The Ranger

By J. B. Tilton

It's been 300 hundred years since a cataclysm destroyed the world. Most humans live in hidden communities, stalked by creatures called Demons who hunt them for food. A young Ranger named Christine braves this new world in search of a powerful Demon called Pol to avenge the murder of her mother.

CHAPTER ONE

The sun would be coming up soon and that was not a good thing. The young woman, apparently in her late 20s with long brown hair, surveyed the countryside around her. She was moving out of the colder climate in the mountains to the somewhat warmer regions in the south. That was also not a good thing. They preferred the warmer climates. And they were active only during the day.

She adjusted the pack she was carrying. The sword strapped across her back was easily accessible. In addition there was a dagger strapped to the outside of each thigh. Not to mention the dagger that was attached to the back of her belt. And those were only the weapons that anyone else could see.

Nothing moved in the countryside except for the animals that were normal for this area. The woman moved through the countryside glancing around furtively. Watching and waiting for any sign that might indicate danger. Danger from them.

For three hours she moved ever southward. Each step of the way she was acutely aware of everything that went on around her. Her hands were ready to draw any one of her weapons should the need arise. Fortunately, there was no need. For the moment, at least, she was in no danger.

As she topped a small rise she noticed that the opposing side was much steeper than the one she had just come up. It terminated in a small saddle that was more densely filled with trees than the country she had just come from. That's when she noticed movement along the tree line.

She looked closer and saw a man cautiously making his way through the trees on the outer fringe of the area. He seemed to be looking for something. He would stop from time to time and pick something up off the ground, occasionally putting whatever he had found into a bag he was carrying.

He was a funny little man wearing a long white coat. And the glasses he was wearing kept sliding down his nose as he constantly kept pushing them back up his face. She laughed to herself as she realized almost instantly that he was no outdoorsman. Which meant that somewhere nearby must be a settlement of some kind.

Just then the woman noticed a second figure several yards behind the first. Her eyes narrowed as she carefully surveyed the second figure. It was nearly seven feet tall and had reddish colored skin that looked similar to reptilian skin. It also had a tail that swayed back and forth as it stalked the man. More details than this the woman couldn't make out from that distance. But she had no need to see it up close to know what it was. She had encountered its kind many times in the past.

She grabbed the hilt of the sword as she quickly pulled the quick release straps on her pack. The pack dropped to the ground as the sword slid from its sheath. No sooner had the pack hit the ground than the woman began to move rapidly down the hill. She would have to be fast if she were to reach the man before the creature did.

For a few moments she lost sight of both the man and the other figure. They were obscured as she moved into the trees. But that wasn't a concern for her. The man was steadily moving in one direction and the creature was steadily stalking him. She glanced into the sky a couple of times judging that she was moving in the right direction.

Within a few moments she came to a small clearing just inside the grove of trees. She looked out to see the man bent down on the ground picking some flowers and placing them in his bag. He was so engrossed in his work that he never noticed the creature that was only a few feet behind him silently making its way toward him.

"You really shouldn't be out by yourself during the day," said the woman, stepping into the clearing. "It's really not safe, especially during the day."

"Who?" questioned the startled man and he stood up and faced her. "Who are you? What do you want?"

"I think a better question is what does he want?" asked the woman, indicating the creature behind the man. He spun to face the creature, total fear now showing in his face. "But then, I think we both know what he wants, don't we?"

"Ranger," hissed the creature turning to face her, its bright red eyes flashing in the newly risen sun.

"That's right, demon," said the woman. "You're pretty brave facing someone who isn't armed. Let's see how well you do against someone more your speed."

The creature looked at the woman and then at the man. As if gauging its advantage over both. It took a step toward the woman but then quickly changed direction and charged toward the man. Clearly it felt the unarmed man was a much easier target than this woman armed with a sword.

The woman reacted instantly. She turned and headed for the man knowing that if the creature reached him first he wouldn't live more than an instant. The creature reached the man an instant sooner than the woman and struck out with a clawed hand for the man's throat.

But the woman didn't hesitate. Holding the sword in one hand she pulled one of the daggers strapped to her thigh and threw it at the creature. The dagger struck the creature in the hand but the blade simply bounced off the creature's skin. But it was enough to deflect the creature's hand and prevent it from killing the man. The creature howled in anger and immediately pulled back its clawed hand. Then it turned to face the woman.

"I seem to have underestimated you," the creature said to the woman. "That will not happen again. This pathetic human can wait for the moment."

"Mistake number two," said the woman brandishing the sword menacingly. "I'm not exactly defenseless."

"That would be your mistake," snarled the creature, smiling at the woman.

The woman just smiled back at the creature. She stood poised, waiting for the creature to make its move. For several moments nothing happened. Then suddenly the creature lunged to the left but quickly reversed direction and attacked from the right.

The woman was just as quick. Instead of defending against the attack that apparently was coming from the left she leapt into the air, making a summersault over the creature. As she dropped to the ground behind the creature she brought the sword up hard and fast. The blade of the sword struck the creature in the midsection just below the breastbone driving half the blade into the creature.

Without hesitation the woman spun around, pulling the blade out of the creature. She brought the sword up and sliced the creature diagonally, first from right shoulder down and to the left and then from the left shoulder down and to the right. Large gaping wounds appeared on the creature as it dropped to its knees, its life's blood pouring from the wounds. In one last attack the woman made a full 360 degree spin and dropped to one knee, bringing the sword to bear as she did. In that instant the creature was decapitated, its head rolling several feet away.

