For the time being, I’m planning on going back to a once per week release schedule. I feel like moving to a quicker release schedule has had a marked impact on the quality of chapters. Sorry for anyone who’s disappointed, but I feel like I need more time to accomplish what I want.
8-8 Flight Night
Pushing into the dim village night, the Captain tried to ignore his responsibility in all this. It was all for the best. They needed to chase these people out of their homes, lest they all be slaughtered. He knew all that, but whenever he told it to himself, it felt like excuses.
As they moved deeper into the village, the scene became increasingly clear. If he were to describe it by single word, it would be a storm. Hundreds of small raptors were running, always running, back and forth, around, wherever. They weren’t hunting, but if they saw something that wasn’t one of their own, they’d attack. They were scared. That was exactly what made them dangerous.
Even as he desperately pushed away his own guilt, the Captain could feel the young boy beside him tensing up at the state of his home. The Captain extended a heavy hand and rested it on the boy’s shoulders before attempting a reassuring smile. “It’s going to be fine.”
The boy’s body stiffened further at the unexpected stimulation, then, as he heard the petty condolences, he relaxed slightly. As the Captain released his shoulder, the boy looked back to the chaos and asked, “What do we do?”
“We get organized and get the people out,” the Captain answered with a definitive nod. Then he gave the youth a sidelong glance and asked, “Now, where would I find people?”
“We’re supposed to gather at the stronghold during an attack,” the boy answered immediately. Then his eyes wavered and he looked to the clumps of houses to his right and left as he added, “Though, I don’t know if anyone would be there now. It happened so fast, I can’t see people going out into this.”
The Captain again nodded his consent. As a fresh staccato of gunshots sounded out from his right, where the lizards had first broken in, he stopped. He considered moving towards the village watchmen. If he could get them all together, things would go quickly and they could reduce casualties. He immediately dismissed that idea, however. They’d probably just started their attempt to clear out the village. He doubted they would entertain the idea of retreat at this point. Especially from a stranger.
Shaking his head, the Captain turned towards the nearest house on his left. House would probably be a generous term. Hut would be more accurate. A rough assemblage of lumber that formed the minimum to be considered walls and a roof.
That wasn’t uncommon. Just to have a village, some kind of stronghold, a generator, and a fence were all necessary. Once those were paid for, there was little left over for anything else. Most homes were built by their residents and neighbors. Inexpertly and from whatever materials could be gathered.
Moving towards the humble home, the Captain tried to consider how he might persuade its inhabitants to leave it behind. None of the ideas that came to mind stood out. Not positively, at least.
Before the Captain could come to a conclusion, a loud thud rang out from his right. Turning towards it, found another similar, but unique, hut. As he watched, one of the small, raptorial lizards bounced off its simple, wooden door and kept running in the direction of its ricochet.
He was about to turn away from that distraction when three more lizards turned their flexible necks towards the house. Whatever caught their attention, they immediately started to run. One impacted with the door and again bounced off, shaking its head as it ran away. Then, the next two tackled the wooden planks at the same time and the whole door gave way.
As the door shattered into splinters, it gave a thunderous crack attracting the attention of more lizards. Within seconds, over a dozen lizards rushed into now open house like a rivulet flowing off a stream.
Without a thought to the young boy beside him, the Captain ran forward. Thankfully, the lizards running into the house left a void in the crowd. A space he moved through before anything else could fill it. As the Captain ran, a couple nearby lizards turned their attention towards him and raised their scaly lips to show their small, razor sharp fangs.
With the pair running towards him, the Captain didn’t stop his feet. As the first drew near, he brought his knee up and struck directly under its narrow chin. Then he swung his rifle by the barrel, striking the second in the neck, knocking it to the ground. The lizards tumbled over and spent a few seconds scrambling in the dirt before returning to their feet. They gave out low hisses of protest before disappearing into the storm.
Ignoring the retreating monsters, the Captain pushed forward and into the house. As soon as he was inside, his nose was overwhelmed with the stench of blood and his heart sank. He desperately searched for the the injured person in hopes of offering help.
Then his eyes fell on a lump near his feet. It looked to have once been a Grupisanth. Now, the small lizard was leaking sack of flesh. Dozens of wooden splinters and stabbed into its body and those wounds only seemed to be worsened by the myriad feet that trampled over it.
Covering his nose and turning away from that sight, his urgency was reborn by the sound of a shrill scream. He immediately turned and ran towards its origin point. Considering the size of the house, it couldn’t be a long run.
Moving through the door immediately to his left, he found himself in what had to be a kitchen. In the corner of the room stood a stove and at its center sat a table. Behind that table stood an intermittently screaming woman, surrounded by waist-high raptors. As the Captain entered, the woman was being pushed up against the wall by five lizards. She was desperately trying to beat away her attackers with what looked to be a meat tenderizer. After one swing, however, a lizard bit hard into her wrist. Immediately, streams of blood dripped onto the floor and she dropped her weapon.
As the woman’s screams grew increasingly desperate, the Captain tried shouting to her, “Get down!”
The woman simply kept screaming and showed no signs of hearing him. Even if she could, it was unlikely that she had the strength to follow the request.
