Reaching the Mara Sangua was easier said than done. After a decade, the soil treatments inside the plantation still kept the jungle from reclaiming it, but there were no such protections for the road leading to it. Ten miles out, and the APC could carry them no further.
“We need to stay to the road—or what’s left of it,” stated the President, as they followed remnant of the road. It was mostly now marked by a lack of trees and a wealth of low-growing plant life that was wide enough to cause a break in the canopy above. “The jungle out to two miles around Mara Sangua is riddled with traps both to keep interlopers out and the workers in. We didn’t bother to clear them when we shut the place down, so many will still be operational.”
“Isn’t walking right up to the main gates going to make it super-clear to the faeries that we’re coming?” Kura asked.
“Cartel traps are designed to make an example as well as hinder or kill. Imagine a spike that drops out of the trees to impale you through the liver and leave you hanging there, or a pit trap that drops you onto punji sticks and broken glass.
Kura waved her hands animatedly as if warding the idea off. “Objection cheerfully withdrawn! But… I kinda want to point out there’s still the unicorns. How do we know we’re even really on the road now?”
“Unicorns are the ones that cast illusions, right?” Colonel Song kept his weapon up, sweeping the edges of the jungle around them.
“They’re the only ones we know the powers of, really.” Kura was at the center of the group again, being the least combat ready. “Korrigans and the centaur seem to be mundane fighters, but most faerie races have some kind of magic. Plus the leader? He’s going to have extra powers either from training or granted by their boss, Maeve.”
Colonel Song scowled at this and looked to the two soldiers under him. “Shoot on sight. We can’t afford surprises.”
“Is there any solution here besides killing them?” Warrick asked the President directly. “You were already talking about wanting to know about magic—you can learn a lot by interrogating these guys.”
“And I can learn a lot about how the kill my letting them use the powers not even you know about on my people. No, the Colonel is correct: shoot on sight and shoot to kill.”
Warrick didn’t argue, but he looked back to his team. “Same rules apply: disable and capture. We’ll figure out what do do with them after the fact.”
The President looked over at him. “And if they can’t be disabled?”
“We’re a pretty creative group. Look, we won’t interfere with your soldiers. Can you promise they won’t interfere with us?”
She nodded. “In the interest in a larger relationship between our countries.”
The going was slow even with Isp and Osp to hack through the foliage thanks to chunks of hidden concrete from where the cartel’s road had come apart but failed to go away entirely. However, eventually they reached the last rise in the road.
Reds and oranges and pinks from the setting sun painted crumbling concrete walls and rusty barbed wire, reflecting off the broken glass and plastic of guard towers. Instead of a gate, there was a depot; an artless two-story slab with metal shutters over the entrances and exits. Nature’s greatest spectacle utterly failed to grant even the semblance of beauty to the skeletal pit of despair known as the Sea of Blood.
La Dama Obsidiana paused ahead of the others, rooted to the spot.
Eleven Years Ago…
They hooted and cheered. Not just the guards and the visiting heads of the cartel, but her fellow workers.
Maybe the workers cheered out of fear of the consequences of not doing so. Maybe they were just broken inside and the monthly fights were the closest thing to entertainment they got. Maybe they were just terrible people who might deserve it if they ever ended up pitted against her.
All she knew was that she never looked at the workers. She still had to go back out into the plantation the next day beside them. Eat beside them. Perhaps plan to escape beside them.
She didn’t want to remember who was guilty and who was not.
If only they granted her the same mercy and courtesy.
No for her, the guards coldly praised her and the workers avoided her. Because she was Vidrio Nergo, the Mara Sangua’s very own execution system. Not executioner. That would mean she was a person in their eyes. No, she was just a worker with powers that made the cartel’s method of getting rid of problem prisoners more exciting.
Across from her, clutching a machete and shuffling from side to side in the circle of mud that served as their arena, was her opponent. Most of the time she would be forced to fight those who had been disobedient, who tried to escape, who fought back when someone in charge thought they needed a beating.
Occasionally, like tonight, she would face those who weren’t so innocent. The man before her had slashed another man’s throat in a fit of rage. He was one of the one who had broken. Now those like him were chanting for the Black Glass to end him.
She’d known the victim. They lived in the same barracks. Sometimes they’d talked.
Even then, she couldn’t take joy or satisfaction with what she was being forced to do. The only thing spurring her on was fear: fear that if she refused, she’d be the next one dead. Maybe they’d just shoot her. Maybe they’d bring in another with powers like her to do the job.
Whatever they’d do, she didn’t want to find out.
Which is why she closed her fist and concentrated until a three-foot blade of obsidian extended from the knuckle of her middle finger. Then she lunged forward.
In her first year after the revolution ended, Juanita Estaban-Vega spend several months traveling the world. Instead of the usual tourist haunts, she instead walked the Trail of Tears, visited Auschwitz and visited the decommissioned prison camps in the former North Korea.
