Azrael crouched down, sifting thru the scattered remains of the station. He shifted some burned wood, pulling out a piece of cloth, traces of skin and blood still intact.
"Well, there used to be someone manning the station," he said, dropping the bloodied remnant and wiping his hand on his pants. "No telling what happened to them."
Samson worked diligently at digging thru the rubble to see if any gas remained. He managed to unearth a tank that still had enough to get them out of this danger. "Do we have any gas cans? We can salvage enough to get us away from here and get the girl out of danger."
"Would I be a modern day survivalist if I didn't have one...or four?" Az winked and went to the back of the van. He was surprised to see Madison standing on still wobbly legs, but her cheeks were pink and she lost that asylum escapee look from her eyes.
"How goes it?" Lily asked, stretching as she climbed out of the van. Az looked at her deeply for the first time in what seemed like forever. She looked tired, worn, down but not out, and his heart caught in his throat; she was beautiful. He shook his head to break the gaze just as Lily's expression changed to puzzlement.
"Good, actually. Sam found enough gas to get us the hell outta dodge before whatever was here comes back," Az said as he lugged two huge gas cans from the van.
"Too late," Mad whispered, her eyes wide as she peeked around the opened door. Droplets of sweat surfaced on her forehead and wound a crooked path down her face as her chest slowly began to heave.
They felt them before they could see them, slight tremblers threatening to build in crescendo. They could hear them before they could see them, a clamoring herd of talons striking the parched desert ground. Then they saw the outline of the Striders thru the dust, moving swiftly toward them, and nowhere for them to run or hide. On the Striders were henchmen, sworn to uphold whatever twisted regimen came into play, the current one ruling New Promise with iron fists and a shoot first ask questions later philosophy. Anything for their greater good, no matter how many metamorphoses the greater good goes thru along the way. More like a religious cult than a government, not that one of those was any better than the other.
Before any of them could wrap their head around a plan to get themselves out of this fine mess they've gotten themselves into, Mad rushed to head the pack, barking orders like a seasoned army vet.
"Get behind me NOW, in order of height, tallest last, shortest closest to me! Move it! Join hands, Lil, grab my hips and do NOT let go no matter what. And don't move!"
The three did as they were told, no questions, and by the time they were in position, the Striders were roughly ten feet away. Mad closed her eyes briefly, and when they opened they were blue ice.
Mad continued to stand frozen, staring at the five Striders and their henchmen as they stopped briefly directly in front of Mad, kicking up dirt and screeching. Striders were an ostrich hybrid bred for quick travel across the terrain, bigger and stronger and able to kill a man with one swift kick. If the claws didn't get you the sheer power would, not that you would know it. Death would save you before you even knew you had died. As far as ways to die went, it was quick and painless; you certainly wouldn't feel the Striders as they picked your bones clean. Another bonus of this government bred experiment--instant removal of any evidence.
The trio stood silently behind Madison, not daring to move, blink, or even breathe, eyes glued on the enemy, incredulous that they haven't noticed them standing in a line holding hands like kindergarteners going to lunch. Suddenly with a "Hee-ya" and a kick, the henchmen rode their Striders right thru the foursome. Right thru them without stopping, dust enveloping them while it followed the group down the road and out of sight. Only when she was sure they were gone, Mad bent over, hands on her knees as if she had merely been doing yoga and sighed.
Lily, lightheaded from the experience, fell on her hands and knees coughing uncontrollably, wretching and heaving like someone who had too much to drink. Her eyes stung and watered as if pepper spray clung to the air.
Azrael rubbed his burning eyes, turning slow circles trying to get his sight back. "What the fuck was that? What the fuck just happened here! Who's protecting who? What the fuck?" Just then a wave of nausea hit him like a tsunami and knocked him clean off his feet. He lay on the ground on his side, spitting and coughing, a cold sweat sending chills up and down his body.
Samson stood utterly befuddled, knowing this had to be some form of divine intervention he had just witnessed. He was convinced his path crossed with Az's for this very reason, because he was meant to partake in this quest, this mission, even if it ended up being his last, even if his final destination was far away from Frankville and freedom. How free are you really when you have to stay in one place in order to call yourself that? Where he was now, what he was doing, having died and been revived for whatever reason, now that was freedom. Suddenly his head began to pound but he didn't care, nor did he care when the coughing struck, or when his knees buckled and he sank to the ground. Because he glanced in the sky and saw heaven for the first time. And he saw that it was good.
"I...fucking...smell...like those...damn stinkin' freaks," Az stuttered as he lifted himself to one knee, still hunched over, sniffing the sleeve of his jacket.
Mad smirked, standing over the bunch while shaking off the cold sweat like a dog who was caught out in the rain. "Rookies!"