All Hail Angler (Short Story)

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SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH, A COUPLE YEARS AGO.

An interesting fact about Angler was that before joining the Scavengers, the Chaffee had been part of a pretty regular team. It wasn't a team he was entirely happy being with; they didn't treat him all too well, or at least not with the kind of respect he thought he deserved. He didn't just think he deserved this respect out of thin air - despite being very young, he was very sure that for his achievements in their battles, he had earned it.

But, he wasn't getting much of that. Right then, as his team was travelling to a new base, he was scouting the surrounding area ahead of them to make sure they would be able to travel safely. This territory was unfamiliar to them. The South was not a region they planned on staying in, so they were just passing through... and its reputation made their leader anxious about what could await them.

So, Angler had to go take a look. He wasn't too far ahead, still in radio range. And he was poking around, making sure that no hostile machine was hiding anywhere. He was currently driving through a sort of giant valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains in the distance. Cover was found barely here, the fields surrounding the road being rather sparsely vegetated and mostly grassy. Angler was about to reach a small village, which he could already see the sign of beside the road. There were no markers on the sign or anywhere else that would indicate that a team lived here, so the light tank reported this to his team via radio before he proceeded cautiously instead of avoiding the whole village altogether.

It seemed completely abandoned, indeed. The human-made buildings were crumbling. It didn't look like anyone had lived here in a long time, but it did look like lots of battles had happened. A lot of the buildings were torn down to their foundation, making it possible to see far ahead.

It was an unnerving environment for the light tank. Any hostile tank who had made any effort to disguise themself here would have an easy time ambushing him.

He was so on edge that he didn't notice an approaching noise that was very faint at first, but grew louder quickly. When he did notice it, it had to be very close - the noise of an engine. But as he flinched and quickly looked around him, he couldn't see anyone.

What the-

It occurred to him after a moment that the noise was coming from... above?

He looked up behind himself with complete bewilderment and saw a glistening silhouette against the cloudy sky. It was soaring far above at first, much farther away than the engine noise made him believe. But it seemed to be descending as it got closer?

Angler halted and stared, clueless what to do and what to make of this. He had never seen a hostile machine anywhere but on the ground. Maybe during his training in the factory, someone had mentioned planes to him, but right then, Angler didn't make the connection between that fleeting warning and the actual sighting.

All he knew was that it looked and sounded rather threatening... especially as it seemed to be heading directly towards him.

As it was only a few hundred meters away still, and that took only a few seconds with the incredible speed it must have been going at...

... it started shooting.

Angler yelped as heavy bullets suddenly tore up the ground behind him and immediately kicked his engine into gear. He started running as fast as he could, with trails of bullets following him, but couldn't see anything nearby that would lend itself as cover from this attacker. He cried into his radio that he was under attack, but naturally, his teammates were way too far away to come help him.

The hostile machine passed very closely above him a moment later, still firing. Maybe some of the bullets even hit the light tank; it was hard to tell in his panic as he swerved frantically to avoid getting obliterated.

As soon as the attacker had passed over him, the shooting stopped. But Angler didn't dare to slow down - he needed to find something to hide behind. Anything! Looking up and after the now quickly departing machine in the sky, he tried to maybe line up his cannon for a shot, but it was impossible to aim at it. It was going too fast, and already too far away to lead a shot. And frighteningly enough, it was now gaining altitude and flying a tight loop... to return and most likely start another strafing run.

Angler braked as hard as he could and did a U-turn, then started running into the other direction, but realized that he wouldn't outrun the other vehicle. If it was coming towards him again, his best bet would be going into the opposite direction, to minimize the exposure to its guns. Doing another U-turn, Angler frantically rushed towards the approaching attacker. It swooped down again, and started firing again, but Angler swerved to the side sharply (with a scream, of course) and narrowly avoided the trail of bullets. They passed each other.

The light tank knew he didn't have much time before the other vehicle would catch up to him again, but he didn't know where to go now. He couldn't keep this up forever! His engine already accelerated to the maximum, it took him only a moment to reach the end of the village. At his breakneck speed, he kept following the road in hopes of spotting any cover... but the closest grove of trees was somewhere to the left. Angler saw his only chance at surviving this situation and hurried off the street and towards that grove.

He heard the attacker approaching behind him again, only making his panic worse.

He needed to reach that grove.

