Felix handed the tiny, wailing fairy child to the fairy with a blue sash tied hastily around her upper arm, the sign of a healer.
‘There was a lot of smoke, but I don’t think he’s injured,’ Felix quickly told the woman as she gently nudged the child into a deep sleep, her finger at his temple.
She nodded briskly. ‘He’ll be fine; well done, Felix.’
The woodland fairy nodded, before turning and running out of the huge tent that had been set up on the very edge of the forest, right by the lake. Thick smoke billowed up from the trees, but the fire was still a good five leagues away. All manner of folk bustled around the impromptu campsite, mostly healers, volunteers with armloads of medical supplies or food, and those strong enough to keep going back in to the forest. Felix fell into the latter category – he was on rescue and recovery duty, his magic being much suited to seeking out life than fighting the rampaging flames. Accordingly, he wore a white piece of cloth around his right arm, the fire fighters wearing black.
Unfolding his thin, glittery wings, he launched himself into the air again, re-entering the forest with several others. They were all wrapped in as many protective charms as they could be, but nine hours after the blaze had started, everyone was feeling the strain. Felix knew he wouldn’t be able to continue much longer without a rest. As he danced between the trees, the whirring of his wings already matched by the distant roaring of the fire, he once again wished Chan was here.
I’ll be there in three hours, sweetheart, Chan’s mindvoice murmured in the back of his mind. I’m crossing the Emerald Sea now.
Briefly cursing himself for not having kept his thoughts under control, Felix replied incredulously, You’re over the Sea already? You won’t have any energy left when you get here if you keep that pace up.
I’ll have enough, came the slightly strained reply. Keep yourself safe until I get there, love.
Felix sighed aloud, coming to land on the crackly-dry earth in the little village that was about to be burned to ash, the air being too hot for his delicate wings. I’ll do my best, beautiful.
With that, he closed the connection and headed further into the village. It was directly in the fire’s path and wouldn’t survive the next few hours. Despite the best of efforts of those working on containing the fire, there was no way to stop it before it got here. Felix could see it through the trees, molten orange and gold. The village had begun evacuating hours ago, but there were still people hurrying to leave, so fairies who were fast, knew the woods well, and possessed steely nerves were rushing in to help. They had to move quickly, if they were all to get out safely – there had already been five confirmed deaths, excluding the tree spirits being burned alive, while the number of wounded and missing was ever-growing.
Those with magic pertaining to ice and motion raced along with him as he ran through the village, continuing straight on when he turned down a side street to help a distraught woman clutching an equally distressed baby in her arms. Before he could say anything, she turned to him, eyes frantic and filled with tears.
‘My daughter,’ she sobbed. ‘My little girl, I can’t find her, please help me!’
Felix felt a spike of dread in his gut, but he forced himself to present a somewhat calm front as he placed a firm hand upon her shoulder and said, ‘Madam, you must leave, it is not safe for you or your baby to remain.’
‘But I can’t! I need to find Hyejin before –’
‘I will look for her, Madam, and so will the other rescuers and we will find her, but you must go now, please,’ he implored, towing her down the narrow little street to the main avenue. ‘Follow the others, fly as soon as your wings can handle the heat, we will find Hyejin for you.’
She met his gaze, her stare fierce with emotion. After a moment, the fairy pursed her lips and nodded, turning and sprinting after the others, her wailing baby held close.
Felix went back the way he’d come, the awful feeling that’d been sitting in his gut since he’d first smelled the smoke, heard the cries of alarm, growing worse with every breath. There was a little girl lost somewhere around here – please, Mother of the Weeping Trees, let her not have been taken by the fire – and he had to find her. He’d never forgive himself if he didn’t, not after the look her mother had given him. Already, so many lives had been ruined by the blaze, he would not be the one to break that family by telling the woman he could not find her child.
For the next hour or so, Felix raced from place to place, helping along those who didn’t want to leave for one reason or another and those who needed help. He’d just talked an elderly wind sprite out of trying to call up a hurricane to blow everyone to safety, instead encouraging him to get himself to safety, when he heard someone yell his name. Whipping around, he caught sight of the fox spirit, Jeongin, just as a not-so-distant booming crash was heard, making him flinch.
‘Felix!’ Jeongin yelled, staggering in from the direction of the explosion.
Felix ran over to him, hissing in alarm at the blood sluggishly creeping down Jeongin’s face from a nasty cut on his temple. Throwing an arm around the fox spirit’s back and taking half of his weight, he demanded, ‘What happened?’
‘It’s – it’s reached the first houses,’ the injured boy panted. ‘Hyunjin’s back there, Felix, you have to – have to help, there are –’ he coughed harshly – ‘there are people, children –’
Despite the intense heat all around, the fairy’s blood ran cold and he stopped in his tracks, looking up to meet Jeongin’s bright green eyes. ‘Children?’ he breathed, horrified.
The fox boy nodded fiercely. ‘There aren’t enough people out there, I’m going to get more help –’
‘Go as fast as you can, then get to a healer,’ Felix interrupted, already disentangling himself from the spirit. ‘I’ll head back now.’
‘Keep following the main avenue!’ Jeongin called after him as he started running again. ‘They’re along that way!’
Adrenaline pumped through Felix’s veins in time with the hammering of his heart. As the heat became too much to handle, he ran another protective charm through his mind, cooling all the air within a half finger length of him, making it bearable for him to continue. It wasn’t long before he saw the fire – it was everywhere, a furious wall of it entirely too close for comfort, fey of all sorts darting around on the ground and in the air as they attempted to quell it. But the air was so hot that flash fires had started breaking out and multiple houses not yet consumed by the main body of the blaze were alight.
Felix scanned them quickly, looking for one with activity around it – it took only moments to find it. The tall, spindly home was engulfed in flame and attached to the trunk of a tree smaller than many of the rest of the forest giants. With that much weight on one side of it, Felix was sure the whole thing would collapse soon. It was a miracle there was anyone left to be saved within it at all.
He skidded to a halt by the tree, still large enough to tower over him, feeling the amount of energy his cooling charm was consuming rapidly increase. Two fey were already outside the house, both of them rigid and staring as they whispered an on-going incantation under their breaths to keep the tree upright – Felix could feel it sighing sadly as it prepared to keel over – and a clear entrance into the house, the doorway free of flames. They both cradled little ones in their arms, the children having been put into an induced sleep. Felix recognised the adults – the fair-skinned, dark-haired youth was Minho, a hawk spirit, and the dusky-skinned, gold-haired fey was Jisung, a summer spirit.
‘Is Hyunjin the only one in there with the children?’ Felix shouted over the roaring of the flames.
Without so much as blinking, Minho nodded sharply, pearls of sweat sliding down his temple.
Making sure his wards were pulled in tight around him, Felix launched himself up over the smouldering remains of the steps and straight through the doorway. He was instantly assaulted by a wave of heat, but didn’t waste his energy on dispelling it, only lowering the temperature around him enough that he could still function. Everything was a mess of dancing flames and flickering shadows, leaving him unsure which way to turn.
