The gunmen's approach slowed considerably once they reached the top of the stairs. A light tremble caused their weapon to vibrate in their grip. Their breathing was coming fast and shallow and they swung the barrel of their guns to every perceived noise.
The room they had entered had no immediately obvious threats.
"I got the bathroom. You get the other room." The pointman said in a hushed but loud voice. The adrenaline and fear evident in his voice.
Was it too late to talk about this?
Without a word, Nile sprung up from behind the tub blocking the bathroom door and fired off four shots in rapid, blind fire succession, aiming for the frontman. He didn’t have enough time to even see whether they hit or not before he was diving back to the floor, making himself as small of a target as possible before sticking his Glock through the narrow space between the bottom of the tub and the floor and squeezing off another two shots. He hadn’t expected them to hit, they were just meant to stop them from advancing on him now that he was behind cover.
Most of the shots went wide but one found its mark on the back of the second thug, causing him to cry out in surprise and fall to the wooden floor. He clutched at his back and gasped for air, the vest having saved his life but knocked the wind out of him.
Nile’s plan had worked and the remaining man swung around immediately and began firing wildly into the bathroom. The shotgun bucked against the gunman’s shoulder and slammed into the old metal that covered Nile. It groaned and panged with every shell but held firm thankfully.
Colt watched this unfold from behind the dresser. One man went down and the other had his back turned and was shooting toward Nile. The downed man was facing toward her. He would take a second to regain his composure and would see her. The other shooter, meanwhile, was actively trying to shoot Nile. Letting out a short breath, Colt swung and began firing.
With an auto weapon she knew that holding the trigger too long would send bullets spraying every which way, not good when she had to not only conserve but also avoid striking Nile. She squeezed the trigger in small spurts, first aiming for the man on the ground’s head before turning her attention to the shooter’s legs. If successful, she would down him before he could advance too far on Nile. She kept her good ear towards the window. Surely this amount of noise would have attracted more unwanted attention.
The man’s last spray of Buckshot before Colt had opened fire had run true, half of the small metal balls puncturing the front side of the rusty metal tub Nile was crouched behind, shooting across the length of the tub, and one small ball digging through the other end. Most of the force behind the buckshot ball had been spent on the journey through the tub, so instead of punching straight in Nile’s leg like it should have, it punched against his thick work jeans and bounced off like a BB. Not to say it didn’t hurt, because it did, a metric fuckton so, and it would absolutely leave an ugly bruise later, but at least it didn’t pierce skin.
Cursing up a storm, the man instinctively clutched his upper leg, skirting it away from the small leakage of the strange brown liquid trickling out of the tub from the buckshot’s exit wound.
The crackle of Colt’s rifle had spurred him back into action after his near miss-and boy, did he count himself lucky for that one-and he stuck his Glock over the top of the tub, firing off shots at the attackers indiscriminately before pulling his arm back behind cover before they had the chance to retaliate. That shotgun was still pointed his way, he wasn’t sticking anything else over for the guy to target.
The 5.56 rounds Colt had fired did their job, spilling the first man's gray matter out the back of his head, onto the wooden floor and leaking through, dripping to the first floor. The second burst also found its target but only partially. The recoil caused the grouping of the bullets to travel upwards from the intended leg shot.
Luckily, Colt's rifle was more than capable of punching through standard police issue kevlar. A round blew the man's knee out the front, the second turned his left kidney into paste, and the third bullet from the burst tore through his back and out of his chest, leaving a viscera strewn canyon through his lower abdomen.
The first man had obviously died instantly, while the second fell to his left side after his leg had been shot out. He had jumped when the bullets tore through him but he didn't exactly feel pain. Which was evident by the look of confusion on his face. He tried several times to stand back up and was unable too. His limbs not functioning the way he wanted them to.
"I… I… what? I can't.." He muttered as he weakly floundered about, trying to put his internal bits back inside of his body.
“Grr!” Colt half grinned half grimaced madly at the red flower shooting from her first target. Seeing the second man downed, she thought of going straight to him to demand an explanation for this attack, but the veteran kept still, poking over the dresser to see Nile. From his yelling, he seemed to have been struck. Growling, Colt waited. As much as she wanted to go straight to them, she could not get out of cover until she was sure it was secure.
The sound of bodies hitting the floor made Nile pop his head up. He instantly regretted doing so. Gagging violently, he ducked his head down momentarily to prepare himself before looking back up.
“Oh, Jesus Christ…” Nile muttered, stepping over the tub and peering down the stairs just to be safe. He stared at the dying man, unable to look away.
Snapping out of his trance momentarily, he motioned for the veteran to come out.
“Colt, go check the window. The last guy should still be out there.” It wasn’t like his Glock would do him much good at range anyway. If they were smart, they would’ve run away once they heard the gunfire stop and didn’t hear their buddies answer them.
Approaching the man bleeding out, almost awkwardly, he kneeled down. They’d been firing a shotgun at him just a minute ago, and they’d seemed pretty gung ho about it, but this just wasn’t right.
Skirting their dropped shotgun away from their reach, he gently wrapped his hand around the man’s sidearm holster, pulled out the weapon, and tucked it into his beltline, just out of reach.
Hesitantly, he wrapped one arm around the man's back to prop them up, pressing his other against one of the man's chest wounds. It wouldn't help in the slightest, but he hoped the sentiment was conveyed.
Fuck, man, he didn't want to kill the guy. Sure, they'd seemed pretty insistent on doing him in just a few seconds ago, but they didn't deserve to get capped in the head with their guts spilling on the floor. Nobody did.
They were going to bleed out soon enough, and Nile could at least help comfort them until then. The fight was over, as far as Nile was concerned all there was left was some poor guy bleeding out on the floor.
If Colt had the time, she would have committed a mercy killing to the poor bastard. But she could not afford to move from her position. Not answering Nile, she slowly moved to the window and, back to the wall, leaned just enough so she could see out. She had to force herself not to look at the man she had fatally wounded. This territory was far too familiar for her. Half of her wanted to go and interrogate the man but she knew that would turn up nothing. Nobody who is dying has the time for that. No… she would save that for the last gunman. If there was one.
As they both suspected, the third gunman had run off once he noticed his comrades weren't confirming their kills. He had assumed the worst and bolted to join another group.
Colt watched the last man flee, instinctively pointing the gun out the window. After a moment however she lowered the weapon. He would not get far. Shouldering the gun, she listened out for more. Nothing. But what did get her attention made her blood run cold.
Distant gunshots, coming from the Lodge’s direction!
“Fuck… fuck fuck!!” Colt snarled, “They are under attack! We need to go! Now!” She approached the dead man and started removing his armour and rifling through his pockets for ammo.
“Arthur wouldn’t have ran far, we can probably grab him then come up with a plan. Going straight back would be suicide.” The veteran sighed gruffly, “they probably won’t answer the radio if it’s that bad… shit.” She was talking more to herself now, trying to piece together any sliver of ideas she could find.
“We need to get out of here. If it isn’t more of these bastards coming it’ll be a whole load of hostiles,” She gathered what she had collected, as well as putting on the kevlar vest. She assumed Nile was still preoccupied with the dying man. She wasn’t going to stop him, if anything it gave her more time to think of a plan.
Perfect. With a long-suffering sigh, Nile slumped to his knees where he held his former attacker. Jesus Christ, this was exhausting. He just wanted to go to bed and sleep for a week as it was, how the hell did people power through situations like this?
“Just call them anyway,” Nile said, shooting Colt a confused look. “Go get your horse and see if anyone can fill you in, I’ll be down in a minute” Nile said, the dying man growing even weaker as he spoke.
“Fuck sake…” she sighed in annoyance, “can you not hear all that noise? We need to act now, hurry it up!” and with that she grabbed everything and headed down the broken steps and outside, muttering under her breath at how he seemed to show more empathy for a psycho that just tried to kill them rather than anyone at the Lodge. Outside of the thunderclap of gunshots, it was eerily peaceful. Putting two fingers to her lips, she blew out a shrill whistle, calling for the steed.
A frantic snort and charging hooves announced his arrival as Arthur broke through the bushes toward them. His chest and legs were caked in mud and his eyes were wild. He must have had quite the shock. Talking softly to him, Colt loaded everything onto his back, her mind still turning over everything that had just happened. Who were those men and surely they were part of the same party now attacking the Lodge. It was too much of a coincidence.
“Can always rely on her to be the most tactful person in the room,” Nile drawled as Colt left, voice dry and sarcastic, “really, she has such an eloquent way of speaking.”
He didn’t really know whether he was talking to his attacker or himself. In a literal sense, the wounded man had become perfectly still and silent. Hesitantly, Nile touched a hand to the man’s neck. Nothing.
This day was fucked. This may come as a surprise, but Nile really liked it when people didn’t die. The fact it was self defense wasn’t much of a comfort, five people were dead in this shitty little shack in the woods.
Sighing, he gently rested the man on the floor. His kevlar vest was draped in viscera spilled from their open wounds and covered in more blood than he was comfortable to look at. Despite trying to, he couldn’t bring himself to take it off the man. It might’ve been filled with holes, but it could still take a shot for him in the ensuing gunfight he was sure to get caught up in. But that would mean pushing aside the man’s internal organs and reaching around their dead body to take it off. Nile didn’t have the stomach to do it. Gently taking the holsters off both dead men and pucking up the shotgun from the floor, Nile grabbed a few doare shells and left the vest where it was.
That would probably bite him in the ass later, but he didn’t really care at that point. He just didn’t want to do anymore shit he wasn’t proud of.
Attaching the holsters to his belt, he inserted his Glock and the Beretta he’d taken off of the dying man.
“Have you called them yet?” Nile asked, inserting shells into the 870 shotgun as he walked up to Colt. This was a gun he actually knew how to use, he’d gone hunting enough times with shotguns to have a much better understanding of them then any other firearm he’s used so far.
Colt was fiddling with the radio when the man approached. She had been trying to reach the Lodge for the last few minutes.
“It’s Stanhope, come in.” She waited for a moment, ignoring Nile’s confused question of ‘who the fuck is Stanhope?’, gaining nothing from the radio. “Do you read me?” again, nothing.
“Blast it,” she growled, still keeping the radio on her person in case they answered, “with the racket that’s coming from there, it’s bad.”
“Is your horse even going to let me on?” Nile interrupted, “because I don’t think it likes me.”
“He’ll do what I say,” Colt answered bluntly, “he also only likes who I like.” and with that she swung onto the horse before positioning him near a large stone Nile could use as a mounting block. “I need to know what’s going on in there before we can do anything. Let’s get somewhere close and see what can be done.”
“You know that’s not reassuring, right?” Hesitantly, Nile tried to loop a leg over the back of the horse with great difficulty. After struggling for an embarrassingly long time, he finally managed to poorly sit himself behind Colt.
“That I can agree with, ride on Eastwood."
Colt did not respond to this. Clicking her tongue, she encouraged Arthur into a jogging trot from the clearing. She did not want to go on the road or straight back toward the building. Who knows what was going to happen?
He had no idea who these people were or why in the hell they decided to attack the lodge, but Owen knew it wasn’t random. The cabin was too far off the beaten path, and it wasn’t like someone could just happen upon them. Either someone was followed on their way back from a supply run, or these people were after them specifically. Either way, it was becoming abundantly clear that their attackers were far more prepared than the remaining able bodies at the lodge.
They all carried guns, rather large ones at that. If the ginger hadn’t already come into contact with the weapons that the military carried once before, he might be inclined to believe that there was another attack by the soldiers. It was unclear how many assailants there were, but they wore civilian clothes and fought in an unorganized manner.
Since his call over the radio for everyone to come back to the lodge, some had been able to obey. Others were not so lucky. Leliana and Michael had managed to stumble in; Colt, Nile, Andy and Luca were accounted for outside the lodge. There wasn’t a second to spare, but Owen spared one anyway to scan the room for Aubrey. Her red hat was nowhere to be seen. He muttered a curse under his breath.
“Does anyone have eyes on Aubrey?”Owen called over the radio.
“Yeah,” Andy’s voice came over the radio in a regretful tone. Whatever came next, Owen was sure he wasn’t going to like it. His chest tightened.
“A group has her on the ground in the backyard, near the barracks. For whatever reason, they chose to tie her up instead of killing her.”
“Fuck!” Owen hissed. Was this to become another hostage situation? He had almost died during the last one, and Andy had been shot in the gut and Hector had lost an eye. The hulking man tried to remain rational, but it proved impossible. When it came down to it, he knew he would gladly take another bullet to the lung to ensure Aubrey made it back safely.
Meanwhile, Michael and Hector had been down in the lab together for about two hours. The older gentleman needed to move some things around and his leg had been giving the man more than his fair share of hell today.
It wasn't infected but the throbs of pain coming from the mending bullet wound in his thigh, combined with all of his other injuries, was finally starting to sap his strength from him. It was one of those moments where Hector truly felt his age.
The younger of the two had happened to be the only one around when Hector limped upstairs to find someone to help him move some things and they had been at it for some time now. It probably would have taken a fraction of the time if Owen had been the one down here with him but the boy had been asleep. He had enough demons to battle with without having an aging scientist waking him and requesting his strength.
The two had worked up a decent sweat moving all of the cumbersome lab equipment. Michael more so than Hector by a long shot. Despite the Venezuelan's condition, he was still far more fit than the panting, overweight 20-something-year-old in the chair across the cellar.
Hector limped his way over to the counter and opened a few drawers. He grabbed some fresh towels and a water bottle and limped over to the younger man. He tossed one towel across his own neck and offered the other one with the water bottle to Michael.
"Here, Niño. Dry yourself and hydrate. It's important after exercising like that."
While not exactly in the way Michael was expecting his morning to start, he’d been actually kind of happy to help Hector around in his lab. Usually, the neckbeard would resent this type of activity, mostly due to the exercise that came with moving stuff around the room, but ever since the dreaded McDonald’s freezer fiasco he’d been… well, he had been reflecting on his current situation. He wanted to stop being a mostly dead weight around the lodge, and while it wasn’t much for now, Michael felt that starting to help around the lodge was a step in the right direction for now.
Sweating and panting as if he were an athlete that just finished the 100-meter race in the Olympics, Michael extended his hand to grab both the towel and bottle of water that the Venezuelan man offered him.
“t-Thanks Mr. Salazar” The young man replied to the doctor in a grateful tone while he started to clean the sweat off his face with the towel.
Now mostly dried up from the sweat and hydrated, Michael looked around the lab to check if there was anything else in need of moving. Once he verified that they were done, Michael felt a bit of satisfaction at the sight of a job well done.
The neckbeard felt a bit uncomfortable with the complete silence that followed, so he decided to try and make a bit of small talk with the doctor. Michael’s medical knowledge left a lot to be desired, but hey, what better way could there be to make a bit of small talk with a medical professional than talking about medicine?
“Say doc, how do we know that this plague’s not caused by a parasi- ” before he could finish his question, Michael was interrupted by the sound of a not-so-distant gunshot.
This… was rather unusual. Of course, this could simply be one of the lodgers dealing with a straggler that somehow stumbled upon the lodge, but if that was the case then in most cases they’d have dealt with the undead through much more discreet ways in the off chance that a horde was nearby. More troubling than that, Michael could be wrong, but that shot didn’t sound like one of the one’s he’d gotten accustomed from his fellow lodgers.
“Uhhh… should we worry about that?” Michael asked Hector.
The following is a collaboration between myself, Rumbo and Togi with support from Maj.
The cold nipped at the acrobat’s cheeks as she lined a small log up onto the chopping block. She had noticed upon waking that someone had already gathered a bit of wood at some point and, in an attempt to make herself useful, Vanessa set to work splitting the logs to fit in the fireplace. Thoughts of last night's conversation with Andy raced through her still fuzzy head as she worked, swinging the axe and replacing the chopped log with an unsplit one.
The acrobat was not the only one to be thinking about the red-headed woman. Milly trudged out of the Lodge, her eyes squinting a little at the morning sun. She had emerged hoping to find Arthur eating leaves out of one of the trees. She had an apple ready in her hand for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Looking at the frost she noticed the old mismatched footprints of Colt’s boots and assumed she had taken him. Looking around, she noticed Nessa chopping wood. She hadn’t seen her doing that before. She always thought Owen was the only one strong enough to do that.
“Where’s your kid now, Sheriff?” she mumbled dully, having been reciting the whole of ‘Toy Story 3’ all through her sleepless night. She was wearing one of Colt’s jackets- a black leather one which reached past her hips and hands, but it was warm and somewhat heavy. The weight on her shoulders was reassuring to the youngster. Deciding she should just wait for the veteran to return, she sat on one of the stumps and watched Nessa, not entirely sure what to say. Everything Andy said and had her do was still swirling in her mind.
The carni saw Milly out of the corner of her eye, but paid her no mind as she brought the axe down again. She had a fair amount of firewood cut at this point, and was considering putting the axe down and bringing the chopped logs inside. When she stood straight up, Vanessa took a deep breath. After last night, she felt like she actually belonged somewhere now. This thought caused a smile to creep onto the young woman's face. She was just about to call out to Milly to come help with bringing the firewood inside when a loud bang rang out followed by the sound of shattering glass.
The bang pulsed through Milly’s head, making the youngster shrink and cover her ears. Instantly her nerves stood on end. That was not from someone within the lodge, anyone they would have warned them about shooting! Where did it come from? Without a word, Milly lurched forward, scrambling into the nearby bushes. On her way, she reached a hand out as if to grab Nessa and pull her with her.
The acrobat flinched as the gunshot sounded, her eyes darting around wildly. She couldn't tell which way it had come from, but it sounded all too close. Without another moment of thought, Vanessa grabbed Milly’s hand and began to sprint for the treeline. A small thicket of bushes just at the edge of the trees looked to be just large enough for them to hide in. The carni pulled herself and the youngling into the bushes, praying that it covered them enough from sight.
Milly, her mind racing back to what Andy and Colt had taught her, lied as low as possible against the bush, staying extremely still- listening. She looked at Nessa -still avoiding eye contact- and pointed a thumb behind her shoulder.
‘Watch behind!’ she mouthed, too afraid to speak. Colt told her how, when under attack she and her squad would communicate through mouthing and improve sign language to avoid detection. The entire time she stayed very still and held her breath. This was bad.
Most of the gunfire seemed to be centric to the back yard. Thankfully, that meant there was a whole lodge and some space between the pair and most of the action. Owen and Hector’s panicked voices came over some of the ruckus. Whatever was going on, it was very clear it wasn’t good and some of the companions were in the thick of battle.
Vanessa wasn't sure what to do. Many thoughts raced through her mind all at once. Should she go try to help? Should she stay hidden? And then there was Milly. Whatever they did next, the acrobat had to account for the young girl's safety. "This is bad" she muttered softly.
