She nodded at Thunuk. As tense as it was, everyone managed to hold back from engaging the Beasts and instead watched patiently while they leaped their way towards the sounds of the battle happening miles away.
Thunuk leaned out with the bow in hand and let loose. The arrow flew fast and hit the back of one of the Beasts. Alas, it got stuck at the base of its tip, and the Beast stopped.
All the Beasts stopped.
“Again,” the Hunted asked since nobody was yet taking action.
Thunuk reloaded, all the while the Beasts seemed to be looking at the arrow, and the ones who weren’t were instead searching around for what might have been the source.
Thunuk let another fly.
It went half-way through that time, and the Beast staggered away from the hit. Even with the distance, and in the dark, it was discernible how some of the Beasts followed the trajectory with their pitch black eyes, clearly landing their sights on their building.
The Hunter watched as the Beasts slammed the ground with their claws.
“Get back!” Zaniyah yelled.
Not three seconds later, two beasts crashed into the ground floor of the building while the other one, sporting two arrows, crushed its way through the wall. It was an imperfect jump still since it left half of its body outside. After a moment of pause, it started using its claws to violently tear open the cement and steel that made up the floor as it kept itself half inside the room, half outside. The wall crumbled around it as the beast scurried to climb into the room.
Zaniyah tried to pierce it, but the spear just bounced off. Thunuk leaped back and knocked another arrow into place. He shot the arrow at its head all while Manuela also shot her rifle.
The Beast shuddered and trembled, pierced by both arrow and bullet. Its grip loosened and scratched its way across the floor as its body was pulled down by gravity.
Explosions sounded from below. Tristan cursed from over the stair’s railings while the two brothers kept their pistols aimed down the flight.
It was at that moment that war cries took hold of the environment.
What happened next was, in a way, more brutal and visceral than what the Hunter had observed at Magni. Her people were not mages to stay back and conjure magical attacks from a distance. They were as much beastly in their combat tactics as the Beasts themselves.
Like insects, the Wild Felids swarmed out of the buildings, out of the woodwork, and stonework, that made them.
“Ahh!” a yell came from behind Zaniyah, from the stairs.
The kids unloaded their guns at the ground, through the floor, and then stared for a second, all while Zaniyah made sure that the beast which had lunged at them was indeed dead. She had to look out the whole the beast had made into the wall, so she took the chance to also observe the clash between the first wave of Wild Felids and the Beasts.
“Whoah…it worked! We killed it!” said Jake.
“Holy crap!” said Tristan.
Zaniyah didn’t look back at them, she was taken aback by the mayhem outside.
Spears flew, along with arrows and bullets, instantly taking care of half a dozen beasts. The rest spread out, some of them even taking cover behind their transportation machine, surprisingly. Watching them being so intelligent was intimidating.
Intelligent or not, however, striking hard and fast was still a strategy the Beasts had to use. So soon after they took cover and regrouped, they started scattering and charging.
Within very short minutes, several buildings all around the square and down the street were being invaded by the crashing monstrosities. Yelling permeated the air with as much presence as smell, but the Hunter’s attention was forced to focus on three particular beasts who were heading towards the building she was on.
Thunuk let an arrow loose through the window the earlier Beast had made, and Manuela was side by side with him, shooting her very loud rifle.
Zaniyah stepped back to have some running room and watched carefully. Judging the distance between the wall hole and the incoming beasts.
The situation dictated caution, but she knew there could be no caution. Hit fast and hard had to be their strategy as well because unlike the Beasts, they had ammo to worry about. Every bullet and arrow spent were one less chance they would survive. However, those who could fight up close had the responsibility to make sure those chances lasted as much as possible.
The Hunter watched as one of the beasts leaped, aiming right at the hole in the wall. Zaniyah ran straight at it.
“Zaniyah what are you—” Jake tried to say, all but interrupted by Zaniyah’s war cry.
The Hunter leaped out of the building, spear pulled back, intending to intercept the beast.
It tried to lift its claws in time to catch her, but her spear hit first, breaking through its outer shell of a skin as if it was made of wood. The Hunter took the momentum hit to steer herself over the beast, allowing it to go through the hole because she was fully confident the others would dodge it, and even more confident that it was dead.
Fighting the Beasts at Magni, the Hunter had learned how to kill them.
The Hunter landed on the floor with a roll and drawn daggers and ran straight at one of the other two beasts, the second one having already jumped away. It swung at her, but she stopped her running and leaped back to gain enough distance.
The Hunter glared at the Beast, empowered by the feeling of a fully responsive body, one without any bleeding wounds. It had been a while.
