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[Npc]The cold. The fucking cold. Winds that bluster and snow that blinds. Hopefully, you, dear reader, have yourself a cup of hot cocoa or another means of warmth. [/npc]

Johann folded the scraps of paper once more and replaced it in the pocket of his jeans, climbing into his vehicle. He was heading up to Alaska, making a solo trip through the badlands. There was supposedly a group of dragons living there. He drew it out again once seated. [Npc]If you have your drink, the next step you might wish to take is the procurement of a comfortable chair. For this is a tale of much mystery and mysticism, not unlike that which we have seen in our daily lives since that fateful sky split in two.[/npc]

[Johann] Get to the point, would you? [/Johann] the dragon mumbled, skipping paragraphs at a time.

[Npc]Just north of the old ANWAR reserve, there exists a colony of true dragons. They have created an insular community, encased in a dome of heated glass, protected from the elements by their draconic magics.[/npc]

Johann had bought a pre-resonance map of Alaska from a hoarder named Jim. The Anwar reserve was already far north. He'd have to travel through the snow. He hated snow... especially in the summer. Hot breath warmed his hands, folding the papers, putting on gloves, and settling the car into gear. Time to drive as far north as he could, avoiding zombies and other angry enemies of civility.

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May 24th

 

Wesley looked outside of the window of the slow moving truck with a smile, his eyes darting left and right in search of nothing in particular.  Simply enjoying the sights.  No grass or dirt, or concrete.  Just white.  Powder everywhere.  Just more and more pristine white.  A childhood in North Carolina afforded him sunny, sweltering summers, and frigid, blistering winters... but snowstorms?  They were few and far between.  Most were just wet and cold, with a light glaze of frost on the ground.  He had maybe... seven or eight white Christmases before moving to New York.  Now, every winter was caked in snow.  He was thankful for that... but everyone who lived there was so used to it that it wasn't pure magic like it was for Wesley.  Snow brought bitching and moaning about having to shovel it (something Wesley never had to do back home) or having to make up work days later.   No one wanted to come with him to the park and build snowmen, or make snow cream or write yellow messages in the snow.  And snowball fights?  The only ones ever down for those were cryomancers, for obvious reasons.  Still, despite being cold natured, Wesley found himself rejuvenated; excited and child-like when the first bit of snowflakes started peppering the city come winter time.

 

So imagine his excitement when he was given an opportunity to go to Alaska on a mission.  In the summer no less!  Snow, snow, as far as the eye could see, provided you were in the right area.  And much to Wesley's delight he certainly was.  On top of that, there was another reason for his excitement.  Of the little over four years Wesley spent in ARMA he was considered for promotion in rank around the time of the bombing.  Things happened... and the disappearance of Wesley's brother Kyle was a trauma that he failed to bounce back from for months.   He took it hard, and his mindstate reflected that of someone who wasn't ready for the stress and responsibility of leadership.  It did however, motivate the young Magus to focus on bettering himself in his magical studies as a coping mechanism.  A way to take his mind off of his failures.  And that motivation resulted in a sizable increase in spell accuracy and power.  Wes was really coming into his own as a full fledged mage, and his shot at promotion up the ranks of knighthood was earned back.

 

So here he was, with a small platoon and a shadow; a sergeant to make sure Wesley really was ready for his push.  That meant no snowmen.  No snowball fights.  No yellow snow writing.  No smiles; just game face.  So he turned from the passenger seat window and looked back to his team; smile gone and replaced with a stern look, taking in their expressions and reading the situation before turning back to the front and looking at the road ahead of them.  He reached into his backpack and removed a book and flipped to it's folded over page before reading to himself.

 

"First tip toward becoming a better leader... lead by example... sure, I can do that.  Monkey see, monkey do.  Makes sense."  he tossed the book back into his pack and checked his gear to make sure it was all prepped for the mission.  Turning to the truck of grunts in the back, along with Cassandra, Wesley called out to them to urge them all to do the same  "Everyone's up to speed on the op, right?  Threat level is expected to fluctuate as we're not sure exactly what artifact we're looking for.  The only thing we know for sure is that there are increasing numbers of dead along the areas marked in your files.  You don't approach a horde, you don't fire your firearms from anywhere other than the gray zone.  Noise will attract them and there's no cover in the yellow or red, meaning they'll be on you in seconds if the intel is correct about how many we've got to deal with.  Likewise, the cold can interfere with your mana focus.  A lot of us here are used to practicing our spells in relatively stress-free environments.  Things like trauma, injury, and discomfort from extreme heat or cold can throw off your aim or increase your casting time.  You may even over-shoot your casting and waste mana in an attempt to hit the correct formulas.  It's happened before.  Take your time.  Stay calm.  Don't take any unnecessary risks.   We expect to only be here long enough to acquire the asset, so there's no need to go full auto out there.  This is Alaska, not Racoon City.  You're members of ARMA, not S.T.A.R.S.  Understood?"

 

Silence.  Alec was probably the only one to get the reference, and he wasn't here.  Wesley cleared his throat and glanced to Cass, hoping she might have.  

