1-3 The whole being silent thing
As the team neared their target, the dark purples and black of night had already fallen. They stopped the rover in the forest around 300 meters away from the clearing that held the village. It took them a few minutes to dismount the rover and equip themselves properly. When they’d finished, they gathered in front of the rover.
The Captain took a moment to look over his assembled team. Then he smiled satisfactorily and said, “We’ll start things slow and steady. Edge, Cauliflower, head towards the village and see what you can see. Be sneaky, you know the drill. Return in thirty. Otherwise we’re going in after you.”
Edge simply nodded. He was by no means surprised at this assignment. He was the only one of the group that knew how to do the whole being silent thing and Cauliflower was the scout. Whenever Cauliflower wasn’t on over-watch with Lotus, she was clomping around an enemy base as Edge desperately tried to keep her from getting killed. That made their relationship complicated. They had a lot of bonding time. However, every time Edge swore that the next he would just stand back and let her deal with everything.
After hearing the order, Cauliflower immediately turned to head into the woods. Edge quickly checked the two knife hilts on his left hip, the sidearm on his right thigh, and the assault rifle slung across his back. Then he headed after her.
The two walked silently through the forest for a while. As he moved, Edge spent most of his time watching his feet. He had to make sure there wasn’t anything loud for Cauliflower to step on as she followed behind. That was the nice thing about scouting with Cauliflower. She was damn good at her job. Even if he wasn’t paying attention, nothing would be able to sneak up on them.
After the pair had left the earshot of the rover, Cauliflower finally broke the silence. “Hey, Edge.”
This was the second bad part about scouting with Cauliflower. The questions. “What is it?” Edge asked, sighing internally.
“I’ve been wondering for a while. What happens when The Captain dies?” Calmly and with the most innocent voice, Cauliflower dropped a bombshell.
“Why do you ask?” Edge responded, doing his utmost to keep his voice even as he turned to glare at her.
“Weeeell,” Cauliflower answered slowly, seemingly ignorant of the murderous aura emanating from Edge’s body. “Captain’s gonna kill himself, right?”
“What?” Edge asked, his face turning from murder to confusion in a second. No matter how much he tried, the image of The Captain’s suicide note just refused to conjure itself in Edge’s mind… ‘Dear Cruel World… I’m sorry that I screwed up the paperwork?’
As Edge shook away that thought, Cauliflower simply continued. “I mean, he’s not a mercenary. Not like us. Not deep down. Just like before, he was talking about letting the monster go, because it wouldn’t cause a problem for people in the future. At the same time, we were thinking about dollars and cents, right? Cost and benefit.”
Edge could only sigh internally. He had forgotten. In spite of how airheaded she got when she was in scouting mode, Cauliflower wasn’t stupid. She was just thoughtless. There was a difference.
“That’s why, I think he’s going to kill himself.” Cauliflower pushed forward, nodding at her own reasoning. “Not necessarily today or tomorrow, but someday. There’ll be an unwinnable situation with lives on the line and he’ll sacrifice himself. He’ll send us away to safety first. He understands us and won’t send us to our deaths. However, eventually he’ll kill himself.”
Edge bent down to pick up a particularly stubborn stick to move it aside. Then he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Her logic was sound. For as long as Edge had known The Captain, he’d been different. A true hero. That was one thing Edge could never quite emulate, no matter how much he looked up to the man. “Why’re you bringing this up now?” Edge asked in a truly weary voice.
“Cause,” Cauliflower answered in a tone that was too light for the subject matter. “When The Captain dies, you’re gonna be in charge. You’ll need to lead us away from whatever epic danger he’s facing alone. You can’t run off to try and help or stop him or whatever. That’s why I wanted you to start thinking about it soon. When the time comes you’ll have to decide between your daddy and your wifey. I want you prepared for that.”
“I don’t have a father or a wife,” Edge complained unenergetically.
“Do you not?” Cauliflower asked, tilting her head innocently.
Before Edge could respond, he heard an unnatural chinking when he took a step forward. He held his hand up to stop Cauliflower and knelt down to examine what it was. It only took a few seconds of searching through the grass for him to recognize it. A series of interlinked metallic wires were laying on the ground for about four meters ahead of them. Looking to either side, he could see it stretch into the distance.
“Found the fence, anything around us?” Edge whispered at Cauliflower behind him.
Cauliflower closed her eyes for about thirty seconds and then shook her head. “Nothing dangerous at least.”
Edge nodded and took a closer look at the fence. The fact that it was no longer vertical was hardly a good sign. As he swept his eyes along the ground, a strange white something caught his eye. He naturally reached out to pull it away from the fencing. Then he stopped himself.
Edge turned to look down the length of the overturned boundary. He made a bet over whether its wiring survived all that damage. Then he reached down. He couldn’t help but close his eyes in anticipation of the pain. Then, when his hand touched cold metal and he wasn’t sent into painful convulsions, he opened them again.
