Chapter 1: Anger and Unity
Sanders pulled his coat a bit closer as he thought back on their trip here. After leaving the school, Pyrrha had headed for the hills overlooking the area and made for one of the many abandoned houses there. Darius had come up once they had neared the homes and picked out one a bit further inward, less chance of being spotted he said. Once they were inside, Darius and William, the new second in command, had moved everyone inside to show them the tape Manchent had left, minus the plan of course. That left Sanders, Gabby, and Pyrrha to keep watch on the front porch.
Pyrrha let out a loud yawn before shifting a bit to her side. Sanders barely even registered the slight quake as he, for the hundredth time, ran through Gabby's story again. Spies, no traitors... Sanders had never even considered that to be a threat. How could anyone side with the Society after seeing the suffering they had wrought out here? And yet...
"We need to tell Darius and William about the spies... William at the very least," Sanders said as he, finally, got a chance to talk to Gabby without anyone else in earshot. Well, no one save Pyrrha, but she wasn’t going to repeat what was said even if she could now… Which was another major change that Sanders needed to come to grips with. Gabby lowered the spyglass she had borrowed and frowned at Sanders.
"You sure that's a good idea? For all we know they could be the spies," Gabby said as she went back to looking through the glass, more than likely trying to spot Alice. Sanders shook his head at that thought.
"No, I am almost sure Darius isn't and I AM sure William isn't. Besides, if they are, we are doomed already. They heard Manchent's plan too," Sanders said before glanced back toward the inside. As horrifying a prospect as that was, Sanders didn't fear it much. Everyone who had been to see the message had more than enough reasons to hate the Society and he doubted any would turn traitor, doubly so after learning the truth of the Shrink Disaster.
"Guess that's true enough. I'm still a bit ehh about it, but you've been with the Phoenixes longer than me so you know them better than I do," Gabby admitted as she keep scanning the area. Pity Darius had moved them so far inward as now they couldn't see the school or if Alice had managed to escape...
Sanders was going to say something else, but his thoughts were dashed away as a wave of gasps came from inside. The gasps were followed closely by curses, yells of anger, and general furious noises. The others had seen the truth then... Sanders could feel his own fury building as he thought back to that moment. Surely, even if they had a spy, they would change allegiance after learning the truth. Surely they couldn't stay sided with the Society after they learned the monsters had murdered billions. Right?
Sanders turned back to reconsider telling William or not and noticed both Gabby and Pyrrha looking angry. He wasn't surprised by Gabby's look, but Pyrrha looking so- wait... Sanders cursed as he drew his rifle and nudged Gabby to get her to do the same. Pyrrha wasn't looking angry, she was looking intently. Which meant one thing, and intruder. Sanders, slowly, moved to stand next to Pyrrha and tried to follow her eyes.
"Stranger...small. Near the edge," Pyrrha whispered out as her ear twitched a bit on her head. Sanders had to fight not to jump at her words, having forgotten for a moment she could talk, but managed to nod despite it. He motioned for Gabby to follow and the two began to inch toward the edge of the porch.
They had taken a few steps when a hook-like object flew over the edge and dug into the wood. The two stopped to watch the hook until it began to shift and the sounds of someone climbing drifted up to them. Someone was coming up... Sanders took up a kneeling position as he trained his rifle toward the hook while Gabby moved a bit closer and drew her knife. They waited in silence for a few seconds, before two hands appeared on the edge of the porch, one holding onto a string attached to the claw.
"Keep your hands where I can see them. Show me they are empty and come up!" Sanders ordered as the figure stopped for a second. It did as he said and showed each hand was empty before pulling itself the rest of the way up. The intruder was wearing an entire suit of camouflage that would have made him near impossible to see in the forest. He had a gun slung on his back, but made no attempts to reach for it. His face appeared through his hood for a second, revealing his blonde hair and rather young age, but it vanished as he began to kneel down onto the ground.
"I don't mean any harm, I just want to talk to your leader to disc-"
"ROAN?!" Gabby interrupted with a gasp. The intruder turned toward Gabby and froze in place for a moment as if in shock.
