The War Of Blockheart
»»» Pavestone «««
Chez opened the hatch and crawled onto the rooftop of his four-story home. As he stood and walked to the edge, he saw that dark clouds of smoke were still being pumped into the sky all these hours later. His jaw dropped; expecting the worst hadn’t prepared him for actually seeing it.
Reeling from the sight, Chez thought of those he lost. He regretted not fashioning the town better, being late to assist his citizens, failing to protect his neighbors and friends. With such a small population, he couldn’t have anticipated so many would die at once, but he knew he should’ve been prepared for that possibility. And he wasn’t. Above all else, he could’ve never imagined he’d see the ex-girlfriend he believed to be his soulmate taken from him so soon. He felt a gnawing need - an obligation - to sob, but he was all cried out.
Along with the death toll, he felt the weight of having his life’s work destroyed. The home he and his friends had built from the ground up with their bare hands - in ruins; the town square, public depot, clinic, cafe, farms, all of it. The only structures left standing were the homes of Tyknapp, Aiden, and Chez himself, along with the six sniper towers and most of the perimeter wall.
At this point, Chez could only hope those he didn’t see die were all still breathing; whether taking shelter in a nearby town, camping in the wilderness, or at least hunkering down in an erection that hadn’t yet collapsed in on itself. He wanted to believe there was some sliver of hope in this, but hopefulness always seemed to fail him when it truly mattered.
With his head downturned, he muttered, “Fuck.”
For what felt like days, Jason and Aiden had remained huddled together in the latter’s bedroom; curtains closed, lights out, sat on the floor in complete silence. In the few words whispered, they had agreed on shifts, though neither were able to get much shut-eye under these circumstances.
The pair jumped at the sound of the front door slamming open in one fell swoop. Balancing stealth against speed, Jason snatched up his sword and Aiden loaded an arrow into his bow. There was audible commotion throughout the main living area. Forced to assume it was a grendel, both prayed it would quickly move along and not charge the last door separating them. Those prayers were short-lived as they watched the knob slowly turn.
A wave of relief washed over them realizing it was just Chez.
“Oh, thank God”, Jason said under his breath, lowering his weapon in unison with Aiden.
“Just about the warm welcome I was expecting”, Chez greeted in a joyless tone.
“Why did you bust the door open?” Aiden inquired.
“It was locked, there was a horde fifty feet from me, I felt like it - do you need a full list?”
“Are things looking any better out there?” Jason asked.
“If burnt instead of burning is better. It’s twice as bad as when I told you to get inside. What we need to do-”
“Wait, what the hell happened to you?”
“I passed out, I woke up; hallelujah”, Chez continued joking in a dismal tone. After a couple seconds of silent staring he realized what Jason actually meant. He let out a sigh before lifting his blood-drenched shirt to reveal a nasty flesh wound. Through clenched teeth, he averred, “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Whisper-yelling, Jason disagreed, “There is a gash in your torso!”
Chez covered the injury back up. “It’s not that deep, I’ll be fine…”
“You didn’t answer his question”, Aiden noted.
“I saw a UFO and wanted to meet the aliens”, he moaned sarcastically.
A quiet remark from Jason, “Chez, please.”
An intense exhale. “I was in the woods. Out comes Otis, slicing and dicing. Couldn’t get my bow out till after he cut me. He backed off after that. The first shot was fired. You know the story from there.” He paused for a few seconds to let them piece that into the puzzle. “And everyone told me I was the asshole…”
“Seriously?” Aiden was disappointed. “Is this really a time for gloating?”
“Gloating? What the fuck do I have to gloat about, Aiden? I just watched half of my fucking people die and my life’s work get obliterated.”
Jason recognized this tone. If you couldn’t decide whether Chez was speaking or whispering, you should be worried for yourself; moreso than if he were screaming at the top of his lungs.
“...Sorry”, Aiden backed off. “It was a rough night for all of us.”
Chez hated that choice of words, but he was reasonable enough to let it slide to avoid any more words exchanged. There was a brief silence to let the tension cool off a bit.
Jason put the conversation back on track, “We need to get to your bunker and get guns.”
“It’s not enough”, Chez stated plainly. “There are hundreds out there, and even if we had enough ammo for that, there wouldn’t be anything left for taking out Otis.”
“You mean taking him in”, Aiden corrected.
“I said what I meant.”
Aiden didn’t want to press on that right now. He knew he’d have a chance to later on and that there was no need for another argument.
“Well, we can’t take them all out with swords and bows”, Jason disputed.
