Marcus leapt into the front seat and twisted the keys. The engine roared into life, shaking the truck. He pulled out into the courtyard, Behind the Ziggurat stood, illuminated by spotlights and floodlights, men sat on the higher levels, rifle in hand. As the trucks moved forwards, the front gate opened, to a bridge, heavy defences lay on either side, with a fifty calibre machine gun watching the bridge. Snipers lined the structure, observing the city.
As the trucks chugged forwards, a radio crackled and Ford's voice came through: "Keep behind me and don't go off track! We're gunna head out of Crux and hit the high 5." His voice sounded as excited as ever.
Marcus kept an eye on the sides of the roads, beneath the headlights, people were scurrying back into the alleyways and peering out at them. The truck rumbled over the uneven ground, bouncing as it hit dents and potholes on the broken roads. The cold night air swept in through the side windows, washing over Marcus's face.
Delrath snarled at Blake, "Quiet fool, I'm quiet hungry... and you look rather sweet" Delrath grinned barring his teeth, I will kill him before this is over Delrath turned to the rest of the group, he was the most obvious mutant of the group but several others were certainly not entirely human. Delrath leaned over his knuckles touching the ground and peered out back as Crux began to grow smaller and the bleak wasteland swallowed it up
Leaning forward in his chair as the truck pulled out of the garage, Blake smirked at the boy and humongous mutant who had addressed him. Voice calm and quiet, Blake spoke: "I know nothing of the brutality of this twisted earth? I have encountered such hardships and suffering that you wouldn't believe...and all as a result of these," He flicked a hand towards Delrath and Kreth, "abominations. We live such brutal lives because the Good Man is punishing us for allowing these evil beings to live in our world."
Tilting his head so they could get a good look at the livid scar running along the left side of it, Blake continued: "See this? This is proof of my knowledge of brutality. Brutality between comrades pushed to the limit thanks to creatures like them!" Blake's voice had been raised by the end of his statement, spittle forming at the corners of his mouth.
Calming himself visibly, Blake fiddled with his crossbow. "But as they say," he shrugged, "we gotta work together," his smile never touched his eyes as he fixed them on Kreth, "put personal differences aside, right Night-Eye?"
Delrath slammed his fist into the trunk, a sharp twang echoed out, "That is not brutality, seeing as you still alive." He paused for a moment sitting up and slide his hand across his face. "Brutality is something... else, worse" Delrath hated the common tounge but he believed this "Mutant Hunter" would not be foolish enough to attack and discover true brutality.
Gear looked at the young man who had asked about his cannon. "This?" He tapped the cannon, it made a hollow clacking sound. "It's a steam-powered cannon. My own invention." A slight sound of pride was clear in his voice. "It'll send one of these," He hold up one of the brass balls up before the youngling. "Out with a speed about 900 feet pr. second. Making a nice round hole through a man." He made a spiteful grin. "And it is accurate up to about 2500 feet. So you don't want to be at the wrong end of it."
Gear then turned around to the bickering people. "Could you guys wait with killing each other till the rest of us don't get caught up in the collateral damage?" Gear signed heavily. "Cause some of us actually enjoy being alive, at least sometimes."
Mortis was storing every word to memory. This was a new form of technology he had seen so little of in the wastes, It was vital that he remembered everything he could. When the fellow in the huge goggles had finished explaining the inner workings of his weapon he had turned to the other captives on this little mission of ours and started complaining again.
Mortis studied over the weapon, eyes rapidly flickering over every inch of the weapon. He tugged on Gears arm to grab his attention, he had noticed something off about the cannon.
"Excuse me but you said that it uses steam, shouldn't you seal that crack?" Mortis queried as he directed the older mans vision to a hairline crack on the underside of the cannon.
As he did, an all to familiar feeling ran up his arm and Mortis watched as his index finger tore and fell into Gear's lap.
"Bloody, arsemongering, brutish, fu..." Gears voice trailed of as he saw the finger. He slowly took the finger with his right hand, lifted it up and studied it. "What the hell?" He mumbled again. He looked at Mortis. "I hope this is not some kind of disease, cause if it is." He gave the man a stern look. Then mechanically he flicked the lenses out of the goggles ans exchanged them with the magnifying set. He studied the finger again. "Interesting." He looked at Mortis, "The tissue is still living as far as I can tell." He pushed the goggles up on his forehead. "Is this some kind of mutation?" This was said at an almost whisper, trying to make sure that the mutant hunter didn't get another to fight with.
