Monday, March 30, 2015
THE VERMILION YEARS 4: CHEVALIER
I drew my claw up to the girl’s neck, the only kindness I’d left to offer the ill-fated human.
“Reserve your pity for someone else, Im,” Fleurette snapped, pushing my blades away and raising her feeble sport pistols.
“The most murderous of men still shutter at an Unman’s feast,” I warned.
“Be that as it may, I opt to fight,” the girl replied.
“You fight insurmountable odds.”
“Stop talking, Jean Luc, please,” Fleurette sighed. “I am not interested in the odds of survival, nor do I care about the quality of my last living seconds. The terms of my demise will always be mine, alone.”
I honored her last request by saying nothing, not that I had the time to do so. The Unmans’ leering would soon cease, at the moment they deemed most optimal. Fleurette’s conviction impressed me. She behaved oddly for one so near death. She embodied honor and courage. A true hero… though perhaps born out of turn. I suppose that’s what subconsciously led me to save her. The plight of those actively rebelling against their expected interests softened me. Ultimately, humanity could not be saved, not by me. Time ingrained this notion in me, and I followed it religiously. This girl, as unremarkable as she was, inspired a small debate in me. A flower cannot live forever, but you can water them. Beyond saving? Yes, no question. But maybe… not beyond savoring.
Unman lunged forth in eerie unison and their harmonized shrieks jabbed into my ears like rusty daggers. A foreign presence rushed toward us, freezing the Unman advance. Like a robots, the creatures were stalled by unexpected variables.
“OI! Stay thy accursed maw from thine maiden, godless buffoon!”
A lance wielding warrior clad in thick, blood-spattered metal armor leapt into the circle and landed in between me and Fleurette.
“Godless?” I echoed, stepping back.
“How dare thou mimic human tongue,” the rusty-looking knight scoffed. “Surely, this is the means in which such a beauty found herself lured. Unforgivably treacherous.”
“IDIOT, BEHIND YOU,” Fleurette screamed.
The Unman were frozen no longer, advancing upon us with redoubled veracity.
“Nay, that is Unman not ‘idiot’,” the knight laughed heartily. “Do thy part and pray to God, sweet girl. Cleansing the astray corpses may wait, as I must slay the demon beside you post haste.”
The knight’s spear struck me in the chest, jettisoning me a considerable distance. I landed on my feet, hacking away at the five Unman that clung to me. Fleurette managed to avoid the barrage of tongues whipped in her direction. She fired her pistol, maiming an Unman by nicking its moving heart-brain. The knight charged forth, readying his next attack. I deftly outmaneuvered his spear thrusts, then gripped its blade in my hand. I extended a spike from my elbow and rammed it into the knight’s helmet.
“ENOUGH,” Fleurette roared. “Kill the Unman, not each other!”
“Whatever for?” the knight asked. “I have my eye on thee, I shant let harm come to you.”
“Chevalier, take the girl and leave,” I ordered. “I will eradicate the Unman.”
The knight removed his weapon from my grasp and skewered the heart of an Unman near Fleurette.
“So it is a competition thou desires, doest thou!?” the knight yelled.
“No, I want you to save the girl.”
“I can handle MYSELF,” Fleurette snapped, firing off a few missing shots.
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 yelled, running his spear through a line of six unman, pinning them to a rock. The Unman slinked toward the knight, their heads open and flailing madly as their tongues launched into the air.
“What good is that?” Fleurette asked. “Hitting their hearts is the only way to kill them.”
“That it not, my dear,” the knight laughed, pulling a knob on the bottom of his weapon.
Oil misted out the sides of the long pole. The knight ran his finger down a wheel on the handle of his spear, sending sparks down a copper wire. The mist lit up, engulfing the weapon in flame. With a twist and flick of his spear, the knight loosened his spear from the rock. The Unman caught on the spear ignited and died instantly.
“Fair damsel, please lay flat.”
Fleurette complied, aligning herself with the ground. The knight spun himself, swinging the flaming rod around. The flames overtook all nearby Unman, sending them to a prompt flaming demise. I leapt away from the attack, landing on an Unman with my claw. I jumped from creature to creature, slaying them in rapid succession. I slid a sword blade from my right palm, using it in tandem with my claw arm for maximum devastation. Fleurette sat and watched us burn and stab our way through the Unman horde with minimal effort. While I had not wanted a competition, it appeared I found one. Fond of games, I obliged the gung-ho knight’s challenge.
“The porous skin of the Unman doubles as a respiratory system,” I explained to the girl loudly as I fought. “The inner layer stores oxygen, letting the Unman remain subterranean. By covering the Unman in flaming oil, you effectively suffocate them by burning up these oxygen reserves. Since their heart-brains are mobile organs, a constant source of oxygen is needed at all times— though it’s actually a very tiny amount.”
