Flames is book two in the 'Children of Calox' series, and the sequel to Wings.
---- Copyright © 2014 Danielle Paige. All rights reserved.


1. Prologue


The woman had watched as she was left very much alone. Everyone seemed to go their separate ways, departing with no warm smiles or last words. She’d barely even crossed their minds as they’d decided on their own life paths, making decisions that would surely change the future of everyone. Her pale, trembling fingers reached up and slowly stroked the scar that sliced through her left eyebrow. It was rough to the touch, evident that blood had dried there. She licked her finger but her mouth had run dry. There was no water and no food – only the sandy earth and the afternoon sun. No one was around to help her.
   Her name was Eva. She was the sister of the one of the most ruthless women in the world, and previously worked for an organisation called Calox, who were responsible for a recently deceased group of human-animal hybrids. She glanced around her. Young, fragile bodies littered the ground. Many had been brutally disfigured by their opponents: strong, black machines with piercing blue eyes and robotic voices. They had no blood to spill when the fight began. Instead, wires were cut and microchips were broken – bringing an end to their violent rampage.
   Not all of the hybrids had died. She’d survived the battle too, along with her traitor of a sister: Elise, who went by the name of Fox. If it wasn’t for her, the machines would never have come and the hybrids around her would still be breathing. Eva smiled at the memory of them all. Once, she had hated them. She’d wanted them to become emotionless killers who were obedient to Calox. Now her allegiance had been changed. She wanted to bring down Justice – the company responsible for the machines all around her.
   A light breeze dashed around her shoulders, covering her face in brown strands of hair. Her hair was once silky and well cared for, now windswept and growing unevenly. Her dirty, calloused hands went to the waistband of her khaki trousers and took the weapon that was concealed there. Shaking, she ran her fingers along the lukewarm metal, pressing a small disk that made the magazine fall into her other hand. She fumbled with it desperately, in a mad attempt to find out how much ammunition remained. Only one lone bullet was left.
   A slight smile played at the edge of her lips as she raised the gun, pressing it against her temple. Her fingers stroked the trigger affectionately. It would be so easy to end it now. She was alone, with no family to run to – except Fox. Fox was still out there somewhere. Her smile grew with that thought and she got to her feet, unsteadily swaying back and forth. She took the gun from her head, laughing quietly as she hid it in her waistband once again, and ran off in pursuit of her betraying sister.
   Her feet were aching with every step she took but it was worth it. She was getting closer and closer to Fox, who had fled into the woods when the hybrids learned of her treachery. Eva could see it now in her memory. Fox’s small device summoned Justice, revealing the location of nothing more than innocent teenagers – the hybrid products of her previous employer’s cruel experiments. Her sister had been responsible for the ones lying dead around her; she wanted to make sure that she paid for the blood on her hands.
   She found the dirt track easily. It resumed suddenly along the edge of the forest, marked by the outlines of shoes that had once walked there. She studied them carefully for a moment, widening her eyes at the sight of the size seven military boot prints that had left deep ridges in the dust. She set off in the direction that they led, pushing herself through the trees with no regard for the thorns that became embedded in her flesh. They left imprints in the mud ahead of her, leading a clear path through the thick wood. Eva’s face twisted into a determined smile as she continued to run. Oxygen tore through her throat, filling her lungs and pushing her into her next step.
   She was tempted to shout, scream even, after her sister, but she knew it would do no good. Instead, she remained quiet, slowing her speed down to a steady walk. Her footfall became gentle against the damp ground; the delicate silence filled her ears once more. The path became winding and hard to follow as the ground hardened. The trees there were taller, drawing the moisture from the earth. She continued to creep forward, her eyes wide and focused as she scanned her surroundings, searching for any evidence of Fox’s presence.
   Suddenly, a branch snapped. Eva dropped low to the ground like a feral animal, crouching viciously to determine the cause of the sound. Her eyes roamed over the surface of the ground, peering under tangles of bracken and wilting leaves. Another branch broke. It crunched loudly, making her jump. She locked on to the source of the noise and scurried across the ground to find out if it was Fox. Standing straight, she pinned herself against a tree trunk and nervously glanced over her shoulder at the culprit. It was long and lean, with a thick tail tipped with white fur. It certainly wasn’t her sister, but it was a real fox. She exhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, she wanted to scream, but bony fingers clamped over her mouth.
   “Hello again, sis,” Fox spat, “I told you to join me but you wouldn’t. Calox really did train you well, Eva, faithful to the very end.”
   “Elise,” Eva began.
   “I am not Elise,” Fox growled, “Elise is dead! How many times do I have to tell you?”
Eva shook her head in disbelief as she fumbled with her waistband. Fox didn’t notice. Instead, she was making a small speech, to which Eva was barely listening.
   “I am the only adult to have ever survived the DNA bonding process. I succeeded where Calox failed! Do you still love that pathetic Leader? Do you still think that he will win? Justice is so much stronger than you will ever believe, and one day, they’ll crush Calox like a bug.” Fox snarled at her triumphantly.
   “Maybe Calox will fall,” Eva said with a shrug, “I couldn’t care any less, Elise, and before you tell me she died – she didn’t. However, she is about to.”
There was a single gunshot before Fox crumpled, clutching her stomach where Eva had been pointing the pistol. Eva closed her eyes as her sister died at her feet, bleeding out into the forest floor. She wanted to cry, to grieve, if just for a moment. She couldn’t. There was no remorse for her actions, and no tears ready to spill from her eyes. She felt cold and empty. She took a second to study the corpse lying in front of her, seeing the shocked expression that would remain frozen on her face forever. Satisfied, she stepped over the body and began to retrace her steps through the forest. She didn’t know where she was going, or why she was going there, but she didn’t want to stop walking until she arrived. 

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