Soleil smiled at them, her dimples flashing, and the rookies relaxed.
“That’s enough with the joking,” Soleil censured them.
The rookies happily murmured their assent, a combination of wishful thinking and awe allowing them to take comfort in the gracious, dulcet tones of their squad leader.
This was the famous Soleil Orpheline, they assured themselves. A stunning, voluptuous, blue-eyed blonde, she was society’s reigning belle during the day and the dangerously skilled leader of Trois Belle Lames at night.
If Commander Soleil wasn’t nervous about the imps, then they, too, had nothing to worry about.
Behind Soleil, the walls continued to shudder and crack.
Soleil continued to smile, and Fleur and Aurora, taking their cues from her, kept smiles pinned to their lips. Unlike the kids, they knew they were in a life-and-death situation, but if Soleil wanted the kids kept in the dark, then it would be so.
They trusted her to do what was right…no matter what.
Soleil cleared her throat delicately. “Here’s the plan…” The walls started to crumble as Soleil made a series of gestures, a sign language known only to enforcers.
Fleur and Aurora concentrated on Soleil’s instructions, their expressions remaining calm as they read between the lines.
The plan was…that there was no plan at all.
Soleil was totally lying about help coming. Everything about this had the rotten scent of betrayal and ambush, and it had been executed perfectly. If help did come, it would be too late.
Soleil continued to sign, and Fleur and Aurora struggled to stay expressionless.
“Are we all clear on this then?” Her dimples flashed again, and the rookies’ anxiety lessened even more.
“Ma’am, yes, ma’am,” they roared energetically, their confidence restored by their leader’s calm manner.
Totally clear, Fleur thought, her mood turning unnaturally grim. Soleil was telling them that as the city’s last line of defense, they had to place duty above all else.
Aurora didn’t answer right away. Soleil’s plan was to detonate her grenades, which all officers were trained to use in case they were compromised.
The grenades would take out the commander, but it would also get rid of a large number of imps, maybe just enough for them to have a fighting chance for survival.
But Aurora didn’t want a fighting chance for just them, and as the supposedly ‘brainy’ one of their group, she pressured herself to come up with an alternative.
“Aurora?” Soleil needed both officers’ cooperation for her plan to work.
“I’m thinking,” Aurora mumbled.
Soleil shook her head. “We don’t have time—-”
A narrow section of the dungeon’s wall collapsed.
“Take your positions,” Soleil commanded, and the rookies, resolved looks on their faces, followed right away.
A handful of imps burst out of the hole.
The battle ensued, and Soleil bided her time while keeping an eye on her team, making sure that no one was taking any unnecessary risks. She slipped her hands into her pockets, her fingers finding and wrapping around the twin grenades.
The last ace she had up her sleeve, Soleil thought, but in this case it was in her pants. If things weren’t TARFU, she would have laughed at her own quip.
Aurora suddenly appeared by her side, grabbing Soleil’s arm as she muttered, “I’ve thought of something.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Call your heartkeeper.”
Soleil didn’t even hesitate. “No!”
Half of the wall crashed.
Her time had come.
Soleil prepared to run, but Aurora’s grip on her arm tightened, and the other woman insisted in a yell, “Call him! Your plan might work, but it’s not going to be without casualties, and you know it! But if you call him—-”
“Call him!” Aurora pointed at the rookies. “If you care for them—-” She knew she was being heartlessly manipulative, but she didn’t care. “If you want to give them the best chance for surviving tonight—-”
“I hate you, Aurora.”
A whisper, but Aurora knew she had won. Thank God.
Soleil gently pushed her hand away, and Aurora let her.
“I’ll call him.” Soleil backed up a step. “But I’m also not going to wait for him to answer because…” Her upper lip turned up in an unusually mocking smile. “I do want to give everyone the best chance of survival.”
Aurora’s eyes widened.
But it was too late, and Soleil had run past everyone, heading straight to the horde of imps.
“NO!” Aurora screamed and tried to run after her friend, but there were too many imps between them now, and she finally had to admit defeat.
Fleur reached her, demanding, “What’s the plan?”
“Help Soleil get to the center,” Aurora answered tonelessly.
Pain flashed in Fleur’s eyes.
Aurora furiously blinked back her own tears.
But they only allowed themselves a nanosecond of grief before throwing themselves into battle, knowing that it was what Soleil would have wanted.
SOLEIL WAS ABOUT THREE-imp-layers deep into the horde when she realized that her plan just might not be good enough.
A middle-level demon stood next to the hellhole, and as it locked gazes with Soleil, she knew there was a very good chance it might tear her throat out before she could even detonate the grenades.