Lead vs Fantasy 3-5

Author’s note: 

Crap!  Almost forgot to post at all today, sorry about that.

3-5  In Which Guns Are Shot (BOOM)

Erik looked across the faces of his seniors.  It’d been twenty minutes since they’d left behind the elves and the merchant.  Seeing his veteran teammates finally willing to relax their expressions made Erik sink gratefully into his seat.  He hadn’t noticed just how tense his every muscle had been for the last forty minutes, but now they all ached in bitter complaint.

Settling into the silent, contemplative atmosphere of the rover, Erik felt like there were a thousand questions he should ask about what just happened.  However, he also felt like he could kind of guess the answers to all of them.  Plus, Erik wasn’t an imperceptive fool.  The atmosphere had become incredibly delicate after they’d abandoned the merchant.

For almost a minute after that decision was made, Erik felt like he should protest it.  It wasn’t the kind of thing heroes were supposed to do.  Those great wolves that that just ran through bullets were terrifying, however.  Those small birds were somehow worse.  His fear beat out his sense of duty and he fell silent.

Then he remembered that he’d made the same call before.  Back in those huts, surrounded by the lizards. He’d watched so many people die and had done nothing.  He hadn’t even tried to volunteer to take their place.  Of course, back then there was nothing he could do to save anyone.  Not permanently.

Was now any different than that?  No.  Erik didn’t know much about the mercenary stuff, but he was sure of one thing.  The choice was whether the team died or lived.  There was no future where the merchant survived.  After all, the team was already at its limit and only one of the elves ever attacked them.  Even he seemed distracted when he did it.  Like he put way more focus on the trailer than them.

Erik once again looked at his colleagues.  The atmosphere was still somehow prickly.  Like everyone was trying not to say the wrong thing and therefore nothing was said at all.  He wondered if they were all feeling guilty about leaving the man behind, or if they had hurt their professional pride, or something.

Even though the Captain gave his approval, the order to cripple the merchant had come from Edge.  Erik felt like that was important, but he didn’t know how.  Once again, Erik was left as the outsider.  There was history in this team and Erik didn’t know any of it.  He still didn’t know how to fire his gun right.  Even though he’d tried his best in the last fight, he was sure none of his bullets actually hit anything they were supposed to.

Erik felt like he was a row boat floating around in the middle of the ocean.  All around him was just more ocean and below him was leagues and leagues of the unknown.  A dark abyss which he dare not disturb lest he rouse its ire.

For a moment, that metaphor made Erik smile.  Then a thought crossed him and he scowled at himself critically.  Thinking up such theatrical imagery made him too much like his mother.  If others heard him, they’d think he was turning strange just like she had.

Trying to block that thought from his mind, Erik looked up and asked, “Where’re we going now?”

“We’ll keep driving like this.  See if we can find a detour around the forest to the north,” Not answered emotionlessly.

Erik nodded slowly at the back of the man’s head.  Then he decided to scan his team’s assessment of that.  As he was sweeping his eyes across the rover, Erik’s eyes caught on Cauliflower.  Her face was strange.  She was staring into the distance, but not like usual.  She wasn’t staring airily and without focus.  She was concentrating on something.  That gave Erik an uneasy feeling.

After a few seconds of watching her, Cauliflower grimaced and said, “There’s someone coming fast.  Probably an elf.”

“Just one?”  Edge asked skeptically, turning his gaze to their rear.

Erik did the same, but could only see yellow-green blades of grass extending into the distance with the ominous forest bordering on the left.  There were no signs of pursuit, but before he’d noticed, his hands were already quavering.

“Feels that way,” Cauliflower answered while Erik was distracted with his own nerves.

When Erik looked up from his shaking hands, he saw that the rest of the team had already picked up their weapons and began pointing them out the back of the car.  Hastily, Erik did the same.  He didn’t want to look like he wasn’t going to help out.  Though, when he remembered the previous bout, he thought his “helping” may just be a waste of ammo.

Erik’s gun drooped as a heavy feeling of uselessness fell over him.  Then he felt a sense of warmth spreading over his shoulder.  When he looked up, he found Champ wordlessly patting him and his heart lifted a bit.