He made it halfway there before...

... the ground suddenly gave under him.

***

The next thing Angler knew was that he was sitting on top of a pile of dirt and debris. He felt very shaken and jarred. Opening his view ports cautiously, he realized that he was surrounded by relative darkness, with the main light source coming from a hole a few meters above him. The dirt must have cushioned his fall...

What he also noticed was that right in front of him, outside the cone of light, there was another vehicle. A tiny light tank, a Luchs, was standing there and staring at Angler with an utterly aghast expression. Two of its arms were extended, but the fuel can it had been presumably holding with them had been dropped to the ground.

"What're you looking at?" Angler asked groggily.

In that moment, a third tank showed up,... another, identical looking, Luchs. It appeared from a bend in what seemed to be a corridor that Angler found himself in, and gasped "What happened? I heard a-" but then saw the newcomer as well, stopped, and stared as well.

Before Angler could say anything else - had these dorks never seen another tank before or what? Were they scared he was hostile? - there seemed to be a very fast, non-verbal exchange between the two others. They looked at each other and then one of them whispered, in an awestruck tone, "He has arrived...!"

Both Luchses then bowed deeply all of a sudden, averting their optics.

"Messiah! Messiah!" they chanted.

Angler's confusion was immeasurable.

"Wait, what? What the-" he stammered, but then three more... Luchses! ... showed up. First two of them skidded around the bend, the third one following a moment later. All three new arrivals also drove up to Angler and bowed in front of him.

He grimaced and didn't know what to say as they joined the chanting. He also noticed that one of new arrivals looked different from the others - its hull was adorned by a few pieces of ornately painted cloth that was draped around the edges. That decorated Luchs gestured at the others to quiet down after a few seconds of them all chanting. The other Luchses obeyed and fell silent immediately.

The decorated one looked up from its profound bow and rolled closer to Angler. The Chaffee couldn't see any pronoun markers or other identifying decals on the other tank's frame.

"Messiah!" it addressed him with a gushing tone. "The prophecy has foretold your arrival! We are- and I am so glad you are here!"

Angler just stared. He was speechless. A prophecy? Messiah? What the hell were these guys on about?

"Please, Messiah, follow me!" the decorated Luchs said and gestured at Angler. "We need to tell the good news to everyone!"

Since he didn't know what else to do, Angler carefully drove down from his little 'pedestal' and did indeed follow the other tank as it led him down the corridor. The remaining Luchses watched in awe as he drove past them, and then followed behind him.

As they made it further down the corridor, Angler noticed ventilation slits in some spots on the walls, and lamps on the ceiling that illuminated the rest of it. He must have taken down one of these lamps as he had broken through the ground above. He also noticed that the corridor was sort of descending, further down into the Earth. He wasn't sure what to think of that. Where the hell were they taking him? Was it a sort of bunker he had fallen down into?

His question was answered soon after: The corridor opened into a large, hangar-like space. Only as Angler reached the end of the corridor, he understood just how huge this space was. It extended for at least 900 meters ahead of him, being a good 550 meters wide as well and easily tall enough to stack at least 3 tanks on top of each other. Perhaps most noticeably, the hangar seemed to have at least two levels. One of them was at the height of the corridor, but a sort of ramp led across a gap, which was connected to more ramps leading down to a lower level that was partly visible through said gap.

The current level featured numerous small buildings which didn't have an outwardly apparent purpose. Angler guessed they must have been garages or similar, since as he and the others drove over the ramp, he saw even more Luchses come out of those structures and swarming towards a square-like gap between the buildings.

Angler was too busy staring at... well, everything around him to really think about much. Really, all he could think about was that this had to be some weird dream. Or maybe the bullets earlier had hit his turret and made him hallucinate.

The decorated Luchs halted on the little square, and so did Angler. The tanks that had been following them merged into the crowd that had gathered and was still gathering. It was entirely made up out of Luchses. Angler couldn't count them - there were simply too many. They surrounded him and the decorated tank, but kept a respectful distance. Most of them looked exactly the same, with only small, barely noticeable differences.

Angler kept silent and let his optics wander through the crowd, his looks being returned with euphoric and awestruck ones. Quiet murmurs could be heard, but it was hard to make out words except for the occasional "Messiah!". 

The decorated tank drove to Angler's side and threw a look around as well. Then, it spoke again.

