Even at its darkest, the hallway leading to the duelling arena had never seemed this ominous. Dylan marched along its dismal barren length, hemmed in by twenty others like they were guards leading him to the slaughter, his stomach bubbling with more than what mere nerves could account for.
This could very well be the last day he would be able to choose when he used magic. Leashing took place immediately after the brawls and the victor was taken from the tower the next morning.
Before now, he would’ve considered the thought with jubilation. Was this not what he wanted? To show his power made him an asset to the kingdom rather than a liability? And yet, the thought of losing his friends, the men and women as dear to him as any sibling could be, struck him cold. Winning would mean never seeing them again. Not even for the chance to say goodbye.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This was not the time for second thoughts. If he won, then he would be part of the defence standing between his friends and the brutish might of the Udynean Empire. He would make that count.
Dylan peered at the men and women around him, trying to recognise faces and determine their weaknesses. To his left marched Sophie, reputedly one to prefer fire as a weapon over other, cleaner, attacks. She’d tied back her pale yellow hair since this morning, making her naturally cold face even more hostile, but it was definitely her.
The person ahead of her with a frizzy mop of dirty-blond hair had a memorable air about him. Dylan couldn’t make out a face, but it had to be Fredrick. The man was more swift than strong, able to counter quicker than most, but if he truly was less-than-serious about the brawl, then he’d go down before the last of them.
Some of the others, they seemed familiar, in a distant sort of way. A few eyed him in turn. He hunched his shoulders, trying to shrink his height and look less threatening. Although he had the advantage of them not witnessing his technique whilst in the bouts, the same reason wasn’t in his favour. He could very well wind up having to make a split-second decision that could cost him.
If he failed now, what would his guardian do to keep him from trying the next time? What if there wasn’t a next time? What if the army pushed Udynea back and spellsters were no longer needed to bolster their ranks?
They stepped through the archway. No one had tried to mend the area since Mary’s miscalculation. Strange how he couldn’t recall the scorch marks and tiny hollows littering the floor. His gaze swung to the targeting blocks. One still stood where he’d pushed it against the arena’s shield, its face cracked and charred.
The doors swung shut as the last of them entered. As one, the group ventured into the centre of the arena. All around them, amongst the narrow rows of seating, both spellster and servant alike jockeyed for a prime position to watch them battle each other for the chance to defend the border from Udynea.
Already, the overseers stood on their podium, waiting with that same unbending calmness they always showed the world. Like statues.
Dylan searched the throng. Somewhere in that mass of spectators were his friends. His gaze skimmed the lower row, where several adolescents sat alongside their guardians. Not as many as when he’d once sat there. Only those in their mid-teens who displayed the strength and discipline worthy of eventually trying for this honour were allowed to watch at such a young age. A few bore the awed expression that spoke of seeing this place for the first time.
There were his friends, standing on the third row up. Nestria and Henrie waved like mad, whilst Sulin and Launtil struggled to stay in place. He held up his hand to let them know their antics had been spotted. Nestria jumped up and down. She increased her mad waving and pointed at her other hand.
He peered at her, just making out how the elf held up two fingers. Smothering a smile, he gave a vigorous nod. Two minutes, got it. He’d not forgotten the woman’s plan to bet on how long Sophie lasted here. Even if he wound up being bested, the least he could do was ensure his old friend kept Sulin’s promised bottle of not-yet-brewed alcohol.
His focus returned to the overseers. Why are they taking so long? He’d witnessed plenty of brawls since Tricia had first escorted him to his seat fifteen years ago, one of the overseers should’ve given the signal to spread out by now.
The doors reopened to admit two other women and silence fell across the arena. One of them was clothed in a dark green robe similar to those he’d seen on past leashed spellsters, whilst the other woman was covered from the neck down in a black attire very different to the guardians. They had to be the leashed one and her—
“A hound?” one of the men, a brown-haired human with the most amazing green eyes Dylan had ever seen, muttered to his comrades as the mysterious pair marched to the other end of the arena. “I thought they weren’t allowed to come here?”
Dylan gave the darkly-clad woman a fresh look. She held herself with a grace he’d not seen in the armed guardians. It was possible she was one of the King’s Hounds. He didn’t see any reason to be jittery about it. True, the hounds were trained at a young age to hunt down rogue spellsters and bring them to the tower, but they already stood in its heart.
“Maybe she’s just dressed as one?” a woman suggested to the man.
