I climb the ladder to the little trapdoor opening on the top of the tower. Two of Muilon’s archers remain, crouched behind the battlements. A third archer, dead, lies next to the wall, an arrow jutting out of his chest. Raichon is here as well, concentrating on directing the scuttlers below and the human corpses they have appropriated to defend the gate.
I retrieve the dead archer’s quiver and join the other elves at the wall, offering a quick thanks to Raichon for directing the corpses below to provide cover for me, the breadseller, and the elfling. He nods perfunctorily.
Raichon shakes his head. “How? I thought he was more competent than that.”
“He lit the blood rune in the Hall of Law on fire.”
Raichon’s eyes widen. “That idiot,” he spits out contemptuously. “Didn’t he know how dangerous that rune was?”
“No,” I say, “But apparently you do.”
Our eyes lock for a few moments, in undisguised hostility, before he turns back to the wall, dismissively. “Erratic alchemists,” I hear him mutter under his breath. Goddess, I hate him.
I move away from him, crawling under the crenel to take up a position behind the next merlon.
“Wait for a clear shot, or if they charge,” Leith, the elf next to me, whispers. “We can’t waste arrows.”
Every so often, the humans will release another volley of arrows, occasionally at the tower, but more often at the animated human corpses below. When they shoot at the tower, they mostly overshoot, but a few arrows hit the battlement on the back of the tower platform, shattering into splinters. When they fire at the corpses, the arrows mostly lodge into their torsos, penetrating the already battered armor of the dead men.
“Looks like they want to kill the magic crabs now that they’ve seen one die,” Leith comments.
“Suits me,” I say. I hate those creepy things. Besides, the more arrows they fire at the scuttlers, the less they are firing at me.
I know the humans have gotten lucky and taken out another scuttler when I hear a cry of pain to my right. Raichon is doubled over as though he has been hit, though he has no visible wounds. There is a soft thunk and splash from below as the corpse falls to the ground, landing in a shallow puddle, and a cheer from the humans. Encouraged, they quickly loose several more volleys, but when they fail to repeat their success, the rate of firing slows down again.
In the songs Nana Romina taught me, battle is fast-paced and deadly, full of excitement and glory and desperate acts of bravery, but the defense of this tower is boring and cold. The humans learned their lesson earlier in the night and have made no new assaults on the tower and gate since I got here. If they knew how few defenders were left, we’d be in trouble. But they haven’t figured it out yet. So I crouch against the wall, in the rain, not moving for long minutes, then risk a quick glance through the crenel, bow drawn, fire if there is a target, and quickly duck back to avoid the answering arrows. I would prefer a brawl, a battle of blades and quick resolution. Anything but this waiting and hiding. The lingering tenseness is exhausting.
As I start to feel weariness soak into me and think the night has gone too long, there are three sharp raps on the back postern door below. I pull myself back into alertness.
“Message from the captain!” the elf below announces in an urgent tone. I can hear the faint sound below of the door opening and closing. Voices rise from the open trapdoor.
“What is it?” asks Lynae.
“It’s time to go. The Captain says the humans have gained the upper hand against the harbor fires we set. Soon they’ll be able to send more men here. This tower won’t hold against a real assault. Rien says we’ve bought enough time."
“Fine,” Lynae replies. “Go. We will be right behind you. There are six of us left, one wounded.”
A moment later Lynae pops up through the trapdoor and joins us at the battlement.
“We’re done here,” she announces softly. “Gannel, Leith, go help Muilon across the bridge. Carry him if necessary.” As the two elves disappear down the trap door, she turns to Raichon. “I don’t want the humans to know we have abandoned the tower for as long as possible. Can you maintain the appearance of a defense of the tower from a distance? What is the furthest from which you can control the scuttlers? From across the bridge? From on board the Thala?”
“From across the bridge is easy,” he replies. “Beyond that, I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”
“Very well,” she says. “Let’s go.” She moves back to the trapdoor with the surefooted grace of a ship cat and lowers herself down.
I sling my bow across my back and follow Raichon. As he approaches the trapdoor, I pull out my sickle, moving close behind him. I grab his white hair with my left hand and jerk his head back, sliding my sickle cleanly across his exposed throat. The necromancer falls to his knees, hands reaching instinctively to his throat to try and staunch the blood. He gasps hoarsely, falling forward, next to the trapdoor. As I climb down the ladder through the trapdoor, his dying eyes stare at me with fading malevolence.
“Welcome to death,” I whisper.