As fine ash drifted into her hair, Aurora felt very, very glad that this area was largely untraveled this late in the evening. Even so, the Council was going to have an awful lot of explaining to do. She cringed at the thought. At leas there wasn’t a crater this time. Hell, the radius was even down to… well, maybe a thousand feet on the outside? Maybe she was learning.

That being said, the forest would never be the same. She could only hope the scraps of cloth and fragments of wire proved her initial assumption that the ‘figure’ in the woods was merely a remote decoy. Well, sort of hope anyway. There would have been satisfaction in blasting away whoever the hell was behind this.

And so her thoughts came back into focus. Isabella. They had Isabella. No clues where. No real clues as to what they even wanted. Crap, she was bad at this job. It wouldn’t be long before the echo signature hit Dawning and Tass would… no, she could not pay attention to the side effects of this. She had to find Isabella. Everything else could wait.

But where to start? From the apartment, maybe? That’s what the cops would do, right? Look for evidence. Okay, at least it’s somewhere to start. Maybe Isabella managed to leave a clue or message or something. Or maybe the kidnappers had.

A buzzing sound emerged from behind her, getting closer. Jauleth? Already? It would take hours to get her from Dawning, though. How would Raeth have sent him? Aurora squinted in the fading light. No, it was some sort of quadcopter drone.

“Damn,” a familiar voice said from its speaker. “Now I see why everyone keeps their distance from you, Councilor.” It laughed. “Changes nothing, though. We still have your girl. You know mean business. And you also know we’re smart enough not to come anywhere near striking distance. So what do you say? Shall we talk?”

Aurora knelt down, squeezing her hand tight around a ball of ash that had, moments ago, been grass. The heat was already building again. She breathed deeply and squeezed hard.

“I’m listening.”