/quest/ - Quests

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Crossing the Rubicon Cammy #Kmkshj 09/15/2022 (Thu) 22:53:20 No. 827
Take 2 Kicker, a herreras and a claw captain of the 557th squadron of the great Mountain's grand army, deadpanned. Lowtail, herreras and claw on-field medic, grinned at Kicker. “A group photo.” She said, crossing her arms. “You know we'll have to burn it, right?” “It'll stay here.” Lowtail poked his head. “This is the furthest we've ever been from the mountains, and it's not like we're doing anything else.” As he said that Snapper, a feather, landed near them and picked up a bag. They were about to cross a very rickety bridge over a very deep creek, and nobody trusted the bridge to bear the weight of their equipment so Snapper was flying it across beforehand. They'd been marching counterrootwise for ten days and then ten more now, tailed by a tooth unit, under strict orders to avoid being sighted (Or, failing that, deal with anyone who saw them) and to signal the tooth of anyone who might see him. Kicker hugged herself a little tighter. “Fine. But we burn it.” “And you have to be in it.” Added Lowtail. Kicker grunted under her breath. “Boss.” “What… Scraptooth.” She said, sliding a claw to the shotgun on her waist. Scraptooth laid, bored, on the ground, oblivious to the… thing silently coming out of the sand behind him. “Captain.” He saluted. “What's with the look?”
Burning it? Seems awfully harsh, though I guess eating it's another option. Burning it leaves smoke, ash. Leaving it would be an obvious sign that someone's been here. If your goal is to leave no evidence, eating it's actually the smarter choice. Besides, what's the contents of the photo anyway? Can't make new memories, new photos if you're dead.
GYF >>829 addressing this one later TGCh >>1043929 >>1043930 “Move!” She yelled as she swung up her shotgun; She had no need to aim at this range and Snaptooth was jumping from the awkward position, reaching down a hand to his gun, not knowing the threat's reach but trying to get out of it. With Snaptooth's shell pointed at Kicker she fired, and was already loading another shell by the time she confirmed two of the… claws? were bloody useless messes now, and there were several craters on the… chitin? Bone? Lowtail fired his pistol quickly, hitting its claws and legs as it continued to crawl out of the sand, and she pushed him back to the bridge to make him retreat and stretched her claw to pull Snaptooth away from that thing. She wasn't fast enough. Even with all the damage it had taken in the span of a few seconds, even with Lowtail firing twice again as he moved, it still hadn't made a sound or even responded to anything beyond bucking a little when shot, and not caring any for it's wounded claws or legs it grabbed Snaptooth's tail and lifted him in the air, quickly wrapping several claws around his barrel and hips to secure its catch. Snapthoot screamed an obscenity, unloading his gun on the creature as it ran away carrying him.
Edited last time by this user on 09/16/2022 (Fri) 19:22:27.
>>831 This is the Split Head boss from Silent Hill 1 - clearly, you should be shooting it in the mouth!
GyFl >>834 TGCh >>1043945 There wasn't any choice on the mater. Kicker and Lowtail dropped to four legs to keep up with the thing and gave chase, trying to think of anything they could do. The thing was fast and (however slowly) gaining distance, even though it was wounded and carrying Snaptooth who had dropped the empty gun and was trying to fight his way out of the hold with a knife. “Go for the head!” Snapper yelled behind them. How were they supposed to? The damn thing had no head! “Boss, I've heard of these things.” Lowtail said. “Bug weapons! They take you to a pack if they can't get you on the spot!” Were they so many claws around Snaptooth a moment ago? He was fighting just to keep a hold of the knife now, surrounded by more and more of them. Snapper's loud, penetrating whistling made them jump sideways on reflex, and the creature must've noticed them because it tried to jump as well. Snapper's bullet passed between Kicker and Lowtail with a sharp whine and a blast of hot air, clipping the side of the creature as it pounced. The meat it touched exploded, tearing skin and muscle down to the bone. And even then it continued to run, without any blood and barely acknowledgment of the wounded leg. More claws emerged from wherever they did, reaching for Snaptooth's neck.
Edited last time by this user on 09/16/2022 (Fri) 21:33:17.
>>835 If going for the head isn't working go for the legs, especially the joints. A creature with broken legs can't run away. Flanking with Kicker and Lowtail should suffice But be wary! If that thing came out of the sand like that there could be more waiting in ambush.
>>837 “The legs! Aim for the legs!” Kicker yelled at Snapper, pointing at them. He whistled an affirmative, punching the rifle's lever. Kicker made a few quick claw gestures as she ran again, and Lowtail nodded his own affirmative following her lead. They ran in an arc, willing to lose some ground against the creature. Would another one come out of the sand under their feet? Kicker didn't know, but had no time to care beyond a split second of consideration and mental preparation for such a thing happening. Now that they weren't between Snapper and the creature, he gave no warning before shooting and turning a chunk of the creature's already damaged hindleg into a red- no, magenta mist with his next shot, sending fragments of flesh and bone everywhere, everything under the hip falling twitching to the sand. It almost lost its stride from the sheer force of the impact, but kept running on just three legs. It was slower and shakier now, and when Lowtail stood on its way and opened fire it tried to dodge him. That was all Kicker needed. She reached it when it turned, grabbing onto the thorn flesh with a claw and burying the bayonet of her shotgun on its side to get a proper hold. Before it had the time to react she climbed to its back, her bayonet coated in something more like tar than blood, burying her knife on its chitin not-head to anchor herself, making it sway between the weight of two armored herreras and a missing leg. “Snaptooth!” He couldn't answer, too busy biting the emerging claws and tearing them to pieces with his eyes blodshot from the yellow claws choking him, his serrated knife swinging wildly.
>>839 Now that Kicker is on its back have her shoot it in the back. More specifically in the spine or even in the area where the spine and pelvis meet. The shock or sheer damage of a point blank shotgun should kill or, at least, significantly damage. Snapper can continue with ranged supporting fire and aim for another leg. If Lowtail can grab enough of its attention then it could focus more on him than Snaptooth (for better, hopefully, or to give Snaptooth reprieve)
>>841 Kicker buried her bayonet on the creature's back and fired, creating a crater. It still didn't bleed, just made a small splash of magenta tar. But the creature, satisfyingly enough, shook from the hit, finally acknowledging something. Kicker loaded the shotgun again and buried it in the wound and shot again. Another crater and splash, this time not just flesh but bone as well, and the creature's one hindleg fell limp. It kept dragging itself on the sand, even as Kicker and Lowtail kept firing on it. And then, just as suddenly as it had emerged form the sand, it fell dead, body sagging down and wheezing from somewhere Kicker could see and the hands growing limp and letting Scraptooth fall, panting and clutching his throat. Lowtail was on him like a mother hen, pulling his claws away to properly look at it. “What's his state?” “He'll live.” Lowtail didn't look at her. “Nothing seems broken, but I need more time to tell and the inflammation won't let him breathe properly. I say we camp until tomorrow.” “The Teeth won't like that.” Scraptooth wheezed. “He can choke on a chode. Status?” “Thing tastes horrible.” Scraptooth tried to smile but it was grim, with skin and bone stuck between his teeth. “Was about to pull grenades when you jumped on, boss.” Lowtail nodded absent mindedly as they spoke, looking at the yellow creature. “They were bug weapons. Mines. They'd bury the eggs and they hatch to capture or kill you if you walk over.” Kicker knew she'd heard about that, but needed a moment to remember clearly; The bugs just had so many weapons. “But the war was… over a hundred years ago. I thought the eggs had all died.” “I thought so too. Maybe this one got lucky?”
