Chapter One

The war-weary city of Minut shone under the rays of the rising sun as Master Mechanic Mari of Caer Lyn rode to the top of a ridge that looked down a long slope toward the once-busy port. She wore the dark jacket of a Mechanic, even though that Guild had long since banished her. Mari’s horse shifted restlessly as a dozen cavalry troopers in blue uniforms with brightly shining cuirasses, sabers at their sides, and lances poised ready for use rode up next to her, one of them holding a staff from which flew the square banner of the new day, bright blue with a many-pointed golden star in the center.

A storm threatened the world of Dematr, a storm carrying winds of war, riot, and chaos, born of and fueled by the rage and frustrations of the people who had been forced to serve the wills of the Great Guilds for centuries. It was a storm which had begun in Tiae, breaking the kingdom into anarchy. Mari was determined to stop that storm, and she would counter it beginning here, in Tiae, where it had claimed its first victims.

She had scarcely quieted her mount when three more rode up, two of them cavalry in the dark green uniforms of Tiae, one of those carrying the banner of that kingdom, gold and green.

The third wore Mage robes. Despite the tension riding inside her, Mari smiled at the sight of him. “How does everything look? Are we ready to attack?”

Mage Alain of Ihris gave her a slight smile, which might have seemed a very restrained greeting in anyone but a Mage. From a Mage, trained to avoid any display of emotion, the gesture was almost flamboyant. “All is well. General Flyn is deploying your foot soldiers to the west, and Princess Sien is moving Tiae’s forces into position to the east. We here are already blocking the northern side of the city.”

Mari looked back down the slope at two hundred cavalry concealed behind the ridge and waiting for the order to advance. Waiting for her order. “We’ve come a very long way in six months, haven’t we, my Mage? I never expected that we’d be retaking Minut this quickly.”

A rattle of hooves announced the arrival of General Flyn and a small group of staff officers. “Your army is ready to advance, Lady,” he announced, saluting her with a flourish.

Her army. That still felt unreal. In the half-year since forging an alliance with the sole surviving member of the royal family of Tiae, Princess Sien, and setting up a base at Pacta Servanda to the south, thousands of volunteers had made their way individually and in small groups to join the forces of the daughter of Jules, she who was foretold as the one who would overthrow the Great Guilds which had enslaved the world of Dematr for all of its history. Some of those volunteers had been taught to use Mechanic tools to construct more and better devices than the Mechanics Guild had ever permitted. The rest had been eager to fight to free their world. Without the help of professionals like General Flyn, Mari never would have been able to mold them into an army.

An army that was already equipped with rifles of a sort never before seen in this world. There were less than two hundred of those rifles as of yet, but they gave Mari’s army a tremendous advantage in firepower in a world where the Mechanics Guild limited every other fighting force to only a few repeating rifles..

Mari raised her far-seers, grumbling under her breath as her horse shifted again, making it hard to focus on the waters just offshore of the city. This particular mare seemed to have an instinctive feel for when to move at just the wrong moments.

Her fleet was there, several large sailing ships also flying the banner of the New Day, blockading the port to keep any of the warlords trapped inside Minut from escaping by sea. Closer in, nearly twenty boats flying the flag of Tiae guarded against any escape attempt along the coast by the small-scale pirates who had infested the city in the decades since the Kingdom of Tiae had fallen into anarchy. “All we need to wait for now is whatever the Mages on their Rocs can tell us.”

From here, even through the far-seers the towers and spires of Minut appeared to be in decent shape, only a few truncated by the loss of their upper portions. Mari wondered how intact they really were. Different sections of the city bore the scars of old fires, burned-out buildings still trailing tears of soot from windows broken ten or twenty years ago. Other areas of Minut appeared to be disconcertingly untouched, but that was probably because the far-seers couldn’t spot the signs of neglect and decay from this distance.

The forbidden city of Marandur had died quickly and been left in total ruin. Minut had been dying slowly. But today would mark the beginning of its rebirth.

Hopefully the price of victory would not be high. Mari had suffered through another restless night the evening before, her nightmares haunted by the things she had already seen and had already survived. There had been too many deaths before this, but the knowledge that far, far more would die if she failed kept Mari striving to complete a task that she had not asked for but had to succeed at.

