As the giant swarm of Nosferatu vampire creatures began to crowd around us on all sides, ten, twenty, thirty, at a time...I knew that my team would be depending on me to give the order. And I wasn't going to do so if I thought there was an easier way out of this mess. Unfortunately...we didn't have an easy exit out of this conflict. And the boy was unconscious now and needed our protection, or all of this risk and danger would have been in vain.
So, after searching for available escape routes...reluctantly...I gave the order.
"Engage!!!" I shouted over the com, and everybody jumped into crisis mode!
The deafening thunder of BLASTphemy's gunfire was the first thing to ring out, his itchy trigger finger making a blood splattering mess of everything in front of him. They were, quite literally, scattered to pieces as they charged forward. Hell-Razor began throwing his bladed discs and curving them at an angle that would slice and dice two or three creatures at once before boomeranging back to him again. Arms, legs, heads...falling helplessly down into the dirt as they were severed from their host's body. We were some of the best at what we did for the Ark...and we were definitely being tested to our very limits today!
"Attrition! The refugee needs a safeguard!" I yelled out, and she jumped into action, seeing the young boy sleeping at my feet.
"Copy that!" She said, and flipped backwards to use her suit's capabilities to set up an electrified shield around him before turning to help us keep the invading enemies at bay.
Exorcyst began flailing her chains around at maddening speeds, whipping and beating down anything that got close enough to compromise our position. I watched her jump up and roll over a few of them, the electrified chains grabbing a hold of their wrists and ankles as she yanked them back to keep them from getting any closer to the rest of us. All while HeriTech blasted the larger clusters with high powered sound waves that rattled their bones until their teeth were ready to crack from the intense vibrations. Pulling together like this, our squad might just make it out of this mess after all!
Seeing the boy safe under Attrition's protection, I increased the severity of my electro swords' impact, and dived forward to do some more damage of my own. Making sure to stay out of BLASTphemy's firing range, I spun around in controlled circles, both swords reaching out to cut these nightmarish creatures down, two at a time...until their steaming blood stained the metal of my suit, and their screams of agony echoed off of every wall in Old Chicago! They will NOT take us down! Not on this day!
"Need a little HELP over here!" Attrition said, the horde of V's closing in faster than she could defend. It was like the electric shocks from her cybernetic attire wasn't having enough of an effect on them. They were used to pain and suffering. So they just kept pressing forward anyway...anguish and all.
"Heritech...???" I said.
"I'm on it!!!" She turned around to direct those sonic blasts to help, and Exorcyst and Hell-Razor stepped in to close up the hole! I saw the ground rumbling beneath their feet and the V's being blown backwards...but no mater how much firepower we used against them...they just kept coming. I've never seen a nest this aggressive before. Not since the Daylight Wars first began. It's almost as though they were protecting something of their own down here in this particular area.
Exorcyst was doing all he could to fight them off, but he wouldn't be able to keep up this level of energy forever. BLASTphemy was firing like some sort of a total maniac, and he was racking up a ton of enemy kills every second with the heavy firepower at his disposal, but his ammo wasn't infinite. He'd run out eventually. And as hard as I was fighting to keep anything at close range from breaking through...I was already beginning to tire out. Not to mention that my cybernetic suit would start alerting me to a drain on my battery power soon if I wasn't careful.
It's safe to say that this wasn't a battle that we could ever hope to 'win'...on escape.
Nosferatu V's were too many in number, too expendable, and too hostile for us to ever think for one second that they weren't going to overrun us like an angry colony of soldier ants if we stayed here trying to fight them off. So...a decision had to be made...
"Exorcyst! What's the word on that evac protocol??? We're going to have to bail on this, ASAP!"
He told me, "Evac's gone! We had to send the automated signal to get it to fly back without us!" Then he found himself being attacked and shouted, "Hold on!" I watched him spin kick one of those beasts in the face, lashing out a chain to wrap another creatures leg to pull it out from under him and let it fall back to the ground, sending an electric surge to fry it until its head began to smoke and its eyes exploded. "Sorry! Multitasking!" He said. "I'll have to call in a second rescue! That's another six minutes, boss!"
