• Published 9th Jul 2019
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The Dusk Guard Saga: Hunter/Hunted - Viking ZX



An ancient, lost empire is on the verge of returning from its imprisonment, and the Dusk Guard have been dispatched. Their mission? Retake the city, secure it, and above all, keep its ancient ruler from seizing control once more.

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Chapter 19

“Move!” Hunter’s shout wasn’t quite enough to drown out the lunging yeti’s howl, but it was enough to call Nova to action. A blue bolt of magic energy shot from the colt’s horn, slamming into the diving yeti’s shoulder and enshrouding the shaggy fur in a thin haze of ice. Hunter dove back, snapping his wings forward and down, the yeti’s outstretched claws barely missing the tips of his wings. The large beast slammed into the snow, its heavy bulk cracking through the thin crust and sending a swirl of powder flying up into the wind.

Nova’s second shot took it right between its glowing eyes, knocking its head back with a howl of pain.

And rage. Despite the hit, the yeti was already trying to get up. Worse, muffled howls of anger were rising all around them, the pack roused to action by the call of their fellow. “Run!” Hunter shouted, whirling as the yeti began to pick itself back up. “Fall back west!”

Nova nodded, firing a final spell even as he turned. The attack knocked the yeti’s paws out from under it, and it let out a long, screeching howl as it fell into the snow again.

Then they were running as hard as they could, both of them barreling through the yeti camp without any regard for stealth or subtlety. All around them the domes of snow were breaking apart, thick clouds of snow-dust sweeping into the windy air as yeti after yeti broke out of their confinement to protect their camp.

“I’ll take to the air!” Hunter shouted, batting his wings down and rising into the sky. “And cover! Just get—” He stopped talking as a nearby yeti lunged from its hole, forcing him to spin to the side. Beneath him, Nova was firing more spells, tripping every yeti he could target as he ran through the snow. More howls echoed up around them.

We’re not going to make it without a fight. Too many of the yeti were too close, Nova’s speed with the snowshoes too limited to get away.

He unlatched the snowshoes from his hooves, letting them fall away, and dove for the closest yeti. The beast’s attention was fixed on Nova, the yeti going into the long-armed lope its kind did when going for speed, and it didn’t notice Hunter’s approach at all until he brought his hooves down on the back of its head, slamming it down into the ground. It hit the snow with a faint fwomp and stayed still long enough for him to push himself up off of it.

More cries split the air, yeti howls in different pitches and tones. Infants, Hunter realized as he threw himself out of the way of a leaping swipe. Nova knocked the attacker’s legs out from under it. Another took its place. Sombra’s terrifying their young and the adults.

He batted a paw aside, claws scraping across the side of his armor with a sharp squeal. Just keep moving. Nova had pulled ahead of most of the pack, though they were still chasing him close behind. He came down atop one that had gotten too close, battering the back of its head with his hind legs and springing forward. Just—

Something heavy struck him in the side, and he spun out of control with a shout, narrowly missing a thick tree branch as he fought to stay in the air. He had a brief glimpse of white coming at him, and then a snowball hit his visor hard enough to snap his head back.

Great. They’ve seen this trick before. He dropped low, shaking the ice and snow from his view and going back close to the ground as more missiles began to fly. They were almost at the edge of what should be the yeti’s territory, though, and he could see more of the beasts hanging back until—

“In front!” Nova shouted. Hunter spun. More than a dozen yeti had slipped out of the trees ahead of them, cutting off their retreat.

How!? There was no time. The line of Yeti was closing in, and the sight of more of their brethren—or maybe enemies, he wasn’t really sure—brought a fresh cascade of howls from behind him. Nova skidded to a halt, horn glowing a bright, vivid blue. How did …? Wait a minute.

He focused even as another snowball whipped past overhead, and then his mod activated, another bright wave of magic racing out of him. Shouts of surprise rolled out of the yetis behind him … but none from those in front.

