Mary had checked twelve of the rooms, finding them all empty. The floorplan of the place seemed to be the exact same as the floor above. Her hand was trembling, starting to cramp from the strain of clenching her fingers around the wrapped handle of her weapon. Slipping it into her boot, she flexed her fingers, massaging her hand with the other, for an instant forgetting possible dangers and luxuriating in the blissful lack of pain.
she heard a scraping from down the hall, and dragging his left leg behind him, a
black masked Overseer stepped into view.
“Shut your flappin’ mouth!” He hissed at the gaudy who’d scraped a long red furrow into her arm. “If they hear you, I’ll gut you myself!”
Holding her arm close to her chest, blood beginning to smear, the woman bit her lip, and let go, feeling Morgan seize her waist, lowering her to the ground.
Tanna followed, tossing down her shotgun, which Morgan deftly caught, then held up his hands, Tanna dropping down the eight feet to land in his arms.
She blushed at the heat that seemed to radiate from him.
Morgan, for his part, tried and failed to avert his eyes from hers, and grinned instead.
Then he put her down.
The three of them looked up as another woman eased out of the window, hanging from the sill, dropping down into the big man’s a rms.
Sam took a last look around, remembering how, just a little beyond two weeks before he’d rented this room out to that ‘breed pack peddler, then after the Baron’s men had taken him away, to that mutie dicked prick who’d near fucked one of his best girls to death.
She’d blown his head off with his own blaster, then died herself, bleeding from the harm he’d inflicted.
Sam had remembered that longbarrel mere minutes ago, and had strapped it on, the chambers full, with several bullets remaining in the loops.
He then lowered his head, said a silent goodbye, and tossed a long strip of tied bedsheet out the window, following it himself, landing on his feet in the mud.
They all looked around, to make sure that no one had heard them, or were coming around to the back through the unlit alleyway.
The night was chill, and most of even the hardened hangers-on had left, leaving only seven or eight dead-eyed chillers at both front and back.
Hefting the hastily sewn bags full of blankets, food and some trading jack, they started down the way, Morgan leading, Tanna close behind.
Last in line, Sam pulled from his pocket an all-weather self light, the last of three he’d taken in trade for a drink from a scav from out west.
He looked at the strip of cloth, smelled the rotgut that soaked it.
“They ain’t gettin’ my place.”
Bobby-Ray scurried, the unlit lantern sloshing its contents.
Behind him, following silently at a leisurely pace, shambling figures moved, minds geared to obedience to their creator working, knowing that where there was one non-made, there would be more.
So Bobby-ray, the Judas goat, his brain seething with thoughts of Sam’s chilling trudged on, unaware.
He wasn’t far away now.
“Stop!” Morgan hissed.
Behind him, the others halted, almost running into each other.
Morgan looked out on the group before them. They milled about, some of the more adventurous stepping up to the boarded-up doors leading into the back of the former Casino and Gaudyhouse. They immediately jumped away, but it was as if, on some deep instinctive level, they knew that the building was empty.
“They know something’s going on,” Morgan whispered to Tanna. “But they don’t know what.”
“We can’t wait,” Tanna replied. “We only have…”
“As long as we want,” muttered Sam. He held the burned self-light up. “Fuckin’ flame zipped right up the strip, then went out ‘cause of some water dripping from the eaves. Stopped right before the window.”
“We are so fucked,” said Morgan under his breath. “And there they go.”
The group that had been milling about charged, driving themselves into and through the barriers that had stopped them before. Sam growled as they set foot into his beloved place.
Then he cheered considerably.
The way was clear!
Unspoken, as one they charged out of the alley, and ran down the dark back streets, heading for the nearest gate out of Rykerville.
Bobby-Ray lit the lantern with a sulfur-stinking self-light, the acrid smell catching in his nose, nearly making him sneeze.
Shouldering his way through the crowd at the front of the building, he pulled back his arm.
“See you in Hell!” He shouted, and threw.
