37. Artur : Burden
Pacing forward alongside Fusion, Robinc and Lewis the mercenaries with Collette and her group carried on ahead of us while Sparrow and her entourage followed further behind. The groaning resonating through the walls had as all on alert expecting the worst as dust sprinkled down from the roof. The ceaseless rumbling eventually created a fissure splitting the concrete above us. Looking behind we saw another.
Crouching down and hoping for the best I closed my eyes as the sound of the roof giving way became deafening. Slowly opening my eyes I saw the dust settling down from the two sections that had collapsed. Blocked off from the others I went forward desperately trying to rip away the rubble only to be pulled back by Lewis with a gurgled groan coming from one of the corridors still available to us.
Bringing down his rifle Robinc traced his sights over the empty air in silence. Joining him we sat in the dark as the corridor lights around us failed. The flashlights gave us a slight window of illumination and just enough to cover every angle. Beams of light floated through the air gently scanning for any aggressors.
The silence continued. Not a word was spoken. Not from us or the others who should’ve heard and inspected the commotion to find out if we were still alive. They could have all been crushed with only us left standing. We could be the only ones left alone is this hole. Patting my jacket I felt for the packages and letters. It could all end here. I might not ever find the address. No one would.
Kneeling the beam of light I projected began to skitter about ever so slightly. Gripping my rifle more tightly saw no effect in steadying the light. The darkness carried such nightmares out in the open. What would be lurking in these depths to outdo that. A thumping in my chest reinforced the moment was very real and served as a constant reminder to how much I had to lose. All I could hear was my blood pulsing around my body with unblinking eyes strained down the sights that wobbled.
The hall lit up. A deafening crack. Robinc fired producing a splatter of gore just ahead. With another flash we saw the distorted blurred image of the hall behind the now visible abyss jaeger. Firing the gun sights bounced out of control into the barely visible hoard scoring hits with every shot regardless. Backpedaling we quickly found ourselves with backs against the rubble.
With nowhere else to retreat fire became more erratic. In a frenzy of desperation my rifle clicked. Squeezing the trigger as quickly as I could the gun refused to fire. Ripping out the magazine and finding another fumbling the new magazine up the side of the gun to quickly re attempt at putting in the magazine saw Lewis fall to the hoards tendrils slowly wrapping around his body as his blood coated me.
Watching the tendrils grip around his arms and legs to slowly tear flesh asunder while he screamed had me joining his terrified screams. Emptying the magazine again saw some relief for Lewis as he fell to the ground free of their grip. Robinc moving forward with a machete beginning to cut through the gelatinous flesh of the creatures thinning the hoard. Another magazine loaded with my hand slipping off the bolt I went for it again charging the rifle emptying the weapon.
With that last barrage the hall seemed clear as the bodies melted leaving a bloodied ooze over the entire floor. Looking to my left Fusion still held down the trigger of his empty rifle gazing at the floor horrified. Going to Lewis his wounds were mortal, within minutes he’d succumb to the blood loss leaving another man dead to this raid. Regardless he fumbled around with the pouches in his suit.
Offering what comfort I could in his final moments was interrupted by sudden splashing. Looking up Fusion charged off into the facility from where the abyss jaegers attacked crying out a name. Going to stop him Robinc then took off as well deeper into the facility down another corridor further down. Terrified I ran after him not to be left alone in the dark with more of these monsters. I’d be torn apart alive helplessly watching my flesh ripped from the bone as the tendrils dug deeper. With water eyes I stopped at the sound of Lewis’s failing voice behind me.
“Please… Don’t go… This… Look…”
Slowly turning abandoning my pursuit the pressure of the situation built exponentially. I felt my mind teetering on the edge as I accepted my isolation from any help. Walking over to him accompanied only by his heavy breathing and the sloshing on the ground he procured a letter held outstretched towards me. Kneeling down I looked at the letter. Another address. Not another address.
“He has to know… Get this to him… Let him know… I didn’t leave him.”
His grip faltering on my wrist as he pleaded I nodded doing my best to hide my face. With a gentle sigh he left this world content that maybe not everything would be lost, not for him at least. Now truly alone in the dark I could feel my mouth pulling back to the sides with a bereaved grin. Another address. What would it mean I wondered. What would I find. I had so many letters already and his death gave me another. What more was lost to us from the outside world.
Trembling hands slipped the envelope into the bundle of letters already threatening to snap the rubber band holding them together. Holding the bundle in both hands brought forward the shroud over my life again. What did these all mean. What did I leave behind. Flicking through them from the back there was that same address. Two Vulytsya Haharina Ukraine. Two Vulytsya Haharina Ukraine. Two Vulytsya Haharina Ukraine.
It flicked by over and over again. A year of letters dedicated to this address the contents of which were just meagre samples of no value to anyone in the zone. Then that last letter. Eighty nine Malthouse Rd England. Another address with more secrets behind its door. A deviation from the previous letters. Something else to discover and carry out. More work to be done.
Packing the letter back into a reinforced box so they wouldn’t be damaged I stood looking over Lewis’s corpse. He would never be given the opportunity to return to his address. He would die ignorant to what his letter would do for his recipient. I could provide his intended receiver with a more satisfying ending at least. The illumination of knowledge or closure at least. His letter would offer that I was sure of it.
