Dead End, Part IV


ff_ace_icon.gif ff_asi_icon.gif ff_else_icon.gif eve_icon.gif ff_glory_icon.gif ff_jonathan_icon.gif ff_jr_icon.gif ff_marlowe_icon.gif ff_monica_icon.gif ff_natalie_icon.gif ff_nate_icon.gif ff_nick_icon.gif ff_silas2_icon.gif ff_stef2_icon.gif

Scene Title Dead End, Part IV
Synopsis During the ambush, Frizzle and Tinderbox are cut off from the rest of the convoy and come under assault.
Date July 5, 2021

Broadway Street
Ruins of Toledo

July 5th
6:37 pm

Mom! MOM!” Nate screams, pawing at his mother’s arm. Stef slurs something, tries pushing Nate away, fear in her eyes before unconsciousness claims her. Blood seeps into the seat, she’d been shot straight through the stomach. Eve can see the hole in the seat beside her where she was almost struck.



Ice blue eyes shift from side to side below heavy eyelids.


Natalie Gray lurches out of her seat, clutching her side. Blood flows from between her fingers. She glances around feverishly, standing up in spite of the pain. There’s people coming from up the street, dressed like scavengers, armed with a potpourri of firearms. Gunfire pops in the distance, a roar of motorcycles.

Glory is up and out of her seat in an instant, vaulting across the aisle and then passes through the side of the bus like a ghost. She lands on the street outside, screaming at the top of her lungs, trying to draw gunfire away from the bus as people on horseback come riding into view.

"No." Crimson eyes flash as they widen in shock, fingertips tracing the blood on her clothes and face. She hadn't seen this, it still hadn't worked. Time seems to slow for Eve and she pulls on her experience in extremely volatile situations as an anchor. First instinct is lunge for her sister but Stef is not just her family here, she holds something terrifying within her.

Unable to move, Peter can feel the lifeblood draining out of him as he lays on his back, vision darkening in that horrible sensation so reminiscent of his last moments bleeding in the rain outside of Pinehearst. "H—hey…" A rasping voice weakly calls out, and Peter can barely turn to look with horrified eyes as he sees Else crawling on her hands and knees over to him. "Hey—oh my God—" her cheeks are wet with tears, eyes reddened as she reaches out a hand for him, "I'm—I'm gonna' call for help—I'm—"

Now he knows why Feng was running.

Before Peter can gurgle out a strangled warning, the black vapor escaping his body reaches out like grasping, needy hands, fingers of shadow coiling around Else's proffered hand as a howl of pain escapes the young woman. She recoils, like a child touching a hot stovetop, but the shadow stretches and pulls with her, thinning at the middle like some diaphanous mist.

Peter struggles to move, a wet sound in the back of his throat all of the warning and horrified reaction he can give as he watches the skin on Else's right hand begin to turn black and gray, veins darkening beneath her skin before bones become visible beneath receding flesh.

"No," Peter weakly manages to rasp out as his throat begins to repair itself as Else's life-force is siphoned away from her body "No!" This time louder, but still strangled sounding, as he watches Else fall backwards and begin thrashing around on the ground, trying to scrape the shadows off of her, and Peter is forced to watch, immobilized by his injuries, as half of her face begins to harden and turn gray, then crack and split revealing blackened ash and white bone. One of her eyes turns white, then shrivels in the socket as her screaming turns dry and hoarse.

Tears well up in Peter's eyes as he feels Feng's bullets being forced up and out of his body as his wounds stitch themselves shut. By the time he can move, Else has ceased moving. Her hair has curled and turned white, lips pulled back to reveal her teeth, and her arms are wrapped around her midsection; that terrified mixture of pain and fear plastered across her face the last thing she'll ever express.

Eve remembers.

"No!" Moving instead to grab her nephew's whole body and press them both back away from Stef down the aisle, "No! Nathan!" Tears streaming down her cheeks as she wrestles the boy away. "Everyone back!" There are gunshots outside and all hands would be needed but Eve feels at a loss as to what to do besides getting everyone away from Stef at the moment.

"If you don't move away from Stef you will be turned to ASH! MOVE AWAY!"

It doesn't feel right to Eve, but it doesn't feel right to let Stef and Peter's son be drained of his life force either. She feels as if she's being torn into two, wanting to grasp Stef's hand and tell her to hold on. Hold on sister.

Despite all the training that his dad had been putting him through in their down time in the trip, JR is currently wedged down between seats on the floor and has been since the chaos began. Long legs pulled up, with an arm around them and the other over his head.

