Sunlight reflecting off the swift water of the river painted the ferns and wildflowers along the shore. Colorful microraptors and a few snipes and wrens jumped from branch to branch in the tall redwoods. Senta plopped down against the huge bole of a towering tree and gulped air into her lungs. Bratihn dropped to one side of her and Vever to the other. The others found their own resting places, or leaned against trees, their heads hanging low. Staff remained standing, though he looked as though he could have fallen over. They had been on the run for days and the remaining ten members of the party were completely exhausted.
They lost one when Staff ordered Manring and Werthimer to return to their guesthouse and try to bring out as much of their gear as was possible. The two former soldiers managed to get to the guest house and retrieve the packs and rifles, but they had been ambushed by a small group of lizzie guards just outside. Werthimer was unharmed, but Manring had taken a spear in the side. He had made it back to the group, just barely, leaving a bloody trail behind him. Despite several healing draughts poured down his throat, he had lost too much blood or had internal injuries too great to be healed by magic. Slipping into unconsciousness, he had died minutes later. Senta was horrified to learn of Manring’s fate when she had regained awareness, but she wasn’t given time to think about it. Staff led her and the others through the streets, staying as much as possible to the narrower side avenues and making for the western edge of the city. He reasoned that the lizzies would expect them to return to their boat on the riverfront and he intended not to make it easy on them. They fought when they had to, either with their rifles or with captured lizzie weaponry.
Werthimer, having survived the mission to get the gear, was killed as they passed through the city gate. He was pierced improbably through the head with not one but two spears. Senta had cast a fireball that destroyed the gatehouse and any immediate pursuers. Then she had cast an obfuscation spell on the group. It was designed to mislead anyone who might be looking specifically for them.
For six days the group raced through forests and across plains, stopping for no more than an hour at a time, using every minute of that time for sleep. They ate on their feet. At last they had reached the shore of the great river—the wrong shore. By exiting the city to the west, they had found themselves on the southern side of the river, and Birmisia Colony, Port Dechantagne, and home were all on the northern side.
“What do we do now?” asked Ivo Kane. “We don’t have time to make a boat.”
“Well, I’m not swimming across this river,” said Eden Buttermore. “I don’t think I could even if I wanted to. Where it’s narrow enough, it’s too swift. Where it’s slow enough, it’s too wide.”
“It’s too wide everywhere,” said Femke Kane.
“Yes it is.” Staff looked around. “There’s nothing for it. We keep traveling this way until we find a way across. Go ahead and rest for an hour.”
“We’re going to need to rest more than an hour eventually,” said Mr. Vever.
“I know it. There are some hills just on the other side of these woods. I’m hoping for some caves, but we’ll stop there regardless.”
“What were you thinking?” Brown asked Senta in an exasperated voice. “What was that lizzie to you?”
“I just knew her.”
“Well I hope she was worth the lives of Werthimer and Manring.”
Tears welled up in Senta’s eyes.
“It may have all worked for the best,” said Staff. “I think they were planning to kill us there in the arena. Senta just provided us with enough distraction to get out.”
“How do you know?” wondered Brown.
“I didn’t say I knew. I said I thought. We were positioned for a convenient crossfire between the King’s warriors and the Freedonians. They could have both fired at us without having to worry about hitting each other.”
“What about the lizzie civilians?” asked Mrs. Kane.
“I don’t think either group spend a great deal of time worrying about them. Now, let the girl rest. She needs to recharge her battery or whatever.”
Senta slipped into sleep and dreamed of home. The dream wasn’t particularly comforting. Zurfina’s five-story tower had grown to a hundred stories, but it was leaning over precariously. Neither Zurfina nor Bessemer was anywhere to be found. Just as she was about to venture in the front door, she was shaken awake.
“Come on,” said Staff.
They moved away from the river and through the woodlands filled with dogwoods and maples. There were many birds, the small flying variety, but not many other animals. They found the hills without ever leaving the forest, the trees flowing right up the sloping land. There were no caves, but they did take refuge in a narrow ravine. Staff, Bratihn, and Kane collected branches and piled them up to create a camoflage against possible observation from the air. No one had forgotten the Freedonian airships.
Staff arranged rotating watches and except for those serving in the two-hour shifts, they slept. Senta wasn’t sure how long she had been asleep, but when she woke it was dark and a shiny half moon was directly above. A slight chill on the night air made her shiver. As she shifted her position, she realized it was a full bladder that had awakened her. Getting up, she stepped carefully across the rocks, past her sleeping companions.
“Mrs. Kane has designated that area behind the large rock as the ladies’ WC,” said Bratihn, who was standing guard.
“And where is Mrs. Kane?”
Bratihn pointed to a sleeping figure. “Why?”