Posts Tagged With: Bad Moon Rising

Day 797 – Part 1

“What am I to do now? I hate you for leaving me. I ache from your loss. There is nothing that can console me now. I am changed, so are you.”

~Ragnar Lothbrok


“So if the Wall has been breached, why are you here? Aren’t you a Titan? Defender of the Wall and all that?” I demanded.

Findlay looked down and scuffed his boot against the flight deck. We were standing beneath Emma’s jump ship, The Hand of Tyr, a model of the support craft that had carried us to the Dreadnought a year before. “I don’t have a ship. Or a Sparrow.”

I stared at him. “How long have you been a Guardian?”

“Umm…” He looked over at his Ghost floating at eye-level. “A week.”

A week?!” I shouted. I noticed a frame behind Findlay turn around to look at us. “How by Odin’s left eye did you manage to join the Valherjar inside of a week?”

“Well, actually, I’m only a provisional member right now,” Findlay admitted, not meeting my gaze. “Arianna vouched for me. I still have to go through some tests and get full approval.”

“A week,” I growled.

“Calm down, Morc.” Emma climbed out of the ship the old-fashioned way. “If you’d been here you’d know that attrition has been catching up with everyone.” She pushed the ladder away and a frame waddled over to remove it. “Word in Dead Orbit is that we lost a record-number of Guardians to the Taken, even after the King died. New blood is a welcome sight.”

“Anyway,” said Findlay, “I, uh…need a ride to the Iron Temple.”

“A ride to the what Temple?”

“We need to get you up to speed,” said Emma drily.

“Yeah! We can do that on the way!”

“I need a few hours first,” I said tiredly.

“You need a few weeks,” Emma countered.

“But we don’t have a few weeks!” gasped Findlay.

“Oh for the love of…just, be back here in 6 hours, OK?” I began to leave the hangar.

“Umm, what do I do in the meantime?”

I stared at him. “What?”

“Well, you’re kinda of the senior Valherjar, so…what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

I bit back my first response and reached into my satchel. “Look, take this,” I handed him a leather-bound book, “to Morgan, the Cryptarch.”

“Morgan, right…what’s a Cryptarch?”

“Oh, you have got to be shi-!”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” Findlay took the book and bolted for the exit. I watched him go.

“Bitter at the exuberance of youth, old-timer?” asked Emma.

I grunted and she laughed at me.


“It’s not dusty.” I looked around at my living space: the single chair and the workbench were clean. The swords crossed on the wall were polished, even the Hive cleaver. The entirety of my small book collection – 8 volumes in all – rested on their tiny bookcase, even if they weren’t all in the same order as when I had left them.

“Well, if you don’t use an apartment in the Tower and they don’t hear from you after 6 months they take it back. So I’d come by and make sure it was cared for, and logging in the swipe pad meant that you’d have a place to come back to.” Emma sat in the chair and flicked on the light.

“Leave it off.”

She frowned at me but complied, and the only light to the room streamed through the tiny window that faced the City. I placed my beaten satchel on the workbench, scattering red sand everywhere. By the Traveler, where did it all come from? I began emptying the bag, a piece at a time.

Emma crept up to look over my shoulder. “You found some interesting stuff.”

“Yep.”

“Is that a Vex’s eye?”

“Hobgoblin.” I picked up the scope with the red eye in the front lens and handed it to her. “The sight resolution is unmatched. Unfortunately it still has Vex intelligence stored in it at some level. It’s more or less worthless as a scope, but it’s worth studying for R&D.”

“Why does that make it worthless?”

“The scope will intentionally feed false telemetry to make you miss; in some cases it just stops working. I disassembled the eye 6 times before I finally figured out that some vestige of the Vex mind was still in there. I don’t dare hook it up to anything in case it creates some kind of infection.”

I sorted the contents of my satchel: relics, experiments, tech, into their proper places on the workbench. Then I cleaned the surface, sweeping away the sand.