TgCh >>1044235 “That's the kicker, isn't it?” Snapper said, flying over them, and did a flip in the air to pass the large rifle from his feet to his claws before landing with a distraught look on his face. “Wars keep going after they end.” Lowtail was visibly uncomfortable at a friend and feather saying this, but Kicker asked him, however softly: “You think they're planting fresh eggs?” Snapper and Lowtail considered the possibility, but the former shook his head. “No. That'd be a lot of movement on the border and they've never cared about us.” Still, there was a weight in their chests. Once they crossed this bridge they'd be in bug territory- and not just for a day or two or to take the easier path, which was common occurrence. They'd dash deep for a mission she wasn't authorized to give them the details of until after crossing. Saying they were about to violate maw-bug peace treaties was putting it mildly and bugs, peacefull neighbours as they were, had almost no concept of diplomacy or gradual escalation. They'd investigate, ask questions, and if the answer didn't satisfy them they might attack on full force. “If we fuck up we're on our own, aren't we?” Asked Lowtail. “If.” Kicker said drily. She might not be authorized to tell them anything just yet, but she could assure them they weren't burning a village or something. She offered Scraptooth a claw and more or less coerced him to climb to her back. “That's enough, people. We're burning the body, crossing the bridge, and camping.” The whole time they spent moving and setting up the camp, a nagging thought kept coming back to Kicker, that the teeth would be quite happy, quite happy indeed, if fang were at war again. Types like him went into withdrawal without it. ------------------------------ Later in the evening, as the rimlight faded, they sat by a fire. The bridge had been on its last tether before they crossed and they'd spent the last half of crossing it with planks cracking and even collapsing under their feet, and a strong breeze would've been enough to send them all tumbling to the rapids below. The season had been hot and dry, though, and the rapids below were little more than a tickle and this had probably given the bridge a slightly longer last breath of life. She counted her team lucky for this, and didn't expect the bridge to still be there come morning. “Can the teeth cross this?” Asked Lowtail. “I know they're big, but…” “It's his problem if he can't jump it.” Kicker replied without giving the mater any mind, and asked Scraptooth. “How's the neck?” “I'll be fine in the morning.” He wheezed. “Boss, the orders.” She nodded and took a small scroll from a pocket under her plate. “We are to reach site one, secure the facility, and wait for the teeth. Once he's there we look for…” She read the scroll. “'A cylinder seventy centimeters in width and a hundred and twenty in height.'. He will then deem if it's a threat, and if we are to take it to the Mountain or destroy it on the spot through explosives. Site two, three, and four are possible settlements we'll have to go around.” “I can blow things up.” Said Scraptooth. “But blowing up something that size discretely is difficult.” “Where's site one?” Asked Snapper. The initial briefing hadn't had any specific coordinates. She took out a map and pointed it to them. Deep in bug jungle. They couldn't write it down either- another security measure pushed by upper brass. “Any other questions?” She asked.
TgCh >>1044256 “Facility?” Asked Lowtail. “Well. That's new. Of what kind?” “I don't know. I asked the same- neither brass nor the teeth would tell me.” Kicker poked at the fire to grab a piece of coal between her nails. “I'm unsure they know at all; Maybe we're not authorized to know, maybe we're acting as scouts in more ways than we realized before. But I don't believe we'd be tasked to secure it for the tooth if he had to help us do it. That puts two possible upper limits to how dangerous they expect it to be.” Snapper nodded, grimacing again. At least he had a bird's view, but some bugs could fly too. Not a lot, not as high as him, but some could. He'd have to be careful as they went deeper. “Not dangerous enough to overcome a teeth…” Lowtail mussed. “That's a very high 'upper limit', Kick. Not a lot of things that can threaten them one on one.” “It's something.” She shrugged, still contemplating the coal distantly. “Little things that slip by if you don't catch. We'll just have to find a way.” The rimlight was almost gone now, leaving just the dark night sky above her and the fire's red glow.
Later still, when the rimlight was all gone and the sky was empty blackness, Scraptooth woke up for his guard shift. Snapper could just barely be made out a few feet from the fire, his head almost covered by puffed up chest feathers. Scraptooth stretched, took a steel cup from the fire's coals, and sat with Snapper. The soup didn't taste like anything in particular and the diced beef jerky in it was leathery, but it was leagues above the flavor of the claws creature's arms. “What's the deal.” He asked after sitting for a few minutes. “What deal?” “What you said today about the war.” “That?” “If we're thinking about the same thing… that'd be the first time you bring it up to us.” Scraptooth took a sip of the soup. “I always found it odd you didn't. Pteryxe usually do.” “I'm army too. It'd look bad. And you're friends and weren't there, I don't blame you.” “What changed?” Snapper took his sweet time to answer, so long Scraptooth thought he'd fallen asleep or didn't want to answer. After a few minutes, though, he did: “Remember that pteryx a few weeks ago? During leave?” “Chick at the park?” “Yeah. Live eggs. Mine.” There was some disbelief in his voice, like he was telling it to himself as much as he was to Scraptooth. “I Received the news just a few hours before our orders.”
“Dude! You're a dad!?” Snapper glared at him, “I haven't told anyone else, don't wake them up.” “Got it. But what's weighting on you?” “The… Just, the weight of it. In general. She said she'd like to date, and see where it goes. And I can visit them one way or the other.” “Will you?” “I should. Would be an idiot not to give it a chance, wouldn't I? And there's so few pteryxe left, I should be there to raise them.” “Hey, no kids involved but been there. Dating someone you don't like?” Scraptooth gestured cutting his throat. “Don't do that. Bad for the kids too.” “Liked her well enough to roll around. Pretty laugh, nice face, good chemistry between us.” He smiled a little for the first time in a while. “But that's not it either. It's…” He trailed off into silence. “Start small.” Scraptooth said gently. “Well. I think about, my father used to talk about raising me right. Was mad about me joining the army… for a lot of reasons. But what stuck with me was the time he was drunk and told me not to dare die before he did. Too many pteryxe have buried their children as it is.” Scraptooth winced. “He's not wrong.” “And I think I really understand what he meant now. Or I'm starting to, at least. I never thought about starting a family, and how if you're lucky the kids are still there after you're gone. Helps you get why someone would die to end a war, or be willing to go through with one. A little bit of you is left.” The night moved on. Snapper fell asleep where he was at some point and the sky, black as ink, slowly lit up with rimlights. ------------------------------ The day was boiling. They were cold blooded- the heat was usually reason for mirth for claws, but today was too much and even them had to stop on the rare ocasions they ran into shadow. Only Snapper, who was flying too high for it, remained unaffected. Kicker found herself more than a little jealous of him and his wings as the day progressed. At around midday, a small light blinked in the sky, making her spit out a curse under her breath as she took a mirror to blink a roger-roger to Snapper, wishing it wasn't bad news. What followed was a series of blinked lights between them, the first advising Kicker to continue running to keep appearances. Then, in quick succession, the situation: Two bugs following them at a distance. No weapons or communication devices sighted. Skilled at tracking but not so much as to be reason for alarm, and experienced with the terrain. Not a particularly dangerous species, either. Most likely to be civilians.
/qst/ >>5417755 Kicker told Lowtail and Scrapthoot of the chasers and signaled Snapper to keep an eye on the chasers, but otherwise they kept marching through the desert. Sometimes they'd run across dead grass patches with a dried out pond in the center and gnarled trees either dead or waiting, leafless, for a drop of water to fall down and breathe life back into their trunks. On these spots they'd also see -and once, stepped on- the dried out carcass of some small critter, husked out into a pile of fur and bone by the elements. Whatever wildlife yet remained hid well, staying away from the herreras that trampled through their domains. But they didn't run into any good spot to lay an ambush during the day, no stone crops large enough or even tall enough grass to properly hide. Kicker knew the tall grass fields at the foot of the mountain where she could easily vanish by no more than lowering her head, and to her this growth, barely reaching her hips, was meek in comparison. Climbing vines coated in something like velcro would sometimes stick to their scales, irritating them to no end and getting stuck on their claws when they tried to get off. After the second patch of grass, they just let them cling until the rocky sand outside the oases took them off over time. They didn't run into any during the day, at least; As the rimlight faded they saw another mirror reflection and followed it, deviating slightly from their route, to a stone outcrop surrounded by grass. In the center, under the stone's shadow, was another dry pond. Ambush or not, they were tired, overheated, and needed the rest and cover of this place. Snapper waited perched atop the outcrop, staring into the distance.
