What’s up with Swell?

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Hello all. Some of you who read my books may be wondering where the next book in my Account of the Change series is. Well, it’s on the way and not in a G.R.R Martin meaning. I’ll do my best to get it out to you. In the meantime, here is the first chapter to give you a taste of what is to come.

FROM THE ASHES

Dawn: Book 1

J.G. JOHNSON

From the Ashes Copyright © 2021 by J.G. Johnson. All Rights Reserved.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. 

FRACTURED HOME

October 4th

Rain, always with the rain. It seemed like that was all it did these days. Sometimes the cold rain fell from the sky. Other times, it was the salty rain of tears. And then there was the worst kind, the hot rain of a friend’s blood as they died in your arms. But always, there was The Rain.

✽✽✽

Jake bailed out of the ditch he was taking cover in as a grenade plopped into the tepid muck next to him. With no time to form a proper barrier, he hardened the air around him, deflecting the fragments. Unfortunately, physics was an unloving bastard. There was little he could do to counter the blast wave as it threw him against a tree hard enough to crack the trunk.

Being more durable than before had its perks. Still, he’d be feeling those broken ribs after the adrenaline wore off, at least for a few hours until the bones mended. He hated the itch that always accompanied a bone healing; there was no good way to scratch a bone itching inside of you. But compared to the never to be sufficiently damned incessant rain, it was but a fleeting annoyance.

“Two can play that game,” Jake growled, shaking his head to clear the ringing as he lobbed a Foxfire at the ambushers.

The roar of their machine gun died, replaced by mercifully short cries of surprise – more than of pain – before the sounds of labored breathing and rain were all that remained in the dark woods. The scent of burnt pork wafted out of the ambush site. It didn’t make him gag anymore, but he no longer ate pork, nor did most people in his squad.

Still keyed up and knowing better than to drop his guard, he scanned the area with his improved eyesight to ensure no more surprises.

“All clear,” he shouted. His squad popped up like muddy mushrooms in the muck and joined him near the ambush site.

“Check and see if there is anything useful in there. Be careful. They had grenades.”

Two of his troops fell in on the dark hole to see what they could recover. Intel and weapons were always welcome, but they had learned to fear grenades. There were entirely too many ways they could be used to kill you or those you cared about. He wasn’t about to lose any more troops to being sloppy while entering a blind and tripping a grenade on a string line or while rolling over a corpse.

Four long months had passed since the Swell struck. The early days had been rough -dealing with the horrendous death toll – but they had been recovering. It had looked like they were getting a handle on things.

The festivities and back-patting had ground to an explosive halt shortly after Kyoko arrived.

They had fought battles to create “peace” and triumphed. Still, for all the brutality and dangers they had faced, it had all been homegrown and relatively isolated.

With a “small” fleet of ships and growing ranks of allies, it looked like they would be able to really start recovering. Bringing things back to, if not normal, at least to a degree of civilized and safe.

Then Mack arrived with word of the invasion and attack on the Crystal Tree Village. He had been banged up, and it had taken several days for him to recover before they could begin to get the whole story out of him.

It hadn’t surprised Jake to learn that Mick was leading a war against invaders from the United States and was connected to a group of Knights. Looking back, with what he now knew, the pieces fit together too well to doubt it.

Unsure what step to take, they called a small counsel with Admiral Hamada, Mori, Tatsuya Miki, who had recently arrived but whom Kyoko vouched for, Kyoko, Muto, and himself. They had been discussing what help they could and should offer when the invasion struck.

The Crystal’s effects had saved them from outright destruction, but the damage had still been horrendous.

Modern missiles and munitions, dependent on advanced computers, capacitors, satellite guidance, and various forms of radiation, simply didn’t work within the energy sump area the Crystals created. What worked was old school artillery, contact and magnetic fuses, analog timers, dumb bombs, and good – there was nothing “good” about it – old school blood, guts, and terror – no glory to be found here except for the dead, hands-on fighting.

The rain of modern destructive firepower should have sent every ship in the fleet and a significant chunk of the local population to their graves. Thankfully, it failed to hit most of its targets. Even when it did, it often failed to detonate. Still, enough had old-fashioned backups that the cost in life and materials was high. Just not debilitatingly so.

Their ships survived with little damage except for dents, but more than a hundred people were lost to ordnance, which did detonate and simple shrapnel damage. A missile moving at over a thousand kilometers per hour retained a rather impressive kinetic value on impact.

