tagSci-Fi & FantasyGoing Feet First Ch. 06

Going Feet First Ch. 06

byDarkPulse©

Author's note: this story continues my tale, 'Going feet First', and follows Galen, a soldier once in Vietnam, now on a journey into a medieval fantasy world filled with Elves, Magic, and all kinds of fantastical creatures.

Welcome to Raska.

..................

Going Feet First

Chapter 6: Hellfire

..................

Grey clouds rolled through the sky above Atzla to become the closing curtain over the morning sun, casting the land in a shadowed gloom. Little else aside from the roar of water cascading over the edge of Rock Falls on the river High filled the lifeless silence of the forest. Tree tops rustled in the wind; tiny droplets of rain fell on morning dew and pattered on leaves. The temperature dropped a bit as a sudden, rouge breeze sent chills down the back of a lone Tree Elf as she wandered through the woods.

Her pale ivory skin was bare to the downturn in weather with neither a coat nor small cloth to cover it, usual for her clan. The only adornment to her delicate body was her long, light golden hair wound into a triplet of braids over her shoulders and back. Lengthy bangs framed her face around silver-speckled, grey eyes, and a green aura illuminated her personal space with an earthy light. She was a beauty to behold if one could see her with the unaided eye.

Even with her nipples firming up and her limbs becoming less responsive in the cold, she traipsed through the woods and let loose the magic with which she was blessed unto the world around her. A single touch of her fingers healed a savage tear in a tree's bark. A nonchalant wave of her hand bathed a patch of yellow grass in a lively green. Body invisible to all not blessed with Elven Sight, she crept up to a sickly deer whimpering on the ground, chanting a cure to its ailment and helping it back to its feet.

It was all part of her duties as a Life Giver of the Tree Elves of Atzla. Heal the injured, restore the ill, give strength to the weak, and ensure the health of the forest and its purity for all who dwelled within.

Not long after the deer went leaping off into the brush with energy it had not known in weeks, the Elf's throat dried and she felt light-headed, as though she were elevated into thinner air. Two signs she was overusing her magic. She had more territory to cover by herself with Celia now gone, and with their numbers already short of the desired fifty, the Mana-Wells which cast their special magic out to the Life Givers just barely conjured enough to keep the majority of their group from tapping into their personal energies. Most of the time. Some still had to dig within to carry on.

Though a drained feeling weighed down her core and a touch of fatigue drew on her eyelids, the Elf focused on the splashes of flowing water nearby. Her path shifted through the brush and around the trees, her magic silencing her footfalls while holding off the elements that would no doubt endanger her otherwise. After only a short walk the grass underfoot changed to sand and the canopy overhead cleared for the clouded sky over the landmark waterfall.

Something was wrong.

Caught in the rocks at the top of the falls, about to disappear from view, was a body. It was one she instantly recognized as a human in odd green pants and a striped shirt of the likes she'd never seen before. No, she had seen clothes like that. In fact, very recently.

The Elf bolted toward him as the waters were slowly shoving him over the rocks toward the edge. Any fall there would be caught the jagged points of the rocks below and a most certain death.

Careful not to lose her footing herself, the Elf waded through the moving waters toward him. The moment he was in reach she grabbed the human by his shirt and pulled him along the rocks. The water beat at her claves and tried to force her over, but the Elf shifted her feet to the stones that protruded over the water line and used the dry surface to keep her from slipping to her own demise.

Necela curse me if I let anyone die today, she thought.

One foot behind the other, she pulled the human closer to land while trying, and failing, to keep him from knocking himself against every bump on the way. He was nearly too heavy for her to move. It took short, heavy pulls to drag him one pace at a time and the way a rock just jabbed into his back after she braced to yank him along had her thinking of how many kinds of sore he would be when he woke.

After several frightful moments and with a final tug she pulled him from the current's grasp and onto the shore just enough so it wouldn't pull him back. Panting heavily, the Elf stepped over to his feet and shifted his legs to the side with the water flow, making it seem as though he washed up onto the bank.