She lowered the far-seers as another small group rode up, led by a young woman who also wore green, but whose armor glowed golden in the sunlight. Instead of a helm she wore a gold circlet. Behind her rode a special guard carrying her banner, the flag of Tiae with the addition of a crown sewn from gold thread centered on it. “Good morning, Princess,” Mari said. “We should have Minut back under your control before nightfall.”

Sien smiled. “Tiae already owes you much, Lady Mari. I have heard from the agents who entered the city over the last week to prepare the way for us. They have been spreading word among those who still live in Minut that Tiae returns and that the days of the warlords are coming to an end.”

“Princess,” Flyn said respectfully, “did your agents confirm what we’ve heard of the warlords in the city?”

She nodded. “Yes, General. Three warlords, two of whom have used their fighting forces to hold large portions of Minut in thrall, and a third whose so-called army is little more than a large bandit gang. The remnants of Colonel Fer’s fighters have joined with one of the warlords.”

“I’m sorry we were unable to wipe out Fer’s group yesterday,” Flyn said. “But maybe the survivors who fled into Minut have stories to tell that will help unnerve the fighters there. And I can promise you that none of the warlords or their gangsters will escape from us this time.”

“Escape is what they seek,” Sien said. “We must offer it to them.”

The sharp edge in Sien’s tone hinted at the true nature of the “escape” that the warlords would see from the walls of Minut. Mari’s infantry was visible to the west, and Tiae’s reborn army, though still small, could be seen from the east. But here to the north the only forces visible from Minut would be Mari, her Mages, and the few cavalry with them at the top of the ridge. The warlords might wonder at such an elementary mistake, but with two real armies closing in on them they would head for the weak spot “inadvertently” left open for escape.

The country around Pacta Servanda had been pacified, but Tiae wouldn't be thought of as a kingdom again until a city like Minut once more belonged. And only such a victory would convince many of the people who had once belonged to the kingdom that it could be reborn after so many years of pain. Mari was still worried that the warlords and their supporters would dig in inside Minut, forcing a long and nasty fight that would further damage the already battered city and likely kill some of the surviving citizens. But both General Flyn and Princess Sien were confident that the warlords and their self-styled armies would not fight to the death as long as they saw a chance to run away. “They’re criminals out for power and loot,” Flyn had said contemptuously, “not soldiers fighting for a cause. They’ll be afraid as we close in, and desperate to get away.”

Mechanic Alli came riding up along with teams of horses pulling her two pride-and-joys, brand new artillery pieces bigger and better than anything the Mechanics Guild had ever allowed to be built. “Where do you want these, your daughterness?”

“Hi, Alli. Don’t call me that. Over there.”

“How about over there?” Alli suggested. “That will give me a better field of fire.”

“Fine. Go over there but set them up behind the crest of the ridge,” Mari ordered. “We don’t want the warlords to realize we have big guns at this spot until they’ve already left the city.”

A vast shadow swept overhead. Mari looked up to see a Mage Roc flying past, the huge bird moving with a grace that never failed to take her breath away. The engineer part of her knew that such a bird could not possibly fly, but the rest of her had decided not to worry about that. Mari could see Mage Alera and a man in a Mechanics jacket riding on the back of the Roc.

“Hey, Calu!” Alli yelled, waving.

“He’s more likely to hear you if you use a far-talker,” Mari said, bringing out her own. She paused to admire it, one of the products of the work shops that had been hastily built at Pacta Servanda in the last six months, using information from the banned technology texts and the labor of Mechanics who, like Mari, had left the Guild. Priority had been given of necessity to new rifles and Alli's new artillery, and the far-talkers required more complex electronic work. There were only about half a dozen of the new far-talkers completed so far, but they were smaller, lighter, and had better range than the Mechanics Guild models which had been deteriorating in quality for centuries. “I’m sorry we don’t have enough yet to give you one. Do you want to use mine?”

“Later. Thanks,” Alli said as she directed the positioning of the guns.

Alain pointed to the east and west, where two other Rocs glided high above Mari’s infantry and the army of Tiae. “They will warn if they see any attacks coming from unexpected directions.”

“Good, and Calu will tell us what’s going on in the city.” Mari keyed her far-talker. “Calu? You there?”

“I’m here,” he replied, sounding breathless. “This flying still takes some getting used to.”

“Just hold on tight. What can you see so far?”

“There is a bunch of people milling around on the docks, like they want to sail away but are afraid to with Tiae’s coastal guard waiting just offshore,” Calu said. “Most of the rest of the city looks deserted.”

