Kyr took a step forward despite himself when Lokan laid a hand on Solan’s shoulder, making Solan jump like he’d just been shocked, but Torin caught him back with one hand, eyes turned up towards the sky above them. The clouds came from nowhere, boiling up to cover the blue of the sky, so dark they turned the day into twilight. The wind bit through Kyr’s clothes and he hunched his shoulders, dragging his eyes away from the storm to watch Solan.
He swore softly when the storm intensified and struck the approaching humans, and again when Lokan staggered hard enough to almost send him and Solan to the ground. Despite Torin’s hand still on his arm, he started to step forward, then all his muscles locked up, freezing him in place.
He barely saw the spinning vortex of the tornado pull itself together in a massive swath of destruction, his vision going fuzzy. Sharp pain spiked through his ear and from there through his head, starting from the silver cuff that had once been Solan’s and spreading from there like ripples. A distant part of his mind told him that he was going to collapse but he barely felt it when he went to his knees, already seeing the familiar layout of the kitchen in Solan’s parents’ house, behind them in Arian Mawr.
Solan’s mother stood braced against the kitchen counter, her eyes glowing green, a broken mug at her feet, spilling coffee in a puddle. Her teeth were gritted so hard he could see a muscle jumping in her jaw, and the cords in her neck stood out in rigid relief. Wind whipped her hair around her head and tugged insistently at the hem of her dress, though it didn’t touch the dish towels hanging from the oven just beside her. Kyr felt power around her like a thunderstorm on a hot summer day, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and sending his heartbeat into a racing sprint.
Her mouth didn’t move but he heard her voice inside his head, an equal mix of surprised and relieved as she said his name. He reached out to touch her shoulder but his hand jerked back of its own accord inches from the sleeve of her dress, as though he’d hit an invisible barrier. He blinked, shaking his hand out, and saw lines of twisting colour reaching up through the ground, passing through Solan’s mother and stretching out of sight towards what he knew had to be the distant ridge.
“I’m here,” he told her, knowing his own mouth was saying the words aloud on the hill even as he thought them inside the sunny Yorke kitchen. “Let me help.”
He reached out for her shoulder again and this time his fingers touched. The shock that travelled up his arm made him grunt in pain but he held on, feeling the cuff in his ear grow so hot he was sure it had to be melting into his skin, branding him for the rest of his life, however long that might end up being now. He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself, and felt the pain begin to recede a little. The coloured lines faded and he saw Solan’s mother start to relax, before whatever had brought him—a part of him—to the kitchen flung him back like a boomerang.
He shook Torin’s hand off and forced himself to his feet, stumbling across what felt like miles of uneven ground to Solan’s side, falling to his knees again with a thump that threatened to shatter his skull. Solan’s nose was bleeding in a heavy, dark red flow, and his eyes were glazed over; beside him Lokan had bitten his lip right through. Even as Kyr knelt Solan’s eyes rolled back and the storm he and Lokan were conjuring surged, awesome and terrifying in its scope and power. Kyr bared his teeth at it and wrapped his arms around Solan, supporting him, holding on even as pain jolted through him like an electric shock.
“Mine,” he told the force he could sense just below them and in the air all around. “And I’ll fuckin’ fight you for him.”
Thunder boomed overhead and blue-white lightning lit the sky with a flash that dazzled Kyr’s eyes. He thought he could hear Torin shouting but the sound was distant and unimportant. Torin was still safe on the outside, not a part of the triangle they’d created; not part of their threesome, Kyr thought with a quick grin that looked more like a snarl. He bore down on the power that was killing Solan, forced to rely on nothing more than instinct and his own stubborn will.
Slowly it drew back to a steady flow instead of an overwhelming flood and he felt Solan’s muscles begin to relax. He braced himself a little more solidly against Solan’s heavy weight and wondered how long he could anchor Solan before it got to be too much again. The storm had lost some of its wild power but he could sense Lokan still driving it forward against the human army, locked into the pattern of the magic. A part of him wearily thought that the only way to stop it completely now might be to kill Lokan, but he couldn’t summon the energy to decide if that was still a good thing.
He saw movement to the side, coming through the edges of the storm, and after a moment realized it was the Fae army, sweeping down on the humans from out of the driving, blinding snow and wind. What was left of the unit formations split and scattered under this new attack and he dully knew that the Fae had won. He spared a thought for the members of his former team and the other soldiers he’d gotten to know, then the power flared again and he didn’t know if he could beat it back a second time.
He tried, keeping the worst of the surge from hitting Solan once and then again. When the magic receded the second time he could feel himself trembling all over, his muscles jumping and spasming hard enough to hurt, though it was nothing to the burning agony in his ear. He managed to free one hand enough to carefully reach up and touch it, and flinched away when it burned the tips of his fingers. Part of him wondered how it hadn’t burned right through the side of his skull yet and he laughed despite himself, a rusty noise that sounded like it couldn’t have come from his throat.
He looked out at the battle and saw it was hardly a fight anymore; the humans were fleeing, pursued by the Fae, while the storm roared and howled around them. A shifting curtain of white snow blocked his sight for a few moments and he felt the magic building itself up for another surge, shivering through the grass beneath him.
