|Legacy of the Popcorn Fairy: Danger Uprising
Author: ThePopcornFairy PM
Minusions, vampires, and a heartbreaking kidnapping. My challenges have only begun. As relationships are formed and strained, I find my duties as the Popcorn Fairy all the more serious.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Supernatural/Fantasy - Chapters: 10 - Words: 60,089 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 08-26-12 - Published: 02-16-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7842381
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 9: Through the Blaze
Mutt and I left without a word. Mutt drove north in his dad's truck while I flew right behind him, high enough to not be noticed. Shane hadn't told me much over the phone, but he told me enough to boost my confidence. Finally, we could very well be one step closer to rescuing my family.
Once we entered Lemon Brook, Mutt parked the truck at a nearby Rite-Aid and continued on foot. We didn't stop until we were at the exact spot where Shane said to meet him: right by the river that deposits into the creek.
I touched down next to Shane just as Mutt came to a halt between us. I took a quick moment to observe our location; there was a lush forest surrounding us on all sides and the river looked dark and murky. Even still, it was quite a lovely scene.
"Shane, what's up?" I asked.
"Well…" He looked up and down the river. "I was following the creek northward, then I kept going once I got to the point where the river starts it. Then, right about here, I saw a Minusion dive into the water."
Mutt raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"And it didn't… come… out."
I stared at Shane for a moment, then directed my attention to the river. I could just barely see my reflection in the dark water, but that wasn't what caught my attention. When I actually took a moment to focus, I could sense strong amounts of Gold Star energy, and it seemed to be coming from the river.
"You know, I've never been through here before," I said, kneeling down in the grass. "It's hard to believe this is the river that deposits into the creek back home. The water looks a lot murkier up here."
To make things even weirder, when I dipped my finger in the water, the ripples that spread out glowed a dazzling white. Startled by this, I retreated my hands and examined my index finger, finding it wet but otherwise unaffected. Only a few seconds later, my finger felt dry again, as if the water had simply evaporated off instantaneously.
"Okay, there's definitely something weird about this river."
"Not only that…" Mutt added, his nose high in the air, "but I think there have been werewolves around here."
"Werewolves, huh?" I repeated. "Well, with a crescent moon, we won't have to worry about them. Which means this is our only problem."
Actually… I had a few problems. Aside from the Minusions and our rescue mission, I had to worry about going underwater to get to all that. I'm not much as much of a swimmer as I used to be, and even then, having my head submerged without something covering my eyes and nose was never pleasant.
Yes, I have many pet peeves. I know.
"Uh…" I stood back up. "Can you guys do me a favor?"
I swallowed hard. "Could one of you go check it out down there before we all plunge head-first into who knows what?"
Mutt shot me a vacant stare. "Um… Sure, Nat. Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just… don't like swimming underwater."
"Oh, I feel you on that one," Shane responded. "I've never been a big fan of swimming either. You can't breathe, you can hardly see, you get water in your nose…"
"Shane, that's not helping," I squeaked.
Mutt sighed. "Okay, I'll go. Be right back." He then yanked off his shirt (much to Shane's chagrin), threw it aside and dove straight into the river. This move alone made me remember just how gorgeous Mutt was.
As he disappeared into the river, the water tossed up in his wake illuminated, much like it did for me. Then, once the water settled, the glow vanished and the river turned dark again.
"I don't like this," Shane sighed once we were alone.
"I don't either," I agreed. "If I'm right and there's something supernatural about this river, the King's gonna have some kind of trick up his sleeve if he's using it."
Eventually I sat back down in the grass, contemplating what was about to happen. Here we were, by a river in the outer limits of Lemon Brook, where the Minusions could possibly be holding my family hostage somewhere in said river.
Something made me sigh.
Shane sat down next to me. "What's up?"
"Nothing," I replied. "Well, okay, everything. Everything is up."
He blinked. "Well, that's not vague."
