No sooner had the soldier called out his warning than Adan picked up on the twang of bows and the whistling sound of launched arrows from the pursuing group.
[Incoming projectiles detected: 6 items, initial speed 112 m/s]
[Thermal readings inconclusive]
“Judging from the data and this planet’s technology level, Sai suspects that they are firing flaming arrows,” the A.I. clarified.
“Really?” Adan’s eyes lit up; she had never seen anyone actually fight with flaming arrows for real before.
“Okstukaw!” Less than a second had passed when the soldiers around the carriages reacted. Quickly, the protective formation changed, with the already exhausted female riders moving to the front while the males moved to the back.
“They’re changing the formation?” Adan was confused, but after more carefully examining what her senses were telling her, Adan’s eyes widened in shock.
“Although the initial speed of the arrows would suggest that they posed no threat at this distance, some unseen force seems to be pushing them forward; their speed has practically been maintained since launch.” The A.I. interpreted the data it was receiving and a status update appeared in Adan’s line of sight.
[Estimated time of impact in t-3.8s]
The timer quickly started counting down. Just before it was about to reach zero, Adan’s thermal sensors went crazy. A heartbeat later, six loud explosions rang out, causing both the air to vibrate and the carriage to shake.
‘Fascinating!’ Adan exclaimed in her heart as simulations of what must have happened flashed by her eyes. “I’ve got to see this!”
She was just about to lean out the window again when Lynne’s pale hand blocked her path. He had acted so quickly that Adan guessed that he must have anticipated her reaction.
“Can you behave for once and just keep your head inside the carriage cabin, country bumpkin? This type of fighting is way out of your kufa.”
“Kufa?” Adan repeated, guessing it meant something like league.
Lynne rolled his eyes. “Just do it.” His voice was stern, indicating that he wouldn’t take no for an answer this time.
Snorting, Adan sat back down. She might not be one for protocol, but she loved fighting and learning new battle tactics. It annoyed her that she would have to let such an opportunity slip by. Well, she had other ways, but Adan still felt like punishing Lynne a bit first. Mischief glowed in her eyes.
“Although your care for my well-being is flattering, Princess, I wouldn’t recommend falling for your bodyguard; it will quickly get complicated.”
After ending with a flirty wink, Adan closed her eyes, completely ignoring the pretty face opposite her that had turned purple with rage. She guessed that he would start yelling at her soon, or even beat her, but Adan would just ignore it either way. Instead, she focused her attentions on herself.
“Sai, alter my perceptual senses. Engage alternative viewing, close to medium range, special focus on thermal fluctuations.”
“Affirmative. Altering now.”
From Adan’s perspective, it was as if she had stepped out of both her body and the carriage she was sitting in. Instead, it was as if she hovered in the air outside, silently observing her surroundings. Nothing looked as it would if she were using her eyes; there were no real colors, nor any sharp corners or edges, and yet nothing was missed.
“Truly fascinating. . . .” she mumbled for only her A.I. to hear.
Sitting opposite from Adan, Lynne’s hand was raised in the air. The urge to slap this boorish bodyguard of his had never been stronger, but, looking at the boy’s calm and frustratingly pretty face, Lynne pushed back his anger. With a sigh, he lowered his hand.
Lynne could understand Adan’s desire to look outside. For someone who had lived all his life in the forest with only his unmarked parents, first-hand experience of a large-scale elemental battle must be a new experience for him. Of course he would want to see it for himself. Had Lynne not already seen hundreds of such battles together with his father, he would no doubt have been sticking his head out the window long before Adan had even reacted.
As it was, Lynne already knew what was happening outside. Judging by the commands shouted among the soldiers, long-range fire arrows were being shot towards them and his own guards where countering with short-range fire orbs, blowing up the arrows just before they could become a danger. It wasn’t the most effective way to deal with the arrows, but given that the majority of the water benders in the troop were already exhausted, it was still the best cause of action at the moment.
‘Did I decide wrong?’
If not for his order to water the road, the females would still have had a lot of energy to spare. Then again, if the pursuers had only been a kilometer away when they started, Lynne’s decision had actually managed to hold them off for quite a while. They wouldn’t need to hold out for long before the soldiers of Fire Isle would be able to assist them.