Stranger still, there was a glow about the dozen ahead of them that didn’t match the glow of those behind. They were shadowed, darker, and …

And they don’t have any footprints! he thought, eyes narrowing on the snow beyond them. “Nova! Illusions!”

Nova hesitated only a moment before charging forward with a shout, his horn glowing once more and sweeping a beam of some kind through the imposing yeti. They broke apart, bodies dissipating into black smoke, and Hunter could hear cries of fear and alarm coming from behind them.

Works in our favor then, he thought as he glanced back. Terrified that a dozen yeti had just been “slain” but seeing that their attackers had retreated, the yeti were falling back, though a few were still throwing balls of ice and snow in his direction. And at the bulk of The Hummingbird up in the sky, though it was far too distant for them to even get close.

“Edge of the trees,” Hunter said as Nova began to slow, and the unicorn reversed his pace. “We don’t know how far his magic can reach.” Nova nodded and began galloping forward again, snow churning around his legs. Hunter spun in the air, checking once more for any signs of pursuit as the mod began to wear off, but saw nothing, magic or otherwise, that indicated that they were being followed. The yeti were already out of sight, likely burrowing back into their shelters and sealing them again.

“Well,” he said as they reached the edge of the treeline, tucking his wings in and dropping to the snow. Where he promptly sank in up to his barrel. “That was a real blue, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Nova said, letting out a heaving breath and then whacking the muzzle of his helmet with his hoof to knock the ice away. Even after his run, he was visibly shivering. “Can I make a request, boss?”

“Lay it on me.”

“Can I just blast that crystal?”

“I don’t know,” Hunter said, shaking his head as he glanced back through the forest in the direction of the crystal. He shifted his legs, belly growing cold through the armor. Boy, once the sun goes down up here the temperature really drops! Wind probably doesn’t help either. “Can you say for certain that he wouldn’t absorb it somehow?” His words came out shaky, both from exertion and the rapidly concerning cold.

Nova shook his head, his own words back quick and harried. “No.”

“Then no, I don’t want you to do that. Powering up bad guys?” He shook his head. “Not what we want to do.”

“Second request then?”

“Shoot.”

“Let’s add some projectile weapons training, like bows and the like, to our training, huh?” Nova threw a glance back at the trees. “A good shot with a bow could take that crystal out from the other side of the camp.”

“Even with the wind? I’ve known some good archers, but …” Hunter fanned his wings, snow floating off them and then vanishing into the wind. “It’d be a hard shot from here.”

“Yeah well …” Nova went quiet for a moment before speaking again, an audible tremor shaking his voice. “Now what?”

“Not saying you’re wrong. In fact, it’s a spot on suggestion; I’ll talk to Steel about it after all this is over. But for right now …” He glanced up at The Hummingbird as one of the searchlights slid over them, momentarily making him squint before the visor adjusted. “I’m not willing to fight a whole pack of yeti just yet. Not without checking for other ideas first. And maybe warming up.”

“I’d like that last one,” Nova said, trotting in place. “Seriously, it’s a good thing Sabra’s not out here with us. I’m freezing!” He shook his head, then sat back in the snow and folded his front hooves under his forehooves. “Dude’s not going anywhere, right?”

“Sabra or Sombra?”

“Big bad.”

“Not that I know of.”

“So let’s set up camp or get in The Hummingbird. I’m freezing. We can keep an eye on him from the air.”

“Sounds like as good a plan as any until we can drive those yeti away or Sombra starts running again.” Hunter spread his wings, fighting a shiver and losing as it rolled down his back. “Stay here; I’ll have Bolt swing by while I keep watch.”

Nova nodded, his shivering all the more pronounced. We’re definitely going to need to bundle up if we’re out here any longer, Hunter thought as he lifted into the sky. Winter coats, stuff that’ll fit over our armor. That or get the tents out of our saddlebags. The Hummingbird turned toward him, Bolt visible in the cockpit, and he signaled with his hooves, motioning for her to pick up Nova while he watched the crystal from the air. Bolt nodded, the propellers shifting as the airship turned against the storm.

