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Tyler

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Posts posted by Tyler


  1. 12 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "Clive McTeague." Zack said in a dry tone. "He's a hopeless drunk with a nasty dead-eye, and he's also a reckless, thick-headed, MORON! If a cowboy wannabe ever offers to work with you, kick'im in the balls and walk away. I got these cuffs because he blew our cover on the jockey's airship! Hell, I almost DIED like thirty times during my escape! Had to bite a guys hand off to open a bunch'a doors, fell over two thousand feet and broke nearly every bone in my body, got caught up in this stupid war, got freakin' body-swapped at one point, beaten within an inch of my life by that Tin bastard, and wound up in the middle of all...this! All because I felt bad for him and wanted offer him some work! And this isn't even the first time! Last year, we took a job to-"

    "Are you done?" Marvin interrupted. "This seems like it's going to drag on and I don't want to be rude by pretending to listen to you."

    "You keep finding new ways to surprise me, Zack. McTeague is pretty famous in the bounty guild... well, infamous really. Kinda impressed you know him," Mara stated at that, but didn't say much else as she realized they were once again wasting valuable time.

    12 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "Alright," he said, his eyes flicking between the two. "Any questions before we head out?"

    "What if I have to use the bathroom?" Zack piped up shamelessly. In fact, everything he said seemed to be bereft of any shame, his voice always sounding clear, unapologetic, and forthcoming. Like a child that was blissfully unaware of the concept of shame or dignity. 

    "..."

    "..."

    "...You know something?" Marvin said as he winced pensively and nodded. "I don't like you."

    "Yeah? Well I don't like you either!" Zack shot back childishly. Marvin ignored him and focused his softening gaze on Mara, waiting for her to say something that would be less stupid than her 'tag-along'. 

    As the two men (or boys, in Mara's view) resumed their bickering, Mara got herself suited up and prepared to head out. She was all set to go by the time Marvin had turned toward her. In truth, she was already regretting getting suited up, because it prevented her from being able to facepalm again at the two.

    Also she couldn't push the hair out of her face... making her realize she should have considered tying it back or something before putting on the suit. Well, whatever.

    "We'll only need to worry about the bathroom if we keep standing here all day," she stated bluntly, before beckoning Marvin to lead them toward an exit, "Let's just get moving already."


  2. Mara narrowed her eyes as she watched the nanites burst into a cloud and envelope Zack, eventually reforming into the a completed suit, perfectly fitted to his body and even managing to slip under his cuffs. Mara might have demanded to know why Marvin couldn't just try to remove the cuffs if he had technology this advanced, but something else had already taken her attention (sorry Zack). The way the nanites had acted reminded her of the Tin Man's android, which for one, served to reinforce the need to make haste and get out of this pocket dimension, but it also left her wondering just who these scientists were and what kind of civilization they had come from.

    "Impressive. Nanites are very hard to come by on the outside, your old home must have been pretty advanced in its day," she said to Marvin.

    But if she was hoping for a helpful response, it was immediately lost in Marvin and Zack's subsequent passive-aggressive bantering. It all made her slowly facepalm in annoyance, even if the information Marvin relayed was nonetheless useful. As they finally seemed to conclude, Zack muttered something off-handedly that caused Mara to tilt her head every-so-slightly in his direction.

    "Clive?" she questioned, in a tone that sounded more like simple curiosity than any sort of recognition.


  3. Ironically, Mara's attempt to swiftly crush Marvin's infatuation through cold hard logic had only left the scientist more motivated than before, though he didn't show it on the surface. On the surface, the man looked to be quite "crushed" indeed, perhaps a bit more harshly than Mara intended. In truth she didn't, and really couldn't, fully understand the feelings of normal people in this regard. Those feelings were very distant memories of a fair-haired teenager who's youth was stolen from her prematurely, replaced by a life of steel and lead. As for what she did feel, that was far more complicated; and probably had a lot to do with residual emotions of regret and bitterness, mixed with loneliness, and left somewhat confused by the artificial hormones one of her synthetic organs pumped through her body, which itself contradicted the body's own lack of actual sexual organs.

    But regardless, for the moment Mara was satisfied that Marvin had gotten back on track. The scientist lead them over to the indoor shooting range and began explaining the functionality of the weapons, while also taking a moment to insult Zack (this seemed to be a reoccurring theme with that kid). He then demonstrated by frying an apparent fragment of one of the blob monsters. Nodding slowly, Mara stepped up to the shooting bench and pressed the button to drop another, then quickly raised the assault rifle and fired a series of controlled bursts at the critter even as it was still falling from wherever it had been stored. The thing was destroyed if very short order.

    "Hmm, seems pretty accurate too. I approve," she hit the button again and repeated the process.

    Already seemingly satisfied with the carbine, she set it down on the bunch and pulled out the bulky shotgun, curious if the thing was as powerful as billed. After dropping another blob in, she braced the weapon and took the shot. The force of impact against her shoulder was enough that she figured it likely would have busted the shoulder of a normal man easily, and as it was it actually bruised her fleshy surface pretty good. The sheer force of the blast caused her boots to slide across the floor, pushing her entire body a couple yards back.

    "Hmm..." she lowered it, then massaged her right shoulder (which would soon turn as purple as her hair) with her metal hand, "I'm curious as what kind of person this weapon was designed for."

    She shifted the shotgun to her left hand now, no longer bothering to brace the butt-stock against her shoulder but instead simply holding it out one-handed. The second attempted shot was mostly absorbed by her metallic limb, but the recoil still pushed her back somewhat, while also kicking the gun upward and nearly out of her grip.

    "Well, if nothing else, Zack could use it to fly," she joked dryly as she lowered the weapon.


  4. Now, one could have misconceived Tessa's desire to go with Mara and Zack as some sort of vainglorious desire to be a hero or misguided need to sacrifice for the greater good, but the reality was far more simple and far more selfish: She didn't want to be left behind. For all she knew, the window to escape the pocket dimension before they "sealed it" up again could end up being mere seconds, seconds that Zack and Mara wouldn't have to come back for her and Jerry. And the last thing Tessa wanted was to be stuck in this laboratory to starve to death or die of boredom, whichever came first.

    But Mara was having none of it, insisting quite forcefully that Tessa remain behind. Zack wasn't any help either, as he only dismissed Tessa's concerns as "useless politics" (or at least, that's how it came across to Tessa), before falling in-line with whatever Mara wanted. Marvin, seemingly quite happy with this arrangement, promptly summoned a little basketball-shaped robot, which hovered in front of Tessa and began speaking in a rather pleasant, feminine voice.

    On 2/20/2021 at 4:56 AM, zackrobbman said:

    "Hello, there! My name is Aversa! I will be tending to your various injuries. Please remain calm and rejoice, for you will be the first organism I have ever given medical care! Doesn't that make you feel special? Also, please take note that any screaming will not halt the process. We do not possess any pain nullifiers in this building, and if we did, I must disclaim to you  that the pain you may potentially experience may be far beyond the the capabilities and comforting embrace that narcotics can provide. Take heart though, since at the end of such a procedure if it is needed, you will emerge a much more mentally resilient individual! Now, please remain still as I perform a full body scan for your injuries, as any unnecessary movement may result in scanning inconsistencies, which may cause me to make unnecessary incisions on your soft, organic, body."

    Tessa's eyes widened as she backed away from the little mechanical deathball.

    "Wait, what!?"

    On 2/20/2021 at 4:56 AM, zackrobbman said:

    "Sorry." Marvin rubbed the back of his neck with an apologetic smile. "We installed the first aid module in case we ever found a way to fix our intangible nature, and we didn't care to install a bedside-manner module since we sort of of gave up. I can assure you that she's joking though!"

    "I do no not possess the necessary module for satire, master." Aversa added, to which Marvin responded by quickly exiting the room while beckoning Zack and Mara to follow.

    The last thing that Zack, Mara or Marvin heard from Tessa was the girl trying to escape the robot, while reaching out for the departing trio in a somewhat over-dramatic fashion and crying out:

    "Don't leave meeeee!"

     


     

    The door closed behind them, and Marvin now lead them though the halls of the lab to the duo's apparent armory. It was clear that the two had been spending their immortal eternity trying to find out more about the black blob creatures, and they also apparently knew how to effectively destroy them. Their arsenal was quite impressive, and Mara was relieved to learn that the weapons were capable of harming the ooze monsters. She had been regretting not taking Tessa's molotovs, since those were the only usable weapons any of them had against the tar creatures until now.

    Mara glanced over the assembled weapons, giving notice to the shotgun and minigun. She decided against the latter, as miniguns were simply not her style. Despite her immense physical strength, mobility was an equally important asset, and bulky weapons like a minigun would only slow her down. The shotgun looked like a beast to fire, but she figured she could easily handle it if she needed, so she took it off the rack and slung it over her shoulder. But for her primary weapon, she instead picked out an assault rifle carbine. Such weapons were more balanced, capable of being used in a variety of ranges, conditions and scenarios, without slowing down the shooter much.

    Even after taking the two weapons, she continued looking over the arsenal, now considering the possibility of running into more than just blob monsters. In particular, she began searching for anti-personal grenades, flashbangs, or other explosives, as well as pistols, knives and other weapons that might be useful against human opponents. In the background, Zack began questioning Marvin, his tone quickly becoming suspicious as he challenged the scientist's claims. Zack may have been as paranoid as a caged tweety bird in a crazy cat lady's house, but he raised some valid concerns here. Marvin's explanation seemed far-fetched, but Mara realized there was no real reason to doubt him; this entire situation was pretty far out-of-the-ordinary.

    On 2/20/2021 at 4:56 AM, zackrobbman said:

    "How about you? Want me to take a look at that arm? My...um...drones do not possesses the expertise to service cybernetics."

    Zack squinted at the man, taking note of the look in his eyes, the rigidness of his smile, and the way his eyes kept flicking to Mara's breasts. He'd seen this look on someone else many times before.

    "You're lying!" Zack said with an accusatory point. He then turned to Mara like a child who was accusing his sibling of wrongdoing. "He's lying!"

    "Quiet, you little punk!" Marvin shot back.

    "Of course he's lying," Mara replied, not yet looking up from her examination of the arsenal, "But it's not like it's that big a deal."

    She finally turned and walked over to Marvin, probably only heightening his excitement.

    "Young man, I appreciate the attention, but you know there could never be anything between us. I'm more machine than woman, and as for you..."

    She promptly waved her arm through his immaterial body several times.

    "You're more ghost than man. So, let us please keep things professional and not waste anymore time on hollow fantasies, hm?" her voice shifted from one that was initially somewhat playful, if a bit conciliatory, to one that was more cold and hard, "You said you were going to show us how to run these things? Then lead the way. We need to get this done and get out there."

     

     


  5. "I have a question!" Tessa clumsily raised her hand and interrupted any attempt Mara was about to make in response to Marvin's inquire, "How come SHE is the fair maiden, when I am both younger and fairer? I have WHITE hair for cripes sake."

    There was an awkward silence for several long seconds, and Tessa seemed at least semi-conscious of how ridiculous that question seemed in the heat of that moment, given that her face started turning red in response.

