Wynefrede wasn’t a tiny woman, but she felt like a doll as the commando carried her up the mountain slung over his shoulder. But then again, if their gate allowed them to bring in weapons and military uniforms, then it probably didn’t have any constraints on body types, either. The main Krim entrance gate had a complicated point system for choosing bodies that forced users to make trade-offs between, say, strength and endurance. The commando carrying her didn’t seem to be operating under any physical constraints at all.
Now that the sun was up, the commando had taken off his night-vision goggles and was making good time, the one carrying an unconscious Finnbogi right behind.
When the fighting had started, the other four commandos had stayed behind to cover their escape.
She wondered who the attackers had been. Were they pirates? A rival cult? Random role-players trying to capture the island? Or did the Royal Season send people to save them?
The commando carrying her muttered something under his breath.
“What?” she said, but he ignored her.
She looked up at the man behind them and saw him touch his jaw. Then he whispered something as well. They must have radios, she suddenly realized. They were communicating with their bossed back at the compound.
If the Royal Season was coming to save them, the cult would be ready.
Minutes later, she heard someone calling out ahead of them and the commando carrying her turned slightly in the direction of the sound. Soon afterwards, she was unceremoniously handed off to someone else.
Finnobogi was handled more gently.
“He’s been unconscious for a while,” the commando carrying him said to the new arrivals. “Be careful with him.”
“We just have to get him to the gate,” said another commando.
Wynefrede craned her head around. Four commandos had joined them. All of them big, muscular, with streaks of dark paint on their faces. All were carrying automatic rifles except the one now carrying her. He must have handed his gun off to keep her from getting at it, she thought. But he still had a knife in a sheath on his utility belt. Her hands were tied together, but she could just reach it as soon as nobody was looking.
The two commandos who’d been carrying them, now armed with automatic rifles stayed behind as the newcomers took Wynefrede and Finnobogi.
One of them stood behind a tree while the other crouched behind a fallen log. Both faced downhill. If anyone was coming to save them, they were going to be killed.
Wynefrede thought that the man who’d been carrying her earlier moved fast, but now they’re were practically flying up the mountain. Of course, the new captors hadn’t just spent all night hiking around the island while carrying prisoners.
Wynefrede planned her escape. When nobody was looking, she’d grab the knife, stab the man carrying her in the back until he dropped her, then cut her ankles apart, run to Finnbogi, and slice his throat then her own.
She ran through the sequence several times in her head, though she suspected that her plan had multiple flaws.
She was handed back and forth twice on the way back to the compound, and then she heard automatic gunfire off in the distance and they burst out of the forest, ran between two buildings, and came out into an open area. When she turned her head, she could see that they were near the temple.
There was a moment when nobody was looking at her. People were shouting orders and questions to each other. Wynefrede moved her head a little to the side, so that her hair hung down to hide what her hands were doing and she slowly pulled apart the velcro flap that held the knife in place, trying to keep it from making any noise.
Then she heard someone say, “Throw them down anywhere. We’ll take them through the gate in a few minutes.”
Wynefrede grabbed the hilt of the knife and was able to pull it out just as her captor lifted her off his shoulder and dropped her on the ground, where she curled into a fetal position around the knife.
As Finnbogi was set on the ground next to her, a little more gently, she turned the knife around and twisted her hands enough to allow her to tuck it into her sleeve, then tried to sit up.
Around her, the commandos were handing automatic rifles out to the robed cult members, all of whom looked extremely confused.
The cult leader, Avourel, was walking around, patting his followers on the shoulder. “It’s going to be all right,” he was telling them. “They demons are on their way, but I’ve created weapons so that we can fight them off.”
Then some of the commanders gathered the cult members together and showed them how to use the guns. “Here’s the safety,” one said. “Click it off. Then if you see someone you don’t recognize, point the gun at them and pull the trigger. Keep shooting until they’re all dead. No, don’t point it at me.”
A couple of the cult members fired their guns and the commandos swore at them. Wynefrede ducked her head down, tucking it between her knees, hands clutched to her chest.
“Get them positioned around the perimeter,” said a familiar voice. Wynefrede shook her head to move her hair off her face enough to look up. She saw Vladimir standing next to the cult leader. He was talking to his commandos. “Put several up on the main road. That’s where most of them are coming from. And put the rest behind each of the main buildings, so they can shoot at anyone coming in from the forest.” He turned to Avourel. “You didn’t plan the design very well.”
Avourel shrugged. “It was the best of what Krim had to offer,” he said. “We were planning to clear the forest back further, build a stockade. But we haven’t had time to do any of that yet. I thought we’d have more time.” He sighed. “One of the pirates must have talked.”
“Or the grid administrators decided to come out and see what you were up to,” said Vladimir.
“No, I’m certain that we’re safe on that front,” said Avourel. “The board is completely behind us. And with all the guns we’ve been smuggling in, the pirates should have been, too. It’s probably the Royal Season.” He pointed down at Wynefrede and Finnbogi. “You shouldn’t have brought them here.”
“We were running out of places to hide them,” said Vladimir.
“Well, hurry up and get them out of here,” said Avourel. “If they’re not here, I might still be able to salvage the situation. They’ve only got one ship. If we kill them all, and get rid of the guns, then we should be safe. Even if the Royal Season tells the admins what happened, it will be their word against ours.”
“What about the guns that are already out there?”
“The ones that the pirates have been smuggling? They could have come from anywhere,” said Avourel.
“They might not have just one ship,” said Vladimir. “We can only see one in the bay, but there might be more to the north of the island, or going around to the other side.” He looked around. “We might have incoming attackers from any direction.”
“With bows and arrows.” Avourel waved his hand. “Just get the prisoners to your black site. We’ll handle the defense.”
“The gate’s not ready,” said Vladimir. “The authentication protocols aren’t in place yet. If we open it early, we might have a security situation.” He glanced down at Wynefrede and Finnbogi. “On the other hand, if these two get killed in the fighting, we’ll have an even bigger security problem.” He sighed. “Fine, I’ll send word to activate the gate early.” He snapped his fingers and gestured one of his commanders over. “I’m leaving,” he said, and pointed to the temple. “Give me fifteen minutes to activate the gate then bring these two through.”