The big day was here.
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡyco1dZCLmS
In the morning, I awoke to the sweet sounds of chirping and singing to find a colourful bird perched right outside our window.
It fled as soon as I threw away my covers and disappeared into the tangle of green leaves above our roof. Still, I decided to take its appearance as a good sign. It was as much as I could do to affect the outcome of the upcoming conflict.
Once again, I didn't sleep much that night. None of us did. I found Will and Manny chatting in the kitchen, with bags under their eyes the size of potatoes. Mark sat alone drinking in a corner and El and Tommy stood a little further among the woods, rehearsing our plans for one last time before we departed. It wasn't easy to miss the strange new sword strapped to his back, though everyone kept too much to their thoughts to mention anything.
Our few Rebels were wide awake too, and I saw Ashley trying to feed wild birds with some last breadcrumbs from her yesterday's supper.
We took our sweet time eating breakfast. Manny truly outdid himself that day, filling the table with plates full of fry-ups for everyone and hot cocoa to wash it all down. Despite providing probably the biggest feast we've ever had, I barely touched my portion. The looming shadow of the upcoming exchange left me feel all nervous and fidgety. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach starting a bloody war.
It was almost unbelievable the end was so near.
“How are you doing, everyone?”
When Elskan joined us by the table, all of us original outlaws gathered around him to listen to a final rehearsal of the task at hand.
“Will, have you checked on our prisoner?”
“We brought her something to eat for her breakfast,” Will confirmed. “Her hands are tied, so I had to feed her myself. I hope she remembers that if something goes wrong later.”
El nodded in agreement. “You're coming in the car with us. That should give you many more opportunities to charm her.”
“What about me?” the younger brother asked, a little anxiously.
“You, Manny, you will have the most important job of all of us. You will stay right here in the camp and make sure the sky is still blue when we come back. Got it?”
“Why would I do that? Is it supposed to change colour?”
“Never change, dude.” El smiled. “Never change…”
At that moment we were interrupted by the leader of the Rebels joining in on the conversation. Tommy slumped down onto an empty chair, with the same knackered expression we all got used to wearing.
“Only a few more hours and it'll be all over,” she said. “All we have to do now is to wait. My Rebels will be free, your friend James will be free… we'll win.”
El shook her hand on behalf of all of us.
“One last job we'll do for you.”
“I hope this works. You haven't failed me yet.”
“If we do, I promise I'll personally handpick all the best juicy bits from my portion of soup in the prison and leave them to you as an apology.”
“No, thank you.” Tommy shuddered.
Ashley appeared behind me, her cheerful, bright smile lighting up the kitchen. “Don't worry, you guys! I know we can do this!”
At that moment, an alarm on Elskan's phone started blaring and the Rebel woman let out a heavy sigh. “I guess our group should get going if we want to be there on time. Do you honestly believe we can get out of this unscathed?”
“I'm ready for anything,” the outlaw said.
“And the rest of you? Are we ready? Does everyone know what to do?”
Everyone was silent. There was nothing more to be said.
Tommy gave us one last look. “Alright,” she took a deep breath. “Let's go, then.”
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡkW6WjWJ0lC
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡuEYYwPAhJ5
As we neared our destination, it actually turned out that Blaxhall was the tiniest village I'd ever had the chance to visit. Narrow roads framed by tall hedges, old-timey brick houses at every corner and fields as far as the eye could see. Heavy grey clouds added the necessary feeling of gloom. The locals watched us pass through, their white faces peeking out from behind stained glass windows with dusty curtains. To Tommy's credit, it really was quite close to our forest. As far as I could tell by a quick guesstimation, it couldn't have been more than some three hundred metres; perfect for a hurried retreat in case of something unexpectedly backfiring on us.
A quick glance into the rear view mirror showed me Fox's daughter sitting in the backseat, squirming uncomfortably with her hands tied behind her back and two outlaws watching her every move from either side. Mark and William were the ones chosen for this task, while Elskan sat next to me in the front, scanning our surroundings with a deep frown.
The rest of the party approached on foot earlier in the morning, making their way through the forest and along the cornfield we intended to use for our eventual escape.
If everything went according to the plan, they should have already been waiting for us.
“Which way is the square?” I stopped where the road forked in two directions.
