Contortionist: Flips
Katherine Hana Li spin_kick_snap
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The Melrose Gate and Beyond, The Mount, Ex-Los Angeles, Saturday Night (Part 1)
Stealth crouched on the arch about the Melrose gate with Gorgon, St. George, and the visitors. The other heroes had been dispatched to the other gates she'd marked as vulnerable on her map, but Zzzap was flying recon and they were backed up by almost fifty more of the Mount's guards. They were the most vulnerable gate, to be sure, with Gorgon standing up front as bait for Cesares, but she had estimated the capabilities of the assembled people would be more than capable of repelling an attack, even if Zzzap was not able to return to aid them.

The exes had always been thick here, but now they grew denser by the moment. They packed the space in front of the gate and pushed back into the streets. Hordes of them staggered down Melrose and up Windsor. The guards walked the walls and stared down at the hungry mob. Some of them manned scaffolding towers. The dead pounded and clawed at the stucco. Another fourteen gate guards rammed pikes and spears between the bars of the gate. The dead stiffened at their skulls cracked and their brains were shredded. Then the humans pulled their weapons free, stepped back, and then lunged at the gate again even as more exes staggered forward.

"When do you want us to start sweeping?" one of the men asked, his rifle tucked against his shoulder.

"This is not the attack," shouted Stealth. "Just a massing of forces. Conserve your ammunition for now. Pikes only!"

Another wave of crushed skulls echoed up to her.


Dante
"Seriously," Dante muttered, not for the first time that day, "This is insane."

Raven
"There weren't this many of them when I left," Raven murmured. "Zombies or Seventeens."

Dante
"Zombie fucking apocalypse, right?" Dante said. He slanted a quick look at Raven. "Good thing you got moving back then."

Raven
"Sitting around here waiting for something to happen would have pissed me off," Raven said. "And it wouldn't have done Kathy any good, either."

And, let's be real, after killing Kathy's parents, Raven had wanted to do at least a little bit of running away.

Dante
Dante parsed that, then nodded slowly.

"You're tough," he said.

He respected that.

Raven
Raven looked back at him assessingly, then nodded. "Thanks."

She already knew that, of course. But it was nice to hear someone say it, amidst everyone being so surprised she was still alive.

Anders
Anders grimly twirled his staff, occasionally looking at the mob below and wincing.

"I'm going to miss you when we're all dead," he said.

He wasn't much for cheer just then.

Dante
"We're not going to be dead," Dante commented, his voice a grim kind of distant. "Or at least not without taking most of these fuckers with us." He turned his head to look at Anders.

Ringo
"Was--was this bad back in the summer?" Ringo asked softly, thinking back to when Dante and Anders had come to get Kathy to leave.

Because if it was then she probably owed them an apology for thinking they were acting like overbearing jerks trying to tell Kathy what to do since, well, this was, as Dante had said, insane.

Dante
"In some places," Dante said slowly. "Just not all over like this."

Large masses of zombies in controllable areas were different than... this.

Parker
"I really wish I had a flame-thrower," Parker said wistfully, looking out over a sea of zombies. "Or maybe some more explosives." She leaned her forehead against the glass, studying the Brownian motion of all those bodies shambling into each other, bouncing off, and knocking other bodies back around. "Or maybe just a giant shoe."

She was never going to look at the zombies at Caritas quite the same way again, she felt.

Eliot
"Not till we get Kathy out of there," Eliot said. He knew he was getting a little too tunnel-visioned on that, but he couldn't help it. He needed to be able to do this. And he more than half blamed everyone living in this stupid studio lot fortress for letting her keep coming back and getting herself killed -- especially the masked creep who'd set herself up as "in charge" of the whole thing.

He stared down into the shifting, clacking mass of the dead and wondered if this was going to turn out to be the retrieval mission that finally did him in. What was it he'd told Hardison, back when they were handcuffed in those woods? The fear is good. The fear was going to keep them all alive.

"Once we get her, then we can decide if we want to nuke it all from orbit."

Parker
"Someone has to have the materials for making a bomb," Parker said, sounding dissatisfied. She leaned into him and said, "Hardison would hate all this. It would totally ruin Zombies vs. Plants for him."


***


Zzzap flew through the air, lighting up the dark sky, and came to a hover above the arch where they were watching the crowd of exes grow. Something big and scaly at Van Ness. Thought you'd want to know, he said in his crackling, electronic voice.

"Damn it," St. George said, scanning the street. "How'd he get by us?" He looked at Stealth. "You all good here?"

