The Coldest War

The Thousand Young

Firestone, shaking and sweating from severe withdrawal, nevertheless determined to tough it out and prepared his tank and trailer for the expedition north toward the Ravine to try to scavenge a piano for Rhyme, notwithstanding Rhyme’s theft-by-Chin-seduction of his Silence fruit. Along for the expedition were, of course, Team Badass. Rhyme opted to bring her Rocket Men into the field, and felt it an appropriate time to attempt to appropriate one of the rocket launchers from the Have Rats. Rhyme sought out Fleece and, after an earnest conversation, endeared herself to the leader of the Have Rats so much that Fleece practically adopted Rhyme, taking her under her wing as a confidante, and lending her a rocket launcher, along with a single rocket. Rhyme in turn handed the launcher to Rum, and they prepared to depart.

Silver, interested in this old cache of musical instruments, opted to go as well, bringing along the mysterious sexy solo wanderer Sunny. Cass came along as well, bringing the scrounger Mac, in hopes that they would finally be able to swing by Mac’s hidden cache of potential medical supplies. Finally, the sole Have Rat in the party Quick came along as the guide to the location in question.

They made their way up Roosevelt toward the overgrown belt of greenery that was the Ravine. Although the actual Ravine was further east, the dilapidated old musical instrument store was at the edge of a green belt of thick growth along what was once “Ravenna” street. As the tank, trailer, and Rocket Men footsoldiers moved north, Team Badass patrolled the flanks. There were sporadic drops of rain, thick fog and mist blanketed the world in a sound-deadening gray.

They arrived at the old dilapidated music store, finding that much had been scavenged or rotted by the moisture, but that proximity to the savages of the Ravine had kept it from being totally picked clean. Firestone stayed outside in the tank, nursing his withdrawal, while Team Badass rode off into the mist to scout and keep an eye out. The rest went inside. In an upper room there were a number of pianos, most of them somewhat worse for wear. Silver, poking around, found and almost entirely intact drum kit before hearing, in the distance, the muffled sound of combat. Suddenly, a crazed madman leapt out of a dark alcove and plunged a knife into Sunny’s shoulder, babbling about “awakening the children.” Rhyme slung one of her throwing knives into his throat and he died, gurgling on his own blood. Silver, ignoring the crazed man, headed rapidly out to the tank to warn Firestone that Team Badass was apparently engaged in distant combat. She realized that there were hints of movement in the mist, and that the building was being surrounded. Silver roused Firestone, and leaned on the tank’s horn, sounding the alarm.

On the dilapidated upper floor of the building, Sunny and Cass used the windows to peer out, shotguns in hand. Both received the ricochets of random small arms fire as the half-seen figures in the mist began chaotic potshots. One bullet grazed Cass while another came disturbingly close to Sunny, whose lithe dexterity managed to avoid it. Silver climbed into the tank and took hold of the machine gun while Firestone started up the engine. Rhyme directed the Rocket Men into the secure position of the building, encouraging Rum to ascend to the second floor for optimal use of the rocket launcher, then she took a moment to concentrate on her visions from the mysterious pantheon of entities she was slowly coming to grips with. Something about the situation, or Rhyme’s own mental state, brought a disturbingly vivid vision to her mind, full of surprisingly specific metaphor, and featuring a strange and arcane branching symbol.

The group from Mount Safeco began securing themselves and preparing for assault while the horde of Ravine savages slowly emerged, firing small guns and throwing stones and knives. Sunny ordered Firestone to back the tank up against the front door, helping further secure the building, while Silver opened up the machine gun on a cluster of savages, reducing them to pulp, and scattering them. Cass ducked down the stairs, seeking a back door, and finding the crazed old man’s hidden living area in the old store stockroom. She saw savages coming for the back door, and turned around and fled, but not before snatching up a flawless, shiny trumpet. From the upper floor, Rhyme ordered her Rocket Men to attack, but they saw something disturbing… behind the horde of savages were strange, capering figures, humanoid, but covered in short black fur, with limbs jointed in strange places, and red, blood-filled eyes. The creatures seemed to be driving the human cannibals into a frenzy with strange capering, and dissonant, eerie song. The sight of the creatures so disconcerted the Rocket Men that they refused to fight, some shouted out their surrender, while others looked likely to openly rebel against Rhyme. Meanwhile, below, Firestone made an amazing, crack shot with his magnum that whizzed past the savages and neatly bisected the head of one of the black-furred creatures, causing the group of savages it had been directing to fall into disarray.

