Author’s Note: This is the point at which I said, “Oops, story’s… over.” Then I also said, “no, it’s not, there’s more so I have to keep going.” 40,000 words later, that was a huge mistake. I went back to this point and changed directions, and so while this is not an ending in some people’s opinions, this is where this part of the story ends. After the mistake in taking the story one direction, I’m not really thinking I’ll put up the next bit unless there’s a real interest in seeing it, just because I’m not sure it’ll work this way, either.

Not Just Trouble

“The rain stopped.”

“Enya, what are you doing? We’re supposed to wait here.”

She knew that, but she couldn’t help pushing the door open anyway. She couldn’t feel anyone or anything, not even Flint, and she didn’t like being so far removed from everyone else and what was going on. She didn’t want to sit alone and wait for something to come at her. She understood now what she’d done in hiding from her abilities, and she cursed herself for it, for leaving her and the others so helpless by her lack of control.

“Don’t go. I can feel Stone. He’s awake, and I can tell he’s doing better. We’re almost done here,” Terra said, taking hold of Enya’s arm. She looked at the hand and shook her head, pulling free as she stepped down onto the street.

“They might be, but that doesn’t mean that Cress is,” Enya said as she started toward where they’d left him. She didn’t know what she expected to be able to do; she knew she didn’t have control and shouldn’t use her ability, even if she’d had a lesson or two from Flint. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to use it, to rely on anything that she could do, but she knew something was wrong. She’d known it before Cress got out of the car.

“Enya,” Terra hissed, following after her. Enya knew she thought she was helping, trying to keep the one of them that couldn’t control anything close so that she could help if Enya got in trouble, but she didn’t want to need that, either. She was not a child. She would get better at controlling her abilities, and she’d make herself useful for a change. “Come on. They’ll be back at the car soon enough and—”

Enya watched the water flowing up through the streets, a flood rushing through the middle of the town, and she knew it was unnatural, even as she was soaked through by the rain pouring on top of them. She could see ice spreading across the street, heard glass shattering everywhere, and Terra caught hold of her arm, almost collapsing on top of her.

“Sorry. I feel… sick.”

Terra wasn’t the only one. Enya might not be as connected to fire as Terra was to earth, but she could feel how wrong this area was. She didn’t think Occie or Cress should get anywhere near here. This kind of wrongness could be fatal for a water elemental. Then again—this was where Cress was, and if he was fighting against that, he’d be in terrible shape, worse than anything he’d been through yet.

“Come on. We have to get closer. Cress is in trouble.”

“Trouble,” Terra said, and Enya almost rolled her eyes at the other woman’s mood, but Terra shook her head. “This is not just… trouble. I think he’s dead.”

Enya refused to accept that. She dragged Terra forward, around the corner, wishing she could use one of Flint’s tricks to warm up the street. The water was freezing, and most of the area had gone to ice. They’d have more normals to rescue, and they couldn’t afford to do that, either, not when they needed to get Stone and Cress away to safety.

Not that they’d abandon anyone to freeze to death, either.

“Oh, hell,” Terra said, and Enya looked over to see what had her cursing. She’d expected to see Cress on the ground, unconscious or worse, but that… that was something else. Lightning flashed along the edges of the darkness, a hole ripped right in the middle of nowhere, as though the fabric of space and time itself had gotten torn, leaving a dangerous vortex in its place, only it was not drawing either of them into it.

“He did it. He used Cress to break the barrier.”

Author’s Note: At least they get Stone back.

A Rescue, of Sorts

Something was different. Stone could feel it the moment he opened his eyes. He couldn’t place it, but he knew it. He needed more than that fleeting sensation to pin it down, but he thought if he could, everything would be fine. Strange. Nothing was right, and yet he assumed that it would be if only he was able to get closer to that feeling.


Terra. He knew what it was. He could feel his sister. He hadn’t felt her presence in a long time, but he knew what he was feeling now, and it was her. She was here. Well, not here, but close. Close enough to give him more strength than he’d had since he first woke. He didn’t care about the drugs. They couldn’t hold him back from the earth, not with her near.

He forced his hand over, yanking out his IV with a grim smile. Sure, now everything hurt a hell of a lot more, but that didn’t mean that he was going to stop. He couldn’t flush the drugs straight out of his system like Cress or Occie, but he’d work on it all the same. If he got a hold of something to connect him to the earth, if he could find a plant or something organic, he could help his recovery.

The door opened—that was tame way of saying that since it slammed into the wall, crumpling into a twisted bit of metal—and he smiled. “Moira. I take it someone pissed you off.”

“Someone’s good at doing that, actually.”


She came over to the bed, putting a hand on his cheek, her eyes filling with tears. “Oh, you idiot. I thought you were dead.”

“I’m sorry. I thought I was, too,” he told her, brushing back a bit of her hair. Damn, she was beautiful. She looked down at the bandages on his chest, grimacing. He shook his head. “It’s not that bad. They’ve been keeping me down with sedatives. That’s what’s bad.”

