Crossbows and Handgrenades

This excerpt from my upcoming fantasy novel gives you a brief peek into the world of Parlyn.   Drake and his companions struggle to survive…

 

Overrun…

            The misty woods resound abruptly with the coldly shrill howls of wolf and Glark alike.  Joined in a harmony high and loud enough to vibrate a man’s eardrums, the embattled Kosc leads his brothers in stalking the human prey.  Frustration plagues Kosc as he rages at Phosc’s stupidity.  Captured!?  How could anyone get themselves captured by… by humans!  The disgrace to Phosc’s leadership will indeed be great and Kosc can already feel the warmth of the Warrior Chief’s praise when Phosc’s battle-place is given to him. Briskly he rides his wolf-brother Korsc, keeping his Glark cavalry within range of sound and smell of the slow but dangerous humans. Kosc just could not remember the last time that ten full warriors had failed to kill just six mere humans.  Humans, to his recollection, always ran in fear, and Glarks, as was their right by superiority, always chased down the humans with ease.  Such has been the order of things Since the memory of the ancient ones. Humans have always been slow and easily frightened, and Glarks have always possessed the quickness and cunning to prevail over the most ornery of humans.  This new fearlessness troubles Kosc.

            Kosc ponders the meaning of Humans-who-fight, and fears for the future of his clan.  If these humans teach other humans how to fight Glarks with killing thunder, then no Glark will ever be safe in their home-woods again!  The shear horror of this insight urges Kosc to uncharacteristic fury.  Gone are the scare tactics of his forefathers.  Frightening these humans into running off into the woods where they can be decently caught, is no longer his destiny. Nor does it now seem possible.  Kosc sees himself as the savior of his people, ridding the world of these dangerous new humans before they can ruin the Glark clan forever.

            Kosc reins in his wolf-brother Korsc, and instructs his warriors to fall back and regroup, to hear his new plan of attack.

*    *    *

            Drake flinches at the screeches emanating from deep within the surrounding woods, dropping deftly to the ground.  The rest have followed his lead, forming a tight circle of defense, except Brian, who still stands looking about, apparently unconcerned. “Get down!  You moron!”  Murphy growls under his breath. Stripe grabs Brian by the collar, and yanks him to the ground in one stroke of his powerful arms.  Brian looks hurt and confused, but Stripe pulls him down until they are face-to-face.  His own face a mask of rage, stripe looks into Brian’s eyes just inches from his own.

            “If you want to live, you’re going to do what we say, or I’ll wring your stupid neck myself!  Now get with it!”  Stripe shoves him away, the contempt clear in his eyes, and turns to concentrate on the woods around him.

            As the last echoes of the Wolf rider’s howling subsides, Drake looks around uncomfortably.  Not seeing any signs of the Wolves or their riders, he looks to Murphy to bolster his flagging confidence.  “Murph?”

            Murphy glances Back from his position guarding the rear, “What?”

            Drake searches the darkening woods and shivers, as he realizes that the light drizzle of an hour ago has turned into a sprinkle of rain.  “We need to get going.  Before they decide to attack again, we need to get to that trail of smoke.  If we take too much longer, we won’t be able to see where we’re going.”

            Doc pipes in.  “Why don’t we just run for it?”  Brian puffs his dissent, but Stripe cuffs his shoulder from behind.  Ron decides that it’s a good idea, and suggests that they start immediately.

            They pick themselves up, and bags either in hand, or on their backs, begin to move out at a fast jog through the increasingly heavy rain filtering through the dense tree branches overhead.

            In order to move faster through the woods, Drake motions for them to move into Ranger file, one by one, keeping the pace as quick as he can.  Brian begins to complain immediately, but quiets down after Stripe whispers some short promises of mayhem should he continue.  Stripe hands him one end of his captive-laden spear, and they continue on with the Wolf rider between them.

            Time slips by unnoticed, as sweat and rain mix, running down the faces of the struggling men.  The overcast skies overhead darken speedily as evening approaches, and storm clouds replace the light rain with a sudden downpour.  Drake stumbles along, Ron’s steady puffing a reassuring sound from behind him, as his field of view narrows to the dim outline of muddy ground before him.  His shoes splat-splat over the rain-soaked earth.  All thoughts are gone.  Nothing remains but the steady cadence of plodding feet, and the huffs and puffs of the men who follow him. His body shivers at the wet clothes, jeans that chaff at his legs, and the squish-squash of drenched sneakers.  It’s no wonder that Drake falls head over heels over the waist-high wall surrounding the corn field ahead.

            Ron halts.  Coming out of his own fatigue-induced trance, as Drake disappears over the short wall ahead.  The rest, still unaware of what has happened, pile into Ron, and crumple to a halt.  Ron extricates himself from the pile of steaming, exhausted bodies, now resting against the wall.  Scrambling over, he picks Drake up out of the mud, and the two kneel together to look at what lies ahead.

