As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in blood. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons
Taste of Blood
The black strip of beach and dark treeline behind it was like staring into the void of another dimension. Gloria rested her chest on the top of the inflatable raft and struggled to stay in the craft as it skimmed across the crest of the waves. She tightened her grip on her weapon and spread her knees wide to lock them into the flexing walls. Trembling hands lifted her visor to let the salt spray and chill wind splash her face. She sucked in gasps of air as her adrenaline drove her body into a frenzy.
Raul leaned forward feeling Gloria’s backside against his groin. He put his weight on her back and wrapped one arm around her waist while clutching the throttle of the electric outboard motor with the other. Locked together in their embrace they held on against the bucking inflatable and raced to shore.
“I’d give anything to have you like this back on the ship.” Raul whispered in the mic.
Gloria looked over her shoulder into Raul’s hard stare. When she saw his fierce eyes, she mouthed the words, “I love you.” His arm squeezed her waist in response. A tear flew from the corner of her eye as she turned around. The drop impacted Raul’s visor and trailed across his line of sight.
Raul blinked. It was a long time coming, he thought. Satisfied, he released himself to the rage of chaos that lived in his heart and waited for him on the beach. Their hearts pounded in their ears, and their bodies shook from anticipation and overload of adrenaline. The dark world that embraced them like a womb consumed their thoughts as they looked into the giant maw of blackness ahead. The beach and their fate came at them like a boxer’s clenched fists.
“I’ve got heat signatures at one o’clock.” Gloria’s voice drifted in Raul’s earpiece.
“Do you have a bearing on the guide.”
“Rodger, bearing 341, 825 meters and closing . . .fast.”
“Copy bearing 341 at 825 meters. Standby on the heads-up display for my instructions.”
“Standing by,” Gloria replied in the terse language of warriors.
Gloria watched the shoreline come to them at 150 km/hr as her instructions scrolled across her vision. She read the last word, acknowledge.
“Acknowledge,” She replied to indicate her acceptance of Raul’s plan.
Showtime. Gloria no longer felt Raul’s weight on her back or the numbing vibrations of the speeding craft. The high pitched whine of the motor faded from her agitated nerves. She envisioned her actions as soon as the inflatable crashed onto the beach.
The raft leaped up into the air as it struck the natural ramp of the shore. She somersaulted off the side, cartwheeled, and drove toward the treeline as soon as her feet anchored in the sand. The titanium talons that tipped the toes of her boots dug in as her legs churned propelling her toward Tamari. She clenched her teeth so hard her jaw hurt. Nostrils flared as Tamari’s wide eyes tried to locate the terrible noise of an apex predator chewing up the earth and running straight at her. Gloria slammed into Tamari and drove their bodies to the ground.
The Cybrid leader heard the whine of the engine in the dark and then the impact on the beach. A flash of black in his night vision told him their targets had landed. He signaled his men to close on the Dragons.
“Kill them! Kill anything that moves.”
Several men rose from their positions and moved forward while others lay hidden in the brush waiting for a glimpse of the Dragons they hoped to kill.
* * *
Gloria’s eyes glowed a golden yellow; her pupils were narrow slits that stared emotionless and cold into Tamari’s terrified eyes.
“Tamari, get up. We have company.”
“The horses are back in the woods. Follow me.” Tamari motioned behind her.
The Dragon Sisters moved through the trees in a crouch toward the horses as the Cybrids closed in. One of the Cybrids saw a flash of movement and opened up with his weapon. Green tracers stitched the ground and trees ricocheting through the forest like angry fireflies. The echo of the automatic rifle and rounds tearing up everything in their path alerted the others who raced to the sound of gunfire to join the fight.
More Cybrids began to shoot into the forest trying to flush out their quarry. The sweeping fire forced Tamari and Gloria to the ground as they crawled among the trees trying to keep some distance between them and not give away their location.
The Cybrids moved closer. Soon they would be on top of the Dragon Sisters. Tamari had no armor and only a small curved blade.
“Tamari, I’m going to divert them. You get the horses and move back 200 meters. We’ll catch up later.”
“Where is your man?”
“He is behind them. Move!” Gloria grunted.
Gloria’s harsh order sent Tamari scrambling away just as a Cybrid male walked up. He heard the noise and turned toward the Dragons, his weapon at the ready. Two golden orbs appeared in front of him near the ground. He looked to get a better view when he realized they were eyes. A chill ran down his spine as a blur hit him full in the chest driving him backward.
Gloria trapped his legs with hers as the talons on her gauntlets tore into his neck. They slammed into the ground as the Dragon pinned the stunned man underneath her. He opened his mouth to scream as talons crushed his genitals and teeth sunk into his cheek through the opening in Gloria’s helmet.
A loud pop and flash of light signaled the energy bolt that stunned the Cybrid. Boiling blood and vomit exploded from the open mouth and nose as the Cybrid convulsed. The frenzy of slaughter ended as soon as it began, and the Cybrid’s last breath gurgled in the mangled throat as the Dragon moved to a new spot and prepared to grab another Cybrid crashing through the brush toward the flash of light.
* * *
“Shit!” Raul watched as the fight evolved. He gave the Cybrids enough time to become absorbed in moving toward the Dragon Sisters leaving their rear guard alone. He eased up and fired one shot into the distracted Cybrid assigned to watch the back. The man crumpled without a sound. More Cybrids began to drop. A loud pop and flash followed with the beat of limbs against the ground. The death throes of another Dragon victim alerted Raul and the Cybrids where one of the sisters claimed another kill.
Panic set in as the Cybrids realized more than one Dragon stalked them in the predawn darkness. The men hiding in the brush stood and fired into the trees where the flash of light appeared. Raul picked them off and moved in closer. Two of the rebels ran into the forest as Raul concentrated on the ones closest to him.
Raul’s heart pounded. He sucked his breath in gasps between his teeth. The inside of his visor reflected the golden glow of his eyes as he entered the point of no return. The slaughter began in earnest. Raul ran toward his next victim who seemed to turn in slow motion. Their eyes met as Raul clubbed the man with the skull crusher on the hilt of his blade then sliced through his throat before slicing through the hamstring of his leg. Raul was gone before the bleeding Cybrid crashed to the ground.
Screams and green tracers followed the flash and pop in the forest. Gloria’s agonized grunt sounded in Raul’s earpiece. He turned to fight his way to where he thought Gloria and Tamari were. He pleaded for Gloria’s location on his heads-up display. There was only the static of noise as a reply.
A Cybrid saw Raul turn and make his way to the woods. He stuck his weapon up and fired using the tracers to guide his aim.
Bullets slammed into Raul sending pieces of his armor suit and gear sailing into the air as he collapsed from the impact.
The Cybrid turned to head to the Khobi River nearby for extraction. Other Cybrids also made their way to the river. They wanted to believe they killed the Dragons, but none of them were willing to walk around in the dark to ensure they were dead. The battle was over for the Cybrids.
Raul rolled on his side and tried to get up. He felt like his body was too heavy to stand. He sat in the brush and took off his helmet and listened for movement. In the woods, he heard the mournful wail of a Dragon Sister. The sound always chilled his blood. He couldn’t bear to hear it. The sound came from where he last saw the flash of energy. He couldn’t tell if it was Gloria or Tamari.
The wail sounded like a mother mourning the loss of a child. It echoed through the forest as Raul forced himself to close on the scene as fast as his battered body would let him. The piercing cry of anguish could only mean one thing. One of his Dragon Sisters was dead.
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