B1 — 23. Retreat

Maria’s POV 1/1


Maria ran back down the street, following the kids; jaw locked, she glanced back as Rachel prepared to face Conner.  I can’t believe how weak I am!

Turning back, she yelled, “Hey, kids, turn left!”

The kids shifted directions in the middle of the street, running down Collins Avenue; the bright lights of the lamp-posts, abandoned cars, and stores brightened the night for the children to see.  The glow illuminated the palm trees and brush that lined the sidewalk. However, she could sense the kids’ strength failing. Crap … they can’t run that long.

“Stop!”  She clicked her tongue with annoyance as the kids slowed to a halt, breathing heavily as they stared at her blankly.  Mental Lock … I don’t have the energy to remove all of them.

Taking a deep breath, she ran a hand through her hair and wiped away the sweat that beat down her brow.  What’s up with my healing…

Her thought was silenced as the loud screech of bending metal penetrated the quiet atmosphere; she could faintly hear Conner and Rachel speaking as the sound faded.  

“Tch … made me search the entire thing.”  He paused for a moment. “Well, well, well, you’re a lot more durable than I thought.  Just look at you!”

Rachel’s response was quick.  “I’m the one that’s shocked. What kind of Mythickin or ability user are you?  I haven’t…” We’re still too close.  We need to get at least around the next corner.  If I can hear them, then the kids are still in danger.

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Breathing in deeply, she puffed it out, looking ahead at a long row of palm trees, lining a parking lot.  “Okay, let’s go, kids! See those trees up there? Around the next street? Behind the trees, go!”

The kids didn’t hesitate, the effects of Mental Lock making them completely submissive; their hearts pumped frantically as they ran as fast as they could.  Some of the older kids quickly outpaced the younger. Maria picked up a small girl as she lagged behind, panting harshly with sweat beating down her brow. How could someone do this to kids?  Freaking locking their brains to completely follow orders…

She hissed air through her teeth as a stitch broke in her side, but she powered through.  Crap!  I should have told Rachel … wait, she should be able to hear me if she’s listening, right?  She might be too focused on that guy though … I think she said something about that. Whatever!

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“Rachel!  They can lock your brain with some kind of Mental Lock thing, or some crap.”  She switched to Spanish with frustration. “These freaking … where the heck did Marcus find that man?”  He just picked up a freaking steel shipping crate like it was an everyday deadlift.  Can Rachel even handle that? I was able to heal her fatigue and bruising, but…

Reaching 4th Street, Maria ordered the kids to stop.  They slowed at the corner, but she ushered them to walk a little further to keep out of sight, behind the brush and trees.  She moved to a Corvette that was parked in the first available lot along the side of the road, set down the girl against its side, and sagged against the hood, draping across it.  The trees lining the outer edge of the lot blocked the view from Collins and 5th. We need a break!

Closing her eyes, she pressed her right hand against her chest, slowing her breath.  “Aye—that’s right, kids—we’re taking a small breather—got it?” They responded by sitting on the sidewalk.  I feel worse and worse as I use these abilities.  Is my energy linked to my life … freak… The knowledge hit her like a ton of bricks.  Freaking hate this stupid knowledge giving donkey!  I’m just like the Fairy … crap. This is messed-up! I should be storming in with the girls and wrecking fools, but instead…

Opening her eyes, she glared up at the four-story beige building across the street, scratching at her eyebrow.  Why was I made a healer?  Huh? Now you’re silent … freak—I want to punch something, but…  She sighed.  It’s nice being able to take care of people.  Why can’t I do both?

She tilted her head to look at a young boy, no older than eight; a small smile lit her lips.  I guess it’s okay being a healer.  I can help kids. She frowned as their Mental Lock status tickled her mind again.  I know, dang it—you freaking … can I enjoy one minute?  Seriously … you don’t have to keep reminding me! I know it’s bad.

Maria shifted against the hood, hair bunching around her back.  “And I freaking hate this long hair you gave me!” She muttered, flipping it out to fan across the hood.  Of course, Unicorns cut their hair and it just instantly grows back … freaking rainbow lights—using my energy while it’s at it too.  More Unicorn bullcrap…

Glancing up, Maria watched the children stare at her, awaiting orders.  Crap—I shouldn’t be talking like this in front of them.  Dang it, Maria—don’t be crude! Who the heck did this to them anyway?  If they did this to all the children … if it takes this much energy to dispel it, then how strong is the caster?