            After a few minutes, Murphy joins them, scrambling over the wall, leaving the rest sitting against the other side, and all three look in wonder at the shadowed outline of narrow strips of corn.  The huge field of corn before them seems to have divided into dozens of smaller plots, all growing the same crop, but each showing different arrangements of rows and columns.  But it was the small cluster of huts silhouetted in the distance, along with the modest manner house beyond them, that gave glaring testimony to the strangeness of their surroundings.

            Wonder was a luxury, however, that neither could afford at that moment.  As had happened before along their route, the Glarks began to howl and screech their songs of defiance from close by. The woods echo with their shrill cries, as the three men hurriedly help the other three over the wall, and behind cover.

            This time the cries are louder than ever, and Drake tenses his tired muscles in readiness for the coming attack.  Suddenly, five husky wolves spring forth from the shadowy depths of the surrounding forest, the lead wolf catching the top of the wall, and vaulting over the hidden men.  As the wolf soars by, Ron takes a wild swipe with his spear, but misses badly.  Other wolves follow closely behind their leader, and are over the wall, facing the tired men in an instant.

            As Murphy springs forward to confront the nearest wolf, a Wolf rider appears from atop the wall, and leaps upon him from behind.  A deathly wail issues from this tiny menace as he plunges both his spears deep into Murphy’s right shoulder.

            Drake clutches to his spear, and thrusts wildly to keep another wolf at bay, and sees a wolf lunge in to attack Brian. Brian tries to fend off the wild thing, but he too is caught from behind by a vengeful Wolf rider with a graceful dive ending with the stubs of two small spears protruding from his back. Brian screams in sudden pain, as he falls to his knees, still clutching his spear.

            Ron acts quickly, taking the butt end of his own spear, and smashing the Wolf rider still clinging to Murphy’s back, sending him flying off into the shadows.

            Loud curses flow freely from Murphy’s lips as he angrily reaches into his tote bag, and pulls out his .45.  Before he finds it, however, the wolf that he had momentarily forgot, lunges for his throat.  Desperately, Murphy throws the bag in the wolf’s face, abandoning for the moment his gun inside.  The wolf tears at the bag, and jumps back with its prize in its mouth.

            Stripe, seeing the ensuing mayhem, grasps hold of his spear, and looks into the eyes of his weary captive.  “Will they kill you too?  Would you kill one of your own?”  The only reply he gets for his troubles, is the shrill screech filled with contempt and hatred.  “That’s fine by me.”  He growls gruffly, and springs out from the wall and into the waiting wolves.

            “NO!”  Drake screams, as he witnesses Stripe’s desperate move.  Tears stream to his eyes.  Adrenaline surges through his veins, as a grim determination seizes him, and he too springs forward thrusting his own spear at the snarling wolf before him.

            Ron glances back at Brian.  Doc is quickly dispatching the Wolf rider that had climbed up Brian’s neck, and was trying to wrench free one of his own spears while Brian tries unsuccessfully, to claw another wolf rider off his back.

            Ignoring Brian and Doc for the moment, Ron focuses on the wolf who again leaps at Murphy.  Ron sees his opening, with one wolf on Murphy, two presently snapping at Stripe, and another waiting for Brian to fall, that left only the one wolf confronting Drake, who just charged out into the open to attack it.  Good, no more wolves, maybe.  Ron takes careful aim, and hurls his spear at one of the wolves facing Stripe, who is swinging his captive in wide circles, apparently fending off the wolves, who don’t seem to know what to do about it.

            Not waiting to see the results of his throw, he jumps out and snatches the tattered bag, and rummages around for the gun inside. Doing so, he fails to see two more Glarks climb onto the top of the wall, and leap with spears in each fist, straight at his unprotected back.  Blinding pain washes over him just as his fist closes on the gun.  Writhing in pain, Ron falls to the ground, the Glarks deftly jumping off to avoid being crushed.

            Doc hears Ron’s cry, and turns from the crumpled Wolf rider still in his hand, and throws its broken body into one of the Glarks standing over Ron.  He hurries to Ron’s side taking a running kick at the other Wolf rider for good measure.  He misses the little rodent, but the effort bought him the time he needed to get to Ron’s Side.  Seeing the gun in Ron’s clenched hand, Doc pries it open, and takes the gun himself.  Anger fills the medic as he sees a wolf pounce on the still hunched over form of Brian, and yet another gets its jaws around Stripes ankle as he swings his Wolf rider at yet another wolf.  Doc releases the safety with his thumb, moving his hand steadily, slowly, he takes aim at the wolf about to tear into Murphy.  CRACK!  The report peals through the air as the .45 kicks in his hands.  Steady, slow and deliberate, CRACK!  Two wolves have fallen victim to the trusty 1911.  The sound of the gun startles the wolves, and Drake thrusts his spear through the rib cage of his wolf, distracted by the noise.

