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The Zodiac (2)
Saying goodbye to Larsa, that was tough. We'd been together since before I was even capable of walking. He was my first friend, one of the few I made in my life so far. Larsa was one of the only people who understood me. Sure, he was annoying with his high-pitched voice and blushing face. I couldn't name an occasion where I didn't want to pop him on the head to shut him up. But he had a way about him that just made me want to keep him close, under my wing (not literally) so I could protect him.
When Lark had spoken the word, the group had gathered in formation and quickly left the village. Many were glancing back even now, others eying the sky and snow drifts warily. The man beside me was mumbling to himself, a silent prayer and plea to let us make it to and from the ship alive with whatever precious cargo we were going to gather. Should it be people, I could only hope they would cooperate with us and understand the danger we were all in out in this hellish wasteland. The wind blew snow in our faces, freezing the moisture in our eyes, making it hard to blink and our eyelashes hard with ice. My nose began to run, but before I could wipe it, it solidified on my upper lip. I balanced my pike in one hand, licking the tip of my pointer finger to run it over my skin and wipe away the debris.
"Did you hear that?"
Every head turned in every direction, frantically searching for the source of a very foreign screeching noise.
"Monsters?" Lark thought aloud, twirling his own double-headed pike in a circle, giving his nervous hands something to handle as he led the group into the unknown. The sound came again, closer this time.
"Oh, Lord no. Please don't let it be monsters." The city was about a mile behind us, the ship a good two or three ahead. If we were attacked now, we'd be sitting ducks.
"C'mon, forge ahead men. Be on alert, yell out at the first sign of any danger. Even if it's just a crumbling drift, you can never be sure."
Our pace sped up, trudging through the thickening snow as quickly as possible. Smoke was darkening the sky, blocking out the sun and making it hard to see. Not that there really was much to look at out here, but it also gave the night-seeing monsters the upper-hand. I heard an ominous crunch on my left and whirled around, pike aimed high for a throat before I stopped dead in my tracks and halted my spear.
"Sorry about that." Said a tall and burly sentry, his arms held up defensively. His pike was laying in the snow, dropped carelessly. I shook my head.
"Be more careful, I might have gutted you if I didn't have good reflexes. Now pick up your spear, you buffoon. Had a monster appeared right now you'd be defenseless."
"Hmph," The gruff man said, bending to pick up his weapon. "Where do you get off on telling me what to do?" As his hand came down, my eyes traveled up.
Blood sprayed the pristine white snow, rusty and metallic with a definite tangy smell. The man before me collapsed onto the ground, spluttering up at me as I locked pike to talon with a six-legged beast. Thrashing teeth snapped in my face, forcing me to back away and drop to my knees. The other guards were running my way, having gotten a few meters ahead whilst I lectured the now dead man at my feet. My eyes refused to water and mourn his passing, knowing that I'd be blinded by ice if I did so. The monster was circling, teeth gnashing and multiple paws grasping.
Lark suddenly darted past me, swinging his weapon up into the muzzle of the creature. Black liquid arced into the air, raining down on everyone.
I clutched my face in my hands, skin sweltering in the heat. The monsters blood sizzled like hot grease in a skillet. Some of the other guards managed to avoid it, slashing at the monster in downward swings to avoid the downpour of toxin blood. Three of it's six legs lay twitching on the ground, and I nearly slipped over one when I righted myself. I kicked it away from me in disgust, swallowing the need to retch as I cried out and charged the monster.
With the nine of us working together, we managed to defeat it in seconds, the beast toppling to the ground with a great, guttural cry.
"Good job, men." Lark said, patting his favored disciple on the shoulder. He turned proud eyes on all of us, coming to rest finally on the man laying motionless on the snow.
Being a great warrior, this man had seen many battles and many men fall. But what I admired most about him was the fact that no matter how many deaths he'd seen, they never seemed to affect him any less. Lark dropped to his knees and rolled the man over, fixing his face into a more calm and peaceful manner before it froze for eternity. The others and I took our helmets off, mourning the loss without tear shed.
A younger boy, who I knew to call Zerich, settled a palm on the elders should guard, a consoling gesture and a reminder of where they were.
"We can't bring him with us." Lark said, settling the dead mans body into the snow and standing tall. I looked away from the group, towards the smoking ship and darkening sky. How many more good men would be lost along the way? Would they die with honor? To protect someone else? I didn't know, couldn't know. Even Lark, whom everyone looked up to with such gleaming reverence could not predict the outcome of this venture.
So we could only gather into a tightly knit line, each grasping our weapons tightly to our chests. I found myself behind Zerich, whose moss green hair stood out as much as my electric blue hair, looked extremely out of place in this hostile environment. The boy was murmuring to himself, eyes wide and rolling that a mad horse. He was frightened, and it was contagious as it spread throughout the line. My own toes curled inwards at the scent of fear.
We had to hasten our pace furthermore at one point, nearly flat-out running as the sun threatened to wane. Still half a mile in the distance, the smoking ship was undulating heat, melting the snow all around it. The air was humid now, making our thick leather padding and metal grieves rather uncomfortable. I rolled my shoulders, unsticking the fabric from my sweating skin and then swiping the sweat from my moistening brow. Just as it reached an unbearable point, my focus was stolen by a dull electrical buzz.
"What's that noise?" Zerich asked me, looking all around for the source, only to find that it was coming from the ship.
"Wait a minute, the hatch it opening!" Lark motioned with his hand for everyone to hit the ground and lie as flat and quiet as possible. I sighed into the snow, relieved of the unbearable heat. Lark and a couple of the other guards had crawled to the top of a large snow drift, peeking up over it in an attempt to spy on the capsizing foreigners.
"There is... Only one."
"It looks just like we did, before the curse. But tinier, and definitely weaker looking."
"Hush, it's making a racket. Maybe that's how they communicate now?"
"Yikes, listen to it growl. Either it's in pain or the human species has gone feral."
So the creature was human? Amazing... We hadn't seen hide or hair of the others after escaping to this planet. It had been assumed they'd all died when our enemies had attacked, and resources had been almost completely diminished.
"Hush, you lot. It's coming this way."
Stumbling over itself, the tiny human crawled across the snow in our general direction. I doubted that it actually knew there was a gaggle of people hiding only ten meters away, but if it found out... How did they fight? It had been too long, centuries away from his people; their traditions and culture. Perhaps they themselves were the ones who had gone feral?
As I examined the man, movement caught my eye and I saw Lark begin to rise to his feet. No way! He was actually going to give away our position? But before he could achieve full height, a hideous snarl cut through the air and every head turned to see a group of six-legged monsters coming for the ship. Their muzzles were blood-stained from a fresh kill, and apparently there hadn't been enough for all of them, because the second they scented the fear rising from the injured human, they began galloping straight for him.
I rose to my feet, pike raised and ready to strike the first beast that came close enough. The other followed my example, but we were all surprised to see the man, whose raging red hair looked like a blazing fire in all this snow, heave a large, metallic device into the air and take aim at the monsters. He struggled with something for a moment, and then was thrown back as a sound like an explosion filled the gloom. The pack leader fell, dead, at his lackeys feet, and the world went silent.
Confused, the monsters looked back and forth from the human to their fallen leader, and then, seeming to come to a decision, they plowed over the carcass and prepared to attack. That was when Lark decided to dash out from the drift, scoring a beast on its hind leg as it went to slash at him. Surprised, the human let out an incredulous shout, and, to everyone's horror, shot Lark directly in the chest.