Chapter 56

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"Hex, is it safe to talk now?"

"Yeah. Go ahead, Terra. I was meaning to call you anyway."

"Will is with me. We have a few questions for you."

Will spoke up. "Hi, Hex."

"Will, I take it you are the advantage that Terra spoke about in this crazy scheme of hers?"

Terra responded. "He is. With him, we can take down the Talent based security in the palace."

"Damn. Then it goes from 'no way in hell' to 'maybe it might work'. What do you need from me?"

Will responded. "From the diagrams you sent us, thanks by the way, it looks like most of the electronic surveillance systems are shielded. Would an EMP take them down?"

"Probably not, unless the pulse was very powerful and very close. To shut them down someone would need to hook into one of the monitor nodes and hack it."

"What do we need to do that?"


Terra's eyebrows shot up. "Hex, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying you will need me, and I'm offering. Walt wants to help too. I, umm, acquired the Uprising war plans and Walt and I looked them over. It's not good. We're gonna get whipped. Our fearless leader Senn is getting delusions of grandeur."

Will and Terra both dropped their jaws and they looked at each other. Terra eventually answered. "We would love to have your help, and Walt's! But how is the Council going to react?"

"Not good I presume, but we just plan to not show up for work. Not going to make a big scene like you did."

"That would be wise. Still, be careful. We'll follow up later."

Terra disconnected the call and looked again at Will. She smiled and wrapped her arms around him.

"Our chances just got better."

Operational planning continued over the next six weeks. Joseph's contacts provided a wealth of information about palace activities and security protocols. The Library even had a person embedded within the walls that was able to fill in missing details. Neige set up a crude mockup of the palace for training purposes near his base in the town of Holme.

Terra and Will began the process of weaning their daughter, slowly transitioning to bottle feeding and letting Ginny take over periodically. Terra would have preferred to wean Anna later, but circumstances forced the timing. Both parents felt a twinge of sadness with each bottle, reminders that soon they would leave her behind.

At the agreed time a car pulled up at Ginny's house. Neige stepped out clutching his sleepy daughter. Kori's face turned down as she walked up to the front porch holding on to her husband's arm. She shared a tearful embrace with Terra, each knowing that soon they would part with someone they loved.

Early the next morning Will sat out on the porch to watch one more sunrise with his daughter. Terra joined them and leaned against him as color painted the eastern sky. A tear slid down her cheek as she took Anna into her arms while Will wrapped his arm around them both, his eyes becoming blurred.  Neither Will nor Terra voiced the fear that hovered in the front of their minds, that they might not see their daughter again.

Terra whispered to her daughter. "My sweet little Anna. Know that your mommy and daddy love you always."

Neige walked out on to the porch with one arm holding his daughter and the other wrapped around his wife. He hugged Mora and set her down, then took Kori into his arms and kissed her.

Ginny came out and tightly hugged both Will and Terra. "Come back to us."

Will handed Anna to Ginny. Terra choked back a sob when Anna's lower lip quivered as she reached out towards her parents. 

They drove off in a somber mood.

Other than some discussion on finer points of the upcoming operation, the long road trip went mostly in silence. Several Dynasty security checkpoints appeared along the road, but between their fake identifications and Will's ability to mask Terra's aura they passed through easily.

Late the next day they arrived at the makeshift training center near Holme. Hex and Walt greeted them, having arrived several days before. Will and Terra pushed aside their emotions and girded themselves for the mission ahead.

Neige introduced twelve of his most trusted soldiers, ten men, including Haze and Thorne, and two women. The calm determination on each of their faces gave Terra a renewed feeling of confidence.

The next morning training began at sunrise.  The group gathered around Neige in an organized semicircle.  Terra leaned against her husband for support as she struggled to keep heavy eyelids open.

Will smirked as he turned to his disheveled wife. "A bit early for you, isn't it."

She grumbled, "Tell me about it..."

"Cut the chatter!" The brusqueness of Neige's growl caused both of them to jump and Terra's eyes shot fully open.

Fire seemed to erupt from his eyes as he scanned the group.  "For the next ten days, we train.  Because my life might depend on your performance, I expect perfection."  His eyes next focused on Hex and Walt, then moved on to Will and Terra. "Some of you are new here. Let me just say that you will not like it."

Neige was indeed a strict taskmaster, worthy of the boot camp drill sergeant stereotype. Tempers did flare sometimes, but for the most part everyone respected his tactical wisdom.

Neige acted particularly harsh toward Will. He had the least combat experience of the insertion team, but was perhaps also the most vital to success. Many nights Terra soothed an ego that was normally difficult to bruise. Ultimately, Will came to respect Neige's tough guidance. The repetitive exercises reduced the apprehension in both him and Terra. Although all risk scenarios could not be envisioned, the clarity of mind from the repetition made them more adaptable and they understood that the training increased their odds of success and survival.

Four days before the planned assault the team boarded a bus to travel to Capital City. Using credentials provided by Joseph they posed as construction workers for a Library project. The security checkpoints became more frequent and intrusive as they neared the city. Terra made it a point to always sit close to Will so that he would block her aura. Will also provided cover for the weapons cache hidden under the false floor by interfering with Talent based probes.

Joseph greeted them at the Library warehouse near the palace. Neige, Terra, Will, and he gathered to review the distraction he would provide. A march planned early in the afternoon to protest the Dynasty imposed taxes and military conscriptions would draw attention away from the assault. Joseph saw to it that more radical and outspoken elements would be specifically invited to make it as noisy as possible. Walt would be with Joseph at the protest and use his Talent to enhance the distraction and then provide some protection to the protesters in case the Dynasty used excessive force against them.

On the morning of the assault, the whole team sat around a table for their pre-mission ritual. Neige pulled out his bottle of old Cognac and poured it into the shot glasses before him.  The bottle emptied with the last glass. After passing them around everyone raised their glasses.

Gone was Neige's tough drill sergeant persona, replaced by an uncharacteristic warm expression. He made the toast. "Thank you friends. It is my honor that you fight at my side. No mission before has been more important than this one. We are ready. To success!"

Glasses tipped back in unison. Terra squeezed Will's hand as the fine liquor warmed her insides. It felt like confidence itself.

We are ready.

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