Here's the little surprise I was speaking of in my Epilogue's author's notes. It's an alternative ending that starts out towards the tail end of Chapter Seven. You may like it more than the original ending. You may hate it and then hate me and tell me I ruined the plot line.
Sorry it took me so long, I got sick right as I was wrapping it up and it slowed me down a lot. Anyhow, I hope you like it.
About halfway through the song, though, it seemed as if Michaela heard something. Her ear jerked around, the rest of her following shortly, her elbow smacking Curt square in the side of the head. Oliver laughed at first, but realized that it seemed to have hurt Curt severely. He gripped his head, his face wrought into an expression of pure agony.
Michaela turned around, hands over her mouth in shock. "I'm sorry, Curt! You alright?"
"Yeah, ow, okay, there it is..." he muttered, trailing off.
"There what is?" the three of them asked him at the same time.
"Everything for the past... how many years, now?"
"Twent... I heard something else," she said, searching the woods with her ears and eyes.
"I heard it, too," Katie said.
Oliver hadn't heard anything. Curt probably hadn't, either. Nonetheless, Curt shrugged and dug through his pack, pulling out several items Oliver didn't recognize. The first was an odd type of belt with many, many utility pockets. He pulled some kind of small black thing out of his old robes and sheathed it on the belt. The next item was a long black thing, kind of like the smaller one, which he held in his hands, the wider end towards his shoulder, the thinner, circular end away from him. He pressed a button and a small knife folded out of the end. He sheathed his sword from his old belt and took a thick, long-sleeved shirt of the same pattern as his pants from his pack and put it on. Above it he fitted a thick vest of the same pattern. "Better safe than sorry," he said. "You comin', Lambert?"
"Liked it better when you called me 'Oliver,' but yessir."
He grinned and fitted things into his ears, sliding a strange pair of glasses over his face. "Got it, Lambert."
Oliver shook his head, rolled his eyes and grinned as they set out to the woods. He looked to the two Keidran. "You two stay here and stay hidden. Got it?"
They nodded. Curt motioned with the black thing and they got moving into the woods, slowly and silently. Oliver put up a spell that masked their sound to the outside, hoping they could catch whoever or whatever it was by surprise. As they entered the forest, Oliver made a mental note that Curt could walk very quietly without a spell. Not as quietly as he could (and did) with the spell, but quiet nonetheless. Curt touched the glasses, gripping them oddly.
"Looks like a scouting party. About five of them, twenty yards out, that way," Curt whispered with a gesture. "They're lightly armed, but I can't read their ranking. They may be pretty skilled."
Oliver shrugged, channeling manna into his hands. "If you're half the fighter I think you to be, we've got them."
Curt grinned savagely in response. He brought the black thing into what Oliver assumed to be some kind of ready position and crouched down, moving forward slowly. Oliver wasn't used to moving crouched down and silent. Mages were supposed to show themselves, fight with honor. Oliver didn't think that, just because they were at a disadvantage, they should break tradition so ancient. Curt either begged to differ or worked by a totally separate set of rules in the first place. Judging by Curt's skill and practice at walking and moving silently and unnoticed, Oliver put his money on the latter.
The Templar slugged on noisily, their armor clanking and their talk very loud. They clearly didn't expect a very hard fight. Oliver and Curt planned otherwise. "I'll make a distraction," Oliver whispered, though he didn't know why-the spell masked the talk from the Templar.
"You haven't heard how loud this thing is," Curt muttered. "We'd better do it the other way around. You go flank them."
"They can't hear anything we do," Oliver said in a loud voice. He let out a scream. The Templar didn't even notice, for obvious reasons to him.
"You know, that's the kind of thing to tell a guy about," Curt muttered critically. "Alright, go ahead and distract them," he said and brought the black thing back up to his shoulder, looking down it like an archer might look down an arrow drawn back in a bow.
Oliver gathered up his manna and shot it in a burst behind the Templar, which were just coming into his sight. He wondered how Curt had been able to see them, but didn't focus on it. Suddenly, there was a burst of noise from the thing Curt held. Two of the Templar fell. The Templar, not knowing where the attack came from, scattered. One spotted them and vanished behind a tree.
"I'll flank him," Curt mumbled and started moving.
