Death From Above

Title: Death From Above
Time Period: March 30, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Swarm comes for the marketplace. Some townsfolk are caught in the chaos.

It's a lazy sort of morning. After most of the deliveries and such have been made, it's settled into your average work day in Dornie's market square. Some merchants sit behind open stalls, just now managing a bit of breakfast. Some are much more comfortably situated in their stores behind counters. But all are sitting in restless anticipation of the busier part of the day. For now, it's a matter of attempting to look busy and trying to catch the attention of those who happen to be about at this hour.

What most milling about don't seem to notice, perhaps because the creatures are still and quiet yet, is that there seem to be flocks of the small dragons known as Reds perched up on rooftops and chimneys. If not for them being mere animals, it seems much like they're purposefully not drawing attention to themselves sitting up there in their groups about the square. Not a rustle. Not a bark. Not so much as a scrape of claw against shingle. But maybe it isn't all that hard.

Who looks up, anyway?

The tall figure of Beisdean Skye is a slightly lopsided one; one arm is still in a sling and held close to his ribs as he walks through the square. He pauses at one of the stalls to swap some packets of tea for a meat pasty, apparently having skipped breakfast at the inn. The matronly merchant reprimands him for being "too thin!" and he ends up with two pies for what he'd planned to pay for one.

Not a bad start to the morning. He grins at the woman, promising to eat both and stop by to see her the next day. One pie gets stored in his courier bag for later, and the other bit into and chewed while Beisdean scans the square for the other merchants he has business with this morning on behalf of the women he runs errands for.

Mairi likes market days.

Mostly, they're there for work, but she tends to use them for socializing and people watching. Despite living waaaay out of the way, she really does enjoy the company and so she takes advantage when she's in the market to chat up other merchants and breathe the fresh air. Farms smell, sometimes. It's a lot easier for her when she's in market lately because she's got Beisdean to do deliveries from time to time.

Currently, she's admiring some fresh produce of another farmer's, idly chatting about crop rotation and the best conditions for growing. Shop talk. Stalwart the kitten currently naps on top of a blanket in the wagon. He's not terribly good at keeping watch, for the moment.

Unanticipated business at the jailhouse has made a late morning, for Algernon. A crescent moon of bruised flesh is pegged with impressions of human teeth across his left hand; he has two knuckles freshly split open upon the right. A short story, written between his fists.

Ill-suppressed irritation tempered in harsh beneath the slant of his bowler tells the rest. He is tired and sore and not in the mood to weave around chatty vendors as he cuts through the market on horseback, leather creaking heel digging in often to hold course where the brute would prefer to go another way. Not in the mood for argument.

Least of all from a horse.

Across the market, Jain MacCruimein chats idly with another member of the militia about the feminine quality of the red shirt the other man happens to be wearing. "… If your woman insists on washing her red wools with your shirts, you need to find a better quality of housemaid." Or wife, the two are interchangeable in Jain-lingo.

Then he picks at the shirt.

"See, the problem is, you haven't trained her properly. Now take Mairi, she's a good lass. She does the cooking, does the laundry the way it should be done, I've no complaints." Except that there's only one of her, and there's a shrew on his back all the time. "I'd take credit for the work myself but I think her husband had a little something to do with it." A glance is cast to the woman in question before the highlander spots the man in the bowler. "There's Fogg, let's see what he has to say about it all."

Every so often, Aislinn Rowntree wakes up with aching joints, swollen knuckles and a sick feeling in her stomach that something isn't right — as a physician, she'd be inclined to blame it on rheumatoid arthritis aggravated by the cold weather, but as a mage she also knows better.

It's her gift that's acting up.

With Cordelia watching the apothecary and her house calls taken care of for the morning, she has a few hours before she needs to start thinking about her next set of appointments. Browsing the market takes her mind off the pain in her hands and feet and the edge off the anxiety that compels her to keep looking over her shoulder. Like most, however, she does not have sufficient cause to look up.

