Friends are reunited in the mist.
Wings and Fire
By C.R. Gardner
I’d come through the Mist to find myself at the base of an ancient tower, and knew I must climb its crumbling stairs. Bow drawn, I finally stepped out into the soft grey light, bright after the shadows of the tower.
At the eastern edge stood Braanig, his black wings unfurled, poised to fly. He didn’t. ‘Braanig!’ I almost choked on his name. He was just as I remembered him – tall, dishevelled, and oddly handsome.
I inclined my head.
‘The Tarn said you were dead!’
‘And you believed him? Do I look dead to you?’ I said, moving closer, watching. Something was hiding behind his wings.
‘No. Not dead, changed,’ he said, watching me as intently as I watched him.
I stopped as a thought, not my own, whispered in my mind. and stared at the shadows behind his wings. Was Braanig hiding them? I smiled, catching a glimpse. ‘There was no danger here, but…’ I glanced to the west, ‘It was coming.’ ‘You would protect them?’
‘They saved me.’
Gently I moved closer, returning the arrow to the quiver at my hip, resting the bow against the crumbling, ivy covered wall. ‘You gave up on me,’ I said, watching his eyes slide away, his guilt raging at me. No wonder he’d fled into the Mist.
‘I searched even after the Tarn declared you dead, but there was nothing, not even a spark.’ He turned away, towards the eastern sky, sweeping the children hiding behind his wings into his arms.
‘A boy and a girl!’ I stayed still. If he flew now I could not follow.
‘I couldn’t find you!’ He slammed his fist hard against the crenulations. Ancient stone cracked like a thunderclap and fell towards the Mist below and disappeared. I wondered if it was floating there, in the Mist, waiting. He turned back to me, ‘By then, I cared not where the Mist would take me.’
A tear slid down my cheek, ‘When I finally woke, I was in a healer’s hut deep in the Wantok forest. It was months before I could travel. I returned only to find you gone.
‘How long before the Tarn comes?’
‘He won’t. Without my fire I’m no use to him.’
‘It’s gone. It’s why you couldn’t find me, why my hair is white, why the Tarn set me free.’
‘Set you free?’
‘Well, he took a little persuading, but with the collar broken,’ I said, touching the iron collar hanging round my neck, its central stone cracked and lifeless, ‘I was no longer his to control.’
‘Why follow me into the Mist?’
‘To find you.’
‘Because she loves you,’ said the boy, his blue eye was glowing, but his hazel one was dark.
‘She does?…You do?’
I smiled, ‘You know I do,’ I said, moving closer; stopping only when I was near enough to feel the heat of his body and hear the pounding of his heart. ‘It’s why I followed you into the Mist. I’m not sure how long I wandered there, but it was them that guided me here,’ I said, nodding to the children in his arms.
‘If the Tarn is not coming, what is this evil I feel?’
‘That I cannot answer,’ I said, placing my hand against his unshaven cheek, seeing the pain in his dark eyes.
‘It comes for us,’ said the girl child, her eyes as mismatched as the boy’s, hers green and grey.
He placed his hand over mine. ‘Then we must keep them safe.’ He ran a calloused finger along my jaw, took my face in his hands and kissed me. His wings closed over us all, my skin tingling. ‘Trust me,’ he whispered, taking me in his arms.
With one stroke of his wings we were lifted into the air above the children’s heads, spinning slowly. I cried out as his power poured into me. Everything tingled and buzzed. My skin prickled and blood burned, a fever raged. I shivered and trembled, running hot and cold, dying a thousand deaths. Braanig kissed me. A pillar of fire erupted from my flesh, consuming us both in a blazing conflagration. Even as the fire burnt Braanig, scorching his skin, he didn’t let go. Darkness came rushing for me. When I opened my eyes we were back on the ground, flames skittering across my skin and curling in my hair.
‘You never gave up on me, even without your fire?’
‘Not even after I’d gone into the Mist?’
‘I love you. And I hoped you could love me, even without my fire.’
‘Always,’ he whispered, drawing the children into our embrace, his wings covering us all as my fire danced upon us.