The rear thrusters jarred Brendan awake. He felt weightless for a moment, and then got slammed into the back wall of the shuttle. Wooden crates pressed on top of him. They were finally coming in for a landing. He heard the pilot flip a few switches and then, with a soft “whump” and a less soft impact, the shuttle touched down. They were there, or here, technically on Earth. Suddenly, Brendan realized he was stuck. He hadn’t actually thought his father would go all the way to Earth. He didn’t have a plan for this. He’d envisioned himself confronting his father and finally receiving an explanation. But suddenly, he realized that had been idiotic and naïve. His father would be beyond furious.
And Brendan had other problems too, problems he never would have imagined. He could hear the mercenaries moving in the passenger seats as they unbuckled. Right after Brendan had hidden behind the unmarked, slightly suspicious crates, some men had opened the door and come into the ship. Most of them ex-soldiers from the war. Brendan had listened, frozen in terror as they talked. It had taken a while, but eventually he’d figured out that they had definitely been hired by his father. Brendan had known whatever his father had been hiding had been bad, but this was over his head. He wished he’d never even thought of this. He was starting to realize it could just get him killed.
Then the boxes started to move. Brendan’s heart nearly stopped as the boxes near him started grinding apart. His eyes met with someone else’s, someone not much older than he was. “What the hell!?” The guy grabbed Brendan and slammed him against the shuttle wall. Brendan’s head spun. The others watched him warily.
Then, out of nowhere, Brendan’s father appeared. He grabbed the man’s arm and calmly told him to let Brendan down. He was dropped unceremoniously onto the metal floor. Jackson Lucien stared down at his son, his face totally blank, his eyes hard and cold as glaciers. He didn’t say anything. Suddenly he turned and walked away again. The mercenaries hesitated for a moment, then went back to the crates. Brendan gulped in air; he’d forgotten to breathe the moment they’d found him.
Wood splintered and the mercenaries put down their crowbars and reached into the crates. The things they pulled out where illegal. Really illegal. First came the body armor, and that wasn’t exactly illegal. Just not sold or produced. But then they started pulling out the biggest guns Brendan had ever seen. They looked new, and they were so illegal Brendan couldn’t even begin to imagine what would happen to you for owning them, and by the looks of these guys they not only knew how to, but planned to use them. It was hard not to think about what would happen if they used them on him. Brendan promised himself if he lived through this, he would never set foot off Haven again. Without another glance at him, the mercenaries slid open the door and climbed out. Snow drifted in through the opening as well as a bright white light that hurt Brendan’s eyes.
Brendan managed to stand up; finally, some of the paralyzing terror was disappearing. His father appeared again. “Dad, I……” Brendan didn’t know what he had been going to say, but it didn’t matter. His father grabbed his jacket and slammed him into the metal wall just as hard as the mercenary had. “If you ever tell anyone what you’ve seen, if you breathe a word of this, even to your mother, you’ll wish you’d never been born.” He hissed, glaring into Brendan’s eyes. His eyes where making Brendan feel like he was drowning in freezing water. He knew in his gut his father meant it.
With an angry and disgusted grunt, Brendan’s father let him go. Jackson walked away. Brendan couldn’t make himself move, or make himself speak. Even if he could have, he didn’t know what he would have done. There was a strange, acid feeling in the pit of his stomach. One he didn’t recognize. His father turned to face him again. Terror began to suffocate Brendan all over again. God, maybe he’d changed his mind? His father was terrifying, Brendan didn’t know how he’d never noticed it before, and wished he hadn’t now. He could barely believe he was afraid of his own father. But in that moment Brendan knew his father would kill him if he had too, and if he thought he was right, he’d never regret it.
Brendan Swallowed. Then with an almost silent “thunk”, the ship exploded.
“Yo, Rain!” Soran yelled from the South lookout. His was two floors higher up than mine and smaller, barely enough room for two people. I turned my head to look at him. “Get up here!” He said urgently. With a sigh, I got up and flew up to him and landed carefully in the ankle deep snow. “There.” He pointed to the south. I squinted and could make out the fading trail from shuttle thrusters in the dawn light. Humans.
