The Emerald Assassin
By Ellie Margot
The elemental flame inside her felt like it would burn her up from the inside out, but Riette couldn’t force her feet to take her into the one place where she could learn to control her new power. The door to the Fire Elemental training room loomed in front of her, smoke billowing out of it. Not the most inviting sight.
The training room had been woven into the trunk of one of the living trees that towered over the forest. The Vitan tree wasn’t hurt by the flames of the training Elves inside, but her own skin was not so resistant.
Biting her lip, she considered her options. She had every right to stay outside—and hate herself for it—or she could walk inside and own her life, including the newer parts. She had mastered her earth-elemental powers well enough in her training. Training with fire shouldn’t be any different, except for the fact that she shouldn’t be able to use the elemental fire at all.
Each Elf could only use one of the four elemental powers, and Riette had been no different until this new flame element showed up one day. If she wanted to tame it, she needed to walk through the damn door.
Until that point, Riette rarely had reason to enter the place at all. She had been a child when she’d last visited the place, watching her father play with the flames that frightened her then. He hadn’t really been playing though, had he? Everything in the room was serious, and Riette couldn’t stomach seeing the room without him in it.
She wished she had paid more attention to her father for several reasons, the primary of which was represented by the entryway in front of her. The smell of ashes enveloped her before she even entered the hall. It was her time to prove her worth to the other Elves.
Steadying herself, Riette let out a breath, pushed the fire energy down, and tucked her long, jet-black hair behind her ears. She took a step toward the entrance, but voices from inside the training room stopped her. She slipped back into branch cover just outside the door and listened.
“Think she’ll show?” a voice asked inside.
“She will to piss her mother off maybe,” said another.
“Or maybe she’s being forced to show so she doesn’t burn the trees down?” asked another Elf. The voice belonged to a female this time, but she laughed in chorus with the males inside.
Something low and hateful burned deep in Riette’s belly. She wished it was a new feeling, but it wasn’t. Her father’s passing had birthed something horrible in her that she feared. Something angry, biting, and vengeful. And these people? She knew she shouldn’t unleash whatever was in her at them, but their words made the urge hard to curb.
“You good?” asked Mekhi from behind her.
Riette yelped and glanced over her shoulder. A flash of red hair showed her it was her cousin before she even saw his face. Shit. He’d snuck up on her, and that didn’t bode well. If she was ever going to gain the respect of the fire Elves inside, she needed to be able to hold her own. Being caught off guard before even entering practice wasn’t going to earn her any respect.
“Things are going swimmingly,” Riette said, giving her cousin a quick look. His water powers made him an easy target for ocean jokes.
His smirk appeared quickly before disappearing.
“Obviously, you’re nervous,” said Mekhi.
“Obviously, you’re out of your mind. Why would I be nervous?”
“Because you’re not inside the practice hall yet, and it’s already five past, and you’re making sea jokes at me,” Mekhi said, stepping closer to her. He smiled, but his eyes still creased at the corners. He respected her. Many didn’t. It was hard for them to see their future queen not feeling in control.
Mekhi didn’t seem to blame her for feeling out of sorts, though. Elves like the ones inside the Fire Hall weren’t the most welcoming bunch, and now she’d have to find her way into their ranks as one of them.
They both turned at the sound of the creaking vines as someone else joined them.
Each Vitan tree had a landing to make such arrivals look effortless, but since they were in the training trees, the journey to travel to them, even by vine, was made all the more difficult by the sheer height of the trees themselves.
Cassian landed beside them. Standing taller than her and her cousin, with dark hair and darker eyes. He carried an air of authority that Riette knew she needed to master herself.
“You both came to check on me?” Riette asked.
“I came to check on the others, myself,” said Mekhi. “I’ve heard of at least three bets going on right now for how long it will take you to burn one of the others.”
“If I burn anyone, it’ll be because they asked for it,” she said.
“Or because they looked at you funny, insulted your pet, took your toy before you were done playing with it,” said Cassian. He wasn’t one to smile quickly, but he did still get joy from giving Riette a hard time.
“Ha, fucking, ha,” said Riette.
“I’m here because I knew if I didn’t drag you two inside for the briefing meeting in the Hollowed Hall, you’d be late,” said Cassian.
“Shit,” said Riette. “I may have forgotten about it temporarily.” Her lip burned from her biting it as the idea of being surrounded by many of the Elves her age set in. Each week, they had a meeting to test their talents and to see how ready they were for war, if one were to occur.