It was when she had him lying in a mostly natural position, that she saw the remnants of a bandage stuck to the bottom of his shirt. And then the blood darkening the garment around his right shoulder. A hacking cough erupted from his lips and spattered blood out of the man's mouth and caused her to bounce back with a yelp. His head shifted, but then he went still again as his breathing settled.

The Elf calmed when his eyelids didn't even peek open and he appeared to fall asleep again.

Moving with a degree of caution, she approached him again and knelt down at his side. Her green aura flared slightly as she then brushed her hand over his shoulder, sensing the damage to his right lung and the destroyed a section of ribs and muscle. He would need months to recover without a mortal "surgeon" or healing magic, if he recovered at all.

A lung with not one, but two holes tearing through it would not allow one to survive long. Though it was curious how this human was wounded in a way not dissimilar from the wounds inflicted upon the Nekos that fought with Celia's human.

As the Elf pondered the thought of another offworlder among them, she leaned in to inspect this human's clothes, the boots he wore, and even the material it was all made out of.

Everything he wore was near identical to the things worn by that man that had recently won the grace of the clan's beds. Gavin, if she remembered his name correctly. The material that made up his garments, the color used in dyeing them, the green shirt with black stripes... For the sake of curiosity, she probed into his pockets, feeling the shape of a metal weapon exactly like what Gavin carried himself.

Even more curious, she reached past the steel tool for the fleshy one beside it.

Another of your kind... she thought, biting her lower lip with a grin. I hope you come back in ten years' time, human.

Her hand lit up in a green glow and she chanted low, touching a finger to the wounds in his back. She couldn't heal him completely, lest she give him suspicion of some form of immortality or intervention, but she could heal him enough to survive. Or at least get by without much need for medicine beyond keeping his wounds clean and his arm resting. If he was anything like Gavin... Garen... Galen... that name sounded right... it was the least she could do.

A voice caught her ear then, old raspy words that were given a response by a younger crisper one. Sighing and whispering a farewell to the human, she took several gulps from the river and ran off into the woods. With a snap of her fingers, the sand shifted and hid the footprints that could've proven she was ever there.

...

Yawning as his cart squeaked along the bank of the river High, an old human kicked his feet up on the rests in front of his seat and shut his eyes. That area was safe enough to not worry about attackers, and he had the confidence in his co-driver to let the lad take reigns of the bear that pulled them along. Only a zetran and a half of riding and they would be out of the forest, another seven and they'd be at the first wall in the Trench. After that, one more zetran and they would be at Redding's gate and back in civilization.

After a long tour around the Atzla forest peddling wares to various tribes and gathering a healthy stock of indigenous goods, there was nothing he wanted more than to get back to the ale and the wife that awaited him alongside a hot meal in his own home. In the morning, he could take to the market and sell off what he had and buy new stocks to start the trade cycle again.

"Catchin' shut eye?" his co-driver asked.

The old merchant looked to his assistant, a scraggly boy with unkempt, black hair and a strip of a beard down his chin. He had a witty look about him along with the dull, yellow eyes of a mountain boy of northwestern Astiko. Like other folk of his home, he was built like the mountain he was born on.

"Yup, wake me only if something comes up," the merchant said, getting comfortable.

He stroked his grey beard and tipped his thin-brimmed hat down over dark brown eyes. Bundled up in a heavy, wool coat, he settled in and let the rustling leaves and rushing water of the falls downstream fade from his ears.

"Oi yoi! Don't pass out yet! Something's up ahead!"

"Oh, let the Three an' Kin damn ya, boy, what is-"

Even with his old eyes he saw the body lying on the beach ahead. Their bear gave a groan and picked up speed, the cart bouncing a bit as their animal charged ahead to investigate. Right as the beast got to man, it had its nose over his back to take his scent in quick, rapid inhales. Not wasting time, both merchants hopped off their cart and moved to inspect the body as well.

Taking one deep breath to lock in the man's scent, the bear backed off so its riders could come closer. Both of them saw the blood on the back of his shirt and immediately they looked worried. Hesitantly the old man pressed an ear to the man's back and listened, breathing out his relief as he heard the steady heartbeat.

Sitting up, he looked to his co-rider and ordered, "Help me get him in the cart, he's fightin' for breath and may not last a day or two if we don't get him to a doctor."

