Tom Foster ~ Dreams of Fire

Monday, September 9th, 2002

Everything burned, crisping to ash at the merest touch, blackening and curling under the intense heat that was generated so freely and so easily. Everywhere there was fire, flames dancing in all hues as she could see little more than heat and destruction. The world was a scintillating ball of flame, a globe of little more than absolute, delectable, churning death that rose and fell to the whim of only one. She was that one.

From the tips of her toes to the flowing strands of flame red hair that haloed her features the young woman could feel the power of the flames as they surged throughout her body, energizing her in such a way that she could adequately describe. There was pure power here, with the capacity to scour away all iniquities and destroy what did not belong. She was the fire goddess of so many legends, the absolute queen of the flame that could withstand all and destroy at whim. There was nothing that could stop her if she did not wish it to be so. Yet even as the thought crossed her mind she sensed a darkness, a shadow on the edge of her vision that should not have been. The young woman glared at this shadow, wondering how or why such a thing would dare to challenge her, her, the one woman in all creation who could lay waste to the world if she wished. Who was this shadow to stand in challenge of her?

Turning to face the shadow she glared in absolute rage at the dark blot upon her field of vision, feeling as the fire sought to consume her from within, the only saving grace she possessed being the iron control that she exerted over it. It was hers to command, not anyone else’s. This power was for her and her alone, no one deserved to bask in the glorious appearance that was the goddess of the flame, the uncontested divinity of fire that she represented. No one could dare to challenge her, and none would be given such an opportunity.

Even as she turned to punish this intruder however something happened that she had not anticipated, something that stopped her cold in her tracks. She wasn’t allowed to take even a single step towards the unwanted presence as her lungs were suddenly seized in a powerful, wracking spasm. She could feel as the organs tightened painfully, expelling every last breath as the flames around her person began to wane and gutter away. The shadow did not move, its muscular form standing amidst the darkness within this scope of her vision, surrounded by desolation she could not recognize nor understand. The shade was a man, that much could be discerned from its shape, the powerful shoulders and muscular body that sent an unknown thrill through her body that she could not control.

Fear touched upon the fringes of her heart and mind, alighting with tender, questing fingers that sought to sink deeper into her conscious mind. She fought against the need to quake before this shadow, reminding herself again and again that she was the fire goddess, she was the power within this domain and none other. She would not be forced away or intimidated by a shadow. As she jutted her chin out defiantly she could feel as the flames around her person grew in strength, climbing higher once more as she could easily exult in the power that flowed so easily through her veins.

For some reason her heart grew heavy in that next moment as she looked upon the shadow again, sinking to the depths as the figure seemed to look at her with little more than malice in its, or his, gaze. Why would she feel sorry for such a being?

Please, please don’t make me do this. She frowned suddenly as she could hear her own voice, though she hadn’t felt her lips move a single bit. What had she just said? The voice was hers, she’d spoken, yet she could not understand why. There was no response from the shade, but in that moment she could feel a wave of unrelenting power that washed over her, a feeling unlike anything she could ever recall in her life. It seemed somehow familiar, yet she knew very well that never in her young life had she felt something like this.

Please Tyler, don’t do this, I’m begging you. She didn’t beg! Even outside of her dreams she didn’t beg! Who was this stranger she’d turned into? And who the hell was Tyler? She didn’t know anyone named Tyler, never had.

Please.

Shaking her head she attempted to get the voice to stop. It was her voice, there was no denying it, but she would be damned if she would beg anyone to stop anything.

Please.

No, no she wouldn’t beg again, she couldn’t even stand the thought of it, she wouldn’t, no she wouldn’t, this had to stop now.

Please-

“-wake up and pay attention Ms. Garrison.” Jayden came awake to the sound of a heavy book, a sociology book she could see, slamming down on the desk just in front of her folded arms. The sound of hushed giggling and laughter could be heard behind and to the sides of her as Jayden opened her eyes wide, leaning back against the plastic backrest of the combination desk and chair she was in. The metal legs of the seat screeched just a bit as the force of her quick movement shifted the desk across the tile floor.

“Now that I have your attention Ms. Garrison, perhaps you can tell the class the importance of what we’ve been discussing for the past half hour.” Jayden rubbed her eyes briefly before looking up at her teacher, a thin, gray-haired man named Mr. Hickman. Widening her eyes to wake herself a bit more she stretched a little before answering, leaning forward as she splayed her fingers outward.

