HK was in the Ten’ou House, online and checking up on the Hunter site as per usual when she found a very unusual mass message at the top of her virtual bin. “Re:re:re:re:re: Can We Take a Pack?” read the subject line, with several predecessors underneath it. She opened the top one and scrolled down to the bottom with cold dread.
Hello, everyone. My name is James, and I hunt in America. It has occurred to me that if we can communicate with each other through this network, and team up in pairs on occasion, why couldn’t we team up to take out packs? That is the one safety most Lupa have, right? They think they’re safe in packs. But what if they weren’t? And they knew it? I think it’s about time we tried it, and showed them how wrong they are. If we can take out enough, we can make them stop. Maybe we can even make them go back to this “homeworld” they came from. I think it’s worth a try. What do you all think?
She scrolled up through the responses. Positive, positive, positive, maybe, positive. Elie āan, someone had actually thought to do it. One read “This is a wonderful idea. Think of what we could be doing for our world, ridding it of so many of those monsters at once! What are we waiting for?!!?”
HK sat for a while, wondering what she should do. Even as she watched over the next few hours, more replies were coming in, from Hunters all over the world. Many were even willing to travel to America to join this group. Meeting places were being suggested, and lists of available weapons posted. It was time to let Trax know something was up, and she reached for him in Norway.
HK and Trax watched in dismay as the numbers for this offensive grew to 20, and then 30, and finally almost 40 in the next two days. The only good thing was that most other singular strikes were waylaid for a time, at least for the Hunters on the network. HK went out when needed, at which point Trax did the watching on his own, and replied as needed. They’d decided that their ‘Hunter’ was in support of this, but was unable to join in as she was getting close to bagging her long-time prey. She was instead sending some weapons for their use, and would come later when her own mission was completed. But they couldn't come up with a working plan that involved just the two of them.
“We can only get so many of them en route,” HK said, “which will leave at least twenty five, they're coming from too many different places. Why not just burn the place when they're all together?”
“Because with you it's all or nothing. And once it's started you can't stop it. What if it's close to other houses, or in the middle of the forest? We can't put that much land or that many people in danger. Besides, with all the firepower they'll have there the authorities will be swarming the place after that big of an explosive display, and we can't afford that, either. Why can't they be doing this where it won't matter?”
“Because this is where their Hunting is. But we can’t risk exposure like that. And no pack will volunteer to be bait.”
“No. We'll have to draw them out, where there are no interferences.”
“There's a lot of forested area there, where any help for them would be a long way away. Maybe we can pool people together, who have killed Hunters?”
“That makes three or four. The Office?”
“They supply me, but they are not fighters.”
“Well...there is someone who might be able to help.”
“What do you mean?” He looked at her. “Why are you hiding her from me?”
“She doesn’t exist yet. But she has a time key, and she can help. You can not ask about what happens in the future. And after this, you must forget about it until it is needed. One of us may have to send her back to us now, with help.”
Trax thought about this for a moment, then nodded. “We need them. The people need them. Go recruit who you can, and bring them here. I will go to the Office in your name, and arrange for some things. Call them and tell them I’m coming.”
“It will be done by the time you get there.”
HK tucked the laptop away in her astral pocket, and they both departed.
Our group came out in the ravine, and everyone else looked around. Jax and I looked at each other, knowing we’d normally be happy to be back, but not for this. There were the two of us, and Miara and Channie, who were trained protectors.
“So, where exactly are we?” Channie asked.
“In Tokyo, Japan, on Terra, in 2007.” There were confused looks. “About 40 years before restoration. We’ll try and stay out here as much as possible. However, Miara and I will meet Trax and HK inside before they see the rest of you. Remember, they don’t know you, and you don’t know them. I've shielded all your minds, so he can't read you. Everyone got that?”
Everyone nodded, and Miara followed me up the side of the ravine and into the house. She looked around curiously, and I reminded her to keep her mind shut tight. There wasn’t anyone around at the time, and so we waited, with me telling her about the place. I also told HK we were here, and she said they were both out arranging things, and would be back by evening, hopefully with help.