“Go! Get Willow!” I snapped. He turned to say something to me, but I shoved him off the edge. “Run Damn it! Run!” I yelled. He finally got the message and disappeared into the building. I snatched up his binoculars and tried to work out how old the trail was. The wind was dispersing it, but it could only be few minutes old. Tempest could have seen it by now. We had to get there first. Humans would have supplies, food, amo, real medicine. It was a one in a million chance, one we’d probably never see again.
I heard the soft ruffle of feathers just before Willow landed next to me. “What?” She snapped at me. I pointed and shoved the binoculars into her hands. She looked for about half a second before breaking into a grin. Willow yanked a battered radio out of her jacket pocket. Selena had the other one. It crackled to life. “I need you, Sipher, Tristan, Reza and Fox up here now.” There wasn’t a reply. They were all there in less than a minute, fully armed and ready to go. “Me too!” Soran said with a pleading look in his eyes. “No.” Willow said firmly. “Stay here and stay on your watch, get Pyro up here to cover Rain’s.” Soran opened his mouth to argue. It would never work. He had never really been in a battle before, and he was still too young now. “No. Get Jiva too, have her get the others and bring them back. Now.” Soran finally left, furry and resentment burning in his eyes.
Willow, turned back to the rest of us, her face stony and all business. “Where did it fall?” She asked me. “About five miles south of here, by the ridge. I’m almost certain.” Willow nodded and sorted the info in less than a second. “Selena, I want you to circle around from the west,” Tempest’s base, as far as we knew, was to the North East, any Evangelon from her would come that way, probably avoiding our base as well. They’d be coming in from the East, over the ocean. Willow continued on, “Set yourself up on the cliff and cover us until you’re sure no one’s following us.” She nodded once and left, flying low over the houses and disappearing into the trees. Selena was a sniper, but at last count, her riffle had seven bullets left to its name. That alone showed just how desperate we were. On top of that, we were out of everything and we were leaving our home virtually unprotected on the off chance we could get anything from this shuttle.
“The rest of you will be going in with me.” Willow said. “We’ll go in from here, high as we can go. If we’re lucky, they won’t notice us until we’re on top of them. We’re going to drop in right on top of them, Rain can you do a shield?” I nodded. I could melt snow easily enough, ice was my real problem. But snow had been falling all night, I was fine. “Good. You go in first, I want that shield up the second you touch the ground. How long do you think you can hold it?” I thought about it quickly, “Five minutes.” Willow stood up and got jumped off the tiny platform. “Let’s go.”
I dropped straight through a hail of gunfire. Tempest’s Evangelon where already there, the humans where only just still holding their own. The clearing was about seventy feet around. Easy, I’d be able to hold the shield longer than I’d thought. The ground wasn’t that far away now; I opened my wings and jerked my plummet to a much slower fall. The bullets were getting closer now. Melting snow swirled into the air and stretched out over the seventy-foot space and whirled into a huge spinning dome of water. Willow dropped in just before the edges closed. I hit the ground hard, but kept the shield steady. Bullets smashed into the whirling wall and were caught up in the rushing onslaught of water Willow called a ‘shield’. This was the only thing I’d ever been better at Tempest at, she’d never had the patience it took to learn to hold something like this for any amount of time.
I heard a click, the kind that happens when you pull a gun’s trigger with the safety on. I looked around and my eyes finally found a boy leaning against the wreckage with a gun in his hand. He was a little older than me, brown hair, black eyes, pretty face, inept. He managed to take the safety off the tiny, little gun and pointed it at me. “Do it.” I told him, fighting the urge to laugh. His finger trembled on the trigger, he couldn’t do it. I did smile then. Humans.
Willow landed beside him. She twisted his wrist and, as soon as he dropped the gun, punched him. The gun thudded to the ground. The boy crashed to the earth after it. He was out cold. Willow wasn’t pleased. She clearly thought I should have taken care of it on my own, her glare promised revenge later. Then she picked up the gun and took out the bullets. She tossed the useless piece of crap back into the smoldering wreckage. Willow then picked the boy up and dropped him with the other humans. Three still alive, including the boy. Sweat started to trickle down my face; I was getting tired, but the barrier would still hold a little longer.
