Chapter III:7

The wolf is the pack,
the pack is the blood,
blood skillfully taken,
to feed their young.

The ram is the heard,
the horn and the hoof,
every lamb she defends,
each honored and good.

The serpent is lurking,
the smallest his pray,
the largest he fears,
by hoof kept at bay.

The mother is watching,
with crook tends her flock,
the child she is growing,
with lamb head doth knock.

Take what is yours,
take all that you can,
stay not the young sheep,
grow proud as the ram.

The Flock, circa 600 B.E.

Order Midst Chaos

The caravan started to move. Katrisha had enchanted each wagon, providing a barrier that would slow incoming arrows, hopefully to harmless speeds, and likely short of their mark. She was regretting it. The effort had left a weariness in her bones, even with her staff aiding her. Kiannae had tried to help, but her skills were not as sharp with conventional magic anymore, and her methods too intensive. Her own reserves taxed form healing.

It wasn’t good. None of it was good, and the caravan was moving much faster than it could sustain. Trying to make a town before nightfall. Wren was curled up to Katrisha’s shoulder seeking comfort. She was taking easily as much from his presence. Kiannae sat across from them, reserved, eyes closed, reaching out with her senses in every direction.

Katrisha closed her own eyes, and felt her lingering connection to the spells woven through the caravan. They gave her an odd sense, a feeling like she was the long line winging through the forest, the wind in her hair. A wind from behind, she realized, and noticed a familiar presence. Both sisters resisted the distraction of reacting to the other, intruding on their extended awareness.

Little things passed through, rocks, and bumps in the road, a leaf maybe? It was hard to tell. Something struck one of the barriers, much larger than a leaf, but it retreated. Some poor animal that hopefully scurried away unharmed. She could feel branches that got too close, and dragged against the passing spell. They had switched wagons just in case their enemy had kept count. The original left empty, and other wagons more packed with displaced riders. Who were no more ready to be near the prime target, than away from the caravan’s strongest defenders.

Wren pulled away suddenly. Katrisha’s eyes snapped open, to look questioningly to his stricken expression. A twinge reached her. A flare, somewhere up near the lead. Another closer. More yells, and cries. They had been underway barely ten minutes. The caravan stopped, more arrows. Wren turned suddenly to Kiannae, and reached out his hand as she lept through the window. He curled into the corner, and muttered something unintelligible as Katrisha dashed out the door.

“Three on the north side of us, two on the south,” Kiannae said, and thrust out her hand with a bolt of lighting. “Two on the north,” she said with a sneer.

Arrows dropped harmlessly in front of them, and Katrisha caught one in a spell short of the barrier. It gave her a line back to the source, though she couldn’t see him. She formed a cluster of spells, and threw them back along the trajectory, shards of ice streaking through the forest, clipping trees, and leaves. Clatters, and sputters. There was a yelp, and a second later a distant thud.

“One, running east,” Kiannae confirmed, and barely spared her sister a glance.

Katrisha was thin lipped, and stony faced. She slammed the door tightly, and locked it with spells that would take time, and effort for anyone else to undo.

“Wait, the ones in the south are moving.” Kiannae ran around the front of the wagon. She lept over, and off the shaft of the rigging, drawing the startled eye of a driver crawling under the box. She whipped up a whirlwind that deflected arrows already slowed by Katrisha’s barrier. Sparing the horses several likely hits. Pained neighs ahead or behind signaled they were starting to aim for the horses. Which pulled and strained against wheels that were locked down to prevent the wagons being pulled over. The archer was in plain sight, the blue robed mage beside him. Cadith looked more thoughtful than prepared to attack. Like a wolf indeed, having come upon uncertain opponents. Prey, or rivals.

“Behind us,” Kiannae called out, and cracked a bolt of lighting at the pair before her to no effect.

Katrisha spun, and threw a wave of force into a man charging out of the forest from the north. He tumbled like a rag doll away, and disappeared into the undergrowth. She turned back to the mage, and his elaborate shield. “I thought you said that one was headed east.”

