The sun was sinking rapidly. Dorian looked at the clock. 5:38. Sunset was getting earlier than ever. The room was silent, save for the creaks of the ancient air conditioner bravely combatting the oppressive July heat. He ran his fingers through his short russet hair, keeping his eye out the window. They couldn’t afford to be late.
The solid thunk of a blade into wood made him turn. The woman who had stabbed the table was staring down at her dagger, long blonde hair shielding her face. Her wolves, sitting at the door, pricked their ears at their master’s sudden outburst, but didn’t move from their post.
“She’s not going to make it.” the woman said, shaking her head.. Gold rays of sunlight shone across her knuckles, highlighting the scar crisscrossing her once-delicate hands. Hands that were clenched into fists, and shaking softly.
“Divya–” he tried, reaching for her shoulder. She shook her head and grabbed her dagger from the table. Her eyes shot around the room, but no one would meet her eyes. The twins sat in the corner, binding each other’s wounds. A young woman tended to a middle-aged man on a stretcher, murmuring quiet words of comfort.
Divya shook her head frantically. “We’re sitting ducks here. We should move. We should–”
“We will do no such thing.” The young woman straightened up, emerald hair shining in the dimming room. She crossed to Divya with her arms out in a gentle plea. “Not everyone is in condition for relocation, not to mention packing up and cleansing this location. Then we’d have to put up new magical wards wherever we land at next, and the twins are in no shape to do magic again.”
The two teenagers sitting on one of the beds looked down guiltily. The girl picked at her bound hands. Even through the thick gauze, Dorian could see the faint turquoise glow from the fading runes on their palms.
Divya shook her head, frustrated. “Then what do you suggest we do? Sit around waiting for the enemy to come knocking? Ahni can’t afford to be late. And we’ll need to relocate tomorrow anyway.”
She sighed. “I should have never let them go on that mission.”
Dorian tried again. “The twin’s haste runes should get them here in time. The package will get here. And they knew the risk.”
Divya nodded slowly, expression darkening from panic to exhaustion. “I…you’re right.”
She crossed the room, pressing her head into his shoulder. “What are we doing, Dorian?” she whispered. “Sending children to fight our battles while we hide behind wrecked apartments and protection magic?”
He wrapped his arms around her, and one of her wolves, Amarok, pressed his head beneath her palm.
Divya allowed herself a small smile, stroking his storm-colored fur.
Asena, the other wolf, stood suddenly. Tawny fur bristling, she gave two short, rapid barks.
Divya pulled away, lifting her dagger and moving between the door and the injured.
“What’s going on?” the voice of a child asked from the back room, and the green-haired woman moved to the back, shushing the child and positioning herself in the doorway.
Asena’s tail, high and bristling, wagged slightly. Amarok stood by her side, teeth bared. He gave a small, inquisitive whine.
Dorian dared to edge to the window, and felt a flash of relief when he saw a flash of pink in the fading light.
“It’s Ahni!” he relayed, and the room seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief.
A blur of red fur sprinted at Ahni’s side, looking up at the young woman. It seemed like they would really make it.
A revving motor made all the relief drain from the room.
Divya spat out a curse, and the wolves growled, fur prickling up along their spines.
Ahni’s head had whipped around, before pouring on more speed along the deserted city street. She was a block away when a dark figure appeared on the horizon.
The sun had set, and the sky was dark red and violet. Street lights flickered and extinguished, plunging the street into a dark haze, illuminated only by a few strips of orange light from the dying sun.
The Dark Rider was gaining ground fast, the motor drowning out everything as it closed on her.
A blue aura surrounded Ahni and her companion, and the air seemed to bend around them, propelling them forward until they reached the street in front of the apartment building. The twins glyphs had proven to be a good investment.
Ahni whirled around the face the rider, holding something that glinted gold in her hand.
Dorian felt a rush of relief. She had it!
She tossed it in the air, where it hung, suspended. It was a pendant on a gold chain, a half-circle cut through with a line. Her hands began to move fingers twisting in odd patterns as gold and pink light poured from her hands.
Her companion, a nine-tailed fox, stood between her and the motorcyclist who was bearing down on them with increased speed.
Dorian gripped the windowsill in an effort to make his hands stop shaking. ‘Be careful.’
The fox snarled, and red light sprang from the concrete at the Rider’s tires. Flames sprang up, causing them to swerve around the girl and fox.
The air reeked of burning rubber, and the Rider swerved.
It earned them seconds at most.
Dorian began to murmur, words that slid off his tongue like live serpents. Where his hands touched the wall and window frame, runes glowed blue, slowly turning violet as his words grew more intense and rapid.
Ahni’s hand movements grew more frantic and vivid, her chest heaving with the strain of her magic. With a final, sweeping gesture, the necklace dropped from the air into her palm. The light faded from around her, and the fox immediately ran to her side.
She shot the little animal a strained smile, handing over the necklace. It took the pendant between its teeth, before giving her an affectionate headbutt against her knees.
It sprinted to the apartment building just as Dorian gave the last word of the spell “Shual.”
It reached the apartment’s steps. Violet runes turned red as he crossed the mantle, slipping through the cat door.
Feet pounded on the steps, and soon a red-headed boy burst through the door, out of breath and shaking slightly.
Divya gave a sigh of relief. “Shual. You made it.”
He nodded, holding out the pendant. It still glowed with a gentle pink light, making the room feel warm and maybe a bit more hopeful.
Shual crossed the room to stand next to Dorian.
Ahni stood in the middle of the abandoned street, her twin shamshir in her hands. The curved golden blades glowed in the low light, like the first promise of dawn.
The Dark Rider growled something incomprehensible, and Ahni shook her head, giving the figure a vicious grin.
The Rider screeched and bore down on her. Dorian had to look away.
But Shual kept his eyes firmly on the road below, taking in the screams and shadows writhing on the street below.
His voice was cold and clipped. “She shouldn’t have to do this alone.”
Dorian put his arm around the teen’s shoulders. “Someday, she won’t have to.”
The street quieted.
An engine revved as the Dark Rider drove away into the night.