Thick, black smoke billows to the ceiling of a home, suffocating hanging plants within. Flames spread further into the home, eating away life. As if the flames are their own entity, they split up and go off into two directions, one way to the guardians of the family nestled within, and the other to the two female younglings. 

When the flames reach the younglings’ room, they take their time eating away the beaded curtain hanging in the entrance. The flames spread amongst the room. The temperature rises, sweat beginning to glisten off the flesh of the younglings sleeping in their beds, dreaming dreams of sweetness. Just as the flames grasp onto the foot of the younger youngling’s bed, she stirs awake, her sleepy eyes adjusting to the flames waiting at her feet. Smoke stings her eyes and as tears dribble down her flushed cheeks, a flame snatches onto her feet and begins to crawl up her leg, reaching her hip, but reaching for more. She wails to the smoky air, the bloodcurdling sound awakening the elder youngling. The elder youngling immediately shoves off her blankets as she watches the flames inch towards the younger youngling. 

The younger youngling wails as the flames fry her flesh. 

“Mairi!” the elder youngling screams, tripping out of the bed with her blanket in her hand. The smoke catches in her throat, choking her. She covers her mouth with the neckline of her nightgown and throws the blanket onto the burning youngling, patting the flames away. “Momma …” she coughs, “Poppa …” The smoke suffocates both of the younglings. Her body is weak. “I’ll get you out of here, even if it’s the last thing I do …” The youngling’s eyes are stinging, watering, as she continues to distinguish the flames eating away at her sister. She pulls the youngling from the bed and lifts her to her back, the youngling wrapping her arms around her neck. 

With Mairi on her back and her eyes drowning in smoke, she yanks open the window, the sudden gust of wind knocking her back into the growing flames. 

The world goes black for a moment, until another bloodcurdling scream rips through the darkness. “Maren!” Mairi screams, her agony shaking the elder awake.

Maren looks to the window and sees the flames reaching for the world outside, leaving a small escape. Maren pulls herself up and holds onto Mairi as she makes her way through the exit. Her vision is blotchy, but she pulls them through and throws them onto the cool grass. 

Maren grips onto the soft grass, taking deep breaths of the clean air. 

But when Mairi’s cries pierce through her ears, she remem-bers the severe burns on her sister’s body. She rolls off her belly and reaches for her crying sister, dragging herself across the grass. The world is twinkling above, but Maren stares at Mairi’s smoking, singed hair and the burns scarring her cheeks. 

Maren cries out to her sister as Mairi continues to wail. “Help!” she screams, though her voice is hoarse. “Someone, please!” she looks to the rest of Mairi and cringes at the sizzling flesh across her sister’s body. 

“Momma … Poppa …” Mairi moans, her face streaking with tears and burns. Maren watches her sister writhe in pain, her gut twisting. 

“Help!” Tears spill out of Maren’s burning eyes. 

“Over here!” a deep voice shouts. Maren pulls herself up, hope flickering in her chest. Tall figures walk in the shadows of distant burning homes. “They made it.” The figures walk out of the shad- ows and the moon above illuminates their faces. Maren’s soul curls up as she notes the long, pointed ears and gaunt faces belonging to these strangers. 

Male elves. 

“Hello, younglings,” the tallest of the elves says, his gaunt face wearing a sneer. But as they both look to the youngling writhing in the grass, they grimace. 

The other stranger shakes his head. “I guess we only take this one. Queen Lilith will be pissed, but she would be even more so if we brought her a gimp.” They walk closer to Maren and Mairi as they eye Maren’s charred gown. Fear ignites in her gut and it tells her to run for the forest, but she can’t bear the thought of leaving her suffering sister behind. 

“Don’t even think about it, youngling.” The tallest male reaches for Maren and grabs ahold of her arm, his grasp too tight. She wants to scream out, but her throat is burning and the screaming earlier only brought trouble to her. She looks down to Mairi and sees her withering away. Maren collapses to the ground and attempts to get closer to Mairi, but the males lift her up and drag her away. Pain rips through Maren as she is carried away and Mairi fades from her view. She kicks and screams, even as every bit of her burns. 

Maren looks up to the twinkling night sky. Goddesses and gods above me, please don’t let Mairi suffer anymore. Please don’t let Momma and Poppa suffer anymore, wherever they might be. Let them be at peace. 

Tears glide down to Maren’s chin as she gives up her fight and lets the darkness take her away, even as she is taken through her burning village. 

Once the two tall creatures take away the screaming pixie youngling, Xaela slinks out of the woods and moves to the dying youngling in the grass. She stares at the creature for a moment, studying her. She notes the severe burns throughout the youngling’s body and the singed hair. The youngling’s face is seared with pain, but her eyes stare up to the night sky. 

“Youngling,” Xaela whispers to her. She waits for a twitch or a groan, but nothing is seen or heard. Xaela closes her eyes and searches for the youngling’s soul. 

Chunks of it fly away into the night sky while the rest clutches on to the youngling. 

Xaela moves closer and sits next to her, examining the youngling more thoroughly. The burns throughout her body are blistering and oozing. 

“Help,” the youngling breathes, her drooping eyes staring into Xaela. She reaches for her. “Please.” 

Xaela nods to the youngling. She takes her hand and rubs the palm with her thumb. “Youngling, what is your name?” Xaela continues to rub her palm in a slow, circular motion. 

The youngling stares at Xaela for the longest time, but Xaela waits patiently. The youngling swallows. “M … M … Mairi,” she begins, as coughs erupt. 

“My Mairi, I will help you to the best of my ability, but you must do something for me.” Xaela stares into Mairi’s eyes. 

The youngling’s warmth is dwindling.Mairi nods slowly.“Keep fighting, no matter how much it hurts. No matter how 

much you want to stop fighting. You must hold on.” Xaela deepens the rub. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and lifts her face to the sky. 

Goddesses and gods above me, grant me the ability to heal this young one. Let this pain she is feeling dwindle away into the night. 

Xaela opens her eyes and looks to Mairi. She removes her grasp from her palm and moves her hands to Mairi’s face, caressing it gently. “My Mairi,” Xaela begins, “You know what you must do for me.” Xaela squeezes just slightly and screams fill the night air once again. But as the glow from Xaela’s hands illuminates Mairi’s face, the blistering burns fade into white scars. The pain dulls and Mairi’s screams dwindle. “These wounds will be a part of you forever so you will know who did this to you. But don’t let them slow you down.” Blood stains Xaela’s hands, but she moves them to the other burns on Mairi’s body. 

More screams reach out to the world. The pain dulls and Mairi’s eyelids droop.“Darkness will sweep you away. Let it.” Xaela sighs.Mairi closes her eyes and the darkness takes her away. Xaela picks up the youngling’s fragile body and carries her away off into the woods, to her home.