Building Electricity

Continued from ‘Responsibility

Kalla’s scream snatches me and I jerk forward, wanting to help her. Julian tightens his grip. “Don’t,” he hisses.

“But what if she’s hu-“

“-she got herself into this,” Julian interjects. “This is her responsibility.” Despite the indifference of his words, a darkness washes over Julian.

As the flash of light fades back into darkness, the scene reveals itself once more. Aric stands a few feet from Kalla like before, but their positions have shifted and Kalla kneels on the ground, clutching her chest.

Julian stares down at Kalla with a tight jaw. He lets out a long breath, slow and calculated as if he had been holding it. His anxiety over Kalla confuses him. He’s been so aggressive towards her ever since we met and yet now he acts like he cares about her. None of it makes sense.

“Do you concede?” Aric demands, his outstretched hand drawing back into his body like he’s already won. A smug curl draws up one corner of his mouth.

Kalla remains motionless. She breathes shallowly and her breath rattles as it enters and exits her lungs.

What happened to her? Is she hurt?

“Two-person duel rules state-“

“-I’m not flat on my back,” Kalla snaps, her voice a croak like she’s losing her voice. Her head snaps up. Something fiery glows in her pale eyes as she returns to her feet. She inhales deeply, slowly, and removes her hand from her chest, revealing a gaping hole burned away in her shirt. Steam still rises from the cloth. The skin beneath gleams bright red and it puckers like she’s scorched herself on hot metal.

Unable to stop myself, I gasp at the sight.

That is why you’re not safe here,” Julian informs me, nodding at Kalla’s chest.

My teeth clench. It has to hurt. It has to be painful. The tightness of Kalla’s throat, revealing the muscles in her neck like she’s straining against pain, tells me as much.

Julian turns to me with great effort, his eyes staying a moment longer on Kalla even as his head faces me. “That isn’t even that bad. Kalla managed to redirect most of the electricity into the ground.”

“How do know?” My brows furrow in confusion.

“The ground beneath is seared.”

Retraining my eyes on Kalla in the growing darkness, Julian is right. The ground beneath her feet is no longer light sand, but black stone. “But if she redirected it, then…”

Aric lunges forward, fist outstretched.

Kalla sidesteps. Aric’s hand brushes off her shoulder.

Julian returns his attention to Kalla. “How did she still get burned?” His deep inhale expands his chest. “The ground doesn’t absorb electricity well. When electricity doesn’t release fast enough, it’ll build within the body, which is why we often release it into the sky.”

“Then why didn’t Kalla?” My throat tightens imagining her getting hurt worse.

Kalla remains defensive, keeping her chest towards Aric and never showing her back. She moves in a circle, dodging his attacks.

“She didn’t have a choice,” Julian clarifies. “Aric struck her in the chest. Didn’t you see it?”

I gape at the two figures facing off before me, now understanding why they’d shifted from their original positions. “But… how did he-” My voice breaks off, a mixture of amazement and fear clutching my words.

Aric’s fist collides with the ground where Kalla was just seconds before. Sparks splash up like water when raindrops crash against the earth, and then the ground blackens. The air thickens with static.

“There is a reason Kalla hasn’t beaten Aric before.”

Aric’s head snaps up to find Kalla again. He rounds on her, clapping his hands to release electricity in her direction.

She redirects it back to Aric.

He directs it into the sky. The clouds above bloom with light before dying down once more.

My head snaps to Julian. “Then why did she decide to fight him now?!” I shout at him. “This is stupid! Why would she start a fight she can’t win?”

“Because of you!” Julian snaps, his disdain for me blatant in his tone. “And it’s because of you that she’ll keep fighting until she physically can’t anymore!”

Kalla takes a hit in the arm. Her groan echoes off the surrounding bodies.

Apparently no longer able to be around me, Julian releases me and vanishes into camp, away from the fight, like he can’t stand it anymore.

My knees wobble, but hold beneath me. Yet, I wish they would collapse. I wish my despair would cripple me because this is all my fault. Kalla’s hurt because of me.

Kalla falters backwards as Aric lands another bolt of electricity in her abdomen. She redirects it, but the force seems to destabilize her.

Something in Aric’s face shifts. It darkens. It sneers. It attacks. He lunges, his whole body hurtling into an off-balance Kalla.

Next Installment: Ungrateful Protection

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