Year 83 After Mutari
Bloody hell! The Coven’s barriers had failed.
“Get to the Command Center,” I shouted at Luke, Ben and Nick as I passed, my voice drowned out by screeching air raid sirens.
Demons? Inside the compound? They were an incessant wave bent on destroying every man, woman, and child who crossed their path. How the hell did they get in? The Densare Council had never experienced a breach of this magnitude.
Ben and Luke shouldered past me with their guns drawn, Nick a heartbeat behind. Men pretended women were good for nothing but the continuation of the species. They were our protectors in every fight, but I was better than any man and they knew it. Lights flickered sporadically, the fluorescent bulbs sputtering a few seconds before total darkness descended.
Demons cut the power grid. The new cross-breed bastards were smarter than the average hell’s spawn. Red hazards stuttered on as the generator kicked into gear. Emergency lights buzzed. I lost sight of the guys ahead as the glow bounced off concrete gray walls in a mismatched fashion creating pockets of total darkness. The command center seemed miles away. Already sprinting full out, I pushed my legs harder. My muscles strained under the brutal treatment. The ground buckled. Chunks of concrete sprayed skyward. Shielding my face with my hands, my feet lost their purchase and I stumbled into the wall.
Son of a bitch, were they using grenades? Smoke billowed in the halls. A suffocating mixture of sulfur and gun powder penetrated my lungs. My eyes burned, blinded by smoke so thick it muted the glow of the hazard lights. How would demons obtain grenades, for God’s sake? Demons weren’t braincases. What new horror had they unleashed on humanity? Was it not enough that our numbers decreased every day?
My gun drawn, I raced around the next blind corner. The pop of rapid gunfire exploded. The tink, tink, tink of shell casings from Ben’s forty caliber made me smile. He loved that gun. The reverberation echoed throughout the corridors.
A horde of Hathas, big grey, eight-foot monstrosities with lethal strength, advanced on the line of soldiers. Drystan’s foot soldiers were waylaying our men, two and three at a time. The tight quarters outside the Command Center made it difficult to maneuver. I had to reach the Command Center. We were being overrun…fast. One by one, every gun was silenced. Horrified screams shattered the stillness. I recognized three bloodcurdling moans: Ben, Nick, and Luke were dying. The demons were hungry, their sharp tusks now bathed in blood. I shuddered. It was not the way I wanted to die.
Soldiers positioned at the center door used flame throwers to rain fire upon the demon mass approaching. I darted along the wall, ever at the ready to empty my clip into a demon. Burnt flesh heavily scented with sulfur smothered my senses as I charged around the last corner. My father, General Casey O’Hara, shouted the order to seal the center doors.
May the gods help all those left outside.
Declan and Jared shoved them closed as I slid across the threshold. The doors were made of concrete and reinforced steel. Once sealed, nothing could get in or out. The Cantati were losing this fight. We sorely needed a plan. The attack seemed organized. Their formations sent my sensors into overdrive. Who led them? Or better yet, why had they been unleashed? This assault was different from the rest. The certainty of it resonated in my bones.
Jared and Declan strained with a heavy metal black cabinet that stood taller than either man. Metal scraped concrete as they positioned it up against the door. Could the Hathas get through? There had been a smattering of cross-breeds in the group—those half demon, half human abominations were like rabid dogs on steroids.
After my last mission, it was better that we were all fully armed and prepared than caught with our pants down. “Colin, open the weapons chest and make sure everyone is fully armed, got it?” I ordered the freckle-faced kid, barely old enough to shave, on my right as I gasped oxygen into my lungs. My pulse pounded from my mad dash. A few years in the field and his skin wouldn’t be so unblemished—if he made it a few years. Had I ever been that green? At twenty-three, compared to him, I was ancient. “Yes, Lieutenant. Right away, ma’am,” Colin replied with something akin to reverence. At least he recognized the chain of command, even with someone who was persona non grata at the moment.
“Alana, my office. Now,” General O’Hara demanded.
Cantati forces taking up positions near the center door glanced back at his harsh command.
Well shit, that took a lot longer than I thought it would.
When he gave a command, you followed it or he relieved you. His voice stirred, leaving traces of apprehension along my spine.
“But…sir?” I cringed inwardly. Glancing at his tall, sturdy frame, always dressed in camo military garb, I admitted he had every right to be pissed. My hands balled into fists. At a time like this, what the hell had gotten into him? We needed to form a counter offensive, not discuss the varied details of my recent failure. If we survived this assault, we could examine the fact that an entire Cantati squad was nothing more than demon fodder because of me. The images from that mission had been emblazoned upon my soul. I shoved it from my mind because if I allowed it, the guilt would swallow me whole.
Barking his response in short, clipped words, he bellowed. “No time, damn it! My office, NOW!” He stiffly turned, expecting me to follow. Snarling a command over his shoulder he shouted, “Keep that door closed. Don’t let those bastards in.”
