Freedom and the Blade Dancer


Andy K. Tytler

Before Freedom could respond to the knock at the door, Jasna had entered. She was smiling, her bright blue eyes catching the sunlight coming in from the window to their right, her pale blonde hair catching a glint of the same, but she frowned when she noticed Eduir sitting in a chair with his feet up on the dressing table. His arms were crossed over his chest, and his glaive leaned against the wall behind him. Freedom kept her face free of emotion. It was too early for arguments.

A wave of Eduir’s dark blond hair also caught the dawn’s sheen, and from the mild look of his watery green eyes, no outside observer would know how low an opinion he had of Jasna. Freedom knew, though, and she knew Eduir, and she saw the subtle shift in the way he sat, as though he expected to have to grab the glaive at a moment’s notice.

Jasna turned her frown on Freedom.

“You should not keep him summoned, sister.”

Eduir didn’t move at Jasna addressing Freedom so–which was how Freedom knew how much he despised it. Freedom had tried to explain to him that “sister” was a neutral address, used to recognize a fellow witch, but Eduir would not be persuaded. He could be remarkably stubborn sometimes.

Freedom shrugged. She stretched her arms over her head and twisted first one way then the other before forcing herself to rise for the morning.

“I like keeping him summoned.”

Jasna frowned deeper and turned to Eduir. She wanted to put her hands on her hips, Freedom could tell.

“You should not allow her to keep you summoned. It strains her magic unnecessarily. A proper anima would dismiss itself.”

Freedom caught the twitch at the corner of Eduir’s mouth. Jasna always referred to Eduir as an “it.”

“She likes keeping me summoned,” Eduir replied, his expression flat.

They glared at each other for several seconds, until Jasna scoffed and turned back to Freedom.

“Come. There is a roubana ten miles down the river, and it will provide an excellent lesson for you.” She slid a glance in Eduir’s direction. “You should not mistreat your witch so, anima.”

Eduir jerked straight in his chair.

“Eduir,” Freedom said.

He checked with her, and Freedom gave him a slight nod. In one smooth motion, he stood, grabbed his glaive and spun it around to attention, and managed to give Freedom a dragonknight’s bow to a commander while keeping his back to Jasna. He was in his layclothes, a loose linen shirt with sleeves to the elbows, dark wool trousers, and black leather boots to the calf. Standing he was of a height with Freedom, who was several inches taller than Jasna and most other women–as well as some of the men.

Eduir insisted, despite Freedom’s encouragement otherwise, on wearing the Draigvyerrian staple of dress he called “pants,” eschewing the more modern doublets or tunics and hose of Freedom’s time, even the cotehardie, to the effect that he always looked extraordinarily out of place. The dark green doryph mark, proclaiming him the former doryph of wisdom, was visible on the back of his right hand. Freedom couldn’t currently see its mirror version on his palm, or the line that ran up the inside of his arm to cross his shoulders and run down to a similar angular pattern of lines over his heart, although she knew it was there.

Eduir straightened, stiffly at attention, his gaze meeting her cool grey one, and disappeared in swirls of dark green light. Beside her on the nightstand, the dark green orb no larger than a cherry reappeared in the first slot of her silver anima chain.

Freedom followed Jasna out of the little Castilian village and hiked along the riverbank for the first two-thirds of the day. They reached a bend in the river where the far bank had been cut into a steep embankment. The shore sloped shallowly towards the water, more silt and mud than true earth.

Jasna pulled out her own anima chain, which she kept tied to a leather belt around her waist, and touched the silver orb that was the first in the chain.

“Meicera Amteghri,” she said.

Swirls of silver appeared beside her, and Meicera Amteghri appeared.

His face was obscured in shadow, hidden behind mail that swooped beneath his eyes to veil his nose and mouth. He wore a steel conical helmet with etchings of scrollwork which shone in the sun, and his mail hauberk reached below his knees. Beneath the mail of short sleeves was a loose white garment, and he wore loose grey trousers tapered at the ankle, a seeming cousin to Eduir’s pants. Plate vambraces covered both of his forearms with similar scrollwork to his helmet, although he wore unarmoured, soft leather boots. He held a saber and metal shield, and a belt with various ornaments cinched his waist, with the sheath of a knife tucked in. When he appeared, the sword and shield changed immediately to a javelin and then to a recurve bow, a quiver of arrows appearing tied to his waist. He did not speak.

