Something sprang from the stone on Anja’s palm. It was eye-watering to look at, an insubstantial shape which called to mind the great predators of the south not by their shape but by how they moved together, and at the same time a massive, terrifying presence.
The room was large, but not large enough to contain it. It curled snake-like around the Septumvirate’s table, opened its mouth, and roared, and in an instant the chamber was plunged into total silence. The mages leaped to their feet, and suddenly a gale-force wind whirled around the room. It forced the draug up against the wall, but the creature reared and swooped at them.
Anja saw one of them standing still, no longer working the winds that whipped soundlessly around them, staring at her in naked disbelief. The draug was thrown off course by a blast of air that shook the masonry, and as it came around for another pass Anja felt it thrust talons forward.
“That’s enough,” she said softly. Her voice cut through the shroud of silence, the only thing audible in a room that should have been by all rights shrieking with wind and echoing with the shouts of battle. The draug clawed at the air, dragged inexorably back to its prison, and all eyes turned toward Anja.
She closed her hand around the stone. She found she could hear again, but nobody said a word. There was nevertheless a question hanging in the air, and so Anja answered it. “I— I didn’t know how to kill it,” she explained. “So I saw what it did to me, and did it back.” She wobbled on her feet, voice still soft. She was suddenly very tired. “I’m sorry. I should have warned you.” Hans had moved to stand next to her. She hadn’t seen him come back into the room, but with a grateful smile she steadied herself against his arm anyway.
The winds from the brief struggle had blown the Septumvirate’s hoods back, and they looked somewhat less intimidating without them. They blinked, returning to their seats, and stared.
Eventually, one of them spoke. It was the same one, Anja dimly recalled, who’d been staring first, when the draug had been present, and also the one who had asked what she’d done with it earlier. He was short and wrinkled, and had no hair left beyond the two tufts of white above his ears, but something about his eyes suggested to Anja that there was still an active mind behind them. “Are you alright?” he said. She didn’t expect the kindliness she heard in his voice.
She smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring way. “I will be, thank you. It was easier than the first time.”
The old man laughed. “I expect it was.” He glanced sidelong at his colleagues as he shifted in his chair. “Would you care for a chair, child?” Anja nodded. “Master Skräskyddsling, would you be so kind as to locate one for her? Thank you. Now,” he said, addressing Anja again, “you seem to have some control over that thing, and while I appreciate that you don’t have the vocabulary to give us a technical explanation, an intuitive one will do.” He smiled sympathetically. “I’m sure it’s a burden you don’t want to bear. If nothing else I expect we can help with that.”
Mikel returned with a servant in tow, who placed a chair behind Anja. She sank into it with a sigh. “That would be nice. It’s a lot to worry about.” She opened her hand again and brought her eyes down to the pebble. “It’s a cage,” she said uncertainly. “The draug is stuck inside, but I can open the door to let it out.”
“Yes,” said the old man. “When you did, was it under your control?”
Anja thought about it. “No,” she decided. “Not until the very end. I was…” she began, and after a moment or two of vague gesturing she said, “I was trying to tell it what to do, but I could feel it pushing back. I guess you could say I had to shout, maybe?”
“Could one of us have done it?”
“I— I don’t think you have the right kind of cage.”