The Warrior 2 Book 1: This They Will Defend
The Warrior returns this week. Old friends, new friends, and a new enemy await you in the sequel to The Warrior!
Lying on her stomach at the mouth of a small cave in the Nether-Polar region of the Ural Mountains, Specialist Emily Trigger adjusted the sight on her MK22 338 NM precision sniper rifle’s scope one more time, then moved her head a fraction of an inch to the left to take one more look.
Her current location at the edge of a sharp drop over five hundred feet overlooked this narrow pass through the rocky crags and mountain faces stretching a mile and a half northeast to southwest. It gave her the perfect view of any movement coming through the pass, which she’d monitored for the last seven hours. So far, she’d counted seven birds, a handful of squirrels, and two gophers, but that was it.
Nearby and hidden from view were two teammates, a spotter and a radioman. Everyone was silent, waiting for instructions.
Emily would hold her position here until she confirmed the presence of the Russian military convoy that was supposed to have reached this location around four hours ago.
You’d think the guys who live here would have an easier time moving around their territory. Either they’re completely clueless, or their gear’s been giving ’em more shit than it’s worth. Either way, they’re late.
Fortunately for her, it was a relatively calm day at six thousand feet. She only had to lay here like this in the sniper’s nest through fifty-degree summer temperatures with decent coverage from the gusting winds that had whipped through this part of the Urals for the last several days. Without the added windchill, it was downright balmy in comparison.
That didn’t make it any easier for her to wait.
It wasn’t because of the burning ache in every muscle of her body from having laid motionlessly for far longer than she’d expected. It wasn’t because of the dull throb in the pit of her stomach after the effects of her last protein bar two hours ago had finally worn off. None of the physical discomforts of her current assignment bothered her. She hardly noticed.
Boiled down plainly, Emily Trigger had never been good at patiently waiting for anything to happen. She was much more partial to thinking fast and acting faster.
Today, that wasn’t an option. She had her orders, which were perfectly clear. There was nothing she could do about it until that damn convoy finally showed up so she could do her job. Only when Bravo Team had confirmation of her visual on that convoy could she take any further action, and not a second sooner.
Gritting her teeth against the growing annoyance of hours spent doing nothing, Emily lowered her head toward her shoulder to bite down on the end of the insulated Camelbak hose strapped there for almost-convenient access. She took two quick, small sips of lukewarm water, then took a third and held it in her mouth to keep from instantly going dry again. After that, she dropped the mouthpiece and returned her eye to the scope.
As if the rest of her unit sensed how aggravated she was—they probably could, thanks to Specialist Grossman’s ability to link them all through more than their comms—a gentle crackle came through the comms unit in her right ear. A hushed voice followed it.
“Trigger, let’s get a status update.”
Emily swallowed her final mouthful of water and whispered, “What’s the matter, Sergeant? You worried I’ll keep sitting here when these assholes finally show up and not say shit about it?”
Another crackle rose through her comms, but this time, it sounded more like someone on the team trying not to laugh.
“You must be confusing me with someone else,” Sergeant Briggs replied dryly, although she recognized her team leader’s amusement. “You’re the last person I expect to keep sitting anywhere.”
“He says after sending out our second-best pair of eyes seven hours ago,” she murmured. Hiding her frustration from Briggs or anyone else on Bravo Team was a lost cause, so she didn’t try.
“Because our first-best is twenty-two clicks south of you, reconnoitering the rendezvous point, and he’s a hell of a lot quieter than you are.”
“So I’m a sitting duck out here, then. Is that what you’re telling me, Sergeant?”
“Aw, now somebody’s fishing.” Sergeant Chandler’s low, rumbling voice rose over the comms with a significant background noise of hushed chuckles from the rest of the team.
Briggs softly cleared his throat. “You’re the only one who can make it from your position to rendezvous in under five minutes. Edgars can’t.”
“Edgars won’t blow anything up, either,” Corporal Bam added.
Emily smirked. “Neither will I if these Ivans don’t get their shit together and—”
The soft but unmistakable clack of a stone tumbling down the side of the cliff face made her stop.
With the banter among her fellow operators abandoned, Emily slowly swiveled her weapon on its low mount to scan the pass. Her breath flowed calmly and evenly in and out the way she’d been trained to maintain it, although the rest of her team had picked up on a change in her circumstances. After several tense, silent seconds, Briggs asked, “Got anything?”