Still scrambling to recover but fueled by hot furry over the surreptitious attack, they rallied. The fleet and their swimming allies gathered, sortying to find out who and what had attacked them. Thanks to Hime, it didn’t take long to locate and identify the fleet.

The Chinese, with the remaining North and South Korean fleets – which also represented a goodly sized portion of Korea’s remaining population since it was no longer a peninsula but an archipelago – had come.

The clash started at dusk.

For the first time in over eighty years, warships blasted away at each other with only deck guns and torpedoes lobotomized to run on set courses and depths instead of tracking independently.

In the end, one of their destroyers was temporarily sunk. The attackers lost a cruiser, two destroyers, and a missile-frigate, which was not a significant loss because the missiles it used were now worthless. They had raised their lost destroyer and one of the enemies destroyers and the cruiser with help from their friends in Ryugujo.

Unfortunately, their aid had been short-lived as the undersea Kingdom found itself beset by depth charges and other denizens of the deep.

Licking their wounds, both groups had pulled back, but the Chinese and their allies, including the French, weren’t content to leave. They swung wide, denying battle, and landed a Division about eighty kilometers up the coast in Tsuruga.

They quickly cut a line to Lake Biwa from their beachhead, effectively separating Northern and Southern Japan from each other. Unless you made the long trek – swinging to the eastern end of the lake, there was no getting past them in more than ones and twos.

Kyoto was still holding thanks to some old creatures and more Tengu than you could shake a stick at. The Pacific coast was also still open, but it wasn’t a friendly area to travel through.

Cut off from going up-country and any chance of directly coming to Mick’s aid, they were forced to confront the Confederation of Socialist States to maintain their freedom.

Capitulation was out of the question since it meant being shot out of hand or relocated to an “education/labor” camp.

So, they fought.

It had been bloody, but they had proven they could bloody the invader’s nose. Others joined them and the hope they represented.

They were holding their ground, and things had devolved into a war of skirmishing as each side sought chinks in the other’s armor to drive their knife through.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only fight taking place.

Kyushu’s Southern part had fallen to a coalition from Australia and other Pacific Islands. Okinawa was independent and held by the locals and U.S. troops who’d gone native. Most of Chugoku was being pressed by an Asia coalition, led by Vietnam. Tokyo was a no man’s land of chaos that no one wanted to touch. Akita and the continental side of Northern Japan were free but hard-pressed on all sides. Tohoku’s Pacific side was facing incursions by Canada and the Alaskan Union – rumor was, it was shaping up to be more of an alliance than an invasion. Hokkaido was partially in U.S. hands with a small landing force from Russia that would probably get the boot soon. Its interior was dominated by the Dragons. There was also the resurgent Yamato Empire in the Pacific portions of Kinki and Chubu. Shikoku was setting up as a Neutral Nation willing to broker between all parties.

Once you boiled it all down, they were on their own to face the Connies.

If they wanted to maintain their freedom and have any hope of reconnecting with other areas, they’d have to give the Connies the boot.

Hence being out here in the blasted rain playing catch the grenade while traipsing through mountain passes.

Jake started as one of the scouts jostled his elbow. “Sorry. Gathering wool. What did you find?”

Corporal Hyuga frowned at Jake. The boss was doing a lot of that lately, and he didn’t want to consider what would happen if someone managed to catch him with his guard down.

Jake was one man, albeit a powerful and dangerous man, but he was also a cornerstone of their effort. His loss would have an out of proportion impact on morale and their ability to take the fight to the enemy.

The scar over his right cheek and eye proved Jake wasn’t invincible.

“Right. Next time you might want to do that behind cover, Sir,” Hyuga softly admonished. Jake appeared sufficiently regretful, so he let it drop. The Boss would keep his head down for a few hours. That was the best that he could hope for.

“There wasn’t much. Two men, dead, a machinegun, their personal arms, a satchel of grenades, ammo, and a radio. The radio was on, but no one was talking, so we’re not sure if they got a report off or not. We did find some notes, but they were in code. We’ll have to hand them off to Intel and see what they can puzzle out. In either case, after all the racket, we should probably pull back, Sir.”

“Sounds like a plan. We could all use a hot meal and some time out of the rain,” Jake agreed, loud enough for them all to hear. His clothes were already dry from his roll in the mud, and the food was hot if he had the time to heat it. He did his best to see that it was the same for those under his command, but he knew he was tired, and if that was true for him, it went double for everyone else.

