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Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby – Cover Reveal + Excerpt

If you read Fantasy-Faction there is a high chance you like dragons. We sure do! We even made our mascot a dragon (her name is Scarlette btw). <3 So, we’re sure you’ll-

What? You say dragons in fantasy are overplayed?

While we heartily disagree, this is not the first time we’ve heard this particular complaint. But today is the day we change your mind! For today we have an Angry Robot cover to reveal with a new twist on dragons that we think you’ll love!

The author of said book, Sean Grigsby, spoke with us this fall about this upcoming novel. But to refresh your memory, let me reintroduce him.

Sean Grigsby is a professional firefighter in central Arkansas, where he writes about lasers, aliens, and guitar battles with the Devil when he’s not fighting dragons. The cover art for his debut novel, Smoke Eaters, is what we shall reveal to you shortly!

Why Smoke Eaters? I think a look at the book’s blurb will give you a better idea:

Firefighter Cole Brannigan is on the verge of retirement after 30 years on the job, and a decade fighting dragons. But during his final fire call, he discovers he’s immune to dragon smoke. It’s such a rare power that he’s immediately conscripted into the elite dragon-fighting force known as the Smoke Eaters.

Retirement cancelled, Brannigan is re-assigned as a lowly rookie, chafing under his superiors. So when he discovers a plot to take over the city’s government, he takes matters into his own hands. With hundreds of innocent civilians in the crosshairs, it’s up to Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters to repel the dragon menace.

Dragons vs Firefighters! How awesome is that? It makes so much sense, I’m surprised it’s not a plot used more often in fantasy. Still not convinced of Smoke Eaters’ coolness? Well, don’t just take our word for it.

“An ingenious premise that Grigsby delivers on with intelligence and style. Smoke Eaters is a treat!”
Jason M Hough, New York Times Bestseller

“Smoke Eaters is a thrilling, exciting, funny and strangely heart-warming book, and Grigsby’s experience as a firefighter shines through on every page, lending grit and realism to this rollicking ride of a tale in which firefighters become dragon-slayers. It’s exactly as bonkers – and as brilliant – as you’d expect and I look forward to more from this author.”
Anna Stephens, author of Godblind

“Profane and exhilarating, filled with unforgettable characters and scorching action.”
John Hornor Jacobs, author of Southern Gods

See? Awesome. Just like we said. 😉

Right, I’ve kept you waiting long enough. On to the cover art!

Smoke Eaters (cover)

This amazing cover, created by Lee Gibbons, is perfect. The firemen’s shield with two lances crossed behind it. The ember red dragon curled around the whole thing, smoke trailing from its nostrils. Even the way the cloth it’s pinned to looks old, worn, and sooty, gives us a feel for what is to come. A seasoned firefighter protecting his city from destruction by dragons – tired, proud, capable, and done with upper management’s crap.

Smoke Eaters is due out in March 2018, and I for one can’t wait! And if you can’t wait either, then you’re in luck! Because Angry Robot has also gifted us with the first chapter, which you can read below! Enjoy!

Thanks to Angry Robot for letting us share this new cover with our readers! If you’d like to learn more about Sean Grigsby and Smoke Eaters, you can check out his website or follow him on Twitter @SeanGrigsby!

Smoke Eaters by Sean Gribsby - Chapter One

You never forget the smell of burning flesh, no matter how long you live. I’d been fighting fire for almost three decades, and had successfully dodged that particular bullet up until seven years ago, when the dragons came.

“Came back” would be more accurate. But these scalies are nothing like the old stories.

They’re worse.

So, there I stood on the outskirts of the city, taking a piss with my duty shirt stretched over my nose to block out the scorched-hotdog smell cordoned zones were known for – careful to avoid the ashes flying up from my stream – and keeping the front of my turnout bottoms dry.

The year was 2121 and they still hadn’t put toilets in fire engines.

“Captain Brannigan,” Giuseppe, my engineer, shouted behind me, followed by one of her two-fingered whistles.

I was nearing sixty and had never been able to whistle like that. When I looked over my shoulder, my shirt threatened to fall off my face, so I lowered my head to keep it secured.

Giuseppe pointed from behind Fire Engine 30’s steering wheel, calling my attention to the wasteland behind me.

