The horn winded again. Jules said something, but even though Kaor hadn’t heard her, he knew what it had been. He would have known even if he hadn’t seen the formation of her lips.
The hunter Beryl Ruc was several blocks away and coming fast. Ruc had brought in almost every rebel mage. Most of the time, he did it without help from the Emperor’s mages. Sometimes, he got the rebels before the mage even appeared at the gong.
Kaor shuddered at an early memory from his youth and tried to shake the thought but could not. There was something evil about seeing a teenage boy strung up as if he were a deer.
A bowstring twanged and an arrow cut through the air, the wind of its passing brushed against Kaor’s jacket. It stuck into the wall of the Kandler store, quivering next to Bobb Kandler.
Kaor faced his attacker. Every instinct told him to run, but like the fool he was, he stood his ground. Leah looked ready to faint.
Didn’t think I would be this stubborn?
The arrow had come from Scut Grelmer. The boy was sixteen, but he held a full-sized bow. Scut’s bow hand was unsteady even as the other was already reaching for another arrow from the quiver on his back. At three years younger than Kaor, Scut was taller and brawnier. Once the boy reached full height and weight, he was going to be a monster. Scut normally had Raon, his younger brother in tow, but the lad was nowhere to be seen.
Kaor suspected it was Raon who had alerted the town guard. It was they who should have rung the gong to summon a mage from Lannersburg. Only it had kept ringing, making Kaor think Raon had done it himself.
Kaor called the light as he held the knife ready to strike. His light source was a nearby lantern, which hung from the wall of the Kandler home. The lantern dimmed, though the flame remained the same size. Several in the crowd gasped in response.
His perspective shifted, and something clicked.
He hadn’t called the light that wouldn’t go away. It was still there, appearing to combine with what he’d just called, yet distinct somehow, if not to his eyes, then to his mind.
It had pooled around his hands of its own accord. He focused on the other light, calling it, and felt the power join what he’d just summoned.
He thought back to just after the first peal of the gong, when he’d noticed the light gathered around his hands. His perspective had been normal. Whatever had happened, it hadn’t been his fault.
Like I can explain that to any of them. He glanced at Leah and looked away regretfully.
“What are you doing, you fool?” Bobb yelled at Scut. “My boy was standing there not ten seconds ago. Put that thing away and leave it to Ruc.”
“Sorry, sorry!” Scut managed to get out. He looked embarrassed, but that didn’t stop him from notching the arrow.
Kaor bit his lower lip and concentrated. Scut paled when Kaor focused on the boy.
It would have been hard for Kaor to explain how he did the things he did. Of course, nobody had ever asked, so he’d never been faced with the problem. Leah hadn’t ever wondered, choosing instead to pretend that facet of him didn’t exist.
No one ever asked rebels questions. They just killed them as soon as they appeared and summoned a mage.
Nevermind the fact that the only difference between a rebel and a mage was where they were born. A fact that had bothered Kaor, even before he’d learned he too could call the light.
It had happened naturally the first time Kaor had summoned the light, like the coming of the sun at dawn. The world had shifted and it was like he was looking at things from outside himself. And that wasn’t quite right either, because it wasn’t so much as seeing as it was sensing or feeling. It was as if the light he held in his hands gave him the ability to know more and shift his perspective to outside his own body.
Kaor could sense Scut’s heart beating as fast as a drum on Faller Night. It was a match for his own. The littlest bead of sweat dripping down Scut’s cheek did not escape Kaor’s notice. It was all there, plotted out in his mind as if on a map.
Scut wasn’t to blame for his actions, but it was difficult for Kaor not to throw the full force of his power at the boy.
Instead, Kaor made a small bolt of lightning appear in front of Scut, cutting into the arrow Scut released at the same moment. The crack of the lightning was sharp, making those around him wince as pieces of arrow were thrown to the side. Half of the shaft whacked Bobb Kandler in the head. The other half skid to a halt on the snowy road.
“Come here, you bleeding idiot!” Bobb shook his fist as he jumped down from his porch, headed in Scut’s direction.
The afterimage from the lightning bolt muddied Kaor’s vision, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from dashing towards Scut ahead of Bobb. The poor boy cried, his hands touching his face, rubbing his eyes with vigor.
“I can’t see! I can’t see!”
“Sorry,” Kaor muttered as he ripped the bow out of the boy’s hands and the quiver from off the boy’s back.
Thank the lights above I didn’t kill you.
The horn sounded as Kaor sprinted down the street. It was much closer than before. The townspeople were too shocked to stop him. It took everything he had to not look back at Leah, but Kaor willed himself forward and increased his speed.
She pointed me out. Never forget that. It was the logical thing to do, but it was still a betrayal.
He disappeared between two homes and ran down a trail that led to the woods.