Trees swept by Devin as he ran. Their gangly tendrils grasped at his clothes, tearing scratches at his skin. He almost welcomed it. The ache to have physical contact with something, anything, burned as a residual longing deep inside of him, but that was what the men wanted. They knew his touch would kill, and he would not fall to that level.
It hurt, knowing he had to always stay away, but he refused to care. No one gave a crap about him anyway. The abuse and torture from Lament and his crew proved that was true, but they would not break him.
He would not become their weapon. They could go to hell.
The sound of footsteps moved behind him, and he quickened his pace, scrambling as best he could through the darkened branches. Sweat broke across his brow, and his lungs heaved for air. Even in the cool, night breeze, the gray tee shirt he wore clung to his chest, hot and damp. It had seemed like hours since he had broken free of Lament’s hell-hole prison of a lab, and he had no idea where he was headed. All he knew was that he had to run. He couldn’t live like that. He would not become a monster.
If only he could find a way to blend in and hide amongst the canopy of darkness, perhaps the idiots would pass him by unseen. Maybe he could be free.
He couldn’t go back. He would rather die.
The crack of a broken branch sounded beside him. Before he could react, the bastard had a fistful of his hair. How’d he sneak up on him? He didn’t even see him. The man kicked Devin’s legs out from under him, and his cheek hit the damp ground with a rousing sting to his temple.
A boot landed beside him.
“You are a lot of trouble, boy.”
Devin spat a mouthful of dirt, freeing his lips. “Screw you.”
The steel-toed edge of the man’s boot hit his ribs, and he rolled to the side with a groan, clutching his chest, as white-hot shots of pain crippled him. Other men had approached—Devin’s guess, three. He couldn’t look. It hurt too much. He leaned his forehead down against the mucky mix of pine needles and rain soaked leaves covering the ground, praying they would just leave him alone. He didn’t want this. He’d been so close.
“Bind him up and bring him back to the lab. Lament is going to be pissed,” Rib Impaler said.
“What’s he want with the kid anyway?” another man asked.
Rib Impaler didn’t answer, but Devin heard the steps of the others moving around him, coming closer. Panic rose in his chest. He wanted to lift his head, to warn them to stay away, but everything in his body ached with the memory of Rib Impaler’s metal boot tip. They couldn’t touch him. Didn’t Lament tell them that?
Even now, crumpled up on the forest floor, he could feel the hot searing heat starting to rise on instinct, just under the surface of his skin. Scrambling despite the pain, he tried to get away, but Rib Impaler reminded him that he still had a chunk of his hair. With a swift tug, he yanked Devin to his feet and then tossed him toward the others. Devin stumbled forward and fell to his knees.
“Stay away from me or you’re going to die,” he said, his voice raspy and choked. He wouldn’t look at them. “I don’t want to kill you.”
He had no control over the energy that burned and consumed on contact. Why didn’t they know this? They worked for the bastard.
The men chuckled, as if he were joking. It made him furious.
“What, are you idiots?” He managed to say through his swollen lungs. “I’m serious. Why won’t you listen to me? Touch me, and you’re going to die. It’s not a choice.” Devin coughed and wheezed, the exertion on his bruised chest killing him. The sweat from running had cooled on his body, plastering his hair to his scalp, which itched, muddy with dirt. “Please, just listen to me,” he begged with a groan. It was all he had left in him.
One of the men stepped forward, and Devin began to shake, his stomach clamping up, as he gritted his teeth, his body tensing into a rock. Time swirled into a dizzying sense of slow motion. He wanted to move, to run, but he couldn’t. He stared at one of the man’s hand as it extended toward him and encircled the bare skin of his wrist. Devin tried to scream, and maybe he did, but all he saw was the horrific, dull glow erupted just under where the man had touched.
Oh God, please, no.
The man’s eyes went wide as his lungs cried for air. His arm erupted into flame. Crackling, the fire licked its way up over the man’s flesh. Devin didn’t want to look. He squeezed his eyes tight as the man’s screams broke across the forest, but ultimately he could not look away. The man’s chest broke and his ribs collapsed, a small trail of blood trickling down his lips. Smoke billowed from his nose and mouth with the putrid scent of cooked flesh that made Devin want to hurl. The man convulsed twice as he burned from the inside out, doubled over, and then fell to the ground, dead.