Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
As they walked, Asha kept her eyes firmly fixed at Yuni’s feet, recalling the personal servants in Merdon. Yuni guided them onto a road paved with cobblestones. Buildings popped up quickly, but Asha didn’t allow herself to look around. She had too much to lose to be caught.
“Look for the other part of town,” Asha whispered, hoping that Yuni would understand what she meant. It almost hurt to think of her own people living in - she shuddered- slums.
Gradually, the pavement began to crack and the streets weren’t swept so clean. Then, the streets weren't paved at all, and the buildings mixed in with the traditional huts that were so familiar to Asha wore a dingy brown color.
Asha allowed herself glances away from Yuni’s heels, figuring that it was less risky. The streets were empty, so different from what Asha had known when she was young. As they walked through the streets, Asha realized that she had no idea what to do next. Knock on people’s doors?
Abruptly, Yuni stopped. Asha almost ran into her. “What is it?” Asha hissed.
“Do you know what we are doing? I fear that we are running out of time,” Yuni murmured softly, but even her woolen accent couldn’t hide the worry in her voice. When Asha said nothing, she gestured down the street. A cart with iron bars for sides, pulled by a large draft horse had stopped at the end of the street. The driver was nowhere to be seen.
Asha clenched and unclenched her fists, her mind going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There had to be some way to get a message out to everyone. Wildly glancing around like a prey animal, Asha’s head stopped whirling. She had it.
Grasping Yuni’s hand, she dragged the woman behind her. “What are you doing?” Yuni asked in a low voice. “You are going to make them notice us!”
Asha had no time for secrecy. “I have a plan,” she whispered.
Yuni allowed herself to be towed across the town by Asha, while Asha frantically inspected every building. Finally, she saw the mark.
It was imbued with energy: the mark of the mtuwachi. She jerked Yuni by the wrist, turning into the front yard of the building and barging in the front door. A mage would understand. A mtuwachi would understand more. This was urgent.
A woman screamed.
“Quiet,” Asha whisper shouted. Then, in her own language, she added. “I have to warn you.”
The woman narrowed coffee bean eyes at her. “Of what?” She asked.
“What do you mean?” the mtuwachi asked. “Who are you?”
“I am Asha Balewa. A mage, like you.”
The woman still squinted suspiciously at her. “Why should I trust you?”
“Why should you-” Asha muttered. “Maybe because I hold your life in my hands?” Asha all but roared.
A hand swiftly caught the back of Asha’s head. “Do not speak that way. We do not have the luxury of anger, Asha. You know this.”
Asha let out a slow measured breath. How had she let her anger get away from her like that? She hadn’t known that Yuni could act that way.
She opened her mouth to apologize, but the village mage interrupted her. “I believe you. Now explain.”
“I don’t have much time, but mages from Malland want to take the Kuwhan people to be their familiars. They’re here, in this town, and they need to be stopped. We need your help to warn everyone.”
The mtuwachi nodded. “Of course. We have a signal for trouble. I’ll make it, and everyone will be ready for a fight, in one way or another.”
Asha nodded. “Perfect.”
She hummed in acknowledgment and her eyes went glassy and vacant.
“What is the matter?” Yuni whispered in Asha’s ear.
“She’s doing magic,” Asha whispered back. “Not everyone closes their eyes.”
Yuni nodded and fell silent. Asha had almost forgotten the intimate silence that hung between someone performing magic and someone who wasn’t. Anxiously, Asha scratched at her palm while she waited.
The film disappeared from the woman’s eyes and she smiled rather grimly. “It’s done.”
Asha nodded. “I think we should stay inside for the moment. It’s better that we aren’t seen.”
“What have you said?” Yuni asked, her breath tickling the insides of Asha’s ear. Asha suppressed her shiver. She was almost surprised that Yuni had asked, having forgotten that she couldn’t understand the words between Asha and the other mage.
“She’s sent out a signal to her people,” Asha murmured. “They’re ready for a fight. You should be ready too.”
A cold chill ran down Asha’s back. “Can you fight?” Asha asked, almost anticipating Yuni’s negative answer.
“I was trained in hand to hand combat and weapons,” Yuni replied. “I am more than prepared for the melee.”
