Characters: Owen, Ianto, Jack, Tosh, Gwen, OC.
Word Count: 4022
Summary: The team are in trouble, surrounded by creatures intent on making a meal out of them. Will they get out of this in one piece? They could use a little help...
Written For: spook_me 2017, using Scarecrow.
Disclaimer: Sadly, I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters. Think of the fun I could have with them…
The attack, when it came, was sudden, with half a dozen figures converging on them out of the cover afforded by the tall plants surrounding them, three from each side. Team Torchwood were used to fending off Weevil attacks however, and all three of them raised their guns, firing within a split second of each other, sending their attackers scuttling back into cover.
“You guys okay?” Jack’s voice came through their earpieces, sounding tense.
“Yeah, we’re all fine,” Owen assured him. “Whatever those things are, they retreated when we shot at them, but as far as I could tell our bullets didn’t do much damage.”
“What did they look like?”
“Hard to say, I only caught a brief glimpse of them, but a lot like scarecrows really. Tattered clothes, lumpy noses…”
“Bipedal, three-clawed hands and feet,” Tosh added. “Sharp-looking teeth too. It’s easy to believe they could rip an animal to shreds.”
“Nasty. Okay, keep moving; they’ll probably take a few minutes to re-think their strategy before they come at you again. You said bullets didn’t harm them?”
“Not noticeably; didn’t see any blood.”
“That could be a problem.”
“You think? ‘Cause guns are all we’ve got unless we can get back to the SUV.”
“I’m well aware of that, Owen.”
“Just thought I’d mention it.” Owen urged the girls onwards, noting that Tosh had traded her PDA for her torch, holding it down by her side in her left hand but not turning it on. “Tosh?”
“They’re nocturnal; if they come at us again I’m going to shine it in their eyes on the highest setting, see how they like that.”
“Nice.” Owen smiled grimly; Tosh was good at thinking on her feet, he really needed to stop underestimating her.
The rustling around them resumed as the creatures kept pace with them, keeping just out of sight and a couple of minutes later, the three teammates heard gunfire not far off. Before Owen could switch his Bluetooth to ‘send’, Ianto’s voice came through, tense but steady.
“We’re both okay. You’re right about bullets not doing them much harm, but Jack managed to hit one in the eye and it didn’t like that at all, staggered back into the undergrowth clawing at its own face. If they come at you again, aim for their heads.”
“They’re only testing our defences so far,” Jack added. “The time to worry will be when they stage an all-out attack, but hopefully that won’t happen until after we join forces. I estimate we should be with you in a little over eight minutes.”
“Okay, good.” Couldn’t be soon enough for Owen; whichever way you looked at it, five people with guns stood more of a chance against an unknown number of carnivorous scarecrows than three did. Still, right now they were only three, and would be until their little band found Jack and Ianto, or vice versa, so they kept moving, alert and ready for whatever the scarecrow things threw at them next.
Seconds ticked past, and Owen counted them off in his head as he walked. Thirty… forty… fifty… one minute… one minute thirty… two minutes…
Abruptly, an eerie, ululating screech sliced through the night, only to be cut off almost immediately. It stopped them in their tracks.
“What was that?” Gwen hissed, peering around apprehensively, her voice wavering slightly. The sound had seemed to come from ahead of them and to their left. She was glancing back over her shoulder to check the other two were still behind her when Tosh cried out.
“Gwen, look out!”
Her head whipping around so fast she lost her balance and almost fell, Gwen raised her gun, trying to take aim at the scarecrow that was lunging towards her, knowing even as she did that it wouldn’t be fast enough. She silently cursed herself for letting her guard down even for a split second, but before the creature could get its claws into her, another figure seemed to simply appear out of nowhere, jumping between her and the scarecrow, its back to her.
For a moment, she thought Jack and Ianto had arrived in the nick of time to help her; then her eyes registered what she was seeing. It was a man, of sorts, or at least he looked mostly human, and yet there was something about him that she couldn’t quite put her finger on, something that made her think he might not be from earth. Maybe it was what he was the way he was dressed.
