Doug hesitated, and Garth lunged toward a bookshelf. Roger on the other hand, brought his shotgun to his shoulder and fired, filling the quiet library with ear-piecing sound and shrapnel.
Garth slid behind a bookshelf, his aching back overshadowed by the buckshot in his right outer thigh.
“Gaah!” He couldn’t help but give a ragged scream before cutting it off and crawling desperately toward the window. Whoever said you didn’t feel the shot until your adrenaline slowed down was full of shit.
He still had his spear. He could break the glass and jump out the window. Making his way around the outside wall was the fastest way to get himself out of line-of-sight. Getting out of line-of-sight was good. An AR-15 would pick him off from hundreds of yards.
“I think I pinked him!” Roger said, Garth could hear the smile in his voice.
“What’s the matter Doug?” Garth heard Harold’s voice as he crawled toward the window, followed by another shotgun blast that sent bits of paper and wood raining down on him like confetti.
“He didn’t…do anything wrong, did he?” Doug said.
“’Gotta read between the lines, Doug. He took up with a foreign power, accepted pay from them to act against us in a time of war. Lit’relly the definition of high treason.”
“Don’t But!” Harold roared, his words cut off by another shotgun blast that dropped more confetti and sent a splinter of wood flying into Garth’s shoulder.
“I know that type. Seen ‘em before in the Marines. He’d play nice while we’d a gun on him, then killed us the moment the shoe was on the other foot. Now do you want to live, or do you want to let some goddamned TRAITOR put a bullet in your spine?”
“I wanna live.” Doug said.
Me too, asshole. Garth could hear the squeak of Rogers shoes coming down the stairs. The lumbering bastard was planning on getting a clean shot on him.
Just a few more feet to the window.
Break the glass.
Garth chanted his two-step plan to survival over and over as he approached the window. Apparently he wasn’t going fast enough, because he heard Roger’s smug voice behind him.
“Say goodnight, sunshine.” Roger said, his lips curled up in a sneer.
“Wait-” Garth said as Roger raised the shotgun to his shoulder. Why are people’s last words always stupid? Garth’s fear addled-mind supplied as the barrel of the shotgun became a light-devouring black hole. Ah crap. I hope there’s an afterlife. Maybe if they send my soul to hang out with Beladia, it won’t be so bad. Then again, it could be putting your hand in a blender for all of eternity. Still don’t wanna die.
A pale, leonine shape stood up from behind the librarian’s desk. It looked a bit like a white, furless tiger. Garth had a great view of the thing beginning to stalk Roger.
“Roger!” Harold barked.
Roger glanced to his right, toward Harold. “I got this, what-“ his gaze followed the direction of Harold’s gun before his words were cut off by a blast of gunfire. A second later, the cat-thing landed on Roger, driving the wind out of him in an unmanly squawk.
“Wait-“ Roger gasped before the monster reached down with four inch teeth and bit the back of Roger’s spine, turning the heavyset man into a shivering slab of meat. It looked between Garth and Harold, deciding whether to take the unwounded human and finish him off later.
“Goddamnit!” Garth heard Harold scream between blasts of automatic gunfire. A line of bright red blood bloomed on the side of the Kipling, causing it to stagger. It leapt off the shuddering corpse and charged Harold, wading through a hail of gunfire. Garth heard Doug’s voice screaming as more shots were fired around the corner of the bookshelf.
Time seemed to slow down. Garth looked at the shotgun held in Roger’s twitching fingers, still vaguely pointed towards him. He looked at the window. In a brilliant flash of inspiration, one that came so naturally when he was standing above a table dictating the actions of a pewter figurine, he knew what he had to do.
Garth’s reasoning was thus: if he jumped out the window now, whoever won the fight would track him down and kill him. If he took the gun and ran, he’d have maybe a decent chance, but if the Kipling won, Leanne would still be dead.
That left grabbing the shotgun and mowing down whoever was standing at the end of the fight. It was opportunistic, cold, and 99% of Garth wanted to turn tail and run away from the storm of gunfire, but he knew it was his only chance of wrestling the best outcome out of this shit-storm.