“The people of Tiae will be in their homes,” Sien said. “Hiding from the battle they know is coming.”

“But there are a lot of folks inside the north gate,” Calu continued. “Looks like three separate groups of people with weapons. They’re just standing there along the wide street that leads to the gate.”

General Flyn nodded, smiling sardonically. “Their leaders are arguing over who gets to go second,” he said.

“Second?” Mari asked.

“Yes, Lady. Whoever’s soldiers lead the breakout attempt will take a lot of losses fighting through your forces. Whichever warlord comes last is likely to get caught by our pursuit. But the one who comes second will be able to use the sacrifices of those ahead and behind to protect themselves. I will confess to having been skeptical as to how much the Mage birds could help us, Lady, but this ability to see from above is remarkable when combined with your Mechanic far-talkers.”

“That’s what Alain and I kept finding out,” Mari said. “Combining what Mages and Mechanics can do produces some real advantages. Unfortunately,” she continued, “while seeing from above tells us what the enemy is doing, right now they’re not doing anything. We don’t want the warlords just standing around, giving them time to think and delaying our own assault.”

“How do we get them moving, General?” Princess Sien asked.

“We’re already offering them an apparently lightly held area here to the north,” Flyn said. “If that doesn’t lure them out, I don’t know what else could get them moving. They could argue all day. If we attack, they are just as likely to fall back into the city in a panic as to try to escape from it.”

“How about if we make it too hot where they are?” Alli asked. She gestured to her two new artillery pieces. “What if I drop some shells right behind them to encourage them to get their butts moving this way?”

“You can do that, Lady Mechanic?” Flyn asked. “Even though we can’t see them?”

“And they can’t see my guns, so they won’t know where the shots are coming from,” Alli replied. “Yeah. These guns are designed to allow long-range shots using a high arc. It’s not complicated. I know the muzzle velocity of my shells and I can figure how far I want them to go. That gives me a trajectory and an angle of elevation. The shells go up over the ridge and come down behind those city walls.” She held up a binder. “I had Apprentices back at Pacta Servanda work up range tables for these guns to simplify things. I’ll just have to interpolate some numbers. Who’s got the best map of Minut?”

Sien gestured to one of her escort, who brought a folded sheet of paper to Alli.

Alli and the soldier from Tiae spread out the map on the grass and crouched down to study it. “The north gate,” the soldier said, gesturing toward the actual gate and then tapping a place on the old map.

“This is accurate?” Alli asked. “That’s a nice wide street leading out to the gate.”

“Yes. For the movement of trade goods, and sometimes for parades,” the soldier added.

Mari thought that the soldier looked old enough to have taken part in some of those parades almost twenty years ago. She had noticed that the men and women flocking to the banner of Princess Sien to rebuild the army and the Kingdom of Tiae were often either older—veterans of the time before the Kingdom fell apart who wanted to recreate what had been lost—or younger than they should be, fired with idealism and the possibility that the long years of anarchy were finally ending. But the generation between the old and the young had been hit hard by the collapse of the Kingdom and the subsequent hardships, too often spending their own lives or health to give their children a chance.

“Can I have your far-talker now?” Alli asked Mari. She took it and knelt back by the map. “Hey, Calu darling, this is the reason for your happiness calling.”

“Hi, Alli,” Calu replied. “Is this a social call?”

“Business. Where exactly are those warlords’ fighters? Their front is near the northern gate, right? Where’s the rear?”

“Yes, the first group is just a little ways inside the gate. What’s left of the gate, anyway. Then the next two groups…counting from the gate there are two cross streets intersecting the big street they’re on. The rear is just past where the second cross street joins.”

“Here,” the Tiae soldier said, pointing.

Alli scowled at the map, then keyed the far-talker again. “I’ve got some concerns about the accuracy of the map outside the city, Calu. I don’t think the distance from the gate to where I am is right, so I’m going to aim the first round to drop well behind where those terrorists are. I want to make sure it doesn’t hit the front of the group and give them motivation to run the wrong way. There’s nobody else on that big street, right?”

“Right. It’s empty, except for trash and some piles of rubble.”

“Stand by, but don't fly between where I am and my target, and let me know where the shot lands.”

Alli made an adjustment to one of her guns, speaking to Mari as she did so. “We need better maps. For everywhere.”

“I’ll add it to the list,” Mari said. The list of things they needed right now seemed to grow every day by at least one item.

