The sun had finally cleared the horizon, setting the eastern sky ablaze to a bright pink. In the small stone house, Caelos watched over anxiously as the group prepared. Durrus chewed on bread fully geared with a new scutum, Cleo in the process of triple-checking both of her rifles, and Horrus sat nervously in the corner. As sunlight slowly began to pour into the window, Durrus stood up.
“All right, gather around everyone, planning time.”
Everyone climbed up to their feet and grouped around him.
“Firstly, I’m willing to bet since their friends didn’t come back, they’re expecting us. If that compound is nice and spacious like the others, we’re going to keep them off us at a distance. Cleo, Caelos, I hope you understand what that means.”
The two nodded.
“Horrus, are you sure you’re willing and able to kill if the time comes?”
He suddenly flinched.
“Oh uh… I… I think so.”
“I ain’t taking thinking so as an answer.”
“Um… I’m just not sure…”
“I thought so. As a result, I’m gonna need you to hold onto Caelos’s staff then. I’m not sure if those swords can destroy it or not, and I ain’t taking that risk, so keep your distance from combat, all right?”
“I can manage that.”
Cleo took a step forward.
“Just one issue… I’m not sure how long I can keep up a ranged fight with the Ya’Chosh rifle at least. I’m not sure how much ammo I got left.”
“Then make every shot count, with both rifle and musket. Don’t shoot unless you’re absolutely sure you can land a hit.”
He turned to the rest of the group.
“Reminder that this is a do or die scenario. We need Curi if we ever want to make it out of Chidetah alive. Let’s get a move on!”
It didn’t take long until the group had made their way to the edge of the great gaping hole that led straight down into the compound. With the sunlight that shone in the distance, they realized how the hole stretched out far into the distance, perhaps as large as the area of the marble village. An immense amount of sand had poured into it, burying most of it, but also forming a natural ramp. Inside the hole was charred black ground, and a myriad of large metalic crates, both box-like and rectangular, scattered amongst the ground. A quick survey revealed no apparent signs of crawler or human, so the party made their way down the ramp. Cleo glared upwards at the mess of containers, eyes glistening.
“To think compounds could actually get this big… How big do you think the village constructed atop of it was? What do you think happened?”
“Keep focused Cleo. We can scour this place later.”
She glanced all around the mess of metal and sand. Thankfully, the obstacles blocked off everywhere but one path: Two massive slabs of interconnected metal with a familiar panel to the right of it. Durrus hurried over to it as Caelos approached with frustration on her face.
“It’s no good, without proper power there’s no way it’ll op-”
The sound of iron groaning resounded through as the slabs pulled apart, retracting into the wall, revealing a wide, deathly empty hallway, brightly lit up by powerful lamps embedded in the ceiling. Caelos glided in with the rest of the group, observing the lamps.
“Strange… Could the generator here still be functional?”
“Generator whatever, thank god we get a good source of light for whatever.”
The hallway was distance, but the end was far in sight: Another similar metal door from when they entered. Several smaller metal doors around the size and width of a small housing. Cleo groaned.
“You gotta be kidding me… Curi could be in any one of those…”
“I wouldn’t bet on it. We haven’t even encountered a single bandit. We’ll keep moving forward, but don’t touch anything.”
They all moved cautiously down the hall, anxiously eyeing each of the doors on the wall. Cleo eyed them with a mix of caution and something else.
I swear when we get Curi, I’m going to pry every single one of these open. Who knows what they could hold-
Suddenly they heard a thump and a snort from one of the doors. The group froze.
Durrus spoked in a hushed voice. “Cleo, Caelos, take position. I’m going to open this up, be ready to fire. Make it quick.”
He hurried over to the door’s panel with Horrus in tow, as the other two took position, Caelos readying an asteroid. With a press of the switch, the door groaned as it slowly lifted up. Revealed first was not shoes nor boots, but hooves. At the sight, Cleo lowered her weapon, as did Caelos. The room was as large as a stable, as was to be expected, as it housed five horses standing in front of a wooden trough filled with water. Cleo’s eyes widened, as she hurried to the door adjacent and pressed the button. The door opened, revealing another five horses.
“This place is just an entire stable? Hold on…”
She began mentally counting every door, totalling them all up to twenty.
