“So nice of you to join me,” a scruffy voice says behind me. I flip around to see a man, late thirties, leaning against a metal post.
“Where are we?”
“Who are you?”
“The who is not important. It’s the why.”
“Why did I bring you here? Well, Violet, I’m thrilled you asked. I saw your little pyrotechnic display at your school.”
“How long have I been up here?”
“Ten days. Once your hands started glowing I thought you were going to pass out. Then fire started shooting out of them. It wasn’t until after the explosion that you lost consciousness. I can’t believe you survived. But you know who didn’t? My brother, you filthy mutant.”
He backs me up to the ledge. “Survive this,” he says as he throws me over.
I scream, fully expecting to splat against the ground. But somehow I land gently on my feet.
Wow! I wonder what other neat tricks I can do…
My name is Violet Blair, and this is my story: a man from some secret agency just tried to kill me by throwing me off a building, but I landed perfectly on my feet.
He fed me some crock story about his brother’s death being my fault, but I don’t buy it.
They’re after me because I can create fire with my mind; in fact, I nearly burned down my school.
People don’t like what they can’t control—that is why they will never stop hunting me, and why I must fight back and endure.
My name is Violet Blair, I am a pyro, and I am coming for you.
“You’re a… pyro…” Chris said in horror as he jumped back, putting distance between himself and Violet.
Violet again ignited the indigo flames in her hand as blue and purple light flickered and reflected off their faces.
“I need your help,” Violet said, pleading with the young man who had claimed to love her only days prior.
“This is too bizarre; I’ll keep your secret but I can’t go with you.”
Violet nodded as she walked out into the rain, distancing herself from everything that was once her life.
Russell kneeled and examined the floor of the house for evidence that his target had been there.
If you knew what to look for, pyros left a mark every time they used their powers: glowing micro-embers only visible at night.
Each pyro had a distinct color of flames and embers; in this case, indigo.
Burning indigo flecks were everywhere—on the walls, floor, even the ceiling fan.
Violet had been there, alright, and this hunter was one step closer to finding her.
Violet snuck through the back door of a bar at the outskirts of a small Alabama town. The place looked like it could have once been a barn; there were still remnants of hay sprinkled outside. From the dark hallway by the restrooms, she could hear the muffled sound of upbeat music and shuffling feet. Peaking around the corner, at least thirty people were crammed on the floor dancing and swinging to an old song she didn’t recognize. The crowd was dressed in jeans and casual shirts, and nearly everyone wore cowboy boots. Shouts, laughter, and the occasional, yeehaw filled the barn-like atmosphere.
She had been on the run for months, and she just needed a place to lay low for a while. She would definitely not blend in here. She would draw far too much attention with her leather jacket, black hair, and studded wrist cuffs. She slowly backed up, hoping to sneak out the way she came, but her escape was hindered by an immovable object standing right behind her. Violet gasped as she turned and saw the one face she prayed she would never see again.
“You,” Violet whispered. The man grabbed her by the arms, rooting her in place.
“Did you think you could outrun me forever?” His sly voice said quietly, trying to keep their conversation from being overheard by the occasional passerby. He was tall with a slender face, dressed in a trench coat, the brim of his hat hiding his eyes.
“The thought crossed my mind.”
“Your feeble attempts to hurt them have caused no more damage than a fly buzzing around your face—a little annoying, but nothing a little swat won’t cure.”
“Then why have you been hunting me so tirelessly if I didn’t hit a nerve? They’re scared.”
“Admit it!” Violet yelled.
The man gave her a hard shake and lowered his face so he could look right in her eyes. “Enough! You’re coming with me. If I weren’t under strict orders to bring you back alive, I would dispose of you myself. But my employers want to poke and prod before ending you.”
“What do they want with me?”
“I’ll just say that they have an obsession, of sorts, with studying and then riding the world of mutants like you.
Fury bubbled beneath her skin as the familiar burning ran through her entire body, and congregated in her arms right where his hands gripped her. She was ready to release her deadly fire, ending the pyro-hunter’s life for good, but the flame no more than sparked when it was immediately snuffed out with a puff of smoke.
“What the heck?”
“Did I forget to mention…” the hunter said with a grin, “that I have my own unique abilities? Except mine is that I can reverse the effects of other mutants’ powers. So as long as you’re with me, no more flames…”
Violet gulped as he led her out the back door and into the dark night.
“Enough of this. Start talking,” the Hunter said with a growl in his voice.
“Or what? You already have me in custody,” Violet Blair said, looking over at him from the passenger seat. Her wrists were tied and bound to the door. This can’t be safe, she thought.
Without a word, the Hunter reached over from the driver’s side and grabbed her arm.
“What are you…oww that burns!” Violet watched his hand turn a searing red.
“That,” the Hunter said, “is what it feels like to have your own power used against you.”
Tears blurred her vision as she cried out in pain. “Please, stop.”
“Not only can I quench your abilities, but I can borrow them, as long as you’re in close proximity.”
The Hunter removed his hand, leaving a white hot mark in its place.
“What do you want from me?”
“We have a long drive ahead of us. Tell me how you became what you are. Tell me how you came to be trapped in a car with me, on our way to your end.”
“…So the next thing I know, my hands are on fire and the school is burning down. That’s when I first realized what I was. After that, some guy, presumably from the same people you work for, kidnapped me and tried to push me off the top of an industrial building. Although, he didn’t expect I’d be able to land easily on my feet. Even I didn’t know I could do it. The whole mutant thing was still new to me.”
