Chapter Five: Justice
“Short magazine Lee-Einfield Mk. 3.” Hestia held out the rifle. “Only single fire, but it’s the same .303 round as that Lewis you had. Ten rounds in the magazine and it’s got a cleaning kit somewhere…”
“Better than nothing.”
Hestia flipped the rifle over. “This is the safety and this charges the WPD. One shot can be primed—”
“Only one? My Lewis Hurl could prime a whole magazine.”
Hestia pushed the rifle into Vanth’s hands. “Then hold onto the Lewis better next time.”
Vanth forced a smile. “Thanks, Can I get a new coat and boots, too.”
“We don’t have either. I can scout around and see what I find. Reclaimed okay?”
She meant from corpses. “I’m a psychopomp,” Vanth told her. “I’ll risk reliving the previous life every time I reach for my power.”
“So, not really?”
Hestia ran a hand through her loose chestnut hair. “I’ll look.”
“We’re all issued .38 Webleys. I’ll ask around. Listen, I got wounded to see, you okay by yourself?”
Vanth set the weapon down and started loading stripper clips of rounds. She liked to carry at least five or six setup for quick reloads. “Is the attack over?”
“Soldiers are being moved out of the trenches,” Hestia told her. “Not much use to us now, and the enemy can’t use them, either.”
“The clockworks attack them?”
“We sent a prisoner in and he nearly lost a leg to the razortails.”
Vanth nodded. “So, what do I do?”
“We’ve got plenty of spare bunks. More than plenty. Ares and Artemis are gonna be fighting for a bit longer, but they’ll come up with something soon. Pluto should be here, along with Djehuty and Safkhet.”
“A real war council then?”
“We can’t just wait for round two. Pluto is moving his… men into the fore-trenches. The gas isn’t a problem for them and the clockworks don’t seem to notice dead.”
Vanth nodded and glanced at a bed near the wall. “Mind if I sleep there?”
“I do, soldier. That’s my bunk.”
Ares himself woke her just an hour or so later.
“Need you in the big tent,” he said. “Wear clean clothes.”
“Only ones I got,” Vanth muttered back.
“Not yours?” Ares pointed to her bunk.
A new coat and boots sat on the end next to a stack of clean fatigues. “Never mind.”
Ares turned on his heel and left the tent.
Vanth scrubbed her face and pulled the new coat on. Her boots fit a little loose, so she doubled up on socks and headed across the compound.
Safkhet and Djehuty, her husband, sat at a round table that hadn’t been there this morning. Artemis and Pluto bickered with Ares on the other side.
Vanth scooted along the wall and sat by Artemis’ desk.
“I’m pretty sure we can work out some type of anti-clockwork solution,” Djehuty said. “Maybe with magnetics. Where is Hephaestus, again?”
“In hiding. I want him safe.” Ares looked over and shook his head. “I’m not gambling with lives. We should burn the trenches and move back, match up with the human lines for now.”
“I’m not giving an inch before we have to,” Artemis said. “What else we got.”
“A violent death?” Safkhet offered.
Djehuty cleared his throat. “Sorry, Safkhet, but I agree with Artemis, we should wait this out and see what happens.”
“No,” Pluto told them. “We should wait for proper intel. All we know now is that we’ve lost some trenches. Those snakes are near useless out of the water and the hyenas aren’t real ones, just some type of automatic attack clockwork. They might not even have anymore of them. We could be panicking for nothing.”
“Thousands are ready to steamroll the whole front, all the human armies, gods—whatever’s in their path dies.” Reynard stood in the light of the tent door, dramatically unwrapping a blood red scarf.
“Just what we needed, another civilian commanding too much power,” Ares complained.
“Missed you, too, handsome. But that’s not what I’m here for. I’ve got the intel and it’s all bad.”
Djehuty stood up. “And how did you obtain this intel?”
Reynardine simply grinned, but somehow it felt more like a brag. “A multitude of sins.”
“The sins wouldn’t include a report with them would they?” Ares asked.
“Tell you all you want later, sir. But definitely not until Safkhet handles the mole,” Reynard said. “Never know what might happen and you know how I feel about being exposed.”
Dhejuty relaxed, dropping back into his chair. “More games and tricks. We might as well have Sutah, or Hermes, running our spies.”
“I tried to recruit them,” Reynard admitted. “Not important right now. So, who wants to guess how many operators it takes to work these mechanical miscreants?”
“Does it help us?” Artemis asked.
“Of course. Vanth!” Reynard waved at her. “Want to demonstrate your ghost skill for us? Die, I guess.”
“Just showing them something.”
The goddess let her spirit go and her body slumped to the floor.
She looked over herself, eying the bruises lining her face from the fight. Hyenas had strong jaws, probably would have crushed her skull if the gas masks leather and steel hadn’t slowed it down.