‘Hyunjin!’ Felix yelled. ‘Where are you?’
As he called, he quested out with his senses, seeking life sources. The immense strength of the fire made it rather more difficult than usual, but his chosen range was short and he felt multiple lives beneath him, possibly on an underground level. Reaching out further, he released a tightly controlled pulse of energy, dimming the fires for a moment and –
There. A doorway with stairs through it, leading down. Steeling himself, Felix dug down deep, deep within himself, cracking open his power reserves. It didn’t matter if this wiped him out for hours afterwards – Hyunjin and the children downstairs were unlikely survive if he didn’t do something quickly. He felt his skin prickle, protective charms strengthening as he leaped through the flames toward the stairs.
Skidding down them two at a time, he called out using mindspeak: Hyunjin, where are you?
The large, open room Felix stumbled into was not yet on fire but for the ceiling, parts of which had started to burn away enough to show glimpses of upstairs. Smoke, however, filled the room, having nowhere to escape, and he knew that would kill the children faster than anything else.
Felix! I’m at the back of the room, three kids with me. There’s not enough clean air in here for me to keep the smoke out of their lungs for much longer.
Feeling a brief rush of relief that they were all alive still, Felix used Hyunjin’s mindvoice to pinpoint the other fairy’s location. He quickly stumbled upon them, three small, sleeping bodies tucked in a corner of the room, Hyunjin crouched in front of them, eyes shut as he fiercely concentrated on maintaining the shimmering air bubble encasing the four of them.
Felix immediately saw why the black-haired fey hadn’t been able to simply force his way up through the smoke and fire – Hyunjin’s trousers had been ripped on one thigh, revealing a gruesome wound, all blood and mangled skin. Yet another layer of horror settled over Felix as he reached out to tap Hyunjin on the shoulder. His eyes snapped open and instead of their usual dark brown, they were bright blue, denoting the immense amount of energy he was expending.
What ha– Can you walk? Can you carry any of them? Felix demanded frantically, feeding some of his own magic into the bubble to help.
Jaw set, Hyunjin nodded. Jeongin and I were hurt in another house. I can take one child, but you’ll have to carry the other two, okay?
As Felix inclined his head, there were a series of ear-splitting cracking sounds from above them. Instinctively, they both threw shields over the children and then part of the ceiling crashed into the ground, blocking the stairs. The flames surged higher and immediately began spreading outward, seeking new fuel.
Shit, was Felix’s first thought.
Hyunjin! Felix! You need to get out of there now! Jisung’s mindvoice echoed urgently in both fairies’ heads. The whole tree’s about to come down!
Felix and Hyunjin exchanged an alarmed look. How were they going to get out?
We’re going to have to go straight up through the fire, Hyunjin mindspoke.
Swallowing hard, Felix glanced around and agreed. It’s the only option now. Jisung, get the fires inside dampened as much as possible, we’re coming up.
They swiftly scooped the unconscious young fey up, Felix wrapping them in as much protective energy as he could spare and reinforcing his grip on his two precious burdens with magic; there was no way they’d be slipping from his arms.
I’ll go first, came Hyunjin’s grim mindvoice, as he held his designated child close and squinted up at the burning hole in the ceiling.
Felix wanted to protest, but he knew that the black-haired youth would be better equipped to handle unpleasant surprises with his lighter load. The house was groaning alarmingly around them, so they both unfolded their wings, gritting their teeth against the severe heat – wards were all well and good, but they were woodlanders and their wings were incredibly delicate.
Teeth bared in a determined snarl, Hyunjin launched himself into the air, smoke and fire curling away from him as he passed through it. Felix, right on his heels, hissed as he felt the fragile membranes on his wings singe. Of course, just as they reached it, their entire side of the ceiling caved in. Felix slammed out with his magic against the collapsing beams, halting their movement, while Hyunjin cast a glistening shield around them to protect them from the huge rush of flames that came down with the ceiling. Quickly, carefully, they flew around these obstacles and up through the newly gaping hole. They were now almost entirely engulfed in fire, only alive because of their immediate shielding, and they had little idea how far they were from the door.
As they sped onward, a horrendous shrieking-grating-groaning-snapping sound rang out and suddenly everything was moving and, in sheer panic, Hyunjin and Felix split. Felix distantly understood that the tree had started falling but this meant little as he desperately wove between the crumbling pieces of the house, instinctively tightening his wards and his grip on the little ones.
Then bolts of raw, vibrant magic pierced the house, crashing through the back wall into the tree, and everything ground to a halt. Felix felt echoes of Minho, Jisung, and several others, Dahyun, Hyojong, and Seulgi.
HURRY, Minho’s mindvoice roared through his head.
Now completely lost, Felix frantically reached out his senses, finding Hyunjin more or less well and whole and tasting cleaner air through what must be the doorway, somewhere above him again. He flew straight up towards it, his entire body abuzz with adrenaline, coherent thought more or less a thing of the past as every fibre of his being focused on getting out, getting the children out –
Something huge burst through the smoke, moving much too fast for Felix to dart out of the way, so he screeched to a halt in mid-air and threw up a gold-tinted shield in front of him. The searing pain in his wings sharpened as he diverted the majority of his energy into the barrier. It was good that he did, though – the burning object, a section of one walls, crashed into the shield with enough force to shatter on impact, pieces flying off in all directions. The barrier held, but Felix’s power reserves had taken a serious dive, leaving him dangerously close to empty.
Dropping the reinforced shield and letting energy flow back to protect his wings, which were complaining loudly at the abuse they were suffering, the woodlander resumed his upward flight. He was slower now, exhaustion dragging at his limbs, but his survival instincts had taken charge and he did not stop.
Unfortunately, with the giving way of the wall, the rest of the house was beginning to collapse in earnest. The fairies outside were holding up the tree but the fire had chewed its way through enough of the building that it could no longer hold itself together.
Get the little ones out.
Another large, indistinguishable object engulfed in flame fell at Felix, which he barely managed to dodge.
Get them to safety.
He was absolutely surrounded by fire now but he could see the doorway, he could taste the clean air beyond it.
The house bellowed a final protest and gave up, the entire structure crumpling and falling down, down towards the earth, down towards Felix, down towards the precious lives he carried in his arms.
In a very short space of time, Felix experienced many things.
He sensed more lances of power slamming through the house, trying to hold it up, trying to keep the door open.
He saw Hyunjin on the far side of the fire, his face contorted in a terrified cry of warning.
He felt the weight of half a burning house bearing down on him, a mere moment away.
He understood that he could and would save the children at the cost of himself; the fiercely protective instincts riding him gave him no choice in the matter. With the final surge of his physical and magical strength, Felix heaved the children from him through the last field of fire and out the door into Hyunjin’s arms.
Felix’s wings shrieked as many of his charms gave out, so he tucked them in close to his back, curled up into a ball with his arms over his head, and dissolved all the enchantments he’d attached to himself. That left only one ward, the one tied to a fairy’s own life that came into being when they were born. It was the most fundamental kind of magic, entirely focused on survival, and Felix directed every last iota of energy at it.
