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darkness in the light

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A crow flies overhead – he flinches back and down, hiding as best he can in the low scrub-brush. The crow caws loudly, but flies onwards. He still waits a minute, two, before he eases upright again. No telling when a crow will call a demon after it – a twig snaps somewhere behind him, and Ewan drops to his belly without pausing to think. He turns to peer over his shoulder and relaxes minutely.

“Get down,” he hisses. Myrrh blinks slowly before complying. He crawls back to her and tugs at one of her ragged wings. “You should have stayed inside.”

“I couldn’t,” Myrrh replies, her voice quiet. “He can’t see anymore.”

Ewan deflates. “Oh,” he replies, “are you sure? It might just be-”

Myrrh shakes her head. “He can’t see,” she repeats.

“Is... is Amelia still awake?” Ewan asks, getting back up again. He offers Myrrh his hand, but she declines it, getting up by herself and brushing some of the ash off of her skirt.

“I’m sorry, Ewan,” Myrrh murmurs, and Ewan has to remind himself that she’s a dragon, he can’t expect her to understand, but that doesn’t stop him from being angry.

“We’d better go back then,” he says, taking Myrrh’s hand. He squeezes it a bit too tightly – but then, Myrrh falls behind a lot, and tends to stare up at the black ash-clouds, and never seems to notice the crows or gargoyles on the horizon. He tugs her along as he hurries back to the mountain; back home.

It’s less a cave, more a scrape in the rock wall, but it’s better than the last hideout they had. Living in the ruins of Caer Pelyn had seemed like a good idea at the time but- Bael made their nests there now. They’d lost Ross up there, in the fog. Ross and their last horse, and it made Ewan sick to his stomach, but the loss of the horse had been worse than losing Ross. And now Amelia-

She’s still alive, just barely. They’ve been using the last of the anti-toxin to keep her alive – watered down with vulneraries to extend it, but.... She’d been trapped by a bael in Caer Pelyn, bitten, before she’d been able to slip into a crag just beyond the bael’s reach. It’d taken Ewan two days to find her, and he’d known, even then, that she probably wasn’t going to live. Not unless they found a miracle, and miracles were thin on the ground these days.

Ephraim coughs beside her, bringing up bloodied phlegm. He doesn’t open his eyes; instead, he sinks into a deeper sleep. Myrrh turns away from him to check their supplies, even though she knows there’s nothing there that will save him.

Let him die, Ewan thinks. Please, just let him die and have it be over.

“There was a rabbit earlier,” Myrrh says. “In the trap. We’ll have food for a while.”

“Can you skin it?” Ewan asks. She never wants to. He’s made her before, because he can’t do everything but Myrrh-

Master Saleh wouldn’t want him to think like that. Master Saleh said he’d be back, said that Ewan should look after Myrrh while he was gone, so that’s what Ewan will do. And if that means he has to look after Prince Ephraim and Amelia and every sick or dying person Myrrh ever brings home, well so be it. He promised, and he’s going to keep it.

Myrrh doesn’t say anything, but she goes over to the rabbit – it’s mostly skin and bone, but they can make the most of it these days – and Ewan takes the opportunity to shake Ephraim awake. He groans like he’s – well, he is dying. When his eyes open – painfully, they’re all sticky with mucus – they look... unnatural. Not pale or milky, like natural blindness, but.... Dark. And redder. Ewan doesn’t want to think about what that might mean for Ephraim.

He doesn’t say anything either, just groans helplessly and blinks useless eyes before rolling onto his side and falling asleep again. He’s wracked with shivers – the endless, unbreakable fever has been there since day one, since Ephraim fell ill all those months ago – and there are no more furs to pile on him. Ewan sighs and glances at Amelia again. She’s....

Before Knoll had left, he’d taught Ewan the trick of dark magic. “It saps your soul,” he’d murmured, at the time, but now.... There’s a Flux tome left. A complete one too, and Ewan has- Fire or Thunder would hurt, and he can’t use up precious Lightning or Shine tomes for this, and Amelia’s so far gone she won’t wake up again and they might need the anti-toxin, watered down as it is and he just....

“Myrrh, can you step outside for a bit?” Ewan asks. She doesn’t ask why, just does it, but when he carries Amelia’s body out she won’t meet his eyes.

He has to carry Amelia for about a mile before it’s safe to burn her, and Ewan’s eyes sting with tears as he does so but... it was for the best.

They don’t talk about it when he gets back, and Ewan makes a watery broth. They drip it down Ephraim’s throat as best they can, and when Myrrh does to bed, Ewan pretends he can’t hear her crying.

There are more crows the next day, probably summoned by the smell of burning flesh, and they have to stay inside. Ephraim brings up more blood, and he can’t keep down the vulneraries anymore. Ewan feels like the worst kind of person when his eyes stray to the Flux tome again, but he resists.

Perhaps Master Saleh will come back. Perhaps the clouds will part, and Master Saleh will return with horses and people, and Ephraim will be healed and whole again.

Perhaps the sun will shine again.

Ewan goes out hunting the day after, and he finds nothing at all. No rabbits, no birds, no carrion, no fruits or berries, no roots to eat, not even a mushroom.

When he goes back to the cave, the scrape in the rock, Ephraim and Myrrh are gone.