Freedom didn’t speak, either. Eduir never had summoning confusion and always appeared with the correct weapon. Freedom did not blame it on the anima, who did not even have the face of the man he’d been. All he had was a silver mark on his hand instead of a green one, on the left hand instead of the right, the mark a different pattern of lines than Eduir’s.

To summon him, Jasna had to speak his name, but after summoned, she called him only “Justice.” Freedom said nothing about that, either. She would have liked to meet this Meicera Amteghri, gotten to know what kind of man he’d been. Eduir said he had the weapons and fighting style of a man who had been trained as cavalry, to fight from the back of a horse. Eduir said he fought well on foot, hand-to-hand, but that the man’s skills were underutilised without a horse.

Of course, Eduir said the same thing to Freedom about himself, that he should really have a dragon in order to properly engage in battle, but that he made do the best he could, for Freedom’s sake.

“Justice, cast a magical and physical barrier,” Jasna said.

Meicera cast the doryph spell, holding his left hand at his breastbone before extending it out, the white barrier building a dome of light around them, before sparking out once the magic was cast. He then held his left hand at his breastbone and cut his hand down in a swift diagonal, creating a silver barrier that shone and faded in the same place as the white one.

“Await my command,” Jasna said. She turned to Freedom. “Now, that roubana is hidden down under the surface of the bend, on our side. It moves much faster on land than you’d expect, and watch out for its long, thick tail. It can lash it around and trip you up. Its saliva can burn the skin, and its claws are hollow, filled with a similar solution as its saliva. Roubana hunt at night, so we have the advantage now. I would suggest the simple lamp spell and a blinding spell modified for its sense of smell and hearing, which are both acute.”

Freedom nodded, even though she had already thought of those things.

“Does it have any sort of immunity to binding spells?” she asked Jasna.

“None,” Jasna said.

“I’m ready,” Freedom said. “You can let me out.”
Meicera dispelled the physical barrier, and Freedom crossed over the magical one. She rotated her wrist, calling up her wand from mid-air, and crept through the mush and silt trying to sense the roubana in wait. She saw its snout and eyes sticking up out of the mud before she felt its magic, since it was asleep and barely detectable. Freedom cast the blindness spell, and the roubana’s eyes popped open.

It reared around with a snarl, and Freedom cast the light spell with only a thought, not needing the accompanying wandwork because she casted it so often. She waved it away with a flick of her wand, directing the melon-sized ball of bright, silver-white light into the face of the roubana. It shied away shrieking and snapping its jaws in anger. Freedom drew a circle in the air with the tip of her wand, muttering the binding spell beneath her breath just to help her focus her magic and her intention, then tied it off with a quick flick to the side, parallel to the ground.

The roubana skittered to the side, still snapping its jaws and snarling and trying to escape the light. It did not, however, fall on its side with its snout bound shut and its forelegs and hindlegs bound together.

Freedom took a step back.

“I thought you said they don’t have any resistance to binding spells!” she shouted.

“They don’t!” Jasna shouted back. “Justice, create a physical barrier around Freedom and dispatch the roubana.”

“Wait, no!” Freedom said. “I want to figure it out!”

Too late. Meicera had cast the spell around her, raised his bow, and killed the creature with a single shot. Jasna dismissed him with a word.

Freedom bent forward at the waist. She would have at least wanted to try to figure out why it had resisted her spell. She knew she hadn’t miscast it.

Jasna walked past her to the dead roubana and pointed to the slender dagger plunged into the nape of the creature’s neck. Around the dagger had been cut a pattern of scars into the creature’s skin, so that the wound did not bleed.

“Here is why,” she said. “A blade dancer’s been by here, siphoning off the roubana’s magic for one of his blades. Let’s head back to the village so that we can gather our things and move on. He will come to investigate who cut his spell short.”

Jasna hadn’t ever mentioned blade dancers before, nor Eduir in his encyclopaedic knowledge of Draigvyerrian magical theories and principles, and Freedom had never run across one whilst she had been travelling alone, and so she asked.

