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She ran. The forest around her passed in a blur, and her lungs and legs burned with the effort. It was a horrifyingly cheery day; the sun was bright and warm, the forest practically glowed green and all around her birds chirped. They stopped briefly as she bombarded through the green undergrowth, breaking bushes and ripping up moss in her path, but started up again once it was clear she wasn’t there for them. She stumbled and tripped along the way, ripping her mane and tail on branches and getting small cuts on the bushes she just went straight through. She barely even noticed, just continuing her relentless pace. The only thing she checked was that the saddlebags she wore were still kept on and not ripped. They were just very dirty. That’s fine then. Her leg had a cut. Her goal was more important. So she ran. She was almost there. Just a little bit further. She didn’t dare look behind her, didn’t want to see the cloud of dark smoke lit up from below. Her lungs burned. She hoped it was from the sprint, and not what she was breathing in. Stupid. Selfish. He’d told her they’d need her. He’d told her this might happen. Why didn’t she listen? There was a glitter through the trees, and she tried to put her last burst of energy into this final stretch. Almost, almost. She didn’t know how to do this. She hadn’t learned enough. But he was sick, so she was the only one who could-- She didn’t know how. Why hadn’t she stayed just a little bit longer? Stupid. She burst out of the treeline, and had to rear up to not go into the water. The lake was mostly still, the other shoreline duplicated in the wavy mirror of its surface. Calm down. Breathe. She didn’t know how, so... she’d have to remember what she did know. Silence. Listen. The water clucked slightly against the rocks. The birds were chirping. Far away, voices shouted. Listen. There was a slight hiss each time the small waves hit the thin strip of sand. The water clucked against the rocks. Small sounds, steady and regular. Good. She took off and opened her saddlebags. Carefully pulled out the food she’d managed to technically steal from a neighbour. Bread, a bottle of wine, slightly squashed grapes, block of cheese, a bottle of milk, caramels in a wax paper cone, three broken almond cookies. She nearly cried as she placed her meager offering on her back. This was a fishing bribe, not-- There wasn’t any choice, there hadn’t been anything else she knew she should have gotten. Once she felt they were balanced and wouldn’t fall off, she turned to face the forest. Trying to not look at the smoke, she took a step backwards. Then another. On the third, she felt the water lap around her hoof. On the fourth, it went up to her fetlock. It was icy cold. Carefully, she walked backwards into the lake. The water pulled at her legs, but she kept them steady as the waterline rose and rose around her. It reached her belly, lapped against it with cold touches. She continued down. It had just risen barely enough to cover her dock when she stopped. She’d lost feeling in her legs at this point, and had to keep herself from shivering. It might shake the food off. The water, which had previously been mirror blank but moving in gentle rises and falls, was now completely still. She looked down at the surface in front of her; each careful breath she took caused a ripple that spread out and out --and stopped. Abruptly, unnaturally, just ceasing to exist all at once, instead of the normal slow fade away. She forced her head up again, staring at the shore and forest in front of her. Her ears shifted to listen behind her. Nothing. In front of her, the wind ruffled the leaves in the forest, and voices screamed far away. But behind her? Not even the water clucked anymore. Alright. Breathe in. Breathe out. Alright. Slowly, slowly, she lowered her back. The cold line of the water rose furwidth by furwidth, up and over her back. Until she felt the two sides connect, and knew that the water now covered her back. Not by much, just enough to barely be there; with each breath she had to focus on moving down and up to ensure that the expanding of her lungs didn’t raise her offering over the surface again. Listen. The water tugged at her tail where it floated on the surface. Small, almost unnoticeable, sounds appearing as the strands rubbed against each other. Listen. Beneath the surface, the sand shifted as underwater currents pulled and pushed. The grains made light scraping sounds as they rushed over the pebbles scattered around. Listen. ... There was and wasn’t a sound of something cutting the water surface. She didn’t feel any ripples, and couldn’t see any disturbances. Yet, there the sound was, and wasn’t. Wasn’t, because no matter how she strained her ears, nothing could be heard. Was, because she still felt the vibrations of it in her very core. The non-existent sound stopped right before it reached where she stood. She heard and didn’t hear the water start to