Chapter 3 – Buried Tower
After a tense night of restless sleep the sun began to rise across the wasteland. With the rain Daniel was on edge, constantly looking out for signs of approaching hoards. As he and Loralei took in the first light and warmed their bodies, they worked together to slice and toast a travel cake. Toasted, it tasted more nutty and fresh, while untoasted it was more like a mix of bran and brown sugar. A couple slices of bread wasn’t a very substantial breakfast but few Draconian had much appetite before they finished warming. If breakfast was the most important meal of a human’s day, than lunch was a Draconian’s.
After warming and eating they set off. Shade cover couldn’t be placed at the front of the buggy, since it would obstruct sight too much, so Loralei still wore her heavy coat with its hood flipped. As he drove he could hear her soft breathing, echoing through the synthetic fabric. She had been nervous during the night and he was happy to see her catch up on her sleep. When they escaped the town, he explained what happened and why they fled. At first she seemed afraid to have made an enemy of her mother, but quickly seemed to resolver herself.
As he let his thoughts take a break from focusing on the road, and looked at his sleeping companion, he heard a sudden daunting sound. It was a mechanical click, like the sound of a snapping branch or the release of a spring.
He felt a sudden movement. He heard a thunder like crack. He tasted the dry, red sand. As his ears rang, he looked around to see the buggy flipped onto its back with its rear wheel melted, the axle bent and several parts shattered. He was on his back in the sand, pain flared up from his leg. He couldn’t tell if it was broken, but there was a large gash that had been bandaged with one of his shirts. Nearby was Loralei, with a relieved expression on her face.
“Ah, be careful. You blacked out for a few minutes and you’ve lost some blood.” She held his back as he sat up, it was more to calm him then to physical aid him, “I used magic to heal your leg but your body still thinks that it’s hurt so you’ll feel the pain.”
Hearing her through his damaged ears, Daniel nodded and looked about as he stood. In the distance he could see the reflection of an approaching vehicle. While it was possible that someone saw the smoke and came to help, it was far more likely that it was the bands that placed the trap coming to loot their bodies. They only had a couple minutes till the bandits arrived, so he picked up Loralei and placed her under the buggy. With the crystal removed, there was no risk of the vehicle catching fire, aside from the melted tires. He gave a quick look at his supplies while he grabbed his gun and armour. He didn’t have time to put everything on, so he just slipped on the vest.
“In the supply bag there’s a revolver.” He told the hidden Loralei, “If you run low on mana and need to protect yourself, use that.”
With preparations made and the possible enemies only a few hundred meters away, he crouched behind the buggy and waited for them to arrive. As the drivers pulled up he realised they weren’t getting out of there without a fight; it was a car filled with six Dwarves.
Dwarves were one of the most disgusting races to Draconian. They resembled short and wide, almost round, hairy humans with featureless faces and empty holes where the eyes would be. The eye-like holes were actually nostrils, and they navigated the world with a sense of smell that was sharper than any other species. The scent base sight led to another trait that a Dwarf was attributed; stench. To a Dwarf, the scent of each person was a complex balance of smells that allowed them to grasp a little bit of each other’s life story from the first moment of meeting, than distinguish them afterwards. For every other race, they smelt like the worst parts of a rubbish bin. Furthermore, little else was needed to distinguish themselves so they outwardly looked alike, making them impossible for other races to tell them apart.
Another sickening trait was there racial dependency. At some point in there race’s history, they began to drink alcohol and found the scent of a strong drinker to be attractive. Over the cause of a couple millennia, Dwarves became physically attached to the substance. Where other races needed water to survive, Dwarves required alcohol. Daniel wasn’t sure about the exact reasoning, but he had heard that it acted similarly to insulin in humans to their unique physiology. When the apocalypse happened, few in their race were able to secure a supply of liquor, so their species underwent a natural culling. There dependency, however, forced them to become the fastest race to start rebuilding and led them to owning the largest city with the most farmland.
“We know you have liquor. We can smell it.” The apparent leader called out, “Hand it over, little lizard girl, or well shoot you full of more holes then fuck them.”
The revolting creature said those words then let out a cruel laugh. His voice was filled with the hope that she would choose the second option. In all likelihood he would kill her after she handed over the drink. It was then that Daniel realise that they were only talking to Loralei. Although he had planned to hide her while he remained in the open, the situation turned out in reverse.
Being under the car did nothing to hide her smell from them but standing within the smoke did. Furthermore, he cleaned himself to the point of obsession, making his own smell easily suppressed by the burning rubber. So long as they didn’t notice the blood, so long as they paid attention to her, he was hidden from them. It wouldn’t take them long to notice so he had to work quickly. He had inherited his father’s pepper breath and gas manipulation abilities, and with them set a trap. Yellow Dragons were physically strong but their breath attack was the weakest. The pepper breath was essentially just a powerful pepper spray (mace); although on the scale of a dragon it was more than capable of melting a human, on the Draconian scale it was painful but not lethal. The only race that truly feared it more than tear-gas was Dwarves. With their powerful sense of smell, taking a direct blast of pepper breath could blind them for life.
