Captain Hadrus adjusted his sunglasses as he looked sunward over the valley. The lenses blocked out a vast majority of the sun’s brilliance, but even so he could make out the dim outlines of the horizon and the reflection of the sun off the lake.
A good day for hunting, he thought. Which means it’s a good day to be hunted, as well.
He put a hand on Engineer Paddock’s shoulder, signaling for her to stop. When she did, he drew a finger along her back in swift, precise motions, telling her to stay close, keep quiet, and have her weapon ready. They were far from the cities, and so silence was key.
With the sudden appearance of this intensely bright new sun, the world had changed. Eyes became almost useless, because the second sun never moved, and so the concept of ‘night’ was a thing long forgotten. And so, the other senses took precedence: hearing and smell became the favorite means for predators to find food. Humans were no longer top of the food chain.
Hadrus watched as the vague outline of Paddock’s form nodded and turned to him, tapping his shoulder to indicate a reply. In similar fashion, she wrote, “One final weapon check before we descend.”
Hadrus rolled his eyes at the request, but acquiesced. After all, part of the reason he had brought her along was because of how careful she was—you could count on things going smoothly around Paddock. He pulled out his crossbow and handed it to her, watching as she examined the bowstring and the limbs, pulling a cloth out and cleaning the polished wood of any dirt. She inspected the weight of the drawback and did a cursory scan of everything else, making sure that the settings were all correct and that the string wouldn’t snap as soon as he fired. When she was satisfied, she handed it back to him with a curt nod.
Once that was settled, the two of them turned sunward once more and made their descent into the forest below. As always, it was quiet, and the two of them were careful not to make their presence known, treading on soft dirt and moving slowly. In centuries past this forest would have been rife with wildlife, with birds chirping and all manner of insects buzzing.
Hadrus had heard stories in a world that went dark half the time—not so dark as wearing the sunglasses, but dark enough to have trouble seeing even without them. He never really understood what that would do to an ecosystem, where predators could track by movement and didn’t need to rely so much on sound or smell.
He wouldn’t have noticed that Paddock had stopped moving if she hadn’t tapped his shoulder again. With the following gestures, she said “Watch out. Something straight ahead. Thirty feet.”
Hadrus strained his eyes, but saw no movement. It must have been big for Paddock to see it that far away, though. Maybe she smelled it, which made sense since they were travelling upwind. He tapped her shoulder and responded with “Ready bows.”
He kept scanning the area ahead as he drew out a bolt with his free hand. Half a step ahead of him, he saw Paddock taking out a bolt of her own, sliding it onto the barrel of her own crossbow. Once their weapons were loaded, he took a pair of pebbles that had been packed neatly at his side so they wouldn’t make sound with his movement. His hands were full now, so he couldn’t talk to Paddock, but his previous command deemed further instruction unnecessary.
Captain Hadrus made one last scan of the area and tossed the pebbles into the forest ahead of them, trying his best to land near whatever creature Paddock had spotted so that he could get its attention. They would track its movement as it investigated and…
The pebbles hit something soft, and it was followed by the sound of a low, huffing grunt.
They had directly hit their target, which had alerted it to their presence.
The creature huffed again, its huge claws scraping the ground as it paced. Towards them presumably, and a bear by the sound of it.
Hadrus exhaled slowly and quietly. Since the bear didn’t move to investigate the pebbles, there was no reference to get a clear shot at it, and the dark outlines of the forest made it all but invisible.
A soft click and a snap, and the bear roared in pain. Paddock had fired, and the bolt hit its mark.
The bear charged, and Hadrus clearly saw its outline as the hulking shape suddenly grew enormous.
The element of surprise was gone.
Hadrus fired, but it didn’t seem to hit. Paddock screamed in terror as the thing crashed into her, their dark outlines blurring into one.
The grunts of the bear collided with Paddock’s hushed gasps of panic. Hadrus fumbled for another bolt as he heard a sickening slash.
“Oh God,” Paddock cried. “My glasses! I can’t see!” The sound of her voice here sent a chill down Hadrus’ spine.
Hadrus fired again, aiming high to minimize the chances of hitting his ally. In the sound of the scuffle, it was impossible to tell if he had actually hit. The only thing to do was load again.
Paddock’s cries continued, and Hadrus kept firing. The chaos of the scuffle lessened, and soon the bear started to lumber off, evidently too wounded to want to stay.
This went to Hell really fast, Hadrus cursed. No deer or foxes, but a bear? There was no hope of bringing back food now. Little hope of bringing back Paddock alive, at that.
“How bad?” he asked aloud. There was no use for silence now.
“I… don’t think I can walk on my own,” she grunted. “And it tore off my glasses. I can’t see.”
He nodded. They had to get back to the city fast. “Here,” he said, taking off his glasses off. He shut his eyes immediately, but even through his eye lids the intensity of the second sun was uncomfortable.
“What? No, you have to leave me. Get home safe.”
“To Hell with that. Here,” he took her arms and helped her up, draping her over his shoulder so that she could half-stand. Sure, it would be better if he had his glasses, but he had no way of knowing if her injuries were life-threatening, and if they were, he wanted her to feel as safe as possible. “You be my eyes and guide us home, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Enough talking, you need to conserve your strength and we both need to be quiet.”