“Talk to me.” Emma was staring at me as I went through my tasks.

“About?”

“You were gone for almost a year!” Her words were almost a shout. “You haven’t spoken to the family, you haven’t asked me how they are, you haven’t asked what has happened since you left! You haven’t said why you left!”

I turned to look at her: she was trembling. The scar on her face from our hunt on the Hive…gods, was it nearly 2 years ago?…was livid and bright even against her dark skin.

“I went to find Skadi. To kill her.” I lowered myself to the floor and leaned against the workbench. She sat next to me. I could see the light of my mechanical eye-shine reflected in her human eyes. “She got in my head.”

“The Wizard?”

I nodded. “Each time I die…she gets closer. It gets Darker. I don’t know how many deaths I have left.”

She took my hand in her own. “Have you seen the Speaker? The Vanguard? The Warlocks might help.”

“And become ostracized like Toland or Osiris? Or Dredgen Yor?” I shook my head. “No. I will find her and kill her. It’s the only choice I have.” I turned to look at her. “When they had me in the nest…it was always your face she took. To hurt me.”

Emma stared back at me. “I had no idea. Why…why didn’t you say something?”

“What was there to say? My first family member, the one who was adopted like me was what she tried to corrupt. I didn’t want you to know. They hurt you too.”

We sat in the dark for a few minutes more, hand in hand. Then she squeezed mine. “We should go. There’s a lot of work to do at the Wall.”

I nodded. “Ain’t no rest for the wicked, am I right?”

Emma chuckled. “None at all.”

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Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 99 – Finale

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.”

“Understood.”

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.

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 99 – Part 4

Don’t go around tonight,
Well, it’s bound to take your life,
There’s a bad moon on the rise.

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival


There was brief flash of green light and then –

…Why don’t you listen? LISTEN! I can’t keep doing this, she is killing me, killing you, stop, fight…

– I was up again with a flash of Light and on my feet, charging back at the Knight without a thought. I felt that sense of //weariness again, but I attacked anyway, grabbing up the fallen Knight’s sword.

The surviving Knight attacked Rill, swinging wildly at the nimble young woman. She slipped aside from his attacks but he was clearly herding her to a corner. Emma stood rooted to the spot, eyes round with terror. The cavern seemed so large. They were so far away…

I was too slow. There was a crunch, a short scream, and Rill fell as the Knight’s sword clove her in 2. It raised its bloody weapon and roared in triumph.

I sank to my knees and bowed my head. I couldn’t save her. Why, why could I not save her?

“We have to run!” I felt Emma tug at my cloak. “Morc, we have to run!”

“No.” I was so //tired. “No.”

The Knight’s feet appeared in my vision. I was going to die…and I could not even bring myself to care.

I heard Emma sigh. She knelt next to me and grasped my chin in her clawed hands and jerked my head up to look her in the eyes, lit with deep green fire. “I had hoped you had more in you. This has been fun, but I suppose you’re out of juice.” She laughed as if she had just made a particularly funny joke, her pointy teeth dripping with dark fluids.

I raised the sword in my fist, clumsy and slow. She knocked it away casually. I was vaguely aware the other Knight was gone. Demonic Emma wrapped her claws around my head and lifted me from the ground to my feet.

“You were a bit difficult to wear down, but I admit, the taste of fear on you, and your exhaustion…well, Exos don’t often get exhausted. It adds flavor to your Light.” She licked her teeth.

“My Ghost can just transmat me out,” I said, trying for //defiance.

“Oh?” She laughed and lifted Ebony in her claw. His eye was faded, almost completely dark. “I doubt this little ball even knows where it’s at now, it revived you so many times it has probably lost count. I’ll strip it for information after I finish stripping the last of your Light, of course. But you’re not leaving. Not now.” Claws wrapped around my arms and dragged me to the floor. The Acolytes snarled and chattered in their own tongue, shoving aside a crowd of Thrall that had gathered, as the Wizard floated overhead, her skirts swishing in some unseen breeze.