The lantern arced, then smashed into the wall just above the boarded door, the liquid flame running down, pooling, then running under the barrier.
The cold-hearts that had rushed the back, stood in the empty main room, some of them rubbing where they’d jammed their spines, slipping on plastic gambling chips that had been scattered on the floor.
“What stinks?” someone demanded.
There was the shattering of glass outside, and the doorframe lit in an orange halo that worked its way towards the bottom of the door.
The building, soaked with water, was not in danger of burning.
Full of alcohol fumes, it was about to do far, far worse.
Instantly, the building shuddered and drew inward slightly, every door and window, every crack and hole shining with a pure, near colorless blue light.
Inside, fume saturated clothing and shuddering lungs burst into flames, the men within the rooms dying almost instantly in the purifying fire.
Outside, after an instant, the resulting explosion killed nearly everything within a hundred feet, knocking down the party racing away unseen in the darkness, and the group of mutants approaching to feed.
Sam’s place was gone.
And the fire, killed by the chem-storm lived again, the expanding fireball consuming the surrounding buildings like the voracious muties that picked themselves up, looking stupidly at the fire, and then hungrily at the flopping meat on the ground near it.
Mary pushed the door open again, re-entering the room she had exited mere seconds before. Sweat beaded her brow as she heard the step-drag of the Overseer approaching, then passing the entranceway.
She allowed herself a breath, then it caught in her throat as she remembered the rope, coiled on the floor, just outside the sliding doors.
Her mind blanked in fear for a second, then Mary shook her head violently, snapping herself out of it. She had to stop him from sounding the alarm, bringing the others around. She was so close to freedom, she felt.
Almost before she knew it, she’d bent down, pulling the shard from her boot again, and had eased the door open, the exposed back of the masked man lurching away. Mary stepped out slowly, checking her back before advancing on the unsuspecting man.
She raised the glass, her eyes on the junction between his shoulder and neck, envisioning the impact, the spray of…
Warned by something, perhaps a breath of air, or the scent of her sweat smelled at some deep level, the man stopped…and turned.
The Overseer stopped and stared, the smooth black leather of the mask covering any expression he might have had.
His body language, however spoke volumes to Mary.
A bit of fear.
Anger at having been surprised.
Pain as Mary’s foot shot out, catching him in the testicles.
He grunted, doubling over, feeling the mask pulled off as Mary stepped closer to him, grabbing the back of the covering.
Mary stomped down again, this time on the back of his right knee, sending him to the floor, and released the leather mask.
She grabbed greasy, sweat-slicked hair and yanked back hard, exposing the man’s throat.
The mirror slashed.
Blood sprayed the wall.
Little Mike stepped into the kitchen, the last place he’d seen Macgregor go.
Smelling the food that was beginning to burn, he turned piggy blue eyes to the flour sacks, wondering where Baco was.
He should be here, getting the day’s first meal ready for the Baron’s guards, instead of letting it burn. He snatched a biscuit from the table, munching it down, looking for something to wash it down with.
He saw a bucket and ladle at the other end of the table, and went over to it, dipping a cup full of water out, and quickly gulping it down.
Then, his head raised, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a hand, blue-tinged, scrabbling at the floor stones from under a pile of flour sacks.
Rushing over as fast as his bulk would allow, he heaved bags away, exposing the dead body of Delina, and the bluing body of Baco the cook.
The slut’s forehead was caved in, her eyes, dulling in death seemed to push out of her sockets.
The tip of her little finger was gone.
Baco, his eyes moving wildly, tried to pull himself towards the fire, making gagging sounds.
Little Mike flipped him over, saw that Baco’s face was smashed, like he’d been clubbed until his jaw snapped.
The skinny cook gave one last shudder, then stilled, blood gushing from his mouth.
Mike couldn’t have cared less.
He strode over to the alarm cord, a thick rope that every room with an entrance to the outside had. Hooked to a bell, it would alert the entire Keep in seconds.
