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Claire Redfield-Allure by IamRinoaHeartilly

You were absolutely true to the title of your work by presenting Claire in an incredibly sensual, alluring moment. The anticipation in ...

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To everyone I know here, sweet Ygure, Gina, Katie and everyone, I'm really sorry to report this but I'm having trouble getting on DA.
   Seriously, I have no idea if it's my computer (an old Windows XP using Internet Explorer 8) or something wrong on this site, but I can't login from home.  Every time I put in my name and pw, I get an IE page saying 'Internet Explorer cannot display this webpage'.  I've submitted a letter to DA's helpdesk, I'm trying to troubleshoot with help from MS support, but so far no luck and I haven't been able to get on from home since Sunday.
   I have to resort to using a library internet station...that's where I'm typing from now.  Yeah, I know.  ARGH! >:(
   I'm really trying to get this resolved short of going to a new way to get online like Google Chrome, and if anyone has ever run into anything like this before, if anyone has any suggestions that can work, please help!
---
Charles (And don't mistake my mood, I'm not feeling good right now! :( )
  • Mood: Optimism
Smoldering Ash by CharlesWS
Smoldering Ash
Still trying to climb out of my writing rut. Anyway!

Something for all of you MASS EFFECT fans, a rather intimate and sultry portrait of Ashley Williams...this may not be mature, but I wanted to make her image hot enough to burn! ^_^ Who's Ash looking at with great expectation? Use your imagination...Shepard, FemShep, whoever! :heart: Big thanks again to fellow Deviant Melllin for making my request for a romantic Ash model a reality! :)

Giving credit where it's due, always!

XNALara created by Dusan Pavlicek
XPS created by Dusan and XNAaraL

Models:
Ashley Williams Romance by Melllin
Furniture by AndrastesAss
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(Contains: strong language)

MASS EFFECT:  PARAMOUR

written by Charles Spencer


Chapter 4:

"WELCOME TO OMEGA"

-1-

Most of galactic space in what Humans called the Milky Way was open, either unclaimed or unincorporated by any civilized world or entity.
 It wasn't highly publicized, but one of the biggest and most treacherous areas of open space were the Terminus Systems, portions of which were unofficially claimed by varied criminal elements who profited from illegitimate enterprises that nearly spanned the breadth of the galaxy.  Pirates, slavers, smugglers, mercenaries, corporate raiders and worse liked the Terminus Systems as they were, free of any Council World influence and enforcement of the law so they could do their 'business' without worry of being arrested.  That wasn't likely to change anytime soon...the Council Worlds had a difficult enough time deciding amongst themselves who had rightful claim to what open territory.  No one wanted a repeat of Earth's recent brutal conflict with the Batarians over settlement rights.

  Deep in the Terminus Systems was the Sahrabarik System, and in orbit around its star was the moon-sized mining station of Omega...the strange, mammoth structure that was home to 8 million sentients at any given time was built into the remains of an asteroid long ago stripped of element zero and any other rich material.  Most of the enterprises that operated on Omega had nothing to do with mining, and made a profit in every criminal way that could be imagined.  A wretched hive of scum and villainy for thousands of years, the recently resurrected Commander Mary Shepard was forewarned by the Illusive Man that she would have to deal with the undisputed and dangerous leader of Omega's ruling syndicate in order to find two of her first three recruits.  Potential squad-mates for a suicide mission to track the Collectors through the unknowably hazardous Omega-4 Relay -- which was also in the Sahrabarik System -- and stop them from kidnapping entire Human colonies.  Mary thought it was ironic she was brought back to life to possibly die again.

  Whoever Omega's harbormaster was, he just sounded like a rough customer over the commline when he growled approval for the Normandy SR-2's pilot, Jeff 'Joker' Moreau, to dock.  That only happened, of course, after a docking fee had to be transferred to the harbormaster...Mary was in the cockpit at the time and okayed the transfer, but grudgingly.  The fee was so riduculously high it nearly gutted their mission account.  Joker wanted to complain about highway robbery, but remembering where he was, he wisely kept any gripes to himself.  Fortunately, the Illusive Man guaranteed that more credits would be transferred for the essential needs of the ship and crew; the amount of credits that could be gained was dependent on their performance as the mission progressed.

  It took a few minutes for Mary, Miranda and Jacob to gear up and then have a brief meeting in the Briefing/Comm Room behind the CIC.  It was settled upon quickly that of the three specialists they needed to find and recruit on Omega, Doctor Mordin Solus was the most essential -- because of the Salarian scientist's virtually peerless knowledge in biology, the Illusive Man determined he would be best able to find a defense for the Collectors' insidious seeker swarms.  After finding him, then Mary could focus on the mercenary Zaeed Massani and the mysterious vigilante Archangel.

  Commander Shepard was only a few steps out of the comm room, armed and in full armor except for her helmet, and about to make her way to the airlock when she heard a voice call out, "Mary?"  Not far away was Kelly Chambers, Shepard's Yeoman, who was moving from her console behind the Galaxy Map to the paragon.

  Mary smiled...Kelly's interruption wasn't unwelcome.  She asked, "Yes, Kelly?"

  The petite redhead reached Mary and said, "Um, earlier when we spoke, you gave so much of your time to know more about me.  I wanted you to know how much I deeply appreciate that, but I hope I didn't come across as too informal."  So clearly afraid she had done something wrong before, Kelly said nervously, "I-I might even have flirted with you, and I didn't mean to overstep my bounds in any way -- !"

  Mary suddenly interrupted:  "Kelly?"

  "Yes, ma'am?"

  The hero didn't lose a degree of her smile...in fact, her expression brightened further as she reassured, "Relax!  You're truly charming, and I think I flirted with you first, remember?  I really enjoyed talking to you."

  With a grateful sigh, Kelly managed, "Thank you, Mary.  Um...!"

  There was so much warmth between these women, but the paragon cautioned, "Let's keep ourselves focused on business, Kelly."

  Kelly nodded.  "Of course, Mary!  You're about to disembark to Omega, right?"

  "Yeah, and my first order of business is to go see Aria T'Loak."  The ruler of Omega's most powerful syndicate and, for all intents and purposes, the leader of Omega itself.  Mary would have to deal with T'Loak in order to go anywhere and do anything without interference.  As Miranda and Jacob also left the comm room, Mary thought of something and turned to them.  She asked, "Miranda, can we establish a connection between my suit's surveillance systems and Kelly's station?"

  Miranda Lawson looked at her curiously, but nodded and said, "It will only take a few minutes to arrange that, Shepard."

  "Good.  When we talk to Aria..."  Mary deliberately looked at her Yeoman.  "...I want Kelly to watch and listen."

  Surprised, Kelly almost blurted, "Yes, ma'am!"  But she added, unsure, "W-why, exactly...?"

  Mary said matter-of-factly, "I'm about to talk to the biggest crimelord on Omega, someone who lies, steals and kills for a living.  With your experience as a psychologist, any input you have to offer about Aria or anyone else we run into might be important.  Understood?"

  Kelly relaxed and smiled.  "Yes, Mary!  I'll observe and if I notice anything out of the ordinary, I'll let you know.  Would you rather I come with your squad?"

  The beautiful paragon looked at the redhead with a measuring gaze.  "Kelly, how much combat experience have you had?"

  The lovely girl's expression suddenly grew blank...she had to avert her brilliant green eyes from Mary's as she said quietly, "...I don't even know how to shoot a gun."

  Mary smiled again and rested one of her slender hands on Kelly's shoulder...she said softly, "Then this is the safest place for you as long as we're on Omega.  Take my word for it, Kelly."

  Kelly Chambers looked up at her hero, smiled and nodded.  She remembered what Serina told her long ago and said, "I do, Mary.  Thank you."

-2-

  After disembarking, Mary and her squad discovered they didn't have to bother with trying to figure out how to find Aria T'Loak.  A mean-looking Batarian met them in the main thoroughfare that connected Omega to its docks.  Sent there by T'Loak herself, he flatly ordered them to report to the nightclub Afterlife to see her.  Mary guessed that the harbormaster contacted the crimelord immediately...it wasn't every day a ship belonging to a terrorist group and commanded by a person who was reported killed in action two years ago came for a visit.  They already had T'Loak's interest -- whether that was good or bad, they knew they'd find out soon enough.

  Not much longer after that, surprisingly, they encountered Zaeed Massani.

  The battle-scarred Human mercenary made a memorable first impression for Mary and her comrades as he was kicking the shit out of a luckless sentient he was there to collect a bounty on.  The poor bastard was wanted alive, but Zaeed didn't much care about what shape his quarry had to be in otherwise.  Mary set aside her moral reservations and remembered the gravity of the mission -- the Illusive Man thought this hardcase would be a valuable addition to her crew.  Zaeed then enlightened her that part of the deal he made with Cerberus was that he'd have Shepard's assistance to complete another active contract before he could fully commit to the pursuit of the Collectors.

  Zaeed said to Mary, "You heard of Vido Santiago?  He's the leader of the Blue Suns, runs the whole organization."  The Blue Suns quickly became one of the most feared mercenary organizations in open space since their creation twenty years ago...Mary remembered from Zaeed's dossier that he was once part of the group, as well.  "Seems he just recently captured an Eldfell-Ashland refinery on the planet Zorya.  Vido's got every employee hostage and making them work as slave labor.  He wants the company to pay his protection fee before he'll let 'em go, but they hired me to solve the problem in a different way.  Liberate the facility and kill every Blue Sun, including Vido."  Mary agreed to support Zaeed in the contract if it meant saving lives, but she asked if they had to drop everything to go to Zorya now.  "We can take our time, the last I heard Vido's not going anywhere until he gets his credits.  When we get that out of the way, then we can concentrate on being big goddamn heroes."  Zaeed Massani said he'd report to Mary's ship after he was done collecting the credits for his current bounty -- the merc had to drag the man away after shooting him in the leg.

  The connection between Mary and her Yeoman was already active, and Kelly Chambers watched all that happened with shock...the redhead's voice was worried as she said, "We're gonna have that man on the Normandy?!  Mary, he's a complete thug!"

  Mary nodded slowly.  "Yeah...but we need him.  For now."  If things didn't go well, if Zaeed Massani wasn't a good fit for the mission, Mary could always bring him back to Omega with no hard feelings.  From her, anyway...she wondered how personally he'd take it.

  Walking into Omega was like a tour through an industrial Hell -- it was dark, polluted, noisy and squalid.  The predators were the easiest to spot...they were often in packs and kept their eyes on everything and everyone, their eyes steady as a hawk's marking possible victims.  Equally wary were the syndicate enforcers, brazenly armed and establishing a kind of order on this great space station.  Most prominent, though, were the citizens here who just wanted to get by and make a life for themselves...many eagerly collected at the main entrance to Afterlife.  The enforcers providing security for the nightclub waved Mary, Miranda and Jacob in.

  The interior of Afterlife wasn't an improvement.  It was even darker in spite of the neon and lightshows, yet at the same time it held an aura like a siren's call as seductive as the dancers who worked the stages and tables everywhere for their customers.  And the highest crimelord on Omega was right at home here.  Aria T'Loak was a captivating Asari in her provocative yet functional dress, old enough to be in her Matriarch stages, yet there was a youth to her that couldn't be denied.  However she began her path as a criminal hundreds of years before, she'd devoted her very life to getting what she wanted by any means necessary.  She was so alike Mary Shepard, yet at the same time her perfect opposite.  They were both leaders who had a perfect sense of what they wanted, but the differences between them and what they each wanted were like night and day.  

  Just looking at Aria, seeing her hard blue eyes and the sharp curve of her lips, one understood instantly this wasn't a woman to be trifled with...she never asked for what she wanted, either.  With several of her underlings surrounding the new arrivals guns drawn, the crimelord had Mary Shepard submit to a genetic scan.  Watching from afar, Kelly Chambers felt her pulse raise a hundred percent as she prayed everything would go all right.  Aria said, "It's not every day a dead Spectre pays Omega a visit, Commander Shepard.  This is just to make sure you're you and not a clone...and that you're not carrying anything I might not like."

