Bucc shouted wordlessly. Without conscious thought his body became covered in his own fire. He ran through the wall of flame, dimly aware that the pain inside his chest had eased slightly. On the other side he came face to face with stark reality. Milla lay slumped on the golden block that was now slick with her blood. Pyrefist stood over her, his face as blank and unreadable as ever. His daughter stood a few steps away. Her eyes were fixed on Bucc and her body was ready to spring into action.
Bucc couldn’t pull his eyes away from Milla’s pale face. Even as the dome beneath their feet started to shift and move, he stared helplessly at her closed eyes. He took an uncertain step forward. It was hard to walk. Whether from shock or the lurching of the dome, he couldn’t tell.
The dial lowered into the ground, leaving Milla in a pool of her own blood over the glass window into the shadowy well below. Pyrefist handed the sword back to his daughter without a word and they both turned to climb down the dome. Bucc’s eyes flitted between them and Milla. Then the dome began to open, its centre curling upwards and over like a blooming flower. The flat ground was quickly becoming a steep slope.
“Bucc! Stop them!” shouted Jesse. The wall of fire had disappeared now and Jesse and Adward were sprinting towards him. “I’ll get Milla. You two go after them!”
The order took any indecision from Bucc’s mind. He charged down the slope, gravity lending him a breakneck speed. Adward ran at his side. The gap between them was closing quickly.
“I hope you have a plan,” Adward yelled between heavy breaths.
“Stir the wind to move the sand. That’s going to be our advantage here.”
They jumped the last few steps into the soft sand a few steps behind Pyrefist. He turned to face them.
“Do you still wish to fight me? How awfully aggressive of a pacifist. Has anger and revenge clouded your morality?” He looked away from Bucc to the now vertical surface of the former dome. Shimmering light was shooting up from within it to connect to the riftway. “Even so, now isn’t the time. We are about to witness a once in a lifetime event. Though I wonder if your body can last even that long.”
The captain was right. Bucc’s heart felt close to bursting and his head was light. The moment of relief that using his power had brought him had given him an idea. He faced down the larger man.
Adward moved his arms and a wind blew across the static landscape. The sand, which had never known a breeze, was swept up and swirled around the two Ashenna pirates. Bucc let his anger build, tentatively tapping into the excess heat that was on the verge of destroying him. He hoped that things were as simple as he thought they were. He had taken in too much heat, so he just needed to vent it back out again.
Bucc braced himself then let loose. Fire ripped through him in a torrent of raw power that blasted the landscape in scouring light. He screamed as lances of pain stabbed through his muscles and nerves. All of his own power and that of Pyrefist’s daughter poured from him in a wave of pure carnage that burned his hands.
Adward sent as much sand into the inferno as he could manage, angling eddies of sand from every direction until his powers failed him and he sagged onto his knees, breathing heavily.
Bucc felt the last of his power splutter and vanish without warning. Smoke billowed off him as he stood numbly swaying in place. Before him was a scene of devastation. The ground was a lumpy patch of misshapen glass that must have covered almost a mile of the Nexus. Everything steamed gently, filling the air with swirling mist.
The air suddenly felt unbearably cold. A fierce chill cut deeply into Bucc. Finding that he had no strength left, he collapsed backwards into the sand. He turned his head slightly to stare into the glass wasteland.
Both Pyrefist and his daughter were still standing. They were encased in the glass up to their knees, with lumps of glass dotting the rest of their bodies where it had rained from above. Just as Bucc had hoped, it seemed that both had used their affinity to avoid taking any direct damage from his blast. The woman was struggling wearily to free herself but didn’t have the strength left. Pyrefist himself simply stared at Bucc, showing no discomfort at all.
The lord captain rolled his shoulders and glass cracked and fell from his torso. Calmly, he placed his hand on the glass around his legs and released a quick but intense burst of heat. The glass shattered. He began a slow walk towards Bucc, completely ignoring the struggles of his daughter.
“Good effort. Your reluctance to hurt me is a deadly weakness though. You were resourceful enough to save your own life and power up your attack in a single move, yet you threw it away for your morals.”
Bucc couldn’t move. He had nothing left to give. Pyrefist’s words washed over him, barely registering in his exhausted mind. He had hoped that the effort needed to defend against the blast would have drained the man, but now he could only watch helplessly as the man’s hands began to glow with power.
Jesse came charging from the side and tackled Pyrefist. She hit him and bounced back, not moving the man an inch. She recovered fast and stood between the captain and Bucc. Her pistols were empty and she had no weapons but she stood there with fierce determination.
“I won’t let you hurt anyone else!”
Pyrefist looked down on her scornfully. “You’re no captain, girl. You are a weakling hiding behind a mask, a child playing dress up.”
