I fall to the ground, hard. My breath frosts in the air, and I feel the skin of my palms tear as they slide across the broken concrete of the warehouse floor. The pain fades to a dull throb, blood slowly beading against my skin. I cough out a breath and push myself up, laboring to my feet. A table on the far end of the room wobbles, and then starts to rise into the air.
“Look,” I say, holding out a dirt-stained hand while trying to catch my breath. “You’re kind of over-reacting here.”
The table hovers for a moment before lurching toward me. I quickly dodge to the side, the breeze whipping my hair into my eyes.
“I just want to talk,” I say, tone calm as I try to assess the situation. Light from surrounding buildings seeps into the warehouse, slightly illuminating parts of the interior, but it’s pitch black where I am standing. I can’t see the table anymore but can still sense the lingering touch of the ghost who threw it.
“I know you’re mad. That’s understandable. No one likes being murdered. But you’ve got to calm down.”
The table comes whistling out of the darkness, and I dive to the floor and knock the breath from my lungs. The table’s trajectory changes, cutting sharply towards the ground. I roll to the side with a pained gasp, and the table shatters on the ground next to me. I can feel splinters scattering against my back. A second later, one of the legs hits me in the head.
“Okay, fine,” I shout, pushing myself up and brushing tangled strands of hair from my face. “If that’s how you want to play, that’s how we’ll play.”
I take a deep breath, ribs protesting, and close my eyes. I reach out, stretching, and the warehouse snaps into view behind my eyelids. The world is lit in blue-white light, psychic energy outlining everything in slowly moving rivers of untapped power. Hovering in the center of the warehouse, only visible in the soft blue glow of Second-Sight, is a young girl. She’s just a kid, no older than seventeen, her body thin and coltish. Her hair is dark, hanging in clumps around her head, her eyes shadowed hollows in her baby-round face. Her dress is torn and blood-stained, the wet fabric clinging to her legs. Hands clenched tightly, she stares at me with open hostility. There’s an energy to her here that was missing in the morgue. This is all that’s left of her now, this transparent facsimile of life, filled with rage and sorrow. Her mouth opens, breath poised on her lips.
I don’t want to talk. I want you to leave.
Her voice rings in my head, full of anger and pain. She takes a phantom step forward, and another piece of rubble on the floor lifts.
I get it, I Send, the words echoing within my mind. What happened to you is awful, but I’m here to help.
I don’t need help, she spits back, fists still clenched. I need you to go away! I need him to pay for this, for all this!
Her hair starts to whip about her face, her gray eyes darkening, black seeping in like spilled ink in water. Rubble whistles through the air and crashes into the wall behind me as more starts to lift from the ground. The air fills with floating pieces of concrete, wood, and metal, all pointed in my direction. I quickly throw up a shield. It flows from my body, expanding into a shimmering hemisphere of light that encircles me. The first chunk of debris that hits it sends me stumbling back, the shield scraping against the ground as I try to absorb the impact. It holds. Barely.
Tell me who did this to you, and I can make him pay, I say.
There’s a jarring crash as concrete slams into the shield. It flickers around me, and then falls away for a brief second before I pull it back up around myself, teeth gritted.
I don’t know who he was, she says, stalking toward me. Another piece of rubble pounds against the shield, and I’m pushed back, my feet sliding on the floor.
Priya, a little help would be nice, I think, casting out to my partner. She pops into view by my side, bright blue and translucent, and quickly bolsters my power. The shield glows brighter for a moment, a quick flare of energy as Priya adds her strength to mine. Her expression is determined, her mouth pressed into a tight line as she inspects the ghost in front of us, her dark hair sleek and pulled back from her face.
Kim, I don’t know that I can help here, she says, looking between the girl and the pieces of concrete that fill the air. She doesn’t seem to want outside help at the moment.
I get that, I say harshly, gathering my power, but I can’t keep the shield up and get her to stop.
I can maintain it, but not for very long. Be quick.
I nod, pulling in the psychic energy that swirls around me until it’s a writhing pool in my stomach. It fights for freedom, but I keep a tight leash on the white-hot reservoir of power, waiting.
He found me in the night, she says. He followed me.
More rubble starts slamming into the shield, piece after piece breaking apart on the glowing sphere around us. I see Priya wince.
On my go, I say, drop it. Priya nods, and I raise my hands.
He grabbed me from behind.
The attack is a steady torrent now, no breaks between each hit. A whirlwind starts to pick up around the girl, whipping dust and gravel into the air. Her eyes are fully black now, and whatever human reason she had left is gone, lost in a wash of anger and frustration. I ready myself, pulling more energy into my body until I can feel it racing over my skin in tiny, stinging sparks. Power races through my blood, ready.
Priya, I say, widening my stance.
He wrapped his hands around my neck until I couldn’t breathe, and then he—
The shield drops. The wind pushes against me, and my feet start to slide on the broken ground. The gravel bites into my skin, leaving shallow cuts that bleed down my face and neck. I duck as a large block of concrete whistles by my head. I feel the coiled power in my gut spring forward.
It slams into the girl, wrapping around her like a sheet of blue-white light. Everything is cast in sudden, stark detail, the flash of light blinding in the darkness. There are bruises around her throat, and her eyes are black and bleeding. She screams silently, and I hear a window shatter somewhere in the distance. She struggles against my hold and sweat starts to break out all over my skin, stinging in open cuts. I grit my teeth and press forward.
One by one, the floating debris in the warehouse starts to fall. The sound of rubble hitting the floor fills the warehouse, echoing in a cacophony as the girl screams again. She falls to the ground, weeping, and I loosen my hold until the light disappears, leaving just a faint glow around her wrists.
I close the distance between us, hesitant. My eyes are open, but I use Second-Sight to find my way toward her. Everything is a dizzying blur of both the physical and psychic world for a brief moment, and then I fall into the familiar half-sight. In the twilight between Second Sight and normal vision, the girl glows, her head bent so low that her hair nearly touches the floor. I kneel down beside her, though she floats a few inches above the ground, and wait.
Why me? She sobs, her hands resting in her lap, the blue-white light of the binding still circling her wrists.
I don’t know. But if you help me, there won’t be anyone else out there asking the same question.
She raises her head, her now gray eyes locking with mine.
You’ll get him?
I nod, and she sighs, wiping at her face.
Let me go. Her voice is quiet, but steady. I’ll help you, I promise.
I drop my hold on her and then have to struggle for a moment to stay upright. I’m drained but not done. I raise my hand toward her, palm up. She reaches back, her own hand translucent, and touches my skin with ice-cold fingers.
The Sending is like a punch in the gut. My head is suddenly filled with sights and thoughts that aren’t mine. There’s a dark figure, a heavy sense of fear. I feel hands biting into my neck, feel skin giving way beneath my nails. I smell blood and sweat, whiskey heavy on a shuddering breath. I catch a glimpse of a face, just for a moment, and then it all sinks into blackness.
“Emma,” I gasp, unable to keep focus enough to Send it. The building flickers around me, blinking in and out of Second-Sight in a flashing haze. I dig my nails into the palms of my hands, the pain giving me something to distract myself from the sudden urge to vomit. I struggle back into Second-Sight, the semi-transparent web of psychic energy slowly materializing in a soft glow around me. The girl stares challengingly back at me.
Your name is Emma.
This has been a preview of Chapter 1 for Burner, the first novel in the Affinity Series from J.S. Lenore. Interested in reading more? Join our mailing list to receive a PDF download of the entire first chapter, plus you will receive updates for the release of the book in Spring of 2017.
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