We spoke to several of the normal house guests during the wait, during which Jax organized the “camp” in the ravine and sent some of the others out to hunt for our dinners. Many of them were surprised to see me looking so different, and Miara gave me a strange look over that the first time it happened. I knew she was hoping to meet a Time Lord. She’d been hooked on that idea since the first time I’d ever told her of their existence when she was a teenager. But I was immensely glad that she was able to carry out intelligent conversation with the various house guests, and I found myself watching her more than anything else.
Trax arrived first, and gave us one of the strangest looks I’d ever seen from him. I smiled.
“You won’t find out anything by probing. We took care of that before we came.”
“Who are you?”
“You can call me Rachel. And you sent us. I’m sure you’re aware of the others?” He nodded. “When we leave, I'll be putting a block in your mind. You'll forget us until the appropriate time.”
“Why should I trust you to do that?”
“Because you sent us. Besides, HK certainly doesn’t know how.”
He stared at me, then acquiesced. “This is Miara.”
I could sense HK in the ravine, dropping of her recruits. All two of them.
“You guys go on out. HK and I have to talk a bit.”
They went out, and HK came in, and brought out the laptop. “What exactly are we up against?” I spoke in Lupa.
“Thirty nine. We can get ten before they get there. Someone fast.”
“You want to do that? You seem to have it worked out.” I pressed my time key into her hand. “You know the rules?”
“Yes. Will you or Trax be in charge?”
“I was hoping it would be you, you’ve got the experience.” She looked at me coldly, and I realized she was right, it couldn’t be her. “Me, then.” I got to looking at the emails, and was soon drawn in. “Elie āan, they’re going to have their own private arsenal at their disposal. What I’ve got’s nothing compared to that.”
“Trax made arrangements with the office, he can give you the details on that. And he’s got his own pocket full of useful things. Didn’t you bring anything with you?”
“We don’t keep those kinds of weapons, you know that. I hope he got us some sniper rifles and night vision goggles. Twenty odd Hunters. How many people do we have again?”
“Then we’ve got to do something about their guns, first…”
“Eight people? Plus the fighting? Not without lowering my shields enough to reveal myself to everyone in the state. You should know the curse of the immortal astral range by now.”
“Excuse me,” another voice said, and I looked up. Eiry. I’d almost forgotten about her.
“What’s going on? Why are you all here?”
Something in HK perked up as she looked at Eiry, and I looked at her narrowly. “What are you thinking?”
“We need bait. Real bait this time. Not you, pretending.”
“She is not part of this.”
“Look at her. She’s perfect. No one out there looks as helpless as she does.”
“I am not helpless.”
“Eiry, go home and forget about this. You shouldn’t be involved.”
“She thinks so.”
“She wants to use you, for bait.”
“What would I have to do?”
I stared at her. “You can’t be serious. There’s no way you have the skill to kill a Hunter, even if you’ve been practicing every day since then.”
“Maybe not, but I’m strong, and fast. And I know what I look like. I’m not afraid of them. Not like before.” I took deep look at her now, and saw a new strength growing. But it was young yet. “If you need help, I want to fight.”
“Eiry. There will be twenty some Hunters. Maybe more. They want to go after entire packs, and they have the arsenal to do it. I can’t protect you in something like this like I did before. For the beginning, if you’re bait, but not during the fight.”
“Twenty or more?...” she went a little pale. “Then I have to, don’t I? To protect my own family.”
“Are you willing to die for this?”
She stared back at me a minute before drawing herself up. “I am Lupa.”
“Then get your weapons and join the others in the ravine.”
Eiry ran all the way home, the fighting spirit already burning in her chest.
Tally was waiting. “What’s going on?” She made the connection and shoved the information into his head as she grabbed his hand and pulled him up the stairs behind her. “Oh my god.”
“I need every weapon we’ve got, help me.”
