Mylo and the Summoned Hero
Way back, years ago on the rainy streets of Serrula, a young Mylo Bract walked beside Paul Etier. A fading evening squall drummed on waxpaper umbrellas. They turned away from the warm glow of the festival, into grimy unlit alleyways. Mylo was sticky with candy-apple residue.
"So," Paul asked, "how did you like the fireworks?"
"Pretty!" Mylo was still very much in a bubbly, party mood as they wound their way between fetid tenements. "But the big kachunk was better."
Paul smiled. "You like the mortar's sound?"
Stangeria, by the time Mylo could remember, had stopped holding festivals of any kind. But here there were lights, fireworks, people just chatting and smiling. No hollow eyes and shattering, drunken glass here. This was the first time Mylo saw a joy last longer than it took to chew and swallow a stolen scrap of stale bread.
Life didn't have to be grim.
"Party's not over? Can we go back?"
"Soon." Paul nodded. "First, I require that assistance I asked of you when we met. Do you remember?"
Mylo raised a small, open hand. "Yep! I remember."
"Good. We're almost there."
They reached a dead end. It might have been a courtyard once, but it had been given over to a little trash and a high heap of wooden crates. The high brick walls around them did nothing to stop the last raindrops finding their way down the back of Mylo's neck.
"Keep your umbrella up," Paul said.
The old detective climbed onto the pile and, grunting, shifted a few of the crates.
"There, that will do. Come on up."
Mylo scrabbled to join him and looked into a small hole in the stack. The gap was surrounded on all sides, except the top, by sturdy wooden crates. It was small—just large enough for a child.
The rain held its breath.
"Here." Paul held out a pair of fuzzy, bright blue ear muffs with crescent moons on them.
Warm, and softer than anything Mylo had known. He loved his new earmuffs immediately.
"Thank you." Mylo went to put them on, but Paul raised a finger.
"Ah! Let me explain to you your task first, if you please."
Mylo frowned disappointment, but nodded.
"It is the simplest of tasks. You are a strobilus, a respectable class."
"Not in Stangeria."
"Let's not talk about that place and its many failings."
Pointing to the hole in the crate pile, Paul explained. "What I need you to do is simplicity itself. Lie down in here, then start a mana transfer to me and keep it running, can you do that?"
"Can you also promise me you won't move, remove your earmuffs, or make a sound until I return?"
Mylo looked up into serious eyes. He really didn't understand—if it was hide and go seek Paul wanted to play, then Mylo should choose a hiding spot on his own.
"Say yes, and there's candy in it for you."
Donning the earmuffs, Mylo curled up in the hiding spot and uncapped his gyre. He reached out to Paul and started the transfer. In the darkened alley, no light shone bright enough to make the thread visible. Paul nodded, smiled, gave a little wave, and then draped a tarp over the top of the crates.
Mylo smelled dust and wood and turpentine. He kept expecting Paul to pull back the tarp and take him back to the festival, but that kept not happening. Waiting was boring, but he didn't want to disappoint. Mylo waited and kept count of the withdrawals going down the transfer. For a long while, they were smooth and regular, nothing his gyre couldn't reimburse.
He was nodding off to sleep when the rhythm changed. Sharp, sudden. His reservoir was draining faster than he could refill it.
Mylo tried to relax. If his chest tightened—fear or otherwise—his gyre would slow. Breathing deep, he tried to guess what was going on out there, what Paul was using his mana for.
He used nearly all of it.
When Mylo's reservoir started refilling, he heard something through the earmuffs. A scream cut short, and a thud.
Curiosity got the best of him. Mylo had to know if his new friend was okay—he owed Paul a lot. He poked his head up, tenting the tarp, and seeing out into an alley lit by a moon which had finally escaped the rain clouds.
In the silver light, Paul stood. His luminous, green shield was up. He stood over a lump, no, a person.
The detective turned to look back, and his blade caught the light. Blood dripped from it. He saw Mylo and dropped the dagger.
Mylo scrambled up and tried to run, crying and wailing, but it was a dead end, and the detective was faster and stronger than a child.
Paul caught him and cradled him. "I'm sorry, you were not meant to see that."
Mylo tried to push away. He thought he had found someone kind, escaped the grit of Stangeria, but he hadn't.
"Hush. It's alright."
"You killed him!"
"No, no. I cannot kill what was never alive." Paul grabbed Mylo by the shoulders and held the child in front of him.
"Look at me. Look into my eyes, please. I beg you."
Sniffling, Mylo looked his way.
"We, none of us, are alive. You, me, him, we are all but dreams of the Jagai. You and I try to live well, so the Jagai sleeps sweetly. But that man, he was a nightmare."
Mylo kept crying.
"Don't worry. You'll never see that again, I promise."
Paul kept his word, but he couldn't remove the image of this night from Mylo's dreams.