"My brothers! Today is the day!" it shouted solemnly. The crowd went quiet, all listening eagerly to its words. "The Messiah has arrived! As the prophecy promised us long ago, He has descended from the World Above with heavenly light! He has come to defeat the vile Skytank! With His godly arrival, our plight will soon come to an end!"

Before Angler got even a single question or word of protest in, the crowd started cheering and applauding, drowning out any word he tried to say. He could only guess that by "vile Skytank" this fellow meant the horrifying machine that Angler had been hunted by just a few minutes ago... He was supposed to 'defeat' that thing? How?!

As the thundering applause died down, the decorated Luchs spoke again, but turned towards Angler this time and spoke to him.

"Come with me now, I will show you your abode!" it said cheerfully.

Angler raised a hand in objection, but was too dumbfounded by the situation to decide on what he wanted to say first.

The Luchs turned around and drove off quickly, the crowd parting to make way. Angler hurried after it.

They drove along a sort of road, passing by a lot of the garage buildings. As they were doing that, Angler tried to sort his thoughts. How could he tell these dumbasses that he was not a Messiah of any sort? And that he was not keen on fighting that thing on the surface? He really just wanted to get back out of this unreal place and return to his team...!

"Listen, dude," he finally started to say to the Luchs leading him. "I'm really not sure if you got the right-..."

Before he could finish his sentence, they reached the end of the road... which was another square and on the other side of it, throned a large building. It was definitely the most elaborate structure Angler had ever seen. Reaching almost to the ceiling, the building had a tall garage door, round walls and a flat roof - except that the "walls" weren't really walls, they were... turrets. Just countless tank turrets of different models, painted in bright colors and stacked on top of and next to each other.

Angler trailed off at the sight and almost came to a halt. The Luchs turned its turret back to him and beamed at him, also slowing down.

"Oh no, don't worry! You are definitely the right tank! The prophecy doesn't make mistakes!" it assured him. It waved quickly and drove on, opening the large gate and entering the building.

Angler shook his turret and followed it inside.

The interior of the building wasn't any less baffling than its exterior. Angler stopped right at the door and threw a wide-eyed look around. The large hall he was in featured a sort of chandelier on the ceiling and elaborately painted wallpapers, depicting multiple "scenes" of what looked like the origin story of this strange civilization; some of the stylized paintings were of different tanks fighting and getting killed by a large winged vehicle, some showed the tanks apparently discovering an underground complex.

Angler didn't have time to look at all of the scenes, because the Luchs in front of him beckoned him to follow it further. There was a door at the back of the hall, and as they reached it, Angler noticed that there was a water-filled gap between the walls and the floor, spanning the entire wall with only the exception of the entrance and the door in the back. Something glistened under the surface like pebbles, but Angler wasn't able to tell what it was as they drove past.

They passed through the door, into a smaller room. Angler guessed that this was his "abode"... It didn't look even reminiscent of a garage or tent or anything he was used to living in. The whole room's wallpapers and ceiling were painted to look like one was standing inside a poppy field, complete with a masterfully painted dusky sky - the only detail that kind of disturbed the illusion was a large window in the back of the room that was currently covered by thick curtains. A floor lamp in the corner acted as a setting "sun". The floor was made of concrete - also painted to look like part of the meadow - and slightly raised in the middle of the room. Only on a second glance Angler noticed that along the walls, there were also low shelves, but they were also painted and thus barely visible against the rest of the backdrop.

The Luchs halted in the back of the room and turned around.

"This is your temple, Messiah!" it announced. "We hope that you will find it worthy. It is made from only our most valuable materials and was furnished by our most skilled craftsmen! You are free to go anywhere at any time you please, of course, but we hope that you will accept this building as your residence." It bowed deeply, obviously waiting for an answer.

"It's... okay, I guess," Angler replied slowly, still trying to wrap his mind around all that was happening.

The Luchs seemed pleased with that answer and brought up its hands to clap them together cheerfully.

"If you need anything at all - do not hesitate to let us know! The radio frequency number 123.4 is reserved only for you and your wishes! Whatever you desire, be it fuel or entertainment or anything else, just say the word and we will see to it!"

Now that was something Angler hadn't expected at all. Being addressed in an embarrassingly formal way all the time, okay. Getting offered an entire building just for himself to live in? Okay. But also getting... spoiled beyond belief? Whew. There had to be a catch or something. He hadn't really become some sort of god just by virtue of crashing through the floor, right? There had to be a downside, some sort of trade-off...!

