Ime struggles to free himself from Klaeon but he feels his strength ebbing. The feeling triggers a memory of the last time he fought Klaeon. Having his magical pulled from his body terrifies him now as it had then.
The alien presence filling him, searching inside of him for where his magic is hidden, makes his body tremble. Even his most secret places, places he can’t access on his own, are invaded. The presence finds what it is seeking and withdraws, taking magic and strength with it.
In a panic, Ime hits Klaeon, but his blows are weak and Klaeon laughs. “You can’t fight me anymore.”
A massive roar surprises Klaeon. As he turns, Tanith plunges sharp fangs into his thigh. Screaming, the King tries to kick the great beast away. But her fangs are embedded in his flesh. Tanith pulls him further away from the edge of the roof before releasing him with a hiss. The cloaked man uses the distraction to move next to Klaeon and stab him in the shoulder. Klaeon glares at the man, forced by the pain to release Ime.
Ime’s magic flees from Klaeon to return to him. The force of it knocks him to the ground. Simultaneously, his strength begins to returns. Meah runs to his side and helps him to his feet so they can move away from Klaeon. Tanith follows.
The cloaked man removes his knife and kicks the back of Klaeon’s knee. The Blood King falls to the ground, blood pooling the wounds on his body. The cloaked man runs after the others to see Ime fighting against Meah.
Ime breaks away and runs for Klaeon. He can’t allow his only chance to regain his fire to slip away.
The cloaked man stops Ime, wasting time they should be using to flee. “We have to escape now, Ime! You can fight him another day!”
Ime’s eyes are wild as he tries to force his way past.
“You don’t want it to end like this.”
The rage in Ime’s eyes disappears, as the man’s words sink in. He yells angrily, turns, and thrusts past Meah, who barely moves out of his way. Meah looks to the cloaked man, who shakes his head indicating this is no time for questions and chases after Ime.
Ime creates a flight of stairs from the roof as he waits for them to reach him. Klaeon struggles to his feet. His furious wails fill the night. Dark red fire erupts from his hands and flies towards the group. As Meah, Tanith, and the cloaked man hurry down the stairs, chased by the dark magic, Ime forces the fire away using his wind. A small ball of flame makes it past, hitting his side where Klaeon had kicked him. Ime uses the last of his energy to close the roof access before he collapses. The cloaked man grabs him and with Meah, helps the exhausted Ime hobble through the halls and down the stairs to the main floor, with Tanith leading the way.
Outside the Arena they break into a fast run, or as fast as they can, considering Ime’s injuries. They only stop for Tanith to sniff the air. She leads them out of the city towards the mountains.
The group enters a small canyon. The dark of the night makes it hard to see. The rough terrain challenges Meah’s and the cloaked man’s ability to balance the nearly limp Ime.
Perceiving voices and lights ahead, around a corner, they quicken their pace. Praying it is the rest of their group. The escaped slaves are waiting for them, sitting on boulders, and treating any who were wounded during the escape. Daniil and Kylii rush to take Ime, now completely unconscious, from Meah and the cloaked man.
Meah grabs Daniil’s arm. “Take him to Skara. He may have internal bleeding.”
Daniil nods and the brothers quickly take Ime to the healer. Meah collapses to the ground and tries to calm her breathing. The cloaked man sits on a nearby boulder and cleans his bloody knife.
Meah looks at him. His knife seems familiar, but she too exhasusted to understand why. She crawls close and stares up at him. “Who are you?”
His cloaked head turns to her with a smile formed on his lips. The man raises a hand to his hood and pulls it back to reveal black hair and blue eyes. Meah chokes back a sob and tears form in her eyes.
Jaxon nods his head and leans forward. “You thought I’d left you behind, didn’t you?”
He laughs. “After Seera nearly killed me, I realized my heart wasn’t really into slave trading anymore. Truth is, it had never been to begin with. I saw your first fight. I saw your strength and was truly impressed. When I overheard rumors of a possible escape, I decided to help.”
“Think of it as an attempt to make up for some of the things I’ve done to you and other slaves.”
“What about your caravan? Bruer and your other men?”
“I would never let him go off on his own,” Bruer says from behind Meah. She looks up into his familiar face and at the group behind him.
“You led them here?”
“I did, missy. The Blood King may have built his Arena here, but he doesn’t know the land as well as us who grew up here.”
Jaxon nods at Bruer and he walks away. “I disbanded my caravan. Well, to be more exact I gave it to those who wanted it for themselves. Bruer and Fleance were the only ones who decided to stay with me.”
“Ah, you probably don’t remember him. He was the young man who brought your food and water every day.”
Skara interrupts them. Her eyes are wide and she grabs Meah’s hands. “Something serious is wrong with Ime.”
Meah’s heart drops and she stands. “What?”
“I can’t heal him. Something is blocking my magic!”
“It’s probably some lingering effects of the Blood King’s power,” Jaxon says.
Bruer returns with Ime and lays him on the ground in front of Meah. Daniil, Kylii, and a few others follow. Meanwhile, Rava, Mava, Bern, and others who traveled with Meah stare at Jaxon in shock. Some eyes are filled with terror, others with rage.
Meah looks down at Ime.
“You should heal him, first. Then we can talk,” Jaxon says.
“But my magic is blocked,” Meah says.
“You’re a Life Healer.”
Meah meets his eyes. The certainty staring back at her keeps her silent. She leans down to Ime and places her hands on his chest. She feels the block Skara mentioned. She hesitates, unsure whether she can get past it. She tests her magic and finds the block disappearing as her magic touches it. She relaxes and heals Ime. Her magic is getting stronger. She is able to block the noise easily, heal multiple wounds at the same time, and her energy doesn’t fade as fast.
Her excitement is short lived when Ime opens his eyes. His eyes gaze up at Meah, but move immediately to Jaxon. He sits up. “We escaped?”
Meah nods and places a hand on his shoulder. “He didn’t succeed did he? In taking your magic, I mean.”
Ime lifts his hand and a stone rises. He uses wind to throw it and pulls water from Bruer’s water jug. He puts the water back in the jug and shakes his head. “He didn’t take anything.” He holds his hand palm up and concentrates. His expression becomes grim. “But I didn’t get my fire back.”
“Fighting the Blood King without all of your magic is dangerous and reckless,” Jaxon says.
Ime returns his attention to him. “I’ve heard of you, Jaxon Parth. People say the blood of the leader of the Black Caravan is as black as the death that follows you. Many slaves you brought to the Arena spoke of you.”
Jaxon smiles and bows his head. “I’m honored you have heard of me, Ime Gurek, undefeatable Rare Kind of elemental magic. Well, all but one elemental magic.”
Ime frowns. “Why did you help us?”
“A lot of people are interested in her. Many want to kill her. How do we know you’re any different?”
Meah moves between Ime and Jaxon, taking Ime’s face in her hands. “He saved everyone, his men led the others to safety. He saved you and he saved me, more than once. We can trust him.”
Ime tries to think of an argument, but seeing her face erases any in his mind. He stands and takes a calming breath. “So, how are you going to help us now?”
Jaxon jumps to his feet. “I know a place we can go for a little while. There’s an oasis town at the end of this canyon that I don’t think the Blood King Klaeon knows about. If he does, he doesn’t care about it enough to station any of his soldiers nearby. The town will give us shelter, food, and new clothes.”
“A couple days on foot.”
“And after we’ve rested up?”
“We’ll talk about that after we get there.”