"Go," she said. "And take Dante with you. Cairax Murrain cannot be allowed to breach the gate."

The big hero nodded and took off, with Dante close behind. "Demon's at Van Ness," said Gorgon as he watched them leave. "Not the best way for us to start, with you being wrong right at the top."

"Thank you for pointing that out," she said. Her cloak draped across her shoulders and down over the edge of the archway. "Can you see any further than four blocks under these conditions?"

Gorgon looked around. "Not really." Hid hand went to his mic. "All gates, let's get some flares up." Across the Mount, small comets shot into the sky and burst into stars. They could see for blocks now as red and yellow light bathed the surrounding neighborhood. Melrose was visible for a quarter mile past either end of the walls.

The walking dead kept coming. More and more, until the pavement vanished under a carpet of death. Thirty thousand dead eyes stared at them, and thirty thousand brittle hands clawed at the air. The exes pounded the walls, pushed at the steel fences, and rammed their arms between the gate's curling decorations. In the distance, they could hear engines roaring and horns blasting. The Seventeens were near.

Gorgon rolled his head in a circle until his neck popped. "Still feeling confident?"

"We are prepared," said Stealth. "We know their capabilities. It will be a challenge, but we are ready for whatever they have fight to fight us with."

And then the lights went out.


Eliot
"The hell?" Eliot looked around as the cold crept in. "Thought you folks had a generator. This ain't part of your plan, is it, Stealth."

Stealth
"We do!" Stealth shouted, frost creeping towards them like a white tidal wave. It was coming from the west, along with the rolling cloud of absolute darkness. "And believe me, I am aware of that!"

The pounding got louder as they dead kept stamping their feet and slamming their hands against the gate, nearby cars, whatever they could reach. It started ragged but quickly found the rhythm.

"They're synching up," Stealth noted, the sound of pounding echoing across the Mount. "They're all beating in time. All around us."

Raven
Raven swallowed, looking around at the darkness and frost. "This is -- this is Midknight. Why would he -- Midknight's dead?"

She hadn't known him super well or anything, but still. How many heroes had LA lost since she left?

Stealth
"Regenerator was bit a month after Banzai died," Stealth said, still sounding calm, though her guns were drawn and she didn't seem sure where to point them. "In the several weeks he was comatose, Midknight, Blockbuster, and Cairax Murrain were all infected, among others. We here in the Mount are the only known survivors of the heroes of Los Angeles."

Raven
Raven was, in the way of the very young, only just realizing how lucky she really had been to have survived her walk across North America. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I wish we could help more. I didn't know any of them that well but -- I liked them."

Rather, she'd liked that they took her seriously as part of the team. Cairax was an asshole.

Ringo
Ringo was looking back and forth between the two of them. "Was it, um, someone you knew?" she asked Raven softly.

Raven
"One of the other heroes," Raven said, nodding. "We never really talked or anything but -- he was sweet."

And now he was dead. And they were only here to cure one person.

"And his powers could really fuck everyone over pretty hard." She rolled her shoulders. "He projects this . . . field. Oh total darkness and cold." She looked over at Stealth. "The cold won't bother me. I'll go -- take care of it."

Ringo
Ringo chewed on her lip for a moment, then moved to follow Raven. "I'll go with you," she called.

Yes, they were here for Kathy, but Ringo wasn't eager to see Raven go off by herself, either. She didn't want to lose her again.

Raven
Raven smiled faintly over her shoulder at Ringo. "Thanks. Try not to freeze. Kathy'll kill me if I let you get hurt." She grimaced as they came up on the edge of Midknight's full power field, though. "Ugh. I knew I should have taught myself sonar."

Ringo
"You weren't kidding about the darkness thing," Ringo said. "Are you sure we should even go in there? I mean, I can find my way around, mostly, but if you can't see anything maybe we should, I don't know, come up with another way?"

Raven
"Wait." Raven frowned. "You can find your way around without any light at all?" She'd kind of always thought Ringo was just a skilled athlete. A really skilled one, let's be real, but not with anything . . . extra. "How?"

Ringo
"Oh." Ringo looked a little uncomfortable. "Well, I guess it doesn't come up very often, but," she reached up and tapped a finger against her temple, "I've sort of got some extra sensory organs?"

"One of them allows me to, uh," how to put it, "map three-dimensional spaces around me?" She frowned. "Usually I incorporate what I can see into that image to really understand things, but I can kind of make do without in a pinch."