cluck again, as it lapped against something behind her. A small shift in the water tugged against the offerings on her back. She rose again, keeping them out of reach of the barely perceptible waves. It grew silent. Waiting? Her ears, which had been previously kept firmly on the water behind her, shifted forward and trained on the forest ahead. Past the wind and leaves, there were the screams again. A faint roar and splintering sounds of breaking wood. The panicked wing flaps of faraway birds, which had stopped their courtship songs in favour of survival. Behind her, from beneath the surface, and echo did and didn’t ring out. The shouts sounded deep and distorted through the water, and the roar of the flames reminded her just a bit of some wounded animal when it coursed through the depths. Her heart sped up. She focused on that association, listening to the silent echoes of the fire, imagining them growing more and more animal-like. It mimicked her, until the roar was nothing more than a deep groan of the unseen animal’s last protest against being drowned in the dark water. Then, bone-aching silence again. She once more lowered her back. The water coursed up over her, and she felt the items being tugged by the waves. As the water rose, the items gently lifted off of her and drifted away somewhere she dared not turn around to see. The surface lowered again, leaving her back bare to the sky. She waited. Hopeful. Praying that she’d done it right. ...Trying to ignore the shouts still heard over the forest. But her hope fell when the waves rose again, and tugged at the fur on her back. Of course it wasn’t enough. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she just let them roll down her cheeks and drip into the shifting water beneath her. She didn’t know what to do, there wasn’t anything left she could do. She just stood there sobbing, as the water tugged and tugged on her fur. After a while, it seemed to give up, and receded back into the mirror blank surface. She just sobbed. The tears that dripped down not leaving any ripples behind, just instantly joining with the water they touched. She knew she should go back, to help in any other way she could... but she was just frozen in place. She couldn’t do anything but stand in the icy water, her legs and belly cold and numb, but her face painfully hot from the tears. Then her hoof slipped. She quickly shifted to regain her balance, and looked down with wide burning eyes. The startle had snapped her out of the frozen feeling long enough that she could now register the new sensation. The underwater currents, previously content to move sand gains back and forth, were tugging on her legs. She could barely feel it through the numbness, but it was definitely pulling on her hooves and shifting the sand they were placed on. She -she had to Listen. The waves were clucking, the fire was roaring, her breath was shaky, her heart pounded, the voices were screaming-- Listen. Her breath was and was not echoing behind her. Once she heard it, it grew slower, no longer matching her true rapid gasps. It calmed and deepend. She heard the sound of clucking grow stronger and stronger, until it was right beside her ears. Then, the echo shifted abruptly. The clucking was a deep rumble, with soft undertones of deep shifting sounds. The breathing had stopped --until she paid notice to it, at which point she heard one last exhale, coming out in a stream of bubbles. Oh. Shaking, she raised her head, and finally let herself truly look at the scene before her. The fire was closer than it had been, its smoke blotting out the blue sky over the forest. Orange light danced against the dark backdrop, betraying the flames hidden behind the thick wall of trees in front of her. It had grown as well. ...When it started in Mistress Miller’s house it hadn’t seemed that dangerous, even with Master Swiftword too ill to help --she lived far away from other houses, closer to the mill, right next to the waterfall. So they’d just put up fire breaks and formed a water chain to put it out. Mistress Miller was only half conscious and coughing from the smoke, but according to the healer they got her away and to his house in time. Had she been more awake and able to warn them, the result might have been different. But as is, they remembered the flour far too late. The explosion had rocked the front of the chain off their hooves, and the resulting burning dust had lit anything it touched on fire. Including the fur on their backs, and the grass they stood on. ...And also Master Taylor and Mistress Carding’s home. From there it had spread to to Mistress Glasswork and Mistress Tinwreath, onto the blacksmith’s shop, and-- She’d ran at that point, grabbing food from nearby houses along the way. Hoping that she’d be able to do what she was only half-trained for and get help. But now, the light spread far across the sky, and she knew that the fire hadn’t been stopped, or even stalled. ... That brighter spike over there was probably