Growing up in Minnesota, we used to get the best snows. I mean, the frigid stuff covered everything when you stepped out of your front door every winter morning. The landscape before me, as I shook myself dry, looked the same, but it sure as hell wasn’t snow. Ashes covered the ground as far as I could see, except for the crumbling shells that used to be houses or businesses, and the distant salvation of Parthenon City. Miserable clouds blotted out any patch of sun, so the sky looked as bleak as the ground.

But Giuseppe pointed to something else.

A wraith floated over the desolation, with its black mouth agape and tattered flesh where legs should have been. I couldn’t tell if it had been a man or woman; patches of ethereal hair floated from its head, and its flesh sagged everywhere. This wraith was silent – since it hadn’t seen us. It hovered a couple hundred feet away, at the bottom of the embankment where I’d been pissing.

The wraith’s white eyes, white clawed hands, and gray-speckled white skin blended against the sea of ash like camouflage, but I would have smelled it coming if I hadn’t had my nose covered, even above the regular quarantine zone funk. They all stank like barbecued babies.

A documentary I watched on the Feed theorized that because wraiths had died so terribly at the hands of a dragon, the burnt stench stuck to their souls, bringing misery to living people like me who had to breathe it in. I once caught wind of a wraith from a mile away. No shit.

If the smell alone wasn’t bad enough, the dead bastards attracted dragons like flies to rot. It’s why one fatality caused by the scalies was a death sentence to an entire neighborhood. I could imagine the dragons having a fire orgy among the ashes of their destruction after that.

Me and my crew were OK, though. There was nothing around left to burn. The dragons usually returned underground after a while, when the food ran out, and they’d laid their eggs – if the smoke eaters didn’t get to them first. Still, I should have known better than to stop in the middle of a quarantined zone. But when you get as old as me, your bladder tends to call the shots.

Wraiths usually stayed among dragon ash heaps. But this one was floating right by the road.

“Hey, old man, you done peeing?” DeShawn hopped from the engine, chewing bubblegum.

I pulled my shirt down and winced against the wraith’s funk. God damn, I was upwind of the thing, too. By then it had seen us and stretched its mouth wide, wielding its electric teeth and shrieking in that frog-getting-electrocuted roar that dissuaded anybody from ever getting close to one.

Twirling my finger in the air, I told DeShawn to get back in the pump as I circled around to hop into my seat beside Giuseppe.

“Mind if we hang around for a second?” Giuseppe asked. “I’ve never seen a wraith disappear. Might get lucky.”

“Yeah, come on, Cap,” DeShawn said. He rubbed a hand over his bald head. “We can always outrun it if it gets too close.”

“Or hose it away with the deck gun,” Giuseppe said.

“That’d be stupid,” DeShawn said. “Didn’t you see its teeth? That thing’s got electricity running all through it.”

Giuseppe shook her head. “It’s a ghost, dub. We wait around; it’ll get sucked up to Heaven.”

“Or Hell,” DeShawn said.

We lived in a country full of ash and theories but short on answers. Rumor had it the Canadians were far ahead of us in dragon research, but those weirdoes weren’t sharing.

No one had seen a wraith vanish, to my knowledge. After a horde of dragons decimate an area, the wraiths might stay around for a few weeks, but then they just disappear – poof – and then the city moves in to rebuild the neighborhood, jacking up prices while they’re at it, touting dragonproof foundations and a less-impoverished neighborhood. One might call this morbid gentrification the circle of life, but whoever did would be a dickhead who’d never seen what a dragon can do.

“Let’s not hang around,” I told Giuseppe. “We have to get back to the station. Chief wants us to–”

Our radio blasted out the emergency tones, only slightly more comforting than the wraith’s shrieks.

“Structure fire response,” the dispatcher said. “3509 Brentmoore Way. Multiple calls saying visible flames are coming from the roof.”

I tensed. Held my breath. Not today.

“No indication of dragon involvement.”

With a smile on my face, I released my breath. My crew did, too, filling the cab with a whoosh of relief. I remember when a confirmed structure fire wasn’t such a relaxed affair. The fire department’s standard operating procedure on dragon calls was to stay the hell back and wait for the smoke eaters to arrive and kill the scaly. What that amounted to, usually, was watching a house burn down, and if God was just that day, the smokies would slay the dragon without any civilian casualties and inevitable wraiths.

I’d seen a few dragon fires. It was either on the Feed or through binoculars at a good distance. Shittiest feeling in the world, being unable to do anything while people’s lives went up in flames. But what could we do? My dragon knowledge was limited, but I knew bullets and bombs didn’t make a scratch against their scaly hide. Water streams and axes would only piss them off.

