Lio drifted. He was never entirely sure if he was conscious or unconscious. The area around him was dark and silent, a mausoleum for the sacrificed.. Lio hung limply in his bonds, the sharp barbs of the wire digging into flesh—at least, what remained of his flesh, anyway. Lio was pretty sure that he was missing a few vital limbs. Rivulets of blood ran down his body from the puncture wounds.
The pain was a constant throbbing through his nerves. The pain wasn’t the worst thing about his situation, however. The thing that Lio really couldn’t take was the silence. He longed to hear a voice, to hear a sob, to even hear a breath that wasn’t his own aching wheeze.
Lio’s chest felt hollow. Even the Promare was silent, its usual refrain of “Burn, burn, burn,” silenced by what Lio presumed to be distance. Kray’s plan to warp the Parnassus to another planet seemed to have succeeded—at the cost of a staggering number of Burnish lives.
Footsteps startled Lio into full wakefulness. The pain flared in his remaining limbs and the emptiness in his chest ached. Lio peeled his eyes open, having just realised that they’d been closed. A ball of illumination approached him—a torch that streaked a path across the metal floor to Lio.
“You’re still alive?”
Lio recognised the voice. It was unwelcome, but also no surprise.
“Kray,” he wheezed out, barely able to get the name out. He wished that he could inject more of his anger into his voice, but Lio didn’t have the strength.
“Incredible. I thought for sure that you’d burn out.”
Lio wasn’t able to see Kray’s face as the torch kept him blinded, but he imagined that Kray was smiling.
“Disappointed?” Lio gasped out. “Don’t be. I won’t last much longer.”
Lio certainly wasn’t disappointed about that. From the eerie silence around him, he could extrapolate that the other Burnish hadn’t survived. Lio wanted to be free of this prison. He wanted to join them. It was what he deserved for leading them to this slaughter. He should share their fate. It was the very least he owed them for failing to keep them safe.
Kray’s large hand rested against Lio’s cheek. Lio closed his eyes. He was done with Kray. Done with the Promatech engine. Done with humanity, actually.
Only a single concern lingered, a small, nagging insect buzzing around Lio’s mind. Was Galo okay? Had Lio’s fire protected him? Was he back on Earth, facing the fiery destruction of the world?
Lio could imagine Galo standing tall and proud, matoi in hand, ready to take on nature herself. Galo would never give up, no matter how hopeless the situation.
Lio silently wished him well. Maybe they’d meet each other again soon—in a place where their differences didn’t matter at all.
“What are you smiling about?”
Kray’s question was given in an absent, off-handed manner, but Lio had the impression that he was being studied very closely. Good. Let Kray remember the ruin his actions had caused. Let him remember the price for their escape.
Lio stayed silent and let his mind drift again. He wanted to think only of Galo because the memory of that blue-haired idiot made his chest ache a little less.
Lio felt pressure against his lips. Something wet probing them firmly, trying to press between them. Lio hadn’t had anything to drink or eat for ages. Something to whet his throat would be nice. Lio parted his lips, and the thing slipped inside. Heat followed—a familiar, burning heat that seared down Lio’s throat and filled his chest.
Lio’s eyes flew open to meet Kray’s red ones. Kray’s hand cupped Lio’s head, keeping him from breaking the burning kiss as fire continued to pour into Lio. Fire that invigorated and soothed his muscles, nerves and cells. Lio felt dizzy and high.
The flare finally ceased and Kray pulled back, licking his lips as he stared intently at Lio’s face. Lio looked down at himself, his healing body illuminated in the torchlight that Kray swept over him. Flesh reappeared, pale and whole. Pinpricks of pain needled him as the barbed wire dug into the new flesh.
“Why?” Lio croaked out, his anger re-igniting with his newfound vitality. Why the hell would Kray bother to save him?
“You might be useful,” Kray replied. “Our resources will be very limited for a time. There’s no sense in wasting a body.”
A body. That was how Kray saw him. Not as a person. Not as a life. A body. A potential resource. That was all.
“I hate you,” Lio whispered. He had the sense that the ghosts in this place shared that sentiment. Maybe they even hated Lio as well, for leading them here.
“I do what I must for the good of all,” Kray responded, his expression reproachful.
“For the good of those you deem worthy,” Lio bit back. “Not for all.” Not for the Burnish, the fucking traitor.
Though Lio was feeling stronger, he wasn’t able to break out of his bonds. The more he struggled, the more damage the barbed wire would do to his flesh. If Lio thought his struggles could inflict a wound capable of killing him, he would have tried it, but he knew that the wire could only damage him superficially—especially with Kray’s fire still sizzling in his chest.
Lio wished that the Promare were a little less kind. Lio no longer wanted their miraculous healing, but there was no way to make the Promare understand that.
He could try to burn himself out, but Freeze Force would suppress his flames before he could succeed. Freeze Force, whom Kray was summoning right now with his radio link.
“Yes, at least one survived—Fotia,” Kray was saying. “Check the other pods. If any still have material of use, harvest it as well…”
“They’re people, you asshole!” Lio spat out viciously.
Kray looked at Lio as if he were a child who had interrupted an important phone call to say something stupid and pointless. Lio felt two feet tall, and that wasn’t fair. Kray should be afraid of him, afraid of the leader of Mad Burnish. Instead, he was treating Lio with an odd mix of fondness and disappointment, as if Lio had failed to live up to his expectations. It was so patronising, and Lio despised him all the more for it.
The true horror of the entire situation was that Kray didn’t see himself as the villain. He saw himself as the noble hero who had saved humanity. So what if some people had to be sacrificed? So what if the majority of humanity had to be left behind? Better that a few be saved rather than everybody die.
But Lio and the Burnish had never agreed to be the sacrifice, and the rest of humanity had been completely ignorant that their days were numbered.
Kray’s actions had robbed them of the opportunity to find a better solution. He’d betrayed not just the Burnish, but also every single human he’d left behind to burn on Earth. And the part that hurt Lio the most was that those humans left behind probably wouldn’t mourn the Burnish who’d been sacrificed in the Promatech engine.
Kray turned and started to stride back into the darkness, torch bobbing in his hand. Lio watched him go, as a tiny voice inside him whispered, “Burn.”
Burn for who? The Promare? Humanity? They all wanted him to burn, didn’t they? Burn so they could feed. Burn so they could survive.
Lio was furious at all of them. So he kept the fire inside him banked, smothering it under his determination to, for once, not give any of them any of his fire. He’d given too much already. All of the Burnish had.