Saved by the Rakian Scout
“Dammit, Jormoi, I told you to get out of there.”
Nic’s voice crackled from the comm unit, but Jormoi ignored it.
The smoke choked him as he crawled under the burning rubble of the collapsed house, picking his way through fallen beams.
Past the smoke, he could make out the faint suggestion of stairs to the second level, the wood smoldering, ready to ignite at any moment. And yes, there it was—a faint cry from somewhere upstairs, weaker now than when he’d first heard it.
Part of the wall caved inward in a shower of sparks as he crept up the stairs through the thickening smoke. The urge to spring up them three at a time clawed through him, but the damaged wood would never withstand the impact. Even the smallest member of the garrison unit was almost too heavy for this work. Almost.
At the top, he sank near the floor again, listening.
Come on, one more time…
To the left, he heard a muffled sob that no human ears would have caught. He eased through the hall towards the only doorway, searching for his quarry, but the room was empty—just a small bed in the corner, a low stool, and a small, mullioned window in the wall across from him. The building groaned and shuddered around him. Time had run out, but damned if he’d…
There. The blue woolen blanket tossed over the bed and hanging to the floor trembled, just slightly out of sync with the rest of the house.
In three quick strides, he crossed the room and knelt down, moving the blanket gently to the side, as if he had all the time in the world.
Two pale faces stared out at him, eyes wide with terror.
“Hi, sweethearts. It’s not safe there, you know?”
The children’s heads shook in unison. Just babies, really, neither more than five years old, if he had to guess.
“We need to go now.” He reached a hand under the bed, waited for them. “We don’t have a lot of time.” Impatience fought with the smoke to clog his throat. It would be so easy to just toss the bed from over them, grab them and get out. But he didn’t want them fighting him, not when the fire was the real enemy.
One of the children nodded, then took his hand, tiny fingers engulfed in his. “Come on, Kait,” she said as she tugged the smaller child out behind her.
Another groan and crash was the only warning Jormoi got. He braced himself on the bed, arching over the two children, as the ceiling collapsed over them. Whips of flame seared across his back, but he ignored them, listening, waiting for their chance.
He looked down at the terrified children huddled together, pressed against his legs.
“I think we should go. What do you think?”
The smaller child wailed, clutching her friend. “Marka, we can’t get out!”
The falling rubble stopped, but it would be foolish to trust that the building had stabilized. Only one way out now.
Jormoi looked at Marka. “Can you be brave? Brave enough for both of you? I have a plan, but I need your help.”
She nodded, then pinched Kait. “Pay attention!”
Jormoi grabbed the wool blanket. “Hold still. This might not be very comfortable, but we’ll be done and out in a minute.”
Sweat dripping down his face from the approaching flames, he wrapped the two girls in the blanket, then pulled the ends around his torso, over one shoulder and tied in back.
“I can’t see,” a muffled voice whimpered.
Jormoi edged towards the small window. “You’ll be out in a minute. Can you sing a song? I’ll bet we’re downstairs before you finish.”
He smashed the window, the flame-heated wires holding the glass tiles giving way with little effort. “Come on, girls, I can’t hear you singing.”
Tuneless nonsense emerged faintly from the blanket, and he grinned, then launched himself through the window frame.
Shards of glass and twisted wire sliced into the arm he held over his face, then there was nothing but the shock of cold night air as he curled himself around the blanket held tightly to his chest.
Spin, spin, and tuck, then a jarring thud as his shoulder hit the cobbled street below and he rolled to his feet, still clinging to the blanket.
He tore the cloth from the children’s faces, their voices stopped in shock.
Marka flung her arms around his neck. “You did it, you saved us!”
“Kait, Marka!” a woman screamed, pulling them from his arms. “Let go of them, you monster!”
Jormoi stiffened as she pulled the children from the sling and hurried them away, cooing over them.
“She didn’t mean it,” Nic muttered. “She’s just scared, like the rest of them.”
Jormoi winced as his commander clapped a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“How much damage did you take?” Nic turned to shout into the night for Adena.