“I think that was a deer,” Kiannae muttered, plucking at his defenses. She threw a bolt of lighting at another seeming weak point, it crackled away harmlessly, even as multi point strikes gave the shield a moment of struggle.

The mage cocked his head to the side curiously, and almost casually hurled a dozen shards of ice at them from nowhere. Katrisha threw force against them, feeling as he plucked apart her barrier just in time. They shattered, or careened wildly in random directions, sticking in wagon walls, and the dirt.

Katrisha redirected a pillar of fire that tried to burst from under them into the space in between, setting a nearby tree ablaze, and brought up her full shield around them, disrupting his next direct assault before it could form.

Etore jumped out of the shadows, striking the brigand’s shield and leaving a mark, but was deflected with an almost dismissive wave of the hand. She tumbled only once, came to a stop, and charged again, her short blade piercing the shield mere inches, and leaving another mar in its structure. It was thrown back with force enough to spin her completely around. The long blade came in straight, slipping through the opening, and barely nicking the archer who retreated towards his commander’s side.

Another bandit emerged from the forest, and engaged Etore for all of two swings before he was dead. Cadith turned dramatically from his impassive staring, his blue coat flaring out, and struck with fire at Etore, which she did not even dodge. It simply missed. Again he tilted his head, but his grimace was far less curious, and more spiteful. Kiannae struck again with an array of lighting, hoping she had found a way through his weakened barrier. It didn’t work, and in spite Katrisha’s best efforts to exploit the weakness opened by Etore’s strikes, his skill at repairing exceeded their combined ability to dismantle his work.

Cadith drew his own blade. His barrier tightened around him, repairing completely, and pushing his archer off balance, and to the ground. He charged Etore, and the two clashed fiercely. His barrier was many times more resilient, and yet it tore before her short sword. Her own blades deflected all of his attacks with ease. He threw waves of force into her which she tumbled out of. Brought spears of ice down from overhead, but all missed.

The archer no longer under cover dove into the forest, and a quick bolt of lighting from Kiannae missed to her frustration. He wove through trees, not stopping to hold his cover. Katrisha and Kiannae glanced at one another, unsure what to do about the fight rolling away from them.

“Well, she has him busy,” Katrisha said, tightening her grip on her staff. “Let’s go after the others, I guess.”

“Which way?” Kiannae demanded. “I think…seven behind, maybe more, fates know how many ahead.”

Katrisha hesitated. There was the tactical option, and the one that she could bear. She didn’t even have a chance to say either.

“Go ahead,” Kiannae ordered. “I’m going back.”

Katrisha struggled with the idea of separating, and Kiannae was already running. She hesitated, and bolted up the line, keeping a watchful eye on the side of the road. The occasional glimpses of escalating destruction appearing between trees as the bandit leader grew more, and more desperate to land a blow against Etore.

A clatter to her left turned Katrisha to find Mallory struggling with a bandit. They had each managed to grab the other’s arm. The bandit seemed stronger, and forced Mallory up against the wagon. Katrisha hesitated for a safe answer in such close quarters, and tried a ball of fire, erring on the possibility of missing entirely. It clipped the bandit’s back, and set the man’s tunic ablaze. He screamed, and was easily pushed off. Mallory ran him through in the opening.

He turned to her, and nodded.

Katrisha cringed slightly, she wanted to scream in frustration for twinges of sympathy for these men trying to kill them. She spun as she felt three charging from the forest, she parried, and threw them back with force, but they charged her again. She fought them off, each forced her to kill him. Would not relent, her one try to bind one failed, got her cut. I wound backwards, the exact order of it. Each move. Played over, and over again. Each had a shape, they fit together in curves and arcs, there were only available paths, any failure discarded, and every one, lead to the same conclusion.

She staggered backwards having glimpsed it all so clearly. A perfect record, and exact copy of the entire set of consciousnesses that had lived those moments. She was reading precognition like a book. Not instinct, pure absolute knowledge. It worked. It horrifyingly worked. She turned as three men charged her, back in that moment, she staggered from the ferocity of her scream.