Sure there had been other battles when he was on the Cerberus, but this was different. His dad and aunt, the ever calm and confident leaders weren’t there. So JR felt blinding terror. A feeling he hadn't felt since he survived the bombing of his home.

Lost in past trauma, all JR can do is watch with wide eyes as blood lazily drips to the floor across from him, one drop at a time.

For a split second, Silas's eyes widen in horror. Fire. Explosions. Screaming. Blood. Then his face hardens; he slams the gearshift to park and ducks out of the driver seat, into the aisle… and spots Glory leaping through the goddamn side of the bus and taking the fight to them.

For a moment, despite everything, his lips curl into a smile. Attagirl, he thinks, but does not say. For a moment, he starts to reach out with his power to cloak her… but if she's got Spades' trick, she's probably good for the moment.

That smile dies fast when the radio squawks up, though.

«Convoy! This is Gracie! We’re being raided! They are going to go for your drivers first! They will kill anyone who doesn’t surrender! Do not fight back! I repeat: Do not — »

Silas mutes the radio immediately and with fury. "Belay that garbage noise," he spits. Let them try to come for me, and they'll envy the dead, he thinks, seething… though after a moment he reaches up to turn the radio volume back up, in case anyone has anything to say that isn't shit.

«// —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!//»

The urge to open the doors and go out and murder every mother's son out there is strong… but first thing's first. Protect your crew.

"Everyone stay low!" he calls. "I saw riders outside. What's the situation back there?" It sure doesn't look like anything good.

Obviously the shout to stay low applies to everyone… except Monica. As soon as she finds her feet, she grabs a rifle and swings out of the broken window feet first. She runs around the bus, trying to catch sight of who is attacking them, how many, and trying to draw some fire to better pinpoint where individual fighters might be.

She does intend to dodge, of course, and has confidence in her own speed and steadiness. The worry of taking a hit does nothing to slow her steps or make her take proper cover. Not until she has some gauge on their situation.

Asi has one of her clean shirts balled in her hand, stalled by Eve's warning. She waits one heartbeat. Then a second. "Move," she finally growls out. "Move!" She shoves her way toward the seat where Stef lies bleeding from her injury with the intention of saving someone.

Stef, if possible. The rest of them in the bus, if not.

"Wright, medical," she prays into the air as she gets an eyeful of what's happening. She pulls for that external skill desperately needed now. If this looks bad, unsalvageable to a more trained eye than hers… then this shifts from trying to stop the bleeding to trying to get Stef out the back of the bus.

"Stef?" Asi pleads, hoping to see signs of consciousness. "Stef! 司書, come on, look at me."

In an instant, Nick is on his knees, head low, as he peers out at the street. A tight-jawed nod is given to Silas for turning off the radio and its talk of surrender. A gun slides from his pocket, his copy of Pride and Prejudice now splattered with blood to add to the water damage.

“‘Sound trumpets! Let our bloody colors wave! And either victory, or else a grave,’” he murmurs – once he was called Bragi, for his penchant for literature and poetry. There’s only been one fight he turned away from in his life.

He calls those former foes his allies now.

Narrowing his gaze on one of the riders, the broken window provides him with open air from which to shoot. The trigger is pulled.

This isn’t Nick Ruskin’s first raid. He fires out the window with dead-eye precision. Even at a hundred feet it doesn’t take perfect aim to hit a target as large as a horse, and this pirate has no compunctions about injuring an animal. Shot, the horse rears up in pain and throws its rider, sending him toppling to the street with one leg still in the stirrups. As the horse starts to gallop away, it drags its rider across the pavement.

Inside the bus, Nate is screaming, kicking his legs as Eve pulls him away from Gillian. “No! No! Lemme go! Mom! Mom!” He’s a pain in the ass to wrestle, flying up and down and trying to pry himself out of Eve’s grip, but he’s just a child and his flight doesn’t have proper power yet. He’s just an unruly balloon in her arms.

Stef is fading in and out of consciousness, blue eyes partly rolled back in her head, blood pulsing between her fingers. Her mouth opens, lips move, she says something but it’s gibberish. “What… curious creature…”

But Asi failed to heed Eve’s warning. As she tries to move Stef, the physical contact with the brunette’s body causes an immediate and painful prickling sensation to surge up her arms. Asi can see her veins blacken on her hands, skin immediately losing its pallor and turning papery as if she was both rapidly aging and decaying at the same time.

Not yet,” is a harsh whisper in Asi’s ear as Else comes out of nowhere from between two seats and grabs her by the shoulders, pulling her away from Stef.

