1-5 Extermination is More Straight Forward
Staring into the scope, Lotus watched the lizard fall, its red blood contrasting well with its sky blue scales. She smelled the pleasant stink of gunpowder in the air. She felt the pressure on her palm as it chambered another round without the need for instruction. That moment stretched out for a thousand years. Then time started flowing again.
“Edge and The Captain could use some relief,” Cauliflower observed from beside her. The words were said quickly, but without any sense of urgency. A vocal magic trick that only Cauliflower could pull off.
Without bothering to voice a response, Lotus turned her scope towards the east. The front of the village stronghold was a maelstrom. The bodies of four lizard men cluttered the ground, but there were still five of them all vying for Edge and The Captain’s attention.
Laying eyes on that sight, Lotus’s heart stopped. Just for a second. She took aim at the first lizard she could see and tightened her finger against the trigger. Then she took a breath and released her tension.
Like always, she didn’t focus on… anyone specific. Instead, she spent a moment observing the battle as a whole. Then she sighted on a lizard behind The Captain that seemed to be taking a stance. The moment extended itself. Before the lizard could unleash whatever technique it was planning, Lotus pulled the trigger. The roar of her weapon, the sight of blood, the smell of gunpowder. It all washed over her. Like she was a stone in a river. The battle flowed around her in that one, unending moment. Then time started to flow again.
“Knot needs to reload. He could use some support,” Cauliflower reported in her demanding, yet perfectly calm voice.
Lotus shifted her attention back to the west and focused on their perineal driver. The squat, blading man was built like a bolder. All hard muscle. As he bent his arms to shove rounds into his shotgun, his biceps threatened to tear away at his black sleeves. The sight made Lotus smile in spite of herself. No matter the shirt, Knot’s attempts at wearing them were always a bit comedic.
Moving her attention away from the man, Lotus focused on the three lizard men that were rushing him from the front. She took aim at the closest one to him and prepared to fire. Then she had an idea and stopped herself.
The slightly tall lizard man in front was moving its whole body to swing its sword down towards knot. At the same time, a shorter lizard behind was rushing forward to get in on the action. For just a moment, the two’s heads perfectly aligned. Then, Lotus pulled the trigger. When the two monsters had fallen to the ground, Cauliflower gave an approving whistle. Lotus nodded satisfactorily at her own accomplishment.
That was the job. It wasn’t as flashy as getting dirty in the thick of things. However, it was important and she liked it. There was something so pleasant about culling the most dangerous targets from a battlefield. Like trimming the arrant branches from a bonsai tree. It was just so Zen.
After a few moments of reflection, Lotus narrowed her eyes at the lack of communication from Cauliflower. She finally took her eyes off the scope to find Cauliflower scowling at the night sky. Before she could ask anything, Cauliflower lifted her radio to her mouth.
“I’m going out for a bit. Try not to die while I’m gone.” With that whimsical, yet terrifying, declaration, Cauliflower left the small hill Lotus was lying on.
Lotus considered calling after the woman, but gave up the idea quickly. Cauliflower was whimsical, but still a professional. She had reasons for the things she did. Rather than puzzle after what those were, Lotus refocused on her scope. Even if she was deciding who to watch by random, she still had a job to do.
Stepping into the dark forest, Cauliflower didn’t bother looking around. She immediately turned to her right and started walking. Behind her, she could hear a periodic booming as Lotus resumed her duties. That didn’t particularly matter, though. Neither did the feeling of the cool night air on her face or the smell of moss and nearly rotten logs. What mattered was the feeling that there was something important ‘that’ way. More accurately, she felt that there was something “bad” that way.
After a few minutes of walking, Cauliflower reached another empty section of woods. It was dark. There were trees. Also a bit of mud in places. Nothing particularly interesting. However, she knew this was her destination.
Being honest, she was a little disappointed by how empty it was. It felt anticlimactic. She’d kinda wanted to get into a straightforward mess like what was happening in the village. Reaffirming her grasp on her assault rifle, Cauliflower scowled at the darkness before her. She took a deep breath and declared, “I don’t care how sneaky you are, I’m not one to be sneaked around… snuck around… whatever!”
At her final, exasperated word, Cauliflower spun to her left and let off a burst of rounds. She naturally understood the direction of a threat, but not its exact location. Not without marking it first. The three bullets flew aimlessly through the air until they buried themselves in some tree. They certainly didn’t fell her soon to be attacker.
The shots had the desired effect, however. Moments after the sounds of the gunshots had died, a rustling came from the forest in front of her. Cauliflower could almost make out a flash of movement in the darkness. Whatever it was quickly faded from her sight, but the sounds continued.
After a few seconds, whatever made the noises seemed to split into two. Going both clockwise and counter clockwise to flank her. Whatever she faced was fast. Not the fastest she’d seen, but faster than her. She couldn’t pinpoint how many she was up against. More than one, less than four. That was her best guess.
Cauliflower didn’t wait for them to attack before making her next move. She was decisive. That was one of her selling points. Coincidentally, also one of her biggest faults. She quickly turned to face the thing on her right and let off another burst. Thanks to the sound of its movement, she had a better idea of where the thing was. She still didn’t know its exact size or location, though. Once again the bullets sped on until they hit wood or dirt.
The threat of bullets did seem to make the thing hesitate. Its movement slowed. She took aim to fire a third volley. Before she could, however, a sudden pressure was exerted on the small of her back. It wasn’t painful, but it was startling. Like someone had snuck up and poked her.
