It wasn’t the first time she’d felt like this. She’d felt the painful sensation of flames on her cheeks and hands before, when she was angry or fearful. There was never fire, though. Just heat. This time, it was different. This time, it was stronger. Hotter. More painful. And the burning feeling was coursing through her veins, beating the rhythm of her heart. This time, it was inside of her.
Chloe stared over the rubble that had once been her hometown. She was perched on the cliff above town, baptized in the smoke rising towards her. The town had been reduced to nothing but burnt buildings and ash. The few who had survived milled about the debris in a stunned silence that seemed deafening.
The tips of her fingers burned. There was the crunch of dried leaves from behind her, and she spun around. Her chest heaved with ragged breaths. “Why did you do this?” Her voice was shaking and she clenched her fists until her nails dug half-moons into her palms. “Why? Those people were innocent!”
A sick smile spread over his thin lips. The man who approached her was handsome, thickly built, with a thin face and dark blue eyes. Pitch black hair was tied at his neck, hanging limply down his back. He took another step towards her, making her back away, closer to the edge of the cliff. “I was looking for you. You should have come when I sent for you, Chloe. You should have listened to me. I told you it would be worse if you didn’t.” His voice was low and monotone, almost hypnotic.
“You burnt down an entire village, looking for one girl? Why me? I’m not special.”
He tilted his head to the side, his smile static and stagnant. “I know you don’t believe that. How can you, when even now you can feel the power inside that’s begging to be released. I’m here to help you cultivate it and blossom into the person you were destined to become.”
“Destiny?” Chloe spat the word out like poison. She swallowed, and took a step closer to him.
He reached out and grabbed her arm, squeezing it tightly. “Don’t think you can get away from me, from your future. You don’t have the control here, child.”
As he tried to yank her closer, Chloe put her hands up flat to push away from him. Fire erupted from the palms of her hands. It singed his shirt and he lost his grip on her in surprise. Chloe’s eyes were widened in shock, and she stared down at her unmarred hands. “Stay away from me,” she warned. Her voice shook.
His dark smile returned. “There it is. I knew you had the power.” He extended his hand, an invitation. “Come with me. I’ll teach you to nurture it, use it to dominate.”
Chloe hesitated, before reaching out to take his hand. The smile on his lips transformed into a knowing smirk. She conjured a flame that scorched his hand and arm as she touched him, and he yelped. He moved forward again as if to grab her, and she kicked him in the stomach, knocking him onto his back. “Leave me the hell alone,” she growled. “I won’t tell you again. Next time, you’ll get burnt. Extra crispy. Understand me?”
There was danger in his dark eyes, but he crawled back away from her. “This isn’t over,” he told her, standing in a single fluid motion. “I’ll be back.”
“And I’ll burn the very heart out of you.”
Standing in the open field, it was hard to figure out how to get even a little spark to come out of her fingers. Chloe had been so sure of the power she’d had, the moment she’d been able to unleash it against the Dark Man. So why did it seem so hard to do now? She couldn’t even feel the heat in her veins, like she had before. Now, she just felt…normal. And while that should have been a relief, it was the knowledge that the Dark Man would be coming after her again that was pushing her to keep trying.
Chloe closed her eyes, remembering that day; the soot falling from the sky, the screams of people trapped in buildings that were about to collapse. Heat slowly spread from her fingertips and up her arms, enveloping her. In her mind, she could see the Dark Man, taunting her and holding out his hand to welcome her. A flame jumped out of her palm and into the air, startling her eyes open again. Now, she had something to work with.