The next day, Ime meets Jaxon at the training ground. Word spreads through the group about the sparring match and most go to watch. Daniil and Kylii have even convinced Oswen to allow the children to see the match as well.
The spectators gather around the largest of the training grounds, a fenced in circle. Troughs of water, placed for those who can use water magic to practice with, line the fence.
Those unable to reach the front of the group find piles of logs to sit on. An earth magic user raises small sections of the surrounding earth to create seating. The anticipation grows as more come to watch the event.
Ime looks around at the crowd, laughing. “Feels like the Arena.”
Jaxon places a hand on Ime’s shoulder and smiles. “Don’t worry. No fighting to the death here. We’re just having a friendly sparring. Though I can’t promise I’ll go easy on you.”
“You sound fairly confident.”
Walking a good distance from Ime, Jaxon turns to face him, a smirk taking the place of his amused smile. He draws his sword. “You win if you force me to use my magic.”
Watching Jaxon swing his sword, Ime raises his fists. “Fine. You win when I can’t use my magic anymore.”
Meah leans against the wooden fence and bounces her view from Jaxon to Ime. She knows they’re only fighting for fun, but her nerves send cold shots of fear through her.
The air thickens with tension as Ime and Jaxon stare at each other. Both stand at the ready, their eyes never straying from the other. Bruer walks between them with his arm raised. He looks to Ime. Ime nods. Bruer looks to Jaxon. Jaxon nods.
Bruer looks straight ahead and inhales sharply before bringing his arm down. “Begin!” He leaps away from the center and runs for the fence, leaping over it so quickly those on the other side barely have time to clear him a path.
Ime throws the ground beneath Jaxon up, but Jaxon is no longer standing there. He moves to the side and runs for Ime. Ime stomps his foot and the raised earth shatters into small rocks and boulders. He pulls his fists close and the rocks fly through the air towards him. He throws one fist forward and the rocks change direction, aiming for Jaxon.
Jaxon swerves to avoid being hit, managing to keep moving closer to Ime. His sword trails behind, but the tension in his arm shows he’s ready to strike. Ime throws his other fist forward and the larger rock zoom towards Jaxon. Using his sword to destroy the new obstacles, Jaxon closes the gap between him and Ime.
The distance between the two disappears and Jaxon readies his sword to strike. He swings the blade upwards, attempting to slice Ime diagonally across the chest. Ime releases a powerful breath, using wind to force his body away from the strike. He slams both feet on the ground and the earth beneath Jaxon shifts, dropping away from Jaxon like falling leaves.
Before Ime can close the hole, Jaxon stabs his sword into the earth in front of him and pulls himself to safety. He leaps several feet away from where the earth closed, pulling his blade free.
“Don’t you have any other tricks? You use that earth magic a little too much,” Jaxon says, brushing dust from his shoulders.
Groaning, Ime throws his right hand straight out to the side. Water rises from the troughs, forcing those standing along the fence to step back. Excitement builds as Ime brings one of the floating water puddles to him. He uses his left hand to split the water into smaller orbs that encircle him.
“I wanted to end the fight quickly. But I guess we’ll do it your way.”
Ime throws the orbs at Jaxon, sending waves of air magic with them to stretch the water. He turns his left hand and the water freezes, turning the orbs into ice spears.
Jaxon raises his sword, but movements in the corner of his eyes distract him. The other water puddles, floating forgotten around the training ground are racing towards him, too. The puddles stretch as they move closer together, creating a semi circle wall of water behind Jaxon. The water freezes into a thick wall of ice and Jaxon realizes his only means of escape is to fight his way through the ice spears.
Pulling a long dagger from his belt, Jaxon turns to the ice wall and cuts a large upside down V into it. He kicks the wall and opens a way out. He quickly swings out and presses his back against the outer wall of ice.
The ice spears shatter against the thicker ice, but a few shoot through the newly created opening towards those spectating. They scream and try to run, but the spears are much faster.
Realizing Jaxon’s trick, Ime releases his magic and all the ice melts instantly. The spears hit the crowd harmlessly and the wall drops to the earth. Jaxon runs through the collapsing wall at Ime, his sword raised above his head for a downward cut.
Ime dodges to his left, but Jaxon easily changes the diagonal slice into a horizontal cut, preparing to bury the blade into Ime’s side. Ime throws his hand forward to meet the blade and uses wind to blow the blade back.
