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Moving slowly through the city, Meah and Ime pass those still celebrating. Many have already started heading home, as the night grows longer. Several people watch as the two walk past, but when they see Ime’s wounds they quickly avert their eyes to appear less rude.
Passing too close to lit torches causes Ime to wince, his burns sending waves of pain through him.
“Let me heal you,” Meah says, trying to lead Ime to a nearby bench.
Forcing her to continue walking forward, Ime shakes his head and eyes the diminishing crowds. “Not here. Somewhere less crowded. Private.”
Reluctantly, Meah agrees and they continue moving through the city. They begin the cross along the largest bridge of the city. It’s wide and made entirely from thick stone. A large tower, supporting many other bridges of the canyon, signifies the halfway point. Stairs allow people to reach the other bridges and the top of the tower.
Meah and Ime reach this tower, passing through the doorway, leading into a large, open circular room. Curved stairs lead up or down and benches are lined along the wall. A single couple appears from the lower level and exits the opposite doorway, leaving Ime and Meah alone.
“I’m going to heal you,” Meah tells Ime, not asks. She helps him to a bench and kneels before him. She places her hands on the large burn on his side and he inhales sharply. “I’m sorry. It heals faster if I’m touching it.”
Waving his hand at her, Ime says, “It’s fine. It’s been…a while since I’ve been burned.” A shadow crosses his face. “I thought I could control it. But it seems when Klaeon stole my fire he stole my ability to resist its burn.”
“Does other fire burn you?” Meah asks as she concentrates, feeling skin repair itself and dulling the nerves causing pain.
“No. I can stop it from burning me. I just can’t control it.”
Slowly raising her eyes, Meah hesitates before asking her question. “Was Teron telling the truth? Was he using your fire?”
Ime stares at his hand where small burns cover his skin. His eyes narrow and he clenches his hand into a fist. “I don’t know. It felt like my fire, but…”
Finishing the large wound on Ime’s side, Meah takes his clenched hand in hers. She smiles gently at him. “But also not like your fire.”
“It’s hard to explain.”
Meah begins healing his hand, as she finishes she moves to his arms and legs, healing any burns she finds. “I’m not one to ask about magic. The only magic I know is my own. I was the only magic user in my village. Magic users from other villages didn’t share much the few times I ever met them.”
Moving to Ime’s face, Meah places her hands over small burns Ime hadn’t even realized he had received. “Though, from what I can tell,” Meah continues, “Klaeon’s Blood Magic is forbidden magic for a reason. No man should have this kind of power to take away magic and give it to those who shouldn’t have it. If we’re going to defeat him, we need to learn how his magic works and how to defend against it.”
Ime watches her work in silence. He knew the talks of war were to come. But he’d been avoiding the discussions since they escaped the Arena. Even when Jaxon tried to speak about it during the festival, Ime had avoided the subject. It seems fitting the first serious talks about the war are with Meah.
Finishing the last of the burns, Meah sits on the bench next to Ime. Snaking her arms around his left arm, She leans her head on his shoulder.
Gazing at her face, Ime can see the dark circles forming under her eyes. The tiredness weighs her body down and she fights to keep her eyelids from drooping.
“Teron made it sound like Klaeon’s army is larger than we believed it to be. Do you think he was telling the truth?” Meah asks.
“I do. Unlike us, Klaeon has been in one place. He’s had plenty of time to gather more forces to his army. We’ll need more men than this city has to offer.”
“Ime! Meah!” Voices call to the two.
Meah and Ime sit up and look through the doorway leading to the west side of the city. Daniil, Kylii, Jaxon, Tanith, Deven, and Saunem run towards them. As they reach the tower, Ime and Meah stand.
“What the hell? Meah gets kidnapped and you go off on your own without telling us?” Kylii demands.
Crossing his arms, Daniil frowns at Ime. “It could’ve been a trap and you both could be dead right now.”
“We’re fine,” Meah says, calmly.
Nodding his head, Ime eyes Jaxon. “I had no choice. Teron sent one of his men to make sure I came alone.”
Jaxon raises his hands, defensively. “I tried to tell them that, even had Deven and the woman held at knifepoint explain it. But they wouldn’t listen to me.”
“One of our riders could’ve used a Hok to aid you without the enemy knowing,” Deven joins in.
Meah squeezes Ime’s arm. “Everything’s fine. Ime defeated Teron and we made it back.”
“Until more of his men come after you!” Kylii yells, angrily.
Ime and Meah give each other a look.
Immediately, Daniil and Kylii step closer. “What?”
Locking eyes with Jaxon, Ime says, “Teron sent the rest of his men back to Klaeon.”
Confusion fills Jaxon’s face. “Why?”
“Klaeon knows the location of this city.”
Understanding replaces the confusion on Jaxon’s face. “And therefore he already knows of this city’s army. Our element of surprise is gone.”
Ime pulls away from Meah. “No. It’s only been increased.”
“How?” Deven asks.
“He knows this city’s army. So,” Ime returns to Jaxon his sword, “we’ll find more cities, more armies to add to our power. You’re the one who said there are many others who don’t agree with Klaeon’s rule, Jaxon.”
Smiling, Jaxon takes his sword. “So, you’re ready to take this seriously, then?”
“Klaeon must be stopped and I have to be the one to do it.”
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