“Quickly, child! The window in the upstairs den is still open!”
Aunt Nonnie frantically bolted the shutters pushing back the cold pelting rain that was desperately trying to gain entrance to her inn uninvited.
“Where did this storm come from? It was clear just moments ago.” She puffed under her breath, angry at no one in particular.
“Aunt Nonnie!” Scarlet yelled down the old wooden staircase. “The bolt is stuck!”
Nonnie lifted her dress above her ankles as she started up the steps. She pushed past her young assistant with a scowl. “Useless!” Enough rain had come into the room to form an unsightly puddle underneath the window. The Shutters clattered against the wall. She slammed the right shutter closed, holding her palm firmly against it keep it in place. Suddenly the sky cracked and a streak of lightning illuminated the small clearning outside the inn. In the flash, Nonnie saw something. An animal. A big animal.
She held her left hand over her eyes and squinted, straining to see through the rain and darkness. Another crack and three flashes of lightning. The clearing was empty. There was nothing there. She snorted as she slammed the left shutter closed and snapped the bolt tight. The shutters rattled against the wind.
“I’m getting old, Scarlet. My legs creak and my eyes are shot, but I’m still stronger than you.”
“Yes, mum.” Scarlet said to his feet.
Auroara’s shouders twitched as she pressed her stomach against the wet ground. Her eyes could see through the darkness quite well and the Inn before her was a bright beacon shining through the cover of night. She was halfway to the front door when the old woman appeared in the window. It had startled her back into the brush at the end of the clearing. Her heart was beating out of her chest.
“I’ll go back. I’ll tell him I could find no help.” She started to back deeper into the brush and then stopped. Her mind flashed on how he looked when she left him. Crumpled under a hanging rock, steam rising from the charred patch of flesh where the sky had struck him.
“You must go, Aurora.” He told her. “Find help. Bring them to me. You can lead them back. Go now.”
She shifted her weight to her back legs and sprang forward. She dashed across the clearning and behind a log pile that stood against the Inn. Slowly she crept forward towards the front steps.
Aurora did not like taking a humanoid form. She was a leopard and preferred being on four legs. But Magnus had warned her that the people of Harken would fear her animal form and be untrusting or dangerous. And so she sat, and reaching into the back of her mind found the strength to let go. She stood carefully and took a moment to get her bearing before stepping onto the steps.
The wood creaked and startled her. She was not used to having such a heavy step. She reached the door and started at it, unsure how to alert the people inside that she was there. She raised her arm and slammed her hand, flat palmed against the door. “Deg! Kom!” She screamed, alarmed by the shrill sound of her own voice. She spoke only to Magnus and never above a whisper.
She struck the door twice more and the noise of the bolt unlatching interrupted the third. Aunt Nonnie’s eyes widened as they laid upon Aurora’s form. She let out an gasp and stepped behind the door. “Wha-Who are you? What do you want.”
Auroara stooped and moved one foot back. She could be back in the brush before the woman could make it to the end of the porch and down the steps. “Ples. Kom hep. Ples now. Deg Kom.”
Nonnie stepped from behind the door. She knew fear when she saw it. “Dearie, oh my. Oh my goodness. What is it? What did you say? It’s okay. Aunt Nonnie won’t hurt you.
Auroara shook her head. She only spoke the words of giants to Magnus. The words of man were still new to her. Magnus told her what to say but she was having trouble remembering.
“My friend. He is near the mountain. The sky bit him. You must kom.” She walked towards the clearning, pointing through the woods towards the base of the mountain.
Nonnie called back into the Inn. “Scarlet!”
“Mum?!” Scarlet had been peering through the door jamb.
“Run and get old Kellar. Tell him to bring his boys, and lanterns. Someone’s been hurt.”
“Yes, Mum.” he answered, eyes fixated on Auroara’s uneasy form.
“NOW boy!” She slapped him across his ginger head, sending him up the stairs to rouse the sleeping men.
Magnus winced as another bolt of pain radiated down his back and into his leg. He pushed off his arm, twisting his body further under the rock face. He had been struck once by lightning tonight and he wasn’t sure even his body could sustain another hit. The pain was excrutating and as he clenched his teeth through another wave he questioned his actions this evening.
His curse kept him well undercover in times of even an impending storm, but Magnus purposely strayed out into the worst of it willingly this evening. He had run out of options. Auroara refused to venture within one hundred yars of civilization and nothing Magnus said could convince her that what she needed most was to be around other people.
And so he stepped out into the storm and gave purchase to his waiting curse. He let the sky lash him across his back with fire. He fell into the mud and felt the silt enter his lungs. And he found the strength to instruct Auroara on where to go to find help before he passed out.
And when he strained to look through the pain, and glanced the first beads of lanternlight coming up the hill towards him, he knew he had made the right choice.