Leaving the bakery through the front door, Carling was assaulted by both the cold winter wind and the shouts of the villagers. “What is it? What’s going on?” she asked the first person she approached.
“We’re being attacked,” responded the villager. His face was red from cold and fear.
Dread filled Carling. She grabbed the villager by both shoulders. “Tell me more. What do you know?”
He turned and pointed toward the west. “See for yourself.”
Carling turned and looked in the direction to which he pointed. The early morning sky was scarred by tendrils of twisting black smoke. She let go of the Duende and dashed to the government building, hoping to find the council members there. Before she reached the long steps that led to the entrance, Higson was at her side.
“Carling, they’ve attacked the outlying homes…my parents….” He let the rest of the sentence dangle in the cold morning air.
Carling stopped and turned to Higson. “Who is it? Who is attacking us?”
“The Heilodius Centaurs.”
Carling set her jaw and dashed up the staircase, taking two and three steps at a time. Higson struggled to keep up. “Carling, I’ve got to go to my parents.”
Trying to remain calm as she continued up the steps, Carling responded. “It’s too late for them, Higson.”
Higson stopped in the middle of the stairs. “What do you mean? Maybe they got away. Maybe they’re hiding. Maybe, if we just sent them some help, they’d be okay.”
Carling shook her head. “I’m so sorry, Higson. But our job is to protect the village.”
“You can’t just let my parents get killed!”
“They knew the risks when they chose to stay in their home.”
Higson stood for another moment, staring at her with his mouth wide open. Then his eyes narrowed and he said in a low voice. “Well, I’m not going to just stand by and let them be slaughtered by the Heilodius. I’m going to help them.” He turned and dashed back down the steps.
“Higson, come back. Don’t do this!” At that moment, Carling’s heart split in half. Part went with her friend, but the other part pulled her into the government building, where she knew the council would be gathering. The latter won the internal battle; she turned and opened the tall carved doors.
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