SCORCHED EARTH

A Harvesters Series short by Luke R. Mitchell


“They’re back.”

Rachel Cross froze at her workbench. Froze for too long—a full three count, at least—before her good senses caught back up, and she remembered she’d rather not let her unwanted visitor see just how much those two words rattled her cage. Slowly, carefully, she blew the tension out in a low sigh, ended the call to Michael that’d been pending for three concerning minutes now, and turned to face the music.

She didn’t need to ask who they were. No more than she needed to hear the voice or turn around to know it was Scotty waiting for her in the doorway. Knowing him as well—or as intimately? Ickas she unfortunately did, she’d already recognized him just fine in the mental sprawl of her extended senses.

“They’re back, Rache,” He of the Red-Faced Charms repeated, drawing her back to the matter at hand with an extra ripple of irritation. She hated it when he called her Rache. When anyone did, really, other than her manly step-men, Michael and John.

But that was entirely unimportant right now.

“How many?” she asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

“At least ten out in the open, over on the southern perimeter. Myers seemed worried there might be more nearby, though.”

Myers was probably right about that. There were plenty of woods for cover over there, and they’d counted at least fourteen marauders when this particular happy bunch had last sauntered up to Unity’s perimeter to test the waters a few days ago.

“And he told you to get me?” Rachel asked.

Scotty nodded, looking as shaky as Rachel suddenly felt on the inside. “Told me to get the boom stick girl, at least.”

That wasn’t a good sign. Normally, Myers did everything he could to keep Rachel away from the action, being of the same mind as John about how careful they needed to be, letting their resident arcanist stir up the crazy talk around these parts. She didn’t really disagree with them, either. The last thing this settlement needed was a big, bloody sign out front reading: “Young Blonde Arcanist, Ripe for Your Manly Conquest. Moves Things with Her Mind. LOVES to Put Up a Fight. Come and Have a Look.”

The crazies would come flocking from miles in all directions. Especially the violent ones. And Christ knew there were enough of them out there these days—fully baked on the derangement of the Dark Days and the rest of the fifteen bleak years since the Catastrophe.

Case and point, the ten or fourteen—or god knew how many—assholes out there encroaching on the southern perimeter right this minute.

“Okay,” she said, gathering her thoughts and telling her nerves to calm the hell down.

She wished Michael were here. Wished he’d answer his damn comm, at least. But her concern for her brother would have to wait. Unity was in danger.

At least the new bullet-catcher build was done.

Done, and completely untested… but whatever.

“Okay.” She stood from the stool and swiped the done-ish bullet-catcher from the bench top into her jacket pocket, hoping to Christ it wouldn’t be receiving its first ever field test today. That done, she grabbed her trusty glyph-covered staff from the corner, taking comfort in its familiar weight, and turned to Scotty with her finest time to party face, giving the long weapon a menacing shake. “Let’s go show ‘em where they can stick it, then.”

***

On the bright side, no one had started shooting by the time they got there.

On the not-so-bright side was pretty much everything else.

The rumbling Gator ride across what had once been the stately and well-manicured grounds of Swarthmore College had gone about as well as could be expected, all things considered. The people of Unity were preternaturally tense, every last soul turning from their work as Rachel and Scotty passed, watching them go with a sudden emotional pallor, like they could sense the death brimming on the heavy summer air.

It always got this way when marauders were near, even before the news had time to spread. Sometimes, before the first sightings had even occurred. It was moments like these that made Rachel wonder if maybe everyone wasn’t nursing a hidden tidbit of telepathic ability. Probably, though, they just saw her hands shaking as they passed by.

Rachel forced deep breaths and concentrated on steadying herself as they raced down the wind-rustled stalks of the southern corn fields, and the scene ahead came into full view.

Three marauders were already right up at the fence, face to face with Myers and the three Unity militia boys at his flank. Several more were lined up not far behind them. Not good.

In the handful of similarly tense territorial standoffs Rachel had been unfortunately privy too, the encroaching marauders had always hung back to the safety of the surrounding trees or whatever other cover had been nearby—more curious hyenas sniffing at a tempting score than starving wolves pressing in for the kill. A few times, she’d watched Myers or another scare off such hyena-men with warning shots. Once, on a particularly spooky evening encounter, when the twilight had already seemed to slither with evil spirits of its own, Rachel had leaned into her abilities to accomplish much the same effect on the bandits who’d been lurking in the brush.