Then the house hit him and his world became one of pain and fire and screams.
In the moments before consciousness mercifully departed him, the final desperate thought that skidded through his mind was, Where is Chan?
Chan was less than two hours from Barkwood, the terrain mountainous enough that he could see no evidence of the raging fire burning on the horizon yet. He’d been flying at high speed for six hours – when Felix had clued him in on just how out of control the forest fire was, Chan had wrapped up his business in the Blue Moon Valley promptly and immediately set a course for home. As a very old mountain spirit, his magic reserves were huge and he hadn’t needed to take a rest yet which was pretty g–
– Chan’s wings stuttered, threatening to drop him from the sky –
– he wrenched back control of them, slowing rapidly as he stabilised –
– his hands rose to clutch at his head as he struggled not to lose himself in the horrific feelings that were not his –
Where is Chan?
– sudden silence, a startling lack of any feedback at all.
The oread reeled, his mind spinning at the whiplash of too much sensation and then none. He gasped, blinking away sympathetic tears of pain that had sprung unbidden to his eyes, heart beating hard enough to rip out of his ribcage –
Felix. Something had happened to him, something awful.
Panic abruptly a choking fist around his throat, Chan mindspoke, FELIX!
There was no response. He called again, reached as far as he could through their bond, looking for something, anything, but it was still and quiet. What had happened?
He was screaming, a tiny voice within him whispered hollowly. He was burning.
For a second, Chan thought he might be sick, but then a false calm descended over him like a leaden cloak, focusing his mind on the only things that were important right now – Felix had been badly hurt and, at the pace Chan was flying, was still nearly two hours away. There was no time to waste. He had to save his fairy.
Clearly he was much too late to protect him.
I can do it in half an hour, Chan told himself, steely-eyed as he looked to the horizon with renewed intent. He’d been flying fast before but if he pulled out all the stops, released the heart of the mountain spirit within him, he could do it. He would do it.
So Chan allowed the weight of his three millennia of life to unfurl within him, feeling it suffuse every part of him. He murmured a prayer to his patron deity, Mountain Who Was Once A Star, and then he flew.
When Felix came to, the pain was so excruciating he almost blacked out again. If he’d been able to, he’d have cursed the persistence of his consciousness. As it was, he wasn’t capable of thinking much – he felt like he’d been dropped into the heart of an active volcano.
By the time he was coherent enough to be aware of more than just the agony consuming him, he realised he was screaming. Or... trying to. His throat didn’t seem to be working very well and the sounds he was making were broken and small and utterly agonised.
‘– coming around, talk to him, keep him awake!’
The voice was urgent, though it sounded like it was coming from far away, or perhaps as though he was listening to it through a wall of water. Vaguely, he thought he recognised it.
‘Felix! Felix, can you hear me? Respond if you can hear me. Can you wiggle your fingers?’
That voice was much closer, coming from somewhere above him. It was loud, too, and Felix wished it would be quiet so that he could fall back into the arms of sweet oblivion and escape whatever was causing him so much pain.
‘Come on, Felix, stay awake, okay? Can you hear me?’
Everything hurt so much, he couldn’t breathe, he just wanted it to stop –
‘He’s going again, it’s too much! Seulgi, we can’t –’
There was an impact and the agony flared, he was burning –
Felix was relieved when everything disappeared again.
‘– won’t stop, I need Hwitaek right now.’
Felix was dimly aware of the fact that a very small part of him had just barely resurfaced. There was less pain now. No burning. In fact, there wasn’t much at all except a gentle, floaty feeling. It didn’t encourage him to wake up, but the persistent voices around him did.
‘– enough energy to do this myself. My reserves are thoroughly depleted; you’ll have to –’
‘We’re in luck then, backup is apparently only a few minutes away.’
‘Oh, he’s almost here? Already? Shit, he’s fast.’
‘He mindspoke to Hyunjin here just a minute ago –’
Hyunjin. That rang a bell, somewhere in the foggy mists of Felix’s mind. He hauled a little more of himself to consciousness, trying to think. Why was Hyunjin so important? Felix knew someone called Hyunjin, another woodlander, a friend... But why were they talking about him, why was he here, where were they?
Unbidden, a word emerged from the sticky morass of unconsciousness: children.
He didn’t even have time to be confused before at least another fifth of him was jolted awake as he remembered the burning forest and the burning house, Hyunjin and children trapped, everything collapsing and the fire catching him –
Even through the haze, Felix felt his whole body jerk as it recoiled from the unbearable pain the memory dragged with it. For a moment, the fog melted away and he felt the pain still waiting for him, barely suppressed, felt a concentration of it in his abdomen, his shoulder, his face –
‘– sedative! He’s going to tear the skin and –’ the distressed male voice was saying.
‘It means he’s alive, Hui!’ interrupted the angry female one. ‘He’s fighting to stay alive and that’s what we need! Do you hear me, Lee Felix? You keep fighting!’
Felix gasped as a wave of pure agony rippled out from his abdomen, almost shaking loose his tenuous grip on consciousness.
‘Don’t you dare give up now, Felix!’
Ice-cold-burning-hot claws dug into his shoulder and he felt a scream crawl up his throat, getting strangled along the way.
’The children are safe, you hear?’
His face, oh his face – he could feel himself slipping and sliding closer to the brink –
‘Chan’s nearly here, Felix, he’s so close, so you hang on for him, alright?’
Chan. He reached out with his mindvoice, desperate –
Instantly, his mind was flooded with an endless ocean of tenderness, concern, and love, all of it laced with the scent, the taste, the feel of the person Felix cared for most in this world, his beloved oread.
I’ll be with you shortly, sweetheart, you can rest for now, okay? I’ll take care of everything. You’ve done so well, Felix. Rest now.
So he let go and slipped over the edge.
The fire was a blurred sea of orange beneath Chan as he sped over the forest. He was careful to stay high above it, not wishing to be choked on the smoke or his wings to be singed in the heat. He would go and help, of course he would – for all that his magic had nothing to do with air or water or kinetic energy, Chan was old and powerful with it.
His priority, however, was to get to Felix, make sure he was safe and healing. Being able to mindspeak with the younger fairy moments ago when he’d abruptly surged to consciousness for the second time had taken some of the weight off Chan’s heart. Felix’s mind hadn’t been lucid enough to hear him the first time, which had been terrifying in its own right.
The edge of the forest, as yet untouched by the ravaging flames, came into sight, along with the lake. Chan saw the tell-tale flickering of magic at work by the water’s edge; no doubt the more aquatically talented were making good use of such a readily available source. But they were not his focus, and he quested out for the mind he was looking for somewhere amongst the impromptu cluster of tents.
