Knell stood awhile at the point where the iron and stone base of Towerpeak’s heart met the edge of the Sprawl, hidden in the shadow of an obelisk depicting some obscure tidbit of Kromsian history, staring into the city with new eyes.
She struggled with colours, and whatever the Vampire had done made looking at light uncomfortable, but she could see perfectly in the pitch darkness, and adequately make out the people under the remaining lights, huddled and afraid.
Entire sections of the Sprawl had fallen away. Some smouldered and burned, others were splintered and broken – homes and businesses, bars and hostels, and all the wreckage scattered with bodies. Broken windows dripped with blood, and restless dead shambled through the debris.
There’s going to be hell to pay, for this. Knell thought. Internal struggle or not, there’s too many outsiders caught in the crossfire.
The corpse of an Orc with a hole the size of her fist through it’s head cast blindly about the darkness with a one-eyed, glassy gaze from halfway down the ruined street. Knell grimaced. And of course they’re outsiders so much worse to deal with when undead.
She could make out the temple, from here – the upper window now host to a searchlight, sweeping over the darkened streets. The rebels may have needed it, but Knell had an inkling the undead relied less on sight than whatever sorcerous senses the Magic that fueled them might bestow.
Cursing the loss of her other revolver, Knell checked her ammunition and moved from shadow to shadow. From the obelisk to the smoking remnant of a beauty parlour, from scarred ancestor statue to shattered generator.
The dead defied counting. Too bloodied, too mangled, stumbling from light to dark, or standing still as the grave under the crude streetlights that remained functional.
Knell’s mouth was a hard line, trying to ignore the smell and the devastation. To ignore the children, the trampled corpses dragging themselves around with mechanical determination. Tiny, broken-fingered hands.
She shook her head, tore her eyes away, and focused on the path ahead. She crouched behind a broken section of wall as the searchlight swept over it, and peered out across the gap left by a fallen building, the night air like a pit between here and the next sloping chunk of the Sprawl. The length of her ship, Knell judged, and glanced across the street on her left; the right section of the ruin in which she hid left her no other choice.
The left side of the street was intact, as were the businesses abutting it – but a number of undead stood, as if waiting, in the pool of light cast by a flickering lantern, blocking her path.
If this Spriggan isn’t at the temple, I’m going back to the leeches with a flamecaster.
Knell scanned the street again, and spotted a water tank on the roof of the florist behind the undead.
Worth a try.
She covered the muzzle of her gun with her shadowy hand, grit her teeth, and fired. The report and flash were almost perfectly hidden, but the phantom pain made her hiss and recoil. Water spilled out onto the undead, which tried to turn and look dumbly upward. Knell fired another shot, her hand losing some cohesion. I can afford one more.
The third stream hit the fizzing lamp between it and the undead, and Knell silently cheered her luck with bared teeth – electric, and powerfully so with the rest of the connections down. The dead jerked and spasmed as the current hit them, most tripping and tumbling over the edge of the broken street to shatter thousands of feet below. Disappearing into the air like dark water.
The remaining undead began stiffly, methodically climbing the facade of the building. Knell was impressed – even controlled, she would expect them to be far less clever.
She slipped past and carried on, even as screams rose from another, nearby building. Something all tentacles and teeth burst from a roof, clutching a shrieking rebel, and slithered off to her right, westward. Knell paused.
Towerpeak wasn’t lawless, but it could be somewhat… how had Percy described it? ‘Lax in regulation.’
Lax enough any number of dangerously enthusiastic thaumatic scientists could be toying with magical forces with outdated containment and ad-hoc tools.
A slow grin spread across her face, and Knell detoured to the east in search of something that looked suitably like a recently ruptured laboratory. As first guesses went, she missed the mark – perhaps the thing had been fleeing back to the vat in which it was grown. After a few minutes fruitless search, she turned back.
With a painful grunt, she was tackled to the ground, into a flowerbed, searing pain in the side of her head. Cold, dead hand scrabbling at her throat. Warmth spreading over her cheek. With a roar of pain, she rose to her feet and slammed her attacker against a wall. A nauseating tearing sensation almost broke her concentration, but she forced her gun up under the zombie’s chin and fired. Pointing at the elbows, the knees, she fired again, and again, ears ringing. Ear ringing, she thought, with a choked-off laugh, as blood streamed down her neck. She left the still-struggling corpse at the foot of florist’s wall and stumbled back on her way, swearing under her breath. She holstered her bloodied gun, left smears on the walls and windowsills she used to keep herself upright until the yawning abyss to her right was replaced with the still-intact shell of an house. She shoved the door open and collapsed into a torn couch, under a ragged hole in the ceiling, half-blinded by the moonlight in her changed eyes.
