A short story/Prequel to the novel “Scorched”
Scorched is the first novel in the Linked trilogy, a fantasy romance/dystopian series
The fierce wind flapped the sheet in my hand, so I tightened my grip, shaking out the crumbs from last night’s dessert. At least Zephyra had licked most of the cake off my abs, so it didn’t end up staining the blankets. The morning clouds camouflaged into the fabric, taking the form of a full sail, and I couldn’t tell where the sky ended, and the sheet began.
Another gust blew through my loose shirt, the cotton shifting against my skin and exposing the gray and white Mobius loop tattoo claiming my hip. It’d be another sweltering day. I stripped off my shirt and pinned it on the clothesline next to the dancing sheet. Craning my neck to stare at the washed-out, dusty blue sky, I took in the swirls of white and crisp blue stretching through Vayu.
“Isaac?” Zephyra’s voice gave me goosebumps every time.
“In the flesh.” I cleared my throat to get rid of the groggy morning sound and turned to face her.
At age thirty, Zephyra didn’t look a day over twenty when she batted those long lashes that knocked my breath away. I longed to kiss those high cheekbones and wrap my arms around her slender form again.
“Wes is in trouble.”
“What?” Alarm coursed through my muscles to my quickly clenching fists. “What’s wrong with Wes?”
“I heard him screaming.” Long ringlets whipped her face. “He’s outside the dome wall.”
My heart stopped. “How?”
“I don’t know.”
My skin stung as though pricked by needles as I snapped my attention in each direction from the skyscrapers atop the peak to the green treetops that stretched below for miles but couldn’t see my son—even with my enhanced vision.
“Follow me.” Zephyra sprinted down the trail of the steep slope.
I ran after, questions soaring through my mind. The only way my son would have exited the safety of Vayu’s barrier was if someone had taken him. How did they find us?
Terror hummed in my bones, and I could feel I was losing control of my calm. My tattoo scorched, summoning my power, and surged a pulse through my body to my fingertips. But I shouldn’t manipulate the air this close to the dome—too dangerous. We could be exposed.
Panting, I found my pace next to Zephyra, hitting shade at the tree line. Sweat dripped down my neck. My sneakers skidded over loose pebbles, and dirt kicked onto my shins as we descended. Only half a mile left. My calves burned, and my feet thumped on the gravel so quickly, like flying instead of running. When the adrenaline hit this strongly, the sensation of wings always overcame my body, putting me in a focused trance—heightening my sight even more. Immediately, I spotted every angled curve of leaves and the indents on a beetle crawling up trunks as I sped by.
Zephyra pointed straight ahead where I knew the invisible perimeter of Vayu met the rest of the world. Wes had once termed our dome “The Bubble.” Outside the barrier, a pair of his blue sneakers laid next to a tree trunk. My heart rate quickened.
“Isaac, what if—”
“Don’t say it,” I shouted over my shoulder as I passed her and pumped my arms faster.
Knowing I was about to transfer through the wall, I squeezed my eyes shut for only a moment and braced for the electric-like pulse. A sharp shock pinged in my tattoo and zapped my whole body from head to toe. Gasping, I landed on the other side of the dome seal, sprawled flat on the earth— Zephyra already out of view, protected inside the shield. At least the dome was still functional, and whoever had taken Wes hadn’t destroyed the future of our entire city.
Outside of Vayu’s seal, I always felt different—vulnerable. The thrum of my powers sliced through me. My sight telescoped in. Exactly one mile to the east, I could see a group of deer grazing. One point two miles to the south, a car curved around treacherous, steep roads. I couldn’t see who was inside, but they were moving too fast for a lazy Sunday morning drive.
Some son of a bitch stole my kid. Out of practice, I begged that my abilities were still strong enough.
Widening my stance, I inhaled a deep breath and raised my arms straight to the sky, desperate for help. My heart rate quickened as I summoned every ounce of energy, making an intense pulse surge through my blood. Suddenly, a gust of wind rose and chased the car in the distance. Form a blockade. The wind followed my command, soaring forward at my will.
