Cursing her ill turn of luck, Lars wiped the sweat from her brow. The case was down there, it had to be. She had made sure to mark the spot and committed it to memory a year before and now she was sure that she was within five feet of the location. There was only one obstacle in her way, the unnatural growth of the cacti in the area.
This had led to a prickly expedition through the overgrown area, a task she would have rather undertaken in a full set of leather armor.
Or metal plate spike, she thought darkly as she fell back, brushing her shoulders against one of the prickly plants. Pulling herself forwards she twisted her head, any other day she would kick the bloody thing and pull the quills out afterwards.
Now was not the time though.
Instead she turned her attention back to the hole she had been excavating, bundles of roots snaking around through the sandy earth like giant brown snakes. Entrapped within she had caught a glint of metal, well rusted, but there. All she had to do was get to it.
Pulling on the roots had yielded little result, they were in thick and interwoven in a chaotic tapestry that sunk deep into the earth. She had tried twisting one of the vines to, trying to work it until it broke, and all she had gotten for her efforts were several blisters and a viscus fluid that caused the palms of her hand to burn.
Fists clenched though the rising pain she noticed her hands where beginning to shake, a slight tremble now apparent in both.
‘Damn it.’ She cursed wiping her hands in the sand again. They were still sticky from the sap and now tingled with a prickly sensation that she could feel with every twitch.
‘I don’t have time for this.’ Lars snarled, keeping her voice low as she flicked her ears up, listening carefully before returning her gaze to the twisting roots. ‘Or for you, for that matter.’
This was going nowhere, she thought, cursed again and pressing herself flat to the lip of the hole she leaned in and clamped her teeth around the nearest root. In a quick bite she felt the corded fiber snap like a rope under tension, a bitter taste filling her mouth making her tongue recoil at the taste.
Jerking her head up, she spat. She would probably regret that later if these were poisonous, but she would regret it even more if she was caught here with only a grouping of cacti for cover.
Another bite at the base of the hole freed the root, and with an effort she jerked it free letting out a triumphant, ‘Ha!’ that she regretted the second it escaped her lips. Quiet, got to keep quiet, she chided herself. Lest she attract attention to herself.
She was about to stick her head back in the hole when she heard it, a faint rasp of leather on metal.
Frozen, she lay spread on the earth, her ears flicking around to pinpoint the sound of the disturbance she had heard seconds before.
She listed. The wind whistled over the lonely planes, geckos croaked and hissed somewhere in the distance, but the sound did not repeat itself.
That was a bad sign, pressed flat she waited, knowing whomever she had heard was likely doing the same. It was a survival tactic, those who walked blindly about oblivious to their surroundings were usually the first to die in the Mojave.
Slowly Lars twisted her head, looking through the stalks of the cacti around her. Grown thick and surrounded by a tangle of razor grass she could not see much. But that meant neither could her stalker.
Several seconds passed, sweat beading on Lars brow as she weighed her options. No weapons, no armor, it would be foolish to run, she would be gunned down before she made it twenty paces. She could try and take them by surprise, but that would mean she would have to get into a superior position, or, they would have to come to her.
After what felt like an eternity, the whisper of leather came again. Somewhere off to her right, followed by a man’s voice.
‘I thought I heard something.’
‘Probably just a gecko.’ A second voice came back, female.
The man snorted and the sound of boots rustling the grass came closer.
‘Didn’t sound like any gecko I’ve heard before.’
He was close now, standing at the edge of the cacti that surrounded her. Lars remained motionless. The cacti were thick, but if he were to find the right angle, she would be all to visible in the little hollow she had worked out of the grove.
‘I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.’ The woman’s voice chimed again. ‘Unless you fancy picking barbs out of your armor for the next several days – and I’m not helping you do so.’
‘Relax.’ The man said after a moment’s hesitation. He was close. So very close. ‘I just wanted to make sure.’
‘Right, there is no way anyone could get into that mess.’ The women retorted hotly. ‘And if they did, they are more than welcome to stay there. Now come on, I don’t like being out in the open like this. Let’s get back to the trail.’
With a final brush, Lars heard the footsteps receding, still she did not move. Body pressed against the earth she lay there waiting, it was an old trick, one that got a lot of rookies killed. And Lars was not in the mood to get killed today.
The cacti above her left ear exploded showering her in a spray of green viscera as she heard the crack a firearm going off. Several more shots followed, sending globs of cacti raining down on her as she pressed herself flat as possible, willing herself not to move as she counted the shots. One, two, three. A pause, then two more in quick succession to her right.
From her far left she heard the woman’s voice filled with anger. ‘Damn it Laurence! What the hell was that about?’
‘I don’t like taking risks.’ The man retorted.
Breathing heavily, Lars remained plastered to the sandy earth waiting, pale fluid dripping down on her from above. The sticky sap like liquid made her skin itch, an itch that quickly began to burn, still she refused to move.
