Even with the splint patches and pain medication, moving Eric through the narrow crack in the wall was a slow, painful ordeal. Sam led the way, helping Eric from the front while Thomas followed behind, letting the injured lieutenant lean on him for support as necessary. They hadn’t gone very far before they heard Dajo’s voice from the entrance. “They’re breaking through — get your puckered, pimpled posteriors out of here!”
“How come hers is exceptional and ours are puckered?” Sam grumbled from the front of the line.
“What did I say about biology lessons?” Wedged side-ways in a narrow part of the tunnel, Thomas looked back to see Dajo just inside the entrance, holding back the Alfath with rapidly cast spells and a blistering torrent of expletives. He could see the Alfath crowding into the small cave, and watched as she ducked back to avoid a blast from one of their energy weapons. He recalled her threat if he didn’t take care of the others first, and returned his attention to Sam and Eric. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end — Dajo was drawing a tremendous amount of energy. “Brace yourselves,” he warned the others.
Thomas heard the crack of an energy rifle and Dajo’s scream as it struck her armor. He heard as the blast impacted Dajo’s armor. He felt the shockwave of energy as she released her spell, and the tremble of the cave as the ceiling cracked. Fissures raced across the ceiling, into the tunnel, and over their heads.
Eric glanced up then quickly covered his head with his arms. “Oh sh..” The rest of his words were lost in the thunder of raining rock.
Thomas lifted his head once the rocks stopped falling and looked around. “Sam? Eric? Report.”
“I’m all right.” Eric replied promptly. “Nothing fell here.”
“Nothing broken,” Sam’s voice was strained. “But my arm is stuck. Going to take some time to get free. Not sure how far the blockage goes.”
Thomas turned back and made his way towards the collapsed entrance and his mentor. He heard the high-pitched wheeze of her breathing before he found her under a tumble of rocks. He carefully started moving away the rocks, testing each before removing it to avoid another cave-in.
“Go…” Dajo commanded breathlessly. “Leave me.”
“Can’t” Thomas continued his work. “The way ahead is blocked. Sam’s digging through it now. I can’t get around Eric to help so I came back for your exceptional ass.” Dajo chuckled weakly but Thomas could tell it hurt. “Just stay still. I’ll get you out.” He winced as he removed more rocks and saw the extent of the damage caused by the energy gun.
Dajo reached for his hand and gave him a gentle smile. “It’s all right, Thomas.” Her voice was barely more than a whisper. It scared him that she wasn’t cussing. There was another ominous rumble from overhead. Thomas threw himself across Dajo to protect her as more stones broke free and poured down over both of them.
Dajo didn’t know how much time had passed before she regained consciousness. She heard Eric’s voice faintly down the tunnel, calling to her and Thomas to see if they were all right, but knew she couldn’t call back. She felt Thomas’ weight on her – he was alive but unconscious, and his breathing was shallow. She forced down the panic that was threatening to overwhelm her and instead focused on what she needed to do.
Gritting her teeth against the pain, she managed to pull her arms free and push Thomas off of her, on to his back. Her legs were useless as she pulled herself out of the rubble and up along his body until she was even with him. She lay her head on his chest and frowned as she listened to the slow, faint beating of his heart. She could feel her own life fading – she had to be quick.
Tears shimmered in her eyes as she looked down at her injured protégé. She closed her eyes and focused, drawing on the last of her powers, and a soft, swirling white glow started to form around her. She took his face in her hands and gently lifted his head as she brought hers down – touching her forehead to his. “Carry on our work, Thomas,” she whispered as she transferred what remained of her life into him. “Hold true to what you know is right.”
Thomas gasped, his eyes flew open as Dajo slumped against him. “Dajo!” He realized what she’d done and tried to stop her, but it was too late. “No…” His plea was a broken whisper. “Don’t leave me, too.” He gently wrapped his arms around her shattered body and sobbed.
Thomas was dimly aware of Eric’s panicked calls from further down the tunnel. He didn’t want to move — didn’t want to think — didn’t want to feel. He hurt all over but the pain in his body was nothing compared to the wounds in his spirit. He was defeated.
“Carry on our work.” Dajo’s dying words came to him. He couldn’t help but crack a smile as he imagined the colorful and highly-detailed follow-up she’d hurl at him if she knew he was laying there crying while his team remained trapped. He gently moved Dajo’s body aside and painfully rose to his feet. “I will be back for you,” he promised before turning to limp down the tunnel to rejoin Eric and Sam.