“Stand by,” she whispered, her reply barely audible through the comms.
Then she waited some more.
Come on, you fuckers. That’s gotta be you out there. Better late than never, but if I have to wait out here another seven hours, we’re gonna have a serious problem.
Another small stone broke free from the rocky mountain wall on the other side of the pass, tumbling until it clattered onto the uneven terrain at the bottom that couldn’t quite be called a dirt road. It was as close as they would get to a road up here in the Urals, where military convoys weren’t technically supposed to be in the first place. Then again, the illegal weapons dealers set to meet said Russian team weren’t supposed to be here either. This was why Emily and Hellion Squadron’s Bravo Team were.
Two more bits of stone and shale tumbled loose at the northeastern end of the pass, this side of the sharp bend heading almost due north from her location. It was hard to hear anything else with all the noise of a small amount of loose rock echoing back and forth against more rock, but she kept listening, training her scope on that bend in preparation for what she’d been waiting for this whole time.
Any second, now.
A shrill, echoing squawk ricocheted up from the bottom of the pass, followed by three small blackbirds fluttering madly around the bend. One dove toward the ground as the other two swirled around each other in a two-second squabble. Then the first shot up toward Emily’s concealed location.
The next thing she knew, her vision was completely obscured by a flurry of dark feathers and the glint of a beady black eye.
“Shit.” She jerked her head away from the scope to scowl at the bird pulling up a split second before it would have bashed into her weapon. The avian was used to unsettling surprises and built for making quick getaways. It sailed over her and the low mouth of the cave behind her. The other two birds spiraled after it, yammering away at each other before they went over the peaks of this mountain pass to continue their argument elsewhere.
Emily’s gaze settled on a tuft of small, dark feathers drifting softly down in front of her sniper’s nest, each wafting back and forth until they all fell still on the relatively smooth rock beside her.
“Trigger?” Sergeant Briggs asked tentatively through the comms.
“There are more fucking birds up here than Russians,” she murmured as a small but bitingly cold burst of wind cut through the pass. The loose feathers didn’t stand a chance against it. They were gone, whisked off the cliff’s edge to be tossed against the mountainside. “Even they don’t seem happy about it.”
“Dammit. Still?” Her team leader didn’t sound amused by the update either. If Emily had to wait, so did the rest of Bravo. Now they were all irritatingly behind schedule. “Edgars, how’re we looking?”
“Target One still in sight,” Sergeant Edgars replied. “Nothing to report here, Sergeant.”
“Yeah, well, there will be if they think they’re being fucked with.” Bravo’s team leader sighed. “All right. If there’s no visual on Target Two in the next hour, Trigger, you haul your ass back to base and we’ll reassess. Radio in for updated intel The Brain should’ve already sent us if they had it, but that’s all we have. Comms on silent until then.”
“Roger that, Sergeant.” Emily glanced at her field watch. “Pull back at seventeen hundred.”
There was no response from her team after that, which was just as well. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been out here all day, watching the sun curve in its achingly slow arc across the sky to deliver a full two and a half hours of direct sunlight over the floor of the pass, only to watch it sink back down below the opposite side. One way or the other, she’d be getting out of here soon enough.
She hoped like hell it was with a confirmed visual and a countdown for the convoy’s ETA at their secret rendezvous that wasn’t so secret anymore. Not after Hellion had gotten wind of it.
Now all she had to do was keep watching and waiting.
The second she pressed her eye to the scope, the echoing clatter of more rocks falling loose from the mountainsides filled this section of the pass. Emily started to pivot her weapon in that direction for a better look but stopped and retrained her focus on the sharp bend.
Because now she didn’t only hear something. She felt it too.
Up here, so far removed from the bustle of civilization with all its bright lights, loud noises, and constant movement, any change in the environment was a lot easier to detect. Especially when the only differences she’d noted in the last seven hours had come from falling pebbles and wild animals scuttling down the pass.
This was entirely different.
More and more stones fell from their loose perches along the sheer rock walls on either side. They bumped and bounced around in the dirt long after they would have fallen still. Emily felt the tremble moving through the stone beneath her where she lay outside the cave halfway up the northwest side of the pass. It intensified with each second until the vibrations made it all the way up into her teeth, but she kept the scope trained diligently on the curve of the mountain across from her.