I took another look at myself in the river. Despite the darkness of the water, I could still see the glow of my wings. "I don't know. Times like this make me wish that I never became the Blue Star successor."
"Yeah, I hear that," Shane mumbled.
After a long pause, Shane interrupted a train of thought I went on about how Mutt had been underwater for a long time. "Natalie… if you had never become the Popcorn Fairy and I had never become a Star Wolf, do you think we'd still be friends?"
"Of course we would!" I responded. "Our supernatural sides weren't the first things we bonded over. I'm sure we'd still find ways to get together if we weren't involved in all this madness."
He smiled. "Really?"
Mutt finally resurfaced, taking a deep breath as he did. "Well, I definitely found something."
"What?" I inched closer to him.
As he climbed out, I watched in wonder as- just like it did to me- the river water evaporated off of Mutt in a matter of seconds. "First off," he said, "when I was down there, it hardly felt like I was underwater. Sure, I couldn't breathe, but the water's very soft and gentle, almost to the point where I could barely feel it. I could even keep my eyes open without the water stinging them."
I smiled slightly. That would make the experience so much easier on me.
"There is one weird thing, though…" Mutt continued. "I could be crazy, but the river itself seems bottomless."
"How could a river be bottomless?" Shane asked skeptically.
"I don't know, okay? Even if it was true- which I'm not saying it is- the pressure at the bottom kept me from going all the way down."
"So… there's still pressure?" I muttered.
"Yeah… that was the harshest part. But here's the important part." Mutt looked us both in the eyes to make sure we were listening. "There's a drain pipe down there, sticking out of the side. Inside it, there's a wall of Gold Star energy."
My eyes widened. He found it.
"What was behind it?" Shane questioned.
"I don't know."
"But that's what we're gonna find out," I concluded, standing up. "I have a good feeling this is the lead we've been looking for. My parents and Jared have to be down there somewhere. It's now or never, guys."
Mutt and Shane stood up with me and nodded.
"Now let's do this like Brutus."
Mutt grabbed my hand. "I'll help you every stroke of the way down."
"Alright. Let's get a move on," Shane said as he threw himself into the river.
Then, just as anyone would suspect, my confidence went bye-bye.
"Baby steps, Nat," Mutt encouraged me. "We don't have to dive. We'll just… ease our way in."
I just nodded and slowly took the first few steps down the river's ravine, tightly gripping Mutt's hand along the way. I was surprised to find that he had been right about barely feeling wet; sure, my shoes and socks started to feel a little damp, but it wasn't nearly as bad as getting soaked with normal water.
Soon we were swimming with our heads above the water. I looked down, trying not to flip out as Mutt pulled me closer to him. "Ready?"
Just out of habit, I pinched my nose and tightly shut my eyes. "Just pull me down."
"Okay. If that's what you want."
He grabbed my arms. I took a deep breath.
The next thing I knew, there was a soft, almost soothing sensation on my face that I could practically compare to the feeling of someone brushing their fingers along my cheek. This couldn't be right. Even though I felt the water's pressure, I could hardly feel the water.
Something shook my glasses, which as I took as a silent message telling me to open my eyes. I hesitated in doing so, but eventually I decided to get it over with, shooting them open in a flash.
You've gotta be kidding me! My contacts hurt more than this!
This just couldn't be right.
Mutt, face-to-face with me, gave me a proud smile before pointing downward. I followed his finger, spotting Shane hovering right next to the drain pipe. Then I nodded and we both swam his way; I had to take a few extra strokes to keep up with Mutt just because I didn't want to risk unplugging my nose.
And sure enough, about a foot inside the pipe, there was a glowing, golden wall of pure energy.
I had an idea, but I needed words to convey it, so I pointed up and led the guys back to the surface.
Once we all caught our breath, I got right to it. "Okay, guys. Here's what we have to do. You guys swim ahead of me. I'll shoot a popcorn blast at the wall to create an opening. That way, once we're all through and if the energy regenerates back into a wall, I'll take the force of it."