Milly did not answer instantly. The realization of what was happening was only now beginning to hit her. Blinking sparingly, she craned her ear to listen. “...We need to do something,” she spoke suddenly, keeping her voice low, “I don’t know what though. Do you have any weapons?” she reached into her, well Colt’s, jacket and pulled out a small handgun. She did not intend to use it, but… well, things had gone from bad to worse and if what Andy had told her was true, nobody would be coming to save them.
Vanessa's eyes widened as the young girl pulled out the firearm. "Der'mo!" She hissed as softly as she could. "No, put that away. We must be smart. Only use this if you must." And with that the acrobat pulled a knife and handed it to Milly. "We go around using the tree line as cover.. get closer and see how we can help."
“I wasn’t going to use it now” Milly growled in a low tone as she reluctantly put the weapon away. She kept looking behind her every few seconds, “I…I don’t want to…” she stopped herself. The day of the Hazmat Siege was still fresh in the young girl’s head, where she had been abducted, blindfolded and had a gun to her temple. It was a miracle she and Beth were not slaughtered. And they killed Ray. If it was them again Milly knew they would not hold back in any sense.
“Whatever,” she sighed before listening to the woman speak, “yeah okay just… keep watching behind please.” her head was spinning with the amount of noise making it incredibly hard for the young girl to think effectively.
Around this time, Colt and Nile had been carefully making their way through the woods with Arthur. Colt hadn’t said a word since they left the decrepit house, her mind’s spinning and worrying seemed to render her mute. She was already beginning to prepare herself for the possibility that everyone at the lodge could be dead. Sighing, she pulled Arthur to a stop and jumped down, patting the horse’s neck.
“We’ll go on foot from here,” she finally said, taking some more ammo from her saddle bag and the gun she took from one of the attackers. She was still wearing the bullet proof vest, “Arthur’s too big, he’ll draw attention.” she added as she tied Arthur’s reins in a knot so he could not trip on them. She was not going to tie him up but rather let him flee if he had to. Colt decided not to say more, she was beginning to feel quite sick with worry. She put her finger to her lips in a ‘be quiet’ gesture to Nile and began the very ginger trek through the woods, her weapon at the ready. She did not have the energy to say much more. She kept her body low and cocked her head to the right so her better ear was more open.
“Have you still not been able to catch them on the radio?” Nile asked, lifting one leg over the top of Arthur to step down before giving a muffled squawk of surprise as he slid off and hit the ground knees first. Wincing, the man pulled himself up and rubbed his knees, walking past the creeping Colt.
Colt stopped for a second and slowly turned around to give Nile an exasperated look. “You’ve been with me this whole time so you should know- no ya dense fuckwit! Now shut up!” Colt snarled through her teeth before turning around and continuing her walk.
“If we can’t get them on the radio then we’re gonna be screwed trying to find anyone,” Nile muttered, barely lower than a whisper. “I mean, how many do you think booked it into the woods first sign of a fight? Search radius is gonna be giant, we can’t cover all that ground on foot,” Nile was talking more to himself at this point, shooting ideas to himself.
Little more than thirty seconds after Nile spoke, he pushed through a bush and caught a foot on a limb, and not the wooden kind. Yelping, he fell face first, bashing his head on a trunk in front of him and tearing his sleeves on prickly branches. Hitting the ground with a muted grunt, he slowly rolled over, dazedly staring into Vanessa’s eyes.
“Nevermind,” Nile said monotonously, “Found them.”
The acrobat's eyes burned with fury as she looked at Nile. "Be quiet you tupoy buffoon." She hissed with venom in her voice. He had very nearly given away their position at the edge of the woods.
That shut Nile up. Not out of offense or intimidation, but more so confusion. Buffoon? He’d been called plenty things before, ‘fucking idiot’ and ‘dumb asshole’ being just some of many, but buffoon? People still said that? How was he supposed to respond to that? Was he supposed to be offended? She couldn’t have said that unironically. It had to be a joke, right? Nile wasn’t one hundred percent what response she was looking for. Also, what the hell did tupoy even mean?
“...okay?” Nile said slowly, wisely deciding that now wasn’t the time to get into it. He was never good at conversation anyway. Asking ‘who are are you again?’ probably wouldn’t be the best opener at the moment.
“Have you two just been squatting here the entire time?” Nile asked, awkwardly scooting further into the bush to have the foliage concean his feet from where they’d been sticking out. Man, this was a big bush. “Any idea where the others are?”
Milly had to suppress the yell that would have come out of her as Nessa was stood on. She was about to say something when there was a slight crunch next to her and she spun to see, to her immense relief, Colt muscling into the bush. Milly scooted toward her until she was almost under the veteran and nestled into her for an awkward side-lying-down-hug. She was far out of her depth.
The alcoholic for her part stayed quiet and simply put a protective arm around the youngster with a slight squeeze of reassurance. She turned her attention to the duo. “Nessa,” she breathed gruffly, relieved to see another familiar face, “what happened?”
“There’s shooters at the lodge,” Milly answered quickly, “but we don’t know who, or if anyone’s okay or how many-!”
“Hmm,” Colt gently shushed the girl by squeezing her again before she rambled too much, “we were just attacked out in the woods. Must be the same bastards. When did it start? Have you seen anyone?”
"They started shooting only just now. We took cover here before they noticed us." Nessa explained in a hushed tone. "They brought a lot of people by the sound of it. That's all I know for certain." As for the who, the acrobat had a bad feeling she knew already. "Do you know where Andy is?"
“No.” Colt grumbled as she peered through the bush to try and get a better view. She tilted her head to the right as her left ear’s tinnitus was becoming worse after all the loud shots fired at the house. “Been trying to reach them. We need to get closer but… I dunno how we can do that without being caught.” She looked upward towards the evergreens towering above, “…Nessa. How good are you in trees?”
The younger woman pondered the question for a moment with a tilted head. "I am good enough. They have more handholds than most circus equipment."
“Hm… Nile, give Nessa your radio.” She turned to the acrobat, “head up there and see what you can find. Take this,” she gave Nessa her camouflage army hat. “rub some mud on your face and arms. Don’t be too bold, see what you can find and report to me. We’ll be behind you on the ground. Get as close as possible without being seen.”
“You two,” she turned to the pair, “we’ll follow when told safe. Stay low and wait for the go-ahead. We can’t take any chances,” she turned to Milly specifically, “these bastards won’t hold back, so don’t be seen.”
Before long, Vanessa was pulling herself into the higher branches of the tree, the radio held carefully in her teeth. Once she had climbed as high as the branches would support without being too thin, the carnie looked looked out from behind the leaves.
Michel was never given a verbal answer but the way the older man’s body tensed in anticipation was probably answer enough. Hector quickly grabbed the firearms he had down in his lab and went as quickly as he could manage up the steps.
“Niño, don’t!” A grizzly voice called from underneath Owen.
Hector had hobbled up from the basement with his rifle in one arm and his signature Beretta in the other. He met Owen’s panicked gaze, and they both turned their eyes to the aforementioned location. The old doctor could only barely meet Owen at the bottom of the stairs and yank him back by his shirt collar before the boy came into the enemy’s line of sight.
The movement sent a shock of pain down the scientist’s shoulder and leg. The injuries reminded him that he was nowhere near fighting capacity. “Just think for a moment, Owen!” The older Hispanic hissed through his teeth. “Use your eyes, and let’s see what we can do. Charging in is going to get her, you, me, or all of us killed.”
Leliana had made it inside just as Hector tugged Owen out of the way of... something. Her brows furrowed, a bit puzzled by not only that but the panic on her cousin's face. What was going on? Why were he and Hector armed to the teeth? She took a few cautious steps forward toward them, her hand twitching over her holster. The nurse had only caught the tail end of what Hector had said, and it certainly hadn't done any favors clearing stuff up.
"Guys, what's going on?" She asked, head tilting a bit as she watched them both. "Are we under attack again?" Without a radio, Leliana was out of the loop, she didn't need one just hanging around the lodge. Not to mention there weren't enough for Leliana to have one anyway. And if they were under attack, it could be a million different things, the infected, other survivors, the military...oh no, what if the hazzies we're back? That was such an awful fight, Leliana never wanted anything like it to happen again. But it was clear from how Owen and Hector were acting that...that they didn't really have a choice. Something was definitely going down.
Owen resisted as Hector pulled him back, everything in his body trying desperately to get to Aubrey. It was Leliana’s voice that brought him back to reality. He blinked several times as Hectors grip tightened as if he was fearful the redhead might bolt at any moment. It was a fair assessment.
“Someone took a shot at me from the upstairs window,” Owen responded, letting his gaze turn to Leliana before darting back out the closest window to try and get eyes on Aubrey. “It sounds like Colt and Nile got attacked not far from here too. Bethany is still MIA and Aubrey...” Owen pulled a little against Hector’s grip to look outside once more. “Has some randos holding her at gunpoint in the yard.”
“j-Jesus fucking christ” Michael said in an extremely nervous tone while he put both of his hands on his head. He tried as best as he could to keep his voice as low as possible, but he didn’t know if it was working.
“w- We barely made it out last time. What the hell are we gonna do?” Michael stated in an ever so increasingly freaked out voice.
"That's what that sound was?" Leliana mumbled, more to herself than the men standing around her. It wasn't a surprise, not exactly, but already her heart was starting to pound in her chest. Was it the hazzies again? It had been ages since she had seen any, the last time was that run with Colt. It was even more concerning that nobody had found Beth, especially after the other blonde tried so hard to convince Leliana to leave. She could have left on her own but Leliana really wanted to believe that wasn't the case. Beth loved her right? If she left...she wouldn't leave without at least saying goodbye. At least that's what Leliana hoped. No matter how worried she was about Beth, Aubrey quickly became the top priority as the nurse followed Owen's gaze out the nearest window. She couldn't see much, but the nurse definitely spotted the other woman with...whoever the hell it was.
"Calm down Micheal, it's okay, we'll get through this. We always have," Leliana spoke, hoping to reassure him just enough to keep him from panicking. "They aren't the hazzies, at least I don't think so, I don't think they'd just ditch those suits," She continued, still peeking out the window. The blonde had no clue how to approach this. But in the very least, if they weren't hazzies, that meant they were other survivors. And most likely, that meant they didn't have proper training. Not that many people there at the lodge did, but Colt's training had definitely helped some.
“First things first,” Owen began with conviction. “We save Aubrey.”
"We could probably see a little better from upstairs?" Leliana suggested, finally looking back to Hector and Owen.
"There isn't time," Owen growled. Sitting here debating on ehat to do while Aubrey was in danger was putting Owen in an increasingly agitated state. " Plus Andy's out there," Owen informed Leli. "She's got better eyes on it than we can from here."
Hector tucked his long, graying locks behind his ear to give his remaining eye a better scope of vision. He slowly poked his head around to assess the situation, and sure enough, it was as Andy described. The large redhead behind him grew antsier with each passing second, so Hector pulled back into cover and gave him the rundown.
“As your sister said, she’s pinned down. A group of about five with above-average firearms. I can’t tell what kind from here. It seems four of them are walking away and leaving one to guard the girl. Once they get far enough away, I can take the guard out and give you an opening.”
The question of why kept ringing in the older man’s head. Why didn’t they just kill her? They were taking hostages but for what reason? Why Aubrey of all people?
Questions that couldn’t be answered at the moment. Instead, the doctor turned and pushed his handgun into Owen’s chest. “Fully loaded, and there is a round in the chamber already. Don’t hesitate, Niño.”
Owen stared down at the gun in his hand. Despite having seen dozens in his lifetime, it seemed like a foreign object to the twin. It felt surprisingly heavy for something so small, and no one needed to tell him the damage it could do. He had only ever fired two rounds in his life. One at Patient Zero in the hospital and another at a soldier to keep Ivan from being shot in the head. Neither had been easy, and neither had been anything close to accurate. Not hesitating was one thing. Owen wasn’t sure he would if it came down to saving Aubrey, but the man felt he was just as likely to hurt Aubrey as those holding her captive.
“Yeah,”Owen muttered, uncomfortable. “Okay.” He spared a glance out the busted back door to where Aubrey was. She was barely visible around the corner of the barracks; her hat was missing, her hands were tied, and her captor was on top of her. He felt his blood run ice cold as the barrel of the gun raised to Aubrey's face.
“Wait,” Michael said while he quickly extended his arm to grab Owen by his shoulder.
“As far as I know like half of us are not even in the lodge, and you said before that they took a shot at you through the upstairs window” Michael emphasized the upstairs window part “If they can have a guy positioned well enough to shot when we pass near the windows, don’t you think they’ll just be able to like, snipe you if you exit the lodge?”
Michael felt horrible for what he was about to say, but he cared enough for the redhead to at least mention the possibility of it before he went out into the middle of a warzone.
“Owen, what if this is a… what if this is a trap?”
“It might be,” Owen confirmed. “But, I can’t just leave her out there.”
Owen darted out the door before Hector even fully squeezed the trigger. He felt the crack of the gunshot in his eardrums, but his focus was elsewhere. His lungs filled with cold air as he sprinted across the yard. Years of running from sports played to his advantage here as his body fell into old habits and form as he made his way to Aubrey, who was already doing her best to scramble to her feet.
The redhead barely noticed Hector falling in line behind him, doing his best to hobble out into the yard to cover him. He was too busy watching in horror as Aubrey’s captor reached up to grab the blonde by the ankle and rip her back down to the frozen earth below.
“Go quickly, Owen!” The doctor yelled out as he pulled his hand back to cycle the next round. The gunshot had caused the assailant’s friends to turn back around and check on them. The sight of two hulking men, albeit one of them limping, sent them bounding back to support their teammate.
The large scientist’s blood ran cold at the sight. They were all out in the open and Hector had no way of dropping them all quickly. Even if he was at 100%, this was not a situation he could get out of.
The world seemed to slow down as adrenaline flooded the older man’s veins, overcharging his senses. “OWEN, MOVE!”
No sooner did the words leave his mouth that the bullets started flying in their direction. The doctor cracked off a quick shot in their general direction and began to haul ass over to the male twin. He grit his teeth against the pain in his leg and sprinted as if his leg didn’t have a hole in it from Maria’s parting gift.
The merciful gods above named Luca and Andy began laying down supporting fire for the muscular pair.
“I’ve got you covered,” Andy came over the radio. It was unclear where they were exactly, but gunfire and bolts alike came from the tree line.
One of the opposing gunmen dropped like a puppet that got its strings cut. A short, carbon fiber bolt was protruding from his skull. Another got knocked onto the back with the wind knocked out of him, presumably from a Luca-sent bullet.
Hector cycled another round and pulled another blind shot off and, by sheer dumb luck, managed to tag the third gunman in the thigh. The short, dead sprint was pushing Hector’s injuries to their limits, and his right shoulder and leg was searing with white-hot pain.
It was difficult to make out everything, even at Vanessa’s altitude. The gunmen were spread out through the treeline, but a small group of them were clearly clustered around the barracks near the lodge. Someone was on their knees, held at gunpoint. It wasn’t clear who it was, only the top of the red hat they wore was visible. The group conversed for a moment, before all but one turned away, leaving the captive in the hands of a lone gunman. Moments later a loud crack broke through the air and the gunman was thrown back and to the ground.
“I’ve got you covered,” Andy’s voice came over the radio, which seemed to finally be back in range. Instantly and on cue, a copper blur sped from the back door of the lodge as Owen B-lined for the captive. Fire broke out across the yard in various directions, causing the air to be dense with sound and the smell of gunpowder.
Behind the trees, Colt ducked under the bush alongside Milly who had almost had a heart attack as the world seemed to explode around them. Colt’s heart pounded and her mind was beginning to fuzzy as it was assaulted by noise and incoming memories. She squeezes her eyes shut, desperately trying to push them back. Not now… NOT NOW!
Andy’s voice crackled through the radio, breaking through to the veteran. Thank God, at least one of their people was still alive! She turned on the radio with a newfound vigour.
“Victor! Come in! Alfa is alive but I don’t know where she is,” She spoke, deciding that NATO codes would be best given that they could be heard. “I need visuals ASAP, what do you see! Where are the shooters? Do you see any of ours?” Despite the intensity of her tone Colt spoke quietly, watching both Milly and Nile as she did.
The use of code only served to confuse the carnie, who cocked an eyebrow at the radio despite the dangerous situation they were in. All hell was breaking loose and she wasn't even sure where to begin explaining.
"I don't know who Victor is…" Vanessa’s voice crackled through the radio. "But a lot of them are in the trees near the Barracks! Owen just attacked them..!" Zombies and panicking people caused a real stir, but Vanessa had not seen chaos like this before. As bullets flew and ripped apart all in their path, the acrobat took it all in. Though it terrified her to her core she thought there was some beauty to it all in a messed up way.
“Her name’s Victor?” Nile mouthed in confusion.
It took everything in the vet’s power not to snarl “motherfucker!” out loud in frustration. Her mind was racing too much to remind herself that these guys were completely out of their depths and that maintaining a form of composure. Besides, it appeared that these assholes knew exactly who they were after so it didn’t matter. During all of this, Milly stayed very silent, her eyes darting between Colt and the tree.
“Nessa, Nessa stay with me here! Do you see any more of ours? Any idea who their leader might be?”
Vanessa didn’t have time to respond before the high-pitched whistle pierced her ears. The dispersion of air brushed by her cheek almost abrasively, sending panic through her chest that could only be the result of a narrowly avoided death. The bullet broke the branch to her left, sending it crashing down through the labyrinth of icy twigs below. It tumbled to and fro, rhythmically before finally falling in the snow below.
Precise, but not perfect, a follow-up shot hit the base of the tree, just off-center of the bush that held the other three. It was clear that someone knew where they were, but either didn’t have an exact location or was a mediocre shot.
Nessa's eyes widened. She thought for sure the branches would cover her position from this high up, yet clearly she had been seen. The young woman's mind raced as she ducked behind the trunk of the tree for protection. Pulling the radio up to her mouth she spoke in a hushed tone. "Colt, there are a lot of them… what do we do??"
Hearing the shot, Colt's head shot up with wide eyes. Milly managed to keep silent, but breathed an audible sigh of relief when Nessa spoke next, and she did not sound like she had been struck. It was a couple of seconds before Colt answered, “Listen to me. They’re probably going to investigate your rough position, if they’re all at the barracks they’ll only send one. Come down! But be careful!”
She turned to the pair, still speaking into the radio for Nessa’s sake “We have a possible location of some of them but, if my hunch is right, they’ll be hiding throughout the woods. We need to be extremely cautious.” She glared between Nile and Milly with a grim look in her butchered face, “I’m… gonna do everything I can.”
Milly had been silent throughout all of this, but she met Colt’s gaze, looking her straight in the eye. It appeared that the full weight of the situation was finally hitting her. She could only nod.
