The details of the next moment: the angle of the falling man, his shirt billowing behind him, the strange coolness of the air, was etched by a sound. A gun shot.
V. staggered and his hand clutched his stomach. Blood dripped past his fingers. Maximilian used that chance to leap onto him. He heard the shots ring out from the opposition, but he didn't feel that bullet blast his brains over the landscape.
"No!" Sheruna screamed. She ran forwards, feet tripping over each other. A pair of strong arms clasped her from behind.
"Hush," whispered Zared. He didn't expect her to shake him off and run forwards, towards Maximilian. He raised a hand, opened his mouth, his voice didn't even come out before a couple of shots rang out. His legs liquefied as Sheruna hit the ground, her blood staining the grass red.
"No," Zared breathed. His head throbbed, his shoulders sagged. His eyes caressed her body. There was silence, so quiet that he had to raise his eyes.
Shock bounded off the three hostages' faces. The shock was no doubt mirrored on his face, and the people behind him.
A shot zinged. Zared pressed his hand towards his middle, anticipating blood wetting his palms. His eyes searched down. Nothing. Then back up. A Cinah soldier toppled to the ground.
V. still crouched near the ground, one hand suppressing his abdomen, one hand pressing hard against the ground. Blood formed a puddle at his feet. Behind him, Zared saw confusion and fear splashed across the men's faces. He shot a glance backwards.
In that moment of havoc, men had grasped their weapons. Now, almost everyone had a pistol. The air was tense, as tense as a bow stretched taut.
There was no noise; even the whistle of the wind came loud against their ears. No-one heard the wild marching of folk coming up the hillside from inland. No-one heard fur rustling against blades of grass.
A cry of an animal sounded. At least, that was what it sounded like at first. It was Lillian, her head flung back, letting out a series of dog-like barks. To the outsiders, it was a crude noise. To those who knew, it was a different call. The call of the devil. She called upon the Moon Bear.
In the distance, the ghost-dogs pressed on, necks near the ground, their breath blowing smoke in the cold air.
She barked again.
A soldier smacked her across the head. Her last bark ended in a pained, weak scream.
None dared to breathe in the chill which covered the land.
No-one touched a Moon Bear and lived to tell the tale.
The pack spread out, sneaking up to their target as silently as death itself. Behind them, something crashed down from the forest.
"Kill," gasped V., but the word was drowned out by baying. The word sapped his strength and he couldn't search to see if the noise was earthly or not. But his comrades searched for him. Eyes of the Cinah jumped off every rock and grass.
Found nothing – until…
Figures broke the lines of where earth met sky, creatures with erect ears and bristled fur.
Their triangular faces met the new Cinah army. Lips lifted to show gleaming white incisors.
Will felt the world still around him. A new fear choked the Cinah, old and new alike.
"Don't move," he breathed, struggling himself, forcing himself to believe that to the dogs, he was old. He was known.
Grouped closely to each other, the words travelled, quickly, from a gentle turn of the head to another. The army opposite had no such information. They could only hope for those stuck in between.
The dogs hurtled themselves forwards, coming for every direction towards the intruders. Pistols raised, shots rang out. A couple of dogs yelped, crashing down into the ground. But the others swept on, torrents of waves, one after another. It was not just a pack. It was a pack after a pack after a pack.
It was power.
A couple hurtled themselves at the soldier who held Lillian as a shield, attacking his backside. With a cry of pain, he let go of her. She thumped to the ground. He tried to ward off the dogs with his hands. Jaws cracked the bones under the tattoos.
Already the new army had broken. Turned into a broken force. The soldiers ran; the dogs chased, dragging the men down, their fangs digging deep into human flesh.
All the while, the inlanders froze until their limbs were stiff and their breath came uneven. But no – they remembered just in the nick of time – still, but not too stiff. Stiff was to fight. A misunderstanding they couldn't afford. It was hard to pretend to be uninterested and relaxed, but it confused the dogs.
Will caught sight of a couple of dogs circling Gleo, sniffing warily. He could almost see their little brains working. This smells familiar. From the side, an ugly creature flung out. Caramel yapped madly. The other dogs' ears flattened and they turned and leapt away to find a scent they didn't know.
Pan shut her eyes, her hands squeezing around Will's as she saw a dog snarl and growl as his jaws buried in the lead Cinah's throat.
The baying of the dogs escalated. Anger shone from their crazed eyes; blood dripped from their snouts. Their cries came loud though they paused to attack. In the midst of it, kyaking burst out, accompanied with the royal blue magpies scattering across the sky.
On every hill, cliff, boulder stood a dog, its deep chest thrown proudly out, barking madly at the ship that now was turning. The waves chaffed at the hull of the ship, water spraying over the deck while people tried to hold her steady.
The gulls screamed and the stem nearly smashed against a protruding boulder from the island. The dog on it lifted its head and howled. A Cinah soldier aimed a firearm at it, holding himself steady. But before he could fire, the dog broke off, snarled, and slunk away.
* * * * *
Zared ran forwards, stumbling at the last few steps; his elbows grazed the ground as he fell. He cradled her face in his palms, hoping she'd open her eyes. She still breathed; there was hope, still. Quickly, he tore off his tunic and wound it tight over her wound, up over her shoulder. The movement jolted her eyes open and she stared at him, not knowing who he was.
"Sheruna love, 'tis me," said Zared, holding his breath.
Her eyes wandered past him. Up to the setting sun, spreading a red glow over the horizon, and there it stayed.
"No!" Zared howled, picking up her body and rocking her back and forth. Sister or lover – did it matter? He'd lost them both.
Beside him, Will stooped down to check on Maximilian. There was something that went further down than hate for this man for Will. It certainly wasn't love, and it was something beyond hate. Will passed his hand over the dead man's open eyes. In the end, he hadn't taken his revenge, but perhaps life wasn't always about vengeance. Will glanced around and saw Thomson and Claire standing side by side, hand in hand. A few dogs sat down obediently by Thomson's side. He noticed Gleo tending to one of the wounded, and Pan kneeling beside Lillian as she sat up.
An ungainly thumping caused many people to look to the west. A stout man with crutches plonked his way from the diminishing sun into their sights.
"Hell, what a din those dogs gave. Ye'd think they'd gone mad," he said.
"Wolf!" Thomson shouted. Then his eyes travelled down, and his face fell.
"I'm glad it wasn't my life, Capt'n," replied Wolf as he limped his way across to them. "The medics are coming. Ye'll all be fine."
His back to him, Black shook his head. Those were empty words. No-one would be fine again. He gazed up at the now dark sky.
Danger is seductive. War is a drug. You never realise the harm it's causing when you're addicted. But now, strung out on the dog days of peace, how do you build pride and confidence when the people are weary from war?
The heels of Black's palm propped him up and he watched as Will stole up behind Pan, took her in his arms and kissed her.
Black glanced away, the image paining him, somehow. He longed to have Silent One's weight in his arms. But the question in itself weighed him down: How does one who has defined himself by his struggle find an identity afterwards?
The moon passed across, remote and pale. It seemed at times a faint music, like the crooning of dogs, echoed from her cool, distant form. It wasn't a song, but a memory of one, an eerie, half-caught vibration of the air, subtle, beguiling, and frightening in its power. Bathing in the moon light, a bear rose on its hind legs to watch the humans below, a devil guardian.
A/N: I'll probably have a new story up some time in the near future, so maybe put me on author's alerts so you know when I do. :D
It will either be sci-fi, or supernatural.