The next few weeks passed by very slowly. Mom and Dad weren’t thrilled with being stuck in the compound: more specifically, they weren’t thrilled about having to cohabitate with nearly a dozen heavily armed and lethal paramilitary wackos in a compound filled with enough firepower to fight World War III. While they weren’t very vocal with their displeasure, they still gave pretty much everyone in the compound an icy attitude. The only real exceptions were Jon – who my mother still liked despite him, to put it in her words, “turning my son into a crazy Right-Wing paranoid gun nut” – and Odette. I guess they sympathized with her losing Robert the way she had. That actually surprised me; I’d expected out-and-out hostility towards her, considering her undead former fiancé was the reason they were stuck here.
Jake and Terry, on the other hand, had quickly become infatuated by the whole idea of Monster Hunting. They picked every team member’s brain about everything Monster; what was real, what wasn’t where they lived, what they ate, how to kill them, you name it, they asked it. It was actually kind of nice… for the first two days. Then it got pretty annoying. Only good thing was that they finally let me teach them how to shoot. They turned out to be quick studies, and proved to actually be pretty good. Surprisingly, though, despite being identical twins, each of their favorite weapons turned out to be anything but: Jake soon favored the M25 sniper rifle (basically a super-accurized M14) while Terry went with the M60 machine gun.
Mom and Dad were not thrilled that I’d finally succeeded in “corrupted their sons with my violent nature.” I didn’t care: I’d already moved out, so there was nothing left for them to hold over my head.
As if dealing with my family wasn’t enough, the team also had Jon to deal with. He started mourning the loss of his beloved SR-25 the second we hit the highway back to Scranton. Apparently he’d been using the rifle ever since he’d joined MHI, and he was pretty broken up about losing it. I kind of thought it was silly, but then again, I’d only been using my FAL for a few months and I was already getting pretty attached to it.
Picking a new rifle proved to be a chore too. Jon wanted a new SR-25, but both Dominique and Julie pointed out that it wasn’t the most accurate semi-auto platform on the market – something Jon would readily admit to. It was the alternatives they suggested that caused the problem: Julie suggested an accurized M14 like hers, which was nice, but not an AR platform, and Dominique almost gave him an aneurism when she came out in favor of the H&K PSG-1. For as long as I’ve known him, Jon has hated Heckler & Koch firearms with a burning passion, calling them over-hyped, over-rated, over-priced pieces of junk. I personally didn’t really agree to this sentiment (I’d shot a USP45 once and found it to be okay. Not great, but okay), but Jon would not be swayed.
Fortunately, bloodshed was avoided when I interceded and suggested a Crusader Broadsword: a .308 AR-style battle rifle made by the same guys who build my Partisan and the Warhammer which formed the basis of Boudica. Jon knew my Partisan well (he pretty much stole it for a week shortly after I’d arrived up here), knew it was good quality, and jumped on it. The guys at Crusader were great: within weeks, his custom-built Broadsword arrived at our local dealer. He’d gone with the eighteen-inch barrel and had it outfitted with a match trigger, MagPul PRS stock, a Harriss bipod, and a Schmidt & Bender scope. It was love at first sight.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the team still had missions to fulfill. They went after a lyndwyrm in the nearby coal mine (you don’t want to hear about that one), some goblins up in Maine, harpies in NYC (with the mayor hounding them with weapons violations the whole time) and what turned out to be harmless Sasquatch sighting out near Pittsburg.
I say “they” because I wasn’t with them. I was assigned, by direct orders from Earl Harbinger himself, to remain the compound at all times. Thankfully, Odette was kind enough to stay behind and keep me company; she helped run interference with Jake and Terry, and also help out with Hondo. He’s really taken a liking to her, and the feeling was mutual. I’d never seen anyone warm up to my Rottie that fast before; their reputation as vicious baby-killers lead most people I’d met to keep their distance from him for a long time.
As all this was going on, I slowly but surely worked at rebuilding The Beast. The body and frame had been professionally restored – all the rust had been removed and replaced with fresh sheet metal – and the Hotchkis suspension package was added at the same time. Slowly, the old GTO went back together, piece by piece. Again, the whole team pitched in, as did Jake and Terry. Mom knew absolutely zilch about cars, and while Dad said I should’ve spent my money on something more practical and in much better shape, he helped out occasionally too. Personally, I think he was just jealous: I once heard him speak wistfully of his college roommates’ then-new ’68 Dodge Charger R/T.
After a few weeks, The Beast was nearly complete; all that was left to do was send it off for a fresh coat of paint. Lucky for me, Dominique had a younger brother who owned an auto-paint shop nearby (turns out she’s from a family of gear-heads) which was, in her opinion, the best paint shop on the East Coast. Given how much she’d contributed so far to the build, I didn’t doubt her, so we loaded The Beast onto the back of a flatbed and sent it off to Eli (Dominique’s brother) to work his magic on.
