It wasn’t a dream, either.
He didn’t know what this was—but he didn’t care.
Selena was risen from both the cold embrace of death and the inferno of the funeral pyre, her arms lifting from out of the wraps he himself had wound round her lifeless body, her torso straightening, her legs standing strong. And now came her hair, the long, dark locks spooling free of the confines that abruptly loosened and fell away into the inferno beneath her feet, revealing her face and her shoulders.
She was of flesh and flame combined, an apparition that called to him without saying his name, that captured him without chains or bars, that held him without laying a hand upon him.
“Selena?” he said desperately. “Selena…”
In the midst of the violent glow, he could see that her mouth was moving. She was speaking to him.
“I can’t hear you,” he called out. “What are you saying?”
In a panic, he tried to close the distance, but the heat was too great, a barrier even his love and need for her could not help him cross.
“What are you saying?” he yelled again.
When he couldn’t hear her, he turned to Lassiter, but the angel was gone. Maybe he’d never been?
Wheeling back toward the blaze, Trez was terrified Selena, too, might have disappeared. But no, she was there, still yelling for him, still trying to get her message across the pyre and through the strange wind, her growing frustration and fear killing him.
Just as he had the thought that he would jump in there with her and join her in the flames, even if he was destroyed, she stopped, crouched, and held her arms up as if to protect herself from something that was falling on her. Then the funeral pyre seemed to explode, sparks and heat pushing out at him so that he had to cover his head and bow away also, even with his desire to get in there with her—
Trez jerked upright with a strangled cry, sure as if his physical form had to be ripped free of whatever thrall had captured him.
Covered with sweat, panting like he’d run for his life, lost in the dreamscape he’d been in, he looked around and tried to ground himself.
His office. At the club. Except there was no noise down below, no thumping of music that would indicate things were still open, no smattering of talk that would tell him it was just after closing and the staff were—
His keen hearing, made even more sensitive because of the headache, picked up the howl of sirens outside of the club, and it was the distant, quiet persistence of them that made him realize that everything at shAdoWs had been wrapped up for the evening and the staff had gone home.
What the hell time was it, anyway?
Getting to his feet made him aware that he still had the headache, but considering the sharpshooter behind his sternum, that ouch in his gray matter was a drop in the fucking bucket. His phone was facedown on his desk, and he picked it up, hoping for…
But of course Therese hadn’t called.
Why would she?
As more sirens sounded out, from a different quadrant of the city than the first set, he entered his password and went into the call section. You know, just in case—
All at once, the image of Selena yelling out for him from the pyre, and then crouching down to protect herself, took over everything.
Like a movie inserted into his conscious mind, it was all he could see, and all he could smell, too, the stench of burning wood flooding into his nasal passages until he sneezed as if it were real.
The headaches had made him go weird places in his mind on occasion, and olfactory hallucinations were not uncommon, although, from what Doc Jane had told him, they were usually prodromals rather than active symptoms of the neurological event. She’d even said that some people smelled bananas or citrus instead of experiencing an aura.
Who fucking cared.
As still another round of sirens lit off and streaked right by the front of the club, he put his phone down and went back to the couch.
Must be some fucking fire somewhere in the city tonight, he thought as he lay back down and closed his aching eyes.
All those fire trucks, from different districts.
It sounded like a whole city block was on fire.
As Therese lifted her head, flames were everywhere around her, the explosion’s incandescent core having retreated from its advance, leaving greedy subsidiaries in its wake. Part of her wall was fire. The rug was smoking. Molding at the ceiling was curling with flames. But none of that compared to the origin of the blast.
That apartment across the hall was engulfed with deadly fire.
Dizzy and disoriented, she sat up and was aware of a ringing in her ears—unless it was the fire alarms? What had happened? What had exploded?
Who cared, she had to get out—
Across the corridor, something emerged from the source of the blaze. It was on fire. It walked and swung its arms, but it was made of fire. And it was screaming as it fell to its knees and landed facedown on the worn carpet.
“No!” Therese yelled as she jumped to her feet.