She growled before sitting up and readjusted her sports bra and pants.  Breathing out, she pursed her lips. “Okay—should I dispel some of you or not?”  She mumbled. “I don’t have enough energy to do all of…” She scratched her scalp with a groan.  “What if you all get super scared and run off or break down in tears and drop to your butts?” She clicked her tongue.  “That wouldn’t be good—naa, think it’ll be good to figure out how to release you when we get to that military outpost.”

Debating it a few more seconds, she grudgingly made up her mind.  “Alright, we’re going to walk down the street. Let’s—wait,” she turned to some of the cars lining the road.  It’s clear enough to weave around traffic.  Smiling, she motioned to the kids, “Follow me!”

Tailing behind her, they stopped at a large twelve-seat van that had struck a car; the front was slightly damaged but seemed workable.  Glad South Beach is such a tourist walk trap!  There aren’t that many cars blocking traffic. She saw a place where they’d probably have to ram a vehicle to squeeze past, but it seemed doable.

The kids stood around her as she opened the driver’s door.  “Let’s see … crap.” The keys weren’t inside. She pulled her hair over her chest before pulling the seat back to lay down on the mat.  Yanking the steering case off with a little effort, she tossed it out. At least The Oscillation made me a lot stronger than I used to be … Rachel and that other guy are monsters though.  Whatever … I can heal lost appendages … I didn’t even know that word until today…

Finding the plastic wiring harness and battery wires, she worked at it until they were all exposed, tossing the plastic harness out with the steering case.  “Seems right!” She tested a few of the wires with one of the black battery feeds, trying to find the ignition wire. Finding it, the van roared to life. “That’s it!”

“Hurry!”  Maria snapped, pointing at the back as she ducked out, opening the sliding door for the kids.  It was only a twelve seater, but the fifteen kids managed to cram in; she noticed there were a few blankets and pillows inside.  After shutting the back door, Maria licked her lips, climbed into the driver’s seat. If we hit those cars, then they could hit their heads against each other or bite their tongues…

“Hey, buckle up, and put those blankets and pillows around your heads, cover your heads like this—with your arms.”  The kids followed her instructions without question. Wow, the Mental Lock is making this a lot easier … still wrong!

Taking a deep breath, she shut the door and reversed before throwing it in drive and maneuvering around the cars.  What am I, a soccer mom?  The grannies would be laughing their teeth out … Chino better be taking care of them.

She tensed as a loud boom sounded behind them, making her arm twitch; her slight jerk almost causing them to hit a car to their left.  Freak!  She shifted to get a better look in the mirror, but she couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.  The heck was that noise?  They throwing trucks through buildings?  Crap… 

Refocusing on the road, she swallowed nervously.  The road only had two lanes with room enough on both sides to park cars along marked locations.  Healthy green shrubs, palm trees, and glowing lanterns dotted the rusted red colored sidewalk. Maria took a reassuring breath as they approached the cars blocking the road.  She braced as they moved to ram the tail end of a blue sedan. “Alright, lock your jaws, and arms up, protect your heads!”

They rammed it, breaking past; the front right side of the van crunched as the jolt shot through Maria’s body.  She let go of her pent up breath as they continued down the road, suddenly glad the airbags didn’t go off; she sensed the slight bruising a few of the kids received from their seatbelts, but overall they were unphased.  Is Rachel still fighting him?  If he can wear her down…

Her brow furrowed as she saw movement ahead.  There was a massive flood of people exiting buildings and moving through a large green field to her left.  To her right was a large beige building with brick on the first level and stucco on the upper three, a few officers were running along the sidewalk the way she’d come.  I guess the evacuation is happening.

Maria sighed as she examined all the people exiting through a break in the chain link fence, briskly walking the same direction to get out of Miami Beach; there were Beastkin, humans, and the occasional oddity.  She noticed a person with angel wings, but Maria discounted it as they could have been a normal bird-type Beastkin. There were a few demon-looking people, and even some that she could only describe as elves, ogres, orcs, and small goblin-like people that peppered the small groups among the throng; it was clear that many of the humans were giving the changed a wide berth.  Those that were changed looked even more scared than the human shaped people around them.

