Previous Chapter: 1.12 – Witness Protection
“The noble houses are splintering a bit more each day and the Trading Union is dealing with strikes. A lot of Union rentals joined us, but beyond that, there are many who just refuse to work. Lord Acetate, everything is proceeding as you had hoped,” Aga Dez spoke to the room.
After the previous night’s rescue, the main crew was gathered in the red room getting briefed on the day’s events. Sledg had made a full recovery, An was fine once she drew some energy and Ace had made it back no worse for wear. Jaymes had been placed in her own room, but unfortunately, I hadn’t seen her today. I almost missed her snark.
“In that case, I imagine we are two-thirds of the way to our goal. The noblemen are fractured and the Union is losing support. However, the police are chomping at the chance for a go at us. They could attack at any time, we should plan our defenses now.” Ace scanned the room, “Anyone have any thoughts before I continue?”
I did. “Next time we go on a protection mission, it might be a decent idea to have our group’s mindreader check the guards too…” I hoped that came off playfully enough, without offending her.
She nodded, “Sorry, I’m just so used to shutting out the chatter.”
“I can only imagine,” Ace said, “So essentially from now on we’ll be focusing on the police, then we can turn our focus to the Acts as the city hopefully stabilizes.”
Aga Dez nodded. “Do we have a plan of action for keeping the noble class and Trading Union from regaining power?”
“Several noble families have begun to prepare to migrate to the three settlements. Most, like the three councilmen, are selling the sudden move as them strengthening the territories they will now govern.”
“Wait, like the DeLures?” I asked.
Ace nodded. A day into our engagement and my fiancee was moving to a new settlement. Great.
“And the Trading Union?” Aga Dez asked.
“We have won the loyalty of a majority of the former rentals. The Union doesn’t have the manpower to resume business in the same way. That’s where you and I come in, Aga. We need to repurpose the Trading Union through legislation.”
“So, what do you need me to do today?” I asked, maybe a bit abruptly. But, I wanted to see if I could see Shannon before she left. I was hoping for a task that allowed me to sneak off for a bit.
“Ideally, you could go to the police force headquarters and break out one of our informants. We managed to protect Jaymes and a couple others, but they arrested one last night. She doesn’t know any critical information, but I’d like to rescue her since she’s been putting her neck on the line for us.”
“Okay, and who would I be going with?” I asked.
Ace crossed his arms and thought briefly. “Hyde and Sledg are working on organizing our manpower for any attacks. An is free if she wants to go. You can take your wagon tippers too if you’d like.”
Taking An and a few guys would be helpful. I didn’t know why I was even debating leaving early to speak to Shannon. I was all in on the rebellion, so why was I hesitating? “I’ll take An and the guys who want to come, but a bit of that scepter wind would be helpful too, if you can spare it.”
“You’ve got it! I shouldn’t be doing anything too strenuous today,” Ace said, “Anything else?”
“No,” I said, only briefly hesitating, “That should be good enough.” I’d worry about who I could help now, and Shannon later.
An, three former TU rental volunteers, and I arrived at the police headquarters, where the informant was being held. We began surveying the building for a way in when we noticed there was an increased amount of police activity around the headquarters.
“Is this normal?” one of the volunteers asked, after seeing the umpteenth patrol pass us by.
I shook my head. “I doubt it,” I turned to An, “Is it too far for you to get a message to Ace?”
“Yeah, we’d have to go at least ten minutes back to be in range.”
“Okay guys, of the three of you, who least wants to go in?” The three guys looked among themselves and one hesitantly raised his hand. “You’ll be taking the message back to the castle then. Tell them police activity has picked up and to be ready for anything.” The messenger began jogging to deliver the message. The four of us that remained turned back toward the base. “You’ve got the energy water?” I asked An. She nodded, fingering the pouches of water she had transferred extra scepter energy into before we left. “Then let’s go,” I said as we turned the corner and headed to the back of the building.
We reached the rear entrance and An approached, waving us forward when the path was clear. An and I entered the building first. The layout reminded me of the first outpost that Sledg and I had hit. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where they’d keep prisoners. I told An to lead the way. She chose a hallway and we followed suit. I stayed close behind, flexing my fingers, attempting to remember how I used them last time I had wind energy. We crept around the first corner, observing how eerily quiet it was inside, compared to how busy it was outside. As we came to the second turn, An held her hand up for us to stop.
“There’s one guy in the room on the right. He’s asleep, though.” I heard flow through my head. Okay, one guard, that made me feel a bit better – they didn’t completely abandon this outpost. I thought, we should hurry, to An, as something was likely to happen, if it hadn’t already.
Our group continued past the sleeping guard as An began to listen for thoughts of our informant. At every corner she closed her eyes, listening in as I imagined the thoughts were getting louder. Eventually, we reached the end of a hallway, crossing through an entryway, which led us into a room with several doors. There was a bench in the center of the room, but beyond that, it was empty.