Quickly moving around the table, the Captain held his rifle and looked for a good angle. As another lizard managed to bite through her thick pants, into her thigh, the woman’s screams grew more desperate. So did the Captain.
Taking the first clear line he could, he pulled his trigger in four quick bursts. Rat-tat-tat, Rat-tat-tat. It was a pattern that’d been drilled into him decades ago and he’d been following for decades since. At this point, the memories of it had long ago seeped into his bones.
As the volley of bullets struck home, three of the lizards fell limply to the floor, covered in mixture of blood, both theirs and hers. Seeing this, the remaining two leapt free from the woman and fled the room.
The Captain watched the lizards until they were gone, then he rushed to the woman’s side. She was most likely young, no older than twenty. She was probably cute, in that quaint way that could only apply to village girls. The Captain didn’t pay attention to either of those things, however.
His eyes immediately focused on the blood. Apart from the specks that freckled her clothes and were a noticeably more purple shade than the rest, most of it clung to her left arm and right leg. It wasn’t enough to shock the Captain. Not after everything he’d been through. However, it was too much to ignore. Especially considering the bacteria filled mouths that led to it.
Bending down to look into the young woman’s eyes, the Captain asked, “Do you have any liquor?”
For her part, the woman said nothing, merely staring down at the three corpses at her feet. She was out of it. It’d take a while for her mind to catch up to all that’d happened.
Not in the mood to wait for that, the Captain started rummaging through the cabinets around her. For the most part, they were filled with sacks of grain, ceramic ware, and utensils. The fourth cabinet door he opened yielded him a promising looking brown bottle. When he uncorked it and took a sniff, the fumes threatened to burn the hairs from his nostrils.
Quickly moving the bottle away from his face, he decided this would work. As he poured the amber liquid over the wound, the woman came back to life. Wincing and shying away from he burning sensation, she turned a momentary glare at the Captain. Then she settled down into a sheepish hiss of pain.
Once the wounds were clean, the Captain took some towels from the table behind him and used them as improvised bandages to tie up the wound. He gave one last look over the girl, who was still making a bitter expression from the stinging in her wounds. As he did, he saw a fresh stream of bright red flowing down her arm once again.
Moving in to take a closer look, he found a shallow, but nasty looking gash on her left shoulder. Looking over the torn flesh, the Captain prayed it was made by a lizard’s claw, but it was just as likely to have been made by his own bullet.
He tried to ignore that thought as he moved to treat her last wound. Once that was done, he tried to help the woman to her feet. Somewhat unsuccessfully. The injury in her thigh made it hard to take weight on her right foot and he had to support her.
Lending her his shoulder, he asked, “Is there anyone else in the house?”
“My husband is on patrol,” the woman answered with a shake of her head. Her face was still pale and her hands wouldn’t stop shaking, but she was cogent now. “Thank you… for saving me…”
As the woman looked to the floor, the Captain turned his attention to the exit. He was already worrying about how to help her all the way to the trucks. Fending off attacks while shouldering her wouldn’t be easy.
As the pair hobbled out of the kitchen from the door the Captain had used to enter, they were greeted with a hastily pointed gun barrel. The Captain batted away the ancient firearm by reflex before looking into the face of his new attacker. The scared, hyper vigilant, young face of a teenage boy. The suddenly very surprised and apologetic face.
“I’m sorry, ummm…” the familiar young watchman attempted to apologize for almost killing them both, but the words seemed to stick in his throat.
The Captain didn’t worry about that and simply strode forward, depositing the woman on the boy’s shoulder. The kid stumbled slightly before catching himself and nodding at his new duty. The pair started discussing something between themselves, but the Captain didn’t focus on that as he led them out of the house.
The village proper was still loud and smelled of gunpowder, blood, and beast. Not a good mixture, but a familiar one. As they moved towards the garage the boy had pointed out before, they were attacked a few times, but it was nothing the Captain couldn’t handle. It seemed like the bulk of the lizard pack’s attention was focused on the chaotic battle of the remaining watchmen. Whether that meant fleeing from it or participating in it.
Once the three of them moved out of the last line of huts and entered Lotus’s line of sight the Captain felt comfortable leaving the two civilians. The boy seemed concerned, but the Captain explained they’d be fine. Then he headed back towards the still occupied houses. One had already been broken into, the rest would be a matter of time. The pack was only getting more restless.
The Captain went to a few of the houses in hopes of persuading them to evacuate. They wouldn’t even respond to his calls, however. Not a single word. They could’ve been uninhabited, but it was just as likely that it was his unfamiliar voice that dissuaded them.
With that in mind, he shifted his focus. Instead, he moved to the homes which had doors or walls at their breaking point. He could at least keep the casualties down until people were in the mood to listen.
While the Captain was standing in front of a particularly ramshackle cabin, shooting at any lizards that looked ready to smash into it, the young watchman returned. He was still pale, and a bit uncertain in his gate. However, he held his rifle with the determination to use it. Not a bad kid by the Captain’s estimation.