Raven
"That is so cool." Raven grinned. "Okay. We can work with this. Can you sense where Midknight is in there? From out here? If you can give me directions through Hardison's earbuds, I bet I can get to him and take him down."

Ringo
"Well, there's, like, a lot of bodies in there," Ringo said. "How do I tell which one is Midknight?"

Wait a minute.

"Wait. Are you talking about going in there by yourself?"

Raven
"If he's still in his costume, you can probably spot him by the shape," Raven said, and gave her a rough description to look for. "Ringo, it's literally freezing in there. You could go hypothermic. It's not like we'll have time to grab you a hot cocoa after." She wouldn't stop Ringo if she insisted on going with, but Raven really didn't want to be the reason she lost her nose to frostbite.

Ringo
"Oh, um, okay. I think I've got him, then."

Ringo licked her lips. She was tempted to point out that she'd been in, like, the upper atmosphere in short sleeves before, but that was a totally different situation and she knew it.

"How, um, how cold is it?" Because on the one hand, she didn't want to leave Raven all alone in there, but she also didn't want to get in the way.

Raven
Raven thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I'm a really bad judge of temperatures," she admitted. "I can sleep naked in the snow without really noticing. But his whole thing is an absence -- of light and heat. So -- very?"

Ringo
"I, um, I'll try it," Ringo said. And when it turned out to be way too cold for anyone without some seriously heavy layers or a mutant physiology, hopefully she'd be smart enough to get out.

Raven
"I'm not going to be able to find you if you pass out," Raven reminded her. She shifted subtly, her skin thickening into dense scales the exes had yet to manage to bite through, her legs lengthening in preparation to run. "You ready?"

Ringo
Ringo took a deep breath, stretched up onto her tip-toes for a moment, then nodded. "Right behind you."

Raven
Raven nodded. "I'm going to keep going forward until you tell me otherwise." She flashed Ringo another quick smile, then set off into the dark at a steady pace.

The cold made even her suck in an extra breath when it hit her. She closed her eyes -- since she couldn't see anyway -- fought down the urge to flinch back from the darkness, and kept moving forward.

Ringo
It couldn't have been more than a couple of seconds, and Ringo's teeth were already chattering audibly.

"Wha-what?" she asked, so distracted by the cold that she hadn't really heard Raven.

"I-I t-think that m-maybe I sh-should, um, y-you know." Get back out. Quickly.

Raven
Shit. Raven slowed, one hand stretching out in front of her as the conviction that she was about to run into a wall in the darkness became almost overwhelming. "Go. You can't be my eyes if you freeze. Then tell me where I'm going!"

Ringo
Ringo was taking deep breaths of non-freezing air, and nodding. Which Raven couldn't see.

"R-right," she said, beginning to warm back up. "He's about fifty meters from you. Mostly forward, but a little to the right. But there are, like, a ton of others between you. They're, um, you know. Exes?" Which made Ringo real uncomfortable.

Raven
Raven not so much. "Cool," she said, and bulked up as she started forward again, redoubling her plate and setting herself up as a big, blue scaled battering ram. It slowed her the hell down, but she'd rather take a little longer to get across the 50 meters (they were like yards, right?) then get bit along the way. When the "oh god I'm running blind" feeling got too strong again, she balled her hands into enormous plated fists and just started swinging.

The crunch of someone else's bone probably wasn't supposed to feel good, was it.

Ringo
Raven may not have been able to see the carnage of that hit, but Ringo could. Well, not "see", exactly, but close enough. It actually made her a little sick to her stomach. "There are, um," she closed her eyes for a second to try to gather herself. "There are three coming in from your left," she said tensely. "Two are normal sized, but one looks, um, smaller."

Raven
Raven swung left, high then low, without hesitation. She had no idea how much smaller Ringo meant, but she figured about half adult height should at least drive a kid ex back, even if she didn't land a head shot. It wasn't really the time for her to worry about precision.

"Are they staying down?" she asked. She was pretty well bite-proof in her current shape, but she hadn't tested it against more than one or two exes as a time. She hadn't actually been anywhere that they'd managed to mass this kind of numbers before. If they piled onto her from behind, they could probably take her down.

Ringo
The sound of swallowing was audible over the comm. "Um." And again. "One of the big ones is trying to get back up, but its ribs are all sticking out and stuff."

Ringo closed her eyes as if that would help.

Raven
"That should slow it down then." Sorry, Ringo. Raven would remember that this was appalling to most people when she wasn't in the middle of fighting it off. "Am I getting close to Midknight at all?"