“…We’re a little ways out from them. We can’t charge in, it’d be suicide… we’re too small for a counter attack,” the veteran growled in frustration, knowing how well the last time they had done it, “we need to get closer. But we need to be careful. For now stay low. No shooting unless I say so. I…I need you all to trust me. And I need to be able to trust all of you if we're to have any chance of helping them.”
The footsteps slowly dissipated, leaving the unknown figure standing above Aubrey’s prone body. There was clearly a reason these people were here. Someone had sent them after a person in the Lodge, possibly someone she knew and cared about. This wasn’t just about her survival. It was about everyone else’s too.
Conversations she had overheard about information being essential echoed through her brain. If Aubrey could get some information from this person, she could be helpful. More valuable than she had been in the past attacks on the Lodge.
“So… What’re you guys doing here?” She asked, doing her best to look up at the stranger’s masked face.
Dark eyes glanced down at her own before looking away. If Aubrey was keener on social situations, she might have understood the audacity she had to continue the conversation.
“Are you here for someone specific?” She continued to prod, oblivious to the evident annoyance painted on the person’s brow. “Do you ever shut up?” A woman’s voice asked from beneath the face covering. Aubrey shrugged as much as she could while lying face-down on the ground.
“Sometimes,” the blonde seemed undeterred as she continued. “You mentioned looking for a blonde, which I imagine is why you haven’t killed me. Are you capturing every blonde? And why blonde? Are blondes special?”
The words seemed to grate at the woman’s ears, her brow twitching before she brought her leg back and into Aubrey’s side once more, “Shut. Up.”
A solid crack came from her ribs as another groan came from Aubrey, “Fuck-” she grumbled, trying to hold in any screams of pain. The force of the kick was so strong that it made Aubrey roll onto her side. Her captor knelt, pushing Aubrey's chest so she was forced to look skyward to the masked face of the gunman.
“If you say one more fucking word….” The words trailed off, the figure’s eyes widening as they scanned Aubrey’s pain-ridden face.
There was a weighted pause. If Aubrey could have spoken, she most likely would have- but between the pain of her cracked ribs and the death threat, it was impossible for her even to breathe. The woman opened and closed her mouth as if she had something to say that wouldn’t come. Her hand raised to lower her mask, but before Aubrey could process what was happening, the deafening crack of a rifle rang out and knocked the woman onto her back.
How did she not notice before? The blonde braids, the stupid fucking hat- it was all clicking together. How and why was Aubrey here? And why did she feel nothing but hot, white anger? She wanted to scream- demand answers- but she couldn’t help the tears welling in her eyes, her throat closing more and more each second as blood pounded in her ears. The pain she was in was overrun by pure adrenaline as her vision tunnelled on the blonde figure scrambling to her feet. Filled with nothing but raw emotion: rage, hurt, betrayal, she latched her hand around the blonde’s ankle and yanked her down to her level.
Aubrey fell flat on her face, unable to react in time due to her focus on the pain that filled her torso, “Fuck-” She grumbled, thrashing her limbs in a half-hearted attempt to get the girl off. By the time the blonde grasped the situation at hand, the dark-haired figure had launched herself on top of Aubrey, flipping her onto her back.
It was a split moment, Aubrey’s gaze meeting that of the assailant’s, but it was unmistakable. The mole below her left cheekbone, the dark eye now twisted in fury that used to look at her with concern.
That was the only thing she could get out before the woman’s fist collided with her nose. Confusion, bewilderment, and bright pain-filled Aubrey’s senses, her hands flying up to her potentially broken nose. There was barely any awareness that allowed her to recognize her sister had been thrown off of her body as she writhed in agony.
There wasn’t time for Owen to do much of anything. Gunfire seemed to be ringing from all around him by the time he got to Aubrey. With no other choice, he scooped both the girls up in a full tackle, his shoulder landing heavily in the chest of Aubrey’s captor, and landed with them inside the walls of the barracks. He did his best to keep them low, as he watched holes of light appear where bullets flew through the wooden walls, but the mystery woman was undeterred by his attempts to keep her alive. She was still scrambling out of his grip, like a rabbid animal trying desperately to get to Aubrey.
Without thought, Owen grabbed the attacker by the collar of her shirt and lifted her into the air, her legs dangling uselessly beneath her and tossed her across the floor of the barracks. She landed with a hard thud several feet from them. The redhead put himself between Aubrey her captor, reaching into the waistband of his pants for the pistol that Hector had given him and pulled it out, pointing it at the woman who was struggling to find her footing. Hector had said there was one in the chamber, but Owen wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Was there safety to deal with? Did he just have to pull the trigger? His finger was on it as he tried to keep the shake from his hands. Owen didn’t want to shoot anyone, but if this woman kept trying to get to Aubrey he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would.
His emerald eyes locked on to the chocolate brown ones of Aubrey’s attacker and his nose scrunched in disbelief. There was no way in hell, the world could not be this fucking small. And yet, Owen had seen her bloodied and beat before and her angry, determined face was not something he could mistake.
“Charlotte?” He croaked. The brunette didn’t react to his appearance or his words, but instead only lunged wildly at Aubrey once more. One of Owen’s massive hands reached out, palm wide and stopped Charlotte dead in her tracks. She let out something that sounded like a croaking gasp as all the air was forcibly removed from her once again. Owen picked her up by the shirt once more and slammed her against the wall, his forearm catching her in the throat so she had no choice but to look him in the eyes.
January 23rd, 2017
“Thanks.” Owen lowered the phone from his ear, brow furrowing. He had been both expecting and dreading this call. While he hadn’t expected Charlotte to heed his advice, he had hoped that it would take more than twenty-four hours before she would decide to barge into one of the drug dens with merch to sell. She had to know he had guys looking for her, he had even been as nice as to warn her but it appeared that the woman’s stubbornness knew no bounds.
It took no time at all before his Camaro was pulling into the driveway, engine idling as he tried to regain his composure. Rough fingers pinched the bridge of his nose, as he exhaled deeply. She wasn’t going to like him much after this. He wasn’t sure if she liked him much on most days, but she was sure to like him even less. However, this was a sacrifice that had to be made.
Once the click of his door handle sounded, there was no turning back.
Hands in the pockets of his leather jacket, Owen made his way up the driveway of Charlotte’s suburban house. The red door shone brightly from the light-colored paneling of the house. He was dreading this if he was being honest, but the girl had left him no choice. With a sharp exhale, rough and scarred knuckles rapped on the door before putting his hands back in his pockets. After a few seconds, heavy steps could be heard from the other side of the doorway. A satisfying click sounded and the door opened, revealing a man. He was only an inch or two shorter than Owen, dark brown hair neatly styled with light stubble on his cleft chin.
“Can I help you?” He asked, dark eyes scanning over the man in front of him.
While Owen had been expecting to see the mystery man attached to Charlotte’s arm, he had hoped that he wouldn’t be the one to answer the door. Owen reached back to scratch the back of his head nervously, but his eyes stayed on the man in front of him. Guilt suddenly washed over him as he thought back to the night he and Charlotte had shared at the lodge only weeks prior. This dude seemed alright, and Owen didn’t make a habit of helping girls cheat on their finances.
“Hey man,” Owen greeted. “Is Charlotte home? I just need to speak with her for a few minutes.” The man’s brow twitched up.
“And who are you?” The question wasn’t accusatory, simply curious. It appeared that Charlotte hadn’t brought up the fiery red-haired man to her fiancé. There was no guessing as to why.
Before there was a chance to respond, a woman’s voice rang from beyond Owen’s vision. “Who’s at the door, Ben?” Charlotte soon emerged from farther down the hall, her pleasant smile slowly distorting into an angry grimace as her brown eyes landed on the familiar large form. Furious steps marched straight towards the two men, plowing straight through Ben to shove Owen off of her doorstep, “Leave! Get off my property, now.” She yelled, continuously attempting to shove the redhead away.
“Charlotte,” Owen started, voice low. He spoke to her like he would a child, trying to lend comfort and soothe the situation before it got out of hand. He put his hands up at his sides to show he meant no harm, letting the woman shove him, but not budging from the top step. At 5’5 she didn’t pose much of a threat even as riled up as she was. Careful not to put his hands on her in front of her fiance, he let the hits land, only looking down at her in response. “I’m just here to talk to you.”
“Can’t you take a fucking hint?!” She growled, continuing to push him to no avail, “Go. Away.” At this point, Ben seemed to be getting more and more concerned as the scene played out in front of him. It was obvious he had never seen the woman he had been dating for who knows how long this upset over something. Hesitantly, the man placed a stern hand on Owen’s shoulder, the other lightly on Charlotte’s.
“You need to go.” Ben said gruffly, attempting to maintain a rough exterior, though his eyes glancing towards his aggressive fiance couldn’t hide the worry he felt.
“Don’t touch me, man.” He could feel the heat in his cheeks as adrenaline attempted to take over. Owen shrugged out of Ben’s grasp and turned back to Charlotte as she threw another swing. Carefully, he grabbed her hand to keep her from hitting him again. “Look Mannox, we can either talk in private or we can talk right here in front of your dude. It’s all the same to me.” The redhead growled. Heat suffocated Charlotte as she felt her wrist being gripped by Owen. They made a promise that they would never show up at each other’s house and there he was on her doorstep.
“Go to hell!” Charlotte yelled, yanking her arm away as Ben stepped in.
“Don’t fucking touch her.” The man was much more aggressive now, shoving Owen off the porch and onto the lawn, “You need to go. Now.”
January 23rd, 2017 Midday
Charlotte's House Owen stumbled back, shocked at the sudden display of aggression. He wasn’t sure how he had expected this to play out, but he sure as hell didn’t expect it to go as badly as it was. His head tilted to the side and a sarcastic laugh hissed through his teeth. Emerald eyes that normally held laughter and warmth, even in the face of violence froze over, steeling. He opened his arms as if to invite Ben to come at him once more.
Charlotte watched the scene play before her, the aggression she once had slowly morphed into worry as Owen seemed to draw colder. She had seen this side of him before, and she didn’t like it. Before she could say anything, she watched as Ben accepted the man’s invitation to fight, shoving Owen when he didn’t show signs of going anywhere, “I told you to fucking leave.” He said, watching Owen shuffle back a few steps.
When Ben’s hands touched Owen’s chest, the man reached up and grabbed the underside of the man’s hand. He twisted, not hard enough to break or injure him but enough to cause the softer of the two to stop in his tracks. Ben tried to move away from the tension in his arm but Owen held him there until he was able to securely grab his head under one of his burly arms, holding him in a headlock.
“I’m not here to hurt anyone!” he growled. “I’m just trying to make sure your fucking-” A sudden impact landed on Owen’s gut as Ben was now throwing punches to get this stranger off of him. Owen ignored him, instead of looking up to lock eyes with Charlotte. “-baby mama doesn’t get herself killed-”
Cut off once more, Charlotte stared back at him, fury and hurt battling one another as she spoke, “Don’t you fucking dare.” She warned, frozen in place and terrified that if he revealed this information, that would ruin everything she had built over the past year. Owen just raised an eyebrow, undeterred. If she had bothered to answer a phone they wouldn’t be in this situation, and they were past the point of niceties when she and her dude decided to start swinging.
“While she’s slinging drugs on every god damn street corner between here and Denver!”
Charlotte placed her face in her hands as it was Ben’s turn to freeze. She felt nauseous, and it wasn’t because she was pregnant. Trying to regulate her breathing, her hands slid down to her mouth as she locked eyes with Ben, who was now staring at her with confusion, “What…?” He whispered, dark brown eyes scanning every inch of her face. All the half-formed excuses for her absence over the years suddenly made sense. She didn’t reply as she looked up towards Owen, teeth clenched as she moved forward. The tension in the air stayed as she unravelled her fiance from the redheaded man, now standing between the two as she spoke.
“Leave.” The words were colder than she had ever spoken towards Owen, the emotions behind it unclear as she spoke through gritted teeth. The redhead merely nodded, putting his hands in his pockets uncomfortably. He turned slowly, feeling the pounding in his chest start to cease and in its wake, it was replaced with an ache. Owen didn’t want to hurt Charlotte, and he had nothing against this Ben guy, all he wanted to do was make sure she was safe. However, looking at the pain on both their faces he couldn’t help but wonder if he had gone too far.
He showed himself back down the driveway to his car. Only weeks prior the passenger seat had her sitting in it, hair flowing out the window as they drove. The nagging sensation that he wouldn’t ever see that again gnawed at him, but at least now he didn’t have to worry about some low life hurting her or her unborn child. Shaking hands reached out to pop the handle on the driver’s side door.
Charlotte couldn’t determine if the trembling in her palms was due to her resentment or the pain she felt in her chest as she watched him walk away. She could barely keep her voice from cracking as she mumbled, “I never want to see you again.” The words slowly and meticulously cut through the air, leaving her one last breath of air before she felt she couldn’t breathe any longer.
“Stay clean and you won’t have to,” he assured her. He paused, turning his head back over his shoulder to look back at her one last time. A sad smile pulled at the corner of his lips as his eyes locked on hers. “Take care of yourself Lettie.”
And then he was gone, leaving nothing but the fumes from his old engine as proof he was ever there.
December 16, 2018 Midday
Lodge “Charlotte!” He snarled. Owen’s voice was angry and panicked as he tried to get her attention. When she still refused his gaze, Owen took his other hand and grabbed the woman's cheeks in one hand, and forced her to look at him. Her rage-filled eyes seemed to pause as she met his, more confusion than hatred making up her features. Her mouth opened to try and say something- anything, but nothing but gasps and pained expressions came out.
Aubrey sat dazed on the ground. She heard gunshots and occasional shouting, but her focus was turned inward. She had found her sister. After months of searching, the fear and pain building that maybe she would never see her again- never have a second chance to make it up to Charlotte- here she was. Despite all that happened over the last five minutes, she couldn’t help but feel relief. Her vision was blurry from pain and tears, but she could make out the sizeable redheaded figure slamming Charlotte against the wall. The blonde tried to call out, hobbling to her feet, but when nothing but air exited, one bloody hand extended out to his leg.
Owen’s head whipped around at the feel of Aubrey’s touch. She looked in a bad state, and unfortunately, neither of them were in a position to tend to her at the moment. His eyes softened and he released Charlotte's chin with his left hand, leaving his right arm pinning her to the wall. He let his now free palm rest on the top of Aubrey’s head in a comforting way.
“Stay down Bre, I won’t hurt her.” It was clear Owen meant what he said as he turned his attention back to Charlotte.
“What the hell are you doing here?” He knew it was hard for her to talk, but Owen needed answers. It was confusing enough to see her here, but even more so that she was helping attack the lodge. Did she not recognize it? It wasn’t that weird to assume, on second thought. It had been dark the last time he and Charlotte were here together, and it had been sort of a whirlwind of a night. He watched as she tried to process his question opening her mouth and closing it several times when nothing but gasps came out. Owen shook his head.
“I don’t need your whole life story Lettie. Why the fuck are you guys attacking us? What is going on?” He released some of the pressure on her chest, but did not let her leave the spot he had her pinned to on the wall.
The lessened pressure allowed her lungs a bit of leeway to breathe, albeit not well. Gasps interlaced each word, “He- He sent us for- a blonde and- a redhead.” Between words, Charlotte’s eyes glanced at Aubrey, an overwhelming amount of emotion springing up like tidal waves each time she did. It bothered her to admit it, but if Owen had not been there, she’s not sure she would have stopped.
“A blonde and a…” Owen paused, obviously bothered by this information. All at once, it felt like his stomach had fallen to his shoes. He hoped to god he was wrong, but somehow he knew he wasn’t.
“Who sent you Lettie?” Owen asked again, eyes almost pleading when he looked at her.
There wasn't much time for either Leliana or Micheal to voice any additional concerns about them running in guns blazing. But the nurse for once, would let them slide without yelling later. Aubrey needed help. "We'll get in the way if we try to help," Leliana mumbled, more of herself than to Micheal. Any more people outside, and they'd have to be even more vigilant about their own people. And Micheal wasn't good enough of a shot to avoid hitting Hector or Owen. Hell, Leliana didn't have enough confidence in herself. All the best shots were gone, so hell of a time to get attacked again. They just needed to survive long enough for the rest of them to get back. Hopefully Beth would come back with Valerie soon...at least Milly didn't go with her.
"Milly...Micheal, have you seen Milly today?" Leliana asked, her heart spiking all over again as she looked to the taller man.
“Wha- Oh, Milly?, no i- sorry, I haven’t, I was down in the lab with Hector all morning,” Michael replied with a shaky voice. Her gaze then shifted off behind them, scanning the house to search for any sign of the young girl. They had to find her, make sure she was safe.
"Micheal come on, we have to find her," Leliana said, patting Michael's arm once or twice before immediately turning to head for the stairs. It didn't seem likely she'd be down there with them, so upstairs was a good bet right?
“y-Yeah, we should probably go take a quick look around for her,” Michael said, his voice undoubtedly have come out even more shaky than before. Michael had a bad feeling in his gut. As far as the neckbeard could tell, they were both outmanned and outgunned; that coupled with the fact that with no real way to reach out to several of their fellow lodgers unless both parties had a radio just left them effectively cut off from the rest of the group. All their heavy hitters either currently missing in action or actively fighting out in the open left both himself and Leliana vulnerable. The lodge provided enough protection from the firefights going outside, but if either the building got surrounded or their attackers breached whatever defenses they had, the normally cozy lodge would become the woody equivalent of a death box.
Truth be told, his instinct was telling him to just get out of there and try to make a run into the woods. Perhaps if he got lucky enough he would not encounter any of their attackers and manage to escape unscathed.
Yet he refused. Scared and confused as he may be, the neckbeard made the conscious decision to stay and fight. Even before the outbreak, he had been nothing but a pathetic shell of a man who did nothing but run away from his problems; even if he ran there would be nothing for him to run for, the undead had taken over, and his life would be in danger wherever he went. This could be the end of them all, but if it was, Michael had made his choice and decided that alongside everyone else he would go down with the ship.
Following Leliana, the both of them quickly went upstairs. Once there Michael began looking for the girl. Leliana could tell Michael was nervous, and that was okay. She was too. The thought of Milly being in danger always scared her, the nurse and the young girl had become quick friends, and if anyone deserved to make it through this shit storm, it was her. Leliana's feet pounded up the stairs, the woman taking a few deep breaths as she reached the top. Milly had to be here somewhere, she was never take on runs, hell, she hardly left sight of the lodge. Leliana would quickly turn to check the bathroom, looking behind the door and in the tub for any sign of her or that bear. When that turned into a dead end, Leliana would turn to her and Beth's shared bedroom. In her rush, Leliana didn't take much note of the room's state, if anything was missing or out of place as she looked for Milly.
