Collin was getting used to being dead.
He hated deceiving his friends and kin. He hated letting them mourn him while keeping his resurrection a secret, but Caelynn pointed out that revealing he was alive would bring up questions they could not answer. Dayne and Lincon added that Thyla likely had spies in The Court and the last thing they wanted was for Thyla to realize the scope of Caelynn’s power. Then they discovered Collin could still do magic even without an artifact, and that sealed the matter. He reluctantly agreed to remain hidden.
It took less than a week for the usefulness of Collin’s ‘death’ to make itself clear. Thyla’s supporters made near-daily attempts to break through sealed entrances. The attacks were half-hearted but persistent enough to ensure Caelynn remained in The Court with Lincon and Dayne either at her side or bolstering defenses. Half-breeds who had previously fled The Court returned within a few days reporting assaults by thralls under Thyla’s control. They had no trouble reaching the main doors, but anyone trying to leave came under energy rifle fire. Thyla was driving half-breeds back to The Court and ensuring nobody could leave.
“I’m not willing to sit around waiting to see what she has planned for us,” Caelynn declared. “We have to get out of here.”
“The getting out isn’t the problem,” Lincon noted. “Between you, me, and Collin we have enough magic to leave any time we want. It’s a matter of where we go afterwards.”
“I may be able to help there.” Collin held up a tablet displaying an image of a warehouse. “Unused, good condition, and in a little-used area.”
Lincon took the tablet and studied the information. “Ellery, Region Thelos — that isn’t exactly walking distance.” Dayne leaned in and tapped a button on the tablet. Lincon quirked a brow at the new information. “You’re suggesting we rent cars?”
“We own it,” Dayne replied. “The company is legit, but three quarters of the fleet is reserved for our use. And the best part is Thyla doesn’t know about it.”
“How long will it take to get everything ready?” Caelynn asked.
“Lots of little details to work out…” Dayne replied with a shrug. “Maybe a week to form a solid plan?”
“Once we have a plan, I can slip out and set up the warehouse while you three get everyone ready to move,” Collin offered. “Maybe another week, including travel time.”
“We don’t need the warehouse perfect,” Dayne noted. “Comfort isn’t as important as making sure it’s secure and defensible.”
“How will you get out without being seen?” Caelynn asked. “Even if we open one of the old exits, Thyla’s people are watching them.”
Collin cracked a grin. “Guess I’ll just have to make my own.”
“I can help you with that,” Lincon offered. “We’ll need new escape tunnels anyways unless we want to run everyone through a gauntlet of rife fire.”
Caelynn nodded her approval. “Then it looks like we have some work to do.”
The plan came together faster than any of them anticipated and, ten days later, Collin strolled through the warehouse district conducting his final check of exterior defenses. He paused to adjust his cap and tapped a button on his watch. A holoemitter in the band projected a mini tablet across his palm and he pulled up a map to confirm the location of civil monitoring. Using the bill of the cap to shield his face from the monitors, he found the camera closest to the main door. He focused his attention on the camera — or, more specifically, on the metal components within — and concentrated. After a few moments, a wisp of smoke leaked out of the casing. He nonchalantly meandered around the building and repeated the process with a camera near the rear entrance.
He went back inside and performed one last visual inspection of the stockpile of supplies he’d assembled the past few days. The food was far from extravagant, but there would be enough for everyone. Cots, on the other hand, were not as easy to come by, and Collin worried some would have to sleep on the floor. He made a mental note to look for floor mats.
He turned to the medical stockpile and couldn’t help the small, proud smile that curved his lips. The Alfath themselves had little need for first-aid supplies — their rapid healing meant most injuries were little more than memories in a few hours. But they had a number of humans who remained loyal to them and thus would need some of the more basic treatments. Because Alfath were able to shrug off regular injuries, those who required treatment would need more significant care than a bandage, and so Collin had assembled a mini mobile medical center. His proud smile turned bittersweet as he simultaneously hoped they would not have need to use the supplies, and wished he were able to be the one providing the care.
His inspection complete, he climbed the metal stairs leading to the warehouse office. The cramped space with cots shoved against one wall would make a poor substitute for Elyoniem, but it would suffice. He flopped onto the threadbare couch that had served as his bed the past few nights and prepared to get some sleep. In the morning he’d return to The Court — his home — for probably the last time.
He’d barely fallen asleep when a staccato alarm trilled from his watch. He fumbled with the buttons a moment before activating the mini tablet and accessing comms.
Lincon appeared on the display, his face smudged with blood and dirt. “Change of plans — we’re evacuating now.”
Collin frowned and sat up. “Is Caelynn all right?”
“She’s fine,” Lincon assured. “We didn’t take any significant injuries, but Thyla’s people were able to breach the main doors before we could repel them. We can’t stay here any longer.”
Collin’s heart sank. “I understand. Everything’s ready. I’ll clear out and watch for any trouble that may follow you here.” He hesitated before continuing. “Listen, I know you have a lot going on, but I need you to do me a favor. There’s a box under my bed. It has the Thelos Academy seal on the lid. I understand if you can’t bring it with you, but please don’t leave it for Thyla to find.”
“What’s in it?” Lincon frowned. “Anything dangerous?”
“Nothing like that,” Collin felt a flush rise on his cheeks and paused to compose himself. “Just little things like mementos and keepsakes, but I can’t stomach the thought of Thyla and Nyx getting ahold of them. I’d rather you destroy it.”
“I understand,” Lincon’s voice and expression softened. “I’ll take care of it.” He closed the connection.
Collin sighed and hung his head. He’d already lost his mentor, friends, and standing, and now he was losing his home and history. This was yet another step to his non-existence.
Being dead sucked.