“You've never been here before?” a question came from the back.
“I worked in Nederstone for a few months before I met all of you. I've never had any reason to explore the countryside!”
“Just try the left one.”
Our unfortunate decision cost us a ten-minute detour where we managed to run into a dead end, nearly ran over a flock of chickens, turned the car around, and finally made our way to a kind of a main square in the middle of the village.
And as we approached the wide, open space, I realised the depth of all the shit we'd buried ourselves into.
A literal crowd gathered to await our arrival, its individual factions easily distinguished by colour. The vast sea of Foxglove purple and orange was only sparsely broken by black and dark blue patches of roaming police officers trying to clear our any lingering civilians. Our dirty, ragged group of Rebels waiting on the other side looked absolutely pathetic in comparison.
Twenty against two hundred. Civilians against trained killers. The oppressed face to face with the oppressor.
I put the car into a slow crawl and stopped in front of the nearest house with a little vegetable garden right beside the front door. Looking out the window, I could see every head in the village turning to face us.
I really... didn't expect the police to be there... In retrospect, it was perfectly reasonable they came to overlook the situation. We'd committed multiple horrendous crimes, kidnapped a young woman and assaulted an official organisation employed by the town. It was just... all of these charges were bad enough in themselves. I didn't need my sister to be there to witness them.
“You can stay in the car if you want to.” I glanced over to find Elskan watching me. He looked more worried than I'd ever seen him.
I stared at the scene in front of us and for a second I noticed my reflection in the glass. A furrowed brow, cuts and bruises, the first signs of a growing beard and a broken nose, my prize from our first adventure. If I didn't know it was me, I wouldn't have recognised myself. I shook my head. “We've come this far.” I unbuckled my seatbelt. “Let's finish it.”
The weather was a little more chilly than I'd anticipated as we made our way towards Tommy. The other, more lawful half of our gathering, had stopped some good distance from us and on closer inspection I could see every single one of them holding a weapon, although they showed no intention of using them at the moment. Caroline Fox stayed safe and secure in the car and so long as we kept her, no harm would come to us.
El was the first to approach the visibly distraught Rebel leader.
“Is everything alright?”
“I don't trust these blokes.” Tommy frowned, her hands crossed. The rest of her people were stood around uncomfortably. Some of them looked terrified, others hopeful to see their friends and families again. “What took you so long?!”
“Just some... slight complications on the way.”
“I told you to study the maps before you left.”
“Too late for that. How's the situation looking here?”
“When we arrived, the army was already here. I haven't spoken to anyone yet and they haven't made any move to approach us. So we're both just holding positions. I bet they've been scanning the place since yesterday. We should have sent some people over to make sure we won't get any ugly surprises. I didn't think about that.”
“We've had a lot to do.”
“But still... It's like they brought the whole Lyonhall and then some.”
While it was certainly not true, it did seem like the full force of Foxglove had arrived to meet us. Most of the soldiers looked to be just observing the situation, sitting around and tending to their guns, somehow unfazed by this unusual day. Some were unloading shiny crates of ammo out of the backs of their armoured jeeps. I wasn't sure whether to be proud or afraid they were taking us so seriously.
At the moment, I was more interested in their back-line. Wherever the foxes might have found them, the high road behind them had been blocked by two long buses full of people. The captured Rebels delivered safe and sound, just as they'd promised. All that remained to be done was to exchange them and we could all go home.
The police seemed to have more of a function of a rear guard. The few uniformed officers watched over the convoy to make sure our friends behaved.
There was no time to look for Sam.
A detachment of three emerged from the crowd of our enemies, the unmistakable silhouette of Hector Fox marching in the middle, flanked by two unarmed soldiers. They made their way towards us.
Tommy gestured to our ugly car.
“I guess we should go too?”
Covering our faces once more, the five of us stepped forward with Fox's daughter in tow to finally confront our enemies.
I could see Fox's distressed expression from a mile away. By the time they reached us, the leader of the foxes was practically jogging to be close to us as fast as possible and he barked out as we met in the middle of the square:
“Caroline. Are you alright?”
It was as if he hadn't even seen us. He waited for a confirmation from her, and only then did he raise his eyes to meet mine.
“You'd better hope you didn't hurt her.”