Distracted by his thoughts, Lynne fiddled with the fabric of the cabin’s curtain. He could hear new commands being shouted outside, indicating that their pursuers were catching up, and soon. The soldiers were preparing a counter launch.
First, under the protection of their short-range defenses, they would release a few small barrels of flame powder before shooting their own rounds of fire arrows. Ideally, the barrels wouldn’t get hit until the other horses were about to reach them – thereby taking down a few of the pursuers in the explosions – but either way, the road would be severely damaged, buying them the last few minutes they needed.
Less than a minute later, several loud explosions and the soldiers’ cheers told Lynne that not only had he been right, but the counter attack had been fairly successful. Lynne glanced at Adan, and for a moment he thought he had seen the youth nod in approval, but, looking again, the boy was just as calm and unfazed as before.
‘Weren’t you really interested in what was going on outside? Why fake your calm now?’ Lynne shook his head, convinced Adan was only trying to play it cool.
“Reinforcements are arriving!” The sudden shout from outside caused many of the soldiers to cheer even louder than before, but Colonel Dallas’ sharp voice quickly reined them in again.
“We are not out of the woods yet – they still might not reach us in time! Launch a second counter attack!”
“Yes, ma’am!” The soldiers of the Royal Guard all answered in unison, but Lynne could tell from the tone of their voice that the Colonel was just being extra cautious; there was no longer any foreboding of death in them.
“Oi, Bumpkin,” Lynne called out to Adan, shoving his seemingly sleeping bodyguard with his foot. “The battle’s about to end; now’s your chance to take a look outside.”
Even as he spoke, Lynne leaned forward slightly to pull at the cabin curtain, using the broken strap of fabric to keep it from blocking the view. Looking back at Adan, the boy had still not reacted, so, snorting, Lynne leaned forward even further. He was just about to reach out and touch Adan’s face when the latter’s eyes popped open and an ear-piercing “No!” rang out outside the cabin.
The next thing he knew, a comforting warmth spread across the side of Lynne’s face. Glancing over, his eyes widened as he saw an arrow, covered in wildly burning flames, stopped only a hand’s width from his eyes. Shocked, Lynne scurried backwards, only then realizing that Adan was holding the arrow, casually, with his hand.
“Your Highness!” Frantic shouts filled the air outside, partially drowned by the sounds of a bloody fight. Clearly, the reinforcements had arrived and were currently fighting whoever it was that had fired that arrow, but Lynne was too dazed to realize any of this. He just stared at that still flaming arrow in Adan’s hand, and the calm and slightly smug look of the boy holding it.
“You . . . wha-. . . how?” Lynne couldn’t get the words out. While catching an arrow was not unheard of in the army – it was actually even a part of the head archers’ practice regime – it was something that would be done at great distances, and never with element-boosted arrows. When leaning forward, Lynne had seen the soldier with the arrow in the corner of his eyes. At the time, the soldier had been aiming in a different direction, so Lynne didn’t think more about it, but the man hadn’t been more than two, perhaps three, meters away! Even a normal arrow would be flying way too quickly to be caught at that distance, not to mention a fire arrow – and Adan had not even had his eyes open at the time!
Adan just smiled at Lynne. Not caring at all about his current state, Adan reached over and pushed the arrow against the cabin wall opposite to where it had entered from. To Lynne’s surprise, the thing slipped into the wood seemingly without resistance, the flames quickly singeing its new home black.
“Better let this be our little secret,” Adan said with a playful wink.
Still shell-shocked, Lynne had so many things he wanted to say, but before his mind had a chance to decide where to start, the carriage’s door was swung open, causing the already shattered window to completely explode.
“Are you alright!?” Duke Kimba’s head appeared in the doorway, seemingly oblivious to the glass shards now stuck in his face.
“Princess Hayden is fine, Duke,” Adan calmly assured him. “Excuse her somewhat sorry state; I think I surprised her when I pushed her out of the arrow’s path.”
Still not believing what he had witnessed, Lynne completely missed that the Duke didn’t even so much as glance at him, rather focusing all his attention on inspecting Adan’s well-being. Adan just kept smiling, and both Lynne and Duke Kimba kept staring.
Nothing more had been said when Duke Kimba was suddenly pushed aside and Reverend Mother Amaris appeared in his place.
