Dead End, Part II


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Scene Title Dead End, Part II
Synopsis En-Route to Alaska, the Convoy is struck by a violent ambush.
Date July 5, 2021

Pittsburgh had come and gone without issue. Outside of avoiding sinkholes, collapsed buildings, and fires, they hadn’t seen any sign of human habitation. In fact, ever since leaving the Appalachians, it felt like driving through an imaginary Earth after the Rapture. No people, no sounds of life, just urban landscape reclaimed by nature.

Signs of old violence were all around, though. Concrete walls marred by gunfire, tanks arranged in a battery formation on a hillside, disabled and covered in vegetation. Massive craters where buildings should be. The death throes of the United States against the Vanguard, and then its death rattle against its most violent enemy: itself.

Akron, Ohio was a ghost town, mostly burned to the ground by a fire no one is alive to remember. The streets are mostly empty, no abandoned cars, no traffic jams. People were either still in their homes or had already evacuated when whatever happened, happened. There were remnants of flyers posted on houses, notices of mandatory evacuation. Some buildings were covered in the shredded remains of plastic shrouds, the kind used to keep out fallout. None of the geiger counters the convoy has were ticking notably, though. Someone remarked that there was a nuclear power plant up in Cleveland. No one talked about Akron much after that.

The stretch of highway between Akron and Toledo was just as desolate. There was the occasional abandoned car on the side of the road, but nothing remarkable. Most of the freeway was overgrown with vegetation, saplings crowding the sides of the road. Some birds, but none suitable for game. No larger animals, not even rodents. It probably wasn’t safe to stop.

Toledo was another story. Some roads were blocked off by concrete barricades, others were jam packed with rusted-out cars. Old temporary signage indicating evacuation directions were sun-bleached and faded, those that weren’t consumed by foliage anyway. Rusted vehicles lined the streets, making the path through Toledo circuitous. But at least there was an intact bridge over the Maumee River, one safe enough for a single vehicle to cross at a time.

It felt like they were the only people left on Earth. The rude awakening was about to come.


Broadway Street
Ruins of Toledo

July 5th
6:36 pm

Taylor Epstein doesn’t like driving with the radio on. At best he tolerates it with the volume low, but by and large the music is kept off in Scout. Ohio may not be Afghanistan, but the abandoned urban landscape has re-opened a lot of old wounds, and Tay struggles to remain level during the drive. Even after ten hours on the road he hasn’t asked to be relieved. He has to be the one to drive. It’s a stubborn point of contention. He’s tired, everyone can tell.

Broadway is wide open, the first time the convoy has been able to open up and move over fifteen miles per hour in a while. The road is in good condition, even the upcoming overpass is in full repair. The outskirts of Toledo around them buzz by; graffiti covered and bullet-marked ruins.

“Two hours left,” Tay says, tapping the clock on the dashboard with one finger. “We got a lot of sun left, we’re making good time today. I say we camp at that mark, get some rest and unwind.” He glances up into the rear-view mirror at Nathalie. “Can you grab the atlas, look for a good place to stop about sixty or seventy miles west?”

As they move below the overpass the hummer’s cabin grows dark. Tay puts his eyes on the road, knuckles tense, hackles raised. Confined spaces get his blood pumping, all that concrete above them. He notices something out of the corner of his eye on one of the overpass supports. Trash, maybe, but every roadside backpack and box is an IED in his eyes. He sucks in a sharp breath.

—It’s fine.

They drive past it. Nothing happens.

Tay relaxes, shakes his head and looks back at Nat in the rear view mirror. “Preferably some place with—

One Vehicle Back


Hart lets out a high-pitched scream and slams on the brakes. Katie comes grinding to a halt, fishtailing a little as she does. Up ahead, Scout is broadsided by a semi-truck and knocked up on two wheels. There’s glass everywhere in the road, pops of gunfire. Dark shapes move out from behind the cover of the semi.

FUCK!” Hart screams, freezing in panic with her hand on the shifter. She looks over at Elliot, eyes wide and desperate for direction. “Elli—”

One Vehicle Back


“What the fuck?!” Cat yelps as she sees the collision up ahead past Katie. She eases on the gas, moves below the overpass. “Something wr—”

One Vehicle Back


Silas sees an explosion bloom in front of his eyes. Five massive detonations on the overpass sending a cloud of concrete dust up into the air. The last thing he sees before the wall of dust consumes the bus is the vehicle up ahead disappearing below a collapsing pile of concrete debris from the road above. He has to hit the brakes or crash directly into the collapsing overpass. Already, he hears the gunfire.

One of the windows on Frizzle is blown out by gunfire. Blood sprays across Eve’s face as Stef is shot in the seat behind her. Screams fill the vehicle. Nate is screaming, “Mom! Mom!” There’s blood all over his hands. “Mo—”

One Vehicle Back


“Holy shit! Holy—Holy fucking shit!” Walker screams as he watches the overpass explode. He turns to say something to Kendall and both Kendall and Nadira see a sudden explosion of red as the driver’s side window is shot out and Walker is shot square in the head. He jerks back and then collapses forward on the steering wheel. Speedwagon jerks to the right and crashes into the bay window of a restaurant and comes to a grinding halt.

One Vehicle Back


There’s three bullet holes in Tinderbox’s windshield. “Hold on!” Jonathan shouts as he slams on the gas, trying to get out of the shooting gallery of the street. Another bullet punches through the windshield and strikes him in the forehead, ricocheting off and exiting out the driver’s side window. “God damnit!” He screams, but is otherwise fine.

