The smoke leaves her lungs and fresh, clean air fills her. Wind surrounds her, blocking the smoke and forcing Vacuda back. Sitting up, she feels magic welling up inside of her, leaking out of her and into the world around her.
She struggles to her feet, holding her sides as the magic inside her grows. She feels it wanting to get out, only small amounts actually escaping her body. Pressure increases threatening to explode. The brands covering her body glow and the winds surrounding her become stronger.
Vacuda fights to stay standing, but the wind knocks him back. He tries to use his smoke to block the wind, but as he tries to use it, he loses control. The smoke pours from him, draining him. He tries to stop it, but something keeps pulling it out of him. He glares at Ari, knowing she’s the cause. He has to stop her. He has to kill her.
Sharp pain in his back catches him by surprise. Another sharp pain erupts on his neck and warm liquid pours down his front. He grabs his throat and tries to touch the pain on his back, but his vision darkens and his body collapses beneath him. He eyes the figure standing above him with a bloody knife.
“My accomplishments were never yours to claim.”
Vacuda laughs and tears leave his eyes as his life fades away.
She doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t understand this strange, new magic. She can’t control it the same way she does her other magic. She tries to control it like her wind, but the pressure only grows. She’s scared. She’s scared what this magic is, what it’s doing. She needs help.
Crofton works to move closer to her, a knife in his hand. Blood stains the metal and Vacuda’s dead body lies behind him. He swipes at rocks being thrown with the force of her wind. One hits him in the forehead, creating a deep gash. Blood pours from the wound, the wind catching some of it and flinging it into the air.
The pressure builds inside of her and she struggles to keep it back, but she knows she can’t keep it back forever. She reaches a shaking hand towards Crofton. He fights the increasing wind to reach her. He grabs her hand and pulls her close to him. A shudder runs through him and he winces.
“What’s going on?” he yells over the gusting winds, pain growing in his voice.
“You have to stop me.”
She screams as the magic in her brands burns, more of her magic escaping in a sudden rush. Crofton is nearly thrown back, but his grip on her keeps him close. The pressure threatens to tear her apart from the inside.
“You have to stop me.”
Crofton shakes his head, his eyes glancing at the bloody knife in his hand. “How?”
“I don’t know.”
She can’t keep it in any longer. Power explodes through her, her skin burning as it forces its way out of her. Her body becomes numb and she falls limp in Crofton’s arms. The magic continues escaping her, an almost limitless power. But she feels herself shrinking, feels her body burning away.
The world shivers, twisting as the magic contorts everything around her. A shadow surrounds her and Crofton, filling the room. The wind changes and moves into the shadow. Small rocks and dust rise, being sucked into the darkness. The wind grows stronger and larger objects join, soon even Vacuda’s dead body rises from the ground and disappears into the abyss.
Crofton holds her, grabbing the door of the room, the only stable thing left. He stares at the shadow at the center of the room. As it swallows more and more it grows, rising higher to the ceiling.
“Stop me.” She isn’t sure if her voice can be heard above the wind and destruction, but Crofton turns to her, acknowledging her request.
He takes the knife and with swift movement, slams the hilt into the side of her head. Her vision blackens and the pain fades away.
Stairs moving beneath her, legs struggling to move. The sound of someone struggling to clear an unseen obstacle. Rubble falling down the stairs, hitting her as it passes.
“What an interesting power,” a strange, unfamiliar voice says. “No wonder they want to stop it.”
“Shut up.” A familiar voice. Crofton? He’s struggling, his voice tired.
“Or maybe they want to take it.”
More than one voice. The air is cooler. Shadows pass over her, but her eyes won’t open. She feels the one holding her. His breathing and pounding heart beneath her. An arm holding her close.
“She’s alive…isn’t she?”
“We have to get to the others. She needs healers.”
A brief struggle, she feels the world move around her. “How could you let her get like this?”
Another shift. “She’s alive. For now, unless you want to argue and not get her help.”
“Stop fighting, Vico! We should leave.”
“There’s nothing left for us here. Let’s go.”
Who are you? Someone, no, something reaching for her.
I know you’re there. Who are you? It searches for her, unable to find her. A spark of pain then laughter.
Ah, it’s you…and another… The laughter continues, growing.
I will find you. Another spark of pain, the thing makes a strange noise. It was hurt. Something stopped it from reaching her, from finding her.
I will… Something slams the connection shut. Multiple layers block it from her.
But she still hears it.
I will take you.