Spoilers Up to Season 5 episode Into the Woods, Disclaimer – Nope, they are not mine, though I sure wish they were. Special thanks to Dana for beta reading this – it's not something she liked or would normally read, but she improved upon it with excellent insights, military expertise and an amazing knowledge of English grammar! I can't do this without her.
Notes – I've been thinking about what would happen to Riley. I think we're going to see him again, but it won't be the free spirited young man we first met at the beginning of season 4. I think he will be a changedand that maybe, somehow he will find his way back – but first a visit to hell.The Red Man
The winds were kicking up sparks and flames and it was an awesome sight to see them climbing into the darkening night sky. The fire had been set only an hour ago and at first it had been slow to ignite the green sugar cane. But as the sun set and the temperatures began to finally cool, a breeze had come in off the ocean and had lifted up over to the highlands, fanning the flames. The hot dry heat from the fire was causing the skin on his face, arms and hands to tighten and warm as the day's sweat finally evaporated. It had been his idea to set the field aflame, knowing that with the steep mountains and cliffs behind them the demons would be trapped.
Riley and his men had been fighting them for weeks. Hand to hand had become the primary means of combat in the jungle-like swamps and lagoons along the coast of Belize. They had run the demons out of the villages in the northeast and been pursuing them ever since. Command had expected that the clean up sweep would only take a short week, two at the outside. They didn't expect to find a nest, this one full of young. Stiffer resistance was encountered and it was there that the majority of the casualties had been incurred. Soldiers used to fighting purplish, scaly, nightmare-inducing demons were initially uncertain with what to do with the young or the females they found. Much smaller, almost human in appearance, the females were a purplish black color as well, but lacked the scales, claws and teeth of the males. The young ones were for the most part like their mothers, though there were signs of maturity in some of the older children. The hesitation on the soldiers' parts when they stumbled on to the nest had been their undoing.
They had floated up to the clearing after having traversed a huge swamp on flat bottom boats. Under the dark of night the men had initially lost the demons they were pursuing and at daybreak as they tried to find a southern route back to the open ocean they came across a picturesque village. The small low huts sitting in a rough circle just inches above the swamp waters with small fires smoking momentarily reminded Riley of Indian villages he had seen in the movies. There was little difference. Women appeared to be weaving mats, children were playing and an old woman was stirring something over a cook fire. They had all turned to look at the men in fear, at first frozen in place. Suddenly there was a cawing of a bird and the small community split, running in all directions. The speed at which they emptied the village was breathtaking as within seconds not a creature was to be seen.
The men had cautiously landed and surrounded the village, going hut to hut in their hunt. They had carefully searched for any stragglers and checked the surrounding undergrowth as well. Having determined that they were alone for now, each had to exclaim over how swiftly and quietly the population had completely disappeared. The captain was calling in a report as the men were remobilizing to leave. Someone had just lit a branch, preparing to torch the village, when the attack began. Coming up from the quiet swamp before them, great streams of pressurized water struck the soldiers with deadly accuracy. Taking them by surprise and bowling them over, the soldiers had to struggle to retain their footing. At the same time darts began to fly out of the underbrush and an odd substance began to drop from the canopy overhead. The soldiers that could get their hands on their guns or tazers fired into the underbrush, into the trees and out across the swamp. The stillness was ripped apart by the racket of automatic gunfire, and the yelling of orders mixed with the cawing of tropical birds as they fled the trees that were being shredded by the onslaught of bullets.
As suddenly as it started, the attack stopped and an eerie silence settled over the men as they cautiously began to look around them. Little cover was available right by the boats and many had leapt into the brush only to be completely covered by the greenish slime. Riley had been one of the last in the village when the ambush had commenced and had taken cover behind the closest hut. He had shot what he could but had taken the conservative stance of watching, trying to gauge where his best option for attack would be. It was while watching Riley realized that the substance falling from the above canopy was coating the men with a sticky greenish substance. It was setting quickly, causing guns to jam and many completely covered were finding it difficult to move.
Just as the attack stopped Riley spied a hatchet and a machete lying next to the doorway of the hut he was kneeling behind. Getting an idea he grabbed them and sprang forward, quickly beginning to hack off men's uniforms, removing anything covered with the hideous smelling slime. Where he got it on himself it adhered to his skin, clothes and began to cause a gradual burning sensation. Ignoring it, Riley handed off his hatchet to Graham, whom he nodded at momentarily, his only acknowledgment that his friend had survived unharmed and proceeded to hack the uniform off the nearest soldier with his machete. Those that were able to helped but quickly the pitiful cries of soldiers frozen in place but feeling as if they were burning overtook the clearing.
