fiction, Story Snippet Sharing

Weekend Story Snippet Share – Escape from Enstam – from Redemption

Redemption Collage Brave Jelena

Daegal saw Jelena hesitate in front of the chest. Her rapid breathing and white knuckles on  the dark wood of their escape tugged at his heart, and at his memory. Anton had told him of a time in their training when some of the younger men, fed up with being beaten by Jelena, had taken her and locked her in a cupboard. Anton freed her, thinking she’d be furious but had opened the door to a white faced and trembling young girl. Something happened in her childhood, Anton had gathered; but he’d never asked.

 

Her beautiful face set rigid and harsh with self control. What would it feel like for her to turn to him for comfort? A grin sparked and he pushed it away. It would feel like someone other than his Jelena.

 

“You know”, he said quietly “It’s a very deep chest. Even your long scrawny legs won’t cramp up in there.”

 

She took a breath and turned to face him. Something that might have been gratitude flickered in those big eyes that he saw when he closed his own.

 

“Are you sure your big head will fit though, Daegal? I’m quite concerned about you.”

 

He grinned. ‘I knew you cared, really. Here, let me be the gentleman for once.”

 

He gently peeled her hand from the edge of the chest and stood ready to hand her in. She froze, tension running down her arm and into his.  Muffled complaints from Malinda that her hair had caught on a splinter floated over to them, as did Alaea’s attempts to convince her brother that he wouldn’t fit in there with her and she would be fine without him.

 

He pulled Jelena closer to him and, surprisingly, she let him, “We’re all a bit anxious, but it will be alright.” She nodded stiffly and he stroked her wrist, his heart melting. “I’ll have to go in a minute, rescue Malinda from her hair.”

 

She smiled a bit uncertainly and let him hand her in, her breathing shallow and her legs shaking.

 

“I have to put the lid on now Jelena.” he said, wincing inside at the panic that darted across her face before her control wiped it away. “I’ll be right back after sorting Malinda out so if you decide you need anything or the lid isn’t sitting right just bellow and let me know.”

 

She nodded again, her lips tightly pressed together, and he smiled at her.

 

“That’s my brave girl” he said, and closed the lid on her indignant snort.

 

The tedium of waiting, holed up in a small cramped space, was shot through by constant worry over Jelena and the fear of betrayal.  Despite this, he fell asleep on the wagon trip as the chests bumped and jiggled their way along, waking with a guilty start when they stopped.  He had to fight himself not to just burst out of the chest. When he heard Marius’ voice he heaved a sigh of relief and kicked upwards with his feet until the lid came off. He was greeted with the welcome sight of twilight glinting off soft tendrils of mist winding through dark trees. He heaved himself out and into the forest clearing, wincing as cramp hit his calf, limping in a beeline for the chest he had marked down as Jelena’s.

 

He hauled the lid off and made sure he stood so he hid her from the others. She sat, still and white and quiet, her hands clenched so tightly he’d be surprised if there weren’t nail marks in her palms. A foul smell rose from a puddle of bile in the far corner. She looked up at him through tight wide eyes and his heart stopped at the shame he saw there. He held out his hand and she looked at it, but didn’t take it. He was sure she was trying not to cry.

 

“Come on then, sleepy head,” he said, “I know it’s comfy in there but some of us have work to do, towns to flee, can’t hang around for you all day.”

 

She took a shuddering breath and took his hand, for the second time in a day allowing him to help her. Her legs shook slightly as her feet hit the ground and he held on to her hand, stroking his thumb over her wrist as he made inane comments about the trees and complained a bit about the cramp in his calf while they watched Malinda clamber out, fall onto Tiernan’s neck as he helped her and ask for the privy.

 

Eventually, the trembling in the hand he held stopped and Jelena gently disengaged. She didn’t meet his eyes as she adjusted her vest and tightened her braid. Settling her hand on the pommel of her sword she took a deep breath. He smiled, seeing her poise return. She took a step towards Marius, who was shaking the hand of a large man who bore a strong resemblance to Finn, and then stopped. She didn’t quite glance over her shoulder at him, but he could see the effort it took her and didn’t mind.