One minute, two, an hour. She counted each one out slowly, never breaking her rhythmic pattern, all the while her ears swiveled around, listening intently.
Nothing, letting out a deep sigh of relief, she fought back the instinctive need to roll in the sandy earth, smothering the liquid fire that was eating into her back. Gods, they must be toxic! Lars cursed mentally, the perfect defense and probably why they had grown so large.
The biology lesion would have to wait though, as would a good dust bath, and returning her attention to the hole she stuck her head back in. Viciously she wrapped her jaw around the nearest root, and bit hard, sand shifted and fell into her mouth causing her to spit.
Gritty particles clung to her lips as she bit down again, ignoring the pain spreading though her lips, a slow burning fire that was creeping up her face. There would be a reckoning for that later she knew, but right now she needed her prize. Another bite, another mouth full of bitter toxin, and it was done, pulling her head up she resisted the urge to grab a handful of sand and stuff it into her burning mouth.
‘Gah – fricking, fuck!’
No longer caring if anyone heard her, Lars half chocked as she wiped the sap from her face. Her hands, which had been itching now flared white hot with every twitch. A thousand little needles of pain prickling her palms as she clawed at her face.
‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’
Enraged she thrust her hands into the hole, clawing at the tangle of severed roots and loose earth. Clawing through the roots she worked her fingers around the edge of the metallic case and pulled hard.
The earth held fast around it, but after several jerking bursts of frustrated rage Lars managed to work it free. Practically flying out of the hole as she wrenched, the case came snapping back smacking her already enflamed nose.
Forgetting her own vow of silence Lars let free a string of incoherence.
It took several breaths to bring herself back. Her nose, burning so badly she could barely breath, her lips were swollen, and her tongue numb. She could feel something hot running down her snout and could not tell if it was blood or sweat, nor did she care anymore.
Numb hands working the case, she fumbled it upright before her and cleaned it of sand until she found what she was looking for, a tiny four-digit twist lock built into the case itself.
From memory she keyed in the sequence, her fingers burning with the effort, but she made sure she had it right before depressing the locking mechanism.
With a metallic click, the case sprang open an inch, and smiling Lars threaded her fingers into the sides pushing down on the two pressure plates she had installed there years before. A little extra security feature she had rigged up incase someone got greedy. Holding both plates down she used her nose to push open the case, letting the lid settle onto the sandy ground before bending forwards and pulling the detonator switch out of the bundle of C4 explosive set in the case.
Satisfied she was not going to blow herself up, Lars let out a breath she had been holding. Sweat trickled down her brow, as she extracted the explosive, setting it aside to get at the other valuables she had tucked away inside.
A leather sack, well oiled was first, followed by a tiny red kit, and two smaller bundles. Each she carefully set aside before reaching for the red tin and cracked it open. Inside, three stimpacks, an antidote kit, and a scrapped first aid kit greeted her. Fumbling with one of the jars, she cracked the seal and eyed the milky cream within.
Sniffing it, she grunted and scooped out two fingers full, slathering it on her face and hands. The sensation was almost immediate, like a heavy rain coming to extinguish a fire that was ravaging her face. Fervently she scooped another finger full and rubbed it over her hands, working it into her fur to the skin.
Satisfied, she let out a long sigh, before capping the jar. She would need to apply the gel again before long to keep the swelling down. Ignoring the itching pain in her back she resisted the urge to use the remainder of the precious cream to slow the spread, that would have to wait.
Her attention again focused on the cases other items, she began meticulously unwrapping each bundle in turn.
The first two, oil soaked leather, that parted roughly with their contents revealed a ten millimeter pistol and a combat knife. A quick inspection of both revealed them to be in good condition, just as she had left them. A small cleaning kit, and a wet stone tumbled out of the third bundle. Worth their weight in gold out here, Lars mused.
The rest of the case contained other such useful items, three frag grenades, four clips, a utility belt, and a canteen filled with now very fermented alcohol. Probably go blind, Lars muttered after smelling it gingerly. The last bundle contained a single scrap of dyed black leather in a triangular cut and decorated with a handful of glass beads and brass shells.
Smiling at her find, Lars stood and began assembling herself.
It didn’t take long to exhaust the kits contents, most of which found its way onto her belt, the rest she replaced in the sack along with the C4 explosives and slung over her shoulder.
Rearmed and refitted, Lars smiled, it was time to turn the hunt on itself.
‘Now where the hell is my top?’ She muttered looking around.
Gods I had fun drawing this one, as well as writing it. Giving Lars her dues, and working on a much larger canvas than before. Not to mention having the time to work on projects like this. AKA, five hours of nothing but pen and ink work following digital touch ups. Ah, very pleased with how this one turned out.
Thinking about releasing the full sized version of this piece as a print, or maybe a set later on.
Kind of like Parry nine.
Aka when you meet a swordsman who you have no chance of beating, you salute them, then, turn on your heal and run like hell.