“Are you mad?” Sophie snapped. She turned on the woman, the tail of her long hair lashing the air. “Do you know of anyone who dared to mock the hounds by wearing their armour? Of course not, because they’re all dead.” She sneered at the woman. “That there is the real thing.”
“I’ve heard they drink the blood of every spellster they capture,” one of the other dark-haired men said. “That’s why they’re so good at finding the runaways.”
Dylan rolled his eyes. His healing tutors once explained how magic couldn’t possibly be absorbed through such absurd means. He couldn’t believe such rumours still circulated the tower.
Green-eyes nudged the rumour-spreading man into silence. He jerked his chin towards the podium. The hound and the leashed woman had reached the base.
The arena fell silent as one of the overseers raised a brass funnel to her lips. “I’m sure none of you need to be reminded of the rules,” she said.
A murmur of agreement rippled through the group. Although Dylan had never competed in the bouts, let alone the final brawl, he’d made a point of memorising the rules.
Non-lethal attacks only. No point in letting even the victor wipe out what could potentially become a comrade after the next brawl. Of course, lethal had a rather wide definition what with the tower’s master healers scattered near the edge of the arena and prepared to attend to the fallen. It didn’t necessarily negate the chance of being burnt, electrocuted or even suffering asphyxiation.
His gaze dropped from the overseer to the two women at the other end of the arena. The pair stood in the same pose, eyes forward, hands clasped before them as if they were priestess listening to the bi-monthly choral chants.
Last one standing faces the leashed one. It was more a formality by then, but the final test was necessitated in the off chance that the victor got there by luck. It’d never happened in the whole time he’d watched the brawls, but the tower operated under the assumption that there was a first time for everything. After all, no one had attempted crafting a shield from infitialis before Mary. And no one was likely to be given sanction to try again.
“Take your places,” the overseer ordered.
Their group swiftly disbanded, spreading out in precise steps. Each contestant’s space would’ve been assigned by the overseers during the bouts. Dylan scanned their progress, seeking a place where he could insert himself. There. Right between Sophie and Green-eyes. Perfect. Was it two minutes Nestria had asked of him? He might just be able to do that after all.
Sophie glared at him as he took up position. She drew her hand across her throat in a swift cutting gesture.
He smiled back. If Nestria was right about the woman, then her attacks should be easy to shrug off. Shielding against fire was one of the first spells they taught them, which made her choice of attack all the more ridiculous. Small wonder Sophie had failed in the brawl so many times.
Instead of allowing the woman to goad him, he busied himself with rolling up the sleeves of his robe. The others wore the garments their guardians would’ve gifted them at the beginning of the bouts; brown robes made from a less flammable fabric and cut in a style more suited to battle with closefitting sleeves. No one seemed to have the forethought to dress him in a similar garb, most likely because of his late addition. It was of little consequence. He would’ve eagerly fought in his smallclothes for this opportunity.
The burst of unfettered magic crackled through the arena. Blasts of lightning and fire singed the air, testing defences. Dylan threw up a heavy shield and tucked its focus into the back of his mind.
Heat blazed across his right flank. Sophie.
She stood there, outlined in flames. A child’s trick that might intimidate the average magic-fearing soldier on the field, but otherwise unimpressive. Smoke poured from the flames, dark and thick. That was slightly more striking. He’d never been able to get magic-fuelled fire to smoke quite so densely.
Sneering, she threw another fireball at him. It struck his shield and sputtered.
He frowned upon seeing the fury on her face. Although they’d never fought, the woman couldn’t be foolish enough to believe she’d enough raw strength to break his shield. He had rather expected more from her by now; no one got into the brawl without knowing more than basic battle tactics.
Again, she attacked. This time, he flinched. His shield stopped all but air from passing through and Sophie was busily heating the air around him to an intolerable temperature. She was trying to steam him out of his shell rather like a mussel. Clever. He could use such a technique to his advantage.
Dylan waited for her to fling another blast before switching the focus of his shield to encapsulate her. Two semicircles shimmered in the air either side of the woman and, before she could register the danger, he slammed them together with Sophie in the middle.
Inside the bubble, his opponent raged. She threw small balls of fire all around her, trying to break the shield. When that didn’t work, the woman resorted to hitting the sphere with fist and foot.