Ringo
Deep, careful breathing. Ringo just had to keep breathing.

"About a third of the way there. I don't know if he's really noticed that you're-- Two more coming in from the right!"

Raven
"On 'em." Raven was starting to get used to the darkness, to not being able to see. She still half expected to pound into a wall at any moment, but having Ringo in her ear guiding her helped a lot. She imagined she could feel the breeze of the incoming exes displacing the air.

Not that her thick, scaly skin actually sensed anything that subtle.

*Smash, crack* and forward.

They could totally do this.

Ringo
Ringo's voice was slowly beginning to flatten as her breathing became regular.

"Elevation change in front of you. Twenty-two centimeters up from you. Two incoming, one from behind, one from in front."

She didn't sound much like she usually did.

Raven
Raven would worry about that, were she not deep in her own fight-zone. As it was, she just appreciated the clarity of the other girl's instructions.

Even if she still wasn't super clear on the metric measurements.

It didn't seem possible, but it actually got colder and darker the closer she got to Midknight. The sound over the earbuds started to fuzz, going staticy, and Raven remembered very belatedly that Midknight's powers also came with an EMP field. She hoped Hardion was genius enough to keep them shielded or on a separate wavelength or something that would keep her connection with Ringo strong enough for them to take the dead hero down.

"I h-have to be getting close," she said, her voice wobbling ever so slightly as the intense cold finally started affecting even her weird system. "How many exes between me and Midknight? Can I make the final push?"

Crazy Apple
"Veer right. There's only one between you and him."

Now her voice was utterly calm.

"He's seen you coming," she warned.

Raven
"That's a nice trick." It figured he'd have his own fancy non-sight powers. Raven dug in, let out a roar, and charged forward.

Midknight wore a helmet. She'd have to knock it free or smash it in before she could take him down. She shifted the moment her fist connected with the guard ex, going from tank to feather in a matter of seconds.

Oh shit, it was even colder without the plate-skin.

Most of her flight techniques were based on catching thermals, of which there were literally none, so she didn't bother trying to turn into a bird or anything. She went cat instead, a giant, dark panther, all coiled strength, claws, and fur, and by more luck than skill, managed to catch Midknight by the shoulders, sending them both crashing to the ground.

Crazy Apple
His teeth started chattering and his head leaned forward toward her. The helmet made it hard to actually get anywhere close to biting her.

"That noise drew a lot of attention." It was Crazy Apple's emotionless tone now. "You've got multiple incoming from pretty much every direction."

A pause to consider as Midnight started trying to push himself to his feet without stopping his attempts at a bite.

"Do you need backup?"

Raven
Yeah, that'd been pretty dumb. Raven was honestly lucky the earbud had stayed in her shifted ear. She growled in response to Ringo's offer -- had she forgotten the part where she almost froze already? -- and covered her panther form in plate. She'd learned how to coordinate four legs and a tail during her months as Star the beloved family dog in Texas, so she put a nice hefty club end on her tail and set it whipping back and forth to keep the other exes at bay

Now, if she could just get this damn helmet off. She could shift and stab or crush her way through bone perfectly well these days, but metal was another story entirely.

Crazy Apple
"Coming in low," came that calm voice again. "Two on the right. Another two on the left, and three have gotten around behind you. I estimate that you'll have another dozen on you within ten seconds."

Another beat.

"I'll take the three in the back from here." It was just barely within her maximum range without having to move back into that freezing darkness. "Watch yourself with the others."

The high-pitched whine of Ringo's ATs spinning up could be heard through the darkness, and then a whistling sound and a whip-crack as a bladed ribbon of metal snapped right through the back of one of the exes' heads. Not that Raven could see that.

Raven
Holy shit what the fuck was that

Raven was totally going to ask just that once the fighting was all done and she could see what was going on again. For now, she did her best to ignore the super disconcerting noises and suddenly diminished clacking of teeth. She tore up the sides of Midknight's neck with her claws and finally got them hooked under the edges of the helmet.

please don't cut my tail off please don't cut my tail off

Crazy Apple
That same whip-crack repeated twice more in steady rhythm. Raven might consider herself lucky that Crazy Apple was involved now because Ringo probably couldn't have made herself go for lethal attacks despite how clear everyone had been that anything less wouldn't even really slow the exes down.

Midknight, meanwhile, was beginning to writhe around as he tried to get up. If he could just wriggle out from under Raven, he could get up and get a better angle for the biting he still hadn't given up on.

