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February 22nd, 2011. 2200hrs.

 

”Aren’t I supposed to be the dumb, reckless one?” a masculine, amused voice teased while drawing out each syllable a little longer than needed.

 

There was only an irritated grunt in response, as Gavin continued to replace bandages to the burn wounds sustained by his superior officer. He had already bandaged her legs, and had moved on to her torso and arms at this point which were also pretty wrecked from her act of heroism earlier in the day. Rebekah was a hardass, to be sure, but the longer he had stayed here in this unit… in this war, the more humanity started to slip out. More willingness to go against orders as stated for the purpose of saving more people and reducing the loss of life for not just the military, but for the civilian population as well.

 

How could it not? This was not a conflict of humanity against humanity, but instead a conflict between humanity and a new species that was intent on seeing humanity burn. Sometimes they got there fast enough to stop widespread destruction, but more often the monsters were only repelled or killed after the damage was already done. After so much death was already dealt that their presence made no real effect. They were both trained for one type of war, and were both conditioned for it pretty well. The reality was an entirely different beast, both literally and figuratively.

 

Earlier today was slightly different, because the advance of the monsters had some forewarning and there happened to be some heavy weaponry stationed nearby. A lucky hit with a rocket propelled grenade stunned and disoriented a dragon well enough to get it close to the ground, and once it was near that point it was much easier pickings for follow up shots, shadow blades, and elimination. The beast had managed to set fire only to a neighborhood, and while the rest of the team worked to stop the fire from spreading, their fearless team leader went into the flames to save who she could.

 

Rebekah—Sergeant Lynch managed to get out and save eight people from burning to death in that small neighborhood. She suffered pretty significant burn wounds in the process over a good chunk of her body, and was still just disappointed that she couldn’t save everybody. Not that she was the only one running into the fire, willingly jumping into a needlessly life-threatening situation – mind you, the exact thing that Gavin himself got yelled at for more than once. No, not that.

 

That she was not able to somehow become even more superhuman and save literally everyone by herself. The American, for his part, was generally pretty happy to just be alive at the end of every day at this point. He was never part of a combat role before, and sure he got the same basic training that every other soldier got… but he had never seriously expected to be using it very often. Combat in his old line of work generally meant that something had gone pretty terribly wrong, which wasn’t exactly untrue in his current line of work either.

 

Being on the open field made for weird situations like this one, a random non-medic trained private patching up a Sergeant in the medical tent. Their medic had been killed in an engagement about two weeks ago, and the new one who was supposed to arrive yesterday had not quite come yet. So here he was at Rebekah’s request, trying to apply his minimal training medical assistance to someone who could spasm and break his neck at any moment by accident. Distinct lines between superior and subordinate were still there, but became more and more blurred the longer they were out here. They became much closer than any of them had ever expected, turning into friends and maybe something—no, just friends. Which is why she had requested Gavin to come and bandage her up in particular, because she for whatever reason trusted him to do a good job with it.

 

Lynch started squirming a bit, likely in pain from the fresh burns being messed with. She healed faster than anybody else, but she was not spared the agony of the fresh wounds themselves. Her form was muscular, but still lithe. At roughly five feet, six inches nobody would really expect her to be the powerhouse of not only the team but basically the entire Special Forces wing. Red hair clipped exactly to uniform length shifted slightly with each movement, and Gavin laid a gentle hand on the Irishwoman’s bare shoulder for a moment for what he hoped to be comfort. ”Jus’ a lil’ longer.” the American breathed out as calmly and reassuringly as he could manage. The squirming stopped almost immediately, which was something considering that the pain of having a human being only a few brain cells away from being an actual monkey fiddle with numerous fresh second and third degree burns must have not been the most pleasant experience.

 

“Yuh never did tell me, DeLuc.” Her voice all but mumbled, much lower than the American was used to.

 

He knew what she was getting at, and he had told her. She was bugging him from the first day about it, on and off. Why an American would abandon their home, their chance to reunite with family, and their way of life to go volunteer to join the Irish military in the biggest active warzone of the planet. A country which he had never been to and had absolutely no ties to whatsoever.

 

”I told you, I just thought it was the right thing to do,” he started, but was interrupted quickly.

