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Thread: Children of Darkness

  1. #31
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    It was almost a half hour later that Pyralis came back to them in a rush. She was panting, her hair matted to her face in the dank humidity of their subterranean environs. “Helethra,” she huffed. “She’s doing something crazy.”

    By the time Flint, Luned, and Pyralis returned to the rat king’s chamber, it was abuzz with activity. There were two other orphans there, closer in age to Helethra, elves with minor deformities to mark their respective mutations. They were sulking, defensive, and in the middle of yelling back at a gaggle of younger elves that were accosting them. Flint listened to their argument before deciding it had devolved too far into petty name-calling for him to glean the cause of the fight.

    “Quiet,” he barked, straightening to his full height as he did. The nearest boy to him, an elf with what looked like cauliflower ears, spun on him with a sneer that quickly faded. Flint pointed at him and loomed. “Name.”

    “Uh,” the boy said. “Addoc?”

    “Where is Helethra?”

    Some of Addoc’s anger returned, tempered by fear into a sullen bitterness. The boy expected to get chewed out for his answer, and he was clearly considering a typically teenaged response. “She got all pissed off when I told her she was being a bitch. She left.”

    “Left where?” Flint said.

    “Tenner’s, I guess,” Addoc said, slowly. “She wanted us to hit there, but we’re not ready. I told her we’re not ready, and I’m not getting skinned just because she’s in a mood. So she made my bug buck me and took off. Tossed Sulli too.” Addoc nodded at the other teenager, who shrank away as attention shifted, even briefly, to him. His face was mostly hidden behind a mop of violet hair.

    “Your...bug?” Luned said.

    “Yeah,” Addoc said. “You know? Big, lots of legs.” He mimed antennae. “Bug.”

    Flint grinned. So it was true. Helethra wasn’t fighting Swanra’ann with an army of orphans. She was fighting Swanra’ann with an army of mutated sewer creatures. He wondered at it briefly, but the idea made certain things make sense. If nothing else, it explained how Helethra had survived the sewers when she was a child. Flint had almost died, multiple times, moments after stepping foot here. He had a multitude of questions, but no time.

    “Tenner’s,” he said. “The plaza? Edge of the smelter’s district? What’s there?”

    “A drop,” Sulli said, softly. “Or we thought it might be.”

    “Skinner’s got people there, day and night,” Addoc said. “They bring stuff into a warehouse in bags, but don’t bring anything back out. We only just started scouting it though. We don’t know what it’s for. I tried telling Hel that. It could be nothing, or it could be the Skinner’s summer house. It’s stupid to go there before we know more.”

    “She was really mad,” Sulli said, looking at Flint sidelong through his hair. “Not thinking straight. I just didn’t want her to get hurt.”

    “She went alone?” Luned said.

    “No, Dizzy was with her,” Addoc said.

    “Take me there,” Flint said. “Now.”

    Addoc looked around helplessly. “But she took my bug.”

    “Your legs work,” Flint said. “Do you not know the way?”

    “Well, yeah, but it’s...I mean, it’s a long way.”

    “Then start walking,” the brute growled. “Go. We will catch up with you.”

    Addoc wanted to argue, but not with Flint. He jerked his head at Sulli, who instantly fell in line with him, and the pair hurried through a passage somewhere in the dark. Flint noted it from the corner of his eye. Luned glanced at him, then hurried after the boys.

    He turned to Pyralis. “You have defenses here?”

    She seemed surprised that he was talking to her. She glanced around in a slight panic, then his question sank in and she nodded quickly. “You need to collect everyone left down here,” he said. “Find safe spaces. Prepare your defenses. Hide until Helethra, Luned, or I return.”

    “Is someone coming to get us?” one of the younger orphans said.

    “I don’t know,” Flint said. “But the whole surface world is looking for an excuse. I’m going to assume the worst until I know better.”

    “What’s the worst?” Pyralis said.

    “The worst is that Helethra might have just given them the excuse they’ve been waiting for. Swanra’ann has something up her sleeve, something expensive, and if the grahfs don’t think that’s enough they’re going to take matters into their own hands.”

    A murmur went through the children, but Flint silenced it with a look over the group. “Fear later,” he said firmly. “Prepare now.”

    And then he moved off to follow Addoc, Sulli, and Luned.

