Oh don’t go ’round tonight
It’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise
There’s a bad moon on the rise
Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival
The transmat dropped us into the Light of Sol, and for a moment my visual receptors were overwhelmed, leaving behind a hazy static in my sight. I wondered what kind of damage I had sustained for that to happen. Ebony floated above my shoulder, his spines flickering into orbit as he assessed.
“Welcome back to the land of the living! Wait, that was a bad pun.” Farstride stood there before us, armed and armored, and flanked by a couple of humans in Future War Cult colors who were furiously working on a variety of boxes each about the size of a small suitcase. We were outside the mouth of the Hive nest, a wide open field several kilometers in circumference that ended at a ridge-line covered in bald shrubbery. It had reminded me of an impact crater when I had first approached it with the hunting party.
The Titan held out his hand and his white Ghost appeared and scanned us. “They’re both drained of Light,” Freyja reported. “We should have them returned to the Traveler.”
I shook my head. “No.”
Farstride cocked his head to one side. “You’ve been worked over pretty hard by the Hive, Morc. We need you repaired and debriefed if -”
“If you’re taking out this nest, I’m staying.” I planted my feet. “I came here to kill these Hive. I’m not leaving until the job is done.”
The Titan considered a moment, then turned and walked back to the boxes the FWC techs were working on. 2 were crates, open and absent the wires that marked the others. He reached in and pulled out a scout rifle, and tossed it to me underhanded. I caught it, checked the magazine and cycled a round into the chamber.
“OK, you stick with me while we coordinate,” Farstride said, tossing me a belt with ammo packs and a headset. Ebony began transmatting the ammo while I put the headset on. “Magnus, how’s it look downstairs?”
“Cleared out for the most part,” said the Warlock that had wiped out the Hive below. “These warrens are much deeper than we expected. We’re coming back up now.”
“I have 1 more set of explosives coming down now,” said Farstride. The FWC techs picked up their packages, stacking a couple each in their arms, and trucked toward the entrance.
“Arianna will meet them at the second fork,” Drake replied. “I’m bringing the rest of the techs back.”
“Hive ships, cutting in!” Telrik’s voice came over the comm set. “5…6…8 total.”
The air overhead groaned and shrieked like tortured metal, and Sol’s light was briefly blocked out by the arrival of Tomb ships slicing through reality overhead. Their flanks lit with Void energy.
“Stay in the tunnels until I give the all clear!” snapped Farstride into the comm.
The Tomb ships opened fire and bolts of slow-moving energy rained down on our position. Farstride thrust out his hands and a wall of Void light encased us. The attack made Earth shudder beneath our feet, and for a moment I thought we might be buried by the landscape around our shield being destroyed. The noise of the explosions was replaced a moment later by the cries and shrieks of Hive.
The Thrall charged into the protective bubble, heedless and enraged. We shot the first comers and the rest hesitated, circling our position, snarling and clicking. I tightened my grip on the rifle, preparing for the inevitable moment the shield came down and we were overrun.
3 Thrall collapsed in rapid succession, split into pieces by the force and size of the rounds that hit them. The rest scattered, looking for the source of the shots, and more fell. The Acolytes and Knights running to up to reinforce their shock troops slowed, and were likewise mowed down by huge rounds. The report of the shots were muted and long in coming.
“We’ve got you covered for the moment. But those ships aren’t cutting out, and they’re dropping more troops,” Telrik reported.
Farstride spoke into his comm. “Hugin, Mugin? Encourage those Tomb ships to move. Morc,” he said to me, “we’re going to take cover in the warrens.”
“In the warrens? With the explosives?” interrupted Arianna over the comm.
“We’re not fighting this war in the open. Telrik, once we’re inside have the Erikssons hold fire, we don’t need their position assaulted.
“The Erikssons?” I interrupted, //hope filling me. “They’re alive?”
“We’ve got you covered Morc-35,” said Emma – the real Emma – into my headset. “Father Eriksson doesn’t leave anyone behind, he says. And Rill says to tell you she’s going to kick your ass when you get back to the City.” I laughed – I couldn’t help it.