Outside, Monica finds herself drawing zero gunfire. In fact the two remaining horsemen riding toward the bus seem to be looking through her. They train their firearms and shoot at Glory, who flickers and gutters in and out of physical space, zigging and zagging, running out into the intersection in the middle of the road.

But while the two riders are a danger, Monica sees the larger one coming from the street to the north. Ten scavengers on foot, armed with a mix of guns, clubs, knives, and makeshift axes converging on Tinderbox.

“Go, go!” Jonathan shouts inside Tinderbox, seeing the ten scavengers coming from up the road.

One of them, a huge man with a thick beard armed with a shotgun, shouts to the tanker truck. “Come out! Hands up! We don’t wanna have to kill no more of you!

"You may try," comes a patronizing chide from directly behind that man, right before the back of his chest explodes with a fist that's suddenly formed within it– around his heart. The relevant arm is removed swiftly, that key organ wrenched free with wretched force.

Ace has been missing from the Tinderbox's cabin from the moment it lurched to a stop, having continued forward with its movement and simply blurred out of reality for a time.

Until now, in fact.

He uses his aggressive phasing once more to move through the man, catching hold of the shotgun of the man falling to his knees with briefly tangible hands before the whole of him turns intangible, invisible once more for one breath– two–

Another gun-wielder at the fringe of the group is blasted from the side with a burst from the shotgun fired nearly point-blank into them as he reappears once more. Spades' nostrils flare in a heavy exhale as he racks another round in the shotgun and surveys the rest of their attackers.

He whispers to himself, "Vengeance'n my heart; death, my hands…" and steps forward, his shadow disappearing on the ground as he moves.

Since the explosion and Tinderbox's tire-squealing halt and crash against the Frizzle bus, Marlowe's taken cover beneath the sightlines of the windows. Hearing the radio broadcast from Gracie, then hearing the response from Kendall that Walker is dead seems to be the first real catalyst to the woman taking any action. She grabs the CB radio speaker from her position and snarls, "«Are you fucking joking? Surrender and we all DIE!» She throws the radio speaker aside and reaches for a stuffed waxed canvas duffel bag beneath the seat that contains… tools. Let's say tools.

"We're dead in the water if we stop here." Sea battles may have slightly different tactics, but she applies the concept nonetheless - stop and get boarded, or keep moving. Marlowe stuffs a pistol against her back, then drops a double-barred sawed off shotgun, a handful of shells, and a K-bar knife onto the seat for Jonathan. Then, hoisting the duffel against her back and shoulder, the zipper partly open and innards bristling, she takes a handaxe and the large saw they'd used for chopping up debris and firewood.

The Syndicate leader practically kicks open the passenger side door and exits the Tinderbox. At the sight of the scavs, at their huge leader, Marlowe pauses to evaluate having brought an axe to a gunfight. But as she's sizing up her potential opponent, the man's chest bursts. Surprise first, then a wicked smile crosses Marlowe's face. It's go time.

As Spades wreaks havoc amongst the raiders, Marlowe lifts her fingers up to blast a two bar whistle from her lips. It's a heads-up signal, those who have fought alongside the Syndicate leader know it well. In particular, she's signaled in Morse code: "M" for Monica. Then, Marlowe lobs the axe in her hand in an arcing parabolic throw, a no-look pass, to the partner she fully expects to have heard and received.

She doesn't wait to see if the axe is caught. Marlowe bursts into a run for the scavengers. As she moves, her irises shift brown to the color of molten gold, the saw at her side suddenly crackling with blue-white energy as it shapeshifts into a Klingon bat'leth.

“What the fuck, what the fuck, WHAT THE FUCK!” Are the panicked screams from the scavenger team as Monica and Spades don’t fight in retreat but come right the fuck for them. The dead of one of the gang’s leaders is a morale grenade thrown at their feet and the gruesome way in which he was dispatched even more so. Disoriented and terrified, the skirmishers that had been advancing on the Tinderbox halt their advance.

One who had boldly gotten in too close meets with Marlowe first and his police baton does nothing to save him from the forward-facing prongs of a science-fiction nightmare brought to bear on him. Even though he blocks, the bat’leth does exactly as it was designed to do as it forces the curving blades straight down into the defender’s shoulder and collar. The young man crumples to the ground with a scream of pain.

Two more scavengers rush in to try and save him, but Marlowe is quick enough to parry an incoming hatchet with her transmuted weapon. The second scavenger gets past her guard with a tire iron and strikes her across the back of her ribs, the blow hurts but due to the odd angle of attack nothing breaks.