Jormoi shrugged. “It’s minimal. Let her work on the rest of the townspeople.”
Warmth spread through his back, but unlike the teeth-clenching pain of the fire, this soothed.
“They’re fine. They had the sense to leave a burning building.” Nic’s mate’s gentle hands belied her sharp words as Adena eased him to a sitting position. “You did good work, you know.”
“The children?” Jormoi hated to ask, but he hadn’t been able to see much before the woman snatched them away.
“Just a little smoke inhalation, easy fix.” She moved her hands to his chest, and the tightness in his lungs eased.
Nic stood over them, staring down the street. “What did the Haleru want this time?”
Kennet approached at a jog, soot blurring with the charcoal lines on his skin. “I’ve confirmed with the Grasmere town council. No one was killed, but three houses were ransacked and torched.”
Adena finished healing Jormoi, and he stood, gingerly stretching. “What about the warehouses by the river?”
“Nothing. They weren’t here for supplies.”
“Why these houses?” Adena wondered.
Jormoi shook his head. Even with a ready supply of water, three infernos over the last month, spread throughout the town, had depleted the town’s resources.
“Someone needs to talk to the families, see what they have in common,” Kennet replied, mostly muttering to himself.
“It’d be a hell of a lot easier if they weren’t all afraid of us,” Jormoi snapped, the woman’s fearful snatching of her children still stinging more than his burns.
Gavin emerged from the night. “Why do we even care what the pattern is?” he grumbled, leaning his bulk against a stone wall. “Find B’tar and kill him. That’s what we’re here for, right?”
Agitation seethed through Jormoi’s blood, like an itch he couldn’t scratch. His jaw ached, and he wondered how long he’d been clenching his teeth. “We’re done here,” he snarled. “Let’s get back to base.”
The startled gazes of his teammates rested on his back, but he shrugged it off. In minutes his battle sled was in the air, circling, waiting for the others. One by one, his brothers joined him above the town, and he headed back home.
To his side he could see Nic pull up level with him, Adena’s small form hooded and cloaked behind him, sheltered from the wind by Nic’s bulk.
Kennet approached from the other side as his voice came from the comm unit. “I’m not entirely certain we should have left yet.”
Jormoi spat his answer, voice rough with smoke and wind. “What else can we do? They didn’t want us, or our help. You’d think after we rescued the women B’tar’s raiding party took, some of them would be ready to cut us a little slack.” He growled, low and frustrated. “Figuring out their mysteries isn’t our problem.”
Nic cut in, his voice angry. “It’s our problem until we can get ahead of the situation.”
“I am still endeavoring to recalibrate our scanners to account for the dust-shielding,” Kennet answered, and Jormoi could almost see his sigh. “I am making progress, but the problem is complex.”
“You’d almost think the Haleru had done it on purpose,” Gavin muttered. “There’s gotta be a way to find their new hideout. We just need to expand our range, get closer on the ground.”
Jormoi tuned the rest of the conversation out.
Over the last two months, he’d heard it over and over, and nothing was ever resolved.
The wind carried his thoughts away, but the agitation remained. The black spires of the garrison ship rose in the distance but did nothing to ease his tension. His cheek twitched, something between a smile and a snarl. Only one thing would help at this point.
He’d already locked the sled when his brothers landed nearby. The wind tossed the treetops near the ship, and the ozone smell of an oncoming storm tempted him. It was time to go.
“Where are you going?” Gavin called.
“We can’t do anything as it is. We need more intel,” he growled over his shoulder.
“But your back…” he heard Adena call, but Nic must have stopped her.
“Check in, or I’ll send Gavin after you,” was his commander’s only comment.
Jormoi waved in acknowledgment, then let the change wash over him, his nerves crackling with energy as his form shifted, the world becoming more alive, details richer.
The scents and sounds through his feline senses almost overpowered his thoughts, and the turf under his paws was wet with dew.
Thiswas what he needed.
He loped towards the tree line and faded into the shadows.