Yellowjakket moved south and west, away from Charing Cross. She hunted press-gangs, and when she found one, didn’t hesitate. She tore into the first one she spotted. The gang had two kids in anti-magic shackles, neck and waist, holding them powerless to resist. The mind control in the collars held them while the belt disrupted any connection to the source.
She fired a electric pulse, striking the lead member. Her bolt caught the man in the chest hurtling him four meters back and to the ground where he spasmed uncontrollably. The other six spread out in a rough defensive circle. One girl ran to the downed man, and started to drag him back to the circle. Yellowjakket fired again, and a cage of electricity locked the two in place, their bodies rigid in the vicious, sparking sphere.
The mages fired back, a large sphere of pinkish red light covered the area around the mages, and Yellowjakket. “No place to run, Chippy”, one of the wizards laughed. “You’re nicked.” She didn’t try to escape, charging into the remaining circle of five. The first man took a high-speed elbow that shattered his jaw, spinning him to the ground. Her electrical blast lifted another mage off her feet, violently contracting muscles propelling her into the sphere. She screamed like a damned soul as her body melted on impact.
She pressed down and reversed field, heading back towards the center of the circle. Only three remained. A cage of electricity paralyzed the one maintaining the spell, and the curtain of death faded. The other two drew themselves up, moving their hands and chanting. The woman pointed at Yellowjakket, the man faced the children. She charged the man, barely dodging the firey blast aimed at her. She fired as she ran by, the electric cage trapping him, the spell, interrupted, fed back into the caster. He screamed in agony as his body and limbs twisted. The woman spat curses and cast another blast of firey death at Yellowjakket.
She dodged once more, lungs beginning to burn. Yellowjakket returned a quick electrical burst at the woman. The hit slowed but didn’t stop her. Her ribs ached as she pulled deep inside and put on a last burst of speed, and arrowed at the woman. The mage saw her coming but had no time to create a defensive barrier. The impact knocked the mage, and Yellowjakket to the ground. Yellowjakket looked over towards the children, and saw the man on the ground, his limbs twisted like tree roots. The acrid, metallic scent of blood was in the air as a dark pool spread under him.
She looked back at the other mage, who rocked on the pavement moaning in pain. A misshapen lump showed the dislocated shoulder. The children were still huddled where they had been dragged when the fight started. “Do you have a family to go home to?”, she asked in an exhausted voice. The pain made her smile more a grimace. She lay on her side, and waited for the pain to lessen. The kids looked lost. Slowly the taller of the two shook her head. Yellowjakket guessed she might be ten. “Come on”, she gasped. “You can talk, can’t you?” The shorter girl piped up. Yellowjakket guessed her age was maybe five or six. “We’re not supposed to talk to strangers.”
Yellowjakket smiled wider. The sharp pain had dulled to a low ache. “I’m not a stranger now, am I? I’ll help get you home if you want me to.” The shorter girl shook her head yes as the older one shook hers in a no. The action made her think of her own sisters. Her heart ached for her identical siblings. She forced herself to smile. She pushed up off the ground, then walked slowly to the remaining mage, the others had fallen unconscious from the electrical shocks. She looked down at the woman, then to the children. “Turn around, I’m going to help this lady, but it’s going to hurt.”, she explained. The mage continued to moan in pain, raking back and forth as she tried to cradle the arm. Yellowjakket saw her left knee had been flexed sideways. It stuck out at a ninety-degree angle. She grabbed the leg, then pushed hard and fast.
The woman screamed, then passed out from the searing pain. Yellowjakket tried to stomp the shoulder socket back in place. Two tries had no effect, so she laid off any more attempts. Instead she went to the children. She slowly kneeled, wincing at the pain shooting up the outside of her knee. She stood up flexing it. Satisfied nothing felt torn or broken, she kneeled again, watch the lower lip of the younger girl stick out in a pout. “I wanna go home”, she said and looked at the other girl. She shook her head and told the girl, “Hush Caroline, we need to be quiet.” The lower lip stuck out further, quivering slightly. “It’s all right sweetie, it’s all right. Why don’t you two run on home. I’ll make sure these bad people don’t follow you.”
