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Ocelot slid across the floor behind the counter, keeping below eye level until he was ready to make his move. When he reached the area below the kitchen pass-through, he leaped quickly upward, bringing his legs up in a graceful leap through the cutout and into the kitchen. Before he had even fully landed, he'd drawn his Colt Manhunter from inside his coat, leveling it at the kitchen at large, his glance darting left and right, looking for lurking gunmen in the shadows.

He saw only the two Aztlaner cooks, their eyes so wide he could see the whites all the way around them. They both flung their hands up in the air. "I give up!" one of them yelled in heavily accented English.

"Don't shoot, man!" the other one begged, falling to his knees, tears streaming down his face.

Ocelot ignored them. Out front, he could hear the unmistakable sounds of someone approaching the pass-through. The guy must have gotten tired of dancing with the chair, and was now looking for better partners. His loss.

Quickly assessing the contents of the kitchen, Ocelot grinned as he saw what he was looking for. He grabbed it and waited as the cooks watched him in terror and hoped he wouldn't kill them.

The gunman hurried up to the cutout. "Get out here, you bastard!" he yelled. "Fraggin' meta-lover!" Sight unseen, he raised his gun and fired a burst into the kitchen. It hit nothing, but just barely. The two cooks scrambled out of the way, moaning.

Ocelot crouched beneath the opening, clutching his impromptu weapon and waiting. When the gunman's head appeared framed above him, he raised the frying pan, full of hot grease and crackling soy-sages, and brought it down in a smoking arc on the back of the man's helmeted head. The gunman shrieked, dropping down again as hot grease slithered under his armor and down his back.

The elf had finally succeeded in pulling himself up far enough so he could see over the top of the booth. The two gunmen who had run past him without noticing him were now headed for the bathroom. One continued on, but the other one stopped, turning. The elf noticed the Brit now; he'd been shot as well, and was now glaring shakily at one of the gunmen. The other gunman, the one who had stopped, leveled his gun at the Brit. "Die, tusker-lover!" he yelled.

The elf took careful aim, fired, and hit the gunman in the back of the neck before he could pull the trigger. The gunman pitched forward with a hideous gurgling screech, following blood and chunks of his neck down onto the table under which the waitress had taken refuge.

Winterhawk's eyes widened as the man who was about to send him to his death suddenly fountained blood and dropped with a scream to the table. Beyond the dead gunman, the elf had propped himself up behind a booth seat, one arm locked over the back for balance, the other one holding a heavy pistol, its barrel smoking. He looked about as bad as `Hawk felt.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught more movement. The gunman the elf had shot in the kneecap to begin the fight what seemed like an eternity ago had, forgotten and unseen, pulled himself behind the table formerly occupied by the elf. He was raising his gun, arms shaking, taking aim on the back of the elf's head. "Down, elf!" Winterhawk snapped, fighting to form the mental pattern for a spell. He pointed his good arm at the gunman, unleashing the manabolt just as the gunman fired and the elf, with frightening speed, dropped back below line of sight. The spell flared around the gunman's head; he screamed and went face down on the table as his gun clattered to the floor. The burst he had fired shattered the restaurant's picture window, raining glass down on two huddled customers. Their screams were lost in the general cacophony.

Ocelot raised up from behind the cutout to get a view of the combat just in time to see the elf blow away the guy aiming at Winterhawk, and then Winterhawk nail the guy who'd been about to shoot the elf. `Hawk was bleeding bad, and the elf was too. Hildebrandt was nowhere to be seen; Ocelot had to assume that he'd made it safely into the restroom.

Things weren't looking good. There were still three of them up, in various states of repair, and the only person he could count on besides himself--Winterhawk--wasn't going to be effective much longer. Could they trust the elf? Ocelot made a quick decision: until he did something to indicate otherwise, the elf was on their side. Once the black-coated assailants were handled, though, that might change.

Off to Ocelot's left, through the cutaway, the gunman who had been the recipient of his frying-pan attack had stopped screaming and started looking for new targets. He ducked further left, out of Ocelot's line of sight for a second, and lined up a shot on the elf. Ocelot leaped into the cutaway, crouching, and fired his Manhunter on the way through. The gunman shrieked, dying; his shot went wide and hit one of the huddled customers. The man's death cry added to the chorus as he slumped in a puddle of blood.

