CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: WATER
“Hey, you two know each other?” James asked Brittany and me.
I stared breathlessly at Brittany, not listening to James. She appeared to look at me as well, but it seemed more like she was just zoning out.
“What are you doing here?” I finally asked her.
Her sad eyes and small smile held their position for a brief moment before she actually made eye contact with me.
“Nothing much,” she replied. “Just looking for answers.”
Gary and I exchanged glances. James kept pressing.
“But … hold on,” he said, trying to make sense of what was happening. “We just saw you use Soulpower. Are you …?” He looked at Gary and me for answers, but received only stares. “Um, what’s your deal?”
“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” Brittany replied.
“Are you a Soulpower user, too?” Gary had to step into the conversation to bail James out of his stumbling words. “That’s what it looked like, at least.”
Brittany’s stoic gaze gave rise to a soft smile.
“I’ve never heard of Soulpower. I’m sorry.”
Nobody seemed to know what to say at first. After a moment of silence, James spoke up.
“You’re kidding! Even though you were using SOME sort of power!” He looked at Gary. “Hey, if she doesn’t know anything about Soulpower, then we gotta explain a whole lot to her.”
Looking skeptical, Gary said, “Well, the thing is we don’t really know her.” He turned to Brittany. “Sorry, but we can’t just go around telling our secrets to just anybody.”
“I see,” said Brittany, her voice hiding her deep melancholic undertones. “I’ll been on my way. Take care, everyone.”
Brittany turned around to walk away. A crisp, cool breeze rattled my body as I helplessly watched her leave once again. So many things I still wanted to ask her ….
“Wait!” Gary called out.
She stopped walking and turned around. She was looking at Gary with an unidentified emotion on her face. Hope? Eagerness, maybe? I wasn’t sure.
“What I meant was let’s get to know each other first,” said Gary. “You obviously have powers you can control. I have something very similar.” He ignited his right hand, using a small portion of his strength to create glowing flames in his palm.
“Ha! So much for keeping secrets,” James sneered.
“James, let me handle this,” Gary muttered before turning back to Brittany. “We call this ability Soulpower. It seems to be different for everybody, but it shares the same concept from person to person. Just from witnessing your abilities earlier, I can’t help but feel like you have something very similar. It’s intuition, or something … it’s hard to explain. Anyway,” he snuffed out his Soulpower flame, “it’s your turn. Let’s hear your story.”
Not moving an inch, Brittany stared back at Gary, as if waiting for him to say more. When he didn’t speak, she finally said something.
“My name is Brittany,” she told us. “I met Krystal not too long ago.” She looked at me with a faint smile, making me want to blush. “You might call us friends.”
Hearing Brittany call me her friend was like a warm spoonful of honey on a chilly night. No doubt I was flattered.
“Brittany?” Gary thought for a moment. “Oh, is this the friend you mentioned to me a little while back? Yeah, the British accent.”
I nodded. There was nothing for me to say.
Brittany chuckled, “It’s funny that Americans say I have the accent when your country stole our language.”
Although she probably wasn’t being serious, it still created awkwardness.
“Heh, jokes,” James replied, trying to find the humor.
“I’m from England,” Brittany continued, her voice too soft and gentle for her weighted words and liquid helium expression. “I came to this country looking for answers.”
“Um, you said that already,” said James. “What answers?”
Holding out her hands, Brittany summoned a surge of water that gushed from seemingly nowhere. Like snaking rivers, the powerful bands of water encircled her in midair, moving most graciously while controlled by the equally fluid motions of her hands and arms. The sight was stunningly beautiful, yet jarringly frightening as I could feel the force of the water from afar. With a lightning-quick thrust of her hand, the jets of water followed her violent command, ripping through a nearby tree and cutting it in half instantly. Before the tree could topple, a tidal deluge erupted from around Brittany and voraciously swallowed it. I watched, dumbfounded, as the giant, sturdy plant was torn to bits amid the wrathful waves, not one splinter left untouched to fall back to the ground.