Kreth cocked his head as the mutant hater addressed him. He met the man's gaze, though it was a pointless act seeing as his eyes were covered. It was more out of instinct than anything. The man seemed to know a bit about Kreth considering he had figured out the cloth wasn't used to indicate blindness. Or perhaps he knew about the Crucible. He wouldn't be the first mutant hater to go after the tribe, though none had succeeded in wiping them out. They were usually good fights too, unless they were just some wasters deciding to pin the blame of their troubles on the obvious scapegoat. Kreth doubted the man was so naive though, considering Balthazar had 'hired' him.
"You know of the Crucible then? You know about my mutation?" Kreth said, while lifting two finger to his face to indicate his eyes. "Then you know we give a good fight."
Kreth was visually handling his one knife now as he continued to inspect the man. "We kill one of your family? Take them as slave? Or maybe we gave you one of those scars, huh?"
Mortis' smile grew wider, some people scream when that happens and make a damnable ruckus.
"One could call it a mutation." Mortis reached out and retrieved his lost appendage from Gear.
"But it was not by birth. I hail from a community that was saved from the destruction of the great war of the Ancestors, our speciality was genetics." Mortis positioned his finger back into its correct position with only a tiny gap in-between his hand and disembodied finger. After a few second of anticipation Mortis displayed privately how the blood in his body flowed freely from the gap in his hand into his index finger and pulled it back in place.
"It was called Sanguine, A man made mutation that allowed for the sealing of wounds." And with that comment the blood leaked forth, flowed around the wound and formed a red flesh like substance sealing and reattaching the limb in it's rightful place.
"However, high radiation from where I lived has damaged my muscle and flesh. I constantly need to patch myself up." Mortis let his words hand as he flexed his fingers testing their dexterity.
Marcus looked over his shoulder, listening to the conversation in the background. He shook his head and continued watching the road. They were going no faster than twenty miles per hour, the roads, if they could be called that, were little more than cracked asphalt with overgrown vegetation growing in-between the nooks. The lights of the city were being swallowed up by the darkness as the vehicles headed further away, slowly chugging along the 'high 5'. The wastes stretched for miles, until they rose up into mountains to the west. The night was clear and stars shone down upon the land.
Delrath turned toward Kreth surprised at the man's sudden barbaric tone "I think we won't kill each other, maybe we take turns with this one" Delrath turned back to Blake "You make many enemies in the wasteland" Delrath thumped his chest, "I make dead, no enemies that way" A sudden breeze passed Delrath that unmistakenly carried the scent of freshly spilled blood. Enemies Delrath hoped, they would satisfy his bloodlust and if in the confusion one of them were to die all the better.
Ashe scoffed at man with his revealing of scars. Scars may have been a good way to keep track on what people have done to you but they compare nothing to the scars that you don't see. Instead Ashe turned to the mutant who seemed to have sensed something in the wind. Ashe is okay with ignoring the intolerant man for a while but maybe he could prove his usefulness later on.
"What do you smell?" Ashe asked the hulking mutant.
Delrath leaned in close to Ashe and breathed deep before whispering to her, "Girl I smell blood and fire, when it happens... It will happen fast, find me or put your back to a wall if you want to live, the others don't need to know" Delrath leaned back and lightly touched his nose before clenching his fists and closing his eyes.
"Well," Gear relaxed "That sounds quite practical. And I'm just glad it's not gonna get me killed." He pushed the goggles back over his eyes and examined the crack in the cannon.
"Lucky." He let out a small sigh of relief. "The crack is only a dent in the exterior chamber." He found forth a hammer and some other tools. "The only effect it would have had was lessening the power, and made it impossible to re-load."
"See, it was caused by this slight dent here." He pointed at a connection just beside the crack. "But it should be no problem to fix it." He started working carefully with the small hammer. "And I would have discovered it when I tried to re-load, as all the steam would just have sizzled out through it." He put one of the tools inside the barrel and hammered a little with it, and then started removing the bolts holding the barrel and the steam-chamber. He made sure that the chamber was undamaged before putting it down, with the entrance downwards, not showing of the elaborate mechanism of the weapon.
