The trees rushed by beneath the chopper as the sun started to peek up over the horizon. The sight was incredibly beautiful, and had anyone in the chopper had the time to pay attention to it, they would have admired it for what it was.
However, the situation was dire. Lily couldn’t really piece together what had happened after Arie had been shot. All she really remembered was Boomer flying out the door in a rage as she helped Jarrod bring Elle safely down the stairs. She had helped set her down, then immediately ran to Arie, checking her wounds.
Lily had taken a first aid course in High School, but that was years prior. Still, she remembered enough not to pull the arrow out. She checked the wound. It had buried itself a few inches into her back, just below the shoulder. As far as she could tell, it had only struck meat. She had checked Arie’s pulse. It was still going, but it was weak. Blood poured out of her wound.
By the time Lily had ripped off a length of her shirt to apply pressure to the wound, to keep her from bleeding out, Boomer had returned, his face grim. He helped her pick Arie up, while Jarrod followed with Elle. Lily refused to even acknowledge the crimson-stained ground outside, knowing exactly who and what had caused that. The courtyard was empty, however. If any other soldiers had been present when Boomer had run outside, they’d left as soon as they realized what they were up against.
Boomer had helped Lily load Arie up into the chopper as Luc Dreston lowered it close enough to the ground while Jarrod struggled with Elle. Boomer had run back to get Andy’s corpse, leaving Lily to tend to Arie, while Jarrod jumped in, pulling Elle up beside him. Luc had raised a brief stink about the extra passengers, but when he realized the state that Elle was in, he focused on keeping the chopper straight. Jarrod didn’t even seem to react to the presence of the helicopter. Lily was certain he didn’t know what to make of it, but it was better than the alternative of being left behind.
Finally, Boomer emerged from the building, running faster than even he should have been able to being bogged down by Andy’s weight. Arie held Cahl’s staff with a tight death-grip, and as much as Lily tried to pry it from her hands, her fingers wouldn’t budge. Finally, once everyone was aboard, Luc lifted the chopper off. It wasn’t a moment too late, as a number of soldiers had come flooding into the courtyard even as they lifted off. They shot arrows at them, which bounced harmlessly off of the metal and glass frame.
Finally, they were out of range. In the air, Lily could see the damage they had done to the fledgling city from the air raid. Boomer pushed her out of the way and started to check Arie’s wounds.
She was stable, at least. It would be rough going until they got her to a healer, but she wasn’t bleeding so badly anymore. A check of her pulse revealed that it was growing stronger. At several points during the trip, she had slipped in and out of consciousness, crying and screaming at the pain.
Finally, the sun came up, lighting the land before them, and Lily could see the telltale shape of Mount Coronation off in the distance, a piece of Earth set against the backdrop of the Disputed Lands.
Suddenly, as they drew within range of the radio towers, the radio squealed to life. Luc wasted no time in contacting the town.
“Please be advised we have three casualties,” he told the ground crew. “We’re going to need a medical team ready at the landing site.”
Lily couldn’t hear the reply, but Luc’s reply said it all. “The Boas girl took an arrow in the back, and we’ve got one Charlie-Foxtrot in rough shape,” he said. “And Andy… They got Andy. He’s dead.”
Lily looked over to Andy’s body, which Boomer had propped up against the seat inside. It was hardly recognizable. His skull had been caved in, and several gaping wounds riddled his body. Even without the wounds, he was looking thinner than usual, his body covered in bruises and cuts. She swore that his arm was bent at a funny angle, but that could have been due to the way he had died.
The chopper flew low to the ground, shredding the miles below rapidly. Finally, on the horizon, she could see the first signs that they were approaching town. She could see Burial Point, stretching out into the ocean, and–
–wait. Something else caught her attention. It was closer, just south of the border between Dunsmith and the Disputed Lands. The ground itself seemed to be moving, writhing.
“Holy Christ,” Luc said as the chopper approached the town. He pointed to the ground below. Lily looked out, her eyes wide.
They were men. Soldiers. The soldiers of Vector were starting to mass, and there were more of them that even Lily had thought possible. From the waves of men below the chopper, she estimated there were more soldiers there than there were people in Dunsmith. Not just soldiers, and men, either. Elementals like Tam were plainly visible in the fields below, beings made of stone and flame. Lily was afraid they’d be able to reach right up and grab the chopper as it passed by, or at the very least whip a large rock at them, which would almost certainly send them spiraling out of the sky.