In the closet, under the bed, hell she even made sure to pat the pile of blankets. Leliana didn't often lose her composure in situations like this if they previous attacks had been anything to go in, but she could feel a familiar panic setting in. The panic she felt seeing the lodge under attack the first time. The panic she felt facing that horde at Moe's. And panicking in this situation would do nothing to help, Leliana forcing herself to take a deep breath as she ran her shaking fingers through greasy blonde hair. It would take a minute or so for that panic to ease even a little, but that little bit of time let another person skip back into her mind. Beth. This was their bedroom, the one they shared with Milly and then Valerie, the one they cuddled in early in the morning to try to stay warm just a little longer...where Leliana felt loved again for the first time in years. Her gaze would shift to the dresser, feet shuffling toward it as Leliana's hands fell to her side.
The nurse had to check. She just...after their talk the night before, as much as Leliana didn't want to believe it, maybe she did leave. Maybe Beth ran. Her finger tips had just brushed against one of the drawer handles when the nurse froze all over again. No. No, she couldn't do it, because if she did, and Beth's clothes were gone, that meant the most important person in Leliana's life was gone. And the nurse wasn't ready to face that.
"Micheal, you find her yet?" Leliana finally called out, hurrying out of the room to find the bigger man. Panic fueling his body, Michael ran through most of the second floor taking quick glances through each room he could find. Each time being unsuccesful in finding the young girl only made the neckbeard more anxious about their situation. The only options he could think off where that either she was hiding, ran out into the woods or just like Aubrey, had been captured by their attackers. None of them exactly being optimal for their current situation.
"n- No, I haven’t” Michael quickly replied back to the blonde woman.
It seemed odd that no one was guarding the front of the lodge. All of the action seemed to be happening in the back. The trio of men that crept from the treeline in the front of the property did so with careful steps. It appeared that so far no one had noticed their presence. The front door was open, left that way in the urgency of the fight. With careful steps the men piled up the front steps, the wood creaking slightly under their weight asbthey took the steps up the porch and entered the front of the lodge.
"Are they all outback?” One asked in a hushed tone. His companion made the silent motion for him to shut up and shook his head at him disapprovingly. There was nobtelling who was hiding in the house.
The lodge was surprisingly dimly lit, despite the early morning. Many of the windows were boarded up, forcing one of the men to turn on a flashlight shining it through the main room. He gestured for one of the men to check the bedroom off the living room. The man agreed slinking away from his two companions and slipping in the door that was left ajar. Voices were heard from the above floor, including some rushed and heavy steps. The two armed men exchanged a look and headed toward the stairway, clicking off their flashlights. The excitement outside was only growing, but they couldn't leave until their assignment was completed.
Micheal's response wasn't the one she was hoping for. Her face twisted a little with the stress, a hand running through her hair. She believed him after all, Micheal had a lot of growth over the last few weeks. If this was a month ago, Leliana would have gone into each room to double check. But, the nurse believed him now. "Alright, alright let's see where could she be?" Leliana mumbled to herself, her hand dropping to rub her face. Milly not being upstairs wasn't helping the stress of the situation at all. They had to check downstairs and there was only so many places in the lodge they could check.
Downstairs bathroom, some of the closets, that little cubby space. "Okay, come on, back downstairs," She mumbled, turning on her heel to head back for the stairs. Her nerves were all over the place, but as Leliana turned, something told her to be careful. That something wasn't right. Though the nurse would ignore it for a few moments given what was going on outside. That sentiment quickly changed at the top of the stairs, her gaze landing on two figures that certainly weren't anyone she or Micheal knew. For a few seconds, she was frozen in place, gaze locked on them before all it once it clicked. She quickly turned around, scrambling back down the hall.
"Micheal, they got inside!" The nurse spoke, the panic in her voice clear as day. Was Micheal armed? Sure as shit the men she just saw were, there was no way they weren't. They were in danger, and even worse, they were on their own.
“w-What?” Michael asked, not out of confussion but more so out of shock.
He had already thought about the possibility of their attackers entering the lodge, after all why wouldn’t they?. He just didn’t think- no, he’d hoped they would not have done it
And worse of all they broke in while Leliana and himself were upstairs, completely blocking them out from any easy way out. “w-We need to hide” the man said in a hushed voice, hoping that they hadn’t heard them yet. “l-Let’s face it, we can’t face them upfront, we’re like, super fucked in that aspect. Let’s hide in a room and if they enter at least get the jump on one of them” Michael told Leliana.
While he could notice the panic on Leliana’s voice, truth be told he was equally scared shitless as her. He was all out of ideas, and the plan he’d just told was truthfully just a last ditch effort idea of a very desperate man. Hide. That was a better idea than fighting them upfront, Micheal had a point. What could they do against potentially professionally trained assholes? Liam never liked to mess around when he wanted something. And Leliana was...she was terrified.
"Yeah, hide. Good idea," Leliana whispered back. "Separate hiding spots, go," Leliana urged, giving him a little push towards one of the rooms while she quickly turned and slipped into the one the opposite side of the hall.
This fear was familiar, like some sort of while animal bearing down on her. That fear was all too familiar. Cornered upstairs in a small room, at the mercy of men a lot stronger than she was? Leliana was trying not to dwell on it too much. She shut the door behind her, locking it as quickly as she could before trying to find a place to hide. Under the bed? The closet? Both cornered her in the most likely future that door was busted down. She could go out the window, but that probably wouldn't go well, so the nurse had to think of another idea. Grabbing the nightstand, she brought it over to the space that would be behind the door in case it was busted open. She would use it as a barrier, the door would hit it first and she could possibly use those few moments to fire off a few rounds and scare them off. Or maybe just slip out of the room as soon as possible.
Regardless, Leliana had a really bad feeling about this.
All ears perked up as rustling in the brush nearby startled them. It made sense to be on edge with everything going on.
“Get behind-!” Colt had started as she spotted the danger. As the group moved to react, a whistle through the air was heard, causing many to duck on reflex. A man fell to the ground about fifteen feet away, landing on the icy earth with a satisfying thud. He gasped and gurgled his dying breaths as he desperately grasped at the carbon bolt sticking from his throat.
“They are coming from everywhere,” Andy’s voice came over the radio. “All along the treeline. Luca and I can only do so much. Hector is out in the open keeping fire off my brother, and all eyes are on them now. I’m glad you guys are back, we need all the fucking help we can-” She was cut off by a string of curses that escaped Luca’s mouth and loud gunfire. The radio went silent, the pair obviously having their hands full.
Colt froze, one hand on her holster and the other arm outstretched to pull Milly. Looking down at the man with the carbon arrow in his neck. She did not speak as Andy’s voice spoke up via the machine. They were in it thick, and every second counted.
“We can’t stay still,” she growled, especially rattled by the news of Owen in trouble, “we need to get closer if we’re going to be of any help! We gotta save Owen before anything else if he’s an active hostage.” She was speculating here, but Andy’s choice of language made the veteran anxious. Andy and Luca were clearly struggling with the violence from how the call ended.
“Stay low!” She hissed at the group.
Milly squeaked anxiously, hands cupped over her mouth, frozen in terror over the very close brush with death they just had. She did not want to move from this spot, even though it had been made very clear that this was not safe here. She wanted to hold Colt’s hand but did not in fear that the veteran would disapprove and yell. Her eyes darted anxiously between the adults and she took her braid and held it in her mouth at an attempt of self-reassurance.
"By what I saw, Owen was taking hostages, not becoming one..." Vanessa affirmed to the veteran. "I saw him charge from the house. He was in the barracks last I saw him.'
The veteran let out a huff of annoyance, “The point is he’s at extreme risk and we need to protect him!” she tried to look through the trees in the direction Nessa had been looking in, “We need to watch everything around us, if they’re smart they’ll know that we’d be going that way.” her brows lowered in thought. How the fuck were they going to get out of this?
“We can’t just run in, can we?” Milly asked almost too quietly to be heard.
“No. We can’t.” Colt mused miserably, this would have been hard enough with a fully trained squad, but this?
“Owen looked like he was making a good shot at it. Didn’t even stop,” Nile mentioned offhandedly, staring distantly at the form of the barracks lit up by gunfire. Huffing, the man slapped his knees and stood up fully. “Well, we aren’t hauling nearly as much ass as I would like. I’m heading for the barracks, stay here if you want, or come on, doesn’t matter.” Taking a deep breath, Nile began trudging forward, heedless of the two woman. This didn’t seem like a great idea, or much of one at all, but nobody else had a running plan so winging it didn’t sound that bad. Comparatively, at least.
“You will fucking die, you jackass!” Colt growled at his back.
“Yeah, I know,” Nile returned.
“And take him with you!”
“Oh, great, I’d like the company.”
“....Fine. Go ahead but I’m not saving your idiot ass when they shoot at you,” the veteran snapped with a hand running down her mangled face, “...use you as live bait.” she grumbled under her breath too low to hear, “let me get a good shot.”
"Colt." The harlequin's wide, mismatched gaze darted between Nile and the Veteran for a moment before coming to focus on the older woman's face. "What should we do now?"
“Not charge in like a goddamn maniac that’s for sure,” Colt glared at the man before taking the kevlar vest from the body. She turned her attention back to the acrobat and youngster, “we need to give them cover, but there’s gonna be loads of these bastards around here…” she darted her eyes around in case any more of them burst through the bushes.
“We’ll move back, there’s a slope not far from here. I could see about getting a good view from there to cover them,” she gestured to the rifle on her back, “the closer we get the more there will be and they won’t stop to ask questions before shooting.” She looked between the pair.
“Take this,” she gave Milly the kevlar vest she just looted, and removed the one she was wearing to hand it to Nessa. “Milly, watch to the left. Nessa, to the right,” she gazed seriously at the youngster, “I can’t hear as well from my left ear. I really need you to watch my back." Once they were ready, Colt began the very slow, very ginger process of making their way through the trees, stopping every few moments to listen and look.
“Colt?” She squeaked quietly, when the veteran stopped for a second to look around, “what if… what if they’ve killed…?”
“I’m not gonna lie to you, darlin’,” the vet sighed grimly under her breath, “they might have. Look,” she turned back to the pair for a second, “if something happens to me I want you two to keep going. Keep to the plan- when we can come up with one. ” she continued forward, turning around only once back again step by careful step to the vantage point. She did not look back for Nile, if he wanted to charge stupidly into certain death that was his problem.
Vanessa ducked behind a tree near to Colt as she saw the two of them come to a stop. Her heterochromic eyes darted around wildly, worried that the enemy could come from any direction, even deeper into the woods still. "Without meaning to sound like.. that person… What is the plan?" She asked in a strained whisper. "We must end this quickly or the dead will be our end, not them." With that statement the acrobat's eyes came to rest on the veteran's gnarled face, searching the older woman's features for any hint of hope.
“I know,” Colt grumbled lowly as her mind raced with thoughts, “I… I need a moment to think.” her hand flicked toward her pocket with the flask in it but it just seemed to slap uselessly against the fabric rather than actually grab the flask. They were wasting time here, for all she knew everyone within the Lodge could be dead.
“...No. No we can’t hold back. We need to get closer. But…” the veteran sighed angrily, “How do we do it without being killed on sight?”
"What if we draw their attention away from us and to somewhere else?" The carnie inquired.
“Would help if we knew where everyone was.” Colt answered before pulling out her radio. She doubted this would work but if she was going to come up with any kind of plan she needed some idea of where people were. She spoke into it.
“Owen, Andy, come in,” she tried to keep her voice low and leveled, “What’s your locations? Do you know where anyone else is? We’re caught in the midst and need information.”
Owen’s elbow was still firmly pressed into Charlotte's neck, but his gaze was on the floor, eyes darting back and forth as his brain quickly tried to process the bombshell that had just dropped. If he stopped for a moment to think it was pretty obvious this attack had been planned by Liam. He had hoped for a variety of reasons that it had been someone else. Even though the foe would have been more deadly, he almost would rather face the soldiers again.
“They are coming from everywhere,” At the sound of his sister’s voice Owen seemed to come back to reality. He reached down for the radio on his belt. “All along the treeline. Luca and I can only do so much. Hector is out in the open keeping fire off my brother, and all eyes are on them now. I’m glad you guys are back, we need all the fucking help we can-” Who was back? Colt and Nile likely. They were the only other ones with a radio that he was aware of. His eyes flashed up to the door of the barracks, to see if he could catch a glance of Hector.
“Doc, you still alive out there?” Owen called. He thought he could see his salt and pepper hair hobbling up toward the door.
The doctor swung around the corner of the door frame and pushed up against the wall adjacent to the entrance, a sweat forming on his brow. He was panting fairly hard from the effort it took to limp his way over and somehow avoided guaranteed death.
“Somehow…” He grunted in response. The aging scientist chambered his 3rd round while trying to catch his breath behind cover. “We stirred up the nest, Niño.” As if to punctuate his words, a bullet caught the frame right next to Hector’s head, sending shards of wood flying past his face.
The large man let out a silent curse, trying to breathe between his Spanish string of profanities.
“Yeah, that’s not the worst of it either,” Owen growled. He looked down to Aubrey who was just now starting to pick herself up off the ground. He winced. “Sorry about this Bre,” he said softly.
“Owen-” Charlotte choked out what sounded like was the start of a plead, or a warning. However, the redhead didn’t give her time to finish her thought before allowing his body weight to fall into his arm and on her windpipe. That paired with the wheezing caused by the bullet Hector had hit her with earlier was all it took, and within seconds her eyes rolled back and fluttered shut.
The large man let Charlotte’s body fall limply in his arms, catching her weight easily. As gently as he could with the matters at hand urging his movements, he laid her carefully on the ground. He rummaged through her pockets, finding more of the zip ties they had used to bind Aubrey's hands. Owen made quick work of binding Charlotte's limbs to the nearest bunk, ensuring if she woke that the woman couldn’t get away.
“Is she going to be okay?” Aubrey’s voice was weak and strained as Owen knelt beside her. He pulled his butterfly knife from his back pocket and grabbed both of Aubrey’s hands in one of his massive fists to keep them steady.
“She’ll wake up soon,” he confirmed. Owen tried to focus on cutting her ties free because each time he looked at her face he felt his chest tighten. The purple was already setting into her high cheekbones, the swelling of her lips distorting the perfect shape of them into a cracked and swollen mess. He was sure her injuries were even deeper than the blood that stained her fair skin, even the act of cutting her free made the woman wince in pain. He wanted to embrace her, relieved that she wasn’t worse off. Bruises, cuts, and broken bones would mend and she would still be here to smile again when the cracks in her smile mended. That's what mattered.
Slowly Owen picked up the radio once more from his belt, holding down the button for a moment as if to catch his breath before he spoke.
“Luca, you there man?” He didn’t explain to the others what was happening. Owen was sure they would understand momentarily, and if they didn’t he knew he wouldn’t have the strength to explain. He struggled to keep calm, his chest aching each agonizing second until Luca came back on the other end.
“This better be important Chuckie,” Luca bit over the radio. The ring of gunfire was so loud on his end of the radio, Owen had to strain to hear him.
“You know that thing we talked about? It’s time. They are here for her,” the twin kept his voice steady, but he wanted to scream. This situation couldn’t be worse if he tried.
“Confirmed?” Luca asked, regret in his tone.
“One hundred percent. Get her out of here Luca. Keep her safe.” Owen’s voice cracked, pained at the thought of leaving his sister’s wellbeing in anyone else’s hands.
“Always,” was the only response he got before the radio went silent again.
“What are you two talking about?” Hector asked with grit teeth over the sounds of gunfire.
“These are my da-” Owen stopped mid-thought and switched gears. “Liam’s men. Charlotte said they were told to get a red-headed girl and a blonde. Luca and I prepared for this weeks ago. We hid a getaway vehicle in the woods and some supplies so one of us could get Andy out of here in the event he came back.”
The doctor looked like he wanted to say something but decided against it. He lowered his weight, sliding down against the wall to take a knee and aim around the corner.
“I hope this works, Owen.” The older man managed. Owen didn’t respond, if it didn’t he wasn’t sure what else they could do. The situation was looking more hopeless by the second.
“Are you-” Aubrey began to speak, but the pain seemed to win out in the end, cutting her off. Owen couldn’t bring himself to smile as he normally would reassure her, but he let one of his massive hands come down gently on the top of her head and nodded.
Michael was slightly taken aback by the push Leliana had given him towards one of the rooms yet was happy that the blonde had decided to give his idea a try before possibly attempting to fight them head on. Trying to keep quiet, Michael only nodded at the girl before quickly entering the bedroom.
The neckbeard locked the door behind himself and looked around the room to find any spot that would fully hid him from at the very least a quick glance. He’d never fit under the bed so that option was out, and it wouldn’t just be ridiculous to try to hide behind the curtain of the bedroom, but it could be dangerous too in case a sniper from their attackers saw him.
With little other options, Michael ended up trying to get inside the room’s closet, barely being able to squeeze in. Although dark and very much hard to breathe in due to how little room inside there was, this was by far the best and only real place he could hide inside the room.
The soldiers were already on the move, having heard the voices and movement from upstairs. Their pacing became quicker and more controlled as they took the steps rapidly. The flashlights attached to their guns spun through the hallway, trying to get a good lay of the land as they crept up, side by side. At first glance nothing was amiss. It was clear the place had been lived in, but there was little else to show that someone had just been up here moving around.
The man who had been giving orders earlier nodded at a closed closet door in the hallway. With a nod of agreement, the second man moved, allowing his friend to cover him as he ripped the door open with one gloved hand. Both lights searched quickly, almost jumpily, but there was nothing but towels and blankets on the wooden shelves that filled the space.
“Check the rooms,” the first man commanded.
The sound of doors being slung open and the creak of wood was all that could be heard as the men began opening the various bedrooms that lined the hallway upstairs. The thud of the heavy boots on the old floor paced quickly, but not nearly as quickly as the heart rate of those who lurked in hiding. It was hard to place exactly where they were from sound alone. Was that the sound of a shower curtain being ripped open? It was unclear. It was undeniable however when the door to Owen’s bedroom flung open and hit the wall behind it, vibrating from the force. Heavy footsteps entered the room.
Michael did his best to control his breathing. There was little he could see from the darkness of the closet and he didn’t dare risk trying to look through the gap between the closet door and the frame. It let in a small trickle of light, breaking up the otherwise pitch dark of the cramped space. The light occasionally flickered as a man walked past the closet door, searching for them. He did his best to listen, hoping that the absence of the sound of the attacker’s boots meant that he had decided to pass by this room without opening the closet.
There was no universe in which the former GameStop employee would be so lucky, nor one where the men searching for him would be that dumb. The small sliver of light darkened as the man’s form stepped in front of the closet. He shifted, raising his gun and took a deep breath, ready to throw the door open.
