An explosion rocked the floor under Jacob Barton's feet. It was distant enough that his hearing was unaffected, although he had become used to the ringing in his ears in the year he'd been on the battlefield. He was never supposed to get involved directly in any of the fighting, but the Anitreh were desperate and needed all the help they could get. Sixteen year old Jacob was one of the stronger Anitreh, despite his young age, and he found himself fighting a war.
"Anything to report?" That came from Heri Emmons, Jacob's mentor. He was crouched down by the doorway of the building, keeping an eye on what was happening outside while Jacob stood off to the side where he could safely carry out his task.
"Everything – "
"Out loud, Jake," Heri said.
"Everything looks good," Jacob said, out loud instead of telepathically like he had tried before. He could never understand Heri's insistence on doing everything the normal way unless it was necessary to use their abilities. Jacob could have easily never spoken a word out loud, but Heri would ignore anything he said telepathically.
"Let her go and we'll move in," Heri said.
"I'll take her out myself," Jacob said.
"She'll find her own way out."
"I got it," Jacob said, almost irritated with his mentor. He had been using his ability to spy on the enemy's base. He had found a hawk that hadn't left the area when the fighting began and created a telepathic connection with her. He could see whatever the bird saw and he could tell her where to go. Now that she was no longer needed, Jacob was going to help her fly to safety, even if Heri thought otherwise.
Jacob could see a forested area through the hawk's eyes that looked like a safe place to take her. He directed her in that direction and she turned her wings in order to head that way. The telepathic connection he formed with the bird was an odd feeling, but he loved it. He almost felt like he was soaring through the air, and somehow, he knew just how the bird used her feathers to guide herself through the skies. Even though he'd done it many times as part of his training and during the war, it was something he still found spectacular.
Suddenly, Jacob cried out in pain and fell to the ground. He thought he might have lost consciousness for a brief moment, but he wasn't entirely sure. All he knew was that he felt an emptiness inside. It wasn't the first time an animal he'd been telepathically linked to had been killed, but it didn't make it any better. Each time hurt as much as the first. Fortunately, he hadn't lost his link to the one animal he cared about more than himself. He reached out to his fylgja, an animal he'd been linked to for years.
He could feel her worry about him, but he sent her reassurance through their bond and urged her to stay where she was. He didn't want her coming into a dangerous situation. He knew losing her would be worse than losing a thousand random birds. All Anitreh had a fylgja, and somehow, they were linked to their abilities.
"Jake? You okay?" Heri's voice distracted Jacob from his fylgja and he returned his focus to the battlefield.
"Yeah, fine," Jacob responded. "It's just… Lopi's fine." He didn't know why he mentioned his fylgja but he had couldn't help but think about her.
"You better sit this one out," Heri said, patting him on the shoulder. "Head back to camp."
"I'm fine," Jacob said, sitting up. "It's just bad right when it happens. I'm good now."
Heri looked like he was going to argue, but he didn't say anything. For several moments, Heri was completely silent and Jacob knew he was telepathically communicating with other groups. Finally, he looked over at Jacob and nodded. "Let's go."
Jacob picked up his rifle from the ground and then followed Heri as they left the building. Others were leaving from different structures around the now abandoned city. All the civilians had left over a week ago when the Anitreh's enemies had moved into the area. Jacob had been part of the operation to make sure all civilians made it safely out of the city since the Anitreh didn't want any collateral damage as a result of their fight. Or at least not to have any lives lost as a result. The city would need significant repairs once the war ended.
As they drew closer and closer to their target – a fortified building on the edge of town – they began to take fire from their enemies. From the streets, fire was returned, and Jacob raised his weapon, wanting to help his fellow Anitreh, but Heri pushed his rifle down.
"Save your ammo," Heri advised him. "We don't need to start shooting yet. That's not our job."
While Jacob normally would have argued with him, he knew better than to do that in the middle of a battle. Instead, he had to follow orders, no matter how much he didn't like them. They made their way as close to the building as they could get and still have cover.
Jacob watched as round balls flew through the air and burst on building. They weren't being launched from any device, and when Jacob looked to his left, he could see a group of three Anitreh with piles of the spheres at their feet. Without touching them at all, several of the spheres lifted into the air and they pushed them towards the building using their telekinesis abilities. Jacob hated having to only watch, but there was also a very good reason he wasn't included in that group. Soon, after all the spheres had been launched and broken open, flames appeared all over the building.