He finished working quite fast. The he found a vial from inside his pouch and poured some green liquid on where the crack had been, just a few drops was enough to seal what was left of the crack. The metal made a slight sound, as if merging and the crack was gone, he then tightened some bots at the connection where the crack had been.
After putting the vial with the green liquid back in the pouch he found a much larger vial containing some oil. He put a few drops on a brass ball and put it in the barrel, then he held for the two openings, making sure that it passed effortlessly through; then he reconnected the chamber and the barrel. "Thank you for noting it out though." He smiled sightly at Mortis. "Saved me some time."
He pushed his goggles up, and exchanged the lenses to the light-degrading ones again. Then he started put all his things back into it's various pockets and pouches. The liquid pouch and the lightning-gun was put in the rucksack, the steam-cannon was connected to his belt, the powder-gun was put in a holster under his coat, and the lightning-rod he paced on the floor, resting his left hand on it.
Ashe's grip on her seat tightened and what the hulking mutant said to her resonated deeply inside. Ashe had seen how some bandits worked, how they attacked, and the aftermath that followed but it never grew on her. The screams of women and children was something that was hard to get used to even if you've seen it a dozens of time before.
"Whatever it is, I'm sure we can handle it..." Ashe said to the console the group but most importantly to console herself.
Marcus laughed to himself after hearing her words. "There's a reason Balthazaar had me bound so heavily." Marcus turned to look at her. "He's scared of what I can do. He didn't tell you what it cost him to capture me, did he?" His grin told it all, though he may have only been young, this was a man not to be fucked with. "If there is anything out there, it's more scared of me than anything else..." He laughed to himself as he continued to drive, following fords truck carefully along the deserted highway.
Blake chuckled at the mutant with his eyes covered. "Ok, I'll bite, I haven't had much conversation with mutants in a long time but I'll humour you, Night-Eye." He cleared his throat quietly and placed his hands together, fingers arched. "You could say I know about the Crucible. You could say I know about the danger you pose. You could say," He sighed, a knowing smile on his face, "that I know how well your kind bleeds."
Reaching behind him, Blake grabbed a canteen of water and slowly undid the lid as he continued. "Unfortunately, I've never been inside the Crucible. I know a few guys who have though," He paused, taking a short gulp of water, relishing in the cool dampness flowing down his throat. "But those guys never came out." Shrugging, Blake threw the sealed canteen over his shoulder. "Over time I learnt not to bother. I lost a lot of men to your kind, Night-Eye." Staring straight at the cloth covering the mutant's eyes, Blake pictured the voracious gaze of the Crucible mutants, a gaze he longed to see eradicated from this twisted earth.
Blake's gaze was torn away as the huge, rock-skinned mutant addressed him in broken English. "I never thought I'd ever find myself agreeing with a dumb Pebble-Dasher but dead enemies are much better than living ones." Like Rico, for instance. He nodded slowly at Delrath, "that's right...I know of your kind too."
"We are many yet few, we are strongest, we are executioners, we are KALORIK" Delrath roared. To him talking so much was strange, you could learn more from just watching how someone fights or what they smell like. This man bothered him, clearly he knew who he was yet he showed no fear, a good quality Delrath silently decided. He will still die before this is over wheither by my hands crushing his skull or anothers skill Delrath thought
Unflinching from the Kalorik's blood-curdling roar, Blake scratched his nose. "Yeah...you guys are a nightmare. Another tribe I've learnt to postpone killing." He smiled mockingly at the huge mutant, daring him to make a move. Adjusting the grimy scarf around his neck, Blake sighed and turned to the window.
The dark land outside the truck was trundling by, scrap and rubble giving the mangled roads a treacherous quality. Turning his eyes upwards, Blake examined the stars and wondered - not for the first time - at their beauty.
"Driver," he suddenly rasped, "When do we get there?" Blake could feel himself getting restless already, talking with the abominations had disgusted him but he was good at adapting. Adapting was something he had learnt to do at a very young age. It was vital to staying alive in the waste.
And I will survive in order to see Rico dead, He thought angrily, hands clenching into fists.
Marcus kept looking at the road. "when we get there." He reached for the radio and clicked the button. "Ford, how much longer until we reach the 162?" A rattle of static blurted out of the radio. "Willows is just about a mile up, we'll turn off here, hit the dirt and turn back onto the 162 later. I ain't taking us no closer to willows!"