There. The green one closest to the lake had multiple mental signatures in it he recognised, one of them being Felix’s. Chan dived toward to it, an arrow streaking down from the sky. He made no effort to call attention to himself as he landed, but the abruptness of his arrival and the wisps of silver mist curling around him made him rather obvious. Everyone had more important things to be doing than rubbernecking, the atmosphere one of controlled urgency, so no-one interrupted him, although he felt the many glances hastily thrown his way. Wasting no time, Chan strode over to the entrance flap of the tent and carefully twitched it open, poking his head in – he had no wish to startle whichever healers might be at work in here.
A partition had been erected, sectioning off the back of the tent. Between it and him, several simple bedrolls had been unfurled along the ground, only one of them occupied. A dark-haired woodlander glanced up at him, eyes widening in recognition, and the healer bandaging his forearm whipped around.
‘Chan,’ Hyunjin said, relief painted across his face.
The healer, a skinny male with bright pink hair whose glittering eyes and ostensible lack of wings inclined Chan to believe he was a witch, huffed in relief, hunched shoulders relaxing slightly. Those big eyes of his flickered to the back of the tent for an instant and before the oread could do more than come inside properly, the partition shifted enough to allow another fey to slip out. This one he knew; the inky-haired woman was Seulgi, one of the strongest healers in Barkwood and the surrounding communities.
All that, of course, was beside the point.
‘Seulgi,’ he began, his voice rough with repressed emotion.
She didn’t let him say anything more, immediately beckoning him to come with her behind the curtain, fatigue evident in the set of her mouth and shoulders. Chan didn’t need any more encouragement, his heart sitting heavily in his throat as he quickly bypassed the other two with a brief nod.
Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw when he joined her, for the condition his beautiful, wonderful, beloved fairy was in where he lay, still and pale on another bedroll.
Where Felix’s skin wasn’t unnaturally white, it was grey with ash and red with blood and burns. Another woman Chan didn’t recognise was mopping away the blood oozing out of an awful wound in Felix’s abdomen, using a no-longer-white cloth and healing salve. His shirt had been cut off him, lying around him in pieces, making it obvious where he’d been hurt worst – not only his stomach but his left shoulder, and, worst of all, his face. There was so much raw flesh where the skin had been burned away that he could hardly believe Felix was alive at all. White bone glistened through the mangled meat of Felix’s shoulder.
Unfortunately, Chan didn’t have time to come to terms with the awful sight before him that had just punched him in the gut and left him winded – Seulgi was already leading him forward.
‘As you can see,’ she said, her voice firm and grounding, ‘he’s not doing well. Hwitaek –’ she jerked her head back towards the rest of the tent, presumably to the pink-haired man – ‘is almost completely drained, he’s been going since the fire started. I’m not much better right now but I’ll be enough if we start an energy-link.’
Chan could smell the burnt flesh, it was clinging to the inside of his mouth and nose and throat. He wasn’t sure he’d ever, ever be able to forget it after –
‘Chan!’ Seulgi snapped.
The oread jerked, tearing his gaze away from Felix and meeting eyes of black fire.
‘Listen to me,’ she enunciated slowly and emphatically. ‘This whole situation is appalling. I know. But there are others in worse shape than he who will not make it to sundown. Felix can be saved if you help me. But we have to start immediately or he will die. Do not mourn what you have not yet lost.’
The words “or he will die” boomed in Chan’s skull, knocking down everything, breaking through the haze of shock like a hammer. He came back to himself, gaze sharpening, silvery evidence of his power brightening under his skin, the intangible tendrils falling thickly from him.
‘Right,’ he ground out, horrified grief barely held at bay. ‘You need energy? I can do that.’
Relief flashed across Seulgi’s tired face. ‘Good. Don’t overload me; I can’t handle the brunt of an upset oread’s strength.’
The serious look on her face as she said this showed she wasn’t joking. Chan nodded, reaching out and taking her offered hand. He extended a carefully restrained stream of his power down through his arm and up into hers, gritting his teeth as it sought to break free and pour uncontrollably into Seulgi. She hissed, eyes flashing silver for a moment, before letting go of his hand, the connection remaining intact.
Then she crouched near the short-haired fey, who was tending to Felix with single-minded focus.
‘Jeonghwa, I’m going to need you to assist. We’ll tackle the abdomen first, alright?’
The woman nodded silently, rising from her spot to retrieve an assortment of devilish looking instruments from the medical bag, all of them sterilised with healing magic. Seulgi laid her fingertips very lightly on Felix’s wound and then they glowed with soft white light.
The healing had begun and all Chan could do was keep watch and pray to every deity that this was enough.
It took the three healers – Hwitaek joined them shortly after they began, though he was too drained to be able to do anything but assist non-magically – three hours to get all the splinters and fragments of wood buried within Felix’s body out and repair his organs enough that he was no longer in critical condition. Seulgi drew strongly from Chan as she very delicately mended all the little nicks and tears, few larger than a paper cut but all with the potential of being utterly lethal. Then the healers immediately moved to Felix’s face, which had been very badly burned, especially around his eyes. Given how little they talked, Chan presumed they were all using mindspeak and wondered what they weren’t telling him.
As they worked, commotion could be heard from behind the partition as other injured fey were brought into the tent and healers called upon, sometimes to patch up wounds, sometimes to tip the scales of life and death in the hurt fairy’s favour. In an attempt to be more useful, Chan extended several open energy-links out to the healers in the rest of the tent, knowing they all had to be pushing up against their limits. To his relief, many of them completed the links, unabashedly drawing on all the strength he could offer.
They were only disturbed when Hwitaek abruptly stood and left, nearly stumbling with exhaustion. Several minutes later, another man arrived, taller and broader and smelling only faintly of flowers and deep forest glens beneath the acrid stench of smoke and fire. He glanced at Chan, appraising the oread where he stood, restless and awash with power. Chan inclined his head briefly, a gesture which the woodlander returned before taking up where Hwitaek had left off, seamlessly slotting in with the women. While Seulgi and Jeonghwa continued to mend Felix’s ruined face, the man focused on Felix’s shoulder. Quickly, he finished cleaning the wound before drawing up white healing energy of his own around his fingers as he crooned under his breath, beginning to coax the flesh to knit back together.
Five hours after Chan had arrived at the camp, the healers all sat back on their heels, sighing wearily, hands starting to shake. Even the oread was feeling tired now – he’d been intending to help with the fire-fighting, but supposed he’d probably done at least as much good here, sustaining nearly a dozen healers for several hours. He could definitely do with a bite to eat and a nap.
‘Now,’ Seulgi said, her voice hoarse, ‘he just has to survive the night. If he can do that, he’ll – he’ll be okay.’
Tears pricked at the corners of Chan’s eyes, but he blinked them back, swallowed through his suddenly very tight throat. ‘Thank you.’
He could barely speak above a whisper but they heard him, nodding their understanding.
Seulgi and Jeonghwa departed shortly after, in dire need of rest, but the male approached Chan.
‘I am Dowoon,’ he said, his voice nearly as deep as Felix’s. ‘Thank you for the energy-link.’
Chan inclined his head briskly. ‘I’m Chan, and you’re welcome. I have no healing abilities and my practical knowledge of the area is limited – thank you for helping to heal Felix. Thank you.’
