"You there! Halt! What do you think you're doing?"
Vendril glanced over his shoulder at the guard and her upraised halberd. He did not point out that he was sitting on edge of the crenelations of the highest tower in the palace of Solstar, because that should have been obvious. He did not point out that his weapons were all tucked away, because that was equally obvious. He very definitely did not point out that he was considering pitching himself off the edge of the tower, because that was none of the human guard's business.
"I'm talking to you, knife-ears." Then the woman stopped, squinted, and grounded the butt of her halberd. "You're him, aren't you? The scout from Fort Dedo."
Vendril nodded, and the human relaxed. "So what the hell are you doing up here?"
"Being up high helps me think." Dark thoughts, angry thoughts, but still thoughts.
"Helios. You're a gods-blessed hero, and I was about to..."
Vendril shook his head. "I'm not a hero. We fell into the enemy's trap, let ourselves get fooled into doing their work for them. For three generations my clan has worked with Fort Dedo to protect the borders of Sol Povos, and I failed them."
"You didn't fail them. You brought warning to the King, and if the stories are even half-correct you fought your hardest all along the line."
I did fail. We all did. Vendril didn't answer, just looked out over the city again, then down to the ground so very far below.
"Listen," said the guard. "I'll make you a deal. You stay up here and do your thinking... and don't do anything foolish, like deciding your life needs ending... and I'll put the word around to the other guards so none of them bother you. And in half an hour, when I go off-duty, I'll come back and take you to my favorite tavern and buy you enough al'cul to make you forget everything you ever knew."
Vendril blinked and looked back at her. "Al'cul?"
"It's a dwarvish drink, imported. Not sure what they brew it from, but it'll burn away your cares and most of your common sense."
Vendril hesitated, then nodded. "Deal."
He listened as her footsteps receded.
And he thought.
The colonel was dead. The Baron was captured. Maodeus was back in its original body, and the forces of Vecna had access to the great gates and at least some of the ancient Formorian weapons. Fort Dedo still held, at least as far anybody knew, but it was leaderless and cut off.
He could go back to the clan and tell them of his disgrace, but he knew already what his father would say: his duty was here, doing whatever he could to protect the king-- even this king, even in a city where anyone with the slightest hint of elvish blood was in danger of being murdered by the mobs or cut open by the Archons.
No matter the depths of his shame, he still had his duty. And when his time came, he could only hope to die as honorably and spectacularly as Geddy had. Until then...
You're a hunter, he heard his father's voice say. So hunt.
Until then, he thought suddenly, I have to alert the clan. They can aid Fort Dedo, or help to evacuate it. A troop held in reserve, behind the invading forces, could split their attention and tangle their strategy. Even with the gates, they'll need supply lines, and the clan could show the forces at Fort Dedo how to cut those lines. But first, we have to preserve those forces.
He made a quick calculation as he slipped back from the edge of the wall and set his feet on the tower top. Yes, he could get down to where the king kept his messengers and still be back here when the guardswoman finished her shift. He would send word to his father, who would set the clan into motion. And with the message sent, Vendril would let this human guard show him exactly what this al'cul could do...