  2. #32
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    Though the sewers were familiar to him, Flint couldn’t help but feel as though everything was different too. Part of it was that they had expert guides this time: Sulli and Addoc knew where they were going and what what might be down various side passages. When they felt confident that discussing the horrors wouldn’t also summon them, Flint and Luned began to ask after things they’d witnessed the first time they’d come here.

    The talking mice rarely came up from the undercity - a lost set of stone catacombs beneath the sewers of Ettermire - but they were still kicking around. Addoc didn’t know where the mice learned Trade, but they were not great conversationalists. They only cared about food. The ants had been a troublesome pest for some time years ago, but Helethra had somehow wrangled them into sealed off ‘pens,’ where she could regulate their hive-pack populations. It sounded like she used them like ill-tamed dogs of war.

    They were still in the middle of discussing the ants when Addoc called for a stop, reached into his pack, and pulled out a wineskin. “Wait here,” he said. The remaining trio watched as he cautiously rounded a corner, then slapped his palm a few times rhythmically on the wavy metal wall. He stared for a long moment, stepped back, and then tossed the wineskin underhand down the tunnel in front of them. He backed away from the side tunnel, then hurried back to the group, holding out a hand for patience and silence. His gesture said, firmly, "be quiet and don't move."

    Flint and Luned watched with mounting horror as a set of long, knife-like black limbs emerged from the side passage and groped around experimentally. They were already six or seven feet long, sleek, skeletal thin and shiny, delicate but blade-like. The ends of the limbs tapped the far side of the tunnel, and then the rest of the spider emerged, herky-jerky, and it turned down the tunnel now opposite the group that watched it. It found the wineskin and, with surprising care, used its shorter pair of front limbs to lift it to its fangs.

    Addoc hurried the group forward now, with no small amount of silent urging to Flint and Luned, who very much did not want to get any closer to the creature. Thankfully, the group turned down the tunnel the spider had emerged from, though Flint did not like having the thing behind them at all. The end of the tunnel was lined in webbing, and Addoc ordered them to watch their step. It was five minutes and a few more turns before any of them spoke again.

    “Helethra has this place locked down,” he said, “except for the spiders. We could probably go around killing them all, but honestly they’re probably our best defense. Every day we find another group of dead thugs, sucked dry.”

    “How do you know where they are?” Flint said. “We encountered one the first time we came here, but we didn’t see it until it was already on us. It had blocked a tunnel with its body, waited until we passed, and then snuck up on us.”

    Addoc was nodding as Flint spoke. “The big ones all do that. The lucky thing is that they tend to set up facing sewer entrances, and like I said, food is plentiful coming into the sewers, so they don’t really bother trying to catch those of us already inside. That spider never moves; she’s got prime real estate there and always has because this is the only way out to the docks and warehouses. Skinner’s people always tend to come from the direction of her big strongholds. As long as you know the passages and where they go, you can usually guess where a spider is going to be. Those ones don’t have super great eyesight either, so if you see them first, you can usually do like I just did and feed them. Just don’t run or make any quick movements when they’re facing you and you’re usually okay.”

    “What if you’re coming from the other way, though?” Luned said. “How are we going to get back?”

    Addoc nodded wisely. He was clearly enjoying being the expert here. “Well, like I said, it helps to know where the old-timers are. They usually don’t move because they don’t need to. If you know where one is going to be, and they’ve got the tunnel blocked, you just throw a meat sack right at them. You have to hit them though, otherwise they’ll just stand right there in your way and eat it and then just block the tunnel up again.”

    “How is it different if you hit them with it?” Flint said.

    “It gets them mad, or scares them? They’ll still grab the meat sack, obviously, but they’ll run back to the nest with it and eat it there. Or tack it to the wall for later? I don’t know, I’ve never followed one to find out exactly what they do.”

    “...nest?” Luned said, frowning.

    Addoc nodded. “They all have nests somewhere down-tube from where they hunt. Or at least all the big ones do. You know when you’ve found one cuz there’s bones all over the place and it smells awful and it’s all covered with webs. You ever see that, just turn around and go back. Dizzy tried to check one out once and got real stuck. She was lucky Hel heard her yelling and got her out before the spider found her.”

    “Ugh.” Luned shuddered, and pressed closer to Flint. He was glad for her vote of confidence, but he did not feel especially empowered to protect her from what she was feeling. He felt it too.

    “It’s not far now,” Sulli said. It was the first thing he’d said since they’d started walking. “This tunnel goes all the way out to Tenner’s.”

