Lord Henry Thomas Mantoux Edmund of Carvil was by no means the sharpest sword on the rack, but even he could connect the dots well enough. Aita wanted to die. The only way he could die was if time ended. Time would end if the Six failed. The quickest way to ensure that the Six failed would be to make them the Five.
Henry summoned up all the magic he could and put up a shield. He was just in time, too—the moment he established it, there was a flash of golden light that impacted the shield with enough force to knocked him to the cobblestones. He could feel the heat as his magic absorbed the attack and, its purpose fulfilled, turned to hot ashes and drifted to the ground around him.
Before Aita could strike again, Henry scrambled to his feet and bolted. But he knew that he couldn’t run fast enough, and, as if to prove him right, the buildings around him lit up with the flickering precursor to another explosion.
Henry had no magic left in him to speak of. He shut his eyes and waited to be incinerated.
But the heat didn’t come.
Cautiously, Henry slowed his pace and looked over his shoulder. What he saw there prompted him to stop entirely, turn around, and look again.
A shadow had come between them, a shadow in the shape of a tall, thin, antlered man. Aita’s light could not escape the dark gravity—Elnias seemed to absorb it, as efficiently as a drain swallows water. Aita howled in rage and made an attempt at leaping past him, but Elnias caught him easily and pinned his arms to his sides.
Elnias, with Aita still securely in his shadowy grasp, turned toward Henry. “Run,” he instructed. His voice was low and soft, but it carried.
Henry did as he had been told.
His breath was ragged in his respiratory tract by the time he reached the top of the bluff, and the lower half of his face ached horribly from the cold and exertion. He dropped to his hands and knees in the overgrown grass—which had already acquired a glistening shell of frost—and retched. When nothing came up, he collapsed on his side, hugging his knees to his chest, shaking uncontrollably, his breath coming in harsh sobs. He felt sick and sore and weak and, above all else, terrified.
After a few minutes, the strength returned to his limbs, and he dragged himself over to the castle wall. He needed the magic from the spring, tainted though it may have been. That was why he had run here instead of returning to the inn. He had to be able to defend himself.
He placed his hand on the wall as he had done that evening, but this time he was prepared for its acidic sting and did not draw back. He found the source with his mind and tapped it.
Immediately, magic shot from the wall, through his fingers, and up his arm. His body jolted involuntarily, but, with effort, he maintained the connection. It hurt him. The magic from the Waelyngar spring was more powerful than any other he had ever drawn from, and probably would have been even more potent had it not been infected. It was an older, more rugged, less merciful sort that bubbled to the surface here than did back home in Carvil.
He didn’t like it.