Once again, Jacob looked to the left at the three he'd seen before, and while they appeared to simply be standing there, he knew that wasn't the case. They were Anitreh with the fire ability, and those spheres that they had launched at the building contained a flammable liquid. Because Jacob had the mind ability, he was unable to join in that part of the operation.
While the fires were burning, the Anitreh held their positions. For a moment, they were safe as no shots were being fired. The fires started to die out, but not because they were running out of fuel. Someone was fighting them from the inside.
"I think we got him," Heri said. "Hey, Jake."
"Think you can verify if that's Andrade in there? I don't know him well enough to make contact, but you do, right?"
"I can try," Jacob said, focusing towards the building. He reached out telepathically, searching for a familiar presence. At first, he didn't get anything. All he could find were people he didn't know, and although he wasn't trying, he picked up their emotions. He mostly picked up anger and aggression, but there were some that were afraid. Then, finally, Jacob found the presence that Heri asked him to find. "He's there."
"Good," Heri said, a smile forming on his face. "Got the bastard."
Soon after reaching out to Andrade, a person appeared on top of the roof. Jacob was too far away to see him clearly, but he was certain that it was Andrade himself. Several shots were fired, but Andrade remained on his feet.
"Is he - ?" Jacob started to ask a question.
"Yeah," Heri replied, not needing to hear the rest of the question. "Bastard can stop bullets now."
Andrade walked to the side of the building and held his hand out over the edge. The flames below him started to die out, and for the first time, Jacob saw just how powerful Andrade was. Not only was he blocking bullets telekinetically, at the same time he was using his ability to put out the fire.
"Hold your fire!" A voice rang out in Jacob's head, and he assumed in all other Anitreh's as well. "All units, hold your fire! He's got a kid with him!"
"I can't believe it," Heri muttered, looking up at Andrade.
Jacob also looked at the man he had known so many years ago and saw that in one arm, he was holding a child. Or at least something that looked like a child. Jacob assumed that someone else had actually verified that it really was a child before ordering everyone to hold their fire.
When the fires were put out, Andrade simply stood looking over all the Anitreh below. Jacob couldn't see his face, but he could imagine his smirk as he waved at the Anitreh. After that, he headed back inside, and soon after, the shooting from the building resumed, although it wasn't as heavy as before.
"Watch me, Jake," Heri said. "I'm making contact with the rest of the team."
"Okay," Jacob responded, scanning around for any danger. They had good enough cover that they weren't likely to be in any danger unless someone went onto the roof again. Still, Jacob knew he needed to be vigilant.
"Team Delta, signal," Heri's voice said telepathically.
"Barton," Jacob said, verifying his presence. Not that Heri wouldn't have known, but it was standard procedure to acknowledge no matter how close one stood to the team leader. And Jacob also suspected that Heri was facilitating group telepathy. When he heard the rest of the team also calling off, he knew that's what he had done.
"Team Delta, stand by. Be ready to move."
Finally, the voice everyone had been wanting to hear sounded in all their minds. It was Maya Nygard, one of the captains of the North American region. Like Jacob and Heri, she had a mind ability and so she was able to communicate with everyone on the battlefield. As far as anyone was concerned, she was the most powerful Anitreh with the mind affinity in the world. She also happened to be Jacob's hero.
"Team Alfa, go." Soon, gunfire erupted from the rooftops all around Jacob. The telepathic communication came in useful at this point, since Jacob was sure no one would be able to hear a radio. "Team Bravo, Team Charlie, go." Several people charged towards the building. Some of them were launching balls of fire towards the building while lighting flew from the hands of others.
"Team Delta, go."
Heri had started moving before the command had finished, and so, Jacob ended up a step behind him. There were also members of their team moving in from several other streets. Teams Bravo and Charlie had managed to knock a good sized hole in the wall and were the first ones in. Another member of Team Delta was the first of their team in, but Heri was right behind her, and Jacob behind Heri.
Jacob heard gunfire in other places, but there was no one firing in the hallway where Jacob currently was. No one had to say anything – they all knew what the plan was. Teams Bravo and Charlie were basically causing as much damage as possible, and that group consisted of the most seasoned fighters. Team Delta had the mission to locate and capture or kill specific targets.
They broke off into small groups once inside. Jacob remained with Heri, and were joined by three others. They went down into the underground level of the building, while the others were starting on the upper levels. At first, it appeared there was nothing in the basement as it was dark and quiet, but Jacob reached out telepathically and found that there were other people. He looked at Heri, planning on telling him, but Jacob could tell that he already knew.