    "Anyyyywaaaaay," Mara turned back toward Marvin, "I'm no hacker or computer technician, but I can find my way around that stuff well enough if you tell me what to do. But let's get something straight first, the name is Mara, or if you'd prefer to keep things professional, it can be Miss Mercer. And I can tell you now that I will get my side of things done, but you, and your 'brother' will need to get control of yourselves and stay focused."

    She stood up and looked down at Tessa and the unconscious Jerry.

    "It will be safe to leave these two here, correct? I doubt they can be much help out there."

    "HEY!" Tessa shot to her feet, though immediately she put a hand to her aching head.

    Even so, she didn't seem willing to back-down.

    "I am not just getting left behind!" she snapped, "I'm staying with you two until we're out of here."

    "You're in no condition to help, and the pilot's just going to be a drag. Better you stay here and fill him in when he wakes up. Besides, it's a good idea to keep someone in reserve just in case something goes wrong."

    "I don't remember voting for you to be in charge, bounty hunter!" Tessa jabbed a finger into Mara's chest, "And I don't remember Zack voting for you either!"

    "I don't have time to argue this sort of nonsense with a drunk teenager!" Mara's voice started to take a harder than normal edge to it as she shoved Tessa's arm away, "Zack, you're coming with Marvin and I, right?"

     


  6. "The artifact created some sort of giant... well I guess the best way I can describe it is a giant swirling pillar of light. Like a tornado, but made of energy instead of wind. It ripped an entire chunk of the city right out of the ground, busted it into pieces, and then the pieces started orbiting it. We were in an air transport moving through these island chunks of the city when the creature appeared. Sometime during our encounter with the creature, we entered a fog, and found ourselves here. Some of our enemies also found their way here too, so there has to be multiple entry points."

    "Also, I woke up here..." Tessa added.

    "Oh yeah, I think she was teleported in. One of our former companions had the ability to teleport people, and I think his powers went haywire right around the time the artifact activated," Mara added, then realized that if the scientist was thousands of years old and not familiar with the term "tear", more explanation might be needed, "For clarity, Tear-energy is something that spills into our world through what are basically rips in reality. Stuff from other places, worlds, dimensions pass through those rips, and it just creates a damn mess. That artifact somehow contained Tear-energy, a lot of it actually, and we're afraid our enemies could somehow manage to acquire and harness it for their own goals. That is, if the energy vortex it created doesn't start expanding and destroy the world or something beforehand."


  7. "It's a pretty long story," Mara began, deciding not to try to waste too much brain-power trying to understand what an amalgamated consciousness was, and instead focus on relevant facts that lead to this moment, "Starts with a Tear-artifact that some cult decided to hide in a cave and build a city over. It picks up again with us racing some scumbags to try find and take possession of it first, then accidentally activating or destroying it in the process. Ends with us making an emergency landing here on an enemy... drop... ship..."

    Suddenly, something came back to Mara, causing her to turn her head in the direction of her longest-tenured associate in this endeavor.

    "Zack, that thing on the ship," she recalled, "The thing on the roof. It showed up just before we arrived here, and we never figured out what it was. It didn't make any sound except for its movement."

    She tapped the side of her head in thought.

    "What if it was one of those things? I mean, what else could it have been? It probably saw us and attacked. We do know they can fly."

    "Floaaat," Tessa corrected.

    "Well, I'm not limiting them. But that's not the point. The point is, if it was one, it reached us just outside the... pocket dimension or whatever... which mean there should be a way to get out of here."

    "That juss sounds like wishhhhful thinking," Tessa scoffed.

    "Hush ghostie-locks, you're drunk," Mara shut the younger woman down, before looking back at Melvin, "Anything I'm saying making any sense to you?"


  8. "Yeah," Tessa spoke-up before Mara could address Melvin's ogling (or anything else he had just done), "Do you have any coffee?"

    Mara sighed and rolled her eyes, then spoke-up, completely ignoring Tessa.

    "Look, we could spend all day having a Q and A session about why you don't have a shadow, why there are two of you, why you can magically repair chairs, or why the hell you have a lab in the middle of this hell-hole, but the most important thing we need to know is what is this place, and is there a way out? There are thousands of lives at risk right now, and we've already lost hours of valuable time as it is."

    "Days..." Tessa corrected.

    "For you. But even with time dilation factored in, we were in a situation were every second counted," Mara pressed, her eyes locked on Melvin, "So cut the small talk and vague riddles; we need to know what this place is and why it is here, and we need you to make that explanation quickly and clearly."


  9. Fortunately, Tessa was woken up by the impact on the floor, meaning that Mara only had to help Zack drag Jerry instead of each of them having to carry a sack of dead-weight. However, it did leave Mara wondering if Tessa had actually be unconscious, or if she had somehow fallen asleep. That idea irked her, but then again, the average teenage girl who'd suffered blood-loss, been driven to the point of exhaustion, and then soaked in half a bottle of ancient whiskey would probably be dead by now, much less able to drag herself to her feet and clumsily keep up with the group.

    Instead of worrying about either of their tag-alongs, Mara instead decided to give more attention to their new hosts, as well as their laboratory. It was remarkably clean for a facility dropped in the middle of monster-infested apocalyptic ruins, even more when one considered the occupants were a pair of men. Sure it was a lab, but if these two (who one would have to figure were identical twin brothers... or clones, which was genetically about the same as identical twin brothers) had been here for any amount of time, that meant this place was also effectively a bachelor pad, and no bachelor pad was this clean.

    It wasn't long after the four were left alone in the pathetic-excuse for a lounge, that Zack started voicing his desire to bail.

    "And go where exactly, Zack?" Mara eyed the boy, "This is as good as we could have hoped for. Even if they're hostile, they will have answers."

    "How do you know?" Tessa moaned, her head in her hands.

    "There's something going on here, and these two, whoever or whatever they are, are right in the middle of it. There's no possible way they know nothing. I don't know what they could be, as no human should be alive in a place like this, but maybe Zack's right and they're something left-over. Not ghosts... maybe holograms? They've got those in the Underground, though admittedly not this convincing."

    "Holograms?"

    "Three-dimensional projections of an image," Mara specified, realizing that Tessa likely wasn't very familiar with high-level technology being from Norkotia, "Like a TV recording that can walk around in a room. Those two might not even be here in this lab, but are broadcasting from somewhere else. Or maybe there's an advanced computer somewhere in this base and those two are projections of its artificial intelligence."

    "I know what a hologram is, Mercer, I just wasn't sure you were serious about suggesting it," Tessa hissed, "Everything you said sounds like its straight out of a sci-fi movie."

    "Try traveling outside of Norkotia more often, the whole world is a sci-fi movie," Mara replied, then turned toward Zack, who she figured was probably on the edge of losing his marbles while having to listen to the two ladies argue, "Just calm down, let's be patient and find out what's going on here. If we're lucky, they might have a way to get us off this rock."


  10. One of the last things June cried before she and Taylor ducked into the stairwell and slammed the door behind themselves, was to throw the looted handgun at the squirming, shredded corpse that was chasing them. Sure, it might work, but if it didn't, then they'd still be running from the monster, and would have lost their only means of defense in the process. Taylor wasn't willing to take that risk, especially since they seemingly had made their escape with the heavy metal door blocking the frail abomination out.

    "No, I'm holding onto this," Taylor said back to June, the two of them now emerged in pitch blackness.

    The red glow of the emergency lights on the floor above was now a distant memory, but the two had caught enough of a glimpse to see the stairs went straight down, reached a square platform, then resumed again to the right, making an L-shape. Holding onto June both so she wouldn't lose her, and also to steady herself, Taylor began trying to descend the stairs as quickly as she could, just in case the monster above proved stronger than it looked. However, as they reached the mid-way platform, a flash of light caused her to come to a halt, forcing June to stop as well.

    "What's that...?" she whispered, at first mistaking the orange glow for daylight.

    But it was not daylight; daylight does not simply stroll down the hall as the orange light beneath them seemed to be doing. Taylor then figured it could be a flashlight, or maybe a torch, being carried by one of their former companions as they wandered the haunted corridors. But something else seemed to be accompanying the source of the light as it inched along. It was a sound, the sound of metal buckling and twisting, bolts being popped from their holds and the floor bubbling into molten steel. A faint sensation of heat seemed to emanate around the corner, though it was slowly declining, as the light itself appeared to be moving up the hall and away from them. Taylor was tempted to rush down the stairs and peer around the corner, in order to find what it was that they had just narrowly missed.

    Suddenly, one of the metal walls in the corridor below exploded in a shower of shrapnel and debris, far enough away that it did not harm either of the girls, but loud enough to leave their ears ringing... and to draw the attention of the source of the light. Rather than continuing to retract, the orange glow now began to intensify, as it moved back down the hall toward the ruptured crater caused by the blast. As it drew nearer, the illumination was now making more details of the girls' surroundings visible, and the sound of stressed metal seemed to hiss and groan ever louder. The sensation of heat began to intensify, and as the orange neared the corner, even the air that dared to sit in the path of the approaching cataclysm seemed to warp and squirm in agony.

    Not daring to make a sound, Taylor pushed June back away from the corner, while slowly retracting herself and ducking down. She wanted to keep June protected, but as for herself, she wanted to at least catch a glimpse of whatever this thing was, and whether or not it'd be possible to snuff it out with a bullet. It seemed a better plan than going back up the stairs and into the waiting tentacles of the dead man. Still, she wanted to be cautious, so she lowered herself to the floor in a prone position, keeping only her head around the corner, and being prepared to push herself back in case the thing happened to glance her way.

    It was a costly mistake.

    The glow, it's movements seemingly slow and cautious itself, as though it were unaware of what caused the explosion and was curious about what it'd find, now drew into view. For a moment Taylor saw nothing but fire of an intensity rivaled only by the sun, and then the source itself came crossed the threshold, and all the world became black. Taylor let out a shocked and pained gasp as she felt a wave of heat across her face that threatened to melt her skin clean off. Her lashes, brows and bangs began to burn, and through it all, her eyes felt like they had been set ablaze from the inside. It was barely a full second of exposure between when the orange moved into view and when Taylor shoved herself back around the corner, but that second had been far too long. It took every fiber in her being to keep for screaming, but somehow she managed. Her hands were instantly clasped over her face, trying to smother and fire that had caught on her hair and shield whatever was left from the wave of heat. She shoved herself backward into June, pushing her as far back as she could away from the corner, whimpering as she tried to sooth her singed skin. As she spread her fingers out away from her eyes, she quickly realized that she was once again surrounded by pitch blackness. Perhaps the light had gone?

    "June," Taylor whispered softly, panic seeping into her voice, "Is it gone? Is the light gone? Please tell me the light is gone..."

    But June would know the light was not gone, it was more intense than ever, and it was now at the foot of the stairs...


  11. Once the group was on the move again, Tessa was forced to abandon the crate of bottles, though she shoved as many as she could into her belt or whatever pockets or pouches she had that were large enough to hold them. She also continued carrying the open whiskey bottle in her hand, taking occasional swigs as they went along. Whether she was actually a heavy drinker who was just taking advantage of a situation where she didn't have superior officers breathing down her neck, whether she was trying to dull the pain from her injuries, or whether she was just doing it to stay warm, she kept on drinking. It wasn't until they had moved out of the more infected parts of the city when Mara finally intervened and seized the bottle.