While Mairi chats up the stall's vendor, she keeps her hands occupied by turning over a misshapen beet the size of her fist and holding it up to her nose. No surprise; it still smells of the damp earth it was dug from.

It changes in a moment, in a flurry of leather wings lifting into the air in one solid group. Some hiss or growl, turning some attention upward just in time to see the flock flying over the square, small groups joining into one larger as they circle around the open space and fly off over the buildings.

While those around react with various degrees of odd looks or shivers from the more superstitious, as the flock passes out of direct view, the strangeness is shrugged off in favor of making a sale or at least conversation.

But that only lasts for scant minutes before the sound of a multitude of wings beating out of time precedes a dull roar as the dozens and dozens of Reds swoop back into the square. Their flight is low this time. Low enough to bite at skirts and break windows before they fly out again. But even the least superstitious among the merchants react this time, some pulling goods out of bitable reach while others push family and employees (or themselves, in many cases) toward the buildings nearby. Because, even out of sight, those wings can be heard close by, making their rounds about the town, but ultimately, heading back again.

The first time those beasts rise up to fly, Beisdean's eyes follow, and he squints upward to try to make sense of the circling behavior. When they dissipate, he murmurs his assurances to the portly merchant who sold him the pies who's crossing herself and murmuring a prayer.

"Crows do this too, from time to time," Beisdean tells her. Of course, that might not be very reassuring because it's rather creepy when the crows do it, too.

He nods his thanks to her and begins to move, smiling and raising a hand to first Aislinn and then Mairi as he sees the women. When the dragons return, he looks more worried, moving closer to Aislinn this time.

"They never did this when I lived here before, not that I remember. Is this common?" he asks her once they've scattered again, his eyes scanning the skies for their return.

The leathery flap of wings reminds her of bats. Not that she's been around a lot of them, but that's what Mairi thinks they are until she turns to look. She backs up against the stall, eyes narrowed as she really studies the creatures. "Am I cursed or something, or just the unluckiest woman in Dornie?"

She edges towards the wagon where the kitten is blinking open his eyes in confusion as he stares at his mistress. "I've got a rifle in the wagon, in case they get really aggressive towards us. I don't think it's a good idea to aggravate them unnecessarily…"

Feeling eyes on him in the crowd, Fogg turns to mark Jain only for as long as it takes to look away again. Not interested.

Not that pressing on makes progress any quicker. The flock of little dragons siphoning off into the sky overhead sends his horse into an uneasy jitter. A pre-emptive twist and saw at the reins that brings chin nearly to chest saves civilian feet from being trod upon, for all that it also douses the back of someone's coat with a fine mist of equine blood. The mare stands gasping in place on a hair-trigger until the first little leathery wing brushes her rear. She screams, whinny ringing shrill across the square.

Fortunately the bloody spittle and spray did a decent job of clearing out those standing nearest before both man and horse go over sideways. Somewhere along the way, Algernon says some things that are not very becoming for a man of his supposed character.

The large flock of small dragons rips back into the square, red eyes focused on the food, mostly. And those people unfortunate enough to have been close. Farmers' stalls get covered with dragons, biting at awning, ramming at wood until it cracks. But more worrisome, some of the dragons land on shoulders and arms, around legs and ankles to bite and rip at skin instead. Along that side of the market, several end up screaming and trying desperately to bat away the dragons. Among them, unfortunately, are the forms of Aislinn and Mairi, almost unseeable through the swirling dragons.

Jain's head shakes and he blinks, head turning toward the two women at the nearby stall. Shoving the other guard away, he begins to run toward the farmer's stall. One hand reaches over his shoulder, pulling a leather shield from its hook and holding it up over his head.

"Get out! Get out of my way!" He yells at those between himself, the healer, and the farmer woman he beds with. A shoulder check lands a woman carrying a small child on the ground. The soldier is not so much of a gentleman to look back to even check if they are alright, he has other concerns. A few feet from both women, he swings the shield to knock another shopper from his path before diving at them both. He lands, skidding on the ground with a woman hooked under each arm. Aislinn being unfortunate or fortunate enough to be protected by arm hooked to the hard leather.

