There’s a fire in my heart, like the kings of old. They went forth to fight, heroes at their side, and held tight their crowns of silver and gold. My voice comes from them. I see as they saw. I have not their tattered pride.

Lisheva Durasoona

 

Sat on the stone platform in the middle of grass-covered ruins, four days after the parade, Sarea stared at her dry hands and said, “I can’t summon water.”

Ionas dragged her out here every evening and he didn’t even bother to look at her. He flopped out on the grass next to the stone. She’d only blame him for continuing to move around. Bruise salve could help the bruise pass and ease pain, but with all the damage he’d done and his insistence on moving around every day, he wouldn’t be healed for weeks.

He shrugged his left shoulder. “You can. It takes time.”

She sighed and gave up. For the day, at least. The sun was setting in scarlet and gold, and the air turning colder. Time for fire, not water. She shifted onto her knees, staring down at him, and said, “Who are the Auros? You said they founded the Hunters in the west, and you kept talking about two of them whilst we were walking. But who are they?”

Ionas sighed. “Julian Auros was a general. A very good one. His older brother, Vergil, was the first Grand Warlock.” He opened one eye, peering up at her. “Julian taught one of your ancestors. Lisheva Durasoona.”

Sarea nodded, leaning back. That explained the Master Auros the woman’s… message? Had mentioned. “But who was the family?”

“They’re on the Charter. Functionally extinct, of course. The bloodline through Julian and Vergil ran dry – they had no children of their own – and the women married out.” Ionas shrugged again. “But in the beginning, they were artisans. They made magical items. Helped create the secondary defences behind the Wall. Why?”

There was secondary defences behind the Wall? He hadn’t mentioned that before –

No. She wouldn’t be distracted. The wind started blowing, cold, picking at her hair. She said, “One of Isaye’s books, that’s all. I’m curious.”

Ionas waved a hand. “They were one of the greater powers behind the fight against demon influence, before they died out, like the Durasoona.”

She’d read all the way up to 828 in the journals. One day the mystery O’Hallorn ancestor was talking about Gavirn’s strange antics in the garden, some early sign of his later madness, and then the book stopped. He rarely mentioned her grandfather before that, except to say when he was useful. He spoke of Bethilde Durasoona, born Ap-Merill, far more often. She guessed that made him Isaye’s two times great grandfather, whose ashes were scattered in the river. It didn’t tell her anything of use about her grandfather.

“Ionas,” she said. “When I asked you before, how grandfather could know we were there, you said, ‘Of course they had to drive him mad’. What did you mean?”

“Ask me tomorrow,” Ionas said. “I’ll tell you then.”

:-#-:

He didn’t tell her tomorrow. She barely saw him, wrapped up in Isaye’s idea of a grand adventure, draping old bedsheets around the garden and pretending they were crawling through tunnels and fighting monsters.

Or simply annoying Larone, anyway.

At the end of it, after Larone’s control on her temper finally snapped, they fled to Isaye’s rooms and slammed the door behind them. Isaye slid down the back of the door, laughing breathlessly. Sarea stood in the room, eyes shut, praying Larone didn’t get angry enough to dig into her half-truths and expose who she really was.

She’d never been safe. Never. Not in South, not in Durabilis –

“Oh, don’t worry,” Isaye gasped out. “She’ll be better, later, when she – oh dear – gets over her pride -” And the girl dissolved into laughter again.

“Do you have to do this?” Sarea burst out, turning on her. “Playing games on her like this, getting her riled up – people retaliate, Isaye! Just because she won’t go against you doesn’t mean she won’t go against someone!”

Isaye stopped laughing, staring up at her with wide eyes. Like an injured deer, or some fear-frozen rabbit. Sarea stepped back. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean it.”

“You did,” Isaye said. “That’s all right. I didn’t even think she’d try to hurt you, that’s all. I’m sorry. I’ll talk to her.” Then, pushing herself up, “Would you feel safer downstairs?”
Sarea nodded.

:-#-:

Sarea curled up in what was quickly becoming her chair, tossing dancing flames between her hands, alone for once. It wasn’t so late in the evening that Ionas was released from the O’Hallorn house, and Keyne had been called away by a friend, so she got to be alone for a time.

Alone with her thoughts and her nightmares.

The door to the workshop opened, creaking, and shut. Hello, the workshop,” a man called out. No, not a man – Jorge. Commander Guilliarme Jorge.

Sarea stilled, her flames dying out.

“Hello?” Moving among the goods on the floor. “Strange,” he said.

She could move and go upstairs, so quiet he’d never hear her. Hide there.

Sarea set her feet on the ground and walked, barefoot, to the door out of the living quarters.

“Master Keyne’s gone out, I’m afraid,” she said. “Do you have a message for him?”

Out of uniform, Commander Jorge looked like any other man, dressed in good, plain blue clothes. He smiled.

“Hello there,” he said. “You’re that hedge witch’s apprentice, aren’t you? Funny to meet you here.”

“We’re staying with Master Keyne,” she said, not smiling back. She couldn’t. She looked at him –

“I’ll start breeding her.”

She shivered, curling her hands behind her back. “Do you have a message for him?” She repeated, and met his gaze.

He inclined his head. “I came to speak about the Instigator commission,” he said. “I’ll come back tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll pass it along,” she said, and turned away.

“Sarea Sahar, isn’t it?” Tapping. She glanced back to see him tapping his fingers on a half-finished table.

“Strange name.” He looked at her, looked at her like he could see through her –

No. Breathe. You’re just the hedge witch’s apprentice, and no friend of his.

“So is Guilliarme Jorge,” she said, and went back into the living quarters.

She waited, leaning against the wall next to the door, until the door open and shut again. Waited, listening for breathing, for shifting feet, before she unlinked her hands and flexed her fingers, trembling.

“I’ll start breeding her.”

She’d kill herself first. She’d see him dead first. Just seeing him – pretending he was a normal man! Like he didn’t run the Instigators, the people everyone in the West Side were terrified of, like the West Side was a ghostly, corrupted shadow of itself, like he’d just take her and hurt her like he had her father, like every abuse of power the Instigators had inflicted on the people when she was a child hadn’t happened, couldn’t have happened with his ignorance –

Sarea’d seen it. She’d seen it all. Instigators on patrol spending an hour in this home or the next, leaving dead-eyed women behind them. Breaking down doors to take half a family’s food, claiming they’d stole it. Smashing tools and the laughter coming out of the whore houses… little girl she was, keeping Amisine and her bloody, vengeful fury quiet beside her, she hadn’t looked away once. Not from the beatings, or the chases, or the quiet sobbing.

She’d been small and powerless. But she wasn’t a child now.

She raised her steady hands, taking a shaky breath, and called on fire. They lit up, from wrist to fingertips, white-hot.

She wasn’t powerless, either.

 

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