"Scoop" Yurik, freelance News-agent
As we neared Dark Bluff, the bone-chilling moans of plague victims could be heard for dozens of meters beyond the outskirts of town, thanks in large part to the intensely blustery winds blowing against us as we traveled. With Liam and Cillian on point, our party moved quickly to the hastily-built wall surrounding the town's few buildings and entered through a narrow gap just above shoulder level. Once inside, each of us had weapons drawn and ready as we crept through the empty side streets, but there was simply no movement anywhere.
Only the moans of carriers and the howling wind were heard as we scaled ladders to the top of a pipeline-turned-general store. Here Liam spotted figures entering Central Street from both ends - five members of the 7th Ash Waste Rifles at the south, and five crusaders of Nex Manus Imperator at the north. These new arrivals were quickly noticed by the horde, as dozens of hungry moans filled the air. However, much to this reporter's surprise, a handful of figures called out from atop other buildings and old equipment.
From the rooftop, our guides pointed out what appeared to be several mercenaries stranded in the dead town: A bounty hunter with a towering black and white coif, standing atop a two-story building on the west edge of town; a Ratskin waving his rifle on an outcropping of concrete (barely a half-dozen meters from our position); a stoic figure with a long-las and bush hat at the south end of the street; and a gas-masked man in Guard fatigues with a slung hell-gun, standing atop several storage tanks, just barley beyond the reach of the mindless zombies below him. Each called to their would-be rescuers, promising rewards in return for their survival. All had spent any ammunition long ago and they were all out of food and water.
Against all odds, it seemed as if the Rifles and NMI gangs had called for a truce. This reporter has been quite unable to determine what reasons were behind this alliance, nor how long it might last, but it is quite feasible that following their mutual losses to the Voodoo Posse and in the face of more than twenty plague zombies, each gang's leader had realized how beneficial such an agreement could be. Orion's and Benedictus's voiced echoed back and forth across the field, assuring each other of a cease-fire between their groups and a focus on eliminating the undead. Despite their truce, the task set before them would not be easy.
The battle began with the rapid birth and death of a miniature star; a full-powered plasma blast issuing forth from Orion's pistol and harmlessly melting a patch of dirt and rock into a glassy sheet on the ground, the Van Saar's aim spoiled by a nasty gust of wind. The remainder of the Rifles spread out, watching carefully for targets.
To the North, NMI's kill-team began shouting prayers of purity and cleansing, and took aim at their undead adversaries. Callixtus's flamer rasped and belched as a spear of burning fuel engulfed two zombies, sending one tumbling to the ground on fire; the other black and smoldering but largely unharmed. Benedictus sent a bolt round rocketing towards the scorched survivor, the mass-reactive round punching a huge hole in the carrier's ribcage but failing to bring it down. Nearby, Urbanus's autopistol stuttered as another plague victim was riddled with rounds, but this creature was just as resilient at the last, groaning in protest but shuffling on unhindered. Caius and Adrian both leveled their shotguns at the carrier and two manstopper rounds tore huge chunks of flesh and bone from the decomposing frame, calling out in frustration as they too failed to re-kill the abomination.
With a chilling growl, the scorched zombie reached out to grab Benedictus, who quickly pulled his knife from its scabbard. The Cawdor leader jabbed the glinting blade into the zombie's torso, punching through the rotting ribs and forcing it backwards. Benedictus's bolt pistol roared as a round exploded the carrier's head. After pulling his knife free from the corpse, the Cawdor leader leveled his pistol and purged the flamed zombie from the hive with a shouted prayer punctuated by bolter fire.
Urbanus found himself in a similar situation as the carrier he had targeted lurched forward, arms outstretched and teeth snapping. Despite his disbelief at the creature's resilience, Urbanus reached out to grab the zombie by the throat, and stuck the barrel of his pistol directly between it's dead eyes. A quick burst of fire obliterated the slack face, and Urbanus cast the body to the floor as he would any other refuse.
At the South end, Vasili swiftly climbed a ladder to a platform, aimed and fired his lasgun at an undead target. The shot passed cleanly through the torso, punching a cauterized hole in the shoulder without taking the zombie down. Heavy Zeke brought out his autogun and loosed a quick burst at another carrier, but missed altogether as a gust of wind spoiled his aim. Suddenly another plasma blast lit the streets like day-lamps. Tex, standing atop a tower platform over the street, had managed to incinerate a carrier's leg with a large plasma gun (perhaps a reward for his bravery in The Breach), and the now-lopsided figure toppled helplessly over the edge of the catwalk.
Hearing the curses of his men at their failed shooting, Orion quickly drew his chainsword and brought it roaring to life, yelling for Lazarus to support his charge. The two Van Saars rushed the decaying creature that Orion had earlier targeted but as we watched from our perch, Orion's powerful swing brought him off balance. The Zombie grabbed hold of Orion's shoulders, and bent its neck to feed. Lazarus pulled the creature's head back quickly, and shot it through the neck, crippling it instantly. The creature dropped, but as it did, it's claw-like fingers and broken teeth scraped Orion's face, drawing blood. The Van Saar leader began to move, but began to sway on his feet and soon slumped to the ground, the plague affecting his body with surprising speed.
The NMI continued to advance, with Caius and Adrian moving to flank a zombie near the base of a hab-unit. The creature had not spotted them yet, and so the gangers both aimed and fired manstopper rounds at the unwitting undead. Neither man accomplished anything, save announcing their presence to the zombie, and both swore colorfully, cursing the wind and their weapons. Benedictus managed to hit his target, but as before, the bolt shell only removed a large crater's worth of the carrier's dead flesh without ending it's existence. Urbanus stood braced against the wind, and during a lull in the gusts, managed to blast a zombie off its feet with a burst to the torso. The creature still squirmed, growling, on the ground, but it would be simple work to finish it off.
