Archive for June, 2016

At long last, there were no more gunshots, but the following quiet was not peaceful.

Raine walked through the corridors of Lost Angels’ HQ, surveying the damage and helping anyone he could find, barking orders to anyone who didn’t look like they knew what they were doing…which was most. The bodies of the injured and the dead were just as numerous as those still alive.

By all rights, they should all be dead. With the fire bombs and the Reapers’ numbers, it was only Lieutenant Green’s explosives which had saved the base.

If this could even be called “saved.”

Raine stood at the breach the Reapers had made in the back of the building, the one that come so close to killing Makara and her brother. Raine wanted to curse himself for the oversight, but he had too few men to guard everywhere. They had even broken through the front, despite him positioning well over eighty percent of his forces there. Only a combination of luck and sheer tenacity had kept the base alive long enough for Green’s explosives to force the retreat…but not before well over a hundred people had been killed, many of them women and some even children.

Even if the Angels inflicted five, or even ten times as many casualties, they were losses Carin Black could afford.

Raine made a fist as he ground his teeth. Revenge was difficult to imagine when the Reapers had dealt such a crushing blow.

The sound of boots crunching over rubble made Raine turn his head. Standing behind him was short and swarthy man, pale of skin, with sharp blue eyes and a bald head.

Even if the two men couldn’t have looked more different – one white, one black, one short and and other tall, the two men were, in fact, brothers. Half-brothers more accurately, but most people around here seemed to forget that fact just because it seemed so unlikely.

Raine never forgot, though. And neither did Ohlan.

Ohlan stood beside him, and together, the two brothers stared out at the smoke and desolation marking the courtyard and its walls. Several low fires still burned, having long since been abandoned by the men and women who were now tending their dead.

“It ain’t your fault, Dark. He caught us all by surprise.”

Ohlan was one of the few – perhaps the only – to call Raine by his first name. Raine didn’t know why he had been named Dark. Most assumed it had to do with the color of his skin, that he had been given his name to mark what he was. Raine himself didn’t know the reason why, since he never got old enough to ask his dad before he died, and his mother never seemed to want to tell him, always instead calling him Raine. That’s why Raine preferred to go by his middle name, even if Ohlan sometimes called him Dark just to get under his skin. Ohlan had always been an ornery type, looking to incite conflict just to see how people reacted.

“You’re trying to play games at a time like this?” Raine asked.

“I’m not playing games,” Ohlan said.

When Raine looked at him, his younger brother seemed to truly mean it.

“We don’t have the men,” Raine said. “Give me men, and I can make this city ours.”

Ohlan spat, not out of disrespect, but habit. He’d always spat like that. Raine found the habit disgusting, but had long since stopped trying to correct it.

“It’s hard to find men when you’re not even willing to take slaves. Jesus, Raine…over half of their men had to be slaves. You think you did a good thing with that building. Hell, it surprised even me. But most of the men who died from it weren’t even Reapers.”

“I know that,” Raine said quietly.

“What’s your plan? Yeah, we bury the dead. We rebuild the walls.” He paused. “Or do we?”

Raine looked at Ohlan, feeling disgust. “What do you mean, do we? You came with me when we left the Reapers. You said you wanted revenge.” Raine stared hard at his brother. “Is your memory that short? You forget what they did to Dana?”

Ohlan ground his teeth. “Don’t you dare bring her up. Not after this when I know this is a fool’s war.”

“You can’t give up, Ohlan.”

The following quiet was icy, and neither brother seemed to want to break it.

“They’ll be back,” Ohlan said. “They kicked us in the dirt tonight. Tomorrow, they drive in the knife.”

“We need more time,” Raine said. “New slaves arrive by the day. They want freedom, Ohlan. And they’ll fight for that freedom harder than any slaves that Carin sends at us. We killed five times as many as they did, and that’s not even counting the building.”

“Maybe so,” Ohlan said. For a moment, Raine believed he had convinced him. That was, until Ohlan said, “except none of that matters when the numbers are ten to one. Quantity beats quality every time in war. That’s why Stalin beat Hitler, why Rome fell to the barbarians.” He paused. “And that’s why Raine will lose to Carin.”

