Evlynn was in shock.
It was in the way she stared straight ahead, moving mechanically with no response to anyone around her. She had not even reacted to her own gashed thigh, clutching tightly to the thing that had started this. Her face was blank, eyes clouded over, unresponsive to the worrying A'styee running at full bear beneath her. Oryon to her right, calling out to her and trying to get her to look at him, Iishta trying to chatter presumed encouragements toward the panicking Nautilus. Oberryn was slowly falling behind, each stride of his Bull putting just a small amount more distance between them and the front two.
They couldn't stop now, but the urgency of the next step was crucial; as soon as the lab fires were put out, they would send out the Hunters. They needed to collaborate now, keep at least two steps ahead. Anything less could find them captured, or more likely worse. They had done the unthinkable, after all, and were caught red-handed and running.
Fae had taken up the rear, keeping an eye over her shoulder to make sure they weren't being followed. It was only a matter of time and her own mild stress pushed her to make the next call. She looked forward for the umpteenth time in the last ten minutes, focusing her attention on Oryon. He was still trying to comfort Evlynn, though looked over his shoulder when Oberryn called to him. G'lgumyish had fallen several paces behind the two leading dragons and that distance was only growing wider. Iishta was pulled back a bit, slowing her pace to keep time with the much bigger dragon. From there came the heated discussion Fae was expecting, overhearing the debate at her position behind the pack on their next action from that moment.
She was about to offer her own points when Derryus made a noise beneath her, a grumbling that rattled through them both. Carefully, she sat upward, buffeted by the wind that rushed passed them in the little Sonic's continued advance after their companions. Once, she was almost knocked sideways from the seat-piece, caught herself and braced a bit lower to avoid the turbulent air, looking behind them in the direction they had come. It took a moment for her to see them, but some ways back on the horizon, a pack of eight varied dragons with their riders were closing in fast. The distance was growing smaller by the second, and it did not take long for her to see the noticeable tattoo on the haunch of just one dragon.
That was faster than anticipated...
"Ve haf company." she announced once she turned back toward those in front. "Zey haf already dispatched ze Hunters."
The bickering over tactical movement died down, Oryon looking back toward her with Oberryn following suit. "How many?"
"I count eight, but you know how zey are."
Oryon was silent, though Oberryn looked forward, toward Evlynn. She had not moved at all and A'styee was starting to panic again, evident in the chittering she was making and the way her stride was broken. For a dragon trained in jumping, a stuttering gait was a sign of stress or injury. In the absence of the latter, it was undoubtedly the former.
"Vhat do you suggest vhe do." It wasn't even a question, the larger of the four riders already submitting himself to something. Any suggestion that would get them out of the line of fire. The defeat in the face of urgency was more than prominent.
Abyssal gaze shifted first back to their pursuers, then forward toward the Nautilus growing further and further away. The landscape ahead was flat, for now, the terrain easy and pocked with small sections of long-deteriorated human settlement. Fae drew her lips thin. They were waiting on her input. Eyes lowered just a bit, finding Derryus beneath, the dragon making a concerned noise in his chest. One hand stroked an eye ridge, reassuring him before she turned back toward Oryon.
"Keep to A'styee." she ordered. "I t'ink zere are a few ruins ahead you can take shelter in until zis blows over, but you haf to keep A'styee from panicking too much until you get zere or she might cause herself or Evlynn harm." With a nod, Oryon pushed Iishta forward to a better position. Attention shifted to Oberryn, pulling Derryus up beside him. "Keep behind. Make sure t'ings keep on track. If somet'ing happens und I don't come back, you are ze next defense, vit' Gil."
"I t'ought vhe agreed not to add to dhe body count." he stated, pursing his lips in a worried annoyance.
She shrugged a bit, looked up front again. A'styee was not panicking as badly as before with Iishta nearby, as expected. "Sometimes ... sometimes ve haf to make sacrifices." The chuckle that left her there was worrying, even to herself. "Zey broke zat rule vhen zey murdered Tatiyanna, und forced Bapteesta's hand. I'm just doing vat I do best."
