A note from Derthian

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The night was overcast with storm clouds. There was a glaring contrast where the illuminated areas bordered with the shadows, like drips of intense colors on a pitch-black canvas. As the glow of fires danced and flickered, it created an illusion of the shadows moving behind them.

It reminded me of the Grim.

Morbid. But circumstances were to blame.

It started showering at some point—an ice-cold rain that froze the ground in contact—not long after we boarded our bunk-wagon. There was a drop in temperature on account to this that left us huddling for warmth.

The heating device helped. It was a smooth wooden box with holes on it with something inside radiating light and heat. I assumed it was burning charcoals, but Melory told me what they used was ‘searing stones’; a recent invention by someone called ‘Geomancer’, or something like that.

“I’m surprised a nomad like you know that,” Latasha said. She was closest to the device, warming her hands and rubbing them together in intervals. She was wearing at least two blankets over multiple layers of winter clothing.

Melory wore only a thin shawl over her usual clothes. Kaelyn was sharing a blanket with Farica who was already fast asleep, her head leaned against Kaelyn’s shoulder.

“It’s because we’re nomads that we know,” Melory said in a quiet voice.

“It’s rough isn’t it?” Kaelyn joined.

“Yeah. Rough.”

“The winters, I mean. How do you get by?”

Melory shrugged. “We settle down and brace.”

“I think she would appreciate just a tad more detail, Goldie,” Latasha said.

“I’d rather not,” Melory said, dismissing the topic.

The rain grew heavy into the night. We were supposed to turn in long ago but between the cold, the thrumming of raindrops on the covers, and that ambient sense of dread lingering, it was asking too much to relax.

There was a bright flash outside. Lightning. Another thing I’ve never seen with my own eyes yet I knew about because it was stored in that mysterious corner of my brain. The thunder came hard and the girls flinched despite the fact they’d seen it coming.

“…Don’t you guys think it’s weird that they didn’t have a body?” Latasha said.

“Huh?” Kaelyn said, her hands still covering her ears.

“The missing drifter. They said they found the body, so where was it?” the lady clarified.

“They must’ve buried him on the spot.”

“Why not bring it back to the camp? It’s rather rude to bury someone without giving his friends a chance to offer their prayers.”

“He was killed by a beast,” Melory was the one who answered, “I doubt there’s anything left to take back.”

Latasha didn’t say anything back, but her facial expressions was strained. Doubting.

“Um, yeah, I’m more worried about the snow,” Kaelyn said.

“Me too,” Melory agreed.

Snow. The thought rather startled me.

I wasn’t much different to a newborn fawn in terms of knowing how things worked in this world, but it didn’t take much for me to picture the mountain trails getting clogged up by snow, slowing our convoy or even trapping us within the cirque. The drifters must’ve had these dangers in mind as they travelled from sunrise to sunset, whipping their horses for ten hours straight on the road every day since the rescue. We were racing against time and the coming of winter.

Then the word ‘demon’ was thrown in and suddenly they didn’t care about the race anymore, apparent as the drifters had willingly delayed the journey to ‘scout ahead’. Maybe, just maybe, what they thought as entrapment by snow, starvation, and freezing to death, were trivial risks compared to the danger of a ‘demon’.

As I thought something along those lines, another lightning struck. I heard something that sounded like a whinny reacting to the thunder. It came from outside, so it was definitely not one of us.

Did you hear that?

Melory addressed me, “They moved the vehicles up here, I think. Horses and everything.”

That caught Latasha’s attention. “How do you know? And why would they move the vehicles?”

“I don’t know for what reason, but I’ve been hearing stuff moving around for a while.”

“And you didn’t tell us? What the hell?”

I saw Melory’s ears drop slightly. “I don’t think it’s important.”

“Um, I’m sure it’s nothing, Latasha,” Kaelyn said.

“It could be something. What else did you hear, Goldie?”

“Um,” the luphaen fidgeted, “I could hear people shouting.”

Which was normal given the intensity of the rain drowning otherwise normal sounds below shouting. Not that the rest of us heard anything.

“Something’s afoot. I’m going out,” Latasha said, but she didn’t move a foot, trapped in her little bubble of warmth. “In a minute,” she added.

I acted first. I broke out of my nest and looked out, hood up. It was too dark to see more than orbs in the dark where lanterns and torches were lit. Some of the lights moved, and there were large pockets of them gathered in the direction of downhill. The outlines of vehicles were barely defined by the sparse amount of light that reached them, but it was enough to confirm Melory’s claim that they’d moved everything up from the base of the hill.

