Vincent’s boots crunched the dead leaves, and he sighed again. Dee’s appearance had shook him, and despite how he wanted to forget and just get on to the next town, keep moving, he couldn’t shake her smile out of his head. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the locket, popping the catch and looking at the faded picture inside. It had been years, but still he couldn’t let it go.
The eye of memory cast back, to the day he’d lost everything. It had been sunny, he remembered. The invasion had been going on for several decades, and they were used to attacks. They expected them. The gnolls would attack, the villagers would fight them off, the sun rose, the sun set. It had become almost routine. So routine that he’d set up a homestead outside of town. Far outside.
That had been his first mistake. His second was going to town that day and leaving the love of his life alone. If only I’d picked another day, he thought, and then shook that thought out of his head. He’d let that survivor’s guilt run through his mind more than once since then. But when he’d come home, the creatures had still been there.
Vincent had walked in on them. There was blood all over the walls. His wife was screaming. He’d run inside, sidearm drawn, feeling a clenching in his gut. He was screaming her name, and stopped when he got to the living room.
They had tied her to the table. Body parts were missing. Human bones, licked clean and gnawed, were strewn around. But by god she was still alive. When they saw him burst through the door and freeze, wide eyed and sick at the sight, one of them dropped his ax. Vincent’s beloved wife’s head rolled across the floor, her suffering at an end.
The suffering of these gnolls was only beginning.
Vincent’s training took over as they advanced, and he fired twice and obliterated the knees of one of them. It had fallen to the floor with a strangled cry, its ax flying up and embedding itself in the ceiling. He remembered clearly how the plaster dust had fallen lightly down into the mottled fur of the other hyena man, painting it white. It leapt at him, and he dropped, raising his boots and catching it full in the stomach. Over it went, and he heard the crack of its neck breaking as he put it into the solid wood door. The eyes bulged, the breathing stopped, and it lay still.
The other was still lying there, howling over its knees. He picked up the ax of the one just dispatched, and stalked over to where it lay, his face showing naked rage and hate. Vincent had taken his time with this one. The other had died much too quick for his liking. Its screams had echoed in the house, out onto the plains, and had woken several townspeople. It took hours for them to die down.
All this returned in vivid detail as he stared down at the locket. He could smell the blood again, hear the screams, feel his rage at himself for not preventing it. He blinked the memories away, looking around to center himself in the present. He slipped the locket back into his pocket.
He was almost back at his bike. Just another mile or so. As he was checking landmarks to confirm the distance he heard a horrendous revving and screaming. It was a cacophony of rough, deep voices, all yelling in bloodlust. And they were coming towards him.
Vincent dove off the side of the road and ran down an embankment, taking shelter in a clump of trees and shrubs. He waited, and all the while the sounds of shouting and engines got louder. At last he could see them, a great horde of at least a hundred. They were all on motorcycles and war wagons, waving swords, axes, and even some guns above their heads.
He crept behind a tree and kept himself low, catching yells about how they were going to “Get the humans,” and “Sack the town.” Closing his eyes, he tried to ignore that nagging voice in the back of his head that he should get his bike, make for the town, and try to help. If he ran to his bike, he would get there minutes after the orcs did. At that point I’d be too late, he thought. With those monster wagons they’d burst the gate wide open and have the town slaughtered in no time.
The horde passed, and he jumped up from his hiding place, creeping up to the road to watch them fade into the distance. A vision of his wife floated in front of his eyes, and next to her he saw Dee. With a scream he took off running towards his bike. He knew it was a stupid idea. He knew it would probably get him killed.
But he also knew that he couldn’t leave those people to their fate and live with himself. He had to try.
If you enjoyed this story, you can find more of my work in the DimensionBucket Media anthology, Darkest of Dreams:
(Part 1 here: https://steemit.com/fiction/@jimfear138/fire-on-the-bayou-part-1)
(Part 2 here: https://steemit.com/fiction/@jimfear138/fire-on-the-bayou-part-2)
(Part 3 here: https://steemit.com/fiction/@jimfear138/fire-on-the-bayou-part-3)