“And I was supposed to remind you—” said Mekhi.
“Yet here I am, saving both of you and myself in the process from the stern looks from your mother,” said Cassian.
All three moved closer to the edge of the platform. Each of them raised their hands to bring the vines closer so they could gather them and travel to a neighboring tree.
“Alluette’s stern looks aren’t that bad,” said Mekhi.
“That’s because you hardly ever get the really ugly looks,” said Riette. “I swear she’s confused about which one of us belongs to her.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I singlehandedly keep you out of trouble, Princess.”
Riette’s face burned at the title. It wasn’t that she wasn’t used to hearing it by now, but it didn’t make it easier to swallow.
“That sounds like a full-time job,” said Amina, the young female fire Elf.
All three turned to acknowledge their new companion. It was one thing for the three of them to give each other a hard time. They had grown up together. They were family, Mekhi in blood and Cassian in spirit. However, others would do well not to engage her or the two men who never left her side. It wouldn’t go well for them.
Ignoring the comment, Riette allowed the vines to wrap around her, engulfing her from her waist, down to her toes, and then back up to her arms and hands. The words she wanted to sling as insults to Amina were quieted on her lips by the wind that whipped around her. She ascended from their current tree to the Vitan tree that housed the Hollowed Hall at speeds that would make any non-Elf nervous. Terrified even.
Mekhi and Cassian followed her, both wrapped in their own vine transportation. The journey was short but staggering to anyone who wasn’t used to the atmosphere. The forest was dense with massive trees, the biggest of which held the homes and structures the Elves lived in. Vines hung in ropey curtains as far up the towering trees as one could see, adding bulk to the vivid greenery that grew abundantly around them.
The three landed on the wooden platform outside of the largest hall they had. It was the only place that could hold all the Elves at one time, even if it wasn’t comfortably.
The meeting didn’t have to hold them all today, though, just the ones who were younger than Riette or at her level.
Many had already begun practicing to show off their strengths when called. That format, everyone sharing the same hall regardless of their type of power, was something that occurred at least once a week, or more if Alluette, Riette’s mother, deemed it necessary.
Cassian’s little sister, Corin, was already inside. At seeing them, she stopped the flames she was burning in her hands to come closer. She flipped some of her shoulder-length brown hair over her shoulder and started to walk toward them, but she didn’t make it far before being stopped by another. Riette tried to quiet the emotions floating inside of her. She didn’t hate Corin—far from it—but it didn’t stop the fact that Corin being around made everything wrong with Riette all the more magnified, even if Riette was the only one who felt it. It was hard to call herself normal when Corin was the shining example of what a girl gone right looked like.
Corin had a button nose and the prettiest lips in the village. Mekhi knew she might not have agreed about her lips, but it was a detail he always noticed.
Riette smirked at him looking and smiled. Cassian grimaced when he saw what Mekhi was looking at, and Riette rolled her eyes, as Cassian being angry about something wasn’t new. Riette was the only one who rivaled him in pissed-off energy. She dropped the smile and glanced around the room. Her mother wasn’t around, though, not yet.
Stop looking. Riette tried to argue with herself, but she knew she wouldn’t listen. She never did.
The Elves in attendance had already clustered by element. They grouped without being told because they wanted to find the familiar. Their friends.
Riette looked at the group of earth-wielding Elves she normally practiced with. They were talking together. No one was looking for her. No one missed her being gone from their group.
There was nothing to confirm these suspicions for Riette, but she wasn’t stupid. She made them uncomfortable by being there. She was the unofficial hand for her mother in their eyes, even if Riette had told them otherwise. So if she wasn’t around, it was a good day for the rest of them, and Riette knew that.
At the thought, a warmth sparked in her hands. It was a ticking energy, the feel of a crackling fire beneath the surface of her skin. The new fire powers inside of her were why she wasn’t normal and wasn’t one of them. Flames started to flicker to life right above her fingertips. It was a gas shimmer in the air just before it fully ignited. Then it did, and though the flames were small, Riette knew it was a barely maintained control.
The fact that she had inherited a new power? That was icing on the cake nobody wanted.
“Shit. Riette.” Mekhi’s voice shook. He must have noticed her hands, but she refused to let herself sink into the panic around her.
“I know.” Riette’s word came out harsher than intended.
Mekhi stiffened beside her, but there was still humming tension in her twitching fingers that caught Cassian’s attention.
