My back ached, and my fingers cramped, but I kept cutting. Would these Beings fly? Walk? Slither? Lope?
Londe was with the foals; night had fallen, and they were sleeping. I couldn’t manage. I sharpened stakes over and over. Some were hidden among the forest, just in case our followers were trying to come from an unexpected path. I’d placed some higher up, tied together on branches in a spray of spikes, and hanging with braided cording. One jerk and they’d swing with deadly accuracy through the air.
We’d dug some holes, again lined with spikes. Wenn and Tinn had amazing digging skills. No wonder the locus lived underground. They started digging and within moments they’d dug a tunnel from the side of the woods to the path, leaving the thinnest shell of dirt cover the pit. I could only imagine what their burrows looked like, how deep and far they went with how quickly they could move the dirt.
I’d even worried they’d leave a mound of dirt, but they’d created a room just for the extra earth.
For all the worries we’d managed to assuage, it felt like I thought of three more. Who was coming? Why?
How was I going to make them pay?
Now instead of small stakes, I was making larger spears. I was stashing them against different trunks, points down. I had several with their points hardening in the fire.
“They’re come soon?” Tinn said.
I had the sense they would. Like a burning, yawning pit in my stomach that cast lead into my limbs, dread had me in its grip. Nothing could stop the battle from unfolding, though, so I was going to do my best to win it.
The stars had begun to fade when I finally succumbed to my exhaustion. Tinn and Wenn had curled into a small hollow they dug themselves. The fire was embers. I went to my family in the rocks where we’d found a shelter for our young to hide. The foals, their long, knobby limbs splayed as they lay on their sides. Londe was kneeling between them, his head rested low to the ground. I lay down on my side in front of them, facing out.
Facing the coming day and all it would bring.
We ate in a circle, the day half gone. Marces itched to move, to help, and it took everything to keep him close and out of trouble. Colete stayed close to Londe. I wasn’t sure if I should be thankful for that or not. Was it because she was naturally more docile or had this experience harmed her?
The worrying thoughts of fatherhood were just another layer to the stress. The dried meat and hard bread I’d pulled out of my pack lay like lumps in my belly on top of it all. I turned to pull out my water, my back to the circle, when the absolute stillness caught my attention.
Our activity had disturbed the local wildlife for a few hours, but they’d grown used to us. This… was something new. “Go. Now,” I whispered.
Londe nipped Colete’s and Marces’ flanks, herding them into the rocks. Tinn and Wenn came to my side. “What is it?” Tinn asked.
“Silence.” I scanned the forest and paths. Slowly, I slid my hand down beside me to the spear on the ground. I’d draw my blade if and when I knew what we faced, but for now, the spears were a better bet.
Wenn’s fur stood on end, fluffing in agitation. Or maybe fear. I didn’t know. “Crackle, snap,” he said.
My forehead crinkled as I stared at him in confusion. “What?”
“Magic,” Tinn hissed out. “Stolen. Foul. Human….”
Stars above and below. Beings had inherent magic, but humans with it? They had stolen it. And that meant—
“Witch,” Wenn hissed.
It was a warlock, actually. A male witch, his hair hanging in lank strands around his sallow face, his beady eyes glittering over a narrow nose and thin lips. His fingers wove and danced, and the magic flowing from his fingers lit up all the traps we’d laid so carefully.
Despair struck me hard. How could we defeat a Being using a human warlock with dark magic? How did that even happen? Turned warlocks preyed on all Beings because they’d ripped a hole in their magic, damaged it somehow when they turned to darker forces, and had to keep stealing more to reinfuse themselves.
That was what all the Beings were for. The warlock.
Was he my enemy? But no… a warlock hadn’t been the one to steal my horn. It had been a being. The memory had been struck from me, but I knew that much.
Wenn and Tinn both trembled, teeth bared. They would be a very tasty treat for this warlock. Maybe even plug up the hole he’d created, for a time.
The young man in silver armor, filigree marking the edges with gold, was not at all what I was expecting next. His nose was covered by a guard, but his bright blue eyes shone past his helm, his pink cheeks exposed, and his ruby red lips were parted as he stared at us.
“I have waited for this moment for so long,” he said breathily. His voice was high and happy. Like he was greeting long, lost visitors he’d been waiting for.
What was going on? I brandished my spear. “Stay back, you… you….” What were these two? My heart raced.
“Oh, I see you don’t remember me.” He giggled. “Well, maybe this will help.” He raised gauntleted hands, gems, literally gems, on each knuckle, and lifted his helm from his head.
And his visage changed. Aged. His skin grew pocked, his eyes dulled, and his lips writhed back from yellowed teeth.
“Balasamar.” Now I recognized that face, and the bracelet I could see winding up his arm above that awful gauntlet.
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