Being unable to move, every last ounce of brain power is put into focusing my ears. The clock was ticking for my country and I sure wasn’t about to spend it being useless. Tanis does her best to stifle the grunts of agony as she tries desperately to free me. All I can do is offer words of encouragement despite not having a clue as to how dire the situation actually is.
“My theory is that Cartridge is wiping everyone out due to resources. It’s a shame though, you think with advanced enough technology to run tons of water from a lake, to their city, they’d put effort into improving everything instead of destroying it.”
Sergeant Tanis groans angrily as she keeps lifting rock after rock. “Keep talking sir, it’s helping…”
My left hands starts to tremble, as the pain begins to take over. “Yep, I mean...why bother mass producing crops when you can just annihilate everything else that needs to eat, am I right? Hell if they had told us what they were going to do, we probably would have gladly moved away.”
Tanis hurls another piece of lumber then stops and pants. “Honestly sir, I think Taraska would have told them to send the Og Nag anyways and we’d return them to hell. It’s not like us to bow down to threats, even though we probably should since we’re behind in...well every possible way.” Her breathing is raspy and from her footsteps, I can tell she’s stumbling from side to side.
My lips quiver as a scream threatens to force its way out. “I mean...you can rest if you need to, I’m rather cozy!”
She takes in several rapid breaths. “Sir, I can see your blood slowly dripping out of the rubble. Just...hang on I’ll get you out soon. I can see the top of your helmet, but I got to clear everything else away first or the whole pile will just come crashing down if I try to pull you out. Wait...I have an idea. I think I can set up several logs of wood to give the debris a path to fall down. Like I’ll set up two of them, then try to provoke the pile into falling towards me onto the logs. There’s just a few stone slabs I gotta move first.”
It was a game at this point: pretend I’m not too bad off so Tanis doesn’t panic and over-extend herself. “I...that would...make a lot of noise. Most of the city is quiet now so if there’s any stray Og Nag nearby, they’d come running.”
Tanis takes in a deep breath, but I hear her voice quivering. “Then I’ll lure them away. I got a small hideout not too far from here. Dug it out myself actually.” Despite her confidence, I still hear her regularly miss a step and almost fall to the ground. It had been almost an hour and the remains of my guard tower still lie on top of me.
She starts picking up wooden beams and examining them. My surroundings grumble angrily as she sets it all up. “Okay so I’m setting up the logs, then I’m going to pull out a few slabs that will make the pile fall over. It should mostly slide away when it hits these beams, so you might have to dig yourself out since my side will be covered in new debris. You ready?”
The small grave I was in, starts to spin wildly. I know I’ve said something, but I can’t even tell what. Tanis’ frantic voice sounds like distant ambience, despite her borderline yelling. The small dances of light from the nearby fires start to fade with everything else. The pain in my hand starts to diminish to a point where I’d want to double-check if my body was even still attached.
A loud crashing sound snaps me out of it. My lungs pound furiously, grabbing every inch of oxygen they can. Light pours in from both sides and my little tomb is now limited to one last slab above me.
Tanis gasps and then goes completely silent, except for tiny shifts in her steps. They’re rapid and constant, but still considerably silent.
“Tanis, stop moving!” I hiss. Her next words make my blood run cold.
“I’m not moving at all.” She whispers. The night is suddenly alive with the shrieks of Og Nag. Tanis’ metal boots pound against stone as she runs off, calling out to them angrily. The captain in me wants to reassure her, but I’m dead if I make a noise. My eyes clamp down on themselves as slow tears run down my cheeks. I can’t even give her a salute, let alone any last words. She gets to die by herself, surrounded with those vomit-green freaks who would love to have fresh meat. No one to stand at her back, no one to rely on, just the cold, cruel embrace of death if she was even lucky enough to die first.
Dozens of footsteps race by, more interested in a shiny new toy than what she was doing. Luckily, they were never too bright. Mindless minions that knew only one thing: oblivion in every sense of the word. They ranged from the size of a child, to even larger than an average human. Deformed and suited with the random armor salvaged from every battle, they were a mess with whatever scraps they could be fitted with. Some with scrawny arms, others with bulging biceps. Their randomness made combat irritatingly unpredictable. Small ones would slash at heels, bigger ones would just try to exhaust you with repeated heavy blows.
The night goes quiet again after a few minutes, before one final female shriek sings the dying fires to sleep.
I have to clamp my lips shut to not scream in agony, as I shove the large mix of stone and wood off my body. It lands with a heavy crack on the ground, kicking up a small cloud of dust. I lay there panting, hoping I didn’t alert anything to my position. The blood trickling from my side, tickles my back like a dark omen. My hands rattle from the pain and ball into fists. My Captain's cape is the only thing even remotely like a bandage within reach, so I tear off a few long strands and stuff it under my armor against the wound. I carefully tie the second longer strip of fabric along my waist to keep the bundle in place. A cloud of dirt kicks up as I recoil from the pain. After a deep inhale, I glance around at the toppled cottages and houses that once littered my great city. The flames that consumed them were now my only hope to see due to the thick smoke blocking out the moon.
The city around me was drenched in black. Creatures scurried around in the distance, too brief to tell if they were human or not. I do my best to lay still, knowing I’ll be easy prey in my weakened state. Every muscle in my body has given up, but I am still a soldier and soldiers don’t quit. Looking off to my left, I see a tiny foxhole in the debris, just large enough for my body. It was close enough to move into, but if one of those freaks sees me, it could easily be the end.