"Whoa, Nat, are you sure that's a good idea?" Mutt asked worriedly.
"It's better than nothing. I've been hit with that stuff plenty of times."
"You know, I think Mutt has a point," Shane said. "The Gold Star is your opposite. It's designed to harm you, not us."
I sighed. "I know what you're getting at, Shane, but I couldn't put you guys at risk. I know what I'm doing."
"You trust me, right?"
"Of course we do, Nat," Mutt breathed.
"Then please do what I say."
"Alright… alright. Let's go."
I plugged my nose back up and followed them back underwater, closing my eyes and opening them again once we were submerged.
We quickly got into formation; Shane was right in front, Mutt next to him and back a little ways, and me clinging to the side of the pipe with my feet. I charged up a blast in my free hand, which took more than twice as much energy since we were underwater. One shot was all I had the power for, so I didn't release it until I had charged it up enough.
Once there was a decent-sized hole in the wall, Shane immediately shot through it. The hole started to close once Mutt was halfway through, so by the time I was swimming through it, the energy was clamping around my torso. But I made it through in one piece with only a little bit of a burning feeling.
The reformed wall blocked off the water on the other side again, thus allowing the water on our side to flow down the pipe until it was finally drained and we could breathe again.
Shane coughed a few times. "Why didn't you just blast it once for each of us?"
"My blasts are practically fire," I replied, shaking my hair as the water instantly dried out of it. "They're harder to maintain underwater."
"Ah…" Shane then grabbed his head and slumped backwards, his face twisting in pain as if he had suddenly been hit with a migraine.
"Shane, what's… wrong?" But I quickly figured it out for myself.
Gravity. Something was very wrong with gravity down here. It seemed like it was pushing harder on us and at the same time had lost its sense of direction, therefore pushing us in more directions than just down.
"What the… heck…?" I groaned. I was feeling dizzy and nauseous, yet somehow, Mutt and Shane looked worse than I felt.
"What's wrong with this place?" Mutt groaned.
"I don't know," I responded. "But if you guys don't feel up to it, I can go on alone."
"No… Nat…" Mutt tried to reason with me.
"Shh…" I knelt next to Mutt and cradled him slightly. "Whatever's doing this is hurting you two more than me. You don't have to overwork yourselves. I can take it from here."
He took a few deep breaths. "You sure?"
"I'm sure." I gave him a quick kiss, then moved over to Shane and kissed him on the forehead. "Try not to worry about me too much."
"Like that's possible," Shane joked light-heartedly.
I just giggled once before turning away.
I had to keep telling myself to push past the pain as I crawled through the pipe army-style. I knew I had come too far to quit, and even if Mutt and Shane couldn't be by my side to help me, I was prepared- if only slightly- to face whatever was about to be thrown at me. Besides, I had dealt with worse pain than this. It was nothing new.
The pipe just kept going. Soon I could hardly see two feet in front of my face. I lit up my hand with Blue Star fire, illuminating my path just enough to keep me going. I got to asking myself how in the world a six- or seven-foot Minusion could fit through this thing when I could barely stand up in it.
Then I started thinking about what exactly I was getting myself into. This situation spelled trouble. Here I was, in a pipe connecting to some other-worldly river, where the forces of gravity were random and uneven. The Minusions were leading me here in pursuit of my family…
Wait… were they? Shane told me he saw a Minusion come down here and the Gold Star wall was a dead giveaway, but what were the other obvious hints? If this was a trap, they weren't making the path to it very obvious.
Why here of all places? How did they get me here?
"Well, I'm sure things will turn out for the best, even though it seems like you're up a creek right now."
Mayor Dengen's words suddenly came back to me. "Up a creek." This river was north of and deposited into Peach Creek.
"You know the old saying: When life gives you lemons…"
I was underneath the town of Lemon Brook.
