I peered towards the once great suspension bridge that had previously connected two halves of the city together. Some large sections had completely collapsed into the water, leaving it as an impassable leviathan of times gone. Its vast concrete pylons, still mostly intact, reached high into the grey sky. Even in its dilapidated state, I still got a sense of the strength it once had. It was now just a mess of cables and concrete, but a perfect vantage point over the city. I had erected a semi-permanent post there, at the base of one of the pylons. Nothing special, just some sandbag walls and a tarp bolted into the concrete over some old furniture.
I ran the short distance from the cinema through some ruined buildings, to reach the pile of rubble I used to get up to the bridge. I clambered up the towering pile of concrete and twisted metal reinforcements that collapsed from the bridge, climbing the steepest sections. After a few minutes, slightly out of breath from the effort, I finally reached the bridge, where it was a few hundred metres up the sloped, concrete platform to my post. Seraph followed me up, the climb not even slowing her down. It always amazed me how agile Watchmen actually were. There weren't many places they couldn't get to if they really wanted, which didn’t bode well for their prey.
I dropped my pack onto the weather beaten couch as Seraph jumped up next to it and curled up. The similarities to a pre-war, domestic canine was uncanny in that gesture. I smiled and scratched her bristled head.
Enough time wasted.
I stripped off my shotgun and machete, leaving them next to my bag. Then replaced the reflex sight with my sniper scope and checked the lens, wiping some grime away with a piece of torn cloth that I kept for such purposes. I settled myself at the base of the towering pylon, kneeling low so that I was stable. I was close to the edge of the bridge and likely a fatal free fall if I was to somehow slip, although being up so high didn't really bother me, even as a stiff wind blew in from over the ocean, threatening to dislodge me. I noted the angry, grey storm clouds gathering above the port. I ignored them for now, but I would need to hurry. I had no intention of being caught in the coming storm.
I scanned the vast expanse of desolate high risers and miles of water, through the scope and at first nothing caught my attention. Besides, some birds flying above and some Shrimps prowling far below, there was nothing. Had I climbed up here for nothing?
Then a flash of movement caught my eye and I snapped my head back. Atop a nondescript, two story building, just a few hundred metres from the old railway ticket office, there were a couple of men grappling close to the edge of the roof. I recognized the old, white haired man as the submarine captain that lived around this area. The other guy, bald headed and broad shouldered, stood out to me immediately as one of Tom Cat's goons. What did that smug American bastard want with the Captain this time?
With my interest piqued, I watched the two scuffle for a few seconds, until a sudden gust of wind from the rapidly building storm, threatened to send me off the edge of the bridge. I threw myself onto my backside against the pylon, as my heart raged. I gripped the concrete tightly, waiting for the wind to die down. After a moment, I steeled myself and shuffled back toward the gaping chasm below, taking up my rifle again. I got myself under control and focused through the scope.
During the interruption, the Captain had gotten the upper hand and I just saw the thug disappear over the lip of the roof. Huh, nice.
I paused, as another man came into view. He was tall, well built and had long dark hair tied back into a short queue at the base of his neck. I frowned. He was not one of Tom's thugs, I knew that much. He didn't look like a bandit either. I could almost swear he looked military. He held himself with an air of refined confidence and he wore heavy body armour, snugly around his torso. He was not from around here, but where did he come from?
He was also clearly not an enemy of the old Captain. I noticed him lower his own Kalash to his side in parley and the Captain relaxed in return. They stood facing each other for a long moment, talking. I couldn't lip read, so I had no idea what about. Then they walked to the edge of the roof, peering out at the city. I followed their line of sight with my scope and I ended up with the port in my vision. More specifically, the sleek, black, tubular hull of the nuclear submarine at anchor at one of the berths. The name Mayflower, was emblazoned across the massive conning tower, in large white writing. Now I really was curious. What did they want with Tom Cat's sub?
As they stared at the submarine, there was a shrill scream from the sky. I tore my eye away from the scope and peered upwards. I immediately saw what had made the noise. The Batwing.
I shuddered involuntarily. That winged monstrosity gave me the creeps. There was just something terrifying about a mutant that could swoop down from the sky at any moment and eat me, whilst sending its swarm of miniature flying monstrosities down to attack.