Cassian grabbed her hand, ignoring the fire softly hovering above her skin. He closed his eyes at the contact. The searing was instant but short. Him grabbing her hands cut off air to the flames and startled the energy coursing out of her. Cassian’s air powers had worked to cool the flames that came to life inside of her. He was the quiet to her storm.
If he hadn’t stopped the fire, everyone in the room would have seen the flames and how little she could control them. Riette couldn’t afford that knowledge to get out if she planned on ruling the Elves any time in the future.
Riette wanted to thank him. Part of her did anyway. The other part was mad that he felt he needed to babysit her. Was it a lapse in her control? Yes, but it wasn’t something she couldn’t fix without burning his hand, give or take a few burned articles of clothing.
Other Elves didn’t have to worry about such things, and it was starting to piss Riette off.
She scowled. “I could have—”
“No one is saying you couldn’t,” said Cassian, not looking down at her but releasing her hand. Mekhi watched them both. His eyes flitted back and forth between their faces.
Mekhi followed Riette’s eyes to where the fire Elves stood across the hall. Looking back at Riette, his eyes held sympathy, and she tried to release the tension in her shoulders and the defensive lean in her posture.
The meeting was going to be interesting. Or painful, depending on the parties involved.
“I need to get this over with, right?” Riette said, squaring her shoulders.
“It’s not battle, Ri,” said Mekhi.
“It’s war,” said Riette, but she smirked as she said it. They shared a laugh that Cassian didn’t follow.
“Stay out of trouble. Both of you.” He gave them a look before crossing the room to the other wind-wielding Elves. The circle widened to let him in, and the two Elves on either side of the gap clapped him on the shoulder. They smiled at him, and Cassian smiled back.
It was a detail that Riette didn’t miss. She couldn’t. She couldn’t stop her need to watch people. How they worked with others. How they talked. What they did with their hands. She even watched how their faces moved. It was like other people got to feel more emotions than she did.
Maybe she had them, too, before her father’s passing. Or maybe she had always been broken.
“You don’t have to watch out for me now,” said Riette. “Go on.” She pushed Mekhi’s shoulder softly.
Mekhi looked to where Cassian stood across the hall from them. “And have him one-up me again? I’ll pass. I can stay with you. You may burn the shit out of me—”
“For the record, I haven’t maimed anyone.”
“Your records are fucked. I have a scar above my eyebrow that says—”
“You’re the clumsiest person I know?”
Mekhi mussed her long black hair. They were both tall—all Elves were—but the little bit of height he had on her was something he took advantage of.
Riette stumbled a little as she moved to get out of Mekhi’s reach, and then she felt eyes on her. A breath escaped her. She knew she put on a show wherever she went. Everyone wanted to see what the princess would do and what she would mess up, mostly the latter.
She tensed again when she saw the fire Elves looking, Amina and Zander in particular. They had rushed here. Riette could tell by the flush of their faces. She had caught them getting in a last practice before arriving, something she had wanted to do but didn’t have time to start.
“Shouldn’t it be me telling you to go meet your little friends over there?” Mekhi asked. “You’re a Fire. It’s going to have to happen eventually.”
“I don’t have any friends.” Riette felt Mekhi’s scoff before she heard it. “I meant, why would I need friends when I have you and Cassian?”
“And me,” said Corin as she came up beside them.
Riette didn’t say anything about the addition. One, because it wasn’t exactly wanted, and two, she saw her mother entering and knew better than to speak when she was in boss mode. The fact that the practice leader over all of the elements, Blaine, was with her didn’t bode well, either.
“Come,” said Corin. She pulled Riette’s arm, and Riette let her, fully noticing the smile she gave Mekhi before turning. Anyone with eyes could see that smile from a country mile away. They nestled into the fire group just before the meeting officially began.
“This is a test,” said Blaine. “You are here to show your skills. Call it an exam. Call it fun. I don’t care what the fuck you call it, but I expect your best to be on display.”
“I’m good, but why should we give a shit about showing off to the others?” asked Zander. His boldness was only exceeded by his mouth and, to some extent, by his talent in fire powers.
“Because I want to make sure you all know the seriousness of your mission here,” said Alluette. Her severe expression reinforced the truth in her words.
It was hard for Riette to see her mother as the leader of the Elves of Vitan. Her mother was the one who cooked with her, kissed her bruises as a child, and tucked her in at night. She was the woman who kept the world a real place when it should have come to an end when her father passed.
