“WARRIOR! YOU ARE CALLED! THERE IS A STORM COMING!”
On I ran away from the python, toward the python, calling to my dream, my hope, my salvation.
“I will find you!”
“ERIC!” And then I fell, everything around me fell. The bombs were falling again.
“This time,” the python said, “Perhaps you will save one.”
“HOO-RAH!” followed me into the dark and just when I thought I would die in the black, I saw two small spots of sky blue open before me.
“Sookie? I found you!”
The Rainbows End: Beast of Burden (GRRRRR!)
*static*“Tornado Alley extends from central Texas northward to Illinois and Indiana. The heart of Tornado Alley includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and South Dakota. Less intense areas of Tornado Alley include parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Texas has more tornadoes than any other state in the USA, but Oklahoma has the most dangerous storms (F4 and F5 storms). That is all.” *static*
“Solid copy, LT,” I mumbled, my eyes still closed, my body aching. I was back in country again and a storm was coming.
No, the storm had already happened, and that was the LT educating my dumb redneck ass on how a tornado could and did happen in Louisiana.
Vic? That was Vic somewhere off to my left. Gotta get up, gotta move. I forced my eyes open and then worked on getting them to focus. I was still in the hall by the door at the foot of the steps, but they seemed wrong?
I sat up and looked again, they had fallen partially. Looking around I saw that most of Gran’s furniture was scattered, crushed and splintered. I did a quick check of my person, my training coming back. I was able.
Roger that, I thought and slowly started to rise. Once assured I could stand I went to the front door, which was partially off its hinges. Several hard tugs opened the door but what awaited me was not Bon Temps.
Before me was what appeared to be a brick road? Scratch that, a yellow brick road that led off into the distance as far as the eye could see. I took a step to go out and then stopped, looking down at myself. I had worn a little yellow sun dress that tied in the back with little white flats on my grocery run. I scrunched my face.
Before going into enemy territory a Marine suits up!
Roger that. I headed upstairs, careful not the twist an ankle on the damaged flight of steps and dug out my camo and side arm. Gran had not wanted a gun in her house but I refused to give it up and after sleeping in the yard two nights in a row she had relented and let me bring it in.
I had never told her that sometimes I tried to sleep with it. I say tried because it had not helped. Probably because a Beretta M9 was no substitute for an M 16 rifle. It wasn’t long enough and there wasn’t enough to wrap myself around.
Damn straight, the ghost of Gyl yelled in my mind, shooting me a dirty look telling me she knew about things that were long enough to wrap myself around, too.
I smiled. I couldn’t help it, and then right behind that I thought of something else that was long enough to wrap myself around, several times.
I hurried into my boots and pulled my shoulder length blond hair up in a ponytail before heading back down, moving fast now. I had to find him. I knew I had heard him, he was out there somewhere.
When I got to the door again, I paused just a second and then I stepped off, moving at a good clip to the nearest cover. Crouching behind a large bush I took a careful look around.
The house had landed right smack in the middle of this yellow brick road. It was leaning precariously, and I gave a silent prayer of thanks that Gran had been elsewhere when I went for a tornado ride in the Stackhouse legacy.
Oh, she was gonna be fit to be tied when she saw this! Then I heard something moving just off to my left, staying under cover, and moving with stealth.
I had a flashback to when Vic and I had taken out an RPG team, all I could see for a minute was the melon splash of Hadjis head when I blew it off before he could blow me up.
Closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, I forced that back and called on the shreds of the Ice Princess. I needed that bitch with me now. I wrapped both hands around my weapon and started maneuvering to get behind whoever was getting into position around me.
I was just about in place when right in the middle of the road a dark haired woman in a fluffy pink dress appeared with a blinding flash of light.
She gathered herself a moment and from my vantage point I saw her smooth her hair and adjust her clothing before taking a slow look around. Hadji would have blown your head off by now, bitch, Vic said in my head and I had to agree.
“Susan Stackhouse?” she called out, spinning slowly in a circle. I froze. Clearly, I was expected. How did that work? My brain raced and tried to connect the dots. Maybe she had a copy of the Tornado Express schedule?
Some shit you just can’t reason, Stackhouse. Your life is gonna get a whole lot simpler when you stop trying to apply logic to crazy.
I miss you, Gyl. I closed my eyes and said a little prayer for Gran and my friends.
“Here!” I called out, rolling back into a crouch and ready to come up shooting. I had expected bullets to rain down on me, the enemy to come out of the bushes and blast away. Instead I heard her tinkling laughter.