“Yeah. Cress said if we didn’t get you out and back in touch with the earth that you’d die.”

“Your brother is good.”

“He’s also an idiot,” she said, moving to the side. “I don’t see a bed pan. Get prepared to puke.”

“Damn it.”

She shook her head. “Have to get the sedatives out of you one way or another, and I think you’d prefer that over the alternative.”

He nodded, leaning over the bed as she put a hand to the back of his neck. He didn’t want to think about what she was doing to his body as she forced the drugs out of his bloodstream and into his stomach. He gagged, vomiting it onto the floor. Moira kept the air flowing, making the stench dissipate, but that wasn’t much of a consolation.

“Better. Not going to be able to move on my own, though.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Sherwin told him, coming over to the bed. He shifted it with the air, moving it away from the vomit so that Stone wouldn’t put his feet in it when he stepped down. “Um… sorry we took so long. Terra was… kind of a mess.”

“Where is she?”

“In the car. Cress said she’d be too much of a danger to you as she is, and he’s right,” Moira said, looking toward the doorway. “Where the hell have you been?”

Stone frowned, expecting to see Cress, but that was not his brother-in-law. The man in the doorway shrugged. “Don’t get bent out of shape, Windy. I was just causing a small electrical fire to make sure that the surveillance was gone.”

“Since when do we work with fire rogues?”

“Nice to meet you, too. I’m Flint. It’s a long story,” the firebug said, coming over to help lift Stone off the bed. “Damn. Maybe we should have asked your brother for a wave to ride him out on, huh, Oceana?”

She shook her head. Stone didn’t know what to think at the moment, but he wasn’t going to complain too much, not after what he’d been through. “Wait. Please don’t tell me your brother is taking on that water elemental on his own.”

“You met that bastard?”

“Yeah. Never got introduced, but we all kind of met him before.”

“We did?”

“That day that the water was wrong and you and Cress both looked like you were going to die…”

Moira cursed, and Sherwin echoed it. The fire rogue grunted. “Figures. He must have had plenty of reason to watch over Washburne considering he’s the closest thing to a match that bastard’s got.”

Stone shook his head, wishing he had the strength to pull away from the men helping him walk. They were carrying him, and he couldn’t fight their hold. He was too weak, still a bit drugged, and he hadn’t managed to get a hold of any dirt yet. “No. I don’t—Damn it. You all knew I was bait, didn’t you? That bastard didn’t care about me. He only wanted Cress, and he didn’t—”

Occie stumbled, hitting the wall with a shudder. She slid to the floor, and Stone cursed. “Occie, how bad is it?”

She looked up at him. “I… I can’t sense him. There was… It was sharp and horrible, and he was in a lot of pain, and then, now… there’s nothing. It’s like he’s gone.”

“We thought Stone was, and he’s not. Don’t go assuming that about Cress,” Moira said, pulling Occie onto her feet. “We have to go find him. Just hold on until we do, okay?”

Occie nodded, looking numb. Stone wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her, wanted to tell her it would be all right, but he couldn’t. She wouldn’t be okay again until she saw her brother, and even then, that was no guarantee. There might not be any way of pulling Cress back from the edge this time.

Author’s Note: So… Cress was on his own, and it was a bad plan…

Forcing the Flood

“You like the rain, don’t you?”

“Don’t you?” Cress asked, feeling the drops cease even as he spoke. He could start it again, but if he did, all he would do was exhaust himself, and he knew that was not in anyone’s best interests. The idea was to get the others enough time to extract Stone, and he could do that, but only if he was careful. He had to do this just right, keep the balance between him and the head of Aether, let the man think that he had Cress where he wanted him.

Trouble was, Cress knew that the last part was true, regardless of how the rest of it turned out.

“It has its uses.”

“Everything has a use. Not all of them are practical or good, but they all have uses.”

“True.” The other man smiled, giving Cress a look that made him want to shudder even before the words that followed it. “What do you suppose yours is?”

“I have no interest in finding out what you want me for,” Cress told him, being honest about it. He was a coward. He didn’t want to know. He couldn’t get a good sense of the man’s emotions—there was a smugness to him, he did seem all too pleased with himself and the situation—but beyond that, Cress couldn’t pin him down. He did not like this, but then he’d come here knowing how this would play out. He had no illusions about the outcome.

“That cannot be true. Curiosity and fear always win out in situations like this. You need to know what I’ve got planned for you, and if you don’t know, then you can’t possibly combat it, now can you? You’re practical enough to know that you need that information.”

“I don’t know that we should consider me… practical.”

The other man laughed. Cress wasn’t going to bother calling him Smith, that wasn’t his name. That didn’t fit. It was a cover for the normals, a lie to obscure what he was to anyone who might stumble on Aether, but his real name would be like the rest of theirs, a dead giveaway. “You are a leader. That means you make decisions based on what is best for all concerned, and that must assume some practicality.”

“Why are we discussing semantics?”

“To give your team time to get what they came for. Or are you going to deny that you’re here for the earth elemental?”

