It wasn’t the cry of the battlefield that told Boone he was knee-deep in it. It wasn’t the bolts of lightning, spires of flame or the sharp, flying pieces of ice. Nor was it the sight of Vector’s surprise attack force coming down from the back roads to meet the main force at Crown Square that told him.
In fact, it was the two-hundred pound Vectoran soldier that landed in a charred heap on top of the map table that told him. Boone and Keltz had been standing their ground at the command tent, shooting any soldier that thought to approach close enough to cause a ruckus when the man came flying through the air at them. They both dived for cover, then shouted obscenities at Raine Walsh, the magi responsible for causing the drop-in. Raine hadn’t heard them, of course, he was too busy fighting trying to defend them.
“Christ,” Boone muttered, looking up at the soldiers pouring into the parking lot. Half of them seemed to fight with a renewed vigor after meeting up with their main force, but Boone could tell that some had veered southward, having given up the battle. Unfortunately, the sudden infusion of Vectoran soldiers had pushed the fighting further in– they were cleaning house, so to speak. The entire southern section of the parking lot was filled with Vectorans, and they were surging forward.
They had been outnumbered before. But now it was nearly impossible.
“Where the hell are they?” Boone asked. “We’re not going to be able to keep this up much longer.” He took a moment to check his gun. He still had a half-clip left.
“Shephard,” Keltz said into the radio. “Shephard, are you there?”
“Shephard,” came the reply. “Go ahead.”
“Constable, I’m afraid we’ll need you to make haste,” he said. “They’re starting to overrun us. If it lasts for much longer–”
“Almost there,” Shephard replied. “We’re on pavement now, just a few more minutes.”
“We might not have a few more minutes,” Boone said. He shook his head.
They were distracted yet again by a small group of Vectorans who advanced upon the command tent. Keltz drew his sword, preparing to defend himself, while Boone opened fire. Three shots later, the group of Vectorans had gone down to two. They scrambled backwards, surprised by the unexpected gunfire.
Apparently the Vectorans hadn’t gotten used to the idea of handguns yet.
“Hah,” Boone said, laughing. “That’s right, you bastards. I got more for you right here!” He shook his gun in the air.
Suddenly, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. A shape emerged from the rear of the grocery store and came up behind Keltz. By the time Boone managed to look over and comprehend what was going on, Burz Ynnia, the Vectoran Captain, had grabbed Keltz by the shoulder and was proceeding to slide his sword through Keltz’s back.
“Shit!” Boone exclaimed. He pointed his gun at Ynnia’s head, but didn’t shoot. There was a good chance he’d hit Keltz. Ynnia held the sword inches deep in Keltz’s back. Keltz clenched his teeth in pain while Ynnia used him as a human shield.
“I think not, General,” he said.
“Let him go, you piece of shit,” Boone said.
“Lay down your arms,” Ynnia replied, then pushed his sword further into Keltz. Keltz let out a sharp yell of pain, and would have fallen to his knees if Ynnia hadn’t been holding him up.
Boone was trying to think it through. He went back to his RCMP training on how to deal with a hostage situation. Dammit, he just couldn’t think straight. This wasn’t like what he’d been trained for.
Boone lowered the gun, placed it on the table. “Easy now,” he said. “Let’s talk about this.”
Ynnia raised a speculative eyebrow. “Talk?” he said. He laughed. “To whom? You?” He started to back away, pulling Keltz with him. “I think not. Look around, Boone.” He pointed a chin to the growing mass of soldiers. “You’re outnumbered. All we have to talk about is how much you’ll bleed out before your die.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Keltz said.
“Silence, fool!” Ynnia said.
“I’d listen if I were you,” Boone said. “We’ve got about ten thousand soldiers coming down the hill as we speak. Aren’t you wondering why some of your men are cutting and running?”
Ynnia looked into the distance. Boone watched as realization dawned on his face. His men were retreating. Only some were staying to fight. He started to look back and forth, unsure of what to do.
“Just let him go, Ynnia,” Boone said. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“I’m leaving,” Ynnia said. “Try to follow and I’ll pierce his heart.” He started to pull away further.
“I can’t let you do that,” Boone said. “That’s not how this game is played.”
“Game?” Ynnia spat. “What game?”
“This game,” Nalya said as she came up from behind him. She had picked up one of the chairs that had been laying on its side and smashed it against the back of Ynnia’s head, knocking him senseless and causing him to release Keltz from his grasp. Keltz fell away, groaning in pain as the sword slid back out of his and clattered to the ground. Boone and Nalya quickly tended to him. Ynnia, however, decided it would be prudent to run.
