Chapter 17

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Korin expected the blow, but it didn't come. He didn't question, didn't think, but pulled a wave of bright energy through himself to erase all the damage the blighted man's magic had done to him.

The ropes fell away. Not from anything he'd done. It startled Korin, but he reacted on instinct, scrambling from the tree. As he pushed away, he looked back and saw Nult, a heavy stick raised in mid-swing, struggling against it as though some invisible person stood beneath him, holding it up.

Or as though someone were using magic.

Korin scanned around, taking in the scene as fast as he could. There were more people than he'd realized. In the light of the fires that ringed the clearing, he counted Aiya, the blighted man, and five more. Plus Nult beside the tree, and the other horrifying monstrosity lumbering over to help him.

"Get him! Get the wizard!" the blighted man shouted and the creature turned its attention to Korin.

A knife whistled through the air and sunk deep into the center of the blighted man's chest. A knife Korin recognized. Ádan's. The blighted man looked down, a frown that was more annoyance than pain on his face. "Come out, come out," he called in a singsong voice as the rest of the blighted man's people spread out around the fires, brandishing sticks and knives, searching for their attackers.

Korin tried to get to his feet, ready to run, but with his attention split between the blighted man and the monster approaching him, he was caught off guard by attack from a different direction. Aiya tackled him from behind. "You're mine!" she screamed. "Mine!"

They rolled together, struggling. She was stronger than she looked. Stronger than she should have been. She pinned Korin face-down on the ground, her hands on his wrists, knees on his back. "She'll have you," Aiya hissed. "She'll know my loyalty."

Searing cold at every place she touched him. It froze. It burned. It was agony. The dark magic of the blight in its purest form. Aiya was forcing it into Korin, driving the magic through him. Korin could feel it dissolving his flesh, rotting him from the outside in. Killing him.

It would have killed him, if Korin had never touched this magic before. Aiya's power was brutal and fast. It gave him no time to think. If Korin hadn't already developed an instinctive response to the crippling invasive dark magic, he would have been lost.

But Korin had fought the blight. Korin had healed the blight. As his body screamed at the pain, Korin's magic instinctively launched a counter-attack.

It wasn't enough. The blight had been insidious, but undirected. With Aiya's hands on him, her power directed at him and only him, Korin was overwhelmed. Every inch she gained was more pain, another part of him lost to agony. Lost to the invasive, twisted power.

And then it was gone. Aiya was gone. Without resistance, Korin's magic ripped back through his own body, undoing the damage Aiya had done. All as he rolled over, struggling to sit up and see what happened.

Ádan was there. Ádan had broken cover to pull Aiya off Korin. He'd saved Korin, but as Korin watched, Ádan collapsed beneath Aiya's hands which radiated putrid dark power.

Before Korin could make a move to help, Nult's club slammed into his shoulder and he was knocked back down to the ground. Nult lifted the weapon again, ready to bring it down on Korin's head, but it froze in the air like it was stuck. Korin turned his head to the side and saw Nikki next to one of the fires, one hand extended like he was pushing up against the club, the sweat of his exertion rolling down his face. But two more of the blighted people were closing in on him from behind. In the opposite direction, Varajas danced with the other brute, a flaming sword in his hand, a look of fierce concentration on his face as the fire behind writhed and flared in a flaming cage that held two more of the blighted people.

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