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Longspear skidded to a halt as she caught sight of van Joss’s suicide plunge off the top of the walls, dropping like a stone in the center of the Primiad mass that had managed to penetrate through the shattered left gate.

“Was that van Joss??” Salina almost screamed beside her, her eyes wide with stunned shock as she came to an abrupt halt beside the slender human.

“Aye,” Longspear husked softly, shaking her head in disbelief.  It would be a miracle if the man survived the drop.  But knowing van Joss, he was already cracking heads, not a mark on him from the dive to the ground.

As if in proof to her thoughts, there was an abrupt boil of activity in the heart of the Primiad advance force.  So violent was it that the advancing line that had been harrying the defenders shrank back without warning, leaving a sizeable gap between the two sides.  A gap the Pantor quickly filled, charging forward with a shout of their own.

Counterattacking in force, Longspear watched as the seasoned Pantor, Pumor and Nitan troops slowly began to push the Primiad back, the attackers suddenly in disarray.  Within several anxious heartbeats they had succeeded in retaking the gates themselves.

From out of the grim ranks staggered a bruised and bloodied van Joss.  Quickly Longspear rushed to his side, Salina right behind her.

“Are you insane, van Joss??” the human captain snarled, barely resisting the impulse to first hug the man then shake him senseless and in that order.  Salina was not so strong; she flung herself into the wiry operative’s arms with a soft cry, sobbing wildly.

“What is this?” van Joss growled, physically pushing Salina back, a querulous look on his thin face.  It wasn’t so cadaverous now, long months in the care of the Ursa having put quite a bit of meat back on his bones.  But it was still thinner than it should be.  And now it was masked in what could only be anger.

“Careful, Salina.  I just had a very intimate meeting with several of your countrymen.  That hug nearly did their deadly work for them!”  Amazingly enough the hard look melted away to be replaced by a thin smile which Saline returned with a brilliant one of her own.

Longspear could only shake her head in amazement.  The man continued to be an enigma.  Then his bright eyes were skewering her.

“As for being insane, I was."  His expression hardened.  "And then I got better.”

“Before or after they let you out of that hole?” Longspear immediately fired back, her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Hate to break things up, folks,” Kelly interrupted as he came running up, his face flushed from his effort.  “But I managed to find a back door out of this place.  If we are going to reach the Ryon and finish the cycle, I suggest we get the hell out of here!”

“Are we leaving?” Kata asked as she joined the small party, having made her way from the Directors’ hot spring much more cautiously.  Still, she stared in every direction, awe on her features.  The devastation of her family’s palace in Bel Omnibus had been widespread, but the fighting there had gone on for days.  Here, the urgency of the defenders was almost frantic as they barely held back the living tide of Primiad bent on their destruction.

“Nice of you to finally join us, your Highness,” van Joss deadpanned.  “At least you’ve saved me the effort of getting Kelly to go and look for you.”  Switching to English, he addressed the big elf captain.

“Captain, I want you to get the females out of the city as quickly as possible.”

“And what are you going to do, van Joss?” Kelly replied, a frown on his chiseled features.  “You’re not going to stay and fight, are you?  The city is as good as lost!”

“No.”  Van Joss shook his head slightly, a thoughtful expression on his face.  “I need to somehow contact the Lupus so that they will join us with Kata’s younger brother.  Once that is done, then I will join you.”

Kelly nodded his understanding.

“Sounds like a plan.  Five kilometres due north of the city?”  At van Joss’s answering nod, he turned and indicated that the women go with him.

"C’mon, ladies,”  He said in a low, intense voice even though he knew only Kata would understand him, having been taught some English during their time together.

“Time to leave this party!”

When Longspear and Salina threw questioning looks at van Joss, the lean operative quickly filled them in on the impromptu escape plan.

“Just keep Salina and Kata in one piece, Longspear,” van Joss grimly directed with a look back at the gates.  By the looks of it, the Primiad had regained their momentum and were about to re-enter the city.  Already the walls swarmed with their lean forms, having put up their scaling ladders virtually unopposed.

“They are the key to the whole puzzle.  Without their words, we won’t be able to convince Fizel that the Golden Kingdom is in danger.  Nor of the need to join the alliance.  Fizel is the final piece.  It will be up to you to recruit him, if I fall before I can reach you.”

“But you'll be rejoining us at the rendezvous, aren’t you?  You are rejoining us, right?” Longspear pressed, hearing a strange note of finality in the lean human’s voice.  A note that sent a strange chill of foreboding through her being.

“If I can,” van Joss replied after a slight hesitation.  He then took her by the shoulders, his grip amazingly tender and reassuring despite its berserker strength.  “I’m counting on you, Longspear.  Wait only two days for me to arrive.  If I do not, go on and finish recruiting the Fisted and pull the alliance together.  It’s Gideon’s and Noranda’s only chance.”

With that the lean operative spun away and charged for the walls even as the Primiad spilled back into Ven Devisol, their weapons red with Pantor blood.  Feet and hands a blur, he cut deep into the tide that poured out of the nearest tower, broken bodies flying in every direction.

Emotions churning, Longspear took a step after him.  Only to find Kelly’s massive hand on her shoulder.  Looking up into his grim face, she made to speak, the defiance welling up in her like a dark flood.  Then, just as abruptly as it came, the defiance faded away, leaving her empty.  She wanted to charge after van Joss, her nation’s greatest criminal, in order to help him cut through an uncaring and vicious enemy.

But, if there was one thing that van Joss had striven hard to impress on the junior operative, it was the importance of the mission.  The mission must be accomplished at all costs, regardless of whether team members died or not.  And this mission was the most vital of all missions!

“Right,” she said softly, taking one last look back at the surge of battle near the gates.  Van Joss was already out of sight.

“Let’s go!”

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