“We’re running blind here!”
“All three echoes are down! We need backup! That giant—”
“We do not have South Gate contained, I repeat, not contained. Need—”
“We’re holding the dock, but that’s about it. We’ve been pushed back—”
My phone rang. Five simple beeps cut through the cacophony of screams from my soldiers. As if they were nothing but mist.
That’s what they felt like. Mist and shadow, something distant and unimportant.
I might have been in shock, but if so, so was everyone else. The tactical map showed multitudes of enemy units ambushing our soldiers quickly and professionally. They took out specialty units like the echoes with speed and precision.
Everyone in this room—even myself and the senators—had fought wars before. We’d been in the war room while the generals and admirals made the tough decisions.
But no one had ever seen this level of resistance.
The generals were on their radios. They shouted at captains, ordered retreats here and reinforcements there. It still felt hollow. It still felt a million miles away.
My phone rang again. Five simple beeps.
I pulled it out and raised it to my ear, not bothering to switch it to speaker this time. “Hello?”
“Please hold for Artemis Butler.” It was that same pleasant female voice as before.
A moment later, another voice took over. “Mister President.”
“Your forces are doing well.”
“There is no need to be snide.”
“I’m not. They are attacking an entrenched position with limited reinforcements and no intel. Considering that, they are doing beautifully. Your men at East Gate, especially, deserve a commendation. The vampires are very good at terror tactics, especially when combined with the angels.”
I glanced at the map. East Gate was where our men had penetrated farthest. They were still getting slaughtered and ambushed. At least they were taking a reasonable amount of the enemy down with them, though.
“It seems Sele didn’t tell me everything.”
“I did warn you.”
“How are you doing this?” I asked. “Your numbers far exceed what we expected. We were expecting dozens at a time, maybe hundreds at the most. But South Gate informs me that the streets are filled with those… demons as far as the eye can see.”
“Ah, yes, Sargeras and his hellions,” he said, his tone fond. “Not to mention the Erlking and his goblins. They’re working well together.”
“How? These gangs—”
“The gangs are dead, Mister President,” he interrupted. “I killed them years ago. These are cultures. You may as well be fighting entire countries. That was your mistake.”
I knew he was right. All the special abilities that they seemed to have weren’t important, in the long run. Nightvision and ambush tactics? Please, any random second-world country could manage that. No, it was the numbers that were getting us.
And the will. The will to defend, to drive out the invaders. Gangs didn’t have that. You put force on a gang, and they run like rats. But these ones stood strong. The vampires retreated to set up new ambushes, the demons retreated to set up new barricades.
They were acting like soldiers defending a homeland.
“I would like to give up,” I said quietly.
“I expected as much.”
“I’m not going to.”
“Yes, I expected that as well.”
I took a deep breath. “Please order your men to surrender, Mister Butler.” There was no pretending he wasn’t in charge, at this point. If Domina City was its own country, he was its president.
“I’m sorry, but no.”
I nodded. “I expected that. May I ask why not?”
His voice was stone. “Because it is necessary.”
I found myself nodding again. “Necessary… yes, I think I understand that. And I think I understand the reasoning behind the name of your organization. Finally, I think I understand you, Mister Butler.”
“I am not a complicated man.”
“Yes, that was my mistake.” I closed my eyes. “The kid gloves are coming off, Mister Butler.”
“And I say the same to you, Mister President. Numbers are not our only advantage.”
I hung up, and placed the phone on the table. I cleared my throat.
All conversation stopped. The generals and admirals froze, radios held up to their heads in mid-order. The senators and various aides seemed to be jolted out of their shock.
“General Hoshi,” I said. “Do you read me?”
“Loud and clear, Mister President.”
“New orders to all captains: Weapons free. Support our men, and put some more holes in that wall. I want more landing sites.”
I took a deep breath. This was a war against an entrenched enemy nation. It was time I started treating it as one.
Behind the Scenes (scene 284)
I really like the conversations between Richard and Butler, and hope to have more of them in the future. Assuming Richard’s artillery doesn’t vaporize Butler, and assuming Butler’s ghosts don’t assassinate Richard.