Through Fire – Snippet 03

I felt Simon shake. I won’t say he trembled with fear. It was more like shock, or surprise. “Merde,” he said again. Then in a louder voice, “Alexis. Alexis! Alexis, for the love of God, get her out of here.”

I’d just managed to wriggle upward, to look over Simon’s shoulder. I had no idea who Alexis was, and I’d be damned if I was going to be got out of anywhere. The ballroom was a mess, and I got the impression of violence and blood. The air smelled of burner and flame.

Someone bulky and dark, a stranger, crawled up close to us. He loomed close to us in the darkness, his body a suggestion of the white satin and golden braid constituting the uniform of Simon’s personal guard, and said, “I called my men.”

“Too late. Get her the hell out of here,” Simon said and rolled off me. The stranger reached for me.

“No,” I said sitting up, pulling my hair back from my face. “Simon, give me my burner back.” I had never needed, would never need some person — much less two persons — who were wholly unrelated to me, to take control. I was the one who should take control and save other people. My foster parents had taught me early on that my gifts should be used for the good of others. There were people in danger. I should protect them.

“Go. I can’t fight while you’re in danger. Go,” Simon said. “Alexis, take her.”

He pushed me upward, and before I could resist, Alexis grabbed me around the waist. He was a large man, muscular. There was no hesitation, no pause. He nodded to Simon and loped along, dragging me with him, even as I scrabbled to free myself and protested, “No, you don’t understand. I’d rather fight. I can fight. I’m stronger than–”

“Can’t do anything,” he said. “Can’t fight a mob.” He looked around. “Even my men can’t.”

I wanted to say he was wrong but then I realized I didn’t even know where the threat was coming from or against whom to retaliate and the damn man was pulling me along too fast to let me get my footing, much less get my bearings.

I ground my teeth, tried ineffectually to stop. “Give me a burner.”

But he just pulled me along amid crowds of fighting people. Burners shot this way and that. Alexis seemed to have the supernatural ability to be where no one was, cutting through the crowd, very fast, avoiding the turmoil, ducking before a burner ray flashed through the air where we’d just been. Someone bumped me. Friend or foe I didn’t know and regretted only not having the time to steal their burner.

I could no longer see Simon in the crowd. I smelled blood and fire. I stopped resisting Alexis’ pull. Impossible to fight when I didn’t know whom to fight. I might be able to shoot better than most people, but not when friend and foe rolled over, screaming and fighting. And as for hitting someone, I didn’t have time to identify the people I bumped into, much less to fight all of them. So many people. Fighting all around.

The situation was out of control and I hated being out of control.

Another two explosions, below, getting closer. The nearest dimatough pane cracked, top to bottom. They weren’t supposed to crack. The crystal chandelier fell, bits of crystal flying in all directions.

Alexis said, “Run,” and grabbed my hand and took off. I ran. Nothing else I could do in this. There was nothing to be gained in dying alongside those being killed.

Dead women can’t fight, I thought. First, stay alive, then fight.

Alexis ran into the melee, fast, his arm an iron band around my waist. People careened into me and shot at us. No shot landed. No blow either, beyond the feeling of being bruised and scraped.

He dragged me through what seemed like a concealed door, down a couple of staircases, and onto a dark terrace by the seaside, in the middle of Simon’s gardens.

“Come on,” Alexis said, sounding desperate. He pulled at me. “Trust the Good–Trust the Protector. He says I should keep you safe. He knows what he’s doing, if we leave his hand free.” As he spoke, explosions sounded, coming ever closer. I could hear the barbarous song from the ballroom, faint, like a haunting echo, but drawing near. It seemed to me the sounds of fighting were more muted which, considering the circumstances, was not a good thing.

“But can Simon defend himself in this? And what about everyone else?” He was a dictator. He might be a murderer. But he had been kind to me. He might have loved me.

“We were taken by surprise,” he said. He panted, and it was good to know our race had rendered him out of breath. “I don’t know who our attackers are. We have to escape and reconnoiter. If I could fight effectively, I’d fight. The protector will take care of himself.” He pulled me down a dark path on the palace grounds and clattered down a set of staircases. His hand was too warm, rough, holding me as though it were the most important thing in the world that he take me along. “We’ll leave the Good Man a free hand. He knows what he’s doing. We’ll live to fight another day.”

We ran across an expanse of lawn and down a brick path and up to a terrace where a row of flyers were parked. Simon’s official fleet for his servants, I thought, since the vehicles all looked alike.

Alexis threw me into the passenger seat, got into the driver’s, closed the doors from the control panel. We took off almost vertically.

At once an explosion rocked us, then another.

Alexis said, “Merde.” It was a popular word.

“There’s more than the mob in the palace. Whoever these people are, they’re organized enough to control the skies. We can’t fly away.” He brought the flyer down, almost straight down, but into a grove of trees, well away from the palace. I was impressed. It took training to fly like that. “We won’t be allowed to escape by air. At least… not this easily. And whatever is going on is much bigger than the palace.”

I leaned back on the seat, exhausted, feeling like I should go back and fight, but knowing it was quixotic and not very sane. There was only one of me, even if I felt I should be an army. I couldn’t believe how fast the ball had degenerated into a scene of death and mayhem. And I was starting to think even Simon’s proposal and even accepting it would have been better than this. “Those people who came in. The intruders. Were they carrying heads on poles?” I asked.

“Yes,” Alexis said.