The Demon of Tal Afar – Ch. 8

Lucas dropped flat as the creature launched the enormous arrow at him, and cringed as it whistled by, tearing the air like a cannon ball.

He was just wondering what the hell to do next when a crack-thump-WOOM sounded, and he was slapped with another shockwave. He saw Farro pop his head up over the barricade, and heard his friend whoop.

“Eat it, motherfucker!” he was yelling as he stood up, punching the air.

“Get the fuck down!” Lucas yelled back, coughing on the dust the shockwave had sent up from the ground around them, but Farro turned, smiling jubilantly, and said “It’s toast, man.”

Lucas goggled at the remains of the giant spider-man-creature when he stood. It lay slumped to one side, the whole of its torso above the sternum missing, along with its head.

“What happened?” he asked the air.

“Can I help you boys out?” someone called from above them. Lucas jumped, trained his carbine at the voice, and paused when he saw a human silhouette against the sky above them, holding a big tube.

“Who’s that?” he called back.

“The cavalry, of course,” Dare said. “It’s Dare. Let’s get you out of there.”

Johnson still had not woken up. With no good way of getting the team out, Dare had magically carved a ramp right into the earth, and he’d helped Lucas haul Johnson up to the road.

“How did you get here?” Lucas asked, once they were all out of the hole. He was putting the hard plates back into his armor.

“Teleported!” Dare said, beaming. “I can’t wait to tell my brother. It’s supposed to be impossible.”

“Oh,” Lucas said. “Why? Where the hell is everyone?”

The smile faded from Dare’s face. “We lost contact with your section, and I can’t find them either. I was with first section, and I was finally able to pick you guys up. Lucky thing, really. That pack,” he gestured at where Farro’s pack still lay on the side of the road, “had the only medallion I could get any actual information from.”

“Shit,” Lucas said, bitterly. “So the others, they’re probably in some bullshit like this too?” he asked, waving at the hole. “Why couldn’t you sense us down there?”

“I’m not sure, exactly,” Dare said, slowly. “It’s some kind of magic, obviously, but other than a tingling feeling on my skin I can’t tell how it works or what else it does besides blocking scrying.”

“So what was that freaky giant thing?” Farro asked from where he was sitting. “And I don’t suppose you brought some water.”

“Some kind of flesh golem, maybe?” Dare suggested. “It’s not unheard of, but I’ve never seen one in the flesh—pun not intended—and that seemed far too… refined to be one.”

Dare began to kneel, saying “I can do something about the water situation—,” but Lucas cut him off.

“Hold up, someone’s coming.”

He’d spotted movement on the hill above them, several hundred yards away. It looked like a group of US soldiers by the color of their clothing, but they were moving in an undisciplined gaggle.

Dare peered at them as well, and performed a complicated gesture with his hands before looking through his rolled hands like a child playing at using a spyglass.

“It’s some of our guys,” he said, relieved. “They look hurt, though. I can see some blood.”

“You mean the rest of the section?” Lucas asked, relaxing slightly.

“Yep, most of them, I think.”

“Maybe they have water,” Farro muttered.

“Why the hell are they dismounted?” Lucas asked the air. Dare just shrugged, and he continued, “Ambushed, maybe? Ran out of fuel? No, they wouldn’t come back here even if they left their vehicles… this is weird.”

The group was now about a two hundred yards away, and had moved down onto the road.

Lucas was distracted from the peculiar sight by a horrible organic crunching sound from the hole below. He took a step toward the pit and peered inside, where the body of the giant maybe-flesh-golem was jerking spastically in the shadows.

Something down there was making a faint grunting sound. Lucas flipped open the IR filter on his weaponlight and shined the light into the hole just in time to see the body split open, and a human form spill out onto the floor amidst the bug corpses.

“Dare, what the fuck is that?” he asked, calmly, taking aim at the new appearance.

“No idea,” the wizard said, looking disgusted at the sight. “That’s a new one on me.”

“Firing,” Lucas said to the others, then put two bullets into the torso of the slowly moving man in the pit. It stopped moving.

“Hey,” Farro said a moment later. “What are they doing?” he jerked his head at the approaching group of soldiers. Lucas looked up from the pit and saw the group had sped up into a jog barely faster than a walk. They were close enough he could also see some of them were missing weapons.

Dare was staring hard at the oncoming men, moving his lips soundlessly. After several seconds, he looked at Lucas and said, bleakly, “They’re dead.”

“What?”

“Shoot them!” he urged. “They’re not alive, they’re animated or something!”

“No fucking way,” Lucas said.

“I’m telling you, they’re dead,” Dare said harshly. “And we will be too if they get here.”

Lucas waved his left hand at the oncoming group and yelled, “Hold for challenge. Sun!”

They ignored him, and ignored his subsequent challenge, continuing to close the distance. He shrugged and fired a round into the dirt to the side of the group. There was no response.

“Okay, something’s wrong with them, but—” Lucas started. He didn’t finish as something thwacked into his armor, causing him to jerk back a step in surprise. He lost his balance and fell, his ears ringing again.

“Get down!” Farro said, kneeling, awkwardly holding his carbine up as he looked around.

Lucas felt like he’d taken a fastball to the throat. “Fuck,” he croaked, jamming his hand into the neck of his armor. There was no blood as he pulled his hand out, but he felt something hard stuck in the soft strap of armor that covered his throat.

“I’m alright,” Lucas said, sitting up.

“Shots came from in the hole,” Farro said after scanning the area. “And the zombies or whatever are almost here. What’s your call?”

“Fuck!” Lucas said harshly. “Can’t you do something to stop them?” he demanded of Dare. He wasn’t at all convinced his friends were dead, and he didn’t want to just shoot them if they could be, well, exorcised.

“Magic doesn’t work like that,” the wizard protested. “It’s very hard to directly influence—”

Lucas cut him off. “Save it.”

The group of shambling soldiers paused for a moment, fifty yards away, then changed formation. About half had weapons, and the other half were unarmed. The armed partnered with unarmed, and Lucas just had time to hit the ground before they opened fire.

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