I told myself I wasn’t going to write it, but I am now so emotionally invested in this novel that I have to. Hope you all enjoy! 🙂
“Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death”
June 11, 2060
It was quiet, the first quiet night the Iron Wolves had since being deployed in Vienna, Austria. Lance Corporal Logan Adams and Corporal Sora Byrne were keeping watch from the bell tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church. They, and the rest of the platoon had been holed up for three days, their comm-links were dead, and they were in the middle of a war zone, in enemy territory.
Only six months ago did Myriad take the city by force, killing all those who opposed and even those who hadn’t, they were just in the way. As the first class of specialized soldiers, the Wolves were to be sent in under cover of night, helping the allies by eliminating the threat. However, they were set up and paid heavily for it.
While they had a moment of peace, watching the clear starry night, Byrne tried to think of another time she had been so frightened for her and her team. Yes, three years ago during her graduation ceremony; she could almost recall the smell of smoke and blood. She hadn’t talked to her parents after that chain of events set off and now, she was an ocean away from everyone she loved. Despite their possible outcome, Byrne knew she’d rather be here, fighting to take back this once gorgeous city, rather than sitting at home and watching the world pass her by.
“We need a plan of attack.” her team leader, Second Lieutenant Elis Grant glanced around the small crew. Out of the twelve that were involved with the Iron Wolves, only nine remained. They managed to carry their dead comrades’ corpse into the church, but their ammunition stock was low, they were mentally and physically exhausted from three months of non-stop fighting, and they were quickly running out of options.
“Grant, what are we going to do? We don’t have enough ammo for an assault. We step outside and we’re dead. We wait for morning, we’re dead. We try to move positions…” Charles fought back.
Grant sighed and finished his sentence, “…We’re dead.”
“If we just sit here we’re dead anyway!” Andrews chimed in irritably. Watching the heated discussion, seeing what depravity could do to the dispositional, wishing they would all just be quiet, Byrne glanced at Adams, the neck of marksman rifle clutched tightly in her hands. “They’re going to blow our cover if they carry on like that.”
He shrugged, “This is what happens when you have hungry alphas all packed in tight quarters. They’ll bicker and bitch until a solution falls in their lap.”
Not content with his attitude, Byrne knew that when the others were hungry, they were pissed off, when Adams was hungry, he cared about little else.
“Hey!” Sora finally called to them in her loudest whisper, they froze and stared at her incredulously. “Shut the hell up, you all keep arguing like this, you’ll blow our cover and we’ll be dead sooner than later.”
Everyone fell into silence, they knew Byrne was an excellent marine, but they never knew that she could take command with a natural air of superiority. She was always quiet and obedient; now, they knew that while she rarely spoke, she had a darker side that watched and waited for the perfect moment to strike; like a true marksman. Glaring at them, Byrne stood, careful to avoid being seen through the cracked window. “Andrews, since you’re the lightest and smallest, go downstairs and search for a hidden pathway. This is a church, right? It’s not uncommon for old churches like these to have a mausoleum.”
“Belay that, Andrews.” Grant glared at Byrne. “You’re not in charge here. You’re not the leader, I am.”
“Then act like it, you stubborn pig!” she snarled back.
Angry sparks flew between them, although she was shorter by several inches, she looked daggers at him with unblinking eyes. After a minute of dead silence, Grant said, without looking away. “Alright. Fine. Drew, go.”
Ready to escape the heavy tension in the air, Andrews slid down the aged ladder and into the dark abyss of the church.
While they waited for the scout to report back, Adams watched as Grant and Byrne still glared at each other with nothing but extreme loathing.
Peters, who was working on trying to repair the comm-link only managed to get their own fixed with consequence as the entire platoon heard a painful ringing noise in their head. “Damnit,” he muttered under his breath before looking up. “Well, at least we can finally communicate with each other, just not with the outside world.”
“What happened?” Grant asked tugging at his earlobe. “Why did we go silent all of a sudden?”
“Remember when we were grounded at that café on the corner? When we heard that screeching noise?”
“How could I forget?” How could anyone forget? That was when their successful push had done a complete one-eighty.
“That was caused by an EMP. They shut down the entire city by planting an EMP at the power plant, it completely blew the system. Unfortunately, it also shut down our radio links, I managed to only get us a short-range frequency. But, it won’t last long, plus, if they find our number, it’ll be easy for Myriad to track us.”
A loud creak silenced everyone, they aimed their weapons at the ladder as they heard someone approaching, climbing slowly. Ready to fire at the intruder, waiting for the enemy, Andrews popped his head up but quickly dipped it again, afraid someone would fire first. “Mother of God, it’s me, you assholes!”
Lowering their weapons, Grant went over and helped him up, “Might’ve been nice if you could tell us, Drew.”
“Sorry, but, I found the catacombs.”
“Really?” everyone, even Sora, was surprised.