“If it’s just the one, we may be able to deal with it,”  The Captain’s voice rang out, drawing attention to him.  “Lotus, get in your stance.  If whoever comes is alone and aggressive, try and take him out.  Fast and with maximum firepower.”

“If we kill one, the others will come after us,”  Champ spoke up from beside Erik.  “They don’t take kindly to humans killing one of their own.”

Just like before, Champ made a face mixed between anger and depression whenever he brought up the elves.  That made Erik want to ask about the whole issue, but he knew he hadn’t been there long enough to do that.  Erik wondered if he’d ever have been in the team long enough to ask something like that.

First, I have to survive through today.  That stray thought came out of nowhere and set Erik shivering again.  He quickly looked over his veteran companions for some comfort.  They were always so calm in the face of sticky, bity death.

Just as always, the team seemed calm and collected.  That was until Erik studied their faces a little closer.  They didn’t tremble or show any fear in their expressions.  However, the atmosphere around them had become strained.  Everyone was just a little more tense than normal.  That made Erik shake all the more.

In hopes of distracting himself, Erik started focusing on the reports from his ears just in time to hear the tail end of the discussion he’d been ignoring.

“If the other three come after us and catch up,” The Captain was responding evenly.   “Then that’s just the end of our luck.”

With the termination of that statement, the rest of the team nodded their understanding.  Erik, on the other hand, turned his eyes to his feet.  It was hardly the heroic proclamation he was hoping to hear.

Erik’s depressed wait for death was only interrupted when a waving hand suddenly appeared in his vision.  Looking up, he saw Edge bending down to get his attention.  Once he had, he straightened up and said, “Don’t worry, Newbie.  Just stay calm.”

Erik met the older man’s blood red eyes.  Somehow that color was incredibly comforting at that moment.  He stared into them for a while.  Then he gave a quick nod and mumbled, “I-I’ll try my best.”

Edge nodded his satisfaction and gave a faint smile before turning away.  Erik tried to put on his own smile, but the best he could manage was a toothy, sneerish nothing.  Giving up, he turned to look out the back of the rover.

In the distance, barely visible over the grass, Erik made out four rapidly growing smudges.  At first, a renewed dread shot through him as he thought Cauliflower had been wrong.  All four were after them and their luck had run dry.  That only lasted half a second, however.  Soon his better judgement took over.  Three of the shapes were simply too broad.  Even at such a distance, no one could mistake them for anything of human proportions.  Not for very long, anyway.

“He’s got three of those wolves with him,” Cauliflower confirmed the rover’s suspicions over her binoculars.  “You think that’s his limit?”

“I don’t know about that stuff,”  The Captain declared with a frown.

“No,”  Champ declared flatly.

“Then, what is?”  Edge asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Can’t say for certain, but…”  Champ said, closing his eyes in thought. “A lot.”

The Captain clapped his hands to summon the attention of his team.  “That just means he’s underestimating us.  That’s what we want.”  He then turned his attention to where Lotus was standing, staring intently into the scope of her gun.  “How’s it coming, Lotus.”

“I have him in my sights,” Lotus answered, not deviating her gaze for a second.  “When he gets in range, I’ll be ready.”

The Captain nodded and turned to his left.  “Knot, slow down and keep us steady.  We don’t want to miss this.”

Erik thought he heard Lotus release an almost imperceptible growl at those words.  She said nothing, however, and Not obediently brought the rover down to about half its top speed.  As he did, the elfish smudge grew all that faster.

Within seconds, Erik could make out the humanoid and wolfish shapes with his naked eye.  As soon as he could, Lotus started to glow a faint white.  Looking her over, Erik’s stomach was silently roiling.  He remembered the force that shattered a stone eagle 100 times his size.  There was no way a tiny humanoid body to could stand up to that.  It would all be over soon.  He just wished his body would understand that.

Erik didn’t have long to worry over it.  Moments after Lotus started preparing her attack, her gun let off a thunderous cry and her bullet became a searing stream of white as it departed.  It streaked towards the elf like a pillar of unstoppable destruction.  Then, there was a raucous crash and their view was obscured by a cloud of brown dust.

“What just…?”  Someone said as the team stared into the beige abyss.

“D-dri- fast!”  Cauliflower’s desperate voice interrupted the team’s confused reverie.