Dylan waited. The balance between making the shield dense enough to hold against her barrage whilst remaining that little bit porous to let her breathe required much of his focus, but it would limit the damage the woman made. Provided she was smart enough to extinguish the flames outlining her body before the bubble filled with smoke. He eyed the already dark air surrounding the woman. Hopefully, the realisation would come soon, he’d no desire to suffocate her.
Sudden, close movement on his left whipped his head around in time to spy an object flying his way. Another shield, thin and crude, came up more through instinct than command. It trapped the projectile mere inches from his chest.
Dylan stared at the shimmering tip of the conjured spear, his heart hammering. So much for non-lethal weapons. He turned aside and let the spear continue its now harmless passage to the ground. His gaze swung in the direction it had come from. Green-eyes. Dylan shook his head, bitterly chastising himself. He should’ve predicted someone would attempt to take advantage of his lack of focus whilst he dealt with another. Sloppy. If he was going to win this, he had to be careful.
He thrust his hand towards the man. Lightning shot from his fingers, strong enough to stun without killing. It was a fine distinction. One that his opponents should all know by now.
Green-eyes tried to shield himself. He wasn’t fast enough. The lightning hit and the man fell, jerking on the ground. His senses would likely be scrambled for a few days, but the healers would ensure no lasting damage.
Satisfied his attacker wouldn’t get back up, Dylan turned back to finish dealing with Sophie.
The shield he’d placed around the woman still held and was full of black smoke. All he could make out of the woman were her hands weakly hammering against the bottom curve of the ball.
Dylan banished the barrier trapping her. The smoke dissipated, revealing Sophie’s gasping form. He sent a blast of air in her direction, shoving her against the arena’s shield where the healers could easily focus their talents and help clear her lungs of the smoke.
He turned to survey the others, using this brief pause to take in weaknesses. For the most part, they were attacking one-on-one. That was how every other brawl he’d ever watched always started. Grudges could come to a head during the bouts and this was the perfect opportunity to hit hard at a foe without lasting damage.
His gaze slid over those left standing. Some would come for him. Who, he wasn’t yet sure. Dylan absently reformed his shield whilst evaluating those closer. Five possibilities. Far too many combinations to account for in so short a time. This is going to get messy. But that was the point. Those fighting in a proper battle didn’t attack in orderly bouts. Brawls were meant to test them on how they’d handle such a scenario.
Frowning, he adjusted the strength of his shield, favouring no point over another. It left him with an overall mediocre defence and demanded a portion of his concentration, but with the uncertainty of who would strike and where, he needed something that would shift on instinct.
As one, the others straightened. Shields shimmered as they eyed each other, waiting for someone else to strike first, for a weakness to present itself. Dylan joined them, conserving his strength. Then slowly, one by one, their heads all turned towards him.
Shit. Of course they’d turn on him, he was the late addition. If Sophie’s feelings on his inclusion were an indication of how the others felt, then they saw him as the special one whom the overseers decided didn’t need to fight in the bouts to prove himself. That joining so late hadn’t been his idea was a moot point.
He took in his opponents’ positions. One on either flank, three spread out along the fore. As long as they remained where they stood, he’d the strength to repel an attack. ”Well?" he roared. “Come on, then!”
An explosion of fire, ice and lightning filled the air.
He hardened his shield and waited out the assault. Ice melted in the heat of another’s fireball, which likewise fizzled out. Steam billowed between him and his attackers. Only the lightning touched his shield, yet the combined charge of dissipating magic turned what should’ve been a heavy jolt into a measly tickle.
Dylan grinned as the steam evaporated. “Is that the best you’ve got?”
Shards of ice exploded across his shield.
The woman on his left shrieked and fell. Out the corner of Dylan’s eye, he saw red staining the ground. A quick glance revealed several of the shards had hit her body. He took a step towards her, obeying the urge to check if she was still alive, before common sense rooted him in place.
But there was blood. There shouldn’t be blood. It’s a non-lethal attack. At least, providing any major blood vessels weren’t hit. The healers wouldn’t be able to reach this far into the arena. She could bleed to death before the brawl was over.
Dylan sent a pulse through the air, knocking the four left in range off their feet, and ran for the woman. The shards were melting, tipping over and diluting the blood pooling on the dirt. Widening his shield to accommodate them both, Dylan knelt and grasped her shoulder. He wasn’t a master at healing, but he could give her a chance to reach someone who was.
The shards had punctured a lung. There wasn’t much he could do about the blood already clotting within. He focused, coaxing the body’s natural healing ability to speed up. It responded, sluggishly. Come on. Dylan poured more magic into the act, forcing her body to mend itself. Still, the desired reaction was slow.