There was danger in the Keep.
He pulled down.
And was surprised when the bell started ringing before the rope was taut.
Mary stabbed again, the glass knife getting slippery in her grip.
The man gurgled in horror as he felt the glass gouge him again, and tried to get away, struggling to stand even as blood poured down the side of his neck.
The blade broke inside the man, the cold glass burning in his flesh.
He tried to stumble away, pushing Mary aside, going back the way he came, trying to cry out, getting only a choked bubbling sound in return.
Mary stumbled back, then gritting her teeth, slammed her body into the other, driving him against the wall, leaving a spatter of crimson to run down.
She grabbed his hair, and pulled down, the Overseers weight so off-balanced that he did a complete somersault before hitting the floor. Mary climbed onto his chest, and ignoring the blood that slicked her fingers, bore down on the man’s throat.
Tightened her fingers, feeling the skin below depressing, the windpipe collapsing.
She gripped his upper body with her thighs, and in a parody of the sex she’d had with her lover, rode out the bucking and writhing as she throttled the life from the bleeding man.
She felt him give that final shudder, and relax, the only sound besides her harsh breathing was the sound of his boot heels scrabbling in death, the legs kicking out the last frenzied signals from the brain.
She sat there for only a second, looking at her blood-dripping hands with something akin to awe, then, realizing the immediate danger, she dismounted from the corpse, and gripping wrists in a bloody embrace, dragged him into the empty room nearest her.
Then she searched for whatever she could find, finally settling on ripping the man’s shirt off, and using the unstained part, quickly wiped up the blood that had pooled on the floor, and had splattered on the wall.
Most of it was still wet enough to soak into the shirt, but some was too dry, the congealing liquid smearing in streaks along the wall.
Even a blind man would know what’d happened here. But…
Mary didn’t know which door he’d come out of, but she had to find it.
He’d have weapons in his room, maybe.
Maybe, if there was a door to get out by, he’d have a key.
Maybe he’d have some food, because, despite the fact she’d just killed a man, and his blood was smeared on her hands, and likely spattered on her face and clothes…she discovered she was ravenously hungry.
She felt the beginnings of another one of her headaches.
The mutants were happy.
Most of them had eaten their fill of food, slaked the thirst sparked by a science which should have died a century before. They strode through the streets, the air clean in their blood-scented nostrils.
If any one could look down, and seen the parade of the creatures as they walked in the pre-dawn dusk, they would have seen a procession from Hell itself.
And Satan himself led the way.
Bobby-Ray slowly dragged himself back to consciousness.
The last thing he remembered was the pleasure he’s felt when the Casino, denied him, began to burn.
Then he fell into the darkness, propelled by a piercing blue-white light.
He tried to stir now, but felt a weight sitting on his chest.
He couldn’t feel his legs.
The man opened his eyes, saw the figure sitting on his chest.
She looked at him with deep blue eyes, curiosity burning there. She was young, maybe seventeen, possibly younger, her shape distorted in the firelight by the sack that was on her back, like a hump.
He tried to speak, his concussed mind not wondering at why she was there, what had happened.
Why he couldn’t feel his legs.
He opened his mouth, but she placed her fingers over it, shushing him with a finger over her lips.
She leaned down, kissed him.
Bobby-Ray, never a swift-minded man to begin with, began to breathe faster.
His hands roamed, and he tried to shift the sack on her back. His fingers stopped as he felt the chill that only dead flesh had.
Her mouth tasted like copper and salt.
He looked into her eyes again, and this time, he saw hunger.
He screamed as her head plunged down, her teeth sinking into his throat.
Then there was only the sound of feeding.
Simon started as the bell started ringing.
The Baron apparently used some of his electrical power for more than outside lights, as speakers set into the walls started chiming loudly.
The racket was cut off as a man’s voice overrode the alarm.
“MUTIES OUTSIDE!!” came the hoarse cry. “Muties! And the fire’s started up again, this time in Lowtown! Everybody get up! Now! NOW!”
