Sunday, April 1, 2012

Flamethroat: Prologue

 Sneak Peek

Kenneth Redding was tucking his ten year old daughter Helena into bed. She smiled sleepily as he gave her a whiskery kiss upon her cheek and left the room. As he closed the door he saw her tiny frame curl under the blankets and prepare for sleep.  While he stood in the hall he heaved a sigh and ignored the pressing thoughts that were tumbling around his mind. He was over tired. Kenneth had worked another twelve-hour day, and all it would amount to was an extra loaf of bread upon the table. He shuffled towards his own bedroom door, and peeked inside. His wife Anya was already asleep, curled up with her back to him.  He entered the room, slipped off his working clothes and changed into fresh night garments. As he sunk into bed, his wife stirred. Anya rolled onto her other side to face him. Her eyes were red and puffy. She had been crying before sleep once again. Kenneth had become used to the night-time sobs. Often he would wake during the night to hear Anya crying quietly. He usually pretended to be asleep, for there was nothing he could do to make things better. Things had gone down hill since his wife Anya had become quite ill and was no longer fit to work. The towns folk whispered that she had lost her mind, yet Kenneth knew that it was depression that plagued her. It had been a few months since their eldest daughter Avalon had vanished in the middle of the night. Kenneth should have known Avalon would run away for she had expressed her desire to leave Mortlock only hours prior to her departure without any goodbyes. This was the part that disturbed his family most, that Avalon had been so ready and willing to never see them again. He didn’t like to admit it though, but his youngest child Helena had been much safer since Avalon had left. Safer, yes, but lonely too.

Helena was forbidden from leaving the house for she was not host to any known powers. If the townsfolk realized that Helena was not the same as them she would be taken away by the realm of Mages and forced into slavery with the other … humans. Kenneth shuddered as the word entered his mind. Human. He refused to think of his youngest as one of them. Disgusting, filthy beings. They could not be trusted. His Daughter was of a Mage bloodline yet there was no explaining her lack of Power. If the Realm of Mages discovered this, the entire family would be implicated.

This was why Avalon had run away. From a very young age she had had difficulty controlling her Power like the other children. It wasn’t easy being a Fire Mage though. It was difficult to be trusted for Fire Mages had a bad reputation as troublemakers, therefore control over the fire was essential. Avalon had no such control. The fire would just explode from her at random times as though her body could not contain it.  She had always been a very hotheaded child, quick to anger, defensive with little to no people skills. The fact that Avalon was often so emotional contributed to her lack of control. She often had nightmares too, so in the middle of the night the house would go up in flames.

This was a serious danger to Helena who was not a Fire-Mage like the rest of the family. Helena could feel heat and her flesh could burn.  Her safety was implicated on so many occasions that Avalon could no longer handle the guilt and had decided to run away. 

The Redding family had received one letter from Avalon in the many months she had been missing. They didn’t know where she was or if she was still safe. Kenneth had wanted to search for Avalon, but he could not leave his wife and youngest child. He needed to work to provide for the family he had left. Anya could not journey in search of Avalon for she needed to care for Helena who could not leave the house. So the Redding family waited patiently for their eldest daughter to return, wondering if she ever would. Their every day thoughts were so consumed with the whereabouts of Avalon that their security over Helena slackened over the months. A few weeks ago Helena had had enough and ventured from the house, a simple act which she was simply forbidden from doing. Though nothing serious had happened, Kenneth shuddered at the thought of anyone discovering Helena’s secret. 

