Will and Ren faced each other across the wide room, the shallow channel of water running between them. “Why’d you have to come here?” Will shouted. “Why’d you have to show up and make everything harder?”
“You’re the one picking fights,” Ren said with a shrug. “You only have yourself to blame.”
“You’re messing everything up. Hito is supposed to be all ours to play with, but you want to take him away!” Will’s entire body burst into fierce green fire, a blazing green aura radiating powerful heat. “I won’t let you get away with it! I’ll show you the power of Will-o-Wisp, the Lord of the Green Flame!”
Crying out, Hito and Ren bolted as Will brought his arms together and doused their corner in a massive sheet of fire. He whipped in their direction again, swished his hands through the air, and a rapid stream of fireballs blazed toward them.
“Duck!” Ren yelled. As Hito obeyed, Ren crouched low, hooked her fingers, and yanked them upwards. The floor in front of them rumbled, then tore up with her motion, the bricks shifting to form a wall between them and the advancing fire.
Hito heard the fireballs snuff out as they struck the barrier. He glanced to either side, afraid Will’s flame would creep behind their makeshift shield at any moment. “Don’t let him take you by surprise,” he whispered. “He’s crazy fast when he turns into fire.”
“Don’t worry,” Ren said. “You’ll be safe here. Leave everything to me.”
Shame welled up inside him, cold and bitter. She would protect him, like she always did. And he would cower in the background, unable to do anything to help. If she hadn’t come when she did, Will might have reduced him to ashes. Ren was the strong one, the one with the powers. Could he really expect to make it home when he was so weak?
But he merely nodded, and Ren dashed out to face Will, while he sat there feeling powerless. Peeking out from the heap of bricks, he watched Ren and Will face each other again, like two samurai about to duel.
“So,” Ren said slowly. “You’re one of those flames who brought me here.”
“That’s right,” Will said. “We thought it would be fun to play a game with you. But it turns out you’re no fun at all.”
“Aw,” Ren said. “That’s harsh!”
“So now, even though I don’t want to, I have to eliminate you.” His face lacking any trace of malice, he ignited a ball of swirling green fire between his outstretched palms. “Once I burn you to ash and take back Hito’s compass, everything will be back on track.”
“I have a better plan,” Ren said with a mischievous grin. “I beat the pulp out of you, and you show us the way out of here!”
They each fired at the same time, Will launching his fireball, and Ren whipping bricks forward from the wall behind her. One of the hunks of stone struck the fireball mid-flight, and it exploded in a bright green flash with a reverberating boom, showering pebbles everywhere.
Before the sound fell away, Will faded into a flame, then streaked across the room toward her. Ren staggered backwards, stunned by the sudden speed. I warned her, Hito thought, his teeth gritted in anxiety.
Will materialized a few feet from Ren, his fist coated in flame, and launched fire at her point blank. The light flooding her face, she jerked her head to the side, and the heat blazed close enough to singe her hair.
Will winced. “I’m glad that one missed. I almost burned your face!”
“Take this seriously! Do you want to fight me or not?!” As she spoke, she regained her balance and launched another brick at him, her aim incredibly precise.
Without flinching, Will swatted the stone out of the air with his glowing green hand, leaving a trail of dust as it fell to the ground. Once again, he transformed into his flame form, soaring through the air to close the distance to Ren.
But this time, she was ready. With a quick motion, she caused the floor beneath her feet to whip upwards. She used its force to propel her in a dash, and as Will swerved to follow, she fired a blade of air into him.
The shimmering blade passed through the center of Will’s flame, and the strong gusts in its wake caused the fire to swirl and flicker—and nearly poof out. Will snapped back into human form and collapsed to his knees, gasping for air.
He’s not invulnerable as a flame! Hito realized. Things that extinguish fire can still hurt him!
Before Will recovered, Ren raked water from the tiny channel running through the room, froze it into pointy icicles, and fired them at Will like a volley of arrows. But even as he stood there wheezing, the Wisp threw his arm forward, and a dome of fire formed a burning shield in front of him, vaporizing the icicles as they struck it.
Ren’s fist clenched, and she let out a growl of frustration. “Figures he can make shields, too.”
But Hito was no longer concerned with Will. Instead, his eyes caught the slow, subtle movement of something near Ren—a single vine, snaking its way to her along the floor. As Hito watched, it drew close and sprouted a green bud.
“Ren! Look out!” he shouted.
“Huh?” Her eyes darted around her, fixed on the growing bud … but it was already too late. The bud flapped open into a large purple flower, and a thick, smoky black cloud whooshed out and enveloped her. Doubling over, she coughed, flailing her arms to disperse the cloud.
