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When I woke up, I was lying on something soft. My head hurt, but my legs didn't. Slowly, I opened my eyes.

I was lying on the sofa in Winterhawk's apartment. I was covered over with a thin blanket, and the smell of smoke and singed hair still hung in the air.

"You're awake," said a quiet voice I recognized as 'Hawk's. I turned my head painfully to the side to look at him. He was sitting in the chair next to the couch, watching me. His face was pale and sooty, his bright blue eyes looking weird behind the dark circles beneath them. He looked about as tired as I felt.

I blinked a couple of times to clear my vision. "Yeah," I said, surprised at how raspy my voice sounded to my ears. "What—happened? How'd we get out of there?" I started to sit up, then decided my head wasn't quite ready for that yet.

"Stay down for awhile," 'Hawk told me. "I healed the burns on your legs, but I couldn't do anything about the fumes. You're likely a bit woozy, still."

I nodded. "Yeah, you got that right." I paused. "The last thing I remember, we were flying out the window of that apartment building. There was a loud noise, like the place exploded. Then I zonked out."

"You missed all the fun," Winterhawk said without a trace of humor in his voice. "I got my spell off just in time. We were barely out the window before the whole place went up. I suppose that the fire must have hit a gas main or something. I don't know. I was too busy trying to get us out of there.

"The force of the explosion nearly made me lose control of the spell. I was barely awake myself at that point, and you were gone. I managed to get us back to the car and back home; I'm not sure how, exactly. I must have passed out myself for awhile, because when I came to, I was on the floor in the middle of my flat. You were on the couch...don't quite know how I worked that one. Your legs had some bad burns, but I took care of those."

I pulled the blanket off and looked down at my legs. The bottom part of my pants had been ripped off; I could still see a few blackened edges on them. My boots were gone too, and my socks. There was no other sign of any injury. "Thanks."

He nodded. "I think we'll be all right, though we're going to feel a bit rotten for awhile."

My head was pounding a little less, so I swung my legs off the couch and sat up. "What was that thing? And what happened to it?"

"Fire elemental," Winterhawk said. "Bloody big one, too."

I stared at him. "What was it doing there?"

"I don't know," he said. "I wish I did. But I'll tell you one thing—they don't just appear for no reason. Someone summoned it."

That thought made me very nervous. "Do you think it was after us? Or Scuzzy?"

He looked hard at me. "Do you really want me to answer that?"

I shook my head slowly. "No...I guess not." I paused. "Should we call Harry?"

"Already did. While you were asleep. I told him about Scuzzy. I even asked him if he knew of any reason why someone might want to send a fire elemental after him. Harry couldn't think of anything. He said that our late decker friend was strictly small-time—as far as he knew, he hasn't had any jobs that would get someone that dangerous angry with him."

"And—uh—we have?"

He took a deep breath. "I don't know."

I had a thought. For a long moment, I didn't say anything, but then, slowly, I spoke. "You don't think this has something to do with Tommy, do you?"

'Hawk got up and crossed the room to where he'd hung his armored coat. Reaching into the inner pocket, he pulled out the decrypted chip Scuzzy had made for us. He sat back down, held it up and stared at it. "Doesn't look like the heat got to it," he said. "Maybe we should have a look at it."

I looked around the place nervously. "You think one of those things could come back?"

"I don't think so. I do have some magical protections here." He stood up again. "Come on. Let's find out if there's anything on this chip that would cause someone to try to turn us into charcoal."

Without getting up, I said, "One more question."

He turned back around and raised an inquiring eyebrow at me.

"How'd you get rid of it? You just waved your hand and it went away. What did you do?"

"I banished it," he said quietly. "And it wasn't easy. That was a very tough beastie. If you hadn't whacked it with your monowhip, I don't think I could have done it. You weakened it just enough that I was able to send it back."

"Glad to be of assistance," I muttered, standing up.

'Hawk switched on his computer and slotted the chip. "Shame about Scuzzy," he said, almost to himself.

"Yeah," I said in about the same tone. I was feeling a little guilty about the whole thing, though I really didn't have any reason to. Not yet, anyway. We had no way to know that the fire elemental attack was related to our run. Still, though, Scuzzy was dead, and probably because of us. People died all the time in our line of work, but I didn't have to like it.

The data was coming up on the screen now. "He was right," Winterhawk said. "This looks like medical records." He paged through a couple more records while I watched over his shoulder. "Looks like they're keyed by an ID number, but no names."

"Look for somebody like Tommy," I said, which was unnecessary because 'Hawk was already doing that. The way he was sifting through the data, his hands moving on the keyboard almost as fast as Scuzzy's had, I figured he was used to doing research. I continued to watch and left him alone.

"Okay..." he said under his breath, keeping up a running commentary as he continued through the data. "Let's see...they've got vital statistics here... age... race... gender... Let's narrow it down to caucasian human males, ages 18 to 30...There!" He looked at the screen. "Not many records at all on this chip. Here are the white males...only five." He leaned back to look up at me, pointing at the five ID numbers on the screen.

"Let's take a look at 'em," I said, pulling up a chair. "Any with a head wound?"

Winterhawk entered that parameter and re-ran the search. "Here we are. We may have something." He tapped a key, and a record appeared on the screen. "This looks promising. Male, caucasian, human, age 24, height 1.65 meters, weight 78.5 kilograms, admitted two nights ago with a head wound. Let's see... looks like no other health problems." He clicked a button labeled Current Status. "Let's find out what they think they've done with someone they claim never to have seen."

The screen went dark for a second, then some more text appeared. Winterhawk and I stared at it for a moment, then turned as one to look at each other, shocked. "Well..." Winterhawk murmured following a long and uncomfortable silence. "I guess that's that, isn't it?"

The text on the screen read:

CAUSE OF DEATH (SUSPECTED): Cerebral hemmorhage due to blunt head trauma
DISPOSITION: Transferred to General

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