“What’s a blade dancer?”

“A type of blood mage,” Jasna said. “They seal blades into their own skin with blood and magic, so you can always recognise one by the fact that their entire body is tattooed with images of blades. Come. We must leave the area before it finds us, tortures us to death, and delights in the doing so.”

Blood magic was little better than devilry, Freedom knew, its practitioners fixated on their desire to see blood spilled on the ground. Vampires conserved their supply, carefully tending their sources the way a shepherd tended his flock. Not so with a blood mage. They amused themselves with blood the way a terrier amused itself with a rat.

“Well, but wait,” Freedom said, walking over to the blade and grabbing it by the handle before Jasna could yell out for her not to.

She was rewarded with a deep, caustic burn to her palm.

“Fool!” Jasna said. “Never touch magic you do not understand!”

Freedom let her wand go, making it vanish back into thin air, and clutched her left hand to her chest.

“Blood magic can survive long after an individual has cast it,” Jasna said. “The amount of power this particular blade dancer must have to cast that spell into this roubana is too great for both of us together to face.”

“But blood mages prey on innocent people, you told me,” Freedom said. “Blood mages are one of the types that have to be stopped whenever you encounter them.”

“Unless they have far greater power than you and you would get yourself killed,” Jasna said. “Then it is better to leave, and stay alive, and help as many other people as you can. You can neither heal nor help people if you are dead, sister.”

Freedom offered her left hand, but Jasna would neither heal it nor help her heal it herself.

“Let the scar remind you never to touch magic you do not understand,” Jasna said.

Freedom nodded, sulking the whole way back to town, choosing not to reply that her first two years learning witchcraft had been by testing out magics she hadn’t understood.

Jasna saw her back to the inn then went out to buy supplies for the trip to the next village, telling Freedom to be ready for one last round of healing before they left. Freedom nodded. Their official story was that they were sisters devoted to St. Anne, pilgrims travelling the land to heal victims of the Great Pestilence.

No one asked why Jasna had straight, fine blonde hair and Freedom had coarse, curly red hair, so dark as to seem almost auburn in certain lights. They looked nothing alike, either, Jasna with her long oval face and Freedom with her heart-shaped one, but people who were dying of plague probably did not have time for very many questions of their would-be healers. They also did not ask why St. Anne “commanded” them to build altars unlike anything to be found in a cathedral.

As soon as Freedom was sure Jasna had left, she summoned Eduir, keeping her magic low so that Jasna wouldn’t sense it.

“Eduir Idirith Seollon,” Freedom said, taking hold of the dark green orb in the anima chain.

Eduir appeared in green ribbons of light, sitting cross-legged on the bed with his chin resting on his palm.

“I respond, my lady,” he said.

Freedom offered him her left hand, and Eduir looked it over. He put his right hand, the green-marked one, to hover a few inches above her heart and give it a quarter-turn to the right. Freedom felt him using her own magic to heal her, and with only one sharp stab of burning pain, her left hand was good as new.

Freedom went to sit in the single chair that had been provided in her tiny room in the attic of the inn, and she told Eduir of the encounter. Eduir rubbed his eyebrow with his right forefinger, as Freedom had noticed he commonly did when thinking. He also tended to rub the edge of his ear.

“Practising white magic does not make you a perfect person, Freedom.” He sighed. “I am not a good counsellor for this particular problem. My feelings about Jasna are well known.”

Freedom couldn’t shake the image of the emotionless, soulless anima. She knew animae were soulless creatures to start with, a calque of a life lost through violence, a shadow burned permanently into existence. But Freedom could not reconcile Jasna’s anima with Eduir.

The reason, Jasna had told her, was that Freedom had performed the spell incorrectly. Because she had stumbled upon the spell herself, in the moment she was trying to stop Eduir’s shade, she had poured far too much of her own magic into consolidating his form. Eduir could speak, could think independently, had emotions and memories and experienced a deep sense of loss for his unlived life, of regret at the magnanimity of what he had done before Freedom had saved him. He could exist at greater distances from Freedom than animae were supposed to exist, could remain summoned even when Freedom was unconscious or asleep—he was everything Jasna said animae should not be.

