“No, that’s too obvious,” Gwen scolded as Cantara laid out her plan for the explosives.
The two vehicles were parked in their secret grove out on the Roman Line, several miles from the Donnelly farm. As they unloaded the van, Aiko, Alex, Cantara and Gwen had their heads together and were laying out the plan for the explosives. Helmand and Mrs. Johns were working in the woods, setting up and strengthening their wards to create a haven should they need to wait out the night somewhere close to the farm. From here, they could fend off a determined assault by just about anything, and with all the crystals from the parlour from her farm, they had the material to turn this into a Wiccan grove, sacred ground no demon nor vampyre could cross. Only the possessed would be a threat.
“This is what I want you to do,” Gwen explained. “Once you set the charges and before you head back here, I want you to blow the silo. Nothing else.”
“But -.” Cantara started to protest, and Gwen held up a hand.
“Plant one of the IEDs in front of the old barn, and two in front of the new barn where that monstrosity is,” Gwen continued. “A couple hours later, I want you to return and set off half of the remaining explosives. Leave the hand-thrown stuff for when we go in.”
“Yes,” Cantara objected, “but then they will know we are coming.”
“They already know we are coming,” Gwen sighed exasperatedly. “After two explosions and then nothing, they will be thrown off guard. We’ll keep the shit stirred up until we make our assault. Hopefully, enough of them will think it’s another false alarm to make a difference.”
Aiko nodded and smirked at Cantara. Her student was not the only one who could teach the master a lesson. Gwen was becoming a skilled and able field commander, and it was time for them to recognize that skill. Cantara nodded, accepting the inevitable.
Aiko, Cantara and Alex, because of their special talents, would move in on the farm to plant the explosives. They knew now what and who to avoid. Crystal, Kristen and the Nordic twins would help tote the remaining explosives to a utility shed about a quarter of a mile from the Donnelly farm. The rest would work with Helmand and Mrs. Johns to improve the security of their forward base. Meanwhile, the sappers would carry the explosives in two waves, wiring the silo where most of their enemies hid during the daylight hours first and foremost. The perimeter would be their second priority and only after all the other charges were in place would they set charges in and around the two barns, where the chances of discovery were the highest.
At the utility shed, they parted company. Their knapsacks already packed with the initial load, the three did their separate disappearing acts. Ghost, djinn and vampyre drifted across the fields of corn and canola that surrounded the Donnelly farm. Still daylight, they planned to slip through between the highest concentrations of possessed mortals and meet at the central silo. Aiko frowned as she noticed the hell hounds in among those hiding beneath the trees and decided these areas would be best dealt with by thrown pipe bombs. For the moment, all they could do is stay downwind of these areas and avoid any active patrols.
In the farmyard, two possessed humans patrolled the buildings with hell hounds. Rather than try to avoid them, Aiko decided on her own initiative to take them out. After all, she thought, they only needed ten minutes to finish their work. An open well offered a convenient spot to make the bodies disappear. Materializing for the briefest heartbeat, she threw two stars. The first took a hound in the left eye, the second found its mark in a throat. Before their handlers could look up from their dying hounds, she had disappeared. A moment later, the vampyre reappeared directly behind them, her swords flashing.
Taking a moment to collect her stars, Aiko dragged the first body over to the well. Deadweight was heavier, but despite her slight form, she had a vampyre’s strength. She had not anticipated the noise the body made hitting the water below. Aiko wondered why they had uncovered the well in the first place and peered down. Considerable effort had been taken to pry the heavy cement slab from its top, but even her well-developed ability to see in the dark could discern nothing below its black waters.
She was several minutes late joining the others. Nodding, she indicated she would explain later when they were somewhere where words would not betray them. Doing quick work, the three circled the site planting their explosives. The devices were held in place by a powerful magnet and then activated by flipping the toggle switch. Once active, there was the possibility that a stray cell phone signal would set off the jury-rigged devices. While none of the three carried phones, one never knew what was left in the pocket of a possessed mortal and so they worked maybe a little more quickly than was safe.
Once the silo was ready, they met again by an old tractor. There were several charges they wanted to plant at the front door of the farmhouse. Since Shax would sense either Cantara or Aiko, they had decided that Alex would plant these three IEDs. As a ghost, not enough of her soul was present in this plane for Shax to see her. Like a shadow that flashed past your peripheral vision, gone before you could turn or locate whatever had cast it.
