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Among the Ashes 1
I whirled around on the spot. The boom had shattered my eardrums, and the smoke was blinding me. I made my way across the field to the children's building of our school.
"Nathan! Is that you?" I spotted Asher calling to me from a few feet away, her fire-red hair as dark as the flames that were ripping apart the building.
"Asher! Do you know what happened?"
She shook her head. Grabbing my hand, she pulled me off towards the fire, which was probably the last place I wanted to go. "We have to find Harrison. He was helping out with Marney and Mickey's birthday party near the school."
My stomach clenched in fear for my best friend. He had been helping the two eight year-old twins prepare for their birthday bash, which was taking place right behind where the explosion had happened. I could just imagine Harrison, trapped in the wall of flames, coughing, dying...
"Nathan! Asher!" My fear evaporated as I saw Harrison approaching, his blond curly hair slightly blackened with ashes and smoke. "Some people are already putting out the fire over there. They say that they didn't see anybody where they searched in the school, but... I have bad news."
Asher immediately looked worried. "There's someone in the school, isn't there? And they haven't found them."
"Right before the party, we needed to grab the cake. So they ran inside..."
My eyes widened as Asher ran screaming into the burning building. "MARNEY! MICKEY!"
"You let Marney and Mickey go inside? Why?" I glared at Harrison, horrified.
"It's not like I knew that the school was going to get bombed!" Harrison glared right back.
I froze in shock. "We were bombed? By who?"
"Isn't it obvious? The Empire did this to us. The walls are collapsing between our world and theirs, Nathan. They're taking over."
"So their first mission was to blow up the school?"
"I guess the Empire thought it would scare us the most, having our youth destroyed." Tears began rolling down Harrison's cheeks. "And now Marney and Mickey could be dead! They were inside, and we were outside, and... it should have been me! And it's their birthday!"
"Just... pull yourself together, okay?" Support. Not my strongest skill. I'm a bit better at the "sit back and don't say anything" kind of job. But Harrison needed some support right then, and I was the only one to give it to him. "Let's just... let's just find Asher, and we'll look for them, okay? Marney and Mickey will be fine. They have to be." Harrison and I ran towards the blown-up school and entered through the front doors, which were surprisingly unharmed despite the fire surrounding them. "Asher! Asher, are you there?" Rubble and ashes were all around us, and the ground was hot under our feet. I spluttered and coughed from all the smoke, but pressed on, searching through the building for my friend and the two eight year-old twins. Harrison used a bit of sorcery to provide some fresh air for us, but my throat still burned.
Harrison froze on the spot. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" We were silent, and suddenly a choking sob sounded distantly from a classroom from down the hall. We sprinted towards it. "Asher, are you there?"
"We're coming!" Harrison ran up ahead of me, and I saw him stop immediately when he entered the room. I caught up, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw the bodies of little Marney and her brother Mickey underneath a collapsed table, their clothes even more ash-covered than ours. Asher buried her face in my shoulder, and, yet again, support was necessary. This was bad. Really bad. Asher never cried. Things never exploded. And Marney and Mickey had never been so eerily still and silent.
"Out of the way! Paramedics! Is someone hurt?" We were shoved aside as three Healers burst into the room. They immediately knelt down beside the motionless twins and pressed fancy tools to the kids' necks and hearts and checked for pulses on their bloody wrists. One Healer shouted excitedly to her comrade, and he handed her some strange pump thing I had never seen before.
"What is it? Are they okay?" Asher looked up hopefully."
"-Marney." Asher interrupted. "Her name is Marney."
"Right." The Healer continued. "Marney just might live. She's got a lot of injuries, though, and she's breathed in a lot of smoke."
"And what about her brother?" Tears still rolled down Asher's cheeks.
The Healer shook her head. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Mickey... he's... dead?" Harrison's voice was no more than a whisper.
My world tilted completely, and everything turned upside-down. Mickey... dead? The peppy, sometimes annoying young boy was gone forever? It was incomprehensible. Completely absurd. It wasn't fair.
A vision of my mother being taken away by the Empire's officers entered my mind. They dragged her off, furious that she had helped me survive my execution. My ten year-old sister, Magi, leaped up out of her chair and shrieked, lunging for one of the huge men who had my mom's right arm in a tight grip. She screamed and kicked and bit and scratched, but even after all her struggling, they threw her off easily, and my little sister watched in horror as her mother was taken away to her death.
And now the Empire had taken the life of Mickey, the innocent little boy whose birthday was today. They had broken up the twins, notorious for their mischief around school. It wasn't fair.
And, little did I know, but this was only the ember of the flames that would engulf my world.