The Cerulean Wave Marine Archery Brigade rushed to get into position on the highest point on the edge of Cedar Gardens Park. The Brigade Commander had spotters in place, watching for light in the woods, but so far there was nothing. She shouted at her soldiers to suppress the fear that they were already too late.
The marine barracks above Cedar Gardens was residential street like any other, but one reserved for the warriors of the Dukedom and their families, one of several such “barracks” in the capital. At home and off duty, they had been unprepared when the first messengers ran in, crying the alarm. Even as the Commander had come out of her house to see what was the matter, the bone-chilling scream of the monster ripped through the night air.
Now the archers as well as the lancers of the Sun Cutter Guard spreading out along the lower sides of the park, most of them still in their home clothes, struggled contain their dread as they listened to the sounds of battle echoing faintly through the park. Even the hastily cast charms of the regimental wizards could only dull the horror.
“Where are they?” the Commander growled through gritted teeth.
— — —
They, Ruili Windwolf and the six city guardians with him, were on the other side of the park, on the wrong end of a game of cat and mouse. The plan to drive the beast towards the marines was not going well. At least some part of this thing was true cat and about as easy to herd.
One man was down and not moving, felled by a strike of those venom-tipped tails. Two others were slashed, their coats dark with their own blood, but all still standing were desperately fending off the beast’s vicious swipes with their pikes. Their bravery was driven by the sense that there was no way to escape this thing they had chased.
Ruili caught a glimpse of firelight, the distant torches of the reinforcements, but they may as well have been in another world so long as he and his team were stuck and isolated.
The monster got another, its claws catching a man’s coat and dragging him down. Ruili jumped in with his mace-axe. He hacked at the foul paw until the creature yanked it away. It would have taken its catch with it, but Ruili pulled the man free of his coat.
“Go!” He shoved the man into the empty space where the beast had been. “Tell the marines our position.”
The disoriented man snatched up a torch and vanished into the forest.
Ruili turned back to the fight only to hit the ground below the swipe of a vengeful paw. As the beast attacked him, the guardians attacked it from other angles. So the fight went, back and forth, but the blows the men landed seemed no more than pinpricks to this creature.
— — —
“There!” A soldier pointed to the torchlight jerking through the woods, coming their way.
The guardian stumbled into view, pale and staring as a ghost, but his panted information was just what the Commander of the Cerulean Wave needed. Orders were shouted, the plan settled — waves of arrows to be followed by a tightening circle of lancers.
The archers lined up and calculated their angles according to the intelligence. A signal officer raised a long bow and let fly an arrow in a long, high arc, to burst into light above the park.
— — —
The red flare lit up the forest. In the bloody glare, their enemy stood revealed, frozen in the light – the hell-beast body, the writhing scorpion tails, the face contorted with mad hatred.
“Barrage in-coming,” Ruili shouted. “Seek cover, seek–”
The head snapped around at the sound of his voice, turning the rest of the beast with it.
“Go, go!” Each shout focused the beast more on the lucky mouse.
The flare faded. The scene melted into the dark except for those demonic red eyes, the gleam of the fangs and the corrupted woman’s skin. The head lowered, advanced, holding him fast with that crazed stare and the stink, the taste, that was of his own death.
Ruili swallowed. His dry throat clenched. Above, the soft whine of flying arrows. The cat’s jaws gaped. The mouse feinted left and took off right, into the woods as the arrows fell.
He dove for a fallen tree, squirming as far under it as he could get as the first barrage tore through the trees. He hoped the deafening screams signaled true hits, but when he stuck his head out to look, the beast, unfazed by the shafts sticking in its hulking back and flank, swiped at him again.
Cursing, he ran. He had no thought of the next barrage or the advancing soldiers. He was only bent on out-running the thing behind him, and he hurtled through the trees until he crashed into a body coming the other way.
Two men went down in a tangle, kicking and flailing blindly, but it was Ruili who ended up on top, who answered a punch to the face with a smash of the mace-axe into the other man’s head. And another, and a third, before he rolled off and collapsed.
On his back on the forest floor, head reeling, full of the noise of his own gasping. He didn’t yet hear the shouts of the lancers — or the silence of the monster.
But then the pain began to manifest. “Oh…bloody piss.”