“Why are you giving me a history lesson, Ohlan? What good is this, right now?”

“You need to wake up, Raine. Wake up and see where you’ve gotten us. If we’d had the slaves still, Carin wouldn’t have even attacked us. You know our numbers were a thousand stronger back when we had them. You say new ones come in, well, not fast enough to replace all the ones we lost, the ones that you let go because you decided to be noble and free them, thinking they would stay on. Well, surprise, surprise, they thought they had a better shot in the Wasteland than here, and like the dumb slaves they were, went off and starved, or better yet, got enslaved again…except by Carin. How many came back out of that thousand? A hundred? Not even that. Maybe fifty.” Ohlan chuckled darkly. “And after tonight…do you blame them for thinking they had a better shot out there?”

“You think you can do better?” Raine shouted. “Try! Try leading for yourself and see just how easy it is!”

“I’m just telling you how it is, brother. You changed ever since that girl came.” Ohlan looked at Raine sideways. “It’s good you saved her, don’t get me wrong. But you treat her like she’s your own.” Ohlan then turned, and Raine met his eyes, as much as he resented Ohlan right now. To Raine’s surprise, Ohlan seemed serious. “That girl isn’t your daughter, Raine. She isn’t Adrienne.”

Raine pushed Ohlan off. “You say this, right now?”

“I say it because it’s true! She put that idea in your head, didn’t she? When you’d go soft on me? When did you go soft on all of us?”

“I’m not soft, Ohlan.”

“Then prove it to me. Because I’m not seeing much reason to stay here. Not just me, brother. A lot of others are thinking along similar lines. After tonight, well…who knows?”

“What do you mean, Ohlan?”

Ohlan’s eyes weighed Raine. He waited for a long time before he answered.

“Some of the men want to move out of L.A.,” Ohlan said. “Adrienne isn’t ever coming back. Dana isn’t ever coming back. Why should everyone here have to die for our revenge?”

“It’s not just our revenge. The Reapers have taken something, someone, from every one of us here. If you’d rather run…good luck surviving in the Wasteland. It’s nearly as bad there as it is here.”

“With enough organization, a small force could survive there,” Ohlan said. “I know L.A. is the real prize. But it’s a prize Carin has already won. He has the numbers.”

Raine couldn’t allow his brother to leave. Losing even twenty-five fighting men could be enough to tip the balance beyond all hope of repair.

“You listen here,” Raine said, stepping closer. “As long as you are here, within these walls…the wallsI have built…there will be no talk of that. Were you anybody other than my brother right now, this conversation might go a lot differently. But since you are my brother, I’m going to give you one more chance.”

Raine didn’t have to elaborate that thought. He ran the Angels like he would run any army.

Desertion was a crime deserving of death.

Raine pressed his advantage. “You signed on for this, Ohlan. There is nothing more dishonorable and no one more worthy of revilement than a man who breaks his word, to a brother no less. You’ve broken your word to me before. You think I trust you because I’m stupid? No, Ohlan. I trust you because you’re family. I trust you because I have no choice. If you walk out on me, you’re leaving me to the wolves. And you know what? That’s something I could see you doing.”

Raine waited for Ohlan to respond with some pithy remark or comeback.

He didn’t.

“You keeping your word is your chance from God to redeem yourself,” Raine said. “Do you believe in God, Ohlan?”

Ohlan shook his head.

“You believe Dana is watching you, then? Do you believe the possibility even exists?”

Slowly, Ohlan nodded.

“Imagine her watching you, then. Don’t do this for me. Don’t do it for you. Do it for her, because her blood demands it.”

Ohlan’s face fell. “I…don’t know if I can.”

“Try. Try. Fight with everything you’ve got. If you don’t, we’re not going to make it. If you do…we just might.”

It was a while, but finally, Ohlan nodded.

Makara held her breath as footsteps piled into the basement. She couldn’t count how many there were because they just kept coming. After half a minute or so, the noise ceased, and she could hear the labored breathing of what was most likely a dozen or so men.

She wasn’t brave enough, or stupid enough, to raise her head above the boxes to get a more accurate count.