“I’m going to fire the first shot,” Alli told her gun crew. “Hold your horses!” she called out, then yanked the firing lanyard.

The crash of the shot startled even the cavalry horses, which had been trained to deal with loud noises, but the soldiers were holding their leads and none of them broke away.

The shell arced away into the sky, vanishing from sight.

After several moments, a muffled boom was heard from the direction of Minut.

“You nearly hit a building, Alli!” Calu called. “The shot hit on the east side of the street, just in front of a big building. And it was…two more intersecting streets back.”

“Two?” Alli studied the map. “We are closer than the map says. All right. Let me tweak something…stand by for another shot.”

The gun crew had already opened the breech, pulled out the shell casing, loaded another round, then closed the breech. Alli altered the angle of the gun a little, then yanked the firing lanyard again. Another crash, another pause, and another boom as the second shell hit.

“Pretty close to the middle of the street,” Calu reported. “And only half a block behind the rearmost warlord group. Almost perfect. How do you do that?”

“I’m brilliant. We’re going to fire two shots this time. Let me know where they fall.” Alli adjusted both guns, crossed her fingers, then made a chopping motion. The gunners fired, one only a moment after the other.

“Got them!” Calu said. “One was right behind them and the other hit the rear ranks.”

“I guess those goons are finding out how bad it feels to have someone bigger than they are beating on them,” Alli said. “Mari?”

“Hit them again,” Mari said, reluctance to give the order making her voice low.

“What?”

Hit them again!

Two more shots roared out, then two more.

“The group in the rear is pushing ahead!” Calu said. “You’re doing some real damage and they’re trying to get away!”

“Alli, let me see that far-talker.” Mari gazed toward the city as she called Calu. “Are any of the bad guys scattering into the side streets?”

“Um…yeah. Some are trying to. Whatever passes for officers in the warlord ranks are trying to beat them back into place.”

“Hold up, Alli! I don’t want to hit them so hard that they spread out through the city.”

Alli nodded, gesturing to her gun crews. “Hold fire, guys. Those scum have learned what we can do to them if they don’t move.”

“Mari?” Calu called. “I think…yeah, they’re starting. Everyone at once. They’re all coming out!”

The “armies” of the three warlords came charging out of the northern gate of Minut. Mari studied them through her far-seers despite the efforts of the mare to ruin her focus. The fighters in the first group wore an assortment of armor and carried a variety of spears, pikes, and pole-arms, but moved in a loose gaggle rather than a tight formation. Right behind them was a mixed group of mounted fighters and fighters on foot carrying swords and varied shields. The last group bore a wide assortment of arms and little in the way of armor, and unlike the first two was not even attempting to maintain any semblance of organization. “The last group is treading on the heels of the second, which is being slowed by the pace of the first group because of the heavy pikes some of them are carrying.”

General Flyn nodded. “They’re coming in our direction in hopes of breaking out. Just as we hoped. You know how to hold them, Lady. With your permission, I’ll rejoin the foot soldiers and get them moving. Princess, your dragoons and other forces can move at any time.”

“Tiae will advance,” Sien said, waving a goodbye to Mari and Alain before she and her escort took off in a thunder of hooves.

Mari looked back at her own cavalry, still hidden from sight of the city on the back slope of the hill. “Rifles dismount and take up position on the crest!”

“Stay with the princess of Tiae,” Alain directed some of his fellow Mages, who nodded once in acknowledgement and rode off after Sien. “Mage Asha, stay here for now.”

Asha nodded, her long blond hair flowing in the wind off the sea. In the morning light, her beauty looked unearthly. “I sense Mages in the city. The traces of them are faint.”

“Please let me know if they start moving,” Mari said, fighting down a shiver as she remembered the last assassination attempt against her—by a Mage using a concealment spell. Less than a month ago. If not for Alain’s ability to spot the Mage despite the spell, that attempt probably would have succeeded.

There were still far too few rifles to equip every soldier, but those of the cavalry who carried them dismounted, handing the reins of their mounts to other soldiers to hold, then scrambled up the slope to form a line along the top of the hill. By the standards of normal fighting, the line looked far too thin and too long to have any chance of holding against the oncoming warlords.

Alli and her gun crews had put their shoulders to the two artillery pieces and were rolling them the short distance remaining to the crest of the hill.

The line of rifles split, making room for Alli’s artillery near the center of the line. Mari saw her setting up the guns and ordering the barrels to be lowered so that they aimed directly at the oncoming fighters.