 

Wesley breathed deep and continued.  "Check and double check your gear.  Even though we'll try to make it quick there's no telling how long we're gonna be out here so make sure you're stocked with ammo, rations, water... re-read your dossiers.  They'll catch you up on where you're supposed to be set-"  Wesley's words were cut off by the slowing of the truck and the squeaking of breaks.  He looked to the driver and, before he could question why he stopped, he could finally hear it.  Barely.  He looked ahead and his mouth flew agape in a gasp at what he saw.

 

The pure white horizon they'd been watching up to this point was replaced by a mound of flesh; a monument of bodies converging on each other, stacked high enough that the low sun was behind it.  Looking at it from afar, it looked like those documentaries that showed a swarm of ants devouring a carcass.  Countless zombified civilians groaning and scratching at the ice before them, biting and beating broken fingers against the stone-hard permafrost with no concern for their non-lives.  Those that were on the ice that is.  The ones that couldn't reach it were pawing at their own kin, resulting in ignored bloody chunks being ripped out of them.  Wes tried to figure out what they were attempting to do.  Clearly, something beneath the ice was of great interest to them.  Even more clearly than that, the lot of them were in no condition to deal with the entirety of this horde.  It wasn't a horde for one thing: it was easily the largest concentration of zombified bodies he'd ever seen.  Hordes were classified as 50 to 100 undead, but they'd past 100 by twofold... by tenfold.  What could this be classified as?  A phalanx?  A legion?

 

Wes felt his heart begin beating rapidly.  Was he ready for this?  Could he pull this off?  "H-hey uh... Sergeant Greene you uh... *cough*... you wanna come take a look at this?"  asked Wesley, his voice revealing his unease despite him trying his best not to unnerve the group.

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Four days.

 

Four days stuck in the back of the heavy-duty truck with the small team traveling through Canada to Alaska.

 

Alaska of all places.

 

The weather in New York wasn’t all that warmer honestly. At least there though she could hide in a warm building instead of huddling in the back of a truck that wasn’t nearly as warm as she’d prefer even with her 3 layers of clothing including the thermal coat and gloves. This was not an ideal trip for her, but when the dragon-lady handed down orders you did as told. Surrounding by empowered humans and fellow magus working for ARMA, and bags packed with necessary supplies, made for a cramped space. It also made for miserable sleeping conditions. Head leaned back, she closed her eyes and tried her best to get a little more sleep as the truck bumped along and the people around her chatted. Being sent along on this trip to supervise Wesley, or as he was during this mission ‘Operative Evans’, first big mission was a nice compliment though. Of course, being here for one of her friends for such an important occasion was even better.

 

Though not as much as seeing him improving after his recent troubles.

 

Speaking of, his voice interrupted her light dozing as he gave a speech. It was meant to assert authority and raise spirits. And of course it was peppered with the same amusing humor she’d come to expect from him and Alec.

 

[cassg]Hope not. That’d make us Bravo Team.[/cassg]

 

Amusement laced her words though she didn’t open her eyes to look at him. Just letting him have his glory, and also hoping that he wouldn’t be too hard on himself. She remember Alistair telling her of his foreign missions. There’d been as much humor as there was seriousness. It helped with the nerves she’d heard — the same ones she had.

 

Falling silent, she let him continue.

 

"Check and double check your gear.  Even though we'll try to make it quick there's no telling how long we're gonna be out here so make sure you're stocked with ammo, rations, water... re-read your dossiers.  They'll catch you up on where you're supposed to be set-"

 

It was the cut off of his orders and the slamming of the truck breaks making her body jerk that made her eyes open quickly.

 

[cassg]What the-[/cassg]

 

Her own words were cut off by Wesley’s voice.

 

"H-hey uh... Sergeant Greene you uh... *cough*... you wanna come take a look at this?"

 

Oh, this didn’t bode well.

 

It was weird enough hearing herself called ‘Sergeant Greene’, but the slight disquiet she picked up in his voice — that the others thankfully did not — made the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. Tugging her trapper’s hat into better place over her ears, she stood up and maneuvered her way to the front. Just as she came up between the two seats her blue eyes locked on the reason.

 

[cassg]Holy shit.[/cassg] Side-eyeing Wesley now, she kept her voice low as she muttered, [cassg]Thought you said this wasn’t Raccoon City, Operative Evans?[/cassg]

 

This was a shit show for sure. Most of their team hadn’t even seen a zombie and that included her, and they definitely had never faced off against them. Fingers gripped the back of each seat as she stared out at what awaited them.

 

Luckily the infected hadn’t noticed them — yet.

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Wesley removed his beanie and rubbed his hand over his forehead to whipe the sweat from his brow.  Fear began creeping through the man's body like venom, weakening his knees and slowing his breathing.  He panicking.  Eyes widening he turned back to their driver to complain to at least show some sign of authority.  "Seriously?!  Did you know it was this bad!?"  The man reached for his coffee with a nod.  "Yep.  Lotta dead oot there eh?"  the Montreal native brought to Wesley's attention.  "Ya think!?"  he responded in kind.