“If you know about that, why are we talking?”

“You and I have more important matters to discuss. He was bait; you knew that all along. That is why you met me here and not there. You have already made your decision, haven’t you?” The other man smiled. “Yes, of course you have. You’re loyal enough to give up everything for them, and I knew you would be. Tell me, do you know why we have to break the mirrors?”

“I have theories.”

“I will tell you mine. We break them to shatter our illusions of ourselves. We must be able to break free of the confines of normalcy, of what this world tells us is impossible. We can control elements, but only by first accepting that we can.”

Cress shrugged. “That’s one way of looking at it. You going to say there isn’t another world on the other side of the barrier, that it never bleeds through because it’s all in our heads? The line is arbitrary, and we simply hide behind it because we’re not capable of facing how great we are?”

“I find your tone less than amusing.”

“I find your ego overinflated and annoying.”

The other man took hold of him, and Cress shuddered as all of his abilities went haywire at once. He could feel emotions—too many, damn it, way too many—from everyone around him, maybe for miles. He couldn’t be sure. It hurt too much. Rain pelted down, challenged by the flow charging up from the street, pouring out of everywhere, and things started to freeze across the street, glass cracking and bursting, the windows shattering through all the buildings.

He was dying.

In that instant, he understood—the other elemental was going to bleed him dry. His abilities would kill him, as he’d always figured would happen someday.

The hand came off; he fell to his knees, sickened by the emotions rolling off the other man. “Oh, that was incredible. I’ve been waiting for someone to come along with half your skill, but you… now you’re a gift.”

Cress forced his head up, glaring at the elemental. “What are you going to do?”

“Oh, come now. Don’t you know?”

He didn’t have the energy to argue with the bastard. “No.”

“It’s time we saw the other side, don’t you think?”

Author’s Note: The trouble with plans, even bad ones, is that they get used. That’s the point of them.

Following the Bad Plan

“Let me out here.”


“Terra’s awake again. That means we’re closer to Stone. That also means that if we get much closer, he’ll be able to sense me. I’m going to give him a reason to come see me, and that is your window. Go do what needs to be done.”

“This is a very bad idea,” Enya said, reaching for his arm. He looked down at her hand, and she pulled it off with a sigh. “Please. Be careful.”

He gave her a slight smile, opening the door and jumping down. He shut it behind him, and she moved to the window to watch him as he walked away. She didn’t like this. She knew she was still useless—she and Flint hadn’t gotten much of anywhere with training—and Terra might have been awake, but that didn’t make her capable of anything. Cress shouldn’t be on his own.

“I’d just get him killed if I went after him, wouldn’t I?”

“I’m going to have you and Terra stay with the car,” Moira said. “You two will back us up if anything goes wrong, and you know it probably will.”

“The useless ones are your backup? That is a bad plan, Moira.”

“Enya, you’re not useless. Even without control, you’re not. If things go real bad, and they might, you will be there to deal with it. I know that. I’m also hoping that the more we can help Stone, the better off Terra will be. We’ll see what happens, but I hope we don’t have to call on you.”

Enya grimaced. She let out a breath, feeling Flint’s hand on her shoulder. She looked over at him and he smiled at her. She wanted to be reassured, but she didn’t feel like anything could at the moment, not with Cress off on his own.

“He’s a strong, stubborn bastard, but if you’d kissed him, he’d have had a lot more of a reason to make sure that he came back.”

“Oh, gee, why didn’t I think of that?” She pushed his hand off her shoulder. She didn’t need to think about that, refused to go there. Cress was struggling, and she knew that, and she wasn’t about to complicate things the way Sherwin always did.

“Who says you didn’t? You just didn’t act on it.”

“Shut up.”

Flint shook his head. “I think one thing most of you have overlooked is the value of having something to come back to. Most of you shut yourselves off from what you want and what you care about to do what you do, and while that can help, it can hurt, too. Maggie and I always went into a fight with some plan of what we were going to do when we got out of it, something worth keeping ourselves alive for, and I stand by that. It helped. Come on, Oceana. Wasn’t it better after a fight to be able to go to your husband and have some time alone?”

“After she got her brother leveled out, you mean?”

“I didn’t ask you, Weatherly.”

“Enough. We are not going to start fighting among ourselves before heading in there. We’re nervous and worried, but we are not giving in to that. We will not let our own emotions work against us. We have to be careful, and we have to be quick. Stone needs us, but we have to balance that against the fact that Cress is out there alone. We can’t afford mistakes.”

“Other than the one we made letting him go off alone,” Weatherly muttered, and his sister gave him a dark look. He lowered his head. “Sorry. I’m… You know me. My mouth runs off when I get nervous.”

She nodded. “I know. All right. We’re almost there. Cress has started his distraction, if that rain is anything to judge by. We need to be ready. Terra, you can feel Stone now?”

“Barely. It’s like… I think he’s sedated.”

“Makes sense.”