"The wagon," the urgency of the mercenary's tone is enough to make his voice hoarse near the end as he drags them both toward Mairi's wagon. "Get down under it, now."

Aislinn should have listened to her husband this morning when he suggested she just stay in bed.

Oh well.

She's debating between taking cover beneath Mairi's wagon or seeking shelter in one of the nearby structures with the rest of the townfolk when Algernon's mare makes the decision for her by going down. She opts to do neither and starts toward him with the intention of helping him back up again — and out from under his horse if necessary — but doesn't get more than a few halting steps from the wagon before Jain's mass collides with hers, slamming her breath from her lungs and her body into the cobblestones.

"Fogg," she croaks into Jain's shoulder, and this is either an instruction or an attempt at compromise. She'll get under the wagon if someone else sees to Algernon.

The large flock of small dragons rips back into the square, red eyes focused on the food, mostly. And those people unfortunate enough to have been close. Farmers' stalls get covered with dragons, biting at awning, ramming at wood until it cracks. But more worrisome, some of the dragons land on shoulders and arms, around legs and ankles to bite and rip at skin instead. Along that side of the market, several end up screaming and trying desperately to bat away the dragons.

Among them, unfortunately, are a woman and her young child, so recently knocked to the ground without enough time to get back on their feet to run. Easy pickings. The ladies are protected by the fact that Jain is a closer target, and his armor is clawed at, as if some prize were hiding underneath. Beisdean, too, is not free from the scratches and tears, as several take sweeping slashes at him, or gather around his feet to start their attack from the ground.

Those not munching on bystanders seem to suddenly change their minds, dropping fruit and meat from claws and fly toward the nearest store front, where heads collide with glass to make a mess of the poor cobbler's windows. The dragons worm their way in through newly open panes, those with the patience to make through, while others take back to flight, only to dive back down for the fallen form of Algernon and his horse. Teeth and claws tear at hide and skin, clothes and hat alike without seeming to care if what they're taking away is actually edible. But when they do pull off bits of skin or chunks of horseflesh, down the gullet it goes.

"Watch it, MacCruimein," Beisdean shouts, beginning to move toward the woman and child that are knocked to the ground, hoping to help them to their feet, but it's too late, and he finds himself throwing his good arm up over his face as he's clawed at. He tears off his sling so he has the use of his injured arm, and then, as he stumbles away from the dragons, reaching into his bag to throw whatever's on to the ground — the dried berries and fruit and nuts he feeds his familiar scatter like birdseed before raptors, and it's not enough to buy him much time, he knows. The first meat pie was already dropped somewhere; the second is thrown at the most vicious looking of the beasts. Finally, out of the bag comes his hunting knife, salvaged from the troll and still stained with its blood.

Beisdean runs, or staggers more aptly, to the meat pie merchant's tables, grabbing the woman's wooden stool — it's not much as far as weapons go, and he'll will look rather like a poorly equipped lion tamer whose lions have grown scales, but it may have to do as he heads in Fogg's direction, to try to help fend off the beasts — at least long enough for someone with actual guns to start blasting.

Mairi takes a moment to assess the situation. She hadn't noticed what had happened to Algernon before, but Aislinn's worried whisper catches her attention and she peers in that direction. "Help him," she says towards Jain. "I've got a rifle in the wagon and I can hold them off. I've done it before."

Shot at dragons, that is. She crawls for the wagon to move underneath it, an arm reaching up to snatch the rifle. And the kitten sitting next to it.

Chaos, when he comes to. The first red with its teeth in Algernon's neck screeches and jolts backwards over itself as if burned. Another is snatched shrieking off his shoulder before it can scrabble away; there's a visible awayward lurch in the wave of feathery bodies wriggling after a taste even before he's crushed its finely boned skull in his fist.

Unfortunately for the horse, she seems to lack his repellant quality. Unfortunately for Fogg, the sheer weight of bone and scale writhing over her while she thrashes and squeals is not making it any easier for him to disengage himself. So.