They headed towards the location where they thought the people were – it was always hard to tell an exact location – and stood by a door. Once everyone was in position, everyone but Heri and Jacob worked together to tear the door off. Immediately, gunfire poured out from the opening. Heri and Jacob returned fire, and the others soon joined in. When no more bullets flew out of the opening, the Anitreh also stopped. Reaching out once more with his telepathy, Jacob knew that there were the same amount of people as before.
"I'm going to see if I can influence them," Heri said telepathically. He fell silent, and Jacob knew he was going to attempt to force them into surrendering. Jacob also decided to help – controlling the mind of most animals was a simple enough task, but doing it to a human was far more difficult. He reached into one of the minds, but instead of finding hostile emotions, he encountered fear.
He moved on to another and there, he found a certain combatant. Jacob battled with the mind of the other person who was doing their best to keep him out, but Jacob wouldn't give up easily. He knew he could do it. Soon, he heard footsteps approaching the door, and soon, one of the enemy fighters walked out, still holding his gun, but it wasn't raised.
"Disarm him," ordered one of the others of the group. Heri was too busy trying to control the man to speak. When Jacob focused his attention on the man coming out, he started to release his own hold on the other person. He quickly returned his focus to the other person's mind which was followed soon by a cry of pain.
"Jake!" Heri shouted. "Don't!"
Having lost his focus before the man could be disarmed, a dangerous situation was created. The man started firing, but he was unable to get off many shots before one of the Anitreh shot him. Still, he managed to get off enough shots for one bullet to find Heri's body. He lay on the floor bleeding. And Jacob knew it was his fault.
When he realized he had started to lose his focus, he had come on too strong in the person's mind and caused physical pain. And that had distracted Heri. The person that Jacob had been attempting to control started shooting after the first person was down, and Jacob knew he had to stop her. The others were attending to Heri, but he wasn't about to let anyone else get injured. He went right back into their mind, no longer caring how he did it or what the consequences were. He heard her screaming in pain, and when the bullets stopped coming, he assumed she was the only one left shooting.
Jacob went into the room, ready to shoot his enemy. It was dark, but there was just enough light for him to see the woman collapse on the floor. Because he was still trying to influence her mind, he felt it when she died. And he never even had to shoot her. He had killed her telepathically.
That thought worried him, but he didn't have time to think about it. There were others still in the room. They weren't shooting at him yet, but he knew he had to make sure. "Come out now," he ordered. "With your hands up!"
He saw a movement off to the side of the room and he turned that direction, aiming his rifle. He saw the two hands first and he hoped that it really would be that easy. He knew not to take any chances and kept his gun pointed towards the person.
"Don't shoot," came a woman's voice. "Please don't shoot. I… I'm not here to fight. My son. One of my son's is here with me."
Jacob didn't know if he should believe her or not. But he remembered that intense fear he had felt earlier. He knew that couldn't have been faked. Still he didn't lower the weapon, but he did relax slightly.
"Is there anyone else down here?" Jacob asked.
"It should only be those two guards, myself, and my son," she replied. "Everyone else is supposed to be fighting upstairs. You guys are the Anitreh?"
"Thank god. Please, you have to help me. My son. Please take him. I don't want him to end up in this life. My other son. I think it's too late for him. But you have to help Darius. Please."
"We'll take care of it," Heri said from the doorway.
Jacob looked over to see his mentor leaning against the wall and he almost smiled. He was glad that he was on his feet, but he also felt terrible knowing it was his fault he was injured in the first place.
"We'll get you both out of here," Heri promised the woman. "What's your name?"
"Klara," she replied.
"We'll get you and Darius to safety, Klara," Heri repeated his promise. "Jake, you and Rosalind take them out. No. Wait. I need Rosalind with me. Mathias, you go with Jacob. Take them to camp."
"Shouldn't – " Jacob started to argue.
"No time for discussion," Heri said. "Get them out of here now!"
"Yeah," Jacob grumbled. He didn't like the idea of being taken out of action, but he also knew that Heri was most likely not happy with his earlier actions and understood that he didn't want him involved anymore. He'd have to accept his punishment.
The woman picked something up from the ground and Jacob thought for a moment that she had a weapon, but she held it close to her body, and Jacob knew it was her child. She came over to Jacob, who was standing closest to her, and pushed the young boy into his arms.
"Take him. Please. But I have to stay. I know things. I can help you."
"Right," Heri said. "Jake, take care of Darius. He's your responsibility now."
"Yes," Jacob said. He'd screwed up earlier. Now he knew he would make up for his mistake by following that order perfectly. He wouldn't let anything happen to the child he held in his arms. Whatever happened, Jacob swore he'd keep Darius safe.