The only time she’d seen non-Unity folk so boldly strut up to the perimeter fence like this, though—like they owned the place, and everyone in it—had been the one and only time she’d found herself in the middle of a full on gunfight. There’d been bloodshed on both sides. That’d been a year ago, give or take. She’d started sketching up plans for her first bullet-catcher prototype a few days later.

Those men had been hungry. Starving, even. And not just for food. They’d been wild—just like the wolves she’d so thought they resembled.

Just like this band of ragged killers who stood at the fence now. And they were killers. Rachel could feel it in the air just as surely as she could see it in their hard eyes and gaunt faces. Torn, threadbare clothing, accentuated by the inexplicably bright shirt here, or a fresh pair of boots there—spoils, no doubt, of their last victims. They all had guns, too. Some more than one, tucked away alongside whatever knives and clubs and other sharp edges they’d accumulated since the world had gone mad. And the three at the fence…

She understood now why Myers had been so worried.

The three at the fence had the tell-tale garish adornments and self-mutilations of the sort who’d taken to the darkest of the Dark Days like a challenge—taken to them with the most ferocious of survivors’ spirits, and come out the other end unrecognizable. Cannibals. Rapists. Worse. She’d heard more than enough stories about men like these.

Enough to make her insides quiver as she and Scotty pulled up several yards back from the fence, next to the rest of Myers’ reinforcements, and Leading Psychopath #1 drank her in like his good mate Scotty had just driven up and slapped a most succulent fillet mignon at his feet.

Shit.

Scotty killed the engine—she kind of wished he hadn’t—just in time to make out Myers’ forcedly casual tone ahead:

“—appy to send you on your way with a week’s provisions for your group. Even have some fresh clothes for you, if you’re interested. But we will have to be sending you on. We’re already past capacity in here. You understand.”

Normally, Rachel might’ve been worried that he was being entirely too accommodating, and that this breed of killer wouldn’t have listened to anything but the convincing and outright threat of overwhelming violence if they didn’t get the hell out, but it probably didn’t matter anyway. The guy barely seemed to hear a word Myers said. He was still too busy staring at Rachel. Eyes flitting curiously to her staff. Back to her face. Cue the curling grin of insanity.

“And what about your sweet little pretties?” he asked, in a voice that sounded entirely more stable and less madly villainous than she’d expected. “Don’t s’pose you’ll be being neighborly enough to send us a few of those too, will you?” His sneer deepened. “My boys are hungry.”

Somehow, she wasn’t so sure he was talking about the boys on his flanks.

She felt Myers bristling with retort, and was suddenly certain in that moment that things would only fall to shit all the quicker if she let him step in and paint her as an even brighter target by fumbling to defend her honor against this madman and his hungry boys.

“Maybe your boys can go rustle up a treat from the pens,” she called, cocking her head in the direction of their enclosures before her racing heart could stop her.

In other words, fuck a goat.

Maybe not the most diplomatic of saves. Or a save at all. But there was no turning back now. The yin and yang looks of Myers’ horror and Psychopath #1’s piquing intrigue told her that much.

Stand the hell down, Cross, said Myers’ eyes.

“What’s that stick for, girlie?” said Psycho’s shit-eating grin of a mouth. “You come out here to teach us a lesson?”

“Only if you think about coming over that fence, asshole.” She could barely hear her own words or the resultant cackles of marauder laughter for the rushing of her blood and the thundering of her mortified heart. What the hell was she doing? What the hell was she saying? Balls-to-balls with a guy who’d probably eaten people before. She had to stop. But she couldn’t. Not now.

“And spoiler alert,” she forced herself to say, climbing out of the Gator as confidently as she could manage on jello legs and helium lungs, “you won’t make it over that fence.”

She drew up beside Myers, thunked her staff to the soft earth for stability as much as for show, and reached in her extended senses for the energy stores of the battery pack on her belt, preparing to wipe the grin off of their would-be intruder’s face. She hoped to the gods that that would suffice, and that this crazy bastard would somehow divine from the unnaturally charged air that this was one hunt not worth seeing through.

“A week’s worth of provisions,” Myers said. “Take it or leave it.”

Leading Psycho #1 took a good, long moment to study them both, devil-may-care grin never once faltering. “You good people,” he finally said. “Always bartering, like you think you own reality. Always chasing away your problems with noble promises and”—he sneered at Myers—“provisions.” He shook his head, derisive, disgusted. Utterly deranged. “We didn’t come here for no food, your majesties.”

Rachel’s stomach sank. That was that, then. No bargaining. No deterring. These men had come here for something that would only be culminated on the far side of pain.