With the boy here, they could actually make some progress. The men and women hiding in their homes answered to the familiar, if quavering, voice of the youngster. Like that, they were able to set up a consistent flow of people from the village square to the trucks.
There was a bit of a hiccup when the other watchmen gave up on fighting the lizard horde. Limping back to their homes in search of shelter or supplies, they found an armed stranger. Of course the wouldn’t take that well. Thankfully, those who could fight were busy supporting the ones that couldn’t and the boy managed to step forward before anyone could change that.
Without firing a shot, the men, if a bit warily, joined the evacuation effort. From there, things progressed quickly. The Captain, the boy, and the four watchmen that could still walk on their own protected the villagers as they moved themselves and their belongings onto the trucks.
After less than an hour, the first truck had already been loaded and left. The second was close to half full and the village looked almost entirely empty. Even the villagers, who were intimately familiar with all their fellow residents, found it hard to keep a head count in the chaos. However, they’d gone through every house and it was all empty.
The Captain returned to the village square for one last check before sending off the last truck. As he moved through the village that was home only to confused lizards, the Captain maintained his vigilance and didn’t move his hand from his rifle’s grip.
At least half of the flock had been killed by now and they were beginning to disperse and take shelter in the shadows of the houses. However, he knew these were the times when people died. After everything was over and they let their guards down. He’d seen too many good people, both knights and mercenaries, go down to enemies that were supposed to be dead.
Moving between the houses that were growing increasingly silent, something pulled at him from the corner of his eye. Turning towards the brief flash of movement, the Captain found nothing. Nothing, except for the large, concrete structure that sat in the middle of the village. As with all its similar brethren, it looked less like a town hall and more like a military emplacement. A crudely constructed bunker, made with no consideration towards form.
The doors were closed and he was sure someone had already checked it for survivors, but he hadn’t. stepping up to the doors, he put his hands on the handle and pulled. Nothing happened, but he didn’t get the ratting of a door bar of a barricade. He put a little more force and slowly, it began to move.
As the large, wooden door creaked open, the Captain stepped through it. The grey, concrete interior was with its long, thin hallways was familiar. Not just because he’d been there a few days before, but because they were all familiar. As a general rule, frontier villages couldn’t afford to be creative.
Creeping through the narrow choke points of the stronghold, the Captain illuminated every dark corner and crease with his flashlight, but he didn’t see any signs of lizards making it inside. That was to be expected. The grupisanths couldn’t make it through the fence without help, they had no chance of crashing their way through feet of reinforced concrete.
The Captain reached the back of the compound without any resistance and found a closed door. He put his hand on the know without care and started swinging it open. Then, when he caught the faint light filtering through the crack of the door, he stopped himself. Releasing the knob, he called out, “Anyone inside!?”
He wasn’t given an immediate answer, but he could barely make out a buzz of whispering from the room in front of him. Filled with a renewed urgency, he called out again, “They’ve already started the evacuation. You need to get there quickly, before you’re left behind!”
As the Captain finished his words, the door swung open violently, forcing him to take a step back. When he found sure footing, he was again greeted with a sight that was becoming far too familiar as of late. A small hole with several grooves spiraling into the darkness. Looking beyond the gun’s well aimed barrel, he found a gnarled index finger, decidedly not resting on the trigger. At least that was something.
Looking further, past the less-threatening finger, he found a more threatening face that gave the impression of a cranky, suspicious, old tree. Looking into the village elder’s eyes, the Captain didn’t see any recognition as the elder called out, “Who are you, then?” Before the Captain could answer, he squinted and frowned before continuing. “That mercenary, then? What are you here about?”
“Exactly as I said,” the Captain answered, letting his rifle dangle from the strap around his shoulder and holding up his hands. “There’s an evacuation.”
“I can see why,” the old man answered with bitter sarcasm. “That’s quite the dire bear you have out there.”
“Yes, well…” the Captain faltered for a second as he remembered to come up with an excuse. “We didn’t think you’d believe a flock of grupisanths could be a threat.”
“You were right about that,” the elder responded slowly, not lowering his weapon. “I still don’t.”
“You can’t still be saying that,” the Captain said, taking a step forward by instinct as he tried to appeal to the elder. Then, upon almost colliding with the unwavering gun, he took another step backwards. “Most of the villagers have already left and your fence is broken. It’s best to retreat for now. You can come back later.”
“Unnecessary,” the elder responded shaking his head. The Captain couldn’t help feeling that the movement should’ve generated a wooded creak. “Even with these numbers, the lizards have to sleep eventually. When they do, we can use guerilla attacks to chase them out. Once that’s done we can repair the fence. If our people really have headed out, they can return with the supplies for that.”
“And how many people will you lose in the process?” the Captain asked, staring deep into the old man’s unyielding eyes.
“We won’t lose the village. Our way of life,” the elder responded firmly.
The Captain gave a bitter frown at that answer. He tired to come up with a rebuttal, but was interrupted by the sound of gunshots.
They weren’t loud. All the concrete made it hard for them to be more than sharp whispers. However, they were audible. Audible and persistent. They didn’t stop. That wasn’t the sound of a couple people chasing off groupies. It was at least a dozen shooters. More. Something was going wrong.