The ruby-hued moat of blood spread as a crimson tide into the earth. A single leaf, diseased and oily, landed in the center of the puddle with a calm ripple. Several maroon electrical fires crackled in shallow craters throughout the clearing where incendiary grenades had exploded. The winter air shimmered with the heat. The stained and broken bodies of a dozen paramilitary troopers littered the ground. A single figure still stood in the clearing, hunched and panting. A ring of charred lichen surrounded him. He was cloaked, haggard, with an empty revolving-bolt crossbow hanging at his side. It was obvious he wasn’t paramilitary.
…He was something else.
After catching his breath, he left the clearing and disappeared into the endless and perilous woods that used to be Indianapolis. He discarded his ruined EM cuirass; it had served its purpose, and was starting to get uncomfortably hot. The leaves sizzled as he dropped the smoking armor on them. His boots crunched softly over the loam as he absent-mindedly padded beneath the eaves of the old forest. He didn’t worry about leaving a trail; only those without the preternatural attributes of a hunter left trails.
The assault on the cloaked figure’s senses ceased far later then the actual battle. His body still tingled, and the smell of burning lichen lingered in his nose as he remembered how his magnetic shields had spun a blazing cocoon of heat around him as they deflected the troopers’ bullets. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth where he had bitten his tongue while fighting. His ears still rang from the blasts of the grenades; he knew from experience that that would stop eventually- at least, it always had before.
The trees thinned to reveal a dilapidated apartment block. The adjoined buildings were covered in moss and ivy, and several floors had collapsed on each other. The cloaked man moved through the silent structures, scavenging for anything useful before moving on. The apartments were empty of supplies, but there was a message inside; a slash of green paint marked the wall of one of the intact rooms. It was common knowledge what a green mark meant. It was left by those who still had the ability to resist the paramilitary, as a taunt to the troopers and a reassurance to those who hated them; that they were not alone in their fight. The cloaked man left the apartment and continued to lope through the forest, unconsciously listening for both his pursuers and his quarry.
It was nearly dawn when he finally heard something. A howl boomed through the trees, splitting the night’s calm like tearing metal. The man tensed, his body as taught as the bow he had leveled at the noise. It was joined by another, closer than the first, then a third, far to the right. He backed against a tree, his eyes searching nervously. Soon, he saw a pair green eyes gleam from out of the velvet shadows. An instant later, it was joined by four more- two on each side. The air trembled as the glowing orbs began to snarl. Then the man remembered his crossbow was dry. As smoothly as he could, he lowered the bow and drew a hunting knife with one hand and his hatchet with the other. The creatures charged.
Three enormous wolves burst from the shadows, their knotted muscles writhing like coiled snakes beneath their red coats. Their jowls rippled and foamed, and their ravenous eyes blazed like torches. The man cocked both arms and sent the weapons spinning end over end toward the wolves. Two of the animals crashed into the ground, but the third leaped at the man, hand-sized paws outstretched.
He hadn’t time to strike or dodge…
An arrow sped from the trees and skewered the lead wolf through the ribs. It jerked to one side and slid over the ground, leaving a streak of blood in its wake. The man shouted stupidly in a release of pent-up breath and tension. At that moment, a woman emerged from the darkness, a powerful compound bow in her hand. A quiver of military- grade polymer arrows was slung over her back. She had an artificial eye, which glowed unsettlingly from under her hood. She was encased in black body armor and had a suppressed handgun in a holster at her side.
She gave the man a pointed look and said, “Took you long enough.”
“Yeah,” the cloaked man chuckled. “Ran into some setbacks.”