  3. #33
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    The sewers had an overpowering scent, but it wasn’t what one would expect. It was a chemical smell, acrid and unnatural, and somehow promised it was something you didn’t want to get on your skin. Before, the metallic walls had been covered in green moss and mildew and other disturbing things; now the metal was oxidized into a dull patina, naked, solid, and clean. Flint wanted to ask Addoc about it, but the boy suddenly stopped them, turned a corner, and pointed at a ladder set in the center of the tunnel.

    “This will…” he started to say, but then he paused.

    Above, they could hear someone screaming.

    “Hel!” Sulli said, pushing his hair out of his eyes.

    Flint let out a primal growl and crossed the rest of the tunnel in a few long strides. He heard the others splashing after him as he ascended the ladder, three rungs at a time. There was a manhole cover above him. He noted a clever, crowbar-like contraption tied to the ladder, which doubtlessly the boys used to pry the manhole cover up just enough to slip through when scouting.

    He didn’t need it. The cover went spinning madly in the air like a flipped coin as he surged up from the sewers and onto the street. When the cover landed, it cracked the cobblestone with a sound not unlike gunshots.

    The noise didn’t attract any attention, though, as the street was already alive with the roar of gunfire.

    At first, the brute feared that the grahfs had already lost patience. There was a small army in the streets, elves and humans and dwarves armed with military rifles and blunderbusses. There was a steam-carriage parked against a warehouse wall, and its roof had been torn away to reveal a mounting apparatus for a cannon-sized gatling gun; an until-now mythological construct. A team of elves was endeavoring to load it and get it turned toward the action.

    The action, as it happened, was a small army of thugs in the middle of getting savaged by a quartet of horse-sized cockroaches.

    Flint only got a glimpse of a female elf riding on top of one of the roaches before a firing squad lined up, took aim, and unleashed a hellish volley of thunder upon her. It didn’t seem to bother them that most of what they hit was their fellows in the melee: their goal was accomplished. The rain of bullets fell on the roach in three waves, and the girl fell off her mount on the second wave in a cloud of red mist.

    The roach itself only stumbled. The gunfire ricocheted off of its shiny brown carapace with a series of loud, rapid-fire ticking sounds, followed immediately by the sound of bullets finding other targets. Thugs in the melee that hadn’t been shot yet got a second chance, and a few of the bullets even found their way back to the firing squad.

    It was chaos.

    Flint didn’t care. He was blind to the threat, consumed by the sight of the elf girl falling, and he might have been surprised at how much rage he was still capable of...if he was capable of anything but indulging it.

    Bones cracked and bodies flew, and the firing squad scattered. The roaches were regrouping, struggling against a horde armed with pikes and halberds, each separated from the others by their own gang of wranglers. Between Flint’s sudden intercession and the firing squad’s callous disregard for their allies’ lives, it was not hard for him to dispatch and scatter the rest of the pike-wielders that were trying to contain the roach nearest to him.

    He fell to his knees beside the fallen elf-girl, panic in his eyes. Relief flooded him when he realized hers was not a face he recognized, but the call to action didn’t fade. She was young, too young to be full of bullet holes. He didn’t recognize her as a dark elf at first: her skin was almost translucent white, her eyes a disturbing pink. Her albinism made the blood show an alarming black on her skin; it was everywhere. She was gasping, searching his face in fear and disbelief.

    LUNED,” Flint roared, helpless. He held his hands out over the girl’s body - should he touch her? Would that make everything worse? Would he kill her if he moved her?

    And then, despite the screams and shouts and gunfire, he heard a quiet, rhythmic, mechanical clicking, starting off slow and then steadily rising. His blood went cold, and he felt the muscles in his face melt. He raised his eyes just in time to see the gatling gun spinning up, and the crazed smile on the face of the man cranking it. He dropped, scooped the bloodied girl up in his arms, and tried to run.

    No good.

    The bullets sprayed into him too fast to conceive, a rush of rain drops somehow falling sideways into his back. He didn’t feel the pain, but he felt the impacts, and they made him stumble. He curled up around the girl and dropped to his knees, and hunkered against the onslaught, curling around her body and cradling her to him. He growled, and the sound came out as if he were riding in a carriage at speed on a bumpy road. His back felt wet.

