Return 14

They fell away, at the sound of her. The creatures pulled back in horror and pain, the fire of their touch rebounding unto them, as though her voice, as though the music itself were burning.

She sang, sang high into the night, and not only did the beasts fall back, but the rest of us, as well, fell back, hands to our ears, hearing her voice, hearing the music within as though for the first time.

The heavens opened, for one brief moment, the dark dome of night clouds tore open, and an even darker night above shone with a thunder of stars, a lightning of music to answer her, a beacon, guiding to us our only salvation.

It came in glory, wreathed in light, promising hope, and it sang in answer to Riesa, sang in concert with her, the harmony filling the air, and the things that were still worrying at Ilen began to froth in rage before it.

Its feet barely touched the ground as it danced through the air, an outstretched hand touching each of us as it slipped through the crowd, moving closer to the beasts. With its touch, those of us who were still living felt the fear in our hearts dissipate. Those that lay all but dead on the ground breathed their last, and knew peace.

The things that came up from the ground, steaming, snarling, flung themselves at it in an attempt to pull it limb from limb, to rend it into little more than feathers and blood, screaming obscenities and hatred, daring it to touch them, daring it to act.

Instead, it sang a single, shining note, and drew its hand through the air, plucking from the sound a blade of song. The sword kissed rock-hard skin and burning flesh, cutting through the assault as if it were nothing, rending blood from bone, and breath from beast. The demons that plagued us were felled by its dance, and bloodied the stonegrass at our feet as easily as Ilen had.

When it was over, when we were saved, it stood in our midst, wings tipped crimson, hands dripping in steaming red.

It lifted Riesa from the ground, and put her back to her feet, then pointed back in the direction of Songfall, as if to remind us where we belonged.

A powerful downbeat of its wings did not stir the dust — the world around us was red clay, now — but carried it high into the night, and bore it aloft, toward the home it had given us.

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