“Give me the locus,” I demanded.
She pulled it in tighter to her body, and it squeaked. I huffed out an angry breath and lowered my head, staring directly into her wide eyes. “I will kill you and then take it.” Damn spellcaster. What was she doing with the poor thing? Going to use it for something, probably. A spell or a charm or some of both.
I was getting the picture the locus was a very valuable Being, even if I hadn’t heard of them before. That’s what I got for being part of a race of Beings who deemed themselves pure and hid away from the world.
Pressing upward with my knife, I made my intentions and complete willingness to take her life in a very painful way clear. Blood, scarlet and scorched, ran down my blade with a sharp hiss.
She had something in her. Something… fiery. But the fight in her eyes faded to nothing under my glare and she uncurled her arm.
The locus whimpered as it scampered away from her, its tiny legs working furiously as it headed straight for me. It crawled up my body, and then inside my cloak on the side opposite my blade arm, which I’d luckily cinched tight with my belt.
How to escape? If she was a spellcaster, moving the knife away from her would free her to work her magic. It would not affect me directly, but she could use things around us against me. Not that she would know what I was. Probably.
I grimaced. “If you try to stop me from leaving, I will kill you.” She opened her mouth, and I moved the knife, digging it in. “Evil witch, I know your type. Don’t try it; I will not let you harm a youngling. You’re lucky I’m not like you, or I’d kill you where you lay, in the dirt and filth, and leave your body to rot as a warning to all those who’d try to harm those under my protection.”
My horn may have been taken, my soul sheared with its ivory brilliance, and I may not have the majestic form I longed to take… but I would not allow evil to triumph. I would fulfill my role as a protector. This little locus would be going home or to someone who knew him and would take care of him, if his family was gone.
“Is death worth whatever foul spells you would have achieved if you took him from me? Trust me, you will fail if you try, and I will kill you.” Her blood was smoking on my knife, and it scorched my hand when it trickled down to touch my skin, but I ignored the pain.
Placing one cautious foot back, I stepped away, stretching my arm out. I hesitated, then I took another step, my knife moving away from her chin. I moved more rapidly but didn’t take my eyes off her, holding my knife ready. I could throw it if I had to, right through her throat.
We were almost clear, almost out of sight, when a stick rolled under my foot and I stumbled. I took my eyes off the witch for just a second, and that was all it took.
“Enkindle!” She waved her hand in a circle, and a wall of flames sprang up around me in an unbroken circle. I couldn’t stop her as she rose to her feet and wiped the dirt from her tunic.
She was a witch of unparalleled power, if she could do that with a single word and gesture. Fear—not for me, but for the idea of what failing to stop her would mean—churned in my stomach. I should have killed her when I had the chance, why hadn’t I?
I held the locus close, keeping my cloak from the flames. The heat was intense, sweat popping out in an instant. The knife was slippery in my palm, so I gripped it tighter.
She’d have to kill me to get him. I crouched, my eyes above the flames, to watch her.
“Wait,” she said. She stood with her hands raised, and I tensed even more, when I’d thought I couldn’t get any more on edge.
“For you to kill me like I should have killed you?” I snarled. “I don’t think so.”
“No. You didn’t kill me because I’m not evil. Your magic must have recognized that.” Her voice was calm. Beguiling in its sincerity.
A witch’s voice, with the power to tempt and taint your mind.
“If I was evil, would I not have harmed the others with the locus?”
“You stole him away from a unicorn. No one who wasn’t evil would do that,” I insisted.
“I took him to save him from you. I saw you with them, with him. I thought you had entrapped them somehow.”
“Even after I left them?”
“I thought them trapped, penned in by magic. I could only carry the locus.” She moved a few feet closer. “The locus clan was raided days ago; I promised to do my best to help them.”
“You know the clan?”
“We are allies. My territory borders theirs. I have been listening, trying to find any mention of their missing young, when I heard you.”
“You heard me? How?” She paced closer, and I clutched my knife. She might sound as if her story was true, but I would not be taken unawares again.
“Through the fire. It is mine to control. Watch.” She’d gotten close and I bared my teeth, swiping my knife through the fire. It parted, but I missed. The heat crackled along my skin, but I wasn’t burned.
“Stop that! I don’t want to hurt you,” she said.
“Then what are you doing?”
“This.” She waved her hand and the flames coalesced into a solid sheet in front of me. “Serai, Tinn. Please—”
The locus squirmed under my arm. “Tinn?” it squeaked.
“Tera, did you find him?”
“Daddy!” the locus squealed.
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