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I thought I would post a small snippet this morning. It’s from BURN FOR ME. Everything from MAGIC BREAKS is too spoilery.
BURN FOR ME is an alternative-history world, so some things are markedly different. For example, Native American Tribes have their own nation. Mexico is a prosperous modern nation with a strong military that likes to throw its weight around. There are other small changes, which we think make the world interesting and rich.
We Should Reconsider
I found Bern in the Hut of Evil, otherwise known as our computer room. Soundproof and equipped with its own air-conditioning unit, the room occupied the space at the north of the warehouse, directly behind the offices. It was raised five feet off the floor, like a house on stilts, because Bern found it convenient to mess with the wiring underneath it. We used to joke that if the warehouse got flooded, we’d all race to the Hut of Evil to stay dry. From the outside, it looked like a separate tiny house within the larger space of the warehouse, complete with a ten-step stairway leading to it. At first we called it the House of Evil, but over the years it somehow became the Hut of Evil.
I climbed the stairs and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” my cousin called.
I went inside and shut the door. The air here was at least five degrees cooler. Bern sat ensconced among four different monitors on swiveling mounts. Three computer towers blinked with red, white, and green lights. Across from him, Leon’s station, a smaller desk with a triple monitor, stood empty. He and the girls were in school.
Bern turned to me, his handsome face tinted with blue by the glow of the largest monitor. There was always something a little comical about seeing his big frame next to the computer screens. The keyboards and monitors seemed too small for him.
“What did you find?” I asked.
“While I was talking to you, I ran the background check on the kid implicated in the arson.”
Bern nodded. “I pulled his lineage.”
In our world, lineage was everything. The magical families owned corporations, and most major cities were divided into family territories. Some families influenced only a few city blocks, others controlled entire neighborhoods. Your last name and your family tree could open doors or get you killed. If the family became prominent enough, it was considered a house. House Montgomery. House Pierce.
“Gavin’s father is Thomas Waller. His mother is Kelly Waller. Neither is magically significant.” Bern paused.
I waited. Bern stored information in logical chains. When asked something, he would start at the beginning of the chain and pull it all out link by link until the relevant information finally emerged. If the house were on fire, Bern would begin by describing how he went to get the box of matches to light the candle that started it. Trying to hurry this process up wasn’t only futile, it was counterproductive. Interruptions derailed Bern. He would get back on track in his methodical way, and he couldn’t understand why you jumped up and down and foamed at the mouth in sheer frustration while he took his time doing it.
“Kelly Waller’s maiden name was Lancey.”
“Her father was William Lancey.”
“Her mother was Carolina Rogan.”
Mhm. Wait, what? “Rogan? As in House Rogan?”
Bern nodded. “Mad Rogan is Kelly Waller’s cousin. That makes him Gavin’s first cousin once removed.”
My legs decided that this would be a fine time to go on strike. I landed in a chair.
The United States hadn’t officially declared war in the last seventy years. Instead it got itself involved in armed conflicts, peacekeeping actions, and armed interventions, which, for all intents and purposes, were wars without having a scary label attached to them: Europe, the Middle East, and then the so-called South American Wars, which broke out when the discovery of magically potent mineral deposits in Belize destabilized the neighboring region. Mexico, already a magical powerhouse, invaded tiny Belize. Honduras, Nicaragua, and Brazil formed a coalition to oppose the invasion. Both the United States and the United Native Tribes joined the anti-Mexican coalition, even though the territories of Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana were nowhere near the border and even though UNT usually went against the USA in just about every policy decision. Everyone paid lip service to the brave soldiers of Belize, but the true reason was clear: nobody wanted Mexico, the magical juggernaut, to be more powerful than it already was.
The war was terrible. In the end Mexico relinquished its hold on Belize, but the ripples of that invasion spread through South America. Armed conflicts flared and died down across half a dozen nations. Mad Rogan made his name in those conflicts. He was off the charts even for the Primes. Nobody knew exactly what he was capable of, but everyone knew the name. Mad Rogan. The Butcher of Merida. The Scourge of Mexico. Huracan.
“What do we know about Mad Rogan?”
Bern pushed a key on his keyboard. A grainy video filled the monitor. I remembered watching it once, a long time ago, while still in high school. I had gotten bored with it back then, because nothing really happened in the first two minutes, and hadn’t finished.
A young man with longish dark hair and pale eyes, his face smudged by static, standing in the middle of an empty four-lane road, silhouetted against an overcast sky, padded with gray clouds.
“ …Carla will float you,” a measured female voice said. “No worries. We know you’re up to it.”
