Phew! Biggest chapter to date! Over 17 000 words. And the best part? I only managed to squeeze in half of the stuff I wanted to feature in this chapter. So yeah, this Arc is gonna be way longer then even I had planned for.
Now, for all of you who have been patiently waiting for an update, sorry for the long wait. University studies have been a bitch, and my book is not selling at all, so I'm working on getting some marketing done on that front (an absolute nightmare if you ask me).
In any case, enjoy this next chapter!
Chapter 44: Siege of Los Angeles pt. II
"Here they come again!" the call went up, and exhausted defenders scrambled back to man the barricades as the hooting and jeering on the other side started up again.
"Don't they ever grow tired of this?" one of the defenders, a young man with bloodied bandages wrapped around most of his head, grumbled as he gripped his assault rifle.
"Apparently not," answered the woman next to him. Catherine Rey, a woman entering her middle ages who had expected a quiet and peaceful life after selling her departed father's gun store and with plans to move out on the countryside. A life now far out of her reach. And those responsible are so thoughtful as to show up in bulk for me to thank in person.
Beyond their barricades lay a street scarred by fire and explosions, with plenty of debris and an even greater abundance of corpses littering the ground. And yet that did little to deter the howling mob that was even now advancing towards them down the street. The front ranks were little better than bullet sponges, wide-eyed nutjobs dressed in rags and armed with whatever junk they could get their hands on.
But behind them, Catherine could just barely glimpse packs of real fighters, dressed in what looked like scavenged army gear and carrying real guns. So they finally grew tired of sending just cannon fodder at us.
"Look alive, boys and girls! These fuckers are packing real heat this time!" she barked out to the twenty or so fighters holding the barricade. Her barricade according to command. Never once served in the army, but she was the oldest one here and she had the most experience handling firearms. That was apparently all you needed for a promotion around here these days. And what does that say about our so-called PDF? The fuck's even PDF supposed to stand for anyway?
"What do we do then?" asked one her soldiers with shaky words. Poor thing, barely out of puberty and already in the meat grinder. She should have been at home worrying about boys and getting into college or something, not sweating and bleeding in the mud of war. Alas, they now lived in a time of shattered dreams and ruined futures.
"Same thing we always do; keep shooting until the buggers get the hint and fuck off," Catherine answered as she gave a single pump on her shotgun's loading mechanism. Ahead, the lunatics had finally lost their patience and were charging forward in a screaming wall of flesh.
"Give them hell!" Catherine roared before letting the first bullet fly, the buckshot ripping half a face off before the rest of her line opened up. The first few ranks of cultists were shredded by the storm of bullets unleashed upon them. But as always, the bastards kept on coming and left a carpet of dead in their wake.
"Keep firing, keep firing!" Catherine encouraged as she pumped out shot after shot. In her youth, her father had brought her along on hunting trips. She had managed to bag herself one or two catches in that time. But not until a week ago had she ever had to shoot and kill a human being. She still remembered how she had hurled up that first time, with the blood of the cultist all over her clothes, and how she had barely been able to sleep afterwards.
But now? All she felt was the recoil of her shotgun as she calmly put down one cultist after the other with marksman-like precision. Not even the sight of a ten-year old amidst the cultists made her pause, she just made sure to aim a bit lower than usual to compensate for the target's height. Show them no mercy, for they shall show you none.
She was on her second reload when the meatshields ran out, and they had barely made it halfway to her barricades. Despite herself, Catherine smiled in perverse satisfaction. A new record. Yesterday a handful made it all the way to the barricades before they were put down. Running out of bodies to throw at us, or are we just getting that damn good?
"Incoming!" instincts had her hitting the deck the instant she heard the shout, which probably saved her life as a rocket soared past where she had been standing. Soon after, gunfire erupted again. Except this time, it was coming from the cultist side.
"Finally decided to join the party, did you?" she muttered bitterly to herself as she peeked over her cover. The bastards had used the first wave as human shields, trading their lives away to get closer to them. Now they were but a stone's throw away and charging headfirst towards the barricades.
"Return fire, dammit! Don't let them get any closer!" she called out, and then the firefight was in full swing as defenders poured it on. Catherine saw one or two fall to the bullets before the rest scrambled for cover and returned fire. Someone to Catherine's right screamed in pain, but she had no time to check herself as she created gaping holes in the side of a wrecked car with her shotgun. No idea if she actually hit anyone, but no one tried peeking around it at least.
Then she was forced down again as bullets whizzed right past her, huddling next to two others seeking shelter from the sudden hail of bullets. One of them was cursing up a storm whilst clutching a heavily bleeding shoulder.
"Fuck, that looks bad," Catherine said as she brought out some makeshift bandages. She had learned early on to always have a few close at hand.
The man tried to laugh, but it came out as more of pained hiss. "You don't say. At least it didn't hit anything too vital."
The man's comrade meanwhile had grabbed an Uzi and was sticking it over the barricades to blindly spray bullets down the street. "Not like there are that many vital things left with you."
"Oh, fuck you too, you-" the man snarked back as Catherine wrapped up his shoulder, though his last words were lost due to something exploding just on the other side of the barricade and leaving Catherine's ears ringing.
"Try to keep you head down! You're no good to us with one busted arm!" she shouted to make herself heard, but even she herself could barely hear her own words and she doubted anyone else could. So she grabbed her shotgun and crawled over to a small gap in the barricades, just big enough to stick your arm through.
Barely had she gotten into position before a cultist made a dash across her field of fire, his comrades laying down a hail of gunfire to cover him. Catherine took a calming breath, aimed down the sight, and squeezed the trigger. The bastard's right knee promptly vanished in a shower of bone and gore, and he fell over wailing in agony.
One of his friends dared poke his head out of cover to see what happened. Barely a second later and he no longer had a face, or much of a head for that matter, and Catherine calmly ejected another spent cartridge.
"Shit, armored transport incoming!" that shout had Catherine cursing up a storm as she went on one knee and peeked over the barricades herself. Then she let loose an even longer strew of curses when she confirmed that yes, there was an armored transport rolling towards them. Little more than a pick-up truck with armored platings welded to the front and a heavy machine gun mounted on its back, but Catherine still felt like soiling her pants at the sight.
A feeling only further reinforced when the gun opened fire, and a woman that had just stepped up next to Catherine was all but sawed in half. Catherine herself barely escaped as she fell flat on her back as heavy calibre bullets ripped through her barricades like it was cheap plywood.
"Medic! Medic!" someone screamed so as to be heard over the wailings and the gunfire, but Catherine did not even care as she crawled on all fours along the ground with bullets constantly whizzing by overhead. Her destination? A bombed out pharmacy that now served as a very makeshift forward command center.
"Keep up the fire! Don't let them get any closer!" she hollered over her shoulder to her beleaguered soldiers before she vanished through the doorway and made her way straight towards the counter.
"Get me the artillery boys, now!" she barked at the radio operator huddling behind the counter. He silently nodded before he began working on his equipment and mumbling various phrases and code words into the frequency to prove he was really a loyal defender and not some cultist infiltrator trying to sow confusion. Every second that passed by felt like an eternity to Catherine as gunfire and explosions echoed from outside.
"There, go them on the line now," the operator finally announced as he handed the communicator over to Catherine. She all but snatched it out of his hands.
"Someone called for an Earthshaker?" a cocksure voice asked of her on the other end, and Catherine already felt like burying her fist into whatever smug face that voice belonged to.
"You damn right I did! We're getting overrun over here, and they brought in armored support to boot!" she all but shouted back at him, both out of genuine frustration and to make sure she was heard as a particularly vicious explosion made the whole building shake and sent dust raining all over her.
"Then give us coordinates and we'll handle the rest," the voice on the other end assured her. One look at the operator was all it took for him to hastily bring out the necessary maps and tools. Less than a minute later, the coordinates were calculated and sent over the radio.
"Fire away when ready! Cultists are almost on top of us, so you better have good aim!" she added at the end for good measure.
"Firing solution plotted!" was all the answer she received in return. And that was all the answer she needed as she dropped the comm and rushed back to the door.
"INCOMING ARTILLERY STRIKE!" she roared at the top of her lungs before diving for cover. Friend and foe alike heard the call and frantically scrambled to follow her example. Then the shells started landing, and the cultists found themselves on the wrong side of the barricades. A cacophony of earth-shaking booms nearly deafened everyone, rubble and shredded body parts were hurled meters high into the air as thick clouds of smoke and dust nearly choked everyone caught in its blanket.
The barrage lasted only a few seconds, yet it felt like an eternity for the battered defenders as many screamed in terror, even though their screams were drowned out by the devastating explosions happening only a few meters from their positions. And then, silence again. Smoke and dust still hung like a mist across the battlefield, but there was no movement. Then, hesitantly, the first few defenders dared crawl out of their hidey holes.
The barricades still stood, albeit barely as one unlucky shell had landed dangerously close to it. Beyond the barricades though was a scene of carnage. The road was all but gone, and multiple buildings lay as little more than piles of rubble haphazardly strewn across the field. Of the cultists, there was no sign of, aside from the occasional mangled limb or chunk of scorched flesh poking out of the rubble. No cheers went up.
"Someone call the rear lines," Catherine spoke up as she limped out of the building and tallied the ten survivors of her unit. "Tell them we beat back the first wave, but that we need reinforcements and engineers if we're to hold against a second."
Just another day in Los Angeles.
The siege had only been going on for three days, and already the defenders had grown to despise freeways with a burning passion. Miles of near straight and open spaces where heavy vehicles could happily roll about with impunity, and where cover was only available if you made some for yourself. The Golden State Freeway was particularly notorious these days as the cultists seemed to be throwing everything and the kitchen sink down this particular route.
"Look out, here they come!" and those poor souls charged with defending the bridge leading across the Los Angeles river was being put through hell as a wall of armored vehicles rolled against them, machine guns roaring to keep the defenders' heads down.
"Pull back, dammit!" the panicked order was given, and the forward foxholes were abandoned as terrified militias crawled through the craters and rubble to reach the main line of barricades. A line currently buckling under the onslaught.
