Doppel was enjoying himself.
That would be normal in most other circumstances, but here, as gunfire and the sounds of clashing blades filled the air, it was a strange thing.
He laughed as he ran forward, a leap carrying him over the scrum between his own men and the ragged rebels, landing lightly on the barrel of a cannon that had been mounted on one of their makeshift barricades. The gun crew, men wearing the emblems of the Black Beards- hadn't the Nightmares killed most of them?- looked up in horror.
Doppel smiled, knowing it would be the only thing visible in the shadows cast by his wide-brimmed hat, and tapped the butt of his tuning fork against the cannon. “Morning, gentlemen. Steel Canon. ”
The cannon rang, and the barrel cracked as the gun crew screamed in pain, bleeding from eyes and ears. As they stumbled back, Doppel’s smile widened, and he unsheathed his sword. The gun crew died before the other soldiers on the barricade could reach them, but those soldiers kept coming, waving all manner of disconcerting implements. He swept the tuning fork forwards.
The blast of vibrating air tossed them aside like chaff.
Doppel grimaced and dug a finger in his ear. Had he screwed up that blast? He couldn’t hear the battle anym-
No, wait, that was because all the rebels on the barricades, and in front of them, were dead. His mistake.
The Nightmares mixed in with his crew were already looting the dead, while their leader cleaned the blood off his tonfas.
Jackals, the lot of them.
The least they could do was let his boys have first pick, after all.
“Alright!” he shouted, grabbing the attention of his crew. “No time to stop, boys. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and I have a feeling we’ve just kicked the hornet’s nest. Let’s keep moving!” He turned back around, checking the streets. Four roads- three deeper into the city, a fourth parallel to the river. Great. “First and Second Divisions, hold the road and the bridge here. Third, left, I’m with you. Fourth, Clare, center road. Nightmares, you’ve got the right. Let’s go!”
Clare sketched a salute with the ornate, oversized clock hand she carried, and trotted off, followed by thirty of his crew. Another thirty followed Doppel as the remaining sixty spread out along the road.
Did he feel all that bad about sending the Nightmares off alone?
Not really. They weren’t his crew, and if they felt obligated to walk around like hardasses, they’d better be prepared to prove it.
Knutte snarled in frustration as his men scrambled for whatever cover they could find, bullets whipping through the air. The bastards had set up a gun position at the end of the street, and everything else in this direction was blocked off by rubble and barricades. A killing ground, and one he had little choice but to push through.
“Fucking rebel shitheads!” he shouted, before jerking his head back behind the dubious safety of a storefront. Muttering curses, he dug a transponder snail out of his pocket.
“Nightmare! Where are your boys?”
“Pinned down behind you. Why?”
“I’m gonna draw their fire. Can you take out that gun?”
There was a moment’s silence.
Knutte nodded, and drew on his power. His body swelled and hardened, plates of armor-like hide covering his body. Claws sprouted from his fingertips and toes, and he hunched forwards as his spine reshaped itself. He smiled, displaying rows of tombstone-like teeth, and fell to all fours.
Bullets skipped off his head and shoulders, deflecting or flattening against the hide that had given him his nickname. It didn’t even hurt, and Knutte kept advancing. His vision was poor in this state, but he could still make out the rebel position at the end of the street, if only because it was hard to miss the constant muzzle flashes of their gatling gun and the rifle teams manning the barricade next to them.
There was a brief moment of pressure as someone grabbed ahold of the hide near his hips, pressure that vanished almost instantly.
The gatling gun- and most of the barricade around it- vanished as a blade of air crushed it with all the delicacy of a particularly large hammer.
The Nightmare navigator landed in front of Knutte, sword in hand, and loped forwards as the Steel Shields and other Nightmares poured out of their cover, taking advantage of the sudden disarray of their enemies. A hail of bullets forced the rebels to huddle behind their barricades as his crew advanced, carrying swords and the shields they’d taken their name from.
They might not have been the best shots, but damn if his boys couldn’t lay down the hurt in close combat.
He shrank back down as he turned back to human form, vision sharpening again. The Nightmare navigator gave him a strange look. “What?” Knutte growled.
“Armadillo Zoan?” the navigator asked. “Hadn’t expected that.”
“What the hell did you expect?”
“Honestly? Bear Zoan.”
Knutte gave him the finger, and looked towards the fighting, which was dying down rapidly as several of the rebels ran rather than face his crew.
It begged a question. Where the hell were the enemy crews? This lot was mostly miners and ex-civilians, not pirates. Where had they-
Thump-thump thump-thump .
He dove for cover as the shrieking wail of incoming mortar rounds filled his ears. Explosions began to rain down around him, and he hugged the wall of the nearest shop, cursing under his breath as the sound of his men running- and dying- began to filter under the hell that was being unleashed.
He was going to find the bastards who were doing this and tear them apart, he swore.
The first notice they got of the sniper was when one of the Tercio merc’s heads turned into vapor.
Jack wasn’t a fool- he grabbed the nearest members of his crew and yanked them into the nearest alley, hoping the others would take the hint.
The Tercios broke almost instantly, the black-and-yellow-wearing mercenaries spreading out into the alleyways, and the sniper’s rifle cracked twice more. Jack counted heads. Eleven, twelve, thirteen...phew. Hadn’t lost anyone yet. Now where the hell were those shots coming from?
Another rifle cracked- this one a deeper sound, clearly a heavier caliber- and one of the Tercio commanders- the one who dressed as though he was on vacation- stepped out into the street, carrying said rifle. “Get your butts in gear, people!” he shouted. “Not going to be the first time one of these bastards shows up. Next time, shoot them!”
Well, he and his weren’t going to, that was for sure. He preferred living, and having a hole in his brain was not conducive to that.
He needed to stop hanging around the captain so much. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up cackling and waving a scalpel around while talking about science in words that had more syllables than a centipede had legs.
Right. Back to the war. He looked over his men, then glanced up. Fuck, he hated fighting on roofs. But if there were more snipers- and there definitely were- it was the best way to avoid being seen. With the amount of attention the mercs on the ground were attracting, nobody would notice an attack from above.
“Rooftops,” he said flatly, before jumping up- and kicking off the air again, propelling himself still higher. The others followed, the few who hadn’t gotten the hang of Moon Walk being carried by those who were skilled with it.
“We’re going to move fast,” he said quickly. “Stay out of sight, let the Tercios move in first, but when the enemy shows up, hit them as hard as you can and keep them from killing our allies. Get me?”
Nods all around.
Jack hefted his hammer.
It looked like he was going to have to work after all. What a shame. He’d hoped being attached to the Tercios would mean back-line duties.
It was quiet.
Which it most certainly shouldn’t have been, because a quarter of the Gear Pirates and the entire Fourth Company of the Tercio mercs had been pushing through here, and the sounds of battle should’ve been audible still.
But except for the dead bodies in the streets- mostly rebels and Black Beard crew, though there were many Tercios and a few Gears- there wasn’t a single damn sign of the enemy.
It made Eka nervous. And the Boss too, judging by how he was practically stalking down the street. Even C had picked up on it, the kid fingering one of the many short throwing knives he carried and walking with his head on a swivel.
Spread out and watch the rooftops , Eka signalled to the others with his hands.
Sixty-three molluscs atop a shell pie, Percy signed back. Eka restrained a sigh. And here he’d thought that they’d gotten the hand of the thieves’ cant.
Well, it appeared they’d gotten the gist anyway. The Oni surrounded the Boss and C, a loose web of bodyguards that covered every sightline.
The sounds of their boots echoed off the empty and frozen streets.