Marcus yelled to the back. "You get that? 'Bout half way to Glenn." The truck lurched to the side, and began to chug across the dirt, it bounced much harder than on the cracked roads, the suspension barely taking the force of the terrain.
Blake grunted as the truck lurched down the terrible road, body shuddering from the vibrations. "Yup, definitely stay away from Willows if you don't need to go there," he called to the driver. "I had a job there a few years ago. As much as I'd hate to admit it, I'd rather not go back in a hurry."
Pausing, Blake recalled the grotesque parodies of man reduced to primitivism thanks to the fear and influence of mutants. "The people there are almost as disgusting and sinful as these heathen mutants!" He exclaimed, waving a finger at Kreth and Delrath.
Mortis examined with great detail the wound around his index finger while the older man spoke of his weapon. He had a fast metabolism, yes. But he couldn't heal cuts at will, it would take days before the flesh properly grew in place. Until then he had to settle with a seal, it would be enough for now.
Despite his attention being elsewhere Mortis had a knack for taking in details. Not a word of Gear's explanation had been missed, or an action for that matter. Gear had knowingly masked certain mechanisms of the weapon in his brief tutorial.
Hiding the important parts are we?
Mortis gave a slight chuckle before returning to his supplies, as he did he noted the apparent mutant slayer's ramblings. Something about heathens and all other sorts of nearly religious nonsense. One particular mental note he made was the large scar down the left side of his head. It indicated a deep gash but the tissue around the wound's remnant was contradictory to this deduction, it was minimal and indicated a healing process that must have occurred over a very short amount of time.
I wonder if I'll get to dissect that one?
The thought made Mortis giddy with excitement.
The early morning sun was creeping up over the horizon, the light spreading long, strange shadows across the wasteland. Ahead, lay an old bridge, crossing a canyon. A burned out car was left to one side, rust creeping over the skeletal remains of the vehicle. Fords truck began to cross the bridge, with Marcus following close behind. The bridge was roughly thirty metres long. The Sun was shining directly into Marcus's view.
Gear moved the goggles down in front of his eyes, the bright morning sun was softened by the heavy azure-blue lenses. He looked out the window of the truck, in the distance there was a couple of small clouds, but nothing else.
At the horizon a dark mas could be seen, some cones of smoke rising from the middle of it.
"Willows." Gear whispered. A shutter went through his body, and he clenched tightly at the lightning-rod.
He turned around and looked towards the other side. Nothing, just wasteland as far as the eyes stretched. He turned towards Marcus, "Is there a bottle of water here?". He didn't really want to do it this way, but as no-one had offered him a boiler he would have to use the reserve method.
Marcus looked around the dashboard, he found a small bottle of purified water lying in one of the compartments. Reaching to pick it up, he noticed something at the end of the bridge. A large truck, similar to the one he was driving pulled out and blocked the exit. Looking in the rear view mirror, the same happened behind.
A loud, deafening crack, like a clap of thunder echoed around the canyon and a huge chuck of the bonnet was torn from Marcus's truck. Then, three more people, dressed in leather armour appeared from the back of the truck. With a rattle they opened fire. Rounds connected with the trucks, smashing windows and tearing through the metal.
Marcus ducked, as the first round tore through the truck. "Fuck! Large round, possibly a light fifty!" Marcus put his foot down and accelerated forward, watching as Ford done the same.
Ashe took cover amidst the hail of bullets ripping around her. Ashe then looked over for a target for only a brief second. She sees one of the men firing at the vehicle. Ashe fires a burst from her MP7 as the cars started to move again. She sees one of the rounds nail the man in the shoulder, satisfied she goes back into cover.
The men looked to see where the shot had come from and opened fire with their rifles, they let of a quick succession of bursts. The trucks were being peppered with rounds. Out of nowhere, again, a thunderous boom rang out. Tearing through the side door and barely missing Marcus. Fords truck smashed into the barricade and it's wheels began to spin as he tried to push it out of the way.
From the back, more rounds began flying about as machine gun fire rattled away.
Gear threw himself to the floor as the fight began. "Damnit!" He shouted loudly. "This is why I wanted a damned boiler!" He looked out at the attackers, the long distance made him virtually useless in this fight. "This is not my day." He mumbled. "Does anyone have some spare gunpowder?" He looked at the others. "Someone?" He looked at them again, the few who heard him seamed to not have any, at least there was no real response.
