For a long time after the first ten years of the Anonassi War, the Humans held their areas of the Lost Lands, fighting back the Anonassi to a standstill but making little progress.
Unfortunately, this was due to the Anonassi improving their tactics and what they were willing to commit to the field. The Humans were holding the line, but progress became impossible.
That all changed after the invention of magasine-fed single-shot weapons… and here’s a story about that!
“We’ve been fighting this war for 2 generations – for 60 years – and this is the first true breakthrough we have had in weapons technology after the first 10! We have become complacent and accepting that the Anonassi will take under 50 people per year. This is not enough! I present this as a rallying cry – we must take the fight to these demons once again!” –
“So you do still live,” Hana Nakamura said, falling into step beside Andreas D’Aoust, her voice high with amusement.
It was her usual manner of greeting, a way to affirm that the people around her were still alive – that she lived, too. Though she was never sure how people might take it after one man, an old veteran, battle-scarred and weary, had accused her of making light of the tragedies of war. It was morbid, he’d said. Disrespectful. But every time she said it, her mind catalogued it away from her so that when someone she knew did fall to the Anonassi, she would be able to protect herself with memory of everyone who she had been able to meet again. Everyone who still survived.
Andreas laughed it off, as always. “Surprise of surprises. Not even weapons training can take me down – though not for lack of trying from the rookies.”
“They probably couldn’t focus over the sound of your gloating.”
“Gloating? I don’t gloat.”
“You make an announcement every time your shots hit.”
“To inform everyone that I’ve successfully eliminated a target.”
“Most people just say, ‘one down,'” Hana said, deadpan. “Not, ‘did you see that, I got it right between the eyes.'”
“Oh come on now, even you have to admit that’s impressive.”
“I would if you’d done it with a blade. What risk is there in firing a gun? What finesse? Battle used to be a form of art. Now what will it become?”
Andreas dangled a spare magazine in front of her face. “This right here will turn it into a science. Isn’t that better?”
“Science isn’t going to help much when a Brute’s in melee range. Besides, you still have to reload those things don’t you? You’re still leaving yourself vulnerable. And for what good? A death is a death either way.”
“Find us a battle,” Andreas said, “And I’ll show you.”
* * *
Battle did not come quickly, but it did come eventually when their patrol – eight strong including Hana and Andreas – came upon an Anonassi squad of ten, twelve, maybe closer to fifteen members. It was hard to tell. They moved in a way that seemed to deliberately cloak their numbers. Andreas hung back with the other two riflemen, seeking the most defensible point in what were rolling flatlands with knee-high hills and small valleys that were hidden beneath brambles and grass.
Hana didn’t lead the blade team’s charge forwards, but she was the first to engage with an Anonassi – a Kapavuk of average size that fought with exceptional speed. There was an ease to the way Hana moved her sword from parrying to slicing to thrusting in tune with the Kapavuk’s many legs. Like the Harbour City Acrobats, she did not simply stand on the precipices of injury and death, she danced upon them. Even as the Kapavuk broke her stride and her skin – even as an Udzeni approached her from above.
When she noticed its shadow stretching from behind her like a shroud, like dirt over a grave. There wasn’t enough time for her to defeat the Kapavuk before the Udzeni descended upon her, but if she shifted focus she would be leaving her back exposed to an enemy that had already tasted her blood and craved for more.
From his position behind the melee, Andreas readied his gun, aimed it at the Udzeni, and waited with desperate impatience for the Anonassi to hit an ideal firing point – one where there wasn’t a risk that Andreas would hit Hana, too. If the other riflemen had followed suit, he did not know. The entire battle faded outside of his periphery. All he saw were Hana, the Kapavuk, and the Udzeni.
He was watching when Hana lunged towards the Kapavuk, using one of its knees as leverage, vaulting herself onto its back. He was watching when she stabbed her sword through the soft, fleshy intersection between its head and its body. And he was watching when, with a scream that rose all the way up from her heels, she leapt towards the still-approaching Udzeni. It managed to dodge, but as it flew overhead of her she thrust her sword up into its belly and held it in place as the Udzeni continued to fly, standing solid even as its insides spilled out over her.
Andreas let out a whistle loud enough for her to hear, and she looked towards him just in time to see another Kapavuk making a charge his way. “Watch out!” she shouted, running forwards, her sword feeling heavy and useless at her side.
Never to be upstaged, Andreas grabbed his gun by the muzzle and swung it at the Kapavuk’s head, making contact with a crack that sounded so relieving and so good to him that he could have sworn it was chanting his name. While the beast was stunned, Andreas twirled his rifle back into its proper position and unloaded what remained of the magazine into its brain.
Hana made a quick show of clapping and Andreas made a longer show of bowing, then both of them returned to the fray.
* * *
When the battle was over, they leaned together back-to-back, letting the night air leave its chill across their still-sweating skin.
“Truce on all the weapons talk?” Andreas said, his voice breathy but light.
Hana laughed. “Truce,” she said, “but if that thing ever gets you killed, I reserve the right to mock you until the end of time.”
“Deal.” Andreas couldn’t shake her hand, so he nudged her with his shoulder. “But only because it’ll never happen. I plan to live forever.”
Hana just closed her eyes and breathed.