The Stormguard waits outside of Ardan’s home for Catherine’s signal to attack …
“It really is her.”
Kestrel shot a withering glare down at the swordswoman who’d whispered it from the brush below. A soldier of the Stormguard knew better than to speak after positions were taken. Still, every woman hiding outside the indistinct farmhouse that evening had stood watch over the burial of the blonde woman who now struggled to unload a goat from a battered old cart outside the farmhouse. Julia should have been a ghost.
The goat pulled at its rope, crying like a child.
Kestrel waited in the tangled branches of an olive tree for Catherine’s signal in the same position she’d held for hours. The feeling had gone out of her legs long before. Her bow laid out sidelong in front of her, stringed with steel. She rubbed her gloved thumb and fingerpads together, savoring the spark under her skin, but she wouldn’t use energy arrows that night. Metal shattered glass, if the bow was strung heavy enough, and the detached Stormguard unit hadn’t used magic since crossing into Gythian territory. Techies didn’t trust magic, and the last thing they needed in this land of smog and machines was attention.
Poking her tongue into her cheek, she watched the queen’s sister through her scope. Mothering twins had softened Julia’s body, and there were laugh lines by her eyes, but there was no doubt. After Julia went inside, Kestrel curled her toes to get the feeling back, rolled her right shoulder, sank her thigh into a knob in the branch, fit an arrow into the nock and hooted an owl call. Catherine whistled back the command to hold.
The goat bleated louder and sadder as the sun sank. Nothing stirred in the surrounding brush and trees. Inside the window, Julia argued with her husband, some nobody from the rebel tech army. The twins flashed by in their pajamas, chasing one another to their beds. The boy gave out a shout that shook the ground and the setting sun brightened, then dimmed. Mageborn, Kestrel mused in silence. No wonder the queen wanted them unharmed. She waited until the kids were tucked in, took aim at the left edge of a front window away from the bedrooms, then repeated her signal. Catherine whistled again to hold.
Night deepened, stars poking out that never showed above the bright light of Mont Lille. The man inside gestured with a wrench. Julia slammed a door. The goat’s shrieks twisted Kestrel’s nerves into a tight bundle. She’d hold position all night if needed, but every minute she waited was a minute something could go wrong.
The man clamped a gauntlet on one arm. Animalistic hoots and whistles sounded from varied positions. Catherine’s hold command repeated again and the goat cried and something wasn’t right; they should have attacked an hour ago. “What the hell is she waiting for?” the swordswoman grumbled. Kestrel was used to lone missions, not all of this group planning. Too many other people to depend on. Too much noise. Couldn’t think.
She let an arrow fly, and the goat shut up.
The signals paused; someone in the brush snickered. Kestrel fit another arrow into its nock. The man paused, looked at his own reflection in the nearest window, then raced across the farmhouse to Julia.
“He knows,” breathed the woman aground, bellying forward in the brush sword first.
The whispers of steel unsheathing sounded all over the olive grove. Somewhere, a blue wisp of magic snapped on and off in the air. A glowing blue shield hummed to life. Hearts pounded in throats. The man inside struggled into his armor, his wife pinching her fingers on the clamps trying to help. It was “go time,” and all they needed was Catherine’s whistle.
The whistle never came.
Kestrel pulled back, knuckles resting on the place where her jaw met her skull, three fingers under the knock, shoulderblade pinching her spine, and on her exhale …
By the time the front window shattered, Kestrel had swung down from the tree. Ignoring the burning pins and needles in her legs, she ducked low and closed in on the farmhouse.
Hanging from the windowsill by one hand, her bow slung over one shoulder, she glanced back at the storm of magic and steel following behind. Catherine stood behind the attack, tears in her eyes, a raven’s neck broken in her fist, another landing on her shoulder with an enraged scream.
The Stormguard’s saga will continue…
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