"Gabby?" the intruder asked before pulling back his hood to reveal his face in full. Gabby dropped her weapons instantly and a huge smile spread over her face. Roan did the same before jumping to his feet. The two raced toward each other, leaving Sanders utterly lost on what the hell was happening, before embracing in a big hug. Gabby lifted the young man a few inches off the ground and began to swing him back and forth.
"HOLY SHIT ROAN!! HAHA! Wow, just look at you!" Gabby yelled as she pushed Roan away just long enough to look him over. He was buried back into her less than a second later. Roan looked to try and say something in reply, but the shaking and bearhug made it just gasps and blurts. After another second, Gabby put Roan down and the poor boy got a chance to recover.
"It’s...it’s great to see you too Gabby," Roan managed to say through gasps to catch his breath. Seeing now that, apparently, Gabby was well acquainted with the intruder, Sanders lowered his gun and moved toward the two. He glanced back and saw Pyrrha still primed to pounce, though. He waved her down before turning back to the two.
"I...uhh...take it you know each other," Sanders said, getting both to look at him as if, finally, noticing he was here. Gabby gave an embarrassed laugh before putting Roan into a playful headlock.
"Yep. This scrawny kid is Roan. Me, Alice, and the Elves saved him at that farm I told you about. I agreed to teach him how to be a real marine and got his scrawny butt in shape, but had to leave him in Alice's care when I came to meet..." Gabby trailed off as her smile faded a bit. Sanders had to fight not to let his own face darken as he remembered that day and what he had to tell Gabby. What he still needed to tell Alice...
Roan had been trying to slip out of the headlock, but stopped as he noticed the change in Gabby's demeanor. He looked between her and Sanders before, slowly, pulling himself out of the headlock.
"Gabby... Isabella didn't," Roan stopped there as Gabby covered his mouth with her hand.
"She didn't... but not in vain. We found what she left and, by God, I am going to make sure her sacrifice is one the Society regrets!" Gabby almost snarled as her sad face changed to one of rage. Roan's eyes seem to sparkle in delight at her determination and Sanders couldn't help but chuckle as the look reminded him of his own little brother... He wasn't laughing a second later...
The star-struck eyes quickly vanished, though, as Roan looked to remember something. He pushed Gabby's hand away to let him talk.
"Oh right. That's actually why I cam here to talk to you. Well...not you specifically, but you as in the Phoenix-" Roan stopped as he shook his head and took a breath. A far more official and calm look took over as he continued like a soldier telling a report.
"The leader of the Shadow forces in the area wishes to offer a trade. An alliance in exchange for the intel you found inside the Lindale Middle School. We, like the Elves that we split from, are highly skilled in intel gathering and recon of enemy locations. We are willing to put these skills at your disposal for the information," Roan said as if reciting a sales pitch he had practiced more than once. Gabby snickered a bit at the rigid delivery and Sanders had to fight not to smile as well.
"Nice speech, didn't even need flashcards to help remember it," Gabby said getting Roan to blush a bit. She giggled at him before patting his shoulder reassuringly.
"Don't be so tense, Roan, of cour-"
"Gabby," Sanders interrupted getting her to glance at him, "We're not exactly the best people to be making these kinds of commitments for the Phoenixes." Gabby rolled her eyes at him and looked about to say something.
"Indeed you are not, but we are," Darius said, beating Gabby to the punch. All three of them turned to their side to see Darius and William moving toward them. The two were almost night and day with their looks. Darius was wearing his usual fine clothing and well made weapons along with a slight scowl. William, on the other hand, would have looked like any other Phoenix soldier save for his more scout-oriented equipment. And rather than a scowl, WIlliam had his usual soft smile. It was still a strange sight to see the two together after they had seemed to make a point of avoiding each other.
Gabby frowned at Darius and she stepped forward as if to confront him. William, however, speed his pace up to intercept her. He raised his hands in a placating manner and to block Gabby's path.