The night before The Beast was scheduled to return, I had The Dream again.
I tore down Broad Street, the Beast’s big V8 howling its unearthly bellow. I watched through the windshield as the gargoyle – it was definitely holding something in its talons – tucked in its wings and plunged like an old WWII dive bomber through the roof of the Art Museum. I parked at the base of the rocky steps and leapt from the big Pontiac, grabbing my guns and katana – I didn’t have the wakazashi this time for some reason – and fastening them to my armor as I charged up the steps and into the museum. I knew where Robert was: same place as always, Medieval Arms and Armor. I walked coolly into the room, didn’t run. Robert was waiting for me.
Then the dream changed.
Odette was there. I couldn’t believe it: she was standing next to Robert. She was still human, hadn’t been bitten, hadn’t been turned, but she was still next to him. Like she’d joined him.
Robert didn’t hesitate. He smashed his fist into a display case and yanked out a basket-hilted sword. I vaguely recognized the design – a scimitar from the Middle East. No sooner was the blade in his hand than he charged me. He was unnaturally fast, covering the great room in seconds. I barely had time to raise my FAL before he’d covered three-quarters of the distance. I fired as fast as I could pull the trigger. It was like I was shooting spitballs; he didn’t even flinch.
Then he was on me, hacking savagely at my head. I barely ducked his strike as I let the empty FAL fall away and yanked the Mossberg from my back scabbard. I backpedaled away from him, firing as fast as I could work the action, pumping four ounces of solid silver into his head at near-contact distance. He screamed in pain as the silver burned his flesh, but the wounds were healed before he even felt them. He hacked at me, driving his blade straight down towards my skull. He’d have cleaved me in two if I hadn’t raised my shotgun up like a bo staff and caught the blade.
The ancient metal, genuine Damascus steel sharper than the sharpest razor, cleaved into the shotgun’s aluminum receiver but didn’t penetrate all the way through. I snap-kicked Robert in the neck, knocking him back and pulling the shotgun off of the sword. I snapped the weapon to my shoulder and fired.
The Mossberg blew up in my face. The sword had penetrated into the shotgun’s chamber, compromising it.
I went down screaming, clutching at my face and arms as shards of hot metal, gas, and burning power assaulted me. I heard Odette scream. Then Robert was on me. My eyes were burning, watering, I barely saw him. I stumbled back as he swung at my legs. The blow would have cleaved through my knees. It barely missed; the point of the blade raked through my upper thighs.
I let out a howl of pain as I fell to my knees. I grabbed at the SIG in my thigh holster, snapping it up and emptying it just as Robert swung at me again. He was aiming to take my arm off at the shoulder. The nine lead-and-silver hollowpoints distracted him just long enough for me to roll out of the way. I tried to rise to my feet, but my legs wouldn’t take the weight.
Robert turned on me again as I pulled the baby SIG from my shoulder rig – wait, when had I started wearing one of those? – and emptied it into him. Seven more silver-and-lead PowR-Balls lanced into his neck and chest, buying me just enough time to draw my Katana and block his next swing.
Now the fight turned. He was fast, inhumanly fast, but he didn’t have the proper training. I did. I expertly parried every single one of his attacks, got in a few of my own too. They hurt him – he screamed in pain each time my blade sliced through his flesh – but I couldn’t reach for the fatal decapitation shot that I needed.
The end was inevitable. I was on my knees, unable to stand, unable to move. I was blocking, parrying, and attacking like an expert kendoka, but sooner or later, I had to miss.
It happened. Robert feinted for my neck, then brought his scimitar down towards my wrists. I blocked, too slow. His blade rode down mine, slicing through the tsuba and down the ray skin-wrapped hilt.
The katana fell from my grasp as my fingers fell from my hands. Strangely, there was no pain. I screamed anyway.
Robert drove his foot into my chest, breaking ribs, snapping muscles, and sending my sliding across the floor. That hurt. A lot.
I lay there, staring at the ceiling, unable to move, barely able to breathe, unable to do anything really besides feel excruciating pain. Then Robert was standing above me. His scimitar was gone; in his hands now was a wicked-looking crossbow. The string was drawn back, a heavy bolt was loaded in place. I tried to pull myself away, but I couldn’t get traction on the blood-slicked marble floor.
Robert slowly lowered the weapon, an evil smile on his face, until the bolt was leveled at my throat. I heard Odette scream again. Then Robert squeezed the trigger, and my body was consumed in white-hot pain.