Miya stepped out of Amanda’s small red car and onto the parking lot of a familiar church. She breathed in the hot, dry air of Phoenix. If I survive all this, I’m living in Alaska. Or Maine. Maine sounds nice. To her left, Amanda climbed out of her car with an ill-concealed wince. I’ll check up on you later, once we’re settled.
Rob and Ben pulled up a moment later. The engine let out little popping noises as it cooled, once Rob turned it off. “Last time I drive all night,” he grumbled. His brother just laughed.
Air rushed over their heads as Olivia passed by overhead. Her clawed toes scratched against the asphalt as she landed by the others.
“Have a nice fly?” Amanda asked her, once the dust settled.
“Yeah,” Olivia replied, hesitantly.
“Something wrong?” asked Miya.
“No. I just like Colorado more,” she replied. “The mountains look cooler. And it smells nicer.” You’re not wrong.
“Try not to lose any fingers this time around,” Rob said to his brother with a pat on the shoulder as he followed Amanda to the front door of the church.
“Ha fuckin’ ha,” replied Ben, clenching and unclenching his maimed left hand, missing its ring and pinkie fingers.
“I could grow the bones back for you if you like,” offered Miya, fighting to keep the smile from her face.
He grinned. “Just the bones? Freaky. I might take you up on that.”
Olivia shuddered. “Relax, we’re just messing around,” said Miya.
“I only sorta was.”
“I know,” said Olivia. “Just thinking about it though. Ew.”
They settled back, leaning against their two cars and waiting. Miya, however, took advantage of their first opportunity to stand in hours to stretch her legs, getting the blood flowing again. At least it’s night. July is super shitty here. Ben’s eyes constantly shifted, never looking in the same place for more than a few seconds, even though Miya had only seen one car and a handful of pedestrians since entering the city.
A few yards away, the back door to the church opened, revealing Quarrel’s mop of brown hair. A wide, cheery smile split her face. “Hey guys! Good to see you again.” She slipped out to join the others, followed by the much larger and scarred form or Roach.
Miya smiled and waved along with the others. Roach’s eyes narrowed as he took in the group.
“Nomad?” he asked, his voice as raspy and painful to listen to as ever.
“Oh yeah, where is he?” added Quarrel.
“He didn’t make it,” replied Amanda.
Rob grunted and said, “Overlord hit Westward pretty damn hard.”
The smile slipped form Quarrel’s face. “I’m sorry.” Behind her, Roach bowed his head for a moment.
“Thanks,” said Amanda.
“We stayin’ here again?” asked Rob, bringing them back on track.
“No, this was just a good meeting point since we’ve all been here,” said Quarrel. She pointed to their car, a white truck with a construction company logo stenciled on the door. “If you’ll follow us.”
“Why meet us here?”
“Just making sure there were no complications or anything. It would have been bad if you were followed, for example. Sorry, we’re just being cautious. Again, it’s just the two of us.”
Rob looked over his shoulder to Olivia and asked, “Were we followed?”
She froze. “I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention if there was anyone. I’m sorry, I should have-”
“No worries, you’re fine,” said Rob, cutting her off.
“We don’t believe so, we drove pretty hard from Colorado to here,” Amanda said to Quarrel.
Quarrel nodded. “Then we can set you up at my house. Well, not really my house, it’s the Watch’s, but it’s fine. I think you’ve been there before.”
“Sounds good. We’ll follow you,” said Amanda.
The four of them walked over to where Miya and the others stood. Olivia nodded to Amanda as she took flight again, gaining a high enough altitude to be nearly invisible from the ground unless someone was specifically looking for her.
“We’d just come up with a plan, an’ now we’re out here on a hunch a day later,” grumbled Rob, once Quarrel and Roach were in their truck and out of earshot.
“Our lives need better writers,” replied Ben with a grin.
“Thanks, Calvin,” muttered Rob.
“What?” asked Amanda. I’m with her. What?
“Don’t worry about it.”
A short drive later, Miya and the others found themselves in the driveway of a large cookie cutter suburban home.