"Getting yourself killed isn't going to solve anyt'ing, Fae. Dhey vhill still send Hunters, and vhe vhill be vhit'out a proper defense."
She afforded him a reassuring smile, though from the way his lips drew thinner, she could tell it didn't work as well as it should have. "I'll just haf to be better zan zey are, if anyt'ing to stall for time. Remind zem vhere all zat training vent."
Oberryn sighed, a heave of his shoulders more than a noise. "...Be safe. Come back to us, da."
Her hands came off the controllers for just a moment, Derryus taking the cue to slow down and put some distance between both parties. "I'll try." It was poor assurances, but assurances none the less. Another noise, an apprehensive chirp, from the little Sonic running beneath her. Another rub along one of his ridges was given, his head started pulling back and up as speed decreased far enough to do so without repercussion.
"Let's give zem hell, Derr." she muttered to him, settling against the seat proper and flicking a switch on the dash.
Familiar clasps snapped down along her lower legs, anchoring her, the seat itself extending back a few inches and sloping downward, locking in place. A configuration usually used for displays in shows and competitions for entertainment, it would have to do for an appropriate battle-seat. The way it shifted for better stability of the rider would also be increasingly helpful, especially with what they were about to do.
Derryus was still in motion by the time she took control once more, looking over her shoulder to assess how far back the Hunters were. Unsurprisingly, they were close enough she was able to distinguish the differing breeds of dragons in the pack with clarity. Leaning forward to pick up some speed before she tilted the seat suddenly to her left with a release of the mechanism from her left foot-pedal.
The silent command was executed with practiced precision, the little Sonic digging his front claws into the ground long enough to swing his body around sharply and launch with little effort from that point forward again, aiming for their pursuers. She hunkered down into the seat behind his head, felt the tense begin in his chest as the assault began, an unexpectedly loud roar echoing from him as his war-cry. The timing had to be perfect; any missed steps could prove fatal in the end. She knew from the formation the incoming Hunters had taken that they were there for blood, assigned to take back the War Engine via any means possible. The next moments would be crucial, because their opponents would be relentless if she and Derryus fell.
There was a shout, surprise rippling through the pack once they were aware of the Sonic dragon bolting across the plain back toward them, a screaming beast of pale turquoise and pastel greens. The Hunters pulled back, dragons skidding almost in unison. Distance closed, Fae dictated in the seat positioning the next command. Barely a second passed before it was executed, Derryus bunching into a coil and springing forward, position shifting once airborne. Hind-feet landed first, making contact on the crown of the lead dragon, the Sky-class shrieking against the contact what slammed its head toward the ground. Energy was redirected across the Sonic's frame, pushing his landing pad downward further as he bounded over the top of his adversary's rider, digging claws into the squealing beast's hips and lower back.
Fae could feel the shift beneath her, power moving across her four-legged companion from back to front. Right pedal was pushed back, the seat shifting to the side. The vertebrae in his tail snapped into alignment, his gravity centering and a shift into his forelegs again before he swung the now-stiffened tail with his hindquarters about. Compact limb missed the dragon to their immediate right, but still managed to smack the rider off his seat some distance from the creature. Claws released finally from their first casualty, leaving the whimpering Sky with debilitating gashes in its haunches, Derryus swinging around to land on his hind-feet on the ground. One bounce to reassess before he was back on all fours and launching forward again.
The first assault had already caused panic among the dragons, those untouched trying to whirl about to properly counter. They had not expected the Sonic to already be incoming, jaws displayed wide in a shriek of defiance before he collided with a small Psi, barely bigger than he was, and knocking both dragon and rider to the ground with the shock of the attack. He was not on the ground long, another voiceless dictation drawing him airborne again and aiming for the dragon to their left, claws displayed and readying to incapacitate it much as he had the first. Tail was swept along the ground, aiming to knock the dragon on their other side off-balance.