Needing nothing more than that, Not slammed on the gas.  The rover lurched towards his maximum velocity, sending Erik slamming into Champ’s thick shoulder.  Erik rubbed his eye socket, which had collided with something hard and tried to regain his bearings.

Once he had, a strange disturbance in the dust cloud caught his attention.  As he watched the tan curtain slowly shrink into the distance, he barely listened to the excited shouts around him.

“What happened?!”  Edge demanded.  “You used a piercing one, didn’t you?  Why’d it explode?”

“I don’t know,” Lotus shot back icily.  “I didn’t do that.”

“It was like he earth came up and ate the bullet.”  Cauliflower declared, not looking away from the billowing dust as its turbulence grew fiercer.  “Then it kind of exploded.”

“He tried to block it?”  Edge asked, turning away from Cauliflower to give the dust cloud an impressed glare.   “That’s some reaction time.”

“Not try,” Cauliflower almost whispered causing Erik’s blood to run cold.

As Erik watched, the disturbance of the slowly receding cloud became like a storm wracked sea.  Then a clearly visible humanoid figure burst from behind the dust and started gaining on the rover.  For a moment, everyone studied the elf’s figure.  The fact that he was alive was bad enough.  However, when Erik looked closer, he couldn’t even see any blood on the elf.  He was completely untouched.

Seeming to come to the same conclusion as Erik, Edge just started cursing, “Shit, shit, shit.”

“I don’t think he’ll give up at this point…”  Champ observed slowly as he placed his rifle butt against his shoulder.

“Get ready to for a fight!”  the Captain shouted over his team’s pessimistic assessments.  “Cauliflower, get on the 50. Cal.  Lotus, keep at least one eye on the elf.  If he looks distracted, try another shot.  Everyone else, get ready to play defense!”

Before the Captain could finish giving his orders, three earthen wolves had emerged from behind the elf.  Erik was pretty sure they weren’t alive, but the ferocity in their bared terracotta fangs made him question that.  They looked like true wolves as they bounded across the grasslands.  At least like Erik imagined real wolves would look if they were blown up to the size of a truck.  They bounded forward with both paws outstretched at every step.  They were constantly pushing themselves faster, but Erik was sure they’d never grow tired.

When Erik decided to stop building up the enemy in his head, he turned in hopes of seeing something to lift his spirits.  What he found was that everyone else was already prepared to fire.  Erik felt his face contort with frantic embarrassment as he rushed to catch up.

Once he’d retrieved the rifle they’d given him, he tried to take aim at the nearest wolf.  However, all the enemies were to their rear and he was right behind the driver’s seat.  In other words, all his allies were between him and his targets.

Erik turned his eyes towards Edge, who sat across from him.  His senior was currently leaning over the car’s railing and aiming resolutely at the approaching wolves.  To Erik, the rifle’s barrel seemed barely far enough to ensure it didn’t burry any bullets in Lotus.  Hardly reassuring.  Though, Lotus and Edge weren’t bothered.

Erik tried mimicking that.  He slowly leaned his upper body out of the car.  Once he had half his body hanging precariously over the railing, he was finally confident he wouldn’t accidentally kill Champ.  He tried to look down his sights at the coming enemies.  However, the sucking feeling of the void beneath him was too distracting and he couldn’t focus.  A few seconds later, the rover hit a hole and shook, almost forcing him to drop his rifle.

Hurriedly, Erik pulled himself back in the confines of the rover’s bed.  He then turned his attention to the other side of Champ.  He looked at the roughly foot wide space between Champ and Cauliflower.  Through it, he could get a clear view of one of the wolves.  He didn’t even bother lifting his rifle, however.  There was no way he would trust himself to shoot through that hole.  Not with the possible consequences.

Not long after Erik gave up on the attack and nervously settled into his seat, the enemies came in range and the rover lit up with the sound of gunfire.  Watching his comrades firing gallantly at the earthen monsters, Erik bit his lip in frustration.  He knew he should help them, but he also knew he couldn’t.

The first wolf to come within biting distance of the car quickly found one of its front legs disintegrated under machine gun fire.  The second came up from Erik’s left and met the same fate from Edge and Lotus’s determined shots.  The third wolf was coming from the right.  Champ was already sending a storm of lead after it.  However, just one assault rifle wasn’t enough to break through the thick earth of the wolf’s haunch.