/qst/ >>5418411 >>5418414 >>5418422 >>5418432 >>5418632 >>5418636 Kicker, Lowtail, and Scraptooth walked under the outcrop, looking for somewhere with a little shelter. It wasn't much, but there was a concave area on the stone where the pond had eroded it. But none of them moved start the fire even though, being cold blooded, they'd soon grow slow and morose without a heat source. Part of it was they were tired and still overheated, but other part was simpler: They weren't sure they wouldn't be jumped. Or if they'd lay a trap for the bugs. When Snapper landed, Kicker didn't waste any time. “What's the situation.” “Lost them a few minutes before signaling you here. They broke off from you and headed spinwards. Maybe back home. I couldn't keep track of them and you at the same time.” “Could you find where they went?” “Probably. Civilian places stick out in places like this.” “Think they'll follow us tomorrow too?” Snapper was surprised at the question; The “Deal with anyone who sees you” part of the mission was very loaded in an assignment the upper brass had treated so seriously. Still, he didn't take long to answer. “We'll find out.” He said with a small shrug. “They somehow foraged while tracking you. It looked like roots. So they could keep it up for who knows how long if they want to.” “Anything else?” “Yes.” Snapper did take a second to think about this. “It wasn't always two tracking you. Some time after I first signaled you, they spent most of the day taking turns to track you. Every two hours or so one would go away spinwards, and the other come back to take the spot. They know the terrain very well to be able to keep up with you and you and track each other so easily. Looked like they kept you on the very edge of their sightline the whole time.” “Could have another way to find each other.” Said Scraptooth. “Weird bug stuff. Smell or something.” “Land workers.” Lowtail chimed in. “Civilians, in as good shape as army, and know the terrain and how to eat off of it. So they're land workers. So…” He trailed off briefly. “…Are they coming to us or are we going to them?”
/qst/ >>5418940 >>5419730 “They can come.” “I'll start the fire.” Said Snapper, opening his wings. “You cool off.” They took off their armors and first sat, then laid, on the cool sand. The rimlights faded little by little, and they stuck to their water provisions for the night; The heat only meant they had to last. They ate lightly and Snapper, who was warm blooded, took the first watch. The night was uneventful. ------ Come morning they cleaned their camp, mixed the ash with sand until it couldn't be made out anymore, and stored all the coal left in small pouches; if it became necessary they could burn it, inside the pouches, between their chainmail and armor to warp themselves up. Once everything was done they stood still for longer than they needed to, Scraptooth and Snapper sharing nervous looks. The bugs didn't come, and after some time Kicker walked then ran off without a word followed by the other herreras, and Snapper waited a bit longer before taking flight. Maybe he'd have to signal the tooth too if things didn't go smoothly, which was never pleasant. An hour later, Kicker cursed under her breath -and immediately felt dejà vu- when Snapper signaled her again with a light. This time it was higher priority, and he rushed his message the moment she confirmed contact: He'd sighted the bugs again, but this time they weren't followed them yet. Instead, they'd taken something metallic from the sand under their camp Snapper couldn't make out through his scope.
tgch >>1045103 “Something— did either of you see anything metallic under the outcrop?” Kicker asked without stopping running, feeling frustrated and still tired from the heat the day before. Something buried under their camp? Was it dangerous? “No, like what?” Asked Scraptooth. “Snapper couldn't tell.” “Well, it was a pretty good spot.” Said Lowtail. “Maybe they've camped there before and left it there, and they took it before someone else came?” For some reason, the idea of the bugs making metal things was difficult for Kicker to accept. She pictured them as just… bugs, which they were, even though she knew full well they had made some use of normal weaponry during the war. But she pushed the surprise to a side and tried to think of any other explanation. After a moment, she just gave up and shook her head. “We'll find out when and if it maters.” That if and when happened a couple hours later. As twilight just began to tint the sky a light pink, Scraptooth stopped running suddenly. The others stopped just as quickly with their claws scrapping against the rocky sand for a few inches, and Kicker knew, with just a look at his face, he'd fucked up and he knew it. “A can.” He said, and opened his bags to run a quick inventory, muttering to himself. Then, when he was done, he closed it. “Boss. They didn't bury anything, I left a food can at the camp.” Army rations didn't have much writing, other than dates and -alleged- contents… but they were army rations, and that was enough. Everyone carried at least one day's worth, and it was a *trace* that'd tell the bugs almost nothing, but just enough. She didn't say anything; Her expression was enough for Scraptooth and Lowtail. The later racked his brain intensely and spoke up, “I- I must've buried it. When we were taking care of the ash, or the coals.” A moment passed. “Boss?” She turned away from them, took out her mirror, and signaled Snapper. The message was simple: To tell the tooth tailing them to delay his progress for one day. Whatever happened she didn't want him making a bigger mess out of things, and with his size he could easily retake the lost distance. Snapper noted his discontent in the answer, but roger-rogered on it. The second part of the message was what was more complicated, to find out where the bugs had gone. He roger-rogered again, but added they'd save time by heading spinwards while he located the track. It'd save them time. And now there was Scraptooth and Lowtail to take care of. Kicker rubbed her temples.
On the third day after crossing the bridge, the squad took refuge from the sun under another stone outcrop. It was just too hot today, and Lowtail had ended up pulling rank as medical officer to tell them to take a break, which he others didn't argue with. Truth be told, while Kicker was too exhausted to talk and say it out loud, the only reason she hadn't done it earlier was she was in too much of a stupor to think clearly, and it took until a moment after they found refuge and caught their breath for the brain fog to diminish. It was a shorter but wider column coming out of the sand, surrounded by a dry lake and dead grass and trees like the last one had been. Less than an hour later, they got a message through Snapper that the teeth had reached the same conclusion as them, and buried himself in the sand to sleep during the day and travel from noon to morning. “So the big guy feels it too.” Snaptooth joked, leaning on the cool stone. “Not so though after all.” “The size makes heat worse.” Replied Kicker without thinking, her eyes fixed on the horizon. If one could just survive this desert for as long as they wished and keep walking away from the root, one could reach almost halfway across the leaf before being stopped by the ocean. Beyond the bug lands lived glimmers, distant cousins of the herreras, and past that strange creatures wrapped in feather or fur, and animated marionettes who were said to live and remember forever. When was the last time she had even thought about any of this? “Just joshing. He must've been pushing himself hard to keep with us in this weather, huh?” “It'll be bad for him if we don't run into water soon.” Kicker said without concern in her voice. “Have you ever met a glimmer?” “A tolsoy? Yeah. A family of them visited when I was a kid, we played while our parents caught up and they showed off how they could crawl on the ceiling, and were super squishy.” “Do you think it's true they live so far so the teeth can't reach them?” “One needs a lot of patience for tyrs sometimes.” Scraptooth chuckled a little. “But you really believe all that?” “That the glimmer…” “No, no.” Scraptooth interrupted her, “That the tyrs die if they go too far from the root.” “Of course.” Lowtail seemed to wake up from his stupor, and gestured at them to wait while he rubbed his face. “It's true, we examined a body at med school. The air thins out the further you go and adult tyrs are too big and suffocate.” “I heard if you keep carrying them further they explode.” Said Scraptooth. “Well that's bull-” Lowtail started, but stopped with a frown. “I… guess? Maybe? Kicker.” “Yes?” “We sleep through the heat too. Doctor's orders.” They didn't argue with that either and started a small, perfunctory fire away with a pile of large branches near it. They laid away from it, and it was more like allowing themselves to pass out than falling asleep. >1/2 Didn't like >>869 so consider it soft removed
Kicker woke up to the thunderclap of a gunshot. Her nerves were on end. Her pupils dilated, her muscles tensed to a near breaking point, ready to pounce and claw and bite before any coherent thought had formed. Before any of them was fully lucid Kicker, Lowtail, and Scraptooth were in a threeways back to back, reaching for guns that weren't there in holsters they weren't wearing. Their gear laid, in a pile, inches from there they'd slept. A shell the size of their fingers fell to the ground nearby, still hot and smoking. Kicker had the time to untangle the mix of reflex, trained instinct, and intuition she'd acted on. Snapper had fired from the air, which meant he'd take much longer to reload as he did the complicated air maneuvers required to operate a gun while flying. She didn't see anyone, though the rimlights were all gone and the world beyond their fireplace was inky blackness, and the others were still which meant they hadn't either. The brain fog hadn't quite gone yet, and the verse of some poem forced its way to her thoughts, “Silence cracks open the halls of the dead” She was still facing the horizon and counterrootwards, and Scraptooth and Lowtail facing her left and right. Behind them, covering their rootwards flank, was the stone outcrop. >2/2
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tgch >>5426020 They took their weapons and a handful of shells each and made themselves ready, but nothing jumped them immediately. “Gear up on ones, go!” Scraptooth readied his aim on her side and took his shell, which normally protected his explosives from gunfire, as a shield while Lowtail, being the medic, put on his chainmail. Another shot, and a couple seconds later another casing fell near them, this time outside the light cast by the fire. Why hadn't Snapper perched on the stone to shoot yet? Firing while flying didn't just slow him down, it impaired his aim. Nothing ran into them screaming, no fire rang in the distance, nothing but the complete darkness outside the light cast by their fire under an empty sky.
