For those of you who have read the first book, this scene takes place right before Chapter 1. Who knows, after a little work, it might be the new first scene. We'll see.
It was better, Baeou knew from years of experience, to stay hidden in the worst part of the fire until he knew the building was clear. If he tried to leave with the rest of the people evacuating, someone was bound to point fingers. It was impossible to keep secret the fact that he was a Blaze. His burnt red hair and dark, ruddy skin gave him away instantly. It didn’t help that he couldn’t do a thing to control his powers. If he rubbed his fingers together too hard, he was likely to burn someone. And sneezes…oh, tides. When he was a kid, people told him to sneeze into the crook of his arm. It was polite or something. That’s how everyone else did it. But all it meant for Baeou was that none of his shirts had lefts arms. He always burnt them right up. He’d walk around with a black, singed sleeve on one arm and people looked at him weird. People were always looking at him weird.
Now, for the second time in as many months, he was going to lose his job. It wasn’t fair. No one else he knew ever accidentally set buildings on fire.
He sat with his knees pulled up against his chest in the corner of the room. The desk in the middle of the room was fully engulfed now, the flames leaving nothing to be seen. Smoke floated like angry clouds over his head. Everyone else in the building had left in a hurry, but even in the chaos of the roaring fire, Baeou found comfort. He never meant to do things like this, but even when he did, he took the time to watch the tongues of fire dance. He liked them; he couldn’t help it. The man who had been shouting curses at him from the hallways was long gone. Baeou closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Even the smell of the fire was nice.
“You like it, too?”
Baeou started, looking around the room for the source of the voice. He saw no one. “Yes,” he replied cautiously. He blinked, the smoke stinging his eyes slightly. When he opened his eyes again, he saw a figure sitting, just as Baeou was, against the far wall. He couldn’t see any details because of the heat, but he could see the stranger resting his head against the wall, his knees pulled up under his knees.
He saw the stranger’s chest rise with a deep breath. “Being surrounded by fire is kind of like going home.”
Baeou relaxed, almost instinctively. “Yeah,” he replied, leaning his head back too.
“That’s weird for me,” the stranger continued. “I’ve never been away from here. I don’t even know what our home looks like.”
Baeou closed his eyes. “It’s the most comfortable place, warm and safe.” He paused, doing his best to remember what it looked like. He’d been a small child last time he was there. He found it harder than ever to picture it. “It’s been a long time for me,” he finished.
“Maybe someday we should go back. You can show me around.”
“You’ve never been?” Baeou asked.
“Never. I’ve only heard stories.”
“Did you grow up here, then? In Cytee?”
“Cytee?” the stranger asked, lifting his head. “That’s not where we are.”
Baeou looked back to the place where his desk had once been, where now there was only a roaring fire. He’d been in this office a dozen times. He knew exactly where he was. “Yes we are.”
“Well, maybe. I’m not exactly sure where we are. But we’re together, yeah? You and me?”
Baeou remembered, with a startling jerk, that he had no idea with whom he was speaking. “I’m sorry…did you say who you were? Your name?”
He chuckled. “You know my name, Baeou.”
The flames leapt up in a new fury, something popping so loud within the fire that Baeou jumped, pushing himself against the wall. The heat was closer. He needed to leave soon, before the firefighters arrived and found him there.
He squinted, looking back through the fire to the opposite wall. The stranger was gone.
He pulled himself to his knees and shuffled toward the door. Nathaniel would be waiting for him, and he didn’t need to stick around and find his boss to know that he wasn’t going to have a job to return to tomorrow.