Dowoon watched him with oddly calm eyes. ‘There is no need for thanks,’ he said, words measured and precise. ‘I must go now to help the others, but what will you do? The healers in this tent will watch over your woodlander.’
‘I want to help the fire fighters,’ Chan replied immediately. ‘But I need to eat something first. Do you know where the food stations are?’
Dowoon nodded. ‘The large white tent in the middle of the camp. Chaeyoung, Jaebum, and Junmyeon are coordinating things from there, they’ll have food for you and an identifying armband.’
Chan gripped the healer’s arm in gratitude for a moment. ‘Thank you again,’ he said.
He took one final look at Felix, heart wrenching at the sight of his love so hurt, before exhaling sharply and leading the way out from behind the partition. Dowoon stayed in the tent, going to one of the other healers, while the oread headed out into the cool evening air. He could taste the smoke now, hear the roaring of hungry flames – the fire fighters had done well to keep the blaze back from the lake for so long.
The white tent was not hard to find and Chan joined the steady line of people pouring in. Inside was busy – he saw food being served at a long table to his right and clusters of healers gathering supplies and assistance to the left. Other fairies clustered around a table at the back, a huge glowing map on it, no doubt of the forest and fire.
Determining that he ought to get an armband first, Chan made his way over to Jaebum, whom he spotted near the table, talking to several fairies with black sashes about their arms.
‘– sure that they come back within an hour, understood? It’s been too long since they rested,’ the sharp-faced witch was saying, brow furrowed.
The trio he was addressing nodded, one of them replying with words too soft-spoken for Chan to hear without actively eavesdropping. Jaebum inclined his head in response and the fairies promptly turned and hurried passed Chan back towards the entrance.
Jaebum was already directing his attention back toward the group around the table, where Chan noted Chaeyoung was but Junmyeon was not. However, when the witch saw Chan standing a respectful several paces away, he did a double take, eyes widening at the wisps of silvery power still dripping off the oread.
‘You must be the mountain spirit partnered to the woodlander, Felix,’ Jaebum said, no hint of question in his voice.
Chan stepped forward. ‘I am he. My name is Chan and you are the Midnight Witch, Im Jaebum, one of the leaders of my beloved’s community.’
The witch inclined his head. ‘Have you come to help us?’ he asked.
It never did to assume with fey as old as Chan – many of them were so removed from day-to-day life that they were rarely seen, as Chan himself had been before Felix.
‘Yes. These past hours, I have been providing energy to the healers in Seulgi’s tent. Felix –’ he failed to unclench his hands – ‘is seriously injured but... they have done all they can for him. So I am here to help the fire fighters. I have –’ the joints in his knuckles were going to pop – ‘a strong need to destroy something and if fire is all there is, so be it.’
Holding Chan’s fierce stare, Jaebum nodded solemnly, relief flashing over his face. ‘Thank you for helping the healers; too many of them are running low on power reserves. If you still have the energy for it, then, I will place you on the frontline, your purpose to help the others quell the fire. The brunt of it has been turned away from the lake but there are many miles of forest now lying directly in its path and, unlike us, it has not lost strength.’
‘I need to eat something,’ Chan interjected, ‘but after that –’ He ground his teeth, fighting back a sudden rush of rage. Taking a careful breath in, he continued, ‘After that, I can go wherever you need me.’
‘Excellent. Here, take this,’ Jaebum said, offering the oread a black sash which he picked up from one of the three piles on the ground. ‘The fairies manning the food stations will know what to give you if you wear the band. I’ll send a familiar to guide you to the most effective point along the firewall in ten minutes, alright?’
‘Perfectly,’ Chan replied, accepting the strip of cloth.
Quarter of an hour later saw Chan flying away from the lake and towards the forest, a shadow-cat slightly ahead of him. The sun had set a while ago and the gloaming was rapidly giving way to true night. There was no danger of impenetrable darkness, though – the fire was consuming the woodland briskly and it blanketed the land in a sea of orange and red.
Chan followed the Midnight Witch’s familiar down through the trees, heat washing over him harmlessly. He had already set his wards in place. They were few, simple, and firmly anchored – he had no interest in being distracted by failing enchantments. Chan felt them gradually drawing on more energy as he and the shadow-cat neared the edge of the blaze. He could just make out small figures fluttering to and fro against the wall of light and flame when Jaebum’s familiar dived to the right, leading him further along the firewall. A minute later, the shadow-cat shot up to the sky, hovering above the treetops. Chan followed and looked out at the view before him, a thrill of horror shooting up his spine.
The entire valley was ablaze, molten and glowing, lighting up the dark sky in a macabre parody of the warmth of a hearth fire.
If he opened his senses for just a second, he could hear the echoes of thousands of screams from all the tree spirits who had died today. The fire was a thing of nature, unfeeling and faultless, but Chan’s fury was building by the moment and he needed something to take it out on.
‘Is it here? Here is where I can end it?’ he asked the shadow-cat without tearing his gaze from the awful sight, voice wavering ever so slightly.
Chan heard a faint hiss behind him, a sound of approval, and knew that if he were to turn now, the familiar would be gone, its task complete. An image of Felix’s still, bloody body flashed through his mind and the oread’s power trembled in his control, begging to be unleashed.
First, though, he directed his mindvoice to all the fey below him and in the immediate vicinity, telling them to move back from the fire, warning them that he did not know how it would respond to him. He heard a ragged chorus of assenting replies, many of them relieved.
That taken care of, Chan allowed the heart of his oread to rise up until it brushed the inside of his skin, silver leaking out of his pores and making him shine. He felt his body groan and shudder on an atomic level as it struggled to withstand so much magic coursing through it. Before it could do anything alarming like disintegrate on him, Chan extended an arm out, palm down, letting his power coalesce there.
‘Cease,’ he hissed, eyes narrowed to gleaming slits.
His magic leaped at the chance of freedom, pouring out of him at a ferocious rate and streaming down into the fire.
The writhing tendrils of silver pulsed at his order, immediately rippling out through the flames, racing to the very edges of the fire and entwining with it, choking it.
The fire fought back, as expected. It was immense, sprawling, and at the height of its strength. But Chan, for all his wild emotion, was thinking consciously and he matched its rage. His body shook as it channelled the wrath of a three millennia-old oread and he glowed bright enough to be seen from the lake. Every muscle of his was locked, his mouth frozen in feral snarl, so Chan used mindspeak to reiterate his command.
He reached down into the roots of his mountain, pulling up all the power he could, cracking open every reserve, funnelling it all down into the blaze beneath him.
Tendrils of silver infiltrated the burning core of the fire, snaking over the ground through the molten embers, smothering them one by one and forcing them into submission.
Chan felt unfamiliar magics brushing past his own, but he ignored them. The other fire fighters were joining the battle again, reinvigorated by the oread’s efforts which were already having a visible effect – no longer was the valley blanketed only in orange and yellow and red, but now also silver. For every flame the fire sent up, Chan sent a glittering ribbon of power after it.