Slamming on the brakes, it still takes Tinderbox a good two hundred feet to come to a screeching stop before it collides with both Frizzle and the collapsed overpass. “Is everyone okay!?” Jonathan shouts, looking at Marlowe and Spades. They’d driven past Speedwagon, saw it crash. They can hear the pops of gunfire everywhere.

No one is going make it out of this okay.

Further Back


“Get down! Everyone down!” Edward shouts, swerving off the road as he pulls up behind the crashed Speedwagon. Huruma can only now feel the presences of emotional minds nearby, but there’s dozens of pings. People everywhere, friendly and not, but it’s hard to immediately separate them from one-another. Bullets strike Wildcat, ricochet beneath it.

Destiny stay down!” Edward screams. It is absolute chaos.

Up Front

Scout & Katie

There’s blood on Chess’ face. Her ears are ringing. Castle is slumped against her, the window beside them is shattered, there’s glass in their hair and blood on their brow. They’re not moving, there’s blood everywhere. Chess can see one gunshot wound darkening their shirt at their shoulder. Her heart races. Not again.

“I uh, zigged when… when I should’f—”

Out the front of the car, six figures dressed in ratty clothes with a mix of automatic and single-fire weapons close in on the vehicle.

Ryans’ ears are ringing. He’s alive, coming to from a brief moment of unconsciousness, ears ringing. He’d hit his head during the crash. Nathalie is next to him, tangled in her seatbelt. The entire vehicle is pitched at an angle. There’s men outside. Guns.

Castle isn’t moving.

There is a grunt from the passenger side before Ryans rumbles out a pained, “Next time I’m driving.”

As his senses starts to clear, and those old rusty gears start to turn, Ryans heart suddenly leaps into his throat. Junior. He head snaps up with the intent to look through the rear view mirror. However, he doesn't get that far when he notices they have visitors just beyond the spiderweb of cracks in the windshield. Not good.

His body goes still as he focuses… or tries to focus with his head still throbbing… Otherwise, Ben’s first instinct would be to hit them with his ability. Instead, he asks those in the vehicle without taking his eyes off the gun men. “Status report?”

Nat answers Tay with a nod, even though she's aware that his eyes are more likely to be on the road than lingering in the mirror. But he can certainly hear her twist in her seat to get to the atlas when he's still in the middle of voicing the request.

She doesn't see the chaos coming for them, isn't aware of what hit them, just that she gets thrown from her seat into the side of the car. Her head spins and her hand lets go of the maps to pull a knife from her boot instead. It'll take a moment or two for her to process what's going on, but she always feels a little more steady with a weapon in hand.

She's only half aware that while she moves, she's chanting a stream of fuck fuck fuck. But she does her best to get a door open. To get out. It's panic, but it is a productive sort of panic, where she focuses on getting her people out and away from danger before anything else.

No,” Chess shouts with a panicked rasp, unclipping her seat belt so she can kneel on the seat to tend to Castle, ignoring the pain when her knees find shattered glass. She feels for a pulse, holding her breath for too long of a moment before she feels it. Putting pressure on that wound, she looks around for something to hold against it. Her eyes are wild and her hands are shaking; horror, fear, and fury fuel an icy-cold flood of adrenaline throughout her body.

When she sees those figures approaching, her eyes narrow, and the rest of the vehicle is just white noise.

The crash itself poured kinetic energy into her body; Chess can feel it thrumming, waiting for release. Without a word, she stands, shoving open the roof hatch. Blood-covered fingers splay in what looks like surrender, but instead, she channels all of that energy to force it out in a concussive blast. As soon as she’s released that wave of energy and fury, she reaches for her bow and quiver.

The only status report Ryans gets is a deep bass-filled thrum that reverberates through the roof of the hummer as Chess unleashes a wave of kinetic energy out ahead of the vehicle. The scavengers closing in on the vehicles don’t have time to react and have no way to expect what Chess is doing. The five men at the front of the SUV that crashed into them are thrown from their feet and launched backwards in the air, tumbling head over heels on the asphalt, dropping their weapons as they do.

There’s a crack of gunfire that immediately follows and a second team emerging from the overgrown woods behind the semi’s trailer open fire on Chess. Several of the shots go wide, no one here is a skilled marksman at that range. But one of the scavengers wielding a handgun gets lucky and hits her in the upper right chest.

There’s a sonorous thrum when the round hits Chess, followed by a dimpling of the air and the flattened bullet falls into the hummer, while Chess is knocked back from the force of the round hitting her like a baseball back, sending a spiderweb of agony through her neck and shoulder and straight into her back as it knocks all the air out of her lungs. The shot sends Chess collapsing back into the vehicle through the roof hatch, while her bow bounces off the roof and rolls over the side of the hummer, landing on the street just outside. She should be perforated, but her ability absorbed more than half of the force of the sidearm. The pain, nevertheless, is still blinding.

Tay grunts at Ryans while drawing his sidearm, “Do something!” Then he shoulders his way out of the driver’s seat and onto the asphalt, using the open door as a small amount of cover. He fires on one of the men knocked to the ground, shooting him several times while he’s on his back. “We’re sitting ducks out here!

With Hart at the wheel of the old news van, Gracie had been taking her turn at the control panel for the radio. Since Akron, she’d been anxious as hell, and tried to keep her song choices from reflecting that. Scrolling through her iPod, she’d tabbed into The Animals album House of the Rising Sun, about to start playing track three when the screaming started.

The iPod drops to the floor, along with her stomach. Bracing against the console when the brakes are slammed, she shouts her alarm, then begins whispering to herself. “No. No, no, no, no, no!” Each successive turn grows in volume until she’s reaching above her and groping for the transmitter. She has no idea what it looks like behind them, but she can hear the chaos erupting.