She unleashed a spell of pure cold freezing everything in her path. Thick frozen air sizzled off men caught as they had charged, ice coating them and the trees behind. A chill wind across herself and the caravan flowing into the void left by the collapse. Out along the direction of effect. A fourth man she had almost forgotten. He had a frozen look of terror on his face. Hers grew fierce. He was the only one that would ever just run, or surrender. He wasn’t…a good man, but he could be stopped, but he wasn’t a good man. He would just do harm another day. That was it. All the grand insight, that her tinkering with the damn crystal had really brought her. Not that she wanted to remember all the ways she killed them. All the ways she tried not to kill them. Hating them, for making her. It was too much damn perspective in the middle of a battle. She leaned on her staff.

“My sister went towards the back, go help her,” she snapped at Mallory, without even turning, and then ran on. Feeling like death had set into her bones.

More sounds of combat rang out from the opposite side of the next wagon. She wove through, and came upon James, and Carter back to back, fighting off six well armed men. Jame was bleeding from his left arm, and Carter’s over shirt was cut away, but his newly enchanted mail seemed to have stopped the blow. The bandits however seemed to disrupt his efforts to use magic, by their very presence. Their own enchanted garments designed to disrupt spells.

Katrisha threw a spear of frost at the man farthest from the wagons, through the spell itself shattered, and the ice fragmented with it. Shards still cut through him to devastating effect, finding several holes in his armor. He screamed, and crumpled, the man next to him turned, and took Malory’s blade to his back. He barely counter swings from two other bandits. He retreated, and deflected pressing blows from all sides but the back, where James skillfully held them off. The bandit’s blades superior enchantments were quickly wearing down the defender’s weapons.

Those several towards Katrisha backed up, and shifted, so they could see the new threat from their rear. This gave just enough space. Katrisha didn’t want to do it, a part of her already screamed for what she was about to do, but she did it. She brought down a hail of razor sharp ice on them. Two struck without resistance, two shattered to no less deadly effect. Those behind the mercenaries backed away, and dove for what cover wagons, or forest could provide. The last man caught between mercenaries, and mage stood there trembling, and dropped his sword.

Katrisha spun, and threw force into a man charging her from behind. The spell again broke on his enchantments, but the air caught in the effect was still enough to toss him thirty feet tumbling back down the line. She turned back around, and brought similar force down on the last man threatening Carter and James. He staggered under the force of wind left by her shattered spell, and fell to his knees.

“Bind them,” Carter growled, and ran up the line after fleeing bandits.

The occasional pop, crack, or yell from behind the wagons was replaced with a thunderous crack. Katrisha dashed back to where she had last seen Etore and the mage trading blows. A terrible groaning brought her eyes up just in time to see a falling tree.

She wove her shield through the enchantment left on the wagon, and leaned on her staff under the strain of the force, trying not lose it into the wagon behind. The backlash of fighting the force of the tree’s weight was getting out of control, etching the ground around her barrier. With all her strength, and a haze sizzling away from her staff she threw the tree back into the forest. Just as two more came down.

The first tree knocked one off course, but the second fell with too much force for her to fully stop. Her barrier collapsed inward, and the wagon groaned under the weight, the roof cracked, and the axles snapped. Katrisha dashed out from under the precariously balanced pine. Power boiling through her barrier. It was too much for her to handle, and at once it seemed to make her stronger, clearer. Clearer than she could remember being in years. She could feel the mage out of sight, feel his spell. He was distracted, Etore’s enchanted blade had left a little tear in his magic. He hadn’t bothered to patch yet. She pulled it, pulled with all the power she was holding, and felt it unravel like poorly spun cloth.

