Smoke by Roxanne Heath
Synopsis: Finding a dead man in the woods seems, at first, like any other routine tragedy. Burdened by a lack of scientific evidence, the investigation takes a much darker turn when a series of interviews uncover sordid details from this dead man's past including a history of magic and violence. This story takes the four main characters on a journey trying to determine the cause of death, leading each to question his or her own motivations for wanting the truth, and quickly revealing the consequences of betraying the trust of the dead.
They make their way outside, to where the air is sharp and cold and the entire night is still. No sooner has the first lungful of icy air rendered the both of them breathless when Noah turns and veers towards the back of the building, to the tennis courts which are lightly dusted with snow that sparkles beneath the security lights. They stand there for a minute and Noah thinks to himself that this will be a perfect setting. Maybe now, with her blood enchanted by the music, with the night as pretty as it is, with the fact that they do not at all feel like themselves, maybe she’d accept this one fantastic thing.
Londi does not press him for information as to why they are there, but she accidentally lets loose a shivering breath and it is this that breaks Noah from his reverie.
“Sorry,” he says, abruptly turning to face her. “Here.” He takes off his coat and drapes it over her shoulders, despite her protests. No matter what she says, she is visibly shaking from the cold, and his residual heat inside the coat does feel rather nice.
“I don’t need it, I promise,” he says with a small half-smile, before rolling up his sleeves. He does as his father had done so many years ago, calming himself against everything, even against shivering though the night air bites at every inch of his skin. When his heart has steadied enough, he lets the words pass through his lips, much more from memory than understanding. They are barely louder than a whisper, but it is enough.
It is not long before the sigils on his arms are alight, an electric green – an odd distinction to be made, where color was different depending on the one who cast the spell – and Noah does not even hear as Londi accidentally lets loose a few curses before slamming her hand over her mouth. It is extraordinary to come face to face with something so straight out of fiction and yet here it is in plain sight. There they are, the sigils she’d only seen glimpses of when he reached over to grab a book from his bag or reached up into his locker to retrieve his lunch. These odd glimpses had been nothing but, and now they are real, real and glowing so brightly they looked as though they must burn terribly and against the stark contrast of the dark night. She wants to shield her eyes against this almost painfully-bright vision but is held steadfast. He reaches over and plucks one from his arm, throwing it into the air where it hovers for a moment before bursting outwards into a brilliant green flower over five feet wide.
He tosses several more into the air, plucking from a different sigil each time and every time what he creates is of an equally beautiful quality. As a closing act he plucks one from the opposite arm and turns to face Londi, letting it spark in his hands for a moment before snapping his fingers against it. Closing in on itself before forming in a brilliant, sparkling display, the ring forms above her head then settles gently down until all at once she is surrounded. It gently undulates around her, and she is afraid to move inside of it for what might happen.
“It’s okay. Go ahead,” he invites. “Feel it.”
So she does, and each time it is like passing her hand through a frozen fog.
Noah feels himself growing exponentially fatigued, and so with a small groan he breaks concentration and the ring disintegrates into nothing, leaving their eyes seeing nothing but dense splotches in the wake of its brilliant light.
“It… you weren’t lying,” she says. She rolls up the sleeve of Noah’s jacket to reveal her wrist, running her thumb over the spot where she’d let him draw a tiny, abstract looking symbol not two weeks before. He’d claimed it was to ease her mind, to protect her against any bullies she might attract as a result of his friendship. She hadn’t believed him then, and the way she looks at it now in light of the demonstration suggests a mixture of disbelief and horror yet neither is true. More than anything it’s a puzzled sense of belief, albeit one that is threatening to make her float up and away out of her own head.
“No, I wasn’t,” he responds quietly.
“This is for protection?” Londi asks, reaffirming what he’d told her when he’d drawn it.
“Your life has not been entirely kind,” Noah says, a trace of embarrassment in his voice. “But you have been kind to me all the same. I try and protect my allies wherever I can, because I know others will not.”