Kita'thalla Ch. 05byBowoodstock©
Whew...that one took a little longer than the last few. Some parts just didn't want to flow smoothly at first. In any case, I want to thank you all again for your support that you've left in the form of votes and comments. I hope you enjoy this next installment.
Eric tried to yell, but it caused her to clamp down on his mouth even tighter. Out of the corner of his face he saw Kita with her fangs bared. He frantically tried to pry her hand away as she lowered her head down to his face. He felt her hair brush over his face, and for a fleeting moment thought he was going to die before he heard her speak.
"Quiet!" she hissed into his ear.
The urgency of her tone made him stop struggling long enough to realize that she hadn't harmed him in any way, and he noticed that she kept glancing out towards the entrance of the cave. When she realized that he wasn't going to yell, she removed the hand and allowed him to get up, although she was still holding the pistol she'd taken from him. He looked at her questioningly, indicating the pistol she held with his gaze and giving her the best "what the hell?" look he could manage.
"Listen..." she whispered, looking away and focusing intently on the forest outside.
Eric did as she asked, confused. He couldn't hear anything, and was about so say so when he realized what she was getting at.
The forest outside was dead silent. None of the smaller creatures he'd heard on outings from the cave were making a sound. He tried to follow her stare, but that didn't yield any more information. He did however follow her lead, and drew the other pistol from its holster. He shifted into a kneeling position next to where she had crouched down, noticing that she was actually bearing weight on the injured leg. He'd have to examine that later. For now, there seemed to be something more important going on.
"The silence..." he said as quietly as he could. "that's not good, is it?"
She shook her head. "Something big is around. Most likely bigger than us. And probably not friendly." Suddenly her eyes went wide and she brought the pistol up. "There..."
Eric followed her gaze and at first didn't see anything other than a fallen tree trunk and...
The tree trunk moved. He suddenly realized it hadn't been there the day before, and as he watched a long pink tongue snaked out and swept the ground in front of it. As soon as he realized what he was looking at his mouth went dry as his eyes worked out the form of the creature.
It appeared to be reptilian in nature, covered in knobbly grayish-brown scales that gave the illusion of rotting bark. What at first had looked like gnarled branches along it's length were actually legs. He counted eight pairs. They were pushing it slowly across the ground on its belly which explained how it had gradually appeared without them noticing. Behind it dragged a tail, also mimicking deadwood. Spikes that resembled twigs covered sections of the creatures body, giving it the illusion of something similar to a pine tree that had fallen. And of course, the business end of the creature was not at all reassuring. Eric worked out the shape of a four foot long maw, based on the location of four stone gray eyes that peered from the creature's jagged face. He could also see several ridges around where the creatures neck would have to be. Altogether, the creature had to be at least five feet wide at the shoulders, and a good 40 feet long.
He watched as the creature once more pulled itself forward slowly, again sweeping its tongue across the ground in front of it. He looked at Kita, and saw she was studying the creature intently.
"So.." he whispered. "What now? Do you think it knows we're here?"
She glanced at him before returning her attention to the creature. "If it doesn't, it will soon. You see it's tongue? It's probably tasting the ground for our scent. You notice it's following the path we took from the river?"
Eric looked and saw she was right. He realized they'd been incredibly lucky not to run into one sooner. It was obviously an ambush predator, based on its camouflage, and they could have walked right past one without noticing it until it was too late. This one however must have been hungry enough to take a more active pursuit.
"Well then" he replied. "If I had to guess, it doesn't look like it has the greatest eyesight or hearing, There are creatures on Earth that use something similar to track prey. Some of them are actually deaf, and their vision is only geared towards detecting movement."
She nodded. "Which is why it hasn't done anything yet. But we're going to have to do something soon. Unless we move it's going to run right into us." she glanced down at the pistol she had taken from him. "Is this going to do anything to it?"
Eric looked at his own weapon. The gauss pistol, while powerful, only fired anti-personnel rounds. The magnetically accelerated 2mm fero-tungsten slugs were effective against most types of body armor, but against a creature with what appeared to be very thick scaled plates, he wasn't sure how it would fare. What he wouldn't give to have one of the gauss rifles usually issued to marines. The high caliber penetrator rounds they fired would be very welcome right now.
