Lead Vs Fantasy 8-3

 

8-3  All According to Failure

 

Bending a prickly pine branch up and ducking underneath it, Lotus had to stop herself from gritting her teeth.  It wasn’t the almost negligible pain of the bark’s rough surface biting into her that she was bothered by.  Instead, it was their entire purpose here.  What they were doing was incredibly stupid.  Incredibly.  Stupid.

At the same time, she couldn’t blame the Captain for his concerns.  She didn’t want to see a bunch of innocent farmers slaughtered either.  She just… knew this was dumb.  If they were caught even talking to the villagers, then the army’s commander could only assume they were Aurorian spies.  Even if he knew for a  fact that they weren’t, he’d have to treat them as if they were.  How else would he maintain the trust of his soldiers?

This was a huge risk.  Worst case scenario, they wouldn’t even be able to abandon the job before they were captured.  Still, she couldn’t make that argument.  Their job was to take huge risks and this was the right thing to do… probably.  She just hoped it wouldn’t destroy them.

Feeling that it’d been at least fifteen minutes since they left the camp, Lotus stopped and again scanned the forest.  She slowly spun around, examining every tree, every branch, every bush.  She studied it all, searching for anything out of place.  When she reached the mid-point of her circle, she caught sight of Edge and the Captain doing the same.

Returning to her original position while having found nothing, Lotus nodded to herself and declared, “Looks to be clear.  I don’t think the scouts were told to do anything more than keep track of our comings and goings.”

“I’m sure they contract most reconnaissance to the Forestry Guild,” Edge observed with a nod.  “I doubt many of their scouts can be trusted to move through the forest without being caught by something.”

“We should still make a loop back and check for tracks before we move on,” The Captain cautioned quietly.

Lotus and Edge both nodded and the three set off.  Their steps drew a broad half-circle, or as much of a circle as they could while weaving through the trees.  They stopped again when they intersected the path they’d been following before.  Then they spread out to search for signs of humans passing by.  Humans other than them.

Thanks to her special education, Lotus had received lessons in any task that may be useful in this field.  A few lessons.  In everything.  That hardly made her an expert in anything beyond sharpshooting.  She couldn’t look at a broken twig and tell you the exact size, shape and gender of whatever had trod on it.

She was confident, however, that whomever may be trailing them would be Just as inexpert at hiding as she was a seeking.  After searching the ground for conspicuous boot prints or other signals, she was satisfied.  They weren’t being followed.

Lotus moved to meet with the other two and they set off again.  This time, at an accelerated pace.  They’d wasted at least an hour ensuring they weren’t followed.  If hey wanted to make a proper attempt at persuading the villagers and make it back before nightfall, they’d need to hurry.

Dwelling on the problem of nighttime in an unfamiliar border forest, Lotus quickened her pace again.  Then, a needle of anxiety wormed its way into her heart and she turned to look behind her.  As she did, her eyes met with Edge’s and he gave her a pointedly deadpan look.

That was an, ‘I’m fine and I’m mad that you’re worried look,’ she was sure.  Turning away from him, she frowned and glared into the trees.  He was worried about his own body, but she couldn’t be.  No small amount of irritation burned in her chest.

She wanted to stomp, but that unprofessional, even if she wasn’t in forest filled with previously unseen monsters.  She dealt with that inner conflict until she finally pushed aside the tangled branches to reveal the broad clearing and the wire fence.

“What are the odds it’s electrified?” Edge asked, being very careful not to make contact as he examined the interwoven strands of metal.

“It’s flimsy enough as it is,” the Captain responded, kicking at the dirt to reveal some of the fence’s buried section.  “If it wasn’t electric, there wouldn’t be a village.”

As Lotus got a better look at the wire fence, she frowned.

As a rule, slipshod or jerry-rigged were words that couldn’t be used in frontier villages.  Any adjective that could be applied to everyone and everything immediately lost all meaning.  That was what it mean to be on the frontier.  To live on farthest border of survivability.

Even considering that standard, however, the fence was shoddy.  The gauge of its constituent wires were at most half that of the stuff used in the Newbie’s village.  It was only twice as tall as Lotus herself.  She’d seen monsters less than a decade old jump that without worry, depending on the species. Based on the height, she doubted the fence continued more than five feet underground.  It certainly wasn’t one of those that came together into a buried cage that can keep out burrowing monsters.

Overall, it was unimpressive.  Then again, in the current Aurorias, unimpressive was probably a high praise.

As Lotus considered that, Edge and the Captain finished their own inspections of the village’s only line of defense.

“I doubt it would take anything special to chase them out,” the Captain observed with a bitter smile.

“The question is: what would be most believable,” Edge asked, scratching the area under his eyebrow as he considered.  “Most things can take them out, but do they know that?  We need something they’ll scare them.”

The three studied the thin metal of the electric fence, as if it would somehow give them the answer they sought.

Eventually, something flashed into Lotus’s mind and she lifted her head. “What about a dire bear?”

Both the Captain and Edge’s eyes lit up at that suggestion.

“If one of them was disturbed mid-hibernation, they’d tear through half the countryside before falling back asleep,” Edge agreed with an enthusiastic nod.

“Even frontier villagers should know that much,” the Captain mimicked Edge’s sentiments.  “Let’s go with that and head in.  Start running and look tired.”

