“Target has changed.”
“Don’t break cover, but we’d appreciate it if you could slow them down a bit.”
“They’re coming out armed. Local forces are taking fire.”
“I’ve got people down!”
Standing in the mission control center, Dawn’s Light director David Evans kept his eyes glued to the holodisplay as he watched the battle taking place half a world away. He clenched his jaw and forced himself to remain stoic as the blast from an energy rifle took down one of their most powerful magic casters.
The woman next to him stiffened, but remained steady as she continued issuing orders, directing combat forces to clear a path and protect medics so they could reach the wounded. Angela Brooks was a brilliant tactician and had a reputation for keeping a cool head under fire, but she was also supposed to be in a recovery room in the medical wing. David was grateful she insisted on returning to duty early, and gladly bent protocol so she could run the command center.
A pulsing vibration pulled his attention to the emergency phone in his pocket. The middle of a critical operation wasn’t the time for personal calls, but he’d made a deathbed promise to his brother that he would take care of Olivia and Danielle. Liv knew to only call this phone if the situation were dire. He stepped to a back corner of the room and hit the button to answer. “Liv, what’s wro..”
“Uncle David?” Danielle’s voice was hesitant, frightened. She’d been crying.
“Dani?” David’s mouth went dry. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong? Where’s your mother?”
The little girl whimpered then let out a startled cry.
“Good evening, Director Evans.” The woman’s tone was downright chatty. “My condolences on the recent loss of your sister-in-law, but let’s get to business, shall we? Simply put, we have your niece. She is unharmed and will remain that way so long as you comply. Do you understand?”
David lowered his voice to a growl. “What do you want?”
The woman responded with a deep, throaty laugh. “The world, ultimately. But for now I’ll settle for your obedience. You will cease interfering in internal Alfath affairs and order the immediate withdraw of your people from Raqmu. You will not reveal this conversation or our little arrangement to anyone. I have eyes inside, Director, so I’ll know if you disobey. Is this clear?”
David glanced at the holodisplay, where guardians and medics were moving through the Alfath stronghold, aiding the fallen and assessing the damage. “Let Dani go and I’ll call my people back.”
Another laugh. “I’m not a fool, Director. Danielle will stay with us until we no longer have use for you. And since you control Dawn’s Light, I expect you will prove quite useful. Buckle up, Buttercup, it’s going to be a long ride.” The connection went silent.
David clenched the phone until the synthetic case cracked. He was no stranger to the cruelty and depravity of the Alfath. He’d had to investigate and clean up the sites of their rituals more than once during his tenure as a guardian. And now they had killed Olivia and taken Dani. Eight years old and she was at the mercy of monsters.
The woman said she had eyes on the inside. Peter Jorrall, their now dead lord, practically boasted about infiltrating Dawn’s Light. David glanced around the control center and wondered if anyone there could possibly be a traitor sent to ensure he complied. He had to get Dani back, but until he knew who he could trust, he had to play their game.
He examined the mission displays and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the fighting was over and his forces had begun the clean-up phase of the operation. It made what he had to do a touch less odious.
He returned to Angela’s side, leaned close and lowered his voice. “Sound the recall. I want everyone cleared from the site within an hour.”
The paladin turned to him and quirked a brow. “We can’t do a full clean-up in one hour. Did something happen?”
He refused to meet her eyes lest she see his grief and fury, and instead gestured towards the mission displays. “You have your orders, Paladin Brooks. Pull our people out.”
“Yes, sir.” She turned to her control team and issued the orders for a complete withdrawal from The Court.
David kept his eyes locked on the mission displays, his arms folded across his chest. “I want a private channel with Paladin Creed.” He didn’t look around, but could feel every eye in the command center on him.
“Very well.” She nodded to the commander coordinating communication, and he handed the director a headset. Angela tapped a button on her control panel. “Ken, Director Evans wishes to speak with you. Lee is transferring you to a private channel now.”