8-7 Diplomacy by Saurian
Standing behind a tree, Edge was staring at the village’s gate. His vantage point wasn’t great, but he could see the movement of flashlights that signaled the passage of sentries. There were a lot of them. They’d passed by his position at least seven times in the last twenty minutes.
“They weren’t lying about reinforcing their patrols,” Lotus observed quietly from beside him.
“All the better for us,” The Captain whispered back with the strong confidence of one encouraging troops. “We needed the cover of darkness, but making sure everyone woke up and got out was going to be a problem. We wanted them to be alert.”
“As long as they don’t shoot us at the door,” Lotus responded cynically.
“Aiming a bit high, there,” Edge cut in with a shake of his head. “I think the best we can hope for is that they miss.”
“They aren’t unreasonable,” the Captain rebutted, his face invisible from his hiding place.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about,” Edge rebutted coolly. It wasn’t unreasonable to assume they were bandits. Actually, considering their employer’s employer, they were worse than bandits.
“It’s almost time for us to start,” Lotus called out. Looking up from her watch, she turned her face towards the Grupisanth nest further into the forest.
Edge unconsciously followed her gaze. However, if there were any columns of smoke rising in the distance, they were completely obscured by trees. Turning away from there, he looked to the opposite side of the village where Knot and Champ waited in case the lizard herding didn’t go as well as planned. Finally, he turned his view back to the gate in time to see the glow of another patrol.
As the gently bobbing flashlights drew closer, the Captain let out a deep breath. Then he said, “Let’s go.”
On that order, all three of them stepped into the open and broke into a run. This would be their second time trying this same tactic on the same village. As they neared the chain link gate, Edge just hoped they wouldn’t be talking to the same villagers.
When they first reached the gate, the answer to his prayers was delayed by a blinding light beamed directly into his eye. As he reflexively threw up his hands to protect his face, the light was followed up by a bellowing shout, “Stop right there!”
Edge did as he was told and presumed his companions did the same. Then the searing glare died down and Edge lowered his hands to find himself greeted by the barrel of a gun. As he studied the spirals of the rifling, his body and mind froze up.
He always had this same feeling with staring into the unpleasant side of a gun. It was like the sensation of someone holding a finger between his eyes, directly above his forehead; except extended all the way through his brain.
As Edge cringed at the brain itch he couldn’t scratch, the Captain spoke up. “They’re coming. You need to prepare for evacuation!”
“We’ve already heard about you people,” the gruff voice responded. “Leave us now, before things have to get bad.”
Forcing himself to look past the gun, Edge found a middle-aged man with greying hair and a sturdy build. Beside him was what looked like teenage boy. He had a wiry body made up entirely of joints and was clutching a rifle of his own. Definitely not the men from before. His prayer had been answered, though not necessarily in the way he’d wanted.
“Please,” the Captain started.
He was immediately interrupted by the watchman who, in lieu of saying actual words, pointed his gun more intensely.
The group stood in painful silence for a few seconds. Slowly, a persistent thunder started to grow to fill the void of sound. As it grew, it started to be undercut by a persistent chirping. Eventually, the racket couldn’t be ignored and the two watchmen turned back to look towards it.
After another few seconds and another few decibels, the older of the two turned to his young ally and said, “You watch them, don’t let them do anything. I’ll check it out.”
With that, the middle aged man ran off, leaving the trio with only a teen boy as their guard. In theory, this was an improvement. However, the way the boy’s rifle shook ever so slightly made it hard to say that. Edge felt that he was more likely to be shot by this kid on accident than the angry old man on purpose.
“You can hear it approaching, right? Your whole village is in danger,” the Captain tried again now that the more composed of the watchmen was gone.
The boy, for his part, said nothing and didn’t move. He was told to watch them and he wasn’t going to do anything else. Assuming, at least, that his finger didn’t slip and accidentally kill someone.
In face of his non-response, the Captain made further attempts, but gained just as much ground. That is, none at all.
