At long last, there were no more gunshots, but the following quiet was not peaceful.
Raine walked through the corridors of Lost Angels’ HQ, surveying the damage and helping anyone he could find, barking orders to anyone who didn’t look like they knew what they were doing…which was most. The bodies of the injured and the dead were just as numerous as those still alive.
By all rights, they should all be dead. With the fire bombs and the Reapers’ numbers, it was only Lieutenant Green’s explosives which had saved the base.
If this could even be called “saved.”
Raine stood at the breach the Reapers had made in the back of the building, the one that come so close to killing Makara and her brother. Raine wanted to curse himself for the oversight, but he had too few men to guard everywhere. They had even broken through the front, despite him positioning well over eighty percent of his forces there. Only a combination of luck and sheer tenacity had kept the base alive long enough for Green’s explosives to force the retreat…but not before well over a hundred people had been killed, many of them women and some even children.
Even if the Angels inflicted five, or even ten times as many casualties, they were losses Carin Black could afford.
Raine made a fist as he ground his teeth. Revenge was difficult to imagine when the Reapers had dealt such a crushing blow.
The sound of boots crunching over rubble made Raine turn his head. Standing behind him was short and swarthy man, pale of skin, with sharp blue eyes and a bald head.
Even if the two men couldn’t have looked more different – one white, one black, one short and and other tall, the two men were, in fact, brothers. Half-brothers more accurately, but most people around here seemed to forget that fact just because it seemed so unlikely.
Raine never forgot, though. And neither did Ohlan.
Ohlan stood beside him, and together, the two brothers stared out at the smoke and desolation marking the courtyard and its walls. Several low fires still burned, having long since been abandoned by the men and women who were now tending their dead.
“It ain’t your fault, Dark. He caught us all by surprise.”
Ohlan was one of the few – perhaps the only – to call Raine by his first name. Raine didn’t know why he had been named Dark. Most assumed it had to do with the color of his skin, that he had been given his name to mark what he was. Raine himself didn’t know the reason why, since he never got old enough to ask his dad before he died, and his mother never seemed to want to tell him, always instead calling him Raine. That’s why Raine preferred to go by his middle name, even if Ohlan sometimes called him Dark just to get under his skin. Ohlan had always been an ornery type, looking to incite conflict just to see how people reacted.
“You’re trying to play games at a time like this?” Raine asked.
“I’m not playing games,” Ohlan said.
When Raine looked at him, his younger brother seemed to truly mean it.
“We don’t have the men,” Raine said. “Give me men, and I can make this city ours.”
Ohlan spat, not out of disrespect, but habit. He’d always spat like that. Raine found the habit disgusting, but had long since stopped trying to correct it.
“It’s hard to find men when you’re not even willing to take slaves. Jesus, Raine…over half of their men had to be slaves. You think you did a good thing with that building. Hell, it surprised even me. But most of the men who died from it weren’t even Reapers.”
“I know that,” Raine said quietly.
“What’s your plan? Yeah, we bury the dead. We rebuild the walls.” He paused. “Or do we?”
Raine looked at Ohlan, feeling disgust. “What do you mean, do we? You came with me when we left the Reapers. You said you wanted revenge.” Raine stared hard at his brother. “Is your memory that short? You forget what they did to Dana?”
Ohlan ground his teeth. “Don’t you dare bring her up. Not after this when I know this is a fool’s war.”
“You can’t give up, Ohlan.”
The following quiet was icy, and neither brother seemed to want to break it.
“They’ll be back,” Ohlan said. “They kicked us in the dirt tonight. Tomorrow, they drive in the knife.”
“We need more time,” Raine said. “New slaves arrive by the day. They want freedom, Ohlan. And they’ll fight for that freedom harder than any slaves that Carin sends at us. We killed five times as many as they did, and that’s not even counting the building.”