  Seconds later, the man who ran the scan with his Omni-Tool read his findings and gave Aria the nod.  "She's clean and a match with public records.  It's Shepard, all right."

  Aria considered Shepard with cool eyes.  "Very well.  You can tell me anytime why you're on Omega, Commander."

  Mary wasn't affected in any way by the state of affairs, facing a crimelord and surrounded by her thugs.  She had been in worse situations.  With a calm authority, Mary was direct:  "Actually, I wanted to see you.  I have questions, and I understand you run Omega."

  The crimelord laughed, her smile knowing and dark, and she turned from the paragon to look out from her balcony overseeing the nightclub...with a spread of her hands, she declared, "I am Omega."

  Mary heard Kelly's quiet voice over their commlink:  "O-kay...inflated sense of self-importance much?"  The redhead made that comment almost as a joke.  Almost.

  Aria looked at Mary and her friends again and continued:  "But you need more...everyone needs more something, and they all come to me.  I'm the boss, CEO, queen if you're feeling dramatic.  It doesn't matter.  Omega has no titled ruler and only one rule."  With practiced grace, the Asari sat at a luxurious couch, crossed her legs, and told Mary that rule, which might as well have been a fact of life:  "Don't fuck with Aria."

  It was Mary's turn to be bemused as she purred, "I like it.  Easy to remember."

  Aria T'Loak nodded.  "If you forget, someone in my employ will remind you."

  Close by, one of her underlings growled, "Then I toss your sorry ass out of the nearest airlock!"

  Mary simply stared at Aria -- threats never impressed the hero before, and that wasn't about to change -- until the crimelord gestured to take a seat, as well.  The paragon sat casually, her body language showing she was relaxed.  Patient.  Aria finally asked, "So...why are you here?"

  Mary looked at her.  "One scan and we're straight to business?  I expected you to be less...casual."

  "The death of the Hero of the Citadel was hardly a secret, Shepard.  My only real concern was to make sure you were who you said you were.  What you need is your worry, not mine.  I'm curious to know more, of course..."  Aria looked away from her, almost bored, and said in a much quieter tone, "...but Omega doesn't really care about you."

  "Mary?"  Kelly Chambers, speaking into her earpiece.  She heard the Yeoman counsel, "I get the sense Aria's very worried about you, and she's doing her best not to show it.  Trying to be too casual and dismissive.  Just as long as you let her know you don't want anything from her and you won't be staying long, everything should be okay."

  The paragon relaxed further, but she kept her eyes fixed on Aria's as she reassured, "And I don't care about Omega, Aria.  I'm here for only two things.  First, I need to find Mordin Solus."

  Aria's eyes betrayed quiet surprise...of all the things a hero back from the dead could have wanted from her, she didn't expect this.  "The Salarian doctor?  I always liked Mordin.  He's as likely to heal you as he is to shoot you."

  "According to my best information, he was once part of the Special Tasks Group."

  "Mmm.  He's brilliant and dangerous.  Just don't get him talking.  He never shuts up."  Aria's blue eyes reexamined Mary.  "You must want him for something important."

  Mary shrugged and said, "Oh, nothing much.  Just a suicide mission through the Omega-4 Relay."

  Aria smiled again.  "I see.  Usually I don't give information for free, but you're interesting, Shepard.  The last I heard, Mordin Solus has been holed up in his clinic trying to help plague victims in the Quarantine Zone."

  Mary didn't expect to hear this.  "Plague victims?  I've heard that an entire portion of Omega has been sealed off, but I didn't know it was from a quarantine."

  Aria lost her smile fast.  "It's something we don't like to advertise, and for understandable reasons.  A few weeks ago, sentients began dying in the Gozu District, a residential sector.  No one knows what started the plague, but many suspect it was created by Humans.  If you've been made to feel unwelcome since you arrived on Omega, that's why."

  Not far away, Miranda and Jacob exchanged a look in reaction to this news.  Mary asked, "Why are Humans being blamed?"

  Aria answered, "The virus crosses racial lines from Asari to Turian, which is strange enough, but of particular interest is the fact only Humans and Vorcha seem to be immune.  There isn't a Vorcha alive intelligent enough to engineer a virus...those scavs have enough trouble with space flight!"  Vorcha were a borderline feral race the rest of the civilized galaxy abhorred almost as much as pyjaks.  They were scavengers by nature, and they would never have left their world if it wasn't for the fact an unfortunate Turian freighter crash-landed there decades ago.  The crew would have been able to repair the ship and leave as quickly as they arrived if it wasn't for a Vorcha hunting party that rushed to see what fell from the sky.  The Turians quickly met the natives of the world, much to their regret.  Taken prisoner, the surviving crew were forced to teach their captors everything they could about the technology on their ship, how to use it, everything...or they'd be eaten.  The Vorcha had their scientific knowledge jumpstarted hundreds of years in a matter of months.  They ate their prisoners anyway.  The Council Worlds have been trying and failing to limit the interstellar spread of the Vorcha since.  Aria concluded, "Add to that the fact Vorcha can't contract disease at all, and that makes it a simple matter to guess who's responsible for the plague."

  Mary frowned.  "I doubt it's that simple, Aria.  But no matter who started this plague, it's critical I see Mordin."

  "You also need to know that the district is an active battlefield.  The Blue Suns were in control, but the Blood Pack are fighting them for it."  The Blue Suns and the Blood Pack were two of the three reigning mercenary organizations in the Terminus Systems...the only other 'private company' that rivaled either of them in numbers and firepower was the Eclipse, founded by a former Asari Commando.  All three had been in bitter competition with each other for as long as most could remember.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the Blood Pack was composed mostly of Vorcha that served as disposable muscle for the group's Krogan leaders.  Even if the Vorcha didn't create a plague they were immune to, it still had to give them a huge edge over their Blue Sun rivals in a conflict over territory...Mary immediately thought that couldn't just be a coincidence.

  Mary's expression was resolute as she said, "I can't let that stop me, either.  And I won't."

  Aria considered Mary for a beat before she decided.  "I have sentries posted at every entry point to the Gozu District to keep people from getting in or out.  I'll send word to them you have my permission to enter.  They'll let you in without any trouble."

  Mary nodded, her expression guarded.  That went easier than she thought it would.  "I'd appreciate that.  Thank you."

  The crimelord grinned.  "Don't thank me yet.  I'm just curious to see if you can reach Mordin's clinic in one piece.  You said you were here for one other thing...?"

  The paragon said, "Yes, I need to know how to reach Archangel."

  Aria laughed as she said, "You and half of Omega!  Do you want him dead, too?"

  "No, but I know he's been targeting the major mercenary organizations here for months.  He's been doing them a lot of damage."

  "This Archangel thinks he's fighting on the side of good...but there is no 'good' side to Omega.  He's known better than to interfere with my operations, but everything he does results in pissing off someone here.  And it's finally catching up with him."

  "Sounds like just the person I'm looking for."

  "Really?  You're getting more interesting by the moment!  I can guess you also need him for your suicide mission?"

  "You guess right."

  "You're likely to make a lot of enemies throwing in with Archangel, but I doubt you can reach him.  He's in a bit of trouble."

  Mary thought, Why am I not surprised?  "What kind of trouble?"

  "The Blood Pack, Blue Suns and Eclipse have joined forces to take Archangel down...I've been around a long time and seen a lot of things, but I never thought anything could get those groups to work together.  And this is in spite of the fighting in the Gozu District, which should tell you how much they hate Archangel!  They have him cornered at the moment in another residential sector, but he's still giving them all kinds of difficulty.  They've reached the point where they're organizing a massive operation to destroy Archangel.  They're even recruiting anyone with a gun to help them."  She nodded to the dance floor below her balcony.  "As a matter of fact, the line for new recruits starts right down there in one of the private rooms.  You still have time to sign up, they won't make their move for another 16 hours, which is early tomorrow morning."

  Jacob said to Miranda, "Sounds like that might be our ticket to seeing him."

  Aria said coolly, "Whether Archangel dies or you take him off Omega, I don't care.  Just as long as he stops causing trouble."

  Mary nodded.  "Hopefully I'll have the time for Archangel, but I need to reach Mordin Solus in his clinic first."  She stood again and said, "Thank you again, Aria."

  "Of course."  With a warning in her eyes, Aria T'Loak added, "But after you're done in the Quarantine Zone, please be kind enough not to bring the plague with you!"

-3-

  Mary and her comrades kept in mind what Aria told them about hostility on the station toward Humans.  Even before they left Afterlife, they really got the sense of a nearly visible air of suspicion and subdued hostility toward them from peoples of other worlds.  Many also recognized Mary Shepard by sight, staring at her with a combination of shock and wonder.  The heroic role she played two years ago in the downfall of the renegade Saren and saving the Citadel from the Reaper Sovereign was, like her death only a month later, knowledge that spread far and wide across the galaxy.  Mary figured that news was already radiating from Omega about her return.

  The deeper they traveled into Omega, Jacob was more and more outraged by the poverty and near-hopelessness of things.  Mary remembered her youth as an orphan living on the streets of Old Manhattan Island on Earth.  It was strangely comforting to know that her life then was comparably far better than the darkness of Omega.  If she wasn't focused on reaching Mordin, Mary would have explained to Jacob that it was just like Aria said.  Most of Omega's residents weren't criminals per se, but everyone needed more of something, and here people sought to get it from the wrong people.  Some needed too much, and whether because of their own weakness or the predatory, heartless hunger of others -- or both -- they inevitably slid into poverty and worse.  Worst of all, hope for something better was virtually discouraged by the syndicates like Aria's that ruled and profited from the way things were.

  After being admitted through one of the entry points to the Gozu District by a heavily armed Turian, it took a handful of hours for Mary and the others to reach their destination.  Shepard didn't like losing so much time, especially considering Archangel's time alive was already dwindling fast, but they had to be careful.  They still ran across hostiles, Blue Suns and Vorcha alike who were in a killing mood...not a one of them were any match for the three working together, a fact they didn't live to regret.  Finally, Mary and the others reached the clinic that sat deep in the embattled district.  The people working at the clinic were as diverse as the massive number of patients there...they clogged the waiting areas and were scattered in every hall, waiting, needful of healing.  Most were plague victims.  The moment it was clear the three visitors meant no harm, the wary staff directed them to their employer...armed LOKI mechs were frozen in their stances on standby mode, stationed at the front of the clinic and at strategic areas within.

  At last Mary, Miranda and Jacob entered one of the clinic's labs...the paragon saw who she needed to talk to.  In spite of Mordin Solus' paradoxical reputation as a healer and a killer, she didn't feel apprehensive.  Kelly Chambers, who earlier perused the psychological profiles of all the potential recruits for this mission, simply forewarned Mary that the scientist's behavior was hyperactive.  A little odd, considering his race on the whole held that trait...it explained their culture's productivity and desire to excel.  Mary asked, "Professor Mordin Solus?"

  The tall, rail-thin Salarian was advising a Human nurse, and in reaction he stopped and looked at the paragon with wide onyx eyes, his features partly disfigured and scarred by only Heaven knew how many battles, a testament to his service in his people's military.  He moved quickly to the three, scanned them briskly with his Omni-Tool and began speaking, analyzing aloud, thinking aloud at a rapid-fire pace:  "Hm!  Humans...don't recognize you as locals.  Too well-armed to be refugees.  Unusual you should come here with quarantine still in effect."  Mordin couldn't stop moving even as he spoke, multitasking...  "Here because of plague or something else?  Come to clean Vorcha out?  Likely, but if theory correct, Vorcha only symptom and not the root cause of events.  Investigating plague as possible bio-weapon, same as I have?  No-no, too many guns, not enough equipment for study of virus.  Soldiers, not scientists.  Yes!  YES!  Looking for someone?  Yes!  But who -- ?"

