The remaining hours of the night were spent arguing over just how bad Anica’s idea to destroy the tome was. Cato stayed only long enough to listen to the debate loop around on itself twice, deciding instead to step outside and stare off into the eerie emptiness beyond the Citadel’s walls. He couldn’t sleep, and this was the closest thing to that for his mind right now. Too much had happened in such a short time, and Cato was still struggling to put it all together. At one point, what seemed like an eternity ago, all of this had just been going to bail his brother out of some mess.
It certainly did turn out to be a mess, at least.
Around the time the sun began to rise over the horizon, Kyros walked over to where his brother stood leaning on the edge of the wall. Cato didn’t have to turn to know it was him. His brother didn’t walk like the Citadel’s soldiers that had been going back and forth. There was no rhythm to his footsteps. There was also the fact that he ran into at least four soldiers on the way and apologized very loudly each time.
Some things never changed.
“I’m surprised you stayed in there as long as you did,” Cato nodded his head towards the large, central cathedral just off behind them.
Kyros hopped up to sit on the inner wall that overlooked the rest of the city and the place beyond that had once been filled with a massive army, “They kicked me out when I started snoring.”
For the first time in what felt like forever, Cato laughed. As much as his brother drove him crazy, it was nice that he was such a constant.
After a few minutes of quiet between them, Kyros couldn’t handle it anymore and nudged Cato with a boot, “So are we headed home or what?”
“I don’t know,” Cato shook his head.
“You don’t know?” Kyros sounded annoyed, “It’s about time, isn’t it? What more can we do?”
Cato shrugged. He truly didn’t know. Strangely, he didn’t really want to go back to Orincia. And even though they had technically done what they’d set out to do, at least in the immediate, nothing felt right. Apparently this entire continent was at war with itself. All the while, those Ancient Ones were still out there doing whatever they were doing…which probably wasn’t good, whatever that was. For some reason, Cato felt like they shouldn’t just run from all of that.
But before he could put any of that into words, a loud argument behind him caught Cato’s attention. He turned to see Anica, Maeira, Kieran, and a group of the Citadel’s high ranking priests exiting the cathedral, with the latter group growling and yelling at the former. Cato couldn’t make out exactly what was being said, but he was able to see Kieran make a very rude gesture at the priests before the two groups went their separate ways.
Their three other companions approached with an unreadable mix of emotions on their faces. Anica led the way, while Maeira was now dragging Kieran by the arm as he glared over his shoulder at the priests. Suddenly, Cato was regretting leaving the cathedral. Something entertaining had happened.
Anica locked eyes with Cato and read him in a second. There was the same anger at him in her eyes that had been there since Pel’s death, but her voice held none of it, “The book is destroyed.”
“I’m not entirely sure why that’s good,” Cato couldn’t help but be honest, “Beyond those creatures not appearing every few hours to try and kill us.”
“There wasn’t much time, but the priests in the archive that helped decipher it could only find historical information in it,” Anica stepped over next to Cato to have a look out over the city, “We weren’t going to learn anything more from it. Not without a lot more people dying.”
Cato watched as Maeira and Kieran had a silent argument off to the side. It was a strange thing to see, and somehow Maeira’s poking and glaring was enough to cause Kieran to grumble an apology. They continued to be a couple very unlike what he’d have imagined. Except for the part where they probably didn’t appreciate his staring, so Cato quickly turned to Anica, “So we’re back to standing around and waiting?”
Anica shook her head, “Not exactly. We know what they are now. We even know how to kill them…even if we don’t have the power ourselves to do it. That’s probably why they kept after us. To keep that information out of larger hands.”
“It’s not like we can use it,” Kyros spoke up with the exact same thing Cato had been thinking.
“Not yet,” Anica agreed, but sounded strangely optimistic, “I need to get in contact with the Dorae-Kos leadership. Let them know all of this. We’ll figure out the next step from there.”
“We?” Cato repeated the word aloud, surprised that she included him after what had happened.
Anica nodded, “If you stick around, sure. Maeira’s going to arrange us some transport, so you’ve got a day or two to make a decision.”
She already knew he had. It was written all over his face. And the fact that he wasn’t arguing. Instead, something else was on his mind, “I’m sorry for what happened to Pel.”
“I know,” Anica put a hand on his shoulder. There was nothing else to say, but the gesture was enough.
Of course, Cato couldn’t help but say the first thing that brought to mind, “What happened to that foreign girl that couldn’t speak without a thick accent anyway?”
Anica actually laughed at that and patted his shoulder. Somehow, the friendly gesture became condescending, “What happened is you fell for it. Quicker that most, too.”
Before Cato could fight back, the ground began to shake. The air grew heavy in a menacing way that all of them had felt before. But this was something different. It didn’t stop. It grew. More and more to the point where it was hard to breathe the air or hear the yelling around them as the entire Citadel attempted to mobilize against…nothing, as far as anyone could tell.
It didn’t take long for everyone to see what was happening, even if it didn’t really make any sense. Out in the distance, near the horizon, a red curtain began to rise up from the ground. As it grew higher into the sky, Cato knew what he was seeing. He’d seen it before. It was identical to the Red Wall out in the waters to the south of Oriona. The wall that divided the world. The wall that those creatures hid behind.
And now there was another, rising as high into the sky as possible and blocking off everything they could see to the west.
At first, there was nothing to be said. They all had the same questions. Where did it come from? Had they caused it? Why now? What was actually going on? Could they do anything about it?
The last one triggered an actual coherent thought in Cato’s mind and he turned to Maeira, “We’re going to need transport in hours…not days.”
The princess nodded, a stern determination on her face that was becoming all-too familiar, “Time to pull rank again.”
Maeira started off at a run in the other direction. Kieran smiled, “Don’t let her fool you, she loves how much it annoys people when she does it.”
And then he ran after her. Anica, Cato, and Kyros all exchanged a quick look. There was really no justification for going back to Orincia now. There was more to be done. Something to be dealt with. Something that none of them understood, but somehow that didn’t bother Cato all that much. Whatever they ended up doing, it wasn’t going to be easy, but they were going to do something. And linking up with the rest of the Dorae-Kos to figure this all out made the most sense.
As one, the three ran after Kieran and Maeira.
There was no going back anymore…and that perfectly fine.