chapter 7

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They reached Tidur within a quarter-hour. It was one of the last towns in Pendi’s merchant routes where one could get reliable sleeping arrangements and decent food. The town had thick walls that Beika saw as they descended.

Marceau alighted off the travel cloud first, followed by Soji. Beika had to coax her friend off to deactivate the cloud. Lan stood in a circle with them, with a distant, distracted gaze.

Marceau shut her eyes for a moment. “There are two branching timelines, depending on the outcome of this attack. But the outcome is crucial to whatever happens next to the capital.”

Beika gulped. Lan nodded absentmindedly.

Marceau brought herself up to her height and pointed her nose skyward. She placed hands over hips. “As a member of the defense committee, I will act as head of this mission,” she declared. “Our mission is to save this town from invasion, and to stop Selatan from advancing into Pendi.”

Beika shrugged. Lan stared at the sky and sighed. Soji bit his lip.

“First of all,” Marceau faced Soji, and drew out her little dagger. “Sela…I mean, Soji. What is your position? Are you with us or against us?”

“Do you even know how to use that thing, green hag?” Lan asked. Beika chuckled.

Marceau ignored them. She raised the dagger, showing it to Soji. “You can run now if you swear not to reveal what you know about us. If you reveal anything, I will personally ensure that you are hunted down and killed. Also, we will fight here and treat you as the enemy that you are.”

“Green hag, you do realize you’re talking to a trained soldier?” Lan said. The Selati soldier could indeed wrench the dagger away with a flick of the wrist.

Instead, Soji placed a fisted right hand over his chest. “By He who controls all programs, I stay.”

Marceau kept the dagger before her even as she blushed, flustered. “You will have no other chance. If you run after this, I’ll have you captured.”

Soji met her eyes. “I not run,” he said. “I stay.”

“Will you help us or not?” She did not lower the dagger.

“I help.”

Her jaw slackened. She blinked. She doubted her hearing and drew her head closer. “You will not betray us?”

“No. By He who controls all.” He placed his fist over his chest again.

“Really?” Beika chimed in.

He smiled at her. “Yes. You all kind to me. I be kind back.”

Marceau closed her mouth, took a deep breath then lowered her dagger. She returned it to its sheath. “Whatever. That settles that.” She spoke with urgency. “We will divide into two groups. I’ll find the defense committee branch here. Beika will stay with the firespark. The loner firespark will create a defense and offense as he sees fit.”

“What’s the use of getting Soji’s cooperation if you don’t take advantage?” Lan asked.

“Good point,” but Marceau glared at him. She spun to Soji. “Suggestions, Icy?”

“Defense, Master Lan, with respect,” Soji answered with a bow. “Ice daggers melt. One against many, better defending, yes?”

“What do you have, Lan?” Marceau asked.

“The Force Field,” Beika answered.

“No,” Lan snapped, and stepped back.

“It’s a small town, Melancho!”

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