Chapter 04: Night of the Living Dead
Disclaimer: Rifts, its contents and constituent materials along with any other parts of the Palladium Megaverse are the property of Palladium Books. While my OC's were created by me they were created with the Occupational and Racial Character Classes from Palladium and as such I give them their due. Similarly I own nothing related to Ranma ½ either. I have no money but if they think this is good enough to make a book of it I would be very thankful for the opportunity.
After leaving their comrade with the doctor Broli and Maverick stepped out into the night of the small town with a somber atmosphere that matched the gloom. Lanterns cast light onto the main streets which bled slightly into the abyssal darkness. To the pair it seemed to fit the situation well. Reaching the truck the pair drove in silence to a small bar that offered an upstairs inn as well. Parking in front of the building the two got out and walked into the building. Being to the east of Lone Star and the Pecos Empire the inn lacked the style that was prevalent there and in the New West. Turning to Broli Maverick said, "Let's try and get rooms close to each other, just in case Cap'n Cadaver comes back."
Responding to the statement with a weak smile flitting across his lipless mouth Broli said, "Makes sense. All things considered we got lucky and I wouldn't be surprised if he brought friends. If only I could recharge the magic energy clips for my gun."
Perking up, "Oh I can take care of that. Since I use the clip model of pistol figured it would be good to bring a magic energy charger with me. Once we get our rooms just swing by with your empties and I'll hook you up."
"Thanks," Broli said, glad that he wouldn't have to pay the almost criminal price of recharging his clips, especially since Sir Ranma was in no position to do so himself. While powerful and able to harm things that mundane weapons couldn't even touch the cost to recharge the magic energy clips was ten times the normal recharge cost and Broli was getting low.
Reaching the desk for the inn the pair rang the bell and waited for service. A young attendant walked up to the desk, looking like she was not particularly pleased to be pulling the night shift. Turning to the two customers she put on a practiced smile and said, "How may I help you?"
Seeing that Maverick was distracted Broli took the initiative and responded saying, "Yes we need a couple of rooms, close to each other if you could."
"Alright just a moment sir," the attendant said, turning to fulfill the order. As she did that the squilb squire resisted the urge to drum his fingers. While not an impatient man by nature Broli wanted to get his armor fixed or, better yet, replaced in case the worst did happen. Taking in the surroundings he noticed a rowdy group of individuals taking up a pair of tables in the corner of the rustic establishment. Near the group was an apparently refurbished juke box was blaring rock music, obviously the work of the individuals at the tables.
"Hey Broli, here is your room keys," Maverick said, breaking the man from his reverie as he handed over the keys. Checking the room number he picked up his bags and walked towards the stairs that would take them to the rooms upstairs. Casting one last glance around the bar Broli passed the two stuffed alligators which flanked the stairs and ascended. Reaching the second floor Broli took some pleasure in hearing a marked decrease in the noise from the crowd downstairs. 'Well that is one worry gone,' he thought gratefully.
"Not bad," Maverick commented as he followed up behind his large companion and appreciating the simple, homey décor the hotel floor possessed. Heading to his room Maverick asked, "Hey Broli you turning in for the night?"
"Naw I'm going to head out and try to get my armor fixed, you?"
"I'm probably get some rest after settling in, bring your clips in before heading out and I'll take care of them," Maverick said as he entered his own room. It was a fairly basic affair, though nicer than the dive he was in before. Walking up to the dresser he removed his hat-shaped TW Quick-Draw helmet and ran his hand through his short-cut brown hair to get rid of the case of hat-hair the device caused. Rubbing his eyes the young techno-wizard fought down his exasperation. He had recognized TC and the rest of her gang celebrating below. That could only mean they had decided to rob somebody and were celebrating a score, which meant they would be in no shape to do much of anything tomorrow.
"Well at least they are here," the man sighed as he set up his magic energy clip recharger.
Back at the hospital the doctor had been forced to replace the upper arm bone in his young patient with a molecularly bonded ceramic copy. Now was the arduous task of reconnecting the nerves and blood vessels to the torn limb so that it could be used again. Taking a moment to wipe the sweat from him his brow the middle-aged man blinked to readjust his vision from staring too long into his micro-surgical equipment. Taking a swig of some coffee he had recently brewed he hoped that whatever had injured the young man on the table. After a brief rest the man bent over his equipment again and continued with his surgery.
Having dropped off his magic energy clips for a recharge with Maverick the squire set out carrying a large sack which contained his ruined suit of armor. He would need to get it replaced before they were attacked again, which Broli did not doubt for an instant. Schooled in undead lore he was sure that the surviving murder wraith of the pair that had attacked them had a master who would not be pleased that one of his slaves was destroyed. Considering that his armor was not fit to see combat again and he had to either get it fixed or replace it. Walking down the illuminated streets of the small town Broli noticed a lot of businesses which catered to travelers, most likely bound for a nearby port or port-city near the Mississippi River. Looking at the signs Broli noticed one that advertised arms and armor and he went in.
Set in a solidly-built red-brick building the establishment gave the impression of brisk business and although the weapons and armor offered were fairly common they looked to be in good shape. Passing through racks of Northern Gun and Wilk's manufactured weapons Broli headed to the front counter to get his armor examined. He was greeted at the front by a hairless blue D-Bee with large, round eyes bugging out of his head and a small, clawed finger-like mandible on each side of his lipless mouth, a fingertooth carpetbagger who tipped his derby hat in acknowledgement. "Good evening fine sir, what can I do you for?"
"I need to see if my armor can get repaired and, if not, I'll need a new suit," Broli said to the man as he set his sack on the table to remove his damaged breastplate. Broken and caved there seemed little hope for the trusty light armor that had served him since joining the Order of the White Rose but Broli held out some hope. Fortunately the armor crafted by the Order could be repaired by mundane means, assuming there wasn't something that crippled the suit.
"Well that is some nasty damage you got there," the proprietor said as he examined the damaged suit of armor. "Let me take a look at this under the scope and see if this is salvageable. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes. While you wait why don't you check out some of our merchandise?"
