When you work on a major project, you have to manage your duties. It’s like the triage physikers practice. Pick what’s most important, and make that your highest priority. Secondary priorities can follow as you pursue the primary. Armin heard the words of his old teacher, Master Lukanis, as if the old Master was standing next to him. For the most part, it was good advice, although Armin wished they had spent more time on learning to identify primary and secondary priorities. Digging the tunnel, for example. Armin had set expansion of the tunnel and reinforcement so it wouldn’t collapse on anyone’s head as a primary priority, and focused all their efforts in those two fields. Those were good priorities.
However, It meant making sure that the alarms reached them down here was a secondary priority.
So it was that Armin and the other three Llumcasters they’d acquired after their last major confrontation with the Alohym were completely unaware, at first, of an entire battle being fought above. They were deep beneath the ground, checking charts and second guessing their math. If their math was right – and Armin hoped that four Lumcasters working in tandem could manage even complex trigonometry – the tunnel through the plateau had now reached the ground level after winding in a gentle spiral downwards.
Clarcia stood next to him. “The math looks good to me!” she said brightly, earning a chuckle from Armin and the others. Of the Llumcasters, she had the most raw power. She was also fifteen, and had never set foot in the Collegium or any other school of formal study. She’d figured out how to manipulate light by accident. It made her into a potent force, but when the time came for math and careful planning, she sat at the side of Armin and the others, taking notes with a fervor. The math always looked good to her, and Armin wondered if the joke would ever wear old, or if she’d be making it when she was in her seventies and had finally mastered it.
Light, you’re a fool, Armin thought with no small amount of bitter mirth. You actually believe anyone here is going to make it to seventy? His sour reflection was interrupted by the oldest of the Llumcasters, Genevia. Genevia had been a Llumcaster before the Alohym arrived, one of the few to survive that initial assault. She only had middling talent, but could apply it with the surgical precision of a physikers blade. She was also showing some of the slight mutations that aged Llumcasters developed – in her case, a third eye in the center of the forehead that she swore was nonfunctional, and an extra thumb on each hand. Those did work, Armin knew, though they provided her little benefit. Genevia had joked about developing a new instrument only she could play properly, but admitted she had no ideas for how that would work. “I think Clarcia is right. However, Clarcia, can you tell us why it is ‘good’?”
Armin tuned out as Clarcia began to explain the formulae and how they proved it was safe to burst through the plateau. He knew he should be paying attention, but Genevia and Adenot – the last of their little quartet – were better at math than him. Adenot was, like Genevia, older than Armin, although he’d only been an apprentice when the Alohym invaded. He also wasn’t particularly strong, although he could hold a casting far longer than any of the others, which made it his job to shore up the tunnel until the builders could use some of the stones from the ruins above to keep it supported. Adenot had not begun to mutate at all, although he swore every day it was coming ‘soon.’
Light and shadow, listen to me, judging others for their strength as Llumcasters. I’m a glorified charging cell! That wasn’t entirely fair – since absorbing the Sunstone’s power, Armin had been able to do some minor casting that went beyond mere ‘charging cell charging,’ but since his talent had been so weak, he’d never learned how to manipulate light for anything other than powering Arc devices. In mathematics, logic, and the scholarly arts, he could help teach Clarcia. When it came to Llumcasting, Genevia and Adenot often taught Clarcia by giving her basic lessons to teach Armin. It rankled sometimes. At the collegium, being a glorified charging cell had made him perfect in the eyes of his instructors, who were now of course serving the Alohym. It was only now Armin understood that was because being able to charge Arc devices was all they wanted Llumcasters to do.
Why did they even allow that? Armin wondered, not the first time. Ever since Tythel’s discovery that the Alohym’s vaunted immunity to harm was a function of every assault against them in the past using Unlight weapons against them, it had never made sense to Armin that the Alohym allowed the creation of arcwands. He hadn’t come up with an answer, not yet. His best theory was that the Alohym knew humans would figure out the trick, and thought it would be best if they controlled the production of the arcwands.
He didn’t like that theory. It was too clean, too neat, and too easy. Armin didn’t trust anything that made the Alohym seem easy. In his experience, nothing about the Alohym seemed easy.
“Very good Clarcia. Master Armin,” Genevia asked, breaking into his reverie again. “Do you agree we’re ready to breach?”
Armin fought the urge to protest the title. He was nominally ‘leading’ the Llumcasters, but that was only by virtue of of having been with the Resistance far longer and having earned the Duke’s trust. He had never earned the rank of Master, unlike Genevia and Adenot, and having them call him a title he was still years away from being worthy of rankled him. Armin liked people singing his praises, but only when it was deserved. “I do, so long as Master Adenot agrees.”
Adenot nodded in firm agreement. Armin would rarely do anything if the two true Masters didn’t agree, and when they did not, he deferred to Genevia. At least he didn’t need to do that this time. “Excellent,” Armin said. “Then I suppose we should start the breach. Anyone know what time it is up top?”
“Well,” Clarcia said brightly, “judging by the circles under all three of Master Genevia’s eyes, I’d say we were up all night. Again.”
Armin ignored the note of reproach in Clarcia’s voice. Bringing timepeices into the tunnel had also seemed a secondary priority. It was easy to lose track of time away from the sun and stars, especially with work to distract them. And especially because you don’t need to sleep anymore. Or, to be more accurate, he couldn’t sleep anymore. Not since the Sunstone.
It was starting to wear on him.
“Then we’ll call it for now, and break through after we’ve all rest-”
Armin was cut off by the sudden slap of boots on the tunnel, coming towards them rapidly. “Master Armin!” the runner shouted. She was young, no more than eleven or twelve. Children like her were used to run messages within the camp to free up the adults for other work. No one trusted the songstones, not for anything short of dire urgency.
“What is it?” Armin asked, masking his irritation. He was hoping to lay down and at least close his eyes for a few hours.
The girl was panting, and had to rest her hands on her knees. Light. Did she run the entire len “We…you don’t know. Alohym, sir. They’re attacking the upper level. The Duke sent me…oh flath. Sorry, shouldn’t swear.” The girl took a deep breath. “They’re falling back into the tunnels. The Duke says if you can get an opening, we’re going to need it.”
Armin scowled. “Sleep is postponed,” he announced. “We need to break through.”
There was no argument. Clarcia went to the front and began to glow as she sucked in light from the nearby Llumwell. It caused her skin to glow with a golden radiance, and her red and blue hair began to float of its own accord. “Steady now,” Genevia cautioned, her own skin starting to glow as she wove a focus from light.
They’d gotten very good at this. Clarcia would channel raw power from the lumwell, with Genevia focusing her beam. Adenot would shore up the tunnel, and Armin would pull additional light to funnel into whoever needed it.
“How long,” the girl asked. “Begging your pardon, sir, but the Duke will want to know.”
Now Armin wished he’d paid attention to the mathematical discussion earlier. “Genevia?” Armin asked, busying himself with some objects on the table to appear busy, hoping to hide his ignorance.
“Two hours safely. An hour if we rush and take risks.”
The girl nodded. “There’s a warship up there.”
Genevia looked at Armin, who nodded grimly. “We’ll rush, then.”
Light, please let us have enough time, Armin thought, already starting to funnel additional light into Clarcia. Don’t let us all die down here because we were too slow.
If the Light was willing to aid them, it gave no reply.