The urge to scream until his lungs exploded nearly took Davitts out at the knees. All the magic at sylvas fingertips and they let the damned Shadows possess his Essenin?
Instead of howling, he grabbed a double handful of shirt fronts—Zie’s and this newly arrived mahk’s—and bellowed in their faces, “Do something!”
The firelight danced over Zie’s face, deepening the haunted shadows. For a moment, he simply stared at Davitts before patting his chest. “Yes. Yes, I have to do something.”
He gently removed Davitts fingers from his shirt and took three unsteady steps toward the water. It took Davitts’ anguished brain nearly a second too long, but when he caught up, he tackled Zie with a distressed grunt. “Not that! Dear goddesses! Are you suddenly trying to die?”
“I have to save them,” Zie whispered to the sand. “This is my fault. It’s all my fault.”
“Not this again. Not the time..” Davitts hauled Zie to his feet and turned to the sylvas woman. “Without wave running out there and making yourselves Shadow food, there must be something you can do.”
Nearby, Rolli was tugging the last edlak up onto the sand. He turned his head to call over, “Davs, this is Ke. Ke, Davitts.”
“Thank you, Rolli. Always so helpful,” Davitts muttered, rubbing at his chest. His heart was going to give out, it struggled so badly. On the opposite shore, the Shadows were doing something awful with Ess’s hands, making them move a huge fallen log.
Ke squinted across the water, arms folded tight. “Youngling, I hear you are something of a wind worker.”
“I…I…” Zie cleared his throat and tore his gaze away from the water. “Yes, mishu. It’s one of my primaries.”
“Is yours stronger than the monsters’ windworking?”
“Possibly,” Zie murmured, some of the dazed grief fading from his eyes. Good. He was thinking again.
The Shadows windworking, though incredibly strong, was unreliable without a sail and their progress across the lake slowed by gusts shoving the tree-boat as much sideways as forward. Davitts hoped that maybe Ess would fall off amid all the shoving about, but they clung tight. His disappointment only grew as the Shadows did that horrible thing again with the inky tendrils oozing out of Ess’s hands so they could break off the biggest branch and use it to start poling across to the island.
Slowly, every movement twitchy and slow. Mother of waves, poor Ess. Are they in there fighting? Are they aware at all?
Ke spoke sylvas words at Zie, too fast and sharp for Davitts to catch any of them. Eyes wide, hands trembling, Zie nodded and raised his arms toward the water. The stance had become familiar from their sea voyage as Zie closed his eyes and called a wind that nearly took Davitts off his feet, whipping sand into tiny whirl-demons as it roared out from the island.
The waves kicked up in answer, rocking the tree trunk, but not enough to dissuade the Shadows from moving forward inch by inch. Was Zie trying to blow the craft back to the opposite shore? That didn’t sound feasible.
No. Ke raised her arms in imitation of Zie’s posture and the waves nearer the far shore rose impossibly, as if they were ocean breakers.
Ah, now I see what they’re doing. Davitts clenched his fists to keep himself still, unwilling to distract the mages. Inside, though, he chanted, come on, come on, come on, a little more, a little higher, wilder.
The waves crashed against the tree, whipped even higher by the gale force wind Zie called. Between the two of them, they had fashioned a tempest, and the tree heaved and bucked in the impossible peaks and troughs of the storm.
A wave splashed over the tree soaking Ess and drawing ear-piercing shrieks from the Shadows. The oily black tendrils came out again, trying to cling to the bark as Ess lost their grip on the pole branch. Out of the corner of his eye, Davitts caught a quick series of gestures, Zie and Ke in tandem, and waves began to swamp the tree from both sides.
The deluge would have drowned someone without gills—and the Shadows panicked when Ess lost their grip and began to slide off the tree.
Howling as if the sky were splitting, the Shadows flung out tendrils toward the nearer shore, only a few lengths away. They grabbed desperately for branches, for sand grasses, for the thorns and spines of the low, scraggly bushes and heaved themselves back to safety, abandoning Essenin as he fell into the lake.
A wounded sound came from beside him and once again, Davitts had to catch Zie before he flung himself onto the lake.
“We have to get them. We can’t just leave them!”
“Sh, hush.” Davitts wrapped him up tight. “Ess is perfectly safe. The water’s the best place for them. The safest place.”
“What if they’re unconscious? What if they’re hurt?” Zie whimpered pitiably. “I have to get them. It’s my fault.”
“The safest place, as I said. If Ess is knocked out, they’ll sleep it off underwater. Where it’s perfectly safe for them.”
“I’m glad the lovely selak is safe,” Ke said nearby, her voice dust dry and soft. “What those monsters did, not something I’d wish on anyone, and certainly not someone so kind. But I find myself wondering, young mahk, why you keep saying that this is all your fault. When your lover reassures you that it’s not, why do you still assert that it is?”
In Davitts’ arms, Zie went stiff and still. Then he shoved away, backpedaling like a startled animal until his bootheels splashed up the water at the lake’s edge. He glanced between them, his purple eyes haunted and full of anguish.
Finally, he whispered, “I say it because it’s true. My fault. I did this. I summoned the Shadows.”
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.