Yet there were other times, like this, when Riette could only see the leader in her. Her mother’s long white hair stood out in stark contrast to her dark skin and against the green of her clothing.
“Pair up with different elements,” Blaine said. “Fire, Wind, Water, Earth. Find a partner before I give you one.” His voice was like everything about him, unnecessarily harsh.
Riette groaned inwardly.
“Guess we can’t work together,” said Corin, but the unasked question of whether or not Riette really counted as a fire still hung between them.
Since Corin was a fire, Riette’s earth side could make her different and a fine pairing, but someone having two powers was too new. No one knew how to act right now. No one ever had to deal with more than one power—Alluette being the only exception as their queen.
Corin walked away before Riette could respond. She easily found herself a partner with Mekhi, and Riette felt a twinge of jealously. Not because she didn’t want her cousin with her but because it was so easy for Corin. For both of them.
Everyone found partners quickly. There were less and less people to choose from. Riette swallowed.
Don’t worry, and don’t fucking panic. Riette turned to look for Cassian. Since he was a wind power, they would be fine.
She didn’t make it two steps.
“No, no, Princess, you’ll work alone,” said Blaine. His voice was a grunt, and the smile on his face cut deep grooves in his cheek like a knife was being pushed against his skin.
Riette cautioned a glance at her mother, expecting her to say something, but she was met with silence.
She wanted to show Blaine all of the curse words she knew, but she wouldn’t act out with her mother there. Not even when everything in her screamed to do so.
“You’ll go first,” said Blaine. He had stopped smiling, except for in the creases of his eyes, and there was a darkness to it that Riette didn’t like.
“So I will,” said Riette. The tone made the words seem respectful when underneath rumbled something entirely different.
The students gathered around her. A circle formed, and a stage made of people was constructed. Riette was left alone as its center. Each person had a clear vantage point to watch Riette rise or crumble. Having all eyes on one person was unusual for that type of trial, but not unheard of.
Every so often, a test would happen, but Riette was in her wheelhouse then. The earth powers in her broke the ground in her hands and beneath her feet, just as she asked it to.
The other set of powers in her didn’t listen as well. And that could be a big fucking problem.
Every eye felt like a pinprick and every breath like a judgement. The air inside the circle of Elves around her felt different to Riette. It felt charged. Electric. Dangerous even.
Blaine set a massive stone at Riette’s feet, something almost as big as she was. Riette caught her mother’s eyes above the rock, but Alluette didn’t smile. She wouldn’t. There was too much on the line, even if the words weren’t said out loud.
Riette couldn’t embarrass her. She wouldn’t.
“Break it,” said Blaine. He had his hand under his chin with his eyes focused intently on her.
Riette took a breath and placed her hands on the stone. Power brewed deep inside of her.
The magical tattoo that depicted her elemental power on her right shoulder tingled with the energy. She wanted to reach back and rub it in an attempt to calm it down, but she couldn’t do that in front of everyone else without showing her lack of control, and she knew it wouldn’t affect it. Energy didn’t work that way. Riette had to find the control within herself. Touching it would do nothing.
The energy was pulling strings inside her. It was a rearrangement of parts to suit a new purpose. Then things clicked in place.
A hissing sound filled the silence, the sound of matter on the edges of being ripped apart. The force jumped from her fingers into the stone, cracking it. Pieces fell off, and chunks lay at her feet. In a moment, what was once whole was in bits all around her.
Riette had overdone it, but she wasn’t embarrassed. He’d said break it. She obliterated it. He called her out. She fucking answered.
A breath passed. Then another. Blaine’s face went still, but there were yells from all over the room. One person let out a “whoop,” and others followed.
“Shut the fuck up,” said Blaine, but even his voice couldn’t quiet them. Not for a full minute afterward.
The power in the Elves was a tragic thing typically. The power inside each Elf had become a trickle, a whisper of a thing.
In Riette? It was a roar, but after the awe came a quiet, and in that quiet was the truth: there was something in her abilities that made them fear her.
“Now burn the remains,” Blaine said. His voice spoke with a finality that the tremor in his hands belied. No one saw it but Alluette. No one else would have thought to look for it, either.
“But it’s stone. It would take levels—”
“Burn the stone, Riette.”
Riette cursed under her breath. She closed her eyes. The power stirred. The strings inside her were different now. Varied. They were jagged edges inside of her that only showed themselves when something primal in her wanted them to appear.
