Burn for Me Page 24

“Work first.”

“Give! Give, give give gimme . . .” He was moving too fast, jittery, shaking. His words began to blend. “Giveittomebitch give giveme need-need-need . . .”

“Work first.”

“Fuck!” Bug spun on his foot. “What?”

“Adam Pierce. Find him.”

He held up a finger. “To take the edge off. One. One!”

I passed the vial to Mad Rogan, keeping the Taser on Bug. He’d made a lunge at me before. “Please give him one pill.”

Mad Rogan opened the jar. A pill rose in the air. Wow. The man’s control was crazy.

The pill floated to Bug. He snatched it out of the air, yanked a knife from the sheath on his belt, put the pill on the table, and sliced a third off. His fingers trembled. He swiped the smaller section of the pill off the desk and slid it in his mouth. Bug froze, standing on his toes, his hands straight down, as if he’d been about to take flight. The shaking stopped. He became completely and utterly still.

Mad Rogan glanced at me.

“Equzol,” I told him.

Equzol was a military drug designed to level you out. If you were sleepy, it would keep you awake; if you were hyper, it would calm you down. When you took it, the world became clear. You saw everything, were aware of everything, reacted fast, but nothing freaked you out. It was issued to snipers and convoy drivers. They would take it to keep from overcorrecting or giving in to fatigue, and once it wore off, they’d sleep for twenty hours straight. It was a classified substance, but my mother still had connections.

Bug opened his eyes. The strange, jittery hysteria was still there, but it receded, curling down for a rest deep inside him.

“They’re quiet,” he said softly and smiled.

I nodded at the jar. “Adam Pierce.”

Bug slid into his seat and pulled up the sleeves of his dark, grimy, long-sleeved shirt. Dozens of tiny dots marked his forearms, each a tiny individual tattoo blending together into an arcane design. His hands flew over half a dozen keyboards as if he’d been a virtuoso pianist. Tranquil sounds of trance music filled the space. The screens scrolled too fast to follow, the images flickering. He was tapping into the security cameras on the streets. I’d seen him do it before, and he was expert at it.

Mad Rogan’s face had hardened into a cold, determined expression. His eyes turned merciless.

“What is it?” I asked quietly.

“He’s a swarmer,” he ground through his teeth.


“How long?”

“How long has he been one?”


“Three years. He was bound to a swarm two years into his enlistment, and he’s been out of the Air Force for one.”

Mad Rogan stared at Bug. “He should be dead. Their life expectancy after the binding is eighteen months.”

“Bug is special.”

Swarmers were surveillance specialists. They were bound by magic to what they themselves described as swarms. Swarms had no physical manifestation. They lived somehow inside the swarmer’s psyche, letting him or her split his attention over hundreds of independent tasks, like a river splitting into narrow streams. Swarmers processed information at a superhuman speed. Most of them had the binding done in the military, and most of them didn’t live two years past that. Those who volunteered for the procedure were either terminally ill or tempted by a huge bonus payable to their families. Bug somehow survived. It might have been his deprivation chamber, or maybe he was just better suited for it than most, but he lived, got out of Air Force, and hid here, away from everyone.

Mad Rogan locked his teeth. It made his jaw look even more square.

“Does it bother you?” I asked.

“It bothers me that they do this to soldiers, squeeze everything they can out of them, and then discard them like garbage. People know this goes on and nobody gives a shit. Acceptable losses.” He said the word like it burned his mouth.

So some part of the dragon was human after all.

My cell phone beeped. Unlisted number. Again. I answered it.


“Hello, Snow,” Adam Pierce purred into my ear.

I fought an urge to scream into the phone. “Hi, Adam.” I put him on speaker. “Did you decide to turn yourself in?”

Mad Rogan went from icy anger to predatory alertness in a blink.

“Depends. Are we still in lust? I mean in love. Funny how I keep making that mistake.”

“Depends,” I said. “Do you want to meet so we can talk about it?”

“Not right now,” Adam said. “I’m busy tonight. Maybe later.”

“Found him,” Bug pressed a key on the keyboard.

The screen flickered and showed the same image from different angles. Adam Pierce stood on the corner of a busy street, holding a phone to his ear. Faded jeans hugged his ass and long legs. He wore his trademark black leather jacket and black boots. A tall building ten floors high rose in front of him, its dusky, smoke-colored glass crossed by stripes of bright yellow. To the left, another building, a tall, narrow tower, offered silvery windows to the rays of the evening sun.

“Were you looking for me?” Adam asked. “So sweet.”

“You sure you don’t want to meet?”

“Yeah. Turn the TV on. I’ve got something to show you.”

The phone went dead. On the screen Adam tossed a cell phone onto the street, shrugged off his jacket, revealing bare, muscled back, and let the jacket fall to the ground. His face was plastered over every local news broadcast at least once a day and here he was, in broad daylight, taking his clothes off in public. Somebody would recognize him and call the cops for sure. Damn it.

Adam strode into the intersection, oblivious to traffic. Tires screeched as a dark sedan swerved, desperately trying to avoid plowing into him. He raised his head. The air around him shimmered, rising. A stray paper receipt carried by the wind fluttered by and burst into white-hot flame before raining down in a powdery ash.

