A Grown Woman (29.1) The Street Rat

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PART 1

Jamie was now a Teen.

Things had gone the way they should, that was why. Most of the Scavengers had left Neyrk and were now on the ships, because they were no good in a fight, which was a really good excuse to guarantee their overall survival. But someone had to stay in Neyrk, for the sake of appearances and keeping the organization informed. Someone had to witness what happened and watch over the mercenaries that were on their payroll. Someone had to put their life in serious danger.

Jamie offered to do so, and that was how the Street Rat became a leader of the Scavengers, a full-fledged Teen, the youngest in the history of that organization. For it would be very ugly and unseemly for the Scavengers to leave someone to fully represent them in the last fight for the survival of humanity who wasn’t a Teen. The only other member of the Scavengers who was crazy enough to do what Jamie had volunteered to do was the Schoolboy.

He would have been picked instead since he was more capable in a fight, and more intimidating and respected by the mercenaries.

Pretty convenient that he wasn’t around.

“You want to run?!” Jamie asked, loudly and displeased.

“Yer not payin’ enough to fight these things!” the rugged warrior protested.

“Not payin’ enough? Yer lucky we’re payin’ at all! Most everyone dyin’ out there’s doing it for free!”

An explosion sounded out, and screams followed suit, which was really not good timing seeing as how she was trying to convince the crew leader to go back and listen to the soldiers.

“Me mates’re all dead, kid,” he yelled back, “all’s I’ve left’re a buncha rookies.”

The eye-patch wearing scar-riddled face that was looking back at Jamie was afraid. Jamie was afraid as well, but it wasn’t like the Street Rat would show it. 

“King,” the merc had named himself king, because of course, he had, “either you fight now for money, with everyone, or later for free when the dark ones get to ya.”

The man frowned in an effort to find some loophole to the logic, but there was none. That was it. That fight was all they had left.

“Get back out there, ya creepy coconut,” the Street Rat commanded, heavy on the accent. The man chuckled and shook his head helplessly.

“Bah, fine,” he walked off, gesturing to his men who promptly got in line with him. Jamie watched the man draw a saber and a pistol, one in each hand, before he yelled some assortment of crude and rude words that jousted them all into rushing to fight.

The battle was brutal, to say the least, and corpses littered the streets, of both Beast and Man. At least, however, the battle lines were being pretty respected which meant there was a direction to run towards if the battle became truly lost.

The Beasts were advancing little by little, setting up their terraforming pillars in order to gain more and more ground of invincible territory. The reason why the borough was still standing was due to the secret tunnels.

The Scavengers had secret tunnels providing pathways between different blocks all over their territory. Members used them to get around easily and evade law enforcement or any other kind of retaliation. It was why the Teens met at underground rooms, they were connected to the tunnel system just in case they were attacked.

It was the Scavenger’s best-kept secret.

Not anymore.

They were using them to get at the pillars, from below. Some had been collapsed to bury a whole row of the terraforming things, others were used for people to get behind battle lines and take the terraforming pillars out before the Beasts noticed and turned back, and even then, a few minutes were gained.

It was a strategy that only really started working right once the Hunter and the Circus Freak joined them there.

The former from Main Street, the latter from the militia barracks. Two territories that had fallen, out of four.

Jamie looked up to see Falk’s airship floating in the sky above, positioning itself for some purpose that was unknown to them all. Everyone was just hoping it would help because so far, they really were fighting a losing battle.

The casualties they were inflicting on the Beasts didn’t seem to cause any impact on their advance, but from where the Street Rat was standing, every person dead on their side was a huge deal.

Luckily, the Street Rat had convinced the rest of the Shadow Conclave to commit the Warlock and the Darkness to the Scavengers territory. It was more open and less fortified, so it needed the best people. Their body count was astounding, far as Jamie could tell. Apparently, as soon as the Beasts were out of their dark mist, and in the light one that surrounded them, Darkness could just go through their hide and kill the pilots.

The Warlock could only fight in increments of ten to twenty minutes before needing a five-minute break. Most of what he did was blow Beasts away or mess up their efforts to establish more terraforming pillars, he caused very few deaths.

“The Light has you, and it will have you.”

Jamie looked aside to catch sight of the Lady of Light, Amara. Jamie was right next to where the injured were being carried to, some already dead. Some of the Magni mages, and there was very little left of them, were tasked to teleport them into the ships. While they didn’t, the Lady of Light comforted them, with the help of some of her priests.

Why is she even here? It was a question the Street Rat had asked nine times already in that long night, and for a tenth time did Jamie put it aside in place of more important considerations.

Jamie opened the communication scroll and the map of the tunnels, which had a bunch of crosses or even lines scratching portions of it, to indicate what was left standing and what had been collapsed. There was so little left of it.

“Hey, brat!”

Jamie turned to face the Circus Freak. He still looked weird without the makeup and hat, but the lack of an arm and the goofy grin still meant he was recognizable. Alongside with the uniform, obviously.

