“We’ve evacuated all civilians within two miles of the witch’s domain, and evacuation will continue until the threat is contained or neutralized. Explosives are authorized, but try not to cause too much collateral damage.”
I gripped tight to my assault rifle, staring down at the floor of the truck.
“The forest roof is too thick for proper aerial surveillance.Along with that, electricity is completely nullified within her influence as well, so you’re all going in blind and isolated. Every ten to twenty minutes, we expect to see a signal flare to see if you’re still alive, fire a green one if you’re retreating. Once the witch is terminated or contained, fire a white flare and we can safely airlift you out.”
I gripped tighter and closed my eyes. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
“We have no information on the target, but judging by the size of the domain she’s already claimed, stay on your toes and be ruthless.”
I jolted forward and bumped into one of my squadmates as the truck ground to a halt. The rear doors flew open, letting in the sunlight and the strong smell of a forest. I jolted to my feet with the rest of my squad, rushing out the back. All of us halted at the same time as well when confronted at the border of the witch’s domain. The two lines of houses were running into a thick forest, houses on the border slowly being consumed by the creep. The asphalt and concrete sheerly cut off to dirt and cobbled paths, and street lamps were slowly being transformed into rusted shells of their former selves. Merely an hour ago, this used to be a prime example of an American suburb, and now it looked like something straight out of one of Grimm’s fairy tales.
“All men, group up over here!” Our superior barked over to us.
We all marched on over to the front of his command trailer as he barked more orders to the lot of us. I still held tightly to my rifle and breathed.
The witches had only begun appearing across the world in a mere few months, and barely any solid information about them was allowed to the public. I was even thrown into this team for countering them, and we still weren’t allowed to know much, other than a sole individual is responsible for all of this overgrowth.
Other than the few bits of cell phone footage I unfortunately caught online of the body parts of police officers being tossed out of domains, The only thing my mind could turn to for information were the rumors that spread following their appearances.
Some said they were invincible and merely needed a large sacrifice to enter hell as one of Satan’s princes, others said their domains were worlds they had total control over. Some say its a Russian bioweapon developed to destabilize us. I’d prefer that explanation, it’d at least give us hope that we could engineer a cure. But as of now, our only hope lies in the guns in our hands and the grenades on our vests.
I looked back up, our superior finally dismissing us. I muttered over to the officer next to me.
“Can you give me the rundown? I… kinda didn’t catch everything.”
He still looked staunchly forward, trying to hide the worry beneath his face.
“We’re allowed to shoot anything that threatens us, save civilians, and record anything unusual that could be used for future operations. Also, don’t get in front of those guys.”
He pointed to two men near the front who were carrying flamethrowers. I looked down at my rifle once more, now beginning to march with my squad towards the domain.
“All right then… “
As the sixteen of us stepped from asphalt onto forested soil, a sudden breath of relief left my lungs as I didn’t suddenly start decomposing into the soil below me. Our sergeant called out for us to have guns at the ready and to shoot anything that moved and didn’t look human. Raising my rifle, I swallowed a lump in my throat.
Why can’t we all be on the same page of information?
I called back.
“What exactly should we be aware of out here?”
“Shut your mouth and follow orders!”
We all took formation, making sure we all had eyes on every side of our position. We slowly began moving, the border very quickly disappearing behind the thick foliage, passing by house after house, almost very literally being consumed by trees growing over them. We began our journey deeper into the forest, through the leaf-littered path overrun with roots.
Five, perhaps even ten minutes into our trek, we found zilch. Nothing but more leaves and trees. For a moment, I thought maybe all those reports in the news or videos online were just exaggerations. That was until a strong wind suddenly picked up, kicking up a massive pile of leaves. It blew between our legs and curiously spun up in front of us, twirling around in some kind of vortex. Branches from nearby trees suddenly snapped off, getting sucked in as well.
“Guns at the ready everyone! Flamethrowers, wait on my mark.”
We all took formation encircling the swirl of leaves and branches, fingers on the trigger. The flamethrower men moved in a bit closer. Soon the vortex split into five different masses, each one forming into large, wolf-like beasts with leaves for skin and what I can only assume as sticks for bones. The moment they formed they immediately charged forth, but they should have rethought their strategy of attack. A nice spray of gunfire from each of us very easily shredded through their frail bodies, slamming them to a halt several meters before they could even reach us. It was only temporary however, as every limb we shot off, they merely rebuilt from the surrounding foliage. The beast I was focusing on, I swear I think I blew off his legs and parts of his chest around five times, but he still tried to approach, undeterred. I was ready to back up and try and reposition myself.
“Aim for the head and keep firing till nothing’s left!”
