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Mace

The Trials of a Ranger

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Mace    10

The rain had finally ceased its incessant thrumming upon every surface outside the tiny maintenance hut where the hunched figure had taken refuge. His usual attire had been augmented for the frequent downpours with a rather silly-looking makeshift poncho pieced together from waterproof tarps, duct tape, and no small amount of faith in some higher power to stay together when he needed it. Yes, it crinkled when he moved, but compared to the peals of thunder and the endless deluge that had been going on for hours it hadn't made that much of a difference. Not yet at least.

It was one of those rare moments when he could rest, between the snarling and gnashing of rotten teeth and the screeching of tires that could very well herald in his own death. It was the kind of job that had left him paranoid of every small sound he heard, huddled in the shadows and watching, listening for something that might give him confidence to poke his head out and finally take another look at the area. He had a job to do, just another mission from someone who had lost themselves to the burdens of this new world and had nowhere else to turn.

The thought of being some cavalier rogue doing whatever he could for the less fortunate brought about a hoarse chuckle as he finally shifted and moved to pull off the blue and silver vestments, letting them crumple to the floor before carefully sidling to the broken window that had been his only way to peer out into the darkness of the night and try to figure out where exactly his target was. As soon as his eyes had adjusted, however, he saw that the rain, the vehicles, all of it hadn't done much to dissuade the groaning hordes from their aimless staggering.

"Damn."

Slowly, meticulously, the crossbow that was ever present at his side was lifted and a bolt carefully racked onto it before he drew back the string with the softest little "click" of it latching into place. Using the sill as a means of support, his left eye closed and the world around him faded away as he watched the shambling figures through the view of the weapon's sight.

It wasn't much, a few chevrons upon the plastic scope rack, the crossbar of the bow, and the point of the arrow, but he had at least managed to find some sort of familiarity with it. By no means a sharpshooter as many would believe, but with the "fwhip" of the bowstring in response to the press of the trigger, the blackened bolt found its mark in the side of one of the closest zombie's heads, sinking to the fletching and causing the undead figure to twist unnaturally from the force of the shot before falling onto the wet pavement with a sickening squelch.

Retreating back, another bolt was placed, another shot carefully aimed, and another signature "fwhip" of the string, the only noise that could be heard in the wake of the storm aside from the grumbling and groaning of the figures that slowly began to fall, one by one. The crouched ranger couldn't help but feel relief that he had packed extra quivers for this trip when the last of the figures had finally fallen, one of them having taken quite a few bolts to the shoulder and chest before finally crumpling like his kin.

With the coast clear, he carefully slipped toward the door and pulled it open, another bolt already locked in place and ready to fire, crossbow lifted and aimed with the careful eye of an arbalist. Slipping outside, every angle he could see was carefully checked before he went about with the collection of his ammunition, each bolt wiped down lovingly before being slipped back into the quiver on his thigh or his pack to be redistributed as needed. It was the kind of slow, methodical pace he had been taught by his mentor in stealth. Rushing only drew their attention. Play on their lack of senses, use the fact that you still have a working brain to your advantage and use it, or else you end up just another one of them.

"Should be the last of them." It had been hours, maybe even a day since he had spoken and it felt odd to finally mutter to himself, his tongue playing out across his dry, cracked lips to try to find some form of relief, with a quick swallow in hopes of quelling the burning of his throat. He was hungry, thirsty, sleepy, but he was also close, and the trip back would be that much easier as soon as he had what he had been asked to find.

Careful, quiet steps were taken across the road outside the shack he had taken refuge in, still scanning the area as best he could for any errant figures looming toward him. The silence of the night, barely interrupted by the sound of the clatter of insects of animals, left the world feeling as dead as his fallen foes. There were times when even the grass underfoot felt so lifeless and barren, as if the world had given up hope that it could be reclaimed, but such philosophical thoughts were pushed out of his head as he came to the hill he had been told about.

A small piece of paper was carefully pulled from beneath the old bullet resistant ceramic vest he wore, though whatever plates had been put in it had long since cracked and crumbled into uselessness. Unfolding the note, he looked over the scribbled picture and the words that had been left on it for him, the last bit of instruction he had been given before being sent out into the wastelands to procure this very important item.

With the surest footing he could offer, the ranger slipped down the side of the hill, careful of the loose, wet earth beneath his boots. The object of the search lay at its base, a broken guardrail and an overturned car. It was a sad sight, knowing that it would more than likely already be picked clean of most of its useful parts even just hours after the accident. Still, he had to try to find what he had been sent for. It was of the utmost importance, and failure was not an option at this point.

"Here we go." The crossbow was slung over his shoulder as he spoke, reaching up to adjust the drab olive bandana on his head and tucking his right ear under the soaked material. It was something of a habit, just to be sure that he was presentable before the door that had been left accessible was tugged open. As he had expected, there seemed to have already been vultures scavenging for whatever they could find. The first aid kit and the shotgun that had been in the passenger's seat according to the report were both missing, and he couldn't even find the body of the man who had been driving it, though that bit of fate he pushed out of his mind. He was here for something even more valuable, and as he scoured through the suitcases and plastic bags full of dirty clothing and expired food, he finally found what he had been looking for.