Johnny Stentson shut off the mike, let it fall to hang by its cord, leaving it to swing back and forth, like the pendulum of a clock.
He watched the…the things as they tromped along in the near-dawn light. He could tell they were muties, just by the sight of ‘em.
Things that slithered as fast a man could walk moved along the ground, alongside stickies that looked like men, with hair and everything, except when they found a nice, smooth wall with a lit window, then they just crawled up like a giant mutie fly up a giant pile of shit.
Others were with them, shapeless creatures that looked like nothing he could describe, except as giant, folding bags of skin, no sign of bone whatsoever.
He saw feathers, and the glint of sparkling light off of what could only be scales.
The list of things he saw grew as the moments passed.
There had to be over a hundred of them.
Led by the devil himself.
Who walked along, laughing.
Simon ducked into a room as boots pounded down the hallway, listening as the sounds receded.
There didn’t seem to be as many as there should be, considering the announcement. Hardiman must’ve had more desertions than Simon had thought.
In the darkness of the empty room, Graydon smiled.
Somewhere else in the keep, in a room of darkness…something waited.
“Shitfire!” Sam exclaimed. He looked back at the ruins of the Casino from his sitting position in the mud. His hair was matted back, not just with the grease of a week unbathed, but now with mud and grime as well, ground in when the vapors had exploded.
“What made it go?” Tanna said. Her ears rang a little, and her vision was still recovering from the sudden flash. Other than that and the fact half the street was now in her pants, driven there by a sliding fall after the blast, she was fine.
“Who cares,” replied Morgan, scraping a handful of mud from his face and flinging it to the side. “It went. Got everyone around it too, from the looks of it. And the fire’s started up again. Must’ve been enough to drive the fire inside the other buildings, start the dry stuff up.”
The girl with the cut arm was shaking her companion, an older woman in her late twenties (old for Deathlands) who didn’t want to rise.
“Edie, c’mon! We gotta go!”
She gave no response.
Sam leaned down, shook her and then turned her over, an odd expression on his face.
“She ain’t getting’ up, Andrah.”
“What’re you say…ooh!” Her grimed hands went to her mouth as she looked down at her friend, seeing for the first time the shard of wood that had pierced her chest from the side, pinning one arm to her chest, and driving through to the heart, shredding the lungs on the way.
She wanted to cry.
Then Tanna gasped, pointing.
Outlined against the firelight, shambling figures came into view, some of the shapes only remotely human. They bent over the burning mounds of flesh that had so recently been predators, and thrust their hands down, coming up with gobbets of dripping flesh.
Garbled screams told them that all weren’t dead yet.
Sam stood, grabbing the bag from Edie’s side, ignoring the way it caught on the protruding wooden missile, and the way it settled wetly against his side.
“C’mon,” he hissed. “They ain’t gonna stay there fer ever. And I got a feelin’ they like their meat raw.”
They struggled to their feet, and again tried to get to the nearest gateway, Sam under the weight of two sacks, Tanna and Morgan with one apiece, and Andrah with another, cradling her cut arm.
They were as silent as they could be as they trudged through the mud.
They breathed deeply as a slight breeze blew, trying to stir their hair, blowing the stink of burning flesh away.
They disappeared into the darkness.
One of the mutants, pushed away from a charred corpse by a stronger mutie raised his head, sniffed at the air, scenting something in the gentle breeze.
He stumbled off, following the trail, dragging his fleshy, boneless tail behind, leaving a rut in the mud.
Others, also pushed aside noticed as well, and began following him.
They drooled as the scent of fresh, living blood hit their nostrils.
The first one dropped, began tearing at the lump of silent meat with the wooden shard through it.
Two of them found the wooden spike funny, and pushing the first one to the side, each grabbed an end and lifted, using them for handles.
Other hands, tipped with black, twisted claws tore at the clothing, ripping it and flesh down to the bone, strips which were rapidly devoured.