“Um, something boring?” Jayden grinned wanly as Mr. Hickman gave her his patented “Oh really?” look, his mouth hanging open slightly as he widened his eyes just enough to make her feel rather foolish. The look never failed when Mr. Hickman used it, in fact some kids had even been heard to claim that the look was far better than being sent to the principal’s office.

“It must have been extremely boring if you couldn’t manage to keep your eyes open young woman. Tell you what, if you need to feel a little more stimulated, how about you teach the class for awhile? I’m sure the experience will keep you busy enough to stay awake.”

“No, I think you do just fine Mr. Hickman.”

“Is that why you were asleep?” Jayden almost rolled her eyes as he asked this, thinking that it would be nice if just for one day she could go without getting into a verbal sparring match with Mr. Hickman. The CWP teacher was a nice man, in fact he was the type of teacher who would help out his students no matter when they asked. He’d been known to stay after school when he was ready to leave when a student had presented a question with their assignment that just couldn’t wait. In fact he had gone to great lengths for more than a few of his students in the past and was known just as well for his generosity as he was for his acerbic wit. In Jayden’s opinion the man was an ass, but he was also one of the best teachers Woodland High School could have asked for.

“I’m sorry Mr. Hickman, it won’t happen again.”

Mr. Hickman raised a single eyebrow as he went back to the dry erase board, holding in his right hand the black marker he’d been using to jot down notes that the class would copy down onto their notebooks. “You said that yesterday too Ms. Garrison, perhaps this time you’ll mean it. Getting back to the lesson now…” Jayden stuck her tongue out briefly at Mr. Hickman as he turned around. “See me after class Jayden.” Her eyes widened as he spoke, causing another round of giggles and hushed laughter as he continued to write.

*

“Out of all my students this year you’re the only one that seems to find the need to push my patience time and again Jayden. Why is that?” Jayden slouched in the single chair that sat on the other side of Mr. Hickman’s school-issued metal desk, her gaze focused on the door that led into and out of the classroom. This wasn’t the first time she’d been called on to stay after class, she and Mr. Hickman had had more than a few conversations such as this. In fact she’d had this conversation with Mr. Hesh, Mrs. Oakes and Mr. Holland as well. Each one of the teachers had talked to her before the inevitable call that had gone out to her parents, asking why she felt the need to challenge everyone that sought to teach and help her along.

Jayden wasn’t a bad student, in fact she pulled mostly A’s and B’s in all her classes. It was her attitude that was in question more often than not. Like the fiery locks that grew from her scalp her temper burned brightly enough to cast her into a steaming cauldron of trouble more often than not. She was at most times even tempered, but it took so little for her to explode that at times it was only a word or even a gesture that caused her to become the smartass that everyone in the school knew her as. Many times this quirk was harmless, it was even funny and enjoyable to those around her. It was when it impeded the class and her own learning that her teachers had found fault with it.

“I don’t know Mr. Hickman, it’s a part of who I am I guess.” Mr. Hickman leaned back in his faux leather office chair as he sighed lightly. There was no doubt that he enjoyed having her in his class, but as Jayden shrugged in response to his question he couldn’t help but feel that he was doing something wrong with this girl. Russ Hickman had been a teacher for nearly two decades at this point and had yet to find a student in all that time that had challenged him as Jayden did. He’d had many a redhead in his class, hell at one time he’d had a class that consisted of nearly six individuals that had been sent to juvenile hall a time or two before they’d hit high school. But with Jayden it was different. It was almost as if the girl was proud of the fact that she could cause such turmoil.

Jayden wasn’t a bad kid, in fact she had plenty of friends, enjoyed school so much it was obvious and had respect at most times for everyone and herself. But something within her young mind seemed to think it was okay to challenge her superiors time and again, as though she needed to constantly test her limits, to see just how far she could go before it was too much. Russ couldn’t help but think that when the proverbial crap hit the fan that Jayden would somehow feel vindicated, that she had taken the measure of those she challenged. And then there would be no stopping her. It was an odd and even disquieting thought to have, but he couldn’t abolish it from his mind.

