Contubernium: The Gauntlet

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It had been three days of near-constant fighting. The camp held. That was the positive. Just about everything else had gotten worse. Everyone had been wounded at least once in the past few days. The materials for healing powders and stimpacks were almost exhausted, as the Liches had stopped sending soldiers equipped with them and their stores were running low. Of the twenty-four guns, thirteen were operating, and Virgil was struggling to repair an additional two. Sections of the wall were unstable, hit by missile fire and the sheer mass of charging ghouls and Supermutants.

Decanus sat up against the wall, beneath the catwalk. Here he felt almost like he was safe, and away from the chaos of the siege. This was despite the fact that only a few inches of metal separated him from the view of the merciless Horde outside. He grimaced from where a bullet had passed through his thigh. Despite the healing powders it still hurt immensely. He took a drink of stale, bland water. DeeCee came up alongside him and sat in the dirt next to him. They exchanged smiles with each other, as he offered her a drink from his waterskin and she drank deeply.

They both sighed at the same time, and he saw she had the same look of tired resignation and want that he did. She reached for his hand, and he took hers into his own. She rested her head against his chest and trilled. He rubbed her horns with his free hand.

More than anything, he wanted to be near a stream, with green grass to lay upon like a blanket. A place in the warm sun where he could wrap his arm around DeeCee’s waist and doze off to the sounds of flowing water. He imagined Elysium was like that, like the stream in the canyon bed from his youth. He thought of his tribe more now, and not with sadness, but longing.

“Where would you be, if you coud?” Decanus whispered.

DeeCee squeezed his hand. “A big hotel, like from the old movies, with bellhops and room service and a fancy club where men light up cigarettes for girls and everyone says just the right thing. And you and I could dance.”

She laughed a little “It’s not your kind of place, I know,” she said

“I don’t know that,” Decanus said, smiling. “It’s a place I’ve never really considered. I’d go there with you.”

“Would you come with me to Jacobstown?” she asked. “When all this is done?”

Decanus sighed. He rubbed her face. “DeeCee…” he glanced around, about to say what a Decanus should never say, “we are unlikely to leave this place alive,” he said.

“I know,” she said after a long pause, with fear and sadness in her eyes. “I just want to hear you say you’d go with me. That you’d stay with me,” she said.

Decanus leaned in and licked his lips. He looked at her. “I…I want to,” he said.

She nodded, but he saw the sadness in her face. He rested his head against her, and he felt himself drift off into sleep.

He woke tucked lovingly into a corner. DeeCee was gone. He stood, his feeling of rest making him afraid. He had been out to long, and he raced to take stock of his troops. Myra and Pitch were with Sheila. She was showing them how to sight through their rifles. It was good; at this point in a siege they needed to be as effective as possible. Snipers on the wall were invaluable. Pollux was a few yards down aling the wall, helping Virgil to repair one of the turrets. It was billowing foul smelling smoke, and Virgil and Pollux were working on eliminating that with a degree of cursing but general gallows humor. Castor was doing a slow patrol along the perimeter. Claudius was on the wall as well, the minigun at his hip.

“I was about to send for you, Decanus,” Claudius said.

Decanus approached the Paladin and saluted. “Forgive me, amicus. I should have come sooner to relieve you, I know,” Decanus said.

“You sleep the least of all of us, Decanus.I do not begrudge you solace in the arms of your lover when we sit at the End of the World,” Claudius replied, his voice echoing through his helm.

Decanus cleared his throat, bypassing the remark. “You should get a few hours of rest,” he said.

“I have taken some stims. We have little time to be idle, I fear,” Claudius said. He pointed beyond the wall to the crashed Vertibird, and to a team of Supermutants who were at it.

“The Liches are salvaging your craft,” Decanus said, stating the obvious.

“They will discover more than some vertibird parts. We bore a weapon, a powerful robot, in the craft.”

Decanus looked out beyond the wall. The crashed vertibird was almost in the middle of the no man’s land between the fortress and the enemy camp, but they had a sizeable number of Supermutants at the crash site.

“They are going to get it soon, I fear,” Decanus said. “Perhaps Virgil can rig a mini-nuke to get that far…”

“It would not be enough,” Claudius said. “The robot is designed to weather such fire.”

Decanus felt a powerful hand wrap around the small of his back. Turning he saw DeeCee alongside him. She was being more demonstrative in public, and he considered if he should talk to her about this, but for now he decided that he’d rather feel her claw gripping his waist.

