The rasp of laughter echoed in O’Fallon ears. Diving to his left, he narrowly avoided a bullet. Instead, it struck a dial on the control panel, showering O’Fallon with bits of glass. Another shot burned his cheek, then echoed off the metal rim of a pressure gauge with the ugly whine of an irritated bee. His mind reeled. Carlos was dead. He had seen it. The knife had been buried in the man’s chest. However, a small portion of his brain argued, the station’s crew was also dead. O’Fallon had seen numerous wounds on them, from bullets to blades. Even so, they still walked. O’Fallon yanked the pistol free of its holster and eased up from behind the fire cannon’s padded operator seat to aim at the dead man.
Carlos, however, noticed the motion. He wheeled his gun arm around in a frightening blur of speed, and fired. O’Fallon dodged to one side, then the other. Each bullet whined closer than the last. Finally, the Scotsman threw himself from the operator’s seat to the deck several feet below. Despite the chorus of aches that screamed at him, Conrad landed on the hard floor, rolled up into a crouch, aimed, and fired. The walking corpse jerked and stepped backward from the impact of the bullet into his chest.
“Is that all you have left, Amigo?” The Spaniard laughed coldly while he reached up and briefly touched the large gunshot wound. “Just this?” With an unearthly calm, Carlos then opened the cylinder of his pistol and methodically reloaded.
O’Fallon looked over at Krumer. “Ah think he be a bit miffed o’er bein’ killed.”
“So I see.” Krumer raised his own pistol and fired at Carlos. The bullets hit their mark and Carlos jerked twice: once in his shoulder and the other low on his midsection. The second shot hit the exact place where before, all other zombies had been vulnerable due to a particularly fragile glass jar. Although, a thought raced through Krumer’s mind, the other zombies didn’t talk. He took a step back and looked around for both cover and a makeshift weapon; something large, blunt and heavy.
Across the room, where the only set of stairs connected the first and second floors, Tiberius pulled one of the tube-like grenades from his belt. He twisted a small knob on the top and then pitched it as far as he could towards the figures below. With a metallic echo, the grenade bounced once before it was consumed in a bright flash and deafening roar of noise. Zombies were flung up and out from the center of the explosion and deposited around the first floor in a ragged circle.
“I thought he was dead?” Tiberius asked Moira, nervously glancing over his shoulder at Carlos.
“He was!” She exclaimed while she pulled the goggles over her eyes. “Dead as anythin’.” The goggles hummed softly a moment followed by a soft glow in the lenses while she turned the dials. “Oh, no.” She lamented.
Adonia, who knelt by an old metal handrail, took aim and fired once, then twice. Two zombies that had reached the bottom of the stairs immediately doubled over and collapsed, which temporarily blocked the path for the others. “Oh, no?” She echoed, her Portuguese accent growing thicker as her nerves grew agitated. “Do I want to know why you are saying ‘oh, no’?”
“Mostly likely ya don’t.” Moira answered quickly, turning to examine Carlos with the goggles. “But ya need ta know. In the journal, there be other parts ta the zombie makin’. There be the ones like below us. They be what was called ‘phase one’. Kinda mindless, need ta be controlled, such as that.” She gestured to Carlos. “He be ‘phase two’.”
Tiberius pulled out another grenade, then paused before he primed it. “Phase two?” He echoed.
Moira looked over at the zombies on the first floor, then at Tiberius. “Aye, phase two. Turnin’ dead people inta some kinda stronger, better zombie. Can’t die, much stronger, can keep their mind about ’em. Accordin’ ta the journal, whoever dream’t it all up figured not much would stop ’em. Fire maybe. A really hot one, like from a smelter. Na much else.”
Tiberius glanced over his shoulder at Carlos in amazement. “Fire? That hot? In this storm?”
Adonia aimed, then shot two bullets down the stairs at another zombie. “You do not know the half of it, Amigo.” The zombie she shot fell hard onto the stairs face first, only to be replaced by two more. She pointed beyond the zombies at one of the open doors to the warehouse.
Behind the group of zombies, two men had entered. Dressed in neutral brown trousers, coats and cotton shirts, both carried a rifle. They knelt by one of the doors inside and fired at the trio atop the stairs. Adonia ducked and Moira fell flat to the floor. Tiberius twisted a knob atop another grenade, then tossed it below before he dropped flat on the floor, also. The grenade hit as the other had done before, then detonated in a brilliant flash of light and explosion. Bullets buzzed through the air around and above them.
