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(Chapter 12)

Someone was shaking her. Dylis reluctantly cracked one eye open to see who dared disturb her sleep. Maybe she should be grateful for it. Wherever she'd fallen asleep it wasn't very comfortable. Everything ached.

Reality caught up with her. It was Glaw who was shaking her and he was framed by the naked night sky. The darkness above had taken on a blue tone. Sunrise had to be close.

'We're never doing that again,' Dylis managed to sign. With a smile she watch Glaw laugh, tears dripping from his eyes. 'Unless someone who didn't deserve it died, I don't want to see any crying. Cheer up you weepy rat!'

He helped her sit up. She bit back a groan as her ribs protested the movement. They were on the plains, not far north of Growth if the stars could be trusted. Hills and grass stretched as far as the eyes could see in all directions. Good, means we probably didn't land on anyone. There were pieces of blimp everywhere and a surprising absences of body parts.

'The Adviser?' she signed, raising a hand to rub at the back of her head.

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(Chapter 11)

Dylis woke up to pain. Her lungs were burning, as if she'd been holding her breath too long, and her aching head told her she'd knocked it against something on the way down. The rest of her body didn't seem to have fared better.

Her legs were the worst. She had broken a bone or two before, but this was beyond that. She couldn't make herself look down, partly because her neck refused to raise her head more than a centimeter off the floor and partly because she was afraid of what she would see.

The world around was coming into view, with her legs remaining the focal point of her attention. Dust rained from the mess that had been the floor; or the ceiling in the place she now was located. The air was full of it, making it hard to see more than an arm's length in front of her face. For all she knew she was surrounded by armed guards, waiting for the dust to clear before they stabbed her to death.

She fought back the panic. If she was to die, it wouldn't be curled up and weeping like a child. She breathed in through her nose, trying to ignore how that made her ribs protest, and tried to make out any kind of silhouettes in the falling clouds.

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(Chapter 10)

'Are you sure this is a wise decision?' Thais had made her way to the edge of the roof and was looking down at the barracks. She looked less than convinced and the rest of the squad were matching her expression.

Dylis stood alongside her and was doing her best to not let her doubts show. 'No, I don't, but he's the only chance we've got.' And I need to know if he's a traitor too. Her mind shied away from the word. If Huw had betrayed them, he would have been upholding his promises to the Empire, like she very much wasn't.

The conflict was giving her a headache and she didn't have time for that.

She took stock of her squad. Nikon and Aelius were keeping to the back of the group, under the watchful eye of Vita, which Dylis was glad for. She'd had enough of betrayals to last her a lifetime and if another one was coming up, being ready for it was better than letting the unpredictable element out of their line of sight. Problem was just that Vita might overreact. Hopefully Nikon would be smart enough to keep a low profile. They needed all the fighters they had for this.

Bernike and Myrrine were staring at each other in a way that Dylis had come to realize meant they were talking to each other with their thoughts, which made her feel twitchy and on unsteady ground. She hurried to turn her attention to Cato and Aculeo, but they were being equally still and staring, so that was little to no improvement.

And Glaw...

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(Chapter 9)

Dylis had always been a good swimmer. She'd more or less been living in the sea from the day she'd learned to stay afloat on her own and she'd made sure to keep her skills sharp. Living in cities where everyone traveled by boats and barges, it was a valued aid when you had to chase suspects wherever they went.

This notwithstanding, swimming with your hands and legs bond, after a five meter long drop, was no walk in the park. That the fall had knocked the breath out of her was no help.

Unable to kick or push her way up, Dylis implemented a wave like motion, as if she were a child playing at being a dolphin. Her boots were filling up with water and her jacket grew heavier by the second, so it took her two attempts to get some air. She was sinking again before she knew it.

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(Chapter 8)

'What were you thinking?!'

Dylis' hand movements were fast. It was only years' experience of being woken up by his sister at the crack of dawn that allowed Glaw to interpret them as signs. 'Sorry,' he managed to answer. His limbs felt heavy and warm, as if he'd been lying in the sun all day. 'Water?'

There was an arm helping him to sit up. Glaw pressed his face into Dylis' jacket and took a deep breath, rejoicing in the familiar smell of it. The solid presence that was his sister had been returned to him and as he gulped down delicious water he carefully pushed aside all that had happened before their reunion. His brain would catch up with him soon enough. He just wanted to cling to Dylis for a little bit first, to soak in the feeling of utter safety.

"Idiot."

Glaw gave a laugh, making sure to turn his head and chest so Dylis would feel the vibrations the sound caused. 'The chocolate helped.' It was a nice memory to fixate on, a nice moment to think of instead of what he might catch a glimpse off if he took his eyes off the stains on Dylis' shirt. 'We got food, and a horse, outside Growth. Made it all the way to the demon forest. That's where we met the others.'

"And then you were stupid enough to go all the way back to Palace and get yourself recaptured."

Hearing Dylis speak such a long sentence started Glaw enough for him to tilt his head up and have a look at her face. It was her; the same scars, the same square jaw, the same piercing eyes. But she'd sounded all wrong.

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(Chapter 7)

They only rode the horses until they were out of sight from any human eye and then set the animals free, leaving the saddles and tacks for whoever passed that part of the open plains next. They'd also broken the link, both to Glaw's relief and disappointment. It was with some trepidation that Glaw took a hold of Lykos' shoulders, but thankfully his body proved too tired to do anything embarrassing at their close proximity.