"Calm down, Gabriella. Darius doesn't mean that your opinion is unwanted or that we will say no. Just that we, being the leaders of this Force, should have final say and need to hear all the details before making up our minds," William said with a calming smile. Gabby's frown turned to the older man, but it faded as she looked at him. She let out a low grumble before moving to let Darius and William past.
"You said you were part of the Shadows. I have never heard of the group," Darius said as he stared at Roan. Roan keep his gaze on Darius for a few seconds, but it started to shift away by the time her answered.
"We're... we're a new group formed from those Elves that were tired of hiding and wanted to fight. We have, also, been keeping a very low profile," Roan answered, managing to keep his voice level. Gabby looked less than happy with Darius' glaring, but William made sure to keep between the two. Sanders hoped, for both their sakes, Darius didn't push it. Otherwise he might have to call Pyrrha over to peel Gabby off Darius.
"I see. A prudent choice. And you are offering an alliance for access to Manchent's legacy?" Darius asked as his glare softened a bit. Roan nodded in answer and Darius glanced over to William. The two looked to have a wordless conversation before Darius turned back to Roan.
"Very well, we will meet your leader and we can discuss the details together. Assuming it goes well, we would be more than happy to show you what you want," Darius said as his glare was replaced with a slight smile. Roan's tensed shoulders drooped in relief and he got a big, relieved smile.
"Great. Our leader, Malcolm, wanted to meet a few yards to the east of the house. There is a small clearing there where we can discuss the alliance," Roan said pointing off toward the east. Sanders sighed as he realized Darius was unlikely to go for that. Meeting out there would mean talking on their ter-
"That is acceptable. We will head there in ten minutes," Darius said, causing Sanders to blink in surprise. He...he had accepted the meeting point... Why wou- oh right, Pyrrha. No way would anyone try anything with Pyrrha there.
Roan nodded in understanding and said a quick bye, making a point to look more at Gabby when he said it, before heading back to his hook. Once he had vanished over the side, Darius turned back to them. He keep his voice down, however, as if still worried Roan might be listening, a fact that made Gabby glare at him.
"Sanders, I want you to come with me to meet this Malcolm. Leave Pyrrha here, though," Darius said not surprising, and then surprising, Sanders. LEAVE Pyrrha?! What the-
"William, you stay here as well and make sure our camp is secure and the legacy doesn't send our soldiers into a murderous rampage," Darius continued on. William sighed a bit to himself and grumbled something under his breath.
"Alright, but can I borrow Pyrrha to help with that?" William asked, more to Sanders than Darius. Sanders shook his surprise away and managed to nod.
"Uhh, yeah sure. Just ask and she should be happy to help with anything," Sanders said, still a bit surprised about actually being able to say that about Pyrrha. The thought of leaving anyone in charge of her a few months ago would have sent waves of dread through him...and now he was telling William just to tell her what he needed help with...
"Good. Gabby, you stay on watch. Sanders," Darius said as he motioned for Sanders to follow him. Gabby rolled her eyes before taking out her spyglass while Sanders followed after Darius and William as they headed back, most likely going to grab a few more people.
Samantha could only sit and stare at the now blank screen. The Disaster... it was all their fault... they had...they had...! Samantha's thoughts were jarred away as she noticed something shaking her arm. She looked over and saw Jacob visibly shaking in rage.
"My mom...my dad... my friends... my life... All of it was their fault. Every FUCKING thing!" Jacob half-yelled, half-whispered in rage as he looked around for something to punch. Samantha wanted to stop him, and yet the very same rage that was consuming him was bubbling up inside her. That day at the bus stop... the screams, the fear, the fact she would never know what became of her parents... all of it all squarely the fault of the Society. How many people had died that day? How many more had died since BECAUSE of it? How many more were going to before the Society was satisfied?!
Growls and curses began to spread like wildfire as the anger swept through the gathered people. Even Susan couldn't keep the fury off her face as she started to grip her weapon with a vice like hold. A few calls for action and even suggestions to return to the Middle school were voiced. Some part of Samantha knew that was foolish, but that part was being drowned out by her need to see them all burn in hell. Billions dead, billions more stripped of their old lives... They had to pay, HAD TO PAY AND DAMN THE CONSEQUENCES!