Edie was quickly reduced to nothing.
But they scented more, moving against the wind.
Teeth, red and flesh-encrusted bared.
They began to follow.
The blood called.
Mary opened another door, near the end of the hallway.
All the others had been empty, not even dust was on the floors.
She slapped at her hip with the leather mask she’d kept, hoping to use the full-cover mask as an impromptu sack, in case she found something she could use.
Her headache had receded a few minutes after it had started, something for which she was grateful.
The air that wafted out from the slightly opened door was scented with the strong odor of an unwashed body, hopefully the guard that she’d killed.
She opened the door, feeling the emptiness of the room that bespoke of nothing living beyond, and stepped in, shutting it behind her.
She wiped at the sweat beading on her forehead with her sleeve, and looked around.
The room was large, to the standards of one raised in the Deathlands, nearly twelve feet by ten, painted the same white that spoke of whitewash, though as she stroked it, none came off, feeling only smooth as sanded wood.
There was a bed, sheets rumpled and stained with sweat, and at the end of it, sat a footlocker, waiting patiently for someone who’d never come again.
The bed was against the wall to the left, as Mary entered. She went to open the trunk, caugh a flash of green and a burst of movement out of the corner of her eye, and unthinkingly lunged toward it.
She caught herself on the wall, both hands braced on either side of a big mirror, looking at her own face, drawn tight with rage and fear, teeth glowing in the gloom.
Breathing heavily, she turned from the glass, and returned to the locker.
Opening it, she found a blaster and three loaded clips for it. She hefted it, and loaded it, remembering Simon showing her how when they’d had a free moment, an eternity before….
She felt sadness rushing over her.
She’d been without him for so long…
Taking a deep breath to steady her hands, she charged the blaster, and slid it into the holster that was lying underneath it.
Then she strapped it on.
Simon had to take a piss.
Badly. His bladder was so full, he could no longer ignore it. He needed all his concentration to deal with his surroundings, not keep from leaking all over the threadbare rugs that dotted the hallway floor.
He ducked into a room, noted with relief that it was a bedroom, a woman’s by the little hangings strung about, and empty.
Striding over to the bed, he looked under it, and sure enough, there was a steel pot there, and from the smell coming from it, it was used as the occupant’s bedpan.
After checking the room again, he straddled the pot and undid the buttons of his pants.
He sighed in relief as the pressure abated.
Finished, he buttoned up, and slid the pot back under the bed.
Then he heard the heavy footsteps walking along.
He checked his weapons, and decided to discard the muzzleloader. Wet, it was only useful as a club, and he had a better one than it.
He tossed it on the bed, which was springier than he’d thought, and watched in horror as it bounced, then slid off, clattering loudly on the wooden floor.
In the back of his mind, mentally kicking himself, he heard the footsteps stop, then grow louder.
Then stop, two shaded areas visible from under the door showing exactly where the other had halted.
The door latch slowly raised, and the door opened.
Little Mike was checking the hallways. Whoever’d attacked Baco might’ve been one of the muties, since they could look like norms, and was still roaming the halls of the Keep.
He hadn’t seen Magregor yet.
Maybe he was stuck in one of the rooms, his heart cut out. Mike had heard from a Joltdealer that there had been a tribe of cannies or something way down south, past Old Mex that did that.
And maybe that hadn’t been Marky they’d seen coming in.
That they’d let in, no alarm or nothin’.
Oh yeah, Hardiman’d like that.
Cat-eyed mutie bastard.
He heard a loud clatter from one of the rooms behind him, sounded like it came from Rhoda’s room. He smirked.
So, that’s where Macgregor had gone.
He remembered the times he’d spent with the live-in gaudy. He’d barely been able to walk after his sessions with her. The way she had sucked…
Marky-boy was too afraid to ignore a mutie alarm, too much so to spent his time with a slut.
Even if she’d been here!