“I seek the secrets to this curse.” Brittany’s voice was now louder than I’ve ever heard it as to carry over the raging torrents and crackling tree pieces. Her concentration did not falter even as she spoke and looked at us. “This abomination. I must know more about it.”
“Whoa.” James was wide-eyed, staring at Brittany’s display of ability.
“Without the pulling of gravity,” Brittany explained as her stupendous water surged and whipped prodigiously around us, “the weight and pressure of the water is fully under my command.” A delicate gesture of her hand conducted a colossal and wrathful torrent into the boulder she had collided with when fighting Night Stallion; the water eroded it faster than acid before it exploded from pure pressure.
She turned her palms upward, lifting her arms as if raising a silky, meadow-scented sheet above her head. The streams of water which made up a profoundly webbed network came to a halt, and it now surrounded us in yarn-like strands and childish brooks that wound boundlessly through the woods. Sudden silence slapped my ears as my eyes followed the thousands of airborne, pristine water trails, flowing with such peace and humbleness.
“And being fully at the beck and call of my whims,” said Brittany, now wearing her treasured smile, “it can be quite the sight to behold when I wish it to be.”
Gary, James, and I were speechless. It was like a watercolor painting without a canvas. The fact that Brittany was controlling every drop of water consciously was difficult to wrap my mind around, but she was doing so without any sign of struggle or difficulty. I saw her fingers subtly nudging and pulling the invisible strings of her massive, aquatic puppet in the minutest ways. Small pulses of her influence could be seen rippling throughout the encompassing streams, adding a sense of life, as if the water itself was softly breathing and yawning.
It was at that moment when I realized that Gary, James, and I were totally surrounded by Brittany’s Soulpower. I didn’t want to consider the possibility, but if we had been her enemies, there would be no escape without taking a lashing. While I looked at her nearly lazy stance, it made me wonder if this was how she entrapped her foes (if she had any), luring them in with her grace and beauty before striking them down.
“Look at this!” James was unable to conceal his excitement as he looked at the watery entanglements. “This is incredible! I’ve never seen a Soulpower user do anything like this! I mean, I haven’t seen too many Soulpower users altogether, but … this is awesome!”
“It really is,” Gary agreed. “Now that I’m seeing it up close, I can say for sure that this is Soulpower. It’s radiating with me, probably because I use Soulpower, too.”
Brittany looked at Gary and James. Normally, I could hint the sullen notes she carried, but this was different. In fact, her sadness had taken the center stage, as it was undeniable at this point.
“You don’t say,” she replied.
The muscles in her arms and hands tightened so stiffly that I could clearly see the tension, and it quickly spread throughout her entire body. An intensity consumed her and pushed outward, not just because of her rigid posture and solid facial expression, but because the air itself seemed to vibrate around her. Her numerous streams of water appeared to mimic her physical behavior. Bubbles began to form in the water as it began to roar and boil. Even the steam being released didn’t act as steam naturally would, moving sporadically and not necessarily upward, but like rusty clockwork that was struggling to learn a movement beyond rotating gears and swinging pendulums. Was she able to control water in all its forms, not just liquid?
In the very instant that Brittany brought her hands together, my senses were muted as unfathomable energy raked over me. There was much more water, and it had appeared without a moment’s notice, and it was everywhere. That was when Brittany unleashed it, swiftly throwing her arms above her as she arched her back so that she was facing the sky.
The sound alone would have been enough to incapacitate me, as forceful as the most sickening chord sustained on the world’s largest pipe organ. However, the true stupor came from the unsurmountable blast of water that pushed in every direction away from us. Like a bomb, the quickness and force massacred the forest. Walls of water, stretching from the ground to the sky, leveled every tree, taking away the soil all the way to the deepest roots, and these walls only grew taller and angrier with every inch they trampled. Even the overcast clouds cringed.
Fear. That was my only emotion. As the environment was utterly erased around me, all I could feel was the fragility of my own body and life. When the deluge of Brittany’s wave came to a standstill, the gargantuan ocean locked us into a solitary valley. Trees, shrubs, soil, and rocks tumbled toward the white crests that towered above us, almost too far away to see from the untouched patch of ground that our feet rested on.
