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Interlude #2

None of the soldiers ever expected to be fighting a war in the middle of Melbourne. Some of them had grown up here, pretty much all of them had at least visited. It was a city full of people, full of life. Now, it was a city full of violence.

They outnumbered the street thugs on the other side of the river, and they were better equipped. Slowly but surely, they were gaining ground, pushing the gang further back. If they could take this ground and hold it, it would be the first major victory they’d had since arriving.

Most of the street gangs were exactly that, collections of thugs, criminals and anarchists who just wanted to rebel against the system, or take advantage of the chaos to raid and loot. They were poorly armed and had no idea what they were doing. For the most part, they avoided the army.

The Stars were different. Nobody was quite sure where they were getting their weapons from, and they were organised, coordinated and efficient, almost like a paramilitary organisation. They fought strategically, and weren’t afraid of a fight. More often than not, they won.

Burst of gunfire and flashes of light broke up what would have otherwise been a dark and quiet night. While one soldier laid down covering fire, another dashed to a better position, staying low. The plan was working. They were pushing the Stars back.

A woman appeared, stepping out of the shadows, walking purposefully towards the unit’s captain. He noticed her, turned, raised his gun. She seemed undeterred.

“Hold!” he barked, clearly expecting the order to stop her tracks. When it didn’t, he added “Don’t move!” which proved to be just as effective.

He threatened to shoot her if she didn’t stop. She said nothing, and kept moving. That was all the warning he was willing to give. Her body language was too purposeful to be an innocent civilian. He opened fire.

She vanished in a burst of smoke, materialising again behind him. He didn’t even have the chance to turn around before her knife cut open his throat, a brutal cut that would have taken more strength than a woman of her stature should have been able to muster. As he collapsed to the ground, unable to breathe, unable to speak, he saw her vanish again.

She killed four more soldiers that way, silent and efficient, completely without mercy. That was enough to turn the tide of the battle, but she didn’t stop. Another soldier died. A voice in the darkness tutted, stealing her attention.

“I know they’re only human, but even I think that’s cruel,” he said, the light of the streetlamps glinting in his amber eyes. She glared as he dropped down from atop the arch of the bridge, landing gracefully and silently as a cat.

He approached her with a lazy, arrogant smile on his face, his hands resting casually in his pockets. She flicked the knife around in her hand a few times, her entire body tense, ready for a fight.

“I must confess, it’s an unusual sight, you getting involved in a minor skirmish like this,” he said, the two of them seemingly oblivious now to the fight that continued around them. “The territory can’t be that important, so what are you really doing here?”

She glowered at him, her eyes scanning the area, looking for a way out. In a one-on-one fight, she knew who had the upper hand.

“It’s obviously meant to send a message,” he continued, unperturbed by her lack of response. “But to who? The military? The other gangs? Are they supposed to think this territory is more important than it really is? Perhaps you’re trying to draw attention away from something else. Or maybe, you just wanted to get some fresh air, slit a few throats. Hmm?”

She took a step back, trying desperately to visualise a safe place. Blinking more than a few metres was risky, but being around him was even riskier.

“I have a theory. Your partner, or boss, or minion, or whatever. The Celestial. They’re not just clever, though that’s clearly what they want everyone to think. No, they have access to information they shouldn’t be able to have. They control half this city with a gang of maybe five dozen. They’re consistently one step ahead of the military, usually more. Now, other than me, I can think of two other people clever enough to be able to get that information without anyone knowing, and my dear sister is clearly working to her own agenda here. Which means somehow, you’ve found Haylie before me.”

Adrenaline flooded her system. He couldn’t suspect that, couldn’t know. If he found them, and he would find them, it was all over. Even together, they didn’t stand a chance against him, not directly.

She watched his eyes scan her, taking in every minute shift in her body language, every micro expression. She’d already given too much away.

It was too late to try and bluff. He’d see through that anyway. The only option she had was to divert his attention. She needed to offer him something more attractive than Haylie.

She contemplated ways to turn that to her advantage. Despite assurances to the contrary, she was completely convinced Charlie needed to be stopped. They couldn’t do it, but maybe Gabriel could.

For the first time in a very long time, a smile appeared on her face. Gabriel frowned, not expecting her sudden change.

She began to vanish, her body beginning to break apart. He moved almost too quickly to be seen, closing the distance between them, his hand gripping her wrist, anchoring her in place. She let fear creep into her eyes, which wasn’t hard. Part of her was terrified of just how fast he was, and how strong, even if it was exactly what she’d planned on happening.

“If you know where she is, and you’re keeping her from me,” he began, his voice a whispered threat, “believe me when I tell you there is no force on this earth that can protect you from me.”

She dropped her knife, using her free hand to reach into a pocket, and pull out a phone. He watched, curiously, as she navigated through photos, until she pulled up one in particular, and showed it to him.

He dropped her arm, staring at the photo. A vicious snarl escaped his lips.

“Impossible,” he said in a low, guttural voice.

Without saying another word, he disappeared into the darkness, moving like an animal. She reached down, picked up her knife, and vanished in a wisp of black smoke.

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