“That was some good stuff, kid,” Boone said to Nalya. “That took guts.”
“Never in short supply for a Ruus,” she smiled. “We need to get him to a healer.”
Boone nodded. “Agreed.” He stood up and helped Keltz to his feet. “Get him to one. I’ve got to take care of Ynnia.” He stood up and grabbed his gun from the table. He turned towards the fray, scanning for Ynnia, but something else caught his attention.
The first signs of the Halish army began to descend down the hill towards the parking lot, and the Vectorans were slowly becoming aware of it, one-by-one. In the five seconds his eyes were pointed towards them, at least a dozen Vectoran soldiers broke away from the battle and began to move south, their morale wounded.
“About fucking time,” Boone said.
When Lily had gotten inside the grocery store by climbing through the broken window made by Giger’s flying form, the pyromagi had already managed to move away from the front of the store. The spot he landed in was marked solely by the shattered glass from the window and a few spots of blood. She whipped her head around, looking and listening. The store was empty, save for herself and Giger, but the clash of battle outside was deafening. She noticed a trail of smeared blood on the linoleum floor, and blood-stained footprints leading deeper in, towards the back.
Lily summoned an electrical charge into her hands. It was strong, and lit up the darkened store all around her. She stalked up the baked goods aisle, following the footprints, ever aware of her surroundings.
The store still had foodstuffs stacked in rows along the shelves, and power still fed the cooling units and freezers, the hum drowning out the sounds of the battle outside. Lily got to the end of the aisle, and noticed a rack of dish clothes had been knocked over. She took a moment to inspect it. Giger was bleeding, he must have stopped to tie a tourniquet. She whipped her head around, keeping her eyes peeled for signs of the magi, but the trail of blood ended at the dish clothes.
Suddenly, a fireball came at her from out of nowhere. Giger had obviously heard her coming, and had hidden behind one of the aisles until she was off guard. Lily ducked and rolled, then wasted no time in letting loose her power.
It hit a meat cooler dead-on, causing an electrical shortage which knocked them out. The hum of the cooler stopped, and the smell of fried meat and ozone filled her nostrils. She’d missed Giger entirely, of course, but he wasted no time in returning his attack. A wall of flame erupted from behind the aisle, engulfing the cardboard packages of food, and filling the inside of the store with thick, black smoke.
Lily fell back to the ground, and violently slapped out the flame that had engulfed her arm. She was burned, but not badly. She rolled to one side, taking cover behind another aisle.
“You think me foolish, girl?” Giger exclaimed from his cover. “You think me so easily done in?”
Lily rolled her eyes, but didn’t reply. Instead, she listened. Giger was two aisles over, taking refuge behind the burning aisle. If she timed it right, she might be able to–
Another wall of flame came flowing out from under the aisle. She’d felt the heat coming through before the flames licked out from underneath, and had managed to distance herself just enough. There had to be something she could do– anything. She looked up, squinting her eyes to see through the smoke.
There– a hanging light. It would be right about directly above where Giger was hiding. She didn’t even take the time to think about it, she called forth a bolt of electricity and aimed it directly for the light fixture. A moment later, she heard a sudden bang as the filaments exploded, sending glass flying everywhere. The light came swinging down, hanging by a wire for a moment before the wire too gave, dropping to the floor with a sudden crash.
Lily wasted no time. She rolled out from behind her cover and leaped to her feet. She covered the distance to Giger’s hiding place, and turned the corner.
She hadn’t even seen Giger’s hand as it shot out from behind the aisle, grabbing her tightly by the throat. Giger’s fist came at her, hitting her square in the face, bloodying her nose.
Lily was disoriented. Her face was numb from the pain, and she grasped uselessly at Giger’s wrists, trying to separate him from her throat. She choked uselessly as she struggled against him, spraying blood out from her nose.
“If this is the best your people have to offer,” Giger said. “Then Vector has little to worry about.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” came a voice suddenly from behind Giger. “I’d be pretty worried right now, if I were you.”
Giger whipped his head around in shock. Lily’s vision was starting to blur, her eyes were stinging and she couldn’t get any air in, but suddenly she felt a stab of hope. She couldn’t make it out the shape at first, but the voice was unmistakable.
She looked over and saw him standing there, his face grim. In his hands he held a large black sword, which he held with purpose.
“Let her go,” Ryan said, brandishing his sword. “Now.”
