Far in high rocky terrain, Lamia’s men chased three Scarab soldiers. Burdened by bulky sacks and a loaded supply sled, the Scarab struggled in the brisk wind and snow. Snow, ice, and earth exploded. Lamia’s men launched nitromite.
“Alright Yew, if you’re gonna pull one of your classic tricks – now is the time!” the large man pushing the sled yelled. The young man he hollered at was carrying two sacks of provisions. The shapeless fur pelts masked his broad shoulders and tight muscular build. Long dark hair whipped across his face as he turned to see the pursuers.
“Classic trick – unoriginal,” he snorted. He’d seen close calls and scraping by with his quick thinking and motor reflexes. But nothing came to mind with this hard-and-fast chase. “I … I’m … thinking!”
His pace quickened as the enemies drew closer, his voice bouncing as he leaped.
“Zingara knows this place best, Bol,” He shouted. “Got any ideas for us, Zin?”
“Stop … calling … me … Zin,” Zingara yelled back. She was most beautiful when yelling at Yew Rue commands. “And no, just stop yelling. The bridge is up here.”
A skinny outcropping of rock allowed travelers to pass from one side of the mountain to another. They crossed it sneaking into Lamia’s camp. Now they urgently needed to cross back.
“Ok, I got it,” Yew said excitedly. “I’ll not stop yelling. This is going to work.”
Yew Rue ran faster and his comrades responded picking up speed. Bol out of respect and Zingara because she wanted to. Not because Yew Rue told her to.
“Hey, Zin, here’s your big chance to deliver an awesome one-liner, what do you say?” Yew Rue asked, keeping pace with her.
“I’d say; “Leave me alone Yew Rue or I’ll throw you off this mountain.”
“No. That’s way too long,” He shrugged it off between breaths. “What about you, Bol?”
“One chance?” Bol panted.
“Yeah. Last chance.”
“Man. I dunno. Maybe a pun,” He suggested. Yew Rue considered this as he panted.
“That might work for me. Here! The bridge! Zin, you first.”
“Stop yelling,” Zingara cautioned and took the lead. A close nitromite blast erupted. Yew Rue shielded his friends.
“Yelling is the whole plan,” Yew Rue shouted. Bol made it across. Yew bolted across the skinny bridge. He tossed the sacks in front of him. Diving across. He waited. Lamia’s men arrived on the ledge. With all the might in his lungs, Yew roared; “See you on the other — slide!”
The three men froze, frightened. The snow above trembled and began to cascade. They screamed. Helpless, they slid down the mountain. Yew Rue winced. He glanced back at his friends.
“Slide? Get it? Punning was the right choice,” He said sheepishly. Zingara rolled her golden eyes.
“You’re an idiot, Yew Rue,” she said scornfully.
“Do you prefer idiots?” Yew Rue grinned cheekily. Bol laughed. Zingara turned sharply and marched on the trail toward camp. Her raven black hair swished behind her. With no immediate danger, Bol and Yew Rue ambled back.
“She likes me. Can you tell?” Yew feigned whispering.
“Oh yeah. Definitely,” Bol said unconvinced, “She hides it under her — disdain.”
“Exactly,” he elbowed his big friend, “Now, you get it.”
“You need a dose of reality, man,” Bol said. “You could have any young woman in the whole Scarab army. You’re a fool chasing after the only one who hates you.”
“Hate is a strong word, Bol,” Yew said, “She’s angry for me being the only person as beautiful as her.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Men are handsome.”
“Either way, women aren’t prizes won. Or things that I get from being good looking. Women are just like us. But so much more,” Yew mused, “And Zingara’s a rarity. She’s strong and passionate. I wish she was passionate about — me.”
“Y’know Yew, say these things to her face. You might have a chance,” Bol chuckled.
“It’s not as fun as teasing her,” he said. His white teeth contrasted against his dark skin. “Besides, I’m not out here to find love. I’m a warrior. I’m here for the war. I’ll cut off the snake’s head.”
“You seem overconfident.”
“Yeah, I’ve talked to people about that before,” Yew said as they entered the camp. People already stood around Zingara cheering. They rejoiced more when Bol showed up with a full sled of supplies. Yew Rue dropped his bags down for the soldiers to take and stock. He looked up to see a tall, dark man standing in front of the three of them.