 

“Don’ gimme tat shit, Gavin. Nobody’s gonna over’ear yuh in ‘ere. Ah don’ give a shit if yuh tell me, jus’ don’t fuckin’ lie to me. Ah’d tink we’d be past tat by now.” Rebekah’s tone was not accusatory or even irritated, just matter of fact.

 

Silence hung over the room for what seemed like eternity, with Gavin continuing to replace the bandages all over his superior’s body and Rebekah closing her green eyes in some form of meditation. Eventually, however, Gavin spoke up once again.

 

”I’m not gonna die where I was born.” he started, and then trailed off. He was not interrupted or questioned while he gathered his thoughts to talk more, which he eventually started doing. ”I did manage t’ make it back, close t’ where home was. Lots of… ex-military, ex-police, would have fit right in if… If I wasn’t effected in the… event.”

 

He trailed off again, and he noticed a slight nod from Rebekah but no verbal response. There was another long silence in the room before he continued once more. ”There was a new group that took control of the area, the ‘Humanity Vanguard’ or something. Pure human supremacists, basically. Only made it through them because me’n’my only surviving coworker killed some lycanthropes for them. He got acceptance in their ranks, and I got put on a shitty cargo ship here. If I had stayed, I would have probably died in some alley and there was no way I was turning back towards Colorado. Not after making it so far.”

 

That was the most he had said about his recent past since coming here, and he knew damned well that Lynch would memorize every word of that to ask questions about later in quiet moments. She was exceptionally good at putting those questions to words at a time where her subject was most likely to respond positively to them, a trait which Gavin wished he had. It wasn’t that he was trying to hide anything, moreso that he thought his own recent past was nothing in comparison to what every soldier on the British Isles and Ireland have fought through in recent times. A few lycanthropes and zombies and anarchy spreading throughout the country pale in comparison to a full scale monster invasion and a fight for the right to exist in the new and changing landscape of the world.

 

“Lycanthropes, are those…?” Rebekah trailed off, most likely intentionally, knowing that Gavin had gotten the essence of the question.

 

”Apparently. We killed ‘em before seeing them transform, but good God were they tougher than normal even still. If we survive the dragons, I’ll see if I can’t introduce you to some. You might finally get a decent sparring partner.” he said, noting that some humor had finally returned to his previously toneless voice.

 

When we survive the dragons, you mean.” Rebekah corrected, with some forcefulness. Almost as if she was trying to convince herself as much as Gavin.

 

The American did not reply, and instead finished cleaning the wounds and swapping the bandages. He might not have been practiced, but he was careful and while it did take longer for the task to be completed it also meant that no major mistakes were made and the chances for infection were next to none unless they were crawling through mud or other mildly to moderately disgusting semisolids tomorrow.

 

Which unfortunately was a distinct possibility. He just hoped it wasn’t sand this time, because by God Gavin had learned that he absolutely despised sand during his time here. It got literally everywhere on your body and was impossible to get completely out of clothes.

 

”All done, Sergeant. Anything else?” Gavin asked, as Rebekah was already pulling over a shirt and her uniform jacket over her torso once more.

 

“Jus’ a few more tings ah’d like t’ make yuh aware of.” Lynch responded, standing up with her jacket over her shoulders and already starting to head outside. “If it’s all t’ same to yah, ah’d like to talk’n’walk.”

 

The American needed no other motivation to bolt up and follow after his superior, because even with extensive burn injuries she was still much faster than Gavin was and he did not want to be left in the metaphorical dust, again. Thankfully, once outside it was not hard to miss the indominatable redhead walking across the camp like absolutely nothing on the planet could stop her forward march.

 

It took a little jogging, but in short order the American fell in step beside Rebekah’s admittedly brisk pace and awaited further instruction. One of the pleasant things about his new… abilities was the ability to see in the nighttime as clear as day time. Gavin was taller than Rebekah, but not significantly so. He was put down at a charitable five feet, ten inches… which was true, if you rounded the number. And things were so hectic that nobody really bothered to check an inch or two here or there, which was just dandy for the American who had always been a little self-conscious about his height.