    "Hey!" Tessa hissed.

    "I think you've had enough," Mara replied in a low voice, the area seemingly safe, but not enough that Mara was willing to talk loudly.

    "You're not my mother, mercenary! Give that back!" Tessa insisted.

    "Maybe I'm not, but if you keep this up, I'll have to carry your drunk ass across this hellscape as if I were your mother," Mara growled, dumping what was left of the bottle onto the ground, then dropping the bottle into a soft, sandy patch, "Let's go."

    Tessa just made angry noises as they resumed. Despite her concerns, Mara was somewhat impressed that Tessa had managed to drink as much as she had without becoming completely senseless. The white-haired girl was a bit less steady on her feet now, but not so much that she had to be helped. Either Tessa had built-up a pretty good resistance, or maybe the whiskey had lost its potency over the centuries. Either way, both women continued to follow Zack's lead as they began to move further into the old park.

    The ground began to rapidly morph into a downward slope, and while Mara expected Tessa to start struggling due to her tipsy (and injured) state, but it was Jerry who lost his footing first. Zack was closer to him and was far quicker to respond, grabbing the old pilot and hurling him backward. But Zack had now lost his footing, and he also began to slide down the slope rapidly.

    "Zack!" Mara called after him, trying to lunge forward and grab him.

    But she was too late, as the young man had already disappeared from view completely, lost into the fog.

    "ZACK!" Mara called again, trying desperately not to also fall.

    While she managed to keep upright, the same could not be said of the other two. Tessa slipped and hit the ground, loose gravel giving way as her impact with the ground created a minor landslide. Mara reached out and grabbed the girl before she too could disappear into oblivion, but in the process she lost her own grip.

    "SHIT!"

    With a mighty heavy, she thrust her metal arm deep into the gravel, hoping to catch some thing solid underneath. The effort seemed to pay off, at least for a moment, as she stopped her and Tessa's slide, the girl wrapped in her human arm while her metal one clung on for dear life.

    "Give me a hand, will ya?" Mara growled at Tessa, who felt like nothing more than a dead weight.

    There was no response, and Mara felt her blood boil a little when she realized Tessa was unconscious. So she was literal dead-weight now! Just what Mara needed.

    "Pilot, help me out here!" she looked up at Jerry, who was now further up the slope, in a somewhat more stable position.

    It didn't seem like Jerry wanted to risk it at first, but after some coaxing, he finally moved closer to try and grab Mara's hand and help lift her out. It was at that point that Mara realized that asking for his help was a big mistake. Once again, the old man slid, and after first sending a pile of dirt and gravel straight into Mara's face, the pilot himself came crashing down into Mara, dislodging her grip and sending the three of them free-falling down the slope and over the ledge.

    "NOT AGAIN!" Mara yelped as she started plummeting to an uncertain fate for what felt like the hundredth time today.

    But as with each previous time, something was there to prevent Mara from ending up as a splatter on the ground; this time it was some sort of anti-gravity technology. Whatever the thing was, it gradually slowed the descent of all three of them to a halt, right at about the same level as where Zack was suspended.

    "Heh, another happy landing, eh?" Mara scoffed at their oddly good luck today, mainly for Zack to hear.

    Her attention was soon directed downward, however; as the twins in the building below were hard to ignore.

    "Who are you two? Actually, never mind that! Just let us down from this thing!" she urged them.

     


  12. 18 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "No thanks." Zack shook his head. "Momma' always told me that drinkin' was for hippies and idiots. No offense."

    Zack's face suddenly froze and his eyes became distant as he recalled something very important

    "Speaking of idiots..."

    Tessa was about to make some remark about how hippies where she came from did worse things than booze, but Zack suddenly tensed up and bolted out of the basement at full superhuman speed.

    "Don't worry," she sighed, "I'll catch up..."

    * * *

    Back on the streets, Mara had been searching the remnants of the blob for any sign of the Tin Man Merc or the device he'd been using to track his squad leader. She hadn't been at all successful, which only made her wince a little at her own ineptness when Zack burst out of the basement, clumsily blasting his head through a wall, only to immediately locate the device in question with minimal effort.

    So didn't say anything about that though, instead just watching as Zack tried to handle the melting walkie-talkie, which did nothing more than burn his fingers and cause him to drop it back down to the goo-splattered street.

    18 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "...Aw, man!" said Zack as he scratched his chin and looked down at the melting walkie-talkie. "WALKIE TALKIE'S BUSTED!"

    "And there's nothing left of its former owner," Mara added, "The blob must have dissolved him completely. I guess we're going to have to go it blind again."

    Behind Zack, Tessa finally emerged from the basement, carrying what appeared to be some sort of fancy (though battered) milk crate, filled with glass bottles of liquor, including her molotovs, as well as the glow lamp. Mara raised an eyebrow when she saw it.

    "Well, someone was having a good time while we were risking our lives up here," she sarcastically addressed the girl.

    "I was planning on saving your collective asses," Tessa answered, setting the crate down, "But that would have been a waste of good booze."

    She pulled the open whiskey bottle out of the crate and took another swig of it, before stepping closer to the others. She was either really thirsty, really in need of stress-relief, or a fair amount of both. For what it was worth though, it didn't seem like the hard alcohol was affecting her that much as of yet, despite her relatively small frame.

    "Well, what now?" the silver-haired girl asked.

    "Maybe start with explaining where you got all that stuff first," Mara pointed at the crate, "I haven't seen anything in this place that doesn't look a million years old and busted beyond heck."

    Tessa gave Mara and Jerry the run-down on what was in the basement, hoping Zack would back her up on what she said so she wouldn't have to argue with the others whether it was "possible" or not. When all was said and done though, Mara didn't feel there was much value in going back to explore it a second time.

    "Unless any of the stuff down there seemed useful in helping us tell direction, I think it best we just get on our way," the bounty hunter suggested, "We've already wasted hours wandering this place, and we've probably lingered in these streets longer than we should have. What was the merc's last heading? We can go that way and hope a straight line will bring us to his ship."


  13. There was a delay of a second or two, before Zack heard a reply, slightly muffled because it was coming from underground and filtering through wrecked walls.

    "DOWN HERE!"

    Around the broken window and through the shattered doorway, Zack would find the bombed-out building half-collapsed into its basement. Somewhere within, a cool blue light was providing the faintest amount of illumination. Descending the ramp of wreckage, Zack would find Tessa moving up to meet him, three unlit molotov cocktails cradled in one arm, and the handheld soldering tool in the other.

    "Don't tell me you guys killed it already?" she stopped in her tracks, realizing that Zack was not in a manic rush or anything, "Not that I'm upset about that, or anything. It's just... eh..."

    Zack might notice her pant legs were missing now, which probably explained where she got the rags stuffed into the top of the bottles. The young soldier was definitely running out of clothing to sacrifice. Not the greatest situation given the piercing chill in the damp air. It was also probably why she was a little let down to find out the monster was already dead, since it meant she was going to suffer cold legs for nothing.

    "Well, since you're down here, there's something you should see," Tessa motioned for Zack to follow her.

    They didn't have to go far though, as Zack could probably already see the glow-lamp and the table it was illuminating in the corner of the basement.

    "Get a load of this," Tessa said as she put down the molotovs and the tool on the table, then snatched up the open bottle of whiskey, "A little scrap sorting operation here. The floor is swept, the table is... or was clean, anyway. Someone was here fairly recently."

    She took a swig from the bottle, then offered it to Zack.

    "Takes the chill out of the air," she shrugged.


  14.  Mara wasn't even aware that she screwed up, or frankly that it wasn't part of the plan for Zack to grab the steel beam and drive it into the creature to secure the grappling hook more solidly. Communication in the heat of battle was never perfect, and it was fortunate that Zack was able to improvise despite what had gone wrong. The entity's efforts to protect itself by ejecting the flaming debris were fully thwarted thanks to the beam, and the flames themselves were forced deep into the midst of a giant fuel source. While being smothered in liquid, even flammable liquid, might normally smother a flame by cutting it off from oxygen, nothing of the sort happened here. In fact, something seemed to be building-up inside the creature instead.

    "Well, that's one way to do it," Mara remarked, before realizing the creature was starting to become violently unstable, "Oh..."

    In a flash, she dove for the nearest wreckage, as the Zack was already retreating away from the creature in the opposite direction, fast as he was able. Mara didn't start as soon, and didn't get a full head of steam, but she was just fast enough to dive through doorway and roll around the corner before the blob erupted. A surprisingly strong blast-wave shattered much of the building Mara was hiding in, while burning black grease went splattering in every direction, painting the street and ruins with burning goo. The wall Mara was taking cover behind collapsed, burying her in a mound of brick and petrified wood.

    On 1/18/2021 at 8:15 PM, zackrobbman said:

    "METAL LADY!" Zack called, unable to see her passed all the tall flames. "SILVER LADY! WHERE YA'LL AT?!"

    Dinged-up and coated in dust, but ultimately uninjured, Mara powered her way through the debris and back to the surface. Bits of fire were everywhere, forcing her to watch her step carefully as she moved to exit the building.

    "I'M FINE, KID!" she shouted over the fire and distance, "IS THE THING DEAD? THERE AIN'T ANYTHING LEFT OF IT, RIGHT?"

    Where she came out was much closer to Jerry than to Zack, and she was able to wave over to him to indicate her location. They'd have to take a detour around the flames to join up with Zack, but that seemed a minor inconvenience considering everything they'd had happen to this point.

    "HEY! YOU SEE GHOSTY-LOCKS OVER THERE!?" she added in Zack's direction, "I THREW HER INTO A BUILDING SOMEWHERE BACK THAT WAY!"

     


  15. Mara wasn't able to see Zack real well through the surrounding wreckage of the fallen house, but she didn't need to see him to know what he was talking about. There was only one thing he could be talking about, and Mara at least knew the general direction that it was in. Gathering up the items, she propelled herself forward and blasted her way through the wreckage, sending splinters of wood, chunks of brick, and shards of glass exploding out behind her. The flesh wounds to her body didn't feel pleasant, but luckily most of the wreckage was frail from the years of decay and rot, so the actual damage was minimal.

    As she sprinted across the street, she caught sight of Zack hurling the beam and concrete out of the corner of her eye. It was an impressive feat of strength, only further motivation to test her own against his, if they both survived to be able to afford time for such a luxury. Either way, she had resolved to trust Zack and whatever plan he had concocted. He'd trusted her, and a team only worked if that trust went both ways.

    Upon reaching the puddle, which was slowly burning down at this point, she lowered the jacket into contact with the flames in hopes it would ignite. But it was still slow, as the moisture needed to be boiled out of the fabric before the coat itself could truly burn.

    13 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "JUST BUST YOUR LIGHTER OPEN ON THE JACKET AND THROW IT IN THAT FIRE!"

    Right, the lighter fluid would help get the fire going far quicker. Mara pulled out the lighter and smashed between her metal fingers, allowing the fluid to pour out of the cracks and onto the jacket. She then shoved it back into the fire, which went up in a bit of a whoosh upon contacting the small patch of fluid. It wasn't much, but it did its job. Now came the second part of the plan, which was to get the darn thing hooked into the entity.