  Mary Shepard interrupted gently:  "Relax, Professor!  I'm Commander Mary Shepard, and I did come here to find you.  I'm on an important mission and I need your help."

  Mordin gave the hero another, longer look.  "Commander Shepard, declared killed in action two years ago by Earth Systems Alliance?"  He accessed his Omni-Tool again and in a moment said, "Yes, genetic scans match public record, zero signs of clone manufacture, identity confirmed.  Curious cybernetic components!"  Suddenly, startled, the Salarian did a double-take at Mary.  "Wait-wait, mission?  What mission?  No!  No-no-no.  Too busy.  Clinic understaffed, plague spreading too fast.  Who sent you?"

  Mary asked, "Have you ever heard of Cerberus?"

  Mordin's onyx eyes shifted to a serious expression.  "Crossed paths on occasion while part of Special Tasks Group.  Why would Cerberus request help from a non-Human?"

  As Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor watched, Mary told Mordin, "My mission is to find and stop the Collectors, Professor.  They've been abducting entire Human colonies, but this mission reaches far beyond Human interests.  Cerberus believes you can create a defense against their weaponry."

  "Collectors?  Interesting.  Long-term analysis of plague conclusive, an engineered virus.  Collectors one of few groups with technology to design it.  Ruled out Humans and Vorcha.  Humans not advanced enough.  Vorcha too stupid."

  Miranda, an expert in many disciplines herself, asked, "But you said the Vorcha are a part of this plague somehow?"

  Mordin nodded.  "Vorcha are cowardly, opportunistic scavengers.  Scale of plague too large, unusual for them.  Suspect they are working for Collectors by distributing plague and gathering data.  Theory fits evidence collected."  The doctor looked at Mary and continued, "If correct, our goals are similar.  Can join you and provide assistance, but must stop plague first!  Already developed a cure.  Must distribute it in aerosol form from district's environmental control center, but Blood Pack are guarding it, all Vorcha.  Need to kill them."

  Mary approached Mordin, her expression firm.  "If this will stop the plague, I'll help in any way I can.  Just lead the way and we'll -- !"

  Suddenly, the lights dimmed dramatically...an overwhelming sound of great machines winding down and becoming inactive...  Jacob said, "What the hell just happened?"

  Mordin Solus was very agitated as he enlightened the others:  "Environmental control for the district has been shut down!  Estimate one hour, perhaps less before everyone suffocates!"

  Alarmed, Miranda asked, "Who the blazes would do that?!  And why?!"

  Mordin answered, "Possibly Vorcha.  Might be done gathering data for Collectors!"

  Mary Shepard quickly said, "I need the fastest route to environmental control!  Can you help me, Professor?"

  Mordin quickly accessed his Omni-Tool as he said, "Call me Mordin!  Uploading map with quickest route to your Omni-Tool!"  Immediately after that, he scooped up a heavy, transparent vial of a richly-colored and vaporous substance and offered it to Mary.  "Take plague cure with you!  When you get power back on, simply connect it to outflow vents of the primary ventilators in environmental control, very easy!"

  That didn't exactly reassure Mary, who blurted, "W-wait, you're not coming with us?"

  "Cannot join you, patients need me here!"  In spite of his commitment to his clinic, he gave Mary a Camflex hand-cannon as a show of good faith, that he would join them after the plague was dealt with.  However, Mordin Solus had one more request, and Mary could feel how important it was to him in his eyes as he spoke quickly:  "Daniel, one of my assistants.  Went into district looking for more victims.  Hasn't come back."

  Mary Shepard told the doctor, "If I see him, I'll do what I can to help.  I promise."

  As they left the clinic, the paragon heard Kelly...her Yeoman had been quiet up to then, and she said with awe:  "Wow.  He wasn't just hyper, he was like a hamster on coffee!"

  Mary commented dryly, "I noticed, Kelly, thanks!"  Fortunately, it didn't take long to find Daniel, a Human, as she and her comrades made their way to the environmental control center.  Mordin's assistant had the bad luck to run into a gang of hostile Batarians who had just cornered him; they already had a low opinion of Humans before the plague came along, which made them outright violent.  Fortunately, Daniel's fortune took a turn for the better when Mary arrived...the paragon managed to talk the gang down and diffuse the situation, which Kelly watched with redoubled admiration and more than a little relief.  The three operatives shooed Daniel back to the clinic and hoped they'd still be in time to save the entire district.

  They were, but they had to get through two-score worth of verminous Vorcha...Mary tried to reason with them to find a better way before committing to a lethal battle, which she was more than prepared for.  The Blood Pack savages hatefully denied her, one of them confirming with a snarl that he and his bretheren were working for the Collectors and they would kill anyone who tried to stop them.  But each and every Vorcha met a final, necessary end due to the combined prowess of Mary, Miranda and Jacob.  In short order, Mary Shepard brought the primary ventilators back online, saving the district's tens of thousands of lives as Mordin's plague cure was carried and spread to inundate every square inch of the district.

  In a matter of hours, there were clear signs that the cure was working...the Gozu District was stabilizing to relative normalcy.  Well, normal for Omega.  Grateful for Mary's help, Mordin agreed to join her mission and become the newest and perhaps most valuable addition to her crew.  The paragon still felt the need to forewarn the Salarian doctor that it might be a suicide mission, but he was much more excited by the idea of examining the seeker swarm samples than bothered by heavy risk factors.  Mordin left Daniel in charge of the clinic.

-4-

  On the Normandy, very soon afterward.  Jacob Taylor escorted Mordin Solus to the fully-equipped lab prepared for him...Cerberus had spared no expense for the doctor.  They left Mary, Miranda and Kelly in the Briefing/Comm Room.  The paragon was already focused on the next hill to climb as she said, "We need to get back to Afterlife as soon as possible to sign up for that operation against Archangel."  Too much time had been lost finding Mordin and attending to the plague cure...if Aria was right, they only had about seven hours before the merc groups began their operation to destroy Archangel.

  Surprised, Kelly said, "Wait, you just went through a hundred different kinds of trouble to get Doctor Solus!  You're going back, just like that...?"

  Miranda said bluntly, "We need Archangel for this mission, Yeoman Chambers.  We don't have time to rest."

  Mary looked at her Executive Officer.  "I was going to ask if you were up for joining me, Miranda."

  The perfect woman nodded deeply.  "I'm ready whenever you are, Commander."

  "Jacob will stay here to help Mordin get settled in.  I'll still feel better with a three-person squad, so Zaeed will join us."

  Miranda gazed at Shepard approvingly.  "Zaeed is supposed to have a history with the Blue Suns, one of the mercenary organizations after Archangel.  His experience alone should be an asset."

  Mary said, "Besides, the man has to start earning his pay sometime, might as well be now."

  But Kelly's lovely face held a concerned expression...Shepard's Yeoman said, "Mary, I'm not sure I understand.  You're going to sign up to help kill Archangel?"

  Mary looked at Kelly with a small smile.  "Hopefully that's what everyone else will think, that we're just a trio of freelancers who want to make money.  Aria will just watch and see what happens; she did say she didn't care if Archangel dies or we take him with us, after all."

  "Uh-huh.  So...you're going to scam the mercs and then wait for the right opening to reach Archangel without getting shot?"

  "Pretty much."

  Concern rose close to alarm in Kelly.  "Mary, that sounds even more dangerous than what you had to go through to recruit Mordin!"

  Miranda Lawson scolded the young redhead:  "This entire mission is going to be dangerous, Yeoman!  What did you expect, a pleasure cruise?"

  "I...!"  Suddenly, defensively awkward, Kelly looked at Miranda and then at Mary again.  The redhead finally looked down and managed softly, "I'm just worried about you, Mary."

  With confident eyes and a warm smile, Mary stepped up to Kelly...she reassured, "We'll be okay.  I'll have you watching over my shoulder, remember?"

  Kelly Chambers nodded as her bright green eyes fixed softly on Mary.  She solemnly urged, "Please be careful."

  Mary Shepard told the girl, "I promise we'll be back before you know it, Kelly."

  Suddenly, Karin Chakwas' voice spoke over the intercom:  "Shepard, this is Doctor Chakwas.  Please see me in the Medical Bay."

  Shepard went directly to the Medical Bay as Miranda prepared her loadout in the Armory.  The moment Mary reached Karin, the matronly doctor began scanning the paragon with her Omni-Tool...the information Karin gathered was immediately fed to her diagnostic computers to help her analyze completely every aspect of the commander's condition.  Mary was impatient to get to Zaeed and prepare to go find Archangel and didn't see the need...  "Doc, I'm feeling okay and I've got things to do -- !"

  Karin said with her own considerable authority, "Hold still!"  Mary did.  Grudgingly.  The doctor added quietly, "I know you don't have to be reminded, but until very recently you were dead.  The rejuvenation procedures you underwent were untried by mainstream medical science, and your cybernetic implants are just as exotic."  Karin's eyes looked into Mary's with a firm glare as her scanning continued.  "I understand you went through several firefights on Omega just to recruit Doctor Solus.  Worse, you're about to get yourself in more trouble for this Archangel character, so perhaps I should take a moment to remind you that you're still in the process of healing!  I want to be sure you do completely heal from two years ago and you won't begin to reject those implants.  Necessary as this mission might be, extraordinary stress doesn't help us even at our best.  So bear with my fussing over you for the foreseeable future, Commander!"

  Mary sighed, "Okay, okay...!"

  Karin extinguished her Omni-Tool and said, "There, all done.  Your bio-readings are nominal, but I'll want to study them and be sure.  Oh, if you're going back to Omega, investigate their Marketplace if you have the time.  Someone might have upgrades for sale compatible with your implants."

  "I'll have a little time to shop, Doctor.  I was going anyway to see if they might have any upgrades for the ship."  Fortunately, a heavy transfer of credits from the Illusive Man came for the crew just after Mordin's recruitment.  Mary had kept in mind something Ken and Gabby in Engineering told her about needing couplings to monitor mass effect fields throughout the Normandy.  For all of its advances, there was still room for upgrades and improvements to the frigate.  The paragon never thought until that moment the same could be said for her, but it made sense.  Mary felt the need to ask as she frowned a little.  "Karin...is there a good chance I might reject my cybernetics?"

  The doctor shook her head.  "Exotic as they are, Miranda and her Lazarus Project were very careful...just as long as you don't go out of your way to damage your implants -- for instance, by getting yourself shot! -- you'll have no trouble at all.  I'm taking precautions because I'm still learning their intricacies, and there are many of them.  In fact, if some of what I presently understand about your cybernetics is true..."

  Mary looked at her.  "What?"

  Karin Chakwas smiled warmly and said, "I'll need to study my latest scans of you fully to be sure, but I can say that it will be a benefit that you haven't lost your positive outlook on life.  I'll tell you more after you come back with Archangel, Commander.  Good luck."

-5-

  The Starboard Cargo Hold on Engineering Deck, where Zaeed Massani set up a rudimentary living quarters, isolated and distant from the rest of the crew.  Mary entered the hold and said, "Zaeed?"

  The veteran mercenary was standing at a utility table, hoving over something placed there as he turned to her.  His scarred face was like stone, unchanging.  One had to wonder if he was capable of expressing anything besides a marble level of hardness.  "Shepard!  I was just waxing goddamn nostalgic.  What do you want?"

  "I need you to come with me to the Armory.  You're joining me and Miranda Lawson as we go back to Omega.  We need to collect someone who can help us on our mission, but at the moment he's in trouble."

  The man turned fully to the paragon and asked, "The kind of trouble the right amount of firepower can cure, right?"  Mary nodded.  "I'm in."

  Mary approached him and noticed what he had been staring at, what was lying on the table...it was an assault rifle she didn't recognize, but it looked even older than Zaeed.  Much of its steel was worn and pitted with rust.  Mary didn't mean any harm as she reached out to the rifle to really examine it as she said, "Did you want this rifle as part of your loadout...?"