She examined the ogres; there were two male and one female shaped figures in sight.  The female seemed between the height of the males, at least nine feet tall. Their skin around the outside of their arms and back was seafoam green, textured like leather that faded to a light gray around their visible chest and thighs.  The muscle they showed was impressive, enough to not be bulky, they looked like formidable brawlers. They had two tusks protruding from their large mouths, causing their large lips to bulge. They wore curtains and blankets that seemed to be sewn together.

Maria couldn’t help but lick her lips.  Interesting, there certainly are a lot more people changed than I thought.  The ogres are really big; they must be between eight and ten feet tall—the true wonder is how Terrell was able to contain all of this, but … there’s Conner and that magic user.  It could be … what was her name? Relica, I think?

She spotted one of the SEALs; stopping the van, she jumped out and ran at him.  It took him a moment to spot her, but he darted over as soon as he noticed. “Hey!  You’re not glowing as bright as you were, and you look—are those kids in the van?”

“Yeah,” Maria rubbed her eyes, fatigue starting to sink in as she found help.  “Rachel’s—the one with the hare ears,” she gestured. “She’s fighting some crazy dude back at the hotel—down the street.”  She panted. Freakin energy!  There’s no way I can heal the kids like this.

The man patiently waited for her to catch her breath and continue.  “We got all the kids—I think. I don’t know about inside the building, or what the Vampire or Fairy are doing, but they should have at least saved the kids being held by the snipers.” 

Maria turned to the captain as he exited the crowd.  “Hey! What’s going on? We heard the tank go off!” The previous SEAL stepped back as the captain moved to face her.

She breathed a heavy sigh, running her left hand through her hair, scratching her scalp.  “Well—yeah, they shot it, but they couldn’t reload it in time. The girl with the hare ears ripped it in two, and killed all the men holding the kids hostage.”

He looked inside the van.  “There should be a lot more kids than this…”

Nodding, Maria pressed her hands against the back of her neck, pulling down to stretch.  “Ack, I’ll update you, but I’d rather say it once. Should I talk to your boss or something?”

The captain sucked on his lower lip for a moment before sucking in, popping his tongue.  “Is there anything pressing?”

Maria frowned as she turned to examine the kids; they seemed lifeless, devoid of emotion.  “There’s someone that can cause Mental Lock on their side; from what I know, it’s a magical type mental spell under the control category, a charm.”

“What does that mean?”  The captain muttered, staring at the kids’ passive features.

“Tch,” Maria scratched behind her ear.  “Heck, I don’t understand it all—that’s just random knowledge that fills my head—I know what’s wrong with people, and they’ve been charmed to obey whatever they’re told.  It’s powerful crap; I’m too drained to dispel it—maybe half, but—then I think I’d be on death’s door.”

He breathed through his teeth, hands on his hips.  “You’re right, I think I’d be best to get all the facts.  Give me a moment, then you can give me the story. I’ll give your report to my superiors.”  Pulling out a walkie-talkie, he activated it. “This is Jerry; I want Max and Donner on 4th and Jefferson.  Over.”

“Copy.  Max; ETA three minutes.  Over.”

“Copy.  Donner; ETA one minute.  Over.”

“Copy.  Out.” Jerry breathed deeply, scanning the crowd, he watched the volunteers and law enforcement direct traffic.  Shifting his rifle around his shoulder, he activated his radio again. “Report in.”

“Falcon; with Bluebird, still looking for visual on tango.  Last reported location just outside vantage. A family running down 5th; no observable hostile movement.  Requesting a change of scenery. Over.”

Jerry hummed.  “Affirmative. Out.”

“Jolo; with Tecker, escorting spearhead to hive, passing MacArthur Causeway.  Out.”

“Keven; holding down ground with Oliver on 5th and Michigan.  No hostiles noted; awaiting anvil. Out.”

“Vinny; with Honey, holding down Lenox and 7th.  No movement. Out.”

“Max.  On route.  Out.”