 

Wesley then turned back to Cass to read her expression.  Hopefully she was more taken aback by the undead army before them rather than Wesley's breakdown.  Eventually, his breathing slowed and he closed his eyes, his grip on the arm rest of his seat tightening.  He'd have to think.  There was a way out of this sure.  Simply turn and drive away-

 

Wesley's eyes opened wide as he had an epiphany.  He reached down into his backpack yet again and pulled out a different book than the one from before.  It was a small sketchpad.  While it was true he spent several hours a day training to become a better operative, it consisted of more than push-ups and practicing magic theory.  Wesley had also been studying.  Reading, committing to memory (for the most part), aspects from abilities to weaknesses of many of the creatures they had to deal with on the job.  In this situation he already knew what to do... where to aim.  But there was something peculiar about the legion before them that he wanted to check out.  

 

"...how'd we get this close in such a huge, loud truck?  There's no wind, they'd have heard it.  They're really into whatever's down there.  But how into it I wonder?"  Wes said aloud, but to no one in particular.   He began flipping through his sketchbook until he saw an image of a zombie, drawn by himself.  There was a list underneath the drawing with paragraphs highlighted in neon yellow.

 

"Sound... smell of human flesh... of blood... got it.  Just double checking.  Sergeant, watch the troops.  I wanna confirm something.  Open the line on the radio okay?  I'm gonna relay info to you if I learn anything."  he said as he pointed out the old two-way radios charging in the cigarette lighter on the truck's console.  They were backups in case their ARMA issued headsets were somehow incapable of enduring the harsh cold.  He picked one of the two ways for himself.

 

Wesley was to take point on the mission sure, but that didn't mean he was under complete control over everyone.  Cass was after all his handler for the op, and he could only work within her allowances.  Still, he needed leeway to show what he was capable of, so he expected no interference yet.  Wesley opened his door and stepped down, the snow crunching under his feet as he landed.  It was thick, coming up to around his ankles.  If they were on foot and had to run they'd be in trouble.  The groans from the dead were deafening even without them being excited, which meant shouting orders would be a pain.  Wesley stepped forward and began walking at a slow, cautious pace toward the zombies.  

 

He closed his eyes and allowed his senses to branch out, to try to see if the artifact was as close by as he thought.  Not only was a large surge of mana pulsating underneath him, but he could tell clearly that the artifact itself was made of metal.  He could pull it up out of the ice if it wasn't so thick, but he had a distinct feeling that that would be a bad idea.  He then took in the sight of the zombies more closely.  Some in civilian clothing.  Most in fact.  But there was a large number of armored zombies as well.  Swat armor and helmets.  Those would be difficult to deal with.  He committed to memory where those were placed and then moved even closer.

 

"I dunno if they smell sweat, but they can smell flesh so.... the fact that they didn't sniff us out despite a ton of us being packed tight like sardines means whatever's down there is more important than a truck full of lunch.  But zombies don't want anything other than food... so whatever's down there has to be something that they're confusing for food.  But why is it so much more appetizing than us?  I'm a little offended to be honest." Wesley joked.  He continued walking forward, this time with a bit more speed as he was now confident his smell alone wasn't enough to draw their attention.  What about sound?

 

"Hey!  HEY!  Suppertime boys!"  Wesley called out, to no fanfare from the dead ahead.  He stepped forward ten more paces.  "SooooWEEE! SOOWEEE PIGGY PIGGY PIGGY!"  Still nothing.  "Okay.  Not big fans of dark meat.  Well then.  One more try."  Wesley pulled his sidearm and aimed up high before pulling the trigger... resulting in no gun shot.  It really HAD been years since he'd fired a gun.  He lowered the gun and removed the safety before aiming up again and firing one shot.  No reaction.  Next, he lined a shot up down his sights and pulled the trigger, hitting one of the zombies in their left ankle, causing their foot to explode out from under him and drop them into the wet snow.  The zombie simply went back to struggling to dig up whatever was in the ice ahead of it.  "Well, shit.  I guess that leaves one more test Sergeant Greene."  Wesley said back to Cass before holstering the gun.  He then began walking forward a bit more while pulling a knife from his snow boot.  He bit down on the left index finger of his glove and pulled to remove the thick garment from his hand.  

 

"If this doesn't work, then I dunno what will."  Wes spoke into the radio.  "Now hold on there one minute, eh?  He's a sittin' duck oot there on 'is own.  Why d'ya wanna bring 'em oover here anyhow?"  asked the driver.  Wesley spoke into the radio, having heard his complaints.  "Whatever they want, we're here to get.  Taking em all on in one go is gonna result in a fight we probably can't win.  Not without thinning them out first.  Cut down a few.  Rest up.  Cut down a few.  Plus, if we got the artifact outta the ice and tried to make a run for it they'd follow us back to civilization... to anywhere this thing is for that matter.  We can't leave it here either, even if we kill them all, because we don't know how far the influence of this thing reaches.  There could be more on the way right now.  There's no way this ends without a fight.  Now and later."