“There’s two of ’em with goggles like mine. I can tell. They be just outside the door. I canna hear ’em but I can tell they’re there.” Moira told her companions.
“Can you block them, or do whatever those goggles do to control the zombies?” Tiberius asked.
“I’m tryin’!” Moira exclaimed, frantically working the goggle’s controls while speaking softly under her breath.
“I can feel you in my mind, Señorita. You singing ever so sweetly!” Carlos called out, his gravelly voice thick with a Spanish accent. “You want to turn the zombies, bend them to your will, eh?” He snapped the reloaded revolver shut. “I think it will not be so easy this time, Señorita, you see they are ready for you to try. But struggle away, I enjoy it when you struggle.” Carlos chuckled evilly, electricity crackling along the wires in his neck.
Moira slammed a fist onto the floor in frustration. Her latest attempt to control the zombies had failed, almost as if they had been ready for her to try, just as Carlos said.
“I wish someone’d shut him up.” Moira growled and tried another sequence on the dials.
Just forty feet away, Dr. Von Patterson had stepped out with a broken chunk of wood, four feet long and easily as thick as a man’s arm. Carlos’ sudden turn caught the archeologist flat footed without any cover. The zombie raised his pistol with a sneer and fired twice. Startled by the shot, Dr. Von Patteron tried to dive for cover. Instead, he slipped on a patch of rainwater, fell flat onto his back, and hit his head hard on the floor. That one accident saved his life, as two bullets screamed through the air where the archeologist’s heart had just been.
“For a learned man, Señor, you have so little sense. How to do you even stay alive, eh?” Carlos demanded in a rage. “You were to be brought back alive… I do not think now I care anymore for Señor RiBeld and his ultimatums. Señor RiBeld can be angry if I return you broken. What can he do, kill me? I am already dead!” The zombie laughed, slowly stalking toward Dr. Von Patterson. Meanwhile the archeologist rolled onto his side, his mind a daze and unaware of the imminent danger so close to him. “I have grown tired of you, Señor. I will start with your legs. I will shatter them bone by bone. No more running then, eh? Then, I will break more of you, until you scream for me to end it. But no, I will make you wait and watch, while I break your friends. Starting with that pig, O’Fallon.” Carlos stopped two strides away from the dazed researcher, shoved his pistol in its holster and looked around for a suitable club. “Now, be still. This will hurt very, very much.”
Suddenly, Carlos’ head jerked to the side as a large chunk of broken wood the size of a man’s fist hit him squarely in the temple. The Spaniard’s eyes blurred, and he sidestepped away from Dr. Von Patterson, shaking his head. He blinked twice, then turned around to see where the attack had come from. Next to a small pile of broken wood, O’Fallon had removed his shirt and was using it as a makeshift sling.
“Krumer, now!” O’Fallon shouted, reaching down for a metal pipe next to him.
With a roar, Krumer raced out of hiding and buried a shoulder into Carlos’ right side. The impact doubled the zombie over sideways and tossed him into the air, then down hard onto the floor. Meanwhile, Krumer staggered forward two paces to a stop, breathing hard from exertion. Carlos bounced once then rolled over, a blind rage hot in his eyes. Krumer’s hand instinctively dropped for his pistol, but he was not fast enough, not nearly by half. Before Carlos fully settled, he grabbed a pipe from a damaged fire cannon and, ripping it loose, threw it in one swift motion. The steel pipe slammed into the first mate with the crunch of bone before the pipe and Krumer both skidded across the floor, coming to a stop five feet away.
“Stupid. You think you can out muscle me?” Carlos said icily. “You are nothing to me!” He screamed. “Nothing!” Slowly a grin spread over the zombie’s face. “You are like the little ant to me … so I will slowly step on you, just to hear you crunch under my boot.”
Krumer shook his head to clear his vision. The fiend stepped forward, rubbed his hands and flexed his undead fingers, then abruptly jerked backwards as a solid mass of metal slammed into his lower back. Carlos’ spine snapped him forward, pitching him headlong into the floor.
Directly behind the zombie, O’Fallon rechecked his grip on the pipe, then swung again. Carlos blinked back the haze and rolled aside just before the pipe fell. He jumped up and smashed his fist against O’Fallon’s jaw. The Scotsman staggered back, dazed from the hard blow. He raised a hand to block, but Carlos swatted it aside and pummeled O’Fallon repeatedly. Until at last Carlos reached out and grabbed O’Fallon, lifting him up and throwing him against the side of a fire cannon. O’Fallon grunted and slid down onto his hands and knees, shaking from the pain and abuse, unable to stand.
