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“What is it?” said Airomem, pushing to the middle of the crowd, a sweating Lear soldier with a fresh scratch along his neck waving her over. Praeter, Prometh, and I followed, concern crossing all of our faces.
“Trouble, coming quick,” gasped the soldier, his hand to his neck, feeling the shallow cut. “Look for yourselves, approaching down the hallway. Just visible around the corner.”
Airomem darted to the front lines, replacing an edge soldier, her stun guns flashing as she stole a glance down at the approaching Agrarians. Her face turned white, and from our position, we heard her curse, taking out two Agrarians with quick jabs before retreating.
“My God,” she breathed. “A whole section of knives is coming. There must be forty of them, all armed. There’s no way we can hold.”
“We’ll have to,” answered Praeter, just as a voice traveled over the fighting, just loud enough to be heard. Sitient’s voice.
“The Lear have always been cowards and have always been cornered! But today, the Lear will be no more; today, we finish them with a final strike! Lear Princess, come out to fight, know that I will carve through the bones of your soldiers for your precious head, and dine upon you tonight in victory!”
“Damn bastard,” hissed Airomem, stepping forward, but Praeter put a hand on her arm.
“Wait,” he said, but she cut him off.
“No, it’s time this ended. It’s either we destroy them now or we lose.”
“I never said not to fight, daughter,” he said, his eyes blurring. “Only to not be rash. Together, we fight – to an end or to a new beginning. We need every capable body.”
They moved, sliding to the front of the line, their voices calling to the soldiers, working those not yet at the front into a frenzy. And I moved forward with them, Prometh’s voice chasing me.
“Historian, where do you think you’re going? You can’t fight, not with those hands.”
“But I can still push,” I answered. “And while I push, I can think!” I took a place next to Tom, helping to brace the line of soldiers. His eyes met mine, and he gave a brief smile.
“Not as strong as used to be,” he said, eyeing my attempts to brace myself against the ground and side wall. “Should have gone to heavy room more.”
“Maybe if it wasn’t destroyed, I would be able to go back,” I answered. “But this will have to do.”
“Destroyed,” he sighed, shaking his head, the smile leaving his face. “Not just heavy room destroyed. All destroyed.”
“But soon, when we survive, there will be a new ship, Tom. A better one. We just have to make it there.”
The smile did not reappear on his face, but rather the frown deepened as his brow furrowed.
“Tom like old ship,” he said, looking ahead to where the Lear soldiers prepared for the onslaught, Airomem and Praeter sharing the center, their voices starting a chant.
“For the Lear!” they shouted, their fighting turning into a dance at the cadence. “For the Lear! For the Lear!”
The soldiers joined in, their voices deafening, their stances in defiance, just as the first of the Agrarians entered their vision, pushing their colleagues away in a rush to attack. They were the biggest I had seen, men laced in scars so thick they could have been clothes, eyes bloodshot with rage, bodies twitching in anticipation.
Sitient was at their center, his mouth opening in a battle cry, launching himself forward into the Lear to spearhead the attack directly at Airomem.
“No!” I shouted, my mind racing, watching as Praeter blocked a blow meant for his daughter by attempting to stun Sitient’s attacking arm, but Sitient easily evaded the attack. To their left and right, the Lear fell in a wave, knives cutting down the first layer of defense as more stepped forwards to take their place, only to be cut down themselves.
“Tom like old ship,” Tom repeated next to me, his voice shaking as I heard Airomem start the chant once more, the Agrarians returning the noise twice as loud. “Tom like old ship.”
“We have to fight, Tom! Don’t lose focus!” I shouted, my eyes on Airomem, watching as she narrowly missed another swipe from the side. “Oh God, what can we do? What can we do?”
“This Tom’s home,” Tom continued, taking a deep breath as his normally deep voice cracked. “Tom’s home, only choose one.”
“That’s right, Tom. We’ve already chosen one!”
Then Tom gripped me at the hip, his eyes blazing as they looked into mine, his fingers clutched halfway around my torso. His hair was mangled, coming down across his face, strands of grey appearing where they had not before.
“Tom, what are you doing? Stop it, we have to focus. Focus!” I yelled, trying to break his trance.
Even his face appeared muscular from this close, the tissue contorting as he formed the next few words, his grip on me becoming tighter.
“Only absolutely necessary,” he said, as if his words made complete sense. “Horatius, make sure I made the right decision.”
Then, with a wrenching feeling, his hand left my hip as he launched himself forward, careening into those in front of him.
And Tom broke the Lear line.
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