He couldn’t throttle the entire fire alone, he had no illusions about that. With the help of the other fey around and below him, however, that was another story. The stars turned overhead, the crescent moon rose and crawled across the sky, and Chan remained a beacon above the flames, refusing to let the fire progress any further.
False dawn was still an hour or more away when the scales finally tipped and there were two streamers of silver for every flame. Chan was teetering dangerously close to burnt out but he could feel the mishmash of energies below him growing in strength and diversity as more fire fighters returned to the front. Many of them were joining him above the treetops, though they stayed well out of his way, for a better vantage to attack from.
Slowly, Chan began recalling his magic, drawing back the furthermost edge. Other magics flooded into the spaces he left behind. He had no concerns about the fire regaining steam without him – it was dying now and the fairies picking up where he left off were strong, their energy restored after enforced rest and refuelling.
As the last ribbons of silver withdrew from the flames, Chan’s mind turned to the lake and Felix. He fluttered his wings and set a course for Seulgi’s tent, determined to stay by his beloved woodlander’s side, even if the healers confined him to one tiny corner.
Unexpected cries of encouragement and gratitude, both out loud and with mindspeak, startled him out of his thoughts as he flew. A tired smile crept over his face as the fey he passed hailed him. Chan could not muster the energy to reply but there would be time for that later, when the embers had gone cold and he was not about to fall out of the air for sheer exhaustion.
Word of his coming must have travelled ahead of him, for when he touched down at the lakeside – considerably less gracefully this time – Chaeyoung was there. He staggered, legs nearly giving out, and she dived forward, seizing one of his arms and wrapping it around her shoulders. The raven fairy was slight but strong, and she had no trouble half-carrying Chan back through the camp.
‘The fire is – it’s –’
‘I know, Chan, we’ve already had reports come in,’ she smoothly interrupted his mumbling, tightening her grip on his waist when he stumbled. ‘Barkwood and I cannot thank you enough for the help you have given us tonight. We are forever in your debt.’
Chan inhaled sharply and awkwardly turned his head to look at her. Chaeyoung glanced up at him, letting him see the seriousness in her black eyes, because facing forward again.
‘Junmyeon and Jaebum are in total agreement,’ she continued quietly. ‘Without your assistance, a lot more than just this valley would have burned. It is unlikely any of Barkwood would remain at all.’
‘I accept your thanks,’ Chan replied, equally softly. ‘But do not concern yourselves with repaying me. This is Felix’s home and all of you are his family so it is natural for me to help. Heal him for me, mend him as I cannot – that is all I will ask of you.’
They were nearly at the green tent, Chaeyoung having brought him there without any prompting.
‘You know you don’t need to ask for that,’ she said. ‘We are, as you said, his family. The only acceptable outcome is his survival. We have already –’ her voice wavered slightly before she briskly cleared her throat – ‘already lost too many people and there will undoubtedly be more yet.’
They stopped in front of the tent, dimly lit from within, and she looked at him again, her expression determined and sincere. ‘Felix is strong and his injuries are not insurmountable. Go now, rest as long as you need, and we shall talk again when you wake.’
Chan disentangled himself from the raven fairy and nodded. ‘May the Child of Old watch over you,’ he murmured, a respectful goodbye.
Chaeyoung smiled. ‘And over you,’ she finished.
She left and Chan once more pulled back the entrance flap of the tent, stepping cautiously inside.
He had only a moment to notice that half a dozen other partitions had been erected, no doubt for privacy and hygiene, before a healer he recognised from that afternoon – Jeonghwa? – appeared in front of him.
‘Follow me,’ she whispered, expression gentle as she turned to lead him through the maze to the back. ‘The woodlander has been doing as well as can be expected. His body has not rejected the treatments and he has stabilised.’
She paused in front of a curtain, behind which Chan could sense Felix lay, either very deeply asleep or unconscious. He opened his mouth to respond, but Jeonghwa shook her head, gaze very soft.
‘You can rest in there with him, if you wish, but I must ask you not to touch him. His condition is still... delicate.’
‘Thank you,’ Chan whispered, earnestly.
Jeonghwa’s lips quirked up slightly. ‘No, thank you, Oread. Go and sleep now.’
Chan inclined his head, accepting her offered gratitude. Before he pushed through the curtain, he quietly said, ‘Please ensure no one attempts to wake or move me. My magic is likely to react defensively to anyone but Felix.’
‘Understood,’ the healer murmured.
With that, the oread slipped behind the partition. The bedroll Felix lay on took up much of the available space, which was lit up by a very small floating sunbeam. The little golden ball of light hovered a foot above Chan’s head, emitting a soft glow that made Felix appear to be peacefully resting. All the blood from earlier had been cleaned away and thick white bandages were wrapped around his abdomen, shoulder, and the upper half of his face. The latter sent a shiver of apprehension prickling over Chan’s skin, but he pushed it aside, focussing on the slow rise and fall of Felix’s breath instead and noting the cooling gel covering his many burns.
Felix was healing. That was the important bit. Chan reminded himself of this as he curled up in the small space at the foot of the bedroll.
Rest well, my love, he whispered down their bond, eyes already falling shut. Rest well and return to me.
Felix’s third rise to consciousness was a gradual thing, like the rising of the tide. It took him a while to realise he was waking up again, partly because he couldn’t feel anything. Perhaps this should have been a reason to panic but Felix stayed calm, sleepy, sluggish.
The sea washed in and out, the tide slowly creeping up.
In and out went the gentle waves, lapping at the edge of his mind.
In and out.
In and out.
In and out.
He was breathing.
The realisation was a sudden but quiet one. That rhythm was not the ocean; it was his breathing. He could feel his chest expanding and contracting, the air going in and out –
In and out –
In and out –
His body ached.
The sensation was distant but inescapable. All of him hurt, a nagging irritation that disrupted the soothing motion of his breathing. He couldn’t identify any parts of his body, find where the pain was coming from, but now that he was aware of it, the ache shadowed his every inhale, every exhale. That was the extent of his existence – a sliver of consciousness trapped in a pair of lungs, struggling against –
You keep fighting!
Felix’s breath stuttered.
Don’t you dare give up now, Felix!
Where were those words coming from? Were they real?
– so you hang on for him, alright?
Who said that? Why were they shouting so loudly? Distress seeped through Felix’s mind, the gentle in and out of his breathing ragged and breaking. The pain in his body sharpened little by little as the words crashed around, knocking into him again and again. He tried to steady himself, tried to shove the horrible noise away but he had no hands, nothing to push with.
In and – out and in – and –
Out – and in – out
In – and
He knew that voice. Oh, he knew it.
‘Can you hear me?’
He wanted to cry, to scream, to whisper, anything to say yes. But he couldn’t. He had no voice. No mouth.
Only his lungs, expanding and –
– contracting. In and –
Four days after the fire had been dealt with, Felix still hadn’t woken up and Chan was restless.