Within less than a minute, the third wolf had come up beside the rover and was running abreast of them.  With no allies between him and his target, Erik was finally able to raise his rifle.  Hurriedly, he aimed where Champ was shooting and pulled the trigger.

Before his finger finished its motion, Erik’s body had already tensed in preparation for the recoil.  His rifle didn’t let down this anticipation.  It immediately bucked in his grip and his aim shifted upwards.  After sending two shots uselessly into the sky, Erik put more strength into his arms and wrestled the gun back towards his target. For a few seconds, his aim was true.  Then he had overcorrected and found himself launching bullets under the beast’s belly.  Like that, Erik spent his whole magazine swaying between heaven and earth.  Thankfully, the dirt monster was close enough and big enough that the majority of bullets seemed to hit it.

After Erik’s gun clicked empty, he shifted his attention to reloading.  Then, his vision was eclipsed by shadow and his nose was filled with the rich smell of sod.  Looking up nervously, Erik wondered what he’d been thankful for.  In front of him lay an open abyss at the center of a beautifully sculpted, lupine face.  Lining the dark earthen hole, which looked ever more like a devouring grave, there were long, sharp rocks.  It was as if the beast’s mouth had been fitted with the arrowheads of some primitive culture.  If those primitives were giants.

Catching sight of his impending doom, Erik let out an incomprehensible burble.  Then, with no commands from his brain, his body wobbled and fell backwards.  Wrapped in the feeling of weightlessness which always precedes a very rough reminder of weight, Erik watched two rows of jagged stone come together in the air inches above his face.  Then his back was struck harshly by the hard metal of the rover’s bed.

Erik couldn’t feel his back twinging its complaints at him.  He couldn’t move his arms from where they’d frozen, halfway through removing his rifle’s magazine.  He couldn’t blink.  All he could do was stare into the sky he was still capable of seeing.

As Erik’s mind drifted through the strange warm clouds of survival, he barely heard a female voice shouting, “Get down!”  It sounded like it came from very far away through a tunnel.  Whatever it was, it probably didn’t matter much.

Then something heavy landed on Erik’s solar plexus, forcing all the air from his lungs and calling him back to reality.  After he finished letting out his death rattle, Erik’s eyes slowly refocused and he saw Champs’ face staring at him from a couple inches away.  At that moment, Erik’s brain could only squeeze out one thought:  He has a really manly chin. 

A few moments later, Champ got off of Erik and helped him to his feet.  As he stood, Erik saw Cauliflower turning her still smoking turret from their position.  Then he looked back out the rover and found the wolf collapsed a few feet behind them.

With that, the three earthen monsters had already been vanquished.  The team didn’t have the time to be awash in victory, however.  There were already five more wolves pursuing them by the time Erik could scan their surroundings.  Quickly, he replaced his discharged magazine and moved to rejoin the fray.

Once again, Erik sighted at the same target as Champ.  Then, he did nothing.  He didn’t know if there was any help in him “helping.”  The wolves were broad enough for him to hit them, but even if he wasn’t a veteran mercenary, he knew there was more to it than just hitting.  The only thing that had any effect was concentrated fire.  That was something he couldn’t do yet… maybe ever.

Watching small clods of dirt being slowly chiseled off the approaching wolf’s leg by Champ’s steady fire, Erik lowered his rifle.  They only had so much ammo.  Only so many loaded magazines.  Best to leave them to the people who could do something with them.

Turning away from the wolf, Erik surveyed the battlefield looking for something he could do.  That was when he caught sight of the elf.  The man was running alongside the rover like it was nothing.  Just as before, his limb’s movements didn’t match his speed at all.  It gave him a ghostly feeling.  On top of that, his normally statuesque features were contorted in an insane rage which didn’t even match what was displayed an hour before.

Looking over the elf, he focused on creating more wolves.  Or controlling.  Or something.  The point being, he wasn’t paying attention to Erik at all.  Erik thought about that for a second, then he nodded to himself.  Erik didn’t know how magic worked, but he was sure concentration was an important part of it.  If he could just land one bullet, then he could change the battlefield.