    His vision vibrated, but he saw Luned, Addoc, and Sulli in front of him huddling in the mouth of an alleyway. Luned had clearly herded them there the moment she’d seen the gatling gun, and even now was struggling to keep the boys from running into the maelstrom of bullets. They had tears on their faces, and they were screaming something, but he couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the gun and the steady pounding of bullets against his back, an endless series of thuds in his ears.

    Eventually - it seemed to take hours - the gun ran out of bullets.

    Flint was kneeling in a pool of his own blood. He looked down at his chest and saw blood there, too, but after a moment’s panic he determined that it was the girl’s. They hadn’t pierced him. He raised his eyes to meet Luned’s, and she was already sprinting across the street to him, the boys hot on her heels.

    Later, Luned would tell him what his back looked like when he turned away from her in that moment, and charged the steam carriage. The fine shirt the grahf had given him was utterly gone in the back, dissolved by the rain of bullets, and the skin was tattered away in a mess of blood and gore. But beneath the blood, gleaming wetly in it, was the musculature of his back, laid bare, and shining like steel. The bullets had sparked and rang and ricocheted off of him just as they had off the carapace of the roaches, though in his case they’d done so with metallic pops and flashes of light.

    By the time he’d tipped over the carriage with one hand, killed its driver and the gun operators, thrown two cases of rounds across the street, and begun dismantling the gun with his bare hands, the metallic shine was indistinguishable against the layer of blood. By the time they got back to the sewers and Luned examined him again, his back was whole, as if nothing had happened to it at all, and there was no visible cause for it to be covered in dried blood.

    Before that, however, they had to escape a war zone.

    The boys were huddled with Luned over the girl, their voices overlapping in naked terror.

    “Dizzy oh gods Dizzy I’m so sorry Dizzy, Dizzy oh my gods Dizzy!” They knelt beside her, Addoc touching her shoulder, Sulli wringing his hands. Luned pushed them away, too hurried to be gentle.

    Her face was stone as she searched for something - what? Dizzy’s eyes were roaming blindly, blood pooling from her lips and staining the lower half of her face with never-ending freshets. The girl was clawing at her chest and throat. Luned didn’t feel anything, didn’t hear anything, didn’t know what she was doing or why. There was a cold, easy sense of necessity that removed the immediacy from everything around her.

    She ran her fingertips over Dizzy’s cheek, collecting blood, and drew something on the brick beside her head. Dizzy was staring at the sky and at nothing now, each gasp coming after a longer interval than the last, weaker, quieter. The boys were screaming “no,” over and over, but Luned was deaf to it. She had drawn a halo of arcane symbols, fanning outward across the stone from Dizzy’s head. How long had she been dead now?

    And then Luned brought both her fists down hard on Dizzy’s chest. The girl gagged and curled upon herself, and Luned helped her roll onto her side, and she spat up what seemed like a gallon of blood, and then she took the hardest, deepest, most desperate breaths a living body could. The sheer force of her breaths threatened to crack her ribs, if Luned’s fists hadn’t already, and the boys fell back on their butts, staring wide-eyed at the miracle they’d just witnessed.

    Dizzy clawed at her chest, scrambled against the blood-soaked confines of her shirt until it tore and stretched, revealing crimson-streaked but unbroken stretches of absolutely white skin. She was looking over herself wide-eyed, horrified beyond the concerns of modesty. She looked at Sulli and Addoc, disbelieving, and then her face crumpled and she was a child, burying herself in Sulli’s arms and sobbing, as desperate to cry as she’d been to breathe.

    Sulli clung to her and cried into her hair, and Addoc stared at them, slack-jawed.

  4. #34
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    Meanwhile, Flint was around the corner. He was trying to figure out why he had a human head in his left hand, sans body, but dismissed the mystery in favor of the next kill. The gangs were struggling to push the roaches down different streets. One by one, the gangs realized they were fighting a war on two fronts, and they were not equipped for it.

    The pikes, poles, and halberds were effective at holding the roaches at length and pushing them around, but nobody had yet found a soft spot or weakness in the bugs’ armor. This resulted in a kind of stalemate: the small army of thugs was making an effort to divide and conquer the insects while their leaders were arguing about what to do beyond this. Nobody had any bright ideas yet, but it was only a matter of time. Desperation would demand they figure out something.