Michael groped into the darkness as silently as he could, hoping for something that would help him in the looming attack. The coats that lined the closet would do nothing to protect him from the rifle that was pointed at the door now. At the last second, just as the man reached for the doorknob, Michael felt his hand grasp around a handle. It was unclear as to what the object was, but it was slender and metallic with leather grips where his hand fit naturally. Being that this was Owen’s room, it was easy to assume what it was. The neckbeard readied himself, holding his breath, as ready as he could be for what was to come.
“I found her!” the first man yelled excitedly. “She’s blonde! It’s gotta be her.”
Michael let the air out of his lungs as the man standing in front of the door turned on his heels and quickly left to join the first.
A scream rang through the hall not two seconds later. The sound was guttural, terrified, much like that of a cornered animal. But there was rage behind it, at least one of the men letting out a shout of surprise as something was thrown. It crashed against the door, another yell piercing the air. "STAY AWAY FROM ME!" The young nurse shouted. The men laughed, or at least one of them did. He moved, heavy footsteps making the floor creek.
"Easy there girlie. Come with us and you'll be okay. Just calm down and-" He was interrupted, suddenly letting out a sharp groan. Something else shattered against the wall, lighter footsteps rushing forward. But the sound was replaced quickly by a thud and another scream.
"GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME!" Leliana screamed, one of the men letting out an odd series of grunts that only got louder and more frustrated.
"Would you just stay-stay fuCKING STILL?!" There was some sort of impact, the man letting out another shout as the lighter footsteps scrambled away. "Goddamn it!" The same man shouted, following after seconds later.
"GET AWAY FR-" You didn't have to look in order to know the wind got knocked out of her lungs, a struggled gasp from right outside.
"Stay still goddamn it! We're not going to-" He screamed this time, the second pair of heavy footsteps finally entering the hall again. "FUCK! YOU STUPID BITCH!"
"What? What'd she do?"
"MY EYE! HER NAILS RIG-RIGHT IN MY FUCKING EYE!"
"Why does he even want this little-" There was some sort of impact, another rage-filled yell ricocheting off the walls. "Fuck it, just knock her out, she's too much fucking trouble."
"Fine fine! I'll hold her down," The other man replied, audible wincing.
"NO! NO, GET OFF ME! GET OFF ME PLEASE, PLEASE LET ME GO!" The guttural, almost primal-sounding screams from before had been taken over by an almost bloodcurdling terror.
They were too busy struggling to hold Leli down to hear the closet door open. She begged and screamed as they pinned her to the ground in the hallway. One of the men was pulling something from his bag. Michael couldn’t see what it was, not that it would matter much anyway. The bat felt heavy in his hands as he crept through the hallway. He didn’t even know what he was doing out here, if he was being honest with himself he never really decided to leave the closet. It was as if his body acted on its own, leaving reason behind for heroics.
Leli’s cries covered the sound of his footsteps on the old wooden floors. It was hard to listen to, but his focus was elsewhere anyway. His eyes locked with Leliana’s and he saw hope wash over her features, it was too late to back out now. The bat was harder to swing than he expected, and while the swing may have been too weak to knock the man out cold, when it landed on the back of the attacker’s head the force behind it was enough to send him to his knees, losing his grip on both the young woman and his rifle which slid further down the hallway. With few options left to him, Michael took the opportunity of the confusion to throw his body weight on the disoriented man, throwing both of them to the floor, barely managing to wrap his bat around the man's neck to begin choking him. His friends both aimed their rifles, but did not fire in fear of hitting their companion.
Leliana did not hesitate, as soon as their grasp loosed on her she was up, scrambling to her feet and down the stairs.
“Go after the girl you idiots!” the man yelled, audibly struggling to do so. “I can handle one fat fuck by myself.” The two men seemed to hesitate for a moment before conceding and following the girl down the stairs, taking them two at a time.
It had become increasingly difficult to lay down cover fire from the treeline. For one, Andy wasn’t nearly as talented with a crossbow as she was with a traditional bow. In some ways, it was easier, but she wasn’t as confident in her long-distance aim as she would have been. Thankfully she had little time to agonize about her shots before she was forced to take them. She was able to get a clear lay of the land in the treetops, but it wouldn’t be long before someone realized where she was hiding and took a shot at her. Luca was also doing his best from the ground, taking people out much faster than she was, but the two of them wouldn’t be enough to cover everyone. Owen was in the spotlight, and if something didn’t change quickly there wouldn’t be much the pair could do to save him.
“Luca, you there man?” Owen’s voice came over the radio. He was alive. That was good news. For a moment Andy thought about responding herself, the radio was in her hands after all. However, if Owen Jordan was asking for Luca specifically there must have been a good reason. She made eye contact with Luca who heard Owen’s request and growled, obviously irritated at the interruption before catching the radio that Andy tossed down from the trees.
It was hard to concentrate on what Owen was saying as more men started making their way toward the barracks. In fact, Andy watched as the tiny spec of a man known as Nile started making his way over to her brother with no one covering him.
“You know that thing we talked about? It’s time. They are here for her,” She heard her brother say. Andy’s ears perked up, but she couldn’t give the conversation her attention. Nile was in danger. She watched as a man from the opposite side of the treeline took aim in his direction. Andy was quicker, the single bolt that loosed from the crossbow dropped the attacker. She wasn’t sure if it was a kill shot, but it was enough to keep him from firing his weapon. Andy watched as Nile ducked at the sound of her arrow, glancing at the treeline for a moment as if to try and see where his savior was. She rolled her eyes, thankful when he kept moving once again.
“One hundred percent. Get her out of here Luca. Keep her safe.” That was Owen’s voice again. Andy looked down at Luca who now had his attention on her.
“Amore,” his tone caused worry to tighten her chest, but she didn’t have time to focus on it. The whiz of a bullet caused her to crouch down, she couldn’t stay in the tree line. Even if that shot had been accidental, it was clear her position was no longer as safe as it was. Plus it was a good idea to keep moving. Andy slid out of the tree with the grace of someone who had spent their whole lives climbing in and out of them. Luca was a the bottom, offering his hand to help her down the final climb.
“What was that about?” She asked, gesturing down to the radio.
“They are here for you. Liam sent them. We have to go.” Luca grabbed her hand and pulled her in the opposite direction of the Lodge but Andy didn’t move. She pulled her hand back and dug her heels into the ground.
“We can’t leave,” Andy retorted, but she was already shaking. She had hoped to god that wasn’t what was happening, but with it now confirmed Andy wasn’t sure how it hadn’t been more obvious. “So far you and I have been the only thing keeping most of them alive.”
“We aren’t debating this.” Luca reached out for her hand again but Andy smacked it away.
“I’m not leaving them. That's bullshit Luca,” She thought back to the hazmat raid, they had been after her too. Many had gotten badly hurt in the fight, and they had lost some others. “They need us.”
“They are here for you, and they won't quit fighting until they have you or we kill them all and we aren’t going to win this fight. We have too many injured, we are outnumbered and outgunned. Now follow me or I will throw you over my shoulder and drag you out of here if you are going to act like a fucking child.” He was growing irritated with her but Andy didn’t care she stepped back from him and crossed her arms.
“You don’t get to do this,” she said tears welling in her eyes. “You don’t get to bully me into leading these people just to force me to abandon them Luca!” Andy shook her head. “I won’t do it.”
“If you don’t leave they will die for sure defending you,” He stepped to close the distance but Andy retreated once more.
“Then I’ll go with them. I’ll go with them and then they will leave everyone alone,” But it was clear the idea of it made her shake to her bones. Her voice trembled no matter how much conviction she tried to force into it.
“I know this is a shitty situation. But no one wants that. I don’t want that, they don’t want that. You can’t pretend that you want that. They are fighting to keep you safe, let's try to give them their best chance.”
Her eyes darted as her mind raced. She was torn down to her core. Her instincts wanted to run, both from the fight and the prospect that the men who were here planned to drag her back into her father’s grasp. However, everything else screamed at her to stay. These people always rose to fight for her, she owed them the same respect. Their faces seemed to flash through their mind as she tried desperately to keep the visions of them bloodied and abandoned from creeping into her thoughts.
Luca had several points. They were vastly outnumbered and the people they had that were uninjured were decreasing by the second. Even if they stayed and fought, Andy would likely end up in Liam's clutches in the end anyway. However, if she left, would his men really leave the rest of them alone? It seemed unlikely.
“Fine,” Andy finally agreed, handing Luca her crossbow. “But we are doing this my way. You have to trust me and do exactly what I say. No ego, no bullshit.” His icy eyes scanned her for a moment as if looking for a reason to refuse her offer.
“You have a plan?” he asked seriously. She nodded.
“We’re going to give them their best chance,” she repeated his words with a small smirk.
Any moment Aubrey and Owen were about to have, was interrupted by the repetitive cries of ‘Friendly, friendly!’ aimed towards the older man guarding the door, muffled by the more prevalent sounds of gunshots and general pandemonium. With little more warning, Nile tumbled rather than ran through the open barrack’s door frame, hitting an uncontrolled roll as two bullets splintered the wood at what would have been his head height.
Banging his head on one of the bedposts with a resounding crack, breaking the post or his skull he couldn’t tell, his momentum rolled to a stop. Dazed eyes refocusing, the druggy slowly tilted his head towards the others in the small, squat building, his breath ragged and his usually tired eyes wide open.
Mouthing something that could have been ‘holy shit’, he slowly evened his exhausted breathing before propping himself up on the floor, knees sore from his fall. “Hey,” Nile croaked out as casually as he could, still panting as he tilted his head towards Charlotte, “Who’s she?”
Owen blinked several times at the chaos that had just unfolded. Leave it to Nile fucking Crayman to break the tension with an entrance so ridiculous it almost brought a smile to Owen’s lips despite the circumstances. The hulking redhead reached down and offered the newcomer a hand to help him to his feet.
“Aubrey’s sister, kind of my ex, one of Liam’s dudes, it's a long fucking story man.” Aubrey grunted in confirmation.
“Sounds like it” Nile muttered, thoroughly weirded the fuck out before taking the man’s hand and rising to his feet.
Owen sighed. “I know you just got here but we need to get over to the lodge. If they are here for Andy they are also going to be after Leliana, we left her with only Michael to defend her.” It was then he finally got a good look at Hector. Owen tilted his head as his eyes caught a glance of blood on the wall behind him.
“Did you get hit?”
“Defending you again. Surprise, surprise.” Hector spit out with a measure of contempt. The graying man spared a glance downwards to briefly appraise his own well being. Winged in the shoulder and a deeper wound to the outer lower right side of his abdomen. It had started to soak through his shirt, dying it in crimson colors. Luckily, it didn’t look like any organs were struck based on the entry point in his shirt and his back was bleeding too, so it went through somewhat cleanly.
“I’ll be okay.” He assured them before taking an aimed shot and downing another one of Liam’s cronies. “It just hurts.” He stated as he chambered his 4th round.
“You sure?” Owen asked hesitantly. He wasn’t sure, but he’d be lying if he said they could afford to lose Hector at this point either. A large commotion started outside before Hector could respond. Owen knelt beside him, looking carefully out the door.
It was the last thing he had expected to see. Most of the attackers were focused on the tree line to the left side. At the edge stood his sister out in the open. She ripped the tie from her braid, letting her hair fly free as a beacon to those who looked for her. Some were already aware of her presence. When she rose the handgun and shot one of them squarely in the forehead, the rest followed. Andy lingered long enough to make sure they all knew she was there before darting once again into the treeline. Owen angrily reached for his radio once more.
“Luca you useless son of a bitch,” he hissed. “What the fuck is she doing? I told you to get her out of here.” Owen was already scanning the yard, trying to see where he could run after her without becoming a block of swiss cheese.
“I am,” Luca’s voice came over, cold and annoyed. “She said she has a plan. We have this handled Owen, trust me.”
Owen did not trust him. In fact, most major mistakes in Owen’s life happened because Owen had chosen to trust Luca. He was already cursing himself for leaving Andy in his hands. It was obvious Luca was incapable of handling her stubborn nature.
“I don’t care how big you think your dick is Brasi,” Owen snarled, ensuring that the gun that Hector had given him was still in the waistband of his pants. “You can’t take all of them and I don’t fucking appreciate you playing chance with Andy’s life.”
He looked at his companions. Hector and Aubrey couldn’t run and he wasn’t sure if he and Nile were enough of a force to take out the small army that was now running after his sister. Owen pulled at his hair in frustration.
“We have to get to her, we can’t let-” His breath caught in his throat as his chest tightened.
Nile laid a hand on Owen’s shoulder. It wasn’t reassuring, he was just trying to see over the larger man without having to stand directly in the doorway. A look of recognition crossed his eyes as he watched Andy, his mouth forming a small ‘oh’.
“Yeah, I think they’ve got a half-decent idea of what they’re doing” Nile said, nodding in appraisal towards where Andy disappeared into the foliage.
Owen scrunched up his nose and pinched the bridge of it as he struggled to keep his demeanor.
“And what the fuck is that Nile?” Owen growled. “Andy and a few bear traps aren’t going to be enough to win this!”
“Ehhhhh” Nile made a so-so gesture with his hand, “Not exactl-I mean, sure, they could work on bears, yeah-”
“Andy wouldn’t do something like that if she didn’t have something in mind.” The hispanic said with a wince. “What’s important right now is getting Aubrey to safety and getting back to Leliana and Michael.”
“I can…” The blonde struggled to find the words nearly just as much as she struggled to stand. Eventually she gave up with a sigh and motioned with a limp arm toward Charlotte, hoping they would understand as she collapsed back into her original position.
Owen’s fist tightened around the radio so hard that for a moment it looked like he might break it. He let out a long breath, looking over at the woman next to him. It hurt him to admit it, but he had other people he had to look out for in the moment. Owen would have to trust Andy’s instincts and focus his efforts on the others.
“No way in hell we are leaving you here Aubrey. Especially not with your sister. You are in no condition to take care of yourself and there is no telling what will happen once we leave. Like it or not, you are stuck with me for now. The important question is, how do we get back to the lodge with two injured people?” The redhead asked. Most of the fight had fled after Andy, but that didn’t mean they were in the clear yet. There were more shots being taken in their favor that weren’t just Andy and Luca. That meant someone else was out there still, and they were on their side. Owen picked up the radio once more.
“Aaron, Colt?” He asked hopefully. “Anyone else still out there?” Silence. Surely to god Colt was back, Nile was here after all.
“But-” Aubrey started once again. Owen shook his head and patted her on the top of the had once more to silence her. He wasn’t debating her on this and it was obvious she didn’t have the strength to fight him on it either.
At the touch, a small sigh escaped her lips once again as she relaxed. She knew what he was trying to say, that it would be okay. Normally her worry would overtake her, but with the exhaustion and a surprising amount of trust to this man, her eyes hazily stared in the direction of her sister.
“Colt, Aaron? Anyone?” he repeated, some desperation leaking into his tone. They didn’t have time for this, they needed to get to Leliana and fast, but if they made a mad dash to the lodge with Aubrey and Hector in the states they were in, it would end up with someone getting even more injured, or worse.
“Someone please fucking answer me. I could really use some help.”
Andy let her hands brush against the coarse bark of the trees as she approached the clearing. Each branch seemed to try to grab her skin or her clothes to drag her back into their embrace, back into safety. The forest had always been a sanctuary for her, with any luck she could rely on it to be her savior one last time.
The huntress focused on her breathing as she shrugged out of each snag and continued her march toward the lodge. She walked alone, not even the weight of her bow on her back to comfort her as her face grew hot, her heartbeat moving to her temples and ears. Andy did her best to swallow it back down into her chest as she pushed the last branch from her path and let the light of the midmorning sun illuminate her.
No one noticed her at first. They were too busy fighting or losing their lives to see the way her hands shook as she stood, entirely exposed. Her green eyes fluttered to her lodge, broken and battered but still the closest thing to home she had ever known. Even her childhood home, which had been lovely because of her mother, almost felt like a dream she had once. Too much had happened since then. This was the home she shared with Luca, the home where she and Owen had finally mended the tear between them, the home where she had finally decided that life was better lived with people around her. She loved them, and the idea of not seeing them again hurt her more than abandoning the four walls that had been her solitude for the last six years.
She swallowed once more and let her breath slow. Her emerald eyes were closed as her hand rose. It didn’t shake anymore, conviction stealing even her racing nerves. The fingers laced in the elastic tie around the bottom of her braid and pulled it free. Stray strands of crimson hair caught in Andy’s nails as she raked her hand through the braid and let her hair all the way down. The winter wind caught it and let the long ginger curls spiral through the air.
Her hair waved in the air like a flag, taunting the men much like a matador would do to a bull. She noticed a few eyes land on her form. Against her baser instincts, the girl stood still while a few of the men began charging toward her. It wasn’t enough. Andy would have to draw a lot more attention if she was going to lead the fight away from the lodge. Her hand moved to her thigh holster before she even knew what she was doing as if her body knew the right move to make before she cognitively did. The heavy handle of the gun was in her palm. All of the nights spent practicing with Colt had paid off. It didn’t feel nearly as foreign in her grasp as it once had. Her finger hovered above the trigger instinctually as her emerald eyes locked with the mahogany-colored ones of the man closest to her. As if in slow motion, she watched them widen in terror as her arm rose, holding the gun in his direction. Her finger contracted in time, squeezing the trigger tightly.
Andy didn’t hear the loud crack of the gun, she was too focused on how the man’s head had snapped backward and how shades of red and pink now glistened on the frosted ground behind him. The huntress barely noticed that the gunfire slowly stopped, the only sound playing in her ears was the wet thud of his leaking skull hitting the earth. She swallowed and held her ground even as her feet itched to run. Andy waited as the heads began to turn, slowly and then all at once in her direction. Convinced that she had caused enough chaos to get the word out about her location, the girl turn and ran back into the treeline. Plenty of men followed her, running past and jumping over their fallen comrade in their pursuit of her.
These were her woods and it showed. Andy was fast in most situations. Being on the track team was a prerequisite for being part of the archery team in school. She had done plenty of drills in her lifetime and could outrun most people on a good day. In the woods, this was doubly true. She weaved in and out of trees with the grace that only came from doing so her entire life. In fact, Andy often had to slow her pace to ensure she didn’t lose the men entirely.
She was grateful for the lead when she got to Luca. It gave them a few precious moments to redistribute the bags they were carrying and get moving once again. His presence slowed her down, but it wouldn’t matter for much longer. Andy’s hunting grounds were close by.
The radio seemed idle for a long time. Occasional static would peak in and out as signal tried to come through and seemingly failed. It was unclear if Colt’s group had gotten out of range of the radios, or if something was interfering with the signal. Not all four of the radios were made for long distance after all.