Using the force of the wind, Jaxon spins, taking steps back, and prepares to thrust his blade straight into Ime’s stomach. The earth rises between them, absorbing most of the thrust of Jaxon’s blade. Jaxon pulls the dagger from his belt and swings it around the earth at Ime, forcing Ime to leap backwards onto the muddy earth from his failed water attack.
Jaxon pulls his sword free and attacks Ime with both sword and dagger. Ime stumbles on the slippery ground, throwing the blades aimed for him away with his wind and blocking with his earth magic when he can. Jaxon tries to bring both of his blades together, attacking Ime from both sides, but Ime raises two pillars of earth to block.
Using the small opening, Jaxon kicks Ime in the stomach, throwing him back several steps. Ime tries to keep his footing, but only manages to fall to his knees and not his back. He grabs his stomach, gasping for air.
The blade of Jaxon’s sword appears at his throat. “Concede?”
“I accept your surrender,” Ime says, his gasps making the humor sound weak. He keeps his eyes on the muddy ground beneath him, placing a hand on the soft earth.
Realizing what Ime is doing, Jaxon throws himself to the side as the ground rises like a great mouth to swallow him. It closes over the spot where Jaxon had been, missing him, but tearing the sword from his hand.
The earth shifts until the sword reappears beneath Ime’s hand. He takes it and stands. He sends the mouth after Jaxon, never giving Jaxon enough time to rest. All he can do is run and dodge, his attention focused wholly on the never tiring chaser.
Ime regains his breath and holds Jaxon’s sword in front of him, the tip of the blade aimed at Jaxon. His wind magic lifts the blade off his palm and Ime pulls his free hand back. He gathers more wind magic and punches the hilt of the sword with his fist, shooting the sword towards Jaxon at a terrifying speed.
Jaxon spies the blade and tries to dodge, but the muddy mouth blocks him, pushing him further into the path of the sword. Cursing, Jaxon places a hand on the earthy appendage. Blue flames surround it, hardening the earth and shattering it.
To avoid the blade, Jaxon leans back onto his hands and kicks the center of the blade, sending it straight up into the air.
Ime smiles and lowers his hands to his side. “Looks like I win.”
Jaxon stands and stares at Ime sourly. He takes a single step to the left as his sword lands next to him, burying into the ground. “Looks like you do.” He pulls the sword from the earth and sheathes it.
The captivated spectators come to life as they realize the fight has ended. Cheers and applause ring out over the training ground, celebrating both men’s abilities. Ime walks up to Jaxon and holds his hand out to him. Jaxon takes the outstretched hand in his and smiles. He pulls Ime close and whispers into his ear, “You’re the one who will lead the armies against Klaeon. Don’t let any of them forget it.”
Confused, Ime stares at Jaxon. Jaxon pats him on the back and both turn to the cheering crowd. Ime finds Meah leaning on the fence, smiling at him. He waves to her and she waves back happily.
People hop over the fence, entering the mini arena to swarm the two men. The children from Oswen’s class are allowed to move to the front of the crowd to talk with Ime and Jaxon. Others pat the two on the back and yell their approval of the fight. Daniil, Kylii, and Bruer remain where they’d watched the match, knowing they’ll have their chances to speak with the combatants later.
Meah stays at the fence, watching with a relieved smile. As she watches the crowd surrounding Ime and Jaxon, she notices one of the children, Asha, running towards Daniil and Kylii. Meah’s smile fades as she watches the little girl run. She’s moving unnaturally slow as though time had slowed.
A sound from behind tears Meah’s eyes from the celebration and she faces the city, peering up at the white tower. A bright light shines from the balcony of Wynsil’s meeting room. Meah blinks and the light is gone, but the sound remains. It’s the sound of fire burning wood.
The sky around the tower turns to a fiery orange and black smoke appears, circling around the tower. Meah hears screams and cries of many people. The pristine white of the city turns gray as soot covers the beautiful stone.
Meah stares at the rest of the city and her eyes become like eagle eyes, allowing her to see far. Men run through the city streets in the same slow motion as Asha and a dark shadow leads them. Fire scorches through the buildings, racing towards the training ground. She can feel the heat of the flames growing stronger as they reach and circle her. The air burns around her and she can feel the heat entering her lungs, tightening them.
She tries to scream, but there isn’t enough air. The shadow leading the men appears outside the circle of fire and a symbol appears above his head. The symbol is on fire, but has bloody chains around it.
“Meah!” Wynsil grabs her shoulders and forces her to face him.