Vanth looked up, at the gods and Reynard… And a ghost cat, reclining on his shoulder. The spirit feline wore a tiny patch over one eye, and gave Vanth a conspiratorial wink, before focusing on the meeting.
Vanth hopped back into her body and decided to ask Reynard about his phantom cat friend later. She sat up. “And?”
Reynard lit a cigarette. “The machine controlling them uses the same magic. It’s all ran by one soul. A psychopomp like Vanth. We take him out and we can call this good. They can rebuild, but by the time they find another psychopomp able to use the machine this thing will be over.”
A buzzing started in Vanth’s head. She had a strange suspicion about the psychopomp on the other end.
“About the traitor,” Safkhet asked. “Why will I handle them?”
“Just a moment,” the trickster said. “Also we have another smaller issue, in that the control station is in enemy territory. Little town with a sexy sounding name and enough Germans to keep even Artemis busy smashing skulls.”
“We’ll send whatever we need to,” Ares promised.
“Small group is best. More an assassination than anything.”
“If this thing even exists,” Djehuty started, “what troops will we send? Do you have any proof of this claim? What kind of ragtag plan is this?”
“Only the best, love, like all my ragtag plans,” Reynard said with a wink. “I’m not going, though. I’m just the messenger and people tend to shoot them. Or at them.”
“I’ll go,” Vanth said, sure Reynard had planned this and completely unsure how she felt about that. But she had to know. “I’ve got the skills for it, right?”
“And I,” Artemis added.
Safkhet raised a hand and then, after a long grimace at his wife, Djehuty.
“Good,” Reynard said.
“The traitor now?” Safkhet asked.
“Hmm?” The Fox stopped. “Oh, right. My contact couldn’t get them to sit for a photo, but they took this necklace after a little sheet bound shuffle.”
Djehuty’s hand went to his throat before Reynard dropped the chain. A silver quarter-moon clattered to the table.
Safkhet raised her rifle, WPD glowing like a tiny pale sun, and splattered her husband’s brains over the tent.
Drops of blood covered the shiny moon.
Chapter Six: Tunnel
Vanth loaded her kit up. She didn’t bring marching gear, so Hestia gave her a spare pack. Excellent supply of food—enough cookies to last all the way to Berlin—although they were only going a few hundred kilometers.
Even included a friendly note apologizing for her earlier rudeness. The cookies were plenty enough to cover that, but Vanth would thank her in person later.
The tent flap rustled and Artemis stepped inside with a small shipping crate.
“Got these in last week,” she said without preamble. The goddess popped the lid and removed a revolver with a small white tank fitted into the grip. “Bulldog’s outfitted with WPD. Primes the whole load. Six shots.”
Vanth whistled. “Now that’s a nice roscoe.”
“Snub nosed and chambered for .44. I have a good supply.” She pulled a steel box from the larger one. “Should be enough, right? Hestia came looking for rounds, and hell, they’re not doing much good on my desk.”
Vanth picked up the pistol. “This is an upgrade. Didn’t think pistols would work for the prayer disruptor.”
“Hephaestus used meteorite in the actual bullet, only thing that can survive the heat of the spell without a diffuser. Also keeps a lot of the bullet intact, so more penetration and damage.”
“The ones that won’t melt after a few yards, yeah.”
“In a trench, that ain’t bad.”
“If they don’t melt in the gun.”
That wouldn’t be great, especially if she pulled the trigger again without noticing. “Thanks, it’s a nice weapon.”
“Not entirely a gift, Vanth.”
She gingerly and quickly sat the pistol on the bed. “And…”
“We’re leaving Safkhet here with Ares,” she said. “She wants to go, but it’s a bad idea I think.”
“So just us?”
“No,” she looked around. “We’ve got reinforcements coming in and it’s the Nottyon Wolves. Isengrim himself is leaving his troop and going with us.”
Vanth shrugged. “So? He’s on our side, can’t be that bad.”
“He’s only here to chase after Reynardine, doesn’t want to be left behind in the Fox’s bid for more power. We’ve had issues with his men…”
“Violence toward civilians. Rapes. Neither I or Ares or the Fates condone any violence against—”
“He’s never considered rape a spoil of war—” she stopped. “This isn’t important, Isengrim is. If he lives up to his men’s reputation you are to put one in his head. I will myself, but if I’m the one…”
Vanth picked up the gun. “Don’t gotta tell me twice, Lady Artemis.”
“Artie, is fine, Vanth. We’re partners now, okay? You and me against whatever else the war throws at us.”
“You trust me that much?”
Artemis reached into the tin of lavender cookies. “May I?”
“Got enough for the company here.”
“I never get them. On rare occasions, Hes will make me a sweet or two. For normal stuff, but she holds back the best for her favorites.” Artemis bit into the cookie. “I thought I was one of the favorites too, V. Enjoy the shut eye. We move at dawn.”