<Are you sure you're strong enough for this?> Glaw asked as they made ready to jump, doing his best not to feel awkward as they were speaking face-to-face and practically nose-to-nose.

The small smile Lykos gave him was all cheer. <I could run all the way back on the clouds should I need to!>

It felt odd not to be able to sense the emotions and thoughts that went along with the words, but on the other hand it felt good to not have to have the thoughts of two people whirling around in his mind anymore. His own were distracting and confusing enough as it was. <Right.>

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(Chapter 6)

Glaw started. It was as if a sheet of wool had been pulled from his head. One second the world was wrapped in a fluffy shimmer of gray mist and the next it was clear as glass, and just as sharp.

He was lying on cold metal and everywhere he looked were military issued boots, surrounding him, trapping him inside a tiny circle of armed men and women. Through the gaps in this forest of legs he spotted Lykos, also on the ground and unmoving. He was not three meters away, and equally surrounded by soldiers.

One of them bent forward, as if something about Lykos had caught her eye. "What-?"

Whatever the soldier had meant to say was lost as Lykos' arm shot up and smashed into her face, sending her flying backwards. She crashed into a market stand that collapsed on top of her in a rain of splinters and clay trinkets.

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(Chapter 5)

They touched down on Trade's city wall at midnight of the second day. Glaw grabbed Lykos' hand the moment his feet were on the ground and led the demon to a small storage room. The lock on the door was easily picked with a pair of pin squirreled away under a loose stone; common guard tactic for getting at off-limits snacks without getting caught. They darted inside before any of the guards could round the nearby towers and spot them.

"We'll wait here, let you catch your breath," Glaw said, helping Lykos to take a seat on an upside down bucket.

Lykos brought his hands up to his face and covered his mouth, his breathing slowing bit by bit.

"You sure you're all right?" Glaw asked, crouching down by his side. Lykos gave a nod, smiling through his fingers, his glasses dangling on the edge of his nose.

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(Chapter 4)

The discomfort wouldn't go away. It didn't matter if he drank water, took the medicine Thais had prepared for him or if he lay in a darkened corner of the room without moving. His head ached worse than the first time he'd gotten drunk off that green slush the older soldiers always tricked younger ones into trying. The dizziness was back too, along with the nausea.

And he wanted to go home. Desperately.

He'd never been so homesick in his whole life; not during his night in Outer Camps, not as a young boy when he and Dylis temporarily had gotten reassigned to different cities, not even the morning he'd woken up and realized their parents never would come back from their fishing trip. It was like a living thing this longing, preventing him from sleeping and eating by clawing and biting at his subconscious, urging him to leave now, soon, immediately!

He twisted in his bed and stared up at the ceiling, willing the thoughts of friends and family to just go away and let him sleep.

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(Chapter 3)

<Did you sleep well?>

Glaw squirmed and threw an arm over his eyes. It took his brain a good ten seconds to register the demon standing over him; a familiar, cute demon - though only the gods knew what part of his brain had come up with that added information.

<I - uh, that's to say I...> he attempt as answer, stumbling and falling miles from the finish line.

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(Chapter 2)

Glaw blinked awake. The ceiling that came into view was strange; smooth, white and slightly arched, higher in the middle and curving downward at the edges. He couldn't for the life of him remember ever having seen one like it anywhere in Trade or Search.

With great effort, he managed to turn his head and took in the rest of the room. The ceiling melted seamlessly into equally egg white walls, decorated sparsely with small, round shelves like small, smooth-edged burrows. There were scrolls and tiny statues on most of them, splashes of bright color that at first made his eyes ache.

All in all, the room was very bright and cheerful, light enough to stir life back into his numb head. Maybe this was what the hospitals in Art looked like? He'd have to ask Dylis - if he ever saw her again.

Next to the bed he was lying on (was it a bed?) a man sat in a chair. His skin was a dark tan color Glaw rarely had seen outside of the docks in Trade – or the woods by Outer Camps, he reminded himself. The man sat reclined on what looked to be a padded bench, with a book in his lap and a pair of glasses perched on his nose.

I'm safe. The thought was a brief one, a spark of hope crushed by the sight of the demon marks on the man's neck.

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(Chapter 1)

The days passed at the pace of drunken mule marching up a hill. The carriage was not built for speed in any sense of the word – had Glaw not been busy feeling sorry for himself, he might have felt a twinge of pity for the poor horses forced to drag the cursed thing – and the land road wasn't meant for fast travel either.

Outside the barred windows, the same view of the main road-channel and grasslands rolled passed, the monotony only broken a handful of times when less tactful onlookers decided to approach and talk to him, either keeping pace with the carriage or asking the drivers to stop.

The drivers never refused.

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The room stank of blood and urine. There were shadows above him, vaguely human-shaped and tall as the clock tower by the barracks. He wanted to scream, but couldn't and it took him a few seconds to remember why.

He gasped as he woke up, drenched in sweat, and got a disgruntled look from the man in the bunk next to his. The familiar sight of the dim room and the rows upon rows of bunk beds grounded him. The thundering of his own heartbeat quickly dulled and faded away. He lay back down, fully intent on going back to sleep.

And then he realized what day it was.

****

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