Raven
Well, at least he was distracting Raven from that seriously disconcerting whine-and-whip noise. She growled low at him and finally yanked the helmet off. She yanked her paws away, much too aware of those clacking teeth, shifted them to blades, and plunged them down again around where she estimated his eyes would be.

Crazy Apple
"I think that was a little low," came the voice on her comm as the teeth clacking continued. Midknight's struggling had paused for a moment, but not ceased entirely. "Try it again a little bit higher."

"Quickly." There were more exes swarming in.

Raven
The peanut gallery was starting to grate. Raven knew perfectly well how to kill an ex, thank you, she'd been doing this for ages. She yanked the blades free, stabbing one after the other this time, each higher than the other. She felt the satisfying crunch of skull.

Okay, fine, the peanut gallery was right. Still irritating.

Crazy Apple
Midknight made one last twitch, still trying to find something to bite down on, and then went still.

If Raven needed any further evidence that beyond her own experience that she'd dealt with the dead hero, the sudden return of light and heat to the area would have served. The exes closing in on Raven all hesitated for half a heartbeat, then continued moving toward her, beginning to surround her.

Crazy Apple stood at where the edge of the darkness had been a few moments before, light flashing off of the metallic ribbon that seemed to whip up from her feet to almost flutter around her. "Do you need help getting out?" she asked, leaning forward to slowly move in toward Raven herself.

Raven
Raven opened her eyes slowly, glad she'd kept them closed in the dark. Otherwise, she'd still be completely blind. She looked up, panting, and surveyed the exes around her.

She was really tired of this.

She shifted back to her tank form, straightening up on two legs slowly. "Yeah," she said. "That'd be nice, thanks."

Crazy Apple
"On my way."

That whine rose again as Ringo surged forward, heading directly for Raven.

Well, mostly directly. She was doing some spinning and whirling as she went, using the rotational force to send the long metal ribbons that seemed to be attached to her heels sailing out to crack like whips. Each crack signaled one of the blades cracking through the skull of an ex. They were very thin blades, so they didn't always do enough damage to put one down, but that just meant another shot was needed.

It helped a lot that most of the exes were focused on Raven, and that they didn't try to dodge or anything.

Raven
As a rule, exes weren't great at dodging, anyway.

Raven held very still, watching the ribbons fly. Or rather watching the results of said ribbons. She was a little afraid to try to move.

"Um. Thanks."

Crazy Apple
It was Ringo's hand that extended toward Raven if she wanted to take it, but it wasn't Ringo's eyes that were watching the other girl as she twisted her hips and skidded to a stop next to her. The ribbons fell mostly still for a couple of seconds since she'd bought a little bit of breathing space, but her whole body sang with tension as if just waiting to get back to it.

"You're welcome. Are you good to move?"

Raven
"I'm fine," Raven said, studying Ringo's expression. It was . . . wrong. But Raven couldn't quite put her finger on why.

They could save the conversation for after they were no longer facing an army of the undead.

She started back for the walls of the Mount at a slightly awkward run. Now that the air was heating back up, she was feeling the effects of Midknight's powers even more. "So that's what cold is, huh. I'm never making fun of people wearing giant coats again."

Crazy Apple
"Yeah." A quick nod as Ringo turned around, skating backward from in front of Raven, occasionally flicking out another of those whip-cracking strikes to put down whichever exes were getting too close.

"It was definitely hard to move effectively in that."

Raven
Those ribbons were not less disconcerting when you could actually see them.

"We made a good team," she said, hoping to spur something a little more . . . Ringo. "Good job guiding."

Crazy Apple
Ringo coming back would mean facing everything that they'd just done, and some tiny part of Ringo that was still peeking out from behind those cold eyes was too scared to do that just yet.

"Thank you. You were quite impressive. It didn't occur to me that you could do all of that."

Raven
"I got a lot of practice the last several months," Raven said. "I didn't know you could -- you know." She nodded to the ribbons. "Maybe we should team up more often."

Crazy Apple
"Hmm. Maybe we should."

They were almost back to the walls.

"Though maybe not with something quite like this."

Raven
"Yeah." Raven quirked a smile, giving up on drawing normal Ringo back out. Maybe this was just how the other girl handled fights. "Exes are boring." She nodded up at the wall. "Race you?"

She jumped and shifted before Ringo could reply, turning into her namesake and flying for the top of the wall.

Crazy Apple
Ringo would have laughingly accused Raven of cheating and charged after her.

Crazy Apple just shrugged. "Sure."

