No one was down below. Nobody hovering in front of the glass.
And it was too soon for the housekeeping staff to come in. Besides, humans couldn’t levitate without wires.
What the hell had he been hearing?
Under his skin, something was itching at him, and he ran his blunt nails up and down the backs of his arms. An unbearable sense of restless adrenaline flooded his veins, and without a lot of options, he walked back over to his bathroom. Inside the black marble jewel box of a loo, he ran the water and kept it cold, splashing his face. As he straightened and turned to the black hand towel, he looked through the water dripping into his eyes at the blinds that covered the tall, narrow window. Wiping his face with one hand, he used the other to twist the rod.
The view that was exposed between the tilting slats was of the long-and-low rooftops of the buildings between him and the river. Beyond them was that water. That icy, sluggish water that had previously called his name, but which was now silent—
The amount of smoke drifting across the Hudson and tangling in one of the span bridges’ arches was enough to obscure the far side.
Huge amount of smoke. Billows of it.
Trez’s brain was not working very well, the migraine dulling him up, that horrible disturbing dream making things even slower. And that was what made the lickety-split conclusion he came to as to the source both impossible and arguably irrational.
But it was just… if he triangulated the direction from which the wind was taking all that smoke, and the sound of the sirens that were still calling out into the night, and the glow off in the distance… there was only one place the fire could be.
No, that can’t be right, he told himself. It can’t be Therese’s rooming house.
Okay, it could be, but there were dozens of buildings, large and small, between him and her. It could be any one of them—
She was there. He could sense her.
Because she had taken his vein, he knew exactly where she was… and she was in that building.
But was she in a fire?
Trez’s heart rate tripled, another conclusion reached with the kind of certainty that facts did not support and his instincts could not deny. Closing his eyes, he dematerialized through a seam in the panes of glass, traveling through the cold night air across many, many roofs, passing by many, many buildings, flying over many, many streets.
He re-formed in the freezing wind on the roof of an apartment building directly in front of the blaze, and what his eyes focused on took his breath away. It was her rooming house. It was the three floors in the middle. It was on the side that Therese’s flat was located on.
And she was in there. Goddamn it… he could sense her.
For a split second, his mind spun out of control, his senses over-heightened by urgency and panic, his body braced to pounce, his blood racing. There was just too much to assess: the ten fire trucks that were parked around the inferno, the arcs of water being trained by human firemen onto the blaze, the ambulances arriving, the crowd gathering in the cold and husbanded by cops.
But he couldn’t afford to be scattered.
Scanning the front of the rooming house, he saw people streaming out of an exit at street level on the far side of the building. She was not among them, and he knew this without being able to see faces or bodies clearly.
No, he knew where she was. And her location terrified him.
Closing his eyes, he forced himself to calm down and then ghosted forward, entering the building through the last set of blown-out windows on the left-hand corner on the third floor. It was an incredibly stupid and dangerous thing to do, given that he could have killed himself if he’d re-formed in the middle of a bed or a sofa. But he lucked out. He was dead center in a shallow living room with an open door, the tenant having clearly escaped the apartment.
Not that he could see much of anything.
The smoke was so thick he had to bend down, and as he headed for the open doorway, he grabbed what turned out to be a baseball shirt to cover his nose and mouth. Its smell of marijuana, embedded in the synthetic fibers, was quickly eclipsed by the stench of melted plastic and steaming metal, and goddamn it was hot. He was sweating already, and all he had on was his silk shirt.
Out in the hall, he looked both ways and saw fuck all. The smoke was down to the floor and coming in waves, the heat wafting it to and fro.
She was close by. He could sense her. But he couldn’t see a fucking thing.
“Therese,” he called out.
If he could sense her, she had to be alive. She just… had to be.
The water from the hoses of the firemen was pounding on the outsides of the building, creating a din that was impossible to hear through, and that was before you added in the alarms that were going off throughout this floor as well as the ones above and below. And the fire itself was loud, the crackling and hissing, the hot breath of the flames forming a background noise level that was going to drown out his voice.
“Therese!” he yelled anyway. “Therese!”