About a mile off, the gust snapped an evergreen trunk in half. A loud crack echoed up the mountain hillside, and the giant tree landed with a thud over the country lane. The zooming car slammed on its breaks and slid to the right on the shoulder, jerking to an abrupt stop. A woman jumped out of her vehicle and raised both arms in exasperation, but now that the car was at an angle, I squinted from afar and searched the backseat. Wes wasn’t in there. Damn it.
“Oh my god, seriously? What did you do?” Zephyra’s blue eyes studied me.
I jumped and swiveled on my heels, unaware she had merged through the Bubble too.
“I couldn’t think of anything else.” I pushed both palms to my temples with such force I swore I could’ve snapped my skull in half.
“No, literally, what did you do? I can feel your energy, but you know I can’t see that far like you.”
She cocked her head, bent down, and reached into Wes’ shoe. “Look, there’s a note inside.”
“A ransom note? Is it someone from Draven? I’ll give them anything.” I grabbed the flapping piece of paper from her hand and read Wes’s sloppy ten-year-old handwriting.
Went to see Mom. Don’t be too mad. I’ll do extra laundry tomorrow to make up for it.
P.S. You didn’t tell me the tattoo would burn me. You LIAR!
I stared, re-reading the last line a dozen times, then finally dropped the paper to my side. Looking over at Zephyra’s stunned face confirmed my assumption.
“He already tattooed,” she whispered in awe with such certainty, paired with knit brows.
“It’s not possible. He’s too young.”
“You know better than anyone that this has happened before. Not everyone is seventeen. Maybe he’s as strong as you.”
“I was twelve, and that was unheard of when we were kids. He’s only ten.”
Zephyra massaged my shoulders like she did last night before she snuck out of my room. “Then maybe Wes is stronger than you.”
I could only hope she was right because I couldn’t consider the alternative but muttered it anyway, “Or a Draven monster wrote this.”
“No, it’s his handwriting,” she said calmly.
I started walking down the trail, needing to find a car … and a shirt. “Anyone from Draven could’ve threatened Wes to write it.”
After she scurried after me, Zephyra laced my hand into hers. “If someone took him, they wouldn’t leave a note, and no one from Draven has any use for Wes.”
“But Wes wouldn’t leave. We’re a team.”
“Maybe it was one of his pranks,” she said.
“No, he knows better than to leave the dome.”
Zephyra sighed. “When his tattoo formed, he was in pain. Do you really think he’d want to show you that weakness?”
“Pain isn’t weakness.”
“Well, then maybe he’s mad at you.”
I didn’t know how to deal with my son already maturing—I wasn’t ready, and neither was he.
“So, you never told Wes about the tattoo scorch?” she asked.
“I didn’t want to scare him,” I mumbled and moved faster through the woods. An eerie sensation crept over me that we were being watched. I checked over my shoulder. No one. Shaking my head, I continued, “Zeph, a ten-year-old shouldn’t have to know all the responsibilities that come with our powers.”
“I know you want to protect him, but the last day for that was yesterday.”
“No, I will always protect him.”
She laid a strong hand on my bare chest, yet with less assertion than she did in my bed last night. “In our world, Wes is now an adult. You need to respect him as one.”
A laugh escaped my gut. “You’re kidding, right? He doesn’t even clean his toys. Toys, Zeph. He is a child. And he decided to run down the mountain alone, without shoes. Why on earth would he go barefoot?” As I side-stepped around her, I nudged into her shoulder a little harder than I should’ve.
“Ouch. Isaac, come on, I’m on your side.” She hustled after my long strides. “I care about Wes too, and you know I’m better about making decisions when it comes to his well-being. You two can still play pranks all day, but he also needs a firm hand with structure.”
“First, we need to find him to lay down any rules.” I pinched my beard, trying to contain the wind howling in my heart, not wanting to be held back. “I’m sorry, Zeph, but I’m his parent. Maybe you should go back to Vayu.”
Time stood still. She tilted her head, holding the long pause between us like a cage of tornadoes threatening to escape. “You don’t want me to meet Wes’s mom, do you?”
