Ember Bound (A Farrin Skye Adventure)
A cold raindrop fell through a gap in the derelict barn’s corrugated roof. It landed on Farrin’s nose. She shot up from the ground, and drew her dagger from her leather shoulder sheath. Then she felt for the necklace around her neck, at the end of which was a simple compass — a gift from her mother. Her third priority was to secure her backpack filled with medical supplies, desperately needed in Ember.
‘Shit,’ she thought. ‘Arnason’s going to kill me.’
She’d holed up in this barn to wait out the storm. She must have dozed off. She’d laid out her stuff to dry: her FAZE headgear, her Metropack, and her K-6 disruptor. She put her dagger away, and went to check on the rest of her stuff.
She donned her FAZE headgear. Then she said a silent prayer, buckled her Metropack to her waist, and turned it on. As soon as she did, the headgear and Metropack synced and a holographic visor dropped down over her eyes.
“Yes!” she said.
Then she looked around, expecting her visor display to isolate and outline shapes, or give her information on the flora around her. But it didn’t. Something else was missing: a red diamond marker, linked to Ember’s transmitter, which represented her destination and the distance she needed to cover.
“Damn it,” she said under her breath. Her sensors were broken.
Her Metropack and headset had started malfunctioning in the storm. She knew she should have turned them off as soon as they went on the fritz, but there had been vens after her, and she’d needed her visor to distinguish exposed roots, and other obstacles that littered the underbrush of the corrupted wilderness.
She picked up her K-6 disruptor next. Again she made a plea to a higher power, but the damned thing wouldn’t even turn on.
She threw the disruptor against the barn wall. So far, every decision she’d made had been the wrong one. K-6 disruptors worked well against vens. It let out a high piercing note, annoying to humans, but near paralyzing to the abominations. It was lightweight (great for runners) and could take out multiple targets as long as they were within hearing distance. Too bad it was near impossible to clean and dry out. Not like her revolver, which she’d decided not to take because it was heavier and could only focus on one hostile target at a time. Runners had to be conscious of what they took on their runs. She’d opted for speed and efficiency, and it screwed her. Her chances of getting to Ember dropped significantly.
The town of Ember had messaged her home town, Demonia, for help. A couple of cases of Veno-X had flared up, and they’d stretched their supplies trying to ensure the virus didn’t spread. They desperately needed the vaccines, and mino-enducers Farrin carried.
She peeked her head out of the barn. The structure was surrounded by forest, and the weak sunlight was barely shining through the tall skeletons of deformed trees covered in red and black bark. There were no trails—animal nor human. The fauna had become migratory after the war had twisted the world into a shadow of its former self. The same war which had created the vens.
She opened her headgear and her Metropack, exposed their electronic guts, and wiped off some water that had gotten in. She saw no burnt wires, or loose parts. It was just a matter of moisture messing with the circuitry. She closed them both up and decided to give them one more shot.
She gasped. Her visor pinged, showing her a red marker in the shape of a diamond, with numbers displaying distance. Right now, the display showed that she was eight-point-two-seven miles away from Ember’s transmitter.
Then the marker started blinking out.
She looked at her compass and mentally marked her location as well as her destination before her headgear visor display completely died. She was going to have to make her run without electronic navigation.
She shook her muscles loose, spent two minutes stretching her legs, and then set off in a sprint, leaving her busted disruptor behind. There were no trails, no roads, leading from one town to the next. Complete physical isolation. That’s how the semblance of human civilization had survived. It mitigated the spread of Veno-X. Now the only physical contact between settlements were through runners like Farrin whose job was to brave the corrupted wilds.
It would make sense for runners to leave a trail, a mark of safe passage from one township to another, but any marked sign of travel would alert the vens, and she didn’t want any of their attention. Ferocious, and existing somewhere between man and beast, they were the best hunters out there.
Twenty minutes later, she heard their growls. They were far away — to the east from the sound of it.
‘Straight line,’ she reminded herself, checking her compass. ‘The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.’
