This is the second part of a flash fiction story that started here.
The sun was bleeding red into the horizon when he opened his eyes. Must have dozed, he realized with a start. He had been surveying the city from up here, trying to determine if there was anything worth looting, but so far nothing. Other than the occasional trinkets and artifacts he had found, scattered here and there. These had been a mid tech level people, from what he could see, and were not like to yield up anything useful at this point.
A distant screeching caused him to start, and he peered cautiously over the lip of the tower wall. He had been able to evade the harpies (what else could he call them?) after their initial attack, and after taking a roundabout way into the city he had managed to stay unseen. His side still throbbed where they had clawed into him, but so far the anti- bacterial med had done its job. They were clearly agitated, he could see, but did not appear to be hunting him. From what he could see, they were agitated most of the time.
So... next steps. This was a dead world, from what he could see- if this city was any indication. Other than the harpies and a few skulking animals he had seen no sign of the former inhabitants, other than their bones. Could there be a thriving city just over the horizon, or across a sea? Sure, but he couldn't wander here forever. What was left to him, but to return to the only hope he had? He absently fingered the beacon, turning it over in his hands- would it work this time? There was no way to know.
All around the deserted city the grasslands extended into forever. Only to the northeast did he see something- a shimmering that was very likely a body of water, possibly even an inland sea judging from its expanse. But he could see no ships, could spy no habitation, just a shimmering that extended beyond sight. Sighing, he slid the beacon back into his pack and stood up with a groan. Time to move. He descended the crumbling tower and was soon on the streets again.
The city had been eerily quiet the last two nights, but as he made his way toward the outskirts he thought he heard a rustling somewhere, and there... a stone dislodged, perhaps? He stopped and raised his pulse rifle, scanning for movement, but saw nothing. Continuing on, he heard it again, and then he saw a flash of movement over some rocks. Shit. Quickening his pace, he could hear movement behind him now, and on the sides... were they herding him? He stumbled once as he decided he needed to get out of this city- now- and then he heard the hooting, or was it chanting?
He could see them now, in the shadows... and worse, they were above him, flitting from story to story in the upper levels. They were humanoid, roughly, and there were many. He pushed down a rising sense of panic and thought of Anna- he was not going to check out here, in some nowhere place in the back ass of creation. And if they did take him, it was going to be expensive.
They were closing in now, and as he rounded a pile of rubble something hit him and he was down. There was a horrid cry and it was on him, all sinewy strength and musky smell, dark eyes and bloodstained teeth. He grabbed the thing's throat to keep it at bay as its claws bore into him, and with his left hand he managed to keep the rifle up. Squeezing off a burst, he blew the thing's head nearly off and was momentarily blinded by the close flash. Regaining his feet, he ran now, ignoring the pain in his ankle as he nearly twisted it on a pile of scree. The howls of the creatures were all around him now, and he knew there were too many. He stopped for a moment as he felt the noose tightening, took aim, and squeezed off a few more rounds, taking out two more. He was hoping the superior technology would give them pause. They did seem to slacken a bit, and he was starting to feel hope, and then realized there was a new factor. A rustling of winds, a screeching cry, and the harpies were there, though whether they were onto him or wanted to scrap with some howling marauders he had no idea. Nor did he care, if he could slip out.
He was almost to the grass when he heard something behind him. Turning, he could see two of the lopers closing on him, teeth bared, and he shivered. He took the first one with a pulse and as the second one reached him he reversed his grip, swinging it like a club. He connected just as the thing took him down, and then they were thrashing on the ground. It was stronger than him, and crazy, but he had a knife and he was able to reach it even as the thing tore at his throat and chest. He swung the knife, taking it in the neck. It howled so loud his blood froze, but he stabbed it again, and then again, and suddenly he was stabbing it ferociously- it was dead but he kept on- and soon he was covered in its blood. He suddenly felt nauseous, and as he looked around he could see the battle still raging, two of the howling creatures bringing down a harpy even as another winged creature took one and carried it into the sky. Fuck this.
He was running now and in the grass, and after a time the sounds of slaughter receded, to be replaced by the sloughing of the wind and the night sounds of insects. The moon shone high overhead, and ahead he could see a dim glow. The Gate.