"Guess we're going to get to Redding on a hightail, yeah?"

"Yeah, so button up and get his shoulders, and watch that wound of his. Lotta damage been done and I don't wanna watch some bugger die before I retire."

...

One hand resting casually on the hilt of his sword as he walked, Farok continued marching along the river High between two tracks left behind in the sand on the shore. Despite the annoyance of a number of human scents crowding his senses, he could still pick out Petra from it all. Her smell was not nearly as fresh as theirs, but still distinguishable from the nature around it and that was all he needed.

I'll reach Redding by nightfall, given that is the parasite's destination... he thought, unconsciously hastening his pace. I can already hear Rock Falls.

The roar was faint in his ears past the rushing wind and the buffer provided by the trees, but it was there. It was one reference on his map that marked the closing distance to the end of Atzla and a point where one could see the forest break off into endless plain stretching farther than the eye could see.

Farok would believe that when he saw it.

He pressed onward around a river bend. The distance he covered for the time of day was not something he was happy about, but he could only blame himself as he had overslept this morning. Though his body thanked him for it, his conscience did not as his mind constantly wandered to what the human could have had his assassin doing at his bidding. All the things he could have her do. She could be acting as some sex outlet or a servant to wait upon him hand and foot.

All the rules known to twirl about the collar that came with servitude were set by the goddess Necela herself with the Neko elders of long ago. One didn't dare break them, nor did they leave much for loop holes. If at all. But if Farok ended Galen without Petra's knowing, she wouldn't see punishment. And without a master she would be free.

But then again, if Galen had other motivations for sentencing her to his service... reasons of honor... the ex-Hunt Commander would maybe accept what he has done. Maybe. His decision couldn't be made until he knew the situation.

Why did he smell another human? A new smell floated over the air, a familiar one. Frowning as he took it in more deeply, Farok could have sworn it was the scent of the wounded man aboard that crashed chopper... But he had leapt into the river... did his corpse wash up?

The Neko came to a straight section of river and he, along with his heart, stopped. His eyes locked on the sight of Rock Falls, or rather what lay beyond it. His map was not wrong.

Over the edge of the drop he could see every twist and turn the river took for entirety of the next expanse of forest, all the way to where the trees gave way to the Rock Lands. And by the great goddess Necela, did the Neko feel tiny. The Sundered Trench, the Rock Lands, the mountains in the south, they stretched for eternity until the world fell below the horizon. No new line of trees, no field of green, just yellow. Yellow for eternity.

Some unacceptable amount of time passed as Farok fathomed this world beyond the forest. When he began move again, it was as though half his joints had seized as each limb staggered and refused to budge. Somehow he managed to turn to the river and drop to his knees in the water. The stiff shock from the cold against his fur and a splash of water onto his face sent a shiver through every muscle in his body and brought his mind around to what lay ahead.

It's for Petra, he reminded himself. I betrayed my kind for her... she nearly died because of me.

Doing his best to keep calm and breathe normally, he stood and took it one step at a time back to dry land and on his trek again. The falls was a stone's throw away when he noticed a change in the wagon tracks he followed. It looked as though both men that had been riding it dismounted and approached a sizable depression in the sand. A depression the size of a small boat, or animal, or... human body.

Eyeing the tracks and watching how they moved, the way they aligned and moved as one sideways back to the wagon tracks. As though they picked up some weighted object and walked sideways to carry it. Farok could only guess they picked up the body and put it in the back of their cart...

Mind processing the marks in the sand, he moved to a patch of blood and got down on all fours to take in the scent.

The human. He's still alive, lucky Rakec Neerik.

A second goal locked into his sights, Farok stood up and took off in the direction of the cart tracks. Galen was a man of unending loyalty to his comrades, something the ex-Huntmaster witnessed firsthand the day he came to the forest. If Galen had any loyalty to the wounded one that just arrived, then Farok only needed to get a hold of him and wield his wellbeing in a way that could secure Petra's freedom.

..............