A few rapid breaths enter my lungs before I crawl my way over to the hole. Every time I stretch out my arm, I give the environment one last look. It may be small, but it had a few feet of rubble surrounding it. Sliding into the hole, I gasp as my side once again erupts in piercing agony. Small pebbles roll off my armor as I sit up. Even the tiniest noises make my blood run cold, as I have to balance between caution and pain. Seconds feel like hours as I have no choice but to sit and wait for anything that saw me. A low, pitiful moan cuts through the silence of the night off to my right. It was too far away to see, but there was no mistaking what I heard. It could be human, or another odd sound from an Og Nag. The cry gets a bit higher pitched and I can tell it’s one of my people. Whether I could do anything or not, was another matter.
My hand clenches around my hilt as I ponder what to do. Chances were high that they’d get picked off soon if I did nothing. There was no avoiding my predicament though; I needed reinforcements, but I couldn’t keep waiting forever. Hunkered down in my tiny hole of stone and wood, I ready my blade and kick a few stones away from me as auditory bait, then go back to listening while leaning against the debris. Soft pattering on the ground makes me flinch. Gradually they make their way towards my little hole, but stop. We play the waiting game again and whatever it was, it wants to know just how active its target is.
I let myself cough and groan a few times, trying to exaggerate my injuries. It was true that my side needed immediate medical attention, but I didn’t need to live for more than a few hours as it was. The bomb should be going off any time now. It would be a kiss from hell itself and the last present to the world from the great nation of Taraska. Perhaps then this world could partially forgive us of our sins after that.
The soft footsteps resume and are accompanied by the gentle ruffle of stones. They get louder and more frequent as my stalker draws closer. My jaw drops a bit as I realize a small mistake I’ve made; I’d have no time to tell if this thing was friend or foe. There couldn't be more than a handful of my people left, so I couldn't risk killing a survivor. I set the sword down and prepare to grab my target. Every footstep is planned as I carefully get to my feet while staying crouched.
The crunching of rock gets louder, as my stalker is just a few feet ahead of me. The delicate drawing of steel makes my skin crawl. Any second now, they’d try to jump into the hole with me. They probably knew full-well there’d be no sneaking up on me at a certain distance. I’m surprised they were even still trying. My ears are at full concentration as I wait for the last step; they’d dig in their foot before sprinting.
My heart pounds in my ears. What were they waiting for? Staying crouched for so long was making my legs burn. Then I hear it. Rocks go flying as whatever it is dashes towards me. I grit my teeth and stand as fast as possible. Without even risking the time it would take to look, I grab hold of whatever I can, and slam the creature into the hole head-first with a furious throw. It hits the ground and bounces once with a high-pitched squeal.
Its eyes shoot open and dart to me. I slam a steel boot onto its hand that holds the sword. I crouch down in a flash, pull the dagger from my boot and jam it into his ugly face before it can utter out a hunting call. I listen carefully, not moving a muscle so the clanking of my armor doesn’t mask the sound of a second assailant. The night is dead again. A burning log nearby illuminates the face of the most foul species to walk our planet: an Og Nag.
On average they barely come up to my chest. They varied in size significantly, which meant being versatile in combat was key. Their large bellies were constantly full of slain opponents and occasionally each other. Their large heads and bulging eyes that stuck out to the sides, seemed like a cross between humans and frogs. Their massive, gaping mouths held rows of long, jagged teeth and stretched from ear to ear. With scrawny arms and legs that somehow let them wield weapons, they weren’t much individually. Unfortunately, they always showed up in a massive horde.
They’re known for two things: ruthlessness and numbers. Cartridge had brought them out of thin air and had laid waste to our land. Their origin was unknown and Og Nag don't speak or have any semblance of higher brain function. Oddly enough, they don’t bleed, which made combat much less gory. Our Minister, who is in charge of collecting information on all species and factions, had theorized that they may have been made using magic, although there was no clear sign of leadership. They were a dull, vomit green with immense, unsettling yellow iris’.
Its upper jaw holds more teeth than was natural for its mouth. The top layer of teeth were now scattered over its chin, unable to sit comfortable inside its mouth. Monstrous yellow eyes stared at me mindlessly, almost looking infected and absent. I had seen infested wounds that looked more appealing than this thing’s face.
Its bulging belly slowly spilled open, it must have cut itself open on my shoulder spike on the way down. I drop my dagger and cover my mouth with my right hand. Out from its belly, slid a tiny purple mantle. It belonged to sergeant Rufina, one of my finest up and coming warriors. She would sit and listen to my war stories for hours at a time. She was even one of the soldiers who was imprisoned after speaking in my defense at my trial.
I can’t hold back a growl that leaps from my throat. Yanking my sword from the ground, I make slash after slash into this disgusting monster. It didn't matter that I needed to conserve energy. Large chunks of skin fly off and litter the ground. Tears crawl down my cheeks as years of pent-up rage come out. these things have laid waste to my world for many years and all the fighting was for nothing. The soldiers I’ve lost, the battles I barely won: none of it mattered. I stop when I hear the moans again. Carefully peeking over the edge of the hole, I see the vast empty landscape. It may seem clear, but our soldiers quickly found out that debris can always conceal an Og Nag.
The pitiful cries were too much to take. My arms can't even lift myself out of the hole. I have to roll myself over the edge and let my body slide down the brief hill of rock that was once our forge. The sound meant nothing to me now, since anything within earshot would have heard my little fight.
As if the smoke was mocking me, I stared up at the sky, contemplating just staying there until my breathing stopped. I was fighting more for duty and spite at this point anyways. In a few hours, our city would be a giant crater of revenge as we took out the largest army of Og Nag ever seen.
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