“Telrik, you mount up and join Hugin and Mugin,” Farstride continued giving orders.
“Who are Hugin and Mugin?” I demanded. In answer the air split with a pair of sonic booms and 2 jump-ships in Dead Orbit colors shrieked by at low altitude, leaving behind a pair of fiery explosions that shattered 2 of the Tomb ships. The others began splitting apart, and debris rained from overhead, scattering the Hive on the ground.
“Tunnels, now!” We sprinted out of the collapsing shield into the tunnel mouth, gunning down any Hive in our way. Sniper rounds put down several as well, giving us cover until we were inside.
“Going airborne,” Telrik reported once we were inside.
Arianna, Drake, and the Warlock Magnus stood at the largest intersection of tunnels, and a half-dozen men and women in FWC uniforms were with them. Farstride approached the oldest man of their number, whose name badge read Hiro. “Can we blow all the tunnels except the main passage and bottom chamber without bringing the whole thing down?”
Hiro blinked at him. “You want to set off the charges while we’re inside?”
“Can we do it?” demanded Farstride. “All of them, just leave the main cavern and this passage open.”
“Umm…” Hiro looked at his comrades. One spoke up. “We’d have to set them off out of order. It would still make the place unstable. But yeah, it could be done.”
“This is crazy,” said Arianna. She chuckled. “I like it.”
“Everyone below. Hurry,” ordered Farstride. Behind us Hive shrieked and growled. We ran down.
We were back into the Chamber Magnus had rescued me from. I fought down my //revulsion and turned to face the largest entrance to the cavern with the other Guardians. Hiro and his comrades began discussing how to blow the charges.
“Any time now, ladies and gentlemen,” said Farstride.
“OK, 3, 2, 1…” The ground shuddered and clouds of smoke and ash burst from the smaller tunnels into the room, leaving a fog. Hive cried out and were muted by the crunch of falling stone. An odd silence followed, and we remained still, guns pointed at the last remaining entrance. Then the tunnel echoed with a loud, angry roar.
“They have a cave troll,” said Magnus.
“The correct term is Ogre,” Drake said.
“Let them come,” said Farstride. “There are yet humans here who draw breath.” Arianna snorted.
The first Thrall and Acolytes burst through the settling clouds of smoke and dust into the cavern with mindless rage to be cut down by weapon’s fire. They came on in a continuous wave, heedless of the bodies they stepped or stumbled over. With nearly a dozen guns – the FWC had joined our line – it seemed we would hold them back.
Then the Knights entered the fray. These were old Knights, tall and covered in thick bony hide that stood up to the barrage of weapons’ fire long enough for them to advance several meters into the room. They threw up their shields of darkness in unison, close enough to effectively block our fire. Behind them, the lesser Hive gathered up like water behind a dam, preparing to rush forward and end the fight.
“Backup on my signal!” said Farstride. The Knights roared out orders I couldn’t understand. Then their shields came down and they rushed forward, boomers extended, Thrall surging around them in a river of filth and Darkness.
“Now!” shouted Farstride, and we fell back as he threw up another shield of Light. The boomers split one of the FWC techs into pieces. Magnus ignored the order altogether and thrust out his hands: the storm came to his call, and lightning split the air in a torrent of sound and Light, pushing back the river of charging Hive like a hurricane. One of the Knights lived long enough to strike out at the Warlock, and he reduced it to ash with a wave of his hand. Only then did he fall back into the protective bubble.
Then the ogre arrived, crushing the corpses of the fallen Hive beneath its feet. The ceiling was only just high enough to admit it, and it roared before turning its gaze onto the shield and emitting a torrent of Void energy.
When the ogre’s gaze didn’t break the shield it roared and charged, swinging its huge claws. We all scattered, firing as we ran. It smashed another FWC tech under its foot. Hiro cried out and stopped running, shooting wildly at the ogre, and unfortunately gaining its attention. The hulking Hive beast turned and stomped in his direction.
