Amber half-turned her head. Both her normal and mage sights were washed in sickly yellow.
And then another sun mage leapt onto the scene; this one armored in flame, right in front of Amber. As she watched out of narrowed eyes, the armor reformed into a barrier. A dark silhouette stood in the middle of the raging inferno of colors.
It all happened in a blink of an eye.
Thousands of needles hit the barrier at once. Amber winced as the pattern trembled from the impact, but the newcomer’s shield didn’t even waver.
“Hey, Blondie,” he didn’t turn his head. “Get out of here now. I can handle this.” The shield dropped several notches in intensity—Amber saw Needle Guy snarling his frustration through its heat shimmer.
Amber side-stepped, then stopped. “No. I won’t leave you. You jumped into this to protect me. I can’t just leave you.” Honesty compelled her add, “Besides, I’m safer with you than not. There are more sun mages out there.”
He grinned over his shoulder. “Sell-spells for hire. Hey, pretty boy,” he called to Needle Guy. “Is that all you’ve got?”
Needle Guy ground his teeth audibly. “That’s my prize, kid. Now stand aside.”
“You want her? Come get her.”
“He won’t,” Amber went unsteadily to stand right behind Kael’s shoulder. She stared at the nape of his neck and wondered how she’d miss the muscle on him, the danger of him, back at the café. Add to that, his unshielded suns seemed to be barely having to work hard. “He likes to stand back and rain blows at people.”
“Good to know. What else?”
“Suns in his wrists, one at his neck. That one’s throbbing rather fast. I think you made him angry.”
“I wonder why? I’m such a nice guy.”
“Don’t stand there admiring yourself too long,” Amber warned him. “He’s really powering up now.” And as Kael attacked, she shrieked, “Watch his right hand!”
He was already at Needle Guy’s throat. Impetuous! thought Amber as energy flowed in fiery colors all around the two figures.
“Here comes another one.” Amber swung toward the trees as a big hulk of a man burst into view. His pants were muddy, one shoe was gone. Scratches covered his face and hands.
“Where’s that witch?” Hulk roared.
And then Troi dropped, unshielding in lashes of wind that whipped Amber’s skirt and hair this way and that.
Hulk attacked with thick black whips; Troi parried them easily with gusts of air. Hulk was no competition—he couldn’t even shield himself. Amber squinted through the pyrotechnics of Kael’s and Needle Guy’s fight.
Doesn’t he ever listen? “Kael! Remember what I said about that hand?”
Needle Guy swung his fist at Kael’s face. Kael caught it with his left hand. “You mean this?” Unstable lines of energy covered both combatants’ arms; Needle Guy was spasming with the pain of his unfinished attack. Kael looked at him, shrugged, then jabbed his fingers into the man’s throat.
Needle Guy collapsed slowly, like some kind of sad puppet. His feet went wobbly, his knees buckled, his waist bent, his eyes rolled up. He dangled from Kael’s hand.
Amber looked at Needle Guy’s fist in Kael’s hand. The sun in his wrist twitched into dormancy, the mad crackle of power was gone.
She looked at Kael. Did he just absorb that guy’s attack?
Troi floated above the ground, hands back in his pockets. Hulk lay sprawled on the ground in front of him, mouth open, drooling.
Amber shut her own mouth and tried to look as if she saw sun mages take each other out every day and twice on Restdays. Like I said, no competition.
Kael waved his left hand at Amber. Needle Guy flopped limply from it. “Thanks for that tip, Blondie!”
Troi floated closer to Amber. “You were right about her, Kael. She’s a good pattern mage, but damn, she sucks at combat.”
It really is all over. Reaction was setting in. Every muscle yearned toward the siren call of calm, rest, oblivion.
But really, she couldn’t let that remark go unchallenged. She focused on the air currents at Troi’s feet, frowning in concentration. Let’s see what happens when I make a cut—right there.
Troi’s expression went from haughty to shocked in one thoroughly enjoyable moment. He fell onto his rear end.
“You’re a good combat mage, Troi,” Amber smiled beatifically, “but you suck at patterns.”
From far away she heard Kael shout with laughter and yell, “She got you, Troi!” but by that point all her reserves were completely exhausted.
She didn’t even remember pitching to the ground.
Author’s Note: Another short snippet to finish out the scene. How do you find the lengths of these episodes? Too short or just right?