"DO IT!!!" I said. "Let's hold them off for as long as we can! Then we'll blow this joint!"
BLASTphemy hollered, "I don't know why YOU guys are in such a hurry to leave! I'm LOVING this shit! Ahhhhhhh!!!!!" I watched him fire away, wiping out an entire gang of these things with delight, spraying their masses with enough bullets to level a small country! "FUCK THESE THINGS!!!!"
"Where the hell are the all COMING from???" Attrition shouted, her shocks and suit getting overwhelmed while I tried to jump in and help her out. "If you want this damn kid to make it, you're gonna have to take him out of the danger zone! We're getting pummeled out here!
I saw one of Hell-Razor's discs buzz right over my shoulder and curve to slice open the throat of a Nosferatu that was charging at me from behind. Thank God for a well oiled crew in situations like this! HeriTech was doing all she could to keep the masses from crawling all over us, but it wasn't going to last for much longer. We need to get out of this chaos! We needed an exit! NOW!!!!
Lighting my dual swords up to full capacity and draining my suit's abilities down to almost fifteen percent of their original power, I rolled forward and took on as much of this demonic horde as I possibly could! Spinning, slashing, flipping, crawling, rolling...my cyber suit being splashed with so much heated Nosferatu blood that it was nearly ready to overheat from the activity. I had to keep wiping my visor free of vampire essence so that I could keep a visual on what I was doing. My team was doing all it could to slaughter as many of these nightmarish creatures as they could, but our position and spontaneous strategy wasn't going to be sustainable for much longer.
It was Hell-Razor that gave the first warning.
"I'm running out of discs here, people! I'm not down to go hand to hand with these fucking things! We're DROWNING here! Exorcyst!!! What's the word on that fucking evac protocol???" He shouted, ducking two attackers and curving his tossed blade to slit both of their throats deeply enough to cause some major blood loss and possibly get them to slow down.
"FOUR MINUTES!!!" Exorcyst yelled back, using his chains to bind and toss some of our enemies from one side of the street to the other. It was times like this that I truly regretted putting my squad in harm's way the way I did. They shouldn't go out like this. Not over one unbaptized warm blood.
I kept fighting. My suit now down to only eight percent power. Soon, I wouldn't be able to keep up with the horrors surrounding us. BLASTphemy shouted, "Low on ammo, kingpin! If you've got an ace up your sleeve, now's the time to play it!!!"
Attrition spun right in front of me and used her electric bolts to rip through the V's like bolts of untamed lightning...burning them as they screamed in agony, their skin beginning to burn, blacken, and split open right in front of me! "It doesn't look good, Roland! There's no way that we're going to win this one!"
But it was then that Exorcyst told us, "We've got some assistance coming from the ARK!!! Fyre and Brimstone are en route!!! Ninety seconds!!!"
Thank God! Natalia and Alexei were racing down to the streets of Old Chicago to give us some extra firepower? That can definitely turn the tables in our favor if we play this right!
"Alright, soldiers! As soon as they make contact, we're gonna give them the floor! Got it? Divert all remaining energy resources away from your weapons and push them into your escape! Jets, legs, feet, boosters...whatever you've got! Let's all make it out of here in one piece!"
"Copy, Boss man!" BLASTphemy said, and began using his metal fists to beat down a few hostiles while the barrels of his guns were given a rest before overheating and becoming useless. Attrition's suit was getting low on energy. I could tell. She was conserving as much as she could, but her electric blasts were getting weak. Hell-Razor already had his hands full, and Exorcyst was keeping an eye out for our reinforcements while still fighting a heavy battle of his own.
Alicia took a few hits, and I saw her HeriTech suit take a nasty tumble down a small hill of debris. Attrition should be able to handle herself for another few seconds, even with her battery depleted of juice. Right now, HeriTech was the one in desperate need of an assist!
Just as the Nosferatu began to swarm around her and claw and bite at her armor, I jumped in with both electro swords fired up, immediately severing the heads of the first two V's I encountered and spinning to slash away at everything else that was in range. I stabbed them straight through their chests, hoping and praying that every last strike would be a fatal one. HeriTech shook off her injuries and was quick to get back on her feet, sending out a blast of sonic waves that caused some of those creatures to rattle until their teeth cracked! A great help, but I was worried that she was using up too much power to make an effective evacuation along with the rest of us.
