Dawn thought Mardalan seemed to disapprove of her spell idea, but since she hadn’t actually suggested any alternatives, it must have been good enough for the assignment. Maybe it was a weird combination. But if it didn’t work, Dawn would be no worse off.
She set the candle on her desk, taking her time to find the right spot, while Mardalan spoke with Celeste. She put the stone on top of the candle, to the right of the wick, and tried to concentrate on seeing the future of her relationship while also finding her inherent magic to light the candle. It took her a couple of tries—she hadn’t been practicing—but the candle caught, the reflection of the flame shimmering in the stripes of the stone.
She was distracted by how pretty it looked for a moment, then remembered that she was supposed to be thinking about Rico and their future. Then she was distracted by Celeste, who seemed to be arguing with Mardalan. Mardalan was leaning over Celeste’s desk as though trying to keep their argument quiet. But, of course, she wouldn’t want to distract the rest of the class… though Dawn was getting distracted.
Dawn dragged her mind back to the candle with determination. It might be too late already, but she should at least try to get her spell correct.
Then a scream shattered her concentration entirely. She turned in horror to Annie, who was unmistakably the source of the sound.
At first she thought that Annie’s chest was on fire. Then she realized that it was the large feather she’d been using in her spell—it was full of flames and stuck to her shirt. Dawn figured all this out as she leapt to her feet and looked frantically around for something to put the fire out.
Mardalan had straightened up at Celeste’s desk, but wasn’t moving closer, her arms hanging uselessly by her sides, her mouth open. She was staring at Annie, standing still. “Do something!” Dawn shouted at her. “Help her! You’re the teacher!”
“Stop, drop, and roll, Annie!” Celeste cried. Dawn wasn’t sure anyone could hear anything with both of them shouting at the same time—not to mention a couple of the other girls in the class screaming wordlessly.
Dale was the first one to actually do something smart—he jumped out of his seat, scrambling over a desk and knocking it over, water pouring from his hands. It pooled on the floor, but Dawn realized what he was doing and reached for her own inherent magic. The magic seemed slippery, hard to reach—it was probably her own panic shattering her ability to focus, not to mention Annie’s increasingly hysterical screams.
She stopped and took a deep breath, hard as it was to try to calm herself. Dale was splashing water onto Annie. Dawn managed to reach her magic and created her own water to pour onto her friend. The flames went out, but there was an angry red mark on Annie’s chest, with a sickening smell emanating from it.
Annie seemed to choke on her own breath, but at least her screams stopped for a moment. Tears were pouring down her face.
Mardalan was still standing, frozen. Celeste grabbed her by the shoulder and shook her. “Can you heal? Do you have any useful magic? If not, you’d better get Ginny, right now!”
Mardalan finally seemed to snap into life again. “Ginny! Yes!” She fumbled in the pockets of her pants. Dawn stared at her, baffled. Ginny might not even be in the building.
Mardalan pulled out a tiny bell, no bigger than Dawn’s thumb, and rang it hard. It made a tinny sound. Dawn hoped desperately that the bell was magic and would summon Ginny.
Several long, silent moments seemed to pass—silent except for Annie’s half-sobbing breaths. Then footsteps rattled down the corridor and the door opened so hard it hit the wall behind it. Ginny was behind it. “What happened?” she asked sharply. “What’s wrong?”
In answer, Mardalan and a couple of the other students pointed at Annie. “Annie was burned,” Dawn said. “It looked like the feather she was using in her spell caught fire and landed on her.”
Ginny was already hurrying between the desks to reach Annie. She held her hand out a few inches from the burn, then pulled back slightly with a grimace. “This is bad.”
“But you can heal it, can’t you?” Dawn asked, her heart leaping into her throat. Dawn had been wounded in a way that Ginny couldn’t heal completely—but that had been a magical knife, and the only lingering effects of the wound were magical, cutting off the Sight in her right arm. Surely Annie’s wound was a perfectly mundane burn. They could take her to the hospital if Ginny couldn’t handle it on her own.
“Yes, I can,” Ginny said. “But I will need more quiet than this. Annie, I’m going to touch your forehead, okay? I’m administering a pain block.”
Annie let out a quiet whimper, her lips tightening over her teeth, which Ginny obviously took as agreement. She touched Annie’s forehead and Annie’s eyes slowly closed, then jerked open.
“It doesn’t hurt.” Her voice was oddly breathy and low. It was always quiet, but it sounded different than usual.
Ginny nodded. “But it will put you off balance, and it’s dangerous to keep up for too long. I’ll need to get you up and take you to my office. Dawn, would you help her up?”
“Yes, of course.” Dawn took a step closer to Annie and held out her arm. Annie took it, but Ginny hadn’t been kidding about her being off balance; she half-stood, then lurched sideways. Dawn managed to grab her arm just in time and pull her to her feet. Ginny joined them, taking Annie’s other arm.
“Okay, slow and careful now. Mardalan,” Ginny said over her shoulder, “I recommend dismissing the class, cleaning up, and then waiting for me in your office.”
Dawn was focused on helping Annie through the door, but she did hear Mardalan tell the class they were dismissed. Then they were out in the hallway and the sounds of the classroom were left behind.