  Gruffily, Zaeed warned, "Hey, don't touch."  Mary pulled her hand back and looked a question at him.  The merc gestured to the rifle and enlightened, "That rifle's older than you are.  I call her Jessie...she was the first weapon I ever owned and I took her everywhere.  My lucky charm."  Something shifted in his eyes as he gazed down at it.  "More men have been killed with that gun than died in the Skyllian Blitz.  The day I laid her to rest was the saddest day of my life.  I'd give up every weapon I own for one more mission with that shitty old rifle."  His voice actually thickened perceptibly as he spoke...his sentiment ran that deeply.

  Mary offered, "That can be arranged, depending on how many components need to be repaired or replaced."

  Zaeed looked at Mary again.  "You might as well replace Jessie with another rifle, that's how bad off she is!"  He added quietly, "I appreciate the offer, though."

  Mary gazed at him.  "I didn't expect you to be the sentimental type, Zaeed."

  "The older you get, the more you reflect on better days...and the things that got taken away from you."  Zaeed gestured to the door and said, "After you, Shepard."  They left the hold and began down the walkway toward the elevator.  "Nice ship you got here.  Roomy.  Last ship I worked on, two men couldn't pass each other in the hall unless they were really good friends.  Or intimate!"

  Mary's eyes quietly examined Zaeed as they walked.  "You won't have any trouble like that here, Zaeed.  I'm guessing you don't go out of your way to be friends with anyone."

  "I'm a mercenary, Shepard.  I'm usually hired for my skills in killing people, not for my charm and sparkling wit."

  She smiled a little.  "You know about the recruitment drive the merc groups are having to get Archangel?"

  "Yeah, in that nightclub Afterlife."

  "That's where we need to go after a quick stop at the Omega Marketplace."

  "Hm...I can guess Archangel's the one we need to collect?"

  "You guess right.  Hold up."  She stopped and he followed suit to face her just before they reached the elevator; close by, observation windows offered a view into the ship's Shuttle Bay.  "When we reach wherever the operation against Archangel is being staged, we'll have to wait for an opening to reach him...and then hopefully get him back to the Normandy alive.  You still up for that?"

  The hardcase nodded.  "Yeah, but we'll have to see if this guy will help us get through the Illusive Man's suicide mission intact."

  "Zaeed...this also means we'll run into your former comrades in the Blue Suns."

  Only the expression in his eyes shifted to what Mary guessed was amusement.  "I heard they're rubbing shoulders with the Eclipse and Blood Pack instead of killing each other.  Never thought I'd see the damn day."

  "If you're with me, will there be any complications?  I have no idea why you're formerly part of the Blue Suns.  Will they be friendly or hostile with you?"

  Zaeed nodded.  "I understand why you ask that...you might even be wondering if they have a kill order out on me."

  Mary's expression didn't change.  "Do they?"

  The merc folded his arms across his broad chest.  "The only Blue Sun I've ever had a problem with is their leader.  Vido Santiago is the reason I'm no longer part of the group.  He's the reason for a lot of things."  A subtle shift in his eyes betrayed a hidden, quiet fury as he spoke of the Blue Suns leader.

  "You said it was Santiago who took control of the refinery you've been hired to liberate."  The hero stared at the merc.  "Is this something we can talk about, Zaeed?"

  "Maybe some other time...maybe when we get to Zorya later and see the man himself.  For now, what's between me and Vido is as personal as it gets.  We'll run into mercs who know me and know of me, but you have my word there won't be any complications on Omega."

  As personal as it gets, he said.  Mary began to realize that the real complications might happen on Zorya...but that could be worried about later.  "You're likely to have problems with every Blue Sun here after we rescue Archangel."

  Zaeed said with quiet confidence, "Not if we kill them all before they kill him, Shepard...or, they'll kill us."

  "Yeah."  Mary Shepard could only imagine how ugly this was going to get.  "I just hope Archangel will be worth this much trouble."

  Zaeed Massani nodded.  "Like I said...we'll have to see."

  As the party prepared to leave the ship, Kelly Chambers told Mary she just got a new message on her private terminal.  Mary's mood instantly brightened the moment she saw it was from David Anderson, responding to her earlier message...he'd been promoted to admiral since her death, and was the Alliance's liaison to Earth Councilor Udina.  The man who was a long-time friend and mentor to Mary since her N7 training sent the reply from the Human Embassy of the Citadel ...

Shepard,

I almost didn't believe your message when I received it, but just recently Naval Intelligence started to hear about your arrival on Omega.  By the time it was confirmed you were there, the whole galaxy has been hearing about you!  Damn, it's wonderful to know you're alive!  Speaking for myself and Admiral Hackett, we're glad you sent word to us, and I agree.  We do need to talk, and not just because a lot has changed in the past two years.  You said you were working with Cerberus...you'll need to explain why, and it's best if we hear from you personally.  Come see me and the Council on the Citadel the first chance you get!

Anderson

  Mary couldn't let Anderson know just yet when she could reach the Citadel...which was a necessity not simply to reconnect with the Alliance and the Council, but because it was there she had to find and recruit another operative:  the mysterious thief Kasumi Goto.  At the moment, it was still up in the air if the op to reach Archangel would be successful or not.  Mary didn't know if she'd survive the attempt, either.

-6-

  Mary's party couldn't stay in the Omega Marketplace long, but they purchased several items that would be beneficial in one way or the other, and were immediately delivered to the Normandy's dock.  They ranged from a skin weave upgrade for Mary that Karin would have been interested in to the T6-FBA Couplings Ken and Gabby asked for...the last was purchased from a young Quarian dealer on the fringe of the market.  The moment the deliveries were confirmed by Joker, the three paid the mercenary recruiters in Afterlife a visit.  They signed on and another merc took them to the target district by sky car.

  The situation was as tense as could be imagined the moment they arrived...as they waited for their moment, Mary and the others quietly did their best to fit in, even though Mary and Zaeed were recognized by most (for different reasons).  But Miranda, who wasn't known to the mercs, quietly slipped away at one point to hack a huge YMIR mech...a reprogramming of its targeting parameters guaranteed the monster would become most uncooperative when it was deployed.  As Zaeed told the paragon, the Blue Suns present had no problems with his presence, but they weren't friendly, either.  The groups really seemed desperate in that they were also using a deadly VTOL gunship in the operation...or perhaps Archangel really was that damned dangerous, because he disabled the gunship during an earlier attempt to kill him!  Mary made full use of a brief moment she had with Cathka, a Blue Sun repairing the gunship, to make sure he didn't finish his work by knocking him unconscious.  The paragon also happened upon a datapad holding information that would have been of great interest to Aria T'Loak...Mary took it with her, perhaps to use at a later time.  For all she knew, she might have to come back to Omega someday...

  The operation itself began...the freelancers took the lead and tried to rush across the sole footbridge that provided access to the apartment building where Archangel was holed up.  He had superior position at a second story window and the perfect view to terminate anyone and everyone who tried to approach by sniper rifle.  Mary and her comrades played it much more carefully than the freelancers they accompanied, and they killed the few who made it to the building with them.  After reaching the second floor, the operatives cautiously entered the target apartment and encountered Archangel...

  ...who, to Mary Shepard's complete shock, was Garrus Vakarian!  The Turian and former Citadel Security officer was just as surprised to see his old friend alive, of course, but neither could take the time to get reacquainted just yet.  The freelancers were spent, and the merc groups themselves were moving in hard.  With deadly skill and Miranda's previous hacking of the heavy mech, their enemies from the Eclipse and Blood Pack fell as quickly as they appeared in Garrus' shooting gallery and ceased to be any kind of concern.  Kelly Chambers was beside herself with fear and amazement as she watched Mary's surveillance feed of every moment; even if she hadn't been ordered to keep silent so as not to make any distractions during the op, she wouldn't have known what to say.  Then things went wrong at nightmarish speed when the Blue Suns, the last group left, made their move...and their commander Tarak flew in piloting the partly-operational gunship, and regrettably it was functional enough for its obsessed pilot to neutralize Garrus with its minigun and a devastating missile strike.  Mary and her comrades brought down Tarak and all his fellow Blue Suns almost as quickly, but the devastating damage was done.

  Garrus Vakarian was terribly, mortally wounded, barely clinging to life...Mary Shepard radioed for Joker and the crew to get ready to disembark fast as her comrades carried him to a parked skycar.  From there, they flew directly to the docks, where Karin was waiting at the Normandy's main hatch.  The ship disengaged from its docking clamps and accelerated away from Omega like a bat out of Hell as Garrus was taken to the Medical Bay by the doctor, where two crewmembers who served as auxiliary medics were waiting...Karin usually relied on her precise medical instuments and equipment to help patients, but extra pairs of hands never, ever hurt in trauma cases.  The paragon could only stand there stock-still in the CIC as she watched Karin take Garrus down to the Medical Bay by elevator with the help of some of the crew.  Mary was visibly overwhelmed as Kelly Chambers carefully moved to her commander and took the hero's hand...Mary hardly reacted to the girl's touch.  Kelly could imagine how much despair her hero felt -- she was no stranger to pain and loss -- but she wasn't sure if any kind of attempt to ease her pain would have helped.

  A friend to Mary Shepard might have been dying at that moment, and she couldn't do anything about it.


TO BE CONTINUED
MASS EFFECT: PARAMOUR, CH. 4
Sigh, working on my RESIDENT EVIL/SILENT HILL crossover JUDGMENT DAY, I've hit a hurdle...you writers will understand when I say I've gotten to a point where I'm second guessing myself with parts of the story as I outlined it? It's happened here, and I'll resolve the issue soon. Until then, at least I can give you more of my MASS EFFECT story, PARAMOUR!

As you've seen before, this story will show you how romance blooms between FemShep and Kelly Chambers in a way that BioWare should have written. :heart: You'll see a lot of differences between the story you know and what I'll present here, as I've said, so I hope to bring you this love story in ways that will make it both fresh and exciting for all of you ME fans! :) In this chapter, our paragon reaches Omega to pick up her first recruits...and Kelly's role is expanded a little in a way that might surprise you! I'll also flesh out the beginnings of Mary Shepard's comradeship with mercenary Zaeed Massani...again, I hope you all enjoy it!

Repeat after me: MASS EFFECT and every dang part of it is owned by EA and BioWare!
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Welcome Home, Godzilla by CharlesWS
Welcome Home, Godzilla
Even as I write, I had a burst of inspiration to do this...it didn't take long, and as a Godzilla fan I'm really happy with it! :)

I'd always thought it was funny that the recent U.S. reboot of Godzilla didn't hit Japanese theatres right away...heck, Big G was 'born' in Japan, right? But it took a couple of months for the movie to get there after its premiere, late July to be exact! This may be a little belated, but I imagined this, Godzilla finally coming back to the land where his legend began at Toho. Fortunately, XNALara helped a lot to do Godzilla justice!

Giving credit where it's due!

XNALara XPS by Dusan Pavlicek and XNAaraL

Models:
Godzilla (from GODZILLA SMASH 3) by X-N-A
ONECHANBARA City Park & Streets by deexie
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Mature Content Filter is On. The Artist has chosen to restrict viewing to deviants 18 and older.
(Contains: violence/gore and strong language)

RESIDENT EVIL X SILENT HILL:  JUDGMENT DAY

written by Charles Spencer,
inspired by Ygure

Chapter 24:

"THE LOST AND THE WOUNDED"


-1-

It wasn't surprising that the group under Claire Redfield's leadership got lost.
 Doing their best to reach the center of Black Falls to the north, they were diverted more than once when they attempted to evade the hellish creatures that lurked in the grey, mostly successfully.  But they got turned in the wrong direction in spite of themselves more than once, even following their maps...it didn't help at all that compasses didn't work, like most every damn thing here.  They were delayed, but much more signifcantly than Leon's half of Bravo Team, and they were still a few blocks south of Wyler Community Hospital and the heart of town.  If there was such a thing as a great wheel of fortune turning for each and every one of us somewhere in eternity, Claire and those with her were on the losing side.  At least for the time being.

