Small Flame – by Ciarra Annis

If you were to ask any of the orphans at the Oaks who the funniest among them was, the answer would not be Yevra, she would not top the chart. If you were to ask any of them who told the most jokes, then you would be closer to getting an accurate glimpse of her character. At the current moment, she was finding it hard to spread levity, as most would if they were being chased by a murderous butcher. It didn’t help that it wasn’t just her life at stake, as it often was on these kind of heists. Instead, it was her whole crew, crew being a nice term for the rag tag gang.

Yevra bit her tongue to prevent her from gloating even the tiniest bit about how when she stole solo, the victims were none the wiser and there was noticeably less running. She sighed and adjusted the package in her arms. It promised a feast for weeks, and the fresh food would energize the rest of the kids at the Oaks, but it certainly wasn’t worth dying over. She slowed only to be on the same level as her friends, who were breathing hard and exhausted. They wouldn’t be able to last, and if she were ever to be honest, she wouldn’t last either.

“We need to split up. He can’t catch all of us and I don’t think the LEA’s know about it yet.”

Chance snorted, an effort considering his current state. “Four kids being chased through the square by a guy with a bloodstained apron and a cleaver, I’m pretty sure the LEA’s are just waiting for us to split off. It’s easier to capture one at a time then jump a whole group.”

“Play nice you two. I think it’s the best chance of one of us getting away.” Shen spared a glance backwards. “The wife is still trailing behind him, so she didn’t run off for someone, and I haven’t seen any agents out yet. If you’re going to go, you should go now.”

“Y’all are the ones who should be separating from me, I got the goods, that’s what he’s focused on.”

“Good point. I have more mileage right now then you do Yev, trade-off, quick.”

“Shen are you crazy? I’ll most likely get a card from the LEA’s and you’ll be sent to the Flats without a second thought. Plus, you’re already exhausted, so don’t try to cover it up. I doubt you’d be able to keep up the pace much longer.”

“Come on, Yev, you know me better than that. I’ve been using conserve magic since we came up with the plan, I have days worth of energy stored. Even if I didn’t, Kills-alot back there has to be getting tired too.”

“Of course you were conserving, you’re always conserving.  That still doesn’t change the fact that it’ll be far worse if you were caught with it than the rest of us.”

“Then I won’t get caught.” She said firmly. “Come on, we can regroup before heading back to the Oaks so we can share in the glory.” Shen held her hand out expectantly.

“Fine, but I’m not going to be the one organizing the jail break, especially if you get sent to the Flats.” Yevra pushed the chicken into Shen’s hands, only fully releasing when it was certain that the package wouldn’t drop to the dirty street side. “Be careful, and lose them soon.”

She split off, not checking to see if either of her two other friends were following, falling into the first street that connected to the square. She only let herself relax when she could safely say she was lost in the streets. Yevra stopped, leaning against a brick building to catch her breath.

Footsteps pounded down the street. Yevra took a deep breath, and prepared to run again until she made out her friend’s familiar form.

“One of these days I’ll be able to keep up with you.” Senna pulled out of the shadow of the street. She pushed her dark blond hair out of her red face.

“In your dreams. I got connections.” Yevra flipped out a poorly bound amulet from underneath her shirt collar. The amulet hung loosely around her neck, coming halfway down her chest.  “Check it.”
Senna reached out and examined it, “For speed?” Senna’s brow furrowed as she tried to recognize the runes sketched on. “And stamina?”
“Speed, stamina and general endurance. It was hard won. I got a few more hidden in places.” Yevra grinned and with her vibrant red hair falling into her face, she reminded Senna of a mischievous Cav, demons sent from the Silent One’s thrones.  Senna didn’t want to think of that.
She forced a smile onto her face, “Come on, Valla. Let’s find an old house to kick back in while Shen’s ditching the butcher.”
Yevra nodded, letting the younger girl take the lead. It would be a good learning experience in what to look for when you needed to get off the streets. It wouldn’t be safe to head back to the Oaks without knowing for sure that Shen had lost the either the butcher or, if he got tired of running and complained to anyone, the agents of the crown who’d be stalking after them. Of the two, Yevra would much prefer to deal with the butcher, crazed and as willing to put a knife in their backs as he was. If there was anything worse than death, the Lorenal Emergency Agents would find it.
Senna led them down an almost empty street. A few couples milled about, and at the end of the street a man was yelling in an apartment building. Yevra shook her head. When she got her own house, all her business would be conducted inside, like it was supposed to be. What was worse was that he was a noble, with a suit that was far out of anyone in the Stumps wildest dreams or meager salaries, so he definitely had more than one place of business where he could have privacy.
Senna had her eyes on the building next to the one where the nobleman sentried. It was shuttered, cobwebs stretching in the corners, a sure sign of it being empty. Senna checked in the alley way to her right, running through the mental checklist she had of making sure a temporary bunker house wouldn’t be intruded. It would do no good if they escaped from the robbery charges to be arrested for breaking and entering. What she wouldn’t admit to Yevra was that she had been scoping out various houses for sometime now, to make sure they were unoccupied in the event of such occasion. When she was sure that nothing had changed in the past week, she pulled Yevra through the hole that made up the bottom half of the door, which had rotted away months ago.
“Home sweet home!” Senna announced, flinging her arms out to either side of her. She didn’t wait for Yevra’s eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness, dragging her down the hall. Yevra accepted her ragdoll role while Senna got over her sudden excitement.
“Yevra just think! If no one ever ever comes back here, then you and me and Shen and all of us could live here.”

