“Cut the bridge!” Madoc bellowed, drawing his sword.

Along the western bank, dozens of warriors leapt from the night to charge the bridge.

Before Kaia could process what was happening, the Rastgol launched across the gap between them, his short sword cleaving down on her. Madoc parried the blade and slashed his torch toward the giant man’s face. The Rastgol grabbed his arm instead, locking them together.

“Cut the bridge!” Madoc yelled again, crumpling under the Rastgol’s superior strength.

But the Direfent warriors on the bank were already locked in their own struggle with the dripping Rastgol warriors charging up from the river’s edge.

“They can’t,” Kaia shouted over the clashing steel, Madoc’s straining body too close to draw her blade.

Something yanked Kaia back and brushed past her. With a whistle of air, a gush of blood oozed from the Rastgol’s throat. But as soon as he fell, another Rastgol surged forward to take his place.

“Get back to the bank!” Klaus shouted, felling another Rastgol in front of him.

Kaia looked behind them to find the Rastgol already coming down the bridge from the other end, battering away at Madoc’s soldiers.

Wresting his torch arm from the dead Rastgol, Madoc hacked at the hefty ropes with his sword. “If they take the bridge, their army will be at our walls in seconds.”

Kaia nodded, finally grasping the situation. “Klaus, hold on to something!” She shoved past his invisible body, practically barreling into the solid mass of the next attacker. The Rastgol stumbled back, his eyes blazing as he rushed toward her once more. But before he could take another step, Kaia ignited the bridge in an explosion of fire. The crackling flames chewed through the wooden planks in an instant, and the Rastgol fell away.

Kaia’s stomach flew into her throat as her body dropped through the air with the corpses, the Rastgol, and her companions falling somewhere around her. Then she was underwater, the cold of it shocking her overheated body as the current dragged her under. With fumbling hands she unbuckled her belt, letting her heavy blade sink into the river. Lighter now, she kicked against the undertow, fighting to the surface. But as she gasped for air, a pair of huge hands pushed her under again.

She kicked and clawed at him, but his grip held firm. Finally, she landed a kick and pushed herself away, only for another hand to find her throat. Blinded by the murky water and desperate for air, she pulled the heat from her core till the water boiled around her, and at last the hand yanked free.

Breaking through the surface, Kaia sucked in air with a hoarse gasp, trying to get her bearings through stinging eyes. The current had taken her west, and several Rastgol warriors cut through the water toward her with strong, efficient strokes. Heart drumming, she kicked away from them toward the eastern bank and the clash of steel on steel. The Direfent soldiers struggled to beat the Rastgol back into the river while Madoc pulled himself onto the bank to charge straight into the mob. She hacked at the water with her arms, her gaze searching for Klaus in the chaos, but there was no sign of him. Was he still in the water?

She was almost midway when something crashed against her head. Pain cracked through her skull, and black edged her vision as she went under. Blinking sluggishly, Kaia forced herself to keep kicking. She bobbed up again to see the Rastgol brandishing the plank once more and raised her arms to protect her head. The wood slammed against her arms, another fist crashing into her face. Black spots threatened her vision once more, and she sucked in a lungful of the river. Ears ringing, she coughed and choked as she struggled to gather her senses.

The Rastgol brought the plank up again, and then fell limp into the water. Klaus appeared in front of her, water dripping from his dark hair. “Firefly, are you okay?”

“I-I’m… okay.” Her words slurred together and Klaus’ grimace doubled in her vision.

Klaus wrested the plank from the dead Rastgol. “Just hold on to this and I’ll bring you in.”

Kaia kicked as he dragged her through the water. At last, the cool river mud rose up to meet them, and he pulled her onto the shore, his chest heaving.

“Watch out!” Madoc yelled from the bank above them, pointing to a trio of Rastgol charging down the slope from the battle. Klaus slipped a knife from his belt and disappeared.

Kaia had to do something. She wouldn’t use her fire on people, especially when her allies could get caught in the blaze, but there had to be something she could do. They were here for her after all.

Her head still spinning, she stumbled to her feet, concentrating every ounce of yanaa into her hands. She might not be able to kill them, but she could at least distract them. She thrust her arms into the air. “Madoc! Klaus!” she yelled. “Shield your eyes!”

With that, she released the blaze within her in an explosion of volcanic flames. The column of fire shot into the sky, driving the dusky clouds of darkness from its heat. Focusing her yanaa, Kaia let the fire burgeon across the night, blotting out the stars in a tidal wave of fiery tongues. Dozens of Rastgol turned toward her, their murderous gazes prickling her skin. Good. She could only hope Madoc’s men had the sense to cut them down while their backs were turned.

