His magic had never failed him before, and now a boy was dead. He’d been too late. His protection charm had failed. The protections writ in wood and iron had been no match for the ritual here. The fire burned higher at his back. The light showing the circle, the body of the boy, and the bodies of those who had sacrificed him. At least he’d done that much.
Thus he was dramatically silhouetted in front of the fire and behind the bodies when the guard finally responded to the reports of smoke.
“Drop the weapon! Get on the ground!”
The mage stared for a moment, awed by the universal truth that things could always get worse. Then he muttered a few words and vines burst from his staff to entangle the guards. Cries of “Mage!”, “Demon!”, and “MURDERER!” assaulted him as he wove through the guards to the exit. A few of them got blows through and some of his own blood joined the collection on his clothes. He held back. They were just doing their jobs. He knew what he looked like, and he certainly wasn’t the hero of the piece.
The mage staggered up the stairs to the main floor, across the hall, and out into the garden. Then he ran. Ran through the rows of flowers and hedges. Ran toward the forest beckoning on the other side of the hill. To shelter, to green and growing things, toward life. He got most of the way there and happened to glance back. A figure in gleaming armor with a large sword on his back stood on the garden wall watching him.
The mage gulped and turned back to the forest with all the extra speed he could muster. The day just got worse and worse. Magical reserves all but spent, he made it safely away from the burning house and the horrors and would be heroes it contained. It didn’t matter that he’d tried to stop it. He looked guilty as sin and that was enough. It was only later, holed up in the bole of a hollow tree and miles from any path a horse could walk, that he allowed himself to grieve for the child he’d failed to save.
Hours later, in the room where the bodies had been laid after the search, and before graves could be dug for them. The dead boy sat up and smiled to himself. He hopped down off the table and helped himself to one of the cultists daggers. His smile sharpened and he sauntered from the room. Things were going better than he’d dare hoped.
I am a thief! I stole this first line because someone left a gate open and I couldn’t resist. No really, go see for yourself.