the clocktower. ... She took a deep breath --the air was filled with the scent of smoke-- and stepped back. Then another step. Her back hooves didn’t reach the bottom any more, so she just let her barrel float as she took yet another step back with her forehooves. Soon, she was floating on the still surface --she took a deep breath-- just like the other offerings she’d given. She closed her eyes as she felt the waves tug her further and further out onto the lake. ... .. . ----- He ran. The burning houses around him passed in a blur, and his lungs burned from the smoke in the air He looked around himself wildly, trying to peer through the twisting lights of the flames. He knew he was shouting, but couldn’t hear it over the roar of the fire and his own panicked thoughts. From the other side of the burning houses next to him, he sometimes caught a glimpse of his wife, searching just as frantically as he did. But no matter how desperately they looked, their daughter was nowhere to be found. So they ran. At least their son was safe --it had taken putting him in charge of keeping his cousins away from the danger for him to agree to go, but he finally had. Him and most of the village had already grabbed what could be saved, and left for Master Wheatfield’s farm on the other side of the river. They didn’t set anything up, knowing they may have to continue running if the fire jumps the stream, but it let them assess and count the villagers -so far, many were hurt, some with what was sure to be permanent injuries, but everyone was present and counted. Except for one. The only one unaccounted for was their daughter. And so, they ran and ran, their lungs burning and eyes watering, their breaths coming in as coughs half the time. He knew they couldn’t stay much longer, but he- the thought of her- He rounded the corner and saw his wife --her mane was wild and tangled, her body covered in froth and soot. Her eyes caught his, and he knew that she had the same thought as he did. He sobbed. Before he knew it, they had slammed into each other. He was on his hindlegs, having wrapped his hooves around her neck, taking a second to bury his face in her smoke-smelling mane. He felt her shake and grab him desperately back. For less than a heartbeat they stood together, holding onto each other in the roar of the burning village. Then they broke apart, turned, and galloped down the main street. It was hard to make anything out through the tears streaming down his face, but he’d taken this road so often he didn’t need to know anything but the memory to follow it out of the village center. His wife ran by his side, and he knew from all their joke races that she was holding back, to make sure he kept up. He wished she didn’t, wanted her to just run ahead, as far away from the flames around them as possible. His hooves pounded on the hot cobblestones, occasionally slipping as he stepped in the puddles that had formed among the rocks. As he had to jump over a small stream of water in the way, he slammed right into his wife. She’d stopped suddenly, and he couldn’t get a grip on the slick ground enough to do the same. He wondered why she’d-- There were puddles on the ground. He gasped, which triggered another coughing fit, as the formations of water on the ground grew larger and larger. There wasn’t any rain, only an inferno and clear skies. Wh- how was-- He knew the instant his wife realised it, just the same moment he did. Their eyes met, and he saw her mouth form the words he was thinking. She’d gone to get the lake. He didn’t have time for another thought, before they were submerged. It wasn’t a wave crashing over them, they weren’t thrown off their hooves. No, the sheen of water covering the ground just rose up, lifting them straight up off the ground with such force that it drove the last of his breath out of his lungs. He instinctively tried to breathe in again, and only choked as he pulled in water. He flailed around, but there was nothing around him but currents, tugging at his mane and fur, filling his nostrils and ears, stinging his eyes. A hoof found his side, and he was pulled close to the familiar body. They clung to one another, as they tried to find the way to the surface. He didn’t know how long they spun and twisted in the warm water --it was probably a lot shorter than it felt-- but each second made his waterlogged lungs scream. The, just as abruptly as it had come, it was gone. The water pulled away, forming rapids among the houses as it rushed back to where it’d come from. Except, they weren’t pulled with. The water around them was still, even as everywhere else frothed and surged. The same way it had risen, it dropped. He landed on top of his wife, and heard her let out a grunt from the impact of hitting the cobblestones. He immediately scrambled off her, and threw up. He couldn’t focus on anything but coughing up the water, even as he heard her do the same. Once they could breathe just a little bit again, and had checked that they were