“You'd better hope you didn't hurt any of ours,” Tommy replied.
Sullen, Fox turned to one of his two companions.
“Give the command.”
The woman beside him raised a walkie-talkie to her mouth and a moment later our friends started pouring out of the buses. And they looked horrible, broken and knackered, but none of them seemed to be injured. That, at least, was some consolation. So much so that some of the Rebels behind us started laughing and cheering.
“That is our end of the bargain,” his voice thundered. “Now...”
“That's not even a half of them,” El pointed out.
“The other half will remain in the buses until the end. I want to make sure you will not try anything.”
“Your girl is right here,” Tommy argued. “That doesn't seem fair, does it? I want my people closer.”
Fox stared at her for a second with unadulterated malice. This time all he needed to do was to nod, and the soldiers rallied everyone into a tight group.
The procession started shambling towards us.
Will and Mark exchanged a glance and after a short but fierce struggle with the restraints, Caroline Fox was free to join her father. She tried to kick William as she went by and walked with her head held high, as if the whole episode in the camp meant nothing more than her usual Tuesday.
“Don't worry, dad. These guys are just amateurs,” was the first thing she told him. “I'd repeat the whole thing over again if they gave me something better to eat.”
“You are grounded for the rest of your life.” Fox failed to share her enthusiasm. “I knew those nightly trips of yours were a bad idea. From now on-”
“Nightly trips?! You let me go outside one day in weeks-”
Taking an example in the two soldiers in front of me, I tried my best to ignore this joyful family reunion and instead focused my attention on the people walking by us. If not exactly by names, I recognised some of the faces from our days in the underground. James was one of the last among them to go and I could see El give him a slight nod and a smile as he walked by to acknowledge he was alright. It was definitely nice to know he didn't stay trapped somewhere in the sewers.
“We will talk about this when we get home,” Fox finally cut the argument and turning to one of the attending officers barked like a tamping dog, “Take her to the car. We are finished here.”
I took that as a final cue to disengage.
So that was it. We'd survived after all.
I felt as if a gargantuan weight had fallen off my shoulders and as I turned away to face our rescued friends, I noticed some of the locals venturing out of their homes and forming a kind of a row in our backs, watching the scene with quiet interest. We must have caused quite a spectacle to intrude on their calm day-to-day lives like this. Strangely enough, many of them were holding something in their hands. Some long metal objects, by the look of it.
That was... strange.
“And what about the other-” Tommy started.
“The other half will stay where they are. I hope you didn't expect to just walk out of here without facing the consequences of your actions.”
Fox's voice in my back was quieter than I'd ever heard him. All the rage was gone and what remained was a cold and calculating tone of a seasoned warmonger.
By that moment, most of the Rebels started to notice too and many of them were backing away towards us to escape the new danger. The presumed villagers now dropped their whole act, displaying their true colours and aiming at us with Foxglove branded weapons. I'd bet the real residents have been marched out of their homes yesterday evening while we sat on our asses in the forest thinking how smart we were for picking a distant village full of witnesses. Tommy was right. We should have sent someone to keep an eye out.
We got played.
“Now if you would be so kind as to drop to the ground, surrender and prepare for your immediate transport back to our headquarters,” Fox continued his victory speech. He sounded like a man who'd prepared it beforehand. “There are dungeons under Lyonhall buried so deep I haven't had the chance to properly explore them and I would love to try them out on you.”
All we could do was to stand there like a bunch of deer caught in the headlights. When I looked to my right, I could see El with his jaw dropped down in surprise. Looking left, I saw Tommy staring with her eyes growing wide.
A round of shots echoed across the open square, immediately followed by its twin as someone fired in response and I ducked, almost dropping to the ground. When I dared to raise my eyes again, one of the Rebels was hobbling away, holding his shoulder, and one of the foxes lay on the ground, attended by his comrades.
I'll never know whether the first attack came from our side or the side of our enemies. Some terrified, confused civilian trying to escape justice or an overzealous soldier who didn't care to be talked back to? Or maybe the other way around. Whatever it was that happened in our backs, it started a full-on assault that couldn't be reverted. Some high up officer must have lost it, the foxes began shouting curses and commands and bullets started whistling through the air over our heads.
