VIII - The Fight Back
The pleasant scene did not last long, and their situation and surroundings soon came back to Liana.
At once they were off into the dark jungle again. Elias soothed the excited Hooky with hushing sounds and open palm gestures.
As they walked, Jerrim reached down to scratch the back of Hooky’s ear, but the creature shied away and nestled further into the folds of Elias’s coat, giving off a small growl. Liana and Jerrim shared a questioning look, wondering what to make of Hooky’s uncharacteristic behaviour.
They came upon a field of tall grass that stretched almost as high as them, with several rock formations reaching above the grass. An unseen creature called out in a rippling cry, and was met by a croaky call further away. Liana hugged herself, trying not to think of all the unknown life forms hidden in the darkness.
By the largest of the rocks, Elias stopped and told them to wait for him. He then jogged to the edge of the clearing and laid another of his mechanical traps among the rising leaves, before doing the same on the opposite side of the field.
When Elias was done, he turned to them, and froze.
A chill ran through Liana when she saw the wide-eyed look on Elias. She strained to hear or see what had made him pause. Blades of grass brushed against her arm and sent another shiver through her, and she suddenly felt very exposed.
Their protector quickly snatched the trap he had just laid and threw it into the darkness to the side of them. It connected with a shadow Liana had not seen, and in the electricity that burst out she saw the form of a stout armoured figure convulsing. Their attacker fell to the ground as rigid as a statue.
Hooky cried out and darted towards Elias.
Stomping footsteps and clinking armour came from behind, and Liana spun to see another attacker approaching them through the tall grass. A blast of red energy shot from his rifle. Jerrim shoved her and they both fell to the ground, narrowly missing the shot.
Jerrim rolled off her and became lost within the undergrowth. Liana kept low, hoping the darkness and tall grass would hide her for the moment. With a racing heart she edged closer to the soldier’s direction.
Hooky’s cries and growls rang through the air, and a flash of white light and commotion told her that Elias was fighting with another invader nearby. Rising to a crouched position, she tightened her grip on the spanner-blade and held it over her shoulder, ready to strike.
Their attacker stepped closer, his searching rifle aimed low, but he had not seen her yet.
When he was as close as she dared him to be, Liana jumped out and swung her weapon as hard as she could. The rifle spun from the soldier’s hands and fell into the nearby grass.
Her attacker moved quicker than she could have imagined. Before she could raise her spanner-blade for another attack, the back of a gauntlet swung across her face. She fell to the ground with pain shooting through her burning face and the taste of blood in her mouth. Lights spun through her blurred vision, and for a moment thought she was going to pass out.
Jerrim’s shout brought her focus back, and she saw him rush towards the soldier. In an instant, he was lifted up onto the large shoulder pad of the invader and thrown to the ground, becoming lost in the tall grass.
Liana also lost sight of their attacker, and fought through the throbbing pain in her head to look for him through watery eyes.
The armoured soldier came out of the grass, towering over her with his rifle back in hand.
A second figure appeared in a blur of motion. Elias threw several punches, denting the armour where they landed and finished with a powerful uppercut that sent the guard flying backwards.
Though they were both hidden within the darkness of the tall grass, Elias laid eyes on Liana and Jerrim instantly.
“We keep moving,” he growled through heavy breaths. Hooky circled him, humming excitedly.
They both rose above the grass, and Jerrim went to her.
“Your cheek,” he said, concern shaking his voice.
Liana gently touched her face before Jerrim’s reaching hand could. She grimaced at the burning cuts and sore flesh, her hand coming back wet with blood. Jerrim’s hand lowered and hovered over her bare shoulder, before falling back down. He gave her his strongest worried expression, his wide eyes shivering with concern.
“I’m fine,” she told him, trying to sound strong, despite her dizziness. She found a weak smile and was glad that Jerrim was with her in this situation. They had been through so much in such a short time. She gripped his arm and squeezed. “Thank you,” she said with a sincere smile.
“The gunfire will have drawn others to our location,” Elias told them.
That was enough to get them moving. Liana instinctively reached a hand out to support Jerrim, before remembering that he didn’t need her help to walk anymore. She knew that he noticed when he looked away and attempted to focus on something elsewhere, the way he did when she caught him watching her.