Pluto led them through his trenches and the masses of dead collapsed to rotting knees at their master’s approach. Vanth brought up the rear, Artemis, carrying the Bergmann MP 18, in front of her and Isengrim just behind Pluto. The dead stood as they passed, shuffling back to the center of their muddy trench.
Vanth didn’t know what to expect of the Wolf. He didn’t have the best reputation, but who did?
Isengrim was taller than the Fox by half a foot, probably up near seven. Muscled like a bodybuilder and carrying a pack large enough for two. A Lewis Hurl rested next to the bag. No scope, but he used the ninety-seven round magazine. He also American revolver on each hip. Sword on his back too, or near enough for one, with a curved foreign style blade. He pulled his dark gray hair into a ponytail and if the Wolf could speak, he’d declined every chance.
Artemis didn’t seem nervous today, but she carried herself with an air of almost obscene bravado and Vanth wondered if that was its own type of nerves.
Pluto stopped before the lines of the dead and looked around, shuffling in his long coat. “Got any final words?”
Isengrim walked past quietly. Artemis whispered something and smiled, before following the Wolf into the fog.
“Cookies are a friendly gift, right?” Vanth asked Pluto. “Like, you’d give just anyone a pile of them if you baked, right?”
He rolled his eyes and Artemis burst through the fog to tug her along into the nearly empty trench. Vanth wondered about the lonely post, but a line of wax sealed explosives answered that. This wasn’t a real trench, just a passage that needed to be dug.
Straight to another tunnel. Strange. Artemis dropped in first and Vanth took the plunge. Her eyes instantly adjusted to the tunnel’s scant light; psychopomps were never lost in the dark.
The tunnel seemed to light up around her, showing Artemis’s wide unfocused eyes. “Isengrim?” she asked. “You’re lead. Will you light a candle?” Artemis stuck a finger up her nose.
“I can see in the dark,” Vanth said. “Everything.”
Artemis pulled her finger out of her nose and quietly wiped it on the dirt wall. “Isengrim? Is he even there? I can’t see shit in this hole. You go first then, Vanth.”
“Yes,” his voice rumbled through the tunnel. “Soldier Vanth?” The Wolf moved to the side.
“Thanks.” Vanth squeezed past him and he crept behind her.
Artemis took the rear, glancing nervously at the walls. “Hate confined spaces. Got caught in an avalanche once. Stuck there until spring.”
“Home turf for me,” Vanth said. “My realm was deep in the Earth, but I had a really nice sky of glowing red mushrooms for a ceiling. Always loved that color.”
“This tunnel smells,” Isengrim rumbled, “like flowers and sugar.”
“I brought cookies,” Vanth said. “It’s a dangerous world, never know when we’ll need an emergency tea.”
The Wolf might have chuckled, or maybe choked on a pile of rocks for a brief moment, but he didn’t speak anymore.
Artemis laughed a bit, before she too fell silent.
All the brown and red dirt blended after a while, Vanth didn’t see the tunnel end until they were nearly against the wall. “Hold. How do I get out of here?”
“Dig the last foot,” Artemis said. “Should be behind the enemy lines, at the edge of their trench work. We dug this tunnel to sneak in and shoot them all last Christmas, but the bastards sidetracked us with chocolates and football.”
“Sneaky fucking Gerry.” Vanth used her bayonet on the wall, slicing through and into a dark room. Men snored on simple wooden bunks and low camp beds.
One rolled over and another farted.
Vanth squeaked and turned back. Isengrim poked his head out of the tunnel and shook slowly. He reached a hand out and pushed Vanth forward. She cursed in her head and stood.
The poorly dug earthen room smelled terrible, but the men looked worse. One was awake, but she recognized the ticks and turns of his head. Battle fatigue. He might be conscious, but no one was really home.
Nearby, another shifted and started rubbing low on his pants.
Silent as death, as was her nature, Vanth crept toward the exit.
Isengrim and Artemis swept through like aspects of night, pure stealth in every step.
Vanth crossed into the trench, checking left and right. Single guard, but looking through a scope into no-man’s land. He didn’t even notice Artemis slitting his throat, or fight as she leaned his bleeding body against a wall.
Behind Vanth, a shuffle and a quiet thunk wounded the silence.
Isengrim held a man’s mouth and pinned him to a bed. His other hand grasped the long knife, plunged deep into his captive’s throat. Blood dripped from the side of the pillow.
Artemis swept past, dragging Vanth into the opening. “Move,” she mouthed.
Isengrim followed as a shadow crept from the hole in the wall.
Safkhet, with just a rifle in one hand. She jumped nimbly over the dying soldier.
Artemis shook with rage.
The four of them cut through the trench, following Artemis’ silent pointers. Sure enough, they didn’t meet a single patrol.