By Rachel Ann Michael Harris
Mizu rubbed his thumb around the gold edge of the pendant. The pearl in the center shimmered under the lantern light. A gift from Father. His sly smile when he’d handed Mizu the cloth-wrapped present still vivid in his mind.
When he’d unwrapped it, Mizu’d been tongue-tied and stammered a poor excuse for a thank you. Father just laughed.
“Be careful with it,” his father said. “It’s fragile. Much like life.”
Within the jewel’s white sheen, he could almost see his ancestor diving for pearls to provide for his family, until the day he’d received his powers, which elevated him from his lowly status. This was the last pearl he’d ever dived for.
Since that day, it had been passed down from his great-grandfather to his grandfather, to his father, and now, to him. Water flowed from his fingers and he spread it over the pearl, adding to the pearl’s sparkle.
A shadow fell over his shoulder, darkening the pearl’s surface. He startled and swung around. But he relaxed when he saw it was only Netsu.
“You scared me, brother.” Mizu grinned up at him. “Happy birthday.”
His twin gave a quick half smile but dropped it a moment later.
“No,” Netsu mumbled.
Mizu squinted at him. Netsu was the energetic and talkative one. It wasn’t like him to be quiet.
The twins were complete opposites except for each other’s shadows. Wherever one went, the other was there. They shared everything, so Mizu was confused why Netsu hesitated now.
Before Mizu could say anything, Netsu said, “Walk with me in the garden?”
They strolled in silence over the stone bridge and beneath the crimson leaves of the momiji trees. Round, hanging lanterns lit the meandering, stone path, but little else. They walked for a while, then Netsu dropped back. Mizu slowed, but Netsu didn’t catch up.
Perhaps he just wants a private place to talk. But even as he thought it, the idea sounded more like something Mizu would want, not Netsu.
Then he heard the crackle of fire behind him. Mizu ducked and rolled as a ball of red flames flew over his head and ignited a momiji tree. His heart drummed in his ears.
Rolling to his knees, he looked up at his brother. Netsu’s hands were engulfed with flames, casting a nimbus of red about him.
“What are you doing?” Mizu remained still, confused by Netsu’s actions.
“That pearl is mine.”
Mizu touched the pendent, shocked by Netsu’s rage.
“Why did Father give it to you? I’m older than you. Why not me?” Fire flared around Netsu as he spoke. “What makes you so special?”
Netsu tossed a jet of flame at him. Mizu rolled away and to his feet before unleashing a wave of water. As it washed over Netsu, his flames extinguished with a sizzle, knocking him to his knees. He choked, spewing water from his lungs as he pushed himself up.
Mizu fisted his hands, cutting off the water. Netsu’s flame was a part of him as much as the air they breathed. If he used too much water, it would be like dousing a campfire with no hope of reigniting the flame. His brother would drown.
A thin stream of flame shot past Mizu, igniting a bush beside him as Netsu raised himself on shaky legs. The bush raged inches from Mizu, causing his skin to dry and crack before he summoned enough water to dowse the flames. He flinched from the pain.
Netsu needs to calm down. Steadying his voice, Mizu said, “Brother, stop before one of us gets hurt. I don’t want to lose you.”
“I am more powerful than you, and I deserve that honor.” The flames around Netsu flared higher, the heat wafting over Mizu, searing his throat and making him cough. “I’ll prove it.”
Flames rushed toward Mizu, spreading into a circle and enveloping him in an oven. With practiced movements, Mizu swiveled, trying to smother the flames. Instead, he was shot off his feet. A searing pain scorched his chest as he landed on his back.
The fire circle reappeared, larger than before. The world turned red as the flames inched their way toward him. Water shot from his hands, but when the two elements collided, Mizu’s water turned to steam as the flames pushed back.
The blaze grew, closing in around him and drying the air until he could no longer hold the flames at bay. They broke through. He raised his arms over his head. Like the sun drying a river, his skin cracked, withered, and shriveled as the fire roared around him.
A cool wind blew across Mizu’s cheek, startling him awake. When had the fire stopped?
He tried lifting a hand. It was a patchwork of pink and black skin. The grass was burned away, while small patches of flame still clung to the garden’s branches.
Netsu stood a few feet back, hands extended, but shaking. “Mizu?”
Mizu groaned. Netsu took a few cautious steps forward, then rushed to his side. Kneeling, Netsu reached out but didn’t touch him. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
With his charred hand, Mizu grasped his brother’s wrist. “Netsu.” His voice came out as a croak.
“Netsu?” Behind them, their older brother, Daichi, stood frozen on the path. “What have you done?”
Netsu looked from Mizu to Daichi, shaking as his breath came out in gasps.
“Netsu…” Mizu tried to squeeze his brother’s wrist, willing him to stay, afraid of what he might do, but didn’t have the strength.
Netsu tore himself away and created a wall of flames between them and Daichi. Giving Mizu one last glance, Netsu clenched his jaw as a tear fell. “I’m sorry.”
Mizu reached for Netsu as his brother bolted into the night.
Beside Mizu lay the pendant, the pearl cracked and tinted red from the dying fire. He laid his fingers on it. It’ll be okay, Netsu. Wherever you go, I’ll go too.