Giger narrowed his eyes at Ryan. A moment passed before Lily felt the pressure on her throat release, and she gasped as her lungs flooded with oxygen. She dropped to the floor, coughing violently and spraying the blood that flowed freely from her nose all over the floor.
“You people,” Giger said, shaking his head. “You just don’t learn, do you?” He brought up his hand and started to collect flame within his palm. He made as though he were ready to throw it at Ryan.
But Ryan was already moving. He swept down the aisle, closing in on Giger within seconds. Giger let loose with his power, engulfing Ryan. Lily watched in horror as the flames closed in around him.
But Ryan kept moving as though the flames didn’t exist. He burst out of one side of the fireball, his clothing and hair smoking, singed and charred, and lashed out with his sword, catching Giger in the side of the leg.
Giger yelled in pain as he collapsed onto one knee, cradling his wound. Ryan didn’t waste even a second. He kicked Giger in the back, sending him sprawling against the linoleum.
Giger spun around onto his back and screamed as he let his powers loose on Ryan, but Ryan had already been prepared for it. He picked up a jar of pickles from the shelf and threw it at Giger’s face, striking him dead on and disrupting the flow of power. In seconds, he closed the distance, and held the edge of his sword against Giger’s throat.
Giger looked up to him, his face bloody.
“I yield,” he said.
Ryan looked down at him, his expression unchanging. “You’re going to have to do a lot better than that,” he said, then applied pressure to Giger’s throat, causing it to cut into his skin. Blood began to flow from the tiny wound.
“No!” Giger exclaimed. “Please, I yield! I yield, I surrender!”
Lily got up and wiped the blood from her face. She was still disoriented, but she managed to stagger to her over to Ryan, then put her hand on his shoulder. “Don’t,” she said.
Ryan looked back up to her. “He was going to kill you,” he said.
“But he didn’t,” Lily replied. She looked back down at Giger, who was looking up at her, a look of pleading on his face. “And we’re not like them.”
Lily pulled the pistol Goose had given her from her waistband. She pointed it in Giger’s face. “You know what this is?” she asked.
Giger nodded slowly, looking down the barrel of the gun.
“You so much as blink at me the wrong way, I’ll put a bullet in your brain. Do you get me?”
Again, Giger nodded.
“Get up,” Ryan said. He pulled the sword away from Giger, but still held it at the ready.
As Giger stood up, Lily kept the gun trained on him. She instructed him to turn around, then pushed him up against the aisle. Ryan went to work at disarming the man, and when he was satisfied the magi was unarmed, he looked to Lily.
“Long time no see,” Ryan said. “You look like shit.”
“I feel like shit,” Lily agreed. She looked at him sideways. “Where the hell did you learn to fight like that?”
Ryan only held up the sword. “It’s a long story,” he said. He looked out towards the front of the store. Outside, the battle was still raging.
“How did you even know I was in here?” she asked.
“I didn’t,” Ryan said. “I saw the smoke pouring out, figured there must have been some kind of action going on in here. Happy I came?”
Lily laughed. “Just in time,” she said.
“So, what do we do with this one?” he asked.
Lily kept the gun held against the back of Giger’s head. He hadn’t so much as twitched. A huge part of her just wanted to pull the trigger and be done with it, but Lily was no killer. She’d taken more than her share of lives that day, but none of them in cold blood. Giger was well and fully cowed now.
Ryan wandered off for a moment and grabbed a fire extinguisher, then started putting out the flames before they spread too much. He then grabbed a length of cord from a shelf, and started to tie Giger’s hands behind his back.
A moment later, Lily lowered the gun and turned Giger around.
“You just try it, asshole,” Lily said, then pushed him forward, marching him towards the front of the store. She could see that the battle outside was beginning to sway. The Vectorans were beginning to pull away. There were still small pockets of fighting, but for the most part, they were beginning to give up.
“I think we’ve done it,” Lily said, observing the fight.
“Don’t count your chickens yet,” Ryan said.
As the two came out the front door, Lily forced Giger to the ground, face-down.
“You got him?” Ryan asked. He was twirling his sword now, anxious to join back in the battle.
Lily nodded. “I’ve got him,” she said. “Go out there and crack some skulls.”
Ryan smirked, nodded, and then jumped back into the fray.
“So, Bond,” Ryde said, standing off against Boomer. “You were a spy the whole time.”
Boomer’s face didn’t change its expression. He only stared back at Ryde.
“I must commend you, then,” Ryde said. “Even I could not tell you were being false with me. I’m quite astute at sniffing out liars in my midst.”
