Seven years after the incident at McKenzie Manor, Sapphire Mandalone is beginning her seventh year of Flamerunner training - and under the expertise of her mentor, second-in-command Ember Dupree, everything seems to be going perfectly. But when an accident forces Sapphire to question what her mentor's told her of her origins, she's thrown in a world where secrets, corruption, and betrayal rule - and nothing is ever as it seems. Sequel to my contest entry story, To Burn! Please rate and comment!
Prologue: Part 2
Eight Years Ago
The boyâ€™s feet shuffled nervously on the floor as the men ushered him down the hallway. They each had a hand one of his hunched, scrawny shoulders, and he was on the verge of tears, his six-year-old face pale and pinched with the effort it took to keep them back. His shaggy brown hair half-covered his wild amber eyes.
â€œLet me go!â€ he pleaded, his struggles feeble against the iron grips of the men. â€œPlease! I didnâ€™t take anything!â€
The larger of the two sighed heavily, his grasp lightening just a fraction. â€œQuiet, kid,â€ he grumbled. â€œQuit your crying.â€
The boy squirmed desperately. â€œJust let me go! I didnâ€™t do anything!â€
The guardâ€™s scoff swiftly morphed into a yell of pain as the boyâ€™s crooked teeth latched onto his knuckles, a snarl of anger building in the childâ€™s throat. The slightest release in his captorâ€™s hold allowed him to wrench free and take off sprinting down the hallway. His pulse thundered in his chest; he could hear the blood pounding in his ears, fiery with adrenaline as it coursed through his veins. His little legs pumped faster than ever before and the dark cerulean walls blurred past.
The door was rushing to greet him. Close, closer, closerâ€¦
His heels skidded on the floor as it swung open before him. A figure â€“ tall and averagely built â€“ stepped forward into the light. The boy stared up at him with wide, terrified eyes. â€œUhâ€¦ hello, sir. I justâ€¦â€
The man interrupted with a warm, resonating laugh that boomed through the otherwise empty corridor. â€œHey, there, kid,â€ he said gently, reaching down to ruffle the boyâ€™s hair. He crouched so he was at eye-level with the trembling six-year-old. â€œWhatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œIâ€¦ I donâ€™t have one,â€ the boy managed.
The man laughed again. It was a kind and contagious sound â€“ it made the tiny, shivering child want to smile up at this newcomer. Is this what a father was like? he wondered, gazing up at the man with awe in his chocolate eyes. Is this what heâ€™d been missing?
â€œWell, sure youâ€™ve got a name, kiddo,â€ he chuckled. His eyes were green, the boy noticed. Not like emeralds, or jade, or grass, or anything else heâ€™d seen in person. They were likeâ€¦ like a chameleonâ€™s. Like a green chameleon just before it morphed into some other far-fetched color and melted back into the landscape. â€œWhat do people call you?â€
â€œPeople donâ€™tâ€¦ people donâ€™t call me,â€ he stammered. He forced himself not to shrink away as the man slung an arm over his shoulder, strong and confident.
The manâ€™s smile was extraordinarily patient. â€œWhat about your mom, sport?â€ he asked calmly. â€œWhat did she name you?â€
â€œMy mum drinks a lot,â€ the boy mumbled. â€œShe only calls me things like â€˜useless,â€™ or â€˜worthless,â€™ or â€˜stupid.â€™â€ He swallowed. â€œAre those my names?â€
The manâ€™s forehead creased with sympathy, and he drew the kid closer to him, his embrace safe and protective. â€œWhat about your dad?â€
The boy blinked. A surge of memories nearly bowled him over â€“ a tanned, smiling face, oddly familiar yet nameless; a red Frisbee hovering over a freshly trimmed yard; the crack of a bat striking a baseball and the thump as it was tossed aside, tiny footsteps churning the grass. A name. A name called across a hill to him, like sweet music to his ears.
â€œHunter,â€ he remembered quietly. â€œHe called me Hunter.â€
The man grinned. His teeth were pale â€“ not white, but not really yellowed either. â€œThatâ€™s a great name, kiddo,â€ he enthused, nudging the boyâ€™s ribs. â€œShould use it more often.â€
Hunter tried a weak smile. He cast a nervous glance over each of his shoulders; the men that had escorted him none-too-gently inside had disappeared, without so much as the closing of a door to signal that theyâ€™d left. That broadened his grin and he turned back to the man. â€œWhatâ€™s your name, sir?â€
â€œBold one, arenâ€™t you?â€
Hunter blushed, looking down at the floor. â€œI guess so, sir.â€
â€œHey, hey,â€ the man admonished gently. â€œDonâ€™t be ashamed of that, Hunter. Thatâ€™s a good thing. Thatâ€™s a very good thing.â€ His smile was growing by the second. â€œMy nameâ€™s Jonathan.â€
â€œI like that name.â€
â€œSo do I,â€ Jonathan said warmly. â€œHow old are you, Hunter?â€
â€œIâ€™m twenty six,â€ the man told him, laughing heartily. His chameleon eyes sparkled. He gestured to the open door, standing again so he towered above the boy. â€œWhy donâ€™t we go sit down? Iâ€™ve got some ice cream in the fridge.â€
â€œChocolate?â€ Hunter asked hopefully.