As Kenneth rolled over in bed to face his wife he realized that she had been watching him think. He gave her a small smile that she did not return. Kenneth sighed internally and put a hand to his wife’s shoulder.
‘Can’t sleep?’ he asked.
She shook her head.
‘Anything I can do?’ he offered, ‘Warm milk?’
Anya shook her head again.
Kenneth licked his lips and swallowed, rubbing his hand up and down Anya’s arm comfortingly. ‘More pillows?’
Anya’s eyes seemed empty, ‘Don’t you care?’
Kenneth frowned at her, ‘Of course I care about you.’
‘Not me.’ She breathed.
Kenneth didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to talk about this. He thought about it every second of the day.
‘I’m tired, sweetheart.’ He yawned and began to rearrange his pillows.
‘You never talk.’ Anya’s voice broke.
‘I have nothing to say.’ Kenneth said quickly.
‘I need to talk about it, Ken.’ Anya’s eyes began brimming with tears, ‘I’m bottling it all in.’
Kenneth remained silent. He stared at the roof, ignoring the rising heat building inside him. If he got mad he knew an argument would quickly follow, and possibly accidental fire starting.
‘Ken.’ Anya’s features were harsh now, ‘I don’t know how much longer I can handle this. It’s tearing the family apart.’
‘Well it’s hardly my fault, is it?’ Kenneth snapped, ‘I didn’t make her run away.’
Anya sat up quickly and glared at him, a sight which wrenched at Kenneth’s heartstrings.
‘We knew she wanted to leave. We should have known!’ Anya’s voice was getting louder now.
‘She snuck out in the middle of the night, Anya. We couldn’t have watched her every second of the day. We can’t keep blaming ourselves. Avalon wanted to leave, so she did. She’s always been an impulsive child. She follows her heart, not her head.’ Kenneth found his own voice rising now.
‘We should have done something.’ Anya hissed.
‘Like what?’ Kenneth snapped, ‘Watch her every second of the day?’
‘Anything.’ Anya’s bottom lip trembled, ‘I can’t bare this.’
‘Well you’re going to have to.’ Kenneth said sharply, ‘You think this doesn’t tear me up inside too, Anya? I don’t have the luxury of sitting at home worrying, like you.  I have to get up at the crack of dawn and continue working, as usual to put bread on the table for this family. I have to put on a straight face every time I see my co-workers and pretend that everything is okay. They don’t know my eldest daughter is missing. I can’t even hire someone to search for her, because they will want to know why she ran away in the first place!’
‘Ken-’ Anya began, her eyes widening, but Kenneth cut her off.
‘Not to mention I couldn’t even afford to hire someone to look for Avalon, because I’m the only bloody person in this house who earns a single cent.’
Anya tried to speak again, ‘Ken, just listen-’
‘I’m sick of all these guilt trips, Anya.’ Kenneth was raising his voice now. He had bottled this all in for many weeks. ‘I think it’s best if we just go on with our every day lives. Avalon will come back when she sees fit. She’s a clever girl, and doesn’t trust easily. Not to mention she is perfectly capable of protecting herself.’
‘Just stop for a-’ Anya grabbed Kenneth’s arm tightly.
‘I know what you’re going to say.’ Kenneth snarled, ‘You’re going to tell me ‘that’s not what you said when Avalon tried to leave the first time’.’ He put on a high pitch voice in mock of his wife’s, ‘But you know as well as I do that Avalon is a danger to others. If we weren’t Fire Mages we would have been killed years ago because of all those blasted fires.’
‘Kenneth, shut up!’ Anya hissed, panicked, ‘For gods, sake listen!’
Kenneth breathed heavily and waited for his wife to speak, ‘Well?’
‘Shhh!’ She closed her eyes and seemed to be waiting for something.
‘What is it?’ Kenneth was getting impatient now.
‘I … I think I heard something.’
‘What?’ Kenneth sighed and put his face in his hands.
‘In the hall.’ Anya whispered. ‘I heard the floorboards creaking.’
‘It’s probably Helena.’ Ken was highly irritated and just wanted to sleep. ‘She probably heard us arguing.’
‘No. The footfalls were too heavy.’
‘You said it was creaking, not footfalls.’ Kenneth said, trying to control his breathing.
‘Just check.’ Anya breathed.
‘It’s nothing.’ Kenneth insisted.
‘Please!’ She hissed, her eyes wide.
But then Kenneth heard it, the unmistakable sound of floorboards creaking around the house as though someone were moving around. He sighed.
‘It’s just Helena wandering about.’ Kenneth reassured his wife, but he got out of bed none the less. He wrapped a robe around himself and turned back to his wife. ‘Stop being so paranoid.’ He rolled his eyes at her, ‘I’ll put her back to bed. She is probably just upset too.’

