Part II - Our Common Grave :: 37
"Get the family to safety," Cyrus yelled, leaping into the back of the cart. His action startled Brisa and her mother, who had both hit the floor of the back of the cart, shielding their heads.
He ducked another arrow and moved towards the driver's bench.
"Are you ok?" he asked the huddled Emperor.
"I think so," came the reply. "Brisa and Briarna?"
"Safe for now," Cyrus assured.
"They are your priority, Cyneweard."
Cyrus nodded and eased backwards. He heard more arrows thumping into the sides of the cart and buried the notion of sticking his head up to check on the other guards. He could hear the sounds of tense combat right in front of the cart and assumed the worst. Parton had either betrayed them to the rebellion or had been pulled away and murdered in an alley. Cyrus had no more time to think on it.
"We have to get you two out of this cart," he whispered to the Emperor's real wife and daughter. "I'm going to slip off the back and help each of you out, one by one. I'll let you know when I'm ready. Nod if you understand."
They nodded. He slid out of the cart with care, making sure that his lance kept firm in its sheath ring on his back by stilling it with a hand. Once his boots were on cobble, he tapped the back of the wife's shoes. She responded by sliding backwards. He moved out of the way of her feet and grabbed her by the waist, helping her down.
"Hunch down behind the cart. There's arrows," he told her in a quiet breath. She nodded and did as asked.
As he tapped the heel of Brisa's thin, leather shoe, the heavy weight re-entered his stomach. All these years, all the hidden visits, all the veiled hints at her parentage and she turns out to be the hidden daughter of the Emperor. What a mess he had gotten himself into, falling in love with the one girl he could never have. A girl that by her very existence would throw the entire sociological balance of the Empire in utter upheaval. The Emperor kept laws on the books preventing interspecies relationships. Laws that kept Animas from ever holding positions of power. Laws that prevented the upward mobility of their entire set of races. And he had secretly married an Animas and fathered a half-breed. If the rebels knew this, it would be another nail in the coffin for the Imperial ruling class.
She fell into his arms and their eyes met. Brisa's large eyes sparkled even when under immediate threat. Cyrus shook his head and sat her down, motioning for her to stay low. She obliged.
"Move to the right side of the cart. There are no foes there. Stay quiet and low, keeping as many obstacles between you and the cart. Wait for me. I have to help out my fellows."
Brisa reached a hand out to him. He took it. "Come back to us safe," she said.
Briarna raised her brows but said nothing.
Cyrus nodded. "You can count on the Cyneweard."
He placed his back against the side of the cart and duck walked his way around to the left side, trying to get a handle on the situation.
Crack, crack, crack. He saw a Cyneweard in an odd position, slugthrower in hand, firing slug after slug into whomever was in front of him. Cyrus dare not yell out for his colleague as it could have been his death.
He crawled over and crouched next to the guard.
"Cyrus, North Guard. I never caught your name."
"Rand, East Guard. Is Parton with you?"
"No," Cyrus said, choosing not to tell the whole truth just yet. "Might be going around the other way."
Rand nodded and fired off the remaining shots in the slugthrower's cylinder. He crouched down and began reloading.
"Situation?" asked Cyrus, trying to peer over the man's considerably large head.
"Red masks blocked us in with a cart of their own. We took down a few of them but more are flooding in from the church across the street. The two front men are pinned between the carts. Horses are dead. Not sure about the right guardsmen. Is the Emperor ok?"
"For now. Those archers are honing in on him. We have to get them down. Have you eyeballed them?"
"In the garden of the church, in some hedges I think. They duck after every shot."
Cyrus nodded. "I'll run out in front to draw them out. Think you can hit them with that sidearm?"
"Ok, in three...two...one..."
Rand stood and fired off three slugs over Cyrus' head as he slipped between the cart's left front wheel and the small brick outcropping that had snagged it. No longer in the alleyway, he could see a dozen or so bodies on the street, all wearing red masks. He saw more up on the small hill, in the House of Humbolt's garden, trying to hop the fence.