At the end of the week, I’d be retiring.

I’d let the fire department know as much a few months before. No one could believe Cole Brannigan would put up his helmet and settle down. It wasn’t the money. The dragons had tapped the city’s budget and shat all over our pension fund. I guess I was just ready to sleep in until my wife, Sherry, woke me up for breakfast. I was ready to spend my days having great sex and teaching myself how to oil paint. Thirty years on the job is a long time.

In the back of Engine 30, Theresa, who’d been sleeping before the call came in, jolted awake and leaned forward, ogling me with bloodshot eyes. “What was the call?”

“Structure fire,” I said. “Gear up.”

Theresa didn’t move. “Dragon?”

“No, I would have told you. Let’s go.”

Theresa placed a hand on my shoulder. “You’re the best, Cap.”

I put my hand on hers and nodded my thanks.

Beside her, DeShawn stared at our hands as he got his turnout coat on, almost like he was pouting. Not wanting to leave out one of my crew, I held out my fist for him to bump. With a weak smile, he punched his knuckles against mine.

Sometimes being a fire captain is like fathering a bunch of jealous four year-olds.

I waited to turn on our engine sirens until we were well away from the wraith. Really, I didn’t understand the purpose of using sirens and lights out in the wastes. It wasn’t like there was traffic to get around. But that’s the thing about the fire service: hundreds of years of tradition unimpeded by progress.

When we were about a mile away, we could see dark smoke reaching to the sky. The fun had barely started. Over the radio, Truck 1 announced they were en route, so I told Giuseppe not to let up on the gas. I’d be damned if another company beat me to what would probably be the last fire of my career.

On our arrival, flames gnashed from the eaves of a single-story house. No cars in the driveway. The smoke churned out more dark brown than the black I’d assumed – a good sign. But it was picking up velocity – a bad sign.

Fire has a way of drawing the human eye, but I’d learned a long time ago that smoke is what tells you what the fire is doing, and more importantly, what it’s about to do.

This one was about to go nuts if we didn’t stop it quick.

Giuseppe pulled a few feet past the house, how I’d trained her, allowing room for the ladder truck, but also letting me see more of the trouble we were about to get into. Truck 1 parked behind us as I jumped out and gave dispatch a report of what I saw. From rundown front porches, neighbors gawked as a few of the younger, braver residents inched closer for a better look.

“I need all of you to get back,” I yelled. “Anybody in the house?”

They jolted with droopy mouths and shrugged their shoulders before retreating to their homes.

“The ground shook,” an older lady shouted from her porch chair.

The neighbors argued against it, said the older woman had imagined it.

“I watch the Feed,” she said. “I know the signs to watch for.”

None of the houses showed any indication of quake damage, but I told DeShawn to be on the lookout for signs of weakness. Quakes usually meant a dragon was in the area, but you could never tell if it was a scaly or just baby shocks from fragile crust.

Any other time I would have told my crew to surround and drown the house from the outside, but with the potential for someone being trapped inside, we had to make entry.

Giuseppe connected a supply line from a nearby hydrant to our pump. DeShawn and Theresa stretched a hose line to the front door and put on their air masks as two of Truck 1’s crew forced open the entrance and began setting up a ventilation fan while Giuseppe charged the hose line.

Things were running smoothly.

Truck 1’s captain ambled over to me, his big gut swinging from side to side under his open turnout coat. “Hell of a way to start the day.”

He was in the rookie class a few years after me, and a total asshole, but he knew his way around the fireground. I was about to tell him to place the ladder over the roof when a huge moving truck barreled past Engine 30 and blocked the street.

“What the hell?” I took a quick glance at the fire, seeing that DeShawn, Theresa, and the two guys from Truck 1 had gone inside and were already spraying water. I stomped toward the moving truck, ready to tear somebody a new orifice.

A scrawny guy in an oxford button-down jumped from the driver’s seat, studying a clipboard as he jogged to the back of the truck.

“Dispatch,” I said into my radio, “can you have police respond to block traffic?”

She acknowledged my request.

“Hey, man.” I waved a hand in front of the guy’s clipboard.

He looked up as if I was asking if he’d like fries with that.

“We’ve got a fire going on here.”

“I know,” he said, stepping over to a lever. “Watch out.”