Syria. The Congo. Siberia. She crisscrossed the globe seeking out the spots of the greatest atrocities of the last two centuries. She learned their lessons, of course, but more so, she took a strange, sick-feeling comfort that she wasn’t unique; wasn’t alone in being a victim on such a grand scale.
It’s why she’d fought to keep Mara Sangua Plantation from being dismantled. Because as much as she wished, it was a place that shouldn’t be forgotten.
But no matter how much power she gained, she couldn’t free herself of the power this place had over her.
“Bienvenido a casa, Vidrio Negro,” she muttered to herself before extruding her obsidian into plates that covered everything her flack jacket didn’t. Then she formed a hefty, spiked mace from her palm.
As she strode toward the defunct plantation, Song glanced back toward the other two soldiers; a warning glance that made them straighten their backs and follow after their commander in chief.
Another look moved between the Descendants (and their hangers-on). All their eyes went to Tink who just shook her head and scowled, remaining silent on the subject. Warrick, however, called out after the military retinue.
“Hold up.” Colonel Song paused to look back at him, considered, then raised a hand to bring his people to a halt. When she found herself alone, the President stopped and turned as well. After a second to bolster his courage speaking to power, Warrick continued. “We can’t all just rush the main gate. Sure, we might outnumber them minus the little guys, but if we’re all together? The unicorns will have us attacking each other and walking into every trap left in there.”
Colonel Song considered this, then inclined his head. “Solutions?”
“We split up. There’s two unicorns, so we hedge our bets and split into four attacking from all different directions.” He took a moment to look around, doing some quick power calculations. “First group: Flyers. Zero, Fax, Occult. With your defenses and firepower, you can draw their fire and help us figure out where they are while getting us a better idea of the layout in there.
“Next, infiltration. Now we didn’t exactly bring our A-game when it comes to that… Facsimile being one third of that and Vamanos and Darkness who are not here being the others. So Colonel, if you could lead your squad around to try to find another way in besides the main gates? Kay, go with them—they’ll need an expert on all things Faerie more than we will.”
Kay threw a mock salute. “Got it. Can I get a gun?”
“Absolutely not,” said Song.
Stifling a snort, Warrick continued, “Now, the frontal assault. Tink…” He managed to look apologetic even with his visor down, “That’d be you, La Dama…” then his tone sounded like he was apologizing to himself, “and Spark.”
“Wait. What?” Tammy did a double take at the assignment.
Despite himself, Warrick shrugged. “Times like this, I can’t sit here and lie to myself: you’re a heavy hitter and I can’t hold you back just because I want to protect you. Besides I trust Renaissance will look out for you.” Tink, for her part, nodded confidently.
Tammy was all grins as she held in an internal squeal. “You’re the best! And I won’t let you down!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on there, big bro.” Kura floated over to get right in his face. “Tammy’s my partner. If she’s on the assault team, what am I doing?”
“Support team,” Warrick made a quick gesture between himself, Melissa and Kura herself. “We’ll hang back at first and keep an eye on the big picture: who gets hit with the unicorn tricks, and extra surprises Ozzy in there might pull out, then we ride in like the cavalry to help them.”
Kura’s eyes glazed over. “We-we’d be the cavalry?”
“Then what are we waiting for! It’s time for action!”
“That it is,” agreed none other than the President. “Colonel? It seems you have your marching orders. As do I.” She nodded to Warrick. “Well done Mr. Kaine. Lead on, Ms. Carlyle.”
“They are coming.” The basso rumble for Monuul’s voice cut through the silence that had filled barracks. “Coming from downwind, but that isn’t good enough to evade me. More than there were before.”
Ozimas scowled in disgust. “The Mankinds multiply with the fecundity of vermin.”
“I will alert the unicorns and recall the korrigan.”
A thin, frost-bitten hand rose to cut him off. “No. We need the supplies they’re to bring.”
Monuul rumbled in clear agitation. “We will be sorely outnumbered and we know nothing of their capabilities. This is inviting disaster.”
“I know that the centaurs are reticent and unbelieving race, but know for a fact that the Queen of Air and Darkness has invested in me a fraction of her power. And with even that little, I can assure you that we are never to be considered… outnumbered.”
Ozimas once more went to the window and folded his hands together. “Fortification and adjacency to settlements is just one reason I chose to make our camp in the place.” He gestured with both hands out the window. “I know you can’t feel it, but this place is an abyss of the tormented dead. Hundreds. Thousands died here suffering, afraid, despairing and then were buried enmasse in this very ground.”
He brought his hands before him and began to incant. “Hear me, O unmourned dead. Your cries have not gone unheard. Heed the call of the cold and void and you will be granted vengeance for all that has been visited for you. Gather your rage, your agony and eternal loss and obey my command: Rise.”
A tremor ran through the grounds of Mara Sangua. It carried with it the utter-cold of the Air and Darkness into the mass graves, the shallow holes and every other place where the dead were hastily and uncaringly put to uneasy rest. If found the rot, the bones and the restless spirits.
And they began to move.
To Be Continued…