"Gotcha," Angler replied. He still felt completely dumbfounded. In fact, his dumbfoundedness only increased with each new thing he learned about these people, this odd place and his apparent role in it.

The Luchs drove back towards the door, apparently turning to leave. Angler got out of the way, but turned around and spoke up again before the other tank could just disappear.

"Well, what now?" he asked tentatively.

The Luchs seemed confused by that question.

"What do you mean, your Grace? Like I said, you are free to do anything you want."

Angler wasn't sure how to put his concerns into words. Mostly, he wanted to know if he was supposed to spend the rest of his life just hanging out with these Luchses and enjoying free fuel and games, but then remembered an important detail about his introduction to the others. Right! There it was! The catch.

"Uhm," he began, "When will I fight the... Skytank?"

This time, the Luchs seemed less caught off-guard.

"Oh, whenever you are ready to do so! The prophecy did not specify this part. I'm sure you will know when the right time has come! You are the chosen one, after all!" it replied with another bow.

"I...uh- Of course, yes." Angler murmured.

The Luchs nodded and trundled off, closing the door behind it.

Angler stood still for a moment longer, and then slumped with a big sigh. To an observer, it would have looked like the Chaffee completely deflated.

"Wow...!" he mumbled to himself, "Just wow! My team won't freaking believe any of this..."

Speaking of that team... They must have been looking for him already! Their scout had been swallowed by the Earth, but just how literally that had happened was probably beyond their imagination.

Angler quickly messed with his radio, but couldn't seem to get through on his team's frequency. It was probably because he was far below the ground... All the earth and the ceilings must have been disrupting the signal. That wasn't very good. Just going MIA like that... or worse, they probably thought he deserted - since his wreck wouldn't be anywhere to be found, either!

Well, as long as he stayed down here, his team would not be of any concern, technically. Maybe he would never see them again, even! Maybe it wouldn't be necessary! As long as he just stayed with these zealous dorks down here, it seemed like he wouldn't have to worry about anything like fuel or survival ever again... except for his eventual showdown against the Skytank. 

Oh dear.

***

THREE WEEKS LATER.

Among the brotherhood of the Luchses of the Below, the one they called Neil was a bit of a celebrity. As their resident seer and highpriest, he was granted a lot of respect and responsibility. Some of that respect had been hard-earned, and some had been doubting his visions. Not everyone had found it as easy as him to believe fiercely in the prophecy of their founders. But when the Messiah of their prophecy had actually shown up, no one had dared to doubt anymore that Neil had been in the right all along.

Or, at least for a while.

Right then, as Neil the seer and highpriest was sitting outside the Messiah's temple, he had to admit that he could truly understand why a lot of his brothers were starting to get a little... disgruntled.

One of his hands fidgeted with one of the pieces of cloth that were draped over his hull, while two more hands gestured agitatedly as he was speaking to another Luchs.

"Yes, I know it's the third time today, but-" he tried to argue.

The Luchs in front of him didn't let him finish the sentence. It was grasping a couple of empty fuel cans in its arms and looked exasperated.

"He keeps asking for more! Our depot doesn't have any more high octane! The last supply convoy we sent didn't come back!"

"I understand your concern,-"

"Four of our brothers died!"

"That is tragic, yes. But I assure you, their deaths haven't been in vain."

"They died for booze!"

The Luchs glared, its little machine gun barrel trembling from being so upset.

"Okay, okay!" Neil surrendered. "I will talk to him..."

The other Luchs made an exasperated "Bleh!" and turned around, then zoomed off.

Neil tried to calm himself down a little before he went ahead and knocked on the temple's door. From inside, he could hear muffled music and voices. His knock wasn't answered at all, but he assumed that simply no one could have heard it. He proceeded to open the door and stick his turret inside.

What he saw was rather... shocking.

Where had that ... slot car racing track come from? That hadn't been there yesterday...? Neil rolled further into the room but had to stop not too far in to avoid running over part of the enormous toy race track that was spanning almost the entire holy hall. He flinched as three remote controlled miniature tanks barreled past him on top of the tracks, and looked up as there was a bawling cheer coming from the back of the room.