Right … the storm. They weren’t as much under it any more as on the edge, but it was still massive, stretching across the western horizon and completely blotting out the night sky. Not that he could see much of it to the east, either, but even so …

Another distant rumble echoed faintly on the wind, following a faint flash from miles off. I wonder how Steel, Dawn, and Sabra are getting on in the city? He let his altitude drop slightly, only to pause when he spotted a new shape at the edge of the clearing—a yeti, hunched up against the side of a tree and shrouded in snow, but clearly on watch. Snow’s not going through it either, he thought as the creature turned to look in his direction. So it’s not an illusion. The yeti shifted, one paw going to a pile of snowballs that were now likely much closer to icy rocks than they were snow, and Hunter beat his wings, rising up higher into the sky.

At least I can still make out the crystal from up here, he thought, watching the surface of the growth pulse once more. Guess that’s an advantage to watching at night. Unless that thing keeps pulsing when he’s not in it, though I guess the other one broke apart and faded away, so …

Bleh. I hate all this guesswork. No idea what his capabilities are, what all of his powers could be … He wheeled back in the air, glancing at the distant Hummingbird. It was trying to hold steady over what was likely Nova’s position, its belly just a dozen or so feet above the tops of the trees. For all we know, this whole thing’s an elaborate—No. He shook his head. If it was a trap, then we already survived it. And if it were a distraction, then … He paused. Unless he snuck out while we were running the other direction. But the crystal’s still there, so …

He let out a sigh. Only one way to really know. He dropped low, fighting the wind as he sank into the treetops some distance from the clearing. If I can just find a good possie to take a look without getting clocked by a ball of ice … There. He could see the clearing through the trees, not too far away. I just need to get close enough. Flying so low was difficult, especially with the heavy winds. The last thing I want to do is brush a tree and come crashing down, or worse … No, that’d pretty much be the worst thing, wouldn’t it?

The trees were thicker near the edge of the clearing, and he stopped. He couldn’t quite make out the domes from where he was hovering, but there had to be a few below him, housing likely still irritated yeti. Probably as close as I can get without standing on branches, he thought. So … He reached deep inside and activated his mod.

A howl swept through the camp as the sphere of light radiated out from his position, but he held his position. Come on … there! He could see the lines of magic around the camp now, thin, black strands of spellwork attached to what seemed to be almost every yeti. He could see a dimming in the air around the crystal as well, a dull patch in the sky like a grey cloud on a summer’s day. And at the very center of it, a patch that would have been almost bright by comparison if not for the solid, tar-like void of black at its core.

Sombra, Hunter thought as the view around the crystal began to fade. Still the—! He jerked back, beating his wings down as a piece of the thick blackness shot toward him like a lance. A branch scraped against his wings, the needles pulling at the feathers, but he didn’t stop, breaking free of the forest and ascending up into the sky. The black tendril stopped some feet beneath the trees, twisting like a thin cloud of smoke.

I … see … you …

Hunter’s wings nearly stopped beating as the voice echoed around his skull, the tendril pulsing with each utterance before slipping back down toward the ground, retreating back to the crystal. For a moment he hung there in the air, not even caring that he was slowly being pushed away by the wind.

“Well,” he said at last, his voice stolen away almost instantly by the wind. “There’s no mistaking that.” Either that’s Sombra, or we found some other sealed-away big-bad that just happened to get out. A shiver ran down his back and hindquarters, half from the cold, half from the thought. I hope not, though. What would the odds of that be? Though maybe they’d fight.

A shift in the rumble of The Hummingbird’s propellers told him that the airship was on its way back, and he took a quick glance at the retreating tendril before eyeing himself, checking to make sure that there wasn’t any lingering mark of the words he’d “heard.”

Some sort of telepath spell? A broadcast? Maybe Nova would know. He began to angle his drift to one side, away from the oncoming airship so that he could come at it from below and avoid the propellers. At least he’s not going anywhere.