The little girl looked up at the black-clad guardian. “You won’t leave? You promised.” The older one pouted like the younger. Her own lip sticking out as she gave Yellowjakket a suspicious look, then moved Caroline behind her. “We’ll make it home, it’s just a few streets over.” Yellowjakket nodded then turned. “Tell your parents what happened. If they want help, have them leave a note with their address at that corner. I’ll come help.” Yellowjakket pointed over to the corner where a small Jewler’s shop resided. “Put the note on the post box. I’ll check every day for you.” She smiled at the two girls, then stood up, the stitch in her side finally gone.
“You two must be special, when those people are trying to take you away from your mum and da.” The little girl nodded as her older sister frowned and Yellowjakket. She smiled at the older girl then turned to look to the north as a faint siren drifted in the air. “Go now, hurry, they’ll be here soon.” Wen they hesitated, she glared at the girls and snarled “MOVE!” The word propelled them into action, and the two ran down the street and turned right between the Jewler shop and the Shoe hop just south of it. Once the girls were out o sight, Yellowjakket sped south, drawing the hunters after her.
For the next hour, Yellowjakket drew the hunters south. Ambushing another group of mages just before she disappeared into the tunnels on the shore of the Thames. Once into the tunnels, she turned north, racing through the storm sewers, the moving water disrupting tracking spells. The mages had planned for that trick, using humans twisted into caricatures of werewolves to follow her scent in the humid air. That too, she’d prepared for. After moving at high speed through the tunnels, she moved back to the surface. A quick run to a nearby cache netted her a 15-liter petrol can. She poured the contents down into the sewer, then waited a minute for the fumes to spread.
Leaving the lid off, she flicked a match and tossed it carefully into the hole. Speeding off as it arced down. The heavy thump of the exploding gasoline would guarantee any scent would burned away. If any of the trackers were close enough, the concussion might daze them for a while, giving her more time to lose herself in the sewer tunnels. Her speed was an advantage. The animals could track her, but at her speed she’d be tens of kilometers and hours ahead of anyone following. That is, if they didn’t have the speed she did. So far, no one had. It wasn’t something to rely on though. Mages could mimic anything she did, given time, and she was certain that speed would be something that the mages would have worked on.
I just hope it’s more trouble than it’s worth to them to make it work. She dashed forward, and emerged at Charing Cross once more from the Tube. It was a quick sprint to the orphanage building. She tapped the door, and waited for one of the guardians of the place to open it. The thing that opened the door looked human in outline. Up close and in the light, she could see the greenish skin and the overlarge eyes of the troll. The creature had been found wounded after a magus patrol had been through the area. She’d survived by diving into the sewers and somehow managing to elude her pursuers to the Charing Cross station. She’d emerged above ground, and in a gamble, found a small park and allowed herself to be turned to stone by the sun’s rays.
The pursuers never seemed to have realized at the time that the stone statue was what they had been hunting. Locals had hidden her, and when Yellowjakket and the resistance had set up the ‘underground railroad’ to Scotland for children and families, she’d volunteered to take watch, in return for the kindness she’d been shown. Yellowjakket always felt there was much more to the story, but never asked. She wasn’t certain how the troll would take the question.
“Hi Gewrly”, she smiled at the troll. “How are the children?” “Ae, they bae rright fine. Yer moving?”, the troll rumbled questioningly. “Yes, the oldest this trip. With all the activity around here, we need to be able to move fast. The younger ones will be following soon up the rail. We’ll be going tomorrow night.” She looked down the unlit hall towards the double doors that served as the entrance to the beds. The Troll turned her head to gaze the same direction. “Ae, I’ll mes’um.” Her voice hardened for a moment. “Not all off’em.”
Gewrly continued as Yellowjakket raised eyebrows in surprise. She’d never heard the troll say one bad thing about any of the children, no matter how they seemed to treat her. Yet now, she was talking about being happy to see a child leave. “What’s gone on, Gewrly?” Her concern caught the troll by surprise, and she turned to look at Yellowjakket with wide eyes. “He’s em’tae. Y’ken? I cannae explain what I see. He’s, wrong tae me sense”, she finished quietly. “He’s not a bad lad, I cannae stand tae be around him.” Yellojakket nodded. “Point him out to me and I’ll take him north with this group”, she replied evenly. “Maybe a change of scenery will help whatever’s troubling him.”