“Sure. A true urban paradise.” Yevra didn’t let the smaller ones excitement catch. She would never be able to leave the Oaks with a clear conscious without a plan to help everyone else there. Sometimes being a good person really sucked.
“Well, excuse me, you’re welcome to go find another place if you want. Good luck with it.” Senna gestured to the door. Whatever Yevra was going to reply was stopped short by a loud creaking from elsewhere in the house.
Yevra tensed up, prepared to run. “Sen, maybe that’s a good idea.”
“Yevra no, that was just the house, it’s old. Come on! Stay please.” Senna begged, but even her voice betrayed the barest amounts of fear. Yevra sighed and nodded for the girl to continue on.
“Yevra this place is huge! They even have a basement, let’s go”
“Let’s not! Shen isn’t going to look for us in the basement, we should stick by the entrance.”
Senna crossed her arms, “Then you stay! Even if Shen doesn’t find us, we can go back to the Oaks on our own.” Senna was down the stairs before Yevra could say anything in response.
She rolled her eyes and waited, Senna would get bored eventually, for now this was a chance to actually observe her surroundings. The paint on the walls had peeled long ago. Dust was everywhere. The only light that came through the boarded windows highlighted an old table. There was a small pile of books on it falling apart, but next to them— next to them was a completely bare space. No dust. Whatever occupied it had been removed recently enough that dust hadn’t claimed it.

Yevra took the stairs two at a time, almost tripping on the bottom step. The basement was almost pitch black. “Sen where are you? We need to go.”
“That would be a most advisable plan. A shame the small one seems unable to listen.” The voice was hollow, echoing into itself. It sounded as if a million people spoke through one. Yevra choked at the surprise. She hadn’t even heard any voices when she was upstairs yet it seemed she’d missed quite the conversation.
“Listen buster, I’m not moving for some nobody loser who’s hanging out in a basement.” Senna was somewhere on Yevra’s left, back turned and arms crossed.

“Senna, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but right now we are also nobody losers hanging out in a basement.” Yevra tried to keep her voice strong as she shook ever so slightly. “And in the interest of no longer being a loser in the basement, I say we go.”

“Wise words. We agree to your proposition. You may leave with your life. We advise your friend to reach a similar conclusion. It would be foolhardy to linger when master comes back.”
Senna scoffed, “As if. I doubt you could take both of us. Your master’s probably a coward as well.”