She ran harder. Her quads burned, she jumped, tumbled, climbed, and slid; over, under, and around every obstacle that laid in her path — be it gnarled roots, or boulders, or low hanging branches of mutated trees.
“Farrin, come in, Farrin.” The voice came through her headgear speakers.
“Shit,” Farrin said under her breath. She pressed a button on her Metropack and answered her comm. “Arnason, this is not the time.”
“What the hell is going on? Where are you?”
“Uh…” Farrin answered.
“What’s happening?” Arnason asked.
“My nav display is busted,” said Farrin.
“The storm,” said Arnason. “What did I say? I said not to go didn’t I.”
“They need this shipment, Arnason,” she said, “and I can’t be on comms long. Vens are after me.”
“Lucky your comms haven’t shorted out,”
“Yeah. Lucky,” she said.
“How many are after you?”
“I told you, my nav display is out. I can’t scan anything.”
“How far away are you from Ember?” he asked.
“Best guess? Four miles, give or take. I’ve been running nonstop for twenty minutes.”
“Okay well listen, you need to take c—“
Feedback screamed in her ears, and she turned off her Metropack, cutting off her comms in the middle of Arnason’s sentence. Then she heard something else, to the west. There were more of them.
Farrin pushed herself harder. After twelve minutes she slowed down enough to turn around, and saw them. They shifted in the shadows of the forest underbrush. Hunched humanoid, lupine, beasts with long limbs, red and black skin, clawed hands and feet, running on all fours behind her.
Adrenaline coursed through her body and her muscles pumped harder. She could feel the vens getting closer. Then, as she attempted to leap over a stump, a ven tackled her. She fell to the ground. Air left her lungs. The ven, with its sharp lycan teeth bit down on her midsection, but was stopped by her Kevlar. She brought a knee up, and connected it to the underside of its jaw, dazing it enough for her to roll away and run again.
It took a few seconds to get her legs under her, but the ven was in full pursuit behind her. This time joined by two more. She was about a mile away from Ember, but the vens were gaining on her — two steps to her one. Air burned in her lungs. Her legs were numb. She couldn’t feel them yet she knew they were churning beneath her.
She got a half a mile further before the lead ven leapt at her. It missed, but it caused her to stumble. She lost a step which gave opportunity for the other two vens to attack. They flew at her, narrowly missing, but one of them tripped her, digging its claws into her ankle. She fell, the bottom of her chin hit the ground hard, and she saw stars.
She turned over as a ven pounced on her, claws and fangs out. She used its momentum to her advantage and flipped it over her with a swift kick. She sprung back up, but a ven chomped down on her shoulder breaking through a space between her Kevlar plates. She let out a scream, her vision went white. But before she completely lost herself, she stabbed behind with her dagger, finding purchase between the ven's ribs.
The ven released her, and now it and its two friends circled her, while she held out her blade. Their huge hunched bodies tensed, waiting to pounce. They knew they had her. In their red eyes she saw the human intelligence they’d once possessed. The Veno-X virus had done this to them.
Then it hit her. She smiled. She had one last idea.
‘God, I hope this works,’ she thought.
She turned on her Metropack, and contacted Arnason.
Feedback squealed through her headgear speakers. The vens howled covering their lupine ears with their bestial hands. Farrin dropped her Metropack and headset, and made a run for it.
She didn’t know how long it’d be until they tore her Metropack and headset apart. Then, about three hundred feet away, she saw a break in the gnarled forest.
She heard the growls behind her. The vens were back in pursuit. A moment later she saw fortifications beyond the trees. She waved her hands frantically as she sprinted. Two hundred feet...a hundred and fifty feet...fifty feet. She cleared the treeline. Then gunfire pealed out from the top of Ember’s twenty-five foot wall. The vens stayed in the shadows of twisted trees, giving up their pursuit. The gates of Ember opened, and Farrin fell to the ground as the gates closed behind her.
“Are those supplies for us, runner?” asked a woman dressed in heavy furs.
Farrin got up. “Greetings from Demonia,” she said, and handed over her backpack of med supplies.
“Hard run?” the woman asked.
Farrin smiled. “Just another day at the office,” she said.