“I will stand unwavering before threats both familiar and alien to ensure humanity’s survival.”
The words of the oath rang through Lincon’s mind as he mounted the stairs and reached for the main doors of The Court. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing himself to unclench his jaw before stepping inside. He had to do this.
The Alfath were the threat. They were the enemy — the alien enemy — who hurt and kidnapped and murdered others for whatever they wanted. Though most people had never heard about them, growing up in Dawn’s Light’s headquarters meant Lincon was always aware of the hidden danger. Since he was a child, Lincon knew he would grow up to fight the Alfath.
Now he was about to walk into their stronghold where they held and tortured his father for nearly two months and offer his help and protection. His friends… his family… everyone would believe he’d broken his oath to follow after a woman he’d only known a little more than a few weeks.
There was no point in denying he loved Caelynn. For six years his assigned duty was to secretly watch over her and protect her in case the Alfath discovered her true identity. In that time he came to know her grace and temper, her joys and pains, her triumphs and bad decisions. How could he not fall in love with her?
But his reason to stay was more tactical than emotional. Caelynn’s magic was just starting to emerge, but she was already far more powerful than even she realized. Lincon had little doubt the director would order her locked away in an attempt to contain and study her if he knew. Staying with her meant he could help her grow into her talent and learn to control her powers. Staying with her meant he could continue protecting her — from the Alfath, from Dawn’s Light, and if necessary, from herself.
He stood in the back of the Great Hall as Caelynn addressed the remaining Alfath, offering comfort, assurance, and hope. Afterwards, he followed her and her new bodyguard, Dayne, through the labyrinthine tunnels of The Court to Elyoniem, the luxurious quarters reserved for the Alfath rulers.
Once inside, Caelynn turned to him, her expression stern. “I told you to go home.”
“I tried.” He shrugged. “I couldn’t.” He stepped close to wrap her in a gentle hug and could feel her tremble despite her strong facade. “I couldn’t leave you, Heartsong. Not now. You shouldn’t have to face this alone.” He glanced over to Dayne. “No offense.”
“None taken.” The bodyguard nodded, his eyes averted from their reunion. “I’m sorry, Amarrah, but there are some matters we need to address right away.”
She sighed and pulled herself from Lincon’s embrace. “My name is Caelynn.”
“The name Amarrah has a gravitas for the Alfath that Caelynn never will. Think of it as a title — one that the Alfath cling to at times when they need hope.”
Caelynn smirked. “Collin said that it was more than a title, but I understand. At least call me Caelynn in private?”
Dayne bowed his head. “If that is your wish.”
While Caelynn and Dayne discussed her name, Lincon stepped aside and slipped a thin tube from his pocket. He ran a finger along a seam to release the catch and unrolled the flexscreen. Spreading it out on a table, his fingers flew over the device, deactivating the automatic reports to Dawn’s Light before diving into their systems to ensure he maintained access to necessary information.
“Is that still restricted tech?” Dayne spoke up, nodding towards the flexscreen. “Isn’t Dawn’s Light going to come back looking for it?”
Lincon shook his head. “I’ve disabled the automatic reports and tracking, and I only know of two people with the skill to circumvent that. There’s no way Dawn’s Light will let Marken anywhere near their systems, and I’m counting on Evy liking Caelynn and me enough to not call up an orbital strike as soon as she finds us.”
Dayne nodded, not looking entirely convinced. He turned back to Caelynn. “Not including us, we currently have fifty adults and thirteen children remaining in The Court,” he reported. “The battle opened several rifts to the surface. I’ve already ordered guards on them, but we are still vulnerable. Even with Thyla captured, her people will be back to finish what they started, so we need to secure those openings.”
“It’s worse.” Lincon scowled at the flexscreen. “Thyla’s escaped.”
Dayne blinked at Lincon. “You’re tapped into Dawn’s Light?” Lincon shot him a warning look but Dayne just cocked an eyebrow. “Is it supposed to be a mystery where you’d get information like that? I’m just surprised that you got in so quickly. Does your secret source say how she got away?”
“Looks like your person on the inside was the regional commander for our Raqmu outpost. He murdered the transport driver and released Thyla. She had someone pick her up, so either they were followed or it was arranged ahead of time.” Lincon smirked. “She killed him for his efforts.”
“That someone would be Nyx.” Dayne frowned. “With Thyla free, her people will attack again soon. We need to shore-up our defenses.”
“We need to get out of here,” Caelynn declared.
Dayne shook his head. “We don’t have anywhere to go. Besides, we can’t leave until we locate and secure the Archives.”
“Innocent lives are more important than historical records,” Caelynn shot back.
“Not these records,” Dayne countered. “You stayed because the Alfath need you, but let’s be real: these people are strangers to you. I grew up with them. I attended their weddings and celebrated their birthdays. I don’t want to risk their lives, either, but none of us want to live in a world where Thyla has the power she would gain from those Archives. Those remaining would say the same.”
“It could take months before we find where Professor Jorrall hid the Archives.” Caelynn shook her head. “I can’t leave these people at risk while we search.”
The door to one of the private chambers opened. “I know where they are.” A young man with dark, wavy hair nearly fell through the opening, but managed to grab the door frame and lean against it for support. A sheen of sweat covered his olive skin, but he flashed Caelynn a goofy grin. “Most of ‘em, anyways. At least, the ones we know about.”
Dayne pivoted to face the unexpected arrival and sidestepped to place himself between the young man and Caelynn.
Caelynn paled. “No…” She stammered. “Crushed… dead… you… We all saw it.” She looked up to Dayne. “Didn’t we?”
Lincon cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah… about that…” He rose from his seat and went over to help the young man to a couch. “I told you to rest.”
“I got hungry,” Collin Foley complained as he flopped onto the cushions.
“Dayne, could you get the doors?” Lincon nodded to the entrance. “I’d rather not have anyone else find out that Caelynn brought Collin back to life.”