“Tunnel I was in crumbled, like everyone’s hopes and dreams,” he said happily.

Jamie raised an eyebrow.

“Really?” Jamie asked. “Like everyone’s hopes and dreams?”

“Well look around, ‘ve ya looked at people?” Hugo asked, amused.

The Street Rat did not need to ‘look around.’ Jamie knew exactly what the Circus Freak was talking about. People were fighting, but none of them actually expected to win. It was really just because there was nothing else to actually do other than run and die later. There was no survival in defeat that time.

Jamie drew a big cross over the tunnel heading eastwards, the one the Circus Freak was referring to.

“Hm. I guess that’s it, then,” the Street Rat announced, more to himself. “They’ll be able to set up the pillars on our left flank. I’ll let everybody know.”

“What should I do?”

Jamie smiled and crossed arms. Members of the Shadow Conclave, officially Jamie’s equals, were turning to her to be told what to do. Obviously that was simply because she had made herself the tactician since she couldn’t fight, but still. It was a good feeling of superiority.

“Go here and get Hunter to come back,” Jamie instructed, pointing. “I’m gonna sick the Darkness on this flank since they now have a direct path to here.”

“Just write on the thing and tell her to come back,” Hugo suggested.

“Well yeah, obviously, but most everyone’s not reading the thing, you know? Kinda fighting for their lives? Just go, meet her on her way back in that case.”

“Alright I’m off, then,” Hugo said with a nod.

“Hey, who do I talk to about where to go?” They turned to see a much roughed up soldier. “Found my way from Main Square. Was told to come here?”

“You talk to him,” the Circus Freak said while walking off, pointing back at Jamie. “To her,” he corrected himself. “It? Them? Who knows, who will ever know!” he spun around dramatically and then pointed at Jamie again. “To the Street Rat right over he–”

“To her,” Jamie said, successfully surprising the would-be Jester. She smirked and turned to the soldier. “I’m your woman.”

Watching the Darkness and the Warlock go to work was an impressive and hopeful sight, but one Jamie would rather not be witnessing. The fact the fight was close enough for her to be watching only made it evident how close to defeat they really were.

“I have to ask,” someone next to her said, apologetically, “why are we fighting exactly?”

“At this point? Just hoping for a miracle, I guess,” Jamie confessed.

“You believe in the Lady?” The old woman asked, surprised.

“Pff,” the Street Rat dismissed the notion with an easy smile. “Either the Shadow and the Thieving Magpie…or him,” she said, gesturing up at the Mad Genius’s airship which, by that time, had stayed still for almost a full hour. The Street Rat kept checking the scroll but most of what she saw was Eliza complaining how he wasn’t giving them any information. That had culminated in her teleporting up into the airship to check personally. It had been fifteen minutes since.

“And I gotta be honest, Falk’s silence doesn’t bode well,” Jamie commented.

Mother Superior of the Wild Felids nodded in agreement.

“I never met the man, but Zaniyah doesn’t trust him,” she said.

“Nobody does, not really,” Jamie agreed, almost defensively.

“Why was he given such free reign, then? To orchestrate this battle however he pleased?”

“Necessities of war,” Jamie said, shrugging, sounding certainly defensive. “After what he did in Igtahlia, and then in Brithan? I’m still half-expecting him to have simply been buried in whatever invention he’s hopefully rushing to use against the dark ones to pay attention to the fact it’s gotten too late.”

“The dark ones?”

“The Beasts,” Jamie corrected herself, annoyed that she had made that mistake.

Fear is getting to me. The Street Rat looked ahead at the scene developing less than a mile away. But can anyone blame me?   

Buildings were mostly demolished, that was for sure. The roads and streets were caved in due to the tunnels collapsing, so the scenery really was just a bundled mess of debris and bodies making up one catastrophic sight. Terraforming pillars were set along the horizon, in every direction, and everyone fighting stood on the edge of the fog, engaging the Beasts that would leap onto them. The strategy was the same and had been the same for the entire night that they had been fighting.

Jump into their mist of light and use what little time they had of durability to gain terrain, and then die. The difference was still notable, though. What Jamie was seeing was nothing like what had plagued every other land, a visage consisting of nothing but Beasts advancing ever forward, leaving behind men and women of all ages and types trampled beneath them.

At least now, the Beasts littered the battlefield as well.

However, even if there was a lot more resistance, a lot more given than taken, it still felt futile. The Beasts still kept coming, relentless and numerous beyond belief.

“I’d be happy to at least see some of the reinforcements, ya know?” Jamie mentioned, cringing. “Would at least make me feel like their casualties are actually impactful in any way.”

“Would it?” the old woman asked.

“Pff,” Jamie crossed her arms, “naw.”

