“Oh, be quiet, it’s not thhatt baad.”
Still, the other figure squrmed in the dark, silently. Somebody hissed, and there was a pause.
“I carried it over here juust ffiinnne.”
“But you had…”
As soon as the words were out the speaker regretted it. There was a collective, sharp intake of breath as the glowing eyes in the dark widened in what might have been surprise.
“We will discuss those laaterr…. Afffter we do the dirty workk.”
There were murmurs of agreement, and the meeting may have well been dismissed, but the atmosphere had some expectancy to it, as if there was one thing left to say. And, actually, there might have been.
“Reemembberr…” The sentence didn’t need completion. The eyes in the dark shined with renewed passion. They were, they did remember, the elites, after all.
“MOVE! MOVE! MOV- damnit.” What had began a wild stampede of refugees became stock still and stone silent in a matter of seconds. He hardly breathed, fearful that his breath might cloud the chilly morning air. Yet no matter how many times he told himself he was more or less in charge of the situation, he felt the still unfamiliar rush of euphoria every time.
He had to trust his flock for now, trust that they would stay perfectly silent. Trust that they knew the drill. But of course they did; he was the one who taught them, wasn’t he?
It was silent for longer than it needed to be. It was quiet until he waved his hand, and the few survivor’s eyes glowed with an emotion best left undescribed. They slunk slowly away like a pack of foxes. Then again, foxes were solitary animals.
I know where we’re going from here, he told himself. Over, and over again: I know where I’m going. It was a bold statement for someplace he had only been a few times, but that was the only way. They would, eventually, find out. But this time they were going farther. No compromises, only survivors. It was his motto from the very beginning.
As he led them through a street and under a pile of overturned and slightly rusty cars, he realized the reality of the situation. This was their third night on the road. They only had supplies for two more, and he hadn’t ever traveled this far with this many people. Yes, this new hideout had better be good.
With a nod of his head, he led his pack, his little flock of lambs, his responsibility for today away from the filth-pile, over the hill and…
It was beautiful to behold. The horizon seemed forever away, but it was there that he saw what could only be it. It was a pile of rubble, horribly exposed. It was their new home now that the word ‘home’ was pure fantasy.
The group moved along in almost silence. Twice someone stepped on a bit of scrap metal, and the little company would stare wide-eyed and look around frantically. Each step they would relax, just a bit, only to hear some phantom noise which chilled their thoughts and made their hearts beat faster. But once, the phantom noises didn’t stop. They became real noises, then recognizable noises, the pop, the crash, the roar that had become all to familiar, each one bringing a new memory to each frightened mind. The sound of Grenades.
The Grenades weren’t real grenades, of course. But they looked like them at first. When the war started, they used grenade shells, but it soon became obvious that they weren’t filled with gunpowder or explosives of any kind. They eventually progressed from grenades to old bottles to tin cans, and the destruction of the Grenades remained the same: a mess of pure fire, dark magic, and the very essence of insanity itself. And the noise, a hideous hissing noise, was unmistakable.
He nodded franticly towards the nearest rubble pile, and instantly began digging a shallow hole. He took care to dig it nicely; knowing that it could very well end up his grave. For the thousanth time that day, he realized that they were less likely to make it to the next checkpoint. The idea of death on the field no longer scared him, not like it had before. Now it was an unbeatable game; violent death was inevitable. Now, all it mattered was that they didn’t get the satisfaction of their victim’s madness.
Dust exploded as a Grenade went off just outside their primitive barrier. It swirled around him, obscuring his vision of the other travelers as the air itself began to turn against them. There was a battle out there; the screaming was heard just outside. But it was ending. The kill had been made already.
He didn’t need to issue the command; the survivors of countless attacks knew the next step: wait ten minutes. Look for survivors. The ten minute rule was too short, really, as they were the most patient of creatures. A year seemed not long enough sometimes. Ten minutes was also a yardstick: if you could survive a Grenade that long, you were worth saving. Supplies were limited, and if you weren’t dead in ten minutes like most were, then you would probably wouldn’t waste them. It passed like an eon.
He opened his eyes after the dust had cleared, but the fresh memory hadn’t. The flock was still there: five helpless, fearful faces. He nodded and they picked themselves up.
There. That dirt pile. No? Nobody? Try that overturned car. Noone there either? Well, the tree. Try that. Yeah, there’s nobody anywhere, like always. Protocol, people. I didn’t think there would be– Wait.
That… that sinkhole.
He motioned to his flock to spread out, and the slowly advanced. However, their shepherd was the first and only to look into the pit. just like they had done so many times before. And so many times he had seen only gore and bits, or a soulles, maddened victim, condemned to the worst of fates. But, as you may have predicted, this time would not be one of those times. This time.
There were three figures in the pit. The first was obviously still conscious, but barely; she was a teenage girl sitting cross-legged in the center of the pit, wearing what appeared to be her pajamas. She would probably make it. The second was a little boy. He looked about ten, with messy brown hair. He was curled up next to the girl, looking as if he had crawled there just before he fell asleep. Or lost consciousness; it was impossible to tell. If he hadn’t fallen into a coma already, he definitely had a chance.
The third and final figure was more questionable. He was pressed up against the wall of the pit, leaning against it like it was a giant armchair and he was a lazy teen who had just gotten home from a long day at school. His suit was torn to shreds- awful traveling gear, anyways- and his black hair a mess. That one he was less sure about. With a nod, he motioned to his flock that it was safe.
They pulled each out of the pit without much trouble. The next question, however, was transportation. The girl probably wouldn’t be able to walk very far at first, and neither would the little boy. The kid in the suit wouldn’t make it far at all, if he could stand in the first place. If he was even alive in fifteen minutes.
He hesitated for the first time in… what felt like awhile. Then he turned to the flock with authority on his face.
“Felix,” he turned to a black-haired female that was probably the punk-rock sort at one point in her life. “Carry the girl; and have East help you if you get tired.” East was a little blond kid, a good friend of Felix.
“And So. Get the, get the little kid.” So was short but imposing, though quiet and was suffering hearing damage. She looked up from drawing a picture in the dust to confirm her instructor’s voice. “And let Nix help you every once in a while.” Nix was already staring at him with his bright grey eyes.
“What about the one in the suit?” Felix asked. “You can’t take him on your own.”
“No,” the shepherd replied, already lifting up the unconscious kid in question, “I probably can’t. But I can try.”
So they picked up their new (but still unconscious) members of their flock and they were off to their new refuge without a trace.