Bloody hell, like I didn’t have enough problems with these guys. They’d talk about my sparring with the General for weeks. Dread churned my belly. I ignored the dozen pair of eyes that studied my reaction, me the fabled ice queen who’d led good men to their deaths. They all blamed me. Head held high, unwilling to falter beneath their steely gazes, I followed him and focused on his bald head instead of their glares. As I walked past the blinking computer lights and sector radar, I shot a quick glance at the map and my blood chilled. I marched past the radar into Dad’s office. He’d bark, but he knew I was the best he had. Dad typed a code into his computer with enough force I thought the keyboard buttons would fall off from the reverberation. The wall behind his desk moved, sliding open to reveal a hidden room.
There was a vault in Dad’s office? It was small, not much larger than a walk-in closet, the inside walls lined with silver metal compartments, each locked with a security keypad. He stepped to the far left corner, keyed in a second code, and had his thumb print scanned. A hatch opened seamlessly, emitting a luminescent violet light. He removed two items from the vault, a glowing jade orb the size of my hand and a leather-bound manuscript.
The vault door closed upon his exit. Dad sat across from me at his desk. I’d always thought of his heavy, old-world, wooden desk as Dad’s one concession to history. His lips tensed into a flat, compressed line; his eyes searched mine. Fingers of dread reached up, grabbed ahold of my windpipe and squeezed. I didn’t want to hear what he was about to say.
Sorrow flitted through his brown gaze for a split second. A shock-wave rumbled through the compound and the resounding boom from another grenade rent the air. “Your orders are to travel back and stop the Mutari.”
“What?” I croaked. He wanted me to stop the Mutari? It was the single biggest event to ever happen to mankind. Eighty years ago by our best estimate, Drystan, ruler of Infernus, breached the walls between his realm and ours, unleashing his demon armies upon humanity. Billions of humans died within the first twenty-four hours of the assault. He wanted me to stop that?
Shaking my head, I was sure I heard him wrong. Could he actually send me to another time? Time travel wasn’t possible, was it?
“This Moldevian Orb was spelled by the Coven. With it, you will transport to the time before the Mutari. When you arrive, you have three months to discover how to keep the dimensions intact and block Drystan’s armies from invading Earth. The Densare Council believes it’s possible. They asked me to send one of mine. I want you to do this. Between your skills in the field, your knowledge of spells, and the information gathered in this text, I know you can do this. I order you to accept this mission.” He pushed the manuscript across his desk and extended his hand. The orb pulsed; shades of jade fire swirled within the globe.
Dad expected me to take them from his hands and follow his orders, as usual. I didn’t want to touch either. Just looking at the damn green ball sent an artic wind swirling around my bones.
“When the hell do you want me to do this? We’re under heavy attack, sir. You need me here. Bloody hell, you don’t even know if it will work. It’s a dead end,” I sputtered. No way. I was not leaving.
A cold sweat beaded my brow. He sighed, placing the manuscript and orb on his desk, lowering his head and rubbing his palms across his face. With a swipe of his hands, he erased the pained expression stamped upon his face. “No one knows this, Alana. I received dispatches from the Densare Council a short time ago. Demons are attacking every compound, worldwide. We lost contact with the Council shortly after their message and I have had no luck reaching any compound. You are the counter-offensive and the only one I trust to accomplish this operation. Lieutenant, my final orders are take the orb and manuscript and go. If you do this, humanity stands a chance.”
Oh gods, this was it. The one we had feared.
“How do I get back?” My voice cracked, filled with unshed tears.
“You won’t.” Artillery fire erupted outside the command center doors. Walls trembled as demons battered the steel.
“But…sir?” My breath strangled in my throat, fists clenched against my thighs, my nails dug gouges into my flesh…anything I could do to stifle the tears. Weakness was not acceptable in a squad leader. Deep down, I knew this was the last time I would see his face.
“Lieutenant, the troops need me. Take the orb and book. Recite the incantation.” He commanded, with no hint of argument or discussion available. These were orders I must follow unquestioningly. Some, I ignored when I knew there was a better way. Yet this was not the time for disobeying a command by my superior.
My legs shook as I stood. Taking a deep, shuddering breath I raised my right hand and saluted.
“Yes sir, General.” The words fell from my lips, an automated response indoctrinated in my being.
He gave me a cursory look drenched with emotion. It was more than any words of goodbye could equal. He returned my salute.“Good luck, Lieutenant.”
Unable to hold myself together, tears rained unchecked down my cheeks. I did the one thing I could. I picked the manuscript and orb up off his desk. The supple leather coldly filled my left hand. The orb, a nearly weightless glass ball, felt warm in my right palm.
Steel shattered; the echoing screech reverberated in the rooms. Demons crashed through the Center door.
Chaos. My world was on fire and I knew there was nothing I could do to extinguish the flames.