“Yeah, but… there’s a problem, it’s really hard to get through and…” he glanced downward, wondering how to phrase the next statement. “About eighty civilians have taken refuge there.”
This was followed by the loudest silence.
Grant was the first to recover. “Eighty? I thought everyone evacuated or died.”
“No.” Andrews shook his head. “From what I could gather, they’ve been hiding with small rations and nothing else for months. I talked to one, he said that the catacombs lead back to the Belvedere Museum.”
“That’s near our base.” Grant and the others had his full attention. “If we can get back there, we can pass the information along.”
“What about the refugees?” Byrne asked. “They can’t just stay there, they have to go along with you.”
Grant was about to agree when he stopped and asked. “What do you mean you?”
“I’m saying the moment we leave this nest, Myriad will be on our tail. They haven’t approached because they know Adams and I have higher ground and they have no chance to get past us. Once they see us on the move, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“I’ll stay back with Byrne. We’ll hold them off. Peters, you said the short-range frequency is working? That’s great, as soon as you guys make it out of the church vicinity, tell us and Byrne and I will follow.”
“Do we have any spare charges?” Byrne asked the group at large.
“One.” Casey answered, due to her injured leg, she spent most of the night nursing her wounds and preserving her remaining strength. “Why?”
“We can’t have them following us in the catacombs.”
Grant knew what they were getting at. “Byrne, we’re not setting those charges and leaving you both here. That’s not going to happen.”
“What choice do we have?” she asked with a pained tone that unnerved everyone. “There are eighty refugees, and us, if we don’t hold them back then we won’t live to fight another day.”
“If you get yourself killed you won’t have another day to fight for!”
“What if,” Adams suggested, “What if you put the charges on a timer? Twenty minutes, as soon as you get safely away, tell us, and Byrne and I will follow.”
“That’s barely enough time for you both to get to safety.”
“If that happens, then that happens. Just one thing?”
“What?” Grant asked.
“If we don’t make it,” Byrne paused. “For the love of God, don’t tell my parents what we did.”
“I’m not telling them because that’s not going to happen. You both will make it or I swear I will have you both running so many laps.”
Grinning at the thought, Byrne nodded. “Yes, sir.”
After passing and trading what ammunition they had left, leaving enough for the escape crew in case they ran into trouble, Byrne and Adams watched for signs of Myriad soldiers, they wanted to make sure the others made it through the entrance to the catacombs safely, but they had a job to do.
“You ready for this, Adams?”
“Are you, Byrne?”
Over the comm-link, they heard Casey groaning in pain as she said, “Charge is set… twenty minutes starting… now.” Byrne set the timer on her watch so they could keep track of how long they had.
As if that was the queue, Adams and Byrne watched their enemies making their move. They advanced cautiously, but with eagle eyes, the two marksmen waited until their shots were clear. One after the other, soldiers were shot down in the streets as if this were a mere training exercise, but still Myriad persisted, they would stop at nothing to kill the Marines, and the refugees if it came to that.
With ten minutes left, and Myriad slowing their attempts, Grant spoke over the comm-link, “We have the refugees, we’re making our way back.”
“Time to go.” Byrne said to her companion as they holstered their rifles. In time too as they had less than a full clip remaining. They slid down the ladder and jumped down the scaffolding to the ground floor in the dusty church. Outside, they could clearly hear boots running towards them.
Just as they made it to the nave, Myriad soldiers burst through the door and immediately started firing, hitting the stained glass window, and the statue of Christ on the cross, having little regard and no respect for the ancient structure.
“Byrne, Adams, you alright?” Grant asked as the two took cover behind the podium, rifles on their backs, they armed themselves with only their pistols.
As the firing stopped, the two soldiers took their chance to return fire, taking very conservative shots to preserve what remaining ammo they had left.
“Byrne! Adams! Answer me, damn you!” Grant yelled in the comm.
“Little busy right now!” Byrne answered as she dodged a round that fired too close to home.
“Three minutes!” Peters called out in their ears.
“Adams, let’s go!”
As she was closest to the entrance of the catacombs that was five yards from them, Adams took his chance and ran to her side of the cover, a shot slicing through the sole of his boot.
“We gotta go,” Byrne made eye contact with him. “No matter what?”
“No matter what.” Adams answered, trusting her judgement as he had always trusted her.
When they heard a pause from their enemies, taking time to reload their ammo, Byrne and Adams bolted for the entrance, firing from the hip to suppress the soldiers. As Adams was behind, he saw a red dot aimed at Byrne’s side.
“NO!” he leapt forward and took Byrne down just as the discharge went off.
Screaming in pain, hidden behind the ruined pew, Adams continued screaming loud enough for everyone to hear. His curses and grunts echoing in the darkened cathedral.
Byrne glanced around to see large amounts of blood seeping from Adams’ hip, staining his clothes and the floor.
“Can’t move…” Adams winced and grunted “Leg’s broken… Go, you don’t have long.”