Finally, Lily spotted the familiar cut in the landscape ahead that marked the border, and she paled when she saw that most of the Vectoran forces had massed themselves just to the south of it. They flew over rapidly, so close that Lily made eye contact with many of the surprised-looking soldiers below. Finally, they were in Dunsmith airspace, heading rapidly for the airport, while the armies of Vector disappeared into the distance behind them. They were close– right upon the border, really. In minutes, they would have reached the border, and there wasn’t a doubt in Lily’s mind what their intentions were.
It was an invasion force. They planned on pushing forward.
Luc turned around and looked at her. He yelled over the deafening noise of the chopper, “We’ve got an ambulance en route,” he said. “They should get to the airport around the same time we do, they’ve got a healer with them,” he said. “Boone says to leave the injured in their care, but he wants you two down at Last Wall.” He motioned to Boomer and Lily.
Lily nodded. Last Wall was the name they had given to Crown Square. The defenses they had set up to deal with Vector’s advance came in the form of five walls, each a little stronger than the last. The first wall, being the border, was to be guarded by smaller regiments, but as the Vectorans moved northward, they would find themselves being repelled by various other surprises that Dunsmith had set up. Booby traps and snipers. He’d stated that he wanted all the magii at Crown Square. It was their last stand, so to speak. If Crown Square fell, their last option would be to blow out the two bridges connecting the south end of town to the main town center. It wouldn’t hold them back for long, but it would give them enough time to start evacuations, should the situation call for it.
But Boone had already explained it quite clearly. If the Last Wall fell, it would be over. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred gold pieces. Dunsmith was done, and all that mattered after that point was survival.
Lily looked down at Arie. She felt as though she wanted to cry, but she wouldn’t allow it. She needed to be strong. People were counting on her.
She looked to Boomer and noticed the severe look on his face. She knew he was having a rough time of things as well. A part of her wanted to know what he’d been through, but it needed to be saved for another time. Finally, the airport was in sight, and Lily held on as the chopper started to descend.
Ajjiro watched with sudden interest at the strange sight in the skies above. He had positioned his men along the border, stretching right to the coastline and readied them to march forward at a moment’s notice. In fact, he’d arranged to step out of the forest right into the middle of their apparent base of operations. A place he hadn’t yet seen, but had been described as a place with box-like buildings, many with wheels. When the dawn broke, he had been en route from the small camp which he had instructed Captain Ynnia to keep watch over, when suddenly, a commotion among his men drew his eyes to the southern skies.
At first, all he saw was a strange bird in the distance, but as it drew nearer, he began to hear the strange, loud buzzing it made. A giant insect? It certainly looked like an insect. What strange beasts did these men of Dunsmith hold sway over?
But then it came closer, and it passed right over him. It did not look alive. The eyes were windows, inside which sat man-shaped figures. Its skin looked as though it had been fashioned. Designed, like a Geomagi would carve through stone and metal. It was a machine.
Ryde watched the strange flying machine as it passed northward and disappeared through the trees. Several of his men were bellowing out. Ryde yelled at them to silence their bellowing. They may have strange machines, but, if the intelligence could be believed, they held no sway over the world of magick. He looked back at his army. Ever since he’d received urgent word from Emperor Cuerian, he’d understood that Dunsmith was a priority. He’d taken the time to speak face-to-face with the Bond character, and set out immediately the next day. He was probably still sitting in his cell, but if his information held true, Ryde would hold to his word. He would welcome Bond as a friend of Vector.
Provided, of course, that the alternative that Cuerian had prepared for Ryde to offer to Dunsmith, didn’t come to pass. Otherwise, Bond would likely be executed.
Finally he came within sight of the strange cliff. His men were lined all along it, blocking his view of what lay below. Ryde dismounted, his honor guard stepping in to assist him to the ground, and turned to face Captain Ynnia, who was waiting patiently for him.
“Report,” Ryde said.
“They’re lined up along the border. They started appearing once we had them surrounded. None have made any attempt to attack, nor communicate besides making it quite clear that should we set a single foot upon their land, they’ll attack with their guns,” he said. “I’ve sent Vatori up to these logging roads with the surprise attack force.”
