Things were on fire.
Things were always on fire when the Crimson Ibis was around.
As I ran through the streets, I could see people running around with fire extinguishers and buckets of water and expressions of, well, not exactly fear.
Was it excitement?
Jeez, were they really excited about what was to come?
My answer came in the form of a kid pointing at me, eyes wide, shouting: “There’s Smoke!”
Unfortunately, it made people notice me.
See, with a name like Smoke, you can guess I normally didn’t want to be seen.
A superhero’s gotta do what a superhero’s gotta do.
My leather costume creaked as I gave the kid a short wave. Before the kid could wave back, I dashed behind a car and, hopefully, vanished from sight.
I wasn’t too far from the wreckage left behind by Crimson. I could smell the fire and the smoke very clearly now.
It burned through my body and sent a thrill down my arms, until my fingers tingled. My power was ready to be used.
Dashing from car to car, I entered the roundabout.
It was burning.
Cars left and right were in varying degrees of becoming melted art, and the asphalt below my feet stank as it turned soft and mushy.
From above, the roundabout must look like a burning ring of hell.
I looked up just in time to see a giant fireball sailing towards me. My breath left me in a rush as I willed myself not to be made of flesh anymore.
As always, it worked.
My atoms, my being, my everything exploded in a cloud of smoke. I rushed away just before the fireball slammed into the earth, obliterating the car I’d just been hiding behind and a good chunk of the freeway.
Everything smelled like burning,
like melted rubber and singed metal.
Everything smelled like smoke.
“Little slow on the uptake, huh?” came a voice from above.
I drifted behind a car and materialized again, my body knitting itself together like a sweater made by a loving grandmother.
“Where are you, Smoke? I can smell you, but I can’t see you,” a voice sing-songed.
I knew that voice.
I knew it in every shape, in every situation, but this one right here, this I knew the best.
Crimson was floating above the spot I had stood just a few seconds ago,
the one that was now smoking and melting.
Strands of long, dark hair curled gently into the air like she was underwater.
But I knew she was anything but.
She was fire itself, burning hot and passionate, with a smile that made even the darkest place inside yourself disappear, if only for a minute.
I knew it was time to come out of my hiding spot, or she would break more government property, but a part of me wanted to stay and watch. Watch her be in her element, surrounded by the flames, her eyes alight with power.
Then she turned to me. “Oh, hello,” she grinned. “There you are.”
My breath caught.
How had she found me?
I dashed away from the car I was hiding behind and turned into smoke mid-stride, hoping to confuse her about my whereabouts. Crimson’s laugh rang over the deserted roundabout as I drifted behind another car and materialized again.
“You’re wondering how I found you, right? It’s easy, really.”
With a soft poof, I turned back into smoke and drifted over the still burning cars. Pressing down onto the flames, I suppressed them until they burned out. I materialized again behind a big, red truck.
“I just follow the sound of your incredibly loud and angsty thoughts,” a voice purred in my ear.
My breath lodged in my throat.
I spun around and flung my hands at Crimson. Darkness bled from my finger tips like a spilled inkpot, blotting out everything underneath. For a moment, Crimson disappeared from sight. But then two pinpricks of light appeared to my left and there she was again.
Crimson laughed. As she did, a few wisps of smoke left her mouth, like she’d been smoking a cigarette.
“My lovely Smoke,” she said, voice rough. “When are you going to realize that I’m one of the good guys?”
“Never,” I said. I flexed my fingers. “Look around you. Do you think a superhero would do this?”
Crimson shook her head. “You know this roundabout has the most accidents in the entire city. It’s taken more lives than I ever did.”
“You’ve destroyed people’s cars.”
“Cars are bad for the environment anyway.”
With every word, Crimson had taken a step closer and now she was almost close enough to touch me. Her burning eyes seemed to stare straight through me. A light sheen of sweat covered her dark skin; the heat from her flames, probably.
Or was it something else?
Was it because she understood the heat in my own eyes?
“Smoke,” Crimson said softly. She lifted her hand and—
“Watch out, Smoke!” a low voice shouted behind me, and before I could do anything, a car sailed through the air towards us.
I heard Crimson say, “Great.” before I went up in smoke and rushed away from the flying car.
Had Crimson also gotten away in time?
My heart beat wildly in my chest. A few strands of my ponytail had come loose, and I brushed them out of my face as I searched for a flash of red, for a sign of life, anything.
A hand gripped my arm and hauled me to my feet. “Smoke, are you okay?”
“Jeffrey, what the fuck,” I said, shaking off his hand.
Jeffrey frowned. “We’re in the field. You need to use my codename.”
“Or what? You’re afraid these cars find out about your real identity?”
Running a hand through his blond hair, Jeffrey straightened up. His blue chestplate glinted in the sunlight. God, he was posing again.
