Lead vs Fantasy 6-5

Author’s note:

Sorry about the sudden absence the last couple weeks, family and holidays got in the way of me finding time to get inspired.  I contemplated releasing an update saying that, but I don’t like making posts that don’t have any content attached.  At least when I’m only going to be off for a couple weeks for the holidays.  

Anyway, the next post (hopefully up in the middle of next week?)  should be the last for this chapter.  Then, in chapter 7, I’ll be starting the main plot of this volume going forward.  

6-5  Weather Underground

 

Gritting her teeth against the chill that cut to her bones, Lotus squinted to avoid the morning

Sun’s harshness and looked down the mountain side.  What she saw wasn’t heartening.  Below her a swirling, white cloud stretched to vanishing to her right and left.

“it seems bigger than last night,” a hearty male voice observed from her left.

Lotus followed the sound with her gaze and again looked over the small crowd gathered at the border of their new campsite.  What could be thought of as their, “key personnel,” minus Cauliflower.  Everyone else had been in charge of keeping lookout after their impromptu second camp had been established.  They were resting until a plan could be made.

“It probably absorbed all the smoke we threw down last night,” Edge declared, massaging his forehead ruefully.  In spite of all his effort to remain placid and thoughtful, his face betrayed hints of worry in the curve of his lips and the corner of his eyes.

Lotus slowly raised her hand and rested it against Edge’s shoulder.  A petty gesture, but the best she could manage.  There was no shortage of worry to go around.

“It shouldn’t have increased in magic power, just in size,” the Captain responded thoughtfully, his snow-white hair almost glowing in the sunlight.  “Assuming that is the case.”

“Hard to find that reassuring,” responded a dusky woman, almost entirely covered by dark cloth.   “It doesn’t take much energy to kill us.”

“If the magic power hasn’t risen, it’s still century class,” Edge declared, straightening his back and staring down the mountain side.  “The core won’t be any harder to break.”

“Breaking the core was never the problem,” the large with no fear of the cold responded.  Just looking at all that exposed, tanned skin sent empathic shivers threw Lotus’s body.  “It was finding it.  Plus, if the core isn’t any bigger, the reward won’t have grown either.”

“So, we all agree feeding it any more smoke does us nothing good,” Knot declared with a clap of his hands.  He didn’t look insane, like the tanned man standing next to him, but he did nothing to huddle himself over.  It made Lotus wonder if a little extra mass really gave that much insulation.  If it did, she was jealous.  If only for the moment.

“Where does that leave us for countermeasures?”  The dusky woman asked, her tone deep and resolved.

“I have lures.  A lot of them,” the tanned man declared thoughtfully.

“Like, on your person?”  Lotus couldn’t help blurting out the dumbfounded question as soon as she heard him.

“In the truck,” the man responded, twisting to the side to gesture behind him.

“Why would you have that stuff?”  Edge asked, his face warring between judgement and incredulity.

“To lure things,” the man responded, looking as if he was completely oblivious of why anyone would be concerned.

He drove around a truck with a harpoon and cannisters full of monster attractant.  Lotus wondered if sanity was a second language to him.

“What good could that stuff do for us now?  Besides calling every dangerous creature in three miles to us?”  Knot asked, his gruff voice doing nothing to soften his confrontational words.

“You really think there’s anything dangerous at all left down there?”  the tanned man asked back, raising a challenging eyebrow.  Then he shook his head and corrected, “I mean, aside from the obvious.”

Lotus shifted her eyes back to the shrouded mountainside.  The man’s point was undeniable.  Any monsters that didn’t flee would’ve already been eaten.

“Fine, it wouldn’t be as dangerous as usual, but what can it do for us?”  Edge asked, accept this crazy man’s idea.

“We could lead it away and then use the opportunity to escape,” The tanned man declared triumphantly.  “then we get reinforcements and come back.  We probably need at least 50 flamethrowers to encircle this thing and stomp it out.”

“And where exactly would we put the lure?”  The dusky woman asked critically.  “I believe it’s big enough to not leave many openings while investigating something.”

