Desert Fire

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When I was eleven, I had a bad accident during one of my trainings while I was rock climbing near the castle on the Rockies. I had to do it freehand, but Cadmar was there, so I wasn’t scared. He was always there. But this one time, he got a phone call from Scarlet while we were working together; he never ignored her calls, not even when hanging on a steep rock formation. I placed my foot in the wrong place and couldn’t correct myself quick enough. He was right next to me, able to see what happened. Dropping his phone the fifteen feet below us, he swung over to help, but it was too late.

We weren’t too far up, so I thought I was a genius by trying to make it so I’d land on my feet. I was an idiot. It seemed as though I fell forever and trying to get my feet under me just put them in a weird position, so when I got to the ground my right leg was at a bad angle. I wasn’t ready for the impact. My tibia and fibula snapped clean, the rest of my body getting banged up. Pain didn’t come immediately, but the vibration of the break reverberated through my entire body, the sound of it echoing around us. Cadmar somehow leaped from the rock formation with this unbelievable grace I could never duplicate.

Watching him in awe, I tried getting up, but realized my leg was at a stomach-curdling angle. With his brow creased, he kept telling me to sit tight, that I’d be okay until Scarlet came to pick us up. When we got back to the castle, he told me he would put me under to set the bone because the pain would be unbearable. I knew it would be; it already was. Every time I shifted, the bones scraped together, making my vision blur; vomiting was definitely around the corner. It took everything in me not to cry; I could not cry. But I also couldn’t wait to be put under.

We found out that day that some forms of anesthetic don’t work on me. When he put me under, I was muted, immobile and appeared to be unconscious, but I felt everything. The teeth-gritting, vomit-inducing agony of the bone being set was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.

Until now.

They must have put something else in me at some point, because there was absolute nothingness for a long time, until something changed. I became aware of being strapped to some form of bed or flat surface. And then the pain came.

I think they’re chopping my foot off. With how much bone-deep pain there is, I can’t imagine what else they could be doing. It’s a grinding sensation that makes me want to scream and scream until they stop. But I can’t scream. I can’t do anything to make them stop, to tell them I can feel everything. Once they’re finally done torturing my poor foot, they carve something into my forearm. It reminds me of being tattooed, but a million times more painful, as if they’re branding me. The memory of what happened to me as a kid fades behind the prominent agony.

There’s so much pain. Until blissful darkness finally envelops me.

I keep my eyes shut when I finally come to. I don’t know where I am, but I’m strapped to a bed or something of the sort. My entire body aches. My head hurts so much I wish the darkness would devour me again. Wherever I am smells of chemicals, as if it was recently sanitized. Machines beep and hiss and the uncomfortable pinch in my arm tells me I’m probably hooked up to them.

Where am I? And what the hell happened?

Janet’s apartment. Our fight. The agents. She planned it all. She gave me to them. My own mother. I shouldn’t be surprised, as she did confess to killing my biological father and forced me to leave behind the most important person in my life, but it’s still an awful realization.

Panic rips through my chest, making one of the machines beep rapidly. The Elites have me and no one knows. Cadmar, Conner, Reiley, Kadence. Nobody is coming for me. No one is going to save me. And I have no idea what they want with me. Why they didn’t just kill me. Janet said they want me alive, they want me, but it doesn’t make sense. Something in my gut tells me this is much worse than death.

Something shifts above me, making it impossible to keep my eyes closed any longer. The fluorescent lights reflecting off the white room blinds me, sending a sharp pain through my head, before a man’s dark toned face comes into focus above me. His sandy blond hair is combed in a perfect wave, and his terrifying, calm, gray eyes study me.

“Ah, Payton,” his voice is smooth as silk, but it leaves a sticky residue behind, making bile rise in my throat. “Finally awake. We’ve been waiting for days now.”

He moves out of my line of sight, causing me to try looking around, but my head is strapped down along with the rest of my body. I tug on the restraints around my wrists and ankles, ignoring the searing pain in my right foot while I jerk my head back and forth, but they don’t give even a little. The monitor beeps faster, an unbearable fear consuming every inch of me. I want to yell or scream or cry, but it won’t help. I have to focus, have to stay in control.

Ha! You lost control long ago, Payton.

The man stands next to me, resting his too warm hand on my forearm. “No need to struggle,” he assures me, but it only makes me want to struggle more. To claw at the restraints, rip at them until they come loose. “Now that you’re awake, we can begin.”

So much worse than death.

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