“Willow! Three minuets!”
Sipher cut me off. “Willow! Come look at this! This guy’s got a top-level clearance card! He’s gotta be important!” Willow looked over, and stood there silently, her face a mask as her thoughts ran. “How badly is he injured?” She asked finally. “No bullets, some pretty bad burns, but he’ll probably live.” Willow thought some more, a cold and almost desperate look in her eyes. I felt my whole body start to tremble with the effort of keeping the shield up. She was chewing on her lip now, as though she couldn’t make her mind up about something. Then, I felt the edges slip a bit, I managed to regain control again, but it was weak and I couldn’t bring them back into place. “Willow! It’s going!” A warm fog started to drift into my brain; soon enough, it would start to hurt.
Willow looked at me for a long moment, then nodded and turned around. “Fox! Have we got everything?” Fox tossed two more bags to Reza who then shoved them into a backpack. “I think so, anything else is probably burnt by now anyway.” Willow nodded again; Tristan slung one of the bags onto his back. Everyone else did too. They were full, I saw with relief as I slid mine on. Willow shot me a glance, and I shook my head, not much time left. I could already feel something similar to frost numbing my brain. It hurt a lot worse then when I used my Talent in short bursts, this was colder, and more thorough.
Willow seemed to hesitate. That made me uneasy, one thing Willow never did was hesitate. Then she turned, strode over to the pile of humans and knocked the last one left conscious out. Then she scooped the human boy from before up in her arms. “Tristan, Reza, Fox, pick up a human, they’re coming with us.” Nothing happened. I could almost hear the struggle, the same one that was going on in my own mind. Willow was our leader, we followed her or we got the hell out. We accepted that. But the idea of humans…. It was nearly too bad to even contemplate. They thought they were gods, they thought they could do whatever they wanted, the hell with us. Screw this. Tempest could have them.
A lightning bolt of pain shot through my brain. I screamed before I could stop myself. It burned, burned like freezing acid. I’d gone too far again too soon. “Rain!” Willow screamed. Dimly, I heard guns firing again. The shield was gone. A bullet whipped past my face. Blindly, I forced myself to pull the shield back up again. It felt like I was shredding my head. I could feel it slipping away again; I wasn’t strong enough to keep it up. In a last ditch effort I froze it solid. The world misted over, sounds faded and I stumbled backwards, fighting to stay on my feet. Then everything snapped back into focus and I forced myself to stand up.
I felt a familiar trickle of blood trailing down my face, as if things needed to be any worse.
“What the hell was that?” Willow demanded, nearly screaming. I turned to face her. Willow’s face might have been angry, but her eyes where scared. For me. That made me feel a little weird, so I decided not to think about it. “I don’t know.” I finally said. It was true; I didn’t know what had just happened. I tried to reach out, but I couldn’t feel anything, all my energy was gone. Just gone. I clenched my fists so hard I felt my nails cutting into my palms. What the hell was happening? “I don’t know,” I repeated. “But we’re out of time, we’ve got to go.” Bullets crunched into the pathetic shield. Willow nodded, all concern leaving her eyes.
“Let’s go!” She snapped, turning to the others. “You heard her, we’re out of time! So do what I said or take your chances out there, because if you don’t you’re not coming back!” Silently, Fox, Tristan and Reza slung the humans over their shoulders. They weren’t gentle or nice about it, but they did it. “Sipher, Rain, cover us.” Willow ordered. They all took off, slowed slightly by the weight. We’d be easy pickings. I really hoped Selena was waiting; we were going to need her and those seven bullets.
Sipher shot up after them. I took a deep breath, gritted me teeth and forced myself to rip the ice down. I jumped into the air after the rest of them. Pain ripped through my head, and my world numbed all over again. I felt my wings slow, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Sipher screamed in the distance. Pain burned across my left hip, then into my right thigh. I finally managed to get my eyes back open. I reached for my guns, an Evangelon was flying after me. But I was still too slow. “Son of a b..” My shoulder exploded in agony, and then my wing went limp.
I heard a gunshot and the Evangelon went limp and fell away. My head was too fogged to think anymore. My eyes slid closed and only from a distance did I feel Sipher catch me.