“Well,” Boomer said. “You never met me before.”
“Ahh,” Ryde said. “At least I face against a proud liar. Tell me, then, liar. How is it you managed to escape from Anastae and come here with such haste?”
“Simple,” Boomer replied. “I flew.”
Ryde looked back at him, his expression unchanging. “Yes,” he said. “Your noisy flying machine. Still, you should not have escaped so easily. Cahl is meticulous with–”
“Cahl’s nothing more than a stain on the floor now,” Boomer said. “He didn’t last five seconds.”
Ryde remained silent for a moment. “Truly?” he asked.
Boomer smirked. “Truly,” he said. “And I don’t think we’ll be having any more trouble from the likes of you. Especially now that Anastae’s been wiped from the map.”
Ryde paused for a moment. “Lies,” he said.
“Are they, now?” Boomer asked. He smirked again. “Face it, Ryde. You’re outnumbered now.” He pointed up towards the hill, where Halish men were coming down in droves. “You’ve got nowhere to go, nowhere to run. Just give it up.”
Ryde laughed. “You may or may not be telling truth,” he said. “But know this, Boomer. You will not live past sunfall.”
Boomer smiled. “We’ll just see about that.”
Ryde chose that moment to advance. Boomer wasted little time. He reached out with his ability, trying to stop Ryde in his tracks.
But, strangely, he couldn’t get a fix on him. It was as though his power slid right off of him. Boomer ended up having to rely on his own reflexes in order to avoid the attack, jumping to one side as he avoided the swing of the sword. He looked up in shock, confused. Why hadn’t his power worked? He could still pick up the stray thoughts from soldiers in the area, but when he focused on Ryde– nothing. What was wrong?
Ryde stopped for a moment, then turned back to Boomer, his sword still high in the air. He stood there, observing.
“An Aeromagi?” he asked. He chuckled. “You hide your powers well, but you’ll find them useless against me.” He knocked against his armor.
Boomer got to his feet again. He stared at the man for a moment, then realized what he was saying. Somehow, his armor was enchanted. It prevented him from being able to affect him with his power.
“Not quite,” Boomer said. “I’m no Aeromagi.”
“Then what…?” Ryde began, then his eyes narrowed. “Of course,” he said. “A Psimagi. Who else but a Psimagi would have made such an effective spy?” He laughed. “It hardly matters. Even a Psimagi is powerless against this armor.” He began to move again, advancing on Boomer.
Boomer had already come to the conclusion that his powers would be useless against Ryde, however. He was unarmed, however, and Ryde was an experienced fighter. Boomer’d gotten in his fair share of fights, but his opponent had rarely ever been armed. Even when they were, it was never anything more than a knife or brass knuckles. Boomer instead relied on his training, remembering what he could of the bladed weapons defenses he had in his repertoire.
Ryde came in quick, slashing downwards at Boomer, but he deflected it with the flat of his arm, deftly dodging the attack. Ryde wasted no time in countering, jabbing the sword at Boomer, catching him on his side. Boomer ignored the pain, instead coming around with a roundhouse kick, hitting Ryde square in the chest and forcing him back a few feet. He allowed himself a moment to check the wound just above his waste. It wasn’t deep, but it stung.
Ryde looked to Boomer with renewed vigor. His face twisted into a sneer and he tightened his grip on his sword. He came in again, faster this time, bringing his sword in from the side. Boomer leaned back, planting his hands on the ground behind him, narrowly avoiding the swinging blade. He then flipped over onto his hands, catching Ryde in the chin with a well-placed foot. Ryde fell back again, looking back at Boomer in shock.
Boomer balanced himself on his hands for a moment, then flipped back over and stood up. He took a defensive stance, then stared back at Ryde.
“A wily one, you are,” Ryde said. “Like a fool at a traveling menagerie.”
“So’s your mom,” Boomer replied.
This time, Boomer launched the attack. Ryde’s stance betrayed his next move. He’d shifted his weight onto one foot as Boomer came in close, telegraphing his move. Boomer caught Ryde’s sword-arm in his hand and held it in place. He applied pressure to a point in his wrist, causing Ryde to yell out in pain and drop his sword clattering to the ground. Boomer punched Ryde in the face twice, then jumped and delivered another well-placed kick to Ryde’s chest. He flew back, sliding against the ground for a few feet.
Ryde looked around, disoriented and bleeding. He scrambled back a few feet, then stood, staggering..