 

Rebekah’s green eyes met Gavin’s steel gray for a moment before she stopped walking and started talking, gauging his response no doubt to what she would say next. They were a decent ways away from the camp, far enough that there was no chance of being overheard by anyone.

 

“Firs’ tings firs’,” she started, her tone betraying absolutely nothing. “Ah’ve signed papers to field promote yuh to Ceannaire, or Corporal. I’ll tell te rest of te team tomorrow, but you’ll be acting as my second for te rest of tis deployment.”

 

Her tone was completely neutral, with only a bit of smugness leaking through that quite frankly confused Gavin more than he was already confused. Why him? There were more qualified people to take that spot in the squad, especially because it wasn’t that long ago that this same group of individuals didn’t trust the American interloper as far as they could throw him – which in at least one case was pretty damned far, admittedly.

 

He must have done a pretty terrible job hiding that confusion, because a smile spread across the woman’s features at the response, and just that simple gesture made Lynch’s face light up and Gavin’s flush. It was a good thing the darkness over their camp did a great job at hiding the latter, for both of their sakes.

 

“And tat’s why. Most soldiers would be hootin’ an’ hollerin’ by now.” Rebekah said with a low laugh. When she continued, though, her tone was much more serious. “We’re both not human anymore, at least not completely. And tese effects are too new fer me t’ know much about ‘em – ahm doing this partially because ah tink your winning personality and cautious style clashes with mine in a way tat will help us become more successful… an’ partially because nobody else knows what your limits are but you. DeLuc, much as I hate to admit it, you seem to be at least somewhat competent at simple tasks such as putting on your pants on one leg at a time or cutting up wing membrane, and I want to empower you to do more of that when you think you can. If we’re gonna save this place, we’re going to need everyone to be contributing at max potential and to be frank I’ve realized I have no idea how to use a shadowcaster.”

 

This was the first time Gavin had ever seen this happen: Sergeant Rebekah Lynch admitting that she did not know what to do. It made sense, because this was not the type of war either of them had ever trained for. She was trained to engage in close quarters combat with enemy human soldiers and destroy them. He was trained to interrogate humans and get information from them. Neither of those things were particularly helpful when your enemy happened to be swarms of giant, fire breathing lizards in the sky who were heavily resistant at worst to small arms fire and people who were not quite human were starting to crop up more and more. Who would know how to use a shadowcaster, for example? Gavin sure as hell didn’t, and he was the shadowcaster! Umbrakinesis wasn’t exactly a new and emerging field in military strategy or tactics a few months ago, so there wasn’t exactly a wide base to draw from when generating ideas.

 

Noting the silence that had fallen, Sergeant Lynch spoke up again. “I also told you early in case you wanted to refuse. I didn’t want to force you into a position that you think you would do poorly in.” Her words came in slow, enunciating every word clearly and her tone was soft and reassuring. It was clear that she believed in him, and the only question that remained was if Gavin believed in himself.

 

Which was a good question, to be fair. One that the American was not sure he could answer at the moment, but as was normal in the military… decisions had to be made very quickly, and he figured it was worth a try.

 

”I trust your judgment, Sergeant. I accept.”

 

“Ah tink yah misunderstand.” Rebekah said after a pause, her tone neutral. “Ah wan’ your judgment. Do you trust that?”

 

”If the other option is O’Quinn getting the spot,” the American responded with a laugh, ”Then I trust in my judgment a heck of a lot.”

 

With that, Gavin threw up a salute that was quickly returned. The Sergeant tried to make her face neutral, but a smirk escaped her features anyway. It was obvious she was pleased with that answer. “That’ll be all, Corporal. You’re dismissed. It’ll be a long day tomorrow, rest up for it.”

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Galway Province, Ireland.

February 11st, 2013.

2155hrs.

 

This was it.

 

This was the road to the end.

