Chapter Thirty: Drums of War

Despite being in an arid and empty plain with just rolling dunes for cover, Luce found Shou's hideout to be very easy to defend. Because of the dry landscape, any heavy movements from vehicles will kick up a cloud of dust that could be seen from the horizon. Standing atop one of the many dunes, her binoculars scanned the area around them for smaller movements and oddities not likely to pick up a storm like that of a moving vehicle.

"Anything?" Adelle asked.

The elf sat next to her, letting out a yawn of boredom. Even Luce could not blame her for feeling that way. They had been put on patrol for the past dozen days ever since Shou and Reggie fought off the first assault. Since then, the public had turned negatively at Corlyle for risking that many soldiers to capture such a small number of dissenters. In turn, the attacks had been smaller attempts to sneak past their radar, leaving them out to manually check on their lines.

Luce asked, "Didn't you use to do reconnaissance of your forest?"

"Not really," Adelle admitted. "I know that place like the string of my bow. Even when I did go out patrolling, it wasn't every single day."

Luce was frustrated as well, but they had to hold on until Josh and Arnold returned. By their estimates, that would be another 8 days away.

"Anyway," Luce said. "This area looks clear. Let's move on."

"Finally!" Adelle jumped to her feet. "Where to next? Or are we done?"

She pulled out a tablet and scrolled through the map. "Just one more area to scan." She pointed south towards a noticeable twin-peaked dune about a kilometre away.

Adelle placed a hand on her shoulder and in the blink of an eye, they closed the distance and stood at the bottom of the mount. They would have to walk the rest of the way up as a precaution to anyone who may have been keeping a lookout of the viewpoint and might want them to be shot. As they climbed, Adelle kept letting out sighs.

Luce berated, "We have to do this."

"I know! I know! It's just so slow! Wish we could just teleport up there."

"You know, when I first met you, you were such a serious, no-nonsense fighter."

"Was I?"

"Yes." She was. A person secure in only her ability to fight while doubting in everything else. But ever since then, she had opened up. Her snark often pierced, but never to hurt. Her childish complaints belied past joys unfulfilled. "You're a much nicer person now."

From the corner of Luce's eye, she could see Adelle's cheeks getting red through her scarf. "Shut up."

When they neared the zenith of the hill, they crouched down and moved slowly up, scanning the surrounding over the peak with each small step. By the time the crossed over the top, they had covered the entire landscape and was confident enough to resume a standing position. Luce took out her binoculars again and swept the area.

For a while, nothing seemed amiss. Sand rolled. Winds howled. The heat baked her exposed skin. Then, something. A small something. A tiny piece of the landscape no larger than her thumb within the lenses of her binoculars stood out.

"I see something," she noted.

Immediately, Adelle notched her bow. "What is it? Where?"

"One-ninety-five southwest. Not sure what though." She adjusted the dial on her binoculars and zoomed in.

It was a flat piece of another dune. It looked not much different from its surroundings aside for the fact that it seemed to be completely still while the sand around it shifted slightly with each breeze. For reasons unknown to her, the hair stood on the back of her neck. And while she watched, she too felt watched.

Then, a glint of light.

"Gun!" she shouted.

Though Luce saw it first, Adelle's reflexes trumped hers on every turn. She felt the elf grab her shoulder and pulled. The binoculars dropped out of her hand at the momentum and Luce felt the tug of teleportation pulling her back. When they reappeared on fresh new ground, the pull from Adelle and shift in terrain caused Luce to slip and fall to her side just as the gunshot rang out into the air.

"Be right back," Adelle exclaimed.

"Wait!" Luce shouted back in worry.

But the elf did not listen and simply vanished in a puff of rust. Luce jumped to her feet and quickly turned around in her spot, searching for where her companion had gone to. The flutter of a camouflage blanket being thrown to the wind caught her attention and she turned to see the sniper pulling out their sidearm to aim at Adelle who simply kicked the gun out of their hand. She stomped against the soldier's chest before stepping on their ribs. Mercilessly, the elf fired a single arrow into their enemy's shoulder. The man let out a pained scream.