After a couple minutes of this past, a crash, that was barely audible over the insistent rumbling and squawking, sounded from their right. After that, the thunder reached its zenith and the boy started splitting his attention equally between the trio and whatever was happening behind him.
Less than a minute later, the boy peeked nervously over his shoulder to find four lizards, reaching up to his waist, charging towards him. Fast. The lad’s mouth flapped open a few times in confusion and surprise, but his body moved alright. He spun around on his heel and his arms did a pantomime of aiming even as his eyes seemed barely present.
Less than a second after moving into a rough firing position, the boy took a shot. Whether from dumb luck or age-old training, it hit splendidly. The forerunner of the small lizard squad bent backwards and crumbled to the ground; only to have its body mercilessly trampled by its frantic comrades.
After his first success, the boy took a few more shots. Whether from bad luck or inexperience, they all missed spectacularly. Not even a single gash formed in the remaining lizards’ scaly skin.
Then, the boy was overtaken. The three lizards leapt towards the threat, tackling him to the ground before he could try to run. As the lizards bent down to try and peck at the boy’s flesh, he desperately tried to fend them off with the body of his rifle. As he flailed around both stock and barrel, the lizards jumped around in hopes of finding soft skin.
Neither effort mattered much, however. Once the boy was on the ground, Edge, Lotus, and the Captain all had clear lines of fire. As soon as the boy had turned away, they’d readied their weapons. Now they each squeezed their triggers a few times. A small maelstrom of bullets crashed into the lizards, ripping apart their fragile flesh and breaking their thin bones.
Even after his attackers collapsed dead on top of him, the boy continued flailing wildly with is eyes shut tight. After a few seconds, he seemed to recognize that the oppressive weight covering him wasn’t moving like before. Then he hesitantly opened his eyes and forced himself to his feet.
After carefully studying the dead lizards on the ground, the boy slowly turned back towards the team. Upon finding three gun barrels pointed at him, he froze. For a moment, his arms wavered, as he clearly considered putting them at gun point again like he was supposed to. He seemed to take that as a bad idea, however, and instead raised his hands to the sky.
In response, Edge gave a relieved smile and lowered his gun. It was the obvious choice for the kid to make, but in tight spots, people had a way of being dumb.
Lowering his own weapon, the Captain said, “I think it’s obvious you’re in a crisis. Maybe you should open the gate so we can help?”
The boy hesitated for a moment. Then he looked at the guns that were now safely pointed to the earth. Then he looked back at the small pile of dead lizards. Finally, he gave a small nod and moved to deactivate the electricity.
As soon as the gate was rattled open, the Edge, Lotus, and the Captain all rushed through and past the young, overwhelmed watchman. As they moved, the Captain looked back to the frozen boy and called out, “You have trucks for moving goods, right? Where are they?”
“Y-yeah, two,” the boy answered, looking about as shock as if the Captain had actually tried to shoot at him. “They’re at an open garage on the north side of the village.
Edge tried to ignore the fearful quaver in the boy’s voice and turned his attention northward. The directions weren’t complicated. There was a straight path from the gate, wide enough for a truck to pass. The garage itself was rendered invisible by the darkness, but he could assume it’d be there.
“Good,” the Captain responded with an excessively reassuring smile towards the boy. Then he turned his attention to his own people. “Edge, Lotus. You go prep the trucks for evacuation. Make sure everything is in place and the people we bring there get organized. Kid, you’re going to help me find people to take there.”
The boy’s lips pursed in uncertainty, but, after a few seconds, he gave a nod and broke away to lead the Captain further into the village.
After watching the two depart, Edge and Lotus turned down the village’s only proper road. Edge intended to move quickly and decisively, but he immediately found that to be impossible. As they approached the first few huts of the village, they encountered nothing, but chaos.
Things had just started and most of the villagers seemed to be locking themselves inside their homes. At the moment, this was working for them as the rampaging grupisanths had yet to break down many doors. With few people present, it was yet to become a scene of hell, but navigation was impossible. Hundreds of waist high lizards milled about the center of town, forming a large, scaly carpet over the whole area.
