A terrible force flung Connor to the ground. He tucked his chin and curled up. His backpack slammed into his back. Gasping, he rolled to his left, bleeding off the energy, and forced himself up to a knee.
People ran screaming and shouting in every direction. Pillars of smoke rose from black splotches on the road. A sweet, greasy odor infiltrated his nose. Shattered metal and plastic debris lay by his feet, and he realized with a start that it was the remains of a drone. To his left, Yamamoto rose into a crouch, right hand parting his jacket.
“Contact twelve!” Yamamoto roared.
Connor spun around.
The Destroyer. Not just an idol, but an avatar of a wrathful goddess of death. She strode down the street, every footfall a colossal boom. Beams of blinding white light issued from her eyes, her floating skulls, the weapons she wielded in every hand. Blasts rocked the world.
Above the noise, he heard… chanting.
The priests and litter bearers were lying on the floor, all of them seemingly out cold. Yet their lips moved in sync, their chests heaved as one.
Downrange, soldiers of the Court of Shadows swung into action. They had gone into full beast mode, discarding their masks of unearthly beauty. Their pale skin stretched tight across their faces, they opened their jaws to bare long jagged teeth. Their ears flattened against their skulls, growing pointed and elongated. Great bat wings burst out the backs of a few—the mark of the Elect—and they took to the air, their eyes ablaze.
The Destroyer spoke a word.
It was a tremendous, terrible, irresistible sound; a sound that was present at the beginning of all things and would signal the end of Creation; a sound that penetrated Connor’s blood and bones; a sound that blew down all barriers and defenses in his mind; a sound that pounded his organs and flayed his mind.
Connor screamed, his head and skin and eyes aflame. He curled up, covering his ears, the Sound washing into and through him, tearing him apart at the molecular level, erasing him bit by bit, leaving behind—
He was STS, goddammit, and he would not die like this!
He screamed again, ejecting the sound, replacing it with his own voice, a furious and desperate call of defiance and war.
An eternity later, the sound faded.
He rose shakily to his feet, his head buzzing, and forced himself to scan.
The lesser vampires were all down. Curled up and crying and clawing at their eyes and ears, spewing blood from every orifice. The Elect were simply… gone. No more than rapidly dissipating clouds of sparkling dust.
“BOOMER!” Yamamoto shouted. “STAY WITH ME!”
Connor snapped out of his fugue, and scanned.
More members of the Court poured into the street. Drones swarmed in from above. Black-clad gunmen spilled out of alleys. It was going to be a massacre, and the two STS operators were caught in the middle.
“FOLLOW ME!” Yamamoto ordered.
The men ran.
Away from the goddess, down the street, past men and women and children sprawled out and groaning. Yamamoto burst into a shop, and Connor followed.
“What’s going on out there?!” the cashier demanded.
“It’s not safe outside,” Yamamoto said. “Stay down and get behind cover.”
As he spoke, gunfire erupted outside. The cashier cringed and ducked.
Connor glanced around. Behind stout glass cases, he saw jewelry, watches, precious coins, and a collection of curious trinkets. Guitars and bicycles hung on the walls. Books, snacks, electronics, utensils and other odds and ends filled the shelves. At the back, locked display cases held an assortment of handguns, rifles and shotguns. Customers huddled behind the shelves and cases, staring wide-eyed at the newcomers.
“Anybody here knows how to use a gun?” Connor asked.
The cashier raised his hand shakily. “I do.”
“Arm up, kid. It’s a circus out there. Hole up in here until the cops come.”
Connor set his backpack down. Dug into his pocket, pulled out a blue ball cap with the letters ‘PSB’ in bright gold letters and slipped it on. He shucked his olive jacket, revealing a low-profile black chest rig.
“Who are you?” the cashier asked.
“Public Security,” Connor answered. “Please stay down.”
Connor turned his olive jacket inside out and put it back on. Now it was solid blue, reading ‘PSB’ on the back, sleeves and above his breast pocket. He unzipped the main compartment of his pack, reached in and extracted his weapon. An M83A1 carbine, configured as an ultra-compact weapon, with a super-short barrel and cut-down stock.
A thunderous sound washed through the world. The glass shuddered, the shelves vibrated, the customers yelped. It was the same sound Connor had heard outside, muffled and distorted.
A customer peeked around a shelf and keyed on the operators.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded.
He was a young man with pale skin and arched ears. But his eyes were deep black, and his teeth regular.