Her first thought was to help whoever it was, but then the heat registered properly, her higher verticality bringing her into a force field of intense hot air that was thickening with toxic smoke. Coughing and covering her mouth, she couldn’t imagine how that person was suffering and she had to do something. Bending down and looking around, she knew the slipcover on her sofa was her best bet, and ill-fitting as it was, the heavy fabric came off the ratty superstructure underneath without much effort. Dragging it out into the hall, Therese covered what turned out to be a writhing woman—and desperately tried to ignore the smell of cooking meat as she stayed in a crouch and attempted to get the flames to die.
“Help!” Therese yelled out through the heat and the smoke. “I need help!”
No one was paying any attention to her. Like rats escaping floodwaters, humans were pouring out of their apartments, all but trampling the burning woman in their rush to get to the stairwells.
Except there was no chance to save the woman, anyway. Death claimed her, the body beneath the slipcover falling still—
A creak directly overhead made Therese look up. Flames were licking out of the doorway in front of her and clawing at the corridor’s ceiling, eating away at the plaster and the studs beneath, the heat doubling and tripling; the more the fire consumed, the more powerful it became.
Just as she started to back away, something let loose and swung free, coming at her. Raising her arm to protect her head, she reared back from the origin of the blast, but she didn’t get far with that. She bumped into something, someone, and couldn’t get out of range. The flaming weight hit her hard, crushing her to the floor by the body that was under the slipcover, still alit, still smoking.
Dazed, Therese’s sense of survival took over as her brain faltered, her arms shoving her out from under, fast as a blink. Damage had been done, however. Her back was stinging, and one shoulder refused to move. Frightened, she half-dragged, halfcrawled back toward her apartment door. Phone. She needed to get to her phone. She had to call her brother. He would help her—
A second explosion came from somewhere else. Maybe it was the original apartment, maybe it was another one—but it was definitely behind her instead of ahead of her.
No time for phone. No time for purse.
She had to get out of here if she was going to live. The pain in her back and the panic of the situation meant dematerializing was out of the question, but she could damn well use her legs. Planting her hand on the wall, she hauled herself to her feet and started to run—but she didn’t make much progress at all. She stumbled, landing badly on her knee. When she tried to get up again, she couldn’t understand why her balance was off—
It wasn’t her balance. Her ankle on the left side was unable to bear her weight.
She was going to have to use the wall to steady herself.
As she pulled herself back up, she took a hit from behind, somebody banging into her and sending her to the rug again, before another fleeing human stepped on her bad arm. Yelling out in pain, she curled in a ball, protecting her head and her torso, bracing herself for more impacts from some kind of stampede. When none came, she risked a glance around.
Smoke had filled the hallway and was crowding out the usable oxygen, the deadly level descending fast, leaving only a couple of feet of visibility.
Yanking up the front of her shirt, Therese covered her nose and mouth and started to crawl, but that proved to be inefficient. She needed both hands, and that shoulder was a problem. Dropping the hem, she moved as fast as she could, keeping her head down and trying to control her breathing. The noxious chemical swirl above her made her cough and her eyes watered so badly it was as if she were crying, but she wasn’t.
Shock. She was in shock.
Totally disorientated, she was grateful for the worn pattern of the runner. She knew if she followed it, she would get to the staircase eventually—
She came up to the first body some thirty feet later. It was that of a man, and his clothes had been burned off his back and legs, his skin charred, the smell the kind of thing that made her want to vomit. He was facedown and not moving, and as she came up to his head, she looked into his wide-open eyes. They were fixed and dilated, unblinking because they were lidless, and his mouth was open, the lips peeled off yellowed teeth from the pain.
With a strangled sound, Therese kept going, especially as a fresh rumble vibrated up through the floor and made her terrified the whole building was collapsing. Faster, she tried to go faster. But it was not fast enough. As the smoke continued to get lower and lower, she lost visibility, only her elbow on the wall leading her at all, and soon her lungs started to burn so badly, she was coughing more than she was inhaling.
More rumbling. Someone screaming. Another body she had to crawl over.
All she knew was that she had to keep going or she was going to die.
* * *
Back at shAdoWs, Trez sat up on his sofa and looked to the observation wall behind his desk with a frown. Something was tapping on the glass, the knocking sound repetitive, insistent. Annoying as fuck in the quiet.
Getting up, he walked over and turned on the lights down below from the control panel by his office phone. One by one, the banks of fluorescent lights made noontime out of the club’s darkness, the black dance floor with all its scuffs and stains illuminated with the kind of clarity that did its wear and tear no good whatsoever.