"You'll go out of range of my spell," Oliver said, grabbing him.
"I've lived 53 years without your spell, Lambert. I'll be fine," he said, brushing Oliver's hand aside and moving ahead.
Oliver let out a low grumble and moved in the opposite direction, hoping to catch the Templar in a pincer. Curt moved quietly enough that Oliver didn't think he really needed the spell-at least until he used that black thing of his. Oliver couldn't move so gracefully, his armor constantly clinking and clanging with every step and move he made. Fortunately for him, it didn't matter how much noise he made. Curt may not have had the same luxury, but he didn't seem to need it, either.
Curt took up a perch behind a tree, revealing very little of himself besides the black thing and his head. He looked over to Oliver and nodded. Oliver returned the nod and channeled manna from the ground into his hands. He could see two of the Templar hiding behind trees. Curt had his bead drawn on neither of the two, so Oliver figured that he had the third. Oliver thought for a second and funneled the manna from his hands into the very tips of his first two fingers on both hands. He pointed one at one Templar and the remaining hand at the remaining enemy. Taking Curt's earlier nod as a sign that he was ready, Oliver went ahead and sent two precision bolts of manna at them. The Templar slumped as Curt opened fire with his loud thing. There was only one loud blast that time. He moved out behind the tree, staying crouched down and scanning the woods, moving slowly and carefully. "Clear!" he announced and stood up.
Oliver shook his head in disbelief. "Where'd you learn to fight like that? It's so very different than anything I know."
"You should know by now, Lambert. I had amnesia and thought I was on another world. I wasn't hallucinating, you know, I'd forgotten that I came here. That world is where I learned to fight like that. It was the only way to fight there."
Oliver clicked his tongue and again shook his head in disbelief. He knew Curt better than any other man. He still didn't know him very well. He had to wonder how well Michaela really knew him. He paused for a second in contemplation. On second thought, she probably knew him pretty well.
Curt took a knee beside the body of one of the Templar, the groups' noncom. He removed the officer's communication stone from the man's head and held it up to his own. He listened to the chatter for a second and dropped his voice to a clear, gravely baritone. "Give me the General."
There was a moment's pause. "Who is this?" came the hesitant reply in Simnel's voice.
"Former General Lane, you mean?"
"Perhaps," Curt muttered. I guess so, though, he added in his thoughts. "That doesn't matter. All I ask is that you let us go free, Simnel. You'll have to devote too much away from the front to hunt us down. It's not worth it. All we want is to go in peace."
"No. You will pay for your treachery."
"Treachery? How do you figure?" Curt asked with a wry grin. "I gave you more tools for war than any other Human in history. You're winning because of me."
There was no response for some time. At last, Simnel replied, "We know where you are now. Keep running."
Curt shook his head and dropped the stone. The stone would be useless within a matter of minutes, anyhow. He and Lambert searched all the bodies for intel and, finding nothing but some maps they already possessed, got the heck outta dodge.
Michaela twiddled her thumbs and paced impatiently. She'd heard Curt's rifle fire once and then silence. She hoped that didn't mean that he'd been silenced, too. She heard two people walking at the edge of her hearing. One spoke. She could recognize neither the words nor the speaker. She muttered a curse and hid behind a tree, motioning for Katie to do the same. She hid, too, as they waited for the voices to get closer. Finally, she recognized one voice as Curt's.
"It's them!" she exclaimed and went running off towards their saviors. Curt emerged from the brush at the edge of the clearing right as she came up on it. She jumped, wrapping him in a hug and nearly toppling his large frame.
Curt grinned and returned the hug with his free hand. "Good to see you too, dear," he said earnestly. "Now let me go."
"Right," she muttered and let go, setting herself back on the ground.
He grinned and shook his head as he sat his gear down. Michaela noticed that Katie hugged Lambert, too. Granted, far less enthusiastically than she'd hugged Curt, but hugged nonetheless.
Despite this being what Michaela considered an interesting development, Curt and Lambert were, as usual, all business. Curt unrolled a map and rested it across his lap. He studied it for a long time. Finally, he sat a finger down on it and traced it along some of the contours. "If I'm right, we're somewhere in here," he finally announced, indicating an area. "We're not far from Fox territory, and I don't think we'll run into the Templar going through Fox turf to flank the Wolves."