Melory appeared beside me. Her dilated pupils seemed to glow in the dark as she scanned the same places I did.

“You two see anything?” Latasha said.

“There’s some sort of commotion. I think they’re making a fence,” Melory told her.

They’re making a barricade.

“A barricade. Yeah.”

“Are we, um,” Kaelyn lowered her voice, “are we under attack?”

“I’m up, Kae,” Farica said, stirring up from Kaelyn’s side.

“Sorry, did I wake you?”

“No. Been awake for a while.”

Farica was the youngest here, somewhere in her early teens if I had to guess. Had she been pretending to be asleep? So that we didn’t have to speak reservedly for her benefit? The alert look on her face suggested that was likely the case.

“Everything’s fine, Fa,” Kaelyn assured the girl with a pat on the head.

“No, it’s not, Ruddy,” Latasha interrupted. “And yes, we could be under attack, or at least the drifters are expecting it. I’m going out to check. Is anyone with me?”

I’m going.

“Which means I’m going as well, I guess,” Melory whispered.

You don’t have to.

“We’re coming with,” she told the lady, then to me, “I’m coming with.”

Kaelyn and Farica stayed behind. I was in luck as I had the hood which was meant to protect me during the day. Yes, apparently I was sensitive to sunlight, according to Latasha. Now the cowl served to cover me from the rain, if just a little. The lady and Melory weren’t so lucky, but the pour was heavy and windy enough that it wouldn’t matter if we’d carried a tarp over our heads.

“Sweet merciful teat, it’s cold,” Latasha said, crossing her arms and shriveling her shoulders.

Every drop that fell on our skin felt like a touch of frost. Melory didn’t seem nearly as bothered, but that could be her putting up a face.

The grass felt hard and cold beneath our feet, almost as if they were frozen. Our breaths were visible in the cold as we made our way towards the largest concentration of light sources. Melory, with her nocturnality, volunteered to lead the way.

We made our approach towards the barricade. I was close enough to see it now. It was made from sharpened pieces of wood laced together, arranged in a line and reinforced with double-ended spears and torches. People were fumbling about, emptying boxes and distributing the contents around. Bolts, spears, flasks and… shovels. Shovels?

Squinting my eyes, I saw the drifters digging a line of trench on the other side of the barricade. All of these weren’t there this evening. They must’ve done everything in but a few hours – a testament to the efficiency of drifters. The ones that weren’t digging the trough or cannibalizing empty containers were either pouring liquid into the furrows or distributing the supplies needed for said efforts.

“Look for someone we know. Preferably someone in charge,” Latasha said.

Unfortunately for her, the first person we spotted was Luise. Or rather, he spotted us. “Tasha,” the blond crept up behind us.

For an instant, I jumped into danger mode. Melory—with her sharp senses—had the same reaction I did, turning around the moment the voice came from our back. Perhaps the rain and the night were to blame for us not noticing his approach, but then again, this was the monster capable of anticipating my magic in an almost-foresight manner.

“Luise, please announce your presence,” Latasha said calmly.

“Go back. It isn’t safe here,” Luise implored. He had a raincoat with a hood on, as did most of the drifters in the rain. Underneath his coat, I could see his sword’s sheen as water trickled down the blade. He was fully geared.

“No. We want to know what’s going on,” Latasha said as she stared him down. It would’ve made a decent effort if she wasn’t shivering and rubbing her arms.

Luise made a sigh. “Just come for now.”

He took us under a large waterproof cloth spread and held up with metal poles. There were crates stacked there – gunpowder, judging from the smell. We stood somewhere out of the way as to not block the traffic of drifters. The others started noticing us, but they were too occupied with building the defenses to spare more than a few curious glances.

Luise untied the kerchief around his neck and held it above Latasha’s head. “Madame, if I may?”

“Absolutely not.”

“I insist. You’ll get a cold, and that isn’t a trifling matter in the wilds.”

“I said no. That thing has your s– s– sweat, on it,” Latasha stuttered, more from shivering than of disgust.

While they bickered, I took off my cowl and used the inside part to rub the moisture off Melory’s hair. Her eyes widened at that.

“I– I’m fine,” she said.

As Latasha and Luise argued, another person came under the tarp. It was the tall man with the overcompensating sword, which he donned on his back with a sling. “Luise, this isn’t the time to flirt,” he said.

“Watch your mouth!” Latasha snarled.