"Thank you I will," Broli said as the man took the breastplate into the back where he could put it under an electron microscope to check the molecular structure for something that would render the suit useless. As he left Broli walked over to one of the display cases which proudly presented several different types of plasma cannons with price tags set up below them. While not in the market for a new gun it was always nice to check if a new weapon had entered the market so he could learn about it before having to encounter it in combat, where the price of education could be far higher. Having reviewed the various cannons and not seeing a weapon he wasn't familiar with Broli turned towards a rack of vibro-weapons and, seeing a vibro-glaive that looked interesting, picked it up.
With mounting anger Warlord Cid tightened his grip on his corrupt Executioner's Blade as reports of delays kept flowing in. The brodkil and corrupt had taken the news on Freddy and Hannibal's deployment as permission to knock off for the night. Now the corrupt were off seeking to amuse themselves with torture and violence while the brodkil were fighting and drinking as usual. The way things were going night would pass and he would miss his chance. "MARCUS," Cid yelled out.
"Yes warlord," the witch of Death said as he appeared beside the leader of their cell.
"We are encountering too many delays, look into the future and see if our prey will escape."
Closing his eyes Marcus drew upon the psychic powers granted to him by his union with the Horseman of Death and cast his mind into the future. As that happened Cid, never the most patient of men resisted the desire to pace at the delay, he wanted to march on the town and take the item without any further delays. Everyone in the town would, naturally, have to die to maintain operational secrecy and the prospect of such mass sacrifice to the leader of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse excited the ogre necromancer greatly. He would have to remember to discipline his troops for causing these delays.
Opening his eyes Marcus reported his vision saying, "The enemy is bound for the day and shall not be able to leave quickly. However we should not wait to trap them my lord."
Considering the report of his witch's clairvoyant vision Cid considered his options. If he could trap his prey in the town until dusk then he could strike and bring the full force of his army to bear with ensuring the maximum operating time for his murder wraiths. While the limitation to night-time operations with the undead juicers was annoying it was something that the former Grim Reaper cult-leader had grown used to. Commanding armies, on the other hand, was still a somewhat new experience having joined the Covenant only two years ago, after a failed plot to attempt and overthrow the Grim Reaper's master, Aramis Knight. His cell, a relatively new one, had been wiped out in a sudden attack and Cid had been forced to flee for his life with his own murder wraiths. He had been living on the lamb, seeking to sell his knowledge to another cult while gathering followers for his own eventual revenge when he had been recruited into the Covenant. Coming to a decision he issued his commands, "Gather the troops, we shall perform recon and prepare for the night's assault."
"Yes my lord," Marcus said before walking off.
An hour later the zombies were loaded onto a pair of buses, the slaves were loaded and the other forces were gathered. Seated upon a throne borne by eight slaves Warlord Cid Sanchez thrust his bio-wizardry axe and commanded, "MARCH!" With that the army set off for Bourbon with evil intent.
Back at the shop the store vendor had returned to find Broli testing out a vibro-vogue from the rack. Seeing that the man was skilled with the weapon, a trait not seen in many mercs, made the D-Bee smile. "Ya like that weapon there eh," he said, drawing Broli out of his tests.
"It's a fine blade; do you have the same thing with silver-plating?" Broli asked, putting the vibro-vogue up as he spoke.
"Always good so close to vampire territory but I'm afraid there aren't enough pole arm customers to justify it. I can get that one plated for you by morning if you want, it'll cost ya extra though," the shopkeeper said, hoping the dog would bite.
Weighing the value of having another weapon he was skilled in versus the cost Broli made his choice, "Yeah I will. Now what about my armor?"
"That's not so good," the fingertooth carpetbagger said with a sigh. "The armor has microscopic cracks throughout its structure, its dead friend."
"I see," Broli said, slightly disappointed. Now, even if the plates were fixed of replaced the suit wouldn't hold together, it was just a walking deathtrap. 'At least it wasn't a deathtrap at the beginning,' Broli thought ruefully, unlike a Cheapwell suit.'
'On the other hand this could be an opportunity to step up,' Broli thought, his spirits lifting. While he did like the freedom of movement offered by his armor Broli had always wanted to save up for a suit with better protection and that was environmentally sealed. However, while average in height for his species, squilbs were tall and at eight feet Broli would need a new suit of armor modified to fit his massive frame. Looking at the displays of armor his eyes stopped at a suit of armor that looked like a modern take of a medieval suit of armor. Turning to the vendor he said, "I'll take the suit of Crusader armor, in red if possible, assuming that it can be modified to fit me of course."
"It shouldn't be too much of a problem sir," the shopkeeper replied, pleased at the choice, "Let me ring you up and then we will get right to it."
Outside of the town of Bourbon, in one of the small family farms that lived near the town and sold their produce at the markets in Bourbon. Inside the house the family had gone to sleep after another hard day of work save for one person. Out in the shed Tom, the youngest son of the family, was working on a tractor that had given out this morning. He would have gotten to the labor sooner but his apprenticeship at a mechanics shop in town had prevented him and while his pa was proud that one of his four sons was learning to work on robots and the like but that didn't mean Tom wouldn't have to help the family out. It didn't really bother the young man as he enjoyed working with machines and had little need for sleep.
Finishing up his work on the engine the young man wiped the sweat from his brow, taking a moment to admire the fruits of his labor. It was then that he heard some rustling which caused him to turn around in surprise. While the microwave fence they had recently installed would keep out most of the local creatures that might come around every so often something dangerous would get in. Picking up the ion rifle he had brought Tom began checking around the shed. Slowly making his way around so as not to alert whatever might be there he began heading in the direction of the noise to investigate.
As he advanced around the back he saw nothing, which did little to calm his nerves. "Is anyone there?" Tom asked as he peeked around the corner. Suddenly the lights died, casting the interior of the room into darkness. Guided by the wan moonlight cast by the pale harvest moon, which lent an unreal, ghostly quality, Tom fled the shed and whatever might have been there. His flight into the ghostly night was heightened as a predatory snarl erupted behind him. Hearing the sounds of something running along the top of the tractor Tom leapt for the exit while spinning around to fire a wild burst of ion fire in the direction of the sound before falling to the ground. Scrambling to his feet from the landing Tom began to bring up his rifle again when a black blur launched at him from the shadows. Before the rifle could be brought to bear it was swatted out of Tom's hands with an incredibly strong backhand and he was again hurled to the ground.