“Maybe so,” Ohlan said. For a moment, Raine believed he had convinced him. That was, until Ohlan said, “except none of that matters when the numbers are ten to one. Quantity beats quality every time in war. That’s why Stalin beat Hitler, why Rome fell to the barbarians.” He paused. “And that’s why Raine will lose to Carin.”
“Why are you giving me a history lesson, Ohlan? What good is this, right now?”
“You need to wake up, Raine. Wake up and see where you’ve gotten us. If we’d had the slaves still, Carin wouldn’t have even attacked us. You know our numbers were a thousand stronger back when we had them. You say new ones come in, well, not fast enough to replace all the ones we lost, the ones that you let go because you decided to be noble and free them, thinking they would stay on. Well, surprise, surprise, they thought they had a better shot in the Wasteland than here, and like the dumb slaves they were, went off and starved, or better yet, got enslaved again…except by Carin. How many came back out of that thousand? A hundred? Not even that. Maybe fifty.” Ohlan chuckled darkly. “And after tonight…do you blame them for thinking they had a better shot out there?”
“You think you can do better?” Raine shouted. “Try! Try leading for yourself and see just how easy it is!”
“I’m just telling you how it is, brother. You changed ever since that girl came.” Ohlan looked at Raine sideways. “It’s good you saved her, don’t get me wrong. But you treat her like she’s your own.” Ohlan then turned, and Raine met his eyes, as much as he resented Ohlan right now. To Raine’s surprise, Ohlan seemed serious. “That girl isn’t your daughter, Raine. She isn’t Adrienne.”
Raine pushed Ohlan off. “You say this, right now?”
“I say it because it’s true! She put that idea in your head, didn’t she? When you’d go soft on me? When did you go soft on all of us?”
“I’m not soft, Ohlan.”
“Then prove it to me. Because I’m not seeing much reason to stay here. Not just me, brother. A lot of others are thinking along similar lines. After tonight, well…who knows?”
“What do you mean, Ohlan?”
Ohlan’s eyes weighed Raine. He waited for a long time before he answered.
“Some of the men want to move out of L.A.,” Ohlan said. “Adrienne isn’t ever coming back. Dana isn’t ever coming back. Why should everyone here have to die for our revenge?”
“It’s not just our revenge. The Reapers have taken something, someone, from every one of us here. If you’d rather run…good luck surviving in the Wasteland. It’s nearly as bad there as it is here.”
“With enough organization, a small force could survive there,” Ohlan said. “I know L.A. is the real prize. But it’s a prize Carin has already won. He has the numbers.”
Raine couldn’t allow his brother to leave. Losing even twenty-five fighting men could be enough to tip the balance beyond all hope of repair.
“You listen here,” Raine said, stepping closer. “As long as you are here, within these walls…the wallsI have built…there will be no talk of that. Were you anybody other than my brother right now, this conversation might go a lot differently. But since you are my brother, I’m going to give you one more chance.”
Raine didn’t have to elaborate that thought. He ran the Angels like he would run any army.
Desertion was a crime deserving of death.
Raine pressed his advantage. “You signed on for this, Ohlan. There is nothing more dishonorable and no one more worthy of revilement than a man who breaks his word, to a brother no less. You’ve broken your word to me before. You think I trust you because I’m stupid? No, Ohlan. I trust you because you’re family. I trust you because I have no choice. If you walk out on me, you’re leaving me to the wolves. And you know what? That’s something I could see you doing.”
Raine waited for Ohlan to respond with some pithy remark or comeback.
“You keeping your word is your chance from God to redeem yourself,” Raine said. “Do you believe in God, Ohlan?”
Ohlan shook his head.
“You believe Dana is watching you, then? Do you believe the possibility even exists?”
Slowly, Ohlan nodded.
“Imagine her watching you, then. Don’t do this for me. Don’t do it for you. Do it for her, because her blood demands it.”
Ohlan’s face fell. “I…don’t know if I can.”
“Try. Try. Fight with everything you’ve got. If you don’t, we’re not going to make it. If you do…we just might.”
It was a while, but finally, Ohlan nodded.