After a ten-hour sleep and an enormous amount of food, the oread’s energy had been back up to a normal level. He had put himself at the disposal of Barkwood’s three leaders, helping out wherever he could. This mostly involved moving huge, fallen trees and dousing the final pockets of dancing flame. So many homes had been lost, there were still fairies unaccounted for, food and shelter had to be provided for everyone – the camp had already tripled in size. There was a lot to be done and barely enough hands capable of doing it, but Chan’s attention remained firmly fixed on the green tent housing Felix’s sleeping, injured body.
Every morning and evening, Chan asked the healers how he was doing, despite having a rough idea from his incessant checking on Felix through their partner-bond.
The status of Felix’s three major injuries was a mixed basket. The gash in his stomach was healing well and would be well again in a week or so. His shoulder, which had been torn open and broken, was doing well enough and with continued attention from Dowoon, with his delicate, specified healing magic, would mend right as rain. It was likely Felix would need to practise an assortment of careful exercises – when he eventually woke – to rebuild his strength and mobility, but that was fine.
His eyes, however, were proving reluctant to heal correctly.
When Seulgi had hesitantly explained this to him, she’d thrown around terms like “optic nerve” and “massive head trauma”, then said something about the healing magic not sticking because his body was trying to protect itself. Chan hadn’t really heard much of that, though. He’d been stuck on the first bit. The bit that meant Felix’s eyes might never work properly, if at all, again.
As horrible as that thought was, it was only of secondary importance. Since that brief moment several days ago, when Felix’s breathing had suddenly become rough and gasping, there’d been no indication that the woodlander was ready to return to consciousness.
Thus, Chan was restless. He could do nothing but wait and it chafed.
It was late evening on the fifth day, one edge of the sky dusky purple and the other star-speckled blue. Chan was eating dinner on the hillside behind the lake, Hyunjin and Jeongin chatting not far to his right as they ate. Both of their injuries had been tended to and they were fit as fiddles, meaning that like Chan they were on the repatriation team, helping the Barkwood community resettle. The decision had been made to move several valleys over – to stay any closer was too painful.
‘– then he pushed Minho into the stream,’ Jeongin was recounting to a delighted Hyunjin.
‘Ooh, I bet he was mad,’ the woodlander giggled. ‘He hates getting wet.’
Jeongin nodded emphatically. ‘Yup! He wasn’t even in hawk form, but he spluttered and screeched just like one. Jisung tried to run, of course, but –’
Hyunjin snorted. ‘Even I can’t outpace Minho when he’s angry.’
‘Minho picked him up and threw him right into the water,’ Jeongin grinned, sighing happily at the memory.
Hyunjin laughed and Chan felt a smile pluck at his mouth. The younger fairies’ joy was infectious, he couldn’t help himself. Jeongin, who was turned towards him a little, noticed and his face lit up noticeably.
‘Chan –’ began the fox spirit, but the oread heard nothing after that because Felix was suddenly screaming on the other end of their partner-bond.
He gasped at the wave of panic that thundered through his mind, dropping the bowl he held. Adrenaline flooded his body, muscles locking and hands trembling, every part of him urging him to go to Felix now, now, now –
With nary a thought for the boys he was leaving on the hillside, Chan launched himself straight into the air and flew like an arrow down to the lakeside.
Before he had even touched down, Chan could hear the voices coming from inside the familiar green tent, loud and urgent. He ripped back the entrance flap and hurried to the back, almost colliding with Jeonghwa as she emerged from behind the partition. Her eyes widened at the sight of him and she grabbed his upper arms to stop him diving past her.
‘The healing on his eyes went – badly,’ she told Chan, words slurring together in her rush. ‘He’s woken and he’s panicking and if he doesn’t calm down quickly, he’ll need to be induced to sleep again.’
Chan nodded briskly and the healer stepped aside, allowing him past.
The back of the tent was in disarray. Cloths and medical tools were strewn over the ground, Seulgi and Dowoon up on their feet, placating hands outstretched, voices too sharp to be soothing.
And there, cowering with his back against the tent wall, one arm limply wrapped around his bandaged abdomen, the other lifted in defence, his face a mess of tears and scars and some blood too, was Felix.
Chan’s heart quietly broke as he beheld the look of panic on Felix’s face, fear the dominant emotion in their bond, too wild for Chan to make his mindvoice heard.
‘– it hurts, it hurts, why can’t I see –’
‘Felix, please, you need to calm down –’
‘– I can’t see, oh gods, I can’t see –’
‘We can help, we can make it stop, you just have to –’
‘– where am I, why does it hurt, where’s Cha–’
Chan stepped forward, shoving as much comfort towards Felix’s mind as he could.
‘Felix,’ he said, clear and strong.
The healers stilled, heads whipping around, stress giving way to relief. Chan kept his gaze fixed on Felix, who was babbling and shaking, chin tucked in close to his chest. Carefully, Chan approached him.
‘Felix,’ he repeated, gently, reiterating everything he said aloud with mindspeak. ‘Love, I’m here, Chan’s here now. Can you hear me, Felix? I’m here and you’re going to be alright, do you understand?’
Felix was no longer mumbling, his head cocked towards Chan as though to listen. His body still quivered and his chest rose and fell raggedly. Chan sank to his knees, barely a foot from the woodlander.
‘I’m here, sweetheart,’ he murmured. ‘I’m here and you’re going to be alright, Felix. I know it’s very frightening for you right now but I want you to trust me, okay? You’re going to be alright, my love.’
Chan felt some of the mindless terror recede from Felix’s end of the bond and he threw all of his love at the frightened fairy through it. Felix’s breath hitched and a wet sob squeezed out of him. Tears threatened to gather at the edges of Chan’s eyes despite his rapid blinking.
‘Felix,’ he whispered, voice cracking. ‘Please, darling, can I hold you?’
Another sob shook Felix’s shoulders and he nodded weakly.
With utmost gentleness, Chan reached out, letting Felix jump slightly as Chan placed his hands on the woodlander’s shoulders before pulling him close, cradling the weeping fairy in his lap. Felix was clearly exhausted, his movements small and sluggish, but he tucked his head under Chan’s chin and moulded himself to the curve of Chan’s body. The oread kept one arm wrapped carefully around Felix’s waist, mindful of his delicate wings, and linked his other hand with one of Felix’s. He gave it a light squeeze and nearly burst into tears when he felt an even lighter squeeze back.
My love, my love, my love, Chan murmured. My precious, wonderful Felix, I love you so much.
Felix’s reply was faint as he whispered, My beautiful, beloved oread, I love you with all my heart. Please don’t leave me, I’m so scared.
Chan tilted his head down to press a soft kiss to Felix’s tangled orange hair. Rest at ease, love, I’ll be here when you wake. I promise I will not leave you.
Seconds later, Felix’s breath evened out as he slipped into a deep sleep.
‘He’s blind,’ Seulgi said bluntly.
Chan blinked. Once. Twice.
‘His eyes won’t heal. It’s likely that he’ll be completely without sight, though we won’t know for sure until he tries to see again.’