I looked up as the truck’s back door rose open, and a heavy metal track flew toward me. Nearly getting creamed, I jumped out of the way before the track extended down to the street. Two huge carts rolled out, filled with metal men standing at attention, featureless glass heads and water cannons on each arm.

Fire droids.

I made sure the guy saw me point down the street. “Get the fuck off my fire scene.”

“But…” The guy swallowed, blinking like a bug had flown into his eyes. “Mayor Rogola ordered us to test out the fire droids on the soonest incident. That’s why I’m here.”

“The mayor can eat a dick. This is a life-and-death situation for real people to handle. I’m done talking about this. Police are on their way.” I turned, ready to hustle back and get a status report from my crew.

But the fire had grown larger, hotter than when we’d first arrived. The curious neighbors ran away, no longer able to handle the heat. It didn’t make sense. My crew was one of the best at interior attack. The fire should’ve been smoldering by now.

“30-C to 30-A, what’s going on in there?” I waited for Theresa to answer me. After a minute of silence, I tried again.

My question was answered by the ground rumbling and a roar from inside the house. Something alive and hungry.

Oh, damn.

I didn’t think about what I did next, I just did it. Standard operating procedures be damned. Opening the captain’s bin, I removed my air pack and a pickhead axe.

“Cole.” Truck 1’s captain grabbed my arm as I turned to the house. “You can’t go in there.”

I shoved him away. “You’re in command. Call in the smoke eaters.”

“But there’s a dragon.”

In under a minute, I packed up and entered the house. I crawled as fast as I could with a hand tracing the pressurized hose, but even that low, the smoke blocked all sight past my fingertips. When I hit a corner, I straightened and called out for anyone who could hear. Nothing. Puffs of smoke flew at my face and sparked orange and blue when they touched my mask. In thirty years of fighting fire, I’d never seen anything like that. I was like a giant stumbling through an active storm cloud. Dragon fire wasn’t what I was used to combating, and a shudder across my back told me I was in way over my head.

Get ’em. Get out. Get ’em. Get out, I kept telling myself.

I found the hose nozzle, but no sign of anyone near. The heat bore down on me even more, and falling back on my training I raised the hose to the ceiling and sprayed a quick shot of water.

A flashover happens when everything inside a fire reaches its ignition point at the same time and the house becomes an inferno. This happens when the ceiling temperature reaches between 932 and 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. If my quick spray of water came back – and I could hear it hit the floor – it meant that temps were still below flashover. If the water became steam, I’d have to get my ass out of there before becoming barbecue.

Flashing images of Sherry’s face, half-covered with her red, graying hair came to mind. The pleasant image morphed into her standing over my grave, and then the surrounding cemetery crumbling into ash as my wife mutated into a flesh-rotted wraith.

I shook it away. My mind loved to jump to the worst-case scenario at the worst time.

My spray of water dripped onto the floor in front of me. No flashover, yet. Grabbing the nozzle, I crawled farther into the house.

I called again for Theresa and the others, keeping still to detect something. Anything.

“Cap!”

It was too hard to tell if that’s what they said, but it was a sound, and it was human, coming from deeper in the house and off the safety of the fire hose. Taking a slow breath from my mask and checking my air level, I crawled for the voice in the dark.

Normally, I would have expected furniture or other household items to traverse, but there were only piles of ash to crunch through with my gloves and knees. I was about to call out again, when I spotted a red glow to my left. A PASS device blinked nearby as well.

The ashes scattered under my scrambling until I came to DeShawn hanging from the lip of a pit in the middle of the floor. Red fire raged below DeShawn’s dangling boots. I got on my stomach and slid toward him, reaching out for his air pack’s shoulder straps.

In the pit below, an enormous dragon – about the size of a bus – lay on its belly, crunching on a charred corpse and tearing away the turnouts with its claws. It was as red as its fire, jagged scales over every inch of its fat body. It didn’t have ears, but a shitload of evil-looking horns. No wings. That’s one thing different about real dragons compared to the ones from fairy tales. Real dragons don’t fly.

I couldn’t tell who the dead firefighter was. Pain and anger bubbled up to my throat, but I had to swallow it. This was no time for revenge. I grabbed DeShawn and helped him out of the hole.

The dragon rolled over as it bit off the firefighter’s head and swallowed, snorting gleefully and puffing flames from its snout. This bastard had crawled from beneath the ground, through the concrete foundation, and stamped out a comfy spot to munch on one of my brothers or sisters. The headless body rolled over in the dragon’s grasp, and the flames illuminated the name on the back of the turnout coat. It was Theresa.

