The night was warmer than Cato had expected. It was certainly not as bad as some nights had been where he’d grown up, but he was fairly certain Cyronell was generally colder on the whole. It occurred to him that he had been fairly certain of a great many things until recently.

Now, though, Cato was sure of only one thing: At some point very recently, the world had decided to go completely mad. But rather than inform him of this new status quo in a polite way, the world had seen fit to toss him straight into the center of it all.

Considering all of this, it should have been no surprise where he now found himself. But, apparently, Cato was a slow learner.

Carefully, as he knelt behind a rock barely able to hide him, Cato leaned out to get a second look at what was beyond. Sure enough, the view had not changed dramatically. A short jog away sat the outer edge of camps of the Mad Lord’s besieging army. Torches dimly lit the red and white striped tents so that it wasn’t too difficult to see soldiers moving between them in a surprisingly casual fashion. Beyond that, the catapults continued to hurl massive boulders at the walls of the Citadel beyond. The ground still shook with each impact, but the wall itself seemed like it could go on with this treatment for weeks. And the defenders within the Citadel still did nothing but hide behind the walls.

It was a strange sight, for a large number of reasons that Cato was not about to start listing.

“Is it clear?” Kyros whispered from behind Cato.

That was the real source of Cato’s most immediate worry. Not that his brother would give them away, but that there was no way this rock could hide them both if even one half-blind soldier happened to look their way. So far, that hadn’t happened. So far.

Cato pulled back behind the rock as best he could and put his back to it, “Not really.”

Kyros tilted his head to get a look of his own, “This seems like a very bad plan.”

“If you had disagreed louder before, we might not be here,” Cato shook his head and looked at the small, cylindrical object in his hand. It was fairly mundane, as far as supposedly magical things went, but Maeira assured him it would do what it was supposed to if he followed her instructions.

He turned and looked off to his right. Somewhere in that direction were Kieran and Maeira. They had the furthest to go and would be in position last, so Anica’s plan had the two of them as the first to act when they were ready. That wasn’t the part that Cato had a problem with. It was the next one, where he was supposed to use the object and somehow not be killed moments later.

Well, and how all of that would result in the destruction of an entire army. There had been quite a lot of telling Cato to trust them without a sufficient amount of time spent actually explaining. The worst part was that Kyros didn’t have any problem with any of that at the time, so it left Cato as the only one that didn’t like the plan he knew nothing about.

“Too late to complain now,” Cato said to himself under his breath. Not that timing had ever stopped him from complaining before. The real problem was he had no alternatives to offer, and so here he was. Again.

“So,” Kyros once again interrupted his brother’s thoughts, “I’m not entirely clear on what I’m supposed to do.”

Cato sighed. It was going to be a very long night. He held up the small item in his hand for Kyros to see and said, “After I use this, we try not to be killed when every soldier nearby knows exactly where we’re hiding.”

Though Kyros didn’t seem at all pleased with the answer, he wasn’t given a chance to say anything. Off to their right, there was a sound that caught both of their attentions. Looking that direction, they saw a small light arc up and over the center of the army camp. The moment it reached its apex, there was a bright red flash and a the light formed the shape of an inverse triangle with markings that meant nothing within. Seconds later, the light faded.

Cato gripped the item in his hand tighter and began to count silently to himself. There really wasn’t any turning back now, whether he liked it or not.

When he reached ten, several loud pops echoed from off to the right, causing them to look that direction again. There were more lights now. This time coming from the camps and streaking across the night to some target they couldn’t spot.

Kyros spoke quietly again, “I hope they’re alright…”

Cato agreed, but wasn’t about to lose count. He was also far more focused on the shouts he could hear from the soldiers that were near them. There were far more voices than he liked to hear so close. Still, he kept to the count.

“Shouldn’t we see it by now?” Kyros had never been very good at sitting and waiting.

“I’m keeping count, just in case,” Cato’s response came out sharper than he’d meant it to be, but he was trying to stay focused.

Sixty. They should have seen something else by now.

Cato looked to the distant lights off to the right again, still a constant from the camp and aimed outward. Mages trying to hit a target. At least the fact that they were continuing suggested they hadn’t hit yet.

And then, right as Cato reached seventy, there was a new light. It arced towards the camp, much lower than the one that had started it all, but was the same red. In fact, he was only able to catch sight of it for a second before it was drowned out by the magic again.

Immediately, Cato did as he’d been instructed. With his free hand, he grabbed the opposite end of the object and twisted until there was a distinct pop. The cylinder started to glow red right away, and he leaned out and threw it as hard as he could towards the tents.

By the time it landed a few feet away from the nearest of the tents, the object was glowing a bright red that would be visible for quite a distance. Both Cato and Kyros kept their heads down and held their breath, finally turning to look towards the left.

Just as they turned, far off in the distance of the night, another red arced towards the tents there.

And that was it. Now, according to Anica and Maeira, they had only to wait.

Which meant that, of course, that was the exact moment an arrow zipped just inches over their heads. Before either of the brothers could react, two small noises on the other side of the rock indicated more arrows being loosed in their direction.

“You know,” Cato didn’t bother to whisper at this point, “I really have no idea what we’re supposed to do now.”

The brothers kept down as best they could behind the single rock as another group of arrows managed to barely avoid them. Cato and Kyros could only look down at their swords and wonder how long this would go on before whatever was going to happen next actually happened.

And Cato could think of at least one positive turn of events: Better arrows than magic.