"Where's that damned artillery?!" the local commander, LAPD Officer George Holland, bellowed even as he poked his head above the barricades to let loose a burst from his assault rifle, he was quickly forced back down again by the hail of bullets spat back at him.
"Incoming as we speak, sir!" the radio operator reported before a militiaman slumped over her, face and chest riddled with bullets. George quickly hauled the corpse off his one and only link to HQ and tried not to think too hard if that had been just a stranger or yet another colleague.
"Good! Then get back on the horn and get us some heavy reinforcements! We're getting swarmed out here!" he shouted before trying his luck with another burst over the barricades. It afforded him a grand view as howitzer shells rained down on the cultist horde. Whole squads simply vanished in great plumes of fire, and vehicles that had shrugged off the efforts of George and his boys all day long were turned to smoldering wrecks. Don't know who managed to drag those howitzers all the way here and then up on Hollywood Hill. But if I ever learn, I'll kiss that bastard on the lips.
Bu his elation proved short lived, as reserve units at the rear just kept on pushing, forcing the dazed and demoralized cultists at the front to keep advancing or be crushed beneath the wheels and boots of their own comrades.
"Shit!" was the most apt word he could come up with to summarize his current position before he turned back to the radio operator. "Where the fuck are those reinforcements?!"
Around him, the hundred or so militias still standing looked just as worried. The ground was strewn with their dead and dying, even though they traded one of theirs for ten cultists on average, and ammunition was starting to become an issue. And yet these bastards just kept on coming.
"Command has confirmed that reinforcements are on the way, and-" the rest of the operator's sentence was lost to a loud whooshing noise due to what Georg could only describe a lightning bolt of mustard and ketchup zoomed past him and over the barricades. And if he was left stunned by that, then the cultists were left to pick their jaws off the floor.
One second, they were advancing towards the barricades with murder in their eyes. And then the next, with a "YOINK!" echoing in all their ears, they found themselves standing there with empty hands.
"What the-" one began, before a roar of absolute rage had them all looking upwards to find a teenage boy of all things free-falling out of the sky and landing straight atop the hood of one of their makeshift armored trucks. Laws of physics demanded that the boy be little more than a red smear at that point, instead he just looked angry whilst the truck itself had crumpled like tinfoil beneath the boy's feet.
"Alright, who's next?!" the boy roared even as he gave a bitch slap to the gunner on the truck's back that sent him spinning through the air with more than a few teeth less.
"KILL HIM!" the commander roared, and those few still in possession of guns let loose on the boy. They might as well have been throwing pebbles at him as every bullet either bounced off or shattered like porcelain hurled at a brick wall. Then the noise of rushing water reached their ears, and they turn with flabbergasted expressions to watch a dark-skinned boy riding a wave bigger than the bridge they were standing on straight towards them.
"Fuck this shit!" the identity of whoever said that would forever be a mystery, but his words were quickly echoed by every cultist still standing and they promptly turned tail and fled. They proved too slow in the end as the wave slammed into the bridge and swept almost a hundred screaming cultists up in its embrace and carried them off down the river.
Back on the hostile side of the river, terrified reinforcements were herded forward by their masters, often with the crack of a whip or at the barrel of a gun. Rocket launchers and heavier vehicles were brought forward as well to deal with the new threat blocking their path. But both boys, who now stood right smack in the open on the bridge, did not budge an inch at the sight of these numbers. In fact, they looked more bored than anything.
"Insolent wretches," muttered one of the cultist commanders even as he directed several rocket teams into position. But he quickly realized that the danger lay not with the two boys when the forward vehicle, a converted cement truck, was hoisted high into the air by invisible hands and then unceremoniously dropped atop a school bus turned troop transport.
Many a cultist stopped their advance to just gawk at the display, a display all the more terrifying when more and more vehicles were suddenly just flipped onto their sides as if some giant invisible toddler was tossing his toys aside in a temper tantrum.
"Where's the target?!" someone desperately shouted even as he wildly sprayed into the air with his submachine gun.
"I can't see anything!" someone else shouted even as she leaped out of her vehicle. Smart of her too, as soon after, the vehicle did an impressive 180 degree spin and landed atop its roof.
"Form up, damn you all! Form up!" furious commanders tried to get their terrified soldiers back into formation. But the two boys on the bridge had apparently had enough of just standing on the sidelines and charged straight into the cultists' midst. Outnumbered at least three hundred to one at that point, the duo bulldozed straight through the ranks, sending unconscious cultists flying with broken bones in every direction.
Guns proved useless against the duo, close combat proved even more useless, and any form of heavy weapon that they tried to bring up was summarily crushed by the invisible hands of some vengeful god. Reinforcements rushed up from the rear to lend aid, but they found a yellow and red lightning bolt zipping back and forth through their ranks and leaving most of them flat on their backs and deprived of weapons.
"Dammit all to the Warp! We need some of the heavy hitters here now!" one of the frontline officers finally decided before he beat a very brave retreat back to what passed as this section's frontline command staff. Situated inside an abandoned diner well out of range of enemy guns, and stockpiled with all the luxuries afforded to the privileged elite of the cults. The officer who had gallantly chickened out burst into the diner with lungs that felt like they were on fire after hours of running and screaming.
"Master! We need heavier support at the front! We're getting-" but his words died on his tongue when he took in the sight within. Every one of his masters, plus their assortment of bodyguards and sycophants, lay scattered across the place in various stages of consciousness. Standing amongst the sea of beaten adults stood what had to have been the culprits. A young girl with a cocksure grin and a bow of all things for a weapon. And a boy, more child than teenager based on his height next to the girl, twirling a metal staff in his hand with the kind of skill and expertise veteran soldiers could only dream of.
He looked at them, and they looked at him. He looked at what used to be his masters, then at the measly whip in his hand. Then he just sighed and threw the whip away before slumping over on the ground.
"Join the Chaos cults, they said. Good for the career, they said," he muttered to himself, and did not even bother defending himself from the staff that smacked him over the head and rendered him unconscious.
"Just making sure," Robin offered as a defense as he and Artemis strolled out of the diner.
"I didn't say anything," she deflected even as they idly watched dazed and confused stragglers trying to make a run for it.
"Llaf peelsa!" two weirdly spoken words, and those stragglers slumped over, with many even beginning to outright snore.
"Nice work, Zee!" Robin shouted up to the team's newest, albeit still unofficial, member up on the roof. She in turn only gave a weak thumbs up in return. Poor girl might have been a real magical powerhouse, but she did not possess the years of intense physical training or weird alien biology to keep up after days of near ceaseless combat.
"Team, regroup at the bridge," Aqualad's voice then spoke inside their heads, courtesy of Miss Martian's mind link.
"Roger that, we're on our way," Robin responded before heading off, Zatanna having already left way in advance. But Artemis remained where she was, staring intently at the diner.
"Artemis?" Robin began once he noticed her absence. Artemis in turn did not acknowledge him at first, her focus being entirely on the diner with a downright pained expression.
"Artemis, what's wrong?" Robin tried again as he walked back over to her and lightly bumped her shoulder.
"You know they'll just be thrown back at our lines again tomorrow, right?" she finally responded, each word dripping with bitterness. "Not like we can take them all prisoner or anything. We don't have the facilities or the men to contain them."
"Artemis…" Robin warned, for he could see where her line of thinking was going.
"It's not like either side offer quarter anymore, it's just kill or be killed," Artemis continued as if she had not heard him. "Besides, it would be so easy. They're all knocked out, weapons out of reach. It would take, what, 10 to 15 minutes at most, if even that?"
"Artemis, stop it. We don't get to decide who lives or dies," Robin reprimanded, and now Artemis rounded on him with her face twisted into a visage of fury.
"Neither do they! Sure as hell isn't stopping them!" she all but screamed in his face. But Robin merely maintained a stony visage in the face of her rage. And eventually, the fury drained away from her face and she all but sagged in on herself.
"God, I'm just like my dad now, ain't I?" she had probably not meant to say it loud, nor did she yet realize the implications about what she said as she just looked tired and defeated. And Robin no longer saw a need to beat around the bush.
"You're not your family, Artemis," he assured her. And now it dawned on her what she had spilled, and what he knew. In any other situation, Robin might have found it funny how she ended up gaping at him like a fish.
"Hey, I'm a detective, it's what I do," he tried to joke with a small smile. It seemed to work to some degree as he got slap on his shoulder. There was no strength behind the blow, so Robin did not even attempt to shy away from it.
"You little troll," Artemis said, her own smile a contrast to her words. But it was a smile that did not last for long before her eyes were back on the diner.
"This is war now, plain and simple. What use are a hero's morals in a war?" she asked in resignation. A resignation that Robin secretly shared.
"Not much, to be honest. But hey, being a hero was never supposed to be easy anyway," he answered. There was not much he could say. At the end of the day, theirs was a personal struggle. Trying to balance their duty to protect the innocent and upholding their creed of never taking a life.
"Come on now, the others are still waiting," Robin finally spoke before heading back towards the bridge. Artemis lingered for a short moment longer, casting a final look at the diner, before she turned around and jogged to catch up with Robin.
"The frontline still holding?" Commissioner Steele asked from where he stood atop the control tower of Los Angeles Airport. More reinforcements were on the way, and someone needed to coordinate them.
"Aye, and definitively not for a lack of trying. The cultists have been attacking near non-stop since daybreak now, and are showing no signs of relenting yet," one officer reported, even as outside they could hear the rumble of guns, which were only temporarily silenced by the even greater noise of planes and helicopters coming in for landing.
"You smash one wave apart, and the bastards just recede to try again," Steele muttered bitterly to himself as his eyes were drawn to a commercial flight that had just touched down and was disgorging a motley band of Army soldiers and random militias. Three days of brutal combat, and still volunteers are flooding in to fight. Krieg, you magnificent bastard.
"Fewer than yesterday," Steele noted as he counted the number of aircraft.