Animae were soulless servants, and they should be treated as such, according to Jasna. There shouldn’t be anything left of the person who had created the anima, because of the alternative: Eduir could remember the mindless cycle of violence out of which Freedom had broken him, could remember all the innocent people he had murdered before he’d realized he was dead.

“Please, little sister,” he’d said at the time to Freedom. “Please do not cast me out. Let me stay with you. Let me save one hundred lives for each life I have taken.”

Freedom had embraced him, shushing him and soothing him and rubbing his back, and had told him she would happily alternate saving lives with him. That had managed to make him chuckle, at least. And so she could not now look at this man, her brother, and see instead a faceless, emotionless, speechless shade.

Freedom hopped up.
“You know what? Let’s take care of this blade dancer quick before Jasna gets back. What do you say?”

Eduir disappeared from the bed, accompanied by the typical ribbons of dark green, and appeared beside her with his glaive and lacquered, dark green dragonknight armour. She saw he was wearing mail beneath. The visor of the elaborate helmet, designed to look like a dragon mid-roar, was up, but Eduir gave her a grin and flipped it down.

“Delighted, little sister.”

Freedom pointed a finger in his face, twisting her wrist around to call up her wand.

“We agreed I’m the older one, and you’re the younger one. I don’t care if you were twenty-six when you died and I’m only twenty-one. You hadn’t even heard of wheelbarrows before you’d met me.”

Eduir gave her the bow of a servant to a lord.

“A fair point, my lady.”

“My lady?”

Eduir sighed. “Older sister.”

Freedom patted the top of his helmet. “Brilliant. Now, give me a minute.”

One of the most useful things Jasna had taught her was how to sense hidden magic without descrying for it. Freedom closed her eyes and followed first one wave then another outward, widening the spiral until she got to one whose oscillation was too perfect. Creative energy contained slight fluctuations in its frequencies. Magic which had been hidden—and the hiding itself hidden—had a frequency whose oscillations cycled through the iterations too perfectly. It had taken Freedom months to feel what Jasna was describing, but it was one of Freedom’s most useful skills.

She found it, and her eyes popped open.

“Let’s go.”

Eduir stepped to the right, into the spirit plane, so that the other travellers staying at the inn would not see him, but Freedom felt him beside her. She emerged onto the square and scanned the perimeter, plotting the best path to the source.

Except there was a tumult in the square.

The local magistrate, beside a plague doctor in his long-nosed mask, had a young woman underneath the simple gallows at the centre of the square. The sheriff was carrying a ladder over his head through the crowd and over to the magistrate. The woman was sobbing, babbling, while the magistrate spoke to the crowd.

Freedom turned to Eduir to ask him to translate—all animae, as guardians, spoke all languages—forgetting that he was in the spirit plane. She felt him leave her side and appear back up in the inn before appearing at the entrance and jogging over to her wearing his layclothes.

“The plague doctor has discovered this woman is the cause of the sickness and death in the village,” Eduir translated for her. “She is a witch draining the health of her neighbours to keep her young. She has given her soul up to the beast.”

Freedom scrutinised the woman, but she held no magic—nor any potential for magic. And anyway, the Draigvyerrians had been much further advanced than her own time in things such as astronomy and medicine, even if they had never managed to figure out the wheelbarrow. Eduir had taught her about the tiny creatures that actually caused disease. Much of Freedom’s “divine” advice was simply telling people to boil their water before they drank it. If she told them simply as Freedom, a young woman travelling healer, they did not listen. But with the weight of the Almighty Father behind her words—

“She’s not a witch,” Eduir said.

“Of course she’s not,” Freedom said.

“The plague doctor did not like you and Jasna healing people he said would die. Nor did he like that neither you nor she take coin for your work.”

Freedom glanced over. “He’s going to accuse us next. Why her first?”

Eduir shrugged. “Perhaps he doesn’t like her. They mean to hang her, Freedom.”

“We’ll save her,” Freedom said immediately.

“And prove her a witch in the eyes of the villagers?” Eduir said. “I’m not disagreeing with you, mind. I’m just saying we have to do it carefully so as not to expose you.”

