Yet Mama Cray still managed to slip through the melee, moving swiftly and nimbly to a control panel near the stairs.
Erix wasted no time taking advantage of this turn of events, lunging at Max, who barely managed to block, having learned from past experience being blindsided by the likes of Striker or Rawne.
They both froze, energy blades still crossed, as the catwalk began to began to shudder. The fighting beneath them slowed almost to a pause as the massive hangar doors on the side of the warehouse rolled open, letting in more daylight than all of the building’s high windows combined. Also letting in a strong sea breeze, gusting through the canyon of crates, blowing away Justin’s lingering smokescreen even as everyone inside started to resume their battle.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Roxy demanded upon seeing him alive, as she mounted the catwalk from the other side. Not entirely sure she believed Shades and Justin until she saw him for herself. “You were the mystery smuggler?”
“This is why I put no stock in rumors…” she muttered, “but at least I see why they were so alarmed.”
As the battle between the Stockades and the Crays spilled out onto the docks, Justin and Shades advanced on Max’s position.
“This is why I work alone,” she reminded them, seeing the opportunistic, predatory gleam in Erix’s eye. “Butt out, boys, this is my prey.”
“Against him?” Justin blurted. “You’re nuts!”
“She’s right, Justin,” Shades told him. “If she wants to take him, all we have to do is cover Max.”
“You seem to know these guys, Erix,” Roxy observed. “Old friends of yours?”
“I was about to say the same,” he replied. “Why don’t you be a dear and introduce me?”
“Says the guy who needs no introduction,” Shades commented.
“I remember you,” Erix remarked jovially, “You’re that guy I held hostage back in the Konas. Wasn’t that fun?”
“Don’t try to act tough now— you were scared shitless.”
“Today seems to be a day for happy reunions.” Somehow, Shades found he was not as surprised to see Erix as he thought he should be. “First Striker, now you. Who’s next, the Triad?”
“So…” Erix flourished both energy blades. “You’re saying it takes four of you equal one of me?”
“Max, care to sit this one out?”
“I don’t care about revenge,” Max said as he backed down, recalling his fathers words from yesteryear. Only as tough as I have to be… And felt he was beginning to understand what he meant by them. As he backed down, he concluded that this was her fight, and just hoped she knew what she was doing. “But if he tries to hurt anyone else, I won’t hold back.”
“Fair enough.” Roxy nodded.
“You don’t have the balls to kill me, Max.”
“Yeah,” Roxy interjected, “well I do.”
Erix raised an eyebrow at that.
“Go to hell.”
“Ladies first.” Erix turned to face her. “You should’ve played dead. Now you get to do it for real.”
“Not if last time was the best you could do,” she shot back. “This time, there’s nowhere to run.”
“I’ll make sure you stay dead this time.”
“What? Didn’t like your facelift?”
“I look forward to returning the favor.”
“If I had his cat’s claws, I’d rip the other side of your face off, but all I need is your head.”
“My head isn’t free.”
“To the contrary, it’s worth at least fifty thousand, even in most backwater realms.”
Meanwhile, Max and his friends fell back to where Maximilian and Galford’s crew had entrenched themselves in the warehouse’s upstairs office.
“Is that really him?” Maximilian asked as they hopped through the open window next to the catwalk.
Max nodded, his grim expression speaking for him.
“We fought him in the Konas many moons ago,” Shades elaborated, “but we kinda hoped he didn’t make it.”
“First Striker, now him!” the Young Master moaned. “Is there anyone else out there who’s gonna try to kill me for looking like you?”
“No one else I can think of,” Justin hoped aloud.
“Don’t forget about Clyde. I’d steer clear of anyone who calls himself Danjo,” Max advised, struggling to focus on covering their position even as he caught glimpses of Roxy holding her own against Erix’s twin blades. Certain there was a great deal he could learn from her technique. “He used to train with Ma’Quiver’s master, and has the same moves, so be careful.”
“And if you ever meet both of them in the same place,” Shades warned, “hit the deck.”
“Oh, you mean like those two?” Gesturing to the swashbuckling duel unfolding out there.
Before they could discuss the matter any further, a swarm of Port Authority officers descended on the scene, rounding up stray Crays and Stockades, as the bulk of both gangs had chased each other off in various directions by this point.
“We should try to make a break for it,” Galford recommended, “now that the enemies are scattering.”
As they headed down the stairs toward the open hangar doors, calling out to the guards not to shoot, that they were merely caught in the crossfire, while trying to steer clear of the bounty hunter and the outlaw, still focused on their own battle to the exclusion of all else.
Thus, none of them noticed Mama Cray lurking behind some crates, her forces routed, originally seeking a way to evade the authorities. She was about to try going back to the warehouse, to use the underground passage her crew entered through not so long ago, when she spotted Maximilian.
“You brought the Hunter down on me, you little shit…” Cray muttered, aiming right at him.
Just as she pulled the trigger, though, someone ran in and shoved the Young Master out of harm’s way, taking an energy beam to the shoulder for his trouble.
“This is getting ridiculous…” Erix decided aloud, evading Roxy’s last counter-attack, and using the opening to slash a cable at the end of the catwalk, untethering a freight boom. He then grabbed the lift line and swung around to a platform just outside the warehouse, well out of her reach.
“Tch…” Roxy looked out over the gap, way too far for anyone to jump, when she noticed Max’s party, seeing Mama Cray still advancing.
Shades, meanwhile, had seen Maximilian go down, turning aside and dragging his assailant to his feet.
“Rufus!?” Recognizing the man they had kept such a tight watch on during the final days of their voyage. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I was looking for work out here on the docks…” he groaned, wincing at being moved with his wounded shoulder, “when all this shooting started…”
Even as Rufus belatedly remembered why he was wounded, he turned to see Mama Cray take aim at them again.
But she never got to pull the trigger this time, as Roxy shot first, bringing her down with several clean hits.
Justin looked at her, then at Roxy, then spotted Erix, who was only a short leap away from a nearby rooftop— and a quick escape— from his current perch, and opened fire.
“You won’t get away from the bounty hunter Justin Black so easily, asshole!”
Erix, though, had seen Maximilian’s party, and the diversion it caused for Roxy, and managed to duck in time.
“So you’re the infamous outlaw Justin Black…” Erix called back, leaning over the platform and snapping off some return fire. “You’ve got more balls than the chickenshit I’ve heard of. Guess you can’t put too much stock in hearsay…”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Justin demanded as they all scattered for cover.
“Who cares?” Shades pointed out. “It’s nobody we’ve ever heard of.”
“Sorry, bitch,” Erix told Roxy, “but sometimes you just have to cut your losses. So long, suck—”
Yet, even as he turned to make his jump, the whole structure started to collapse under his feet, causing him to stagger to one side, dumping him off the platform and into a fishing net strung out below for mending.
At the bottom of the platform scaffold, Max still held his laser sword at the ready, even after cleaving the supports on that side, his face as grim as his voice.
“I told you I wouldn’t let you hurt my friends…”
Even as Erix fired up his laser claws to free himself from this humiliating predicament, he was stopped in his tracks by a barrage of stun beams from a squad of officers that just arrived.