Cyronell was at war.

This was not something that Cato had known previously, but he had never really bothered to think about the continent to the north. He had enough to worry about on an entirely different landmass and it wasn’t like he was ever going to travel across the sea to Cyronell. Especially with how much Cato disliked the water.

Cato once again found himself wondering why he hadn’t kept to that mindset. Sure, he’d probably be dead, but he was fairly certain that was going to happen soon as it was.

The ground shook again, accompanied by another thundering crash.

Cato and the others had watched the source of the sounds for nearly an hour. They were positioned behind the last collection of large rocks before the land became a flat, grassy plain. And upon it, a massive army laid siege to a castle with walls higher than anything Cato had ever seen. Every few minutes, the catapults launches more boulders at the walls, but they seemed to do little more than slowly chip away at the massive structure.

“How long are we going to sit here?” Kyros grumbled at the ground. He seemed certain they could march through anything that got in their way after making short work of the scouting party earlier. Thankfully, no one was listening to him anymore.

Maeira crouched off to the side, leaning slightly on her bow, “The land is too open for us to move safely without being seen. We’ll have to wait for nightfall to get any further.”

“We won’t have much choice soon,” Kieran’s voice was grim, which continued to be extremely unsettling, “More scouts will be out looking for whoever killed their last group and they’re going to be more prepared to fight.”

Cato rested his face in his hands and closed his eyes, trying to shake away the exhaustion and the frustration but only making them both worse. The constant feeling of not knowing anything was getting to him, especially now that they were being led around by a pair of Elves that actually seemed to know what they were doing. Oddly, the fact that Maeira was royalty didn’t bother him at all, just that she seemed to assume everyone knew what she was talking about.

So Cato asked what he knew would be a stupid question, not bothering to look up in hopes of avoiding the looks that it would inevitably entail, “Why can’t we just go back to the coastline and find a long way around this mess?”

There was a brief silence that was far worse than any looks could have possibly been. When Maeira spoke again, her words were much slower and more deliberate, “The library in the Citadel is the best chance we have at deciphering that tome. The only place similar to that is within my father’s capital and that would require crossing an entire continent to reach.”

Silence filled the air again, leaving Cato to feel exactly as stupid as he’d expected. It was quickly ended by another thundering crash of stone hitting stone, and Cato just shook his head. Of course the place they needed to be was under siege by an army. If anything, that was far simpler than all of the other complications they had run into. What was an army compared to the ancient evils that pursued them, anyway?

“Where does this Mad Lord fit into everything?”

Anica spoke for the first time in hours. Her voice was emotionless and she hadn’t moved from where she carefully looked beyond their cover, taking in everything silently.

Maeira was surprised to hear Anica speak up, and turned to look back to the her, “He’s nothing but a man with money and power who decided to take more. I doubt he fits into anything at all, other than making our lives more difficult.”

Whatever Anica was thinking, it was impossible to tell as she continued her watch over the army beyond. The sounds of the siege continued for a few uncomfortable minutes before she shifted back down to the ground and looked to everyone. Everyone except Cato, at least. She very deliberately avoided any kind of eye contact.

“How long until nightfall?” Anica’s eyes stopped on Kieran.

He hesitated a moment, glanced up, and then shrugged, almost sounding like himself for a moment, “A few more hours, at least. Enough time to be discovered.”

“Enough time to put together a plan,” Anica ignored the second half of Kieran’s statement, then turned to Maeira, “We keep watch the entire time. Any more scouts that find us we deal with immediately and hide the bodies.”

Maeira directed a concerned expression to her friend, “What are we planning, Anica?”

In the brief time before Anica responded, Cato already realized what was going to be said. He could see it in how she’d been acting since Pel’s death and knew that there wasn’t going to be any talking her out of it. He looked back down into his hands again, just waiting for the words.

And then they came, exactly as Cato expected.

“We’re going to destroy an army tonight.”