Hearing that rebuttal, the tanned man frowned and fell silent.  Only for a few moments, however.  Spending no time in reflection, he rebounded quickly and asked, “You people have a sniper with you, right?  If it’s anything like a slime, a century class should go down with one strong hit to the core.”

“The problem is finding the core,” Lotus spoke up as she was forcibly brought into the discussion.  “Its pretty hard to aim at what you can’t see.”

“We have a lot of serum, I’m sure you all do too,” the man continued confidently.  “That’ll give us a lot of attempts.”

“A lot of random shots in the dark?”  Edge asked skeptically, narrowing his eyes.  “And what happens when we run out of shots?”

“I’m thinking we have at least a 10% chance of getting it before that happens,” the man answered with a shrug.

“I’d prefer something a little more reliable,” The Captain responded in as political a tone as he could muster.

“It’s better than 0%, which is what we have now,” the man rebutted with the confidence that implied he’d somehow won the debate.

“There is something else we can try,” The dusky woman spoke up slowly, thoughtfully.  “I’ve seen it done with a swarm of scarabs in the desert.  A sniper’s arte can clear us a path through.  Then, as we drive along, you use a few more to keep the path from closing again.  It’ll get us off the mountain.  Then two of us stay behind and keep the thing distracted while the third car goes for reinforcements.”

After hearing the suggestion, the whole group fell into silent thought.

The one to break this silence, as could be expected, was the insane man with the harpoon.  “Splitting the reward by fifty will barely leave us enough to cover the costs of the expedition.  Even counting the bump we’ll get when they find out what we were fighting.”

“You were the one who first suggested running for reinforcements,” Edge observed, growing a little exasperated.

“That was before I came up with a way to do it alone.”

“I prefer not to leave things up to chance,” the Captain declared, narrowing his eyes to glare down into the mists.

“Great risks come with great rewards,” The tanned man responded, crossing his huge arms and nodding to himself.

“I’d rather have a moderate reward and not be dead,” Lotus cut in snidely.  Since she’d be the one doing the firing, she figured that’d be the end of it.  The rest of the group seemed to share the same sentiments and fell silent.

After a few moments of troubled silence, the Captain finally turned away from the swirling fog below and said, “If we’re going to be distracting that thing for a several hours, we should head back to the scout’s station and refuel.  We can discuss the details while we do.”

The other two leaders both nodded at that sentiment and everyone filed back to their respective cars.  From there, it was about half a mile’s drive to where the, almost certainly dead, scout’s posting was.  The outpost itself was small and miserable.  A small cave retrofitted with just enough modern convenience to keep someone alive through the winter.  As far as supplies went, all they found inside was a stockpile of rations which weren’t worth commandeering.  What they found none of were signs of he scout, alive or dead.  That was the thing about slimes and their ilk.  For all that they lived in shit swamps and oozed around, they were the tidiest monsters.  They refused to leave even a scrap of food behind.

They weren’t expecting much from the interior anyway.  The important feature was the pylon jutting out of the ground about fifteen feet from the rundown shack.  It was shorter than most, about one third the size.  Rather than towering over the plains, proudly announcing its existence to the world, it secretly nestled in the mountainside.  Other than that, it looked the same as the rest.  A metal shaft with a hose and a few meters only relevant for inspection and maintenance.

Deep underground, at the ley line, there’d be a tank full of algae, sucking in the magic until they were about ready to combust on their own.  As she watched the dull, green liquid getting pumped up and into the vehicles, Lotus wondered how many of the people where truly understood how that worked.  When she’d first left home, she’d assumed everyone would at least understand these simple principles.  Her travels had proven her wrong, however.  Much to her chagrin.  The average mercenary wasn’t much for reading.  Putting Cauliflower aside, even Edge hadn’t shown much interest in the beginning.  Quite frustrating.

As Lotus dwelt on the intellectual deficiencies of her colleagues, they dutifully fueled the trucks and woke those who were still sleeping in preparation for their retreat.  After less than an hour, that was all completed and they were on their way again.