            Doc spots two of the Glarks hastily climbing back up the wall to escape.  Slowly, steadily, CRACK!  One Wolf rider explodes in a fine mist of red, with chunks of flesh and rock spraying into its companion.  The blast was close enough to score a fatal hit on the other Wolf rider as well, its writhing form rustling the leaves upon the forest floor.

            Silence…  Frantic panting can be faintly heard fading off into the distance until being obscured by the sound of the falling rain.  As the remnants of the attacking wolves slink off into the night, echoes peal through the darkness.  The expectant howls of still more lurking wolves hidden deep within the woods, sends chills down his back, as Drake .

            Murphy’s colorful curses break the mood, as he tries to grab one of the two spears protruding from his right shoulder.

            Doc turns to see Ron still lying face down upon the ground, his shirt stained red with his blood as it seeps slowly from around the four spears puncturing his back.

            Stripe hobbles over to Murphy, favoring a bloody ankle, and Drake reaches over to Brian who seems to have a large wound on one side of his ribs.

            Doc hears a deep voice off into the distance, booming through the rain.  He adds his own voice to break the spell of silence that surrounds the shocked and wounded group of men, “Help!  Over here!  We need help!”  Blood trickles down his forehead, mixing with the rainwater as he begins to apply pressure around one of Ron’s wounds.  Holding down upon the shoulder, Doc pulls out the offending spears one at a time, and applies pressure to each in turn, halting the flow of blood.  The pain pulls Ron from his stupor with a yell, and he lashes out before realizing what was happening.  As Doc tries to comfort Ron, the woods behind them erupt as if on cue, high-pitched echoes answering Ron’s yell.

            Drake looks up, Brian’s barely conscious form cradled gently in his arms.  His startled gaze catches the woodline beyond the wall, seeing numerous shadows advancing through the trees.  Fear turns his stomach cold, as he sees the mounted wolves again.  “Oh God!  To the wall!”  He yells, the flowing chill of rushing adrenaline racing up the back of his neck, as he grabs his and Brian’s spears, scrambling back to the wall.  Quickly, he braces his spears on the wall to discourage any wolves from jumping over it.  Rage mixes with his growing fear, and Drake finds himself screaming at the taunting woods.  “Damn you!  What have we done to your stupid ass!?  Leave us the —- alone!”  Stripe shows up beside him with a weary smile shadowing his wet face.  “Maybe you would like to trade up for this?”  He says smugly, handing Drake the .45 and a new clip.  Drake snatches up the .45 and clip, Popping out the used magazine to check the number of rounds before slapping it home again, ready for use.

            His hands cold and slick, he kneels in the gathering water pooling against the stone wall, teeth chattering  watching.. waiting.  The shapes within the woods drift from shadow to shadow, for the moment not advancing, just continuing their elusive dance, mocking him.  The high, keening wails of the wolf riders make him shiver as he draws an uneasy breath.  He aims desperately at one shadow, and then yet another, losing track of it before he can fire, as the driving rain and darkness conspire to keep his enemies from his sight.

            Stripe crawls back to his gear and returns, dragging the captive Wolf rider still tied to his spear.  He props his prisoner up against the short wall, the body of the Wolf rider sticks up over the top showing the struggling creature to all who would look.  Drake looks away from his vigil to see what Stripe was doing, and grimaces with a sudden twinge of conscience.  The tiny thing looks vaguely human, except for the upturned, dog-like ears which twitch in agitation, and the needle sharp canines.  Drake tells himself there is no time for pity, and begins gathering up the scattered bags with their few belongings, and sets them down by Ron’s still form.

            Doc shouts a warning from behind, and both Stripe and Drake turn their heads to see several wolf-like forms bounding gracefully over the wall far to their left, and disappear into the corn fields before a shot can be fired.  Immediately, the corn fields echo the keening wails of the angry wolves still in the forest.

            Now, bombarded by howling from both the woods behind, and the corn fields ahead, Drake abandons his place behind the stone wall, leaving Stripe to guard that direction, and straddles the three wounded companions as Doc grasps the remaining spears in his angry hands.  Rage and frustration seethe through clenched teeth, as Doc gathers himself up to crouch between the corn fields and his wounded friends, his knuckles turning white upon the makeshift spears as he braces himself for the attack that is sure to come. Muffled curses can be heard coming from where Murphy lies, still trying to extract the last spear from his shoulder.  “Freakin dogs!”

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