“....important Chuckie.” The static gave way for a moment to Luca’s voice, confirming that he was still among the living.
“....thing…talked…..time….here for her.” Owen wasn’t coming through clearly. It was just bits of static breaking up his speech. It was becoming clearer by the second that the pair couldn’t hear Colt’s request. There was more static and then silence for another agnozing moment. Would they come back with anything more, even more clues as to what was going on beyond the treeline?
“....Get her out of here Luca. Keep her safe.” that came through clearer than the rest. The remorseful and regretful tone of Owen’s voice evident even through the cracks and breaks of the radio.
Colt was frozen as she listened to these exchanges. It was difficult to decipher exactly what was going on through the crackles but the veteran was sure of one thing; Owen, Andy and Luca were in mortal danger. If the tone of Owen’s voice was any indication, he was on the edge.
“Come on,” she hissed in an undertone, “we gotta get closer, I need to know what’s going on before we can do anything to help them!”
The carnie nodded in understanding before darting her eyes nervously around, worried that the noise from the radio would give away their location. "This sounds better than sitting here and waiting to be found.." She remarked, wrapping her fingers tight around the wooden handle of her hatchet as she pulled it loose from her bag.
As they traveled, the radio was silent. The sounds of distant gunfire could still be heard as the party exchanged shots around the property line of the lodge. Then all at once, the gunfire stopped. Voices and yells were exchanged as the energy of the fight changed, the focus of the enemy drawn elsewhere.
“....useless son of a bitch…..I told you…out of here.” Owen’s frustration came through even when his voice did not.“How big you think…Brasi…” static. “Can’t take all…” more static. “..playing chance with Andy’s life.”
Colt had raised a hand to signal the others to stop as the gunfire ceased, pausing to listen intensely. Unlike what they say in the movies, sudden end to gunshots was never a good thing.
“…This is bad.” She spoke bluntly, lifting the radio again as it crackled to life. Hearing Owen’s snarls, the veteran blinked as Luca’s name came through, followed by Andy. Colt said nothing, but her face grew steely, her grip on the radio tightening.
“Fuck!” She spat, fighting the urge to shout knowing they were still in no-man’s land, “Christ Alive, if that worthless swine had gotten her killed!” She brought her rifle around and gripped it. Meanwhile Milly sat very still, shaking like a leaf, her eyes wide and her face quite green.
"Luca wouldn't let her get hurt!" Vanessa barked in a harsh whisper. "Why would you even suggest that?"
“Luca and I have very different views on what it means to keep people safe, okay?” Colt spat back, not in the mood for this, “we need to get in there.”
The carnie nodded. "On that we agree. How do we get there though?"
The alcoholic put a finger to her lip and listened intensely. It still seemed very quiet. The lack of gunfire could be used to their advantage.
“…okay,” Colt spoke under a whisper, “we are going to move very, very carefully. Look where you’re stepping, and we’ll only go a few steps at a time, okay? Any sound of movement, flatten yourselves to the ground and wait. Okay?”
Milly, still shaking and looking rather ill, could only nod. She was worried sick, where was Leliana? And Beth? Milly had already lost one mother…
“Fuck,” a voice broke through the silence as a man appeared in the group’s line of sight. He still had his rifle in his hands, but he held both up in surrender. Blue eyes seemed almost pleading as they locked with Colt’s, then darted over to Vannessa’s. The man was young, couldn’t have been more than seventeen, his face had the embarrassing beginnings of a beard creeping in around the chin, and his hands shook as he looked at them.
“We don’t have to fight man,” he said shakily. “We don’t have to kill anyone. He just sent us for the girls. None of you are blonde or a redhead so we can just walk away. Right?” The boy still kept his grip tight on the gun, scared he would be forced to use it after all. They would have found him eventually, and if he hadn’t come out of hiding, he was sure the women would have killed him on sight. Talking to them was the best chance he had at getting out of this with his life intact.
Colt leapt in front of Nessa and Milly as movement caught her eye. As the young man approached, he was clearly apprehensive and inexperienced. Despite his gestures, Colt kept her gun raised, her eyes hooded as she glowered at him.
“Who sent you?” She growled bluntly, the gun aimed at the man’s chest. She looked him in the eye, hardly blinking, not about to lower her weapon so quickly. This could easily be a trap.
The harlequin's eyes slowly widened as the dots began to connect in her head. After her conversation with Andy the previous night, this man's mention of a redhead was the last piece of the puzzle she needed. "Blyad'! He is here for Andy!" She shouted, rushing forward with her hatchet raised.
Yelling like a savage, the carnie brought the hatchet down onto the young man's shoulder, crashing into him with all her weight.
The man plummeted to the ground under Vanessa’s weight. He grunted at the impact to the ground before he managed to scream at the writhing pain in his shoulder. Shock at the irreversible trauma stalled his reaction making it seem almost delayed. The blood was already soaking through his clothes and into the ground, his gun abandoned now that he couldn’t figure out how to move his fingers.
“Please!” he screamed it, desperate, terrified. “I didn’t want to fight,” he kept his uninjured arm over his face, glancing at the liquid quickly oozing from him and into the cold ground. He whimpered as he tried to swallow the screams that threatened to come forth.
“Listen, I don’t even know Liam. I’ve only ever met him once,” the kid needed them to hear him, to understand. He didn’t want to die. “I was just doing what I was told. These guys took me in when my parents…” he cut off, groaning harshly and sobbing once as he tried to move. With each heartbeat more plasma bubbled out of him.
“I’ll just go. Please, I swear.”
"Ty ne voz'mesh' yeye!" Nessa growled, her heterochromic spheres glaring menacingly into his eyes as she raised the hatched over her head with both hands now, poised to swing.
Andy kept her hand laced in Luca’s as they raced through the woods. Occasionally she would tug at him to transfer him from one side of her to the other. Her path made little sense to him, she often turned where it seemingly made no sense to do so, her green eyes always on their feet rather than in front of her.
This seemingly idiotic ritual was slowing them down considerably. The men that had followed Andy from the treeline were closing the distance at a rate that made the Italian uncomfortable, but he had promised to trust her and at least it did indeed look like Andy had a plan. In fact, if he didn’t know better it almost seemed like Andy was slowing down intentionally.
There hadn’t been much time to give Luca all the details before she had run off with him in her grasp, but he had promised to follow her and only step where she did. That had been enough to give him the general idea of what they were getting into. He watched as she finally turned to look behind her, relief quickly flashing across her features as she locked on the man closest to them. Nothing prepared Luca for what followed.
Right in front of their assailant, a large tree branch shot from the ground vertically. The length of the branch collided with the man directly in his center. It shot up with enough force to knock any grown man on his ass, and yet he stayed standing. Sawblades had been spaced evenly along the branch and lashed to it with very intricate care. They were stuck in the man’s face, chest and groin respectively. Blood poured from the wounds at an alarming rate. He screamed and grasped wildly at the device, but Luca knew he wouldn’t get himself free before he passed from blood loss.
“What did you…” However, Andy was already pulling him to the other side of her, not letting him stop to process what was happening. He realized now she was routing him around tripwires and traps. The brilliance of it was only shadowed by the prospect of gruesome death that awaited him if Andy forgot where they all were. He found himself watching the ground now, unsure of each step.
There were yells behind them, likely as the rest of the group of Liam’s men found their friend. They would move slower now, but it seemed they still intended to follow Andrea through the woods. She paused, looking over her shoulder to ensure she didn’t get too far from them. When they shouted that they had seen her she pulled Luca once more in the general direction of the getaway car he and Owen had stashed a week prior.
There was another scream, Andy looked over her shoulder to see that one of her pitfalls had managed to snare more of her prey. The sharpened branches below would hopefully be enough to kill him, regardless she knew that it had been dug deep enough that he wouldn’t be chasing them anytime soon. The voices of the others were loud enough that she knew that they could keep moving. The metallic sound of one of her altered bear traps sounded, cueing that the men were still in pursuit.
“This bitch is crazy!” Someone yelled over the symphony of pained cries and gurgling last breaths. Luca looked over to see something akin to smugness tugging at Andy’s features. She was proud of herself, he supposed he could see why. The amount of work that had to have gone into planning and building all of these traps would have been vast. She might not be in condition to pull a bow, but the girl was still a hunter to her core.
“There she is!” Another yelled as he emerged from a different part of the treeline. He managed to come in from an angle, missing most of her traps. It didn’t matter. She quickly changed direction, dragging Luca with her. She squeezed his hand so that the Italian would pay attention when she skipped over a well-hidden wire. He followed suit. The man following them did not notice the change in their movements, nor had he seen the horrors that had happened to his companions so he charged directly into it.
When it caught under his foot, Andy turned to see the branch swing into the man at eye level. It hit him with so much force that he was thrown backward, landing on the ground. The arrowheads she had buried in the bark were covered in thick, soupy blood, the same that poured from his eyes as he collapsed. His screams followed them as the redhead grabbed Luca’s arm and picked up the pace.
There were some smaller traps between them and the end goal, but the message had been sent. Anyone stupid enough to follow her into these woods would die. It would be easy enough to lose the rest without intentionally leading them into the traps. The remaining booby traps and the fear of stepping in one would give the pair all the lead they needed.
Andy didn’t stop to speak but instead kept moving forward. They ran for what felt like forever, the man’s lungs were burning, but the woman didn’t show any signs of slowing down. When her gaze moved from the ground to the treeline, Luca knew they had exited the labyrinth she had created. They slowed their pace but kept moving until Andy was sure she couldn’t hear any more of the men that had been chasing them.
She let go of his arm and Luca let his hands fall to his knees as he doubled over and tried to catch his breath. Even Andy was panting, but when he looked up she had a smile on her face. It lit up her features, shedding her demeanor to reveal the twenty-something-year-old that lurked under all of her stoicism and sarcasm. Between all the lives she had taken and the forethought she had shown, it was easy to forget that she was still so young. It was hard to imagine that the woman in front of him had once been the young girl he had defended on the playground, with her now vibrant curls pulled into tight pigtails. Looking at her now, Luca knew that putting her in charge was the right call.
“What are you staring at?” Andy asked with a raised eyebrow. “What’s wrong? Do you think that you are the only one around here allowed to have big dick energy? I’ll have you know-” Whatever she was going to say next was lost in the warmth of his lips on hers. As his hand wrapped around the small of her waist and pulled her into him, she lost all words, all thought and finally all breath until she was left with nothing but the feel of his skin on hers and his hands in her hair. When he parted from her, he did so slowly, catching her upper lip between his own one last time before letting his hand move from the back of her head to the side of her face.
Andy let her eyes flutter open slowly, drinking in the feel of it all. Her freckled cheeks were flushed, lips still warm as she looked up at him through snow-decorated lashes. His eyes held heat, despite the frigidness of their color and she smiled at him, no longer worried about whatever it was she had been about to say.
“I-”the words caught in her throat no matter how desperately they wanted to be let free. He had to know already, did she have to say it?
“I think the car should be nearby,” she finished, pulling away and allowing her hand to slide down back into his own. Luca gave a small smirk, perhaps knowing that wasn’t what she had intended to say.
“Lead the way,” he commanded. Andy nodded, walking further into the trees with both her heart and hope soaring.
Both shattered as a single gunshot broke through the air.
It took only a few seconds for Leliana to regain her footing, the relief she felt from Micheal’s interference quickly replaced once again by terror. Gripping the railing, Leliana dashed down the stairs, her foot slipping out from under her. The nurse let out a yelp as she tumbled down the stairs, landing on the first floor with heavy thud. At the same time, something skidded across the floor out of the nurse’s reach. She of course has no time to figure out what it was, pushing up off the floor to launch herself forward. She could hear those men coming down the stairs behind her, the nurse had no time to waste. She had no plan, not destination, she just had to run.
“You have nowhere to go girlie!” One of the men called after Leliana, lunging forward in an attempt to grab the back of her shirt. But the fabric just barely slipped from his fingers as Leliana went over the back of the couch sprinting off to the den.
The man let out a frustrated groan, his companion rounding the opposite side of the couch he was rounding for the off chance Leliana backtracked to try faking them out. Not that either of them expected her to do so. Panicked hands clawed at the patched windows, her nails digging into the planks covering the busted glass in hopes of finding a loose board. The men had been too close to the door or she would have fun out the front. But there was no time. And so far, her attempts here were proving to be unsuccessful. Just as the nurse moved to the third window, her hair was violently pulled back.
“You’re a fucking moron!” The man jeered, yanking her much smaller frame back toward him and his companion. “If you had just cooperated, we wouldn’t have needed to be so rough!” He added, yanking her hair again. Leliana stumbled forward a little, her hands at first moving to his own in an attempt to get him to let go. He was wearing some sort of gloves, her nails digging into tough fabric instead of flesh. She was starting to panic, what little of herself she still has put together quickly loosing.
Blue eyes darted between the men, watching the other for a few seconds as he dug for something in his bag, she knew something bad was going to happen if they won. Leliana couldn’t give up, she had to keep fighting. As the panic got worse, she started pulling against the hand in her hair, ignoring the stinging of her scalp. The man, growing increasingly annoying, shifted to pull her against his chest, which gave Leliana her chance. She flung her full weight into him, turning just enough slam her shoulder into his sternum. He wasn’t expecting, neither of them were. And in their brief confusion, Leliana was released. The nurse dashed the second she could, scrambling past them both.
The back door, it was her only hope now. She had to get outside, she had to make it to Owen and Hector, or whoever seemed to be drawing their assailants fire. If she could get outside, she’d have a chance. It wasn’t too far away, she could make it. Leliana just had to keep going. “Just do it! We can’t let her get away!” Leliana didn’t know what they were planning. If they were going to shoot her, so be it, but Leliana wasn’t going to stop. Not until about to two hundred pounds of mass suddenly slammed into her back.
It threw her into a kitchen counter, Leliana unable to contain a yelp as her body snapped violently over the counter. She suddenly couldn’t breath, her hands flailing for something to grip as once again, someone’s hand was tangling in her hair. It yanking her head back and up, and then suddenly sent her face flying into the counter. Something cracked, Leliana’s eyes immediately filling with tears as something then collided with her side and finally sent her into the floor. “Bro are you a fucking idiot!” The man with the pack shouted, shoving the other man as Leliana gasped desperately for air on the ground. “He’s gonna have our heads if she’s messed up!”
“We don’t even know if it’s this blonde. He can fucking deal with it,” The man snapped back, watching as Leliana rolled onto her side, the girl coughing just as desperately as she has been gasping to clear her lungs of inhaled blood. But her hand was moving, trying to reach the empty holster on her thigh. The man scoffed, walking forward to stomp down on her hand. Once again Leliana couldn’t contain the help, years starting to roll down her cheeks. The nurse was still trying to get away, pulling at her hand, trying to crawl for the back door. “Get on with it, we need to get her out of here,” He spoke, his voice now a bit calmer, quieter. The other man nodded, once more digging in his bag to produce a brown glass bottle. Leliana didn’t see it until he was standing in front of her. And it was only then she finally stopped trying to escape, the reality finally dawning on her.
There was no way out of this, her eyes pinned on the man’s feet as he opened the bottle. She could just barely smell something sweet over the scent of copper and sweat, her heart rate spiking again as he squatted to press a rag to her nose and mouth. Leliana had to hold her breath, she had to hold her breath, she had to hold…her eyes fluttered, the woman not able to hold out for more than a few seconds, the blood rushing from her nose making it difficult. Slowly the edges of her vison faded, turning black as her eyes grew heavy.
And before too much longer…Leliana would fall unconscious.
There simply had been not enough time, not to plan or even think really, there had only been enough time to act. From exiting the closet up to swinging one of Owen’s metallic bats down the back of the head of one of the attackers it all seemed to go by so fast, too fast for comfort.
There was no real recollection of these events on Michael’s mind, at that moment the only thought running through his head was Leliana. Even if deep down he knew that she’d probably prefer to jump off a cliff than to consider their relationship anything but acquaintances, and only on the best of days at that, Michael liked to think of her as a friend. And as scared as he may have been inside of that cramped and dark closet, his blood boiled at hearing her begging and screaming so desperately across the hallway.
After the man he’d just hit with the bat fell to his knees, Michael threw himself at him, and before he could react started strangling him with the metallic bat from behind. Even if still somewhat dazed, the attacker immediately raised his hands near his neck to try and push the bat away from himself.
“Go after the girl you idiots! I can handle one fat fuck by myself.” the man addressed his comrades, audibly struggling to do so. Seemingly, they quickly obeyed and ran downstairs, following Leliana.
Michael continued strangling the man, pulling the bat as hard as he could into his neck, but no matter how hard he pulled, the man resisted as much as he could in return. Both men knew that only one of them would make it out of there alive, and it showed.
The man in a fit of desperation attempted to grab his rifle with one hand. It hadn’t slid as far away as Michael had hoped, and if either the two of them got closer to the weapon or his assailant managed to break free, then that would be it. No matter the cost, he had to get him as far away from the rifle as possible.
As he strengthened his grip on the bat as much as he could, Michael began to stand up, forcing his attacker up as well with the added pressure on his neck. His arms were tired and it hurt like hell to bring both of them up, but Michael couldn’t afford to loosen his grasp now.
Once both men were up, Michael was quickly thrown off balance by an attempt of the man to free himself. After failing to remove the bat off his neck, the man attempted to slam the neckbeard against the wall by jumping back. This action sent both men stumbling backward against a wall of the narrow hallway, the sound of shattered glass followed as a picture frame broke after being slammed during the attack. Even this wasn’t enough to break free from an adrenaline filled Michael.
Even though shaken by the blow, his grasp on the bat remained. The strangled man’s resistance grew increasingly erratic with each step that the neckbeard took; his actions being driven by the desperation that was brought from the growing distance from his rifle and the toll the strangling was taking on him.
Michael’s mind was as blank as the page of a notebook, his actions being driven by his survival instinct alone, and as such he simply did not notice the opportunity he was about to give to his opponent.
By trying to lead the both of them to the opposite side of the hallway, the neckbeard had been forced to pass near the stairs. And in what was a seemingly a last ditch attempt to get Michael off of him, the gunman lifted both legs and kicked the wall, launching them both them backwards.A resounding thump was heard from the wall, and Michael lost his footing from the force of the push.
With no time to react, Michael tried bracing himself for impact as he was thrown backwards. The last thing he remembered was looking at the cobwebs in the rafters of the ceiling.
His eyes fluttered open. Michael was on the floor. The first thing he realized was that he had no recollection of how he got there. He hadn’t forgotten… no, he knew the memory was there, but for some reason, he was having a hard time trying to focus on thinking. The killer headache he was feeling at the moment wasn’t helping in that department either.
He was confused and scared. He was in danger, he did recall that, but the neckbeard wasn’t even sure what the danger was in the first place. Questions flooded his mind, such as if the others knew what was happening, or where was everyone else.