 

“Thank you, Daegal.”

 

She walked off, straightening her shoulders and holding her head high and he didn’t think he could have felt this proud or this sad.

fiction, Story Snippet Sharing

Weekend Story Sharing – magic and pain and loss. Malinda tries to help.

fantasy woman in forest

Malinda ran to the top of the hill overlooking the battlefield, her long stole and the tails of her tunic whipping in the wind. Her foot slipped in the gravel but she pushed herself off and scrambled onwards.

 

Alex’s face was all she could see. She would do this for him, and for her brother. Her eyes were dry. She had not been able to weep yet, not even when she had told Alaea what Baelmah had said about Anton’s fate and the other woman had seemed to shatter in front of her eyes. She was right to do this. They wouldn’t let her help, they refused to believe that she could be strong. What use was healing when the dead and dying kept rolling in? It was like a wound. Better to cauterise it at the source than keep trying to mop up the blood. She would take care of Arrik. Burn him out.

 

The hill top gave her a view all around. She could see the armies below, wind carrying the sound of their booted feet and the clash of metal. She fixed her gaze on Arrik’s standard. Malchor she would leave to the others; he was not a good man, but he was not an evil one. She reached inside herself, tapping the energy. She gasped, the power rising in her as it had never done before. It filled her body, her soul, lifting her to a feeling perilously close to omnipotence. She raised her arms to the sky, magic crackling emerald green around them. Casting her eyes back to the soldiers below she narrowed her focus, her jaw clenched. Slowly extending a hand out in front of her she concentrated the flow of energy, feeling it move down towards her fingertips as it did when she used it to heal. But today there would be no healing. Only destruction. The heavens parted with a thunderous clap, shattering the air and reverberating around the cliff tops. Emerald fire erupted from her fingers in a long arc, heading directly towards the centre of Arrik’s massive army.  Not to be outdone, the sky unleashed a raging tempest which swept down on the army, engulfing it in a chaos of storm and wind

 

She could feel the magic rushing through her, and part of her recognised that it was draining her own life force. She could not stop it. She didn’t want to. This man was evil and would create more evil if he was allowed to succeed. He had taken her brother and her friends. The thought of them lying dead or broken on a field somewhere flashed into her mind, adding fury to the energy spilling out of her fingers. She thought she heard a soft voice cry out but ignored it

 

The first burst of fire had wreaked havoc on the army below, but she could see now that it was being turned aside as if there was a shield over the soldiers. She pushed harder, her knees shaking and her eyes and face drawing tight as she put everything she could into breaking that dome. Her breath ripped out of her and still she tried.

 

Distantly she was aware of movement near her, someone calling something. Was it her name? She could no longer hear sounds clearly, the magic filled her mind with a crackling rage. A body hurtled into her side, knocking her hard into the ground. The shock of the impact jarred something inside her and the energy died like a tap had been turned off. The sudden loss of that emerald glow ached like something had been severed and she whimpered

 

A strong arm lifted her into a sitting position and a hand cradled her head. She sobbed as a gentle voice murmured her name. She turned her face towards his white coat and tried to breathe

 

“I couldn’t do it, Ger. I couldn’t stop him” She trembled and gripped the lapels of his coat to try and steady herself. ‘I thought if I just stopped him then it would all be over. I thought it was working but then it stopped, I don’t know why!

 

“Sshh, sweetheart. Just breathe. Be still.

 

She tried to keep talking but he got his hand in between his coat and her mouth and put his hand over her lips

 

“You did something extraordinary, Mali. But the power of the gods is not a weapon to be used lightly or for too long

 

Her gaze fell on his strong hand, pale against her dark skin, calloused against her smoothness. He calmed her. He always did. The pain and the screaming was still there, but it was now deep inside, and she could control it.

