PROLOGUE - PHOENIX
He falls to his knees at the heart of the frozen lake, his arms sweeping snow aside, revealing arcs of uneven ice. The water is a dark void beneath its icy skin, trapped bubbles of air roll aimlessly. He searches for her, sweeping and sweeping, the jagged surface shredding his numb fingers, leaving streaks of red and staining the snowdrift pink. His breath is rapid now, bursting out in tattered white clouds – each of his breaths is one that she has been without.
He’s on his stomach, scrabbling and scratching along the ice, the cold seeping through to his core, the panic slowly gripping around his heart making it beat to a frantic, terrified tune. And suddenly she is there, floating beneath him, her beautiful face mere centimetres from his. Her blond hair billows around her, skin whiter than the snow that surrounds him. He summons all his strength to burn a hole through the ice, to blaze through the glassy wall that separates them but his hands are cold and useless, producing nothing but an impotent burst of steam against the ice. He can feel his fire, a single faint coal glowing in the pit of his stomach, but his desperate efforts to ignite its energy are fruitless.
He screams – a terrible animal sound he’s never heard himself make before and he pounds his fists into the ice, hearing his bones crack and splinter, the pain muted by his terror. Her blue eyes are staring through him, wide and empty. She slides away from him, sinking down into the blackness until all he can see is the pale oval of her face and her golden hair shining like a halo.
Then slowly the light of her slips away into nothingness.
My eyes wandered to the next group whose social contract apparently required clothing in variant shades of black. One boy in the group stood out though and he was clearly used to being the centre of attention. The others hung off every word as he talked, but he looked super bored, his eyes flicking absently around, looking at everything but the people he was talking to. I knew this guy. Well, I didn’t really know him given I’d only been at my new school for about an hour, but I knew guys just like him. After eight schools in the last nine years I’d observed that there was always that one guy.
And he was usually a jerk or a bully. Or both.
The Centre of Attention was close enough for me to hear his conversation, but I wasn’t really following what he was saying. I kept getting distracted by his right hand and the large glowing disc located on the centre of his palm. It was raised and angry red. It looked like some kind of burn – fresh and still smouldering and I couldn’t tear my eyes away as he waved his hand lazily around while he talked. The burn was a large, perfect circle with spikes radiating out like a kid’s drawing of the sun. It looked too perfect, like it had been branded on to his skin.
The sound of his voice gradually faded away and I wondered if this burn had some sort of hypnotic quality until I realised that, no, he had simply stopped talking. Meanwhile, he continued waving his hand around while he and his friends watched me with amusement, chasing his palm around with my eyes like a cat stalking a laser pointer.
I felt the heat flooding my face so violently I wondered if I was about to spontaneously combust. So much for blending in. Between Noah and this guy I’d managed to brand myself as a complete idiot before I’d even been here a single day.
‘New kid, huh?’ His voice was deep and confident. I nodded mutely.
He tucked a thick strand of black hair neatly behind his ear and held his palm out to me. I took a few steps towards him. I could see his burn clearly now and realised with a jolt that the raised skin was not a singular shade of red. It was in fact shifting and glowing like a river of lava ran underneath it. I leaned in to take a closer look, sure that my eyes were playing tricks. While I was staring at his right palm, once again transfixed, he took the index finger of his other hand and lazily traced a circle around the edge of his sun.
Suddenly light and searing heat flooded around me and I fell back, stunned.
An enormous column of fire was shooting up from the middle of his palm.
by Beth Amos