The chemistry class was full of gas.
Everyone could smell it, wafting from the direction of the student who was frantically opening up the Bunsen burners, leaking the flammable gas into the classroom.
Grimes was shouting out commands, trying to ensure the survival of his classmates.
"Get under the blanket, damnit!"
He was very convincing with his words, of course. The strangers banging at the door were inching closer by the minute, and they were yelling strange words, seemingly directed at Seth Grimes.
"Get out here, little boy! You have nowhere to hide!"
Two students hiding under the fireproof blanket started shuffling, whispering amongst themselves, pointing at the back of their classmate, who had blockaded them into the classroom.
Then they sprinted at him, trying to pull him down for the strangers to capture.
"Damnit, why won't you stay down?" Grimes bellowed, sidestepping both of them, and knocking them over the head with the back of his palms.
This is the first time that they saw his left hand. It was wrapped in what seemed to be a damp wrapping, with a light brown texture. He also had a lighter in the midst of wrappings.
Seth cursed to himself, setting the now-leaking Bunsen burners right in front of the door, away from the corner in which the other students were hiding. He dragged the other two back under the blanket, and gave a meaningful look to his only real friend, Celia.
"Keep them safe, please. Make sure that you are covered properly. It's going to get hot in here."
"No problem… Just, please, explain this all after this?" She looked at him, pleading with all her soul.
If only she knew how ironic that word was to Seth, now… Soul. What he would've given to have one of those, right now.
"No promises." He quipped quickly, closing the blanket over the students, people he didn't really know, but who he had to save, none the less.
The door burst open, and Seth turned around quickly, facing the two men dressed in black. Sunglasses covered their eyes, and they both had a wristband that glowed with an incandescent green.
Seth didn't blink. He flicked the switch on his left palm, and the students saw a spark.
"When did I become this monster…" Seth said, before a blinding white explosion engulfed the entire classroom.
/Three weeks prior/
Seth Grimes was standing at the end of a hallway, staring blankly at the wall, as he waited for his sparring partner to come out of the locker room.
He flicked a match and watched the flame dance on the tip of the small wooden stick. Seth was mesmerized by the display of color and warmth, and didn't notice Celia walking up to him.
"You know, playing with fire as often as you do isn't healthy."
Seth quickly snuffed the match with his left hand, squeezing the dying flame between his thumb and index finger, as he always did. The boy didn't even notice the pain anymore. He had learned to like it.
"Sorry. Just can't break old habits, you know?" He sighed with half a smile, waiting for Celia to be ready tying her shoes.
She wasn't really much of a looker, in his opinion, though he did like her. She had plain brown hair, emerald green eyes and a little piercing on her right brow. Celia liked dressing in green, to match with her eyes. She had a green coat, covering her black tank top.
Seth wouldn't really mind walking behind her, as well, seeing her hips sway; her size-too-small pants revealing just barely enough not to be indecent.
He didn't see himself as striking either. Always wearing the same old black t-shirt, same old cargo pants, and same old brown coat over his shirt. Besides the small silver cross around his neck, he could've been a billboard-picture for fashion-boredom. His dark brown eyes, however, did catch more than a few looks in his class, though he was unaware of the fact. Seth disliked having long hair, so he kept it short. Very short. His black hair was barely half an inch long.
But one characteristic was obvious in Seth's physique, and nobody commented him on it. Nobody dared to. Besides the fact that he was a black belt at a respected martial art, he was also capable of taking down the school's quarterback without so much as a drop of sweat. He was quickly alienated from any social circle, and the question nobody dared to ask, was, where did his scars come from?
He had one long burn-scar on his left shoulder, travelling from below the collarbone to his back, disappearing under his shirt. It was almost as wide as his arm, and was coupled by a few smaller scars on the left side of his throat.
Celia was the only one who knew for sure, but she wouldn't tell a soul. She was also an outcast from all the "cool" groups at school, so she spent most of her time with Seth.
They walked into the forest that surrounded the local area. There were a few houses here and there, but mainly there was only one road, and it was not wide enough for cars to pass. It was barely enough for two people to walk side-by-side.
Winter had just passed, and in a few days, school would begin. Celia's house was very close to the edge of the forest, meaning that their quality time was restricted to just ten minutes.
And this time, those ten minutes had been silent.
"See you at school next week, kay?" Celia smiled from her doorstep, before vanishing into the house. It was a yellow building, entirely wooden. It had two floors, plus an attic. Ironically, despite Seth and Celia being close friends, he had never even stepped into her residence.
Flexing his neck as he walked, Seth picked out his mp3 player and plopped the ear buds in and blasted off some music he deemed to fit his situation. He walked alone, down a path in a forest.
Plucking a match from his little box, he stared at it, thinking out loud.
"How can something so small be so beautiful…"
He looked at his left hand and picked out his "fireglove" from his left side-pocket. It was a very simple glove, though he had attached the strike-zone out of a match box. It allowed him to flick a match with minimum effort, while also being capable of withstanding the heat once the flame licked his fingers, thanks to the thick fabric. And if he required a longer lasting flame, he had a lighter slotted in the center of the palm, ready to fire anything up if he just pressed his thumb down. It was a very basic, jury-rigged device for the little pyromaniac that he was.
He stroke the match and stared at it as he walked. Seeing the flame dance in the wind made him a little scared. What if it would have died out? What if this little lifelike flicker would turn into ashes, and leave him alone, in the dark forest?
Not that it was dark, but that was beside the point for him. Seth was so deeply interested in the inner workings of the flame that an oncoming cyclist almost bumped into him.
This caused him to return to his dear planet Earth, and focus on the road back. He snuffed out the fire in his fingers, according to his old habit, and carried on.