“Well, this is goodbye. So goodnight, sweet Guardian,” said the Wizard. “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” She laughed at her own joke again, a shrieking sound that grated against the ears.

Her laugh was suddenly drowned out by a thunderclap that rattled the cavern and forced my ears to compensate for the overwhelming noise. She dropped Ebony and whirled toward the cavern’s main exit that now glowed with crackling Light.

A Warlock floated into the open space, Arc Light spitting and grounding off his body as if he were being held aloft in a super-conductor. Without a pause he rushed into the open space and extended his hands, bolts of lightning flying from his hands in sheets.

The Thrall attacked. The Acolytes had enough sense to flee. Both responses were fatal. The Warlock mowed down the Hive with Light, reducing them to ash and powder while the storm followed in his wake, cracks of lightning and thunderbolts heating the air to an unbearable degree in the confined space. Only the Wizard withstood the onslaught. She shrieked and flung Arc energy of her own back at the Warlock.

I rolled away, grasped Ebony in one fist and the sword in the other, and crawled away from between the two combatants before I was fried. I heard the Wizard shriek in fury once more. Then the sound of the storm quieted and faded away. I stood and put my back to the wall, sword out, clutching Ebony to my chest.

The Warlock was alone in the space. He spoke without removing his helmet. “The main cavern is clear, but the Wizard escaped. I have Morc-35: he’s alive but in need of med evac.” He waited for a moment. “Understood.” He looked at me. “Have your Ghost lock for transmat.”

“Back off!” I raised the sword to make my point. “I’ve had enough of Hive messing with my memory processes.”

The Warlock raised his hands. “Morc: you’re out. The cavalry is here.”

“Back. Off.” I sidestepped toward the exit, clutching Ebony even closer.

“Guardian, any second this whole place is going to be a war zone. Lock for transmat…”

I turned and fled up the tunnel. I felt better, and this detail managed to make its way into my consciousness: I wasn’t as tired as I had been. I had been bathed in Light when the Warlock attacked, and already I felt stronger for it. I slowed my retreat and looked at Ebony. He blinked at me, the glow of his eye a little brighter already. “Ouch,” he said at me. “I did not think you were listening to me.”

If I were human, I might have wept with //relief. “I don’t understand.”

“When she forced me to revive you between bouts, I tried to talk to you. I didn’t think you heard me.” He floated up of his own accord and whirled. “Friendly contacts. Lots of them…and lots of Hive. We need to get out of here. Quickly.”

“Hence, locking for transmat,” said the Warlock, coming up behind me. “Ready to listen?”

I nodded.

“Good. Ghost, lock for transmat. We’re about to kick some Hive ass.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 99 – Part 3

Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival


Ebony’s scan pulse flickered over the cave’s entrance, bright beneath the slate gray sky. Father Eriksson and I waited for his results while the rest of the hunting party stood guard.

“It’s deeper than I would expect,” the Ghost admitted after a moment, blinking toward the cave mouth. “The seeder may have opened new passages, or maybe they burrowed them out after they landed. We don’t have the explosives to take it down.”

I looked up at the aforementioned seeder, a spike of gray metal thrusting into the sky like a bony finger. “Any Hive present?” I asked.

“Most likely.”

Father Eriksson grunted. “They will have power cells. And if the impact opened up caverns like you suspect, they may be unstable. We can use the cells to collapse the tunnels.”

“Hive are experts at reinforcing their nests. That Ghost’s information that raided the Worlds’ Grave told us a lot about how they make them,” said Ebony. His doubt was evident.

“Then we clean out the stragglers and wait for the rest to return. We can hole up inside and let them try to take it back, turn their own nest against them.”

“That sounds like asking the Hive to bottle us up and starve us out, or worse, burrow in behind us,” said Emma, approaching. The wound on her face was still angry and red against her dusky skin. Her dark eyes were baggy with exhaustion.