Ryde nodded. “Excellent,” he said. “I’ve sent three thousand to help supplement them,” he said. “They’ve orders to start advancing at noon. By tonight, we’ll have them in a pincer.” He looked back at the massed army. “I must go and speak with them. You understand your orders?”
Ynnia nodded. “I do, Sire,” he said.
Ryde nodded. He turned to the border and started to walk. His honor guard preceding him. Finally, he stood on the edge of the precipice which looked over the strange settlement of buildings on wheels.
He gave a nod to his honor guard.
“The Lord General of the Empire wishes to speak to the one called Boone!” his guard exclaimed, loudly and clearly. Ryde watched as the Dunsmith men below ran around, talking into their little voice boxes. Suddenly, Ryde’s eyes lit up as another strange machine, one he had heard tell of from Giger, came into few. It was white, and came in quickly, stopping so suddenly that it dragged the loose gravel on the ground with it.
From one side of the vehicle emerged an older man, perhaps the same age as Ryde himself. But he looked oafish and unkempt. His uniform was made entirely from cloth, with no visible armor to speak of.
From the other side emerged a man dressed in the colors of Halen. A young man, no more than a Lieutenant. Ryde laughed. He’d heard of Halen’s infractions. No matter, they’d be dealt with in their own time.
“I told you last time,” the oafish looking man said. “Vector ain’t welcome here.”
Ryde raised an eyebrow. Vector not welcome? Indeed. He almost laughed.
This time, it was Ryde who spoke out. “You are the one called Boone?” he asked.
The man looked back at him for a moment, regarding him. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m Boone.”
“I am General Ajjiro Ryde,” he said. “And I am here on behalf of the Lord Emperor Tammil Cuerian to offer you a treatise.”
Boone looked to the Halish man. Something seemed to pass between them for a moment. No doubt thinking it a trap of some sort. It wasn’t. Cuerian’s offer was genuine, of course, but there was little way of convincing them of it.
Finally, Boone looked back up to Ryde. “All right,” he said. “Let’s hear it.”
“The Lord Emperor of Vector, Tammil Cuerian wishes to extend the hand of friendship to the people of Dunsmith,” he said. “He does not wish to do you harm, but he merely hopes to foster a relationship between us.” He paused for a moment, observing the look on Boone’s face. “Only if you throw down your arms and forsake these Halish dogs. Swear your allegiance to Vector, and Vector shall welcome you into her.”
“You mean swear allegiance to Cuerian, don’t you?” Boone asked. He shook his head. “Yeah, sorry. Not going to happen. This here’s our land, and we ain’t giving it up to nobody.”
Ryde narrowed his eyes at Boone. He looked over to his honor guard and nodded. The guard scurried off back towards Ynnia while Ryde continued to observe Boone.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “Is there nothing that can change your mind?”
Boone only looked back at him, smiling smugly. “Nope,” he said. “Nothing.”
“Then know that what you bring,” Ryde said. “You bring upon yourself.”
With that, he turned back and began to walk away. As he walked past Ynnia towards his horse, he gave a final nod.
“Attack!” Ynnia bellowed.
The cry came suddenly, only moments after Ryde had disappeared over the lip of the ridge, a sudden roaring came as soldiers began to pour down over the lip.
“Shit!” Boone exclaimed. “Get ’em! Fire! Shoot!”
“I suggest we make a haste departure,” Keltz said, climbing into the car. “We’ll be caught in the crossfire.”
Boone nodded, then climbed into the car. It wasn’t a moment too soon. An arrow ricocheted off of the window as he closed the door behind him. He slammed the car into reverse, pulling it out of the crossfire. Vectorans were being picked off one at a time, falling over themselves and sliding down the embankment. Boone knew it wouldn’t last. They’d run out of ammo or the Vectorans would start to pull magii out of their asses… or worse.
But at least the first wall would hold for a little while.
He pulled the car out of the range of the battlefield, which was quickly becoming littered with bodies, both Vectoran and Halish. Dunsmith men were set up on the rooftops, acting as snipers, but there were only a dozen or so along the southern border, at Syrel’s insistence. Even those Dunsmith men who had been to war had never been to a war like this. They had no idea how to react to magick and whatnot in a martial situation.
“Christ!” Boone said finally as they swerved out onto the highway. He picked up the radio and began to yell frantically. “They’ve breached the border,” he said. “I repeat, Vectoran forces have breached the border. Shelly, how’s that evacuation coming along?”
