Prologue: part 1

Her feet pounded the pavement. No matter how hard they hit, she hardly heard it. Voices buzzed around her skull—too many, too shrill—intertwining into a meaningless jumble with her own thoughts.

Can’t stop can’t stop. Can’t stop running, can’t breathe, can’t stop running, not gonna make it–

A shot rang out, silencing everything.

Pain exploded in her arm. Burning, black scales, white-hot fire storming through her veins like angry soldiers, intent on killing. No, didn’t mean to. He couldn’t have meant to.

She couldn’t breathe.

He’d bitten her.

Jax’s black mamba scales glittered in the light, washed in a crimson too red to be blood. It glowed like fire, fire and char mingling together, writhing in pain in a pool of too red light.

She was dying. Pain, fire, too intense, blood that glowed like fire, blood full of venom-soldiers racing through her veins, marching on her heart with every beat beat beat, intent to kill. If it made it to her heart…

There was too much pain in her heart already. Too much char in the red, red ruin. No longer writhing, ashes fallen still. Only the red still sickeningly alive, glowing in a mockery of life, red light glinting off too glassy eyes. Eyes that were no longer there.

Everything was wrong. Everything was so very, very wrong.

Flames ate the darkness. Burning in her veins turned to burning on the ground, fire-pain spilling out of her, falling to the ashes in hot, hot tears. Sparks blossomed where they fell, a fire to carry away the memory, a fire to transform her pain from killing blood-beats to steady drum beats, a dancer’s last goodbye.

He was dead, and she was alive.

She didn’t feel alive, watching the flame eat away at him. A fire too hot, and not hot enough. Never hot enough to make him warm again, no matter how brightly he burned. Never hot enough to burn away the tears that kept falling, kept falling in little molten drops to steam against the lifeless char of scales. Fire licked at her arm, but she didn’t care. It didn’t hurt anymore and she just couldn’t care. If the fire took him away, it could take everything away, arm and blood and scales and everything. Searing heat sucked away her breath, but she couldn’t care.

He would never breathe again.

Marie bolted upright, suffocating on renewed grief.

She struggled against the arms that held her, still trapped in the nightmarish memory. Arms holding her back from Jax, back from his body, back from his pyre.

The arms that held her were dark against her own paleness. They were cast in an eerie glow where small streaks of fire lit her bare skin. That same fire barely illuminated the room around her – not a run down alley, but a dresser, shelves, pillows – their bedroom.

Sound filtered into her awareness, pulling her further from the dream, calling her home to the here and now.

“Marie – Marie, love, it’s okay… You’re home and safe and it’s okay.”

Nat.

Marie flung herself back against Nat, burrowing down into the hold she’d been trying so hard to escape. Fresh sobs overtook her and Nat wrapped herself around her, one hand tangling in her hair. The other smoothed along Marie’s arm, snuffing out the trails of fire with the dark palm of her hand. She rocked her little love, singing nothing-words to the tune of a half-remembered song. Not too loud, mustn’t wake the others. If they heard singing in the night, they might remember…

Eventually, Marie caved under her exhaustion, collapsing into a dark, dreamless sleep.

Next: Prologue 2