“I should be able to help flush it out of his system, if we get to him. The trouble is going to be in getting to him,” Occie said. She sighed. Enya looked at her, and the other woman closed her eyes. “Cress feels fine for now, but we don’t have a lot of time.”

“Let’s go.”

Author’s Note: Most plans are bad plans. Especially if I make them.

The Plan No One Likes

“Anyone got a plan?”

“Shut up, Flint.”

“Well, I know I’m just along for the ride, but you know you can’t go in there without one. It’ll get us all killed. I know that your friend has been in there for too long already, but think about it—your most powerful person is running near empty, you’re missing one, and you’re gimped because your earth is half-out of her head and Enya doesn’t have control.” Flint looked around the car, daring someone to argue with him, and of course, they couldn’t. They might want to, none more so than Windy, but they knew he was right. “We can’t go in blind. There has to be a way to get out, and we don’t even have a way in besides overexerting ourselves making a path.”

“We can by-pass plenty of security measures with any of our given talents,” Sherwin said. He shrugged. “It’s never been much of a problem before. We can usually hear someone give a password if it’s a vocal one, and Moira’s good at twisting the wind into a convincing echo. If there’s something on a keypad, Terra or Stone could pick it up, and then it’s just a matter of getting the order right, which isn’t that bad. It doesn’t take much to disarm anyone, and if we just want to pass through… Well, Cress has put them to sleep in seconds in the past.”

“You can’t rely on him to do everything.”

“Build the plan away from me as much as possible.”

Windy cursed. “Damn it, Cress, you do not get to be the distraction.”

“Yes, I do. I am the one who can stand against him on my own the longest, and I’m also one that he’ll be able to feel when I get close. I cannot be a part of any sort of stealth. Ideally, I’d be somewhere else entirely when I got his attention, forcing him to leave the area where he is holding Stone devoid of any elemental defenses. Normals are easy to deal with. Rogues are not.”

“You should take your sister with you.”



“Occie gets to be with Stone.”

“That’s Terra’s role.”

“It’s Occie’s.”

Flint shook his head. “You’re not going to get him to back off on that. The prisoner gets his wife as the one he wakes up to. I’m with Washburne on that much, at least.”

“Wife?” Sherwin sputtered, staring back at Oceana. “You two got married? You never told us, but you told the new guy? What the hell is wrong with this picture?”

Oceana shook her head. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

“I did,” Cress said. She frowned at him, and he shrugged. “It was relevant to the discussion at the time. It is not now, other than to say that I feel you should be able to be with Stone after all this time, and that he needs you. In fact, he would be better off with you and not with Terra, as stabilizing her would drain him too much in his current state.”

Windy shook her head. “That still means leaving you on your own with this bastard who is more powerful than all of us, so why would we do that? Come on, Cress. I already told you—sacrificing yourself is not an option.”

“I’m not planning on dying, just on buying the necessary time, which we all know I am capable of, no matter what my condition. I led us away from Stone when he wasn’t dead, when he could have been saved, and that is a mistake I will atone for. I think using his interest in me to our advantage is for the best, and if I simply count upon you to do what I know you can do, then there is a minimal risk to me.”

“It’s still a risk,” Enya said, biting her lip as she watched him. “You don’t really have to do this. We’ll find some other way. It’s too dangerous.”

He shook his head. “I doubt there is any other way, and I will be fine.”

Flint looked at him. “Let me be the distraction. The bastard knows me, too. He killed Maggie. No one likes your plan—”

“No one trusts you enough to let you be that big of a part of the plan.”

That was a kick to the gut, but he didn’t hear anyone arguing with Washburne, either. Flint nodded, clipping his words as he spoke. He didn’t want to be so pissed, didn’t want to care what any of them thought of him, but he did. “Fine. If that’s the way it shakes down, that’s the way it goes, I guess.”

“This plan sucks.”

“I think we all agree on that much, at least.”

Author’s Note: Occie and Cress had to have their conversation…

Not So Tranquil Waters

“Never seen you take such a back role. Ever,” Oceana said as she joined her brother, aware of what he was watching and how careful he’d been to stay out of the line of sight of everyone on the shore. He was as close as he could be, yet far enough as to be out of range, not letting his empathic abilities bleed over to them.

“You know I can’t teach her what she needs to know, and I can’t be the reason she thinks she can control it. She has to know that it was her doing. Not mine.”

Oceana nodded. That part she approved of, and she was proud of him for stepping back at this point. “True, but are you sure it’s just that?”

“Are you saying something about Enya and Flint?”

Her eyes went back to the shore. The two fire elementals were getting close, fast, but then it wasn’t much of a surprise. Oceana figured that he wanted to have someone like a sister again, and Enya needed him as a teacher and a surrogate for Aidan. It had the potential for being more than that, too. “So the thought has crossed your mind.”

Cress shrugged. “If it’s going to happen, it will.”

“Damn it, Cress, why do you have to do this?”

“Not sure what you’re upset about. Enya needs to make her own choices. She has to decide her own path, and her control has to be hers. She is the one who needs to take responsibility for it, and that means that I cannot have a part in it, regardless I might feel about trying to help her. I didn’t come out here for her, anyway.”