The weight of the devices prevented her from carrying more than one at a time. Bulky, the unit, built into the rim of a truck tire, barely fit in the camping backpacks they were using. In the end, they had tied it to the outer frame, and while easier to carry, it took time to remove. Working with a small, folding shovel, she dug a pit at the base of the front steps. As she worked, she kept one eye glued to the front door and windows. Even though she knew Aiko and Cantara had her back, she was too nervous to focus on her work.
One down and two to go. She was so nervous that if she did not piss herself, she would have a heart attack instead. It felt like the first time they had broken into a house as part of the game – palms sweaty, pulse rapid and erratic, senses hyper-extended. The second IED was half-buried when she heard a creak on the stairs. Ring off, she dove headfirst through the porch and hid beneath.
An old mangy cat padded across the porch. Too fast and wily for the possessed, it continued to hunt the fields around the farm in daylight hours. Alex was tempted to reach up through the porch and pull it down to join her the hard way. She damned near shit herself to death, the little bugger scared her so badly. She was still shaking when she returned for the third and final explosive. If she survived this, she was going to get herself a medal and a chest to pin it on. Maybe even a drink or twenty.
The first part of their mission was complete, and they were running across the cornfield towards the utility shed and their companions. The first thing out of Cantara’s mouth was a demand for Aiko to explain what had taken her so long to join them at the silo.
“I ran into a patrol in the farmyard,” Aiko shrugged. “It seemed wiser to eliminate them and save us the trouble of having to avoid them while we worked.”
Cantara nodded. “You four might as well start back to the van now. Once we plant the last of these, we’ll blow the silo. We’ll be hauling ass.”
Again, they parted company, the three heading back towards the farm for the most delicate part of their mission. There were four clumps of trees where possessed humans lurked, watching the surrounding countryside. Their plan was simple. Aiko would run through the copse of trees, drawing the hellhounds and humans away. Once gone, Alex and Cantara would plant a few surprises. Whether they could this more than twice before they ran out of daylight was a close thing – too close for Cantara’s liking.
Come what may they needed to put the explosives in place around the two barns before the sun extinguished itself on the horizon. Looking up from hiding the last explosive in among the trees, Cantara decided on a change of plans. When they met up again several hundred yards into the cornfield, she shared her concerns over the shortness of time. Quickly they decided to separate. While she travelled on a different plane of existence, the vampyres and demons could not sense her. And now that Aiko had eliminated the patrol inside the farmyard, it was only during those brief moments when she took a corporeal form that she was in danger of discovery.
She, like Alex, would have to make three trips in and out. These buggers were so big and bulky, but if they performed as advertised, it would all be worth it. Perhaps, they would test and prove a new weapon that could be used in the field. Especially if it proved useful against vampyres.
At the front of the new barn, she paused, studying the farmyard and its surroundings before materializing. In the darkness, the freshly turned dirt would not be as visible, and she doubted if what waited inside could see its feet let alone ever had the inclination to do so. One dug in and ready to blow, she made her second transit out to the cornfield where they had stashed the other IEDs. With a djinn’s knack for remembering any spot they had visited, she had no problem locating their cache. But time was running out.
Two together were heavy, and she had difficulty tying both to the frame of her backpack. The extra weight was bending it out of shape, but she would not need the backpacks much longer. In the twilight world between planes, her burden had no weight or form. The only problem was lifting and taking the explosives off her back. To save time and her back, she decided to bury both in front of the door of the old barn, where they could not afford to allow the vampyres to exit unopposed.
She decided to stack them like they did in Afghanistan. That way, she would only have to dig one hole. Already the sun was hanging low on the horizon, only a finger width from touching it, and they had to blow the silo before nightfall if they hoped to catch the possessed mortals still inside. Like a dog that had scented a gopher, she threw dirt up in all directions as she dug her little pit. Nesting the two IEDs inside, she set the pressure plate on the topmost explosive and carefully replaced the dirt.
Aiko stood on a slight rise, watching the farm for any signs of the djinn. She had activated the remote detonator using the sequence Cantara had taught her and stood well within the half-mile range. If the djinn did not show up in the next five minutes, she would blow the silo. The mission was paramount, and its needs superseded those of the individual. Crystal and the others may not like it, but it was a lesson they needed to learn. She was toggling the last switch when the djinn materialized in their midst and dropped to the ground.
The explosion when it came was a controlled implosion. Directed inward from six points along its base, the force of the blast ripped the silo from its foundation. A fireball filled its interior, lifting the metal cylinder twenty feet into the air before the entire inferno toppled over. It burned at their back as the sappers raced away.