“What is this robot? A securitron? One of House’s robots?” Decanus asked.

“It is based on his work, but not of his design. The US military, before the war, worked on a giant robot that was designed to liberate Anchorage from the Red Chinese. They called it Liberty Prime. It is out east, in the Capital Wasteland, controlled by the Brotherhood of Steel. But there were two smaller copies of Liberty Prime that were created as prototypes. One was given to NASA, called Humanity Prime, for the Democracy in the Stars Initiative. The other was created and sold to the Nuka Cola corporation, who were banking on having a scale model of Liberty Prime to be their spokesman. He was called Nuka Prime.”

“You found one of them, didn’t you?” Decanus asked.

“We have Nuka Prime aboard the vertibird,” Claudius said. “He was the reason I went north. The Jarheads held him at one of their facilities. He is in pieces, in a box mounted to automated wheels. Fortunately, that means he will be easy to move, but he is still nonfunctional. The scientists were never able to find a good way to power him. But we have a small brain trust here, and I suspect we might be able to figure it out, at least for a short while.”

DeeCee nodded. “My father taught me about powering robots like this. They would be about the size of Nuka Prime. It could be done, under ideal conditions and with the right materials. But I have no idea what we have to work with,” she said.

“In any case,” Decanus said with a sigh. “I see your fear, Claudius. It is something we cannot let the Liches have. We need to secure it, and either power it up, or scuttle it. Let’s get ready before the Supermutants figure out how to power up the crate’s wheels.”

“Or just carry the damn thing,” DeeCee said. “Five or six Supermutants could probably do it.”

Decanus called the others together, and a plan for a sortie outside of the wall was put together. Decanus, Claudius, and the Frumentarii would take Virgil to power up the automated crate and get it traveling back to the fortress. The others would hold back in the fort in reserve. Everyone broke, and prepared for their assignments, readying weapons.

Decanus saw that DeeCee had a troubled face. “What is wrong?” He asked.

“I should be going with you beyond the wall,” she said.

Decanus shook his head. “We need you here. You and Sheila can mount a defense if anything happens,” he said.

“The hell we could. You know Virgil is better to keep inside than me. He is-“

“Virgil is our best chance beyond the wall to repair this automated wheel system,”Decanus said. “His hands are defter at this work, we both know this.”

DeeCee paused, and looked down at her deathclaw hands. She sighed.

“I do not mean that an insult,” Decanus said, rubbing her arm. “I never would.”

She nodded. “I…I feel like I’m not going to be doing anything useful.”

“In the Legion, the very best soldiers are held in reserve,” he said. “In case things go wrong. If they charge the walls while we are out, only you could turn back the tide. What I need you to do is watch, and adapt.”

“But if you die, Decanus…” she began. “I couldn’t go on.”

“You must,” he said. “Promise me that you will.”

She leaned in to kiss him, but he held her at arm’s length. “We mustn’t,” he said.

She looked at him sadly. “Are you ashamed of me?”

“What? No…” He said. He leaned in. “But it is not proper to do before others and in this situation,” he whispered. “This kind of relationship…with bullets flying about. It is dangerous.”

She stared at him for a moment, and he thought she might kiss him anyways, and he was not sure he would be mad at her if she did. “Good luck, Decanus,” she whispered before she retreated.

“Remember,” he said. “Watch, and adapt. You are the best person here to do that.”

She laughed. “Second best,” she said.

Claudius stood before the gate, a hulking warrior in heavy power armor. Castor and Pollux stood behind him, machine guns ready and hanging loose on straps from their combat armor. Virgil was next, carrying a rifle on his back and his tools in his hands, shifting uneasily on his feet.

Hard as this siege had been on them all, it had perhaps been hardest on Virgil. The stress of keeping the guns running was getting to him, and Decanus had directed the others to help him as much as possible. Still, it was Virgil who toiled the most on them, sometimes under fire. Virgil slept almost as little as he did, but he had to think more, and he was not a conditioned soldier. The prospector was almost excited for this mission, as the idea of leaving the fortress, even for a short while, and even into danger, made him feel free of his responsibilities to mend the guns.

Decanus brought up the rear with his assault rifle. Quickly this would go from a column to a ring, then a column again.

The gates opened, and they raced out into the sands. The sky was still cloudy and the air cold, the profane science of the Liches bewitching the very air. Decanus heard the gates whine shut behind him. His heart pounded.

