The roar of beasts and the screams of grown men filled the rocky valley. Gunfire crackled from the left, several small explosions thundered to the right followed by a collective group of agonizing screams.
Ezekiel, a Drakon just barely coming into adulthood, scrambled to hide behind a mound of mud and rock. He pressed his back against the rocks and ducked his head down. His tan camouflage uniform and face paint helped hide most of his body in the desert landscape. He had questioned his commander about sending him to the forest instead of the desert, where his olive green skin would have been more suitable for.
“You’ll do as you’re told.” His commander growled, giving him a nasty look and a hundred pushups for even questioning his orders.
A growl followed by another explosion rocked the earth. He flattened himself on the ground, army crawling to the opposite side of the dirt mound. A large silver wolf was in battle with a brown wolf, a group of dead Drakons scattered at their feet. Their teeth snapped loudly at each other’s throats. Neither held back any restraint as they slammed their bodies together, working to tear their claws through fur and flesh.
Ezekiel swallowed, retreating back a bit to stay hidden while he watched the beasts battle it out. Lycanthrope against Lycanthrope was a rarity to see. Not many were against their own kind. The two rolled across the ground as a purple skinned Drakon took aim with an assault rifle lifted from a human corpse. Ezekiel ducked down, his catlike ears pinning back as the gun went off. Bullets slammed into the brown Lycan causing it to roar out in pain and anger. A black wolf raced down the cliff side and took out the purple Drakon in one swift bite. It threw the Drakon to the side before joining the fight with his injured ally, dark red blood staining his mouth and chest.
Ezekiel pulled his knees up under himself, crouching as low as he could behind the barrier hiding him from the Lycanthropes. He held his breath for a moment, steadying his right hand with his left for an energy attack. He aimed at the closest wolf, gathering his energy to his hand, when he heard a small cry. The sound was so foreign to him, that it interrupted his focus and the energy for the attack quickly dissipated. He glanced around listening to the soft sniffling sounds, worry working its way through him.
That’s a child, He thought, his heart steadily increasing in speed, What the hell is a child doing out here? It was coming from a group of boulders near the wolves, muffled and high like the mewling of an injured kitten. It soon drew the attention of the black wolf, his eyes narrowing in the direction of the cries. The beast raised his head, his body turning fluidly as his lips pulled back in a snarl.
Ezekiel crawled to the side of his protection, trying to see behind the rocks before the wolf could. His heart jumped into his throat when his suspicions were confirmed. A small Lycanthrope boy sat curled up on his haunches behind the boulders trembling in fear. Ezekiel crawled away from his safety, moving as quickly and carefully as he could towards the boy. He froze as the silver wolf tore away from the brown wolf, tackling the black wolf away from the boulders in an attempt at shielding the small child. The brown wolf jumped onto the silver wolf’s back, biting his neck, freeing the black wolf. The black wolf took the opportunity and ran towards the sound coming from the rocks.
Jumping to his feet, Ezekiel ran towards the boy, arriving just as the black wolf hovered over the child with teeth gnashing and dripping with saliva. The boy cried out, raising his arms in front of himself just as Ezekiel tackled the beast. Ezekiel shoved the wolf, using all his force into an attack that broke the Lycanthrope’s front right leg.
“Run!” Ezekiel shouted at the boy, wrestling the black wolf to the ground. The boy gasped, then turned and ran, stumbling down the rocky slope and out of sight. The silver wolf tried to follow but was stopped as another Lycanthrope body slammed him to the ground. The silver wolf howled in pain at the impact. Slowly he climbed to his feet, snarling at the two wolves before him. He stared them down then took off running in the opposite direction the boy had gone. A group of untransformed Lycan’s and humans blocked his exit. Collectively they raised their weapons, some lifting their hands, in his direction.
Ezekiel shoved his hand against the black wolf’s chest firing off another energy attack. The burst of energy pushed the Lycan back, singeing his fur and skin. Ezekiel fired another blast into the wolf’s eyes blinding him. The wolf roared, turning its head away in pain. Knowing the effects would be temporary, Ezekiel used the opportunity to escape. He ran in the direction he had seen the boy go, half skidding and half running down the rocky slope. Reaching the bottom of the valley, he pushed himself forward, running as hard as he could. The boy hadn’t gone far, much to his chagrin. Ezekiel didn’t stop running as he passed by, scooping the boy up as he went.