A moment later he darted through the open door of The Hummingbird, Nova closing the hatch behind him and passing him a towel as his visor fogged slightly.

“Oh …” he said, sinking back on his haunches slightly as the chill of the outside faded away, warmth seeping through his armor and into his coat. “Sun above, that feels like paradise.”

“I know, right?” Nova was running a towel through his mane. “Visor fogging?”

“Yeah.”

“What was that light?”

“Decided to use my mod to see if Sombra was still there.”

“And?”

“He’s there.” Another shiver ran down his back. “And feisty too. Actually spoke to me.”

“What?”

“In my head. With magic.” He cocked his head to the side, ice sloughing out of the grill at the front of his muzzle. It splattered against an already wet deck.

Nova was looking at him with wide eyes, the towel motionless. “In your head? With magic?” His gaze narrowed. “Are you all right?”

“I don’t feel any different, though it did give me a good scare. Almost stopped flying out of shock. Still I don’t feel any different, and I don’t … What?”

“Hold still,” Nova said, horn glowing as he stepped up to him. There was a faint pop as the mod between his shoulder-blades disconnected, and it floated away over to Nova. “In fact, don’t go anywhere.”

“That’s … actually a pretty good idea,” Hunter said as Nova swapped the mod for his own and slid his helmet back on. “Hopefully it’s just a beat up, but … Better safe than sorry.”

“Yeah, my thoughts exactly,” Nova said, stepping back and standing for a moment, waiting for the mod to charge. “And … Huh. How do yo—?”

A burst of light rolled out of Nova’s horn in all directions, sweeping over Hunter like a cresting wave. Then it was gone, diffused through the walls of the airship, and he gave the unicorn an expectant look.

“Well … I’ve not really used this before, but I don’t see any obvious signs of evil. That and you aren’t cackling and rubbing your hooves together, so I guess it was just talking.”

Hunter nodded as Nova pulled the helmet off, but did let a faint shiver run down his spine. “Well, that’s good to know.”

“This is kind of cool,” Nova said, turning and looking toward the bow. “I can see Bolt. Neat.” A moment later he pulled his helmet back off. “Okay, so you’re you. What’d it say?”

“‘I see you,’” he repeated, another shiver running down his spine.

“Creepy.”

“Spot on.”

“So what now, then?” Nova asked as Hunter began toweling the ice off of his armor once more. Most of it was a half melted mess, sliding off the crystal plates and onto the floor.

“Well … I’m not really sure,” he said. “Sombra’s not going anywhere so I figured that we might as well get some rest. We could all use it. Maybe brainstorm and see if we could think up any way of getting him out of that crystal.”

“I had an idea.”

He paused. “Really?”

“Yeah. How long a rest?”

“A couple of hours, if we can drive him out. If not … maybe longer. Shifts or something. Unless Bolt gets the signal. What’s your idea?”

“Air drop.”

“Air drop?”

Nova nodded, holding up his towel. “How do yeti feel about fire?”

“They’re not fans of it.” Hunter rolled the towel down his back before glancing at it. Barely a light patch remained, almost the whole of its length soaked with wet. “See it as a threat to their trees. Why? Thinking of driving them off with it?”

“Better,” Nova said, rolling his own towel around his hoof and wrapping it up. “What do you think would happen if that crystal happened to be on fire?”

Hunter let out a sigh. “Just get to the point, if you could, Nova. I’m tired.”

“Right,” Nova said, nodding quickly. “We take a couple of these towels, soak them in cooking oil, then wrap that all around some boards leftover from Dawn’s crates.”

“Giant torches.”

“Yeah.” Nova flipped the towel around his hoof once more. “Make one or two of those, light ‘em up, and drop ‘em right down on top of that crystal.”