    Speaking of which, the monster was starting to recover from the blow that Zack had dealt to it, which meant she needed to move quickly if she wanted to reduce the risk of it dodging or something else happening to screw things up. It was down right now, and this was the best and easiest shot she was going to get at hooking the darn thing. Once again taking off into a sprint, she readied the burning end of the grappling hook and let it fly once she was in close. It sailed slightly over the top of the beast, which was what she wanted, as it gave the hooks more real-estate to drag across and dig into. With a tug, the hooks began to dig in, and the burning coat was already starting to spread flame onto the surface of the oozy blob. Now Mara just had to try and hold it tight while getting the slack over to Zack somehow.

    But throwing a rope, or a cord, was not exactly the easiest thing. She had to be closer to him, and had to make the toss precise to avoid the thing getting tangled, batted out of the air, or just falling short of the mark. Thus, keeping it tight as possible, she began running around the beast. Naturally though, it did not appreciate her presence, nor presence of flaming jacket being pressed against its body. Several tentacles shot outward, trying to skewer Mara as she ran, while at the same time the thing did its best to try and eject hooks from its surface...


  16. Mara hadn't even gotten a flame to flicker when the creature attacked again, forcing Zack to dive away and also causing the building to begin to collapse. Mara had to quickly grab the jacket and roll aside, as beams and chunks of ceiling came crashing down on the spot she had just been occupying. She had to move even further to avoid more collapsing debris, but for some reason one of the outer walls, perpendicular to the one Zack was now exiting through, was holding sturdy for a moment, and the fallen beams created a triangular shelter she could use for temporary cover. She could still hear Zack shouting back at her, trying to relay his plan and instruct her on what to do. She didn't quite understand the necessity of tossing the slack of rope to him, as they were not too far separated in physical strength (they probably needed to arm wrestle after this to see who was the stronger) and there was a lot of risk in attempting to transfer the rope.

    But first thing was first, she had to get the darn jacket on fire, and that proved far more difficult than one would think. After wrapping it around the hooks and tearing some of the barbs through the jacket, so it wouldn't easily come loose, she began messing with her lighter again. But even once it finally came to life, the jacket did not seem to want to burn. The humid atmosphere was no doubt part of the problem, and to top it off, the jacket itself was rather damp.

    "Ugh, why'd that pilot have to be such a sweaty bastard!?" Mara growled, trying again and again to get any part of it to ignite.

    She could hear Zack struggling outside, likely growing more and more impatient by the second as she repeatedly failed to complete her end of the deal.

    "THE DAMN JACKET IS TOO WET!" she yelled back to him, "I CAN'T GET IT TO LIGHT!"

     


     

    Meanwhile, not far away...

    For several seconds after finally rolling to a stop, Tessa just lie still at the bottom of the caved-in basement, wincing in pain and trying to catch her breath. The glass from the window had stuck into her in several places, including her arms that were now exposed thanks to sacrificing her army tunic earlier. Nonetheless, she was alive, and the monster seemed to busy chasing Zack and Mara to bother with her. If it killed them though, it would probably come hunting for her, and she didn't have any means left with which to fight it.

    "Uggh..." she groaned, finally sitting up after what simultaneously felt like far too short and far too long of a time.

    To her right was the sloping pile of rubble, which would allow for her to ascend back to the surface if she needed to. But to her left was the gaping maw of the open basement, just beckoning her to enter if she dared. Unfortunately, it was pitch-black beyond the dim light that shined down through the hole in the ceiling above, and so entering it meant groping blindly in the dark. That was a big NOPE, especially knowing what lurked in this hellish landscape. But just when she was about to make a poor choice and try to ascend back to the surface, her foot bumped something that caused her to double-take. It looked like some sort of glow-rod, not quite a flashlight but rather a kind of elongated lantern. It was banged-up and covered with gunk, but upon snatching it from the floor and flicking the obvious power switch, it showed itself to somehow be still functional.

    "Huh..."

    Not questioning the boon, Tessa now realized she could enter the unseen depths of the basement. Not just could, but she probably should, because maybe there was a back way out to escape, or maybe some sort of weapon or tool she could use against the monsters. Gathering her courage, and what was left of her strength, she slowly crept into the blackness, the ancient glow-rod bathing the room in a cool, bluish light.

    Much of the level looked unremarkable, though much more intact than any of the buildings above. There were some piles of rotten wood and unidentifiable artifacts of rusted iron, but much of the material was built of plastic or some type of metal alloy that seemed resistant to corrosion. But curious as that was, what Tessa did not expect to find amidst the disordered ruin was a table, two chairs, a cooler and several piles of deliberately organized salvage. A non-functional lantern sat in the middle of the table, and it was joined by some alloy tools that looked like they'd been in semi-recent use.

    "The hell is all this?" she uttered aloud, staking-out the odd little site.

    It was almost as if someone had been living there after whatever the occurrence of whatever disaster befell this town. But they weren't here now, whoever they had been, and it was likely they'd been dead for some time. Or at least, Tessa only hoped it had been a normal human who could die, and not some sort of abomination that somehow developed enough intelligence to organize a miniature salvage camp like this.

    Regardless, she examined the site for anything of use, noting that many of the old tools were actually remarkably advanced in design, despite their appearance of years of wear and tear. One of them looked to be a small, hand-held soldering tool, which Tessa quickly snatched up and shoved into her belt. She wasn't even sure if it worked, but something else caught her eye that she wanted to investigate; a vertical slit in the wall that appeared to be some sort of recess. Upon closer inspection, Tessa found it to be a heavy sliding door that led into what had been a sealed, walk-in cooler. Of course, it had been left slightly ajar, so the seal no longer applied, but it probably had been sealed at one time. As she shined the light around the interior of the cooler, she found it was full of something that would have put Clive McTeague into a fit of joy.

    Alcohol. Loads of it.

    There was everything from beer, to wine, to vodka and various other concoctions that Tessa didn't even recognize. Most were no longer labeled, as any label made of anything but plastic or vinyl had long ago disintegrated. Many of the corks had also rotted away, leaving more than half the bottles open and filled only with puddles of putrid moisture that was more water by now than the original contents. Luckily, many were sealed with metal foil, plastic and even some sort of synthetic wax, and these appeared to be perfectly preserved. Without much regard to what could be (and in fact, were) millennia-old artifacts, Tessa grabbed a big, wide, bottle of whiskey and wrenched the synthetic cork free. She then took a long swig, finding the whisky had a poor flavor, but was nonetheless refreshing to someone who'd been hiking none-stop without water for a day and a half. It also was comfortably warming to someone who was down to their muscle shirt in a damp, cool climate that chilled the bone of even the well-dressed.

    "Thanks up there, if anyone," Tessa saluted the sky with the bottle, before taking another swig.

    She then stepped back out of the cooler, only to hear the sound of Zack and Mara's screams echoing into the basement. It was a reminder that her momentary safety was still very temporary, and that her companions were battling to the death to stay alive. If she only had some way to help them, maybe she could turn the tide...

    Tessa looked down at the whiskey bottle in her hand, then back at the cooler filled with prime, undisturbed, hard liquor.

    "Well, I've always wanted to do this..." she muttered, before getting to work.


  17. After taking a moment to catch her breath, Taylor softly urged June to come along with her, as she returned down the hall to the common area. As they did though, there seemed to be a distinct different in their surroundings. There was almost a palpable tension in the air, and beneath their feet, the floor felt like it was slowly writing and slithering beneath the misshapen carpets. But that quickly became an afterthought as they turned the corner, where a recently acquired acquaintance awaits them.

    Beyond all sense of logic or reason, even that of a typical zombie apocalypse or risen undead scenario, the mutilated man from the cabin, from whom Taylor had acquired the pistol, was emerging from his abode and entering the common room. His body, which shouldn't have been able to hold itself together given its pitiful condition, clung to the wall for support. The shredded meat that wrapped around his broken skeleton had turned into a horrible mass of sinewy tendrils, grasping at the surface of wall and floor to drag itself forward. As Taylor and June stepped fully into sight, the animated corpse somehow found the strength to erect itself into an upright position. What was left of the head, only the lower jaw and a few jagged fragments of skull, faced them as though it wished to address the two. Or was did it even care about June? It seemed focused on Taylor alone, and it was Taylor alone who began hearing whispers in her mind. The voice, or voices, seemed to accuse her of some grave evil, yet they were nonetheless incapable of forming a sentence intelligible enough for Taylor to know what.

    Chills spread through Taylor's body as the corpse raised its arm toward her, as though trying to reach or beckon to her. Then, before she could try to understand what it wanted, it suddenly began shambling forward with horribly unnatural and erratic movement. In a fit of fear, Taylor raised the pistol and fired three shots at it, screaming for it to leave her alone. The shots tore through flesh and bone with ease, yet only served to briefly slow the thing, as the injuries meant little to a body that already had no business being animated at all. Instead, the shots only seemed anger the voices, as one in particular seemed to become stronger then the rest, its tone now clearly one of accusation, though seemingly being relayed to the other voices rather than levied at Taylor directly.

    "Run!" Taylor pushed June toward the other hallway, hoping to reach it before the corpse could cut them off.

    As they ran across the room, Taylor briefly glanced to her left, gazing through the glass windows that separated the common room from the mess hall. The inside looked like a cafeteria or cafe of sorts, and outside of being in a bit of a messy, disordered state, didn't appear unnatural quite yet. But the doors seemed to have been altered somehow, and no longer looked like they could be opened normally. Taylor elected to ignore the place entirely, as there was no time to try and force them open, and she didn't dare risk having to walk on broken glass with bare feet. Instead she just pushed June onward, until they reached the other hall, and tried to sprint down the straightaway. Because of the harsh red lighting, the two nearly smashed into the end of the hallway, as it came upon them with surprising suddenness. There was yet another barricade here, but it was much further down the hall than where the one in the left corridor had been. In fact, they had gone far enough that a clearly labeled stairwell lie just to their right.

    Before saying anything to June though, Taylor turned around to see if the corpse was still on their tail. Indeed it was, now having switched to an even more grotesque form of locomotion. It's viscera tentacles had begun clutching the ceiling, the lead group surging forward to solidly adhere to the surface, while the previous group released itself and allowed the mangled body to swing forward toward the front tentacles. It was almost like how a child might swing across monkey bars, but obviously far more horrific. Taylor wasn't sure if it was just in her mind, or if she was truly seeing it, but it felt as though all of the black, oozing wounds and pores had morphed into eyes, each one staring at her, and only her, with unabated hate.

    Why? Why did it want her so much?

    No, why wouldn't it want her? She had stolen something from it. Perhaps the last thing to give the man comfort in his mortal life. What remnants of memory or fragments of life essence continued to hover around the body, perverted and unholy, yet still clinging to the human man's last hope for peace: the gun that would end his life before something far worse could. Perhaps she ought to offer it back to it, in hopes that such a gesture might placate its rage.

    "Down the stairs, June! Go!" Taylor blurted, halted at the end of the hallway for a moment of contemplation.