It looked like a giant bat had been smashed in the face with a tyre iron and had its teeth replaced with oversized, jagged needles. It was enough to give a person nightmares.
I was completely exposed and vulnerable sitting here on my bridge. I felt a sudden stab of panic and the urge to immediately climb down, but the beast and its horrid swarm had no interest in me. They were headed straight for the two men, whom had now moved off towards a zip-line at the edge of the roof. I calmed myself, brushing off my fear and trained my scope on them again.
They had clipped onto the line just as the Batwing reached them. The Captain managed to zip to safety somewhere up ahead, but the new comer was torn down by the beast's wicked claws. He fell onto a section of the broken railway bridge in a heap, and took shelter next to the twisted wreck of a blue train car, as he found his weapon.
The Batwing dove into some trees and disappeared for several seconds, while it sent its swarm to attack. The guy ducked, as the mutant bats flew over him, giving them a blast from his shotgun. Several of the cretins plummeted down to the ground, metres below the bridge. The Batwing rose from the trees, its grotesque form pirouetting in mid air, as its minions rejoined it in a revolting, writhing cloud.
I wondered if I could get a shot off from here, but decided I was too far away for an accurate hit, especially with the increasing winds. And of course, I really didn’t want to risk bringing that freak over here. This fight was his.
I hunkered down to watch with interest, as the Batwing and the new comer continued to battle. Every now and then, gunfire would be followed with a shriek as the bullets found their mark. The mutant was tough, I'd give it that.
The beast lunged at the railway platform as the wind gusts picked up. It knocked the man to the tracks and I was certain he was done for. I froze in place as it took a slash at him with one of its long, skeletal arms. The man rolled out of reach, pulling a knife from somewhere, and drove the blade deep into the Batwing's flesh. It screamed, flinging itself at him while he still gripped the knife. I gasped involuntarily when both sailed off the edge of the platform several metres to the ground.
I didn't see where they fell, but a few moments later, a disgruntled mutant took to the sky and flew away. What became of the newcomer? Maybe I could find him.
Seraph was waiting for me as I returned to my shelter. She was alert and eager, she had obviously heard the commotion.
I grabbed my other weapons and pack then ran along the length of the bridge section to my rubble pile and scrambled down. I dodged through open carcasses of derelict buildings and waist high grass, as I made my way to where I saw the man fall.
What did I expect to find there, a broken body, a bloody mess? I hoped not. He didn't deserve such a death after that fight.
After a few minutes of running, I found what I thought to be the location of the fall, directly below the platform. There were a few spots of blood on the concrete supports, but no dead guy. He survived? I found that hard to believe, but I couldn't argue with the evidence at hand. He must have landed on top of the monster. I couldn't think of any other way he could have survived a fall like that. Maybe I could find him after all.
I took a narrow track between some buildings where I could just make out some fresh boot prints in the soft ground. I signaled to Seraph, maybe she could pick up a scent trail. She inspected the ground with her nose for a few moments, before setting off at a lope. I keenly followed until she paused, front paw raised in mid air, her way of telling me she was thinking. I quickly figured out that she was alerting me to some more of Tom's goons running towards the ticket office building. They were yelling about the guy they just saw fall off the railway bridge.
Good girl. She sure did come in handy.
They were obviously after the same thing I was, but whatever they wanted from him, wasn't going to be to his benefit. Did I care? Not really. Not beyond finding out what he wanted with that sub and why he was speaking to the Captain. I didn’t care if it had nothing to do with me, I was far too interested to just walk away. I never was one to keep to myself after all.
I followed the rustling of the running men. The sound got closer so I quickened my pace, Seraph loping along in front. The Watchman stopped again, paw raised, listening. I couldn't hear anything anymore, but her senses were far more acute than mine.
"Where are they, girl?" I whispered. There were no sounds except for my heavy breathing and her strange growling pant. Then she stalked off, keeping low in the tall grass, so I did the same.
She lead me through chest high grass, around some nondescript concrete buildings, towards the ticket office. As I approached, I noticed a derailed train had at some point careened through one of the walls, destroying the facade and scattering debris all over the area. I surveyed the twisted wreck as I passed, and wondered what catastrophe had caused such an incident.