"Will have to fucking improvise then." He found fort the pouch with vials. He mixed four different liquids together, they sizzled sightly as they mixed. He put some hearing-protection into his ears, and then loaded the powder-gun with the liquid and a bullet, and then continued to fire it in short succession.
The explosion rang in Gear's ears, he could hardly imagine how it felt for the people not wearing hearing protection. An excessive amount of smoke tumbled out of the gun, and the ground a few meter from the gun-mouth was clearly scorched, with some marks of shredding. The explosion had been violent enough to break the bullet, which had splintered into tiny pieces.
Gear examined the gun, it seamed to be undamaged, which was lucky enough, but he was not doing that again. The enemy wasn't damaged very much either, except for the loud explosion and the fireball that might have shocked them a little, and a guy clutching his shoulder, most likely from someone else's fire. "Well, not doing that again." Gear said silently.
"Your mine" Delrath roared leaping from the truck, Delrath charged one of the men attacking them, he was lucky to die quickly as Delrath's hand sunk into the man's face tearing it off. Hot blood sprayed everywhere and in a bloodlust Delrath roared "LEAVE YOUR CONTRAPTIONS WE FIGHT OR DIE NOW" before heaving the corpse of the men at the remaining two men dressed in leather. Delrath charged arms in a crossed formation to protect from bullets, he was not bulletproof but the bones on his arms would be better protection than anything.
Marcus looked at the rear view mirror, the men behind were starting to advance, putting the occasional round done at the truck. "Oh no you did not just hit my truck!" Marcus stepped out of the vehicle. "Someone get this truck moving!" He yelled back as he began to move towards the raiders on the rear of the bridge. "You like that? How the fuck do you like it? Leave MY truck alone!" Each pause was broken with a burst from his Steyr Aug, the rounds tore through the first man, dissecting him. Seeing there friend butchered by precise machine gun fire the other two faltered.
Ashe aimed her gun at the few advancing towards them from the rear where Marcus was firing at. Ashe switched to semi and fired a few concentrated shots at the raiders. Then Ashe heard the roar of another shot from a nearby sniper which sounded like a cannon going off. Ashe leaped out of the truck and hoping to draw the sniper's fire so she can find where the man was. Ashe dashed to cover against a broken and rusted car while firing a few shots towards the raiders in front where the mutant was. Ashe felt the hot metal against her back even through her clothes as she peered out a bit trying to find that glare of a sniper scope or the glint of their barrel.
Kreth had ducked just like all the others when the rounds started flying at their truck. He hated gunfights, much like the rest of his tribe. All the fighting at a distance was a pain and lacked the blood-rush of hand-to-hand. He was about to jump out when he found himself deafen by the strange guns one of his 'companions' had with him. Shaking his head a bit as he felt his hearing start to return, he pulled out his other knife and jumped down from truck. He followed behind the large and loud man, letting the ambushers target the most obvious target. They had good reason to, as the large mutant tore the face off of an enemy with his bare hands. Very impressive.
Kreth broke into a full-out sprint when he neared the two bandits, or whatever they were, that his 'friend' was charging. Leaping the final distance with his knives pointed forward, he crashed into on of his attackers, running him through with his blades. The man looked up in pained surprise at Kreth, having been too focused on Delrath to notice the smaller, thin mutant running up on them. Kreth relished the look as he pulled out his knives and used them both to slit the man's throat, blood now poring from his wounds. This was the combat Kreth liked; brutal, personal, and above all, bloody.
With the introduction of Kreth to the other raiders another opportunity opened for Ashe to move up. Ashe sped past the carnage of the two mutants fighting the raiders ahead. Luckily no one fired upon Ashe just yet. Ashe slid against the parked truck ahead of their little convoy. The truck had the typical look of a raider vehicle and even a shoddy paint job to boot. Ashe noticed the side mirror reflecting to the side of the truck. Ashe ripped it off and slowly used that mirror to peer around the corner and scan for the shooter.
With another deafening crack, the mirror smashed and a huge puff of dirt exploded behind the truck. In the distance, a slight disturbance of the dust reveals a small lump on the horizon.
Ashe drew her hand back making sure that her hand was intact. Luckily it was and Ashe was trying to think of a way to get to that sniper but at this point Ashe would really have to go out of her way to silence that sniper. Ashe looked back to her friends dealing with the other raiders hoping that one of them would see them once they were done dispatching the other raiders.