“No, you came out here for a quick rinse and renew that patches you up for a little while, but not long enough. It’s never long enough anymore.”

“We don’t have time for me to stay in the water as long as I would need.”

“You can’t kill yourself to—”

“Stone is dying.”


“Terra called it bad. I could filter it more when she went through it. He’s been cut off from the earth, and when you’re injured and cut off from your element… That kind of pain is distinctive, and it’s worse than anything I’ve ever known. If we don’t go to him soon, he will not make it back no matter what happens.”

She closed her eyes. “Cress…”

He put his hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so blunt. I just… We don’t have a choice. We have to go. I didn’t even want to take this time, but I had to. After going through that, I… I needed something from the water.”

She nodded, putting her hands on his face. “You know how much Stone means to me, and I know you’re not even skimming the surface of what that did to you, so don’t start apologizing. Just try not to get yourself killed because you know what he is to me. I need both of you, not just the one. Don’t ever make me pick.”

“Funny. For years, I did, and you picked me.”

She sighed. She had a horrible feeling that one way or another, she’d lose one of them, and a part of her wanted to stop this before it started. She could save her brother. She knew that. She could keep him here and make sure he stayed safe. Stone was already injured; he might not make it out no matter what they did. The practical thing to do was to pick Cress.

“Come on. We have to go.”


“We are not leaving him behind. Not again. That time I swear he was dead, I couldn’t feel anything from him, but this time he isn’t, and I won’t do it. I can’t make the same mistake twice.”

Author’s Note: The bond forming between Flint and Enya is… necessary. She needs his help so that she can control what she can do. She also needs a friend/brother-type like him, I think.

The Truth about Fire

“What’s the number one misconception about fire elementals?”

“They all smoke,” Enya said, folding her arms over her chest. She wasn’t sure she wanted to do this now, but they didn’t have a lot of time left at the lake. Just a little while longer, enough time for everyone else to load up the car and let Terra rest and Cress recoup a bit before they started running again. She knew it hadn’t been long enough—it never was. He couldn’t seem to get enough rest to rebuild himself.

“Yeah, exactly. Why do they all assume we’d want to do that? Think about it. We know what’s burning. We can feel it. The tar and the other things in cigarettes and cigars… Yuck. It’s not as simple as needing fire. We’re not necessarily pyromaniacs, but we are in some ways. We can get comfort from it, and we can give off heat…”

“When we lived on the end of that block, we never paid for water or heating. My parents could keep us all warm even in the worst of the winter, and the Washburnes made sure we had enough water. The whole ‘firebug’ thing is a bad stereotype.”

Flint shrugged. “Don’t think that we’re not, though. You and me, Maggie and your family, we’re exceptions, not the rule. I know plenty of us that are crazy. Those wildfires a few years back, that was one of us—”

“I know. Cress told me. He and the others had to stop him. It… upset him, I could tell, because he couldn’t find a way to get that guy to stop other than keeping him sedated constantly.”

“Treating everyone who isn’t a part of your little group as rogues—”

“Judge, jury, and executioner?”

Flint gave her a look. “Well, sometimes I’m sure they must have acted like that. Even if they don’t kill. Then again, we don’t have the same kind of… rules in the first place. Normals can’t stop us. If we did abuse our abilities against them… A single one of us could kill thousands of them and even their bullets couldn’t stop us. Maggie could get fires up high enough to burn them if she wanted, or she’d just burn the guns. Your earth elementals can block them, air can divert them, and same with water.”

“Tranquilizers would be better, though they might still be diverted.”

“Point being, someone has to keep the rest of us in check. Some of us aren’t out to abuse anything. Some of us are, and who’s going to stop them if they make that choice?”

Enya’s eyes went to the water. “Cress did, but then again, he knows what it’s like to deal with elementals who abuse their abilities.”

“I had a warped thought—don’t mind me, I get plenty of them—but could part of the plan have been to make him kill his parents? Maybe he was supposed to… cross to the dark side when he did.”

She shivered. “I hope not, but if that was true, at least he and Occie managed to resist that no matter what their parents did to them.”

Flint touched her shoulder, and she felt warmth spread over her, and she choked, fighting tears. She hadn’t felt this since her parents did. Comfort and safety, this feeling of warmth had nothing to do with desire or stupidity like what Sherwin did to her. This was the warmest, softest blanket, a symbol of care and kindness—she didn’t want to say love because that wasn’t what was between her and Flint but it had been like that with her family.


“No one’s done that since my family died.”

He grimaced. “Sorry. I seem to bring up a lot of bad memories for you without trying to. I’m not… Maggie and I used to do that all the time, more her doing it to me—Damn, she was so strong—but I wasn’t thinking—”

“It’s not… bad. I missed it. It’s just hard at the same time. I envy you, not being afraid of it or of yourself, and even having your sister with you for as long as you did. Aidan… he never got much of a chance, and I made things worse because he was more willing to work on his control than I was. Every time I did something, though, I… It was like someone else was in control of me, some other woman with fire, and all she wanted was to destroy. The only thing that stopped her was Cress, and he almost had to kill himself to do it.”