“We’re here to stop the killing,” Yamamoto said.
Connor slung the carbine around his shoulder. Zipped up his pack’s main pocket and unzipped the front two pockets. The upper one revealed a morale patch spelling ‘PSB’. The lower one was a field of webbing that held magazine and accessory pouches.
As Connor rolled up the loose flaps of material, Paleface stiffened.
“Hey, wait a second!” Paleface said.
“What’s wrong?” Yamamoto asked.
The customer stepped around the shelf. “PSB doesn’t move this fast, and they don’t carry kit like that. Who are you?”
“Special Tasks Section,” Connor said evenly, orienting himself to the young man.
“STS? Shit… What the hell is STS doing here?”
“Billy, don’t!” a woman called.
“You’re with them, aren’t you?!” Billy demanded. “You’re with the Pantheon!”
“We’re here to keep the peace,” Yamamoto said.
“Why the hell didn’t you stop them?!”
As he spoke, Billy approached Yamamoto, blading the left side of his body towards him, hiding his right hand behind his back.
Connor snapped up his carbine. “FREEZE!”
“Don’t lie to me!” Billy shouted. “How did you get here so fast? You’re helping the Pantheon, aren’t you?”
“HANDS! SHOW ME YOUR HANDS!” Connor shouted.
“BLOOD AND DEATH!” Billy screamed.
As quick as a mongoose, he lunged towards Yamamoto, right hand rising above his head. Steel flashed in his hand. Connor swiveled, tracking Billy, but he was too slow, and suddenly Yamamoto was in the way—
Yamamoto crashed in, his left hand slapping Billy’s arm away, his right slipping under his arm and rocketing into Billy’s throat. Yamamoto circled his right hand around his throat and raked his left hand down Billy’s back. As Billy gurgled, Yamamoto smacked the base of his spine, torqued his hips and released his hands, slamming Billy head-first into the floor.
Yamamoto stepped away from the motionless man, hands up and scanning, and suddenly Connor noticed the slim tanto in his right hand, held in a reverse grip alongside his forearm, blood dripping from the blade and sleeve.
Connor knew where the knife had come from, but seeing Yamamoto in action never ceased to amaze him.
Connor checked Billy. He lay motionless on the floor. Blood poured from a long gash in the side of his neck, gathering in a pool. He was done.
“Is everybody okay?” Yamamoto asked.
The customers shrieked and backed away from the operators.
“Clear,” Connor reported.
Yamamoto reached into a pocket and wiped the knife down with a rag. The rag returned to his pocket and the tanto vanished into a low-pro sheath in his waistband. Yamamoto shouldered his pack and checked his carbine.
“What the hell was that about?” Connor asked.
“Kid must have been with the Court. Must have thought he could climb the ranks by taking out an operator.” He sighed. “Stupid.”
“You got that right.”
Carbines in hand, the operators stepped back out. As Yamamoto rattled off a status report, Connor scanned the area.
The Destroyer pounded down the street, trampling cars and people underfoot. Dozens of motionless bodies littered the street. Houses burned all around. But the citizens—civilians and devotes alike—were beginning to recover from the shock of the sonic assault.
“Black Watch, this is Sheriff. We are Oscar Mike, coming in from the air. ETA ten minutes.”
Sheriff was the STS QRF.
“Sheriff, Black Watch, copy that,” Yamamoto said. “Be advised, the Destroyer has antiair capabilities. It can shoot lasers from its weapons, and it can deploy a sonic weapon from its mouths. You will be shot down. Best if you make a ground approach.”
“Negative on ground approach. Traffic control reports the roads are packed.”
“Roger that. Be careful.”
“What’s the plan?” Connor asked.
“We buy time for the QRF,” Yamamoto replied. “I’m going to try something. Cover me.”
Yamamoto sprinted across the road and headed in the direction of the Destroyer.
Connor shook his head. He suspected he knew what he was going to do. That man was either crazy or brilliant or both. Either way, he’d need covering fire.
He knelt behind a parked car, braced his rifle, and aimed. It was a long shot for such a short weapon, but the target was huge and completely illuminated by streetlights and signage.
He trained his holosight on its center of mass, then angled up and found a face. He flicked off the safety. Took a deep breath. Let out half.
Pressed the trigger.
The weapon barked. The bullet punched clean through an eye on the forehead. The wounded face warped into a massive sneer.