"All of which is good news," Lambert said. "Problem is, Simnel's gonna divert whatever he can from the front and the base guards to take us on here."
"That's why we're not gonna be here," Curt responded and started to roll the map up.
"Easier said than done," Lambert stated flatly.
"Well, sayin' it ain't gonna get it done by no means," Curt said and started collapsing a tent. "C'mon, y'all! Let's move!"
Everyone snapped out of their thoughtful, statue-like state and started doing whatever they could to pack up camp. They were packed up and ready to go within fifteen minutes. Michaela and Katie carried their share now, each carrying anything they thought they needed and the men thought they didn't. Well, not quite everything. Michaela and Katie had thought that they needed the tents. Curt and Lambert had made it clear that, while tents were nice, they weren't necessary. Michaela had carried a tent on her back for about half a mile before she dumped it. Katie hadn't even gotten that far. The men gave them 'told-you-so' glances, but made no other comment. Michaela still carried her hairbrush and packs of dried food and preserved meat along with robes for both her and Curt. She sighed, shifting the weight that bore down on her shoulders and pulled her fur out. She realized why the men had dumped everything. They'd covered about five miles in half of a day, moving through some pretty rough brush. It wasn't easy by any means, even though she might have carried five pounds. She didn't even want to know what the men's packs, full of the tools of war, weighed.
They stopped on the top of a large knoll with a view of the plains around them. Curt pulled out a little metal thing. She'd seen it before, when he asked her to get out the headphones. Seeing their questioning looks at the thing, he sighed and explained, "They're called 'binoculars.' Think of them as an advanced, compact telescope or spyglass."
"By the gods..." Curt muttered, pretending not to notice that he was picking up his new world's vernacular. He didn't believe what he saw. He played with the binoculars' zoom for a couple of seconds and wiped the lenses with a cleaning cloth. Yeah, he was seeing straight. Small dragons zipped in and out of the valley, close to where they'd been earlier that morning, only about eight miles away. The others seemed to take notice, too. Lambert pulled out a spyglass and let out a sigh.
Some of the dragons were carrying bundles of metal and armor, others large polybolos and yet others carried troops upon their backs. It was a tactical insertion of troops, KA special guardsmen and Templar Paratroopers by the looks of them, along with LGD (Light Ground Dragon) units. Curt had thought of, but never proposed the tactic for rapid deployment of troops and armor, knowing it'd be used against him if he ever suggested it. Looks like it was being used as such anyhow. Recon dragons swept the sky. With the lattermost observation, he got everyone back to moving. They were much harder to spot when they were under the tree canopy and on the move.
"You what they were doing, sir?" Lambert asked him.
"I'm no longer your superior, and they were moving in LGD units and small infantry units. They were sweeping the sky with recon dragons. It's a manhunt, general."
"Nor am I still a general, and I suppose that makes sense, but can Simnel really afford to divert so many resources to finding us?"
"Doesn't matter weather he can or not, son, he is. We can hope it'll cause the front to break, but there's no way to tell," Curt muttered, scratching at his beard. He needed to shave. No time to fret about something like that, he thought with a mental sigh. There wasn't much time to worry about much of anything, was there? Just staying alive. That was all he was doing, staying alive.
Katie tossed and turned under an oilcloth tarp, trying to sleep. Darkness had closed over them rapidly. They'd sat down in the middle of the forest, not even waiting for a good clearing, but instead settling for the best flat spot they could find. They had no tents to set up, anyhow. Curt strung a tarp between two trees and set all of the gear that needed to stay dry and sat it under the small semi-shelter. They slept under tarps and the emergency blanket. Curt and Oliver traded night watches.
Katie couldn't sleep to save her life. Every noise the forest produced was a Templar, a silent enemy sneaking up to slit her throat. Somewhere inside, she knew that it wasn't, but somewhere deeper inside, she thought it was. Instinct. Instinct drove the Keidran, kept them alive. It was how her kind had survived as long as they had. It was still downright annoying sometimes. She was smart enough to know when it was instinct and to try and fight it. But, when it came down to a battle of the mind versus the body, the body always, always won. Fortunately, instinct also told her to sleep. She was more than happy to oblige.