Spades draws gunfire from the now retreating scavengers, but they fail to understand the scope of his ability when he’s able to flicker intangible away from the harm he’s aware of.

Jonathan, meanwhile, is left holding the bag with Tinderbox and the narrow streets and unknown roadblocks give him nothing to work with. “Lowe, wait!” He yelps, opening the driver’s side door only to be shot square in the chest as he does. Jonathan tumbles out of the truck, cursing, but gets back up on his feet, looking up and around.

Snipers!” Jonathan shouts, unphased by the rifle round. “Snipers! Rooftops!” The noise of the gunfight has roused all the local birds from their treetops and roosts on old, abandoned homes. They scatter to the air, swirl, and then flow back into one-another like a murmuration of starlings.

A twitch of her eyebrows at Else and Asi but Eve screams nothing more. Stephanie would have to heal herself another way. Eve grows tense at the thought and her fear grows for the rest of the passengers of the bus.

With the priority of Nate being taken care of and seeing Asi being assisted by Else it leaves only Stef as a blaring issue that almost paralyzes Eve. There was not much she could do right now for her best friend's other self but she could buy her time. "Watch him!" Else you are now the babysitter. Beginning to climb out of the bus, a bullet wizzes past her ear and she yelps and falls out towards the ground. "Don't wait up! Moni, I'm coming!" Adrenaline pumping through her system the former seer screams her battle cry, everyone had one, "Voy al baño!!!!"

In all of her worry for Stef and Nate, Eve hadn't gotten to appreciate the chaos they were currently surrounded by. When she does it's like a blissful breeze caressing her cheek, she lives in chaos.

Blood red tendrils flee from pale fingers spiraling outward and unraveling Eve's body from her arm up, before she hits the ground her whole form bursts into that crimson cloud and she rises into the air, the people shine like twinkling lights below on the ground. Energy flaring like a beacon for the woman to follow.

Two shiny lights in the form of the gunmen on the rooftop are easy pickings for the group assembled.

The crimson mist speeds towards the nearest of the two snipers with glee. From within the cloud, a sound bubbles out twisted and wrong like it was coming from beneath a tidal wave, Eve's cackling. "Oh hello!" It echoes outward. Goddess help them she's found her voice in the mists. The writhing mass disperses around the sniper, enveloping him in a field of enfeeblement. If she could flash her devilish grin in this form she would, instead settling for a deep, "Mmm. Dinner time!" His light is shining so bright in front of her, she wants to say hello.

So she gathers herself together and flies up his nostril.

A strange groan falls from between Stef's lips, something barely human. The passengers left in the bus feel a drain, pulling at their energy, their lives. An alarming feeling.

Stef stirs.

Her body moves, straightening chest first as if she has an invisible puppet string attached to her ribs. Her head falls back as she rises, only lifting once she's upright. She should not be on her feet, and the movement of her puppet-body seems to agree. She shuffles down the aisle of the bus in odd pops and drags of her limbs, heading— quite obviously— for the door to the outside. Toward the enemy.

The drain ends in moments, perhaps mercifully, and Stef's steps become more steady, more sure. Just in time for her to step out onto the ground. Her head tilts at the cry of snipers and she looks up at the rooftop. She lets out a thoughtful sigh. She can't see the snipers, not exactly. She can sense them, though. Feel them. Their hearts beating. Their lungs filling and emptying.

And then she takes one.

The rifle clatters to the roof as its owner shrivels to ash and blows away on the wind, leaving nothing but the odd bone and a promise that this is only the first. The beginning.

In the chaos of the Bus, JR can only watch with wide panicked eyes, shadowed by the length of his own arm over his head. Each report of gunfire has him flinching and trying to huddle further in his hiding spot between seats.

Stef’s leaving is barely registered as Ben Jr. closes his eyes and repeats over and over in his head that his dad was going to save them.

Dammit Monica! Silas thinks as she vaults out the window… but he can't help but grin anyway, even as he's using his power to cloak her in obscurity — she'll be the last thing these assholes never see coming. "Go get em! La Zorra rides again!" he calls, hoping she hears.

Then he looks back at what else is going on and that's the last he smiles for a bit. Something out of The Exorcist is playing out in the back of the bus, with Stef lurching up like some kind of zombie and staggering forward; Silas scrambles out of the aisle and into a seat, grimacing at the sudden leaden weight that seems to settle into his bones at her passage… and then…

Then she's past, and out the door. We're back in Saving Private Ryan, out of… whatever flick that was, Silas thinks, and it's telling that he's relieved by that.

