Kaelyn had seen Aren practicing his new fireball spell every evening for the past week – weak little things, of course, flung directly at large rocks and cliff walls, never near anything flammable. But his skill at it had seemed to improve steadily, so she had assumed that he had come to possess the kind of skill with it that he had with his spark spell.
When they stepped into battle with a group of Montari, she charged towards the one mage in the group. From behind there came the faint smell of burnt wood, a small sizzling sound, and she expected that he would hit the mage five yards in front of her. Instead, she yelped and stumbled as a hot burst of flame exploded across her clothing.
They won the fight anyway, and Aren made the saddest faces at her as he helped her rub herbal paste across her small burns.
"I guess I'm still learning how to aim it right," he sighed as he wrapped the last bandage. "Sorry, Kaelyn," he said for the eighth time.
"Next time, aim at a group of them so it doesn't matter if you miss," she suggested.
"No, no, aim at her next time so you'll hit the mage instead," William said from the other side of the fire.
A spell to see in the dark sounded extremely handy, especially now that they were stuck in a cave stuffed with masliths and the occasional band of carliths, they had no Yelloweye, and their last torch had become nearly useless when William had stumbled and dropped it in a puddle. It still gave off a frail, weak light, but it was barely enough to see by, let alone fight enemies that could see in the fainter glow of the luminescent moss that grew everywhere.
"I'm not sure I've quite figured it out," Aren admitted.
"Anything has to be better than what we're going to be seeing in a few minutes," William pointed out as he waved their dying torch. "Come on, let's try it."
"Well, alright." Aren took a deep breath and waved his arm and his staff. Kaelyn shivered as a warm touch seemed to descend upon her, and then closed her eyes as they warmed and warmed even further.
When she opened them, it was pitch black. She blinked a few times before bringing her hand up to her face to confirm that no, she really could not see.
"It's fine, Aren," she said. "We'll just have to wait for it to wear off, and then we'll see if we can get ourselves out of this place. I think I remember the way back, and these lizards won't go near the corpses."
As soon as she had said the words, an unmistakable hissing sound came from behind her.
When Aren told her that he had learned a new spell that could make her and William stronger in battle, she was cautiously optimistic. "Try it out next time we're in a small fight," she said, and boy, did Aren's face sure light up at that.
So when they were next facing down bandits – only three of them, in beaten leather jerkins – she wasn't surprised to feel the warm wash of Aren's magic come over her. Her heart beat faster as she raised her sword.
Her heart rate went frightfully high, pounding in her chest in a way that made her feel as though she were about to die. Sure, she cleaved through the bandit in one strike when she would have needed three on a normal day, but afterward, strangely alarmed at how she didn't feel faint, she had to force herself to move on to the next foe with William.
"It was supposed to make your heart race, but not that much," Aren said after they were done, confusion written on his face.
"Did you remember to account for the fact that battle already makes your heart go faster?" she asked, and sighed as his eyes went wide. "It was pretty useful. Just don't put so much power into it next time, and I'm sure it will be fine."
"They're not real bugs," Aren was telling her. "They're more of illusions that look like horseflies. And bite like them, too."
"Anything that will keep you from getting surrounded by bandits," she said. "Speaking of which: how many can you two see hiding behind those trees up ahead?"
"I count four," William said, unsheathing his sword.
Kaelyn shot one down before they could even finishing breaking from the forest, though the number of them turned out to be a good seven altogether. Gods, Kaelyn had no idea how they managed not to cut each others' throats – even groups of five tended to argue too much over treasure for their own good.
She heard Aren say a magic word or three behind her, nothing that she recognized – this new spell, then? As she hefted her shield against an oncoming blow, the thought was confirmed by a high, whining buzz rising above the clamor of battle, then by the two bandits who had gone for Aren starting to shout and run away.
She was quite pleased at the trick, smiling as she swung her sword around and drove its edge into a bandit's shoulder. She was rather less pleased when a large yellow horsefly descended on her bare hand and bit. Kor's teeth, that hurt.
"Maybe now we won't have to spend half our burlas on senwater," William joked. "Only a third, perhaps?"
"And we won't have to keep our ears primed to hear your screaming every time we launch into battle, waiting to come to your rescue," Kaelyn added.
"Oh, be quiet, you two," Aren said, but they were all smiling.
Finally, a straightforward defensive spell! Surely that would help them out a lot. But clearly remembering some of Aren's previous difficulties, William insisted that he be the first one it was tested properly on. And several days later, when they came across some Montari that were thin and desperate, not even wearing armor, it seemed like the perfect chance.
A soft grey nimbus sheathed William, and Kaelyn hung back to use her bow, hoping that Aren had actually perfected his spell.
The first blow from a Montari – a short sword, even – ripped a hole clean through William's chainmail. Even the Montari himself paused in confusion, only to sprout an arrow from his neck moments later.
"Maybe you should try it in reverse," she called over her shoulder before she notched her next arrow.
A man in quality chainmail, a foot taller than her and waving about a flaming sword, grinned down at her. Clearly she seemed to be no threat to him even as she raised her shield. He was wrong, of course. Kaelyn already had an idea of how she could have taken him down, if she were alone.
The thing was, though: she wasn't alone.
A familiar cry came from behind her. The man was halfway through raising his sword to bring down on her head when a sharp cracked sounded from the heavens and he lit up for a moment in pure, blinding white. In the aftermath, he stumbled, sparks bleeding from him. His precious sword was no longer aflame, the metal gone coal black. The edge was still sharp. She didn't plan on giving him the chance to try it.
A few minutes later, enemies downed and bodies looted and empty senwater bottle settled on the dirt, they were back on the road. "Good job on the spellwork," she said. "Did you see the look on his face?"