“…in going to sleep he had learned to vanquish light, and now the light could not rewake him.”
― T.H. White,
Light surrounded me and I hit the ground running, nearly bowling Arianna over in my haste to get clear before I realized Ebony had reanimated me inside the central hut. We stood in the mouth of the tunnel that cut into the Earth. Arianna had her sidearm out and pointed at the door. I drew my hand cannon and copied her.
“Why aren’t the Fallen coming inside?” asked Ebony.
“They’re gathered outside,” Chatterbox said. “But they aren’t making any move toward the door.”
We continued to wait, but the door did not open. Finally I lowered my weapon. “They’re not coming in.”
“I’m worried this might be our only exit,” said Arianna. “We need to discourage them if they try to come after us.”
“Actually, my scan confirmed that there might be other exits,” said Ebony.
“Might be?” demanded Arianna.
“Well, it’s possible they are just ventilation. But it stands to reason that a community that lives underground would have more than 1 way out.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“We do not have much choice,” I pointed out.
She sighed and holstered her sidearm. “Well, maybe, but-”
A distant, chilling scream echoed up from the tunnel. We both pivoted and pulled our weapons clear again.
“We need to go get the King,” she said. “Stop him.”
I nodded, and we descended into the Dark.
The tunnel was smooth on every side. I knelt at one point and took off my glove to run my fingers over the surface of the floor. They made a metallic scraping sound on the rock, but so faint Human ears would have missed it. “Laser-cut,” I said.
“Fascinating,” said Arianna. “But shouldn’t we be more worried about what the Fallen are up to?”
I glanced up at her. Chatterbox’s bright beam of light forced my eyes to compensate, but I knew it to mean she was looking at me. She flinched when Ebony followed my gaze and accidentally shone his own light in her eyes. “This isn’t a simple job,” I said. “This tunnel is wide enough to accommodate almost 6 people shoulder-to-shoulder and the dimensions are perfectly uniform. What does this say about the people down there?”
“That they have access to resources, possibly Golden-Age resources,” she said with an edge of irritability. “But the Fallen know that too, and it’s probably why they’re here.”
“Then why don’t the Devils follow us down here?” I asked.
“Morc, people are dying down there,” she said. “C’mon!”
I rose and followed her. Our descent was smooth and rapid, but it ended suddenly: a circular meeting of ways, with 3 smaller tunnels that branched in different directions. They appeared to be level, unlike the one we had come down. The dark was thick, and I absently wondered where the lighting system was.
“Bodies,” reported Chatterbox. Ebony and I followed their gaze and lit up the 10 human forms littered around the circular space. I looked down the tunnel to my right and saw another crumpled form there. Blood pooled around them all.
Before anyone could say anything another scream ripped through the tunnels, this 1 much closer. Weapons fire followed, echoing snaps and cracks that resonated strangely.
Chatterbox pointed his light at the tunnel to our left and we sprinted that way, side by side. We passed passageways on our left, doors that opened into rooms large and small. They went by in a blur as we ran. I had to jump over more corpses, 1 a Fallen Dreg slumped halfway inside a door with ether still hissing from its armor. We saw light at the end of the tunnel and ran on.
We reached an arched doorway, its doors flung wide into the room beyond. The room was a perfect circle, the ceiling a dome and lit by curving light strips. In the center of the room was a crude sort of dais made of rusting steel, and great chain links bolted into the floor around it. The chains wrapped around a globe that appeared to be hollow with a cut open side to house a smaller globe of opaque material with something small and dark nestled inside that. The larger globe was dark and still, and it took me a moment to realize it was a gutted Servitor. Before it stood the Fallen Captain, the House of Kings banner wrapped around his shoulders. He gripped a human with 2 claws and pressed a sword against her throat. 2 of his Dregs saw us enter and gave out cries of alarm.
Arianna snapped off several shots and put both of them down in seconds. The Captain hauled his captive in front of him like a shield and stood with his back to the silent Servitor.
“Deja vu,” I said. I noticed the 4 bodies scattered around the room. All were dressed much like the little army that had tried to resist the Fallen attack, but they each sported an elaborate headdress.
“Come no closer, no?” The Captain’s voice grated and clicked. “Or she diiieessss.”
“It talks,” snorted Arianna.
“Lower, weapons,” ordered the Captain.
“No,” I replied. “Let her go.”
“No,” said the Captain.
“An impasse,” said Arianna.
“Desstroy, abomination,” said the King. He jerked his horned head back at the dead Servitor. “Desstroy, and we leave, yess?”
The human whimpered and struggled at these words. Blood welled over the edge of the sword and she hissed with pain.
I peered past the sight of my weapon at the Servitor. It was a High Servitor, judging by its size. I couldn’t see what the opaque globe in its housing contained, but I saw the faintest sparks. Arc energy?
“How did you know this thing was down here?” asked Arianna. The Captain focused on her a moment, and I took my cue to step right, widening the distance between us. “This settlement is old. They’ve remained hidden for years. And how did they get a High Servitor?”
The Captain clicked and snarled in his own tongue. “Enough queriesss. Agree to desstroy it, and we will leave, yess?”
“Because it’s his fault,” I said. The Captain looked at me now, and I saw Arianna take a small step left. “Something he did let the humans take it and mutilate it. That’s why he has the mercs – the Kings told him to clean up his mess. And that’s why the Devils are under orders not to come down here.”
The Earth suddenly trembled, and disturbed dust filled the air. Arianna laughed, and again I moved when the Captain looked away. “And now they’re going to bury us. Why not? ‘Sorry, Kell, but the Captain ran down there followed by a couple of Guardians, he didn’t come out, he must be dead.'”
“He made it!” gasped the Human. Whatever language she spoke was instantly translated by our Ghosts. “He created it! To speak to the machine!” The Captain jerked her and she keened in pain.
“Rasputin!” said Arianna. “Of course! That’s why they needed the blackout. They’re trying to make something to hack him.”
“How do you figure?” I asked.
“Chatterbox says he detects an Arc signature that matches a WarSat. They’ve figured out his tech and now they have a backdoor into his systems.”
Another boom shook the Earth, and then another. More Walkers, pounding the entrance with artillery fire. “But he failed. He lost it, and the humans messed with it. So he collects the relevant information, destroys the evidence, and returns to the Kings with a stepping stone to get at the greatest weapon in the solar system.”
“Does that about sum it up?” I asked. By this point Arianna and I had put several visible meters between us, and we each had an angle on the Captain that allowed us a shot without hitting his captive.
The Fallen Captain made a weird, undulating sound in his throat. He was…laughing. “Yess, correct,” he said. “But…” He slowly reached into a pouch on his belt with one claw and withdrew something small. “The Machine sshe speakss of is not your creation.” He tossed the object underhanded in my general direction and I snatched it out of the air. //Disgust and //fear filled me as I suddenly understood.
“And I did not fail,” he snarled, and made a sudden twist with his arms – his captive fell dead in a pool of her own blood. “I ssucceeded.” He raised his weapons and flung himself at me as the Servitor behind him came to life. I raised my weapon to fire and, in my haste, dropped the dead Ghost he had thrown me.