Burn for Me Page 48

Rogan halted in the middle of the lawn. I stopped with him. Everything seemed so bright. The trees were such a vivid emerald green, the sky so blue. I could see every blade of grass around us.

“I don’t want to die,” I whispered. I realized I was crying. I was supposed to be stoic or strong, but all I could think about was how much I loved being alive. I’d barely gotten to do anything with my life. I would never get to see my sisters grow up. I would never fall in love and have a family. I wouldn’t even get to say the proper good-bye. I’d just pecked my mom on the cheek. I . . .

“Stay close to me,” Mad Rogan said. “You’ll feel the boundary around us. No matter what happens, do not cross. Do you understand, Nevada? You can’t enter null space, but you can exit it, and if you try to do it while I’m active, it will shred you into a bloody mist.”

I swallowed.

“Once I begin, I may not be able to stop,” Mad Rogan said. “I won’t know where you are. I won’t hear you. I won’t see you. Do not leave the circle. No matter what happens, you’ll be safe here. Do you understand?”


He pulled me to him, my back against his chest, and he locked his arms on me. Magic pulsed out of him. Wind stirred the grass around us.

“Won’t work,” Adam called out. “Whatever you’re doing, it won’t work. I’ll burn through it.”

“Let’s dance,” Mad Rogan said. His voice sounded strange, deep and distant.

Nothing happened. His arms were still around me. He didn’t move.

Seconds dripped by, slowly, so slowly.

Across from us, faint orange light rose from Adam’s circle. It flared up, like phantom flame, and died down, then flared up again and faded once more. Adam Pierce opened his mouth. His voice was no longer his own. It was a voice of something ancient and terrible, a roar of a volcano come to life. “I AM FIRE. BURN FOR ME.”

The wind died. It was there one second, and now it was gone. I could still see it rustling the trees and the grass, but I felt nothing. A strange calm came over me, as if an invisible wall cut us off from the world. I felt it about two feet in front of me, curving into a circle about seven feet wide. It was so peaceful here. So quiet.

Mad Rogan’s hold loosened. His arms slid up my shoulders. I turned. His eyes turned unnatural turquoise blue. His face looked serene.


He was looking into the distance. He didn’t see me.

His feet left the ground. His body floated a foot up in the air. His arms opened, loose by his sides. The grass outside the circle bent away from it, as if a blast wave ran across it.

In his circle, Adam Pierce’s fire shot up, spinning around him, solid and four feet high now. He was looking straight at me, and his eyes were pure fire. Hair rose on the back of my neck.

The circle around me pulsed. I didn’t hear it, but I felt it. It reverberated through me, echoing in my bones, not painful, but not pleasant either. The trees around us collapsed, severed at the root. The Riding Cowboy slid sideways and crashed down.

The circle pulsed again. The Harris County Criminal Justice Center quaked. To the right, the huge tower of the Harris County civil courthouse shuddered.

What was Rogan doing?

The circle pulsed again, like the beating of a titan’s heart.

The Justice Center slid forward and broke apart. For a fraction of a second, pieces of it hung in the air, as if deciding whether they should obey the pull of gravity. Hundreds of glass shards hovered, catching the sun. Thousands of chunks of stone floated, motionless. Between them, the inner guts of the building showed, fractured, all of the three hundred and twenty-five feet of its height torn and left on display. It was as if the entire enormous structure had turned to glass and some deity had smashed it with its hammer.

The massive building imploded. Tons of stone, glass, wood, and steel crashed to the ground. It made no sound as it fell. My brain refused to accept that it made no sound. I kept straining to hear it, but it didn’t come.

To the right, the Civil Courthouse swayed and shattered. Two dust clouds boiled forth, heading straight for us, boulders of broken stone flying among the dust. I crouched, hands over my head.

The pain never came. I raised my head.

Chunks of stone littered the ground around us. None had landed in the circle. Above me, Mad Rogan levitated. His face glowed from within, the brilliant turquoise of his eyes bright, like stars. He looked like an angel.

I glanced at Adam. The fire had engulfed him, turning into a pillar. It climbed higher and higher, spinning, ten; no, eleven; no, twelve feet high.

The circle around me pulsed again. The force minced the rubble into dust, pushing it back, sweeping it against itself. Behind the park, Harris County Family Law Center disintegrated. Across Congress Avenue, the juvenile justice center fell apart, spitting out a car-sized boulder. It hurtled through the air. Oh my God.

Don’t leave the circle.

I clenched my hands into fists.

The boulder smashed against the circle and bounced off.

The circle pulsed again and again, each wave pushing the rubble out and up, crushing it into powder, again and again.

Rogan was building a wall. If he could contain the fire, it wouldn’t spread.

The pillar of fire was fifty feet tall and climbing.

The pulse from Mad Rogan toppled the next circle of buildings. Their remains joined the wall.

The pillar of fire shot up another twenty-five feet.

The wall gained another ten.

They kept racing, growing taller, wall, pillar, wall, pillar.

The pillar had to be over a hundred feet high. I couldn’t tell if the wall was higher.

The pillar of flames flashed with white. A ring of fire exploded outward, racing toward me. The fallen trees vanished, instantly turned to ash.

I braced myself and held my breath.

The fire splashed against the circle and swallowed it. I was alive. The air around me wasn’t any warmer. I couldn’t even smell the smoke. The air tasted fresh.