But right now they're still in a crisis. His urge for violence has passed for the moment — and besides, with (Stealth) Monica and Eve and… Stef… out there, either the situation's in hand or Gracie had been right from the start. The situation inside the bus, however, is not in hand. Asi's not okay, but it looks like Else's got her, and as much as he wants to go back there right now and see if he can help, they've got another casualty… one that's just as concerning.

Natalie. Their only healer seems to be bleeding, which is bad; he assumes she'd have healed herself if she could've already, so the fact that she hasn't is a definite cause for concern. "Oh shit," he says, scrambling up and heading back. "Doc! Natalie!" he calls, scrambling up and lurching down the aisle, doing his best to keep low. If there's anything to be done, maybe she can walk him through it.

Monica doesn't reply to Silas, but she does hear him and goes into the fight with a smile on her lips. She settles near the side of the bus and since none of the attackers can see her, she takes the time to line up head shots among the larger group approaching them. She doesn't stop when they start to fall back, because they don't stop firing, either.

The only thing that stops her is the signal from Marlowe. She turns, sees the weapon lobbed her way and reaches up to pluck it out of the air. Slinging her rifle across her back, she hefts the axe to check the weight and tosses it up with a spin only to catch it again. And once she does, she fixes her eye on one of the riders. The axe leaves her hand with such precision and strength, as if she's been throwing axes her whole life and her aim is directly at that rider's skull.

Once the weapon leaves her hand, she's off at a run, looking to pull the rider off and claim the horse for herself.

Back on the bus, in her urgency to try and get Stef resituated before things could go wrong, Asi both actively ignored Elliot's attempts to distract her from her task and nearly missed what was happening to her. She was leaning in deeper to try and get her arms properly around Stef and— It felt warm, if fragile. Like little was wrong at all, save for the clumsiness of her action, her failure to pick her up. Asi only needed to settle into it deeper and…

Else pulling her back feels real in a way everything else hadn't for those last few seconds, though. The shirt stained with Stef's blood where Asi had tried to apply it to her wound drifts to the ground in the aftermath of that grab backward, and she blinks once at the whisper in her ear. Not yet, Else says. She's on the verge of protest when she notices her hands— what's happened to them.

It's then that the pain begins to register.

It's then that panic climbs; that horror reaches straight up into her head and takes hold of everything that is her in a way that shuts everything down. The blackness and paleness in her hands sets her heart racing, sends her insides screaming in a way she can't physically bring herself to do. She shifts the fingers on one hand, and when the fingertips of middle and ring brush together and start to fleck apart like the ash of a cinder once it meets wind, her panic intensifies.

Asi feels something give way inside her, pathways closing that were open only moments before— ones that told her Stef was going to die. She cannot feel the Network anymore, and presumes the worst of that conclusion. Oh no, she panics in silence, shaking in her fear. Oh no. Stef's body then goes jerking up of its own accord, drawing in energy anew, and Asi can do nothing but close her eyes, just waiting for it to pass.

It does, just not in the way she expects.

Her eyes open, startled, when there's the sound of Stef's body leaving the bus. Asi is still alive, it seems, but her hands are fragile, skin flaking. The blackness in her veins is receding, which seems ostensibly good, but the damage is done. "Thanks," Asi chokes out to Else. She tries to think of anything she can do without her hands, the danger of the moment nowhere near past. Her eyes glow blue, but nothing outside the bus pings to her senses. No electronics on these raiders, no handhelds.

No edge she can help provide.

"Fuck," she breathes out and then moves back to the bloodied seat Stef has vacated so at least Else can go where she will. She looks back where Silas is approaching Natalie. "Snickers?" she calls to him, worried about the tenor in his voice. "What's wrong?"

Chaos outside, chaos in. Nick flicks a glance over his shoulder at whatever the hell is happening inside the bus, and, well…

… he has some ideas what the fuck is happening, and he chooses to shut that out and focus on what he can do, which is shoot.

The horses are easy targets, but possibly valuable if they lose any more vehicles, and so he leaves the closer targets to the dynamic duo wielding hatchets and saws and whatever else Marlowe keeps stowed for an emergency. Eve’s red mist is hurtling toward the snipers, and he chuckles – he doesn’t know what this iteration of Eve can do, but he feels a tiny bit sorry for the rooftop bandits.

Nick narrows one eye, closes the other, and chooses the chest of one of the retreating scavengers to aim at, finger pulsing on the pistol’s trigger.

The scavenger flails, dropping like a puppet with his strings cut as he falls face down in the street. Nearby, one of the men on horseback is thrown from it as he is struck in the head by an axe. He crumples down to the ground, rolling until he hits the curb, while his horse begins galloping off in a random direction, braying loudly in panic.