    The weapon was useless against the corpse, but perhaps it would stop following them if she gave it back. But what if it didn't? What if giving back the gun did nothing, and the creature was bent on revenge no matter what? Then all Taylor would have done is thrown away her only hope at defense in a ship that was liable to be full of many other blasphemous creatures. No, they had to get away from it, if they could.

    "GO! GO!" Taylor quickly followed June into the stairwell, slamming the door shut behind her and trying desperately to find a lock, if there was one, "Get to the bottom!"


  18. If Mara wasn't sure just how deceptively strong and sturdy Zack was, she given a good indication of it when he slammed into her. A normal youth his size would probably have broken a few of his own bones trying to hit Mara like that, but instead it was the cyborg who felt like she was getting the worse of the blow.

    "I deserved that..." she groaned from the floor, realizing it was probably karmic justice for what she just did to Tessa.

    She barely had time to sit up when Zack shoved Jerry's coat into her hands and asked about the grappling hook. She had completely forgotten she had that.

    "Right!" she pulled it off her belt, "We gotta, wait... where's the blowtorch...!?"

    She realized she had either dropped it or had it fall off her belt somewhere outside. Zack likely figured that without it, they had no way to start a fire, but Mara urged him not to go anywhere, as she reached into one of her pockets and pulled out a cigarette lighter. A half-used pack of lite cigarettes fell out as fumbled around to grab the lighter.

    "Shit..." she muttered, not bothering to recover them as she tried to get the lighter to ignite.


  19. Mara lingered a bit to watch the bodies burn, just to make sure they didn’t somehow stand back up and turn into flaming undead abominations. Luckily they did not, and she soon followed Tessa in rejoining Zack, Jerry and the mercenary. It was a slow effort, as neither woman was in a rush now that the apparent threat had passed.

    As they walked, Mara took note of how Tessa was moving even slower than before. The girl had shown admirable resolve to this point, and Mara was impressed with her endurance, all things considered. But Tessa was not enhanced like her or Zack, and what’s more, she’d lost a fair amount of blood, was dehydrating, and had been walking for two and a half days straight, the last several hours on an injured leg. Hopefully the mercenary dropship was not far from here, as Mara was not sure how much longer Tessa (or Jerry or the merc for that matter) could keep up. 

    11 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "So they're not just afraid of fire." said Zack as Mara reached them. "They're flammable."

    "Very. I'd guess that black stuff was some kinda oil, 'cept it sure as heck doesn't smell like oil," Mara replied.

    11 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "Gonna have to move slow unless we wanna ditch these guys." said Zack, nodding to Jerry and their guide. "So I hope that thing still has a lotta fuel in it."

    "Can we just stop?" heaved their guide. His face was scrunched up in pain, and he seemed to be barely keeping up even though they were now at a walking pace. "Lemme catch...my breath."

    "Sure." nodded Zack. Then he held out his hand. "You can just give me that walki-talkie and we'll be on our way."

    "What?!" the guide said, giving Zack an uneasy look.

    "You're just gonna have to persevere, bud." said Zack as he took his hand away.

    Zack was right, there was no time to stop and rest, much as their three reluctant companions needed it. Even if one discounted the obvious motivation to keep moving (the monsters no doubt still stalking them in the mist), there was still a battle going on outside, and they needed to somehow find their way back to it. But lucky didn't appear to be on their side today, as it was not more than a couple minutes into resuming their hike when the mercenary stopped to point out the blob adhered to the shattered house.

    Mara also stopped to focus on it, her eyes able to zoom in and get a better look. She immediately regretted stopping, and wished they had just passed it by without noticing. Maybe it might not have noticed them in return. But they did stop, and it did notice them.

    "Is that... what you saw?" Mara glanced back at Tessa.

    "This is much bigger..." Tessa gulped.

    "Keep going," Mara urged, at the same time as Zack was "Noping" his way across the street with the merc in-tow.

    But the entity was not content to let them merely leave. As it floated away from the building it had previously been resting on, it suddenly lashed out with powerful, piercing tendrils, the first of which made quick work of a half-standing building just in front of Zack.

    "Shit!" Mara growled, realizing they were too late.

    More tendrils began shooting out at everyone who was standing, Tessa just nearly evading being skewered by one, which nonetheless lacerated one of her exposed arms in a splatter of blood. Mara was able to more easily dodge them, but it was apparent that outside of Zack, the others stood no chance. The mercenary, who tried to flee for his life, was easily harpooned through the skull, and drawn rapidly back into the mass as though he were a fish hooked by an angler. In the process he dropped the electronic device he had been using to guide them, but while that was fortunate, the place where it had fallen was not.

    There was no possibility of recovering it right now, and Mara remained focused on keeping her remaining companions alive. The death of the mercenary was no big loss, as he truly deserved no less than what he got. Horrific as it might have seemed to watch him consumed by the blob, the reality was he was probably already brain-dead by the time he got there, and Mara had watched far worse happen to fully conscious people. Like that one fool who thought he could threaten a coastal town into declaring him their king by cloning and trying to mind-control some ancient extra-dimensional shark he called a Megalodon. That worked out for him about as well as one would expect. Nevertheless, Mara didn't intend to watch any of the others get speared and eaten, alive or dead, by this disgusting blob-thing.

    "Sorry about this!" Mara suddenly lunged over to Tessa, grabbing the girl and hurling her through the nearby window of a roofless building.

    Mara could see what looked like rubble slowing downward into a caved-in basement just beyond that window, so she hoped Tessa would simply roll down to the lower level and out of sight. It was the best that could be hoped for, as a second or two longer in the open and the girl would surely be killed. Even with the skill Tessa evidentially possessed, she was in no condition to try and battle an entity as fast and deadly as what they were now facing.

    That momentary distraction nearly cost Mara dearly though, as another tendril shot by her head, just grazing her shoulder and shaving some hair free. It was fortunate she had kept herself in a constant state of movement, or that second delay would have been her last. Mara wasn't sure that even her alloy skeleton would be strong enough to withstand the force of the creature's thrusts. Sprinting down the road, she ducked and dodged several more attempts, while glancing back to make sure it wasn't attacking the building she'd tossed Tessa into. Luckily, it didn't seem it was, and even if it did, Tessa would hopefully be smart enough to remain in the lower level, where the straight-shooting tendrils wouldn't reach.

    12 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "MAAARRRRAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

    The bounty hunter scanned her surroundings to try and locate Zack, but he had evidently moved the opposite direction as her, and the creature appeared to be following, and focusing, him instead of her. That was particularly unfair because Zack was still being weighed down by Jerry, and it was borderline a miracle that this hadn't gotten him killed yet.

    12 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "THIS AIN'T FUNNY MAN!" Zack shouted fearfully as he ducked another tendril. "NO ONE'S FREAKIN' LAUGHING, LADY! YOU SUCK AT COMEDY!"

    "Shouldn't exhaust yourself screaming, kid," Mara muttered to herself, obviously in a tone that Zack wouldn't hear.

    Leaping away from another attack, Mara landed solidly and set her feet. She was still carrying Tessa's gun-barrel torch, though there was little left of the burning jacket. Nevertheless, she hoped that the cinders would be just enough to spark an tiny flame, which given the flammability of the previous monsters, should easily be enough to turn the whole thing into an inferno. Thus, as she landed, she propped the metal tube in her hand like a javelin, and hurled it with full force as the large writhing mass. The pipe penetrated the oily blob like it was butter, and for a moment, the heat from the cinders seemed to generate smoke and even spark a small flame.

    But this creature was not the same as the tar men, as it suddenly began violently spasming, while spewing ichor out of the spot where it had been struck. The entity forcibly ejected black slime out of its own body, a spitting out the gun barrel in the process. The fire expanded on what had been splatted on the pavement, but the entity itself had been purged of any threat to its own well-being.

    "You bitch!" Mara grimaced, as suddenly the monster angrily shifted its attacks away from Zack and toward her.

    But at least she accomplished the goal of drawing its attention...

     


  20. 6 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    The mercenary's eyes furrowed in horror and he flinched back. 

    "Nonono!" he said quickly, swishing his hands in denial. "Forget it. I'm good."

    "You sure?" Zack asked. "Wouldn't want it gettin' infected. Maybe we could cauterize that eye too!"

    "I said I'm good!" the man repeated nervously. Desperate to change the subject in case his captors weren't joking around, he pulled out his walkie-talkie and looked at the screen. "Uh...this way!"

    In reality, Mara wasn't actually joking. Of course, she made it look like she was, but if she was going to waste her time dressing his wounds, she was going to use the best means at her disposal. She may have even considered using it on Tessa's wound, were it not for the fact that it was already bandaged up by the time the blowtorch was found.

    Speaking of Tessa, she finally reached the trio, with Jerry in tow. As the mercenary went to leave, Mara did what she was doing earlier and scooped up his rifle. She then held it out to Tessa, who paused and stared at Mara a moment.

    "You're the only one I trust to know how to use this thing," Mara stated bluntly, not having much confidence Zack could or would even want to use it, and having less than no confidence that Jerry could use it for anything but accidentally getting them all killed.

    Tessa nodded and took the weapon, though she slung it over her shoulder for the walk, while continuing to use her makeshift crutch to steady her injured leg. With everyone accounted for, they set out to parts unknown.

     


     

    The walk was certainly harder on the non-enhanced people than the enhanced ones. Beyond the simple fact that Zack and Mara were physically superior, Jerry was clearly out-of-shape, the merc was injured, in pain, and had lost a lot blood, and Tessa was also injured and slow thanks to blood loss. Alas, there was neither food, nor water, with which they could replenish their strength. By the time they had scaled the latest incline, Jerry was collapsing from exhaustion, and the mercenary looked paler than he had when they started out. Tessa also sat down, wincing in pain and panting heavily. Of course, she was already wiped-out when they first found her, so it was impressive she was still going at this point.

    As Zack began yelling at the mercenary, accusing him of leading the group the wrong way, Mara stepped over to one of the burned-out buildings and kicked through some of the wreckage. After a moment, her foot hooked a rectangular metal plate, which looked to be in decent condition outside of this charred outer appearance. Curious, Mara picked it up and brushed some of the soot away, revealing the etched wording beneath. It became clear after a moment that the plate was an inspection certificate, dated 617 by the Lumin Health Department.

    "Six-seventeen? That's... over two-thousand years ago," Mara remarked to herself, somehow still finding ways to be surprised, "Lumin, never heard of it..."

    Thus far, this entire floating island (if it was merely an island) had seemed to be completely separate from the rest of the chunks of the city that had been wrenched out of the ground and tossed into orbit around the massive energy pillar. But now it looked like something more; it appeared that a piece of a city that was destroyed over two millennia ago was plopped right onto it.

    "Any of you ever heard of--"

    6 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "WE GOT COMPANY!" Zack shouted, turning on a heel before yanking Jerry and he mercenary to their feet.

    Mara whirled around to see Zack retreating from the edge of the cliff they had just pulled themselves over, a manic look on his face like he had just seen something he did not want to tangle with. Surely it was whatever had been attacking Tessa and the mercenary. Speaking of which, everyone was quickly on their feet and trying to push themselves ahead and away from whatever was about to pull itself over the ledge. Zack stopped to throw a chunk of concrete at the face of what was apparently a humanoid as it came into view, and while the hurl would have been enough to end a normal man, whatever this thing now was, it was not normal.