One look back at the note was all that was needed to confirm. The pink stuffed elephant was taken from its place so reverently packed in one of the cases, held up next to the piece of paper which read "Please find Mr. Herman for me. This is what he looks like. Thank you. Bobby." Tucking the elephant into his vest to be kept as safe as possible, the ranger carefully pulled himself from the car and gave his chest a pat.

"Well then Mr. Herman, let's get you home."

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Sir Doctor    3

Damn, your use of words is amazing. The way you can use them to create this masterpiece is fantastic.

Keep writing. <3

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Mace    10

"Are you crazy? They're sure to see us!" The barely contained whisper was sharp, the woman who issued it clutching a baseball bat to her chest as if it were the only thing keeping her planted to the ground. In response, a single finger was brought up to her as the Ranger looked over the fence at the shambling figures. They hadn't been there earlier when the small group he had been escorting had stopped to find supplies in a ransacked grocery store, but the sound of their commotion, or perhaps just some innate sense the undead possessed drew them there.

Adjusting his bandana and giving his glasses a quick tug to make sure they would stay secure, he turned and carefully rose up to rest his crossbow on the top of the fence. A quick, quiet "fwhip" of the bowstring, and a bolt was lodged in the sternum of the nearest creature, nearly tearing completely through the rotten torso and causing it to fall backward with the sudden transfer of energy. It wasn't much, but it was a start, and at least by clearing out the one that would be most likely to hear them, he had bought them a bit of time to come up with a plan.

"Listen." The voice, soft, calm despite the approaching group, had the tone of someone who understood the situation and conveyed at least in some manner a sense of leadership toward those who had come to him for help. "They have very poor eyesight. It's night, the easiest thing to do is to simply sneak by them. Move carefully, try to spread your weight evenly on your feet as you move over the pavement to muffle your footsteps, and I'll buy us just a bit more insurance. Don't panic, everything will be fine."

The last statement, an assurance to the small party of four people all huddled together like beaten dogs, came with the man reaching into his belt and placing his crossbow momentarily down to produce a road flare. Pulling the cap off with practiced ease, he lit the red cylinder with a quick strike against its cap and immediately launched it over the fence and into one of the neighboring yards. It wasn't the best throw, but given that he had other people to worry about he only cared that they would be attracted to something other than his charges.

Picking up his bow, he brought a finger to his lips and quickly racked another bolt, motioning for the group to follow him as he slipped as quietly as possible along the fence toward the road where they would need to go. It was a simple enough job, or it would have been, a group that needed an escort through a troublesome urban area. Cities were the buffets of the undead world, and untrained, scared, starving people were no match to go by themselves.

The sound of his feet changed from the soft, slightly damp grass to a sudden sharp thud of pavement, causing the bespectacled man to stop and glance back to make sure all were accounted for before carefully turning around the corner of the fence and inspecting the are around them. This kind of thing would go easier with military training, but he did try to emulate those who had it as best he could, keeping his crossbow aimed and ready with every turn, the fire-hardened tip more than capable of taking out the average brain muncher.

Waving for the group once more, he started to slowly cross the street, crouched and as cautious as ever, but caution and prevention are never foolproof. The sound of a sharp, metallic clang suddenly echoed from behind them, one of the men having tripped over a bit of debris left half-hidden in the darkness of the night, and the shovel he had brought with him as a rudimentary weapon fell from his grasp. Almost at once the heads of the creatures in the are turned, yellowed teeth chomping without the veil of lips to cover them, quick to go in the stages of decay. Great gaping maws lined with jagged, broken teeth ready to bite and tear at anything that would offer them sustenance.

"Damn it, run!" He waved the people off, two of the women and the other man hurrying down the street as he moved back to grab the one who had tripped and pushed him forward. Not enough time to rack a bolt between the excited growls and snarls. Even if he was the kind of shot people claimed he was, it was a numbers game he was on the losing side of. Instead, the bow was slung over his shoulder and the well-worn hatchet at his waist was drawn along with another tool from his belt.

Pulling the pin, he tossed the grenade a couple of meters away and started to make a dash for the people he had hurried off. The hiss of smoke escaping was quiet, especially with the pounding of five pairs of footsteps on the pavement, but the green cloud that issued forth at least caused enough of a distraction for the party to find themselves a copse of trees to hide in.

Moving between them, he looked over what he could see in the dark, checking for injuries and questioning them as to whether or not they had been hurt. The night was drawing on, and they still had miles to go before their destination. With a tired sigh, the ranger tugged the crowbar from the back of his belt and handed it to the man who had lost his weapon, telling him to be careful with it and assuring everyone everything would be okay, but they had to move.

The trees provided the cover they needed, allowing them to move with the help of the night around the outer edges of the city, following the softly glowing compass that he pulled out now and then. The reason for the journey wasn't clear, only that it was important, but soon at the sign showing they were leaving, the clients seemed suddenly relieved, saying that they knew the way from here, and thanking the man profusely.

A bit of paper, part of an old notebook, was his payment, stuffed under his vest to stay safe. Bringing two fingers up to the corner of his glasses, he smiled and wished the men and women the best before turning and moving back the way he had led them. There was more work to do, but would all the jobs end so well? He was lucky this time, and so were they, but would they all end with a happy ever after?

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