“We came here to see us a witch,” Psycho #1 declared, pale eyes snapping to Rachel with sudden fervency. And before her brain could even begin to register her shock, he drew his gun and fired.

***

The bullet-catcher hadn’t worked.

That was the first thought that took root in Rachel’s head, past the harsh ringing of man-made thunder. The catcher hadn’t worked, because if it had, she wouldn’t have felt like she’d just taken a smack to the brain.

And the bullet wouldn’t have made it so damned close to her chest.

Or not her chest, she saw, gaping at the deadly slug that’d just yanked to a midair halt bare inches from her flesh. Her shoulder.

The bastard was trying to wing her?

“Well holy shit,” her would-be shooter muttered, fixated on her with all the stunned lust of a miner who’d just struck gold. He couldn’t believe his goddamn eyes.

Then Myers’ bullet ruptured through the left one on the tail end of a vengeful thunderclap, and the marauder leader ceased to believe anything at all. His head snapped back like a whip, and he collapsed like a sack of meat scraps. In a flash, the air filled with the sudden rush and rustle of weapons drawn and cocked.

“Stop!” Rachel growled. Too late.

She tensed, raising her defenses, and the world erupted with gunfire on all sides. Too much for her to track. Just too much. She felt the shots piling in—each one like a discrete punch to the gut. She heard men shouting somewhere far away. Then the violence of the moment crested, and her head was ringing, the pungent bite of detonated accelerant burning her nose and eyes.

A wall of spent lead hung between the enemy lines, caught indiscriminately by her hastily erected barrier. So many shots. So many deaths, so narrowly avoided. So many bullets, intended for her.

Something sparked in her then, as the spent slugs plopped to the grass at their feet and they were left staring down the savage men who’d all just elected to trade life for life. They gaped at her. Even madmen weren’t used to seeing bullets strike out against thin air. No more than Rachel was used to the frenzied terror of people trying to kill her.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was aware of the deep, primal fear shaking her core. Most of her, though, was concerned with the erupting fire. Fire that was erupting from her, she dimly noted, though she barely could have said in the moment how or why. She simply felt that fear-soaked rage ignite, and the next moment, she was watching it rush through the fence, spreading out like a living thing, bent on conquering all in its path. For a brief moment, all she saw was the fire. Then she was looking at a band of wide-eyed marauders, half of them on their asses, furiously thumping at burning sleeves and pant legs, others frantically backpedaling for the trees, guns raised more like shields than weapons.

A wave of nausea rolled through her. Channeling fatigue, she realized, shortly followed by an acrid hit of burnt hair and charred flesh, and the unsettling realization that she’d done this.

“Get the fuck out of here,” she hissed, her voice oddly distant. Muffled. She leaned heavily on her staff, dimly aware of Myers hovering beside her, and of how goddamn exhausted she suddenly was. But it wasn’t done. Not yet. Not while some of them were still tensed there, perched on the tentative edge between the path of the hyena, and that of the wolf. Not while they were still eyeing their fallen leader, nascent fury smoldering on their faces, maybe realizing that she was about to collapse, maybe thinking that if they all just attacked, right then and there…

“GO!” someone screamed. “GO, OR I’LL BURN THE MEAT OFF YOUR FUCKING BONES!”

Jesus, was that her?

Some part of her knew it was. The rest had left behind level-headed reason for the crushing fear that these men would gather their wits and rally, that reinforcements would surge forth from the woods and sweep into Unity on a tide of medieval savagery. That they would destroy her family. Again.

For a moment, the fear was so overwhelming that she couldn’t breathe—could barely even remember where she was or what was going on past her spinning head. For a moment, she was back in her childhood home, watching two thugs step over Grams’ broken body, coming for her.

Then the world resolved with a dizzying rush back into the image of scorched earth and retreating marauders—some turning tail and straight up booking it, a few others keeping weapons and weary eyes on Rachel and the rest of the Unity crowd as they slunk back toward the woods. Rachel felt gun hands tensing on either side of her and Myers, Scotty and the other few present members of Unity’s humble militia all looking to Myers, who was fixed on the retreating marauders, handgun still raised, fixing to give the word.

“Don’t,” she said. She wasn’t sure why—hardly expected they’d listen anyway.

But Myers did. Another few tense seconds, weapons aimed and ready. Then the last of the marauders disappeared into the tree line, and Myers released a heavy sigh, uncocked the hammer of his pistol, and traded a weary look with her.

