The crossing was blocked by one of the many Burn Fields. Only a person with basic magic training and some magic could get across. It was yet another safety measure set in place by Engie’s family to ensure that Sanctuary remained untouched by the Croes. Engie closed her eyes as she searched her inner well of power. She was nearly depleted after such a long journey. Without more energy, she would be unable to make it across the Burn Field Band. She had to gather some kind of reserve, or risk the life of her entire travelling party.
The Croes had the advantage of flying minions, and those in the air were immune to the effects of Burn Fields entirely.
In front of Engie, the ground swirled with black and white. She made a decision. “Let’s gather what extra magic we can and store it for the trip! We don’t have time to sit and rest, unfortunately.” With a sigh, the young leader of the travelling group began to gather magic from the surrounding area into a specially-prepared bag. The others followed her lead, and although they managed to gather only a minuscule amount, they tied the bags to their belts and locked arms for the long trek across the diseased-looking land.
At their feet, the white came together, and only their magic prevented it from devouring them. With each step, the white, swirling devouring Burn-spots seemed to gain power, as the party’s protections became weaker. One by one, the weaker members fell and became more white, to try to eat at their former friends and family. The group’s numbers fell rapidly from thirty, to three. They would be reclaimed when the Burn Field was lifted, but that time was far distant, and likely beyond the lifespan of those that remained.
A roar echoed down from the skies, and in fear, another fell to the Burn Field. Engie gripped the arms of the man’s wife and dragged her as she screamed in loss. The woman’s legs began to melt down into the Burn Field, and she shoved her magic bag into Engie’s hands and began to slowly melt from the bottom up. Engie could stare only a moment before a sharp impact to her shoulders returned her to the dire situation. She was in a Burn Field, alone, and now the Croes’ flying infantry found her. Her stores of magic were low.
Engie looked up at the flying creatures. She had to survive. She couldn’t run, lest she use more of her stored power. She made one step at a time and bore the attacks from the winged and taloned men. They looked like harpies from a fantasy book, save their maleness. One by one, the seven lunged at her until she lost her concentration and began the slow sink into the Burn.
One grabbed her with rough claws and lifted. Engie took a moment to breathe before she began to struggle. There was a chasm below her, just at the edge of the burn field. After several moments of struggle, she slapped the creature’s groin and fell alongside him as he clutched himself in pain.
Engie screamed as she fell right into the narrow chasm. For a brief moment, she saw the flying Croe begin to sink into the Burn, and was briefly thankful that wasn’t where she landed, until she saw only hard stone below her. She closed her eyes and tried to think on something pleasant, but instead found her guilt at not surviving too overwhelming.
It was several long moments before she realized that she wasn’t dead, nor was she falling anymore. Slowly, she cracked one eye open. The familiar face of her mentor greeted her, and she began to sob. Her mentor was at Sanctuary. She made it. She survived.
“Haven’s under siege. When I left on the first day of the second month, they had enough supplies to last half a year at full capacity. They were double full capacity when I left.” Engie babbled. “They need help.”
Her mentor frowned and looked to the people on his left– unfamiliar faces to the girl– and sighed as he returned his gaze to Engie. “We’re low on supplies, as well, and have no fighters to spare.” Regret bowed his head as Engie’s heart broke.
There would be no help.
Her family would die, save those who sank into the Burn.
She began to shake and sob as realization sank in.
“Can’t you take refugees at all?”
“We’re too over capacity. All of the remaining settlements are.” His tone was bitter. He was going to lose many of his former students. “We can only-“
“Don’t say it!” Engie cried. “If that’s all you can do, just do it and don’t say it!” Her eyes were wide in horror, even though she realized it was the only way to prevent a fate worse than starvation. “I’ll go with the party.”
“No. Law states you can’t, unless you take a lover and end his life with your own hands before you leave.” Her mentor’s words were spoken coldly. Engie felt like he drove a cruel Croe spear through her belly, and turned from him. She only then realized she was on a bed, and pretended to fall asleep as the others in the room left her in peace.
Once they were gone, and she heard the door close, she began to sob helplessly.
A thick, warm hand landed on her shoulder, and she looked up. It was a fellow student, one who left Haven a year before the attacks by the Croe began. He looked into her eyes, his pain plain to see. She sat up and wrapped her arms around him tightly as she began to cry. She was the final pilgrim from Haven.
She could never return there during her lifetime, now.
The people of Sanctuary were going to turn the people to stone, and send an attack to shatter them, in order to save the Haven’s people from a worse fate at the hands of their enemies.