She couldn't fly, but her ground speed was pretty impressive, and she didn't slow down as she approached the wall. She just slammed against it, and went straight up. Not fast enough to beat Raven, but she didn't leave the other girl, well, bird, waiting long.

And with that, they were back in relative safety. Crazy Apple took a look around, then swayed slightly on her feet.

Raven
Okay, now she really had to ask. She shifted back to her natural shape and offered Ringo a steadying hand. "Are you okay?"

Crazy...Ringo
Crazy Apple's eyes slowly softened, Ringo sort of bleeding back into her own expression.

Slow blinking for a couple of seconds.

And then she abruptly bent over and threw up.

Raven
"Whoa." Raven very awkwardly reached over to pat her on the back. "Just -- let it out. You're good. First big ex battle's the hardest."

Ringo
Ringo stayed bent over, trying to take in big, gasping breaths. Her eyes were watering, as she tried to regain the sense of calm that had suddenly disappeared, but Crazy Apple wasn't coming back right that moment.

Which meant that Ringo was retching again, leaning into Raven's hand, grateful for the comfort.


***





St. George

"You sure you're ready for this, kid?" St. George asked as he flew along the walls of the Mount. "I know you said you've fought demons before, but Cairax Murrain isn't just any demon. He was a Reaver Lord of the Abyss, whatever the means. Comes with fangs, talons, barbed tail, the works."



Dante

Dante snorted. He walked at a brisk pace, Rebellion firmly in hand, his eyes narrowed. "I'm sure he's a big fucking badass," he said. "So am I."

Beat.

"So let's just get this done."



St. George

St. George wasn't exactly thrilled with this. After all, Banzai had been confident, too, and she'd died. But so had many others and beyond all odds, Mystique had survived a cross-continental walk and...

And in the end, Dante was already here and fussing over it wasn't going to help.

"Just don't get killed," he instructed. "I'm not about to fight the both of you when you get back up again."

They made their way to the Van Ness gate where the soldiers were fighting a creature straight out of a nightmare. A huge demon with skin the color of old pus, easily ten feet tall, with a lashing tail with a wicked barb on the end. Its head was like a deep-sea fish, a forest of fangs and sharp teeth.

"Stop, stop!" The hero cried. "It's bulletproof! Stop wasting ammo or it's Stealth that'll kill you, not Murrain!"



Dante

"Bulletproof, huh," Dante muttered.

Well, that ruled out the girls.

"So any thoughts on how to take out big ugly over there, then?" he added, even as he kept walking, covering as much ground as possible. Eyes scanning the demon, sizing him up.

Yeah, that was a demon all right.



Cairax

"I was just going to keep hitting it till it stopped moving," St. George said with a smile, though he wasn't really joking. "Go for the brain, because it's still an ex and that's the only way they really go down. Don't get hit with the barb. I don't know if it's poisonous, but I did watch him rip a couple of exes in half with it, back before he died."

Leaping up into the sky, he arced down to land just behind Cairax. He kicked two exes away and and threw a few fists and elbows that shattered skulls, before grabbing onto Cairax's tail and giving it a hard yank, dragging the Reaver Lord away from the gate and the survivors there.

"And watch out for the regular exes!" he called. "Don't get bit because you're trying to kill this guy!"



Dante

"I'll be fine!"

Even if fine meant taking a sharp roll sideways to get out of the way of grabbing hands. Dante sprung up to his feet, driving the rest of the exes away - or slicing them to bits - with a swing of Rebellion.

He dashed forward with unnatural speed, chasing after Cairax as St. George kept pulling.



Cairax

Cairax dug its talons into the pavement, pulling up huge curls of pavement as it fought against being dragged. It hissed and growled, maw opening large enough to fit an entire human head inside and within, the blackened stump where its tongue used to be twitched.

Its cat-pupiled eyes locked on Dante and it used what little leverage it had to lunge at him, lashing its tail and sending St. George slamming sideways into a car hard enough to dent the metal and shatter glass.



Dante

"Woah!"

One last-second side-step and Dante saw Cairax flying past him, close enough to feel the breeze on his coat.

He had an opportunity; he didn't waste it. He struck out at Cairax's head, hard as he could--

The timing was a little off, though. Shoulder it was.



St. George

The flesh split under Rebellion's edge, peeling apart like the skin from an overripe grape. No blood flowed, but a sticky black ichor oozed out. The dead thing stumbled, its nest of teeth cracking into the ground by Dante's foot. St. George took the opportunity to peel himself out of the side of the car and waded through the crowds of exes, cracking heads and necks with each swing of his arms.