Drawing his revolver and shooting her square between the ears is arguably the reasonable thing for him to do.

Traa-dy-Liooar scurries inside of Jain's shirt, attempting to find a spot that isn't being attacked by the feathered creatures. Enough of this, she complains, exploding from his side and rebounding canine claws off the healer and toward the wagon. Large fangs gnash at the red eyed beasts, her vision clouded by a red anger all its own. One gets caught by the neck and dragged off her man as she runs toward the edge of the square.

Without the worry of crushing his familiar, Jain rolls onto his back, using the shield to beat away some of the dragons as he attempts to scrabble to a stand. The wheel of the wagon is hit before he is able to use it as leverage to get onto his feet. It's not the most brilliant idea, pulling the great sword from his back, but it's the only weapon he has at ready disposal. If a few citizens are cleaved on his way to find the other militia members, they'll sort it out later.

Aislinn has to assume that Jain will steer himself toward Algernon, at least for right now. The crack of the pistol has her flinching away, but instead of joining Mairi under the wagon, she moves around behind it and presses her back flat against the side. Shards of broken glass crumple and explode under her booted feet as she crouches down, one knee on the pavement to help support the rest of her weight, and uses her scarf to twist and tie back fistfuls of blonde hair.

Having previously been married to a hunter and trapper, she knows how to shoot, and she knows how to shoot with a marksman's accuracy; whether or not she's better at it than Jain and Algernon's ilk depends on several factors. The weather. The weapon. How competitive she's feeling — which is rarely ever very. And although she's not about to steal one from someone who wields one, she'll look for a fallen gun while she's on her feet and has the opportunity.

Beisdean's plan works, in part, as his stool shoos away dragons some victims, but then seem to resettle on another, behind him as he passes by. And some seem to find him a challenge, as they chew new holes in his clothes trying to get at him. But when Algernon's gun fires at his noble, much gnawed on, beast, things… change. A little. The dragons in the immediate area halt for a moment to scream at the sky, thick necks tilting their heads back for a moment's cacophony before they start for the sky again. Not in one, uniform flock as before, but in a more desperate rush to escape, every Red for itself.

But unfortunately, that's just a few of them, and there's plenty more who still seem more hungry than afraid.

Lucky for the townspeople, most of them are hiding and not in sword range. Although the ones getting hunks of muscle torn off may wish they were. But for fighting the swarm, it's not entirely effective. He hits one or two here and there, but there's just so many, and his sword too easy to dodge for him to really cut a path through them. So much easier with people. So it's a matter of shouldering through and dealing with swatting them off when they come to take a bite from his face or hands, or to tug at his leathers.

Aislinn will have to endure the same, as there is a gun or two laying abandoned, dropped in a mad race for cover or — more likely — in being taken down by a piece of the flock.

Blood lays splattered over the ground, boot prints pressed in here and there, or smeared where people have tried to drag themselves to safety. And worse, the groups slowly halt on eating, when their prey stop trying to fight them, for a variety of reasons, and together try to haul bodies off toward the edges of the square, tugging them along the ground. It seems… a tiring and impossible effort, yet there they are, determined.

It's not a very elegant fighting style Beisdean employs — his stronger arm uses the stool as a combination between a shield and a very awkward weapon, while his injured arm holds his blade in a tight fist that swings out whenever anything leathery or feathery comes close. Now and then he tries to pull someone to their feet, push the toward what might or might not be safety, if the beasts are crashing through windows.

He finally gets to the gaggle of creatures near Algernon, swinging his stool to knock one of the creatures in the head, while swinging at another with the bloody dagger. The usually dapper man looks a bit wild, hair falling in his eyes and clothing dragon-pecked as it is, scratches on hands and face trickling blood.