Boomer picked up Ryde’s sword, swung it around for a moment, and then threw it as far as he could. It sailed up over the lip of the parking lot, landing uselessly in a ditch by the roadside.
Ryde looked to it, then back to Boomer. He narrowed his eyes. “Well fought,” he said. He put his hand to his face, then looked at the blood as he pulled it away. He looked back to Boomer. “But you should know I have no intention of losing this day.”
“I figured,” Boomer said. He cracked his knuckles, then smirked. “In fact, I was hoping you’d say something like that.”
Ryde smiled, then reached into a pouch at his belt. Boomer stiffened, ready for anything.
The blades came quickly, the first one slicing Boomer’s cheek open. He’d dodged the second one, but it had given Ryde just the diversion he’d needed. By the time Boomer got his bearing back, Ryde was disappearing into the battle.
“You prick!” Boomer yelled indignantly. He didn’t give it a second thought. He merely gave chase.
Ynnia picked up a discarded sword from the ground and took note of his bearings. The situation was turning dire. The Halish reinforcements were now bearing down on them, forcing the fighting out into the street and away from the strange plaza. He’d managed to lose the man, Boone, in the confusion, but even Ynnia was at a loss at what to do. His men were being cut down left, right and center. The forces of Vector were outnumbered.
“Blast!” he exclaimed, running through the crowd.
He suddenly caught sight of General Ryde as he burst through a pocket of soldiers. Ryde looked him in the eye, then ran up to him.
“General!” Ynnia exclaimed. “We’re outnumbered, I–”
“I know we’re outnumbered, fool!” Ryde exclaimed. “Gather your men. I’m ordering the retreat!”
Ynnia nodded. “By your will, Sire,” he said. “Where shall we rendezvous?”
Ryde didn’t answer. His attention was fixed elsewhere, somewhere beyond Ynnia’s shoulder. Ynnia turned back to look.
He located the source of Ryde’s attention immediately. Standing off to the side, away from any soldiers, Vectoran, Halish or Dunsmithian, was a lone girl.
Her hair was the color of blood.
“The Bloodhead,” Ryde said. “She’s the key! The key to it all!” He jabbed a finger towards her. “Get her. We may have lost this battle, but with her, the war is ours.”
Ynnia nodded. He didn’t waste a second. He slipped through a group of soldiers, then came out under the awning of a shop. He took off at a run, heading straight towards the Bloodhead.
She had been distracted by the ensuing battle, and hadn’t noticed him until it was too late. She met his eyes, and her face twisted up into a look of shock as Ynnia finally came upon her. He grabbed her by the hair, then placed his sword to her neck.
“You’re to come with me,” Ynnia ordered. He applied pressure to her throat. “Am I understood?”
The bloodhead nodded silently. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He could feel her shake under his grasp.
He pushed the girl violently. “Quickly!” he said. “Move! Now!”
Boone ran through the crowded streets. The fighting was beginning to die down, having moved away from the parking lot and back onto the highway, and the combined Halish and Dunsmith forces pushed the Vectorans back. He’d lost Ynnia somewhere in the crowd, but he couldn’t have gone far.
Suddenly, he caught sight of Ajjiro Ryde as he ran through the crowd. The Vectorans were calling the retreat, the fight was almost over, but they’d keep on their tails until every last Vectoran was dead, captured, or out of Dunsmith territory. If Boone had his way, out of the Disputed Lands altogether.
Ynnia was forgotten for a moment as he watched Ryde make his way through the crowd. He followed him as he burst out of the parking lot, moving south and shouting orders to his men along the way.
Too far. Boone would never catch up with him. He looked over to where the Halish forces were flooding into the lot and spotted a familiar face.
“Shephard!” he exclaimed. He ran over to the man, catching his attention.
“Sergeant?” Cale replied.
“Ryde’s getting away!” Boone said, he pointed towards the retreating General. “He doesn’t get out of Dunsmith, you got me?”
It was then that Ryan showed up. Boone spared him a strange look as he flicked his sword through the air expertly, the blood splattering against the ground. “You guys, I can’t find Terra!” he exclaimed.
“Murphy?” Boone asked. He’d just seen her– she was away from the battle, over by the–
Boone paled as he spotted her. Ynnia had her in tow, trying to slip past the battle unnoticed.
“Fuck!” he exclaimed, then pointed.
Ryan looked up. The moment he spotted her, he took off running.
“Hey!” Boone exclaimed. “Hold on!”
If Ryan had heard him, he didn’t show it.
“Dammit,” Boone exclaimed. He looked to Cale, then pulled his keys from his pocket and passed them to him. “You take care of Ryde, I’ve got that Ynnia asshole.”