“Well this don’t suck,” said Ben, taking in the sight of the house and its large front lawn covered in tastefully arranged rocks. If I remember right this is a pretty nice neighborhood. “The two of you live here?” he asked the two members of the Watch.
Roach shook his head. “Apartment. Closer to downtown,” he rasped.
“I do,” added Quarrel.
They hauled their things inside and out of sight form prying eyes. The TV in the living room was on when Miya passed by. She stopped and listened.
“All satellite footage over Siberia has gone dark. Our sources on the Chinese-Siberian border are telling us of, ‘huge pillars of light shooting into the sky.’ The Pentagon has declined to comment on what this could mean, though they assure us everything is being heavily monitored.”
“Hey guys, have you heard about this?” she called out to the house at large. The others had dispersed, taking their things to the rooms Quarrel showed them. Roach disappeared to the kitchen.
“No, what?” called out Amanda from down a hallway.
“Something weird is happening in Siberia.”
“Define weird,” said Quarrel.
“I don’t know. The news people don’t seem to know.”
The news anchors droned on some more, though they had nothing helpful to say. Miya couldn’t help but notice vindictive smiles on their faces surface from time to time. Wait, I didn’t grab anything.
“Hey, Quarrel, where’s my room?”
“Up the stairs, second on the right. You’re with Olivia.”
Miya climbed up the stairs. She slowed once she approached her room. Is that Olivia? Singing?
“… on my doorstep, singing sweet songs, a melody-” Right, she likes reggae. Because that makes nothing but sense.
“Hey,” said Miya, tapping on the doorway as she did so. Olivia leaned over to one of two beds on either side of the room, pulling out a few oversized shirts and pants.
She let out a small squeak as she spun around, cheeks turning red. “Oh. Hi.”
“Hi. Did you grab my bag?”
“Um, yeah, I, it’s right there,” she said, pointing a claw at Miya’s bag, neatly laid out on the other bed.
“Just wanted to make sure it wasn’t sitting out in the back or Rob’s truck. Thanks.”
Reggae, she thought to herself as she left with a small shake of her head.
They all gathered around the kitchen table a few minutes later, Amanda and Quarrel taking the lead.
“So, before we all turn in for the night,” began Quarrel. “Let’s get on the same page. We need to find, and stop, an Aztec high priest from sacrificing any more people in this city. Me and Roach have a name and a picture.” She nodded to Roach, who produced a small stack of papers and passed them around to the others. The woman on the paper seemed to stare back with wide, intense eyes. She had a fairly noticeable scar on her lips
“Ixcatzin,” he rasped.
“I just call her Ix,” said Quarrel. “She is, or was, a higher up in the Mexican government. From what we can tell they’ve disavowed her.”
“That just means she fucked up,” said Ben.
“You’d think so, but we can’t figure out what the purpose of these sacrifices are. If they were trying to cause fear, they’d been a bit more threatening about it on their end.”
“We need more information,” said Amanda with a small worried frown.
“Agreed,” rasped Roach.
“We’re flying blind,” added Quarrel. “We’ve been gathering as much info as we can, but there isn’t much, neither of us are any good at it. That was Preacher’s job.”
“You mentioned Taauth when you called us?” asked Ben.
“Right, when we first ran into her she was ranting to her officer. At least we think he was an officer for the temple guard, he had a couple fancy patches on his uniform.”
“What’d she say?”
“’It will take the power of the gods to stop Taauth.’ There was a little more, but nothing relevant,” replied Quarrel.
“Insults,” added Roach.
“That is true, we interrupted her a moment later. She doesn’t like us. We thought it was worth mentioning, that dude is scary.” Ben and Rob simply grunted. After a pause, Quarrel said, “That’s all we got, we just wanted to give you all something to sleep on.”
“Sleep?” Rob asked indignantly. “Sleep is for the weak.”
“He’s right. There’s some things I want to work on. Your workshop is in the basement, right?”
