Smoke filled the nostrils of the soldiers. The commander of the troop caught sight of a flame burning brighter than any of the stars in the night. Screams reached their ears and some of the younger soldiers shook with rage? fear? The commander wasn’t sure.
He met the eyes of some of the more grizzled veterans. Their eyes clearly expressed the need to do something to help. The commander considered what he should do. If he rescued the poor people he’d be forced to care for them until they reached some other place for care. If not, he would let innocent people die.
A young blond girl, who was a soldier in training, tugged on his sleeve. “Sir, permission to help civilians?” She looked at him with a steely glint in her eye. The commander turned to another soldier in training. “Do we have enough rations to support a few more people on the way to Old Boston?”
The boy checked the packs of the horse they were using as a pack animal. “We can handle an addition of 4 people for the two day trip.” The commander nodded to him and turned to the fiery young girl, “Let’s make a rescue.”
The commander led his troops quietly around to the front of the house, but on the other side of the street. He noted people outside the house, laughing and gulping down bottles of liquid he highly suspected were liquor. A few of them sported cigarettes and the pale smoke mixed with the more sinister smog rising from the burning building.
Using the standard hand signals, he ordered them in formation around the less than sober men. The soldiers hid themselves in the shadows, the deep blue, almost as dark as black, caused them to blend excellently.
The slightest tip of the commander’s head indicated the beginning of the attack. His troops swarmed out of the blackness, making a riot and looking their fiercest, simply to frighten the nearly incoherent men in the yard.
The soldiers were quick in their mission. Within a few minutes they had all been taken from consciousness and disarmed. “Quickly! Robin, Mailani, Wilfred! Get in there!” the commander barked. The troops charged into the house, which was becoming more and more unstable by the moment.
The younger soldiers began loading the stolen weapons into the horse’s packs and one of the other men turned over an unconscious man. A look of disgust stole across his face and the commander opened his mouth to inquire.
“Narravi soldiers.” He spat, before his commanding officer could ask. “Probably got drunk and decided to have some fun.” He gave the man a good solid kick so he was face down once again, covering the Narravi stripes on his collar. “Pathetic.” He said disdainfully and walked away.
The commander simply stared down at the man face down in the dust. If the soldier’s theory was true, why did he think he could act that way? Did he think that just because he was in the service of the so called ‘government’ he could go on doing this? And what about all these other men, did they think the same way?
Spluttering coughs wrenched his attention away from the men. He looked up to see the three he had sent into the raging inferno emerging with lumpy shapes on their shoulders. Robin and Wilfred both were carrying human forms but Mailani looked as though it was taking all her strength just to get away from the blaze.
The commander gently helped her down from the porch, checking her over for any burns that needed immediate treating. Seeing none, he asked her if she was alright, checking to make sure she hadn’t inhaled too much of the deadly gas.
She shrugged off his questions and helped Robin lower his burden to the ground. They listened to the man’s heart beat which was slow but steady, before moving on to the woman’s. Hers was a must faster tempo, but still within acceptable limits.
Already, the woman’s eyes were beginning to flutter open, and her system began trying to get the poisonous air out of her lungs. She coughed viciously on the grass and Wilfred patted her back consolingly. The commander stooped down to her level and inquired "Are you all right?”
“Been better.” She gasped. He nodded and asked when she had noticed the house had gone up. “I knew it was going up in smoke when those idiots,” she jerked her head in the direction of the men on the ground. “told us to get out or ‘face the consequences’.” She rolled her eyes. “Like they can intimidate me.”
The commander lifted an eyebrow. “Would you care to explain what you mean?” She looked at him almost calculatingly a moment before turning in the direction of her mumbling husband. “John!” she squealed, crawling over to him. His head turned across the grass to look up at his wife’s ash covered face.
“The house?” he asked fearfully. She shook her head. His head rolled back over so that his blue eyes were once again scanning the stars. “Are you alright darling?” his wife asked fearfully. “I’m fine. I always pull through, remember?” she nodded, still looking worried.