What have you done? she swore those eyes were asking.

She didn’t know how to answer.

***

No one had been hurt. No one but the lead marauder who’d started the whole thing and promptly taken Myers’ bullet to the eye for his troubles.

The man lay in the grass now, face up, remaining eye still wide with something like reverence. Almost like he’d died happy. Maybe all he’d wanted was to see something more than the bleak reality that’d been all he’d known since the Catastrophe. Rachel hadn’t the faintest fucking clue. All she knew was that her home was safe now, at least for a little while.

It would’ve meant more if she’d known Michael was safe too.

Over the next few minutes, she watched with unseeing eyes as Myers sent runners and Gators to spread the word and batten down the hatches all around Unity. She only distantly noticed Scotty asking her if she was okay, smothering her with that overly worried puppy look the entire time. She was pretty sure she said something to the effect that she was. It was hard to tell, how much of the disorientation was channeling fatigue, and how much was just good old fashioned shock. When next her mind latched onto something properly tangible, though, Scotty had been dispatched to fetch more rifles and militia boys for patrol, and Myers was giving her a look.

“Will they come back?” she asked, feeling sick in a way that had little to do with channeling fatigue.

Myers looked from the dead marauder on the other side of the fence to Rachel’s staff, dark eyebrows drawn tight. “Dunno. Guess we’ll find out.”

Outside the fence, two Gators of armed militia were arriving on Myers orders to gather the marauder’s body and lay him to rest inside the tree line as a kind of peace offering to the rest of his raiding party, provided they were still in the area. Rachel didn’t doubt they were still around. She just wasn’t sure the gesture would do anything but fan the flames of whatever hotheads in their ranks were currently rearing to come charging into Unity for vengeance and other plundered delights.

Beside her, she felt Myers worrying over similar thoughts.

Why had she opened her mouth and stopped them from gunning those men down? Murderers and thieves and feral animals. Even if they left Unity in peace—even if they moved on and never looked back—there was no limit to the amount of chaos and suffering those marauders might wreak on the rest of the world. And Rachel had been naive enough to spare them.

She leaned on her staff, feeling the weight of it all pressing down. “I’m… I’m sorry.” How was her heart still beating so hard? “I didn’t mean to…”

To what? Christ, didn’t mean to what? To release a band of feral human terrorists out into the wild? To put Unity on the map as the land of the side show freaks? To go full antichrist and let the dark side flow through her?

Before she knew it, Myers was gripping her shoulders and giving them a squeeze, demanding she return her attention back to the here and now. For one errant moment, she wanted to knee him in the groin for the touch. Then her rational brain caught up, and she looked up into his weathered face, where she found her own doubts reflected in his eyes.

“It’s not your fault, Rachel,” he said. “I did what I thought was right. I held the order.” He held her on the end of his gaze too, waiting to see that his words had landed before finally releasing her and taking half a step back. He glanced out at the scorched grass and shook his head, a humorless smile ruffling the corner of his mustached lips. “It was a hell of a show, at least, hmm?”

He turned back to her, and the first hint of grim amusement touched his eyes. Rachel felt a weak, sickly smile bending her lips. It was messed up. Myers had just killed a man, for Christ’s sake. But this was the world they lived in now.

It was all too much. Thinking about the snapshot of hell that’d just popped out of her like the world’s most dangerous knee jerk, watching the morbid humor warring with the grim sobriety in Myers’ eyes, Rachel almost could’ve choked out a manic laugh—was beginning to, in fact, when the sound of an approaching Gator drew their combined attention back toward Unity. Rachel sighed as she caught sight of John’s papa bear sized frame clutching the wheel so tightly she half expected he might tear it clear from the speeding vehicle.

“Shit,” she murmured.

“If he asks…” Myers said.

“I happened by on a casual stroll,” Rachel promised, frowning down at the scorched earth. “One big shitty accident.”

***

John wasn’t happy.

That much had been abundantly clear since he’d arrived on the scene and crushed her in a borderline violent papa bear hug, somehow managing to both glare down Myers and everyone else whilst also simultaneously radiating concern and gratitude for his men.

Now, with the perimeter seemingly clear and the tenuous spirit of safety creeping back over them in John’s office at the center of campus, the new hug she found herself trapped in was still plenty crushing, but at least slightly less frantic.

“I know you can handle yourself,” he insisted, still squeezing.

“But you worry anyways,” Rachel finished for him, with what paltry breath she could draw.

