Some of the language and imagery is not appropriate for a young person. So, kids please ask your parents for permission before reading further.
Lieutenant Holden, commander of the Marines aboard the Avilion Navy Ship Indefatigable sat his wide frame upon the roof of one of the Jacobetti Complex buildings of what had once been the University of Northern Michigan. It was the same building that the Murphy brothers had used as their vantage point to observe the Presque Isle Power Plant prior to their assault on the structure before dawn this morning.
He removed his helmet and scratched at his close cropped blond hair to try to get his head to stop itching. His eyes lingered on the massive power plant building for a long time. Assault! He laughed to himself. The three brothers had killed countless of these windego creatures and damn near taken the the building itself down. He had seen the interior of the building and they were images the he knew would haunt his dreams for many nights to come.
The scenes had been the literal definition of carnage. There had been bodies, parts of bodies and even just charred bits. And then there was the smell. The sickly sweet miasma of burned flesh mixed with the iron smell of blood to create an aroma that would put him on a vegan diet for weeks.
He shook himself in an attempt to banish the images and tried to focus his attention on his duties.
They had come to this rooftop primarily to recover the packs the trio had left behind, but found it useful as a temporary command post. While his troops continued to patrol the area, it was a perfect vantage point to make notes for the report he would have to write.
Part of him raged at how unfair it was that he had missed this fight yet would have to spend many long hours writing a damned report about. Three men had taken on hundreds of these weirdly primal creatures and lived to add to the glory of the Avilion Army. All the while he’d been stuck on a boat out in Lake Superior. That was the life of a Marine in this post-modern age though. The pirates had long since been cleaned out and these days a ship posting meant training and drills with little hope of real action.
Perhaps he should try for an assignment with the Marine Expeditionary Force units, he considered as he sketched a map of the area before him. At least there he could find some hope of action. Ever since he had gained his commission there simply had not been any threats to truly concern the Marines.
He had just finished a notation about the trail of dead leading up to where Cameron had established his sniper’s nest when the door to the roof opened. He glanced up as Sergeant Bess came came out onto the roof. The look on his senior noncom’s face told him the news wasn’t going to be good.
Bess came up to his officer, but did not salute. Saluting in a combat zone didn’t do anything but tell snipers who to shoot and the sergeant was too professional to break that rule.
“I take it there is a problem,” Holden stated, without it being a question.
“You could say that, sir,” Bess said calmly. “I think this is going to add a few pages to your report.”
“Crap. You sure know how to hit a man.”
“Sorry sir, but this is going to be important.”
Holden sighed. “Let me have it.”
“We found some tracks sir,” Bess began. “They start at a side door of the target building, lead up to the place where our boys went hand-to-hand with those devils and then head back into the city. We almost missed the importance of them at first, I’m sorry to admit. But here is the thing, sir. The tracks are of five individuals. Four of them are clearly these windego things, but the fifth is wearing boots.”
Holden sat up straighter. “Boots? Not a single one of those windego things we saw had shirts, much less boots.”
“Exactly right sir.”
Holden thought about it for a long moment. “Could it have been a captive the brothers missed?”
“I can’t say for certain, but looking at the tracks I don’t think so. All things being equal, I would say the four windegos were some sort of protective detail for the guy wearing the boots.” “Sergeant, I am officially upgrading my statement of ‘crap’ to ‘shit’.”
“I am right there with you sir. The fact that it looks like there was a fully functional human out here with all these feral beasts fills me with all sorts of questions.” “Me too… me too. How far where you able to track them?”
“We only followed them a short way into the city. They took to the paved streets, but it was still pretty easy to find traces on streets that haven’t been swept in a decade. Once we determined they seem to be heading straight through town, I came to report. I didn’t want to blunder into anything with just a fire team.”
The commander mulled it over. The Marine in him wanted to rally his troops and initiate a pursuit. The potential value of the intel they could gather if they actually captured this booted individual was very tempting. He let his mind toy with the idea of saddling up, but the challenges of actually pulling this off started to pile up. He only had a platoon and his men were scattered. It would take most of an hour to get them gathered and organized. That meant their quarry would have a good four hours lead on them.
Then, what if there was another force of the windegos out there somewhere and this little group was heading for them? Is a second force likely? he wondered and then reminded himself there wasn’t supposed to be anything like these things in first place, so how could he know if there were more.
He shook his head. No, as much as he wanted to, going after this group was the wrong move. At this point, all the known captives had been rescued, the Avilion troops had been recovered and their mission now was to bring word of all this back home.
“It doesn’t sound like this is over,” Holden said to absently to himself.
“No sir, I don’t think it is,” Bess replied.
“Let’s round up the troops and head back to the beachhead, Sergeant,” Holden said as he rose to his feet. He slowly turned himself in a circle taking in what he could see of the dead city around him. He had a feeling they would be coming back here. When they did it was going to be with a hell of a lot more firepower than a short platoon of Marines and a Army SpecOps team.