Rhoda had been Uptown, spending her jack in one of the Baron’s gaudyhouses (the rumor was she liked women, though the houses she frequented had men too), when the big fire had first broke out.
She hadn’t been seen since.
Even Little Mike knew what that meant.
So he went to her door, eased it open, looking into the dim room. He had no fear of any one man who might be in there, so he walked in, knowing that he would likely be attacked.
After the fire, and now with the mutie call, he needed a little exercise.
But there was no one in the room.
He reached over, hit the electrical switch he knew was there, installed by an electrician who had been short on jack, but high on energy and jolt.
The light sputtered to life.
The room was indeed empty, except for the muzzle-blaster, lying on the ground, water still beading on the crudely brushed-on finish.
Mike knew there was no way out.
Nobody had come out after the noise.
The blaster had come from somewhere.
Mike wheeled, expecting an attack to come at his back from behind the door, but he saw that the wall behind the door was bare.
He picked up movement on the floor, and looked down, seeing the shadow of something flicker, just before his skull exploded with pain.
Rafters, he thought, as he dropped to his knees.
Mutie had been hiding in the rafters!!
Simon dropped to the floor, landing softly next to the big man who had fallen to a kneeling position.
He’d hoped the man wouldn’t notice the boot-shaped wrinkles in the bed sheets, where he’d jumped, using the mattress, surprisingly firm considering, as a trampoline to reach the rafters above where he had waited
Like a mutated horn, the handle of the hatchet stuck out from his forehead, wedged into the skullbone like it had been hammered there. Piggy little blue eyes stared out of the current of crimson that poured down his face.
Simon remembered this one, a loud-mouthed, farting bastard who’d drunk himself nearly into a stupor in the guardhouse when he’d come to town with the truck and the woman.
The eyes blinked, and the memory was there for him too.
Simon grasped the handle of the axe, and said to him; “Goodbye.”
Then he yanked, shining white and pulsing grey obscured by the torrent of blood released.
The man’s hands went up to the cut.
Simon brought the axe down.
Mary finished searching the footlocker, finding a half empty box of ammo for the blaster she’d taken, which she dumped into the pockets of her pants, making them bulge a little, the twenty extra rounds heavy.
There was nothing else of use to her here, the remaining contents a pair of worn boots much too big for her, pants with patches also to big for her, and a worn, fading magazine featuring a blonde woman with huge breasts encased in a tight red, one-piece gaudy’s clothes of some kind.
The writing had faded too much to read.
Sighing, Mary flexed her hands as she stood, felt the coating of blood on them crack.
She watched the flakes, now black flutter to the floor.
Mary stared at them, then snorted, baring her teeth slightly.
She pulled the blaster from the holster, and holding it right handed, she pulled the door open, and slipped out.
Two more rooms, then she’d give up, and go down to the next level, either using stairs or the rope, whichever presented itself first.
“They’re still coming!” Tanna screamed, running in the semi-darkness.
They had been nearly to the gate when Morgan had noticed the shapes behind them, shambling like the walking dead rumored to be down south, ‘Glades way.
He had shouted a warning, and the figures had started running, an errant flash from the chem-clouds above revealing the terrors behind them, spurring them to run for their lives.
They headed through the open gateway, into the dawning.
Andrah stumbled, her wounded arm bleeding again. When the scent hit the air, the muties behind them howled, and pressed the chase.
“It’s the blood!” Morgan shouted. “They smell her blood!”
Without a word, Sam drew one of his bowies, and before anyone could react, slashed the woman across the throat, blood jetting out in an arc.
Andrah stumbled again, not knowing she was dead, then fell, scrabbling at the grass growing wild here, outside the ville, trying to get up.
“Sam!” Tanna yelled, surprise and revulsion in her voice.
“They wanted blood, and she was slowing us down!” He yelled, grabbing her arm, dropping the bag he’d gotten from Edie. Morgan grabbed her other arm, and she was borne away by the two men as the muties fell upon the still struggling Andrah.
