The mud squelched under her combat boots as she bent to flip over the corpse. Dana checked the face with a silent breath of relief as she touched her comm.
“This section’s clear. Our escapee wasn’t caught in that idiotic flyover. You gotten in touch with Command about that yet?” Dana imagined she could hear Astoria’s sigh over the comm.
“I would have told you if I had, Corporal. Meet me at two clicks south of the southern ridge.”
Dana grinned as she oriented herself and freed the long machete at her hip.
“It’s only us on the com Tori. It wouldn’t kill you to be familiar.” She didn’t get a response, but then she didn’t expect one. Dana hacked her way through the undergrowth with sure swings grimacing a little at the wide trail she left for anyone that might be following. Still, inching through this mess would take hours they didn’t have, and leaving markers for the supposed back-up wasn’t the worst idea she’d ever had.
Astoria broke cover when Dana was within arms reach. The taller woman barely blinked at the sudden appearance.
“You got a direction?” Dana rolled her shoulder and sheathed the machete with only a slight sense of loss. This area was cleaner and the taller trees prevented the vines and brush from accumulating. Astoria nodded her sniper case already affixed to her back.
“I saw an erratic trail leading south.”
Dana tilted her head, “Away from both camps and the recent fighting. Makes sense.” She stole a quick look at her commanding officer. “No word about why?” She almost wished she’d held her tongue as Astoria’s jaw clenched. The sniper gave Dana a long look.
“It’s need to know. You questioning our orders?” The words were cooly even and Dana had to fight the impulse to square her stance into parade rest.
“I’m concerned, Astoria. He’s just a kid, a teenager.”
Astoria held Dana’s gaze for a moment longer. “Command isn’t going to disappear him, Dana, you have my word on that.” Dana felt the corner of her mouth curl and she nodded slightly before heading south, Astoria beside her.
They found the trail south and east. Dana picked up the pace while Astoria dropped behind her to not muddle the tracks. The mud gave clear evidence, the slanted angles spoke of panic and probably bad shoes. Half an hour later and Dana held up her hand giving short hand signals to her partner. Astoria peeled off disappearing up a ridge. Dana eased herself forward using the terrain as cover between her and the next clearing.
“In position,” Astoria’s voice whispered in Dana’s ear before there was a harsh intake of breath.
“Tori,” Dana hissed and paused half crouched behind a tree.
“Get a visual,” Astoria’s voice was tight, and Dana eased herself up to get her first sight of the clearing. They’d found the boy, Dana cataloged the provided description: five foot eight, slight build, dark hair. That she noticed him at all was proof to her training as her brain was busy trying to analyze the other being in the glen. The boy stood in front of it; hand held out as if to a horse. If a horse was the size of a Hummer. The legs were thicker than in the stories and the neck shorter. The tail was spiked all along the length and not just the tip. It had to be some indigenous animal there was no way- the long ridges along its back spanned open. The left one dipped and the boy moved using the wing to climb up the front shoulder and settle on the neck.
Dana’s training kicked in and she went for the recon camera hoping that Astoria had a chance to do the same. She snapped several both of the target and the animal. The pair turned heading towards the far side of the clearing.
“Engage?” Dana’s hand drifted towards her gun, but she wasn’t armed with armor piercing rounds.
“Negative,” Astoria was calmer, “the intelligence is more important.”
Dana ducked and drifted away from the clearing. “Would that be the intelligence that we lost the mark or found a living dragon?” This time Dana was sure she could hear Astoria’s silent huff of exasperation.
I’ve been robbed! My friends took the first line of this piece to write their own stories. Head over to ApprenticeNeverMaster to see the whole Ring of Thieves.