Pete was in a bad way. Both of his legs, his left arm and his head had been badly burnt, and there wasn’t a single hair left on him that we could see. He had his knees pulled into his chest and his left hand clamped onto Jimmy’s shoulder – not that Jimmy could feel it. Jimmy was gone: there was no way anyone could be alive with their flesh charred so black.
Tome winced when he saw him, and Harmony covered her mouth to muffle a shriek and turned away. I walked over and crouched down next to his corpse. I’d seen worse. But with Pete, I’d never seen injuries that bad on someone who was still alive. Or screaming and writhing in pain. Those burns were second or third degree – his skin was leathery in places, and those spots didn’t seem to bother him.
“What happened?” I asked Lix over my shoulder, and she shrugged.
“It’s hard to make sense of it all. There was so much going on.”
“Just tell me what you know. For sure.”
She sighed. “I was on my way back here from lunch with William the Conqueror, when I got an SOS from Jimmy. So I followed it back to him, but when I get there I didn’t know where I was. Year or place – there was just fire. Blue fire that was engulfing everything. Pete was dragging Jimmy away from it but it had surrounded them and their clothes were ablaze, so I grabbed them and jumped with them to here.” She held up her hand, which was red raw along the side from her wrist, up her pinkie finger and across part of her palm. “When we arrived the flames just, went – not like they were put out, just gone. They weren’t even warm. Like the flames never existed.”
Silence reigned for a minute. I finished checking Pete – Lix was right. Harmony had recovered from her shock and had brought over a first aid kit and was checking Pete for blisters, while Tome was kneeling next to Jimmy’s black remains as Lix put an arm as far across his broad shoulders as she could reach.
“How did Jimmy get you an SOS across several millennia?” Tome asked, his friend’s name catching in his throat as he said it.
“He was a telepath. Pushed it straight into my head. You didn’t know that about him?” Lix replied softly.
“No, I knew that – but through that much time? He wasn’t that powerful…”
“Well, maybe when he was in danger, he pushed himself to the limit? You know, adrenaline and all that?”
“Even then, that’s extreme” I replied. “But we have bigger problems.”
A gust of wind blew through the ancient architecture, ruffling the hair on my head and sending a chill through to our souls. Tome rose from his kneeling pose and walked over to my side.
“We’re still in Sanctuary, right?”
“We’re outside time and space.”
“So, we don’t get weather.”
“So what was that?”
The doors at the far end of the corridor blew open, casting a golden glow over the whole scene. The wind blew again, and black dust flew through the air and landed all over the floor in front of us. Tome stepped forward and spread some on his fingers. He sniffed it, and then held it out for me to do the same.
“So, black dust? What is it?”
I sniffed it again. Recognition dawned on me.
“No black dust. Ash. Something’s burning.”