Driving towards the imposing fog bank, Cauliflower was complaining about something, though Lotus couldn’t bother listening to it.  She was clutching her rifle to her chest and focusing on the plan.  They- She would have to shoot their way through he fog.  Once out, it’d be up to Cauliflower and the flamethrower team to keep them ahead of the ghost while the harpooner ran for help.  She was only responsible for the first part, she didn’t even have to be conscious for the rest.

That did nothing to reassure her, however.  It was the first bit, the important bit, that she didn’t know if she could accomplish.  She had no idea how fast the ghost could close up their path after it was opened, but it probably wouldn’t be slow.  Snipers weren’t known for rapid-fire.  She’d have to prepare her next shot as soon as she got one off.  It’d be tight even if she didn’t have to stop to drink the serum.

As the white mists grew to eclipse their view, she clutched her rifle tighter and dismissed all those stray thoughts from her mind.  She had to focus, become the gun, the bullet.  Put everything into her shot.

Slowly, she stood up.  Taking the stance, her legs squared, her rifle against her shoulder, she ignored the feeling of six arms reaching out to steady her.  Then she aimed forward and gathered herself.  She could feel the familiar warm feeling washing over her.  It never felt hot, or overbearing, but it overpowered even this biting cold.

Putting all her focus down her scope, she felt a pang of disappointment as the warmth slowly left her to the cold and focused into the gun.  Then she pulled the trigger.  With a thundering boom, a line of white light tore across the landscape, carving a straight column straight through the blindingly thick fog.

As soon as the path appeared, the cars accelerated with a lurch, sending Lotus stumbling backwards.  She didn’t move far, however, as she was immediately caught and pushed back into position.  Then a chilly, metallic tube was shoved between her lips and viscous fluid with the flavor of raw sewage slid down her throat.  The first dozen times she’d tasted that, she’d immediately wretched, but that was a long time ago.

The flavor hadn’t grown on her, but she’d developed a resistance.   Few seconds after enduring that sudden disgust, she could refocus on the path ahead of her.  By that time, the column of clarity had already grown noticeably narrower.  She didn’t have much time.  She focused again.

Again the warmth overcame her and again she was forced to release that pleasant feeling into her gun.  Again their path was widened, and again she endured the vile taste of a vial of serum.  The cycle continued and accelerated as she grew used to it.  Though, even if the serum replenished her energy, the fatigue still caught up with her body.  With every passing moment, her hands threatened to tremble, her posture threatened to break.  It was only the support of those around her and her pure willpower that kept her standing.  When she looked through the scope, she didn’t even see what was there anymore, she just pointed forward and fired.  She couldn’t manage much else.

That was when it happened.  Two of the arms on her side departed and she barely registered Cauliflower’s voice calling out, “Below!”  Then the rover lurched to the right, causing Lotus’s body to shake and her shot to go wide.  She didn’t have time to worry about that, however, as she, Edge, and Champ all collapsed onto the rover’s bed together.

Forcing herself up on her elbows, Lotus looked back and saw the small armored car moving to follow the rover’s maneuver.  Behind that, the harpoon truck was slower on the uptake.  Before the driver could adapt, dozens of white spikes sprouted from the earth and attempted to penetrate the truck.  Then there were several horrible booms as the truck’s tires blew out before it was flipped onto its side and rolled into the surrounding fog.

There were a few, short, masculine screams and a series of flashes in the mist.  Then silence.  As the rest of the team looked on in horror, Knot pulled Cauliflower’s hands from the steering wheel and swung the car around to take advantage of the newly opened path to their left.

After taking a few seconds to pull herself to her feet, and straighten her aching back, Lotus moved back to her position and kept widening their path.  Cauliflower, for her part, refused to move from where she craned over Knot’s shoulders until they were clear from the fog.

 

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2 thoughts on “Lead vs Fantasy 6-5

  1. Pingback: Lead Vs Fantasy 6-4 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

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

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