With the electrocution issue settled, he quickly retrieved the clue and brought it close to his face. Looking it over, it was obviously a claw. It was white, sharp, and fit into his palm. The faint traces of blood at its base showed that its owner wasn’t too eager to part with it.
That pretty much proved that the settlement was attacked by monsters. Now the question was what kind. It was too sharp to be any wolf monster he could think of and the shape wasn’t quite right for anything in the bear family. Maybe something cat-esque, but that didn’t feel right either.
“What is it?” Cauliflower asked curiously as she peaked over his shoulder.
Edge just shrugged and handed the claw to her. “What do you make of it?”
Cauliflower pondered the artifact intently before shrugging and saying, “I dunno, maybe some kind of bird?”
“Do you know of any birds with a talon like that?”
“No, but I’m not a bird expert.”
“Ornithologist,” Edge corrected without thought. He waited for Cauliflower’s response. When none came, he turned around to find her staring at him incredulously. “What?” he asked, crossing his arms defensively. “I know things.”
Cauliflower continued to stare at Edge. Eventually he gave an uncomfortable cough and admitted, “I’ve started reading more lately.”
At that revelation, Cauliflower smiled and gave an understanding nod. “I see how it is. Lotus is bad at giving gifts.”
“I’ve just come to understand that you can learn a lot from reading,” Edge defended, turning away from her. “Like what a bird expert is.”
“You know, she gave me a tea set for my birthday last year. Like I’m fancy enough to drink flavored water.” Cauliflower observed critically from behind him.
“Not like I can say much about that,” Edge replied with a shrug. “I just gave you cash.”
“That’s cause you know me so well,” Cauliflower responded happily.
When they moved past the downed fence, they found themselves on some kind of agricultural field. At least it was probably something like that. The extended dirt patch around them had been so thoroughly trampled that it was barely intelligible from normal earth. However, there weren’t many weeds there, so it was probably farmland. This dirt patch formed a ring around the village’s buildings; which numbered around twelve.
They hurried across the open fields and into the shadows of the closest building. The structures themselves were very simple. Nothing more than wooden huts. Still impressive to Edge, though. He couldn’t imagine having to make his own house, no matter how simple.
Once they were leaning safely against the uneven wooden wall of the nearest hut, Edge turned to Cauliflower. “Any enemies nearby?”
Cauliflower once again closed her eyes. Then she frowned, “Definitely none that have found us. Though there may be some around. It’s vague if they aren’t trying to kill us.” Then she opened her eyes quickly and turned to look at the wooden wall behind her. No, she was looking through it.
With uncertain steps, Cauliflower walked along the wall they were leaning against and peaked around its corner. When Edge followed her, he saw something that wasn’t a wooden hut. Neither of those descriptions fit. It was a very rectangular building with reassuringly concrete walls.
Probably their greatest stronghold in case of attack. Though, whoever took shelter in it this time didn’t fare so well. The large doors that guarded its entrance had vanished. Instead they’d been replaced with less reassuring shards of wooden scrap.
“I guess this means we can chalk this place up as a loss.” Edge observed critically.
Rather than respond to him, Cauliflower took a step out of the building’s cover and said, “There’s something weird. We should get closer.” With that declaration, she started towards the stronghold.
“Just cause you’re crouching doesn’t mean you’re being sneaky,” Edge complained to himself as he tried to pull her back.
Before he could reach her, however, the toe of her boot lightly struck a pebble. The small stone gently skipped forward with a faint, but clearly audible, tapping sound. Cauliflower stopped her advance. Edge couldn’t help but wince at every tap. Then it struck home against the wooden hut to their left with a healthy thunk.
For a few seconds, there was nothing. Then a rustling could be heard from the hut they’d been leaning against. Cauliflower bit her lip and Edge cursed under his breath. When the rustling had approached the hut’s doorway, Edge grabbed Cauliflower’s arm and pulled her back around the corner of the building.
Edge held his breath and pressed his body against the uneven surface of the wall. As he waited, he could vaguely see a shadow moving around in the moonlight in front of them. It had a roughly human shape, but a thick tail protruded from its torso and its head was too long and too flat. One explanation came to him from that shadow, but it just couldn’t be right.
“Lizard man.” Cauliflower whispered from beside him, as if to herself.
Hearing her identical assessment, Edge leaned forward to let one eye past the corner that hid them. Then he saw it. Not quite a man and not quite a beast. The monster’s feet ended in sharp white claws and its ankle extended halfway up what should have been its thigh. Its entire body was covered in overlapping blue scales. Its tail whipped back and forth in the air behind it, as if out of frustration. In its long, clawed hands there was a rough bronze sword. It’s stretched, raptorial head repeatedly shot out a forked tongue to taste the air. There was no mistaking what it was.
Edge withdrew slowly. He looked down at the black knife he had drawn unconsciously. After a few seconds, he shook his head and put it away. Then he grabbed hold of Cauliflower’s arm. As silently as he could, he bolted for the tree line.