«Convoy! This is Gracie! We’re being raided! They are going to go for your drivers first!»

They already have.

«They will kill anyone who doesn’t surrender!»

Tears are spilling down Gracie’s face as her words continue to transmit clearly. She has to try and save as many people as she can in the immediate. What they all do once the dust dies down can be handled then.

«Do not fight back! I repeat: Do not fight back!»

Warning delivered, Gracie starts fumbling with her safety belt. “Sarah, put your hands up!” she screams, frantic as she disentangles herself. “Make sure they can see your hands!” It’s not that she’s not addressing Elliot, but she seems to have a good sense that he knows what to do in these situations. Kicking off the wall, she swivels her seat around to look back into the rest of the van, then rockets to her feet. “Jac!” This is serious — she’s not using the nicknames.

Gracie’s got her hands on the other redheaded girl’s shoulders while ducking for cover, looking her over frantically for injury. “Jac, honey, how does your ability work? Can you use it to find where they are? Because there’s a lot of them out there.”

She can’t possibly know that.

“Can you use your ability to tell how many and where they are?”

Almost immediately, Kendall’s voice pops over the radio: «Too fucking late there, Walker is dead! And we got three assholes headed our way, I'm hiding Speedwagon but I doubt that'll stop them! Nadira's about to turn on the waterworks, we can't let them get our supplies. We can't surrender or we're as good as dead anyway!»

Barely a couple seconds after the report from Kendall, from the Tinderbox, Marlowe's voice crackles against the gunfire as she snarls through the speaker, «Are you fucking joking? Surrender and we all DIE!» The transmission cuts there.

Squeaks startles almost violently out of her daydreams when Hart starts screaming, but she's tossed to the floorboards before she can even form a question. Which works just fine, because all the sounds outside tell her in no uncertain terms that all of her wonderings will have to wait for later. Instead, she focuses on picking herself up.

Getting onto her hands and knees brings the teen face to face with Gracie. For half a second, her own blue eyes full of calculative thought meet the concerned ones owned by the older redhead. Except for a smudge on her jaw and some similar ones on her elbows picked up when she fell, the girl is perfectly alright. While being checked over, she digs at her neck for the chain and medallion that's always there, and she huffs a breath once her fingers find it. "I'm good," she affirms in almost a whisper, eyes flitting to the windshield even though she can't see anything from the floor. "I can, but…"

With careful movements, Squeaks stays as small and as low as she can. "Not here." She scuttles away from Gracie, as much as she can in the small compartment of the van, and slinks into some narrow space that looks like it would do well at hiding her. From there she starts looking all around the space, giving it a really hard study. It seems to come naturally, without anyone needing to tell her what to do.

"The van," she explains, sounding a little bit distracted, "blocks it. I," her head tilts, but she's looking at the wall across from her not up, "need to be," her eyes swivel to the back of the van, "outside." Unheard by anyone else, filling those distracted gaps, Squeaks chirps and clicks to get a good sense of the van. Maybe there's a sneaky way out.

Elliot experiences a kind of calm he only gets to feel when his life is on the line and he still needs to be in control. His eyes flicker over the chaos and the encroaching gunmen as his mind reaches out and streams the perspective of his co-hosts. Wright doesn't need to be asked to Daydream, she announces that there is an active engagement and begins to cede her cognition to Elliot to decrease the load.

He ignores Gracie's alarming familiarity with raider protocols and focuses on what he can do in the situation. He lifts Hart's right hand to make it visible as he lifts his own. He pulls the attention of everyone in the network before he starts calling out the play by play. "Agent Castle is down and badly wounded," he says, feeling Chess's fury begin to pour through the network. "This is Chess's anger, try to separate it from your own." He's fully aware that nobody is going to be happy about this.

Feeling Chess deploy her shockwave is a novel sensory experience, but getting shot isn't. "Ah!," he barks, but manages to hold her perspective until he's sure she'll live. "Streaming Chess will be painful but she is still alive. Tay is shot but in the engagement. Doc is trapped under the rubble, hard to see… Cat is pinned in the driver's seat, others appear uninjured."

Moving further still to Asi, he sees the chaos actively unfolding there. "Stef is wounded, Eve is demanding everyone evacuate away from her. Glory is distracting multiple horsemen outside Frizzle." He pulls at Asi's attention in the hopes that he can encourage her, against all his instincts, to agree with Eve and get away from Stef.

“The impatience of youth,” the old sea captain grouses. Turning his attention to the new group, leaving the down ones to Tay.

Even as he opens his door to use as a shield and lifts his rifle, telekinetic fingers reach for the closest figure emerging from the woods. “Hhngh–” It is all the scavenger manages before those invisible fingers dig into his windpipe.

There isn't some grand gesture that would give away what he is doing. Only a twitch of a heavily calloused hand and the scavenger’s head suddenly snaps to the side with enough violent force that it almost completely turns backward on the stock of his neck.

Before the man even starts to slump to the ground another scavenger suddenly makes a choking noise. His weapon clatters to the ground as he claws at his neck with feet kicking desperately.

At the same time, a third scavenger finds him in the sights of Captain Ben’s rifle. Without any hesitation he opens fire.

Between bullets and telekinesis, Ryans is attempting to sow some serious chaos.

Too many people are getting shot. Too many of her people and not enough of their people. LeRoux grabs her own bow and quiver once she's wrenched her door open. Seeing how Chess sends the first team sprawling, she turns to the second team when they open fire. Picking her targets from those not clawing at their own throats from Ryans' attacks, Nat makes herself breathe slower and fires arrow after arrow at torsos and legs, since she's more concerned with hitting as many as she can than she is with trick shots and one-hit kills.