She awoke to find that the forest was still dark. She heard clicks and clinking, rips of fabric, the sounds that had actually woken her up. She recognized the sound armor being fitted. She sat up, throwing the tarp aside to see Oliver fitting his armor and Curt putting that funny-looking vest on again.
Curt finished fitting all his gear and grabbed his rifle. He dropped the .223 reactor clip, capable of generating millions of rounds using holographic technology, and grabbed another that looked identical but for its markings. It fired .50 cal explosive or armor piercing rounds. He slapped it in and grabbed the barrel. Thankfully, the gun was made to be worked on without tools. He twisted it to the left and removed the barrel from its slot. He placed it in a holster for it on his belt. He pulled out a longer, larger barrel from his pack and inserted it into the same slot, twisting it to the right. He reset the gun to handle the more powerful rounds and re-safed it. Lambert fitted his armor. A recon dragon had spotted them minutes earlier. They knew that running was rather futile at that point. The women were awoken by the clanking of their gear and the Velcro of Curt's vest.
"What is it?" Michaela asked quietly and sleepily.
"Dragon spotted us," Lambert said matter-of-factly.
"No sense in runnin' anymore, not for the two of us," Curt said as he screwed a flash suppressor onto the gun.
"What do you mean, 'the two of you?'" Katie asked in the same manner as Michaela had.
"Lambert and I," Curt said flatly as he took the rifle's reflex sight off.
"You two are going to run while Curt and I create a heck of a distraction," Lambert explained.
"We can't run forever," Curt said and paused to dig for his infrared scope. "You two can pose as natives or slaves running errands for masters. Most humans think all Keidran look alike, anyhow."
"No! You're coming with us," Michaela protested.
"Nien, they'll hunt us down. You two should be able to escape," Curt muttered and tightened the thumbscrews on the scope.
"But, honey," she said, standing up and walking over to him.
He sat the rifle down and walked over to her, grabbing her by her shoulders and holding her close. He dropped his voice down to a level barely audible to him, "Remember, more than your life is riding on you getting out of here," he said, taking a hand off her shoulder and jabbing a finger into her stomach.
Lambert eyed him suspiciously, not able to make out his words. Katie's eyes shot open. That was just fine, she would've found out soon enough, anyhow. For a reason he really didn't know, he didn't want Lambert to find out.
Michaela closed her eyes and nodded. "Yeah, I'll go, then," she muttered.
Lambert handed Katie a set of papers. "Here, there's one of these for about any situation you can run into."
She nodded. "Glad I can read," she added at a mutter.
"Now, I've made you both packs," Curt said handing the packs to their respective owners. "They don't weigh much, but they should have everything you absolutely need. Nothing more. Nothing less."
They nodded. He saw tears forming in Michaela's eyes.
"Don't sit there," he said. "Go. You don't have time to play around."
Michaela hugged him tightly, one last time. "Goodbye honey. I love you."
She let go and started away. He caught her hand. "No matter what happens, I love you, too. I always will," he said, kissed her lightly on the forehead and let her go.
She dashed off into the night, catching up with Katie. For the first time on his new world, Curt allowed himself to cry, letting the tears silently slide down his face. He didn't allow the tears to stop him from doing what needed to be done. He set up handmade claymores and landmines all around the area they planned as their last line of defense. Lambert performed all kinds of spells and things around the area. For the most part, Curt ignored him and continued to lay out mines and traps. They each had their own way to wage warfare. Curt suspected that the culmination of their different tactics would be what saved them in the end. He didn't reflect on the fact that they didn't plan to be saved or to make it out.
He sighed as he finished wiring the last claymore up. "Ready, Lambert?"
"For the gods' sakes, call me 'Oliver!'"
"For the gods' sakes, I'm not your superior!" Curt returned in the exact same manner as Lambert had previously.
Lambert rolled his eyes, "Yeah, Curt, let's go."
"That's more like it," Curt grinned and grabbed his rifle. They started towards the Templar manhunting party's camp.
Curt checked that his infrared goggles were working and in the proper setting. They were. His uniform was straight, his pistol where it was supposed to be. He set the pressure switch on his rifle's grip to laser sight. A touch on the sensor would put a tiny red dot on exactly where the lead was headed.