“So, which door?” asked one of the two remaining volunteers.
An responded with a point to a door on our right. When she didn’t have to concentrate, I was hopeful that meant the voice was clearly coming from inside the room. The volunteer tried the door but it was locked shut. He kicked it down. We filed into the room, and I recognized the large informant as the woman from a few days before.
She nodded. Slowly she stood up, wobbling as if she were about to pass out. I got An’s attention with a motion and pointed to my head. Gertha looked too out of it to talk, so I had the two volunteers assist her with walking. The five of us made our way back through the empty halls, passing the still-sleeping guard and back to the rear entrance. I was getting pretty good at this prisoner protection business.
We kept to back alleys and met a carriage that took Gertha and the two volunteers away to safety. An and I were left, hustling in the direction of the castle in case our suspicions of an attack were correct. We made slower time than I would have liked due to the added patrols heading in the same direction. The density of police thickened as we went, causing the pit of anxiety to rise from my stomach. What was their goal? Would this be a direct assault on the castle? I couldn’t determine what that would accomplish. Maybe they were attempting to resecure the city, like they had around the time of our return from North Settlement. Hopefully, Shannon had already left by now…
I looked to An, jogging beside me, in an attempt to avoid thinking about my unrequited crush. An wore a pained look on her face.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“No, just listening,” she pointed to her head, “Not getting anything but bloodlust.”
So, they were going to fight something – we both simultaneously stopped jogging.
“We need a plan,” I said. We needed to determine their plan of attack as we were only a few blocks from Ace. We could create some defenses, assuming they were going to attack the castle, but we could end up in a vulnerable spot if that wasn’t their course of action.
“Can you think of anything they’d be planning besides an attack on the castle?” I asked An.
“No,” she said with a slight frown. In that case, we’d have to take our chances with proceeding to protect the castle.
An and I reached an abandoned building two streets from the castle, climbing to the roof to overlook the surrounding streets. The police were patrolling, per usual, but remembering their previous routes, I was able to determine their patrol paths were random and too in sync to be normal.
“How long would it take for you to locate and message Ace?”
“A minute if we’re lucky,” she answered.
“And if we’re not?”
“If we’re not, I’d be wasting time checking each mind out here before finding him,” she gestured to the police presence on the streets.
“Okay, start checking,” I said, sitting to think.
I didn’t have much time to think before I heard a whistle sound in the distance. The police snapped out of their faux patrols and began a march on the castle. One look at An and I knew she hadn’t been able to contact Ace yet. We could only hope he got the message from our volunteer messenger at this point. An and I had to take action.
The force was effectively creating a perimeter in their silent march on the castle. I scanned the crowd of police, some of which had changed into their animal forms for the battle.
“Can you tell which are in charge?” I asked An.
“I think so,” she pointed at a few officers behind the front lines with slightly varying uniforms.
“Take them out, or distract them at the very least.” I took off toward the edge of the roof and jumped off, crossing my fingers that I had some Sledg left in me. I went airborne and sank as I willed my feathers to make an appearance. Feathers began to sprout and enough of my human features had shrunk so that I was able to avoid crashing to the ground. Once I leveled out, I was able to fly, heading directly at the castle window. I wasn’t sure how well this plan would work, but it was the only thing I could think of. I kept my eyes on the second-floor window, not sparing a glance to see if I was even completely avian. I braced myself for impact before shattering through the window, rolling onto the floor and knocking over chairs and tables in my wake. Two individuals in the room shrieked, one of which ran to the window, spotting the approaching crowd of police. She covered her mouth and ran out of the room. I’d have to trust she’d alert Ace and company.
As I hobbled on my bird legs, I felt my limbs begin to humanize. I refocused and hopped out the window without noticing my right wing was essentially broken, shards of glass stuck in it. I flapped vigorously as I approached the ground but was unable to get any momentum going. I crashed into a cart, doubling the pain in my broken wing. I righted myself as gracefully as a broken bird could, and took off again – I needed to get back to An. I was able to get airborne this time, slowly making my way back to the building, where I had left An. I spotted her releasing a beam from the roof, not unlike the red and black one from the Jaymes rescue, that hit one of the police officers. It traveled through the street, hitting others with a heavy force before petering out. I was almost to the roof. Then, I saw a small monkey climb the side of the building, but it didn’t look like An had caught sight of it yet. She bent down and looked to be recharging her energy from something out of sight. The monkey had almost reached her. I had to do something. The same protective feeling I had for Shannon washed over me, and I changed my course slightly, colliding with the monkey that had now reached the roof. An’s eyes went wide, finally noticing the monkey as it fell from the roof from the impact. Great, more pain…
An didn’t hesitate as she ran over and placed a hand on both me and the monkey. I immediately felt better, questioning why I didn’t try to use the stored wind for my last stunt. That thought was chased from my head when I felt my arm snap back into place and the monkey’s break. The monkey fainted, changing into an unconscious human. I was now in human form too, unsure of when I changed back. Regardless, my arm was now healed and I was ready to fight by An’s side. Meeting eyes with her, I once again pushed aside my protective feelings. I’d have to analyze those later.
