As soon as the darkness had passed from the room, I heard the rattle of chainmail as every guard’s attention came to rest on me. Leather snapped and steel clinked against steel as the brought spear and mace to bear in my direction. “He’s killed the regent!” I heard behind me, one voice out of two-dozen or more. “Stop him!”
Em, I thought over the sudden rush of boots, but I didn’t say it. I was doing what I was told, and doing it very well. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t even angry. I had every reason to hate Miss Datsia for what she had done to Erik, Miss Aura for what she had done to me. All I could feel was a dim relief that everything would soon be resolved. I dropped to my knees beside my master and pet, then gingerly placed my body over his to shield it. His bloody jacket was warm against my stomach, but cooling rapidly, and his fur was already growing chill. His chest still moved, and he trembled, but I could tell it wouldn’t be long. Already I could see the anger of his wound fading, the pain passing into hollow numbness.
The guards from all around the room had perhaps made it halfway to the dais when a thunderclap blew the main doors off their hinges. Shards of wood flew into the room and smoke poured in in their wake. I cringed reflexively against the sound and snapped my ears back against my head, but my skull still rang with the force of the blast. The guards all stopped in their rush and turned, spears at the ready to protect them against whatever dragon or demon had just been summoned into their midst.
Out of the smoke stepped Miss Aura, clutching a lit torch in one paw and a small sachet in the other. Her eyes burned and her tail lashed madly behind her. Miss Inika stood close behind her, her spear at the ready to guard the sage. Mister Iladin followed behind, a heavy pack on his back. “I am Inika, daughter of Eskaya,” the vole pronounced, her voice muffled by the ringing in my ears. “With the rightful heir and his sergeant incapacitated, I am assuming temporary regency of Barony Deterikh.”
A few of the soldiers turned to charge the small group, but Miss Aura shook the pouch in front of her, sending up a cloud of powder into the air, and words flew from her muzzle in a tongue that seared my ears to hear. Her voice peaked in a shout, and then she thrust her torch into the dust, sending a gout of flame shot out from her outstretched arm towards the guards. The two closest to her didn’t have time to scream before they were burned alive, their bodies collapsing to ash and scorched bone. The third, though, had only his arms caught in the sudden inferno. He shrieked and dropped to his knees, desperately trying to put himself out, his frantic flailing only spreading the flames across his body.
The stink of charred fur and flesh filled the room, and one of the other guards dropped to his knees, retching at the stench. Miss Inika, however, only wrinkled her nose as she marched toward the dais, the two sages close behind her. “Anyone wanting to challenge my authority can go through Aura to do it.” No-one else moved, and she hollered back towards the entryway, “Secure!” Erik’s loyalists rushed into the room, quickly stripping the last of Datsia’s guard of their weapons.
In the midst of the chaos, Miss Inika casually pointed the tip of her spear towards the back of the hall. “Valentin’s that way, sleeping in a washtub.” Mister Iladin bowed and then, escorted by a trio of Miss Inika’s supporters, shuffled back to recover the sergeant. The vole’s attention, though, had already returned to the two of us beside Miss Datsia’s body. Her muzzle quirked into a gentle frown, and she knelt next to us. “Poor th—” She froze mid-word, then snapped her head upright. “Aura! They’re still alive! Both of them!”
The sage was at my side before I could blink, her torch discarded, her fingers gripping my shoulder. “Taneh, up.” Her voice shook worse than her paw. “Off the baron. Let me…. Great Family.” She delicately caressed my pet’s shoulder as if she were stroking an eggshell. “Erik?”
“Aura?” Erik’s voice was a whimper, barely audible even at this closeness. “I’m sorry. She… she beat me.”
“Hush, boy,” the sage soothed. “Save your breath.” She spied the shard of metal jutting from his back, and her tail collapsed to the ground behind her. “I need to turn you to inspect the wound. I won’t lie: this’ll hurt.” He nodded, and she shifted backwards. “Taneh, his shoulders. Inika, legs. On three.” We scrambled around, then eased him onto his back, but not without drawing a choking gasp out of the young baron. We rested his head in my lap, his upper back balanced on my spread knees to keep the tip from hitting the floor.
When she saw jagged end of the broken spear jutting from Erik’s chest, Miss Aura’s ears went flat against her head and the blood drained from her face. “Dust.” The her eyes narrowed as she lifted her gaze to mine, her muzzle tightening to a thin line. “Did she suffer, at least?”
I shrugged as best as I could without moving. “I don’t know, ma’am. I emptied the vessel. She begged, at least.”
The sage nodded tightly, tail lashing once. “It’ll have to do.” Then her attention went back to Erik, and her manner softened instantly. She cupped one paw gently against the side of his cheek. “Relax, boy,” she murmured softly. “I’ll try to make you comfortable.”
Erik coughed, paws still clutching at the wooden shaft embedded in his gut. “I hurt… want to lie down.”
Miss Aura gave the barest shake of her head. “That might dislodge the spear. You’ll bleed out.”
“Don’t care,” Erik said, panting. “Going to die… anyway.”
The kitchen door banged, and two pairs of hindfalls stumbled towards up. A shadow fell across us, and then Mister Valentin knelt next to Miss Aura. “Inika, find Chelin. Go spread the news of Datsia’s death.” He was silent as his lieutenant left, then lowered his head to survey the damage. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “It should be me down there.”
Erik shook his head, grimacing at the motion. “Had to… be me.” He bit down hard against a spasm of pain. “Succession.”
“Don’t talk,” The sergeant admonished gently. He cautiously pried one of Erik’s paws off of the spear and held it in both of his. “Listen, Erik, you’re going to be fine. Aura and Iladin will take care of this.”
“Lying again.” Erik hissed around gritted teeth. “One thing… Valentin. Your oath. The barony.”
Mister Valentin shook his head emphatically. “You’re not dead yet, and you’re not giving up on me.”
Mister Iladin squatted to Miss Aura’s other side and leaned in close to peer at the wound. He bit his lip, then sat back on his heels and shook his head. “He’s lost so much blood, and the damage is extensive.”
“Six generations… founder’s blood.” Erik’s voice was growing softer with every breath. “My jacket… soaked with it.”
I gently stroked a paw down Erik’s cheek. “You’re still talking, pet,” I chided as gently as I could. “Relax and let the people handle this.”
Erik’s eyes went wide, and then a gentle smile spread on his muzzle. “Yes, master.” Then he drew in as deep a breath he could manage and went limp in my arms.
I waited for a few seconds, then narrowed my eyes at Miss Aura. “What can you do?”
Miss Aura’s gaze held mine, and then she snapped her head down to Erik. She began tracing symbols in the air before her, muttering to herself, and then nodded sharply. “It’s worth the risk.” She turned to Mister Valentin and drew in a deep breath. “Do you trust me?”
“What?” The lynx almost bellowed the word. Then he stopped and sighed. “I don’t have much choice, do I?”
“Not really,” the sage confessed. “Iladin, chalks and salt, ruby dust and sapphire. The contents of your herbal racks, and fast.” Mister Iladin rose, then rushed from the hall faster than I had ever seen him move before. “The barony will soon be yours, Valentin. Be gentle with it.”
Mister Valentin’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you said you could save him!”
“I can’t save Erik, Baron,” Miss Aura corrected. “If Iladin hurries, though, I may still be able to do something.” She turned back to me, bobbing her head. “Little light?”
I smiled and let the warm heaviness spread through me once more. “I am ready.”
Miss Aura smiled back. “Of course you are. I’ll need your help as well.”