He could hear only the sound of his own breathing as they raced towards the crash site. The enemy did not engage yet, probably still waiting to see what was happening. They were about ten yards from the gate when they saw the ferals emerging into view, and the pops of gunfire began from the enemy camp. The Supermutants at the vertibird began to scramble to their weapons. The turrets opened fire on them, and tracer rounds shrieked over Decanus’ head at the vertibird.

Claudius went in front, and Decanus could hear the sounds of bullets ricocheting off of metal. Virgil arrived first, cutting a Supermutant in twain with an overhead slash.

A large crate was outside the vertibird. All were opened, as Supermutants vainly attempted to fix the engines.

“They fucking made it worse,” Virgil shouted, angrier than Decanus had ever seen him. “It’s going to take me a few minutes to fix the motors,” he said.

Decanus opened up on a swarm of approaching ghouls on full auto, leveling them. One fell forward and he felt its dry arm slap against his leg. “Work quickly!” He shouted. “We’ll hold as long as we can!”

An armored Supermutant charged him with a sledgehammer raised, just as his magazine emptied, and gave him only a clicking sound. With a curse, Decanus dropped his gun and dodged a hammer blow which hurtled through the air toward him. He quickly drew his machete and slashed, making the Supermutant reel backward away from the sharp blade. Redoubling, the Supermutant raised the sledgehammer over his head again to strike.

Decanus parried, deflecting the strike away from him and forcing the Supermutant to stagger as the hammer went wide. He slashed at the Supermutant’s waist, and it embedded in his side. With a howl the Supermutant smashed him to the ground with a backhand. It tugged the machete from its side and flung it at Decanus’ head, and he narrowly dodged it. Standing, he pushed his Yao Guai glove into the Supermutant’s neck, tearing it loose. The Supermutant fell back in a puddle of blood.

Decanus felt a stout strike to his back, and he fell with a cry of pain. He turned in time to see a second Supermutant preparing to smash him with a sledge. A moment later The Supermutant fell, a bullet through his head. Decanus tried to move, but grimaced in pain, until Castor knelt down and stabbed a stimpak into his spine.

Decanus had used stimpaks in the past, in desperate firefights, and the effect was like healing powder but much quicker. Less pure, and he didn’t like it. Frumentarii were very relaxed about such things, and he had to admit the situation called for speed. He stood, taking a few deep breaths as the Stimpak worked its magic, and resumed the fight, slicing at enemies with his Yao Guai claw.

“I got it!” Virgil shouted. He jumped up onto the crate. “Let’s go!”

Grabbing his rifle, Decanus jumped onto the crate and began to reload. They piled on the white pine box with thumps, save for Claudius, who raced alongside the wheeled crate. The crate sped off towards the fortress, crushing through a wall of ferals. Decanus fired at will at his enemies. He heard Pollux yowl, and saw him fall. Castor stabbed him with a stimpak, and the man’s blood clotted, and he resumed fighting. That was the last they nrought outside on this mission, Decanus knew.

They were nearing the gate, and Decanus let himself sigh in relief. It was a mistake he would for which he would curse himself later, for a single bullet from a hunting rifle collided with one of the wheels. The crate skidded in the sand, then tumbled, and Decanus went into the air. He landed in the cold sands with a tumble and a hit that made him grunt involuntarily as he hit the ground. Scrambling to his feet, he raced to the crate. The ghouls were falling to the turret fire, but he saw the turrets flaming. The Supermutants had gotten better about targeting them when they attacked.

The gate opened, and DeeCee raced out. In a raw display of Deathclaw strength, she lifted one end of the crate and began to pull, grimacing as she did so. Seeing her make a good pace, Claudius raced to the other side in his power armor and lifted with a might grunt, and the two of them were able to race the box through the gate while Decanus and the Frumentarii fought a delaying action, slicing down ferals as the snipers and turrets on the walls took care of the Supermutants.

DeeCee collapsed to the ground, exhausted, whimpering in pain. Myra was on top of her jabbing her with somw syringe, and DeeCee took a deep breath. He hated to admit it, but Decanus was glad that she had been given whatever it was.

“Are you alright?” He said, kneeling to her.

“That was heavy,” she said, still panting.

“I’ll say,” Claudius said. He exited his power armor. “I need to recalibrate and make some repairs.”

The crate wheels were repaired, and Virgil took the disassembled robit into the Redoubt. DeeCee rested in the barracks while Claudius repaired his Power armor.

