Esti tasted warm copper and instinctively shut her eyes as the blow knocked her head back. "Someone restrain him before he hurts anyone more than he already has," she said, and blinked hard before wiping her bloodied lip on the linen band around her wrist. Her apprentice Taegan mumbled an apology and quickly cast a binding spell, his brow furrowed in concentration as the golden ropes he summoned fought to hold their patient still.

Rose worked between the two healers, moving quickly to bind the man with strong rope, allowing Taegan to release his own magical rope. Esti flicked her tongue against the cut her lip, even as Taegan placed a tanned hand on her shoulder, sending his own golden magic into her to bind the wound shut and the two smiled briefly before getting back to work. Taegan laid his hands, fingers locked, palms flat, against the struggling man's chest. His form was perfect and even as she mirrored his pose with her hands along the man's forehead, she felt a touch of pride.

"What's his name?" Esti asked, even as she watched Taegan's golden power flow into the man. Soon, she knew, it would be time for him to take the examinations and end his apprenticeship with her.

"Samuel," Rose answered, gathering the used and bloodied linens around the room and throwing them into a basket with the rest to be cleaned later. Esti nodded, then closed her eyes as she released her own spring green energy, joining Taegan as he searched for the curse they all knew was hidden within.

The curse, incendiamentem, had plagued the lower section of Rabindra for as long as anyone could remember. Simple to case and nearly impossible to trace, the curse turned the mind of even gentlest child to rage and fire. Anyone unlucky enough to be cursed would wander the streets destroying or murdering anything in their path until they were caught, cured, or in most cases, killed.

Taegan's shoulders twitched. "I see it." Not for the first time, Rose found herself wondering how Taegan ever came to be a healer. He was built like a fighter, finely muscled and at least a full head taller than her. With dark eyes and hair as black as the sky on a moonless night, he could be frightening until you knew his true nature. Rose knew he loved Esti just like a younger brother would, and respected her more than most other healers.

"I see it too. I'll watch this time, but remember, curses are slippery things and seek any escape. If you're not careful, it will even slide into you." At twenty, Esti was by far the youngest of the three friends and also physically the smallest, but ran her healing house with such assurance, nobody who entered dared question her. She was all business when it came to healing and even more so when it came to Taegan's training, but even Rose was shocked that Esti would let Taegan handle the incendiamentem curse.

Incendiamentem was particularly difficult to destroy. The curse itself had an intelligence crafted into it when it was cast and if found, it would burrow deeper, sending out roots and spreading like a virus unless contained. Once contained, a healer had to locate the heart of the curse before the curse broke through the magical cage containing it, or worse, invading the mind of the healer trying to cure it. Although simple to cast, it was nearly impossible for all but the most skilled to remove. Rose had seen Esti remove the curse at least two dozen times, but was Taegan ready? Not sure, she gathered fire into her right palm even as she tightened the rope holding the man down with her left.

The hair on the back of Rose's neck stood on end as Taegan's whole body suddenly shone with golden power, light spilling into the hall. Within Samuel, Esti watched Taegan's golden tendrils gather and then move to surround the black and blood red mass that was the curse. It seemed to pulse with unthinking anger, surging one way and then the other. Even as she watched Taegan's work, she readied her own wider net, ready to help if needed. The curse began it's signature evasions away from the golden trap coming towards it, racing towards her own net in a blind attempt at escape, but in the end Esti's help wasn't needed. Taegan was faster than the curse and he overtook it in one smooth, well practiced motion. The golden tendrils joined and formed solid walls which tightened, then shone, as he attempted to destroy the curse from the inside.

Esti sent one tendril of her own into Taegan's work and observed. He was struggling to contain and destroy the red node, the heart, of the curse. "It moves blindly. Set a trap behind it and back it into it," she whispered, hoping he was enough in the physical to hear her. The next moment, the beating red heart of the curse had backed into a gold rod which pierced and destroyed it. The blackness disappeared and the two healers watched the true color of the man's essence, a blue as light as a midday sky, return. They opened their eyes. "Well done," Esti said as she reached up to pat the shaking shoulder of her apprentice, "have a seat, I'll finish."

As Taegan stumbled to the stool in the corner of the room, Esti measured out two tonics while Rose, now relaxed, untied the still unconscious Samuel then took the first tonic from Esti, a dark green energy potion she knew from experience tasted like mushrooms gone bad, and gave it to Taegan. "Enjoy," she said with a wink as she grabbed the smelling salts from behind him, laughing as he groaned.

When Samuel had been woken and given the second tonic, sunshine yellow and tasting of honey, the two women helped him walk to a recovery bed where he would sleep for the next to eight to ten hours. The sunshine tonic might look like day, but it was a power sleep aid in addition to its healing power and not long after the blankets had been pulled up around him, Samuel was fast asleep again. "You've got to love lower Rabindra," Esti said with a yawn and tired smile. The three friends had been up all night and most of the previous day healing Samuel's victims before he was finally caught.