Looking up Tom could finally see the form of his attacker. Clad in leather straps and spiked black armor with large pauldrons little could be seen to indicate what this humanoid was, though the scaly hands ending in wicked talons ruled out him ever being human. Even his helmet concealed all of his features, saving for the two glowing orbs where his eyes should have been. Around the neck of the black-clad monster was a fetish necklace made of human fingers, eyes and ears, held together by strings of sinew, adding to the feeling of unnatural terror the beast exuded. Seeing the hunched figure stalking towards him Tom knew he was going to die. Suddenly the monster's claws lashed out and Tom felt agony erupt into his chest and saw the beast's hand retract clutching his beating heart. As the darkness closed in on him he heard the creature chuckle as he crushed the organ in his hand saying in a guttural voice, "Oops."
Savoring the feeling of the dead man's energy as he consumed it the corrupt flicked the blood and gore from his hand before signaling to his superior. Looking down at the cooling corpse at his feet some distant part of the creature remembered that he had once been as weak and human as the thing at his feet. Then had come the being the corrupt call The Liberator who had taken his weakness and given him strength along with the clarity of thought to properly revel in destruction and bloodshed and he had been reborn. Drawn from his reverie by his superior, the murder wraith Freddy, approaching him along with another corrupt who was assigned to this hunting team the monster waited for orders.
"Nice work," Freddy said glancing at the corpse. While he didn't know why the order had come to clean out the farms surrounding Bourbon he wasn't going to make a fuss over it. Not only was it fun but he and some of the boys could stand to get some food before the killing began in earnest.
Turning to the farm house Freddy drew his pistol and snapped off a quick shot, obliterating the barking dog on the porch. Looking back at the two corrupt that had come with him he said, "Alright boys you know the orders. Let's have some fun."
Feeling like a team of mining cyborgs were excavating the inside of her skull TC, leader of the Desert Raiders struggled to open her bleary eyes, which protested as burning light seared through the openings. Wincing at the brightness she began massaging her aching skull in hopes that the pain would go away. Recovering somewhat TC crawled out of bed and, using the small coffee pot in her room, began brewing some strong coffee as she headed for the shower. Washing off the grim of the evening, 'Or was it morning?' the woman thought as she began to remember what she had to do today.
"Oh yeah I gotta meet my cousin today," she said as she turned off the water and reached for a towel. When her younger cousin had come to her asking for help in finding out who had attacked his guild TC had agreed without any real hesitation and, to be honest, didn't mind helping him out. If anything this hunt was expanding their hunting grounds and providing a break from the stress of the vampire-hunting operations they had been taking for the AMC lately. One of the things TC had decided on when she formed the gang was that they would not raid Arzno itself. That meant they had to range further out into the New West, often as far as the Baronys in search of plunder or on vampire hunting missions for the AMC but at least at home they didn't have to worry about the authorities looking for them. It also gave them an extensive knowledge of the terrain beyond the city-states boarders which was why her cousin had asked for their help in the first place.
As she finished dressing TC heard a knock at her door. Walking over she opened the door to see her cousin standing there, clad in his usual worn WWII bomber jacket and looking like wide awake. For a moment TC cursed his luck, not only was he brilliant but a natural early riser, a trait TC lacked on her best days. Putting her feelings aside and a sardonic grin on her face, while hoping she didn't look as bad as she felt, TC greeted him saying, "Morn'n Benny."
At the use of his childhood nickname Maverick deflated slightly and said, "How many times have I told you not to call me that TC?"
"Don't remember, stopped counting long ago," she replied as she passed him and headed down the hall. "You coming?"
Sighing in defeat Benjamin Carlton, or Maverick as he preferred to be called, stuffed his hands into his cargo pants and trailed after his older cousin muttering, "Yeah yeah hold yer horses."
Having followed his cousin to the lower floor Maverick joined her at a table and ordered some breakfast. Taking a slug of the strongest coffee they had TC looked over at her cousin and dove straight in. "Saw yer new company, what gives?"
Maverick simply waved off the comment saying, "Just some guys I ran into in New Beaumont, we had to shoot our way out and just happened to come together. However something interesting happened last night, I think I've got a lead."
Perking up TC looked over at him intently asking, "What happened?"
"At night we were attacked by some of the guys who attacked the guild hit us in the night, it was those odd juicers. Apparently they are some kind of undead juicers called murder wraiths."
"Did you learn anything?" TC asked excited, and glad that her little cousin had survived the encounter, after all Aunt Mary had made clear what would happen if her son got himself killed. Since their parents jointly owned a robotics garage the two had basically grew up together. Whereas her cousin had shown an aptitude for magic and engineering she had learned much about combat from the mercs who got their equipment fixed there and had set up her own gang of mercenaries and bandits. That said she was still a little scared of what her aunt could do when she lost her temper.
At that point their meals had arrived and Maverick speared some eggs with his fork to eat before answering, "Unfortunately they were too dangerous to risk taking alive and Mustang, one of the guy's I was with…"
"Wait there was another guy?" TC asked.
"Yeah, he's getting an arm reattached, long story. Anyhoo he went nuts when one of the two ripped an arm off him, not that he hadn't been doing a fair job disassembling the thing already. How's yours by the way?"
Stopping with a forkful of pancakes midway between plate and mouth TC replied, "Pretty good. So what happened to the remaining wraith?"
"He decided to book when his partner bought it and fled. Broli, the guy you saw with me, was in no shape to pursue and I knew I had probably used up my luck for the next week with that fight. They were sloppy, obviously didn't think we were a threat and couldn't adjust to how they fought back when conventional weapons could kill them," sighing he ate some more before finishing, "We got lucky this time, next time he'll be ready."
"So you're planning on following those two?" TC asked, concerned for his safety.
