Abrupt and shocking, the entire forest fell silent, underscoring what an awesome roar had been issuing from the guardsman’s hand only a moment before. The presences representing the three attackers had vanished.
Not likely, Nam thought, but they had been pulling back before they faded, so she knew that it was a successful stealth form. She pushed her awareness outward, past the hill’s crest, and saw them again, fleeing, for one fleeting instant before they exceeded the range that she could penetrate their cloak.
“The lock is effective again,” Rogan declared.
The guardsman’s head jerked upward, staring up the hill, as he barked, “The girl!”
Nam shook her head. “She called a retreat, Jack.”
“No! I just saw her! She dropped into the ground, up there!” He had gestured with a head wave, probably reluctant to point at anything with his dangerous hand. “She must be digging in!”
“Yes, you saw her…” Nam nodded. “But you will find no hole. That was a glammer she left behind, a diversionary tactic. She has herself cloaked off quite thoroughly. That could only work on me if she left the immediate area and put some serious distance between herself and us.”
She pushed out farther, felt the slightest hints… “I think I may feel them a distance beyond the hilltop. Not quite sure yet. They are still cloaked.”
She sheathed her dagger, then abruptly sprinted up the hill using the speed form that was one of the powers of her Gedin, her totem spirit, along with the flying squirrel unen that gave her lightness. The combination gave her the power to leap the impossible distance into the higher branches of an oak at the top of the hill.
The branch where she landed would never take her weight, but of course she didn’t release the lightness form. She rested with a toe on it and a hand lightly catching a slender branch above, and stared down at the downward slope below.
Channeling her totem spirit, she scanned the foliage, while at the same time sweeping her awareness along with it. The very blending of senses that she had worked so hard to get Jack to stop using was exactly what she needed now.
There she found the trio, still retreating toward the Tasuithan flyer that had brought them, now standing at ready in a clearing up the path. It seemed whatever that mad skill was that the guardsman had unleashed upon them had convinced them to withdraw.
She dropped lightly back down to a heavier limb that she could kick off from, then propelled herself in an arc back to her companions.
Jack was grimacing and massaging his right wrist with his left hand. Their grip on his wrist had added to the various aches and pains remaining from the previous night… or perhaps he was grimacing due to the still uncertain nature of the world around him. Whether it was physical or mental, he was feeling definite fatigue.
“Controlling flux physically tires the artist, especially when in great quantities,” she told him. Certainly, that massive torrent of flux flame had qualified as such.
Rogan scooped the Beretta from the ground, uncocked it and handed it over.
Nam frowned as a thought occurred to her. “How many rounds left, gentlemen?”
She could see on the man’s face, he was counting shots. He answered. “Fourteen. And I’m already on my spare mag.”
Rogan pursed his lips in thought. “I’ve three on this load, and two full clips remaining. That’s twenty-one rounds for me. Pick your shots, Jack. Should have had Fionna pack more spare ammo for me. We’ve no resupply between here and Trin.” He hefted the massive backpack and hitched it over one shoulder, adding, “We’d best follow. Can you walk now?”
“I can try.”
“Let’s go, then.”
“Search for the attackers, Jack. It will help to keep your flux sense off the ground below you.”
As they trudged uphill toward the tree that Nam had just descended from, Jack demonstrated a minor success: he could spare brain-power for conversation. “Of course, I doubt I’ll find my caliber on Trin either.”
Rogan asked “It takes 9mm Parabellum, does it not?”
“No troubles then. It’s the single most common round in the Dominion.”
Jack responded with an amazed tone, “Why would you have a caliber from…”
He cut off as Nam felt a spectral presence pick that moment to appear behind them again. The larger ones continued to keep their distance, but the small one had closed the distance during the fight.
She turned and saw Jack stopped and staring back down the hill.
And she saw what he was staring at.
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