Connor worked the trigger, sending a barrage of bullets downrange. Rounds sparked off the statue’s face and neck, but the avatar seemed unscathed. He paused a moment, long along to align his sights, saw it open its mouths—
The screech ripped the world asunder. Glass shattered. Car alarms screamed. Pain seared Connor’s brain, body, bones. The car flipped up and off the road, and for a terrible moment Connor thought it would land on him. Then it crashed back down, blowing out windows and wheels, showering him in fragments of safety glass.
His vision blurred. His muscles moved sluggishly. His thoughts felt like they were swimming through molasses. How was he still alive? He wasn’t sure. Maybe his earpieces had shielded him from the brunt of the sonic assault.
Looking up, he saw Yamamoto lying flat on the road.
“Samurai!” he shouted. “Are you okay?!”
Yamamoto sat up, rubbing his temples with one hand. In the other, he was gripping something tiny.
“I’ll be fine,” he muttered.
“This distraction thing isn’t going to work for very long.”
“I’m still too far away to do what I gotta do.”
The ground shuddered. Heavy booms echoed in the night. Connor looked up.
The Destroyer was turning around.
“We sure have its attention now!” Connor said.
Connor rose shakily. The Destroyer was stretching out its arms, blasting blinding bolts from its weapons. Balls of fire and pillars of smoke rose everywhere the bolts struck. He might have survived the sonic blasts, but there was no surviving that. At least the arms had a limited range of motion, but the Destroyer was turning in place, bringing them to bear on him. It was time to—
“We’ve got to fall back!” Yamamoto yelled.
The Pantheon litter bearers were lying motionless on the ground. But through his earpieces, he could hear them chanting softly but rapidly, their words blending into a stream of liquid vowels and harsh consonants.
He fired. Left to right, up and down, he riddled the Pantheon priests with bullets.
“Connor, what the hell?!”
A terrible, tremendous shriek issued from the Destroyer’s nine mouths. It was a chorus of voices, male voices, the voices of damned souls screaming in warped, discordant harmony with the voice of an utterly alien being only vaguely recognizable as female.
The Destroyer froze.
The avatar was caught in an awkward position, one foot planted, another hovering off the ground, arms splayed out. It remained still for a timeless second. Then the gravity demanded its due, and the Destroyer toppled with a heavy BOOM.
It didn’t break. But it was completely motionless now.
“What did you do?” Yamamoto asked.
Connor gestured at the dead priests. “They were in a trance, powering the avatar with prayers. I put them down.”
Yamamoto sighed, reloading his carbine. “They said they gave their lives to the fire. They got what they wanted.”
“At least they’re one with their gods now.”
“Hey!” someone shouted down the road. “What’s going on?”
Connor spun around. More black-clad figures poured from alleys and doors, clutching long guns and handguns.
“Public Security! Go back inside!” Yamamoto shouted.
“Where’s the god?”
“We put down the avatar!” Connor replied. “But it’s not safe here! Go back home!”
Heads popped out of windows and doors. Voices shouted up and down the street, so many Connor couldn’t catch the conversation. But the gunmen continued their approach.
“Go back inside!” Yamamoto yelled again. “We have the situation under control!”
“This is our turf! You Peebs shouldn’t be here!”
“For fuck’s sake…” Connor muttered.
“The police and the STS are on their way!” Yamamoto shouted. “You’ll have cops all over you in a heartbeat! Go home now!”
“Those fuckers killed Billy!” a woman shouted.
“You killed one of us?!” a gunman demanded.
“There’s been enough killing tonight. Go! Home! Now!”
“You first! KILL THEM!”
The gunmen opened up.
Swearing, Connor ran. Bullets whizzed past his ear. Shrapnel exploded from the road and walls. As he sprinted, he loosed a full-auto barrage downrange. He didn’t care about hitting; he just needed to get their heads down.
He crashed through a door, stumbling into a grocery store. Staff and customers hiding behind the shelves gasped and shrieked and bolted.
“It’s okay!” Connor said. “I’m Public Security! Stay down!”
He rushed behind the nearest shelf, ejected his mag, inserted a fresh one, slapped the bolt forward assist.
“Samurai, Boomer. Where are you? You okay?”
“I’m good. I’m just across the street from your position.”
“I’ve got taxpayers holed up in the store with me. We need to strongpoint in place and hold until Sheriff comes.”
“Exactly my thoughts.”
The door flung open. Two black-clad shooters strode in, long guns in hand.
