On waking up, Kangassk found himself hanging upside down over Flavus’s shoulders.
“Flavus,” he whispered, “please, let me go.”
In one slow, sickening somersault, the overturned world got back to normal. For a while, Kan just sat on the ground, trying not to move, waiting for his head to stop spinning.
Silent and tired, Sylvia sat beside him. She was shivering under the grey cloak Kangassk had given her, even though the weather was no longer chilly. “I saved her life,” Kan thought, “but destroyed her future. I’m no better than Sereg now…” He no longer could be cross with what the worldholder had done to him; he felt guilty, not proud.
“Come on,” said Kan, standing up. “If we hurry up, we will make it in time for lunch!”
Nobody smiled at the joke.
“I wonder what the Hunters will do with us now,” he thought. “Vestren must’ve told everyone what was going on.”
The grey mages met the little battle unit with respectful silence. They nodded to the Apprentice as he passed by and looked at the Brians suspiciously. Soon, Vestren himself barred their way. Ramune stood beside him as if she were his young apprentice again.
“I’m glad you’ve survived the fight, my boy, and not just survived but indeed saved the child,” he said with a smile. “Don’t be surprised by the cold shoulder everyone is giving you now. We’re all old mages here, we of all people know how rare miracles are. Give us some time to check everything out and make sure the demon is indeed gone.”
“I killed it,” said Kangassk in a hollow voice.
“Still,” he said, “we will guard the perimeter for one more night. We can’t take risks. If the night is quiet, I will withdraw my Elder’s right and you will wake up a hero.” The old Hunter patted Kangassk on the shoulder.
For a moment, the Apprentice’s eyes met Ramune’s. It seemed to Kangassk then that there was something special on her mind, like a gift for him, unspoken and unrevealed yet. That, too, was going to stay on pause until the next morning, like everything else.
Kangassk refused to stay with the Brians that night, despite Flavus begging him to.
“Take care of Sylvia,” Kan said as he was packing his things. He fastened up a clasp of his old cloak, checked the sword on his belt, put the dragonlighter in his pocket, and took the silver tome under his arm. Still, the only thing on his mind was what he had done to Sylvia. “I know how she feels… She needs all the help you can offer.”
“Yeah,” agreed Flavus. “I know. I had given up my ambassa to become a mage and experienced a harsh flashback of this today when I accepted Sylvia’s ambassa. It felt like having your sight restored then being blinded again.”
“Forgive me, Flavus…”
“What for? You saved my sister’s life! And risked your own! There is nothing you have to feel guilty for!”
“And still I do. It was a bitter victory.”
“Ah, Kan, victories are sweet only in fantasy books.”
“I wonder if I’ll ever be able to read such a book again,” murmured Kan before saying goodbye to his friends and leaving their cosy little fortress guarded by sapphire-eyed stone chargas.
He returned to his tent. A pair of shoelaces was hanging from the ceiling. The Liht they used to hold had burned out two nights ago.
“...felt like being blinded again,” Kangassk recalled Flavus’s words.
Why didn’t he, Kan, feel the same way when Sereg stripped him of his own ambassa? Was he even an ambasiath? Sure, he felt bad after his stupid sacrifice but it was nowhere near like feeling blinded. Kangassk searched and searched for the answers in his mind but couldn’t find any.
What was he to do now? It was only morning, he had a whole day in front of him but didn’t know where to go. The Brians would be happy to see him but he dreaded meeting their eyes again. Joining the Hunters for breakfast didn’t seem like a good idea either. After all, he was the reason they had a sleepless day after a sleepless night. Whether or not it was all for nothing, they didn’t yet know.
In the end, Kan spent the day alone by the nameless rivulet, brooding over his dreams, questions, and regrets. He was so tired, both physically and mentally, he could neither eat nor sleep; his thoughts were feverish. In the evening, he went back to his tent. Walking through the grey camp, he saw the Hunters patrol the perimeter and wish each other good night. They didn’t know it yet, but this night was going to be good after all. The vitryanik had died in Kangassk’s imaginary world, from his own hand. Though… things would have been very different if it weren’t for Malconemershghan. His sudden appearance and help were what Kangassk still couldn’t comprehend. Why would a ghost of the Trickster who had been dead for millennia visit him of all people? Was he even real? Well, he seemed real…
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