“Get your shields up! Watch for arrows from the windows!” Kaiya’s barked orders pierced the hall. She snatched a longbow from the wall nearby and drew a bead on their attacker. An arrow from the east caught him first and he toppled off the roof. Kaiya grinned. At least some of her archers had made it to their positions.
“How long have they been watching us?” someone growled.
“Probably weeks.” The whisper that drifted back shook a little. “There must have been a miscommunication. I bet those girls in Silentbell weren’t supposed to die so soon. We weren’t supposed to get a warning. That little girl saved our lives.” Kaiya grimaced as she let loose an arrow through another window.
I saw them. Those shadows on the roof across the street. I saw them. And didn’t do a damned thing. She suspected that the Croeli posted next to her bedroom had been sent to kill her specifically. If their attack had started even a little earlier, they would have killed me in my sleep. And that little girl would still be alive. Kaiya shook the hurtful thought away, trying to expel a raw pain that was beginning to draw between her eyebrows. A great bell sounded in her ears. It faded more slowly this time. With a scowl, Kaiya released another arrow just as the windows darkened.
A dozen forms blocked the moonlight, crouching in the now-splintered frames. Their ghostly silhouettes were greeted with the chilling battle cry of a Faoii army. The shadows showed no fear and offered no response except for releasing a dozen small, steel balls that tumbled from their hands. The room exploded into blue smoke as the canisters hit the ground.
The smoke balls were meant to cause confusion as the ghostly Croeli leapt silently into the room. But the Faoii army held their ranks, blinking the inky smoke from their eyes. As the Croeli broke through the mist and reached the formations, they were cut down quickly. They never even released a scream.
Kaiya was proud that her army held their lines despite the disconcerting smog that broke up shapes and sounds. She urged them on and yelled in their shared triumph with every darting shape she cut down. Her blade was slick with oozing gore, and bodies littered the floor at her feet. The battle cries of her army filled the air. But the dark shapes from the windows continued to block out the moonlight in a constant stream, and the Faoii formations began to break under the enemy’s swift, relentless attacks. Obviously trained for the smoky conditions, the Croeli darted from the fog to strike before ducking back into obscurity. While their blades mostly connected with the interlocking shields of the Faoii forces, the close quarters of the warehouse made traditional shield mates ineffective. The line began to falter.
Kaiya spun as a shape darted to her right. She spun again as it came from the left. Trying to keep her back away from the increasingly frightful foes, Kaiya turned again and again, making her way to the nearest wall. Finally, she saw a clear silhouette and struck out with her fantoii. Its blade caught him cleanly through the middle and came away coated in crimson. But too late did she see the second black shape dart from the side. A burning agony sprouted from her ribcage. She twisted toward this new assailant, but a third shadow sprang from the smoke again. Her leg buckled as he drove his criukli into her calf.
Kaiya landed heavily on one knee, still lashing out into the darkness with her flashing blade. They were easier to see now.
“Keep your formation! The smoke is clearing!” Her stout command came out with more strength than she felt she had. But there was the sudden sound of wooden and bronze shields locking into place. She grinned through her pain. These were Faoii.
A Croeli darted past her to the right, sprinting toward the battle lines. Kaiya lunged from her kneeling position and caught him in the small of the back. He fell heavily, and his blood pooled around his still-twitching limbs. Her victory was short-lived, however, as the punctured muscles beneath her ribs shifted and her vision became black splotches on a red background. The room wheeled, and the blood-splattered floor rose up to meet her.
Her fantoii clattered away, ringing like a bell in her head. The sound was louder now, more persistent. Kaiya tried to catch herself, but the pain blocked out everything. She could only tumble forward, one arm clenched to her side.
Kaiya never hit the slick, bloody beams. With a disorienting jerk, she was stopped in her tumble as a strong, protective arm wrapped around her chest and pulled her forcefully backward to the wall.
“Kai? Kaiya!” Her brother’s voice rose to a frantic pitch somewhere behind her. She felt his heartbeat in her ear, and it slowly drowned out the bell that was knocking around inside her skull.
“Tendaji?” Her tongue was thick and inconvenient. “Tendaji . . . you’re supposed to be out—”
“They were already waiting for us. We couldn’t sneak up on them, so we retreated. Emery’s men are picking them off one by one . . .” Kaiya’s head swam, and her brother’s voice faded. “Damn it, Kaiya! Stay awake!” Her entire body was jostled. “Come on, Kai!”
“The bells, Tendaji. I can’t hear . . .”
“Fight them, Kai! Please!” Kaiya could hear the fear in the pitch of his voice, could feel his heartbeat quicken in alarm. She fought to obey.
After what felt like an eternity, Kaiya forced her heavy eyelids open. At first all she saw was flashing silver, and it sang with the heavenly voice of an angel. Then, as the pain regained control, everything became visible with shocking clarity. The world shifted in her vision, changing constantly as images superimposed themselves on top of one another.
The smoke had mostly cleared. Behind her, Tendaji was crouched, one arm still wrapped protectively around her torso, cradling her to his chest. His broken wings were lifted in shattered glory, and his amber eyes shone with a frightening intensity as he growled at those that tried to come against her. In his hand, her fantoii danced like a firefly, singing like an angel in twilight. Singing? It’s singing for him. It was supposed to be his blade all along. Despite everything, Kaiya was suddenly amazed by the intricacies of the world. That she would find the correct blade for a brother she’d never known in a monastery that did not think the Croeli still existed . . . She drifted away with the thought, but Tendaji shook her awake again. “Keep your eyes open, Kai!” She fought to refocus.
The battle scene that spread out over the open floor of the warehouse was frightening. Eyeless, chained warriors with broken, detached movements threw themselves against the flowing swords of golden angels. Even with their bound and bloodied limbs, however, their blades tore the angels down with a brutal efficiency.
But her soldiers were still in formation.