Safaa and Kahina woke to an amber light outside their carriage. The ghost was confused and thought that maybe dawn had already come, but the smell of smoke told them otherwise.
“Fire!” someone shouted from inside the camp. Bandits rushed to and fro, grabbing blankets and water. Two of the wagons had burst into flames and were burning white-hot.
“Did someone knock over a lantern?” Safaa wondered aloud.
Kahina was not sure herself, but curiosity became concern when there was a brief commotion outside their cart, followed by silence. A shadow crept outside their wagon, slow and deadly, and the pair were very aware that the monster which hunted them was still on the loose.
“Could it… do you think the ghul might have lit the fire?” Kahina asked quietly.
Safaa did not know what to say. It was smart, surely such a plan was not outside the realm of possibility.
“Stay behind me Safaa, you’re hurt, and it’s me it wants,” whispered Kahina.
“Kahina, no! I promised Sebastian I would protect you. I can cry out. If the bandits return they might drive the creature away.” replied the ghost.
“No, we cannot!” whispered the sorceress. “I would rather die than give them what they seek. This way, at least we might have a chance. Better than to die as slaves.”
Safaa protested, but she was feeling weak, and Kahina pushed in front of the possessed rogue to the door of the cabin. The shadow crept from one side of the wagon to the other while the captives inside sat bravely, despite the nervous sweat dripping from their pores.
The shadow inserted a key into the lock on the door and Kahina bit back her desire to do just as Safaa had suggested and cry out for help. She stood and prepared to fight for her life as the lock clicked and the door was released. It swung open with slow care.
The sorceress’s eyes bulged, then she exhaled a deep sigh of relief. Safaa held on to the magi’s sleeve and looked with confusion between Kahina and the stranger at the door.
“Quick, let’s get you out of those chains,” said the man.
“Please do; I nearly died from fright,” admitted the sorceress.
Safaa looked with even more confusion at the man when he held the spirit’s shoulder with familiarity and undid her bindings. Kahina sensed the ghost’s confusion.
“Oh, this is awkward,” the magi whispered, biting her lip. “Safaa? Let me introduce you to Mister Hanno.”
Kahina grabbed their belongings and they ran away into the night before stopping to speak again. Hanno assisted Safaa up the hill and soon they were in sight of Voliban’s mighty walls. Sebastian’s friend stopped and set the rogue down, deciding that they had gone far enough to be safe for a moment.
“Sebastian, what is wrong with you brother? You haven’t said more than two words, did they cut out your tongue too when they beat you?” Hanno chided jokingly. He was worried Sebastian was hurt worse than he let on. He was even more confused when Sebastian merely smiled and blushed as the rogue turned his face.
“Uhh—perhaps I might explain,” said Kahina.
She regaled the swordsman with a brief retelling of their journey so far, but when the sorceress got to the part about Safaa being the one inside Sebastian’s body Hanno stopped her with an outstretched hand.
“You did what?” he said, partly confused, partly angry that they would play a trick like this.
“Sebastian, what nonsense is she speaking?” Hanno asked of his old friend.
Safaa looked between them nervously and cleared her throat.
“Thank… thank you for saving us Mister Hanno. But, uh, Miss Kahina is telling the truth,” Safaa replied.
Hanno stood and looked flabbergasted for a moment, then turned his head and closed his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb, and clenched his jaw. Safaa and Kahina watched him do this, and the magi woman began to fidget.
“Hanno—” began the sorceress.
“WHAT PART OF THIS IS TAKING CARE OF SEBASTIAN!?” Hanno shouted suddenly.
“Please, Mister. Kahina only-” Safaa started to say.
“Nope! No, you shut up Sebastian. Or Safaa, or whoever you are. I am talking with this woman right here. What did I say?” Hanno continued, directing his attention to the sorceress.
“Hanno, I am sorry,” apologized the magi.
“Sorry? Kahina, look—turn your head to the left and look. Sebastian is covered in bruises, apparently you are contracting with demons, and now he is possessed by the ghost of a dead woman. Do you see how any of this might be a little bit, oh I don’t know, completely and utterly NOT SAFE!?”
Hanno sighed a deep and resigned sigh and pinched his nose again. Then he shook his head and opened his eyes and sighed one more time.
“Well, at least the both—three of you—are safe for now. Let’s go meet with Maestro Ludovico,” Hanno said at last.
“Is he here as well?” Kahina asked, suddenly even more nervous to meet the man who had trained Sebastian.
Hanno smiled, just as easygoing as Sebastian, if not more.
“Well of course! Who do you think was lighting the fires?” he said.