Chapter 13: "Escalation"

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            All around her the battle raged but in that moment she was alone. Time slowed more than before. She could see the streaks of laser beams crawling their way through the air. The world was both beautiful and terrifying in its silent stillness.

            Am I moving fast, am I thinking fast, or is it both things at once?

            Before she knew she was going to do it, Meg was on her feet and moving. The world remained more or less stuck in place around her but she moved at normal running speed—at least that was how it looked and felt from her point of view.

            Weaving in and out of the panicking residents of Red Rock she worked her way toward the battle. The serenity of the tableaus stillness was perfectly juxtaposed by the scenes of fear and terror in their eyes.

            Something hot ignited inside of Meg Carson. These people, human and nonhuman, were still people and they were afraid. Parents and children ran from the fighting, while the defenders of the community ran toward it. She'd seen the enemy with her own eyes, she knew what these kind and brave people were facing, and she was not going to let them face it alone.

            This is insane, you're not a fighter, she thought reaching the defensive wall abutting the River Rogue. Not breaking stride Meg bent her knees and jumped. The defensive wall surrounding Red Rock stood fifteen feet high and Meg cleared it by another ten feet.

            "Holy shit!" Meg screamed laughing like a child in mid air. "This is amazing!"

            Easily clearing the river Meg landed on the far side and deep inside the enemy assault line. All around her the Thorns were engaged in combat, close and distant, with the defenders of Red Rock. There was a clarity she'd never experienced before and Meg understood there was no need to destroy each armored enemy. The engineer part of her mind combined with her enhanced ability to take in and process information resulted in a battle plan.

            One by one the weapons and sensor systems attached to each of the enemy combatants armor was rendered inoperable. This was accomplished through the breaking of any piece she deemed vital to its continued operation.

            As she reached last of them Meg's vision blurred and the world around her started spinning. She rapidly slowed down and dropped back into synch with the world around her. The sounds and smells of combat returned followed immediately by nausea that filled her stomach. Meg dropped to her knees dry heaving into the snow and mud covered ground.

            Confusion filled the now mostly disarmed Thorns. That was followed by fear and panic as the Red Rock defenders pounced on their unexpected advantage.  Suddenly without an advantage and with their weapons broken, the Thorn's broke and ran. 

As the Red Rockers routed the enemy, Meg curled into a shivering ball.





Ruins of Belleville, The Huron River Valley

            "We have to get the noncombatants to the other side of the river," Walter said. "Lord Marku has promised the clan he will see us through," Water seethed behind his mask of calm, forced to remain in the rear directing the retreat while his oldest friend stood in the forefront of danger.

            Explosion after explosion rocked the ground around the Captain and his command staff. The bombardment of Thorn artillery hadn't eased up for more than an hour—if anything it seemed to be increasing in intensity. All day the members of the Black Needles crossed the raging river in small groups as their warriors covered them and skirmished with the Thorns.

            "We have to keep pulling back," Gren said, his eyes glued to the screen feeding him information. "There are too many of them and too few of us."

            Walter nodded to his newly promoted lieutenant but said nothing. Numbers had always been the problem. One on one the Thorns were no match for the Needles on the field of battle. The problem was that it was never one on one. It was five on one, ten on one, or twenty on one in every engagement. The Thorns were pushing the defenders back exponentially faster than the rest of the Needles could cross.

            "We're not going to make it," Walter whispered.

            "That remains to be seen Walter son of William," a softly accented female voice said from behind them.

            Oldest of the warriors or not, Walter was still amongst the best. Fast as lightning the broad muzzled particle weapon was loosed from its holster and aimed at the woman's head—a head of sleek black hair framing a pale beautiful face and icy blue eyes.

            "I come in peace Son of William. My name is Hasani and my master has sent me to aid you," she continued without flinching. "You and your people are brave but the enemies you face are more numerous and deadly than you realize."

            "I believe I have a good handle on the forces arrayed against us," Water growled. "We've been fighting them for years."

            "Of what you can see," she said calmly, "yes you do, but there is a storm gathering, Son of William. This is the ground level of a conflict older and broader than can easily be imagined."

            "Sir," Gren said hesitantly, his voice choked and thick with emotion.

            "Yes Lieutenant," Water said never taking his eyes or weapon off the woman.

            "Lord Marku has fallen," the small warrior said, silent tears streaming down his furry face. "He fell in combat with one of the Thorn's demon allies. Sir, the line is collapsing... We are in retreat."

            The barrel of his weapon shook slightly.

            "I can help you Son of Walter, I can help you save your people," she said reaching up and slowly pushing his weapon down. "I will do this because it is the right thing and because your people have a destiny to fulfill. All I ask in return is for your aid when the time comes."

            "One condition," Walter said grimly, "we retrieve Marku from the battlefield. If the Thorns take him there's no deal."

            Hasani nodded in agreement.


To Be Continued







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