“That makes around one hundred potential horses which means… One hundred bandits out here?”
She turned to the group.
“How the hell did they get all this water? Food as well? They’ve gotta have a Di’Chosh… We gotta do something about them…”
Durrus stared sternly at her.
“Reminder, we’re here to rescue Curi and get out of here. None of us will get anything out of killing them all anyways.”
“They’ve been pillaging Naha’Jan trade lines, border villages, and Rexius for how long now? Your country could seriously benefit from ending them! Shameful!”
“You can try to clean them all out later, but for now, Curi should be our priority. We need her, and I need your help to rescue her, especially if we’re outnumbered as badly as we are.”
The group took formation once more, pressing the switch at the end of the hall, metallic groaning echoing through the halls, revealing another large room stocked full of the same large containers from before, stacked atop each other and neatly forming a natural maze of metal. They slowly inched in, taking all of their surroundings. After passing between several containers, a sudden crack resounded through the air, something suddenly ricocheting off of the wall they were passing by. Durrus quickly turned to the source of the sound: A bandit, perched atop of a stack of containers, armed with a musket. He began to reload it, but Caelos intervened, quickly sending an asteroid straight towards him, knocking him off his perch onto the ground below. Cleo suddenly tackled Durrus to the ground, screaming for Horrus to take cover as well, as another musket ball whizzed over her head, pinging against the floor in front of him. He screamed and leapt back. Durrus clambered back to his feet as Caelos sent another asteroid towards the second shooter.
“Everyone, stay behind me and run! There’s gotta be some cover somewhere!”
Loud cracks and crashing echoed through the halls Curi quietly wandered through, wobbly holding the strange glowing sword in front of her. It wasn’t long ago that several bandits armed with muskets and more glowing swords marched on through as Curi watched silently from a distance.
“It’s all right, they can beat them all, they’re my heroes” she shakily repeated to herself. “I need my cloak and charts… I need them…”
She went systematically from each large door to large door, opening each up, finding usually dead end rooms with wooden crates filled with weapons, food, gold, or various other supplies. It wasn’t until she finally came across a more regular-sized door. Behind it stood several benches in front of a myriad of tall metal cabinets lined side by side. Casually hanging off of the bench was the object of her interest: Her cloak and rapier, along with all of her star charts and map scattered along the floor. She quickly tossed aside her stolen sword and rushed towards it, swiping it from the bench and cradling it. How long had she been without it? Hours? All night? She couldn’t recall. It was comforting to finally have it back. She sat down and held onto it tightly like a child to a blanket, taking in the familiar smells and feelings it reminded her of. The sands of the wastes, the damp smell of the previous compounds she explored, the stench of the inside of the Almu’Ard.
The scent of home.
She suddenly snapped out of her trance.
There was more to do around here, right?
She glanced to her feet, noticing the scattered charts and maps once more. She knelt down, picking up every piece and stuck them back into her cloak. She glanced around the room. Another doorway lead deeper into the compound.
Maybe I can find something of use to the others in there?
She wandered on through, finding a more spacious room, with a large part sectioned off by a fence made of scrap metals. Looking beyond it, she gasped. A group of thirty undead-looking men were all slumped over in the corner. All of them were still breathing, but looked horribly beaten and covered in dirt and sand. Their holding pen was nothing more than a cold metalic floor, a small crate in the corner that she dared not stare at, and a trough full of water and what could only be compared to pig slop. One of the men slouched up and locked eyes with Curi’s disgust-stricken face. Eyes that screamed for him to be put out of his misery. She suddenly broke contact and looked to the floor. She quickly turned and fled the room.
We can save them later, just wait for the others to return!
Bullets ricocheted off the containers, floor, and Durrus’s scutum as the party rushed for some form of cover. It seemed that every bandit sniper Caelos killed, another would pop from a different position. Cleo and Horrus endlessly called out the different snipers as Durrus struggled to keep his shield positioned best to avoid as much harm as possible. A different voice called out this time.
“Another sniper, behind you all!”
Caelos was pointing towards another sniper, preparing an asteroid, as he fired a shot. The bullet and her asteroid practically crossed paths, the asteroid easily striking him as the bullet struck Horrus’s arm. He let out a screech, dropping the staff and to his knees, grasping onto the wound.