Huddled up in some sort of pile, Neil spotted four Luchses and the Messiah, surrounded by fuel cans (some of them knocked over, forming little puddles). They were obviously operating the miniature tanks and having a blast doing it. Well, not all of them seemed to be operating them, actually. Two of the Luchses just seemed to be here for watching the game.

Neil cleared his vents in an attempt to get anyone's attention, but the loud Rock music that was blaring from one of the Luchses' radio almost drowned out the noise.

However, it seemed like the Messiah noticed him anyway, if only because he had been watching the toy tanks zipping past the seer's tracks.

"Eyyy!" Angler shouted. "Neil-y boy! My bro! My buddy!" The Chaffee was kind of slurring the words, but apparently in a great mood. "What's up, pal??" he went on and waved at Neil, obviously wanting him to come closer. Some of the other Luchses giggled.

Neil didn't actually move except for a quick bow, partly because he wasn't sure how to get past the race track - perhaps somewhere further to the left where there was a big loop? - and just sat in place like he had struck roots.

"Erh, not much," he replied awkwardly. "What is happening here...?"

"What?" Angler asked with a confused grin. He was still pressing the buttons on the remote of his toy tank, even though that toy tank had gotten stuck somewhere along the track, which had gone unnoticed so far because its operator was paying attention to the newcomer. "We're racing!"

"Yes, in the holy hall..." Neil said with an uncomfortable gulp, but tried to focus on the matter that brought him into the temple in the first place. He quickly put forth his cause. "Uhm, your Grace, there is something we need to discuss. Unfortunately, our fuel stores have been running low and we have been suffering tragic loss-"

"Wha? No, no," Angler interrupted with a tilted cannon and a dismissive wave of his hand. "Don't show up with that downer talk! There's no time for that right now, can't you see that we're all in a good mood here?"

"I can see that, yes," Neil replied patiently, trying to stay respectful despite that very irritating answer. "But this issue is rather pressing..."

"Uhhh... weeeell," Angler drawled. "Let's talk about it... later, okay?"

"Understood. I will return in... two hours?"

"Uhm, no, that's also inconvenient."

"Why?"

The other Luchses and Angler shared some unfathomable looks. Angler then replied vaguely.

"That's when I have scheduled... uh... worshipping activities."

"Worshipping activities...?"

"Yes."

"How long will these take?"

Angler scratched his gun mantlet pensively, but didn't reply. Neil was still not giving up and made another attempt:

"I can return at nightfall, then?"

"Nah," Angler said, but didn't elaborate this time.

Neil didn't know what else to suggest. He slumped a little and gave up after all with a mumbled "Would tomorrow morning be convenient?"

It was obvious that Angler wasn't a fan of that idea either, but he gestured vaguely for a moment before palming the seer off with a non-committal "Yeah, maybe."

Neil gave a grateful little bow, even though he felt like this wasn't a very satisfying outcome. He turned to leave, but then looked back over his fender as he thought of another thing.

"Oh, your Grace, by the way!" he added sheepishly. What he was about to ask was highly awkward for him to ask, mostly because he had been asking this a lot lately and never gotten a satisfying answer, either: "The brothers have been wondering about your plans to defeat the Skytank? Five days ago you have said you were preparing the combat plan, how is that coming along, if I may ask?"

There was a horribly long silence, which was briefly interrupted by one of the toy tanks catapulting itself off the race track at a bend. Finally, Angler replied, but sounded rather sober this time.

"I'm ...working on it! There's some, uh, logistical issues. Still working out the kinks and whatnot. I had to start over the other day, actually. You know how it is with Mausers..."

"No, your Grace, I do not," Neil said with an awkward side-glance at the other Luchses, who returned it just as awkwardly.

No one said anything else, and Neil left without another word.

***

In the following two weeks, Angler turned the task of avoiding Neil and his nagging questions into an outright art form. Whenever the seer wanted to talk to him, he was incredibly busy with all sorts of "godly" activities, or not feeling well, or whatever else excuse he'd come up with at the time. At the same time, he kept making more excessive and outlandish demands, draining the Brotherhood's resources and - perhaps more importantly - nerves.

Neil spent a lot of time arranging the Messiah's wishes and trying to get through to him, but when he had a free minute in between, he clung to reading the old texts of the prophecy. He was looking for anything he missed, any hint of how much longer they'd have to tolerate their whimsical god. And at some point, he suddenly found it. He realized that they had been reading the texts wrong. He realized that there was a much different interpretation... and that interpretation seemed like it would solve all their trouble very quickly.