Violet broke from her story to look over at the Hunter, who seemed unusually interested in what she was saying. Every so often he would glance over at her from under the broad rim of his hat.
“So that was when you went on the run,” he prodded.
“Almost. I tried to get my boyfriend to come with me, but shooting fire out of your hands has a way of scaring people off. So I went after your employers alone.”
Violet looked out her window. The glass was speckled with raindrops, and the black sky was barely starting to lighten. They had been driving all night.
“So you showed your boyfriend your power?”
“Yeah, at his house, why?”
“I’ll let you in on a secret…that’s how I traced you. Every time a pyro uses their ability, tiny micro-embers the same color as their fire are left behind, if you know what to look for.”
“Wait, there are others out there like me?”
“Yes, each one has a specific color flame. Yours, indigo. I’ve met one who had green flames. He’s the only one who managed to escape.”
“What happened to the others you’ve hunted?”
“Long dead by now.”
The sun started peaking over the horizon and a dense fog covered the ground as Violet and the Hunter drove farther away from civilization.
“And when, over the course of your quest, did you become aware you were no longer the one doing the hunting?” He asked.
Violet noticed how engrossed he was in what she was saying. Maybe if she kept his attention, if she got him to care, he would sympathize with her. Maybe he wouldn’t turn her in.
“I realized it about five hours outside Chicago. I kept seeing your blasted hat everywhere. You must not be as sneaky as you thought.”
“Or you’re not as smart as you thought. Did it ever occur to you that I wanted you to know I was chasing you?”
“Why? Because running would distract me from going after the people you work for?”
The Hunter didn’t respond. That would be a yes, Violet thought.
“Who do you work for, by the way?”
Violet barely got the question out when a green burst of light ignited in the middle of the road twenty feet ahead. The Hunter hit the brakes, slamming Violet against her belt. The green light vanished. Only a man was left standing in the middle of the road, staring directly into the Hunter’s eyes. The Hunter opened the car door and strode toward him. Violet had a feeling the two of them had met.
Violet thought for sure the man would be knocked out by one punch, but he grabbed the Hunter’s fist mid-swing and overpowered him. Whoever this mystery man was, he was stronger than the Hunter. Impressive.
Should that comfort or terrify me?
An elbow to the face and a knee to the stomach later, the mystery man had the Hunter on the ground. Violet franticly tried to free herself, as the man ran over to her side of the car. It was too late; there was no way for her to escape. He jerked open the door and she instinctively jumped back—until his eyes caught hers. They were green, kind and gentle, not the harsh glare she was expecting from someone so strong. His hair was blond and hung lose by his ears.
He immediately went to work on undoing her bonds.
Violet felt immediately drawn to him; all fear of him had vanished. “What’s your name?” She said.
“We have to hurry. He won’t be down for long, and we need to get outside his radius,” he said.
By now he had freed her and was helping her out of the car. He grabbed her hand and together they ran away from the road and into the trees beyond.
Looking down, green flames engulfed their entwined figures, but her skin was not burned.
“Yep. Name’s Ryan. Nice to meet you, Violet.”
“How do you know my name?” Violet said as they ran through the trees, the occasional stray branch scraping her face.
“I’ve been tracking him, tracking you. His name is Russell and he is more powerful than you think. Don’t be fooled into believing you can win him over. You can’t.”
“How do you know so much about him?” Violet gasped, remembering what the Hunter had told her about the single pyro to ever escape him. “He told me about you. Well, briefly. You’re the only one he ever lost.”
“That’s me, in the flesh and at your service.”
“Wait, you used your ability as we were leaving. He told me how he tracks people like us. He’ll be able to—”
“Don’t worry. I know how he uses the embers to find us.” Ryan stopped running and faced Violet. “Ignite your fire.”
“No, it will only make it worse.”
Strangely enough, she did trust him.
Violet let the familiar heat spread through her body and congregate in her fists. Opening them, her indigo flames flared to life. It was a strange relief, letting the fire course through her like that. In such a tense situation as this, it brought clarity to her mind and calmed her nerves.
“Absolutely beautiful,” Ryan said, staring at her hands, the indigo light flickered across his face.
Grabbing her hands, he ignited his own flames. The green and indigo swirled together for a moment until Ryan nodded, signaling Violet to cut off the flow.
“Now we backtrack and take a different route,” he said. “We use his own methods against him.”
The Hunter woke in the middle of the road with the sun shining in his eyes. The girl was gone, but the car was still there with both front doors wide open.
He got to his feet, brushed off his pants, and replaced his hat. Closing his eyes, he inhaled, letting the various aromas fill his nostrils. One of the pyros had used their ability nearby. He could smell it. But unfortunately he would not be able to see the embers until night.
No matter. He didn’t mind waiting. He could track them easily enough, even with their head start. So he walked to the edge of the nearby trees, leaving the car in the road, and waited patiently. While on a hunt, he required neither food nor water. Survival in extreme conditions was apart of his ability. That’s why they called him, The Hunter. A true predator allowed nothing to deter him from his prey.
Except night. Nothing he could do about that.
Dark. He loved the dark. Thrived in it. He could actually see better at night. As darkness spread across the woods, he scoured the area, until finally locating the boy’s embers. Small, green, glowing flecks—like remnants of a dying campfire—were sprinkled along the ground and trees.
And not far ahead, he found both green and indigo. They had been there alright. They went—
He sniffed. “Did they really think they could trick me so easily?”
