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The heavy boots thudded by, a hard thump preceding them. He was close.

“Don’t pretend to be brave,” Rasmus whispered, noticing her expression. “‘Bravery’ is what got us into this.”

Through the dark Kaia could barely make out her brother’s blonde, wispy hair. Her eyes were starting to adjust to the wardrobe’s near impermeable insides, just enough to notice the glower on his white face.

I’m just going to go talk to him, she mouthed, pointing.

Rasmus slammed his foot next to her head.

What? You want to do it?

Her humor didn’t win him over. Clearly, he blamed her.

The thin seam in the doors didn’t allow for much intake of the senses. She’d only briefly seen the creature’s bulking frame, the fur crawling from its red helmet down over the sickly skin of the human remains that patched together the rest of him.

When the peasants hired them to defeat the necromancer, Kaia believed it was a load of crock. The old man was too feeble, too plain to be something so powerful, so rare. He was just another freak ostracized by the small-minded masses of his village. Her brother wanted to approach with caution, try diplomacy first—especially with someone who could not only kill them in a flick of his hand, but retain their souls long after death. He was afraid. Considering how cowardly he saw her, this change delighted her.

She wasn’t surprised her giddiness annoyed the elderly husk, but then he smiled—a tight, insincere smirk—and asked them down into his cellar. Kaia went without any question, and, upon seeing the corpses and the gigantic hulk stretched on a rack, promptly beat the man with a vase until unconscious. She thought it would have solved the problem, except the attack seemed to awaken the colossal beast. She and Rasmus bolted, but the thing followed, thumping loudly, a large scythe dragging behind him.

Kaia waved her brother away. I got this.

His eyes went suspiciously to her hand fishing something from her pouch. When she held up the little silver ball, it jingled slightly. Rasmus flinched, Kaia froze, but the monster’s thuds continued past them.

“What…?” Rasmus whispered.

“Dragon’s breath.”

“Kaia, sometimes courage is just a guise for stupidity.”

“I am not a coward.”

The girl threw open the door with a crack. She spied a flash of the creature’s naked form before chucking the ball to the ground. It exploded with a sudden burst of smoke.

Hand on hilt, Rasmus flew from the dresser, landing on the wood floor hard. “Great. Now I won’t be able to see either!”

He charged forward with a yell. Kaia toppled out from her hiding place as gray smothered the room. She landed on her knees, hoping to avoid the smoke-line close to the ground. She could hear her brother gerk loudly, a grunt, a yell, and the beast cried out. Something shattered, a wooden explosion off across the room.

Its feet were on her.

Kaia gazed up to see the parting mists reveal the thing’s eyes. Just behind the faceplate she could see two wide, mismatched pupils staring down at her.

“Hi.”

The clawed fist had her by the throat. It threw her up in the air. Kaia screamed out and kicked. Rasmus was on its back, shoving his sword through its torso. The thing screeched, dropping Kaia to the ground. It turned, but Rasmus met it with a downward thrust.

“The seams, Rasmus! Go for the seams!”

An arm thudded next to her. Then a hand. The rest came off at the shoulder. With a sickening smack, off chopped the head.

The beast swayed. It tottered back and forth, black blood gushing down its sides. It collapsed. The room was filled with silence.

The mist parted.

Kaia stood up and stared at her brother. He met her gaze, breathing heavily, his hand covered with black goo.

“See,” she said, swallowing and brushing her skirt off. “Being blind to danger is what keeps me alive.”

He pointed. “He got you, you know.”

Kaia looked down to her shoulder. She stared at the welling wound, blood mopped up by the ragged edges of her sliced shirt.

“Oh,” she said.

She fainted. Rasmus sighed.

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