"I'm not sure" he replied after his evaluation. "With those scales I'd be afraid of glancing hits that would just piss the thing off. And even then, we don't know how thick they are."
She rolled her eyes. "This is why we stopped using projectile weapons ages ago."
"You think one of your pistols would do any better?" he asked. He'd seen some of the energy weapons that ketrals carried. Tests carried out had shown they were of relatively equal power to the kinetic energy delivered by a solid projectile from a weapon of the same size.
"Of course! You don't have to worry about things like glancing hits!" she hissed back at him.
"Right, but is now really the time to argue about this?" he said as he noticed the creature was only a stones throw away by now. "You think you can use that well enough?" he nodded at the pistol.
"If something painful comes out of the end when the trigger is pulled, then yes I can use it! Now get ready, I'm going to run out and draw it into the trees. I doubt the thing can climb well"
Eric was about to protest, but before he could say anything she leaped out of the cave. He watched in amazement as she proved her claim of not only bearing weight on it, but running, albeit with a slight wobble to her gait. A deep roar quickly snapped his attention away from her as he realized that his earlier guess about the creatures eyesight proved correct, as it now surged forward towards Kita. The thing was faster than it looked, its powerful legs now lifting its belly from the forest floor to charge straight towards the fleeing alien.
Eric ran out after the beast and gasped when he saw Kita stumble up ahead. Without thinking or aiming for any spot in particular, he fired off a shot into the creature. It was so large it was almost impossible to miss, but he groaned as he saw the shot did little more than break off a large scale. The creature wasn't even bleeding!
The shot did however have the earlier predicted effect of making the creature angry. It stopped in its pursuit of Kita and rounded on him. He saw the body was actually fairly flexible at certain locations of the body as it managed to wind itself around a tree in a U-turn to face him. He suddenly realized with a yelp that it was now his turn to run as it wound itself around and went after him.
As he ran, he recalled the speed with which it had chased Kita when she'd first run, and realized he'd be lunch before the thing got tired if he kept running in a straight line. With this in mind, he changed course suddenly, watching over his shoulder as the creature followed. There, just because of the length of the creature, part of it was still moving in the previous direction, blocked by a tree midway down the length of the creature. He was on to something, and despite the adrenaline of fear he grinned and changed course again. The creature yet again followed, and after one or two changes in direction, he had it following a winding course, its rough scales catching on trees and slowing its pursuit.
Eric laughed in spite of the situation. He was at least managing to evade it, but when it came to taking it down, he hoped Kita would take the initiative. Right on cue the whip-crack of a gauss pistol echoed, followed by a roar of anger. He turned, and saw the creature had turned away from him. Another shot rang out and he saw scales on the creature's face shatter. She wasn't a bad shot, the last one had almost taken an eye from the beast. Unfortunately this only served to make it even angrier, and it surged forward, snapping one of the trees that it was caught on. Eric followed its course of attack and finally found Kita, crouching in a tree on a branch about 20 feet off the ground. That...was impressive, he had to admit.
His admiration gave way to horror as the beast reached the tree and lifted the front of its body up, grabbing the tree with the first pair of limbs and pulling itself up. So much for being bad at climbing! Kita managed to get one more shot off before having to steady herself as the tree shook. It didn't seem to have any effect, as the creature continued to pull itself up. As Kita hoisted herself up to the branch above her, Eric realized that even if it couldn't climb high enough to reach her, the tree would eventually collapse under the weight.
Eric stood frozen for a moment, desperately trying to think of a course of action, before something caught his eye. Ignoring the part of his mind that told him he was dead if he was wrong, Eric ran right up to the creature and leaped up on its back. The craggy scales were rough and he knew he'd have a few scrapes after wards, but they also provided a fairly stable grip. He just hoped that if Kita decided to try anything again, her aim was good enough not to hit him!