 

A massive invasion force was marching toward the province of Galway, and Gavin was unlucky enough to be part of the diversion that would stall for the time needed for all of the civilians to flee. They were to stop the draconic forces, mostly the terrifying mages who looked like a terrible mixture of reptile and human. Their vile fire magic had killed uncountable masses at this point, and orders had come down for higher ups given the reptiles storming the previous borders en masse over the previously more or less secure borders to evacuate the entire damned country. The creatures were more intelligent than the dragons, though thankfully less so than humans. Individually, they were not that powerful. They won fights against mages because most mages were fucking terrible, not because the reptile mages were particularly powerful on their own. When in groups, however, their combined power was enough to torch an entire city to ashes in a matter of minutes. With virtually all of the winged dragons headed farther down south for an unknown season, the slower bipeds were left to spearhead the new westward push of the aliens.

 

Ireland was to be given up, but the military were to be the ones to cover the final retreat and lay down their lives for the greater good. At least, that was the pitch. Nobody expected them to survive, so the remnants of the defense forces in the province were all riding to their doom as a ragtag bunch of misfits. Remnants of the Irish and British militaries were in abundance, but also volunteers from nations across the sea like Gavin himself were thrust into this position as well for better or for worse.

 

It had been for volunteers only, and those who were particularly patriotic or had nowhere else to go signed up for the suicide mission in droves. Better to die in battle than drown due to a leak in the ocean, or be stuck out there to get roasted to death should the stalling mission fail. Better to take destiny into their own hands, they figured. Not Gavin, oh no. He wanted to be on that boat yesterday, but he wasn’t about to leave Rebekah here to die even if it meant he was damned as well. She grew up in this county, and was able to see her family in person one more time before departing in tears to ensure that they would be able to make it to the deep ocean before any of the reptile invaders made it to the western coastline.

 

Rebekah was promoted to Company Sergeant and given command of roughly ninety individuals simply due to the fact that she was the highest ranked Irish soldier left on the ground. All of the officer corps were either down south or getting onto the boats themselves, which left Sergeant Lynch in charge of Galway’s last stand. They were arranged in three platoons, with Lynch taking the vanguard and the two other most senior enlisted taking lead of the left and right flank. Darkness fell early on in the night, but the bright headlights of the vehicles cleared the way, at least for now.

 

All of their proper armored vehicles were destroyed at this point, so they were riding in the biggest and heaviest trucks they could get their hands on that were retrofitted with as much armor as was possible and decked out with two machine guns in the passenger seat and bed. Each truck also carried the flags of the soldiers fighting within the truck, which meant that the one Gavin was in had both the Irish and American flags streaming on the sides as it raced down the road. Body armor was worn by some, but against the threat of fire most saw it to be useless. Those who could get their hands on fire resistant gear slapped that shit on, but the rest of them typically just wore their plain old uniforms. The average age of the troops here was on the depressingly low end, probably early twenties with those being younger or older not an uncommon sight.

 

The ride there had been boisterous, to say the least. The Irish soldiers sang A Soldier’s Song both in Gaelic and English almost nonstop for most of the ride, with Rebekah and the gunner in the back physically touching Gavin whenever the verse about soldiers coming from a land beyond the wave came up. It was a ritual that had developed because he was the only foreigner in his immediate unit, and had become a real asset as the war raged on due to his magical talent and the fact that he was quite frankly better than just about any other mage they had encountered along the way.

 

They had gone over the plan numerous times, and when they started approaching the border the boisterous singing quieted down into almost complete silence as the praying started from the vast majority of the group. They were making peace with their God, fully aware of the fact that they would not be making it back home. Gavin himself was never religious, but he did spare a few glances over to Rebekah in the passenger seat with her head bowed and muttering a familiar prayer that she did before every major battle.

 

”Lord, I ask for courage. Courage to face and conquer my own fears… Courage to take me where others will not go. I ask for strength... Strength of body to protect others... Strength of spirit to lead others. I ask for dedication... Dedication to my duty, to do it well... Dedication to my country, to keep it safe. Give me Lord, concern... For those who trust me, and compassion for those who need me. And please Lord.... Through it all be at our side.”

 

Many of the Irish soldiers wore blue face paint at least in a few lines across their cheeks, and Rebekah was no different. Hell, even Gavin did it because he wasn’t about to refuse a morale boosting exercise immediately before riding right to his death. As she was finishing her prayer, Gavin glanced over one more time and let his left hand slip from the steering wheel and held it out for a moment before it was grabbed tightly by the woman to his left.