Psyching himself up, Erik steadied his rifle against the railing of the rover.  He lowered his body to stare down the sights and took aim.  Then, the elf turned his head and their eyes met.  Staring into those furious eyes flooded Erik’s back in cold sweat.  His mind went blank, but his hand had already received its orders.

Erik’s finger closed on the trigger.  His rifle gave a cry.  Then, he was staring at rocks.  Dirt and sand and stone had at some point hurled themselves together into a wall which stretched between the elf and Erik.

Erik spent a moment being dumbfounded at the sight of his bullets whimpering into the hasty construction which continued to form as the elf ran forward.  Then he released the trigger.  As soon as he had, the wall stopped forming.  Once again, the elf jogged effortlessly into view.  His terrifying eyes stared straight into Erik’s.  Then he gave a murderous smile and turned his head away.

Seconds later there was a loud crash and Erik was thrown to his right, crashing his head against Not’s seat.  For a moment, Erik’s vision went black and everything seemed far away.  When he came back to himself, he couldn’t help but wince at the ache in his head.  He gingerly ran his fingers over the back of his skull.  When they returned to his view, they were free of blood.  Though, he felt like they shouldn’t be.

Partly reassured that he wasn’t dying, Erik was free to check on his other senses.   He furrowed his brow as his ears were filled with the sounds of whining metal and tossing dirt.  Then he noticed that the scenery wasn’t passing by nearly as fast as it had been.

“Shoot it, Cauliflower!”  Champ shouted as he tried to an earthen wolf from approaching from the right.

Following the target of Champ’s roar, Erik was able to quickly identify the cause of their problems.  A three ton statue of soil was biting firmly onto the rover’s frame at the back.  As the rover slowly pulled itself forward, Erik could see the wolf’s feet making deep grooves in the ground beneath them.

“The turret wasn’t made to aim down!”  Cauliflower complained back at Champ, not even bothering to demonstrate as she took aim at another approaching wolf and let off several bursts.

“Just taking out the legs won’t help now,” Lotus declared as she aimed across the car to assist Champ.

“Solution!”  Edge shouted as he dove beneath his seat.  When he came back up seconds later, he was proudly holding something Erik found very familiar.  As soon as his memory of the object returned to him, his mind went blank and his blood stopped moving.

“A grenade?!”  Lotus asked, catching sight of Edge’s solution.  “You want to blow us all up?”

“It’ll be fine as long as I hit the right place,” Edge responded as he moved to behind Cauliflower.

“And if you don’t?”  Champ grunted irritably, not having the time to look away from his target as he made his complaint.

“It’s fine,”  Edge declared arbitrarily as he pulled the pin and tossed the grenade.

There was a small thump as the grenade hit the soft dirt directly behind the rover.  Then the grenade made a small bounce and landed beneath the biting wolf.  As soon as Erik saw that, he closed his eyes and crouched down to brace for the explosion.

It felt like a long time passed then and nothing happened.  Erik wondered if it was a dud.  That happened sometimes, right?  He gingerly removed the hands from atop his head and straightened up to look curiously at the wolf.

That was when the wolf just, sort of, stopped being wolf shaped and became a cloud.  Then everything got really calm.  Everyone still seemed to be shouting about something, but he couldn’t hear them.  He wondered what they were so upset about.

Erik’s gaze wondered down and he noticed that he was sitting on the rover’s bed.  He couldn’t remember when he sat down, but that didn’t matter much.  He noticed that everything around them seemed to be moving really fast.  It was almost hypnotizing, watching it all blur past.

While he watched nothing in particular, the rover shook violently and sent him crashing into the seat beside him.  That didn’t bother him at first, but then he found himself feeling strangely disquieted.  Almost like he was afraid of something, but he didn’t know what.  A few seconds later, the rover shook again and Erik looked up to see what all the fuss was about.

That was when he caught sight of a massive construct of earth a few feet from his face, preparing itself to ram the car again.  As he watched the statue’s non-existent muscles bulge with its movements, everything started to return to him.

As Erik felt the blood flowing from his face, he heard Not shouting from his right, “The path from before is coming up, hold tight, we’re going in!”