He pulled himself up the creatures back, noticing that his presence distracted it, at least for the moment, halting its climb upwards. But for now he concentrated on searching for the weak point he thought he'd seen earlier. There! Behind one of the ridges on its neck, a flash of pale white skin, uncovered by scales. Barely hanging on as it tried to shake him off, Eric brought the pistol to bear on the gap in its armor and pulled the trigger.
The next thing he knew he was flying through the air as the back of the creature rippled, bucking him off. He landed hard in the underbrush, gasping as the wind was knocked out of him. Ears ringing from the impact, he pushed himself up as the beast thrashed around, a splatter of black blood spurting from the newly inflicted wound. His stomach sank as an empty feeling in his right hand made him realize that he'd dropped the pistol during his impromptu flight. Frantically he scanned the ground, finally spotting dull gray metal just a few feet away from clawed feet. He staggered to his feet, wondering if it would be suicidal to try and retrieve it, but a quick movement above the beast interrupted his thoughts. With a feral scream, Kita leaped from her perch, landing on the creature's back and quickly leveling the pistol at the same spot he'd fired upon.
As another gunshot caused the creature to thrash away from him as it tried to buck Kita, Eric decided to take his chances. Dashing forward, he scooped up the pistol and snapped off a shot into the creatures face. He whooped as he realized the shot had taken out one of the creatures eyes, but was forced to leap back as he saw Kita go flying in a similar manner that he had. Despite the three heavily bleeding wounds it had sustained, the creature didn't seem to be affected in any way, nor did it show any signs of retreating. It rounded on Eric, opening its maw to display rows of sharp saw-bladed teeth. Eric turned to run, but was nearly yanked off his feet as something leathery grabbed the hand holding the pistol.
The tongue of the creature, much longer than it appeared, had snaked out across the distance between him and the razor sharp teeth. Worse yet, the angle at which his hand had been immobilized meant that he couldn't fire into the creature's mouth as he dug his feet in to prevent it from reeling him in. As the pull increased, Eric tried to get his hand loose before remembering the knife he carried. Pulling it from his belt with his free hand, he slashed wildly, trying to break its grip.
The sudden attack, although not causing much damage, caused the creature to loosen its hold, allowing him to pry his hand free. The action did however have the effect of him losing grip of the pistol. Reflexively, the tongue retracted like a rubber band, taking the pistol with it right into the maw of the beast. Eric stumbled backwards at the sudden release, falling back into the underbrush. Images of his own death flashed through his mind as the creature chomped down on his sidearm, moving in to finish him off and...
The face of the creature exploded in a burst of scales, blood, and white fire. Eric covered his face from the rain of rough chitin and gore as the creature crashed to the forest floor just inches from him, twitching but obviously no more. His mind reeled at the sudden turn of events before he dimly realized what must have happened. While he was no engineer, he knew the basics of how a gauss weapon worked. They were basically miniaturized versions of the rail guns used on vehicles and ships, using a powerful electromagnetic field to accelerate a projectile to several times the speed of sound. This requires a lot of energy.
The weapons on vehicles and star ships were of course fired with energy from their power plant, and the rifles carried by marines were powered by the micro-fusion reactor that also drove their heavy power armor. In order to reduce size however, pistols were forced to use a small steady state fusion cell that unlike a reactor, could not be powered down, and if subjected to extreme forces they could become volatile. It was assumed that anything capable of exerting enough force to breach a fusion cell would also be fatal to the carrier of the weapon, so this risk was deemed acceptable by the military brass.
If a cell did explode, it had approximately the same effects as a fusion demolition charge going off. The results were obvious as Eric finally uncovered his face and stared at the smoking crater where the creature's face had been. He realized that he was actually incredibly lucky that it was so tough. If not for most of the blast being absorbed by the armored scales, he would easily have been caught in the fireball. He'd seen the kind of burns that an explosion like that produced, and the memory of hardened soldiers screaming as they begged medics to just end their lives was enough to make anyone feel faint.
He was still sitting in awe, staring at the slain beast when Kita found him. Thankfully she hadn't been seriously injured in her fall from the creature's back, but her arms and legs were covered in numerous scratches and cuts from the rough scales. She glanced in amazement at the the aftermath of the explosion she'd heard before turning back to Eric.
