Wenyanga folded up the sleeve on their heart hand. The refined warmage laying beside them groaned, still stunned from the strike to her stoneiris. The two Crude guards lay quiet on the balcony tiles, the slight swell of their shoulders the only signs they still breathed.
Up until Sanele had walked through the curtain with Thula in his giant mitt, Wenyanga would have perfectly willing to forgive this all as an ill-thought-out ambush. There was a Judge's soul at stake, after all, Mages who had been lifetime friends had come to blows for less. What did one secular's safety matter to a Perfect chief staring down a piece of power that could push him to the limits of Pinnacle. That hunger in Sanele was a fire; his soul ran rings around the balcony, and the gaze he washed over Wenyanga and Sanele belonged to the breath of dragons.
He was a Perfect warmage flexing the scorching limits of his power.
"Quickly or slowly?" Wenyanga asked.
When Sanele focused his full gaze on Wenyanga, it singed the edges of their stoneiris. "What did you say?"
Wenyanga folded up the other sleeve. "Your death."
The rings of Sanele's soul spun faster as he strained the Flame aura around them. Thula flinched as his grip tightened around her neck. "Do not make this difficult on yourself, Crude."
"Quickly or slowly?"
"I don't have the patience for your games, Crude."
Wenyanga unpeeled five corners of their soul, dampening the Chief's Perfect power until it burned no hotter than a Refined. The souls of three incapacitated guards all shrunk to grains of sand.
"I was talking to my beloved," they said.
"'Nyanga." Thula was panting. Panting. "Please."
Sweat beaded between her brow, where her stoneiris would be had she grown one, had she not given up the power of a mage for the sake of her craft. Her braids had come loose from their knot, falling loosely around the bunched muscles of Sanele's forearm. Wenyanga ignited all ten rings on their fingers. Slowly, then.
A hand clamped around their wrist as they took a step forward. Whatever look they turned on Salleh, it made the Seer frown. Her soul was tampered too by Wenyanga's flexing, but her grip remained remarkably strong, and her gaze was a cool wave of clarity. It blew vainly past the hardened walls of Wenyanga's heart.
"It's not your bargain to make," Salleh said.
Wenyanga's voice matched the Seer's calm. "It's no bargain at all."
"No, I don't suppose it is."
Salleh flexed the fingers on her heart hand, and the Judge's soul manifested in her palm. For a brief moment, it glowed like a star before it dulled under the blanket of Wenyanga's dampening influence. Still, it shone brighter than all of Sanele's flames and, even in the orange haze of a desert afternoon, it bathed the balcony in cool moonlight. Salleh tossed it to the chief.
He caught it in his own heart hand, his surprise giving way to a slight smile as the white light disappeared into his palm.
Wenyanga flipped Salleh's grip with a wrist flick Tello had taught them, so that their fingers were now digging painfully into the back of the Seer's hand. "What did you just do?"
"The right thing," Sanele said, tossing Thula aside. He hadn't absorbed the Judge's soul into his own, only hidden it in his heart hand, but even then his soul was brightening. "Power respects power, and a Seer is not a warmage's equal."
Wenyanga threw Salleh's hand aside and strode to catch a stumbling Thula. They tucked their beloved's head close to chest, fingers tight against Thula's trembling shoulders. There were welts on the back of her neck.