Trying to get back in the swing of things, despite the plague running rampant lately. Here's a teaser from Peacemaker. It's actually part of a dream sequence/flashback, showing something from Caleb's past. Dream sequences are something I use heavily in this book (which is supposed to be a no-no) but the dream world actually turns out to be integral to the plot. Hope you enjoy.
The air scorched his lungs as he breathed in, and he slapped at the burning cinders that had fallen into his hair, his hat long since lost in the chaos. “Here! There’s more in here!” Ernst appeared around his feet, the black cat nudging him toward the location of more trapped residents. Caleb found his path blocked and put his shoulder against the smoldering beam, trying to heave it out of the way.
Rufus appeared out of the smoke, coughing and hacking, but between the two men, they cleared the doorway. Inside, voices were calling for help, screaming out in terror. “I’ll get them, you clear me a path.”
He nodded and reached for the fire all around them. It lurked in the ceilings of the building they were in, curling hungry fingers around the floorboards under their feet. He could feel it, angry and seeking, and he grabbed hold, pulling all of that destructive energy into himself. It railed inside him, imprisoned in a form it was not meant to take. Another day, well-rested, he might have been able to feed that extra power out through his familiar, but that much control had been lost sometime in the previous hours, and so he would hold it himself. A moment’s lapse in concentration, and it would find a way out. His skin would curl and burn from the inside. He’d just seen it happen to two other Peacemakers.
“Smuel,” he whispered. Smolder. The walls around them snuffed out suddenly, wisps of smoke replacing tongues of flame. “Hurry, Rufus. It’s getting stronger.”
The other Peacemaker bolted into the dark hallway, charred floorboards creaking ominously under his boots. Caleb could feel the power behind the fire looking for him, furious that something had stolen its energy. He would only be able to hold on so long.
“Go go go!” Rufus herded a soot-blackened family past him, carrying the youngest child in his arms. “Give us thirty seconds Caleb, then get the hell out!”
He tried to count to thirty, but the flame inside him would not let his mind find the numbers. It was hungry, it was angry, and it wanted free. Ernst was butting his furry head against his knee, urging him to let go. Finally, he was forced to release it, and he could only pray that Rufus had gotten the family clear.
The flames roared back to reclaim their territory and then some, and Caleb felt his hair and eyebrows singe to nothing as he staggered for the stairs. It followed him, drawing in a breath deep enough to flutter the tatters of his shirt sleeves, then bellowed out a gout of flame and ash that would easily incinerate him.
A shield sprang up around him, and the fire whipped around the globe, raging when it could not find entry. Caleb breathed the artificially pure air in great gulping lungfuls until he staggered into the street, collapsing at Rufus’s feet. Ernst appeared right next to him, the tip of his long black tail smoking.
The blond Peacemaker, hair long gone as dark as Caleb’s own with soot and sweat, dropped the shield he’d put around his partner and yanked him to his feet. “This block is lost, Caleb, we have to go!”
Reluctantly, he let Rufus drag him from the scene, and the building gave a ponderous groan as it collapsed behind them. There were other men moving in the smoke around them, passing buckets between, sparks of power flaring where people tried futilely to direct the flames around their homes or businesses.
“George! George, over here!” Rufus waved to two other Peacemakers as they crossed the street a block away. “Where are we supposed to be making a fire break? We got separated from Daws about an hour ago.”
George was supporting his partner with one arm, the other man sporting a vicious gash over one eye. He barely paused to answer. “It jumped the river, we’re pulling back! It’s lost!”
“Dear God…” Rufus’s eyes were wide and staring, the whites showing brilliantly against his ash-blackened face. “They can’t just let it burn…”
“There’s no letting it, man, it’s going to do it whether we want or not!” George staggered off as fast as he could with an injured man in tow, leaving Rufus and Caleb alone in the middle of the charred buildings. Even the hardy water brigade had abandoned their positions, buckets lying next to empty water barrels.
Chicago was burning.
Caleb knew they had to move. He knew, like the rest of his dreamed memories, that the building to their right was going to collapse in another moment, the rain of debris trapping Rufus beneath it. He knew that the beam would crush his partner’s life from his lungs, and that he would be forced to leave the body or burn along with him.
He knew it, and he could not prevent it, could neither move nor speak a warning. Such was the way of dreams.
In the alley to their left, a woman’s voice wafted forth, humming softly. It was a soothing melody, lilting, and it had no place in this frequent terror of Caleb’s nights. Even in the dream, he was able to frown in puzzlement.
The shadows moved in the alley, at first easily mistaken for the swirls and eddies of smoke. But there was no mistaking the dark eyes he found looking back at him, framed by twin black braids.
The Indian woman tilted her head curiously, her skin and clothing remarkably free of ash and char.
“No…no you can’t be here…the building is going to fall, you have to run!” She obviously didn’t understand him, and she smiled softly. “No, don’t smile! Run! You have to…” He suddenly remembered Rufus, realized that he could speak again. “Rufus, you have to run!”
But Rufus was gone. There was no one standing in the street beside him. The flames seemed to have halted their inexorable advance and merely flickered in the windows and rooftops, waiting.
“Ernst?” The black cat was gone too, and there was no sense of his presence nearby. “What…?” He blinked, wiping sweat and blood from his face as he stared around in confusion. “What’s happening?”
The Indian woman never answered, merely turning to walk down the street in the opposite direction, humming softly. Every so often, she glanced back to see if he was following.
Numb, perplexed, he did. In his daze, he stumbled over the rubble in the street, fell…