"The cultists still lack an airforce of their own around here, but they've got more guns than I care to count. Throw enough lead into the air, and not even military helicopters can safely pass by," a Major of the US Army answered gruffly with a cigarette in his mouth. "Besides, Los Angeles ain't the only battle zone, and general Eiling requires all hands on deck."
"Don't mistake my observation for ingratitude or anything, every spare soldier and bullet sent our way is a godsend," Steele placated. "In fact, we were very much surprised when you started showing up in actual aircrafts."
The major just shrugged his shoulders. "Don't expect that to last. We lost an airbase recently filled with fighters. I suspect that the airspace will soon be hotly contested all over America."
Steele could not quite keep his wince in check. "As if things weren't bad enough as they were."
"Speaking of bad, it true that we're completely surrounded now?" the major then asked, and Steele could only nod.
"The last convoy managed to slip through yesterday evening, then the cultist forces hit the ocean. That hooligan Rancid and his thugs are still running rampant on the open countryside just outside the city limits, but unless Eiling would be so kind so as to send an armored battalion our way, we're well and truly trapped now,"
"Good," the major's answer had Steele giving him a very dark look and many other around the duo gawking at him. "It means we can fire in every direction and be sure to hit something."
Steele would never go so far as to laugh at the joke, but he did crack a small smile. "I suppose that's one way to look at it."
"Sir! Incoming transmission!" a radio operator frantically shouted, and Steele quickly strode over to listen to what was said. He did not like what he heard one bit.
"Someone get in contact with Krieg. Tell him he's gonna have to cut his date short with that lady friend of his and get back here as soon as possible," Steele ordered, sending at least a dozen aides scurrying off with their orders.
"And where exactly did those two rapscallions wander off to in the first place?" the major asked.
"Hunting," was all the answer he received.
While above ground the fighting raged on with unrelenting ferocity, below ground was another matter entirely. Here, in the sewers and subway tunnels, kill squads from both sides silently stalked each other in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Here, combat was fierce, up-close and brutal. But most importantly, it was quick. Skirmishes and ambushes would erupt sporadically before ending just as quickly as they started as both sides tried to outmaneuver and sneak around chokepoints.
"You sure we're on the right track?" one such squad, emblazoned with the Eight-Pointed Star of Chaos, was currently trudging through the long since abandoned Red Line Tunnels. Mostly sealed off decades ago by modern construction work, a lucky scouting run and some liberal application of explosives had opened a way in from heretic-controlled tunnels, and now multiple squads were moving in to map the place out and launch a surprise attack on loyalist holdings.
"Yes I'm bloody sure. My dad used to work in the metro system, I know how these things are designed," but it was proving to be easier said than done, especially when the overwhelming majority of heretics besieging Los Angeles were from other parts of the country and thus lacked any personal experience with the city.
"I'm just saying, that rusty old pillar we just passed looked awfully familiar to me," it did not help matters that since the tunnels were abandoned long before the advent of the modern internet, detailed mappings of this underground labyrinth was an absolute bitch to acquire.
"Dude, it's a rusty pillar. They all look the same down here," this led to multiple squads just aimlessly wandering about to get their bearings and figuring out if there were other entrances they could use to outflank the loyalists.
"Then how the fuck do you know we're going in the right direction," this cost the heretics time.
"You got a better idea then, smartass?" time which allowed the loyalists to notice that something was going on among the heretics.
"Look, all I'm saying is that we might be going in the wrong direction," and unlike the heretics, the loyalists had first-hand knowledge of the city. In fact, many of those fighting below ground used to work in the subways and sewers before the war.
"And which would be the right direction then?" it did not take them long to put two and two together, and a quick reconnaissance confirmed their suspicions.
"How would I know? You're the expert, after all," the situation was quickly radioed in to high command, requesting reinforcements to contain the threat.
Krieg responded with "I'm on my way".
"Then why do you keep on-" then there was a loud bang, and the cultist's head exploded, splattering his comrades with his brain matter. Then Krieg was in their midst from where he had been lying in ambush in the support structure above them, AA12 in hand. Second shotgun shot exploded a heart, third shot took a leg off by the knee, fourth shot ripped half a face off, fifth decapitated a poor soul.
"FUCK, IT'S HIM!" the scream went up, and the now very much terrified cultists scattered like hens that just found a fox among them. Krieg would not let them get away that easily. Sixth shot blasted apart the back of a head before he tackled another cultist over. He rolled to a knee and put a shot into the cultist's terrified face.
Bullets flew towards him as the others tried desperately to gun him down. There was very little light down here, and fear made their already shoddy aim even worse. Krieg all but leisurely stepped into cover behind a pillar as he put a burst of fire in their direction, his helmet's in-built night-vision and infrared vision letting him pinpoint everyone's exact position. Three fell over, two silently and one screaming, then the rest scurried for cover behind an old collapsed pillar.
Krieg charged their position, emptying the last shots in his gun at them even as they tried to return fire. One had her head burst apart like an overripe fruit, the rest decided to keep their heads very low and just blind-fire over their cover. A lucky bullet slammed straight into Krieg's chest whilst another clipped his leg and a third ricocheted off his shoulder guard.
With a growl of irritation, he threw aside his spent gun and drew his fire axe as he put in a final sprint. By the time the cultists realized that there was no more return fire, it was already too late. Krieg leaped over their cover and came down on a very much terrified cultist with an overhead swing that split his head in two down the middle.
Then his boot struck out to his right and knocked another cultist off her feet even as he dodged under a wild swing from his left before coming back up with a drawn knife and shoving it through the cultist's shin and into his brain. He tugged the axe loose as he sidestepped a crowbar before a sweeping strike with the axe took the cultist's knee off.
Krieg's boot came down on the screaming cultist's throat with a loud crunch even as the axe was buried in another target's crotch. A quick tug, and that poor cultist's entrails spilled out from between his legs whilst Krieg caught a knife aimed at his throat. One swing of the axe, and that attacker had blood pouring out from the gaping hole where his jaw used to be.
And that left only one cultist left, who was even now trying to make a run for it. Calmly, almost leisurely, Krieg took a broad stance as he gripped the axe in both hands. He gave a few back and forth swings to loosen up even as his target got farther and farther away. Then, he hurled the axe with all the strength he could muster. He was rewarded with a meaty CHUNK and a scream of agony as the cultist suddenly found the axe embedded in her back.
The blow knocked her flat on her face, and yet still she tried to crawl away, sobbing and wailing every step of the way. Krieg just gave an annoyed grumble at the sight as he casually walked after her. It did not take long to catch up with the mewling cultist, at which point he stomped down on the axe with all his strength, pushing it even deeper in and severing the girl's spine. There was an absolutely awful wailing after that, which was then silenced with a satisfying CRACK, courtesy of a final stomp on the cultist's neck.
"I've dealt with my squad, how are you handling things?" Krieg asked through his communicator as he braced a leg against the dead cultist and gripped the axe.
"Doing… alright… all things… considered," Ravager responded, each pause in her sentence punctuated either by intense gunfire or some foul heretic screaming in agony.
"Just don't take too long, we still have other targets to hit," Krieg said as he gave his axe a yank. It refused to budge. Must have dug it too deep into the spine.
"Have to say… You sure know… how to treat a girl," and there Ravager went again with her inane prattling that Krieg could not even decipher half the time. Why she even felt the need when Krieg could clearly hear that she had more important things to focus on, he would never know.
"If you say so," was all he said in return as he gave the axe a few more tugs, twisting it back and forth along the way. Finally, with a wet squelch, the axe came loose.
"Beautiful locale… extra entertainment… charming demeanour. All that's… missing is a… dinner and a movie… to top it all off!" she kept on babbling, even raising her voice at the end to be heard over an explosion.
"Just do your job," he grumbled before cutting the connection and stalked off in a bit of foul mood. Seriously? What in the name of the Emperor did dinners and movies have to do with a military operation? But it seemed like the day was not yet done for Krieg, as he received another communication. An urgent one it seemed as well.
"Krieg here," he immediately answered.
"Sorry to intrude on your quality time with little miss edginess," by the Emperor, not Commissioner Steele too. "But we need you topside ASAP."
"Situation?" Krieg inquired even as he diverted his route and headed towards the nearest loyalist entrance point.
"We just got word from a squadron of the US Pacific Fleet. They're steaming towards us with all haste, and they don't got good news for us," Steele reported. Krieg did not groan at the news, such an act would be beneath Krieg. But he felt very tempted to do so. It's one thing after the other.
"Roger that, I'm on my way," Krieg confirmed before he, very reluctantly, called up Ravager again. "An emergency just came up topside at the docks. Continue cleaning the tunnels out, I'll rendezvous with you later."
"Awww, pulling out so soon? But we were just getting to the best part," she whined with such and exaggerated tone that even Krieg could tell she was mocking him.
"Do not push your luck, woman," he growled back at her.
"Oh relax, will you. I've got things covered down here. You just-"
"- go and deal with whatever shitshow that's going on upstairs," Metamorpho did not care if anything else was said beyond that as he tossed the communicator aside and strode away, leaving behind the corpses of the PDF soldiers he had butchered to acquire that communicator.
"You're not getting away this time, Krieg," he spat out, maniacal hatred burning in his eyes as he stalked down the tunnels towards the docks.
Diana had always known that Themyscira was an island nation separated from the rest of the world to such a degree as to be almost considered a separate world. It was a state of affairs very much as intended, with the island shielded by the Gods themselves and its Amazon population choosing isolation from Man's World. Still, Diana had never truly appreciated how vast of a difference the two worlds were. But now, returning to Themyscira for the first time in years, she could truly see the island as a world lost in time.
The great forests and mountains, unspoiled by the advancements of modern society, stretching out far and wide below her. The beautiful lakes and lagoons that seemed to sparkle like jewels in the sunlight. And there, just below her aircraft, the city of Themyscira itself, with its many streets, temples, houses and palaces still proudly built in the traditions of ancient Greece.
