“Steady,” orders Pilot. “Left.”
The two fairies on the gun team adjust the weapon. Armed with two wooden, affixed rods that are attached to the sides of the barrel of the Kerzenzünder machine gun, one of them pulls and the other pushes as the weapon’s aim turns toward the horizon, over which wanders a single, sniffing gestalt that prowls the wastelands — some strange, shuffling monster that is neither a primitive undead, nor a hobgoblin. It seems to be something… in between. The front of the gun is mounted on a home-made bi-pod. They’re up on top of the steep cliffs, which nobody except the fairies can easily get to. He had to do a bit of climbing himself. It's a good spot for a raised and concealed firing position.
“Jol?” asks Pilot, standing behind the fairy on the gun’s trigger, bracing her shoulder against the stock as she looks down the sight.
“I got it,” replies Jol, the fairy, wiping a strand of obscenely red hair out of her face. Fairies are interesting, they seem to be the most ‘magical’ out of all of the races. This extends so far as to their hair and eye colors, which naturally move into the exotic colors one would usually only find on poison frogs and strange birds. The other races all seem more natural and familiar in their tones of hair, skin, and eye. Her free hand lifts the safety off before she rests her head on the stock. “Firing!”
— The forest roars with the voice of a demon, metal rattling like the jangling of countless teeth as she pulls down on the trigger of the gun with two fingers.
A wild, uncontrolled spray of bullets cuts across the horizon in several directions, kicking up clouds everywhere in the ashlands as the enchanted, incendiary bullets make impact. Lines cut across the world from left to right as the two fairies next to the bi-pod hold the barrel of the gun steady together with Jol’s aim as she targets the monster. The fairy’s body shakes, rattling over the ground like in a quake as the vibrations of the machine gun carry down through her small form. Pilot watches as her legs slide almost a full ninety degrees from where they were after a few bursts of fire. The tail wags the dog.
“Hold your fire,” orders Pilot.
“Did I get it?!” asks Jol excitedly, lifting her head and pulling her hand off of the trigger.
“I think you did,” says the fairy to the left, holding his hand above his eyes to watch the distance.
“I wanna shoot next!” says the fairy to the right.
Pilot stands there with a narrowed gaze, watching the horizon as the dust settles.
— On all fours, something shoots out of the fallen cloud, bursting their way with horrifying speed, running like a canine.
“Fire!” orders Pilot, Jol screaming in panic as she pulls down on the trigger again. The Kerzenzünder lashes out, and the other two fairies, not having been prepared for the kickback, fail to hold it steady and they stumble around. The arc of the gun casts over the horizon, sending bullets flying indifferently in all directions that vaguely belong to the concept of ‘forward’, which would be a terrifying arc of suppressing fire under normal circumstances. However, the undead are hardly impressed by such a concept. The monster runs on all fours like a hound, its joints bent at a sick, deeply inhuman animal as it sprints toward the cliffs in an indistinguishable ambulation, the dirt all around it kicking up as bullets impact everywhere else. Every one of its legs moves out of order with the other, somehow propelling it forward, but in a rapid, unbalanced rush that looks like its about to fall over with every step it takes. The fairy screams as the machine gun fires, burning through a good few hundred rounds every few seconds.
“Steady,” barks a voice in the fairies ear as Pilot drops down next to her, his arm reaching over her back as he grabs the weapon's trigger himself, holding the cooking weapon with the other hand as he adjusts the firing arc, pulling the stream coherently together and aiming it downward toward the entity that has breached the wastelands and is, at its current pace, a good ten seconds away from the cliffs. The panicked fairies scream in his ear together with the gun as the weapon is diverted toward its proper course.
— Something howls.
And that howl is quickly silenced as thirty-seven 7.92.55mm incendiary bullets rip through the ghoul’s core, quickly eliminating any capacity for the creature to be a creature anymore as it is evaporated in a hail of blazing gunfire. The Kerzenzünder clicks as it empties, a trail of smoke wafting from its glowing, superheated barrel up toward the sky.
Pilot eyes Tango for a while, just to be sure, but it looks very dead. Excited wings buzz below him, fluttering against the sides of his shirt. “…Can you stay there and teach me to aim this way?” asks Jol.
“I wanna go next!” yells the fairy from the side, dropping the rod attached to the bi-pod and yanking on Pilot’s arm to lift it off of Jol.
“No way! It’s my turn!” snaps the other one, with Jol trying to fight them both off from beneath him as Pilot stares down the gun, ignoring them.
— The corpse continues to twitch.
But the fire takes it, and soon there is nothing left except for a squeaking in his ear as three fairies have devolved into biting each other.
“Wire,” says Pilot, laying out the drawing over the table for the librarian, Schtill, to look over.