“Always have, always will.” The pneumatic press loosened, and he pulled back enough to frown out the sun-streaked windows. “Especially now.”

Overly paternal instincts aside, it was hard to argue with that last bit. Because whatever else their woodland escapees decided to do moving forward, the one thing they knew for sure was that they now had a band of violent marauders out there, armed with the unfortunate truth that a blonde witch lady had torched them half to shit back at Unity. And go and see for yourself if you don’t believe us, she could practically hear them saying to anyone and everyone who could scrape together two brain cells, a loaded weapon, and a bone to pick with this cruel world of theirs.

Rachel placed the thought aside to focus on extricating herself the rest of the way from John’s burly arms. It had never really made much sense to her, how he’d come by his bearish build. It wasn’t like he worked out all that much—or at all, anymore. Not like Michael, who’d hit the weights religiously, back when he’d been here.

Back when he’d been safe.

“Goldfish…” John murmured, entirely softer than usual—just like he sometimes did when he had bad news. “The reason I was late to the scene down there is because I was in the middle of a call…”

Her heart stomped the brakes, lungs yanking tight against the seatbelt.

The timing.

He was looking out the window. Avoiding her eyes.

Was it possible?

“What happened?” she gasped, suddenly sure she already knew. “Where’s Michael?”

John stiffened, rounding back on her in surprise. “How did you…?” He frowned, as if only then noticing she’d said something odd. Maybe just the stupid little fact that she’d called her brother by his actual name rather than the usual affectionate moniker of Spongehead. Whatever it was, she didn’t find her next breath until he shook his head clear and answered. “Nothing happened. It’s only… When’s the last time you heard from him?”

“Eight days ago,” Rachel said, not needing to think about it. “He missed our weekly check-in yesterday, and I’ve been trying ever since. I don’t…”

She let the sentence die, unsure what to say—praying she was merely taking up John’s mantle of Overly Worried Loved One. Michael had never missed a check-in before. A few times, he’d called in a day or two early to let her know he was going to be out of contact on the scheduled day. A few others, he’d messaged on the day-of, when Resistance business had unexpectedly popped up and kept him away.

But he’d never missed one completely.

It had been their promise, when he’d gotten it in his thick head to run off and try to save the world from the creatures who’d already destroyed it. Every seven days, he let them know he was safe. Every seven days, Rachel didn’t go and burn the entire city of Newark to the ground, looking for him.

“Probably out on a mission,” John was saying, rubbing at his jaws too hard, and looking like he was trying to convince himself that it was a cause for fatherly pride rather than—or at least in addition to—the nauseating worry. Something didn’t feel right, though. She saw her own fear reflected in John’s eyes.

“There something else?” Rachel asked.

He shook his head. “It’s nothing. I was just thinking that probably explains why no one seems to be able to get ahold of Huxley today, either.”

Rachel frowned, parsing that sentence. “You called the Resistance?”

John might’ve looked sheepish if he hadn’t been so worried. “I had to.”

“And?”

He shook his head again. “And they gave me the usual song and dance. Denied all existence and knowledge of Huxley and Michael and everything else.”

“And you’re assuming they couldn’t get ahold of him because…?”

“Because normally they dance around long enough for someone to go check with Huxley and see if he wants the call or not.”

“And today?”

“They blew me off immediately. And it was like… Well, it felt like things were tense over there. Like maybe I wasn’t the only one looking for them.”

Rachel swallowed, trying to think of something useful to say. She felt like she was watching one of her nightmares unfold in slow motion.

“Maybe I’m just imagining things,” John added, “but I told them my name, hoping they might make the connection to Michael and show some empathy, and the boy I was talking to, well…” He grimaced at the memory. “Well, he just got real quiet and told me to hang on. And the way he said it, it was like…”

Like something terrible had happened, and the comms guy simply wasn’t allowed to say it, least of all to an outsider?

Stop it.

“We’ll give it another day,” Rachel forced herself to say, trying to sound like the voice of reason even as she began assembling the list of supplies and provisions in her head.

“Another day,” John echoed, only partially seeming to have registered the meaning of the words.

One day, Rachel thought, giving him a quick hug and turning to leave. That’d give her time to come up with some kind of game plan. Time for the Spongehead to come through on the comms and admit he’d accidentally slept the day away or something stupid like that. Maybe with a little luck, they’d all be laughing about this by tomorrow afternoon.

But in the meantime, she had a strong gut feeling she might as well pack her bag and see about fixing the bullet-catcher’s enchantment glyphs. Just in case.

