Chapter One: Cinema Apocalypse
That night, as she so often did, Chloe Burke dreamed of fire.
In her dream it was not the fire itself that was frightening. Rather, it was the sensation of burning noxious metal ripped from deep within the earth and stretched thin as air, hot as supernovas. The acrid heat threatened, at any moment, to coalesce back into metal, trapping her and crushing her lungs, making it impossible to run or scream.
In her dream, there was also the boy.
He came to her, moving low to the ground. Her first vision of him was always of wild dark hair and a pale, determined face peering up at her from the side of her bed. Moving slowly, with a feline grace that made him seem older, surer, than he must have been, he slid into her bed with blankets like strips of jewels stitched together. Pinning her firmly with one arm, she could not move at all, even though the smell of fire crept slowly but surely across her senses.
“Stay still, Chloe, and do not speak,” he whispered. “My uncle will come for us soon, he told me so. We are to remain as still as possible, so as not to attract their notice. The wards will hold until he gets your mother out.”
She wanted to speak. She wanted, badly, to scream and thrash, but for some reason, in the dream, she could not. His command, his hand upon her, made it impossible.
She turned to him, mute and frightened. His eyes shifted colors, flecks of greens, blues, and even gold boring into hers. She never forgot his eyes, not ever, not even as she grew up and learned to agree with her parents, that it was just a very bad, recurring nightmare, the result of a childhood fever. She never forgot the eyes too vivid, too desperate to be called hazel. Sparks. His eyes were sparks in the void of her nightmare, waiting to catch and burn.
“Chloe,” he whispered, and the room around them exploded into a ring of fire. There were shapes in the fire, of people who were wrong, who were stretched too thin and who undulated with the flames. Their hands were flattened and sharp with fingers and teeth like razors, and she knew they had to get out. There were no adults to save them now. She did not cry out as the boy dragged her out of her bed. His slim body blocked her from the flames, his hands a strange alchemy of object, motion, and light. He cut through blood-colored flames with a single flare of gold, with a strength and steadiness that did not match his age, and walked through them, past razor-sharp hands that reached for them. He brought her to a place thick with the smell of forest and river where her mother waited, catching her up in the smothering embrace frightened parents reserve for their children. As she looked over her mother’s shoulder, she saw, through what looked like an arched, open door, a world engulfed in flames. There were tears on her cheeks, and she didn’t know why, except that a world was burning, her world, and there was nothing she could do.