Gewrly looked at Yellowjakket with a long-suffering expression, then just rolled her eyes and turned to settle back into the shadows by the door. She would sit there all night, occasionally going to check on the children if she heard them move. Yellowjakket padded to the doorway, and quietly pushed the door open. The children were all lying down in the crowded room. The beds were pushed together headboard to footboard in a long line that reached from one end of the former cafeteria, to the other. Fourteen long lines of beds were set this way. Each line was broken in thirds, with room for one person to walk between the rows. The packing left the other half of the cafeteria open for the children to play and move about. It wasn’t a cheerful place, but it was a start to a better one than they would be going to if the mages had their way. No, the further they were away from Londinium, the better.
She closed the door and walked quickly back to the troll. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, this same time, have the twelve oldest up and ready to travel. Include that one you talked about in the group. I’ll get them out of town, and to the next contact.” Gewrly nodded, her large white teeth near gleaming in the dark. “Ae will. Ye take cair, dolly. Themselves bae hatin’ you verra much.” Yellojakket noddded, and smiled. “I’m doing all right then.” The troll chuckled, sounding like a baritone chicken. “Tha’ ya are”, she replied.
The trip back she detoured east, going kilometers into Kent, before moving north, and finally returning to the Sewers under Brianburgh. She stopped at her bolt-hole to change clothes. She’d been gone times like this before. It was always easy to cover with talk about scavenging, if anyone became curious about her absence. Not that anyone really did. No one knew her Yellowjakket persona. Most here would cover for her if they did, which is why she took pains to keep her secret a real one instead of a shared one. The fewer that knew, the less danger for them. It was a lonely way to work, but now, more than ever, she had to think that way. She was alone.
She walked to the guards, and gave them the proper response. She could feel their gazes following her. They knew something had happened, but were too polite to ask. She knew the whole community would know in a few hours that ‘something bad must have happened to Sapphire’. I will not let this control me. I won’t let them know Selene’s gone. She clamped down on her sadness, and forced a smile to her lips, and a jaunty spring to her step. The more normal she acted, the less people would question her.
She managed to get to her curtain. The place still felt like Selene was going to appear out of her room, rubbing sleep from her eyes. The mental image made her knees buckle. The backpack fell from her shoulders and she bit down on a sob that forced its way through her teeth. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. They were all supposed to be alive, and running the mages in circles. Selene was supposed to be there to tell her and Serinda how to get the resistance really going. That was going to be Serinda’s job. She could sense power in people. She was a mage, but she was a meta too. Serinda was supposed to help recruit metas and mages that hadn’t been killed or captured by Control.
Being able to sense a person by their power was something that always bothered Sapphire about her sister. It was a big deal though. Up until Serinda died, they’d been finding people before the mages, and that had hurt them. Serinda had speculated, and one of the rescuees had confirmed, that the mages could pull power from an unresisting captive and use it to power their spells faster and more powerfully than simply pulling and manipulating the environment.
Life essence seemed, according to the partly trained mage, to be a fount of concentrated energy. The more aware, and alive a being was, the more ‘dense’ the energy they gave off when killed. And the mages found that this was a very fast shortcut to a lot of power. So when a major working needed doing, a number of the ‘lesser’ metas were tapped for the purpose. The description horrified her, and she could see, in the young man’s eyes, how much viewing such a ritual had wounded him. “I couldn’t do that, and in Control, if you can’t do what’s asked, then you’re next to be part of the ritual. It’s how they keep the underlings in line and focused”, he’d explained, shuddering at the memories.
“It din’t matter a whit that it was a kid, or a geezer they used. It’s like they got addicted to it all, and couldn’t wait for the next fix. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough after that. I just ran.” It had given them all a lot to process. For Selene, it crystallized what needed to be done. “We get ourselves our own army, and we make it people and metas and mages. We don’t go at them head-on. We isolate them, make them more desperate to find more ‘recruits’. We find where they’re keeping them, and we break them out, and get them somewhere away from Control. Starve a junkie and they turn on each other to get that fix.”
That led to Serinda’s death, and now, Selene’s. Sapphire felt overwhelmed. It wasn’t like she ever believed they’d die. Reality caught up with her fantasies, and bit her hard. She dropped to her knees just inside the curtain. As she started to cry, there was a quiet thump from behind. A moment later there, were hands on her shoulders as a body painfully kneeled next to her.
