“… four… three… two… NOW! Go! Go! Go!”
The guardians quickly dove behind an outcropping of rock seconds before a beam of red light struck the copse of trees where they had been hiding, sending up a ball of smoke and flame.
“Dammit! How much longer do we have to put up with this?!”
Commander Bethany Solace glanced to the young man as he ducked the shower of smoldering splinters raining down upon them. “You know our mission, Sargent. We contain until backup arrives. We do not engage.” What neither the lieutenant nor the sargent needed to know was the nature of said backup.
“With all due respect, ma’am, it’s more like he’s got us contained.” Lieutenant Fargale spoke up.
Bet gave him an amused smirk. “He’s a 10 year old boy. We’ll just keep him entertained a little while longer.”
“I don’t know what that little bastard is, but no boy can do those things!” The young guardian spoke up again. “We need to take him out before he hurts someone!”
“Sargent Norquist, that is enough!” Lieutenant Fargale snapped, glancing to the commander again. Dagr was a harsh region and thus sparsely populated – they’d had little cause to deal with Dawn’s Light. But that didn’t mean he hadn’t heard rumors of these commanders and the chaos usually left in their wake. If the stories were true, anyone who crossed them was taken for a special debriefing and was never quite the same afterwards. He didn’t care if Norquist was digging his own grave, but Fargale would be damned if he got buried in it as well.
“No it’s not enough!” Norquist persisted, his voice raising in his anger and fear. “You’ve heard the stories – blowing up houses, burning fields – folks say he even killed his own parents!”
“I can hear you.”
The child’s voice was cold with rage and came from disturbingly close. Looking up, Sargent Norquist screamed in terror as he saw the boy perched atop the rock that had been their protection. He drew his weapon but before he could aim it, a light blue glow formed around the boy and the child flew up into the air. “I could blast you from here,” he called down. ”You can’t get away now!”
The guardians slowly rose from their crouched positions. “Lieutenant, Sargent – return to transport – backup has arrived.” Commander Solace’s voice was calm and controlled. She kept her eyes on the boy. “That is an order,” she snapped before either man could protest. She didn’t look back as Fargale grabbed Norquist by the arm and drug him back towards the transport van.
The boy hovered in the air until the men were out of sight and then landed atop the rock once more. Bet studied him, her face impassive though her heart ached at his condition and all he must have been through in his short life. He was tall for his age, and painfully thin. His blond hair was so pale it looked nearly white and his ice blue eyes reflected all the pain, anger and fear he must surely be feeling. Dark circles under his eyes from lack of sleep, his clothes in tatters and his skin nearly blue from the chill of the Dagr mountains all surely contributed to the local rumors that the boy was some sort of wraith.
“You aren’t afraid of me?” the boy seemed at a loss.
Bet shook her head. “Not really. I’ve read the reports – I know you didn’t do all those things people say you did.”
“I did too!” the boy shouted. “I killed my parents – I could kill you, too!”
“No, you didn’t – but you feel like you did because you couldn’t save ‘em.” The speaker, a boy of 12 with a shock of unruly red hair stepped from the cover of the woods. He was wearing an ill-fitting uniform intended for someone twice his age. Bet glanced to his wrists, half expecting to see them bound in restraints – she still wasn’t sure that he was ready to be out here. She hoped Arete knew what she was doing. Commander Solace lifted her eyes briefly to scan the surrounding woods and saw the paladin move into place on the child’s right flank.
“I know what it’s like,” the young man continued, his voice wavering slightly with emotion. “You feel bad enough that you couldn’t stop it, but then you hear folk blaming you over and over and you start believing you’re the demon they say you are.” The youth walked slowly towards the child. “You ain’t, though. A demon, that is. You made sure they were clear before you blasted anything.” He pointed towards Bethany Solace. “You could have hurt them but you just wanted to scare them away.”
The little boy’s chin began to quiver, his eyes were red with tears and exhaustion. But then he clenched his jaw, his tears giving way to fury. “Go away!” he screamed at Bet and the young man as a purple glow began to form around his hands. Before he could finish summoning the energy, though, a bright white flash streaked from the trees and surrounded the child. He closed his eyes and slumped to the ground in a deep sleep.
◊ ◊ ◊
He was in a bed – a real bed – and it felt wonderful. He stretched, rolled over, curled up in the covers, stretched again. He hadn’t slept in a bed since… The boy sat up, looking around in confused disappointment.
“It wasn’t a dream.” The boy with the red hair was there. His clothes were better fitting now but his hair was still a rumpled, untamed mop. “I felt the same way my first morning here. Woke up hoping that everything had been a dream and my mom would be calling me to breakfast.” He gave the little boy a sympathetic look. “Felt like everything was crushing me all over again. But it ain’t bad here. Got food, a bed, and the people here know how to help us get it under control. Plus you got a friend, if you want one.” The lad held out a hand to the boy.
The boy hesitated. “Where are we? This ain’t Dagr.”
“Somewhere in Laconia region. This place is the Lyceum Arion, and I’m Rett – Everett, that is.” he kept his hand extended.
The boy took his hand and shook it. “Kenton.”