“Donner.  In sight. Out.”  Maria caught one of the SEALs emerge from the crowd, running toward them.

“Scotty; still awaiting cavalry.  No sight. Out.”

“Chief; with Bean and Earwig, still setting up the hammer.  Over.”

Jerry frowned as Donner ran up to them, awaiting orders.  “Chief, I’m on route. Out. Max, change of plans, you’re added to the hammer.  Out.”

Max responded quickly.  “Copy. ETA two minutes.  Out.”

Maria listened to the exchange with a slight frown.  “What’s going on? Hammer and anvil? Some kind of sting or something?”

Jerry turned to the first SEAL she’d seen, ignoring her question.  “Tacker, get in contact with the officers directing the evacuation and have them handle the kids, then meet us at the forge.  Let them know they’re affected by an ability to make them compliant, and we’ll have a team from the Army ready to intercept the van to take over on the bridge.  Once finished make the call to have a med team waiting.”

“Roger,” Tacker ran past Maria to the van, jumping in, he swapped channels to talk to the officers directing flow.

They ignoring me?  Maria took a deep breath to calm herself.  No, they’re just trying to focus on the immediate tasks … dang, I’m patient now.  I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing … scary? Crap … how the heck is any of this happening?  Freaking lights in the sky and this knowledge thing…

“Alright,” Jerry turned to Maria.  “We’re heading over to that Supermarket with those gang members you were talking about.”

Maria’s eyes widened.  “Oh! Like, that’s the forge, the anvil is the guys at the back, and the hammer is you guys going in to sweep it?”

She fell in line behind Donner and Jerry as they briskly walked toward the Supermarket.  “That’s right. Now, can you tell me everything you know, including the kids’ condition?”

Taking a deep breath, Maria massaged her shoulders.  “You want the short or long version?”

“As detailed as you can.  We have the time while we walk to the forge.”  Why call it forge when he already told me it was the Supermarket?  Whatever.

“Terrell’s gang were really scared of us.  Rachel listened in and told us about everything they were planning, but they started picking up on her ears, so they were keeping it on the low.  They set up some kids as hostages with the snipers, strapped to the tank, and the men out front…”

“Captain, this is Falcon,” Maria cut off, brow furrowing.  “Just got visual on tango…” He sounded in disbelief as he paused for a moment.  “There’s gore everywhere—bodies ripped apart … it’s a—a massacre; it looks like every one of them stood in front of a claymore.  The tank’s top half has been torn open like the lid of a can; there’s a steel shipping container that’s been torn to pieces, and it looks like part of a wall might have been blown in, across the street from the hotel.  No signs of life. Over.”

Donner muttered a curse.

Jerry slowed a little, sucking in his lips before clicking his tongue; pinching his nose, he sniffed before activating his radio.  “Keep oversight. Out.” His head tilted to study Maria with narrowed eyes.

“What?”

Picking between his teeth, Jerry stuck his tongue against the roof of his mouth before popping it.  “Continue.” He muttered, eyes returning to the front as they moved around the small crowd that hurried up 4th toward the bridge.

“Well,” Maria chuckled.  “I don’t know about the hole in the wall, but the bodies—yup, Rachel blew apart every one of those fools.  She tore the tank up … and then he showed up.” She growled. Whatever he is … he might even be as strong as Rachel.  Seems like they took the fight into a building, but she’s a big girl.  When they caused that hole, that must have been that big boom.

“He?”  Jerry grunted.  “You don’t sound too happy about someone showing up.  Is it that Conner guy?”

Maria popped her tongue.  “Wait, you know that…” She couldn’t find the right word.

Jerry nodded with stony eyes.  “He killed one of my men before taking all of us down.  Couldn’t put a scratch on him or even retreat—it was like we were set-up.”

“Really—didn’t think to mention that before?”  Maria scowled as they walked onto Lenox Avenue; a large white building to their right as they walked along the red sidewalk.  “Bullets didn’t work?”

Donner’s nose twisted, bypassing her remark.  “Guy—he held a live grenade to his chest with a smile—blew up, and the only thing damaged was his shirt.  He told us he wanted to wrestle … snapped…” He growled with a low curse. No wonder he was shirtless when we met him … of course, that was a while before we got here.  Maybe he just likes showing off his muscles.