He was a little taller than Jack and Ianto, maybe six foot two, clad in some kind of armour, and holding a lantern in his left hand similar to the one she carried. However, it was what he gripped in his right hand that really caught her attention, a long, broad, heavy-looking silver metal blade with an ornate gold hilt. It looked wickedly sharp and even as she opened her mouth to say something, although she had no idea what, he swept the sword in a powerful arc, cleaving the scarecrow’s head from its body. The creature dropped like a stone, revealing itself to be nothing more than a bundle of ragged clothes stuffed with old straw. The head was a different matter; it rolled about on the ground gnashing its teeth, malevolent glowing eyes flickering back and forth as if seeking some means of escape. Unlike the stranger, it was definitely alien. Without hesitation, the swordsman raised his blade once more and brought it down, slicing through the disembodied head. Again, that eerie screech reached their ears, filled with rage, frustration, and pain. Light flared briefly from the shattered head and then it crumbled into nothing.
The armoured man stood poised on the balls of his feet, eyes darting about, searching the surrounding shadows. Owen was frozen in place, much like the two girls ahead of him, and might have stayed that way for who knew how long if Jack’s voice hadn’t come though his earpiece, snapping him out of it.
“Owen, what’s happening?”
“I’d kinda like to know that myself,” he whispered in response. “This bloke dressed in fucking armour just appeared out of nowhere and lopped the head off one of the scarecrows with an honest to god sword, then sliced it in two. I’m pretty sure it’s dead now, and I think he might’ve already killed another one before that.”
“Looks like we’re on the same side,” Tosh added. “I mean, if he’s here to kill the scarecrows…”
“Don’t take that for granted,” Jack snapped. “Stay on your guard. We’re almost to your position.”
Mere seconds later, Jack and Ianto burst into view, coming out of the surrounding vegetation from their right, and a few yards ahead of the stranger, who immediately lowered his sword, resting the tip on the ground just in front of his feet. He straightened up, shoulders relaxing as he regarded them.
“Have no fear, the lady speaks true; I mean you no harm.” His voice was astonishingly deep and resonant, but strangely accented.
Jack stepped ahead of Ianto, who immediately turned to face in the opposite direction, covering his back. That made Owen remember exactly where they were and he turned away too; someone had to make sure none of the scarecrow things took advantage of their distraction. Tosh and Gwen followed suit, reluctantly tearing their attention away from Jack and the swordsman to face outwards, alert for signs of attack while listening in to the conversation going on behind them.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” Jack asked warily, his Webley still raised, its barrel pointing unwaveringly towards the man with the sword.
The stranger gave a shallow bow. “My pardon, Sir. I am named Kai Andro and I beg your forgiveness for intruding on your hunt, but I am sworn to destroy these abominations, down to the very last. They slew my entire clan and I, as the last survivor of my family, have tracked them for fully half my life, seeking vengeance. The hunt has led me across more than a dozen worlds until only a mere handful of the creatures remain, animating corpses and mannequins in order to feed on flesh, hoping to grow strong enough to breed and replenish their numbers. I cannot allow that to happen lest they grow strong enough to wipe out entire worlds. If you would only grant me the boon of allowing me to hunt down these last few alongside you, I would be forever in your debt.”
Jack considered the man’s words, studying him carefully. “You’re Cavellian, right?”
“You know of my world?” Arched eyebrows rose higher. “That is most curious. It was my understanding that this planet had not yet developed interstellar travel. Strictly speaking, I have broken the law by coming here.”
“I spent several very enjoyable weeks on Cavellos when I was… younger. To be honest, this isn’t my world either,” Jack said wryly, “but I got stranded here a long time ago and I’ve made a good life here. I’m Captain Jack Harkness and these are my team. Ianto Jones,” he gestured over his shoulder, “Owen Harper behind you, Gwen Cooper-Williams, whose life you just saved, and last but by no means least, our resident technical genius Toshiko Sato.”