Derryus didn't succeed in making aggressive contact. Something hit the left anchor at her ankle, throwing her off-balance enough to catch sight of it bounce off some ways away; Green ramming shot, rolling to a rest some ways away. The dragon she was attached to lost balance with the strike as well, tail flailing to try and counterbalance, stumbling on his hind legs. She caught sight of the culprit, another group of four Hunters appearing as if from nowhere with the lead Energy-class bearing the Gear necessary.
How underhandedly effective. As expected of your role...
Before Derryus could resume balance, the Psi he had battered earlier had regained its feet, donning the familiar green muzzle of ramming Gear and rushed him in his vulnerability. She felt his legs whisked from under him almost as much as he did, a pair of switches on the control handles clicked. The anchors at her lower legs released. All except the bands around her ankles. A few more frantic clicks, the mechanism buzzing as though trying to respond, to no end result. A quick glance to try and diagnose the issue within the few seconds she had left showed the syncing pin in the left anchor bent. That shot had done more damage than she thought originally. Only one thing was left to do now.
There was a brief moment of free-fall as she took her hands off the controls to cover her head with her arms, preparing for the inevitable impact with the ground. It came sooner than expected, a dull thud with the creak of metal as the saddle-piece took the weight of the dragon's head. If it hadn't been for the framework surrounding her, she might have been crushed in full. All she could register besides a muddled ringing in her ears was a distinct sharp pressure were the anchors still held. A second cracking alerted her to the supports attaching the seat of the saddle-piece to the base of the dragon's skull starting to snap loose, the continued weight starting to sheer the bolts.
There was a moment of stunned silence, Derryus relaxing a bit before the shock wore off. He let off a squeal of distaste, wriggling about to try and dislodge himself from the ground. The action jerked his rider about, tossed and dragged violently, rattling her ability to rationalize. With a ripping noise, the supports pulled away from the dirt, tearing tangled grass roots with it. Clawing at anything in range for purchase, she could feel something else less pleasant. As the leg supports were pulled up, there was a pain around where the ankle anchors had been dug in, an ambient grinding pain what lingered, lessened only by the amount of adrenaline still pumping through her veins. Rationality was slowly returning to her, the remembrance of a support bar within reach fueling her to try and grab a hold of it.
Derryus moved, rolling forward first in an attempt to curl enough to roll to one side. The support bar moved away from her, repeated disapproval uttered in a frantic attempt to grasp it. She might have told him to hold for half a second until she had a grip on the bar if she had been in her right mind, but after being shaken, her thoughts had muddled. She was regretting it now, the little Sonic snapping his head forward quickly to assume a position to roll upright.
The quick lashing movement was the catalyst; if she hadn't been sure her ankles were at least fractured, she was sure with that distinct and wet snapping noise similar to breaking fresh greenwood that they were now. As if to prove it to her, the pain that shot up her legs was more than ambient throbbing and straight into sheer burning agony, though it did come with a positive point. The bent synchronizing pin had received enough force that the metal snapped in two, effectively springing out of the hinge and allowing the ankle clasps to finally open. She slid from the seat, landed on her feet, and immediately crumpled with a loud yelp as her ankles actively shifted in their booted confines and brought her down with a painful reminder that they were rendered useless. It was all she could do to let herself lay on the turf, frustrated and whimpering, trying to hold in tears threatening to fall.
Derryus had managed his way to stand again, the saddle-seat hanging precariously from only two bolts on one side, limping with favor to his back right leg to stand over her, a nudge given to her side perhaps in hope that she might stand up and take her seat again. Whether he could sense her inability to move or not in the few moments that followed, he raised his head upward to scan the Hunters who were now closing in. Even with one down and unable to fight, there were still eleven more to contend with, far too many for a single dragon, a Sonic runt at that, to handle on his own. That left one option open.
He hobbled forward, doing his best to look intimidating. Almost immediately, the pack took a simultaneous step back despite their riders' hissed protests. It started with a grumbling growl, though raised with little warning to that same roar he had issued earlier on his approach. At such close proximity, the sound was loud enough to cause return screeching and force both human and dragon to decide on retreating. With the Hunters a safe distance away, his verbal assault stopped. It wouldn't buy them a lot of time, but just enough for him to run by and quickly mag his injured rider to the ruined saddle-piece, pleased to feel her fingers wrap about the support bar she had so desperately sought earlier.