Maria sighed, holding her chest as her heart rate elevated.  “Dang—that guy might even give Rachel a run for her money then…”

Jerry hummed darkly.  “To be honest—I didn’t trust you; that’s why I didn’t say anything, but—why do you say that?  You seem to be really worn out … is there a reason for that.”

“Well—crap.  I guess we were a bit brisk, but that could have been really helpful information!”  She huffed. “And, yeah, I’m freaking exhausted, but screw it … that dude military pressed that steel container, and chucked it at us like it was an everyday workout.”

“There’s no way…”  Donner muttered but cut off as Jerry sniffed.

It took a moment for Jerry to speak as they shifted to the street, passing onto 5th; the Supermarket was ahead, the street filled with small groups of people continuing to the bridge.  “Might—are you saying Rachel can kill him? She’s obviously capable of killing, but can she do it?”

Maria frowned.  “After what you told me—I freaking hate not being able to lie, even to myself—not even a little, crap … I don’t know.  I’m a little worried, but Rachel’s stronger than anyone I’ve met—ever. She stopped that crate by jumping off the tank to slam through it; probably saved my life, dang it.”  She muttered.

“Let’s hope she can—because I don’t have a clue how to kill him—short of a missile.”

Mari lightly bit her lower lip.  I’m so exhausted.  Will eating something help … thanks, freaking hate you.  Yup, at a little, but not a lot. No way I could heal the kids, but at least I know I won’t die from energy loss.

“So, Rachel saved my butt and told me to get out … I was a liability with my energy low—which sucks, but true.  I went with the kids. The whole thing with the Mental Lock; like I told you, it’s a magic-based mental skill that charms the mind, making the target do whatever’s asked of them … doesn’t matter who’s giving the orders.”

“Alright, I think that’s good.”  They weaved around the cars in the street.  “We should have people that can heal the kids.  There are people with abilities to heal at the hive that we’re starting to use.”  Is that some kind of codeword for the forward base?

They moved through the three one-way lanes, passing onto the green separating traffic.  Splitting around one of the trees lining the lawn, they reached the massive building beyond three more lanes.  Four members of the SEAL team met them along the red and gray sidewalk that marked the Supermarket, equipment leaning against a palm tree along the curb, eyes sharp as they scanned the crowd for threats.

Maria appraised the building more thoroughly; they’d passed it along the way to confront the tank, but she hadn’t taken the time to admire the structure.  Miami Beach Fifth and Altoe Shopping Center was massive, a Supermarket housing many stores and reaching several levels. The side in front of them had a large blue painted staircase that wrapped around four stories high, showing open balconies to view 5th and the surrounding area.

The Chief stepped forward to greet Jerry.  “Hey, so we got the Unicorn here, huh? She looks pretty worn out…”

“I’ll manage,” Maria snapped.  “So, we going to raid this place or what?”

“Right,” Jerry sighed.  “Could you tell us what’s waiting for us?  I didn’t know what to expect after you told us about the Vampire attacking the place.  Hostages, enemies, anything else waiting inside?”

Maria shook her head with a smirk.  “Nope, from what I know, Scarlet went in, literally scared the crap and piss out of them.  She basically mentally broke them; again, literally, just like the other two guys she drained, and now they’re basically living shells.”

“No way…”  Earwig muttered.

“Heh,” Maria lifted an eyebrow.  “What you get for killing men, women, and children—not to mention all the other messed-up crap they did.  They actually gassed kids, like Nazis.”

Chief spoke up.  “So, the building should be empty, except for that room the Vampire hit?”

Maria looked down at the floor, crossing her arms.  “I mean, it should be. Rachel said no other gang members were nearby, and Scarlet teleported all the hostages back to your base.  Although,” she looked up at the massive supermarket. “I don’t know where they are inside. Only Scarlet and Rachel knew the specifics.”

“Great,” Chief muttered.

Jerry took a deep breath, motioning for everyone to flip on their rifle lights.  “Alright, Donner, keep watch on the front, and Maria stays here.” He activated his radio.  “Kevin, Oliver, watch both sides of the market. Earwig and Bean take point, followed by Chief and me, Bean and Max have our six.  On my mark. Over.” Oh, just going to leave me out … but I do need to take a rest.  Dang it … I hate being useless!