He pushed it a little bit harder. His chest tightened, his own power fighting against his wishes. His heart felt ready to rip through his ribs. It shouldn’t have been this difficult. Was he already too late, then? He’d never tried to heal someone this badly injured. How long did it take for a person to bleed out? The shards hadn’t hit any major arteries, she should’ve been able to survive a few…
A wheezy gasp shattered his thoughts.
Relief washed through him, weakening his limbs. She was alive. Her body was still in need of proper healing, but now she was stable enough for him to send her to them. “I’m sorry about this.” He gently slipped a cushion of air beneath her and pushed her across the ground, halting her body before she hit the arena shield.
Dylan watched as the healers huddled around her. She would live, no question. If the best of them truly could bring the recently dead back to life, then she’d be no great challenge.
Light danced on the edge of his vision. He turned his head to the sight of another falling. Sighing, he wobbled to his feet. They’d actually gone back to fighting whilst he healed the woman. Would it be too much to hope they managed to strike down the man responsible for her injuries? They’re meant to stick to the—
The victor turned, fire roaring from her fingers. Dylan strengthened the flank of his shield.
Flames flashed through his weakened barrier, licking at his forearm. A scream tore through his throat. The smoky, sickly-sweet stench of cooking flesh filled his nose just as completely as the searing pain eclipsed his mind. He doubled over, cradling his arm. Already, his magic was working to mend the charred flesh, but it was slow and draining. Get up! He had to retaliate, knock them out before more joined in.
Another blast. Mercifully, his shield still held. The seemingly inadequate protection wobbled at first, regaining its strength as he turned his full attention to keeping his attackers at bay. Three remained of their little group. They spread out, slowly as if trying to hide their attempt at flanking him.
His gaze slid over two of them to settle on the third. The man responsible for the ice blast.
Snarling, he unleashed a barrage of lightning at the trio. The bolts arced across the arena, crackling against shields, seeking out the weak points. They fell, limbs flopping about like fish. He’d probably hit them with too many voltages. He didn’t care. Non-lethal attacks were apparently off the table.
A dull sting still encompassed his arm, grounding him. His gaze drifted to where another pair fought amongst themselves. A dark-haired woman and Fredrick, the latter of whom seemed to be having some difficulty getting past the other’s shield. A quick look around the arena revealed them to be all that was left of the brawl.
Dylan circled the pair, watching them dance around each other like two butterflies. He could take out Fredrick easily enough whilst the man was distracted, but then he could very well be leaving himself open to the woman’s attack if he wasn’t careful. Whereas, if Launtil had been correct about the man’s intentions to remain in the tower, Fredrick would concede without too much of a toll on Dylan’s reserves.
He sent a bolt of lightning at the woman’s flank, strong enough to draw her attention and no more. If he was going to last against the leashed one, he’d need all the strength he had left to him.
She responded with a fireball. It was a small and sputtering thing, dying before it had a chance to connect with his shield. The woman needed to take a little more from her defence before she’d have any chance of hurting either of them.
Dylan flung his own fireball through the air, arcing it to hit on the far side of her shield. She flinched from the heat, but no more. Could she read his desire to conserve his strength? How much had she seen of his battle with the others? This fight could draw out longer than he desired if she chose to wait them out.
“What’s the matter, Trins?” Fredrick yelled. “Scared he might actually be stronger than you?”
Dylan reassessed their opponent, scarcely believing this severe-looking person was Trinsuti. It’d been years since he’d last seen the bubbly woman who’d once frequented the tower’s grand library. However, with her dark hair secured in a high bun, the barely pointed ears were in clear sight. Smaller than the average elf’s and usually lost amongst the curls that encircled her head like a halo.
“You can’t hide forever,” Fredrick continued, slowly drawing closer to the woman. “Come out and play!”
Trinsuti’s gaze flicked between them. A sneer played on her lips. She stepped back, keeping a definite distance between her and the man. “Actually, I’d rather watch you two fight it out. You like getting nice and close to your opponents, don’t you, Fred? Tall, pale and scrawny is your type, right?”
Frowning, he turned to Fredrick. The man spread his hands wide, palms up, his shoulders hunching in question. He’d made no attempt, not even a hint, to attack Dylan. Still, he eyed the man as Fredrick crept closer to Trinsuti. The steadily growing heat of a fireball encompassed Dylan’s hand, ready to unleash the second he saw anything that could be construed as aggression towards him. What sort of attack did Fredrick use that required the man to get close to his target, anyway?
