There was a burning fire and the clouds of smoke was not unlike the haze of sex and sweat from the last twenty minutes before close at a nightclub, frantic and yet slowed down. It was a strange association, a conjunction of both her lives in one single moment. The moment passed as the flames licked at her arm, curling the fine hair there in dehydration.
She was cooking in her boots and she knew it. The light linen fabric that made up her cloak flowed around her and she folded a length over her mouth and nose, blinking away the painful tears conjured from the smoke.
She stepped over then body of someone she had been too late to safe, too slow to pull free from the nightmare that was both reality and not, surreal and unreal. Lungs burning, she held back expelling the poisonous air because there was simply no clean air here to refill her lungs with. Of course, There the air was clean but the shock of the cold, pure air filling her lungs would spur her from here and she didn’t have the time for that right now.
Boots crunched over what remained of the sea glass windows. Her lungs ached and in desperation she reached out through the village, the forest, and across to the windswept beach and pulled until it crashed like a wave through the building. The wind infuriated the flames, it was true, and it did nothing but cause the fire to dance erratically in a mockery of ecstatic dance, but the moment the wind blew past her she drew the clean air deep in her lungs, the bright smell of seaweed and salt filling her nostrils for an instant before dissipating to the burning scent of flesh and wood.
Renewed if only slightly, she narrowly missed treading on a deceased being’s tail and pushed past a scorching hot log that remained of what was once a support beam and finally found what she was looking for. The fire hadn’t reached here yet and what remained of the family that once lived here had taken shelter in the corner, the larger members of the badger-like people bashing on the mud walls to free themselves. They had made a serious dent on the wall but not enough. Five children of various ages whimpered in fear and were the first to see her.
They shrank back, one of the large family members turning to snarl at her, the fear of being attacked even now as they were trapped, dying, the first to come to their minds.
“Get up and move. Be ready to run.” Her command was cold, loud and dark in the smoke but the order and her expectation of her words being heeded was clear. She raised one hand and those who had been bashing on the wall jumped clear. She drew in a deep smoke-ridden breath, her magic humming under her skin to be released. She let go both her breath and the wild thrum of magic and it burst from her like a frenzied beast finally freed from its cage. The wall blasted apart, chunks of mud flying in every direction, the smoke hurtling itself out of the gaping hole. The residents didn’t need to hear her bellow of “move!” to go. They were already stumbling out of the building and into the night.
The darkness was serene and pleasantly cool against her feverish skin as she stepped clear. Insects chirped and buzzed happily, ignorant and uncaring of the plight that wrecked the long mud house. She stepped nearly back into the trees, pulling the cloth from her mouth and focused on pulling short breaths with long exhales.
Several villagers had rushed to the family’s aid and she tilted her head to the side to see one of the younger family members watching her in awe, trying to copy her breathing pattern. She slowed it deliberately so the child could mimic it before reaching out one clawed hand to rubbed the top of the child’s head between two perky ears. The child ran off to demonstrate the new breathing trick and she straightened to her full height, which was minuscule compared to the family’s species. She only came up to the hips of one of the larger beings and she gave a quick tap on the fur thigh before asking,
“Will you be all right?” She didn’t insult them in asking if they were all right now. Who would be?
He – she was pretty sure it was a he, although gender and spirits is a tricky thing at most times – nodded. “Our neighbors will help, Your Majesty.”
“Do you know the cause?”
He shook his head and she narrowed her eyes. “I’ll send an investigator. This is not the only treasure to be burned tonight. ” She stamped one of her legs, trying to shake free the ache in it. She started to move away only to pause when the deep voice asked,
There could be a lot of questions in that single word and even more answers could be given but she chose the one she thought he was asking and answered honestly,
“Because for however long you reside here, you are mine. Mine to protect and defend. You honor me by residing on my land. It is only right that I return your trust by protecting you as best I can. I will send an investigator.”
She drew her hood on, for her speech had drawn more attention from the spectators and victims that she would have liked. “I sincerely wish you the best in the future.”
She moved away then, letting the village’s noise flutter past her. As she walked, she passed several hurrying robed people with buckets and vessels of water, all of whom nodded at her. One paused long enough to give a short, perfunctory bow and physically handed her one of her little flying messengers before scurrying off. Her little fire brigade, ready to use their gifts of water manipulation to quell the fire before the whole village was taken.
The messenger spit out the captain’s report clearly enough. The bridge had burned to the ground. No injuries. No deaths.
She sighed, picking up the pace. She had abandoned the bridge in order to save the family. Both had been important. The bridge connected the forests here to the gold and white birch grove beyond over a ravine of briers but the house had contained more than forty members of a single family. The choice had been no choice at all. Still, the bridge had best be rebuilt immediately and she had a firebug to catch.
It was going to be a long night.