They crept through the forest right outside the makeshift camp the Templar manhunt party had set up. Lambert had put up his silencing spell again, but they still moved slowly, not wanting to be easily spotted. They got into positions with good cover and got to their plan.
Curt touched the switch and triggered the laser sight. It appeared on the chest of a rather drunk Templar. He exclaimed something foul and started swatting at the red dot on his chest, hitting himself rather hard. He fell over and started laughing. His friends joined in, pointing and laughing. Curt focused the laser on the ground amongst a crowd of them. They all ran away from it like it was some kind of demon. Actually, they probably thought it was a demon. He had some good fun and jests chasing them around with the red dot. Finally, he let it rest still, only moving slightly on a spot of ground. The Templar brought an officer up to examine it. He stuck his hand in it and watched it block the light. He seemed stunned and called out for a higher officer. The higher officer, a Major if Curt was correct, dismissed it as some prankster's spell. Since he wouldn't get a higher-ranking target, Curt waited for the Major to turn around and put the dot on his back. He squeezed the trigger.
There was a boom and a shaking of the very ground. Curt's heart seemed to stop for half a second, the air taken right from his lungs. The Major vanished in an explosion. The .50 cal was one heck of a weapon. The others stood in disbelief. Curt took his finger off the laser sensor and looked down his infrared scope. He hit the next officer down in rank. They scattered like flies. Many hid in tents. That wouldn't work at all. He switched over to explosive rounds and put one right into a tent. There wasn't much left of the tent. He moved over and hit another tent in the same manner. Lambert started throwing energy and spells into the chaos. That's what it was too, chaos. The Templar, most of them half to completely drunken, didn't know what to do, who was attacking them; where from?
Curt slowly moved forward, creeping from tree to tree, firing in short bursts. A fire began to spread through the camp. Curt came up on the edge of the forest and grimaced. He made another couple shots and dashed across the open ground to take cover behind some crates. Lambert took shelter behind barrels full of some kind of liquor about ten yards to Curt's left.
"The LGDs are probably ready by now!" he yelled.
"Yeah, well, let 'em come," Curt yelled back and patted his rifle.
"That thing may not be as powerful as you think it is."
"I know exactly how powerful it is. To the foot per second. To the pressure per square inch it creates when it explodes. If I aim anywhere close to accurately, I can take out an LGD with one shot. Just cover me!"
Lambert shook his head in what seemed like a mix of mirth and disbelief. "I'll cover you. That you can count on. I can't do much, but I can do that."
There was a roar. The sky for a moment looked like day as a dragon breathed fire into the air in a show of strength. "Closer than I thought," Curt muttered. He raised his voice, "Follow me loosely!"
"Got it!" Lambert shouted back over the din of battle.
Curt barreled over the crates and searched for targets with a sweeping motion of his barrel. He found none. He nodded and moved forward cautiously, crouched over and silent. Not that he needed be silent, but he continued nonetheless. A squadron of Templar that had finally organized themselves turned a corner at full sprint. They stopped and begun to assume a battle formation of some form. Curt snapped the rifle up to his shoulder and aimed for their feet. He squeezed the trigger, taking some self-discipline not to snap it. The ground exploded, knocking most of them off their feet and leaving others gasping for air from the shockwave and clutching at shrapnel wounds. Lambert finished them off with blue bolts that lanced across the desperate scene and bathed everything in neon blue light for but a moment. "Well done," Curt muttered as he kept moving.
Lambert grinned and stayed behind him. Curt skirted the wall of a tent near the center of the camp. He could hear voices, "Ready? Move! Go, go, go!"
"Here they come, Lam... Oliver," he said. "Get ready."
Instead of responding in words, Oliver's hands started glowing. A group of men rounded the corner, marching in two perfectly straight lines. Parade ground formation, Curt thought. Old battle tactics. Tactics that didn't work against the kind of weaponry Curt held. He brought the rife to his shoulder slowly, taking in a deep breath. He pulled the trigger, pointed a bit above the ground. The lower legs of several of the Templar vanished. There was an explosion behind them and the ground rose up in a fountain of dirt, throwing the lines apart.
