Chapter 25

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Sunlight flooded the horizon, blissfully bestowing a new dawn unto the Sanctified Lands. A seemingly endless line of people flowed from Haven down the road toward the coast beyond the farmlands. Their faces were marred by confusion and helplessness, and their words were few. Those who had family in the Crows painfully bid their loved ones farewell as they departed from the town's south entrance. Memories from the massacre decades past weighed heavy on their hearts, knowing full well that this could be their turn to say their final goodbyes.

Though a few days had passed since the meeting with Marcin, preparations had been so plentiful that Ellie felt as though the days had simply blended into one. Dark bags drooped beneath her eyes as she maintained the gate from atop the stairs. Ellie's tiredness dulled Gerald's voice as he ordered the rats across the Great Hall. She was able to muster a chuckle when Eingree stormed by with a sack over her shoulder that rustled with the protest of a single rat.

The sound of rapidly approaching hooves drew Ellie's attention away from the evacuee rats. Mounted on horseback was Janus, who came to a stop at the base of the stairs and, with a tired smile, watched Ellie descend the steps to greet him.

"How have things been faring here?" he asked.

"Elise and the goblins are helping Rehor and Nairi on the east end, but they told me they'll take longer since they have to move slowly." She looked to the line of rats gently hopping down the stairs. "Rat Town is mostly evacuated, though it looks like one of the elderly chose not to go peacefully."

Ellie pointed to Eingree, who stood and waited for the last of the rats to exit the castle as the bag over her shoulder continued to squirm.

"What about in Haven?"

"Evacuations are proceeding smoothly and most of the townspeople are on the road by now. Bedelia, General Delman, and a unit of Crows will remain in town due to the shortage of horses. It's a perfect opportunity to scout for anyone who may have tried to remain in secret."

"And I assume Marcin kept to his word?"

"Amazingly, yes. He and his clan have assembled on the north road toward the Maw, alongside the mounted Crows. I'm sure they're bickering now that the sun has risen, though."

The two shared in a scoff just before Gerald's perky voice called out to them from above.

"Miss Ellie! Everyone's been evacuated, so you can lock the gate!"

Ellie nodded before turning back toward Janus.

"I should depart," he said. "They're waiting for me on the plains. Be safe, Ellie."
"You, too, Janus."

He watched her as she started for the gate, his lips trembling with hesitation.

"Be sure to stay with the evacuees."

Only the slightest sound of acknowledgment emit from her, his demand spiking a sense of irritation beneath her skin.

"Did you hear me, Ellie?" His voice grew firm. "Stay with the evacuees."

"Yes, I heard you. I need to lock the gate."

Janus glanced at Gerald upon hearing Ellie's hostile tone, who gave him an understanding nod. With no time left to waste, he returned to the road and departed northward. Ellie thrust her hand into her pocket and fetched the key that Elise had given her the day prior. Giving little consideration to her forcefulness, Ellie slammed the gate shut and locked it tight.

"Idiot. Idiotic, dumb girl," she grumbled.

Returning the key to her pocket, she stomped down the stairs as Gerald followed behind, keeping a distance between them.

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