“What? Don’t start that again. This isn’t about Reese.” I stared ahead with each continual step, catching a blurry charging station for cars in my peripheral. Maybe the Ordull owner would have a tourist tee-shirt of Mount Evans. I couldn’t show up at Reese’s half-dressed, or I’d get myself into another mess that Zeph would never forgive me for. Sleeping with Reese had been too risky. I couldn’t let her find out who I really was or about my Magik. The information would only put her in danger. Ordulls couldn’t find out about us, Mystiers, which is why I never should’ve fallen for her in the first place.
Zephyra stared at me suspiciously, eyes narrowed.
I cleared my throat before saying. “Plus, you and I are just friends, right? That’s what we agreed to.”
Her jaw dropped. “Fine. But when you find Wes and have trouble choosing what to do, don’t complain to me about it.” Zephyra turned quickly and jogged back to Vayu.
Alone again, I raced towards the charging station, hoping I wouldn’t have to interact with too many Ordulls. Past the trees, over the bridge, and across the street, a squirrel fumbled cracked nuts between its teeth and climbed up the side of the brick building. Despite the distance, my gaze darted through the dirty windows of the shop. No touristy shirts were inside. Damn.
I tapped my solar-powered watch, realizing it was the first day of a new month, so the charging station would be closed anyways. The screen flashed the date, “Red Moon 01-81T,” with a bright image of Wes on the front. His gray eyes were replicas of mine, just like his long blond hair pulled back in a high bun mirrored mine. That devious smile matched the one I wore, but his skin tone was darker, more like Reese’s.
The clouds shifted overhead, turning darker by the second. Local weather forecasters would be frantic about the drastic change. But, I didn’t care until Wes was by my side again.
Rain splattered my bare shoulders and trickled down my arms as I headed closer to the road and quickly spoke into my watch, faking a casual tone to my voice, “Hey there, sunshine. You awake?”
Reese’s sweet voice was peppered with sarcasm when I heard her comm float from my watch, “I thought you only sent that at one in the morning?”
I kept jogging. At least I knew if Reese was calm, then she didn’t know Wes was missing yet, and I wouldn’t be the one to tell her.
I stopped at a crossroads. One headed straight down the mountain, and the other path led to winding paths, eventually ending at Reeses’s. Which way?
Rain soaked my hair and drenched my workout shorts. Focus. In an instant, the storm mellowed, and the pitter-patter of droplets plunked into the puddle by my shoe. Through thousands of tiny gas molecules, I stared ahead, primarily nitrogen and oxygen with a small amount of argon. Where are you, Wes?
Wind howled, and the storm started rapidly again. That wasn’t me. He might be close. I could feel Wes’s unsteady energy. Afraid. Determined. Proud. Hesitant. Angry. His emotions flickering faster than a lightning bug. Protectiveness whirled, and my tattoo throbbed, urging me to stop restraining my potential to find him. But I hadn’t been training. Magik was too risky to use.
A littered bag plastered to my face, directing me to go down the mountain. I stepped toward Reese’s house, and more trash catapulted into my body. A fast-food cup smacked my ear. After it dropped to the ground, my shoe crunched the cup underfoot, splitting it in half. A projection of straws hurled and stabbed into my cheek like arrows into a target.
“Wesley Isaac Nilson, I know you can see me. Stop throwing trash at me.”
But why couldn’t I see him? Was he truly stronger? No one at Vayu showed my intense. abilities, which is why they relied on me to run the teen training program.
The wind whispered, tickling my ear: You didn’t tell me about the pain.
A chill ran through me from the secrets compacted inside that bluster of wind. What kind of powers did my son possess?
“Wes, come here.” I scanned every tree branch, unable to spot my son. “Wesley, now!”
Then silence. Autumn leaves swirled down into my hair. I pulled one out of my high bun and tossed it to the ground. The energy encompassing me didn’t allow the leaf to hit the trail but kept it dancing by my side, weaving in and out of my knees like a game.
I searched for seconds, minutes, what seemed like an hour, growing more desperate by the moment. Then I felt it again. A presence. Someone nearby. But not Wes’s energy. I turned on my heels. Nothing was there. Just space. Goosebumps prickled my arm. Maybe someone from Draven really did capture him, and this was just a trick. If so, I was running out of time.