 

 

Wesley placed the cold steel against his flesh and took a deep breath before releasing it slowly and watching the mist disappear into the Alaskan air.   "Sergeant Greene?  The first six operatives on that list were handpicked by me, I'm sure you know why.  Ruiz, Hunnigan, Urbach, Spector, Monroe, and Leibowitz.  First two are cryomancers.  The two of them combined should make a passable substitute for Donya.  Terrain'll be on our side thanks to them.  Urbach's our mentalist for the job.  Provided we all maintain focus I don't think it'll be a big deal for him to unify our thoughts, it'll be like a conference call in our heads.  Spector aka Predatory Lez aka Kelly Lite is our speedster for this evening... and before you ask I checked.  She can run in snow without that big of a loss in speed.  And Monroe?  He's our healer.  Healing magic won't do much for a zombie fight but he can ease our fatigue and keep us all standing."

 

Wesley knicked his finger and squeezed to cause blood to pool at the tip before dropping into the pure white snow.  At first nothing... but then one of the zombies turned it's head.  Then another.  And another.  A few turned.  Then more.  And more.  Wesley didn't move, but it didn't matter.  They homed in on the blood and started for him.  "Okay.  They still recognize the real thing.  Shit I was hoping we could pick off some of em' first.  Bring everyone out, have the rest loaded and ready to give support but not until they hear the bang."

 

"Bang?  What's he talking about...?"  

 

It was Wesley's first interaction with zombies of this magnitude in real life, sure.  But he'd killed hundreds... maybe thousands in videogames.  That took away the bit of fear that he should have had and replaced it with confidence.  With a smirk Wesley raised his open hand, outstretched towards the legion before activating the lightest bit of ferrokinesis needed to remove the grenade pins of each and every armored zombie's belt.  He then dropped down and covered his ears.  Explosions went off almost simultaneously, sending bodyparts flying in all directions, while breaking up the ice beneath the zombies and sending a small geyser of frigid water up high.  Some of the zombies fell in to the water.  Others were blown away from the crowd.  

 

"Goodbye swat zombies, hello tinnitus...fuck!  Okay.  Let's go to work!"  Wesley stood back up and re-gloved his hand before pooling metal from his backpack into twin hatchets.  

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Johann burned through the gas in the tank on the way up towards the former Canadian province of Manitoba. There were still, believe it or not, some gas stations along the way. They didn't so much have functional pumps as they quite literally sold red cans of gasoline... They had some stupid name. Johnny cans? Jimmy cans? Jerry? No, that was too stupid to be the actual name.

 

The young dragon reminded himself there was much to learn about this world still, and grumbled something about stupidities of idiom.

 

He hopped out, keeping a wary eye for moving undead, refilling the tank and stowing the cans once more before driving on.

 

Several hours passed, Johann keeping his eyes on a swivel. He was starting to get hungry, but he had to remember that on this trip, he was rationing food over several days. A protein bar and a MR... I? No, MRI was a machine. Even the dragon knew that much. MRE. Meal Ready to Eat. 

 

He was getting close to his destination, only a few hours' drive left, when the engine stalled and the wheels spun freely in the snowbank. He couldn't afford to go hybrid and burn through energy to get the snow melted. Perhaps... 

 

BOOM. KA-KA-KA-BOOOOOOOOOOOM! The snow on the horizon erupted as sonic blasts reached Johann's ears. 

 

No choice now. Approach in human form. Magic tools were checked--all stowed securely in their holsters on the molle strapped pack and jacket. Snowshoes were removed from the truck and snapped on. 

 

Now where was it? Upper left arm? No, that was a knife. Left wrist? No, that was a shield. Oh right, his belt. Johann removed the pack of gum from a small pouch at the side of his belt.  

 

Did the gum have any special powers? 

 

No, obviously not. That would be stupid. It's gum, for the love of... It's just gum, ok? happy now?

 

Chewing the cinnamon flavored chemical strip, Johann plodded towards the chaos and destruction. It was in his way, after all.

 

He arrived on the scene to find a man slashing away at a bunch of zombies which had approached, somewhat slowly, but they were advancing to their doom. Metal hatchets cleaved on in half as another approached from behind the man, quickly skewered, wound cauterized by the dragon's blade.

 

[johann] Who are you? [/johann] He'd help those in trouble regardless, but being unaware of this group's intentions was not wise. Others--obviously magi--were holding down other directions. 

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Gunshots rang out from the men adjacent the large truck, perforating the ice caked corpses that shambled toward's Wesley who was, by this point, a red shadow of gory sick, highlighted against the purest white of the icy terrain around him.  There was a time when he feared not having the gumption to bury a blade into a reanimated corpse.  These were brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters of someone out there.  They were people.  At one point at least.  Carving rotten flesh out of someone's beloved dead, to Wesley, was tantamount to pissing on a dead relative's grave.  You're desecrating the dearly departed.  Reanimation held a stigma about it for this very reason.  Life was sacred, and when life was lost, the remains were meant to be respected.  Laid to rest.  Yet here he was making mincemeat of them in the literal sense; shearing and chopping them into unrecognizable masses of stinking entrails and bone.  