“You know I wouldn’t have a problem at all if you were this way after class. It’s when you disrupt the rest of the class though that we I have an issue.”

“You still managed to get the lesson through. We all copied the notes and got the information.”

“Getting the information isn’t enough Jayden. Why do you think you do so good on your tests?” Russ had taken this tact before, but he was hoping, as he always did, that Jayden would respond in a different manner.

“Because I study and work my ass off to get the information down. Isn’t that what school’s about, Mr. Hickman? Aren’t we just supposed to do as we’re told and make sure that we get the work that’s assigned done?”

Russ sighed as he lowered his head, this was not the answer he’d been hoping for. “I swear you kids get more cynical with each passing year. That’s not what I was getting at Jayden.”

“Then what?” Jayden sait forward as she fixed Russ with a level stare that he had seen a time or two, it meant she was getting frustrated. He could have sworn that her hair grew just a bit redder when this happened, as though the term “fire-hair” was more than just a way to classify the reddish cast of her long locks.

“I don’t know what you want to say Mr. Hickman. I work my ass off in each class, I do what I’m told and when I pop off just a little it’s like the world ends and I’m the person who hit the button.” Russ couldn’t help but smile at this analogy as he leaned forward, placing his hands upon his desk as he shuffled his many papers around a bit.

“You have a lot of potential Jayden, that’s why your teachers, and myself, are so hard on you. It’s painful to watch that kind of potential just fade away after school is over, and that’s what a few of us think might happen to you once you leave this place. Your study habits are well developed and are a boon to your potential, but your attitude is what will eventually drag you down. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you’re going to have to change that if you expect to survive outside of high school.”

Jayden was frowning as she always did when it came time to tell her of how she had to change. No one liked being told what they had to do, especially when it concerned who they were as a person, but Jayden simply didn’t like to hear such a thing coming from someone who was supposed to give at least somewhat of a damn about her. Russ did indeed care about Jayden just as he cared about all of his students, but unlike a great many of them this young woman seemed to have an air about her that bespoke something great in her future. She didn’t come off as just another teenager that would be set through the paces of high school and later on adopt the same attitude about life. She was meant to do something, to be somebody great, it was something he’d learned to see in his students, especially when it happened so rarely.

Every student was special, every student deserved the chance to learn and make something of themselves, but it was only a select few that seemed to have a path set out for them. It wasn’t a thing that was lightly given and could not be taken for granted without losing it, but Russ felt that Jayden had the grit and determination to follow any path she was placed upon, if only she would curb her attitude. At the age of forty-five he’d already seen enough of the world to know that it didn’t care a bit for those who couldn’t conform it to their whims or vice versa. He’d worked his ass off to make sure that he could do what he wanted and that his family could have all that they wanted. His oldest, Jason, was now attending Oregon State University and would graduate in three years, while his youngest, Ali, was currently a sophomore in this very high school. Jayden and Ali were extremely good friends and as such Russ couldn’t help at times but feel as though his own biases towards Jayden might compromise his role as her teacher. He’d expressed this very concern to the principal, a kind and very tall man named Alden Pass.

Alden had been understanding of Russ’s concerns, but had told him in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t exclude a single student from his class just because he felt a stronger connection to her than he did the others. Russ had had his son and daughter in his classes, in fact Ali was in Jayden’s class, and yet he had never once expressed a need to have someone else step in. He loved his kids without restraint and he admired Jayden’s spark at times, but the young woman knew very well how to push the buttons of each teacher that had expressed concerns about her attitude. In no uncertain terms Alden had told Russ that if he wanted to reach Jayden he would have to treat her as he treated his own children, but talking sincerely and honestly with her.

“So you’re telling me the problem is me.” Jayden said in a low voice. Russ knew that the young woman was on the verge of walking out, he could see it in her eyes and in the way she leaned forward. He didn’t want her to walk out just then, but he wouldn’t stop her if she decided to.

“Yes, to be honest.” Jayden chewed at her lower lip as she did when she was about to get mad, her green eyes flashing just a bit as she began to shake her head. Russ waited patiently, knowing that no amount of planning or preparing could stem the flow of anger she would unload if she so chose. He’d weathered the storm of Jayden’s anger before and had come away a bit saddened but still confident that he had reached her somehow.