In a split second El tried to whirl around and grab Fox to use him as a shield, but the big man simply grabbed him by the arms, raised him into the air and threw him away like a plush puppet.
“Fall back. Fall back, damn it!” he shouted at his two companions as both groups started sprinting in opposite directions to join their own.
Lead showered the ground beside us as I helped Elskan back to his feet and then dashed into cover behind a red car standing nearby. Our three friends chose to hide on the opposite side of the street, behind a low brick wall of a front garden and I lost sight of them immediately.
“Who did that?” the outlaw grabbed me.
“I don't know!”
“They are all idiots! What the fu-”
The rest of his sentence got drowned out as more bullets tore into the front of the car, opening its hood like a tin can and showering us with red hot fragments of metal.
“Something tells me they've had enough of us!” I shouted right into his ear.
“Really? What gives you the idea?!” El responded, right when something exploded near us. “We have to get out of here!”
With what little weapons we gave them and with the ones they managed to take from the defeated soldiers, the Rebels were trying their best to return fire and the battlefield was getting progressively more and more chaotic. The rising dust was everywhere, stinging our eyes and covering the view. We could use it to escape.
Keeping a low profile and hoping the foxes would be too distracted by attacking the bigger group of resistance, I tried to sneak along the back of the car and over the low fences and hedges by the houses to our left.
To my surprise we found the other half of the negotiators already running around and helping the rest of the Rebels to repel the attack. Tommy immediately squatted down next to us, her shirt and a part of her face covered in dust. “What are they doing!?”
“It was one of ours!” El replied, shouting.
One of the soldiers in our backs leapt up and immediately fell, sending a round of shots in our direction. The little that remained of the assailants covered as villagers seemed to be retreating.
“The back-line is open! Let's get the last of them and get out of here while we can!”
That didn't please her. “Is running away your first reaction to everything? I still have people out there, you moron!”
Peeking over our useless cover, I could see the buses sitting in the back of the Foxglove offence. Some of the police officers were now running around, shouting and disappearing out of sight behind the enemy lines. It was hard to tell on which side they wanted to be, though at least for now they weren't shooting at anyone.
“Come on!” she pleaded, “One last job you're gonna do for me. We have to help them!”
“You're gonna get us all killed. Sometimes it's better to retreat and be able to fight another day.”
“Or we can finish this right now and there will never be any need to fight again.” She looked at us with eyes full of desperation. “Please…”
“Alright, dammit! Let's just get this over with!”
With that, the leader of the outlaws began shouting for Will and Mark to join us as fast as they could and prepare to move forward. As beat up and miserable as he looked, James joined us too and El patted him on the back with a relieved laugh.
Were they really about to head back into the fray, unprepared and virtually unequipped for any kind of conflict?
Sam was out there somewhere too…
If I was really about to let them go there, I had to make sure nothing would happen to either side.
“I'm going too,” I shouted, not giving myself a single second to change my mind. In the heat of the moment, I don't think I even properly realised I was offering my life.
“Are you sure?”
“No.” I could hear myself almost squeal.
“The clock is ticking!” Tommy reminded us, and Elskan cursed.
“Lemme just take my sword.”
“I don't have the luxury of having a gun like you!” he sprang up to go and retrieve the virtually useless weapon from our car. “Hummingbird! Let's go.”
The four of us snuck behind cover, out of the line of fire and as close to a nearby building as we could. Mark forced open the already half-broken entrance, we darted through a short hallway into a living room and through that into a kitchen and out by a sliding back door.
It was mental how easy it was to escape back into the normal world. Neat little gardens and vegetables growing in the backyard betrayed nothing of the brutal scenes happening on the high street. Loud cracks and explosions shaking the ground beneath our feet were the only remainder of the madness we were about to re-enter.
A mad dog came after us as we climbed over one of the fences and almost bit me in the leg before James pulled me up and looked at El.
“What are you planning to do?”
“I've got nothing, James,” Elskan confessed. “We're gonna try to sneak inside and see what we can do. If anything goes wrong, we'll get out of here and back to the camp. That's as much as we can do for them.”
Just as Tommy said, the time was running out and metre by metre, hidden from the sight of the army, we circled around the perimeter, closing in on the rear end of their blockade, until finally, turning around the corner, I cast my eyes on the two buses standing in the middle of the street.
