Our hero has saved his love, but it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Hypogeans were hot on our tail. Our stolen military truck, which I had next
Our hero has saved his love, but it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The Hypogeans were hot on our tail.
Our stolen military truck, which I had next to no clue how to drive, bucked and bounced over the rough grassland. It wasn’t doing my cracked rib any favors, and I choked down screams as I struggled to see while sparks flared across my vision from the pain.
Aeliana had her own challenge, grasping the orb in white-knuckeld hands as she stared into its depths and attempted to contact Cyprianus. The nebulous light swirled and bloomed at its heart.
“Anything yet?” I got the words out between grunts of pain.
“Not since you asked two minutes ago.” Aeliana’s patient tone was one any mother could respect.
“Just seems like an emergency call coming over the Fathers’ technology might get a faster response.” I checked what passed for a rearview mirror. Our pursuers were specks behind us.
“There’s no guarantee that he has a power focus to receive and no knowing what else is happening.”
Left unspoken was the possibility that the Field Marshal and his forces were no longer there to answer. It was a possibility we couldn’t consider.
The vehicle’s radio came to life with a squeal and crackle. “This is Lance Corporal Aetius Arundel, 73rd Signals Corps. Please identify yourself.”
“Aeliana, House of Abassis, Sovereign of Suddenae and the nations of mankind.”
The stuttering was comical, but Aeliana finally spared him. “Lance Corporal, is Cyprianus still alive?”
“YY-Yes, Majesty, but everything is in disarray. We’ve held out against the Hypogeans, but we’ve almost been pushed into the sea—”
“Please get Cyprianus on the communication channel.”
The minutes drew out in silence as I wrenched the steering wheel to keep the truck moving in a straight line. I’m pretty sure I was going to be one giant muscle cramp once I got out and walked.
The radio buzzed again with static as Cyprianus’s voice came on. “Majesty, it’s good to hear your voice again, but I’m afraid I have a war to conduct—”
“Clovis, you old goat, I’m being chased by a Hypogean convoy and need support.”
There was a very pregnant pause, then the Field Marshal spoke. “So, you’re telling me that you’re on the surface and somewhere near my forces!?”
I could hear the exhaustion in his voice. “I’m not going to ask how that happened. I’ll scrape something up and send it to you.”
Much of the fear eased from Aeliana’s face. “Thank you, Clovis. I’ll send our position through the focus…and I didn’t end up here by choice.”
Cyprianus’s voice softened with fondness. “I know, Majesty. You were never a fool. Field Marshal Cyprianus, out.”
Up ahead, rocky foothills rose from the landscape. “We’ll have to make our stand somewhere up there and hope to hold out.”
“There’s always hope.” Aeliana used her imperial voice.
My attention drifted, and I had to jerk the wheel correct. The suspension groaned, and we were pelted with gravel as I nearly rolled the truck.
“What happened!?” Sidelong, I could see that Aeliana was wide-eyed.
“Wounds, fatigue—I shouldn’t be driving.”
“Do you want me to take the wheel?”
“We can’t stop. We’ll lose our lead.” I absently tapped the wheel with a knuckle. “Besides, I think that scare will keep me awake till we get to the foothills.”
“Will the fuel hold out?”
The gauges were still a mystery to me. “I can’t say.”
It turned out the fuel lasted until we stopped by a rock outcropping that marked the beginning of the foothills. There was just enough left to get the truck parked behind some rocks and out of view. With the submachine gun slung over my shoulder, we started our climb.
I didn’t tell Aeliana about my cracked rib. All I wanted to do was curl up into a ball, but we continued our climb until we arrived at a narrow defile between two massive boulders that offered good cover.
We were beset with uncertainties as the Hypogeans convoy came closer. Would the Cyprianus reach us? Would we hold out long enough? Would we even survive?
I suppressed a grimace of pain and turned toward Aeliana. Her imperial mask was settled into place. “Whatever happens, I’m glad I came here and met you.”
“You don’t regret all this?” She gestured to our approaching enemies.
“It’s for a good cause. In fact, the best.”
We shared smiles, I checked my weapon, and we settled in for whatever was to come next.
To be continued…