 

She took a shuddering breath. “I just wanted to be strong, to help end this stupidity”.

 

His face burrowed into her hair and she felt his lips move against her head. “You are incredibly strong Mali, you are just not a killer.”

 

She let herself soak up the feel of his arms around her. He sat back and regarded her with a little laugh. His hand trembled as it stroked back her hair from her face.

 

“We should go. I need to get you back to the camp and to safety.”

 

He stood and pulled her up to him. She smiled wearily up at him but her brows drew together as his grip tightened and his face clenched.

 

“We need to go now” he said in clipped tones, his eyes like daggers looking over her shoulder down to the soldiers below.

 

Jerking her head around she saw Arrik riding towards the hilly outcrop on which they stood his helmed gaze fixing her in place.

 

“It’s like before” she whispered “He is coming to find me”. She should have known, how could she have been so foolish.

 

Racing down the steep path, hand in hand, feet slipping on the loose gravel, hope bloomed –  they might make it to the other side before Arrik arrived, perhaps throw him off. They turned onto a small plateau and reared back as the sorcerer flew up over the edge, floating with his arms out, riding the wind.  Gerwyn thrust her behind his back and drew his sword. Her heart raced; he was a pretty good swordsman for a churchman and had often trained with Anton, but he was no match for a sorcerer. She could see from the set of his shoulders that he knew it but would die protecting her anyway. Too fast for her to stop him, he ran at their enemy. Hands to her mouth she watched as each man slashed at the other. No fancy spins or footwork, just pure hacking. She could see the strike as it came and reached her hand on a scream.

 

Gerwyn fell on his knees at her feet, blood pouring from a gash in his abdomen. His hand went to the wound, trying to hold in the blood, even as he tried again to stand, to protect her. Arrik laughed and with a flick of power knocked him onto his back. She rushed forward and collapsed to her knees beside him, reaching out to cover his wound, waiting for the magic to come, to heal him. But nothing came. Panic flared in her eyes and she tried harder, pushing until her skin stretched. She felt nothing, not even a flicker.

 

“No! Why won’t it work!”

 

Gerwyn reached out a shaking hand. “It’s alright Mali. It’s alright”

 

Marius’ words flashed into her head The world has more than enough fighters, what we need more of is healers. Kindness. A gentle hand. Don’t try too hard to join the battle; you might lose more than you gain. Her face crumpled and tears spilled out. Now, when it most counted, she couldn’t heal. She held Gerwyn’s hand tight and pressed a kiss to his palm. His eyes widened as he realised what she was going to do.

 

“No, Mali, don’t!”.

 

She shook her head sadly. Picking up his sword, she stood and faced the monster. She would not let him harm this man.

 

The sorcerer pouted at her then flashed his blade in a gleaming arc.

 

“So, little bird, you think to be a falcon. I will have to teach you how to appreciate the falconer’s jesses”.

 

She heard the sound of scoria falling and what sounded like someone scrabbling up the hill face behind her. She bit her lip, sweat beading on her brow. Did she turn to see this new threat or keep her eyes on the bigger one in front of her? Arrik’s frown decided her. If he wasn’t sure what was coming then she would trust it to be better than him. She took advantage of his distraction and lunged clumsily, aiming for his belly. His gaze whipping back to her he easily parried her blow and used her momentum to push her off her feet. She rolled, hoping the long blade wouldn’t cut her, and scrambled to her feet. She shook her hair back, blowing upwards to get the last errant curls out of her eyes. She could see Gerwyn struggling to get to his feet and despair filled her. It was as if history was repeating. She would fall to Arrik and then he would murder her friend. A roar sounded in her ears and a blast of pure white energy shot past her and knocked the sorcerer over. He fell heavily and lay gasping. She turned to see Anton walking from the top of the hill, his black coat flaring behind him and such a fierce glow of power around him that until he smiled at her, demons dancing in his eyes, she wasn’t sure it was her brother. He stopped in front of her and cupped her jaw with his free hand. “I wasn’t too late this time Mali.”