/qst/ >>5427523 tgch >>1045724 Kicker looked away from the fire into the dark to keep her night eyes and tried to figure out what it could be: If it wasn't shooting back it was likely an animal, something that gave Snapper some reason to shoot from the air rather than perch. Her gut told her something bigger was going on, a feeling she couldn't place her claw on because, she realized in that moment, she'd been carrying it for days now. This… skirmish, if it's what it was, had just made it more intense. Given it something to point itself towards. A white fl- no, a reflection! It was gone in an instant but her gun was already trained on the spot, and Scraptooth aimed his own gun at the same spot. Lowtail tightened the buckles on his chainmail as quickly as he could behind them. Scraptooth had the better throwing arm and she wanted her nighteye. “Light wood and throw it.” He moved. Wood crackling. Another shot, another casing. Silence. Clacking; Lowtail must've begun mounting his plate. Scraptooth took one of the branches, felt it's weight, and threw it with a gentle swing of his arm. Finally, a slight sound: skittering as the torch flew. A pair of white reflections (Wide and curved things) and by the time the torch landed, nothing was lit by it but sand. She looked away from it and waited for Scraptooth to throw another, training her ear. Skittering. Who knew how many tiny feet moving at once on the sand. Lowtail, wearing just the most vital parts of his plate, tagged Scraptooth's shoulder, who tagged Kicker. “Boss. Your turn.” “You first.” Scraptooth gave her his shell for cover and slid back to put on his chainmail. “Give me one.” Kicker stretched her claw. Lowtail put a lit branch in it, “We throw together in three.” “Roger roger.” One. Silence. Scraptooth slipping into his mail behind them. Two. Skittering. Three. Lowtail threw and she waited a split second longer, eyeing the trajectory of his branch. Hoping her guess was right, she threw at a nearby spot. More panicked skittering, his torch lit nothing but sand… then hers fell and lit… scarabs? Coating the ground, each the size of a child and with circular shells. It was like being lit by surprise turned off something in their brains, because they stood there, frozen in place, so many they were standing atop one another with their respectably sized mandibles waving slowly with their breathing. They were a layer on the ground more than a pile or a group, at spots three of four scarabs tall, their shells black and shinny. Were they aggressive? Were they [i]people[/i]? She couldn't remember any speaking bug like this, and they acted like animals so far… Another shot. Another case. But it was so many of them! They woke up from their dazed status and, all together, opened their mandibles and screeched low pitched whines as they trashed away from the light. More screeching came from the dark all around them, and five seconds later it stopped as suddenly as it'd begun and the only proof they'd ever been there was marks in the sand. Dust fell, sliding on the sharp incline of the stone outcrop.
Kicker glanced at the dust and back at the dark, dead still. “How many branches left in the fire?” “Three.” “Throw two. Spread them.” “Roger.” Silence. Lowtail threw a stick. Scraptooth hadn't put on his chainmail yet. Another shot. Another casing softly clacking against chitin somewhere in the dark. More silence. The seconds dragged. Was Snapper firing at these? She didn't think so. They weren't hostile, despite having them surrounded, they just… were drawn by the warmth, maybe? Another shot, surprisingly early after the last. Then another, and another, was Snapper just firing and reloading while freefalling? A new sound, soft stomping, faded in. The scarabs screeched again, but it was no use: yellow arms flashed into the light waving each a caught scarab, trashing and screeching. Another shot ran dangerously close, making a plume of purple goo splash into the sand as the shot creature ran away. And the scarabs didn't stop screeching this time, running into the light in their panic and biting at the air, tripping and flipping each other upside down. More dust fell and before Kicker knew it, red hot pain flared in the arm she held her shells with, scarabs falling from the stone outcop and biting on whatever they fell.
Kicker glanced at the dust and back at the dark, dead still. “How many branches left in the fire?” “Three.” “Throw two. Spread them.” “Roger.” Silence. Lowtail threw a stick. Scraptooth hadn't put on his chainmail yet. Another shot. Another casing softly clacking against chitin somewhere in the dark. More silence. The seconds dragged. Was Snapper firing at these? She didn't think so. They weren't hostile, despite having them surrounded, they just… were drawn by the warmth, maybe? Another shot, surprisingly early after the last. Then another, and another, was Snapper just firing and reloading while freefalling? A new sound, soft stomping, faded in. The scarabs screeched again, but it was no use: yellow arms flashed into the light waving each a caught scarab, trashing and screeching. Another shot ran dangerously close, making a plume of purple goo splash into the sand as the shot creature ran away. And the scarabs didn't stop screeching this time, running into the light in their panic and biting at the air, tripping and flipping each other upside down. More dust fell and before Kicker knew it, red hot pain flared in the arm she held her shells with, scarabs falling from the stone outcop and biting on whatever they fell.
