Copper fire flickered and slipped through her grasp each time she thought she could hold it steady. She poured more of her magic into the frail body, pushing back the feeling of sweat trickling down her neck and the sound of her breathing. The heart beat once, twice, and then nothing-the copper fire extinguished with a stutter. She reached out with her mind, channeling more of her own fire through the palms of her hand to reignite the spark.
She opened her eyes, awareness of her surroundings returning with a sickening swiftness. Her curls stuck to her face and neck, damp with sweat and salt, and the sounds of waves and gulls seemed almost deafening. She leaned back against the stone of the tower, staring at the small, lifeless creature beneath her hands. Poor thing was barely more than a baby. Young, stupid-didn't know enough to even watch for a hawk but knew enough to find Daine when he needed help.
She blinked away tears, feeling rage rise to overtake any sorrow.
"Oh, magelet." Numair had come to crouch beside her. She didn't know when he had joined her, only that he was looking at her with that maddening mix of compassion and sympathy that made her want to yell at him.
"I don't," she stuttered, shaking her head. "I did what I was supposed-" her hands shook and she lifted them from the body. They felt heavy, useless-like pulling at dead weight.
"I know," he nodded, "you did. You did everything you could have, but you can't save them all."
Her head snapped in his direction, furious with Numair for suggesting such a thing, furious with the animal for not being more careful, and furious at the sun for shining and at the the world for going on when she had failed to save a life.
"Why not?" She drew a shaky breath, "I've saved others. I should have been able to-" her voice cracked and she looked back at the body still resting in her lap. Her lip quivered and she drew another breath to steady herself.
Swarthy hands came into her field of vision. Numair paused, giving her time to stop him, before gently lifting the tiny bundle from her lap. She peered at him through her lashes, not wanting him to see the tears threatening to spill from her eyes, as he carefully laid the creature on a square of linen and wrapped the body until it was fully covered.
She dropped her gaze again when he turned back to her, his hands reappearing but to grasp her own this time.
"I wish I had the answers for you, magelet, but death is as mysterious as it is inescapable. You aren't to be blamed for his death because you couldn't save him. To carry that burden would be a long, dreadful life."
"But I've healed worse," she looked at him sharply, "you said one of the birds in the swamp had its head nearly clean off-"
He shook his head. "That was different; it wasn't controlled. They pulled raw magic from you. Even if you could perform that kind of feat on command, it wouldn't be advisable."
"Why shouldn't I be able to do it when I want?"
"Daine, raw magic is different. It' can be very powerful, yes, but when it's uncontrollable like that it's also very dangerous. Sometimes, there is a trade-off-"
"So by learning control I'm limiting my power?" She pulled her hands from his, voice rising. "Everything I'm learning is just stopping me from being able to help the people? What's the point?" She was shaking, rage rolling off of her. The gulls had stopped, having flown further from the tower and her wrath, but the waves continued on.
"Magelet," he reached for her hand but withdrew when she flinched. He dropped his head, sighing. When he looked back at her he seemed older, wearier. "I wish I could tell you that wasn't the case, but you're right. Control can cost you power," he looked at his hands, flexing them as sparks of black fire glimmered in his palms.
"There is a price for everything," he looked out across the sea, "but that doesn't mean it's not worth it." He settled back, sitting with legs crossed. When she didn't respond he sighed again. "You have an incredible gift, as you know. Part of harnessing it is imposing limits on yourself. I won't try to tell you that it won't be frustrating, or even heartbreaking, at times but it is necessary and it is worth it. Those limits are what will allow you to develop your skills further, and keep you safe while you do so-and those things will allow you to help so many others. Not all, but many."
She turned to him, clenching her jaw to try and stop her chin from quivering. "Have you-" she looked at the black fire dancing in his hands, leaving the question hanging.
"Oh yes," he said it quietly but the pain in the statement surprised her. "And I will tell you about it, someday." He closed his fists, extinguishing the fire.
He took her hands in his own again, gripping them tightly enough that she could not pull away. "Daine, it's not your fault they died."
"You said that already," she bristled, looking at the linen-wrapped bundle. "His injuries-"
"No," he shook his head. "That's not your fault either, but your wild magic and your power-it doesn't make you responsible for who lives and who dies. Even if you had known then, it's not your fault they died."
Her chin quivered, anger evaporating and sorrow flooding the empty space left behind. Tears spilled from her eyes as she drew a gasping breath. Numair pulled her to him, stroking her back as she sobbed into his shoulder.
"It's not your fault."