Internally I really wanted to scream “Why?”
But I had no choice. Joining in with the rest of the squad, we aimed for the heads of the beasts, and there was a bit of joy in seeing those headless things finally collapse into the objects they once were. It’s nice knowing we wouldn’t have to totally rely on two people in this entire squad to get work done. With a bit more focused fire from the rest of the squad, all that remained were five awkward piles of sticks and leaves. The sergeant drew his flare gun, firing a red flare into the sky.
“Reload and re-form everyone! Let’s keep going on.”
Knowing the fact that these wolves could pop out literally anywhere was an unnerving thought I seemed to share with the rest of the squad, as we were kinda a mess. Every rustle of the leaves, every crack of a stick, sometimes I swear even at our own bootsteps forced us all to suddenly freeze, swinging our guns to every possible corner to find the origin of the sound. The even bigger nightmare was how slowly we were making way. I’m not sure how deep we had to go to find this witch, maybe the higher-ups knew.
My eyes suddenly caught a shadow move, and my head jolted over, locking on what it was. It was a tree, a dead, leafless one, swaying in the breeze. That was until I noticed that leaved trees beside it weren’t rustling to the supposed breeze.
I screamed and let loose a flurry of bullets as the entire squad whipped around to the insane sight of me firing at a tree. It was thankfully insane for only a moment, as when the rounds pierced right through the bark, the thing suddenly shrieked, uprooting itself to close in on me. The rest of the squad followed my example, letting loose a hellfire of bullets as the thing reached down and swiped at me. I tried to back away, but fell onto my back as one of its razor-sharp branches barely grazed my vest. Despite being riddled with bullet-holes, the thing still continued its advance, and tried to make another swipe towards me. Finding my rifle’s magazine empty, I slung it over to the side, pulled out my pistol, closed my eyes, said a quick prayer to god, and fired every last shot I had. The roaring of flames overtook my ears as I opened my eyes, finding the men with flamethrowers quickly laying waste to the monster. It let out an unearthly roar as it was completely engulfed in fire, very quickly dissolving into a pile of ash. I grabbed my rifle and scrambled to my feet as the sergeant called for a quick headcount.
By the time he verified we were all thankfully still alive, we were all reloaded, but much more on edge. I could feel the thoughts emanating from my squadmates:
“Bullets didn’t do a damn thing!”
“Why don’t we all have flamethrowers?”
“Jesus Christ, killer fuckin trees?”
“This is fucked man, just fire a tomahawk at the bitch causing this problem.”
That last thought is a good one. I don’t care how much property damage it’d cause anyways, anything is better than subjecting us to god knows what’s in here.
We kept moving down the dirt path, keeping an eye out for any dead trees and whatever else could likely slice us up into pieces, reaching a four-way fork in the road. The sergeant silently yelled at us to take point at the front and hold our fire on his mark. Moving to, the rest of us saw quite the beast: A literal fucking dragon. It was taller than the houses around it, head barely poking out of the top of the trees. Its massive body trumped that of the truck we all arrived, with larger wings folded neatly behind it, along with legs like tree trunks as well. The thing blended in with the forest incredibly well too, it’s lower body colored and textured to the trees around it with a leaf-green neck and head. The thing hadn’t noticed us yet, thank God once more. It simply silently watching the skies. Before our sergeant could mention it, a few men brought out their grenade launchers. He merely silently nodded to them, before raising up his arm. We all aimed at different parts of the beast, hoping to god bullets would work on this thing as well.
The sergeant dropped his arm.
Once more we let loose a flurry of bullets, grenades, and flames, completely overtaking the body of the dragon. Each grenade struck a different body part: The legs, the stomach, the back, the wings, leaving nasty scorches at worst on the back and legs, blasting a bloody chunk out of its stomach, and lastly blowing off one of its grandiose wings. It leaped back in reaction effortlessly destroying several trees behind it, while letting out a horrifying roar that would cause anybody else to piss their pants. Anybody who was foolish enough to aim at the legs found their rounds to do absolutely nothing, but there was a moment of satisfaction noticing some bullets managed to pierce its stomach, leaving not deep yet bleeding holes in their wake. It was certainly a way to boost morale, knowing that our bullets were doing something to the behemoth. It reared back as the sergeant screamed for us to split up. By the time I had dashed to the side, I barely escaped its ferocious charge, and a few squad mates were swiftly devoured by the thing. Almost as if it knew we were terrified, it chomped them in front of us and spitting out a gory mess onto the forest floor. I felt a horribly sickening sensation, but a rage managed to douse it. The sergeant screamed: “GRENADES, ARMOR PIERCING ROUNDS, AIM FOR THE FUCKERS STOMACH!”