“Oh, my! I would pop over there but I’m afraid you would shoot me!”
“Got that right, sister,” I mumbled. What next?
Stay in or come out, Gyl whispered in my mind. Logic on crazy…
I shook my head to clear the ghosts and stood slowly surveying the area intently. I had not forgotten the unsub somewhere out there in the surrounding cover.
“Welcome to The Land of Oz!” she said, careful to remain still since I had my Beretta trained on her. “I am Claudine, The Good Witch of the South.”
“Yeah, well I am Sergeant Susan Stackhouse, US Marine Corp, First Reconnaissance Team.” Witches? Witches were real?
“I know your name, Warrior. You have been called.” Oh, that again.
“Called for what?”
“Why, to fight of course!” she smiled then, not unkindly, but I could tell that my question had disrupted her calm state of mind.
“Sergeant Susan Stackhouse, US Marine Corp, First Reconnaissance Team, DISCHARGED. I don’t fight anymore.” Her brow wrinkled.
“No, that can’t be! You bear the mark! You were summoned to fight for Oz.”
“What mark?” I was suddenly very fucking afraid I knew what mark she meant. The one that glowed, the one that stung, the one that tingled when tall blond gods kissed it and promised he would find me. THAT mark.
“The Ruby Slippers,” she said, starting to sound frustrated. I could tell this wasn’t going at all the way she had played it out in her head.
I was amused. I could afford to be since all this screwby for me, too.
“What of them?”
“You were marked as the Warrior, and called to defend Oz in her darkest hour!” She was going to stamp her foot just any minute now, I could feel it.
“Look, Claudine, Witchy-poo, whatever the fuck your name is, clearly you got the preview before this shit flick started. I missed it. I was out getting popcorn and a Pepsi, so why don’t you roll this fucker back and fill me in on just what the sideways humping Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ is happening here!”
My Gran would have beaten me with a broom for that language, but it was part of the training. Dominate your opponent with any means you have. Verbally, physically, psychologically. Whatever it took to get the fucking job done. From the look on her face, my colorful use of the language had finished snapping her delicate restraints and lady like manner.
And there it was, she stomped her fucking foot.
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to put a bullet right between her fucking eyes and then find that son of a bitch in the bushes and aerate his skull, too. My finger tightened on the trigger. All I needed to do was breathe and this bitch with her stomping foot would be history.
Hoo-rah, I thought and pulled. It felt good. Good like getting that itch in the middle of your back that you can’t quite reach with your hands by humping a door frame and rubbing while folding yourself in half to get just the right angle. The soldier in me wanted to pull again, and again, until there were no more bangs. Let the bodies fall down on until it was a bloody brick road.
As soon as I pulled and had that nanosecond of pleasure that beat the mother of all orgasms passed I felt the sharpness of regret and heard the bombs dropping again…and again….and again.
Next will be the screams. I closed my eyes and prepared myself.
“Now, that wasn’t very nice was it?” she said in my ear. I jumped and stepped back aiming at her again. WHAT THE FUCK?
“Fuck, karma,” I said through gritted teeth and banged away, but all I hit was thin air. She was gone again. I dropped to the ground and elbow crawled closer to the nearest cover.
“You know, Susan, if you kill everyone you meet here in Oz you will never get any reliable intel on why you are here, or how to get out.” She was lying beside me on the ground, her head propped on her hand like we were having a picnic rather than a shootout.
Fuck it all, she had a point. I could keep shooting at air or I could listen to what she had to say. I pretended it was my choice.
“Talk.” She smirked then. I bided my time. No one was vigilant forever, and once I had all the intel that she possessed I would finish what I had started here.
“Can we go inside? I would like some tea.” She stood then, dusted off her puffy dress and held her hand out to me. I rose on my own and motioned for her to lead the way, as I scanned for the unsub.
“I doubt the pitcher of sweet tea made the trip intact,” I said as we walked in to my lopsided house, which was starting to seem normal to my now lopsided brain. Another benefit of my training, adapt or die. It was carved in my bones to adapt and move forward with the mission, no matter what.
“Oh, you might be surprised,” she said and picked up a chair to take a seat at the table, which was off to the side of the room now, and not dead center the way Gran had always kept it. I grabbed a chair, too and found two plastic tumblers that had made the journey intact. Opening the fridge I saw that miraculously while everything else was a jumble the open top glass pitcher sat perfectly on the shelf where I had left it when I went for groceries that morning.