Not a moment passed before Shelly replied. “We’re almost there, boss,” he replied. “There’s still about a thousand people south of Crown Square.”
“Not fast enough,” he said. “How many men do you have on it?”
“Everyone except for Willis and Delcourt,” she replied. “I’ve got them out looking for Tome.”
“Fuck Tome,” Boone said. “We’ll deal with him when we’ve got time. Get those people out of there, and get those Society-types to the Last Wall. We’re going to need them.” He clicked off the radio and looked to Keltz. “Christ!” he said. He shot a thumb back over his shoulder. “Is that what he normally does?”
“I couldn’t say. I’ve only heard tales of Ryde, but they all say he is unpredictable.”
Boone gave a wave to the guard as they approached the second wall. When the alarm was sounded by the men at the first wall, they would fall back to the second wall. There, they’d hold back the Vectorans for as long as they could until the wall was breached. The idea was to hold back the bigger firepower until the soldiers had grown confident. While the first wall only had ground troops and snipers, the second wall had a few more surprises. A number of semis were parked up alongside the highway, taken from the depot near the airport. The trucks owners were all out-of-towners who hadn’t come across in the blacklight. They made the perfect war machines. Especially after they’d been outfitted with plates of metal, courtesy of the Halish Geomagi.
“Unpredictable or not, the way he’s throwing men at the first wall, we’ll run out of ammo before long.”
“He’s testing our defenses. I’m quite positive he isn’t sure what type of capabilities we have beyond the rifles. I think he means for us to draw our hand early,” Keltz said.
Boone looked back over at him. “Well,” he said. “He’s going to have to wait until we’re sure what his capabilities are.”
The chopper had barely touched the ground before Boomer hopped out and ran up to the paramedics waiting below. He was surprised to see Marie Wilby sitting in her wheelchair on the tarmac.
Upon seeing him, Marie wheeled forward, a stern look on her face. Boomer signed to her that Arie had been struck by an arrow, to which she nodded.
“Casualties?” one of the paramedics asked as he approached.
Boomer nodded. He instructed them to bring a stretcher to the chopper while he went to fetch a second. By the time he had turned back, Jarrod was helping Elle out of the chopper. The girl had been largely catatonic during the trip, but she was now beginning to look around in surprise at many of the things she was seeing.
As the paramedics came upon the chopper, the instructed Elle to lay down on the stretcher. Jarrod held her protectively for a moment, but he finally relented. Boomer pushed the second stretcher up, and helped Lily pull Arie onto it, stomach-first.
Marie wheeled right up to Arie as they pushed the stretchers away from the chopper. A paramedic started to tend to her immediately. Boomer was surprised to see that Marie and the paramedic were communicating without the need for a translator.
“I need you to hold her up on her side,” the paramedic said.
Boomer nodded, then complied. He and Lily turned her on to her side while the paramedic inspected the wound.
“Keep her still,” he instructed. “This is going to hurt like a bitch, and I don’t need her thrashing around.”
Boomer grit his teeth as he watched the paramedic grab hold of the arrow and begin to apply pressure. He clipped the tail off and threw it to the ground, then pulled out a small mallet. He held his breath as he readied himself, then he hit the arrow as hard as he could, forcing it through to the front of her.
Arie chose that moment to wake up. Her eyes shot open, and she began to scream out in pain. She began to thrash around, but Boomer and Lily held her fast. The paramedic continued to pound on the arrow, forcing it through until finally it emerged out of the front of her shoulder. He then pulled it through and gave a nod to Marie, who at once began to lay her hands on Arie’s wounds.
Arie thrashed around for a moment longer, but then started to subside. Her breathing started to stabilize. Finally, she passed out again. Marie took her blood-soaked hands away from Arie, then gave Boomer a nod.
“Is she okay?” Lily asked.
Boomer nodded. “It looks like it,” he said. He heaved a sigh of relief and lay Arie gently onto her back.
“She’s had a lot taken out of her,” the paramedic said. He looked into the chopper. “She’s lost a lot of blood, so she’ll need rest, but she should be good as new.” He pulled his gloves off and looked over to the other stretcher. “What the hell happened to her?” he motioned towards Elle.
“She was a prisoner in Anastae,” Boomer explained.
“She looks like someone put her through a meat grinder,” the paramedic commented. “What are all those brands?” He pointed to the severe burns all up and down the girl’s body.