Connor stitched the closer one from groin to throat. Pivoted left, saw the other one running for the counter. Connor shot him in the back. The threat grunted and vaulted over the counter and Connor shot him again and the gunman tumbled to the floor with a heavy OOF.
Connor rushed the counter and aimed over the top. The threat was down in a pool of blood. He shot him once more in the head, turned around, shot the other gunman in the face.
Police didn’t do this. But, fuck it, this wasn’t police work any more. This was war.
Connor peeked out. Across the road, Yamamoto had braced himself against a doorway and was blasting away at bad guys flowing down the street. On a hunch, Connor looked over his shoulder, saw a half-dozen men running down the road.
And a vampire gliding through the air on enormous wings.
“Samurai, targets converging on us from both sides of the street!” Connor reported.
“Copy! Boomer, take out the Elect!” Yamamoto shouted.
As Connor raised his weapon, muzzle flashes sparkled down the road. Windows shattered, asphalt erupted, steel sang. Something bit his cheek. Cursing, Connor scooted back inside.
He sucked down a deep breath and issued a bloodcurdling scream.
Recharged his weapon. Waited.
The shooting stopped. Connor leaned out again. Two lines of Shadow Court shooters raced down either side of the street. The Elect jogged right down the middle of the road, completely exposed.
They had bought his ploy. Too bad.
Connor raised his carbine. His sights rested on the chest of the Elect. He worked the trigger fastfastfast, pumping out a barrage of rounds in semiauto, pausing between shots just long enough to ride the recoil and reset the trigger. Vampires didn’t need silver bullets, but they still needed lots of killing. He clustered a tight two-shot group in his chest, two to the throat, two to the face, and the Elect toppled like a bowling pin and—
A fresh storm of lead lashed his position. Connor dove away from the door. This time, the threats kept up the fire, sending a never-ending blizzard through the windows and the door, shredding the shelves, atomizing fruits and vegetables. There was too much fire out there. Connor knelt behind a weighing station and aimed at the door.
“Black Watch, this is Sheriff! We’re ten seconds out!”
“Good timing, Sheriff!” Yamamoto replied. “There’s a platoon of Night Court shooters coming down both sides of the street! We need a gun run!”
“Copy, readying for a gun run. Mark your position!”
“We are indoors, Sheriff! Everyone outside with a gun is a target!”
“Roger that. Keep your heads down. It’s gonna get loud!”
A fresh sound tore the world apart. It was like a god unzipping the heavens to pour down a measure of wrath. All around Connor, civilians screamed. Connor simply reloaded and grinned.
“Gun run complete, Black Watch! How goes it down there?”
“Thank you, Sheriff. Stand by.”
Through the window, Connor saw Yamamoto poke his head out the door and scan both sides of the street.
“Looks like the street is pacified. You can come on down now,” Yamamoto replied.
Connor stepped out, carbine still at the radar. Two gravtrucks silently descended from the sky. A third orbited the street on overwatch. Up and down the street, Connor saw piles of shredded meat and bone that were once human.
All the same, he kept his guard up. The street wasn’t clear yet.
STS operators piled out of the grounded gravtrucks, fanning out into security positions. One of them broke away and approached Yamamoto.
“Yo, Samurai. You okay?”
Connor recognized the voice. George Tavares, leader of Team Red Raven, all-round solid operator.
“I think so,” Yamamoto replied. “Boomer, how you doing?”
Connor quickly patted himself down. He’d picked up a few scratches, his back hurt, but nothing major.
“I’m good,” Connor replied. “Thanks, brother. You saved our asses.”
“No problem. RPD is five minutes out. We’ll hold in place until they arrive.”
“They’re always five minutes out until the shooting stops,” Connor grumbled.
Tavares thumbed over his shoulder. “What’s the deal with the statue?”
“It was an avatar,” Yamamoto replied. “Boomer took out the priests running it. It should be inert now, but I’d recommend we blow it in place.”
“Good thing we packed lots of demo.”
“CONTACT!” an operator yelled. “SQUIRTER! TWELVE O’CLOCK!”
Connor snapped up. A black-clad figure limped into an alley, massive bat wings shrinking into his back.
“Boomer, we’re going after him!” Yamamoto ordered. “George, I need air support!”
“You got it!” Tavares agreed. “Get the sonofabitch!”
If a brutal-yet-realistic dungeon crawler is right up your alley, check out the Kickstarter of Dungeon Samurai here.
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