Aenir gave each of us a look. His gaze stayed on me a bit longer than the others – almost unnoticeable, but just long enough to know he had something in his mind. “You said you vouched for the madame. Why not bring them along?” he suggested.

“There’s no way I can do that.“

“Why? Because we’re women?” Latasha said.

“That’s not–,” he paused, “alright, fine, I concede.” He took off his hood scarf and forcefully put it on Latasha’s head, not giving her a chance to protest. “Just, stay close, and don’t make a fuss. Please?”

Latasha responded with a curt nod. Luise paced towards another tent, and she stomped after him.

“Um,” Melory pushed my cowl back to me.

I’m fine.

Casually, Aenir held out his long overcoat above us. He was tall enough to pull off the move and actually be convincing about it.

“Um, thanks,” Melory said. He didn’t reply.

We were led to a baker tent that stood out from the number of lanterns hung around its corners. A group of people surrounded a large crate they used as a make-do table. Orlev was there. Sallis. Aldwan, the avlark chief, as well as a couple others faces I recognized but didn’t know the name of. Just like the others, the people there didn’t give us anything more than a brief glimpse before continuing their discussion. No one said anything when we crowded into the tent, so I assumed they were okay with us being there, but neither did they seem open to interruptions.

A crude drawing of the hill and its surroundings was laid out on the table, with different widths of lines and letters I couldn’t read describing the environment. At the base of the hill, a large X had been drawn. The enemy. There was something about the size of that X that made me anxious.

“How are things?” Orlev addressed the new arrivals.

Aenir pushed us under the roofing before answering, “The lads are trying their best keeping the powder dry, but the rain’s hard and we only have so much eyes to spare. Don’t expect much.”

“Thanks for your help, Aenir.” Orlev tapped the shoulder of the drifter next to him. “Tell everyone to pack a crossbow. No more than two clips.”

“Aye, chief,” the drifter said before marching out into the rain.

“Luise? Everything set?”

“Still unloading. Should we have two guys manning Little Dep?”

“Yes. Position it so it gets a clear line of fire on the entrance, but not too close.”

“Got it. Line of fire on the entrance.”

Latasha cleared her throat and heads turned. Interruption. No one was scowling, but it certainly felt like they all were.

“I can see you’re making a stockade on only one side of the hill. Is there no other entry point?” she said.

“We’re counting on the natural crags,” Orlev told her. “Have you been posted on what’s going on?”

“I know you’re anticipating an attack, but how? When, and why?”

“Our scouts spotted nirhounds swarming not far from here. A few dozens, at least. We’re predicting an attack within the hour.”

“Swarming? Is that normal nirhound behavior? How are our odds?”

“Two dozen drifters and six larks on our side. Firearms are limited by weather, but we have substitutes,” Orlev said. He didn’t answer her first question.

“Don’t forget we have the Firemonger with us,” Luise added, gesturing at Sallis.

“Any strategy?” Latasha asked.

“Standard alpha-red, hold out and thin the pack while a detached team searches out the alpha. We don’t have manpower for the latter part, unfortunately,” Orlev said.

The fact that they so eagerly brought her up to speed meant they expected her to have something to contribute. Either it was because of what Luise said about her, or they were just that stumped for ideas.

The rattling of metal paused the discussion and pulled our attentions to a certain metal object being pushed towards the blockade. It was nearly as tall as I was, shaped like two enormous bows stacked on top of each other and attached onto a fixture donning two large wheels. Two arms extended out the sides in an upwards diagonal to form a large, intimidating V. There was a crank on its right side, which I assumed was the firing mechanism judging by the lack of a trigger.

“Don’t put it too far ahead! We want it to cover the entirety of the chokehold!” Luise directed the instructions to the people pushing the contrivance.

“You have a Domitorem.” Aldwan growled, but not in an antagonizing way, more in a raring-for-battle kind of way. “Vhaosha. That sure ‘akes me back.”

“It’s a portable variant. The Depredator,” Orlev told him.

“Any’hing else up your sleevhas? Vhalame’rowers, maybe?”

“Maybe not,” Orlev stared at me, “we’ve got enough firepower.”

I stared back. Why are you looking at me like that?

“Um, why are you looking at her like that?” Melory asked him.

“We can use you. I assumed that’s why you’re here? To help?”

My gaze met with Melory’s. She shook her head, so small a movement that I was sure no one else saw.

I gave Orlev a nod. She frowned.

“Whitey,” Latasha warned.

