My hooves came down, and I landed on my hands and knees on the ground next to Wenn and Tinn. I collapsed onto my face and chest, rolling to cradle my hands. Both palms were burned, the flesh turned white and black in places, blisters open and weeping, raw flesh exposed underneath. I rolled and heaved, my stomach emptying.
“Chasen!” Londe knelt next to me. “Are you all right?”
I shook my head. “Hurts,” I said through clenched teeth. That was… I couldn’t explain how bad it was.
Not my hands. Not that.
Not being alive and the relief of seeing my mate beside me in the real world. Never could I feel pain at being close to Londe.
But, for that brief moment, I’d been whole. I’d had my true form, my horn, my very self back.
Tinn was curled up next to Wenn. Neither moved. No. Oh no. “Are they… are they dead?” I whispered hoarsely.
“No.” Londe nuzzled me. “Resting. Just like you need to do.” He nuzzled me again, his mane caressing my cheeks, the soft skin of his nose and the prickles of the hairs covering it tickling me. “I was so scared,” he admitted. “That I’d lost you for good this time. You disappeared, Chasen. Where did you go?”
“Yes, you just… shimmered, like you were changing form, and then you were gone. Then you came back, and the helm was gone, and you collapsed. It was a second, maybe two, but those were the worst seconds of my life. I thought the warlock put a spell on the helm or something that killed you, destroyed your soul for good.” His voice broke, and his sides shook. “I’m so glad I have you back.”
He didn’t have me. He had this form. This altered magical Being I’d become. But I couldn’t tell him that. Couldn’t tell him the regret I felt coming back and being trapped in a human form after that moment of being a unicorn again. Couldn’t take that love and devotion he just showed me and trample it.
“Give me a second.” I focused on my hands, on altering them. I hissed, the skin shrinking and muscles narrowing along my palms and fingers hurt. But I’d once accidentally gotten burned when a noble came in and had his guards jostle me as I worked at the forge, so I knew if I could reshape my hands, they’d heal faster. Just a little change.
By the time I stopped, I was panting. The burns were far worse this time. Still, I could stand and not whimper in agony when the cloth of my tunic brushed against my thumb and index finger. Mostly.
“We need to get them out of here,” I said, gesturing to Tinn and Wenn. I could probably lift each locus, one at a time, to ride on Londe’s and Marces’ backs. “Can you get the foals?”
Londe trotted off, and I knelt next to Tinn. I nudged him with one forearm. It would help if he would wake up enough to hold on to Marces’ mane. I didn’t think Wenn was going to wake any time soon. His color was still faded and his breaths were shallow.
I wanted him to ride with Londe, just in case. I’d ask Colette to keep an eye on Wenn, just in case. I worried that he wouldn’t get better, that something would prevent from getting better. It couldn’t, not now, not after all he’d done to help me get rid of Balathasar and his pet warlock.
Tinn’s eyes open in the barest of slits, and he shook his head, moaning faintly.
“Are you okay?” I asked. Stupid question. He looked awful, about as well as I felt. Of course he wasn’t okay.
He rolled, his eyes opening wider when he saw Wenn. He grunted, pulling himself close enough to touch. Relief eased the tension in his features and he slumped back to the ground, his head resting on the dirt without any care.
“We’ll be fine,” he said. If I wasn’t bent over him, my arms cradled together to protect my palms, I would have missed what he said.
“I’m glad, but Balasamar got away. We need to move. I want to get both of you up and on Londe and Marces’ backs. I….” I grimaced. “I’ll need whatever help you can give me to get you up.” I showed him my hands.
“The helm?” he asked.
I hadn’t even looked for it. Or maybe he was asking if that was what had happened. “I think it was from when it got hot. You didn’t get burned?”
Tinn shook his head.
“They’ll get better. I already partially healed them by shifting my hands.”
“Do it again?” he asked.
“No.” I was too weak. My head was swimming, my stomach empty. I didn’t have the energy. To be honest, I wasn’t sure where I would find it to get us all away from this place so we could find a new hideaway.
‘Chasen!’ Londe screamed through our bond. ‘The young! They’re gone!’
Exhaustion gone, pain forgotten, I was on my feet and running to the depression in the rocks where Londe had hidden the foals while we faced off in battle against Balasamar and his pet warlock.
Londe was pacing frantically in front of the space. I pushed him back. “Stop. Go over there.”
“I need to see.” My entire body, my mind, was focused on finding out what happened. Londe couldn’t keep pacing. I started inside the rocks, staring at the prints on the ground. I stared hard, slowly tracing the path they’d taken out of their hiding spot, around the battle and trap, and then toward the woods.
Londe stayed behind me, but he followed close.
“They left here alone,” I said. “Until they got to here. Then their tracks are on top of his.”