Makara ran faster than she ever had in her life. This part of the mall wasn’t occupied, and the only illumination came from the skylights through which filtered weak, red sunshine, but even in the dimness, Makara was able to find her way back. She felt relieved as she entered the main concourse of the mall, where electricity had been rigged and people milled about on each of the three levels. As she lost herself among a crowd, she finally felt safe.

The Angels’ new location had attracted lots of people – though it had been a few months since the move, the number of people under the Angels’ care had almost doubled.

Makara searched the crowd for any face she might know, but everyone here was a stranger. Newer people were given homes further out from the main hub of Angel activity, so Makara jogged deeper within, forcing herself to slow down. She didn’t know who to trust, and someone might know that Ohlan was having a meeting with this Cyrus in that store, and if they saw her running from that distraction, they might be suspicious. A few cast glances her way, but she was already out of earshot by the time anyone could think to ask why she was running.

Raine was most likely in his office, which had been set up in an old department store. She took the steps of the defunct escalator two at a time, and within moments, she was racing through the entrance.

Or at least, she would have been, had there not been two thickly muscled guards barring her way.

“Can’t let you in, Makara,” one of them said. “Raine’s orders.”

“It’s important,” Makara said. “Mark, right?”

“What’s this about?” the other guard drawled.

“I can’t tell you, but I need to see Raine right now.”

“He’s in a meeting,” Mark said. “Otherwise, I’d let you right in.”

“When’s it over?”

He shrugged.

Makara chewed her lip worriedly. She knew Raine would want to hear her news immediately, but she was old enough to know that Raine was the only person she could trust, with the exception of her brother.

She stalked off, going to the railing and staring over the side. She looked in the direction from which she had come, half-expecting Ohlan and Cyrus to show up. But of course, neither did. She didn’t even know what Cyrus looked like.

There were multiple entrances to the department, so there was a chance some of the other doors weren’t covered. The only one she could guess would be left unguarded were some of the exterior doors that had once been fire exits. She could only hope, with the power on, that it wouldn’t trigger any sort of alarm.

Not just anyone was allowed outside, though, but Makara had her ways. There were way too many entrances for  guards to cover them all. Blocking the superfluous entrances was one of Raine’s priorities, but he hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

If Makara could go back into the abandoned part of the mall and leave though one of the stores, then she could wrap around back to Raine’s headquarters. It meant going outside, which was always dangerous, but it was important that Raine got this news as soon as possible.

Makara walked down the escalator until she was on the ground level. She walked quickly through the mall until the sounds of people were a low din behind her. She turned into a store which she knew would lead outside. She navigated the broken shelves and aisles of what had once been a supermarket. She found the exit easily enough; through the broken glass came the slanting rays of red sunlight. There were just a couple hours until evening, but getting to Raine’s department should take no more than five minutes.

She ducked carefully through the door which still had shards of glass sticking to its frame, and was soon outside. She looked at out at the reddened ruins beyond, and then checked in the direction of the department store in which she had overheard Ohlan. She saw nothing out that way, so she turned right, edging along the wall of the massive mall.

On her left was a vast, open space covered with dust and debris. Half-buried in the rubble were the frames of rusting cars, which Makara knew must have been sitting there ever since Dark Day. She couldn’t help but feel exposed as the cold wind blew – that space had to have been a parking lot, once, and it would be easy for anyone to see her from the ruins on the other side. She quickened her pace.

After just a couple of minutes, she reached the department Raine was in, turning right through a revolving door. She gave a push, and the door spun easily enough. At least, until it got caught on something, but by shouldering as hard as she could, Makara pushed the door forward. It spun so quickly that she tripped, and before the door could push against her, she used her momentum to dive forward into the building.

She grunted, then stood and brushed herself off. A quick scan revealed no one in sight, though she could hear the din of voices coming from the mall from up ahead. Hearing that sound oriented her; there would be an escalator nearby.