“Could work.” He ran his towel down the legs of his armor, wiping away what little moisture he could. Wish I could change out of this thing, but we don’t have spares. “We’d have to get close, though. Wind’s all kinds of wonky. We’d risk setting all the trees on fire.”

“Wouldn’t that be worth it? It’s not that large a section of forest.”

“I’d still rather avoid it,” he replied. “There are a lot of animals down there aside from the yeti. And the yeti aren’t evil, just territorial and disagreeable. Still …” He brought the towel back around and hung it on one of the nearby pegs. “If we could drop it right on the crystal, and I mean spot on, it might work. The yeti would attack it pretty fast. Or,” he said, frowning slightly. “Maybe just kick a bunch of snow and ice over it.”

Nova frowned. “Okay, that wouldn’t be helpful. That’d just cover him more.”

“Still, it’s not a bad idea,” Hunter said, turning and starting down the hall. “At least at its core. Dropping something on the crystal could work.”

“We could see if Bolt has any explosives,” Nova said, following him around the T and up toward the front of the vessel. “She might.”

“That’s a good idea,” Hunter said, stepping into the common room. The lights had already been dimmed, casting the room into faint shadow. His stomach let out a growl of hunger as he caught sight of the galley. “Maybe rig something like some of those heavy airships the minotaurs use.”

“What heavy airships?” The call came from the cockpit, and Bolt stuck her head around the corner, eyeing them both. She was smiling, but Hunter could see the fatigue hidden behind her gaze. Running the airship around all day was catching up with her. “I was starting to wonder if you guys had made it aboard.”

“Minotaur heavy bombing airships,” he replied. “The high-altitude ones?” Bolt’s eyes widened in recognition. “Nova suggested dropping something heavy with a little boom to it on Sombra’s crystal down there. After we get a bit of a rest,” he added quickly. “We’re both starving, and we’re all stuffed. Point being: do you have anything that blows up?”

“Like a bomb?” Bolt chewed at her lower lip, eyes staring off into space. “Not exactly. I wasn’t planning on blowing anything up.”

“So no explosives?” Nova dropped to the deck, his armor making a cascading series of thumps. “Not even dynamite?”

“When would I have dynamite normally?” Bolt asked, coming out of her distant look to fix a perplexed look on Nova. “Besides, I don’t need dynamite to make a boom. Just the right tools. But can’t you just … You know?” She mimed something springing out of her head with one hoof. “Blast it?”

“The crystal is sucking up magic,” Hunter answered. “It might work, or we just might power him up. I used my mod down there, and that caught Sombra’s attention. Nova was thinking something less magic but no less dangerous might be able to drive him out.”

“Well, I’ve got some cut-cord,” Bolt said, glancing back at the cockpit, probably to make sure that they were still holding position. “And there is a lot of stuff around here that can go ‘boom’ if you don’t know what you’re doing. Or I guess, if you know what you’re doing and want it to explode. Crud, I could probably make a bomb out of …” Her words trailed off as she stared at the galley, and Hunter followed her eyes.

“Okay,” he said slowly. “Can we make that option two?”

“What?” Nova asked, lifting his head up from the floor. “What’s she talking about? What are you talking about?”

“It’d be easy,” Bolt said. “Really easy. Most of the components are already there.”

“And I’ll end up feeling crook if we have to fall back on all those ration bars Dawn brought along.”

“Ration bars?” Nova pushed himself up, his eyes jumping between them and then following Bolt’s gaze. “What are you—? Oh.”

“Yeah,” Hunter said, giving Bolt what he hoped was a good deadpan gaze. “Our stove. That thing we use to cook all the food.”

“Not the stove,” Bolt said quickly. “Not entirely. Just … the fuel. Specifically, the tank. It’s small, it’s under pressure, it’s combustible.”

“We’d lose our stove.”

“Yes, we would …” Bolt said, drawing the word out. “But we’d have a very nice explosive.”

“Hold up,” Nova said, holding up a hoof. “So our stove is powered by a bomb?”

