“Urgh!” She collapsed to her knees, only now aware of how exhausted she felt and of a dark guilty depression forming on her gut. She swallowed, trying to push it aside, but it remained nagging at the edges of her consciousness. It took her a moment to realise that tears were trickling down her cheeks. She scrubbed them away and looked up at the fireball, trying to think of something coherent to say. All that came out was a second “urgh!”
“I’m going to have to teach you to shield.” The fireball curled a fiery tendril around her wrist and lifted it up so it could examine the injury. “Hmmm… the tissue is necrotic. It must have had a death affinity.” It sounded puzzled. “But the kids it was attacking aren’t dead and Lost Ones don’t generally practice moderation, that’s strange.” It flared up slightly and Ophelia got the impression it was thinking. “Still, it’s already healing. That went well for a first attempt. Especially considering you only had your instincts and the key to guide you. Your wrist will heal surprisingly quickly – cover it with your sleeve until then… How’s the shoulder?”
Ophelia tested it cautiously before replying. “Stiff. I think I’m going to have one hell of a bruise.â€ She looked over at Sera who was staring at them wide-eyed. “Are you okay?”
“Huh? What?” Sera shook her head and took a few deep breaths. “I’m fine I think.” She glanced down at her phone. “Oh hell! I never called the ambulance.”
“There’s no need,” the fireball said. “He’ll be fine now. They all will.”
“Oh, God! I wasn’t imagining it. There really is a talking fireball which means there really was a monster… which means… Oh, God, please let today be one really weird bad dream, because then I’ll wake up soon.”
Ophelia got to her feet and walked over to her cousin. “It’s not a dream, Sera.” She placed a hand on Sera shoulder. “Not unless we’re both having the same dream.”
“I know,” Sera said softly. “You never think about it being a dream when it is. Still-”
“I’d better explain,” the fireball said. “I’d hoped to be able to talk to Ophelia before anything happened but no such luck.” It made a growling sound. “Since some idiot tri-” It broke off as the boy stirred. “Tell him something, please.” It disappeared into the undergrowth.
“Hey there.” Ophelia crouched down as the boy’s eyes fluttered open, blocking his view of the dead grass and bushes in the process. “I think you must have fainted. We thought you’d come down with whatever’s been going around but you seem fine now. Have you been eating properly?”
“Huh? I fainted? I don’t faint… girls faint.” He struggled into a sitting position and frowned. “I was walking home and… and…” His frown deepened. “and then it all went blank. I really must have fainted. Please don’t tell anyone. I’ll never live it down.”
“Your dreadful secret is safe with us, kid,” Sera said solemnly. “But if it happens again tell your parents. You’re quite right that you shouldn’t faint if you’re looking after yourself so you should see the doctor if it’s not a one off.”
“They’ll just worry. They have enough stress with Calli..” He climbed to his feet. “Thanks for your help.”
“Do you want us to walk you home, kid?” Ophelia asked. He still looked groggy but he shook his head.
“I’ll be okay. Thanks again.” He headed off down the path.
“Will he really be okay?” Ophelia said as the fireball reappeared,
“He’ll be fine,” it said. “But for his sake I’m glad it really is just a one off. What a stubborn brat.”
“Yeah,” Ophelia said. “But you were about to explain.”
“I will, but hadn’t you better get home before you’re missed?” It floated into Ophelia’s school bag where it was lying on the grass.
“Hey! You’ll burn my stuff.”
“I never burn anything I don’t intend to.” The fireball began to fade from sight.
“Oh, okay…” Ophelia said. “Wait what’s your name?”
“I’ll tell you when we know each other better.”
“But I have to call you something…. Silver! We’ll call you Silver if that’s okay?”
There was a laughing sound. “It’ll do,” Silver said then vanished completely.
Unnoticed by anyone, someone else had watched the fight. As Ophelia banished the Lost One, Darlyran clenched his fists so tightly that the claws he hadn’t realised he’d formed pierced his skin, rich brown blood dripped to the ground. When the Lost One screamed for mercy, he clamped his hands over his ears and stared resolutely at the ground. “I’m sorry, but you brought this on yourself attacking those kids. I’m amazed Alsia didn’t kill you already.”
He looked back up after the fading glow revealed that the battle was over and leaned against a tree considering what he’d seen.
“Hmm… so the key has attached itself to Ophelia?” He narrowed his chocolate brown eyes. â€œHow interesting. Why is it always someone I like?” He paused and smirked. “But such interesting friends she has. It’s unfortunate it has to be her, but this might work out better than last time.” He chuckled as he disappeared from the park in a swirl of brown metal dust, his final words lingering behind him. “Yes, I might enjoy this. I just have to be more careful.”