***

"Nooo, more to the right! Gosh, are you blind?" Angler complained. He was sitting near the middle of one of the squares of the big hangar, and overseeing the tedious task of erecting a statue of his likeness. The Luchses operating a crane were having a hard time placing the turret of the statue on top of the hull, for some reason. Angler impatiently watched them struggle to correct the position of the turret, but then noticed that a large group of tanks was approaching them from one of the streets.

He whirled around, which made his brand new cape flutter - it was part of a sophisticated, pompous outfit that he had them tailor for him the other day. The moment he noticed who was approaching him, and the grim look on Neil's features, Angler knew that something not so good was about to happen.

"...Hi," Angler said as the group reached him. They all looked at him rather darkly, some of them holding torches. It all looked very official and ominous. The Luchses that were working on the statue stopped their task to stare as well.

"Your Grace," Neil said sternly. "There is something I need to tell you about."

Even though Angler felt like this time he wouldn't be able to just worm himself out of the situation, he tried anyway... just out of habit.

"Uh, Neil, don't you see I'm doing something? Can't it wait?"

"No, your Grace. This cannot wait," Neil said with a hint of irritation in his voice. Then, his volume grew louder and more official as he gestured at the assembled crowd. "We have gathered here to fulfill the prophecy!"

"To... what? What do you mean?" Angler asked, feeling even more uneasy. Something was going on and he didn't like it.

"Well, you see - it turns out we've been reading the texts wrong. You were never meant to fight the Skytank..." Neil clarified.

Angler thought that was great news, actually. Why'd they all look so angry, though? Wasn't it a big relief? 

"Oh really? Cool beans," he said.

Then, Neil went on.

"... you were always meant to be a sacrifice for it!"

The crowd started cheering, and Angler yelped. Before he could even do anything, the Luchses all swarmed him and tied him up with tow ropes, while he loudly protested - in vain, of course. He didn't have any ammo with him either, so defending himself wasn't an option.

"You can't just-" Angler cried, "Wait!! I'm-"

The Luchses could. And they didn't wait.

As soon as he was tied up enough to be unable to move even in the slightest, they started pulling on the ropes and towed him out of the square. Lots of onlookers showed up in the streets, and the seer explained to them what was going on, which resulted in them cheering as well and joining the procession.

They towed Angler all the way out of the hangar, and up the ramp to the exit that the supply squads always used to leave the underground complex and look for food. Going up there however always meant exposing oneself to the Skytank.

Angler had stopped struggling and had started just regretting everything he had done and said since he had fallen into the Luchses' bunker. It had all been going so well at first... and now he was being sacrificed! Oh no...

They soon reached the surface, and it was actually the first time Angler saw anything but the underground in weeks. The sunlight was kind of blinding... He squinted against the bright sky. A lot of the Luchses hadn't dared to go all the way to out here, so only a small group remained to transport their Messiah to the edge of the village above. Even they looked around nervously, their optics anxiously scanning the sky for their scourge.

They quickly tied Angler to a big rock. Then, they all scuttled away in a hurry, back into their bunker. Only Neil remained for a bit longer, and turned to the skies.

"Skytank! We have brought you a sacrifice! Please accept it and end your terror, so we might return to the light one day!!"

With that, he did a last little bow to Angler and ran off as well.

Angler watched the Luchs disappear back into the underground, and started struggling again.

"God dammit!" he cursed. Maybe he would be able to free himself... The tow ropes were kind of blocking the hatches of his arms though. They had wrapped him up really thoroughly. Even if the plane didn't show up to kill him, he needed to figure out a way to get away from here. He wasn't keen on starving while tied to a rock!

Trying his best to just drive off, he found that some of the rope got tangled up in his tracks as well. Well, this sucked.

"Hello?! Anyone around??" he tried to shout. And truly, he heard an engine noise... but from above. Angler froze and looked up with fear in his optics. He could see a silhouette approach from not far away... The Skytank...! This was his end!

But instead of shooting, it just seemed to fly over him without any interest shown in its sacrifice. Angler struggled against his ties nevertheless, but unsuccessfully.

The engine noise died down somewhat soon after, and at first, nothing else happened.