“Thank you, uh, Whitey? Is that your name?” Orlev asked with a raised brow.

“She’s Whitey because she’s Whitey, and she’s not going anywhere.”

“And she isn’t going anywhere,” Orlev said. “She’ll be near the barricade and not one foot beyond. She’ll be within earshot.” His voice was deep and strict. Commanding.

“She will be a target. Oh, and ‘within earshot’?” she sneered, “She can’t speak, you numbcod! No, she stays here where it’s safe!”

“Madame, we have one line of defense. One. If they break through, we’re as good as dead. Nowhere is safe.” He looked at me. “And she already agreed.”

Yeah. I nodded again. For confidence.

The situation aside, I felt like I had to do it. I never thought of myself as someone so eager to please, but I was new to this world, and these people around me were, at the time, the only rocks in a raging river I was constantly being swept in. Until I could build my own boat, I was entirely dependent on them. I had to earn credit to my name if I wanted to survive.

No, that probably wasn’t it. Yes, I didn’t have anything societally. Looking at it another way, I did have my own boat, built from the time I broke out of that cage. I’ve gained power by myself, but how far could I run with it? I needed to know the extent of my power and this just so happened to be the perfect occasion.

Melory grabbed on my cuffs. “I’m going too.”

“Goldie, not you too,” Latasha protested.

“No,” Orlev said straightaway. “You don’t have anything to contribute to the fight.”

“I can talk– uh,” she fumbled, “I can communicate with her. She, um, she can speak through me.”

That got everyone momentarily speechless. They gave the luphaen dubious stares.

“It’s true!” she snatched my wrist, “Tell them it’s true!”

I hesitated. Honestly, I was glad for the possibility of finally being able to communicate with the rest of them. But why now?

It was only hours ago that she told me she didn’t want to tell others. Questions leading to harmful questions, she had mentioned, and now she’s going back on her own words. Spur of the moment? Did I want to take advantage of that?

I didn’t give her a response. She looked hurt.

“Noncombatants will stay away from the barrier and that is final,” Orlev concluded.

“You can make explosions, yes?” Aenir addressed me. I nodded. He pointed at the slope beyond the trench. “Once the enemy starts advancing, you will bombard them with fire magic. You think you can control your explosions enough to not harm one of our own?”

I guess we’ll find out. I nodded again.

“Good. Sallis will handle the left wing, while you take care of the right.”

“Little magus,” Orlev called, “we’re counting on you.”

The chief turned towards the barricades and flipped out a small device. He brought it to his mouth and sounded a long, ear-jerking whistle. Melory winced, and though not as much, so did Aldwan.

“Men, fall back behind the barrier and man your stations!” Orlev blared.

To that, drifters poured in from the chokehold with shovels and mud in hand. It gave us a preview of how the barricades worked; barring entry on all but one point of the trench, around ten feet wide, where the enemy would converge.

The group started to disperse. Sallis went towards the left side of the barrier with Luise in company. Orlev and Aldwan took the center. That left Latasha and Melory in the tent, looking like lost lambs.

Aenir nudged me. “Let’s go.”

We were already out in the midst when I heard Melory crying out, “S– scream! Scream if you need help! I’ll hear you!”

Latasha made a baffled look at that. I gave them an assuring nod.

“Stick close to me,” Aenir said, grabbing my upper arm. He didn’t make a comment on that exchange.

We forced our way through the wave of people, towards the right side of the barricade where they were setting up with rifles and crossbows. My eyes wandered to the far end where the spikes and trench ended and saw how the drifters used the shape of the hill to their advantage. I had to wonder if they picked this place as our campsite with this kind of scenario in mind.

“Can you see it?” he pointed over the barricade.

The wooden construction blocked my view. I wanted to get closer for a better look, but Aenir stopped me. “Keep a distance.” He turned his back to me and crouched, his arms splayed back. “Get on.”


“Get on, I said.”

I adhered myself to his back and he stood up. At over six feet tall, I could barely make out the end of the slope where it connected with the road, and across that road was where a dense collection of trees started. The big X.

“They’ll come from the tree line down there. The enemy is bunching a bit further from where you saw the arachnid this morning.” He pointed to the woods downhill, “The ridges should keep them from surrounding our position, but try to divert them towards the center if you can.”

Alright, I nodded, then I realized he couldn’t possibly see it.

“Make sure not to detonate too close to the barricade. The trough is coated with napalm, wouldn’t want to ignite it too soon.”