“What I wonder, and I have to ask,” she repeated. It was pretty darn great to have the elder leader of the Wild Felids standing next to the Street Rat, essentially a short girl, asking for her input on things. “They had weapons protecting their underground hive, correct? Why not bring them along?”

“They clearly didn’t need ‘em, did they?” Jamie pointed out.

“Fair. But after Magni, they clearly did, did they not?”

“Clearly didn’t want to wait,” the Street Rat shrugged. “We dunno the logistics of the things. ‘Sides, you ever study history? When a general’s got the absolute upper hand and the greater numbers, they’re not usually ones to play safe with all the cards they can muster. They usually just want to crush soon as can be, yeah? Which takes us back to…clearly they don’t need ‘em, do they?”

“Fair,” Mother Superior repeated, nodding in agreement. Her hands squeezed around each side of her hips, she was apparently having a hard time standing there where it was safe. “Fair enough.”

Truth hurts, that was why the Street Rat usually didn’t want anything to do with it unless she wanted to hurt people. The fact was, however, the time for scheming and maneuvering was over. It was an all-out fight. Everyone left was on the side they should be. All that was left for the Street Rat was to coordinate as best she could, try and keep cool, and if at all possible, not suffer a humiliating death.

Even if she was street trash or a sewer rat, she still didn’t want to die crying like a miserable little child.

Ugh, even I’m not really expecting anything good anymore, Jamie thought dejectedly, without showing it on her face.

But again, could anyone blame Jamie? For every group of Beasts that jumped in to gain some ground, a stack of them lied behind in waiting. Why didn’t they all just charge together and end it?

As if to jinx it, they finally did.

A bellow stormed out and took hold of the environment, the product of a chorus of monstrous roars working together. It paused the entire war for all of five or ten seconds, Jamie wasn’t sure, it felt like a moment.

Then, every stack of Beast standing in that direction leaped over the battle line. It was a war cry, Jamie realized, after a hundred men and women were screaming in either terror or because it was the only thing they had time to do before being crushed to death.

The Darkness was insane. In the blink of an eye he, or his cloak depending on the observer’s opinion, absorbed itself into one thin tentacle-like shadowy liquid and crossed the entire first line of the Beasts. In seconds. It went from left to right, phasing in and out at opposing sides of each one of them, and following it, the beast machines fell, in different ways but for the same reason.

“Whoah,” the Street Rat reacted.

The Darkness materialized just as the Warlock roared, pushing a lot of people back with concussive force, and immediately afterward, he pushed forward with his arms to stop half a dozen beast machines in mid-air. They fell down unharmed but stopped.

“Aren’t ya supposed to have a counterpart to those two?” Jamie asked.

“The Zoo Keeper would defeat those two, but his animals would be useless against the Beasts. He has a much more important task.”

“Lemme guess…” Jamie remarked with sarcasm. “Keeping the zoo?”

Mother Superior smiled.

“Nature has provided for us for a long time. A very long time…Street Rat. If ever there was a time to give back,” she explained, meaningfully.

“Eesh,” Jamie giggled, “I’m glad someone thinks we’re gettin’ outta this.”

However, with the Beasts stampeding, the levity of the situation rocketed out of the area they were standing on pretty quickly. The main flank of attack was holding, somewhat, but other two had fallen, she could now see them.

Jamie watched people she didn’t know fighting with everything they had. She saw the Circus Freak, one armed, dismembering a beast with a sword. She saw the Hunter grasping a broken spear as she was grabbed and pulled back. Her friend pulled her out of the way and thrust his own spear to kill the attacking beast.

The Darkness materialized amidst five Beasts a second before they all fell down, and she could tell the man was exhausted. The way he was heaving, his whole body protesting at his attempts to breathe. He looked around and even through that dark cloak of limited visibility, she could tell he was overwhelmed.

The Warlock was visibly overwhelmed, but one would never be able to tell. The old man seemed to be flexing muscles through the sheer power of anger and impatience. Every time he screamed, a score of beast machines would be sent flying. Alas, any other magic proved ineffective.

Everyone else was doing their best even in the face of not being enough. Bullets were being fired, blades thrust and swung, arrows flung, spells cast, spears were thrown, what few cannons were left kept spewing their gigantic projectiles. The Beasts took casualties but, faster than ever, feeling victory was inches away, they pushed forward with an unending flow of attacks.

It was almost as if they were it. Maybe the sight of the airship had convinced the beasts the tower was not their actual last stand. In attempting to help them, the Mad Genius had actually spurred the beasts to focus them.

The Street Rat took a deep breath, cringing at the reality of the situation.

“Girl.”

“Yes, Mother Superior?” Jamie managed to ask, evenly.

“Be truthful. You have a plan?”

“Plan’s not to cry like a miserable little girl,” Jamie managed to say, not without sarcasm for, at the core, that was what she was. Snide, derisive, nonchalant sarcasm.

Mother Superior gave her a slow and respectful nod.

“Not a bad plan.”

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