Several doors buckled. Half a dozen windows shattered.
Zombies flooded into the warehouse.
Except they weren't actually zombies; not in any traditional sense. They weren't shuffling, rotting corpses ripped out of a George Romero movie--in fact, quite a number of them looked relatively healthy.
Also, some of them were running. I was pretty sure zombies couldn't run. It was... some sort of rule?
"Where the hell did they come from?" Paladin shouted, already on his feet. Both his hands were instantly immersed in giant, glowing white fists. He pounded them together with a loud whump and sprang toward the first group.
"Dunno," Mulligan said, pulling a Louisville Slugger out from beneath the table. "Maybe we should ask your mom."
The 'zombies' were all very large, very fast men--most of them dressed in dirty, mud-slick jumpsuits. Some of them were bare-chested, their torsos gleaming with primitive-looking tattoos. Others had scales, or green skin, or fins on their head, or--
"Holy shit," Sumerset said. "They're goddamn prisoners."
"What?" I asked.
"Prisoners," he said. "Bellepoint Penitentiary. Whole place was cleared out a few days ago. Assumed it was unrelated. But--"
As a very large, very bald heavyset man hurled himself at me, I noticed the gaping wound at the center of his chest. It was a bloodless hole--through it, I could see dried bone and viscera.
"Oh, God," I said. I stepped back and delivered a hard, brutal punch to his belly--felt muscle clench and tear around my fist. The thing was thrown backwards, his bloated figure crashing into several other approaching attackers like a wave of fat. "They are zombies."
"Not technically," Sumerset said.
"Technically? They're corpses!"
"Look, terminology aside, they ain't human anymore," Sumerset said. "So training gloves off, kid. I'm breaking out the Dreaddies."
The Dreadbots were a backup plan Sumerset and I had discussed for the off-chance that Epoch decided to try and take me in. When inactive, each one was a brass sphere no larger than a softball, complete with a mounted glass lens; once turned on, delicate mechanical spider legs slid out of the grooves, allowing them to scuttle up walls and down hallways.
Doctor Dread had used them in the late 1800s and early 1900s to spread misery and despair. One hundred years later, Sumerset was using them to spread copious amounts of C4.
Dozens of the things poured out from the ceiling and leapt down, landing on the heads and shoulders of the arriving zombies. Rusty, clanky machine-legs seized hold of throats and necks; tightly wound packages of C4 blinked rapidly as, in the distance, a detonator was depressed.
The entire warehouse was engulfed in a thunderous roar. Flaming zombie chunks flew every which way.
Sumerset was a surgeon when it came to controlled demolition; despite the violence of the blast, not a hair of the living was singed. Paladin was busy pounding zombies with his giant Hulk-fists near the center of the warehouse when it went off--Mulligan somehow managed to find himself in an unoccupied corner just in time. Meanwhile, Brick was tangling with a group of zombies who had come after Woot--as they tried to move past him, Brick grabbed two of them by their throats and choke-slammed them to the floor with a bone-snapping *crrrnch*.
It was then that I heard a sharp, whining hum.
"SKULL!" Mulligan shouted. "DOWN! NOW!"
I didn't think--I just did it. There was a rush of air passing over me, followed by several wet *SKRTS*--something immense swept past my head, slicing neatly through two or three zombies besides me. Their torsos tumbled to the ground, their legs left to stumble clumsily for several seconds before finally dropping.
A sleek metal boomerang at least as big as me whirled around the width of the warehouse, arching in a long loop as it returned to its source. As it did, the boomerang folded into itself--blades retracting, its width thinning out--until it had shrunk down to a manageable 2 feet in length.
The man who caught it was old; he dressed like Crocodile Dundee, except with tiny decorative boomerangs dangling from his slouch hat. More boomerangs were strapped to him--harnessed on his back, at his waist, on his chest--everywhere.
"Please don't tell me that's who I think it is," I said.
"That's impossible," Sumerset said. "He's dead."
"Yeah. Hello. We're fighting zombies," I said.
There was a loud crackle behind me; Woot had dropped his goggles down over his face and emerged from behind Brick, a set of clumsily assembled ray guns in his hands. Both were connected to the steam-engine on his back via lengths of cord; long lengths of electricity crackled at their tips.
"Taste electrified science, abominations!"
There was a streak of light as bolts of lightning speared out and struck several zombies in the torso. It lanced them like boils--their torsos ruptured with moist, bloodless splurches, leaving them to tumble to the ground. Brick kept close to him as he worked, ready to tackle any zombie who got too close.
Neither of them had noticed the boomerang that had nearly split me in two. And as I turned, I saw Boomerang Kid preparing two more of them--his eyes on Brick and Woot.
I snapped out the flare from my backpack and threw it in one effortless motion; then I charged towards him in a run--right as the flash of light exploded somewhere inbetween us. Boomerang Kid was briefly blinded, and stepped back with a grimace; I was on him in the next second, my fist coming in low to meet his jaw.
"You know what I find hilarious?" I said as my punch flattened him to the wall--I followed it up with a second and third to his stomach. "The fact that you are actually less dangerous than some guy with a gun."
"Don't underestimate him," Sumerset said. "Everybody always--"
A miniature steel boomerang unfolded from his wrist; he smashed it up under my helm and against my chin. I saw a flash of stars as I was sent reeling back--and then he was using the boomerangs like they were clubs.
"Oh, God," I said under my breath. "I am so never going to live it down if this guy manages to beat me."
I managed to block the next blow with the armored padding on my forearm--mostly by accident--and swung my face forward for a solid headbutt. There was a satisfying crack, followed by a thwack as his head hit the corrugated wall; he slumped to the floor, his boomerangs slipping from his limp fingers.
And that's when a voice that could only be described as that of a manchild flooded the warehouse from above.
"Play-time is over, super-jerks!"
The window overhead busted inward; glass rained down from above, spilling down like rain. An old fat man in a tweed suit and red polka dot bowtie descended into the room; he had an absurd-looking backpack with two sets of candy-cane colored propellers mounted atop of it. Somehow, the spinning blades were producing enough lift to keep him hovering over our heads.
In his hands he was holding what looked like some sort of retro-future space-ray.
"Everybody freeze!," he shouted, and then giggled--he pointed the ray gun down at us. Somewhere to my left, Paladin's legs flashed a scorching white as they were engulfed in shining pistons--with a flex of his legs, he fired himself up toward the mad-man.
"Taste the frigid hate of the Toy-Master," the manchild said, and then he fired the ray-gun straight at Paladin. A stream of rippling blue lashed out toward his head; Paladin raised his arm and coaxed his energy into the shape of a spectral shield. A thick wall of frost instantly spread out along its surface, crawling all the way to the edges; the added weight of rapidly condensing water pushed Paladin off-balance, sending him falling back down to the floor.
Woot turned to aim his electro-guns up at the 'Toy-Master', but the hovering mad-man managed to fire first. Brick leapt in the way--for a moment, I could swear that his skin looked like a pallid gray rather than a bronzed olive--and took the beam straight to the chest. Strands of frost spread out in thickening knots across him; his torso was encased in a block of ice.
"Vengeance is a dish best served--urgh!" Toy-Master's next horrible ice-based pun was cut off by Mulligan, who had somehow clambored up onto the rafters and managed to throw his bat at the spinning propellers. The blades chewed against the bat with a loud, harsh clang; something snapped and broke, sending the copter harness rolling. Toy-Master shrieked with terror as he plummeted toward the ground.
"--with your mom," Mulligan said.