“Safety valves,” Bolt said. “It won’t just explode. You could set it on fire right now and we’d probably all be fine. It’d set the galley on fire, but—”

“We’d lose our stove,” Hunter repeated again, stomach twisting. The room rattled around them, shaking as the wind shifted once more. See, he thought. The ship agrees with me. “Unless we have a backup?”

“Stove’s kind of non-essential,” Bolt said. “So no.”

“Huh,” Nova said, staring at the galley. “I didn’t think about that, but now that you mention it—”

“Right,” Hunter said, raising his voice. “Hold up! Everyone just stop your gob for a minute. Enough with the aggroing, and enough with beating up the idea. And yes, that goes for me too. I know, I’m tired. Bolt?”

He had her attention again, her eyes fixed on him rather than the stove. “Yeah?”

“Gas bomb is a good start. Keep thinking on those lines. I don’t want to lose the stove if we can help it—” The taste of Dawn’s emergency rations flashed through his mind. “—but if I’m being true dinkum, we’ve got plenty of food that we can eat cold. Or Nova can heat it. So we’ll do it if we have to. But see if you can’t come up with other, more disposable things to make a bomb out of before you get too far into making one out of our stove, even in your head. Fair?” He split his gaze between both of them.

“Sounds fair to me,” Nova said, glancing at Bolt. “Sky Bolt?”

“Yeah!” Her reply was quick, snappy. Almost a little too quick. “Yeah, I can do that.” The follow-up had a bit more balance to it.

“Good.” He dropped to his haunches, wings sagging. “Because honestly, I’m still not sure that’s what we’re going to do. It was just an idea Nova had. Dropping stuff on that crystal. Hopefully to break it. But it was an idea. Not the plan. At least, not yet.”

“So …” Bolt said. “The what is the plan?”

He shook his head. “Don’t know yet. Nova and I are both beat. We need rest, and food. Outside of that … We should probably fill you in on what happened down there.”

“Magic absorption, illusion yetis, and real yetis,” Nova said. “You’re filled in. Sombra’s holed up in that crystal in the center, and if anything gets close, the yetis go manic. Fighting all of them would be …” He shrugged.

“Possible,” Hunter cut in. “But not productive. Riling them up is one thing. Having them all directed at us? That’s another. So …” He shrugged, his wings drooping. “We’re both stuffed. You look tired too. We get a few hours rest, recharge, and then do something to drive him out.”

“And east,” Nova added.

“So … bomb.” Bolt nodded, her eyes looking a little distant. “Or something hard. Heavy. Damaging. Drop it down, break the crystal.”

“That was one idea, yeah,” Hunter said, holding back a yawn. “Though we don’t exactly have a bay for it.”

“Plus the wind,” Bolt added, tapping her chin with her hoof, ears flat. Her eyes darted back to the cockpit as the airship rumbled again, deck tilting underhoof before leveling out. “We’d have to have a couple of shots.”

“Again, one idea,” Hunter said. This time the yawn did escape, and he shook his head before speaking again. “Basically, we need some way to get into that clearing and smash the crystal or damage it, drive him out, without setting off any of the spells around it or attracting the yeti’s attention.”

“Huh.” Bolt was sitting back now, a look on her face he’d seen a few times before. “So that’s it? Just damage the crystal?”

“Yeah, why? You have an idea?”

“Give me a second.” Bolt stepped back into the cockpit. Hunter looked down at Nova.

“What do you think? Any other ideas?”

“We could just fill one of Dawn’s empty crates with water, let it freeze into ice, and then drop that. No boom, but it’d be quite the impact.”

“That could work. It’d take time to freeze though.”

“I could speed it along.” Nova let out a yawn of his own, and then his horn glowed blue. “Ice spell, remember?” Over in the galley, the door to the icebox opened, a matching glow wrapped around its handle, and an apple floated out.”