tgch >>1046517 1/5
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tgc >>1047558 >>1047644 qst >>5443561 Kicker stared at the claw creature. There were… an orange thing and something else before, weren't there? What happened? She didn't remember blacking out. Her memory just cut out as drily as the sand under her was. She looked up, hoping and knowing the hope to be vain that she'd seen the glitter of Snapper's mirror telling her he was on his way to her. Shifting her position sent spikes of pain up her arm. It wasn't broken… not quite. But that bug had to have cracked the bone at least a little, and she worried the wound might be infected. She wouldn't be putting weight on it for, at minimum, a few days. Good thing when it came to firing she was ambidiextrous. But Scraptooth's armor shell! He wouldn't like missing it (No demolitions expert ever did; Without it his explosives were exposed to gunfire and the elements) but it was the only thing she had. She flipped it around with her good claw to check under it. The pockets inside the shell had a few bandage wraps, a half empty bottle of liquor, and scraptooth's water for the next two days. Under it she found a small candy which she ate thoughtlessly: The sweetness washed away a small but very needed bit of her worry. Her mouth felt parched, her whole body ached from the creature's rough handling and the scorching sun, her eyes stung, her arm was almost cracked, but even without being there Scraptooth found a way to ease her pain a little. She kept checking the pockets. The only other thing she found on it was a small piece of flint and steel- too small for her claws, but she could make it work. The wound on her arm hurt again, a pang like needles… and a bad omen for her. She wouldn't get away without more pain, wouldn't she? "Fuck damn it." She said, grabbing the liquor. If it was Scraptooth's there wasn't a chance in hell it'd be soft, and she considered taking a sip to dull the pain but decided against the idea. The pain was the only thing keeping her sharp, and sharpness was the only thing she had. Kicker didn't give herself any more time to dread it, and poured liquor on the wounds, and being alone as she was she allowed herself to cry out in pain. It was like molten metal washing into her body, the dulled pain of the inflamation rearing up into a full on scream up her arm, her teeth baring and jaw clenching so hard it hurt, but some part of her, kicked in by a combination of experience and training, noticed she was holding the liquor so hard the bottle was cracking, and she forced herself to relax the grip. Blackness climbed at the eye of her vision, but she willed herself, somehow, to close the lid of the bottle and set it upright of the sand, and to wrap bandages around the wound before it got dirty again. And then she didn't go unconscious- not quite, but there was a slackening of her muscles, a darkening of her vision, and a couple seconds or minutes that just slid by unnoticed. The pain began to fade, just a little bit, enough for her to stash the liquor and what bandages she had left back into Scraptooth's turtle shell. More time passed and the pain kept diminishing, even became bearable. >1/2
As time passed, and she was dangerously short of things to do (things she could do) so she examined the claw creature from a safe distance: It didn't have any noteworthy wounds (Just a few stray shots on the rear, all of them bloodless, probably Scaptooth's and Lowtail's) and she had the feeling, worrying on its own, it had just ran with her until it died of exhaustion. What possessed these things to be this way? School had taught her the bugs… made them, like a kid shapes putty, as weapons of war. Had they made them to just run to death? Shaped their… heads like an axe, or an open book? What kind of mind devised such a thing? Time passed. She was in the middle of the desert, with no way to find the rest of her team or any refuge from the scorching sun on sight. The mission required her to keep marching counterrootways and hope to encounter the others along the way, but marching on this desert with her scales uncovered was certain death. Even Scraptooth's shell wouldn't give enough protection. >2/2
tgc >>1047644 >>1047686 Kicker looked back at the creature, realizing what came next. She had nothing else she hadn't used but the dead creature. She walked to it slowly and feeling in her gut the thing would, any time now, rise up and stomp her into a paste, crawling slowly and keeping her good claw ready to attack. When it didn't jump up, she poked at it's gut with it. Bullets had pierced the hide, after all, it just didn't bleed after. Hopefully that'd make this easier. A second passed. Her nail was still prodding at the creature. It did not jump up. Little miracles. She buried her nail on its side to test the resilience. It was too hard for that. She buried her teeth instead. The flavor was bitter, disgusting sickening in the way all cold dead sun bleached meat is to a predator. But she kept digging her teeth in it, pressing until she poked a hole through… …and had to pull her head away in disgust,retching on an empty stomach: Flatulent gas was leaking out of the hole she'd poked in the smooth, furless hide, smelling of rot and somehow bitter like the smell of grass. The gas kept escaping for several minutes, the creature slowly deflating before her eyes, until it went from plump looking to a sack of bones. Once she was sure all the rot-gas had leaked out, she poked her nails into the hole and worked on expanding it. Most of her day went away on that, slowly tearing off the creature's gut skin. When she was done, she had a ragged patch that should work as a tunic. How long it'd last before rotting into nothingness, or if the desert heat would tan it, she had no way of knowing. And under the skin the creature was, not, anytihng she could call natural. It was made of flesh, alright, but there were no intestines or stomach, instead green and yellow structures that almost looked made out of fiber. What she guessed was a heart was right in the center, encapsulated by a hollow bone chamber, held in place by tendon and muscle. Around it were four… lungs that against all sense still moved, slowly, making whistling and wheezing sounds as they forced rotten air to move. And the oddest part was a chitinous skull embedded in the chest, in front of the heart chamber between two lungs, it's toothless snout elongated and with tubes running in and out of the mouth and neck, it's empty eyesockets letting her see what had to be a brain contained in a balloon made of transparent film. She didn't want to look at this. The bug exoskeleton of a skull might at any moment turn her way and say something macabre she'd rather not hear. The legs might move and crush her. The lungs might wheeze out a voice and ask to be allowed to die like all the other flesh around them. Night was falling and she was exhausted, but she wouldn't sleep. She wouldn't waste the cool air, and she wouldn't allow herself to lay again, vulnerable, near this pantomime of a living being. She covered her head and barrel on the skin, held it in place by wearing Scrapooth's shell, and didn't run away from the creature. >1/2
------------------------------ Next noon, she woke up half buried by sand. Had wind picked up during the day? She forced herself up through the weight of the sand and her gear and exhaustion, and looked at the horizon. The rimlights were fading as the sky turned to a pink hue, but she could still see the root perfectly and orient herself with it. She kept scanning the sky, hopefully. No glitter, no sign of Snapper. Had the fire… No. A waste of thought. She'd find out if she found out. Kicker took a deep breath, drank the day's water ration (A single sip out the canteen, and even that was too much considering how much she had), and started running again. Her stomach growled. She ignored it. ------------------------------ Another day passed. She woke up not buried this time, and looked at the last of her water miserably then up to the sky. No glitter. Back to the water. Her head felt about to burst, and her hurt claw screamed with her every motion. Something passed above her head, quick and small and whistling. A bullet. Adrenaline filled her. >2/2
>>1048721 Another shot. Kicker's anger took her over for a moment, and she found herself turning to growl at the aggressor. Another shot. Sand splashed her feet. ...to growl at an aggressor who wasn't there. Not right next to her, anyways. This was a sharpshooter. Another shot. This one just buzzed by her crouched head. Five now? ...not much of a sharpshooter. The rimlights were fading into dusk, but she was still perfectly visible. The rate of fire was respectable, but Snapper would've got her in one. She held the irrational want to laugh. That was the thirst and hunger and heat and loneliness, it had to be. She'd never be so unprofessional otherwise. Something slammed her on the back hard enough to make her stumble forward a coupld steps. Six shots, and the only hit was on her armor. The shots came from a rock outcrop a ways behind her.
tgc >>1048734 >>1048731 qst >>5456468 With no cover or weapons, her only options were to charge or to cower under the armor shell, and cowering would get her killed. Who knew how much ammo they had? Gunshots cratered the sand around her, and she turned around and began running in one swift motion, the sand slipping from under her feet from the sheer force the adrenaline conferred her legs. She bit her tongue and felt herself scream, forcing herself to move. Another shot flew by, gracing her neck. She lowered her head and shut off everything but running forward. Thirty steps. Sand cratered in front of her, splashing her face. Inhale. Exhale. Her legs pumped. Her wounded arm screamed. The sand kept sliding from under her. She adjusted her feet, shifted the angle slightly to adjust. More shots flew. Two graced her face, and one hit the shell and almost made her legs buckle under her. At some point she found herself at the rock outcrop. The shots had stopped a while ago, but she still twitched every time she expected one to happen. Like this, panting and forcing her breath to calm down, she walked all around the outcrop until she found a door. Ancient wood. Something engraved on it. She was still panting, but had almost calmed that down by now. Through the cracks in the door, she could peer ancient steps sculpted into the stone, going up a winding and twisting stairway. Kicker pocked her wounded arm into the hallway, but it wasn't shot off and, having no other options, she climbed up the steps. Coolness hit her like a brick wall when she entered, giving her a brief dizzy fit. The climb was uneventful other than that, and at the top she peeked her arm, then her head into the room. The bug inside wheezed as hard as she had after the charge, its legs shaking just with the effort of staying. Some kind of creature she vaguely recalled from photos of bug guns stuck to the side of its body, breathing more calmly, its long snout poking out the window almost a foot long.
