"Hey!" Ardyn cried, pounding on the cellar door. Soap howled behind her, and she screamed as dust and rubble fell from overhead. The cellar glowed with orange light as flames licked down through the ceiling. "Help! Kacey! Brigid! Dad! Someone!"
Soap howled again, and the sound grated on Ardyn's frayed nerves. She glanced around at the rows and rows of bottles, but she didn't see anything she could use to open the door. The bar was too heavy.
"It's going to come right," she promised Soap, trying to soothe herself too. "It'll come right! We just have to stay calm and-"
Stone fell. She screamed again, and Soap bounded between her and the refuse, snarling and barking. Ardyn gritted her teeth.
"Help us!" she shrieked, banging on the door as the fire rose.
"Where's Ardyn?" Corlane demanded, as he reached the gangplank onto Buried Treasure. "Is she with you, lad?"
"I thought she was with you!" Angus protested. "She didn't come with me-"
"She's back at the house!" Corlane cried. "Soap too! I'm going-"
"No!" Kacey shoved him. "I'm a witch, I can protect myself better than you can. And if we both go, we have to worry about each other too!"
"Kacey, you're the Laird-" Brigid started.
"She's my daughter!" Corlane thundered.
"It's suicide!" Angus cried, tearing at his hair.
"Stay!" And then Kacey jumped the rail, ignoring the gangplank altogether. Neither her uncle nor her maid could catch her, and she hit the dock running.
"Kacey!" they cried, but she didn't pause. Her cousin appeared in her head, surrounded by the flames, and all her pain and exhaustion was immediately meaningless. She bolted up the road as fast as any horse, shield on her arm, snarling curses as she thought of what she'd do to whoever had ordered this strike.
"Over here!" a man warned, before Kacey hit him like a wrecking ball. He flew right into the flames, and his three mates lasted as many seconds as her shield flashed in and out like a pendulum. They crashed at her feet, and within fifteen seconds of the man's shout, Kacey was off again at a dead run.
There was too much fire at the door. She diverted her path, and the dining room window loomed. She held up her shield, bounding off of Theron's unconscious body and right through the flames, crashing down in the dining room, the shield clearing her path.
"Ardyn!" she cried. "Soap!"
The man who responded was neither of them, as masonry shifted and somewhere, an entire room seemed to collapse. Kacey slugged him, and he fell to the hot floor.
"My cousin!" She grabbed his throat and pinned him. "Where?"
She jammed her knee into his chest, and snarled as something cracked. "I'm not playing games, Johnny! My cousin!"
"Someone's screaming in the cellars," he managed. "Door's barred."
"Bastard." Kacey lifted him and pitched him out the window. "And don't you come back, now!"
She ran. Kacey ran through the flames, detouring around the parlor when rubble blocked her way. She slid under a fallen beam wreathed in fire, then vaulted over another one. She tore past the armory's open door, and straight toward the cellar.
"It's probably Midnight," one of the men there told his four mates, as Kacey rounded the bend. "She burns, and that's that-"
"She won't burn," his friend said. "She's too good for that. We have to check the body-"
"Out of my way, skinny!" Kacey hurled a chair that had belonged to her grandmother straight into the man's back. He flew down the stairs and hit the door with a thud that could probably have been heard in the attic.
Knives flashed out. Kacey didn't have space to use her shield, and she didn't want to risk losing Kjetil's blade in the flames. Her hands came up.
Wham! That was the second man's face, as she put it into the wall. She wove around a series of strikes from the others, before taking her victim and hurling him as a living projectile. He absorbed several stabs and slices before his friends could stop themselves, and he dropped to his knees, screaming and clutching his wounds.
Kacey used his shoulders as a springboard, and she vaulted onto the next one. He crashed on his back from her weight, and she claimed his knife, battering his head with the hilt twice until he lay still.
Two remained, and they approached nervously. Kacey's eyes flicked from them to the cellar door, and the unconscious first man.
She heard banging and screaming. That was Ardyn's voice.
Her push-kick flung one backward, and the other lashed out. Kacey cried out as he laid open her leg, and she tasted ash in the air. Smoke rose through the hallway as she grappled with her foe, and both of them started coughing. It was all over his face, and, she suspected, hers too.