I shouted and fired until my magazine was dry, trying to divert the monster, and then tripped over something. I looked down and saw the sword of a Knight at my feet. I picked it up, rushed forward at the Ogre’s back and leaped into the air, raising the sword over my head with a shout. When I was at the apex of my leap I brought the blade down and buried it to the hilt in the putrid flesh of the beast.
The ogre roared and bucked while I held on, gripping the weapon as firmly as I could and tried to twist it, to cut something vital. Then Solar flame engulfed us both, once, twice, thrice, and then the ogre’s body disappeared into ash while I fell.
“You’re welcome,” said Arianna. She extended a hand to help me up and I took it.
“I had it,” I groused.
“Sure you did, but we’re in a hurry here,” she quipped.
“Tomb ships are scattering!” reported Telrik.
“Let’s blow this joint,” said Farstride. “Hiro, let’s get topside and finish the job.”
Hiro was kneeling over the broken body of his comrade. “She’s alive!” he shouted. “Help me!” His team gathered round, gathering their fallen up, and they rushed toward the entrance.
“Wait,” ordered Farstride. “Hugin, Mugin, Telrik: we need transmat for 10, 1 critically wounded, now.”
A few disorienting seconds later, we were topside. “Sparrows, everyone. Eriksson, give us covering fire.” Ghosts began linking our rides out – even the FWC crew had rides. Mine wasn’t really mine, but it was good enough. We kicked the vehicles into gear and sped away from the Seeder.
We hit the ridgeline in moments. Arianna sped hers straight up the side of the ridge, flipped into the air and somersaulted to the ground. The rest of us merely slowed and dismounted. I had barely set foot to ground before I was tackled by a very alive Emma. “Morc!” She laughed. “I told them you were alive!”
Rill was there as well – in fact the entire hunting party was, plus a few more, Father Eriksson excepted. She approached me, an old rifle hanging from one hand and slugged me in the shoulder much harder than I would have expected. “I’m going to kick your ass,” she said.
“You’re welcome to try,” I replied, as gruffly as I could manage.
“I’d say I have a shot with this new arm,” she said, holding up the hand she’d hit me with. It was a robotic prosthetic.
“Oh,” I said slowly. Rill rolled her eyes at my tone. “Stop. This is the best scar from the whole expedition. Even Emma’s face cut doesn’t measure.”
I noticed Emma’s face for the first time: it was fully healed, a pale band of raised skin on her dark flesh. I knew the Eriksson’s penchant for keeping and displaying their scars, but…
“How long?” I asked. “How long did it take you to come get me?”
They looked at one another. “6 days,” said Emma finally.
“Oh,” said Ebony softly.
“We’re going to split the fame for the hunt,” said Emma, trying to change the subject. “I get to hang the head for the first kill, and Rill here gets the rifle.”
“Yeah,” I said. I turned to look back at the Seeder in the shadow of the surviving Tomb ships. 6 days?
“We’re ready,” said Hiro to Farstride. Farstride took a detonator from the tech and looked at me. “Morc? Care to do the honors?” he asked.
I nodded and accepted the small detonator.
“Something’s coming out of the tunnels,” reported Telrik. I could see his ship on the edge of sight, circling just out of range of the Hive ships’ weapons. Beneath the Tomb ships a tiny figure sped out into the open, floating over the Earth and moving at unnatural speeds. I imagined I could hear it shriek in rage before disappearing into a Tomb ship, all of which immediately cut out of reality to wherever they had come from. I activated the detonator, and clouds of ash and smoke billowed up around the Seeder’s protrusion. It sank into the ground with a rumble, a spike of defiance thrust out in defeat before disappearing altogether.
“Let’s go home,” said Farstride.
“Agreed,” said Drake. “Oh, Morc, found this down there.” He tossed me my gun-belt, holding my hand cannon and knife.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Anytime.” Jump ships roared in overhead, mine among them, and we left the site of the battle behind.