"I'm thinking about it. My guess is that these two were looking for something and this guy will come back, possibly with his master or someone else I could get some answers from. Besides I'm curious about Mustang and Broli, a bit too secretive if you feel me," Maverick said.
Nodding as she chewed TC began considering what they would do next. "I'll back you up if you need it but I think we should make sure the guys are ready for nightfall, if I were that wraith's master I would want to follow up with a major assault as soon as possible while you're still off-balance and wounded."
Maverick nodded; having an eerie feeling his cousin was right.
"So," TC said, breaking the mood, "any progress on cracking the hat."
Scowling Maverick said, "No I have been trying to figure out how my Avester made it or how to make something more practical." While it was true that Maverick greatly respected his fallen mentor and was willing to use the devices he had made, he still thought a metal cowboy hat looked a little goofy. However the secrets to creating an targeting system like it had continued to elude the young techno-wizard. The pair then finished their meals in peace, chatting about more mundane issues before going and preparing for the coming day.
It was midday and the sun had just passed its zenith in the heavens when a disgruntled Broli walked out of the doctor's office. Apparently the nerve reattachment was taking longer than he had originally estimated and he wouldn't recover until late tonight or early tomorrow. Apparently the healing, which had been necessary to save Ranma at the time, had closed wounds which needed to be reopened if the arm was to be put back together and that was taking time. That they couldn't move right away was troubling. Murder Wraiths were the product of the Grim Reapers death cult so it was almost certain that the monster that had fled would be reporting to a master who would send him back, probably with greater numbers. 'The real question,' he thought, 'is if they were after us or Maverick.'
His ruminations about the threat were interrupted as he overheard a commotion ahead of him. Jogging forward he saw a group of people crowded around a child. He was filthy and barely clad in ragged shorts with numerous cuts and burns on his body but it was the look in his eyes that was the most horrible to Broli. The boy's eyes were empty and hollow, devoid of life of any signs of a soul, a shattered being. Currently several people were holding the child, shaking him and trying to get answers from the incoherent youth. "What's going on here?" the squire demanded the feeling of crisis lending strength to his voice.
"He just wandered into town like that," somebody in the panicked throng said, "We don't know what is happening beyond that."
"He is in shock," Broli replied, his feeling of unease from before growing. However before he could act another person began muscling through the crowd. He was a wolven male clad in Triax Explorer armor, modified for his lupine anatomy, with a bronze star proclaiming him sheriff.
"Boy what happened?" the sheriff demanded taking him by the shoulders and looking him in the eyes. Recognizing the man a small spark of life entered the child's eyes and he started to weep uncontrollably. "Somebody get a doctor," the wolven commanded, snapping the throng into action as he tried to comfort the crying child.
Seeing there was little he could do right now Broli went in search of Maverick, it looks like they might have a fight on their hands tonight.
After getting the story from the tortured child the sheriff called out his deputies and the militia along with any armed beings to counter the threat that was going to befall them. Scouting had revealed that the surrounding farms had been butchered to a man and the roads trapped, locking them in. In response this group had gathered to plan and organize a defense against the attack that everyone knew was coming. Sitting among the others Broli watched the gathering with a practiced eye, wishing that Sir Ranma would be able to join in the fight. Not only would his skills be missed but he had no doubt that the enemy would attempt to avenge the other wraith, if only to assuage his pride after running.
Studying the people around them Broli was fairly impressed with their numbers. The people who had been in the hotel with them last night had cleaned up and were in attendance, their rough edge and with heavier arms than the bulk of those in attendance. Apparently they were with Maverick as he stood next to a female warrior who seemed to be their leader. In addition there was a large number of militia wearing an assortment of armor and, to his expert eye, seemed to have less combat experience. Finally there were the six deputies who stood at attention behind a podium where the sheriff was going to address the assembled people. The room was rather cramped for the number of people and had obviously not been used in some time. The fact that these disparate groups did not do anything to reduce the tension, with rumors of what had happened flying nobody wanted to sit around and wait.
Without preamble the sheriff, clad in his armor and with his helmet clipped at his waist, approached the podium and addressed the assembled fighters. Clearing his throat to call attention to the front the wolven began to speak, "Gentlemen I'm sure you've heard the rumors and I am going to set things straight, we are under siege. Sometime last night a force of monsters of undetermined size have killed the families around the surrounding communities and laid traps on the roadways into the town. I have talked with the mayor and have come up with a plan to handle the attack."
Someone in the crowd chose that moment to speak up, "Sheriff if they have been set up this long why haven't we been attacked already?"
The question was met with grumbles of acknowledgement and the sheriff was quick to respond, "We believe that the enemy if, either in part or in whole, limited to night operations so the generators will be left on to night so the lights can remain on. Also tonight we are instructing that all noncombatants to hide in the shelters tonight, allowing us to fight freely. Also we will be blockading the roadways to hinder access and secreting weapons caches so you can switch weapons if needed."
Broli listened carefully to the plan, taking careful notes of dispositions and where traps would be set, fully intent on making sure that the monsters assailing Bourbon would be punished for what they had done.
Watching the sun set across the horizon Marcus watched the sun creep ever downward with anticipation, his familiar perched on his shoulder. Forgoing his normal black robes the witch had chosen his bone plate armor, not that he needed it but best not to advertise his supernatural power. Once Warlord Cid had made up for this mistake then things could really begin. With confident strides he came to the clearing where Freddy had been shackled to the ground, in full view of the daylight. While not fatal to them as it is to vampires the sun weakened and irritated murder wraiths greatly, that Cid had pried the undead's eyes open with silver hooks, forcing him to see the sun, would be only a greater cruelty.
Smirking at the stoically silent monster Marcus said, "Are you ready to get up yet?"
Biting back a snarl at the sarcastic words Freddy merely said, "If you would." As much as he hated his master he also loathed the witch. While still human the powers granted to him by the Horseman of Death made him a powerhouse even the undead juicers could not ignore and it grated on Freddy to know that. However he was not about to let the condescending puppet know just how much he wanted the other man dead… yet.