“The demon knowth much of our ways,” the knight grunted. “Alas, he speaks erroneously. Burning doth nothing by itself. The mixture expelled by my spear is chemically designed to penetrate Unman skin. No mere oil can do such a thing.”
Fleurette gaped, bewildered by the action unfolding around her. It was probably a poor time to explain the mechanics of the knight’s killing technique. No ordinary human would have the means to obtain such advanced military-grade technology. This man was clearly a Chevalier… which meant more bad news for Lyonnais. Since Fleurette seemed so impressed with the
Chevalier’s simple tactic, I decided to demonstrate my own.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” I said.
I slid my blade completely out of the holster built into my armor. 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. The Chevalier jumped at the sight of my preparation, finally recognizing the make of my old bombardier battle-suit. He dashed frantically at Fleurette, snatching her away. Girl in tow, the Chevalier pole vaulted himself high into the air using his spear.
The Unman horde retreated underground. The technique I’d been readying was ingrained in their species, having been slain so many times by it in the past. I had not donned this horribly clunky and archaic armor for its looks. Back when the people of Earth were still a united against the Unman, suits like mine were developed to wipe them out en masse. I flung the red rings off my sword, and the sky showered bright crimson. Explosions lit up the ground in fifty foot radius around me and disintegrated most of the Unman, both above and below the ground. I dove down into the flaming crater left by my attack. I plunged through the inferno sword first, piercing the vitals of the screaming survivors, one after another.
The Chevalier plummeted from the sky, clutching Fleurette. The force of the blast had set the knight up for a fall even his thick armor could not handle. The Chevalier’s neck snapped upon impact with the ground, killing him instantly. The fool gave his own life to ensure the girl would lose hers, staying death’s hand from Fleurette’s neck once more. I pulled myself up from the crater, smoking and covered with ash. The humans who invented that explosive technique intended it to be suicidal, last ditch attack. I, of course, found a loophole.
When the smoke cleared, Fleurette’s tearful grimace awaited me. I expected to be chastised for nearly killing her, but the battle had left the girl too flustered to speak. I pried off the Chevalier’s helmet and examined the tattoo and serial number on the back on his neck. The “Star-Crossed Crescent,” symbol of the Judo-Christian-Islamic faith. Another big player. This explained Atelier’s interest in Lyonnais. The current war between the two factions appeared to be heading south.
“You didn’t… have to kill him,” Fleurette moped, wiping the blood from the dead man’s face.
“As it happens, I would have,” I said. “Which type of soldier travels alone? A scout. If a scout fails to return, the army waiting for him is delayed and reluctant to advance. That Chevalier couldn’t have had any other destination besides Lyonnais.”
“Still… He wanted to protect me…”
“And he will. Take the armor.”
“What!? No! Have you no respect for the dead?”
“This is made of enriched-aluminum, mass produced and able to fit any size,” I said, unlocking the armor. “It’s adjustable, able to fit even a child.”
Fleurette shook her head repeatedly, her cheeks streaming with tears. I stripped the knight completely. One did not reserve dignity for the likes of a Chevalier. Human clones, churned out on an assembly line and brought up just as soullessly… A pitiful existence, indeed. The more dignified sects of humanity living out in the stars banned the practice ages ago, along with android slavery and other atrocities still booming down on Earth. In truth, as sick as the practice seemed, Chevaliers were a necessary evil on Earth. Without them, the constant wars would’ve rendered humanity an extinct species long so.
“The excess plating snaps off like so,” I said, fixing the armor. “Now it will easily fit you.”
“I don’t care. I won’t wear it…”
“Then you willfully waste his sacrifice.”
Fleurette cringed, stripping naked. The merciless wind of hot steam and sand carved its mark into the girl’s already scarred skin. I stepped her into the dead man’s boots and clicked them down to fit her petit feet. I fastened the belts on the back on armor, pulling them tightly. After securing all the bolts securing the various pieces of metal plating that covered the exterior of the stretchy latex battle suit, I picked up the Chevalier’s helmet and handed it to her.
“I’ll make do with milady’s goggles,” Fleurette said solemnly. 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 bestial fur— some human— carpeted floor. I killed a pack of confused unman toddlers then waved Fleurette in.
“This is where you will rest.”
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 unman that 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?”
“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. The girl did not need to know of the true peril looming overhead. The resulting anxiety would only slow us down.
“I advise you to sleep as soon as you are able,” I replied sternly. “The answer to your question hinges on our expedience. However long it takes me to determine the shortest route will be all the time you’ll have to rest. We’ll be venturing into the darkness, making the Unman’s path to Lyonnais our own.”
Fleurette slipped immediately into a deep sleep. Peace found itself on the maid’s battered face. The scraps of mankind that remained scoured the entirety of their boiling planet seeking happiness, ignorant to the fact it only existed in unconsciousness. I envied the girl’s hope as much as I did her stupidity. You cannot have one without the other…
…and I’d lost both over time.