"Chess?" She calls back toward Scout. "Chess? Are you okay?" the panic she's keeping out of her limbs and away from her breathing comes out in her voice— too high and too fast.

The gold light that spiderwebs through her body is an ephemeral map of the pain that radiates from that bullet to the chest; Chess gasps for breath to refill her hollowed lungs, then grunts in anger and frustration. It’ll take a moment for her to be able to breathe and feel anything but pain and rage, a moment before she’s ready to stumble outside and into the firefight.

Inside the Humvee, Chess takes that moment to appraise Castle; she remembers then what she was doing before she got distracted by the raiders, and pulls off her sweater to wad up and press against their wound. Next, her belt – luckily it’s there for aesthetics and not to keep her pants up – and she uses that to run around Castle’s shoulder to keep the makeshift bandage in place, and also apply pressure so that she can join the fight.

“Don’t you fucking dare die on me,” she hisses through her teeth, eyes wet, as she hears her name from outside.

“Alive!” she calls back, even as she grabs her quiver and moves for the door.

It’s absolute fucking carnage outside. In the span of a few seconds three men are dead and their bodies twisted beyond recognition, the sonorous thrum of active telekinesis reverberates through the air around Ryans, even as the rapid chop of automatic weapons fire breaks up the bass line.

The remaining two scavengers on Ryans’ side of Scout are dropped in that hail of bullets, though in the exchange of gunfire Ryans realizes he’s been struck. He didn’t register the initial hit, but he slouches reflexively against the side of the Humvee, short of breath and bleeding from a shot between his ribs. He understands the shortness of breath, the feeling of a weight on his chest. He was hit in the lung.

Tay can’t see Ryans go down from his side of the vehicle. Still crouched beside the door he continues to fire on the scavengers that were waylaid by Chess’ concussive blast. None of them get back up. “Clear! Clear!” Tay shouts from his side of the vehicle, ejecting a magazine and grabbing the only backup he has on his person from his cargo pockets.

Tay looks back over his shoulder, checking on Katie and seeing Hart with her hands up through the windshield. He only now really registers the collapse of the overpass behind them and the huge cloud of concrete dust and smoke rising up from it. They’d been boxed in. But no one was shooting from the back, which means—

Inside Katie, Hart is trembling from head to toe, tears welled up in her eyes. She has both of her hands up, just like Gracie had instructed, staring out the windshield at the firefight happening not far away in front of them. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” Hart whispers over and over again with the rapidity of her breathing.

But sees something out the windshield and screams. “Oh my god! Oh shit! Fuck!” It’s Tay, collapsing onto his back and rolling around as if he’d been shot. But there was no pop of gunfire.

On the road outside, just off the driver’s side of Scout, there is a set of concrete stairs that exits down from the sidewalk to a low-set residential neighborhood, the rooftops of which can be seen from over the guard rail. From the stairs, another troop of scavengers have emerged, though these ones are more heavily armed. The two figures in front carry scuffed and battered police riot shields, handguns poking out from between the link in their narrow shield wall. But through the transparent shields a figure behind them is clearly visible.


Ren Nassar comes up onto the road behind the shield-bearers, eyes shrouded in a thick line of black grease, streaks down her cheeks like war paint. At the same moment, a wave of sudden internal pain comes over the passengers of Scout, a bone-deep and throbbing pain that comes in alarming, radiating waves. Tay is incapacitated by it, screaming and writhing around on the ground, hands shaking.

It’s unclear where the sensation is coming from, but it’s enough to briefly wake Castle from with a strangled scream before they black out again. But as the shield-bearers and Ren hustle past Scout, the waves of pain feel like they’re lessening, for as startling and sudden as they were, it fades just as suddenly.

From the back of the news van, Rue can’t see Ren’s approach. Instead, she feels it. When Ren closes on the van, that bone-deep ache that spreads through everyone inside, a throbbing sensation that drives waves of nausea and prickling agony. It doesn’t stay a steady force, instead it comes in unpredictable, staccato pulses. Gracie knows what it means, but Ren vocalizes it more clearly.

Out of your vehicles!” She screams. “Out of your vehicles, face down on the ground!

Up on the remaining ends of the overpass, a pair of snipers take position, watching Ren, keeping an eye out for anyone with a firing line to her.

Behind Ren, further away than where she and her squad had been lying in wait, birds alight from nearby rooftops, gathering in murmurations like starlings. No one pays them any mind.

Gracie watches Jac retreat against the walls of the van and nods her head. “No,” she tells her softly. “You stay here. You stay here and if they come for you, you tell them you surrender. They don’t kill anyone who doesn’t fight. They won’t—”

There’s a sharp gasp as she feels the throbbing begin. “Oh no. Oh no, no, nonono.” As it gets worse, she starts to crawl toward the door, fumbling for the latch. “Shhhshshshshit!” Her breath is shaking just as badly as her hands. She worries her fingers will break just trying to grab purchase on the handle. It pops before her joints do.

The ebb gives her a chance to catch a breath. “Do as she says,” Gracie screams. “Do as she says!” She tugs at the door. “Elliot! Tell them they won’t kill anyone who surrenders!” The flow sees her tumble from the vehicle and land on her side, groaning and swallowing back a wave of nausea. “Ren, please!” she begs. “Ren, love, it’s me!

She has no idea that’s the point.