I heard a snicker from the side. One of the drifters, taking amusement from the piggybacking. That prompted Aenir to put me down. He had a smile when I looked up and for some inexplicable reason, I felt danger.

“…We’ll get you a box to stand on.”

He came back with a box a minute later. I could hear suppressed chuckles when I climbed on top of it. Humiliating, but at least now I could see over the fence. My visibility was hindered by the darkness to around twenty feet or so. Beyond that was just a mush of shapes and silhouettes.

Orlev sounded his whistle. The drifters stopped chuckling and all chatter was silenced. They took their places behind the barricade, their arms rigid and their expressions stoic. Their fingers kneaded the trigger of their weapon of choice, as if to check how far their index finger would have to reach.

In that silence, with nothing but the hum of rain to fill the void, the night suddenly turned bright. Not lightning.

I looked up and saw a glowing orb, bright and white, floating high above the hill. Its light reached even the trees in the enemy’s territory. I could only assume it was Sallis’ doing.

The darkness had been banished, giving us full view of the slope of the hill. I imagined there to be a sea of beasts, but there was nothing but the two figures emerging from the woods. Two tall biped figures. Avlarks.

“The scouts!” someone shouted.

They were scampering towards us, no weapons in hand because they either lost them or dropped them in favor of agility. More shapes started coming into view, pouring out the trees like a flood. Four-legged creatures the size of wolves. There were no howls, no barks, just a silent stampede.

“They won’t make it alone,” Aenir said.

I can’t help them, They’re too far–

A fiery orb launching from the left side proved me wrong. The eruption shook the air and the earth, sending debris and beasts alike high into the air.

Sallis. How did he do it? It seemed to me that he somehow sealed an explosion, projected it, and made it detonate on impact. But how does it work? What produces the energy and what contained it? What propelled it afterwards?

More hounds were coming out to replace the dead ones and then some. The beasts were faster and were quickly gaining up on the avlarks.

The rain fell silent as my mind shut itself from the outside world. My breaths were shallow, following an invisible rhythm that with each beat pulled the aether into my senses. I felt the seconds stretch, raindrops becoming lines rather than a flash. Connected and ready.

I could wait for the swarm to get within my range, but the two avlarks wouldn’t make it that far. If I could project my magic like Sallis did, however…

I thought about it. Composing the explosive was simple enough, either through combustive processes or just the raw internal energy of mana particles exerted into the system.

Conundrum? Suspending the process and then launching it as a projectile. One viable method: contain the combustion within a vortex of whirling particles with enough momentum to offset the outward pressure, essentially creating an enclosure to keep the fuel and oxidant together.

As for the propulsion, draw the kinetic energy from the vortex, apply it as thrust, then have the vortex disperse on impact. Boom.

That boom in my head coincided with a real explosion. Sallis again, bombarding the tip of the swarm as it bore down on the escaping scouts, saving their souls.

Loud pops resonated all around me as drifters fired their rifles to snipe the beasts from afar, chipping away pieces of the horde. Aenir stood by my side, a pistol in hand pointed at the ground. He spoke to me with his eyes. Watching, judging on my inability to help.

I gritted my teeth and held out my hand, palm up, more to warn the others nearby than out of necessity. The ‘fire’ started out dim and small, followed by the swirling of air encapsulating a bubble of gaseous mixture floating above my hand. As the energy built, so did the cyclone surrounding it, trapping the heat-bearing particles inside.

“Steady,” Aenir said. “Let it build naturally. Don’t rush the flow.”

I nodded and let past second after second as the avlarks below scrambled for their lives. Eventually the fireball, my fireball, became so bright that others became wary of it, and the vortex so powerful it created a constant gust of wind around me.

I took a deep breath. I splayed out my hand and the drifters took that as cue to get out of the way.

The orb flew. I watched as it illuminated everything in its path before exploding brilliantly. Midair. A dozen feet before reaching its target.

“You almost killed our own men.”

I saw. Shit. I could intuitively guess what went wrong. The propagation force was mooched from the barrier’s kinetic energy, thus diminishing it as the fireball travelled, up until a critical point where it could no longer hold the internal pressure and prematurely detonate.

I held out my hand and repeated the process, albeit with a slight alteration.

“Is– Is she going for another go?” one of the drifters said. He looked at the space above my hand as if it would ignite at any second.

“She’s fine,” Aenir answered. To me, he said, “You’re fine.” It sounded more like an order than an assurance.