My watch vibrated. A still shot of Reese’s smile and dimples covered the screen, but right when I clicked accept, her voice screeched, “I can’t ever rely on you. What did you do? Wes just busted through the door, all scratched up, and looks like he’s been in a wreck. What the Abyss is going on?”
Relief blanketed my soul for just a moment. My chest rose and fell fast as I picked up my pace. “He’s okay, Reese. We just had an argument.”
In my mind, I could see her eyebrows crinkle in that adorable way as she was looking out her window.
My breathing turned heavier with each fast step. The road turned narrower around the cliff’s curves, and I had to watch my footing— so close to the edge. “We went for a run, that’s all.”
“In this weather?”
“Yup. He likes the … uh … wind … But we started talking about his karate class, and he got pissed and raced off.”
She snorted. “He’s faster than you?”
“Apparently.” Panting, I swallowed down saliva. “Reese, I’ll be there in five.”
I picked up my pace, grateful that Wes was safe. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to deal with a threat anytime soon. My feet pounded the wet pavement, splashing through a puddle
Reese’s horses came into view first, all umbrellaed and miserable under a tree. As I rounded the bend, a trail of flapping flags led to a view of my sanctuary. Reese’s cozy, wooden cottage was sandwiched between two windmills. She’d never believe me that the view from her front door wasn’t just trees and mountains, but skyscrapers atop a peak, protected by an invisible shield.
I finally reached the path of stones in her yard, starting from her quaint mailbox, painted all shades of blue, leading to her front door, also painted blue. And I would know because we worked on it together. Wes was a toddler at the time and had knocked over a bucket of paint, and I chuckled at the memory. His baby feet tracked little footprints all over the front patio, and we didn’t have the heart to cover them.
As I stared at the prints of baby toes, faded by the sun, my hand hovered over her door. A calming, weightless sensation floated around me like a scarf dancing in the breeze. A tumbling crash exploded inside, followed by a short shriek. I burst in. Wes was chasing after the cat, who darted away, toppling the chess pieces off the coffee table, knocking over the telescope, and scaling up the toybox.
“Dad, Mrs. Puff is scared of me now.” Tears streaked down his face as he hopped up and down in place in front of the astronomy charts, desperately trying to hug the cat so dear to him. I remembered too well how animals first responded to my power when it was uncontrolled. Nature always knew.
Reese exploded into the room, holding Wes’s meds. “Here, hun, your pill will calm you down.”
“I’m fine.” Wes swatted it to the floor, making the canister roll across the hardwood and land by my shoe.
Reese shot him a look, then one just as deadly to me. “Isaac? Can you please …?”
“He doesn’t need these anymore.” I threw the bottle across the room, and it sank into the trash.
Her jaw dropped. “You’re not a doctor.” Her thick auburn hair fell in waves over the white silk robe with a slit open just high enough to show the black lace hugging her curves.
I bit my lip. “Trust me, babe.”
Her eyes lasered into mine as she sped forward, tugging me into the kitchen. I’d consider that an open invitation any other day, but now wasn’t the time for playing games. Once on the other side of the door, she pushed me against the bay window, her hand pressing against my rain-coated chest. Her fingertips grazed my beard, and the cyclone of passion lining her eyes veered me off-topic. A smile crept up while imagining her body trembling underneath me— always leaving me thirsty for more. But no matter how submissive she was in bed, the hammock, and the shower … she was a fierce momma bear when it came to our Wes.
“What is going on? Tell me right now, or I’ll …” When she paused, her nose scrunched up in that perfect shape. “Don’t you DARE smirk at me like that.” She slapped my hip near my tattoo, sending a jolt of fierce power through my veins, and for a brief moment, all I wanted was to fuck her—hard.
I gulped and rubbed my beard, then let out a deep breath. “Let me talk to him. It’s been a rough day.”
“No shit. He’s acting like a lunatic, and our cat seems to think he’s some alien. Now, tell me what happened.”
“Nothing. Wes is fine. You know, angsty mood swings.”