“What?” asks the elf with the scars and mutilated ears, looking over his latest plan. “What’s this for?”
“Wire,” repeats Pilot. “For the cliffs.”
She looks up his way. “…What?”
— Meeting his gaze, which is already directly looking toward her eyes, she quickly lowers her head again and instead looks over the drawing.
It’s a coil of wire, like that used for clockmaking or many alchemical set-ups. However, this one is different. This metal wire is frayed and tattered, like a thread someone pulled apart along its edges. It’s barbed, like a bramble of thorns.
“Barbed wire?” asks Schtill, reading the word’s he crudely printed on the top with some ink. She lifts her hand, rubbing the back of her head below her hood. “I can give this to the smiths, but… they’re all busy now already,” she explains. “There’s so much going on. The mines, the carriages, the walls, the rifles, the bolts and arrowheads…” The elf shakes her head. “Honestly, we’re at our limit already. We’re spread too thin,” she explains. “We only have ten good metalworkers, and they’re running on no sleep as is.”
“It’s important,” replies Pilot, digging into his pocket and pulling out a few packets of the pharmaceutical grade 'focus and energizing' medication that he is supplied with from the Kestrel's emergency rations. He slides them over the table to her. "Tell them to take these."
Slowly, Schtill the librarian lifts her head again a little after looking at them, but this time only enough to look at his neck. “…How much do you need?”
Pilot lowers himself down somewhat into a partial squat, looking into her previously hidden eyes. “Kilometers,” explains the man, staring at her.
— She quickly spins around, pulling her hood down deeper. “Don’t look at me!” yells the elf, raising her voice as she tugs on the fabric of her robe.
The forest rustles around them as the two of them stand there in silence, the warm spring winds carrying through the valley and shaking the many trees ever so softly. Birds sing in the gentle tempest.
“Soldiers get scars,” says a voice from behind her.
Schtill purses her lips, turning back around partially to look his way. She hisses beneath her teeth, not interested in someone else telling her some stupid story about how she’s perfect the way she is, like everyone in the old world used to do before they politely walked away before she could see their contorted, fake expressions. “Well I wasn’t! I was just -”
— Suddenly, the elf lets out a sharp cry in surprise, staring at the bare stomach and chest on the other side of the table. Pilot has opened his jacket and lifted his shirt.
From top to bottom, his stomach and torso are marked with holes and streaks, like the marks left behind after the strikes of many blades and piercing arrows. The marks of fire and the claws of ice, which burn much the same in winter, cover his trained body. Schtill yelps, covering her eyes. “What- what- what are you doing?!” she yells, peeking through her fingers as he lets his shirt drop back down again.
She looks up toward his face from between her hands over her face as he shakes his head. “You are one now,” replies Pilot.
Schtill yanks down on her hood, turning away and biting into her collar for a time. It's quiet as she pulls on her hair below her hood for a time, the noises of the forest and of the settlement filling the silent air as she shuffles on the spot, not sure how to stand without feeling awkward. “Sheesh… I hate this,” mutters the librarian after a moment of silence, letting the fabric fall back out of her teeth. “I just want to read my books in peace. I don’t want to do all of this stuff!” yells the elf, crossing her arms with her back turned to him. “For the one book you gave me, I already did way more than enough!” Schtill lowers her head. “We’re even now. I’m done," she explains, nodding. "I quit.”
“I understand,” replies Pilot immediately.
She opens her eyes again, staring into the forest ahead of her.
The elf stands there with crossed arms, listening as he rolls together the sketch he had brought behind her, pockets the medicine again, and then just turns and walks off. The grass crunches under his boots as he moves further and further away, back toward the settlement. That's it. There's no complaining, no arguing, and no demands or threats. He just leaves.
Looking back over her shoulder, but only slightly, she watches as he actually, really just… walks off, just like that. …He isn’t going to argue with her? Why not? Maybe she’s gotten too used to people trying to argue their late fees away when they came back with overdue books to the library, but… why is he just leaving and not even trying to bargain or argue with her about this?
Perhaps that’s what a natural interaction for her is just like these days, since she hasn’t talked to anyone outside of the context of her work for years, or maybe it’s just what she wanted to happen because… she doesn’t know, just because. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes you just want someone to yell at you, for you. Life is hard and complicated. But here he is, just walking away and respecting her spoken desire to be left alone like an asshole instead of shouting at her like she was actually hoping for.
“Hey!” yells Schtill, turning around, her fists clenching beneath her sleeves, which are just somewhat too long, so that the fabric always catches in her grip whenever she does anything.
The librarian runs after him, snatching the piece of paper out of his hands and taking it back with her to her collection as she mutters incoherently beneath her hood. She hates people. They're so unnecessarily complicated.