Kelly was finishing up her breakfast when Ella showed up with a gangly teenager. He was pretty tall, either 5’11” or 6’ although he didn’t seem as tall as the other men in the troop, despite the fact he was taller than one of them. Shoulders slumped, he scuffled along behind the fairy with brown eyes that kept darting around the room.
“Lieutenant,” Ella greeted her with a salute that Kelly returned and continued, “this is Perry Thompson, your squadron’s new Guide. He just completed his training, a couple of months ago, and he has been assigned to your troop.”
Kelly glanced at Perry, and then nodded to the fairy. With another exchanged salute, Ella disappeared behind a blanket of blue flames. With a glance at the bench across from the one she was sitting in, Kelly lowered herself once more into her seat.
Looking around the table, Kelly could see that little had changed between the moods the Warriors had the night before and the moods they had now. Though Tirzah did look a little more peaceful, it was not by much. Everyone had exchanged brief greetings when they showed up, but nobody had taken the initiative to lead a conversation. Kelly was thinking about starting one when Jones slammed her hand on the table and snarled, glaring at Perry, “If King Samra wanted to kill us, why would he bother giving us a mission to fail at first?”
Her demand caught the group’s attention and looking around, Kelly could see that some of them looked confused, while others looked angry too. One of them (Tirzah) seemed to brighten up, though.
“What are you talking about, Jones?” Kelly asked quickly.
“This kid is cursed,” she growled. “He’s been on, what is it, seven missions now and every time, the entire squadron he was guiding dies. There isn’t a single person that has been on a mission with him that is still alive.”
“Wait a minute,” Kelly stammered, giving Perry a confused look, “you’ve been on missions before?”
Sheepishly, Perry nodded.
“And every person you’ve led is dead?” Ashia asked, giving him a curious glance.
Again, Perry nodded.
“You see?” Jones demanded. “Cursed.”
“I don’t believe in curses,” Leandra said evenly, giving Jones a serious look.
“That doesn’t change the fact that the kid is the most unsuccessful Guide that Xamalie has ever had,” Jay pointed out.
“Regardless of his previous luck,” Kelly said sharply, raising her voice a little and holding up a hand to still the conversation, “Perry is our Guide now. I will go where he leads, as will my troop.”
Leandra was already nodding before Kelly even finished her statement, but she had been expecting that. Ashia inclined her head in a brief nod to signal that she was in. The sisters, Annette and Tirzah looked a little uncertain, but they, too, inclined their heads to let Kelly know that they were in. After exchanging a look with each other before turning to Kelly, Stephen and Jay slowly tipped their heads as well. There was only one troop member that had still remained silent, and that was Jones, who was sitting at the table with her arms folded across her chest. Kelly arched her eyebrow as if to ask her, Well?
Heaving a sigh, Jones threw up her hands and said, “I’m in, too, but if we all die, don’t tell me that I didn’t warn you.”
Kelly shot the messenger a look before she continued with, “Ok, I have a meeting with Commander Deluvia. Hopefully we will be able to come up with some sort of game plan to get Kendrick. We can discuss the meeting at lunch.”
Nodding her farewell, Kelly stood and headed off for the room that she had been told would be the meeting place. The walk had seemed much longer the first time she had taken it, when she was trying to make sure she knew where the meeting would be. Staring at the door to the room, Kelly felt nerves going off like firecrackers in her stomach. Taking a deep breath, she tried her best to push all of the nerves out of her mind and focus on the task at hand. With a firm, You can do this, she nodded once again, and then opened the door.
The first thing that Kelly could see was that her dad was the only one in the room. He was standing at a large table that had a map spread over the top of it. Without looking at his daughter, he asked, “How are you, Lieutenant?”
“I am well, Sir,” she said, trying to ignore the growing nausea in her stomach. “And you?”