Seth's house would be empty by now. His father was no longer around, and his mother would work night-shifts at the ward. Though he was 17, he still had no idea what, exactly, was her job there. But he was satisfied enough with the knowledge that she brought enough money to the table to support for their two-person family.
After a few minutes of kicking a can around, he finally saw the familiar roof. Blue. This always made him smile, because in a way, blue should have been the color of his lover's enemy, water. But it was sheer irony to him, and he enjoyed it.
Slotting the key into the lock, he opened the door slowly, before announcing his presence.
No answer. That's how he liked it, of course, but still. An empty dark house meant only one thing to him. Candles.
"No. I shouldn't…" He thought to himself, as he walked up into his room. First door on the right.
Seth threw his bag on his bed, and sat down in front of his computer. He had a bit of catching up to do, for school. He had had the whole winter holidays to read up on English literature, though the topic had no place in his heart. Chemistry and physics, however… Those were what fire needed to live, or at least helped it immensely.
He hadn't even noticed it, but by the time he had finished thinking, he had lit two candles in front of him.
It reminded of his past; how his house had burnt down because he hadn't been able to control the fire in the fireplace.
They boy had decided then and there, to learn to control the flame, and to be its master.
A sound from under him interrupted Seth's thought.
"Mom? You home already?" He shouted to the darkness.
No answer. It made him worried.
Another sound. This time, it was a fast shuffle. Seth's brow furrowed deeper, as he got up slowly, trying to remain as silent as possible.
He reached for his wooden sword that he used for practice, and opened his door just enough to peak between the frame and the door.
Seeing no immediate threat, Seth took a step further into the hallway. He hadn't turned on the lights, because he preferred candlelight. The darkness was not much of a problem to him, as his eyes had adjusted to the lack of light already.
Then, a loud sound, followed by a moment of silence, before the mail-slot clanked.
Seth flinched, then sprinted down the stairs, only to find himself staring at an empty hall. There was nobody here.
He looked around, checking every room. First the kitchen, then the living room. After that, Seth returned back to the front door, completely dumbfounded.
Damnit… What the hell was that, Seth thought to himself.
Glancing down, he noticed a letter. It was like any other, except for the slight glowing handwriting.
He picked it up and flipped the letter around in his palms. Seth set his bokken down and sat at the kitchen table.
"Let's see then, mister 'Gambler'…"
He took a letter opener and sliced through the thin sheet of paper. The glow-in-the-dark red writing put him off, but he was far too curious. The red glow reminded him of his favorite element, and that was all he needed.
Dear young mister Seth Isaacs Grimes.
I would make a proposition to you, and knowing you, it is already likely that I have piqued your interest.
Surely enough, Seth raised an eyebrow, out of interest.
Now. If you would be willing to take part in a small gamble, I would be most pleased. It would allow you to use skills you already possess, and work with what you love.
I'm proposing a contest – a tournament, if you please – and I have had you in my thoughts for quite a while.
Fear not; I will not be stalking you, nor will the Shade bother you further. I merely needed your "fireglove", and simple knowledge of where you live. If you will be participating, these are matters that I wish… You know what? I will not be letting you know quite yet.
If I have you interested, do pay me a visit. Just light a candle in front of your bathroom mirror, then recite the contract.
Ps. You will find that your lighter will not be operational. You'd do well to replace the glove's lighter, and take it with you, as we meet.
Seth was even more confused. What on earth was this letter?
But this "Gambler" character had gotten him more than curious.
Though standing in front of a mirror in candlelight, reciting some strange incantations, did bring a grisly thought of black magic. Not that such things existed.
Seth did another round about the house, making sure that this intruder had left the house intact. Besides the letter, nothing seemed amiss. After he was convinced that everything was okay, he sat down at the kitchen counter, staring at the fridge.
"Boredom strikes again…"
He rarely felt quite so bored, especially knowing that something was off.
Seth's mother didn't like him starting fires – not even the small kinds. But she wasn't home, now was she?
His grin widened and he looked at the ceiling. The bathroom was right above the kitchen.
"Let's see what you can conjure up for me."
He climbed quickly up, grabbed his fireglove and an extra lighter, plopping it into the empty little pocket on the palm side.
Right in front of the bathroom, he sighed. In a way, Seth thought he was being childish. What, exactly, was it that he was trying to gain?
The Gambler must be a joke. But I'll play along. I mean, that's what you do when you've got nothing to do, right? Weird stuff.
Giving into the curiosity one last time, he closed the door behind him, preventing any light from reaching him. Seth knew exactly where the mirror was, and after striking the candle aflame, he faced it with confidence.
"So… Where's the voodoo?" He rolled on the balls of his feet, as he peered into the looking glass.
Then, the same incandescent glow of red appeared as text before his very eyes, and he had to blink twice before believing it.
He observed, as the text seemingly wrote itself on the mirror. Dark red, glowing text, in cursive. Very fancy, in Seth's opinion.
"By what limited knowledge I have of Death, as a mortal, and what is associated with it, I pledge my soul to this game – this game, that has been created in order to restore balance, and rectify what was meant to, but didn't happen. The death of those who were meant to die, but didn't, shall now play as mere pawns, and I-"
"And I, through the oath of fire, place my hand on thee, mirror of ascension."
For a moment, nothing happened. Then Seth realized that he was meant to do what the text stated, and he laid his hand against the mirror, palm firmly against the cold surface.
Again, he waited for a few seconds. The boy was about to give up and pull his hand away from the childish fantasy, but found that he couldn't.
He tugged on his left hand, that was now burning hot.
Frantically, he started bashing the mirror, but to no avail. The glass wouldn't break – it just got hotter, until he couldn't take it anymore.
He saw a blinding red flash, and then succumbed to unconsciousness.