For the moment, for all the good it might do, Squeaks ignores Gracie. The thrum of others’ emotions are distracting enough and it’s easier to ignore someone who’s right in front of her. Her head swivels, neck craning for a look toward the front of the van without giving up her hiding place. If she can get outside, if she can get away from the van… if — the silhouettes of people moving toward the van catch her attention — if, — she presses herself deeper into the small nook, wills herself to be even smaller and unnoticed — if

The pain that intrudes into her everything is bewildering. It overwhelms all the inputs from the others she might have been half paying attention to in the network, it definitely overrides any direction or suggestion that Gracie was giving out just a second ago. The teen curls even more tightly into herself, with tears in her eyes. She looks like she might vomit or cry out in turns, but no sound escapes her mouth.

Just as the first wave recedes, panic rushes to try to fill its place. Squeaks lifts her hands and presses them hard against her ears as Ren shouts at them to get out of the van. But isn’t the crazy woman’s voice she hears. Instead, for the shortest, longest second, it’s someone else and someplace else. A deep breath and a wash of outside air stops that darkness before it can grip her in time for another pulls of sickening, bone wrenching pain.

Squeaks keeps to her hiding place, too pained and sick feeling to move anywhere. She tucks her head beneath her arms and tries to take steady breaths. She isn’t very successful. She shudders more than she’d like and she retches at least once.

Elliot's tactical composition begins to decay along with Asi's hands. He barks in sharply at the sensation, and gasps when her link to the network snaps. He barely has time to contemplate the horror before the waves of bone grinding pain begin to radiate through him. He feels Wright drop his stream reflexively. He feels Squeaks start to panic and settle on freeze in the back. He hears Gracie admit that she's one of them. She can be dealt with later, there are more pressing concerns.

He doesn't waste time dwelling on the sense of betrayal, it just burns in the background. He throws open the door displaying his hands. "There's a kid in the van!" he calls out to whatever inhuman monster is torturing everybody. He repeatedly pulls at Jac's attention across the network as he tries to break her from her freeze response. "Squeaks, I need you to get out of the van with me or this isn't going—" his fingers dig into the door frame as another wave hits and his knees buckle. "This isn't going to stop."

Having fallen to his ass, his back against the footboard of the vehicle, Benjamin struggles to catch his breath while trying to ignore the slight rattle of wetness to it. He paws his jacket away to where he can see the shiny deep red clinging to the fabric of his shirt. Grimacing with the pain, he presses a hand to the bullet hole.

A cough brings with it the taste of copper pennies and a swipe of the back of his hand across his mouth confirms it. The revelation comes just in time for him to suddenly be enveloped in excruciating pain. His back arches against it, teeth clamped tight against the scream. Sliding sideways to his back on the hard asphalt, he writhes in pain.

When it finally passes, the old sea Captain is left coughing, shaking, and gagging for breath. Rolling over onto his side to spit out bile, he manages to catch sight of feet moving passed beyond the car. He can’t see more than their legs and the bottom of the shields, but he doesn't need to.

Ryans reaches out a trembling hand to guide his ability toward the moving feet and clenches his fist when he finds his target. He doesn’t slow there. Ben gives a hard jerk of his arm, rolling to his back and yanks the scavenger off their feet and - hopefully - through everyone else in the advancing group.

The exertion sends Ryans into another fit of wet, rattling coughs. Hopefully, it gives the others a chance. His boy a chance to escape this.

Nat only has a moment of relief at hearing Chess' voice before the pain takes her. She falls to her knees, her palms hitting the asphalt before her arms give out and she crumbles to the ground and curls up into herself. Her cries and whimpers are muffled by her arm.

When it passes, she takes a moment to breathe, to collect herself, before she grabs her bow from where it fell and pulls herself back up to her feet. She hadn't seen the group approach, but it doesn't take a genius to pick out the leader when they're surrounded by shieldbearers. Nat's teeth grind against each other as she pulls out her arrows and readies the bow. She's tense, still shaking off the pain but she's mad and that helps her focus, push through. She hasn't clocked the snipers; her world is Ren's exposed back and her own anger.

Two arrows are loosed, one after the other, as she's not confident that she can make the shot in one attempt. But she is intent on disrupting Ren and her demands of their companions. Surrender, it seems, is not an option.

The wave of pain makes Chess’ exit from Scout a little less graceful than she would have liked, as she goes sprawling down onto the pavement. There, her fingers claw against the grimy black asphalt as she clamps down her jaw and grits her teeth to ride through the wave of intense pain.

“Ben,” she grunts, when she sees he’s hit, and a new rush of fury helps to clear her head. She scrambles for her fallen bow and dives behind the HumVee for cover; deft, grimy fingers reach for an arrow, and she feeds it all of her ire (and some of her kinetic energy) as she nocks it into place. Her dark eyes narrow on Ren as the woman screams at them to drop to the ground.

Her reply is the arrow that flies faster and harder straight for Ren. That’ll be a no.

Like Nat, Chess doesn’t wait before she looses another arrow, this one flying for the shieldbearers right in front of the warpainted leader.

So much happens all at once.

So much has happened.

Some Time Ago

The fire is large, flooding the field with warmth and light. It’s only now able to reach its full height now that the rain has stopped. More than two dozen people are gathered around the fire, sitting cross-legged on the damp ground, hands outstretched toward the crackling flame. Overhead, the sky is filled with a glittering canvas of countless stars, with the moon but a pale sliver.

“Morris’ gang isn’t gonna be scared off so easy.” Ren says, using a large stick to turn embers in the fire. “They got almost two hundred fighting for ‘em. Whole hospital’s theirs.” She narrows her eyes, watching the fire turn. “Thought is, we take the charges we got from the depot, put ‘em on the outer wall and blow it. Send a couple of people to breach as a distraction, then send the rest through the front and back door while people are pulled away.”

