I move forward across the dark green with slow, measured steps, so the elven matron and wounded child can keep up with me and not risk being exposed.
We make it several paces before there is a shouting from the humans. Arrows follow, a few hitting the door. One comes through the wood, sticking out a digit’s length on my side of the door, just above my hand. Not good. Another arrow hits the door. Then another, poking through the splintering wood to scratch at my shin as I move forward. Goddess, please don’t let them hit my hands.
The breadseller shrieks behind me, and I pause, distracted by movement ahead of us. Human soldiers are coming from the bridge. The flash of glowing violet above their heads reminds me – these are the scuttler-animated corpses I saw arrayed before the tower gate from my first vantage point. Moving with their jerky, unnatural gait, the dead humans form a tight line from the corner of the bridge toward us.
Raichon is making us a shieldwall of dead human flesh.
“Come on,” I whisper to the two frightened elves next to me. “This is meant to protect us. Don’t look at the soldiers. Just keep walking next to me.” I begin to move again, still carrying the door. The humans seem to be firing furiously, as the arrows plonk into the upper part of the door above my head and into the bodies of the dead humans standing in a protective line. As we reach the bridge and move in front of the bridge gate, the corpses move with us, making a thicker barrier.
An arrow impales the scuttler on the head of a human in front of me and the human falls backward, the scuttler’s claws jerking crazily until it goes still and the aura dissipates. I hear a muffled curse from the top of the tower in front of us. I step over the corpse, take a few more steps, and we reach the postern door.
I knock on the door and it opens inward, to reveal the alert face of Lynae.
“Get in!” She commands, and we obey. She slams the door shut behind us and slides three heavy beams back into place. When she turns back to me, her look is questioning.
“Mýldir?” she asks.
I shake my head.
“Dead, along with his guards.”
She sighs. “And his work?”
“I finished it, except for the incendiaries, which I lacked the knowledge to use. His plan and placement were sound. Elftown burns.”
She nods in satisfaction. “Did you see any other stragglers?”
I shake my head again.
“We’re the last ones out,” I tell her. “The warehouse was a conflagration. I barely made it into the tunnel. It collapsed behind me just as I reached the wall. The way is blocked. Any elf that hasn’t got out by now, won’t.”
She runs her hand through her copper hair, her tresses still inexplicably vibrant after this long night of fighting. As her hand follows the hair down the back of her head, she looks at me with a half-smile of indulgent wonder.
“Ah, Arq,” she breathes. “Why am I not surprised that you are the last one out? You are the luckiest elf in Elftown.”
I feel the excitement, the desire, which seems to be ignited by mere proximity to her.
“I’m kinda hoping I’ll be the luckiest elf outside of Elftown, now,” I smirk.
Lynae’s smile vanishes. Heh. She must have remembered that whore crack I made earlier. She turns to the breadseller next to me.
“Take the boy and go out that door,” she says, pointing to another small postern door in the rear wall of the tower. “Cross the bridge, hugging the right wall. When you get to the other side, you will see a few elves, maybe even a human ally or two. Tell them that I said you are the last ones and are to be taken to the ship. The other elves are too far ahead for you to catch up to them on the coast road. When we’re done here, we’ll join you on the ship and in the morning, we will get you back to your group. The hard part’s over, you’re free now. Keep your courage up.”
As Lynae leads the last two refugees to the back door, she jerks her head back at me. “Arq, why don’t you head up and join Muilon’s archers on the roof. You’ll find an extra quiver or two up there.”
Muilon is on the second floor, leaning against the wall next to an arrow slit, his cuirass mottled with blood, mostly dried. A vicious cut scrawls across his forehead. His left arm and leg are both wrapped with strips of dirty cloth turned reddish-brown from seeping blood. He smiles when he sees me, weary and triumphant.
“Looks like you’ve seen some action,” I comment. He nods.
“It’s been an amazing night, Arq,” he says. “I’m glad you made it out. Now, if we can buy the fleeing elves just a bit more time to get away from the city, we’ll have earned our rest.”