“Cleo, cover me!”
Durrus quickly ran back, yanking horrus up and leaning him on his shoulder.
“Come on, there’s gotta be some cover somewhere… Hang in there kid, just hold tight to Caelos!”
“Durrus, over here!”
Cleo was pointing to one of the larger open container which lacked any sort of front covering. He shuffled forward as Cleo ran back to offer him support. The trio worked their way into the very back of the container before collapsing to the ground, heavily panting. Durrus quickly shook his head, wiped the sweat off of his face, and stood back up. He sat Horrus against the wall. who was breathing heavily, face scrunched with pain, teeth clenching and tears trickling down. Durrus rapidly stripped the gambeson off of him, followed by pulling his shirt over his head. He took ahold of his arm and ripped the sleeve off of his shirt, and proceeded to tie it around his wound. Almost as soon as he tied it tightly around, the sleeve quickly became stained with blood.
“That’s all we can do for now kid, I’m sorry. Cleo, we packed some surgical supplies with us, right?”
She climbed up from the ground and sat herself against the wall, still panting.
“Pretty sure we do. How deep did that bullet go?”
“I’m not too sure. I just tried to stop the bleeding as fast as possible.”
A few moments passed before Cleo slammed her hand against the wall.
“Dammit! Why the hell do they have muskets? What kinda bandits are these?”
Durrus finally sat down.
“At least they’re terrible shots.”
“How did they steal them? What kinda trader was shipping muskets anywhere near Rexius? They should be exclusive to us dammit!”
“I… I hate them…”
The other two looked to him.
“I want them all to die.. I WANT THEM ALL TO DIE!
Tears of pain and anger streamed down his face. Cleo placed her arms on his shoulders.
“Calm down, you don’t want to get worked up with a wound like that. Don’t worry either, I’ll make sure they face justice.”
“AFTER we save Curi. We’re still practically dead without her.” Durrus interjected.
“A better question is, where is she?”
All of the sudden, all of the lights to the room outside went out, leaving only the glow to Caelos’s staff. She suddenly looked towards the exit of the container.
“Perhaps the power finally failed this old place?”
“No, that’s way too convenient,” said Durrus. “Is there a button they can press to turn out the lights?”
“Yes, but how would they know about that?”
“They may be bandits, but they aren’t stupid. They probably know all the ins and outs of this place way better than we ever will-”
A few bandits wearing strange devices on their heads suddenly charged around the corner into the container. Cleo quickly drew her rifle and fired a shot at one, impacting the device on his head and sending him flying back, as Caelos sent an asteroid at the other, launching him out of the container. Durrus let out a sigh of relief.
“Definitely know this place better than we do.”
Gunshots continued to resound down the hall as Curi ran deeper and deeper into the compound. She kept running and running until she reached a large interconnected metal door, with two smaller doorways on the sides of the walls. Staring at the intimidating door for a few moments, she rushed towards one of the side rooms, quickly huddling in the corner and quickly curled up with her head on her knees.
I’ll just wait for them here, they’ll look here!
She sat motionless for several minutes, shutting out every scent she possibly could. However, her ears slowly picked up on a noise coming from inside the room: The sloshing of water.
Ignore it, just wait for the others, they’ll be here soon.
The sloshing seemed to get louder and louder, more and more irritating, until the silence was broken by what sounded like a faucet spraying water. She lurched up, and saw what looked like a cross between a cow and an elephant with a massively thick trunk and a bloated, seethrough stomach. They were tied by a few ropes to a metal pipe. She slowly inched towards them, and they didn’t seem to mind her presence. She giggled and looked around. Several waterskins were hanging off of the walls, and in front of them were two troughs: One somewhat full of water, and the other full of desert plants, chidetan foxes, and several other dead creatures. She scrunched her face at the sight, and looked back up to the strange creatures. She smiled and placed her hand against them. No response from them again. The creature reared back a bit, causing her to leap back, but instead it spewed out water from its trunk into the water trough.
“Oh so that’s what you’re for huh… I wonder what Cleo would think of you…”
She stepped over the troughs between two of the creatures, crouching down and poking at the stomach of one of them.