“Or make things worse for her,” Freedom said.

“What on earth are you doing out here?” Jasna asked, startling Freedom.

She explained the situation, but Jasna shook her head.

“She cannot learn magic, so we cannot take her with us. We must leave her to her fate.”

“We can’t do that!” Freedom said. “We have to—”

“Expose ourselves and have word spread of the red-haired and blonde witches travelling under the guise of religious pilgrims? No one would let us into their homes. We have to focus on saving the greatest number of people, sister. If we are dead, we cannot save anyone else.”

Freedom frowned. “There has to be a way to save her. What do you think, Eduir?”

“I think we should save her,” Eduir said. “Take her with us if we must, and leave Castile if we must. There are people to be saved all over the world. We needn’t only save the ones around here.”

“The anima’s opinion does not factor,” Jasna said.

“The dragons did not call me ‘Wisdom’ for nothing,” Eduir replied.

The magistrate ordered the sheriff to get the young woman to her feet, since she was sobbing and refusing to move. They got her up and slipped the noose around her neck, pointing her to the ladder leaning against the gallows. She shook her head and backed away.

“Indecision is still a decision, Freedom,” Eduir said.

Freedom nodded, once.

“Yes, all right. I leave the saving to you, dragon prince. I will think of a way to cover the witchcraft.”

The sheriff was pushing the woman towards the ladder, and the woman was fighting tooth and nail not to go. Freedom wracked her brain for ideas. Jasna stood beside her with her hands on her hips, refusing to help.

Freedom thought of a solution just as the sheriff grabbed the woman around the waist and climbed the ladder himself. She only hoped Eduir would be able to improvise.

She rotated her wrist, calling up her wand, and cast the light spell, pouring far more magic into it than she ever had, sending the spell up and over the gallows.

Eduir appeared beneath the crossbeam, swinging the glaive to cut the rope and catch the woman so quickly that Freedom could not actually see the movement. She felt the draw on her own magic and knew what he had done, though.

He set the woman down, no longer wearing his dark green armour. Instead, he was wearing silver mail with a crimson brigandine over top, the gold scrollwork an exact replica of a painting in one of the alcoves of the cathedral. He had not managed to copy the style of broadsword and buckler men carried in her time, however, instead carrying a Draigvyerrian longsword with the point down on the ground, Eduir’s gauntleted hands resting on the pommel. He appeared just as Freedom cast the light spell, bathing Eduir and the young woman in an otherworldly silver-white light.

Eduir addressed the crowd in Castilian, and so Freedom didn’t understand, but she was more focused on maintaining the light of the spell. He kept up an appropriately angry and righteous expression, so that the people fell to their knees, before turning to the magistrate and pointing at the plague doctor. The plague doctor squeaked and dropped to his hands and his knees. Then Eduir leaned over and whispered something to the young woman which made her eyes go wide and scan the crowd. She locked her gaze with Freedom, who quirked an eyebrow. Eduir did not think highly of her own time’s religion, Freedom knew, and he did not want the woman devoted to it. Freedom had to admit she agreed with him.

Eduir caught her eye, gave her a curt nod, and Freedom released the spell. At the same moment, Eduir whisked back to her side, once again wearing his layclothes.

“It is done.”

“Thank you. They aren’t going to kill the plague doctor, are they?”

Eduir clicked his tongue. “What kind of person do you think I am? I told them he had been chosen for a vow of silence and poverty as a monk for the cathedral. Let him try to murder people like that.”

Freedom gave Jasna a smile. “See? Young woman saved, no one exposed, and we can continue on.”

Jasna pointed west. “A spell that heavy has attracted the blade dancer.”

Freedom’s heart dropped.

For several moments, she cast her thoughts around, trying to think of a solution. Jasna only stared at her.

Freedom turned to Eduir.

“Tell them to go in their homes and not come out until dawn. Tell them a demon is coming.”

Eduir gave her a dragonknight bow and reappeared in front of the magistrate, back in the guise of St. Michael. He made the announcement, and the people of the village ran screaming for their homes.