“She was held by a summoner,” Jarrod said, looking down to her. “He did this to her.” He grit his teeth for a moment, then looked up. “Can you do anything?”
Marie chose that moment to push Jarrod out of the way. He looked down at her, confusion showing clearly on his face, but he stood clear of her.
Elle looked at Marie with blank, lifeless eyes. The tortures she’d been submitted to were horrible. Something she hadn’t been meant to survive. Survive she did, but to what ends still remained to be seen.
Marie lay a hand over one particularly nasty burn on her shoulder. It had turned black, and it was oozing with infection. She closed her eyes, and focused her power.
Within moments, Elle began to react. She began to shiver wildly as Marie focused her power into her. Boomer watched as color began to flow back into her cheeks. The badly infected and untreated burns began to grow lighter in color. After a few moments, they began to heal over, creating scar tissue that remained in the shape of the brands she had been marked with.
In less than a minute, Elle Holm’s burns were no more than white scars upon her skin. As Marie took her hands away, Elle stopped shaking. She moved her hand to arm and touched one of her scars, caressing it gently. Finally, she looked up at Jarrod, placed her hand on the side of his face, and promptly passed out.
Jarrod dropped to his knees in an instant, grasping Marie’s hands and thanking her profusely. Marie was confused at first, but she eventually patted the man on the head, then smiled at him, signing ‘You’re Welcome’ to him. Boomer translated.
Finally, he turned back to the chopper. The other paramedic was inside, looking over Andy’s body. As the chopper finally powered down, Luc got out and placed a hand on Boomer’s shoulder.
“Don’t blame yourself, kid,” he said. “He knew what he was getting into.”
“I don’t blame myself,” Boomer replied. “I blame Vector.”
Luc only remained silent.
“Boomer,” Lily said. “Come on, we’ve got to get to the mall. They need us.”
Boomer nodded, then looked to Arie. “What about her?”
“She’ll be okay,” the paramedic said. “We’ll drop her off at home after we’re finished up here. We’re going to be on call during the battle.”
Boomer nodded. “You take care of her,” he said.
The paramedic nodded. “She’s in good hands.”
Boomer turned to Lily. “We’d better get this done.”
“I want to help,” Boomer heard from over towards Jarrod. He turned back and regarded the man as he stood there.
“It’s dangerous,” Boomer said, shaking his head. “You’re safe now. Elle’s going to be okay.”
“You think I don’t know it’s dangerous?” Jarrod asked. He gestured wildly to the helicopter, the ambulance, and several other things that he found strange. “I know it’s dangerous! But you gave so much to help me. The least I can do is lend a sword to the cause.”
Boomer regarded him for a moment. “You don’t have a sword,” he said.
“Then I’ll fight with my bare hands,” Jarrod said. “Vector’s as much my enemy as it is yours. I for one would relish the sight of strangling one of them with my bare hands.”
Boomer looked to Lily, and then back at Jarrod. “Fine,” he said. He turned towards the parking lot. “Then let’s move.”
Boone had barely pulled into the parking lot at Crown Square Mall when he received word that the first wall had fallen, and that the men were falling back to the second wall. Boone was surprised at how quickly it had come about– the attack had barely started ten minutes earlier, but he was confident that there was a mountain of bodies, mostly Vectoran, lining the southern border.
Boone didn’t even bother parking the car. He screeched to a stop outside of the command tent. A small area of the parking lot cordoned off and covered by one of the many tents supplied by the local Royal Canadian Legion. Maps and whatnot were littered around the tables, and Syrel looked up as the two men got out of the Crown Victoria and walked to him.
“What a shitstorm,” Boone commented. “How are we doing?”
“We could be worse,” Syrel said. “Most of the magii have arrived. We’re still waiting on a few.”
“Boomer and Lily should be along pretty quick,” Boone said. “They just got back.”
“Oh?” Syrel asked. “And how did the mission fare?”
Boone grit his teeth for a moment. “They got Andy,” he said.
Syrel sighed, then looked to the ground. “I didn’t know him well, but he was a good man,” he said.
“Save it for the funeral,” Boone said. “What about the Featherclaw?” he asked. “Are they all set up?”
Syrel nodded. “They’re ready to move on our word,” he said.