It had taken well over an hour for the men completely covered in the slime to die. It had been a horrible painful death for them, their skin festering and boiling off as the heat from the slime intensified with the passage of time. Unable to move themselves, they had lain at their comrades' feet writhing in pain. Riley, Graham, and others with little slime on them had fared better. They had to remove all clothing covered with the noxious substance and quickly learned that water was not the answer to removing the material from their bodies. One young soldier had jumped into the swamp in an attempt to cool the burning on his arms, as he had only been wearing a tank t-shirt when attacked. Upon hitting the water the young man began to scream as the water surrounding his arms and neck began to boil. The slime he was covered with seemed to have chemical reaction with the water and the soldier died screaming as his skin boiled and he eventually slipped under the surface of the water. The survivors had watched in shock as the grimness of their situation finally hit home. Surrounded by another eight men covered in the deadly substance they were helpless to know what to do to relieve their pain.
It was Riley who grabbed some broad-leafed underbrush to use to scrape the gelatinous substance from his wrist and hand where it had begun to set. Hissing in pain as it scraped his skin raw, Riley was able to eventually remove the foul material. Others quickly followed suit. At first they had tried to help those suffering the most but quickly realized the temperature of the substance made it impossible to touch the suffering men. They weren't able to save the eight men completely covered and the six remaining all had minor to substantial burns. The captain had retained some ability to speak and his last breaths had been to put Finn in charge, directing him to get the rest of the men back to headquarters ASAP with this new intelligence.
Before shoving off Riley had the men carefully pull the eight bodies onto the pole boats, dreading what might be done to them if they were left behind. He had considered destroying the village, as he looked down at his dead captain, whose frozen features clearly communicated the pain he had been in at the end. Sickened momentarily at the horror his compatriots had suffered, Riley looked back at the village angrily – his desire to destroy it visible upon his face. It was Graham who shook him out of it, pulling on his arm and urging him to come away. Riley did, but not without taking the machete.
After that Riley found himself in command, the mantel of leadership was thrust upon him, as the rest of the soldiers looked to him for guidance. They had had numerous encounters with the remaining demons, including the females - each time with a high body count. They quickly found their machine guns and tazers could not withstand the green slime, but learned if they kept themselves covered they would be able to at least protect their bodies if they removed the contaminated material quickly. Suddenly their rain ponchos were the most important protection-device they had. Combined, this all led to difficult fighting conditions, in which those skilled at hand to hand were most likely to survive. Riley had put his new machete to good use, using it, his long reach, and height to his advantage. Perhaps it was his experience in Sunnydale that allowed him to survive unscathed but as men continued to fall around him, and even Graham was injured for a time, he gained a grim reputation. Men wanted to be assigned to Riley's squad, as they knew they had a better chance at survival, but in addition, they wanted to see the Red Man in action.
Riley was never addressed by his grim nickname, nor did he acknowledge that he knew of it. But he definitely had earned the name, no matter what was used to explain it. Weeks in the hot, broiling sun had turned his skin brown and leathery, and while the constant work caused his body to harden further, his hair had taken on an almost white cast as the hot sun bleached it lighter. Lean, muscular and dark Riley might have almost passed for someone from the native population but his height, bleached hair and blue-green eyes set him apart, even from his comrades. But while some said he almost looked Native American, others said he gained his nickname from an extremely brutal night of fighting.
It had been only a week after they had returned from the swamp when Riley, Graham and the others had been teamed up with another squad that had been half destroyed as well. That night, as they patrolled the swamp and then moved up into the hills near Punta Gorda they came across a group of demons. Their initial well-designed attack plan crumbled quickly when the creatures began to throw softball-sized globs of green slime. Immediately men began to scream and guns began to jam, as with incredible aim and accuracy, the demons counterattacked. The creatures quickly separated out the injured soldiers, slaughtering them with a stroke or two of their deadly claws. The physical confrontations happened so quickly most men didn't get a chance to get off more than a shot or two. Following Riley's example of hitting the ground upon seeing the green slime, his crew arranged themselves back to back and were able to hold off most oncoming attacks. Riley and his group had been in the middle and right edge of the group, and wearing their ponchos, they had survived the initial onslaught of green slime better then the others. But as one demon broke through and was within claws length, Riley's machete began to fly.
Riley was a blur of motion, the moon lighting his broad swings and glinting off the highly polished blade, showing his every move while the demons stayed closer to the ground to seek protection in the shadows. Poncho whipping behind him, he looked for a moment like a caped crusader. But then, the blood began to fly. The demons, though purplish-black, bled red. Riley sliced off the creature's claw effectively and then his head, only to turn and slam his blade into the chest of the next oncoming demon. The men at Riley's feet were stunned, as unable to fire their guns with one of their own blocking their targets, they simply watched while the blood splattered.