both alright, they finally looked around themselves. The fire was gone, leaving nothing but blackened stone and charred wood. Most of the houses seemed to still be structurally intact, only having lost their straw roofs and wooden doors --though, they’d have to see how much survived inside. Together they stumbled along the road, leaning on one another. Both in shock, but also because they weren’t sure their legs were quite working properly. The fire seemed to stay put out, and the air was growing lighter and cleaner with every breath they took. He would admit that he wasn’t quite sure why they were heading towards the center square, but he trusted his wife had a good reason, so he just walked alongside her in silence. Trying his best to support her as she did him, though realising that it was a bit moot considering their differences in size and weight. He kept his eyes on the ground instead, looking out for debris that could trip their shaking hooves. Once they grew closer, he looked up-- and realised why she’d walked here, and why the smoke seemed to clear more and more. On the other side of the square, resting on the bell tower, was the Lake. He’d seen it a few times before, but it was always fleeting glimpses before it fled. So he now held his breath, and traced its serpentine body with his eyes. It had wrapped itself around the tower, supporting its upper body on the copper-clad roof. From his memory, it was supposed to be clear and translucent... but now, it was completely grey and cloudy. Its mouth --he thought it was a mouth-- was open; as he stared, the smoke rushed into it’s gaping maw, and a new, dark, cloud grew inside its body. He once again trailed its body with his eyes, down this time, until he reached the tip of the tail. There, a steady stream of thick, black sludge dripped, forming a large puddle. He wasn’t sure what they’d done or what sound they’d made, but whatever it was, the spirit’s mouth snapped shut and it turned towards them. He waited for it to flee like it always did, but it just stared. His wife nudged him, and when he shot her a look, she nodded towards the spirit and shifted one of her front legs into a slight bend. Oh. Yes, that-- probably a good idea. It was a bit of a hassle, trying to not fall over and getting his legs to cooperate, but eventually the two of them managed to press their snouts onto the muddy stones beneath them. Their left forelegs stretched out in front of them, their right one folded under, and their back legs slightly bent to allow for the position. He couldn’t see the spirit anymore as he bowed to it, but he heard the rush of water and felt a strong gust blow his messy mane out of his face. He closed his eyes, and pressed the side of his body more firmly against his wife next to him. “P-papa?” The voice jerked him to his hooves again before he’d even registered that he was hearing it. She was in front of them. Her mane was wet tangled strands, and her body was covered in red nicks and grey dirt. She was crying, large tears streaming down her face leaving white tracks in the speckled grey fur. But she was right there, whole and alive. The next minutes were a blur --he only knew that he had her wrapped in his hooves, with his wife squeezing the two of them so hard he could almost forget everything else. He felt his daughter bury her face into his chest and knew that the fur there would be covered in tears and snot, just like he felt his wife sob into his mane. At this moment he wouldn’t trade it for anything. After he didn’t know how long, his daughter pushed herself away just enough to be able to look him in the eye. “I have to go back to Master Swiftword!” She was raspy and out of breath, but her face was earnest and desperate. “I-I didn’t know, an’ people got hurt, an’ you got hurt-n-I-never-wanna-not-know-wha’-to-do-again!” Then she burst out crying again. He couldn’t quite understand what she’d said, so he just hugged her close as her mother assured that everything was fine, everything would be fine, over and over. He whickered softly in comfort as she sobbed into his dirty coat. She’d calmed down a little again, when their moment was broken by a shout. All three looked up just in time to be bowled over by someone rushing into them. “You’re safe! You’re here, you’re safe!” His son had tried to grab onto all of them, didn’t quite reach, so settled for just holding his and his wife's legs as he squeezed his younger sister to him. He couldn’t help but laugh. Everything inside him was light and bubbly, and he cheered with the rest of the villagers as they came, piling onto the group hug. They’d have to rebuild, and it would be some difficult years ahead of them as they tried to regain what they’d lost. People were hurt, both physically and emotionally. But they were all there. He squeezed his eyes shut and kissed his wife’s face --he was aiming for her mouth, sure he missed, and didn’t quite care-- and hugged his children close. Right in that moment, they were all there.