She lept forward, propelling herself with residual energy towards the continuing duel, and she barely kept her balance. The mage had fallen back when his shield fell, and was on the defensive against the deadly woman coming at him with two blades, sometimes slipping his vision, and striking from another direction. It played with one’s senses. You couldn’t keep your eye on her long, and if she slipped, she was somewhere else. The long one a threat with reach, but every blow that nearly landed came from the short sword in her left hand. His eyes always distracted by the long blade that held the eye, if anything at all. It was disorienting to watch.

They were too far away, too close together, and too hard to keep track of. She ran in as she felt the mage trying to re-weave his shield. While it had been nearly impossible to dismantle in its finished state, it was just possible keep him from fully restoring it. She shoved the crystal of her staff into the barrier as it almost recovered. Her control of the crystal disrupted his spell, and the structure failed. He spun, parried the staff, ducked under a crossed pair of swords that would have taken his head.

A sudden burst of force peeled off the skilled fighter, and Katrisha barely countered it, but failed to stick the landing twenty feet back. As she fell, she tossed a spear of ice with a gesture in the opening. To her bewilderment he literally parried the projectile. He rolled his neck, his attention divided between the two women that were then about equal distance. She could see seven moves, and forty-nine counter moves, and almost understood every possibility, till he made an eighth, and it all collapsed.

“Worthy,” he said in one clear word. A terrifying smile crept across his lips.

He charged Katrisha, throwing a wave of force behind him, and propelling himself forward. Katrisha rolled out of the way on instinct as her shield collapsed, and his sword swing barely missed. The man tumbled out of his rush, leapt up onto the downed wagon in a manner that defied belief. There had been a spell behind the launch, but amazingly his clean landing and spin were unassisted grace. His arcing arm threw a gestural spell down across the entire side of the forest before him.

Katrisha caught the threads of it, ripping them wildly apart, and what would have been a wave of terrible fire, was reduced to a few wildly arcing swaths of smoldering earth, and burning trees. She threw some energy she had caught back, through what was left of the disrupted spell.  It struck the top of the wagon, setting it on fire. Yet he was already airborne.

He came down on her with his sword, her attempt to throw up a barrier collapsed, but she parried the strike with her staff. It sparked and sizzled against the enchantment of his blade, the staff having cast its own shield. He hadn’t seen that coming, it froze him just a moment. He pushed off, and spun to deflect a blow from Etore, who collided with him foot first. Cadith tumbled off, his defenses coming back up even as he rolled, and came back to his feet. His heels dug in as he regained his footing. A ball of fire flew off his fingers with another gesture at Katrisha. It tore through her first attempt at a defense, and wove back towards her when deflected with force. She caught hold of the spell guiding it, and redirected it towards Cadith, who had dared reengage Etore aggressively.

It washed over his defenses harmlessly, and he rolled away from the woman’s thrust with her short sword which pierced his strained shield, and nicked his arm. He leapt back, with another burst of force, again digging his heels into the dirt to stop. He stood seething a moment, clutching the gash on his sword arm. Carter was running down the line from the front, and threw a ball of crackling lightning at the distant mage that grounded off his shield. Katrisha saw him struggle with another bolt, saw his coat get cut away as James and Etore charged him, and come back together. Saw him sneer, and then smiled, glancing at her.

James charged him, a bolt of lightning grazed him, as his shield collapsed. She had it, and then he slipped away, winding it backwards himself. He’d done it, and she saw it, and he saw it. Oh, Katrisha froze. He’d been seeing it all along. Had always been aware. He glanced between the two women. He deflected a spiraling ball of fire that split and forced both to dodge.

The mage tilted his head again. “Well met,” he said, and bolted between the wagons. James tried to strike as he passed, and the counter swing from Cadith shattered the mercenaries’ sword sending molten shards flying as he fell back, guarding his face. The mage wove out of view into the forest with incredible speed.

Etore bolted after him.

Katrisha hesitated. There was no way she could keep up with either. “Is the front clear?” she demanded, and put out the fire on the wagon.

“Clear,” Carter answered, and leaned against the wagon next to him for support.

“Wounded?” Katrisha asked, as a horn sounded over the forest.