My axe grew heavier in my hands. I wanted this scaly dead.

“Follow the hose and get out,” I told DeShawn. I had to shout for him to hear me, pointing back the way I’d come.

He nodded and crawled away. I still had to find the Truck 1 firefighters, even though I was sure they were dead, swallowed. Only a self-serving asshole would leave people behind, but I’d be lying if I told you the thought of escaping didn’t play through my mind like a bad song on repeat.

My HUD said I was at half a bottle of air, and my nerves weren’t helping me conserve breath. When DeShawn disappeared from view, the floor shook. A roar followed. My ribcage rattled. The dragon towered over me, clawing at the walls and having to hunch with its back against the ceiling. Still, it was small as far as dragons went. Smoke rolled from its nostrils into its yellow, glowing eyes. From behind its countless teeth, red fire flickered in the back of its throat.

I put the nozzle on a straight stream and shot into the dragon’s mouth. Not only did that not extinguish the flames, I think the growling and puffs of smoke from its nostrils meant I’d done nothing but annoy the bastard.

I had to get the hell out of there.

Crawling as fast as I could, I heaved huge gulps of air, following the hoseline. Jaws clamped onto my air pack, and my hands and knees left the floor as the dragon lifted me into the air. It shook me to and fro like my dog, Kenji, treats trespassing backyard squirrels. I bounced from one wall to the other, each hit bringing a new flash of pain.

When I first got on the job, I had a captain who once told me, “If you’re going to eat a shit sandwich, you might as well swallow it in one bite.”

Well, I was in the middle of a supersized quarter pounder of shit, and the only way I saw out of my predicament was to do what they’d trained us to never do, under any circumstances. I loosened my air pack’s harness straps and slipped my arms from them. When I unbuckled the waist straps, I fell until the air hose yanked my head up, ripping the helmet from my head and the mask from my face.

I braced myself for the superheated air inside the house to enter my lungs and burn my throat. Dying from that and smoke inhalation would have been better than letting some ugly ass scaly get me. Maybe I wouldn’t become a wraith going out that way.

But I didn’t succumb. Uncomfortable as the heat was, it wasn’t hurting me.

The hell?

I was so surprised I was able to breathe, I almost neglected the dragon dropping my air pack from its teeth and opening its mouth, the sound of a high-octane crescendo rising in its throat.

My axe lay in front of me, so I threw it at the ugly bastard. I’d only done it to distract the scaly, but, as if God owed me a favor, the axe twirled through the air and landed in the back of the dragon’s throat. It rose, smashing holes in walls and breaking through the roof, shooting its fiery breath into the afternoon sky. The dragon was throwing an all-out temper tantrum, and I was caught in the middle of it.

I crawled for the fire hose, but the dragon swung its tail into the corner, dropping smashed bits of wood and sheetrock to block my escape route.

Shit.

“Hey,” someone shouted from above.

Through the hole in the ceiling, Truck 1’s captain stood at the tip of their ladder fifty feet up, lowering a harness at the end of a rope.

I was going to kiss that man.

The dragon coughed up the axe as I secured the harness around my middle. Yanking twice on the rope, I yelled for the other captain to take me up. That’s when the house began crying.

A structure, like any other entity, makes certain sounds when it’s dying, ones I’ve developed a knack for identifying. This house was coming down. The dragon clawed against the collapsing walls, too focused on me to realize it was being pinned down by the collapse.

Truck 1’s captain could only pull the rope so fast, considering he was an out-of-shape, middle-aged man pulling another guy on the end (me) who wasn’t Jack Spratt either.

Kicking off one crumbling wall, I dodged another that would have flattened me. Below, most of the dragon’s body lay under the rubble, but its long, ugly head was out in the open and snapping toward my wrinkled ass.

I was done for, seeing, almost in slow motion, the trajectory of the scaly’s coal-black teeth. They’d pierce my legs, rip me from the harness with a back-breaking snap, and then the bastard would drag me underground to enjoy its meal.

But something flew into the side of the dragon’s throat, stabbing it with a blade of white flame. It was a someone – a smoke eater. They’d jumped nearly fifty feet with the aid of the thrusters in their power suit, and plugged the scaly with an enormous laser sword on their right arm.