Suddenly, a sharp and loud whistle pierced through the angry din. The massive living room fell silent as everyone turned to the source of the noise. William lowered his hand from his mouth as he moved toward the group. He made his way through the crowd until he reached the computer screen and then turned to face them all, his face an unreadable mask.
"You are all angry, no... beyond angry at what Manchent has told you. You have every right to be. Because I’m just as beyond angry as any of you. Every time I think back to the disaster, to how many good people died, vanished, or succumbed to the chaos afterwards.. and then realize it was all their fault I... " William paused as he looked away, fists tightened so hard they shook. He took a deep breath before turning back to them.
"Believe me, I want to make them suffer just as much as any of you, but we can't. Not yet. For now, we need to stay focused on our tasks. We need to secure this area and get ready for our next step," William finished with an obviously forced calm look. Silence followed his words, but not for long.
"Fuck that! You want us to go back to doing nothing after hearing THAT?! FUCK YOU, THOSE BITCHES NEED TO DIE!" Taylor yelled out before others took up the cursing. Samantha didn't join in the screaming as she felt her angry cool, a fact helped by not wanting to agree with that bitch, Taylor. William was right, rushing in to try and fight the Society would be suicide. They had never been able to outfight the Society, only outsmart them, and knowing the truth of the Shrink Disaster didn't change that fact. Jacob, however, scowled in fury at William and looked about to join in. Samantha, however, tugged his arms and gave him a firm shake of her head. He got the message and remained silent.
WIlliam looked over the angry crowd before letting out a resigned sigh. He then looked at something behind them before nodding as if in signal. Suddenly, a massive quake sent the entire crowd staggering to remain standing. Everyone whirled around and the yelling died away as Jessica's massive form began to push itself up to her full height. She moved a bit closer, making sure to put her feet to either side of the crowd, before cocking her head to the side. Samantha couldn't help but stare in awe at her towering form standing above them like a skyscraper. Almost everyone else was just as stupefied looking up at her massive figure.. Everyone there was well aware how huge Jessica was, but seeing her on all fours was very different than having her towering above them at her dizzyingly massive height. Even her toes were taller than them!
"Does anyone here care to fight Pyrrha?" William yelled out as the quake and gasps died down. Jessica's ears drooped down at the words and she got a sad frown on her face. Even with that timid look, however, no one spoke up to take on that challenge. Samantha glanced over and saw Taylor looking about to raise her hand. Henderson, however, proved less suicidal and yanked her hand down. The two began to argue, but William spoke up before they could finish.
"I thought not. And let me remind you, Pyrrha is only half the size of the Society giantess AND doesn't have a shield. Thank you, Pyrrha," William yelled out before nodding up at Jessica.
"I...I don't have to hurt anyone?" Jessica asked as her sad look turned to a hopeful one. William let out a laugh before shaking his head.
"No, no. of course not. I just wanted your help proving a point. You can go back to making sure Sanders and the others are safe," William said giving Jessica a big smile. Jessica looked a bit confused, but the confusion vanished at the mention of Sanders. She nodded with a big grin before turning away. She got back on all fours and headed to the front porch of the house, leaving the crowd to regain their bearings.
With Jessica gone, Samantha turned to look at Jacob and was surprised to see him looking sad. She was going to ask him what was wrong, but didn't get the chance as William spoke up again.
"As I said, I understand your anger and need for action," William started before beginning to move through the crowd, "I want to see the Society suffer just as much as you, to see them pay for every life they have ended, to see them erased from the world, and know that no one will EVER have to fear their name again. But we can't do that by fighting them on their terms. We can't outfight them, we never have been able to, but we can outsmart them. But not if we let our anger control us. For it would drive us to try and outfight them, a strategy doomed to fail, for now,”
William paused as he moved to Taylor, who still looked furious. He put his hand on her shoulder and she glared at it, but didn’t slap it away. William got a very unusual vicious smile before he continued.