“Just following protocol, Maria. You don’t have to be such a dick about it.”
I ignored his jab. “Why are you here anyway? I have the situation under control.”
“Doesn’t look like it. The Crimson Ibis was seconds away from throttling you.”
More like brushing these loose strands of hair behind my ear.
“Besides,” Jeffrey went on. “Those cars are still burning.”
“Now who’s the dick,” I muttered, but he was right. I should’ve made sure the fire was under control first.
With a mere thought, I made myself nothing but smoke and drifted towards the burning vehicles. I made sure to be as quiet as the wind as I pressed down my smoke and extinguished every last flame.
“Oh, real progressive,” Crimson called out, and I felt a surge of relief to know that she was still alive. “Okay then, muscle boy. If you think you can handle me, show it.”
“I’ve beaten you before, Crimson Ibis,” Jeffrey called out, like a douche.
God, how had I ever thought he was dreamy?
How had I ever done a little victory dance in my bedroom when he’d asked me out?
Crimson laughed. “You wish.”
The sound of fire burning and cars crashing onto the freeway filled the roundabout. Meanwhile, I was almost done with the rest of the fires. I was just drifting towards the last couple of cars when a massive fireball sailed through the air behind me.
Straight at Jeffrey.
Who was lying on the ground.
Unconscious, from the looks of it.
On instinct, I materialized back to flesh and flung my hands out. Darkness swallowed the fireball like a magnificent eclipse. For a second, it looked like someone had turned off the lights.
Then, Crimson clapped her hands together, and another fireball materialized between her fingers.
I sprinted towards her, drifting in and out of smoke to throw her off balance, and materialized on top of a fairly untouched car. My breath was coming in short pants.
“Let’s see if you can stop this,” Crimson grinned.
“I can,” I said, feeling the darkness pool from my fingers onto the ground. “And I will.”
The fireball was twice Crimson’s size.
Even from down below, I could feel its heat.
But I was standing in a lake of darkness,
the smoke floating through the air like water, when someone waded into its depth.
“Bring it,” I said with a smile.
And that’s exactly what Crimson did.
No going easy on me,
no unsolicited help or advice,
no goddamn are you sure you can handle this.
Crimson smiled at me as she flung the massive ball of fire at me,
knowing I was perfectly capable of handling it.
I raised my arms slowly, and darkness followed.
I created a massive tidal wave of shadows and smoke, and as the fire came closer, wanting to burn everything to the ground,
the darkness whispered no,
and swallowed it whole.
Or, well, most of it.
x – x – x
The roundabout was ruined,
that’s what the mayor said on the news.
They had no choice but to rebuild it.
While they were at it, the mayor said with a dazzling smile, they were going to improve the roundabout’s design. It had been a thorn in his side for years, he confessed, and he was glad he could finally do something about it. Of course, it was all thanks to the brave superheroes Saviour and Smoke that—
With a huff, Holly turned off the TV.
“Bullshit,” she said. “He hadn’t wanted to spend his precious campaign dollars on it! Not until I burned it to the ground and he had no other choice.”
I sipped my tea. “Well, yeah.”
“And did you hear? He named Jeffrey first.”
Holly’s eyes were blazing and her hands were just a little too rough as she massaged my feet.
“Ouch,” I said, pulling away. “I’m still sore.”
“Shit, I’m sorry.” Holly pulled my leg back on her lap and gently continued her massage. “I think we should get you better boots. You know asphalt burns when I’m around.”
“Yeah, but I like the foot massages after.”
Holly laughed. “Spoiled superhero.”
Holly grinned, and then I felt a horrible, horrible tickling sensation at the bottom of my feet. I squealed and kicked and tried everything to get away. Well, everything apart from turning into smoke.
“Your tea!” Holly called out, but it was too late.
Hot water spilled over my shirt
and it hurt, shit.
Holly quickly took the mug from my hands while I pulled at my shirt and said, “Ouch, ouch, ouch.”
“Are you okay? Mari, you okay?”
This kind of heat didn’t last as long.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just need to get out of this shirt.”
“Oh, no,” Holly said flatly. “How awful.”
Suppressing the urge to giggle, I pulled off my wet shirt. Before I could sit back, two very warm hands grabbed hold of my waist and pulled me closer.
Just like a few hours before, I found myself standing face to face with the villain Crimson Ibis.
Or, as I liked to call her, my girlfriend Holly.
“What do you say we finish our fight here?” she said with a grin. “Without Jeffrey being a total cockblock.”
I pulled a face. “No work-talk in bed.”
Holly laughed as she kissed me.
I ran my hands through her long, black hair and kissed her back. Slowly, our laughter was swallowed by our deepening kisses. I shivered as I felt her warm hands run up and down my back.
I felt like I was on fire in the best way.
Though, to be fair, things always felt like they were on fire when the Crimson Ibis was around.