The sky is dark littered with nothing but heavy grey clouds. The moons are all hidden away by the curve of the earth and the trees rise up angry in the wind.
Footsteps tread, a limp-limping step through ash. The person is almost invisible, a creature in the process of unmaking himself. He fades, piece at a time, parts of him wafting into hazy air. The fire is two days old and far enough hidden by the trees that even its last gasps cannot be seen. But the air is hot, and the ash continues to fall. The footsteps half a mile away are already covered over again.
The fire will burn out with nothing more than stone and cloth to beat against, but the smoke will linger, poison in the air. It’d be different if the factories hadn’t gone up. A boom-boom-boom rattling down the riverfront, one chimney exploding halfway up leaving the rest to disappear off into the sky. An accident, that.
Jason cannot find it within himself to feel too much regret. There is already so much he did not mean to happen.
The smoke is going to kill them. Them, back in the city, them that weren’t burned. The stones still hot to touch when Jason left, and the smoke will kill them if they don’t think to leave. He is only a halfling, an almost-fae, a not-quite creature of tremendous power. It is a word that has followed Jason since he can remember knowing language: almost.
Almost. Almost successful, almost useful.
If only he were a different kind of mage, but he wasn’t, he isn’t, and this isn’t the time for wishing. Some things just are. He is always on the cusp, destined for greatness that never quite fills his grip.
The city is on fire, or was, last he saw. He hasn’t looked for a while. He is not sure if he can see. He does not blink in fear of losing his vision. He is fading. He intended to be dead already, intended someone else to do the killing. The wrong bodies are dead and Jason alive attempting this halfhearted escape.
His fading will not end him. He will only reform in some other location, some other city to accidentally explode through mere wanting of things to change.
The city on fire, the whole of it, an over dramatization made accurate by the claustrophobic walls, stone piled on over by wood in a pretence of remodeling history into something that could be, perhaps, forgotten. Jason, he stepped into the city scarcely a year before and felt the softening crumble of bones within the walls and could scarcely stand to breathe that air.
He hears a horse behind him, and does not turn. He knows who it will be, and says her name.
The orc has one of those faces so many orcs have: preemptively angry, teeth jutting lips out into a mawish kind of shape. Not quite so naturally scowling as some creatures, but Jason cannot stomach facing her.
‘I should kill you.’
Her words do not make him try to dodge some attack, stop some blow. He is not quite a mage, not quite fae enough to wrangle with the arcane, but he is enough that he would not die at the hand of a mere orc. But he knows Karogko. If she were going to attempt such an impossible thing she would not have let herself be heard. He keeps walking.
‘Almost lost you,’ she continues. She makes her mount walk beside him; the horse nearly steps into him, muzzle nearly sliding through Jason’s shoulder.
‘Losing me,’ he says. Parts of him drift away.
‘It’s like snow.’ She meant the ash, but with the words in the air she realises she means his form, paper thin and fluttering away.
‘You haven’t seen snow,’ he reminds her, a fact he wasn’t aware of until he spoke. So many things are like that. Magic he doesn’t understand until it is too late.
A city on fire. A mistake, and he cannot swallow the evidence away. His mother could. His mother could rewrite entire genealogies merely to rid the world of someone who snubbed her on the street.
‘No, I haven't,’ she agrees. A clump as boots hit the dirt, Karogko tired of keeping her horse from walking through the thin remains of Jason’s body. He wonders where he will end up. He is tired of cities, and mountains. There is no magic that exists to control where his body might care to reshape.
‘If you wanted to kill me,’ he needs to pause to reconfigure his throat, re-manage his lungs and keep from losing his voice, ‘you should have done it already.’
‘Is this justice?’ she asks. Her voice is hard. In one hand is the reins of her horse and the other holds a long knife, blade coloured. A thing meant to kill mages. It would kill him too, if he wanted it to, if he were enough of a body to feel it. ‘Whatever you’re doing to yourself.’
‘No,’ he says, honestly. ‘A coward’s way out.’ His fingers are all gone.
‘I can’t accept that! My family - my brother is dead.' She growls into the hollow shape of his ear. 'My city.’
‘You know why,’ he says. He is tired of this conversation. He hardly feels the knife that slices through his stomach. ‘Here,’ he says. He plucks out his mind and gives it to her. Usually a mere party trick, here it matters. He is so much of nothing that the giving is important. He needs to physically offer for the magic to work.
Karogko eats it. It is like eating air, a great gulp of nothing substantial. She needs to blink several times before she understands what she has learned. His mind is nothing like hers. A hazy mess of unlinked ideas, too little fae with too much power, for all that he’d argue the opposite.
He is confused, and fading. Jason cannot speak now. She slashes him again with her knife, useless, angry. He gave her no answers. A mistake is no reason for so many to suffer.
The ash keeps falling, and the footsteps end.