“Oh, by the blessing of the Moons, Your Highness is safe!” she breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “But you!” Amaris pointed at Adan with a shaking finger. “You pulled back the curtains, didn’t you!? You’re working with them, aren’t you, you filthy little barbarian-blood bastard!”
The woman’s words snapped Lynne back to his senses. His gaze moved from Adan to the so-called Holy Priestess and felt nothing but disgust. “That is quite enough,” he said, slightly surprised by how cold his voice sounded.
“But. . .”
“Silence, woman! I warned you before; I will not tolerate your blatant racism! Why are you accusing Adan? Surely you know by now that it was a Solmani soldier who fired the arrow. If not for Adan, I would have been pierced to that wall by now!”
Lynne had more he wanted to say but was interrupted by a soft touch on his shoulder. Looking over, he was met by Adan’s smiling eyes, their golden rims almost glowing with warmth. The young bodyguard didn’t say anything, but there was no need for it either.
Lynne cleared his throat and looked back at the now slightly shivering reverend mother. Only now did he realize that he had stood up at some point, and although the cabin had been quite warm earlier, a thin layer of frost now covered its inner surfaces.
“I think I’ve made my point clear. Colonel Dallas!” Lynne called out in a loud voice, and it took less than a second for the female soldier to step forward, giving a respectful bow. “Escort Reverend Mother Amaris back to her carriage and make sure she is given aid back to her convent. I release her of her duties.”
The words seemed to strike the gray-haired woman like lightning from the skies. “Princess Hayden, you can’t be serious!” she exclaimed in panic. “No, you can’t!”
“It’s ‘your highness’ to you, and yes, I believe I can. Colonel.”
Dallas understood right away and moved in to grab the Amaris by the arm. The latter still refused to move, though, and struggled hard against the grip.
“No, but the king. . .” she persisted, but Lynne cut her off.
“The king appointed you to safeguard my blessing rituals, but now I feel that your mere presence is distracting me. Look around you,” Lynne’s hand swept around the interior of the carriage. “I have not yet had my awakening and I am already starting to lose my control.” He paused again. “Perhaps you have lost your resonance with the Moons. . . . I shall speak with my future husband; a solitary vacation might do you good.”
“No, I . . .” Pale and slightly shaking, the fighting spirit within Amaris seemed to have left her, and Dallas could finally lead her away.
Lynne didn’t bother even to follow the leaving pair with his gaze. Instead, he looked out over the several soldiers standing around outside the carriage, plenty of whom he had never seen before. Judging by their armor, though, the new arrivals were city guards from Fire Isle.
“Report,” Lynne ordered the man carrying the emblem of the commanding officer.
“Ah, yes!” The man stepped forward and saluted. “The fifth regiment of the Fire Isle City Guards reporting to Your Highness Princess Hayden. We saw your distress signal five minutes ago and rushed here to assist. As we arrived, we saw that man,” the commander paused and pointed at an unconscious soldier lying shackled on the ground, “changing his aim from the attackers towards Your Highness’ carriage. Unfortunately, we were not close enough to prevent the shot, but, as the Gods wanted, Your Highness is unharmed.”
“And those who were pursuing us?”
“They turned to flee once they saw us capturing the shooter, but my men are in pursuit. Your Highness can be assured that they will not get far.” As the man spoke, Lynne noticed how he kept glancing at the interior of the carriage cabin behind him, clearly awed by the layer of frost that still remained within.
“None fatal as of now.”
Lynne nodded. “Very well. I shall have to trouble you to escort us into the city, Captain.”
“Naturally, Princess Hayden.”
The man saluted again, and Lynne glanced over at Kimba, who still stood next to the cabin door, small streaks of blood now running down his black skin.
“Have someone look at your face, Duke Kimba; I don’t want it scarring on my account.”
With that, Lynne took a step back and closed the door to the cabin firmly behind him. The vibration caused the already broken strap to once more release the curtain it was holding, effectively blocking any outside viewers.
Lynne sank down in his seat, massaging the bridge of his nose. What a mess.
“Haha, I believe a queen can be made of you yet, Lynne.”
The laughing voice broke the silence in the cabin and Lynne instantly froze. He lowered his hand and looked over at the smiling youth sitting across from him as if without a care in the world.
“You have a lot of explaining to do.” Lynne straightened his back and stared intently at Adan. However, the infuriating youth just smiled back.
“Oh? About what?”