Beast, page 12
“Ruth!” Missy snaps. I can tell Ruth has been a trial since we left. Missy who is usually calm and her appearance tidy, is disheveled and nervous. Part of this is the stress caused by the Federation and part due to a pint-sized hellion, I have no doubt.
I give Ruth a slight smile. “I think we should take a few minutes and train right now. You never know what tomorrow will bring.” I look at Missy, and I see the panic in her eyes. “I’m only going to show her the correct way to hold a sword and strike. It will take five minutes, and she can practice since I doubt anyone will be sleeping.” Missy knows Ruth must be occupied or bad things will happen.
She asks the typical “mom” questions. “Does it need to be a sharp sword?”
Ruth whoops. “The sharper the better.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” mumbles Missy. She nods at me reluctantly, and I remove one of my short swords from my belt.
“I can use your sword?” Ruth asks in rapt fascination while staring at the shiny silver.
“You can use it only for emergencies where you or someone you know is in danger. Help me unfasten the strap and you can wear the scabbard on your hip.” She has a belt which is all that holds her pants up. She reaches for the sword, and I move it back. “You unbuckle me, and I’ll hold the sword. Is there room to practice in your bedroom?”
She’s jumping up and down in her excitement. “Yes, there’s room.”
“Okay.” I slip the scabbard off my belt after Ruth handles the buckle and then refastens it at my direction. I slide the blade home once I’m put back together. “Do not remove the sword, or I will not show you how to use it.” I hand it to her. “The adults need to talk, and I want you waiting in your room. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“You’re sending her to her room alone with the sword?” Missy asks, her irritation clear.
I look at Ruth and ask, “Will you take the sword out?”
All eyes in the room turn to look at the miracle “ma’am” that came from the hellspawn’s mouth. I ignore the gaping jaws. “She won’t take the sword out,” I assure Missy.
Missy gives Ruth a worried look, but the child is already running to her room. “Walk,” I call out, and she stops running. Using a little skip, she closes the door behind her.
“I hope you know what you’re doing.” Missy mumbles.
“So do I. I promise she won’t remove the sword.”
Missy nods once. “That child has so much hero worship for you, I doubt she will.” She adds a small smile. “It’s a mother’s job to worry, and Ruth is willful and rash. Maybe she’ll listen to you.”
Her words ping inside my head. She’s saying what King and Labyrinth said about me. Rash will get you killed. I am rash. Ruth doesn’t obey her mother, and by not doing so, she will get herself killed. My problem is I don’t want to obey orders; it rubs me the wrong way. I also don’t want to be treated like a child. But is that really what King is doing? I’m given similar orders as the men. He doesn’t leave me behind. He knows I can fight, and he expects me to.
It’s very similar to my theory about Ruth. If I make her feel useful, she’ll stay out of trouble. King makes me feel useful. And when I don’t obey his commands, he loses his mind. The change starts now. King won’t need to worry about me. Well, he’ll worry, but I’ll obey his commands and question him about them after the threat has passed. It’s time for me to fully understand war and behave accordingly.
I walk over and place my palm on King’s arm. He looks down at my claws and slowly brings his head up. “I’ll follow all orders,” I say.
I swear the relief he feels trembles through his body. “We need to leave in the next ten minutes.”
“It will take five minutes for me to deal with Ruth, and I’ll be ready.”
“The Federation replaced the hellhounds from the city, and if they stick to their strategy, they’ll send them in first.”
“Are we waiting for that to happen?”
When a warrior smiles in true form it’s rather creepy. Right now, King takes it to an entirely new level. “We won’t be waiting.”
“Do you want me out here while you finish strategizing?”
“No, get Ruth squared away.” King pulls me against him and rubs the side of his jaw to mine. We take a moment for ourselves. He squeezes me tightly, and I do the same. I love this man, and tonight one of us could die. The last thing I want to do is start crying in Beast form. With one more squeeze, I push away and head into the room with Ruth.
“See, I didn’t remove it. It’s still in the sheath,” she says as soon as I open the door.
I can’t stop a smile. She’s so proud of herself. “Very carefully pull it from the sheath. Remember it’s double-edged and both sides will cut you,” I instruct, allowing her to do it herself.
She slides the blade out, and her eyes gleam when it catches the candlelight. “So beautiful.”
“And deadly. If a hellhound catches you with a claw or tooth, you will die. It won’t matter that you kill the hellhound. Your mother will mourn for as long as she lives, and I will miss you.”
She stares at me for several seconds, absorbing my words. “I’ll be careful, I promise.” I don’t doubt her sincerity.
“It’s for self-protection only. No charging out and killing hellhounds, promise?”
“I promise. Should I leave my small knife here in the room?”
The knife in question is secured to her hip. “No, let’s get both situated on you. A girl can’t have too many knives and swords.”
“No, they can’t.”
I helped her adjust the scabbard and showed her the correct way to hold the sword for maximum striking power. Her spindly little arms manage it, and I hold back tears. Going after Federation soldiers for revenge is one thing. I love this little girl, and I don’t want her dying tonight.
I give her a long hug which she finally struggles against. “Don’t kiss me, that’s just gross. I snap my jaws twice, and she laughs. “I want teeth like that when I grow up.”