The dragon turned to the orders and let out another deathly roar, but stumbled backwards as another volley of grenades struck it.
Dropping my current magazine, I loaded a new one quickly. I grabbed a grenade from my vest and chucked it as hard as I could, it landing right on top of its back next to its good wing. With another deafening boom, it screeched and backed towards me more. Overcome with rage, I sprinted towards it mindlessly to get a shot at its stomach. Running beneath its legs, I pointed straight up, screaming as I unleashed another volley of shots right at its stomach. The thing recoiled and roared as each bullet punched through its flesh, torrents of its blood splashing on my face. I snapped out of my rage as I realized the thing was stumbling. Whatever adrenaline I had left running through my veins, I used every last ounce of it to sprint out of the way as the beast collapsed to the ground. Not shortly after, its head crashed down, and the sight of its gaping maw that tore apart my squad-mates… I screamed, unloading the last of my magazine into its face.
“Private, stand down!”
I kept firing until the last bullet left my rifle with a distinctive click.
My high on rage wore off, and I realized what situation I was in. I turned to the sergeant.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You put yourself right in the line of fire of us with that stunt of yours earlier, and now this? First of all, I know this is wild shit, but I need you to NOT be stupid like that and throw yourself in the front of the line of fire! We already lost two good men to this forest and I don’t wanna lose any to friendly fucking fire! Second, I don’t care if you have a grudge with this…. Thing in particular! Get ahold of yourself and don’t waste ammo!”
I nodded. “Yes sir!”
I never would have said it, but there was somewhat of a rush to being able to harm that thing. Maybe it was because it gave me that faint amount of hope that we could do something to witches as a whole. He fired a red flare into the air as he called for another headcount.
I’m willing to bet most of us were really badly shaken, but I felt a lot more empowered after that at least. We kept moving down the dirt path until we reached the remains of a cul-de-sac. Each of the houses here curiously seemed more intact, yet instead of the recognizable suburban house, many of these, still covered in leaves and vines, had devolved to look more like primitive wood and stone housing.
Our sergeant held up his hand to us all as we were all likely muttering in our minds “What the fuck is going on here?”
“All of you, split up into groups of four. Check each house for any civilians, and bring them out here.”
We all followed orders, following a group of three to the leftmost housing. Taking out a knife and cutting away the foliage, we were able to rather easily push open the door, finding the inside looking just as devolved as the outside. Most of the appliances were being broken down, seemingly by the vines themselves, the stove looked like it was being repurposed into a woodfire one, and all of the furniture looked archaic. We split up once more, searching the few rooms left in this house separately. I pushed my way into the bedroom and I saw a sight more terrifying than the dragon: A family. All of them covered with vines on a king-sized bed. I yelled out to my mates that I found survivors and quickly started cutting them out. By the time I had removed the restraining vines, I found another issue: Each one of them had roots plugged into their heads that connected somewhere outside. The others rushed in, halting at the sight.
“Fuck… What do we do?”
“Keep an eye on them, I’m gonna see if the sergeant knows anything.”
I sprinted out of there, seeing other groups carefully escorting a few other families to the center of the cul-de-sac. My heart felt heavy at the sight. I skidded to a halt in front of the sergeant.
“Sir, we found a family but… They’re like plugged into the trees!”
Right there, I honestly expected to be committed. But he merely sighed.
“Leave them then, we can’t do anything for them.”
“You heard me, now get back to searching! Understood?”
Another signal flare was fired out when we finally rounded up the last of the civilians. The sergeant had a group of four others help escort the thirty or fourty civilians out of the forest as the last of us had to stick around and finish our mission. I wish I was lucky enough to be picked, even hoping that my outburst would let me leave early, but I’m sure the sergeant didn’t want to give me what I wanted. When the civilians cleared out, he told us to take formation once more and begin moving off-trail. We obeyed, obviously, passing the devolved houses pushing further into the forest. This time, thanks to me and a few other squadmates, we caught the sight of a few of those dead trees, reducing them to ash before they even had a chance to act. With how all bizarre this shit already is, I’m hoping to God I can get out of this force before a mission two, but if a mission two ever does happen, I want a flamethrower in my hands as well.
Moving further in, the forest grew thicker and thicker. Soon, we had to form a small line in order to squeeze between small cracks the clusters of trees. Even the dead tree monsters grew more and more apparent, and I think I heard one of the men mention he doesn’t think he has enough fuel left for the job. Now I’m praying that I’ll do a mission two if it means we can make it out of this alive. Up ahead behind a grove of trees, I notice a person, and quickly mentioned it to the sergeant. He suddenly froze, turning back to us.