Meanwhile down the street, Vasili shot the knees out of the zombie on the catwalk, and it plummeted over the edge and tackled another walking corpse to the ground. Both of them flailed in confusion, still "alive" but not a threat for the moment. Nearby, Zeke slung his auto, seemingly frustrated at it's light weight in the wind as he brought his heavy stub gun to bear. The huge gun shuddered as the Rifles heavy fired a long burst at his target, but in spite of the improved stability and rate of fire the zombie was not hit even once. Not once in the span of a long career has this reporter heard quite so complex a string of profanity, dear readers. Orion staggered to his feet, grimacing in pain, and growled an order to Lazarus. The ganger fired his bolt pistol at an advancing corpse, and as expected, opened up a horrific wound which did not stop his target.
Father Benedictus dashed forward, revved his chainsword and with a brutal thrust, severed the head of the zombie laying at his feet. Wary of this group's resilience thus far, the Cawdor aimed his bolt pistol and shot the head between the eyes for good measure. At the hab-unit, Adrian loaded a new shell into his shotgun and blasted the zombie with a load of scatter-shot. The scatter-shot shredded the flesh of the carrier's legs but once again failed to bring it down. Caius loaded a scatter-shell as well, and unloaded the pellets into the chest and neck of the zombie, knocking it back and blasting away one of its shoulder blades, but still the thing lived, stumbling toward Caius with one arm hanging limp. Urbanus, in a desperate attempt to defend his brethren, fired his autopistol, hitting the carrier with several shots, to no avail. NMI heavy Callixtus had switched to his shotgun and blasted off a manstopper round. The heavy slug streaked by the zombie and tore a rather large hole in the hab wall.
The zombie finally reached Caius, dead fingers taking hold of the ganger's red cloak. Caius struggled to reach his knife, but before he could pull it from its sheath, the zombie had bitten his arm and ripped open a deep wound. The shotgun clattered to the ground as Caius tried to shove the carrier away, but the jaws closed again, this time at Caius's throat. Blood soaked the crimson robes, and the NMI ganger fell to the floor, dead. His limbs began to twitch as the zombie turned its attention to Adrian.
Orion's earlier wound seemed to be little hindrance as he took up his chainsword and charged towards another carrier. The growling blade swept up and across, sweeping through a reaching arm and continuing across the scalp of the targeted zombie. The plague victim fell in a heap, and Orion shouted an order to secure the area. Vasili reached the stranded sniper, who appeared to have suffered a badly wrenched ankle, and required assistance to walk. Vasili took aim and shot an approaching carrier as it stepped around from behind the tower, toppling it to the floor, before helping the sniper to his feet. With a snarl of frustration, Zeke leveled his stubber and opened fire once more. This time the volley found its mark and the zombie fell with a cavernous wound in its forehead. Tex fired his new plasma rifle, but the searing full-power blast only succeeded in burning the arm off another advancing zombie.
As the corpse that had killed Caius reached Adrian, the ganger snarled a foul curse and attempted to bash in its head with the butt of his autogun. The corpse's cold hands caught the weapon and held it fast, and a lethal tug-of-war began. Meanwhile, Callixtus holstered his shotgun and climbed to the roof of a nearby building. At the top he advanced with flamer in hand, ready to cleanse any plague zombie that appeared. Meanwhile, Caius had begun to stir and as he clambered to his feet, a deluge of flame engulfed him and the carrier grappling with Adrian. Urbanus's risky shot paid off, as the zombified Caius fell back to the floor and Adrian's opponent staggered back only to catch a skull-crushing blow from the ganger's autogun. Attempting to grant peace to his former crusader, Benedictus fired a bolt round at the former Brother Caius, but the shot was hastily aimed and bounced away into the shadows of an alley.
As yet more carrier closed on the Van Saar kill-team, Vasili slung his lasgun and hustled his wounded charge towards the relative safety of the Southern entrance to Dark Bluff. Like blockers in a game of tackle-ball, Orion and Lazarus met two approaching zombies head-on, screening their comrade. Zeke's autogun fired again, and another zombie fell to the ground where it crazily twitched about in the dirt. Lazarus blasted his opponent at point-blank range, but the bolt shells failed to activate properly; instead of exploding within the carrier, they punched clean through and blew holes in the door of a ratburger stand across the street. Orion's skill with a chainsword proved effective once again, and with another carefull-aimed blow, the head of his undead counterpart was cut free and rolled to a stop at the foot of a refuse bin.
As the reanimated corpse of Caius attempted to regain its footing again, Adrian reached down, pulling back the ganger's smoldering hood, and stabbed his former brother through the eye socket. Caius stopped moving and crumpled lifeless to the ground, his torment ended. Finally, Benedictus was able to reach the Ratskin atop the makeshift watch tower; the tracker was unhurt, and clambered down the ladder. As he reached the ground, a carrier lurched forward from behind the edge of a air-processor unit, and Callixtus's flamer rasped. The sheeting flames engulfed the carrier, and it stumbled around for a few seconds before collpasing. It did not move again.
With that, more than half of the zombies had been eliminated or at the very least rendered immobile by their wounds. Both kill teams quickly departed the street, securing heavy barricade doors behind them. Only Father Benedictus paused, taking a moment to offer a prayer for Caius's soul before using his compact hand flamer to immolate the body.Then the streets were quiet, save for the moans of the remaining carriers. Liam, Cillian, and Ugly Sean methodically fired at any visible zombies, either killing them or crippling legs or feet to prevent their escape, then we too departed the field, seeking the survivors of the undead siege of Dark Bluff.