 

”We’ll make it through.” the American said with a conviction he did not truly feel, ”We always do.”

 

The American’s steel gray gaze met with the Irishwoman’s soft brown as she gave him a forced smile in response. Dress code was nonexistent, and most soldiers just let their hair grow out naturally due to the lack of time during the war to actually do any self-care or grooming, but this mission was a little different. They had time to prepare, and most wanted to die how they lived – so many of the men, including Gavin shaved off their facial hair and trimmed up enough to look good for what would likely be their final photographs to be sent back to their families. Some of the techie mages managed to upgrade some radios so every member had one, and the live feed made it back to the people on the shores so they theoretically would know how many to expect coming when all was said and done. If the group managed to survive, it would also mean that a rescue party could be sent back immediately and they could hop on one of the last boats out.

 

An unlikely proposition, but it was good to know that if somehow, they managed to make it through this suicide mission alive they wouldn’t be left out here to starve to death or get whacked by the next patrol.

 

Rebekah was always more of a rebel than Gavin was in some respects, and her own personal style was one of them. Her orange hair dye that she adopted early on in the war was redone, and her longer hair was braided in the style of the Celtic warriors of old. She eventually pulled her hand away, however, to reach for the radio in the truck and give out the order they had all been waiting for.

 

”Turn off the headlights, and put on your NVGs. I just wanted to say a quick word before we went into radio silence for the last few minutes of peace before contact with the enemy.”

 

Gavin already started the dampening effect around their vehicle, mostly out of a precaution because these pre-battle speeches tended to get a little loud. He would not activate the darkness for a few more minutes now, because there was no possible way the enemy could be in line of sight to the convoy now. Steel gray eyes, altered to be able to see clearly in the darkness, glanced over to Sergeant Lynch as she gave her speech with admiration and pride written clearly on the American’s face.

 

”Today we stand as the last line of defense for the tens of thousands of refugees at the shores that are packing up their entire lives to flee their homes as we speak. Three days ago, you all answered the call to help save these lives by making a line in this ancient ground to give the rest of humanity hope. Hope that this alien menace can be stopped, and our sacred homeland may one day be reclaimed from the jaws of the reptile invaders that currently hold her hostage.”

 

”Someday, when these invaders are but a history lesson for the children of Ireland, the entirety of the world will come together and remember this place… this sacred ground watered with our blood, freely given to heavenly cause and say that humanity was here! They will say that the soldiers here, on this day, taught our enemy that humanity does not falter! That we proved to those reptilian bastards that humanity does not surrender! And most of all, they will salute the battle standard of our ancestors and say that we are the reason that they yet draw breath! Their mothers, their fathers, their daughters and their sons… all alive and well because we DID NOT FAIL! Faugh an Beallach! Clear the way!”

 

With that, the woman put the radio down and manned the machine gun in the passenger seat. They had made their separate peace before riding off, promising each other that they would not devolve into tears and I love yous in the midst of battle to get both of them killed like idiots. They held a simple wedding the day before to join them in the eyes of God, and if they both survived it would be made public when both of their families could make the trek over to attend. For now, though, the shadowcaster just focused on maintaining a minimal shroud over the vehicles around him and a moderate noise dampening to make sure that they were not heard in their approach.

 

After the awful waiting that seemed like an eternity, the enemy was spotted on the horizon. Previous encounters showed that these reptile mages were not immune to their own fire, and tended to have quite the accuracy at a distance with their magic. Up close, however, they were not immune to panic and were not nearly as comfortable flinging around that deadly fire. This led to a simple, but extremely dangerous strategy in closing the gap and fighting the enemy in hand to hand combat to prevent the mass use of magic. Their scales were thick, but not thick enough to deflect bullets like their trueborn flying cousins. They were also not immune to solidified shadow, which in this much darkness meant that as long as the American stayed alive he could cut a devastating swath of death throughout the battlefield.

 

Which would be more necessary than initially thought, because not only were there hundreds of the abominations present… but two dragons circling overhead as well to protect the flock. This was not in the plan because while the two species had worked together in the past the dragons were never intelligent enough to actually guard the mages for any extended length of time. Their animal level intelligence made it impossible, or so they had thought.