Father Eriksson grunted. “Then we kill the Wizard and the Knights. Without them, the Thrall will be directionless.” He looked at me for confirmation.

“The Acolytes will still be dangerous, but yes: the Knights and Wizard are the backbone of their structure. It might draw a tomb ship in, however, to reinforce them,” I said.

“A risk. And if that happens, perhaps the Vanguard will send more Guardians.” He looked at me. “Where are your comrades?”

“Most are on Mars right now,” I groused. “They received our message, but it will take time.”

“Then we will soften up the Hive and return to the City with trophies, and bring the wrath of the Vanguard and the Chosen Dead on their heads,” said Father Eriksson decisively. He turned and whistled sharply to the hunting party. They gathered round: 10 weathered men and women altogether, each with a long rifle short of ammo and a long knife blackened by Hive ichor. All but Emma and myself were born into the clan – we were “Firsts”, first generation adopted children that the clan brought in to swell their numbers and grow their connections.

“The Wizard did not attack us in the woods,” Father Eriksson told them. “That means she is most likely here. She will be dangerous if cornered here, and she can destroy us alone, even without her Thrall or Knights. If we find her, let Morc know.” He looked at me pointedly. “She is your kill. The Knights,” he continued, “must be brought down quickly: rifles only. Do not try knife work with them. The first one who brings down a Knight shall hang its head from the Tree and shall be given my father’s rifle.”

This brought murmurs from the others. Emma interrupted. “I’m sorry, what rifle?”

“A weapon passed down 6 generations,” he said. “Only our finest warriors bear it into battle or hunt. When that warrior dies, the clan leaders declare a challenge for who may claim it next. I declare that challenge now to avenge our fallen. Now we go down, teams of 2 and sweep each chamber. If we fall, perhaps we will rise to fight again someday.”


 “Only a handful of Thrall,” I said. //Doubt filled me as I examined the last of the Thrall bodies, shot where they had gathered around the piles of bones they had been gnawing upon. We had descended to the bottom chamber.

“Where is the Wizard?” asked one of the hunters, Rill. She was the youngest, mouse-brown hair and with eyes that looked too hard for someone so young.

“She must have been with the others in the field,” I said softly.

Emma knelt near the entrance to the chamber, using leather straps and torn cloth to bind her knife to the barrel of her rifle to make a crude bayonet – she had used her last shot on a Thrall. There were branches of tunnels all around us, but we stood in the largest cavern, lit by green crystals that grew from the wall in jagged spikes. Moths flitted near the light sources, and a huge centipede scurried near Rill’s foot, which she promptly squashed with her heel.

“Father Eriksson,” I said into my com, “we are all clear down here. No Wizard.”

Very well.” I could hear disappointment in his tone. “Come back up. Everyone return to the entrance.”

I stood and took a step toward Emma, just as a scream of pain ripped through the caves, the sounds bouncing off the walls into a dozen more. I drew my gun in time with Rill.

“What?” asked Emma confusedly. Her wide eyes flicked around the chamber. “Where did that come from?”

“Teams, check in!” I snapped into the com. I didn’t get an answer before the Knight stepped into the chamber, flanked by a pair of Acolytes. They flung a body aside as they entered and charged us.

I snapped off 3 shots, and both Acolytes were down before they even had a chance to fire. The Knight didn’t even slow when the third bullet ripped into its bony hide. But then Rill’s rifle roared, and it staggered. Then Emma let loose a blood-curdling scream and, in spite of Father Eriksson’s warning, flung herself at the Knight with her bayonet.

The blade sank to the hilt in the Knight’s eye and it fell to its knees, clutching at the barrel. Metal groaned as it squeezed. Emma screamed again and thrust her whole weight behind the weapon. The Knight jerked, then collapsed with a clatter of bone. Its sword rattled as it struck the stony earth.

