The fire crackled, and tiny sparks and embers spiraled up toward the velvety purple sky that stretched overhead. Something rustled in the grass a dozen or more feet away. Thaddeus got to his feet and Teofil stood alongside him.
“Did you hear that?” Thaddeus whispered.
“I did,” Teofil replied.
“Where’s your father?” Miriam asked, and when Thaddeus looked around, he found her and Astrid standing and looking off into the darkness as well.
A chill of fear went through him, leaving him as cold as if he’d swallowed water from the Wretched River. He was in motion before he realized it, sprinting out into the darkness that surrounded their small campfire. The grasses parted around him, the sounds of the tall blades like conspiratorial whispers.
“Dad?” Thaddeus called. Nathan did not answer, and so he tried again, a little louder, squinting into the dark.
A warm glow suddenly appeared, revealing Teofil standing a few feet behind him, shoulders and expression tense. Then Thaddeus realized that Dulindir had followed him as well, his hair glowing with starlight and illuminating the immediate area.
“He was walking off in this direction the last I saw him,” Dulindir said and pointed.
A shout that sounded like his father prompted Thaddeus to break into a run.
“Dad!” Thaddeus shouted. “Where are you?”
“Thaddeus, wait!” Teofil called, and Thaddeus could hear him coming up behind. But Thaddeus could not wait. His father had been gravely ill just days before, grazed by a troll’s poison dart, and Thaddeus worried that Nathan might not be strong enough to fight off another threat.
In his panicked rush to find him, Thaddeus very nearly passed his father by. A rustling off to his left brought him to a stop, and then Dulindir stood beside him, illuminating the area. Nathan lay on his back, struggling with a small creature he was trying to pull off his chest.
The creature was small and dark in color. It had short but powerful-looking limbs, each of which appeared to end in hands tipped with claws. Spikes ran from the crown of its slightly flattened head and along its spine to a stubby tail.
“Dad!” Thaddeus exclaimed as Nathan struggled to keep the thing from biting his neck.
“Stay back!” Nathan shouted without looking at him.
“Goblin,” Dulindir said and looked over his shoulder as he pulled out his sword. “They are rarely alone.”
Frustration, fear, and anger seemed to collide within Thaddeus as he stood helplessly by, watching his father fight for his life. He clenched his fists and bit his lip as a warm tingle started within his chest. It traveled down his arms and seemed to pool in the palms of his hands, stinging slightly as it instilled within him the need to act, to move, to do something, anything.
Thaddeus thrust out his arms, fingers curled into claws as he released a shout of rage. The heat in his palms seemed to leap from his hands, directed right at the goblin. With a jolt the creature stopped struggling with Nathan and looked over its scaly shoulder to fix Thaddeus with a hostile look. It felt to Thaddeus as if he now held the goblin in his hands, even though he stood at least a dozen feet away. And the goblin seemed to be feeling Thaddeus’s touch as well, because it pulled out of Nathan’s grasp and turned to face him, still standing on his father and holding him in place.
When the goblin moved, it seemed to move within Thaddeus’s grip, and the sensation was so startling, and the feel of the creature so disgusting, Thaddeus reacted without thinking. He flung his arms to the side as if throwing it far away from him. To his astonishment the goblin was hurled off his father’s chest and sent spinning high into the air, an annoyed and surprised yelp fading away into the night.
The heat in Thaddeus’s palms cooled immediately, and he stood staring down at his hands. Dulindir, Teofil, and Nathan all stared at him as well, and then Nathan broke the stunned silence by falling flat on his back and laughing long and loud up at the night sky. After a moment, the rest of them followed suit. The laugh felt odd but refreshing to Thaddeus. He approached and reached down to help his father stand.
Nathan clapped a hand on Thaddeus’s shoulder and squeezed. “Apparently either you or someone you care about needs to be in danger for you to conjure magic.”
Thaddeus grinned and shrugged. “I guess so. Hopefully I can learn to do it without the danger.”
“We’ll work on that,” Nathan promised him.
“We should move back to the fire,” Dulindir said. He had his back to them and stood staring out at the grass, which was shifting quietly in the slight breeze. “Goblins rarely travel alone, especially this far from a mountain, and light hurts their eyes.”
Thaddeus helped Nathan pick up the wood he had dropped when the goblin attacked him, and they made their way back to the fire.