Her eyes widen and she blinks. The fire is gone. The screams are gone. But she can still feel her lungs tightening against the heat. She looks at Ime and Jaxon, both still in the middle of the large crowd. They’re smiling and talking, unaware of anything wrong.
Daniil and Kylii appear next to Wynsil, they’re eyes filled with worry. They noticed Meah acting strangely, but it wasn’t until Wynsil’s sudden appearance that they realized something was wrong.
“Something’s coming,” Meah says, looking at Wynsil.
Surprise filling his face, Wynsil nods his head. He hands her a slip of paper. “One of our own returned from a venture into the woods. He saw men with flags bearing this symbol heading for the city.”
Opening the slip, Meah’s eyes widen and her breath catches in her throat. It’s Blood King Klaeon’s symbol. Daniil and Kylii curse then call to Ime and Jaxon.
It takes a few seconds for Ime and Jaxon to hear the brothers and even longer to force their way through the crowd.
“What’s going on?” Ime asks, noticing Meah’s now shaking hands.
Wynsil motions his head to the paper. “An army bearing that symbol is headed for the city.”
Taking the slip from Meah, Jaxon holds it so Ime can see the familiar symbol drawn upon it. “It would appear our time here is finished. It must be Klaeon’s right hand, Teron.”
“What?” Ime demands.
The slip burns with blue fire in Jaxon’s hands and he stares at Ime. “You didn’t think the Blood King would chase after us himself, did you? If Teron is coming that means he’ll have a pretty large number of men with him. We need to leave before they reach the city and find us. We aren’t prepared to fight trained soldiers.”
“What about Eraunel? We can’t leave them like this,” Meah says, calming the rising fear in her gut.
Ignoring Meah’s question, Jaxon places a hand on Ime’s shoulder. “Daniil, Kylii, and I will tell everyone to gather their belongings. We’ll meet back here in an hour.”
“Do we even have an hour?” Daniil asks. “How far is the army from the city?”
“You have enough time if you don’t waste it. Our Seers are stalling the army with their magic.”
“And how are they doing that?” Kylii asks.
“Illusions to have the men walking in circles for hours. Though how long it will hold them can’t be determined. I suggest you follow Jaxon’s advice and spread the word quickly.”
Jaxon turns to Wynsil. “Are the men we discussed ready?”
Nodding his head, Wynsil hands Jaxon a rolled up map. “They are. I’ll have my men wait for you here. And here’s the map you requested.”
“Thank you. Let’s go,” Jaxon tells Daniil and Kylii. The three run to the still excited group gathered at the center of the training ground. It doesn’t take them long to gain the groups attention and the smiles turn to faces of horror.
Ime squeezes Meah’s shoulder. “I’ll get our things. Stay here.” He runs towards the tower, followed by most of the group.
“Wait! We can’t just leave without helping Eraunel,” Meah yells after him, even though she knows he can’t hear her over the screams and cries of the crowd.
Most are panicked and run for the tower. Others hug those staying before running to get their belongings. Oswen gathers the children and leads them away from the training grounds as Daniil and Kylii say their goodbyes and Tanith appears from seemingly nowhere in time to hear a goodbye from Asha.
Wynsil takes Meah by the hand and pulls her away from the panicked mob running past. “You mustn’t be here when they arrive, Life Healer. Jaxon has spoken with me about guides for your group and I’ll be giving you some of our best. They’ll show you the quickest way through the forest. We’ll try our best to mislead the men and buy your group more time.”
“What about those who’re choosing to stay behind? If they’re found the Blood King’s men may kill all of you or burn the city to the ground!” Tears roll down Meah’s face and she speaks rapidly, barely having time to breathe.
A calming finger is placed on her lips and Wynsil brushes the tears from her face. “You must reach the city in the canyon. For those of your group who wish to stay, we will protect them.”
“But I still have many questions!”
“There will always be questions. But there won’t always be someone to answer them. You must find your own answers.” He turns to leave, but a thought occurs to him and he looks back to Meah. “How did you know about the men coming?”
Meah hesitates before answering. “I saw men and flames attacking the city.”
“You saw them?” Wynsil looks to the ground. “So you had a vision. Do you have visions often?”
“I wouldn’t call them visions. I have dreams and sometimes they spill into when I’m awake.”
“You continue to surprise me, Meah. I will go to meet the men. My people going with you will take great care of you.”
Meah stands in silence, playing with her bracelet as Wynsil walks away.