Knavish Canto: Lapis of Nicodem Volume 3 by Kwyn Marie | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 36: Break's Over

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Idle thoughts slunk through her brain as Lapis snagged a dangling rope. At one point in her life, she counted herself as cautious. She took lesser stakes, planned chases, studied routes the guttershanks might take to flee. Now she jumped for ropes five stories up and not only hoped she caught them, but that they did not break.

She was turning into Patch.

She clamped both hands onto the wrist-thick rope and swung after her wayward apprentice. Sliding heated her gloves, and she gritted her teeth, crossly telling them not to shred before she smashed into the enemy. Rin dropped too early, brandishing a knife. If he had the length, swing into them and knock them over! Unexpected moving targets were harder to strike.

She reached the black armored men as they swiveled to aim at Rin, pounding the chest of the front man with her boots and sending him reeling back. How many fell? She dropped to the floor as red beams struck helmets, and they jerked about, shrieking.

Linz providing cover. Great!

Ice coated the enemy.

Tuft, too.

She raced to Rin, who stood ready, not trusting the incapacitating attacks. She smacked his upper arm before whisking to the dumbfounded father, grabbing his elbow and dragging him to the tent’s opening. Out of sight, not out of mind, though they had enough problems with Tuft’s unexpected assault to care much about their original target.

Whimpers; the children. They squatted behind an overturned bed, like their father likely suggested.

“Do you speak Lyddisian?” she asked.

He stumbled to a halt and concentrated on her.

“Lyddisian?” she asked again.

He shook his head. Well, she should have anticipated that.

“Lady, they’s gettin’ free!”

She looked around and noticed a pipe the size of a guard’s stick lying on a box. She snagged it and the man raised his hands, said something in a strained tone, but she did not have time to attempt an explanation. Actions would work best.

Something above groaned in extended protest, deep, menacing, and the uniforms looked up; mistake.

She did not penetrate their helmets, but she banged hard enough to daze them. Rin snatched the dropped weapons as they staggered back, clutching at their heads, and chucked them over the side. A boon for those below, but it kept their immediate opponents unarmed with tech. Would it buy them time to run away? Tuft said there were hidey places on that level, they just needed to find them. If she yelled loud enough, would concealed khentauree open a door for her?

More ice raced across the floor and snaked up the legs of the combatants. They flailed as their lower regions stuck to the concrete, shrieking as the cold stuff inched up their chests. Some held knives, digging into the ice, chipping but not breaking it. The furthest to the back stumbled away, the frost missing his feet, and he jerked his weapon at her.

She rolled into him, hoping she did not freeze to the ground herself, triggered her blade, and slashed through the barrel. It exploded; he must have pulled the trigger anyway, and the tech could not function properly. She continued with her momentum and somersaulted away, feeling random spots heat on her coat.

Rin helped her up. No one else paid them heed, too busy wailing and flailing as the ice crawled up to their shoulders. As with Ghost, she was thankful Tuft liked her enough to not swallow her in his attack. Theses abilities the khentauree had were terrifying, especially on the receiving end. Did Gedaavik code them, or did they grow naturally from a seed he placed?

No wonder their enemies had an interest in them.

They rounded the corner of the tent; the man held two children, an older boy, a younger girl, who regarded Tuft with sobbing fear.

How did the khentauree get down there? She looked up at Linz, who had their weapon pointed at the enemy, but did not see Ty; they must have sent him back to the base room. Good call; with the communications interference, he was their fastest way to courier information.

Lapis smiled as warmly as she could, set her hand on her chest, and bowed her head at the three, then motioned for them to follow her. She did not want the kids to see dead men; they held enough traumatic memories to warp the rest of their days.

The man shook his head and took a step back, his children staggering to match.

She pointed at herself. “Lanth.” She indicated Rin. “Rinan.” She motioned to Tuft. “Tuft.”

The khentauree buzzed, and the kids screamed. As if their fright triggered it, the men behind the tent shrieked louder. Rin winced, peered around the corner, and glanced at her, eyes as round as balls; she had more important things to do than look.

Tuft spoke, and not in Lyddisian. The man stared at him, confused, then regarded her.

“I told him we are here to help,” Tuft said.

