A gleam in the middle of the gathered, shifting crowd caught his eye. It was bright silver, and it whirled in great shining arks. It spun and twirled above the heads of the fluctuating crowd, sending flashes onto the nearby buildings and structures. He could hear the whisper of rushing air around it as it streaked gracefully through the air.
It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be.
He moved through the gathered crowd, absent-mindedly and roughly shoving many of the people out of his way so that he could reach the center of the congregate. They threw obscenities at him, but he kept walking; his eyes were fully on the flickers of silver above their heads. The crowd parted for him as he neared the edge of the gathering. Here, the citizens formed a large circle that spanned the entirety of the street. The center of the marketplace was complete chaos: armed guards ran from each and every direction. Left and right, shouts were thrown and filled the space wholly. The pounding of feet on the hard-packed dirt ground resounded off the shifting bodies and rumbled up into the air. The dirt being thrown by the constant movement of feet already began to gather and coat the outside of Engle’s visor in a thick sheet.
He took a step forward from the safety of the edge of the crowd and into the exposed, open area before him. He stumbled after a few steps; the body of a defender was sprawled on the ground at his feet, a thin trail of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth and a gash flowing from his temple, across the bridge of his crooked nose, and down his cheek. The split skin pulled back from his skull, revealing pearly bone smeared with bright crimson. The man’s brown eyes stared back with cloudy steadiness.
Engle looked around once more. He had not noticed before, but the ground was littered with bodies covered in red-stained chainmail, like the one that lay before him. The still-standing soldiers stepped over and upon their fallen comrades, staining the russet ground a deep scarlet with boot prints.
A body slammed into him as he stood there. Engle staggered to the side under the guard’s weight. The other man regained his footing, and then turned on Engle, bringing up the club he held. Engle threw his arms over his face as the club fell, cracking into the armor on his forearms. Engle switched his grip and caught the cudgel. He wrenched the weapon down, the guard following. Engle brought his knee upward, snapping the guard’s head back. The club slipped from the man’s slack fingers.
Another guard turned his attention to Engle, anger burning in his eyes. The man charged, and Engle readied himself; he took a low combative stance and spread his feet slightly.
As the guard closed the distance, Engle grabbed and twisted the man’s wrist behind his back. He threw a kick at the base up the man’s spine and jerked the man’s arm at the same time, pulling it from its socket. The guard screamed and crumpled to the ground, his arm splayed underneath him at an odd angle.
Engle readied himself once more and turned to see two more defenders with swords inching closer. They ran at him in unison, blades raised above their heads. Engle heard more footsteps behind him, and he reached for his pistol. He quickly let loose a round at one of the guards in front of him, dropping the man to the ground with a loud crack. The second guard, he waited for. The man brought his sword around from the side, aiming for the gap in Engle’s armor. Engle stalled until the soldier was close enough; he side-stepped, slipping his hand into the sword’s hilt and prying it from the guard’s fingers. The guard was too close; Engle drew his knee to his chest before shoving his booted foot into the other man’s stomach. The soldier let go of his sword, and Engle spun around to face the other defenders advancing from behind.
There were three, and they were closer than he had expected them to be. He dropped to one knee. With the sword he had taken, Engle drew the blade across the space in front of him. He sliced one of the guards across the legs, making the man slide to the ground. Engle raised his pistol, but one of the remaining defenders brought his club up, striking Engle across the knuckles; he misfired, and the pistol went flying from his grip. The skin across his hand split and began to sting.
Engle raised his stolen sword and parried another attack from the guard with the club, but the second soldier kicked out at Engle’s unprotected side. Engle gasped as pain exploded across his ribs. He fell to the side and cracked his head on the ground. His vision went black for a moment, and he caught another boot to the stomach; he coughed up blood, spraying the inside of his visor. He scrambled to his hands and knees, dropping his sword to release the latch on his helmet. The piece of armor dropped to the ground with a dull clunk and rolled a ways away.
He grabbed for his sword once more as a shadow fell over him. He gritted his teeth, spun to his knees, and thrust the blade into the soldier that stood over him. The guard staggered and fell backwards; the sword stuck in the man's gut, falling away with him and out of Engle’s grasp. Engle cursed and stood despite the protesting pain in his ribs; a few were probably broken. He wiped the blood dripping down and into his eyes away with the back of his good hand, shaking the small droplets to the ground. He spat out the dirt and coagulated, salty blood from his mouth.