“Wrap it up and spike that blind as we leave. Save the good stuff and use the kitchen supplies,” Jake ordered, motioning for the platoon to start their twenty-kilometer hump to the local FOB.

“Fire in the hole!” Rina yelled before detonating one of her “Bundles of Joy.” She had been a chemical engineer before the Swell came. She’d made the shift to bomb maker and demolitions extraordinaire with a flare that worried some people.

“Let’s go home, people!”

As if sensing their improved mood, the rain redoubled its efforts in a cold downpour, drenching them and bringing on the soggy shivers they had all learned to loath. It was going to be a miserable trudge back to base.

✽✽✽

Kyoko rolled out of bed as her alarm clock, the screams of wounded, cut through her fitful sleep. Before the Swell, had anyone asked if she wanted to be a doctor or a medical technician, she would have laughed, pointing out that she worked with rocks because they didn’t complain when you hammered on or took drills to them. So, it came as a bit of a surprise when that became what occupied most of her waking hours. She didn’t have a degree for it and didn’t need one. Thanks to her abilities, she could do things in surgery doctors could only dream of.

That didn’t mean she could save them all, though.

Watching young men and women slip through her fingers every day was grinding away at her soul. She knew it wasn’t her fault, but it was hard not to feel that way when she could heal almost anything; for a price. Sometimes the price was too high, and if she paid it for one of them, then the next dozen wouldn’t be saved because she wouldn’t be there.

She followed the fresh screams into the operation tents. “What do we have?” She slipped on a smock and waded into the heart of chaos – a triage room in a combat area.

“You’re not supposed to be on duty for another five hours, Ma’am,” the orderly commented, giving her “the look.”

“Yes, and the enemy and wounded don’t give a chihuahua-chewed fuzzy pink slipper about schedules, Amber. So, what do we have?”

Amber sighed and gave her a quick rundown. “A patrol got hit. They managed to drive off the attack but took heavy casualties when mortars were called in on them to halt their pursuit.” She growled out “Mortars” like it was a curse word.

Amber had never had experience with them or the damage they caused before the last few months, but she had come to loath the infernal devices. For being so simple and having been around for several hundred years, mortars were still one of the most terrifying and destructive forces to be found on the battlefield.

Kyoko absorbed the briefing as she felt the pain in the air. She allowed it to guide her towards those in the most need of her help.

“Those two won’t make it. Do what you can to help them pass comfortably but get the staff back working on the others,” she ordered, in a low tone.

Amber nodded and did as Kyoko had asked, adding more pain killers to their I.V.s and redirecting the staff. She was still peeved that Kyoko was stepping in again, but there was no time for arguing about it when time equaled lives. But later… There would be a reckoning later.

Amber was a Godsend. She was a trauma nurse from the U.S. and had been in Japan on vacation when the Swell struck. While on a bus tour to Miyazu and Amanohashidate, her bus was disabled by the Crystals and landslides. They were far enough away to miss Kazu’s madness but close enough to be found by the recovery efforts just before the first attack. Since then, she had been shoulders-deep in the blood and guts and had organized most of their medical operation.

Sticking close, Amber joined Kyoko by a soldier with a sucking chest wound. “What do you need?” As one of the most trained medical personnel they had, she’d been skeptical of all the hoopla about special powers. A day with Kyoko in the tent had assuaged her doubts where Kyoko’s abilities were concerned.

Kyoko laid her hands on the man’s chest and sensed the extent of the injury. “His lung is collapsed, two broken ribs, and some arterial bleeding. Scalpel, please.”

She didn’t hesitate as Amber passed her the blade and made a slit in his chest so that she could reach in and get at his lung. A few quick sutures closed the hole in his lung, and a small application of her ability helped it seal properly. Without waiting, she set the bones and used a special bone glue she had come up with after learning of the need. It was made from several plants and other things.

Sealing the entry wound, they rolled the man over so she could access the other side. Given the chunk the bullet had taken out of him as it exited, she didn’t need to make another incision to gain access. She repeated the process, sealing up as best as she could. “Apply “Poultice-2″ and wrap his ribs. He’s going to need to stay off his feet for at least three days while things finish mending,” she warned, passing the remaining work to an assistant.

“What’s next?” She did her best not to think in terms of “Who” anymore. It hurt too much.

✽✽✽

Kyoko looked up from the amber liquid rolling around in the bottom of her glass as the familiar thud of Hoshino’s bat drew her out of a post-op stupor.