“I know you have good intentions, but if something like this EVER happens again, I want to go back to court. No more equal custody.” She stepped closer, pointing a finger in my face.
Wind whipped against her windowpanes, making her shudder. “And is it Armageddon or something out there? What is with this bipolar tornado freak out? One second I’m hiding in the bathroom with Mrs. Puff, and the next, the air is as still as a statue, and our son busts through the front door.”
I crossed my arms and leaned against her counter. “Is that a hypothetical question, or would you like me to educate you about weather patterns?”
She threw a dishtowel at my chest. “Don’t be a smart ass.” A smile poked at the corner of her lip, giving me the invitation, I was waiting for.
Stalking forward, I hovered so close that her intoxicating honey scent momentarily distracted me from all the other thoughts spiraling out of control. Just one kiss. Her pouty lips hovered under mine, sucking all the air from my lungs. Reese rubbed my earlobe, then ran a long fingernail slowly down the side of my neck like the edge of a dagger.
Her hands found my chest. “You haven’t come over in weeks.” It was a dare.
“Dad!” Wes hollered from the living room.
Reese pushed me away. “Go put on a shirt. I have an extra for you in my bottom drawer.”
I winked. “Waiting for me to move in, huh?”
“Shut up. Don’t even get me started on that. I have still never seen your place.” She left to console a weeping Wes.
A kettle whistled, sending steam rising. I passed my hand through the heat, collecting the power and harboring it for later. Would Wes also be able to manipulate steam the same way? I had researched for years to find answers as to why I matured at age twelve and eventually gave up since there hadn’t been enough information recorded in our Vayu database to reach a conclusion. I need more answers. I grabbed a pen from Reese’s counter and scribbled a list:
- Where can I find other
- Do all hybrids have powers?
- Are any hybrids stronger than their Mystier parent?
- Are they all hidden in their dome, or do some live with their Ordull parent?
I cringed from the static distraction humming in my mind. Peeking up, I saw the television was on, just muted. No wonder. It flashed a news story that read about an increase in earthquakes. An interviewer held a microphone up to a brunette girl with streaks of red in her hair that matched her red crop top. She stood in front of a car, and the ribbon on the bottom of the screen read:
Kyra Kozelski fell into a crack caused by an earthquake after performing at local pub.
“Okay, bud, I’m coming.” I turned off the death machine. That tv had the same toxic energy as all the other electronics in the house. Once it was off, I my mind cleared, and my powers strengthen. Taking a quick moment to make the day easier, I also unplugged the toaster, microwave, and coffee machine, breathing an immediate sigh of relief. As I swung the door open into the living room, Wes’s little body smacked into mine in a full embrace.
“Why does my cat hate me now?” He buried his head into my stomach as I rubbed his back.
“Can we have a minute to chat alone?” I asked Reese.
“Wes, hun, what do you want?” She glanced at our boy.
“It’s okay, mom, this is man stuff.” He sniffed and rubbed his eyes.
She eyed me carefully again before we retreated down the hallway. Watching her form had me wishing it was already past Wes’s bedtime. I’d have to come back tonight.
“Dad? Why didn’t you tell me the tattoo would hurt?” He sat on the edge of the couch, but it was so old the cushions absorbed half his body.
I kneeled in front of him and pushed the blond, rain-soaked hair from his eyes. “I’m sorry, bud. We can talk about everything, but not in front of your mom.”
“It hurt so bad.” He lifted his shirt a little and showed me his Mobius loop tattoo, gray and white like mine and in a similar spot, diagonally below his belly button, close to his hip bone.
I peeked behind me to make sure Reese hadn’t seen and rolled his shirt back down, then whispered, “I know, bud. I should’ve told you. But it won’t happen again.”
His shoulders softened as he slouched further into the couch. “Are you sure? There’s no way I’ll get another one, right? Don’t lie to me again.”
“Well, there’s one way, but we don’t need to talk about that yet. You’re too young.”
He sat straight; his eyebrows knit tight. “You told me I wouldn’t get Magik until around when I’d be driving.”
I smiled. “I guess I need to teach you to drive. Think you can reach the pedal?”
He huffed. “This isn’t funny, Dad. I even disappeared.”