Standing still, he closed his eyes, breathed deep, and did an about face.
They’re fools if they think embers are my only means of tracking.
“We’re here,” Ryan said as they crested the hill and looked down on a valley littered with a network of buildings and an immense power plant at its nucleus.
“Wow,” Violet said. “Now what?”
“Now we get inside.”
“Okay, and they’re gonna let us just waltz right in?”
“Well, there will have to be some stealth involved on our part…”
“So what’s the plan?”
“Intel. We first need to know what they’re up to. We’ll worry about the rest when we get there.”
“Great. Flying by the seat of our pants. Love it.”
Ryan smiled at her playful sarcasm as they descended into the valley. The half moon in the sky lit their path, but wasn’t bright enough to expose them. Violet’s heart was beating so fast she thought it might explode. How did a simple, young college student such as herself manage to get caught up in all this?
Oh yeah. I randomly developed a mutant power. Thanks fate.
Deep down, Violet had to admit she enjoyed it. It was fun and thrilling, even if it meant crazy people would try to kill her on a daily basis.
The two of them crept along the wall of one of the buildings. Without warning, Ryan grabbed Violet’s shoulder and pushed her to the ground. A second later, a bright search light swept across her previous position.
“Thanks,” she whispered.
“Don’t mention it,” he whispered back. “You see that door? After the next pass of the light, we run for it. Ready? Three…two…one…now!”
Hunched over, they ran into the open, fully exposed for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, they made it to the cover of the doorway without incident.
“Locked,” Ryan said as he unrolled a set of lock picks.
“Ooh… someday you’re gonna have to teach me how to use those.”
With a soft click, the door unlocked and they opened it to see a massive guard with arms crossed, blocking their way.
“Well, what do we have here?”
Violet readjusted her position on the concrete floor and looked over at Ryan, who didn’t seem nearly as uncomfortable, or as worried, as she was. They were inside a dark, chain cage, under constant surveillance by the guard who found them.
“Why didn’t we use our power when he took us?” Violet whispered. “Then we wouldn’t be trapped in here.”
“We could have. But then he would have alerted the whole base to our presence, everyone would be looking for us, and we’d have to go on the run instead of gathering information.”
“We’re not doing that anyway. We’re stuck.”
“We’re not stuck. Just biding our time.”
“Why are you so at ease?”
“Because there’s nothing to be worried about.”
Violet thought for a moment. “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”
There was a long pause, and when Ryan finally spoke, he was looking at the ground. “Once, a while back. They had captured me and ran all sorts of tests. They never told me what they were looking for or what would become of me after. The tests were…horrendous… I finally got a lucky break and was able to overpower a guard while he was distracted.
“So I ran. Ran faster than I’ve ever run in my life. That was when they sent the Hunter after me. He was supposed to bring me back, and he almost did. But the trick is to never let him close enough to use his ability on you. I figure he has about a ten foot radius, maybe fifteen. I committed myself to pursuing them, like you. But unlike you, I knew I needed help. That I couldn’t take them down on my own. So I searched for others like me, and that’s when I found you.”
Violet nodded. “I’m sorry you had to go through all that.”
“Yeah…but hey, I got to meet you, so something good came out of it.” He smiled at her and Violet smiled back.
“I’m glad I met you too. Thanks for saving me, by the way.”
“Of course.” Ryan looked past her at the guard sitting outside their cell. “Violet, do you trust me?”
“Okay, good. Get ready.”
“Get ready?” Violet said. “Ready for what?”
Ryan glanced above them at an AC vent.
That’s his plan?
How would they even get it open before being spotted?
“Where are they?” a familiar voice shouted from the next room.
The guard got up from his perch and walked to the door. How did Ryan know they would have an opportunity?
That was when Violet saw how—Ryan was watching the reflection of the security camera off the metal door of a cabinet next to the guard’s desk. Smart.
As soon as the guard’s back was turned, Ryan ran under the vent, lifted his hands, and blasted two streams of green fire at the ceiling, destroying the vent and leaving the duct wide open. He jumped, higher than Violet thought was possible, grabbed the ledge and lifted himself inside.
“Your turn,” he said, reaching out his arm.
Violet jumped, surprising herself that she made it just as high as Ryan. He helped her up, and just as she was clear, the guard and the man who had been yelling entered the room below. Now she knew why the voice sounded so familiar. It was the Hunter.
“They’re gone! What part of ‘dangerous, high-priority, target’ did not compute with you? I called to warn you when I realized they were heading here so that you could take them below, somewhere more secure. Not leave them unattended.”
While they were still arguing, Ryan and Violet crept through the duct with Ryan in the lead. He seemed to know exactly where he was going. They made multiple turns, until he finally stopped and looked through the vent to the room below. From what they could see, the room was devoid of people, but was filled with high-powered microscopes, incubators, computers, and several other pieces of lab equipment Violet didn’t recognize.
“Coast seems clear,” Ryan said. He removed the vent and they dropped to the floor.
Not missing a beat, Ryan went straight to the computer. Within seconds he had hacked his way past the password protection.
“You should see this,” he said. “This goes much deeper than I originally thought.”
Violet stared, jaw dropped and eyes wide. On the computer screen were dozens of faces she recognized from her school and neighborhood. They were all operatives sent undercover to watch her.
“You know these people?” Ryan asked.
“Yes. I’ve seen each person at some point. They are everywhere. Their reach seems to be without end.”
