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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 23. The Briefing

At exactly eight o’clock the six Stray Dogs converged in the Eurchurch’s auditorium. Six metal folding chairs had been set up for them to sit in. Loras stood in front of a glowing projection, wearing violet robes.

The others were already seated when Crow arrived. There was a chair opened between Barghast and Sara. Relieved, Crow immediately gravitated to it but noted that though they were sitting next to each other as per usual, Sara and Lydia were not holding hands. In fact they were both stiff, not looking at each other. Crow brushed the thoughts away - whatever’s going on between them it isn’t any of my concern.

He took the seat next to Barghast. The Okanavian was so big the chair seemed to barely hold him.

Barghast smiled at Crow. “How was your two day break? Have any fun?”

As always Crow felt his spirits lift when he was around the Okanavian. By fun do you mean taking a first class trip to the Abyss and fighting a Second Caste demon? What he said instead was, “Not really. I stayed home.”

“You should get out, live a little, get laid.”

Crow laughed, the sound coming out more bitter than he intended. “Who the hell has the time?”

Loras cleared her throat, flashing them a stern look. Her eyes scanned the other D-Squad members and began. “Yesterday we received news via a letter from the mayor of Fruimont, Benedict Matthiesen, that the city of Fruitmont has been invaded and taken over by the Scarlet Church. Here is the letter...”

With a shifting of papers the letter was slid into place so it was enlarged on the wall. A grim silence filled the room as the Stray Dogs scanned the letter’s passages. Even Rake, who Crow had labeled an emotionless psychopath, looked perturbed, his fingers gripping the side of his face, his eyebrows knitted together.

Loras waited a few minutes, studying D-Squad’s reactions; her eyes seemed to stay a little longer on Crow. Was she trying to tell him something with her eyes? He didn’t know. He was too caught up in the others’ responses to give a damn. For the first time since astral projecting to Fruimont the magnitude hit him like a punch to the gut. But this time he didn’t just feel disquiet - he was afraid too. If only I could turn away, he thought. Just pack my things and leave this place and this war behind. I could go east to the Terheim Ocean. I’ve never seen the beach and I’ve always wanted to. But deep down inside he knew even if he truly had a choice he couldn’t have walked away. The guilt of not trying to intercede would have weighed on his conscience, haunting him to the end of his days.

Why does everything have to be so fucking hard?

Loras continued. “I don’t know if they know it, I assume they do for Damen Orlys isn’t dumb, but Benedict Matthiesen has been a big assistance to the Eurchurch-Practitioner Alliance. They have taken in refugees fleeing from the demonic scourge spreading steadily across the hellscape and provided weapons and supplies. Without their assistance we have lost a great asset. The Eurchurch, however, is hesitant to send aid directly, not without more intel. Your job, D-Squad, will be to get into the city and observe.”

“Should we try and make contact with Benedict?” Barghast rumbled.

“Negative.” Loras sighed and Crow could see the worry on her face; she had never shown such emotion in front of the squad. “We don’t know what he’s being forced to say or do. He has a wife and two daughters. For all we know they could be held hostage as leverage. And no matter what you may see, no matter how much you might want to, you are not to play heroes.” Now she looked directly at Crow, specifically meaning him.

“How the fuck are we supposed to get into Fruimont if the city is as guarded as you say it is?”

“We have a scout installed in a small village called Umstadt. He goes by Rolliard. There you will meet him and he will tell you how to get in the village. You leave first thing tomorrow morning.”

Crow hung back until he was sure the others were gone before approaching Loras. He was shaking with barely contained anger.

“You talked Drajen into sending the entire squad didn’t you?” he demanded, voice quivering.

Loras’s face was completely calm, her voice soft. “I did.”

Why?” He looked around, realizing he shouted. There was no one around, no one who could have heard but still he dropped his voice down to a whisper. “This is my mission, no one else’s.”

“A mission too dangerous for any one person to take on their own...but especially a seventeen-year-old boy.”

Crow crossed his arms defiantly. “You think I can’t take care of myself?”

“I know you can...more so after knowing you fought a Second Caste demon and won. But that’s not the point.” Looking troubled, Loras expelled a sigh. “I can’t stand the idea of you going in there by yourself. At least if you go as a squad you will have someone to watch your back.”

Crow pursed his lips and looked away. In that moment Loras saw through the mask he always wore, the one where he tried to appear braver and older than he truly was. In this moment he truly looked his age, a human being hovering at the threshold between being a boy and a man. “It’s just if something happened to them...any of them...because of me I’d never be able to forgive myself.”

Loras put a hand on his shoulder and shook her head. “If anything happened to them it would be on my conscience not yours. I already have plenty of blood on my ledger, a little more won’t hurt. You don’t. I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible.”


 

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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