"What happened?" she asked, helping him to his feet.
Eric groaned as he became aware of new bruises. "It ate my gun...and well..." he just waved a hand at the remains.
"What?!" she yelled. "How did you let that happen?"
"Grabbed my wrist with it's tongue..." he replied, still a little dazed from the whole experience. "Took the pistol when I broke free." He looked at the smoking corpse and shrugged. "It's dead now"
"Right, but now we only have one weapon!" she said, completely exasperated.
Eric shrugged again. "Still have a knife..." he said, holding up the blade.
Kita stared at him before allowing a small laugh to escape her lips. The bewildered voice, the lame weapon, and the overall image of him standing there in shock covered in bits of the creature was amusing in a morbid kind of way. She shook her head. "You're a mess"
Eric finally snapped out of his stupor and looked down at himself. His chest and arms were black with the blood and burnt flesh of the creature, and he could feel something sticky in his hair as well. Fighting back the urge to throw up, Eric quickly looked up and down Kita, noticing a few lacerations that were bleeding, including one particularly nasty looking cut on her left thigh, but thankfully nothing urgent. He shook his head to clear his thoughts before looking at the fallen predator.
"Did that just happen?"
She gave him a funny look. "What do you mean, of course it happened!"
He shook his head. "Sorry, still in disbelief that I'm not dead right now. In any case...I think I should go get cleaned up or I'm going to reek for days."
She nodded. "Right, but I'm coming with you"
He was about to protest before he remembered they only had one gun left now, and they had no idea if they'd run into anything else on the way. Wordlessly he nodded and they started off towards the river.
Despite them warily avoiding anything that resembled a fallen tree trunk, this visit to the river was fast and uneventful. Kneeling at the edge, Eric was able to get the gore and blood off of him before it dried, and was able to get his undershirt relatively clean, although there would always be a black stain on it. The entire walk back however, his mind was occupied with other thoughts as he watched Kita. He had to remind himself to focus at one point as his eyes were drawn to her swaying hips and tail, causing him to almost trip and earning a backward glance from her. But it was still incredible, the fact that she had been able to run, climb, and everything else when they were fighting. And now as he watched, she seemed to have no problem with walking without assistance.
As they finally reached their shelter, Kita handed him back his pistol before moving to sit in her normal spot across from him, resting against the wall with her legs folded up to her chest. Eric immediately started to unpack a few things from his med kit, as he'd noticed the cut on her thigh earlier and wanted to look at it to make sure it didn't get infected. He was about to ask her to move closer so that he could attend to it, when it occurred to him that she had been very quiet on the walk back. He glanced over at her and saw that she was looking away from him, purposefully not meeting his eyes. Something was up. But for now, he had a job to do.
"Kita" he said, frowning when she still didn't turn to look at him. "Kita. I need to look at your leg"
"No, you don't"
Eric opened his mouth to speak, but the response had caught him completely off guard, causing him to fumble the words in his head. He gathered his thoughts before trying again.
"I saw the cut on your leg, it could get infected if I don't treat it. In addiction, I haven't had a chance to examine the fracture yet. I need to make sure that all that running didn't make it worse"
She sighed and covered her face with one hand. "It didn't make it any worse. Trust me."
Eric stared at her, trying to figure out what was going on when something caught his eye. The multitude of cuts and scrapes that she'd acquired during the fight were almost gone. None of them were bleeding, several had even disappeared entirely, the only evidence of their existence a small amount of dried blood that even as he watched, was flaking off.
"Kita, what's going on?"
Her mind was frantic as she sat, trying to figure out a way to make him leave her alone. She'd known that eventually he'd see evidence of her abilities, but for it to happen this fast, it was bad in more ways than one. Several things had lined up perfectly to make the situation happen as it had, and now she realized with resignation that there was no way that she could hide it from him. Now she just had to figure out how to explain it without giving too much away. There was no way he, or anyone else outside of her own kind could understand the whole story. She finally looked at him, wondering where to begin. Unable to find the words to start, she simply unfolded her legs and turned so that the large cut on her left thigh was visible to him.