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Amaranthe was in charge of their group of mercenaries, but she bowed to him in matters of training. She wasn’t sure whose idea that had been, but she was beginning to regret it.

“How much... longer?” she asked when she came up.

“You grow weary?” Sicarius asked.

“Of course not.” Amaranthe tried not to pant or gasp as she spoke, or at least not to sound as if she were panting or gasping. “I’m just... concerned that... if we’re out here too long... we’ll get sunburnt. A bad burn... could inhibit our... ability to train tomorrow.” There, he wouldn’t see right through that. Of course not.

“It’s been three minutes.”

Dear ancestors, was that all? “Three minutes already? This isn’t... a very challenging exercise, is it?” A wave shoveled water down Amaranthe’s throat, and she sputtered, almost letting the brick drop before she recovered.

“Shall we switch weights?” Sicarius held his brick out toward her.

Why she always insisted on bravado with him, she didn’t know. Some deluded feeling that he would be more impressed with her that way, she supposed. “I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your training. It’s—”

A great crash boomed, drowning out Amaranthe’s words. At first, she thought it sounded like metal ramming against metal, but then a thunderous crack of wood echoed, like a tree snapping in two during an ice storm.

She lowered the brick and scanned the nearby shoreline. This far south of the city, rocks and trees dominated the coast with the land being too craggy for farming or building. Roads and the main railway to the capital did cut through the terrain, and she wondered if there might have been a train crash, or perhaps someone had run a steam lorry into a tree. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see rails or roads from the secluded inlet.

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