 

There was however, some modicum of comfort he could bullshit himself into believing.  In his eyes this was another way of honoring them.  Returning them to rest.   Freeing them from their torment.  His sentiment was mirrored by his team, those of whom that actually cared to think further than the mission.  This was partly due to one of the magi telepathically linking Wesley's own plans and thoughts to them so that they could move in concert with nary a lost moment of reaction time.  Brain synapses fired within each agent practically simultaneously.  Blades flew quickly, separating heads from shoulders and occasionally outstretched arm from torso as Wesley knew which area to strike without having to look, thanks to knowledge shared with him by those with a greater peripheral view of the battlefield.  Headshots mostly to maintain stamina.  Of course he did not carve through the entirety of the horde himself.  With the aid of his two appointed cryomancers, some of the walking dead were incased in frigid tombs, while others were routed by the resident speedster.  Wesley however did have the greatest killcount thanks to his little grenade stunt at the outset of the mission.  

 

When the final zombie fell to it's knees, the Ferromancer smiled, revealing pearly whites that shown out of the crimson face housing them, before he himself dropped to his rear an placed his gloved hands on the ground on either side of him, where he let out a loud howl.  "WHOOO!  Talk about a workout... heh..."  he called out in between labored breaths.  Exhaustion was setting in and, before the neural link was broken, Wesley requested help from the team's healer, who made their way out to the center of the corpses where Wesley sat and began eagerly stimulating Wesley's taxed body and practically evaporated the fatigue poisons causing the pain and tiredness within him.  

 

"Ruiz, Hunnigan.  I'm marking the area where the artifact is.  I'm thinking it's about 30 feet down.  That should be within the range of your spells if the both of you work at it.  Pull whatever is down there outta the ice."  An outstretched hand from Wesley caused his own blood soaked blades to fly over to the softened ice and stab down into it to mark just where the outskirts of the digging area would be.  The combination o fa white aura aswell as a blue aura (Hunnigan and Ruiz respectively) intermingled and caused the sheet of ice to glow before it cracked an frigid water and blocks of frozen blood and ice started to gyser out as if a depth charge were detonated.  Instead of dropping dangerous ice shards on everyone in attendance, the icey water pulled over to one corner furthest away from everyone, freezing in place in a steadily growing hunk of ice to keep from falling back into the hole.    The water inside froze enough to make a tunnel deep down to where the artifact lay, evidenced by the frighteningly dense mana signature that everyone worth their mage status could sense once it was revealed.

 

Wesley narrowed his eyes and reached out with his mind, sensing the metallic artifact and confirming it was their target.  It was then that he levitated the artifact up out of the ice tunnel prepared by his agents and hovered it toward him, being reminded over the radio by Cassandra not to touch it.  "Yeah, I know but... it looks so COOL!"  he remarked back as he moved closer.

 

The artifact was a handaxe.  Ancient at that.  Made with a wooden handle and a blade that despite being unmistakably metallic, was so crudely sharpened it looked to be no more than a vaguely blade-shaped piece of metal pulled out of vein and affixed to an intricate wooden handle.  There was a single symbol etched into the blade, one that Wes would have to run by a symbologist to discern it's relevance, but that was for after they got back home.  "Okay, I'd say that's mission accomplished.  Record time too.  Let's head out everyone."  Called out Wesley as he sat the axe into the snow before standing up and wiping the snow from his rear.  "Still dunno what those deadheads wanted with a battle axe." mumbled Wesley as he turned to walk toward the truck, only for Monroe to pat on his shoulder, urging him to turn and look back at the axe.

 

Where the blade of the axe sat, an eerie red aura radiated.  

 

"Umm..."

 

What's more, the blood from the zombified corpses began to pool on it's own around the blade of the axe before disappearing as if being devoured by the blade itself.  The silvery metal shown a more vibrant red now and, in some language Wesley wasn't versed in he heard a whisper.  

 

"UMMM..."

 

"We hear it too.  That's.... German?  No, no... it's Swedish or Norwegian or something.  There's one word that keeps being coming up over and over.  Blod.  That's Blood in Norwegian." called out Ruiz.

 

"Aw, hell." muttered Monroe.

 

The whisper became a gleeful mantra before degrading into ecstatic repeating of the one word everyone recognized.  Blood.  Blood.  Blood.

 

"Okay, this is starting to make sense.  Zombies can smell blood from like a mile away.  This axe absorbs blood.  No doubt it smells especially tasty to them.  So we gotta find a way to shut this thing off." said Spector.

 

"H-hey, guys? um-"  stammered Liebowitz, though no one noticed him speaking.