As quickly as she could, Luce raised her rifle and fired the grappling attachment onto the dune Adelle and the soldier was on. With the retraction of the grapple pulling her along, Luce sprinted and slid across the dry dirt towards them as fast as she could. By the time she reached them, the sniper already had his one good arm raised in the air in surrender.

With a growl, Adelle interrogated, "Are there more of you?"

Seething with pain, the man answered with defiance. "I'll die before I talk."

Luce huffed as she pulled out a folded duffel bag from her own pack. "So melodramatic." She swiftly padded the man down for any other weapons and threw what equipments he had - including the camouflage blanket - into the holdall, confiscated from use. The only things they left the man was a first-aid kit, some dried food, and his bottle of water. "We're not going to kill you."

"Unless you make us," Adelle added.

"Come on, Adelle. We're done here." They would leave him there to make the trek back to whatever military outpost he came from alone. It wouldn't be fun, but he would live.

The soldier was perplexed. "You're... not going to kill me?" As Adelle stepped off the man, he grunted.

Luce answered, "No. I'm not a killer."

"I am," Adelle added.

"Not around me, you're not." Having to kill was the whole reason she deserted in the first place.

The soldier stammered, "B-but... they told me..." He caught himself mid sentenced and stopped talking, looking away.

Even through his full-faced mask, Luce could tell the man was now sweating bullets. "Tell you what?" She turned her attention back to him. "I don't know what they're telling you, but it's probably not true. If I were you, I'd follow in our footsteps and run the heck away."

She did not say more, simply turning away and taking Adelle's outstretched hand. Half a dozen teleportations, they made sure they were out of the soldier's sights before finally speaking.

"What was that?" Adelle asked.

"Special ops," Luce answered. "Probably some stealth assassination deal. Slowly crawling his way to us until he can finally infiltrate the hideout."

"How often does that work?"

"More often than I'd like. There'll be more of them. Too many for us to catch. We barely caught this one," Luce admitted. "I don't think we'll be able to stay here any longer if these attacks continue."

"Well, we'll just fight them back again."

"No," Luce replied angrily. "We are not just fighting them back. You may be strong, but they have an army. We can't just muscle our way through everything. You need to use your head sometimes."

Annoyed, Adelle clicked her tongue and looked past Luce. The red sclera of Adelle's eyes narrowed. "Hey... what's that?"

Luce turned to the direction she was facing. The dunes ended further out leading onto flat ground. Dust was rising quickly in the distance and getting closer towards them.

Adelle asked, "An assault?"

"Doesn't seem like one." From the looks of the dust trail, only one vehicle was approaching. And the height of the cloud behind it suggested a lighter vehicle than an armoured tank.

Again, Adelle placed a hand on Luce's shoulder and they approached the incoming vehicle. Careful to keep themselves out of possible firing range, they noticed as they got closer the familiarity of the approaching truck. After another short teleportation to get an even closer look, they confirmed it from the red hair within the driver's seat that it was Arnold and the pair stepped into the open, waving their arms in greetings.

He must have seen them for the truck changed it's trajectory towards them and slowed its speed. It struggled to close in on them, almost as if hesitant to approach. But eventually they made it to each other and the vehicle stopped next to the pair, the dust settling down after a moment.

When Arnold stepped outside, Luce immediately questioned, "You're back early." She angled past him to look into the truck but found it empty. She immediately knew that their happy reunion was about to be cut short. "Where's Josh?" An unease quickly sets into her heart.

Arnold sighed, searching for the words. He ruffled his hair roughly in frustration. "He's..." He sighed again before turning around and reaching into the glove compartment, pulling out a sealed envelope. "He's been captured. And we have a huge problem. Like, Titan-sized."

Author's Note: Hi everyone. Thank you for reading Tearha: Titan War, which will continue to release a new chapter every week on Friday until its completion. If you like what you've read so far, and would like to support my writing, you can buy one of my books at my website. Or you could check out my Patreon to help out for the long run. Of course, just sharing, commenting, and reviewing helps a bunch as well!

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