 

Her arm dropped and her lip trembled. “Gerwyn…” her voice broke and she looked to where she had left him struggling to get up. Her eyes widened. Anton’s hand stroked her face as he left her to stalk his prey. “We are all safe. Go and stand with Reinaldo and when they say to leave, you leave, no coming back for me do you hear?”

 

She grabbed his hand. “Be safe then my brother or I shall have to”

 

He gave her a lopsided smile and focused back on his prey, unleashing another bolt of power that flipped Arrik onto his back again. She ran to the little group huddled on the edge. Daegal was wadding what looked like the bandages from Gerwyn’s belt bag onto his wound. His eyes lit as she knelt next to him behind the curtain of Jelena and Reinaldo’s blades.

 

“Here is our healer! Over to you Malinda”

 

The light in his face dimmed as her mouth turned down and her head shook. “I am empty Daegal, I cannot heal”.

 

“Ah.” He frowned. “Then we may have a problem.” Daegal glanced over at where Anton was pounding Arrik with bolt after bolt. Her eyes stayed fixed on Gerwyn’s pale face.

 

She smoothed the hair from his brow and his warm brown eyes smiled at her even as his teeth clenched down on the pain. She could see the effort it took him to speak.

 

“Daegal, I won’t have much longer unless I get to a medic tent”

 

The other man turned and Mali marveled at his ability to keep smiling. “We will have to get you to that tent then my friend. Mali are you strong enough to help me?”.

 

She nodded emphatically.  “What do you need me to do?”

 

He was all speed now, tucking in the wadded bandage and holding Ger’s hand down on it tightly. “We’ll take a shoulder each and head down the scree. Should be easier than coming up.”

 

He paused and looked at Jelena, her back straight and her gaze straight ahead at where Arrik had managed to get to his feet and was flicking invisible bolts at Anton, whose shield was holding but flickering. “Jelena…”

 

“I heard.” She didn’t turn her eyes away but she moved her head slightly towards them. “I will see you back at the city. Look after them, Daegal”.

 

Mali’s eyes flicked to Daegal. He seemed like he wanted to say something more, then he shrugged wryly and knelt down to help her hoist Gerwyn up. They staggered slightly but Ger found his feet and managed to take some of the weight. Not for the first time, Mali found herself cursing her short stature. They headed carefully out on a lopsided lean when Jelena’s voice floated after them.

 

“If you die for real this time Daegal, I will hunt you into the next life and slap you”.

 

She looked across at Daegal in surprise and saw him grinning. Meeting Gerwyn’s eyes she saw a tender amusement behind the pain and, on impulse, leaned to kiss his cheek.

 

*****

from REDEMPTION, old completed first draft, awaiting revisions shortly.

fiction

Photo Story Challenge Fiction – Phoebe and Damon cross worlds

Today’s post is a short fiction for the Photo Story Challenge hosted by @RadinaValova on twitter (Photo: Radina Valova). Her blog is radinavalova.com – check her out!

The rules are to use the photo as a prompt and to begin with the word ‘No’ and end with the word ‘road’. This photo sparked some ideas for my old project, Light Breaks, so I have based it in that world.

****

“No green fields, no tall palaces, no twinkly lights, are you sure this is fairyland?”

Damon flicked a frown at me, his jaw tightening. My heart fluttered and I stretched my legs out, watching the dirt form eddies around my feet. The dried out wood of the stoop caught on my jeans as i leaned away, keeping my hands from reaching out to him.

“I told you before, Phoebe, the word is Fae. And yes, I’m sure we are in Aelfinhame.” Those beautiful dark eyes shimmered with flickers of sliver light – he was becoming less human the further away from the city we got. “Are you never serious?”

My lips curled up even as the burning heat of loss settled deeper into my chest. “Sometimes things are too awful. I can’t cry all the time. Besides, I was being serious.”

