(I should pay a little more attention to my list; this was for longfic)
“Girls.” Baram nodded at Via and Aly the second he heard the “basement” door shut.
“On it already, boss. Jaelie’s down with the kids and Aloysius. And Aly’s been waking up the rest of the defenses. Now she can swap with Jae and Jae can get the trees ready.”
“Good.” Baram paced out onto the front walk. There wasn’t much to pretend to do here, but he could still pace.
Behind him, the girls moved. This was not their first attack, not by far. They knew what they were doing.
The walls shifted. They weren’t awake, whatever Viatrix had said, but they were ready, braced, and stronger than they normally were.
“Precious cargo tucked in.” Jaelie touched Baram’s shoulder. “Aloysius has rear guard.”
“Good.” Baram didn’t have to like the useless thing to admit he could come in handy. “Trees?”
“They’re good trees, aren’t they?” She stroked the trunk of one of the front-gate flanking plants. “My favorite trees.”
Baram suppressed a shudder. Hawthorn trees weren’t supposed to be that big, and they were not suppose to /purr./ “Good trees,” he agreed. “Almost here.” The dust was rising on the horizon. “Inside.”
“Inside. Might not be a fight, best to find out.”
She sighed. “Inside, yes, boss.” She slipped out of sight just as the motorcycles roared into view.
Baram did his best to look casual. There was a bolt that needed fixing on the gate, anyway.
There were six of them, four males, two females; four warriors, two bitches, if Baram was reading them right, but they didn’t split along gender lines. They were wearing leather, which might mean they were young – or might mean they were pragmatic. Baram had met Aelfgar and his soldiers; Baram sometimes remembered, in dreams, flashes of being a soldier.
Take nothing for granted. They could even, he supposed, be just wandering through. Since the world had started ending, they had definitely seen odder things.
“Afternoon.” He nodded at them, doing his best to seem normal-and-human. Normal-and-human was not an easy setting for him, but these were people riding large motorcycles and hung with weapons. Their bar was a little lower than people in suits in glassy offices.
“We’re looking for a pair.” The leader – probably female, hard to tell, didn’t matter much in this case anyway – snarled it out without even bothering with the pretense. “One male, one female, skinny. They came this way.”
Baram shook his head. “Haven’t seen anyone like that.”
The leader narrowed her eyes and glanced, briefly, at the man Baram had tagged as her bitch. He paled, closed his eyes, and murmured incoherently.
“They’re near. I promise it, I swear it.”
“You lie.” It wasn’t clear whether the woman was talking to the man or to Baram. It didn’t matter; she was drawing a weapon. “You. Tell me again. One man, one woman.”
Baram shook his head. “Bad idea. Ride away now.”
“You, you are not going to tell me what to do.” She dismounted, and took steps towards the front gate. “Tell me. One man, one woman. And I might let you live.”
“Last chance.” He still hadn’t drawn steel. He didn’t need to. “Ride away. Now.”
“You fucking deaf or just stupid? Give us our prey and we’ll let you live.”
Baram found himself roaring, just as the trees by the gate found they could reach the woman. “This. This is a Safe. House.”
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