Chris froze, staring up at the mage that was glaring down at him from atop the hill. He’d realized his error too late… The mage’s words were spoken out and the fire unfurled from his palms, raging across the distance and striking Chris in the chest as he began to turn away. The flames spread quickly, igniting his clothing and dancing across his body. Chris fell, screaming in terror.
Nick saw the fire engulf Chris and his animal raged. He shifted and leaped over Chris and onto the attacking mage even as another spell was being chanted. Nick bit down on the man’s throat as his front paws struck the man’s chest, raking the flesh there. They fell together and tumbled down the other side of the hill. Blood splashed over Nick’s sleek fur, hot as the hate he felt. Nick rolled and regained his feet, turning to begin the attack anew. But the mage was already dead, laying face down in the dirt. Nick watched the blood pool for a moment before he sprinted back to where Chris lay. The flames still danced, but Chris was silent now. He was kneeling in the dirt, looking down at his hands. The fire was raging all around him, but wasn’t burning him. Nick shifted back to human and approached Chris carefully. The heat was too intense for him to get very close, but he could clearly see the thin blue film of magic that shielded Chris from the fires.
“Are you alright?” Nick asked.
Chris looked up at him, raising his hands; his palms full of fire. The flames were slowly flickering out and dying.
“Yeah,” Chris said. It didn’t sound as if he really believed it.
Nick came closer now that the heat had died and carefully laid a hand on Chris’s shoulder. The flames completely gone now and Chris unharmed. His clothing was scorched in a few places but was also largely untouched.
“What happened?” Nick asked.
“I don’t know! The flames came right at me,” Chris leaned against Nick and let his fear and shock come out in his tears. “I thought I was going to die,” Chris whispered.
“Me too,” Nick admitted, wrapping his arms around Chris and pulling him tightly againsy his chest. “What were you thinking?”
“I thought that I could get out there and help some of them.” Chris pulled back from Nick and looked again at the injured men and women writhing in the dirt. Why hadn’t they been protected too?
Chris screamed again as he felt a surge of heat rise up from the pit of his stomach. He pushed Nick away as the pressure rose up into his throat. Nick fell back and watched as the flames erupted from Chris’s mouth in a hot burst. The film of blue faded and Chris collapsed in the dirt.
“Chris!” Nick rushed to him and pulled him into his arms again. “Chris?”
Chris opened his eyes and looked up at Nick, but his throat was too raw to speak.
“Thank the Gods,” Nick whispered. He gently kissed Chris’s cheek and held him close, letting himself weep. “I thought I’d lost you,” he whispered. Nick tried not to think what he would do if Chris died. For the first time, he really considered the costs of this war. People were dying all around him. All of them represented lovers and children… people that would be missed and mourned.
“You have to go back to the camp,” Nick said. He stood, cradling Chris in his arms.
Chris wanted to protest. How could he be expected to hide back at camp while Nick was out on the front lines? How could he be left safely tucked away when so many others risked everything to end this war? But his voice was still broken and only a cracked moaned escaped him.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get you to a healer and they’ll fix you up.” Nick moved quickly, dodging around the broken ground and bodies with amazing agility.
Chris closed his eyes and wept. Was he really this useless?