Winterhawk lurched up to more of a sitting position. There were two remaining assailants, and both of them had apparently remembered their objective, because they both turned away from him and headed for the bathroom where Hildebrandt was hiding. Not a wise move. `Hawk visualized the spell pattern once more, feeling black tendrils start to claw at the edge of his mind. He had to keep it together now--blacking out was not an option. It was not--

He cast the spell. Area effect, this time. The near gunman screamed, blood spouting from his nose, ears, and mouth, and fell dead. The far one, almost to the bathroom door now, staggered but kept running. Damn! Winterhawk fought drain, trying to prepare another spell. If the man made it to the door, then everything would be--

The elf leveled his pistol again and with deadly accuracy dropped the last gunman just as his hand touched the door to the restrooms.

Suddenly, the room was silent except for the flump of the gunman's body hitting the ground and the low whimperings of the surviving customers.

Ocelot vaulted back over the counter, taking everything in with a quick sweep of his eyes. There was blood everywhere. Dead gunmen littered the floor, surrounded by wide sprays of blood and chunks of gore. The elf, his leg covered in blood, was fishing on the floor for something, coming up with a leather briefcase. Winterhawk struggled to his feet and lurched forward, his right arm hanging limply at his side, his face as white as a sheet. One of the large windows in the front of the restaurant was gone, glass littering the tables and booths. "C'mon out, Doc!" Ocelot called loudly. "It's over."

Hesitantly, after a moment, the restroom door opened and Hildebrandt poked his head out. He took one look at the carnage and his hand flew to his mouth, his tanned skin going gray. "My God--" he whispered, but no one heard him.

Winterhawk staggered over to the elf, who was watching him with guarded suspicion. "We need to talk," he rasped.

The elf nodded. "Yes."

Ocelot came over, ignoring the customers and the waitress, all of whom seemed in no hurry to come up from their hiding places. On the way over, he picked up an assault rifle from the nearest dead gunman. "Why don't you follow us somewhere?" he said. "We'll talk. We gotta get out of here." He took a quick look around again; no one else had moved.

"No vehicle," the elf said. His voice was a bit shaky from blood loss, but maintained its mechanical, monotone quality.

Winterhawk was swaying, breathing fast and shallow. The shoulder and halfway down the arm of his armored coat were bloodsoaked. "Come with us, then. We need to leave."

"We'll drop you off somewhere," Ocelot added, moving over to support the mage.

The elf glanced around the room as well, reached a decision. "Yes." Leaning on the edge of a booth, he wasn't sure if he could make it on his injured leg, but he was determined that he wasn't going to let the newcomers see his weakness. "Need to get my bag."

Hildebrandt came over to him, carefully avoiding the dead gunmen and puddles of blood. "Let me give you a hand," he said, his voice still weak but trying to sound matter-of-fact. He headed over to the booth where the elf had been sitting and picked up the duffel bag, bringing it back to where the group waited. "You don't want to put weight on that leg."

The elf looked at the faces of the three men, stowed his Browning, hefted his briefcase, took the duffel bag from the ork, and nodded briefly. The ork got the elf's arm around his shoulder and supported him. Ocelot was doing the same for Winterhawk. Together, the four quickly made their way to the door. Hildebrandt paused to toss a handful of nuyen notes on the table on the way out.

A few minutes after the door closed behind them, the waitress slowly and fearfully crawled out from beneath the table, shaking so hard that she could barely pull herself to her feet. She looked around in shock at the nightmarish battlefield scene arrayed before her, shuffling across the floor in a befogged haze of unreality. Five minutes ago, this had been a little nothing restaurant at a little nothing junction, the place where she had worked for three years with nothing more exciting happening than a few rowdy truckers and one drunken marriage proposal. Now there were six dead men (one of whom was a guy who'd been coming in almost as long as she'd been working here; he worked at one of the farms nearby, and had a wife who was no doubt waiting for him to come home right now), one broken window, walls riddled with gunshots, blood (and worse) everywhere, and the sharp, acrid smell of smoke and gunfire hanging in the air

Almost mechanically, she reached the table that had been occupied by the smart-aleck Englishman and his two friends, just as mechanically reaching out and scooping up the pile of notes and stuffing them in her pocket, some part of her waitress-trained neural pathways pointing out that there was more than two hundred nuyen there. Good tippers after all, her brain flashed for no apparent reason.

A glint of gold caught her dead stare; still unaware of her actions, she picked up the tiny pin and put that in her pocket with the nuyen, then shuffled off in a random direction as the other surviving customers emerged with similar torpor from their refuges.

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