Playing With Fire (private)

Rowan's feet carried him toward the burning building. Like a fucking moth, he though distractedly as he absently touched the little note, shoved deep into his pocket where he never put them. This guy had to know he would come. He had to know if someone was in the building.

Deja vu settled in as he approached the old run-down area of Nachton that had several buildings, most abandoned but some occupied. He was at the edge of the area, on a street of ramshackle buildings. The ones next to the burning building were so dilapidated as to not even have upper floors. The burning building had drawn a crowd, but not much of one. Even now most people stayed away from this area.

Rowan approached it from behind, looking up. It was just a burning building. This couldn't possibly have anything to do with the note. How could someone even have planned it to go this way? How could they know?

He backed away from the building. He would leave. It was a coincidence, nothing more. There were distant sirens; the fire department would be here within five minutes. Rowan turned.

And his keen ears picked up the sound of a screaming child. It was a sound he knew well; he interacted with screaming children on a regular basis. It was generally not his fault, but they were children. They screamed. It was an unmistakable noise.

Feeling dread heavy in his chest, Rowan turned and looked up. Not far up, the third or fourth floor, he could see movement. A figure. Oh, God.

He dragged himself back toward the building. No one was going in, and the child was screaming. Those screams were heart-wrenching. He couldn't stand it.

Save her, or let the flames 'cleanse' her. Was that what this was about? Some kind of test?

A hand reached out, a man he didn't know pushed against his chest.
"Hey, man, you can't go in there. Let the firefighters handle it."

The screams vanished under the roar of a flame as glass shattered. Rowan pushed the man away.
"There's a child in there."

He ran for the building; the fire escape was busted. He'd seen it when he'd come around the building from the side. Could he even get up the stairs though?

His heart pounding, trying to follow the wails of a child, Rowan pushed the door open and headed into the burning building.

Rowan Murphy 12 years ago
The air was cooler on the bottom floor of the building; the fire hadn't yet reached there but was clearly sucking in all the oxygen it could find. Smoke filled the air, not so much that he couldn't breathe but it seemed a good idea to stop breathing anyway. He made his way to the stairwell and pushed the door open.

Smoke billowed out now; the stairwell obviously wasn't safe but he had to get upstairs. He pulled the front of his sweater up over his nose, tugged the sleeves down over his hands, and forged in.

It seemed like years before he actually got to the third floor, and when he did he could no longer hear screams. This was it though. He was sure of it. Rowan reached out and pushed the door.

A blast of hot air hit him in the face and he turned around to avoid it, opening his mouth and gasping involuntarily. He was terrified. Why was he here? The fire department was far better prepared to do this.

A weak, thin cry hit him like a blow to the stomach. She was still alive. Rowan clenched his hands into fists around the fabric of his sweater and headed into the third floor hallway.

Aside from being smoky, there was no fire here. Not yet. Rowan inched his way along the hallway. He could hear things popping and shattering behind the hall doors. The cries stopped.

"Where are you?"

Inhaling to yell hurt. He knew most fire victims died from smoke inhalation rather than burns. He knew it, but he had no other way to try to locate the child. And his gamble paid off; he heard another cry.

He staggered to the door at the end of the hall, the one that corresponded to the window and the side of the building he'd seen movement in. He felt the door cautiously; touched the handle and felt it even through his sweater.

"Oh God," Rowan said, repeating the phrase over and over. "What am I doing."

He rammed his shoulder against the door before he could psych himself out. The entire frame gave and fell in. Rowan fell with it, a blessing, as he saw over his head a jet of bright orange flame. He held his hands up to shield his face, felt them burn, but that was better than his face, right?

"Where are you?" he screamed again.

This apartment was where the fire seemed to have started. It didn't rage, exactly. It burned steadily, consuming whatever it could, eating away at walls and ceiling, sending out tendrils of reddish orange wildfire, and making so much smoke Rowan's eyes continued to water and itch and sting. Pieces of the ceiling fell away, structural elements collapsing.

By the time he reached the wall the window was on he couldn't scream again. The air was too hot; it burned his throat and his chest. But he knew the child was in here somewhere.

From above a piece of smoldering wood dropped, hitting him across the shoulders. He ducked, narrowly missing another burst of flame. Unbalanced, he fell against the wall and put his hands out to catch himself. They hit a long window that he hadn't even seen, and he sucked in another double lungful of air at the pain as his hands blistered.

Truly turned around now, Rowan tried to keep the wall at his side. Over the crackling and roaring of the flames he heard the sirens. The fire department had arrived.

He passed through a doorway into what might have been a bedroom at one point, but even beyond the burning Rowan wasn't sure it could have been recently used. He turned at the corner and his foot hit something. Unable to catch himself he fell to his knees, slapping his burned hands painfully on the floor.

Turning around and squinting, he looked at what he'd fallen over and inhaled yet another breath of overheated air as the flames licked the wall next to him.

It was a corpse.

Rowan reached out, his badly burned hands curled in upon themselves, feeling like clubs rather than dextrous, useful tools. He turned the body toward him and felt dizzy.

It was a little girl. He recognized her; he'd treated her last week for burns and turned her parents in for abuse. The burns had been from cigarettes. He knew her, damn it. And she was dead. That much was clear.

He looked down. Her hands were bound. Her feet were bound. Someone had planted her here, on purpose.

For him.

Dizziness washed over him again and he shook his head to clear it. God. It wasn't just surprise. He was about to pass out in here. He heard noises as the firefighters entered the building. Rowan couldn't be caught in here. Not with a bound and asphyxiated corpse.

Staggering upright he moved along the wall to the nearest window and tried to open it. He cried out as his hands burned yet again, through his sweater this time, the fibers of cotton singed and smoking against his flesh. Finally he gave up and simply ran his shoulder into the window.

The fire escape was broken, as he'd noted before. He couldn't have climbed up it but he could probably get down. Cutting himself on the jagged edges of hot glass from the broken window, Rowan made his way onto the rickety fire escape. Immediately the fresher air rushed into his lungs, and that might have been the most painful experience thus far.

He tried to remember to stop breathing as he half fell, half climbed down the fire escape. When he reached the broken section he simply jumped, hoping nothing would be too damaged in the process. He lay on the ground for a few moments, the world spinning above him.

When he could muster the strength again he rolled to his feet. One motion at a time, he dragged himself upright. He glanced down at his burned sweater. His hands were a wreck of singed flesh, the skin missing entirely where he'd pushed against the window frame, the rest covered with blisters. He could barely see them though, for the image of the dead little girl in his head.

With a sob that sounded like something a wounded animal might make, Rowan stumbled away from the back alley, heading for the Towers. He needed blood. He needed Cris. And most of all, he needed to figure out what the hell was going on, and stop the sick bastard who'd orchestrated this. There was no doubt in his mind that that was what was happening. Why him, he didn't know... and he couldn't spare the thought for it now.

((ooc: Rowan out))