“Sorry,” said Illyra with a cough, “I must be an attractive target.” She took an unsteady step back, and turned to face away from Aleska before she leaned against the sturdy warrior. Aleska took the added weight in stride, and pushed with her back to help support Illyra on her feet.

“No apology necessary,” she replied.

The two of them stood there, like that, for a long moment, only the sound of Illyra’s labored breathing and distant footsteps to fill the room. Around them were the bodies of numerous cultists. Some still bled, twitched — most had stopped making any noise. Both Illyra and Aleska were covered in cuts and welts, but of the two, Illyra looked to be in worse condition. She had paled, and winced whenever she drew breath.

“You need to stay behind me,” said Aleska.

There was no word from Illyra, only her continued breathing. From only a few rooms away, Aleska could hear the sound of bare, running feet slapping against the smooth stone floor. Aleska reached into the Clamor, and felt it was still agitated from their previous skirmish. She pulled it in tighter around herself in anticipation of the next wave of assailants. There was no time to run.

“We’re going to die here,” said Illyra.

“Only if we give up,” said Aleska. “I will not.”

“Won’t die, or won’t give up?” asked Illyra.

Aleska stood up straighter, and squared her shoulders. Illyra’s weight seemed distant to her now, a slighter burden than a moment before. “Both are correct,” she said.

She uttered a short prayer to Otrera and smashed her club into the first cultist who charged at her. The next cultist ran at her and slashed her with a knife before she could bring her shield to bear. She sent her pain into the Clamor, wove the spectral energy into a barrier, and draped it around Illyra’s shoulders like a shawl.

She stared down the cultist in front of her, and the men who followed him. “I am your enemy,” she said. “You will face me.”