Let’s go, the Hunter thought, anxious.
It stumbled forward, stepping awkwardly, and swung down at her. The Hunter side-stepped and stabbed with both daggers on what was comparable to an elbow. She kicked the arm to rip it apart, and it worked well enough. The front section of the arm, the claw, wobbled loosely as the Beast dragged it back.
“I. Will kill you,” it said.
It did not come as a shock that it spoke. The Beasts were actually not all that silent once one got them in a battle to the death that they could actually lose. Zaniyah had learned that back at Magni. She gave no response and stepped into its range, circling around the side of the malfunctioning arm.
It tried to follow her with the other one but she ran full speed around the beast, and it could not turn that easily. It still tried, falling over instead.
The Hunter jumped onto it, feeling what was supposed to be a smooth metallic surface, seemingly solid beyond belief, unnaturally press away from her weight.
“YAH!” The Hunter stomped, breaking the big elliptical screen that was its face. Inside, she saw the now familiar visage of a pilot. She gave no particular thought towards the man who put his hands up, sounding out with a pleading ‘no!’, as she leaned in and thrust for the kill.
Standing up atop the corpse of a Beast, the Hunter watched as others ran into close combat. Every single building was now under siege and in the process of breaking apart, even ones which were unoccupied. Zaniyah looked back to verify that the third Beast was down for the count, and then looked over to the vehicle that was being used as cover.
Sniffing, the Hunter swung her blades to get rid of a bit of blood, and ran to the side, to avoid another beast which had leaped at her.
The Hunter ran at it as the beast came under fire, from two arrows, a spear and a bullet, and slid across the ground to avoid a crushing hug that expected to intercept her. The Hunter, beneath the beast, closed the two daggers on one of its legs, in stabbing motions, and then brought her body around to push against it with her legs. The daggers came off while ripping through it and the Hunter ended up behind the Beast in a half-controlled tumble.
It fell to the side, and the Hunter promptly finished it off.
A quick glance informed the Hunter that she had yet to suffer any wounds outside of a little scraping, so all and all, that fight was already going better than they usually did.
Alas, the reality was that focusing only on the Hunter would give a very limited view of how badly the fight was going. The dead were already impossible to count, on both sides.
The Hunter wasn’t completely released to instinct at that point, she was keeping track of her surroundings and positioning herself so that the houses around her, those still harboring allies with ammo and enough liberty to use it, could assist her from a distance. They kept the Beasts from swarming her in the way the Beasts wanted, and Zaniyah made use of that to control distance and spacing towards oncoming beasts.
Very few others seemed to be doing the same thing. They were either charging or hanging back, showing no balance between patience and wildness.
Still, the Hunter had to worry about herself. Taking it second by second, minute by minute, she fought on.
Zaniyah felt like a glass cannon. She was taking out the Beasts while remaining largely untouched but the moment she was touched…it would be deadly, most likely. It had been the only other time one of them had reached her.
Still, all and all, casualties were pretty even, far as she could tell, which was definitely what they didn’t want. There was simply too many of the Beasts, and there was no such thing as good cover against them. Either one took the beast down before being reached, or they were dead.
In the midst of the fighting, the Hunter caught sight of Othinia and Hannes, also fighting up-close. Almost one second later, she saw Othinia getting mauled.
It startled her, the abruptness of it all. She had witnessed it before, Zaniyah had seen many die to the Beasts, but it was all the more real now that it was with someone she knew and not some humanoid wearing a cloak and hood. One moment, Othinia was taking her spear out of a Beast, and the next, she was punctured by two claws as they pushed her body into the ground. And then apart.
“By the–” A claw swiped near Zaniyah, interrupting her. Fear battled anger for influence over her nerves. The Hunter tilted that conflict towards anger.
Yelling in challenge, Zaniyah felt her senses sharpen, except for her sense of time, which went out the window. She surrendered herself to her barest instincts, making the decision that that part of the battle, or rather that one moment in what was the last battle, would only end when the group of beasts brought up by the burrowing machine was gone.
The Hunter knew she couldn’t make strategical decisions when in that state of mind. Her expectations weren’t based on prediction or intelligence. The wind told her about bodies around her and the subtle noise of air being cut informed her of projectiles flying around her. Peripheral vision became just an extension of the normal one, and at that point, she was no longer predicting how the Beasts moved. The Hunter simply knew.
The Hunter was ahead of them by two seconds due to being faster and a hundred percent aware of their movements, and what they would be, as soon as they stepped into a certain radius of proximity.