“What are you doing out here!?” Ezekiel growled, ducking into a cave opening. He set the boy down and peered out the edge of the cave, seeing if they had been followed. He saw a couple untransformed Lycanthropes reach the top of the rocky slope and look down before sauntering off again. The cries of a fight echoed down to the valley after their disappearance.
“My dad, he’s out there!”
Ezekiel backed up away from the entrance, “The silver wolf?”
He looked down at the little boy, “The one fighting against the other Lycan’s?” He winced as a sharp cry met his ears from the battlefield.
The boy nodded, “He wanted me to watch a fight...”
“Is he fucking stupid?! This is a war, no place for a child!” Ezekiel snarled, pressing himself against the cave wall and slid down it until he was sitting on his haunches. Gunfire erupted in the distance, making the little boy whimper. Ezekiel watched the boy, afraid to say anything. He knew what that sound meant, but didn’t have the heart to confirm the execution to the small boy. After a moment of silence, a low soft cry emitted from the child’s lips. Slowly he sank to his knees in front of Ezekiel, burying his face into his hands. Ezekiel looked down at him sympathetically as the boy cried quietly.
“I’m sorry, kid.” He whispered, watching the boy struggle to take in breaths through the tears.
The boy shook his head then let out a heartbreaking howl that echoed out of the cave and into the valley. Ezekiel’s mouth dropped open in shock.
He scrambled to his feet in panic, “Kid, kid, stop it. You’ll be heard!” He hissed, peeking outside, before turning to the child and picking him up, “Sh! We have to be quiet!” He pleaded, retreating further into the cave in hopes of finding another exit.
The boy hiccuped, “My daaaaddy...” He cried, rubbing his eyes.
Ezekiel frowned, “Maybe he’s okay,” He saw the look on the boy’s face and quickly rephrased, “He is okay, kid. He’s fine! But I have to get you out of here now, so he can find you again.” A tremor was working its way up his right leg in his panic. Ezekiel shook it off, pushing himself into a jog.
“What’s your name, kid?” He asked, noticing the boy’s hold on him get tighter the further into the cave they went.
“Gabriel.” The boy whispered.
Ezekiel slowed to a walk, the darkness too much even for his eyes, “Gabriel, I’m Ezekiel.” He pulled a flare out from his pocket and lit it, “We’ll get you out of here, Gabriel.” He whispered, talking mostly to ease his own anxiety than the child’s, “How old are you?”
“Eight,” Gabriel sniffled, leaning into Ezekiel’s shoulder, “H-how old are you?”
Ezekiel nodded, “Eight, okay,” He took in a deep shuddering breath, “I’m fourteen.” He paused with a heavy sigh. The cave split up into three passageways. He could hear water running in one, the sound making him thirsty.
“You’re not very old to be a soldier.” Gabriel wiped his nose on his sleeve.
Ezekiel snorted, “I’m a Drakon, I’m old enough.” He growled, trying to make a decision about which passageway to take.
“I can smell grass from that one.” Gabriel whispered, pointing to the left passageway, the same one Ezekiel could hear the water from.
Ezekiel nodded, “Grass it is.” He said choosing the passageway Gabriel pointed at. The tremor returned to his leg, this time worse, making his whole body tremble. He tried his best to ignore it, his walk becoming jumpy. Gabriel hugged him around the neck gently, the gesture easing the tremors for some reason. Ezekiel didn’t dare question it; instead he hastened his speed to get them out. The cave began to light up with sunlight, and soon they were standing in another valley. A waterfall roared to the side of them, emptying into a large lake beneath them. Gunfire crackled from somewhere in the distance, barely audible above the waterfall. Ezekiel dropped the flare into the water and set Gabriel down. He climbed up the side of the cliff to their left and sighed, a village was within sight.
“Can you climb up here?” He called down to Gabriel. The boy nodded and quickly made his way up to where Ezekiel was kneeling.
Gabriel looked around curiously. Spotting the village, he grinned, “I’ve been there before!”
Ezekiel nodded, his fingers digging into the ground. His heart was pounding in his ears, the tremor in his leg had now moved to both legs. He couldn’t stand up. It felt like the fear and panic he had earlier was taking over him, and he couldn’t fight it off anymore.
“Are you okay?” Gabriel made a small noise grabbing Ezekiel’s shoulder. Ezekiel shook his head, unable to respond, his jaw locked up tight. He looked up at Gabriel in panic before collapsing.
“Ezekiel!” Gabriel cried out.