An arrow grazed his back. The wound immediately started searing and he felt blood started to glide down the middle of his back. He kept going.
The red masks in the cart were gone, likely killed by the right guardsmen's lances. He hopped up and drew more arrow fire. Crack crack crack came Rand's reply. Cyrus didn't bother looking up to see if his colleague's aim had been true.
He turned the corner around the back of the red masks' cart and found two dead Cyneweard, arrows sticking out of their chests. Both had pulled their slugthrowers.
Cyrus reached down and grabbed one of the weapons. He now had two, which should help even the odds a bit.
"Rand," he called out. "Keep firing. Heading back over."
Crack crack crack came the reports as Cyrus found his way back to Rand's side.
"They're dead," he told Rand. "Archers?"
"I got one, I think."
"Ok, I'm going to try to move the Emperor. Keep going for them."
Rand nodded. Cyrus turned and hopped up onto Parton's cart. The Emperor was gone.
He rolled into the back of the cart. No one was there. Heart starting to pound, he crawled to the right edge of the cart bed and peeked over. No one.
A shout rang out. And then another. And then the strangest noise he had ever heard. It was halfway between a growl and a chortle, very nasally, and wild. The sound scared him to his core.
"Huntress! Three! They came from the barrels!" shouted Rand. Within the next few seconds, he was screaming for his life.
Cyrus froze, tried to get his heart rate down, and pulled the slugthrowers. He took in a sharp breath. Huntress? What was that?
His answer jumped onto the cart and tried to plunge a serrated blade into his skull. He jerked his head to the left and fired upwards into the attacker's belly. Blood rained down on him. The large, brown bunny grunted and was pushed off of her feet from the slugs impacting her core. She fell on top of him. He used his legs to kick the heavy attacker off of him and out the back of the cart.
The Animas was still alive, groaning loudly as he hopped off the back. He took a quick glance at her. She wore a black leather vest, a utility harness that was sprouting knife hilts, and thick leather breeches that plumed at the knee. Her large ears were pierced in many places. Her eyes and face were adorned with finger sized streaks of red paint or blood, he couldn't tell which.
Another scream filled the air. It wasn't an Animas.
"Brisa," he yelled and left the dying Huntress to her fate. "Where are you?"
"Here," came her shriek from around a corner.
Cyrus took the corner and was met with another cobble breezeway. Just beyond it he saw the Emperor and his family, cowering below the menacing glare of two huntresses. He raised his slugthrowers.
"Leave them or die," he growled, slowly moving forward, each weapon trained on a Huntress.
The two large bunny warriors turned and eyed him, and then looked just beyond him. He turned in time to receive a slash across his throat. Cold air rushed into his airway. He couldn't catch his breath. Sticky warmth was spreading across his chest and stomach. His knees became weak so he fell to them. He stared into the eyes of the huntress he had shot. She was cradling her stomach and wore a sinister grin.
He heard Brisa crying. Even that was melodious. Oh, how he wished he could hear her sing. But she was crying. Why was she crying? With some effort and an immense amount of pain, he turned his head and peered over his shoulder. She was running to him.
"No," he tried to yell but couldn't find the breath to push up and out of his mouth. His vision started to falter. With a wave of his hand, he tried to tell her to stay back. It didn't work.
She came to rest on her knees in front of him. Even after all these years and all his growth, she was still taller than he was. He smiled at her. Tears flowed freely from her eyes. She said something. He couldn't hear it. He leaned in. She kissed his forehead.
"I love you," he tried to say. Blood poured from his mouth instead. She gave him a warm smile as she pulled back, her soaking wet eyed boring into his own. She came in and out of focus.
And then a brown hand jammed a knife deep into the side of her skull. Her eyes rolled up. She fell back. He fell forward, face landing on her stomach.
Singing. He heard singing.