“Move up, Bravo,” I said to the rest of the squad as we approached the command post. The centaur was parked two hundred metres behind us, close enough that we could get to it quickly, but far enough away that the locust wouldn’t think we had an escape.
“I see a dozen in total. Two on turrets. One Boomer, one Grinder, the rest are drones,” said Sev over the communications. Ulysses, Jimmy and I took point at separate locations.
“You can see everything from that ridge?” asked Ulysses.
“I certainly can,” said Sev. “You three take cover, I’ll kill the Boomer, then the Grinder, then the turret gunners, then you three open fire. They’ll be confused when their heavy units are dead and they’re getting shot at from four different directions.”
“Sounds good,” I said. “Whenever you’re ready, Sev.”
I stood in cover behind thick vegetation. Trees wouldn’t provide the most solid cover, but we would still be able to change positions fairly easily. The locust went about their business outside the command post just seventy metres away, patrolling the outside. The Boomer and Grinder were on parallel patrol paths, moving towards, and then away from, each other. The turret gunners sat at their posts, ready to gun down anything that moved. Some of the drones stood still, some of them paced about, likely bored from the lack of humans to kill.
The Boomer and Grinder again walked towards each other on their patrol paths. Routinely, almost mindlessly, they trudged along the same line, closer and closer, until they were beside each other. At that exact instant, when they were two feet away from each other, side by side, facing opposite directions, a gunshot sounded and both of their heads exploded. The drones froze in their tracks, staring at the now-headless bodies of the two. Even the turret gunners were looking toward the corpses. Their heads burst as well, first one, then the other. The locust were searching furiously for the source of the shots, sniffing the air, hoping to catch our scent. That was our moment.
“OPEN FIRE!” I yelled. Ulysses and Jimmy did exactly that. The drones scattered, were scrambled and confused. All of them were quickly gunned down.
“Alright, move in,” I said. Ulysses, Jimmy and I came out of cover and jogged towards the door. Sev quickly climbed down from the low ridge he had set up on.
We came up to the door of the warehouse. Ulysses quickly kicked it open, then raised his rifle to meet any resistance.
“Clear,” he said.
“Go,” I said. We proceeded in single file, Ulysses first, then Jimmy, myself, and Sev.
“Alright Bravo, this is close quarters now, so watch yourselves,” I said. “Ulysses, take point. Sev, watch our six. We’ll clean this place out, grab any supplies we can, then leave.” The others remained in obedient silence.
Slowly, we made our way through the building, our footsteps echoing through the large, high-ceilinged halls, awaiting resistance.
“So, is Sev your real name, or a nickname?” asked Jimmy.
“Short for Severus,” Sev responded.
“Hm. Ulysses,” said Jimmy as if rolling the name around in his head. “That’s a name you don’t hear every day.”
“Quiet,” said Ulysses, holding up his hand.
“Oh… Okay then…” said Jimmy.
“No, I mean I think I hear something ahead,” said Ulysses. “Stay sharp.” We continued forward, awaiting whatever it was Ulysses had heard. It quickly made itself present.
“Boomer!” Ulysses shouted. The creature yelled loudly from down the hallway. It ran out from behind cover, Boomshot in hand, aiming directly at us.
“Scatter!” I shouted. The four of us split up, running for cover. I heard a shot from down the hall, and a few seconds later, the grenade went off directly in front of me. I was immediately thrown to the ground, landing on my side. I was in a state of shock, dazed by the explosion. My ears were ringing, my vision was blurred. I couldn’t tell if I was alive or dead. I lay there on the ground, helpless.
Slowly, the ringing faded, but my hearing remained hollow. I could feel myself being dragged. I looked up to see Jimmy, rifle in one hand.
“I gotcha Sarge!” I could hear him say. “I gotcha!” He dragged me behind cover and placed me in a corner. Still lying down, I was slowly coming back to reality. It was a quick slap in the face from Ulysses that finally brought me back.