Michael felt something slowly going down in the back of his head. It took a few attempts to get his hand to check where the weird sensation at. It freaked him out to see his hand covered in crimson red blood.
The neckbeard attempted to get up, yet encountered even more difficulty from trying to do so than usual. Panic caused him to try to stand, but much to his horror he felt like a marionette without it’s strings. Each time he tried to lift his legs it seemed like they would move in a way he hadn’t intended or they shook and buckled under his weight. His body felt like he was going through a real life lag spike, but he could feel it slowly regulating. He felt dizzy, and even after slowly managing to get up, barely keeping himself from falling, he attempted to walk toward the front door.
In his dazed state, Michael didn’t even see the other gunman come in the door. It was one of the men from earlier. When they had called over the radio to let their leader know they had been successful in getting the girl, they hadn’t gotten a response. At that point they had split up, one taking the blonde’s unconscious body back to the base, and the other coming back into the lodge to check on the man’s status. He wasn’t sure what he had expected to find, but this wasn’t it.
His friend laid on on the floor, gasping for air in increasingly weak breaths. His hand were reaching for his throat which in a grotesque display was literally caved in. The metal bat laying near by and discarded on the floor likely the culprit. The second gunman chose to ignore the fat man who was struggling to find his footing, and instead rushed to his friend’s side. His chest tightened as he watched his friends eyes slowly fading out, watching the literal life fade from his gaze. The two of them had been working together since day one of the outbreak, and he could feel his face scrunch as his chest tightened at the realization there was nothing that could be done for him.
His hand was already at his belt as the gasping man’s eyes dulled. White knuckles were clutched around the handle, finger on the trigger as he felt his vision blurr red. He stood, and quickly walked in front of Michael, who was just now starting to trudge toward the door. The man wanted to look into his eyes when he shot him, so that he could watch the life leave them in the same way they had his friend’s. With a steady arm he lifted the gun, taking pleasure in the slow realization the took over the neckbeard’s features. He cocked the gun, aimed at his forehead and smiled.
“Wait!!” Colt finally broke out of her shocked stupor and made a mad grab for Nessa’s axe. She had known the carnie had a screw loose but this was insane! She managed to grab the weapon and threw it to the side, “The fuck are you doing?!” The veteran snarled, practically flashing her top teeth at Nessa, “We need him alive! And you’ve about alerted every damn Thing that we’re here!”
“I’m trying to keep you bastards alive here! And it’s very fucking hard when one fucks off into active gunfire and another is screaming like fucking Tarzan getting his balls caught in a snare!” The veteran snapped angrily before turning her back on her and Milly, too frustrated and alarmed to say anything more to them.
The carnie blinked a few times and stared at the older woman for a moment silently. She didn't know what to say, but maybe Colt had a point about needing him alive. Her gaze shifted to her discarded hatchet then back to the wounded man she sat on top of.
“Get off of him!” Colt barked as she reeled back towards the boy, reaching into her rucksack and pulling out a string of bandages for his wound. She tried to start wrapping them around the wound to stop the bleeding. “You mentioned Liam, why does he want Andy? And a blonde woman?” She flashed a furious look at Nessa, “well… at least you know we aren’t fucking around. Hold this in place and keep pressure on it.”
The carnie nodded and put pressure on the boy's wound, not saying anything to the veteran so as not to agitate her further. In truth, Vanessa felt justified in attacking their would be attacker, though she wouldn't say as much to Colt right now.
Meanwhile Milly, completely overwhelmed with the entire ordeal, had pushed herself into a tree and curled up into a ball, hands over her ears and her eyes shut when Nessa screamed and struck the man.
"Please," He pleaded, his voice growing weaker. His face was paling, looking more and more like the winter morning sky. It was becoming clear that he might not be able to leave now even if they did decide to let him go. The questions bounced off deaf ears as shock seemed to consume him.
It was becoming evident that Nessa’s instinctive attack had done more damage than Colt had expected. It was worthless trying to ask for more. If anything, it seemed that he might not make it. Sighing grimly, she scooched in and took over seeing to the bandages. She looked the young man in the face.
“...You didn’t do anything wrong.” she spoke, doubting he could even hear her, “Just what they told you to do.” there was too much of herself in his young and terrified frame for her to be angry. She looked at Milly, “Milly, I need you to buck up right now.” she spoke sharply, which seemed to spur the youngster into coming over, still terrified of the man.
“Stay with him,” she instructed her, “keep pressure on his wound. We’ll need to figure out what to do next.” Milly, wary of the man but wanting to be of use, did as she was told.
Colt turned, taking Vanessa with her to plan their next moves. As if he had been a snake, waiting in the grass, the young man took his opportunity as soon as their backs were turned. He didn’t have much strength left, but having the element of surprise allowed him to rise and wrap his arms around Milly, pulling the girl close to his chest so that he was hidden behind her frame. The man could feel the urge to yell bubble in the girl's throat as he tightened his grasp. Her heartbeat was against his arm as he used his injured arm to grab the knife in his pocket. It was held to her throat before either woman could turn back to see what was happening.
Colt spun on her heel and her blood ran ice cold. Milly, alarmed and in shock from the man’s actions, could only stare with large, terrified eyes pleadingly at Colt.
“Let her go!!” Colt snapped, whipping out her handgun again “What are you doing?!”
“You didn’t let me go,” he sneered. His pale face was still hidden behind the girl, but it was losing color fast. His hands shook around the knife.
“I could have killed you! But I didn’t! Let her go!”
At that moment, Milly did the only thing she could think of. With all the strength she could muster, she opened her jaw and sank her teeth into the man’s fingers, biting with all of her might. The man only tightened his grip even as her teeth pierced his flesh, blood trickling down his hand. He let out a hiss of pain which slowly turned into a watery laugh. There was already so much pain. Blood was already soaking through the bandages Colt had wrapped him in, seeping into the back of Milly’s clothes making them sticky. His collar bone was likely broken from the blow Vanessa had dealt him, but all the pain would be over soon.
“You did kill me,” he retorted, knuckles whitening around the handle of his blade. “And you killed her too.” He didn’t hesitate. With the little strength that he had in his body, he raised the knife and let it plunge into the girl's neck. It slid easily just above the vest she wore. The vest, that had likely been ripped from the dead body of one of his friends. The first blow probably would have sufficed, the girl already grew weak in his arms. However, he couldn’t stop once he started. The blade squelched as it exited her body, pulling so much of her dark plasma with it. It coated his hands and lubricated the knife as it entered her again and again. It was the last thing he was left with, the liquid sound of her before everything went black. He didn’t even hear the gunshot. His head shot back and he crumpled to the ground.
“NOOO!!!!” Colt roared before she could stop herself. Dropping the gun she grabbed the young girl in her arms before her body hit the ground, “Oh shit… oh shit… Fuck! Milly! Milly!!” she lifted the girl’s head in her hand, soaking her own in her blood, “Oh Jesus…” words failed as tears crinkled at the corners of the vet’s eyes. She crumpled to her knees, holding her tightly.
There was nothing that Colt could do. There was already too much blood lost. All she could do was pull the girl close, her head against her chest and cradle her close, inside her jacket. She deserved to be warm in these last fragile seconds of life…
“It’s okay darlin’, you... you did nothing wrong,” the vet choked, her throat tight and tears flowing freely now, “it’s okay… just… just slip away, it’s okay…”
Milly, her breath haggard and fading, looked into Colt’s eyes. She understood what was happening. And she was not afraid. Not anymore. Andy had been right, none of them were safe from death. With the last of her strength, she raised a white, shaking hand and slipped it into the grip of Colt’s free one, giving it a little squeeze. The vet gripped it tight.
With a sigh, Mily let her head rest against Colt’s chest, listening to her heartbeat. Feeling the warmth of her jacket, the scent of her hair and body. Her eyes looked up, one last look at the frosty sky and the snowflakes that danced down from clouds barely hiding the sun. Milly released one long sigh and closed her eyes…
She was with her mother again... ...
“Colt…” Vanessa called out in a low, calm voice after offering a few moments of respectful silence. “Colt, you have to stop her from coming back.. I will check to see if this svoloch’ had anything useful.”
Colt, her body hunched and her grip still tight on the girl’s body, turned to Nessa. She gave her a look of pure and unfiltered murderousness. While in the deepest caverns of her mind, the veteran knew it was worthless to harbor such hatred towards someone, at this moment, with the dead girl in her arms she could not think any other way. But, Nessa was right. This had to be done. The poor girl did not deserve such a fate.
“See that you do!” The vet snarled dangerously, wanting Nessa out of her sight, at least for now. She looked up at the sky, blinking furiously. Wondering. Did she go to the forest trails where Sasha waited? Or maybe, if it was based on who you were in life, maybe she was back home. Home with her mother, her toys and maybe even Penny. Colt shook her head furiously, unable to ponder further. She took out her knife and, after an internal struggle, stabbed the already mangled neck, right at the base of the skull. It was over. She would never wake up.
She gently set her against a pine tree, the jacket covering her. She really did not want to let go of her, but she had to. Standing up, Colt took a long long swig from her flask before putting her head in her hands. “…How am I going to tell Leliana?”
The carnie began rummaging through the dead boy’s pockets and bag. Besides a decent knife and spare ammo, the kid didn't carry much, although Nessa found a strange device that caught her attention. It was small and black with multiple antennae protruding from part of it.
“Hey Colt, do you have any idea what this thing is?” she asked, turning to show the vet, pressing every button on it as she did in an attempt to figure the strange device out. Finally when one of the buttons was pressed, it was like a wall had come down, allowing the radio frequencies to finally sift through.
“Colt, Aaron? Anyone?” That was Owen’s voice, maybe sounding even a little desperate. “Someone please fucking answer me. I could really use some help.”
“Sorry about that bud,” a thick Texan accent finally came through over the static. “Something was wrong with the radios or something. I’ve been only catching every other word and I couldn’t get through for the life of me.” It was Aaron this time.
“Man, you don’t know how good it is to hear your voice,” Owen spoke again. “Is that you laying down fire over the lodge?”
“Yup! Doing my best over here. Sorry for being late to the party. What in the world is your sister doing? I knew she was a firecracker, but this is nuts.”
“Yeah,” regret clung to his tone. “I don’t have time to give a lot of details now. The men are my dad’s, they are here for Andy and Leliana. I guess my sister is trying to draw some fire off of us, but Leliana is still in real danger. I’m pinned here in the barracks. I need help getting back over to the lodge, and fast. Aubrey and Hector are not in good shape and we aren’t going to be able to move quickly.”
Colt, breaking through her stupor with a blank and haunted look finally lifted her radio “...Owen, hold tight, we’re coming.” she spoke dully, forcing herself to shake off emotion. She wiped her eyes forcefully with her sleeve before grabbing her gun. She turned to Nessa, her eyes dark and heavy, “Come.” She growled before beginning the trudge toward the barracks, refusing to look back...
“Alright, sounds like we have some cover fire. Let’s make this quick,” Owen said, putting down the radio. Colt and Aaron would both have their backs, which combined with the fact that Andy had pulled most of the fire into the treeline, they had a reasonably good chance of getting back to the lodge without incident. He looked at his companions and winced. Even with all of that helping them, they wouldn’t be able to move quickly. Aubrey was hardly able to walk at all in her state, and even though Hector was up and moving didn’t mean he should be.
“I can carry Aubrey I suppose,” he said thoughtfully. “Can you manage over to the lodge by yourself Doc?” Owen asked.
“I can manage well enough.” The graying man responded through his teeth.
The redhead bit his lip as he looked over at Aubrey. Carrying her was not the issue, but he wasn’t sure how the hell he was supposed to do so without injuring her already broken body further. He moved awkwardly, shifting as he thought through each grab before ultimately pulling back without touching her.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Owen admitted with remorse. Aubrey gently shook her head, a weak hand forming a thumbs-up in response. It was clear she had given up on words for the time being, since they weren’t cooperating anyway. With a defeated shrug the redhead leaned down and put one of his arms around the small of Aubrey’s back and the other under her knees, lifting her easily into a bridal-style hold. “I won't be of much use if we run into trouble though,” the redhead muttered thoughtfully, but the idea of jostling her around didn’t sit well with him either.
“If it comes to that then drop her, Nino. Potentially causing her additional pain and hurting her feelings is a better alternative to us dying.” The twin winced at the thought but nodded.
“Thanks,” Aubrey wheezed, “f… for caring.” She had no intention of getting left behind, even if she had to hobble herself back to safety, in her pain-ridden delirium, she would try.
“Of course, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” Owen spared a warm smile for Aubrey before he turned to the shortest of their group. “Nile buddy, I think you are going to be the only one of us able to move at full speed. It’s not too far over to the lodge, you take point just in case we can hope that we are able to get over there without incident.”
“So I run out first and get gunned down if anyone’s watching the door, got it” Nile said, flashing a half-hearted thumbs up, “Great…”
“Well ideally you’d gun them down but, you get the idea.” Owen nodded toward the radio he had sat down. “I don’t have my hands, radio over to Colt and Aaron, make sure they are ready, and let's get this over with”
“Alright, gimme a second,” Nile said before scurrying towards the radio and momentarily fiddling with the device. Putting the radio to his ear, as nonchalantly as he could over the echoing gunfire and screams outside, spoke. “Hey, Colt, Nile here-don’t hang up! Owen told me to ask, are you guys in position for-for whatever the fuck we’re doing?”
Outside, it was quiet outside of the occasional and unsettling claps of a suppressed gun. On the very skirts of the woods, Colt trudged through the frost, two bodies behind her with bullet holes through the eyes. Her eyes were steely and dead. When her radio buzzed, she picked it up, growling audibly at Nile’s voice but stopped at his question. Despite her instinct to chew this idiot out for again somehow surviving despite his bullshit, she gave a blunt response.
“Tell him we’re in position. Waiting on his lead.” she growled, her voice lower than usual. She sat, armed and waited. Glaring at Nessa she hoped the woman would just follow her lead and stay quiet. She had handed the trapeze artist her prized Colt.45 and, while still angry with the woman and not happy that she had her beloved firearm, it was a necessity.
“I’m here too Owen. Ready when you are.” That was Aaron’s voice. They didn’t have much time to waste, especially now that they knew the men were after Leliana as well. However it didn’t stop Owen from feeling like his heart was in his throat. He swallowed it down and squared his shoulders.
“Alright, on your lead then Nile.”
Slowly un-slinging the 870P from his back, Nile took one deep breath as he psyched himself up. He’d made the run once before, and that was with more shooters-Ah, who was he kidding, he was gonna fucking die. Without any more hesitation, the smaller man charged past Owen and out the door. Almost immediately, he hit the dirt upon exiting the building. A good call, considering the muzzle flash that lit up a bush just as he left the barracks and the whizzing he heard above him. Immediately, the position was peppered with rounds and whoever had shot at him was much more preoccupied trying to stay alive than trying to kill him.
Holy shit, Nile thought, breathing already erratic at the experience. Grunting as he threw himself to his feet, he barely stopped to yell “Clear enough!” before taking off in a sprint.
“He’s-!” a gunman from the treeline began to yell, only to be greeted by a blast from the scarred woman’s rifle, his body flung back into a tree into a heap. The vet growled something under her throat and glared around, keeping her body low and in cover. There was a muzzle flash to her right and there was a high-pitched squeal of a bullet ricocheting on a nearby tree. Colt shot back, and saw the form of flailing arms as it dropped to the ground.
"Colt…" Vanessa called out to her furious companion. She had been quietly following close behind the veteran, unsure if she should try to say anything more. "Colt what should I do?"
“Shoot to kill.” Was the only proper response Colt could come up with. She still could not look Nessa in the face, “Don’t take any-!” Colt suddenly grabbed Nessa by the arm and pulled her down as she noticed the shine of a muzzle throughout the trees.
“Bastards.” Colt growled and raised up again to take a shot against their attacker.
The carnie internally panicked as she was pulled downward, but quickly processed why Colt had done it. Her mind was racing faster than she thought it should be able to. There was simply too much going on around her. Between the shouting and the gunfire, the harlequin was having trouble just keeping it together. Her eyes scanned the ground near the body of a man that Colt had already dealt with.
Vanessa scrambled forward, low to the ground, towards the fallen man. She grabbed his rifle off the ground and pressed herself against a large nearby tree.
Colt noticed this but did not say anything. It did not matter what weapon she had, as long as it did damage. What did get her attention was the sudden appearance of two more men, looking at their fallen comrade. The veteran made a “seeing” gesture towards her eyes before pointing to where they were, mouthing “two” at her.
“Get the left one.” She gestures and mouthed before turning back, trying to find a way to aim without giving her position away.
The carnie peaked out from behind the tree, looking at the approaching enemies. With a deep breath, Vanessa pointed the end of the rifle towards them and she squeezed the trigger.
It was of little surprise that the shot missed. Vanessa’s training with firearms with basically nonexistent. However, the added pressure of an extra gunman was enough to keep the man from taking a shot at Owen who was now running out after Nile, Aubrey in his arms. The redhead looked around quickly, trying to take in where any potential fire may come from. His feet, however, never quit moving forward, trusting in Colt’s cover as completely as anyone could. His would-be attacker turned to gain cover behind the nearest tree. The young man took two quick breaths before darting out once again to take a shot at Vanessa.
The acrobat felt a searing hot pain as a bullet grazed her shoulder, causing her to stumble back to the cover of the tree. She let out a hiss of pain as she grabbed her shoulder. "Sukin syn!" Nessa yelled, kicking the ground wildly with her back to the tree. "Chert vozʹmi, eto bolʹno!"
Colt’s eyes widened as Nessa was struck but quickly turned her mind back to the shooter. With a light squeeze from her trigger, there was a sickening slosh as the man’s struck eye exploded in its socket and the body dropped. The veteran glanced at Nessa but it appeared to be a graze. It could wait until they were safe.
“Stay in cover,” she growled to the carnie, “I’ll handle this.”
Next out of the barracks, and not far behind Owen, was Hector. He moved surprisingly quickly for someone as injured as he was, but the way he moved made it clear that he was the easiest target. The older man limped across the yard, gun drawn. A gunman hiding to the side of the lodge had Hector in his sights.
Colt’s good eye caught sight of the assailant. With precision that could only come from over a decade of severe training, she switched her sight to him and took a shot at the side of the man’s head.
The bullet tore through the man’s neck, sending him to the ground in a geyser of crimson blood as it gushed from the hole. The man gargled and yowled as he choked on his own fluids, his eyes bulging and wild. Colt, after pausing for a moment to observe this carnage, almost relishing the man’s misery, pulled out her pistol. With a swift bang, the man’s body went limp as the second bullet shot into the brain.