She walked through the wide open space, her boots barely making any noise of the white-tiled floor. She nearly jumped when she saw some guards sitting on some couches nearby, but they seemed for focused on their card game than on her. They didn’t even look up as she walked by, though surely they knew that she was there. Apparently, the guards inside didn’t have orders to kick anyone out who was already in.

With newfound confidence, Makara walked up the escalator to the second floor. Another guard passed her on the way down, even nodding at her as he did so. One she reached the top of the landing, she turned up a final escalator, and upon reaching the top, saw the backs of the guards that had originally told her she couldn’t enter. They were facing out toward the mall at the department’s entrance, chatting away. Makara had to stifle a giggle, because she found the thought of them turning around and seeing her standing funny.

Growing quickly serious, she went deeper into the store, and heard the sound of Raine’s voice, though it was too far for her to make out anything. She walked until she came to an open door, where inside there was a round table surrounded by chairs, each filled with a different person.

As she stood in the doorway, Raine paused in the middle of this sentence, his eyes widening a bit at seeing her. Makara was about to speak when she noticed someone most unexpected at Raine’s side.

It was Ohlan.

“We’ll be done in a minute, Makara,” Raine said. “Go find your brother.”

She blinked in disbelief. There was no way Ohlan could have gotten here this quickly after she had left him there in the store. She couldn’t help but stare at him in disbelief, and Ohlan gave a smirk, as if he knew what she was thinking.

Does he know? Did I just misunderstand something?

“All right,” she said, weakly.

She turned around and walked away from the room. She didn’t know whether to feel confused, or frightened. She couldn’t see how Ohlan could possibly be there. Ohlan never really named himself, and neither had Cyrus. Had she just been mistaken?

No…it had to have been Ohlan.

She decided to ask Raine later if he had been at the meeting the whole time. And whatever the particulars, he still needed to know that his brother planned to betray him.

Despite Makara’s first impressions, she was beginning to like the mall more than the old office building. For one, there was more room, and secondly, there were a lot of places to explore.

The mall was bigger than any building she had ever been in, and that included Bunker One. She could wander through it for hours – not just the main thoroughfares, but all the various stores, some of which were buildings in their own right. One of these departments had staircases and five different levels, filled with empty racks, broken display cases, shattered tiles. Makara was still in the process of exploring it, and it was to this department store that she was headed.

It was dark inside, but Makara had excellent night vision – so long as she kept the lights coming from the thoroughfare behind her, she could find her way back.

But even Makara could get lost sometimes. She was exploring the top level of the department when she found she couldn’t remember the way back. A lot of people would have panicked in a situation like that, and even though Makara was ten, she was calm and composed. She knew that if only she walked around enough, she would find the stairs, and half an hour later she did, sure enough.

As she made her way downstairs, she could guide herself to the department’s exit on the ground floor.

But it was when she came to the second level that she realized she wasn’t alone.

She stood still, breathing as softly as possible. She heard voices – they weren’t far, but they were also talking so quietly that she couldn’t hear very well. Her first instinct was to run, but of course that was foolish. If she ran, they would hear her and she would get caught. She thought about calling out, but that wasn’t wise, either. How was she supposed to know whether or not they were friendly? Decent people didn’t hang around in an empty department store in the dark.

Then again, Makara was here.

Against her better judgment, she crouched and crawled forward, so as to better hear. Makara’s heart pounded; she knew this was stupid. Even with how well she could see in the dark, she might bump into something. Even the smallest sound could give her away.

And yet, she felt herself drawn inexplicably forward. She strained her ears to listen.

“We’ve been waiting for months,” the man said. “Now’s the time to strike.”

Makara couldn’t place the voice, but the next she recognized instantly: Ohlan’s.

“Patience,” Ohland said. “If it was time, I would have done something by now.”

“I wonder about that sometimes,” the man said. “Lord Black will not be pleased at your progress. Or lack of progress”

Ohlan grunted. “Lord Black will be even less pleased when he discovers we have failed because we jumped the gun.” There was a pause. “Have you ever played chess?”