Eduir reappeared beside her with mail, armour, and glaive, the visor already down. Jasna pulled out her anima chain and summoned Meicera.

“We will both die for this, sister,” Jasna said, “but I will not abandon you, foolish thing that you are.”

Eduir had already cast the protective barrier around Freedom, but she asked him not to cast the magical barrier. She would need to be able to cast past the physical protection.

The blade dancer appeared beneath the gallows, tattoos of blades covering him from head to toe. He wore a sleeveless woollen tunic over grey woollen hose that had a leather sole built into the foot. His blonde hair was paler than Jasna’s, and he was only of medium height, shorter than Freedom. His dark brown eyes were narrowed.

He grabbed the image of the knife on his forearm, and the knife appeared in his hand. The tattoo remained on his skin. He reached back with his left hand and pulled out a sword, tossing it into the air, where it stayed, floating, its blade aimed at them. He pulled out three more, throwing them behind him, and pulled out a fifth for his own hand.

“Justice, dispatch this blood mage,” Jasna said.

The sword in Meicera’s hand disappeared, replaced by the javelin, which he hurled at the blade dancer. It struck the blade dancer squarely in the chest and fell to the ground. The blade dancer’s tunic was cut, but not his skin, and he smiled.

“What are you? I thought you were witches, but I’ve never seen a witch with something like you.” The blade dancer grinned. “Such magic I will be able to command with your blood.”

“Freedom,” Eduir muttered. “I am concerned.”

“So am I,” Freedom said. “Still, I trust you. I’ll work on a spell to cut through whatever protections he has on his skin, and you can lop off his head for me. Deal?”

“His magic is such that he cannot be harmed by regular blades,” Eduir said, scrutinising the man.

The “wisdom” part of him being the former doryph of wisdom was the ability to see all the magic a person or object held. He just wasn’t able to tell Freedom what to do about it.

“Good thing you have a dragonsteel blade.”

“I think even my weapons fall into that category,” Eduir said. “I do not like this at all.”

In the meantime, Meicera had been ordered forward by Jasna, and he was striking blow after blow to the blade dancer’s skin with nary a scratch to show for his efforts. He parried each of the four floating blades along with the sword in the blade dancer’s hand, and the knife, and dodged each knife the blade dancer managed to pull from his arm and throw at Meicera. The knives Meicera dodged circled back to strike at him from the opposite direction.

“Eduir, go,” Freedom said. “I’m fine here in your spell. Meicera’s going to get overwhelmed.”

“At your command, my lady.”

He bent down to push off the ground into what he had told Freedom was called a borrowing. Back when he’d been alive, he had been able to borrow his dragon’s magic to increase his speed or his strength, to perform specific manoeuvres. Although he was dead and dragonless, he was still able to perform the magic.

He dashed across the square too quickly for Freedom to follow, although she knew the result of the attack. Instead of slicing his blade through the blade dancer’s side, however, it skittered off, ripping through the man’s tunic without doing harm.

A knife grazed Meicera’s cheek, and Jasna let out a gasp. Eduir and Meicera both were trying to find the blade dancer’s weak point, but no part of his body they struck drew blood. The blade dancer spun and parried and created more and more blades, swirling them around and crashing them together while Meicera and Eduir dodged and deflected and kept trying to wound the man. When either Eduir or Meicera cut through one of the blade dancer’s blades, it turned to crimson mist and disappeared, but the man always had more blades to summon.

And then two swords from either side of Meicera caught him through the ribs, each one crossing the other and coming out the opposite side.

Jasna collapsed to the ground, unconscious, and Meicera disappeared in swirls of silver light. Eduir kept fighting.

Freedom felt him pulling more and more of her magic, trying to find a weakness in his opponent, until suddenly a sword caught him from behind, piercing his left shoulder.

Freedom stumbled forward, feeling him lose a chunk of his magic and pull more to keep going. The wound was bleeding over his arm, but Freedom knew he couldn’t bleed to death. Feel pain, yes. Die, no. But he could run out of magic, dismissing himself, which would leave Freedom drained and defenceless.