“But what do they want?”
Ryan’s fingers flew across the keys. “Look at this. It’s a breakdown of their energy usage. This whole compound is completely self sufficient.”
“Through what? Solar power?”
“I don’t understand. Are they burning wood?”
“We need to go.”
“Down below. Where… where I was held.”
Ryan grabbed her hand and they ran from the room, down the hall, and into a stairwell.
“Do you have this whole placed mapped in your brain?” Violet said.
“Once I determined that I needed to come back one day, I hacked my way into the official blueprints and memorized the layout.”
“We’re not taking the elevators?”
“No, they can stop them. But to save time…”
With the stairs spiraling around the outer edges of the room, it left the entire middle clear. Ryan hopped the rail and sailed through the air, landing gently on his feet at the bottom level. Violet followed right behind him, exhilarated by the free-fall.
The stairwell exit led them to a series of dark hallways lined on either side with double-paned glass windows. Each looked into a small concrete cell, but what was inside sent chills through Violet’s body. Each room held a person, chained by their hands and feet. But their eyes… They were distant and unfeeling, as if there was no one left inside.
As they walked, one cell held a girl about Violet’s age. Orange fire ignited at her hands and quickly spread, covering her body. One she was fully engulfed in flames, she began to scream, louder and louder. The fire started to rise to the ceiling, as if it were being sucked through a vent. When Violet thought she could take no more of the poor girl’s wailing, the screaming stopped with a chilling echo, the fire vanished, and the girl slumped to the floor.
“They’re using fire from pyros to generate power; they’re being drained.” Violet said, tears streaming down her cheeks as she stared unblinking at the unconscious girl. “We have to get them out of here.”
“Blast the doors with your fire!” Ryan yelled as he started running to the other end of the hall.
She tried, but the doors held.
“It’s not working.”
“Try the windows.”
Glass breaking at the other end of the hall let Violet know that the windows would work. So she held out her arms, closed her eyes, and sent all the fire she could muster through her hands.
The explosion of glass made her jump, but she quickly recovered, climbed through the broken window, and lifted the girl to her feet. Her eyes cracked open. She was alive! Violet helped her through the window and hurried to the other cells. One by one, blast by blast, they freed the tormented pyros from their prisons. Those responsive enough to know what was going on joined in and started freeing others.
Violet couldn’t believe that no one had heard all the commotion they were making. But they were quite a ways underground, and there were probably no security cameras. Don’t want anyone to know what goes on in the lower levels…
Soon, fire blasts of every shade and color lit up he dismal corridor as more and more pyros came to. Within an hour, the entire network of tunnels had been freed.
“Now how to we get everyone out of here?” Violet said as she met up with Ryan. “There’s no way we can sneak this many people out the way we came in.”
“You’re right. What do we do?”
“You’re the map. Is there some sort of back exit we can take?”
“This whole compound is connected through these underground tunnels. We can take those, but we still need to find a way to make sure these people can never do this again.”
Ryan finished explaining to Violet how to navigate the tunnels, and the two of them prepared the group to leave.
“What you’re doing,” Violet said, holding back tears she didn’t want Ryan to see, “it’s more than likely a one-way mission. I…”
“I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t.”
Violet nodded as he pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. She desperately wanted to tell him how glad she was to have known him, even if it was for just a short time. But she couldn’t find the words. So she just stayed there in his arms until he pulled away.
He mouthed the words “Goodbye” as he walked back toward the stairwell.
Violet took and deep breath and turned to the group. “Tunnel’s this way. Follow me.”
The tunnel was dark and damp, and their progress was slow, due to how many were injured and barely conscious. The stronger ones helped the others as they made their way through the twisting underpass.
We have to be getting close, she thought just before she saw it: the ladder that would bring them to the surface. Violet went up first, opened the grate, and checked their surroundings.
All clear. She helped the others up the ladder and closed the grate behind them.
They were on the outskirts of the base. In the distance, she could see the lights from the power plant and the surrounding buildings. Behind her was the hill she and Ryan had descended on their way in.
Looking in the direction of the base, Violet saw sporadic flashes of green light. Ryan was putting up quite a fight. That was her cue. When all the guards were distracted with Ryan, they would have a straight shot to escape.
“Please be careful,” she whispered. Then to the group she shouted, “Okay everyone, run as fast as you can to that hill, and don’t quit until you reach the top.”
Ryan jumped from landing to landing, making his way up the staircase. He didn’t have time to do it the slow, human way. Once in the upper levels, guards started pouring into the halls from every door. They must have known he was coming. Good. The more eyes were on him, the less they would be on Violet and the group.
Igniting the fire in his fists, he fought his way out. Flesh sizzled with every punch he threw. It was still dark when he finally made it outside. Good. Better viewing conditions for his little show.
He hurled fireballs until the entire base turned into a green inferno. By now, most of the employees and guards had encircled him, desperately trying to get close enough to take him down.
Not today, he thought, keeping them at bay with the occasional burst of flames.
Now, there was only one thing left to do.
Inching to his left, the crowd reacted like the opposite end of a magnet—no one wanted to get too close. Once he was within range, he held out both arms, and poured every ounce of his energy into sending a solid wall of green flame in the direction of the generators. He held it for as long as he could, and with one final push, the wall of fire ceased. But it had done exactly what he intended. There was a small explosion in the generator, but it set off a chain reaction throughout the entire base. Ryan did an about-face and ran toward the hills.