"When in doubt, I've found that talking a stroll through the forest helps ease the tension in my mind."
No… No, that's crazy. The mayor of Peach Creek couldn't possibly have led me here!
A light appeared not too far ahead, encouraging me to pick up the pace. Once there, I found that it was a hole in the pipe that had been forcibly torn open. I quickly crawled through it, finding myself in an underground cavern that was half earth, half cement. At least I could stand up again, even though gravity was still working against me.
After shaking myself off and taking a few deeps breaths, I waded through the ankle-deep water down the cavern, keeping my ears perked for anything suspicious. I wished I could figure out what was weakening Mutt and Shane; I could use their keen senses.
Boy, I wasn't kidding when I said I didn't know if I missed being a hybrid. Those advanced senses could definitely come in handy.
Then it turned out that I didn't need them. Just down the cavern was the unmistakable ring of Minusion sonar. And a lot of it.
To avoid making any excess noise, I forced my wings- yes, they were still there; I never folded them away- to lift me up and take me down the long, wide hall until I reached a corner. Then I lightly touched back down and leaned against the wall, using only the sonar sounds and shadows on the walls to tell me what was going on.
"Are you sure she'll be here?"
"Positive. One of her followers saw me come down here. She'll be here in no time."
Hearing them call Shane my "follower" riled me up more than it should've, but that was overshadowed by the fact that based on the shadows moving along the concrete wall, there were too many Minusions to count.
"Honestly, she should be here by now! Who knows how much longer these three will last?"
"These three"? Yes! Mom, Dad and Jared! I finally found them!
"I can't wait to see the look on her face when she sees how many of us there are."
"Don't get cocky, Dezba. I heard she took down a Soldier without even transforming."
"That was one Soldier! She couldn't possibly fight all of us alone!"
I had to force myself not to gulp. This trap was going to be a big one.
"What if she's not alone? What if she brought those friends of hers?"
"Don't worry. The King said that the portal will paralyze the Star Wolves."
"It should take its toll on her too, so just image! One weak teenage girl against all of us at full force! We can't lose!"
So this… "portal" that was weakening me and putting Mutt and Shane out of commission had no effect on them. That's so not fair!
Hey, who said life was fair?
I decided that now was the time to act. I backed away from the corner a few feet, charged up a ball of Blue Star-charged popcorn and slowly pushed it into the air. Then I shot it forward, mentally directing it around the corner and towards where I felt the large concentration of Gold Star energy was. Once I heard the resulting explosion, I turned around and flew all the way back to where the drain pipe had been torn open.
The volume of their sonar noises had been knocked up a few notches in panic. "Aah! She's out there!"
"How many are gone?"
"Just three, sir!"
"We have to move! Now!"
"Alright! You, stay here and guard the hostages! The rest of you, CHARGE!"
I heard the multitude of footsteps splashing through the water, charging up my hands in anticipation. I already had a plan. I just had to pray that it would work.
The first wave of Soldiers and Warriors appeared down the hall, charging at full force. I didn't move for a long time, letting them come to me. Once they were about three quarters of the way there, I flew up and shot a huge, long blast at the front half of the crowd. Those who took the blunt force exploded into dust and retreated in an instant. The rest were just knocked aside and gravely weakened.
Just the shock from this one attack was enough to stop them all. A Warrior, clearly acting as the commander of this attack, growled and shouted via sonar, "Don't just stand there! Bring her down!"
A few bursts of Gold Star blasts on the cavern floor launched several Warriors into the air, each of them gliding my way. I didn't have time or the energy for this and I knew it, so I simply shot those closest to me out of the way and flew right past the rest of them. Some Minusions on the floor tried to jump up and grab me, but I was too out of reach for them.
"No!" the commander shouted. "Turn around, turn around!"
They tried to, but with so many of them in one hallway, it wasn't easy. I couldn't help but smirk and yell over my shoulder, "Maneuverability is a real pain, huh?"
Let me say this: I love flying.