“I can’t believe a teacher would say that to a student.” Jayden said, not meeting his eyes.

“You’re one of my best students Jayden, but you’re also without a doubt one of the most stubborn. You and Ali have been friends since the two of you could toddle, I think of you as more than a student outside these halls, but in here I have to be your teacher first and your friend second.” Russ took a breath as he then continued, “I care about you a great deal young lady, enough to tell you the truth, as hard as it might be to hear. You need to curb this little rebellious streak just enough to realize what it means to have self-restraint. You’re a bright girl Jayden and a promising student, I really don’t want to see you do nothing after school.”

“I’m going off to college Mr. Hickman, I wouldn’t call that “nothing”.” Jayden crossed her arms over her chest as she stared defiantly at her teacher, growing just a bit more impatient as she cast her eyes to the clock. As the last period of the day this was the time when she would normally be gearing up for volleyball practice, but thanks to her current situation she was instead languishing in a classroom. She hoped that her coach, Mrs. Nelson, would be at least a bit understanding of why she was late.

“I know Jayden, and I’m glad that you have direction. But do you have purpose yet?” The question threw her off for just a moment as Jayden attempted to answer that of course she did. How could a person have direction without having purpose? Unfortunately she couldn’t think of a good enough answer to fire back at that moment.

“I didn’t think so.” Mr. Hickman smiled warmly at her as he leaned over his desk to look at the clock that had been set above the door. The contraption was the same standard time piece that seemed to be bought in mass quantities for each school across the country, a broad white face with the numbers one through twelve set around its inner edge. It was a good enough device for the utilitarian use it received, but at times he’d wondered if perhaps he could request something with a little more pizzazz or at least style.

“You’re late for volleyball practice Jayden, best get going now.” Russ’s voice was calm as he turned his gaze back to his student, his smile still pleasant as Jayden quickly retrieved her books and cell phone, putting the small device in her right hip pocket as she rose. Russ allowed phones in his classroom so long as they were either muted or shut off. He did not allow calls to be taken in class, such an offense earned a quick trip to the principal’s office and the confiscation of the phone for at least the remainder of the day. If it were up to Russ he would keep the damned phones and ship them back to the manufacturer with a giant note reading DEFECTIVE. He wasn’t the greatest fan of cell phones.

“Mrs. Nelson is going to chew me out for being late. Can I blame it on you?” Jayden asked this with a small grin, a gesture that didn’t reach her eyes as Russ couldn’t help but smile.

“No she won’t. I already sent a note to her saying you’d be late. Thankfully Mrs. Nelson reads her email on a regular basis. She’ll understand.” Jayden stopped at that moment as she was heading to the door, her jaw hanging open just a bit.

“Oh, thank you.” Russ waved as she exited the classroom, sighing to himself after she was gone.

*

“Come on ladies hustle, hustle, hustle! Let’s go, let’s go now move those arms!” Jayden had forgotten just how much she hated the first month of volleyball practice. She loved the sport so long as she was allowed to bump, spike, set and move around the court as she knew how to do, but running monkey miles, running laps around the track and running stairs was not enjoyable.

“Go Jayden!” Her best friend, Ali Hickman, was one of the best players on the team and her constant supporter. The volleyball team was a close-knit bunch and did most everything together no matter if they were in season or not, remaining close friends at all times. It was this factor that allowed Jayden to pull through the physical conditioning that Mrs. Nelson had put each of her teams through. There was a reason that the Woodland volleyball team always managed to make their way to the state championships, and it wasn’t just because they knew how to play the game. Next to such teams as Ilwaco, Fort Vancouver and Mckinley High they were a close second, but they were able to outmatch most teams in the state of Washington every single year thanks to their superb physical fitness regimens and the dedication they brought to their training.

As Jayden moved from the back of the line up to the front she grinned as the leader of the pack, a senior named Lori Nickell, sped up just a bit. The senior grinned sarcastically as she cast a look back at Jayden, raising her eyebrows as though daring the younger woman to keep up. Jayden poured on the speed as the rest of the procession adjusted their speed to Lori’s, attempting to overtake the older girl as was the point of the exercise. The monkey mile was designed not only to condition but to teach teamwork as well, honing the physical and mental attributes of the athletes as it taught them to rely on one another and to adjust to each person’s individual needs.

