(Reposted after editing and story adjustments. Originally posted in July, 2016.)
“… two… three… four… NOW! Go! Go! Go!”
The trio of guardians broke from the trees and dove behind an outcropping of rock seconds before a beam of red light struck the copse where they had been hiding. The trees exploded in a ball of smoke and flame.
“Dammit! How much longer do we have to put up with this?!”
Commander Bethany Solace glanced to the man huddled next to her as he ducked the smoldering splinters raining down upon them. He was young — perhaps her age, or maybe even a year or two older — but his obvious inexperience left him ill-prepared for this mission. “You know the orders, Sergeant. We contain until backup arrives. We do not engage.” What neither the sergeant nor the lieutenant crouched on the other side of him 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 ten 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 sergeant spoke up again. “We need to take him out before he hurts someone!”
“Sergeant Norquist, that is enough!” Lieutenant Fargale snapped at his subordinate as he cast a fearful glance to the commander. Dagr was a harsh, sparsely populated region, and they had little need to deal with Dawn’s Light. But Fargale had heard stories of these commanders and the chaos usually left in their wake. Rumor had it any who crossed them was taken for a special debriefing and was never quite the same afterwards. Fargale didn’t care if Norquist was digging his own grave, but he would be damned if he got buried in it as well.
“No it’s not enough!” Norquist persisted, his voice shrill 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 disturbingly close.
Looking up, Sargent Norquist screamed in terror as he saw the boy perched atop the rock that had been their protection. The sergeant drew his weapon, but a light blue glow formed about the boy and the child flew up into the air before he could take aim.
“I could blast you from here!” the child called down. “You can’t hide now!”
“Lieutenant, Sergeant, return to transport. Backup has arrived.” Commander Solace’s voice was calm and firm. 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’s face remained impassive as she watched him, but 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. Malnutrition and lack of sleep painted dark circles under ice-blue eyes that reflected all his pain, anger, and fear. His blonde hair was so pale it was nearly white, and tattered clothing left his skin blue from the chill of the Dagr mountains. It was no wonder local rumors claimed the child was some sort of wraith.
“You aren’t afraid of me?” The boy seemed at a loss.
Bet shook her head. “Not really. I know you didn’t do all those things people say you did.”
“I did, too!” he shouted. “I killed my parents and I can kill you, too!”
“No, you didn’t.” The speaker, a boy of twelve with a shock of unruly red hair and wearing a uniform intended for someone twice his age, stepped from the cover of the woods. “But you feel like you did ‘cause you couldn’t save ‘em.”
Bet glanced to the newcomer’s wrists, half expecting to see them bound in restraints. She still wasn’t sure he was ready to be out here, and hoped Arete knew what she was doing. She shifted her eyes briefly from the boys to scan the surrounding woods, and saw the paladin move into place on the child’s right flank.
“Somethin’ bad happened an’ the magic just sorta burst out.” The red-haired boy’s voice wavered with emotion. “I couldn’t save my family, and I blamed myself. Figured I’m cursed.” The lad walked slowly towards the younger child. “You ain’t the demon folk say you are.” He pointed towards Bet. “You made sure they were clear before you blasted anything. You could have hurt them but you just wanted to scare them away. You just wanted them to leave you alone so you wouldn’t hurt nobody else, an’ so that they couldn’t hurt you.”
The little boy’s eyes were red with tears and exhaustion, and his chin began to quiver. But then he clenched his jaw and his tears giving way to fury. “Go away!” he screamed as a dark red glow began to form around his hands. A bright white flash streaked from the trees before he could finish summoning the energy, and surrounded the child in a gentle glow. He closed his eyes and slumped to the ground in a deep sleep.
◊ ◊ ◊
He woke up in a bed — a real bed — and it felt wonderful. He stretched, rolled over, curled up in the covers, then stretched again. He hadn’t slept in a bed since…
The child sat up, and looked around, blinking in his confusion and disappointed.
“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 thinking my mom would be calling me to breakfast.” He clenched his jaw for a moment and averted his gaze. “Felt like everything was crushing me all over again.” The lad took a deep breath and looked back. “But it gets better. It ain’t bad here, ya know. The food’s good, you get a real bed in your own room, and people here can teach us how to control the magic.”
The younger boy hesitantly climbed out of bed. He paused to curl his toes in the fibers of the thick carpet before padding over to the window. He gazed out on lush green fields edged with flower gardens. “Where are we?” He looked back to the older boy. “This ain’t Dagr.”
“Somewhere in Laconia — place called the Arion.” The lad moved over to stand next to him at the window. “I’m Everett, but only Paladin Arete calls me that, an’ then only when I’m in trouble. Everyone else calls me Rett.”
The younger boy smirked. “Guess that’s why everyone called me Kenneth, cause I was always in trouble.” The child blinked rapidly as sadness clouded his features. “I did have one friend, though. She called me Ken.”
“Well, Ken,” Rett grinned, “guess you got another, now. Friend, that is. If you want one.”
Ken looked at him, a bit uncertain at first. He looked around the room and glanced out the window once more before turning his gaze back to Rett. A small smile curved his lips. “I’d like that.”