In seconds, she’d already rounded on the sensation and let off two more bursts. Before she could pull the trigger a third time, she noticed she was firing at nothing. After the sounds of her gunshots dispersed, the area was ruled by silence. Nothing was moving anymore. Like the whole world was waiting for something.
Filled with an urgent curiosity, Cauliflower reached to her back where she had felt the pressure and groped around. The coarse feeling of her gun’s strap was abruptly interrupted by a strange protrusion. Pulling at the hard peg, it came away and she brought it to her face.
It was a small piece of wood, or a large splinter. About the length of her pinky and half the width. Of course, it terminated in a sharp point that was meant to bury itself in her flesh. It was a dart. That much was clear. It was also clear that you don’t use a weapon like this without a little something extra to give you an edge.
“Poison,” Cauliflower spat the word as if it were a curse. It just wasn’t fair. You can’t poison bullets. She’d tried it before. It doesn’t work very well. If she can’t do something, it’s cheating. A hard, fast rule of her life.
After her initial frustrations died down, Cauliflower wondered how long it would take for her enemies to realize she wasn’t on the fast track to death. She made a quick decision and took off into the woods. A few seconds later, the rustling of leaves and a vague sense of danger followed behind.
As she ran, Cauliflower zig-zagged between trees. Occasionally she would hear a faint thump behind her that signified venomous death striking one of her leafy protectors. Poison was such a pain. Just knowing it was there made you make mistakes.
Passing by another tree, Cauliflower planted a foot to stop her momentum. She pressed herself against the rough bark. She took three breaths, then leaned out to let off two bursts of bullets. Her fire just passed behind her into the forest, with no specific target. Without waiting to see if she hit, she pushed off the tree and started running again.
That pattern continued itself for a while. The enemies were persistent. She had to hand that to them. She continued to run and they continued to chase her. Every minute or so, she would pause to catch her breath and let off a few more rounds. As annoying as these things were, it was important that she keep their focus. Lotus and the boys would be helpless against these shadowy poison ass-hats.
By the time she found herself leaning against a tree for the fourth time, she could tell the darts were getting closer to her. She was running out of stamina and these things were definitely faster than her. She needed something to change the pace of this before it became a battle of attrition.
Cauliflower leaned out from behind the tree and let out another three-round burst. Without trying the trigger a second time, she ejected her magazine and grabbed for another. She still had five mags in the reserves strapped to her sides. Plus one in the gun now. Her legs would give out before her ammo did.
As she contemplated that reassurance turned sour, something tugged at her consciousness. It was a faint sound. In the same vain as the encroaching rustling, but different. With a few seconds of thought, she was able to place it. Running water. After a moment of consideration, Cauliflower had made a decision. Then she took off diagonally to her right.
After about forty-five seconds of more running, Cauliflower broke out of the dense tree coverage and into a thin line of open space. The area was punctuated by a peaceful creek that ran through the middle of it. A creek she slipped in almost immediately. The sudden transition from moldy dirt to congealed mud was too much and her feet fled from underneath her.
For a moment she seemed to hang in the air. With the slow creek eclipsing her vision and her toxic enemies approaching, her life flashed before her eyes. She did her best to flash forward through the unpleasant bits. Though, it was a bit frustrating what a chunk that was.
While her mind escaped the situation, thankfully Cauliflower’s body was on point. Her left foot shot out towards a dry rock in the creek as if that was its destiny. Finding purchase there, she was able to force herself forward. Like that, she stumbled into the second tree line in front of her.
Cauliflower found cover behind a reassuringly thick oak and grabbed the binoculars that hung around her neck. She put them to her eyes, set their magnification low, and looked back at the stream behind her. Then she… kind of focused her eyes, but also unfocused them. It was always hard for her to explain, but the act itself came naturally to her. She ignored the gentle warmth that enveloped her body and put all her attention on her vision.
A few seconds after her, a jet of shadow shot into the creek. It was fast. Even faster than she had expected. She couldn’t track it properly. By the time she caught up to the blur, it was in the trees again. All she could make out was a dark arm and leg before it disappeared in the foliage. That was no good. She needed at least 75% of its body to do this properly.
Cursing in her mind, Cauliflower turned back to the creek. She made it just in time to see a second shadow leap out of the trees. This time she was prepared. She was able to follow it for almost a second before it out ran her. Not much time, but enough to get a good view.
The monster was definitely a lizard man. Something she could have assumed earlier, but chose not to. It didn’t exactly look right, however. Its body was smaller all around than any lizard man she had seen. Short, thin. Shorter and thinner than her. That made it basically a dwarf for a lizard man. In its hand, instead of the traditional sword or spear, it held what she could only think of as a blow pipe. Its scales were also wrong. Not the blue of its companions or the classic green, or any of the common colors. Instead it was black with a few flecks of purple. Truly suited to a night raid.
Not that it mattered any more. She had the little bastard now. A black shadow amongst the trees it was no longer. It was marked. In her eyes, it shown dully as a red silhouette. Even through the trees.
She let her binoculars fall against her chest once again and lifted her rifle. The marked lizard formed a red streak as it ran from tree to tree until it was sure it was out of sight. Then it stopped. Cauliflower didn’t know if it was searching for her or aiming at her. That didn’t matter though, cause she had it.
Sighting down her rifle, Cauliflower pulled the trigger four times. When she saw the red glow fade from its body, she smiled. Then she started running again. She just had to loop around back to the creek and do this over until nothing was following her. They probably wouldn’t learn what was going on until they were eliminated.