The fire rolled toward the wall. Please be tall enough. Please be tall enough.

The flames splashed against the barrier and came up thirty feet short.

I held my breath. It could still burn through.

All around me an inferno raged, and within its depths Adam Pierce stood, glowing with golden light, wrapped in flame, the stolen artifact on his head blazing like an angry sun.

The street turned black and glossy. The pavement had melted into tar. The Riding Cowboy had melted too, its metal slipping into the slowly moving river of asphalt. The grass under my feet remained intact.

The circle kept pulsing, compacting the wall.

The fire battered against the barrier. The outer layer of concrete chunks turned to white powder.

Please hold. Please.

Minutes passed, sliding by. I sat. I couldn’t stand anymore. My heart was tired of beating too fast. My whole body shook from anxiety. I felt punched all over.

The wall began to glow with eerie light. The concrete had turned into calcium oxide, which was now melting and producing the same kind of light that had illuminated the stage productions before the electricity took hold.

The fire raged and raged, eating at the wall.

All those people in the tunnels. If the wall broke and the fire ravaged downtown, they would suffocate from the smoke. If they didn’t cook alive first.

The wall to the left stopped glowing. I peered at it. The fire still burned, but the concrete and stone of the wall no longer lit up.

My mind struggled with that fact. I was too shell-shocked to process it. Finally, pieces came together in my head. The wall stopped glowing, which meant there had to be a space between it and the magic fire. Adam had grown the pillar of fire as wide as he could. Rogan could hold him. The blaze was contained.

Relief washed over me. A sob broke free, then another. I realized I was crying.

Bern wouldn’t die in the tunnels. The city wouldn’t di—

Another pulse rolled through me. The circle was still pulsing. The buildings beyond the wall were quaking. Oh no. Rogan was still going. If Adam didn’t burn downtown, Rogan would level it.

I jumped to my feet.

Rogan was three feet off the ground now, his face glowing, floating so high that he seemed inhuman and unreachable.

If I disrupted what Rogan was doing, the circle might collapse. We would both be incinerated. I would die. I would kill Rogan. The thought squirmed through me in a cold rush. I didn’t want him to die.

If I didn’t find a way to disrupt him, the entire downtown would collapse onto the tunnels. Instead of being burned alive, all those people would be buried alive.

Our lives for Bern’s. For the countless lives of the people inside the tunnels, for the lives of children trusting in their parents, for the lives of those who loved each other, for the lives of those who’d done nothing to deserve to die.

It wasn’t even a choice.


He didn’t answer.

“Rogan!!!” I grabbed his feet. I couldn’t move him an inch. He was held completely immobile.

I pounded his legs with my fists. “Rogan, wake up! Wake up!”

No response.

I had to get to him. If only I could get to his face. I gathered what little magic I had left.

The circle pulsed again. As that pulse reverberated through me, I pushed against it the same way I had pushed against the amplification circle, sinking everything I had into that push. Something snapped inside me. My feet left the ground and I floated up and locked my arms around Rogan. It wouldn’t last, my instinct told me. I had seconds before my magic ran out and gravity would drag me down, and I had no power left to do it again. This was my one and only shot. I had to wake him up.

His expression was so serene, his eyes wide, his mouth slightly open. He wasn’t here with me. He wasn’t even on this planet.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and kissed him. All of my wants, all of my secrets, and all of the times I’d watched him and thought about him and imagined us together, all of my gratitude for saving my grandmother and for protecting Houston and its people, all of my frustration and anger for putting my cousin into harm’s way and for having no regard for human life, I poured all of it into that kiss. It was made of carnations and tears, stolen glances and desperate, burning need. I kissed him like I loved him. I kissed him like it was the only kiss that had ever mattered.

His mouth opened wider beneath mine. His arms closed around me. He kissed me back. There was no magic this time. No phantom fire, no velvet pressure. Just a man, who tasted like the glory of heaven and the sin of hell rolled into one.

My feet touched the ground and I opened my eyes. He was looking at me. His irises were still turquoise. His skin still glowed. But he was here now, with me. The circle was still up, and rivers of tar and fire flowed past us while Adam burned in his own hate.

“You have to stop,” I whispered. “You’ve won, but you’re wrecking the city.”

“Kiss me again and I will,” he said.

An hour later, Adam finally stopped and fell to the ground. Rogan kept the circle up. Everything was too hot. I sat with him in the circle and watched the asphalt solidify slowly. At some point I dozed off, slumped against Mad Rogan.

When I woke up, Rogan’s eyes and skin had stopped glowing. A helicopter had flown over us twice. Then a crack appeared in the wall. We couldn’t hear it, but we saw it happen. A torrent of water gushed in, instantly evaporating when it touched ground scorched by Adam. But the water kept coming. The aquakinetics must’ve tapped Buffalo Bayou for the water supply.

The world turned to steam. It took another hour before the water began to stay, and another hour before we decided we probably wouldn’t boil alive. Rogan let go of the power that connected him to the circle. The water flooded in, reaching my ankles. It was warm, at least a hundred degrees, but it didn’t burn me. We waded toward Adam Pierce. He lay on his back. His circle must’ve collapsed at some point, because water lapped at his hair and bare chest. He looked no worse for wear. The artifact was still on his head.

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