Turning away with rifle ready I followed Robinc’s path. If I was lucky I’d run into him again, if not he’d at least clear it out. Walking forward the sloshing left to be replaced by my feet tapping over concrete with each step. Breathing focussed along with my senses the only sounds of the facility returned to the beating in my chest.
It sat steady with my footsteps pumping life throughout my body. As long as that sound persisted there was hope I’d find my answers. Slowly moving forward through a spacious and empty laboratory connecting corridors there was another gurgling groan. This was softer and barely perceptible compared to the hoards but an abyss jaeger was definitely present.
The pounding quickly fell out of sync with my rapid footsteps towards the wall. Beating without pause I could feel my stomach trying to jettison its contents in panic. Holding back the urge to be sick the gun rattled in my hands. A hunter of the void in the same room as me. Completely undetectable in this light before it would go to strike. The flash light swung around manically looking for any disturbance in the air.
Holding my breath for a moment my heart rate dropped if only slightly. Logical began to overpower anxiety. The floor. Throwing the light over the floor I scanned the rubble while I focussed my mind looking for anything at all. A sign. Anything would do. It was still apart of this world it will show a sign.
Scanning to the side saw a shimmer then the appearance of melted flesh. A tendril whipping forward. With a broken shriek I fired. Chest beats escalating to a painful rate. Barely ducking under its lethal tedril attempting to ensnare me the burst of fire caught it’s body projecting a gelatinous cloud of blood as it fell. Looking down I saw the defeated creature dying on the ground as I reloaded. Confidence surged with it’s death rattles. I could do this, I could beat them they could be killed.
A wet slap wrapped around my face. In an instant I felt a terrible pressure followed by the agonizingly slow tearing of flesh from my skull. My nose was the first the break as it ripped the tendril back with others ensnaring me holding me still. Slamming my rifle butt into the abyss jaeger behind saw no effect. Screaming with the rifle over my shoulder I fired falling back onto the creature.
Helping myself to my feet grasping my torn face I stumbled against a wall supporting myself with a piercing pain in my chest. If the creatures wouldn’t kill me this stress would. With stuttering breaths I walked onwards through the facility. Coming to a set of stairs I tried to calm myself taking a drink of water. Feeling the searing pain on my face prevented any relief. Abyss jaegers were surely the least this place had to offer. If something truly terrifying found me the death it would provide would be truly horrific.
Looking to my pistol pulling the slide back a bullet was chambered. I wouldn’t go through that agony. I would press on to the best of my ability but I refused to have that be my end. I’ll fight so long as there’s hope. I’ll fight on for the secrets of the letters but that will be all. If the light goes out this place will not decide the death of me.
Creeping further forward through the facility I rounded another corner to see a warm orange glow through a barricaded doorway. It wasn’t an emergency light. It couldn’t be. Walking further forward voices could be heard. Human voices. Two relaxed pioneers having a chat in a place like this. An illusion surely. Quickly turning around nothing was creeping up on me. Looking back I called out still unsure if what I was seeing and hearing was real.
Silence carried over the hallway as I approached trying to get a better glance into the room. Sliding along the wall with rifle ready I saw an angle into the room followed by a man darting around the side of the door frame looking over the barricade. Staring down his barrel it was quickly lowered as he called out shocked.
“Holy shit Strider, It’s Artur. The kid made it. Quick help me tear this down.”
Sliding down the wall as they went to dismantling the barricade tears of relief ran down my face. I wasn’t alone there was hope after all. We’ll escape this place alive. Standing together we’ll see the light again. Patting down my envelopes instilled further comfort. The secrets of your letter will be found out Lewis. Not everything will be lost down here.
Another wet slap around my leg and rifle. A gluttonous gurgling. The rifle clanked across the ground being carried away. The flesh started to give way. Crying out in panic going for the pistol I fired wildly into the darkness. My aim disrupted by the vicious and irregular force of the invisible tendril pulling me towards a crevice.
Emptying the magazine the slide held itself back. I didn’t have a way out. I’d be eaten alive. Clawing at the ground saw no holds to grip onto. Closer to the pure black fissure. Closer and closer. A flash, two flashes. The pain subsiding and tendril's grip faltering. Let loose scampering back into Bishop grabbing me by the shoulder and dragging me back yelling as I wailed.
"I gotcha kid! I got ya!"
With Strider slamming the barricade back into place Bishop immediately went to my wounds. My injuries tended to I wrapped the coat they leant me tight around my body still jittering with shock. Offering some water I drank from the canteen with enthusiasm. Focussing my breathing I found my hands were a little steadier and chest pains began to dull. Sitting steady protected by both Strider and Bishop in the secure room they looked curiously towards me.
“What happened to the rest?”
“Lewis is dead. Robinc and Fusion ran further into the facility without me.”
Leaving our conversation to a minimum they encouraged me to rest. Lying down the two men stood tall on guard for anything that would come for us in the dark. Hearing them occasionally bicker or joke around was surprisingly soothing as I prepared to rest. They seemed unfazed so far by the horrors of this place. Unsure as how to process their relaxed stance I just let it comfort my mind before drifting off to sleep.