they cannot scare me with their empty spaces between stars

POSTED: Fri Apr 01, 2016 3:03 pm

If she had never believed in signs before, she believed in them now.

The star that was not a star fell and everything changed. When the fireball had come through the clouds she had been watching – high as she could, through a window in the watchtower. She had heard the howling first, frantic and strange, and then all at once, there was a horrific noise like a thunderclap.

The heat struck her face, and then the ground began shaking. The stones rumbled and she heard glass shatter beneath her. Instinctive fear had left her rooted to the spot where she had stood, her face still hot and her ears ringing. When the quaking had finally stopped she had hurried downstairs, calling for the animals. Tallula, wide eyed and puffed out all over, cringed beneath a stool even as Blair hunched to reach for her.

With the cat in her arms she made her way outside, and the sudden pressure on her leg and a whispered chattering from an auburn-looking shadow ensured her that they were both safe, they were okay, and even though this quelled her immediate terror she was shivering all over.

Dazed, Blair finally dropped the cat and barked, shrill and loud and demanding, for her dry-mouthed terror extended to her mounts. Only the horse responded, whinnying as he ran towards the fence. Trees had fallen all around the property, and she saw a wicked looking gash on the pale animal's shoulder. He flinched under her touch, but shoved his head hard against her chest even as the cat and the fox circled around her feet.

She did not need to lead the horse, for he quickened after her as she sought out any other living thing – like her goat, who had somehow cleared the high fence and freed himself – until she reassured herself that Osrath and her nieces would be with Lokr, and the slave women would be with them, and they would be fine –

A purpose more demanding than their safety became all consuming. With the animals trailing her (except the goat, who refused to leave the open field) the wolfdog spared no expense to time and traveled on foot, running nimbly down a path she could follow with her eyes closed. New obstacles forced her to deviate here and there, for there were felled trees everywhere. Some were warm to the touch.

The darkness felt unlike anything she knew – she relied on the cat and the fox to find the trail when she could not see it, and when the horse could not pass. Eventually, the trees thinned and came to an end abruptly. Many had been cut, but more had fallen here too. A great old tree with gnarled branches reached nearly to the triangular-peaked structure sagging in the center of this clearing. It had crushed a nearby stone structure, and the fence-line had collapsed as well.

Blair ran, unable to find words as ten-thousand possibilities filled her mind with panic. She left the animals in the clearing and flung the yurt's makeshift door open. The sudden rush of air rekindled a small fire, which filled the room with light.

Reykja was there and Blair didn't hesitate to rush to her side. When they had reassured each other in frantic voices that they were both okay, Blair recounted her story.

...a fireball! It looked like the sun!

Do you think it was the sun? It can't be the sun, it can't be—

No, no, I don't think it was the sun, it didn't make the sky bright. It was red, Reykja, it was that red star, it was made of fire! You must have heard it—

I did, I did! It woke me up – I thought I was dreaming, but then it got so hot and that wind was so loud. All these trees fell, and I heard that big one outside fall and though for sure it had killed Kimbee but he wasn't in there, but my horse is gone so he went to find him. Oh, she practically howled, throwing supplies into her bulging leather purse. The eagles were so scared and they flew away! They can't see in the dark, I have to find them—

We have to get out of here, Blair insisted.

We will, I told you, I have to find them—

Reykja no, we have to go and see if anyone needs help. The birds will fend for themselves.

You don't get it, she's going to be so mad

A colorful, rolling string of curses surprised Reykja with their vehemence, leaving her jaw agape. Blair, her tongue tingling from the sensation, showed her little, sharp looking teeth.

I mean it! This has to stop! This is proof, Reykja, look around you! Blair flung a hand upwards, to the cracked poles and sagging leather. Why are you even here? If she left she must have known it was coming and she should have told you!

Well she...she, Reykja stammered, but her eyes were widening slowly. Blair saw her hands tighten around the pelt in her hands. I don't think she knew, she finally whispered. She said it was important but she didn't tell me why, and I think she didn't tell me because she didn't really know it wasn't really a star.