“Yeah,” said Quarrel, leading the way. “So you two are working together? Those new armors look badass. I wish my power was a bit more useful. Crossbow are kind of limited.
“Don’t worry, I have no idea how an engine works. I just do what Rob tells me to.”
“Need some help with somethin’?” asked Rob.
Olivia, Roach, and Miya watched as the techies wandered off, babbling excitedly among themselves.
“And they’re gone,” said Ben with a grin.
“To this day I have no idea what that girl is talking about,” grumbled Roach.
“Oh please, you only have the one. Our two practically feed off of each other. They never shut up,” said Miya.
Roach let out a low chuckle in response. “I can see that.”
“At least they’re happy,” said Olivia.
“At least they’re happy,” repeated Miya with a sigh.
Miya grumbled into the pillow. People kept making noise around her, and the light of the morning sun shone in, despite the best efforts of the blinds she’d closed tight over the window. Fuck everything. She peeled her eyes open and twisted her head to the side. Olivia’s bed was empty. I should probably get up.
She pulled the covers off and trundled downstairs, blinking sleep out of her eyes the whole way. Ben, Roach, and Olivia stood at the bottom of the staircase, staring down into the basement.
“Every fuckin’ time we come here, they do this. Last time around they completely took apart Amanda’s car, an’ kept us here a couple extra days.”
“Are they lost in their own little world?” asked Miya.
‘Yeah. Good morning,” replied Olivia with a small smile. Miya grunted in response.
“We have a solution,” rasped Roach, stomping into the kitchen. He returned a moment later with a large wooden spoon in hand, heading down the stairs.
“I gotta see this,’ said Ben, following him to the basement. Miya and Olivia crowded the stairway behind them. Please, Roach. Please do what I think you’re about to do. Quarrel sat at the edge of her seat, face a mere inch from the surprisingly delicate inner workings of one of her crossbows on the desk.
“Quarrel, it’s time,” said Roach, standing right beside her.
“Five more minutes,” she replied, not even sparing him a glance.
“No, now.” Roach brought down the spoon on her wrist, getting a hollow thwacking sound.
She jumped in her seat, scooting as far away from him as possible without falling off of it. “Not the spoon, not the spoon. OK, OK. I’m going.” She set her screwdriver down and hurried away.
“This brings me no joy,” Roach called out after her.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” she mumbled as she pushed her way past Miya’s group clustered on the stairs.
Roach lumbered over to Rob, too busy with his armor to hear the sounds of his fellow techie’s suffering. “You, upstairs.”
“Gotta finish this first,” grunted Rob.
“Go. Now,” said Roach, punctuating his command with a slap on Rob’s wrist with the spoon.
“Ow, the hell?”
“Go. Now,” Roach repeated, smacking his wrist again. Rob’s wrench clattered to the ground.
He twisted around to look Roach in the eye. “Cut that shit out.”
“Fuck. Fine. God damn, the fuck is wrong with you?” said Rob, jumping out of the way of another potential spoon slap.
Rob hurried off, throwing glares over his shoulder at Roach. This is everything I ever wanted, thought Miya with a maniacal grin on her face. Roach loomed over Amanda next.
“You too, miss.”
“Just let me finish this one thing.”
Amanda slammed her laptop shut. “See? It’s gone now.”
Amanda jumped out of her chair, desperately backing away from Roach. Miya, Olivia, and Ben waited for her to pass them by before following after her, Roach bringing up the rear with the fearsome spoon.
Miya stopped just short of the kitchen. All three techies stood around the kitchen, massaging their wrists with identical sullen expressions. She burst into laughter. “I can’t, I can’t. Too funny.”
Ben, next up the stairs, joined her in hysterical laughter. “Oh god, just give us a minute.” They leaned against each other, nearly doubled over, shoulders shaking uncontrollably.
Once they’d finally composed themselves, Amanda cleared her throat and said, “As much as I hate to admit it, Roach was right. We got sidetracked, and I do apologize for that.” She turned to Roach and said, “Fuck you, by the way.”
“I will survive.”
Without missing a beat, Amanda continued to the group at large, “But he’s right.”