“Search it,” the man said.

At once, the thuds of boots spread in every direction. They would reach Makara and Samuel’s position within half a minute.

“We’ve got to move,” Samuel whispered.

Makara felt him pull on her hand, and they retreated to the deeper darkness of the basement. They followed narrow lanes, and Makara nearly knocked over a high stack of boxes as they took a sharp turn. She bit her lip as they walked through yet more spider webs. For as long she had been alive, she had hated those disgusting arachnids.

She chanced a look behind to see several shadows searching several rows down. Two beams of light cut through the shadowy labyrinth; Samuel pulled her to the ground just in time to miss the crisscrossing lights.

They reached the far corner of the basement, Makara fighting to not sneeze at the thick smell of must.

“Up that,” Samuel said, so quietly Makara could hardly hear him.

He was pointing to a line of shelves on their right, all of which were filled with miscellaneous items; tools, motors, plastic containers, metal boxes, tarps, lamps, piles of musty clothes, along with various knickknacks such as figurines, clocks, cords, and old computer towers. The Angels collected any sort of junk they could find as long as it was in good condition, because there was no telling what could be scrounged and pieced together. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason to the sorting, or more accurately, lack of sorting, which usually meant these items had been down here for years, untouched, evidenced by the thick dust coating them.

Samuel boosted her up to the first shelf, and followed soon after. The thudding of boots was getting closer. Makara reached up, barely able to touch the next shelf with her fingertips. Samuel boosted her up to that one as well.

By the time Samuel was boosting her up to the next shelf, two men rounded the corner, one bearing a flashlight. Instantly, it found Samuel, who pushed Makara forward on the shelf, so as to hide her from view. Makara almost cried out in the following cacophony of junk that rained down from the shelf above, even as Samuel turned to the men and raised his hands.

“Over here!” the man shouted.

The men in the basement all converged on the source of the voice. Samuel did not look at Makara, who was now hidden, not wanting to do anything to give her away.

Tears came to Makara’s eyes. “No…”

Samuel’s face tensed, a clear indication that he wanted Makara to be quiet.

“You can’t…”

“It’s just a kid, Raine,” the man with the flashlight said. “I don’t think they’re Reapers down here.”

Makara felt her heart jolt at that voice.

A moment later, Raine’s voice called out. “Samuel?”

“Yes sir.”

“Where’s your sister?”

“I’m here!” Makara crawled toward the shelf’s precipice, and together, the siblings scrambled down.

* * *

Raine ran forward, helping Makara down first, and then Samuel.

“Where’s Clara?” he asked.

Makara held tightly to Raine, reaching her arms around his neck. “She died, Raine. They busted in and got her.”

He nodded. “I’d feared that. I’m glad you’re both okay, though.”

“They’re still up there,” Samuel said. “We had to hide down here.”

“Good thing I found you both,” he said. “You’ve been here a long time?”

Samuel shook his head. “No. We just got here.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Makara and Samuel followed him in silence – a silence Makara was soon to break.

“Raine…will everything be okay?”

Raine reached down and touched her shoulder as they walked. “We’ve almost got the building back. There’s just a few left inside.”

“What now?” Samuel asked.

Raine paused, looking back at his men. “I want all of you to make sure they stay safe, and the basement needs to be secured. We got too much down here to risk losing anything.”

“Where are you going?” Makara asked.

“Upside. I need to make sure everything’s getting mopped up. Stay here.” Thinking, he  then added, “and be good.”

Raine ran upstairs, back into the ruin of HQ.

Progress Report

Posted: June 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

The first draft of the fourth Xenoworld book is just a couple of days away from completion. Right now, the draft is about 90,000 words and there are just a few thousand more before it’s all said and done. I’m glad I actually got this one done in less time than the last, so it will probably end up being 100,000-110,000 words, which makes it about a little longer than Prophecy.

In this book, there’s a lot less action, as in fight scenes and stuff (but there are still those), but all the bombs come more from revelations and background information, and the end will probably be one of the best endings to a book in this series, and really sets up everything perfectly for the fifth book.