If she was angry, they came. Even if she didn’t want them to, they would come anyway.
Now, when she needed them? Nothing stirred.
“Now,” said Blaine. His voice was tinny and clipped with impatience.
“Blaine,” said Alluette. These were her first words since announcing the test. The crowd looked to her, to both of them. Even the fire Elves were quiet.
Riette looked up but didn’t hesitate. She focused back on the stone.
She hated being told what to do, but she refused to bow down, either. Her mother said she was destined for a purpose, and having this second power, however fucked up it made her, must mean something. It had to.
The crackling started in the room. It burned and bubbled like a brew of everything angry inside of her. The fire flared to life in her hands, flickering brightly, and gasps were dragged out of just about every person in the room.
Under her direction, the pieces of rock flared a bright red like hot steel before they darkened to the color of coal. Breaths felt like they were being ripped out of Riette’s chest as she watched the destruction of the pieces in front of her. They burned until the noise was unbearable, a strong hiss, and then the rock ignited, making the room even brighter because of it.
“That’s enough, Riette,” said Alluette. Her voice wasn’t loud, but it carried, and Riette stopped the flow inside of her.
The rocks still sizzled in front of her, the sound easily heard because the crowd was now quiet. They waited, but no one knew quite for what.
Riette looked at Cassian in the crowd, and he smiled at her. Riette smiled back.
“Who’s next?” asked Blaine. The moment left them, and Riette moved to stand by Mekhi and Corin.
Another group came up. They looked sheepish, like they didn’t want to follow that show. It was clear no one knew what to do with what they’d witnessed.
Practice went on for hours. The day grew longer, less eventful, and Riette ignored the eyes looking at her as she trained by herself. Soot still colored her skin from the practice. They were all sweaty, their bones, muscles, and minds tired from exertion when she met with Cassian and Mekhi afterward on the patio of the common practice hall, named the Center officially, but the Ruins to those who used it. It was the only tree in use that showed wear because of all the elements at play at all hours of the day and night within it. The three of them stood flanking the large window on the quieter side of the structure. Although there were others in the space, they were busy in practice, and Riette could almost pretend they were alone. Corin was also there, which was something Mekhi celebrated more than Riette did.
“That was next level,” said Corin. “How did you even do that?”
“Our little girl here is amazing,” said Mekhi, grabbing Riette by the shoulders.
“Stop, stop. She can’t afford to get a bigger head.” Cassian had a smirk on his face.
Riette looked down at her new outfit. On a whim, she had gotten clothes to look more like the fire Elf she was becoming. The greens and browns were replaced with reds and black. There were metal accents where previously there were none.
“Bite me, Cassian.”
“I’m allergic,” he said. She laughed, even when he didn’t. Cassian didn’t share his laughter too often, even though his dry humor was the main thing that had gotten Riette to smile after her father had left this plane.
“Are we meeting there after practice?” Riette asked the group.
“Meeting where?” asked Corin. Her face was flushed from exertion. She was full fire, at odds with Cassian’s wind, but she was committed.
“Riette’s dad’s old house,” said Mekhi. He didn’t look at Riette’s face because he knew what he would find there: signals to not say a fucking thing.
“Don’t you have homework?” asked Cassian.
“Don’t you have someone else to mother?” asked Corin.
Riette and Cassian shared a look over her shoulder.
Corin let out a sigh. “All I need to do is water my lieng, and I’m good. Can I go? Am I welcome?” She directed her last words at Riette, since everyone knew who in the group made most of the big decisions. She too had a lieng, a Vitan tree sapling, but he was older and less needy because of it.
Riette bit her lip before looking up and letting out a sigh of her own. “Yes, you can come, but I’ll meet all of you there later.”
“Where are you going?” asked Mekhi. His instincts to keep a constant lookout for his cousin, by blood and by oath, weighed on him.
“My second home,” said Riette.
It was dark by the time Riette vined to the last territory. The Forest of Elan seemed large unless it was all you’d ever known. Then, it seemed impossibly small and growing smaller with every other breath she took.
On this outer edge of the territory of the world as they knew it lay the graves. Riette practiced here. She bonded with the Vitan trees here. Her lieng was here when it wasn’t in her room. Her peace was here as well.
Because in this outer territory were the two things that meant the most to her, the tree that her grandmother had become and the grave where her father would rest before he met his next life.
The vine unfurled her to the root level below. The trees towered far above her head from this level. One only visited when they wanted to remember the dead, be they in the ground or in the oldest Vitan trees.