 

"Especially now that it's out of the ice.  It's aura will be more potent, and that means if there are more dead around-"

 

Just as he spoke, pained howls resonated from all around them, seeming to come from over the hills.  Everyone placed their backs to each other in a circle and looked over the horizon to see more zombies.  Easily more than twice what they had just fought through earlier.  They began rushing toward them at full sprint as spry as if they were living, faster than the original wave did when they first attacked.  "Crapcrapcrap!  Everyone out!  Cowboy up, we got a real fight on our hands!"

 

"There are too many!  We gotta get outta here!"  Hunnigan reached out to Ruiz and grabbed hold of his sleeve to pull him back towards the truck, only for Wes to raise a hand to gain their attention and halt their movements.

 

"The artifact would just lure them to civilization remember? We make a stand here until we can figure out how to stop this thing." 

 

The blood that flowed toward the axe began to bubble and congeal around the handle, though neither of the agents currently embroiled in a battle against the dead 

 

"Guys, look at the axe, I think-"

 

"Not now Liebowitz, fuck!"  growled Spector before she broke out into a blur of golden light that blitzed back and forth along the horde, cutting their numbers down along the way.  The rest of the team kept together and fought valiantly, into the night, the blistering cold taking it's toll on them, though they did not waver.  Still, they were surrounded, and it wasn't long before their speedster had to retreat to the safety of the truck to rest her overtaxed legs.  Greene's shields bought everyone some time, to rest, but it wasn't long before she too needed to drop her guard if only for a moment.

 

An hour later...

 

Wesley dropped to a knee, breathing heavily as he struggled to keep his own metal constructs afloat.  Before him his team were in dire straights as well, and, before they could be swarmed by the dead, he through the mass of metal he was using for his own personal defense and encased them all in metallic domes, protecting them from tooth and nail at the expense of himself being pounced from behind.

 

"...fuck offa me!"  he growled before planting a hard elbow into the head of a corpse attempting to bite the back of his neck.  The fear of death gave him a rush of energy, enough to help him get back up to a standing position.  Yet another zombie approached from behind him, but was carved down by someone Wesley didn't recognize.  He looked back to the zombie that lay immobile next to him, a gash seared into it's head by whatever enchanted weapon this stranger was wielding.  "Wesley Evans... ARMA.  Who... who the hell are you?"  he asked as he placed an index finger and middle finger against his temple.  Urbach's mental link was dropped a while back, but Wesley secretly hoped that he would have noticed the approach of the stranger and had the presence of mind to scan him for friend or foe.  No such luck.

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[Johann] ARMA. Good. I'm a friend. Let's leave it there for now, eh? [/johann]

 

The words were cut off by a growling zombie leaping at the exhausted metallurgical mage. Johann's sword burst into flames once more as a deft thrust impaled the creature through its skull, and a downwards slash cleaved through the chest to free the blade.

 

[Johann] I would recommend you take shelter inside. It's obvious you've exhausted your mana reserves.[/johann] The dragon might not have possessed the sight of his apprentice, but he could tell by the level of exhaustion on the faces of the mages that they needed a break.

 

[Johann] Plus it's better if I don't have to worry about hurting anyone. [/johann] A wry smile crept over his face as the blade dispatched another shambler.

 

He wasn't a huge fan of going hybrid when it wasn't necessary, but the situation called for it. There was a secondary horde massing on a nearby ridge, and Johann cursed in his native tongue, an incoherent sound to the humans who'd probably never heard it.

 

[Johann] Just take good care of these for a bit? Oh, and don't try to swing the sword. It'll melt in your hands. [/Johann]

 

[Johann] You'll probably want to get into the bus there. Or at least get your friends in. Things are about to heat up. [/Johann] A smirk played across the dragon's lips. [Johann] I believe your expression goes... It's Morphing Time. [/Johann]

 

The dragon retrieved his blades from their resting places, relieving himself of the backpack and setting all three down next to him before a loud roar was let loose from his throat and he transformed, skin growing cabling, hands and feet morphing into flaming clawed appendages, and a tail forming from above his behind.

 

A stream of fire was rapidly cooled into an obsidian spear, which Johann grasped with both hands.

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Wesley watched as the enigmatic passerby instructed him to pull his forces back and for whatever reason, heeded the man's words.  He may have been ARMA, but his Superman-like unphased air about him, disarming as it was, seemed to imply that he was strong enough to turn the tide of the battle on his own, and if he wasn't, at least he'd buy the rest of them time to re-arm and rest up.  The man's odd language and accent was something he couldn't place, but it was secondary as far as importance anyway. Wesley paid it no mind and instead stepped back while holding the man's sword.  He was going nowhere, as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, pulling his attention away from the Dragonian before him.

 

The axe was now no longer simply wading in a pile of blood and sinew atop a mound of muck coated snow.  It was now held by a humanoid hand ( a muscular, impossibly proportioned hand at that) sitting inside the growing blob.  The hand now connected to a forearm... and then an elbow.  Before his eyes a hulking brute of a man was being formed.  

 

Before Wesley could remark about it his attention was gained again by the man before him who was also undergoing a transformation.  He heard stories, and he knew they were amongst ARMA's allies, but this was the first time in Wesly's career with the organization that he lay eyes on an actual Dragonian.

