Normally, night didn’t bother Cato. He wasn’t the type to go stalking around in the dark, but that didn’t mean he was afraid of it. A great many things just needed to be done in the cover of darkness, so sometimes there was no choice. But this night had been different. Being hunted by creatures that looked to be made of an absence of light tended to make one nervous when turning corners in an unfriendly city.

That bit of excitement was behind them, however, so that was something to put in the win column. Hopefully.

It was the method of their escape from Oriona’s walls that was the source of Cato’s current unease. Pel and Anica had led Cato and his brother into the tunnels beneath the tiered city for only a short time before they found themselves in what looked like a newly dug cave. The floor was wet, and it wasn’t long before the water reached their knees.

At that point, Cato had figured out their plan. It made perfect sense, of course. Oriona had only one large gate to enter and exit the city. It led to the single road heading north to the rest of the continent, and it was the most heavily watched portion of the city behind only the temple complex at the city’s southern edge. So, of course, there was not going to be any escape made in that direction.

And since the rest of Oriona was built against the coastline, that left only one other way to get out.

Cato did not particularly enjoy sailing. Yes, it was said that his people were renowned sailors and masters of the sea, but he’d grown up in the center of Orincia, far away from any water larger than a lake. He liked something under his feet that didn’t move all of the time. Something solid was also important. Water provided neither of those.

To be perfectly honest, it was unfair to even call their escape from Oriona sailing. The boat they used barely deserved the title. Raft was even being polite. There was no sail, and it was more a floating hunk of wood barely large enough for the four of them.

They floated along by only some magical push that Pel had given them and continued to use every half hour or so to correct their heading, but that was it. The only light on the raft was a small crystal that the Elven woman held over that massive tome they had taken earlier in the night as she pored over its contents.

Cato looked behind them again. He was fairly sure that he could make out Oriona’s walls, but the night was too dark for him to be sure. The moon wasn’t out, and the stars did little but taunt him as specks of light reflecting on the endless, black sea that refused to be calm. Off to his left was North, and he could see the southern coastline without too much difficulty. Why they couldn’t just land and move by foot was still beyond him, but Anica and Pel insisted it was safer out on the water until at least dawn. Cato refused to look to his right, though. South was where the Wall sat, a distant, darkly glowing red off on the horizon. It was far more unnerving than usual and he knew it was due to the idea that those creatures after them were from the other side.

“You should get some sleep,” Anica looked over to Cato from where she sat next to Pel. She nodded towards where Kyros was, curled up and snoring, “Unless you snore, too.”

Cato glared at his brother’s sleeping form. That man could fall asleep anywhere on anything. It was extremely annoying, “I’m fine. You two making any progress?”

Pel glanced up at him briefly, her narrow eyes managing to look almost sympathetic rather than the usual constant-annoyance they projected, “The text is dense and much of it is written in a magical script, as well as in some kind of code. This will take time.”

That was a line he was more annoyed to hear. This will take time. So would getting to land. So would figuring out what those creatures were. So would deciding what to do next. In fact, where they were even headed would take time. Cato understood the need to think, but they’d been on the water for hours and there seemed to be no progress beyond their little raft floating along.

“Actually, there is one thing,” Anica looked to Pel and they exchanged a few whispered words before the young woman’s eyes turned back to Cato, “The tome mentions a secondary location for learning about those…creatures.”

“We really need to find a better name for them,” Cato muttered it to himself, trying to ignore the fact that they were clearly thinking of directly going into a place like the temple cellar they’d recently escaped from. As much as he was willing to help, he had no real desire to walk into another dark, evil place filled with horrible things that wanted him dead.

Pel, however, either missed his tone or enjoyed being difficult, “The priests seem to refer to them as Ancient Ones, actually.”

Shaking his head, Cato turned to the coastline again, longing for something under him that didn’t constantly have to move, “Thank you for making it worse.”

“I don’t like that name, either,” at least Anica agreed. It was also nice to see that she had completely ditched the generic foreign girl persona, “There’s a cave about ten miles to the east. The tome has a good map of its location. It’s the only lead we can decipher from this right now.”

Cato let out a loud, dramatic sigh and leaned back to look up at the stars, “So right back in we go.”

Anica managed to sound apologetic when she replied, “We don’t have much choice. We need to learn more, and deciphering this tome—”

“Will take time,” Cato finished it for her.

“We’ll do our best to contact some friends who should be nearby,” Anica continued speaking without missing a beat, “But the priests know we have the tome. They have to know this map is in ours hands.”

Again, Cato had no trouble finishing the thought, “So we have to get in and out before they can magically teleport in and either hide everything or set a horrible trap that kills us all.”

For a few moments, they sat in silence, only the sounds of the ocean around them to annoy Cato. But eventually Anica responded in a surprisingly cheery voice, “I think that sums it up nicely. So we’ll just have to move quickly.”

Of course, moving quickly didn’t matter when one’s enemies could appear at any moment out of thin air. Cato didn’t need to say that, though he made sure to think it as loudly as possible. Maybe Pel could read minds and that would annoy her. He needed some kind of victory here, as he’d already committed to helping these people and Cato was far too stubborn to go back on his word now.

Even if it was the smart thing to do.

But, truthfully, the past day had been filled with Cato not doing the smart thing. He decided that if there was ever a time to start, it wasn’t going to be while floating out on the ocean, in the dark, propelled only by magic, and possibly pursued by horrible creatures that shouldn’t exist. With all of that, the smart thing was probably to simply drown and have it over with.

And Cato was too stubborn for that.