The mountains were on fire.
Dima had roughly three seconds of warning before her blankets were being ripped from her bed, her skin erupting in goosebumps. Her aunt’s whisper was still hanging in the air around her ears as she frowned at the sudden cold, the mountains are burning.
She waited for the whisper to settle before she pushed herself upright, looking through the darkness toward the window. There, against the deep blue of space, was a single golden flicker. “That’s—” though she didn’t finish her thought, instead lifting her hand to scrub messily through her hair. She resented others who could describe their bedhead as sticking up in odd angles, for her mass of dark curls remained a halo around her head even while awake.
“Dima!” her aunt’s voice echoed shrilly from somewhere in the deep gloom of the little house.
Dima nodded sleepily, taking another moment to rouse herself before she clambered from her small bed and over to her closet. It didn’t take long to select something—her aunt would later grimace at her red leather pants and oversized purple sweater—but when she looked out her window again, the flame had sprouted into something approaching danger. Dima paused halfway into her pants, one hand coming forward to press against the glass as she watched a golden lick jump away from the ground, sparking against the night.
“Dima!” her aunt was panicking now, and so Dima hurriedly jumped the rest of the way into her pants, running from her room. She ducked through her doorway, grabbing her bag where it lay on the floor.
The jeep was already roaring in the front yard, and she could hear her aunt arguing furiously with Jae’s sister on the comms. She tapped the one in her ear, clicked through to Jae’s frequency, and said, “Are you coming?”
“Dressed to impress,” he said, and she could almost feel his grin mirroring her own.
As she opened the front door into the airlock, she called over her shoulder, “May the end come quickly,” in case anyone else was listening.
“Dima, don’t—” but her aunt’s voice was cut off as the airlock closed, and Dima faced the darkness, eager.
Jae was lounging on his roof when she pulled up, bare feet dangling over the edge, near enough to the main window that it would stir fury in his sister. As the jeep rumbled up their drive, his sister appeared in the window, glaring something awful at Dima while Jae leapt from the roof easily. He was donned in dark colors, the better to hide, but his shock of pale hair and paler skin made him opaque in the night.
The passenger door was still open when Dima swerved away from his house, racing toward the growing fire.
As they drove, Jae upended the contents of Dima’s bag onto his lap, sorted his things from hers, and began mixing. “Put some noise on,” Dima said, not taking her hands from the wheel as the speedometer crashed toward the red zone. The black market engine roared once, loudly, and settled into a steady hum, carrying them through the night. The jeep’s edges vibrated with their combined energy.
Jae flicked a hand toward the center of the jeep’s dash, and the radio spat blue bursts at them before it clattered to life. Something low and deep crept through the jeep, and Dima’s next sigh was tinted orange.
“Why was your sister mad?” Dima asked as the flames grew closer. They would be there in a few minutes, and while it wasn’t a lot of time, Jae’s hands were moving quickly, almost too fast to see clearly.
He plucked at different herbs and spices, rattled bones into a small bowl, pricked one of his fingers and shook out a few droplets of blood, but it was an old potion, one he had created many and more times, and so he shrugged and said, “She had a thing.”
Jae mocked gagging. “Feelings are for spirits. Something was—” his fingers twitch briefly by his temple, “—singing.”
“Heralding,” Dima corrected, easing off the gas, “Jae.”
“Do not,” Jae said, his energy levels spiking enough that the steering wheel snapped cold through Dima’s fingers. He crushed three glacier shards under the heel of his palm and upended them into the bowl. The potion immediately began to leap upward, blue dust particles escaping into the night, but Jae’s mouth whispered something strange, and it settled again.
He covered the bowl, put it between his feet, and turned to Dima, flicking her shoulder. “Death is the next great adventure,” he said, giving her his best lopsided grin.
Dima rolled her eyes, but dropped her foot back onto the gas nonetheless.
They had reached the source of the flame before any of the spirits had arrived, and Jae let out a holler as he hauled himself out of the jeep, clutching his bowl against his chest. Dima followed, leaving the engine grumbling as she stepped down and surveyed the damage.
It had spread farther than either of them had predicted—they would need more time. Dima let her next exhale expunge some of her frustration before tapping knuckles with Jae and kicking into a run. He stayed behind, close enough to the jeep that he could escape if necessary, but she headed straight for the fire, her smile growing as the heat danced against her dark skin, threatening to burn her. Instead, she embraced it, plunging into its depths.
She looked to her left immediately, and found the source without difficulty. A little girl was crouched close to the ground, curled around something. She had long, dark hair, and the fire was starting to catch at the ends that rested against the ground. She was darker even than Dima, and she did not look up as Dima approached.
“What have you got there?” Dima asked, carefully gathering the girl’s hair. She patted out the edges and began to twist it into a knot as the girl’s shoulders shook, silent sobs stoking the fire around her.
“You have to control it,” Dima said, tying her hair off, “If you let it burn, they’ll take you.”
“Not me,” the girl said, and then she unfolded. She had curled around a boy a few years younger than her, still a toddler, with the exact features as the girl.
“Your parents?” Dima asked, not taking her eyes from the boy.
“I killed them.”
Slowly, she reached out her hand and said, “Can I take some of your energy—douse this?”
“I have help,” Dima assured, trying for a smile.
As though he had heard, Jae crackled to life in her ear, “We have company.”
“And a beast.”
“Morroca,” Dima swore. Morroca had taken the shape of a snake the last time she had seen her, coiling tightly around the baby boy that had been offered at the full moon’s sacrifice. Jae had been slouched in the backseat of the jeep, watching diligently while his fingers created something noxious in his bowl. When Dima had drunk of it later, it tasted of lemons, and she knew what he had seen—Morroca’s gaze fixed on the jeep.
“Yeah,” came Jae’s voice, frustration fraying the edges.
“Take the jeep,” Dima said, and she only just made out the shape of his laugh before the girl took her hand. The fire started to curve in toward them, and she heard a spirit’s high keen.
Dima’s aunt drank the blue tea Jae handed her without comment as she watched Dima lead the little girl and her sleep stumbling brother into her room. When she returned, Jae had his head pillowed in his arms, and Dima’s aunt was watching him with one eyebrow raised.
“He’s fine,” Dima said, collapsing into the seat next to him.
Her aunt’s eyebrow quirked a little higher before she asked, “Why has the city been formally invited to attend the inauguration of the new High Council?”
Jae muttered into his elbow, “We may have killed the old one.”