At the Captain’s orders, the three took off at a brisk jog towards the gate on the East side of the village.  When they arrived, Lotus and Edge did their best to breathe as hard as they could while the Captain slammed his fist against the red button to the right of the gate.

By the time Lotus was starting to feel light headed from all the extra air, two strapping young lads stomped out of one of the village’s huts and stomped over to them.  They were both cultivating crops of unmanaged brown hair and they had the same stench of bumkin as Champ did when he was still new.  In their hands, they each clutched a hand-me-down of a hand-me-down of a hunting rifle.  Old guns, but they looked to be well, if intermittently, cared for.

“What do you want?” one of the young men asked, eyeing the trio suspiciously.

“We need to talk to your chief,” the Captain demanded desperately between gasps for air.  As much as he always strove to do the right thing, the man was unnervingly good at acting.  “We have urgent news!”

The man who’d asked the question narrowed his eyes as he again looked them over.  Then the two men stepped back and whispered to each other for a while.  When they again moved in front of the Captain, the man demanded, “Put your rifles on the ground.  Otherwise we won’t open the gate.”

The three immediately acquiesced to this demand, slinging the long guns off of their backs.  It was always a coin toss as o whether you’d be disarmed before entering a small village.  When they were greeted by armed men, however, that chance changed to a near certainty.

As Lotus laid her sleek and beautiful partner in the dirt, she felt a pang of regret stab through her.  She swallowed that down, however, and took a few steps away from her discarded rifle.

When the young men seemed satisfied, they flipped a switch on their side before pulling the gate open just enough for the three to slide through.  Once the they were inside, the gate was closed and the switch was flipped again.  Then the young men directed them from behind towards the concrete building at the center of the village.  On their entire walk there, the two men kept their rifles firmly trained on them.

After entering the building, they were directed down a series of narrow hallways until they reached a small office in the back.  There, they found an impressively old man sitting behind a desk.  His skin was so wrinkled and warped that he looked like his body had grown out of a wretched swamp tree.

His eyes, however, defied his aged appearance.  They looked over the mercenaries with a keen glint before he asked, “Who are you?  What brings you to our home?”

“We are mercenaries, here for a request,” the Captain explained, easily slipping into the earnestly distraught tone he’d used at the gate.  “While going about our work, he encountered a hibernating dire bear and it woke up.  It’s rampaging around the forest now.  It’ll reach here any time, by the end of tomorrow, certainly.  You need to evacuate.”

Hearing the Captain’s words, the old chief’s eyes widened in surprise.  This only lasted a second, however, before his face settled into a skeptical stare.  “Is that right?” were the only words the elder uttered.  His critical voice reminded Lotus of an old branch slowly being torn from a tree.  Painful and creaking.

“I’m sure you know of the danger of this,” the Captain continued, unfazed.  “If you don’t prepare now, your entire village, everyone in it, everything could be destroyed.”

“And what proof do you have?”  the elder asked, resting his gnarled elbows on his desk and supporting his head with one hand.

“What kind of proof could we have?”  the Captain asked, furrowing his brow slightly.

“Fur, claws. Any pieces?”  The elder asked, still glaring at the Captain across the desk.

“If we tried to take any of that, we’d be dead already,” Edge finally cut in, clearly flabbergasted by the ridiculous request.  “They may be as big as a house, but they still have insane reflexes.  That’s why they’re called dire.  Because them being alive is a dire situation.”

“So, you have no proof,” the elder asked, completely ignoring Edge’s outburst.

“It’s as my subordinate says, collecting materials from a live dire bear would be suicide,” the Captain attempted to smooth things over as he slipped into his patronizingly reasonable tone.

“You didn’t pass through here before,” the elder spoke up before the Captain could continue.  “Where are you folks from?”

The Captain faltered for a  moment before slowly answering, “Narabesque.”

The elder narrowed his eyes further, until you could barely see the glassy sheen between his cracked eyelids.  Then he amended, “So, you came from the San Ranto side?”

“We passed through on the way here, yes,” the Captain answered slowly, failing to come up with a suitable lie.

The elder took a deep breath and raised his head out of his hand.  Then he took a deep breath before speaking, “We won’t be leaving our home.”

“Sir, you have to know the kind of danger-“ the Captain tried to continue but the elder cut him off again.

“Whatever you may have planned, we won’t be opening our gates and we will have sentries posted,” the elder’s eyes scanned over Lotus and Edge before returning to the Captain.  “We’ll take our chances on our own.  If we didn’t have confidence to protect ourselves from any threat, we wouldn’t be out here.”

As the finality in the elder’s words declared the end of their meeting, their armed escorts started stirring behind them.

“A half century old dire bear will crash through these walls without even stumbling,” the Captain gave his final warning, his voice taking on a grave tone.  “We’ll try to hold it off for as long as possible, but I hope you can come to the right decision before it arrives.”

“This village will bet on itself,” the elder definitively gave his final reply.  “Good day.”

After that, the trio was escorted back out of the village.  They retrieved their weapons before fleeing into the trees.  As they made their way back to camp, Lotus could only give a nod of acceptance to this failure.  Few people would flee their homes on the words of strangers.  However she couldn’t shake the feeling that that went worse that it should have.  They were quite the aggressive peaceful villagers.

She just hoped Cauliflower’s team was having better luck.  That they found something bear-shaped, at least.

 

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2 thoughts on “Lead Vs Fantasy 8-3

  1. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 8-2 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

  2. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 8-4 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

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