Ok. This is my second chapter this week, and with this I have done my 3000 words per week that I originally planned to do. So, yay me? 🙂
I just hope I can keep this up until the story is finished. Which, if I follow my outline, will be in about 6 months. Is that doable? I hope so! 🙂
All feedback is massively appreciated 🙂
Chimera and the Shrubbery
Part 1: Parades of Carbon and Intrinsics
Hilda rushed forward, her splintered teeth bared, her tendrils waving wildly in the air. She darted in and out of the sturdy tree trunks, moving so hastily that as she barged past one tree, it cracked under the strength, and toppled over. She stopped. Even she recognised how careless she had been, without Papa having to tell her. She leapt upwards, taking cover in the mess of branches. A second later the two blaring torch beams were focussed on where she had been.
Jeremy and Denver stared silently at where the sound had come from. A clunk, a slow creak, and a crash.
“I think you’re right, you know, Denver,” said Jeremy loudly. “We aren’t alone. Look, there!” He jerked his head to the right, and they spotted a wolf-like animal, with a long whimpering snout, and yellow teeth. It yelped when caught by the light and scurried away.
Denver broke out into breathless laughter, a tinny sound emanating from her voice modulator, it lighting up with a dull green as she did. “Just a little doggie? Is that all?” She slapped Jeremy on the back and leaned on him, her relief palpable.”
“We aren’t safe here,” said Jeremy bluntly.
“Oh, come on! What do we have to fear in this forest? Look, I was wrong to be so scared before. They are just fleshy creatures. They can’t hurt us.” Denver thumped her breastplate loudly with a bang. “Right?” She gave Jeremy a friendly shove, and shone her light in his face.
Jeremy’s auburn fur had begun to dry out after the rain stopped, and it had become puffy all the way from the top of his head to his neck, where it then disappeared under the glinting metal of his torso. His silver, skeletal hands hovered indecisively at the weapons strapped to his waist. He met her stare directly. His face was capable of a replicating a thousand emotions in a microsecond, but at present he chose for it to just remain blank.
“I’ll get us to the base safely,” he said. “I promise.”
Ten metres away, Papa slithered up the tree trunk next to his daughter, interweaving his long roots amongst hers, holding her still strictly. “Watch.. and wait,” he insisted, whispering into her ear hole.
“I am watching, Papa! The invaders.. they’re.. bunnies?” She pointed a leaf-covered finger to where Jeremy and Denver were trotting along, still searching around for an indication they were headed in the right direction.
“Disguises, young one,” Papa informed her, with a modicum of a smile suggesting he might actually in some small way respect them. “They wear disguises to fool us.. to mock nature! Look at their bodies..”
“Metal through and through,” said Hilda, nodding, staring with a mix of fear and giddy excitement. “They are the metal men.. the ones you always told me about.”
“So you were listening.” Papa released his grip on Hilda and began to slink away. “Go for the small one first. We’ll get them one at a time. Don’t take any risks, and don’t-”
“I’ll be fine, Papa!”
“Their weapons can destroy us. This is what I have been training you for, daughter. Don’t let me down.”
“And remember,” he hissed. “They aren’t alive.”
“I know!” shouted Hilda.
The words echoed throughout the surrounding area louder than Hilda had meant them to. The sound bounced off the trees dotted around.
Denver’s ears shot up. “Jeremy..?” She slowly rotated her body around. Part of her brain was repeating to her that there was nothing to be afraid of, reciting to her all the knowledge that made it obvious that there were no animals in this forest that could hurt her. Her body was galvanised steel plating, impenetrable to all but the mightiest of weapons. She had survived earthquakes and skirmishes with Chimera dreadlords. But, another part of her brain insisted that there was something stalking them, something dangerous. The conflicting feelings made her legs and arms start to shake. An outside observer might have called it terror.
Thin tubes started worming their way towards her, slithering through the mud, emerging from the swamp. She leapt backwards, her foot catching on a root and sending her to the ground with a splash. Suddenly there were objects close to her right, flying out from cocoons and bushes, dark brown and green slimy tentacles flooding her field of vision. She stumbled backwards on all fours, trying to turn to run, but they had reached her, wrapping tightly around her legs. She pumped away, telling her circuits to sprint, sprint, but they just whirred intensely to no avail, flailing around the air as she was lifted from the ground.
She found herself hanging upside down. From the dark shadows five fingers emerged, carved in wood, with nails dripping with green moss, the joints creaking as they clamped around her neck. They pulled back roughly, tearing off a part of her neck.
She tried to shout, but it was her voice modulator they had stolen. The green light it emitted when she spoke had drawn them right to it. They weren’t stupid. They had silenced her. Broken tubes ejected gushing liquid, and sparks fizzled from her wound.
The tendrils tightened around her, crushing her torso, picking her apart. She heard quiet, satisfied chuckling as gooey mould sprayed up into her face, into her irises, blinding her..
“Denver, I’ve got it!” yelled Jeremy in triumph. He pumped his first to the air in elation as he spotted the sky again in a clearing up ahead. The storm seemed to have died down completely, and the sky was a bright blue. The trails left by the airships pointed the way home. “We’re almost out of the woods!”
