The prompt from gelsey was Indifference, in the technomage world.
Warning: Dark and disturbing imagery and events
Word Count: 1282
Summary: On a night of death and destruction, a little hope arrives.
“Richard?” Mael Muire said in shock even as the familiar strong arms of her boss wrapped around her. “What are you doing here?” she whispered into his long gray hair as she hugged him back with the first positive emotion she'd felt since the call of death woke her from sleep the night before.
“What? Did you expect me to stay at home and wait for you to call?” he asked her frantically, refusing to let go.
“The students ...?” Mael Muire began.
Richard cut her off. “Caspian can keep an eye on things for a few days. I had to be sure about you.”
“I'm fine,” she insisted, finally breaking free from his tight hold. But that meant she was no longer hiding her haunted eyes. It was good to see Richard, but nothing was going to block the image and sound of all those children dying around her only hours before.
“You're a walking miracle, and you know it,” Richard insisted, cupping her cheek comfortingly. “I ran into one of the men who found you ...” He trailed off, unable to speak as he remembered the pained description from her rescuer. They had found her under the remains of one of the schools main dorms, in a small pocket of the basement, protected by a few heavy beams that fell just right. Around her were five surviving children. No one knew how many more were still hiding under the rubble. “I should never have sent you here,” he finally whispered.
“You were helping a friend, and I agreed to do it,” Mael Muire insisted. “You couldn't have known.”
“Margery and I knew something odd was happening,” he admitted, turning away from his bruised librarian. It was a mistake. Without her dusty face as a distraction, his eyes were drawn to the flames that still lit the ruins of St Johns Academy and the Navel Academy. “But we never expected this,” he added hoarsely.
“No one did,” she replied, sorrow clogging her throat. In the depth of her words one could hear an echo of the bansidhe death keen that had awakened many before the attack. If only more had known the meaning, they wouldn't have simply rolled back over and gone back to sleep. Then again, where was there to go? Her best attempt, gathering those in her building in the basement, had done little good.
“State capitol or no, you aren't going to find a mage within miles of Annapolis for years,” she said, still horrified by the extent of the destruction. Who would attack children?
“How many...?” Richard's voice cut off before he could finish the question, but Mael Muire knew him well enough to fill in the blank.
“They're still looking,” she replied sadly.
“Your friends?” Richard asked, remembering the stories she had included in her letters and calls over the last few months.
“I don't ...” Mael Muire began, only to cut off when she spotted a familiar face. “Jess!” she screamed, charging past the nearest figures towards a group approaching the outskirts of the destruction from the nearest patch of flames.
There were five of them walking slowly. They were soot covered, dusty, and miserable, but alive. He followed after his librarian at a slower pace, watching his step over the rubble covered ground.
Mael Muire went straight for the shortest of the women, who had to shake her hands free from the tall man at the tail of the group and the young woman only a touch taller in order to hug her friend back.
“We were in the alchemy lab,” Richard overheard the last man say when he came into hearing range. “The wards saved our lives.”
“Your knowledge of advanced runes saved our lives,” the shorter of the young women countered, still clinging to the hand of a taller woman beside her, who was clinging to the tall young man who had led them from the ruins.
“The vards vould have fallen before the flames burned out othervise,” the young man chimed in, his voice lightly accented.
“I could not have done it alone,” the older man replied. “Your stubbornness saved us,” he insisted, looking over all his companions.
“I'm just glad you're all right,” Mael Muire said breathlessly, finally releasing the small woman and switching her attentions to the older man. “Somehow it figures that your habit of experimenting late would save you,” she added, switching to the three students, grabbing them all at once.
“These would be the friends you were writing about?” Richard asked as he came up to the group.
“Richard!” Mael Muire cried, turning and hugging him again. “Yes, yes.” She turned slightly and pointed at the short woman. “This is Jessica Barnaby, the alchemist. Tobias Gallaway teaches runes.” She pointed at the tall older man. Richard was intrigued to note the scars that crossed his face now that he was close enough to see. Signs of an interesting life. “And these are some of our best students, Gloryanna Frasier,” the shorter young woman, “Annabelle Savannah,” the taller young woman, “And Sergei Ivanovich,” the young man. “Everyone, this is my usual boss, Richard Comyn. From Idyllwild Academy.”
Richard hid a smile, knowing what an odd impression he was making. He was the head of one of the most prestigious academies in the US [–] if you have ever heard of it, that is. But he was dressed in a half buttoned flannel, torn jeans, and nothing else. When he heard about the bombing, he sweet talked his way onto the nearest circle traveling the right direction, not even bothering to grab shoes.
“It's a pleasure to meet you all, though the circumstances could be better,” he said politely. “I've heard wonderful things from Mael Muire.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Tobias formally, but even that couldn't hide the lost look in his eyes. Richard couldn't blame him. In moments these people had had their lives overturned, their belongings destroyed, their home burned.
“Come, lets get you out of the damage zone,” Richard suggested, nudging Mael Muire towards the sidewalk he'd found her standing on.
“We'll have to walk a bit to get out of the worst of this, but if we can get transport back to DC, I can get us home,” Richard said. “There's a senator with a private circle who owes me a favor or two.”
“Home?” Jessica asked uncertainly.
“Please, you've all lost so much tonight. Let me take you back to my school,” Richard begged. “Get some sleep, have a good meal, then decide what to do next.”
“I ... I have to contact my parents,” Gloryanna said, the idea finally hitting her that there was someone outside her little circle who would be worried.
“Where are they?” Richard asked kindly.
“DC,” she admitted softly.
“Do they have a phone?” he asked, offering her the portable that he had stuffed in his pocket before running out the door.
She looked up at him eyes alight with gratitude as she nodded and accepted the phone. Her friends huddled with her as she made the call, the teachers standing defensively around their charges.
“Thank you,” Mael Muire said softly, moving next to her boss.
“For what?” Richard asked, wrapping an arm around the still shaky woman.
“For coming. For helping them. For everything,” she replied uncertainly.
“You know me, dear. Indifference is not my strong suit,” he replied with an ironic laugh, his free hand reaching up to clasp the ring that hung on a chain around his neck. His path reaffirmed, he released the ring and reached into his pocket, pulling out a small crystal ball. “You left this at Idyllwild. Call your parents,” he insisted, handing it to her.