He took a moment to grab an ex by its coat and another by its leg and swung them like clubs, battering Cairax's head three times before the exes came apart.



Dante

"Nice," Dante hissed. He didn't stick around to appreciate it, though. He leaped up, feet cracking down on Murrain's spine a second later. "How's that, you ugly fuck?" he snarled.



Cairax

Dead things couldn't feel pain, so Cairax did not howl. It thrashed instead, like a snake trying to wriggle its way out of an eagle's claws. One of its arms went limp, splaying out at an awkward angle from its side. The creature's neck turned and he tried to snap at Dante with its Venus flytrap mouth of tusks and fangs. When it realized it couldn't reach, it snapped its tail at him instead, cracking through the air like a bullwhip, the barb gleaming in the light of the flares.



Dante

Dodging was not gonna be great up here. Dante managed to get out of the way of the first crack with a duck and a shift of his shoulder, but he knew he didn't have much time.

He gripped Rebellion firmly and plunged the blade down, down, down into Cairax's neck.

Fuck. Let that be enough.



Cairax

Rebellion bit deep into the leather circle that had been fashioned into a collar around Cairax's neck. From his vantage point on the ground, St. George saw a glimpse of silver embedded into it.

The Sativus medallion. The charm that had allowed Max Hale to summon the entity Cairax Murrain in the first place.

Severed, the collar fell to the ground at the same time one of Cairax's legs gave out. St. George started for it, but looked up in time to see that great maw descending towards Dante once again. He flung himself in the air, trying to interpose himself between the teen and the monster.

The dead thing's dagger-like teeth punched through the leather of his jacket and continued straight into his arm. Agony, more pain than he'd felt in years, roared through him. The jaw hinged shut like a machine and one of the huge teeth scraped against bone as it pushed deeper into his arm. St. George screamed like a dying rabbit, but still managed to get the words he needed to say out.

"The amulet! Ground! Destroy it!"



Dante

"Jesus!"

Shitting hell, fucking heroes-- Dante didn't have time to linger on that, either. He leaped off of Cairax, feet scrambling against the dirt. The amulet, where was it?

"Fuck fuck fuck..."

Wait. A glimmer of something. Right over there. Dante tried to ignore the sounds St. George was making as he dashed forward, heel coming down on something tough and sparkly.



Maxwell Hale

It took several hard stomps from Dante's heavy boots before the amulet shattered in a hail of purple sparks. Cairax opened its mouth, releasing St. George with a howl. The hero had been shaken like a rag doll and landed heavily on the pavement, a long fang still embedded in his arm.

The creature barely noticed. It twitched, pointing a talon at Dante. Then it trembled, opened its monstrous, sagging jaw, and collapsed in on itself in a swirl of dark flames and smoke.

In the demon's footprints stood an ex with a mop of black hair and a library of tattoos across its yellowed flesh. Pentagrams, long lines of Latin, and scores of Egyptian hieroglyphics swirled over him. The naked ex staggered and closed its mouth with a solid clack, then looked down at its tiny limbs. The thing behind its eyes just looked confused.



Dante

"Oh, shitting hell," Dante said, a combination of surprise and disgust. "It's you, scumbag."

It shouldn't have made it harder to finish the guy off, but it weirdly was. It took him half a second of hesitation before he raised Rebellion again, brought it all the way up--

--And swung it, almost elegantly, to take the ex's head.



St. George

Maxwell Hale's headless corpse dropped to the ground, landing near the remains of the Sativus amulet; a wierd quirk of gravity had him land with one hand flung out towards the closet piece.

From his own spot on the pavement, St. George pushed himself up to all fours, before crying out. The arm with a tooth in it buckled at the elbow and he nearly ate asphalt before he caught himself.

"Never really was all that fond of him," he muttered as he sat on his knees and yanked the fang out of his forearm, going gray about the face as it ground against bone before finally coming free. "We should go," he added, looking around in a kind of dizzy exhaustion. "Cairax isn't the only threat out here."



Dante

Dante inhaled sharply. He took a few steps away from Max's prone body, kept walking until he got to St. George. Rebellion still dangled from his hand, point aimed towards the ground. "You okay there?" he said. "That thing bit you pretty bad."



St. George

"Well, besides discovering something is strong enough to break my skin and that thing being an ex which probably means I'm infected now, I'm a little worried that you're going to end up eaten out here and that's really gonna put a damper on my day," St. George said, struggling to stand up. "Fucking Max Hale. Figures he'd find a way to bite us all in the ass somehow."