“Other than me, not that I’ve seen, just a couple horses,” Carter answered. “Your shields did the trick.”

Katrisha moved to him. The wound was light, but bleeding excessively. “Do you have the strength to heal it yourself?” she asked. He shook his head. She didn’t have time or strength to spare to do it properly. “I’ll make this up to you later,” she said, and cauterized it closed to a surprisingly muted growl from the man.

“Wise,” he said through gritted teeth.

“You two, stay here,” Katrisha said, and there was a crack of thunder behind. She cursed. “Put out the fires, or they will burn down everything. She ran towards the rear of the Caravan.”

A bandit leapt from between two wagons, and stopped frozen in midair, and fell with a thud at a wave of Katrisha’s hand. It had been instinct, the same instinct that was driving her to run with all her might towards the back. She tried the same spell she had seen the enemy mage use. A more extreme form than any she had used before. She shot a good ten feet down the line stumbled, and barely recovered from the tumble. Her passing senses felt the spell still holding the door to her wagon closed. “One safe,” she muttered as she ran.

Lighting, brilliant flashes, cries, and other sounds of battle were coming from the rear. The road curved, and Katrisha caught sight of what was happening a good forty yards away. Mallory and Kiannae were both wounded, though a good ten around them were dead, or dying. Mallory had a bloody face, and Kiannae had an arrow in her leg that had somehow pierced the enchantment of her robe. Each were struggling to fend off three men, and a hulking thing that didn’t quite look human. He was huge, his hair silver, his face, and hands black as midnight, and scintillated with a strange wavering shine as he moved. Flashes of disrupted gift flicked between him, and Kiannae.

He clearly struggled to deal with her lightning strikes, but managed nonetheless. He fell back to avoid one that came down from above, and then staggered from a blinding one that struck again toward his chest. The energy crackled before him, building, growing brighter, and discharging suddenly into an unfortunate bandit nearby, who was simply too close. His soles prevented the strike from grounding, which chained into another man through his sword, and at last through more conductive boots. Both fell to the ground.

The world went white, and blurred for a moment as the residual energy exploded between them. Katrisha couldn’t see anything but auras, and still ran, the huge man was staggering back to his feet. She could see the strange power of the elements her sister commanded whipping about, driving winds that buffeted him. Katrisha threw a spear of ice at the halo of the man, but it shattered fragments catching more of his allies who started to run. What had felt clear in each prior instance felt muddled. Blurry, slipping around in her head, it was almost more distracting than useful. Three more, and a ball of fire from captured energy kept him on guard a moment, as Kiannae pressed him as well. Then some instinct made her dodge right.

There was a trail of filaments from whatever spell had flown past her fast enough to make a crack like a snapped whip. Another, and she dodged left, and felt splinters of wood the wagon side. Her vision was returning in splotches that were more distracting than helpful. She closed her eyes, feeling for the unfamiliar practice he was using.

Left again she dodged, and rolled sideways. Each blow was mortal, she could feel it. She was avoiding deaths with every desperate tumble. She couldn’t just stay on the defensive. Right, she rolled, and threw another spear of ice, expecting it to do nothing.

It tore apart pieces flowing around him. It wasn’t magic, it was something else, something more like her sister’s power, but all the same more as hers. Fractal in its complexity, its purpose simplistic but absolute. A blend of magic, and more fundamental forces. Left she rolled, and stones and dirt pelt her from the side. She opened her eyes again. Her vision was clear enough to be more use than distraction.

The man’s huge head turned barely and inch to see the last of his allies fleeing. It was clear then he had not a snout, not a nose. An unintelligible curse growled past his lips, and he leapt at Kiannae and Mallory who dodged out of the way. Kiannae swung at the man screaming in agony, her hand swiping like a claw. The blow missed entirely, as the cat dodged back, and yet there were streaks of blood. He tumbled backwards as if struck, and landed into a wounded crouch. Growling in a resounding roar. He was bleeding across one side.

