As Trevander, Penelope, and the girls were walking away from the fortress, the blonde girl sidled up next to Penelope and asked her where they were going.
"It's a common meeting place," she said with a nod after Penelope described the location. Trevander was listening in by then and she spoke to them both. "Unfortunately, we'll have to get close to the village to reach the ruins, but we can stay along the periphery and dart behind buildings to avoid the center of town."
"Lead the way," Trevander replied.
As they approached the village the sounds of the battle, grunts and cries of fighting men, the shuffling of feet, and the clash of swords grew louder.
"The men won't take notice of us, they'll be too preoccupied with the battle," Trevander said to Penelope. "But Onyx will if we come anywhere within sight."
"So what should we do?"
He frowned, wishing he had a better answer. "Be quick, lie low, and hope we get lucky."
As they raced between buildings, Penelope looked out into the battlefield, keeping an eye out for Onyx. She hoped that the old woman wouldn't spot them. What she saw instead brought her to a halt.
It wasn't Onyx, but it was Stephan in the midst of the fighting, his sword clashing with that of his opponent.
She stood watching, her heart in her throat as the other girls continued to run past her. Trevander stopped beside her and urged her to keep going, but she couldn't seem to tear her eyes away from her brother.
Stephan blocked another hit, but it was a strong blow that threw him off balance and nearly brought him to his knees.
A gasp escaped Penelope's lips, "Stephan!" she called out a warning as her brother's opponent brought back his sword for another swipe. The action was futile. He was too far and there was too much noise from the battle for him to possibly hear her.
Trevander had a hold of her arm now and was trying to urge her to keep moving, but she shook him away and took off in the other direction, towards her brother. She could hear Trevander call after her, but she wasn't listening. She had to reach Stephan.
She tried to keep her eyes on her brother as she made her way towards him, but it proved difficult. Bodies quickly moved between them and she had to watch in all directions in order to avoid thrusting elbows, swinging swords, and falling bodies. Soon Stephan was lost in the crowd.
She turned around frantically searching for a glimpse of him, trying to find him amongst the crowd, but she was lost. The constant movement around her had her feeling dizzy and disoriented. She no longer knew which way she came from or how to get out of the midst of the fighting.
Suddenly she felt a hand grasp tightly around her arm. When it pulled her, she did not resist, thankful for a way out of the middle of the fighting.
She didn't see who had helped her until they were away from the fighting and in the doorway of the watchtower of the village square. Free of the center of the commotion she found her breath. Although her ears were still filled with the sounds of the battle, she felt less disoriented.
"If you hold any value for your life stay out of the way and keep out of sight," Rudicles said, towering over her. "Consider us even." With those words, Rudicles drew his sword and returned to the fighting before Penelope had a chance to thank him.
Penelope took one last glance over the battle before ducking into the tower and closing the door behind her. Inside the tower was dark and quiet. She leaned back against the heavy door and closed her eyes, trying to block out the battle outside. She breathed deeply to calm herself as she waited for her heart to stop pounding so violently in her chest.
She had nearly returned to her senses when she heard the creak of another door opening, bringing with it the brightness of the daylight and the sounds of the outside battle. Her eyes snapped open and she jumped to her feet as Onyx entered.
"There you are, my child."
As the older woman walked towards her, Penelope dodged to the side. They circled around the small room until Penelope was backed up next to the foot of the narrow steps and Onyx was directly in front of her. As the old woman closed in on her there was nowhere for Penelope to go but up.
"You have not been truthful with me now, child. The pack was not where you said it was. You have wasted my time and effort on a false search," she said angrily. She spoke in a clipped sharp voice and shook her fists for emphasis as she spoke. "I will not be lied to."
"I couldn't tell you where it was," Penelope struggled to explain. "My brother's wife has it. Let me go and I will bring it to you. I'll bring it back right to this very spot if you will let me go get it."
The older woman stared at her with narrowed, untrusting eyes. "I find that very unlikely."
"I will." Penelope tried to speak bravely, despite the fact that she could not seem to keep herself from continuing to back away from the old woman, further and further up the winding steps. "And you will see that I don't have what you're looking for. You saw the contents of my pack at the tavern. I have nothing of worth."
"The stone of Hephaestus is what I seek," she spoke evenly as her murky green eyes focused on Penelope with such intensity that they seemed as if they could bore through her.
Penelope took another step back and bumped into the wall behind her. She felt caught in a corner with no way to escape.
"I have heard talk that your family has had it in their possession. When you came into the tavern I could sense it with you. I knew then without a doubt that it lies with you," she said as she threateningly jabbed her index finger with its unnaturally long fingernail towards Penelope's chest. "The fire always goes back to its source. I've spent the last 200 years seeking out the stones. I will not stop searching until I have all of them in my position. Even if it takes another 200 years-"
Onyx cut off suddenly. Her steady glare shifted away from Penelope and seemed to focus off into the distance.
"No," she huffed with a sharp exhalation of breath. She abruptly turned and raced back down the steps.
Penelope watched after her, puzzled by the old woman's sudden departure.
She turned around to see what had sent Onyx running away so quickly, but when she she looked out the window behind her all she could see was the fighting below.
Trevander couldn't believe he'd lost her. He had been right behind her when she took off running, but before he could catch her, the crowd had closed in on him. He had been mistaken by one of Villetes' men for a fighting villager and had to fend off an attacking guardsman. By the time he managed to break away, Penelope was nowhere to be seen.
In the meantime, more men had started to come after him, so he grabbed a weapon that had been left on the ground by a fallen fighter and prepared to defend himself. He had never been considered a strong fighter, but he tried to stay to the side and hold his own as he kept an eye out for Penelope.
Suddenly, something in the battle seemed to shift. Villetes' momentum was quickly dying down. His men lost any organization and most seemed to drop out of the fighting altogether. Trevander watched as the men around him started lowering their weapons. Some of them seemed almost lost.
Across the battlefield, Villetes himself was still fighting as fiercely as ever. He desperately shouted out commands, but they seemed to fall on deaf ears as fewer and fewer of his men were actively fighting.
Trevander barely had time to make sense of the change when he caught sight of Onyx darting across the battlefield as quickly as her aged body would carry her. He watched as she swiftly made her way towards Villetes. A stray blade caught her on the side of her body, drawing blood, but she didn't seem to notice.
When Onyx reached Villetes' side, Trevander saw her dive to the ground. He started to move closer, trying to get a better look at what was happening, but he had barely taken two steps forward before Onyx was pulling herself back to her feet. As she hurried away, one hand gripping her wounded side, Trevander saw a flash of sunlight against metal in her other hand before she hobbled away out of sight.
Trevander was tempted to chase after her, but at the moment, he was too curious about what was happening around him. Villetes was still shouting out orders, but no one was listening. Instead he was answered by a half a dozen swords at his throat. Helpless and alone, he dropped his weapon and raised his arms in surrender.