“No,” the man said. “I don’t see what has to do with…”

“Raine and I played, growing up. When we were kids in the 20’s, we’d play all sorts of games. Raine’s a brilliant tactician. I know no one better at thinking on the fly as Raine is. Where he fails, though, is long-term strategy. I’ve tried to get him to listen to me about this, many times. This place we’re in now…it’s the direct result of his lack of foresight. The longer I draw this out, the longer I have to bring my plan to fruition…the better the results”

“The longer he’s in charge, the worse of it’ll be,” the man said. “If not for your brother, the Angels would be running L.A. by now.”

“That’s true,” Ohlan agreed. “We’re playing a game, though. Maybe it doesn’t seem like that to you, but I know my brother. More than that, my brother knows me. He suspects me. Maybe more than that; it could be that there is no doubt in his mind as to my guilt. All he needs is a pretext. The smallest pretext. If he does that, then this will all have been for nothing, it’s all for nothing, and I’m hanging by my throat.”

“You’ve been saying this for months,” the man, so soft that Makara could barely hear. “Lord Black will hear of it.”

“Lord Black must play by the rules of the game as much as any other man,” Ohlan said. “Were he here…I’d tell him that myself.”

“You wouldn’t kill him? For what he did to your wife?”

On that point, Ohlan was silent. “My brother is the one responsible for her death. Only he deserves the blame. I see Black as nothing more than an actor in this farce. Men like him come and go in a flash, like a flare in the sky. His flare is rising, but all things must fall.”

“You realize who I am, right?”

“Of course,” Ohlan said. “Just know Raine isn’t to be underestimated. It can’t be something so simple as killing my brother. For all his faults, the people are loyal to him. Someone would rise to take his place. Green, perhaps. I’ve thought of this before. Green, more than Raine, might make a more dangerous enemy.”

“Carin wants Raine out of the picture. He’s too charismatic, too smart, too unforgiving…the longer he stays alive, the more time the Angels have to lick their wounds. Carin can’t allow that.”

“Your solution is to make a martyr of him?”

“Anything is better than waiting!”

“That’s where you’re wrong,  Cyrus. Sometimes…maybe even most of the time…waiting is the best thing you can do. My brother doesn’t make mistakes often.”

Makara racked her brain, but couldn’t remember anyone named Cyrus. With a start, she realized that their steps were heading toward her.

She backed away as quickly as she dared toward the stairway. She stopped, and there was moment of painful silence. A silence which Cyrus broke.

“What do I tell Carin, then?”

“You tell him what I told you last time.”

“He doesn’t have another few months, Ohlan. He wants results.”

“And so do I,” Ohlan said dangerously.

Makara didn’t stay to listen longer. She headed for the steps, walking slowly until she was sure she was out of earshot.

Then, she ran.

Makara watched as the last of the trucks being loaded, signifying the end of another chapter of her life. She had lived at Lost Angels HQ for three years now. The place had been the source of a lot of memories, both good and bad. The good ones had been good, and the bad ones had been…well, terrible.

Even if it had been months since the attack, the building would always bear the scars. The exterior wall of the former office building had never been repaired. Only the wall had been built back up, if not to its former strength. There was no point in building up what was going to be abandoned, anyway.

Raine and the Angels had found a new, better place. No one had known about it until the very day of the move; no one but Raine’s inner circle, any. He hadn’t even told her about it, and like that, there were dozens upon dozens of trucks, spirting away all the important articles in the Angels’ possession, leaving the least important things behind to get later. Such was the importance of keeping the location secret, since an entire gang on the move was a prime target to an opportunistic Black Reaper.

Raine had announced that morning, however, that Angel scouts had reported the way clear – the Reapers were involved in a turf war with the Krakens, making this the perfect time to move. If they were busy killing other people, the Angels could be busy moving house. Within their new home, they could lick their wounds to fight another day.

“We should get on the truck,” Samuel said. “That’s the last of ‘em.”