tgc >>1048815 qst >>5457065 Kicker didn't waste time and jumped, arcing back her good claw during the motion and bending a knee to spring forward, allowing herself to freefall for less than a split second. For that brief instant, the dizziness and exhaustion and heartache stopped existing, replaced with the cold calculation of where and how to land the hit. She reached the right spot and sprung up her bent knee, noticing the bug was moving its arms. Time didn't slow down for her: Once violence exploded it only burst by faster and faster. She readied to use her wounded claw. The bug grabbed something from the windowsill- a gun aimed at her face. She slapped it out of the way with her wounded claw, and was surprised at how strong the bug's hold on its gun was. Flame burned at the back of the claw as the gunshot went wild, scrapping against her scales. The claw she'd swiped with connected: Without a thought she'd grabbed the by the shoulder with her good claw and was holding the gun at bay with the other, though she didn't have the strength to make him drop it. His strength continued to surprise her as she pinned it down, not quite managing to break out of her hold with his weak legs but able to match her arm strength equally. And, jut like that, the violence was over. She panted. He wheezed more. What now? The adrenaline would fade. They'd grow exhausted. “Here to finish the job?” He said, pronouncing it something like “'ere to fi'ish the yob”. She had noticed how rugged he looked, but by the mountain, his voice sounded ancient, and manic. It wasn't a wonder his legs were so weak and he'd missed so many shots. “What?” “Here to finish…” He wheezed again. “The others aren't answering. I knew the war never ended, I knew it…” War? The war had ended before her grandmother was born! She let him spin his wheels, catching her breath. “I keep asking the Whole for orders, and they say it ended, until they just stop answering… and now the others don't answer either. But you finished them off, didn't you? Your people was right patient, it was… I'm next, aren't I?” A small burst of strength came to the leg he held a pistol with, but she was able to keep him pinned. “Betrayers, sibling-killers…”
>qst >>5458245 >tgc >>1048822 “I have no quarrel with you.” She pressed his shoulder harder. “I am lost and looking…” Did she really want to mention her friends? The mission still required discretion. “…for safety and you shot me unprovoked.” “Like shit,” He trashed and screamed, shooting his handgun- she couldn't tell if on purpose or on accident, but it made her ears whistle. “A saur whould never, you'd never be here for no reason-”
tgc >>1049018 >>1049023 qst >>5459218 “You fought in the war?” “Yes!” “Then you know I could've killed you.” Kicker pressed his shoulder harder. “Do you think a herreras claw would stop at just cuddling if they wanted you dead?” He mumbled something, but cut it out and stopped the trashing, his antennae relaxing. “Good.” She continued, relaxing her grip just a bit. “I won't hurt you if you don't make me. Can I trust you?” The bug was frozen for a moment, tensing again, so rigid for a moment Kicker considered he might've had a heart attack. But he relaxed again, and mumbled out something. She let him go, still tense. He slapped his bug-gun rifle out of the wall, where it was waving its snout in the air, “You're lucky. Nancy almost shot your brains off.” “Nancy?” “My farshooter.” He said as he huddled down, crossing his arms and seeming to wither into the corner under the window. “Don't mater if you got them or this freak heat did. They're gone.” “Who is?” “My friends. Not answering the radio. Too old to go check.” Kicker turned around and scanned the room as he spoke: for being seemingly alone in the middle of nowhere, he was well stocked. He could probably last two more weeks if he ate as much as she did just on the jars here. And water! It felt like ages since she'd seen a whole glass of water, nevermind a bottle.
tgc >>1049116 “You have a name?” “Not for your kind.” The bug said, his voice surprisingly calm for how hostile the words were, and then gestured at the water. “What you looking at.” “I need water. And food.” “Stuff from the bottom shelf shouldn't make you sick.” He gestured at it with a leg, still huddling in the corner. “The others bring it.” “Your friends?” What did that have to do with making her sick? “Not them. The villagers. They bring me'n'my friends food and water. We kill beastlies that might attack them. Hunt for them when the heat's not killing us all. Chat and play poker sometimes. I tell the kids tales.” Before the bug was done talking Kicker had already taken a jar and had to stop herself from gulping it down in a second. “There's a village.” She said, trying to show some manners and not scarfing down the food. Little pieces of… it was meat, between her claws. Eat slowly. Lowtail would be mad if she made herself sick. “Where.” “Beats me. Haven't left post since I was a lad and the war started. Me and my friends, we swore we'd only be back when the war ended. Couple saurians at the village, good boys, good cooks.” He was silent for a moment, and added more sadly. “They haven't come for a time. May be too hot for them too.”
tgc >>1049354 “Excuse me, I got lost. Nancy is one of your friends? And she's not been answering the radio?” “Ay? Nay, saur. My friends are my lads, my troop, them's not been answering. We set up around here during the war, watched for incursions. Your kind was very insistent, lass. Almost respected it.” The bug made a gesture with his leg as if to say 'I was this close', and showed her his weird gun. “This is Nancy, see? Never seen a farshooter before?” “Not a bug one.” She didn't dare try touching it: The 'gun' was waving it's snout/cannon in her direction aggressively. “Not outside books, anyways. How do you know there's saurians at the village if you've never been there? Are they herreras like me?” “Because they visit me! And nah. They're… aqua, aquee…” He shrugged. “Something like that.” He said it like 'Sumetin' “You don't just shoot them too, do you?” “And why would I?” “You just shot me.” “Well look at yourself. Wearing some beastie's hide, and that on your back. Don't think I don't recognize saur army gear when I see it, aha.”
tgc >>1049535 >>1049522 "It's complicated. When did this village drop contact?" "Last visit was..." The old bug looked at the jars. "The week before this heat started. You heading there, lady?" "No. I have things to do." "Reckon it takes a good reason to keep marching on in this heat." "It's complicated." She repeated. "Can I stay here until tomorrow?" "You know how to play poker?" -- The next day, Kicker woke up not overheated for the first time in weeks. At first sight she'd thought the bug's hideout was just crudely dug stone, but now she looked at the ceiling and wondered if all the little carved patterns on the ceiling somehow helped keep the place cool. The bug was on the other side of the room; For all his acting like he was A-Okay with her he had never let her out of his sight nor the guns out of his reach. Nor had the guns themselves allowed her to be too close to them, or too far from their aim. "Rest well?" "Best I've had in a while." She tried stretching, but flinched when her wounded claw ached again. The inflammation was going down... but she was living rough, barely eating, and had used it to hold the bug in place. It'd take more than just a few days to heal a near-fracture. "You're welcome. What happened?" "Thanks. It was black scarabs." She massaged her wrist. The bug had given her wraps to bandage the gunshot wound on her hand, but it still hurt too. "They were in a panic at night." "Saurs call them rousebugs. Frisky fuckers. Barely worth eating, too- cook them and they'll poison you." "Ah. Can I..." "You want more of my food and water to travel." "I'm sorry." "Do me a favor in return: If you run into the village tell them I can only go alone for so long." "Sure." And that was it. She departed with one jar each of food and water. She trotted until the night ended, and buried herself in the sand as the rimlights relit and burned with scornful heat. -- The next two days were uneventful: She woke up, crawled up from under the sand, and marched on. The root and mountain behind her gave her a reliable compass to guide herself, to march counterrootways deeper into bug territory. Every afternoon she drank and ate just enough to not pass out during the day, and every afternoon she woke up convinced her wounds would be infected and this'd be it. -- On the third day, right as the rimlights lit, Kicker saw another stone outcrop. She took the detour, and it didn't take her long to find the door. This one, like the sharpshooter's, had some symbol carved on it. Well. Nobody had shot her on the way here. That was a good start, wasn't it?
tgc >>1049692 "Hello?" She knocked the door and called. Nobody replied, so she shouted- the hideout proper was probably up a fairly long flight of stairs. "Hello! Anyone here!" Nobody replied. A light breeze picked up, hitting her with hot air.
tgc >>1049899 “Hello!” She called again, pressing her palm to the wood. “I'm going in!” Nobody replied as she climbed up, or when she called out again near the top. The entrance proper was covered by a small curtain, and she steeled herself for what she'd see when she swatted it aside. It wasn't in vain. The sharpshooter had been right. A cicada laid dead for days or weeks, on a mattress in the corner of the room.
tgc >>1049921 >>1050011 Kicker scanned the room just in case, and had a scare when she saw a small bug hanging from the wall. But nothing happened, and it wasn't like any bug-gun she'd ever seen. Still, she kept it on the corner of her eye as she approached the corpse just in case. The check was quick and fruitless: It laid relaxed on the mattress, with no wound and barely any fluid around it, just some… spit? Bile? Around the mandibles. Maybe it had died on its sleep, at ease. There was a cold comfort. Next she checked the radio. The box itself was an ancient imported model from the outer rims of the leaf, far away from bug or saur lands- she guessed it was bought during the war. But the controls were legible enough, and maybe it had a builtin speaker? She poked at the controls, noting the bug on the wall was wired to the radio. The radio turned on. And the bug hung on the wall opened its mandibles, and began… buzzing static.