After passing the end of the line of Minusions, I found myself in a much wider room. In the far corner, five Soldiers were guarding a wall of cinderblocks, which I knew was holding my family. I quickly shot blast after blast at them, and in my fury I destroyed them easily. The band would soon catch up with me, so this was my only chance to act.
I landed and hurriedly knocked the cinderblocks down. Once the wall was destroyed, I found myself unable to keep my body from freezing up at the sight of my family. They were unharmed, thank God, but Gold Star energy was wrapped around each of them like a cocoon, keeping them in a deep sleep.
They probably had no idea what was going on.
The sound of the returning Minusions snapped me back into action, dashing over to my dad first. I set my hands ablaze and clawed into the Gold Star covering, the blue fire dissolving it as it spread. But it wasn't dissolving fast enough. I didn't want to blast the covering head-on for fear of harming or waking up my family (the less they knew, the better).
I hadn't even completely freed my dad by the time the Minusions had caught up to me. Now I was worried. I hadn't planned for this and I couldn't think of anything off the top of my head.
They surrounded me. I just stared at them, still working on the covering.
The commander jumped at me.
I screamed, threw my hands up and closed my eyes.
I had no idea what just happened. I was unharmed. Something had stopped the Minusion in its pounce, and whatever it was, it wasn't me.
When I opened my eyes, I was shocked to see a familiar face smiling back at me.
"Miss me?" he asked as he jumped off the Minusion he just tackled.
"Yeah, I- I'm so- W-What're you doing here?"
The Minusions didn't wait for us. They charged in again, but Dr. Hayashi jumped in and held them off for me while I continued to break the Gold Star's hold on my parents and brother. Oliver appeared out of nowhere and joined the fight too. All the while, Dr. Hayashi explained, "We came through here because of the werewolf smell lingering by the river. Then we caught you, your friends and the Gold Star's scent and came down to lend a hand."
"How are Mutt and Shane?"
"Fine. We dropped them off back on land."
I wondered why the "portal" wasn't affecting them like it was the guys, but I figured there'd be plenty of time to ask that later.
"There!" It took a while, but I finally freed all three of them. "Help me get them out of here!"
"On it!" Oliver shouted, scooping up my mom in one arm and Jared in the other.
As Dr. Hayashi picked my dad up, I flew up and started violently blasting the Minusions, creating a path for the vampires. The Minusions' panic was hard to miss; I knew we had outsmarted them.
In no time at all, we reached the drain pipe. I landed and continued to hold the Minusions off while Dr. Hayashi and Oliver carried my family into the hole. Then I jumped in after them.
"YES!" I cheered, relief washing over me. "We made it! Thank you so much, you guys! For a minute, I thought I was screwed!"
"Well… happy to be of service," Dr. Hayashi chuckled.
I looked back and voiced the question I had asked myself earlier. "Really, how do they expect to follow us in a pipe this small?"
"Maybe following us isn't their intention," Oliver said grimly.
"Why not? Their whole reason for kidnapping my family was to lure-"
A scream from the front end of the pipe cut me off. Shane burst through the Gold Star wall, coming out mostly unscathed. If he was feeling any fatigue, his panic was enough to hide it.
"Shane, what's the prob-?"
"THEY'RE SETTING THE WHOLE BLOODY PLACE ON FIRE!"
The three of us stopped, pausing before asking simultaneously, "What?"
Upon reaching the surface of the river, we were all greeted by a raging forest fire. Everywhere we looked, hot orange flames scraped along the fields. Trees lit up, branches falling off and spitting out more sparks. Dense smoke covered the sky. No clear escape route was visible.
"Okay…" I shakily spoke up. "Props to Oliver and his logical mind."
"Nat!" Mutt jumped out of the blazing forest and quickly dashed up to the river as we climbed out. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, Mutt. You?"
"Okay." He looked back. "There's no clear-cut path to the other side of the forest, but I did find a relatively safe route that we could navigate. I can lead the way and pull the truck up here."