“Get to the trees,” Morgan gasped. He was the first to admit that he wasn’t built for long-running. “Gotta get to cover!”
“Where the fuck do you think I’m headed, ya nuke brain?”
The hallway was practically deserted, the only sounds those of boots echoing far above.
After Simon had killed the fat man, he’d searched the hallway, leaving the axe buried in the man’s ruined face. He’d found a door at the end of the hall, which had descended far, far down to another doorway, and beyond that, another hall.
This one was below ground level, below even the sewer level.
The walls were still the carved granite of the Keep’s walls, a string of electric lights stretching along the ceiling. Brackets were set into the stone, soot showing that torches had once burned there.
There were no other doors set into the sides, however. This corridor was one long tunnel, going only one place.
And Simon could see it.
A large door, seemingly made of metal, which as he drew closer, appeared to be a double-thick fire door, the word ‘exit’ still on the red paint, both of which, lettering and coloring , were fading.
The door clunked, the locking mechanism disengaging. Slowly the door creaked open, revealing a long-haired figure coming out, his back facing Simon as he pushed the door shut against the pneumatic arm.
A waft of carrion stench and body odor revealed the identity of the person before Simon could make out his face in the dimness.
Bray turned, started…then smiled.
He slipped his hand through the thong on his hatchet, and pulled the weapon from it’s sheath.
“You,” he rasped.
“Me,” Simon agreed, putting the AK down, and hefted the wire-wrapped club, slipping the bundle tied to it off.
Simon could have just shot him, blasted the stinking mutie to pieces, but he didn’t know what lay beyond the doors, making quiet a necessity.
And besides, Simon owed this undying bastard.
That cold voice in his head chuckled.
is indeed sweet…you know what must be done. And do it quickly
He moved forward, brandishing the club.
Bray did the same, advancing to meet the man who had hurt him, who had caused him so much trouble.
The muties outside, Bray thought, could wait.
Everyone outside thought differently.
The mutant army had swarmed up the walls, stickie-suckered hands clinging to the walls, talon tipped fingers wedging into cracks, pulling their owners up.
Others literally oozed up the wall, while the rest began pounding on the big wooden doors.
Some of the muties were knocked back by blasterfire, but most merely got back up, shook themselves like a wet dog, and began climbing again.
Those that didn’t get up were trampled and forgotten.
Tony Enright, one of the Keep’s caretakers hauled back on the hammer of the twelve gauge double blaster he had, getting ready to send another recoil shock to his fifty-two year old shoulders when his finger locked, and his mind began to whirl, as if in a nightmare.
The sun broke through the chem-clouds, signaling another days beginning, illuminating, for the norms gathered along the walls the true horror that they faced.
For Enright, the horror had the twisted, insane face of his son, the young man who’d gone to start another ville. He’d never returned to visit like he said he would, and the old man had figured he’d been too busy over the last few seasons to do that.
But he’d hoped.
He closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger, wiping the face away in a blast of cordite smoke and steel pellets.
Mary pushed the last door open, feeling the comforting weight of the blaster in her hand. The muzzle of the blaster was labeled ASTRA A-70, the grip a little big for her hands, the clip of seven fitted securely in the butt, with a round under the hammer.
She had the safety off, and was more than willing to send a bullet into the brainpan of whatever she may come across.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt a twinge of concern over the ease with which she had taken to killing. She had killed before, but she had always felt…something akin to remorse at the death, sadness at the taking of life, or even the elation that came of having survived for another day, at having beaten the odds.
Now, it felt no different than making a bed, or doing a chore.
Pushing these concerns from her head, she turned her attention to the room, which had a small table and chairs in the center, and garbage piled up in a trashcan. On a counter was a pile of silver-wrapped packages, and a stack of white styrofoam cups and mugs sat beside a guttering white device from which dribbled a delicious smelling black liquid.
Her mouth watered at the sight before her as she holstered her blaster, keeping the flap unsnapped.
