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"OVER THERE!" The lead soldier shouted. He quickly followed with hand gestures to the soldiers nearest him.
Six men converged on the trees where the murder had taken place Four of them went into the woods immediately, as if they didn't have to step over a headless soldier in the process. They had their knives drawn, but Dee didn't think that would do them any good. The remaining two grabbed the corpse, dragged it a short distance away, removed his knife and stood ready. Other soldiers began stationing themselves along the edge of the woods at regular intervals. Dee smiled when she noticed that they stood well out of 'reach out and grab' distance.
"This way! Bring the woman!"
The soldier holding Dee spun her around and pushed her toward the center of the clearing, near where a very unhappy pit bull was growling and barking in the tangled net. Two armed men stood guard near the dog. They watched Dee approach.
Dee's stomach twisted. She looked over her shoulder, past the snarling man behind her and at the backpack that still lay on the ground where it had been dropped. She wanted the bag. She didn't know why... but she did. Being away from it made her feel... vulnerable. And angry.
The lead soldier saw her, and started to follow her gaze.
Dee didn't want that.
"You wanna place bets on how many more of you he's gonna kill?"
"We will bring him down like the animal he has become." The soldier spat.
"Yeah? How many of you are going to be dead before that happens? You gonna be one of 'em?"
It was a long, painful affair punctuated with grunts and wordless howls. It ended suddenly.
Men shifted toward the source of the sound, but no one went in after it. Apparently, they didn't need to. Several more shouts rose as the men already beyond the tree line made their way toward the commotion.
There was a rustling sound, and three men burst out of the woods. Two soldiers were helping a third, who could barely stand even with his arms slung over their shoulders. He looked like he'd lost a fight with a garbage disposal full of straight razors. His coat was shredded, and the shirt was more red than white. His face was bloody and distorted by pain, and there was large, ugly wound just below his scalp. There was an even uglier gash down the side of his face, just past the right ear. The man was conscious, but clearly in shock. His eyes begged for release, while his face drooped, becoming more expressionless with every step.
"Unless you've got a hospital in your pocket," said Dee "That's one. Get me my bag and promise to let me go... I'll see what I can do for him."
Dee had no intention of doing anything but running at the first opportunity. But she wasn't going to get it. The soldier wasn't even listening to her.
Three of the soldiers nearest the wounded man went to him; one was already tearing his sleeves into bandages while another removed a small canteen from his belt. The third began examining the wounds while the two who'd carried him out tried to untangle themselves from his arms. The wounded man was holding on, grasping at their sleeves as they tried to put him down.
Dee heard one of them ask if he was bitten.
"I can't tell..." another of the soldiers replied.
"Check that neck wound. By the ear. Looks like a bite."
The wounded man jerked his head away.
"Hold him still!"
"I'm a nurse," said Dee. "A healer? Hello? Are you even-"
"DROP THAT MAN!" The lead soldier shouted past Dee. "WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS! CONTINUE THE SEARCH!"
The soldiers hesitated, glancing at each other and at their wounded comrade.
"I SAID DROP HIM!"
They all took their hands off of him at once.
The wounded soldier-
-straightened. He raised his head and looked directly at the man who'd shouted the orders.
Then Dee saw the knife in his hand.
The soldier drove the blade into the stomach of the closest man. He yanked upward on the blade, unzipping the man's lower torso like a cheap jacket. Before the screams could even start, the 'wounded' soldier spun to slash at the throat of another man. That soldier half-dodged, half-fell out of the path of the weapon. He reached for his own knife-
-only to discover that it wasn't there. His almost comical expression mirrored across the faces of the other four men that had tried to help the fallen soldier. Their blades were gone, too. Their attacker, however, seemed to have plenty. With a knife in each hand, he dove at them. One man spun away at the last instant, but the other died in a fountain of red as his throat opened before the attacker's blade like a second mouth.
"IT'S HIM!" The lead soldier shouted... several seconds too late.
The wounded soldier reached up, pinched the skin of his forehead, and peeled the purloined skin away from his true face.
The Scarecrow's menacing, grin greeted the soldiers as they converged on him. He charged into their midst, mouth open in a silent scream of rage. There were too many for him to fight, but he either didn't know or didn't care. His blades flashed continuously, often stabbing or slashing at multiple targets simultaneously. Any attempt to reach him was met with a twist, a dodge, or an outright attack. One man lost four fingers of his right hand and, before the loss could even register on his face, found himself falling back with a blade thrust up through his chin into his skull. He fell into the path of another charging soldier, who leapt over the obstacle and landed on the Scarecrow's second blade.
The Scarecrow was gone an instant later, one hand drawing another blade as a third man thrust toward the back of his neck.
The Scarecrow spun, grabbed the man's hand and pulled him off balance. His head shot forward-
Dee winced. The Scarecrow sank his teeth into the man's arm, just above the wrist. Teeth met bone, and the soldier screamed as the Scarecrow tore free a mouth full of skin and muscle. Then he twisted into a perfect hip-throw, tossing the now-infected soldier into another man's charge.
The Scarecrow dodged and slashed at another soldier. The blades whispered past one another, but the Scarecrow spat the hunk of bloody flesh he held in his mouth into the other man's eyes. The soldier recoiled. The Scarecrow kicked the knife out of his hand, then spun and plunged his blade into the side of yet another soldier that had been rushing up from behind. He took that man's knife, reversed it, and plunged it into his neck... all in one continuous motion. As that man fell, the Scarecrow leapt over him, into the path of a large soldier wielding two blades. Knives appeared in each of the Scarecrow's hands. Just as quickly, they disappeared into the elbows of the rushing soldier.
The man screamed. The Scarecrow lunged.
The scream became a wail of panic as infected teeth closed around the meat of his neck. Blood splattered into the Scarecrow's face as he tore away another chunk of flesh and spat it in the general direction of the closest soldier.
That man quickly skidded to a halt. As did the two behind him.
The Scarecrow glared at them, smiling... his face a mask of red horror.
He brought out a fresh knife, spat on the blade, then quickly turned and threw the knife at the soldier who'd been trying to sneak up behind him. The soldier dodged, but the blade still managed to carve a grove along the side of his right cheek.
Eyes wide with horrible realization, the soldier turned and bolted. Out of the fight. Out of the clearing. Gone.
"MAKE WAY!" the lead soldier shouted. "MOUNTS!"
The growing circle of knife-soldiers ballooned outward, making way for a trio of lizard-mounted men that charged in from three directions, bladed pikes lowered and aimed at the bloody Scarecrow's grinning face.
Still smiling, the Scarecrow drew a fresh knife from his belt and waited.