Burnout reached up and lifted his dark goggles up to his forehead, revealing his jade green eyes. But it also revealed the deep, dark circles curling beneath them. When he sat down, he slumped in a way that suggested he could barely hold his own weight upright.
He scratched the back of his head and cleared his throat. “Sorry if I don’t make much sense at times. I haven’t gotten much sleep this last week.”
It’s only been about 9 months since I got my powers. Before that, well, let’s just say that I was pretty damn average. I spent my days sitting around and pretending I was doing something important. I was going to spend the summer before college hanging out at home, but a…a friend convinced me to go hiking with him.
Unfortunately, I can’t exactly tell you where we went, but I’ll explain that in a bit.
We’d only made it halfway up the mountain when the earthquake hit. I checked later, and they said it was a small one; “Wouldn’t knock over a house of cards,” they said. Well, it sure as hell felt strong where we were.
He was thirty or so feet in front of me when it happened. Those thirty feet saved my life; the cliff face we were walking under collapsed. It only clipped me, but I hit the ground hard and blacked out. As far as I could tell, he died instantly. I hope he did.
It was dark when I woke up. He had the map, and I was only barely sure of the path in daylight, so I crawled to the closest shelter I could find.
There was a cave where the cliff had been. If I hadn’t been knocked out, I like to think I’d have realized how stupid it was to go into an unexplored cave inside of a recently collapsed cliff, when there had just been an earthquake. But I probably would have.
I’ve never had much interest in caves or rocks, but even I could tell that cave was something special. I walked for almost twenty minutes, but it was just as bright as it had been two steps in. the walls were…glowing isn’t the right word, but I don’t know what is. And their color was fascinating. It swirled around, merging together and pulling back apart into thousands upon thousands of shades.
I wish you could have seen it.
I kept walking deeper, watching the colors. It was almost an hour before I realized the cave could not possibly be so large, but I kept walking anyway.
I later learned about the spell on that place. The more I stared at the colors, the more they changed me. It wasn’t quite hypnosis, or brainwashing, or anything that simple. It was designed to take the good parts of me, the best parts of me, and make them better. I had been lazy before, but the magic took the joy I felt for the few things that I got excited for, and helped me see the other things in life that would remind me of them. It made the effort to try new things seem worth it.
Not just my mind either. I’ve never had any trouble with physical tasks, but I’ve never had any real energy for them either. The cave gave that to me. I’d never felt more alive than I did that day.
I don’t know how long I wandered, or how deep I travelled. But eventually I reached the end of the path. That’s where I found them, the bones of that beast. It must have been massive, when it was alive. The skeleton was curled upon itself, but even so it had to be over a hundred feet long.
It was a dragon, but I didn’t know that then. I couldn’t see much more than its skull, staring straight at the entrance of the cavern. I thought it was alive, at first. Dragon’s eyes, you see, have a layer of scales over them, which stay in place after death, even as the rest of the eye decays.
It was a few minutes before I noticed that the dragon was dead. Even when I finally got the courage to approach, those empty blue orbs seemed to follow me. Part of me was screaming to turn back, but the rest was staring at those teeth.
If those teeth were half as alluring when it was alive, then I can see how a monster that large could survive. At that point, I wanted nothing more than to reach out and feel its massive fang.
The moment I touched it, I blacked out. And that’s when I…heard?…heard it. There weren’t any words, just intent. It was asking me a question, a question I can’t explain, then or now. But I understood it and I knew my answer.
When I woke up, I was on the ground outside, and the cave was gone. Someone was shouting, but when I tried to answer the words caught in my throat. My tongue was dry, and my head was throbbing. I struggled and barely managed to make enough noise to get the ranger’s attention.
I had been there for three days.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I discovered my power. My mother actually screamed when she saw the burns on the coffee table.
For some reason, I didn’t feel much need to think about whether or not to become a speedwalker. I think it had something to do with that voice in the cave. The hardest part was finding a name. Do you have any idea how many fire-based walkers there are? It’s ridiculous.
I picked up the costume over the next couple of months. The mask was something I’d had lying around from a skiing trip I went on a few years ago. The shirt was bought, but I had to add the dragon myself. The pants and goggles I picked up later. Those I can’t talk about.
It was a few months before I noticed the compulsion about revealing the cave’s location. And that’s what really started to worry me. I began researching the cave I saw, looking through old magic texts at the university, powerless of course but still useful. It didn’t suggest the magic had done anything harmful, but it worried me.
It wasn’t until I ran into an old classmate from high school that I learned how much I had changed. He barely even remembered me, said if my friend hadn’t died there would have been nothing to remind him of my existence. He said that nobody he talked to even remembered me before the funeral.
That really scared me. It seemed like the cave had changed everything about me. Even if every book I found said the magic was relatively harmless, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was wrong. My fire started disobeying me, coming out too strong or too weak.
I-I hadn’t even really done anything yet, just taken out a few muggers here and there. But when The Court found me, I was curled up in an alley, surrounded by fire.
“He suggested I come here, figure out if this is what I should be doing. Even offered to help me get rid of my powers if I decided to quit. I can’t say I want to stop being a hero, but I’m not sure if I can trust myself to keep it up. I don’t know if I’m really in control.”
Burnout had been looking down at his feet since halfway into his story. He didn’t look up now.
Will glanced down at his sheet. He had stopped taking notes at some point. He knew better than to stare straight at Burnout. Losing control of your power was more than frightening. “It’s worse for manips. Your power is supposed to flow naturally. Losing control is like realizing you can’t breathe on command anymore.”
The groups looked at Will. He had brought it up that he wouldn’t speak this session unless it became necessary. He was supposed to meet with each of them before the next session. But this was something all of them needed to understand. Someone who hadn’t lost control couldn’t comprehend exactly how wrong it felt.
Burnout walked off the stage. Will was surprised to see Mach was the one who stopped him for a moment. The mecher placed a hand on his shoulder and said a few words. They weren’t much, but Burnout smiled gently and nodded his head.
Will looked around for who was next. But Red Racer was already on the stage. “Sorry-ry if someone else wanted to go-go. But I’ll be quick-quick, I promise-ise.”