Written by: Terra Ray
Midwest America, 2032
The Kaijin attacked at dawn…
Or at least what Don assumed was dawn. A heavy fog had rolled in during the prior evening and had settled over the land blanketing the abandoned farmland in heavy damp that made the going slow. From the way the white walls that closed their small campsite were brighter and slightly luminous, Don could reasonably assume that the sun was at least partially up. And so Sergeant Don Prescott rose from his makeshift bed of soggy corn stalks, weapon ready in hand to the sound of alarm from his sentries. Blurs of motion passed just on the outside of his vision, darting this way and that before he could get a solid look at them.
“Get up! Get yerselves up righ’ now!” He called, taking his eyes off of their small defensive perimeter for but a moment to help a Corporal to her feet that had been sleeping near him. The sound of a scream snapped his attention back to the front just in time to see one of his soldiers topple to the ground with a beast atop him. Don’s training took over, and his body moved as it had been conditioned to; crouching to one knee and taking aim in one swift motion. Three small pops rang out in the camp as he fired a short burst of rounds at the Kaijin bent over the soldier.
The small burst appeared to do little but distract the Kaijin, two of the shots deflected against angled plates of natural armor on its head which rose slowly to stare Don directly in the eyes. The creature’s green pupilless eyes formed a pit of dread in the Sergeant’s stomach before a single shot rang out just beside him causing Don to jump slightly. The Corporal’s much higher-powered rifle managed to take it just above its left eye, the bullet deflecting off a swollen ridge of bone but causing the creature to recoil and bright green blood to drip from the now broken bone there. Its eyes connected with Don’s once more, seeming to burn with a bestial hatred before a nictitating membrane ‘blinked’ for the creature and it retreated into the fog.
Fortunately, the man beneath was mostly unharmed aside from a few scratches, and two more soldiers moved up to pull him closer to the center. Don turned to cast a grateful look to the Corporal who he had helped up just moments before. The barrel of her rifle was still smoking from the shot she had just taken, but she relaxed slightly and gave a nod in acknowledgment. He didn’t know her name, didn’t have time to with how the past few days had gone for him. Don’s little militia had set out from Omaha bound South towards a larger resistance headquarters that was rumored to be surviving. That had been 3 days ago, and Don had watched the rest of his unit slowly drop until somehow he was the ranking officer and in charge. Each attack after the last had been more intense, starting with small skirmishes and getting worse, more Kaijin present than the last. But this one felt different, there was far more movement out there than he had seen before.
They were moving in for the kill.
“Back up- back up!” Don called,
“Form a ring in the center on me, wounded in the middle, come on people!” The troops moved quickly to follow his orders, a few soldiers helping up the wounded to be put in the center of a soon loosely organized ring around them. Most held automatic rifles in trembling hands, casting nervous glances between the soldiers at either side of them and the hulking shapes moving through the fog ahead of them.
“Don’t break formation, whatever ya do! We’ll get through thi-”
The last call was all he had time for as his final words were cut off by a guttural scream coming from the curtain of fog, inhuman and enough to chill Don’s veins to ice at the sound. The Kaijin burst from the fog like ants pouring from a hill; some sprinting down on all fours, and others towering slightly taller than a man dashing forward with surprising speed. The next few moments became a blur as Don’s training took over once more to suppress the fear that threatened to drown him.
His last order to not break formation was hastily forgotten as soldiers backpedaled to avoid being clawed or bitten, the entire strategy forgotten in a desperate bid for survival. Don called out once again to stay in formation, but the words didn’t reach anyone as the chaos and struggle spread among the group. He fired off another short burst at a charging Kaijin, dropping it headfirst into the soft earth where it slid for a few feet, throwing up pieces of mud into the air. As Don readjusted his aim at another Kaijin on the lane to his right, a second Kaijin leaped up and over the body of its fallen companion. It pushed off the dropped body and sailed the remaining twenty feet in a powerful leap directly at the Sergeant. Don threw himself down, landing prone as he felt the wind of the creature’s passing just above him. Adrenaline pumping through his veins he rolled onto his side, struggling but managing to get his weapon up and raised at the creature.
But while it had missed going for him, the creature instead found the mark of the Corporal that had helped Don earlier. He cursed under his breath as the Kaijin gripped its jaws around her leg and began to charge off back into the fog with her.
