soaked hair from her sister’s forehead, wiped drops of blood from her lips. Lydia slumped against her, eyes clouded with pain, chest heaving with each gurgling, rasping breath. She smiled weakly before a shuddering cough ripped through her. Scarlet blood dripped from her mouth, splattering across Brenna’s skin. “Lydia, please!” Tears began to well in her eyes and Brenna tightened her grip on her sister. “I love you, don’t–” She choked on a sob, her voice breaking. “Don’t leave me.” Lydia’s lips moved, forming the words I love you and I’m sorry one last time. “No. No, I– I can fix this! Just– just hold on, please! Lydia, please!” But Lydia’s glassy eyes were staring vacantly at the sky above, unaware of her sister’s agony. She was gone. Pain ripped through her and Brenna screamed, howling her grief, her anguish, to anyone who would listen. Her bloodcurdling wail filled the world, the only sound in the now empty square. They’d tried to burn her sister, her soul, her heart. She would make them pay. A firestorm of golds and reds and blues burst to life around her. The buildings began to smoke as orange flames danced across their wooden roofs and spread inside, devouring houses and people and furniture like a starved beast. And as the town where they’d grown up--the library where Lydia had taught her younger sister to read, the streets where they’d played--became a charred, blackened ruin, as the desperate screams of the townspeople died down and the world turned to ash around her, Brenna clung to her sister’s cooling body and held her hand for the last time.
Power deception by Hannah Blauer
The door opens and a tall scrawny man comes into the room. Facing him is another man inviting him to sit down on the opposite side of the table where he is sitting.
Kev: Hey, Ted, thanks for coming, please sit down. Could I give you a small hypothetical scenario and you tell me what you think about it?
Kev: Ok here it goes. What if a girl sat in a corner down the hall with a group of friends surrounding her. She was talking about how much homework she had, and how all her teachers hate her. She passed her hand through her straight golden hair and laughed. Would this be an example of a powerless person?
Ted: No power? What do you mean? Of course she’s powerful! Look at her. She has friends, she's laughing, gossiping, she’s got nice hair, she’s having a great time, she’s popular… Why wouldn't she have any power?
Kev: Well, those are all qualities that most powerful people have, but, let’s look at this closer. What is she talking about? How her teachers hate her.. How much homework she has... She is talking a lot about the things on her mind. It makes you think sometimes, why isn't she doing her homework? If she has so much of it, why not do it now?
Ted: But Kev, you could easily defeat that point with: she’s at school, and it’s lunch time, she just wants to have fun.
Kev: Ok, but what about her teachers? She surely doesn't seem to like her teachers. Why?
Ted: Maybe she doesn't like their teaching method.
Kev: That is likely, yes, but, nethertheless, if she doesn't understand what her teachers are teaching, why doesn't she ask any questions?
Ted: Maybe she’s shy.
Kev: Ted, that is hardly a reason why a child wouldin’t ask a stupid question to their goddam teacher!
Ted: Hey Kev, calm down. Don’t you think that's a bit of a harsh judgment? I mean, if she’s only a kid, it makes sense that she could be shy when speaking to her teachers.
Kev: Too harsh?! Too harsh?! Are you being serious here, Ted? You think that is too harsh a judgement for a tenth grade kid? Well, I’ll tell you what, if that kid can’t take a teacher telling her that being shy is no good reason for not asking teachers questions, then that kid is a wimp! She’s got no grit! None at all! She is the least powerful student I’ve ever known! All she does is just whine and whine and sulk and sulk.
Ted: But I thought you said this was hypothetical. You're talking as though you know this kid.
Kev: Well, Ted, I do. Who I’m describing here is Sandy Banks. Her teachers have been emailing me, telling me that she hasin’ t handed in any work for almost three weeks.
Ted: Have they called her parents?
Kev: Multiple times, but they seem not to give a damn.
Kev: I know, and that’s why, Ted, me and you are going to have a forthright talk with this kid.
Ted: Right here? Right now?
Kev: Yes, Ted, now. Do you have any questions before I summon her here?
Ted: Um... Why have I been brought into this?
Kev: Because, Ted, we’ve got to teach these kids what power really is. (He picks the phone on his desk) Sandy Banks! Come to the principal office! Sandy Banks please come to the principal's office!