Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench by pythia
Kate was weary. Weary all the way to her bones, and all the way back. There was grit in her eyes, a weight in her stomach and the slight, buzzing fog of impending headache in her brain. But she was also happy – as happy as a commander in the field could get in the middle of infernal chaos and the hell of war, that is. Yard by yard they'd used the water cannon to drive the swamp things back from the shore and across Liberty Avenue, and then watched with satisfaction as Posiden had sent a rolling bore up the Vermilion river to sweep the worst of the muck back into the Park. A brief regrouping – and a refill for the tankers – had allowed them to follow through to Mill Hollow, where Hercules, the Slayers, the fire team, and her troop of Jaffa had finally managed to overwhelm and eliminate the source of the local corruption.
She wasn't going to forget that
any time soon. The sight of a squirming, animate mound of rotting, methane shrouded rubbish, which had seemingly crawled from some deeply buried landfill somewhere, would be burned into her brain for a very long time. Along with the stench of it, which had had the hardiest of stomachs rebelling long before they'd been able to get anywhere near. Even Hercules still looked queasy, which wasn't that surprising, given that – at the height of the battle – he'd ended up diving right into the mound so he could dig his way to the heart of it. When he'd started, he'd been wearing a full set of breathing gear, but by the time he'd emerged, dripping with muck and mud and other, more unspeakable fluids, he'd been barefaced, bare armed, and heaving as if his life depended on it.
It probably had. Kate had sent Janice and Malina to haul him free of the bubbling muck, and they'd ended up throwing him into the river, where a waiting Naiad had hastily scrubbed him clean.
By then, the Jaffa were determinedly zapping the few things that were managing to jerk free of the rapidly decomposing mound, while the Fire brigade had used up the last of their holy water supply to disperse the rest of the muck. They'd been left staring at the ruin of the once forested park; lines of jagged, broken tree stumps jutting up from a sea of mud and detritus, while the few remaining pockets of methane fizzled and popped and dispersed in a flare of pale flame.
“Oh look” Lewis muttered tiredly, hauling himself up onto her commandeered Fire Truck and slumping down beside her. “A Fire Swamp. All we need now are Rodents of Unusual size ...”
“Don't jinx it,” Kate snapped, half in annoyance and half in amusement. She reached across to slap at his shoulder with friendly intent and he grimaced, too tired to even assay a wince. “Sorry,” she apologised, immediately contrite. She'd forgotten he'd been helping the fire crews with the hoses; if her own fatigue were anything to go by, he was probably well past wiped out and on his way to being utterly knackered. “But seriously? You're a Watcher. You know better than to say things like that.”
“Quite right,” he agreed. “You look like hell, Kate. You should get some rest.”
hell,Robbie. Or as good as, anyway. I'll rest if and when we get some relief. Or when hell freezes over. Whichever comes first ...”
“Satan's complaining about the snow,” Dr Martha Jones announced with a small grin, swinging herself up to sit by Kate on her other side. “And there's a cot with your name on it back at the High School – no arguments, Kate. You're too fatigued to be any help to anyone. Clothos is saying that nothing out there will try to cross the swamp while the sun's still up, and we need to rest and regroup while we can. I'm putting the Slayers on a downtime rota – they'll manage with a couple of hours sleep apiece – but you get a full six hours. Eight if we can swing it. You too, Lewis. Or I'll send Atropos to persuade you ...”
“I'll sleep,” Lewis acceded immediately, only half in jest. The eldest of the three Fates frightened everybody, and with good reason, even though the outcome of current events had passed beyond her and her sisters' control. The tapestry it was weaving was too vast, and too complicated for even their powers to encompass, although they said they could – and would- continue to manage the patterns and threads that fell within their domain. They had a level of ability to affect localised event too; Kate was under no illusions that their recent victory might have been achieved without divine intervention, and she was exceedingly grateful that the Three had decided to adopt her little band, even if they didn't – or couldn't – reveal everything that they knew.
“Okay,” Kate sighed. She signalled to Sergeant Fletcher, who took a moment to straighten his shoulders and steel his resolve before striding across to join her. The man looked like she felt – ready to drop at any moment. “Get the Jaffa to set up watch posts along the Vermilion road between Liberty and Highway 2, and tell everyone else to stand down until sunset. We've an established command post back at the school, and with us, the National guard and the local boys we've probably got enough troops on the ground to hold Vermilion, if nothing else. Send word to command - we'll consolidate overnight and send out fresh patrols in the morning.”
“Yes, Ma'am,” the sergeant acknowledged with a sharp and cheeky salute. Kate grinned. Norman Fletcher was a first class rogue and if he hadn't joined the army and after that SG13, he'd probably be in jail by now. He had no real respect for command, but she knew he had a great deal of admiration for her – probably because she'd saved his skin, both literally and metaphorically, more times than either of them could count.
“And you can cut that out, Fletch. I think we're way past the formal chain of command here. Give the Jaffa the orders, send the message, and then hit the sack, 'kay?.”
“Yes, Ma'am,” he acknowledged with a lot more gratitude and lot less cheek. “Thank you Ma'am.”
Hercules had been deep in conversation with DeSoto, but he'd clearly caught her words, because he nodded to the man and clasped him briefly on the shoulder before leaving him to stride in her direction. His approach was a sight to admire, and Kate was tired enough to indulge herself for a moment, watching him with appreciative eyes. Martha paused to do much the same, and Lewis sighed, rolling his eyes and shaking his head with mild amusement at their antics.
“Captain Stewart,” the demi-god offered politely, “is there anything you need me to do?” A brief – and inappropriate – fantasy flashed through Kate's mind, and she had to take a moment to compose herself.
“Ah – not right now,” she managed to say without sounding too flustered. “Get yourself something to eat, and then get some rest. We'll be sending patrols across the river and down Liberty Avenue tomorrow, and we'd welcome your help with clearing the ground and evacuating the survivors in Vermilion-on-the-Lake. If there are any.”
He smiled. “I can do that,” he said. “You should get some sleep yourself.”
“About to. Thanks for your help today. We'd have been in real trouble if you hadn't turned up.”
His shrug suggested vague embarrassment, dismissing the need for praise. “You're welcome. Hard to stand by when the world's coming to an end, you know?”
She started to smile at that, then paused and gave him a suspicious look. “It's not, is it?”
“Not if I can help it,” he said, and grinned.
AN: I'm working from maps here, so if I've said anything daft that makes a native of Vermilion roll their eyes, I will cry mea culpa and apologise.