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The lizard-mounts closed in. Two men jabbed at the Scarecrow with their pikes, forcing him back toward the third. Suddenly the Scarecrow spun away from the clumsy trap. He threw his knife at one of the lizards. Instead of being spooked, the monster surged forward in anger, jaws snapping. He slipped out of formation and into the path of a second soldier, who narrowly avoided skewering his comrade's mount through the throat.
The third man slashed at the Scarecrow, and ended up with an unbloodied piece of the fugitive's torn jacket for his effort. Still, it was closer than anyone else had gotten.
This, of course, was intentional. Having lured the mounted soldier into position, the Scarecrow grabbed the extended pike that had narrowly avoided his neck. He pulled hard. The soldier pulled back instinctively, and then the scarecrow rushed at him, using his own muscle as well as the soldier's to pull him up onto the beast's back!
The soldier dropped the pike and twisted to grapple with the bloody madman. A blade appeared in the Scarecrow's hand, but instead of stabbing at the soldier, he slashed at the saddle straps. One of the other soldiers darted between Dee and the two men, blocking her view. The next thing she saw was two men hitting the ground. The Scarecrow rolled free as a bladed pike stabbed past his exposed back-
-and into the gut of the second man, who was already bleeding profusely from the throat. Bitten? Cut? It didn't matter. The man was dead now, and the Scarecrow was on his feet once more.
But now, there was a lizard-mount without a soldier. Apparently the creatures were barely tamed or easily spooked, and without the presence of a rider they reverted to something approaching a feral state. It reared up and made a loud, hissing sound that sounded more frightened than malicious. Then the beast shook off the remains of the slashed saddle and began eyeing its surroundings with growing unease, looking for something to bite.
The Scarecrow ran, making sure HE wasn't the closest target. The other two mounts closed in from either side. Their target veered toward one of them, running straight toward the bladed pike, obviously intending to repeat his earlier tactic. The rider raised the pike and kicked his heels into the lizard's flank, spurring it into a charge. Then he released the beast's reigns and shouted something... an order to attack.
Man and beast ran toward one another. The lizard's massive head snapped at the Scarecrow as its intended dinner threw himself UNDER the monster. There was a flash of metal, and the beast screamed. The soldier screamed as well... his voice raising in pitch as the beast thrashed. The Scarecrow darted into the clear, now covered with even more blood than he'd worn before. He'd opened the beast's stomach, and now the creature's entrails spilled out at its own feet as it danced... staggered... and fell. The soldier tried to leap free, but was too late. He yelped as the beast lurched sideways and landed, trapping one of his legs.
The Scarecrow appeared... leaping over the still-twitching beast and landing blade-first on the trapped guard. The man died with a "GURK!" as another mounted soldier charged toward him, this one swinging a large net over his head.
"LOOK OUT!" Dee shouted.
The lead soldier, who'd been watching his men die with grim silence, turned and her. Hard.
Dee swooned... then dropped to her knees.
She started to get up, but the man hit her again.
Dee landed almost on top of Treach.
"Stay down and stay silent!" the soldier barked.
Treach barked something back that only he understood.
As her head cleared, Dee saw the Scarecrow charge the man with net, zigzagging back and forth across a path that ended at the beast's mouth. The man never threw the net. The beast's teeth clamped shut around absolutely nothing as the scarecrow drove a blade into the beast's left eye.
The man ducked, spun, drove a second knife into the beast's other eye, and then spun away, having never stopped moving once.
This drove the monster into a pain-induced frenzy of hissing and biting. The rider managed to stay on the beast's back, but he had no control. He dropped his net... accidentally or on purpose, Dee couldn't tell. The giant lizard's feet became tangled in it, and it went down, still fighting.
The rider jumped free and rolled to his feet, his knife already drawn.
The fight had moved past him. The soldier probably didn't know how lucky he was.
Five soldiers decided to close on the Scarecrow simultaneously, banking that he couldn't kill or infect them all before they killed him. Maybe they were right. But even if they were wrong, an even larger group was running to join them, and the fight so far had taken the Scarecrow well away from the trees that would have offered him shelter. Still more men were trying to calm the lizard beast that the Scarecrow had left riderless.
The soldier's looked like they had things wrapped up.
Dee couldn't see the lead soldier's face, but she imagined him smiling.
The sound came from the inert Woodsman. There was a low, growling shudder that Dee felt through the ground rather than heard. It sounded like a heartbeat.
Dee had felt that sound before. A second later, the Woodsman's voice boomed.
High pitched grinding noises began to emanate from within the metal shell. The metal monster straightened. The soldiers on either side of it darted away as the huge arms swung toward them.
"REPAIR AT ONE HUNDRED PERCENT! WOODSMAN IS NOW ACTIVE!"
Compartments on the arms popped open. The Woodsman's blades slid out, then shot forward and locked into place with a-
"THIS UNIT EMPLOYS RAPIDLY ROTATING BLADES! DO NOT APPROACH! DEATH OR DISMEMBERMENT WILL OCCUR!"
The blades spun. They started fast, then got faster as the mysterious green light began to pulse ominously out of the eye-ports on the machine's head.
"WARNING: HOSTILE INCURSION DETECTED! OFFENSIVE PROTOCOL ENABLED! HOSTILE FORCES WILL BE REMOVED-"
The Woodsman turned and started toward the closest soldiers.