Decanus aided Claudius in the repairs. Power armor had always fascinated him, and he had always entertained a dream of wearing it into battle, mighty and invulnerable, firing an energy weapon at the enemies of the Legion. It was a foolish dream.

Claudius walked about outside his armor, the first time Decanus had seen him as such. He was a rail-thin man, though tall, and with obvious strength in his arms and legs and a natural speed. They worked and got the armor back in working order, just abiut when Virgil emerged from the water plant. His face bore obvious disappointment.

“The robot’s a mess,” he said, shaking his head as he wiped grease from his hands onto a filthy white cloth. “I’ll need DeeCee’s help to get this running, ultimately. Before we can even address the power issues, though, I need to repair the damage from the crash.”

“Repair it,” Claudius said. “It may be our only hope of holding this spot.”

“What about the turrets?” Virgil said, worried. “Who will work on them?”

“Let us worry about those,” Decanus said. “Pitch, Castor, and Pollux have gotten good at repairing them.”

“The turrets are getting worse. More and more of them is duct tape,” Virgil said. “If they keep getting hit…”

“That is why we need a robot,” Claudius said. “Power up Nuka Prime, and he will replace all the turrets for longer.”

Virgil sucked air through his teeth. “Right, right…” he said. “Well I guess I can…I can give it some more time…”

“That’s all we can ask,” Decanus said.

Decanus sighed. “I have been thinking…” he said gravely as Virgil walked away. “We have learned much about the Liches and their army. They are a lethal force. It occurs to me that we must get out the word about them. Mars only knows what Lanius is doing, but he lingers in the West. We must warn him of what has transpired here, and what enemy plots his ruin from the north.”

“Fair enough,” Claudius said. “But how do you plan to get out of here to warn him?”

“I don’t know,” Decanus said. “When in doubt, a good commander asks for options from his men, or so I hear.”

Claudius smiled. “I’ve heard similar,” he said. “I think you are right; it is time to ask the rest of the contubernium for ideas.”

Decanus summoned them all during a quiet moment to the courtyard. Only Virgil remained on the wall, looking out while the others spoke, but still listening.

“We have done well today,” Decanus said as everyone gathered. “But we now must consider what happens if this fortress is overrun.”

“You mean, how we get out?” Myra asked.

“I mean…what happens to the wasteland,” Decanus said softly. “If the fortress is overtaken, the wasteland is in danger. They must be warned. We need to get a message out.”

“We are surrounded, and likely to be overtaken if we try to flee,” Sheila said.

“There are the salt mines,” Myra said, still visibly displeased at Decanus’ assessment. “They have partially collapsed, but we might be able to dig. Dad was talking about it, fixing the tunnels. He had a map.”

“Your father is the reason we have survived thus far, and it is a shame he did not get a chance to finish his fortifications. However we’d never dig through in time, I fear,” Decanus said.

“Can we fix the Vertibird?” Pitch asked.

“I doubt it,” Claudius said. “It took too much damage when it crashed. Virgil and DeeCee might be able to miracle up something with the pieces, but I doubt they can do it with an army around us.”

“All of us together are unlikely to break out, and in any case, holding this spot has delayed them,” Decanus said. “To relinquish it would allow their plans to resume. I believe we should try to get a messenger out. I’m willing to entertain ideas as to how, but my ide…is to send you, Sheila, to Lanius’ camp.”

Sheila’s eyes widened. “Me?” She asked incredulously.

“You are a ranger. You are used to traveling the wastes, and can practice concealment. You have the best chance of getting out,” Decanus replied.

“And when she does, you expect her to stand before Lanius?” Pollux said. “The minute she breaks free, she heads for the NCR and warns them, not the Legion.”

Sheila shot Pollux a look of daggers.

“In another respect, there is the risk that Lanius might ignore her, as she is an NCR Ranger and a woman,” Castor added.

“He might do other things to me as well,” Sheila said. “I appreciate you trusting me, Decanus, but it’s better for all parties that I stay here on the wall and shoot people in the head.”

“There is another, even better suited for the task,” DeeCee said. She took a long pause before she spoke. “Gabriel does not need to eat or sleep,” she said with a shaking voice. “And he is small, small emough to hide and go undetected.”

“And skilled at moving through the wastes,” Decanus said with a nod. He looked to Gabriel. “You know these wastes as well as anyone.”

Gabrield beeped, and Decanus knew him well enough it was a sign of assent.