Pushing forward, Edge and Lotus did their best to kill as few as possible. The lizards were inside the village, but there still needed to be enough to convince its inhabitants to run. They only fired their guns when absolutely necessary. Mostly, kicking aside the arrant lizards that got too close.
Grupisanths were only slightly higher on the food chain than kobolds and goblins. They weren’t the kind to willingly attack veteran mercenaries. That being said, they weren’t in their normal state of mind. Even upon seeing Edge and Lotus, several decided to charge rather than flee.
By the time they arrived at the open garage, they’d been forced to kill half a dozen of the tiny raptors. The garage itself amounted to nothing but a roof held up by several vertical poles, but they didn’t have time to be disappointed. They immediately shifted their focus to readying the trucks for departure.
As could be expected from somewhere like this, the trucks were left unlocked with the keys in the ignition. A place like this, theft is the absolute last of your worries. Bringing one of the trucks roaring into life, Edge checked that the fuel tank was full before shutting it off again.
Stepping out of the truck’s cab, Edge met up with Lotus and headed for a small shed attached to the garage and rummaged around for supplies. Neither of them having lived in a village or prepared one for evacuation, they grabbed whatever looked useful. Tools, extra fuel cans, most of the contents of the small shed. After laying their selections on the ground in front of the shed, they started dividing them between the two trucks.
This wasn’t as easy a task as it might sound. A village like this didn’t have the luxury of extra supplies, so most resources came in units of one. How were you supposed to know which truck would need the jack and which would need the tire iron?
Leaving such questions more to chance than reason, they were almost done with the task when they were called to a halt by a voice. “Who are you? What are you doing?”
Almost entirely by instinct, Edge reacted by drawing the rifle from his back and turning towards the voice. Out the corner of his eye he could see Lotus doing the same.
Standing in the way of their, not entirely intentional, hostility, was a tall, vaguely muscular, man. In his hands he held an old rifle that looked to be a hand-me-down from some grandfather’s military service. On his face, he held fast to an expression of indignant rage.
Looking him over, Edge immediately remembered where they were and why they might be called out. He lowered his rifle by a few inches and tried to give a calm response, “We’re mercenaries. We’re here to help.”
“You think I’m going to take you at your word?” The man gave an easy rebuttal.
“If we were bandits or something, wouldn’t we have just shot you already?” Edge responded with a shrug. “We have you outnumbered and our equipment is more than a little better.”
The man pursed his lips, but he didn’t shout Edge down. A good sign.
“We don’t have time to shout at or shoot at each other,” Edge continued, riding the feeling of progress. “Gather whatever you can take with you. You need to prepare for evacuation.”
“Evacuation?!” The man called back, seeming to forget his other suspicions for a moment. “Who’s going to evacuate? We can kill a few lizards!”
“Putting aside what you’re listening to right now,” Edge shouted over the continual sounds of two hundred monsters screeching in fear and excitement. “Your fence has already been broken. This place isn’t safe anymore. You need to evacuate. For at least a month until you can gather the resources to rebuild.”
The man bit his lip in bitter frustration. Then he frowned and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “How can I know you aren’t just trying to get us to load our valuables into the trucks to make them easier to steal.”
Having assumed that not shooting the guy immediately was proof enough of their benevolence, Edge simply blinked at the question in surprise. After a few seconds, he slowly stammered, “I-I guess you can’t…”
Edge and the man stared into one another’s eyes for a while before their standoff was interrupted by two overwhelming gunshots which echoed out from behind them. Turning around, Edge found Lotus standing with her rifle firmly pressed to her shoulder. Following the line of its barrel, he found the corpses of two grupisanths. One of them still had its foot caught in a truck’s wheel well and was dangling over the tire.
Seeing that sight, Edge was filled with the confidence of one reminded his place in life. Turning back to the man, Edge declared, “If you’re that concerned about it, then you be in charge here. We’re just going to kill the lizards that get too close.”
The man looked at Edge and Lotus, then back towards the chaos of the village that was growing louder by the minute. Finally, he lowered his gun and moved to the pile of mismanaged resources.