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I realize it's around Finals time for most of you readers, so in support I'm putting up an extra update to give you a momentary break. Don't let the stress get to you, it'll be summer soon!


His leg had had enough of him. The moment he stepped out of the Granger Mobile, it crumpled. His arms had already cramped up with cold by then, and he barely managed himself upright on his good leg in time for Grandpa Granger to rush around and offer a shoulder. His eyebrows flew up on touching Kai.

"Whoa, you're hot! And not in a good way!"

"I'm fine, really," said Kai. "I just need to clean up. Look to Ayah. She's freezing." And she was, but her heart rate had been normal, along with her breathing, and her cuts had been minimal compared to the others.

Though the old man gave a very Tyson like frown, he didn't say anything as he helped Kai to the bathroom. After carrying in the unconscious Ayah, he brought Kai a dojo-sized first-aid kit and a fresh change of Tyson's clothes.

"Those black threads are sweet," he said, clicking his fingers, albeit somewhat lacklusterly, at Kai's assassin's gear. "You'll give me the story behind them, yeah?"

"Sure." Kai could hardly stay upright. His want for the hot water had turned to a need.

Thankfully, the old man left, shutting the door behind him. A great gust of breath flew from Kai and he stumbled to the tub. His hand trembled as he turned on the water as hot as it could go. He waited, shaking so bad he started to cave in on himself once more, but afraid of touching the water before it got hot.

I can't become hydrophobic, he thought as he steeled himself and put a finger beneath the running water. He hissed at the contact, but it wasn't nearly as painful as the sea.

He waited. And waited. Steam gathered on the ceiling and fogged the mirror and facet. Soon he was breathing it in, but the most the water ever got was tolerable. He had little room to be grateful that he could at least touch water without pain as his freezing body wreaked its revenge for a failed promise of warmth.

"Shut up," he hissed between chattering teeth. He had his hands and forearms beneath the running water, but that's all it was, even as steam clouded his vision. Water. Not even luke warm.

At last, he turned it off. The fear returned with friends, coiling him worse than the ice.

What now?

He couldn't go out like this. Grandpa would definitely take him to the hospital, and besides, the old man had enough to worry about with Ayah. Kai could hardly move for the cold, let alone walk on his poor abused leg, which had probably popped through all its stitches. Even if he did manage to make it to the kitchen on his own without the old man noticing, he wouldn't have the patience to boil water. Besides, for all he knew, it would only be luke warm, if the hottest water from the furnace only felt a degree over tolerably cold.

Dismayed, Kai crumpled to the floor, fighting for breath, bones rattling once more.

God, it hurts. I'm going to die. I have to die. Please, let him not have to live through this.

Just on the edge of hopelessness, Ayah's voice drifted from his memory...

'It's okay, I think I can hear Dranzer...'

"Dranzer," he panted. "Dranzer...please..."

The response was almost immediate.


It was mad. It was insane. But Kai had reached the breaking point, and desperation was more powerful than any logic. Murmuring his bitbeast's name for a focus, he clenched his jaw and pushed back the cold one last time. His muscles opened like rusty hinges, but they still opened. He stood, staggering to the door, bracing himself against the wall.

Please let old man Granger be gone, he prayed.

He wasn't in the hallway. Somehow, Kai managed to wall-limp himself to the nearest door outside. Once there, he knew all too well where the wood pile was. Tyson's only version of training outside of launch practice was chopping wood, as Grandpa Granger had taught him. Long Granger family secret, he'd always say. Even now, in pain, Kai managed to think blithely, some secret.

An eternity of limping and unsticking his frozen limbs later, he made it to the side of the house where the wood waited in a messy heap. Trembling, throat raw from panting, he took hold of two logs and tossed them as far as he could from the pile. He fell into a daze as he tossed and shoved wood like a man on the edge of a coma makes his bed.

It was only till he had a decent 'bed' of wood that it occurred to him that he hadn't the means to light it. He nearly crumpled then and there if it weren't for the mad vibration of his blade in his pocket. He took her out and unhooked his launcher.

If this doesn't work, he thought. I'm done.

He only managed to lift her high enough to avoid hitting his feet and pulled the rip cord. It had to be his most pathetic launch in history, but she spun and wobbled her way to the wood.

Burn, he willed with every part of his freezing, screaming soul. Please. Just one more time.

The blue blade tipped, sparked, then weakly kicked into the logs. With one last push of desperate will, Dranzer at last burst into a small, spinning ball of flame.

The logs, kept beneath a roof through the summer monsoon season, were dry and old. They caught fire readily, quickly growing black as the flame caught and grew higher. It just went to show how far Kai had gone that he didn't even try to rescue his blade from the flames as it slowed to a spin and fell amongst the coals. All he could comprehend was the warmth—the heat.

Falling to his knees, he threw his hands into the growing flames.

The cold recoiled. The fire, though, didn't burn. His skin didn't blacken or blister.

That was all the encouragement Kai needed to crawl atop the pier and curl up amidst the flames. His black clothes instantly caught flame, filling the area with smoke. He kicked off his shoes and gasped in relief as the fire quickly returned feeling to his all but dead feet.

Finally. Finally. The cold, the pain...was leaving.

He thought he could smell the fire. Not the burnt logs or the smoke, but the sheer flame itself. But before he could put a name to the scent, his exhausted mind slipped away into relieved, dreamless sleep.

Before Beasts, There Was Water--Book 4Where stories live. Discover now