Yevra said nothing, she wasn’t sure there was a thing she could say that wouldn’t make her friend think that all the magic imbued items on her were getting to her.  She rubbed at her fingertips, debating the probability of starting an inferno if she were to summon a small flame to see who had threatened them. It was worth the risk. She took a deep breath, holding her hand up and away from anything solid. She gripped at the internal thread that governed her magic and pulled. Almost instantly, she wish she hadn’t. The being turned into a multiple and turned human, if just by a bare standard of them have a human face, two legs and two arms. They were mutilated something gruesome. Their eyes were listless and bloodshot, burn marks streaked their faces in different ways and dried blood was caked around the rest of them. That was nightmare fuel for sure.
“Come on, or Gods help me I’m never taking you out on another heist again.” Yevra wasn’t sure what kind of demon the creature was, but she knew it was made of cruel magic.
“No, hold on. I am fed up with people who think that they have money or or are strong that they can just push people out of places that are owned by no man. You sir, are a bully of the worst caliber, and I am not budging.”
“I don’t think you know what you’re doing.  Please, just, let’s leave.” Senna hesitated at the sound of Yevra’s tone. She had never heard the older girl with such a pleading tone outside of when they had to go around and beg. She stiffened as she thought more. Yevra never wanted to beg. Senna shrugged, trying to hide her bitter disappointment about losing the not-so-empty house but before she could agree, the man spoke again.
“The small one refuses. Arm yourselves if you can.” There was a laugh then, hideous and full of death. Yevra took a few steps back, before grabbing Senna’s arm and pulling her after her as she took the stairs again.

“You dare meddle with forces you cannot understand. You disturb my final resting place and now you will join us.” The creature said as it stepped into the sunlight. It was slightly less monstrous without the shadows flickering across its faces, but that didn’t account for much.

Yevra bit her lip, hard. She truly did not want to fight such a thing, and she would most likely be able to run away, but Senna didn’t have half of the magic or energy as she. She thought quickly— the first strike in a fight could set the tone for the rest of it. Using her fire was out of the question, it would be hard to concentrate enough to stop it from burning Senna or any innocent bystanders, and that was something she wouldn’t be able to live with.

She decided to strike hard and fast, elbowing the closest one in the neck hard enough that it should’ve wounded him. Instead, he blinked dully as a malicious grin spread across the others. Yevra pulled back, keeping herself between the monsters and Senna. Stupid little Senna was frozen in fear. They struck as one, giving Yevra precious little space to dodge. She pushed the younger into action, making her drop into a roll to avoid three fists from three directions. Any throws the kids were able to make were futile. They continued the defensive approach, never letting one of them get too close to the other. A push-pull pattern emerged but they were both running out of stamina. Occasionally the demons would spare a moment to taunt their weak and pathetic souls but other than that, the only thing that stopped silence from dropping was the increasing heaviness of their breath.

Just when Yevra was ready to give up hope,  a nearby door slammed, heralding their rescue. A bat seemed to come out of nowhere, landing solidly on the nearest demons head. A screech of pain whirled up as the one crumpled into a heap. Yevra flinched and gritted her teeth, certain that she’d be deaf for life. Their rescuer offered her a bat and he slipped off behind the demons. When one got too close to her, he’d hit the closest, they’d screech and turn towards him and then it’d be Yevra’s turn. Tacticians the demons were not. It wasn’t long before only one remained. He stood there, keeping his distance from either one of the armed.

His face twisted up into a snarl as he fixed his eyes on Yevra’s. “This is not the last you have seen of us.” He turned and fled. Yevra started to pursue him but the man who’d helped them stopped her, putting his hand on her shoulder.
“It’s not worth it. A single trin isn’t capable of much.” He said gently.
Yevra nodded and handed him back the bat. “Thank you so much for helping us but, I don’t have anything to give you.”
“Now why would I want anything in return for helping a couple of kids?”
“Because that’s life.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” He shook his head. “No matter, I don’t suppose you’ve heard any rumours lately of powerful spellbinders moving in or the like?”
Yevra’s brows furrowed. “No. Why?”
“Because Trin are very powerful creatures that are ripped from the dead realm itself. Anyone who would’ve been able to summon one should’ve made his presence known to the Nobles.” He looked at her carefully before hmming. “Get home safely, yes? Something is changing in the streets, and I don’t like it.”

Yevra watched as the man walked down the street. He seemed to know a lot more than he was willing to them. He left her with far more questions than answers. How did any spellbinder get enough power to raise the dead? She shuddered. Magic was coming back and the repercussions would be major. For now though, she just wanted to focus on getting home. She turned to Sen, who was wide-eyed and angry.
“Did you know what it was?” Senna asked.
“What? No!”
“Then why’d you try to get me to leave before you fired up?”
“Because it was a stupid and unnecessary risk!”
“Well if I’d known it was a bleedin’ demon I wouldn-”
“It would have been stupid even if it was just a man! Picking fights like that is going to get you killed! If it hadn’t been for that guy, we both would’ve been overwhelmed and what a sorry after life you would’ve had with me there.”

They continued arguing back and forth like that all the way to the Oaks.

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