Eduir reached over and pulled out the sword, flinging it to the ground and slicing it in half with a flick of his glaive. It dissolved into crimson mist. The blade dancer sent all the swords and knives towards him at once, but Eduir teleported to the side of the blade dancer, swinging the glaive for the man’s neck. The blade struck and recoiled back as though Eduir had struck stone. A sword materialised in the blade dancer’s hand, disappearing from the air, and he shoved it backwards into Eduir’s stomach.

“Eduir!” Freedom screamed, feeling the magic jerked out from under her.

Eduir shuddered, surprised by the blow, but still drew the blade free and cut it in half with his glaive. Before he could react, the blade dancer stabbed a knife into Eduir’s thigh. Eduir fell to one knee.

Freedom rushed forward but ran into the physical barrier.

“Release it!” she demanded, using their bond to compel him.

Eduir glanced up, confused, clearly no longer sure where he was. But even still, he cut his hand to the side, and the barrier disappeared. Freedom sprinted forward, wand in hand, determined to think of a solution by the time she reached the blade dancer. She dodged around a knife that sliced by and grabbed the handle out of mid-air.

Eduir forced himself up and grabbed the man around the neck, grappling him around to face Eduir. The blade dancer drove a knife in Eduir’s stomach for his efforts, and the knife Freedom had grabbed was struggling to turn itself against her heart. She let go her wand and put both hands around the handle, forcing it back.

She reached the blade dancer and Eduir, put all her strength into keeping the knife straight, and buried it in the blade dancer’s back.

All the blade dancer’s blades disappeared into crimson mist. The knife in his back disappeared into crimson mist, as well as all the tattoos in his skin. Freedom stumbled backwards. The man collapsed to the side, dead.

Eduir was on his hands and knees, but he looked up at her.

“Freedom? Are you all right?”

Freedom burst out laughing.

“I’m fine! Look to yourself, little brother.”

Eduir fell to the ground and rolled onto his back.

“Dismiss me. I can barely move, and I can’t do it myself.”

Instead, she grabbed his wrist and gave him enough magic to heal his wounds and allow him to walk. It would be some time before either of them had recovered enough to fight.

“Go heal Jasna,” she said.

Eduir walked over to her, since Freedom could tell he didn’t have the strength to mist to her side, his layclothes replacing his armour as he walked. Freedom forced herself to her feet and hurried to help him, letting him put his arm around her shoulders to support some of his weight. He healed Jasna with four quarter-turns of his dragonknight magic, which left barely enough for him to stand. He leaned most of his weight onto Freedom’s shoulders.

“Are you all right?” Jasna asked Freedom when she opened her eyes.

“We’re fine. Are you all right?”

“Perfect,” Jasna said, sparing a shocked glance for Eduir. Then she shook it out. “Quickly. Go retrieve your things so that we can be clear of the village by dawn tomorrow. Anima, dismiss yourself.”

Freedom did retrieve her things—Eduir came with her, since he didn’t have even the strength to be greatly separated from her—and gave Jasna her satchel and bedroll and bag. Freedom shouldered her own belongings.

“We will go our own way, I think, sister,” Freedom said.

Jasna gaped at her for several long moments. Then, slowly, she closed her mouth where her jaw had dropped open.

“I understand,” Jasna said. “It was an honour to teach you, sister.”

“It was an honour to be your apprentice, sister.”

“It is a shame. I still have much I could teach you. I wish you all the best in your travels.”

Freedom gave her a warm smile. “I sincerely wish you the same, Jasna.”

She turned, still supporting Eduir’s weight, and Eduir cleared his throat.

“You needn’t do that for me. She is not so terrible a person, and she knows far more witchcraft than either of us.”

“You don’t know any witchcraft,” Freedom said.

“That only strengthens my point.”

“I’ll figure it out,” Freedom said. “Who says I do everything for you?”

“Give me a little magic, and I can dismiss myself,” Eduir said. “You needn’t help me stumble along.”

“I like helping you stumble along,” Freedom said. “Besides, we haven’t finished alternating saved innocents. It’s your turn, dragon prince.”

“Keeping me summoned will slow your own recovery.”

Freedom reached over and patted his chest.

“I like keeping you summoned.”

Eduir laughed, and Freedom walked with him out of the village. She didn’t ever look back.