Hooky hovered a moment, his bat-like wings flapping rapidly, and watched them both. He turned towards Elias, and then back at them, his eyes hooded in thought. For a moment Liana thought she could see an intelligent mind working behind his large eyes. His serious gaze switched to a crooked grin, and he sang “Hanks, hanks, hanks!” while spinning and following them.
At the edge of the field of tall grass, they passed an unconscious soldier with a smoking burn mark on his chest armour.
When Jerrim shifted beside her, she thought that he had tripped, before she realised that he was reaching down. He straightened and brought up the invader’s large rifle. Managing to raise it high before he faltered, his hands dropped, almost losing grip on the heavy rifle.
“Leave it,” Liana told him, seeing what he was thinking. “We’ll be safer without you swinging that thing around and shooting everything in sight.” She tried to keep her voice light, knowing that he didn’t like being told he couldn’t do something.
Jerrim dropped the rifle with a frustrated sigh. He nodded in compliance, trying to hide his heavy breathing, but Liana noticed a lot more than she showed. Reaching down again, he unclasped a baton from the soldier’s belt. He held it up and nodded, deciding for the both of them that it was the correct thing to take. The indented buttons on the handle told Liana that the baton was the extendable kind.
“Come. Come,” Hooky said to them eagerly, nodding his head towards Elias.
Liana wondered why the creature was so keen for them to continue, before she realised that he probably thought they were playing a game, and had no idea of the danger they were in.
After a few more steps, a towering, jagged shadow could be seen ahead of them. Liana eventually saw that it was a thick cluster of bushes and thin trees. A footpath reached alongside the large bushes, and Elias stopped them on the muddy surface.
“Wait here a moment,” Elias said to them. “I will not go far.” He moved down the path, followed by Hooky. They saw Elias reaching into his satchel as he became lost in the darkness ahead.
Liana hugged herself once again, feeling the cold of the night seep into her bones, despite her burning cheek. The two of them alone, she felt that Jerrim was going to speak, though he must have decided against it. She resisted looking at him directly.
Leaves rustled down the path. She thought Elias was returning, before she realised that the sound was coming from behind them.
An armoured guard burst from the bushes, staff raised over his head.
Jerrim cried out and pushed Liana to the side, leaving the staff to crash into the ground between them.
Lying on her side, Liana saw Jerrim charge at the soldier. His baton swung across the squared helmet of their attacker but did little more than jerk his head back. Jerrim raised the baton for another strike, but the soldier moved in a flash and swung his staff into Jerrim’s shoulder, sending him to the ground.
The staff rose, preparing for another strike on the dazed boy.
Liana rose to her feet, but she knew she would not reach them in time.
A screeching cry signalled the approach of Hooky, who slammed into the soldier’s helmet and wrapped his arms around him.
Reaching them, Liana cried out and plunged her blade into the side of the soldier’s body armour. It penetrated the thin covering, but did not reach as far in as she had hoped.
The soldier managed to grab hold of Hooky and throw him off, while Liana readied for another attack. Jerrim also charged with his baton in hand.
Like the other invaders, the large soldier moved far quicker than them and swung his staff before their attacks could reach him.
As the staff swung down towards Liana, a great ball of light shot by her and splashed over the soldier, sending him through the air and landing on his back, where he lay motionless.
Elias rushed out of the shadows and assessed them.
“Are you hurt?” he asked them.
They both shook their heads.
“We are not too far now,” he added, his eyes constantly moving.
Hooky jumped up to hover beside Elias, eagerly bouncing up and down.
“Let’s go then,” Jerrim said, taking a step.
Liana could tell from his strained voice that he was hurt, and she looked him over. Her eyes fell on a patch of red on his shirt, over his bandaged side.
“Jerrim!” she exclaimed, louder than she intended. “You’re bleeding.”
Jerrim pulled his open shirt to cover his body, but not before Liana saw the blood seeping from the bandage underneath. “It’s okay. I’m okay. Just the adrenaline. I feel fine.”
Dropping her spanner-blade, she stepped to him and gently pulled his shirt open, finding parts of it stuck to the blood underneath.
“Li,” he protested, although said no more.
She carefully ran her fingers over the bandage, keeping away from the bloodstain, feeling for any further injuries. Her hand moved to his back, before sliding back along to his side. She stopped at his stomach and found her trembling hand reaching up towards his bare abdomen. For a moment she was lost in his sweaty torso.