    "Not good..." Mara positioned herself nearest to the rear, hoping to keep the others in front of her, though she wasn't sure she'd really be able to do anything to save them if they were unable to keep going.

    Even so, she pulled out her revolver and sent a couple blasts into the nearest of the pursuers. The impact knocked one off its feet and slowed another, but it proved only a temporary setback as the abominations seemed unable to be killed by such means. Mara would only be wasting what little ammunition she had left if she kept shooting.

    "You need fire!" Tessa huffed, trying to pull off her army tunic as she hobbled along, "Guns won't work!"

    "Yeah, like this is gonna do anything!" Mara snapped back, pulling out the blowtorch and staring at the dense, but tiny flame it produced.

    6 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "Clothes!" Zack shouted. "We could use someone's clothes!"

    "Clothes? Yeah, that would work, who's got--" Mara turned to look at the others, only to have Tessa's tunic hit her in the face.

    "I... I don't think we can outrun them anymore..." the girl wheezed, holding out the broken gun barrel she was using as a crutch for Mara to take, "We gotta try to kill them!"

    "KEEP MOVING!" Mara snapped, grabbing the metal shaft and quickly wrapping the jacket around it, "Don't stop!"

    She then lit the tunic ablaze with the blow torch, but kept both items in-hand just in case. The flame would not last long though, as the material was not likely sturdy enough to keep for more than a few minutes. She needed to make use of it quickly.

    Looking to her right, she noticed the mercenary was fading fast, and one of the tar-men was rapidly gaining on him. Quickly shifting her trajectory in that direction, Mara swung across her body in an effort to strike the possessed man. She missed, as the second the torch reached that spot, the tar-man disappeared and reappeared just ahead of Mara and to her left, on the opposite side of where he'd been previously. And now he was more interested in Mara, and about to reach around to grab her. Luckily, Mara was fast, and she backswung the torch to its original position, striking the tar-man in the back. The Tin Man uniform he was wearing did catch on fire, but that was not the thing that blazed the most. The drooling streams of inky liquid that contacted the torch caught on fire instantly, rapidly engulfing the entire body. The tar-man made no sound, still trapped in disturbing silence, as it broke-off its attack and began flailing in place. The others immediately began to put some distance between themselves and Mara, which was not what the cyborg wanted. If they backed-off only long enough for the torch to go out, then renew their attack afterward, the result would be as undesirable as if no torch had ever been lit.

    But, the relative ease at which the black substance caught on fire was encouraging. It was almost like it was a petroleum product, though the stench it let-off, which was only noticeable when they got close, seemed to indicate something more organic and far less... of this world. But so long as it burned, Mara didn't care where it came from or what it was.

    "Take this!" Mara quickly shoved the shaft torch into the mercenary's hand, as he was the closest one and the one most at risk of being overtaken at the moment, "Keep them off you!"

    She then regarded the blowtorch. The flame could easily and quickly be turned on and off, which was exactly what she needed. If she could keep it off long enough to draw them in to her, then light it at the last moment and set them off, she could maybe pull this off. It was risky as hell, since the blowtorch had little range and required her to get extra close to the abominations, but there was simply no other way to dispose of these things. There was literally only one other choice, and that was leave either Tessa or the mercenary to die, and carry the other off the way Zack was with Jerry. But that would slow her down regardless of her strength, and the tar-men would likely keep chasing them until eventually eventually Zack and Mara could run no more.

    "Hey, silver! Can you knock 'em down for me?" Mara shouted over to Tessa.

    "I THOUGHT YOU SAID TO KEEP MOVING!?" Tessa blurted, eyes bulging as she tried to push herself beyond her limits.

    Much as Mara would have preferred Zack's help here, he was too far ahead of them and had his hands full carrying Jerry, so the young Norko soldier was going to have to do.

    "When I tell you, turn and light 'em up!" Mara urged.

    Tessa let out an angry growl as she pulled the gun off her shoulder and checked to make sure it was ready to fire.

    "NOW!"

    The two woman both immediately pivoted and began skidding, as the younger raised the assault rifle to her shoulder and began sending bullets into the first of the tar-men she could sight. Mara, on the other hand, used the divot caused by her skid to suddenly propel herself back at the oncoming monsters. The blowtorch flashed to life just as Mara reached the first. Trying to hit these things was ridiculously hard, as their flickering motions made it very difficult to know where they'd be next. But it only took minimal contact to set the tar ablaze, and soon two of the four possessed men were now being fried from the inside-out. 

    Tessa desperately switched back-and-forth between the surviving two, trying to keep them knocked over and held back with controlled bursts from the assault rifle. Mara had luckily disposed of her original target quickly, and she rushed over to take-on one of the two going after Tessa. Unfortunately, this one was not as easily dispatched, as Mara's first swipe with the blowtorch missed entirely. The tar man made several dizzying movements, causing Mara to swing and lunch several times in vain. Suddenly, Mara found it standing directly to her left flank, opposite the blowtorch and about to grab her. Her metallic arm immediately shot outward, grabbing the face of the tar man and pushing it to full extension to try and keep him away. Rather than reach past the arm and grab at Mara's body though, the tar man instead grappled Mara's arm so she couldn't let go. To the bounty hunter's horror, the black tar began to seep out of the man's eyes, between her fingers, and into the panels that made up her arm. The stuff, whatever it was, was clearly sentient and was going to try and take-over the machinery inside her arm, or at the least worm its way through until it reached flesh.

    "Ya fuckin' little!" Mara sneered, torching her own arm with the blowtorch as quickly as she could reach it.

    The subsequent blaze followed the tar right into the inner workings of the arm, sending pain signals through the mechanical circuits and to Mara's brain, causing her to cry out in agony. But it also followed the tar right back into the possessed man's head, quickly turning the host into an inferno as well. Growling in pain and fury, Mara grit her teeth as she clamped her fingers together, crushing the tar man's face, before tossing him away, his grip on her arm now limp.

    "HEY!!!"

    Mara turned to find Tessa trying to bash the last tar man back with the butt of the assault rifle, the weapon having run out of bullets. In a flash, Mara sprinted across the distance, grabbing at the hair on the back of the possessed merc's head with her still burning metal arm. Successfully catching the mullet of the man, she yanked him away from Tessa and toward her, while bringing the blowtorch up to the side of his face, just beside the temple and touching the flame to the streams of black ink flowing along his head there.

    The mercenary quickly began to ignite, and so Mara tugged the hair again and tossed him aside, so she wouldn't catch fire with him. The tar man fell to the ground and burst into flame within seconds, flailing silently as skin, clothing and tar all burned away.

    "Oh yeah, I'm on a hot streak today! Or rather, you are!" Mara taunted the burning bodies with a satisfied laugh, before turning and noticing Tessa glaring at her.

    "Seriously? That's just corny," the white-haired girl deadpanned.

    "..." Mara looked back at the burning bodies, then back at Tessa, then at the increasingly distant Zack, Jerry and mercenary, then back at Tessa again, "Just... let's go..."


  21. Thankfully, the manic expression on Zack's face softened somewhat and he backed off without issue. Mara appreciated that despite his apparent penchant for near-insanity, Zack seemed capable of controlling said madness when needed. And in all fairness to him, pretty much everyone who lived the mercenary life, or didn't grow up in the cushy comfort of one of the small handful of stable towns, had to be at least a little insane. Ironically, being slightly insane was sometimes the best way to stay sane.

    The mercenary proved much more cooperative now, though his claim that the terrain was changing was concerning. Was Tessa unfamiliar with their current surroundings because those surroundings had literally changed after she passed over them? The weirdness of this place just kept getting weirder.

    Luckily, it sounded like the mercs' ship was functional, so maybe they wouldn't have to travel any further on foot than necessary, provided the creatures hadn't torn it apart of course.

    5 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    The man's eyes frantically darted between Zack and Mara as if looking for some form of reassurance. Apparently not getting what he wanted, he started to turn around. Then stopped.

    "Ya'll uh..." he said as he held his bleeding shoulder. "You guys got something for this?"

    "Sure," Mara had turned to pick up the merc's dropped rifle, but she quickly stood back up turned back around.

    Only now she had the blowtorch in her hand.

    "Cauterization is the quickest way to stop the bleeding, after all," she smirked.

     


     

    "Nineteen," Tessa answered Jerry, pulling the cap down a little more tightly down over her head as she did, "It's always been this color, even when I was a baby."

    She then brushed past him and headed toward Zack and Mara, something in her tone of voice seeming to indicate the topic was a sore one for her. Maybe there was a reason she cared about having a hat on so much, even if the hat had several gaping bullet holes in it.


  22. It certainly wasn't out of sympathy for the man that Mara intervened. Indeed, she had been about to adopt the "bad cop" counterpart to Zack's "good cop", but the moment that the fool spat in the younger merc's eye, that entire idea went out the window. The cyborg could see the rage building up in Zack's face, and remembering what he had done to the thug in the hotel not so long ago, she knew this guy was about to be maimed beyond usefulness. And thus, she found herself in the unfamiliar territory of having to play the "good cop", as she quickly put her cybernetic hand against his chest to hold him back.

    "We need him in one piece if he's going to be of any use to us," she said to him, giving him a stern look indicating for him to get a hold of himself.

    Once she was confident Zack was not about to snap and attack her, a distinct possibility for someone in Zack's mental state, Mara lowered her arm and turned back at the mercenary.

    "I see you value appendages," she began, putting a fist on the necklace of ears and ripping it off his neck, "If you'd like to keep yours, I suggest you cooperate without question or complaint. I'm only holding him back once, see?"

    As the mercenary gave a whimpering nod of acknowledgement, Mara grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to his feet as she stood up herself.

    "Good, then we all understand each-other."

     

    As this was going on, Tessa had limped over to recover her hat, which now had a couple of bullet holes in it. Even after sticking her finger through them and sighing, she flipped it back over her head and turned back toward the others. First thing she noticed was not the three mercs though, but Jerry, who was sitting there staring at her.

    "What're you looking at?" she scowled at him.


  23. When the terrain began to shift to rocky, uneven terrain, Mara had glanced over at Tessa several times to see if this looked familiar to her. Unfortunately, the terrain shift appeared only to confuse the younger woman, whose travels had brought her from a region of much flatter ground. In fact, that area had been so smooth as to be almost polished, and while she thought she had taken the right route back to it when they left Jerry's ship, her sense of direction had apparently been way off.

    But she had no idea where else to go, and while she shifted direction once or twice, it didn't seem to make a difference. One way or another, it appeared they were destined to wander further and further into the quasi-mountainous region. Finally, Mara put a hand on Tessa's and gave her a questioning expression, to which Tessa only threw up her hands and shrugged her shoulders, having all but given up trying to maintain the facade of knowing where she was going. Just then, a shot rang out through the fog, and Tessa suddenly clutched her left elbow in pain. Mara grabbed the girl and pulled the both of them behind a rock, while behind her, Zack did the same for Jerry.

    5 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "STAY BACK YOU F***S!" shouted a man in a cracked, terrified voice. He went into a coughing fit shortly after, but fired a few more shots in their direction anyway. "You-you won't get ME!"