"Taegan and I will clean up," Rose said, knowing Esti still had to give a full report to Rayn, the officer in charge of their district. As Esti climbed the stairs to the guest bedroom where Rayn had been waiting ever since he'd been banished from the healing room with a fiery threat, Rose entered the healing room. Taegan was already cleaning the grinding stones and empty jars, so she got to work changing the linens and preparing fresh ones. "Gotta love lower Rabindra, my ass," she muttered and smiled when Taegan laughed.

Upstairs, Esti folded down onto the loveseat in the spare bedroom and yawned again. A few strands of chestnut colored hair had escaped the knot she always kept it back in, and she brushed them back behind her ear. "He's cured. The curse is gone."

Rayn let out a sigh of relief. He had never seen Esti unable to remove a curse, no matter how tired she was or how skillfully crafted one was, but that didn't stop him from worrying. Plenty of healers failed and left their patients still cursed, dying, or sometimes already dead. Too many curses would destroy the person they were inside rather than be destroyed themselves. "You're the best," he said, grateful that such a skilled healer had chosen to work in the lower section of the city. "Now I can finish up the paperwork, get a report from you three and-" he stopped, frowning, when Esti shook her head.

"Taegan did it, I watched. You need to know who actually did the work for your report, right?" She smiled, once again filled with pride for her apprentice. Rayn's jaw had dropped for more than a moment, and Esti laughed. "He really is quite skilled. Sometimes I wish everyone could see what a healer sees. He cornered and killed it, just like you would. It's not all beautiful flowing lines and bright happy colors in healing, but he moves through it all and sees through all the clutter. He'll go far, our Kaegan."

Esti woke with the dawn, although the light barely filtered through the dust of Lower Rabindra. Two days had passed since the curing of Samuel and the healing house was quiet again. Here though, quiet still meant knife wounds, broken bones and sick children, among the many other ills the poorer sections of the city could provide. Payment was not required, but nearly all patients returned with whatever they could offer in return. Samuel, who turned out to be a carpenter, had returned after being questioned by Rayn with two new dressing tables for the healing room and promised to return with wood to repair the more questionable beds in the recovery rooms. His wife brought food to the families of all the victims, ensuring nobody's children starved because of lost wages.

The culprit behind the incendiamentem curse had not yet been found and likely wouldn't be. Nearly everyone in lower Rabindra had enemies, and if they didn't, they could easily be made a target. Three of the victim's homes had been ransacked in the confusion, but luckily no lives had been lost.

Clearing her mind of curses, Esti began her morning ritual of stretching, bending, and deep breathing. Before long, Taegan settled into his own similar routine to her left, Rose to her right. Each stretched and flexed their bodies as well as their power, the healers glowing their respective colors, Rose enveloped in a flame that merely warmed, not burned. Rayn watched, wondering to himself how Rose and Esti had become friends to begin with, and then settled on Lower Rabindra as the place to call home rather than, well, anywhere else.

He'd returned to wish Taegan good luck before he began his final examinations in five days. True to her word, Esti had given him such an outstanding review, even the healers in the castle were talking about him. Already, he was receiving offers from various healing houses across the kingdom, but Rayn hoped he'd stay on as a healer in Esti's healing house. The city, and especially the lower city, desperately needed skilled healers and although Esti was extremely gifted, she was the only healer with power strong enough to earn a spot in the Healers Guild in Lower Rabindra. Rayn leaned against the frame of the door, watching the three of them as they glowed and moved. He could wait until they were done with their morning ritual before wishing Taegan luck and he let his mind wander while he waited.

What an unlikely group they were. Rayn had never heard of any healing house with a full-time fire mage as co-owner and partner. Esti and Rose had shown up in Lower Rabindra nearly four years ago, purchasing their healing house and opening their doors nearly as suddenly as they'd arrived. Two weeks later, Esti was inducted into the Healing Guild after passing the final examination and had been the first healer in years to do so without any classical training to her record. At sixteen, she had also been the youngest to ever complete the final examination successfully.

The two women seemed to be complete opposites and as Rayn watched them, he tried to think of similarities, but couldn't. Sitting next to each other, Esti's skin seemed to match the clean linens she worked with, while copper skin blended with the fire around her body, her blond hair waving in the heat it created. Rose was nearly six feet tall and strong, while Esti was just under five and a half feet tall, and built like a nymph. Esti was quiet but forceful, Rose was quick to anger and had deadly aim with her fire. What had brought the two of them together?

A frantic knock broke all four from their relative calm. "I'll go, I started first," said Esti, rising. The others nodded, and Rose settled back into her routines while Taegan, who had spotted Rayn, joined him at the door. Esti hurried down the stairs to the sound of more pounding on the door. The healing house was runed and charmed by Rose so that only those seeking help or bringing aid could enter. Nobody who meant harm could enter, and if they approached, shields would surround the building. It was an expensive and time consuming process, but in Lower Rabindra, it was a necessity for anyone who planned to store as much inventory as a healing house required.

Esti opened the door to screams and blood. People rioted in the street, seeking any cover and protection they could get. The screams carried up the stairs, alerting Rose, Taegan and Rayn, who immediately ran down the stairs. Because the healing house was also charmed against noise, to bring peace and tranquility to those sleeping and healing, they were unprepared for what was happening.

A dragon attack.