“Li,” Jerrim repeated, his voice breaking.
She blinked back her focus, as if a dream had just taken over her. She lifted her head towards him, not bothered that their faces were close together. Somehow, it felt right to be close to him. Like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Jerrim’s wide eyes met hers, and he breathed heavily through his opened mouth.
She could feel his heartbeat fast, as did hers.
His sweaty face held her gaze a moment longer before they both noticed a light grow between them.
A spark bug floated passed, wavering lazily in the air between them.
The sudden illumination brought them both back to their senses, and Liana pulled away with an embarrassed smile. She pretended not to notice the stunned look that remained on Jerrim’s frozen face.
The bug had tickled her nose, and she rubbed her nostrils rigorously, attempting to keep busy and not look at Jerrim.
Elias, who she had not realised was watching them, turned and walked down the path in the opposite direction to the trap he had set.
Liana picked up her spanner-blade and followed him. Keeping her back to Jerrim, she couldn’t help but wonder what their moment had meant. She stopped herself before she was lost in thought, telling herself that now was not the time to think about... about anything to do with what just happened with Jerrim.
She felt a tingle inside her as she shook the thoughts away, and suppressed a smile, even to herself. She could still feel the heat of his body on her.
Their situation returned to her when she focused on the darkness of the cold jungle. Tree branches above them swayed in the wind. She wrapped her arms around herself, tucking her weapon under an arm, and concentrated on Elias’s shape in the distance, which was accompanied by a hovering Hooky.
The ground suddenly burst by her feet. Stuttering gunfire ripped through the night and sent clumps of mud in the air.
Liana jumped with a spasm of flailing arms, waiting for the bullets to find her.
Elias launched into the air and disappeared in the trees. A commotion of flashing lights and deafening gunfire told her he was battling a soldier above them.
Hooky cried out and flew into the trees after his master.
Clanging armour and crunching leaves came from all around them. Liana spun, her heart racing, waiting for shadows to burst out of the night.
Jerrim leaned back against a tree, holding his baton with both hands, ready to attack.
A strong wind howled over them, chilling Liana to the bone. Her sweaty clothes clung to her.
Liana turned to see a stout armoured figure charging towards them.
The flashing light in the treetops appeared further down a pathway, and she realised Elias was moving away from them.
“Run,” Liana cried to Jerrim.
It took him an instant longer to start running after her, towards the sounds of battle in the trees. The approaching soldier continued his pursuit.
A dark figure dropped from the trees into their path, and it was only when Hooky followed, that Liana realised it was Elias. He had dropped his satchel in the fall, and his movements slowed when he retrieved it, carefully slinging it over his shoulder.
Liana remembered the Nuneus Chaeolite within the satchel and was glad that it had not fallen free or cracked. If it was even capable of being damaged. Remembering the throbbing energy it emitted, she hoped she would never again feel its power.
“Follow me,” Elias called out when they reached him, now running further down the path that was slowly fading into the undergrowth.
“Aooohhhh!” Hooky called as he flew alongside them. He shouted several more times, howling to the jungle and waving his arms around. Liana imagined he was enjoying the game he thought they were playing. She wished for such ignorance and bliss.
Soon they were running through knee-high grass, which was sharp enough to scratch and irritate Liana’s bare legs. When they finally cleared the sharp grass, she was sure her legs would be covered in blood, but only rough scratches could be seen.
She risked looking back and saw two powerful forms closing in on them, snapping branches and trees in their pursuit. To the side, two more running figures could be seen through the grass, closing in on them.
Suddenly the trees shook above them, leaves falling all around. Branches snapped with the sound of thunder, a great wave of movement approaching them. Liana feared many soldiers would come down on them at any moment.
But something much worse came down. Liana recognised its glowing eyes.
A massive bulk crashed onto the ground behind them, the force almost knocking Liana off her feet. Long hairy limbs brought the furry creature up, with other legs shooting out in all directions and stabbing at the ground.
A loud commotion of gunfire and screams and breaking trees came from behind them as they ran.
When Liana turned, she saw the dark shape of the large spider from the other night. Several of the pursuing invaders were thrown around and pierced with sharp limbs while they attempted to fight back.
Soon the sounds of the struggle faded away, leaving them running in silence.