Ren looks up from the fire to the woman sitting beside her. “Not everybody’ll be walking away from the fight. Me’n you’ll be right in the thick of it, though. Maybe that’ll help.”

Gracie looks over at Ren from the fire.

Present Day

She wasn’t. It didn’t.

Ren Nasser’s eyes are filled with rage, with betrayal. “You abandoned us and then come back with a fucking army?!” Her hands are trembling, she’s scared. “Was this always your fucking plan? Come back out here and kill m—”

“No!” Gracie tries to get ahead of it, crying out over the top of Ren's accusation. “I tried to avoi—”

One of Ren’s guard lifts off of his feet and flips upside down and sweeps through the trio like a battering ram. Ren and her other guard are both bowled over by the blow. She’s quick to try and scramble to her feet like a feral cat, the others less so.

As soon as Ren is on her feet she’s struck in the back by an arrow. It breaks her concentration on her ability but also sends a shockwave through it. Both the honor guards scream as their limbs contort, strain, and then break at odd angles. The same thing happens to the only other person close enough for this level of control as Gracie’s right leg fractures. Not as compound as the others, but enough that it sends a blinding wave of pain through her and drops her onto the street.

At the same moment, the snipers on the bridge open fire. Rifle shots ring out. Ryans has enough cover and is low enough that he’s spared the gunfire. Instead, Nathalie LeRoux is shot dead center in the chest. She crumples like a ragdoll onto the street.

Chess’ arrows take flight a split second before she is shot. While she is protected by her kinetic dampening, the force of a hunting rifle round kicks harder than the handgun she was hit with before. The shot to her shoulder spins her around like a top and still manages to pass in and out of her, even with half the normal force.

Chess’ arrow intended for Ren misses her by a fraction of an inch, but the one intended for her shieldbearer strikes him square in the side. All around, the birds that began congregating rise in a massive, unnatural murmuration, warping and spreading and nearing.

Then the arrows explode.

Some Time Ago

The fire bathes Rue’s features in a glow of orange and deep shadow, eyes glinting as she scans the horizon. There’s an uneasiness to her. The hospital’s a big score. It’ll keep them all alive longer, grant another season to the most frail among them, but it’ll also cut short lives of people she’s grown near to.

After a moment of distraction, she turns to the woman at her side. “You’re sure about this?” There’s no answer necessary. There would be no proposing something of this scale, this level of danger if she wasn’t sure. Rue simply nods and loops her arm around Ren’s shoulders, pulling her in to share each other’s warmth as much as put her obvious affection on display. Her cheek rests against the head of blonde hair.

“Maybe that’ll be enough.”

As she scans the faces around the bonfire, she catches the gaze of the other redhead. Quickly, she diverts her attention from him, too uncomfortable to lock eyes with anyone now. They could be dead by morning.

Rue closes her eyes to hide the way they shine with tears. She can’t be among them.

Present Day

The arrow that missed Ren explodes behind her, and the one in her shieldbearer explodes to her left. Both blasts strike with half the force of a conventional grenade. Ren’s shieldbearer is killed instantly as a huge chunk of his torso is blown apart by the blast. Ren is thrown diagonally by the combined explosions so close to her, and her second shieldbearer is flipped end over end across the street.

Ren lands on her back, eyes wide and bewildered, blood everywhere. Her right arm is missing from the forearm down, shrapnel from the blast is embedded in her back and sides. She gasps, staring up at the murmuration of birds overhead in confusion.

Nat?” Tay rasps between clenched teeth, looking around. He’d caught her go down. He scans over to Chess, rolling onto her side, blood at her shoulder. She’s moving. She’s alive.Nat!?” Tay screams, limping around the hummer until he spots her laying flat on the street, arms at her side. “Nat!

Snipers on the remains of the overpass reload as panic sets in, but as they prepare to fire all they can hear is the beating of wings and the sudden cry of hundreds of birds. They turn, looking up at the darkening sky in time to see countless wings descending on them as a tidal wave of rending beaks and talons. Their screams are a muffled, horrific thing.

An unholy scream tears from Gracie’s throat when her leg breaks. Darkness and scintillating light dance in her vision and a wave of nausea follows shortly after. She manages to roll onto her side before she spits bile onto the ground. The blast from the arrows leaves her ears ringing and with a sense of vertigo that doesn’t abate for several moments.

When she finally manages to lift her head again, she sees Ren’s mangled form. “No,” she whispers. Where she thought there was panic before, the magnitude has now increased beyond what she ever could have thought possible. Sobbing in terror and in pain, she digs the toe of her left boot into the pavement and tries desperately to push herself forward, dragging her broken leg along and screaming through that blinding agony.

One thin hand reaches out and grasps at the raider’s leg. “Ren!” Gracie cries. “Ren, you have to fix me!” Desperation makes her voice ragged just as much as anything else. The woman she left behind is dying and there’s precious little she can do about it. Even less if she can’t fix the break in her leg. She knows her own survival is on the line here, regardless of Ren Nassar’s fate.

Gracie slumps against the pavement, able now only to sob and clutch at Ren like her life depends on it. She can’t even notice the horror brewing above.

Something explodes outside and it’s like everything that was holding Squeaks in place is knocked loose. Literally. The pain is gone just as suddenly as it appeared, even though the memory of it is still very fresh in her mind. It also shakes her out of her huddle hard enough that she grabs hold of the side of the van, and swings a look around to Elliot hanging from the doorframe. A second later her head whips around at Gracie’s scream and then raises to take a first look at everything that’s happened outside.

