Tala’s right hand twitched.
She focused on it, tried to steady it, but it twitched again.
Then shivered and tingled.
She dropped the torque wrench with a clatter and grabbed her right arm with her left and lay back against the cut basalt floor under the truck.
Almost done. Just a few more adjustments and the ballista truck would be ready.
She had to keep going.
When was the last time she had slept?
She couldn’t remember. Her head was too thick and fuzzy.
She had to get some rest.
Now would be a good time.
No. The Empire was outside, camped just out of range of the new wall. They had made no initial assault, not for four whole days, just set up their siege equipment and waited.
And fired their rockets off every night, bombarding the city at range.
It was hard to sleep with things blowing up.
Harder still with the nightmares.
The floor felt comfortable. A good place to just take a nap.
How long did the Imperial forces intend to continue?
Could Sunfire Falls survive?
The thunderbolts had the range to respond to the rockets, but they had a limited supply of those, and somehow the Empire always seemed to move the most important targets right when a Salshiran ballista team was aiming at them. They were making more thunderbolts as fast as they could, and the Manalein and Aothani were smuggling more in through the deep tunnels, but it was never going to be enough that they could waste them like the Empire wasted rockets.
And they needed to. From the reports Tala had seen, Salshiran responses were making a dent, but not much of one. If it was a question of who would wear out first, it was going to be the Salshiran militia and their limited supplies, and not the vast horde of hardened Imperials and the continuous supply chain they had running to them through the pass they had taken.
She had also heard that the Empire was sacrificing people in sight of the city walls, laying them open on portable altars while still alive. Some soldiers had recognized relatives, taken from the surrounding towns when they didn’t flee fast enough. Others looked like slaves brought along with the Imperial forces for that purpose.
What was their goal with that?
Tala knew several, but didn’t want to think of any of them.
But it certainly raised the question of what would happen to all of them when the city fell. The Empire was known for taking slaves from the lands that it conquered.
Many, many, slaves.
Would she be one of them?
What would happen to an attractive half-Tixerie? In other parts of Eddenloe her people were kept as toys. Was she going to end up as some Imperial commander’s bed-slave?
Or die on an altar?
“Aihay, save us,” she whispered, almost certain that he no longer heard her. Everything she had hoped for was catching on fire and burning to ash. There was no word from Ean. The army he was in charge of had gone to ground and stopped flashing messages to avoid detection. There was also no rescue coming from the rest of Salshira. They were having enough trouble just holding the Empire at the other passes.
She had just wanted a husband and children and a safe kingdom.
How had all this happened?
How had everything fallen?
She closed her hand around the torque wrench. It shivered and tingled again until she had to let go and she started to cry with big, wracking sobs.
She was glad she was the only one working in her alcove.
Perhaps no one would hear her cry.
She stopped when the bells started ringing. The tolling came from all across the city and from towers in the palace above, reverberating through the stone walls. The bells meant another attack was coming.
Was it night already? When had that happened?
She rolled out from under the truck and went to one of the windows, looking out through the deep slit in the stone at the black sky above.
The first rocket came arcing down in a trail of orange and burst too soon, illuminating the forest of darkened buildings it was aimed at. More followed, most hitting something first and then exploding, starting fires, demolishing rooms in buildings, killing people.
In one flash she was certain she saw someone thrown off a skyscraper top to perish on the streets below.
Maybe it was her imagination.
Then the Garagrans came.
It was the first night they’d come.
Tala was carried back to childhood, to the fires in Telensgrove. To her father going out to meet the great beating wings in the sky and never coming home.
It was happening again. Only this time no one at all would be coming home.
Light burst across the sky as great shadows descended and raked building tops with white fire and long shafts of light rose up from the city to search for them. Tala heard the twang and crack of the lightning strike ballistas firing, but few of the explosions that would accompany a hit.
She knew that the attack would be short. The Garagrans couldn’t fight for long at night, it was simple fact.
But the burning buildings, the Hahrahx towers on fire from the inside out where Garagrans had landed and breathed flame into their tinder-dry interiors…
It told Tala there would be more.
And soon in the day.
And then nothing would be left.
If she survived…
She collapsed to her knees and turned her back to the window, settling her spine against the stone. Her right hand crept to her belt, where she kept her work knife.
She wouldn’t be some commander’s toy.
Couldn’t bear his children and his violent pleasure.
She pulled the knife out, snapped the blade open, and placed it to her left wrist, finding the ulnar artery with the tip.
Someone else would finish the truck.
Her right arm shivered. Twitched.
A tear rolled down her cheek as she pressed the tip in, felt the pain bright and sparking, the skin part at the sharpness.
One more day.
She would make it one more day.
Maybe she could die fighting something when the Garagrans came again.
She withdrew the knife and looked at the red on the tip, then cleaned it and put it away. Found the torque wrench and punched her right arm until it stopped twitching and her grip steadied.
One more day.