Haunting black ashes covered the floor, echoing the horror that had happened in this once holy place. The smell of burnt flesh still hung in the air, even though it had been weeks since the incident.
Vincent Mallick was a handsome and sturdy man of fifty-seven years, with salt and pepper hair thinned slightly by age. The skin on his face was a map of the interesting life he had lived as a member of the High Council of the Four Corners, the ancient society to which he had devoted most of his life. But nothing in all his years with the society could prepare him for the horrifying sight before him, or its implications.
The ritual to remove the Elements from their vessels and place them into a new one took place three weeks ago. Vincent had been in the Headquarters in Prague with the rest of the High Council, awaiting word of victory after centuries of research and hunting. But no communication had come from any of the members. Out of clemency, the Council waited three days, and then out of fear, waited seven more, too afraid of what the silence meant. Finally, they sent Vincent to inspect.
“Mr. Mallick,” one of the young male members hailed. “What should we do about him?”
Vincent Mallick turned to see the boy kneeling over the stiff, motionless body of Dexter Mauldiv, his former apprentice. He had raised Dexter from boyhood after his parents, both loyal members, died in an earthquake—one of Earth’s most destructive calamaties. Dexter had been given the best tutelage the society could offer and was the epitome of all the Four Corners stood for. And now he was nothing.
“Oh, my poor boy,” Vincent sighed, coming to kneel beside his beloved protégé.
Dexter’s body was pallid and shriveled, seemingly lifeless, but his skin was warm and his pulse betrayed that he was indeed alive, but only just. His lips were cracked and dry, his skin the color and thickness of one extremely malnourished. He had obviously not eaten nor drunk in a long time. That he was still alive as a miracle. His face was expressionless and unresponsive, as though he was unaware that any of them were there at all; but his eyes, which were wide open, were the eyes of one screaming on the inside.
“Dexter?” Vincent said, shaking his shoulders.
Dexter still did not react. His eyes didn’t appear to be looking at anything at all. He was but a shell of himself. What had been done to him?
“Sir?” the boy next to him asked.
Vincent was deeply shaken, but he snapped back to business easily. “Uh, yes, put him on one of the stretchers and get him to a physician,” Vincent instructed. “Show me the surveillance tapes, I want to see what happened here.”
The boy nodded and the five other members did as they were told. Vincent watched as Dexter’s helpless body was lifted up onto the stretcher and taken away. Dexter was supposed to be their answer, their salvation. He had been the perfect choice. Of course, Vincent, in his old age could not take on the task, for he would likely die before they could accomplish any of their goals with the power they sought to take from the Bound Ones. But if Vincent could not do it, Dexter was the obvious second choice to be the new vessel. Dexter, whom Vincent had raised and groomed to be the Four Corners’ Grand Master, the apple of the High Councils’ eyes… No longer.
Once Dexter’s body had been safely removed, Vincent followed two of the members to the security room to watch the video feed. Since no one had been here since that day to operate the equipment, the video from that day was the most recent. They didn’t have to rewind very far. In the fuzziness of rewinding, Vincent caught sight of a terrifying image on the screen.
“Stop!” he said. “That’s it.”
The operator pressed play, and all drew in to watch the video.
They were watching the beginning of the ritual. Four young people were strapped to the stretchers as hooded figures all around them chanted. The electrocution began and the prisoners began to writhe and cry out. It all looked good so far. But wait! The orange-haired girl in the bottom right stretcher wailed loudly and angrily, and suddenly, to Vincent’s horror, all of his faithful brethren ignited from within and burned until they were nothing but ashes settling to the floor. Vincent covered his mouth in shock. He wanted to look away but he could not, for Dexter had been spared Fire’s wrath. The orange-haired girl’s restraints singed away and she was approaching Dexter, whose flight attempts were thwarted by suddenly appearing walls of flame. The orange-haired girl reached out to grab Dexter, and then he fell backward, in the exact same position in which they found him.
Vincent cleared his throat of the emotions that tightened and dried it, then said, “Can you roll that back and play the audio? I must know what she did to him.”
The operator rewound it and turned up the volume.
“You will never speak again,” the orange-haired girl said to Dexter with a voice filled with hatred. “You will never move again. You will see nothing and you will hear nothing for the rest of your life. You will be a shell of your despicable self, and you will have to suffer for the rest of your days with the shame and guilt of what a terrible person you are until it eats you alive.”
The video played on, but Vincent saw nothing else. Amazing the power Fire wielded. Amazing and petrifying, quite literally. She had to be stopped. This was exactly why the Four Corners needed to release the Bound Ones and reclaim the power they had given them. Powers such as these should not be in the hands of ignorant, whimsical children. It was only by chance that the Bound Ones had never developed their powers to use them against the world in all their history. The Four Corners had to act now before the Bound Ones used their powers in the modern age.
“The Bound Ones know of their powers now,” Vincent said to his pupils. “We cannot allow this. Remove the artifacts—the dagger, the necklace, everything. They’re no longer safe here.”