How could she not know? It's her job to know.

A horse's sharp whinny interrupted them, followed by an answering call. It was one they both recognized, and a singular and pointed look was exchanged between them.

This has to stop, Blair repeated, and saw Reykja nod once, very slowly.

Outside the grass muffled the approaching footsteps, but the presence felt (real or imagined) loomed like an approaching storm.

Siv Helsi did not look like herself.

She had begun to turn silver in places where she had not been before, and her movements seemed slower these days. Her garments were as they always had been, but hung differently on a form changed by age now – tall and willowy as she was, her curves had faded with time.

Her eyes were unchanged. They were the same violent shade of lavender that commanded authority from the vehemence behind them. She bristled in the dim light, like a wraith summoned by their thoughts alone.

Why are you here?

I came to see if Reykja was alright, Blair practically growled. Since you saw fit to leave her behind.

What is that supposed to mean?

Blair felt Reykja's long fingers close around her own. She wondered if the girl was magic, for the power she suddenly felt flowing through her veins.

You left behind your own kin when disaster was coming. Disaster you should have foreseen.

I won't hear of this, get out—

You will hear of it, by the Law of the land and by my position as Arbiter and daughter of the Queen, Blair proclaimed, her chest swelling. She felt electrified. She felt more alive than she could ever remember feeling before.

The old woman's face turned horrible. If she had ever more looked like a witch, it was but a shadow of what she resembled now. Massive and yellow-toothed in the dark, darker shadow streaked by silver that seemed off-color and strange in the firelight, this image imprinted itself on them both as a nightmarish figure.

Then it laughed.

Having never heard the noise before, Blair's fur stood on end. Reykja's grip crushed her fingers so tightly they felt numb.

It was a high sort of laughter, hoarse and full of mockery like a crow. Contemptuous and short lived, it ended with a throaty growl.

I might answer to your mother, little girl, but I will not answer to impertinent children who forget their place. Leave my house at once.

No, Blair said, and her eyes narrowed. You're not above the Law, Siv. You aren't even fit to hold your position, if you didn't know what was coming—

How dare you, the black wolf roared, and lunged forward.

Some part of Blair – the part which had predicted this possible outcome – moved her out of reach. She and Reykja became separated, but there was little time to consider this. The old woman was faster than Blair expected and she was fighting like an animal. There was no measure or reason to her attacks, only that the brute force behind them was staggering. It took all of Blair's talent to keep her on her feet, because she realized if she fell it would be over and the big wolf would crush her with size alone.

Siv seemed like she knew that too.

She did it, finally, when Blair slipped on a slick-furred pelt on the floor and tumbled backwards, striking one of the beams that had fallen during the gale-force wind. Siv was on her at once, and Blair – kicking and fighting off the teeth and claws aimed at her exposed neck and belly – saw a flash of metal cut through the dark.

The black wolf made an awful sound and staggered. Blair smelt blood, saw Siv try and move, and heard her make that awful noise again. Her eyes rolled.

Then she fell and brought the pole and section of roof down with her, as if meaning to bury Blair in it.

Something hit her face hard – she felt her eye close and swell, and felt blood spread across her cheek. She felt a great weight on her, but her arms were free and she could move them. There were other hands too, hands that helped pull her free from the rubble and the smothering leather. She felt these hands move to hold her arms, to push her hair out of her face, and saw Reykja's wide eyes in the dark.

Tell me you're okay, she pleaded.

I'm okay, Blair forced herself to smile. She felt blood in her mouth.

The ground shook again.

This time, weakened by the initial events and the damage from the conflict inside, the yurt's supporting poles gave a great moan. All at once they fell inward, brought low by the great weight of the baubles and trinkets that hung from above. Exposed to the fire, they caught flame and spread – reaching to the wool that lined the building and turning it into a tinderbox.

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