It possessed none of the great technology of Man's World, but Diana would not have had it any other way. Themyscira was as it always had been and always would be. But where as the sight below her would have normally created a sense of longing and happiness within her, this day it only brought a deep sense of unease. And most of that feeling stemmed from the meeting she was about to take part in.
Hippolyta had never truly been happy with the idea of her daughter running off to gallivant around in Man's World, and heated words that could never be taken back had been exchanged between them all those years ago. Tempers had cooled since then, and mother and daughter could once again be in the same hall without letting venomous thoughts and actions poison their relation further.
But it did little to change the fact that there was a rift between them now, one that was unlikely to be overcome until Diana chose to return to her people and give up her duty as Guardian of the world. And now Diana was returning home again. Not to take her rightful place at her mother's side, but to ask her to rally the Amazons in defense of a world she still deeply despised for the crimes of its ancestors. What was I even thinking?
Coming in for a landing at the palace courtyard, Dina could see that a great crowd had already gathered to see what was going on, with one particular individual leading the charge. Despite her trepidation at the upcoming meeting with mother, Diana could not help but smile as she disembarked from her jet.
"Sister! You're back!" and was immediately assaulted by what many would describe as a miniature version of herself. Still, the younger girl still had a long way to go if she hoped to knock Diana over with a tackling hug.
"Troia, it's so good to see you again!" Diana laughed as she embraced her sister in turn.
"I missed you. It's been so long since you last visited home," Troia said, smiling happily at her. Diana's own smile became a bit more brittle in turn.
"I'm truly sorry, there's just been so much that needed to be done in Man's World," and then she could no longer keep up her smile. "Which is sadly why I've returned now. I need to speak with mother."
"Then speak," a stern and dignified voice declared loudly, and the tension skyrocketed. Slowly, Diana turned towards the great marble steps that led up to the palace gates. And there, standing in all her regal glory, was queen Hippolyta herself. With a face locked into a stern visage and disapproval all but radiating out of her.
"Mother…" Diana began, hesitating for the shortest of moments before steeling her resolve and speaking up again. "By now you must have heard of the chaos gripping Man's World, of the madness that even now threatens to engulf it."
"Indeed I have, as have the Gods according to the priestesses. Zeus in particular keeps grumbling about these upstart nuisances intruding upon his domain," Hippolyta answered, voice as cold as ice. Already the crowd was whispering amongst itself as uncertain glances passed from mother to daughter. Even Troia felt the growing tension and took a few steps back.
"Then you must know the danger we are all in. This threat will not go away, it will come for us as well if we let Man's World fall. We-"
"Enough!" one word from the queen, and the courtyard became as quite as a mausoleum before she continued. "I will not waste our sisters' lives to protect Man's World. Let them die in their pointless wars and suffer the consequences of their actions."
Ares himself could have descended from the heavens at that point demanding their subjugation, and he would have been met with naught but silence as mother and daughter stared each other down whilst all else held their breath. None dared speak, none dared move. None save Diana.
"Have you heard nothing of what I said? It will not stop at Man's World. Once these beasts have gorged themselves on the blood of Men, they will come for us, and we cannot stand against them alone," she vehemently protested as she began marching up the stairs. The Royal Guards now looked very uncertain whether they should try and stop the princess or let her be. Hippolyta solved that dilemma for them by waving them aside.
"You underestimate our strength, daughter, and the divine blessing we enjoy. Here the Gods protect us," she declared, standing tall as she came face to face with her daughter. And only now did she see more than fury and determination in Diana's eyes. There was also sadness there now, and anguish.
"You say that now, but you haven't seen what I've seen," Diana whispered, too low for anyone but Hippolyta to hear. And for the first time that day, the queen's face softened as she lifted a hand to gently stroke her daughter's cheek.
"You've already seen much, haven't you?" she asked, even though she already knew the answer. She had not seen eyes like those since the time that the Amazons were still in slavery.
"If only you knew," was all Diana could bitterly declare.
"Perhaps…" Hippolyta haltingly began again whilst taking a step to the side. "It would be best if we continued this discussion indoors."
It did not take long for Diana to nod in agreement. "Yes, that would probably be for the best."
Hippolyta just nodded as she guided Diana inside the palace whilst the Royal Guard began working to disperse the crowd outside.
"I am glad to see you again, my daughter. I just wish it was under better circumstances," Hippolyta admitted as they kept walking.
"So do I, mother," Diana answered.
"So what do we got exactly?" Krieg inquired as he stood at the pir waiting for their unexpected guests, whose smoke trails he could already see in the distance. Odd. I do not recall modern surface vessels producing that much smoke.
"A ragtag band of survivors, from what I could gather. Mostly frigates and destroyers that were fast enough to escape in time," a lieutenant reported even as the ships grew closer and closer.
"Apparently not fast enough," Krieg idly noted as he could finally confirm that yes, those were fires and combat damages that were leaking out the extra smoke.
"The uprising caught us all by surprise, sir," the lieutenant stiffly reminded him.
"So it did, and yet here I'm standing holding the line with nothing but untrained militias and the battered remnants of whatever general Eiling could scrape together for me," Krieg retorted without even turning to face the lieutenant. Not that he needed to as he felt the glare the man directed at his back.
"Damn, looks like the navy boys took one hell of a pounding," someone remarked once the navy vessels began steaming into the harbor. Well, steaming might be the wrong term here. Limping was probably a much more apt description. Not a single ship that entered was without battle scars, and quite a few were tilting in the water.
"As long as they can take an even further beating, they should be adequate," Krieg stated even as one of the destroyers came to a stop next to the pier he and his staff officers were waiting at. Soon enough, anchors were dropped, ropes were tied and a plank was dropped. Shortly thereafter, the commanders of this squadron came ashore.
They were a sorry sight, about as battered as the ships they arrived on. The one in front, obviously the leader, looked like he had gone multiple rounds in the ring with a Metahuman. Bandages covered almost half his face, he walked only with the aid of a crutch, and his uniform had become an ugly color of brown and grey from all the blood and dirt it had been drenched in.
"I assume you're the vigilante Krieg," and yet he still stood tall and spoke with a voice that demanded attention. A veteran commander.
"Commander Krieg to be precise. Or at least for as long as this siege will last," Krieg answered. The gruff man gave a miniscule nod before saluting.
"Rear Admiral Peter Miller of the United States Pacific Fleet, here to offer assistance in the defense of the city," he replied. More or less what Krieg had expected.
"The rest of the fleet?" he inquired, and Peter could only shrug.
"Scattered to the four winds, at the bottom of the ocean, in the hands of the enemy. I was lucky to evacuate with as many ships as I was able to," he explained.
"Hostiles following you?" Krieg continued.
"Most likely, though they're taking their time with it," again, the answer was expected. But it was anything but welcome.
"Then we'll truly be surrounded on all sides," Krieg muttered to himself before addressing the Rear Admiral again. "Your first priority is to get your ships repaired as much as possible. You're currently our only naval defense, and we'll need every last one of you."
"Furthermore, see if you can have some of your men take a look at the battleship Iowa. We're trying to get her seaworthy for the defense," that caused Peter to raise a very surprised eyebrow.
"A tall order considering she's been decommissioned for decades now. They don't even make ammunition for her main guns anymore," he pointed out.
"We lucked out and found some very old stockpiles lying forgotten in storage, but we have yet to get her powered up again so only her secondary armaments are currently of use," Krieg explained.
"Well, it's a start at least. Though perhaps-"
"HOSTILE!" the alarm went up, and then a multicolored creature burst out of hiding and charged towards the pier, roaring like a savage animal. Terrified guards opened fire immediately, but the bullets harmlessly bounced off of its suddenly rock-hard skin. Then the creature was among them, arms turned into scythes as it carved its way through the ranks.
"KRIEG!" it roared even as blood and limbs flew all around it. Krieg did not hesitate for even a second as he drew pistol and knife and charged to meet the threat. One swing of its arm, and it bisected three soldiers in one go. But it left itself open to Krieg who charged in and opened fire straight into its face even as he stabbed his knife into the abdomen. The knife snapped like a broken twig and the bullets bounced off like pellets.
The creature in turn just sneered at him as it took a swing at him. He dodged the first, sidestepped the second even as he reloaded, ducked under the third while firing at its torso, and leaped back to avoid the fourth when these bullets too failed to do anything.
"Call in heavy support! We'll need anti-tank weaponry to deal with this one!" Krieg shouted to the scattered survivors huddling safely out of reach. That actually caused the creature to pause in its rampage, as it suddenly burst out laughing.
"Not so funny being on the receiving end is it?! To be powerless in the face of someone more powerful and knowing there's no one to save you!" the creature taunted, its oddly humanoid face split into a manic grin. Krieg did not deign to reply, and that seemed to infuriate the creature as its smirk vanished.
"You don't remember me, do you? Not that I can blame you, this is hardly how I looked the last time we met," the creature began, running a hand over its disgusting face. Krieg could see some of his men run off to carry out his orders, so he refrained from continuing the assault and simply stood where he was. Let the abomination waste time talking if it wanted to.
"Let me refresh your memory then. Gotham City, Stagg Industries, an innocent man, a maniac and then you," that last word came out as more of a growl from the creature, its eyes narrowed in fury at Krieg as it took a threatening step towards him. Krieg tensed up, ready to leap into action again, but remained standing where he was.
"You're the reason I'm like this, you and that bastard Deathstroke!" the creature roared, spittle flying out of its mouth as it was visibly shaking with rage.
"Sir?" someone asked behind Krieg, but he dared not take his eyes off the creature to see who had spoken.
"And now you prance around here pretending to be a savior to these people! After you ruined my life! AFTER YOU LEFT ME TO DIE!" the creature was now outright roaring. It had everyone within earshot taking several steps back. Except for Krieg, who refused to even budge.
"You're no hero, Krieg, you're a killer and a villain. You're no better than the lunatics you're fighting. You'd happily let thousands of innocents die just to further your own goals, just like you let me die," the creature continued with a fierce snarl on its lips. And where was the reinforcements? It was getting quite annoying listening to its inane prattling.