“Into the forest?!”  Cauliflower shot back from Erik’s left.  “We have no idea-“

“As they say, better to go with the devil you don’t know.”  Not interrupted as he swung the rover into a sharp right turn, forcing Erik face first into the railing in front of him.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the devil you know you’re supposed to go with,”  The Captain’s replied, his voice shaky as he recovered from the sudden shock.

“I know that devil is going to kill us!”  Not shouted back as the team became shrouded in the shadows of the looming trees.  “Better to take our chances.”

No one could rebut him now that they were already on the path, so the team fell silent.  Only the sounds of the car’s engine, the furious pounding of earthen feet, and sporadic gunfire could be heard.  Once they passed into the forest proper, the terracotta monsters on either side of the rover were forced to pull back or be scatter themselves across the thick tree line.  Seconds later, the rest of their brood followed suit.  Though, whether that was to retreat or regroup remained to be seen.

As the team was swallowed by the forest which was somehow more ominous than it had been before, Erik was able to take a few deep breaths and take stock.  As he did, he realized he was completely covered in sweat and his thighs were strangely chilly.    Looking down, he almost let out a sob before quickly returning his gaze to the trees.  He thanked god his fatigues were black… he really hoped no one was looking.

“He’s not gonna follow us in here, is he?”  Champ asked, staring out the back of the rover at the rapidly disappearing earthen forces.  “I mean, even they admitted they were scared of this place.  He wouldn’t carry out a pursuing battle in dangerous terrain.”

No one seemed ready to answer that and the question hung in the air ominously.  After a few minutes of unbearable silence, Erik weakly said, “He looked really mad.”

Seeing everyone’s gazes shifted towards him, Erik’s gaze unconsciously shifted to the seat of his pants.  Hurriedly, he shot his line of sight up towards the tree tops and added, “His eyes looked bad.  Like we killed his family or something.”

Once again, the car fell silent.  Feeling that he’d made the mood worse, Erik started fidgeting restlessly until Edge opened his mouth to speak, “They take grave robbing seriously.  That’s what I’ve heard, at least.”

“Even monsters know to eat their prey as soon as they kill it,” Champ declared sourly.  “But the Elves are different.  They’re too good for cremation.  Got to look pretty for the afterlife.”

The Captain frowned and nodded at Champ.  Then he turned to the back of the rover and asked, “Cauliflower.  How do things look?”

Erik turned to look at the girl who had been unusually silent since they’d left the wolves behind.  What he saw of her wasn’t great.  She was currently leaning her entire body weight against the mounted gun and had a pale face with glassy eyes.  It almost looked as if she was nauseous and couldn’t focus.

A few seconds after hearing the Captain’s question, she raised her head marginally and weakly answered, “I don’t know what’s coming, but the forest… it’s definitely awake now.”

“And the elf?”  The Captain asked, his eyes sympathetic, but his face resolutely stoney.  “Is he coming?”

Cauliflower gave a limp shrug and said, “I don’t know, it’s hard to tell right now.”

Hearing that, the Captain pursed his lips and asked, “Are you going to-“

“I’ll be fine,” Cauliflower asserted with a light wave of her hand.  “I just need a little bit to adjust.”

Erik squinted at her suspiciously.  She didn’t look like she’d be fine.  It looked like she could collapse at any minute.  There was nothing he could do about that, however.  He turned away from Cauliflower and looked into the woods.

Erik had lived in a forest for his entire life.  Well, he’d lived surrounded by a forest his entire life.  Actually entering the ting was too dangerous for him to do more than a couple times.  Still, the point was that he had grown used to the sight of endless trees in murky, green shadow.  So why couldn’t he keep his spine from shivering now?

As Erik’s eyes flitted around him, he swore he could hear a deep, wooden groan ringing just above the rover’s engine.  Like the sound a tree would make when it was blown over by a heavy storm.  Though, Erik never heard the crash that should follow it.  There was something off about those empty woods.  When Cauliflower had ranted about it before, he hadn’t entirely understood, but he did now.

Erik pricked his ears to listen for more of the forest’s ominous display.  That was when he started to hear something else.  An out of place sliding sound.  Like stone grinding against wood.  Not hard, but persistently.

After listening to it for a few seconds, Erik felt like it was coming from above.  Trying to track it down, Erik glanced towards the tree tops.  His eyes were naturally drawn towards the flicker of movement through the leaves over their heads.  For a second, he thought it might be vines swinging through the breeze, but there was no breeze and vines wouldn’t be slipping from tree to tree.