Two Russian soldiers in brighter green uniforms rounded it on foot first, each armed and comfortable carrying out their current orders. Both men held their weapons with loose grips. Although Emily couldn’t hear a thing over the rolling growl that buffeted back and forth between the cliffs, they were deeply engaged in conversation as they moved. Neither looked suspicious of being chased or discovered up here in the Urals. They took only a few seconds to scan the rest of the pass stretching ahead of them before diving back into their easygoing conversation.
She followed them briefly with her scope, then swung it back toward the bend, satisfied that these men had no idea they weren’t alone. Or that they thought anything but their tentative partners in illegal arms dealing would await them once they reached their rendezvous point. A few seconds after that, she understood why.
Two enormous, armored vehicles rounded the bend, bumping and jostling along the uneven terrain. The first nicked the wall and sent a large chunk of stone breaking free before its rear tires rolled over the new obstacle. The rock was big enough that it would have caused a small delay for anything smaller making way for the rest of the convoy. The thing didn’t slow, and its twin coming up behind it crunched over the rubble with as much ease.
Great. They brought gun trucks. Emily was too busy scouting their numbers and available armament to pay attention to the exact model of metallic beasts thundering through. Whatever they were, each of the two massive vehicles boasted two mounted heavy artillery machine guns up top, all four manned. Another three armed soldiers rode on the attached open platforms at the rear of each vehicle. They bobbed and swayed with the tumultuous movement of their rides, although everyone kept their footing and some semblance of their pride through the treacherous journey.
Damn, they might as well have brought their fucking tanks up here.
With room inside each vehicle for another three to four soldiers apiece, plus the driver, that totaled the convoy at eighteen to twenty men on wheels and two on foot. That assumed the Russians had packed their vehicles full or at near-full capacity. It was always safer to believe there were more when she couldn’t see through solid steel.
That was far from the entire convoy, which Emily knew by the sound before the rest of Bravo Team’s Target Two came into full view.
Four more covered utility vehicles bobbed along behind the gun trucks. Their carriages were less sturdy than the first two but built efficiently enough for an operation like this. Each had fresh, hasty paint jobs to reflect the dull, lifeless gray color of all the stone around them. Or maybe they’d run out of industrial spray paint. The coverage was spotty in places along the sides of the vehicles, showing the speckled whitish coat beneath.
If this had been the winter months in this region, Emily could have chalked it up to fresh snow in other parts of the mountains or melted runoff. This was the middle of summer, and she could have sworn some of that matte paint still hadn’t completely dried when she caught patches of it glinting with the minor shift in light.
A single armed soldier stood at the rear of each utility vehicle where more platforms could carry more men, if necessary. They didn’t find it necessary. The driver and a single passenger were visible through the windshield in each vehicle, although Emily couldn’t see anything beyond that.
Judging by how the vehicles moved and their lighter weight distribution, plus the metallic clinking and rattling of what sounded like loose chains and straps in the covered rear portions, she guessed there wasn’t much inside them beyond a few soldiers. It made sense.
The convoy was here to purchase illegal weapons on behalf of the Russian military and coughing up insane amounts of cash to do so. They needed somewhere to stash the damn things for the ride home afterward.
They wouldn’t stash anything if Bravo Team did their job right. Bravo Team had an incredible track record, with or without their perfect mission success rate over the last six months. Some of it had to do with how Hellion’s operations had changed in that time because dealing with human scum anywhere in the world had always been and would always be easier than dealing with monsters.
Even if the humans were the monsters.
The fourth utility vehicle rounded the bend. From here, they’d have a mostly straight shot across the next twelve miles to their rendezvous point. Then they’d meet with men who sold untested, unverified, unauthorized military-grade weaponry to anyone who could cough up enough cash to buy it. In the middle of nowhere in the Ural Mountains.
Emily’s job was to get this newest intel back to her team, get herself back to her team, and rally at another location much closer to where this clandestine weapons deal was supposed to take place.
Finally, it was time to move.
It sounds like Idina’s Squadron is back in action and are doing what they do best: kicking butt and taking names! Join all of them as their adventures continue on September 11 in This They Will Defend! Preorder your copy today!