“I believe I haven’t introduced myself properly,” the woman interjected. “I am Durra.”
Asha dipped her head. “I am sorry we couldn’t have met under better circumstances, Durra.”
“Likewise,” Durra replied. Just after she spoke, a high pitched scream shattered the quiet, piercing Asha’s heart and spreading terror through her veins like poison. All but knocking over Yuni in her rush to get to the door, she flung it open, scanning the street.
Her vision caught on the caged wagon she had seen at the end of the street. It was parked in the middle of the street, the horse it was hitched to whinnying and pawing at the ground as a young girl, perhaps twelve, struggled in the arms of a burly Mallander man.
Asha couldn’t make herself move, it seemed like the ground was pulling at her feet, keeping her rooted in place. Helplessly, she watched as the girl attempted to twist free of the man’s meaty paws. From behind her, Yuni leapt into action, knocking Asha into the side of the doorway as she pushed her way past. She flew across the street. The girl had bitten the man on the arm: bloody teeth marks in two red dotted arcs. The man quickly thrust her away and looked up only to get a swift jab to the face, Yuni’s hair still streaming behind her, as if gravity kindly allowed her to suspend in the air for as long as she pleased.
The man fell back, clutching his nose. After a moment, he removed his hand; blood flowed from his nose and down his upper lip. With an arm like a battering ram, he took a swing at tall, willowy Yuni. Fluidly, she dropped into a crouch, avoiding the clumsy attempt. Before he could wind up for another swing, she swept his feet out from under him.
He fell on the ground with a grunt, and the ground released its hold on Asha’s feet. She flew from the threshold of the door, skirts pulled up to her knees. “Yuni!”
She turned around, wearing an expression Asha had never seen before. Quiet, dreamy Yuni looked exhilarated and dangerous. Her lips still wore that quirked up half smile, but Asha could see the power behind it; a wild look glinted in her dark eyes.
Before Asha knew what was happening, was on his feet again, restraining Yuni with a club-like arm. All of her options had been exhausted. The man had wised up since the young girl had bitten him, and he covered Yuni’s mouth with his other hand.
Yuni met Asha’s eyes, her expression somewhere between furious and pleading. Gathering all of the energy she could from the small amount of grass nearby, she forced the man’s arms open, freeing Yuni. “Let her go!” she roared as he staggered back.
Unrestricted, Yuni struck the man across the face with her elbow and bounded to Asha’s side. Before Asha could begin to speak, Yuni said, “I am well. He could not hurt me.”
A strange mix of feelings boiled in Asha’s stomach; she had no idea how to express them, so she crushed them down and offered a breathless nod.
In the split second that Asha’s attention was fully on Yuni, it seemed that scores of similarly burly slavers had filled the streets. Asha broke her gaze and whipped her head around. She could feel her heart thudding in her chest like the footsteps of a thousand marching soldiers.
Durra placed a hand on Asha’s shoulder from behind. “My people are strong. We can fight this.”
Asha nodded stiffly, not taking her eyes off of the threat. Not a moment later, the doors to the houses were flung open, and scores of Kuwhan men and women flooded out into the streets, armed with scythes, hoes, even mops and brooms, rushing at the walls of slavers.
Yuni was gone, flying toward the fray, and Asha took a deep shuddering breath. Yuni would be okay. Everyone would be okay. She closed her eyes, commanding energy, she could feel Durra beside her, doing the same. There wasn’t much life left for potential energy, especially when sharing with Durra, but Asha made do with what she had.
Recalling the combat magic she had practiced in school, she focused the energy on the malignant bodies in the clash. She wrapped them in the energy, freezing their bodies in place. She could only focus on a few at a time, feeding the energy into her body, like spinning cotton into thread and wrapping the thread around the slavers.
Soon, the energy that she could reach was exhausted, and she began pulling from inside of herself. She took shaky, measured breaths as she slowly pulled threads of energy from below her heart; she could feel herself swaying on her feet.
Finally, she could give no more. She widened her stance a bit as to not lose balance. Opening her eyes, she caught a flash of the scene on the street, but for no more than a second before she felt a sharp blow to her head, and everything went dark and silent.