As he neared them, Ryan saw Violet cresting the hill. Good, she made it.
“Violet, get down!” he yelled as soon as he was within ear-shot.
The entire group ducked with their hands over their heads, just as a ground-shaking explosion erupted through the valley. The percussion vibrated his chest and rang in his ears.
“Are you okay?” He said as they stood up. What little was left of the base smoldered behind them.
“Yes. You made it,” Violet said with a smile.
“And now that it’s all over, I can finally do this.” Ryan reached his hand to the side of her face, and pulled her lips onto his.
The Hunter crawled out from under a pile of debris, retrieved and dusted off his hat, and placed it gently on his head. Every human inside the base had died instantly with the explosion.
It was a good thing he wasn’t human.
He could see the pack of maimed mutants at the top of the hill on the outskirts of the valley. Now that his employers were dead, the pyros were no longer his concern.
Except those two, with the green and indigo flames, they were responsible for this mess. And they were his next targets. No more capturing and hauling them back like a dog playing fetch. This time, he would be hunting for keeps.
“So…” Violet said as she twirled her fork around her plate.
“So,” Ryan said in return, obviously unable to meet her eyes either.
Violet looked around the overflowing restaurant. Waiters bustled around while couples stared lovingly into each other’s eyes. Utterly predictable on this, of all nights.
But why, after surviving what could have wiped out the entire race of pyros, could they not sit and have an un-awkard meal together?
This isn’t us, she thought. What made them think they could go on a date like normal people? She cared for him too much to doom their relationship to this.
“This night could use a little livening up, don’t you think?” She said with a grin as she snapped, igniting a purple flame from her fingertips.
Ryan smiled back, green fire rising from his palm.
“Now, isn’t this lovely,” A voice said from behind Violet.
They both looked to see a man with a hat dipped over his eyes. The Hunter.
“You,” she said. “You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Pity. For you.” He walked away, leaving a trail of metal balls behind him.
“Bombs,” Ryan whispered to Violet.
“There’s a bomb; everyone out!” Violet said loudly so the whole restaurant could hear.
As the place erupted in screams and couples running for the doors, Ryan and Violet chased after The Hunter. Once outside, the restaurant exploded at their backs as they hurled green and indigo fireballs at their nemesis.
Now this is more like it. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“The house…the house next door… it’s on fire! You’ve got to help them.”
“Okay, don’t worry, I’m sending the fire department to your location. Get as far away from the fire as you can. Help will be there soon.”
“Ryan, where the heck have you been?” Violet said as soon as he came through the door.
The musty smell of the cheap hotel room they had been cooped in bombarded Ryan’s nose as he entered. The room was dark, only the glow from the TV lit Violet’s face.
“I had to get a few essentials,” Ryan said, setting the grocery bag on the table and sitting on the unmade bed next to Violet. “What did I miss?”
On the television, news helicopters circled a burning house, completely engulfed by red flames.
Violet turned up the volume on the TV, from which they learned that no one was injured and the fire department was working hard to bring it under control and to keep it from spreading to the nearby homes. They had not yet determined the cause of the fire.
“That means they haven’t ruled out arson,” Violet said as she muted the TV.
“We don’t know that.”
“We should go check it out.”
“Violet, I think the lack of human contact has finally gotten to you. You’re delusional. We can’t go. Let the firemen handle it. What can we possibly do?”
“You’re right. It has gotten to me. It’s been two weeks, and we’ve barely left this room except to get food. I have to do something.”
“They have eyes everywhere. The warehouse may be gone, but the company is still around. You know it’s too big a risk.”
“Did you see the color of the fire?”
“Yeah, it was red. So what? So are all the other fires in the world.”
Violet held out her hand and let a single, indigo flame rise from her palm.
“Not all fire,” she said with a smile.
“What are you getting at?”
“The color of that red was too deep, almost a maroon. It wasn’t a natural fire. I think a pyro caused it.”
“Why would a pyro want to draw all this attention to himself, anyway?”
“That’s exactly what I want to find out,” Violet said, unable to hide her enthusiasm.
Ryan sighed and put his arm around Violet’s shoulder.
“Okay. But if seems like we’ve been found out, we run, alright? No questions.”
Ryan and Violet parked their “borrowed” black pickup truck just down the street from the burning house. They obviously had to ditch their own vehicles weeks ago, which were registered in their names. No one could know they were in town.
Crowds of people hurried toward the house and congregated outside the police barriers. Ryan and Violet pushed their way through to the front so they could get a good look. The house was still burning, though the firemen had at least gotten it under control. The flames were so bright, the sky resembled the middle of the day, not 11:00 at night. Heat radiated from the blaze and warmed their cheeks.
“This way,” Ryan said as he pulled Violet by the arm, away from the crowd–all the while dodging the many news teams that peppered the area.
“What do you think about all this?” One such reporter asked as they passed.
Neither of them acknowledged the question, but kept their heads low.
“Dang it! That is what I was trying to avoid,” Ryan whispered.
“Where are we going?” Violet said, looking behind them.
“You wanted to investigate… I doubt we’ll find anything useful in front.”
He led her between the neighboring houses and around to the back where there were no crowds or reporters. It was darker back there, only a faint glow from the house lit their path.
“What are you expecting to find back here?”
“If someone did start this fire,” Ryan said as he rummaged around on the ground behind the house, moving rocks and looking behind garbage bins, “there would be evidence of their entry. They wouldn’t just waltz in the front door.”