“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath as he crawled forward, bullets shredding the shelves above him. The deafening gunfire stopped, Harold running out of ammo as he reached the shotgun. The handle was partially laying in Roger’s expanding pool of blood.
Garth didn’t have time to be squeamish, grabbing the handle and levering himself to his feet, putting his weight on his uninjured leg and leaning on a bookshelf as he kept an eye on Harold.
The grizzled marine tossed aside his empty rifle and leapt on the staggering Kipling in a move that was nothing short of heroic. If there was a televised apocalypse, it would have found its way onto the highlight reel. Harold unsheathed a massive knife and plunged it down into the monster’s neck over and over as it thrashed, cursing and flailing. Finally the beast went down.
Panting, Harold stood up, his tight T-shirt and jeans covered in blood.
“Serves ya right, you…” He froze when he spotted Garth leaning against the bookshelf, shotgun trained on him.
He raised his hands and put on a sheepish grin, knife dangling from his thumb. “Now-“
Garth pulled the trigger.
The shotgun erupted in sound and fury, slamming against Garth’s shoulder with more force than expected, shifting his weight onto his wounded leg. Both men went down, howling in pain.
A gout of fresh blood was oozing out of Harold’s stomach as he climbed to his feet. The old man snarled as he lunged forward.
“I’m gonna feed you your own cock, you little-“
Garth managed to focus through the dizziness, and the thought that gee, there’s a lot of blood under my right leg, just in time to lift the shotgun again, this time in a kneeling position.
Harold’s eyes widened, and with speed Garth wouldn’t have attributed to a wounded man pushing fifty, he juked to the right just before the blast of buckshot. The shotgun slammed into Garth’s shoulder a second time, and seconds later, he heard the sound of a shattering window as Harold jumped out the window knife-first, followed by the man’s retreating footsteps.
Garth sighed and drooped down onto his ass, leaning against the bookshelf as he inspected his leg. There were three discrete holes oozing blood where the buckshot had tunneled into him. The good news was that the pellets had gone right through, so he wouldn’t have to preform self-surgery and dig the lead out of himself. The bad news was that the pellets had gone all the way through, making him bleed like a motherfucker.
Gotta get some pressure on this, Garth thought as he pushed himself up and limped toward his bag. With shaking hands, Garth slapped some clean rags from behind the librarian’s desk over his wounds, binding it with duct-tape.
My blood’s still red, guess whatever’s turning me purple is in the skin. Wish I knew more about biology. Maybe it’s a symbiotic bacteria? Garth mused as he worked, trying to take his mind off the pain. He had to work fast to take advantage of the situation. Harold would probably go somewhere and lick his wounds for a time, but there were no guarantees in life, and Garth didn’t want to be hanging around if the hardbitten scumbag decided to pay the library another visit sooner rather than later.
Leanne was laying prone, strewn across the stairs where Harold had dropped her in the fight. Garth checked her head, but didn’t feel a lump or blood, so he didn’t think she’d hit her head. She was just still knocked out from the bastard’s punch to the girl’s jaw. She was still breathing, too, so that was good.
“Leanne, wake up!” Garth said, shaking the girl. He could use some extra hands right about NOW. Try as he might, though, the girl refused to rouse. About five feet away from her, Doug rested against the bottom of the stairs, his hand clutching a deep claw wound on his stomach.
Doug was panting, taking shallow, pained breaths as he tracked Garth’s progress through the library. He struggled to speak as Garth walked up to him and picked up his rifle. Garth set it out of the wounded man’s reach.
Damn, I’m sleepy. That can’t be good.
Garth’s gaze caught on the cat-thing. It had a heartstone in it. One that was promised to make him superhuman. Maybe it could help with surviving gunshot wounds. He pulled out his biggest chisel and got to work.
