Red vaulted the cement barricade and landed hard in cover, any remaining breath driven out in a coughing gust by the impact, the howling of the raiders so loud on her tail she was amazed she hadn’t caught a spear in the back already. As if on cue, a long, wicked looking metal spear flew overhead and thudded into the ground behind her. Poker and Rennie gaped at it and then down at her from where they crouched down on either side of her, their eyes wide and white in the near dark. “Fucksake, light ‘em up!” she wheezed, reaching for her own shooter.
It wasn’t powerful, but her voice seemed to break their trance and the two men rose to firing positions, guns braced on the barricade, and opened up on the raiders charging their position. A second later, Red heard more reports nearby as the rest of the ambush party came to life around them, nearly a dozen shooters blazing and turning the broken terrain of the old caravan lot into a killing floor.
Rennie gave an ugly wet grunt and went over backward as Red found her feet, a spear right through his scrap vest. He convulsed and grabbed at the shaft, but even at a glance Red could see he was done. All she could spare was a tight, sorry smile and then it was her turn at the barricade, hand cannon up and hunting. A half-dozen raiders were down already, others limping and injured from wounds. A few had managed to close the distance with their attackers despite the trap, and Red could see a furious hand to hand battle over in the trees on the right.
And of course, one raider charging right for her. She was powerfully built, like most of her clan, her face painted in alternating lines of white chalk and some sort of blue powder, her armor scavenged from several kills by the look of it. Though Red could see at least two bullet wounds in her already, the raider didn’t appear to notice, and was closing fast. She had a jagged metal axe in one hand and a length of spiked chain in the other, and a smile full of bloody teeth.
“Jammed!” Poker called out next to her, his voice high and panicked.
“Fuck!” Red yelled, somewhere between surprise, a curse, and a war cry. She didn’t have time to aim, just pointed her hand cannon at the charging raider and pulled the trigger. She managed to get her axe away in an overhand throw that caught Poker in the shoulder and dropped him, swearing. Red’s first shot went wide but she got the second and third under control, taking a big chunk out of the raider’s left shoulder and punching another bloody hole in her stomach. The chain fell from nerveless fingers as her left arm went useless, but she kept coming, shrieking as she took the fourth and fifth shots to the body as well, and then she was at the barricade.
“Die die die die—” Red half-chanted, half-shouted, readying a headshot, but the raider was faster than anyone with that many bullet holes should be, and shouldered into Red with a feral leap, taking them both down in a tangle of sweat and metal and pinning the hand cannon between them. They came up with the raider on top — Red shot her free hand out and caught the raider by the throat as she ducked in, filed teeth snapping. She tried to squeeze but the raider’s neck felt like rebar, so she shifted tactics and snapped up with a vicious headbutt. Stars exploded behind her eyes but she felt the raider’s strength ebb, so she ignored the pain and did it again, twice, three times, until the raider’s eyes were unfocused and blood drooled from her mouth.
“Done,” Red hissed, working her hand cannon into one of the raider’s bullet holes and angling it upward. She squeezed the trigger, closing her eyes against the gore as the cannon tore a fresh tunnel through the raider’s chest and blew out the top of her head. Red grunted and shoved the dead weight off of her, backhanding blood and bits of bone from her eyes. Rennie had stopped twitching, but Poker had staggered to his feet, face pale and screwed up against the pain. “You gonna live?” Red asked.
“Think so,” Poker managed through gritted teeth. “Hurts like fuck, though.”
Red looked around. The ambush was over, minus a few stray whimpers and gurgles from those they’d need to coax back from the edge (or send over it). “Bonny Mike! Front and center, Poker’s hurt! Everyone else, sound off.” As the little medic scrambled to tend to Poker, Red took in the call out. Other than Rennie, everyone else was still functional, which would make taking out the actual raider nest easier. She’d drawn most of them out with the bait run; those that hadn’t followed would have heard the ambush, but she wasn’t out of tricks yet. Not with a prize so great.
“Some harvest for you, Deacon.” Red turned and saw Rocket holding out a bloody lump, still pumping weakly in his hands. Sure enough, it was shot through with faintly glowing blue psi crystals, tiny but unmistakably present.
“Looks like the rumors were right,” Red said, sharing a grin with Rocket. She loaded her hand cannon, then raised it over head as she called out to her faithful. “Knights! The prize is close! Let’s bring in the harvest!” They cheered back, roaring their prayers, and in that moment, she knew they could not lose.
* * *
Later, they said you could see the raider nest fire burning for miles, and eerie blue smoke that brought on bad coughing and worse dreams. By then, of course, Deacon Red and her Knights were long gone, along with the crystals they’d bled so hard to obtain… and the locals’ problems were only just beginning.