Chapter 24: A Leap in the Dark

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Low, animal-like grunts and the noise of a physical struggle drifted toward me as I came to. I wanted to open my eyes, but the vertigo that washed over me made me decide otherwise. Lying on a bed of barren grass, the blades as sharp as knives against my fingertips, my memories flooded back to me: the maze, Rowan strangling me, a blow on the head ...

A branch snapped somewhere nearby, the sound followed by the rhythmic thuds of approaching footsteps. A warm hand brushed my forehead while the deep rumble of a male voice resonated within my ears, "By the Light, at this rate, we'll all be dead before we reach the city, poem or not."

"Why are you always so pessimistic?" An affectionate smile tugged at the corners of my mouth, although the continuous pounding in my head still forced me to keep my eyes closed.

Rowan scoffed. "I'm not pessimistic, only realistic."

"Say all pessimists."

"By the Light," he sighed, again. I imagined him rolling his eyes at me. "You're so damn annoying."

Slowly, I cracked one eye open, flashing a grin. "No more than usual." He helped me sit up, supporting me by the elbows as I wavered. Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, my hand crept toward the duffel bag to check the egg and I was glad to find that it was still intact. Thank the Light. "Was I knocked out?"

Rowan nodded. "The culprit is sitting over there." I followed his gaze and saw Ellie and Larry, propped up against the fountain's base, unconscious. Two large bruises covered both of Ellie's temples.

"Oh, she's going to love that tough appearance when she wakes up," I chuckled. "Knowing Ellie, she'll probably scold us for not breaking her nose too."

He laughed. "Considering you grew up among the White Sisters, of all people, one would expect you to have at least some tact."

"Sorry to disappoint you, then." Groaning, I got to my feet. The back of my head throbbed in protest. I glanced at my two Dwarf friends and sighed. "All right, I'd better get to work. If these two wake up while the Dark magic is still messing with their heads ..." I shivered. "Let's just say that one blow to the head is enough for today."

Kneeling down in front of the Dwarfs, I concentrated on my Dark magic until my blood sang with barely contained energy. I focused on Larry first. It was even easier to detect the Dark magic in his system than it had been with Rowan. However, since Larry had drunk much more of the red liquid, his entire brain was infected with its dark power. Light magic alone wouldn't be enough this time and fighting Darkness with Darkness would most certainly prove to be useless in this case. I only had one other option, although I didn't know whether it would work and if it did, what effects it would exert on Larry's brain.

Nevertheless, I placed my hands on the Dwarf's head, focused on the core of my magic hidden deep within myself and poured both my Light and my Darkness into his mind simultaneously. To my surprise, there was no clash between both forms of magic nor did my mind short-circuit as Light and Dark flowed through Larry's brain like two rivers emerging from the same source. The Dark magic in Larry's mind shied away from this strange combination of magic at first, yet it couldn't resist the attraction of the Light luring it into my own mind. Bit by bit, the Darkness was transferred into me and I used my own Dark magic to absorb it, dismantled.

My head spun from the effort and I tried my best not to fall over, waiting for the nausea to disappear. After a few seconds of regaining my strength, I repeated the same procedure with Ellie.

Not long after I had finished, both Dwarfs groaned as they regained consciousness. Blinking, they stared at me while their minds processed the events that had led to this moment. For once, Larry turned white instead of red, but when he opened his mouth to say something—most likely an apology—I held up a hand to stop him.

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