Screaming horses pieced the night. Irina and I stumbled out of her tent and into a battlefield. Two of our Eons lay in pools of blood at our feet, arrows in their necks. Their bonded lay beside them, their skin already crumbling away to ash as their magic dissolved. Tents burned. Trees burned. Everything burned. The wood was a massacre of sparks, smoke, and roaring orange. Commander Hadrion’s massive bear-like bonded stood in the centre of the camp, a severed hand crushed in its jaw.
Irina pressed herself against my back, as she would her normal Eon guard. But I was paralyzed. Because I had been here before, and I could not be here again. My limbs wouldn’t budge.
From the trees, arrows ringed in pale magic shot through our tents. Where they struck, fire exploded from their tips. One dug into the dirt feet away. Striped fletching, red painted shaft in the style of the hill clans. People that recognized no allegiance to the Canavar.
A hand pounded my back. Irina screamed at me from miles away. But I wasn’t with her anymore.
I was in Barje Vos. Heat pricked my skin. My nose filled with smoke. And all around me, while I was powerless to stop it, my friends and family were cut down with black blades.
And it was all my fault.
A rider plunged out of the woods. Their coat was a mass of black feathers, a white beaked mask obscuring their features. They loosed a savage war cry and shot an arrow through one of the assistants’ necks as she ran.
Crows. The most ruthless of all clans. They rarely, if ever, left survivors.
A grey shape followed the rider from the trees. It slunk on all fours with the crookedness of a hyena, but it was grey and scaled like a reptile. Finger-long fangs protruded from its jaw, dripping saliva. It passed and slowed.
The daemon looked at me. Its spots glowed yellow in a wave like a shiver running down its back. Second eyelids slicked open and shut. With a step closer, it passed the firelight. On the daemon’s neck was the black collar tattoo of a bonded.
A small voice reminded me of something. You have a bonded too, Rozin. And it doesn’t feel as though she’s woken up.
I seized Irina’s arm and dragged her into the darkness of the woods, where we might not be spotted. I sprinted for my tent. We passed the second assistant cowering under a shrub. Irina snatched the assistant’s knife.
We ducked behind a burning tent as more Crow riders screamed through the camp. They numbered at least six, by the chaos. Once in the trees, their coats made them all but invisible.
Pain tore up my arm as the lizard-like daemon burst from the bushes and slammed into me. Its jaws had clamped on my sleeve, tearing through the thick leather. Blood stained its salt-white teeth. With a cry of agony, I hit the earth. The daemon pressed a massive paw on my chest. Claws raked my coat. Pressure stole my breath, strangling my scream.
Irina’s knife sank into its neck. Black tar oozed onto my face, and the daemon dropped.
I dragged myself free. The daemon was still breathing, twitching on the forest floor. The knife protruded at a sloppy angle.
Shaking, I yanked it free. Iron. The only reason we were still alive.
But maybe I wouldn’t be for much longer. A steady stream of blood pulsed from a gash in my forearm as wide as my palm. It had hit something important.
We staggered through the dark trees behind the tents, Irina close behind me. I started coughing. In horror, I saw that my tent was burning. Andiya was suffocating.
“Where’s the High Order?” Irina hissed at me.
The nightmare rose. Andiya hadn’t come to my rescue because she couldn’t. I kept my mouth shut. A plant had effectively neutralized a High Order. That was dangerous information for anyone to know.
I sprinted from Irina and crashed through the underbrush. Branches and thorns whipped my face. I knew that I would lose consciousness soon, and when I did, Andiya and I were both dead.
My hand left streaks of blood on my tent’s canvas. The flames were high enough that the Crows couldn’t see me. I cut through the tent and tumbled inside. Andiya was tossing in a nightmare, almost fully obscured by the acrid smoke filling the tent. I gripped her shoulders.
“Andiya!” I shouted. “Get up! Andiya!” I echoed the call in my mind. “Andiya, Andiya, Andiya–”
I was too weak right now to carry her. I wrapped my arm around her chest and heaved. Black spun my vision. I couldn’t breathe in here. Andiya hardly budged.