“Well done,” I said, approaching the body.

“Guess the rifle is yours,” said Rill, “seems like you need a new one anyway.” She cycled a fresh round into her weapon. Even as she did so there was another bone-shaking roar, and the second Knight charged in, swinging its cleaver. She ducked and rolled away from its charge without even looking. Emma pulled her weapon free of the dead Knight and leaped away as well, leaving me closest to the Knight. It closed the distance faster than I could raise my weapon and lashed out with a fist.

The cavern rushed past me, and I had just enough time to realize I was flying through the air before I slammed to a sudden stop. There was brief flash of green light and then –

…listen to me! The cold, it is not natural, to be cold, to be here, I don’t want to, she has no soul, does not belong here, listen…

 – I was up again with a flash of Light and on my feet, charging back at the Knight without a thought. I felt that sense of //weariness again, but I attacked anyway, grabbing up the fallen Knight’s sword.

The surviving Knight attacked Rill, swinging wildly at the nimble young woman. She slipped aside from his attacks, but he was clearly herding her to a corner. Emma stood rooted to the spot, eyes round with terror. The cavern seemed so large. They were so far away…

I was too slow. There was a crunch, a short scream, and Rill fell, the Knight’s sword cleaving her in 2. It raised its bloody weapon and roared in triumph.

I stopped, //shocked. How could I be so slow? Why couldn’t I reach them?

Emma seized my arm. “We have to get out!”

I stared. “What?”

“We have to run! RUN!”

I ran with her. As we ran I heard the comm fill with screams. We ran up the tunnels, to the entrance.

“Ebony!” I shouted. “Call in the ship!”

Silence.

“Ebony?” I slowed. I tried to summon him. I stopped. “Ebony?”

Silence.

I turned around. “We have to go back. My Ghost is gone!”

Emma shook her head. “We can’t help him!”

“I need to go back!” I pushed past her. “Ebony!”

Something pushed against the back of my head. The distinctive click of a hammer being pulled back made me freeze.

“Alone, in the end.” Emma’s voice was…wrong. I turned around. She held my hand cannon…except it wasn’t. It was black, the metal twisted into jagged edges. Emma’s dark skin was ashen, and her eyes glowed with green fire. She bared a smile full of jagged teeth at me as she thrust the barrel into my forehead. “Even Guardians can die, Hunter.” Then the hammer fell.

darkness, cold, only Darkness, listen to me!…

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 99 – Part 2

I hear hurricanes ablowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival


Clicking sounds, softened by the freshly falling snow, floated up from beneath my feet. I held still and watched for movement between the branches of the tree I crouched in, knife in hand. I could just see the first of the Thrall shuffling through the snow like a skeletal dog: it pushed snow aside with its snout, then raised its head, snuffling.

Click-click-click-click! Another Thrall bounded up to the first and repeated the sound. My camo hid me from sight, and even without my camo the predawn light was not much to see by…but these were Hive. Darkness did not concern them. Another Thrall bounded up, drawn by its fellows, and now hisses and growls filled the early morning air.

“Only 3,” said Emma’s soft voice in my ear mic. The Thrall couldn’t hear it, but I nearly winced in spite of that. “I don’t see their Acolyte.”

I wanted to growl. I had given the Hive a pretty clear trail to follow. Why were they not taking the bait?

“Wait…I see 4…6…no, 9 more Thrall headed your way. And a couple of Acolytes. You’ll have 14 there in less than 30 seconds.”

A //nervous rush filled my internals. Any moment now.

“We’re in position.”

More Thrall began bunching up beneath the naked oak tree that served as my perch. One stood on its hind legs and screeched up at the sky. Another bounded up and snag the lowest branch with its claws, trying to gain purchase to climb the slick, icy bark. Then its head separated from its body with explosive force and it fell on its companions – the sound of the shot followed a half-second later.