"Got nothing to say? Not even gonna try and defend yourself?" the creature questioned, and Krieg as ever ignored it. That only served to infuriate it even further, with spikes starting to erratically form across its body as a bestial growl escaped from its throat.
"SAY SOMETHING, DAMN YOU! TELL ME WHY MY LIFE MATTERED SO LITTLE TO YOU!" it screamed at him, eyes all but alight with manic fury. Nervous soldiers and officers watched this all from the sidelines, eyes bouncing back and forth between them as everyone seemed to wait for Krieg's response to the accusations. Then…
"Who are you again?" Krieg simply asked. Silence greeted his question at first, with even the abomination finally being at a loss of word. And thank the Emperor for that.
"RUAAAARGH!" but that sadly did not last for long, as the creature howled and then charged straight at Krieg, with each leap cracking the concrete beneath its feet.
Krieg just sighed. "This is going to hurt."
The worst of the fighting was over for today. The traitors had exhausted their frontline units and were now withdrawing to lick their wounds. But the fighting was not wholly over as small squads skirmished with each other all along the line. It led the team to being split up to cover more ground and deal with as many of these skirmishes as possible. M'gann was the only one not directly engaged, instead becoming the eyes and ears in the sky for the team.
"Kaldur, there's about ten of them two blocks east of you. Looks like they're carrying heavy equipment," she reported across the mind-link.
"Affirmative, moving to engage," Aqualad reported back.
"Oi, I could use some help over here! The bastards brought a flamethrower!" Artemis suddenly shouted across the link, sounding more annoyed than distressed. M'gann could not see her directly, but she had a good guess when she saw a building in the distance catch fire.
"Hang in there! I'm coming!" Kid Flash responded immediately, and he sounded very much worried. Any other day, M'gann might have teased him about that. But there was no time for such jovial activities now. There never was.
"Just dealt with two squads out in the woods. The Rangers send their regards as well," Robin informed, and he did not sound pleased at all. Then again, not like anyone else was.
"Gonna have to halt my patrol for the moment, I'm helping the guys over at the Foothill Boulevard to reinforce their barricades," Superboy spoke up.
"Hey, anyone got eyes on Zee?" Robin then asked.
"I'm fine, Boy Wonder, stop worrying," Zatanna grumbled back at him from wherever she was currently resting in the rear lines. On and on, the reports and discussions went back and forth as the Team did their small part for the city's defense.
"Hang on, I'm getting reports from the docks," Aqualad then said, and it gave M'gann a sinking feeling in her guts. There was supposed to be no fighting at the docks.
"Krieg's in trouble! Some kind of monster have slipped through our lines and is going straight for him!" and that exclamation sent the whole team into overdrive.
"The docks?! Dammit, I'm too far away!" that would be Robin.
"Me and Artemis are already on route! We'll delay whatever it is!" and that would be Kid Flash.
"Just don't drop me or anything!" Artemis added to that.
"M'gann, you're the only one who's close enough to provide support!" Aqualad then declared, and M'gann felt like ice had been dropped into her stomach.
"On it!" she reported back, struggling to not show any of her sudden trepidation. She had done her utmost to avoid Krieg ever since the siege began. And yet now she no longer had a choice in the matter. I just hope it won't turn out bad.
"Forward, men! For Atlantis!" Orin cried out as he skewered yet another cultist on his trident and hurled the body aside like garbage. Terrified cultists let loose with full auto, but their measly bullets shattered against his Atlantean battle armor. Without a care for the danger, Orin charged headlong into the cultist lines, trident crackling with power. One swing, and he eviscerated well over a dozen of them.
"Follow the king!" then the Atlantean soldiers were charging in after him, slamming into the cultist line and ripping it to shreds. The fighting barely lasted five minutes, and then the beaches of Miami were firmly in the hands of Atlantis' brave soldiers. And what few surviving cultists still stood were even now fleeing even deeper into the city.
"Keep up the pressure! Don't give them a chance to regroup!" Orin commanded, and his words were met with an enthusiastic cheer as Atlantean infantry squads advanced off the beaches and into the suburbs. Their place was quickly taken by further battalions of infantry marching out of the ocean, accompanied by hover tanks and crab-like walkers, all carrying weapons the likes of which the surface dwellers could only dream of.
Orin remained at the beaches, waiting for the rest of the army to make landfall. As he did, he surveyed what had once been a beautiful beach, no doubt regularly visited by thousands of people just looking to relax and enjoy themselves. But now? Now it was little more than a charnel house, strewn with the dismembered and crushed corpses of hapless cultists. Ordinary men and women given a gun and a knife if they were lucky and then told to hold the line against arguably the single most powerful military on Earth.
"Lambs to the slaughter," he quietly lamented to himself. But amidst the carpet of dead cultist, Orin could still spot the occasional green and blue color of an Atlantean soldier. Sometimes, sheer numbers or just pure luck could overcome even the greatest warrior. And how many more would die before it was all over? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of Thousands? How many husbands and wives would be waiting back home in vain for their loved one? How many sons and daughters? How many fathers and daughters?
Then he gritted his teeth and resolutely looked away from the bodies, casting his thoughts to other matters. Can't afford to think like that. This is a war for survival, and many more will die before this nightmare is over.
"My king! We're receiving a transmission!" one of his officers called out as she came running to him.
"What does it say?" Orin asked, face ever stoic even as there was a small spark of relief in his soul. Something to focus on.
"Survivors have holed up in Westland Mall, but they're surrounded by cultists and are desperately calling for help," the officer reported. Orin already knew what his next orders were before the sentence was even finished. Old habits die hard.
"Assemble a spearhead formation, we'll punch our way through the enemy lines," he declared even as he began marching towards the frontlines. "Have reserve units follow in our wake. We'll use the charge to split their forces in two in the bargain and encircle them."
"As you command, my king," the officer saluted and then rushed off to carry out his orders. To say that Orin was content would be too strong of a word, he would never be truly content in this hellish war. But he did feel a small measure of peace. I may not be a hero right now, but I can still save lives.
"Warriors of Atlantis!" he bellowed as his requested forces assembled around him. "The enemy reels from our blows! Now we shall drive our blades deep into his rotten heart! Let these cowardly scum taste the fury of our steel! Onward!"
With a great cheer and the roaring of engines, the spearhead rushed headlong into the city, with Orin at the head. They found hundreds of cultists waiting for them, huddling behind line after line of makeshift barricades. They might as well have not been there in the first place for all the good they did. Orin and his forces all but rolled all over them, heavy weaponry from their hover tanks obliterating any obstacle in their part while plasma rifles mopped up the scattered survivors stumbling out of the smoke and debris.
They hit the Julia Tuttle Causeway like a bolt of lightning, terrified cultists caught halfway across and swept into the waters like garbage. Small-arms fire bounced off the armor plating of the frontal tanks as they bulldozed through the ranks while infantry squads mopped up the shell-shocked survivors left in their wake.
Then, they smashed straight into the heart of Miami, obliterating the first few squads that tried to hinder their path. But now, the shock had worn off, the cultists knew they were under attack, and they were responding. Orin's forces were just about to blitz past Casino Miami when armored vehicles came rolling towards them. Civilian construction vehicles with thick armor plates welded onto the front and bristling with machine guns and rocket launchers, they were crude and cumbersome vehicles.
But as the first Atlantean hover tank at the front went up in flames thanks to a swarm of missiles catching it in its side, these primitive vehicles proved that they were still quite effective warmachines.
"Do not halt now! We get bogged down, we're done for!" Orin hollered from where he was hanging onto a tank. The cultist tanks rumbled forward, all guns blazing. Another hover tank went down to volume of fire, hull riddled with craters and smoke billowing out of its wrecked engines. Then the rest raced forward, energy weapons powered up and ready for action. First salvo reduced three cultist vehicles to burning wrecks, but those were pushed aside by more vehicles rolling up behind whilst hordes of screaming cultists poured out from the surrounding streets.
But with calm precision, the Atlantean soldiers fell back and formed firing lines facing every direction. Then plasma and laser fire were unleashed en masse, burning through the first ranks of cultists and sending those at the rear reeling. Sporadic fire was returned, felling one or two Atlanteans here and there. But every fallen Atlantean cost the cultists untold of their own, creating carpets of cremated corpses as plasma and lasers cooked and melted whatever they did not outright disintegrate.
The cultist tanks however would not stop, and bulldozed their way forward with engines and guns roaring. The frontal squads of Atlanteans were decimated by the sheer volume of fire, bodies shattered or outright ripped apart by heavy caliber weaponry. Then the hover tanks rejoined the fight, racing forward at full throttle. A lucky hit was scored on the lead hover tank, splattering the driver across the interior and sending the whole vehicle crashing headlong into the road.
But the rest powered on, and sheer speed had them slipping out of the cultists' arc of fire. Now they were on their flanks, and panicking cultist commanders tried to get their lumbering behemoths to turn about and face the enemy. It was like watching a tortoise trying to turn around, and the hover tanks took all the time they needed to line up their shots before unleashing energy beams through the soft spots and straight into the engines.
In the amount of time it took to blink, half the cultist vehicles erupted into great explosions of fire and debris as fuel and ammunition alike cooked off within their armored bulks. Whatever cultist infantry that had been stationed to guard these metal beasts simply vanished in the raging inferno created by their destruction. Surviving vehicles hastily began to back up to avoid the fate of their comrades, but the hover tanks would not let them escape that easily.
And then Orin himself came leaping out of the flames and slammed into the cultists ranks with the fury of a vengeful storm. First vehicle to block his path was turned on its side, second had the front armor and its engines ripped off. Heavy caliber rounds tore chunks out of Orin's armor as terrified gunners blasted away at near point-blank range, but Orin just snarled and leaped atop the vehicle, trident becoming more like a scythe as he butchered men and women with each swing of it.
Behind him, Atlantean soldiers swarmed forward to mop up the survivors left in their king's rampage. Behind them lay a scene of carnage, with thousands of dead cultists littering the streets while the survivors fled back the way they came, hounded every step of the way by Atlantean rear units moving up to the front to widen the gap their king had punched in the cultist lines.
