They’ll come in silence, fool, and nothing more.

Unknown

 

Standing with her back to a bonfire, heat burning skin through her clothes, Sarea shivered. This didn’t seem real. A week ago she looked forward to nothing more than stockpiling for winter. Now she was about to do… what? Something mad. Something that would get her killed

She didn’t do this. Her heart pounded, the loudest thing in the world. She handed out medicines and tried to look after people. Who was she, standing here ready to fight demon hounds, with only a madman to keep her company?

Ionas linked his fingers with hers and nudged her shoulder. Why did that make her feel safe?

“They’re waiting,” she said, voice soft.

Ionas nodded. “Human fear does most of their work for them,” he said. “We’re lucky.”

She frowned at the darkness.

“They’re not animals,” he said. “They’re smarter than that. They could just as easily have used surprise.” A pause. “That trick you came up with? I need you to make it burn.”

“I don’t know how I did it,” she hissed. “I’ve thought about… things like that. I’ve never glowed!”

He was grinning, she knew it. “You’re in danger. How can your magic not want to help? Try it. Please.”

She closed her eyes, trying to focus on fire. There were demon hounds out there and he wanted to teach her magic. The man just didn’t know the right time for anything…

“So what did your grandfather blow up?”

Heat flashed through her. Ionas yelped, letting go of her hand. She opened her eyes, surveying the golden fire rising off her arms. Ionas stood a stride away, putting out flamelets on his sleeve.

“I don’t think we should discuss that now,” she said, curling her fingers.

“It’s never the time for dark secrets, Sarea Saha.” He looked back at her, face setting into watchful intensity. “And after that moron said it -”

A shadow in the dark. She started. Ionas spun around, coat flaring in the air behind him. He stood still. She swallowed, watching his back. If she started hunting for monsters she’d see them everywhere.

“I know this game,” Ionas said. “Let’s not play it today.” He spoke a word that twisted the air, sending spiking pain through her. Something growled.

A blur to her side. Sarea turned in time to see a hound jumping at her, jaws open, claws reaching. Time slowed down. She raised her arms, and what was that going to do, it wasn’t even going to sow it down –

Fire swept out in front of her, knocking it back. A yelp. A hand on her shoulder. She turned –

Ionas caught her wrist. Her fire swayed away from his bare skin. “Stay close to me,” he said.

A man screamed. The others!

She pulled away, darting towards the other bonfire. Behind her, Ionas cursed. Ahead of her two black and red hounds tore at the edges of the group of men. People were bleeding, dying, and she was over here being safe!

She caught sight of a man hitting a hound with a piece of wood from the bonfire. The guttering flame on the end seared the hound, leaving a white scar. She stopped, swaying on her feet. Fire, fire…

Ritual circle, she thought, and her magic seemed to jump at the chance. A thin line of fire grew from the ground around the men, rising into a wall of blue-hot flame. It didn’t reach far enough, but it gave them a back, a place for the wounded. It left only one direction of attack.

And if she could summon fire… she eyed the bonfire, reaching out a hand as if to raise the flame. It grew taller, as if she was above it, reaching for her fingers.

One hound appeared from nowhere. She pushed her hand forward, flat. Flames shot forward, above her people’s heads, catching the hound and burning it to ashes in moments.

Dead. One hound dead. How many more left?

One breath. Two, four, ten. Nothing attacked. One man groaned in pain.

Ionas came up beside her. “Between the wall and the fire,” he snapped out. “Injured and weak in the middle of the group. Go!” He muttered, lower, “And that isn’t what I’d call staying close.”

“They’re mine,” she said.

“They’re utter idiots.”

“They’re all I’ve got!”

She was shaking, really shaking, her golden light blazing. A week ago she couldn’t use magic. Now she’d killed with it. Why was this happening to her?

Her people were going to die here. Mistress Junker. Farmer Jimny. Even Master Treeback didn’t need to suffer.

“You weren’t helping,” she said.

He huffed. “You can’t guard your own back,” he said. “We’re going to -”

A black mass rose out of the darkness of the pit and tore her away from him. She crossed her arms across her chest, trying to push it away. It clawed at her, stinking breath in her face, rasping snarls. She had to burn – she had to –

It crumbled into white. All the weight on her gone. She lay still. Her arms hurt, stinging and wet.

“Guard my back?” she said in disbelief. “Is that what you call this?”

“You’re very distracting,” Ionas grumbled, and offered a hand. “Are you -”

She took it, glancing at her arms, at red. Her eyesight blurred. “Superficial,” she said, and hoped it was true. He helped her up. She curled her arms around her body, trembling.

“We’ll have to deal with the medic before anyone can be treated,” he muttered. “Honestly. Just don’t do a thing you tell them to –”

He knees just went, a sudden wave of exhaustion flooding through her. He caught her, arm around her waist, holding her upright with more strength that she thought he could have. “Hey,” he said. “Don’t do that. I need you to do one last thing.”

She tried to focus on him. So tired…

“I need help, Sarea. Give me a little glow. Come on.” Fingers laced with hers. “I know a trick you’d just love, but I can’t do it myself. Give me some sunlight. Let me in.”

Sunlight?

Something stirred in her at the thought, as if the fire she’d summoned was just a little piece of something bigger, brighter. Like she stood in the shade of a tree, in the dappled dance of light. If she took one step forward, she’d be under the full blast of the summer sun.

She could see it now.

Because she was glowing again. Bright and clear.

“Thank you,” he breathed, and pulled his fingers away from hers. The light followed, pooling in his hand. He held it up and spread his hand wide. He said a word that twisted in her ears.

Night turned to day. The light stripped the darkness from everything, even people’s shadows, exploding outwards. Hounds were running. Black things in the light were running, their fur smoking.

“Right,” he sighed, letting his hand drop. “And you, Sarea – we’re going to have words about listening. Later.” He pressed his fingers against her forehead. “This is what using too much magic feels like, if you want to know. Now go to sleep.”

No, she thought. No, there’s people that need –

:-#-:

Ionas staggered, shifting to hold Sarea upright. Dropping his saving grace on the ground didn’t strike him as good.

Medics. If there was someone in trouble, they didn’t listen to a word you said. He huffed, laying her down gently. After a moment, he crossed her arms over her body, too. Better not to let any kind of cut lie in the mud. Not until he could get hold of water and something for bandages, anyway. He’d known enough healers to pick up the simple things.

Ionas looked up. The light was dimming, but the hounds were gone, singed tails and all. He stared into the falling dark. Two down. He’d caught sight of maybe six more. Six to regroup and rethink. But they wouldn’t be back tonight.

He brushed hair out of Sarea’s face. “We’re going to have a lot of words, Sarea Sahar.”

Unless she completely forgot the last five minutes of it. In which case they were going to have just a few. The less said about that before she was ready, the better.

 

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