Shax was incensed by the explosion. Its force rocked the farmhouse and sent dozens of his followers running in all directions. Upon hearing of the attack that had wiped out half his horde, he killed two others before he got control of himself. He could not afford to lose any more.
“Muster everyone, Shax ordered. “I want everyone outside away from the buildings. Double the number of guards on the perimeter. If a ghost’s fart gets passed them, I will have their heads for breakfast!”
The second explosion punctuated his words. As the sun set, seven vampyres, responding to the commotion outside, were caught in a blast that ripped the door and most of the face of the barn off. Four of them died from their wounds, three others were too damaged to fight anytime soon. In the confusion that followed, Jacob gathered his surviving sons and his daughter and slipped off into the night. Behind them, the survivors raced in all directions, looking for an attacking force that wasn’t there. By morning he and his family would be loaded up in their RVs and heading north. Let fools like Lord Delph stay in this little slice of Hell.
The third and last explosion of the hour came shortly after the doors to the main barn opened. Shax’s blob beast was badly crippled, and two of its handlers were dead.
In their grove of trees several miles away, Gwen was hosting a picnic. Earlier, she had asked Helmand and Mrs. Johns to drive into town and pick up something to eat. None of them had eaten since breakfast, and they would need their strength. The pair had returned with three picnic baskets filled with homemade sandwiches, cold fried chicken, potato salad and all the trimmings. From the van, Gwen produced a dusty bottle and presented it to Aiko.
“It’s from Alvaro,’ Gwen explained. “He says it’s very powerful.”
“Emperor’s blood,” Aiko explained, choking on an alien emotion. No-one had ever given her anything so precious or rare before.
Gwen supposed it was a little messed to sit in the shadowy woods enjoying a picnic while only a few miles away, creatures were dying from the traps she had helped to plan and execute. But what else could they do? They could not leave this place, sheltered by wards that hid their presence, until the second phase of their attack was ready. And mortal soldiers had to eat if they were to have any strength for the battle ahead, so why shouldn’t they enjoy a civilized meal? Mrs. Johns had even brought out plastic plates and forks, and they sat in the dirt beneath the light of several lanterns, enjoying a peaceful evening meal.
As they ate, Gwen couldn’t help but remember that the last time they had all been together like this, Stephaney had been with them. She prayed the little girl was safe from harm and knew they were going into harm’s way to rescue her. Some of those sitting with her might not come back, and for the first time, she was confronted by her own mortality. One of those who did not come back could be her. Death was not a stranger in her life, not even violent death after that night in Upyr. Somehow, tonight was different, and it made her feel as if her childhood had been raped from her life.
“What are you thinking, little sis?” Crystal asked. She had been here many times, on the eve of battle. Maybe not in this life, but in many of her past lives, especially over the past four hundred years.
“That it is time we unleash our second set of surprises,” Gwen replied. “We need to keep knocking them off-balance. When we come, if this works, they will think it’s just another test of their defences.”
“Yes, Captain, my Captain,” Morgana teased.
Only three would go to set off the next round of explosives, Crystal, Aiko and Cantara. For the rest of them, this battle was nothing but waiting and nerves, listening for distant sounds that did not penetrate the glamour that Shax had cast upon the Donnelly farmstead. Eventually, they would have to go in themselves, and while the explosives made an impressive show of lights and sounds, they did little real damage to Shax and his horde. They would not be able to duplicate their initial success, where conditions in the silo – with years of grain dust, its shape and height, and the possessed humans packed like sardines in a tin – created the ideal circumstances to eliminate a large part of the threat they faced. The demons were not dead, merely unable to use the charred remains of the bodies they once inhabited. And that suited Gwen fine.
Crystal led the way across the fields. As the wait stretched out, and her nervousness grew, the pranic energy inside her danced and surged like a caged animal. At the moment, she felt as if she could rip Shax apart with her bare hands, but the rules prevented it. A demon must be slain by a mortal, or his death was only a banishing. If she wanted to complete her cycle of revenge that had chased her through four hundred years, Alex would have to face her enemy with the Wiccan Apotropaic. They said vengeance is a dish best served cold, but, like so many other things, it tasted sweeter hot and bloody.
After standing vigilant for two hours, the horde had begun to drift in from the perimeter, no longer as tense and beginning to relax into a routine of waiting. Gwen’s plan called for blowing the explosives in two of the groves of trees, one on either side – one on the north side of the farm, and a second on the south. These two wood lots held the fewest of their little presents. The largest concentration, and those in the compound itself, would be left for their actual assault. The idea here was to stir up the hornet’s nest, to piss them off and then slip back into the night while they faced yet another false alarm. A game of nerves that they really didn’t have the time to play to its fullest.