Adapt or die.
I reached in and poured us each a glass, then I took a seat across from her, placing my gun on the table between us, sending a very clear message.
She took a sip, and then set her glass down delicately on the table.
“Once upon a time,” she started and I rolled my eyes, taking a sip of my own tea while this crazy bitch rapped on with her fairy tale. “There was a land ruled by a kind, wise and benevolent man that his subjects called The Great King Eric Northman.” Something inside me tightened.
“One day a Wizard came this peaceful land and introduced himself to the Great King as a friend. His name was Russell Edgington, and he had traveled far from another land called Mississippi.
“The Great King welcomed him, and listened to his stories with awe and wonder. Could he travel to this land? Certainly, his new friend Russell told him, this land and many others because he had the secret key that opened the door between this world and his.
“The Great King, brave and true, longed to see the lands that his new friend Russell spoke of, and so Russell and the King had many grand adventures. After a time, Russell claimed to weary of travel and longed to stay in Oz, so he gave The Great King the key that he might travel on his own for a bit.
“Unbeknownst to the King, Russell used his time alone in Oz to forge alliances with some of its less desirable residents, and then to plant the seeds of rebellion and war.
“Why should your King care more for other worlds than this? He would ask of the lowliest peasant to the richest of men. He consulted the Dark Witches Guild and formed pacts with Sophie and Freyda, the Wickedest Witches in the East and the West.
“Whenever the King returned, Russell would hide his treasonous actions and play the role of friend as he always had, so the King was none the wiser. One night at a party hosted by all the Kings greatest and loyalist supporters Russell tricked the King into revealing why he traveled so frequently to another land.
“The Great King had been in search of a Queen, he told them and he had found her at last in a strange land called Phuket. He said that she was beautiful beyond compare with eyes that warmed his heart and hair the color of the sun. He said that she was a warrior, strong and true and that once she was free of her obligations he meant to bring her to Oz and make her his Queen.
“This caused a great uproar among the citizens, especially the ones who thought their own daughters to be far more worthy and deserving than a strange woman from a strange land who had no right to be Queen of Oz. That night the seeds that Russell had so carefully planted for rebellion against The Great King Eric began to flower.
“It was also that night that Freyda, The Wicked Witch of the West saw the ruination of her own plans to wed the King herself and rule the land because The Great King swore that he would have no other, the woman from Phuket had stolen his heart the moment he saw her.
“It was a short time later that Freyda with all the Winkies of her land allied with Russell against The Great King and killed him, seizing the throne and throwing the land into turmoil. The only ones who dared stand against him were the Animals and The Good Witches, myself, Glinda of the North, Beatrice of the East, and Amanda of the West.
“Sophie the Wicked Witch of the East, Pamela of the South and Katrina of the West allied with Freyda, offering troops of their own and together they cut a swath of destruction across Oz the likes of which had never been seen. They burned her sacred forests, poisoned her waters and killed all who dared stand in their way.
“Along the way, Glinda, Beatrice and Amanda were able to stop Pamela and Katrina, and beat back the forces of Russell, Freyda and Sophie. For several years we had an uneasy peace and then a spy in Russell’s palace at the Emerald City managed to get out a message to us.
“Russell has new weapons. Weapons from another world, weapons like yours.” She looked at my gun on the table. “He seeks to end the rebellion against his rule from the Emerald City, and seek out the Sacred Seven to kill them and make their power his.
“If he succeeds in doing this not only will Oz fall, but all the worlds will fall into Darkness as well. Even, yours, Susan.” She paused there and waited to see if I had anything to say. I had stopped breathing when she said the word ‘Phuket’ so it was not possible for me to speak. I was also refusing to process that The Great King Eric, my Eric, maybe, probably, my Eric was dead at the hands of this monster Russell and Freyda. She went on.
“In Oz, you will find that Animals can speak. It was a gift from the Great Goddess Ozma when this world was made. To watch over her land, she chose Seven Animals to hold the power of Creation. If Russell succeeds in finding and in killing The Seven, he will be unstoppable and all of Creation will be at his mercy.”
I blinked and took a shallow breath, enough to speak.
“And why I am here?”
“You, Sergeant Susan Stackhouse, US Marine Corp, First Reconnaissance Team, bear the Ruby Slippers. You are the Chosen Warrior of the Seven. You will lead us in the final battle against Russell and his forces for dominion over Creation.”