Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vermilion Years #4: Technique

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Four: Technique

I drew my claw up to the girl’s neck.

“Truly, Jean-Luc?” Fleurette snapped. “You opt to save my life, only to end it shortly after!?”

I made no reply. The girl knew full well that death via my hand was a much more merciful demise than the one that awaited her.

“Reserve your pity for someone else, Im. I am not like you, deaf to the value of life. The terms of my death have meaning to me.”

“Engaging the foe leaves you no chance for survival. Your odds at a successful retreat are equally dismal.”

“So be it,” the maid said sharply, holding up her pistols. “If I am to fall, I wish to do so in battle. Let me die defending Lady Etienne, repaying my debt to the Pasiphae’s… and the rest of the settlers I’ve damned. I want to give my life to Lyonnais, the land I betrayed by opposing you.”    

It was then that I started to wonder if I’d undervalued the feeble human girl, along with the rest of Lyonais' inhabitants. Yes, the settlement did not have long for this world regardless of my defense.  Fleurette, too— a fleeting existence even in the best case scenario of a natural death. And yet maybe they deserved saving anyway. Though short-lived, the tiny triumphs of humanity were brilliant when scaled properly. Just as a flower wilts within the pass of season, generations of humanity too pass. The scent of their perspiration, their struggle, it is worth taking in. If I am to pluck them up, plop them in a vase and keep them watered perhaps their intriguing existences can be prolonged. Ultimately, their lives were beyond saving, but perchance… not beyond savoring.


A lance wielding knight covered in thick, blood-stained black armor leapt into the circle and landed in between me and Fleurette. 

Godless?” I echoed, stepping back.

“Ah, so the demon can mimic the human tongue,” the rusty-looking knight murmured. “That is how he lured this poor girl in. How treacherously unforgivable!"

“BEHIND YOU,” Fleurette screamed.

“Aye, it be the hideous beast,” the knight replied. “Pray thee, relax. I am getting to that.”

I spun around and cut down three unman in a single swoop of my claw. I then extended my blade and stabbed each of their hearts.

“Get to it later,” I said as I leaped forth and executed another approaching Unman. “If you truly wish to protect the ‘damsel’ then you will remove her from this place.”

“So the fiends can copulate and pursue us in greater number? I think not! Nay, I say! NAY!”

“Please, comply with his request,” Fleurette ordered the knight. “I’m not a fan of the man either, but he can handle himself.”

The knight shook his head and turned a gear on his partisan, extending it to three times the length of his body. 

“AS CAN I,” the knight roared, running his spear through a line of six unman, pinning them to a rock. The unmans slinked toward the knight, their head’s open and screaming.

“That’s no good,” the girl shouted out. “You need to find their hearts in order to kill them.”
“Not necessarily,” the knight replied, pulling a knob on the bottom of the spear’s handle.

A mist of hot oil spewed out of the sides of the pole. The knight flicked a wheel at the top, and it sent out a spark. In seconds the entire spear was engulfed in flames. The knight twisted his weapon and covered the unmans in flames, instantly killing them.

“Lay flat to the ground, milady.”

The knight spun his body in a circle, swinging the flaming long spear around. The flames ignited twenty or so unmans, killing them just as quickly as the others. Meanwhile, I leapt from unman to unman, skewering their hearts deftly with both claw and blade. The knight proceeded to pierce and torch as many of the vile creatures as he could. Fleurette attempted to kill a few herself, but her lack of training made her unable to locate the creatures’ weak spots.

“How are you slaying these things without hitting their vitals?” Fleurette yelled, frustrated.

“Oh but I am,” the knight laughed, taking out twenty more with a spin of his spear. “They breathe through their porous skin. That’s my way to their hearts.”

“I thought the zombies had no need of breath,” Fleurette pointed out.

“False. Unman require oxygen just as we do. Their biology allows them to store it in sacs, letting them live underground for long periods of time.  I drench their skin with the oily mixture stored in my lance. That flows into their air sacs, filling it up. I then light it up. The fire consumes all the oxygen stored in their slimy bodies, instantly stopping their hearts.”

“That’s… genius,” the girl gasped.

“No, it’s basic unman-killing technique,” I corrected, killing the three unmans the maid failed to dispose of.

Since Fleurette seemed so impressed with the knight’s simple tactic, I decided to demonstrate a more advanced and effective maneuver.

“Here’s another.”

I allowed my blade to drop all the way out of its holster. I unclipped my claw and fastened it to the metal spire to form a sword. I stabbed the end of my sword back into its sheath and pulled out a line of circular red pellets. I slashed the sword against a flint plate on my wrist, causing smoke to coat its blood-stained steel.

