Burn for Me Page 16

I wasn’t nervous before, but he was getting me there.

“That’s what you will be like. Nothing visible from the surface. Walk through any detector. And then pow!”

“Pow sounds good.” Sort of.

“Now the drawback. The fine print.” Makarov leaned forward. “First, nobody knows what the hell this is. We reached into magic and pulled them out and nobody on the planet can tell you what they are and where they come from. We don’t know what long-term consequences are. We know that we had them implanted in three generations, and so far nothing. I have them in me. I don’t hear voices or get wild urges to murder people. But there is always a possibility.”

“I can live with that.”

“Two, one kandidat in a hundred and twelve rejects murena. They don’t always make it. That’s why Szenia is here.” He nodded at the blond man. “He is a trained paramedic. But if your heart stops, it stops. Eh.” He spread his arms.

“Eh” was not the reaction I was looking for.

“Three, the way this works. Murena feeds on your energy. You’ve got to prime it with your magic. It’s going to hurt. It will hurt like a son of a bitch. But when you touch the other guy, it will hurt him more.” He grinned. “But do it more than a few times in a row, you’re going to see red floating thing in your eyes. They call it the glowworm. That’s your body’s way of telling you to stop. Do it again, the veins in your head will blow up and”—he made a sharp noise, drawing his thumb sideways across his neck—“no need to bother with nine-one-one. You’re going to die right there.”

“How do I prime it?”

“It’s mental. I will show you once they are in.”

“What happens when I hurt someone?”

Makarov narrowed his eyes. “Depends on how much power you’ve got and how badly you want them hurt. You control it. It’s certified nonlethal and meant for behavior modification, not straight self-defense. Any kandidat up to Notable magic rank is pretty safe. You hurt the bad guy, he stops what he’s doing, rolls around on the ground for a bit while you’re kicking him in the ribs, but at the end, both of you go home. Significants have been known to send people into convulsions.”

“What about Primes?” my mother asked.

I almost jumped. I hadn’t heard her come in.

“No Prime had one in them, as far as I know. Primes don’t need them. They have their own magic, and they are busy doing things with it rather than herding recruits through boot camp or babysitting mages on the battlefield.” Makarov looked at my mother. “Haven’t seen you for a while, Sergeant First Class. How’s the leg?”

“Still there, Sergeant Major.”

He nodded. “That’s good to hear.”

“You kill my daughter, you’re not walking out of here,” Mother said.

“I’ll take that under consideration.” Makarov turned to me. “So, yea or nay?”

“How much is it going to cost us?” I asked.

“That’s between you and your grandmother. I owe her a favor.”

I took a deep breath. “Yea.”

Makarov got up and took a marker out of his pocket. “Good. Did you eat?”


“Even better.”

Thirty minutes later, every inch of my arms was covered with arcane marks. Szenia took my vitals, then brought in a large chair, and he and Makarov strapped me to it.

“Is it going to hurt?”

“You bet.”

Sergeant Major had a lousy bedside manner.

He pulled out a cardboard box of kosher salt from Szenia’s bag and drew a simple circle around the chair. “Just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“In case murenas get snippy.” He set the metal box in the circle of salt, put a large, old-fashioned key into the lock, and opened it with a click. A faint scent of cinnamon floated into the air.

The box’s top slid aside. Makarov barked something in a language I didn’t understand. His left hand turned blue, as if coated in glowing, translucent light. His fingers lengthened, the knuckles becoming large and knobbed. Claws slid over his nails. He reached into the box with his new demonic hand and withdrew a thin ribbon of pale green light. It had no legs, no head, no tail. Just a strip of light about seven inches long and an inch wide. It wriggled in his fist.

Makarov chanted, bringing it closer.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Makarov slapped the light onto my exposed left forearm, right between the glyphs on my skin. It felt like boiling oil. I screamed. The light sprouted tentacle-like roots and bit into my skin. Pain lanced me like a scalpel dipped in acid. I fought against it, but it burrowed its way into my skin, into my flesh, sinking deeper and deeper. I jerked in the chair, trying to get it off me. If only I could get my hand free, I would claw it out of me.

My mother turned away, her face contorted.

The pain seared the inside of my arm, ripping another scream out of me. Magic clamped my body. It felt like an elephant had landed on my chest. I kept screaming until it finally slid into my bone and settled there. I slumped against my restraints, exhausted.

The ache subsided. Sweat drenched my forehead.

Makarov raised my chin with his right, human hand and peered in my eyes.


“Alive,” I ground out.

“Good. Now the right arm.”

It felt like forever before they finally undid the restraints. The marks on my skin had faded, as if absorbed by the magic. My arms still ached, as if I had done too many push-ups or carried something really heavy the day before, but the soreness was nothing compared to the way it had first felt. I’d take the soreness any day.

“We’re going to do a little demonstration now.” Makarov motioned to Szenia. The blond man came to stand next to me.

“Picture power flowing down from your shoulder into your right hand.”

I pictured a wave of green light sliding down inside my arm into my fist.

