June did what she’d always been forced to do in life-threatening situations.
Helpless as people suffered and died. Knowing that if she tried to do anything, she would just get herself killed.
Crouching lower, June peered between the dried leaves and dead branches of a brush.
Three different types of nightmare creatures gathered up the thirty or so villagers. The first nightmare was a cat-like humanoid covered with fur, the second a tall statue made or swirled orange and brown stone, and lastly was a humanoid predator-like creature. When June looked at it she couldn’t see anything other than the Egyptian God Anubis.
Their mannerisms were as different as their appearances. Where the creature covered in blue-gray fur paced around the humans, his tail lashing back and forth like cats. Almost like he was playing. The Anubis creature was perfectly still. Waiting. And the stone-like humanoid stood at the far perimeter, like a wall to keep everyone in.
The only thing the same about the three different types of creatures were the clothes they wore. Black gothic coats, with red embroidery on the high collars. All the same fashion. A uniform.
The man who had dumped June here wore the same uniform. The difference being that his coat was a deep maroon, with black embroidery on high black collars. He’d told her she would be safe here, that the hunters wouldn’t find her.
The creature with grey fur walked around the gathered villagers, the tales of his black steam punk style coat fluttering with his every step. Forcing the villagers into a tighter pack. His eyes flicked over them, dismissing them as threats the moment his gaze touched them.
The people should flee, most would escape but they weren’t. They stood frozen – afraid to make themselves a target by stepping away from the safety of the herd.
This village had taken her in and hidden her for months. Had given her food from their tables and a warm, dry place out of the elements to sleep. While it lacked the basic necessities she was used to, like running water, wifi, and air conditioning they had been kind and generous. She was always invited her into their homes, to share their meals and their fun.
June let her eyes run over the thirteen mud shacks with woven grass doors.
Generations of families lived and died there. Nothing special. Rather un-special. The only thing unique about it was the people who called this place home. They survived by sheer force of will. Weathering hard winters, scorching summers, and freezing rains together.
“I’m looking for someone,” The furry creature said, his tone was too casual – too normal. Like he was asking his waiter which meal was the best. As he circled the group his tail lashed back and forth in a rhythmic pattern that June couldn’t ignore. “An outsider. Someone who wasn’t born here.”
June swallowed, looking down at the black ring on her index finger. The thing that was supposed to stop these creatures from finding her. The ring the man swore would hide her. He’d also said she’d be safe and happy here. June didn’t want to know what those beings were capable of doing, or what they were willing to do. She’d spurned these supposed gods, and their training. They hadn’t been gods. Just aliens from another world. Creatures with some kind of advanced abilities, or maybe technology she didn’t understand. But not gods. She’d wanted no part of their war. Now though, with people she’d come to care for in danger, she wished she hadn’t. She yearned for the education she’d turned away.
Now the war was here. It had tracked her down. It demanded blood. Her presence in this village had doomed all these people to a violent and painful end. These creatures would kill the villagers one by one until they got the answers they wanted. In the end they would find her, and their sacrifices would be for nothing.
June shook herself of the images in her mind and focused on finding a solution. For a few breaths she thought of running for help. But it was miles away. By the time it arrive, all they could do was bury the dead. Or if they got here soon enough, they could all die together.
The creature stopped in his pacing in front of Karina and her family. Grabbing the youngest boy, Nakidir, by his long brown hair the furry creature dragged him away from those who loved him.
The man shook Nakidir and said, “If you tell me I won’t have to do anything. If not…” The man’s grin was ear to ear showing off his sharp teeth. The smile seemed to say he wanted them to hold back so he could do something they wouldn’t like.
June’s mouth went dry, thinking about what those teeth could do to Nakidir’s throat.
Karina cried out, choking back a sob as she pulled her other children close. Last year she lost both her parents, her in-laws, and her husband to a sickness that hadn’t touched the rest of the village.
The man’s tail lashed back and forth. Eager. “No?” He was looking Karina in the eyes. Staring her down. Almost as if he were challenging her.
June had to stop herself from grabbing the fist sized rock next to her left hand, running down there and smashing it into the creature’s face over and over. Karina had been through so much. This village had been through so much. They didn’t deserve what was coming.
The creature grabbed Nakidir’s hand and twisted.