With all the caution of a cat in a dog yard, the teen eases her way to the door Gracie exited a minute before. She tries to take it all in quickly, to figure out where help is needed first. There’s bodies and blood and fire on the ground, birds going crazy overhead. But before she can even decide on what to do right then, her attention flips to the overpass. It’s physical as much as mental, as feet ease from the open door onto the ground and her body follows in slow and slinking movements, she tilts her head at Robyn’s words. At the collapse that’s trapped more of their people and some pretty important supplies inside it.

That seems to decide it for her. She can find a way into the overpass, maybe even find a way that she can lead anyone trapped through.

“Elliot!” Squeaks calls over her shoulder without looking back. Staying crouched as best she can, she runs and leapfrogs from thing to thing that could possibly hide her until she’s gotten to the shelter made up of broken concrete. Every few steps she clicks and chirps, checking the way ahead for objects or people, searching also for a way into the collapse so she won’t need to waste much time searching once she’s there.

In the chaos of the moment, Gracie’s scream cuts like a knife against all the other sounds of the carnage erupting around Elliot. It cuts close to home, but then strikes him as hollow. As just a replacement sound. Just one more birdsong in the storm.

When the explosions free him from the immediate terror of their attacker, Elliot quickly rifles through the perspectives of the other hosts. Robyn’s cry for help is being addressed, he rides in Squeaks’s perspective for a moment as she makes for the cave-in. This is handily accomplished while stepping briskly across the street toward Chess and the other injured Scout passengers. He draws on Wright’s understanding of emergency aid, flickering his attention to the others to pick out what injuries he wasn’t able to see from the van. “You know it really hurts when you get shot,” Elliot informs Chess, she would have felt him streaming her senses when the first bullet hit. The hole in her shoulder appears new to him.

After the explosions, it takes some effort, but Ben manages to get upright with his back resting against the SUV again. He gives a few hard coughs, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.

Most of the danger passed for the moment, Ryans finally allows himself a chance to look back towards the rest of the convoy, only to see the collapsed bridge.

At the sight of concrete and twisted rebar, Benjamin's heart threatens to give out before the blood filling his lungs will. Junior! He tries to cry out, but the punctured lung makes it tough. He coughs and gags.

Fuck this.

Ryans is determined not to let it stop him, panic settling in and an intense need to see that he hasn't lost everything. Please god. Nothing else matters, just getting there. Hands leave blood smeared prints behind as he struggles to get to his feet, using his ability to assist.

Nat doesn't even see if her arrows hit. Whatever happens to Ren and her guard, it's out of her mind as soon as the bullet hits her and she hits the ground. Blood bubbles up between her lips as she struggles to breathe. She has always been ready to die— because the world is cruel, because she often found herself with nothing to live for, because she has survived too many times where others did not— but she always imagined it would be quick. Not this moment in time elongated by pain. And fear.

Nathalie LeRoux doesn't want to die.

And that's what Tay sees in her face. Pain and fear that have been shoved deep down for too long and regret at all the years she had yet to live. Her lips shake and tears slip from the corners of her eyes. When she hears him speak her name, she can do nothing but close her eyes to spare him what little horror she can in this moment.

When the bullet pierced her shoulder, Chess had spun, then stumbled, then fell backwards. Her bow dropped when the pain traveled from shoulder to fingers, which then refused to do what she wanted. It takes her a few seconds to shake off the stun of the blow. Under a brow furrowed in pain and fury, she scans what’s happening, all of the carnage before her. She hears Gracie calling the leader of their attackers by name; she sees Nathalie’s blood draining from her, her brother trying to will her to survive.

When Elliot appears, she grasps his hand with the one that she can still lift, to use him as leverage. “Thanks for that hot take, Captain Obvious,” she gasps out, not realizing he means the injury hurts him, as she moves to use the cover of Scout once again, crouching there, and leaning her head against the cool metal of its side.

“Can’t shoot the fucking snipers now – whose birds are those?” She remembers the stories of Pollepel, but doesn’t know who among their people have that ability. Her good hand reaches into her pocket for a handful of a few rocks, marble sized, pulling them out to charge them, to throw at the nearest group of their assailants.

Chess leans away from Scout to hurl these in the direction of Ren and the Shieldbearers, but it’s an awkward throw at a bad angle. She grunts as the motion sends a wave of pain across to the other injured shoulder.

“Ryans and Nat need…” healers, help, medical attention – but Chess can’t get whatever word she wants out. Her eyelids flicker and she slumps down onto her knees. The wave of fury that’s been carrying her seems to have crashed.

Whatever Ren was going to say to Gracie, whatever reply her shocked mind was going to offer, is cut off by a handful of small explosions that demolish her like gunfire. The marbles aren’t heavy enough to blow up with the force of a grenade, they instead hit like buckshot. It’s horrific, messy, and violent. Ren is massacred in front of Gracie, and with her goes any hope she had of setting that leg without the help of the others.

Nat!” Tay is still shouting, over the explosions, over the screams. He hustles up to Nat’s side and drops down into a crouch next to her. In spite of being shot a moment ago he seems mostly fine, but may just be in shock himself. He reaches out, at first to lift Nathalie, but then hesitates and isn’t sure what to do. Training and experience melts away when it’s a family member he didn’t even know he had bleeding to death in the street.

“H-Hey,” Tay whispers, choosing to cup her cheeks in his hands. “Hey, it’s—it’s gonna be okay. We—we’re gonna patch you up okay?” His hands are trembling, tears welled up in his eyes. “You’re gonna get to curse me out for whatever you want, okay? You just gotta stay with me.” He gently pats her cheeks, shoulders heaving. “Okay? Just—Just—”

Tay twists around and screams back at the other vehicle. “We need a fucking medic!” His face is bright red, eyes puffy. “We need somebody over here!

