Raine roared past the open gates of Lost Angeles HQ on his Harley.
“Close the gates!” he yelled.
Though his voice was lost to the din, the guard signaled for the thick, wooden barrier to be shut. Raine looked over his shoulder to make sure his command was followed. It was important that they were followed and enacted within the minute. To his relief, the gates began rolling shut.
He just prayed that they would hold.
A large group of people stood in the center of the dirt yard, foremost among them Lieutenant Green, who only betrayed his surprise with a slight widening of his blue eyes as Raine braked hard, sliding to a stop just feet in front of him. Everyone, Angel and citizen, stared at him in mute shock.
“Sound the bell!” he shouted. “Reapers!”
At once, everyone sprang in different directions to their assigned tasks. Riflemen ascended the high towers built into the perimeter defense that was composed of rough sheet metal and salvaged wooden planks. Raine took note of the huddled group of some fifty refugees that stood in front of Green. They were mostly women and children, though a few men stood among them. They had fled to HQ just hours ago at the sign of a Reaper force they could not hope to contest.
“Any man who can shoot, get behind me!” Raine said, his voice almost a growl. “The rest of you are on buckets!”
“Buckets, sir?” a bespectacled, older man asked from the throng.
Raine resisted the urge to scowl at his softness. Despite the fact that these Bunker survivors had been living under the Angels’ vassalage for over a year, he still managed to maintain doughy cheeks and a look of softness.
Raine turned to Green. “They’re not trained yet?”
“They had no firefighting protocol at their own base,” Green said. “This is the first time they’ve ever been allowed inside HQ, so they don’t know…”
Raine was about to respond when several fiery streaks streamed over the outside perimeter.
“Scatter!” he yelled.
The Molotov crashed in the center of the bare dirt yard — kept bare for just this reason. The Reapers were fond of Molotov cocktails, and whatever they didn’t drink turned into instruments of their terror. When the firebomb exploded not too far from the Bunker survivors, the screams of women and children filled the air. The fiery heat of the blast licked at Raine’s black, sweat-slicked skin even as shards of hot glass shot outward,
“Buckets on that blaze, now!” he roared.
He hefted his M-4, one of the few in the Angels’ possession. Most had been confiscated from the Bunker survivors; they were put to better use in the Angels’ capable hands than in what his troops often called the “moles.”
It took a minute for the refugees to respond to Raine’s order, but at last, several were going off to the water pump, where already the freedmen and women were throwing water on any blaze that lit up on the yard. A shed was up in flames, being the target of several of the flaming bottles, and some dozen women were throwing as much water at they could on it, even as more brought buckets from the pump.
“Green, get these men outfitted and on the south wall.”
Before Raine could even see that his order was fulfilled, he turned and ran toward the main gate. Through the crackle of flames and the screams of women, he could hear the roar of the Reapers’ bikes outside the wall. There must have been dozens of them that had nearly pincered him on his patrol. Raine knew he was lucky to even be alive, as scouting was a task better left to someone more expendable. But Raine always liked to see things with his own eyes, but even he had to admit the risk hadn’t been worth it. At least he got an accurate count, since the moles hadn’t thought to do so at all, thinking of only saving their own skins.
One thing Raine knew for sure: with this amount of troops, the Reapers meant to end the Angels with this attack, an attack that the Raine’ spies had never found out about. By Raine’s count, there were at least one hundred bikes laden with firebombs, and hundreds more on foot, bearing anything from rifles, to handguns, and at least a thousand armed with shovels, axes, and crudely made metal clubs and maces. With the end of the world, not every one could have a gun, but Raine knew Carin Black meant to use these levies as cannon fodder. He must have drawn this army from all of his vassals, and may have even armed some of his slaves.
When Carin wanted to win, he did so with overwhelming force.
Men from the wooden ramparts fired down against the swarming bikes. There was little the Angels could do but hope for a lucky few shots. The one heavy machine gun mounting the tower near the next gate was already up in flames. That gun had been the Angels main line of defense against the bikes.
And still, the bombs rained down. At least a third of the yard was a roaring inferno.
The heavy bell tolled for the first time from the bank building behind, a bell which had been procured from a local Catholic church. They needed God, or something miraculous, to survive this onslaught against numbers Raine could scarcely even imagine. Most of the smaller fires were already dying down, even as they were being replaced by new fires, and not that the shock of the initial wave was over, his men, at last, were remembering their training. The bombs fell fewer, either due to the Angels’ return fire, or the fact that the Reapers were beginning to run out.
There might be hope yet, Raine thought. I still got my ace.
But timing was everything.
That voice. Raine snapped around, to see that little Makara was running past the flames toward…someone.
“No!” Raine shouted. “Makara, inside, now!”
She didn’t even look his direction; she had to have heard him. Either that, or what she saw was more important than even he.
Raine charged forward, heedless to all danger. A Molotov fell from above, and Raine dodged just barely, skidding to a stop and backing up. The nova-like burst of flames nearly blinded him while his skin crackled at the heat.
He skirted around the conflagration, running to bar Makara’s path, his eyes seeing spots that made her difficult to pick out.
“Samuel!” she cried. “Samuel!”
Samuel? Makara had told him about her big brother, but how could he be here?
Makara, now nine, was oblivious to the danger around her. She pumped her arms, running as if she were crazed.
But Raine was just in time to intercept her, scooping her up in her arms. “You need to be inside, Mak! Now!”
“Samuel!” she said, tears streaming down her face. “Put me down, Raine!”
To Raine’s surprise, she suddenly bit him on the ear. The pain nearly made him drop her.
“What the hell! Knock it off!”
He held her at arm’s length, even as she flailed like a fish, her tearful eyes never even looking at him. Raine followed her line of sight to see the object of her attention.
A boy, no more than twelve years of age, who was ringed by a circle of flames.