434: Putting Out Fires

Tony was wearing a striped sweater with blue horizontal stripes and flames on the shoulders and running down the sleeves. Is wool a particularly flammable material? It’s not like you see sheep running around on fire all the time.

I only touched Tony and his jumper immediately went up in flames. Frankly, it was a fire hazard that should have come with a warning on the label.

He started screaming and tried to take his clothes off while I tried to think of how to turn my flaming hands off. I seemed to recall it being relatively easy, but shaking and blowing on them didn’t seem to do anything.

Tony managed to get the bottom of his sweater over his head but this brought the flames closer to his face and he started panicking. He was also bleeding from the stomach, which would be a nightmare to get out of his white t-shirt.

I decided I would have to intervene and pushed him with my shoulder while keeping my hands to the side.

This flat was more or less the mirror image of mine, so I guessed where the bathroom was and shoved him towards it.

Tony stumbled, twirled and squealed. Flames and smoke shot out of the top of the reverse poncho he’d created (from the neck up rather than from the neck down). The smoke alarm went off, which was just annoying.

I bundled him through the bathroom door before he fell over and tumbled into the bathtub.

The taps were metal so I was able to turn them on without setting fire to anything, and the water came thundering out of the showerhead, soaking me.

On the positive side, it put my hands out. On the less positive side, Tony was still on fire.

I got out of the way and let the water fall on Tony. Once most of the fire was out, I pulled the shower out of its holder to give him some more targeted relief.

The water went through the sweater over his head and he started thrashing about as I effectively waterboarded him. This is why I prefer not to help people — even when you’re saving them from burning to death you get blamed for trying to drown them. You just can’t win.

I put the shower in his hands and left him to it. He was the one on fire, he would know where the water was needed. I backed out of the bathroom to catch my breath.

Overall, I felt the mission had been a success. I had wanted to find a way to get my magic working, and that’s what had happened. And with remarkably few issues.

I tripped over the corpse in the hallway. I’m not saying there weren’t some issues, just fewer than I’d expected.

Whoever this guy had been working for would probably send out someone else to find out what had happened. When they learned of his unfortunate drilling accident, they would probably not be happy. Good thing I had nothing to do with it. Tony was fucked, though.

I stepped around the body. I presumed he was dead but you never know with these things. If this was a movie, he would probably come back to life and attack me, just as an excuse to justify the 3D glasses. At this point, it’s all gimmicks and superhero movies.

The guy still had his hoodie over his head and I was reluctant to move it to see his face. Tony had really gone for it with the drill and I wasn’t keen on seeing what that looked like.

He had made surprisingly little noise, which either meant he died very quickly or he was one really tough hombre. If it had been me, I would have started crying as soon as I heard the drill whirring next to my head.

The question now was what to do with the body. I couldn’t really just leave it here, could I?

Obviously, that was what I would like to have done. Any problem I can walk away from is the kind of problem I prefer to deal with. Or not deal with.

Calling the police was also not really an option. Not a good one, anyway.

The police can be relied on to not solve most crimes but they were already interested in me and even they would figure out I was involved since I lived next door.

It seemed this was a situation where Archie would be the ideal person to call. Who better than a billionaire to get rid of a dead body? He had probably rid himself of several. Rivals, journalists, ex-wives.

I checked my pockets and found the business cards I’d collected so far. Three of them. Billionaire, lawyer, driver. Tank, mage, rogue. I was a healer. All we needed was DPS and we were ready to start raiding.

There was a phone on a stand next to the front door. I wouldn’t have to use my own phone. As I picked up the phone, I spotted a card lying next to it. It was identical to the one in my hand.

I wasn’t really surprised. If Tony was on Archie’s payroll, then that would make this even more straightforward. I made the call.

“Yes,” was the response when he answered.

“This is Colin.” There was silence on the other end. “I’m in Tony’s place. He’s bleeding. Also, there’s a dead guy on the floor who wanted me to come with him to talk to his people. Not sure who they were. Oh, Tony drilled a hole in the guy’s head with a drill. That’s why he’s dead. Hello?”