The red mist rippling overhead comes to rest on the nearby rooftop where the two snipers are positioned, one turning with wide-eyed horror at the roiling cloud.

Wait!” The sniper starts to scream as Eve recognizes him.


Jonas Regan, a Ferryman. In her time, at least. He’s older, filled out from the matchstick boy he was when the Ferry took her in after the Institute abandoned her. He still has that cat’s eye reflection in his pupils that—

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Jonas’ flesh begins to pale, black veins race up his neck.

"Creeps in this petty pace from day to day."

He screams, dropping his rifle not out of pain but out of fear and surrender. The other sniper, watching what is happening to Jonas, does the same. Jonas’ scream is a dry one, ashen.

"To the last syllable of recorded time…"

He collapses to his knees, flesh splitting but there is no blood beneath to flow. Just gray-black muscle the texture of boiled leather.

"And all our yesterdays have lighted fools,"

Jonas’ skin peels back off of his skull, blows away in the wind as his body begins to collapse inside of his clothes down into a crumbling heap and a rising cloud of dust that was his life.

"The way to dusty death…"

All that is left is a pile of ashen bones tangled in his clothes.

”Life is but a walking shadow.”

The other sniper is crying, screaming, down on his knees with his hands in the air begging for his life. His exact words are a muffled white noise to Eve, because what she just saw was so close to Cameron Spalding’s death, so close to every horrific murder at the hands of Kazimir Volken. She can see, down on the street, Stef lurching like some kind of puppeteered zombie, head jerking and lolling to the side, her stomach wound now fully healed.

Inside the bus, Else has taken Nate by the shoulders, pinned him down in a seat so he can’t see what’s happening outside. “Momma’s fine, she’s just gone to the store for cigarettes,” Else whispers, wrestling the protesting Nate into an embrace that he eventually has no fight left in him to resist. “Easy breezy, you got a long one ahead of you, you’re gonna be okay.

Nearby, Natalie waves off Silas’ concern. “I’m fine,” she says, blood visible between her fingers where she covers her wound. “Get on the radio, Please. The girl, LeRoux, she’s been shot in the chest. I can’t get to her in time, but Richard can.”

It’s not clear how Natalie knows any of this, until Silas hears the sound of so many birds crying and circling overhead. “Lots of injured out that way, she’s the worst hurt, needs saving first.” She says, grimacing against her pain as she limps over to Asi.

“Girl,” Natalie says, pushing over to her, one hand on the technopath’s shoulder. “Breathe.” In that same moment, prickling coldness and pain is replaced by warmth like being submerged in a perfectly hot bath. Immediately, Asi can see the damage done to her hands repairing. Fullness restored to her flesh, the black of her veins dissipating, even as a warm golden-white light exchanges from Natalie to her. In the same exchange, Natalie is trembling, slouching up against the side of one of the seats to stay standing. In just as short a time as they had been wounded, Asi’s hands are fully healed.

Outside the bus, the surviving horseback scavenger is wheeling around, riding away from her own ambush. At the same time, the sky has darkened with birds, moving in undulating swarms that rise and fall like crashing tides. They do not attack those fleeing, but they pursue as if they would. Nick has seen something like this before, and the sensation of nostalgia that it floods him with is overwhelming.

Glory, seeing the snipers drop out of her field of view and a cloud of red mist that is Eve Mas enveloping the rooftop, looks at Nick and gives him an upnod, then turns and sprints for Tinderbox, shouting to Jonathan. “Is anyone hurt?!”

Spades considers the question thoughtfully, looking down at the woman he'd shot from the side. He casts a glance to those retreating and decides to let them, but turns his attention quickly enough back down to the woman on the ground who's suffering. He kicks her handgun away from her where she's sprawled.

"Not for long," he answers calmly enough, then goes back to murmuring, "Blood and revenge hammering in my head… hark…" Rather than employ what precious shells remain to the shotgun, he reaches down over her, hand splayed over face before going through it.

And then the raider isn't hurting anymore.

Distracted, Spades remembers his next line, "Tamora…" Then with a sudden start, because he's so unused to this being a priority for him, he snaps up again and whips his head in the direction of the convoy's rearmost vehicles. "Fuck," he breathes out, and prays, "Destiny…" If he can't see her, he hopes it's merely because she's taking cover.

He looks back to Glory to give her a proper shake of the head, grimming up. "Jonathan's too stubborn to die," is how he sums up the man's ability to take bullets and keep walking.