They swung wide, crossing the Roman Line about a half-mile out from the farm. In the tall corn, they ran full tilt, not bothering to shed their physical forms. At this point, the horde knew something was coming, but they did not know what or when. The time for stealth was over. Like the North American natives who sang and beat drums throughout the night, the Ghost Sisterhood wanted Shax and his minions to feel like they were under siege. It was a war of nerves where numbers were not as important as the perception of numbers. And with the explosives seeded throughout the compound, only voyeurism would bring them any closer than the half-mile range of their detonators.
Cantara chose a hilltop where an ancient oak stood sentinel over a field of corn and hay. From the branches, each could choose a perch that offered a panoramic view of the farm and the vale it sat in. Beneath the light of the moon, the three supernatural beings could see enough to distinguish the buildings and woods from the surrounding shadows.
“Do you want to do the honours?” Cantara offered.
“With pleasure,” Crystal said, accepting the detonator from Cantara. “Stick this up your butt, Shax, and smoke it.”
At first, nothing happened. A long moment later, an explosion rocked the woods to their left, several trees going up like Roman Candles. It started a chain reaction, a half-dozen explosions rocking the west perimeter of the farm. They were far enough away that there was a delay in the sound wave reaching them, a ripple of noise through the air. In rapid succession, a series of bangs burst in the distance – bang! Bang! Bang! The silence that followed rang loudly in their ears.
In the compound possessed, demons and vampyres raced to the west to defend against an imminent attack. The five twitching bodies hanging from the main barn were inducement enough to throw themselves into the fray. The demons inside were still alive, the bodies they inhabited not so much. The wild garlic woven into each noose would keep them trapped until the bodies rotted completely away. And each and every day of those long decades were a living hell.
For fifteen minutes, the three watched the demon’s host scuttle about like ants beneath a magnifying glass. There had been no deaths from this attack, but several debilitating injuries. They watched as several bodies were carried out of the burning woods. These would be dumped in the corner of one of the barns, where they would heal or not.
Cantara nodded to Aiko. The vampyre took out her remote detonator and flicked it on. The wireless signal it sent out was near miraculous to someone born in medieval Japan and even watching the slow evolution of technology did not take all the wonder out of it. She threw a toggle, an evil grin on her face. Aiko Black Lotus, Storm Goddess.
The woods on the north side were slightly further away. With nothing this far out in the country to interfere with its signal, it tripped a distance relay. The answering explosion was larger than the one Crystal had set off. Its violence sent a large bough sailing across the night to pierce the roof of the farmhouse like a spear. Silence reigned for the better part of a full minute. The smaller pops created more flame and light than sound – an inferno that caught the trees in a holocaust. Elliot’s home-brewed napalm was effective.
“Enough fun,” Cantara decided. “We better leave a few of the buggers for the others, or we’ll never hear the end of it.”
Amidst the demoralized horde Delph and his new advisor met. The toll of wounded was mounting, and while some could still fight, their effectiveness was questionable. Looking at the charred remains of the silo, Delph shuddered. Its metal structure and its shape had turned its insides into a furnace where close to one-hundred and eighty of Shax’s minions had burned to a crisp. Of the forty or so survivors, most were too damaged to move on their own and would soon die. Might as well be dead already.
Delph had heard of these weapons before. He still had cousins in Europe who had witnessed the two world wars. The modern versions of these weapons had lived up to the legend. As he was learning, even a vampyre was vulnerable while waiting for a limb to regenerate, and such injuries took much time and blood to heal. Underground, in their lairs or the sewers, such weapons were suicidal and impractical. Out here in the open, the rules changed drastically. A piece of tree or sliver of barn board through the heart was as deadly as a stake. And when your head was gone, it would turn to dust long before you found its body.
He was not going near any of those woods. “She is out there. I can feel her.”
“Yes,” his advisor responded. “I think this disaster is about lost. Lord Shax chose poorly when he relocated here. Underground would have given us far more advantage.”
“Too true,” Delph muttered. “I had hoped he would have the power to destroy the bitch.”
“We will wait until the real attack comes,” the old vampyre suggested, “and then head that way.”
“Through the fire?” Delph asked skeptically.
“Stands to reason they have already expended all their explosives in that woods,” his advisor shrugged. “And what they have not detonated, the fire would have long since cooked off.”
“And why not that direction?” Delph retorted, although he really didn’t care.
“It’s the closest to the house,” the other vampyre shrugged. “It’s the direction I would lead my main assault group from if I were our enemy.”