Almost all the foxes seemed to be gathering in the front, concentrating their firepower on the chaotic skirmish. As far as I could see, there were only a few soldiers mixed into what seemed to be a large group of police officers overseeing the handling of the prisoners. They were clearly mere moments before dispatching all of them back to Lyonhall.
And in the middle of all this turmoil, I spotted the one person I was looking for. Sam was standing by one of the vehicles, talking to a driver and gesticulating around her like a maniac. She didn't seem exactly chuffed. All of a sudden she stopped and her eyes grew wide as she saw us. Then she turned around and caught the man by the arm before he could start the engine. She said something, pointed in our direction-
Was she really going to... call us out?
A moment later the door opened and one by one people began hobble out into the open air, pushed and urged on to hurry up by one of the greatest police officers I have ever known.
Thank bloody Christ for that woman!
“What in the bloody hell are they doing now?” I could hear Mark complaining behind me.
“Saving our asses,” I announced proudly. “That's my sister right there.”
Gingerly at first, we made our way through the escort of a dozen or so police officers. None of them tried to outright help us, like Sam, they simply stood aside and let us go through. Even that, however effortless the gesture, was enough.
“What's your plan?” Sam asked me without any more useless questions as soon as we reached her and watched the Rebels pour out into the open space, their faces full of unadulterated confusion.
“Get them out and get out ourselves.”
“Right… You're just going to talk to Fox's daughter,” she mocked me as she turned around to attend to her captives and helped an old and visibly injured woman to rest on my shoulder. “What the hell is all of this supposed to be?”
“I know! I know! You did it to help the people or whatever. Let's get them out of here. But we'll talk about this later. Don't think you're out of the woods yet!”
All that was left to ensure our victory was to escort everyone safely back to the forest, and while Mark explained we were there to rescue them, the small crowd got to moving out of the way of the conflict without anyone noticing.
“Take them across the field and to the camp! I'll go and tell the others we got-” Elskan was ready to split up with us and send us home when a second voice sounded through the street.
“What's going on here? Stand back!”
All our efforts were met with a sudden end when a small group of foxes standing in the back noticed some strange activity and were now running towards us with their rifles at the ready. After everything we'd done to get to this moment, it was more than just a depressing sight and I was about ready to give up right then and there, but while all the other officers scattered and acted as if only now they'd just realised something was wrong and were coming as quickly as they could to subdue their prisoners, Sam stepped in front of us to guard us with her own body.
“I can explain this.”
“Yes. Please, explain yourself.”
“You see…” she glanced towards me and shrugged. “I guess I've had enough of your crap.”
“Excuse m-” The soldier didn't get to express any more of his annoyance because that's when my sister charged forward and kicked him in the groin in a wide swing that must have seriously altered the genealogy of dozens of his future generations.
Compared to the battle raging just out of the corner of my eye, the small fight that ensued felt almost like nothing but a simple trifle. Limited by the full weight of the old woman, I could only watch as the outlaws joined her in the fight; Elskan slashing his blade to all sides and James right at his heels.
Our heroic attack wasn't meant to last long though. We couldn't do much against trained and fully armed soldiers. The man recovered surprisingly quickly and grabbed my sister by the throat, while another pointed a gun at her chest and we were immediately seized by more soldiers. One of them yanked me away from the old Rebel I was trying to help and held me in a painful lock with my arms behind my back.
A heartbeat later, a single shot rang out in the cavalcade of explosions that has become Blaxhall, and James fell to the ground, shouting profanities in his natural language and clutching his bleeding knee.
“Enough!” El knelt next to his injured friend, the sword falling from his hands. “Jesus!”
The main one of our captors pulled out a walkie-talkie to let the others know there was a problem with the prisoners, but all I could see was Sam.
Her face was already turning a weird shade of blue as she swayed in her opponent's arms, looking for a way to free herself.
One of the soldiers was about to murder her right before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It was as if the time itself had slowed down and in that single moment, almost out of the corner of my eye, I saw Elskan's useless invention glimmering in the muck.
I pushed away the person holding me, elbowing them in the face as a bonus and darted forward. Two steps and a jump and the weapon slid into my hand almost of its own and I got back on my feet and turned around in a wide swing just to find the muzzle of a gun pointed right at my face.
