A/N: Just another quick little Project Pull Post- my 1000 word post for the Friday fortnight is just over the quota, thank goodness :D Title's taken from the Regina Spektor song, Braille, for this one :) Enjoy!


Playing With Matches

The single, lonely lightbulb, dangling from a thin, drab grey wire which hung limply from the ceiling, began to flicker uncertainly, as if it couldn't decide whether or not there was any point in continuing. Another flash of lightning from outside the window prompted it into making up its mind, and the room was plunged into darkness. I closed over my history textbook, dog-earing one of the yellowing pages to keep my place, and pushed my chair back from the desk, wincing a the dissonant shriek of protest it gave at being dragged along the solid wooden floor in such a callous manner.

Mum always kept oil lamps for when the electricity gave out. Usually, we managed to fulfill the meagre sum of money set aside for general household bills, but Mum was still in hospital, so she couldn't work. We were currently living off a combination of the money I had saved from my part-time jobs and Society funds- fine for somebody like Dr. Brock, who lives alone and doesn't need much money anyway, but when Mum isn't here, and I have to support two younger brothers- three if you count Liam, who stays here so often he's practically a Khalid too- it's... diffiult.

I pulled one of the lamps from a shelf in the hallways, and set it up beside my desk, admiring the flickering shadows the enclosed flame cast on the walls. If I look closely, I'm able to make out distinct figures, albeit tiny ones, dancing around the wax-enclosed wick. One spark leapt recklessy from the wick, and plummeted down into the paraffin, where it was extinguished with a hiss. Almost instantly, the figure reappeared on the tip of the flame, and raised an illuminated twig of an arm, a tiny, distinct, glowing limb, in cheeky salute. I nodded my head in acknowledgement, and pushed the lamp farther away from me, so that the light fell across my reading area.

Annoyed at being ignored, the imp somersaulted in place, giving a loud crackle of protest. I rolled my eyes, and raised an eyebrow at him. Completely unperturbed, he tumbled around the wick again, unrepentantly playful, taunting my wandering focus with its daredevil antics. Although I can't distinguish many fire imps from one another, as they are not my companion species, I always recognize Lau, Mum's companion. He likes to keep an eye on all of us when we're in fire's vicinity- especially after what happened to Mum.

What happened... well, it was completely unprecedented. It had appeared that the remainders of Kullervo's forces had fully dissipated, as their attacks had been few and far between in recent years. Mum had been in Fiji, to take part in a conference of fire imp companions after a surplus of the imps had been created in a previously dormant volcano, and were threatening the livelihood of the area if they caused the volcano to erupt. They needed companions to reason with the fire-imps- to relocate them, if possible, and they needed it done fast. They couldn't interact with their own companions for the duration of their stay, as it would interfere with the investigation.

Mum was the first to volunteer.

After a week, they still hadn't made contact- it was as if the fire imps didn't want to be found. It was only afterwards that it was discovered that the stone sprites had merely covered up their presence there- a seemingly innocent cluster of the creatures buried deep in the volcanic rock had managed to extend their shields across and within the malignant magma which contained the imps.

The night before Mum's flight back home to London, she went out, by herself, to make one final attempt at contact. Nobody had seen it coming- and nobody had realized that she had gone until the following morning. If Mum hadn't been a fire imp companion, that night, she would have died out there. Lau had eventually managed to break through the flood of fire imps- he protected her from the continuing onslaught of fire imps by renewing her companion's immunity, and during the dark, cold night, he had prevented her from dying through shock or cold, by giving constant shocks to her circulatory system to keep her heart going. The entire night, he had covered her in a soft blanket of fire, and raised the alarm through flares and sparks the following morning.

It's suspected that Kullervo's forces were behind it- but there's never such focus on a single person. It seems completely out of character for the renegade creatures. Usually, they attack large groups, to achieve maximum impact and damage- Mum was targeted when she was by herself. Usually, they attack non-companions, to undermine the Society's rules of keeping mythical creatures a closely guarded secret- Mum was a fully fledged companion. Usually, they attack in broad daylight- Mum was attacked long after sunset. Usually, they target heavily populated, urbanized areas- Mum was in the middle of nowhere.

Why attack her?

Lau hadn't been able to get there in time to prevent all the damage. Mum had already suffered from extensive first-degree burns by the time he had reached her, and when they rushed her back to hospital, she had to get several skin grafts to repair the damage, despite the best efforts of several unicorn healers. That was over three months ago- Mum is still in the hospital, and we're still living off Society funds.

Despite everything, we still have our pride, and we're not going to give that up by asking for more help than we deserve. The Trustees have made it more than clear that if we need anything else, we're welcome to it- it's obvious that they still bore the burden of guilt that was bestowed upon them after sending a group of completely unarmed, unprotected companion to face renegade forces. It echoes far too vividly of the infamous, doomed march on the North in George Brewer's time. As unlikely as it felt, to us, at least, the Society got off lucky this time. At least history didn't repeat itself this time.