“This was taken somewhere in Mexico,” Bern said. “Most people agree it was probably Chetumal. You can catch a glimpse of an ocean in one of the frames.”
I raked my brain, trying to find something about Chetumal. A port city on the tip of Yucatan, one of the hubs of Mexico’s robust international trade. Thriving economy. It suffered in the war.
“This was his trial run. He wasn’t even commissioned yet. This video was the only one that got out onto the Internet. They cracked down hard after that.”
The man shrugged. He was pale and painfully young, younger than Bern. It might have been the lousy quality of the video, but he looked scared. The camera zoomed in on his face. His blue eyes were so sad, almost mournful and filled with power.
“How old is he?”
“It’s his senior year of college. He’s nineteen. He graduated from high school early and did his bachelor’s in three years. He was brilliant.”
“He also had the best tutors money could buy.” House Rogan was wealthy. I wasn’t sure what exactly they did, but Mad Rogan was a fourth-generation Prime.
“It’s time,” the woman’s voice said. “Remember, this entire sector has been evacuated. This is just property damage. No doubts, Connor. You are doing the right thing.”
Sure he was. Someone must’ve talked to him at college, someone from the military with many bars on his or her shoulder, and he must’ve listened, because they flew him out to Chetumal to see what he could do.
Rogan started down the road, a lone figure in a gray hoodie, walking along the yellow line toward the high-rises. A hundred feet. Two hundred. Rogan kept moving. He was almost to the buildings.
“What is he, half a mile out?”a male voice asked offscreen.
“He’s giving us safe space,” the original woman speaker said.
“How much safe space does he need?”
“As much as he wants.”
Rogan kept moving.
“Is he still in range?” the woman asked.
“I can levitate him from here, ma’am,” a second woman with a higher voice said, “but if he walks any farther, we’ll have to close the distance.”
Levitating a person without causing serious internal injury was a very specific branch of telekinetics. Levitators were highly prized, and once it became apparent that a child had this particular brand of magic, that’s all they did. Some regular telekinetics could lift or throw a person, but he or she would likely be dead even before landing.
Rogan stopped. He was two buildings into the block. On his left, a huge rectangular complex of dark stone rose eight floors high. On his right, a white tower spiraled toward the stormy sky.
“Finally,” the male voice said.
Rogan regarded the towers of glass and stone. He stood motionless, as if overwhelmed by the sheer size of the buildings.
Moments dragged by, towing a convoy of minutes.
“Oh come on,” the male voice said.
Rogan leaned back. The wind stirred his long, dark hair.
“Let it rip,” the first woman murmured.
The video blurred for a moment. I held my breath.
“And?” the male voice asked. “You told me he was some sort—”
The white tower on the right slid to the side like a cut tree.
This couldn’t have been happening. Nobody could cut through a building.
Cracks streamed up the tower. On the left, thin puffs of grey dust shot out of the office complex windows. The building held together for one long, torturous second. The front of it sagged and plunged down, tons of bricks and stucco falling, like the waters of Niagara Falls. Thunder pealed as thousands of tons of rock, steel, and concrete crashed onto the street.
Oh my God. My insides went cold. The sheer power. A human being couldn’t contain that much power.
Offscreen, people screamed. Their cries had no words. These were the raw, primal sounds of intense human terror.
The tower collapsed. Dense smoke, churning with grey and black dust, billowed like a tsunami from both buildings, clashing in the middle of the street right over Mad Rogan. Six feet on both sides of him the blast waves broke, rolling back as if bouncing from an invisible wall. Debris crashed into the barrier and ricocheted into the street. He stood enveloped in a funnel of clear, calm air.
Wind swirled Rogan’s dark hair. He turned his hands palms up.
The recording blurred. To the left and right, the buildings adjacent to the rubble, a red tower and a brown apartment high-rise, fractured and fell. The sound was deafening.
“Stop him!” the man screamed.
“He can’t be stopped,” the original woman howled over the roar of the falling buildings. “He can’t hear us or see us! We have to wait it out!”
Mad Rogan’s feet left the ground. He rose two feet above the pavement.
“It’s not me,” the levitator screamed. “It’s not me, I can’t reach him!”
The recording blurred.
The camera trembled. The heavy truck parked on the left slid toward it.
“Jesus Chri-” a man yelled.
The recording stopped midword.
Bern and I stared at the dark screen. I sat, shell-shocked, not sure what to do next. I’ve studied many Primes. I’ve never seen one who could do that. This was inhuman.
“I think we should reconsider getting involved,” Bern said.