Screams filled the air. The Cantati were dying. My fingers itched toward my gun.
Two enormous, gray-skinned Hatha demons, rammed the office door. Dad pushed back with his shoulder, trying to keep those brutes out of his office. He removed his Glock from its holster.
“GO, ALANA. SAY THE INCANTATION,” Dad yelled. He fired into the nearest brute’s hand as it curled around the door frame.
“No. Not until I know you’re safe.” I choked on the words. I nestled the book in my waist-band and switched the orb into my left hand. Drawing my gun from its holster with my right, I extended my arm, sighted down the barrel, and fired.
I clipped its shoulder.
“No time, Alana. Don’t argue. GO,” he pleaded.My gun clicked empty while the Hatha’s meaty arms beat at the door.
Gasping air into my lungs, I stared into his eyes. The human world was finished and he knew it. Deep down, I felt it. As the Cantati, we were the protectors, fighting to save mankind. Our time was up. Drystan, Lord of Infernus, launched his final assault, and we failed.
Another boom from a grenade rent the air. The blast unsettled Dad’s grip on the door and he faltered. The Hathas burst into the room, the demon infantry soldiers slamming him up against the remnant shards of his office door. Their razor-sharp teeth glistened in the overhead lights, a stark comparison to their dark gray skin. In the time it took me to blink, their teeth ripped into Dad.
“NO!” I screamed, loud enough that the two Hatha lifted their heads off of their current meal. They eyed me like I was a tasty morsel. These assholes were dead.
I charged. The larger one backhanded me and I crashed onto Dad’s desk. My gun and the orb spilled from my fingers. I rolled out of arm’s reach. The Hatha nearest to me crashed his fist onto the desk where my leg had been seconds before. Wood splintered, leaving a gaping hole in the desk. Regaining my footing, I leapt on top of the closest Hatha, removing his teeth from my father. Blood gushed from the deep hole the demon had left in Dad’s shoulder. I cursed my inattention as the Hatha’s arms surrounded me, cutting off my oxygen. I shoved against its mammoth jaw. This was bad. I had to help him. Dad’s agonized moans filled my ears.
I swiveled my head just in time to witness the second Hatha as it ripped his body in two. “DAD!” I screamed, but no sound left my lips from my severe lack of oxygen.
Rage settled in my soul. In a single thrust, I snapped the Hatha’s neck and its arms released me. I ducked low, and the second Hatha’s claw grazed my arm. The screams outside Dad’s office dulled as I beat the bloody hell out of it. Picking up the desk chair, I smashed it against the Hatha’s skull in a single blow. Blood splattered everywhere.
I was seconds from joining the melee in the command center except I glanced in Dad’s lifeless eyes.
This was not how it would end. I had to fix this. I scooped up the forgotten orb from the floor, made sure the book was still tucked in my waistband, and held the incantation. Blinking through tears, I gazed at the words scrawled upon the slip of paper.
Before another demon noticed me, I spoke, “Vicis ut est non vicis, tractus ut est non tractus, in a dies ut est non a dies. Sto procul limen inter universitas, pro ut velo ex mysterium. Possum Antiquitas Uni succurro quod servo mihi. Vicis per tractus, deleo preteritus. Ut EGO mos is, sic mote is exsisto.”
The orb warmed my palm. Heat sang up my arm, encompassing my body. I couldn’t move as the warmth spread.
The orb blazed fiery in my hand, so hot I wanted to drop it. Gritting my teeth through the scorching pain, my fingers dematerialized along with it. As the heat spread up my arm, I realized I couldn’t move my head to check if I was missing more body parts.
And the scene before me dissolved. I’m not sure I existed anymore. It was as if I was now a void, a black nothingness. Time suspended itself. Is this what death felt like, this ceasing of all physical senses? Would it be so bad to let go into oblivion? Then my vision faltered. My eyes were open yet could see nothing.
My body materialized, crashing against unforgiving stone. My head thwacked against the ground as my body skidded to a halt.
Umphff, that’d leave a mark.
Blood dribbled from my chin. Each droplet connected with concrete, creating a dark puddle on the floor. I eased my shoulders and cheek off the timeworn stone. My muscles groaned, protesting the slight movement. My limbs throbbed from the jarring impact.
Through narrowed eyes, my surroundings swam into focus. I lay face-first in a gutter running along the wall. My day had turned to shit. I laughed. The sound rang sharp in the empty space.
Tears blurred my vision and I lay my forehead against the stone. Each breath hurt, shuddered in painful gulps into my lungs. He was dead. They all were. Raw agony gripped my heart, clenched its gnarled fist and squeezed my soul. How could they all be gone? I couldn’t stifle the tears. There were not enough fingers to stop the dam.
Realization dawned as I wiped the wet trail from my cheeks. The world had ended. How the hell was I supposed to fix that?