“We wait,” Alain murmured.

“I know,” Mari muttered in reply. “You don’t have to remind me. Let the warlords’ forces get far enough from the city that our own forces can cut off their retreat.” She heard signal trumpets to the west and started to raise her far-seers. Mari deliberately paused, smiled in triumph as the mare took the bait and prematurely moved a step, then got the far-seers to her eyes and looked across the battlefield. “General Flyn is moving his forces in against the left side of the warlords and has our dragoons galloping to the north gate.” From the east the sound of Tiae’s battle drums ordering the advance rolled like distant thunder. She swung her gaze to the right. “Here come the Tiae dragoons. Tiae’s infantry is also moving up.”

Mari put away the far–seers and picked up the far-talker again. “Calu, what can you see in the city? Are there any fighters left near the gate?”

“I can’t see any near the gate,” Calu said. “There are a few small groups along the wall. I can’t tell who they are. That’s it.”

“Say hi for me!” Alli called from where she was helping reset the artillery.

“Alli says hi, Calu,” Mari relayed. “Check out the rest of the city again.”

“You got it.”

Mari caught a glimpse of Mage Alera’s Roc soaring high above the wall, then banking to glide back over the city so that Calu could see what else was happening in Minut.

“I think soon,” Alain said.

Mari judged the distance to the increasingly disorganized mass of fighters headed for the apparent weak point in the forces surrounding them. Heading for where she was. The warlords could see the soldiers of Tiae closing in on one side and Mari’s soldiers closing in on the other and were trying to outrace their attackers. “Alli? What do you think?”

“Are the dragoons in place?”

“Yeah. They’ve reached the gate and are dismounting now.”

“Then I think it’s time for some more payback against these guys!”

Mari knew what was about to happen, and no matter how necessary it was, it still left her unhappy and with a sick feeling in her stomach. “Go ahead, Alli. Rifles, hold your fire until they’re closer!”

Alli sighted along each artillery piece, then pointed at the gunners. The big guns roared as one.

Mari could see the black dots of the shells flying toward the enemy and striking near the front of the group. Twin explosions tore apart earth and any fighters unfortunate enough to be close to where the shells struck.

The warlords pushed their fighters harder, the mass breaking into a run toward where Mari sat on her horse atop the hill. The thin line of soldiers near her must look far too weak to slow them down, let alone stop the surging forces.

Alli’s big guns fired again, tearing two more holes in the attacking group.

“Open fire!” Mari yelled at her rifles, feeling an excitement and an urge to inflict justice on those who had preyed on those weaker than they for so long that warred with her earlier reluctance.

About thirty rifles opened fire from along the top of the hill. Even the old Mechanics Guild repeating rifles would have had an impact on such a concentrated mass of targets with that many firing, but Mari’s forces were using A-1 semi-automatic model rifles newly made by Alli’s workshops. Alli swore that the “A” stood for Advanced, but everyone else claimed the “A” stood for Alli. The A-1 rifles could fire much faster and more accurately than the Guild weapons.

The front rows of warlord fighters fell as if they had run into a wall, the rifles wreaking terrible havoc on them. Under the hail of fire and with their path blocked by the bodies of their fallen, the gangs of fighters stumbled to a halt.

Alli’s guns fired again. Mari’s rifles paused as all of her soldiers ejected spent clips and loaded new ones.

The rifles on the hill fired another volley. The renewed barrage broke what little discipline the warlords’ fighters had. What was left of the first group fell back into the second group, while the third group pressed on into the packed mass of confusion and added to the chaos.

Mari heard the staccato rattle of rifle fire and saw General Flyn’s infantry firing into the side of the enemy mass with more than a hundred weapons. The disorganized mob lurched away from the new threat, only to meet volleys of crossbow bolts and a few rifle shots from Princess Sien’s soldiers.

Turning back, the remnants of the warlords’ fighters saw their retreat to the city blocked by two lines of dismounted dragoons.

Flayed by fire from all sides, the fighters compressed so tightly they could no longer move as the outer layer of the mob tried to flee inward and the inner layers tried to flee outwards.

Mari stared, appalled, as the battle turned into a slaughter.

She yanked out her far-talker. “General! General Flyn! What are you doing?”

“Winning the fight, Lady,” Flyn replied, his voice sounding grim.

“We’re not giving them any chance to surrender!”