Nearby, stumbling away from the Hummer, Ryans can see birds circling in the sky in undulating patterns. They weave and slice through the plume of smoke and concrete dust billowing from the demolished overpass. Each step he takes brings him a little closer. Halfway between Scout and Katie, leaving a drooling trail of blood in his wake, determined to get to Jr.

Further back, Squeaks becomes little more than a silhouette in the cloud of concrete debris at the overpass. Then, with just a few more steps, she vanishes entirely.

Gracie’s reflexes are slow, given all the pain, and still she registers the smattering of what should amount to pebbles cast their way as if in slow motion. It gives her just enough clarity to shove her face in the crook of her arm and to avoid getting hit with anything herself, but the aftermath of it is so horrifying. She feels in her heart the moment when the weak and flickering flame of Ren’s life gutters and is entirely extinguished.

“No… No, no, no, no!” It isn’t the wailing of the mourning — not yet, anyway — but the cries of someone who’s just watched their desperate hope be snatched from fingers that nearly grasped it. But there are other candles whose flames are waning far more than her own, and while the worst of the fighting appears to be ending, the winds of that storm are still threatening.

Her head is swimming again when Gracie lifts it to survey what’s left. Adrenaline isn’t enough to ward off shock any more than her strength of will. Filling her lungs with air, her first attempt to cry out for help is met with a false start in the form of a ragged shout of pain. It takes two more hard breaths before she can try again, hoping her voice can carry enough. “Richard!” If anyone can help her, she’s sure it’s the man that swears death does not stick to him.

Elliot doesn't waste time explaining his humorous deflection to Chess, who's not critically injured and doesn't need his immediate attention. He gets up to cross the distance to Nat, kneeling beside her and Tay. Her wound is grim, but all of his energy goes into keeping himself skilled so he can look her over and give what help he can with what little resources he has at hand.

The hand pressed to his chest is slick with blood, but he doesn't notice, nor does he feel it slowly draining to be replaced with a growing chill.

JR… he needs to get to him, unaware that his son was huddled on the floor of the bus.

Each step is slow, but worse is the fact that every breath takes effort, rattles in his one working lung before he is forced to cough out in a bloody spray against his arm.

There are a few more steps before the world starts spinning and his legs are suddenly too heavy. He is vaguely aware of the asphalt scraping the fragile skin of his knees. Or how it scrapes away thin skin on his palm when he hunches over and starts heavily coughing.

Gasping desperately, the old man collapses to his side.

Even with her eyes held shut, tears slip out from Nat's eyes as she listens to Tay talk. She only blinks her eyes open again when Elliot also comes over to her side. He can tell that she's grateful— perhaps touched— that anyone is coming to look her over, but there's a sorrow in her gaze as well. She knows it's pointless.

Nice, though.

She looks back over to Tay, though, straining against limbs that refuse to move. In the end, she gives up with a heavy sigh and fixes him in her sights. "Don't— have to— " her teeth are bloody as she speaks, and it's clear she's in pain, but she keeps going until the words are out, "— watch. It's okay." It's as eloquent a goodbye as she can manage.

The carnage around her blurred by fatigue and the tears in her eyes, Chess rests her head against the side of the HumVee. Everyone from Scout injured, the scent of smoke in the air, the taste of blood in her mouth – it feels too much like every place she has tried to bury in the past. Raven Rock. Detroit. Praxia.

She hears Tay and Elliot, and Nat’s reply; she hears Ryans’ retreat toward his son. She doesn't see him fall, but can hear the footfalls stop, the gasp when he hits the asphalt. She can’t hear or see Castle from her position, and doesn’t know if they’ve survived – if she made the right choice in fighting rather than tending to their wounds.

Chess doesn’t pass out into unconsciousness; she just can’t will herself to move and face the consequences of those choices. Tremors rock her body and tears stream down her face as she waits… for what, she’s not sure.

The radio in the cabs of Scout and Katie alike crackle to life with the sound of Huruma’s voice requesting a sitrep. «Wildcat requesting Convoy status, over.» It’s followed shortly by the frantic and emphatic report from Silas aboard Frizzle.

«Priority message for Richard Cardinal! If you can hear this — eye in the sky says that Nathalie LeRoux's been shot in the chest, needs immediate aid! We can't get to her, but you can! If you act now, you can save her! If anyone's near Richard, pass that on!»

Nearby to the carnage, a sparrow settles on Ryans’ shoulder. The bird chirps at him, determined, then gently pecks at his neck. It rouses him from a moment of what felt like sleep, and its incessant pecking and chirping draws him back from the grasping embrace of a sleep from which there is no waking.

Hart, seeing Ryans laying in the street, slides out of the van and hurries past where Gracie lays without looking at her. She drops into a crouch beside Ryans, eyes puffy and red, tears cutting clean lines on grimy cheeks. She fumbles, trying to find a place to put pressure, but it doesn’t make sense to press down on a lung. She chokes back a gasping, helpless sob and mumbles, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again. She doesn’t know how to help.

Tay, beside Elliot, watches him doing his best to try and stabilize her. But even as he pops the buttons on her shirt to get a better look at the wound in her sternum full like a swimming pool with blood, he can tell that there’s nothing that can be done. Her lungs are filling with blood. She’s bleeding out and drowning simultaneously.

Tay doesn’t stop holding Nat’s cheeks. “You’re gonna be okay,” he whispers. “You’re gonna be alright.” His hands tremble and he openly sobs next to her. This is not just a half-sister he never knew, this is the sister he couldn’t save from drowning, making the same choking noises Emily did as she was swept under the waves. He’s losing her again.

Everyone is losing something today.

Some, more than others.

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