She knew what the silver packets were, having seen them traded in the marketplace, predark wrapped food, which could fetch a good price or handsome trade.
The liquid was, of course, coffee-sub.
Mary’s throat suddenly felt parched, and her stomach rumbled, reminding her of her hunger.
With trembling hands, she poured a cup of coffee-sub, fighting to keep her hands from ripping into the food so tantalizingly close. She took one of the packs, and sat at the table, setting first the packet, then the mug of sub down.
She sipped the fluid, her eyes going wide in surprise.
This wasn’t coffee-sub!
It was the real thing, no aftertaste of treebark or moss.
As the rich flavor of the fine columbian hit home, she lost control, and with an audible growl, she tore into the silver block, eating the contents, then another in an orgy of hunger unleashed.
The Baron stood in the sunlight, his glory there for all to see.
Wearing not much more than a loincloth, he basked in the worship of his children, and in the fear of their food. He blinked green eyes, unaccustomed to the light of day, but forced them to focus, forced them to adapt to the sunlight that burned through the purple-black clouds roiling above.
He was more suited for the darkness that matched his deeds, but he had overcome so much in his life that he had no doubts that this would pose little problem to him.
His children swarmed the walls, and fell upon the people within, screams and roars mixing with the last few belated echoes of blasterfire, quickly silenced.
Ryker strode like an unstoppable demon of war through the mutants of his making, right up to the gates of his own home, heavy wooden doors braced with iron and steel, topped with spikes of needle-tipped metal, placed his hands upon the doors, and began to push, the wood, weakened by the pounding of moments before groaning from the pressure.
Heartened by their Makers actions, his children began to push as well, slamming shoulders against the barrier, leaning into it with all their strength, fueled by need and the flesh that they had consumed.
With a shriek, the doors gave way, and the full tides of the Baron’s misshapen army flooded the grounds of the black Keep.
“Looking for slut?” Bray asked Simon, holding his axe at the ready. The swampie could smell the faint sewer stench on Graydon’s clothes, and so knew where the man had been hiding.
“Thought she was with shit-eating lurkers, fucking for fun,” he continued, taking a half-step towards his opponent.
Simon remained stone faced, his eyes leeched of any warmth at all. He stood at the ready, the lights glinting off the barbs of the wire wrapped around his weapon.
Bray felt no fear of this norm, standing there with nothing more than a club and cold eyes. He’d seen eyes like those before, seeing them in a mirror most often, sometimes in the others he worked with.
Simon swung his weapon.
Bray stepped back, returned the blow which Simon caught with a return swing, sparks flashing when the wire and axe met.
Simon shifted his grip, thrust the bottom of the club out, and Bray batted it away, the axehead thunking against the soft metal cap.
Simon brought the other end down, the wire gashing the swampie’s forehead, blood flowing down for a few seconds before it was choked off.
Bray swung the axe in a flashing figure eight in those seconds, refusing to let Graydon press the advantage. He wiped his eyes clear, then launched himself at the norm in front of him, his hatchet leading the way.
Simon, surprised by the swampies quick recovery, barely caught the blade with his club, the shaft of the weapon hooking under the head of the axe, locking into place where the head and haft met.
Using his free hand, Bray clawed at Simon’s face, feeling nails digging into flesh.
Simon gasped, then cursed as blood began running down the side of his head and neck. He tried to knee the mutie, but Bray was an experienced brawler, and easily turned the attack aside.
Simon released one hand from the club, grabbing the hand that continued gouging, and twisted, feeling the nails sliding out of his flesh like pulling out a sliver. He then bore down on the hand, and felt the trembling in his opponent as the tendons of Bray’s wrist stretched to the snapping point.
The swampie suddenly slammed forward, pushing Simon off balance, tumbling him to the floor where he lay on his back, the club, now notched clutched in his left hand, the other trapped beneath him.
Hissing in triumph, the swampie lunged, all his power going into the killing blow.
End of Part 8