He pulled the child tighter under his cloak, as if it could protect her from the heat. Incandescent motes swirled about them on air maddened by the strength of the fire. For years he had watched mutely alongside the other townsfolk at every Purge; conspirators in their silence as the damned were jabbed into the burning maze. Finally, he had found his voice. Finally a whisper of wounded justice had found its release. That release had condemned him as surely as this child he had tried to save. Now he looked down into wide eyes, wet with terror, and felt a renewed certainty.
“Can you conjur with the earth?”
The child shook her head, the tears falling free. He clasped her shoulder. Of course she couldn’t. They were burnt young so they would never grow to learn. Purged as soon as the birds came. It might have been a simple roosting of sparrows or a circling of crows. Something that would delight any child and drive anguish into the heart of every parent.
“I can call water.” The child croaked, barely audible over a crashing maze wall, which threw up a burning constellation. “But not enough.”
“It may be this time. It may be.” He reached into the sickening past. There he found all the years he had watched the others die. He felt the fear in his chest, the sucking black that had kept him from acting. The same fear that had ruled his days. It had made him weak. Unremarkable. Safe.
He delved deeper. Using the fear, crafting it. No one had seen the birds when he had been young. No one had been looking for them. Ever since, he had hidden. Unwilling to sacrifice himself for another. But that was gone now, like the fear. He unlocked that ignored power and, magnified by years of suppression, it channelled into the child.
“Now. Call the water.”
Eyes screwed tight, the girl muttered into his tunic. Her conjuring was instant, it would have been a trickle, perhaps a stream but empowered by his years of guilt it became a spiralling torrent, a screaming tumult. It smashed fire into steam and tore the roof from the maze. It was greater than a waterspout born of the fiercest sea under an implacable storm.
The conjuring chased flames further and further, revealing the charred shell of the maze and the other children’s corpses. Soon a fine rain spattered all the remains. He unwrapped the cloak. Together they looked up at the crater's rim.
Horror and hope mixed equally on the faces of the townsfolk lining the edge. The arch-deacon glared down, imperious and vengeful. It would have been a sight to cower any god fearing parishioner but neither man nor child buckled. They were done with fear. Sweeping in behind it was anger.
“Again.” The man said quietly, his eyes fixed above. “And this time I shall show you how to make blades of ice.”