In the back of his mind, he knew no one could survive in this hallway, not without protective gear and a breathing apparatus—and even with that kind of equipment, it was going to be dangerous.
The heat was all around, even though the fire was still ahead of him, his body flushing, sweat breaking out across his chest, under his arms, down his back. As the skin on his face tightened, he thought of the funeral pyre. Of the dream that had woken him up.
This was the sensation he had. Exactly the sensation he’d had.
As he forced his way forward, his mind played tricks on him. Sometimes what was ahead was the fire in the rooming house. Sometimes it was the fire Selena was calling him from.
Either way, he had the bizarre sense that he was trying to save both of his females.
Therese had known heat before: Steamy August nights when there hadn’t been any air-conditioning or breeze in her parents’ house. Fevers from the occasional virus to which vampires were susceptible. Hearths that were over-enthusiastic, and also the hot flashes associated with her needing.
Nothing came close to this.
As she lay facedown on the hallway’s worn runner, her hands cupped around her mouth and nose, her head tucked in against her collarbones, her breathing labored and wheezy in between coughing spells, she felt like she was in an oven. There was no sweating, even. That had stopped a while ago. She was crisping on the outside, her skin crackling up… her muscles cooking on the inside.
This is how I die? she kept thinking. This is it?
In Caldwell, in a shitty rooming house, on a cold night in December, in a fire?
Determined not to have that fate be what separated her from her family, from her life, from the future years that she felt like she deserved, Therese got herself moving again. But the momentum didn’t last long, and she didn’t make it far. She was running out of strength, and her thinking was getting muddled—
The sound of her name, repeated over and over above the fire’s beastly temper, had her lifting her head. Except how could she be hearing this? Who would be here for her? It must be a hallucination, a last-ditch effort in her mind to—
A ghostly apparition appeared before her, coalescing from the smoke. It was a female, with dark hair, just like her own, a face… just like her own… and a body… just like her own.
This is me, Therese thought. This is what I was.
The conviction made absolutely no sense, so she focused on the strange white robe, and the fact that whoever it was was utterly unaffected by the flames and the lack of oxygen. And she was impossibly ethereal. The female was positively glowing in the midst of the horrible, billowing smoke, an angel straight from the Fade.
No… not an angel, Therese thought. She is me.
So great was both her confusion and her certainty—the two poles of cognition existing in the same moment about the same thing—that for a split second, Therese forgot all about the fire’s deadly heat.
Oh, wait, so she must have already died, she decided. That must be herself risen unto the Other Side, her soul looking down upon the broken body it had had to disinhabit.
Just as this thought occurred, a flood of memories deluged her mind, all the images and sounds making no sense, yet being totally familiar: She saw an all-white world that turned colorful, grass becoming green, tulips becoming pink and orange and yellow, a forested rim now verdant instead of dressed in shades of pearlescent cream. And there were people in the sanctuary, females in white robes, and males who were warriors. And there were temples and loggias made of white marble, and seeing bowls that showed the history down on the earth below, and quill pens that recorded the events on parchment, and a library of leather-bound volumes detailing narratives collected and cherished as the history of the race.
And there was something else.
There was Trez.
All at once, the vision of the female in front of her, the one of herself in a white robe from that other place, was broken through, a huge figure scattering the apparition with his own, solid, very real body.
Except it couldn’t be. Why would he know she was trapped in here?
“Therese!” he yelled as he saw her sprawled on the hallway floor.
As the tremendous male before her crouched down, she decided that this was her last thought, the final cognitive spasm of her consciousness: On the edge of her death, she had conjured not her mahmen or her father, not her brother or any of her cousins or her friends, but… him.
Somehow, she was not surprised.
“Oh, God, Therese!”
Except then things got weird. Well, okay, weirder. The hands that reached out to touch her did not seem like something she was imagining. They seemed very real, and she screamed at the contact with her burned skin.
“I know this hurts,” he said roughly, “but I’ve got to get you out.”
As the Trez vision spoke over the din of the fire, she was very impressed by the hallucination. It was so accurate, the way his voice cracked, the coughing, the fact that her body’s nerves went haywire with pain as he dragged her up off the carpet and held her against his chest and turned away from the center of the inferno.