I was pulled back to the present by a sudden crash and insistent yelling from inside. An American accent met my ears. His hostile words were in Russian, but the inflection was very distinct and strange; the most foreign sound I'd heard in a long time. Another American? Was it just a coincidence?
More hostile yelling followed, very certainly Russian; Tom's goons. Damn, they found him already.
I instructed Seraph to follow at my heel and she did so without hesitation. I circled around the back side of the ticket office, where there were some mangled, skeletal trees devoid of foliage. I dropped to the ground near one of the trees, allowing the dry grass to conceal me from view. I propped up my Kalash on the ground before me, parting the grass. Then I lined my scope up with the gaping hole in the wall where it had collapsed, giving myself front row seats to the fight happening inside.
I immediately recognized the man I saw earlier. He was surrounded by at least eight of the bald headed jerks and they were trying without much success, to take him down.
"Take him alive!" One of the goons from the back of the fray, shouted.
"You're coming with us!" Another of the bald heads advanced on him with a tyre iron.
"The hell I am! Come and take it, you bastards!" The American challenged.
Seraph lurched forward, eager to join the fight, but I held her down. She would not discriminate between who she attacked and would likely go after the American as well.
"No!" I whispered, hanging on to her trembling body.
The bald head with the tyre iron swung at the American's head, but he was too quick and ducked under the weapon's reach, throwing himself at the assailant. He grabbed the weapon and wrenched it upwards, smashing it into bald head's face.
"Take that!" He growled, as a second guy came at him with a taser, before the first guy fell.
Taser guy rushed forward, extending the small device, bristling with electricity. I gritted my teeth. He was horribly outnumbered. I rolled over until I could reach my Kalash and settled it in front of me. Maybe I could take a few out.
While I was distracted, the American had fought off the taser guy, but was now taking on two others. Another with a tyre iron and the other with a small pry bar, while the remaining jerks crowded around. I lined up a shot, but everything happened so quickly that I couldn't keep focused. I didn't want to accidentally hit the guy I was trying to help.
The American meanwhile, disarmed the guy with the pry bar and slipped it behind the guy's knee, forcing him to the ground, stamping on his kneecap. An audible crack and a scream of agony, signaled the end of that particular threat, but the guy with the tyre iron came at him then.
"Stay down! I'll fucking kill you all!" The American yelled, as the guy with the tyre iron ran at him. The American used his momentum to throw him clear over his shoulder. The goon crumpled in a heap, weapon clattering to the floor, as another bald head with a taser challenged him. They really wanted to get this guy.
He quickly disarmed the taser thug and turned the weapon back on its owner, striking the flesh of his neck. Before I had a chance to shoot, another one of the jerks from before, came up behind the fighter, grabbing him while a second guy joined him. They grabbed him in a strong grip, as a third walked up, a smug expression sprawled over his ugly face.
"Not so tough any more, ha?"
"Go to hell!" The American growled defiantly, smashing his forehead into the thug’s face. I smiled. Damn he could fight. He wasn't giving up and I decided that I liked his spirit.
The thug’s head jerked back from the impact and I took that moment to line up a shot at the other goon to the right of the American. The whip crack echoed loudly off the building and blood erupted onto the wall nearby. The remaining jerks threw themselves into cover. In the momentary confusion that followed, the American smashed his elbow into the face of the guy still holding him and made a break for it, sprinting towards the hole in the wall in front of me.
"Who the hell is shooting?" One of them bellowed.
"Me you bitches!" I let off another shot, dropping one of them.
I watched the American sprint towards me.
"Don't let him get away!" One of the buffoons shouted.
"He's got help! Find them!" Three of the bruisers charged after the American.
They were still coming straight for me. Seraph snapped her jaws as I tried to pin her to the ground with my arm, but she was too strong. She broke free, sprang from the grass and tore after the nearest thug. He shrieked in pain as she latched on to his arm and pulled him to the ground.
"Damn it Seraph!" I cursed under my breath. This wasn't playing out like I imagined it would.