Most likely, there will be at least two more books after this for a total of six. There could possibly be seven in all, which would be a nice counterbalance to Wasteland Chronicles. Looking back, writing such a long series was definitely not what I had in mind, but the world of Xenoworld was a lot bigger than I had previously thought. To the point where there are so many areas that haven’t been hit yet, and the areas I have hit I haven’t really been to explore in as much depth as I would have liked.

All that said, I’ve really enjoyed writing this series so it’ll be great to bring you a few more books in it, but it’s definitely more than halfway done. Aside from Wasteland Wednesday, I probably won’t be writing in this universe much after this series, since the end of WC left a lot of things open and wasn’t exactly a perfect ending, but with Xenoworld I hope to tie a nice knot and leave things fairly resolved.

I’m hoping to add a little romance in this novel, too. It’s been pretty lacking, admittedly, and always makes any story better even if romance isn’t the main focus. I meant to work it in with this book, but sort of skipped that part, but if it fits (which I think it well), then I’ll be adding that in with my first round of edits.

Book should be out sometime in August, and hopefully before that.

Makara and her older brother held each other in the dark corridor of Long Angels’ HQ. They were watched over by Miss Robles, one of the teachers, who nervously stared into the darkness as the rattle of gunfire sounded on and off, as the building itself shook from impacts of God knew what.

“Don’t you worry, children,” she said. “We’ll make it through all right.”

Makara might have only been ten years old by then, but she was old enough to know that Miss Robles was trying to convince herself as much, if not more, than the children she was tasked with guarding.

“Maybe we should get lower in the building,” Samuel said, his hand tightening over his little sister’s. Makara snuggled closer to him – her big brother had always kept her safe.

She could only hope and pray that remained me true. The only thing Samuel hadn’t saved her from was when Bunker One fell, back in ’48. She had believed him dead, and he had been living among the Bunker survivors on the outskirts of Angel territory all this time. She hadn’t spoken to him much since Raine had ordered them both back into the relative safety of the building, but she did talk to him enough, in between happy tears and vise-like hugs, to find out that much.

“Lord Raine said to stay here,” Miss Robles said. “This is the back of the building. It’s safer.”

Makara tried to discount the fact that Miss Robles had said it was “safer” and not “safe.” The teacher had always been a source of steadiness in her life. She taught her, along with the other kids, almost every single day in the single school room on HQ’s first floor. She had a tough job – the sons and daughters of Angel gang members were not an easy bunch to teach. She managed, though, somehow, because despite her young features, she was tough as nails herself.

It was then that a sudden explosion rocked Makara from her thoughts. The sound was deafening, to the point where it felt as if her head would split open. Samuel grabbed her, pulling her away from the blast, even as Miss Robles fell amidst the sound of gunfire.

“Miss Robles!” Makara screamed, not hearing her own voice due to the blast.

She fell backward next to Makara, her face staring lifelessly at the ceiling. Blood dribbled out of her mouth, though the bullet had entered her somewhere below that – Makara knew not where. All she knew was that her teacher was dead. Staring into her vacant blue eyes, she realized for the first time that Miss Robles had been young – maybe only ten years older than she.

And if she hadn’t been standing where she was, the bullet would have gone into Makara.

As her hearing returned, as hot tears streamed from her eyes, she became aware of the sound of Samuel urging her back above the the tromping of boots, the screams of men and women, followed by yet more deafening gunshots. Some whizzed overhead. Samuel pulled her to the floor, but Makara could have cared less.

“Miss Robles…”

“We have to get away, Makara!” Samuel said.

Makara nodded – the only thing she felt beyond the numbness was fear. All it took was for Samuel’s hand to pull her for them both to crawl on their bellies across the rubble that had fallen from the ceiling, in the opposite direction of the gunfire. Makara turned back to look, but what had been left of the lights had been fully knocked out in the blast; her dead teacher was already lost to darkness. The troop of Reapers was going the other way down the hallway, but Makara knew they might follow them at any time.

“What’s going on?” Makara asksed. “Why are they here?”

“Quiet,” Samuel hissed. “Do you want to get us killed?”