I spared less energy for the explosive effect and more for the kinetic barrier this time. It formed much faster than before, the vortex spinning up first and the fire following behind it. Within seconds, I had a new and improved fireball. Less firepower, but more travel distance. Hopefully.

Launch. Slower, and wobbly in its travel. Partway, it started to diverge from its original path. The detonation happened way off target, singeing away edges of the swarm.

One of the avlarks stumbled. He couldn’t get up fast enough. Jaws descended upon him within seconds.

Harrowing screams mixed into the sound of rain. There was me hoping the growling of beasts would drown them, but the horde was eerily silent even as they bit into their living prey. In that light, the spray of blood and flesh was more glaring than it would’ve been in the day.

“Aw, shit,” uttered one of the drifters.

Another of Sallis’ explosions, centered around the fallen avlark. To spare him from a painful death.

My latest version of fireball was unstable. Because of the whirlwind?

I tried again. This time I shaped the vortex barrier in an oblate shape, pressing the fireball into a flattened ball.

“Account for the wind. Aim for the center of the horde,” Aenir said.

I got it.

I flung the fireball. It flew faster and more accurately. I saw, frame by frame, as the air erupted right in the middle of the horde. Bodies went flying, charred and in pieces, leaving only a colorless smoke and a crater in its wake.

Alright. I had the formula. Then I applied that to the next ones. I divided my focus in creating several at once. Two fireballs. Three. Four.

“Holy fuck,” I heard a comment to the side. “Holy fuck.”

I ended with five flaming orbs floating around me, then I flung them, one at a time. The first barrage sent a quake our way and quickly chained with another, causing the earth to perpetually shake as the horizon was covered in bursts of red and white flashes, dwarfing even the lightning. Dust whirled in the air like miniature eruptions, covering the sky in black.

“Don’t! You’ll strain yourself!” Aenir said through the piercing booms in the distance.

Strain myself? No. It felt natural.

Fireball after fireball, pitching them after one another like a clockwork. Almost monotonous, but I also felt weightless as I fell deeper into the aether than ever before, looking at the fiery theatre as if not from my own eyes. Each time I aimed for slightly different parts of the horde with the intent of crippling and scattering them.

Yet the swarm still moved forward. Unperturbed. Silent and driven.

Second barrage. I expected to hear the dying roars of beasts by now, but there weren’t any. By the third volley, the dust had veiled my view of most of the enemy.

I could hear cheers from the center of our formation, not from my attacks. The scout had made it past the barricade. The enemy wasn’t that far behind.

“Enough!” Aenir grabbed my shoulder with enough force to make my knees bend. “We have no visibility!”

R– right.

He furrowed his brows at me. I was expecting an angry sermon, but instead he asked, “Are you okay?”

I tilted my head. Why wouldn’t I be?

“Last salvo!” I heard Orlev’s shout.

Taking that as a signal, the drifters fired their rifles in unison into the smoke before switching to crossbows.

“Come on, you fucks,” one of the drifters said as he aimed his crossbow into the wall of dust and debris.

Aenir moved from my side and closer to the barricade, one hand aiming a cocked pistol, another ready to pull the strap on his shoulder.

Mechanical sounds whirred from the machine in the center. One man was seated and ready to rotate the crank, while another person was off to the side carrying cases that resembled the machine’s V-shaped arms.

“Steady, wait until they come out the cloud,” Orlev said. Even with the calm tone, his voice carried over to our side.

We held our breaths. My eyes were sore from the dust as it mingled with the rain, but I couldn’t bear to miss a blink. Any second now, the enemy would come charging out the smoke.

The seconds ticked past. I could see almost in slow motion as a droplet fell from the tip of Aenir’s pistol, my eyes following them all the way into the ground while still being hyperaware of the battlefield, ready to let loose another volley of explosions.

“…Why aren’t they coming?” one of men said.

Never before had I felt time pass that slow. I could hear the beating of my heart, pumping blood through my veins like the sound of the enemy’s footsteps as they drew close. Except there was no sound. Just my heart, and perhaps the heartbeats of those around me.



Found you.



Then my heart stilled. Frozen.

I glanced around at the faces. No one reacted to the voice. I looked around again to find the source. It sounded so near me, yet it was impossible to discern which direction it came from, almost as if it came from my own lips.

The wind gradually swept the smoke away. Through teary eyes and a dusty veil, I could see the myriad of craters I’d left, as well as the pieces of meat strewn across the field. The grass had been trampled in a way that allowed me to see a shape of the enemy’s advance.

But there was no horde. When the dust cleared, not a single creature could be seen.






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