‘Report,” The man said in a gnarled voice. He had olive skin from spending years in the sun. His basalt gray beard was forked. The dark color stayed over his temples but bled out into snow-white into his shoulder-length hair. His hair was close-cropped on the sides. He had two scars on the right side of his face, both large and lighter than his dark skin. One ran along his cheekbone and the other over his eye down to his lip.
Yew Rue thought Zingara would report. But she was looking expectantly at him with her gorgeous golden eyes. The old man’s eyes had the same shade of gold.
“General Krest, sir,” Yew saluted. “We were in and out. No difficulties until three armed guards spotted us. They gave pursuit. We lost them over the bridge. And discovered puns make well-timed jokes.”
Krest scowled at Yew’s flippancy.
“How much did you bring?”
“At least another month’s worth, sir,” Yew replied, still in salute. A smile broke over General Somer Krest’s stern face.
“Good man!” He clapped Yew Rue on the shoulder and Yew dropped the salute.
Somer hugged Zingara. “And you kept my precious daughter safe, too. Well done.”
“Your daughter, she kept me safe, sir,” he said with a half-grin. Bol snorted.
“Of course she did,” Somer put a hand on Yew and Zingara’s arms. “I’d like to see you both in the war tent. Five minutes tops.”
He squeezed Yew’s shoulder then left. Yew Rue punched Bol in the arm. He quickly accompanied Zingara as she followed her father.
“Can I walk you to the tent?” he asked.
Zingara let out a sigh.
“Fine,” she said. “That’s where we’re both going anyway.”
“You’re such a peach,” he beamed.
“OK. I changed my mind. Walk with someone else,” she said.
“Zingara, no one could … There is no one I’d rather be with.”
Zingara laughed and immediately pretended a cough. “Allergies.”
“What? Are you allergic to sincere, heartfelt honesty?” he asked, matching her stride.
“No, I’m allergic to the bull roar you speak. If I had a sign that you were being sincere, I might consider letting you walk with me more. Oh look, we’re here,” She held the tent flap open for him. “After you.”
“I’d like to complete this conversation … soon,” he said in a gentle whisper. Zingara let out a short breath and followed him into the war council tent.
“Excellent time,” Somer said, sitting at the head of the table. “Good soldiers, responding immediately.”
He gestured to his daughter and Yew Rue. They made it to the tent in under a minute when they asked to be there in five.
“Well you know us, sir,” Yew said with a twinkle in his eye.
“That I do my boy, please sit.”
Zingara and he found seats opposite each other. Several important leaders in the militia were there. Yew Rue had never attended a meeting like this before. He’d been to important meetings. But never one with all the leaders at once. Well, all the available leaders.
“I’ll cut the formalities and get to the point,” General Krest said gruffly. “Last night the Phoenix was reborn. This means it’s now time to begin our march on Shiloh.”
“Sir,” one of the captains spoke.
“Yes, Captain Whesk?”
“There is only a small segment of men who believe in the Phoenix. How will you convince the non-believers to join in the march?”
“Oh for iah’s sake Captain. If they do not march then they are not part of the army. And if they aren’t for the saving of Shiloh, they are against it. They’re in the cold without our resources. Please consider the logic of questions before you open your mouth,” Somer held a wiry hand to his head.
“Sir, Captain Whesk has a point,” a woman spoke up. “There’s no proof the Phoenix exists. It’s hard rallying troops around something fictional.”
“Is there anyone in here who doesn’t care if the Phoenix is fake or real?” Krest asked. The room was quiet.
“I don’t sir,” Yew Rue chimed in. “The point is, it’s time to take Lamia. The symbol is that we will rise from the ashes of the destroyed Shiloh and create a new one. So forget the exactness of the Phoenix. Let’s focus on what it represents.”
The room went silent again. Somer Krests eyes crinkled with a smile.
“Well said,” Then he was back to the business of war. “Whatever the reason for the march, I’m deploying five squadrons to cross the desert. They converge at the first wall of Shiloh. Thanks to Lieutenant Rue, we now have enough supplies to endure the trip. Fourteen raids on Lamia’s camps. It’s a miracle he and his men kept our camp secret.”
“Please, sir. It’s my men doing the work,” Yew Rue said, giving them credit.
“Either way. I’m promoting you to Captain of the First Squadron. Lead us straight across the Ahten desert. Pack immediately. Take a small team down to Jocer, the well town near the mountain base. I have a strong feeling about this Yew. Take Zingara with you. Go get everything you need now. Dismissed.”
“Yessir,” Yew Rue said in bewilderment.