In a little while, St. George would find it in himself to feel bad for the bastard. Even with the way he'd gotten infected, he didn't deserve to become an ex. No one did.

Dammit Josh.

"Don't really think I can fly back to the gate like this. The pain make it hard to concentrate."



Dante

"Right," Dante said. He looked up, off towards where the gate was. "Guess we got a long, dangerous walk ahead of us."

He held a hand out for the guy, trying to help him get up.



Ex Horde

"Yup," the hero replied, gratefully taking Dante's hand and pulling himself to his feet. With his weight, he expected the kid to have to shift or something to balance. "And we've already got company."

The guards at the gate were taking pot shots at the oncoming exes to try to keep them away from the two living men below, but there were only so many guards and many, many, many zombies.

St. George sighed and grabbed the several inch long fang, spinning it around in his good hand and holding it like a knife.



Dante

Dante didn't shift. In fact, he remained steadily in place - St. George's weight was nothing. He let go of the man's arm as soon as he was upright, and turned to face the gate again.

"Right," he said, "I should be able to cut a hole in that with Rebellion."



Ex-Horde

"Gonna assume you mean the exes," St. George said, "because if you cut a hole in the Van Ness gate, Stealth's gonna be pissed."

Okay, it wasn't the best joke out there, but he was trying. It had been a hell of a day.

"You do what you need to and I'll watch your back. They can gnaw on me all day and I won't even notice."

The exes drew closer on all sides, arms out to grab, teeth clacking in anticipation. There were no tactics here, no surprises from exes smarter than they should be--Rodney had his own problems to worry about.



Dante

Dante's mouth curved into a snarl.

Then he dashed forward, Rebellion whirling, slicing through limb and bone - and heads where he could find them. Onwards.



Ex-Humans

And where he ran, exes fell. Heads bounced, teeth still clacking away. Arms were hacked and left to fall, and maimed exes dropped, tangling themselves in the feet of others. But there were always more to take the places of the fallen. Hands reached out to try to grab onto Dante's hair, snag at his coat, clutch at his legs. Teeth clattered together as they bit the air where his arm had passed.

And St. George followed behind, stabbing at ones that lunged for Dante's unprotected back, slapping others away with enough force to send them spinning. He wasn't as fast as Dante, but he was able to wade through and keep going.

"Dante watch out! Left!"



Dante

The problem with left was that right was also a problem. "In a second--" Dante yelled, slamming the pommel of his sword into the head of another ex.

Then he felt pressure around his left leg. "Fuck," he snapped, whirling the sword around.



Ex-Humans

The ex that had wrapped her arms around his leg was still beautiful on one side of her face. The other was a ruin, the flesh eaten away down to the bone. Light glimmered off the jewelry she still wore as she sank her teeth deep into his flesh, biting through fabric and skin--not far, but definitely enough to draw blood.



Dante

Dante cried out; it fucking hurt, was what it did. Shit. Shit.

Reflexes did what his conscious brain was too preoccupied to do; they brought the sword down on the ex's head, cutting it neatly in half.



St. George

"Dante!"

St. George inhaled and then blew a stream of fire out at the nearest cluster of exes. Dead things didn't fear fire the way living ones did, but the force of it was enough to push some of them back. Others, he shoved out of the way, good shoulder down like a linebacker as he plowed through.

"Dante, talk to me! Are you okay? Did she break skin?" He'd seen enough to know Dante was bit, but not how badly.

Please not as badly as he thought. Please, God, no.



Dante

Dante raised his leg, pulling his pantsleg back. There was some blood on it, but whatever wound the ex had managed to inflict, it had mostly healed by the time St. George got there.

"I'm fine," he said, dropping his leg.

He wasn't sure he was, actually. But Anders would know what to do with that better than this guy he barely knew.



St. George

St. George sagged in relief. "Thank God," he said. "I didn't want--thank God." Even if Banzai's friends did have a way to bring an ex back to life, he still hadn't wanted to explain that another friend had gotten bitten and needed to be taken care of.

"C'mon," he said, punching a staggering ex with enough force to make its head explode like a rotten melon. "Let's get back inside. I've had enough fun for one day."



[You know the drill by now. NFI, NFB, OOC remains cookies. Preplayed with some amazing folks. Warning for death, dismemberment, ultra-violence, and everything else you'd expect from the climax of a zombie novel. Some of the text adapted from Peter Clines' Ex-Heroes, Chapters 24-26. Also, many many thanks to that_oldsaying for the assist with coding!]