Any other warning Hito shouted would have been futile. With Ren distracted, Will shot quickly into action. He whipped one finger out in front of him, and in a few seconds, formed a tiny spark of green flame at its tip. Even though it was smaller than all of his other attacks, it glowed with such a powerful intensity that Hito couldn’t look straight at it. With a swipe of his hand, Will loosed the strange projectile, sending it whistling like a firework on its path toward Ren.
In the midst of her coughing, Ren caught sight of the spark, and it was all she could do to send out a single burst of wind to meet it.
The bomb detonated a short distance in front of her, sending a thunderous crack shaking through the room. An explosion of green fire swelled out of the spark, emitting a powerful shock wave. Ren screamed as the force hit her, thrown backwards, while Hito guarded his face with his arm and braced himself.
Ren’s body thumped to the floor, and she lay there, groaning. Hito ran to her side. This couldn’t be happening. She had to be okay!
With a long moan, Ren began dragging herself up from the stone floor. “Oh, man,” she grumbled. “This brat is such a pain!”
Hito’s eyes snapped to the wisp, expecting an attack … but Will was only standing there, watching him silently and chewing his lower lip. Why isn’t he attacking? Was he really so loathe to hurt them that he couldn’t follow up on his opening?
“Are you hurt?” Hito asked as he pulled Ren to her feet.
“I’m fine,” Ren insisted, yanking her hand from him. “What are you doing? I told you to stay hidden!”
“I can’t just watch while he hurts you like that!” Hito shouted. “What if—”
“What?” Ren snapped.
“What if he’s too much for you?”
“Easy! He turns us into barbecue and we both die!”
Ren rolled her eyes. “Give me a little faith here,” she insisted. “I said I’d protect you. So go hide behind those bricks, and I’ll take care of it.”
That twist of guilt and self loathing swelled again as he moved to do as he was told. He hated that he was so useless, and he didn’t feel reassured by Ren’s words. There had to be some way he could help.
Suddenly, he recalled how Will had doubled over in exhaustion when Ren had hit his flame with wind—and an idea formed in his mind.
No sooner had Hito ducked behind his cover than Will shot another fireball toward Ren. This time, she dodged easily. “I could do this all day!” she sneered.
“Humans get tired,” said Will, “but a Wisp’s flame burns forever.”
“Oooh,” Ren mocked. “So poetic!”
He’s distracted, Hito realized. He glanced swiftly around the room, the specifics of his plan taking shape. Now’s my chance!
Hito bolted across the room toward Will, and it was only as he drew within a few feet that the other boy noticed him. Will’s silver-green eyes only barely had time to widen before Hito plowed into him, shoving him backwards and pinning him to the nearby wall. Nestled between the bricks lay a small hole, spewing a stream of water that fed the channel running through the room.
A strange expression of pain and betrayal flooded Will’s face. “How could you?” he whispered. Then, his body faded into the familiar form of his green fire, like Hito had known it would. Hito jerked backwards, crying out in pain as the fire burned his exposed skin and clothes.
“The wall behind him!” he shouted. “Bring it down … Now!”
Ren stared for a moment, confused. But then she nodded. Furrowing her brow in deep concentration, she pulled her hands through the air and yanked the bricks behind Will toward her.
Will gasped as realization struck him. “No, don’t!”
A chunk of wall collapsed, and the water reservoir behind it came gushing out over Will’s flame. His voice cut off in an abrupt scream as the water washed over him, and with the minute hiss of doused fire, Will was gone.
Hito and Ren stared at where Will had been, listening to the rush of water as it pooled on the floor.
“Is … is he dead?” Ren asked.
“I don’t know,” Hito said heavily. “Maybe he’ll be okay.”
“How could you know that? You’re only saying it so I don’t feel bad, aren’t you?”
Hito averted his gaze. “Maybe Wisps can survive things like that. You never know.”
“Not sure how I feel about that. I’d be glad if I’m not a murderer, but if we never saw him again, it would be too soon.”
“Yeah,” Hito agreed with a sigh. “I hope we never see him again.” But strange feelings floated up inside him like bubbles, so many he couldn’t begin to pop them all. Will wasn’t all bad, was he? Maybe if they had more time, they could get through to him. He remembered the wounded, accusatory look in Will’s eyes before the water poured over him. How could you, Hito? How could you? His mind replayed the moment when the water had doused Will, and he found himself feeling strangely empty.
“You okay?” Ren asked. “You got burned, didn’t you?”
He lifted his hands and examined them, but he felt no pain. Will’s strange fire had left no trace of a burn. “I’m fine!” he said, astonished.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Ren. “I’ve had enough of this stinking temple.”