The dagger broke, and that was how she ended up using the blowgun as a stabbing weapon, but only twice.
Many things crossed her hands in the midst of the bloody battle, from a broken spear point to a discarded pistol that was still loaded, to a short-sword that lasted until new people joined her.
The Hunter didn’t register who they were, she simply knew them as allies. She treated them much like she treated the Beasts, knowing what they would do and acting accordingly, she just didn’t kill them. Being faster and agiler, the Hunter directed their actions through her own. She created opportunities for them to strike, or to survive another second. Sometimes they would. Sometimes they wouldn’t and were crushed.
None of it really registered at an emotional level, not in the state the Hunter was in.
A state of blood-lust.
The Hunter was no longer keeping track of their losses or of which houses were still occupied. She hardly even noticed the Beast blood ruining the paint on her arms and face. The Hunter only knew movements, and how to react to them. Like a predator.
The Wild Felids had never had a counterpart to the Darkness and to the Warlock. Like the Scavengers, they didn’t have the triumvirate of individuals taking upon themselves the main responsibilities of thievery, spying, and assassination or combat. The Wild Felids, all, learned to fight. It was their duty to be able to fight.
The Hunter didn’t think twice about turning a corner around the burrowing machine and advancing on the Beasts that were there, fully engulfed in a fight that would end when there were no more living beasts.
When reason returned to her, after that exchange, Zaniyah realized she would have died. There were ten of them, but thankfully, some Neyrk soldiers had arrived meanwhile and, along with fellow Felids, helped her take them down before they could kill her.
When Zaniyah’s mind had the opportunity to relax, which happened after she had known there were no Beasts in the vicinity, she was drenched in blood and actually wounded. There was a large gash on her shoulder which was bleeding out at about the same speed with which she became consciously aware of her surroundings.
The battalion of beasts was defeated.
“Zaniyah!” someone yelled.
Zaniyah turned towards the voice to find Josh running next to her, bandages on hand. “Holy crap, that was amazing!” he said.
She didn’t pay much attention to him, Zaniyah was looking around so she could get a proper idea of the situation around her.
The Beasts littered the broken streets, tore apart a dozen different ways, each killed a dozen times over. However, among the beaten corpses of the Beasts were her friends and allies. The image of Othinia returned to her mind, and Zaniyah winced, slumping a bit.
Josh was already at work, rubbing some familiar leaves in his hands before massaging her wound. It would help stop the bleeding.
“You’re so strong,” Josh said. “Since when are you such a good fighter?”
“Mighty Zaniyah!” Thunuk called out.
Zaniyah turned to look at him, realizing both Thunuk and Josh were still alive. Others would still be alive as well, she saw people walking around in the brief respite they had the opportunity to enjoy.
Zaniyah felt somewhat relieved at that. Not everyone was dead.
“You guys are the real deal,” a soldier said from behind them, to no one in particular. “Who’s in charge?”
The Hunter winced again from Josh tightening the bandage, and then looked around. She looked towards where Othinia had died. She looked for Hannes but instead only found more Beasts.
Live ones. In the distance, another battalion of the Beasts was leaping towards them.
“She passed,” the Hunter offered as a response, gulping.
“She passed?” the soldier asked.
“She died,” Josh clarified, angry at having to say it, “who’s in charge on your end?”
The ground was still shaking.
In the distance, the Chancellor’s tower was surrounded by the effects cannon fire. Reflection from a fire was visible in the night sky above the barracks as well. Finally, the Scavengers territory was too far away to really discern what was going on.
“They come,” the Hunter pointed, and they all followed her gaze to catch the same sight. The soldier cursed.
The ground was still shaking, increasingly so.
Another force of Beasts was storming their way to relieve the one they had just defeated, and the ground was still shaking with the delivery of yet more stacks of them. More would be coming from underground.
“Take to the buildings,” the Hunter said. “We do this again.”
“By the Light, how many of them are there?!” Josh asked, severely concerned.
Zaniyah gave no response, she simply moved to purpose.
The reality of what they were being asked to accomplish started dawning on her right then.
She had not said anything when Falk had promised that the Beasts would be defeated in conventional confrontation. However, the white dust which was supposed to be an advantage, in reality, merely leveled the playing field. The Beasts had come to the last fight having suffered almost no casualties. In turn, humanity had done nothing but suffer casualties.
They could not do it. Falk was clearly wrong or hiding some kind of plan that could actually work, but that one wouldn’t. They would not defeat the Beasts like that.
I hope Nature looks favorably upon you…Thieving Magpie, the Hunter thought, gravely, almost solemnly. So that you may save us all.
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