  And it wasn't going to get any better.

  Rain was at point and Vector was just as careful bringing up the rear as Claire, Sherry Birkin and Douglas Cartland moved quietly between them.  They reached a derelict gas station that was devoid of any life or activity and Claire told everyone to move into its convenience store to take a breather, but they had to be very brief.  The intermittent noises and screams the group heard near and far were becoming fewer...there was more and more silence between those sounds.  The sounds of terror and death in the distance they had heard since they entered the town itself were dwindling down, which was a horrible sign they were running out of time to do anything for the citizens of Black Falls, Vermont.  Claire wondered if anyone in this town would be left alive when they finally found the answers they needed.  It was trouble enough to get through town without monsters detecting their presence.

  Vector, the former Navy SEAL and infiltration expert, stood watch at the glass door.  He looked at the oldest of their group and asked, "Did you have as much trouble getting through Silent Hill, Mister Cartland?"

  Douglas Cartland found a seat behind the cashier's counter; he was working hard to keep his good humor in the bleakness of the fog.  He answered, "Yep.  Me and Cheryl had maps to go by, too...she knew we'd need them to find our way around in the fog."  This was thirteen years ago, at a time when Cheryl still called herself Heather Mason -- when she and Douglas journeyed to Silent Hill to find and stop The Order.  He didn't say that he was the only one who got lost; Cheryl told him later she had far less difficulty because she was able to find her way instinctively through the mist.  And then its darkness.

  Sherry Birkin sat on top of the counter next to the register...close by her, quietly watching the conversation between Vector and Douglas, was Claire Redfield.  They tried to relax, but by contrast Rain couldn't.  The young female commando was beside herself with tension, moving her weight from one foot to another, barely able to keep still as she gripped her silenced SMG.  Rain seemed not to be paying attention as Vector asked, "And you don't know how The Order made that fog or this one.  You don't know how they made those monsters, either."

  The old private detective sighed.  "Anne and I went over before with you guys, remember?"

  "And that's it?"

  Douglas looked at the man.  "What?"

  George 'Vector' Kishino's face couldn't be seen because he was wearing his infiltration/bio-warfare mask, but he was looking fully at Douglas.  The tone of his voice betrayed his skepticism.  "That's all you can tell us about what's going on?  You got through this before and you never knew how they made the fog or where they got those monsters."

  Douglas Cartland frowned.  "Yeah.  That's all I can say."

  Vector suddenly questioned, "Is it all you can say or all you want to say?"

  Claire Redfield asked, "What's wrong, Vector?"  Sherry Birkin couldn't help but look at the masked man curiously, as well.

  Vector said quietly, "It's nothing, ma'am."

  But there was something, and the aged investigator was blunt as hell about it...Douglas said flatly, "Sounds like you don't trust me, pal."

  Vector responded, "Mister Cartland, I don't even know you, but I am getting the impression you're holding something back.  Or am I wrong?"

  "Well, old timer?"  That question came from Rain...the girl wasn't as distracted as she had seemed before.  She stared at the old man, waiting.  "Is he wrong?"

  Silent seconds ticked by...Sherry looked at Douglas and asked, "Mister Cartland?"

  With sudden exasperation, Douglas got up awkwardly from the stool he sat on behind the counter and said, "Look!  If there's anything I'm not telling you, it's because I..."  His expression became a troubled, heavily conflicted one.  "...I-I just can't.  It wouldn't help us right now, anyway."

  Sherry's blue eyes were gentle as she asked, "I don't understand, why -- ?"

  Douglas looked at the blonde girl firmly and said, "Cause you'd think I was out of my goddamn mind, that's why!  You'd never believe me, and then you really wouldn't trust me."  The others stared at him.  The old man's expression softened, and he looked embarrassed.  "I know how stupid that sounds, okay?  But if I'm right, all the shit I saw in Silent Hill I can't tell you about...we're gonna see those things happen here.  Then I'll help you understand it...even if I still don't understand most of it myself."  Douglas looked at Claire, and his eyes almost pleaded with her as he said, "Please...if you're gonna believe anything I have to say, believe that."

  Claire Redfield's soft eyes examined Douglas, and she knew the man was serious.  Her instincts spoke to her to relax, to believe in him.  Claire said, "I do, Mister...I mean Douglas."  She turned fully to the old man, the counter's length between them.  "I've seen a lot of things in my life most would call insane, but those things happened.  I lived through them, and I'm not the only one.  I just hope that when the time comes you can talk about what you've seen, it isn't already too late for us to do anything about it."  Her beautiful eyes looked into the P.I.'s as she told him, "Keeping something that's important a secret, even if you think it's a good idea, never really helps.  I hope you understand what I'm trying to say."

  Douglas Cartland sighed and finally nodded.  "I do...Claire, right?  Thanks."

  As her lithe body sat comfortably on top of the counter, Sherry Birkin gazed at Claire...the one she believed in and loved more than she ever would any other, ever.  Her pale, lovely face shifted to discomfort as she listened.  And she made a choice.  With a quick push, she slid off the counter and her feet lightly touched the floor on Claire's side.  Sherry drew close to her hero and said softly, "Claire?  I need to talk to you."

  Instantly Claire's attention was on Sherry, who she first met 15 years prior in Raccoon City.  "Uh-huh?"

  Sherry said in a much quieter tone, "I-I mean in private.  Please?"

  It took a moment for them to quietly excuse themselves and they moved into a stock room closer to the back of the small building.  It was much darker in here and cramped by so many crates and supplies meant for sale in the showroom, but they had cleared it along with the rest of the market as a group only a few minutes ago.  They turned on their flashlights to give each other illumination, and Claire asked, "What's wrong, Sherry?"

  The blonde girl had become pensive since she asked to talk to Claire privately; at the moment, her entire being was radiating tension.  Sherry asked, "Do you think Mister Cartland is wrong, keeping whatever he knows to himself?"

  Claire sighed and answered, "I think it would do more harm than good if he doesn't tell us things we might need to know."

  Sherry was plainly troubled.  "The way he spoke, it might be better if we didn't know."

  "Maybe."  Somehow, the lady who was sister to Chris Redfield got that impression, as well.  "But if your survival depends on it, Sherry, I'd rather he tell us sooner instead of later."

  "Keeping a secret never helps."  Sherry Birkin said it almost as a whisper as she looked down at the grimy floor.  Her expression shifted to sadness...to guilt...as she summoned the courage in her heart and soul.  "Claire, I'm so sorry.  There are things about me you don't know...things I haven't had the chance to tell you -- No."  She couldn't lie to her hero.  "I've been afraid to tell you."

  Claire frowned as she looked upon the blonde girl.  "What do you mean?  If it's about your work, I understand why you need to keep your missions a secret.  What you do is important -- !"

  Sherry interrupted, "I mean things about me, Claire.  But I...I-I'm so afraid if I tell you...I..."

  "Why?"  Claire drew close to the girl she adored.  Suddenly, Sherry felt the warmth of the brunette survivor's touch as she laid her hands upon the agent's shoulders, reassuring.  "Sherry, you don't have to be afraid.  If you're worried that whatever you're keeping from me might change things between us, it won't.  You can tell me anything, and it won't change how important you are to me.  I promise."

  "C-Claire..."  The girl felt so much dismay and uncertainty inside.  Part of what she kept secret from her beloved hero would change things so fundamentally between them -- and Sherry wanted that so much.  But what she feared the most was that Claire wouldn't accept -- !

  Suddenly, they heard Vector's shout of warning from the showroom:  "Claire!  Sherry!  Trouble's coming!"

  Claire Redfield's heart sank as she said, "Damn -- !"  But she looked at the blonde and hated to break things off so quickly.  "Sherry?"

  Sherry Birkin gathered herself and put on a brave face...she managed, "It's okay, Claire!  It can wait until later!"  If they were given the chance to talk later as horror converged on them once again.

-2-

  Wyler Community Hospital.  News of the unusual events that happened to Leon S. Kennedy and Helena Harper was delivered to Chris Redfield and then agents Sheva Alomar, Christine Yamata, and Caroline Floyd -- they hadn't been present in the lobby at the time when Leon described how he and Helena heard and then saw her dead sister, Deborah Harper.  The general morale of both teams already wasn't what one would have called 'positive', and this didn't help.  It was difficult enough trying to find a logical explanation for the crisis...most were afraid to believe that anything about what happened to Black Falls could be supernatural in any way, if their advisors Cybil Bennett and Anne Cunningham were right.  Chris and Leon could only instruct everyone that if they saw or heard anything out of the ordinary to report it immediately.  In spite of Leon's self-doubt and Chris' initial anger toward the agent, the others uniformly had faith that Leon and Helena were able to continue with the mission.

  Minutes after that were lost in quietly embattled discussion between the members of Alpha Team and Leon's half of Bravo Team about what to do next.  They had two workable options:  to go out and conduct a search for both Claire's half of Bravo and Rebecca Chambers, Cheryl Mason and anyone accompanying them...or stay at the hospital to wait for Claire, then search for Rebecca and Cheryl.  It was embattled because of the simmering tension between Chris and Leon, unfortunately...Chris blamed his friend and veteran DSO agent for his sister Claire being in town in the first place, in spite of the fact she wanted to be involved and it had ultimately been approved by General Earle.  Cooler heads prevailed, though, the most vocal and reasonable amongst them Jill Valentine.

  A compromise between those options was finally decided on, and it was Leon S. Kennedy who laid it out for everyone gathered in a fourth floor waiting area as Chris, Jill and Helena Harper stood close by.  Leon announced to the agents, "A four-person squad will remain here at the hospital in case Claire Redfield and those with her arrive while the rest of us divide into two search teams...Chris will lead the first team, designate Alpha, and I'll lead the second team, Bravo."  He referred to a large map for the town stapled to a dirty wall and said, "Starting from our present location, we'll perform the search in a spiral pattern, with each of our forces going in different directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise.  Each of us are carrying an emergency flare gun along with all of our standard equipment, as you know.  If one of our teams encounters either Claire's group or Chambers and Mason, fire up a flare to signal to the other team, and we'll join up again."  Because of the thick grey mist outside, however, it was uncertain if a flare would even be visible from any kind of distance.

  Caroline Floyd had to address that possibility:  "What if we can't see a flare because of the conditions outside, sir?"

  Leon said flatly, "Then that's just one more problem we have to deal with."

  Christine Yamata stepped forward and said to Chris and Jill, "I request to volunteer to stay at the hospital."  Christine absolutely hated the idea of leaving the civilians here, especially the sick and infirm, without anyone to defend them...there were over 200 innocents in the hospital at last count, and that included what remained of Wyler's staff.  Head Nurse Gwen Park and everyone working with her still needed help desperately.

  Jill Valentine shook her head.  "Christine, I'm sorry, but as our ranking Medical Specialist you can't stay."

  "Jill -- !"

  Chris Redfield said quietly, "You'll still be part of Alpha, and our team will need you more out in the field.  That's all there is to it."

  Christine plainly didn't like it, but she nodded stiffly.  "Yes, sir."

  The Medical Specialist felt a warm hand on her shoulder...she turned to see the masked face of Michaela Schneider, who announced, "I volunteer to stay here in case the rest of Bravo arrives."  She looked at Christine and said softly, "I'll do what I can to help everyone here in the meantime, okay?"  Christine's posture relaxed considerably and she nodded, her eyes looking at Michaela with bright gratitude.

  Chris said, "All right, Michaela.  Who else wants to stick around?"

  Barry Burton stepped up and said, "I volunteer, Chris.  The moment Claire and the others get here, I'll help keep them safe until we hook up with you again."