“What, no girly teeth for you?”
She shakes her head. “I want to be beautiful just like you.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
Cabel meets us outside the outpost walls and leads us to a large group of Warriors. The tension in the air is thick. Missy told us that more than a thousand soldiers have joined the Federation camp about two miles away. This morning, the soldiers began collecting their belongings. They are leaving or attacking, and the former doesn’t seem likely.
King speaks in hushed tones so our voices don’t carry in the still night. There isn’t a breeze, but it’s chilly. I prefer warmth. It’s times like this that I really miss our island. Pushing the thought aside, I listen to King. I need my head clear and thinking of home won’t help.
We have close to four hundred warriors versus a thousand Federation soldiers. If it weren’t for the hellhounds, this would be a piece of cake. There’s no way Smythe isn’t leading this force. Is he unaware the Shadow Warriors have aligned with the outposts? Spying in the new world isn’t as it once was. You need eyes now, not satellites. The Federation is building up for something huge. A thousand men is nothing to them, and the majority are most likely red stripes. Their only job as foot soldiers is to die. I shudder and turn my attention to King.
“If they’re releasing the hellhounds first, we’ll send Beck’s force.” He nods at Beck. “You’ll have a hundred Warriors. The humans in the outpost are ready and with us coming from two sides, we should be able to take out the hounds.” After dealing with Ruth and the eye opener about following the chain of command, I need to learn about the Federation’s strategy. And to understand ours, so I listen raptly.
“We establish a line of Warriors here, and here.” King points to a map drawn in the dirt again. “We’ll hold our main forces back and not give away our numbers unless absolutely necessary.”
King nods and turns to Nokita and Labyrinth. “Right flank is yours.”
I watch King as he does his thing. No second-guessing—see the problem—find the solution. His eyes meet mine. “We’re taking the main force. We’ll divide it into two squads. Your squad will take the front. Here.” He points at the location he wants me.
Stunned, one claw flips out directed at my chest. “Me?”
He doesn’t say anything, just looks into my eyes, searching for my soul. I straighten my spine and say firmly, “I’ve got the front line.”
He glances at the men while I try to slow my racing heart. “Double-check that each Warrior has hellhound antidote in their packs ready to go. I want everyone administering a dose now. Fight, administer, fight. If we’re lucky, no one will go down with a hellhound bite.”
We discovered by accident that administering a dose an hour before a possible hellhound bite weakens the poison, and Warriors are able to function longer. If a Warrior goes down, it’s a death sentence.
I inhale slowly. I’m in charge of making sure Warriors don’t die under my command, and people will die if I mess this up. Everyone walking away unscathed is ridiculous, and I’m not ready for this.
“Marinah,” King says and draws me from the edge of panic. “I need five minutes.” He nods to an area about fifty feet away where scrub brush gives a semblance of privacy. The meeting is over, and we walk side by side as my brain travels through a roller coaster of turmoil. I don’t give King a chance to speak first. “What are you doing? How can you possibly think I can lead Warriors?”
The man I love stares at me with eyes so blue I want to drown. “Why do you think I’ve pushed you so hard? You are part of my guard, and your job is to lead.” His eyes shine with pride, and I swear I love him even more.
“And if I don’t think I’m ready?”
Now his jaw slides to the side, and a Warrior grin appears. “It’s a small skirmish; you’ll be fine.”
One thousand U.S. Federation soldiers is a small skirmish to this man. I grin too and put two claws about an inch a part. “It’s not small, it’s tiny.”
King places his teeth-filled mug against mine and hugs me. His arms are comforting. He leans back and stares into my eyes again. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
He’s my world, and I can’t lose him. “I’ll try.”
Our alone time is over, and we need to get moving. The Warriors split into four groups seamlessly, and the first two units head to their positions. The outpost is built at the base of Fremont Peak. It’s one of the San Francisco Peaks located north of what was once Flagstaff, Arizona, a small college town. The town is a wasteland now, and if anything could be scavenged, it was done long ago.
Once the two units reach our destination, we can see south for miles. With one firm slap to my back, King splits off with his men. I have seventy-five Warriors with me, and I hold their lives in my hands. It’s daunting, and when I look at the faces of the men I know, panic rises. If we fight, the odds say we won’t all survive. What makes King think I can do this?
I inhale and exhale, calming my body. Are you ready, Ms. Beast?
King’s orders are for me to intercept stray hellhounds and Federation soldiers to keep them from overtaking the outpost or getting away. Strike and run, strike and run is the plan. We have no idea how the whistles the Federation uses work. Does the noise anger the hounds, calm them, or just keep them from the men causing the sounds? I make it my personal goal to capture one of the things. If we can get it back to the island, we can test it on our captured hellhounds and figure out how it works. We can also make more.
The sun slowly comes over the horizon, and the slight chill dissipates somewhat. At our elevation I don’t expect too much. The valley below is quiet, and then a blare of a horn sounds in the distance. I lift the field glasses from my pack and look down on the outpost. Several of my men do too. Ryan, one of the Warriors who stands guard at the citadel, is beside me. King appointed him my second, and it’s a good choice. He’s solid and steady, doesn’t overreact, and controls his temper. He’s everything I’m not. No, that’s not true. I’m just as deadly as he is, and King wouldn’t place me in charge if he didn’t think I could handle it.
