Loyal and Wyoming are in the jeep, heading in a generally northeasterly direction. Periodically, they stop and Loyal tries to raise someone on the radio (unsuccessfully), and then they continue on. On one of the stops, Wyoming forages for food and manages to put together a decent meal. Loyal can’t help but be impressed.
While they’re eating, Wyoming is reminded that Loyal, like most dogboys, is quite animal-like, in contrast to the inhabitants of Dogtown, who actively aspire to be more human. At one point, Loyal’s ears perk up, she growls “Incoming!”, and both of them go for their weapons. Wyoming can hear the telltale sound of buzzing and clicking…
The creature that has just landed in the center of Valiant is not Xitixic. In fact, it most closely resembles the monstrosity that came out of the rift before. It advances toward the mayor. Puck uses telekinesis to grab her and move her out of harm’s way. This angers the creature, which charges at the crew, its tentacles whipping in all directions. Fortunately, everyone manages to duck out of the way.
The Xitixic swarm descends on Wyoming and Loyal. Wyoming is raked and she gets knocked down, but she’s able to deflect the worst of it.
Argyle brings up his LasRifle and fires at the creature. The shot hits home, and he can smell something sizzle, but it doesn’t seem to slow it down. Mason attempts to attack, but is unable to find an opening. The Coalition forces take up tactical positions. The dogboys draw melee weapons and surround the thing, attacking it from all sides.
Wyoming runs for the jeep, with several of the bugs in pursuit.
Mason yells at everyone to concentrate fire on one spot on the creature. Argyle takes aim and fires a three round burst dead center of the creature, shaking it. Puck uses his telekinesis to start throwing things at it, and manages to do a fair bit of damage.
The bugs zip after Wyoming and batter themselves against the side of the jeep, but Wyoming is unharmed. She gets the jeep started.
Mason switches to his chainsword, and swings wildly. The sword bites deep into the creature, and everyone in the vicinity is splattered with blood and bodily fluids. The Coalition troops follow Mason’s advice, and are trading blows with it as well.
Puck throws some other bits of wood at the creature, but it fails to do any appreciable damage. The creature rallies somewhat, as tentacles reach out and latch onto one of the dogboys, and it rips him in half. There are howls of dismay from the other dogboys.
The bugs fire their strange rifles at Wyoming, but only one of them lands a hit. Wyoming grits her teeth and powers through it.
Mason swings with his chainsword again, and cleaves it in half.
The jeep lurches forward, and Wyoming steers toward Loyal. She slams on the brakes, pulls up right next to her, and barks a command “Loyal! Get in!” Loyal’s instincts kick in, and she obeys.
Loyal takes up a gunner position in the back as Wyoming floors it.
The creature is a bloody mess. Mason steps forward toward Commander Dolan, and Argyle moves to back him up.
As he’s picking his way through the remains of the creature, Dolan says that they’re not hunting DBs; Argyle is encouraged to hear this, and relaxes quite a bit. Dolan goes on to say that their actual mission is to find a rogue scientist known as Dr. Bradford. Mason has heard the name before, and recognizes him as the head of Lonestar. Dolan is intrigued that Mason knows who that is.
Dolan addresses Dahlia, and asks her to explain what’s going on in the town. She removes her hat and eyepatch, and reveals several insect-like features. She says she doesn’t know how it happened, but it started with some of the livestock sprouting these features, and then it started happening to the people as well. She admits that while it was frightening and horrifying at first, the change has actually brought the community together, and they feel stronger for it.
Argyle says that they took down the hive, and were hunting the remnants of the swarm when they came across the town.
Dolan says that the creature was bred specifically to kill Xiticix, which explains why it was drawn to the town.
Dolan asks Argyle what the crew’s plans are. Argyle turns the question back on him. Dolan mentions the ley line nexus nearby. The crew decides it would be a good idea to check it out as well.
Once the shooting is over, Wyoming pulls over. Loyal immediately asks Wyoming where she’s wounded. Wyoming says she got real lucky, and but can see that Loyal is wounded, and she tells her to lie back so she can tend to her. Loyal is reluctant, but her instincts take over, and obeys.
Wyoming treats Loyal’s wounds, and asks where the base is. Loyal admits she doesn’t know, she’s hoping for a patrol. Wyoming says that if this doesn’t work out, she’d be welcome to come hunt with her any time. Wyoming tells her that she doesn’t have a pack any more either. It’s starting to sink in that Loyal has lost not only her pack, but likely the Coalition as well. She’s unsure how to process all of the emotions she’s feeling. Wyoming advises her to sleep on it.
They drive on, and several hours later Loyal makes another attempt with the radio, and Wyoming can already see that Loyal’s heart is no longer in it. Wyoming decides to make camp again, and Loyal is VERY quiet. She falls into routine, checking her weapons, polishing her armor, etc. Wyoming leaves her to it, and goes to check on the jeep. Fortunately, there’s not much substantial damage. Loyal offers to take first watch.
Argyle approaches the dogboys and asks if there’s anything he can do for their fallen comrade (despite knowing that in Chi-Town, humans are first, psi-stalkers are second-class citizens, but dogboys are equipment). Hector the psi-stalker responds, and tells him it’s not necessary, but Argyle can see he’s definitely made an impression.
Everyone gets cleaned up, and piles into the ATV to head to the ley line nexus. The Coalition troops, meanwhile, are in two jeeps.
Loyal wakes up Wyoming for her shift. Wyoming can see that she’s utterly exhausted.
Wyoming busies herself with doing whatever she can with her hand tools to help repair Loyal’s armor. She notices there are several things that Loyal has deliberately done to it: notches on the forearm guard, bug stick figures etched into the chestplate. She also checks Loyal’s weapons, and is relieved to know that Loyal is generally out of ammo for her nastier guns, as there is still a possibility that this could all go south. She’s reminded that there is always the vibro-blade. After she’s done with all that, she plays her harmonica.
In the morning, Wyoming has made coffee by the time Loyal wakes up. Loyal is obviously feeling better, but her mood is much the same; she’s still very quiet and withdrawn. After breakfast, Wyoming asks what they’re doing next. Loyal is unsure what she means. Wyoming asks if she could handle wrangling the folks back in town, and Loyal says yes. When Wyoming asks if she wants to, Loyal answers no, she’s a soldier. Wyoming makes an offer: come with her to the castle, and if she doesn’t like it there, they’ll both leave together. Loyal agrees, and they head back to Dogtown.
When they return, Loyal tells Gordo to hold the town until the Coalition arrives (whenever that happens to be). Gordo nervously agrees.
It’s a tight squeeze in the jeep with Wyoming, Loyal, and the triplets. When Fiona asks what’s going on, Wyoming says that Loyal is coming with her, and that seems to be that. They head back to the castle.
Sanchez follows the Coalition jeeps west out of Valiant, in the direction of the ley line nexus. Once they leave the town, Puck notices that there was definitely something happening in the vicinity of the town, because the buzzing feeling he was experiencing (that he normally associates with a ley line) goes away once they leave the town. However, the feeling certainly comes back once they approach the actual ley line, and as they travel alongside it, even Argyle and Mason can see visible evidence of the energy cascading off of it.
At some point, the jeeps pull over, and Dolan says they have to walk from there. As they approach the nexus, the wind picks up significantly. Closer in, they can see there’s another ziggurat similar to the first one inside the rift.