He needed no prompt on where to go, taking control to remember the way the others had gone. The soreness of being rammed was easing away the more he moved and very soon, he was able to run smooth enough to cover some ground. A small chirping noise left him as he felt a brush of familiar fingers across an eye ridge, their own physical language and one of praises. Passed the point they had split from their party, his injured leg seized and with a whimpering yelp lost his stride. A stumble was inevitable, a fall shortly afterward. It took some time to push himself back up, using a bit of crumbling wall at the side of the road to aid his bracing, both he and his rider noticing the steady return of the pack.
"At zis point, 'relentless' ist an understatement..." Fae muttered, hands tightening on the bar. Derryus started to growl again, silencing as soon as one hand touched his head. "Don't vorry about it now. Duty's done."
Surrender was not a normal thing to hear, a concerned churr leaving the little Sonic, but he did lower his head downward. Eyes closed, waiting for the onslaught, the sound of their pursuers growing closer.
The sound of an exhale, rattling of smaller debris nearby.
"I'd be not breathin' t'is in if'n I was you."
Fae's eyes snapped back open, looking up toward that familiar voice. Grinning skull-face was smiling down on her from on top of the ruined wall, a lazy cloud of pale yellow wafting toward the incoming pack. Though it had faded in color before it reached the eleven Hunters, the effects of the ever-drifting drug were obvious in all of them and their dragons. Glazed drowsy eyes, slacked jaws. The advancement slowed gradually to an easy stop, Oryon waving a hand at his companions to get behind the wall as he carefully descended and made his way toward the pack.
"I'll handle t'is, you guys get t'cover. Look like y'need a rest."
Even with slight encouragement from his rider, Derryus did not need to be told twice what needed to be done, limping more prominently out of sight. Oberryn was a small ways away, waving at them to follow his direction. It took longer than necessary to reach him, Oryon already on his way back before the wounded pair were lead beneath an outcropping made by a wall falling inward across two others as an impromptu roof on a small alcove. Evlynn and A'styee were sitting in a corner with Iishta lying near them, G'lgumyish resting standing up, as Bulls were wont to do. Evlynn still had a hold of the War Engine, though she was a bit more responsive to those around her. This was a good sign.
"Did you take care of it?" Oberryn was asking his shorter companion, to which he received a shrug.
"Took care of it, a'ight. Sent 'em all home. They'll b'gettin' in the door 'fore the powder wears off." Oryon answered. "We should b'safe here for now, but we can't b'stayin' for too long, 'fore they return 'n' start scourin'." Peridot-green gaze shifted then, looking up at Fae on her mangled seat. "Y'should come down from there 'n' rest, y'know."
Oberryn had turned his attention now toward her, questioningly, before she answered. "I ... I can't." There was a pause before her voice lowered, looking down at confused looks from both the men in the party. "I t'ink ... I t'ink somet'ing crucial ist broken."
Eyes darted briefly toward her ankles, balanced precariously on the bent foot-pedals. It took only a second, a shift from ever-concerned Derryus to try and lower her slowly into Oberryn's arms. A small blur through a haze of rediscovered pain as Oryon fretted about how he didn't have anything for setting broken delicate joints like this. She was set down, leaning against Derryus once he had settled, to allow Oryon access to her injuries. As he worked, trying to align and set the snapped joints for ease of transport, she caught sight of movement in the nearest corner, Evlynn having risen to stand and make her way unsteadily toward her. Abyssal gaze shifted to look at the other, taken by surprise at the watery film in her friend's silvery eyes.
There was a moment of silence before Evlynn spoke again, quiet and broken. "Mne ochen zhal..."
An apology, spoken in the tongues of her ancestors. Usually, it was difficult to tell if Evlynn felt what she said, but this time, there was no doubt. She immediately began to weep openly, pocked with stuttered apologies that no amount of attempted consoling could quell for her. It took four hours before she could properly dry her eyes.
It was the last show of open emotion her three companions would see of her ever again.