I got the three back to their community this morning. Those there seemed like nice people. It was a refreshing change to meet people who seemed genuinely ... nice. Kind hearted, as if they had somehow avoided the rot that afflicted the rest of humanity. It was the first time since the fall that I'd meet people that I didn't feel I had to be on my guard with. They gave me food, they gave me water, and for much of the day they simply talked to me. They told me of their theory for what happened. They believed that God had caused the disappearances and, haven taken the righteous, would punish the world for seven years before returning in glory to save us all.
There were some points I might have nitpicked in that theory given time, but I was more interested in where they got it. I was assured that it came from the Bible (though I had never heard of such a thing) and they promised to tell me more later. Then they asked about me. I told them about Jessica, and how I hope to save her.
That's when it went wrong.
When the word “witch” was mentioned I realized that perhaps telling them about how I could feel that Jessica was still alive wasn't the best idea. Maybe I should have said that I thought she was alive, or guessed it, or maybe I shouldn't have brought it up at all. The point is, when previously nice seeming people suddenly turn cold and approach you in a menacing way and the first thing one of them says is, “You shall not suffer a witch to live,” something has gone horribly wrong.
The person who ran throughout the entire settlement shouting, “Witch!” probably didn't help either. Soon it seemed that every one of them was roused. I found myself walking backwards slowly, empty hands in front of me, palms facing them, so that they could see I was unarmed and not a threat.
I tried to explain that I wasn't a witch. It didn't work. One said, “That dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death.”
That didn't make a lot of sense to me, but I wasn't going to let it go unchallenged. “Now hang on a minute,” I almost tripped over a root, but caught myself and kept walking back. I didn't want to run for fear they'd chase, but I also didn't want them even one step closer to me. “I didn't dream any dreams.”
They kept on approaching. In unison, which bothered me for some reason. I'm not sure why people walking in lockstep would be more troubling to me than, say, the furry cat sized many legged demon beasts that I once saw devour a live moose, but it was.“There's no dreams here.”
But there was the knowledge that I did have a power that I couldn't explain. I'd used it to save these people's friends, so I wasn't sure why they had such a problem with it. That moment seemed to be the perfect time to test whether or not I could use it on command, considering that I figured I was unlikely to survive without it's help. I tried to call up the feeling I had had.
It worked, things again came into sharp focus. It didn't help. I could see every pore on each of their faces. It didn't help. I was sure that, if I wanted to, I could empty my gun killing one of them for every bullet fired. That was useless. So what if I killed a bunch of them? There would be a hundred more.
From the back of the growing crowd, a chant of, “Burn the witch,” arose. I was pretty sure that wasn't Biblical, but I figured I had to choose my battles. I tried to push my senses further.
I was flooded with information. Of the crowd in front of me three deserved more attention than the rest, they were somewhat closer to me than the others, and would be the first to act when actions finally came. They were each armed with a pistol. The one on the left had an old 22. It was well built, but misaligned. It would misfire three out of every ten shots. If I had to let one get a shot off, having him be the one would minimize the risk. The other two had newer guns, identical to each other and several other guns in the crowd. Standard issue of some kind. They'd probably been looted from the local police. All three had old injuries, but they'd all been healed. Nothing that could help me in a fight. Besides, if I actually tried to fight the crowd would be on me in moments.
I'd backed out passed the buildings, which meant no cover until I reached the trees. I found that I knew the locations of the trees nearest me without looking. I also knew that there was exactly one person behind me. She wasn't a threat. She was standing alone off to my right. She wasn't moving, she didn't seem to know what to do. She was unarmed.
In fact, every single woman in the community was unarmed. That seemed odd. It couldn't be for lack of guns. There were more guns than there were men. The population was split about fifty-fifty along gender lines: one hundred and thirty five men, one hundred and forty six women. There were two hundred and three guns. The oddity wasn't just in guns. Of all of the knives there was only one in the possession of a woman. She was cooking. One of five women who kept working instead of joining the “Burn the witch” crowd. Of the other four, three were washing clothes and one was sewing a patch into the worn out knee of a pair of jeans. No men were still working.
Anyway, I considered using the woman as a hostage, but quickly rejected the idea. If these people were convinced that they would go straight to heaven when they died, the possibility of one of their own dying might not be much of a deterrent. At best she'd be a human shield they might shoot right through.
I tried to find anything useful in the information I had. The ground hadn't been cleared of roots, the fact that I knew where they were and could avoid being tripped up without looking might be some kind of advantage, but not enough to deal with one hundred and thirty five armed men.
I pushed my new found, definitely not in any way satanic, ability further … and learned nothing of value. The buildings they'd set up were somewhat shoddy, they didn't seem to know what they were doing. Critical joints were held together by fraying twine while high quality screws were wasted in places they weren't even needed. They had a somewhat eclectic collection of possessions, the most notable being an apple peeler and corer which couldn't really have much practical value, especially considering the total lack of apples. They had an impressive stockpile of canned food, it was stored in an large basement dug out beneath one of the houses. For some reason they had a lot of canned tomatoes.
By pushing my consciousness outward more I was able to tell how many of them were wearing crosses (one hundred and seventy three) and what metal most of those were composed of (pewter.) That totally failed to help. As did every other bit of similar trivia I discovered.
All of that took three steps to learn. Three steps from when I first called on the ability to when it told me about pewter crosses. On the fourth step back I realized that I was looking at things the wrong way. I'd been dealing with inhuman things too long. Things that were faster than me. Things that could follow my scent and see me in the dark. Things that I couldn't simply run from. And so, somehow, I forgot one of the most important lessons videogames had ever taught me: running away is a perfectly legitimate tactic. When dealing with humans at least.
No one approaching me was especially well trained. They probably weren't the best shots. I didn't have to make it that far. As soon as I was in the trees it should be easy to prevent them from getting a line of sight, and I should also be able to out run them. I could feel the position of the trees, I knew where roots and branches were in the way. I knew that if I could just make it to the woods I could get away.
I spun and ran as fast as I could, guns were fired, but when I made it to the first tree only dirt, rock and wood had been shot. I was steps from being in the clear when someone finally aimed their weapon properly. I could feel that the shot was good, and I could tell that it was too late to get out of the way. I felt the trigger being squeezed, I sensed the hammer fall, and as the primer ignited I started to realize that I was going to die. Then something impacted the gun.
The bullet didn't stay in the gun long enough for it to be pushed too far off course, but it was enough. A tree to my left took the shot and in two steps I was safely out of the line of fire. It was sometime around then when I realized what the something that hit the gun had been. It was whatshername, one of the three I had saved. I guessed there was such a thing as karma. As near as I could tell she didn't face retribution, so no one got hurt. Except the tree, but it could take it.
So, overall an interesting day. I've got a full belly and they've long since given up on chasing me. Now I lay me down to sleep.