The shimmer of the woman’s shield caught his eye. She was adjusting its strength. Sloppily.
Dylan didn’t dare to wait and see what Trinsuti planned. He hurled the fireball, realising only as the heat slipped from his fingers that Fredrick was in the direct path. He’ll have a shield up. Only a complete idiot didn’t maintain even a weak barrier during the brawl.
Fredrick twisted, ducked out of the way and, as Dylan’s fireball soared past him, flung his own burst of flames at the woman. Dylan’s hit first, the thrum of the woman’s shield failing rumbled across the arena, leaving her defenceless for Fredrick’s attack.
Trinsuti screamed as the fire hit. She staggered back, battering at the flames that’d caught on her robe hem. They dissipated swiftly, leaving her seemingly unscathed. The fresh shimmer of a newly-form shield sprang up around her. But not quickly enough.
Dylan wasn’t certain how Fredrick had made it to the woman’s side in such a short amount of time, but he’d managed to sneak behind her before the shield appeared. The man did naught but touch her head and Trinsuti collapsed.
With one blast, Dylan sent the woman skittering towards the arena edge. Now there was but one last opponent to take care of before he needed to face the leashed one. Just one person standing between him and at last being able to leave the tower.
He faced Fredrick, not certain whether or not he should believe Launtil.
The man smirked. “So, I see you’re finally joining the rest of us in competing.”
Dylan spread his hand, allowing the lightning to crackle between his fingers. Bolts danced across his skin, raising the hairs along his arms. “A little elf tells me you’re not looking to leave the tower.”
“My guardian makes me compete every year, anyway. Jace made a bet that I’d reach the brawl and…” Fredrick shrugged.
You had to prove him right. So that’s what Launtil meant by showing off. “On your left.” He swiped a tendril of lightning across the gap between them, deliberately aiming for where the man wouldn’t be.
Sure enough, Fredrick dove out of the way. He tumbled across the arena and bounced back onto his feet.
Dylan took a moment to appreciate the graceful ease in which the man moved. Whilst they were similar in height, he’d never been that elegant in his adolescence and the sedentary life of a linguist had only made it worse. “So, how do you want to do this?”
The man’s gaze darted to Dylan’s arm. “I’ve never been fond of electrocution; leaves a metallic taste in the back of the mouth.”
“That’s a shame.” He was fond of lightning for its quickness and efficiency. Unlike fire, which was laughably easy to manipulate, learning to master a single bolt took patience and months of training. But with the right amount of control, that very same bolt could deliver pleasure just as well as deadly pain.
“Take me out another way.” Those brown eyes flicked back up to Dylan’s face. “Please.”
He tipped his head in acquiescence and let the bolts dancing up his hand fade. He’d have to hit the man hard for anything to be believable, but there were a multitude of ways to make that work. “Come at me.”
Fredrick halted in his circling. Those light brown brows lowered, suspicion etching itself onto his face. He ran at Dylan, the barely perceivable outline of a sword forming in his hand.
Dylan sent a blast of sudden wind at the man.
His opponent hit the arena shield with a sick crunch. He winced and watched, his heart pounding ever harder with each second, as several of the master healers rushed to the man’s aid. All around him, the arena roared. It was only when Fredrick sat up, seemingly dazed but none the worse for wear, did Dylan realise he’d been holding his breath.
“Winner,” the overseer boomed. “Face your final test.”
Dylan turned towards the podium. Realisation of the fervour behind the crowd’s excitement slowly sunk in. The sick pounding in his chest increased. This was it. He’d gotten through to the end. All there was left to fight was… The leashed one.
She still stood at the podium base beside the hound, the latter speaking with the former. No doubt giving her sanction to attack him.
He eyed his opponent as she strode into the centre of the arena, taking in her every move in some vain attempt to determine a weakness from the very way she breathed. Uncertainty burrowed through his stomach as she neared. Could he best a woman who’d faced the Udynea Empire’s soldiers and lived? Surely, she would’ve picked up techniques he’d never seen.
Dylan shook his hands, flexing his fingers. His breath came raggedly, drying his mouth. Being defeated by her would only matter if he fell too soon. Survive long enough and he’d leave the tower no matter what.