The woman stood up still holding the sword menacingly. She looked around the woods as if expecting another attack at any moment. After a moment she seemed to relax, lowering the sword. The man the creature had been stalking had been able to do nothing but watch during the entire incident. He stood shaking for several moments as the woman walked up to him, wiping the creature's blood from her blade.

"Like I said," said the woman, "it's not safe out here alone. Especially during the day. You're lucky I was around."

"Yes, thank you," said the man, looking over at the decapitated body of the creature. "We've never had any trouble with demons in this area before. I never expected to see one here. We should be going. There are bound to be others around if that one is here."

"Not likely," said the woman. "That one was obviously a rogue. They usually travel alone. Sometimes in pairs but never more than that. If this were part of a hunting party there would have been more of them by now. But you're right. We should be getting out of here. There could be another rogue out there."

"My name is Wilson Crowley," said the man, extending his hand. "I belong to a small settlement a couple of miles from here. You're welcome to come there. It's pretty safe."

The woman just looked at the man's shaking hand and then back at his face. She could tell he was still frightened. Probably the adrenaline that was still pumping through his system.

"Christine," said the woman. She picked up the dagger she had thrown at the creature and replaced it back in the sheath on her thigh. "Let me get my pack. It's just up the hill."

She retrieved her pack and resheathed her sword. She and Crowley began to trek south and she continued to scan the countryside as they walked.

"The demon called you a Ranger," said Crowley.

"That's right. I'm tracking an Overlord named Pol. I've been after him for quite a while."

"You're tracking an Overlord? Isn't that dangerous? Overlord's are the most dangerous demons there are. They usually have quite a number of Drones with them."

"It killed my mother," said Christine, vehemence in her voice. "I swore that one day I'd make him pay for what he did. And no Drones – I don't care how many there are – are going to keep me from him."

"Well, you can obviously take care of yourself. I've never seen anyone take out a Drone as quickly as you did that one. I don't understand how you did it with a simple sword. Their skin is so tough not even a bullet will penetrate it."

Christine just looked at the man.

"You just have to know how to fight them," she said. "And have the right tools. Where is this community you talked about? I don't remember hearing of a community in this part of the country."

"It's an old research facility in what used to be called the Grand Canyon," said Crowley, pointing in front of them. "At least it was before the cataclysm. We still do research there but nothing like it was in the old time. We're the descendents of the people who lived there when the cataclysm struck. It's completely underground."

"I see. That would make it difficult for the demons to find you."

"Very. Plus we have several safeguards in place to protect us from any that might. We get the occasional visitor but for the most part we're pretty much on our own."

"And you just thought you'd take a stroll outside? Like I said, it's not safe. Especially during the day."

"Oh, I was collecting some of these," said Crowley, pulling a handful of flowers out of the bag he was carrying. "We use them to produce some of the medicines we use. We were running low and I came out to get some more. And I was able to get some with seeds so we might even be able to grow some more. But they don't do well underground."

"Not many things do," said Christine, looking around. "It's going to be warm today. Probably in the upper 50s or so. We'd better get to this community of yours soon or we might run into a hunting party."

"It's just ahead. I don't usually travel far from the community. Just in case there is a rogue wandering around. I guess I wasn't very successful in that today."

"Not very. It's a good thing I came along. Most rogues only see humans as food."

"What else would the demons want us for?"

"Mostly the same thing. But some of them don't kill you on sight. I've seen some breeding pens. So that the demons have a steady food source and don't have to go hunting for it."

"Well, we won't have to worry about that. They can't get into the community. It's too well protected."

"Don't move," said a voice behind them. Christine froze instantly.

"Gregory," said Crowley, turning around, "it's me, Wilson. This is Christine. She saved me from a rogue."

"I told you it was dangerous going out there," said Crowley, walking up to the two. Christine turned to see a man holding a rifle walking towards them. Three more men stood in the distance each with a rifle pointed in her direction. "You know the danger the rogues represent."

"But I needed the flowers," pleaded Crowley. "The ones we have are all dying."

"I'm Gregory Cruise," said Gregory, looking Christine over. "Who are you? Where do you come from?"

"Around," replied Christine standing her ground with the man.

"She's a Ranger," said Crowley. "I was attacked by a rogue and she just appeared out of nowhere. Made short work of that rogue, too, let me tell you."

"You faced a rogue alone?" questioned Gregory.

"You heard him," Christine said with a hint of arrogance in her voice. "I saved his butt."

"We'd better get inside," said Gregory, looking around. "There might be others around. Wilson, you lead." He looked at Christine. "You stay between him and us. And don't try anything funny. We're pretty good with these rifles."

Christine turned and followed Wilson while the four armed men followed closely behind. At the moment the odds were not in her favor. And these men didn't seem to present a threat. But she was ready in case that should change.

Wilson led the group to a small depression nearby. As they neared the depression a panel, hidden in the ground, opened up exposing a stairway that led down into the earth. The man didn't hesitate but immediately began to descend the stairs.

Christine looked around before descending the stairs. The area around her was as barren and lifeless as any she had seen in her travels. To any occasional traveler through this region it appeared to present nothing in the way of food, water, or shelter. She glanced back at the man named Gregory and the others with him. Then she began to descend the stairs into the dark passage below.