Five minutes later, Garth was inspecting the thumb-sized stone pried from beneath the Kipling’s heart. It was bright green, its texture pebbled, with hints of green sparkling from the inside. Garth ate it, and felt a pleasant tingling begin to spread across his entire body.
The sleepiness was blown away in a matter of minutes, leaving him feeling like he’d just downed a couple energy drinks with no regard for his own safety.
“Holy shit,” he said, blinking. Garth had never needed glasses in his daily life, but things beyond fifty feet out were fairly blurry. To his amazement, everything on the opposite side of the library came into sharp focus, and he accidentally began reading the spines of the books across the room. His attention was drawn to Doug’s harsh breathing rasping against his ears.
He needed to decide what to do with Doug.
Easiest thing to do was take Leanne and leave him here. Garth wouldn’t be able to take care of two invalids, especially when he’d been shot in the leg. Maybe he’d put the guy out of his misery and collect their heartstones, assuming humans had them. Well, he could check Roger first.
Garth heard a sharp intake of breath as Leanne woke up, clutching her head.
“What happened?” she asked, frowning as she glanced around the now-destroyed library.
“Fight broke out, we got lucky,” he said, turning Roger’s corpse over and tearing open the man’s shirt, fighting down a wave of nausea as the formerly living man stared up at the ceiling. The fat bastard had a poorly drawn tattoo of a naked woman just above his left tit. Guy should have gotten a refund.
“Okay.” Leanne said, climbing to her feet. Her gaze settled on the rifle in the corner of the room, and she walked over to it, hefting Doug’s gun with a look of concentration.
“Whatever you do,” Garth said, looking down at Roger and psyching himself up to dissect a human, “Don’t point that at me, and keep you finger off the trigger.”
To her credit, the girl didn’t give him the usual teenage outrage at being told something obvious, merely replying with “Okay.”
Leanne came and stood over Garth’s shoulder as he began cutting through the fat of Roger’s chest.
“Neat.” She said, peering down at the corpse. Garth’s jaw dropped, and he looked at the morbidly curious child over his shoulder.
“You shoulda been a doctor, I guess,” he said, getting back to it. “You’ve got the gun, keep an eye out for any more coming, okay?”
“Sure.” Leanne looked away, casting her gaze around the room while Garth cracked Roger open like a fat, blood-filled, nasty smelling lobster. after a minute of digging, he found a red gem beneath the man’s heart, without any fire, and a surface so rough it dragged across Garth’s thumb as he wiped it off.
“Got it,” he said, grabbing the nearby bookshelf and dragging himself to his feet. Garth turned around and saw Leanne fixing the dying man with an odd stare. She grabbed Garth and dragged him out of earshot.
“We should help him.” She said, nodding her head toward the injured man.
“Why’s that?” Garth asked.
“Because, we can trust him.”
Garth ran through recent events in his memory, and while it was true that Doug was unwilling to shoot him on Harold’s say-so, it didn’t mean they should throw their lot in with him wholeheartedly.
“You think so?” he asked, to which Leanne nodded. “You got any concrete reasoning for that?”
“You know that dream you had where you made it with the goddess of fertility, then woke up part freaky plant-man?”
“I had something similar happen last night.”
“You got laid in your sleep?”
“No, shut up.” Leanne said, rolling her eyes and scowling. “What I’m saying is, I know that we can trust him. Without a doubt.”
“Huh.” Leanne was in the top hundred thousand too, and was blessed with a handy-dandy little Trustworthiness HUD, apparently. Good to know. Garth wondered whether he or Doug was the more trustworthy. Probably Doug.
Garth shrugged and limped over to where Doug lay panting
“Hello Doug, can you hear me?”
“Doug, if you don’t get some help, you’re going to die.”
Doug gave a whine between breaths.
“Please,please,please,” he panted with each breath.
“If you die, I’m going to carve the stone out of your chest and eat it.” Garth held up Roger’s stone so the wounded man could see it.
“But you’re not gonna die, because we’re gonna help you.”
Doug’s shuddering gasps slowed.
“Open your mouth.”