“Guns at the ready everyone. If he’s right, we may have ourselves a witch. Surprise is our only advantage, don’t waste it.”
I quickly changed my magazine to armor piercing, just to be safe.
We moved closer, finding a clearing in the forest leading to a thick grove at the center. Inside the grove was a woman. She had barklike skin, clad with leaves and with abnormally long hair. She had her eyes closed, smiling. What a smug bitch…
“That’s her. Everyone, spread out. On my mark, I want grenadiers to turn that grove into her grave. After that, all of you toss any remaining grenades at her. If somehow she’s still alive, keep firing at her and pray to god, you got that?”
We all silently nodded. He’s resorting to praying to God too now, huh? Looks like he’s at the limit of his information too.
Finally in position, he raised his arm once more. He dropped it swiftly, without even saying a word, but the grenadiers still fired away every last bomb they had. I covered my face from the flames as I felt a multitude of splinters bounce off of my helmet and armor. Without a second thought I pulled the last few grenades off my vest, pulling the pins out and chucking them towards the smoldering mess of smoke and trees. Getting my gun ready smoldering mess, I noticed the sergeant had a look of horror on his face. It took only a few seconds to process why: First, roots shot up from the ground, impaling both of the flamers. They coughed up blood, falling to the ground. We all watched, shocked as a figure cleared away the smoke with a swipe of her hand, bringing in a gust of wind. It was that bitch, her skin looking horribly charred but quickly returning to a healthy look. And she was still smiling? Floating a few feet off the air, she slowly started hovering towards the sergeant.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING, SHOOT HER!”
The rest of my squadmates burst from the trees, opening fire, but she somehow managed to dodge the flurry, the few bullets that struck her bouncing off of her bark-like skin as if it were nothing. With a deft swipe of her hand, more roots burst from the ground, impaling squadmate after squadmate. Fear had overtaken me long before he gave the order and I retreated into a bush, peering over at the carnage. The sergeant watched with horror as she effortlessly killed the rest of the squad, but I have to give him credit: He wasn’t sergeant for no reason. Ditching his rifle, he drew his knife and charged the witch. It was the bravest fucking thing I saw all day, even made me ashamed for hiding, as he charged forward and tried to stab it into her stomach. Unfortunately, like the bullets, it stopped at impact. She was still smiling, and grabbed him effortlessly by the throat. Tearing off his vest, he tossed him into the center of the grove as ashy roots rose up, restraining him. She still smiled, not even muttering anything as smaller ashy roots extended from the ground, plugging into his head. He began screaming. The screaming wasn’t scary, no, it was WHAT he was screaming: “Shoot me! One of you fucks, kill me! Kill me right now!”
Yeah no way in hell I was gonna attempt to get a shot. If I miss or get a non-fatal blow, I’m fucked. But God knows what the hell she’s doing to him… I had to find a way, and that way came in a familiar smell: Gasoline. I’m not sure if it’d kill the witch, it’d be painful as hell for the sergeant, but if I could toss and ignite one of the flamer tanks atop of him, I doubt he’d last. An insanely cruel thought, but it was my best course of action.
I silently crept towards one of the downed flamethrowers, this sneaking assisted by my sergeant’s screaming, unfortunately, and carefully unhooked it from the hose. She was still smiling as she continued her horrible ritual. Even if this was gonna kill me, I at least want to see that smile wiped off of her fucking face. I threw the thing as hard as I could, smacking right into the back of the witch. She was briefly stunned by the impact, and that was enough time for me to open fire. A few bullets through the tank was all it took and it combusted in a glorious fireball. I’m not sure if the sergeant preferred that method of death, but it had to be better than what she was doing. The screaming didn’t stop, however, but this time it was that fucking witch, this time visibly in pain and that fuckins smile gone. Her bark skin was also charred black and peeling off as the napalm continued to burn her away. It was another miracle from heaven I thought, and I had to take full advantage of it: I opened fire once more, bullets finally piercing right through her skin, leaving spurts of blood in their wake. That joy of finally being able to overcome her stupid magic bark bullshit hit me hard. I emptied my magazine into her, taking in the joy of watching this shit bleed. Soon she collapsed on the ground, still hacking up blood but somehow still bleeding, skin still charred to hell. I threw aside my rifle, drawing my pistol and walked towards her, firing a shot into her head. She finally collapsed to the ground. I spat on her corpse, stamping what remained of her charred head.
I walked over to the sergeant. He was completely roasted, a disgusting sight I caused. I swallowed a bit of puke that tried to push its way up. It was the only way to be sure.
I drew my flare gun from my vest, loading in a white flare, and fired it into the sky.