Milla rushed forward and launched herself into the air using her vines. She lashed out from above but she deliberately aimed too short to keep her vines away from the Ashenna woman’s sword.
In the brief second that the woman was focussed on Milla, Jesse worked her affinity to pull a stream of water up from the ocean and onto the ship. Bucc directed his power towards it, superheating the liquid until it became steam which Adward spread across the deck using the wind. The entire deck became shrouded in warm clouds of mist.
A burst of fire appeared from where Red had been standing but the fire spread itself thin then faded. She tried again and got the same result. Bucc smiled to himself. Just like they had planned, Milla had spread her pollen into the steam while she was unseen. The fire consumed the pollen, spreading itself thin in a way that no caster would expect before being extinguished by the damp air.
Nothing moved in the grey sheen of the steam. Bucc could feel sweat beading across his skin. He had no idea how Red would react to having her sight and flame robbed from her. From everything that Milla had told him, he didn’t expect such a simple trick to fluster her.
As though in response to his thoughts he heard a whoosh of flame and saw the steam light up again, this time bigger than before. As it faded there were sounds of a scuffle then somebody hit the deck. Milla whistled from near where the fire had come from and Jesse and Adward began to constrict the steam down into a smaller area until it was all contained in a globe a few feet in length. Bucc placed his hand on the steam and upped the temperature.
The heat and humidity within must have been torturous. The air would have been difficult to breath and the warmth was dizzying. All they needed to do was make the woman pass out and they wouldn’t need to fight her.
Milla stood to the side, her vines disappearing into the steam. Bucc knew that they were wrapped around Red tightly, keeping her in place and restricting her breathing even further. The wet air was keeping everything too damp for her to use her flames.
The ball began to shimmer and distort. Adward’s face creased in concentration.
“She’s heating the steam herself,” he grunted. “It’s expanding faster than I can stop it.”
Milla staggered back with a curse, her vines returning to her side. They looked dark and limp. Adward’s concentration finally gave out and the globe collapsed.
Red sprang out and slashed at Adward. Her face was flushed but she looked nowhere close to passing out. Adward brought his own cutlass up in defence but was knocked over and skidded across the deck. Jesse unloaded her pistols at the woman, her affinity keeping the water away from the gunpowder, but the woman dodged one shot then deflected the second with her blade.
Milla struck as the woman started towards Jesse. The Ashenna pivoted and drove her heel into Milla’s gut without missing a beat. She grabbed the girl by the throat with one hand while she blocked another volley of bullets from Jesse with the other. Milla kicked her in the stomach but it was like kicking a wall.
“Was this your big plan?” she asked in an impassive tone. “All of your hopes were riding on a cheap trick?”
“Nothing’s cheap if you try your hardest to achieve it!” Bucc told her. “Don’t think you’re so high and mighty just because power comes so easily for you!”
“Easy?” She slammed Milla into the deck then hurled her at Jesse before starting towards Bucc. “What do you know of ‘easy’? I know your story. Buccaneer Jones, the boy who didn’t want to be a pirate. A boy who grew up on a floating village surrounded by people and never going hungry. A boy who only unlocked his affinity a year ago but now tries to stand against the power I’ve spent my life learning. You are the one who has lived an easy life and doesn’t deserve to be standing here!”
“Yeah, I have lived a pretty good life, and that’s exactly why I want things to stay the way they are.”
She grabbed him by the throat. Fire flared around her and blazed along the length of her arm until the flames brushed against Bucc’s chin. It took all of his effort to resist the heat.
“You say you want things to stay the same, but your precious society is on the brink of starvation. You must have noticed. Maybe it doesn’t feel bad today, but in a few years time your lives will be wretched. My father is driven by a single goal. His every action is made to forge a better future for everyone. He doesn’t see himself as an emperor but as a tool for change. I’m not his daughter but a weapon to be turned against those that don’t want to change. My father came from nowhere and had nothing, not even a name, but his convictions forged the man you know today. When I was born he raised me just as he had been raised, without food, shelter, or name, fighting tooth and nail every day to survive. I stand here stronger than you because I fought for that strength. So don’t you dare assume my worth.”