tgc >>1050064 Kicker looked back at the corpse, had it been poisoned? She was no doctor. Everything was at question. She sighed and turned back to the radio… alright, the bug on the wall was the speaker, was it the mic too? With that in mind she scanned through the frequencies, dronning out roger rogers to the bug. There was another burst of static, and the sharpshooter's voice blared out of the speaker-bug deafeningly loud. “Lady! Lady. Is that you?”
tgc >>1050119 >>1050142 >>1049354 “I think I found one of your friends.” She tried to keep a sensitive tone. “It's not good news.” He was silent for a moment. “Guessed so. I know her radio's buzz. She dead?” “Yes. I'm sorry.” “She die well?” “Looks like she was asleep. I can't tell if it was poison or the heat or age.” “No signs of fighting?” “No.” He was silent again. “There's worse deaths than sleeping, for sure.” Kicker didn't answer. “Told that fool her lookout didn't cool too good a million times, that we'd swap with her. But she said she had the place right how she liked it…” He trailed off muttering to himself briefly. “But we always knew we'd die in this damn war. Just didn't expect it to be from age or a freak heat.” Kicker spoke as delicately as she could. “Mister, the war's been over for over a hundred years. You beat us. We had to sign your treaties.” “Now you may even believe that, miss, but I was there. I saw you herreras rain mortar and fight with three limbs missing, and felt your tyrs shake the earth…” He trailed off again. “Your kind's not quitters, for good or ill.”
tgc >>1050180 Could she say he was wrong? She was infiltrating bug territory. Crazy or not, he'd been right about everything so far. “Alright. Are you going to need her food?” “I can kill myself trying to get it. Take all you can carry.” “Thanks. Do you want me to do anything with the body?” “The only thing one can do for the dead, miss.” --- An hour later, Kicker stood over the grave. She'd found a shovel and, in doing so, the cicada's guns- another pistol and rifle, hiding behind the shovel. They'd looked up to her quietly, not aiming their snout-cannonsat her but not letting them quite relax while she towered above them. She looked curiously, and backed off when they didn't do anything. The sand made it easy to dig, and she wrapped the cicada in her mattress and carried her, carefully, down the stairs. Her wounds and exhaustion made digging take longer than it should have and now she stood over the grave, with her back to the root and Mountain. She'd have to rush back in to sleep off the day's heat. “Why do I feel guilty?” She asked aloud. “I didn't do this.” The corpse, obviously, didn't answer. The guns stood on the hideout's stairway, looking at the grave. Their snout cannons were relaxed now. They'd starve, if she left them here.
tgc >>1050292 >>1050326 >>1050336 Was there something touching her leg? Kicker looked down with a start, reaching for a gun she wasn't wearing, but there was nothing. “And now I'm imagining things.” She said. The gun bugs were still on the doorway. “Come here.” She crouched. “I can take care of you.” They stepped back. “You'll die if you stay.” The rifle hopped forward, but instead of walking to her it skirted a wide circle around and dug a little on the grave, then curled and laid in the hole.
tgc >>1050477 >>1050485 >>1050326 “You're more clever than I thought, aren't you?” Kicker asked. “More than just animals.” The rifle didn't answer. The pistol, still on the doorway, watched them silently. “You don't have to lay and die here.” A small breeze. The rimlights, burning around them. The desert with its hollow silence continued to not-happen around them. “Would she want you to do this?” The rifle opened a single eye and kicked sand at her with its hindleg. It then closed its eye again, and that was that. “Very well.” She stood back up and stretched her back, hoping the rifle would take that little moment to reconsider. But it didn't, and Kicker returned inside. It wasn't as cold as the sharpshooter's, but it was enough for her to sleep through the day's heat. --- Kicker woke up exhausted, feeling like she'd trashed too much in her sleep. While she stretched, she noticed the pistol gun bug was watching her from the doorway. She kept up the eye contact, curious as to what it expected. It just looked at her, from a safe distance. But it was easy enough to understand when it perked up at her opening a food jar, and she threw her a chunk of some vegetable she didn't recognize. It tore it to little bits with it's legs, then vacuumed the bits up it's canon snout. How would she fire it, if things came to that? Kicker tried having a closer look but it backed off away from her, keeping an eye on her claws. She couldn't blame it; she kept them even sharper than army regulation required.
tgc >>1050581 >>1050599 >>1050655 >>1050667 “Alright, there's time.” Kicker took back her claw. The next while was spent stashing as much food and water as she could in the turtle shell, as well as ammunition for the pistol- the magazines were neon green, made of something semihard that felt organic. --- On the way out, she checked on the rifle. It was where she'd left it, it's breath labored after being spending so long under the rimlights.
>>1050830 >>1050730 >>1050847 Kicker crouched and gave it a small morsel. It didn't move to eat, but the pistol bug ran up to it and tore the meat into small bits it fed to the rifle slowly. “She must've been something for you to do this.” Kicker said softly. “I have to go. I can't stay here to take care of you.” The rifle seemed to nod, slowly. Or maybe it was just chewing what the pistol fed it. She couldn't tell. "I know what it's like. You just need to give yourself time to get better." it kicked sand at her again, much more weakly than before. The pistol bug nuzzled the rifle before they departed, and that was that. The desert was like a crystal ball, silent and hollow, where nothingness relentlessly crushed everything. Kicker marched on, and the bug choose to stay in it. --- At first the pistol had chosen to cling to the tip of her tail, but by the time she stopped before morning it had conceded so far as to climb up to hide from the sun under her rag tunics. She prepared their rations, and the pistol bug sat on its haunches looking back in the direction they'd come from. [spoiler]internet situation got complicated at home. may disappear for a bit. [/spoiler]
tg >>1051002 >>1051010 “You think it'll chase after us?” The pistol moved it's antennae in quick, complex motions, and when Kicker stared at it blankly it shook its head. Only, for it, shaking its head meant swinging it's whole body left and right. “But you hope it does.” It didn't answer. She wanted to comfort it, but it still wasn't at ease near her claws. “You were with the cicada since the war, weren't you?” The pistol nodded. “Do bugs usually reach this age?” The pistol shook its head again, and now she was out of pleasantries to say. “Someone you knew for just a short while is already bad.” She bunched her claws together into a tight little knot. Should she mention her friends? Just being with a bug was stretching the leeway given by her orders. “And more time only makes it worse. But you… get used to it. The hurt doesn't go, but you wrap it in rituals so it's close at heart without tearing it apart.” Just thinking about the mater brought memories back to surface, thoughts of her team and older things still, and for the first time in days (Weeks? She'd lost track of time.) the thought was too much: For a moment she could barely keep composure, worry and unknowing grief flooding her. Were they even alive? She had no way of knowing. But she gathered herself, and put on a stiff upper lip. “Come.” She turned around. “I need to know how much to ration you.” --- The next several days were uneventful: They slept through the day and marched at night. The pistol bug didn't exactly become her buddy, but it grew to trust her enough that it climbed to her back and even her shoulder at times. Most days, the pistol would spend a while looking back to the way they'd come before eating. On the eve of the second day, she saw another stone outcrop in the distance and headed to it. On the third the pistol bug saw something ahead that alerted it. It climbed up her head, keeping its eyes on the outcrop. “What is it.” She asked, stopping and squinting her eyes. Figures the living gun would have better sight; The only thing she saw was the wispy, wavering image of the outcrop… even at night it was starting to be too hot. She didn't know what she'd do about that; she didn't know there was anything anyone could do. “I can't…” The pistol jumped to her arm and made a series of gestures with its antennae, which she couldn't begin to grasp.
tgc >>1051481 “Alright.” She set it down on the floor and sat down; They were close enough to daybreak anyhow. “Is it dangerous? Or hostile?” It didn't answer. “You don't know.” It nodded. “But it's alive, isn't it? Not just rocks?” It nodded. “Is it a person? Or an animal?” Curiously enough, it made to answer but ended up not doing so.