He braced himself, wondering dimly how much it hurt to be torn apart by Fae magic, and sensed movement behind him. Before he could make his tired muscles obey the command to turn and look, Torin hit Lokan dead-on in a cleanly powerful tackle, knocking him free of Solan and tumbling them down the slope a few feet. Kyr felt the magic snap back through the broken bond and turned the worst of it away from Solan, grounding it in the earth where it had come from. The cuff in his ear flared with such bright pain that he whimpered, unable to even scream, then broke apart and fell to lie glittering on his leg.
Around them the wind died and the snow settled into the thick layer it had laid down on the ground. The tornado crumbled into wisps of dark cloud that soon faded away to let the sunlight shine through. Kyr spared a glance at the blue sky, mildly surprised to find the sun had barely moved from its starting position, then looked down the hill to where Torin straddled Lokan, handgun aimed unwaveringly at Lokan’s forehead. Lokan’s eyes still glowed with feral light and Kyr could see the strain in his body, his muscles coiled like a hunting cat’s.
“Enough,” Torin said quietly, without anger. “You’ve won. Stop before you kill us all, or I will put you down myself.”
Kyr held his breath, hearing the echo of the long fight between human and Fae in Torin’s words. In his arms Solan was limp and unconscious, but his breathing was steady. He saw Lokan’s upper lip curl slightly, then Lokan closed his eyes and when he opened them the glow was gone, if not all of the vicious rage.
“Next time, don’t hesitate,” he said. “Just shoot me.”
“Don’t tempt me.” Torin flicked the safety back on and holstered the gun, and it was only when he got up and turned towards Kyr and Solan that Kyr saw how pale he was. “Is he okay?” He indicated Solan with his chin.
“Think so.” Kyr stroked Solan’s hair back from his forehead, trying to keep his hand from shaking. “You?”
“Me? I didn’t do anything.” Torin flashed him a quick smile and helped Lokan to his feet, supporting him until he got his balance. “That was... the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen, and I never want to see it again.”
“Try being inside it,” Kyr muttered. The speculative look Torin gave him made him uncomfortable and he was glad to let his attention be distracted by the truck that peeled off from the column forming down below and made its rumbling way up the hill.
“We won,” Ceridwen said when she got out of the truck, wiping the sweat from her forehead. “They’re surrendering and everyone who lays down their weapons is being taken prisoner and treated well, no exceptions.” She glanced at Lokan, who nodded slightly. “You guys all look like hell.”
“Someone help me get Solan in the truck,” Kyr said, ignoring that. “We need to check on his mother.”
Lokan only looked at him blankly, something in his face still distant and wild, but Ceridwen and Torin both came over to help, and together they heaved Solan into the back of the truck. Kyr climbed in beside him and found a blanket to tuck over him, resting a hand on Solan’s chest to feel the gentle rise and fall of his breathing. He watched Lokan and Ceridwen speak quietly, their heads together, while Torin stood looking down on the destruction below the hill, then they all got into the truck and Ceridwen drove them back into Arian Mawr.
Solan’s mother met them at the driveway when they pulled in, pale and a little unsteady on her feet, but clear-eyed. She pulled Kyr in and held him for a moment before kissing his forehead and turning to take care of Solan, directing Ceridwen and Torin to carry him to the living room couch. Kyr glanced into the kitchen on the way in and saw the coffee cup still in shards on the tiled floor, surrounded by cold coffee. Lokan didn’t come in with them but Kyr couldn’t find it in himself to care much as he sat down in the armchair kitty-corner to the couch and closed his eyes against a wave of exhaustion.
He dozed off without realizing it and woke to noise at the door and the discovery that someone—probably Torin—had draped a blanket over him. He clutched it around himself as he got up, checking Solan first to reassure himself that Solan was still breathing easily, then made his way out to the front porch, where Lokan stood with Ceridwen and Mrs. Yorke on either side of him, facing the general of the Fae army. The general had taken an injury to his arm and a nasty-looking slice across his cheek, but even his respectful expression couldn’t keep the triumph in his eyes hidden.
“The human leaders are asking for a treaty,” the general was saying. “A lot of my soldiers are saying no.” His eyes flicked to Torin, standing quietly to the side, and to Kyr in the doorway. “Give them a taste of their own medicine.”
“No,” Lokan said, exhaustion clear in his voice though his face still gave nothing away. “Safe passage if they want to leave, otherwise we negotiate a treaty.” He nodded to Ceridwen, who stepped down from the porch to join the General. “Work it out. Just tell them to remember that we did this once and we can do it again.”
“Yeah right,” Kyr said half under his breath, and saw Torin flash him a quick grin. He watched the General and Ceridwen leave, leaning against the doorway because he didn’t quite trust his own balance, and was on the verge of making a sarcastic comment to Lokan when he heard movement behind him. He turned to look and couldn’t have kept himself from grinning at the sight of Solan upright if he’d wanted to.
“I feel like shit,” Solan said carefully, making his way to the door with one hand firmly planted against the wall. “If I died and went to hell, it looks a lot like my mom’s house.”
“You’re not dead, asshole,” Kyr said, laughing a little. He wrapped an arm around Solan’s waist and kissed the corner of his mouth before helping him out onto the porch, his smile fading as he saw Mrs. Yorke turn, not to face them, but to face Lokan.
“Do you remember my warning?” she asked quietly.
“I do,” Lokan said. “If I used you or your town in my war again, you would kill me.” He spread his arms wide. “Then do it.”