“Especially if the arsonist is a pyro… Look.”
Ryan pointed to the brick wall. At its base were a few miniscule maroon speckles, glistening in the light of the burning house.
There it was… the evidence they were searching for.
“What are you doing?” A voice said from behind them.
Ryan and Violet spun around to see a young girl with dark hair, maybe thirteen years old, wearing ripped jeans, skater shoes, and a black longsleeve shirt. The sleeves of her shirt were singed around the wrists. The girl noticed them looking at the burn marks, and tugged them down self-consciously.
“Who are you?” She asked accusingly.
“We were going to ask you the same thing,” Ryan said. “You started this?”
The girl held up her hand as dark blue flames engulfed her fist.
“Okay, well if you didn’t start this fire, why are you here?”
“Not so fast. It’s your turn.”
Ryan and Violet looked at each other, then back at the girl and simultaneously let their green and indigo fire ignite.
“Satisfied?” Violet said as the girl gave an approving nod.
“My name’s Izzy. Word traveled fast about an unknown entity rounding up pyros, so I’ve been in hiding. I came here because I could tell a pyro started this fire and I wanted to check it out.”
“Same here. Where have you been hiding?”
“Foreclosed houses, mostly. I move around a lot.”
“You should come with us,” Violet said enthusiastically.
“Violet, can I talk to you,” Ryan said, pulling her by the arm until they were a few feet away. The girl could obviously still hear them, but it gave them a sense of privacy. “What are you doing?”
“She’s on her own with no one to look after her.”
“And you think we should be the ones to do it? We can barely keep ourselves alive. We’ve got another objective at the moment.”
Izzy popped her head up with a smile. “I can help!”
“Come on, Ryan, she’s just a kid,” Violet said.
“You really think we can trust her?”
“I do. And an extra mind to brainstorm with couldn’t hurt. “
“Okay. You’ve got a point.”
Dark red flames sprung to life, casting a maroon hue across the room.
My plan had worked flawlessly. What better way to draw a pyro out of hiding than a massive fire? And I got three pyros for the price of one.
Yes, today had been a good day.
And what was more, I now knew where they were holed up. The tracer I planted on their truck at the crime scene led me right to their crappy hotel.
Maroon light danced across the walls as I maneuvered silently through the room. I hovered over their sleeping bodies, watching their chests expand and contract with each steady breath. So peaceful; so oblivious to my presence.
But all that would soon change. What fun this little game would prove to be. My next move was to leave them a message, just enough to make their skin crawl.
A shudder of excitement rippled through my body. Too bad I wouldn’t be here to witness their reactions.
The young one stirred in her sleep. I froze and extinguished my fire until I was sure it was safe to re-ignite it.
That will trip them out.
“Guys!” Izzy shouted, shaking Violet’s shoulders in a desperate attempt at waking her up. “Violet, Ryan, wake up.”
“What’s going on?” Violet said as she rubbed her eyes and sat up. Ryan sat up too, just as groggy.
“Look,” Izzy said as she pointed to the far wall, against which sat the ancient, tube-style television.
Only then did Ryan and Violet finally come to, and their mouths dropped. The wall was on fire, slowly burning from the top down. It wasn’t a full-fledged fire, but a smolder with a slender tendril of smoke trailing off the fire’s path. At the top of the wall,
The young one’s scream was even more satisfying than I had imagined. Pure terror.
I couldn’t stay away. I had to witness it, even if that meant just standing outside, listening through the hotel’s paper-thin walls. Too bad the drapes were closed. Otherwise I could see the horror on their evil faces.
But that’s okay. I could imagine it.
No doubt their current silence meant they were reading my note. The one I’d burned into the wall and left to smolder all night. I could still smell the smoke seeping through the crack under the door. Ahh… the smell of sweet success.
Oh, but I wasn’t finished. That little purple rat and her friend would pay for what they did to me. This was only the beginning.
I was too lost in my own thoughts of revenge to notice they were leaving. The door yanked open and I was left standing there gawking outside their room.
It was a good thing I’d stolen the maintenance man’s uniform and supply cart.
“Someone call about a clogged toilet?” I said as they exited the room.
“Nope, not us,” the boy said flatly, and passed by me without a second glance.
“He was in our room,” Violet said a little louder than she should have.
Ryan glanced around the diner, making sure no one had heard.
“I know,” he whispered, trying to give her a hint to keep her voice down. It didn’t work.
“And he burned a message into the wall. He probably even watched us sleep.” Now she was on the verge of hyperventilating.
“Okay, take a deep breath.” He paused and she obeyed. “Now, the point I think we’ve all missed here is that we are still alive. He was in our room without our knowledge. He had the upper hand and he could have killed us… but didn’t. He wants us alive for the time being, so let’s use that to our advantage.”
Izzy stayed quiet with her arms crossed as if she was cold, and looked nervously around the diner. And on that que, the waitress came by with their breakfast and they instantly hushed their conversation. She stood there awkwardly for a moment, but sighed and left when none of them asked for anything else.
“Okay, let’s lay out all the info we have, so we can get a clear idea of what to do next,” Ryan said once they were alone again.
“Abominations.” Izzy finally spoke. “He called us abominations, as if he wasn’t a pyro just like us.”
“He said something about what we had done to him,” Violet added. “We didn’t make him a pyro, we don’t have any control over that type of thing. We haven’t hurt him in any way–“
“That we know of,” Ryan said. “We don’t even know who this guy is.”