“We’ll take you and your husband to Old Boston as soon as you tell us why the Narravi soldiers wanted you out of the house before they set a torch to it.” She shrugged, looking at him. “Anything to get out of Victory, it’s worse than being stranded on an island here!” The commander was shocked at the nearly joking tone in her voice, especially considering that her house was burning behind them.
“Well,” she began. “I was washing dishes after the delicious supper me and John were having. It was spaghetti.” she informed them seriously. “Please continue.” The commander intoned. “I had just finished with the big pot I had made the sauce in when I heard yelling outside. I went and looked out a window and saw that there were a whole bunch of Narravi soldiers standing outside and yelling in the direction of my house.
“I went outside on the porch and asked them what they wanted. The leader came up to me and demanded that we leave the house and come to the capital immediately. He smelled like dirty socks.” She added. “The capital of Massachusetts?” a soldier asked. “No, the capital of the U.S.N.” she replied, no trace of sarcasm in her voice. “Narravi City?” the commander asked. “Once known as Las Vegas, correct.” She acknowledged.
“Anyways, I told them to bugger off. I told them that I was staying here and they couldn’t make me leave. At this point in the conversation, John joined us. The guy who smelled like socks told us that we were under arrest for consorting with the Fighting Lions, you know, that gigantic rebellion against the Narravi government.” “Were you?” Robin asked bluntly.
“No, but no matter how many times I told them that they didn’t believe me. They told me if we didn’t go with them immediately they would burn down the house. John was smart; he said we should probably leave. I told him to shut up because I thought that they would never do that.” “Should have listened to him.” Robin muttered. “Yeah probably."
“But since I didn’t we went back into the house, expecting them to just go away. We were going upstairs to get ready for bed when we smelled smoke. We tried to get out the door but it had been locked from the outside. We opened the window and screamed for help. Last thing I remember is thinking that I couldn’t take much more of the fumes, and then I was outside again.”
The men and women of the troop looked down at the poor slightly burnt woman, and felt extremely sorry for her. She curled up on the cool grass to relieve her hot flesh but kept one eye upon the strangers. “We should take them to the south side of Boston. There are people there who will protect them.” Robin suggested.
“No, too exposed. The government will expect her there first. Any other options?” The commander asked. “The west side?” the young blond suggested. “It’s full of Narravi government people; no one would look for them there!”
“Sorry, but that’s not the option I’m looking for.” The commander told her. “You want to take her to port with us.” One of the grizzled older men of his troop said. It wasn’t an accusation; it was a statement of fact. “Correct. Can anyone tell me why?” the commander inquired.
“We don’t have jurisdiction. Only one of the bigger military leaders may decide what happens to the innocent people that get hurt in our actions.” Wilfred said slowly, coming to a realization. “Very good, boy.” The commander gave him a gruff pat on the shoulder.
“You’re wearing uniforms.” The woman said. The soldiers looked at her sharply. “But not Narravi uniforms.” She said, eyes screwed up against the bright glare from her house. The soldiers began exchanging uneasy glances. “You must be with the Fighting Lions!” she gasped in shock.
“Yes, ma’m, we are. We’re also trying to decide the future of you and your husband, so if you could pipe down, it would be most appreciated.” The commander told her shortly. She looked up at him meekly for a moment before curling up beside her husband’s nearly immobile form.
“We had better go, sir. Those soldiers will be up again soon enough. I know that they’re too drunk to recognize left from right but I don’t want any of them getting an image of us in their heads.” Wilfred told the commander. “Very right.” He agreed.
They loaded the woman and her husband onto the pack horse. Supporting them, were a few soldiers on either side, because they didn’t know whether or not they had gotten all their strength back.
They passed through the slightly disturbing scene of unconscious men laying strewn about the lawn, drinking bottles reflecting the fire light. They then began their laborious trek through the sleeping city.
Near mid-afternoon on the second day, the young blond girl spoke to the commander about the ship they were meeting. “Sir, did you say that we’d be rendezvousing with the Shadow Wolf?” she asked anxiously.
“Yes, Helen, I did.” The commander replied, looking through a pouch for a spare weapon as one of his ‘bright’ soldiers had broken his gun during a training drill. “Well, that’s said to be one of the best ships in our fleet, isn’t it?” she continued eagerly.