Then Irina was there. Together, we hauled Andiya into the dark forest behind my tent. In the clear air, Andiya began to hack and cough. Sluggishly, her eyes fluttered open.
I dropped beside her, spent. “Attacked,” I gasped. “Eons dead. Don’t know … where Hadrion …”
My shoulder hit a tree. No use trying to stand.
Confusion and alarm trickled down the bond as Andiya’s mental faculties struggled back to life. She pushed up on her elbows, eyes like glass.
“We have to run,” Irina urged. “Now.”
Hooves thundered towards us. One of the Crow riders had spotted Irina—the only one of us standing so visibly. A wet snarl erupted from the opposite direction. Another lizard-like daemon, speeding silently through the woods. Its eyes flashed in the dark.
“I said now, Kain!” Irina screamed.
But we couldn’t run. I couldn’t even stand. The Crow’s horse sped closer. The only way out of his alive would be to suddenly sprout wings.
Andiya snatched my wrist with a steel grip, and heat flashed up my arm like a brand. I smelled burning flesh and hair. I screamed as stars popped in my vision.
Her magic pulled back. Andiya had burned my wound shut.
Andiya yanked Irina and I towards her, and her magic burst outwards like a gust of wind. Flames uncurled from her back as two giant wings, each feather a messy lick of fire. They spread to an impossible span, reducing the branches in the way to puffs of smoke. Andiya looked at me. Behind her eyes, the same fire burned.
Andiya’s wings pushed through a powerful downward stroke, and we were in the air. Irina and I clung to Andiya, my arms around her neck and Irina’s wrapped around her thigh.
The ground rushed away from us at dizzying speed.
And rushed back.
We tumbled back down, my stomach in my throat. But Andiya’s wings flapped again, and we narrowly evaded being skewered by a thin pine.
Andiya bellowed as an arrow pierced her thigh. We dropped another alarming few feet. I could feel the strain on Andiya’s magic, the fog in her mind. Desperately, I gripped the bond and hauled Andiya’s magic narrower. Too much magic bled from her in a torrent. Define the wings. Sharpen the edges. Come on, come on. Concentrate.
We climbed jerkily into the sky. Irina pressed her cheek to Andiya’s thigh, her knuckles white. I pulled the bond as taut as it would go.
Another arrow plunged into Andiya’s stomach. I felt it like a punch to the gut. But we stayed in the air. Her wings jerked irregularly, stuttering every few gut-wrenching feet. For a moment, one of the wings spluttered and winked out. But Andiya’s magic felt my pull, and it returned in a blaze of light. The feathers lengthened, defined. I tightened my control, watching as the wings grew and grew; as their tips fanned out like an eagle.
We began to gain horizontal speed. Up and down we went in lurches and drops, but Andiya was doing it. We were flying. The war cries of the Crows faded as we sped over the forest canopy. The endless woods blurred, faded under the moonlight. My chest tightened under the strain of Andiya’s breathing. Even if I held her magic’s flow, it still weakened. If it gave out at this height, it wouldn’t matter that we’d escaped the Crows.
“Land!” I shouted in her mind, but the word met a wall. My voice was raw from smoke. “You’re almost out! Get us down!” Andiya didn’t seem to hear anything I said. She was concentrating so hard on flying, on staying awake, that she didn’t have the capacity for anything else. She angled sharply, and we soared over a wide, frothing river. One that seemed to end abruptly.
“No!” I gasped. “No, Andiya, don’t—”
Her magic died, and we plunged over the edge of a towering waterfall.
Hello there! I'm Carlyn, an amateur writer currently publishing free-to-read fantasy stories. I write diverse worlds featuring LGBT+ characters and romances, because I believe that we need those stories too (even if they are about magic and demons and brave sword-lesbians). I want to create worlds that are free of homophobia and sexism, so that everyone can enjoy the ride without feeling like they don't belong.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!