“Oh like hell you will!” He puffed, getting to his feet and charging after the retreating pair powered by pure adrenaline, forgetting all about his command and troops behind him. But the creature was much faster than him even when carrying another, and it soon broadened the gap between them. Don only had one chance to slow the creature down, so he carefully stopped in place and set his stance taking a deep breath in. A single shot tore through the fog and struck the Kaijin’s upper thigh, causing it to stumble and topple over, dropping the woman in the process. Don’s internal cheer was soon cut off as the creature’s head swung back around towards him, revealing a dented left eye ridge with fluorescent blood streaming down its face. The Kaijin tore off on all fours directly at him. He did his best to squeeze off a few rounds at the charging creature but they were not nearly enough before Don felt his world lurch as the Kaijin tackled him to the ground.
Breath was driven from Don’s lungs as his back impacted the soft earth below him, followed shortly by the Kaijin’s weight atop him. He barely had enough time to drop his rifle and get his hands upon the creature’s jaws to hold them open and prevent them from closing around his chest. Don strained with all of his might, pushing against the creature’s snout as he felt its breath ragged and hot around his arms. The thing seemed to be toying with him, it was so much stronger, and yet it didn’t make the finishing move, or perhaps fear gave Don strength he didn’t know he had.
“You’re not gettin’ me today beastie!” He called, crying with the pain of effort as he pushed with all his might against the creature. Don’s head turned to the side as he pushed, looking out into the mist with furrowed brow and strained expression. Something moved out there… something- that seemed too small to be a Kaijin. He couldn’t afford to give it too much effort as the creature’s jaws pushed ever closer to him, causing him to scream out with the effort of holding the scrambling beast atop him back.
“I can’t- hold.. aaaahhhh!!!”
A shot rang out, unlike any Don had heard before, it was far deeper and thrummed with a buzz in his chest. A red hot streak of something tore overhead, and suddenly the Kaijin’s movements seized. Its muscles tightened in sudden action, only to go slack a moment later, toppling over to the ground beside him. Don blinked once… twice to try and understand what just happened before he stood up and looked over in the direction of the noise.
Emerging from the fog, appearing slowly as if a spirit appearing from thin air, was a man. A tall figure in a dark blue poncho that covered more of his left shoulder than the right, and arms beneath layers of tattoo ink that swelled with tight muscle. Held aloft in one hand was a massive gun unlike any that Don had ever seen, the barrel and end glowing softly with orange light and smoke that curled up into the fog. The man’s face was hard lines, his expression a grave frown, with minor signs of aging across his cheeks. Every hair on his head from the bun in his hair, to the small mustache and beard on his face, was a silvery-white color that seemed to blend with the fog that swirled around him as he approached.
Rather than make his way over to Don, the man moved his way to the Corporal who was now sitting up and rubbing her leg. As Don retrieved his weapon and hurried over to the two he could hear a deep voice in a heavy accent ask,
“Are you able to walk?” Don couldn’t place it exactly.
“It got my leg pretty good..” The Corporal said, “I can with help, maybe.”
As Don approached, the man turned to face him letting Don get a better look at him. While he was armored, it was far more than any standard outfit or fare Don could get his hands on. And each surface bore scratches and dirt, clearly having seen much use. His eyes trailed up the man, resting slightly on the white character on the poncho’s shoulder. While Don couldn’t read it, he at least recognized it as Japanese before his gaze locked with the stranger and the hardness in his eyes made Don stop directly in his tracks.
“You need to return to your troops, form a line, and push to the East.” The stranger said in a very soft but commanding tone.
“W-what?” Don asked, shocked to hear such confident orders come from a complete stranger. “Look I’m grateful for yer help ‘n all but who are you- and where did you even come from? Why should I be takin’ order from yo-?” Don was cut off as the stranger’s arm flashed out and shoved him to the side. Two shots rang out from the man’s rifle, huge tracer rounds streaking through the fog to pierce right through two charging Kaijin, the barrel rotating slightly after each one. The third however was a little too quick and lunged at the stranger.
The man’s aged brow furrowed in anger, and much to Don’s surprise he stepped forward into the lunging Kaijin. His hand flashed out and under the creature’s jaws to wrap around its neck, and the man cried out in furious exertion. He carried the creature’s momentum with it, causing it to go up and over the stranger’s head before he slammed it into the ground on the opposite side of him. The Kaijin appeared dazed, calling and crying out while it thrashed on the ground before the stranger set his boot atop it and fired a shot from his rifle directly into the creature beneath him.
Don stood there, off-balance and dumbfounded before he swallowed hard and spoke. “Okay so uh- rally the troops into a line and push West?”