 

”I’ll take care of the dragons. You take care of the mages. I love you, Gavin. Stay safe and don’t do anything stupid.” Rebekah whispered, grabbing the 20 inch barrel HK417 that she had become so famous for shooting down dragons with before and jumping out of the damned vehicle with all the casualness in the world. Like it was routine and like those weren’t the last words that she would ever speak to her husband.

 

Fuck. With Rebekah there, Gavin could at least lean on the aura of confidence that she always had to make it through the initial charge and steel himself. With her gone, he was just left by himself staring down a suicidal run forward that would likely see him killed instantaneously. Alone. Despite his best efforts to hide it throughout the campaign, the fact remained that Gavin seemed to feel fear more than most others that he served with. The fact was, he was still terrified to die and only forced himself to keep it together so Rebekah didn’t notice. With her gone, the façade of confidence started cracking immediately.

 

All he could do now is maintain the cloak and noise dampening and hope to God this plan worked, because if he fucked up and any one of them caught wind of what was happening… all of them would die without firing a shot. If anyone panicked and fired a shot too early, it would also kill them all due to making a noise too loud to be dampened without significant power expenditure and advanced warning.

 

But the wedge held together and waited. They waited until they were within one hundred yards of the enemy, and then they lowered their machine guns and started firing into the masses of the reptilians. The drivers also started flooring it to close the distance as quickly as possible, and in Gavin’s case he started to scream the words to spells to unleash every bit of shadow he could into killing and disabling the invaders with as little power expenditure as possible. As soon as the machine guns started firing, the shadowcaster dropped the noise dampening and as soon as the trucks started ramming into the aliens he dropped the cloaking entirely.

 

He would not let Rebekah down, not now. He would survive this, regardless of what it took.

 

Sharp and deadly stakes rose from the ground in intervals to impale the monsters where they stood while balls of shadow as big and dense as cannon balls were propelled as fast as the Altered could manage in a wide arc in front of Gavin’s lead vehicle as he used almost all of his remaining power all at once to cause as much initial damage and panic as possible. Here in the pitch black of an Irish winter night, his strength was as high as it ever could be with the complete lack of a moon overhead to wash away the shadow. This was the strongest he had ever been, with more shadows than he had ever had to fuel his powers. He just needed to cause enough initial damage to give the rest of them a chance, and he willing to damn near kill himself casting spells to do it.

 

From above, he heard the roar of one of the dragons above and looked up to see the damned thing soaring straight at him. He could hear the screams of his fellows as their vehicles were met with the fireballs of the mages, but so far Gavin had cleared a path for himself and those immediately behind him that they were able to just roll on through… until now.

 

”Fuck…” he muttered, his face draining of color immediately. He didn’t have enough left to take down the dragon, at least not quickly and in his panic he just froze there with his foot hard on the gas pedal and watched the dragon open its mouth to rain fiery death over the wedge…

 

Then a shot rang out and hit the fucker in the jaw. The force of the impact and surprise factor on the dragon caused it to redirect its fiery breath to the back rows of the mages, killing at least a hundred of its own kind in one fell swoop. A second shot hit the wing bone of the creature, causing it to screech in pain and start losing altitude, and the third shot hit the fucker right in the eye and dropped it over another group of reptilian mages. The corpse falling out of the sky must have killed at least a dozen of the damnable creatures, but that still left one more dragon.

 

But by the looks of it over half of the ranks of mages were destroyed, and the American raised his left fist in the air to give a cheer of celebration for a moment before turning his attention back to the battle…

 

Too late to react to the ball of energy that hit the truck he was in and sent the damned thing flying. Due to the lack of a seatbelt, he was flung into the air quite a distance away. He lost his radio in the fall, alongside the rifle he had between his legs. His means of communication and his best nonmagical weapon both taken from him in an instant, and then everything went black.