Disbelief was a leaden weight on Chan’s shoulders and it took a great effort to nod, albeit jerkily. He stared at Felix, who had been laid out on his bedroll again. Dowoon finished up changing the dressing on Felix’s shoulder and, somehow, the sleeping fairy looked peaceful. Well, as peaceful as he could with the raw, red scars on his face.
Seulgi sighed, corners of her mouth turning down as she rubbed her temple. Weariness was etched into every line of her face, brought about by her workload since the fire. All the other healers had similar looks in their eyes, tiredness dragging at their eyelids and their limbs, only to fought off by endless determination.
Chan would not give her grief for something she could not fix.
‘Thank you... for telling me,’ he said, haltingly. ‘And for... doing all you could. Felix is alive and that’s – that’s what matters most.’
Seulgi placed a gentle hand on his bicep, sorrowful empathy shining in her eyes. ‘It will be difficult to come to terms with,’ she told him, sounding far too knowledgeable on the subject, ‘but it’ll be harder for him. Felix will need you to support him through this.’
The oread met her gaze. ‘I know.’
And he did. Chan knew it would be shattering for Felix, his precious woodlander who loved racing amongst the treetops, who watched every sunset he could from start to finish to name the colours, who gave Hyunjin feedback on the dark-haired fairy’s architectural designs. Chan knew that this would be the toughest challenge Felix had ever faced.
The oread loved his fairy more than the air he breathed and he had no intention of letting Felix slip through his fingers. They would get through this together.
Seulgi’s lips quirked up in a little smile. ‘Good.’ She glanced over at Dowoon, who was packing up his equipment. ‘We’ll leave you for the night, then.’
Chan nodded, quietly thanking both healers as they left.
Not a minute later, he received a very loud mental knock – someone was trying, politely but urgently, to get his attention.
Hello? he asked, opening a mindspeak channel.
Chan! It’s Hyunjin!
Ah, of course. Only Hyunjin knocked when he was in a rush.
Jeongin and I wanted to – to know if Felix is okay? You left so quickly, we thought it had to be about him and the healers won’t let us into his tent. Did he wake up? Is everything alright?
Affection was a warm glow in the hollow of Chan’s chest as he replied, Neither of you need to worry, Hyunjin. Felix woke up disoriented and panicky, which is why I left immediately. I apologise for not giving a reason beforehand.
Oh, no, that’s fine, Hyunjin replied, surprised. Is Felix alright now?
Yes, he’s sleeping. I’ll let you know when he wakes again, if you like, but you might not be able to see him for a little while. He’s still... in bad shape. The truth of those words rang coldly in Chan’s stomach and his mouth tasted bitter as he swallowed.
Ah... Hyunjin’s sorrow was plain to hear, but he quickly moved on. If you wouldn’t mind letting me know anyway... that would be great, thank you. Also, Innie returned your bowl to the food tent, so don’t worry about that!
Chan blinked, startled. He’d completely forgotten about that. Tell him thank you for me, he said, glad his flush wasn’t audible.
It was no trouble, Hyunjin chirped. Okay, I’ll let you get back to.... whatever you were doing. Um. Yeah. Goodnight, Chan.
Had Felix not been lying so still and hurt in front of him, Chan might have giggled. Goodnight, Hyunjin.
The connection closed. Chan took in the quiet for a moment, all sounds distant and muted. He sat near Felix’s head and very gently stoked his fingers through the fairy’s hair. Felix’s scars were largely hidden again by the reapplied bandages wrapped around his eyes, only the tip of his nose peeking out. A few angry lines of red trailed out from under the white cloth, zigzagging across his cheeks. The sight of them made Chan’s heart clench.
To distract himself and hopefully ensure Felix’s sleep was a peaceful one, the oread plucked a lullaby from the depths of his memory, one he’d had sung to him a long, long time ago. It was special to him and he thought this was an appropriate time to try it out on his own tongue.
‘Away, little fey, away on the wind,
I see you dance and cry,
And throw your arms to the sky,
Ribbons of gold about you ringed;
As the stars about you shine bright,
And a-singing you start,
You slyly steal my heart,
O, little fey, what an enchanted sight...’
It was late enough to be very early when Chan pinged awake. It was not a harsh waking, but something had definitely roused him.
Oh. Felix had woken, though he was still rather groggy.
I’m here, love, he replied, remarkably alert for someone who’d just returned to consciousness.
Chan sat up in his little nest of blankets, slightly squashed at the end of Felix’s bedroll. The golden light floating above them both brightened a shade or two in response to his movement, dimly illuminating Felix’s stirring form. Carefully and quietly, Chan crawled over beside him. He brushed the backs of his fingers over the fairy’s left hand, firmly enough that Felix would be able to tell what was touching him. Felix’s hand twitched towards him, fingers uncurling like flower petals in the sun, and Chan linked their hands.
Chan, what’s happening? Why can’t I see? Why won’t my body move?
Felix was noticeably anxious, despite his lethargy. Chan tightened his grip on the woodlander’s hand, trying to reassure him.
You were hurt, sweetheart, do you remember? In the fire. You’re healing but your body is still injured. Don’t try to force anything, okay? You’ll – you’ll be well again soon enough. Right now, you just need to rest.
Chan didn’t let himself dwell on his near-slip of the tongue; to do so would only draw Felix’s attention to it and the oread had no intention of telling Felix about the specifics of his injuries tonight.
The fire... I – I remember the fire, Felix stuttered. Chan, Chan it – it was so strong, I couldn’t do anything against it... Oh, I remember, oh, it hurt, it hurt so much –
Hey, hey, Felix, hush now, Chan soothed, smoothing his free hand over the agitated fairy’s hair. It’s dead and gone now, alright? The fire will never touch you again. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to help you, my love. But you did well, Felix, you did so well. You didn’t let any of the children get hurt, did you?
Oh... the little ones. Surprise coloured Felix’s mindvoice as he settled under Chan’s touch. They’re all safe? You promise?
Yes, they’re all back with their families. Now it’s your turn to get better, sweetheart. It hurts my heart to see you wounded, so you have to take good care of yourself, understood?
Okay, okay, I promise... I promise I’ll rest lots... Felix mumbled, his strength flagging already. But... but first, you have to... have to give...
As though it would help him hear better, Chan cocked his head closer to Felix’s.
What’s that, love? he asked softly.
You have to... to give me a kiss... before I sleep, Felix murmured, a pleading note threading his sleepy demand.
Chan felt his lips kick up in a faint smile and he squeezed the fairy’s hand.
Anything for my little woodlander, he replied fondly, before leaning down and very gently pressing his mouth to Felix’s. The response was slight, but present.
Chan sat back. There you go, sweetheart. Now sleep.
Felix hummed happily in the back of Chan’s mind. You’ll be here when I wake up next, right?
Mmm, good... Night, Chan, I love you...
The oread’s heart clenched sharply. I love you too, Felix. Sweet dreams.
And once more, Felix slipped away into unconsciousness, leaving Chan with no recourse but to wait for him to wake again.