    Flint was scattering one gang now, and when they realized that they no longer had the numbers to keep the roach contained, they split and began to run and scatter in every direction. The roach spun, raised its front two legs, and tried to impale Flint. He pressed one hand to the segment just beneath its head - its “chest” - and shoved it away. It was disgusting, but he didn’t feel the overwhelming terror for it he’d felt the last time he’d come up against its ilk. It helped that he was bigger now.

    “Zit!” someone yelled.

    “Excuse me?” Flint said.

    The albino girl was running at him, the lower half of her face a mask of black, her shirt torn open in the front and her modesty scarcely preserved by a mess of war paint made of her own blood. The roach half twisted to regard her, and Flint was ready to pummel the thing to save her. Something made him hesitate though, something about the way it shifted two of its legs down, and he realized with a shock what was happening just before it did.

    The girl leaped up onto the roach, putting her foot between two segments in the armor of its leg, and it lifted her up just enough that she could hop up onto its back. Her nerves were raw, her face streaked with tears and snot and gore, but her eyes showed a fierceness that surprised him. He wondered if that’s how his eyes had looked when he’d been a child gladiator facing his own death. Existentially destroyed, but determined not to be prey.

    “We have to get Helethra,” the girl called down to him fiercely. “We have to.”

    “Where is she?”

    “I don’t know, she was farther up the street when they came out of the buildings and swarmed us. She must have fallen off of Rash.”

    Flint blinked, then it clicked: Rash was Helethra’s roach.

    “I don’t know which is which,” Flint said, pointing at Dizzy’s roach - this one must be Zit, then. “They’re trying to separate them.”

    “Help me, then,” Dizzy said. She tapped Zit’s right eye, patted it full on with her palm, and the insectile mount turned to the right and began marching toward the next-nearest gang.

    Together, Flint and the girl riding a giant roach, charged directly into the backs of the pike-wielding gang. The crowd tried to scatter, but they were so closely packed that there weren’t many places to go, and many were trampled from the get-go. Once that side broke, the rest of the assembled throng struggled to gather up on the opposite side of the roach they’d been tormenting. The effort left many of their number exposed. Flint was stabbed twice in the right shoulder, but managed to push into their midst and begin wreaking havoc, and the roaches were at his sides. Dizzy was directing both of them.

    Once what was left of the gang turned and ran, Dizzy leaned over Zit’s head to still the roach they’d just saved. “This is Pimple, not Rash,” she explained, frustrated.

    “Clearly,” Flint said.

    “Can you start on the next group? I’ll get Pimple back to Sulli, he’s just going to run wild without someone to direct him.”

    “Go,” Flint said.

    The next group was making an effort to push their roach into a narrow alley. A trio of elves with military rifles were coordinating the undertaking, ordering the pikemen to roll the roach onto its back, where they promised to shoot at its underside once it was flipped and trapped between the walls of the alley.

    Flint killed the riflemen first, and tossed one of their bodies into the group. The ensuing panic was enough for this roach to surge through to freedom, and Flint immediately saw that it was bigger than the others. Its legs were adorned with fresh, pierced corpses, and it was covered in blood and foul-smelling gore.

    Somehow, though he could never say what made him so certain, Flint knew that this was the roach he’d fought the first time he’d entered the sewers. It was bigger now, impossibly, but something in its hitched gait and the mottled, discolored warps and weaves in its carapace told him of the battles they’d shared. Aurelianus was supposed to have killed it with fire.

    This had to be Rash.

    The monstrosity bucked and twisted, stomped and slashed with a cruel purposefulness that Flint hadn’t observed in the other two roaches. It knew how to kill, and wanted to, not simply because it had to in order to survive. It was almost as if it had been insulted by the attempt to destroy it, and it was punishing, with relish, anyone that had been so foolish as to try. It didn’t seem to notice Flint until the group splintered, and then it grew very still and regarded him, cocking its alien head first one way then the other.

    He took a step back, certain it recognized him.

    He would never know its feelings on the matter, or if it even did know him, because Addoc came sprinting up from behind Flint. The boy clambered up over Rash’s legs to mount the monster, muttering to it all the while. While Rash didn’t react negatively to the elf’s presence, it didn’t make any special effort to make his life easier as Zit had for Dizzy. Then again, Rash was Helethra’s mount, not Addoc’s.

    “Hurry,” Addoc said, once he settled onto the roach’s thorax. “The others are attacking the last group already. Helethra must have been separated from Rash, hopefully she just jumped on Wart.”

  5. #35
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    Luned was riding on a giant cockroach, and she did not find the experience to be a pleasant one.

