Chapter 5: Fire
Ada awoke, disoriented and afraid. Forcing herself to lie still, she browsed her recent memories for clues about time and place: Zac’s betrayal, muddy streets, Rayn, the apothecary.
The floor creaked under heavy feet by the door. Not daring to move, Ada reached out beyond the limits of her own consciousness. There was a presence in the room, with an overwhelmingly strong will. A purpose. She felt it searching, intensely, scanning the room like the beam from a lighthouse.
‘Light,’ she thought.
The room was dark, except the sparse moonlight finding its way through two dirty windows. The intruder didn’t bring any light sources. Didn’t need any. The floorboards groaned as he moved towards the wall within touching distance from the counter under which Ada was concealed. Ada clenched her fists to her chest to keep her hands from trembling as she heard him shuffling the vials and cups on the shelves. A sudden wave of satisfaction emanated from the presence. No, not satisfaction, she realised. There was no element of joy, only fulfilment. Completion.
Ada shivered as the intruder walked past her hiding place on his way to the narrow stairs leading up to Rayn’s chambers on the loft. He smelled of wet wool and decay. The old, wooden stairs complained loudly and threatened to break for each step.
‘I must alert Rayn,’ Ada thought, and dared to peek over the counter.
The silhouette confirmed her previous assumptions: a tall man in his thirties, the muscular upper body bared. His head moved slowly from his right to his left, apparently scanning the room. Whether he was using his eyes or relied on some other sense, Ada could not say.
He stopped momentarily as his gaze found Ada, motionless on her knees behind the counter less than six feet away. For several moments they appraised each other until he discarded Ada as non-essential to his mission and continued his ascent.
Ada grabbed the sack with her belongings and ran for the door.
A wordless scream inside her head made her stop before she reached the relative safety of the dark alleys outside. She turned, reluctantly, in time to see the intruder disappear through the trapdoor in the ceiling.
‘I don’t want to die!’ screamed the voice in her head.
‘Get out!’ Ada yelled. She dropped her sack, drew her pocketknife and ran up the stairs.
The loft was warm. Flickering light emanated from the vents in the oven, illuminating the scene. Rayn, in her nightgown, tried to keep a table between the large man and herself. Arms outstretched, he ignored the table altogether and walked straight at her, driving his prey into a corner. As the low roof forced him to bend awkwardly, Ada seized the opportunity to rush forward and thrust her knife deep into the side of his neck.
Ignoring the knife, the man seized the table blocking his path to the frightened half-elf, and tossed it aside.
Spurred by desperation and the assailant’s lack of interest in her, Ada grabbed the only chair in the loft and smashed it over his head. He made no sound, but turned his head towards her. Just in time for her to stab the broken chair leg into his face, lacerating the skin on his left cheek. Still, he neither bled nor uttered a single word. This time, however, he acknowledged Ada’s presence as an unwanted disturbance.
Turning his back to Rayn, he backhanded Ada with such force that she partly flew, partly slid on the floor to the other side of the room. Before she got back on her feet, he was after her. She retreated further until her back was touching the hot metal of the oven. The courage she possessed moments before disappeared as soon as he turned his unblinking eyes on her. Futilely, she grabbed his arms, as cold fingers tightened around her neck. Through her tears, she saw the torn flesh in his face.
This man did not bleed. Did not blink. Did not breathe.
As his fingers strangled her, the oven singed the skin on her back. Ada could not move. In desperation, she closed her eyes and channelled the heat away from the exposed area. The essence of fire flowed through her veins like warm liquid. Her mind fell quiet. The grip around her neck relaxed a little, allowing her to inhale.
She opened her eyes to witness flames erupting from her hands, engulfing the arms of the man attempting to choke her. The smell of burnt hair and flesh was intense, but she did not flinch. Soon, the scorched muscles and tendons in his lower arms and hands weakened the grip around her neck, and Ada managed to wriggle loose.
A loud crack emanated as Rayn rammed the table into the man, unbalancing him. The half-elf grabbed Ada by the shoulder and pulled her away.
‘Run!’ Rayn said.
Gasping for breath, Ada scrambled towards the trapdoor and followed Rayn down the stairs. She picked up her sack while Rayn hastily picked some items from a shelf. The intruder half ran, half fell down the stairs, as they burst out the door.