“Ime, we should follow their advice and head back to the city,” one of Kordeaux’s men says. The group stares at Ime, concerned. He’d forced them to stop after a large surge of magic had shaken the earth and they saw a bright light.
Ime’s eyes are locked on the mountain and he shakes his head. “I can’t leave them behind. Meah would never forgive me if I didn’t go back.”
Sitting next to Ime, Tanith whimpers. Her white eyes plead with him. Ime places a comforting hand on her head and her tail moves back and forth. Saunem limps towards Tanith. He sits next to her and licks his wounds.
“I’m going back,” Ime announces. “The rest of you report to Altan.”
Kordeaux’s men hesitate, eager to return, but feeling guilty abandoning Ime. Three walk forward, one woman and two men. “Grydo, Hevdar, and I will go with you. You might need help,” the woman says.
“And your name?”
Comforted Ime wouldn’t be alone, the rest of the group heads down the rest of the mountain and after chirping for a few seconds, Tanith convinces Saunem to head back with them.
The air is colder than when they left the brothers and snow continues to fall gently from the sky. But magic no longer fills the mountain pass. When they reach the wall where the narrow opening should have been, they’re surprised to see only a wall.
Ime places his hand on the wall. “Magic blocked this. But it’s only normal stone.” He releases a breath and a new opening carves its way through the stone.
Emerging from the narrow opening, the group is greeted by the sight of the Shadow Watchers’ bodies lying everywhere. Half are buried in the falling snow, the other smoking from the intense heat that caused their deaths. At the center, Daniil and Kylii lie still, almost indistinguishable from Tayli’s men.
Tanith cries out. It is a long and mournful sound. She leaps across the battlefield to Daniil and nudges his hand with her snout. She sits at his side and raises her cries to the sky, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Sharin, Grydor, and Hevdar watch Ime, unsure of what to do. The sight before them is awe-inspiring, but they can sense Ime’s magic growing with his rage.
Inhaling sharply, Ime carefully walks over the bodies on the ground to the brothers. Tanith lies on the cold earth and places her head on Daniil’s chest, whimpering. Her tail wraps around her and brushes against Kylii’s arm.
Ime stares down at the two in silence. His eyes are guarded, but his jaw is clenched tightly as he fights back tears and his anger. He doesn’t need to look closer to know they’re dead.
Weak laughter reaches his ears and his steely eyes snap to the face of Tayli. He’s lying between the two worlds of magic. His legs are burned black, but his hair is covered in frost and ice. He shivers, but the movement sends shocks of pain through his body. “They were stupid to sacrifice themselves.”
Tanith roars and moves so fast, Tayli has no time to prepare for the fangs inches from his face. His eyes widen and his breath catches in his throat. Tanith snaps her jaws, but never draws closer. Tayli risks taking his eyes from the beast to see Ime standing behind her, a death grip on her tail. His face strains as he tries to keep the enraged khorgoi from reaching her prey.
“Not yet,” Ime’s calm voice is barely heard over Tanith’s agitated grunts, but the power in his words makes sure she hears him. She rounds on him, her white eyes wide as she hisses. She swipes her claws at him, but Ime only keeps his eyes locked to hers. She stops mid-swipe, the tips of her claws almost touching his skin. A moment passes before she turns back to Tayli. Her lips rise in a snarl and she snaps at him once more before slinking to Ime’s side.
Tayli’s fear, as well as the constant pain from his legs, keeps him frozen in place. But it doesn’t stop a crude smile from curving on his lips. “Showing mercy to a killer like me?”
Leaning down, Ime raises his hand and a rock flies into it. He weighs the stone in his hand and suddenly smashes it into Tayli’s brittle legs. The Shadow Watcher screams out in agony, but Ime only does it three more times. Tayli looks as though he’s going to pass out, but Ime melts some of the snow and throws the water into the man’s face.
Throwing the rock across the pass, Ime leans close to Tayli’s face. “Mercy has never been an option for you.”
Screaming with the intense pain, Tayli tries to grab for Ime, but Ime stands out of his reach. “You will all die. There’s no hope for your pathetic army. And now your two strongest magic users are dead.”
A growl from Tanith silences Tayli, but his whimpers continue. Ime stares at the pathetic man sitting before him and places a steady hand on Tanith’s head. The muscles in her legs tense and she lowers herself, ready to pounce.
“For Daniil and Kylii.”
Tanith strikes Tayli, digging her claws into the highly sensitive flesh. His screams ring out over the silent battlefield, reaching pitches no human voice should be able to hit. It lasts longer than it should have as Tanith kills him slowly. Tayli’s voice gives out long before he draws his final breath.
Standing silently, watching in terror, the three magic users, still standing where they’d been left, tense as Ime turns to them. The rage has subdued itself to his eyes and his jaw is no longer clenched. The sounds of Tanith finishing her work on the dead man are the only sounds for a moment and none dared to be the first to speak.
“Help me.” Ime’s voice is soft and shook with enough emotion to snap Sharin, Grydo, and Hevdar from their frightened trance. They cautiously walk forward, stepping over the bodies of the dead.
Ime is the first to touch the bodies of his former cellmates and friends. He struggles to lift them, his legs shaking beneath him. A gasp precedes a sob and he collapses to the ground. The magic users quickly move in and take over for him when it becomes clear he doesn’t have the strength alone.
Sharin unties a strip of cloth from her arm and magic fills the air. The cloth splits and grows in size. Two large cloths float in front of her and she waves her hands at the brothers. The cloths wrap around them, completely covering them to prevent their bodies from becoming dirty.
Grydo, the largest of the two men magic users, opens a large pouch on his belt and reaches inside. He pulls out a miniscule model of a cart. He blows on it and it grows rapidly. He place sit on the ground and soon it’s large enough to carry the two bodies. Daniil and Kylii are placed carefully on the cart and Tanith, finished with her meal, leaps onto the cart and lies in between them. She rests her head on Daniil’s chest and her tail on Kylii, whimpering and crying.
Ime is too distracted by the sudden rush of sorrow and anger to be amazed at the magic users’ abilities. Instead, he watches in silence, the tears still refusing to be shed.
The third magic user, Hevdar, moves to the front of the cart and squats. He takes several deep breaths and his muscles fill with magic, growing larger. He grips the handles of the cart and lifts with ease.
Sharin approaches Ime, sweat covering her forehead. “Let’s go. This place is too full of death.”
Nodding his head, Ime stands and waves her forward. She joins Hevdar and Grydo and the three leave through the narrow entrance, being careful to keep an eye on the cart to prevent damage.
Alone, Ime circles, staring at the bodies strewn about. Another wave of rage comes over him and he feels a strange power rising, congregating in his hand. He holds his hand in front of him and with a breath releases the strange power. A bright light blinds him for a moment and when his eyes readjust the bodies, and snow, are gone. The only things left behind are black outlines where the bodies had once laid.
His hand lowers, shaking and Ime leaves the mountain pass, catching up to the three magic users quickly.