A matriarch that trained in gas manipulation could control the air in another person’s lungs; however with Daniels experience he could do little more than control his own breath attacks. That was enough for the current situation. He controlled the flow of mana to his mouth and empowered the glands at the back of his throat to begin the production of the acidic gas. As it left his lips, he moved the prana in it to hold it and shape it, hidden within the smoke.
He started shaping the gas into thin arrows as the six figures started to approach his mate. She looked towards him with a worried expression. It was at that moment that he was discovered.
“Show yourself, smoke lizard.” The leader pointed a PA3 shotgun towards him, its black metal frame blending into the near black skin of the Dwarf. Although Dwarves were capable of accurate shooting, they had a real preference for shotguns with cartages similar to birdshot. It wasn’t uncommon for them to use cartridges filled with crystal shards charged with magic. Even if that was an extremely effective way to spread death over a wide area, it was also an expensive use of mana. It seemed far more likely that they were using normal bird or buckshot. “I know your there, so come out.”
Daniel hadn’t finished preparing the arrows, but he had three ready. If he could stall them, he might be able to make a few more but even though he held them tightly together they still gave off a smell and could be discovered if they focused on it. Not willing to take the chance, he shot out the bolts he had, hitting the leader and the two closest to Loralei. As they were struck they shot their weapons wildly as they dropped and reeled from the pain. One of the weaker Dwarves was unable to stand the burning sensation and was unmoving, either in death or unconsciousness.
Furthermore, even the enemies that weren’t hit were disorientated, with their sight completely disrupted by the overwhelming smell. As spells went, it was an incredibly cost effective attack. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on Daniel’s side and some of the shot that the blinded creatures fired stuck him heavily in the chest. While the riot armour stopped the metal, the force still winded him and knocked him to the ground. As he tried to pull himself together and recover his breath, one of the least affected attackers managed to approach him.
With sun heated metal pointed towards him, there wasn’t much he could do. The weapon was aimed, armed, deadly. He could barely focus enough to look up at the weapon; rolling out of the way was beyond his current state. He shut his eyes and awaited his reunion in Helheim. A gunshot sounded, its echo passed through him. He opened his eyes to find the filthy gunman dead. Loralei shot the man and given him the time he needed to recover.
Not letting her effort go to waste, he quickly got to his feet and shot the incapacitated men as he moved to a more secure place. Four of Dwarves were dead. The remaining two retreated back to their car. Feeling victorious, he rushed towards them to finish them off. It was at that moment that he realised that his situation was in no way as good as he had thought.
They hadn’t retreated to their car to protect themselves. They were instead seeking to use the machine gun that was mounted on its roof to finish him off quickly. To make matters worse, his armour hadn’t fared as well as he had thought and a stream of blood was starting to flow from beneath it. The adrenalin had prevented him from noticing it earlier, but since he was aware of it the pain caused him to seize up, with even the slightest of movements increasing the sensation.
Daniel gritted his teeth and rolled under the buggy, next to Loralei, narrowly avoiding a barrage of large bullets. Moments later, the buggy was hit and metal shards few throughout the landscape. Stray rounds hit near their bodies as the attackers shot blindly into the pepper filled smoke. Daniel shielded Loralei with his damaged body and waited for their ammo supply to run dry. As he shielded her, his mind grew light and his eyes were heavy; looking at where he had rolled from, there was a clear trail of blood.
He looked over to the Dwarves, with their faces distorted by cruel snarls, and noticed something approach behind them. Through his hazy eyes he couldn’t tell what it was, but it was approaching them incredibly fast and didn’t seem to touch the sand as it moved. In a moment of clarity he realised what it was. It was a pink object flying towards them. It was the woman he helped; Leah Lemann. He gave a chuckle to himself as he prepared for her appearance to create an opportunity.
The car was made from a thick dark metal, and with his condition it was doubtful that he could hit anything with the gun. Instead he prepared a knife and waited for them to notice her. It didn’t take long; Leah charged straight for them, only moving the slightest amount to avoid their fire. With the way clear, he used his wings to fly himself towards them in one powerful jump.
Caught up in their pincer attack, the Dwarves became confused. Both Leah and Daniel killed one of the smelly creatures each. With the threat passed, Daniel reached out his hand to greet Leah, but instead found himself in her arms. His body didn’t seem to have any energy left and she caught him as he fell. With the last of his effort, he looked over at his once treasured buggy and confirmed Loralei was safe.