“Tough day?”

“Not sure? What day is it?” They all seemed to run together, and she wasn’t sure if it had only been one day or several since her last break. Kyoko shrugged, downing her drink and tapping for a refill. Hoshino caught her drift and chuckled darkly. “It doesn’t look like yours was much easier,” Kyoko commented, pointing to the mud and blood splatter on Hoshino’s sodden boots and uniform.

“Yeah,” Hoshino agreed but didn’t comment on her own activities. She didn’t envy Kyoko.

It was plain to see that being stuck in the rear was eating Kyoko up. Her blood cried out for the blood of her enemy, who kept sending her a never-ending wave of injured and dead. But, Hoshino was glad Kyoko wasn’t out on the pointy end. There was no justice in this fight, and she worried about what it would cost them in the long run, not just in lives but in their souls.

Before they could continue, a soggy Emi hopped onto the neighboring stool and shook the rain from her fur to the disgruntled muttering of those around. Giving them an apologetic smile, she shifted into her human form.

She was working as a forward scout and probably had the best idea of what they were facing. She paid for it by being the one in the most danger of being captured or killed. “They landed another brigade last night.”

Half the bar moaned; the rest shrugged. More invaders didn’t change things much except for how many they would have to convince to leave or to take up residence a few centimeters under in a shallow grave.

“Joy,” Hoshino quipped. “I needed more batting practice.” The bartender set down a glass of juice for her. “Thanks.” She savored the sweetness of the drink while wishing there was rum in it.

“You think this is ever going to end?” Kyoko asked. The room had become stuffy as they nursed their drinks and thoughts.

Hoshino considered the question and her friend for a few seconds before answering. “No, not really. At least not anytime soon. A hundred years or so. It took that long during the Warring States period, and they had even less to fight about than we do.”

“Joy.”

“I figure things will settle down in the next couple of months as the jockeying for cuts of the pie stabilizes and lines in the sand, written in blood, form into the walls of new states. Then things should shift into more of a holding pattern with skirmishes. Only occasionally will there be a large battle when someone gets the itch to be ambitious,” Hoshino added, draining her glass. Checking that the bartender was busy, she reached over the counter only to get her hand swatted by the bartender, who pointed to the sign. That man had to have eyes in the back of his head. Despite appearing to the contrary, she was convinced he wasn’t a human. “How does he do it!”

NO ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES ALOUD:

!!!!!HOSHINO!!!!!!

JI-SAN: PAY YOUR TAB!!!

KEN!

“It was only once,” Hoshino complained but didn’t try again. “Who’s Ken?” she asked.

“New guy. One of the Onmyouji, I think,” Emi answered. “He got sloshed, and his Shikigami went on a bit of a rampage after doing a vaudeville dance. It was pretty funny to watch until they started dragging the audience into it – willing or not.”

They fell off into silence again; none of them had the energy to sustain a thoughtful conversation.

“Let’s go hit the Onsen and call it a night,” Kyoko suggested, tired of nursing her glass but not wanting to head back to her bunk and the waiting nightmares.

“Sounds good.”

It wasn’t too surprising when half of the bar followed them out into the cold night air, the women going one way while the men went the other.

There were two Onsen near the base. After some issues, they had decided it was easier to segregate the two establishments by gender, alleviating most of the problems.

“So, how are things going between you and Jake?” Hoshino asked as she slipped into the slightly crowded soaking pool. Her simple question drew most of the occupants’ attention as they sensed fresh gossip, not about the war.

Kyoko knew Hoshino was trying to distract her and give the others something more interesting than the mud, rain, and death, which was their daily life, to think about. It didn’t hurt that Jake and Kyoko were considered two of the bigwigs, nor that their relationship was one of the few non-war related gossip points.

“It goes,” Kyoko answered cryptically. Just because she knew what Hoshino was doing and why didn’t mean she would make it easy. Where would the sport be if she just told them what they wanted to know?

Not that there is much to tell

Hoshino playfully splashed Kyoko as she saw the gloom setting in.

“Hay!”

“You two are hopeless. Tell me you two have at least kissed?!” Emi pressed from her other side. Kyoko’s cheeks turned a lovely shade of pink that had nothing to go with the hot water.

“You’re kidding. Right?”

“What! It’s not like we have had a lot of time to even talk with each other, let alone doing anything more.