Tendrils of blue rolled around Curt from behind. They reached out and grabbed the armor-clad fools that hadn't fallen and threw them to the ground. Curt placed more shots into the area, finishing off the Templar Oliver hadn't.
They nodded to each other and kept moving. Suddenly, a tent in front of them burst into flames. As it disappeared, a medium dragon in light armor with a polybolos on its back appeared behind it.
Curt and Oliver cursed at the same time, though Oliver cursed in English while Curt cursed in German. Curt searched for cover, finding none. He ran to the side, waving for Oliver to go the opposite direction. A massive crossbow bolt hit in the middle of the two of them. It exploded. They'd already figured out explosive projectiles? Verdammt. Curt touched the sensor for the laser dot and put it on the bottom of the crossbow. He fired. The night was lit up for half a second. Wood splintered. Oliver fired bursts of blue at the dragon's armor. They were absorbed into it. "It's got a spell to make it absorb manna, remember, Oliver?" Curt yelled.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he called back.
Curt switched the rifle to armor piercing rounds and moved the red dot onto the beast's belly. He fired once. Twice. Thrice. "That armor is too heavy for an LGD!"
"No, they've got a different spell on it!"
The dragon cackled. "Good try, foolish humans."
Curt had learned dragons well enough to know that a breath of fire was about to come. Instead of running, he straightened his posture. Brought himself into perfect, textbook firing form. He took a deep breath in as the dragon did the same. The beast opened its mouth. Curt sighted the soft, pink flesh at the top of its mouth. He fired four rounds in quick succession. The dragon collapsed in dramatic fashion, neck flailing, smashing tents and breathing a final breath of fire.
Curt whooped and hollered. "That's the way we do it where I come from!" He shouted, slightly taken aback by how country he'd sounded. He shrugged. "C'mon!" He yelled to Oliver. "We ain't done yet!" They started running farther in to the heart of the Templar camp. They charged around corner after corner, moving faster and faster. They stopped around one particular corner and heard voices. Curt peeked around it and found himself looking at a rally point, a staging area for the fractured Templar and KA forces.
"We are being assailed by only two foes, you cowards!" the lead Templar spat as he paced back and forth on the back of an LGD.
"I suspect that this is the last stop, Oliver," Curt whispered.
"Do all the damage we can do before they overtake us? That the plan?"
"That is the plan exactly," Curt said and stuck out a hand.
Oliver took it and shook it. "It was a pleasure fighting beside you."
Curt nodded. "I'll see you on the other side."
For the first time, the two understood each other completely. Separate worlds, times and religions had fostered and raised them. Battle, the military life, those were things they had in common, but the way they battled; the style of military life, they were totally different. The finality of battle, the finality... Or perhaps, the notion of a lack of finality in the life they lived, they were the same, universal understandings of man, transcending time and worlds.
Curt looked around the corner again, adjusting his grip on the rifle hesitantly. He picked out his targets, working from the Brigadier General that paced on the dragon's back down the ranks slowly. He hoped that Oliver knew to do the same. Of course he did. Curt sighed and jumped around the corner, snapping the rifle to his shoulder and firing. The general's chest vanished in an instant. The Templar instinctively dropped to the ground, searching for the threat. Curt had forgotten all about Oliver's spell.
The dragon stood up. "Oliver! You cover the infantry. I've got to take out that armor!"
Curt fired at the head of the dragon, short burst after short burst. The rounds impacted to no avail. Curt needed some weakness, some flaw in the armor to exploit. Curt realized that the dragon's crew was scrambling up its back, the men getting into their stations. Curt shifted his aim and started taking them out while they were still vulnerably scrambling up the side of the beast. They fell as they were struck. But when the original crew was struck down, more untrained Templar came to take their place. Curt switched to explosive rounds and put one in the bottom of the crossbow. That particular dragon, an MGD, had two additional light polybolos emplacements on its sides. Curt, now resting behind a pile of crates, took them out with precision shots, leaving the Templar with nothing to man.. Meanwhile, Oliver held off the infantry like a one-man army. Magic was some powerful stuff, to say the least.