She nodded and smiled again. “We are. I’m not risking a tech beam to the head just ‘cuz.”

“There is a room we can secrete them, far away from the battle.”

“Good. We can get the kids away from here. Can you ask him what he was looking for?”

Tuft did, and hummed. “He says the passcode for his wife’s confinement. He does not know where she is, but he knows the commander kept the binder of codes here. His paranoia spoke louder than his trust of the scientists, and locked important things away.”

“Commander? Does he mean Caardinva?”

“He says no. Gerra is in charge of the guards, both Anquerette and the Venture.”

She doubted that; he would take all orders from Caardinva. She looked in the tent, then at Rin. “And them?”

“They’s done fer.”

Ah. “Turn that place upside down.”

“Aye, Lady.” He hopped past the flap, ignoring the muffled shrieks issuing from the men frozen to the floor. Good. Let their last breath reflect the fear they instilled in others.

“How far is this room?”

He motioned to a hallway entry three tents down from their position. “I have sent for help, through relay as Sanna has done. Two with her, NX560 and Klate, will come. They will guide them to the safe room.”

“Thank you, Tuft. I know this endangers them—”

“There are back ways the enemy knows nothing of. They will be safe.” He paused. “They downloaded the language from Sanna. Meergeven. They will speak words they understand, tell them what to do.”

More light from the mine entrance brightened the room. Specks of dust sparkled in the air, a pretty sight. Hopefully Dagby reached the diggers in time, and they could prepare for a fight.

“Tuft, can you tell the father that we need to get the kids into the nearest hallway? If these are the command tents, we should expect more company, and if Linz needs to take care of them, I don’t want the kids to know.”

He did not growl, as she half expected. “I will tell him. But I will unhook them. It is just, for they invaded our home.”

Hopefully he did not relate that to the family.

Rin popped out of the tent, holding a thick binder. “Wonder iffen this’s it?”

She had no idea.

The man gasped, so probably. He grabbed it as if it were a precious stone, and opened it, scanning the sheets. Lapis put a hand on his arm, and pointed to the hallway. He looked and nodded; Rin slipped to her side and held out a hand to the little girl.

“I don’t bite,” he told her. “Promise.”

They may not speak the same language, but charming street rat was charming street rat. She snagged his hand.

Lapis heard more boots; she whirled as the man froze. They did not have time to be nice. She shoved him towards Tuft, grabbed the boy’s hand and set it in Rin’s other one before triggering her blades.

She did not imagine the awe spicing the boy’s shocked words. Too bad she could not understand him.

Linz fired. Beams tore across the railing. Shouts drowned under the roar of a command, which turned into a shriek as frost shot past her, aiming for the new arrivals. Lapis crouched behind the tent and peeked around the corner; ice coated their boots, sticking them to the floor, and crept up their legs at a faster pace than what incapacitated their buddies. When they realized the danger, they flipped their weapons and pounded the hard, silverish-white stuff with the butts of their tech.

Good luck. She doubted they could free themselves before the cold enveloped them. Wonder filtered through her. The unique khentauree, the ones with Gedaavik’s special programming, did things she read about in storybooks. It seemed unreal to force ice to form around them. How did a code manage that? If Ghost or Tuft had to replace their chassis, did their abilities transfer? Or were they tied to their current body? Did that explain why Ghost retained his torso, even though the scientists stuck a nasty tech ball into it?

The weapons froze to the ice, and the men yanked to dislodge them. She heard high-pitched whining from encased bodies because frozen lips could not move. Shrieks and sobs overshadowed the lesser sounds. She swallowed and hoped she remained on the khentauree’s good side. She wished to end her days on the mythological rocker Rin suggested for her, rather than bound in ice on a derelict mine’s walkway.

The six men furthest from the front pulled free and clambered backwards. Dammit. Linz struck one; he crumpled, shrieking, clutching his shoulder, as the others hunched and raced for the doorway they used to enter the main area. Another fell, grabbing at their leg, screaming. Blood flowed from the upper back thigh, coating the floor around him in red. Frost paraded across the surface, but grew pink and disappeared.

