Prologue

      As August snuggled onto the mattress in sleep, he turned to his side, light hair falling in his face and exposing the nape of his neck. Booker’s gaze settled on the small, tightly stitched wound there. It was healing thanks to Harker’s well-practiced hand. But it meant something to August. It meant he would never be chosen for the Extraction. Never freely be allowed back to the surface. Though Voss had made the truth of the Extraction known, August still seemed hesitant to believe it. To August, losing his tracker had meant losing the chance to go home.

     Gently, Booker brought a hand to August’s brow. Still hot. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to August’s brow. Be ok, kid. Please be ok. 

     Time to get back to watch. But as Booker exited the warehouse, he felt heat rising to his cheeks. Someone else had come to sit by the fire in his absence. Thick red curls blocked his view of the flames as he approached. Delta Stone sat poised like a cat, glancing up immediately as he approached. She nodded in acknowledgement as he came to sit down beside her. “You lead them away?”

     “Yeah,” he said, not unkindly. 

     “You kill any of them?” she asked. 

     “Yeah,” he repeated, less kindly this time. Death, killing. It was all a part of this. Delta Stone should know that better than anyone, former gladiator that she was. 

     She nodded, gaze falling back to the fire. “It’s necessary,” she said. 

     “Where’s my brother?” Booker asked, attempting to keep his tone level. 

     Delta gestured behind them, towards a squat, mostly-formed structure. “With Eden. He…his wounds didn’t take well to the travel.”

     Booker bristled. “That kid needs to toughen up.”

     “That kid had the shit beaten out of him in the arena. He’s lucky to have survived.” For the first time, Delta’s tone carried a hint of warning. She was attached to Eden Voss, for whatever reason. Protective of him. 

     “What do you see in him, anyway?” Booker shifted where he sat, rubbing a hand through his dark hair. 

     “He’s good,” Delta responded. “He has a pure heart and pure intentions. He’s the one we’ve been waiting for.”

     “The one you’ve been waiting for? What’s that mean?”

     Delta paused for a long moment. Then, she reached out her hand to Booker. “May I?”

     Booker wasn’t sure what she was asking. He raised an eyebrow in confusion. 

     “Your hand,” she said gently. Hesitantly, he extended his arm and placed his palm in hers. She closed her eyes as they connected, and then a rush of warmth seeped into his body, like an electric current. It didn’t feel threatening. Just the opposite. It felt comforting. 

     Was she…like Micah?

     Booker watched Delta’s delicate features, the knitting together of her furrowed brow. She was concentrating, obviously. But on what, he couldn’t be sure. Was it empathy like Micah? Or something else entirely? 

     Booker had known about Micah’s empathy since the kid had been able to talk. The kid would babble incessantly about the emotions and feelings of other people, unable to block them out. And as he grew older, in the darkness and morbidity of the underground, the power became more of a curse to him, causing him nagging headaches and endless suffering. There was a time when Micah had turned to Silt to block the noise out. But, as with so many other things, Micah had been stronger than Booker and had eventually kicked the habit. Long before Booker had been able to. 

Copyright © 2020 – All rights reserved by Hellie Heat

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