“Ready?” he whispered.
No. No, I wasn’t. I took the safety off the Ruger. The firearm felt so heavy in my hands. Heavy and cold. “Go.”
The door shot forward, six inches above the floor, and rotated, turning horizontal, like the top of a table.
Three gunmen, one directly in front, one on the right by the elevator, the third on the left by a column.
The gunmen swung away from the elevator and toward us. I sighted the one by the elevator—it felt slow, so impossibly slow—and squeezed the trigger. The gun barked. The bullet ricocheted from the elevator doors with a metallic clang. I corrected a hair and fired the second shot. The gunman’s head snapped back. I swung left and fired at the second man by the column. The first shot took him in the neck, the second in the lower part of the face, right in his mouth.
The third gunman opened fire. The door spun, vertical again, like a shield. Bullets hammered against it.
Mad Rogan grabbed my hand and pulled me toward a column on our left. I ran with him, shielded by the door, and pressed my back to the cold marble. The hail of bullets followed us.
The whole thing must’ve taken a second, maybe two.
I just killed two people. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it . . .
Mad Rogan gaped at me, a look of utter shock on his face. I’d laugh if I could.
“My mother’s a former sniper,” I squeezed out. “I know how to shoot properly.”
The bullet stream changed direction. The gunman was walking toward us.
The door spun around the column, hovering in front of us.
“Cover me.” Mad Rogan winked at me.
I leaned left and fired at the couple by the wall in short bursts. Boom-boom-boom. They ducked behind a column. The woman-sniffer jerked a handgun up and returned fire. Bullets tore through the air next to me. I hid behind the column, stuck my gun out, and shot in her general direction. Boom-boom-boom. Out. I ejected the magazine, pulled the spare from the pocket, slapped it in, and thumbed the release forward. Ten more rounds. That’s all I had. The next time I went anywhere with Mad Rogan, I’d bring one of those bandoliers action stars wore when they routed terrorists from jungles.
Mad Rogan lunged to the left.
I fired again, the gun spitting bullets and thunder. Boom, boom. Eight rounds.
Someone screamed. The rifle fire vanished, cut off by the sound of shattering glass. Mad Rogan ducked behind the column next to me.
“Where’s the door?” I asked.
I leaned out from behind the column. The man pulled something out of the wall. The woman spread her arms, snapping into the familiar mage pose. Oh no, you don’t. I fired at her twice, the bullets piercing the air in rapid twin bursts. A dense curtain of smoke shot up in front of her and my bullets vanished. I was down to six rounds.
There was a side entrance right behind them. They were about to split.
Bullets tore out the curtain of fog, too wide, chipping the wall behind me. The man and the woman couldn’t see through the smoke either.
Mad Rogan raced to the side entrance.
Ahead the man shot out of the smoke, knife in one hand. Mad Rogan rammed straight into him. He blocked the man’s right arm with his left forearm and jabbed the heel of his right hand into the man’s nose. The man staggered back. Mad Rogan snapped a kick. His foot smashed into the man’s side, right against his liver. The fireman clutched at his side and fell to the floor.
Okay, fighting him, na**d or no, was a terrible idea.
A bullet tore past me. I shied back. The woman leaped out of the smoke and crashed into me. The barrel of her gun yawned at me, dark and impossibly large. The world shrank to that barrel. I grabbed her wrist and hung on, throwing all my weight into it, trying to wrestle the gun from her. She jerked me toward her and swung her right hand. Pain slashed my forearm. I caught a glimpse of knife. I struck at her face with the gun, but she twisted out of the way and slashed my side. An icy burn lashed my ribs. She was stronger and better trained. For a fraction of a second our stares connected, and I saw cold calculation in her eyes. She would kill me.
Some instinctual switch flipped inside me. Magic burst into pain in my shoulder, rolled down into my fingertips, and exploded into frothy lightning on the woman’s hand.
The woman’s eyes rolled back in her head.
It hurt. It hurt so much. My chest shuddered. It felt like every nerve in my arm snapped loose, frayed with agony.
The woman shook in my grip. The magic linked us, the pain binding us together into one.
I unlocked my fingers, severing the connection.
She crashed to the floor. Her feet drummed the ground. Foam slid from her mouth. She shuddered one last time and lay still.
“You’re full of surprises,” Mad Rogan growled next to me.
The pain receded, a dull echo of the burning agony. My right arm was red with blood.
“Are you okay?” he asked me.
The woman on the floor didn’t move. It didn’t look like she was breathing. Jesus. I dropped by her and felt for a pulse. Nothing. I didn’t mean to . . . No, I guess I did.
Mad Rogan reached over and gently raised my arm to look at the two-inch-long cut. “Shallow. You’ll live.”
My lips had gone numb. I made my mouth move. “Thank you, Doctor.”
He held up a large piece of jewelry studded with small pale stones, each about the size of a pomegranate seed. It looked like two elongated oval loops, one on top of each other, as if a child had tried to draw a hamburger and had forgotten to draw the top half of the bun. A straight piece, studded with the same stones, ran vertically through the center of the two loops. In the center, the straight piece widened into a ring about as big as my index finger and thumb touching. If it was a brooch of some sort, it was the strangest design I had ever seen.