Returning her focus to the blaze, she fed the eruption, sending another pulse of flames across the sky. The heat of it in the summer night slicked her skin with sweat, but she kept on, pouring every last drop of yanaa into the spectacle. How long she burned, she didn’t know. Until at last, completely spent, she fell to her hands and knees, her last burst of fire fizzling into the dark.

Her chest heaving and her fingers squelching in the mud, she surveyed the battle. The dead and wounded littered the ground, but from what she could tell, Madoc’s men now far outnumbered the few Rastgol still fighting on. Taking a deep ragged breath, she staggered to her feet, head throbbing. If she was going to help now, she would need to find a weapon. But her legs turned to jelly as she walked, and her stomach revolted against the movement. Kneeling, she drank in deep breaths of the still scorched air, trying to keep herself from vomiting.

A rough hand hauled her up by the elbow, and her stomach flipped again. “Steady on, Dragon, lemme look atcha.” Madoc pulled a torch close with a low whistle. “Someone got a good smack at yer head there. But a dozen stitches and you’ll pull through just fine.” Kaia swayed as he pulled her up the slope. “I must say I always thought Odriel a fool fer thinking three warriors could take on an army, but I’ll admit ya got me impressed.”

“Where’s… Klaus?” Kaia mumbled, her words muddied with pain and fatigue. “And are the Rastgol…” She stopped, her gaze stuck on the dozens of pairs of glowing green eyes staring from across the river. “The Lost.”

Madoc grunted, passing off his torch to a passing soldier. “I told ya the Rastgol were attacking with the Lost. It’s a good thing ya torched the bridge, or we would’ve had an even bigger problem on our hands.”

This time, Kaia couldn’t quell the nausea, and bending down, she heaved into the grassy bank.

Gathering her long hair at the nape of her neck, Madoc patted her back. “Definitely a nasty blow to the head. Get it all out there.”

Kaia straightened, and he passed her a flask of water. She poured some into her mouth and spat out the foul taste of bile.

“I do wonder though why ya didn’t just burn through the Rastgol on the bridge.”

A shiver racked Kaia’s shoulders. “Because then I’d be the monster.”

“Ah, come now, don’t be naïve,” Madoc chuckled. “We’re all monsters on the battlefield.”

His words sloshed in her ears, and Kaia shook her head slowly, wincing at the movement. “I think I just need… to lie down.” She sagged from his grip onto the grass, resting her head on her knees.

“Firefly!” Klaus jogged through the soldiers helping with the dead and wounded. “Are you all right?”

Kaia raised her head, the tension sloughing from her shoulders in a flood of relief. Fatigue lined his eyes and mud coated his clothes, but she could see no visible injuries. “Klaus,” she breathed with a weary smile.

“She’s fine, Thane.” Madoc waved him off. “Just a bit of a head wound thickening her tongue.”

Klaus knelt beside her, taking her face gingerly in his hands.

“I’m fine. You’re fine. It’s… fine,” Kaia whispered, closing her eyes to stave off the dizziness.

“Why didn’t you get her to the mender?” he snapped at Madoc.

Madoc raised an eyebrow. “My my, quite the mother hen now, aren’t we?” He shrugged, a shadow of a smile crossing his face. “Well, if ya insist.”

He bent down and scooped her up like a child, striding off toward the fortress.

Kaia groaned at the rocking motion, her stomach turning.

“Wait—that’s not what I meant.” Klaus’ face flushed as he strode beside them. “You’re going to make her sick doing that.”

Madoc ignored him, a smile growing under his beard. “My menders are a touch busy at the moment, so I’ll deliver her straight to her bed and send one by later.” Nodding at the guards, he ducked into the courtyard, and Gus bounded to his side, nosing and huffing at his feet. “In fact, since I’ve got her taken care of, why dontcha run along and make yerself useful. The lady could use her rest.”

Klaus’ voice rose, even his ears turning pink now. “Madoc, you can’t be serious, you know she’s—”

Madoc kicked the keep door shut on the spluttering Klaus, barring it with a smug grin. The door shuddered as Klaus banged on it from the other side, his angry shouts muffled through the solid wood.

That done, Madoc set Kaia on the ground with a deep chuckle. “Sorry ‘bout that, Dragon, I just couldn’t help myself.”

“Couldn’t help yourself with what?” Kaia asked, the pain in her head nearly blotting out everything else.

“Never mind.” He guided her up the stairs with a gentle hand on her elbow. “Let’s just getcha to yer room. Everything else can wait.”

Kaia couldn’t agree more.

Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!