“He can’t talk, though,” Pitch said. “And he’s unlikely to find people in the Legion willing to learn his language.”

“We can send one of the Pip boys with him,” Decanus said.

“I can also record a message,” Castor said. “And we can upload my notes and reports on the army here. Lanius is not such a brute that he will ignore a frumentari scouting report.”

“I will record a message as well,” Claudius said. “Calling him here for the reading of Caesar’s will.”

“I would have the will sent with the Eyebot,” Castor said. “Here, it could be taken by the Liches.”

“Indeed,” Claudius replied. “And if it is taken, its value is nothing. Caesar’s will is meaningless while this enemy is here. Lanius must come here for the reading of the will, and defeat them. Only then does any of this matter.”

“If we can get Lanius what we have learned…” Decanus said. “If the Legion is aware of the countermeasures, they could crush the Liches and their army. If not…” he grimaced. The teleportation and the nightmare broadcasts would have the Legion on the back foot, and it might rout.

“Will attempt,” Gabriel said. “Help is essential. Difficult to bypass enemy.”

“It is true,” Pollux said after Decanus relayed what the Eyebot had said. “The Eyebot will have trouble escaping. If he is seen, they will just tag him with a rifle.”

“So we hide him,” Myra said. “DeeCee can pass for a Supermutant – she is sized like one. She should take Gabriel, get in one of their armors, walk beyond the end of the line, and let Gabriel go. They might not ever even realize he left. Raiders have been doing that shit to Supermutants for years. They’re dumb as shit.”

“The Liches aren’t dumb, though. She’d have to avoid them,” Claudius said.

“Avoid the ghouls floating in the air in flowing robes. That will hopefully be easy,” Myra said. “I doubt they’re that observant of their troops.”

“It’s a fair bet,” Sheila said. “Mostly they are staring at the sky, pretending to be wizards,” she shuddered. “They’re maniacs.”

“They’ll notice DeeCee is gone when she leaves, though,” Decanus said. “And it doesn’t solve the food and water problem if she has to travel with him. And how would the Legion respond-“

He stopped speaking. Everyone stared at Decanus silently. DeeCee smiled wanly.

“DeeCee would come back, Decanus,” Claudius said.

The scarf over his face blocked his mouth, and Decanus hoped they could not tell that he had dropped his jaw.

“That is…” he wanted to say insane, and wrong, and that he wouldn’t allow it. DeeCee leaving and escaping, that was good. If she planned to return, that meant she was going beyond the wall and into danger, then back to this unending peril. It meant that she was putting her life in a terrible risk. He searched for a reason to say it was a bad idea, but he could think of none.

Decanus Storm, man of the Legion, knew that sending a robot and an abomination was easily a risk worth taking to save the Wasteland. This was not the case for Rain Cloud, the dead man who had stirred so recently and lived when DeeCee touched him. Rain Cloud wanted to grab DeeCee in his arms and scream that he would never let his woman go to her death, fuck everything and everyone else.

“That is our best bet,” Decanus Storm said, swallowing down Rain Cloud back into the tomb of his heart. “The best time to go will be in darkness.”

“They prefer the dark,” Castor said.

“True, but their eyes are like ours. The darkness will aid imperfections, and the more Supermutants that stir, the more that she can fade into a crowd,” Decanus said.

They had access to plenty of Supermutant armors, and Myra was able to mix green grease and coated DeeCee down with it. Pollux, who was good at disguises, showed her how to walk and growl like a Supermutant. DeeCee was fitted with their armor, painted, and given a sledge hammer and crude hunting rifle, as well as one of their pot helmets to cover her horns, which she currently had under her arm. Her tail was forced down one of her pant legs. Gabriel floated next to her. He was pressed up against her forehead as they spoke in whispers. Tears ran down her face, and she kissed him. She put on her helmet.

She looked the part, at least to a cursory inspection. But to look into her eyes through her can helmet, Decanus could see she total fear. It tore at him, and he was ready to call it off, but the Legionary in him, the Decanus, was too cold, too calculating.

“Gabriel…” Decanus said, turning to the Eyebot. “You are the wisest of all of us. I see you as the final test of Lanius – if he heeds your counsel, he will prove he is worthy to lead the Legion. If he does not, he will damn the wasteland to suffering and deserve the scorn of whatever survives. I will miss you, old friend, and your wise counsel.”

“True to Caesar, Decanus. Good bye for now. Take care of DeeCee until I return.”

