A Rude Awakening
Leary awoke to an explosion.
It would take a usual man in a usual situation a few seconds to get re-acclimated to reality. To remember who he was and process that there had been an explosion in the first place, let alone to work out why and the immediate danger it meant. And while Leary was a usual man, he was not in a usual situation.
The feeling of the cold steel and hard wood of his pistol in his hand, under his pillow, triggered an immediate and accurate situational awareness.
The French were invading.
The door blasted open.
He sat up and aimed his pistol but the mage who was stepping inside, following the door, was already aiming the staff at him. This meant there were two of them, the other had blasted the door.
A dark cloak provided a recognizable silhouette Leary assigned to his hated foes, even with eyes as groggy as the mind was blurry.
Something bright flew straight at his face. A fire spell. In his grogginess, he couldn’t make the split-second decision to either to jump aside or pull the trigger and so ended up dying without doing either.
Sorcha rose up from his side and jumped away from the fireball, realizing too late it had been fired at her husband and not her.
The mage entered the room and strafed to the side to catch sight of her around the bed, but she also had been sleeping with a pistol under the pillows. The barrel was as long as her forearm and had a twin right next to it. She didn’t have time to steady the darn thing correctly which made it so pulling the trigger kicked her arm into elbowing the cabinet behind her: she had leaned against it, even if sitting down, to help stabilize her aim.
The mage was shot back in mid-sentence, which interrupted his casting. His back burst bloody bits at the wall behind him, his body slamming into it the second after. It rebounded onto the floor.
Another mage stepped through the entrance and fired a fire spell. She was no longer caught by surprise, however, and intercepted the spell by throwing her pillow at it. She shot through the fur and feathers that were burst and burnt, the high-speed bullet spread expelling the mage out the door.
Her breathing was out of control as she anticipated more action. No other casters stepped in. The noise outside, however, was all but chaotic. It sounded like war.
Adrenaline poured through her body, her vision sharpening almost as fast as her mind as she reflexively opened the drawer on the cabinet she had leaned against to retrieve more shells for the pistol. She did not stop watching the door.
Then the first moment of consciousness popped up in her memory like a slap.
She abruptly stood up and glanced to find the burnt head of her friend, lover, and lifetime companion. The skin had been burnt away, as had the eyes, and the flesh was cooked almost to the bone.
Immediately, desperation gave her slight denial – it can’t be him – but the sleeping clothes were right, and he was lying next to where she had been, in their bed. That was Leary, her husband. And he was dead.
She frowned, staring at the entrance, trying to keep down the tears. Screams and explosions pretty much made up the ambient outside her house. She focused on that, some sort of battle was definitely upon them so the last thing she could do was break down.
Soldiers were taught to deal with grief outside of the fight if they have to, instead letting the rage pour in, to use it. She had been taught to make it a choice.
Sorcha looked to the side at the dead mage, his spattered blood dripping down the wall and painting behind him. Her face darkened.
“I’ll avenge you, love.”
She wasn’t dressed for battle. Her red hair was messy and loose around her head, she shook it to clear it out of her eyes. She was wearing socks, a thin-layered full-sleeved shirt, and shorts, both white.
Her daughter had equipment in her room, she would have to risk that it fit her.
Sorcha marched past the first mage she had killed, looking at the painting that had been behind him. It was of her family, from a few years back. It was punctured and splattered in blood, utterly ruined save only for Leary’s father, who had been left untouched, with one of the three smiles she had ever seen him make.
“Bloody bastards.” She jogged out of the room, her pistol now fully reloaded.
They lived in a two-floored building. Sorcha, her husband, and her eldest daughter with her boyfriend, who would be contending with any other mages sent to the house.
Mages always raided in pairs as opposed to squads, but in a large confrontation, anything was possible.
She led her movement with her pistol, cocked and loaded, hoping to see mage show up so she could kill him. She was trying to focus on that instead of focusing on her dead husband.
The sounds of war raged continuously outside. On and on.
She jumped down from the balcony into a front roll, to mitigate the force of the fall, and ran towards her daughter’s bedroom. As she entered the corridor, she was met with another mage. The cloak was dark red, and the woman was leaning on the wall as bullets rained from inside. She took aim while running so the mage would notice her too late.
Her body flew back as two high-caliber bullets hit her in the chest, unable to lift up a shield in time. The bullets would have pierced the shield anyway, usually, but it was still fortunate.
“What was that?” It was the eloquent accent of her son-in-law that asked the question.