Riley's long reach along with his unexpected furious attack were to his advantage and he was able to sever a head and arms from two other demons before they learned to avoid his brutal swings. The battle turned as Riley left the circle of men and stepped closer to the demons. He struck again and again, his aim true as creatures fell around him. He began to seek out demons as the ones before him fell away. Dodging a new onslaught of green slime balls, Riley continued to swing his brutal weapon, harvesting heads, arms and claws. He came across a few demons armed with pikes and spears and while they offered him a challenge, they too eventually fell before his deadly blade.
Graham and the others had regained their footing and had begun to follow Riley, shooting what came out at them, thinning the crowd of demons coming down out of the hills. Between the six men they were able to hold their own, and eventually pushed their way up over the small rise facing them. Before them was an encampment much like the one they had seen just a week before and as they stepped closer more green slime besieged them. Ignoring the goop clinging to his poncho Riley proceeded into the camp, cutting down anything in his path.
With one broad swing of his machete Riley easily cut open a little hut and found a group of females and young ones huddled within. Without pausing, his blade resumed its downward swing into the center of the group. A high-pitched scream filled the air as a male threw himself before the blade, just before it struck one of the young. Practically landing on top of Riley, the demon impaled himself on the large blade, blood spurting out of him and across the young man's face and hair. The unexpected weight on his blade caused Riley to stagger back and fall into the group of soldiers behind him. As he wrestled with the dying demon, Graham and the others were able to encircle him and hold off the remaining demons. The fighting had moved on from machine guns and tazers to the use of the bayonets on the end of their guns as the new green slime attack had done its job and made them impossible to fire.
Riley was able to roll the dying demon to his back and yanking the machete from the being's chest Riley pulled off his ruined poncho as it was full of burn marks from the slime and angrily began to hack at the demon repeatedly until Graham's yelling caught his attention. Seeing his friend in trouble with a demon skewered on his bayonet still flailing its claws dangerously, Riley sprang forward slicing off an arm and then the opposite claw. Graham finally was able to dislodge the creature as it died and together they turned back to the battle. The encampment was deserted and the few remaining demons were injured but still attempting to fight off the soldiers oncoming advances. Seeing this, Riley again jumped into the fray slicing off two heads with one broad swing. The fight quickly wrapped up but Riley continued to swing his blade, cutting into the dead and dying demons until Graham's yells finally broke through his fury.
Mid-swing, Riley looked into Graham's face and then slowly lowered his arm. Standing up straight, he surveyed the area, taking in the demon bodies littering the ground around him. Emitting an exhausted sigh, Riley brushed his hair from his eyes just as the moon broke out of the clouds. Moonlight flooded the clearing and by the small dying fires and the flashlight one of the soldiers had managed to dig out of his pack the group finally got a good look at Riley.
He was covered in blood. His sun-bleached hair was red with blood and it dripped down his face and neck to blend with the blood smeared across his chest and arms. His hands and fingers were slick withit as well and blood covered the entire machete. As they stood aghast, looking at the spectacle before them, it was later said that there was so much blood they could hear it dripping off of Riley and the machete he held, into the underbrush below.
Riley didn'tnotice them staring. He didn't even acknowledge he was covered in blood as he began to give orders. The men responded after a moment with a glance or two at Graham as they proceeded to do a sweep of the area and radioed in their position. Taking off their ruined ponchos, the men cleaned themselves as best they could and dug out another, grateful that they had followed Riley's earlier advice. On guard for an ambush they formed up and followed Riley back to camp.
Silence quickly followed Riley as he marched through camp with five men behind him. A large man covered head to toe in blood, carrying a dripping bloody machete was not a normal sight, even in this primitive camp. Riley didn't recognizeany he came across but simply proceeded to the showers after telling Graham he'd be into report to the commander as soon as he cleaned himself up. As he disappeared into the showers the men who witnessed this looked at one another for a moment and then gradually the noise of work and business of an army outpost resumed.
After that night, Riley had commanded the respect, as well as the fear, of all. As the battles became more brutal and the body count began to mount, command began to notice that Riley's teams had fewer casualties and he quickly was put in charge of his own squad. Swiftly he regained his old status as a leader among men and the tide of the battle turned.
Which brought them to the sugarcane field tonight. Riley had fought here many times before and knew the terrain. Beyond the field were only cliffs and extremely steep inclines leading to the foothills of the Maya Mountains. There was no place for the remaining demons to go. He had ordered the lighting of the field, ignoring the protests of the local farmers whose livelihood relied on its harvest. Riley had simply looked down at the native farmers, and then walked away, relying on Graham and the others to maintain control of the situation. He had had enough. He wanted it to end that night. So standing there on the side of the burning field, Riley ran the tips of his fingers along the sharp blade of his machete while he waited patiently for a demon to break from the fire. He knew some would perish in the fire, or attempt to flee via the cliffs. But a number would attempt an escape through the only way they could – right through the fire and into the waiting arms of Riley and his men. And he was looking forward to bathing in blood one last time.