Not letting it stop him he took the opening to charge Katrisha who parried a sweeping claw with her staff. There was a terrible burning sensation around the man who swung, beyond deadly claws, something not unlike spells lashed across her staff that disrupted them. So close to him it was almost like her senses didn’t work. Complete control. Yet however deadly his claws or gift seemed, he was still fighting bare handed against a weapon. Still, it wasn’t going well. Some blows could spin her clean around.

Mallory charged from behind swinging his sword down on the Sylvan, but he effortlessly stepped aside, bringing his elbow up into the man’s nose. Mallory tumbled to the ground losing his weapon, and lay there struggling. Taloe staggered from mist, and struck feebly at the man. A blast of force blew everyone else back, and the hulking black lynx grabbed the spirit by the throat, one hand wrapping easily around the neck. With another grabbed his arm, and tore him to wisps of mist. Kiannae took another open-handed swing, screaming from the effort of charging on her wounded leg, and her rage. Blood showered from the cat’s other arm, but his right came around, and tossed her off like chaff. Her staff few from her hands, as she tumbled limp across the road, blood spattering.

He came back down on Katrisha with the same terrifying clawed hand. She parried again with her staff sending his hand down into the dirt, but caught so much force she was forced completely around, and used it bringing her staff down into the back of his head. She still had to roll out of it twenty feet from the recoil. It was a clear line, she felt every muscle in her body tense, as the air between them collapsed violently, forming a spear of ice nearly as big as her. It shattered as soon as it could form but velocity carried through the fragments. A direct conversion of heat to momentum and deadly shards clipped his extremities. He fell backwards riddled with holes, and sizzling where shards had been stopped by bone.

He hit with a thud, and Mallory came down on him with a sword. Katrisha looked away as much in disgust, as toward her prone sister. She leapt, and ran towards her, stumbling from her staggered state. She fell as much as crouched at her side, and rolled Kiannae onto her back.

Huge claw marks were torn through her robe. The enchantment had done nothing. Katrisha ripped it open to get a better view of the injuries. They were short, but incredibly deep, stopped cut along ribs, and stopped at her sternum. The bleeding was terrifying. She put all she had into stopping it. Then felt that her sister’s heart wasn’t beating. It was pierced. She screamed something that split the forest. Tears streamed down her face. She looked at her sister’s staff, and grabbed it with her other hand.

She saw it. A vision. Something so complex a mortal mind could barely perceive it, let alone comprehend. It defied her every understanding of magic, of gift, of nature, of everything. She forced her sister’s heart back together. She forced blood lost, and flesh torn, and time past, everything backwards. She could feel it, tearing the world out from under them. Flowers, and vines sprouted, runes circled, wind whipped and energy crackled along the boundaries. Raw mater burned, defying reality, forcing everything where it belonged. Where she commanded. A terrible light split the forest. There was a roar like a thousand oceans.

A drop midst deafened silence. Tipped her off balance, her vision swam. Shadows of trees rolling past her falling head. She felt herself hit the ground, as her vision went to black. Almost like a footnote, in elaborate detail, in the margins of her memory.

Katrisha groaned, then shot up with a start. A hand caught her shoulder, and it took her a moment to focus, everything was blurry. “Ki?” she managed weakly.

“Your sister, half naked as she is,” Carter growled, “is fine. Well, fine being relative. Let nothing stop her, will speak to no one, just tends the animals with a look in her eyes more distant than anything I’ve ever seen. Your brother, has been asleep for an hour after fussing uselessly over you.”

“Good,” Katrisha said, and flopped back wearily.

“Good!?” Carter snapped. “What in the Abyss happened back there? Man who looks like a cat, a freaking full-blooded Sylvan out of what last I checked was pure myth. Cut near to ribbons, and the two of you in a lump on the ground, one half naked covered in blood, but not a scratch on her. Oh, and it looked like a damn dragon stepped on you both. A perfectly round hole, six inches deep. Your sister bolted up, grabbed your staff of all things, and walked off not giving a damn her robe was only half on.”

