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Daniel Sintos Daniel Sintos
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She had a friend.

Nagarius kept his arrow aimed at the soldier at his feet. When the soldier breathed his last, Nagarius waited a moment until he was satisfied that the soldier wasn’t feigning death. He returned his arrow into his quiver. With bloodied hands, he inspected the dagger buried into his left shoulder, just above the heart. It remained still even when he nudged at it a bit. He ripped a long strip from his hunter’s cloak and wrapped it around his chest, making sure the strip both covered the wound and further secured the knife in place. He rolled his shoulder—and froze mid-rotation as pain shot through him. He didn’t remember feeling any pain before; then again, it was probably the adrenaline.

The familiar shuffling of feet echoed from the grand hallway behind him. His wife, Oriana inched her way to him with a hand over her prominent bulge. Their three-year-old daughter, Emilia, guided her with a frail and sickly hand. Nagarius couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief; the sight of the crumbling library they had emerged from only conjured images of boulders falling on his family. He signalled for the two of them to stay hidden. As mother and daughter nestled behind a nearby pillar twice their combined width, Oriana’s eyes widened as she noticed the body at Nagarius’ feet.

Nagarius cut her off before she was able to say anything. “He attacked first. I’m guessing it’s past curfew.”

Oriana shot him a stern look. “Curfew’s not for another two hours. You know that.”

Nagarius cursed under his breath. She was right, of course. She was just as much of a Chronomancer as he was and if there was just one thing Chronomancers were good for it was instinctively knowing the exact time without looking at a watch or up at the sky. “I said I’m guessing, didn’t I? For all I know they moved the curfew this morning. Been doing a lot of that lately. Not like it’s making anyone any happier.”

Emilia gasped and pointed. “Daddy!”

Nagarius turned and, upon seeing a red-hot fireball hurtling right at him, he ducked behind one of the boulders lying at the library’s entrance. He peeked through a hole in the boulder. He could tell that at the other end of the open plaza that led deeper into the university grounds at least three soldiers made their advance. There were probably more; those bastards liked playing fair that way.

He stared at Oriana and Emilia. “Listen. Go back down the hallway and find a place to hide. An empty room, a closet, I don’t care. Just hide. I’ll come looking for you. If I don’t find you by morning, just sneak out and head straight for home. Got it?”

“Nagarius,” Oriana whispered, her voice shaking. “I have to tell you something.”

With a deep breath, Nagarius steeled himself to ignore any pain and left the boulder’s protection. In one swift movement, he pulled an arrow against his bow’s string and released. One soldier fell with an arrow between his eyes. Nagarius ducked as a barrage of fireballs and lightning bolts pounded against the boulder. “I’m a little busy, Oriana. I kill deer for a living, not soldiers, so excuse me if I can’t multi-task right now.”

Oriana’s hand trembled. “No, you need listen to me.”

Nagarius fired another shot. He missed. As another wave of projectiles hurtled towards him, he rolled to another boulder, closer to Oriana and Emilia’s pillar. His previous boulder blew into pieces. “I really don’t have time for this. We’ll talk about it later when we don’t have soldiers bent on killing us.”

Nagarius left his cover and managed to shoot two arrows this time. Only one landed. More soldiers appeared from the cafeteria and the main entrance; many were Alchemists, prepping their spells.

As his new boulder shattered from a volley of fireballs, he ran for another boulder but quickly realised that there weren't any left. All lay in heaps, blown apart by fire, lightning, or plasma. He stood, dumb-founded out in the open. As three dozen soldiers hurled projectiles at him, he took a deep breath and felt the Aether inside of him swirl like a rousing beast. He slammed the ground with an open palm, sending a wave outward from him and forming a dome around the three of them. As the projectiles made contact with the dome, they stopped. Or at least, they seemed to stop. Nagarius knew better than to expect the impossible. The projectiles were still making their way to him, albeit substantially slower, but sooner or later they would reach him. And he knew he couldn’t keep the chronopause up for longer than a minute.

“Nagarius,” Oriana shouted. “Listen to me!”

He cussed under his breath. “What’s so earth-shatteringly important that you want me to ignore those soldiers and listen to you?”

“My water broke.”

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