She looked behind her; more white tents sat along the walkway, some in squashed positions because the erectors needed to have a pathway, and their width spanned beyond the available space. With a final glance at the black uniforms, sheathed her blades and scurried to the next tent. She wanted a cubby where she could see the goings-on, and attempt to stop the enemy if they followed the family. She did not think four would trail a terrifying khentauree, but if backup arrived, they might.

What to do, then? She against a dozen did not favor her.

Cyan lit the ground level. She glanced through the railings as she edged around a bulky jut of linen tied to the walkway by way of a stout peg sunk deep into the floor; beams tore through everything; tents, crates, people. Lapis flashed back to Ambercaast, the charred bodies, belongings, supplies, and the destroyed structures. She had thought that the battle between Caardinva and the markweza’s people had decimated the place, and Ghost obliterated the rest. Had she been wrong? Had these red tridents taken a torch to it instead?

She hunkered down behind metal boxes piled on a platform cart and peered down. Could they stop the red tridents’ advance? What chance did her group have, if well-equipped Anquerette mercs and Venture guards could not halt them? The local Abastions, backed by Black Hats, would put up a fight, but saving scientists and khentauree might not be worth the potential body count.

The red tridents advanced, some aiming for the rebel and khentauree scouts rather than the black uniforms in front of them, and missing by wide margins. No one had noticed her or the iced men on the second floor? She thought them more in sight than a fourth-level group hiding in a shadowy doorway.

Two tridents knelt behind the cover of shoulder-high crates and dropped heavy packs to the side. They began to assemble something that resembled a mobile cannon, like the one she stumbled across at the Tree Streets Guardhouse. In the confined space, with so much to destroy and topple, that would cause untold harm to any being on the wrong side of it.

“Lady, I gots an idea!”

Lapis leapt out of her skin as a body flumped next to hers. She knew she did. The terror behind her punch did not land, either; Rin casually rolled to evade her, as if he expected the reaction and planned accordingly.

“Now looks.”

No apology? She narrowed her eyes, wishing she could ice him to the floor for a moment or two.

“What about the family, Rin?” she asked, embarrassment at her own lack of awareness infusing her tone with caustic fury.

“NX560 and Klate showed up. Theys gentle sorts, like Path, ‘n took ‘m away. Tuft disappeared, though.”


He pointed up. “There, that green rope? It’s aholdin’ that crate above thems with the big tech thing. We cuts it, it falls on ‘m.”

Even if it had nothing heavy inside, the crate itself weighed enough to produce headaches and hopefully damage something important in the weapon. Tech was delicate, after all.

“There’s only one problem, Rin.”

“I c’n jumps that far.”

“Maybe, but that’s not what we are going to—”

Her fingers snatched at the edges of his coat but grasped air as he again used the railing to launch himself at his target. He snagged a closer blue rope and swung out into the open, the pull jiggling a separate crate. It rocked and spun in a wide circle, colliding with a jutting metal pipe and denting the thing before twirling in a tight rotation.

He twisted the twine around his arm as he reached the pinnacle of the arc, and headed back towards the green rope through a dangle of chains.

He pulled a knife from a breast pocket and slashed as he passed. The blade did not tear clear through, but he did enough damage the twine frayed. A red beam sailed through, and an audible snap ricocheted from it. The crate on the other end fell and smacked the dislodged pipe, bouncing away and flipping before crashing into the remnants of an older crane. The edge struck a vertical bar and cracked open; an oblong object with trailing wires rolled out and plummeted to the ground below, followed by its container.

It struck the earth next to the canon thing, fractured, and showered the two in hunks of metal. Their compatriots looked up, and Rin gave them a target. He swung for the middle second-story airwalk, not fast enough to avoid a hit, and his left shoulder jerked and he dangled.

Damn rat.

Lapis hefted herself onto the railing as Linz sprayed the enemy in red. The crane groaned and creaked; the vertical bar slid down at one end, dislodged another, then bumped its way to the ground. Freed bits followed, and a horizontal, perforated side made a high-pitched squealing sound before toppling towards her.

She snagged a chain and swung, the metal whooshing past her backside; static shock raced across her skull at the close call. An explosion from below rocked the air as she reached for Rin’s rope as it swept past. Instead of letting her grab it, he let go and clamped onto her arm; his weight jangled the links, and the swing slowed but did not stop. They rammed into the airwalk’s railing. Lapis bent over the top, released the chain, grabbed a baluster, and dug her boot into the edge, trying to dump herself over and drag Rin with her.