“Good,” Boone said. “Make sure they don’t move unless we give the go-ahead.” He picked up the radio again, then changed the channel. “Ansel, you there?” he asked.
“Yeah man,” Ansel replied. “We’re in position. Just waiting for the little fuckers to show their ugly mugs.”
“It might be sooner than later,” Boone said. “They broke through the first wall.”
“Christ,” Ansel replied. “Already?”
“You just keep your eyes peeled. Don’t start until you’re sure they’re Vectoran. Remember, we’ve got a lot of friendlies out there.”
“Ten-four,” Ansel replied.
“I still don’t understand how they’ll be any good against ground forces if they’re out in the harbor,” Syrel said.
“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Boone said. “I still have to–” he began, then stopped immediately. He was looking out at some of the volunteer forces, Dunsmith and Stone’s Mouth men who had not officially signed up for service, but wanted to do their part anyway. One in particular was an older man, dressed entirely as a World War Two-era American soldier. Complete with helmet and sidearm.
“Goose?” Boone asked. “Goose, what the hell are you doing?”
Goose looked back at Boone and smiled. “What, me?” he asked. He pulled his pistol from his belt and pointed it into the air. “I’m doing my part. You can’t take all the credit, you know.”
“Goose, you can’t just– the committee needs you alive!” Boone exclaimed.
“Yeah, it needs you alive too,” Goose replied. “But believe me, I know the deal. A live Goose is better than a dead Goose.” He knocked on his helmet. “That’s why I’ve got old chrome-dome here.”
“Goose, you–” Boone began. He ultimately threw his arms up in frustration. “You know what? The hell with it. You want to try and save the day, be my guest. But if things start getting hairy, and they will, I want you up north of the bridge. You got me?”
Goose nodded, then saluted Boone. “Sir, yes sir!” he exclaimed.
Boone just waved his hands in dismissal. Suddenly, his radio flared up. The Vectorans had reached the second wall. It was time to start showing Vector what they were capable of. He gave them the go ahead to start pulling out some of their extra firepower.
A moment later, the radio squealed out. The voice on the other end was heavy, erratic. It took Boone a moment to place to voice, but it fell into place when he listened.
It was Justin Alverra. Their spy on the inside.
Justin woke with the dawn that morning, although he could hardly call himself rested up. He’d had a hard time getting to sleep, with him being separated from Teslan, Jori and the others. So far as he knew, the four men had been stationed under Ynnia, and were part of the main attack force.
What was worse was that Justin hadn’t been allowed to return for his things, which meant the radio he was supposed to use to contact Dunsmith in the event of any unexpected surprises was in their possession as well. For days now, he’d been part of a force holding a patch of ground just south of one of the logging roads. Their instructions were simple. Late the night before, a messenger had arrived from the main force with another three thousand men and had instructed them to wait until noon, and then start advancing up the back roads. They would later meet up with the main force and lock the people of Dunsmith in a pincer attack.
Justin was at a loss at what to do. Without the radio, he was incommunicado. He’d entertained the idea of just skipping off without the men, but the likelihood of coming across sentries ran high, and the Vectoran scouts would most certainly raise a question or two at Justin running alone into Dunsmith territory.
Not to mention the fact that Vatori was keeping a close watch on him as well. Nyssla, as well. It was as if the two men were conspiring against Justin.
He sat in the middle of the camp and scanned the horizon. It was full of movement, many men in preparation for the coming advance.
Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of a man walking through the crowded grounds, a brown sack hanging from his back. Justin sprang to his feet as he recognized the man. He began to advance towards him.
Finally, Teslan happened to look up, and his features brightened as he saw Justin walking towards him.
“Teslan, you have no idea how happy I am to see you,” Justin said, quietly. “What happened?”
“I managed to convince Ynnia that I’d be of better use here,” he said. He then dropped the bag into Justin’s waiting hands. “I figured you’d need this, too.”
Justin felt the radio through the pack and heaved a sigh of relief. “Not a moment too soon,” he said. He looked around. “We need to find somewhere a little more private.”
Teslan nodded. “I’ll keep watch for you.”
The two men then turned. Justin made as though he were walking for the latrine, but turned south just as he approached it, skipping past the guards standing around and walking to the forest’s edge. He gave a look back, making sure that no prying eyes had noticed.
He gave Teslan a nod, then stepped into the bushes. He quickly turned his bag upside down, letting the radio tumble out. He quickly knelt to the ground, then turned it on.