  Chris nodded deeply.  "I appreciate that, Barry.  Thanks.  Anyone else?  We can spare only two more people."

  "I can stay!"  Everyone looked at Sienna Miller, the blonde southern belle.  She shrugged and added, "Hell, I'm a sniper.  Out in that fog, I'm as much use as a one-legged contestant in an ass-kickin' contest.  Figure I can do a little more good here."

  Leon nodded.  "You make three, Sienna, and thanks."

  Sheva Alomar quietly said, "I shall stay, as well."

  Jill Valentine nodded, but she felt a vague uncertainty.  She wasn't sure if anyone else noticed, but Sheva had been unusually quiet ever since before they reached the hospital.  Jill got the sense that her friend was distracted, perhaps bothered by something, but then this entire crisis was so terrible it had to affect people in different ways, didn't it?  Chris Redfield knew Sheva better than Jill and got the same sense that something was off with her too; however, he was overwhelmed by so many things, chief among them his deep worry for his sister, and so didn't give it much thought.

  With a little reshuffling, the new order for both teams that would leave and begin to search were as follows.  Alpha was comprised of Chris, Jill, Christine, Cybil, Caroline, and Regina.  Bravo would be led by Leon, and under his command were Helena, Anne, Marissa Ronson, Karena LesProux, and Hector Hivers.

  Sheva Alomar, for her part, kept her troubled thoughts to herself, and she wished with all her heart she knew what to do.  In spite of what Chris and Leon said, she knew it wouldn't have helped anything to tell them what she had been experiencing since after they left city hall, and she feared she might be seen as unfit for duty.  As things stood the woman warrior prayed that staying here in the hospital, sheltered from the spectral fog, might somehow help.

  Sheva Alomar prayed she wouldn't hear the voices of her deceased mother and father again.

-3-

  "They're preparing to leave the hospital to search for us again," Cheryl Mason said...she and Rebecca Chambers were leading Alex and Elle Shepherd and Elza Walker carefully north through the oppressive fog on Cussler Avenue.  Ever since she sensed Alpha and half of Bravo meet at the hospital, they tried to trek even faster, but the mist itself and avoiding the demonic monsters that prowled out here made it difficult.

  Alex Shepherd winced with annoyance and snarled, "Shit, we're still a few blocks away!"

  Close by him, his wife Elle Shepherd asked worriedly, "Oh god, will they be gone by the time we get there?!"  It was a fear they had all shared, that they wouldn't make it before the agents moved again.

  Cheryl said softly, "Most of them will be gone.  A few will stay behind to wait for us and the agents they lost."

  "Are they all right, Cheryl?"  The blonde girl looked at the elvish brunette she held hands with, Rebecca Chambers, who added quickly, "I mean Claire, Sherry and the others?"

  Cheryl frowned as she said, "They're in a fight with some monsters now, Becca.  We have to wait and...see..."  Her voice suddenly trailed off as she developed a distracted expression, as if she saw something far away...her feet came to a stop.

  Everyone else in the group stopped, too.  Rebecca's blue eyes examined the girl who captured her heart as she asked, "What is it, Cheryl?"

  The lovely, troubled young woman who was born in the cursed town of Silent Hill twice finally looked at the lady she was falling for in turn.  Cheryl said flatly, "There's a supermarket down the street...we need to make a stop there."

  "Why?"

  Cheryl Mason enlightened Rebecca and the others:  "I can sense people trapped there...a few dozen of them.  They're full of fear, unable to help themselves."

  Elza Walker dared to ask, "Are monsters trying to get to them?  Or...?"

  Cheryl's face was grim as she clarified, "It's not monsters.  It's something almost as bad.  We need to help them."

  That desire was held by everyone in the group, in spite of their fears.  To help everyone they could in Black Falls who suffered because of this terror.  Rebecca Chambers nodded deeply.  "Okay.  Lead the way, honey.  If we can do anything to help, we will."

  Cheryl gave Rebecca a warm smile in return, but she lost that smile quickly when she advised, "Before we reach the market, there's one thing.  We have to hide our guns in a dumpster or somewhere else.  We'll get them back when we're done."

  Everyone looked at her...confused, Alex asked, "We have to go in unarmed?"

  Cheryl Mason nodded.  "It's the only way we'll be able to get into the supermarket, Alex.  You'll understand soon."

-4-

  After depositing their weapons in a couple of trash bins that could easily be accessed (Cheryl used her extraordinary perceptions to make sure no one saw them as they did it, even though they were in the heavy cover of the fog), they reached the supermarket.  The place was as desolate and derelict as everything in Black Falls, but they saw the huge grimy windows at the front of the store were covered by sheets and anything else that could be hung or draped from the inside.  The glass entrance and exit doors of the establishment were also obscured by large wood planks.  If a creature really wanted to get in, it could have breached the doors and any of the windows with enough strength.  The windows and doors were covered for another purpose:  to keep anything on the outside from looking into the supermarket.

  Inside.  A sudden frantic knocking was heard on the entrance door...no one inside the market could see out, but a young woman's voice cried out insistently, "Hello!  HELLO, IS ANYONE IN THERE?!  HELLO!"

  Outside, Cheryl stood close by Rebecca as the agent made as much noise as possible to get the attention of those within.  Close by them, Alex, Elle and Elza could only wait, clearly apprehensive of the fact they no longer had any guns to defend themselves.  Rebecca shouted even louder as she rapped on the door:  "HELLO!  C'MON, IS SOMEONE IN THERE!?!  PLEASE ANSWER!"

  A rough, hard voice suddenly called from inside:  "What do you want?!"

  Rebecca said loudly, "Oh, thank god someone's here!  We need a place to hide from the monsters!  Let us in, please!"

  A few seconds passed...the same voice finally said, "Hold on!"

  Several more seconds ticked by and nothing happened.  Rebecca started to get nervous, and Cheryl's grim expression didn't help her mood.  Rebecca knocked again and cried, "Hello?!?  Please let us in, please?!  HELLO!"

  Suddenly, they all heard the door audibly unlock...the door swung open, and two men loomed in the doorway.  They were both in their thirties, armed with handguns, and netiher looked friendly.  One of them ordered, "Shut your goddamn mouth and get inside!  Now!  MOVE!"  He motioned for them to come in with the gun he held.

  Rebecca said with relief, "Thank you!  Thank you so much!"  She and Cheryl entered with the other three close behind, and they had to mill between the two men to go further into the supermarket.

  The two men at the door watched them enter, and then they exchanged a look...and nasty grins.  One asked the other, "You thinking what I'm thinking, Kyle?"

  His friend nodded and said, "Christmas just came early, Stan."  Those two men followed the five visitors into the market itself...waiting close to the checkout lines were two more men.  One was heavyset, and he looked at the new arrivals with a smile, but his eyes were cold; he had a bolt-action rifle in his hands at the ready.  The other man was wearing a bright hoodie, his expression hostile as he carried a handgun like the first two.  Within these dim environs of the front of the market, the visitors saw even more people sitting on the floor, their backs to the walls.  Some were injured and a few appeared beaten...none of them look up, especally at the four men with guns.  The fear here was a palpable thing.

  Rebecca approached the two men waiting for them as Cheryl and the others followed close behind.  The pixie realized what was going on, what Cheryl meant before, but she tried to act normally until she could figure out what to do next.  Rebecca kept her smile bright as she said, "Thank you, I didn't know how much longer we'd last out there -- !"

  The man in the hoodie stared at her and interrupted with a growl of a voice:  "Lady, you need to be quiet."

  Rebecca stared at him with wide eyes.  "E-excuse me??"

  The bigger man who seriously needed to go on a diet stepped up to Rebecca.  He said with escalating menace, "Did my friend stutter, honey?  Does he have to repeat himself?  That's okay, I can talk for him:  you all need to shut up right now."

  Not far away, Alex Shepherd wondered why the hell they left their guns outside.  He moved from between his wife and Elza to slowly approach Eric.  Alex began, "Listen, guys, if you've got a problem with us being here -- UHH!"  Unfortunately, this survivor forgot the two men who let them in:  one of them, Stan, came up behind Alex and hit him harshly across the head with the butt of his revolver.  His world turned into a haze of incredible pain as he fell to his hands and knees.

  Elle and Elza were horrified as Stan stood there and pointed a gun at Alex's head...he said loudly, "Eric said all of you shut up!  You fuckin' deaf?!"

  Elle Shepherd recovered quickly from her initial shock and rushed to kneel by her husband's side.  She looked up at Stan and raised a shielding hand as she desperately urged, "No!  Please don't hurt my husband, please!"

  The four armed men surrounded the five visitors menacingly...Eric smirked and said, "Maybe we will, maybe we won't.  See, we had to hurt quite a few people already so there'd be a, how to put it?  An understanding that we were in charge of things here.  Ain't that right, Ken?"  The man wearing the hoodie nodded deeply.  "What we say goes in this place.  Everything's cool as long as we get what we want."

  Kyle leered at Elza Walker as he chimed in, "Some folks had a problem with that.  Some of them are dead.  We put them in the meat locker in the back."  The girl in the motocross jumpsuit cringed timidly, the predator got so close.

  Stan barked, "You don't wanna be dead too, you do what we say when we say!  Got it?!"

  Rebecca Chambers realized the truth of what Cheryl said...she thought, These bastards are almost as bad as the monsters out there.  Eric drew closer to Rebecca as he repeated, "But everything will be cool as long as we get what we want.  Hell..."  And then the big asshole got much, much closer than Rebecca wanted...a meaty hand reached out and the girl felt sudden revulsion when he laid it on one of her bare shoulders.  Eric grinned and growled, "...I can think of a few things I want from you right now!"  Rebecca felt the incredible urge to tell him to go to Hell --

  "You're making a big mistake."  The quiet voice cut through the air like a scalpel.  Rebecca, Eric and his fellow predators couldn't help but stare at the source:  Cheryl Mason, who was a few feet away.  The blonde was calm, yet her eyes were as hard as stone.  "Don't touch her."  Even her friends looked at her with surprise.

  Eric stared at Cheryl, his eyes wide with disbelief.  He said loudly, "What?"

  The blonde girl gave him a small smile, but her eyes didn't change in their stoic set.  "Did I stutter?  Do I have to repeat myself?"  And then she did, with passion:  "Don't ever touch her."

  Eric laughed, but there was a dangerous anger in his face, too.  He forgot about Rebecca and began to advance on Cheryl...so did his three friends, and the wolfpack was suddenly around the blonde.  Rebecca felt a surge of elemental fear for the one she desired...before she reminded herself what Cheryl was capable of.  And she began to realize why they didn't need to bring their weapons.  Eric stared down Cheryl, a man over a foot taller and over 200 pounds heavier than her, and said in a bemused tone, "Listen to you!  You came into our place to be safe from the monsters, right?  It's only fair that you be generous to us as long as you're here."  He looked at his buddies.  "Wouldn't you call that fair?"  Ken nodded slowly as he glowered at Cheryl.

  Stan said emphatically, "Hell, yes."

  Kyle testified, "More than damn fair!"

  Eric lost his smile quickly.  "And here you are, telling us what to do.  I've got one question for you."  He took one step forward, got into Cheryl's face, and he suddenly shouted, "Who the hell do you think you are, BITCH?!?"

  Cheryl Mason smiled brightly as she gave her answer in a soft, chilled tone:  "I'm the bitch who's going to make you wish you never met me."

  Dead silence for a moment...the predators could only look at her, incredulous.

  Eric's face twisted to a look of pure hate as he took a step back and with both hands raised the rifle to his shoulder, about to haul off and hammer its stock violently into Cheryl's face.  He didn't give a damn how pretty this bitch was, NO ONE talked to him like that.  Not in HIS place.

  And he would have bludgeoned her, but to the shock of everyone watching (only Rebecca, Alex, Elle and Elza weren't surprised at all), Cheryl's eyes transitioned from hazel to a blue that literally glowed.  Eric was shocked by that...and something else.  With hs rifle reared back, he realized he couldn't move.  At all.  Every muscle in his overweight body froze against his will!