As the ravaging waters carried on, the look Brittany wore was the most solemn I had seen on her. Pure depression made up every part of her as her gaze spurned the devastation around her. She was just as gentle as she always had been, but she looked defeated. Her sorrow battled against her beauty and threatened to overtake her personality.
“These abilities were granted from the most wretched things,” Brittany told us gravely. Despite her cataclysmic actions, her body was borderline limp as she surrendered her disposition. “I’ve endured endless pain and turmoil as the toll for this strength. And I’ve witnessed nearly the same suffering from countless people dear to me. It has been a chasm deeper than the heart can touch. It’s an inhuman, hollow void, and I’ve traversed it until becoming the shambling husk that I am now. The merciless descent of these powers is my only companion. It gradually shaves away my existence, layer by painful layer. No human being fully understands how many layers they contain until each and every one of those layers is bloodily skinned off … and yet my counting of those lost layers is far into the hundreds and rising. It is inhuman and heartless with no regard to me or anyone. Therefore, hearing you refer to such an abomination as ‘SOUL power’,” she turned her gaze toward us, and the look in her eyes was so potent that I literally stepped back from her, “is fucking insulting.”
The surrounding waters quickly vaporized, turning to steam much faster than a typical boiling process would take. In seconds, there was no trace of a single drop, leaving behind an expansive wasteland. Gary, James, and I were huddled together, practically shaking with fright.
“I-I don’t know what to say.” Gary’s voice was breathy and timid as he swallowed. “I didn’t mean to insult you. We had no idea what you had been through.”
“And it’s not like ‘Soulpower’ is our word,” James added. “Actually, I think it’s a cheesy name.”
Brittany shook her head, returning a humble smile.
“No worries,” she replied quietly. “You asked me for my story.” Looking around at the destroyed forest, she added, “Consider this to be less than a peephole’s worth of my story.”
When I felt my strength fully return and my shaking stopped, I approached Brittany and gave her a small smile.
“I’ve been through a lot, too,” I told her. “You’re not alone, Brittany. I just want you to know that.”
“Thank you, Krystal.” The melancholy aura began to melt away from her brightening face. “I apologize for the scare. A lot has been pent up inside me.”
“You said you were looking for answers to your powers,” said Gary. “Now that we, uh, know each other a little more, let us help you. Maybe you can help us, too.”
Pensively, Brittany looked toward the sky for a few seconds.
“I accept,” she said warmly. “Since coming to America, you three seem to be the best leads so far.”
“So, uh, we good now?” James blurt. “I vote that we skedaddle. I know the media has been failing to catch on to us, but this probably isn’t the best place to stick around right now.”
“You’re right,” said Gary. “We should get back to Abby’s van, if it’s not destroyed … she’ll kill me if it is. Anyway, where are you parked, Brittany? Did you drive here?”
“I’ve never driven before,” said Brittany. “I don’t have my driving license. I usually travel by foot, or take a plane for long trips.”
“Feel free to ride with us,” Gary offered. “I’ll be more than happy to give you a ride.”
“Thank you,” said Brittany. “I think I will.”
“It’s settled,” said Gary. “Let’s go.”
Walking through the destroyed forest was almost like walking through a nightmare. Brittany’s water had dug deep into the earth, creating a difficult landscape to cross. It also gave me a better perspective of the scope of her powers. Her control of Soulpower and level of destruction was very impressive, and she seemed to be much more advanced than Gary as a Soulpower user. Even with Gary’s strength and talents as a fighter, his flames always appeared to dance wildly like all flames do, behaving independently with a will of its own.
On the other hand, Brittany’s water was unlike any water I had ever seen. Rather than being an inanimate liquid that splashed and flowed mindlessly, it was alive and deeply connected with Brittany on even the tiniest details. Her effortless control of her Soulpower seemed to turn her water into a natural extension of her own body and mind … and I wondered how and why she became so in-tune with it. Judging by her explanation, it must’ve been a journey of great tribulation, and a long journey at that.