 

"Are you guys seeing this?"  asked their driver.  Those of whom could fit at the front of the truck did so, pushing each other aside for a better look at their morphing savior.    They were all in just as much awe as Wesley, who stood with his mouth agape, searching for the correct questions to ask.  Before he could however, more words from the monster behind Wesley caused him to turn back and face something far more grotesque than what he saw just moments prior.

 

"Are you guys seeing this!?

 

The man-like creature was still coated in crimson, but now had several smaller heads, arms, and legs protruding along it's surface.  All of the close by zombified flesh and blood that it absorbed made up it's body, and the excess continued to pool into the collective and give it a larger, more gross form.  It was now the amalgamation of several of the features that made up the zombies it was taking onto itself.  Now at least ten feet tall the beast hefted it's battle axe high, attempting to swing it downward to cleave Wesley in two, but due to it's body still being amorphous, couldn't support it's own weight under it's newly manifested legs and instead, plowed the blade of the axe about two feet short of Wesley's standing position, causing a geyser of arctic water and ice shards to rise up and startle Wesley into backing toward the truck.  So much for aiding with the fight.  In response to Wesley almost being pulverized the armed members began unloading ammo pointlessly into the mass of gore restructuring itself to stalk their head operative.  

 

"Crap... okay man.  Dragon.  Dragon-man.  Show us what you got.  Thin the herd while I prep something that'll help me take out that... thing crawling toward the truck."  called out Wesley while rolling over and sitting up to a standing position before running back toward the truck as well.  After getting inside he raised a hand to hush objections before looking back to Cassandra.  "I'm not abandoning him.  I'm getting something ready.  Hold that zombie Voltron down with a barrier for as long as you can.  Don't let anymore dead link up with it.  Right now he's not too big for me to take out, but I don't see any end to his back up."  

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Thunk. Thwack. Snikt.

The spear sliced through and bashed in the skulls of zombies for a while.

Crack... [johann]Shit.[/johann] Then it shattered. Fragments of obsidian sank into the blood spattered snow like caltrops.

The second wave was advancing...and something was forming behind him. If only Johann had the foresight to bring his apprentice along.

A growl from low in his throat, and Johann spat an orb of flames into one of his gauntlets, then lobbed it towards the advancing mob as it shambled towards the ARMA bus.

Bodies exploded in all directions and Johann's tail absently swept the legs out from under a zombie as he turned to watch the mage he'd believed to be in control issue an order to... was that the sister of ARMA's commander?

Humans were weird. Why would the sibling of a commander take orders from others? Johann shrugged. The mage ducked into the truck again and Johann turned back to fighting. That colossus would no doubt be a threat, but it seemed the... what were these types called... something-American... ah, right, Africa had been home to their ancestors, and they resided in America before the resonance... was there even a polite way to address that population anymore? There had to be.

The African-American mage had a plan. That's what he had meant to say [johann]How much time do you need... Wesley, was it? [/johann] The dragon bellowed towards the truck, lobbing another flame explosive at the horde?

The behemoth was growing more slowly now, owing to help from the energy magic or the Greene family emissary.

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"What're we gonna do!?  That things's still coming!"

 

"Just... *cough* just uh... j-jus gimme a moment.  I'm ready...*wheez*"  groaned Spector as she struggled to get up from her prone position on one of the truck's seats, incapable of doing so due to her overtaxed body needing the rest.

 

"Why aren't you pulling rank Greene?  This is beyond Evans, he's gonna get us all killed!  Aren't you here to reign him in?  Get us outta here--"

 

"Shut up! Look."

 

Wesley and Liebowitz were talking amongst themselves, the younger magi's eyes wide open in surprise throughout the conversation.  He shook his head eagerly and looked out of the window to seething dome of magic that was bursting at the seems with bloody gunk.  "Okay... okay.  I'm ready."

 

Wesley smiled and placed a hand on the kid's shoulder.  "Hey.  You got this.  Just make sure your timing is on point.  I won't be able to keep this up for too long." 

 

He then headed back out with an order to the troops.  "Okay.  We all know it's the axe that's keeping him together.  So... we get the axe.  But it looks to absorb flesh.  Yeah, it's been grabbing up dead flesh so far but that doesn't necessarily mean a human touching it won't get swept up into the collective as well so we're not gonna grab it with flesh and blood hands-"

 

"So make that... that thing out there grab it!"  called out Ruiz.  Wes shook his head with a scowl.  "That thing[i/] is probably tougher than all of us combined.  Excluding me.  And if he gets swallowed up into a big fleshy meatball we'd be fighting a big dragon meatball that none of us stands a chance against.  Excluding me."

 

Absolutely no one laughed at Wesley's overblown opinion of his powers.  They did, however agree that fighting a zombified dragon warrior wouldn't be fun.  "So... how then?"

 

Wesley smiled, his eyes taking on a vibrant blue glow before he headed back outside the truck.  The smile faded once his was out of view however.

 

Johann called out to Wesley finally, asking to know how much longer it would take before he was ready.  Rather than respond with words, he simply closed his eyes and let everything let the last remnants of his mana flare up.