Deciding it was not wise to waste time the witch ripped the hooks from Freddy's eyes and unchained his limbs. Allowing the murder wraith to rise on his own the witch looked at him and said, "Come it is time for us to kill again."
"Good," Freddy replied, eager to vent his rage on those who had humiliated him. Together the two turned back towards camp to rejoin the army.
Back in the town Broli watched the setting sun with determined anticipation. Last night he had failed his master and allowed him to come to harm, hefting his cannon the squire resolved it would not happen again. To ensure that he had joined the team guarding the hospital, which would serve any wounded who managed to survive. With him six other soldiers carrying a variety of weapons and shotguns loaded with silver ammunition were patrolling the area in case the enemy decided to pick up some easy kills.
Taking a break from tracking the mighty star Broli took a moment to take the measure of the beings he would be fighting with. All of them were men and women defending their home town and they all knew that there would be many people who would not see the sunrise tomorrow. Still they were unwilling to meekly submit or flee their home merely because some Death cultists and their monsters had decided to make trouble and seeing that determination warmed the squire's heart. He too planed to show these monsters the measure of his valor.
Closer to the edge of the town Maverick waited behind cover with other militia members waiting for the enemy to come. They had spent the day making booby traps throughout the city and developing plans for a layered defense against whatever might be thrown at them. 'Hopefully it will be enough to see us through the night,' Maverick thought, knowing in the back of his mind that no amount of preparation would save everyone tonight. Around him were TC and the rest of her gang, ostensibly due to the fact they had less familiarity in the town's layout, along with a few natives. 'Yeah right,' Maverick thought, 'More like they are using the outsiders as fodder.'
"TC what do your eyes say?" he asked via radio. At his suggestion the two suits of Predator power armor that his cousin had had been sent up to provide early warning and an assessment of what they would be facing.
"So far so clear. Wait a minute…," his cousin said over the radio, "We've got movement, your murder wraith leading the charge with another really big one, about a couple dozen brodkil, some black armored guys moving too fast for humans, and a whole mess'a dead-look'n guys with rifles; zombies probably."
"Damn," Maverick cursed as he drew his TW Thundergun, this was just what he didn't want. "Well we knew tonight would be rough. Get one of the Predators down here and give him the detonator, I want him to hold for when the zombies come through, last thing we need is an army swarming us."
"Okay Benny, sounds like a good idea," TC said before signing off.
Sighing at his cousin's antics Maverick strained his ears and eyes trying to get an early warning of the incoming hoard. Suddenly the wraith from before charged into town and appeared before one of the defenders and, with a speed that would make a rattlesnake envious, ripped the man's heart out thru his chest. Those defenders not shocked into a stupor from the suddenness and violence of the attack turned their weapons on the undead juicer and unleashed a torrent of silver bullets at him.
It was like trying to gun down smoke as the wraith danced around the arcs of fire, a contemptuous sneer fixed firmly on his face as he began to taunt the defenders. "One, two Freddy's after you," he sang in a mocking sing-song voice, drawing ever closer to a pair of defenders.
"Three, four better lock the door," the wraith continued, reaching the unfortunate men and ripping their heads off from their shoulders before they could react.
Seeing another defender running the monster prepared to jump on him singing, "Five, six better run qui…"
He never finished as a sudden thunderclap accompanied an all-too familiar sense of pain exploding in his side, causing him to tumble. Coming up in a crouch Freddy snarled at the interruption of his fun when he noticed a familiar, and unwelcome, face. "Sorry I don't have time to play," Freddy said before snapping his rotted fingers and shouting, "GET'EM BOYS!"
Alerted by the hat Maverick turned to see two armored warriors leap over the barricade and dive towards him, claws poised for the kill. Knowing that he would only get one shot he brought his revolver into line and snapped off a shot. The enchanted silver bullet flew from the barrel to strike the monster in the shoulder, punching through his spiked pauldron with a loud clap and turning his dive into an uncontrolled tumble. Activating his armors magic barrier Maverick prepared for impact when a powerful bolt of plasma slammed into the creature, sending it flying. Turning for a moment he saw his cousin with her plasma cannon. Turning back to his own enemy, who was already rising, and put another two rounds into him. Seeing the creature was dead Maverick returned to the wall as more warriors and brodkil made a charge on the line.
"HOLD THE LINE," TC shouted, her voice distorted by her helmet. "HEWY, JOHNSON KEEP AN EYE OUT IN CASE DEAD-HEAD COMES BACK!"
"AYE," the two replied as they moved to comply with their boss' command.
Ducking a burst of rail-gun fire from one of the sub-demons TC popped up and snapped off a bolt from her plasma cannon at the sub-demons. While most of her experience was in fighting vampires the mercenary had some experience fighting brodkil and she hated them. It wasn't just that the bastards were incredibly tough or their propensity to using heavy firearms that made them so nasty it was the fact they were complete psychopaths. Dealing with creatures that seemed to only derive enjoyment from violence rubbed her the wrong way. Snapping off another pair of shots TC ducked as a mini-missile streaked over her head and into a storefront, blowing it apart.
Switching to his TW Starfire pistol for its greater range Maverick added his own contribution to the fire going at the sub-demons while the Predators made strafing runs with their pulse cannons. The fire from the defenders had cost the corrupt and brodkil the momentum but the renewed their charge and the mass of zombies came upon the battle. Leveling their guns with disturbing synchronicity the advancing hoard of over a hundred began sending a hail of poorly aimed laser bolts at the defenders. Making things worse an enormous corpse wielding a chainsaw charged towards their lines, ignoring all fire.
Seeing the situation was untenable Maverick ordered a retreat to the next line as the undead hoard approached, the words, fully expected, tasted like ash in his mouth. Making sure to fire back at the advancing enemy to slow them down Maverick and the others fled from their barricade just as the explosive trap was detonated, catching the enemy in a storm of silver-coated shrapnel. The trap had been expensive but it would be well worth it if the enemy's numerical superiority could be substantially reduced. The brodkil and corrupt who survived the attack screamed in rage and redoubled their efforts, catching up with the bulky murder wraith as he smashed through the barricade with a single mighty swing of his chainsaw. Without missing a beat the undead monster charged forward, reaching a pair of locals and tearing them apart with his blade even as they fled. With wicked whoops and cries the monstrous hoard surged through the breech, eager to slack their insatiable blood-lust.