It certainly didn’t look like any fairyland I’d ever read about. Bare hills covered with grey scrubby bushes rose steeply behind the dilapidated shack whose stoop we sat on. It reminded me of the new roads built through the valley for the motorway, as if it had been both forgotten and was looming in anticipation. I stopped my legs from jiggling when Damon huffed and shifted away from the echoing judder of the step. I brushed the dirt off my jeans, warm and sun soaked. Could you get sunburned in fairyland?

Damon had become increasingly withdrawn as we’d approached in the car that was now parked out the back of the two broken shells that you could hardly still call buildings. I eyed him sidelong. His glamour was slipping, and he seemed increasingly more real, more solid as we waited.

The dried out step shifted as he stood up and I had to put out a hand to balance myself. I leaned on my hand and gazed up at him, his long black coat hanging from broad shoulders more Matrix-like than Fae. I let myself look, soaking in his strength, the aura of darkness that promised that whatever was about to happen, I wouldn’t be alone.

His eyes met mine. “It’s an entry point.”

I deliberately scanned the vast open nowhere stretching out to the horizon and raised my brows at him. “Why yes, that’s so very obvious.”

A small tug at the corner of his mouth made my pulse jump again.

“We don’t want it to look like a gateway, but I’m guessing if you try you’ll see it.”

Shivers ran down my back. “More spells? You know, I’m still waiting for that wand.”

The step underneath me shuddered as Eru came out of the shack. His rucksack landed next to my feet, and i shook dust off my shoes.

“Do you get wings as well?” he asked.

Damon didn’t roll his eyes at us but it looked as if it was only through great restraint on his part. He turned away instead, his eyes raking the horizon.

“Do I look like I have wings?”

Eru leaned on the post and twinkled down at me “As long as they’re proper ones and not those silly gauze things you wore on Halloween I think you’ll look very much the part.”

Halloween. Ella dressed up as a mini fairy princess and insisting I wear wings too. Tears prickled and I had to swallow the ache that closed my throat. Eru’s face dropped and he sat down to put an arm around my shoulders, pulling me closer in a hug. “I’m sorry, Pheebs. I didn’t think.”

Tears were pointless. I brushed at them and smiled, tight and small but I hoped he realised I meant it. “It’s okay.”

The sun dimmed as Damon loomed in front of me and I blinked up at him. “It isn’t okay, Phoebe but it will be. I promised I’d help you get her back and I intend to keep that promise.”

I nodded, not trusting my voice but attempting another smile.

He stretched out a hand and pulled me up. Eru leaned back, a frown settling on his brow.

Damon wiped a renegade tear from the corner of my eye, the warmth of his touch spreading across my skin, easing my pounding heart a little. “Our doorman approaches. We will get to her, Phoebe. Do not doubt it.”

I could see her face in my mind, happy smile twisting to a mask of fear. I rubbed my chest trying to reduce the pain squeezing my heart.

“Is that your doorman?” Eru’s voice cut through the visions in my mind and I followed his gaze to where a small person, all hair and big coat, was approaching out of the sparse wasteland.

Damon squeezed my shoulder and stepped away. “Yes. Brychan has been doorman here for as long as I can remember, but I suspect for longer still.”

Stretching out behind the doorman the horizon shimmered, a darkly shaded path appearing behind him as he shuffled ever closer.

I flicked my eyes to Damon who was looking not at the darkness opening in the middle of the sun drenched plain, but at me.

“There it is Phoebe. The way to Aelfinhame and the way to your daughter. We will pass from one world to the next through the shadows of the Darkening Road.”

fiction, Tuesday Trying

Tuesday Trying – A Rose by Any Other Name

rose tanalee-youngblood-341674
Photograph by Tanalee Youngblood, sourced from Unsplash

This week’s Tuesday Trying i decided to use a rose (at the suggestion of a friend) and there was something about this photograph, by Tanalee Youngblood, that spoke to me. So the rules for today are to mention the roses, and to focus on description through emotional response (which was the topic of a writerly discussion I followed today). It’s a short one, but I quite like it. Hope you enjoy.