Decanus laughed. “I’m glad to see that you haven’t given up hope?”

“Never,” Gabriel said. “You will rally them. You will hold. Lanius will come. And others. All shall come. I will make sure. Take care of DeeCee. Remember that above all.”

“I will. I have little cause for hope, but you have given it to me,” Decanus said.

Gabriel floated into DeeCee’s cloak and disappeared. Decanus made a final tug on DeeCee’s armor. He looked up into her eyes.

“Good luck, to both of you,” he whispered.

She paused and looked down at him with an uncertain smile. She unlatched the collar at her neck and placed it in his hand. He clutched it furtively.

“I’m scared,” she whispered, the words vibrating in his hand.

“You will be fine,” Decanus said, doing his best to mask his shaking voice. “It’s just a walk. Do as Pollux told you, shuffle as you step. Keep an even pace. Go to beyond their camp, then release Gabriel. Then just walk back. The autocannons are trained to your heat signature and won’t fire at you. Your cloak is painted in that IR stuff, none of us will shoot at you. We are all looking out for it.”

Her deathclaw hands, covered in green slime, were shaking. He held them, painting his palms, but he did not care. She smiled, and he could see she was still nervous, but she exhaled and shut her eyes. Her hands steadied.

“I will see you when you get back,” he said. “You can do this. I believe in you.”

When the sun had set, the plan went in motion. With his heart in his throat, Decanus watched DeeCee climb down from the wall.

In the darkness she skulked, staying low to the ground. Eyes were on the camp at all times, he guessed, but in the dark it would be hard to see her, and she would stay out of the floodlights, just near the edges of them. She would be hard to see in the approach.

“Good luck…” he whispered as he watched the shape slowly creep away in the darkness. “…my love.”

She disappeared into the darkness, and he looked at the spot long afterward. The hours were agony. Decanus tried helping Pollux and Castor handle the turrets, but he couldn’t focus. He tried pacing the walls, he tried speaking to the others, he even tried helping Myra mix more stimpaks and drugs. He visited Virgil, toiling on Nuka Prime, but even the giant robot could not take his mind off DeeCee and her peril. Nothing lessened the terrible dread in his heart or the ugly feeling in his stomach. He found himself wandering back to the wall with his binoculars, scanning over the distant spikes for a larger than normal humanoid shape. He was mid-scan when he heard tbe powered armor of Claudius thunder behind him.

“Any sign?” He asked.

“No,” Decanus replied.

“You must stop this,” The old paladin said, and his voice had the note of a commander. “You do not want to appear distressed. You do not want them to start asking questions. Go and sit in the barracks. I will summon you if we hear anything.”

It was never clear between them who was in charge. Decanus had contented himself to believe he was in charge of the contubernium and the defense, but Claudius was in charge of the overall strategic operation. He obeyed when Claudius commanded, that he knew.

The barracks may as well have been a coffin in Tartarus itself. He lay upon his cot, staring up at the ceiling above him. He clutched DeeCee’s collar in his hands so tightly the metal dug into his hand. His mind raced as he thought of the most awful, terrible things. All he could think of was DeeCee and the look of fear in her eyes. He couldn’t bear the thought of her dying afraid and alone among those monsters.

“Hey…” Myra said, snapping him from his thoughts and sitting on the foot of his cot. “I gotta know, are we okay?”

Decanus frowned. “Why wouldn’t we be?”

“I sent your girl beyond the wall,” Myra said. “You didn’t like it. Normally I wouldn’t give a shit, but you’re the kind of guy I don’t want pissed off at me. Plus I…I like you both. I feel kinda bad about it.”

“You lack formality. It gives you a refreshing honesty,” Decanus said. “I am not mad at you. It was a good suggestion. It was the suggedtion that had to be made.”

“I hope you’re right,” Myra said. “She’s a good one. Vault Dweller as fuck.”

“What does that mean? Vault Dweller?” Decanus asked.

“You know how Vault Dwellers are. Naive, nice, sweet. Dumb-“

“She’s not dumb,” Decanus said, maybe a bit too loudly.

“You know what I mean. She has book smarts and fight smarts, but not people smarts. The wasteland is not going to be kind to her if we make it out of here.”

“She will find peace in Jacobstown,” Decanus said. “If we get out of here.”

“What’s so special about Jacobstown?” Myra.

“It’s a Supermutant colony. They’ll accept her there,” Decanus said.