The training method was simple; a line of perhaps six or seven athletes would start at one end of the football field near the goalpost. It would then be up to the leader of the pack to set the first pace as they jogged to the opposite end of the field, where they would then make their way around the other goal post. At this point the athlete in the rear of the line would speed up, seeking to take the place at the head of the line where they would then be responsible for regulating the pace. It was an exceedingly simple training method, yet it often favored those who had run Cross Country or Track and Field since such individuals were known for being able to set nearly any pace.

“Having troubles Jayden?” Lori asked, her voice sounding husky as she slowed just a bit.

Jayden shook her head as she sped up a bit more, “Just didn’t want to make you look bad is all.” Lori gave her a mock glare as Jayden easily pulled up ahead of her, shaking her head at the younger girl’s cocky attitude. Being friends made such insults easy to weather, but every now and then Lori had expressed her desire to smack Jayden a good one. Such a thing would never happen during practice and would probably never happen anywhere else. The girls excelled at giving one another a hard time, but rarely were there any hard feelings.

“Then you’d better step up the pace, Sophie!” Lori exclaimed, rushing forward as the others behind her groaned just a bit. Jayden laughed as she managed to keep away from Lori easily enough, reaching the midway point of the field as they passed by their coach.

“Enough horsing around ladies! Set the pace and follow it!” Jayden couldn’t help but roll her eyes as she and Lori both fell back into their normal pace, breathing a bit heavier thanks to their added exertions.

*

Water hardly ever seemed to cool her off, no matter how cold it was. Standing in the cool, refreshing spray that was pushed so forcefully through the silver nozzle Jayden felt as the liquid stabbed against her body with the pressure that was used to cleanse those who so desperately needed it. She’d heard rumors that the boys’ shower room was far gentler despite smelling much worse. The guys always seemed to think that the rumors of the girls’ locker room smelling like perfume and other pleasing odors were true. They also seemed to think that women, unlike men, could walk around one another completely naked or with nothing more than a bra and panties or a towel on. She grinned as the water continued to pelt her relentlessly, doing almost nothing to cool her body as the natural warmth that radiated from her being kept her from growing chill.

Closing her eyes she stood under the spray, feeling as it moved from her chest to face, where it beat upon her brow with just as much force, running quickly down her features and her body as the spray went off to either side. A shower always felt good after practice, the sweat and grime that collected was often too much for her to bear on the short ride home. Jayden wasn’t a clean freak, but she didn’t like being dirty for an extended period of time unless there was no other choice.

“Hey Jayden don’t take too long, I want to get home so I can help my mom with dinner.” Lori’s voice reached her through the pounding of the shower as Jayden called out that she’d be done in a minute. The girls’ locker room was designed to give privacy within the showers, offering several open-ended stalls that extended off the main locker room area. To the other side of the expansive room were the offices held by the coaches and gym instructors, well out of view of the showers. Steam rose quickly in the shower area and had already clouded up much of the room, making it quite warm.

Jayden. Spitting out a small jet of water Jayden turned her head to the end of the stall, shaking her head as she spoke, “I’ll be out in a sec Lori, don’t get your panties in a twist.” Turning back to the shower she lowered her head so that the stream would catch her atop the head, running down into her long red tresses as she leaned against the wall with both hands.

Jayden. Turning again Jayden was about to call out to Lori once more when she suddenly realized that the voice did not belong to her friend. Frowning she stepped away from the wall, wiping the excess water from her face as she leaned out just enough to see past the wall of the stall she was in. Spitting out water she peered first towards the open end of the shower room, where it connected with the locker room beyond. She could see no one standing in that space; in fact she couldn’t see much of the room beyond thanks to the steam. Turning in the other direction she could just barely make out the cream-colored tiles of the wall. There was no one there either.

Turning back to the shower she reached for the bar of soap that rested in its place within the soap tray, seeking to pick it up so she could clean herself and get moving. Even as her hand came close to the bar of soap however she frowned at what she saw. Her hand was only a few inches from the smooth green bar, but as she watched Jayden could see the bar slowly dwindling in size, its once smooth surface rippling as it began to dry despite the moisture that continued to pound down upon her body. Jayden swallowed hard as the bar finally cracked under the strange heat that had assailed it, splitting almost in two. Stepping away quickly she blinked several times, hoping that this was nothing more than a trick of her mind, some sort of hypnosis that she had somehow put upon herself. Her rational mind said that was ridiculous, but she knew what she was seeing and it couldn’t possibly be real.