“This is Keven.  Copy. Out.”

“This is Oliver.  Copy. Out.”

“Three, two, one, go!”  They began sweeping the stores.  

Maria’s eyes caught a sign across the street, and her mouth began to water, stomach growling.  How’d I miss that?  “Finally, I need some food!”

Donner frowned at her shout.  “Hey—you should stay…”

“Eh,” Maria growled, staring him down.  “I’ve been healing people all freakin’ night!  I need to eat something.”

Holding up his hands, Donner backed off, rifle pointed at the ground.  “Alright, I guess I haven’t been given orders to keep you here. Just—don’t wander too far.  There may be more questions.”

 Maria ignored him as she moved through the crowd toward BK.  I know I can’t eat meat now … even though I want to freaking deny it.  That reminds mehey, knowledge-thing, is there some way I can eat meat?  No? Such a punk…

She frowned as she passed a tree; pausing, she studied the leaves.  Do Unicorns eat grass and tree leaves and crap?  Plucking off a leaf, she hesitated for a moment before popping it in her mouth and chewing.  The flavor was similar to lettuce, just a little less watery. It doesn’t taste bad.

Sighing, she walked through the doors; the restaurant was basically free of vandalism or change.  Oh, this is actually pretty nice.  There were a few tables with leftover food, but it wasn’t scattered.  Walking into the back, she searched through the slightly messy kitchen, pulling out vegetables to snack on.  She found some scorch marks, clearly from a fire that was quickly dealt with, but everything was surprisingly clean.  While she waited, she made some veggie burgers and stacked veggies on a tray. The patty didn’t taste the best; nowhere near how the straight vegetables tasted, but it did quickly stabilize her energy.

Maria groaned as she got another helping.  Food really does help; not by much, but at least it’s something.  I don’t feel like dropping dead on the spot now. I can eat leaves, probably grass too … seriously, this is stupid.  Leaves actually don’t taste that bad … should I try grass? No! I won’t ever eat grass! Never!

Fifteen minutes passed before Jerry entered the shop, looking tired.  Maria hummed, putting down a half eaten raw onion. “Still, haven’t found them?”

Sitting across from her, Jerry breathed through his teeth.  “No—I’m pretty sure we did.”

Maria’s brow creased.  “Pretty sure? What’s that about?”

Jerry sat forward, folding his fingers together.  “Was there a room with vomit, piss, and crap in it?  I’m guessing that’s the room your Vampire friend attacked.”

Sipping at some water, Maria leaned back, folding her legs.  “Huh, that sounds about right. Wait—they weren’t there?”

He shook his head.  “No, they weren’t. We did find signs of them cleaning up; they ditched their clothes, used the janitor’s shower to wipe the piss and crap away, then left.”

“You serious,” Maria clicked her tongue.  “Huh—how did they … I mean, Rachel heard their rambling.  They would have had to do all that in the time—we dealt with Terrell’s invasion … up to when you guys posted up outside.  I guess that’s possible in that time frame, but I mean, how? They were literally mumbling a song—insane?”

Jerry blew out a stream of air.  “I don’t know, but they probably escaped north; there’s some sightings of them heading that way.  We don’t have the resources to find them, but we radioed it in.” He studied her for a moment. “HQ wants you to head over to basecamp.  They’re sending a helicopter with reinforcements. They’ll drop off, and you’ll get on; your rabbit—or hare friend, I think it was, was spotted walking down 5th, toward us.  She looks pretty beat-up, but she seems alive. My men are intercepting her now.”

Maria picked up her onion with a long breath; leaning back, she took another bite before tapping her lip with it.  Rachel’s hurt and walking this way … without Fiona or Scarlet.  That has to mean that they’re winning, right? They can’t be dead, I mean, Scarlet’s a Vampire and can just teleport out if it gets bad … now the military are planning on taking us in.  I can’t say I’m surprised; Rachel predicted as much. How they play will vary, but it could get messy. If Rachel’s hurt then, that’s a problem—I can’t heal her as I am. If we have to run, then we’ll be screwed.  Well, crap…

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