Peering over the edge of the rubble, Dax watched in horror as the rest of the soldiers turned their guns on Kaire. The soldier who had hit Athellus was pointing a gun at him now, as if he was going to kill Kaire's partner then and there.

Oh god, they’re both going to get killed…and it’s all my fault – me and that stupid cell phone! Come on, do something!

Not knowing what else to do, he clutched the gun Kaire had given him, aimed it high over the street, and pulled the trigger twice.

The sound of the weapon seemed deafeningly loud, the recoil sending tremors up both his arms, but it had the desired effect – every head down on the street turned. At least, almost every head.

 

* * *

 

"Second target!” yelled Adree, ignoring the impulse to look. “Go for –“

The woman – the one Athellus clearly knew – took advantage of the distraction, crouched and jumped, knocking the soldiers aside. Before they could react she landed and sprang right at Garbeton. Adree caught a glimpse of his eyes, widening, just as the woman hit him. Her fist and the side of her right arm slammed into him, then she twisted her arm and yanked it free.

Garbeton yelled and dropped to his knees, grabbing at his chest. Whatever those spines were made of, they had cut straight through his body armour and into the flesh underneath. Blood was running from between Garbeton’s fingers, even as she whirled and sliced upwards, seemingly right at Athellus. With a single stroke, she cut through the belt that bound his hands.

Son of a –

Feeling a fiery shadow of Garbeton’s pain, Adree brought her rifle to her shoulder, switched it to semi for accuracy, sighted and fired. But Athellus was already moving, and the bullet that should have hit him in the eye missed him by inches. He threw himself flat and snatched up Garbeton’s rifle.

“Call them off, Adree!” he shouted. “Last warning!”

He’ll do it too – I can feel that much -

In answer she slammed the slide back to automatic and pointed it straight at him. “Flank! Take them down!”

But the white-haired woman was lunging at her, spines bared. Her eyes were completely focused, and for the first time in many years, Adree felt as if she was looking at a predator that might just get the better of her.

* * *

Dax saw Kaire go straight for the auburn-haired commander and held his breath. Bad enough seeing the soldier get carved up –

As Kaire swung out at her, Adree Aeslin leapt back. It was astonishing – Dax had never seen anyone with agility like that. She just dropped her rifle and sprang backwards out of the way, leaving Kaire to complete her strike straight into the concrete. But the very tips of the spines had scored down the commander’s arm: she grabbed at it, wincing, as blood began blooming through the sleeve.

Athellus was taking aim at the other soldiers as two went to help their commander: there was a crack as he fired. One of them jerked and fell back. The others began shooting at both Athellus and Kaire – Athellus dropped and rolled behind a pile of rubble, while Kaire launched herself to the other side of the street.

They’re splitting the target. Split it again.

He didn’t know where the thought came from – he didn’t care. Quickly, Dax stood up and fired the gun once more, this time straight down into the street. The round skipped off the concrete near one of the soldiers – he flinched away, standing up, then stumbled and fell as Athellus’ shot took a chunk out of his leg. Dax heard yells and knew he was about to get shot at, but he suddenly didn’t care. He felt – good. More than that: he felt right.

So what if they shoot at me? Better than letting this thing in my head kill me!

 

* * *

 

Three attackers. Three men down – we could take them separately but not at once. Damn! I didn’t prepare for a rescue –

I lead these men, this isn’t about my ego. Swallow it. You can complete the mission later but not if you’re dead. Pull out now!

“Pull out!” shouted Adree, still clutching at her arm. She grabbed a smoke flare from her pocket and dropped it. Heavy white vapour poured out, beginning to fill Lailenus Street. “Head out to the radio point. Go!”

The soldiers began to break away, running through the cover of the smoke. Vester was limping – he had been shot in the leg, but he would be okay. The important thing was to get them out as fast as possible.

* * *

 

Dax saw the soldiers beginning to run and felt a surge of triumph. As smoke blew upwards, he punched the air.

 “Yeah!” he yelled. “Yeah, run! Victory for the chosen few! Run back to your homes, back to your children! Tell them all your tales of failure! Sing the songs that make us heroes! And don’t trouble us until the coming of a generation that has forgotten your shame!” 

The auburn haired commander stopped dead in her tracks, staring up at him. Dax’s victory shout died in his throat. Her grey eyes, wide with shock and surprise, were fixed on his. For a moment he felt disorientated, confused, but he could not look away.

 Wh – what the hell was I saying? I… 

“Commander!”

The shout was hoarse, coming through the smoke. Adree Aeslin turned from Dax, back to the soldier lying on the concrete. He was the one who had been guarding Athellus; whose body armour Kaire had shredded, and most of the body underneath along with it. He wasn’t dead. He was lying in a pool of blood, reaching out to Adree.

"Commander…”

Quick as a flash, Adree reached around her, underneath her body armour, and pulled out a handgun. Without hesitation or another word, she shot the fallen soldier in the head. A bloody hole appeared beneath his right eye and he fell backwards.

No!

With a last glance back towards Athellus, his shout still echoing through the street, Adree turned and ran after her men. She vanished in the thick murky smoke, until even the sound of running footsteps was gone.

 

 

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