Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
April 11, 1970
The sunset splashed lurid oranges and pinks across the sky, casting the buildings of Prague into silhouette. The days were finally starting to get longer, and Tanya was grateful to be outside. The cool air cleared her head after a long, frustrating day. Sasha had her jumpy; she could sense him moving through the offices like a shark, eyeing her, waiting for her to make a false move. An ominous stack of paperwork had materialized on her desk over lunch, and she’d spent most of the afternoon hunched over her typewriter, filling out forms and scrawling her signature until her wrist ached.
The walk home offered a chance to clear her thoughts, to think through this precarious position she found herself in. Sasha on one side, Zerena on the other. Flame all around.
She wished she could talk to her grandfather.
As she passed under an arch of leafing trees, a jolt of energy erupted through the city, igniting all the molecules in the air. Tanya tensed, reached for a gun that wasn’t there, scanned the street for hostiles. Her first thought was bomb. But no, it wasn’t a bomb.
She was nearly to the Charles Bridge, which meant she was standing near one of Prague’s convergent ley lines. She didn’t usually pay them much attention unless she was casting a spell, but tonight the ley line thrummed, demanding her attention. She raced to the bridge and then, once she felt the pulse of magic beneath her feet, turned in place, trying to get a sense of the direction of the spellwork. It had to be Flame. They were casting something big. Why else would she feel that river of energy bubbling up under her feet? Only big magic could activate the ley lines like that.
And then she heard the distant wail of sirens, wafting over the city from the east. If this was a Flame ritual, what the hell did it mean that the police were involved?
No. She raced from the bridge and took off down the street, following the sound of the sirens. The sun had dropped below the buildings, and the streetlamps were turning on, one at a time. Tanya passed beneath puddles of yellow light, her breath coming quick and short. She turned a corner onto a busier street. A wider street, with a better view of the skyline.
A blue-orange glow rose off the tops of the buildings. The sunset? No. Fire. Elemental fire.
Tanya was farther from the ley line now but she could still feel its energy rattling beneath the earth. The sirens screamed. Distant flames licked at the sky.
They should have known this would happen. First the attack on the barge, and then the arrival of that powerful new Flame sorcerer. She had to stop this.
Tanya threw out her arm and shouted at one of the taxicabs cruising up and down the street. The taxi slid over to the curb, and Tanya ran over to it and threw the door open.
“The fire,” she gasped. “I need you to take me where the fire is.”
“What?” The driver peered at her suspiciously in the rearview mirror.
“Something’s burning!” she cried. “Up ahead. I need you to take me there.” She drew a deep breath. She knew she sounded like a madwoman. “I think it might be my house. If you can just get me as close as you can—”
“I’ll do my best.” The driver pulled away from the curb and Tanya slumped back in her seat, trying to catch her breath and calm her thoughts. She only had a single protective charm tucked away in her bag, nothing that could take on an entire ritual’s worth of Flame sorcerers. She doubted she’d even be able to get into contact with Nadia, now that Nadia was so ensconced in that assignment with the mobsters.
The driver turned the taxi down a narrow side street. The fire was brighter here, and smoke floated into the darkening sky. A blockade was set up ahead; police lights flashed amber, glittering in the shadows.
“This is fine,” Tanya said. “You can let me out here.” They were near another ley line; even in the car she could feel the power rioting. She dug around in her bag and shoved some money at the driver before climbing out. The smoke stung her eyes and she could taste it in the back of her throat. Bits of ash drifted through the air.
She was in a residential area, shabby little houses crammed next to each other. She jogged up to the blockade, and when the policeman put out a hand to stop her she made a ragged, panicky noise and said, “Please! I live here! I need to get to my house before it catches—I have photographs, jewelry—”
“Miss, it’s dangerous. We’re not letting anyone through.”
Tanya managed to eke out a few tears. She blinked, hoped they caught in the firelight. The ley line was going crazy, surging and buzzing furiously. She needed to get past this blockade.
“Please,” she said, pressing her palms together in prayer. The cop sighed, glanced over his shoulder.
“Fine,” he said, and she was already pushing past him, toward the heat. “But don’t do anything stupid—leave the fire to the firefighters.”
She could hear the fire...