Mairi looks back quickly to make sure that Aislinn's position is fairly well-covered as she crawls fully under the wagon. The rifle is held, albeit awkwardly as she moves to find the best position to partially crawl out so she can get a good shot off towards some of the creatures trying to drag off bodies. It takes a bit of maneuvering, but she's soon found a position, half her body covered by the wagon.

Getting the aim just right isn't easy, but Mairi squints, making sure to aim carefully and only towards the ones dragging bodies and not attacking moving targets.

Revolver wrested back into its holster with gritted teeth and a grunting wince, Algernon plants his free boot against the back of his (former) horse, "Don't," commanded flat ahead at no one directly present to heed him. It's possible he's incoherent — he looks it at close range, with his suit shredded bloody at the shoulder and his eyes dark.

A pair of reds twist over themselves like dying worms nearby; a third lies still at his side until Fogg blinks hard and thinks to sweep it away from himself in the midst of twisting free from the saddle.

Flimsy wings brittle and tail blackened, it crunches when a few of its compatriots scrap over the remains.

Free, then — divebombing and tearing claws aside — he ducks a sweep of Beisdean's stool and drags to his feet using the younger man for a ladder without his consent.

Jain's progress is slow, made slower by tripping over fallen bodies and crushing the feathered dragons under his boots as he progresses. The sword is used only with the flat of its blade to smack his flocking victims out of his way. Much of his own clothing and armor has been torn to shreds by beak and claw, enough that the cool draft of fresh air gives a sting to bitten and clawed flesh.

"I hate dragons," he curses as he punts one from underfoot, sending it flying through a small flock of its compatriots and scattering them for only a second or two. His back hits something and he twists at the waist, sword at the ready, to find Beisdean and Algernon, the latter finally coming to a stand.

Aislinn sees it: the gleam of the rifle's barrel where the metal hasn't been smudged dull by blood and the dirt caked to it. Her skirt tears, snagged in tooth and claw, but she's grateful when she feels the rumpled fabric come away — not only does it give her attackers something else to fixate on, it reduces her chances of tripping over the hem.

She lurches out into the open, stockings ripped and bloodied where the Reds have savaged her limbs through her clothes, and hefts the weapon, but instead of using it for its intended purpose, she swings it down like a club to break the back of the nearest creature.

Satisfied with the outcome — or at least as satisfied as someone who abhors violence can be — she smears her sleeve across her eyes, brings the rifle up again and fits the stock in the hollow between her shoulder joint and collarbone. A slow, albeit shaky breath steadies her, giving Aislinn the confidence she needs to squeeze off her first shot and cover the trio of men.

Mairi's gun shots get the same reaction Algernon's did. The dragons around her position, those hovering or banged against the cart, or trying to get their teeth around skin shriek at the sound and back off before each one takes flight in a frantic escape. Her bullets do pick off a few, one at a time, but those at a distance seem unruffled by the noise or their comrades dropping dead around them. Or wounded. Between the noise, the fear and Beisdean's swinging, Algernon is left to climb to his feet in relative safety, the flock having left, or at least, moved on.

The men gathered to one side hear the crack of Aislinn's new gun as she enters the fray. And around her, Reds drop out of their swirling flight and diving formation, hitting the ground to wail at the sound before taking flight again, to rush away from the square, red eyes looking, for the moment, more scared than scary. Most still in flight and still on the attack move after this shot, flying our of stall and store, giving up nips and scratches in favor of helping their brothers in flight drag those bodies off.

The most observant can see, if they bother to look, one of the bodies start to stir, and from stirring to swatting gets the dragons to stop dragging, returning to biting and clawing. A couple even bange their heads against their victim's, just until it stops moving again.

The tall man winces when Algernon uses him as leverage to pull himself up — the shoulder so recently dislocated and already abused today by the swipes of that hand gripping the blade. He gives the other man a nod of greeting, glad to see you aren't dead implied in the jerk of stubbled chin. Jain might not get quite the same sentiment as Beisdean looks at the dragons in flight.

"Keep shooting, they don't like the noise," Beisdean calls, suddenly, looking first to Algernon and then over to where Aislinn is holding the rifle.