  Cheryl laughed then.  She inquired, "Are we having trouble?  Can't move all of a sudden?"

  Stan, Kyle and Eric barely snapped out of their own shock seeing this blonde girl's eyes illuminate the gloom of the market, and they all had the same cowardly instinct.  The three of them raised their guns on Cheryl, ready to shoot her dead, but she said, "Your guns won't work!"  Stan growled and squeezed his trigger, anyway.  Click!  The gun didn't fire.  But the gun was fucking loaded, Stan thought, it should have fired!  It was finally at this time the three of them began to panic as they all began to squeeze the triggers of their guns rapidly, again and again.  To no avail.  She glanced at Eric's three buddies and smirked.  "What did I tell you?  The gunpowder in your bullets might as well be sand right now."  She had plenty of practice long ago to make a gun useless this way experimenting on the bullets of her own Peacemaker.  She discovered it didn't require that much focus from her to both get a feel for the gunpowder in a bullet's shell casing but alter it just enough.  You never knew what you might run into.

  Eric stared at Cheryl with sheer horror and managed, "K-K-Kenny...why the fuck can't I move?!?"

  As his three friends stared at her, too terrified to even run, Cheryl told him, "Just a case of mind over matter.  Easier than pulling a rabbit out of a hat.  Oh hold on, maybe you boys don't believe in magic.  Bet I can change your minds!"

  What happened next surprised even Rebecca.

  Cheryl's bright eyes flared briefly...at first, Stan, Kyle and Ken looked at their guns as if they hadn't seen such weapons before, because something was happening to them.  Kyle started to murmur, "The fuck...?"  And within seconds, the three men had to drop their guns and Stan screamed, "Jesus CHRIST!"  The guns had become too hot for them to touch as a result of Cheryl's pure will...more than that, the dull metal of the discarded weapons began to brighten until they cast a red glow as they laid on the floor.  The guns and the tiles under them were smoking and the men could feel the intense heat radiating from them.  Even Rebecca, Alex, Elle and Elza could feel the heat too, and they were much further away from them.  The predators' former captives could only watch, they were also terrified.

  Stan stared at Cheryl, and his eyes were as wide as saucers.  "What the hell are you?!"

  Cheryl Mason giggled like a little girl.  "That's a long story."  She looked at Eric, and with a snap of her fingers the man suddenly unfroze from his petrified state.  She took a deliberate step toward him, and he quickly dropped his rifle -- he knew it would be useless -- as he stepped back from her in reaction, his round face full of horror.  Cheryl kept advancing on him as she asked, "You're the leader, right?  What you say goes, right?"  She stopped and spread her arms.  "Well, here I am standing in your way.  You want to fight me, asshole?  You want to put your hands on me?  Go right ahead."  Eric blinked stupidly, unsure what to do.  "Come on, what are you waiting for?  A big man like you can take on a little girl like me, right?  Let's go.  I'm in the mood for a fight."  The big man was obviously conflicted, torn between the options of fight or flight, and he was struggling.  Cheryl finally urged loudly, "Let's go!"

  Eric proved to be as stupid as he looked, unfortunately for him, as he responded to Cheryl's challenge in a way she hoped he would.  He gave into his anger and hate as his fat arms reached out and he rushed the girl...but just as quickly, with the speed of a thought, he experienced a total disconnect from his arms and legs.  They went completely numb as he crashed to the floor heavily on his knees, and his arms slumped to his sides, lifeless.  Again, he was completely helpless before her power.

  Cheryl laughed as she put her hands on her hips casually, assessing the big predator.  "What a shame!  I forgot to mention I wasn't gonna fight fair."  She shook her head, her expression one of mock regret.  "Too bad for you I know Karate."  And without warning, the girl cried, "KIAI!"  The strong cry came from just below her stomach to assist in focusing her physical energy at the exact same moment she delivered a no-frills straight punch -- her relatively small right fist crashed into Eric's face with a force that reflected her skill as a Black Belt.  His nose was broken and gushing blood as he keeled back and fell hard.  Cheryl looked at Eric's buddies and grinned.  "I studied damn hard to get a Black Belt, you know?  I like to practice every chance I get!"  For emphasis, she moved fast, and to the redoubled horror of Eric, Stan and Ken, THEY couldn't move, either.  In a matter of seconds, Cheryl brought them each brutally to the floor in the same way a kickboxer would bring low practice dummies set up for them to knock down, and her practiced grace had nothing to do with her supernatural power.  She broke the noses of two of them and guaranteed the third would need several trips to a dental surgeon to repair the damage to his teeth.  Strangely -- or perhaps not -- Rebecca Chambers thought Cheryl was more beautiful than ever in those moments.

  The three men moaned painfully as they laid semi-conscious on the floor.  Cheryl turned to Eric again...and she burst out in a giggle again.  She said, "Oh, dear!  Someone needs a diaper."  The big man, still on his back, had pissed his pants.  The crotch of his voluminous pants was dark and moist from his soiling himself.

  Elle was slowly helping Alex stand -- they were both understandably distracted by Cheryl.  So was Elza Walker, who had gravitated to Rebecca.  Her wide eyes were full of awe as she told the agent, "Cheryl still scares me, but I've gotta admit that was awesome!"  Rebecca was too astonished to answer the girl.

  Cheryl Mason looked down at the overweight predator, and her amusement shifted to anger.  She declared in a strong voice, "I'm sick of people like you.  You take what you want to feel powerful, right??  Even with everything gone to shit in this town, you want to set yourselves up as kings in a damn supermarket!"  The rage in her was building as she drew closer to Eric, and the man was on the verge of hyperventilating from the overwhelming fear he felt, his bloody face slack in expression and his eyes almost bulging as he stared up at her.  He was afraid to speak, to move, to even breathe.  Cheryl was right above him, inescapable, as she became louder:  "Bringing pain and fear to innocent people, who do you think YOU are, bitch?!  You're as bad as Reeve and The Order!  You give absolutely nothing to this world!  All...you do...is take."  Rebecca could feel the sadness mixed with Cheryl's anger as she spoke, a sadness that reflected her terrible history.  How many people had wanted to take from her?  Reeve.  The woman she once called her best friend, Claudia.  Her own mother.  And far, far too many more.

  Cheryl's eyes continued to burn with blue fire as she stared into Eric's horrified face.  She said darkly, "I'd play with you a little more, but I'm already bored!  I should kill you all so you never hurt anyone else ever again -- better yet!"  With a gesture, she levitated Eric's heavy form off the floor, and he floated before her, helpless.  The blonde girl's bright eyes hardened as her lips snarled, and her voice raised in volume and building wrath, "I'll make you assholes go outside into that fog without anything to defend yourselves!  The way you smell after I made you piss your pants, it won't take long for something out there to find the four of you, and then we'll hear you start SCREAMING -- !"

  "Cheryl...!"

  The haunted blonde girl stopped, just like that...her expression of rage softened as she turned to the one who called to her.  Her posture relaxed as she stared at Rebecca Chambers, who looked at her with wide, entreating blue eyes as the brunette clasped her hands before her bosom.  The BSAA agent and former S.T.A.R.S. medic was afraid, yes, but she was afraid for Cheryl.

  Cheryl Mason could see herself through Rebecca's eyes...and her eyes dimmed to their mortal hazel again as Eric fell to the floor with a loud thud.  Cheryl looked down sadly and thought, God, I almost lost control.  I could have lost my focus keeping us hidden from Reeve's senses...!  Cheryl finally sighed and said to Eric as he trembled on the floor before her, "But killing you won't solve anything."  Rebecca and her friends also relaxed as the victims of Eric and his buddies realized it was over, things had changed for the better.  They wouldn't be threatened by those predators anymore...but as most of them stood, their eyes fixed on Cheryl.  And she could feel their fear.  The blonde looked at one of them and said, "Hey."  He was almost as portly as Eric but he was a cashier with a colorful apron...on its breast was stitched his name, Ollie.  He looked at her with a start.  Cheryl said, "You work here.  Can you lock these assholes in your meat locker so they don't give you anymore trouble?"

  Ollie carefully approached her...he had a visibly kind persona, especially in his eyes.  He said, "Y-yeah.  The meat locker's not working right now...isn't like they'll freeze to death."

  Cheryl shrugged.  "Just as long as they're in a cage where they can't hurt anyone else."

  Ollie nodded shakily.  "Th-thanks...uh..."  He wanted to say more, but he had no idea where to begin.  What could he say to her after what he bore witness to just now?

  Cheryl smiled thinly.  "I know you're scared of me.  You all are.  It's okay, I won't be here much longer."

  Rebecca moved quickly to the two of them and said to the cashier, "Uh, before we go!  I'm a medic and I wanted to see the people those men hurt.  Is that all right?"

  Ollie managed a smile and said, "M-much obliged, miss!"

  Maybe twenty minutes later.  Alex, with some help from those in the supermarket, put Eric and his friends in one of the big meat lockers behind the deli section.  The wolfpack did so quietly, in spite of the fact dead bodies were already inside.  Rebecca checked on all of those who were hurt by the predators -- for most of them, fortunately, their injuries weren't serious.  Terribly, that couldn't have been said for a few of the women who were victims of the predators.  The gang took brutal turns with them earlier because they were so attractive; two of them were a mother and her teenaged daughter.  Rebecca's heart broke for them, and she wished she could have done more for the rape victims.  Rebecca told everyone that help was here trying to stop what had overtaken Black Falls, and Ollie among others reassured her that they'd hold out here as best they could until the crisis ended.  None of them wanted to brave the fog and its terrors.

  At the front of the supermarket, Cheryl Mason had distanced herself from everyone else, but Alex, Elle and Elza found her.  Elle Shepherd held Cheryl's hand gently and offered, "I wouldn't have minded one bit if you made those scum walk outside, Cheryl."

  Alex Shepherd still had reservations about trusting the young woman from Silent Hill, but even he had to voice his support of how she handled the predators.  "I can't argue with that, Elle.  It's not much more than what those bastards deserve."

  Elza Walker was sorely tempted to feel the same way about those human monsters, but she gave the husband and wife a look and observed, "Don't you two sound ruthless!"

  Alex said coolly, "These people already have enough to fear, Elza.  Anyone preying on them in the middle of shit like this is inhuman.  We've seen enough of that from the goddamn Order here and in Shepherd's Glen."

  The four of them noticed Rebecca Chambers slowly approach them...but the beauty's blue eyes gazed solely on Cheryl Mason.  She was so needful to reassure the moody blonde.  "Cheryl..."

  Cheryl couldn't look at her at first.  She seemed beyond consolation as she said, "I know what you're thinking, Becca.  You don't have to say what's on your mind."

  The brunette pixie smiled gently and countered, "I think I do have to."  Rebecca drew even closer and took Cheryl's hands in hers.  "Honey, I know you were so tempted to do a lot worse to those bastards, and I'm proud that you didn't.  You're better than -- !"

  Cheryl Mason looked at Rebecca and suddenly said, "Better than what?"  Her eyes reflected a soul who was nearly beyond reassurance.  "I'm a monster, Becca.  I know that.  All of these people know, too.  And I may have to own the fact I'm a monster if we're going to have any chance of surviving."

  Rebecca Chambers sighed, "Cheryl...!"  Her thoughts reached out to the one she adored.  "I-I know things are horrible right now, honey, but you came here to stop Reeve and The Order for the right reasons.  I know you were so tempted to give in to your anger before, but you didn't.  You didn't because you're better than that.  You're not a monster and you're better than our enemies, you hear me?  Please, don't give up hope.  Please!"

  But to her own building sadness, Rebecca had to wonder how much worse things would become...

-5-

  At the same moment Rebecca Chambers knocked on one of a dark supermarket's doors, several blocks away, Claire Redfield and those with her faced total chaos.

