Worlds Adrift Chapter 77

The moon was making its slow climb to the sky when a quiet shuffle of activity took the docks of the slums. Hundreds of people, most of them with some sort of odd feature. Some had longer ears or longer hair. Others had odd-colored skin. Others still were taller or shorter than those around them. No matter what feature they held, however, they were all shuffling towards a lone boat, moored against the dock. The darkness was bearable, the moon’s light bathing the crowd in a pale blue hue, and the evacuation was under its guise. People slowly walked aboard the old ship, wincing at the groaning steel that whined beneath their feet.

The guards from the Tunnel Rats were watching the buildings around the crowd, making sure that no one saw their flight from the slums. They stroked their blades or counted their bullets or checked their armor with nervous glances at the buildings around them. The tension that plagued the guards spread like an infectious disease to the crowd of escapees. Each had their own nervous tic, but most of them showed their fear with theirs.

The chaos started with a dull thump. A young guard, checking his blade for chips, fell to the ground, his head leaking red blood. Those around him wasted no time in shouting to the others, turning the crowd’s quiet shuffle into a near stampede to get on to the ship. While shouts and screams echoed off of the bay, men in black and red armor emerged from the darkest corners of the dock, armed with pistols and machine guns. Without skipping a beat, the crusaders fired into the crowd or the closest guard. 

After a few moments the guards set up a massive mana shield that protected the fleeing crowd, but the damage was already done. Many lay dead or dying on the concrete ground. The braver of the crowd ran back to bring as many people, be they dead or not, on to the ship. While the escapees fled on to the ship, the crusaders focused their fire on the center of the shield in a bid to tear it open. 

Their gamble paid off, because by the time the guards were ready to shoot back, there was a hole in the center of the shield. The guards began to fire their guns, the ones with only melee weapons trying to repair the torn shield. Bullets pinged off of the crusaders’ shields. Barely flinching, they pulled back to take cover wherever they could find it. 

The firefight progressed, with each side taking pot shots at each other but holding back their true firepower. The uneasy stalemate ended when the Order Leader arrived. Brandishing his blade the lead crusader charged the mana shield, the other crusaders falling in behind him. The defenders took the opportunity to unleash all they had on the charging fanatics. Bullets, explosives, enchantment attacks, and even a few arrows fell upon the crusaders.

Under the onslaught, the crusaders knew no fear as they trampled through the mana shield that protected the boat and the guards and tore into the dock with their guns and enchantments. Men and women scattered as the attacks fell upon their posts, blowing them to smithereens. It did not take long for them to find new places, one by one, and return the enemies’ fire with greater ferocity. 

Under the constant assault, the crusader leader made his decision and charged at the boat as the last few escapees boarded. Holding out his left wrist, a pellet rocketed from his armor, straight at the boat. Before it could launch, however, hurricane-like winds rocked the charging group and threw the pellet’s aim off course, sending it into the water. With a rising bang, the water bulged, sending waves larger than the people present crashing into the docks and the boat. It rocked back and forth but never capsized, bringing a sigh of relief from the guards. With the threat dealt with, Huk strode from his hiding spot near the boat with Fuel by his side. The crusader leader took one look at the demon and charged, telling his men to hunt their foe through some arcane method. Fuel left Huk’s side and dashed to the crusaders, her fire at the ready. 

With an overhand swing, the crusader leader clashed with Huk, sending him skidding backward half a foot. With a growl he headbutted the overzealous crusader, making him stumble backwards. Huk followed, slashing at the crusader with a blade of wind from his armor. Dodging the blade the crusader jumped back, letting a shot from his revolver fly. The shot hit, punching a hole in Huk’s mana shield, shoulder armor and drawing blood. He could almost feel the fanatic’s jubilation at the sight of his blood.

Grinning behind his helmet, Huk stood straight, “Oh? You’re not going to fight like a cornered rat again, are you?” he taunted. 

The man’s eyes, which had shown a look of contemptuous glee, narrowed, “When a hound tastes blood, they go for the kill. We are the hounds of His Holiness, Pope Helix the First, and of the Purist faith; we will not let you escape for long.”

“You’re hunting rats, kid, not rabbits,” Huk laughed, “Maybe you should’ve brought some cats with you!” As he spoke, he noticed the anger behind the black and red armor and was caught off guard by the swipe the crusader attacked with.

“No chatter,” he growled, “I will tour the island with your head in tow if it’s the last thing I do!” Seething with anger, the crusader let loose more shots from his revolver. They flew true, striking his shield, but being thrown away by blasts of air from Huk’s armor. Seemingly unconcerned, the crusader threw himself at Huk, clashing once more. 

They clashed over and over, sending sparks flying and mana shooting off in every direction. As their battle continued, Fuel was torching the crusaders that had split up to hunt the guards brought in to protect the escapees. While the burning napalm was certainly dangerous, the crusaders were far too professional to let themselves be hit by the slowly moving globs of it from Fuel’s cannon. The only way to hit a shot was to get closer, putting her in range of their swords. Fortunately, she was adept in melee combat. 

Dropping down, Fuel managed to avoid the fate of losing her head. Using the opportunity, she blasted the man’s exposed stomach, searing the mana shield and making the man wearing it back up. Without letting him get far, Fuel took a hatchet she kept with her from her belt and swung it into the crusader’s chestplate. It was ineffective, as the strike simply dented the metal and made the man fall, coughing. 

Resigning herself to the duty, she took her cannon and aimed it at the burning man’s face. Just as she was about to pull the trigger, she saw the man’s eyes. They were practically grinning at her. She leapt to the side, dodging the shots coming from his shotgun he was hiding under his arm. Before the man could recover from the failure of his plan, Fuel shot her cannon at him again and again and again, only stopping when his muffled screams were silenced.

Sighing, she turned her attention back to the ship, which was making good progress in sailing away in the few minutes they had stalled the crusaders. Then, a large flame blasted out from the edge of the dock, sending something sailing across the water. Its back lit up, showing that it was a rocket. It tore into the side of the boat, blasting a hole into the metal. It lurched away from the explosion, but did not capsize. 

She saw the blood that splattered across the walls of the ship, of whoever was unlucky enough to be standing there, and turned away. Muttering to herself she took a road flare from her robe, striking it and throwing it as high into the air as she could. It burst into red flames, shooting off smoke of the same color. 

With the failure signal sent, the guards needed to leave. There was no one on land to protect anymore and it was up to luck whether or not the people aboard the ships died or not. One by one, the Tunnel Rats escaped, only staying to team up and deal with the crusaders who pursued one of them too far into the slums. 

Huk saw the flare, but was unable to escape due to the manic crusader in front of him. Sighing, he blasted air into the crusader, but still could not shake him off. Growling as he passed through the streets of the slums, he noticed a glint in the distance and grinned. 

Spinning around to meet his pursuer, he stood his ground, knife at the ready. The Order Leader stopped as well, judging the scene in front of him. With a laugh, the man’s eyes showed him grinning, “So, you finally accept your fate? Or are you just-” his words were cut off as a bullet struck his mana shield, pinging off. The surprise, however, made him stumble back and drop his guard. Huk wasted no time in sending a backhanded fist into the man’s chest and adding an air blast on top of it. The man flew through the street and was only stopped after skidding along the ground for hundreds of feet.

Huk ran. After an hour of random running, he finally felt confident that he had lost his pursuer. Feeling the adrenaline fade from his mind, he frowned deeply and sighed. With a short gait, he walked back to the Tunnel Rats headquarters.

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