 

The next thing he knew, the American was on his back in the middle of a pile of heavily scorched reptilian bodies, and absolutely covered in wet blood. Whether that blood was his or someone else’s, he had no idea, but what he did know is that his head hurt like hell. He propped himself up on his elbows to observe the situation around him, and to be frank it looked better than he had expected. Out of the thirty trucks they had brought with them, every single one of them seemed to be destroyed. There were still about a dozen fighters still alive, using the destroyed hunks of metal as somewhat effective cover against the remaining mages who seemed to be doing the same. There seemed to be about two dozen of the mages left, and one of them just got brained by a sniper round as he was watching. The second dragon was also dead, riddled with bullets in both wings and its face that looked like they came from multiple machine guns while the American was knocked unconscious.

 

That meant Rebekah was still alive, so Gavin just needed to do his part as well. He still had some energy left to play with some of the shadows that covered every inch of the battlefield, aside from the bits on fire. Three reptilian mages ducked underneath a destroyed truck in front of him, and soon each of them were decapitated by a trio of higher speed scythe slashes that cleared one small group of human soldiers to advance just a little bit farther. The shadowcaster was too drained to cast spells without at least whispering the words to the spells, but he had assumed that all of the reptilians around him were dead already.

 

He was wrong.

 

The good news was that the fucker was just as drained as he was, or he would have died in a ball of fire. The bad news was that the American had thick, reptilian hands around his neck and was close to either getting his neck snapped or suffocating to death because he was caught in an exhale from the start. God, it was a strong little monster. If Gavin didn't have such a muscled neck it would have snapped under the pressure instantaneously.

 

The bastard lunged right at him and had its body weight sitting on the human’s stomach, and the mage itself was absolutely wretched looking. Severe burns covered its entire body and seared the skin beneath the thick scale, and it seemed to be breathing out of sheer spite while it summoned the last of its life force to kill one last enemy. The thing had the ugliest elongated lizard face the American had ever seen in his life, and its jaw seemed to be locked open with burns so severe in its mouth that the human could see its jawbone, along with the charred flesh that remained attached to that bone. He wasn't sure how it was still alive, but the reptile seemed pretty to determine to ensure that Gavin didn't remain breathing for much longer than it did.

 

He was too far away from the action for anyone to help him, because he had given no indication that he was not simply a corpse at this point. The pile of bodies would probably block vision of the reptilian basically lying on top of him at this point, so he needed to come up with a way to get himself out of this situation himself. He had his pistol in a leg holster, but it was secured by a strap and there was no way he could get that strap undone in this condition…

 

The knife.

 

He had a knife.

 

Gavin used his last bit of energy to lunge his chest forward in order to grab the fighting knife on his right thigh, and then just started stabbing as fast as he could will his muscles to move. The first stab was too weak to pierce the scales, but the second and third ones in the exact same spot started to dig deeper and deeper into the stomach of the beast. The American twisted the knife around as best he could to release or at least loosen the grip of the creature and cause as much internal damage as possible, but the stubborn thing continued holding on tight.

 

Just as his vision started to black out, the reptilian loosened its hold as the blood loss became too much for the creature to bear. The man immediately shoved the creature to the side as it struck human with fist and foot in its last gasps of life. The strikes hurt, but were not nearly as life threatening as the choking and within about thirty seconds the beast was too weak to fight or simply dead.

 

Breathe.

 

Breathe.

 

The man became acutely aware of a few things in that moment as he regained awareness of his surroundings. The first thing was that he had liquid on his face that his grimy hands could only somewhat wipe off, which was likely spittle from the reptile’s jaws. The second thing was that he had pissed himself while being choked out and so his pants were soaked, and the third thing was that the humans appeared to be winning now.

 

There were roughly a dozen reptilians left to six humans that he could see, and another sniper shot rang out to make it eleven mages and eight humans if he counted both himself and Rebekah.

 

They could do this. Gavin dropped the knife he had been clutching for dear life and carefully and slowly reached for his old American issued M9 and undid the holster for it. He drew it making as little sound as he could, thanking every god there ever was that the enemy mages were too distracted with being shot at that they neglected to notice the melee that was going on behind them as he lined up a shot at the closest one.

 

It was stupid, but in the moment, there was no thought behind these actions. It was just instinct, and his instinct was to kill as many of these abominations as possible to ensure that none of them made it past the border of Galway into the lightly defended ports behind them. He fired his first burst of four shots in time with a burst from the assault rifle of an ally to help cover the noise, hitting a lone mage hiding behind a truck multiple times and wounding it severely. The fucker was so distracted by the threat from the front that it had no idea that there was a threat from behind, but it hissed something to its comrades that made them very aware of what had just happened.