Makara decided that she didn’t want that. She was still stunned. The life of someone who had taught her so much had just been snuffed out like a candle. Alive one second, dead the next. Makara had seen death before, but she had never seen anyone die like that. It seemed unreal. Miss Robles hadn’t so much as screamed.

Makara could only hope that it had been as painless as it had been quick.

Makara snapped back to reality when Samuel pinched her shoulder, pointing to a staircase leading down into darkness.

“No,” she said. “Not the Basement.”

She had always been deathly afraid of the Basement. Sometimes, when she walked the halls at night, she could hear screams emanating from below, so soft she could hardly know whether they were real. The other kids said the basement was haunted, or that they had seen people go down there in the dead of night, never to come back up.

And it was where Samuel was taking her, but it was either the Basement of the Reapers.

It got very cold as they went down below; nonsensically cold. It must have been seventy degrees in the building itself, but down here, it was at least fifty. When Samuel pushed open the door at the very bottom, the door squealed incredibly loud, echoing into a cavernous space lined with rows of boxes, shelves, and disused machinery. After the echo dissipated, they were left in harrowing silence, broken only by the sounds of gunshots still emanating from above.

“Let’s find a place to hide,” Samuel whispered.

Makara allowed herself to be led by the hand, afraid that if she let go, Samuel would lose her in the darkness. She felt paralyzed with fear, and that fear culminated in a scream as a tangle of spider web stretched across her face, a scream that only became sharper as a giant spider crawled on panicked legs through her hair.

“Get it off me!” she shrieked, punching more than brushing it off her black hair.

“What?” Samuel asked. His fingers came up with a silvery thread of the web. “All that noise for a spider web?”

That was when a door from the other side of the room slammed open. “Who’s in here? Show yourself!”

Samuel pulled Makara toward a row of boxes, kneeling down behind them.

They could do nothing be as quiet as the dead that were said to haunt this place.

Raine charged forward even as a thunderous crash sounded from the direction of the gate. The heat of the flames was unreal, and instead of commanding his men, Raine was rescuing two kids who didn’t know how to stay inside when they were told to.

Well, Makara at least. Samuel must have been among the Bunker survivors, gone unnoticed hidden behind one of adults. Still, for his age, he was big and strong, with wide shoulders and a mop of brown hair. His face was neutral within the flames, as if they were more of a puzzle to be solved than an imminent threat to his life.

Raine skidded to a stop, doing his best to ignore the sweltering heat. If either he or Samuel went through them, it would be a death sentence.

There was only one thing he could do. The only question was, was there time?

“Stay out of the flames,” Raine said. “I’ll be back.”

Raine sprinted toward the bucket brigade, and was at the line in moment. The people’s eyes widened at the sight of the Angels’ leader.

“Buckets on that flame, now! There’s a kid in there!”

Instantly, the civilians diverted their course. Within moments, the flames was being doused by dozens of buckets.

By now, the flames were dying down a bit; they should have been gone completely, but unfortunately, the cocktail had fallen on a pile rubble, within which was plenty of wood to keep it going.

The buckets wouldn’t last forever.

“Samuel, you’ll have to jump while it’s down,” Raine said. “Jump!”

Samuel nodded, waiting for the splash of several buckets in tandem before charging forward and giving a mighty leap. He cried out as he landed on the other side, the hem of want his pant legs aflame. Instantly, he was doused with water until nothing but steam hissed off of him.

By now, Makara had run up and was hugging her brother tightly. He grimaced from the touch; it would have been impossible for him to have remained within that circle without burning at least a bit.

All Raine could hope was that the damage wasn’t life-threatening.

“Get them both inside,” Raine said, turning to a nearby woman. “Make sure they’re all right.”

“Will do, Lord Raine,” the woman said.

“Raine…” Makara started.

“Not now, Makara!” Raine shouted. “Get inside, and if you come back out here again, you’ll wish you were with the Reapers!”

Makara’s eyes widened, but Raine had to say something to get her to go.

The fire bombs had mostly ceased, but Raine’s attention was now on those gates, against which came another loud crash.

They were being battered down.

“Raine!”

Green’s voice crackled out of the radio on Raine’s side

“What is it?” Raine asked, raising it to his mouth.