"Do not let them fall back and recover! Push onward! To victory!" Orin urged his soldiers ever onward, and the advance continued. Nothing it seemed could stand in their way as they pushed towards the survivors.
But even as the fighting raged on with savage ferocity on the streets, below them was an eerie silence, one only broken by the muffled noise of gunfire from above and the occasional rumble of explosions in the distance. In the streets and in the buildings above, cultists fought tooth and nail in a desperate but ultimately futile effort to stem the Atlantean onslaught. Up above, the cultists died like flies, trading thousands of theirs for but a handful of Orin's soldiers.
But below ground, in the sewers and subways of Miami, even more cultists waited for the signal, eager to get to grips with the enemy. But these ones were nothing like those currently fighting and dying. Bodies either swollen like balloons or as gaunt as corpses, with gaping wounds littering their flesh that constantly leaked pus and other foul liquids even as fat worms could be seen wiggling about in the rotting meat. Whatever skin that was not just festering wounds was instead littered with boils and rashes, covered by a thin sheen of slime.
Swarms of flies buzzed around them, many even landing on the bodies to crawl into ears, eyes, mouths and nostrils. And above it all, the putrid stench of rot and decay. By all conventional laws of nature, these cultists should all be dead and their bodies half-decomposed. And yet, not only were they very much still alive, they were in a sickeningly good mood as they laughed and joked amongst each other.
A scene made even more morbid by the fact that there were plenty of dead bodies down there with them. Tens of thousands of them to be precise, maybe even hundreds of thousand. They covered every available surface in the tight space, often piled so high that those at the top touched the ceiling. Some looked to only be a few days old, others looked like they had been dug out of their graves. But they all served as just another buffet for the maggots and flies that already infested the cultists.
"So how long do we have to wait?" one such group sat gathered at one of the subway stations, engaged in idle chit-chat with gurgled voices that the uninitiated could barely decipher.
"Hard to say. But the master made it clear that we're not to strike until given the signal," but they were getting restless, impatient to join the fray.
"Well, if the mazzzter commandzzz it, then zzzo it zzzhal be. Zzztill, I hate waiting like thizzz," yet none dared disobey their masters, for they knew well the penalty. So they sat, and they waited.
"I've got something on the comms here!" but then an excited voice spoke up before turning the volume up to max. The horrific noise that came from the other end was akin to a man getting suffocated by a swarm of buzzing flies, but it sent the whole lot of them scurrying with giddiness. Well, "scurrying" might not be an apt description, "waddling" was closer to the truth.
But whatever the case, they all picked up rusty and filth-encrusted weapons and gathered around the only area free of corpses, upon which the mark of Grandfather Nurgle himself had been engraved. Then out of the masses, a single man stepped forward carrying a lead box. Excited murmurs broke out as this box was reverently placed at the very center of Nurgle's symbol.
"Showtime, boys and girls. Let's show the unbelievers the true love of Papa Nurgle," the man spoke with a toothy grin. Or it would have been a toothy grin if half of said teeth were not missing and the other half were little more than rotting bone pieces sticking out of grotesquely swollen gums. Then, he opened the box, and out spilled a thick cloud of sickly green gas. The subway station was already awash with the putrid stench of rotting flesh, but this small amount of gas leaking out of the box had such a pungent aroma of sickeningly sweet decay so as to render all other smells void.
Any ordinary man would have been on his knees by now, emptying his stomach over and over whilst he choked on the thick stench. But these cultists just breathed in the fumes like they were smoking cigarettes. And with each breath taken, their giddiness grew all the stronger.
"And now, the martyrs!" the apparent leader cried out as he stood back up with a rusty knife in hand. Immediately, more than a dozen cultists stepped forward, joining the leader within Nurgle's symbol.
"Let us begin the song, brothers and sisters! Let rot and decay spread!" the leader demanded, and his followers answered as they began chanting in a tongue that was never meant to be used by mortals. And as the chanting carried on, the martyrs stepped forward one by one, where the leader slit their throats and let their blood spill into the box one by one. On and on, the ritual continued, with the cultists even beginning to sway back and forth to the rhythm of the chanting.
It began small, barely noticeable to those not paying attention. The swarm of insects and their incessant buzzing, it was no longer just a random noise. No, it now had a rhythm of its own, singing in tune with the human chants. Then the maggots wiggled their way forward, bloated bodies swaying back and forth like a macabre dance.
Finally, as the last martyr was sacrificed, the symbol of Nurgle pulsated to life with a sickly heartbeat. Tendrils of putrid power from Beyond crawled into the box, seeking the source of the gas. Inside, they found a chunk of dark green rock, radiating a corrosive energy even as the sickly gas kept seeping out of its cracks and crevices. This rock was as much part of the Warp as the very tendrils now grasing for it, but both had been created for different purposes. And when the two merged, the results were a thing of beauty to Nurgle and his children.
What had once been a mere trickle of the foul gas now turned into a bellowing furnace that spewed it out with unmatched fury. In the time it took to blink, the whole metro station was shrouded by the noxious fumes, and it was even now rushing through the tunnels like a wall of corrosive death. So thick and so potent did the gas now become that even the devoted servants of Nurgle were left coughing within its embrace, not that they were complaining in the slightest.
"Feel the touch of Nurgle! Breathe in his love and bask in its glory!" someone managed to shout amidst the rolling cloud of gas, and the others cheered in agreement. Nor where they alone. For across the city, similar rituals had been carried out, and now they were all celebrating as the gas flooded Miami's underground networks. Soon enough, every sewer and metro tunnel within the city was filled to the brim with the gas. And when there was no more room below ground for the gas, it began to crawl upwards, billowing out of the subways and sewer grates to envelop the city above.
And below ground, amidst the jubilant cultists of the plague father, the insects and worms breathed in the gas as well. Then they returned to the corpses, burrowing deep into rotting flesh to latch onto decomposed organs and crumbling sinews. Where needed, they came together to form new and twisted muscle to keep limbs in place.
Then a sickly green light began to shine out of previously milky white eyes, and the corpses began to stir.
The fighting had by now become little more than a formality, a one-sided slaughter carried out because the cultists still refused to see that the battle was a foregone conclusion. Their heavy armor laid as smoking wrecks along the highway, their defenses along the coast was crumbling like a sandcastle, and Orin's spearhead was driving an ever deeper wedge into their lines.
And yet still they fought on, dying like flies in a desperate bit to take as many of Orin's troops with them to the grave as they could. And even that was a task that they were failing horribly at. Atlantean casualties were still but a drop in the ocean compared to the reserves they still had available.
None of that mattered to Orin though at the moment, leading from the front as he carved his way through cultist lines with trident and brute force.
"Surrender now! Your cause is lost, and so will your lives if you persist in this foolishness!" he bellowed at the top of his lungs even as his trident split three cultists in half with a single swing.
"Hahaaa! Crush, kill! Aahaahaa! DESTROY!" but the cultist behind those merely giggled, wide and unfocused eyes darting all over the place even as his body twitched erratically. Orin had dealt with enough drug dens alongside the League to recognize the symptoms.
"Are you even aware of what you're doing?" he found himself asking, even though he knew that he would never receive an answer. Partially because he took off the cultist's head with single punch. Onward they pushed, leaving hundreds of dead cultists in their wake, until they finally reached their target.
Open ground in the form of a massive parking lot, riddled with the burned out husks of civilian vehicles and the rotting corpses of countless cultists. Beyond that, the mall itself, its outer wall scarred with burn marks and gaping holes. And within the bombed out ruins of what used to be a thriving business, people could be seen moving.
"Hold fire," Orin commanded when some of his men started taking aim. Then, a lone man stepped out of the mall and walked fearlessly towards the Atlantean forces spreading out before him. In recognition, Orin chose to meet the man halfway between their forces, waving at his men to stand back when they made to follow him.
"Well I'll be damned! When I first heard the word that Aquaman himself was coming to save our sorry asses, I almost didn't believe it," the man greeted as soon as they were within speaking distance.
"This war threatens all of us. I could hardly stay below the waves and leave the surface world to fend for itself," Orin answered cordially, to which the man hastily waved his hands in a placating gesture.
"Now don't get me wrong or anything, we're all very grateful for the rescue. We were running out of food as it was. It's just…" here he hesitated, rubbing the back of his head as he awkwardly glanced about. "We're just a few hundred survivors, held together only by fear and hot glue. We only have enough ammo to last another day, and we've got no big guns to speak of. We just seem so insignificant compared to the rest of the world."
"If I am to be honest with you, we didn't even know that there were survivors in the city," Orin admitted, even as a suspicion began to gnaw at him. Something was not quite right here…
"Really? We've been broadcasting SOS messages 24/7 ever since the siege began," the man explained in bewilderment, and Orin's suspicions grew.
"We only picked up your signal when we made landfall on the beaches," he answered, before another thought struck him. "You said you had no heavy ordinance. How have you been fighting off the enemy's heavily armed vehicles?"
The man was the epitome of confused. "What vehicles? They've been throwing nothing but infantry at us all this time. We've heard some really big wheels rolling around in the distance, but we never saw them."
An icy feeling grew in the pit of Orin's guts. An army of near suicidal cultists with heavy armor as back-up, and yet they had failed to take a single building manned only by a few hundred starved and terrified civilians? No, not failed to take, they simply did not bother to take it. But that went against everything these cultists seemed to be focused on, causing as much death and mayhem as they could.
"Order the retreat immediately! Get all of our forces out of the city and back to the ocean!" Orin screamed over his shoulder at his very much startled men before turning back to the equally flabbergasted man he had been conversing with.
"Round up all the survivors you can find and follow us! We need to evacuate with all haste!" he ordered, but the poor man seemed to have trouble keeping up.
