Scene 08: Night Terrors
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
The sun was down, the fire was out, but light had never truly left the night, thanks to the gently rose-tinged illumination of a gibbous moon. It was still more silver than red, but that would change in the next two days.
Underneath the dim light, Knickers glided over the jungle canopy. He kept the rocket off, kicking his legs now and then to make his wings flap, but mostly he was just drifting on the warm, strong tropical winds. He had to use a little math to keep it all worked out in his head — a wingbeat every X seconds, maintain Y angle, be cautious of stalling for Z seconds — but it was safer not to make any bright flare-ups at night if he didn't have to, just in case someone wondered why there was a fire in the sky.
The sounds of the jungle resounded below the duo — hoots and howls, cries and coos, screams and screeches. Here, you couldn't see the burned out remains of shelled houses, or the farmers' children crying after Imperials had 'requisitioned' every ounce of food headed for market. It was the kind of peaceful scene that was just enough to almost make you forget the war. Almost.
But most immediately, he reminded himself, it was a scene that lacked settlement. As he drifted lazily among the clouds, he could see only a handful of flames among the trees, spread out miles apart; even rarer were large clear-cuttings that indicated a plantation, aside from the sinuous, winding pattern of the Bostoke river and its tributaries. It would be easy enough to work around them.
"Nice night, huh, Paddy?" Knickers said, suddenly speaking up.
The rabbit chuffed at his partner from his position on Knickers' shoulder, holding on by two paws. He gave a little yawn and stretched, wiggling his bunny bottom.
"Yeah, I agree. The moon's kinda pretty these nights, when it's getting a little red but not all the way there yet."
The rabbit chittered inquisitively, turning its head to the side a bit.
"Yeah. Wouldn't have planned this for Bobbin's first mission. The train'll be rough enough without the bloodmoon."
Knickers didn't go in much for the supernatural; it wasn't that he didn't believe it, that'd be dumb. It just didn't make sense to him the way math did. So he tended to stay out of magic when he could avoid it. However, you couldn't avoid the bloodmoon. The story behind it was one every child heard at their mother's knee, for as long as the last two generations could remember. The mass death during the plague forty years ago had overwhelmed the celestial bureaucracy; he wasn't sure what it was, exactly, that they did — but the results were clear. During the height of the Red Death, heaven itself began to bleed every month, turning a dark crimson at every full moon. Ever since that night, the dead would rise again every time the moon bled. Some still had agendas they carried out from their time alive; others just hated the living.
It wasn't the first time he'd had to do missions under a bloodmoon, but he didn't know how Bobbin would handle it. The undead were... rough. And anything they killed, they'd have to deal with twice; it didn't take long for the dead to rise again. Only way to stop it was burning them — fire, acid, lightning if you were a witch.
Worse still, they said if you died on the bloodmoon without a witch to consecrate your body, you couldn't travel to the Other Side anymore. The moon was supposed to guide people through the jungle doldrums on the Other Side; but if you died during the bloodmoon, your soul was lost forever.
Knickers already hated bloodmoon missions, because his success directly led to the suffering of the enemy. But even worse now, the prospect that he was leading Bobbin into all of this...
Displeased with his apparent preoccupation, the rabbit raised his tail and headbutted Knickers' cheek.
"Hey, hey, stop it! I didn't forget about recon, I'm just thinking."
Unconvinced, Paddywhack gave him a light nip on the ear.
"Ow! Bully bunny, I swear." He made a face at his rabbit, and the rabbit made a face right back at him.
Before they could get too invested in a face competition, however, a man's shriek of terror rent the air below. Knick's expression sobered immediately and he nodded; Paddywhack leapt beneath his coat, and then the boy swooped down near the canopy. Among the treetops, a little bit away, a strange, winged black creature was holding a man beneath the warm moonlight.
"YoU CLiMbeD hIgh To esCApe mE. BUt theRe IS No esCApe." The fractured edges of a voice seeped through the night. Knick puffed out his cheeks. Well, okay. That was a pretty clear bad person right there. About five point six ocks away. His handcannons weren't accurate enough at that range to avoid collateral fire even when it wasn't night. But he had to do something.
He pulled the left gun from its thigh holster and fired a warning shot straight up into the air.
"Hey! A little early for bloodmoon, isn't it?" He shouted. "Step away from that man!"
That got the black beast's attention. He could just make out an edge of purple at the top of its... head? as it slowly turned — then it became a black blur, blitzing straight for Knickers while the man fell from the heights.
You didn't have to be Knickers to know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The problem with straight line motion, however, was that it was extremely predictable. Even if it was very fast.
Fire and thunder erupted from Knickers' gun, striking the sable beast hard, and sending it plummeting below with a screech that shattered the night.
Quick math — the trees were about 12.5 ocks high on average, square the g, 4.5 seconds to catch the faller. No way he could make that from here, and his wingspan was too big to safely fly beneath the canopy. And he was supposed to just be scouting. But still, he felt obliged to at least check if the man was alright. Knick gave a burst of rocket fire, heading to the approximate position of where the sable beast had been the first time.
"Hey, you okay down there?" Knickers called out. Then he heard a rustle in the foliage behind him.
The boy flared up just in time to dodge the dark shadow streaking at where he'd been, overshoot, and start banking hard for a u-turn.
"Paddy! Hang on tight!" Knickers shouted, whipping out his second handcannon, only to suddenly feel an agonizing, paralyzing pain shoot through his entire body. As his body convulsed, he hit the accelerator switch in his boot and went streaking into the air, vision graying out at the edges.
"I CaN sMeLl YoUr BlOoD~!" croaked the beast quite happily; only an ock or two from him, the two soared up through the white layers of clouds, up and up and up and up, the black beast gradually sinking into the distance below him. It was fast, but couldn't quite keep up when he was on full burn.
Many seconds later, high above a sea of clouds, Knickers regained feeling in his body and managed to flick the toeswitch back into a moderate position — burning just enough rocket fuel to keep himself floating in place. He caught his breath as best he could.
"Paddy. You okay buddy?"
The rabbit peeked its little fuzzy brown head out of his lapels and looked around anxiously, then chittered.
"Yeah. Me too. What the hell was that?"
Paddywhack wiggled his whiskers and the two waited in silence among the stars.