They pulled weapons out of drawers and from behind furniture, the duffel bag filling quickly. Tally went downstairs for the shears, and she started filling another bag with a change of clothes and some travel supplies. Tally threw some clothes in, and she stared at him.
“What are you doing?”
“The same thing you are.”
“I’m still a pack member. What affects you affects me.”
“Tally...” She hadn’t even thought of him in this, but knew he was right. She smiled. “We’ll watch each other’s back.”
The trip back was a bit slower, as they waited and caught the bus, but once they got down into the ravine it was like walking into a boot camp.
HK rested the tip of her knife on the man's chest, in plain sight of the rest of us.
“You. Should not. Be here.”
He glared back at her. “I've as much right to it as anyone else.”
“You are not Lupa. Terrans have to place in our affairs.”
“He is a member of our pack,” the woman said, pulling him back from the blade. Eiry, Rachel said. It was still strange to think of her that way. “I am Eiry Saliena, daughter of Kara and Jonathan, of Luke's pack. This is Tally,” she introduced them to the group. “He was adopted and raised as one of us, and he knows what his duty is.”
“This is different,” Rachel said. “You don't have the same strengths or reflexes. Hunters hit hard, and they won't care what you are. None of us will be able to protect you. If you fight with us, you'll most likely die.”
“It doesn't matter.”
Jax came up then, having heard the last bit. “What do you think?” he asked me. Everyone looked at me, and I looked at him.
“Let me touch you.”
He thrust his hand out, and I placed mine on his arm. He was a little dazed when I was done, but I was pleased.
“You are Lupa here,” I said, putting two fingers on his heart. “Whether or not you change. Remember Lord of the Rings, when you said Merry should fight just like anyone else? Let him go.”
Rachel nodded, and that was the end of it.
Trax and I sat with the laptop, and my sketchpad, where he outlined the Hunter's meeting place. From their emails, I pulled a satellite map of the surrounding area. We were looking for a good place to fight in.
“We need to get them all out there, probably en route, or this will be very hard to do.”
“Close to their target pack, but not at it. If there's any that stay behind, we can take care of them later. HK should be able to handle that. We should have her fight on her own as much as possible. Eiry is our bait, do you think she'll be enough?”
“You could go with her.”
“That won't work, I have no fear left.”
“Absolutely not. But we'll also have to force them into personal combat.”
“We do have two sniper rifles.”
“And HK and I have our guns. Put Tally and Romān on those. The three of us will be needed on the ground for moral. I can misshape their guns on contact, and probably take care of any grenade stocks before you lead the others in. But I can't guarantee any strays.”
He nodded. “I'll advise them to be careful, and will keep an eye out.”
“Just don't get yourself killed.”
“I'm certainly not looking to die before I see Moon again.”
“Don't start with that. When this is over you won't remember, anyway.”
“But it gives me something to fight for again.”
“Then enjoy it while you can.”
We spent the rest of the night in practice, the two of us helping the others. I set Miara to spar with Eiry and Tally, and oversaw the three myself. I kept feeling a warning on them, but each had made their own decisions. And if they were ready to fight, we needed the numbers. I didn't like having a Terran with us, even if he was a practicing Lupa. The odds were stacked against him.
Real training with fellow Lupa was a new experience, people with the same reaction time, sharp senses, and blows in force to match mine. My skill may not be the same, but I was fast and strong. Tally was sure and confident, but lacked that edge.
Miara was well trained, and way beyond our level, practicing with both of us at once. But Rachel pushed us all as hard as she could. Some patterns she even jammed into our heads, considering them essential to the type of group fighting we were going to be doing. It wasn't a fun experience, but afterwards we found ourselves using them along with what we already knew.
It was near twilight when we finally stopped and the Leaders let us rest for a while. The basic plan was laid out and we were all drilled in our positions and understanding. Tally and Romān were given the sniper positions—he'd always been a good shot during hunting season.
Rachel took me aside, explaining to me what being bait meant, how to act, what I could and couldn't do. Also, exactly how much protection she could give me.
“Are you scared?”