    "WE'RE NOT MONSTERS!" shouted Zack. A few bullets pounded his cover in response, chipping away the black rock in a cloud of dust.

    Based on the man's accent, Mara quickly concluded he was not a Norkotian or Forsthaven native; probably another mercenary who had arrived in town to participate in the war. While he could have been on any of the three sides, the tone of voice he had seemed to indicate to Mara that his reason for attacking them had nothing to do with politics or uniforms. He was scared shitless, probably by the same things that had been attacking Tessa all this time. Talking him down was probably not going to work in his current state-of-mind.

    "Shit... what now?" Tessa hissed, clutching her elbow and wincing in pain, as the bullet had grazed the bone in addition to tearing through the skin.

    "Shh," Mara hushed Tessa, before swiping the girl's military cap off her head, then taking away her makeshift crutch.

    "Hey, that's mine..." Tessa protested, apparently not liking to have her head uncovered.

    Mara ignored her, instead propping the hat atop the gun barrel, then handing it back to Tessa. She then drew out her revolver and motioned for Tessa to move closer to the corner of the rock.

    "When I tell you, stick that out there."

    Tessa glared at Mara angrily, her own defiant attitude ready to tell the mercenary to buzz off and deal with the problem some other way. But there was a flicker in Mara's golden eyes that made Tessa think twice about it, and so she instead reluctantly nodded and moved into position. Mara then began switching through her vision modes, finding that infrared was the best functioning one in this fog. She then moved to the opposite end of the rock from Tessa and raised her hand in a fist. After a moment, she changed her gesture to a finger point, pointing specifically toward the end of the rock. Tessa complied and slowly stuck the hat out around the corner on the pole, which caught the mercenary's attention after a couple seconds.

    As soon as Mara heard the movement and gunshots, she quickly lunged out of cover and took aim with her handgun. The merc was still aiming at Tessa's hat, but he seemed to spot Mara right away. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to get his gun turned toward the cyborg before a magnum bullet tore through his right shoulder, knocking him off his feet and causing him to fire wildly into the sky. Hoping that Zack had also been paying attention and would join in, Mara charged forward to try and properly disarm the mercenary before he could recover.

     


  24. 9 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "And can you walk?" Zack asked Tessa. "We need to get movin' before that thing chasing you catches up!"

    "It's a flesh wound, I'll live," Tessa answered curtly, accepting a hand up from Mara.

    9 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "O, geez!" Jerry cried as he rubbed his hands down his face. "I...I...this....this is NOT the job I thought I was gonna be takin'! I don't wanna get ripped apart by no black blob!"

    "Really?" Zack said sarcastically. "And here I thought it was your life's dream!"

    "This ain't funny, ya' little punk!" Jerry glared at Zack. "Can we please just start walkin'? If the chick can't keep up, then that's not our problem!"

    "Hm." Zack nodded thoughtfully before looking to Mara. "Such exemplary empathy! Boy, I sure hope he don't die first."

    "Shut uuuuup!" seethed Jerry. "Shut the hell up!"

    "He who travels fastest, travels alone," Mara glared at Jerry, "You are free to go your own way at any time. Otherwise, grow a pair and deal with it."

    She looked back at Zack, and was about to say something to him; perhaps chide him for wasting his time with childish arguments, or suggesting a route they should take, when Tessa spoke-up.

    "Don't you guys have a ship? We should just get back in and leave this place," she urged.

    "We can't, our fuel tank ruptured," Mara replied, "We wouldn't get far."

    "Can you weld it shut with that torch?" Tessa inquired, motioning at the blowtorch that Mara was now holding.

    "Doesn't do any good with an empty tank, and even if it isn't empty, the flame will just ignite whatever is left and blow us up," Mara shook her head, "We'll need fresh fuel and-or a new tank."

    Tessa sighed, disappointed to say the least. But after a second, a thought came to her.

    "I think those mercenaries who captured me mentioned they had crash-landed here somewhere. I never saw their ship, but maybe we can salvage the fuel tank and whatever else we need to fix yours. Not that it's likely we'd be able to find it, and then find our way back, but there's literally nothing else out here besides the creatures in the mist," she suggested.

    "If we come across it, we'll consider it," Mara acknowledged, "But either way, we're wasting daylight standing here talking about it. If you think you can walk, we should get moving."

    Tessa tested her leg a little, before nodding. The wound was painful, but luckily it was just that, and there was no structural damage that prevented her from being able to walk on it. Mara then gave Zack a nod and motioned for him and Jerry to follow.


  25. Mara's worries appeared to be unfounded, as no creature or alien being was there to ambush them as she pulled the door open. There were a couple of weapons left in the bay, and Zack directed Jerry to pick up the pistol lying in the corner. Mara did not oppose, since she figured a gun would be more valuable to a potentially unskilled fighter than a blade, and Jerry didn't have the demeanor of a skilled fighter. Of course, she still didn't trust him, but she also know she couldn't expect someone to cross this place with them unarmed. And it would be in his best interest to not betray her and Zack anyway.

    Zack grabbed the pair of gas masks, offering one to Mara soon thereafter. Mara nodded and took it, before clipping it to her belt. Even as she was doing that though, she noticed Zack's eyes lock onto something in the fog, which prompted her to very slowly turn to face whatever it was. As soon as she spotted the figure, she began cycling through her vision modes. Oddly, it seemed like there was some sort of unnatural disturbance in the fog, which made almost every mode except her default mode almost unusable.

    The pilot suddenly screamed and tried to unload the pistol clip at the figure in the fog, but luckily for that figure, the gun was empty. Mara was left questioning her own judgement now, wondering if it wasn't safer for Jerry to be unarmed not because of his potential for betrayal, but for his potential of idiocy.

    13 hours ago, zackrobbman said:

    "Think she was with us earlier." said Zack as he squinted to make sure. "Her names'...Holt? I think?"

    Mara looked back at the figure, and sure enough, the closer she came, the more she could be recognized as the young soldier woman they'd been traveling with in the underground region. Zack had been around Tessa much longer than Mara though, so the the bounty hunter had never really committed the girl's name to memory.

    "Stay alert, just in case," Mara said softly, before stepping out of the bay and onto the rocky surface, "Remember she was working for that Spire agent."

    By the time Tessa and the trio reached one-another, it was obvious that Tessa had been through the ringer. Her uniform was tattered and her body was littered with minor injures, as well as a much more major one on her left leg. That leg injury was still bleeding, in-fact, and the already pale girl now looked almost as white as her hair thanks to blood-loss. In her left hand was appeared to be a broken off gun barrel, with one end notably blackened as though it had been on fire, and with fragments of equally singed clothing still clinging to it. It looked like it had been used as a makeshift torch, but the fire had since gone out, and now it had been converted into a crutch.

    "You... you guys are alive..." Tessa huffed as she stopped just in front of the three, "Heh..."

    With that, she collapsed, though Mara quickly lunged forward and caught her before she could bust her head open on the rocky ground. Tessa wasn't unconscious, but she was definitely too exhausted to stand any longer. Mara laid her down on the ground and moved to look at the leg, which needed to be bound-up before the girl could lose any more blood.

    "What happened to you?" Mara asked, pulling out a small knife and cutting the pant leg away from the wound, "Were you attacked?"

    "They... they're afraid of fire... get fire," Tessa managed to respond.

    "Check the ship for anything we can use to make fire," Mara turned to Jerry and Zack, "and be quick about it."

    While the two men were busy looking for any tool or object that could be used for that purpose, Mara began binding up Tessa's leg with whatever clean pieces of fabric she could get out of the remnants of the pant leg. Right now, the bounty hunter really wished she had taken the time to grab more gear before coming here to Forsthaven, but there had been a rush to get her here, so she was barely able to grab more than her revolver and a couple of flashbangs, the latter of which had already been used. Hopefully they could get Tessa out of here before that leg got infected.

    "You still haven't answered my question," Mara continued, "What happened to you?"

    Tessa winced as the bandage was pulled tight on her leg, though when her dark brown eyes opened again, she noticed Zack and Jerry returning from the ship with a blowtorch that they'd found in the ship's tool compartment. Just that fact alone helped her relax a little.

    "There's something in the fog. It's big, black, covered in eyes and... doesn't seem to have a set form. It's just a blob or something, but it... it can harden itself and cut like steel. It's been chasing me for... two days."

    "Two days?" Mara questioned incredulously.

    "Yeah... yeah, ever since we got teleported here from the cave."

    "That was barely a two hours ago," Mara shook her head, "Wait, we?"

    Tessa took in a deep breath and sat up, looking between Mara and the returning Zack and Jerry. After a moment of gathering herself, she began her story from the beginning.

     


     

    The last thing she remembered was holding a gun to Mara's head in the cave, then looking up to see massive rocks falling from the ceiling straight toward her. But before she could be crushed though, she was suddenly blinded by a flash of light, and by the time her eyesight returned, she was no longer in the cave, but standing on a vast, black plain of obsidian-like rock. A thick fog covered the landscape in every direction, and neither person nor landmark could be seen.

    "Hello!?" she called-out into the void, though there was no answer.

    Shaking her head, she stood there a moment, unsure if she was even alive anymore. Perhaps this was the afterlife, some sort of purgatory or gateway realm, or maybe hell itself, manifested as nothing but hopeless desolation rather than the molten innards of the earth. As she stood there, she thought about what she had been doing a moment ago, and everything that had lead up to it.

    "Wait..." she shook her head, realizing something was wrong, as she had two sets of memories in her head, one that told her she was an undercover Spire agent, the other telling her she was a Norkotian citizen.

    Were anyone there to observe her, they'd see a myriad of expressions cross the girl's face as she stood there alone in the mist, remembering. She soon realized that the memories of the Spire agent were fading, growing weaker, while her true memories, that of her life in Norkotia, being raised by her grandfather, dropping out of middle school because she had trouble learning (and staying out of fights with the boys), having a baby when she was not prepared for the burden, and finally joining the military to try and provide for the kid when she realized she could not, were all returning more vivid than ever. Then her memory centered on one moment, a few hours before in the radio tower. She had just noticed the twitch of movement from the figure under the sheet on the floor, when all of a sudden she was completely discombobulated by being ripped out of her body and thrown into the one belonging to the girl known as Layla. She then remembered seeing her own face staring back at her, as Layla grabbed a hold of her and choked her out. But it was also after that moment, that she had begun to think she was a Spire agent, and only after that moment.

    "That... that bitch did something to me," Tessa growled aloud, realizing now that it had to be some sort of metahuman power that had been used on her, "I'm gonna kill her, I'm gonna..."

    Suddenly, a pair of gunshots rang through the void, causing Tessa to whirl around in the direction she thought they came from. She wasn't sure she was facing the right way, but she had no better guess, so she began sprinting in that direction. As she ran, she was sure she could hear voices through the fog, two ladies speaking to one another. As she got closer, she recognized the both of them, particularly the younger one.

    Gripping her gun all the more tightly, Tessa slowed her pace as she drew near, eventually reaching a slow creep as she tried to hear what was being said.

    "Ha! Rebuild? Ding-dong, hello! Your city is fucking dead, Mayor Cordoza! DEAD!"