Andro briefly bowed again. “It is an honour to make your acquaintance, but we should not remain here for much longer; the loss of two of their number will not hold the abominations from attacking indefinitely.”
“Then we’d best head back to our vehicle. Our guns aren’t exactly proving all that effective against these creatures; we didn’t know what we’d be up against, just that something out here was killing a lot of livestock. We need to re-arm ourselves with something more suitable.”
“Very well; lead the way and I will provide rear guard. My armour will warn me if any of the creatures attempt to attack from behind.”
Jack nodded. The inhabitants of Cavellos were famed for being among the most honest and honourable of people, and since Kai Andro wanted these creatures dead as much as he did, it seemed only sensible to join forces with the only person who actually knew what they were up against. “Okay, kids; let’s move out. Which way, Tosh?”
After briefly consulting her PDA, Tosh pointed. “Just under a mile in that direction.”
Following Tosh’s pointing finger, Jack set off, Tosh and Ianto walking side by side behind him, followed by Gwen and Owen, with Kai Andro bringing up the rear.
By now the full moon was riding high in the sky, bathing the field in silvery light. A quick peek at his watch told Owen it was almost midnight; under other circumstances he might have expected to feel tired, but with everything that had happened since night had fallen he and the rest of the team were wide awake, which was just as well.
They’d made it nearly halfway to the road where the SUV waited when the next attack came. The team and their visitor immediately moved into a defensive formation, standing in a loose circle, facing outwards, Kai Andro swinging his sword and decapitating two of the creatures in the space of a few seconds while the Torchwood team opened fire, aiming at heads.
The battle probably lasted no more than a couple of minutes, the creatures clearly unaware of the limitations of handguns, which need to be frequently reloaded. Eerie wailing filled the air as the creatures once more fell back, several of them clutching their heads, and leaving four of their number behind. Andro wasted no time in destroying the disembodied heads, a grim smile of satisfaction on his face as each one crumbled into dust.
“That’s six down, and I counted four injured,” Ianto said as they moved off again. “Will their injuries slow them down?”
“For a short while only, so we must use the time we have bought ourselves wisely. As you yourselves have said, your weapons lack sufficient power; the damage caused by the projectiles they fire heals too quickly.”
“That’s why we need to get back to the SUV,” Jack said. “We have laser pistols there that should even the odds a bit. Anyone manage to make a head count of how many creatures are left?”
“They were nineteen when I followed them here; six have how been destroyed, so thirteen remain,” Andro informed them
“There’s no chance they might have bred since they arrived here?” Ianto asked.
“None. I was but a day behind them, delayed by my own injuries and the need to sleep. They must feed and feed well for at least ten nights in order to build up sufficient resources to fuel reproduction, and gestation requires more than twice that long.”
“But what if they fed and mated before leaving a planet?” Owen asked.
Andro shook his head. “They have no spacecraft; they must enter a kind of suspended animation in order to travel between worlds, utilising all their physical resources to sustain them. Any gestating young get reabsorbed to ensure the creatures’ survival during the journey. When they reach a planet, they find suitable hosts and immediately begin to feed. The forms they are currently inhabiting are less than ideal, being mannequins made of organic materials rather than previously living creatures. No doubt they used what was available, intending to switch hosts as soon as they were able. It is fortunate they landed in such a remote area; other worlds have not been so lucky.”
“The Rift may have deflected them,” Tosh mused. “It has a habit of knocking ships off course.”
“Possibly,” Jack agreed. “Despite all the trouble it can cause, it does occasionally have its uses.”
All the time they were talking they were making the best possible speed towards the road. It almost came as a surprise when the hedgerow bordering it loomed before them and they quickly turned aside, following it to the gate and the SUV parked just beyond.