Remnant. The voice came again, much more forceful this time as Jayden could feel it within the back of her mind, a tingle that she couldn’t explain or enjoy. Closing her eyes Jayden shook her head forcefully, pressing her lips together as she did.

You have a destiny, something greater. That almost sounded like Mr. Hickman’s voice, but he couldn’t be in here. Not only was it not allowed for a man to be in the girls locker room, but Hickman would never dare. Jayden had known him for most of her life and knew him well enough to assure herself that Russ would never dare peep on her or any other girl for that matter.

“Hello?” she called, blinking as she tried to see through the steam that somehow still clouded her vision. Jayden realized at that moment that she could no longer see past the steam clouds that billowed within the opening. It was as though the shower room had been curtained off by the diaphanous cloud.

Remnant of the Elemental, your title and life. Jayden wiped her face free of the water once more as she reached forward to shut the water off with one hand, twisting the single knob that controlled the water pressure and temperature. Her eyes widened though as she twisted the knob to the full OFF position and nothing happened. The jet of water still cut through the air towards her, striking the floor as she backed away, frowning in confusion. Jayden felt her heart begin to pound just a bit as she felt a whisper of steam caress her back and hamstrings, caressing her naked skin just barely as she whirled around. It had felt as though someone had touched her, but as she looked from side to side once more she could still see no one. Her breathing had become a bit heavier as she swallowed hard again, not sure of what was going on but damned sure that she didn’t want to be in the shower room any longer.

The tiles of the back wall were barely visible as she looked in that direction, turning towards the other way to begin walking to the locker room area where her towel was hanging on the wall just outside the shower area. As she turned in that direction she took only a step before she noticed a dark shadow standing in the entrance, directly in the center where she would be effectively blocked from any easy passage.

“L-Lori? Is that you?” Jayden’s voice was weak as she looked at the dark figure, realizing quickly that the shoulders, the height and the build were nothing like her older friend. Lori was a tall and muscular girl, but she wasn’t built like man, like this figure. Something about the way the man stood reminded Jayden oddly of her dream in Mr. Hickman’s class, the powerful way the figure was towering striking in her a sense of dread as well as defiance that warred with one another as she stood there, naked save for the steam that continued to roil throughout the shower area.

“Who are you? You’re not supposed to be down here. There aren’t, um, there aren’t supposed to be any boys down here.”

The figure didn’t move, but neither did he retreat as the shadows upon his person were just barely enough to conceal his identity. There was no young man stupid enough to trespass in the girls’ locker room – the punishment would be severe enough to deter anyone no matter how adventurous or rebellious they were. So who the hell was this?

“If you don’t get out of here now I’m going to call the coach and she’ll call the cops.” Jayden’s threat sounded as hollow as it felt, its dire implications not even seeming to faze the stranger. She could see little of the figure, but Jayden could quickly note that he was blonde, easily over six feet tall and looked powerful enough to easily overcome any resistance she could give. That fact alone pissed her off, which only made her mouth work that much better.

“Or maybe I’ll just kick your nuts up to your chin if you don’t clear out now.” The figure still didn’t move as she threatened to savage his manhood. What kind of freak was this guy? Jayden was so focused on her rapidly beating heart that she almost didn’t notice the fact that she was growing incredibly warm, that her body had almost dried itself as the heat began to radiate from her. Not a single drop of water reached her skin as the rest quickly dried away, leaving her standing completely naked within the steam, her skin growing just a bit red as she looked from her own body to the stranger, narrowing her eyes in anger as she set her jaw.

Daughter of the Light, product of the Dark, you have much to learn. Jayden wanted to shout at the figure to shut up, but in that moment six more figures joined the one, or rather they stepped from six of the stalls that lay between her and the shadowy figure, their presences seeming to part the mists in front of them as they stood close to one another.