“Wait for it. The first time always takes a little longer.”

I stood there, picturing a viscous glow and feeling stupid.

Something shifted inside my arm. Nothing happened on the surface, but I felt a faint prickling at my fingertips.

“Ready?” Makarov asked.


“Give Szenia a little love tap.”

I reached over and grasped Szenia’s shoulder. Blinding pain shot through my arm straight into my chest. Thin streaks of lightning danced over my arms, piercing through my skin. Szenia’s eyes rolled back in his head. The pain crushed me, and I doubled over. The ache reverberated through my skull, rattling my teeth. Ow.

Makarov shoved me back. I let go, and Szenia crumpled to the floor. Thick white foam slid out of his mouth. His legs drummed the ground. Oh no.

Makarov dropped to his knees and slid his demon hand straight into Szenia’s chest. The convulsions slowed. Slowly Makarov withdrew his clawed fingers. Szenia opened his eyes.

“Szivoi to, geroy?” Makarov asked.

The blond man nodded.

Makarov turned to me, looked at my face, then turned to Frida. “I’ve got to talk to you.”

They marched to the other end of the warehouse. I got Szenia a bottle of water from Grandma’s fridge and propped him up so he could drink. “I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay.” He took the bottle and drank in long, greedy gulps. “That stung a bit. I’ll just lay here for a while.” He lie back down.

Across from us Makarov and Grandma Frida were arguing. Makarov was pointing at me. I strained, trying to hear. Something about “should’ve told me.”

Makarov did an about-face and marched toward me. Grandma trailed him. The Russian closed the distance between us, his jaw set. “You listen to me and listen good. Don’t use this on anyone below Significant level, you hear me? You could kill somebody, and I don’t want their souls on my conscience.”

He picked up his box and walked out. Szenia rolled to his feet and followed him.

Grandma Frida watched him go, her arms crossed on her chest.

“What’s going on?” my mother asked.

Grandma Frida shook her head. “Crazy Russian. Never mind. Just be careful with the shockers, Neva.”

My teeth still hurt. “I wasn’t planning on randomly buzzing people on the street with them.”

My cell phone rang on the table. I never went far without it, even in the house. I picked it up. An unlisted number. Oh goodie.

“Nevada Baylor.”

“I need to talk to you,” Mad Rogan said into the phone. “Meet me for lunch.”

My pulse jumped, my body snapped to attention, and my brain shut down for a second to come to terms with the impact of his voice. I’d slap myself except my mother and grandmother already thought I was nuts, and hurting myself would get me committed for sure.

“Sure, let me get right on that.” Hey, my voice still worked. “Should I bring my own chains this time? Or do you have bigger plans, and this is some sort of freaky murder foreplay”—why did the word foreplay just come out of my mouth?—“and I’ll end up cut up into small pieces inside some freezer at the end? I can just spray myself with mace and shoot myself in the head now and save you the trouble.”

“Are you done?” he asked.

“Just getting started.” I was so brave over the phone.

“Lunch, Ms. Baylor. Concentrate. Pick a place.”

“You seem to be under the impression that I work for you and you can give me orders. Let me fix that.” I hung up.

Grandma looked at my mom. “Did she just hang up on Mad Rogan?”

“Yes, she did. Did you know that Adam Pierce showed up at our house last night?”

Grandma’s eyes went wide. “He was here?”

“She met him outside.”

Grandma swung toward me. “Did you take any pictures?”

My phone beeped. Unlisted number again. I answered it.

“I’m not a man of infinite patience,” Mad Rogan said.

I hung up.

“Pictures or it didn’t happen!” Grandma declared.

I scrolled through my phone and pulled up the shot of Adam Pierce in a Mercer T-shirt. “There you go.”

Grandma grabbed the phone. It beeped. She answered it. “She’ll call you back. Nevada, can I email Adam’s picture to myself?”

“You have to hang up first.”

She hung up and clicked the phone, typing with her index fingers. “Arabella is going to flip.”

My mother sighed.

Grandma passed me the phone. “Here’s your phone back.”

Another beep.


His voice was quiet and precise. “If you hang up on me again, I will slice your car into small pieces and hang them on your roof like Christmas wreaths.”

“First, destroying my property is a crime, just like kidnapping me is a crime. Second, how exactly is mincing my car into small pieces supposed to convince me to come to lunch with you? Third, if you’re close enough to slice my car, I’m close enough to shoot you in the head. Can you deflect bullets if you don’t know they’re coming?”

“I’m trying to be reasonable,” he said. “Come to lunch with me and we can exchange information or . . .”

“Or what? My mother and grandmother are right here. Shall I pass the phone to them so you can threaten them with terrible things if I don’t agree to lunch?”

“Will it do any good?”

“Probably not.”

“What would make you feel safe?” he asked.

“An apology would be a start.”

“I apologize for kidnapping you,” he said. “I promise not to kidnap you before, during, or after lunch. This is a business conversation. Where would you be comfortable meeting me?”

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