While the rest of the team formed a defensive semicircle around the rear of the vehicle, Tosh unlocked the boot, found the laser pistols, and handed them out, each person holstering their handgun before accepting one of the hopefully more appropriate weapons. They should be able to slice through heads with them almost as well as Andro could with his sword. Ianto also armed himself with the hand axe he kept in the SUV for emergencies, hefting it easily in his left hand while holding the laser pistol in his right. It didn’t have the reach of a sword, but it should do the job if brought down of the top of a head.
“Do we wait for them to come to us now?” Owen asked hopefully.
“I would not advise it,” Andro said quietly. “They may simply go in search of an easier meal. If we keep up the offensive they will have no choice but to fight us.”
“Can you track the creatures?” Tosh asked. “My instruments are having trouble pinpointing them.”
“They broadcast to each other continuously; that is likely what is confusing your devices. I have found that they are most easily tracked by means of the sound they make, but it is far too high to be detected by most species. I cannot detect it myself and must rely on the sensors in my armour to guide me.”
“Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” Pulling out her scanner, Tosh started making adjustments, fine-tuning its audio detectors. “Got them!” she exclaimed triumphantly after no more than a few minutes. “They’re broadcasting in the two hundred to three hundred kilohertz range.” She waved the scanner. “Now we can hunt them instead of the other way around.”
“Good work, Tosh.” Jack grinned at his tech wizard. “Let’s go get us some abominations.”
“Is that really what they’re called?” Gwen asked curiously.
“It is what I call them, or the closest approximation my translator can find in your language,” Andro said. “If they have a name for themselves, then I am unaware of it.”
“Fair enough,” Owen said with a shrug. “ Calling them ‘Abominations’ works for me.”
Armed and ready, they slammed the boot of the SUV and headed back through the field to do battle. They were six against thirteen, odds that didn’t seem too bad considering they had laser pistols while the enemy only had claws and teeth. Not that any of the team were being overly optimistic, they were still at a bit of a disadvantage because of the darkness and the unfamiliar terrain, but they were hopefully more adaptable than the creatures they were after.
Even with Tosh’s new detector, finding thirteen targets in fields of waving grain wasn’t the easiest task. The creatures only approached close enough to be seen when they were attacking, and it quickly became clear that using laser pistols in a field of ripe grain was a bad idea. The first time they tried it, they spent the next ten minutes stamping out several small fires.
“This isn’t going to work,” Jack said with a sigh. “If we’re not careful we’ll wind up burning down the whole field with us in it. The lasers might have been usable if we’d stayed out on the road, but in here they’re more of a liability than a help.”
“We did manage to kill two with them,” Gwen reminded the others. “That means there’s only eleven left.”
“Ten,” Tosh corrected. “Kai got another while you were putting out the fire.”
“Slow progress is still progress,” Ianto said. “So, back to handguns?”
“Probably safer,” Jack agreed.
One at a time, they put the lasers in coat pockets and drew out their automatics again. At least they knew enough bullets in the scarecrows’ heads would disable them long enough for Andro to deliver the coup de grace.
They moved deeper into the field, following the inaudible signal Tosh’s scanner was picking up, and eventually cornering one of the creatures they’d injured earlier against the hedge at the far side of the field. Too late they realised it was a trap as the other nine converged on them out of the darkness.
The team barely managed to turn in time as scarecrows leapt on them from all directions. One sank teeth into Tosh’s arm, but Andro thrust the blade of his sword through its head, which exploded in a burst of black dust. Gwen fell backwards, dropping her gun and torch in an effort to keep snapping teeth away from her throat, and Ianto sliced the top of her attacker’s head off with a backhanded swipe of the axe, leaving her grappling with nothing more than a straw-stuffed shirt and trousers, which she quickly shoved away with a cry of disgust.
Jack and Owen fired their guns at scarecrow heads until they ran out of bullets, then Ianto and Gwen, who was back on her feet again, gun in hand, took over while they reloaded.
Kai Andro spun like a dervish, slicing off two heads and leaving them on the ground for Ianto to finish off with his axe as Jack and Owen opened fire again. Six headless scarecrow bodies were littering the ground around them now, including the one that had taken the role of bait. That left only four.