The six newcomers were all women and each one of them were fully clothed, or armored in the case of one. Clad in gleaming plates of armor the short-haired woman had the stance of one who is both proud and sure of herself, her spine ramrod-straight as she stood beside the others. Three of them were dressed in more casual garb, but the other two were dressed in a midnight-blue robe and a low cut, elegant-looking dress with long, graceful sleeves. The hairstyles ranged from a ponytail for the three normally dressed women to a bun for the robed one and curled ringlets for the one in the dress. Jayden noticed all this detail in seconds, but it took her several moments longer to realize one crucial thing. Despite all the different hairstyles and clothing, the women all looked alike.

She tensed even more as she realized that the women were just as dry as she was, their clothing and hair not suffering even a mild dampness that would come from the steam all around them. Jayden retreated several steps as the women advanced, their identical faces with their strange, glowing white eyes and platinum hair seeming rather speculative, not to mention unfriendly.

“Who are you? Coach Nelson! Coach Nelson help!” Jayden shouted as loud as she could, but with the certainty granted to all daydreams and nightmares she was rewarded with nothing, not even the hurried sound of running feet that would announce the welcome aid of her coach. What in the hell was going on?

Calm yourself Remnant. You will not be harmed this day.

“Why do you keep calling me that? Who are you people?” She looked past the six women at the male figure, her jaw dropping further as she noticed his eyes. They were black pits within his face, liquid pools of something so black that the shadows seemed pale in comparison. As she watched her breath hitched suddenly as she noted the thin ribbons of what looked like silver threading their way through his eyes, leaking slightly from the corners as he kept absolutely still, not speaking a word.

You are a Remnant of the old world, a being that was old when your kind was still in its infancy.

Jayden narrowed her eyes as she continued to look uneasily at the male figure, not trusting that he wouldn’t suddenly surge forward, intent on doing her harm. Why wasn’t anyone coming running? Hadn’t anyone heard her shout out for help? Jayden tried to tell herself that this was a dream, it was only a daydream, she was still standing under the shower as she waited to feel clean. Yes, that was it, she was still showering, ridding herself of the accumulated filth of the day. At any moment she would wake up and realize that Lori was waiting on her, and then everything would be okay.

A loud and very dangerous sounding crack suddenly came from behind her as Jayden whirled around, her eyes going to the wall that was now revealed to her in all its smooth lines and roughly caulked edges. Her jaw shut with an audible snap as Jayden saw a massive crack running from the floor of the showers to the ceiling, its dark appearance nearly an inch wide as many smaller cracks radiated out from the main stem. As she continued to watch the wall shuddered as the smaller cracks widened and raced outward, seeking to sunder the wall even further as bits and pieces of tile and dried caulking clattered to the floor, sounding like falling bricks in the confines of the shower room.

“What the hell was that?!” she yelled back at the women. Their strangeness had worn off suddenly as she whirled back to the wall, feeling horribly exposed as she stood naked in the midst of the shower room. The wall shuddered violently again as something hit it from behind, furthering the cracks as they now spread almost from one side to another.

It is an enemy most dire and most ancient. It hunts the Remnants, that it may feed the fires within its dark soul.

“What?!” Nothing was making sense, just as always happened in a dream she reminded herself. Nothing was supposed to make sense in dreams, they were abstracts just as she’d learned, little more than the subconscious urgings of a living being when under duress of some sort. Well, she was now under a lot of duress, that was for sure.

The wall suddenly shattered inward as Jayden crouched down, holding her arms over her head as she was liberally peppered with shards and fragments of the wall. The beating of her increased as the explosion ripped through the shower room, sending clouds of dust and drywall throughout the room to be soaked almost instantly by the condensation as it became soggy and then even mushy. Jayden barely felt the bits that clung to her skin as she stood back up, rising slowly as she kept her eyes narrowed in disbelief, shock, fear and even anger. What she saw revealed behind the wall however took away at least two of those sensations, leaving only anger and fear behind as she felt her lower lip tremble in rapidly mounting horror.

Standing nearly nine feet tall was a dark thing that almost had to bend over to be in the shower room, its heavily muscled body filling the corridor between the stalls as it loomed over her. Jayden looked up, and up, and up as she took in the scaled appearance of the demonic thing that now loomed over her, noting mostly its claws and the heavy tail that swished powerfully behind it before focusing upon its crocodilian face as the thing glowered down at her, its small, beady eyes pinning her with great intent as its jaws parted to reveal the double rows of jagged, pointed teeth that glinted with drool and other fluids she didn’t want to imagine. The stench from the beast was such that she couldn’t help but gag as the fear overtook her, washing through her body even as the anger railed against it, causing a sudden reaction she had not expected.