Had the Skytank not seen him...?

Before he could breathe a sigh of relief, he noticed movement... on the ground?

With wide optics, he watched as the winged vehicle approached him from the meadows, rolling along the road with small wheels. Despite the fact that its wings were folded up, it was still a huge machine, looking even more intimidating now that he could see it from up close.

It was impossible to read any expression on the machine's cockpit; its ways of expressing its emotions were probably drastically different from a ground-tank and alien to Angler. There was a sort of face painted onto its nose as well, an intimidating animal grimace. It was still rolling closer, until it almost stood right next to Angler. Then, it finally halted.

Angler was a trembling mess by then. He had never been so afraid in his life, ever. He couldn't even say anything. The silence between the two machines stretched on seemingly infinitely, as the Skytank tilted its whole hull a little as it apparently eyed its sacrifice.

Then, suddenly, it extended an arm from below its wing and reached out to Angler, poking him in the turret. Angler felt like he was about to faint.

Finally, the Skytank spoke. Its voice was rough, and loud, but not overly hostile.

"What the hell happened to you?" it asked.

It took Angler a while to respond.

"I- I'm... your s-s-sacrifice," he stammered. Wait, he probably shouldn't have said that...!

"My... oh!"

The Skytank stared for a moment, looking vaguely displeased, even though Angler really couldn't tell. But then, it suddenly burst out into laughter.

"What! Did they-" it wheezed between cackling. "Did the Luchses do that?! Did they take you here?"

Angler tried to nod, but still was too tied up to do even that. He chirped a fearful "Yes!" instead. "I ran from you and fell down into their- their bunker! T-They made me their god, but-... but got tired of it, I guess!"

The Skytank's laughter got more severe.

"Oh my, that's freaking hysterical! They made you their-...! I can't believe it!"

"I know, right?" Angler replied with a nervous laugh. Oh god, what was he even saying!

The Skytank seemed to calm down somewhat and brought up two arms to cross them while tilting its whole hull again.

"You know," it went on in an almost friendly tone, "this isn't the first time they offered me a 'sacrifice', actually. They sometimes take one of their own to the surface to appease me. But never a foreigner."

"Oh, really?" Angler said. "I didn't know that!"

"Ehh," the Skytank replied with a wave of its hand. "It's been a while since the last one. I thought they wouldn't send any new ones anymore. I mean, I get why. It doesn't work, from their perspective." The Skytank tilted its hull the other way and its voice turned mischievous. "I still keep terrorizing them. And they don't know that I always let the sacrifices go, with the condition that they never return and don't tell the others."

That actually gave Angler a sliver of hope.

"You always let them go? So, uh, you'll let me go, too?" he asked with an anxious smile.

The Skytank's expression and tone didn't change.

"Except for this time, I guess! You're not a Luchs, can you imagine my one-sided diet? I can't wait to see how different your oil tastes!"

Angler's fearful gasp made the Skytank break out into laughter again.

"I'm kidding!" it giggled and started untying the tow ropes from Angler's hull and turret. The Chaffee was too dumbfounded to contribute to the task or even move at all at first.

As soon as he was free, however, the Skytank gave him a little nudge.

"Shoo! Run away, before I change my mind!"

Angler intended to do that indeed and started driving off in a hurry. But as the Skytank turned to leave as well, Angler actually wanted to know something. He turned around and shouted, "Hey, wait!"

The Skytank was in the process of unfolding its wings, but turned around halfway as well.

"What?" it asked.

"Why do you release the sacrifices but keep bullying the rest anyway?" Angler asked with a tilted cannon.

The Skytank shrugged its wings before replying.

"Well, a plane's gotta eat, you know! It's so convenient when your fuel supply lives in the same place always. And they're polite enough to only send out small squads or individuals every time - I can easily take them on. Until they run out of tanks down there, I'll keep living off them comfortably."

That was... a much more pragmatic reason than Angler had expected, especially after living with the Luchses for a while and hearing all their elaborate legends. But it made a lot of sense.

"Understandable. Have a nice day," he said with a mock salute and zoomed off.

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9 Jan, 2021 16:35

Hahaha! I was *not* expecting that answer.

Author of Fillimet, bright fantasy land of possibilities, and Vazdimet, its darker spacefaring future.
10 Jan, 2021 10:59

Neither was Angler x)


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