Marlowe cries out from the tire iron striking her, whirling upon the second attacker. Upon seeing the two scavengers disengage and flee to catch up with the others, there is a terrible, silent second of contemplation from the woman. The gall of the hit and run fills her with a tightness in her throat. Brown eyes widen and round. She takes a knee, placing the bat'leth down before her like a knight's sword, and plants her hand upon the ground.

"Nigeru, ka?" Running away? That was unacceptable.

From Marlowe's hand, crackling white and blue arcs of energy zap forth enveloped in the sound and fury of molecules being torn apart at their bonds. The energy chases the raiders, and those unfortunate enough to get caught in the Syndicate leader's golden-eyed sightline feel the cement and asphalt below their feet liquefy, changing from solid, stable ground to a pool of quicksand that drops them down to their thighs, waists, and neck levels before resolidifying around them. The howling bolts scream across the ground lightning fast, Marlowe's will pursuing the runners like a vengeful banshee.

It’s a horrific sight, what happens next. The fleeing scavengers might have been able to outrun the birds before the street turned into a tar pit and then resolidified. Now the handful of people partially trapped in solid rock and packed earth are forced to helplessly watch as a swirling torrent of birds descends down on them. Countless beaks and talons turn meat into gristle, the screams coming from the scavengers are bloody-throated and piercing, echoing into the air in ways that will cling to the mind for years to come.

Even back in the bus, the screams are clear as day. From the further rear vantage points lucky individuals can even see the grotesquery on display. “I need to get to the wounded,” Natalie says, “someone help me get to the wounded.” She demands, even as she limps toward the bus door.

So much carnage going on, JR is barely able to process, but something does make it through his terror. Natalie's call for help, but then there are the bloody screams. The teens whole body gives a violent shutter and he forces in a deep very shaky breath and then another. After scrubbing at tears on blotchy skin, JR slowly unfolds long limbs from his spot.

Ben Jr’s head pops up over the edge of his seat and eyes widen at the old woman’s bloody state. He almost drops back into his hiding spot, but Natalie - who told him so many stories and was nice to him - needed help. So he should help… right?

It’s what his father would do.

A fearful glance around him like a scared rabbit attempting to be brave, JR stands up, though he works hard to not focus beyond the bus’ windows. “I-I-I’ll help you, M-ms. Natalie.” His voice quavers, but he gets the offer out and even shuffles into the aisle. He stands there awkwardly looking ashamed, sniffling and swiping an arm under his nose, but still ready to move quickly to assist her if she wants it.

Silas looks at Natalie, hesitating just long enough to assess the resolve in her voice on her face… then he nods.

"Alright," he says, nodding. Aces' question sees him glance to her and give a single shake of his head; there's a hint of a smile on his face, but it's the kind of smile that comes when he's worried. "Nothing, I guess," he says; that is not entirely true, given the situation they find themselves in right now, but the fact that she's asking — that she's okay enough to ask, in spite of the utter bedlam around them, in spite of the brief nightmare scene that had just played out with Stef — is a comfort.

But there's no time to waste.

«//Wildcat requesting Convoy status, //over.» Huruma’s voice is quiet coming through the turned down radio, but her clipped and collected measure carries as though the volume were louder.

Silas shakes his head again, turning and launches himself for the front of the bus, grabbing the radio and twisting the volume all the way up. "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!"

He turns around to tell Natalie… but now she's the one lurching for the door.

"Shi–" Silas starts to swear, then cuts himself off. He can see the look in her eyes, knows arguing isn't going to be any good. But the kid… the look in JR's eyes is entirely different. No iron resolve there. Courage, yes; he'll give JR that. But it's untempered, untested. Not yet.

"No," Silas says. He gives JR his most authoritative look. "JR. Stay here."

He glances both ways, then lowers his voice. "Look. I've got a trick. I can keep Ms. Natalie safe, but there's a limit to how much I can use it. I can cover her, and I can cover me, but I can't cover you, too." Not entirely true, but he's not going to drop Monica's shroud unless he has no other choice.

"But. If I'm going, that's gonna leave the bus down a defender. Someone needs to keep a watch on things here, try to keep Nate calm, try to help Aces out," he says, looking to the kid firmly. He lays a hand on JR's shoulder. "I'm countin' on you. That lever there operates the door," he says, gesturing to the door. "Close it after us."

"Aces! We're goin' out. Be back in time for dinner," he calls, then turns to Natalie. "Alright. Come on," he says, offering a hand to Natalie. "Lean on me. Tell me where we need to go, I'll try to keep us safe."

