I took Grace’s hand while the others went their separate ways.
“Will Mom come too?” Grace asked.
“She’ll come later,” I said, cracking a smile. “For now it’s just you and me.”
Once we were close enough, our initial group of scouts opened the hatch and climbed out onto the roof of the submarine. The creaking, rust-colored cargo ship loomed over us like a monster. It truly was massive, possibly used for transporting heavy machinery.
The witches among us—Ibrahim, Corrine, Arwen, Brock, Mona and Shayla—vanished us onto its sprawling deck. Then we split up to begin our search. We checked the entire deck and verified it was devoid of life. Then we split up into pairs and trios to begin searching the rest of the ship.
Keeping Grace close to me, I crept through a door and descended a narrow staircase to the level beneath.
“Now tell me,” I whispered to her as we reached a wide corridor at the bottom of the stairs. “Before we decide on any course of action, what is the first thing that we must always do?”
“Scope the place out for vulnerabilities, i.e. humans.”
“Good,” I said.
We moved down the corridor and reached the end of it. Every door in the hallway had been open, leading into empty cabins. We turned left down another corridor and then another. Still no signs of life. Then, on the third level down, Kiev’s voice crackled through our earpieces.
“Ogres,” he said. “From the fifth level downward. So far, they all appear asleep.”
I grimaced, exchanging a glance with my daughter, whose eyes were wide and alert.
“Glad it’s not Bloodless,” Grace murmured.
“Yes. I guess it could be worse,” I replied. “Now, if all is going to plan, the witches will be sealing off the areas the ogres are in. Remind me why that is?”
“Because, wherever possible, humans need to be located and evacuated first, before supernaturals are stirred… and we still don’t know if there are humans here.”
“That’s right,” I said.
Our earpieces went silent for a while again, with the occasional person chiming in to say that they had still found no humans, although they were discovering more pockets of ogres to seal off. As Grace and I ventured deeper, we too began finding sleeping ogres in the larger storage rooms.
“Maybe there are no humans here,” Grace whispered.
“That is an assumption we never make until we have searched in every nook and cranny.”
As if to prove my point, we had just finished scoping out our portion of the ship when Jeriad spoke: “We’ve found humans. Head to the tenth floor down—” His breath hitched suddenly. “Oh, gods. This is not good. Hurry, people.”
I grabbed Grace’s hand and we rushed downward. We spotted a group at the end of a long corridor, standing outside a steel door. All of them were already there, waiting for us, except the witches. My father looked at me darkly as he indicated the steel door. I stared at it and could already detect a nasty stench coming through. The stench of rotting bodies.
“We already took a look,” Xavier said, his nose wrinkled in disgust. “A lot are already dead.”
“All right, well, now that all of us are here”—I looked to Grace pointedly so she understood that I was emphasizing another point in her training now—“we must go in and salvage all those we can, and then later come back to deal with the ogres.”
We steeled ourselves as Jeriad and Heath pushed open the door. The stench was so overwhelming, I was worried one of us would pass out. As we descended, I fumbled against the walls and found a light for the non-vampires among us. The scene beneath us was just as bad as the smell. I wanted to cover my daughter’s eyes, but I reminded myself that gone were the days where we hid our children away.
As Xavier said, many corpses scattered the floors, and those still alive hardly appeared to be in a much better state. They all looked painfully emaciated, some of them with limbs missing, maybe even half chewed off. All of them were men, with the same dark uniform. Workers. Poor guys. The ogres had not cleaned out their food bunker in a while…
“Okay,” my father said, grimacing. “The witches are still sectioning off the ogres—there appear to be more than we thought—but in the meantime we can start salvaging… whomever there is to salvage.”
We tried to work efficiently, forming a chain as we escorted the surviving humans up the stairs one at a time and laid them down in the corridor. Once we’d fetched as many as our present group could carry, we hurried with them back up to the deck. In the meantime, we communicated instructions via the intercom to those waiting in the submarine. By the time we arrived on the upper deck, my aunt Vivienne, my mother and Rose had already prepared five lifeboats. We had taken the humans who’d looked like they had the most chance of living during this first shift. We needed to hurry them to the submarine where they could start receiving medical treatment.
We carried them into the boats and escorted them back across the waves toward our submarine. Here, we formed another human chain to lower them down.
Corrine spoke through our earpieces. “Okay. The ogres are dealt with.”
“Good,” my father said. “Head down to the humans, and help us get the rest off quickly.” We had more witches in the submarine, but we needed them to stay down there to begin treating the wounded.
Having emptied the boats of humans, we were about to head back to the ship when a blinding light flashed in the sky, followed by a deafening explosion that sent shockwaves through the ocean. The submarine rocked violently. My eyes, still sore from the flash, traveled up to see a large black helicopter shaped like a wasp with letters painted on its side: IBSI. They had just dropped a bomb.