Excellent. The batteries were still good. He fiddled with the volume for a second, and the radio squawked loudly. Finally, he depressed the talk button and spoke.
“Boone?” he asked. “Boone, are you there? Come in?”
A moment of silence passed as he sat and waited. There was no immediate reply. He was about to make another call when something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He whipped his head over to look.
Suddenly, he felt the blood drain out from his face. There, in front of him, was Tomas Nyssla. Behind him, holding a knife to Teslan’s throat, was Raesaul Vatori.
“I knew he weren’t true,” Vatori said.
“Boone here,” the radio suddenly replied, causing Nyssla to jump. “Alverra? Is that you?”
“So,” Nyssla said. “A spy among us.” He pulled the sword from his side, then pointed it towards Justin. Justin fell back and scrambled a few feet away. He looked up at Nyssla, a look of fear on his face.
“Answer him,” Teslan said, looking to the radio. “Justin, tell them!”
“Silence!” Nyssla exclaimed. He turned back to Justin. “Now then, what should we do with you?”
“Hang ’em by their necks from the trees,” Vatori suggested.
“No,” Nyssla said. “I would think it too good for traitors to Vector.”
Justin could only look from Nyssla to Vatori. He was frozen to the spot, he had no idea what to do.
“Justin? Boy, are you there?” Boone asked again through the radio.
Teslan chose that moment to elbow Vatori hard in the ribs, causing him to lose his wind for a moment. Nyssla turned in an instant, raising his sword to strike down on him, but Teslan managed to knock him back.
Justin chose that moment to act. He picked up the radio, then yelled into it. “Surprise force! There’s a surprise attack force coming up the logging roads!” he exclaimed. “They’ve got a map, Boone. Hurry!”
“Fool!” Nyssla exclaimed. He swung his sword hard, attempting to severe the arm Justin used to hold the radio, but Teslan tackled him before he had the chance to.
Justin fell against the side of a tree, the wind being knocked from him. He dropped the radio to the ground, and Vatori wasted no time in stomping the thing to pieces. No matter. He’d gotten the word out. They were warned.
Justin looked into Teslan’s eyes. He looked back at him blankly. There was something wrong. He pushed the man back, and he rolled off of Justin effortlessly. Justin looked at his hands and gasped. They were covered in blood. Teslan’s blood. The sword had struck him square in the back, slicing through and severing his spinal column.
“Fool,” Nyssla said, whipping his sword through the air to get the blood off. He looked down at Justin with a look of sheer hatred.
Justin had to react quickly. Teslan was dead, and in a moment, he too would be. Suddenly, he remembered the gun. The handgun that he’d strapped to his leg the day he left for the Vectoran camp. His method of last resort.
Justin sprang up to his feet and began to undo his belt. Nyssla and Vatori gave each other a look of confusion, but Justin kept at it. Finally, he whipped his pants down.
“He’s got one of those guns!” Vatori announced. “Kill him!”
Vatori had barely gotten the last word out before a loud noise rang out. Justin hadn’t even had time to aim. He just pulled the safety off, then shot in Vatori and Nyssla’s general direction. He had just enough time to register the hole that had appeared in Vatori’s throat as he gurgled and fell to his knees, grasping at his neck.
Nyssla looked back in shock for only a moment, but he wasted no time. He advanced on Justin, swinging his sword. Justin pulled the trigger again. Once, twice. The third shot finally hit home, taking Nyssla directly in the forehead. He fell back, and Justin stood up.
Shit! Shit! The Vectoran’s had to have heard it. They had to have! He needed to run. He needed to–
Suddenly, Justin noticed a strange pressure in his stomach. His hand instinctively went to it, but when he pulled it away, he found his hand wet and sticky. Something… wasn’t right.
He looked down at his stomach. His clothes were stained red. Nyssla had gotten him. Slashed him across the belly.
Justin fought to keep his lunch down, but within moments, he was on the ground, throwing up. The wound was deep, and it throbbed with each heartbeat. Justin could feel himself becoming colder.
He’d done what he’d needed to do. He’d warned the town. He’d thrown a wrench into Vector’s plans.
Justin wore a wide smile on his face, even as the first of the Vectoran soldiers came to inspect the source of the loud noises. They came upon him just as his guts began to spill out, and consciousness started to slip away from him.