The American ignored the Watchman, sparing just a quick glance over his shoulder, and continued running.
Right over the top of me.
He obviously didn't see me in the tall grass. His boot caught me in the ribs and he stumbled. I let out a grunt of pain and he paused to glance back, looking right at me. We stared at each other for a strange moment, before he peered at something that I couldn't see and went to run again.
One of the bald heads had come up behind him and tackled him to the ground, before striking the back of his head with a fist. The man fell in the grass heavily, just a few metres from where I lay. The thug dragged him off, back towards the ticket office, as I was hit with a flash of guilt. He almost got away. He got caught because I was there. Damn.
When the thug moved away, I called Seraph to me. How was I supposed to reprimand a mutant? I shook my head, as she left the dead bandit and trotted over to me, proudly. Some of the other jerks fired at her and I hoped to hell that she didn’t get hit, but she bounded over to me, unscathed. The thugs didn’t bother chasing after her. They were likely waiting for the rest of her pack to arrive.
I lay listening to what they were saying to each other, as the Watchman cleaned the blood off her paws next to me.
“Did anyone find out who was shooting at us?” One of them asked.
“No, he must have disappeared when the Watchman showed up,”
“Bastard! He got our guys! What do we tell the Cat?” “Just tell him some bandits showed up,” the guy shrugged, “He won’t care that much,”
“Are we going to look for the bandit?”
“Nah, let him be eaten by Watchmen. We have to get this guy back to the Boss. He will want to know that we found him with the Captain. Yes, he should be very interested in that. Now, let’s go before more of those fucking beasts find us,”
I watched as two of them picked up the American by his arms and legs and headed away from the ticket office.
When I was certain I was out of eye shot, I stood and darted across the open ground to the wall of the office. There were too many of them to take on by myself, so I followed in the shadows to watch what they did next. Turns out, the jerks had two boats waiting for them in a flooded warehouse a few streets over. I followed them at a distance and watched as they deposited the American, roughly into the nearest boat. He was still unconscious and I imagined he would have a very sore head when he woke up again.
“Ah, he is a heavy bastard. Look at all this stuff he is wearing. That body armour would look good on me,”
“Hey, hands off! Klim will probably want first pick,” I clenched my teeth at the sound of that name.
Klim, head of Tom Cat’s security, and a sadistic barbarian that used torture to get what he wanted. We knew this well.
One of our best snipers, Senya, and his spotter, Mikhail, were caught near the port and put under Klim’s knives for information. They were tortured for hours, but neither would talk. Senya died with his information. Mikhail lost two fingers on his right hand and half his ear and had innumerable burns and flesh wounds. He described the terrible things Klim did. Slicing skin, cutting off fingers and ears, and electric shocks, beatings and burns, were just a few things Mikhail mentioned. It was not easy to get him to speak of it, and he has never been the same since.
He would have terrible scars for the rest of his life, but was allowed to live, and later, they let him go, so that he could tell us what happened there. It was supposed to keep us away from them, but we turned it into a personal vendetta against them instead. I promised Mikhaill that if I ever got the chance to kill that animal, I would, and I very much intended to keep my word. For now though, there was no way to follow them.
I watched as they climbed into the boats, missing a few of their number, courtesy of Seraph and myself. I wanted to kill all of them for what they did to Senya and Mikhail, for what they did to this guy, this stranger. I wanted them all dead so badly, but I knew that it will only end with me being killed, if I went for them now. Now was not the time. As soon as I had a chance I would take it. I just hoped that would be soon.
"Well, we might as well go now, before this storm hits," I told Seraph, starting back to where I left my barge.
As I walked, I couldn't help thinking about what I'd just witnessed. I had never seen anyone fight like that before. He was definitely military. It just deepened my curiosity about why the guy was here. He had a story I wanted to hear. But now, the Cat's meatheads had him. For what? The question burned a hole in me. What did he have to do with all of this? I had to find out somehow. Could I go over there and get him out? I quickly threw away that idea, as I knew I could never do that by myself and Yuri wouldn’t want to risk our guys for a stranger. I knew I had to find him again, though, if only to defy Tom and his man-beast.
Author Notes: The next part of the Vagabond War