"Alright." I looked at the other three as Oliver handed my mom to Shane. "Think you guys can handle this?"
Shane only swallowed hard. Dr. Hayashi and Oliver didn't look too encouraged either.
"Oh, get a grip," Mutt groaned. "You can handle this. You two are vampires, for Pete's sake!"
"Yes, and do you have any idea what kills our kind?" Dr. Hayashi snapped.
"Um…" Shane mumbled. "A… stake?"
"Staking is a myth. This…" Dr. Hayashi pointed at the fire. "This is what kills us!"
I tried to pull myself together. "Okay… Okay, guys, we can do this. We'll just press on and move as fast as we can. Mutt, you lead the way. I'll fly overhead to make sure the path-"
Suddenly, something shot out of the water. Then another. Then two more. Then three more. They whizzed over our heads and landed a few feet between us and the fiery forest. It was Gold Star energy, and when it landed, each bud reformed into a Minusion Soldier.
So that's how they travelled through the pipe.
"Don't panic, Nat," Mutt whispered. "I'll lead, they'll carry your parents and brother, and you can take care of these things."
I nodded. It might not have been the most thought-out plan, but it was all we had.
I threw a hand out and blasted the Minusions aside. "Move! Now!"
Then we all sprinted into the forest. The heat and the smoke hit me like a ton of bricks, but I pushed through it, covering my mouth and nose every now and then when I didn't need both hands. Mutt forged the path through the fire. Shane, Oliver and Dr. Hayashi carried my family like their lives depended on it (because it did). I shot at the Minusions when they came too close and sometimes blasted obstacles out of our way.
Okay, we were doing alright. No major crises yet.
At least until an entire tree came falling down, separating Dr. Hayashi and me from the rest of the group.
"NAT!" Mutt screamed from the other side.
"Keep going!" I shouted back. "We'll catch up!"
Dr. Hayashi looked up the fallen tree trunk. Though the flames made the tree undistinguishable, its trunk was massive, a few feet taller than him. Nonetheless, he told me, "I could jump over this if it wasn't burning all over."
"Well then…" I shot a long blast at a nearby Minusion, effectively destroying it. "Let me try this!"
I flew up as high as I could without coming in contact with the burning canopy. Then I shot Blue Star energy at a section of the burning trunk. The two fires snuffed each other out, creating a charred but otherwise clear path over the fallen tree.
"Go!" I yelled, separating my blasts so the blue fire walled the wildfire back. "Follow the others' scent to safety! I'll keep it clear for you and regroup on the other side!"
"What are you going to do?" Dr. Hayashi nervously asked.
"I'm gonna take care of the Minusions. They're going to try to stop you when you land on the other side. I can hold them back as long as I have to. Just make sure everyone's safe!"
He nodded, his face reflection nothing but concern… for me. Then he backed up, ran at the trunk and took a mighty leap over it. Once he had cleared it, I released my hold on the fire on the tree and shot at the two Minusions that just jumped out of the flames, launching them backwards before they could jump on Dr. Hayashi and my dad.
Soon, Dr. Hayashi had disappeared into the fiery forest, leaving me to kill the rest of these Minusions. I tried to do it quickly, not knowing how much longer I could handle this smoke. One was already destroyed, then two. Three. Four. Five. Six. I tried to use the wildfire to my advantage, pushing them into it to weaken them before delivering the final blow. At last, all seven of them had been destroyed.
Now I just had to get out of here.
I flew upwards, navigating through the burning branches and leaves so I could fly above the fire to safe ground. It wasn't nearly as easy as I thought it would be; the flames were beyond control by that point and getting past them was next to impossible. This was proved true when I veered to close to a branch and caught one of my wings on fire.
Intense pain shot through my spine from this encounter, causing a scream to tear from my throat. I tried to get away, having absolutely no idea where I was going anymore, but too soon the Blue Star's safety mechanism kicked in and my wings were forced back into me to prevent further damage.