_______________

The room was too small to pace properly in. White walls tried for a chill calm but only served to scrape nails down her nerves.

 

He should have been back by now.

 

She wiped her palms on her pants and then shook them, a frown twisting her brow. Habit. She’d not sweated in over a century. Her jaw clenched, fangs pushing against her lips in a harsh reminder. She took a breath. Another habit. Marching across the room, heels clicking on cold tomblike marble, she threw herself on to the sofa.

 

Time pulsed on, counted in heartbeats. She could hear them when she listened.

 

Her fingers crept out and traced over that awful gold edging that she’d raised her brows at and he’d simply shrugged and laughed, the joy of it a bright sound that shooed away her doubts. The scarlet of her nails trailed like blood across the white fabric and she curled them back under her hands.

 

There had been so much blood that last time.

 

No. Think of his laugh instead. That was better.

 

Her eyes dragged, unwillingly, trepidation in every blink, to the roses in the ceramic pot by the back window. The dusky pink was the only colour apart from her deep raven black. She stood out against the white, a challenge, a statement. Take me as I am, damn it. And he had.

 

Petals dropped. They didn’t fall fast, and they didn’t fall together. Every so often, in time with the heartbeat that she heard in her waking dreams, one would tear itself away, breaking, giving up, forsaking.  Her eyes fixed unblinkingly on a petal as it floated, ruffled and brown at the edges, dying, down to join the rest of them on the floor.

 

He should be back by now.

 

 

 

 

 

fiction, Tuesday Trying

Tuesday Trying – Espionage on the Esplanade

IMG_2094

 

Earlier this week a writing friend on Twitter posted a challenge – to write a scene based on a photograph of a woman at a station she put up. The only requirement was to use the name of the city (whatever city you chose). It was hard and fun so I thought I’d give myself a similar challenge with one of my own photos. I chose this one because as I was scrolling through I liked the city and the fence which gives me a more modern setting than the last Tuesday Trying. I wanted to avoid a heartbreak scene that I initially thought of when I saw the locks because I feel I’ve done that a lot. My requirement – a phone must be mentioned.

so, here we go.

___________________________________

Late afternoon sunlight reflected off the padlocks, scattered on the fence in a local attempt to recreate the famous lovers locks of Paris. The harbour was busy, as it always was, and the daytime families and sightseers were making way for the evening dates and out of town businessmen in the restaurants that lined the viaduct. Ella watched the water rather than the people. As the sun dropped further behind the buildings of the city behind her, the ripples on the ocean reflected the stark lights of the industrial boats. It was a far cry from the marina further along the waterfront, with its multimillion dollar yachts and sleek technology.

 

She arched her back a little, trying to stretch out her neck, then had to tuck her scarf back into her coat. Her other hand was in her pocket, resting on her phone, waiting for a telltale vibration. As she waited, she walked slowly past the fence. It was natural that she should look at the padlocks but although she scanned each one carefully with needle focus, she was confident any onlooker would see only a lone woman killing time.

 

A bronze padlock no different from the others except for the inscription, Logan ❤ Leilani, and a tiny series of cuts in the base sat nestled next to two other locks. She saw it at the same time as her phone vibrated and the coincidence nearly made her jump. Her fingers found the accept call button and she pushed it but left the phone in her pocket. Everything would be transmitted from this point.  She strolled a few more paces on and turned to lean on the railing, face out to the water but eyes sliding to her left and along to where a blue van had just pulled up in the five minute loading zone.

 

Irritation was a bitter taste in her mouth. Max never let her do things her own way.  It soured into anger as he got out of the van, long legs in shabby jeans with a checked fleece like some kind of hipster pretend lumberjack. He turned and ducked back into the van and emerged holding a rucksack. Oh good. Nice and subtle. Idiot.  She flicked her eyes back over the water. He leaned on the railings just the right distance away – not so far that they couldn’t talk, but not so close to cause suspicion. She didn’t know why that irritated her more.