The Spaniard paused, breathing heavily. “Now, where was I?”
“Right here!” Krumer shouted, smashing the pipe that had hit him against Carlos’ already wounded ribs. The zombie grunted with the impact, staggered back, then yanked the pipe away from Krumer. Immediately, he smashed a quick right, then left fist into the first mate’s jaw that staggered him backwards. Carlos growled, then stalked forward, hammering away at the first mate repeatedly. Krumer finally collapsed to the floor. After a moment, the first mate drew his hands up under him and hauled himself slowly into a kneeling position. With each motion, his limbs shook in pain, but regardless, the first mate refused to stay down. The zombie knelt down close to Krumer’s ear.
“Not done are we, Señor?” Carlos’ hot, stale breath wafted over Krumer’s face. “Come now, you know you are done. You cannot even stand.” The zombie licked his lips. “Let me finish it all now, Señor.” He asked Krumer with an almost giddy tone. “Let me make all the pain go away.”
With an extreme effort, Krumer stood slowly. At first, Carlos recoiled in surprise, then grinned, stepping back with a over-exaggerated bow that one gentleman would give another. Finally, Krumer got completely to his feet and glared defiantly at the fiend only an arm’s reach away. With a snarl, the first mate spat blood in the zombie’s face.
“Idiot.” Carlos sneered. In a swift move, the fiend yanked free his revolver and shot Krumer. The orc jerked from the impact of the bullet, his face contorted with shock and pain before he was tossed backwards from the force of the blow. The zombie stalked forward and fired again, but the bullet missed, a hastily aimed shot that ricocheted off the floor and out into the room.
“Krumer!” O’Fallon screamed in rage as he saw his friend fall. The zombie turned to confront the quartermaster, but not fast enough. The Scotsman drew and fired until his pistol was empty. This time he aimed, not for Carlos, but for the zombie’s gun hand. O’Fallon’s aim was true, the bullets tore through the revolver and the hand that held it. The ruined gun clattered onto the deck plate while Carlos staggered back with a howl over his mangled hand.
“Och, ya be feelin’ that, eh?” O’Fallon shouted in anger while he tossed aside his empty firearm. “Good!” The Scotsman scooped up the nearby pipe he had used a moment ago, and rushed forward. O’Fallon swung his metal club, but Carlos sidestepped just in time. The pipe harmlessly whistled past the zombie’s body. O’Fallon brought the pipe around for another blow, but Carlos stepped in and grabbed the man by the throat, lifted him up, and slammed him down onto the ground. Stunned, O’Fallon jerked twice, then lay still as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Slowly, Carlos turned around. His breath ragged and harsh, eyes bright with hate. Finally he saw what had interested him in the first place. Moira, with the small group at the stairs. He grinned and started forward. The motion drew a warning roar from Tactia.
“Look out!” Arcady shouted from Moira’s shirt pocket.
“I got through ta some o’ them below. Just keep the others off the stairs. I can be handlin’ Carlos.” Moira shouted to the others. Before she stood, she reached into her pocket and carefully withdrew Arcady. “Arcady, go find a shady place. I got some work ta do.”
The insect looked around quickly and then at Moira. “But Moira …”
She shook her head. “No givin’ be ‘but Moira’. Go on. I’ll be better knowin’ yer safe.”
With a grunt, Arcady worked his good set of wings to help support his heavily broken side while he raced off. Once, he stopped to look back, but by that time Moira was already feverishly adjusting a dial on the goggles.
“If you are going to do something Moira, now would be a good time.” Adonia commented while she fired another shot down the stairs.
“Almost got it. They’re all tied by glowin’ strings back ta the one controllin’ them.” Moira explained while she turned a dial again. “Ta keep me out, they got ’em all tied to each other … but I’m bettin’ if I hook onto one a’ the two holdin’ all the strings … then I can tell ’em ta get each other.”
The moment she said it, the zombies immediately froze in place. In the back of the room, the two riflemen paused in their shooting to look around at the unmoving zombies nervously. Another two seconds ticked by. Then, without warning, the zombies immediately attacked anything near them, whether it was the riflemen or each other!