Smoke eaters always got the coolest toys.

I was just above the roof, and Truck 1’s driver rotated the ladder to get me and his captain out of the battle, when the dragon roared louder than ever, a huge sound wave rippling from its jaws. The pulse racked the ladder truck, along with me dangling from it, and killed the truck’s power. The ladder stopped moving, and I was stuck above an angry dragon trying to shake a smoke eater from its neck.

The smoky looked at me. They wore a slick green fire helmet, and what looked like tactical wraparound sunglasses covered their eyes. I knew it was a woman by her lips, but I guess it could have been a man with particularly nice kissers. She shouted something I couldn’t decipher.

Another smoke eater flew in from above, the heat from his thrusters wapping against my head. He landed on the dragon’s bottom lip and, with a hand holding on to the top of its snout, shot a thick stream of foam into the dragon’s throat. Before the scaly could chomp him, he hovered down to the ground and blasted the dragon with laserfire from his other arm.

Damned dragon never had a chance.

The smoke eater hanging on to the scaly’s neck removed her sword and flew onto its head. With a quick steadying of her weight, the smoky plunged her sword into the scaly’s skull. As the big bastard flopped to the ground, the woman jetted to the front yard like the Angel of Death.

Truck 1’s captain lowered me to the ground. I removed my harness and took the next moment to throw up the big breakfast DeShawn had cooked that morning.

“You the one who was inside?” The foam-shooting smoke eater jogged over to me.

I wiped my mouth, head beginning to ache. “Yeah. I went in after my crew.”

“You lost your mask. You could breathe in there.” The way he said it was a mix of inquiry and confusion. Hell, it seemed he knew more than I did about that shit. He hit a button at the side of his head and the tactical goggles split and retracted into his helmet.

He was a black guy, and had red irises. I knew they weren’t contacts, because that kind of crap wasn’t tolerated in our line of work, but some people had a strange allergy to the dragon ash that turned their eyes weird colors. Others just developed a bad case of silicosis. It’s why you saw a bunch of people walking around wearing surgical masks.

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess the hole in the ceiling vented the smoke pretty well.”

What did this guy want from me? I just wanted to retrieve my crew and mourn like every other red-blooded American.

“Then you’re going to have to come with us.” The voice behind me was feminine and stern.

I turned as she retracted her goggles.

“They only sent two of you clowns?” I said. “And a little too late.”

She looked almost like Sherry when she was younger. Except her eyes were closer together and her nose was bigger. Her helmet prevented me from seeing what her hair looked like, but by the way she gave me the evil eye, I would have bet my life’s savings she was a redhead.

A policeman ran over. “Holy cow! Did you see that?”

“Officer,” the Angel of Death said, as Foam Shooter closed in on me.

“Huh?” The cop started at the smoke eater’s voice.

“Hand me your cuffs,” Angel said.

I’m too old and tired for this shit. I would start swinging fists if I needed to.

It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out what she wanted to do with those cuffs. What’s that saying? Out of the fire, into the frying pan?

I spit. “You guys are on some drugs if you think you can kidnap people in broad daylight. Firemen especially. Clean up your own dragon mess. I’m calling my chief and going home.”

A black apparatus with flashing purple and green lights drove up and parked behind Truck 1. More smoke eaters.

Foam put his hand on my chest.

The cop fidgeted the handcuffs from his belt, all smiles. “Sure thing. You’re the boss.”

I turned to run, but Angel caught me in the back of my legs. My knees hadn’t been on the ground more than a few seconds when she clicked the cuffs onto my wrists.

“You assholes have no right,” I shouted. “I was doing my job and trying to help my crew. If you fuckers had showed up sooner–”

Angel pointed to Foam, who pulled a black bag from his turnout pocket.

I continued to yell and curse until he put the bag over my head. It tightened around my face where I couldn’t breathe, so I had to shut up.

“Calm down,” Angel said.

I couldn’t see anything. But my silence caused the bag to loosen a bit, allowing me to breathe. I heaved, ready for the air to be taken away again.

“The bag you’re wearing,” Angel said, “tightens if you talk, cutting off your air. If you didn’t already figure that out.”

I nodded.

“I normally don’t like to do things the hard way, but you aren’t making this easy. So this is what’s going to happen. We’re calling in the cleanup crew to quarantine this area. We’ll try to retrieve any of your firefighters’ bodies. But, whether you like it or not, you’re coming with us.”
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