Star trailed after Robin. No matter how much of a rogue Robin could be. She still wasn’t good enough to notice being tailed. The two gnomes were high above, the twilight drake they rode obscured by clouds. Min was hugging Star’s waist, trusting her to drive. He always trusted her to do so. He was horrible at driving. And Drakey wouldn’t accept any other driver anyway.
“Looks like Moonbrook. I’m going to set him down a bit away. I’ll go first. Wait for the signal. I have a feeling Ailke will be here. I hate to use them as bait, but—”
Star smiled and leaned in to kiss Min on the cheek. “No other way to draw her out until I see where she strikes from.”
Min returned her smile. “Of course. I’ll wait for the signal. Clumsy warrior. Makes noise.”
Star reluctantly pulled away from Min, winking. “We can’t all be as graceful as me.”
“Or as beautiful.”
“I love you.” Star said as she faded into the shadows.
Min’s eyes seemed to brighten at those words. Star loved that. “I love you.”
* * *
Robin didn’t know what to expect. She’d been accompanied by Oxplow, Romind, and many fellow Templars. They wouldn’t abandon her. But something felt off. Wrong. She was certain that the blue crystal shouldn’t have been that easy to retrieve.
She wasn’t shocked to see Erin, the glittermancer, and Selena, the shadowmancer, waiting for them outside the inn. She also wasn’t thrown off by the shower of glitter that rained down on the group upon exiting the dilapidated inn. Erin wasn’t really a glittermancer, but she’d sure earned the title Zen had given her.
My little puppet.
Robin shivered, barely noticing the battle that had begun raging around her. Zen, Koryander and Oxplow seemed to be handling Erin and Selena fairly well. She heard noise behind her; Rann was struggling against something. Maybe the crystal was reacting. Romind was holding her hand. She was safe. He would protect her. He would…was in her way. Romind was in her way. He needed to be removed.
Selena was flinging shadow towards Oxplow. Erin was seemingly captured by Zen and Kory after being pummeled by what looked like the end of a weapon and a textbook. A…textbook? What? Robin shook her head. No, she wouldn’t kill Romind. What in the fel. What was she thinking? She lov–
Knock him out.
Robin faintly remembered pointing to something, then clubbing Romind over the head with a chi-laced fist. He dropped to the grass without a bit of resistance.
Idella, Rann, and Kage were surprised. They gasped at Robin, but she barely heard them. She felt an unfamiliar energy welling up. It wasn’t chi. Robin began to reach out to the new tempting source of power. As she touched the energy, it flowed over her like a warm patch of sunlight on a chilly day. Robin recoiled, cutting the connection. It was magic. She refused. No. No. No. No.
Her fist-weapon slashed into Oxplow’s stomach. She didn’t recall moving, or making the choice to strike him. He was speaking, but she wasn’t able to comprehend his words. She was still capable of refusing magic, but that seemed to be all. Kage came next. She struck the mage with white chi lightning, resisting the order to conjure flame in its place.
You’re infuriatingly strong-willed, Robin.
Robin blinked, her vision returned to normal. Words became comprehensible again. She looked around at the group. Rann was holding her straw hat out to her. Why wasn’t she wearing it? Oxplow and Kage were calling her name.
Fight them. Kill them.
No. No. No. NO. I’m not. Not yours.
You were never anything else.
Robin felt something release her; like strings being dropped. She stared at her assembled friends. Oxplow was bleeding. Romind was unconscious. Kage was injured.
* * *
Star waited on the rooftop of the inn. Violet was down below, circling invisibly to shield whomever the throwing knife or bolt would be aimed for. She didn’t have to wait long. The odd druid, Zen, was the target. And the throw came, conveniently, from the other side of the roof.
Zen had already shielded himself, but Violet shimmered around the cat anyway, signaling Min. The knife fell harmlessly to the ground.
Star threw a knife at the only conceivable hiding spot left on the roof. She was rewarded by a surprised hiss of pain. The poisoned blade was buried in Ailke’s arm. All Star had to do was wait for the paralysis to work its magic. Until then, stealth was over. Ailke knew she was there.
The two rogues clashed on the top of the roof. Star had murder in her eyes; delighting in every injury she gave Sword. Come on, Min…come on…I’ll kill her if you don’t.
Ailke was colder, not taking any pleasure in her art. The older assassin reacted mostly in time with her less sane target’s movements, but the poison was slowing her down. She wouldn’t win. Not this time.
Minutes later, Star’s blades were coated in blood. Ailke’s strength was flagging; she was losing mobility in her upper body. The poison was working. Star didn’t care; she wanted to see Ailke bleed. The orb came just in time. The glass shattered between the two rogues, hitting close enough to make Star stagger. The blast of pure energy struck the Ailke with greater force. Star’s opponent slid down the rest of the way down the roof. She hit the ground, dazed, and turned around…right into Min’s fist.
Ailke was down.
Star stood, feeling irritated. She was furious. Someone had stopped her k—She blinked, noticing Min below. The rage calmed and she smiled. “I HAD THAT!”
“I know, love. I just thought that might end things faster!” Despite Star’s weapons and clothing being blood-splattered, he smiled right back at her. In that…adorable…I love you forever way.
* * *
Ceera stepped out of the building that covered the entrance to the mines. She was clapping. And Robin knew. She knew. She’d never been let out of the box. And she never would be.
She faintly heard her aunt bragging, taunting Oxplow. She’d wanted Robin to become a monk. She’d wanted her trained, so she’d be a useful weapon. A rogue. A monk. A mage.
Oxplow, angered, charged into a trap of flame and failed his strike on Ceera. It was the first time Robin had seen the Muffin Mage put on a display of sheer power. She wanted to help, but knew Ceera would stop her, could stop her.
They’d lost Erin and Selena. Somehow Ceera had managed to barter for their freedom. Star and Min seemed to have captured Ailke, but Ceera didn’t care. Why would she? She had Robin, weak and pathetic, yet dangerous Robin Gyroshock.
There was no victory to celebrate when Ceera left them alone in the charred area of Moonbrook. Kory was yelling, demanding to know every detail right that instant. Robin couldn’t handle it; she dissolved into a puddle of tears. Romind was conscious again, he held her, but it didn’t help the truth. She would never be let out of that box. Never.
* * *
Star and Min walked off, hand-in-hand, after explaining a few things to the infuriated co-leader of the Templars, Koryander. Min was towing the netted and tied Ailke behind them as they walked. Neither needed to say anything to know what they had to do. No one hurt the Gyroshock family. Not even one of their own.