Bucc was running out of air. His vision started to blur and he could feel the heat rising as his concentration slipped. He looked into the woman’s eyes but found no hint of emotion other than a deep burning anger.
The woman jolted and dropped Bucc as Milla punched her in the back of the head. She staggered and whipped around, sending a wave of flame at the younger girl. Jesse had been prepared though and a wall of water rushed between the fire and Milla.
“Now!” Bucc yelled in a hoarse voice.
Milla leapt through the water then through the flame in one swift movement, delivering a vicious blow to Red’s stomach. The sudden attack winded her and she gasped for air. Even as this was happening, Milla released a cloud of pollen spores straight into her face which she inhaled and began choking on. Water came rushing around the woman in a raging spiral that quickly closed in on her before she could catch her breath again.
Bucc once again placed his hands on the globe of water. He was focused on the fire within and the heat of the world around him, but he was approaching this awareness from another angle. Fire came from a stirring of energy, by whipping it into a frenzy. Bucc’s own inner energy caused movement, which in turn caused heat. That process could be reversed.
He felt the energy in the water, but he didn’t try to make the tiny particles move faster. Instead, he drew the existing energy from the water, slowing down the particles’ movement to reduce the heat. He could feel his insides growing hotter but pressed on, chilling the water as quickly as he could.
Wind began raging, spinning around the orb of water in a great upwards draft. Adward nodded his head to Bucc as he fought hard to keep the wind tunnel stable. This updraft further cooled the water, pulling any excess heat upwards like a chimney. Particles of ice were beginning to form in the water.
A look of pure rage burned on the woman’s face. The water around her began to froth as she started to heat it. Bucc ignored it, focusing all of his attention on draining the heat before it could build up. He felt like he was burning up but he couldn’t stop now.
It was easier to heat the water than freeze it. This was a losing battle and Bucc knew it. Fortunately he wasn’t trying to win. All he had to do was hold out longer than her breath. Judging by her face, that wouldn’t be too much longer. He just needed a little more time…
The woman snarled and the water shook with violent energy. She was unleashing all of the power she could to break out. The heat burned through Bucc’s body in a wave of constant pain now. His skin was flush and prickled with beads of sweat. His heart beat heavily in his chest.
“Bucc!” Jesse shouted. Her posture was starting to slump and her arms shook as she maintained the water orb. “You’re burning up!”
He tried to answer but the words came out as garbled nonsense. All he could feel was blistering heat. His body couldn’t hold on much longer but he refused to be the weak link. If he gave up now then all of his friends would be hurt. He wasn’t going to let that happen.
He felt his mind slipping as the pain overwhelmed him. There were shouts from his friends but he couldn’t understand the words. The world was fading to black.
A jolt ran down his spine. Neri slid around his body until she rested over his heart. Ghostly fire was beginning to spread across Bucc’s skin but the familiar ignored it. She plastered herself across his chest then started to make a high whistling sound. A soothing cool sensation cut through the scorching heat. Neri quivered, her grey skin shifting tones towards a deep red.
The moment of relief passed as the blazing pain spread like a returning tide. Neri’s pain reflected through his mind, the feeling hurting him more than his own pain. She was growing a brighter red by the second as she channeled some of the heat away from him. Steam rose from them, causing the air above the fire to shimmer sickeningly.
Then the water stopped getting hotter. Bucc blinked away the darkness just enough to see a bubble of air escape from the Ashenna woman’s mouth and her eyes flicker closed. His brain felt foggy and it took him a moment to realise what was happening. Without the woman heating the water, the liquid globe quickly began to frost over with ice.
Jesse was quicker to react. She quickly reshaped the water so it freed the woman’s head before the whole thing froze solid. Bucc still showed no signs of stopping so she staggered up to him and shoved him away. She recoiled at the touch, his skin burning her like heated iron. His eyes were blank and unseeing. Despite the heat she hugged him tightly as she tried to pull him over to the ice. Adward and Milla ran to her side to help. Together they managed to lean him against the block of ice.