Monica has drifted somewhat from the heart of the action, as she very much needed to chase down a horse. Once she is able to get onto it, she focuses on calming it rather than on hunting down whoever's left. The screaming from the attackers tells her that someone else is handling it anyway. It's only once she's decently sure that the horse can manage it that she trots back over to actually get an eye on the situation. Once she reaches Marlowe's side, she looks down at her, nodding toward the absolute carnage. "Horrifying," she says, but in a way that implies she's more impressed than actually horrified. "We should collect these weapons," she adds, because it's the practical thing to do. "And whatever else they have on them. If there's any them left."

Rules of combat, if you kill them, you get their stuff.

Asi is shocked by the way her skin becomes whole and muscle becomes real again, but not so off-guard she doesn't notice the way that Natalie is unwell after it. She blinks once, and then reaches out for Natalie by the shoulder. "Hey, hey—" Concern blooms immediately for the older woman. "ばあちゃん, take it easy," she urges.

She turns away at the sound of the screaming though, trying to verify she doesn't hear the sounds of their own in that cacophony that rises. By the time that she's satisfied there's none of their own crying out, Natalie has made her way toward the front door, and all Asi can do is look wide-eyed at Silas as he volunteers to shepherd the healer out into the field.

Tongue-tied, she only steps toward the front of the bus at first before she snaps out, "Snickers, are you crazy? She needs help. She's barely on her feet!" Asi has untold appreciation for the power at Natalie's fingertips, over the silent miracle that just played out from them. "She's wounded. We need to help her, not take her out into danger."

Natalie looks back at Asi with the reproachful eye of a grandmother questioned at the dinner table. The expression softens, even if briefly, to which she offers a subtle shake of her head. “Don’t explain the math to me,” she says to Asi, as if that means something. Then, nodding to Silas, Natalie squeezes his wrist as reassurance that she knows what she’s doing.

“You lot don’t fuck around, do you,” Nick murmurs, getting up from where he’d crouched on the floor of the bus, and moving for the doors that take him out of it. He gives Asi a shake of his head accompanied by a low whistle, because she was on the brink of death just seconds ago. But he doesn’t argue with her, nor with Silas.

Once outside, the former Vanguardian gives Stef a wide berth. He squints at the birds and then the bodies, and heaves a sigh. It’s just a little melodramatic.

“The more things change…” he murmurs, as he starts to collect the weapons of the dead.

Eve stumbles back and gasps as Jonas is first recognized and then utterly desiccated. For a moment she's frozen in terror and Cameron Spaulding's face crumbling to ash blooms into full view in her mind's eye, it takes a moment but her gaze trains over to the ground and she sees Stephanie standing and looking strange.

She's not even thinking before she leaps off from the rooftop and dive bombs towards "Stef".

Before Eve can hit the ground with hair and black dress flailing her body bursts into the crimson cloud to slow her fall and she's tumbling out of the mist landing in a crouch in front of the dark haired woman wearing the face of her best friend. Blood red eyes flash and examine the other woman. "Heh, thanks for the help," Her head tilts to the side and she moves closer, uneasy because if this was the man that killed Cameron….

"But that body is on loan, yes?" She wants to say clear but there's a chance the overly dramatic old man if he's in there right there might snap some ashy energy at her and Eve could not abide by that. She remembers Nathalie's words on the conduits and what lies within. A nexus of souls. "Are you a friendly spirit or a mean one?" Eve had wished to speak to a conduit ghost.

Be careful what you wish for.

Stef doesn't seem to acknowledge much of what occurs around her. Her head tilts as the collection of trapped scavengers get torn apart, not looking at them but quite obviously paying attention to them all the same. What pulls her out of this… reverie is the reappearance of Eve.

Or, rather, the feeling of something alive coming close to her. She stills like a predator watching prey come into a trap, eyes wide and alert. Eve can feel it once Stef has decided that the trap is successful. Her life, too, starts to drain away, even as she speaks. Which might be answer enough to her question.

Stef's expression snaps, and she stumbles and collapses to the asphalt, pulling her power back into herself and away from Eve. She seems suddenly present in a way she wasn't moments before, and she struggles to catch her breath as if she had just been running for her life instead of standing still outside of a bus. Her attention snaps back to Eve and she looks both confused and apologetic. She puts a hand to her gut, where her wound had been, and seems troubled to find it healed.

"Après la vie, la mort," she says in a small voice to no one in particular, "après la mort, la vie nouveau." Then she says nothing at all.

Eyes fluttering, Stef awakens to a bleary-eyed sight of a gray sky swarming with birds.

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