Chapter 9. Subversion (Part 2)

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The journey back to Ozghard had been going even more smoothly than Tyrro had hoped. Molly had remained conscious in the Void, holding fast to Tyrro's leonine tail. After her, Mose and the other recruits from Leavenworth held onto the forearm of the next in line, creating a lengthy daisy chain. They were all fastened together with ropes as well, in case anyone lost their grip, but this precaution proved unnecessary. The magic of Tyrro's silversteel belt—which he wore as a collar around his massive neck, mostly buried in his mane—extended to everyone in the group.

Despite Tyrro's copious experience with lightbridge travel, this was actually the first time he had made the journey without sleeping through it. He couldn't help bristling with anger toward his stepbrother for keeping this power a secret. What unimaginable freedom to move between worlds so swiftly! How many centuries had he lost in transit while Thrako laughed at him?

There was no warning when they reached the end of the bridge. Tyrro had expected something like a light at the end of the tunnel, some hint of their destination approaching. Instead, his first sight of Ozghard was a flash of green as his new lion vessel smashed face-first into the ground. The impact was jarring, but the magic belt lent him strength enough to endure.

What happened next was entirely predictable but still somehow came as a shock to everyone involved. Instead of the chain making a smooth landing with each traveler alighting gently on their feet, the group's arrival in Yili Country was more like a very long string of sausages falling into a pile. After Tyrro came Molly and then Mose and then a single-file stream of ninety-three others. One by one, they collided with the growing heap, unable to roll away to safety because of the ropes that bound them all together.

When the last body had fallen, those who weren't too badly injured began the tedious work of untying all the knots that still connected them, twisted as they were. Many broken bones and lacerations might easily have been avoided, but it was too late for Tyrro to rethink his strategy now.

A few members of the party began to laugh at their own collective misfortune, and this mood spread quickly through the pile of helpless invaders. Their inexpert arrival in Ozghard would later be referred to as "the Battle of Indigo Bridge" in a half-serious effort to elevate the status of the wounded.

After an hour or so, a firecat with a familiar air about it arrived in the clearing. For a moment, Tyrro bristled, mistaking the animal for Thrako. He'd never seen Ada in animal form, though of course he'd known she'd have the ability.

"Snails!" declared Ada. "That ye in there, brother? Ye look a mess!"

Tyrro let out a hissing snicker that hardly seemed adequate for his present stature. He looked impressive enough in his ruddy-maned lion vessel, but underneath it all he was still that timid rabbit Ada had seen in the park near Granny's place. The same wistful expression seemed to follow him from vessel to vessel.

"Reinforcements have arrived!" Tyrro proclaimed grandly. And then more quietly to Ada: "There a war comin', so? It weren't just a dream?"

Ada's grin faded. "It so. Ye just in time, actually. Adelaide bein' held by Isala in the Citadel, along wi' me Da Pierre Batiste, the so-called Wizard heself. An' get this: The ol' witch actually posin' as I! She callin' sheself 'Zenith Azama.'"

Tyrro's brow furrowed. "But if Isala in the Citadel... How be our mother? She safe?"

Ashamed at herself for not actually knowing the answer, Ada hesitated and inadvertently made her reply with thoughts instead of speech: I ain't seen she since I left, years ago.

Tyrro looked as if he'd just heard Ada confess to stepping on a kitten. "Ye... Well, o' course, we got to go see she then!" he insisted. "Right away!"

Ada hadn't prepared for this. "I can't— Er, I mean... I really have too much to look after in the South. We buildin' an army, ye ken, the Gnome King an' I. I got to treat wi' Calda leadership... one of Ylin's daughters, I reckon. We gonna need all the help we can get to take the City." Tyrro stared back, expressionless. "It all under Isala's control now. She usin' floodtea on the whole population! An' they all think she I!"

After an uncomfortable silence, Tyrro said, "All right then. Ye take care o' the South if ye reckon that best. I gonna send Mother yer love."

Ada nodded curtly, as if she really couldn't be bothered with such things. But Tyrro saw her heart, fragmented and scattered as it was. They had to split up again now, but it wouldn't last long. Tyrro would seek support from Thlowdyn and the rest of their Yili kin while Ada attempted to secure the Shade Brigade and any Calda hunters she could convince to join the cause.

They agreed to convene near the southern edge of the Yili jungle in a week's time. The Gnome King's underground network made it possible to maneuver their troops without being detected, but at some point, they'd have to stand and fight, come what may. Isala's crimes were simply too odious to go unpunished.

Not only had she stripped Ozgharders of their basic, God-given rights; she'd done so through trickery and chemical coercion. She'd reduced the people of Shadow City to such a pitiful state that they failed to recognize their own slavery. Such powerful bonds could not be broken overnight. And their removal would necessarily be painful.

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