They circled each other, the shimmer of their shields trembling with each step. Pride demanded he strike first. Tactics and encroaching exhaustion suggested he wait, conserve his strength and see what tricks she possessed.
“Attack already!” cried someone in the crowd.
A fireball, as round as he was tall, streaked towards him. He swung out of the way, flinching from the crackling heat of its passage. The gasping shock of the crowd echoed through the arena. Clearly, the woman had forgotten the non-lethal stance on these fights. If that’s the way you want to play it. This was the time to show everyone precisely what he was capable of. He unleashed a single bolt of lightning, putting all his strength behind the blast.
The woman held out her hand and he watched, stunned, as the bolt’s passage slowed. Even as he severed the blast from his power, the lightning twisted in the air, curving back on itself. She flung up her other hand and, with a flick of her wrist, sent his own magic towards him.
Dylan strengthened his shield, gritting his teeth as the lightning struck. Well, that’s new. Miniscule tendrils broke through the cracks forming in the barrier. They fired around him, nipping at his body and bringing him to his knees. Swearing softly through his teeth, he shook himself. His magic might start repairing the damage even as the lightning hit, but it didn’t keep it from stinging.
Fireballs struck the ground around him. Dylan swiftly strengthened his shield, hoping to ride out the barrage. He could surrender now and still be considered worthy, but a small part of him refused to fall that easily. He could win, so long as he could make this quick. Like last night. This wasn’t like the exploding infitialis, he couldn’t rely on her destroying herself, but he sensed the limit to his magic creeping up on him. He hadn’t fought this long in years. If he faltered now, before she was down for good, it was at all possible he might not be capable of shielding her next attack.
He sunk to his knees and focused on the earth beneath his opponent’s feet. It’d been years since he’d dared to attempt this manoeuvre. Tricia had banned him from training for a month the first time he showed it to her, but his guardian could hardly punish him now. From the moment he was declared the winner, he no longer had a guardian.
With one hand pressed hard against the compacted dirt, he set off the first in a long chain of pulses through the ground. The vibrations started slow, building on top of each other with every burst until the ground around him undulated.
The woman staggered back, her arms waving in a desperate attempt to keep her balance. It was the sign he’d been waiting for. Dylan sent another pulse her way, this time through the air.
His opponent hit the dirt. Another swipe sent her tumbling across the ground and slamming into the arena shield. There he held her, contained much like he’d done to Sophie. Only this time, he ensured the shield was hard enough to let nothing through. All he had to do was hold it long enough for her to pass out and he would win.
To his surprise, she got to her feet, albeit slowly. Her head swung this way and that, taking in what he had done. The faintest shimmer of her own shield formed inside his and, opening her arms wide, she pushed back.
The unexpected internal pressure slapped him across the face. The shield cracked. Dylan clutched at his head. If she pushed much harder, his skull might very well follow suit. Nevertheless, he tightened his hold, restricting what little space he’d given her.
She floundered, her mouth opening and closing like a small bird trying to swallow a wood roach. The woman pounded on the shield just as Sophie had done, using everything she had to break it, but each thump grew weaker.
“The winner is declared fit for war,” a voice boomed through the arena. “Spellster, release your opponent.”
Dylan glanced up. Their fight had taken him right across the arena to the foot of the podium. The overseers stood on the edge, all eyes trained on him and the leashed one. How long had they watched him slowly suffocating the woman?
“I said, release!”
Bowing his head, he did as commanded, although the shield was slow to dissipate. The sudden cessation of magic snapped through his body. His legs folded, dumping him unceremoniously to the ground. He knelt there, entirely uncaring to the cheers of those watching. Every bone in his body seemed to be made of lodestone.
The woman fell to the ground, unconscious but most certainly alive.
Movement nearby drew his attention. He lifted his head cautiously. Whatever it was, he couldn’t pose any threat to it. He was rather done for now. Would be incapable of anything beyond a few child’s tricks until tomorrow and only after a decent night’s rest.
The hound was at the leashed one’s side. She knelt, checking for vitals despite the steady rise and fall of the woman’s chest. The hound glanced up from her charge. There was a predatory look in her eyes, one that could almost be mistaken for curiosity. “Congratulations on joining the army ranks, spellster.”
Dylan frowned. Perhaps it was Sulin’s doubts or his guardian’s insistence in him remaining, or even the rolling tone of the woman’s voice, but the hound’s words sounded rather like she was in on a cruel joke that he’d somehow become the butt of.