Following the serpentine figure to its terminus, Erik caught a glimpse of two lifeless eyes peering from a head which looked like a smoothed diamond.  Meeting those eyes sent a hot spike through Erik’s core.  He took a step back involuntarily.  Then he started frantically waving his hands upwards.  He tried to shout something, but the words wouldn’t form themselves and only came out as urgent mumbles.

That was enough, however.  Champ took notice of Erik’s spasms and followed his line of sight.  As soon as he had, his body stiffened and he shouted, “Knot, Dodge!”

“Dodge what!?”  Not asked irritably, obediently swinging the steering wheel to the left; sending half the team slamming into metal railings and each other.

The rover fishtailed and narrowly avoided hitting a tree.  Half a second later the sound of the wheels sliding through the loose dirt was covered by a loud crash less than a foot off their left side.  Once the dust had cleared and they had regained their balance, the rest of the team was able to see what had caused it.

A serpent made of densly compacted dirt and stone and about twice as long as the rover, was now slithering along a couple feet behind them.  Getting a closer look at the jaw which seemed wide enough to swallow him whole, Erik shuddered.  He would really like to stop using his own body to measure monster’s food intakes.

“He’s still coming,” The Captain declared grimly.  He was holding his left arm horizontally and resting his right arm on top of it to take aim at the serpent’s head.  Within seconds, he took on an ethereal white glow.  Then he pulled his handgun’s trigger, sending a white orb of flames flying towards the snake’s head.

The fire hit the serpent’s face with an audible crunch and continued to diligently burn for a while.  When it had finished, the snake’s head was left dented, cracked, and blackened, but it didn’t slow down at all.

“Lotus,” the Captain called out for the follow-up.

“Already on it,”  Lotus answered, putting one foot on the railing next to Champ and taking aim at the serpent.  With the pull of a trigger, a simple piece of lead was sent faster than the speed of sound, directly into the non-existent eye of the earthen snake.

Made brittle by the heat of the Captain’s shot, the snake’s head fractured into half a dozen pieces.  Without direction, the snake’s headless body gave a few aimless flails and quickly vanished into the distance behind them.

“At least snakes are thinner than wolves,” Lotus observed, her usually frosty tone heated with a tinge of self-satisfaction.

“Thinner isn’t necessarily better,”  Edge responded, looking back up towards the tree tops.  “Depends on how many there are.”

Following Edge’s gaze, Erik saw the leaves above them rustling violently as if caught in a gale.  Everything was moving.  Every leaf quavered and every branch shook.  It was so much that Erik couldn’t make out anything.  Just flailing greens and browns.

Then it started to rain.  Dozens, maybe hundreds of brown, dirt snakes started falling all around the rover.  There were a couple loud crashes as more massive serpents struck the ground behind them.  However, most of the snakes were smaller.  Some as thin as a pencil.  They plopped down softly in the dirt and started chasing the car or pinged off the metal and landed in the rover’s bed.

Before the second snake had struck the ground beside him, Erik had already released his gun and brought both his hands over his head reflexively.  A few seconds later, Erik started to hear a slow rhythm of gunfire coming from beside him.

When he looked up, he found Edge and Lotus and both drawn their side arms.  They were diligently blowing off the heads of the small snakes that landed in the rover and tried to wriggle towards the nearest warm body.

As Erik wondered whether he could help with that, Not turned to look back and shouted, “Are you shooting holes in my car?!”

“It’s our car,”  Edge corrected as he blew away another snake, leaving another bullet hole in the rover’s bed.  “And even if they aren’t venomous, these things will definitely break our legs.”

“Then shoot them before they get in!”  Not rebutted, turning back to the front and desperately swerving left before they listed off the path and into a tree.

Edge seemed like he was ready to give an irritable response, but his voice was drowned out by the overwhelming sound of continual gunfire.  Looking towards the source, Erik found that Cauliflower had recovered some of her color and was firing her machine gun indiscriminately into the tree tops.  While she wasn’t aiming at anything in particular, there were enough targets she didn’t need to be.  In  a few seconds, loose soil started to rain on them in addition to the snakes.

