Jaxon steps closer Ime and crosses his arms. “I’m glad to hear those words from you. In regards to how you are going to stop Blood King Klaeon,” Jaxon starts.
“You said you knew a way for me to regain my fire,” Ime interrupts.
“Yes. I do.”
“Wrong. I do,” a voice says loudly. “Stolen fire, eh? Forbidden magic was used on this poor boy.”
Ime and Meah step away from the man who has appeared standing between them. His white hair is pulled back behind his head. Thick, white stubble covers his lower face and his pale eyes stare at Ime incredulously. His clothes are made of light material, but hug tightly to his body, showing the muscles beneath. Though at first glance, the man appears old, he holds himself with a youthful gate.
Instinctively, Ime moves to stand between the man and Meah. “How did you know my magic was stolen by forbidden magic?”
Sneering, the man shrugs his shoulders. “Not hard to miss when I take a peek at your source.”
“All in good time, boy. You, snar eyes.” The old man turns his attention to Jaxon.
“Snar eyes?” Jaxon grumbles, irritated by the nickname and for being interrupted a second time.
“Snar?” Meah looks at Ime, who only shrugs.
“A snar, my dear, is a furred animal, much smaller than your Khorgois there. They’re notorious for being clever, sly, and camouflage by burying themselves in the ground or changing the color of their fur using dirt, mud, feces, or anything else they can find. It’s said their eyes can never be trusted because they’re such clever liars.” The old man never breaks his gaze with Jaxon.
Smiling slowly, Jaxon’s eyes grow dark with anger. “Are you saying I can’t be trusted?”
“I’m saying, I can’t tell what goes on behind your eyes.” Finally breaking eye contact with Jaxon, the old man sighs. “But, you were the one to call me. You wouldn’t be a very clever liar if you called me to help with the boy.”
“Help?” Ime walks to Jaxon. “Is this what you meant when you said I could get my fire magic back?”
“Yes. Though I’m starting to regret my decision,” Jaxon says.
A tug on Meah’s dress pulls her attention from the three men. Tanith is gently pulling her away. Raising her eyes, Meah sees why. Daniil and Kylii have both paled. Daniil is as still as a statue. But Kylii is gripping his brother’s arm tightly and moving slowly back, attempting to bring Daniil with him.
“What’s the matter with you two?” Meah asks, walking towards the two with Tanith at her heels.
Both brothers look at Meah with wide eyes. Daniil is the first to look away, turning so his back is to her. Kylii forces a smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Nothing. I just want to go see if there’s any food left at the festival square.”
Tanith rubs her nose against Daniil’s limp hand. But he doesn’t move to touch her or look at Meah. Kylii turns away from Meah and tries to pull Daniil forward.
“Running away again?” the old man’s voice cuts through the air like a sharp blade, freezing Daniil and Kylii. “What do you think will happen this time? There’s no Arena to hide in this time.”
Meah turns to face the man. His pale eyes watch Daniil and Kylii intensely.
“We weren’t hiding,” Daniil’s soft voice responds to the old man’s sharp words. There’s a dark tone, unfamiliar in the usual joking nature of his voice.
Kylii turns to face the old man, but he can’t bring his eyes to go any higher than the ground at the old man’s feet. “We didn’t run away.”
The old man takes several steps towards Daniil and Kylii, his expression stern. The brothers visibly shrink as he approaches, as though the force of the old man’s presence were pressing against them.
Meah steps between the old man, Daniil, and Kylii. “Stop it.”
Looking at her for the first time, the old man’s eyes move up and down her quickly, taking her in. His lip twitches and Meah believes she saw a smile.
“A Life Healer. Quite a rarity in this world.”
Fear grows in Meah’s stomach the longer the man stares at her. But she stays between him and the brothers. Finally, the man’s lips curve upwards into a humorous smile and she sees a familiarity in his face that catches her by surprise. Her eyes widen and she looks back at Daniil and Kylii. She again looks at the man and the realization causes her to take a step back.
Crossing his arms, the man releases a small laugh. “I see you understand.”
“Understand isn’t quite the word,” Meah answers, “Shocked recognition is closer.”
“Boy, come here,” the man turns to Ime.
“My name is Ime.”
“Ime, boy, Rare Kind, they’re all technicalities. But for now, boy will do. Come here.”
Ime hesitates, but Jaxon gently nudges him forward.
The man places a hand to his chest. “Name’s Kiphy. I can help you retrieve your stolen fire magic. But you must do exactly as I say. Are you sure this is what you want?”
Nodding, Ime answers, “I have to defeat Klaeon. I can only do that with all of my magic.”
“Good. We leave now.”
“Yes. Your training can’t be done here. We leave now.”
“But what about gathering armies? How long will this training take?”
Leaning his head from side to side, thinking carefully, Kiphy makes an annoyed sound. “If we’re lucky, three months.”
Ime and Meah stare at Kiphy in confused silence. Jaxon, Kylii, and Daniil aren’t surprised by the news.
“Three months? Klaeon could attack during that time!” Ime says angrily.
“That’s the time frame. Anything less depends on you.”
“It should still take Teron’s men at least a month to report to Klaeon and even more for him to prepare an army to move. You should have enough time if you don’t dawdle,” Jaxon says.
Crossing to Ime, Meah places a calming hand on his shoulder. “Go with him. Jaxon, Daniil, Kylii, and I will take care of everything here. Get your fire back.”
Ime meets her eyes and places a hand on her cheek. He kisses her and nods. “Fine.” Taking a step towards Kiphy, he says, “We leave now.”
Kiphy turns to lead Ime out of the tower. But he stops in front of Daniil and Kylii. He doesn’t speak, waiting for the two to fight to meet his eyes. His face softens for a moment and he places a hand on each brother’s shoulder. The touch shoots through them like lightning, widening their eyes, and catching their breaths in their throats.
“I’m happy you both made it back to me.” Kiphy speaks the words softly, meaning for only the brothers to hear.
Moving past them, Kiphy regains his stern expression and lifted walk. Ime pauses at Daniil and Kylii to give them words of encouragement, but the strong emotion apparent on their faces keeps him silent. They manage to keep the tears back, but their choked sobs are still able to force their way past their lips.
“Boy!” Kiphy calls.
Ime pats Daniil and Kylii on the back as he hurries past to catch up to Kiphy. The two disappear across the bridge, growing smaller as they reach the west side of the city.
“Are you two all right?” Meah asks, walking towards Daniil and Kylii.
“We’ll be fine,” Daniil says, his voice shaking. Kylii only nods, unable to speak without making a pained sound.
Jaxon looks at Deven. “Thank you for finding him.”
“We keep records of every person who travels through our city. Honestly, I didn’t think he was still here. He tends to come and go without a word.” The brothers make an amused sound at that. But Deven ignores them and continues, “How did you know he was here?”
“When I asked the Seers of Eraunel for information on anyone who knew how to restore magic, they eagerly gave me his name. Of course, if I’d known we were travelling with his sons, maybe I would have asked them to talk to him for you,” Jaxon says, staring at the brothers.
Moving away from Daniil and Kylii, Meah places her hands on her hips. “Enough talking about that. We’re wasting time. We have work to do.”
“Work?” Kylii manages to choke out, regaining his usual tone. “What kind of work?”
“Too much to talk about here where anyone can overhear. Deven, is Altan available to meet with us?”
Deven’s eyebrow rises. “Now? The festival is only just ending.”
“So he’s free. Let’s go.” Meah grabs Deven and pulls him across the bridge. Jaxon, Daniil, Kylii, Tanith, and Saunem follow quickly.