tgc >>1051801 “You don't want to tell me?” She asked. The gun didn't reply. “You can't?” It nodded. “Fine. Keep an eye on it, and warn me if it comes our way.” They were still much too far from the outcrop, so Kicker dug a hole in the sand as fast as she could. By the time she was done the rimlights were beginning to burn. --- Horizons are a deceptive thing that may easily fool you. Why, the mountains looked like they were just a short ways away, yet they were several weeks behind her now even in ideal running conditions. The root, stretching up and down beyond her sight behind the mountains, looked like Kicker could just as easily grab it in her claw and twist it. The day after the bug spotted whatever it was was uneventful, and the next day. The pistol was perched on her head the whole, obviously concerned but unable to communicate why with just yes and no. The third day she saw it: A large black shape perched on the outcrop, so she waved her arms so anyone, black thing or not, could see her. It took her the rest of the night to reach the outcrop, and entered its shadow as day broke. The black thing was back on top, sniffing the air and ignoring her. The pistol was shaking now, standing on her shoulder with its cannon aimed straight at the creature, a mix of clicks and slurping noises coming out of it.
tgc >>1052215 >>1052222 Kicker found herself falling back to instinct, crouching down in the grass to a quadruped pose, positioned to pounce at or away from an attacker at a moment's notice. On her shoulder, the gun bug continued to make odd noises until it finalized with a deep click. She recognized the noises from hearsay, and knew the pistol was now fully loaded and ready to fire a stream of bullets. She inhaled once. Twice. Thrice. The air was still and boiling and hard to breathe, and on top of the rock the… centipede? Worm? Continued the sniff the air. After -she counted- fifteen more breaths it crawled away, and Kicker could hear the click-click-click of its front claws as they struck the stone on its way down. Kicker waited, but thankfully it didn't go her way, and after a moment longer even the rustling of the creature in the grass was gone. Had it not smelled them? Or had it just not cared? She listed the facts in the back of her mind as she crawled closer to the stone outcrop: No eyes and the smelling meant it probably was nocturnal. But why stay on top of the stone? She thought about it while looking for the lookout's door. The pistol bug helped her, and the moment she opened the door it sprinted up the stairs jumping from step to step. She followed more slowly, and had to stop when she reached the top. A cicada laid on the floor, wounded and struggling to breathe.
tgc >>1052450 >>1052514 5ch >>5506512 Kicker crouched by the cicada to have a closer look at the wounds, acting automatically while she thought. The bite marks were… a saurian would've bled out in a few minutes, but if dropping contact happened due to being attacked the bug had to have been there for a terrifying time. “Get me bandages.” The pistol bug ran off somewhere and Kicker, delicately, moved the bug to check the broken hindleg, could that even be healed? “Are you awake.” She asked thoughtlessly, not expecting a response, but there was a choked rasp. “You are?” “You're… real?” The cicada wheezed. “Yes. I have liquor-” “Blood too… low. Starving…” She opened a jar as fast as she could and the pistol, who'd brought her strips of cloth from another room, egged her to lower it, then tore bits of food as small as it could to feed to the cicada. The strips of cloth were oiled with something that smelled spicy, but if the pistol trusted them she'd have to, and she started the slow process of turning the cicada without hurting it more to bandage it. “Did the worm outside do this?” “Yes, the… the kid…” The cicada made a rasp in its language “Tried… talk but she… asleep, I got careless…”
tgc >>1052677 4ch >>5506512 Kicker pressed the bandage hard but not too hard, wondering if the spicy smell was some antiseptic. How long had this bug laid on the floor like this? She wished -selfish though it was- that the rifle had come with her… it would've helped her feel safer from the big worm outside. But it had made its choice. “Yes, the… the kid… Tried… talk but she… asleep, I got careless…” Something tugged at her and she stopped bandaging, her brow furrowed. The gun stared at the cicada. “Don't… care, we stuck for… the kids… remember?” The gun kept staring. “Shut it, git… been bleeding for… so long and you… chastise…” He was silent for a moment. “Won't shoot a kid.” “A kid? That thing outside is a kid?” Kicker only realized she'd asked it out loud once the words were out of her mouth. “Young, she's… her upper mind's asleep… only got hunger for a mind still…”
tgc >>1052899 >>1052936 “It ignored me.” “Don't think so… smelled easier prey.” The cicada said as Kicker bandaged it. “The Whole must've taught her to… to resent saurs while in the egg…” The cicada paused for longer this time. What could she say to that? Kicker wasn't even fully sure what he was talking about, so she went back to bandaging and said, “I don't know how to help you.” “Already… helping…” “I don't intend to bandage you and leave you to die. Your friend helped me. What if the… the girl enters?” “Too big… not a doctor…”
tgc >>1053408 >>1053413 >>1053482 What could she do? Kicker tightened the bandages and wrapped the cicada's broken leg before going to the radio. It was a huge, hungry, dangerous thing and she had a wounded person and was barely armed. It was a kid who just didn't know what she was doing. She fiddled with the machine and waited with a claw pressed against her brow, churning out a barely coherent stream of conciousness under her breath. Had she heard about the bugs having anything like this? Something… something, a story to warn new recruits that bugs always were more dangerous than they seemed. A regiment takes a city. The citizens tell them not to enter a building, so of course a young cadet (It's always cadets making mistakes in the official reports; surely a commander or general would never be cocky) goes in anyhow. Giant bugs burst out of it, rampaging and killing many of the regiment and bug citizens. A loud burst of static and the sharpshooter's voice cut her train of thought, “Miss?” “It's me.” She took the mic. “I found your friend. He's hurt, there's a… he says it's a girl, but-” “Calm now. First things first, how is he hurt.” She sighed and pressed the claw harder against her face. “The girl bit him. Tore out a chunk of his side and a few legs. I bandaged him, but I'm no doctor.” No answer. “The girl is like a snake, and bigger than the two of us put together. Covered in black fur.” “Shit. Fuck. Miss, does she have eyes.” “Not that I could see. She was sniffing the air.” A short pause, then. “That's stingers, not fur, and you ran into a lonomia, she should be with her mother.” He was quiet again for a moment. “Is he with you?” Kicker gave the cicada a quick look and muttered something to him. He didn't answer and kept breathing slowly, but the gun didn't seem anymore worried than a moment ago. “He's asleep. The gun was feeding him.” “Losing a few legs won't kill him if he didn't bleed out- that part of us is nothing but muscle, but we don't know that he's not hurt inside or poisoned. And wouldn't know what to do if he were, either.” “I can stay with him for a day or two.” “Your stuff's that important, huh?” Kicker didn't answer to that. Was there even an answer? The pit in her stomach was devoid of one. “I appreciate you helping him. Does the heart good to see some decency.” “I can carry him.” She said. She was used to wear a full set of plate, which as flexible as it was still was a hunk of metal, and the turtle shell was just part of a set. She'd tire faster… but it was the only thing she could think of. “But the heat may be too much. What do you think?” “Leaving him won't help anyone. But I recon it's his call, isn't it?” “I'll ask him when he wakes up. What's the whole?” She asked suddenly, the word flaring in his memory all of a sudden. “I've heard it before. He said it resents saurs?” “Has your people forgotten so much?” He said, almost chocked “Oh… it's been… very many seasons, has it not? The Whole is a bad name for it. You- your kind, herreras, had a name for it when I was young. Each of your peoples -Feathers and claws and whatnot- had their own words, and each had a name for the Whole. It's such a bad name for it. But it's what we got, isn't it?” “I don't understand.” “Sorry. The Whole is… Picture if you could remember someone else's memory, or let someone share in parts of yours, even just a little bit of your thoughts. When you die, the people nearby can hold on to the bits and ends of your memories that you let them keep, and when you're young enough you get a little bit of other people's experience- Not too much, or it'd overwhelm a babe. That's a part of the Whole. The part that's easy enough to explain.”