“You’re right… We can’t.” Chez blinked hard, a subtle mist forming in his eyes. “I love this place, but there’s nothing we can do right now; not with the shape we’re in, not without numbers and more ammo.”
“We can’t just ditch”, Jason glanced at Aiden, searching for agreement that never came. “This is our home.”
“There’s nothing to salvage out there but a few crops and some crumbling buildings. This place is a death trap and we’re not gonna hole up in my house in a desperate attempt to rebuild. We go to AelBurn, sort things out, that’s the plan right now.”
Aiden demurred, “Even though AelBurn and Daniel are all buddy-buddy?”
Chez was visibly getting fed up with Aiden fighting him. “They trade resources, that doesn’t connect them at the hip. BLT’s one of my best friends, he’s not gonna leave us high and dry. He’s especially not gonna side with Otis in this shit. Besides, his town has plenty of room for us, even compared to yesterday’s Pavestone.”
“And what if he doesn’t come through?”
“Then-” Chez caught himself before raising his voice. “...We do what we have to. He’s gonna come through. He wouldn’t stand for this. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. Lola, Maid, Winner, Ether…” he choked up a bit, “Alex… they didn’t die for nothing.”
“Tyknapp, too”, Jason added.
Chez bent down toward Jason, getting all up in his face. “Tyk is not fucking dead.” After a few seconds, Chez broke eye contact and backed off. He peeked out the windows to find just a couple dozen monsters scattered around. “Good news, not that many back here. Bad news, there’s a grendel.”
“Those are tough enough on their own”, Aiden commented.
“Yup, so here’s what’s gonna happen. I pop into your bathroom, smash the window, you guys open the one in here, and we head in the opposite direction. Got it? Good.”
“A-are you sure that’s the best idea?” Jason protested as Chez stepped into the ensuite. “What if they-”
The sound of shattered glass. Out of time to contest, Jason flung himself at the window and pulled it up and open. The three young men climbed outside and gunned it for the main gate, ignoring the few approaching undead.
»»» Brook «««
As Syd steadily came to her senses, all she could make out was a cottage in shambles. She felt as though her brain was punching the insides of her skull. The streams of light shining through the damaged ceiling boards and split wooden walls were particularly irritating.
Dizzy and disoriented, she unwittingly attempted to stand and maintain balance. Only now did Syd realize her surroundings; she was in her home, but she didn’t recall it being this much of a wreck.
She was alarmed at the sound of a distant growl. Still lightheaded, she spun around in a circle, nearly falling multiple times in the process. There were no unannounced guests in her abode, but she knew there were a good dozen or so monsters lurking around outdoors.
On that thought, the memories began flooding back to her. Syd recalled every terrifying moment before she was knocked unconscious; perhaps by her chandelier - a present from her late grandmother - that now sat shattered on the floor.
Still suffering from a pounding headache - but luckily standing firmly on two feet now - Syd made her way to the front door. Immediately upon opening it, she was greeted by the zombie she heard a moment ago. It pounced, sending her backwards onto the ground. Following a high-pitched scream, she endeavored to push the decomposing fleshbag off without putting her fingers anywhere near its mouth.
She decided she needed a new strategy. Getting a good grip on its shoulders, Syd managed to slide back far enough to give her legs good leverage against the biter’s body. She kicked the freak of nature off her and out the way it came in. She herself jumped up off the floor and over its legs before running out the town’s nearest side exit and into the woods. She didn’t even consider looking back to see if there were any other monsters around her.
○ ○ ○
Syd stumbled out of the trees and shrubbery, only now realizing the specific direction she had run off in. Her clothes were coated in ash and soot, little bits of rubble decorated her flowing brown hair, and the sun was just rising. With a pale face, she looked ahead to find her and her citizens weren’t the only victims.
Though Chez’s town wouldn’t have been her first choice anyway, now she certainly wouldn’t be taking shelter in Pavestone. Still, she couldn’t fathom what could’ve brought Otis to pull the trigger and destroy two towns within the confines of his own province. It could’ve simply been out of his fear of a rebellion against his power, but she’d like to give him more credit than that.
Suddenly, someone grabbed Syd from behind, pulling her to the ground holding a cloth over her mouth. She responded by kicking and punching and jerking her head around; any body movement that might assist her in escaping. She tried to hold her breath, but not for long as she wasn’t prepared for this encounter and thus ran out of oxygen quite quickly. She had no choice but to slowly breathe in more and more of the chemicals the cloth was drenched in.
In spite of her several-minute struggle, she was unable to free herself from capture. She blacked out.