Cale nodded, and Boone took off chasing Ryan.
“Get in,” Cale said, leaning over and opening the passenger-side door for Corpus. Corpus spared it a single speculative look, then climbed in. He shut the door behind him and held on tightly to the dashboard as Cale started accelerating. He weaved through the masses of soldiers, going as fast as he could without harming any friendly soldiers.
Corpus was racked from one direction to the other from the force of Cale’s rapid accelerating, turning and braking.
“Could you perhaps go a mite slower?” Corpus pleaded, but Cale hadn’t heard.
It was Corpus’ first time in such a vehicle. He’d heard Nalya and Bayne speak of them, even seen the trucks back up on the logging roads, but being inside of one was a completely different experience.
Finally, they were out onto open highway. Cale sped the car up and flipped a switch, causing a high, piercing shriek to echo out from the vehicle. Corpus watched in shock and awe as Vectoran soldiers turned back, only to be struck by the quickly-moving vehicle. They rolled uselessly up onto the hood, and a strange spiderweb pattern appeared as they struck the window and fell off the side of the car in a bloody heap. The process was repeated a few times before Cale spun out.
“Dammit!” he exclaimed, then threw the car into reverse, straightening himself out. He continued to speed down the highway.
Corpus spied Ryde in the distance, perhaps fifty feet ahead.
“I’m going to come up beside him,” Cale said. “We want that fucker alive.”
Corpus nodded. “What is our plan, then?”
Cale only looked back at Corpus. “Get ready to open your door,” he said.
Corpus looked to Ryde, then back to Cale. He clenched his jaw shut, then nodded.
The speed came quickly. The distance between them and Ryde closed in an instant. Ryde ran down the highway, and as they came upon him, he turned to look.
It was a mistake. They came up beside Ryde, and Corpus threw open his door, bashing Ryde hard in the back and sending him sprawling face-first to the ground. He fell, motionless, and Cale pulled the car to a stop. He pulled out his gun, and got out of the car. Corpus did the same.
Corpus walked up to Ryde and pushed him over onto his back. His face was a bloody mess, the end result of sliding across the asphalt upon it, and he was unconscious.
“He’s out cold,” Corpus said.
“Good,” Cale said. He pulled a pair of cuffs out from the car, then walked over to Ryde, making sure to keep his weapon trained on any Vectoran soldier that thought to draw too close. In a moment, the cuffs were applied. Confident that none of the retreating soldiers were going to attempt anything, he holstered his gun, then walked over and opened the back door.
“Help me get him inside,” Cale said.
Ynnia ran for cover the second he saw Ryde struck down by the Dunsmithian’s vehicle. “Blast!” he exclaimed, then shoved the bloodhead down past the road, dragging her down a steep grassy embankment.
“Take it easy!” the girl exclaimed.
“Quiet, whore!” he said, pushing her. He needed to lay low, but escape was his first priority. If Ryde was captured, then it fell to Ynnia to take the bloodhead to Vector. Perhaps he could salvage some kind of victory from the whole debacle.
He kept moving, pushing the girl ahead of him into the trees. If need be, he would stay within the treeline until he was well out of the strange town.
He had dragged the girl some fifty feet through the bush when she fell to the ground.
“Get up!” Ynnia ordered, then kicked the girl in the side. She yelled out in pain. “Now, wench!”
“You step the fuck away from her,” came a voice from Ynnia’s right. He snapped his head over and saw two men. A young man stood with a sword. From behind him came the Dunsmith men’s general. Boone. He held his small gun in his hand.
Ynnia’s heart started to beat faster. He quickly grabbed the girl, pulling her up and holding her in front of him. He held a sword to her throat.
“A step closer and I’ll have her head,” Ynnia said.
Both men paused. Boone looked at him, scowling. “What, you don’t have any other tricks?” he asked. “Let her go, man. You can still come out of this in one piece.”
Ynnia spat in Boone’s direction. “I’ve no interest in being taken prisoner,” he said. “I’m going to leave, and this one is coming with me.” He held her close to him. “If I am followed, she dies.”
Boone and the other man looked to each other.
“Lay down your arms,” he said. “Then walk away.”
“It’s not going to be that easy,” came another voice, this time from a source behind him. Ynnia whipped his head over.
Bond. Boomer, whatever his name was.
“I warn you,” Ynnia said. “I will kill her.”
“No you won’t,” Boomer replied. He took a step nearer.