Canceling the shadow meld spells they had been using to infiltrate while the army drew the enemy's attention Warlord Cid, Marcus and the cult mages emerged from the darkness of a shadowy street corner. Sticking to the back alleys the group of dark mages silently made their way further into the town in search of their objective. While Cid's initial desire had been to lead the charge, crush his enemies, see them driven before them and hear the lamentations of their women he had decided on another plan. Drawing an enchanted skull from his belt Cid asked it, "Where are the sacrifices I seek?"
"The hall at the center of town contains the prey you seek," the skull said in response to the question with its hollow voice.
Smiling under his skull-helm the ogre necromancer turned to his minions and said, "Let's hurry, the sooner we are done the sooner we can finish this."
Moving with determined strides the small force skulked through the darkness towards their target, drawing away from the main fighting. After taking a twisting path as they navigated the unfamiliar streets the group found a large building with no visible guards. Coming to a halt Cid peered at the building, trying to find any hidden guards that might indicate a greater importance to the structure. As he looked into the darkened building his keen eyes noticed movement within the building. Smiling with savage delight he knew in his gut he had found what he was looking for. Gesturing for the shifter in his ranks to come forward Cid commanded him, "Unleash the spirit."
Stepping forward the shifter raised his Domination Staff and unleashed the possessing entity trapped within with a thought. The entity exited the bio-wizard staff and flew towards the building.
Inside the community center Mark nervously sat, silently waiting for an attack that he, and the other guards, hoped would never come. It had been decided to plant a small contingent of the local guard would be placed in the center, which contained the largest of the city shelters. Suddenly Mark heard a panicked scream that degenerated into a terrible death-gurgle coming from behind him. Spinning around he saw that one of the two-man rail gun team in the nest in the back of the room had slit the throat of the other and was readying the gun to fire. "What are you doing?" Mark screamed even as he ducked from a wild stream of fire.
Not having the time to talk down the apparently insane man with the rail-gun Mark pulled out a pair of plasma grenades and threw them at the nest. With a blinding flash of light that temporarily burned away the darkness the grenades detonated, destroying the emplacement and killing the deranged gunner. However before the remaining guards could relax or get a handle on what had just happened the doors to the center flew open and black robed figures charged in, lead by a ferocious giant. One of the other guards prepared recovered faster and leveled his rifle at the charging figures but was struck down by tendrils of pitch-black lightning from the giant's hand.
Scrambling to his feet Mark leveled his particle beam rifle at one of the skull-masked men, who was wielding a sword made of light, and fired a bolt. The powerful energy bolt struck the charging man but was stopped by a magic barrier of some kind. His second shot was interrupted as a vulture with glowing red eyes wrenched the rifle from his hands. In the time it took him to draw his pistol the robed man got into melee range and slashed at him with his lightblade, gouging a deep trench in Mark's body armor. Desperate to get some fighting room Mark pistol-whipped the other man, hoping his apparent lack of a helmet meant he could harm the man, or at least disorient him.
Marcus almost felt a sense of satisfaction as he slid him lightblade into the chest of the worm who thought that he could oppose a witch of Death. Looking around he saw the other mages making short work of the token force, occasionally being beset by the possessing entity they had unleashed as well. Dispelling his blade Marcus walked to the ruined nest in case there was a survivor he could finish off. Finding none he turned to Cid and said, "Clear."
Sliming as he flicked the blood off of his Dead Demon's Hand, his necklace of dragon's teeth allowing him to see the weapon, the ogre began scanning the room. Not finding what he was looking for immediately he began making a careful examination of the room after commanding, "Search the building, it has to be here somewhere."
After several meetings of searching they found a doorway hidden behind a sliding cabinet. Once the way was cleared Marcus cast a spell to undo the locks and two of the necromancers pulled the door open. Taking the lead Cid strode down the hall casting a necro-armor spell, the magic barrier taking the form of a covering of rotting flesh, grave earth and bone fragments. Entering a larger chamber Cid looked around at the frightened, huddled masses before him and smiled with malevolent intent this was exactly what he wanted.
Coming up to the next major choke point Maverick was angry as he saw the sign of a massacre. The murder wraith had struck here and killed the squad stationed there and moved on. Seeing that from here on out it would be street fighting Maverick decided that gaining an aerial advantage would be for the best. "TC," he shouted, "I'm going to get my board."
"See you on the other side," his cousin said in reply as she turned to fire at a brodkil that was getting a little too accurate with his fire. Hearing the approach of the giant with the chainsaw TC added, "When you get back try and deal with big and ugly alright."
"I'm on it," Maverick said as he jogged down a side street, hoping he would see his cousin at the end of this. Taking several turns down other side streets, senses open for an ambush, Maverick made his way towards the hotel where his truck was located. As he approached his hat alerted him of incoming danger. Maverick threw himself into a roll and came up with his Thundergun leveled at the source of the attack. Where he had been standing he saw a humanoid figure armored in black plate adorned with spikes and leather straps with scaly hands sporting wicked claws covered in blood. Issuing forth a howl that no human throat could produce it charged forward, intent on ripping the techno-wizard to shreds.
Maverick was faster. A silver bullet flew from his Thundergun with the distinctive peel of thunder for which the gun was named and struck the monster center mass. The corrupt continued forward, seeming not to register the bullet which had torn a crater in his chest even as it began to regenerate.
'Damn I've got to work fast,' Maverick thought as he saw the creature healing. However before he could get another shot off the monster had closed the distance and attacked, claws racking against Maverick's magical barrier. Scrambling back to get some room Maverick fired another shot, cratering the vile monster's side. TW Thunderguns were most effective against supernatural creatures and in that regard Maverick was grateful for his enemy's choice of servants.