The railing shook, and she squeaked as her lower body slid.

“Shit shit shit you two!” Linz said with venom as they reached over and snatched Rin by the scruff of his coat. They hauled him up and Lapis limply crawled over and flumped down, uncertain whether to tear up or scream until she lost her voice.

A louder squeal of metal caught their attention. The crane side that missed Lapis scraped along the third-story walkway and crashed into the airwalk above them. A chunk of floor with railing broke free and careened down, smashing into the walk below it, then springing upwards. It tangled with a rope and yanked it down; the other end, attached to a railing on the third tier, pulled taut. The chunk jerked up and swung wide, the arc taking it into the central pole.

Ringing metal sang through the air as the entire airwalk system shook. The chains and ropes attached to other sections quaked, and squeals and rumbles of equipment dislodged from their station echoed around them.

“Go, go!” Linz yelled. Lapis grabbed Rin and helped him to his feet, holding his uninjured arm as they hunched over and raced to the unbroken airwalk on their level. It vibrated hard enough to rattle the railing, and keeping upright proved a challenge. Cyan beams trailed them, but did not hit, instead tearing through the hanging stuff. Ropes and chains snapped, more crates and metal fell.

They reached the walkway and Lapis pulled Rin down behind a wobbly stack of metal boxes. She looked at his shoulder; a slash of burned material sketched across, and red soaked through the edges.

“Is not bad,” Rin said with a wince.

“We need to wrap that up.”

Cyan flared as beams struck the boxes, producing a symphony of complaining metallic squeaks.

“Get to that hallway,” Linz said, motioning with the tip of their weapon. Footsteps away, but the barrage targeting them made the entrance seem an impossible endeavor.

A long squealing sound, accompanied by a roar; a beam Lapis’s width and many times her height whizzed past, banging through the scaffolding and hanging objects. More parts followed, along with bits of broken whatnots and sparks galore. A boom, and the central pole shuddered and screeched, bowing towards their direction.

“Shit shit shit.” Linz snagged Rin. The airwalks vibrated and groaned loud enough to reach Ragehill, and screams and yelled commands—

The walkway above crashed down in front of them, a slanted length blocking the way before them. They turned, and the floor crumbled. Lapis clenched her teeth; spite trailed them. Material filled the air with dust and debris, and her eyes watered as the small flecks pelted them. She smashed the back of her hand across her face; attempt the way up, or drop to the ground and hope to avoid a merc battle.

Linz swiped at the slanted floor debris leading to the third tier; she nodded and ran up.

No more bad luck, no more bad luck.

Rin followed, Linz bringing up the rear. They safely reached the platform.

The nearest hallway exit sat behind rows of containers that emitted a stench between sponoil and rancid mud. Whatever they planned to use it for, it was moot now. Relieved, Lapis turned the corner and barreled into black uniforms.


She surged ahead, shoving them out of her way; the startled men tumbled back, and she hit unoccupied space at a run. She had no time to retrieve light from her pack, so slipped into the first open room just outside the glare of the enemy’s illumination.

Lapis rammed into something. She hissed and bit her lip to keep from crying out as her shins throbbed. She bent over as tears leaked to the floor, willing the pain to leave. She did not have time to hobble.


They needed light, and Linz’s handheld did not provide much. The rays flitted about the room, highlighted another entrance on the other side, and they shuffled over and pressed the wall at the approximate height the khentauree did. The portal slid open, they hastened through, and it closed with a soft shump.

Lapis heard words and the thud of boots, too near the door. Linz handed her the light and jerked their chin. She took the lead, Rin behind.

Stressed denials, then the door shook. A hiss, and babbling, which receded as they stepped around the tattered remains of khentauree who had gone to silence long enough ago, they were clumps of rusty metal. Their haphazard placement, rather than in neat lines, meant they stayed where they fell. Had the evacuating Taangins destroyed them? Probably.

