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Behind us, Scuzzy screamed. I didn't, but not by much.

The shimmering figure that was taking shape in front of us looked vaguely like a huge lizard, but glowed and flickered as if it were made from solid flame. "'Hawk!" I yelled. "What the hell is that thing?"

Winterhawk didn't answer; a quick sideways glance revealed that he was already preparing a spell. At least I hoped that was what he was doing.

The thing resolved itself completely, and my fears were realized: it was made of flame. I could feel the heat in the apartment rising already, and noticed with alarm that where the creature stood, pieces of Scuzzy's equipment were already starting to catch fire. I didn't get much of a chance to think about what kinds of fumes were being created by the smoldering wires and plastics—the thing moved with inhuman swiftness toward us. "Can we fight it?" I yelled.

Again, 'Hawk didn't answer. For a moment I thought he was frozen with fear, but then I saw the lines on his face and the slight movements of his hands, and realized he was doing something (or trying to do something) magical. I drew my Predator as the thing crossed the distance across the floor in a split-second.

Somewhere in the distance, I heard Scuzzy clawing over his pile of junk; I ignored him. The fire-creature seemed to gather itself for a moment, then shot a blast of flame at me. I dived out of the way, but not quite fast enough: the flames singed my legs as I took cover behind Scuzzy's desk. Pain lanced through my whole body.

The place was catching fire in several places now. I knew we couldn't stay in here for long, or the smoke and fumes would kill us before the flames did. "'Hawk!" I called. "We have to get out of here!"

Off to my left, I saw Scuzzy try to make a break for the door. He looked like he was driven by sheer abject terror, his eyes so wide I could see the whites showing completely around them, his mouth open in a silent scream. If he'd had my speed, he might have made it. I winced as the creature momentarily directed its attention at the fleeing decker, shooting a scorching blast that engulfed him in a tower of flame before he made it to the door. He screamed and dropped to the ground, his clothing and hair ablaze.

I aimed my Predator at the spirit and shot off two rounds at it. They entered the creature's flame-form apparently with no effect. My aim was off. I was having trouble concentrating. I glanced at 'Hawk: he was still standing where he had been, his eyes closed, muscles taut with concentration. Carefully, I took aim again. The creature seemed to be moving more slowly than before, but I couldn't tell why, or even if it was true. It started to move toward Winterhawk, but stopped short of him.

I looked wildly around for a weapon, since apparently my Predator was having no effect on this thing. My hand fell on the slender form of my monowhip in my pocket. It was a bit close in here for it, but I had to do something. The flames were rising around us now. If we didn't get out soon, it would be too late. Dimly, I heard the apartment window shatter from the force of the heat, and grimaced as the influx of oxygen fanning the flames stepped up the temperature and the intensity.

The creature was definitely moving more slowly now. Winterhawk still hadn't moved, except to point one hand at the thing as if focusing his energies. Sweat ran down his face and flames licked around him, but he ignored them. I moved up behind the creature, hoping that my speed was enough to compensate for its own. I swung the monowhip at the lizard-thing, yelling something inarticulate as the whip, a single molecule wide, struck it.

Surprised the hell out of me, but it seemed to work. The spot where I had struck glowed white-hot for a second, then faded to a dull red. The creature wheeled around to face me, and at that moment, Winterhawk brought his other hand up to meet the first, pointed forcefully at the fire-thing, and yelled, "Go, you bloody bastard!" at the top of his voice.

The creature flickered and winked out. Just like that, it was gone.

My gaze swung left and right, desperately hoping that there weren't any more of the creatures waiting their turn to flash-fry us. Winterhawk's posture slumped visibly—whatever he had done to banish the creature had exhausted him. The flames were rising; already I was getting the acrid odor of burning plastics—

And worse. Over by the door, Scuzzy had gone up like a pyre. I fought to hold onto my dinner as the odor of scorched flesh joined the other smells. There was nothing we could have done for him at that point. It would have been suicidal to even try. My legs were killing me: I knew that I had taken some bad burns, but that wasn't important right now. I grabbed 'Hawk's arm and started dragging him toward the door. "Come on," I yelled. "We have to get out of here!"

"Right," he said faintly, staggering to follow me. Little fires were burning all around the apartment, lighting it up with perversely merry little dancing mini-blazes. I saw a cyberdeck go up in flames off to one side of me, and on another side, a tangle of wires burst into a fireball that flung its tendrils out and nipped at us as we forced our way past it. Together we fought our way out of the apartment and into the hallway. Already, other residents of the apartment building were stumbling out of their doorways into the smoke-filled hall. "Stay low," I said, dropping down to crawl below the smoke. Winterhawk followed suit, numbly. My head was getting fuzzy.

At the end of the hallway, near the stairs, was a window. Winterhawk stopped his slow crawl and pointed at it. "We'll never make it to the bottom," he rasped. "Take out the window."

Even through the cotton in my head, I grasped his meaning immediately. I stood and drove my booted foot through the window, shattering the cheap glass. As I cleared the rest with the sleeve of my armored jacket, 'Hawk was already casting his levitation spell on us. I remembered two things before I passed out: the sensation of floating through the mercifully cool night air, and the deafening sound of an explosion behind me.

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