Flint took her hands. “If I wasn’t fire, you’d see nothing but burns on me. Maggie and I were pretty young when we found out what we could do, and it was out of control for a while. We did some horrible things to each other, but we both survived. I’m not scared. Anything you do I’ve probably been through before. I’ve gotten good at controlling things, have been for over twenty years now. Washburne is right—you can do it without him.”

She took a deep breath. “I bet he thinks he’s holding me back. He would.”

“He grounds you, and you ground him. That’s different. We all need balance, and it isn’t always found in a sibling.” Flint let go of her and reached into his pocket. He put his lighter in her hand. “Only if you want to. You don’t have to keep it.”

She opened up the lighter and closed it again. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just… hold onto this and adjust to the idea of it for a while.”

“Sounds good.”

“It must be frustrating, trying to teach someone who is so… slow, who’s such a coward—”

“No. Maggie once said that fire made her a real bitch, and I shook my head, trying to tell her that she wasn’t, but she had to fight against the same thing you did. I had to push her a few times, and she was the strong one out of the two of us. Still, there were times when she wanted to give up, when she said she’d rather die than go on with our ‘curse.’ She never killed anyone, but she came close a few times, and it scared her. She had me to pull her back and help her rein in the fire. You didn’t.”

“I had Cress.”

Flint shook his head. “Not in the same way. You’re terrified of causing a fire he can’t overcome because you—more than anyone else besides his sister—know how much it takes out of him to help you, and you don’t want to put him through it any more than he wants to see you hurt when you lose control. I guess, in a sense, you held back for him, so maybe he’s right in thinking he does hold you back, but I’ve only seen one elemental more powerful than he is—unless what I suspect about you is true—and so he can handle anything you throw at him.”

“He shouldn’t have to. He does too much already.”

“Yeah, and you all let him do it. It’s not that he’s the only one who can, but you’ve all fallen into a pattern where you assume he is and he always steps in and does it, so it reenforces itself. Go ahead. Burn me. You’ll see that not only can I handle it, I don’t need a water elemental to put it out.”

“I am not going to burn you. I might shove you in the water, though.”

Flint laughed.

Author’s Note: Time to accelerate things a little.

The Earth Calls


“I felt Stone. I know he’s alive.”

“We all know that,” Sherwin said, kneeling next to her. He put a hand on her shoulder, and she shuddered, falling against him. He frowned, not sure what was going on with her, but then nothing had been right with her since Stone died. Not that he was dead, but still…

“I felt him. Just now. Not that long ago. It’s… bad,” she whispered, shivering. He wrapped an arm around her and held her as she did, trying to calm her. He’d seen Cress go off with Moira, and he knew that his sister could use some help for a change, but he needed to get back. They both did, if what Terra was saying was true. They might have taken too long already, and none of them would forgive themselves for that.

“What is it?”

Sherwin looked up at Flint. “You seen Moira or Cress lately? Even Occie?”

“No, both the water twins were doing their best to act like fish and disappeared on me. Your sister nearly killed me because I got too close to her, and I haven’t seen her since. Limped out here to find everyone since I figured you were all down by the lake.”

“Stone…” Terra said, and Sherwin rubbed her back, trying to keep her calm. “No…”

“Are we that close? Can she really sense him?”

“Either we’re close or he’s in major pain or…” Sherwin grimaced, not finishing that statement. Terra started to sob, and he ran his fingers through her hair. If they didn’t get Stone back, they were going to lose her. That was clear. She couldn’t do this on her own.

He heard footsteps and looked up with relief to see Cress there. He knelt down next to Terra, taking hold of her hand, and she threw herself at him. He grunted, letting her hold on as that sense of calm washed over all of them.

“Hmm. Glad I missed when he did that for your sister.”

Sherwin frowned. “What?”

Flint shrugged. “If you think about it, a guy who can do that should get all the girls, right?”

“Like hell.”

“Boys.” Moira fixed them each with a pointed glare, making sure they knew not to step out of line. “How’d this start?”

Sherwin let out a breath. “She was fine, then she stopped, dropped to the ground, and she’s been like that pretty much ever since. She says she can feel Stone, but it’s bad. He must be in trouble. Not that we didn’t know that before, but… we might be running out of time here.”

Moira cursed. Cress shifted, gathering up a handful of dirt. He steadied himself and passed it to Terra, and the emotional backlash from that almost knocked him over as she focused on what the earth was telling her. The dirt fell free, and she went back to sobbing.

Cress pushed himself back up. “All I got from that was pain, so I’d say bad sums it up rather well.”

Moira bit her lip. “We need to move.”

“I’ll get her calm and then I’m going to need another hour or so in the lake. I’m sorry. I know it’s urgent, and I am not wanting to leave Stone where he is any longer than we have to—”

“We need you at full strength, or as close as we can get under the circumstances.”

