Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Chapter twenty four

Aesara prowled the corridors, exuding a confidence born out of simply not caring what challenge she faced next. Drakhan ran past her, look of concern on their faces, an order to follow, a disaster to avert. Few gave Aesara a second look. The liberated elite guard jacket help of course. Rather than go for the one that looked the best fit, she’d had to plump for the one least drenched in blood. It sat awkwardly on her shoulders. But did not seem to matter, she held her head high, back straight, gaze level. And she strode. It was a slightly limping stride, admittedly – the formal boots she still wore impeding her, her  knee agonising her - but it was confident. A woman with a purpose.
How she would fulfil that purpose, she knew not. It would not be a direct attack, that much was certain. She was too outnumbered, too hurt, too tired for that. Time for her inner Pyrrho to come to the fore once again. She smiled, doubting that he would ever leave her head now, whispering devious tactics that the warrior within her baulked at. Putting the jacket on had been but a first step. Confidently striding among the Drakhan like she belonged there was the next. Ordering them to do her bidding the third.
“Stand down” she barked at the young Drakhan guarding the stairs up to the main house
“S…sorry sir. There’s been a bit of an, erm, breech. No one else past this way. Official orders. Sorry” he nervously gripped the Elder weapon to his chest, making no attempt to aim it at Aesara, but also loathe to let it go either.
“I gave the order, you dolt. You think I don’t know firsthand about the breech” she indicated her jacket, even this least bloody one still had more than a tinge of red soaked through it.
The Drakhan paused for a second, weighing up his options “Ok sir. Sorry sir” he stood aside.
Aesara smiled “This is more like it” she said, half to herself, half out loud. The Drakhan guard looked confused as she past by and up the stairs.
She’d lost all concept of time during even the few brief days of her internment, but on emerging on the ground floor of the main house she got her bearings from the silvery moon light that filtered into the small windows of the vestibule the stairs led up to. It was quiet, the chaos of the lower floors seemed such a long way away. Aesara had to remind herself what  was actually happening down there. She moved on, through a set of double doors and into the empty kitchens. Pushing on she came out into the main dining room. Here she came across a sentry on duty.
“Where is the overlord?” she demanded, quickly slipping back into her confident Drakhan persona.
“He up in his quarters? I told the guard to move him to the safe area” she took a gamble on how the Drakhan would be responding to the trouble below.
“They…they did sir”
“At least someone has some brains round here. They go to the stables?” she guessed, no need to be right, just confident sounding.
“No sir, the university”
“Yes, something about a wider evacuation needed. Not sure what is going on down there?”
“Best you don’t boy.” Aesara made towards the exit, then paused. “How old are you boy?” in the dark it was hard to tell, but there was something about his squeaky voice.
“S…sixteen sir”
“Don’t lie to your superiors, boy”
“Sorry sir. Fourteen sir”
“Get out”
“You heard, you’re dismissed. Get out. You don’t need, don’t want to be around here”
Aesara pushed past him and into the night.
She was half way down the hill when the explosion ripped up and through the house. She resisted the urge to look back, not because it looked cooler that way, rather she didn’t want to let go of her emotions right now, as she might not be able to get them back under control. Pyrrho would always be remembered, but his memory would not get in the way of her next mission.
Some burning debris came down in front of her, quickly becoming the final resting place of her Drakhan jacket. A bush had caught alight a little further on, and that was where she kicked off the boot that had till this point hid her wooden leg. Gems glistened in the flickering fires. 
The gate into the university complex stood open and unguarded. Aesara stepped through cautiously. She knew the bulk of the Drakhan force would likely had been attempting to either quell the emerging rebellion or head off Pyrrho’s final stand, but she still expected a significant number to be left at ground level.
She needed information, an inside line, Pyrrho whispered to her mind’s ear. Aesara smiled, he certainly would not be forgotten now, would he? Moving into the camp she realised where she could get that information; the sentries’ hideaway.  Drifting through the shadows she passed by the familiar Elder dwellings of her sentry patrol that seemed a lifetime ago. The hideaway was over the other side of the track she’d been following. Firelight licked at the windows. Aesara smiled to herself again. Someone was home.
That person was Malic.
Aesara was surprised to see the overseer bent over the fire, prodding something in the cauldron suspiciously.
“No one is sure what that lump is, we ate round it”  she said to him
Malic jumped at her interruption, span round, knocking the cauldron which splashed greasy stew onto the hissing fire below.
“Aesara?! You’re alive?”
“Who said that I wasn’t?”
“We were told you’d led an attempt to destroy the university. Lost your mind. Had to be locked away for your own safety, but resisted and….” his voice trailed off.
“I don’t die easy”
“That I can see”
“Where is the overlord?”
“Down at the high council, they took over all the central camp, including my, er, your, office” he was wary of his wild looking predecessor.
“How many?”
“I’m, er, not sure” he looked down
“You don’t know how many outsiders have taken over the camp you swore to protect?” an eyebrow arched up, old overseer instinct angered
Malic just shook his head.
“They in fancy uniforms? Purple piping?”
“Er, yes, I think so”
“So at least one company of the elite guard made it” Aesara inwardly cursed. She would not be able to take them all on.
