Chapter 9. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

Gunshots created a rhythm that rattled through the rainslick trees of a dense jungle. This was punctured with a bassline of monstrous screeches and cracking chitin. It was music to the ears. At least, music for the slightly unhinged type of people who spent a lot of time detached from reality.

Row after row of chitinous horrors the size of bears scrambled forward with mandibles gnashing. Scythe-like claws sliced through the foliage and stingers glinted in the sun. Opposite the horde stood two dozen men and women, their guns cutting down the insects as quickly as they moved forward.

“I wish we were getting PPK for this,” said a young woman at the front of the group. She threw a grenade into the chittering mass and reloaded her machinegun as the ensuing explosion splashed blood and chitin fragments across the trees.

“No kidding,” responded the man beside her. “I could retire on a pay per kill contract of this size.”

“Who’re you kidding? You have no intention of retiring. What would you do with yourself without my company?”

“Sure, peace is overrated, but being knee deep in acidic viscera is hardly my idea of a good time. Maybe I’d start an agency where I can send young idiots off to do the hard work while I reap the awards.”

The woman laughed. Only the smallest fragment of her mind was focused on the conversation though. Several tallies ran through her head, counting down her own bullets, and those of the soldiers around her, with every flash of a gun muzzle. The number of visible terropods occupied another section, as did the distance between them and her team. Then there was the constant knowledge that, less than a mile beyond them, was a defenceless town just waiting to be overwhelmed by the ever-hungry insectoids.

“Birdy, Six, maintain current rate of fire. Esten, you’re on support. The rest of you, initiate melee in three, two, one!”

The majority of the gunfire fell silent in unison. The woman slung her gun onto her back then grabbed a staff that had been stabbed into the earth beside her. She counted to two then swung. The staff connected with an armoured head then flowed in a smooth arc to intercept an incoming attack. All around her, metal met chitin in a vicious clash.

“DD, you in position?” she said into her headset as she ducked beneath a wide swipe.

There was a crackle of static in her ear. “You bet. Target in sight.”

“Good. Tanto, is your squad ready?”

“Hell yeah we are,” answered a woman’s voice. 

“Okay. DD, take the shot. Tanto, give ‘em hell.”

A single shot rang out louder than the others. Seconds passed then a ripple ran through the terropods, slowing their relentless assault. Then a fresh peal of machine gun fire sounded off from behind the creatures.

The woman smiled and pressed her attack. Terropods were a hivemind controlled by a queen. The queen never fought near the front, but for a sniper, that was hardly an issue. Take out their leader and the rest lost their purpose and organisation. Throw in a sudden flanking attack and the battle was as good as won.

“Hey Glory, you about done?” asked a new voice in her ear. She batted away a stinger before replying.

“More or less. What’s up? Bit late to try and make yourself useful now, Ace.”

“Jungles are not the best environment for large helicopters. The local government weren’t too happy with your original plan of napalming a mile wide area of rainforest either. I think that I worked hard offering you guys moral support. But anyway, a call came for you during the battle. It’s something you should probably take a look at.”

Glory scanned the battlefield, her eyes darting through the carnage. “Sure. I’m done here. Six, take over for me. Finish things up quick.”

Her staff flashed an angry red colour and started to make a low whining noise. She stuck her tongue out at it. “Quit your moaning. You’ve had your fun. Surely you want something more challenging than squashing bugs?”

The staff beeped forlornly but the glow faded. It constricted in on itself until it was a quarter of its full size. The woman slid it into a strap on her back then disengaged from the combat and jogged through the thick undergrowth. Up ahead was a large helicopter that sat between the site of the battle and the town as a last wall of defence. A short man with boyish looks stepped out to meet her.

“Ace, how are the sensors?”

“All clear. No more terropods detected.”

“Looks like it’s a job well done then. What’s the message?”

Ace led her into the helicopter. It was a beast of a machine, big enough to carry two squads of soldiers and their equipment. Glory lounged across the co-pilot’s seat while Ace sat at the controls.

“The call was from the English Moot. They have a job for us.”

Glory frowned. “The English Moot? It’s not like them to come to us. They have their own army. Why hire mercenaries unless the job is not strictly legal?”

“Oh, it gets better. You see, they want us to hunt down a bounty. We’re talking crack covered hooker sort of money too.”

“Yet you don’t sound happy about it.”

“Ace started to chew thoughtfully on a pen. “No. The job is for us to hunt down and execute the man known as Déaþscúa.”

“Déaþscúa? I didn’t even know he was back in the UK. Last I heard he had wandered off into the Himalayas. Well fuck me. Are they crazy?”

“It seems he killed one of the prophesied ones. News is spreading fast. Moots around the globe are in a panic.”

Glory closed her eyes. A thousand calculations sped across her brain. She didn’t like any of the answers that she was reaching.

“I don’t like this. If Déaþscúa has done something so reckless then he must be on the warpath. He’ll be expecting repercussions and won’t go down without a fight.”

“You want to skip the job then? There’s a cushy job taking out some rogue mages in China we could do.”

Glory shook her head. “Bollocks to that. We need to get back to England and see what’s going down. I know Déaþscúa and I know the people he’ll rely on. He is dangerous. On the other hand though, I know the English Moot too. There are more cloak and dagger politics going on behind closed doors than I’m comfortable with. I don’t trust them. I need to know which way the wind is blowing.”

Ace nodded. “Understood. We’ll hit the skies as soon as we finish up here.” He paused uncertainly. “Glory, I sure hope we don’t have to fight Déaþscúa. He scares the shit outta me.”

“So he should. Let’s just pray to whichever gods might give a shit that it won’t come to that.”

Previous – Chapter 8.

Next – Chapter 10.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 9. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

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