â€œChocolate,â€ Jonathan agreed, his voice enticing. â€œCome on, itâ€™ll be fun.â€
â€œOkay.â€ The boy let himself be herded into the room, smiling shyly at the ground as his host helped him into one of the big, cushy seats. â€œIâ€™ll be right back,â€ Jonathan assured him, striding away. â€œIâ€™ll get us some ice cream.â€ He winked.
As soon as he was gone, Hunter straightened in his seat, looking around the room with round, curious eyes. The walls were red. Heâ€™d seen that shade of red once before â€“ when heâ€™d accidentally stuck his thumb on a steak knife and a dark crimson liquid came welling from the wound, the very same color as what he was looking at now. There were no photographs or paintings like his home used to have â€“ the walls were bare except for a black granite counter running along the left side, leading to a small kitchenette were Jonathan now stood, the open fridge spilling fluorescent white light on the mahogany floor. A window â€“ long and narrow â€“ opened onto a dimmed room to the far right. Hunter squinted. He knew that sort of window from the crime shows his mother watched sometimes when she wasnâ€™t passed out drunk. The sort of room where they took the suspects and questioned them a lot. Good-cop bad-cop sort of thing â€“ Hunter was proud he knew that tiny tidbit of knowledge. It was one of the few things his father had taught him before he disappeared.
â€œThere you go!â€ The boy jumped as a dark ceramic bowl landed on the tabletop in front of him. Nervously, he stretched up to peer over the edge, his hollow stomach giving a wistful growl at its contents â€“ generous scoops of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream, heaped with hot fudge and whipped cream and topped with a glistening red cherry. A spoon jutted from the top.
Hunter swallowed and looked at Jonathan, who sat across from him, already digging into his own helping of dessert. â€œI shouldnâ€™t,â€ he murmured, pushing the dish away from him with reluctance. He started to clamber down from his seat. â€œI should really be getting home. Thanks for the food and everything, butâ€¦â€
He hadnâ€™t seen him move. Hadnâ€™t even heard his footsteps. But before he was even halfway to the door, Jonathan stood in the open doorway, his amiable smile vanished. Hunter slowly backed away with a cold sense of dread growing in the pit of his stomach. â€œThatâ€™s not really home, now, is it?â€ he asked, his voice sugary sweet. â€œWith your drunk mother and your addicted older brother. It hasnâ€™t been home for your since your father went missing, has it, Hunter Delaney?â€
The boy stumbled back. â€œY-you know my name?â€
Jonathan shrugged nonchalantly. â€œI know everything about you, Hunter,â€ he said. There was nothing menacing to his tone; nothing ominous. Any twinge of darkness it mightâ€™ve held had dissipated. â€œI know that you loved your father more than anything else in the world, and that you cried for three days straight when he disappeared. I know that your mother is an alcoholic who hits you every night when she comes home from the bar, and thatâ€™s how you got that scar behind your left ear. I know your brother Danielâ€™s been a drug addict for several years now, and that his twin Danielle left a long time ago because she just couldnâ€™t handle living with all of you and your mother. And I know that youâ€¦â€ he stepped closer to the boy, crouching again to be at his level, â€œâ€¦want your dad back more than anything else. And I promise that youâ€™ll see him again someday, Hunter, but you have to do something for me.â€
Fireworks burst in the boyâ€™s cocoa-brown eyes as the man spoke. His father. His father was alive!
â€œYouâ€™re angry at your mother, Hunter,â€ Jonathan remarked, starting to lead the child back toward his chair and his sundae. â€œBut try thinking about it this way.â€ He placed two hands on the boyâ€™s shoulders. â€œWhat if she wasâ€¦ gone?â€ he fluttered his fingers in the air in a wide arc, illustrating the concept. â€œJust gone, like into thin air? What if all the bad people in the world were just gone?â€
Hunter gulped. â€œLikeâ€¦ dead?â€
Jonathan smiled wryly. â€œThatâ€™s another way to think about it. What if that happened to all the bad people in the world? Wouldnâ€™t it be a better place?â€
Hunter nodded vigorously. â€œYeah, yeah it would.â€
Jonathan smiled to himself, reaching out and dipping Hunterâ€™s spoon into his ice cream. He held out the utensil for the boy to take. â€œThatâ€™s my job, you see,â€ he explained quietly. â€œI help get rid of those bad people. The people that make life more difficult; who can create problems.â€ he tilted his head. â€œYou can help me with that, Hunter. You can stay here with me and help me get rid of those bad people. And then, sometime soon, you can see your dad again. Does that sound good to you?â€
Hunter took the spoon and slid it between his chapped, red lips, savoring the mingled flavors of strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate as they melted over his tongue. â€œWhen will I see my daddy again?â€
â€œSoon, Iâ€™m sure. Weâ€™ll train for a while, start working, and then weâ€™ll make arrangements for you to see your father. Sound good?â€
Hunter smiled shyly and nodded. â€œYeah.â€
Jonathan grinned back at him, scooping the boyâ€™s frail body up into his arms and plopping him back into the chair. â€œPerfect,â€ he said. â€œGo ahead and finish your ice cream â€“ thereâ€™s no time to lose.â€
Hunter took another mouthful of whipped cream, ice cream, and rich hot fudge, thinking about his mother; his brother; his father; the kind, mysterious man sitting across from him eating custard, a satisfied smile on his plain, tan face. Now â€“ in this strange little room with its blood-red walls â€“he knew, his real life was about to begin.
What did you think of the second portion of the prologue? PLEASE RATE, COMMENT, AND LEAVE YOUR THOUGHTS! I need feedback! :)