And I was still thirty feet above the ground.
"Oh no, no, no, NO, NO!"
I tried to turn myself into a position where the impact with the forest floor would cause the least damage, failing horribly at this and instead landing on my side, crushing my left wrist in the process. Another wave of pain struck me, but this time I just cried out in silent agony, tears stinging my face. Then I when into a coughing fit as the smoke finally started to overpower me.
I couldn't move. I couldn't do anything.
Though I could just barely see the tree branch as it came toppling down right on top of me.
Following Mutt, Shane and Oliver's scent wasn't easy in this thick atmosphere, but Dr. Hayashi still pressed on. He knew he had a job to do, carrying my dad out of this fire, but all he was worried about was me. Sure I could handle myself, but was I?
What's wrong with me? Why did I just leave her back there?
Meanwhile, Shane and Oliver were anxiously standing guard outside the forest while Mutt went a few blocks down to get his truck. Oliver was watching the fire, waiting for somebody to emerge from it. Shane was calling 911, pleading for them to send the fire department and possibly an ambulance right away. Soon enough, sirens were blaring on the other side of town.
Once he hung up, Shane knelt down next to my mom and Jared, double-checking to make sure they were okay. "Anything yet, Oliver?"
"Nothing," he replied.
Shane gripped his fists and shivered with anxiety. Something had happened. Of course something had happened. Something always happens when a large group gets separated in a natural disaster like this.
Mutt pulled the truck up right behind them, turned the engine off (as if one less thing spitting out carbon monoxide would help), jumped out and asked, "What's going on?"
"Dad and Nat haven't come out yet," Oliver worriedly replied.
"And you guys haven't done anything yet?" Mutt shouted. "Nat should've been here by now!"
"Well, she's NOT!" Oliver yelled back. "It's not our fault!"
"I know. It's mine."
Dr. Hayashi had appeared before them when no one was looking, his face solemn and determined beyond a man's natural capacity.
"Here." He laid my dad down next to my mom and brother. "Now if you gentlemen would excuse me…" Then he turned and headed back towards the forest.
"What- Dad! You're not actually going back in there, are you?" Oliver called out.
Dr. Hayashi stopped and looked back at them. "I'm not going to let Natalie get herself killed in there because of me! I have to make sure she's okay!"
Mutt wasn't following any of this. "What? Are you completely mental?"
"Maybe! Now I'll be right back!" And with that, Dr. Hayashi ran back into the fire and disappeared again.
Without having to carry someone along the way, he could move through the forest with twice as much speed and agility, but that didn't make Dr. Hayashi's rescue attempt any less dangerous. Still, he didn't care. Getting burned every few seconds and inhaling smoke wasn't as fatal to him as it was to a human. His one major snag was that flames had spread to places he had trekked on his way out, so he had to circle around and forge new paths. Tracing my scent wasn't easy either now that the dense smoke practically covered everything.
Why was Dr. Hayashi so concerned about me? Who knows? Even he didn't fully understand it. Maybe it was because I was the only one who had sympathized with him in a long time. Maybe it was because I had risked my life for him in this death trap. But somehow, somewhere deep inside him, Dr. Hayashi knew that I meant something special to him. Wasn't sure how. He just knew that he needed me.
And right now, I needed him.
Finally, he found a speck of blue just ahead of him, that speck being my shirt, which was covered in a fair amount of soot by that point. He ran up to me and dropped to his knees. "Natalie!"
I was knocked out, a tree branch lightly pinning me to the ground, my left wrist twisted in an awkward position and my breathing shallow and labored. Dr. Hayashi easily threw the branch off and inspected me. Other than my wrist and breathing, nothing seemed to be wrong with me.
I coughed a few times, slowly working my way back into consciousness. Dr. Hayashi held me up and asked, "Are you alright?"