 

We've been fighting for so long I probably don't have the strength to use... that.  But if I don't do something we're dead.  That guy out there probably has the strength to get us outta this but... this is my mission.  I've gotta earn my keep.  Show them I deserve to be here just as much as any other member of ARMA.  Prove I've got what it takes to get the job done.

 

The leftover bits of metal all around the battlefield that Wesley had already been fighting with began glowing a matching azure hue as Wesley's eyes did before dispersing into millions and millions of miniature metal granules and colliding with his body and spiraling around him, encasing the whole of his body.

 

"...I'm back.  Thanks for the hand.  Now... I need that axe.

 

When the blue aura disappeared, there Wesley stood coated in metal from head to toe, now an adonis of a man, statuesque and imposing, though still not quite as much as the Dragonian.  Just as he finished arming himself for the coming assault, the axe shredded through Cassandra's barrier to reveal a now perfectly formed human-esque obelisk of flesh.  So completely restored that he had facial features, although still coated in blood.  Of course he was still towering, and had more muscles in his own body than everyone there combined... but still, bones and other protrusions made his otherwise normal look horrifying.  A roar escaped it's mouth as it broke into a full sprint toward the truck, only to be knocked to the side by Wesley, who rocketed toward it from it's side.  The resulting collision caused the two of them to barrel over several times, crushing several zombies along the way.  The two hulking brutes struggled to their feet, swinging boulder crushing blows at each other, neither attempting to dodge or block.  Just continuous punches over and over to each other's head and torso area until the both of them, somehow, made it to a standing position before the beast pivoted and attempted a back-handed swipe with it's axe.  The swing flew over Wesley's ducked head, causing a gust powerful enough to send a sheet of snow colliding with the truck and causing it's inhabitants to duck in fear while the truck creaked, it's body rocking on it's suspension.

 

Straightening up over Wesley the beast pulled it's axe overhead and attempted to split Wesley straight down the middle with an overhead strike.  One that was blocked by Wesley's own hands clasping hold of the handle.  Just as he stopped the attack however, a well placed mammoth sized boot to his armored gut rocketed him back into the truck, causing it to skid backwards a foot or two from the collision, several of the windows on the left side shattering into the vehicle caused them to duck and cover but before the man beast could press the assault, Wesley outstretched his left hand to fire serrated shards of metal from his armored hand into the face and neck of the monster, stalling it enough for him to regain his bearings and activate yet one more spell.  Wesley summoned Johann's mystical sword over to him through the truck's window and into his beast's torso, causing it to utter a guttoral scream before barely kneeling.

 

Wasting no time, Wesley propelled himself at high speeds by his ferrokinetic powers, moving the metal coating him.  Most of his metallic armament was flaking off and falling into the thick snow beneath him, but he still had his gauntlets, and that's all he needed.  He placed his hands around the sword's handle and began to scream while lifting the blade upward.  Smoke and flame spilled out into the air, but Wesley did his best to prevent the ignited sword from losing it's form and turning into a molten blob by holding it in a semi-solid state via his own metal manipulation powers.  Finally, the sword flew out of the top of the monster's head, causing it's cauterized halves to fall to either side before a second swipe of the blade removed the hand that held fast to the axe.  

 

"Now Liebowitz!  Do it!"

 

At that moment, the shivering youth poked his head out through one of the now missing windows and removed his glasses, his eyes too taking an eerie glow.  His however were was like the opposite of light.  Pure blackness where his eyes normally were and, where his eyes focused appeared a circular void.  The axe that fell into the snow, that was already attempting to draw more flesh to grow another hostbody, sank into the inky abyss that appeared beneath it before the void closed up and disappeared.  

 

Wesley fell to his knees as the rest of his armor fell to pieces around him, causing him to toss what was left of the sword away lest he suffer scalded hands.

 

"...the hell!?"

 

"I concur.  What the hell, kid?

 

"I tried to tell you guys... the way my powers work?  Technically it's shadow magic, but according to the higher ups I'm an anomaly.  See, my shadow is abnormal.  It's... hollow.  I can't create weapons out of shadows or absorb light or amplify darkness type spells like other magi, but I can use my shadow as a type of weightless closet that's always on my person.  Organic material other than myself can't enter it, but whatever I put inside it can't come out until I remove it.  Not even mana.  I've learned to extend the shadow a bit via focus  as long as I send it somewhere within my light of sight in case you couldn't figure out how I managed to activate the doorway from here."

 

"So... the zombies can't sense the axe anymore... and we can move it without having to touch it, or fear of some kind of contamination."  

 

"And that humonculus type thing can't keep restoring itself because it's got no access to the axe.  Whoa."

 

"You shoulda said something earlier...."

 

"Guys, guys... the big threat is over.  I need you all to help our back up out here pick off the rest.  I'm gonna... just sit here.  Catch a breather.  Maybe a nap.  Ugh."  groaned Wesley before falling back into the slow and finally taking the time to catch his breath.

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