The second guard stood a step away, his mouth open in a giant ‘O’. This was the soldier who had kicked him—twice. He snarled at the guard and launched himself across the small distance. He brought his curled fist into the soldier’s stomach, causing the man to double over with a gasp. Engle brought his elbow down on the base of the guard's neck; the man dropped to the ground in a cloud of dust. Engle grunted as he locked his fingers into the man’s armor and dragged him back up from the ground. He stood the soldier on his feet, and then, taking the guard by the armor about his collar, bashed his own forehead into the other man’s nose. Engle let go of the guard and watched, a sneer on his face, as the man slowly tumbled to the ground with his eyes rolling into the back of his head.
Engle stopped and looked around. He was now at the center of the fight. Many of the guards had been disposed of and lay on the ground, either dead or wounded, but still more kept pouring from the alleyways and side-streets. He scanned the area. There were so many defenders on the ground. What was felling them all?
A shadow crossed over him; Engle lowered defensively, raising his fists to take on another guard. However, it was not the armored soldier that he was expecting to land in front of him: instead, a man with sun-colored skin and two ebony braids of hair stood before him, a great smile spread wide across his strong-featured face and a brilliant silver rifle cradled in his arms. The man flashed a set of white teeth at Engle, his eyes crinkling at the corners. The stranger maneuvered the object in his arms so that he held it above his head by the barrel, like a bat.
“Duck,” the man told him. Engle spun around to see five guards charging all at once to the place where he stood. He quickly dove to the ground and covered his head with his arms. The stranger planted his feet widely and swept the stock of the rifle over Engle’s head, catching all of the guards on the temples. They dropped quickly, one after the other. Engle straightened and turned back to the stranger. The other man put out his hand and grabbed Engle’s, shaking it up and down good-naturedly.
“Okohke,” the strange man said, giving another bright smile.
Engle’s eyes went straight to his rifle. The beautiful object’s once-pristine silver body was now marred with divots and thick, bright, red droplets of blood. And here was his savior, a man called Okohke with a giant grin on his face, a copious amount of dirt on his skin, and a crooked nose between his eyes, holding his rifle over one shoulder as if it were nothing but some crude bludgeon. He narrowed his eyes at the man.
A yell caught his attention, and he and Okohke looked over to see six more guards running for them. Okohke quickly brought the rifle back to the bat-like position and readied himself. Engle stared at Okohke in disbelief and shock. He wouldn’t let this man keep bashing his poor rifle into things until it ended up as a dented and unrecognizable lump of metal. Engle swiped the gun from the man’s grip.
One breath in.
With a swift, precise movement, he swung the now-blemished rifle to his shoulder and dropped to one knee. He flicked the safety off the gun and sighted through the scope, his finger hovering over the trigger. He tracked the first of the six soldiers.
One breath out.
He squeezed the trigger five times, each bullet felling a guard and emptying the magazine. The brass shell-casings rang and clattered as they spiraled to the ground. The last guard faltered for a split second, but Engle was already moving. He slipped the combat knife from his thigh and threw the blade at the remaining guard. The edge sank into the soldier’s chest, causing a bright red poppy to bloom across the man's armor. The rifle’s fire rippled through the air in thundering rivulets. The crowd screamed and ran for cover.
Engle smiled. He shouldn’t have felt so much pleasure at the feeling, but now was not the time to brood on such things he decided. He turned to look at Okohke, who stood next to Engle with his ears covered and his eyes wide. However, the other man was not looking at Engle, but rather behind him. Engle’s breath caught in his throat and he turned on his heel, but a boot slammed into his chin. He lost his grip on the rifle and was thrown backwards onto his stomach. The breath was knocked from his lungs. He could feel a sickening crunch deep within his torso, and he clutched at his ribs. He turned to see a crow flying above him. One of the guards reached skywards and grabbed the crow by its rectrices, pulling the bird down and pinning its flapping wings to its sides. The bird cried out raucously.
Engle groaned and tried to get to his hands and knees, but guards began to pile on top of him, pinning his arms and chest to the ground. He could see his rifle in the edge of his view and watched as a soldier stooped to pick it up and sling it over his shoulder. This guard grinned to himself and walked behind Engle. The man strode close to Engle’s feet and stopped there.
“Tough son of a bitch, isn't he?" The man kicked at Engle's foot. "But look what I get to keep now,” the man said loudly, snickering as he did so.
That’s it, Engle thought.
He grunted under the weight of the soldiers piled atop him, and swept his foot as far back as he could, catching what he hoped to be the bastard-guard by the ankle. He heard a body crash into the ground followed by a pained groan. Engle couldn’t help but feel a horrible laugh bubble in his chest as more soldiers slammed him even more harshly into the ground, restraining his legs as they did so.
He saw another man approach him from the front. This one must have been braver. He watched as the guard pulled back his boot to kick him in the head. Engle closed his eyes, still chuckling to himself, and let unconsciousness take him.