Bella’s alarm woke her early. She rolled out of bed and sat on the edge, rubbing her eyes. All the travel and stress of the day before had caught up with her. She’d lain down thinking she wouldn’t sleep and had fallen into the darkness almost before completing that thought. Now she was groggy and really wanted more sleep. But first… she reached for the laptop and her glasses.
It seemed to take forever to boot up, but she was rewarded with a little chime and a waiting message from Devon.
:Hi! Everything’s good here, Melcar was able to give Uncle Lom a healing spell, and he stood up by himself this morning. We’ve been walking together a lot, and went all the way into the hall this afternoon.:
Bella smiled and felt her heart twist, remembering the pixie she’d first met, tossing a snow machine out of a hole in the river ice as deep as he was. That casual display of strength, then the way he’d risked his life for her in the logging truck… that he was reduced to barely being able to leave his own room was no doubt eating at him. She typed quickly.
:Good Morning. I’m going shopping. Do you need anything you can’t get Underhill?:
There was no immediate response, but she would check again later. She shut down the computer and got dressed quickly. Time to go get some toys.
Dan had gotten up even earlier, it seemed, and there was a box of coffee, which puzzled her at first, until she figured out the spout system, and a flat box full of not the donuts she’d expected but breakfast sandwiches.
“Figured proteins was a good idea this morning.”
“Thanks,” Bella told him as she cradled the steaming cup and inhaled. “I was thinking…”
“A dangerous past-time,” he assured her with any hint of a smile obscured by the beard.
Bella glared at him. Tex staggered into the room. “Coffee?”
Dan poured him a cup and the tall man folded into the chair he’d claimed as his own. “If you want the supplies for a thermobaric weapon, and don’t want to set up too many law enforcement flags, we should split up.”
“That is what I was thinking. I can use magic to detonate, and if we had more time, I’d order or smuggle in proper weapons and a supply of white phosphorous to enrich our bomb with, but,” she shrugged. “I really don’t want to risk another person being taken.”
Dean walked into the room, looking grim. “Too late. Turn on the news.”
Dan found the remote and clicked. They all stared at the screen where a blonde talking head standing in what was likely the parking lot of one of the many hiking trails around the park broke the news to her viewers that another hiker had gone missing. Her perfectly coiffed hair and wooden appearance were at odds with her words and pseudo-concerned tone.
“Turn her off, she sounds like a cat whose tail is being stomped on.” Bella finally spoke. “Ok, guys, we have no time, and a complication.”
“No, we don’t. If you’re worried about that man, he’s gone already. We just can’t wait, we need to move on the nest.” Dean spoke calmly.
Bella glared at Dean. “We cannot risk that he is still alive when we bomb the cave. I’m already unhappy about the bats.”
“Bats?” Dean echoed, incredulous.
“The bat population is having health problems. And we are going to disrupt it further with this.” Bella knew she sounded like an ass, but it was something she had considered.
“This is a concern for you?” His voice was flat even as he questioned her.
“I’m a wildlife biologist, dammit. I wasn’t going to try too hard to find an ecologically sound way to kill ogres but not bats, but it did factor into my plan, yes.” Bella put her hands on her hips. “But a human might still be alive in there.”
He shook his head. “No, Bella. He’s gone.”
“Were you there?” She demanded.
“Close enough.” This rocked her back. She didn’t know where he had been the night before, other than, she presumed, observing the meeting with Gary. She’d gone to bed the night before without seeing him.
“I wasn’t looking for the hiker, didn’t know he was there. I was following Gary. A bit of don’t-see-me and a tracker spell,” Dean shrugged. “We were both too far away to stop it. The ogre ripped open the tent and broke the guy’s neck before he even had time to scream. I’m sorry.”
Bella shook her head. “You’re right, you couldn’t have stopped it, and they hunt in packs, so if you saw one, there was another.” She left out a deep sigh. “Ok, the plan stands. Everyone buys a propane tank. Biggest you can get. We are going to blow these suckers the hell up.”
She stomped toward the door, dry-eyed and furious. She should have moved as soon as they got here. Her slowness had gotten a man killed.
“How are we getting to the cave?”
“We’re all meeting outside of town in two hours, and then I will take it from there. Dean, come with me, please.”
She walked out into the hall and he followed her. When he started to speak, she raised a finger to stop him.
“In the car.” He fell silent, and she took the stairs, needing the physical effort to clear her mind.
She didn’t give him the keys, but opened the driver’s door and got in. He stood and looked at her for a moment, then walked around and got in. She didn’t start the engine.
“I’m going to use as much magic as I need to get this mess cleaned up. You’re not going to stop me. Got it?”
He nodded. “Never had any intention of stopping you.”
“No, but you were going to report back on my actions, weren’t you?”
He took a deep breath and looked away. Bella sighed. “You have kept an eye on Lom for how many years now? Did he know?”
“How do you…?”
“You know about my having bubbled the boys from Alaska to the door Underhill. Only person that knew about that was Alger and he told them not to talk about it. So only Alger could have told you. And Lom’s relationship with his former teacher, and uncle, hasn’t always been… friendly.”
“So what do you want from me?” He looked at her, his face almost serious, but his eyes were smiling.
“Your help. I want to wipe these monsters off the face of the earth, and you get to decide later what you tell Alger, the king… whoever you report to.” Bella opened the car door and got out.
“Meet us in two hours.” She told him through the open door, and walked toward the van Dan had rented.
Bella rode in the back with Tex. Fred was sitting next to Dan, and she wanted to get her focus back after confronting Dean.
“So what do you want us to do, once we get to the cave?” he asked her once they were on the road.
“We’re going to have to put the fuel a good way in the cave so I can get it ignited where it will do the most damage. The trick is going to be doing that in a way that doesn’t get their attention.”
He nodded, “And you can use some o’ your magic to keep them from seein’ us?”
“I think so.” Bella sighed. “I will do my very best. And I’m not sure you will be coming in there.”
He looked surprised, and she shook her head. “I need someone doing overwatch with the big gun.”
“What big gun? Dan and I both brought our rifles.”
“Yes, but I have a surprise for you,” she looked out the window. “Ah, the hardware store, a girl’s best friend.”
“You’re a strange girl, you know that.” Tex assured her as she climbed out.
Bella was still laughing when they got into the store. She had a list, so they were in and out fast, checking out at different kiosks to keep the true extent of their purchases discreet. Back to the van, Bella realized that this was fun.
“One more stop on my spree, and then we get to go play in the woods. This is the fun part, that part may be wet and muddy.”
Fred looked up at the sky. It was overcast, but not raining at the moment. “I think it will be dry enough. And with your abilities, no need to walk too much.”
“There is that.” Bella agreed.
Their last stop was a welding shop. She secured a bottle of acetylene to add to their improvised havoc, and they headed for the meet-up point. She had used her little laptop to look at google maps and find a likely spot, an abandoned warehouse, and when they pulled up, she signaled to Dean to follow them around to the back, into the weedy parking lot out of sight of the main road.
“I’ve got two bottles, forty-pounders.” He greeted her with a subtle nod, and she knew he was going to respect her leadership. She hadn’t even been sure he would be here, and now she relaxed a little.
“I’m going to take us in close, and we will finish prepping out there, where we can’t be seen easily. Everybody grab your gear.”
A moment later, they were all holding gas tanks and huddled around her. Dan and Tex wore their rifles slung in safe carry positions. Bella pulled the bubble around, and they were gone. Anyone watching would only have seen a soap bubble of mammoth proportions appear, and then pop again, the people disappearing along with it.