Owen dropped back to tend to Tosh’s injured arm, binding the wound with a length of bandage from the small first aid kit Andro carried. It was painful, but not too deep thanks to the protection provided by the sleeve of her coat. He’d do a better job of it once they got back to the SUV.
“Those things aren’t venomous or anything, are they?” he asked.
“No, they have no need of venom; they simply eat. Your lady will recover.”
“She’s not my lady,” Owen corrected. “We’re just friends.”
“Ah, then if she is not yours, to whom is fair Toshiko pledged? If it is not a discourteous question.”
“No one,” said Tosh with a wistful smile. “There’s no one.”
“How can that be?” Kai asked, astonished. “One so fair must surely have no shortage of suitors.”
Tosh had no further chance to answer as the remaining four scarecrows chose that moment to attack and the next few minutes were barely controlled chaos as the team and their new friend worked together to finish them off in a short but fierce battle.
When it was over, Jack was down, bleeding heavily, his neck and shoulder slashed by vicious claws. Ianto put his axe through the head of the scarecrow responsible, a savage smile on his face. “Is that all of them?”
Andro speared the last head and made a quick count of bodies. “It is. But your leader… Is he badly injured?”
Jack levered himself up on one elbow and Ianto gave him a hand to regain his feet. “I’m fine, or I will be.” He probed the wound at his neck with careful fingers. “How does it look?”
Ianto shone his torch. “Mostly healed. You were lucky it missed your throat.”
“That wasn’t luck; I dodged.”
“Good thing; I rather like your head attached to the rest of you.”
“So do I,” Jack smiled. “Are you okay?”
“Couple of minor scratches.” Ianto pointed his torch down at his leg; his jeans were ripped below his left knee but when he drew the fabric aside the cuts caused by the scarecrow’s claws looked shallow. “One of them grabbed at me when it fell, but I think it was already losing control over its body.”
“Anybody else hurt?” Owen looked around.
“I’m okay,” Gwen said, retrieving her dropped torch.
“It’s over.” Kai Andro sheathed his sword and stood staring at the lifeless straw bodies that were all that remained of the vast swarm of creatures he had hunted for so long. He seemed somehow lost. “After all this time, the last of them are dead. My clan is avenged.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?” Tosh got slowly to her feet. “What will you do now?” she asked softly.
Dark eyes turned towards her. “I… do not know. I have never allowed myself to think so far ahead. This hunt has been my only purpose for so long.”
“Well, we could always use another pair of hands,” Jack spoke up. “After this, I think I speak for the whole team when I say you’re welcome to stay as long as you want.”
“That would be permitted?”
“Why not? We owe you for helping us with this little problem. Without your knowledge of the creatures we could’ve been in a lot of trouble. It’s not always quite this exciting around here, but we have our moments; rogue Weevils, invasion attempts, all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff.”
For the first time, Andro’s face softened into a smile. “Then I thank you. I think I should very much like to stay, at least for a time. I have seen little of your world, but what I have seen is very beautiful.”
Jack noted the other man was looking not at him but at Tosh, who was blushing slightly.
“That’s settled then.” Jack sounded smugly satisfied. “Might be a little cramped in the SUV on the drive back, but I think we’ll manage.” He glanced up at the moon. “Nice night for a stroll,” and with that he took Ianto’s hand, the one not currently gripping an axe, and set off through the tall stems yet again, glad this time that they were no longer in danger of being attacked and eaten. “With a bit of luck we’ll be back in Cardiff before dawn.”
Owen and Gwen fell in behind Jack, with Tosh and Kai Andro trailing behind them as the six victors made their weary way back through the moonlit fields towards the distant road and home. Glancing back over his shoulder at Tosh and Kai, talking together in low voices, Owen decided that maybe this little jaunt hadn’t been a complete waste of time. He still hated the countryside, but all in all, things seemed to have worked out pretty well.