"What? But we- how are- what is-"
"This whole thing is a trap! And you are the bait!" Orin might have been a bit too forceful with his reply as the man physically reeled back from his words, but he no longer had the time or patience for politeness. "Now get your people together! We need to withdraw before-"
"My king!" the cry went up, and Orin knew then and there that he had been too slow. Still, when he turned to see the trap being sprung, even he was left in a state of terrified awe. Before him, a thick cloud of sickly green color was billowing up from underneath the city streets, swelling in size until it flowed through every street and every building. Orin did not even have time to shout a warning before the noxious cloud washed over him and his forces.
The effects were immediate, even for the Atlanteans and their enhanced physicality. Orin's eyes watered up, the thick gas stinging his eyes like a swarm of angry mosquitoes, and every breath taken felt like swallowing glass shards. And the smell, by all the seven seas the SMELL! A dozen corpses left to rot in the sun for days in their own shit must have had a more pleasant aroma than this cloud!
"Fall- Fall b-" Orin tried to issue orders to his troops, but each attempt ended with him just coughing and gagging as the toxic fumes seemed to worm their way into his lungs. His eyesight was blurry and obscured, but he could still he soldiers doubling over in violent coughs or stumbling about half blind. They were like sitting ducks here. Then came the screams, and the explosions, and the gunfire. All of it originating from the direction that Orin's forces had come from. Walked right into it like a rookie…
Gritting his teeth against the pain caused by every lungful of toxic air, Orin stood back to his full height and raised his trident high into the air. Power coursed through the ancient symbol of Atlantean royalty, and it burst into a bright and powerful light, shining like a beacon in the poisonous darkness.
"WARRIORS OF ATLANTIS! TO ME!" he bellowed out with all the strength he could muster, even though the act made it feel like someone had set his lungs on fire. Like moths to a flame, the Atlanteans heeded their king's word and all but stumbled over to him. But the light also revealed another force stumbling towards them.
"Hostiles incoming! Defend yourselves!" Orin felt like he was tearing his throat apart, but his warning was heard and the Atlantean soldiers sluggishly turned to face the enemy, even as they coughed and wheezed from the poisoned air. The enemy did not seem to be in a much better condition, moaning and wailing every step of the way as they shambled forward like a wall of flesh. Where the hell had they been hiding?
Then the enemy got close enough that Orin could begin to make them out better, and he got his answer. Bloated, rotting carcasses, with slabs of greasy flesh hanging loosely from yellow bones whilst fat maggots crawled around inside organs and entrails. Both of which were often laid bare for all to see. The only sign of life within these pox-marked husks were the eyes, which glowed with a pale and sickly green light. But within that light, Orin could see a hunger for flesh.
"OPEN FIRE!" he roared, and the now very much terrified Atlanteans obeyed the command. Laser and plasma weaponry ripped into the teeming horde, melting body parts and blowing limbs clean off. But the horde advanced undeterred. Even with fist-sized holes blown in their bodies, the undead marched on. Even with legs blown clean off, they simply dragged themselves onward with their hands.
The hover tanks then joined the fray, their powerful guns blasting great holes in the teeming masses. But just like when stomping into a puddle of water, the sea of rotting bodies would simply flow back into the holes. Rapid-firing plasma weaponry then let loose, spitting out thousands of shots every second. The front ranks of undead melted under the barrage, but they might as well have been trying to stop an avalanche with a shovel.
"Fall back! Form defensive firing lines!" Orin commanded even as he let loose a blast from his trident, vaporizing at least five more undead. But more and more kept shambling out of the darkness, a living carpet of rot and decay hungry for fresh meat. Atlantean soldiers quickly began to fall back, often stumbling over their own feet and coughing every step of the way.
Orin could feel the poison eating at his lungs, but he fought through the growing pain as he rallied the troops around him. Then, a beam of energy struck one of the hover tanks, skewering it and rupturing both fuel and ammunition. The tank exploded with a cacophonous boom that sent Atlanteans flat on their backs with ears ringing and shrapnel piercing their armor.
"Where did that shot come from?!" someone called out. That someone then became a hell of a lot shorter when a loud boom was heard before his chest exploded, sending arms and head flying in every which direction. More booming noises rang out, and more Atlanteans blew apart as if a grenade had been stuffed into their bodies. Then they stepped forward.
Ten of them in total, their hulking frames looming above the undead horde swarming around them. Dressed head to toe in the bulkiest armor Orin had ever seen, its surface rusted and dented from what had to have been years of wasteful maintenance. A nauseating miasma seemed to cling to these warrior behemoths as they steadily advanced, truly massive guns gripped in their hands that belched fire and noise with every pull of the trigger. And every time one of those guns fired, an Atlanteans died a gory and messy death.
"Concentrate fire on the big ones!" Orin roared at his men as he started to taste blood in his mouth. Even as those words left his lips, one of the giants raised its weapon. Bigger and longer than that of its compatriots, it looked more like a tank gun that the thing had ripped out of a turret. There was a whirring noise, then a keen wail as a thick laser beam was discharged from the gun, and then another hover tank went up in flames.
Atlantean infantry instantly switched fire to the bigger targets, their movements growing sluggish and their accuracy suffering. Still, when hundreds of soldiers fire together, some are bound to hit. And when those shots were from Atlantean weapons, that should be more than enough. Atlantean tech was some of the most advanced pieces of technology on the globe, and its armies were second to none. No armor known to man had ever withstood the might of Atlantis, not for long in any case.
Plasma shots did little more than scorch the giants' armor plating, and the lasers left little pits in the armor. The giants laughed, an ugly gurgling noise, even as they were hit over and over by volleys of plasma and laser. One lucky shot even found a chink in the armor and blasted a hole big enough for entrails to spill out, but the giant in question did not even seem to notice it as he just kept lumbering forward at a leisurous pace.
Then they returned fire, and whole squads of Atlanteans were absolutely shredded by the giants' horrific weaponry. Another hover tank was annihilated, and the others now had undead clambering up the sides. Desperate drivers swerved back and forth, trying to use their vehicles' engines to fry the undead even as the gunners let loose at maximum power at point-blank range into the horde.
Hundreds died, but thousand more waited their turn to climb aboard and rip the crew limb from limb. The infantry fared little better, their numbers being thinned out by the giants and the poisonous gas sapping them of strength for every breath of it they took. The undead horde was now steadily gaining on them, no longer slowed down by concentrated volleys of fire.
Orin was now at the very front cleaving one undead in half after the other with his trident. Next to him, Atlantean troops were cutting and blasting apart the undead in brutal melee. It was a losing battle, as Orin obliterated another five undead only to watch one of his men be dragged kicking and screaming to the ground before what must have been well over twenty undead piled on top of him. The sound of flesh and metal being ripped apart soon followed.
"We can't hold them! Fall back to the mall!" Orin desperately called out, before he was knocked flat on his back with a searing pain across his torso. With bleary eyes, he looked down to see his royal armor completely blasted apart and chunks of his flesh were now missing from his chest.
"My king!" then soldiers were around him, hastily dragging him away whilst a brave few stood their ground to buy them more time. Orin tried to call out to these men, tried to stop them for throwing their lives away. He only managed a hacking cough that splattered his chin with blood.
"Fall back! Fall back!" the cry went up, and ragged Atlanteans began to break and run for safety, hounded every step of the way by the forces of decay.
The creature came at him again, arm morphed into a sickle-like blade. Krieg slipped under it even as he emptied another magazine into the accursed abomination. Those bullets might as well have been mosquitoes for all the good they did against the creature.
"STOP RUNNING, COWARD!" it roared at Krieg as it sent a backhanded slap against him. He could feel the air battering him as the hand whooshed past his face, but leaping back out of range left him with his back against the wall. Howling like a beast, the creature then charged like a raging bull.
"Infernal heretic," Krieg spat as he braced himself. The creature was fast though, closing the distance in nearly the blink of an eye. Krieg barely had time to react at all. But react he did. Braced against the wall, he then sprung forward towards the creature and used it as a springboard to leap over it barely a heartbeat before it slammed into the concrete wall and through it.
Krieg landed back on his feet amidst a cloud of dust. He was already in the act of reloading his pistol and silently cursing all heretics to himself. Barely had the first bullet been chambered when a scene that looked like it came straight out of one of those ridiculous cartoons for children happened. The abomination's arm came careening out of the dust, stretched out to comically exaggerated proportions. And it proved deceptively fast as it slammed into Krieg's chest before he had been able to do more than blink.
But while the arm itself looked more like rubber with the way it stretched out, the fist at the end of it was solid and struck him like a berserk Ogryn wielding a sledgehammer. Krieg was sure he heard something crack before he was catapulted through the air. But his little flight did not last long as he soon slammed back into the ground and yep, that was surely my shoulder being dislocated.
He skidded along the ground for a good meter or two before his back slammed into something solid that refused to budge. He could taste blood in his mouth, and his left arm flared up with pain every time he tried to move it. But he still tried to force himself back up, even as he felt something pressing against his lungs. Broken ribs most likely.
But he only got onto one knee before a hand closed around his throat like a vice and hoisted him high into the air. The creature was fast indeed, Krieg had not even noticed its approach. And now it was baring all its teeth in a vicious snarl even as its grip tightened around his throat.
"Nowhere to run now, you bastard," he spat out even as Krieg flailed about like a fish on a hook. Bit by bit, the grip grew tighter, robbing Krieg of more and more of his precious oxygen.
"You're not getting away that easy. You don't deserve a quick death," the abomination declared, its snarl morphing into a gloating grin. "I'll make you suffer for what you did to me. I'll have you screaming for mercy when I'm done."
The edges of Krieg's vision was growing dark, and his flurry of desperate kicks did not even seem to register with the creature. But Krieg still had enough control to firmly grab onto its forearm with his right hand and then crank up the voltage on the shock glove. Electrical currents that would have crippled a grown man was pumped straight into the abominable fiend, who only gritted its teeth against the pain.
"Nice… try," it snarled through clenched teeth. Then it smashed Krieg into the ground. He refused to let go, so the creature raised him up again and slammed him right back down into the ground. Still refused to let go, so up and down a third time. He was starting to see stars at that point, yet he still refused to let go. That changed with the fourth blow, and now Krieg was hanging all but limply in the creature's grip.