“And just what more have you been thinking about doing?” Hoshino inquired, smiling devilishly while enjoying her friend’s embarrassment as every ear tuned in.

Kyoko’s blush deepened. She was good and trapped and feeling the sharks circling closer in the small pool as mischievous and expectant eyes watched closely. “Nothing much. A date would be nice and maybe a kiss and a hug. I’d definitely like a hug,” she admitted. She was met with an “Awa” from the rest of the pool.

“How can she be so adorable?” Amber asked, sliding out from behind one of the stones in the pool. “If she needs a hug so bad…” She smiled a full set of pearly whites that would have done Mack proud, and the sharks closed in, smothering Kyoko in hugs.

Kyoko yelped as they surrounded her and only escaped by diving under the hug-pile that had tried to devour her. She splashed out of the pool and leered at them haughtily – hardly convincing, seeing as how she had lost her towel while escaping.

“Goodnight!” She took her leave before they could drag her back or see the smile she couldn’t suppress. The giggles following her into the changing room told the tale. They’re a crazy bunch, but I love them.

“Don’t any of you go dying on me!” she whispered in the empty changing room to the sounds of laughter and splashing still going on in the pool. Decorum be damned, everyone needed to vent, and no one was going to get on those girls’ case for finding a little joy tonight. And maybe they are right. We can’t let this war steal hope and joy from us, or else what’s the point.

PALADIN

October 5th

Aliya hunkered under her jacket, trying to look shorter. It had been a little over three months since she “arrived” in Japan, and things had been interesting. In the Chinese proverb sense of the curse.

Hokkaido was a warzone with the first flurries of winter already setting in. Between the U.S., Russians, Dragons, and all the other associated groups, there was no shortage of opportunities to practice her art.

Unfortunately, her original targets and a large part of her reason for coming here were no longer within reach. Mick, if the rumors were to be believed, had disposed of them. That happy news was soon followed by morbid rumors that he was dead or missing.

Neither of those answers worked for her. Until someone who had seen him die and the body was put forward, she wasn’t about to give the rumors credence. Incapacitated? Maybe. But dead? No, the Iron in his veins was made of sterner stuff than that.

Page and his buddies had escaped her wrath, but there were still plenty of Knights who needed her attention.

After losing Page and his band, they’d been cowed by the Marine and their enigmatic General Ashcroft. However, they were still Knights, and they needed her attention. The problem was getting close enough to administer it.

At over two meters tall, it was a mite bit hard for her not to stick out. She had debated trying to pass as a slightly tall man, but her ample curves on a supple body and fire red hair made that not only impractical but even more conspicuous. Which led to her stooped posture and baggy attire. It wasn’t ideal for fighting, but it was the only way she could move about – at night, sticking to the shadows – without drawing attention.

The last time she was spotted, they had carpet-bombed a city block trying to eliminate her. Suffice to say, it had dissuaded any ideas of using herself as bait to lure them out. Ashcroft was a cold Devil Dog, and he wasn’t underestimating her.

But for the collateral damage, she would have been flattered by the compliment it entailed.

The attack wouldn’t have been such a big deal if, from the reports, this was anywhere else in Japan. Hokkaido had weathered the Swell much better than most. It had risen just like everywhere else and gained an impressive amount of landmass, but the cities and towns had fared much better, suffering only around thirty percent casualties and with far more buildings left standing. Granted, the total population had been lower here – so it still wasn’t densely populated – but where people lived, it was denser than elsewhere.

So now, she worked from the shadows, hunting Knights and Marines alike. Throwing the occasional Russian in for variety. She was careful to ensure they weren’t too noticeable to prevent anyone from being tempted to have a repeat performance of “rapid urban redevelopment.”

Tonight was different, though.

Aliya walked down an ally and gave the second door on the right, a quick rap. It opened, but no light spilled out since none had been turned on inside. Power was spotty, and most people were making do with candles and oil lamps. So lights of any type stood out like blood on snow.

“We have been waiting!” the occupant growled.

“Ya, and some of us can’t fly, can’t work glamor’s, mist, or shadows, and have to be careful not to be seen!”

Tired of games, Aliya forced the door open and brushed by into the room beyond. As soon as the door was secure, the lights flicked on, blinding her for a moment.

“Whiner,” the lady leaning against the far wall chided. “Rumor has it that if you take care of many more enemies, that may not be as big of an issue as it is for you now. You Knights already live almost three times as long as most humans and are stronger, faster, and heal quicker than many of the ‘Fair’ as you call us. But yet you are still humans. But to all things, there is a limit. Your’s draws near. I look forward to seeing what lays behind your human guise.”