I shook my head, nodded to Jimmy in thanks, then picked up my rifle and started firing, while Ulysses ran for better cover. Sev remained behind us, in an isolated spot, picking off targets with his Longshot.
“How many more are out there?” I asked.
“Just a few more,” said Ulysses. “Sev took out the Boomer.”
After a few minutes of intense gunfire, the fight finally ended.
“Everyone, check your ammo,” I said. Just as I said this, a wretch jumped down from above, running past us. I raised my rifle and pulled the trigger, but my magazine was empty. The wretch rounded a corner before Ulysses could pick it off.
Just as suddenly as it appeared, the wretch was thrown back, landing on its chest. It struggled to get up. Sev emerged, kicking the wretch onto its back. He firmly planted his foot on its chest, then reached down for its arms. Gripping as tightly as he could manage, he yanked backwards, ripping the arms off of the wretch. He then proceeded to beat the wretch over the head, once with each arm, and it went limp. Sev dropped its arms and walked towards us, casually wiping blood out of his mohawk. Jimmy was staggered.
“Holy shit…” he said, as if he was about to piss himself.
“Alright, this place is probably clear now,” I said. “Let’s grab whatever’s here and get the hell out.” We proceeded to the end of the hall, until emerging into another room, but stopped dead in our tracks when we saw what it contained. Directly in the centre of the floor, mere metres in front of us, was a large sinkhole, leading into the underground.
“So that’s why so many grubs have been coming out of this place,” said Ulysses. “This place has a tunnel to the Hollow.”
“Tunnels,” said Sev, correcting him. Our attention was drawn towards several other sinkholes which also dotted the floor.
“Then we’ll just collapse them,” I said. “Look for explosives, as much as…” I was cut off by a deep rumbling sound. It came from below us. Progressively, it grew louder, until another monster emerged from one of the sinkholes; eight large legs extending out of its shoulders and in front of its head, a smaller segment at its back, holding eight much smaller legs which scuttled on the ground.
“Corpser!” I yelled. The creature wailed at us, crawling towards us with its six front legs in motion. We fired at it, but the bullets simply deflected off of its legs, being armoured as heavily as they were.
Sev attempted to rush the creature and attach a grenade to it, but he was swiped by its legs and knocked back, rolling towards one of the sinkholes, before he plummeted below.
“SEV!” I shouted. He was gone, now lost in the underground. I focused my rage at the Corpser, approaching it in full fury. I pulled a grenade from my belt, and waited for the Corpser to raise its front legs. It wailed at me, all four eyes focused directly on me. I stuffed the grenade into the creature’s gaping maw, then ran from it as fast as I could. The Corpser became frightened and confused, began running in circles, trying to spit out the explosive stuck to the inside of its mouth. But after a few seconds, the grenade went off, and the Corpser’s head exploded. Its body fell to the ground, headless and lifeless. Slowly, the remaining three of us approached the sinkhole; the one Sev had fallen into.
“Oh, shit…” said Jimmy. “Sev…” I simply stared at the ground, into the sinkhole. Ulysses did the same.
“Well then, let’s get going,” I said in a brisk tone, walking towards the main sinkhole.
“What?!” Jimmy asked. “Are you crazy? Go down there?!” I gave him a stern look.
“Yeah, rookie,” I said. “We’re going down there. We’re finding Sev.”
“He’s probably-” Jimmy began.
“That man won’t stop until they rip his goddamn heart out,” I said. “He’s the toughest member of this squad, and we are not going anywhere until I see his lifeless corpse with my own eyes.” Jimmy simply looked at me in silence.
“Look, we should be able to climb down this other sinkhole,” I said. “It’s not the one Sev went down through, but it’ll take us where we need to go; into the Hollow.”
“That’s basically the underground where the locust come from, isn’t it?” Jimmy asked.
“It is,” I said. “But we’re probably nowhere near the queen’s lair.”
“Alright then,” said Ulysses. “Let’s go find Sev.” With that, we grabbed any extra ammo we could carry, and descended into the sinkhole, towards the Hollow.