Ynnia twisted towards him. “Stop! Stop where you are!” He pressed the sword into the girl’s throat.
Boomer didn’t stop. He never even slowed his pace.
Finally, Ynnia’s options were too limited. Boomer had made his choice for him. It would be regrettable, but he would have to kill the girl.
He grasped the back of the girl’s head, then prepared to slash her throat.
His sword-arm wouldn’t move.
“What?” he asked. Suddenly, he released his grasp on the girl, and she fell away from him, putting her hand to her throat. She was entirely unharmed.
Ynnia began to panic. What was happening? He’d intended to kill the girl. Why wasn’t he able to move? His eyes shot over to Boomer, who looked at him, the focus on his face intense.
“What have you done to me?” Ynnia asked.
“Shit,” the man with the black sword said. “Boomer, are you doing that?”
Boomer never replied. He only took another step closer, then gestured at Ynnia with his hand.
Ynnia flew back through the air in an instant, as though he had been struck by an Elemental. He slammed against the tree and fell into a heap on the ground.
The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was the approaching form of Boomer, kneeling town and touching his finger to Ynnia’s forehead.
After that, everything went black.
The battle was over, and all through town a sigh of relief could be heard on the lips of its citizens. The battle had been costly, of course, and in the end, almost a thousand lives had been snuffed out between the Halish and Dunsmithian forces. The fires that once threatened to consume Crown Square had now faded, leaving in its wake the charred remains of what had once been the McDonald’s.
Boone stood with Goose Payne, surveying the wreckage. Goose slurped noisily on a can of soda he’d picked up off the ground from the grocery store. They had sent Boomer and the others home, citing that they deserved their rest, while the remaining members of the Dunsmith and Halish military forces assisted in the clean-up after the battle. Already hoses were beginning to spray the blood from the concrete, while soldiers moved bodies into neat piles, separated by nationality.
“You sure you don’t want some?” Goose said, offering the soda to Boone.
Boone shook his head, then ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m not sure how you can drink that,” he said. “After all this.”
“It’s because of all this that I am drinking it. Don’t tell Helen, though. She thinks I need to lay off the pop.” He patted his belly for effect. “Bad for you, she says.”
“No worse than a sword through the gut,” Boone said. There were still bodies littering the parking lot, but the last of the Vectoran soldiers had either been rounded up, or run out of town. “So what’s the plan for the prisoners?”
Goose shrugged. “We’re still in the process of getting things put together,” he said. “We’ll have a court of law set up soon enough. The committee’s work isn’t done yet.” He took another sip from the can. “Although it’s something we’ve taken into consideration. For the most part, we’ve only taken officers prisoner, plus a few magi we managed to capture. Ryde, Ynnia. That pyromagi that tried to burn down the grocery store.”
“Pardon me,” a man said, approaching Boone and Goose. The two men regarded the newcomer, obviously a Halish man. He wore a leather patch over his eye.
“Hey, you’re Liass, right?” Boone asked.
Liass nodded. “I am,” he said.
Boone shook his hand vigorously. “Hey, we can’t thank you enough. Without you guys, we’d have been royally screwed.”
“It was my pleasure,” Liass said, smiling. “I’ve been instructed to pass a message on to a man named Goose.” He looked to Goose. “I’ve been told that you are that man.”
“I am,” Goose said, nodding. “What’s this message?”
Liass rummaged around in the pouch at his side, then pulled out a small envelope, sealed with wax. He put it directly into Goose’s hands.
“What’s this?” Goose asked.
Liass shrugged. “I’ve not been told,” he said. “I’ve only been instructed to give it to you and none else. It’s from Nadus Hillbreaker.”
Goose gave Liass an inquisitive look, then opened the letter. He began reading it aloud.
“Lord Payne,” he read aloud. He smirked at that. “I don’t think anyone’s ever called me Lord outside of the bedroom,” he quipped. He looked back to the letter. “I have been informed of your situation, and have lent the use of General Liass and his men to assist your cause. I pray all goes well in this regard. I’ve given the General specific orders to help your town, Dunsmith, stand on its own two feet within the Pactlands, and have therefore decided to support your claim for the Disputed Lands.”
Goose blinked in surprise. He read the last sentence aloud again.
“Is he serious?” Boone asked. “Support our claim for the Disputed Lands?”
“Yes,” Liass said, nodding. “As far as Halen is concerned, the town of Dunsmith is the new capitol of the Disputed Lands, and as such, should retain a claim to the entirety of its lands.”