“They aren’t all in position, but if we wait any longer…”

The gate was battered again. Raine ran forward to get a better handle on things, but if he understood right, the Reapers would not have all entered the trap before that gate fell down.

“Just a minute longer,” Raine said. “If they bust it open, they bust it open. But this has got to work, Dan. How many hours have we spent on this?”

Raine’s question went unanswered as he arrived at the gate.

“We hold ’em here!” he shouted, his voice loud enough to carry despite the cacophony of gunshots and motors. “Off the wall, now! Down here! Hold him long enough for…”

Raine’s voice was cut off when what remained of the front gate splintered. There was an odd moment of silence, like a calm before the storm.

Even as men formed ranks around him, pointing their guns into the breach, nothing could be seen but smoke. Even the motors had gone quiet.

To Raine, the silence was far more unnerving than the noise.

And then, in a single, guttural yell, they poured through — some with long pikes, some with guns, others with large, metal shields.

They came by the dozens.

“Fire! Fire!” Raine yelled.

Even as the Reapers’ human shield fell, some of them got through, tackling his men with feral tenacity. And, Raine could see, there were still more pouring through.

“Hold position!” Raine ordered. “We hold ’em here!”

A large club swung toward Raine’s head, which he narrowly dodged. A bullet fired, missing his head by an inch.

He hastily pulled his radio. “Now, Dan. Now!”

Not a moment later, there was a deafening explosion from just beyond the walls, followed by the sounds of screams. For those who were screaming, Raine knew there was no chance.

The large, multistory building across the street was collapsing, and would crush hundreds, if not thousands, of Reaper soldiers.

“Push ’em back!” Raine called above the din.

There was no sound other than the colossal crash of the buildings. The screams were gone, and there was only silence broken by aftershocks of concrete continuing to fall on the buried street outside.

And then, a swell of dust rose over the walls, engulfing the fighters. Even as Raine covered his nose and mouth, he started hacking, along with everyone else around him. Raine waited for that dust to clear, could hear the coughing of all of his fellow fighters.

But the dust didn’t clear. It remained for even two minutes afterward, never abating.

“Back up,” he said to the man next to him. “Pass the message along.”

He said it quietly, so that the Reapers – if any were left within the perimeter – wouldn’t know what the Angels were up to.

If the explosion had killed enough of them outside, Raine knew they had what it took to finish the rest of them.

Raine roared past the open gates of Lost Angeles HQ on his Harley.

“Close the gates!” he yelled.

Though his voice was lost to the din, the guard signaled for the thick, wooden barrier to be shut. Raine looked over his shoulder to make sure his command was followed. It was important that they were followed and enacted within the minute. To his relief, the gates began rolling shut.

He just prayed that they would hold.

A large group of people stood in the center of the dirt yard, foremost among them Lieutenant Green, who only betrayed his surprise with a slight widening of his blue eyes as Raine braked hard, sliding to a stop just feet in front of him. Everyone, Angel and citizen, stared at him in mute shock.

“Sound the bell!” he shouted. “Reapers!”

At once, everyone sprang in different directions to their assigned tasks. Riflemen ascended the high towers built into the perimeter defense that was composed of rough sheet metal and salvaged wooden planks. Raine took note of the huddled group of some fifty refugees that stood in front of Green. They were mostly women and children, though a few men stood among them. They had fled to HQ just hours ago at the sign of a Reaper force they could not hope to contest.

“Any man who can shoot, get behind me!” Raine said, his voice almost a growl. “The rest of you are on buckets!”

“Buckets, sir?” a bespectacled, older man asked from the throng.

Raine resisted the urge to scowl at his softness. Despite the fact that these Bunker survivors had been living under the Angels’ vassalage for over a year, he still managed to maintain doughy cheeks and a look of softness.

Raine turned to Green. “They’re not trained yet?”

“They had no firefighting protocol at their own base,” Green said. “This is the first time they’ve ever been allowed inside HQ, so they don’t know…”

Raine was about to respond when several fiery streaks streamed over the outside perimeter.

“Scatter!” he yelled.