"But those are the keywords, "for now". We can't outfight them today, but one day we will. We can't let our rage carry us into battle, but we will one day. We can't go to Atlanta and see their base leveled and their lies laid bare, but we will one day. But all those for nows vanish if we don't fight smart right now. For now, we need to stay collected, calm, and smart. For now, we need to hide in the shadows and let the Society think they are safe. And then, one day soon, our day will come and then...then the Society will pay for every life, every atrocity, and every evil they have done. So for the sake of that day, I ask you to keep your anger in check, for now, and help us bring that day closer," William said as he looked over the crowd. Samantha was shocked to see the crowd turn from anger to grim determination. Even Taylor looked to cool as William gave her a few extra pats on the shoulder. His speech had defused a potential disaster all while focusing them on their real goal... How he hadn't been their second sooner was beyond her.
"But enough about these grim and serious things. While today may not be the day of total victory, it is a day where we have made major strides to it. We have found Manchent's legacy, learned a truth the Society never wanted revealed, and escaped right out from their noses. My fellow Phoenixes, if that is not worth celebrating then I don't know what is! So let's get this place secure ASAP so we can get to enjoying our first major victory!" WIlliam yelled as his mood whiplashed right into a happy cheer. His good mood spread almost as fast as the anger from before and cheers and claps began to erupt out of them. Squad leaders began to shout out for their people to gather and a sudden wave of enthusiasm sweep the force.
Samantha shook her head in disbelief as she started toward Susan along with Jacob. How had he done that? Samantha sent a quick glance toward William and was surprised to see him looking back at her. He gave her a weary smile before turning away.
"Then we are in agreement then," Darius said as he extended his hand toward the Shadow commander, Malcolm. Malcolm took the offered hand and gave it a vigorous shake as a big smile spread across his face.
"That we are. I'll have my people start moving in and bring any of your own intelligence guys up to speed on what we know. Though me and a few others would like to see that video you found ASAP," Malcolm said before releasing his grip on Darius' hand. Darius nodded and the slight tension that had been hovering over the meeting faded away.
Sanders was a bit surprised with how quickly Darius and Malcolm had come to terms. Their alliance would make the Shadows the new eyes and ears for the Phoenixes while giving the Shadows a moving base of operations, Pyrrha, along with the truth. Sanders had been sure Darius would ask for more, but he seemed happy enough with those terms and the meeting was over within less than five minutes.
"Alright then, see you guys soon," Malcolm said before giving a short wave and turning away. He and the few Shadows that had actually come into sight headed back into the forest. Less than a second later, all of them had vanished thanks to their camouflage suits. With the Shadows gone, Darius turned and motioned for them to head back. Sanders shifted his machine gun a bit before falling in with the rest of the small escort team.
As they continued back toward the house, Sanders thoughts turned back to Gabby's story. If he wanted to warn Darius, now would be the best time. But should he tell Darius? Sanders had no doubt that Darius was against the Society, but the choices and sacrifices he had made... What other horrid choices would he make if he found out that there were potential traitors even amongst their own?
"You seem worried about something," Darius, suddenly, said causing Sanders to snap his head back up. He glanced to the side and found Darius staring directly at him. Sanders glanced away and tried to hide his emotions.
"Oh I...was just thinking about something," Sanders half-lied. Darius starred at him for a second more before nodding to himself.
"You don't need to worry about letting them see what your friend, Isabella, found. The truth of the Shrink Disaster being spread will only weaken the Society. Even those whose conviction to fight the Society is...lacking will be hard pressed to stay on the sidelines after learning the truth, don't you think?" Darius said as he glanced back over to Sanders. Sanders turned back to him with a puzzled look, but Darius' face was an unreadable mask. What was-
And then Sanders understood. Despite himself, he couldn't keep from looking surprised. Darius, however, simply gave him a half smirk before turning away. He already knew...
Status Update from Commander Malcolm to Elder Amber Perlman
Have made contact with Phoenix forces. Phoenixes confirmed in possession of priority one intel. General Alice has been forced to leave force and reveal herself. Current status is unknown. Will begin to work with Phoenixes and secure alliance and intel. Request further instructions after completion of objectives.