She threw him into one wall, then the other. He wavered, and her knee crushed his manhood while he was distracted. He let out a high-pitched cry before she drove his head into the floor.
"Ah!" She screamed as something drove into her back. Kacey stumbled forward, then spun, taking the blade with her and right out of the remaining man's hand. His grin of triumph became something else as her fist came up.
Kacey pulled the knife out, gasping for breath. She twisted her hand, and though it was hard, she just barely managed to get her palm onto the injury. She sewed, and she gasped as a Thread of Health attached itself to her. The redhead leaned on the wall, coughing as the smoke rose around her. If it was this bad up here, what was it like in the cellar?
"Come on," she whispered, stumbling down the steps. "Come on, now."
She screamed with exertion as she lifted the bar. She didn't bother just setting it upright, rather hurling it at the groaning Guiding Light refuse behind her. A chorus of cries and howls were the reward for that, and Kacey turned for the door almost before they stopped. She kicked it open, and flinched as a blast of hot air hit her like a slap.
"Ardyn! Soap!" she cried, descending into an orange-glowing maelstrom of heat and Hell.
"Kacey?" the voice was weak. The redhead turned, and she swore. She jumped from the stairs, and she landed before the blonde and their dog, leaning against the open side of the stairway. Ardyn's eyes were distant, her face covered in soot.
"I'm here," the redhead told her. She looked down at Soap, then grit her teeth and sewed. Green flashed, and the animal jumped. He whined, but meandered to his paws.
"I can't...think..." Ardyn mumbled. "My head..."
"Why did you come down here?" Kacey demanded. She raised her hand, and blue flashed as she touched her fingers to Ardyn's forehead. The blonde gasped, stiffening with a Thread of Clarity sewed to her.
"Feed...to feed Marona," she said. "I'm sorry, Kacey. I let her out. And she-"
"She didn't burn the place." Kacey threw Ardyn's arm over her shoulders. "Come on, cousin. We're leaving."
"I can barely stand," Ardyn protested. "Kacey, you have to go-"
"Shut it." Kacey gently kicked Soap's rear. "Up the stairs, there you go. We're getting out. There's a way."
They stumbled out of the cellar, Kacey grunting with effort as Ardyn hung from her shoulders. Soap stumbled ahead of them, and now that he was on ground level, his nose took over. Kacey followed dutifully as the dog bounded through fire, hoping his instincts were better than hers.
"There we go!" she cried, as Soap paused before the back door. He pawed at it, whimpering wildly. Kacey approached, wincing as more rubble collapsed on all sides, and more heat blasted her with fury.
Ardyn hung limply from her shoulders.
"Hang in there, cousin," Kacey pleaded. "Hang in there. Let me get you outside, and you can breathe clean air. I can heal you..."
She had to put her down against the wall to work the door. Soap licked Ardyn's face, and what scared Kacey the most was that the blonde barely twitched in response.
"Come on," she said as the door finally swung open. She grabbed Ardyn, hauling her into the night. "Come on, Ardyn! Get your feet under you, damn it!"
No response. Kacey swore as she made it down the stairs, Soap barking up a storm at her side. She lay Ardyn in the grass, and Kacey felt her chest.
It wasn't rising.
"No!" She bared her teeth, curling her fingers as she threw her shield aside. "Not like that!" She shoved down on Ardyn's stomach, and green flashed. "Not like Dad!" She pushed again, and in addition to the compression, more emerald light spiraled in the air as Kacey sewed like never before in her life.
Ardyn coughed. She twitched, and Kacey repeated her spell for the third time, emboldened. The blonde's coughing redoubled, and she managed to roll over of her own accord. Kacey winced as she vomited in the grass, once, then twice, shoulders quaking.
"I've got you," Kacey said. "I've got you, Ardyn. You're going to be fine-"
Light flashed on three sides. Kacey covered her face with an arm, staring into the brightness.
Dozens of men ringed them, arquebuses and crossbows leveled. The lights came from taller ones in white robes, emanating the glow from their hands. Kacey's heart sank as her count hit forty and kept going.
"Oh, aren't you sweet?" Theron asked, nursing his head one-handed while he held out his wand with the other. "You brought a friend."