Red (6)

Aerin’s in no condition to move, let alone jump out the second floor.
“No physical traces. Windows weren’t touched.” came Aldor’s split-second deduction.

Was Aerin sick of the mission?
Did she run away? If so, how?
Does she hate us?

A deep inhale drowns me in my senses. Where mundane folk smell a hint of burnt spruce, a veteran mage detects a near-imperceptible heaviness in the air, courtesy of their connection to the arcane weave.

FOCUS, Red. What do you sense?” Aldor’s voice snaps me back into focus.

Whatever happened struck while we strategized in the bubble of silence. Sneaky.
“Do your thing, I’ll get the others to hold the fort.”

I nod, drinking in information that Al was blind to. Traces of a conjuration spell; one that nether-swapped the positions of two objects, and in this case, my best friend for a giant pillow. Spells like these usually needed line of sight to work, so whoever casted the spell definitely circumvented the requirements, – No way Aerin did it, did she? -The possibility that a catalyst was used to circumvent the requirements in order to spirit her away was one I’d rather entertain.

I direct my thoughts to uncle’s lamp: “Hit me with a spell that locates folk.” His response comes in the form of a headache. My mind fills with temporary knowledge of one such spell, replacing the first-aid one I used last night. I grab one of Aerin’s belongings, a verdant poncho with black and silver lining –her birthday present 3 years ago– as my catalyst to enhance the spell.

One breath, and Aerin’s position reveals itself as my headache splinters towards the north-east. Instinctively, I feel her prone body being carried 800 feet from where we stood. Two life signatures moving together, one faint but familiar, the other strong and foreign.

A wave of desperation washes away my fears.

They’re 800 feet to the North East, Al! She’s been kidnapped!”

I fight vertigo to maintain concentration as Al cuts us through the expanse of the city, traversing an ocean of screams and burnt flesh. I ignore people clutching the ashen husks of loved ones and desperate folk braving dragonfire to rescue those who remain. I deafen myself to their suffering. Steeling my heart, I focus on my compass-headache:- sleeping, wrapped in bandages, slung behind a humanoid weaving through the streets.

I don’t care what Aerin’s being kidnapped for; the bastard’s ignoring her re-opening wounds.
She’s being hurt.

Fuck that guy.

As if the bastard hears my thoughts, he ducks into an alley.
“I’ll block ’em, you grab her!”
Aldor splits off. I drop my concentration on the tracking spell and refocus.

With a roar, I brutally RIP a three-story wall of stone through the building. My effort pays off as the target runs back out half a second later. While a hood and mask may conceal his features, his fear is clearly reflected in his eyes. Arcane bolts slam violently into him at the snap of my fingers, and Aldor completes the takedown with a knee to the face.

I tunnel-vision on Aerin, pulling her into my arms. The old wounds in her throwing arm are re-opening, her blood coloring the bandages crimson, pulse faint- the fever’s died down at least, things could be much worse.

I cry out . At least she’s okay-at least she’s alright now-she’s safe with me now-Aldor embraces us as he tends to Aerin’s wounds. I feel my splitting headache lighten, but I notice my knuckles are turning white.

I dismiss the wall of stone, reforging the earth to pin our kidnapper in place. He groans in pain as I unmask him. Behind the mask was a once-immaculate-looking, older elf, indigo eyes and a scar on his right cheek. Now he had an injury on the left to match, and I intend to. Fuck. Him. Up.

“Who are you?! What do you want-” asks Aldor.

The captor opens his mouth to speak, and I feel the arcane stirrings of the only spell that Aldor ever learnt, the very same one he used to bully me with. He’s trying to cast a misty step to escape.

I strike the kidnapper in the throat.
NO BULLSHIT. NOW TALK!!” I roar, grabbing him by the hair.

He sputters, and I strike his right brachial plexus, painfully disabling his right side. He fixates his gaze behind us, and I feel him trying again. “DO NOT MAKE ME REPEAT MYSELF!” I yell, denying his escape with a counterspell of my own. A third attempt ends the same way. I let go of his hair to choke him as I meet the gaze of a terrified soul.

“T-the- Princess-she-“
WHAT PRINCESS?!” I ready a fireball.
The elf’s eyes widen.
Aldor grabs me from behind and wrenches me away.
WHAT THE FUCK AL!” I yell, kicking and screaming maniacally.
“Stop it, Red! You’re making a scene!” Aldor growls.

Only now do I take in our surroundings. My wall of stone tore through a building blazing with dragonfire. I see a man limping out of the wreckage with a large mirror being greeted with gasps of shock from his loved ones. Screams of terror echo as the bakery that was once their home collapses in an explosion, blanketing their neighbors in a vermilion blaze. The City Guard and the citizens pull back, then redoubling their efforts to contain the inferno. Among them, I spot Harper Agents seeking the caster responsible for the recent carnage.

Oh shit.

I drop the earthen trap. Aldor lets me go, binding our kidnapper before he makes another move.

“Wrap this up. He comes with us.” Al adds sternly, gagging the kidnapper. I reach into my pouch and hold a small vial to his nose. The elf’s eyes widen then half-close as my sleeping medicine pacifies him. As potent as this stuff was, elven physiology simply doesn’t know sleep. The same could not be said for Aerin, still gently snoring as I drape her good arm over my shoulders. Aldor’s first aid seems to be working, for now. She’s alright. Everything’s going to be alright.

We move.

What were you thinking?”
My heart sinks.
“You could have killed him, Red.”
I pay attention to Aerin. Snoring’s stopped, gentle breathing instead.
“Sasha Haley Kant.”
Oh no.
The silence feels like a steel blanket.
“I did my best-“
“There was another way and you knew it.”
“You wanted to hurt him.”
He’s right.
“Aldor, I-“
I tear up.
“Zip it. Can’t you admit that you messed up?”
“No I did not-“
“We already had him. Yet you blast him, trap him, torture him-“
“He. Was. Hurting Aerin!” I wail.
“How sure are you that it’s his fault?”
“I-I-I don’t know-“
“Even if it was; you almost murdered him in public. With a fireball.
He’s right.
“Last time it was Lord Valen Nacht. And now this.”
He’s right.
“Please, A-al, I-I swear I was trying my-” I choke through tears.

“Did you forget our mission? The reason why we’re in this?”
The man I love shoots me a withering look.
He’s right. The mission.
“Answer me, Red!”
I’m too choked up on guilt and tears.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Aldor, please-“

Choking with emotion, I completely lose track of time. I didn’t notice the entrance to the Hall until Aldor’s voice snaps me back to reality.
“Get Aerin to the room. Nika and I will handle the ‘guest’. We’ll talk later.” He sighs.

He leads us through the door, and leaves me with Aerin. She may be heavy, but she’s not the reason why I’m dragging my feet to our room.

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