Chapter 9 Air

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The orange clouds fly past the white suns quickly, the blackness of the sky endless above. Birds fly high in the sky, moving slowly, each wing beat taking painstakingly long to move.

Ari sits up and sees the orange clouds moving quickly overhead are coming from the canyon below, rising fast. The sources of the clouds light the entire canyon, creating twisted shadows against the canyon walls.

Fires burn at the agonizingly slow speed as the birds flying above, but the clouds of smoke rising move as though sped up by an unearthly being. The bodies of those fleeing are covered in shadows, their screams silent.

Throughout the city large figures stand, towering above the buildings. Some hold the smaller bodies of people. Thin luminescent strings connect all of the giants to a solitary figure standing on top of one of the old watchtowers along the tops of the canyon. Two other figures stand on either side of the figure. One aims a bow made of fire at homes not yet set ablaze. An arrow made of white fire moves slowly towards a distant target.

A large gust of wind catches Ari and suddenly she’s standing before the doors of her home. The buildings around her home are ablaze, burning at the same slow pace as the rest of the city. Reaching forward, Ari’s fingers barely touch the wood of the door before a second gust thrusts her inside and out into the courtyard.

The white tree is now black, its leaves the color of blood. Even as several leaves fall to the ground it reminds Ari of blood dripping from a wound. Her eyes lower to the base of the tree.

Her mother stands with her back to Ari, facing the now black tree. Ari tries to go to her, but her legs are stuck. She glances down and sees the roots of the tree wrapping around her legs, keeping her still.

Looking at her mother’s back, Ari stretches her hand out in front of her, trying to reach Meah’s still figure. “Mom.” She says the word slowly, the sound ringing in the courtyard. She struggles against the roots now crushing her legs.

The sound of a weapon being drawn precedes Ari’s mother collapsing to the ground. Red leaves fall from the tree around her, giving the illusion of a pool of blood. Though the illusion is strengthened as blood, black in this strange world, rolls from Meah’s mouth and discolors her clothing where the blade stabbed her.

A figure clad in black, his face covered except for his white eyes, stands over Meah’s still body. His sword drips with black blood and his white eyes rise to meet Ari. In a flash, he stands directly in front of Ari. She tries to move away, but the roots are as solid as stone.

The figure raises a black hand and grabs Ari around her face, covering her mouth, but allowing her to breathe through her nose. Even so, she tries to scream. The white eyes staring at her burn with magic and she feels her own magic come alive.

The figure leans close to her, his breath cold on her skin, sending chills through her. “Mankind shall be cleansed of magic. It is the Source’s will.”

The figure raises the sword still dripping with Meah’s blood in front of Ari, ready to strike the killing blow. Ari releases her magic and wind erupts from her body, sending the figure flying back. The roots around her legs release her and Ari flies from the courtyard back out into the city.

Screaming, Ari is shaken from the vision by the force of her magic and by Crofton’s terrified shouts.

“Ari! What’s wrong? What happened?” His eyes are wide and he’s holding her up with the help of the stone bridge. “Ari, please talk to me.”

“The city…we have to get back. Something’s happened,” Ari says the words slowly, afraid to speak too loudly.

“What’s going on? What happened to you?”

Gathering her strength, Ari tears herself from Crofton’s grip. “I saw something horrible. We have to get back now.” She runs towards the city.

Without questioning her further, Crofton follows, sprinting to catch up with her. They fly through the forest, realizing that most of the birds and other animals have fallen oddly silent. Motioning to her right with the faintest of hand movements, Crofton draws his knives and nods.

Stopping suddenly, the two split. Ari leaps to the left while Crofton goes right. The earth where they’d been standing rises sharply and two arrows zip through the air where the two would’ve been thrown.

Ari throws a large gust of wind at their attackers, revealing them among the trees. Four magic users create a crescent shaped wall of bodies. Crofton manages to surprise the one closest to him and buries his knives in the man’s throat. The others try to attack him, but Ari creates a wall of leaves that disorients them.

The earth mage throws a large boulder at her, disrupting her magic as she tries to dodge. The boulder crashes through the trees, knocking the smaller ones over. Ari barely catches her footing as a second attacker sends a strange liquid flying at her. Instinctively she drops to the ground allowing the strange liquid to fly over her. It lands on a tree and the wood smokes as the acid quickly eats through it.

Crofton struggles with the third attacker, a mage who makes arrows appear from nothing. It makes his firing speed much faster and his aim is far higher than normal. Crofton manages to stay well covered behind the trees, but he can’t move close enough to attack.

A scream echoes through the forest as the earth mage collapses to the ground dead. A large axe is buried deep into his back. Confusion fills the other two attackers as a figure moves quickly through the trees towards them.

“What are you two waiting for? A larger distraction?” Kemp calls angrily.

Ari uses her wind to knock the acid mage to the ground. She encircles him in a cyclone of leaves and downed branches as she approaches, keeping him from using his acid unless he wants it to land on him.

Crofton throws one of his knives into the leg of the archer mage, as Kemp gets close enough to pull his sword and finish the man.

Reaching the downed earth mage, Ari retrieves Kemp’s axe and drops the cyclone around the acid mage. Dazed and confused, the mage turns as Ari swings the blade into his side. He screams and Crofton appears behind him to finish the job.

Kemp takes his axe back as his sword disappears. He releases the axe in the air and it fades away. “The city is under attack.”

Crofton stares at him in shock. “What?”

“How did you know to find us here?” Ari asks at the same moment.

“A man named Lyrrel found me just as the attacks began and told me exactly where to find you.”

“Is this what you meant?” Crofton asks Ari, turning to her.

Without answering, Ari explodes into a mad sprint towards the city. Kemp and Crofton have trouble keeping up with her as she releases her wind magic to boost her speed.

Flashes of the vision appear before her eyes, particularly her mother lying on the ground dead and she prays to the gods she isn’t too late.

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