He hailed from what had been the capital nation of their empire, England. She had always considered the accent to sound cowardly and pompous but the boy had guts such that she had only witnessed in her husband. That had helped her tolerate the accent.
That was her daughter, born and raised in that house. She was extremely relieved to hear both voices were there and lacking painful tones. She showed up at the door with a warning yell.
“’Tis me, Gittan, Don’t fire!” Gittan meant powerful and strong, which was what her parents had wished her daughter to become.
And she had.
Sorcha found them standing at each side of their bed. A closet thrown haphazardly on top of it, having been pushed to fall over, was serving as cover for both of them. It was frozen at parts, busted at others.
Her daughter looked a lot like her father, especially with her dark hair cut short as it was and with a light array of pimples around her forehead, even if those hazel eyes were hers.
“The bloody hell is going on?” To his credit, the boy was already pushing the closet over so they could access its contents.
He grunted, his oversized arms doing the job well enough. He was blonde with fair skin and a lean face, wearing the kind of body you would never expect to be good at accomplishing arduous physical feats. The boy wanted to, however, and worked hard to be able.
John was his name. After the apostle.
“What ye father said would happen,” she complained at her daughter, “but those ministers are just too deaf of ears, aren't they? Deaf of ears and hard of head. I swear, they just show more and more, day by day, how stupid they really are!”
She took a breath, recognizing she was channeling frustration stemming from her loss. Gittan helped by moving the subject along.
“It’s really an invasion, then? Bugger me.” The closet thumped around, and Gittan flung open the doors.
“I’d say it sure sounds like one out there, right?” She gestured at the noise outside.
“Och, could be just a raid or somethin’?” Her daughter offered, in the same heavy and coastal accent that she was most used to. Meanwhile, she pulled out a bundle of clothes, soldier uniforms. “Here ye go.”
“I’m still in love with your optimism, Gittan,” he said, putting on some track pants “but I’m definitely inclined to agree with mother. We should rush to the armory before more of these bastards show up.”
“Don’t call me mother, John, it makes it sound like I’m old.” She was hardly out of her forties, after all. He smirked in response.
Gittan threw some boots at her, another pair of track pants and a padded vest. It was padded with iron inside rubber patches.
“Only the vest will fit ye, mum.”
Gittan did not enquire about Leary, her father. Neither did John. They didn’t have to, but until they did, they could keep it out of their minds. That was fair enough, she could understand.
They headed to the armory and reached it unchallenged. It worried her that the sound of battle wasn’t subsiding but growing stronger instead. It meant that, as the forces of Belfast were awaking to the fight, it was only getting worse. That only made it all the more certain they were dealing with a proper military engagement and not simply a raid.
They arrived at the armory, turned the two levers at the same time with the same secret motion, thereby opening it. Inside were the jetpacks they needed, as well as a messenger pigeon.
The messenger birds landed on a roof, flying into a cage that was built to fit only one bird and always ready with food inside to reward new arrivals. It would then clamp shut, revealing it was a cage, and be pulled down by a pulley mechanism. The silent alarm was probably still active up in her bedroom…alongside her dead husband.
“The Arcane forces of Napoleon are upon us,” she read out loud, “the port is taken, and the city will follow if we so allow! Regroup at the castles or at your nearest point of operations immediately!”
“Well that sure sounds urgent, doesn’t it?” Gittan handed her a jet-pack.
Sorcha frowned at it, she didn’t like the things at all.
Jetpacks were roughly two years old and not very battle-proven. And they were known to fail the rider, susceptible as they were to malfunctioning for the slightest of reasons. Just the way it was thrown across the air at her, the mechanical looseness of its sound and feel as it hit her her arms, it all worried her.
“We should use the horses,” she suggested.
“Horses?” John’s voice took on this high pitched intoned manifestation of surprise Sorcha really hated.
“C’mom, mum. I know how you feel about them, but we’d never get anywhere with horses. I mean, they’ve already reached this far, haven’t they?”
“It will be alright, Sorcha,” John told her in an attempt to sound encouraging.
She winced at the terrible pronunciation of her name.
“That’s not how you say my name, boy.”
“Better I call you mother?”
She glanced sideways at him, a surprising feat seeing as he was standing right in front of her. It made him look away, seemingly just to focus on putting on the jetpack.
“So which castle do we fly to?” Gittan made the question, again moving things along from the stagnation Sorcha had allowed to creep in.
“Stormont, of course,” she replied, “that’s where the ministers will be.”