    It was Layla's voice, that much was obvious. And she was clearly speaking to Cordoza, who must have been there with her.

    "Assuming, for one second, that this is not the imprint of where your city once stood, and somehow we're somewhere else entirely and the city is still standing somewhere, THEN, what's going to happen over the next forty-eight hours, is that an army of scavengers and slavers from the Underground are going to descend on the ruins and pick it clean of every person and valuable that is left intact. And on top of that, you're going to have scores of treasure-seekers, renegade scientists, and of course the Spire, combing through and pulverizing the wreckage to find your precious Ace.

    Tessa finally spotted them in the fog, Layla on her feet and holding a pistol that was aimed at Cordoza, who was on her knees. A third person appeared to be lying motionless on the ground, their head propped on Cordoza's lap.

    "Speaking of which though, I’ve got a call to make to Spire Command... So lucky for you, I'll put your out of your misery right here,” Layla sneered, her grip seeming to tighten on the handgun, “Good bye and good riddance, Mayor Cordoza."

    Tessa didn't have time to think, she just raised her own weapon and fired, a single bullet tearing through the fog and impacting Layla in the skull. Layla let out a surprised gasp, as Tessa advanced on the scene and announced her presence.

    "You busted into my head uninvited first," she growled at Layla, who somehow managed to turn to face her, despite the hole through her head, "Just thought I’d return the favor."

    Layla just made some sort of incoherent mumbling sound, as her eyes rolled into her head. She still remained on her feet for just a couple more seconds, before a faint beeping sound could be heard. Suddenly, the Spire agent’s head exploded, sending charred pieces of brain and bone in every direction. The headless body then finally tipped over and hit the ground with a thud.

    "The hell?" Tessa approached the body, wondering what had happened.

    She quickly realized that it didn't matter, so she instead turned to face Cordoza, who was still on her knees. The person she was holding appeared to be Valerie, who had two bullet wounds in her gut and a knife stabbed into her chest, and appeared to already be dead. Cordoza though, had a couple holes in her own abdomen, and appeared to be just barely holding on.

    "Shit," Tessa ran over and grabbed Cordoza as she wobbled in place, helping the older woman lie down, "I got here too late, I'm sorry."

    "No," Cordoza shook her head, "You're here now, that's enough."

    She reached up and grabbed Tessa's hand, gripping it tightly.

    "Don't... don't let it happen, please. Don't let what she said happen to Forsthaven. I know it's still out there... and I can't do anything else for it, but..."

    Cordoza began coughing up blood as she closed her eyes.

    "Tell your leader... tell Joseph Tynes... it's in his hands now. A city is not in its building, it's in its people. The Forsthaven people are now his responsibility. Tell him that, please," the dying woman begged.

    Tessa nodded, already feeling the warmth draining from Cordoza's grip.

    "I will," Tessa nodded.

    Cordoza weakly smiled, her breathing ragged and shallow now.

    "Thank you."

    With that, she passed, leaving Tessa alone in the misty void. The Norkotian girl stood up, sighing as she removed the knife from Valerie's body, then approached Lalya's corpse to recover the gun. She paused a moment over the body though, staring down at the pathetic headless heap with contempt.

    "This morning, I didn't know what I was fighting for," she said aloud, though no one alive was there to hear, "But... now I know what I'm fighting against."

    She recovered the pistol and shoved it in her belt, then looked around. There was nothing but fog in every direction though, fog and the disturbingly smooth stone ground. With no sun, nor any other way to tell what direction was what, she realized she just had to pick a direction at random. After finally picking one, she set out on a journey that she wasn't sure had an end to it. If this was what was left of the city after the flash, then who knew how long she'd have to wonder directionlessly before she escaped it. Who even knew if Tynes and the rest of the Norkotians were even alive? She had to hope they were, and that this place, whatever it was, had an end... somewhere.

    But as she set out, she realized that this place was not just some little patch of anomalous landscape. On the contrary, it was huge, and it seemed to go on forever. Hours went by, and darkness began to descend on the misty void. The damp chill in the air easily penetrated through Tessa's lightweight desert uniform, leaving her shivering and rubbing her arms as she walked on and on. Then came a moment of hope; a blurry light somewhere up ahead. Feeling a surge of energy, she picked up the pace and hurried toward it, soon perceiving the sound of voices around what appeared to be a small campfire. Unfortunately, whatever momentary joy she felt at finding warmth and humanity in this desolate wasteland was quickly washed away as she came within sight of the fire. The men that surrounded it were not soldiers, nor even Forsthaven militiamen, but rather a small group of three mercenaries that looked very much like the type of thugs the Tin Man had shown up in town using.

    "Shit!" Tessa hissed, skidding to a halt, but a moment too late.

    "Hey! Lookie here, mates!" one of the mercenaries perked up.

    "It's a girl!" another exclaimed.

    "Heh-heh, com're sweetheart!" the third grinned, rising to his feet.

    Not having time to turn and run, but also not desiring to leave the vicinity of a warm fire, as small and pathetic as this one was, Tessa did the only thing she could do; she raised her gun to blow the three thugs away. Before she could fire though, a fourth merc suddenly burst out of the fog with a machete in hand, swinging for her arms. Tessa was forced to duck back to avoid being disarmed in a far to literal fashion. The machete man's swing had exposed him though, and Tessa fired a bullet straight through his chest, which was now right in front of her barrel. Unfortunately, the distraction caused by that merc had given the other three plenty of time to rush Tessa and overpower her. Even with her martial arts expertise, three men holding her down was just too much for Tessa. Ten minutes later, she was sitting by the fire, her hands and legs bound with crude cords, listening to the three surviving mercs arguing over who got to ravish her first. They didn't seem to care a single iota for the fourth man that had been shot, but that was to be expected from this sort of scum. In fact, they didn't even move him from the place he fell, and Tessa occasionally glanced back at the corpse and the machete that lie beside it.

    After about a half-hour of arguing, shoving, and even a little fighting, the three goons had still not made a decision on who got to go first. Night had fallen fully, and the darkness was darker than any darkness Tessa had ever seen before. Being a city girl, she was used to the night being lit-up by street lamps and neon signs, but there was nothing of the sort here. But the silent stillness, interrupted only by distant rumbles of thunder from the storm that not seemed quite far away, was far more disturbing. As the three tussled on the far side of the fire from Tessa, the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching the camp. The thugs didn't seem to notice, but Tessa didn't call attention to it, hoping the newcomers would be hostile to the trio. Her heart sank when several more Tin Man mercs stepped into the light, their visible arrival finally prompting the three goons to stop fighting.

    "Hey, took you guys long enough!" the first mercenary snapped at the new arrivals, "But the girl is ours, don't even think about it."

    "Mine you mean!" the second mercenary immediately tried to restart the argument.

    "Don't you start that up again! We still- hey!" the first mercenary tried to shut up his comrade, before he felt one of the newly arrived mercs put a hand on his shoulder and start digging into it with his fingers, "What are you doing?!?"

    The mercenary took a single step back, which drew the man grabbing him into the firelight just enough that he could make out the details of the attacker's face. It was at this point that Tessa could first perceive that something was very wrong with the newly arrived mercs. Their bodies were convulsing unnaturally, and their heads seemed unable to stop from twitching too and fro. They didn't make any noise, not words, nor screams nor moans, just dead silence save the ruffling of their clothes.

    "Wha--AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!" the first mercenary exploded into wails of agony, as his arm was suddenly torn from his torso at the shoulder.

    Not daring to sit still and watch a second longer, Tessa jumped up and hopped her way over the dead man and his machete. She could barely see where she was going, the firelight not extending out this far. But she knew by memory where it was, and feeling around on the ground eventually produced the tool she needed. Behind her, she could hear the three mercenaries screaming and trying to fight, as the new arrivals wordlessly began to tear them apart. Under the shadow of this new danger, it felt to Tessa like it took forever to position the machete and get the cords cut. But at long last, her hands were freed, and it proved much easier to cut her feet loose after that. Only then did she finally look up again to see what was happening.

    It wasn't pretty. One of the mercs was already in so many pieces that Tessa wasn't sure where he was anymore. The second was screaming and wailing, but had already had all his limbs torn off and was now having his innards pulled out before his eyes. The last one, still on his feet, had a pistol in his hand, one of the two that Tessa had been carrying actually, and was trying to back away while shooting at the attackers. However, he tripped and fell into the fire, accidentally flinging the gun over his head, and catching fire himself soon after.

    Staying as low as she could to avoid detection, Tessa quickly scrambled for the gun, which had landed not far from her. At the same time though, she watched as the mercenary stood up, the fire rapidly overtaking his clothes and immolating him alive. Much to her surprise though, the monstrous attackers shied away from him, seemingly adverse to the flames engulfing his body. Using that to her advantage, she finally found the pistol, stood up and took aim. With some well placed shots, she dropped each of the attacks in-turn, before running out of bullets just as she reached the last enemy. That enemy had now noticed her, but she moved to keep the fire between her and it. The thing seemed completely unwilling to just go through the fire, and kept trying to move around it. Using that to her advantage, she pivoted around until she was able to find a new weapon, this one being an assault rifle that had been dropped by one of the now dead mercenaries. Once she had that in hand, killing the last one was an easy affair.

    She planned then to try to drag as many of the bodies away from the fire as possible and spend the night there, as there was nowhere better to be in a place like this. But that illusion was shattered almost as soon as it was formed. The deranged mercenaries, which had seemed dead at first, once again began to stir. Tessa tried to shoot them down again, but that was once again only temporary, and she knew she didn't have many bullets left. After desperately picking whatever gear and weapons she could from amidst the viscera, she sprinted off into the black flog...

    The demonic mercenaries did not catch up with her that night, despite her worst fears. However, she soon realized something else was stalking her in the mist. The attacks came quickly and suddenly, and she barely evaded them when they came. A strange mass of dark, iridescent material, with no consistent shape or form, covered in greenish eyes that seemed to form and then dissipate continuously, was all Tessa could describe it as. When its tentacles would lash out, the tips would seem to harden into claws, which tore at her clothing and flesh. Bullets seemed useless against it, and only fire could ward it off. Eventually, during the course of the second day, the possessed mercenaries found her again. It was then that she finally concluded that they were indeed possessed. A black ooze, not unlike that of the blob monster, was oozing out of every part of their bodies. No doubt it was related to the blob monster, and that explained why they both feared fire so much.

    With each encounter, Tessa's defenses lessened bit by bit. The rifle ran out of bullets, and was eventually torn apart, the barrel becoming a torch for Tessa to use in warding off the attacks. Whatever other weapons she had left were lost or rendered useless one-by-one. Her field rations dwindled, her water supply was now gone, and soon she had nothing left but the broken rifle barrel. At long last, as the second day neared its end, Tessa heard the sound of an aircraft flying overhead. It was then that the last, and worst attack came, and she only got away by shoving her cigarette lighter (she didn't smoke, but this was a standard-issue piece of equipment for soldiers) into one of the eyes of the blob creature, and barely limping away with a severe gash in her leg.

    Then, with her blood running freely as she tried to put distance between her and the monster, and with no means left with which to fight it, Tessa finally spotted the shape of a vehicle in the distance...

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