“BLAST,” the knight shouted in a panic. He dashed for Fleurette and snatched her up. Stowing her under his arm, the black-armored warrior used his spear as a pole vault and launched himself high into the air.  

The horde of unmans briefly pacified, sensing extreme danger. Their entire number rose from the sand at once. I flung the tiny rings off my sword off in various directions. The ground lit up with explosions, disintegrating every unman caught in their blast radii. The agonized screams of the survivors sounded off in bloody harmony. I plunged into the inferno sword first, stabbing heart to heart under the cover of flame.

The knight landed with Fleurette, though not gracefully. The blast propelled the knight much further than he’d anticipated. He wrapped his arms around Fleurette and braced for impact. Though thick, his armor proved to be of little use. He hit a boulder head first, resulting in an audible crack of his neck.

Fleurette sat up and watched me kill the last of the unman. In mere minutes, I’d taken out well over a thousand. An impressive figure, even by my standards. Once the threat had been eliminated, I climbed out of the crater and made my way over to the girl.

“Knight, get up so I can get the thanking out of the way,” Fleurette ordered. “Note that this marks the only occasion you shall receive such a gesture, so resist the urge to act upon your chivalrous urges in the future. I already lament my ever growing debt to this accursed Immortal.”

The armored man said nothing, laying completely still. I examined his armor, looking for an identifying crest.

“Do not try to pass yourself as mute, sir. I recall you having no trouble running your mouth during the battle.”

“Reserve your breath for living ears,” I advised, unlatching the knight’s helmet. “Your rescuer snapped his neck in his attempt to keep you safe. He died so that you could live.”

I removed the knight’s helmet. Though man’s face had been bloodied, it still appeared quite striking. The young fighter had long silvery blonde hair tied back in a bun. His skin was tan, an uncommon pigment for a human— their skin perennially sheltered from the toxic environment. I looked deep into his whitish-grey irises, seeking some sort of familiarity in his unique genetic composition. At the time, I could not understand why the soulless eyes brought on such déjà vu.

“Don’t expect me to feel guilty,” Fleurette said stiffly, turning away. “I never encouraged him to exchange his life for my own.”

“Take his armor,” I ordered.

“Have you no respect for the dead, Jean-Luc?” she protested. “This man, foolish as he may be, sacrificed himself for me. I will not repay his martyrdom in such a disgraceful manner. Besides, he’s at least twice my size.”

“This type of armor is mass produced,” I explained as I unlocked the dead knight’s suit. “It’s a pliable yet study grade of metal. It can be adjusted to fit even a child, and all excess plates can be snapped off. Unmans will have a much harder time consuming your flesh in one of these.”

“I don’t care. I refuse to waste his sacrifice.”

“Then wear the armor. If you are eaten, his heroic act will have been done entirely in vain.” 

Fleurette stroked her head and heaved a sigh. She stripped naked and walked over to me. She cringed in pain as the sand and steam pelted her fair skin. I stepped her into the dead man’s boots and adjusted them to her size, snapping off four plates of metal. I fastened the torso section of armor on next, then clipped on each arm. I went to put on the helmet on her head but she pushed it away.

“I’ll make do with a pair of goggles and a face mask, thank you.”

Fleurette put the fallen warrior’s helmet back on his body, giving it a kiss on the forehead.

“Don’t just stand there, dig him a grave.”

I looked over at the crater.

“That works too, I suppose,” she murmured.

I threw the knight down into the former unman nest, planting his lance into the ground beside him. I peered down at the various tunnels made by the unman, seeking out a suitable campsite. I found one that tapered into a small hole. The entrance seemed just as small. Judging by the white-goo laden embryo-like sacs hanging from the ceiling, this appeared to be where the unman stored their young. Multicolored human hair mixed with animal fur cover carpeted floor. I killed a pack of confused unman toddlers then waved Fleurette in.

“This is where you will rest tonight.”

Fleurette looked up at me. Her face was covered, but I could feel her utter abhorrence.

“Am I to use a rotten corpse as a pillow?” she asked disgustedly. “The smell alone will deny me sleep.”

“Make an attempt. I will kill all the unmans who approach us. The rest of the tribe will be returning to copulate and recoup their numbers.”

“Recoup their numbers? Are you saying you exterminated the majority of them?”

I nodded.

“Does this mean Lyonnais is safe?”

I contemplated lying and telling her that the settlement was indeed safe. But I chose silence once more. For the hapless Lyonnais, the unman threat was the very least of its worries.