Chapter Six

The three fire orbs flared larger and sank until they were level with the man's torso. When he edged forward, they flickered against the bare skin of his chest, leaving dusky shadows along his dark skin.

"Don't even think of moving," Rose hissed as she leapt off the bed. "I will burn you to a crisp if you so much as twitch in a way I don't like. I swear it to the gods."

The man stared at her, unblinking. "Do not be alarmed, fire mage. I've only come to talk."

Rose's orbs blazed brighter in irritation. "Is that why you snuck in the window then? Because you didn't want us to be alarmed?"

He tilted his head. "The front door was locked."

I pulled my legs out from the covers and got to my feet, despite the warning glare from Rose. If I didn't interrupt the two of them, Rose might make good on her promise burn the man to a crisp. If she did, I'd be obligated to heal him, and I wasn't interested in getting within grabbing distance again. "What's your name, stranger? Why are you here?"

His dark eyes focused on me. "I came to see you, Healer. I came to thank you."

"You're welcome. But what was the curse I removed? I've never seen anything like it."

He didn't answer.

I fidgeted in the silence. "You didn't tell us your name."

"Nor why you're here," growled Rose, her orbs not giving the man an inch of wiggle room.

"Of course. Perhaps you might give me a little bit of space though? Only so that I might sit down. I mean you no harm, I swear it. I'm only tired."

Rose let him sit on a nearby chair, her orbs floating along behind him as he moved.

"Thank you."

"Your name." Rose tightened the orbs around him once again.

He raised his hands, palms up in a gesture of peace. "Of course, apologies to you both. I go by Marcus. I came here to thank you, and to warn you."

I fought down a shiver, despite the warmth of the night. "Warn us of what?"

"Men are coming. Men like me. Like what I was before you saved me. Warn your guardsman, the one who cracked my skull. I will not return to him, but you will need protection. They come in force."

He stood, and Rose's flames grew larger. "Don't move, Marcus. We have to call Rayn."

Marcus shook his head. "No. As I said, I will not return to him. I would not return to you either, fire mage, except that you are with the woman who saved me."

"What was it?" I asked a second time. "The curse that held you."

He closed his eyes, as if in pain. "The curse of my people. I cannot tell you more. I will not meet your soldier, but you must warn him. Time is short. Goodbye, Healer and Mage. Be careful."


But Marcus was gone, dashing through the orbs of fire, ignoring the way they singed his skin. He leapt through the largest window without hesitation.

Rose and I sprinted towards the window he'd jumped from, but if he was still nearby, his form was lost to the night shadows.

"Get Keagan. I'll tell Yesera and Bronan." Rose dashed ahead of me, then down the staircase.

I darted down the hallway and pounded on the heavy wooden door to Keagan's bedroom.

He answered with a growl that barely sounded human. His eyes were puffy with lack of sleep, hair disheveled, and he was dressed only in his sleeping shorts.

I told him what happened, as well as everything Marcus told us. Immediately, the sleepy irritation left his face and he was awake, pulling on a robe and dashing down the stairs with me to where Rose had Yesera in the entrance way.

"Bronan has run to the Guards House to alert Rayn," Rose said as we thundered down the stairs. "I've rechecked the wards. None were triggered. Not a single one. I have no idea how he did it." Frustration lined her features and her fists were clenched so tight, her knuckles were white.

"It's alright." I squeezed her shoulder in support. "He slipped away from the Guards House too. If he can do that, then he can probably slide through almost any ward."

Yesera nodded. Her sword was drawn, but it hung loosely in her hand. "Even I can sense Rose's wards over this House. They weep through the stone and wood. The ones at my Guards House, even away from the holding cells, aren't anything to toss a stick at neither. The man has power."

We mulled this over in silence. Finally, Keagan spoke, breaking our brooding mood. "If this man, Marcus, is to be trusted – which I'm not altogether suggesting – then things are going to get very rough soon. Our rest has been short, but we should be glad of it. I need to change. Rose and Esti, I suggest you do the same. After that, we should prepare our supplies revisit any protection you might have spelled upon the House. Our weapons are few, but until Bronan returns with the guards, we must be prepared."

Rose nodded, telltale flames of power licking at her skin as she darted up the stairs. I followed a step behind her with Keagan in the rear. Back in my room, I closed and locked every one of my previously open windows, even those too small for a hand to reach through. Then I double checked them with trembling fingers before hurriedly changing and running back downstairs.

Rayn arrived as Yesera and I were pouring buckets of water into a large basin in the Healing Room. Half a dozen guards followed him through the door.

Every torch in the windowless Healing Room had been lit, and the three tables were completely clear and recently cleaned, waiting for chaos to begin. Keagan was stocking the cabinets to full capacity, bringing up supplies from the basement so that we wouldn't have to waste a single moment if Marcus' warning really did come to pass.

My skin tingled with anticipation and fear.

Rayn practically sprinted into the room. "Is he still here?"

"No." Keagan never stopped sharpening the small dagger he'd retrieved from his room.

Yesera grabbed my bucket and darted past Rayn with a slight head nod of a bow, heading out to gather more water from the fountain in the shared courtyard.

"I assumed, but I hoped," he muttered, then looked about. "Where's Rose?"

I gestured vaguely upwards. "Fortifying the wards."

The soldier frowned, but nodded. "Of course." He shook his head and seemed to get his thoughts back together. "My Guards House has sent runners to all the others in the city. We hope to have more here for you soon. How are you faring?"