"I've got visual!" Exorcyst yelled out. And sure enough...there it was...
Like two falling stars streaming across the sky. Natalia in her cybernetic battle suit, 'Fyre', and Alexei in battle suit, 'Brimstone'. The Calvary was coming!
Fyre slammed down in a rough landing first, and she began lighting up the entire army of Nosferatu V's from behind with hot blasts of liquid flames that scalded them like streams of molten lava! Oh, how they screamed in pain when it covered them from head to toe. And Natalia was able to quickly duck and dodge between them, flipping over some, spraying them left and right until they were soaked in hell fire that ceased to be extinguished.
Brimstone landed a moment later. His battle suit was massive in size, but...then again...so was Alexei. His impact seemed to rattle the very ground beneath his feet, and by tightly clutching his fists, giant shields of rock and debris were gathered around them, and he charged forward...swinging with savage blows that brutally smashed half of his enemies to splattered chunks of raw meat! They didn't stand a chance. He was unstoppable. Every punch was like being hit at full speed by an 18-wheeler truck! We watched them tear through a great deal of the Nosferatu as they attempted to give us a clear path to the evac point.
"Attrition! Grab the kid! We're out of here!" I shouted...but I didn't get an answer. "Attrition???" Just as I turned around, I saw her being completely overwhelmed by the horde! Her battle suit was almost on empty, her electric shocks had been rendered ineffective...and they were bearing down on her with claws and fangs and brute strength! "MARA!!!" I ran over as fast as I could, but was taken down by two of the giant creatures standing between us. I couldn't move! I couldn't get to her in time! The others attempted to jump in, but the entire squad was in jeopardy of losing their lives if they didn't make a quick exit. We had all been compromised. And just as I was able to fight my way back up to my knees...I watched as five or six of those horrid monsters dragged Mara away out of my sight, and down into the underground tunnels below.
It was a pain and a horror that struck me like nothing that I've ever known. It was almost as if my mind couldn't comprehend it at all. My heart refused to accept it. But...the truth is...it was too late. Attrition....Mara...was gone.
"Let's MOVE, people! We've got incoming from just a block or two West of here! Get to the rendezvous point! ASAP!" Fyre said, still fighting off as many Nosferatus as she could.
I saw Brimstone digging his shoulder into a couple more hostiles and crushing them up against a brick wall. They were both doing all they could to get us out of there alive, coordinating their attacks between Fyre's crazy agility and lightning fast speed and Brimstone's brute force and 'tank-like' domination on the ground. but losing Mara like that had suddenly rocked me to my very core. I froze. It had never happened to me before. Not during combat.
"Wake up, God's Gift! We've gotta go!" Hell-Razor said, hoping to snap me out of my traumatic pause. He put a hand on my shoulder, and with a softer tone of voice, he said, "She's gone. Alright? We can grieve later. But unless you want all of us to meet up with the same fate, we've gotta keep our heads in the game." I looked back at him, trying to gather as much courage as I could. "Don't let her die for nothing. K? Grab the kid. Let's go home."
I shook myself free from my own paralysis, and hurried over towards where the boy was laying unconscious. A Nosferatu leapt forward, both claws out, its twisted fangs opening its mouth wide with an ear splitting shriek. But I slid underneath it on my knees and angrily cut its abdomen wide open ith one of my swords before it fell to the ground. Son of a bitch! I fucking HATE vampires! Every last one of them!!!
I scooped the boy up as quickly as I possibly could, and we all had to make a run for the exit point. It wasn't easy. We had to conserve all the remaining power that we could to running and leaping over these things than actually cutting them down like the fierce animals that they are. But, with a little aggression and some fancy maneuvers...we finally made it back to the ship, and powered it up to get the hell out of there...leaving the growing swarm of Nosferatu V's behind...looking like an angry colony of army ants and we achieved liftoff and began our journey back to the Ark.
Our supposedly 'safe' palace in the sky, hovering above the Earth we used to know...before the dark times.