“Ooh, grab me one, would you?” A moment later a second floated out and over toward his waiting hoof. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Hunter bit down, the apple letting out a sharp crunch as he took a bite, cold juice spilling across his tongue. He smiled despite his fatigue, the familiar flavor a welcome one. “Sweet Apple Acres,” he said, eyeing the apple while he chewed. “Hard to find a better apple.”

“They grew good apples down where I turned myself in,” Nova said, a hearty crunch echoing across the room as he took a bite of his own.

“Same family,” Hunter replied. “I think they even donated a few trees, so almost the same orchard.” There was another hearty crunch as he took another bite. His stomach let out a content gurgle.

“Got it.” Sky Bolt poked her head through the door again.

“Got what?” Nova asked.

“An idea,” she said. “A good one. No bomb.”

“No bomb?”

She shook her head. “Nope. Just some rope, some leverage, and some magic.”

“We’re trying to avoid magic,” Hunter said. “Sombra—”

“Not on the crystal,” Bolt said, shaking her head. “On the tree. Though we could use cut-cord if it came to that.”

“Tree?” Hunter asked, as at the same time Nova said “Cut-cord?”

“Yeah!” Bolt replied with a grin. “Best part is, if we do it right, it should come down right where we want it, but even if we missed, the impact would be more than enough to—”

“Sky Bolt …” Hunter held up a hoof. “My apologies here, but I’m not on the same page. I’m pretty sure Nova isn’t either.”

“Right, sorry,” Bolt said, giving them both an embarrassed grin. “Look, you want to damage the crystal and drive Sombra out of it, right?”

“Before he recovers too much, yeah.”

“Right, but it’s guarded. So we use what isn’t guarded.”

“Okay. Where does the tree come into it?” Nova asked.

Sky Bolt grinned. “Easy, that’s the whole of it. We don’t charge it or drop something from the air. We let nature do it. We go down, set up a guide rope, make some cuts and boom. Down it goes. One damaged crystal. Logging.”

“Wait a minute, you mean—?”

“Yup.” Sky Bolt’s grin widened. “We drop a tree on him.”

Hunter sat still for a moment, running it over in his mind. It makes sense, he thought. It’s in a clearing, we have the tools … sort of. And it’d be heavy as anything. Frozen wood is tough stuff. “I like it,” he said slowly. “It’s genius.” He looked over at Nova. “What do you think, Nova? Want to try your hoof at speed-lumberjacking?”

Nova nodded. “Bet that’ll make the yeti angry too. And if we’re not there …”

“They’ll do our job for us and drive him out,” Hunter finished before looking back at Bolt. “All right. Let’s do it. Say … food, four hours of rest, then we put it into action?”

“Uh … Actually, I’d rather wait until we have more light,” Bolt said, glancing back at the cockpit. “Cutting a tree down isn’t exactly safe, and we’ll need to rig the rope just right.”

“Plus, someone has to pilot The Hummingbird.”

“Yeah, that. So one of us has to stay here. Trying to set this all up in the dark? Dangerous.”

“All right,” he said, nodding. “That’s a good point. I’ve taken some trees down before, but not like this, and I wouldn’t call myself an expert in it. This definitely isn’t something we’d want to do a bodgy job of. Dawn? The time, not the sergeant.”

“Oh,” Nova said, shaking his head. “That makes more sense. Yeah. Dawn sounds good. Right when it’s starting to get light. That’s what … eight hours away?”

“Around that,” Sky said. “We beat it by an hour, that’s seven hours of rest, minus watches.”

“Good enough for me,” Hunter said, pulling up straight. Seven hours of rest sounded amazing. “Let’s do it. Food, rest, watch … then tree.”

The team voiced their affirmatives, Bolt heading back into the cockpit and Nova moving for the galley. Hunter took another bite out of his apple. It felt good to have a plan, even if it was a strange one.

I just hope it works, he thought, chewing. I just hope it works.

Author's Note:

Ask Sky Bolt how many explosives she can make in a room, and she'll answer you with a detailed list before giving you a suspicious look and asking "Why?"

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