Fire spread throughout her veins as Jayden cried out in sudden shock, her eyes widening as she felt the liquid warmth take over her entire body, suffusing her with such power that she couldn’t help but arch her back, exposing her throat and entire front to the creature. The dark thing did not reach forward as Jayden suddenly felt as though her entire body exploded, every nerve releasing in a rush of such intense ecstasy that she could not help but cry out loudly and with as much passion as her young body could hold. Her entire form felt as though it had been dipped in fire, though never had she felt flames such as this, that caressed her form in such a way that it was not unlike the most intense and pleasurable rush she’d ever experienced. She could feel as every part of her body responded to the unknown stimulus, her every cell crying out for more as the flames cascaded from her form, spreading quickly throughout the entire shower room as the demonic creature was instantly engulfed, its form disappearing almost instantly as a great spill of ash fell to the floor where it had stood.

Turning to the six women Jayden felt the fury within her body as she glared at them, noting that the flames had not even touched them despite the fact that they had been wreathed on all sides by the liquid, shifting fire. The tiles of the shower room burned, blackening and cracking under the fiery assault she had unleashed. This was power, this was unbridled, all-consuming power, and it was all hers.

You will awake soon Remnant, but not yet.

She wanted to rebuke the women, but even as she opened her mouth the females began to shimmer and fade away, as though they were no more substantial than the steam that had already boiled away. This left only the shadowy figure that still remained within the entryway, his form still darkened enough that Jayden could not see everything.

“You want some of this boy?” she challenged, feeling as the flames danced around her body, clothing her in an impenetrable armor of shifting and roiling fire. The figure did not respond save to raise his left hand, his fingers splayed as he kept his palm towards her. Jayden frowned as she felt the familiar tingle within her mind, not understanding what was happening until the stranger suddenly closed his fist, bringing it just as quickly down to his side.

At the simple gesture the flames within the shower room were extinguished as though they’d never been, not even fading away as they were cruelly snuffed. Jayden felt the emptiness of their absence in that short moment as she gasped in surprise, glaring in disbelief at the male as he then stepped forward with his right foot, shaking his left hand which she could see was licking flames. Not a single tongue of fire blackened his hand as Jayden watched, remaining almost completely contained within his fist as he cocked his left hand back as though he were going to throw something.

Too late Jayden guessed at what was going to happen, watching as the man threw sideways, slinging his left hand as though he were throwing a baseball. As she watched his hand opened, disgorging the flame she’d seen licking from his hand straight towards her. Jayden couldn’t move in time as the flame hit her squarely in the chest, rocking her backward towards the large hole that the wall had become. Surprisingly she felt the harsh impact of tile against her back as her head rebounded off the hard surface, causing spots to appear in her vision.

Jayden hit the floor hard in the next second, her body landing hard as she felt the warmth continue to flow throughout her every cell. She just barely heard the sound of footsteps as the man approached her, the rubber soles of his shoes making hollow sounds upon the tiled floor. Rolling over took every ounce of energy she possessed, but she managed as she flopped onto her back, gasping for every last breath as she looked up into the man’s eyes as he stood over her. She still couldn’t see his face entirely, there were somehow still too many shadows, but Jayden could see his eyes just fine. The ribbons of silver still flowed strangely through his ebon-black gaze, a confusing and somehow familiar sight.

“You aren’t ready yet, but you will be.” Jayden found his voice to be pleasing and also familiar, but she was sure she’d never met this man before. As he turned away she couldn’t help but croak at him to stop, to tell her who he was. All she could do at that moment was listen as his footsteps became even more distant, fading into memory as Jayden’s eyes closed, the darkness taking over as she fell willingly into its embrace.

*

“Hey brain-dead! Are you listening at all? I want to get going so if you don’t want to be walking, towel yourself off and let’s go!” Lori’s voice caused her eyes to snap open as Jayden jumped slightly as she pressed her hands a little harder against the shower wall. She couldn’t be sure, but she had been daydreaming about something. She just couldn’t remember what.

“Yeah, yeah I’m coming.”

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