Illustration by Sophia
"Try turning your shoulders halfway between me and Levi," Maselyn suggested.
"I'll lose sight of the playing field," Quincy rebutted. Crichton didn't wait for him to decide before he threw the switch. The gears in the ceiling made a different sound just then, more of a whine. When Crichton shut the machines down, they found it wasn't the meat-hooks at all. It was a siren "Does that mean..."
"The Tempest Bay," Levi clipped, "Take thirty minutes to make sure non-combatants are locked down and combatants are on a ship. Then report to the Lake Lady in the Tempest Bay, all of you." His jacket kicked out behind him on his way out the door. When Quincy collapsed his swords, he found the same question on both Maselyn and Crichton's face. You ready?
No sooner than they left the locker, Quincy, Maselyn, and Crichton broke ways. Quincy headed straight for Barrel's Bottom to fill Corman in and entrust May to him for the trials to come. He pecked the top of her wide-eyed head before heading down Detaunt. Most people had already abandoned their business to rush indoors, or into the watery channels that pumped out the Summit's naval force. The lingerers were elderly or young.
"Inside," Quincy clarified to one grey gentlemen, who couldn't quite understand the chaos. "There's going to be a battle. Away from the city, but we need the streets empty to be safe," he explained to a woman who was around how old his mother would have been. Most older folk were easily ushered inside or took his arm to be guided.
The younger ones were trickier. They wanted to fight. Quincy could hardly blame them, after his own time on the sidelines. He could only help their badgering mothers gain enough purchase to get them inside, but it was one hard-fought scolding after another. According to passing store clocks, it'd been twenty minutes. He figured he could send three more kids to safety before he was due in the Tempest Bay. Then a young man his size trudged right into him.
"Sorry," he mumbled, more to himself. Quincy might have let the boy go, if not for the wail that followed him from the porch of his house. The woman's pleas were like a piston, kicking Quincy's arm out to grab him. "Hey, what gives?"
"You need to stay with her," Quincy said.
"I need to fight," the boy tried to wrench his arm away. "Let me go!" he barked, when he couldn't shake Quincy's grip.
"Stay with her." Seeing that fist wind and reacting in time was Quincy's training made manifest. His chest snapped back, away from the strike. The boy had no hope of regaining his balance before Quincy spun him in a momentous circle. He snatched the telescope blade from the boy's belt before tossing him at the porch. The boy shook off the disorientation and charged again. Quincy cocked his arm around flying knuckles and rocketed a blow past him. Throwing out a leg was enough to put the boy on his knees.
"Why..." he sobbed into the ground, "Why won't anyone let me help?"
"Billy!" the woman on the porch cried out, "Come back here! Don't you dare leave me like your daddy!" Billy's fists clenched against the faded pavement. Quincy forgot about time constraints. He forgot about Bragg. He forgot about everything, besides those hours he'd been Billy, staring into the ceiling of his old room with a failed test crumpled on his desk, and what it'd led him to do. He could never bring back the incinerated souls from Roseyard. But, maybe he could take the bullets out of Billy's gun before he shot at someone in anger. Quincy knelt to give him his hand.
"I keep telling him," the woman sobbed, "Not everyone can be Blackstar." Billy looked like he might hock a glob in Quincy's hand, but he choked it down with his pride.
"That's... not exactly true," said Quincy. He pulled Billy up. "Anyone can be Blackstar. You can help keep things from breaking into chaos here without the Summit," he said to the woman. To Billy, wandering half-ashamedly back to his porch, "You're the first line of defense here now." He offered the boy his telescope blade back. Billy glanced the weapon, then the giver, before taking it. Quincy thought back a couple months. He might have taken the blade and run, but Billy seemed more sensible.
"What about you?" he said, belting the blade.
"I'm going to see what I can do about Bragg," Quincy sighed. He left a whispering chorus of,
"It's him..." behind when he turned, and they saw the symbol on his back.
The Lake Lady tore out ahead of Maselyn's fleet, east from the city, for the Avalons. When Bragg's ships rounded the northern curve of the city, the Summit was miles out. Their navy spread like a shield behind them. Levi leaned over the railing beside Quincy, mumbling into his earpiece, while Maselyn and Adrian kept the nauseous Crichton company below deck.
"A few probes touched down in Islaire, but most of Bragg's men are tailing us," Levi announced.
"Are ye certain?" Corman squinted at distant waters, "Ahead on yer left, Scopes." The worry in his voice was enough for even Levi to take him seriously. He spun to read the distance.
"Small fleet blocking the east, led by a Ranger!" Levi shouted to the scattered Summit.
"Raines," Quincy surmised.
"By the time our fleet catches up, Bragg and his pirates could box us in from behind."
"What about... the southern Dunes?" Crichton called up between wretches and gags.
"Viable," said Levi, "If we get there fast enough, we could claim a height advantage. In favor?" The ship resounded unanimously. "Set sail, Corman. I'll let the others know." Levi muttered the update into his earpiece.
The Lake Lady jerked sideways, on course for a barren, sandy war-ground.
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