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Dreams and Decisions

Triman Valina stood at the window in his study, pursing his lips in thought. The ninety years of his life normally sat lightly on his shoulders — he easily passed for a man half his age. Today though, the burden of both his personal problems and his stewardship of the Academy took a heavy toll on him. A decision had plagued him for days now, pacing back and forth in this room until he thought he would go mad with frustration. In the end, he had given in to simple human weakness — something a Steward was never supposed to display.

 

Head of his Order. High Guardian of the Academy. For thousands of years, Stewards had guarded the Barrier, never failing in their duty. Until now. Until him.

When Vala had fallen ill, he’d worried of course. Nothing unseemly to his station, at least in public. In private, he had held her hand while her temperature soared and he’d helped her eat a few mouthfuls of food when she was able. The healers had assured him there was nothing seriously wrong with her, she would be up and about in no time.

 

Now though, none of them met his eye or tried to keep him happy with their empty promises. His wife’s body withered away before his eyes and not one of them could do anything to help her.  Hours spent on his knees in the Temple imploring Celantur to listen to him produced nothing but silence.

For the thousandth time, he cursed his decision to pursue Power over Healing when he was a student. If only he’d learned… but he couldn’t obsess over the past; only one more thing was left to save her. While there was the slightest possibility still available to him, he could not, would not, give up.

Turning towards the corner of his study, he forced his eyes to focus on a much darker shadow, writhing with a strange energy. It was still hard to look at one of the Darklings without flinching.

The baleful green eyes found him, and he flinched despite himself.

“A decision, your Excellency,” the rasping voice grated across his mind, and he prayed that the wards on his rooms blocked out all the sound. If anyone outside heard this thing’s voice, he would have very difficult questions to answer.

He walked closer, within arm’s reach of the creature. Stretching out his hand, he steeled his nerves, barely trembling at all.

“We have an accord. Tell your master I will do what he wishes of me in return for my wife’s recovery.”

The darkness flowed towards him, oozing out in a finger-thin strand that came close to touching him. It hesitated, unsure, holding off. Then surging suddenly forward, it wrapped his hand to the wrist.

Triman fell to his knees as his flesh was seared from his hand, blackening and peeling away like layers of paper. He had to bite his lip to keep from screaming — this would all be for nothing if someone heard him and came running to find out what was wrong. Vala would never be saved, and he wouldn’t be in a position to negotiate any longer.

The Darkling stared down at him coldly. “We have an accord. My master accepts your sacrifice. You will receive instructions as well as the cure once your part is done,” it said, voice emotionless and entirely empty of the heat that had consumed his skin.


© Robert Burne 2021

Click to read the blurb for Cleansing Fire