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“No, no,” she panted. Had she miscounted? Four passages then right, three then left… and she had counted three and four. Of course she had miscounted.
Trapped. No way out. A vicious chuckle echoed down the canyon walls. The minions of the Dark were coming. Their thoughts rang in her head: The Light has forsaken us. The Lightkeepers have fled. We are alone, alone with the Dark. She sat down, her back against the wall. Something dug into her backside, but that was no longer important. The Dark closed in, taking their time, savoring her terror and despair.
For some, there is a place beyond terror, beyond despair. In the slow minutes before certain death, Riata found that place—not rage, not a desire to betray her soul for a few more years of life, but a calm certainty: I will die with meaning. She pushed the thoughts of the Dark from her mind, though they echoed all around, then reached around to see what poked her sitting place…
“Ah. That.” A small copper canister of fat. A little rancid, but it could yet serve. Her wagon had an axle that tended to bind in its bearings, and Riata had not yet found a way to adjust it. She was always greasing that Light-forsaken thing, and she was doing it yet again when the minions of the Dark had come upon her. She must have slipped the canister into a pocket when she fled. Her flint was always with her… and a brush pile lay between her and the Dark.
Hope did not banish fear, nor did she expect to walk away from this canyon—but now, she knew she could fight. The Dark might take her in this hour, but their victory would come with a price. In the eternal twilight, she keened a song of mourning, but broke branches from longer sticks and piled dry leaves around her open canister. The minions of the Dark, hearing only her despair, gave her all the time she needed.
As the Dark approached, vicious and confident, Riata began striking her flint over the canister. Clack. Clack. Sparks fell into the fat, and the leaves she had rubbed in the fat… and a spark stayed. Riata blew gently, continuing to strike her flint. More sparks alit and glowed under her breath as the Dark closed in. A tongue of flame arose.
Caught in a trap of their own making, the minions of the Dark howled in pain and rage at the flare of Light blooming from the brush pile. Some fell, others charged, as spears of fire rained upon them and Riata’s dirge became a battle song.