When her feet hit the ground, a peace Riette didn’t experience anywhere else settled over her, broken only by the part of her world that was getting harder and harder to ignore.
From here, more than anywhere else in Vitan, one could see their world burning. The fire, not made by any of their hands, was slowly claiming the only thing that mattered, the Vitan trees themselves.
If someone didn’t want to see it, they wouldn’t. It was spreading, but it hadn’t yet claimed anything fully. But if someone cared, if they wanted to pay attention, they could see the ashes and scorched matter surrounding the cracks of the trees in the distance while embers burned in the grooves. The fire within it could tear their entire world apart. If it spread. If it claimed more than just a small taste. Yet, the most frightening part of the fire was that Riette didn’t know its origin, and no one who would tell her the truth was alive to say it.
Her grandmother’s tree, the graves, the ground that held her father were the closest to the damage. That killed Riette on a level that felt ever more real.
She felt her tattoo glow on her shoulder. The sizzling wasn’t in her hands yet, but the tattoo was the first step. The chaos her power brought was often a close and dangerous second. She needed to burn off the energy before it destroyed something, before her own kind of fire appeared at her fingertips and the world she saw burning was by her own hand.
She yelled because she could, screamed until she felt like her lungs would bleed from the pressure. She made a fire in her hands that would stagger anyone who saw it, and she cursed not knowing why the other fire was burning and whether or not they could win the war against it.
She did all these things until the tree she cherished most picked her up in its vines and dangled her above the Esper ground she pounded on. The tree—her grandmother—shook her, not enough to hurt her but enough to put her grandmother’s words in Riette’s head.
Stop it, child, the action seemed to say. You’re being dumb and ruining my peace.
Moments passed while she hung helplessly. Great. Held hostage by a tree. The only thing that could make this worse was if one of the fire Elves discovered her in this ridiculous situation. Or worse, Mekhi or Cassian. A huff escaped her lips, a semblance of laughter, and with it, her energy shifted finally. It changed little by little until the darkness that could have claimed Riette’s very soul became something different and she was herself again.
The vines lowered her to the ground and slowly unwound from her legs, leaving Riette to stand on shaky feet. It didn’t escape her that she’d just touched a point where she could have lost herself forever.
And to remind her she was still there, a vine slapped her on the ass. Riette laughed, and the wind blew through the trees as if her grandmother was laughing with her.
A moment passed and one more after that. Riette dropped down to sit in silence, pulling a calm into her core until the trees rustled behind her. She shot up, standing at alert. There was nothing for her to fear in Vitan that she knew of, but knowing that and feeling safe were two different things.
Alluette walked into the opening. She must have landed in a clearing just inside the forest.
How long has she been watching me? She didn’t ask the question aloud.
“I knew you’d be here,” Alluette said. She closed the distance between them with long strides only someone of her height could manage.
“It’s home.” Riette knew how dark that sounded, but she didn’t care. Home to her was where the people who owned her heart were, and those people were her grandmother and father in the earth.
Alluette took a breath, her chest filling with air in front of Riette’s eyes before she spoke. “It’s an anchor.”
“You make it sound like a bad thing.”
“No, I’m telling you there’s more to life than hiding in the woods.”
“It’s spreading,” Riette said. She wanted the previous line of conversation to be over before she spoke words she knew she would regret.
Alluette glanced over her shoulder, and her eyes narrowed. She looked down before finding Riette’s gaze again.
“That’s not your concern.”
“Not my concern?”
“You need to worry about ruling.”
“What if there’s nothing left to rule? What if the world keeps burning around us until we lose everything we know?”
“You don’t know what you speak of, child.”
“Because you won’t tell me,” Riette countered.
“You want to save the world? Learn how to be the hero it deserves.” Her voice echoed through the trees around them.
The wind rustled again before settling.
Alluette touched Riette’s cheek before turning and summoning a vine. The vine wrapped around her mother’s core, down her body, and up again.
Riette watched her mother until the trees took her away, and when the wind came back, ruffling her hair and blowing through her clothes, she didn’t stop staring.
She didn’t stop the fire inside of her from burning. The tattoo tingled on her shoulder again. Newly formed flames licked her palms, and she didn’t try to quiet it or the storm inside of her.
Would her father have walked away like that, leaving more turmoil in his wake in the process? Would he have told her to stay safe and let the problems work themselves out?
Be a hero? Riette didn’t need to be told twice.