“East.” The stranger corrected, his tone fierce and blunt as he stepped off the now smoking Kaijin. “You are stumbling right into a Kaijin Hive if you continue your march South. Push away from their hive and you will find less resistance, and safety.” Don nodded, and at the stranger’s motion, he darted down to help the Corporal up with a shoulder underneath her arm.
“Right- yeah we can do that.” Don acknowledged as he got her to her feet and set to march. Without another word, the stranger turned on his heel in the direction of the ongoing sounds of combat and marched into the fog once more.
A few hours later Don laid the Corporal against a tree with a tired sigh. The rest of the battle had passed so quickly as the stranger stepped into command and organize the militia. He had taken a disorganized and chaotic throng of soldiers, desperately fighting against the Kaijin, and turned them into a disciplined and focused fighting force. It had taken some time but they were able to turn the tide against the Kaijin and move out to safety. The fog had even burned off now giving way to a pleasantly sunny day.
So Don stood and looked across the group, knowing that many of these faces would not be here were it not for the Stranger’s leadership and help. He had appeared so suddenly and fought with such ferocity, such an intensity towards the Kaijin. Don’s eyes found the stranger sitting on a stump bent over with elbows resting on knees. In one hand he held something, a small metal locket or something similar that his eyes lingered on. What was inside, Don couldn’t see, but it must have meant something from the way that his eyes stared at it with such- pain. This was a man who not so long ago fought like a one-man army against the Kaijin, yelling and fighting for people he barely knew… but to Don, at that moment he looked like the most exhausted man in the world.
His face that only seemed to show minor signs of aging before now seemed to be marred with deep wrinkles and crevices of a life long-lived. And while it was clear that the stranger was incredibly strong, Don caught the faintest signs of a tremor in his limbs from exhaustion. And yet still Don approached the man, clearing his throat. The stranger stood quickly, shutting the trinket quickly, and all signs of exhaustion vanished in a moment as he stood.
“Yes?” He asked, giving Don a once over with a critically discerning eye.
“I just wanted to- uh- thank you for helpin’ us out of that tight spot there. I know a lot of us owe you our lives.” Don said, giving a grateful bow of the head to the stranger. “Can we know your name at least? To thank you properly?”
The man frowned slightly and shook his head, “No- names are not important. If you must thank me, thank me by continuing to fight against the Kaijin.”
Don was puzzled by this for but a moment, “Well- we’ll certainly be doing that. We were actually headin’ South ta join up with a whole base of folks who are seeming to fight back against the Kaijin and even the Kaiju.” From the expression the stranger gave, Don could tell he was skeptical so he pressed further.
“I’m serious, they’ve got somethin’ big goin’ on, I’ve seen the evidence myself. You should come with us, you’d be welcomed as a Hero an-”
The stranger held up his hand to silence Don, “I am no hero, that is not my place.”
“Beggin’ your pardon to disagree there Sir, you really saved our bacon back there. And you fight Kaijin right? That’s what ya’ do?” The stranger remained silent, his expression hardening but giving a slight nod of the head so Don continued.
“If that’s what ya’ wanna do, you could do okay out on your own sure. But I saw what you could do with a few men this time, imagine what ya’ could do with a whole resistance behind ya. If that’s what you really want ta do, you’re just hurtin’ your own cause bein’ out here all by your lonesome which seems mighty stupid ta me.”
A tense silence followed, the stranger breaking eye contact with Don to look away towards the horizon to the South. He stood there for a long while, silently contemplating and considering before Don took a breath in to continue speaking and the stranger finally replied. “Very well- I will join you. But I make no promises other than to reach our destination.”
Don couldn’t keep the smile from his lips as he nodded, “That’s all anyone can ask Sir, I’ll leave ya’ to it. We’ll head out after midday once we’ve gotten some rest.” He said as he made his retreat back to the tree where the Corporal was breaking out meals for lunch. As Don sat, she looked over to him and asked.
“What did Onryō say? Will he join us?”
“Onry-who?” Don asked, reaching for his pack with his own food. “The stranger said he’d come to the resistance base, but nothing beyond that.” He nodded his head over towards the man to indicate who he meant.
“Onryō- that’s the name on his clothes.” She stated.
“Now how would you know that?” Don asked with a bit of a smirk.
“My parents are from Japan, they taught me the language when I was little.” She answered, with a fond smile as if remembering those simpler times.
“Onryō…” Don thought about it for a moment, considering the name as something to call him by. “What does it mean?”
Her expression darkened for a moment, her eyes drifting to the stranger as she spoke. “It’s one of the oldest ghost stories there is…