After watching her for a moment, Champ asked, “I thought we weren’t supposed to use automatic here.”

“Everything’s already gone to hell!”  Cauliflower shouted over the sound of her gun.  “Might as well go all out!”

Hearing that, Champ shrugged and followed her example.  With that, the tide of falling snakes stemmed a bit and Lotus left cleaning up the small ones to Edge.  Instead, she and the Captain focused on taking out the serpents that were trying to jump up onto the rover’s frame.

A few seconds later, the air was filled with an ominous rumbling and the forest around them started to shake.  In an instant, the atmosphere had become dense and ominous.   Without even realizing it, Erik had stopped breathing entirely.

Then he caught some movement out of his peripheral vision and he quickly started breathing again as he desperately shouted, “T-tree!”

“I see it!”  Not called back, cutting violently to the right and sending Erik into the railing in front of him.

Erik’s vision blurred as he was nearly cut in half at his stomach by the metal bar he usually rested his back against.  However, through is blurry and tearry eyes he could barely make out what seemed to be a hundreds of years old poplar tree crashing into the ground inches from him.  It sounded like a thunderstorm was going off in his own head as the branches violently shattered themselves against the earth in front of him.

Then, Not gave out a worrisome grunt and rover swerved in the opposite direction, forcing Erik to land with his ass against something hard.  Before Erik could bring himself to even think a complaint, another thunderous cascade of crashes was set off behind him and he was forced into silence.

As Erik looked above them absently, he saw another tree start to fall.  This one was big.  Too big to avoid on this thin path.  It was a bit ahead of them, but too close to stop in time and not close enough to out run it.  Erik let his mouth hang open in fear and bewilderment.  After everything they made it through, it was too much to just die here.

Erik turned his vision towards Not and found that the man had noticed the same thing.  Instead of the despaired awe on Erik’s face, however, Not’s face wore a grimace of irritable determination.  Picking up the shotgun that always rested beside his seat, Not slowly stood up.  Then, he placed his finger against the trigger and raised the gun into the air as high as it would go.  A white glow slowly accumulated about his short, thick frame.  Then, just as he passed beneath the collapsing tree, he fired.

A wave of pale, white energy spread from the tip of Not’s gun and grew until it was about twice the size of the rover.  When the energy struck the falling tree, it wrapped around the tree and seemed to push against it.  For about twenty seconds, the tree hung in space, suspended by the bright energy.  Then, after the rover had passed beneath it, the energy dissipated and the tree struck the earth with a chaotic chorus.

For a second, Not stood with his shotgun still raised into the air.  Then hurriedly dropped back down and grabbed the wheel to keep the rover from careening off the open trail.

“Dammit, I can’t do two things at once!”  Not shouted as he placed a vial of silvery-grey liquid to his lips.  “Is anyone free?”

Hearing those words, Erik was revitalized.  He quickly stood and rushed forward, “What do you need?”

Not looked Erik over skeptically.  Then he looked over his other teammates who were still preoccupied with the serpents.  “Have you ever driven before?”

Erik nodded quickly.  “I’ve used to drive one of the transports to pay the taxes and trade for supplies.”

For a moment, Erik remembered those days.  He’d worked so hard to get them to teach him how to drive.  He used to think that would be his key to getting out of the village, but every trip he’d been too scared to actually leave.

Not looked Erik over once again and then shrugged.  “Okay,” he said, standing from his seat.  “Just make sure you don’t hit anything.”

For a moment, Erik looked at the man, confused.

“C’mon, boy!”  Not shouted, frozen in the middle of climbing over the back of the driver’s seat.  “Hurry!”

“R-right,”  Erik answered, hurriedly following his direction as he felt the rover begin to list.

A few seconds later, Erik was in the driver’s seat with one foot on the gas and both hands on the wheel.  It felt good.  For the first time since he’d joined the team, he was actually being helpful.  Plus, driving the rover was a lot easier than he’d thought it’d be.  It handled so easily, it was almost like he was made to be driving it.

In the midst of the chaos and death, Erik couldn’t help feeling a little good.

Shit! Trees! 


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2 thoughts on “Lead vs Fantasy 3-5

  1. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 3-4 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

  2. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 3-6 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

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