He wasn’t looking at her, rather, at the line of trucks waiting outside the main gate beyond the wall. Most were just idling, waiting for the order to get going.

Makara nodded, standing up and following her brother. He had gotten tall, even though he was only a few years older than her. Now fourteen, his height and broad shoulders made him look several years older. Besides that, he was smart. He often read an entire book every day, even on top of his normal duties. He gravitated toward anything that had to do with science, would speak for hours with Dr. Luken, a scientist who had worked with Dr. Cornelius Ashton in the Bunker One L-Levels.

Makara only wished she had some talent of her own. So far, the only thing she seemed to be good at was getting into trouble.

She and her brother hopped in the bed of a truck and others piled on after them.

A few minutes later, the trucks began rolling down the broken streets. They passed decrepit towers crumbling walls for what seemed to half an hour, twisting and turning at random intersections. Makara tried to keep track of where they were going, but before long, they were well out of range of anywhere she had been allowed to go. She and some of the other kids had snuck out of HQ a couple of times, but she had never gotten this far before.

Makara was starting to wonder just how far this new base could be…and then, they arrived.

The truck made a final turn, and they were going down, dropping below the streets, underground.

They were in what appeared to be a parking garage. There was a mass of people milling about between crates and vehicles, and only a small amount of Angels controlling the chaos. Some of the people were exiting through a set of doors, apparently leading into the building the parking garage was connected to.

Makara watched for a moment at the place that was to be their new home.

“It’s awful.”

Samuel chuckled. “It’s not so bad. Being underground is much safer than being above ground.”

Makara didn’t doubt that, but she would miss not being able to go outside as easily as in the old base.

“Let’s check out the inside,” Samuel said. “This is just the entrance, after all.”

Samuel hopped down from the bed of the truck. Makara followed him through the crowd, until they joined the stream of people entering through the glass doors. It was packed, but by the time they made it through, Makara was surprised to find herself in vast, cavernous space. Three balconies ran in a line while staircases connected all the various levels. There were little alcoves along the balconies, where people were already congregating. Plenty of sun flooded through the top of the building through skylights.

“A shopping mall,” Samuel said.

“A what?”

“A mall. Where people shopped.”

“Yeah, I got that. It’s just so…big. Almost as big as Bunker One.”

“There were a lot of people back then,” Samuel said, striding forward.

Makara wondered where he was going, until she realized he was joining a line.

“We’ll get our room assignments here,” Samuel said.

“Will we be close to Raine?” Makara asked.

“Probably.”

Assuming that was true, Makara thought that this place might not be so bad after all.

Two months after the attack, Lost Angels’ HQ was unrecognizable. The walls had been rebuilt, but beyond that, everything was in drastic need of repair. Raine knew that they had been lucky that casualties had been few, and he had made sure to let Carin and the Reapers know that the Angels had plenty more explosives if the Reapers decided to show their faces on the South Side again.

Of course, that was a lie – but Raine needed Carin to believe it, because the Reapers were more powerful than ever. With news of the Angels fall from grace, several other minor gangs pledged fealty to Carin, who now styled himself King of California.

As far as Raine was concerned, California had no king, and if Carin truly wanted that title, he’d have to earn it over Raine’s dead body.

“Lord Raine?”

Raine looked up from the tabletop he’d been staring at. He hadn’t been looking at the table, of course. Rather, he had been thinking. Thinking far harder than he ever had in his life.

“Repeat what you said, please, Lieutenant Green.”

Green nodded, his stoic face betraying no emotion. “A messenger came from the north. Carin has called a meeting between all the gangs.”

It could only mean one thing.

“He wants to negotiate a peace, then.” Raine drummed his thick fingers on the table. “I won’t go.”