"Giving up already? I actually expected-" a pair of exploding arrows struck it in the back, causing it to stumble and lose its grip on Krieg. A distinctly yellow and red lightning bolt then zipped right past him and scooped up the barely conscious Krieg.
"You can thank me later, mr grumpy," Kid Flash commented as he carried Krieg to safety.
"Just-" Krieg began, voice barely audible before a he broken down coughing. "Just deal with that thing."
"Gee, not even a beatdown can seem to loosen you up," Kid Flash griped as he came to a stop atop a nearby roof, one already occupied by the archer of the team.
"Jesus, this guy's tough! It's like trying to stop Brick!" Artemis exclaimed as she let loose arrow after arrow. And judging by both her colorful swearing and the telltale noise of something very angry coming their way, those arrows were proving to be just about as useful as Krieg's pistol.
"Can't… beat him… like this," Krieg forced himself to speak up, no matter how much his throat protested against such an action. "Need… heavy ordinance. Something… to pierce… his thick hide."
"In other words, delay until the big guns arrive," Kid Flash deduced before standing back to his full height while stretching his neck. "I think I can do that."
One second, he was standing in front of Krieg. And then the next, he was gone. The subsequent noises told him exactly where the speedster had run off to. Despite his body feeling like one giant bruise, Krieg still forced himself back up and hobbled his way over to Artemis.
"How bad?" he managed to ask, his voice still very much a hoarse whisper.
The grimace he got said it all. "He's certainly being a distraction, that's for sure."
And indeed he was, as the mutant was little more than a blur of color literally running circles around a very much irate abomination. What looked like a thousand fists pounded the creature from every direction, even as it tried to strike back with wide swings that hit nothing but air.
"Out of my way, Flash Boy! This doesn't concern you!" the thing bellowed out as yet another swing missed its intended target.
"It's Kid Flash!" the mutant hollered back indignantly. "And since you're obviously part of the same band of loonies that think killing babies is a great pastime, I think it very much concerns me!"
The twisted expression on the creature's face was all the warning needed. "Don't say I didn't warn you then."
Kid Flash came in for another flurry of blows when the creature huddled up and vicious spikes erupted from every inch of its boy like a demented porcupine. Kid Flash ended up stumbling back, yelling in pain even as he clutched a bleeding hand. But now he had slowed down, a fatal mistake.
The creature's arm became like rubber again, elongating to ridiculous proportions and swinging in a wide arc. For once, Kid Flash proved too slow and took the blow straight to the stomach with enough force to send him skidding back along the ground, and he did not get back up again.
"WALLY!" Artemis suddenly screamed, and then she was leaping off the roof with a roar of rage.
"What are you doing?!" Krieg called after her, but received no reply as she was bombarding the creature with every trick arrow she had at her disposal.
"Ugh, heroes and their emotional baggage," he spat out to himself before drawing a spare pistol and joining the fight below. Just need to buy time.
Bullets and arrows were pelted on the creature, and both proved equally useless. Artemis trapped it in hardening foam for a moment, the closest thing to a victory so far, before the blasted abomination became like smoke and slipped right through its bindings. The instant it was free, it was back to solid form and coming straight towards the pair like an onrushing train.
Artemis leapt to the side, and Krieg tried to follow her example. But the action caused a sudden flare-up of pain in his chest, and he stumbled. The creature smelt blood in the water and pounced on Krieg, its fist closing around his head in a vice-like grip.
"End of the line for you," it snarled even as it delivered a backhanded slap to Artemis, who had tried to attack the thing from behind. She was sent bouncing down the street with blood smeared across her face.
"There's no escape for you now," there was a vicious gloating to its tone now as it began to squeeze. Krieg could hear the metal of his helmet creaking and groaning from the mounting pressure.
"Just… shut up and… do it already… you subhuman filth," Krieg spat right back at it even as he repeatedly kicked the creature to no effect at all. That seemed to have hit a nerve as the creature's grip tightened to the point that Krieg's lenses cracked.
"Filth? I am what you made me into!" it roared back at him. And Krieg met its head-on without flinching.
"No. You're just… another heretic," he stated. The creature's face then went through a myriad of emotional expressions that Krieg did not really care to decipher, until it finally settled on an all too familiar expression: hatred.
"Die," was all the creature said in response, but its grip now caused Krieg's whole helmet to just crumple inward. The pressure mounted on Krieg's skull, and he fought all the harder to break free. It did little, and Krieg thought then and there that it was all over for him. Emperor, I have failed you yet again.
"Let him go!" a voice commanded with far more authority to it than Krieg was used to hearing from the owner of said voice.
"Why don't you make me, Martian?" the creature merely taunted, having turned its gaze to somewhere over Krieg's left shoulder.
"More of us are coming, you can't beat us all. Just give up now before it's too late," Miss Martian tried to reason, and Krieg sneered beneath his helmet.
"Stop trying to… reason with the… thing and just… kill it already!" he shouted as loudly as he could. Which all things considered, was not very loud.
But the creature merely smirked at the xeno. "And what do I care?"
The grip tightened, and Krieg's eye lenses completely shattered even as he drew his last knife and furiously stabbed the arm holding him. The creature's other arm meanwhile reared back for a strike that was sure to tear Krieg in half. It never came, as the creature seemed to then freeze on the spot.
The thing growled. "Nice try, alien. But how long do you think you can keep me like this?"
Slowly, as if moving in slow-motion, the arm started moving towards Krieg again, morphing along the way into a vicious blade. Krieg kicked the creature until his feet started going numb, but it did little good.
"Stop it!" the Martian shouted, and the grip tightened, The helmet was now digging into his scalp from the mounting pressure.
"Stop it!" the Martian shouted again, and Krieg could feel blood running down his face whilst he blunted his knife against the arm holding him.
"Stop it!" the Martian shouted yet again, and the bladed arm was now poking Krieg's Kevlar, threatening to puncture straight through it with just a final push.
"STOP IT!" the Martian then screamed, and then the creature screamed as well. Krieg was hurled aside and smacked into the wall with a painful THUD before sliding to the ground. Everything fucking hurt, but Krieg still forced himself to roll over and see what was going on Through the blood and the crushed lenses, Krieg could see the creature whirling about, shrieking in agony as it clutched at its head. It then gave a final anguished howl, and then fell over. It did not rise again.
With his whole body feeling like one giant bruise, Krieg forced himself first up on his knees, and then back up on his feet. He leaned against the wall for support, and immediately regretted it when he put weight on his dislocated arm. He tasted blood in his mouth from how hard he bit down to quell the noises of pain he wanted to do.
The ruined lump of metal that used to be his helmet was still squeezing his head like a vice, and he tried to tear it off with his still useful arm. He quickly gave up when the act started to feel like ripping his own face off, and instead hobbled his way over to the others. Artemis had already crawled over to the mutant, cradling his head in her lap while fussing over him to an excessive amount in his humble opinion.
That only left the xeno. Oh joy.
He found the xeno on her knees before the creature, a vacant stare in her tear-filled eyes. She did not react to his presence, did not seem to react to anything. Krieg took one look at the creature and had his answer. No physical damage done to it, yet it lay unmoving on the ground with not even the faintest signs of life. Nasty way to go.
Must have been her first true kill, a traumatic experience for one so rigidly bound by the antiquated views of the League. Probably must have felt like a betrayal of everything she stood for, no matter how righteous it was. He had seen people deeply hurt before, and how people close to them would comfort them in their hour of need, letting them know that they were not alone and that people still valued them.
Krieg slapped the back of her head.
"Next time, xeno, don't hesitate for that long," then he was back to fiddling with his helmet again. "Now can somebody help me get this thing off before I bleed to death?"
The xeno was still useless, having barely reacted to the blow, but Artemis was ambling over now while serving as the mutant's crutch. And here he had hoped that the blow would have been fatal. The defense would have suffered in the mutant's absence, but Krieg could have lived with that.
"Who was that creep anyway?" Artemis asked once she had deposited the mutant by the xeno's side. Krieg just shrugged.
"Don't know, don't care," he answered as the two of them began the painstaking job of getting the helmet off. Frak, at this rate we'll need the blasted clone.
Artemis' frown was anything but friendly. "You really should. That guy was hellbent on turning you into paste. You must have really done something nasty to piss him off to that degree."
"Irrelevant," Krieg simply dismissed. "It was just another heretic, and you don't reason with or try to understand heretics. You just kill them."
"Pretty narrow view, if you ask me," Artemis snarked, and Krieg could definitively detect plenty of hostility in her tone. Not that he cared either way.
"Blessed is the mind too small for doubt."
Will admit, I had way too much fun writing the Nurgle bits in this chapter, which is why they've been lavished with such detailed descriptions.
On another note, Sabaton's latest song, Defense of Moscow, was released while I was writing this chapter, and that inspired me to throw this little piece together:
As the Heretics overrun, Earth in 2021
They don't belong, we stand our ground, a million strong
We are ready for their strike, face the army of the night
A million strong, this is our land, they don't belong
Hear Commissioner Steele's, and Krieg's orders
Defend the world, Los Angeles shall not fall!
Stand and follow command, our blood for the homeland
Heed the world's call, and brace for the storm
Los Angeles will never give in, there is no surrender
Force them into retreat, and into defeat
Face the volleys of their guns, for humanity's daughters and her sons
All the brave, who stand against the typhoon wave
From the mountains and the plains, come in thousands on the planes
Day and night, they're rolling in, to join the fight
From heroes brave to villains most grave
Call of the world, humanity shall prevail!
Stand and follow command, our blood for the homeland
Heed the world's call, and brace for the storm
Los Angeles will never give in, there is no surrender
Force them into retreat, and into defeat
Stand and follow command, our blood for the homeland
Heed the world's call, and brace for the storm
Los Angeles will never give in, there is no surrender
Force them into retreat, and into defeat
Stand and follow command, our blood for the homeland
Heed the world's call, and brace for the storm
Los Angeles will never give in, there is no surrender
Force them into retreat, and into defeat
Stand and follow command, our blood for the homeland!