“I just thought of something. Do you think he knew The Hunter? Perhaps he’s mad that we killed him.”
“Maybe, but he specifically referenced what we had done to him, not someone else. That could be part of it, but I think there’s more. Something we’re not seeing. What else?” Ryan took another cautionary glance around the room and checked the entrance for anyone suspicious. Everything still seemed normal.
“The last part of the message,” Izzy said, “he told us to go to the scene of the fire tomorrow night. Should we go?”
“Yes, but we’re not going in blind. We have a day and a half to come up with a plan.”
The next night, Ryan, Violet, and Izzy cautiously entered the charred house for the second time. They had scouted it out earlier in the day to make sure there was nothing suspicious. But now, tiptoeing through the dark, blackened rooms prickled their arms with goosebumps. Ryan led the way, using his green fire to light their path. He estimated they were probably in the living room.
“What do you think he wants with us?” Izzy said, checking behind her for the hundredth time.
“I think it’s the two of us he’s after,” Violet said. “I don’t think he has any quarrel with you. Sorry you got mixed up in this whole mess. Guess you’re rethinking joining our little clan?”
“Nah. Even with this psycho, I’m still better off with you than on my own. Thanks for letting me stick around.”
“Sure thing, kid,” Ryan said. He held up one hand, motioning for them to stop.
Just as they did, a booming laugh filled the room. Not coming from any direction in particular, but more like it was surrounding them.
“Welcome,” it said just as Ryan’s fire went out, plunging them into darkness.
“What did you do that for?” Violet whispered.
“I didn’t. My fire won’t ignite,” he whispered back.
Violet tried hers too. Nothing.
“The last time this happened was when The Hunter was around.”
“Impossible. He’s dead.”
“Are you sure?” The booming voice from everywhere said.
A maroon light shone from the end of the room, exposing the all-too-familiar silhouette standing in front of the light source—tall form, wide shoulders, broad-rimmed hat.
“Why won’t my fire work?” Izzy whispered.
“That’s one of The Hunter’s powers. He can render our fire inert.”
The voice surrounded them again. “Your terror is exhilarating. Yes, I made a friend. One you thought you’d gotten rid of. It seems we share a common goal.”
“What is your goal?” Violet shouted. Ryan turned and looked at her, as if to say, ‘What the heck are you doing?’
“Not so fast, my dear. All will be revealed in time. First things first. This house is not the ‘scene of the fire’ I was referring to. The Hunter and I came here because we knew this spot would be your first instinct. If you can find the correct location of the correct fire, I’ll tell you the purpose of our little adventure. But you’d better figure it out soon. The clock is ticking.”
“Ticking until what?” Violet called out. But there was no answer.
“Umm, Violet?” Ryan said.
Ryan and Violet rushed back to their latest hotel room, only to find another burned note left by their arson friend. This time, it was on the outside of the door:
I know you’re here, I see all. Find the scene of the fire and maybe you’ll find her alive…
“What fire?” Ryan was almost yelling.
“I don’t know, I’m thinking!” Violet yelled back as she reached for the door knob.
“Wait, don’t. We have to leave.”
“Right this second?”
“Yes, we need to get out of here, ditch the car, and get Izzy back.”
Fifteen minutes and a stolen SUV later…
“Okay, think. What other fires have either of us been involved in?” Ryan said as they drove down the freeway.”
“This was before you and I met, but when I first discovered what I can do, I kind of set fire to my school and the entire west end of the campus exploded. What about you?”
“Have I been involved in any fires? Yeah, too many to count. But nothing terribly significant or life altering. Let’s go with your plan. Where’s this school?”
“Take the next exit.”
It was midnight when Violet and Ryan finally reached the school. They walked across the deserted parking lot and into the west end of campus. The school had long since been remodeled, but slight burn marks could still be found on the concrete. The only evidence of that day’s horrific events.
“How long since you’ve been back?” Ryan said with a somber voice.
“Not since that day. It’s been a couple years now,” Violet said, not looking at Ryan, but staring past him at the building that loomed behind. “That’s it.”
They stopped at the building’s main entrance and Violet reached out and touched the door’s lock. The metal instantly started glowing with a purple hue as a thin trail of smoke curled out of the key hole. Satisfied that it was hot enough, she pushed firmly against the door and it opened smoothly.
“Nice trick,” Ryan said with a smile.
“I melted the bolt. Then all it needed was a little pressure, and…voila.”
“I’m gonna have to try that.”
“Whoa, this is so strange. They’ve obviously redone the place, but everything looks the same. They didn’t change a thing.”
“Where do we go next?”
“I would assume my old classroom… where it happened.”
The two of them crept through the dark halls until Violet stopped at a classroom door.
“This is the place,” she said, showing an obvious reluctance at going in.
“Want me to go first?”
“Wait,” she said, “listen.”
They pressed their ears to the door. The wood was warm and a soft crackling came from beyond.
They stood on either side of the door while Ryan quickly opened it and they both peeked inside.
Violet covered her mouth with a gasp. The entire room was engulfed in maroon flames. Izzy’s pleading eyes were the first things she saw, followed by the gag stretched tightly across her mouth. She was tied to one of the desk chairs in the center of the room.
Ryan and Violet ran to Izzy and pulled the gag off her mouth.
“The ropes,” Izzy said, “they’re soaked; I can’t burn through them.”
Violet loosed her bonds while Ryan looked for a fire extinguisher. There was none. Though it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.