His sudden focus on me instead of Keagan sent me blushing. "I'm fine. He spooked me is all, but Rose was with me. And if this warning proves to be true, I'll accept the scare."

Rayn grunted. "If this warning proves true, I'll be in his debt, which is not something I fancy. Did he say anything else?"

"He called the curse I removed from him 'the curse of my people,' but wouldn't say anything more about it, only that he wouldn't be going back with you. He walked right through Rose's fire like it was nothing, then jumped out the window. He remembered me."

Rayn nodded, deep in thought. "Other than the warning… Is there anything I can do to help you prepare?" He frowned as Yesera hauled in another bucket. "What are you doing with all the water anyway?"

I shrugged. "We might need it."

Keagan shook his head. "At this point, we're as prepared as we can be without knowing exactly what will come through the door. We're not equipped for a fight, but if what Marcus said is true, then following every fight comes the injured. We can prepare for that at least."

"I will stay here with you, if you are not opposed." Rayn gestured towards the rest of the building.

"Of course," Keagan replied as I edged out of the room.

"Esti, wait." Rayn removed a long, thin blade from his boot. "Do you have a weapon? It sounds like you'll need one."

My skin crawled. "Uh, no. I fix wounds, not cause them."

He sighed, and handed me the blade. "Unfortunately, you may not have a choice. Come, let me teach you the basics."

"But I don't want–"

"That doesn't matter right now."

I looked to Keagan, desperate for him to intervene, but he was nodding. "If it's all the same to you, Guardsman, I could use a refresher as well. We can use the second recovery room, as there are no patients there."

Defeated, I followed the men out of the Healing room, my fingers loose around the hilt of the thin blade.

As we passed through the entranceway, the front door cracked inward, showering me with splinters. I brought my arm up to protect my eyes, then shrieked as a blade slammed down into my forearm, imbedding itself in the bone. I jerked away reflexively, but the man who'd crashed through the door didn't release his hold on the long dagger. Instead, as I stepped away, he yanked backwards, forcibly pulling the metal from my bone.

The world swam in darkness and I dropped to a crouch, pitifully willing myself not to faint, even as the man again moved towards me, dagger dripping blood.

Fire slammed into his chest, hard enough to propel him back through the cracked frame of the door. I swallowed hard, blinked harder and forced myself to stand. Rose grabbed me by the elbow as I found my feet.

"Are you hurt? Son of a mngwa, your arm!" The rosey glow of Rose's shield enveloped me.

"It's okay," I said, forcing myself not to look at how bad it really was. "Where are the others?" Despite being just ahead of me when the door had been shattered, Rayn and Keagan were gone.

Rose glanced at my arm and set her jaw. "In the recovery room I think. I caught a glimpse of fighting when I came down the stairs. Let's go!"

I gripped the hilt of the thin blade I'd been so reluctant to even hold and followed Rose. In the recovery room, Rayn was locked in battle with a giant of a man. His hair was jet black, and he was dressed in all black, save for a golden cloak. Two others, dressed exactly the same, lay dead just to Rayn's left.

Keagan crouched in the far corner, pale faced with his hand tight against his bloody side. His body shook with pain, or possibly shock and his own dagger was nowhere to be seen. Samuel, despite being unarmed, had yet another assailant pinned to the ground and was beating the man senseless.

I caught a glimpse of a shadow out of the corner of my eye and turned, fingers tight around the hilt of my blade. Another gold cloaked man stalked towards me, his mouth hitched upwards in a predator's grin, showing all his teeth.

"Rose!" I shouted, and jabbed forward with my blade.

The cloaked man easily side stepped my attack and raised his sword above his head in response. "Here she is!" he shouted as he brought it arcing down towards me.

I leapt back, narrowly avoiding the blow, but stumbled backwards into Rose, causing both of us to fall to the ground.

"Kill the girl! Kill the Healer!" the man shouted again, stalking towards us. His eyes were as dark as his clothes, with no whites at all. Just complete darkness.

Rose shoved me to the side, just enough to throw an arm forward around me, and flame so hot it singed the hairs on my arm engulphed the man.

He fell backwards, screaming in agony.

Rose pulled me to my feet and forcibly turned my face away from the dying man.

"You two alright?" Rayn asked, jogging over to us. The big man he'd been facing lay on the floor behind him, unmoving.

"Better than he is." Rose glared at the man. "Was that the last of them?"

"It seems so."

Bronan burst through the front door, sword drawn and stained with blood. "Sir! We've cleared outside. Got here just as they started to attack, or so it looked. Are you all alright?"

Rayn ignored the question. "Bronan, gather our men inside the building. We're too spread out. Esti, if you can, Keagan could use some help. We'll keep you protected from any stragglers while you work, but one of these…men… got him pretty badly." His eyes caught sight of my arm.

"It's fine. Better than it looks," I lied, trying my best to ignore the way it throbbed with every too quick heartbeat. "Thank you, twice over." I wrapped Rose in a quick hug, then wove my way through the debris to where Keagan was still doubled over.

"Your arm," he hissed as I helped him lie on the nearest recovery bed.

"Will heal," I answered, and placed one hand on his chest, not bothering to even try and move my injured arm. Taking one shuddering breath, I closed my eyes, and let my power flow into him.

This, healing and fixing and helping, this is what I was made for.

And there was work to be done.