“I guess that means no more lessons in control,” Enya said, giving Cress a worried look. Sherwin sighed. He wished he could help her. Hell, if any of them could do anything close to what Cress could, it would be nice.

“Not necessarily,” Flint said. “If we stick to the basics, you shouldn’t be able to do anything I can’t counter.”

“And you don’t need me, Enya. If you’re going to have control, it will be because you did it, not me, not even in a support role,” Cress said. He adjusted Terra’s position against him. “I think she’s about asleep now. Will you take her inside, Sherwin? Or Flint? Either of you would be fine…”

Sherwin moved in, needing to be useful. Terra felt tiny when he lifted her up, and he couldn’t remember when the last time she’d eaten was. They had to make sure she took better care of herself.

Enya bent down next to Cress. “You’re exhausted again.”

He gave Enya a small smile. “In pain, actually. I opened myself up to what the earth was telling her, and it hurt. Stone’s in trouble. Help me up. I have to get to Occie.”

Author’s Note: Moira and Cress have an interesting relationship, close but not at the same time. They trade off leading rather well, though.

Leadership Conference

“Team dynamics have changed a lot lately, haven’t they?”

Moira jerked, cursing him, and Cress smiled. Not many people got to do that to her, and he was one of them. The water thing, cooling down everyone’s mood, should have given him away, but he sometimes slipped past. He always enjoyed it, more than he should have. He did not know why.

“I’d ask you to keep him away from me, but you’re not in charge anymore. I am.”

Cress nodded. He would not forget that any time soon. “I know.”

Moira’s eyes went to the distance, darkening. The wind was picking up despite Cress’ presence, and he knew that. “He’s new. It makes sense that he’d push. That he would ask questions. That he needs explanations that we don’t.”

“That doesn’t make them any easier to give.” Cress shrugged. “Why should they be? We don’t discuss these things among ourselves, so why would a stranger know?”

“He wouldn’t. Shouldn’t.”

Cress knew Moira would never revisit any of those old wounds. He understood. He’d done his best to put all of his childhood behind him, to lock it and all memories of his parents away in some dark corner of his mind. All that mattered was what happened after that day. “I didn’t have much of a chance to help you back then.”

Moira shrugged. “Enya was hysterical. She’d just lost everything, and you needed to keep her calm so that it didn’t happen again.”

He’d been selfish. She knew it, she’d accused him of it in the past. Sure, he couldn’t be everywhere, but where he’d chosen to be was still selfish. “You lost Aidan.”

Moira closed her eyes. “I’m punishing Flint for that, aren’t I?”

“That’s one way to put it.”

She shook her head. “I don’t need another fire elemental around screwing with my head.”

Cress gave her a look. She was still reacting emotionally, and she’d hate hearing her own words now when she looked back over this conversation. “Aidan did not screw with your head. His loss, though, added one more to the tally, enough to persuade you that loving anyone meant losing them. That all we got out of life was a freakish ability and death.”

She pretended not to acknowledge that, turning it on him again—or trying to. “I’m not the only one who chose not to have a relationship.”

“I don’t deserve one.”

“Why would you even think that?”

“I’m the cause of all this, aren’t I? That man crossed my path, not yours, and I led you all down this one out of fear.” He dared her to deny it, and he was not surprised that she could not. He knew hidden underneath her support and her restraint was a great deal of anger, most of it directed at him for all he’d done to get them into this mess.

“There were plenty of dangerous rogues that we stopped that no one else could have.”

“That doesn’t mean that we had to give up all of our lives for it. You know that as well as I do. Why did you follow me, Moira? You never should have, not when you blamed me for making the choice I did.”

She winced. “You already said why you didn’t go back for Aidan. Don’t do this. We don’t need to drag up all of the old wounds.”

He looked away, letting out a breath. “If you can trust me, if you can look beyond my selfishness and all it cost, then dealing with Flint is nothing.”

“I can handle Flint. What I want to know now is what I’m going to do with you. Where is your head these days, Cress? Was that a one-time thing, trying to get yourself killed with that water elemental or should I be locking you up for your own safety?”

He shrugged. “I can’t say I’d change my mind about what I did then or that I wouldn’t put myself between him and the rest of you again if the situation arose. I… I admit that the possibility of him only wanting me has been weighing on me. If it would spare the rest of you, if it got Stone back to us—”

“No. He doesn’t get you. I don’t care why he wants you, he doesn’t get what he wants.”

“Do you think I was… bred to be this way, that they did the rest of it to twist me into it, all for whatever he had in mind? If it’s about the barrier or about… I don’t even know. He called me competition, but why would he want that?”

“Something he can do that takes too much out of him that he wants a proxy for? He needs to make you into someone capable of doing it so that it won’t kill him?”


“Could go back to the barrier. Could be that pulling it down would kill him.”


“We’re stopping him. We’ll get Stone back. We won’t give him anything he wants, no matter what he wants it for,” Moira said. She frowned. “You’re slipping. I don’t know how you coming over to comfort me ended up with me reassuring you.”