He reached out a single finger and pressed it against the wooden mask. A surge of flame passed through it, shattering the mask. Jesse stared in horror at the captain, her determination draining from her face to be replaced by fear.
“Your words lack bite now that you can’t hide away from the world. Those scars, and that face of a shy little girl, they are who you are. You can’t run away from that. You pushed all of your passion into a mask, and now without it you are worthless.”
He backhanded her across the face with enough force to send her skidding across the sand. She lay there, unmoving, surrounded by the fragments of her broken mask. Pyrefist turned his attention away from her and back to Bucc.
“Turn your head towards the salvation of our world, Buccaneer Jones,” Pyrefist intoned, motioning towards the pillar of light that flared up out of the hole beneath the dome like a blazing beacon. Shadows dotted the light by the thousands, some small, others large beyond imagining. They were all floating upwards towards the tangle of riftways where they disappeared from sight.
“I’m not a sentimental man, but even I can see the beauty in this. Believe me, Buccaneer, I would love to say that my work is done, that humanity has been saved, but our people are simply too narrow minded to protect themselves from their own greed. You’ve seen it too. Everything revolves around instant gratification. They want to feast, fight, and consume in an endless cycle of waste. It seems to be a part of being human. They need someone to tell them no. Please tell me you can understand that?”
Bucc couldn’t answer. His mouth was too dry to form words.
Pyrefist sighed, almost sadly. “I will be remembered as a villain and a tyrant, but at least there will be people left to remember me. That is enough.”
Flames once again appeared in his hand. He held it out, the light filling Bucc’s vision. There was nothing he could do. The flame grew then vanished suddenly as Pyrefist lurched forward with a grunt. Jesse clung to his back with one arm around his throat, a feral snarl on her lips. In her other hand was a shard of her mask that she drove into his back repeatedly with savage cries.
Pyrefist tried to pull the girl free but she wouldn’t let go. Again and again she stabbed him, plunging the mask into him until the rough wood shredded her hand and her own blood mixed with the stream flowing down the captain’s back.
“These scars are my mask! It’s a part of me! I’m not worthless, and never was!”
He finally grabbed onto her and threw her hard into the ground before staggering away. The captain moved with a drunken clumsiness as he lurched away from Bucc. A trail of blood followed him as he took laboured steps towards the pillar of light. Nobody moved to stop him. Nobody could. He clambered up onto the golden ramp then fell, the metal slick with his blood. On hands and knees he crawled up the ramp, only standing when he reached the edge of the light. He looked down at them, then tipped back into the riftway. The light pulled him away and his shadowy shape vanished from sight.
Adward appeared at Bucc’s side. “Are you okay?”
“Breathing hurts,” Bucc rasped.
“That’s probably not good.” Adward observed dryly. “Come on, we have to get back. We need water and medical attention.”
As Adward helped him up, he stared in wide-eyed amazement at Jesse. She stood nearby, drenched in blood and panting heavily. Bucc took a few faltering steps towards her but she shook her head and pointed towards the base of the dome.
“I’m fine. Go to Milla.”
“Milla!” Bucc said, his thoughts snapping back into place.
They stumbled over to where the girl was laid. Bucc dropped to his knees at her side. Her dress was soaked in blood and her skin was sickly and pale. Somehow she was still breathing though.
“The plants tried to seal the wound,” Jesse told them as she slowly limped to join them. “I don’t think it’s enough.”
Bucc pushed away the adrenaline, and all of the doubts and fears that fought for control in his head. He felt a strange sense of clarity through the exhaustion. His fire wasn’t a weapon. It was a tool for creation and for survival.
“Sit her up,” he told his friends. They lifted her slightly. Bucc placed one hand on Milla’s chest over the wound, his other on her back. He had seen surgeons seal bad wounds that would kill the unlucky pirate by using heated iron to cauterise the injury and stop the bleeding. Looking deep within himself, Bucc grasped at the last reserves of his strength and summoned his fire one more time.
Milla hissed and writhed even as Jesse and Adward tried to keep her in place. Seconds passed, then Bucc laid down beside Milla with a quiet groan. Jesse and Adward slumped into the sand too, and for a moment, there was nothing but a peaceful silence.
A sharp cracking noise sounded nearby, followed by unsteady footsteps. Adward was the only one with the energy to lift his head.
“That woman is getting away.”
“Let her,” Bucc said tiredly. “The fight’s over for today. I don’t know how different the world will be, or even if we won or lost. Either way, it’s over.”
Jesse was the first to stand. “We have to go back. Milla needs proper care. We can’t stay here.”
Bucc nodded slowly. “You’re right. Let’s go.”