One

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Prelude

Sarias is a kingdom known for its peace and success. But it doesn't get that way overnight, and especially not without any work.

When soulmates, or Destined, find each other they develop abilities...and not all abilities can be peaceful. Fire wielders, teleporters, shape-shifters--there is another side--a more destructive side--of Sarias few are aware of.

Yet these dangerous individuals are kept from the people, the kingdom, and the spotlight. They are managed and brought down by Sarias' greatest secret.

The Initiative.



One

"An Acemark is unique to each Ace. It is a birthmark, a symbol of their kind."

-Matthew Lowe, A History of Aces

Waking up felt like drowning. I couldn't breathe. Instead, I choked, gagging on the solid weight down my throat.

"Get that tube out. Now."

My lungs burned, my heart threatening to rip straight through my ribcage as the tube slithered up my throat and out my mouth. When it was gone I coughed, gasping for breath, and rolled in the opposite direction of whatever the hell that was.

"Steady her." A deep voice barked. Tight hands gripped my wrists. "Stats?"

"BP is slowly rising, heart rate is high, but looks to be evening out--"

I opened my eyes, taking in the white room in a quick snapshot. Blank cement walls, weird high-tech medical equipment scattered around the bed in the middle, and one exit in the form of a set of automatic doors. The only color, past those beeping machines, showed in the two strangers staring down at me.

The woman, skinny and with an offset nose, spoke first. "Aria Lewis?" Her bronze hair fell into her line of sight. She used a slender set of fingers to curl it around her ear.

Sandpaper lined my throat. It ached as if I'd decided to pick up a habit of swallowing razors in my spare time--or had a tube thrust down it. I opened my cracking lips to respond with Creator knows what, yet all that came out was a rush of air. No sound. As if my vocal chords did not know or remember how to produce noise.

The other doctor--they had to be doctors, with the white coats and stethoscopes and sharp constant glances at the machines in the horribly bland room--reached beyond me for a glass of water which he pressed to my lips. Even water--cool, smooth water--fired up that ache as I swallowed each drop.

"Take your time." The male doctor said. "Get yourself settled. Can you hear us alright?"

His voice was dim and quiet, but I could read his lips enough to make up for the lack. I nodded, slightly relieved as each of them freed my wrists. My left arm stuck--there was an IV under the pale skin of my forearm. I tried to rip it out, but slim fingers latched onto my right wrist and refused to let go.

The hold would be easy to break. One quick flick of my arm, my wrist spun at a different angle, and I'd be free...but that wouldn't tell me who these people were, what they wanted, or even what they'd done to me.

I would play nice for now.

"How many fingers am I holding?" The lady asked her voice clearer and lifted in a polite tone. She didn't want to anger me. Smart lady.

I rolled my eyes. Did she think I was a basket case? Or rather, that what they'd done might have had a lasting effect?

A quick wiggle of my toes counted ten. My ankles worked--a positive--and my knees could at least bend slightly. My hands and wrists worked, thank God. Neck still functioned. I could easily break free.

"Four." My voice wasn't more than a hoarse rasp. Better for them to think I was worse than I actually was. Underestimation of one's enemy gave a great advantage to the other party.

The doctor lady would be rather harmless. She moved awkwardly, unsurely, as if she was afraid to do wrong. I'd watched her hesitate before she grabbed my wrist. That hesitation could give me a one up.

It was the male doctor that could do damage. He had a quick, sharp mind behind those eyes, muscles--though few--beneath the collar of that painfully bright white coat.

"Ms. Lewis, what is six added to seven?" The male doctor asked, pointing a small flashlight to my eye. My gaze automatically followed his back and forth movement. Did he realize how close his ulnar artery was to my teeth? One well-placed bite and he'd have a major problem on his hands. Ha.

"Thirteen."

The doctor nodded, switching eyes. "I want you to know you are safe. You are in an underground government-run facility." Government-run? That explained the high tech equipment.

Wait, backtrack--safe? I snorted at that. Maybe for now. Safety doesn't last long in my line of work.

Which was why an escape plan was already in place. I'd spotted the door. The glass revealed another painfully colored room, this one gray. Most likely a hallway. Only one exit didn't work well in my favor, but I'd deal with that issue as it came--quickly and efficiently.

The lady could be taken down with one well-aimed punch. It was the other doctor who had the signs of a fighter--confidence, intelligence, some strength. His fingers were rough, worked. He could do damage if he really wanted to.

Take out the doctors. Get out the door. Find a fire exit. Even an underground facility had to have a fire exit. But if it was government run, that meant there'd be agents outside.

Damn. One more thing to handle.

Government-run though. I worked for the government. Loosely-speaking. It would be best to see what the hell was going on before making a daring escape. It might not even be needed. They might just debrief me on Creator-knows-what and then let me slide off into the night.

Hallelujah.

"Location?" I asked, drinking more water. Better to be hydrated before anything happens.

Surprisingly, it was the lady who spoke up. "Sarias, dear." Dear? I wasn't anyone's dear. Hadn't been for a long time. "It's 2016."

A frown worked its way onto my face. The year echoed in my head and my hearing dimmed as if she spoke all the way at the end of a tunnel. "I'm sorry, what?"

"You've been in suspended animation for 16 years."

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