“Good. You'll need it, so they believe you. But don't forget what you told me. When the time comes, you'll have to put away your fear again.”
“Your life, and that of others, will depend on it.”
I felt suddenly very sober, and she left me thinking of family and friends. What was I doing this for? Who was I ready to protect with my life? The urge to fight was normal, but this required something more.
Sali broke into my thoughts then.
What have you been doing?
Training for a fight.
One of the SS adventures?
No, something different. Trust me, please.
I closed my connection with her as gently as I could, but not without the share of guilt I usually felt on such occasions. I didn't want her to know what was going on, and hopefully she'd never have to. Nor did I want her seeing the kinds of things I knew we'd be seeing and doing. Tally came over to me then, and sat with me.
“I found out what pack we're protecting.”
“It's Marta and Andrew's, isn't it?”
He nodded. “So we're protecting family after all.”
I relayed our plan to HK while the others were getting a few hours sleep. She seemed to be doing as well as usual, and would meet us there. Rachel wasn't sleeping either, sitting on an outcropping of the ravine wall. I took some jerky from my pocket and offered it to her. Unlike most people, she wasn't at all uncomfortable around me.
“HK's ahead of schedule. She may get an extra few in before meeting us.”
“Each one less will help.”
“Who are you?”
“Don't ask those questions.”
“I'm going to forget.”
She shook her head. “It doesn't matter. I'm a friend, and leave it at that.”
Her astral was so well guarded I couldn't read anything, and yet there seemed to be something familiar about her. She jumped down, and went over to Miara. A little bit later, Rachel appeared with a new, short hair cut.
Eiry waited nervously by the side of the road. Soon, their quarry would be headed this way en route to their first target pack. She knew Rachel was there, in the trees, but it was as if she wasn't there, silent and unseen. No sense could detect her.
She could feel a warm trickle of blood creeping down her leg from the “wound” she'd sustained, along with various other scratches and bruises. Several pairs of lights swung slowly into view around the approaching curve, and Eiry's heart started racing.
Courage. This is your moment.
Eiry felt the push forward, and let it happen, But as soon as her feet hit the pavement, she was thinking only of what she had to do. Running wearily out into the road, she waved her warms frantically as the truck neared.
“Help!” She cried. “Help! Please help us!”
The first vehicles slowed to a stop just in front of her, and she went around to the passenger side window. The man rolled down the glass, and she put on her best innocent face.
“Please, you have to help us! My family needs help!”
“Are you alright?” the man asked, scrutinizing her.
“Yes, yes, I'm fine. But my family...”
“What's happened?” She could see him suddenly take a deeper interest in her, which she did her best to encourage by how she stood and acted.
“We were camping in the forest, but the land collapsed right under us! I was the first one to get out...there are children...”
“How many of you are there?”
“Ten, but please, you have to hurry...”
A car door slammed, and someone from the other van walked toward her. Already a little freaked out by the way the guy in the van was staring at her, and now this one, she backed away with a frightened squeal when a towering man with Hunter marks came into view. But the guy in the car had grabbed her arm, his thumb rubbing against her skin.
“You don't have any body fur,” he drawled, and she stared back at him, her heart pounding. All she felt was a driving instinct to get as far away as possible. But it was a surprise to everyone when she flung out her other hand to claw him across the face. He let go, and she stumbled backward into the ditch before the marked one could get a hold of her.
“That little bitch!” the one in the car exclaimed, then there was a “No, you idiot, don't shoot her! She can lead us to the others!”
Eiry scrambled under the tree line, going straight a bit before going off toward their chosen site. Leave a better trail, Rachel said, and she realized she'd been keeping with her. The sounds of pursuit were catching up, and Rachel kept them just ahead. Something came flying through the air and Eiry threw herself flat a moment. Keep going, join the others.
She knew was alone now, but soon there was a thud and one of the backmost Hunters went down. She knew she was close now, and raced to join the others for both her courage and her weapons while HKR did her job among Tally and Romān's sniper work.