“They know what will happen to them if they surrender, Lady,” Flyn said. “You’ve seen what they’ve done to their victims in the areas around Minut.”

“I don’t care what they did! We are not them! Give them a chance to surrender, General!”

A pause, then Flyn’s voice came again. “I understand, Lady.”

“Hold your fire!” Mari yelled to her rifles on the hill. “I said hold your fire!”

As the soldiers near her reluctantly ceased wiping out the enemy, Mari could hear the sound of shots from the infantry with Flyn also dwindling. Tiae’s forces were still firing crossbows, but the damage they did was minor compared to that caused by Mari’s army.

General Flyn’s voice carried across the battlefield. “We will accept surrenders. Drop your weapons and walk slowly toward us with your empty hands held high!”

About twenty fighters hastened to comply, stumbling toward the ranks of Flyn’s infantry.

Most of them were ridden down by their own comrades as the surviving mounted fighters charged out of the mob, heading straight for Flyn’s soldiers in a desperate escape attempt.

Mari felt a mix of anger at the fighters and resignation over their fate as Flyn’s troops opened fire again.

None of the mounted soldiers made it to Flyn’s lines before dying, and now the army of Tiae had reached one side of the mob of warlord fighters and was coldly working vengeance on those who had helped terrorize the kingdom.

Some of the survivors bolted toward Mari’s position, running in blind panic. She waved to her cavalry commander, resigned to the necessity of the next order. “Send your forces to finish them. Take prisoners if you can.”

With whoops of exultation almost two hundred cavalry charged over the crest, through the ranks of the dismounted soldiers with rifles, and toward the remnants of the warlords’ armies. The banner of the new day flew over the cavalry as they leveled their lances at what was left of their enemy.

“It is well they came out to fight,” Alain said. “It will make it much easier to take the city.”

Mari grimaced. “That was the idea. Minut has suffered enough. The people still living there don’t deserve to have their city made into a battleground.”

“You said you wanted to avoid anything like Marandur,” Alain reminded her.

“I know. And we’ve achieved that. I’m sorry I can’t be too comforted by knowing that. Let’s—”

“Hold on!” Calu shouted loudly enough for Mari to understand him without raising the far-talker close to her ear. “A Roc just appeared down there! In the plaza in front of the abandoned Mage Guild Hall!”

“A Dark Mage?” Mari said. “I didn’t know there were Dark Mages who created Rocs.”

“I sense the spell,” Mage Asha said, “but it does not have the taint of a Dark Mage.”

“There’s a Mage climbing on the Roc!” Calu continued. “There! It’s in the air and…north! It’s heading north!”

“Back toward safe territory,” Mari said. “And toward us.” She called out to the dismounted cavalry who were still with her. “There’s another Roc heading this way! Not a friendly one! Wait to open fire until we identify which Roc is the bad bird!”

“I see it,” Alain said, pointing toward a dark spot in the sky low over the city of Minut.

“It is climbing slowly,” Asha said. “Is it overburdened?”

Mari brought up her far-talker. “Calu, was there only the one Mage on the Roc?”

“Yeah. Just the one. We’re following it toward you. It’s moving really fast.”

Raising her far-seers, Mari tried to spot the oncoming Roc, only to have the perverse mare side-step a few times. “Somebody hold this horse!”

One of the cavalry grabbed the mare’s reins so that Mari could dismount and look again.

There it was. The Roc was pumping its wings rapidly, growing visibly larger as it grew closer.

“Mari,” Alli said, peering through her own far-seers, “that bird isn’t just heading north. And it isn’t trying to get much higher. It’s heading straight for us.”

All of the horses were shifting about nervously now, as if they could sense the approach of the giant raptor. The cavalry on the hill fought to control their mounts as Alain dismounted as well, and Alli and her gun crews went to help hold the horses in the teams that had brought their artillery pieces.

“Target the Roc in the lead!” Mari yelled to the cavalry with rifles who were still on the hill. “Make sure you do not fire on the Roc behind it, and if you can’t tell which bird is hostile, do not shoot!”

She realized she had very little ability to judge the motion of something moving as fast as that Roc. No one had experience dealing with that kind of thing. Mari looked down long enough to free her pistol from its holster and let off the safety. “Alain, see if you can hit it with your fire spell.”

When Mari looked up again, the enemy Roc had gotten much, much closer.

And it wasn’t just heading for the group.

Mari could tell that it was diving straight at her.