 

“I found it. Just where he said it would be.” Her voice was quiet but carried.

 

Max had taken out a muffin and was alternating between chewing and flicking bits of muffin into the water for the seagulls below.

 

“You shouldn’t do that, you know. Cake isn’t good for birds.”

 

“It isn’t a cake, it’s a muffin”. His voice was muffled by the food in his mouth but the deep growl flicked her heartbeat into a skip that she ignored the way she always did.

 

“It’s the same thing. It’s just smaller.” She shook herself. “Anyway. That’s not important. It’s here.”

 

He finished the last of the muffin and wiped the crumbs off his fingers, licking chocolate from one lean finger as he grinned at her.

 

“You’re not being very subtle, Max.”

 

“On the contrary, Ella, I’m establishing a very good cover.”

 

She rolled her eyes at him and pushed off the railing. “Whatever. I’m going to retrieve it. You do whatever it is you thought was so important you had to get out of the van.”

 

“I told you, Ella. Cover.”

 

The tone of his voice was different, or maybe that was just the lack of muffin. She flicked her gaze past him as she turned away and noted the tension in the broad shoulders beneath that ridiculous fleece and the way his jaw clenched. Her own shoulders tightened and she tried to consciously relax them as she walked. Tracing her fingers over the railing and the stiff wire fence she stopped next to Logan’s padlock. She pulled out her phone as if she had just received a text and shifted slightly so that the camera at the back of the phone was centred right over the markings on the base of the lock.

 

She’d practiced in the mirror, trying to get the right level of stillness. People reading and answering texts didn’t actually move a lot, but they weren’t completely motionless. Her hand lightly brushed non existent hair off her face and she itched her nose as her hand came down. It was unlikely than anyone in this bustling viaduct was here for the lock and what it held inside it, but better safe than sorry.

 

“Ella”, Max’s voice was closer than it should have been, and more urgent. She looked up with a startled frown as he appeared at her shoulder, dark hair flopping incongruously in front of eyes that now showed the man beneath the flippancy. These were the eyes of a killer. A protector. “They’re here. We got to go.”

 

She kept her phone over the lock. “It isn’t finished. I need another minute for the upload to complete, maybe less if we’re lucky.”

 

His eyes bored into hers and his hand gripped her arm for a moment. “The keys are in the central panel in the van. If you have to, you get to it and you go. You don’t wait for me. Understood?”

 

She bit her lip on her protestations and simply nodded. The data was the important thing. They were expendable.

 

She watched Max walk towards the men in black who were stalking towards them like panthers watching their prey. He palmed his knife and his other hand went to his hip, under his fleece. Willing the upload to finish she stared at the screen, counting the numbers, 89%…91%…82% fuck! Screams erupted from behind her as something went crashing into a table. Hopefully they stayed away from guns as much as possible. She thought fleetingly of the little children who had galloped gleefully along the wharf not so long ago and knew a fierce kind of satisfaction that she’d held out for doing this later in the day. The casualties would be minimal. She damped down the desperation that flooded her. That was what she would tell herself anyway.

 

Gunfire erupted and she hunched her shoulders but kept her hand steady over the lock. 99%…. come on, come on. Yes! Upload complete. She debated for a second whether to turn off the transmission and then decided to leave it on. They should know, the men sitting in the tall towers behind closed doors, just what it took to get them their prize.

 

Her head up she looked to where the empty seats and closed doors of the restaurants meant that most of the patrons had taken shelter inside. Max was locked in hand to hand combat with two men, three others lay on the ground. He was probably all right. Her fingers played over the phone. There was more in the device that they would want but they had what they needed, her job was done. Max took a blow to the face and staggered back, the man in front of him pulled out a knife, tossing it lightly from hand to hand. She began to run. Not to the van. But to him.

 

They both knew they were expendable. But he wasn’t expendable to her.