As Silver lay down a steady stream of machine-gun fire, Sunny did what she could from the upper floor while Rhyme sought to regain control of her gang, to no avail. Even Rum, bolstered as he was by possession of the rocket launcher, ultimately turned to flee. Rhyme sought to pluck the rocket launcher from her fleeing minion, only to have Rum turn reflexively to cling to it, causing it to go off. The rocket fortunately missed Rhyme, but disintegrated much of the wall and a part of the roof in an outward explosion that rocked the dilapidated building. Rum dropped the rocket launcher in surprise and bolted down the stairs, with Rhyme in hot pursuit, calling out to the Action Man, a figure she had not beseeched since her last fateful battle in the Reclaimer’s lair. Sadly, the Action Man was slow to respond, and Rhyme put her foot through a rotted stair and toppled to the first floor, taking some damage, but avoiding bullets from the savages who, by then, were pouring into the building from the back door, and hacking down the fleeing Rocket Men.

Cass, fleeing ahead of those savages, jumped into the back of the tank, doing what she could with her shotgun. Firestone laid on the horn again, trying to summon Team Badass, who eventually came out of the mist like a cavalry charge, guns blazing and chains whipping overhead, swathes of savages were cut down by the bikers and they swept past, finishing what Silver had started, and effectively wiping out all the savages but the ones in the building. The furred creatures, however, started capering and ululating. Both Silver and Sunny blacked out for a brief moment, only to come to a few seconds later finding that they had cut the palms of their hands with a strange pattern, and that their blood had been momentarily black and viscous…

Rhyme, recovering from her fall, felt the fury of the Action Man fill her as she single-handedly slaughtered the dozen remaining savage men and women in the building, and putting the fear of death into her Rocket Men followers. Team Badass turned to make another charge at the capering furred creatures, who ululated a dissonant song at them, causing the entire cavalry charge to lay down their bikes in a massive crumpled pileup as every biker in the gang was struck suddenly senseless. Cass, from inside the tank, noticed that the blood of the furred creatures seemed to flow like thick tar, and move of its own volition from the corpses. She realized that this viscous fluid needed to be burned. Daring the ululating song, she grabbed Firestone’s spare gas can full of gasoline and sprinted out of the tank, covered by Firestone and Silver, to splash gas over the spreading tarry black blood, pulling out the lighter she kept on hand for sterilizing medical equipment, and setting the black blood ablaze while Sunny drove off the remaining furred creatures.

The battle was over. Team Badass was roused, more angry at the damage to their bikes than the assorted injuries they had suffered. Some of the Rocket Men had died in the fighting, and the rest were deeply abashed at having broken and run in battle. Rhyme expressed her severe disappointment. While Cass attended to her own wounds and the wounds of the two gangs, Firestone scavenged the corpses of the dead savages hoping deep in his heart to find more Silence Fruit, but to no avail. In the stockroom, Silver, Sunny, Rhyme and Cass found various useful objects, including a small bag of Silence fruit. Cass, remembering Shazzy’s offer, sought to take them, but Silver, in no uncertain terms, indicated they needed to be destroyed. Rhyme told Cass that these were the fruits that Firestone was addicted to. Cass then sought to keep them for investigatory purposes, but again Silver insisted they be destroyed. Cass grudgingly permitted Rhyme to do the honors, and Firestone was never the wiser.

They scavenged the drum set, a mostly-intact piano, and assorted piano pieces and extra strings. They put the badly injured in the trailer. They swung east, hoping they had done enough damage to the savages of the Ravine that they would remain unmolested while they collected Mac’s hidden stash of rare medicinals. They then returned to Mount Safeco.

Firestone came to Cass’s clinic to get patched up after the battle. Cass realized that Firestone was in some serious withdrawal, and with Rhyme’s tacit support, sedated Firestone for about a week to help him through withdrawal. While sedated, Firestone was wracked by nightmares in which all of his deepest fears manifested in the forms of those he knew best. Rhyme was Firestone’s fear of betrayal. Silver was his fear of commitment and being tied down. Mizz Stockton was his fear of going soft while Cass was his fear of death. He resisted the blandishments of these nightmare figments and when he awoke, filthy from a week’s worth of sweating toxins and less pleasant bodily functions, he felt oddly better.

During that week, Rhyme earned a bit in the Supper Club, while also working with Quick to fix and tune the piano. Cass talked to Mizz Stockton about the Silence Fruit and revealed Shazzy’s interest. Mizz Stockton spoke to Silver about the mysterious mercenary band who seemed intent on trashing the Supper Club, and they speculated about who could be behind it. Silver conceived a plan to fake being injured and vulnerable to see who comes to take advantage. She was still considering this as Firestone came to the Supper Club and purchased a full-service luxurious bath. Mizz Stockton remonstrated with Fleece for permitting a rocket launcher to leave the Have Rats control without permission. Clearly Rhyme’s strange charismatic influence was spreading…

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