Chapter 37: "Low Tide"

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"John," Master Grell gasped, shocked at his star apprentice's condition, "You should still be with the medics and healers."

"That's what I've been saying!" Miranda hissed, glaring at her lover with a mixture of concern and anger. "We need you healed up and rested, Johnny. I need you to be alright."

"This is the final battle, love," John answered, turning his uncovered eye on her and taking one of her hands into his. "I need to stay on my feet until this is decided."

Miranda opened her mouth to respond but stopped. Never in her life had she met someone like him. All the lovers she'd had over the years combined failed to even begin to kindle the feelings this young human did. Instead of saying anything and undercutting his courage, she kissed him lightly on his forehead, gently squeezed his hand, and said nothing.

"Next time they come at us, it'll be for all the marbles," General Lin said, changing the subject back to the battle ahead. "When they make their final charge, it will be with that great beast at the forefront."

"That gives us a day to prepare," McCoy added with a tired sigh.

"Michiganders don't run from a fight," a new voice said coldly.

The commanders of the Red Rock defense turned to see the form of young Khyber Lin. In the time since the Expeditionary Force crested the ridge and relieved the city, the elfin youth had been hardened and tempered. No longer did he see the world through rose-tinted lenses; the caldron of battle and crucible of war had shaped him into something new and strong.

"General," Khyber continued, addressing his father, "Everyone is dug in and ready. I asked the NCO's to make sure the men and women were getting fed and rested in shifts, and I've dispatched the fliers to relieve the Red Rockers in the air so they can do the same."

"Very good," Raynott said, nodding with approval, "Now you're off duty for the next four hours, Lieutenant." Khyber opened his mouth to object, but Raynott stopped him, "You need rest just as much as anyone else, son. You've done everything you can; now sleep and eat or you'll be no good to us when the last fight comes."

Nodding and looking relieved to have the decision made for him, Khyber Lin saluted and left.

"He fought well," Grell intoned once the young soldier was out of earshot, "You should be proud, General."

"I am, Master Grell," Raynott said sadly. "I just wish it wasn't under these circumstances." Then, shaking his head, he pressed forward, "This is all a side show anyway. We could kill every one of those monsters and it won't matter if the crack opens and Ast-Murath emerges. Once it's on this plain, everything is over, save counting the dead."

"Well, that's a cheerful thought," Miranda muttered.

"According to Books, the crack's still calm," McCoy said, reiterating his earlier statement.

"Yeah," Miranda countered, "But for how much longer?"

2

Hart Plaza, Ruins of Old DetroitBooks & YJ

More than a hundred heavily armored and armed Thorns flanked their leader. The King of the Thorns, Telicum the self-named, offered yet another sacrifice to the crack. This one had been a small human child, who didn't even cry as she was tossed into the pulsating black light of the crack. She was the most recent of more than two dozen in the last hour to meet that fate.

"Well, that's not good," Books said, his eyes glued on the scene before them. The two Grey Bears had spent hours working their way to within visual observation distance of the crack without being detected. Now Books was really wishing they'd stayed on the old Canadian side of the river, and kept their collective heads down.

"What's not?" YJ whispered, his face contorted in pain.

"How bad is it, YJ, and don't fucking lie to me," Books demanded, ignoring his friends question.

"The evil, the rage, the insanity... I can't screen it all out," YJ gasped, his words coming in a sputtering choppy slur. "Even with it still trapped on the other side of the crack, the psychic seepage is almost unbearable."

"That's it," Books said, "We're getting you out of here."

"No!" YJ hissed, his hand shooting out and grabbing Books on the forearm. "We have to be here if that... thing emerges. They'll need to know."

"There's nothing we can do if it does," Books countered desperately. "If Meg and her calvary don't arrive, were fucked, hardcore."

YJ slipped his hand into Books', "Nothing we can do if we go, and nothing we can do if we stay," he laughed softly. "But at least we won't be alone."

That was when the sky exploded with light.


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