“I’ll be there in a minute.” He hung up.

I put down the phone and turned around as Tony emerged from the bathroom, soaking wet and singed around the edges. He had a towel pressed to his side.

“I need a doctor. I’m bleeding.”

I held up the business card. “I called help already.”

Tony looked at the card and then at me. “They only paid me to tell them if you came back.”

“Okay. Do you know who that guy was?” I pointed at the body.

Tony shook his head, and then leaned against the wall. He looked quite pale.

There was a knock at the door. I opened it to find the driver standing there.

“Are you sure he’s dead?” he said, looking past me at the body on the floor.

“No,” I said.

“He stabbed me,” said Tony, and then he slid down the wall and passed out.

The driver went past me and knelt down next to the body. He moved the hood and took a sharp intake of breath.

“Do you know him?” I asked.

“Not personally. Chinese, I’d say.”

I could just about see half a face and it did look oriental but I wouldn’t have been able to tell which country from that region he was from. I don’t think that’s racist, I just have a hard time telling certain ethnicities apart. I’m sure Chinese and Japanese people can tell the difference, but then again, they’re also more likely to hate each other based on that information, so who’s the real racist?

“Won’t they be upset about this?” I asked.

“Don’t worry, we’ll deal with it.” He took out his phone. “Send up a cleaning team. We’ve got one package to take away.”

It was all being handled very professionally. Like he did this all the time.

“What about the sniper?” I said. “Did you find him?”

“No. They used a drone. We shot it down but there’s no way to connect it to whoever was flying it. They’re smart people. You need to be careful.”

“I will be. I’m going to go back to my place and leave this to you.”

“No problem. I’ll take care of it.”

It was actually quite nice to have someone to hand off the dirty work to. This was probably why rich people liked being rich. Anyone can buy stuff — just take out a loan — but you needed serious money to make bodies disappear.

I opened the door to leave and was faced by two people in plastic white suits and masks. They let me out before heading in to clean things up.

Once I was back in my flat, I went straight to my bedroom, eager to test out my new ability.

It was all very well getting the starter flame going, I still needed to be able to activate it on my own. I couldn’t expect someone to get their head drilled open every time I wanted to perform a little magic. They’d never let me on Britain’s Got Talent if that was the requirement.

I sat on my bed and tried to get a flame going on my finger. Nothing happened for a good ten minutes but I didn’t give up. I could definitely feel something. Something that hadn’t been there before.

After ten minutes, I got a single blue flame to appear.

It was faint and flickered for a few seconds before going out, but it was real and I had made it.

This was a big deal. I was the only person on this planet who could do real magic.

That didn’t necessarily make me better than the rest of the population. They still had access to guns and bombs which could kill me much faster than I could set them on fire, but it did mean I had access to a source of power no one else did.

This also made me very attractive to the wrong kind of men. No, that doesn’t mean I wished to be attractive to the right sort of men. I needed to be careful not to expose myself. Which was going to be difficult since the driver had seen me heal the tramp, and Tony had seen my hands on fire.

But I still had a little time before I got locked up and experimented on. I hoped.

I was exhausted and hungry so I went online to order some food. Of all the food delivering nations, Italians seemed the least likely to try to abduct me, so I ordered a pizza.

As I browsed the internet while I waited, checking on the news for more fantastical stories to convince myself I should still find a way off this sorry planet, a story about the Chinese embassy in London caught my notice. There were lots of protests over human rights or something. Hong Kong and Uyghurs. People with banners. Tweeting out their outrage on their Chinese made smartphones.

There was a photo of a man who was apparently a leader of one of the protest groups. He looked familiar. A tall, handsome man who wasn’t fully Chinese. Only half Chinese. The other half was demon.

It was Cheng, the Demon King

It was definitely him.

And he was on Earth for some reason. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with access to magic here. Ni fucking how?

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