Their group is down to the last three when Dilan senses it.
He takes a step back, letting his fellow soldiers deal with the last of their enemies as he looks around. The forest ground is bathed in blood; every inch of grass covered by bodies and abandoned weapons. The air is thick with gun smoke and fire, dripping with death.
And somewhere, at the very edge of his consciousness, the darkness pulses.
He takes a deep breath, thinking back to the battle meeting. Ahead of him, he remembers, is Sergeant Kiros’ squad.
The one Braig is in.
His stomach turns cold and goose bumps creep across his skin. He breathes out, slowly, and pulls his spears close. To the other two soldiers, he says, “I’m going ahead to check on the others.”
Sergeant Ward stops fighting long enough to meet his gaze and nod. There are no words, only silent understanding.
Gesturing at the air, Dilan murmurs a spell under his breath. The wind forms a protective sphere around him and he takes off, heading straight for the source of darkness. As he gets closer, the atmosphere gets heavier and he passes more soldiers along the way, lying motionless on the ground, drowning in their own blood.
None of them wear the face he’s looking for; he runs faster.
When he reaches the clearing, he skids to a stop, surprised. The ground is filled with holes, their pits still hot enough that a trail of smoke curls out of each one. The area growls with energy; Dilan can feel the weight of it pressing down on him, an invisible pressure slowly squeezing the breath out of his lungs.
Cautiously, he moves forward, scanning every fallen soldier and dreading what he might find as he carefully makes his way across the battlefield. Some of them cough desperately as he approaches and he hurries over, giving them the last of his potions and bandaging their wounds as best as he can. The rest are silent; he does not stop for them.
When he is satisfied that his friend is not among them, Dilan heads back into the cover of trees. There is still something tugging at his senses, a presence hanging back far enough that he can’t pinpoint its exact location.
He grips his lances tightly, waiting.
Something explodes behind him and he barely has time to turn when he’s hit, pain blooming in his shoulder. He staggers back, swallowing the urge to scream as he hastily weaves another spell around himself. The wind comes instantly and he readies his lances, twisting to attack.
Braig is aiming a gun at him, his one eye narrowed, his grin wilder than ever. Darkness twists around him, humming quietly and the two breathe as one.
Dilan freezes, holding his breath.
Blinking rapidly, Braig lowers his weapon, shaking his head. The darkness falls silent. “Sorry about that. In this haze, it’s hard to tell a foe from friend.” He gestures towards the castle. “Come on. We better get someone to look at your shoulder.”
Dilan hesitates, before forcing his muscles to relax. He nods once, curtly, before falling into step next to Braig.
Later that night, he lies awake in bed, gazing at the ceiling. His wound is covered in bandages, the skin already starting to heal.
When he closes his eyes, he recalls Braig’s mad expression and the soft whispers of darkness as it wrapped itself around him.
His shoulder burns.
Dilan massages it and realizes that his friend may already be gone.
He just never noticed.