The voice reverberated through Johns’ helmet, transmitting both disbelief and panic. On his HUD he could see the demons retreating, and Alana’s new allies following. The sparkle of their rifle fire was visible through the magnification of his visor, yet they were also receding as his and Alana’s men regrouped. What did she mean…shit!
Now he saw the pinpoints of approaching light, and their designation scrolled down the right-hand side of his screen.
“Cover!” he roared, scanning the area for any handy defile. There was nothing.
“Here!” The voice was Alana’s. He saw her and the main body of his men move under jet flares towards a nearby hill. The dark circle in the lower part of the stoned valley ahead should be a cave. Grinning in triumph he punched his jets and received nothing in reply. He tried again. Nothing.
“Alana?” his voice was calm, gentle in resignation and only on the Command channel.
“Johns?” she replied, a tremor in her voice.
“Get our people under cover,” he said quietly, “It’s up to you now.”
“Listen to me, Alana,” he continued, his words steady and sure, “my jets are screwed and there is no way I’m going to make it in time.”
“”Two of us will come back for you,” she tried, but there was resignation in her voice.
“You and I both know that would only make two more deaths,” he said, “your job is to get our people into the cave and save them. Find whoever caused this and give them a little message from me.”
Her laugh was brittle and forced.
“Sure, Old Man,” she quipped, “something short and pointed, I think.”
“Get going,” his voice began to waver and he cleared his throat with a mock cough, “let me have some time to find peace with myself, and the man I wronged.”
She understood. They had chosen Viker over their true Lord, and now Johns wanted to right at least that wrong.
“See you on the other side,” she whispered as she closed on the canyon, “I’ll say one for you too.”
Johns watched until the jet flares disappeared before turning to gaze up at the oncoming missiles. They were close now, their engines flaring brightly. None would hit close enough to kill him directly, but they did not need to. His armour was good, just not good enough. He knelt, bowing his head and opening his arms wide as he prayed to his Master.
In the cave, Alana prayed in silent communion with her small band of followers. They asked for forgiveness, hope and strength. The darkness of their eyes changed, a green spark fanning to a flame as they felt the return of their faith. Out on his own, Johns felt more, his lips snarling in recognition of that which he had lost. He shed his gauntlets and flexed fingers that had for too long been encased by loss and disappointment.
As the first missile struck the hillside he thought he felt a response, a touch from far away which returned his unconditional love. With this caress, his shoulders hunched, nails curling into claws and his eyes blazed with lambent flame.
The air near him shimmered as an errant portal opened and he ripped free his helmet sniffing the air from within. He quailed as the stench of rot pervaded his nostrils, then snarled his defiance as the second missile struck. The resulting blast wave picked him up and hurled him forward, straight through the portal and into unconsciousness.
The missiles struck the hill in quick succession, pounding the area last inhabited by Alana and her men. Rock was blasted into dust and the earth shook from the tremendous impacts. When all was quiet again, there remained a single huge crater gouged laterally from the neighbouring hillside and sole stand of rock untouched by the firey destruction. From within its safety walked Alana and her men, dropping to their knees in thanksgiving. It had been a miracle and they knew to who they owed their thanks. Never would they again forget.
As she rose to her feet, Alana initiated her communicator, fruitlessly scanning for Johns amidst the chaotic landscape below. She expected and received no sign of his presence.
Just as she turned to order her men to their feet, her communicator crackled to life and a familiar voice boomed in her ears.
“Alana, my pet, did you miss me…?”
Hers eyes blazed her defiance as she looked skyward, searching the heavens for her enemy. She felt the touch of his mind, but he recoiled as if burnt.
“How?” he asked, caution and fear seasoning his overconfidence.
“Johns showed us the way,” she replied, her armoured wings flicked out from her suit, mirroring the call to battle she felt surging in her blood, “and we stand in the stead of our true Lord. Come look for us at your peril…”