Chapter 21: The Final Sacrifice
Instinct gave Rick a hunch towards Grant's whereabouts. The intensity of the recorded ritual over the temple's loudspeakers had increased since the last time Rick had heard it. Sneaking down the river on Martin's boat had been sufficient to bring the group directly to the doorstep of the forsaken city. The Captain had his peacekeepers stretched thin across the rest of the country, but a scout unit had confirmed a small army in the ancient ruins.
"Okay, the assault will be our responsibility," the Captain said as he skimmed over a map after the latest radio update. "The most enemies are clustered around the Temple of the Moon, so that's probably where Grant is."
"Even if he's not there, I want to wreck that stereo system, after all the problems it's given us," Rick muttered. "But killing Grant's the top priority."
"The scout unit has no snipers or mortars, so I reassigned them to ensuring no enemies escape."
The others nodded in agreement as they disembarked behind Rick. Refreshed after their meals and naps during the boat ride, it was time to end things. Shifting into his second skin with the comfort of changing clothes, Rick bounded up towards the road to Upal. He followed the lights of the pyramid, lit up like braziers on the altar of some perverse god. The jungle at night was now a welcome blanket surrounding him, as Rick barked orders in a bestial tongue. He ordered his pack to separate, and attack from different directions simultaneously. They reluctantly separated, but Rick knew that he would see them again shortly.
Despite the welcome cover of the overgrown flora, the transit to Upal itself was otherworldly and sinister under the cover of pre-dawn darkness. Monolithic stones stood as heralds of a primordial time, unmoving sentinels unyielding in their silence of prior ages. The beast-men dancing across the carvings and base reliefs burned into Rick's memory bespoke of a time when his kind ruled the lands with wisdom and power, instead of slinking in the shadows. Passing under a stone archway he was sure he had traveled through as a human, he beheld the nocturnal splendor of Upal.
Rick could not deny the terrible beauty present in the sight of the central plaza before the Temple of the Moon. Grant's gunmen stood in ordered ranks like invading soldiers occupying the city's past. Past the ad hoc parade ground were the satellite temples, but they paled in comparison to the Temple of the Moon at the center. The spotlights bathed each tier in sinister illumination, as though a fell god of modernity now made his residence there. Now that Grant had been deprived of his own pack, his own unpredictable senses would be his only asset.
The moment before the killing started lasted a virtual eternity in Rick's mind. The outlaws were clad mismatched clothing that would make guerrilla armies scornful, but the powerful assault rifles held in their hands terminated in accessories like flashlights and grenade launchers. He smelled the perspiration of the soldiers, familiarizing himself with the nuances of difference between perspiration and apprehension. He knew that by the end of the fight, he would know the scent of abject terror. Beyond them, he thought he could recognize four pairs of golden eyes reflecting across the city. They waited upon him to perform the glorious honor of the first kill before besetting the enemy. He did not wish to disappoint them.
With growl that echoed across the breadth of the timeworn plaza, Rick charged the nearest group of sentries. Savoring their terror as frantic flashlight beams danced across his body, he leapt into the air before the first bursts of panicked gunfire began. He ripped opened the necks of the two nearest shooters as he landed, wetting his claws with steaming blood. He pounced on a third man that could not flee fast enough, knocking him to the ground. One of his comrade's flashlight beams illuminated the man as he was dragged screaming behind a stone pillar to his demise at Rick's hands. He pulled the man's head clean off and tossed it through the hoop of an ancient ball court as maddened gunfire echoed through the night. He wondered if the rest of them would be such sore losers.
The chaotic staccato was punctuated with an exclamation point when a grenade exploded where Rick stood over his headless corpse, and Rick adjusted his plans. Noticing his enemies were reloading, he scrambled to their rear as they fumbled with magazines in the darkness. He gutted the first two fools as he smashed into their formation, and grabbed the rifle from one of them as the lifeless body fell beside him. He smashed the butt into the temple of the third gunner as he broad his weapon to bear point blank. Two survivors immediately made a break for it, but Rick noticed the weapon he held had a grenade launcher with a trigger loop long enough to accommodate his massive talons. A quick calculation sent the explosive bounding exactly where the unlucky duo had fled to, before both of them were utterly annihilated in the explosion that followed. Rick hoped if the ancient Mayan gods would not mind their sacrifices pureed.