Several of Raine’s men murmured at that, only stopping when Raine looked up, focusing his eyes on each one in turn. These were men he had elevated to sit on his council, due to either their wisdom or their ability. Green, of course, was on it, along with his brother, Ohlan. There were several other men who had fought with him against the Reapers when the Angels had splintered from them two years ago. Well, that was a bit complicated; the Reapers had splintered from an original Lost Angels gang that both Raine and Carin had been a part of, before they had both been part of the Lobos during the Old World.

“He hasn’t won yet,” Raine said. “He’s ready to sign the peace when he hasn’t even won the war.”

At this, Ohlan smirked. It was as if his brother were saying that the Reapers had won. Raine noticed that several of the men were looking at Ohlan, seeming to be of a similar mind.

“We have lost our ability to fight,” Ohlan said. “We don’t have any more explosives. We don’t have the manpower, and we’re running low on bullets. It might not be today, but should we refuse the invitation to talk, it will mean worse for us down the road.”

Several of the men nodded at that. Raine stared hard at Ohlan, angry, but not surprised, that he had already forgotten their previous conversation.

“If we go,” Ohlan continued, “we may be able to secure a more favorable deal while we are still standing on our feet.” Ohlan turned his cold, blue eyes on his brother. “It’s a little harder to negotiate when your face is in the mud.”

“He hasn’t won. The next person who suggests surrender will be kicked off this council.”

“Isn’t that a bit premature, Raine?” Ohlan asked. “I understand that you don’t want to admit…”

“We’ll never surrender,” Raine said, cutting him off. “I know these streets better than Carin or his Reapers ever will. If he wants to be king of California, let him test that claim. Here, south of the 105.”

Green chuckled at that, and several others joined him.

“South L.A. is a maze,” Raine said. “No outsider will know it like us. Even we get lost here, sometimes. The streets aren’t what they used to be, and we’ll make them even easier to get lost in.”

“They know where HQ is,” a man named Jaeo said, one of the Bunker One refugees the Angels had taken in. “I’m not against it, but they only need to find HQ and take it over to win. Right?”

“We got plenty of bases,” Raine said. “Plenty of space in our territory. We’ll keep this place as HQ for now. But we’re moving our main base further south.”

Several of the men started at that. Ohlan blinked, then frowned, but didn’t offer any argument. It was something Raine had been thinking about for a while, now, and the Reapers near success had only convinced him further.

“We’re harder to take over than my brother is suggesting. Carin knows it’s easier to make us think we lost than to actually take us over. He’d lose a lot of men trying and waste a lot of bullets, and he knows it. He can’t afford that.” Raine looked at Ohlan, who was openly scowling now. “You want to know why? Carin has his own enemies. It’s not just us who hate the Reapers. True, we are his most powerful rival. Even now. But there are more gangs just waiting for their chance to jump him the moment he’s weak. Sure, he has thousands of lives to spend if he really wants to take us over. I say let him. As soon he tries, we make it hell for him. Let him weaken himself, and if he does, guess what? There’s the Krakens down by Longbeach. There’s the Vultures up north. There’s The Hill Alliance, with Last Town and Riverside and Victorville, who would love to take back everything the Reapers took from them.”

“What’s your point?” Ohlan asked.

“My point is, sure, the Reapers are top dog. For now. But the thing about top dogs is, they don’t stay on top for long…especially when they make a lot of people angry, and they find themselves weak from extending themselves too much. If anything, I welcome another attack.”

“What do you propose, then?” Ohlan asked grudgingly.

“We wait. We stall. We make Carin think we’re actually taking him seriously.” Raine chuckled. “We’re not, of course. And we do all we can to make him think we’re staying here when we’re really moving house. We consolidate ourselves here below the 105. We make alliances. Next time he attacks…he’ll find out he’s made the worst mistake of his life.”

The men murmured their agreement, all but a few who were loyal to Ohlan. Ohlan looked at his brother neutrally, but Raine knew what was really going on. Ohlan had made his play to take the gang in the direction he wanted, but Raine had maintained control.

Raine realized, not for the first time, the the greatest threat to the Lost Angels might not be Carin Black and the Reapers.

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.