Moira rose from the floor after she finished tinkering with her goggles, but by the time she had gotten to her feet, Carlos was already on top of her. Grabbing her by her belt and shoulder, he lifted her high above his head, and tossed the young woman against a nearby wall. Moira bounced off the corrugated metal plates and collapsed to the floor.
With a roar, Tacita lunged at the zombie. Claws extended, she slashed deep along his arm. Carlos roared and swatted the animal aside, more out of anger than pain. She stuck her head hard against the rail and fell instantly limp.
“Tacita! No!” Tiberius shouted. He reached for his grenades as Adonia swung around to shoot Carlos. Unfortunately, neither Adonia or Tiberius were fast enough. Already within reach, Carlos made short work of both of them, beating them senseless in moments. Hard, deep breaths escaped his throat as the Spaniard turned to face Moira.
“Finally.” Carlos said slowly, the word dripping from his lips like a succulent, yet poisonous wine. “Ever since you caused me to rot in that prison, I have dreamed of this moment. When I am done, you will beg to die. You will do anything for me to have that release. But, once you die, I’ll bring you back … just for me.” He finished with a gleeful, high-pitched giggle. “Forever.”
“Shoulda killed ya when I be havin’ the chance.” Moira said, her hands flashing to her guns. “Won’t be makin’ that mistake twice. I know how they made ya. Yer thinkin’ ya canna be killed. We both know better.”
Her pistols came up in a single, fluid motion, faster than the eye could see. Tongues of flame erupted out, and a swarm of bullets streaked towards Carlos while she squeezed the trigger repeatedly. None were aimed for his chest, but for the wires and cables that connected his neck to the leather backpack. When the first bullet struck, it snapped a wire with a sharp metal twang. As he felt it snap, Carlos stopped smiling. The zombie rushed Moira, closing the distance as fast as she could shoot, and doing his utmost to let the bullets hit him anywhere less vital. Once within arms’ reach, he slapped the guns from her hands, the force of which spun her around against the wall once more. She managed to face Carlos just as his hands latched onto her throat like a vice, lifting her free of the ground.
“Now my dear Señorita,” Carlos growled while he squeezed, “sing for me that sweet death rattle. While I pull your last breath from you!” Moira struggled, kicking and gasping for air.
“Unhand her!” Dr. Von Patterson shouted as he tossed one of the forgotten pipes like a javelin. The pipe struck Carlos square in the backpack with a metallic echo and clattered to the ground. Carlos abruptly dropped Moira with a heavy rasp, and sighed.
“You useless fly! How many times do I have to beat you and your companions before the Señorita and I may finish playing?” Carlos spat angrily. The zombie turned, then stood rigid. Anything else he would say, wanted to say, caught in his throat. There, pointed directly at him was the modified fire cannon. In the operator’s chair was the pale, exhausted form of Thorias Llwellyn, doctor of the Brass Griffin. On his shoulder sat the battered clockwork insect, Arcady.
“That will be quite enough out of you, Sirrah.” Thorias jerked up, then back on the knife switch. Electricity flew out in a shower of white hot sparks around the doctor. “Quite. Fully. Enough.”
“Capacitors fully charged, Doctor.” Arcady said with a glance at the battered control panel.
“You are a doctor, are you not, Señor? I heard the others call you such. You cannot kill.” Carlos sneered smugly, and extended his arms wide. “Doesn’t your oath say that I am merely another creature in need of help and healing?”
“I am a doctor, not a mortician.” Thorias growled, then threw the lever.
Water erupted from the cannon like a geyser. White hot tendrils of electricity sparked and popped along the crest as it shot through the air. The burst slammed into Carlos, electricity jerking him like a dog tearing at a favorite rag doll. He screamed, but the sound was lost among the torrential sound of water and crackle of lightning unbound. In moments, his body was flung at the warehouse wall with such force that the wall exploded outwards. The fist of water shoved the zombie through and into the next warehouse over. Carlos bounced hard, crashed to the dock, and into one of the many holes that had been ripped into the station. With a final scream of rage, the undead fiend sailed downward, through the hole and toward the High Fens, three miles below.
Back inside the warehouse, Thorias yanked on the lever to disengage the water, then spun the contraption’s main wheel. “Now, Doctor! Quickly!”
“Right!” Dr. Von Patterson grabbed one of the wheels near the base and turned, increasing the water pressure while the entire contraption rotated to aim towards the ship battle outside. Thorias raised the nozzle upwards, took a rough aim and shoved the lever forward.
