Worker by day, volunteer at night. This is pretty much fifteen-year-old Arctic’s life. Except he’s far from ordinary, and the print shop he works at is just a cover, a safe base for Metas—people with supernatural abilities.
But when Metas start disappearing one by one, his trail of clues leads him into a web of danger. Trapped between the secrets of a hidden world and his turbulent past, he becomes the target of a treacherous hunt.
And that’s just the beginning.
His encounter with a mysterious girl makes him question everything he’s ever believed in. Together, with her as his only ally, he must risk it all to unearth the truth.
Even worse, his own forgotten past is coming back to haunt him.
Who is kidnapping the Metas? Why? And who are the Chosen Legends, with the strange marks on the back of their hands?
To find the answers, he may have to seek the same people hunting him down.
Before time runs out.
Sebastian sat back in the cold, metallic chair while waiting patiently for the attendants to strap his wrists. He was no stranger to the sterile lab room with the white and blue tiles, the techs in their bright white coats, and the steady beeping of the monitors.
They said the restraints were for his own good, their calculating eyes appraising him like a bug under a microscope. After all, visions of the present and the future brought only confusion and distortion of reality, and he might lash out.
But for him, these visions were the only moments when his mind wouldn’t register the constant pain coursing through his body—the only moments of relief and relaxation. The only time he felt free. As a lab rat, he had spent his entire life within the compound’s walls. The visions were his only form of escape. His hands trembled with anticipation.
Something about the atmosphere felt different this time. The attendants’ movements were more methodical than usual. Orderly, precise, and fearful.
Eyes closed, he barely registered their words of caution. Are you ready? We’ll begin now…inject you… As if he had a choice not to go through this. As if they were concerned about him. Finally, he felt a sharp sting on his arm and heard their footsteps fade away.
Holding his breath, Sebastian braced himself. Panic rose in his chest as he instinctively pulled on the restraints. It was no use, so he willed himself to remain calm. His hands gripped the chair’s arms, his knuckles turning white. The wave of blinding pain knocked the wind out of him. It felt like his body was in a twister, churning and spinning out of control.
Then the pain receded. Behind his eyelids, a pinpoint of light appeared. It grew bigger and brighter, making him flinch.
Slowly, he pried his eyes open and squinted. The fog cleared from his vision, and he glanced around, searching for clues as to where and when he’d landed.
A deserted road lay before him, fields and fences flanking either side. The dawning sun peeked from behind a hazy set of buildings on the horizon. Cradix, Sebastian reckoned. So, he must be standing on the road connecting Cradix to Golden Birch.
Not that he’d ever been anywhere close.
Focus, Sebastian. Time was ticking. He was on a mission, and the visions didn’t last long.
A faint acrid smell wafted in the air, although nothing nearby seemed to be on fire. The smell seemed to emanate from a dark lump on the side of the road. It was a hooded figure leaning over a young girl with dark complexion and indigo streaks in her hair. Blackened spots covered her pants and shirt, and a few burned holes punctured them. The boy was holding the girl’s hand. Then his fingers moved to her neck to check her pulse while he muttered to himself.
Sounds were always muffled in visions, so even if Sebastian had been closer, he’d never make out the words. Still, curious, he shifted, and his line of sight caught on the girl’s hand.
The mark. She was a Chosen one. Found you.
But was he in the present or the future? Being stranded on this deserted road didn’t give him any clues. Did it matter? He’d located the girl and completed his mission. He drew a long breath. Time to go back.
Suddenly, the boy’s hood was pulled back, and the dawning sun cast silvery dapples on his white hair. As if sensing his presence, the boy turned to face him. His eyes swept the road, searching.
Sebastian froze, staring at those pale blue eyes. Only one boy he knew had disheveled white hair and watery eyes like the sky. Jason, the boy who had been his only friend, seven—or was it eight?—years ago. Jason, who had helped him to bear the excruciating pain he’d been subjected to.
The pain was still there. Sebastian had learned to close his mind to it. He took a step forward, but a tug on his chest stopped him short. Gritting his teeth, he took another step. The pull grew tighter.
I need more time!
But no one heard his screams. The end of the visions had never been his choice. He’d be yanked back to the compound, no matter how hard he resisted, and the pain afterward would be nearly unbearable. So, left with no choice, he closed his eyes and let go. The bright light dimmed until all he could see behind his eyelids was the pinpoint of light.
The familiar sound forced a chill down Sebastian’s spine, wrenching him back to his senses. His eyelids fluttered.
Bile caught in his throat, and he instinctively struggled against the restraints. Fighting was useless. Lying, too. He took an unsteady breath. No matter how hard he had tried, his tormentor upended him. Resigned, Sebastian slowly opened his eyes.