Unusually bright moonlight pierced through the window onto Flak's closed eyelids. Grunting and cursing, he pulled his blanket up and rolled over in his bed, immediately screaming out as he put weight down onto his wounded shoulder. In a flurry of fists and kicks to throw the covers off, he sat up with his left hand grabbing onto his shoulder. A slew of swears poured from his mouth intermixed with his howls of pain.

Hunching over and taking long, deep breaths, he fought back the Hell of agony that was his right-side chest and the ribs beneath them. A tear nearly escaped his eye as he tried to look down at his wound, though the hole in his body was too high up his chest for him to see.

Across the small room from his bed, a mirror hung on the whitewash wall over a vanity covered with both his shirt and his weapons. Grimacing at the shots of pain constantly tearing through his chest, he stood up and stepped over to the mirror.

Damn, I need a shave and a haircut, he thought, running his fingers up the lengthening stubble on his cheeks and then into his unkempt mess of black hair.

Dark blue eyes shifted downward, his attention returning to his wounds. With a gentle touch he traced his hand over the tight wool bandages wrapped around his bare chest and followed the wrappings over his shoulder to the exit wounds. Everything was done right, and looked clean enough, but a deep frown still creased his face.

He wasn't in any American hospital so that meant he wasn't picked up by his own troops. These bandages weren't the type to be used by any army he knew, even a Vietnamese one in the most desperate of times. Even if they were done right, the knots were sloppy, the gauze was itchy, and it all reeked of hard liquor. His guns were also left in the room. Not that he was complaining, but any smart doctor wouldn't leave a weapon with his patient.

So that left the question: where in Hell was he?

Not willing to waste time pondering, he got his KA-BAR sheath strapped to his hip and his M1911 tucked into his waistline. Using his knife he sliced the remaining sleeve of his tiger-stripe shirt so both the sleeves were cut off roughly in the same spot around the elbows. With that torn sleeve, he ripped it into two strips and tied his revolver to his right calf against the scabbard of the knife strapped above his boot.

With his ammo pocketed he sheathed his KA-BAR and turned to face the door as footsteps were approaching from the hall outside.

Flak grasped his Colt with his left hand and cocked it as the door opened.

To his surprise, a white man walked in, his brown hair tied back into a small tail at his nape. There was no doctor coat on his back as the Marine expected. Only a long, black shirt tucked into the waist of his brown pants. He didn't even wear shoes.

"I didn't think you'd be so lively getting out of bed," he started. "You were out cold and half-drowned when you showed up."

Flak flexed his fingers and pulled his pistol half way out his waist.

"Who are you, where the fuck am I, and how long have I been out?"

The "Doctor" blinked with a surprised look.

"You were brought in last night, been out all of today... Look, I'm Jorgensen, this is my home. You're safe here, you're in Redding."

It was Flak's turn to look confused. "Which Redding?... California?"

Jorgensen cocked his head to the side and shook it, "Uhhh... no?"

The Marine's eyes narrowed, "Iowa?"

Again, the Doctor shook his head shook. "No... Rock Lands, west of Atzla forest... North of Astiko..." He trailed off giving a narrowed, questioning look to Flak.

Taking in a slow, deep breath, and letting it out just the same, Flak asked, "And where on God's green earth are those places? If you don't start making sense, I'll start getting pissed off. And if you piss me off, I'll give you a dirt nap. Now where. The fuck. Am I?"

The doctor took a step in retreat at the threat. He swallowed and eyed the steel... thing in the man's waist. He hadn't any idea what the potential weapon was, but he did know of those nasty-looking knives he had strapped to his side and to his calf. There was no doubt he was a killer and at this point, Jorgensen was not willing to provoke him to use his skill without the company of the city guardsmen waiting downstairs.

"I'll be back," he muttered, turning for the door.

"Hey, I want answers! You're not leaving!"

Flak dashed forward but the Doctor was quick to retreat and slam the door behind him, dropping a latch on the other side. The Marine slammed into the door with his good shoulder, only to find it too solid to bash through. He stepped back and roared as he drove his boot at the handle only to bounce back and nearly lose his balance.

Swearing up a storm, he turned to face the room to find an alternative exit; his eyes fell on the window on the far wall. A harsh scowl spawned on his face as he ran to it and threw it open to look outside. One floor up from the ground wasn't that far to fall.

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