Once again the geyser erupted, but this time the force of the pressure was so great it shook the building. The electrified water spat out, slid neatly between the two schooners and slammed upwards into the frigate. Electricity struck the wood and metal of the warship, igniting everything it touched, including the fuel for one of the nearby boilers. The frigate shook while a section of her hull buckled, expanded then vomited outward; the explosion peeling back her protective layer of armor.
Aboard the Griffin, Captain Hunter jumped in surprise when the blast struck the frigate. Hunter pulled out his spyglass and turned it towards RiBeld’s ship. There, where the three lightning cannon had been concealed, only two remained. One was already engulfed in flames. The second was intact, but smoke issued out of countless holes where shrapnel had perforated the weapon and its gunnery crew. Beyond those, the captain could see RiBeld’s crew frantically running about in desperation to either make repairs or locate where that new attack came from.
Hunter closed the spyglass and smiled grimly. “Krumer, well done! Gunners! Target that explosion and open fire! I want to see daylight through that ship!”
On the heels of his command, the Griffin shook while her artillery roared angrily. Lightning cannon and regular artillery alike fired repeatedly at RiBeld’s vulnerable ship. In moments one explosion became two, then more while fires raged out of control aboard the warship. Slowly, the frigate listed to one side and began to descend. Aboard, her crew scurried back and forth in panic to release the longskiffs as a means of escape.
On the station, Thorias took a deep breath to steady himself against the pain in his ribs and yanked back on the lever. Immediately, sparks showered the entire cockpit and threatened to latch onto the doctor with it’s killing embrace. At the base of the fire cannon, Dr. Von Patterson raced over to find his makeshift club from moments ago, and hurried back. With a quick swing, he smashed the knife switch near the base, cutting the connection between the fire cannon and the station’s own power. Abruptly, the sparks died away.
Exhausted, Dr. Von Patterson dropped the club onto the damp floor. “Doctor? Are you well?”
Thorias staggered down the short ladder, only catching himself at the end before he fell off entirely. His face was pale and his eyes bloodshot and dark-rimmed. A fresh stain of crimson showed through on his shirt where his wound had reopened. “Healthy? No. Alive, yes my good man. By some miracle, I am. Come, there is no time to lose. Help me over to the others.”
In the time the pair had managed to stumble away from the fire cannon, Moira had crawled over to where Krumer lay. Ten feet beyond, O’Fallon lay atop a pile of debris, unconscious. Blood covered Krumer’s chest, and he lay very still. Thorias released his grip on Dr. Von Patterson and fell heavily to his knees by Krumer’s side.
“Heavens, no.” The doctor muttered. He coughed, then after a deep breath, said in a shaken voice, “Moira, find me a shirt, some cloth, something. I’ll need to bandage his wound once I find it.”
Shaken, throat damaged from being choked, Moira could only nod frantically. She climbed to her feet and quickly searched for anything that would serve as a bandage.
Meanwhile, Thorias examined his long time friend. Blood soaked Krumer’s shirt, so much that Thorias worried that he was too late to save him. Finally he found it, Thorias sighed softly in some relief. In his haste, Carlos had shot too quickly. Instead of the bullet going through Krumer’s chest, it had torn high and right to slam through the muscle of the first mate’s shoulder. An ugly wound, but not one quickly kill him.
On his back, Krumer coughed while his mind swam out of the darkness into the damp, pain-filled ocean of consciousness. He looked up at Thorias’ worried face and did the first thing that came to mind. He laughed. Instead of his usual deep laugh, it came out a rough, gargling cough.
“I told you,” Krumer croaked through a dry throat, “that you’d not be a burden. You’re far from useless.”
“Oh, do shut up.” Thorias said tartly, leaning closer to take a good look at Krumer’s shoulder wound. “We’ll need some help in getting you and the others back to the ship where my medical supplies are.”
Just then, Dr. Von Patterson looked around with a quizzical expression on his face. “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Thorias asked, carefully easing Krumer onto his side to check for an exit wound in the back of the orc’s shoulder.
“Precisely. The shooting has stopped.” The archeologist replied in surprise. “Does that mean… we won?”
Before anyone could answer him, a shout rose from within the warehouse. Not of terror or pain, but of elation. The words were also in Latin. A moment later Tiberius replied in kind, his voice strained from fatigue.
Krumer laughed again. “I think that’s your help. How’s your Latin, Doctor?”
“Terrible,” Thorias said with a faint smirk at his friend. “That’s why I’m a doctor, not a linguist.”