“We were talking last night, and we have a couple ideas,” said Quarrel. “Our first one was to send a couple people to the Aztec temple in town, see if they can pick anything up.”
“You and Roach want to take that?” Rob asked the two of them.
“Why us two?” demanded Miya as Roach nodded.
In Nahua, Roach said, “Who would follow the old gods, us or the whiteys?”
“So? You stick out with all those scars and I’ve never set foot in the temple before.”
“What they speak Nahua? We’ll understand.”
“Fine,” Miya grumbled in English. “My Nahua isn’t that good, though.”
“Better than ours,” said Ben with a grin.
“Just to be clear, we’re not asking you to take everyone on singlehandedly,” said Quarrel. “We just need an ear to the ground, just in case the faithful there might have heard something.”
“I’ve been working the more technical side of things,” said Amanda. “I’ll start monitoring the cell towers and radios in the area, in case Ix is using those to communicate with her people.”
“An’ cameras,” added Rob.
“Well, that might not work out,” she said. “in any case, Rob is going to help me with that. Ben, Olivia, Quarrel had something for you two.”
“Yes,” said Quarrel. “I have a couple of spots I’ll need you two to be patrolling tonight. It’s not a guarantee she’ll show, but eyes on the ground always helps. I’ll be right there with you, but you two might want to get the lay of the land.”
“Got it,” said Ben. Olivia nodded behind him.
“Everyone clear?” asked Amanda. The group voiced their agreement. “Then let’s get to work.”
A large hand rested on Miya’s shoulder as the group began to disperse.
“I’ll drive,” rasped Roach. He led the way to his truck, parked on the side of the street to make room for Rob and Amanda’s cars.
“Of course the Aztec girl knows everything about the Aztecs,” Miya grumbled as he started the engine. “They couldn’t tell me who the 22nd president was off the top of their head, but no, I’ve got the whole damn pantheon memorized.”
“They envy our cheekbones. And skin,” said Roach in Nahua, a mischievous smile playing on his lips.
“They burn easy in the sun.”
Miya sighed and settled back in her seat. “I guess they’re usually not so bad. Other than that one time where they were freaking out about the tl thing.”
“They always do that,” said Roach with a shake of his head.
“Exactly! It’s not that hard. They look at every Aztec name and just automatically go ‘well I can’t pronounce that’.”
Miya snorted in laughter. After a silent moment passed, she switched to English and asked, “What’s the plan?”
“Simple. I get us in, we look. Anyone asks, you’re my niece, out of town. Curious about the temple.”
“Anything specific we’re supposed to be looking for? I’m assuming we won’t find Ix with a knife in her hand at the altar.”
“Follow my lead, I know what to-”
A car cut Roach off. He hammered the car horn and snarled a curse in Nahua that Miya had never heard before. I’ll be saving that one for later.
“Sorry,” he grumbled, still glaring daggers into the back of the other car. “Follow my lead, watch my back. Don’t panic.”
“Don’t panic. Thanks.”
Finally, they parked before a sturdy building covered in colorful, swirling murals. Are we just going in through the front entrance? Miya asked herself as Roach led the way to the door. How the hell is this going to work?
A man with the barest hints of a tattoo on his bicep beneath his shirt stopped them. All the plain clothes in the world couldn’t hide his rigid posture or thick muscles. Temple guard? Local or Ix’s? He looked over his shoulder at another man, under the shade of the entrance.
“I don’t recognize her,” he said, his lack of discernable accent marking him as American.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve come here,” she admitted. Why lie when I can tell the truth?
“Roach,” he said, nodding to the large, scar covered man. “Is she with you?”
You two know each other? She shot Roach a wary glance. “Of course,” replied Roach, not so much as glancing in her direction.
The man nodded to the soldier, who stood aside to let them in. The hairs on the back of her neck rose the moment she stepped inside. She paused, feet unwilling to take another step.
“Something wrong?” the soldier asked.
“No, no,” replied Miya, forcing herself to continue. What the fuck?