A/N: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the second 'side story' based off of my full novel, -Innocence & Corruption-! This story takes place directly after the prologue of my book, so it might be a good idea to go read that first - it isn't mandatory, though!

-Powerless & Broken-

Prologue: Utterly Helpless

I spared a glance back at the burning hut of my two once great friends, Kalron and Valah, as the attacker and killer of them and their son was taken away by a pair of Flameran Guards. The tiny Fire Tribal in my arms gazed back also, her emerald eyes wide in a mixture of horror and disbelief, as she looked upon her former home.

To be honest… I couldn't believe it, myself.

I had just barely arrived here from my home in Luminara, when I realized something terribly wrong was going on. The first indication had been that their hut's door had been left wide open. The second, the smell of smoke and ash that permeated my nostrils.

If I hadn't gotten here when I did, not even Patience would have been alive…

With a soft sigh, I turned away from the hut and made my way through the semi-familiar Village of Fire. I'm a Light Tribal, the Tana of Light to be exact, and there was nothing I could do about the fire. Maybe the heavy rain would be enough to put it out, but I doubted it. I knew the Fire Tribals would be able to handle it, though.

Through my clouded mind, I became vaguely aware that Patience was crying.

"Mama… Papa… Resilience…," she gasped out, softly, through her sobs. Her little hands grasped tightly at my uniform, and her tiny body shook as though it were a leaf in a great storm.

I felt my brow furrow beneath my mask, as I stepped around Flamera's huts, looking for Elder Taharus', my gaze flickering down at her. I… I should say something… She needs comfort…

But, try as I might, I found I didn't know what to say. I frowned at that. I always knew what to say… Even when Vakari and I were kids, and he was upset… I always knew how to comfort him.

So… why now, of all times, was I at a loss of words?

I sighed to myself. Because she isn't the only one who needs comforting… I'd never felt so helpless… so completely powerless in my entire life.

I shifted Patience in my arms, as I halted in front of Taharus' door, raising my hand and knocking. "You may enter," I heard him say, and I slid the door open quietly, stepping into his front room, closing the door behind myself.

Taharus looked up from the paperwork on his desk, surprise crossing his features. "Léo? What brings you here? I thought you would be celebrating Patience's bir…" His voice faded, realizing who I was holding. "Oh, Shalua… you… you don't mean—"

That's when the door to his hut flew open behind me. I turned quickly, my gaze falling on the Fire Tana and my best friend, Vakari. He was soaked from the rain and breathing heavily. He looked up at me, his eyes filled with worry, clear even through his mask.

"L-Léo?" Vakari started. "I just… Valah and Kalron's hut… I saw… What… wh-what happened?"

The fear and disbelief in his voice were enough to introduce an even greater sense of helplessness to me than I already felt. My eyes immediately shot to the floor. I felt my mouth quiver just the slightest and mentally slapped myself.

There was no way I was going to cry. Not with Patience here. Not in front of Taharus. Not like this.

"Léo…?" Vakari asked again, tentatively. "Are you… alright?"

"F-fine," I returned, giving myself another mental slap for the waver in my voice. "I'm fine…" I addressed Taharus. "Would you… mind watching her? I… I need a moment."

Taharus nodded, a look of understanding engraving his features. He stood up and stepped over to me, lifting Patience from my arms to his. "Take all the time you need, Léo."

I saw Patience glance up at me with wide, moist eyes, and all I could do was nod. I didn't trust myself to try saying anything anymore.

So, without another word, I turned, moving past Vakari and out the hut, back into the rain. I wandered around to the back of the house, leaning up against the outside wall, before sinking to the ground.

For a while, I don't know how long, I just sat there, my mind reeling, still trying to comprehend everything that just happened. Kalron and Valah… two of my greatest friends… were gone…

They were gone – just like that.

Even Resilience, who had just recently turned ten… he was gone, too.

All because I was late…

It was all my fault.

If I had managed to be on time once – just once – in my life… this wouldn't have happened.

So what, if I was the strongest warrior on Shalua…? What did it matter, if I couldn't even make it in time to save those who were most important to me? What help were my boundless powers, then?

"Um… Léo?"

I didn't need to look to know it was Vakari, but still I did, raising my eyes to meet his. "… Yeah…?"

He moved to sit beside me on the wet ground, then glanced around quickly, before removing his mask and placing it on his lap. His eyes were red-rimmed, his mouth turned down in a frown.

I sat there for a few beats, contemplating whether I felt confident enough to take off my mask, too, or not. I wasn't accustomed to letting others see my emotions. This was Vakari, though – my best friend. I knew he didn't expect me to say anything, but I also knew he'd appreciate seeing my face.

I nodded to myself, bringing a hand to my face slowly. I could do that for Vakari. When my hand came to rest on my mask, however, I found myself hesitating. With a shake of my head, I took it off quickly, setting mine on my lap as well, before I could change my mind.

We both remained there for several long moments, neither of us moving or saying a word – the only sound being the steady rainfall.

Vakari shifted, pulling out a small cloth from his power belt and handing it to me. I looked at the cloth, raising a brow in question, only for him to respond, "You might want to… wipe your eyes."

I blinked. Wipe my eyes? Why? I brought a hand to my face, feeling a warm wetness on my cheek. I instantly froze, and my eyes widened twenty-fold.

Crying? Was I crying? I couldn't be… Could I…?

Silently, Vakari leaned forward, wiping the tears away himself. He offered me a small, kind smile. "Don't want to have anyone else see you like that, right?"

I paused. And then I broke down. Right there.