Rick continued onwards down the plaza, noticing his comrades had now joined the fight. The body of a sniper fell from the pinnacle of a nearby temple to the central plaza below as Ulfur roared triumphantly. Now aware of the lurking peril of craven marksmen lurking above him, Rick bounded up the next pyramid as his senses directed him towards a hiding man. He saw the man resting at the top tier of a satellite pyramid, his scoped rifle rested upon a bipod. Despite using optics probably worth than Rick's entire net worth, the sharpshooter was utterly blind to the werewolf that heaved him from the top of the temple like a dirty sack. Rick heard the crack of a rifle lanced through the night but missed, before Anne's pair of golden eyes sent another sniper flying to their demise. The pair howled victoriously from the temples, as the few survivors from the courtyard routed towards the temple.
When the generators went down, Rick could feel the excitement in the air as the final assault began. Rick suspected Martin and Wang's handiwork as the infernal lights and speaker ceased. The screaming and gunfire from the scattered survivors increased in tempo and volume as Rick waded into the swirling lunacy at the base of the pyramid. His claws still wet with blood, he plunged them into the nearest necks and torsos he saw, painting the ground like a psychopathic Picasso. He did not care to finish them off, for the dozen or so enemies left had collapsed into a fleeing rabble. He had no doubts the others would make short work of them. Undaunted, he pursued one scent he recognized at the top of the pyramid.
Rick had expected to find Grant cowering and raving, perhaps in some fit of psychosis or denial. Instead, a single figure emerged from the temple at the top of the pyramid with a heavy machinegun in his hands. A buzzsaw of gunfire ricocheted across the steps of the pyramid, while Grant's face remained as inexpressive as the rock eidolons carved around him. The eerie reflections of muzzle-flash reflected in the bullet fragments was the first clue to Rick that something was amiss. Immediately, he darted to the around the corner and ascended to the next tier out of range of the madman's gunfire. Seeming to sense him, Grant instead retreated back into the stone hut as a quick glance confirmed that the bullet fragments scattered across the temple had been made of silver. His enemy was insane, but always intelligent and wealthy.
Rick managed to climb to the top, but he knew his enemy cowered in a stone hut. He briefly considered retrieving a grenade from one of the fallen soldiers, but his instinct and pride compelled him to rip Grant apart with his own hands. A peep inside the stone hut made Rick realize Grant was reloading. Undaunted, he charged in, and ripped the expensive weapon from Dr. Walker's hands. The machinegun tumbled down the stairs outside, but Grant did not react how Rick anticipated. Instead, he drew his own blade and charged at Rick.
Caught unprepared to go on the defensive, Rick tried to evade his slash, but misjudged reach of the silver sword. Agony seared through his arteries as his battle form involuntarily retreated into his own body. Despite the pain that now wracked his body, Rick struggled to remain upright and aware. His instincts adapted and brought him to safety outside the reach of a flurry of sword cuts. Catching a quick glance at someone bounding up the temple stairs, Rick immediately put his idea into practice.
Grant's next strike was a thrust, but Rick was prepared. He yanked the sword forwards, pulling Grant's hand up and exposed in the doorframe. The report of a familiar firearm echoed almost deafeningly at close quarters, but Rick was ready for it. The blade tumbled from Grant's wounded hand into Rick's waiting grasp. Grant clutched his hand with a look of fear on his face as Rick thrust the weapon into Grant's torso. He withdrew the blade and swung with all of his might, turning his hips as flecks of blood arced through the air like horizontal rain. Grant's head hung connected by only a narrow sliver of flesh, so Rick hacked again before it was completely severed.
Rick exhaled as he turned to see Anne standing with the scoped AutoMag drawn, wisps of smoke still rising from the barrel. She handed the pistol to Rick.
"I meant to give this back earlier, but I forgot," she said in an apologetic voice.
"What do you mean 'forgot'? A pirate like you probably wanted that since you first saw it."
"Very funny, but I've seen bigger guns."
Rick chuckled as he looked out from the temple. Instead of the cacophony of battle, only a peaceful and serene silence gripped the ancient city of Upal. Looking up, he saw the breathtaking view of the first tendrils of morning light peeking over the distant horizon. For the first time since he had arrived, the country of Montoya was no longer under the cursed omen of a lycanthropic blood moon. Anne pulled him closer.