  The horrid monsters converged on the gas station from every direction, and the survivors had to retreat into it's convenience store as they fired carefully, avoiding pointing any of their suppressed weapons even in the general direction of the gasoline pumps.  It stood to reason that like most devices in Black Falls the pumps were shut down and inactive, but it would still have been foolish in the extreme to take any chances.  With their field of fire limited, however, the monsters encroached fast and Claire, Sherry and the others had to fall back into the store just as quickly.

  The ceiling-to-floor front windows disintegrated as everyone fired outward and enemies smashed their way in.  Several Lurkers scuttle-crawled inside fast because of their powerful arms dragging the rest of them on the ground...Claire and the others shot them to pieces as Schisms rushed in, their long fatal heads swinging wildly.  Grinding noise from outside growing louder by the second signaled that Pendulums were getting closer, as well.  One Schism got too close, but Rain showed her frightening expertise with her combat knife...with a fluid grace, her right hand let go of the SMG connected on a strap around her shoulder to unsheath her blade.  It took the commando in black less than two seconds to deliver several lethal, rapid-fire thrusts into the thing's chest and under one of its long arms before it even had the chance to swing its killer head-blade...it fell into a bloody heap immediately.  Maybe it was because he was old-fashioned, but Douglas Cartland was shocked to see a girl like Rain display such ferocity.  Then the old timer remembered he was in the middle of this fight too, and he concentrated on more important things...like helping himself and his friends stay alive!  Vector was far more ominous, a hooded wraith in his foreboding mask as he did his part to dispatch the nightmare threats that preyed on them.

  In comparison, in spite of her unique experiences, Sherry Birkin concentrated on keeping herself calm as much as she focused on taking down the monsters with her Triple Shot handgun.  The girl who like Rain was dressed in black felt like her heart was beating faster than a cheetah.  Looking to her adored hero at times helped greatly...in comparison, Claire Redfield seemed much more composed, her beautiful face firm in her set as she took down her fair share of enemies.  Sherry would have been surprised to know how frightened Claire was, too...but all it took for the brunette to stay focused was to think of Sherry.  She'd give anything and everything for the blonde girl she loved, including her life.

  The grinding of the Pendulums' spinning blades were overwhelming in their noise as the floating things arrived...fortunately, none of them got close before the survivors' bullets crossed the distance to take them down, too.  The air became quiet again except for a lingering, persistent static that was growing louder from Douglas' radio.  Everyone in Claire's group tensed, prepared...unfortunately, none of them thought to check if anything got into the back of the store before what happened next.

  With an unearthly groan, one more Schism burst in through the door to the storage area...Sherry turned in time to see it shambling with terrible intent toward Claire, who was already turning to face the threat, but the thing would have been on her before she had the chance to defend herself.  The blonde didn't think before she acted.  She didn't have to.  All that mattered to her was Claire.  Sherry side-stepped fast as she screamed, "CLAIRE, BEHIND YOU!"  The jolt of adrenaline that ran through her being made what followed feel like it was going in slow motion.

  Sherry just barely had the edge on the Schism and reached Claire before the monster could.  The blonde hated to do it as she collided with her hero, her right shoulder knocking the brunette to the side, and the move thankfully got her out of the thing's path.  But Sherry had taken Claire's place and the Schism attacked her, her back still to the monster --

  -- and Claire's body whirled barely in time for her to see the thing's head-blade cut deeply into Sherry Birkin's back.  The blonde girl screamed as Claire heard herself cry with horror, "SHERRY!"  Sherry fell to the floor and Claire's one and only thought was to close the distance and fall to her knees next to the fallen agent, try to help her some way, any way.

  Nearby, Rain cried in total anger, "Fuckin' ASSHOLE!"  The commando in black fired her SMG and kept firing on the Schism even after it dropped hard.  The demonic thing had been perforated, Rain was so furious that the bastard got to Sherry before she could do anything about it.  "God DAMN it!"

  Claire knew total anguish, she could almost feel herself plummeting into an abyss complete despair as she cradled Sherry's upper body in her arms, as she said in a frantic rush, "Sherry it's okay please hold still I'll help you I'll do anything for you -- !"  But she felt so damn helpless, she blamed herself for what happened to the blonde girl, and her sight clouded from her tears as she wailed, "OH GOD, SOMEONE PLEASE HELP!"

  Rain was with them in a flash.  "I'm here, Claire -- !"  But the girl's eyes widened and her breath caught in her throat when she really got a good look at Sherry.  The violent gash in her back ran from her beltline to just over her shoulder blade.  The diagonal wound was so deep as it bled horribly, and Rain caught a glimpse of the girl's spinal cord through the gore.  Rain sighed, "Oh, Jesus!"

  "C-Claire..."  Sherry's beautiful face tilted up to look at Claire, her expession full of agony...

  Not far away, Vector looked around with his carbine at the ready as he moved to the old P.I., who held his portable radio up to his ear.  Vector asked impatiently, "Are there anymore?!  Talk to me, man, are anymore coming?!?"

  Douglas Cartland's mood was frantic as he finally said, "No-no!  The radio's quiet!  I-I think we're okay...!"  But then he and Vector got a good look at how harshly this battle had cost them.  The old man's expression broke at the sight of the blonde girl.  "Aw, no!"

  Sherry was leaning into Claire, who carefully held the girl in her arms as best she could, as Rain gingerly, carefully tore the ruined shirt from the blonde agent's upper body...the wound was so terribly vivid in its contrast to the pale, soft skin of her back.  Rain glanced at Douglas and yelled, "You're carrying the medical supplies for us, old timer!  We need them now!"

  Claire trembled with horror and grief as she held Sherry...she whisper-moaned, "Shhh...don't try to move, angel, please...we'll help you, I swear..."

  "Claire, it..."  In spite of her mortal wound, even though she lost so much blood, Sherry's voice hadn't grown weaker as she spoke.  "...it's okay.  I'll be all right..."

  Her hero wasn't sure if she heard the girl right.  "Sherry...?"

  Sherry's voice actually grew stronger in spite of the pain she suffered.  "I just n-need a minute...and I'll get better..."

  Claire didn't understand at first.  "Sherry, how...?!"

  Suddenly she heard Vector say, "Jesus, look at her...a-am I seeing things?!"  Next to him, Douglas had been shrugging off his backpack to get to the medical supplies.  His expression shifted to pure amazement and he froze.

  Right there with Claire and Sherry, Rain stopped moving, too.  She said quietly, "What the hell...!"

  Claire followed Rain's eyes as she held Sherry...

  ...and she saw that the wound Sherry Birkin suffered was closing -- the terrible slash seemed to be knitting itself closed from one end to the other!  The regeneration progressed at a lightning pace as Claire felt the girl's breaths steady and deepen again, as well.  The blood had clotted even faster as the torn skin came together...and then fused in a matter of seconds.  In less time than it took to describe it all, the mortal wound was gone...there was no scar, not even the slightest trace a wound had been there...Sherry's lovely back was marred only by stains of her own blood, but that was all.  Sherry managed to sit up, but with an effort, gently disengaging from Claire's embrace...her black shirt had been ruined, and the girl quickly crossed her arms over her breasts to preserve her modesty at the moment.

  There was complete silence for what seemed like an eternity, but in fact was only moments, for everyone present.

  Finally, the quiet was broken by Claire Redfield...she looked at the person she adored since they first met in Raccoon City fifteen years ago with an expression of disquieted wonder and whispered, "Sherry..."

  And even though she was clearly all right, this extraordinary young woman couldn't look at Claire...her beautiful face expressed quiet, overwhelming despair, as if her world had just shattered into a thousand pieces.  She knew that from this moment, nothing would ever be the same between her and the hero she loved.  Sherry Birkin finally said softly, "This is part of what I was afraid to tell you, Claire."


TO BE CONTINUED
RESIDENT EVIL X SILENT HILL: JUDGMENT DAY CH. 24
Mature Warning! There's a lot of adult language and violence in this chapter!

Finally, thankfully, I can say once again that the latest installment of RESIDENT EVIL X SILENT HILL is here! :) I'm still trying to get the extra time I used to have to write. I'm crossing my fingers it'll be soon, but...I don't know. :/ Sweet Ygure, everyone, I hope you love it...especially with Cheryl and Rebecca back in the mix! :heart: (I know it's seemed like a long time because of my delays, again I'm truly sorry. :( )

Tensions build between our heroes because of buried secrets and the terrible fog itself...as Cheryl, Rebecca and their friends encounter an enemy almost as bad as the monsters that threaten them. But one secret is going to be revealed about Sherry Birkin...in the worst possible way! Oh, about a certain foursome of villains in this chapter: any resemblance between them and the kids of SOUTH PARK is on purpose and meant just for fun! :D (With apologies to Matt Stone and Trey Parker!)

Again, RESIDENT EVIL is owned by Capcom and SILENT HILL is owned by Konami!
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To everyone I know here, sweet Ygure, Gina, Katie and everyone, I'm really sorry to report this but I'm having trouble getting on DA.
   Seriously, I have no idea if it's my computer (an old Windows XP using Internet Explorer 8) or something wrong on this site, but I can't login from home.  Every time I put in my name and pw, I get an IE page saying 'Internet Explorer cannot display this webpage'.  I've submitted a letter to DA's helpdesk, I'm trying to troubleshoot with help from MS support, but so far no luck and I haven't been able to get on from home since Sunday.
   I have to resort to using a library internet station...that's where I'm typing from now.  Yeah, I know.  ARGH! >:(
   I'm really trying to get this resolved short of going to a new way to get online like Google Chrome, and if anyone has ever run into anything like this before, if anyone has any suggestions that can work, please help!
---
Charles (And don't mistake my mood, I'm not feeling good right now! :( )
  • Mood: Optimism

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CharlesWS
Charles Spencer
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:iconxxcutekillerxx:
xXCuteKillerXx Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Honey, kasumi head dont fix with the model than you send me...sorry
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:iconygure:
Ygure Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
Heeey! You, disappeared boy! Ho've you been? ;p It's all right?
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:iconcharlesws:
CharlesWS Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
Hi, sweet friend, I was just checking in! :heart: :huggle: :heart: I know, I've been really busy and I'm so sorry. I'm all right, thank you so much...and fortunately I've been busy writing, too! :)

How are you, though? I hope you're awesome as always? :huggle:
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:iconkatie-hellsing1997:
Katie-Hellsing1997 Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014
At least you somehow found time to write, bet your happy about it too ^_^ i know i wouldn't like not being able to finish my story without a reason. Plus it was getting weird on what happened on the current chapter, looking forward to the next one when you are able to update it ^_^
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:iconcharlesws:
CharlesWS Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2014
A little bit of time here and there, yup. :/ LOL, a lot of weird is going on in the story, but what do you mean? Was there something you wanted to ask about?
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(1 Reply)
:iconygure:
Ygure Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014
Don't worry! I was just checking if you're okay, and I'm glad you are. ^^ I'm fine as always, not much changes xD thanks for asking!
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:iconcharlesws:
CharlesWS Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014
:heart: :huggle: :heart: Not exactly okay, sweet friend, but I'm all right...I miss you when I'm busy. :( I hope things get better, and I'll be having another chapter here soon. Cheryl and Rebecca will be in it! :huggle:
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(1 Reply)
:iconkatie-hellsing1997:
Katie-Hellsing1997 Featured By Owner May 8, 2014
Heyo. Please read note i left and see what you think ^_^ anyway how are you?  :) x
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:iconcharlesws:
CharlesWS Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2014
Hey back! :) I'm sorry I've been busy...offline life can suck. -_- Anyway! I got your note, and you'll see what I'll be doing with Karena/Lupo soon enough! Sigh, I need more time to write...
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:iconkatie-hellsing1997:
Katie-Hellsing1997 Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2014
Thats alright, at least you read and acknowledge it. Don't worry take your time ^_^ thanks Hug 
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