 

Fuck.

 

If only he had been a better shot.

 

Before the reptiles fully turned back to observe where the shots could have come from, Gavin discretely dropped the pistol and just played dead as a last ditch effort to survive. He closed his eyes and did his absolute best to remain as still as possible, hoping for the best and knowing at least he wouldn’t see his death coming at worst. In these tense moments, he was acutely aware of every discomfort possible that would make him want to move. The disgusting blood, spit, and piss that covered his body was absolutely disgusting and most of it came in layers at this point. His upper back was lying on a few small rocks that dug into his flesh in the most uncomfortable way, and the soil underneath his body overall was wet and goddamned cold.

 

To shiver while the mages were watching was to die, though, so he fought the urge as hard as he could. He stayed completely still, refusing to flinch at the sounds of gunfire and the smell of burning flesh and the screams of those being torched to death by that roaring dragon for what seemed like a goddamned eternity.

 

Then all the noises stopped. Gavin waited ten long seconds, counting as slowly as he could before he opened his eyes and took a look. Two injured mages hiding behind a truck about fifty feet from him, looking in the other direction. The soldier grabbed his pistol, aimed, and emptied the rest of his clip of eleven bullets right at them in quick succession. About a five of the shots missed entirely, but the other six found their mark around center mass and ended up dropping both of them fairly effectively. Thank God for hollow point bullets.

 

Gavin continued pulling the trigger after the clip emptied for a few more seconds, not registering the metallic clicking and lack of bullets due to exhaustion and the sustained panic and fear that he was still suffering from. Any second now, any of the surviving mages would burn him to a crisp for taking that stupid risk and he would be burnt alive for making too much noise.

 

Any second now.

 

Huh. Guess not.

 

The soldier pushed himself up, finding himself still dizzy from the concussion sustained earlier as he got a full view of the battlefield for the first time. The smell of burning flesh remained exceptionally strong in the air, and the landscape matched the scent. Human bodies burnt to the partially melted bone by dragon breath littered one end of the battlefield, with reptilians riddled with bullets littering the ground in front of him and behind the trucks that made it past the initial push.  The stench of burning flesh was nearly unbearable at this point, and anyone who was not a veteran of this war would have been doubled over puking at one whiff of that awful scent. Not Gavin, though, because as unpleasant as it was he had smelled worse in the beginning of the conflict.

 

They had held the line, but at tremendous cost. Even with Rebekah coming down to observe the damage up close, Gavin only saw four people total still standing… and that was including himself. Two additional soldiers seemed to be breathing, but they were visibly burned pretty badly. When he caught site of his wife, however, everything else seemed to just fade away around her. Rebekah seemed to have her uniform burned moderately, and made sure to give a wide arc to some of the hunks of metal that used to be the trucks that were still bright with heat from the fire magic of the reptilians. Otherwise, though, it just seemed to be sweat and dirt which meant that she didn’t sustain any major injuries.

 

The American could spot the exact moment that Rebekah noticed that the figure completely covered in dried mud and reptile blood was him, though, because she immediately started sprinting towards him and tackled him to the ground in a fierce hug. She managed to hold in the tears until she had made physical contact with him, which meant that she probably thought he was dead. Which was a fair assessment, because so did Gavin for most of that fighting.

 

”You picked a hell of a day to not wear a seatbelt,” she breathed in between tears, ”The rescue crew are on the way and…” she paused, pulling her arms off of the American momentarily to actively check his body for injuries. ”Fuck, I didn’t hurt you did I?”

 

”Becks, you’re perfect.” Gavin murmured, the reality of the situation finally hitting him. It finally hit him how lucky he was to not be one of those charred corpses on the ground, and he started crying too in a mess of fear, guilt, and relief to be alive.

 

They had done it. They had won. And it was mid-sob that once again the American lost consciousness, all of the exhaustion from his massive power expenditures and injuries catching up to him all at once as the adrenaline finally wore off.

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