Goose stared at him for a moment longer. “So you’re saying the Disputed Lands are ours?” he asked. “All of it?”
Liass nodded. “As far as the nation of Halen is concerned, yes,” he said. “It will, however, be up to you to win over the Freemen.”
Goose looked to Boone, and a look passed between them for a moment. “Well,” he said. “Isn’t that something else?”
He looked back to the letter and continued to read.
“Additionally, I have agreed to an alliance, both military and economic between Halen, and your new fledgling nation. I would announce us brothers in the trying years to come. I have appointed the Lady Nalya Ruus to act in my stead as ambassador, and would ask that you, too, deliver to us a person of your choosing to act as ambassador to Halen. You may or may not be aware, but I have also awarded the three you have sent to us, Ryan Stills, Terra Murphy and Cale Shephard, titles within Halen. They are Lords and Ladies in our lands, but as I understand things, you have no such titles in your lands. I would ask little in return for Halen’s assistance. Only that we enter into this new era as brothers-in-arms, friends,” Goose read.
“Please be not a stranger unto us, and let us celebrate our new-found alliance. Yours truly, Nadus Hillbreaker the twenty-third. King of Halen.” Goose took his eyes off the letter, then looked to Boone.
“Isn’t that something?” Goose asked.
Boone looked to Liass. “He’s sure about this?”
Liass nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Else he would not have offered such support.”
“Well,” Goose said. He smirked. “Looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Boone rolled his eyes. “Shit,” he said. “I’m not cut out for this political crap.”
Terra was the first into the door. The whole group had crowded en masse back to the apartment. Terra was eager to get home and actually sit on her own couch, especially after the trying day she had. Her first order of business was simple. She was going to roll a joint. She stepped over the small mound of soil, ignoring it and the upturned plant entirely.
She hadn’t come alone. Ryan and Boomer trailed after her, as did Nalya, Bayne and Corpus. Lily and Keltz had stayed at Crown Square, waiting for the wound in his back to be treated.
Terra burst into the living room, then stopped.
“Who the hell are you?” she asked.
A strange man sat on the couch, shivering while he wrapped himself in a blanket. He looked up to Terra, a single tear dropping from his eyes.
“She left,” he said.
It was Boomer who recognized the voice before the others. “Tam?” he asked. “Is that you?” He looked around. “Why aren’t you a rock?”
“The Eye of Lychon,” Tam said. He put his hand to his chest. “It’s inside of me. She bade it give me human form.”
“The Eye of Lychon?” Terra asked. She looked over to Corpus, who blinked in surprise.
“Wait,” Corpus said. “I don’t understand.”
“Tam was an Elemental before,” Boomer explained. “Tam, where’s Arie?”
Tam only stood up, a letter held in his hands. He walked up to Boomer, who was looking at Tam with a degree of shock.
It was Arie’s handwriting. All it said was, I’m sorry. I had to leave. Please trust me and do not follow. Watch over Tam for me. Arie.
“What the hell is this?” Boomer asked, scrunching the paper in his hands. “Where the hell did she go?”
“With Tome,” Tam said. “He came for her.”
“What?” Boomer asked. “Tome? Who the hell is Tome?”
“Wait,” Bayne said. “Tome. Phearon Tome?”
“Why?” Boomer asked. “Why would she leave?”
“She said it was to protect us,” Tam said. “He took her back to Shavi because of her heritage.”
“What heritage?” Boomer asked.
“She’s a princess,” Tam said. He sighed. “She’s the daughter of Mystra Windchaser.”
“Daughter of–” Bayne sputtered. “That’s impossible! Her daughter died nearly eighteen years ago!”
Tam shook his head. “That’s what we were meant to believe,” he said. “But it’s not the truth. My mother was once a servant in the house of Windchaser. Arie was given to her to watch over, and she told me… told both of us that we were brother and sister.”
“Why wouldn’t she wait?” Boomer asked, sitting down on the couch.
“Don’t worry ’bout it, lad,” Bayne said. “If Phearon Tome’s got her, she’s in good hands.”
Tam whipped his head over to Bayne. “How could you say that?” he asked. “He’s taking her back to Shavi to serve the Council’s ends!”
Bayne shook his head. “Not if it’s the Phearon Tome I know,” Bayne said. “He’s been working against the Council his whole life. If he came here on behalf of the Council, it’s because he’s got a plan.”
“How could you know?” Corpus asked.
Bayne eyed up Corpus for a moment, then smirked. “Because,” Bayne said. “Phearon Tome is a part of the Zoar Enclave.”