“Never said I came to comfort you.”

She rolled her eyes. “You did. You always do. You can’t stand feeling our pain.”

Cress lowered his head. “Aidan loved you. I think I told you that before, but I might not have since I know it would seem like an empty platitude after losing him. What good does love do, anyway?”

“You, of anyone, should know that.”

He snorted. “Because I can sense emotions? That doesn’t mean I understand them or ever know if what I feel is… right. No, it’s not for me to know just because I ended up with that particular ‘talent,’ though I have to wonder if it’s a curse—I think the key Occie and I found might lead to another safe-deposit box, one that has all the details of what they did, and while a part of me needs to know and knows that all of you should know—”

“You’re afraid of what we’ll learn?”


Moira nodded. “Not all of the details have to come out. Only the ones that tell us what he’s after, not ones that would only… humiliate you. Or Occie. You give me your word that you’ve told me what we need to know, and I won’t even ask to look at what you find.”

“Why would you trust me with that?”

“Because, despite whatever they might have done to you, you’ve led us for twelve years. I trust that. I’ve seen you in action and know what you’re capable of and what you’re not.”

“I hope so. I’m not entirely sure I trust myself.”

Author’s Note: There’s a scene in the second story that goes into why Moira and Cress shared the leadership and what bonded them into their roles, but this one has a priceless bit from her, and a glimpse of why she is the way she is.

The Ever Changing Wind

“I think I know why you call him a fish.”

Moira smiled, amused by the tone of the rogue’s voice. “He’s still underwater, isn’t he? First time he did that, he scared the hell out of everyone. Stayed under for a good ten minutes, we all figured he must have drowned and we’d never find him in the bottom of that lake. Then up he pops with this obnoxious smile and said that he wanted to go snorkeling because he’d never need a diving tank.”

“He’s got more of a sense of humor than I thought.”

She shrugged. “You have to know Cress to get his humor. He’s not easy to read.”

“Yeah… I’m wondering about him, though, because… Well, he took on that bastard who killed my sister knowing he couldn’t handle it on his own, and just now, back at the lake before his disappearing fish routine, he said something about Enya needing to learn to control it on her own, without him to calm her.”

“He’s got a point. He can’t always be focused on keeping her calm. If we get in a fight, he’s got way too much going on. He can’t be worrying about any one of us because what he’s doing is ten times more taxing than what we are. If we’re not taking care of our own end, the whole thing falls apart.”

“That what happened to your other earth?”

“Terra overextended herself, and Stone knew it. He went to protect his little sister, and he paid for it. She probably could have pulled out of it in time and saved herself, but he took those bullets for her, and that’s half the reason she’s the way she is right now.”

Flint nodded. “Makes sense. You’ve got a real problem, though. Your former leader is suicidal.”

Moira let out a breath. “No. He overreacted to something that happened earlier, but he’s not like that most of the time.”


“My brother the idiot kissed Enya right in front of him.”

“And your brother missed the memo on that… how?”

Moira would like to know that herself. She didn’t see how it could be more obvious, but maybe Sherwin needed things spelled out in black and white and filed in triplicate. She didn’t know. “No one’s ever really talked about it. Our love lives are our own. They’re private. I don’t need to know what any of the others are doing, believe me. Stone made no secret of how he felt about Occie, and Sherwin’s not shy about flirting with just about anyone, but the rest of us… That’s something we don’t discuss. We all know that Occie loves Stone, too, but to my knowledge, she never said it aloud.”

“That got something to do with the damage their parents did to them?”

“Maybe. There’s a lot neither of them told us. I called Cress on his crap once, and he just kind of blinked and said if I knew, why did he have to tell me? That’s how his mind works. If he knows you know—and in general, he does—he doesn’t say anything.”

“Must have made working with him as your leader interesting.”

Moira folded her arms over her chest. “You trying to pick a fight with me?”

“You’re quick to defend him. I’m trying to figure out why.”

“Oh? So you want to imply something about me and Cress? You figure I’ve been pining for him all this time, working as his second because I never got over some pathetic crush I had on him when we were children? Dear heaven, what will I do now that you know my terrible secret? Please don’t tell him. I couldn’t bear if he knew.”

Flint laughed. “That was good. You almost kept a straight face, and that is very impressive. I enjoyed it thoroughly.”

She couldn’t help a small smile. “Even if I had ever had any feelings for him, I knew a long time ago that they would never amount to anything. Just like everyone knew with Stone.”

“Hmm. Since the only other male in your group is your brother—wait. Enya’s brother. Were you two ever—”


“Now that one was not half so con—”

He was across the room and in the wall before Moira realized she’d lost control of her emotions. Damn him for needling her that way. She hated the way he got under her skin. He was nothing like Aidan, and she didn’t need this. She wanted to get rid of him, now, but she knew that they needed him, that Enya did, and she’d overcome a lot just to accept that offer. No, Moira knew she couldn’t get rid of the bastard, but she could make sure that he stayed away from her.

Far away.