“You’ve been there? You know that?” Myra asked.

“Gabriel assured me of it,” Decanus said. “He scouted it out for her.”

“He scouted you and Pitch out for her, too,” Myra said.

“What are you saying?” Decanus asked.

“I’m saying we should form a new gang – you, me, Pitch, DeeCee, Virgil – we should form up. Get the fuck away from here when we get the chance, head east. I got kin in Talon Company. We could set ourselves up. You got it in you to be more than a sergeant. You could be a Warlord. A Warlord with a Deathclaw girl for a wife. Nobody would fuck with either of you. That’s what it’s all about. Respect.”

“I am what the Legion made me, and can only be a man of the Legion. East sounds like where you should go,” Decanus said. “To be with your kin.”

“I’ll never make it alone. I mean, it’s all a joke anyways – we’re all gonna get poked on those spikes. I know you gotta say differently, but we both know the truth. I’m okay with it…” her lip quivered. “I deserve it. I mean, I was always an ungrateful little shit. if I were a good daughter, I’d be dead…”

She sniffed and dipped her head. He put a hand to her shoulder.

“Virgil is alone, too,” Decanus said softly. “When this is over – and we are all still alive – I will make my last request safe passage for all who fought for the Legion here. Lanius is a man of honor, he will let you all head west. Virgil is a good man. You and he can start a gang or a settlement or whatever it is the dissolute do. Maybe near Jacobstown, where you can see Gabriel and DeeCee.”

“What about you and Pitch?” She asked.

“We both know we cannot be greedy when it comes to friends,” Decanus said sadly. “My life is forfeit. Pitch shall replace me in the Legion.”

“Don’t do that to him, Decanus,” Myra said. “He’s too…sweet. Let him come west.”

“I have said it will be his decision, but he will not go west,” Decanus said. “He is of the Legion now.”

“Since we aren’t going to survive anyways, can I just believe all of us are going off together after this?” Myra asked.

Decanus sighed. “You can believe that people here care about you, and you will not be forgotten. I will speak to Virgil.”

Myra departed with a buttersweet smile, and Decanus drifted into a most horrible sleep, where he was racing for DeeCee among the fortress, but he could never find her. The sounds of gunfire grew louder and louder until he woke, and realized the gunfire was on the wallsm

Grabbing up his machete, he emerged from the barracks. Supermutants had breached the walls, though it seemed the tide had been stemmed, and Castor and Pollux had fought back and secured the walls. Claudius was fighting with those who had gotten past the walls into the courtyard, wielding his bumper sword and parrying their sledgehammers. There were four Supermutants, three in normal Supermutant garb and one in black armor. The black armored ones were the sergeants, the Death Knights, the truly dangerous ones. Decanus rushed forward, machete raised, and slashed one of Claudius’ attackers in the back. The Supermutant arched his back and fell, and Decanus kept slashing until he no longer moved. Claudius continued fighting the other two.

The Supermutant in black armor turned about to face Decanus a sinister grin on his face. When Decanus saw the weapon on his right arm, his heart dropped into his stomach. It was freshly severed and bloody, and wrapped to the Supermutant’s hand with a medical brace. The Supermutant raised it with a snarl.

It was a Deathclaw gauntlet.

Decanus reeled a moment, staggering on his legs, as the enormity of what he was seeing hit him. Numb, he felt his hand going up to the wrap around his face. He unclasped it and removed his hood, tossing them both in the sand. His teeth clenched. His eyes misted, and Decanus Storm let out a primal scream so intense that for a moment all stopped fighting to see it.

In the haze he remembered little, except that the Supermutant in black tried to strike him with the profane weapon on his wrist, but he was no match for Decanus in his fury.

Decanus pushed the Supermutant to the ground and straddled the black-armored warrior. His machete rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell, as he screamed at the top of his lungs until his throat was as bloody as his blade. He was fearful to stop screaming, fearful for the moment that he would be forced to acknowledge what had happened.

The slashing went on, as did his screaming, long after the gunfire faded. There was only the sound of blood rushing in his ears and his own raw wail. The Supermutant in black was less a solid than a goo, shredded, a pile of blood and pulped meat, when he felt arms grab him and pull him away from the obliterated corpse. It was Castor and Pollux.

“Pull yourself together!” Castor yelled.