The entire trip was only about ninety minutes...but to me? It felt like a lifetime. I watched as the others took off their helmets and masks, getting some relief from the battle suits they were using to fight so hard. But all I could think about was Mara. Visions of her smile, her laugh...the way she always used to bring me comfort. She was a soldier that I never had to worry about when it came to someone having your back.
Seven years of solid companionship...gone in an instant. She was my right hand. She was...my friend.
As our adrenaline levels began to calm down and our 'fight or flight' reflexes started to untangle, the true gravity of the situation began to settle in. Our injuries began to sting with the pain that we tried to ignore while fighting for our lives. And our emotions began to recognize the loss of one of our own on the battlefield.
Zion took off his helmet, his BLASTphemy suit shutting down into rest mode, and he looked over at me to say, "You did all that you could, boss. It could have been any one of us." Then he looked down at his boots and said, "In times like these...not everybody gets to come home. We knew it. And Mara did too."
I could feel the stares of the rest of the squad falling upon me, but the truth of the matter is...it wasn't just a loss. Not to me. It was a failure in leadership. I made an irrational decision...and they came back for me. For me. And Mara paid the ultimate price for it. There's no way that my heart was going to deny my failure and try to find a way around that fact. No way.
I stood up and left the others without saying anything more than, "I'm going in the back. Let me know when were ready to dock." And I walked towards the back of our airship to see what was going on with our...'rescue pet'.
Alicia was tending to him as he slept. Scanning him for any impurities or contamination that might be harmful to the rest of us. I asked if he was ok, and she said, "Healthy as any teen boy should be. Maybe even healthier. Surprising, considering that he's been living on the surface with those things running around, day and night. To be honest, I don't know how he even kept himself fed for this long." She turned his head to the right, and then to the left. "No signs of a vampire bite. He's a warm blood for sure. But I can't find a single trace of nanobot baptismal from the God's Eye Initiative. That's probably why he didn't show up on our radar. How did you even find this kid?" She asked.
"It's more like he found me, to be honest." I replied. Looking at his face, sleeping peacefully with only a few smudges of dirt on his flawless skin, I couldn't help but to admire how beautiful he was. There was a certain 'grace' to him that was unlike anything that I had ever seen before. "So he's a freeborn warm blood then?"
"Seems like it. Not too many of them left these days. He's practically the new world's version of a unicorn." Alicia saw the boy stirring a bit, and petted his head softly to calm him down so he could sleep for a bit longer. "The watchers at the Ark aren't going to take too kindly to taking this kid in. You know that, right?" I nodded. "Audra is going to order an immediate baptism the second we get him through Heaven's Gate. You need to get your game face on if you want to keep this kid from being executed on sight. You've got a lot to answer for, Roland. I hope you made the right decision."
"I'd like to believe that I did. Despite what it cost us." I answered.
Seeing the turmoil in my eyes, Alicia moved forward and lightly caressed my cheek. "You saved my ass back there. You know that, right?"
"I mean it. Ok? We wouldn't have come back to fight alongside our highly honored commander if we thought for one second that you wouldn't have done the same for either one of us. We all know that. I'm sure that Mara knew it too." She said, "We don't just give you our respect, Roland. You earned it. And we know that you never would have left her behind if you didn't have to."
It was a bit too heavy for me to handle for the moment, and when the boy shifted again in his sleep, almost as if he was struggling his way back to consciousness, Alicia got distracted and walked over to put some restraints on his wrists. Just to be extra careful, in case he woke up and did something crazy. "He's been a bit restless since we brought him on board. I'm actually pretty anxious to hear about what he's been through down there. He's a survivor, this kid. I can't even imagine what he had to do down there to keep himself safe. I mean, were there any others like him?"
"No." I said. "Nobody." I watched as he stopped squirming and fell back asleep. "When I first approached him...he yelled something with his fist in the air. Something like...'Justin is truth. Justin is light. Long live the Vampire Dawn.' What do you make of that?"
She gave me a sideways look. "That's...odd. Do you think he might have been on the side of darkness during the Daylight Wars?"
"I don't know, Alicia. I really don't know..."
...But I guess we'll all find out soon enough, wont we?