The Molotov crashed in the center of the bare dirt yard — kept bare for just this reason. The Reapers were fond of Molotov cocktails, and whatever they didn’t drink turned into instruments of their terror. When the firebomb exploded not too far from the Bunker survivors, the screams of women and children filled the air. The fiery heat of the blast licked at Raine’s black, sweat-slicked skin even as shards of hot glass shot outward,

“Buckets on that blaze, now!” he roared.

He hefted his M-4, one of the few in the Angels’ possession. Most had been confiscated from the Bunker survivors; they were put to better use in the Angels’ capable hands than in what his troops often called the “moles.”

It took a minute for the refugees to respond to Raine’s order, but at last, several were going off to the water pump, where already the freedmen and women were throwing water on any blaze that lit up on the yard. A shed was up in flames, being the target of several of the flaming bottles, and some dozen women were throwing as much water at they could on it, even as more brought buckets from the pump.

“Green, get these men outfitted and on the south wall.”

Before Raine could even see that his order was fulfilled, he turned and ran toward the main gate. Through the crackle of flames and the screams of women, he could hear the roar of the Reapers’ bikes outside the wall. There must have been dozens of them that had nearly pincered him on his patrol. Raine knew he was lucky to even be alive, as scouting was a task better left to someone more expendable. But Raine always liked to see things with his own eyes, but even he had to admit the risk hadn’t been worth it. At least he got an accurate count, since the moles hadn’t thought to do so at all, thinking of only saving their own skins.

One thing Raine knew for sure: with this amount of troops, the Reapers meant to end the Angels with this attack, an attack that the Raine’ spies had never found out about. By Raine’s count, there were at least one hundred bikes laden with firebombs, and hundreds more on foot, bearing anything from rifles, to handguns, and at least a thousand armed with shovels, axes, and crudely made metal clubs and maces. With the end of the world, not every one could have a gun, but Raine knew Carin Black meant to use these levies as cannon fodder. He must have drawn this army from all of his vassals, and may have even armed some of his slaves.

When Carin wanted to win, he did so with overwhelming force.

Men from the wooden ramparts fired down against the swarming bikes. There was little the Angels could do but hope for a lucky few shots. The one heavy machine gun mounting the tower near the next gate was already up in flames. That gun had been the Angels main line of defense against the bikes.

And still, the bombs rained down. At least a third of the yard was a roaring inferno.

The heavy bell tolled for the first time from the bank building behind, a bell which had been procured from a local Catholic church. They needed God, or something miraculous, to survive this onslaught against numbers Raine could scarcely even imagine. Most of the smaller fires were already dying down, even as they were being replaced by new fires, and not that the shock of the initial wave was over, his men, at last, were remembering their training. The bombs fell fewer, either due to the Angels’ return fire, or the fact that the Reapers were beginning to run out.

There might be hope yet, Raine thought. I still got my ace.

But timing was everything.

“Samuel!”

That voice. Raine snapped around, to see that little Makara was running past the flames toward…someone.

“No!” Raine shouted. “Makara, inside, now!”

She didn’t even look his direction; she had to have heard him. Either that, or what she saw was more important than even he.

Raine charged forward, heedless to all danger. A Molotov fell from above, and Raine dodged just barely, skidding to a stop and backing up. The nova-like burst of flames nearly blinded him while his skin crackled at the heat.

“Agh!”

He skirted around the conflagration, running to bar Makara’s path, his eyes seeing spots that made her difficult to pick out.

“Samuel!” she cried. “Samuel!”

Samuel? Makara had told him about her big brother, but how could he be here?

“Impossible…”

Makara, now nine, was oblivious to the danger around her. She pumped her arms, running as if she were crazed.

But Raine was just in time to intercept her, scooping her up in her arms. “You need to be inside, Mak! Now!”

“Samuel!” she said, tears streaming down her face. “Put me down, Raine!”

To Raine’s surprise, she suddenly bit him on the ear. The pain nearly made him drop her.

“What the hell! Knock it off!”

He held her at arm’s length, even as she flailed like a fish, her tearful eyes never even looking at him. Raine followed her line of sight to see the object of her attention.

A boy, no more than twelve years of age, who was ringed by a circle of flames.