The corrupt responded with a savage snarl and backhanded Maverick off of his feet with his spiked gauntlet. Landing on his back Maverick shook off a daze quickly and fired at the monster once again. The round went wide as the creature lunged at Maverick, claws extended to finish him off. Recovering from his miss Maverick fired again and this time the bullet flew true and struck the creature between the glowing pits which were most likely its eyes, blowing his head apart and showering Maverick with black-green ichor.
Pushing the corpse off and trying to get as much of the blood and chunks off of him as possible before hiding in the shadows and opening his gun to reload his gun. After ejecting the empty shell cases from the revolver Maverick pulled out a speed loader and put fresh rounds in the gun. As he closed the cylinder Maverick focused his magical energy into the gun to energize the rounds. That completed Maverick walked to his truck and brought out his turbo wing board. Strapping his feet in Maverick channeled his energy into the device bringing it to life.
After rising above the town Maverick took a moment to regain his bearings before flying back towards the fight. 'Hang on guys,' he thought, hoping his cousin and her men would hold out until he returned.
Laughing as he danced between arcs of enemy fire Freddy amused himself with the mortals trying to harm him. While their forces had taken a beating with that trap they had set the prey was still no match before their might. Jason had finally caught up to him, fully regenerated from the explosion earlier and was using his TW chainsaw to cleave through a Chipwell Assault Suit, pilot and all. The brodkil, lacking the swift regenerative powers of their undead leaders, were still injured and some of their cybernetics were damaged but many of them were still in the fight, shooting and slashing with wild abandon at any enemies they could reach.
Cutting down the prey before him in an impressive spray of blood Jason turned to find his next kill. He had resented not being able to go on the last hunt and wanted to spill as much blood as possible before tonight's killing ended. Suddenly he felt a sensation on his back that told him he was damaged. It wasn't pain; pain had been nothing more than a faded memory for a long time, but it wasn't something he enjoyed and he would make the one responsible pay.
Resting her cannon on her shoulder TC fired a pair of silver-coated ram-jet rounds from her MP-10 Caseless pistol at the undead titian juicer carving up the defenders. As the rounds blasted large pits in the rotted flesh of the monster TC had to switch to her cannon to return fire at a brodkil who had decided taking pot-shots at her would be fun. As she fired she cursed the enemy for mixing his forces like this. The murder wraiths could only be hurt by silver weapons while the brodkil required conventional weapons to fight them effectively. It forced the defenders to carry more guns and ammo that was non-interchangeable, limiting their effectiveness against both. It was times like this that TC considered asking her cousin to build them a recharger for magic energy clips and switching to Stormspire TW weapons. While they cost ten times as much as conventional weapons but, because they were magic weapons, could damage just about any type of creature.
Watching the sub-demon back off TC returned her attention to the giant murder wraith, which was already regenerating from her previous shot. Fortunently years of experience fighting vampires along the Arzno boarder had given her experience with the speed of undead regeneration. Switching back to her pistol TC fired another shot only for the giant to dodge the bullet with more grace that a being with his size should possess. "Damn," TC cursed as the jet-propelled bullet sailed past its target. The rounds packed an incredible punch, enough to tear an unarmored man in two with a single shot, but could be difficult to obtain. Unfortunately as hard as they were fighting the defenders were slowly being chipped away at. Something needed to change or TC and the others would die.
Soaring towards the battle Maverick saw that things were not going well for the defenders. Seeing that his cousin was being charged by the undead giant with the massive chainsaw Maverick took aim and fired. The shot struck true, causing the monster to stop and look up before, much to Maverick's surprise, throwing his chainsaw at the flying techno-wizard.
Frantically dodging the flying, whirling blade of roaring death by hurriedly pulling up Maverick's second shot went wide and he was forced to keep moving as several brodkil with rail-guns or missile launchers decided to begin shooting at the Predators and himself. Passing around Maverick once again brought him into range of the undead monstrosity and opened fire with his Thundergun. The shot was true but the giant remained silent as he turned to lash out at a brave or foolish soul who had gotten too close. The murder wraith took the screaming man in his hand and squeezed hard. The molecularly bonded ceramic armor creaked ominously under the monstrous supernatural strength of the creature before violently shattering as the monster crushed the warrior like a grape.
Angry TC was about to unload another round into the monster but suddenly the other murder wraith appeared in front of her. Before she could react he had driven his fist into her armored stomach as he smiled evilly and asked, "Miss me?"
Fortunately, unlike the light armor worn by many of the militia, her NG-EX10 Gladius exo-skeleton was made of far sterner stuff and did not yield. Staggering back TC quickly snapped off a shot at Freddy. Catching the murder wraith in the shoulder and said, "Apparently not."
Growling at the flippant comment as much as the damage to his now ruined shoulder Freddy leapt onto a building roof as the armored bitch pulled out a second pistol and began taking shots at him. He would need to take some time to regenerate the shoulder and other wounds before he was willing to engage again. However that didn't mean he couldn't contribute a little. Taking aim with his forearm mounted Forearm Integral Weapon System (FIWS) at his foe he fired a pair of particle beam bolts at her. With some satisfaction Freddy watched her scramble for cover from his fire.
Veering wildly to evade a thrown car Maverick smiled as he began reloading his gun again and refreshed his barrier, silently vowing to learn an invisibility spell and build it in as soon as he could. Already he had suffered a number of strikes from rail-gun fire, never mind the giant throwing whatever it could at him. With a click as the cylinder returned to its place and a brief expenditure of energy Maverick was ready to fly back into combat. Hearing a crash below him Maverick juked to the side, barely avoiding a car that had been hurled at him. Looking down he saw that the giant murder wraith had decided to chase after him. 'Perfect,' Maverick thought, 'if I can draw him off then the rest of the troops will be able to use their numbers to win.'
"Hey chunk-style," Maverick shouted as he snapped off a shot at the monster, "Come and get me."
Jason was more than happy to oblige the insect that had been harassing him tonight. At the very least it would give him a chance to heal and hopefully deal with one of the two major annoyances of the night. Then he could crush the other and get back to the slaughter. Picking up a motorcycle and flinging it at his target Jason continued his chase, intent to swat the bug out of the sky.
