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Saving Sergeant Harrigan: Between a Drake and Hard Place

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Alynore didn’t spare much of a glance at the other Dragoons and friends entering Harrigan’s mind through the bridge Vasily created. She didn’t stop this time to look at the ruin of Honor Hold, or the graves stretching to the horizon. She did, however, pause briefly to look over the grizzled, beaten-up old soldier endlessly digging those graves. Before he could “recognize” her again this time, she turned to the portals ringing the immediate area.

They seemed unremarkable by themselves, nothing distinguishing one from another, though Vasily said they would connect to key memories in Harrigan’s life, memories they had to play through and find a “key” to bring back to the broken digger to make him recall who he was and wake back up. Nore let herself be drawn to one of the portals, knowing which memory she wanted to find; it may have been selfish, but it did count. Alynore stepped through the portal, letting the hellish landscape of Hellfire Peninsula dissolve and reform…

…Into the darker, crackling hellscape of Netherstorm. She sucked in a breath, familiar with the arcane bite to the air. Her squad was running down a ravine, trying to reach the others holding their position in a little pocket of stone, while monsters raged nearby. She kicked it into gear and hurried to catch up, her split skirt tangling around her legs.

“Nice of you to join us, Elsa,” Harrigan said as her teammates took up defensive positions, relieving the worn men and women of the other squad. Harri’s dark skin was still weathered and worn, his hair almost as long as his modern self but still mostly black, it and his beard shot through with grey.

Nore winced as he called her by his nickname for her mother. She could hear the pained roar of a gronn just down the ravine’s continuing run to the east, and the triumphant screams of young drakes. An elder dragon’s deeper voice rumbled along with them.

“Seemed like too good a party to miss. What’s the situation?”

“The situation is that damned fancy bomb is in place but we can’t get it to blow, and we can’t get out of here, either, without the drakes dive-bombing us,” another, somewhat familiar voice said. Nore froze; it wasn’t as raspy as she recalled, but she recognized the cloaked woman who’d met her a few times, and had given Harrigan—and the Dragoons—no end of grief. “Nice work on punching through, but the experiments are gonna rally once the hatchlings finish their lunch.”

“Experiments…?”

Harrigan grimaced. “The archmage was right; the Blacks were doing more of their mucking around with the loose mana here. You got through the normal defenders; what’s down there, taking on that gronn? Nothing natural. Crystal’s been keeping an eye on them, trying to get close to the bomb your people rigged up.”

One of the men shouted a warning, and lightning sizzled and cracked around the little defensive position. “Down!” Harrigan roared as something large, dark, and winged swooped over them, laughing in a high-pitched chuffing. The mages who had accompanied Nore—Elsbeth—to the ravine stood as soon as it was by, flinging spells that barely penetrated its oddly shining scales.

Nore turned to Crystal, the raspy woman she halfway recalled from another time and place. Harri was watching, too, as Crystal manipulated the spherical crystal that was supposed to be a detonator. Nore frowned at the sequence while Crystal shook her head. “No use, Sarge; it won’t work. We gotta get out of here.”

A mage screamed as another drake winged by, its breath scorching the man’s arm and side. Two soldiers sprung forward to drag him back, shields offering some protection as the drakes made their return pass.

“If that bomb don’t go off, more of these monsters hatch and come straight for our people,” Harrigan said. “We gotta make sure it blows.”

Crystal shook her head. She turned to look straight at Nore, an odd glint in her eyes as her mouth twisted down into a sorrowful frown. “It can only be triggered by magic. Isn’t that right, Lieutenant?”

Another of the mages screamed. The soldiers were having better luck fighting back the eager young drakes with sword, spear, and bullets, but anything magical reflected off their strange, glittering hides.

“They’re only vulnerable to magic when still in the egg, or hatchlings, right?” Nore asked, a sinking dread taking the place of her stomach.

Harri shrugged. “That’s what the other mages said, figured you know more ‘bout that, Elsa. Do know if we take out their breeding pit, they can’t make more. But damned if we can get close enough, and without the detonator…”

“One person can get close, if we cover them,” Crystal said. “We can hold these two and give them time.”

“Those drakes’ll rush back to the breeding pit soon as they realize what’s happening. And if that detonator won’t do it, it’s gonna have to be—“

“Me,” Nore said quietly. She looked over the combined squads. One of the mages was dead, the other hurt, and the third doing what he could to deflect, defend, and obscure since attacking with magic outright wasn’t going to work. He baited them near enough to let the soldiers attack, and it was working so far—but not much longer. “I’ll do it.”

“Elsa, no!” Harrigan grabbed her arm. “Your kid—“

“Will be dead if these things get through, won’t she?” Nore looked Harri in the eye. “Our men are dying, Ben. There aren’t any other options, unless you got some magical talent hiding in your back pocket.”

Harrigan scowled. “You got other mages here, ones without kids.”

“Ben, don’t be sentimental,” Nore admonished. She was vaguely aware of not being entirely in control of her own words; it was Harrigan’s memory of Elsbeth taking over. “Pruell’s the only other one left standing and he won’t make it down there. I will. You know what needs done.”

“It doesn’t have to be you!” He snarled, emotion thickening his voice. A ghost of other, older feeling played over his face. He took a breath and looked away. “Alynore needs you,” he said.

“She’ll be all right. You’re going to look after her. Promise me.”

“Elsa—“

Promise me, Ben.”

He was silent for a moment that seemed to last for far too long as the soldiers fought. “I swear, Elsa,” he finally said.

“If you lovebirds are done?” Crystal said, acidly. “We gotta make a decision.”

Harrigan glowered at her, and then leapt into the fray. “MOVE!” He boomed, swinging his sword as one of the drakes closed in again. “Give her some cover!”

The soldiers sprang to obey, Pruell’s voice rising as he called on a cold fog and showered the dragons with sharp shards of ice. Nore ran, dashing down the ravine toward the nest.

There was a moment where things grew hazy, though the ravine itself somehow stayed in sharp relief. Then she could see clearly again, and realized Harrigan was watching her—Elsbeth’s—flight into the box canyon the Blacks had claimed. He remembered this—he had seen the whole thing.

She could see the bomb, dark purple crystal meant to blend with the rocks and dust, rolled under the side of the main nest where the dragons couldn’t readily see it before Harrigan’s squad had had to retreat. A full-grown black dragon lifted her head and spread her massive wings at the woman rushing forward while hatchlings screeched around her. “Foolish little ant!” the broodmother’s voice echoed against the sharp canyon walls. “My children will feast on your flesh!”

“Eat this, bitch!” Nore snarled. The memory took over again, raising her right arm to release a firestorm into the dragon’s face, making her roar in pain and rage. The experimental drakes screamed a response and left the battered soldiers to defend their mother.

Her right arm still blazing, Elsbeth’s other hand reached down to touch the bomb.

The box canyon filled with a blazing white-purple light as the memory came to an end.

Comments

{{ Wait a minute... did Nore

{{ Wait a minute... did Nore just adopt her mother's role and play the part where she -died-?

WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?!?!  }}