Of course. The rebel and the monster. Pile of stained, often bloody clothes lay scattered around the floor as if the site of a gruesome orgy. Weapons lay among them, and a meal was half-finished on the low table. No bodies.
Eaten, she assumed, and shook her head in a welter of congealing blood. They must have had medical supplies. Mustn’t they? She pressed her hand to the wound and searched the room, gait unsteady. Shock, probably – the ribs that hit the street ached in a familiar way, probably cracked if not broken, and she suspected a lot of skin had been torn away with that bite.
In the pocket of a shit-stained pair of trousers she found a packet of sealing gel.
Well supplied, she thought, ripping the tab off the little beige bulb and pressing it to her head. Itches like a bastard.
She sat back in the couch, staring at the moon as the gel closed up the wound, forming a false-skin over the area, disinfecting. The occasional barks of gunfire or monstrous howls that echoed across the city were different, now. A little like being underwater. A nuisance.
She tugged a rough woollen blanket from the back of the couch over herself, and stared into space. This place was barely more than a squat, but it must have been homely, once.
To follow the monster, or carry on? She knew there was a gunsmith in the neighbourhood – what was left her shop might be useful. Really, how had she even expected to win this one? Feidhlim would surely be surrounded by living guards, undead monsters, and no doubt able to call up fresh ghosts or send her into the After…
She dragged herself up and into the street, unthinking. Luckily, the dead had moved on, and she could freely pass down the sporadically lit streets, shadows broken by burning buildings or failing streetlamps.
The gunsmith’s shop had been looted. Knell shoved aside broken corpses, piles of rubble, and unfinished weapons to try and find something, but everything of value had been taken save some munitions too large or too esoteric for her gun. Stupid. Reckless. She’d been angry.
Maybe too late to run for the ship. And not without Cerro.
Sighing, she elected to gamble. She pulled the little silver watch from her pocket, held it in her prosthetic, and stood in the centre of the shop. She stared the ticking face – barely an hour past midnight. It was a ritual. The Magic inherent in her arm had a way of sniffing out secrets. The pain waxed and waned as she moved it closer to places where secrets were kept – terrible for catching people holding something back, but if an actual object was hidden…
She turned slowly on the spot, staring at the face of the watch, eyes fixed on the second hand ticking with her steps. The pain spiked, in a familiar way – like the limb being severed all over again. The only reason she could remember what it had felt like, if not the circumstances. Daffyd said she must have suffered a headwound. Percy called it a divine gift. Harrow just made jokes, deflecting the topic. She had her own problems with memory.
When she broke her reverie, she stood over the gunsmith’s workbench. What had her name been? Hopefully she’d managed to flee – Knell had appreciated her work, tuning up her guns. A lot of other pirates went in for fancy, Magical weapons with names and titles, but Knell had always been content with reliable, Orc-made revolvers.
She pulled drawers full of tools from the sides of the bench, sifted through them, found nothing. She frowned, tried pulling them out entirely, spilling the tools on the ground and regretting it. She carefully placed the next three on the ground and felt around inside. Felt a loop of cable inside, pulled on it.
With a click, the top of the bench slide aside enough to reveal a hollow space within. Knell slid it off, folding neatly over the edge, and gazed upon her prize.
Two pistols and rifle, set into shaped recesses, and a few boxes of shells. The rifle, she guessed, was a railgun. Risky. One pistol was a chunky bronze and gold affair, slotted with a garnet. The last was clearly a bizarre experiment – a slightly overlarge revolver with a blade instead of a barrel, eight chambers in the cylinder, empty.
Knell abandoned her own gun, found new holsters, and took everything. Rifle over her back, Flamecaster for her right hand, the gun-blade thing for her left in it’s own custom holster. Sheathe. She shrugged to herself and sorted through the shells and charged gems. Plenty for the ‘caster, some standard-looking munitions, and two boxes of uniform, steely-blue shells that seemed to fit the gun-blade’s cylinder.
Each one had a different colour of metal for the cap surrounding the primer. Definitely a very Magical piece of tech, but the precise results she could only guess at. Fireblast, icicles, lightning, perhaps?
She loaded the more recognizable ones and decided to rely on the ‘caster for most part.
Pleased to note the rifle had a scope, Knell grinned to herself as her armaments clinked softly with her walk, and returned to the ruined streets. An hour lost, she thought, but probably not enough to matter. The moon was high, counterpoint to the sweeping searchlight, and Knell suspected her ‘gift’ was wearing off. There was, she recalled, a watchtower or something of the sort within close sight of the temple.
Feeling marginally better about this mess, Knell crept through the streets, hand on the Flamecaster in case any more walking dead were looking to get incinerated.