“How did you get all of this water? Did you absorb it from the ground or something? Maybe he eats those worms-”
She noticed an object bobbing around in its stomach. She peered in closer, watching it slowly bob around in the strange stomach fluids. She soon locked eyes with the glazed over eyes of a disembodied head, mouth agape as if it were eternally screaming in the prison of the creature’s stomach. She screamed in return to it, launching herself back and crashing into another. The other creature barely moved, and slowly turned to stare at Curi in the face. She screamed once more, stumbling over the trough, spilling the water and corpses all over the floor. Screams turned to tears as she scurried to her feet and scrambled out of the room. The sound of whirring gears and groaning metal froze her in her place as she turned to her side, watching the massive door slowly open, revealing a bandit clad in horribly worn plate armor and carrying a root staff to his side. He raised an eyebrow at the sight of Curi. She tried to run but stumbled over herself as he slowly marched over. She drew her rapier, only for him to deftly disarm her using his staff, sending her rapier flying across the room. He grabbed her by the shirt and yanked her up as she futility punched at his arm.
“You little runt… You’re lucky you aren’t like any other slave trying to escape!” he said in an all too familiar raspy voice.
“Let me… Go…!”
Her strikes grew weaker and weaker.
“You’ll regret… doing this…”
“From what I’ve seen happening, perhaps you’ll have even more use to me than I thought. Now hush up! I’ve got business to attend to.”
Horrus had finally calmed down as the other two had dragged the body closer to the wall, Caelos closely investigating the strange device on his head.
“I think I recognize it. Those are undoubtedly night-vision goggles.”
Cleo pried them off of his head and observed them closer, noticing the lenses were shattered.
“Well they’re of no use to us now. Maybe that other one wasn’t broken?”
She walked further until she reached the edge of the container. She tried to reach for the body until a bullet zoomed past her, barely grazing her arm. She recoiled and scurried back into safety.
“No good, I think the snipers have those goggles too…”
They could hear movement around their container. Durrus took a deep breath.
“We’re stuck… They’ve got us surrounded and just have to wait for us to walk to our deaths.”
He leaned back.
“I don’t think there’s any way out of this…”
Cleo gave him a kick in the leg, resulting in him recoiling and wincing.
“Knock it off! We still have Caelos with us and you’re going to give up?”
“Well can she blow up all these bandits in an instant before they can get to us?”
“No… But she’s got to know some way out of this, right Caelos?”
She silently floated, pondering to herself. She looked briefly at the night vision goggles, and a smile spread across her face.”
“Yes, I’ve got an idea!”
Cleo smiled wryly at Durrus.
“Their night-vision goggles work simply just by brightening the room around them. If you use it in a bright room, you should be practically blinded. I can generate that light, if only for a moment, but I’m sure that’ll be enough. They’ll be blinded for long enough for us to find a way out of here!”
“Or blinded long enough for us to pick all of them off” interjected Cleo.
Durrus dropped his head into his face.
“Nintey-something bandits in how many minutes? We’ll use the distraction to find Curi, and then we’ll fight our way out.”
“Regardless, just quick. Toss me out, I don’t think their muskets can harm me anyways. Keep your eyes covered until I tell you to come.”
Cleo moved near the entrance with the staff as Durrus helped Horrus up to his feet. She looked back at the two as they both covered their eyes. She quickly covered hers and tossed the staff outside. Mere moments passed.
“Now! Grab me and let’s get going!”
Cleo leapt out, swiping up the staff, part of her mind sighing in relief that she wasn’t immediately fired upon by snipers. The other two hurried behind as fast as they could move, but lagging not too far behind Cleo as they sprinted through the maze of containers. After weaving through and between several containers, they finally came across another massive steel door. Cleo quickly whacked the switch on the side as the door slowly opened, light flooding the darkened room. She slid on through as the other two finally caught up, and slid between as well. She ran to the other switch and smacked it again, shutting the door behind them. Durrus let Horrus down and let out a smile to the other two.
“Damn… That was close, but thanks for that you two. Now let’s go get Curi.”
“Curi is the runt’s name? Well then, I’m afraid you’re all going to have to leave her with me.”
The party suddenly turned to the raspy-voiced armored bandit, holding a glowing sword to Curi’s throat.
“Either you leave or she dies.”