“No!” someone shouted into my mic, an echo of my own thoughts. I saw movement in my peripheral and saw the Acolytes, almost to my location, now turning toward the source of the shot and sprinting through the trees. The Thrall at my feet likewise were turning to follow their handlers.

I leaped down into their midst to cut them off: this many Thrall would easily overwhelm the sniper’s nest, which judging by the sound and the direction, I took to be Leif’s position. He and his brother lacked the firepower to put down this many Hive before they closed the distance.

It was brutal and fast knife work: the Thrall were keyed up but had nearly forgotten about their previous fascination with the tree they had tracked me to. When the last had fallen I turned and rushed through the trees toward where the premature shot had come from.

The Acolytes had been joined by others, and more Thrall were running to add their strength to the fight. Shots were coming fast now, from several directions: the trap had been sprung too soon and now the hunting party was trying to put down as many Hive as possible before they broke out of the noose we had so carefully laid.

The first Acolyte I encountered turned its weapon on me, but it had no time to discharge before I hacked it down. Its partner sidestepped and took cover behind a tree, the bole of which exploded into a shower of splinters when a sniper round passed through Hive and tree trunk alike. I ran on.

Thrall lay on the ground around Leif and his squat brother, and 2 men so different did not seem likely to be born of the same parents: Leif was a giant of a man with blonde hair and blue eyes, with slabs of muscle so large he seemed nearly deformed. His brother Olaf was shorter than even Father Eriksson, dark of hair and complexion, his rifle comically big in his hands, but he was arguably just as strong as the taller man. They stood back to back, and Thrall were coming within a meter of the men before they were killed. Any moment and they would fall.

I called Arc light to my hand and hurled it at the Thrall nearing the humans, and the crack of a small thunderbolt filled the air with the smell of ozone and hot Light. Thrall fell, and for a moment it appeared I had bought them time. And then my headset filled with screams of warning, too late to do anything about it.

A tree shattered, the bottom half flying into pieces and the rest careening away to lodge against its neighbors to announce the Knight’s arrival, his sword cutting a swath through woods as he charged: snow flew up in a plume before him, obscuring all but his head and glowing triple-eyed gaze. Olaf bravely stood his ground and raised his rifle to shoot the charging behemoth. The Knight roared, the sound deafening, and when his blade struck, nothing was left of Olaf but shattered, steaming pieces and red snow.

I charged as well, trying to close the last few meters. Leif turned, and that giant, brave, stupid man was literally split in half from head to navel by the Knight’s falling sword. The Thrall descended on his remains with shrieks of glee. I slowed my charge. The Knight’s gaze was on me now. Rather than raise my knife I drew my gun and fired.

A wall of Darkness swallowed my shots and those of the hunting party eager to avenge their fallen comrades. I felt heat on my armor and realized the Acolytes were turning their weapons on me. I ran. Traveler forgive me and name me a coward, but I ran, back toward the other sniper nests.

“Father Eriksson!” I said as I fled the Knight’s wrath. A bullet whipped through the air near my head with a crack.

“What?” His voice was heavy.

“That Knight left a trail we can follow. Back to the nest. We can still do this.”

“Yes. Yes we can. Everyone fall back, like we planned. Guardian, we will meet you at the rendezvous point, and you will lead us to the nest.”

“Yes,” I said with fierce //anger. “Yes I will.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 99 – Part 1

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin’.
I see bad times today.

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival


“What are they doing?” asked Emma. Her voice came from the dark to my right and was calmer than I expected.

“Taunting us,” replied Father Eriksson to my left. “Letting us know they are in control.”

image“They are not,” snarled Leif, just behind Father Eriksson. “They are trying to make us think they are.”

I listened to all of them without taking my gaze off the 3 figures on the horizon. I could not quite gauge the distance, but they were close enough to make out their specific forms, back-lit by the crest of the rising Luna peeking over the lip of the Earth.