Carts in various states of repair sat on three parallel, dirt-covered tracks, their beds filled with clumps of stone. Two-jointed, dirt-smeared mechanical arms reached over them, some empty, some holding rocks. Aquatheerdal blue sparkled within the matrix, though none had huge chunks of it.

The light did not strike walls or ceiling, and by the echo of their crunchy footsteps, Lapis assumed they walked through a cavern. She pondered whether she had an outsized impression of the Shivers, because of the need to go around cave-ins and such, but it seemed, during the Taangis Empire, it was an active place. Kez’s mines must have made him millions of metgals, for him to pay for something like the Cloister’s upkeep.

She heard screaming—and not the terrified-running-for-your-life type of scream. She pivoted as Linz raced to a cart on the third track, furthest from the path they took. Rin streaked after them and hunkered down. Lapis slipped around the corner and plastered herself against the edge before turning off the light, leaving them in darkness.

Her fear jumped to her throat, and she smashed her lips together, fighting her body’s response to flee. She hated the dark, whether she sat underground or ran through a forest, surrounded by noise and unseen foes. She started as a hand settled on her knee and followed her body line to her hand. Clutching at the fingers, she wondered how Rin knew she needed something to hold on to.

“You OK, Lanth?” Linz whispered.


The screaming neared as light danced about above their heads, and, thankfully, on the other side of the tracks. She set her free hand against her chest, gathered her tattered bravery, then peeked around the cart corner.

A man in a black field uniform with more shiny bits, pockets and patches than the others with him, stormed their way. His boots had a sharp click to them, as if he had yet to wear them in. He carried no weapon, but had a square bit of tech in front of his mouth. Spit flew into his short, pointed beard as he yelled, and Lapis had no doubt, if he noticed them, that anger would fall on their heads.

He ran his hand over his sleek black hair, the shiny strands staying in perfect place.


Lapis wished she knew Meergeven, or had Tuft nearby so she could ask him what the man said.

He continued, motioning with his hand, while the men with him glanced in resigned contempt at each other. Did they not realize the camp lay under attack?

He stopped mid-sentence, as thunder rolled over them. It came from the direction of the entrance. What had happened? Considering the loudness, it sounded as if half the place fell to the ground. Worry drummed against the back of her eyes, and the breathing exercises she attempted did no good.

The device he held spitted and static roared from it.

“Hik ay geechel?” He jerked his head from it, a snarl on his lips.

“Flewsii eeba tsuh fayik a siijh!” The man who spoke smacked the side of his device and held it to his ear, then shook his head. “Nuh leesk.”

“Hik safay cheu ay foizhun?” the leader asked.

Everyone shrugged, shifting nervously from one foot to another.

More thunder, and the ringing of metal striking metal.

“Ay geechel?” the leader breathed before racing down the path. His men followed, though the last three fell behind. Lapis squinted. Was that . . . Yes. Tirem. She might have disregarded her recognition, but how many other shady men had a spiral scar on their cheek and resembled a guttershank who worked for Hoyt?

Apparently the black uniforms hated his nosing around. He had his arms secured to his sides by rope, his hands tied behind his back, and one guard whacked him in the back with the butt of his weapon to get his feet to move. He winced and stumbled after the rest, in no hurry to do as his captors bid.

So Hoyt’s men accompanied a Beryl agent to sniff around outside the mines, and here was his prize shank, one who had dozens of stakes on his head because he delighted in carrying out the underboss’s whims. A shank whose name appeared on that list Predi had.

She lifted her lip at the remembrance of the dead hunter. She felt nothing but relief, that Ciaran took the extra time to make certain he did not rise off the ground again. Still, it would be nice to ask him what the connection was. She did not think Tirem’s name on that sheet, nor his presence there, was coincidence.

“Have fun,” Lapis breathed.

She should not have opened her mouth. Cyan beams whisked through the air, striking one of the men, the rest sailing down the corridor.

Return fire, and the guards at the back ducked and sought shelter behind carts, too near for her comfort.

“When did Patch rub off on you?” Linz asked, clutching their weapon and leaning into her to peek around the side.

Lapis really needed to ask about what event prompted their wryness. Patch had mentioned nothing, which meant it was exceedingly embarrassing—for him. Hopefully his luck rubbed off on her, too.

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