Curt had an idea. He switched back to AP rounds and looked down the infrared scope. He took in a deep breath and sighted the dragon's eye, waiting for the right time to fire. The best lumbered as it turned to face them enough to breath fire down upon them. For a moment, its eye locked with Curt's scope. Curt grinned and pulled the trigger. The gun recoiled heavily, just like every time it fired with a .50 shell. Somehow, it seemed worse that time. But the dragon fell, smashing Templar, neck flailing as it did so. The ground was rocked.
There was another dragon, revealed to Curt when the other fell, but it was only partially armored. Its crew scrambled all over it, trying to fit the heavy metal plates. The chest plate had yet to be fitted. Curt took advantage of the fact, sighting the left edge of the white on the beast's belly around the mid-line. If Oliver had taught him correctly, and if he recalled correctly, the dragons' heart should've lied under this place. He fired. Once. Twice. Blood spewed out of the wound and the dragon screeched in pain as it too toppled.
Curt grinned savagely and made a reassessment of his situation. Oliver appeared to be getting tired, and Curt couldn't blame him; the Templar just kept coming and coming. Curt fired three rounds into the crowd of armored mages and called out, "Oliver! I think it's time to go!"
"What happened to this being the last stop?" he called back as he eliminated a Templar with a close-range blow to the stomach.
"We've both got something to go home to, so don't whine!"
"Yessir," He said, delivering a final blow to a low-ranking Templar who seemed unusually skilled for his rank and turning to run. Curt fired three explosive rounds in as quick of succession as the .50 cal shells would allow and turned to run. A rather large droplet of water smacked him in the face as he began to move. Rain. Perfect. That'll screw with my optics for sure, he thought, grimacing. Nichevo, he added to himself.
Oliver held off the Templar as Curt passed him and took up a position. In military terms, it was called a 'Fighting Retreat.' Now it was more of a 'Get The Heck Outta Dodge And Kill As Many Idiots As You Can While You're At It Retreat.' An apt title, he thought with a silent chuckle.
Re-focusing on where he was, he slid in behind a pile of crates towards the edge of the Templar camps. Ground's gettin' wet, he thought as he brushed mud off his weapon, ignoring the water that seeped through his uniform. The uniform of a country that simply didn't exist. He sighted the gun with the iron sights under the infrared scope and fired into some of the Templar starting to close in on Oliver. Oliver turned and started to run as Curt fired into the crowd of mages. The explosive rounds caused up-swellings of ground and men to fly in the air missing feet and parts of legs. Curt made a mental note that microexplosives had made some progress since his days in pararescue. Many tools of war had. He sighed. It seemed like man's purpose for advancement was to discover new ways to kill other men. Crying shame, but true nonetheless. He was thankful that the Templar hadn't had two thousand and something years to perfect killing him. That was a scary thought.
He fired a couple more shots as Oliver passed by him and took up position in the edge of the woods. Curt stood up, gear clinking, and took off at a dead run. Suddenly, from the burnt shell of a tent, a Templar Sargent jumped up, tackling Curt and grabbing him by the throat. He cursed in German and Human and turned his bayonet on him, stabbing him in the back. He felt a sharp pain in his right leg that ebbed off as the Templar's breath ceased. What kind of spell was that? Curt threw the body off of him, removing the bayonet from the corpse's back. He grimaced and started to get up.
"Kacke," he muttered as he realized that he couldn't get up. He pushed off his rifle's butt and pulled himself up by his good leg. The other, his right and the one that the Templar had done something to, simply refused to respond to whatever he told it to do. Using his rifle's long barrel as a crutch, he limped back to the woods, leaning against a tree near Oliver. "Oliver! You got anything for this? I can hold 'em off for a while."
"I'd love to know. It's my right leg!"
Oliver scrambled over, still shooting bolts at the Templar with his free hand whenever he could. Curt shook his head with a reflection of how skilled Oliver was. He was glad the talent wasn't wasted in the Army of Fools. He felt tingling, and sometimes sharp, pinpoint pain, in his leg as Oliver attempted to heal it. Nonetheless, he stayed unswaying and kept trying to hold the Templar off with shots as fast as he could keep them aimed.
"You idiots!" A Templar, apparently an officer well behind their main lines of attack, yelled. "You can't take them down with this idiocy! Long range! Long range!"
"I think that means we had better get out of here," Curt said and fired a last few shots and broke away from Oliver. He was able to limp with little pain.