“Tell me Malic…”
“How’d you like to take the night off?”
“I, er…” the rest of the sentence cut off by him getting punched full in the face. He dropped like a stone. Aesara worked quickly to hog tie and gag him, then shifted the unconscious form out of the back of the building. She could risk no further betrayal. No one could let on that she had arrived in camp. Keep the element of surprise, Pyrrho gently whispered.
She crept into camp, not for the first time. Last time she’d done this her stealth had been aided by everyone being blind drunk, this time she was up against the best the Drakhan had to offer. Just a little step up in class, but not much. She smiled in the dark.
The arrangement of the camp was more closely pressed together this time, the Drakhan guard patterns tighter. From the shadows she watched two of them pass by the rear of the archives, counted in her head, not that high before two more passed through. Her smile had been replaced by a look of grim resignation.
On the slightly brighter side, the fact that the Drakhan had decided against trying to hold the front gate implied a lack of numbers. Almost certainly just the one unit. Although in Aesara’s current state, that was still 10 soldiers too many. She experimentally flexed her injured hand and almost gave her position away by yowling in pain.
She was, therefore, not going to be able to take a direct route to confrontation with her father. She would have to circumvent his retinue, manoeuvre through the shadows. Inner Pyrrho rubbed his hands in anticipation. Aesara shook her head, I’m going mad she told herself, even though if that madness meant her brother still being around, she would take that.
Two more guards passed by in front of her, the same as the first two she’d seen when she first set up watch here. That meant four in total patrolling the perimeter.  Assuming they were working to a shift – even the elite Drakhan had to rest at some point – then maybe another two were currently bedding down. If she knew where, she could remove the threat, but not was not the time to start searching the various sleeping quarters. Just aim not to cause enough alarm that they would be roused.
To her shame, Aesara had to keep count on her hands. So far she could account for six Drakhan. Father would keep at least two with him at all times, which left two more. Probably on guard outside whatever building or tent the overlord had located himself up. At least that is how she would arrange the guard patterns. Hopefully the best the Drakhan offered could live up to her exacting standards.
At the next pass of the perimeter guards she moved forwards, quickly covering the ground to the back of the archive tent. She’d picked the exact spot of her target from back across the path, a slightly darker shadow fell across part of the tent to the right side, this would disguise her knife insertion a little. Not perfect, but hopefully enough, especially if the Drakhan focussed more outside of the tent. She unsheathed the knife. Pyrrho’s knife, her brother subtly planting it in her trousers when they had hugged that final time. The knife was sharp, biting through the thick canvas as if it were cake. She kept the slit as short as she thought she could get away with, then crawled through.
In her head she continued to count 47…48…49. Footsteps. She crouched down on the inside of her insertion point, waiting for the guards to pass. If they noticed the slit, investigated it, then they’d get a nasty surprise when they peaked through.  But the footsteps receded. Aesara exhaled. Now onto the next part, making it through the archive. While not a regular visitor, she had a rough idea of the layout from the few times she had been there. Long dusty shelves interspersed by writing desks or reading stands. She felt her way along, only banging her shins a couple of time, thankfully the wooden one more often than the one of flesh and bone.
With a few minutes she was at the front of the darkened archive. Again she waited, listened. There were footsteps, but they were less regular, more stumbling than the patrols. They also made a slightly different sound to the Drakhan’s heavy boots. She frowned to herself. Probably meant other camp members were still about. She had assumed that they’d be confined to quarters.
Apart from the council.
Of course. Father would want to continue to surround himself with a compliant audience. All the better if fine food and drinks were involved. On all fours she edged towards the flap at the tent entrance. At the bottom of the entrance she cautiously lifted a corner of the heavy material. She could see the council marquee just a few paces away given the closer confines of the current camp layout. In front was a Drakhan guard, stood to attention, an appearance of formidable toughness and constant awareness. Or, to a soldier and sentry  of Aesara’s experience, a bored young man asleep with his eyes open. Her suspicions were confirmed when his comrade emerged from the other side of the marquee and had to tap quite firmly on his shoulder to wake him from his upright slumber. The two Drakhan briefly shared some quiet words, before the man who had been standing on guard began his turn of patrolling round the marquee.
The Drakhan may not be as alert as they should be, but it would still be a tough ask to take one out undetected. Especially as her swollen knee made a rapid approach impossible. Even if she was successful there would be other Drakhan in the marquee with father, and the whiney idiots of the council would surely alert the remaining guards. She needed a more cunning line of approach. Frowning once more she was about to close the small corner of the flap she peered out from under, take time to consult her inner Pyrrho, but it was the marquee flap that opened instead. Aesara froze.
It was Farrow, a crusty old Professor, one of Celcus’ closest allies on the council. The old woman stumbled away from the marquee, Aesara could not quite tell if her unsteady gait was drink or age driven. Farrow paused a few paces away, turned and wolf whistled at the Drakhan guard. Drink Aesara remarked to herself. With the Drakhan unresponsive to her advances, Farrow continued on her way, down between two squat Elder building towards a tent a little further away.
The latrine.
A plan was forming in Aesara’s mind. A downright dirty plan. The best kind whispered Pyrrho.

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