»»» Daniel «««
Action entered the office, hanging up his crossbow and brown leather jacket.
“Did you look into the situation?” Otis asked, eyes still trained on a book.
“Yes”, he replied, claiming a seat on the opposing side of Otis’ desk. “Ice is missing and no one at Gold Frost knows where she went, but there were signs of a struggle in her home.”
“Sometime after 9 a couple of nights ago.”
“The night before the last?”
“The night before the last”, Action specified.
Otis pondered the details for a moment, but soon shook his head. Putting down his book, he explained, “It doesn’t add up. We know it was before the attacks, but even if they were preparing for war then, how would they benefit from kidnapping another mayor instead of recruiting her as an ally? Having her as a hostage wouldn’t work as leverage, they would know that. It wasn’t them.”
“Who else would it be?”
“...I’m undecided.” Otis proceeded to change the topic, but only barely. “In your absence, I did some calculations in my head. Had I sent anyone else, they would’ve been there and back in a quarter of the time… and that’s being a bit generous.”
“Are you implying something?”
“Simply curious, no intent to offend. Did something hold you up?”
“I was doing a little reconnaissance.”
Otis removed his glasses, eyes narrowed. “You went to do recon for twelve hours yesterday, didn’t you?”
“If you oversimplify the structure of my day, sure.” Action took the opportunity to defend his actions. “You told me I need to pull my weight around here, so I’m working overtime.”
“Great, what did you come up with?”
“What did I find?”
Action paused for a moment. “Well, I haven’t gained any intel yet.”
“Do you even know what you were looking for?” Otis interrogated. “We knew Pavestone and Brook were threats that needed to be dealt with, we knew their defenses, we knew they had weapons. What more were you trying to find out without getting too close?”
Action had gone silent.
His superior leaned forward and lowered his voice. “I’m putting all my faith in your capabilities, even risking being labeled a nepotist by those who put their faith in my judgement.” A tinge of sarcasm entered his voice. “So, if it’s quite alright with you, I’d like to know what exactly my citizens’ tax dollars are funding.”
“Not only do you know my qualifications, you know me. I shouldn’t have to explain myself.”
“Unfortunately, that’s a luxury neither of us can afford, seeing as the people who pay for your helicopter’s gas and maintenance are highly skeptical of you and will likely remain as such for the foreseeable future.” He took a breath. “If you have nothing to hide, there’s no need to get defensive. I’m just your friend asking you about your day.”
Otis leaned back in his chair, awaiting a response.
“I stayed at Gold Frost to comfort people for a bit, to make sure they felt safe. Perhaps I spent too much time on that.”
“No, that’s good”, Otis reassured. “The Guard wouldn’t do that. They do their jobs, but I don’t pay them to please people. I hired you to do things differently. The people are just yet to warm up to you.”
“So, what was this, a test?”
Otis avoided the question and asked his own, “How did you spend the rest of the time?”
Action rolled his eyes. “I went hunting to take the edge off, alright? Were you under the impression I carry a crossbow as a weapon of choice?”
“I think you carry a crossbow because no one trusts you with a firearm just yet.”
“It’s not about me”, Otis reminded him. “No more day trips, all-nighters, side quests, or hunting expeditions. For now, you get the job done and report straight back here for your next assignment. Otherwise, I won’t have a choice, and I’ll have to demote or fire you.”
Action let that sink in for a moment. “What’s next?”
“I need to come up with something to make the public trust you. Just lay low for a bit.”
“But no hunting expeditions?”
“You get the day off, do what you want with it. Check in with me tomorrow morning.”
Action walked over to the coat hooks to grab his belongings.
Otis mentioned, “You know I never meant for things to be this way.”
Action knew he was referring to the bigger picture. “No one did.”
“I’m a coder, not a fighter. But when the fight comes to you… You become a fighter.”
Leather on and crossbow over the shoulder, Action gave his final thoughts, “I’ve had to trust you, too. You didn’t fill me in about any of this.”
Otis stood and walked out from behind his desk. “You’re just going to have to forgive me for that. It was above your clearance level.” He reached Action and put his hands on his friend’s shoulders. “I know you have no reason to have kidnapped Ice. You just need to understand that this is a job and I’m your boss - and I’m the mayor of Daniel and governor of Blockheart - I need to know everything that’s going on. Is that fair?”
Action nodded in agreement.
Otis walked back over to his desk. “Get to bed early tonight, our hours don’t change to account for recent events.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow”, Action said as he exited.
As the door closed, Otis stuffed his head back into his work.