***

“I think I should go.” The words left Rachel’s mouth like convicts in flight, the guilty admissions she’d been hanging onto all morning finally spilling out, all at once. “I already packed the car.”

It had been twenty-four hours, and still no word from Michael, or Huxley.

The fact that John didn’t look even remotely surprised by her declaration didn’t make her feel any better.

“I want you to take Smith and Leibowitz,” was all he said.

“John.”

He held her stare evenly, no doubt understanding her reticence, but expecting her to make her case anyway.

“I didn’t just kick the hornet’s nest out there yesterday,” she said. “I lit the damn thing on arcane fire. I’m not taking a single gun hand away from Unity’s defenses.”

She wasn’t even positive she should be going herself, seeing as she could off-handedly think of a few dozen ways her doing so might simply make everything worse—for Michael, for her, and for the people of Unity. But there wasn’t really any choice left.

“I’ll send them in your place, then,” John said, staring out the window. “You can help Myers around here until they report back.”

No choice left except for that one, of course. But it was hardly a choice, if for no other reason than that she knew she wouldn’t be able to sit still for a single minute knowing that Smith and Leibowitz were out there in her stead and trusting that—competent as she knew them to be—they were truly doing everything there was to be done.

They couldn’t see through walls with their minds, after all. Or telepathically extract unadulterated truths from uncooperative sources, if need be. Or rip whoever might’ve touched Michael to shreds with telekinesis.

It had to be her.

“I’m coming with you,” John said, apparently having read as much on her face.

She shook her head sharply. “This place would fall apart in a day without you. I’ll find Michael. I’ll…” She almost said bring him back, but stopped herself short, knowing that wasn’t really her decision, reasonably speaking. Michael was more or less a grown ass man now, after all. “I’ll be in and out, no problem. We can deal with the rest of it once we know he’s safe.”

She waited for John to argue, but he was frozen up over something, looking at her with that mournfully pained expression he sometimes got—like he’d just seen the ghost of her mom flitting across her face.

She should go. The last thing she needed right now was more fuel soaking into the emotional kindling that was already set to burst into flames in her chest at the slightest twitch. She started to turn.

"Goldfish."

She paused, closing her eyes, equal parts wanting and not wanting to hear it.

“She’d be proud of you.”

And there it was. Well-intentioned words making an impressive imitation of a straight gut punch.

“I am too,” John added quickly, understanding the impact full well. “And I… well, thank you.”

Rachel stared through the carpeted floor, idly watching that internal fuel combust, a hundred different emotions spilling across her insides, colliding and twisting up around one another until she was sure her gut would become collateral damage to the display.

“Relax, John,” she forced herself to say, refusing to let that mess waver through to the outside. “It’s not like I’m running off to join the rebellion with the Spongehead. No heroics here. I’ll be back before you know it.” She started to turn again, then stopped herself. “We’ll be back.”

He nodded, and wrapped her in one last crushing hug before she could argue.

Outside, she paused at the quiet alcove at the top of the main stairs and gazed out at the busy crop fields of Unity, wondering how long it might actually be before she saw them again—how many thousands of ways this could all go horribly sideways, and who the hell she thought she was to go strolling away from the last bastion of Unity, through the pillaged lands of the marauders, and straight into the realm that had been marked, “Here be dragons,” on any worthwhile map there’d been since the Catastrophe had struck.

Vampires. Raknoth. Whatever the hell you wanted to call them. Something was out there, lurking in the ashes of New York City, seeing to it humanity wouldn’t go crawling out of the dark ages anytime soon. The very same something Michael had gone to fight. Creatures who, if some of the bat shit psycho ghost stories were to be believed, might just have some telepathic juju of their own.

Maybe she should’ve let Smith and Leibowitz go instead of her. They were better trained. Older. Probably wiser. And most importantly of all, their minds wouldn’t be lit up like goddamn Christmas trees for any unfriendly telepaths in the vicinity.

But the stories were just that. Stories.

This was only her fear talking.

We’ll be back. Her words echoed in her head.

She couldn’t turn away from this. No way in hell.

She still wasn’t sure what she’d actually do once she found Michael, but there wasn’t much point in obsessing over that part yet. First, she'd find her brother. She’d make sure he was okay. And if at that point she ended up needing to bust some skulls, and maybe even drag his stubborn ass home for good measure… well, they’d cross that bridge when they came to it. She was going to protect her brother.

Gods have mercy on anyone who tried to stop her.


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