“How many pointless questions are you going to ask me?” Helen’s face fell. The commander noticed her sudden silence. He turned and apologized. “I’m sorry child, go on.” She looked tentatively up at the usually stern face of the commander.
“I was wondering whether the Fox would be on that ship?” she asked, shifting her weight from foot to foot. The commander smiled at the naïve young girl. “Didn’t they teach you about the Fighting Lion command structure during training?”
“Yes sir! But… they were quiet on the subject of the Fox. They said that even though he is one of the most powerful beings in the world at this time, what he does has to be ‘hush-hush’. The only thing they told us was that he is supposed to be working undercover near or in Narravi City itself!” her voice had dropped to a whisper in her excitement.
“Listen to me girl,” he began, placing a firm hand on her shoulder. “the reason they don’t tell you anything about the Fox is because they don’t know. The Fox is one of the most hidden people in the Fighting Lions. If everyone knew who he was and what he was doing, what would be the point of him existing? The Narravi would track him down and kill him in an instant. No, it’s better he remains a secret, planning out attacks on the government and being a beacon of hope for us, and the world out there who are frightened to admit they’re terrified of what will happen next.”
Helen nodded, a small look of disappointment in this logic on her face. The commander patted her back and sent her away, “We’ll be back off to Old Boston soon. Get the rest of the troops ready.”
Towards the evening, they had arrived at east Boston, at the docks. A grand ship stood proudly in port, her Narravi flag whipping around in the breeze. The troop turned their collars inside out to reveal hidden Narravi insignia on the inside. They switched their hats to ones bearing the flag of the Narravi flag. “Under cover, you see?” the commander whispered to the moderately recovered John with a wink.
They strode up proudly to the beautiful ship, her prow jutting out over the docks. They took in her massive form and obvious power. Helen was practically shivering with excitement while she looked on at one of the Lion’s best works. It towered over her, leaving her in its shadow cast by the setting sun.
They boarded the magnificent vessel, and stood on the deck, breathing in the salty sea air. The wind whispered gently in their ears, promising that this vessel brought excitement and adventure to the one riding it. They stood stock still for a moment, trying to come to terms with the power and elegance of the ship.
“Oi! No civilians on deck! Take them away immediately!” shouted a loud voice from the wheel. A lean man with stringy gray hair was looking down on them, holding a bucket of polish and not in the least truly angry at them.
“These people aren’t civilians!” the commander shouted back. “They’re here to see the captain! Family relation I believe!” John raised an eyebrow but bit back the comments that sprang to his tongue, knowing this to be an undercover mission. “I’ll send the captain up!”
“No need!” came a muffled voice from behind some crates. A helmeted head popped up. “Captain Oliver Prang! Welcome aboard!” “Good to see you again captain! Just like a family reunion, eh?” called John. “Indeed!” the voice was so muffled that John couldn’t even tell how old the man was.
“I left the orders from command with John here.” he clasped John on the shoulder, sneakily slipping the paper into his shirt. “So, we need not discuss anything!” And with that the commander left the ship.
John stared after him in surprise. He had thought that the troop was going to stay aboard the ship. He shook his head, recollecting himself, and heard the captain calling out to the crew to set sail.
“Hoist anchor! Unfurl those sails! Let’s get out to sea! She misses me!” The captain walked up to the pair of them and said, “Sorry about that, but when we’re undercover there’s not much time for explanation. You played along excellently.”
John extended his hand and said “My name is John, this is my wife Laura.” The woman inclined her head to the captain, not offering her own hand until the captain had shaken John’s. Not even Laura, however, was prepared for what came next.
The captain took off the full head helmet, which had been completely covering the face, and long auburn locks tumbled around her shoulders. Her green eyes were bright and incredibly young. She removed the long baggy overcoat she had been wearing until that point to reveal her luscious form, hugged by protective leather garments.
“Oliver Prang, captain of the Shadow Wolf, commander of the finest naval ship in the Fighting Lion’s resistance. But you can call me Olly.”