73: Nam

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Her lungs pumped at a fevered pace as her arts pushed her body far beyond natural limits. Forms controlled by the cheetah unen included in her necklace of claws and fangs found the path ahead, calculating exactly where each step should fall as she dashed down the winding forest path at suicidal speeds.

The cheetah unen also accounted for her current metabolic rate, flat impossible for a human, and the absurd tempo at which her heart pumped to keep up with her body’s demand for fuel and oxygen. Like her other spirits, they exceeded the powers of their former living selves, but they used her strength as an Artist to do so. They had a limit, that limit being her own Rhyuin, and Nam could feel all the clear signs that the limit was drawing near.

So was the little hilltop fort where the men waited. She had to stretch at least that far.

Thank the gods that her pursuers had yet to notice the spectral hawk tailing them. Ecoue continued to send her a vision of the two wingers as they flew their braided paths while following her. She was fast enough so that they didn’t needed to weave to maintain their airspeed. Instead, they were doing it in order to keep her from having a chance to dive off the path and hide. The forest cover might have been enough for her to lose them if they were watching her from only one angle.

One of the occasional breaks in forest cover was coming up. To avoid it, she add the power of a squirrel paw that dangled from her hip. Springing off the path, she grabbed limbs and trunks, springing from tree to tree in a wide circle around the clearing, in the manner that the squirrel had been able to do so in life. One of the wingers attempted to come into the clearing to shoot at her from equal level. The one shot the girl got off went wild, and then the girl had to pull up once again, to avoid striking foliage as the forest closed in again, ahead of her.

The forest cover was sufficient to keep them from landing any of the shots they had taken at first, and they began saving their fire after that. But they would surely start shooting again once she broke out of the forest.

And the two Gireidil women pursuing her, flux artists using impressive piloting skills with their Chaldan flying frames, were not even the problem she was most desperate to solve.

Ooe’s eyes continued to show her the group creeping up on the men from the other direction. And she could not contact Rogan to warn him.

Her self-criticism remained merciless as she ran. I should have remained at the redoubt and just let my une scout. Mord could make short work of those soldiers. With me out here having to spend so much energy on my own defense, I can’t call on her. And now, I’ve used up too much to call her.

Jack, why don’t you see them already?

She knew the answer, of course. Lack of experience. No matter how skilled he could seem to be, he was brand new to this and had no practice at vigilance against slow-moving, stealthed infiltrators. And myopic Rogan stood no chance of detecting them at that range.

Another self-criticism nagged at her too. She relied too much on the Paeth when working with Rogan. This was the worst possible time to become aware of the fact, but it was undeniable. She didn’t have a backup plan for this world where her normal connection to him became unreliable.

Worse, by now, Jack would have spotted her and her pursuers, and the two of them would be looking the wrong direction– her direction– oblivious to the cloaked soldiers creeping their way from the opposite side.

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