Another unexpected return.
STANDING ON THE harbour-side, waiting for Sir Tobias to return from, in Hawk’s opinion, a fruitless search for sober soldiers, Hawk was in a prime position to watch the night explode.
Silver shattered the darkness, the shimmering starburst reflecting in the waters of the bay. Gulls roused unexpectedly from slumber, shrieked, taking to their wings against this sudden attack. Drunken people stumbled out of inns and taverns, heads tilted back like fools waiting for a firework display.
They weren’t disappointed. The sound of the first explosion had barely died away, the gull flocks still screaming, when the night was rocked a second time. Hawk had only ever seen magic of that shade once – staring back at him from the blankness of Arien’s hungry eyes.
“Rock and bone,” Sir Tobias cursed, emerging from the tavern just in time to grab Hawk before he could run off. “What was that?”
Failing to throw off that implacable grip, Hawk grabbed his knight-tutor’s collar in retaliation, drawing the man’s eyes down from the sky. “It’s Ari,” he told him. “He needs help.”
A raindrop splashed against his face and he hissed. Another hit, then another, and he held out his hand. Silver pooled swiftly in his palm, raising a stinging jolt beneath his skin as it called out his magic.
“Sweet stone,” he whispered.
“What?” Sir Tobias held out his own broad palm, the silver rain bouncing off him. “What is this stuff?”
“Magic,” Hawk murmured in horrified wonder, then shook the water away as his fingers started glowing with gold. “Pure magic. Mountains, what are they doing to him?”
Taking advantage of the knight’s distraction, Hawk wrenched free and started running, checking his sword was loose in its scabbard, ready to be drawn when he needed it. He crooked his right arm tighter to his side, holding the disgruntled Cyrus in place beneath his cloak. Then he squeezed his left hand into a fist, flexed his tingling fingers and threw out a golden globe to light his way as he turned into the twisting back streets.
Sir Tobias shouted, “Soldiers, with me!” and boots pounded in pursuit.
Flexing his hand again, Hawk tossed a couple of glow globes over his shoulder for the knight and his men to see by. Then he focused all his attention on following the silver rain.
* * *
SOMEONE WAS HUFFING in Arien’s ear. A firm grip was locked under his armpits and across his chest. His heels scraped the uneven cobblestones as he was dragged backwards. Silver shimmered in the air around him, but he couldn’t recognise anything else beyond the crippling pounding in his head.
A bump in the road jolted against his heels, sending shockwaves through his body. His head tipped forward. With a curse, his carrier stopped then heaved his weight upwards. The back of his head slammed against a hard shoulder.
He was going to be sick.
As his chest heaved and his throat gargled, he was swiftly dropped. He barely managed to roll onto his side before he threw up. Black blood floated on the top of a silver puddle before it was beaten into fragments by the unrelenting rain.
“Blasted mages,” a familiar female voice growled, as a rough cloth was wiped over his mouth. Even in her haste there was an element of gentleness, as she dipped the cloth in a fresher puddle and patted it against his sweating face. “Why do I keep rescuing you?”
He gripped her wrist and blinked through the silver-spotted darkness at the angry face of the witch. “Irissa,” he breathed past the pain, almost dizzy with relief.
He’d found her. She was here. And she’d saved him. Again.
Snarling like a wet cat, she shook off his hand and dragged him to his feet. When he sagged, unable to force any strength into his legs, she pulled his arm over her shoulder and hauled him along, far stronger than he might have guessed from her frail build.
“I’m a witch,” she grumbled, as they staggered along the narrow alleyway. “We hate mages. Mages hate us. It’s the way things have been for hundreds of years, ever since the Wars. We all have our reasons, and they’re good ones. It’s comfortable that way. The less of you about the better my world will be.
“So why?” she grunted, kicking at a surprisingly sturdy door. “Do I keep saving you?”
The door opened to reveal a sharp little face with enormous dark eyes. The ratty child scuttled backwards under the blackness of Irissa’s scowl. The witch dragged Arien down a deep step into a dirt-floored room with a surprisingly homely feel and dropped him beside the tiny fireplace, where a flicker battled valiantly in the grate.
He caught her hand, forcing words past the pounding in his head and thickness on his tongue. “I don’t know why,” he croaked. “But I’m grateful. Thank you, Irissa.”
She scowled. “Yes, well, at least you cleared out Night Town. Guess you mages are good for some things. It’ll take them months to rebuild.”
“Mage,” the little rat child breathed, staring at Arien with a mixture of awe and horror.
“Yes.” Irissa walked back to the door and picked up a large sack. “Watch over him. He won’t bite. I can’t say the same for his ferret.”
Reminded of his closest friend, Arien looked down, surprised to find Rowan pacing the dirt floor. He was bedraggled and dripping with silver, having apparently walked here. Rowan never walked. No wonder he was fuming. The pine marten bared his teeth at Irissa’s insult.
The witch returned the favour.
The little girl – and Arien could see she was a girl, now that she’d crept closer to study him – squeaked at Rowan’s aggression and skittered away. “Will he get me? Will his bite turn me into one of them?”
Irissa sent the child an exasperated look. “No.” Bending down, she kissed the girl’s matted curls and headed for the door. “It isn’t catching. Throw him some bread crusts, get the mage some water, then leave them alone. I’m going back to see what pickings the bright mage over there has blown out for us. Don’t open the door.”
With a slam of that same door, she was gone, leaving Arien with a very unhappy mage-beast and a girl even skinnier than he was. The pain in his head was too much on top of the rest and he lay down before the pitiful fire, closed his eyes and wished it would all go away.
Rowan gave a squashed sounding growl before he came over to curl up under Arien’s arm.
He had enough strength left to cup his hand over the pine marten’s sodden back before falling into the welcoming arms of sleep.
~ Next Chapter ~
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