"Hurry," Yimo said as they rounded a corner in the stockades. They ducked into a side passage just as another squad of Templars came clattering through.
Nahlia followed them deeper down several flights of stairs. When they came to the bottom, Elias reached into a recession in the rock. He pulled a wooden lever, dropping a wall of solid stone behind them.
That's useful, she thought. But it would only slow the Templars down for so long if they'd brought barrels of black powder along.
She kept her eyes on the ground as they jogged through the darkness by torchlight. One misstep and she'd get a face full of stone.
"Does this tunnel connect to the main caverns?" she asked.
"All the caves are connected," Elias hollered back. "The others should be on their way to the harbor now. That's where our ship docked when you were blindfolded."
That much Nahlia knew from the map. "How far is it from here?'
"Three miles," Yimo replied. "Lovely walk. Loads of fun when they haul you out of bed for drills."
"Those drills are about to pay off," Elias added. "At least everyone knows the way."
The three of them kept a brisk pace as their path transitioned to familiar, man-made corridors. Crystal lanterns hung from the wall, painting the smooth stone with warm, violet light. From there, the tunnel opened further into one of the many underground atriums. Members of the battleclans ran by, their uniforms covered in dirt and blood.
Nahlia raised a hand to her mouth as they carried several injured students through. One girl had a bullet wound in her shoulder. Another boy had a gash across his stomach like a crimson snake. She felt their pain and wished she could do something to help them. But she'd never used Ethermancy to heal anyone besides herself. For all she knew, such a thing wasn't even possible.
"Where's my sister?" Elias demanded of the fleeing students.
No one replied; they all kept running.
He grabbed a member of Howler Clan by the shoulders, forcing him against a stone pillar. "Ciena! Where is she?"
"Th-that way." The boy pointed a shaky finger back from where he came. "They're holding them off."
Elias cursed under his breath. He let the boy go, then drew his katanas.
"Come on," he said to Nahlia and Yimo. "I won't leave without her!"
Ciena trailed Vash through the enclave's lower levels. They had already lowered several gates, but the Templars had complete control of the surface now. It wouldn't take them long to find the other entrances.
"I'll get the southern gate," Vash told her. "You take the west."
Ciena nodded as the Battlemaster vanished down the tunnel. She turned and saw Kalak Demeron catching his breath with another boy from Howler Clan.
"You two," she said with a jab of her finger. "With me."
Ciena didn't wait for a reply, but she heard footsteps echoing behind her as she took off toward the western entrance.
She dashed down a staircase, rounded a corner, then came face-to-face with half-a-dozen gunmen.
"Get behind me," she ordered.
The other two needed no more encouragement. The gunmen were over thirty yards down the hall. Too far for any ordinary swordsman.
Ciena raised her blade as the Templars pulled their triggers. She took a breath and charged. The crystal lamps went dark on either side. Energy raced through her veins, and her sword spun quicker than thought.
She felt the weight of the bullets against her blade as she deflected each one. Her body moved of its own accord, closing the distance in a matter of seconds. Steel met flesh, and shouts of pain erupted as she cut them down in the darkness.
Dameron's eyes were wide with shock when he finally caught up with her. "Aegon ... Never seen anything like that."
Neither had she. The lanterns flickered back to life, but Ciena kept her eyes high, not looking at the mutilated bodies that littered the ground. The smell of death still clung to her as she stumbled down the hall and lowered the stone door.
"Ciena!" Elias came running down the hallway, trailed by Yimo and Nahlia. He had a gash on his forehead, and dirt caked his blond hair.
The two stared at each other for several long seconds, then she dropped her sword and ran into her twin's arms. After so much chaos and killing, all she wanted was something safe and familiar. Even if it was only for a minute.
"You all right?" he asked. "You're shaking."
Ciena nodded into his shoulder. "Just a few scratches. Nothing serious."
Elias pulled away. He didn't say anything else, but he didn't have to. They were together again, and that was all that mattered.
"Come on," her brother finally said. "We need to get to the boats."
