This is part of an ongoing steampunk fantasy story. See the introduction to get at the story from the beginning.
This shot, I knew, was real. A blossom of my blood stained my shirt. I didn’t feel the pain immediately. The force of the blow knocked me down.
The rest secured the clearing. After they bound the creature I’d killed, they treated my wound and declared me a “prisoner of the United Anwari Freedom Expedition.”
There were eight men altogether, and all but two were native born by the color of their skin and hair. Of the non-natives, one was tall and thin with bright clothes. Anywhere else, this kind of “camouflage” would get him shot. Here, it just made him look like a peacock. He spoke in a heavy Bastian accent. The Bastians were Ilsa’s rivals and sometimes enemies, but they were at least civilized. So, why was he here?
The other foreigner I dubbed the Traitor because he spoke with the slight speech from Valin City, a province of Ilsa. He was medium build with brown hair and eyes. Soft spoken. Shy by the looks of him.
None of the squad had real uniforms or standard weapons or military training. They weren’t part of an army; they were a collection of rabble peasants and savages. It was soon obvious, however, that a lack of training didn’t mean weakness. As we pushed deeper into the jungle, they drove hard. I was exhausted, they barely broke a sweat. They carried scraps of metal and Ilsan tech as souvenirs of battles won. They cursed and joked but maintained stealthy movement. They weren’t soldiers, but they were fighters.
The smallest was a boy, maybe sixteen. He had no trophies or weapons like the others. When he tried to curse or joke, the bigger men ignored him. He moved through the jungle like a mouse, nimble and ever watchful. Not a feat the larger men could master as effortlessly as he. It was clear, though, whatever his size, that he was important. He commanded the men, and they followed his orders. Mouse supervised the carrying of the animal I’d killed earlier.
Not only supervised. He seemed obsessed with it.
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