Nakidir’s scream cut down to June’s bones. Clawed at her chest, demanded that she do something. What, she didn’t know. But something had to be done and she was sure it was her who had to do it. It involved violence.
One of the village men with long thin black hair took three threatening steps forward, lifting the spear he held in his hand, and drew back his arm for the throw.
June smiled. She’d seen the men practicing with those spears. They were deadly accurate.
A creature, the one made from the blackest night, twitched his hand in the villager’s direction. The man dropped. His unseeing eyes stared at the sky, his mouth was open in a scream that didn’t come.
Nakidir’s hand hung at an unnatural angle, and his scream went on and on.
June’s fist closed around the rock, and she braced herself to stand. But stopped. If she went down there now they would take her and kill the villagers no matter what she did.
The other villagers crowded closer together, trying to gain a sense of safety from the proximity of those they love. Karina and her family were left out of the huddle. A smaller huddle, facing a creature they couldn’t hope to kill.
Nakidir tried to pull away, tried to run to the safety of his family but the man still had a firm grip in his hair. Nakidir called for his mother.
Karina pulled her other two children close and looked away as she backed her family away from Nakidir – sacrificing one to save the other two.
June brought her hand to her mouth to keep from screaming in rage. This had nothing to do with these people, they had no part in the war of alien creatures. They were innocent. Like her, they just wanted to be left to live their lives in peace.
Nakidir’s cries grew louder. More despite.
The man holding Nakidir, shook him and clicked his tongue. “Tell us where the outsider is, and we’ll leave you as we found you.”
The villagers were silent. Their faces blank, as if they didn’t know what he was talking about.
June blinked back painful tears. They were willing to die for her. For a stranger to the village. For someone who’d been forced on them. June lifted herself from the ground, the rock still clutched in her fist.
The creature holding Nakidir pointed at one of the huts. It burst into angry red flames. “I won’t kill you all, just half of your men.” He twisted Nakidir’s other hand. “And half of your women.” The creature threw Nakidir to the ground, his tail swaying back and forth.
Not bothering to brush the leaves or dirt from her dress before squaring her shoulders, June stepped into the open and threw the rock. It fell well short of its mark.
“Hey asshat.” June said, her voice carrying over the sparse shrubs. “I’m over here.”
All eyes turned to her.
Energy swept in a sightless wave toward her, but inches from her skin it dissolved. Lifting her hand, June let them all see the black ring on her finger. The thing protecting her from their magic.
Turning, June lifted the skirts of her dress up to her thighs, and ran. Dodging around the branches and bushes in her path. Hoping to gain some distance, she sprinted without looking back. Branches snapped and bushes were crushed into the ground as the creatures chased after her. With every quick step her soft boots kicking up dry dirt, the sounds of pursuit grew closer.
They were gaining on her.
June pushed herself harder knowing that every step she took was a step farther from the villagers. Each moment gave them precious seconds they would need to escape.
She didn’t realize where she was running to until she heard the rushing water of the river. There was a modicum of safety there. If she could make it the current would carry her downstream. That is, if it didn’t smash her against the rocks and kill her.
A hand closed on her skirt and she kept going, allowing the cloth to rip. The river was loud enough to drown out the sounds of pursuit.
Coming around a tree she leaned into her stride, the river was in sight now. She only had to make it there. Thirty strides.
Her throat was dry.
Her legs and chest burned with the effort of running so far, so fast.
Someone slammed into her back and they fell to the ground. June grunted as someone landed on top of her, knocking the wind out of her. Unable to inhale her vision narrowed.
June fought to break free, but only succeeded in turning over. Hands held her down.
When her vison cleared, she froze. The creature made from darkness, the one that looked like Anubis, was holding her down. Its unblinking eyes were angry, and it’s half open mouth. June was sure it was going to rip her throat out.
June blinked, and drove her knee into what she hoped was the creatures groin.
The thing groaned, and toppled to the side.
Rolling over, June stumbled in the direction of the river, still struggling to catch her breath.
A hand caught her foot and yanked her back.
She fell hard into the rocky shore of the river.
The creatures was on her, holding her down. Pushing her face into the dirt. Its arms pinning her arms to her side. No matter how she squirmed and fought she couldn’t get her hands free to fight back, and her feet drummed uselessly on the ground.
“Stop resisting.” It said, in perfect English. “You’re beaten.”