Every time one of them moved toward the door or windows, the flames would flare up, preventing them from leaving. When they stayed in the center of the room, the fire seemed to lessen slightly.
“Can a pyro die in a fire?” Violet asked.
“No,” Ryan said flatly. Violet got the sense he had learned that information first-hand. “But we can still be burned. If we’re exposed to another pyro’s fire long enough, it can leave a scar. And the smoke will cause you to choke and feel like you’re suffocating, but you won’t ever die from it… Though you’ll wish you could.”
Tears of fear formed in Izzy’s eyes.
“We’re not going to let that happen,” Violet said to reassure her. “We’re going to get out of this.”
“Doubtful,” a voice said. It was the same voice they heard at the house, the same voice that seemed to be everywhere at once.
The overhead projector clicked on and images filled the white screen at the front of the classroom. They were surveillance pictures of Ryan and Violet, going about their daily lives, before either of them had ever met each other.
“Where did you get those?” Ryan said.
“Our mutual friend procured copies of your files from that organization you guys are running from. The one who kept an eye on you before you even knew they existed. They’ve got all kinds of juicy tidbits. Age, height, weight, place of birth, likes, dislikes, personality traits… what you fear most… how you developed your abilities. It’s all here. The electrical plant you blew up didn’t contain the only copies.”
“How do you know about all that?” Violet said. “You promised to tell us why you are after us.”
“Wrong! I promised to tell you only after you had found the correct scene of the fire.”
“But Izzy was here…”
“I know more about you than you realize: your habits, the way you think. I only brought her here because I knew this would be your next guess and I wanted to continue the game. But alas, this is not the correct location. So I’m afraid I can’t let her leave.”
Izzy wrapped her arms around Violet’s waist. “Please don’t let him take me again.”
“Oh, she’s coming too,” his booming voice said.
“You can’t take both of them!” Ryan shouted.
“Can’t I? I don’t think there’s anything you can do to stop me, boy. Either they come with me and you meet me at the actual scene of the fire—the one that cursed me to this life—or all three of you can burn in here until your bodies are covered in scars. Ones just like yours, Ryan.”
The flames surrounding them flared up higher and hotter than they were before.
“Okay, okay,” Ryan said with his hands raised in surrender. “I’ll meet you.”
“I trust you know where it is, then?”
Blackened gravel crunched under his feet as Ryan stepped through the rubble of what was once a busy power plant. Now it was a pile of charred cement and steel.
He had sworn he would never return.
But circumstances had forced his hand, and now he was brought back to this hell-hole for a third time. The second had been when he and Violet infiltrated the plant and freed the other pyros being held in the basement. Such atrocities had been performed on them that Ryan often doubted if their captors could be considered human.
Once inside, he made his way down the familiar halls to the stairwell. The walls of the building were riddled with holes so that one could see light streaming in from the outside.
As he descended the stairs and into the basement, the structure became more and more intact, fewer holes and less burn marks since it was now sheltered by the earth. At the bottom level, the dark hallway filled with concrete cells loomed before him.
Each cell had window, though all were broken during his last visit. The cell directly on his right drew his eyes like a magnet. This was the cell. They had all long since been emptied, but he could so plainly see himself inside, chained, waiting for the vents to forcefully drain the fire from his body.
The pain had been unbearable.
But it wasn’t him in that cell anymore.
“Ryan help!” He heard a girl scream.
Ryan blinked several times, and his vision refocused on the present. Violet and Izzy were chained inside his cell.
“You’re just in time for the show,” the too familiar voice said all around him.
“What do you want? I’ll do anything, just don’t hurt them,” Ryan said.
“That’s the spirit.
I want them to know who you really are, for you to feel the shame of the truth. Go on. Show them your scars.”
“Show them!” He shouted.
Ryan lifted the bottom of his shirt so they could see his stomach. It was covered in silvery swirling scars.
“They cover my chest and back,” Ryan said looking down.
“That’s what happens when a pyro is exposed to another’s fire for too long.” The voice said. Ryan figured out who it was. Although a little too late, he feared.
“I was a prisoner here once,” Ryan said, “in addition to all their experiments, they forced us to fight eachother… with our fire. He gave me these scars.”
“But you escaped and left me here. Though, in your defense, the two of you did come back and free me several years later with all the rest.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I didn’t want to be rescued!”
“Don’t you get it? I didn’t deserve to be rescued. None of us did. Pyros are an abomination. We’re a freak of nature that shouldn’t exist. They were right to torture and experiment on us. They should have killed me. But you two waltz in here like some kind of heroes.”
“And now we will all burn.”
He lit his maroon fire and the entire basement ignited almost instantly. Concrete shouldn’t have ignited that way. It was unnatural. It must have been one of his abilities. As he said, pyros weren’t natural to begin with.
“Ryan!” Violet and Izzy screamed.
He dodged the flames that seemed to flare as he neared and climbed through the broken window and into the cell. He heated the chains to melting point until they could break free.
Their captor stood between them and the stairwell, arms spread wide and eyes closed as the flames grew higher and hotter.
“This way,” Violet said.
The three of them ran as far as the underground halls would take them until they reached a metal ladder leading to a hatch.
“Ahh, fresh air,” Izzy said once they were above ground.”
They climbed the hill that overlooked the plant and watched what was left of it burn for the second time.
“Let’s make it a point not to come back here,” Ryan said.
“Agreed,” Violet said with a nod.