The feeling came all at once. Decanus shut his eyes and his body began to hurt. He felt another piece of himself die, or in truth, he felt only the smallest echo of himself continue to live. This was war, he told himself. He would join her soon. He tried to find comfort in that, but there was none. He held in the desire to cry out. He couldn’t let himself. He breathed, and forced his body to stop its shaking. This was war. This was the Legion. This was life.

“DeeCee…” Decanus rasped, raising a trembling finger toward the deathclaw gauntlet, still dangling from the mangled corpse, which filled him with utter horror.

“…Decanus?”

It was a voice on his belt, the voice of Vera Keyes, from the collar which DeeCee had worn. But that was impossible. He searched with his eyes, and he saw one Supermutant, helmeted, still standing. The Suoermutant remived its helmet, and he saw an angel’s face set between two horns, and a pair of eyes that he saw every time he closed his own.

He let out an involuntary cry of shock. He broke free from the frumentarii with seeming ease -they must have released hin- and he raced to her. He grasped her into his arms, lifting her off the ground for a moment as she squeaked in surprise. He buried his head into her neck. He felt himself sobbing, felt the tears coming in an unstoppable torrent as his whole body was shaking and he couldn’t control it.

“I thought-I thought-I thought…” he repeated, half babbling, and he was aware thst tears were pouring down his bare, exposed face. He didn’t care.

“I’m okay, what-” she began, but she didn’t finish. He gripped her from behind her head, filling his hand with her wondrous soft hair, and pulled her face to his. She trilled in response, hugging him under his arms. He kissed her fully and deeply on the lips, tasting her breath as she exhaled. There was no more siege, no watching eyes, just the two of them, the kiss, and the feeling of her soft lips against his own, and the warmth of her arms wrapped around him. And the wonderous relief, and the tears pouring from his eyes in total joy

“Your hands….?” He said, panting, when their kiss broke, his face wet. She held up her hands, confused. He took them in his own and kissed them forcefully. These lethal hands which he loved so. “Gabriel got out?” He asked.

DeeCee nodded. Her head was still swimming from the kiss, and she leaned in and nuzzled him. He found himself planting kisses on her as she did so.

He looked about and cleared his throat. He realized every eye had been on him, and had seen, but at this stage of a siege he knew hiding one’s feelings was impossible.

“I was so scared,” he whispered. He looked back at the dead Supermutant, and the deathclaw gauntlet. “I thought that was you…”

“They have deathclaws now,” she said. “They call them Dragons. They were mounting flamers to them. One of them was unruly, and it resisted. So they…pulled it apart,” DeeCee said. Her faced twisted into fear and sadness. “Storm, you wouldn’t believe the horrors in their camp…”

He pulled her face to his chest and held her. “You are safe, now.” He said. “It’ll be over my dead body that you ever go beyond this camp while they are outside it.”

She cooed again, a sound he had grown to love. When she finally went to get out of her Supermutant garb, he trudged over to his discarded hood and scarf, and put them back on. The rest of the contubernium had dispersed. He was glad – he would not have been able to handle a comment without erupting at them and saying something he would regret, or worse, turning red with embarrassment.

Once he was secured, he took up his patril wordlessly along the wall, coming upon Claudius, who looked out over the walls at the enemy.

“You are calmed down now?” Claudius asked as he heard Decanus approaching.

“I am, sir,” Decanus replied.

“Good,” the old warrior’s voiced boomed from inside his helm. He turned, looking out on the wastes and the enemy forces. “It all rests on the Eyebot, now. I hope he is up to the task.”

“Gabriel will return,” Decanus said. “Whether or not we will be here when he does, that is what I do not know. But I have faith in him as I have faith in our comrades. This is the best congerie of warriors I have ever had the honor to command.”

“An eclectic group,” Claudius said. “The army of the Liches has broken defenders one hundred times our number. But we have held.”

“Claudius, you are arguably the greatest warrior of the wastes,” Decanus began. “Is this where we die?”

Claudius regarded him for a moment from behind his power armor. “Yes,” he said at last. “In the most meaningful of senses. The old ways must die in the face of this enemy, just as the old ways died in the face of the last enemy. A new way forward must be charted. The wasteland needs a banner to rally around.”

“What banner is that? The bull of Caesar?” Decanus asked.

“Caesar is dead. Perhaps they feared him, but the Legion of Caesar will die with him if it does not change. Cut itself to shreds as Legates all suddenly claim Mars as a father. A new banner is needed. But until it is found, I fear we will remain living this endless life. This life where we will suffer the Liches.”

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