“Likewise,” he told her, finally looking her way. The expression on his face surprised her: confidence. Kelly struggled to remember the last time that she had seen her dad look so confident and she couldn’t recall a single time. Even going back to the days when her mom was alive, confidence was not a look that she thought her dad possessed. Though it was a little odd seeing that expression on his face, it was somehow very comforting. The knots in her stomach started loosening before she realized what was happening.
“We’re supposed to draw up a game plan for the next two months, correct?” Kelly asked, taking a step closer to him.
“Right,” he nodded, pushing the map toward her. “Ella said that Kendrick has been given the task of killing your uncle. Though we do not know exactly where, we do know that Kendrick lives in the mountains. We need to lure him out of the Monan Regna if we want to have any hope of killing him.”
“What makes you say that?” Kelly asked.
“Kendrick is not going to be willing to leave the mountains to face your uncle in battle,” her dad said quietly. “Nolan has plenty of people who watch every move he makes and report on it in different towns and villages. I would imagine that at least some of these stories have managed to reach Kendrick’s ears.”
Stepping closer so that she could view the map, Kelly asked her dad, “So how do you propose we draw him out?”
“I’m not sure,” he said honestly. “Kendrick never comes out of the mountains.”
“Have you even ever seen him?” Kelly asked curiously, turning her full attention to her dad.
“Not up close,” he said, his voice soft. There was almost something in the way he said it that made her think there might be more to it, but he didn’t say anything else.
Deciding to leave that subject untouched, Kelly returned their conversation to the original purpose of their meeting. “So, you need us to get Kendrick out of the mountains, right?”
“That would certainly help,” her dad said slowly, eyeing her carefully, “but how?”
Kelly wasn’t exactly sure what the best way to answer that question was, so she remained silent for a time, looking instead at all of the cities that her troop had traveled through over the past couple of months: Baz, Mor, Meira, Temoragu, Mel Boohra, and Gaarh. It amazed her to see the amount of land she had traveled over.
“Have you been assigned a Guide, yet?” Kelly asked, turning to look at him once more.
At her question, her dad’s face grew more distasteful. “Yes, Aerlene.”
At least King Samra isn’t sending my uncle to Kendrick without a fighting chance, she thought. Out loud, she said, “Good. You’ll have a fighting chance with her as your Guide.”
“Kelly,” her dad said, his voice going soft, leaving a crack in the careful façade he had been holding up since she walked in the room. Seeing the uncertainty leaking through suggested that confidence was only his bluff emotion, nothing more.
Turning her attention back to the map, Kelly said quietly, “I know you don’t trust her, Dad, but I do.”
“That is your prerogative, Lieutenant,” he said after a long pause. And just like that, he had closed himself off. Heaving a sigh, he asked her, “Do you have any plans to draw Kendrick out of the mountains?”
“I have some connections that Kendrick might not be suspicious of immediately, since they do not fight for Xamalie,” she started to say, but her dad cut her off.
“Ella will not like that,” he said shortly, his voice dark. “She does not usually place her trust in people outside of Xamalie’s control.”
“Just give me a couple of days to run through my list of contacts,” Kelly said, posing the statement more as a question. “Maybe if we find a way before we pitch the idea to Ella, she’ll be more likely to accept it.”
Giving her dad a small smile, Kelly figured that even if Ella wouldn’t like the plan, she was pretty sure that she had some contacts that could help her draw Kendrick out of the mountains. First, there were the Morans. Maybe Ashia could help her fish out a few that would be willing to help. Though she knew Kendrick wouldn’t trust anything his brother did, Kelly was thinking that Edan would be more than willing to get his brother out of the Monan Regna and on an actual battlefield. Plus, there was a small chance that Edan might actually know where Kendrick lived.
For a long time, Kelly thought that her dad was going to deny her request, but when he did speak, he said, “I can give you as many as three days, Lieutenant. Can you have a plan by then?”
“Yes, Sir,” she said, bringing her fisted right hand to her left shoulder in a crisp salute.
Returning the salute, her dad told her, “Then I will see you in three days.”