A cursed sphere of alchemical ball-shot whizzed past Iluchus’s head. She howled in surprise, feeling it graze her hair just below her headdress. A muscular morehl warrior was about to bear down on her. Instead, he fell in a shrieking panic. Arterial blood sprayed like a geyser from his neck and steam vented skyward.

Iluchus snapped her head and locked eyes with Shedakor. So much for the morehl who never misses, she thought.

He squinted, wordlessly challenging her to a duel. Shedakor’s hands flashed as he reached for another gun on his gunslinger’s vest.

Acting on pure instinct Iluchus raised her spear and launched it at her enemy. Both warriors were fast; the queen proved faster.

Her rotating spear tip grazed the side of his face with its leaf blade, cutting a nasty, deep line through Shedakor’s face and sending his bullet wide.

“Come on! Queen Iluchus—we must flee!” her forces begged her as they finally caught up. “If we stay, none will survive!”

Shedakor toppled to the ground with steam leaking from his ruined eye socket. His own forces surrounded him and pressed their attack in his defense.

She roared a guttural, pained curse at him and then snatched the nearest stray horse she could find and charged for the last obstacle, a river of lava that separated her soldiers from the open field. If they could cross, they could use their superior speed to escape.

Too few of her soldiers ran or rode at her side. Her heart ached as if it, too, had been pierced by the arcane bullets of the enemy. Her horse chortled nervously as it sped closer and closer to the lava flow.

She growled and urged it forward.

With a terrified whiny it leapt through the air. Too little. Too far. The horse plunged into the shallow lava flow and panicked. It screeched when it landed, throwing its head in every direction and all at once. It took only four steps as it slowly lowered further into the deadly river on legs that melted like wax stamps. It screamed with horrific pain, sounding almost human.

Iluchus roared, looking side to side—no one else had made it this far. Only she remained.

The horse collapsed in its death throes. She was not far from the edge: perhaps twice as far as she could jump.

Help me Father—aide me Tarvenehl!

She steeled herself and then launched herself off of the collapsing steed. Iluchus splashed feet first in the lava.

From his perch above the slaughter the rakshasa nudged the drider and grinned. Up the slope, two morehl helped Shedakor climb the rise. Blood stained him cheek to waist, and he staunched the wound with a rag.

“Casualties?” Sshkkryyahr asked.

“Acceptable,” the lava elf said, surveying the field. His eyes lingered on Charbann’s corpse.

“This is what you requested of me when you first came to my lair.” She grinned. “Your enemy has been destroyed.”

“To a man?” Shedakor searched for reassurance, still floundering somewhat with his newly limited vision.

“Technically speaking, yes.” The drider’s words were playful. She and the rakshasa tilted their heads to watch Iluchus take her first laborious steps beyond the lava flow—striding in the direction of Potshari by sheer force of will. Her boots had burned off, and she walked in a near-fugue upon ruined feet fueled by duty and purpose.

“I hope she likes what she finds when she gets there,” Torl chortled.