My heart stopped, and my body froze in place, unsure what to say next when a thousand questions ran through my mind. “What?”
Wes nodded. “You told me all about wind control and weather and stuff and the great eyesight. I mean … when I was running around, I could see super far away, like a superhero. But you never told me I could disappear.”
I brought him in close and hugged him to my chest, terrified of what it could mean but so glad he’d have an advantage.
“Ew, Dad, you’re all wet.” He pushed away.
“Tell me exactly what happened when you said you disappeared,” I whispered while Mrs. Puff sniffed the air and tentatively snuck closer.
Wes held out his hand and flipped it over slowly, inspecting his tanned skin while speaking. “In the forest, when I looked down, my body wasn’t there.”
“Okay … Um, did it hurt?”
“The tattoo or the disappearing?”
I held his hand. “I know the tattoo hurt, and that was probably scary. But, when you disappeared, what did it feel like?”
He smiled. “Like everything made sense in the world, and I was free-floating.”
I knew that feeling. I leaned back and studied him, whispering to myself, “Where can I find answers?”
“What did you say, Dad?”
“Nothing, bud. I’ll figure it out …” I rubbed his messy hair. “Now, remember, you can’t tell Mom, and from now on, she can’t see your stomach. It looks like your swimsuit will cover it, so you should be okay at the pool.”
He saluted me. “Yes, sir.” His boyish grin turned devilish before he skipped away.
At least he had his energetic spirit back, but I needed to learn the answers to why he matured so early and if this had happened to anyone else. The old wooden clock chirped at nine am, warning me that I didn’t have much time.
The breeze shifted, making the windchimes outside strike a faster chord. After a quick glimpse out the window, a small silhouette stood far off in the distance, leaning against an Evergreen. Reese didn’t have any neighbors. Who was out there? My heart rate quickened, and a jittery sensation crept up my legs. What did they want?
Without taking my eyes off the person, I prowled back to the yard and crossed my arms—claiming what was mine. That should send a clear signal. The guy didn’t move an inch but whistled a high pitch call. A brown Labrador dashed out from behind a tree and ran straight toward me, ears flopping and tongue hanging out the side. What on earth? Its paws thundered over the dirt road, casting up a cloud of dust. Once it was a few paces away, the dog stopped and lay down. It carried a little backpack vest wrapped around its brown torso. A piece of paper flapped out the top pocket. I glanced at the silhouette, and he waved.
The pup whined, so I grabbed the paper and unrolled it to read:
I heard you’re the Library Keeper of Vayu.
I need access and am willing to make a trade.
It’s about The Link.
Jadox Griffin, from Draven
My shoulders tensed, and a tornado of leaves swirled at my feet. Fear coursed through my gut, and I glanced through Reese’s window to the sight of Wes jumping on the couch with a smile on his face. Everything could be taken away if two Mystiers linked. I couldn’t let this happen again. History couldn’t repeat itself. Ordulls would try to eliminate Mystiers— again.
I’d have to check security measurements around our library, the beating heart of our city, but first, get this man as far away from Wes as possible. I rubbed my beard, trying to calm my racing nerves, but that didn’t work. I released the energy I had captured from the steam earlier and let it stream through my veins.
“Dad!” Wes ran out the back door, through the swarm of tiny mosquitoes, and straight into my arms. “Mom said we can go parasailing next weekend, and she said you can come too. You’ll come, right?”
I crouched down to his level and glanced around his slender body at the mystery man still standing against the tree, waiting. “No, bud. I just got an important work … conference … and need to stay at the library for a while.”
His smile disappeared. “But we can start …” he leaned in and cupped his hand to his mouth, whispering, “… start training my Magik, right?”
“Soon.” I kissed his forehead and tied it to hide my shaking hands. “But keep it our secret.”
He mimed, zipping his mouth shut, gave me a thumbs-up, and ran inside. While he ran, his body flickered in and out of view, disappearing completely then reappearing.
Shit! I can’t leave him. But, if I don’t, he might not have a future. Or any of us.
A breeze fluttered over my face, giving me strength. I stepped toward Jadox.
I know what I need to do.