"Dr… Hayashi?" I could barely work up the strength to speak clearly. "What's going…?"
"Just relax," he said with comfort, lifting me into his arms. "And hang tight. I'm going to get you out of here."
Once he had a good grip on me, he took off running again. As I looked up at his face, so determined to get me out of this blaze, I felt myself smile. The Dr. Hayashi I first met would probably never do this, yet here he was, rescuing me with regard only for my wellbeing.
Then the darkness clouded over me again and I drifted back into unconsciousness, my limp hand slipping out of his grip.
Dr. Hayashi spared one look down at my tranquil face, then his gaze refocused on the path he was making to safe grounds. He pushed his way around the towers of fire, pulling me closer to him in tight spaces. He jumped over obstacles effortlessly. He ran faster than I could possibly imagine.
His red eyes burned with an even greater intensity than the fire.
Finally, headlights appeared up ahead. At the same time, accompanied by a series of cracks, a shower of bark, wood and fiery branches started to rain down. Dr. Hayashi sprinted through it, covering me from the rubble and taking the full heat of it.
A tree on the edge of the forest started to crumble and topple over in his path. Seeing this, Dr. Hayashi had to roll his eyes and how obvious it was, but he still pressed on. Once he met with the collapsing tree, he whirled around and slammed back-first into the charred trunk. It shattered into hundreds of pieces, scattering in multiple directions, while Dr. Hayashi collapsed a few feet away.
Mutt, Shane and Oliver gathered around him, looking down at my limp, dirty body. "She's okay!" Dr. Hayashi gasped. "She's passed out from the smoke and her wrist might be fractured, but she's okay!"
Without hesitation, Mutt picked me up in a tight bear hug, tears pouring down his face. Even if I wasn't awake to hear it, he still whispered, "Hang tight, Nat. The ambulance is almost here."
Shane had to come over and make sure I was still alright. He didn't even care that Mutt was giving me mouth-to-mouth right in front of him.
Oliver helped his father up, mindlessly dusting his coat of in the process. "How's Natalie's family?" Dr. Hayashi asked.
"They're fine," Oliver replied. "Mutt put them in the back seat of his truck. They're still asleep, though, and we don't know how much of this they'll remember when they wake up."
Dr. Hayashi nodded and looked over his shoulder. Firemen were starting to spray the woods and a helicopter was flying in from the north. "Let's get out of here before someone sees us."
"We should probably call Sora," Oliver suggested as they started to run away.
"Yeah, we probably should." Dr. Hayashi looked back again and called to Mutt and Shane, "We'll follow you to the hospital!"
"Don't!" Mutt spat viciously.
"Okay!" Shane replied much more calmly.
Once they were far enough from the fire, Dr. Hayashi huffed. "You'd think he'd be a little more grateful after saving his girlfriend."
"Speaking of that." Oliver stopped them both. "What were you thinking? That was probably the most reckless thing I've ever seen you do! And that's saying a lot considering I'm the teenager and you're the adult! Now can you please explain what in the freaking world compelled you to throw yourself into that fire just to save one girl?"
Dr. Hayashi watched as water was sprayed in all directions, trying to calm the flames down. "Just that."
"I threw myself in there for her. I had to save her, Oliver. I just… I just had to."
Silence fell as they both watched the spectacle less than a mile away from them. "I don't get it, Dad," Oliver sighed. "I've never seen you risk yourself like that before. You could've killed yourself back there."
"So what did Natalie do that's suddenly got you caring so much about her?"
Dr. Hayashi looked down at the ground. "She saved me."
Oliver shot him a weird look. "Saved you from… the fire, or…?"
They both watched the ambulance pass by. "Nevermind," Dr. Hayashi said. "Let's go."
So they both ran in silence, keeping out of sight as they followed the ambulance to the hospital. While Oliver pulled his cell phone out to tell Sora what happened, Dr. Hayashi mentally told himself that whatever happened, he'd make sure I was safe until the very end.