Katrisha furrowed her brow. “I saw a spell. I couldn’t recreate it, there wouldn’t be a point. It served only one purpose. An exact map of what would save her, fix her, put her back together. You were probably looking at the entropic backlash from that. I’ve only felt something like it once before, and…it was pretty useless. Desperate times,” she groaned.

Carter flopped onto the bench across from her. “We’ve got a wagon dead center of the train downed, under a bloody tree. No sign of Etore, or this Wolf leading them. Injured horses. Five prisoners, though half of them are severely frost burnt, and even hypothermic. You think ice is kind or something? Guess it hurts less at first, but those men are in agony now, same as if you set them on fire. Though maybe I should be commending you for finding a way around the enchantment. Only thing that saved a few, those enchantments. Had to gag them to stop the screaming. Figure we’ll offer the first two to give us real numbers a little healing. Just to be sure the answers are accurate. The rest can rot.”

Katrisha clenched her jaw. Torture. Was it torture if you just didn’t spend precious resources on men who should already be dead? She closed her eyes. Trying to let go of it. She’d threatened worse. She hadn’t meant it, but she’d hated him, so personally. She’d known him. These were strangers, who had done as much.

“Yeah, just what I thought,” Carter said. “Soft touch. Like most of you courtly types. Too much sympathy, too little sense. These men are as close to evil as you are ever going to find. Though I don’t know, maybe you will find worse. Prophecy and all. Is that nonsense real? You? I’ve never seen it, but I’d heard the rumors. Yeah, that worried me, and it seems rightly so, but it wasn’t prophecy that made me not trust you.”

Katrisha sneered up that the ceiling.

“It wasn’t being women, or even young. Etore broke those illusions long ago. Wasn’t even your ridiculous robes. It was knowing in my bones you were soft soled, prim proper idiots from some court. Just the rest, all together, it made me hate, you on sight. You are not strong enough for this life, or for whatever is chasing you. If you aren’t just some kid. Some self deluded impostor full of herself because she has green eyes, some, Sylvan heritage, and a rare disease.”

Katrisha spun out of bed, her hand thrust out, and Carter was pinned to the wagon wall, his hands, feet, and even mouth bound. She growled something inhuman, her aura brighter than Carter had seen it be. The wagon door swung open, and Mallory jumped in, and glanced between the two.

She dispelled the bindings, and Carter rubbed his neck. “You are powerful, you are good, oh, no questioning that. Also, guessing you are something else, knowing that magic. Yet if you do not have the will, for what needs to happen. You may as well kill us all yourself.”

She got up, and moved for the door, pushing past Mallory who grabbed her arm. She spun, almost slapping him, and saw his face was still scarred from the fight. Her hand set on his cheek. Her nails dug into the other palm. The one he held. Her look was impossible to read, but holding her did not seem wise. Mallory let her go, she turned, saw grabbed her sister’s staff from the corner, and leapt from the wagon.

“Which way is my sister?” Katrisha demanded.

“Up the line,” Mallory answered behind her, and she marched on.

She passed the downed wagon, and a tree still balanced precariously over it. She was angry enough to throw off just to release the tension, but she didn’t feel strong enough. Though there was great power in the staff she held, it did not seem ready to answer her. She pursed her lips, and pressed on again.

A woman in a brown robe was tending a wounded horse, healing it almost like she was petting it. The creature perfectly still. The driver and others stared at her in silence as she used Katrisha’s staff for balance, and a source of power for her work.

She turned suddenly, a white lock of hair flowing from her temple, and looked confused. “What, are you?” she asked slowly.

“Ki,” Katrisha said, and stepped towards her. “I’m, your sister. Your twin.” She reached out for the shock of white, and looked at the almost complete lack of recognition in her eyes. A look more like Kiannae had turned a corner, and found a warped mirror, not someone she knew.

Kiannae threw the gesture off. “I don’t have a sister,” she growled. She grabbed her head, staggered, and fell to her knees.