Byrne wouldn’t listen. She pulled the long scarf from her neck and wrapped his hip tightly around his thigh and waist, tightening it as far as she could.
“Shut up!” Byrne picked him up, careful to avoid the wound, she felt his right leg dangle without support and it was not hard to guess that his femur had completely severed from his hip.
With thirty seconds left, Byrne raced while carrying him on her back, through the entrance, avoiding bullets that lodged themselves in the walls and pillars, painting the air with stone and dust.
Ten seconds and they had just made it to the escape route, the red light on the charge flashing. Exhausted, straining, she put all her efforts into running as hard as she could. She was a survivor, and they were going to survive. They had just made it to the corner when there was a loud explosion and thunderous rumbling that knocked Sora off her feet, dropping Adams in the process. With the smoke and force of the explosion, Byrne quickly shielded Adams with her own body, protecting him from the falling debris and ancient bones that fell from their resting place. She felt burning rock and embers hit her back, singing her armor, creating holes in her fatigues.
Pushing up just far enough to see his eyes, her throat parched, Byrne asked in a whisper. “You alright?”
Adams glanced up at her, his freckled cheeks flustered which clashed with his reddish-brown hair. “Yeah, you?”
Heavy smoke filled the hallway, covered in rubble and human dust, Grant’s frantic voice called through the comm. “Byrne! Adams! Are you there? Come in! Answer me, damnit!”
Sitting up on her knees, coughing up the smoke from her lungs, the wire having fallen out of her ear, Byrne replaced it and said with a heavy sigh of relief. “It’s Byrne, we’re through. Adams was injured. Just keep going, we’re headed your way.”
“How’d he get injured? From the blast? We felt the tremors here, we thought you were dead!”
Wearily, Byrne laughed, “So,” she chided, “You do care. We’ll catch up at base and fill you in there. Byrne out.”
They needed a moment of rest, but the carbon dioxide was slowly poisoning their lungs. Pushing Adams up against the wall, Byrne straightened his leg and studied the wound.
“I’m gonna bleed out before we get there.” Adams was too weak to stop her, and he thought it best to preserve his remaining strength. “Go. I’ll be fine.”
Byrne glanced at the burning rock beside her, it was glowing red and still aflame; it gave her an idea. “You’re not going to bleed out. Besides, you heard Grant. He’ll have my neck, and find you in the afterlife to punish you.”
Weakly laughing, the two could only imagine Grant using a séance to talk to them and ordering them to run for endless miles.
She pulled off the scarf that held him together, trying not to cringe from the smell of the heavy gore that stained everything it touched, or his painful grunts and heaves. She tore the cargo jeans a little further to get a better look at the wound, despite having already lost so much blood, more still was escaping. Using his shaking hand, she had him hold the scarf against the wound tightly then pulled out the switchblade, her father had given her, and her trusted torch lighter. “This trail goes on for a few miles, I’m no medic, but the bullet hit an artery, you won’t make it, unless I do something incredibly stupid and excruciating,” activating the lighter, she started heating the blade. After a short while, seeing a faint orange glow. Deactivating the lighter, she finished. “But will ultimately save your life. You have to forgive me.”
“For what?” He felt a sense of dread; he honestly didn’t know if he could handle more pain.
She pulled his hand and scarf away before pressing the flat of the blade against the wound. Adams yelled even louder than when he had gotten shot. His whole body jerked as he threw his head back and gripped her arm tightly, shaking violently, trying to push her off screaming and cursing at her as he felt the searing heat pressing against him.
When she thought it was safe enough, and the blade was cooling, she glanced down; her plan worked, at least until he could get proper medical attention. The blood had clotted, leaving a visible, blistering shape of a blade.
“What the shit was that for?” he yelled, his nails dug into the palm of his hand, trying to stem the pain.
“The heat cauterized the wound temporarily.” Sora explained as she replaced the wrap tightly.
“Was there no other way?”
“If you want to live? No. I’m not losing you, Adams.”
He stared at her, heaving and shaking. What did she mean by that? “Sora…” he whispered her given name for the first time. He finally seemed to calm down.
“Yeah?” she had just finished tearing her jacket into strips, reaching around Adam’s lower back to help her carry him. They were inches apart, he held her cheek, to stop her from moving away. He wanted to say thank you, but words failed him. Instead, he leaned forward and kissed her.
Byrne glanced at him in shock, she liked Adams, found him to be a great companion and excellent marksman, but she didn’t like him kissing her.
For his sake, she accepted it, knowing he was delirious with blood loss. She thought, given the adrenaline and aftermath that she should feel something in this small affection, but, nothing happened. It was the same when Greg had kissed her, was she cold hearted? Or was she destined to live alone, never knowing love or kindness? Resorting only to fighting with fire and valor until her last breath?
When he pulled away, she said nothing, only picked him up on her back and started walking the only way they could go: forward.