Rimes stopped pacing the room and lumbered toward him. Cl-op. Cl-op. The cold, hazel eyes bore into Sebastian, eager and demanding. They also held a hint of suspicion, Sebastian thought. He forced himself to relax.
“You found the girl.” It was more of a statement than a question. Sebastian nodded, keeping his face composed.
Rimes sat beside him and rubbed at the metallic outer sleeve around his prosthetic leg. Attached to the silicone liner was the socket. A few bloody streaks coated the area, but Rimes seemed oblivious to the tear. His eyes were distant, and he seemed lost in his thoughts. Is he even human?
Rimes’ head suddenly whipped toward Sebastian, startling him. The red rings around his irises were both mesmerizing and repulsive.
“Are you sure it was the same girl?” Rimes asked.
“Y–yes. Indigo streaks in her hair, dark skin. She had a mark on the back of her hand. What happened at her house? I smelled…smoke.”
“Where is she now?”
“Lying unconscious on a deserted road. Her clothes were tattered and—”
“So she survived after all. She’s strong, that’s for sure. A rightly Chosen one. Did you pinpoint the location?”
“I could only see fields and fences, maybe a farm in the distance. Nothing specific,” he added in an even tone.
Rimes’ thick eyebrows furrowed deeper. “Must be the road between Cradix and Golden Birch,” he said, rubbing his chin. “Was she alone?”
There was no point in lying, so Sebastian said, “There was a boy with her. He was trying to revive her. A passerby, more likely. No one related to her.”
To his relief, Rimes waved a dismissive hand. “I’ll send scouts to Cradix and Golden Birch and patrols to the connecting road. I take it you couldn’t tell when the vision was taking place?” Sebastian shook his head. Rimes continued, “If you smelled smoke, it’s either in the present or the near future. Then let’s assume it’s happening now. I need that girl on our side.”
If you keep destroying their homes and lives, how can they be on your side? Then Sebastian thought about his own circumstances. Torn from his home, abandoned by his siblings, and at the mercy of this madman. Would the girl’s fate be like his if she were caught?
“Throughout history,” Rimes said, oblivious, “we’ve only had three Chosen Legends. And now what? Four? Five?”
“With the girl on our side, that would make three under our control.”
As expected, Rimes’ eyes brightened. Sebastian hated to be a yes-man, but Rimes didn’t like disagreement from people around him.
“Yes,” Rimes said, “three is more than enough. What about the other two in Golden Birch? Anything definitive?” He whipped his head again toward Sebastian, who didn’t flinch but stared back at the red glow in his eyes. He shook his head.
“You’ve done well,” Rimes said, tapping his shoulder as if congratulating him. “Our best tracker and the best addition to our network. Well done.”
Sebastian thought of his broken body, the pain slithering back in each joint and muscle, and the torture he’d had to bear. His body had barely survived the Extraction, while his mind had emerged more powerful than ever.
He watched silently as Rimes loosened the straps on his wrists. The skin was flushed, as if he’d been straining and thrashing while immersed in the vision.
Cl-op. Cl-op. Rimes was gone.
Alone with his thoughts, Sebastian sighed with relief. Then he realized his mistake. I smelled smoke. His visions, in which he once could only “see,” were slowly changing, and he could now smell and reach out to others, even touch them. Most were oblivious to his presence.
Had Rimes noticed the change? Sebastian wondered why he hadn’t told the commander about Jason. Surely it wasn’t to protect the boy. How could Sebastian forget the last time they’d met?
He had only ever conversed with Jason through a screen when both were seven years old. The last time they’d seen each other, Jason’s eyes were accusing and filled with tears. No, not tears, but blood.
You did this! Why? Why?
Sebastian didn’t answer. He was too shocked. Was it all his fault?
Then Jason lifted one arm. In his palm, a long icicle formed. A bloodcurdling scream emitted from his throat as he flung it with rage.
The icicle sailed toward the screen, growing bigger. Sebastian took a step back, staggered, and fell onto his back. The screen went black.
Sebastian slowly tossed the straps away.
If only the tug had been a moment later.
If only he’d been able to get closer to the boy with white hair. He would’ve wrapped his hands around the throat and squeezed.
Because no one abandoned Sebastian. And Jason would pay for it.
Mathematical equations would’ve been a better choice, Arctic reckoned.
Anything better than getting beaten to a pulp. But he couldn’t see how equations were of any use in his life. Not that his sore arms and legs were of any use in this contest of strength and skill.
Hands raised in a guarded stance, he faced off against Kim in the worn combat training room. Although a head shorter, she was lean and wiry. Fast, too.