He started to turn back to her, but was interrupted. He had snagged his foot on something. Roots were emerging from the ground, enveloping both his feet.
“Shine your beam over here, Denver. I need your help..”
He watched in fear as suddenly he couldn’t move either of his feet. Tiny browns feelers were working their way up his leg, into his machinery..
He instinctively grabbed for his pistol, aimed and fired.
“Hilda, watch out!” came a deep resonating roar from behind him, followed by booming footsteps, a great force thundering towards him, knocking down trees as it approached.
His laser pistol ignited the roots, vaporizing them, and freeing his foot. He heard a piercing shrill cry of pain when he fired, and quickly spotted its source. Under the light of his beam, he saw one great thin creature, the shape similar to a tree, with a hundred roots and tentacles sprouting out from its wooden body. A crude face was carved in its centre, with two glistening black eyes, and a crooked hooked nose jutting out, shaggy clumps of earth hanging from the nostrils. The protruding brow was creased into a sharp V shape, and misshapen teeth of a variety of sizes were formed into an exasperated frown.
Jeremy raised his pistol in shaking hands, his processing unit unsure whether to shoot or not.
“Daughter, hide!” came the rumbling voice again.
Jeremy watched the tree-like figure leap up with surprising nimbleness, pushing itself off with unseen appendages buried deep beneath the cloud of foliage that surrounded it. He aimed his pistol, but it had disappeared, camouflaged in amongst the trees. He spun around to face the second, ferocious creature running towards him, the one with the deep voice: but that one too had hidden away somewhere. The mud gurgled beneath his feet..
“Denver?! Where are you?” shouted Jeremy, and the words echoed ad infinitum.
“We ate it..” came a mocking whisper from somewhere in the branches above. “We ate the little one.”
Jeremy’s nostrils flared. He couldn’t believe that. She had been behind him just a minute ago. “Where is she? What have you done with her?” he demanded, setting his voice modulator to maximum volume.
“‘She’ is nothing but scrap metal, invader! And soon, you will be too!”
“That’s right, Hilda,” came the elderly voice, from off behind Jeremy’s shoulder. “Use fear against him as a weapon.”
“I can hear you!” yelled Jeremy, spinning around wildly, trying to get a shot at one of the two monsters. “And I’m not afraid of you!” He backed out of the mud until he was on firm ground.
“She was tasty,” taunted Hilda, crawling above Jeremy, waiting patiently to pounce when his back was turned. She saw now the real damage that his weapon could do, and she had several smouldering stumps to testify to that. She was not going to take any risks. But she was going to get him..
“I don’t believe you!” Jeremy’s hands trembled as he scanned the visual spectrum for any sign of movement, whether it be his partner or these devilish enemies. “Denver!?” he yelled, fully expecting a reply from her. He waited still, with every second his hope dwindling. There was nothing but silence. His body became rigid.
A brick-sized object landed with a thump on his head. He spun around and fired off two shots, burning red flares that cut holes through the web of branches and tumbled away into the distance. The monsters were throwing projectiles at him now? He had every inclination to run. The base couldn’t be more than a couple of miles away, and at full speed they surely couldn’t catch him.
But he couldn’t leave without Denver. Not a chance.
Then he noticed what the object was that they had thrown at him. Not just a stone.. it spat out sparks from its frayed hair.. it was Denver’s head. The eyes were grey and soulless now, and wires spilled from the neck. Jeremy locked eyes with the object, and stared, frozen to the spot, unable to process the sight.
Hilda swooped in for the kill, her trap having worked. She pounced down from above, lowering herself on long vines, snapping her claws violently. Papa appeared from the other side, thundering from the trees with the force of a steamroller, his thick arms coiled in, preparing to strike. They landed on either side of Jeremy, surprising him, and cutting off his escape.
Jeremy raised his pistol, but they had preempted him, and bashed it out of his hands. It flew into the swamp and sank, never to be seen again. Papa and Hilda raised their various appendages, flowering out from their center, making them appear huge, dwarfing Jeremy. Jeremy dropped to his knees.
“Why did you take Denver?” he asked, his voice stuttering and distorted.
“We protect the forest,” said Papa, his voice and expression the epitome of sombreness.
“Then, protect it!” screamed Jeremy. In one movement he unlatched a grenade from his belt, armed it, and hurled it into the foliage. It went off seconds later, flooding the forest with flames.
Papa and Hilda let out a pained squeal in unison, shielding their eyes from the carnage. They both wept, and when they turned back to face their metal adversary, he had run, far off to the east. Rather than pursue him, they began heaving water onto the flames, to extinguish them before the whole forest became engulfed.
“It got away, father!” Hilda burst into tears.
“Yes,” replied Papa, his voice steeped in sorrow.
“Will it come back?”
“Yes, it will. With many more, and many more weapons.”
“Will we defeat them all, father?” Hilda’s wide black eyes stared at her father in hope.
“We will try, daughter.” Papa sighed in resignation.