"No." she grabbed his arm before he could turn away."We can't leave yet. There are too many wounded. We—"
She jumped as another explosion sounded down the tunnel. They set off in that direction, and ran into Vash a few seconds later.
"The southern gate?" she asked.
"Overrun," Vash hissed. "They're right behind me."
Elias glanced back and forth between them. "We can't hold them off on our own, Master. We have to run."
"I know." Vash ran a gloved hand through his black hair. "But it hasn't even been an hour yet. The boats still will need more time."
The Battlemaster raised his sword and turned to face the southern tunnel. "Go," he told them. "I'll hold them off."
"Don't do this," her brother said with a shake of his head.. "What about Relyn?"
The thundering footsteps grew louder, and Vash kept his gaze forward, unyielding. "I'm doing this for her. Make sure she gets out."
Just then, a squad of gunman rounded the corner. They fell into a tight formation and released a blizzard of lead bullets.
Vash swung his sword in a blur of steel, just as Ciena had before him. She was about to join the Battlemaster when another squad appeared at the opposite end of the hallway.
Elias rushed forward, twin katanas spinning. Yimo and Demeron were right behind him while Nahlia held back.
Ciena's breaths grew shallow as she took in the chaos around her. She'd waited all her life for a real battle—a chance to prove herself against the enemies of her race.
Now she'd give anything to have it end.
Vash reached the first squad, but not before they let out a second volley.
Blood splattered the wall as the other member of Howler Clan went down. Yimo fell flat on his face as a bullet took him in the back.
"GO!" Vash hollered back as he hacked a Templar's head from his shoulders. "All of you!"
Elias threw Yimo over his back, and Ciena took the lead into the caves.
Nahlia struggled to keep up as Ciena led them through the library. Lamps and books blurred around her as they raced through the never-ending maze of shelves.
Several more explosions sounded off in rapid succession. Distant as they were, the sounds were iron fists striking her chest.
They continued on through the lower stacks, not slowing until they reached the rocky terrain of the caves beneath. Steam rose from a dozen hot springs around them, their surfaces glowing bright green under the phosphorescent crystals.
"Stop," Elias called out to his sister. "We need to rest."
Ciena hardened her face, pretending not to be winded. "The Templars are right behind us."
"I know that." He set Yimo down next to one of the pools. "But he's bleeding everywhere."
"Fine." Ciena let out a sharp breath. "Two minutes. Then we move."
Demeron drew his sword and headed back the way they came. "I'll stand watch."
Nahlia glanced at Yimo, then immediately regretted it. His leather armor was stained a dark, burning red. They didn't even have any medical supplies to help him.
This is my fault, she thought with disgust.
Feeling suddenly sick, she crawled over to one of the hot springs and started to dry heave. Nothing came out, but the effort clouded her vision with tears. She clutched the rocky edge and closed her eyes, fighting down the swell of emotion.
Elias appeared behind her, resting a hand on her shoulder.
"Stop." Nahlia swatted his hand away. She didn't deserve his sympathy. "This is all my fault."
"No it's not," he replied. "Zidane's on the council. If he betrayed us., there's nothing you could have done."
"I still helped them," Nahlia said, gasping for breath. "I still gave the Templars information."
"The girl has a point," Ciena offered.
"For Aegon's sake," Elias said. "You're not helping."
"Well, excuse me for not sugar-coating it like she's a child. In case you haven't noticed, there are two thousand Templars up there coming to kill us."
"Exactly," Elias shot back. "We need to work together if we're going to survive this. We can point fingers once we're safe. Now, are you going to help me or not?"
For a second, Ciena looked as if she might object. Instead, she let the tension pour out of her face, and she offered Nahlia a hand. "You heard him, Half-blood. You can cry on the boats."
With some reluctance, Nahlia accepted Ciena's hand and let herself be pulled to her feet. Although a part of her doubted whether she'd even be allowed on the boats with them after what she'd done.. For now, she had to keep moving.
Elias went to lift Yimo again when they heard shouting from down the tunnel.
"Damnit," Ciena snapped. "I told you! I told you they'd be right behind us!"