“Should you let your family know what’s going on?” James asked Gary during the walk. “Or at least give them some sort of cover story?”
“Good idea, I should call Mom,” said Gary, reaching for his cellphone. When he took it out of his pocket, it was broken.
“Oh, that sucks,” said James, looking at the wrecked cellphone.
“Don’t you have one?” Gary asked James.
“Uh, I forgot it at the house,” said James. “What about Krystal?”
I reached into my pocket, but my phone was gone. There was a good chance that it had fallen out.
“Sorry, but I don’t have a phone,” said Brittany.
“Oh well,” Gary sighed.
I felt someone walking next to me. Without even looking, I knew who it was.
“I hope this will be interesting,” said Brittany. “I’ve been waiting for a long time, and I must admit that I’m a little excited.”
I had no idea what to say. Brittany rarely made much sense when she spoke, but I loved to listen to her. Everything she said seemed to have deep meaning. Her voice had an almost spellbinding quality.
“I must ask, though,” said Brittany, “what are your names?”
“Oh, right. I’m Gary, Krystal’s husband.”
“James is the name! It’s a pleasure to meet such a wondrous girl as yourself!”
“Glad to meet you, Gary and James.”
“So,” said James, “you and Krystal know each other?”
“Yes,” Brittany replied. “We’ve met a few times.”
“Hmm, she didn’t tell me she had a friend like you,” said James, glancing at me.
“Oh,” I said, feeling a little bad, “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” said James with a grin. “I like nice surprises.”
Fortunately, Abby’s minivan was good to go, but there was a crack in the windshield that stretched all the way across horizontally. Gary didn’t look very happy to see the damage, and I figured he was thinking of some way to explain it to Abby. Before getting in the van, I noticed that some people were still around. Some people were huddling close together, some were crying, some on their phones, and others just appeared to be talking. Surely, the devastation was more than physical.
I sat in the front passenger seat as Gary drove. Brittany took the middle seat and James sat in the back and stretched out. When leaving the park and ruined Christmas Festival, I looked down toward the floor, not wanting to see anything outside the windows.
“So,” said James finally, breaking the silence, “what’s the plan?”
“I don’t really know yet,” he said. “Let’s drive around, or something. We can discuss things now.”
“Yeah,” said James, “I don’t know where to begin. I mean, what are we gonna do? Night Stallion is back, and call me crazy, but it seems a lot stronger than before. Maybe it’s just my imagination, or I’m just getting old.”
“We need to focus on Night Stallion,” said Gary, turning onto a somewhat rural road. “If we don’t, then we know what’ll happen.”
“Oh man!” James groaned. “Not how I wanted to spend my vacation.”
“Brittany,” said Gary, “I hate to ask, but can you help us with this? You’re very powerful, and it’d be great to have you on our side.”
Staring out the window, the look on Brittany’s face was the same as it had been during my first meeting with her at the grocery store. She gently stroked the strings of her knit hat before looking at Gary.
“Of course,” she replied with a smile.
“It’ll be dangerous, just so you know.”
“Thanks,” Gary told her. “We owe you big time.”
“We can help her look for her answers,” I said, “but I don’t know how much we can do. There’s still so much we don’t understand, either.”
“Well, it’ll be a learning experience for all of us, then,” said Gary.
“Learning. Yay,” James muttered from the back of the van. “Hey, I just thought of something.” He leaned forward in his seat. “Do you guys remember Tyler?”
“Brandon’s grandpa?” Gary replied. “The old man running the antique store?”
“He had a book!” said James. “That old book … I think Krystal said something about it being from her time in those labs, or something. But Tyler had it. It had a bunch of information in it about Soulpower, Darknae, and stuff.”
Gary perked up.
“I’ll never say this again, but you’re a genius, James!”
“Damn straight, I’m a genius!” James beamed. “Do you know if Tyler still runs that store?”
“I have no idea,” said Gary, doing a tight U-turn. I had to grab the overhead handlebar as the van whipped around. “We’re going there right now.”
I’d always known Gary to be a safe driver, so my heart began to beat with excitement as he took the minivan well over the speed limit.