Chapter 14: Loose Threads

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Van Joss could feel his expression tighten as the Primiad swarmed up the two siege beasts and onto the walls. While the massive makeshift barriers hadn't been breached by the titanic monstrosities, they were now falling to the Primiad's superior numbers. Already large portions of the top were held by the enemy, their soldiers howling and capering in triumph.

It took almost a physical effort to push that aside and focus on his own problem: getting out of the enemy encampment without dying. It was certainly much easier with Ran pulling the bulk of his forces to the north to confront the humans of Gideon arriving late to the battle.

However, instead of looking like heroes riding to the alliance's rescue, they had only signalled their own demise as their ragged charge against a failing flank had served to galvanize the Primiad into fervent action. He could hear the monkeys' excited cries from his current location, along with the death screams of hundreds of humans, their position getting swarmed by thousands of Primiad seeking their destruction.

A brace of royal guards appeared out of the smoke cast by the burning catapults, grim and with weapons ready. Hurt as he was, they were still no match for the determined operative and he moved on after smoothly dispatching them. While the guards had done nothing to slow him down, their presence had brought a new problem to the lean human's awareness.

Judging from the direction, pace and general wariness the guards had carried before he unceremoniously separated them from their lives, he was close to where the Primiad emperor had stationed himself as his forces engaged the humans. That was a problem because it was now directly in the path he had hoped to take out of the camp and back to the fort. While he could defeat a handful of soldiers by himself in his current condition, even one or two more would be too much for him. And there was an excellent chance that Ran was now surrounded by a full company of his personal guard for protection with Wormwood's assassination happening almost right under his nose. There was no way he could kill an entire company even if he wanted to.

So unfortunately a second attempt on Ran's life was out of the question. As was van Joss continuing on his previously planned route.

Knowing he didn't have time to examine all his options, the lean operative chose the most obvious from the handful that had sprang to mind as soon as he realized the situation had changed. He would make his way east and circle through the camp in an effort to reach the Gideon position. 'If they're still alive!' he darkly mused, grimly noting that the number of human voices he could hear shouting and screaming had vastly dwindled in the last few minutes.

Pushing his dark thoughts to the side for the moment, he pulled the hood of his stolen cloak closer around his bruised face and slipped into the smoke.

With the sounds of battle raging all around him, a lesser operative would've been confused by the poor visibility and the lack of guides, like hearing the sounds rising from the human position. Van Joss, with focus long honed by his years in the field, and his internment in a dark, dank hole, quickly picked out the distinctive sound of human voices, slightly lower pitched than those belonging to the Primiad. Using them as a compass point, he unerringly made his way through the cold, smoke-filled air, always working his way back to a line that had the human position in front of him regardless of any deviation chance encounters brought.

With that sound leading him forward, it was only a few minutes of stealthy work that found the battered operative easing into a crouch behind a heap of dead bodies at the edge of fighting. Eyes narrowed, he scanned the rapidly shrinking human position.

As expected, the charge into the disrupted Primiad flank had rapidly devolved from an effort to roll it back and collapse the Primiad's northern position to a frantic attempt to escape as the flank abruptly reformed around the column pushing deep into its heart, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the human force. Trapped and unable to withdraw, the column was ruthlessly crushed by the reformed Primiad ranks, leaving no survivors.

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