Aliya gave her a dirty look, but there was no denying she was soon approaching the point when things would change for her. You could only kill monsters for so long before you became dyed in their blood. “That only applies if it’s non-human kills. Lately, it has almost been entirely normal humans, Hojo.”

“Soon, that may change,” Hojo spat, disgusted that anyone would side with the invaders, but not surprised.

“Oh, what’s changed?” Aliya had heard some whispers about ill tidings. Given Hojo’s attitude, it looked like there was something significant about to go down.

“Unlike the Knights, the governments are more than willing to use any tool they can. In this case, they have put out an invitation to the disgruntled local Yokai. There are also rumors that they’ve been actively recruiting in the states. We have it on good authority that some of the Marines coming in lately aren’t as normal as they may appear. There have always been special units within militaries, mostly staffed by members of the Fair, tasked with dealing with situations outside to realm of normal combat. They are now expanding those unites,” Hojo supplied, fishing for any information Aliya might have on them. The locals had numbers and were powerful enough to check the invaders, but the balance was precarious. If the U.S. brought in outside muscle while turning a chunk of the local malcontents to their cause, the situation could quickly turn sour.

“This is where you tell me what you want me to do about it.” Aliya waited for them to drop the other shoe. She’d been playing this game for a long time and wasn’t about to fall for such obvious bait.

Hojo looked over to the other members in the room, another dragon named Ryuusaki, and Kumakubo Kumi –  of the bear clans and descendant of Tsukinowaguma, the legendary bear.

Kumi’s people tended to be solitary, but they would work together when facing an existential threat or when someone ticked them off. The Devil Dogs, of the Marine variety, had done both in spades.

Kumi regarded Aliya for a long moment. “The meeting will take place in the Eternal Sakura Garden in a week. At a guess, at least ten clan leaders who don’t like the current arrangement and a hundred or so Ronnin are expected to attend. Meeting them will be a company of Marines, led by Captain Brently to oversee the negotiations.”

Aliya perked at the mention of Brently. He was something of an enigma to her. They had cross swords once before any of this had kicked off. It had ended in a draw that didn’t leave her convinced it had really had to end in a draw. Everyone agreed that he wasn’t a normal human, and most figured he wasn’t human at all, but no one, including her, had been able to force him to show his true colors. The one thing everyone agreed on was that he was dangerous. He was on a leash, but she didn’t know if it was something of his own choice or if someone had collared him. In either case, the rage within him was apparent to anyone he came to blows with. Not that many survived the experience to share.

“That’s not good.” Whatever else Brently was, he was smart, cunning, and had the strength to back up his promises and threats. If there was anyone around who could bend the disparate and quarrelsome groups to his cause, it was Brently and Ashcroft whom he served.

“No, which is why we want you to lead a raid to crash the party and, if possible, eliminate Brently. He has cost us more blood than anyone else. It is high time he pays for it,” Hojo seethed. Her younger brother had been in one of the early battles when the invaders came and had run afoul of Brently. Brently was still here; her brother wasn’t.

“How many people will be taking part in this raid,” Aliya asked, skeptical that this wasn’t a raid but a vengeance-driven suicide mission. She had survived enough of those over the years, but knowing which allowed her to plan, so suicide wasn’t what it turned into. Other people want to die for their cause… All fine and dandy. They want to drag me down with them, no thanks. I still have too many names to cross off and a life to live. Where’s the fun in dying!

Hojo regarded her silently for a long moment, trying to figure out what to say to keep Aliya from backing out. “It’s not quite a suicide mission,” she admitted, deciding that a degree of truth was more likely to keep Aliya involved. Which could only increase the chance of success. And we need her. Dang. She is probably the only one we have who can face Brently in a stand-up fight. If it weren’t for that blasted sword of his, it wouldn’t be an issue, but he does have it. Its ability to negate any attack except steel on steel means she is the only option we have. “We do expect heavy losses, though. We’ll need to get up close and personal for this one. Still, we expect at least a third to return.”

Aliya just stared at them for a fulminating moment before letting out a sigh, releasing her angst. “You’re going to tell me everything, or else I’m out of here!”

“Alright, here’s what we have…”

Hope you enjoyed. Now I’m going to get back to writting so you can see the rest. If you haven’t read my the first three books, take a look.

Thanks, all.

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