“Is this what they were after?”
Mad Rogan nodded.
“What is it?”
“I have no idea,” he said. “Why don’t you ask him?”
I looked past him to where the last firefighter slumped against the wall, clutching at his side. Okay. I could do that. It didn’t require me to kill anyone.
I walked over and crouched by the fireman. His breath was coming out in ragged gasps.
“What did you do to him?”
“I kicked him in the liver and then broke two of his ribs. He’ll live if paramedics get here in the next ten-fifteen minutes.”
I held up the piece of jewelry. “Is this what you came here for?”
He stared at me. I focused, trying to re-create the lasso of magic that had clamped Mad Rogan and squeezed the answers out of him. Nothing happened.
“Compel him to answer,” Mad Rogan said.
Mad Rogan picked up the knife the woman had dropped. “We can always go to Plan B.”
“Give me a minute.”
“Nevada, you’re wasting time.” His voice turned cold and precise. “Be useful for a change.”
Useful? You ass**le.
“I’m tired of dragging around your dead weight.”
Nothing stirred inside me.
“Do something, don’t just sit there.”
“Has anybody told you that you’re a colossal ass**le?”
Mad Rogan grimaced. “Apparently anger isn’t your trigger, and we don’t have time to figure out what it is. Oh well.”
He jabbed the knife into the man’s leg. The fireman screamed. I winced.
“Is this what you came here for?” Mad Rogan barked.
“Is it magic?” I asked.
“Lie,” I said.
Mad Rogan yanked the knife out and jabbed it into the man’s leg again. The man howled.
“I’ll keep cutting you until your leg turns into hamburger,” Mad Rogan told him, his voice light. “Then I’ll put a tourniquet on it and start on your other leg. Answer her questions, or you’ll never walk again.”
“Are you working with Adam Pierce?” I asked.
Mad Rogan stabbed the man’s leg again.
“What does it do?” I asked.
The man stared at me.
Mad Rogan jabbed his leg again, methodically, calmly, the knife going in and out, in and out . . .
The man cried out, “It opens the gate to enlightenment!”
Mad Rogan glanced at me.
I spread my arms.
“What time is it?” the man groaned.
I looked at the electronic clock above the elevator. “Five thirty-nine. No, wait, five forty.”
The man smiled. “Three . . .”
Mad Rogan spun around.
“Two . . .”
Mad Rogan lunged at me, knocking me off my feet.
“One . . .”
An enormous fireball erupted from the side entrance. Orange flame boiled, raging toward us. Heat bathed my face.
That’s it, flashed in my head. I’m dead.
The floor surged up and swallowed us whole.
I was lying on my side. Darkness surrounded me.
A hard arm was wrapped around me. Someone’s body pressed against my back, curled around mine.
“Am I dead?”
“No,” Mad Rogan said.
Mad Rogan was spooning me. The thought blazed through my head. I tried to scoot away. My chest met hard rock. My back met an equally hard surface, which had to be his chest. There was nowhere to scoot away to.
“Well, they must’ve rigged an explosive device to cover their exit. It detonated.”
“I get that. Explain the not dying part.” And the spooning part. He was touching me. Oh my God, he was touching me.
“There was no time to escape, so I broke through the floor and pulled it on top of us.”
His voice was quiet, almost intimate. He sounded so reasonable, like it was just an ordinary thing. I broke through some solid marble and then built it into a shelter over us in a split second. No big. Do it every day. Just thinking about the amount of magic it would take to do this made me shiver.
“There was an explosion,” Mad Rogan said. “Some debris fell on top of us. I had to shift things around, but it’s relatively stable now.”
“Could you shift things around so we could escape?”
“I’m spent,” he said, his voice the same measured calm. “Shifting a few thousand pounds of rock drained me. I need time to recover.”
So there was a limit to his power. Good to know that occasionally he was mortal. “Thank you for saving me.”
My brain finally digested his words. “So we’re trapped underground with the building on top of us.” We were buried alive. Fear welled in me.
“Not all of the building. I’m reasonably certain it’s still standing. I activated the beacon, so my crew is en route. It’s just a matter of getting us out.”
“What if we run out of air?”
“That would be unfortunate.”
“We’ve been here for about fifteen minutes. There is probably about twenty cubic feet of air here, about what you would find in an average coffin.”
I would kill him if I ever got out of here.
“There are two of us and your breathing’s elevated, so I would estimate we’d have about half an hour. If we weren’t getting the air from somewhere, we would be feeling the CO2 buildup already.”
I clamped my mouth shut.
“Nevada?” he asked.
“I’m trying to conserve oxygen.”
He chuckled into my hair. My body decided this would be a fine moment to remember that his body was wrapped around mine and his body was muscular, hard, and hot, and my butt was pressed against his groin. Cuddled up by a dragon. No, thank you. Let me off this train.