“Continue to take those bosses out. I’ll cover you.” We hustled back to the edge of the roof noticing there were already two flying animal officers heading directly toward us. I called out to An, “Ignore them!” I turned to the medium sized bird and held my palm out, steadying my outstretched arm with my other hand. I wasn’t sure how the wind would affect birds, but I had to try. The medium sized one veered off from the smaller one’s path and began to dive for An. Her eyes flickered toward it, but she focused back on the street. I couldn’t let An’s trust in me be misplaced, I had to hit it. I aimed at the descending bird and let loose a high pressured burst of wind energy. The bird was closing in fast on her, but I was able to clip its wings several seconds before it would have hit her. The gust sent the bird careening off in an angle that looked incredibly unnatural. It squawked once before crashing into the building across the street.
I allowed myself a brief moment of satisfaction before swiveling around to find the smaller bird in the sky. I caught it circling around us, potentially not approaching due to what had happened to its friend. Rather, it flew to the far side of the roof and landing just out of my range. It changed into a burly figure and stalked toward me. I withdrew my knives and waited. Once the thick man moved close enough, I threw a knife at him which he easily dodged, a slow smirk rising on his face. The smirk turned into confusion, as I pulled the knife back with a yank of wind energy. It implanted itself in his back as he quickly turned around, looking for his other attacker. I ran to him and jumped, pulling the knife from his back with a small gust and re-implanted it, and my other knife, into his neck. He collapsed, and I made sure he wouldn’t get back up.
A quick glance back to An ensured me that she wasn’t in any immediate danger. I dragged the body to An for her to replenish her energy, peeking over the edge of the building. The majority of the police were now marching onward to the castle, no defenses in sight. I pushed my worry aside and watched An aim for the next police figure in-charge. Her next target pointed at our building before being obliterated by her beam. Still, a few officers began entering the building and would shortly be showing up on our roof. I pulled An away from the edge, and together we ran to the other side of the roof. I positioned her directly behind the doorway that led onto the roof.
“Fire when they emerge,” I said, running back to bait them. I arrived back to the other side just as they emerged from the door. Just as they began to fan out in a charge towards me, I dove out of the way of the familiar beginnings of An’s energy just in time to feel an incredible warmth flow beside me, just missing me. I stumbled to my feet and met An at the bodies. She made short work of transferring their energy to me, now feeling my ability to force-change enhance. I had almost forgotten their life force would affect me in such a way. I closed my eyes and attempted to estimate how much wind energy I had left – about half. An topped me off with one of her portable water pouches and we were ready to go.
I had An jump onto my back and told her to hold on tight. My fist involuntarily clenched as I prepared to jump us from the roof, trying to get us to the castle safely using wind power. She must have sensed my hesitancy as she placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. With that, I knew she trusted me and I stepped to the edge of the roof. I’d really have to get these protective feelings under control. Besides Patterson, I’d never had to worry about relying on someone or having anyone else rely on me. I smiled at the ridiculousness of my thoughts and began my countdown to jump.
The march continued, despite a lack of commanding officers. They had already been given their orders, and wouldn’t need new ones unless An and I did something to force them to deviate from the original plan.
Before I could jump, an explosion from the direction of the castle stairs sounded. I turned to see the police had finally reached the castle doors, but something had exploded, taking the stairs with it. Police were thrown all throughout the castle courtyard. The ones that survived dispersed in every direction, some retreating while others continued into the ditch that used to be the stairs. As if the explosion were the cue, the surrounding houses and buildings opened their windows up simultaneously, pouring out what looked to be an army of former Trading Union rentals. They charged the police force, colliding into most of the officers from behind. Archers stepped into the windows of the castle and suddenly surrounded buildings, letting loose volleys of arrows onto the police. An and I watched as the police were surrounded, having taken heavy casualties, especially with the majority of their commanding officers downed by An.
I felt my eyes began to water and was forced to blink a few times. I backed up from the edge of the roof, trying to avoid falling before I saw a small cloud approaching. I looked up to see Ace, standing in the main doorway of the castle. He had sent us a cloud chariot. It floated to our feet and we stepped onto it, landing next to him shortly after. We watched the battle from behind the moat the explosion had created.
“Was that necessary?” I asked.
“How else was I supposed to get your attention?” Ace said as he blasted air left and right, hardly paying attention to our conversation.
“That’s how I felt half an hour ago with your whole ‘no show until they get to your doorstep’ act,” I said, with a slightly sour look.