And I pulled the trigger.
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡSBfEI8yKJs
For a single second, the world held its breath.
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡrzrdzx33Tx
Then everything went white.
The soldier flew backwards as a full force of lightning struck him straight in the chest and a crash of thunder echoed across the destroyed village. The asphalt shook beneath my feet, Sam fell to the ground and everyone- foxes, policemen, outlaws and the Rebels turned their heads in a quiet shock.
A few people gasped in surprise, someone cheered from a distance and in the quickly spreading silence I could hear El whisper in awe.
Even if I wanted to, I can't begin to describe how impossibly destructive this thing was. And I stood there, in the middle of it all. The dust kicked up by the blast was just settling down, the white line of energy burned into my retinas was slowly disappearing, my ears were starting to ring. The blade I was holding in my right hand caught aflame from the impossible heat of the electricity, but at the moment I wasn't even able to feel it.
As everyone started slowly coming back to their senses, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what was about to happen. It wouldn't be long and all the foxes would start attacking again.
“Tony,” someone in my back exhaled. “Go.”
I was exhausted. So incredibly exhausted… but the sudden rush of adrenaline must have breathed some new life into me. A second wind, if you would believe it. With what I expected to be my first and last ever war cry, I charged forward towards Fox and the rear of his undefeatable army.
And I wasn't alone.
As if this was some kind of a signal, the battle ensued again, both sides snapping back into reality and getting hold of their weapons in a flash. I heard a familiar voice rallying the Rebels to arms and saw another fox aiming at me just as someone jumped at their back before they could pull the trigger.
With an even bigger blast of lightning, I took out a group of five soldiers at once and dodged one of the armoured vehicles heading my way. Some of these fearsome, professional soldiers were beginning to run now as they realised what was happening to their friends. There are no guidelines for fighting a storm.
Another stray bolt hit a nearby building, busting its windows open and setting the interior afire, and yet another carved a long orange line into the ground in front of me. The whole square shook as if during an earthquake and everything was slowly beginning to burn as we fought our way into the middle of the enemy lines.
I had no idea how the thing in my hand worked and in the heat of the moment I couldn't care less what would happen to me. A huge metal shrapnel flew over my head and that's when I almost fried one of our own, jumping up in surprise when a hand touched my shoulder and pulled me to the ground. It was Tommy, shouting something without words. Her mouth opened and closed, even though I couldn't hear her over the ringing in my ears. She pointed into the distance.
Following her gaze I could see Fox and his daughter running away from the battle. One of the armoured cars was waiting for them, just at the edge of the battlefield.
As my hearing returned I finally understood the words she was trying to convey:
“There's no turning back now. Let's end this!”
With the Rebel leader by my side, we did our best to zigzag our way through the ruined plane of brawling parties, the scattered remains of the village square and the burning lawns, and get as close as we could without them noticing us trying to cut off their escape route.
The thunderous explosions and blasts of unimaginable energy were perfect to create just enough chaos in the ranks of our enemies for the two of us to catch up with them.
The warmonger was left with only a handful of, what I assumed, were his personal bodyguards. Nonetheless, their guns and armour were nothing compared to the power of the weapon I now held in my aching hand, and I stepped out of the cover, pointed the sword at the pair in the middle and pulled the trigger once more, not even properly thinking about the implications of what I was about to do.
A light tug in my hand as the weight shifted and a metallic clang on the ground in front of me made me look down just as the brilliant invention finally gave out under the forces of the impossible elements and the glowing hot blade snapped in half. All that came out was a single pitiful bolt that ran over the length of the remaining piece of metal and disappeared.
“What's wrong?” I could hear the Rebel almost whisper.
A spark of recognition gleamed in Fox's eyes as he saw our masked faces, and pulling a handgun from his belt, he stepped forward, gesturing for the others to stand back.
“You. You are the important ones, aren't you?”
He spoke with quiet malice, getting closer and closer with every step.
“Yes. Let us make an example out of you.”
I felt as if my feet were frozen solid. Tommy stepped in front of me as if to shield me with her own body, and Fox struck her with a vicious backhanded blow that sent the Rebel flying backwards.
“You two will be coming with me.”