A large column of Federation soldiers is forming in front of the outpost, exactly as described by the two survivors of the other attack. King’s force is our last line of defense. He’ll be holding his men back to see if the Federation has anything tricky up their sleeves. I don’t envy King the waiting.
I move the glasses to Beck’s location. Nothing moves, and I can’t see the men. I have no doubt they’re there. Next, I check Labyrinth and Nokita. Same. My glasses sweep the area, and I notice movement from the west. They’re bringing in the hounds. I follow how they’re doing it. Six soldiers are spread on the outside of a large group of hellhounds. I’d estimate two hundred. It’s hard to make out the whistles in the men’s mouths. Only the slight movement of their cheeks gives them away. The hounds stay in their group and get nowhere near the soldiers.
The larger column of soldiers waiting in front of the outpost, split down the middle and allow the hellhounds to pass. They are all blowing whistles. It solves one curiosity. The hounds avoid the whistles, and that’s how they’re controlled. Yep, I’ll be getting my hands on one or more of those.
“Be sure to grab any whistles from downed soldiers,” I say to Ryan.
“Got it. I’ll spread the word to the men.”
I lift my glasses again. Now I can see Beck and Cabel moving. I turn to the outpost and for the first time see General Smythe. I lick my lips. He won’t be getting away this time. To hell with questioning him. If given the chance, I’ll take his throat.
Humans are stationed along the high wall on the inside of the outpost. The hellhounds will easily go up and over. Missy will have those unable to fight secured underground in one of their bunkers. Beck and his men will go against the hellhounds to stop them. Labyrinth’s job is to take on the Federation soldiers.
Knowing some Federation soldiers are here by force unsettles me.
Kill, Ms. Beast whispers at my reticence.
Yes, kill. If they are willing to kill civilians, including women and children, they won’t be leaving here alive. My resolve is set, and I’m impatient to fight. Everyone is in place, and nothing is going on that I can see.
The Federation waits ten more minutes, and then everything happens at once. The hellhounds are unleashed, and they run using their fast, doglike gait toward the outpost. Beck’s men charge into the hoard. Labyrinth’s unit attacks the main group of Federation soldiers, their whistles having no effect on our ears. I notice a large unit of soldiers led by Smythe running toward my location. That’s when I see dust in the distance and move my field glasses.
Military trucks come over the ridge and head toward Smythe. When the canvas is torn away from the truck beds, three rotary cannons are waiting to take out our forces. They turn the guns down the mountain straight at the Federation soldiers, Warriors, and hellhounds.
“They’re going to kill their own men.” I look behind me, and all eyes are on mine. “We must stop those guns. They’ve set us up.”
I give a short prayer that King has figured out what Smythe is planning. We start out at a fast jog, picking up speed as we race down the mountainside. We don’t want the rotary cannons turned on us, so we stay as low as possible. This will be a gunfight, and I’m so not ready.
A hundred yards from Smythe, I call a halt. Smythe is talking to one of his men from the vehicles. He jumps onto the back of the truck and actually takes over for the soldier holding the rotary cannon. He’s not only going to have his own men shot; he’s doing it himself. With the bullet spread from the rotary cannon, there’s no way to choose who dies. They al
I lift my rifle, and the Warriors around me do the same. Ryan whispers, “Kamin, Elright, and Eagle have the best sniper skills.”
“Move them into position and have them take out the soldiers on the trucks first.” This means I won’t hear Smythe’s last breath. If none of my men die, I can live with it. “On my command,” I lift my hand and lower it sharply. I don’t even look at Smythe, there’s no time. I line up my first shot, fire, then fire again. We take return fire and flatten ourselves to the ground. The soldiers find cover behind the trucks and our bullets ping uselessly off the side. “Take out one tire in each truck,” I yell. I don’t want them driving out of here, and the outpost can use the trucks if I can save some of the tires. Vehicles have sat for too long, and most tires are dried and useless.
Ryan’s snipers do their job. I see slight movement at one of the intact tires and shoot when I see it again. The man goes down. I lift my field glasses to see what’s happening with the hellhounds and other soldiers. It’s chaos. A shot goes over my head. I also see soldiers leaving the main fight and running for the trucks. If they get here, it will only reinforce the soldiers we’re up against.
“We need to go in hard. Can your men lay down fire and get us closer?”
Ryan nods subtly. “Yes. Who do you want going in?”
“I’ll rush with twenty of the Warriors. We’ll run full out and fire at the same time if you’ll keep firing over our heads.”
A claw presses into my arm, and I look at Ryan, shocked that he actually touched me. “You’re our leader, and we need you calling the shots. I’ll take the men in with your permission.”
He’s right, and me going in would be rash. I know how badly King wants to fight, and he’s protecting himself so he can lead his men. I need to do the same. “Stay safe. We’ll shoot on your command and give you cover.” He stares into my eyes for a moment, and I’m sure he’s surprised I’m giving in so easily.