By now, the air was filled with dense, coiling smoke and unrelenting heat melting the wallpaper. The child’s screams had stopped, leaving behind a frightening silence, cloaking the fire’s rage and for the first time making her afraid.
What happened next was a blur, a succession of movement that seemed to involve somebody else and not her.
Shielding the child, a lifeless lump with its weight doubled, she faced the flames. All of a sudden, she knew what to do.
Raising herself to her full height and thinking of her dragon, she stared into the fire and whispered a fierce command.
“Let me through.”
For a moment, there was no reaction, and she bit her lip again, so hard that the salty, metallic taste of blood mingled with the smoke. She squared her shoulders, exerted pressure to radiate her own wild heat, drew a deep breath and shouted, “Let me through!”
The impossible happened.
The flames withdrew on themselves ever so slightly, parting with obvious reluctance to create a small opening in the curtain of fire. Within moments, she had hurled herself through and along the passage, nearly tripping while navigating the half-burned-away staircase. To her right and left, flames touched her arms and legs, but no other wall of fire blocked her way. She shot out of the gaping, fire-filled hole that had once been a solid, locked front door, like a bullet from the mouth of a (more than) smoking gun.
Her legs carried her farther and farther, and then no more.
Everything went blissfully blank.
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