He grabbed me by the shirt, picked me off of the ground like a child's toy and threw me back down against the hard pavement where he left me gasping for air.
“We will see how will you like being held hostages.”
Fox averted his attention back to Tommy, who was trying to crawl away from him, and grabbed her by a foot to pull her closer.
“Without food and daylight...”
He pointed the barrel at her.
“Will your friends-”
Without a warning, the Rebel let out a bloodcurdling wail of pain and Fox gasped in surprise as Tommy kicked his feet out from under him, rolled over to get closer and punched him in the chest.
A couple of his subordinates hurried to help him and I tried to get up as fast as I could, expecting the big man to immediately continue his assault; but to my surprise Fox stayed laying on the ground, shaking and gasping for breath in a strange, raspy way, and the soldiers stopped a few feet away from him, staring in shock and unsure what to do. That's when, looking at Tommy, I finally realised what had happened. A thin wisp of smoke was rising from the burned palm of her hand where she held it to her chest in pain and tracing my line of sight back to Fox, I could now see the glowing, broken blade of the miraculous sword, sticking from in between his ribs just below his left arm as the fabric of his bulletproof vest smoked and melted in the heat.
Though I've never seen a dying man before, the sight was unmistakable. The great warmonger Hector Fox was perishing in front of our eyes, blood boiling and seeping out from the open wound.
For the dozens of soldiers he had, all they could do for him in his final moments was to stand around and marvel in surprise at the sudden turn of events.
The only person hurrying to his aid was his daughter, who held him by the shoulders, hugged him and finally twisted the gun from his fingers as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Any last words?” she asked in a shaky voice, pointing the weapon at the woman who'd killed her father.
Tommy didn't even flinch. She looked at me and back to Caroline. There was nowhere to run.
“You lost.” she simply shrugged with a smile on her lips. “My people-”
There was a loud crash and a bright flash of light. Tommy's head bobbed back in a weird, unnatural motion and I averted my eyes and legged it in the other direction as fast as I could.
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4lGSQtToM7
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8ua4Uy4EZw
Running through the cornfield, trying to keep pace with my friends and losing them among the leaves, tripping over shrubs and stumbling through the trees and up the small hill into the safety of the camp... I'm drawing a blank on all of it. But it must have happened. I was there.
As I walked down the glade in between our houses to the kitchen, I could see the fruits of our labour. The rescued Rebels were everywhere I looked. Much like the first time Foxglove attacked the sewers, only on a much greater scale. Some of them were hugging their lost relatives, more were simply mourning and most of them were injured, crying in pain and hobbling around while they waited for their turn to be tended to.
I spied James sitting on an old tree stump nearby. His eyes seemed glassy as he stared at the scenery around him. One of his legs was drenched in blood and I could see no other outlaw in sight. I drew closer.
“Does it hurt?”
“What? Yeah...” he answered automatically, staring into the void.
“Is someone gonna take care of you?”
“Yeah. I know...”
His monologue didn't make any sense and he seemed way too knackered to think rationally, so I left him sitting there in the shade and tried to find Mark or someone else who could help him.
That was when I realised the hilt of the broken sword was still in my grasp and looking down I finally noticed my right hand full of painful pink blisters. I threw the weapon on the kitchen table and with tears in my eyes ran into our tiny shower, collapsing down onto the floor and letting cold water pour all over my body.
As I sat there with my back against the wooden wall, the full force of the events we'd just experienced finally came crashing down on me. We... won? I wasn't sure we did. I don't think there were true winners in any battle anyone had ever fought. And immediately after that came another belated realisation.
Tommy was dead.
I could still see it in front of me, as if it were burned into my retinas, just like the white lines of lightning. The flash, her head bobbing back under the impact, the wet sound it made when she fell to the ground…
The Rebels were alone now. We might have won, but I'd lost a person right in front of me and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡbBDUiYIo8w
When I finally found the strength to walk out of the door, I found myself face to face with a beat up and visibly discomforted Elskan.
“Tony! We've been looking for you.”
“There's been a... a change of hearts or something.” He frowned, a bead of blood trickling from a cut above his eye. “I don't like it.”
