His magic had never failed him before, and now a boy was dead. He stood there, numbly, his hand still outstretched, fingers spread. The shield had come down. He hadn’t been strong enough. He hadn’t been able to hold it all together.
Mark hadn’t even turned around yet. He only knew that Chad was dead because of the screaming behind him. Sarah was crying “No, no, no,” and Shaun’s unnervingly calm voice declared, “It was a direct hit. He’s gone.”
Mark stared at the empty spaces between his fingers, seeing straight through them without the crackling of magic running between them. He’d been able to face down any enemy before. Very few people could even manage to make him sweat. No one could beat his defensive magic.
Mark let out a strangled noise, somewhere between a sob and a laugh, and let his arm fall to his side. He couldn’t really say that anymore, could he? Someone had beaten his defensive magic when it mattered the most.
Chad was dead.
He wanted to turn around. He wanted to try to apologize to Sarah though he knew he would never be able to make up for the loss of her brother. He wanted to demand that Shaun explain to him what went wrong—how had the shield failed him. He wanted someone, anyone, to tell him that it wasn’t his fault—even though it was most definitely, unerringly his fault.
He couldn’t move though. Lowering his arm seemed to be the last movement he was capable of. He couldn’t turn. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t do anything. He was petrified by fear and grief and blame and guilt.
But then there was a hand in his. A small, soft hand, so gentle that it was almost like it wasn’t there. Mark turned to see Adam there, standing next to him, his back also turned to the horrors behind them.
“They don’t need us here right now,” Adam whispered, his words almost drowned out by the commotion behind them. “Let’s go get you cleaned up, okay?”
Mark let himself be led away from the battleground. He let Adam guide him into the tent. He let himself be stripped down to his underwear, and the dirt and grime and (oh god) blood be wiped off his face, and the back of his neck and away from his arms and hands.
Eventually, Adam led him over to one of the identical little cots and be tucked away under the little blanket. Mark felt so empty, frozen, but he had to say something. He caught Adam’s hand as he tried to walk away, and pulled him close to the cot. “I don’t…I didn’t mean…I’m sorry. They need—Someone should say…I’m sorry.” The sentence fragments came tumbling out of his mouth, and he knew he sounded like a madman, but it was the best he could manage.
“It’s okay. I know. They know. It’s okay.” Adam reached out and brushed a piece of hair away from Mark’s forehead. “Sleep, Mark. Sleep.”
Mark didn’t know if it was his own emptiness or Adam’s gentle magic, but his eyelids grew too heavy to stay up, then he was asleep.