“Sapph? Hey, Sapph. It’s Simon. I’m right here. I’ll keep an eye on things.” His earnest, caring voice cut through the fog of pain, and she slowly pulled herself back from the despair that had started to overwhelm her. Unconsciously, she leaned into Simon, drawing comfort from his presence. Simon caught the movement, and moved to a sitting position. He held her as she cried once more for the sisters she’d never see. Later, Simon got back to his feet, and carried her to her bed, then drew the thin blanket over her, and quietly left.
Morning brought activity, and the noise brought Sapphire back from a nightmare of watching her sisters melt away in one of the sacrifices the rogue mage had described. She shook her head to clear it, and gave herself a quick sponge bath, filling the basin with the cold water that had been left on the stovetop. She dressed, then gathered up more portable food, packing it in a pillowcase. She added more utensils and the portable stove to the backpack, then stuffed in clothing. Last of all went in Serinda’s and Selene’s costumes. She pulled up the loose floorboards in front of the stove to get them, and stuffed them deep in the backpack.
Simon was right at the curtain when she pulled it open. He took an awkward step back to avoid spilling the breakfast tray on her. “Sapph! Er, ah, I thought you might like a little something this morning besides kibble. The scent of cooked egg and cheese wafted up to her. Her stomach growled with appreciation as she dropped the pillowcase with a clatter. She grabbed the slice of rough bread, and shoveled the egg and cheese as fast as she could. “Hey hey girlie! Inhale! Take. A. Breath.” he laughed. “Whrm dud you gut dis?”, she choked out between bites. She hadn’t had an egg in months.
“There’s another group south o’ London. I traded some work for a dozen. Seemed a shame not to share ’em with someone.” He shrugged then looked at Sapphire. Her won gaze had wandered up to his face and met his as he finished speaking. The warm feeling came over her again as she watched his eyes. The feeling felt good, and she caught herself leaning towards Simon. She caught herself before she overbalanced, covering her blush with another spurt of shoveling food as fast as possible.
“Look, Sapph, I don’t know what’s got you down, and I won’t question. If you need an ear to listen some time, look me up”, he finished. An awkward silence built up between them. Awkward, yet comforting. She wanted to break the silence, and wanted it to just hang around a bit longer so she could enjoy Simon and the quiet presence around them both. Simon gazed at her and his face flushed. He coughed, breaking the silence. “Umm, I’ll see you later, Sapph. Gotta few chores to take care of and all that.” Sapphire nodded, not trusting her voice. Simon turned and gave her a small wave. “Right, I’m off. Talk with you later.”
She looked down at the tray, and finished the last piece of bread, slathering it in the runny remains of the yolk. Once she’d done that, the tray went on top of the stove, and she picked up the pillowcase. The trip out to the bolt-hole was quiet. Everyone seemed to be about their own business as she passed the checkpoint.
The voices and noise of the small camp faded behind her as she trudged down the tunnel. Replacing it were the dripping of water and the scurrying of rats and other animals that used the sewers as home. She got to the hidden entrance, then ducked inside to find that her hideout had been discovered. The backpack of food was gone. Empty food tins were strewn about. The small portable stove had been nicked. Her clothes were strewn about, with some of them cut.
She dropped to her knees, staring at the wreckage done. As she glanced about the remains, she saw the neck from a bottle. A second glance showed a second bottle further down the sewer. She picked up the neck, mindful of the jagged end and took a sniff. It smelled of Gin. Someone had stmbled across the place apparently drunk and by chance, then eaten their fill, and took anything of value. Sapphire stopped, and listened. If they were drunk, thy might be still ‘sleeping it off’ here.
She lowered the pillowcase full of cans to the floor as quietly as possible, then did the same with the backpack. She held still for a minute, ears straining to hear the slightest sound. Once she convinced herself no one was there, she hurried to pick up what clothes could still be worn, then moved the rocks to get her costume. Placing it in the backpack, she scrambled out of the Hideaway, and shouldered her backpack and pillowcase of food. She wouldn’t have time to look for a place to stay. She had to be back at Charing Cross to lead the kids out of Londinium tonight. With her destination fixed, she started a quick trot Southward.