Pushing through the crowd of all the freed prisoners that now flooded our camp, he led me to a smaller group of people gathering in the middle. Will and Manny were there, sharing all the news, just as were Mark, Ashley and a few of the other Rebels I recognised from the underground.
“Tony!” Ashley called out. “Come here! Is it true? Babs… Where is she?”
“Tommy!” she explained, “We heard she's- some people say-”
She couldn't bring herself to say it out loud, and I wasn't sure I wouldn't throw up the moment I opened my mouth, so I simply nodded.
There were no tears in her eyes, no theatrical wails of despair; she simply covered her mouth in shock and shivered. “What are we going to do?”
“Follow the original plan,” El decided. “Take what we have and scatter.”
“But we can't leave now!”
“Of course we do. We have to.” The outlaw held his ground.
“They took Tommy... and Tony-” My eyes met hers. “They almost hurt your sister. They almost killed all of us!”
A quiet murmur of agreement went through the crowd at her words.
“Well, we can't let it be like that, can we?” Anger flashed in her eyes. “Are we going to run and let them get away with all of this?”
“Sometimes retreat is the best option. I'm sure all of us would love to live another day.”
“But Tommy would stay and help the ones left behind! And I know we are better than that.”
“It's not about being better than anythi-”
“And now we know we can stand up to them!” she pointed a finger at me. “We've all seen what you can do. All I ask is that you do it again. One more time!”
But El wasn't amused.
“Kid, I've got my things packed.”
Turning around, he made his way to leave, deaf to any cries for help or reason.
“I trusted you and I gave you a name! And now you want to leave us?” she looked from one of the outlaws to the other. “So are you guys the Hummingbird I wanted or not?!”
Without a word or any sign of acknowledgement, the outlaw kept walking up to our cabins, stern and unmoved. He stopped only when the sea of faces parted and into his way hobbled James. And he was a sight for sore eyes. A crude branch, torn off a nearby tree, served him as a crutch and his bloody leg trembled beneath him with every step. He looked like a ghost. With his face contorted and grunting in pain, he stumbled, falling forward into Elskan's arms, and catching his friend round the shoulders looked up at him with glazed eyes.
“El, I think she's right.”
“Oh, come on.” I could hear him whisper in frustration.
“Look at me, buddy. Look at all of them. What we saw today... We can't let that happen again.”
“You know the reason we can't stay.”
“Let's linger just a little while longer. I don't know if you like it or not, but these people are not going anywhere now and they clearly do need us,” James pleaded. “Now more than ever.”
El stepped away from his friend, watching him for a moment with surprise at this new development. He didn't speak for a long while, wondering with his back turned to us, seemingly looking at the trees in front of him and the infamous town and its people hiding far off behind the leaves, deciding our fate. The army must have surely been readying their next strike, ruined individuals with their entire families, thieves and policemen powerless to stop anything littered the streets and all the relatives of all the people we'd saved from a fate worse than death were waiting for the good news of our success.
When he finally turned back to face us, his eyes seemed to be shining, though it was hard to tell if what we saw was anger or determination.
“Hummingbird, right...” he pondered the word carefully, looking somewhere into the distance over our heads. Then his eyes dropped to the ground again, flying through the crowd from one man to another until they finally found me, and El frowned.
“Y- yes?” I stammered.
“Go back to our room.”
“Yes,” I repeated, more confidently this time.
“Take the bags... and unpack our things, if you would be so good.” He looked from James to Ashley and back to the crowd of people around us. There were men, women, children, young and old, healthy and injured, beaten and rising… all of them waiting for his final decision.
He took a deep breath.
“I guess we're staying.”
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡPKCtTfZ9ic
And as the shouts and cheers fade into silence, you may imagine a camera panning away from the scene. You can see a group of outlaws dispersing into the woods to hide from your sight. You can see the entire forest spanning from the outskirts of the town all the way to small Suffolk villages surrounding its edges. You can see Blaxhall too, smoking and burning away as firemen do their best to tame the flames and the foxes lick their wounds and stare in shock at the ruined landscape around them.
Somewhere out there, their new young leader was already planning her next move and not a single one of us could have imagined what the full consequences of our actions were about to be. What ruin were our decisions about to bring? And what new plots and twists were we about to uncover?
36Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡstCUyEPmQW
I'll tell you all about it the next time.ns126.96.36.199da2