The commotion by those trying to drag off the body catches his attention and he starts to run that way, jabbing his stool into the backs of the closest creatures, then swiping the stool at their heads in retaliation to what they've done to whoever it is — was? — on the ground. "Get! Go on!" he shouts, angrily.

"Shit," Mairi mutters. "This isn't working." She glances around, looking at the bodies. "Are they trying to take them alive? What…" She trails off, unsure of who exactly she's speaking to. Crawling slowly out from under the wagon, she fires another shot towards the dragging creatures, careful to avoid anyone in that direction.

Algernon meets Beisdean's look with less composure: bloodied, disordered and seethingly disgruntled that this is even a thing that is happening this morning, of all mornings. A sleeve scrubbed under his throat and pressed there at the wrist stems some of the free flow there. Enough that he's able to set his jaw against disorientation and pull Jain into glaring focus (This could all be his fault, somehow. It is his town.) as he drags his revolver out once more.

If they don't like the noise they probably like being exploded by lead even less, so. He burns through his five remaining rounds in about as many seconds picking a few of the nastier little bastards off of struggling bodies with a potentially upsetting disregard for whatever (or whoever) else might get in the way in the process.

From the edge of the square, a giant black mastiff is still shaking the life out of her kill. The dragon swings about like a boneless ragdoll, its expiry date long past. A rake of claws to her back has the dog's attention switching focus, or refocusing perhaps, on the new terror and she lets out a long series of deep barks. Then bounds after it in a chase.

She crouches and then leaps, catching it in midair and biting through it. The crunch of bone close enough to both Aislinn and Mairi that, if they were paying attention, they might pick it out from the panic around them.

Toward the middle, near the dead horse, Jain swings his sword in a large arc through the air. Bird, dragon, flying hats, he doesn't discern between anything that's cleaved. "Back toward the wagon, Fogg," he yells through the cacophony of dragon squarks and screams of the dead and dying. Another dragon is punted as he forges backward, trying to lead the other militia man in that direction.

Aislinn takes aim for the dragons closest to the ground — those mauling their victims into submission. One shot punches through an unruly crowd squabbling over the rights to someone's opened torso, and when they go spiraling into the air they take a coil of entrails with them.

She breathes hard through her nose, jaw set, and fights the urge to keep her eyes squeezed shut every time she has to stop and blink the wetness from her eyes. Swallowing takes extra effort.

She and Cordelia are going to have their hands full when this is over.

Beisdean hits a few in a line, tossing them off in a daze. And when he swings back, he does similar to another few. When they shake it off, there's a hiss toward the others, but that's all the warning they give before they take off. Beisdean is left with the mother and child pair, the former curled protectively around the latter. The child sees mostly in tact, suffering some claw marks and scrapes from being at the bottom as they were pulled along, and he even shows signs of life; sniffling and whimpering, but signs. His mother, though, is seen in double for Beisdean, her dead body laying in front of him and her ghostly self standing next to him.

"Save my son, please save my son, please…" It repeats, this mantra of the newly dead. She may not even fully realize yet, not with her worry over the younger. But as Beisdean pulls the boy out from under her and carries him into a nearby building for safety, his mother's spirit follows. Weeping.

Algernon's shots pick off a few more, leaving Reds falling to the wayside as the rest try to get away, with their catches, before getting shot, too. Unfortunately, with less of them doing the pulling, it goes even slower. Slow enough to make them easier to pick off. The unfortunate side comes when those bullets rip through a dragon to hit the body below. Although, many would call it— a kindness. Considering.

Bullets, teeth, swords, stools, whatever the tool, the few that remain mobile seem to collectively notice when the fight is lost. They stumble back from bodies, fall from flight, and after a moment's daze, make for escape as bet they can. Those that aren't picked off So few make it through, once their lose their numbers and nerve, but they do try.

And in the aftermath, with only the still dying or long dead Reds left of the attack party, and a few dead of their own, Aislinn is, indeed, left with a market full of injuries to tend, small and severe.