Owen did his best not to focus on the reign of gunfire that seemed to surround him. It wasn’t a long trek back into the lodge’s sliding back door, but it felt like an eternity as the sound and smell of gunfire enveloped his senses. He clambered up the back steps after Nile. Hector was close behind and Aubrey was doing her best to stifle her gasps and groans from his jostled steps. They had made it. He didn’t have much time to think about how lucky it was that they had, or even to be relieved, all he could focus on was the safety of the sliding glass door.
Nile took little time in getting it open and Owen rushed through. It took a few seconds for his vision to adjust to the darkness of the house. However, his green eyes quickly widened in horror upon taking in the scene. A corpse wearing a bulletproof vest lay on the hardwood floors. They were already too late, Liam's men were in the house.
Michael was down on his knees, doing his best to stand, totally unaware of the man who blocked the front door, gun pointed square in his forehead. Owen reached for his own gun, secured in the waistband of his pants as Aubrey slid from his arms, already aware of his need to put her down. His hand hadn’t even reached the handle when a shot rang through the air.
Pure panic ran icily through the redhead’s veins as he lifted the gun, scared to see what had become of Michael. To his disbelief, it was the gunman who crumpled, and Michael only continued to look around, confused and dazed. Owen blinked, confusion contorting his features before his gaze landed on Nile. He looked about as confused as he did, but the gun in his hand was still pointed in the gunman’s direction.
“I…” Nile mumbled, staring at the body of the man sprawled on the floor, “I didn’t…Oh, fuck!” Rushing to the man’s side, he fell to his knees and pressed his hand to the unresponsive man’s bulletwound. “Fuck, I didn’t mean to-FUCK!”
Hector had brought his rifle to bear much faster than anyone would assume he was capable of, given his wounds and quickly lowered it slightly once he realized what had happened. He made his way over to the engineer’s handiwork. It was a good hit. The man was going to be dead in less than 3 minutes if left alone. It was an impressive feat given it seemed to be an accident.
Nile looked up at the approaching man, desperation in his voice as he asked “Hector, can you-”
A second, far louder gunshot ended what remained of this man’s ebbing life. A rifle bullet through his skull plastered the floor beneath with brain matter and skull fragments. It had happened without pause or warning. The man was never getting up again.
“-FUCK!” Nile yelled, surprised and horrified by the sudden headshot, jumping back from the body and hitting his ass against the floor. “Wha-What the fuck?” he muttered, barely audible.
The scientist then reached down and gave the much smaller man a soft pat on the shoulder. “Good shot, Nile. That was yours.”
He then proceeded to chamber the last round of the magazine by pulling the bolt back and released the steaming casing from its hideout. The last bullet was rammed in before abruptly being deposited in a similar manner to the man whose trachea had been caved in by the looks of it. Once again, ensuring he would not stand up again as so many had done before in these past few months.
The wooden panels now had twin crimson paintings on the floor. Courtesy of the enemies that chose the wrong people to fight.
Owen did a quick scan to make sure that no one else was nearby before leaving Aubrey’s side to go kneel by Michael. A large hand grabbed the side of the neckbeard’s face trying to examine the damage. Owen knew a concussion when he saw one, he had caused more than his fair share of them. The side of his head was bleeding, but he was conscious so it could be worse.
“Mikey man,” Owen called, trying to get him to make eye contact. “You good bro?”
"o-Owen?" Michael asked while trying to focus on the man, finding difficulty in doing so due to his currently blurred vision. "i... I've been better yo"
"I'm sorry but w-what's going on?" He was really trying to remember how he even got there, yet the neckbeard found that even harder to do than figuring out how to stand up again without falling down. "Also... Why do you have your hand on my face, man?"
“You are pretty banged up,” Owen informed him. “Try to take it easy. You hit your head falling down the stairs I think,” the redhead looked up at the busted railing and nodded. “Where is Leliana?”
"Leliana?" He remembered their names, that was a good thing at least. The neckbeard took a moment before answering, but the mention of her name by the redhead seemingly helped the gears of his head to begin slowly moving once more.
"w-We went upstairs... I think she wanted to find uhhhh- Milly?" Michael asked, while he was having some of events that just occurred to him coming back, the man had trouble putting it into words.
“We were attacked by some men I think and-” in that moment, while still not knowing what had happened before they both had gone upstairs, the memory of what had happened in the hallway came back swinging as hard as Tyson in the 80’s.
“I… I tried so hard to get them focused on me Owen, I really did. But they ran after her and… well, I don’t know if she made it out or not.”
“Fuck,” Owen hissed. They were too late. “You did good man, hang tight, don’t stand up yet. I’ll come to help you.” He ran to the front of the lodge and looked out the window. The good news was that he didn’t see anyone who would try to take any shots at him from the front. The bad news was that Leliana and her assailants were nowhere in sight either.
“Nile, you see anything I don’t?” He asked hopefully.
Evidently not, considering the way Nile was still staring at Michael’s assailant’s dead body, unresponsive to Owen’s question.
“Aaron man, you don’t happen to see Leliana anywhere out there do you?” Owen called solemnly. Maybe the redneck would be able to see something he didn’t.
“Sorry, buddy. Nothing out my way.”
“Fuck!” Owen slammed his fist into the wooden wall, causing another picture to fall to the floor. As he looked down at the shattered glass by his feet, he felt the familiar red fire in his vision. His anger couldn’t be pinpointed directly, but the hatred that swelled in his chest was for only one man. His father, Leliana’s uncle, and the person who organized this entire attack. One thing was for sure, as long as Owen had breath still in his lungs, Liam would get what he had coming. The urge to run out was strong, but he wasn’t well suited to be running around in a gunfight.
“Colt, I hate to put more on you,” the redhead called over the radio. “But if you can I need you to sweep the area, see if you can find Leliana.” There was always the hope she was still here. With the state Michael was in, it was unclear how long ago they had started after her.
There was a low growl on the other side of the radio, which made the vet’s feelings evident before she spoke, “I’ll go on foot. Arthur’s too much of an eyesore.” Her tone did not sound very hopeful.
With a heavy exhale through his nostrils Owen walked into the kitchen. He grabbed the bottle of ibuprofen that seemed to live on the counter and tossed a few pills into his palm. There was a room-temperature bottle of water there as well. He wasn’t sure who it belonged to, but Owen supposed it didn’t matter at this point. When he returned to Michael’s side, he brought those items as well as a damp hand towel from the kitchen that now had ice wrapped inside. It wasn’t much work for Owen to help Michael to the couch. Once he was sitting down he handed him the medicine first and the bottle, before looking once more at the cut on his eyes.
“It doesn’t look too deep,” he commented. “I’m no doctor but I’ve caused my fair share of head wounds.” Owen did his best to let out a light-hearted chuckle, but his mind was elsewhere.
Even though his reaction time and movements still felt a bit off, Michael easily managed to reach the couch with Owen’s help. Taking the pills that his friend was handing him, Michael quickly proceeded to open the water bottle and began to gulp down the medicine he’d been given.
“With how you swing your bat and all, not that surprising really” Michael replied back, half chuckling while he did so.
“Nile, come keep an eye on him for a minute will ya?” Owen called. Nile gazed over to Owen and Michael before going back to staring at the dead body at his knees. After one last, long look, he slowly pushed himself to his feet and dazedly made his way to Michael’s side to hold the ice pack to their head. Owen nodded and turned his attention to others that needed his help.
Colt’s attention was fully focused on their task at hand. At this point, the vet had said very little after her laconic response to Owen. The woman only had one thing in her mind- stop dead bodies from rising. She trudged, gun out and eyes pealed, not only for the dead bodies, but the still missing Leliana. The woman was becoming exceedingly nihilistic that they would get out of this. Milly was dead. Leliana was missing. They had injured people and Liam was still at large. That bastard was going to die today. Colt did not know how or who would do it- but he was going to die.
A growl from her right finally caught her attention and she swiftly shot at a freshly turned muncher who had not even gotten off the ground. She glared down at the body hardly before moving on. As she did, she took out her flask, but only took a short jolt to soothe her nerves.
Vanessa still sat against her tree, holding her arm in pain. A mix of feelings rushed through the young acrobat all at once and she could feel the rapid beating of her heart, threatening to burst free from her ribs. How many times had she defied death? And yet she had never been shot at before. The noise and chaos of it all was intense, and not an experience she wanted again any time soon.
Pulling her hand away from her wound, the harlequin examined the small red gouge. Blood welled up inside, covering the bottom of the crevice like some morbid riverbed. Looking up towards Colt, the carni opened her mouth as if to speak, but remained silent. What could she say to the older woman? Instead, Nessa pulled herself up from the ground and began to scan the treeline for any signs that some of the fleeing gunmen had doubled back.
“…How’s the shoulder.” It was barely a question from the vet as it was a formality. Nessa was still under her care so to speak, so it had to be done. Seconds after those words left her lips, movement caught her attention within the trees and Colt instantly flattened her body to the ground, aiming upward. As she expected, a freshly turned muncher had began staggering out of the tree line. Their undead life did not last long, as Colt squeezed the trigger and the body dropped with a thud.
Grumbling all kinds of foul words, Colt got up and went to a large rock, holding her flask in her teeth as she fumbled in her pocket for the gun’s ammo box. Too many thoughts were tornadoing in her mind, she breathed hard and quickly like a wounded ox, eyes constantly looking around. She kept her back to the carni despite her statement, not entirely out of spite but it was difficult to look anyone in the face.
"It hurts… but I have had worse," Nessa responded in a low voice. "still, I think I would like to not be shot again."
Colt turned toward the woman, her gaze darted from the wound before hardening when looking Nessa in the face.
“Start doing what I say,” the vet’s voice had dropped into a very low, very dangerous contralto, “and you won’t! And nobody else will either.” She reloaded the pistol and cocked it.
“Come on.” She growled, not waiting on a response before continuing the very fragile trek in their search for bodies.
"Colt." The carnie called out as she began to follow the veteran close behind. "Do you think all of them are gone?"
“No.” Colt turned back to the woman, “You never assume that. Even when it’s quiet like this.” It was evident to the veteran that there was a very large elephant in the room between her and Nessa, something that had to be discussed but, much like wth her fallout with Owen, Colt felt unprepared to do as such. She took another jolt from her flask, pointing in another direction. There had been a flash of motion within the trees.
“Something’s moving over there,” she added bluntly before beginning to walk. She raised her gun to eye-level and narrowed her good eye for a better look. It was another freshly turned muncher, but this one seemed more mobile than the others. He was flailing his arms as if trying to shake them from his torso, making it hard to aim for the head. Colt bit her lip as she focused, it had to be with one bullet.
Vanessa put her hand on the vet's shoulder and gave a light tug. "Colt, I don't think that's a good idea." She stated matter-of-factly, pulling out one of her knives. "There has been enough noisy guns today, don't you think?"
Colt flinched at the touch but did not take her eye off the target, “it’s silenced, it won’t make much noise, just keep a look out and tell me if something else is around.” She grumbled, waiting for the muncher to stop flailing for an easier shot.
"But why waste the ammo? I know you're upset, but this one mortvert would be best dealt with my way." The acrobat reasoned, flourishing her knife as she approached the carnivorous cadaver.
“Don’t-!” Colt almost yelled but stopped since doing so would attract more attention. With Nessa now in the way, she couldn’t commit to it.
The acrobat came close to the corpse, playfully dodging it's flailing arms and attempting to grab it. It seemed the acrobat was showing off for a moment before she drove her knife through its eye socket. "Well I'm bored… what now, Colt?" She asked in a chipper tone.
If Colt hadn’t had this deep sense of duty to the Lodge, she would have punched the acrobat there and then. Instead, she kept quiet. Colt did not have the mental strength to confront Nessa over everything she was thinking. Colt released a long sigh and took out her flask, “we keep looking. Need to be sure the area is completely secure.” She said finally, taking a long draft, her eyes forward in deep thought.
"So… we are just making sure those who died stay dead? Then let's go find some mortverts!" This seemed like a simple task to her and one that could be completed with ease. She began to look around the trees for more bodies hidden about, rambling as she searched. "That was insane! So many things were happening at once that I could not keep track! I mean, when you shot the guy behind the tree after he shot me! You have to teach me to actually use a gun some time. You clearly have great skill with it and, as you saw, I have none." She mused as she came across a body on the ground behind some foliage, digging her knife into its skull.
“…we’ll see.” The alcoholic veteran answered finally. She hardly wanted to imagine what Nessa could do with a firearm after that performance with an axe. She shook her head a few times before looking upward, “go up that tree and have a look around. Don’t think there are many left. But we need to be sure.”
The acrobat gave an over dramatic salute before scaling the branches of the tree to gain a higher vantage point. Once high enough, she began to scan around for any signs of movement, dead or otherwise. "I'm not seeing anything out there…" she called down after a moment of searching.
It was another string of long minutes of searching before Colt was satisfied -as much as one can be in this situation- that the danger had gone. For now. “Okay,” Colt breathed before taking one last look and taking out her radio, “Owen?” She spoke into it, “Owen come in. We’ve swept the area. It seems clear but… unfortunately, there has been no sign of Leliana. Any joy on your end?” She could only pray for some kind of miracle at this point.
It was several moments before Owen came back over the radio. Whether it was because he had his hands full back in the lodge or if it was because he was processing the news that Leliana hadn’t been found was unclear. However, his voice was remorseful when it finally cut through the static. “Nothing. From the sounds of the things, some of Liam's men got her. Get back to the lodge, let's patch you guys up and we will figure out how to go get her back.” Despite the sorrow that clung to his controlled tone, it was clear there was a determination to his tomber, rage lurking just underneath.
The veteran released a short but heavy sigh, “Okay we’re coming, is anyone else hurt?” she jerked her head at Nessa, summoning the acrobat to follow her before beginning to limp through the frost.
“I think more of us are hurt than not,” He admitted. “Aaron said the dead were getting back up out there. How’s it looking?”
“Touch wood, it’s gone quiet. We can’t take chances though, we’ll need to keep aware.” Colt avoided looking at a dead muncher slumped against a tree, “any,” she paused with a small gulp, “any fatalities?”
“No one we know,” he confirmed. There was plenty of dead to go around, but he was grateful that it seemed they had luck on their side once more.
A fist gripped Colt’s heart and she stopped in her tracks, listening to his answer. Her scarred hand shook a little, rattling the radio in her grip. Pressing the button she breathed in, about to inform him about… She sighed, “Copy,” she switched, “we’re gonna do everything we can, Owen, I promise.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Just come back in one piece and we will figure it out from there.”
“I’ll see you in a second,” the vet answered. The lodge quickly came into sight, but to Colt it might as well have been miles away. Her head was still back in the woods, back at that tree where the girl lay. That tree where she would now sleep forever. And at this point, Jane almost wished she could join her.
Owen turned to Hector and pulled out a free kitchen chair.
“You. Sit your ass down for a minute yeah?” Owen shook his head. “I suppose it's about time I return the favor and help patch you up.”
"For once…" the older man grunted before moving his injured body to the chair. He damn near collapsed into it, his teeth grit against the pain but otherwise he made no noise.
"We don't have time for anything complex. Just slow the bleeding for now." He ordered. Anything that was absorbent would help at this point.
The doctor kept himself angled to one of the entrances to stay useful to at least some degree.
Owen nodded in agreement. There wasn’t anything in the immediate vicinity, and the redhead was sure that Hector would not appreciate damp kitchen towels being shoved in his gun wounds. Once he was sure Hector was stable enough in his chair, Owen went to the small stash of medical supplies in the kitchen drawer. Hector kept the majority of things down in the cellar, but gauze and bandaids were easily accessible around the lodge, if for no other reason than to keep people from harassing Hector for simple requests.
With a handful of gauze packages Owen knelt back down by Hector and ripped open a few of the packages, leaving them inside their packaging and laying them gently on his thigh. He was careful when he removed them to only touch one side of the gauze. His hands were far from clean and he didn’t know much about medicine, but he knew that an infection in a wound would be bad.
“I have little experience with gunshot wounds,” Owen admitted, his gaze focused on the blood that was soaking through the gauze rather than Hector’s face. “Do I just keep pressure on it for now?”
"If there's a hole stuff the gauze inside until you can't fit anymore, then apply pressure with another pack of gauze. If it's a graze just put pressure on it. I haven't looked at it closely yet."
Owen furrowed his brow, but nodded, lifting up Hector’s sticky shirt to look at the wound on his side. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. There was a clear ridge, and nowhere that he could see that a bullet could have gotten lost. He supposed that was a graze. Owen wasn’t sure what the qualifiers were, but there wasn’t a wound deep enough to stuff gauze into, so he did the only logical thing left which was to stack the gauze squares up, lay them on the wound, and press down. He could feel as the blood started to soak through, warm and sticky under his palm.
“You sure you gonna be alright doc?” Owen asked, eyes focused on the white gauze that was turning slowly turning red. There was more blood than Owen had anticipated based on how Hector had been moving.
There wasn’t time for him to respond. The back sliding glass door opened a few minutes later and Aaron emerged from the back door. He was covered in grime and blood and god knows what but he looked uninjured and with the state of the rest of them, that was nothing but good news.
“We got bad news buds,” Aaron greeted, sweat clinging to his brow. The redneck took off his baseball cap and wiped the water droplets along his sleeve. Owen gestured to the rest of the lodge, full of bodies dead, injured or worse.
“Just lay it on me man,” Owen said with a heavy sigh.
“Lots of the men we downed are coming back. I put down the ones I could on the way, Colt and the circus girl are handling the rest.” The redhead nodded at his response. He supposed that made sense. There hadn’t been time for everyone to be careful and kill with only headshots during the fight.
“What about the living ones?” Aaron only shrugged in response.
“Gone from what I can tell. They are either in the dirt or heading out after your sister. I didn’t see any trace of either of the blondes. My best guess is that the men got at least some of what they are after.” The redneck's tone was dark, anger lurking under what was normally a fairly happy-sounding tone. Owen swallowed hard, trying not to think about the small army that had fled after his sister. Hector and Nile both seemed to think that Andy had it handled, Owen wasn’t so sure.
“As soon as we are able we have to follow after them,” Owen commanded. “I’m not leaving Leliana with that man. No way.” It became increasingly difficult for the redhead to focus on Hector’s injuries, but he managed to treat them to the best of his ability. There were plenty that would need more help than he could offer, but at least that would help stall the bleeding until someone better than him could get their hands on him.
As if on cue, Colt came over the radio to confirm the worst of his fears. Leliana was gone. Andy may have gotten away, but they had still lost in the end. One of their own was in his father’s clutches. His knuckles went white around the radio, his nostrils flaring before he was able to respond to Colt. It sounded like the threat of the zombies was dealt with at least. That was good. Owen wasn’t sure how many people could reasonably defend the lodge if they got swarmed. That rose even more concern, how many of them would be useful to go get Leliana back.