    Roaches, giant or otherwise, were not built for riding. Their wings were too wide, which meant one had to sit with her legs tucked, more than let them hang over the monster’s sides. The nearness of their legs to one another also prevented one’s feet from being too low along the thing’s sides, as they were all covered in stiff barbs. There was nothing in the way of a mane or anything of the like to hold onto, so the rider basically clung to the edges of the carapace plates where they met over top the wings, but Sulli had warned her to be careful about pushing too hard.

    The roaches were not unintelligent, he’d been explaining to her, it was just that their minds were alien and simple. No one understood or could work with them as well as Helethra, but she’d conditioned these four to at least respond to certain stimuli and commands in predictable ways. He could press his feet against those two plates to get Pimple to back up, he could nudge the right antenna in just such a way to get him to shuffle to the right, or pat the right eye to get him to turn in that direction. In time, the pair just started to understand one another.

    Luned took his word for it, tried to avoid pushing too hard on any plates, and clung to the boy’s back to avoid getting bucked off the monster as it waded into a horde of screaming gangsters.

    The scribe was still working out the best way to leverage her powers to help when two more roaches plowed into the group from another angle off to the right, and then the fighting broke. They’d done it.

    She was looking down at Flint, concerned at how much red there was on him. “Are you okay?” he said, oblivious to his own state. She almost laughed at him.

    “Flint,” she said, “I’m not the one that just...I don’t...yes, I’m fine. Are you okay?”

    He seemed to think on this a moment, but Dizzy interrupted them. “She’s not here!”

    And then the brute was back in military mode, scanning the scene and barking orders. “Sulli, take Luned and go back the way we came from, search the bodies and make sure Hel isn’t among them. Fix her if she is. You two,” he pointed at Dizzy and Addoc, “follow that group, see where they lead you. I’m going after the one we just broke. With any luck, they’ll have an agreed upon point to regroup, somewhere with leaders. If they took Hel, she’ll be there.”

    “Go,” Luned said, nudging Sulli. He didn’t need to be told thrice: he patted Pimple’s left eye, and the roach turned to the left until it was facing the direction they came from, and began to march.

    Luned knew the carnage should have horrified her. She told herself to focus on finding Hel, to overlook the details otherwise, but found that she didn’t particularly need to. Dozens of people had died, and some were still dying. They were hardened criminals, of course...but Flint had been one of them, not that long ago, in a very literal sense. He’d been working for Swanra’ann when she met him.

    She tried to find the horror, but it wasn’t there. Instead there was something chilly inside her, and that almost disturbed her more - the lack of guilt or fear or disgust somehow more worrisome than its presence. She was relieved that Flint hadn’t been hurt, but not surprised...was she impressed? A little, yes, that was there. But afraid of him? Disturbed by his actions? She couldn’t summon up the old hesitations. What did that mean?

    “She’s not here,” Sulli said. She heard in his voice the mind-blasted, numb feeling she should have had but didn’t. “I don’t see her.”

    “No,” Luned agreed, “I don’t think Helethra is here.”

    “Is that good or bad?”

    Luned frowned, shaking her head a little. “I don’t know, honestly.”

    Addoc met them some time later, his especially massive roach twitching its antennae in such a way that seemed to express irritation. Luned stared at the mount for a long moment. “Nothing?” Addoc said. Luned and Sulli both shook their heads.

    “What did you see?” Luned said.

    “Nothing,” he said. “I tried to follow them, but they’re just scattering in every direction, throwing down their weapons. They’re just...scared. They’re not soldiers, you know? They’re not following orders or anything, they’re just running away.”

    Dizzy came barreling into the square in the middle of this, and the riderless roach hurried along behind hers. She looked over the faces of those assembled, and was on the verge of hyperventilating. “Where is she? She’s not here? Guys, where…”

    “She’s not here, Dizzy,” Addoc said firmly. “We looked. I don’t...wait, what did you see?”

    Dizzy looked at the faces of those assembled, struggling with her panic. “I saw some of them getting on an airship,” she said. “They were climbing ladders, but it was already rising up, and I couldn’t reach them in time, and it…”

    “Dizzy,” Luned said, and hoped she sounded gentle. “Breathe,” she said. “What did you see?”

    “It was going that way,” she said, and pointed.

    Sulli moaned in dismay.

    “The tannery is that way,” Addoc said numbly.

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