The Shadows: Halo’s Rag Doll–Sneak Peek!

Kimberly hugged her arms, the puffy sleeves of her sweater made her look like she was constricting a pillow. “Go see what they did to my kitchen.”

Highly concerned, Mark’s gaze raised to the moving figures within the enclosed kitchen. Emilie followed closely but Mark nearly left her in the dust as he burst into the industrial kitchen. The pair of idiots had the gas range on, getting breakfast started by shredding potatoes. Mark attention went straight to the skillet of oil heating on the stove.

“What are you doing?!”

One of them promptly turned invisible and dashed out of the kitchen before Mark could recognize them. But the older of the two, Cesckim, promptly dropped a whole potato into the trash, predictably slicing his finger open with the peeler if his Shadow didn’t give him invulnerability in that respect. Cesc still checked, as the maroon color that coated his entire body did not protect his face and palms. “Basically, we’re hungry and you’re late!”

“It’s seven-thirty! Half the ASH isn’t even up yet!” Mark yelled, going to hurriedly get the hot oil off the heat. He didn’t realize how hot the pan had been set and the moment he touched it he felt the full force of almost five hundred degrees. It didn’t burn him, but pulling the pan was a bad idea and the oil splashed out and into the flames where it promptly set ablaze.

Mark shrieked and jumped back, and Cesc panicked, rushing for a towel to smother it or a fire extinguisher. Mark hands were in the fire, still too close to it as it burst up into the hood range. Any normal person would be going to the hospital after this, but Mark could handle the heat, he just had to make sure his clothes didn’t catch fire since it was not his own Shadow producing the conflagration.

He took a step back, observing his unburnt arms then cooling his nerves. He couldn’t control natural fire, but as long as this didn’t spread and the sprinklers didn’t go off, everything would be fine. Stretching out his hands into the blaze, he caused his crimson flames to race across his skin.

“What are you doing?!” Cesc screamed as the other Shadows and a very disgruntled Kimberly crowded at the open window behind him, “You’re just going to add to the fire and burn this whole place down?”

Mark ignored them, without intent to burn, he got in closer and shut the gas off before letting his own fire spread and consume the whole gas range up to the ventilation hood. His fire was more powerful, hotter, and needed no fuel except air. Gradually, he was able to take over the natural fire, to consume it, and absorb it, bringing the whole blaze into his hands and condensing it.

Sweat dripped down his brow from the heat, and it took him a second to acknowledge he had fully put out the fire. There didn’t seem to be any damage, no blackness, nothing melted, but he suddenly felt something very heavy and painful in his chest. The fire didn’t feel like it was gone, it felt stronger, it felt like it was still burning within him, pent up and about to burst.

He turned around slowly, reeling to see fifteen Shadows staring at him, “That was amazing!”

Completely dizzy, Mark stumbled forward a step then pushed harder. “I need to get out of here,” he panted, blowing through the crowded and only briefly noticing Kip had caught up.

“What’s wrong?” Kip grabbed his arm.

He threw off his grip, didn’t say anything, he couldn’t say anything. The orb of hell within his Shadow was spinning hotter. Ocie and Sil hurried into the mess hall, hearing the commotion in the Realm and Mark cringed, “Get out of the way!” he managed to shout before he got to the center of the mess hall, raised his arms to the high ceiling and let go.

Ocie and Sil ducked to the ground just as a little red spark exploded within Mark’s hands and the entire extent of the kitchen fire burst out from his Shadow and dissipated through the open air over the tables. Sparks and ashes rained on the tables and chairs, but nothing stuck, the fire let out its fury and then died in the air. Mark gasped at the sudden release and dizzied, now he felt they were all safe, now it felt like it was over. He collapsed at one of the tables, his fingers shaking. Vague voices clamored behind him, still surprised and Kip, who had stayed close despite the warnings, touched his back.

“I’m okay…” Mark panted, “I’m fine.”

Kip’s eyes were generous and kind, in awe of Mark’s control over the flames, but just as he opened his mouth, the fire alarms went off and the sprinklers doused the whole room.

As the cold water hit his face, Mark finally laughed, “That was pretty awesome.”

Though unpleasant and wet, Kip managed a little chuckle, “Maybe wait ‘til you’re outside to let it out next time?”

Keller burst into the room behind Ocie and Sil, rightfully angry as he saw the shower and the dissipating smoke. “All right, no more kitchen privileges for any of you!” He made no indication that he knew what happened, but that was the final straw for him. He hurriedly got the sprinklers shut off and consoled Kimberly whose kitchen was completely ruined.

“Okay!” Cesc declared, clapping his wet hands together as his mischief buddy met up with him, “Who wants to go out for breakfast?” Mark made a point to send Cesc a nasty stink-eye.

Raising himself out of the puddle, Mark chuckled a little, “For the record I did not start that fire,” he assured but received a similar glare from the older man.

“What are you, five?” Keller snapped, “‘I didn’t start it.’ Get out of here or make yourself useful.”

Despite Keller’s irritability, Mark’s back straightened, “I’ll get right on it, would you like me to evaporate the water or get a mop?” He made himself scarce before Keller could explode. At the door he caught a flash of white and met his father dead in the eyes. Skirting by him, at the same height now, Mark smiled and reiterated, “Again, not my fault!” and ran out to dry off.

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