The inside of the once clean community center now looked like a charnel house. The fifty or so civilians they had found had been forced from their shelter and sacrificed to restore the magical energy of the strike force, save for seventeen captives. Cid looked down at them with contempt as they knelt, held down by skeletal hands that had sprouted from the ground, and whimpering in terror. Their eyes tracked his movement, afraid of what new horrors he would inflict on them after seeing the senseless slaughter of their fellows.
Signaling for his shifter to come to him Cid worked to keep his anticipation in check. Once this was done he would be able to wade into combat and bring this matter to a close. As the black robed man approached he gestured towards the prisoners and said, "Do it."
The shifter merely smiled and drew his bloody sacrificial knife as he told his lord, "With pleasure."
Although he was having a problem getting opportunities to fire at the monster Maverick knew they were winning, from the chatter he had heard TC had taken over the defense and were finally making in-roads against the attackers. With luck they would be able to spare some men to help him out soon, before things get worse.
Then things got worse.
Without warning one of the larger buildings in town exploded as a giant monster emerged. It was huge; easily twenty feet tall at the head with a large, roundish body with a trio of thick, trunk-like legs around its body save for where it sported a broad fang-filled mouth and a trio of eye stalks that waved menacingly. One of the eyes locked onto a flying Predator that came in to strafe the beast and it fired a beam of light. The armor froze up and spiraled to the ground with a resounding boom.
"Damn," Maverick said, this fight had just gotten much, much harder.
From his position on the roof Freddy smiled as he saw his master's summoned greater demon begin to rampage in the town. Maggots were not the brightest of demons but more than made up with that in sheer physical and supernatural power. Suddenly his radio beeped; answering it Freddy received information that made his night.
"Go to the hospital east of the town center there you will find the item I seek. Find it, take it and kill anyone who gets in your way," Warlord Cid commanded.
"Yes, my master," Freddy replied with a smile. He was getting the mission that would make everything worth it, and with that the glory. Better still since it was a hospital maybe he would get lucky and find a baby or two, he felt in the mood for a snack. Breaking into a sprint he launched from rooftop to rooftop at speeds normally reserved for cars, a malevolent grin splitting his face. He soon came to the target building and jumped to the ground.
Landing in a crouch Freddy checked his surroundings to make sure he was unseen before approaching the building. In the lobby there were a half-dozen people, including the other bastard from last night. 'Time for some payback,' he thought with anticipation.
Broli's sixth sense was the only warning before the door shattered and a blackened blur surged into the room. Without hesitation the squire fired his cannon at the intruding undead. The tri-bolt of magical force missed its target and put a car-sized hole in the opposite wall. Meanwhile another guard brought his own gun up to bare but it was too late.
'Too easy,' Freddy thought, having already gotten inside the man's guard and delivering a punishing series of blows to his chest, denting the armor. The other men began to respond but they were like flies swimming in molasses whereas he was an eagle in the heavens. The D-Bee fired again and Freddy pulled the other man in front, using him as a living shield. Letting the now-corpse fall to the floor with a satisfying thud Freddy leaned away from a vibro-sword slash aimed at his head before breaking the swordsman's arm and giving him two quick double-blasts with his FIWS particle beam guns. A burst of silver bullets from a sub-machinegun struck him in the back and Freddy charged the shooter delivering a powerful haymaker to his unarmored head that shattered it like an over-ripened melon. Ripping out the headless man's spine the wraith flipped over a fourth and jamming it through his eye.
Seeing the murder wraith tearing his way through the others Broli realized that he wasn't holding back this time. Along with the sole remaining guard Broli fired his techno-wizard cannon at the undead juicer. The tri-bolt and silver bullets struck home earning a pained hiss before the murder wraith's form seemed to blur. Before the guard could react the murder wraith appeared in front of him, delivering a mighty, two-handed hammer blow that shattered the guard's Plastic Man armor and cratered his chest. Another shot was dodged as the murder wraith closed in and swatted the cannon away. Broli reached for his vibro-vogue but Freddy was faster, delivering a five-hit combo followed by a roundhouse kick that sent the squire flying through the hole in the wall and into the next building. As he dented the wall and fell to the ground Broli thought, 'I'm sorry Sir Ranma,' before losing consciousness.
Back in the hospital Freddy left the lounge and entered the hallway, searching for a victim. Stalking the halls with unnatural silence Freddy searched each room as he came to them, unwilling to leave anyone behind who could hinder his mission. Seeing a light at the end of the hall he flashed a predatory grin and crept closer. Peering inside he couldn't help but feel his excitement rise. 'Jackpot,' he thought, for within that room was the man who had killed Hannibal. Silent as death he crept up on the man and, unsheathing the vibro-claws in his FIWS, drew back his fist. Silently he whispered, "G'night Gracie," and struck.
Without warning Ranma's head jerked to the side, dodging the strike. Also Freddy felt a hand grasping him under his emaciated ribcage and throwing him into the wall. Flipping in midair and landing in a crouch Freddy's dead eyes widened in surprise. Sitting on the table was the knight, awake and sitting on the table with a sardonic smile on his face. Idly he withdrew a thorn from his utility belt and jammed it into the ragged flesh of his barely fixed arm. Freddy watched in surprise and vines moved to fill the gap in his flesh, healing the wound.
Flexing the newly healed arm as he got off of the table and settled into a stance Sir Ranma said, "Been waiting for you ugly. Let's dance."
Author's Notes: Sorry this took so long to produce, life got in the way. The next chapter will have the conclusion of the battle for Bourbon so it might be shorter than usual, depending on what the story requires. Also expect a lot more of Ranma in the next chapter.
Chipwell Armaments Inc. (a.k.a.: Cheapwell to its detractors) is a company that sells budget robotics. Their anti-vampire power armor is alright but most of their stuff is dangerously sub-par. No self-respecting mercenary would be caught dead in their stuff. That said there are good reasons for communities to buy their stuff, it is safer to have a militia with several suits of Chipwell power armor than a single champion in superior power armor (who might decide to take over). Also if you need ceremonial suits that are not going to see combat their Warmonger power armor fills that role nicely (otherwise it is a coffin).
Please Read and Review. Don't flame, it does no one any good.