"I'm not finished!"
"You'll be finished if you don't come on!"
"Yeah," he muttered and stood up, making one last lash of energy and taking flight. Curt turned and took another shot. A bolt of blue struck him in the chest. He grinned when he found that his Dragon Skin vest had absorbed the hit and made another shot before turning and limping away.
He looked around him. "Not much farther!"
Oliver looked around him. "Yeah, that it ain't."
Was his southern accent that contagious on this world? Apparently so. He leaned up against a tree and dug through vest pockets. He found a small detonator and pulled it out. Oliver passed him and got behind a tree. Nodded. Curt leaned around the tree and checked the position of the Templar. A little closer... A little... Now! He thumbed the switch in a quick movement. There was a sequence of explosions as claymores unloaded pellets and shrapnel into unsuspecting mages. While they were still stunned, Curt peered around the tree and fired bursts into the crowd, which was stunned and disoriented.
Each trigger pull brought a loud thunderous noise and a sharp kick into his shoulder. Each trigger pull sent an explosive round flying forward and into the target, whatever he happened to be aiming at. When he had the sights square on the chest of a Templar PFC, it simply clicked. "Kacke," he muttered. "Oliver! Cover me, I'm out! We need to fall back behind the second perimeter. It'll give me time to reload!"
"Got it!" he called back, knocking out several Templar with deft bolts of blue energy. Curt started limping at a run, fiddling with the clip release. He finally thumbed it and dropped the clip. The .50 clip had ran out very rapidly. He sighed; it happened. The .50 rounds were larger and more complex than the standard rounds, so the clips ran out of energy a whole lot faster. Too fast, he thought. He slumped behind a tree just behind the second perimeter and took the barrel out, replacing it with the smaller barrel that hung from his belt. Right as he locked it in, he heard the Templar nearing. He thumbed the second detonator and took advantage of the time the Templar spent stunned and shellshocked to lock in the .223 clip and change some of the weapon's settings to fit the smaller rounds.
"Fall back!" Oliver called.
"Roger!" Curt yelled, firing off a long burst of rapid-fire rounds at Templar a good ways off and turning to retreat. He started sprinting when he felt a bolt of energy strike him in the back. He instinctively dove to the deck and rolled over, firing short, well-aimed bursts. The rounds impacted armor, making sparks and ricochet noises but still making the enemies fall. He grinned toothily and stood to run again. He was struck in the back again. He fell to the deck again, but not out of instinct. Apparently, the vest couldn't take more than two strong manna bolts. He discovered that he was paralyzed below the impact point and that his rifle had flew feet away. The wound sent waves of pain over him, but he had more important things to worry about as he tried to turn himself over and grab the rifle. He couldn't get a hold on the rifle, so he instead grabbed the detonator for the next row of claymores and mines from his vest with his left hand and finally managed to roll himself over, his face and front covered in mud. He pulled out his pistol with his right hand. "Go, Oliver! Save yourself, I'll hold them back!"
Oliver wouldn't do it. He stood stubbornly over Curt, knocking down Templar after Templar with precision, skill and determination until a lash of manna cut him in half, spewing blood over Curt's back. Curt shook his head and kept firing. A pile of shells started to accumulate in the mud beside him. A blue streak removed the pistol from his hand. No, he realized with disgust. It removed his hand from his arm. He sighed and accepted his fate.
He held the detonator tightly, waiting as the Templar neared. A Templar Sargent approached him and kicked him hard. Rain hit his face, washing the mud away as he looked up at the mage. "Look, we've got one to take alive!" he cackled as a crowd of Templar and KA men gathered around him.
Curt cackled himself. "You'll never take me alive. You'll never torture me; take what I know and use it against my friends," he said, looking at the claymore four inches from his head. He thumbed the detonator.
Michaela ran for her life, ran south, ran home, ran away. Tears mixed with the rainwater soaking her fur. She could hear the sharp bark of Curt's rifle, the roar of dragons and screams of pain off in the distance. Occasionally, the horizon behind her would light up. She didn't know where she was going, what she and Katie would do, but she knew that within her grew the future of her world. That was all the reason she needed to keep running. To make a life for herself. To survive.