“This is what happens when you don’t listen to me,” Drill said, absentmindedly watching the flame wall flicker over the sea. Sitting atop the Ikalgan castle provided a great view.
“I didn’t know the storm would move in so fast,” Max retorted. “Plus, even though she won’t say it, you know how Panther likes her beauty sleep…”
Drill glanced to Panther, who gave no visible reaction. “She lived in the woods for like twenty years, Max. I don’t think one night under the stars will kill us.”
Max held up his hands. “Hey, Panther wants what Panther wants.” Max’s features lit up with a devious smile.
Drill didn’t respond. He had to shout to be heard over the wind. Plus, this wasn’t an argument he would win anyways. He could tell Luria was going to be attacked today and, although he didn’t fear being caught in the middle of a skirmish, he didn’t love having to fight when it wasn’t necessary.
“I’m not sure if we’ll be able to sneak out.” Max came over to Drill and sat down.
“Do you have any ideas about how to escape?” Drill asked. He pushed his brown hair away from his eyes and looked to Max.
“I could get us some Ikalgan defender uniforms and we could sneak to the front lines. We might be able to fight our way out, then?”
Drill laid back on the rough roof of the castle. Looking into the sky, he couldn’t tell the time of day – it had remained a dark gray. “I’d be fine with that. Would you feel comfortable fighting?”
“When I say ‘we’, I mean you two. I can go undetected anywhere, anytime silly, boy.” Max let out a sharp laugh and poked Drill in the side.
Drill jumped. “Jeeze.” He wasn’t even close to being a boy. When he joined his father’s group, he was young but now he was somewhere around forty. Still younger than Max, though and he figured that’s all that mattered. “Okay, Panther and I could do that. Where would we meet you?”
“Did you leave anything at the point right outside the walls?” Max asked.
“A few things. Nothing essential but I’d like to swing by there if possible.”
Max nodded. “Okay, then we’ll meet there then.”
“Okay. Panther, did you bring something other than the knife?” Drill turned to look up at her laying on a higher point of the roof.
Drill grabbed the knife she slide down to him, slightly larger than the serrated knife she had given him before. The serrated knife was slid down a second later. Once again pleased with her choice, Drill placed both of them into his belt. Panther knew his desire for a variety of weapons, otherwise, he’d get bored.
“Sarkard’s forces are coming,” Panther’s voice rang out from the top of the castle roof where she was perched gracefully.
“Give me a few minutes to gather your uniforms, then I’ll be off.” Max saluted and hopped off the roof.
Max returned as the first raindrops began to fall. The sounds of a charging army filled the air as Drill and Panther changed into their borrowed Ikalgan clothes. Max was gone again by the time they were dressed.
“Ready?” Drill asked Panther. She nodded.
Drill carefully began to make his way down from the roof, easily being passed by Panther, who had changed in her animal form. With two swift jumps, she was down and waiting for him impatiently. Duh. Drill dropped the two knives off the roof and changed into his bee form, meeting Panther on the ground soon after.
With both of them changed back, they picked a random direction and jogged toward what they hoped was one of the city gates. A group of soldiers marched from a street and passed in front of them. Panther turned to look at him quizzically. Drill shrugged his shoulders and they both fell into the end of the line. He and Panther got a few weird looks but they marched on, likely focusing on the battle ahead.
Drill felt his heartbeat pick up when one of the city gates came into view, which was odd. His father had beaten nonchalance and indifference into him that he doubted could be rivaled, but being involved in the first major battle in Elodine history must do that to a man.
The group of soldiers reached the gate, pulled up their formation in front of two children. Drill raised an eyebrow, exchanging a glance with Panther. She shook her head and frowned. Who were these children?
They looked to be siblings. The boy was lanky and lean, carrying a bow slung over his shoulder, no quiver in sight. The young girl was shorter but had a fierce look set into her face, a handle with no weapon attached neatly to her belt. Not surprisingly, the girl was the first to speak up as the boy looked nervous.
“Hello, for those of you that don’t know my me or my brother, I am Francesca Rayon and this is Cydel. We are here to lead you in defending our city.” She turned and walked toward the gate just out of earshot. She was speaking with a man concerning the wall.
The group Drill and Panther had arrived with began to disperse, apparently already knowing their assignments. Drill moseyed up toward the young girl.
“Excuse me, Francesca?”
“Yes?” she asked.
“We didn’t receive an assignment. Where can we be useful?” Drill asked.
The girl paused for a moment. She looked down and noticed the knives at Drill’s side. “You can back me up. Does your friend need a weapon?”
Drill glanced to Panther. He knew she didn’t. “Sure,” he shrugged, “But to be honest, she’ll probably discard it after her first few kills.”
It was Francesca’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Okay, well if she wants one, go see the arms master over there.” She uncrossed her arms and pointed to a stack of weaponry. “I think we might only have bronze but it sounds like it won’t matter for her.” Francesca turned and walked back toward the entrance.
Watching the girl leave, Drill turned to see Panther already picking up two bronze spears. She came back to Drill and took a seat next to him, placing the spears across her lap.
Mostly to himself, he muttered, “It might be weird for her not changing for a fight.” He realized he had tuned out the cacophony of noises coming from the approaching army. Now that he was tuned back in, he heard what sounded like a chant echoing in the distance. He wondered what his father was up to now. He hadn’t heard from Knives in weeks.
As Drill began to lose himself in his thoughts, he was disturbed by a rumbling that shook the earth beneath him. Small cracks appeared near his feet. He eerily watched them form and lead to the gate’s entrance where Francesca was kneeling, hand on the ground. One cylindrical shape cracked from the earth, coming up under the arch of the large doorway of the gate. The shape’s top melted away until it looked sharp as a sword’s blade. Finally, the ground groaned as the point dropped to face the outside of the entrance. Francesca rose and went to inspect the blade, running her hand down the side before calling her brother over. He pricked his finger on its edge, a few drops of his blood hitting the ground. Cydel gave his sister a thumbs up before snatching up a patch of grass with his non-pricked hand.
Drill was a bit too far away to be sure, but he thought the boy cured his small wound. Drill blinked and swiveled his head back to the girl who had crouched once again, repeating the process with another spike. Shocked, Drill turned to Panther, “Are they even going to need us?”