2 of the figures were almost identical. Both stood erect and proud, taller than any human, and the light of Luna made them each seem broader than a house. The one on the right cradled its weapon in its arms. The other planted its man-sized cleaver into the ground like an extra support beam. They flanked the central figure like an honor-guard. She floated just a meter off the ground, long-skirts swishing from side-to-side in the breeze, and a halo of pale-orange energy shimmered in the air around her. I imagined I could just see the pinprick points of light that were their eyes.

“We need to move again,” whispered Emma. “They know we’ve stopped for rest. They’ll attack again soon.”

“No!” Leif shifted his considerable weight in the dark, and I heard the snow crunching beneath his boots. “We have run too much. Now we stand and fight. They would not be trying to intimidate us if they could kill us now.”

“They’re Hive!” hissed Emma. “They enjoy our fear! They take pleasure in our pain! Ask the Guardian.”

I felt the gaze of the others fall on my back. I didn’t answer immediately. “The strategy we’ve been employing has worked so far,” I said. “No one has died since the initial attack.”

“We will not make it to the Cosmodrome. Not like this,” Leif insisted. “We must fight, kill them now.”

“We’ll die!” Emma insisted.

“Better dead on our feet than Thrall clawing into our exposed backs while we flee like cowards.”

“We can make it,” said Emma. The tone of her voice had changed: she was appealing to Father Eriksson now. “If we get to the Cosmodrome, the Fallen will respond to an invasion of their territory. And there might be other Guardians there.”

“There are other Hive there as well,” Leif countered.

“But the Devils won’t allow another nest to take root if they can help it!”

Father Eriksson spoke to me. “What do you think, Guardian?”

I finally turned to face the others. “We should continue to do what we are doing. We cannot stand and fight. They will wear us down.”

Father Eriksson nodded. “Maybe.” He looked at Leif. “Another ammo count. We leave again in 5 minutes.”

Leif stalked off into the dark to rouse the exhausted hunting party, and Father Eriksson trailed in his wake. 5 minutes. It did not sound like enough.

Emma approached me. Even in the dark I could see the angry red slash on her face where a Thrall had landed its claw. “You alright?” she asked. “You seem…something is wrong.”

“I…” I sought for a word. “I…I am tired.”

Her eyes widened, white and round in the low light. “But…you’re a Guardian. And an Exo. How can you get tired?”

“I will explain later,” I replied. “I will keep watch until we’re ready.”

She nodded and turned to follow the others. I extended my hand and Ebony settled into my palm with a sigh. “How can I get tired?” I asked him, vaguely realizing I had at some point begun to think of my Ghost as a “he”.

“It’s the Hive, I think,” said Ebony softly. “They are clawing at our Light. Nibbling at it with each encounter.” He flickered. “Remember, I revived you 19 times in the space of 2 hours. We need rest. We need to get back to the Traveler. Eventually they will wear us down. That, or we summon our ship and fly out.”

“I will not abandon them,” I said, acid creeping into my tone.

“I am not suggesting we do,” replied Ebony with weary patience. “But the Tower has not sent any reinforcements. If we fly back, we can get heavier firepower to bring down the Hive quickly.”

“The Hive will overwhelm them the moment we leave.”

“We are not invincible, Guardian.”

I heard the crunching of boots in the snow and turned to look at the others. Father Eriksson led the ragtag group, a mere 12 of us left. With the exception of myself, all of them carried long sniper rifles and heavy knives: I carried only my hand cannon and knife, as my shotgun ammo and machine gun had run dry hours ago.

“We are ready.” He looked at the others, his white hair glowing slightly in Luna’s waxing light. “We are not going to run,” he said to Emma. He turned to Leif. “And we are not going to stand and fight so we may die.” He turned back to look at the trio of Hive on the far ridge. “We came out here to hunt Hive.” His mouth split into a wolfish smile. “So we’re going to hunt Hive. And make them regret coming after us.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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