A ring of fire ignited on the asphalt around him. The bright orange flames rushed outward, spreading in a complex pattern. An arcane circle blazed into life. He must’ve painted it on the asphalt with some kind of fuel.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Rogan growled. “It’s fire-attuned. I can tell you it’s a high-level circle. He’s about to offload a lot of power.”

Adam leaned back. The tightly defined muscles flexed and bulged under his skin. He spread his arms wide, his biceps trembling with the strain. His body froze, every muscle tight, every tendon ready. The panels of a green jaguar parked on the street a few feet away began to melt.

“Where is this?” Mad Rogan asked.

“Corner of Sam Houston Drive and Bear Street,” Bug said.

About ten minutes from us, off Sam Houston Parkway. Around Adam, traffic stopped. People got out of their cars and stared.

“Zoom in,” Mad Rogan ordered.

Bug touched a key. The camera zoomed in on Adam. His eyes were gone. In their place a blazing yellow inferno glared at the world. A translucent new shape overlaid Adam’s body, shining here and there with deep, fiery orange. His hands spouted foot-long, angular phantom claws, as if he had put on a pair of demonic glass gloves. Translucent curved spikes burst from his spine.

“Goddamn moron,” Mad Rogan snarled. “I know what this is.”

Brilliant, white hot fireballs formed between Adam’s opened fingers, churning with red and yellow.

“It’s Hellspawn,” Rogan said. “House Pierce-specific high spell.”

High spells were the result of generations of research and experimentation, and Adam Pierce was about to use one of them to cause havoc in the middle of the city. Right now House Pierce was collectively having fits.

Adam opened his mouth and vomited a torrent of fire at the dark building. Glass shattered, raining down. The fire punched through the building. Part of the flames shot straight up, melting glass in a column of fire.

People screamed. Fire alarms wailed. The towering column of fire shot higher, an unbridled power of a Prime running wild.

A fire engine came down the street, swerved to avoid Adam, and pulled into the parking lot of the silver high-rise. Odd.

“Are you seeing this?” I asked.

“Yes.” Rogan focused on the fire engine.

The doors of the fire engine opened. People in firefighter suits jumped out and moved toward the building in a determined way.

I thought out loud. “Why evacuate that building instead of the building he’s burning? Can you zoom in?”

Bug struck a quick staccato on the keys. Three of his screens zoomed in on a firefighter crew.

Two of the people carried fireman axes. The other three people were carrying rifles. There was no conceivable reason for the firemen to carry rifles. When people faced the prospect of being trapped in a burning building, they panicked. That’s why we spent a great deal of time training children to never question what a man in a fireman suit said. We were conditioned from a very early age to not think but just blindly obey whatever order the fireman gave us, because he was there to save us. If a fireman said to evacuate, we would run for the nearest exit.

As if on cue, the doors of the building opened and people in business clothes rushed out.

Mad Rogan’s face turned grim.

Adam Pierce was a diversion. The real target was located in that building, and the “firemen” with rifles were going after it.

The screens turned dark.

“Shit fire and save the matches,” Bug swore. “Someone took out the street-level cameras. Let me get a different angle . . .”

The screens flickered, still dark.

“No cameras on the other side of the block either.” Bug’s eyebrows came together. “Dickfuckers.”

Mad Rogan grabbed my hand. “Now we really have to go. Come on.”

“Equzol first!” Bug yelled.

I tossed him the jar. He snapped it out of the air. “Napoleon, out!”

Napoleon jumped off the pillow and bounded out of the room. I chased him.

Mad Rogan rattled off a phone number at Bug. “Get eyes inside that building, and I’ll get you twice as many of your happy pills.”

We ran through the hallways, careful not to trip on anything. Mad Rogan put his cell to his ear. “I need the list of businesses in a high-rise on the corner of Sam Houston Drive and Bear Street. Blueprints, ownership, send me everything.”

“Think Adam’s a diversion?” I almost ran into a pile of chairs.

“If he is, it’s a good one.”

We burst out onto the wooden bridge. Something flashed in an empty window in the building across from us, reflecting the sun. I grabbed Mad Rogan’s arm and yanked him toward me. A shot rang out.

“Where?” Mad Rogan growled.

“Top floor, left corner.”

A chunk of concrete the size of a basketball shot out from the pile of rubble and rocketed into the dark window. A muffled scream echoed through the building sounding a lot like “Ow!”

We ran down the bridge.

“Crown Tech,” a calm male voice said from Mad Rogan’s cell. “Emerald Drilling, Palomo Industries, Powell Piping Technologies, Bickard, Stang, and Associates, and Reisen Information Services Corporation.”

Mad Rogan hung up.

“Does that tell you anything?” I asked.


Ahead, a pattern crossed the bridge, drawn in chalk and coal. It hadn’t been there when we had come the other way. Mad Rogan frowned. The boards with the pattern broke. A flash of vile-smelling green mist shot into the air. He jumped over the gap. I followed.

“I think they’re trying to kill me,” he said.

“You came into the Pit and punked them in their own territory. Of course they are trying to kill you. Get used to it.”

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