Katrisha knelt before her, and put her hand on her cheek.

“I…remember, but I can’t make any sense out of it. A world. A life. Dragons in Avrale. A war. Kat, Ka, I’m sorry. I remember. I remember you. What, happened?” she said frantically.

Katrisha adjusted her sister’s torn robe, bound her own with a quick spell, and took her silver cord to tie Kiannae’s closed properly. Tears streaming down her face.

“I don’t know Ki,” Katrisha said through gritted teeth. “I just did what I had to, to bring you back,” she looked up, and raised her sister’s chin with her hand.

“Back?” Kiannae asked, trembling. She swallowed. “I died, didn’t I?

“Not long enough to count,” Katrisha said unable to focus, she wiped away her tears, and put on her spectacles, so she could see more clearly. “See, it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Kiannae shook her head. “I’m…the firstborn. My name.”

“Means nothing, but that you are my sister. Prophecy means nothing, but that our lives will be dangerous. What is past, is past, and what is seen, is past. To see, is to change,” Katrisha said fiercely.

“Where did you hear that?” Kiannae said her brow furrowing deeply, her eyes worried.

“Some book, precognitive fighting principles I think,” Katrisha answered. “Also partly in advanced elemental force theory. The stuff that tries to explain how attunement works. Affinities like I have for ice, and you for lighting. Tries, but, I think that’s the only useful part. That idea.”

“I heard it from some mad prophet, as I was last leaving Niven,” Kiannae said. “Only words that got out of his mouth before I pushed him in a ditch off my arm.”

“Only useful thing one ever said,” Katrisha countered. “It’s why prophecy doesn’t work. You see it, you change it, or you spiral towards it. All we own are our choices, what we do with what we know. First to die. We…I think we’ve both nearly countless times. Maybe actually, died if you follow consequence, and don’t cheat. It’s what the storm monks do, right? It’s what battle mages do. I can see it.”

Katrisha grabbed her sister by the shoulders. “I’ve seen it before. Remembering the dragon. A thousand ways, a lifetime on that mountain that all blurred away to a few shadows. The ground where I fell, after the dragon, the stone was dust. Powder that got all over everything. I made a hole back there to save you. The dragon didn’t lie, we did, we cheated. I changed it. Somehow.”

“Kat,” Kiannae said. “Yes, that fits. It does, but, it’s also unprecedented. Dodging one’s own fate, literally, yeah, you can argue that’s what being a battle mage does. But…undoing someone else’s? No one has ever been able to do that. Seeing, and changing aren’t the same thing. Not when you do it like that.”

Katrisha looked unsure. “Why not? You see your own fate, you step back, move to the side.” Her brow furrowed. “You…” she could almost see the implication. “You see someone else’s. That’s how it works, right? Prophets, and seers, looking beyond their own future. It’s not rubbish, because it works. So, why not? Why not change it directly?” She felt mad for saying it.

Kiannae put her hand on her sister’s cheek. “Because that’s… It’s the kind of thing that with enough power, could let one rewrite time. Be seen through history. I don’t trust it.” She let go of Katrisha’s staff, grabbed her own, and Katrisha let go to catch the other.

“I don’t trust it.” Kiannae insisted, got up, and walked away.

Katrisha thought of the look on Wren’s face, when he had held her staff. That he had been able to control it. Ask it to do things. What Celia had warned her of. What Kiannae had fought, that had followed Taloe. He had a soul in him, that wasn’t his. Spirits flocked to him. His voice could command them. She turned to find him looking over her with concern. She doubted him, and for a moment her staff. She trusted Wren above everything. Yet…she trusted Celia. He wasn’t there. She blinked, and he was still some distance down the line, running toward her. The concern on his face so genuine.

He held out his hand. “Let me check on you again,” he insisted.

She hesitated, and took his hand. The shadow, the thing that she had seen, did not have his eyes. They were full Sylvan, or even a dragon’s. Perfectly slit, a bit too large.

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