Anya nodded but stayed sat up in bed and watched as Kenneth left their bedroom. As he stepped into the hall Kenneth lit a large ball of flames within the palm of his right hand where it floated peacefully and lit up the entire space. He could see until the end of the hall, but beyond it was darkness. He noticed that Helena’s bedroom door was slightly ajar. He was sure he had closed it as he had left her room. Sighing he made his way to her bedroom to make sure that his youngest was all right, and not too upset from the argument he and his wife had just had. Perhaps they had been a little bit loud without realizing. The door creaked as Kenneth pushed it open slowly, and the ball of flames lit up the tiny room in full detail. Helena was fast asleep, curled up in a tight ball, her mousy hair sprawled around her head. Kenneth walked to her bed side and looked down upon her. She stirred and looked up at him, blinking wearily.
‘Dad?’ She muttered sleepily, shielding her eyes from the light, ‘What is it? That’s bright, stop it.’
Kenneth reduced the size of the fire ball by half and smiled at his daughter, ‘Sorry sweetheart. Are you okay?’
‘Yes.’ She said grumpily, ‘Apart from being woken up, I’m fine.’
‘Did you get up?’ He asked.
‘I was asleep.’ Helena said plainly. She did not enjoy her sleep being interrupted, clearly.
‘I heard you walking around the house.’ Kenneth pursed his lips, ‘Did you hear us arguing?’
‘I already told you, I was asleep.’ Helena said rather irritated.
‘It’s all right if it upset you.’ Kenneth said softly, in a voice which he hoped was soothing, rather than impatient.
Helena rolled her eyes, ‘Maybe you were dreaming.’ She said.
‘I was awake.’ He frowned.
‘So maybe there’s a burglar.’ Helena was getting quite annoyed now.
‘It’s okay to talk to me about it, Helena.’
‘Dad!’ Helena sat bolt right up in bed.
‘Okay, okay.’ Kenneth backed up, his hands in the air.
‘No, Dad!’ Helena pointed to the area over Kenneth’s right shoulder.
Kenneth didn’t even have time to turn his head before darkness consumed his vision. A sack smelling of dirt and sweat had been placed over his head and tightened painfully around his neck. He fell to his knees in shock, the fireball in his hand extinguishing at once, throwing the rest of the room into total darkness.
‘Daddy!’ Helena’s voice cried, and Kenneth knew that she could no longer see either, because the only source of light had been from his Power.
A large body slammed Kenneth into the floor and pinned him to the ground with a grunt. Kenneth struggled against the intruder but it seemed there was more than one. His hands were bound and he tried to yell for Helena to run, but the wind had been knocked out of him when he had fallen to the ground. He heard a scuffle before Helena’s voice became muffled as a sack was also placed over her head.
No, no, no, was all Kenneth could think.
He could hear Helena’s muffled voice crying, ‘Daddy, Daddy!’ and it tore him up inside. He couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t move. There were at least three of them. He was pinned to the ground, hands and feet tied. He was  helpless like a pig to the slaughter. He tried to conjure flames, but he was stopped in his tracks.
A hand came down upon his shoulder, and as soon as one of the intruder’s fingers met him he felt a wave of electricity shoot through his entire body, paralyzing him. The pain was intense and rendered him useless. His body went rigid and began to convulse involuntarily. When the pain stopped he was left gasping for air. He was dizzy and on the brink of consciousness.
‘Now the girl.’ A gruff voice ordered to Kenneth’s left.
‘No!’ Kenneth wheezed.
Helena’s cry pierced the air like a knife to his heart. Tears escaped his eyes as he felt himself slowly slipping away.
‘Get the woman.’ The gruff voice sounded again.
‘Aye, Sir.’ Said a voice with a heavy Irish accent.
Heavy boots to his right trumped through the house. They did not care about being heard any more. Kenneth heard as the door to his bedroom was kicked in. Anya screamed and there was the sound of roaring fire. A man yelled in agony and the sound of crashing closely followed.
‘Anya.’ Kenneth gasped. ‘Yes, Anya.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake.’ A different voice sounded this time, standing in front of where Kenneth lay upon the floor. This voice was clear and curt. ‘Go and help him will you? He can’t shock her if he can’t get close enough.’
‘Right.’ The gruff voice said, slightly bored as though this were a regular occurance. There was the sound of more boots leaving Helena’s room. Kenneth was highly alert of the fact that he couldn’t hear his daughter moving, or making a sound any more.
The ruckus in the hallway continued. The roar of the fire was deafening, and Anya was screaming, ‘OH, NO YOU DON’T!’
Bangs and crashes closely followed. It sounded as though the house were being destroyed. Surely the neighbors would notice, and come to help?
The sound of destructive fire stopped very suddenly, and Kenneth held his breath in anticipation. His heart sank when he heard Anya cry, followed closely by the sound of a body collapsing to the floor.
‘She’s out.’ The Irish voice confirmed, panting heavily. ‘Got her. Fiesty one, though.’
 ‘Good. Come and do this fellow again. He didn’t go the first time.’
The footsteps were back now, along with the smell of burnt hair.
‘Shoulda given this big fella a higher volt. He’s still squirmin’.’
For the second time Kenneth felt the hand come down onto his shoulder, and the paralyzing shock rocket through his body. Though he didn’t feel it for long. Everything faded.

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