Chapter 26: Quid Pro Quo
The afterglow of the setting sun had nearly dissipated, leaving little if any light for Sigma to venture to their place of refuge for the night. Although the Gears had no clue where Raven was taken them, they trusted her word that the grueling trek would be worth the aching.
Raven stopped in her place, waiting for the others catch up to her, and then carefully limped over to Baird, speaking to him in between shivers,
"I'm going to…need a flare," she asked, shaking from the gust of wind, brushing against her cold face. Without a snark or sarcastic remark, Baird reached into his leg pack and pulls out a flare, shivering as he handed it to Raven.
"Thanks…give me a…minute," she said. Baird managed to muster a nod, rubbing his trembling arms as he waited for her to light up the flare. He quickly noticed that Raven was having trouble lighting the stubborn flare in the wind.
"Here," he said before he moved towards her, using his body to shield her hands from the snow and wind, "...now…try it."
Raven nodded and tried again. Cole and Sven huddled together, watching Raven finally light up the flare, their eyes now absorbed in its illumination.
"Well, at least we have light…sh*t, Feral, are we there yet?" Cole asked, trying to be patient despite freezing in the blistering cold air moving briskly around them. His dark skin was starting to pale from the frost gathering on his face. Sven on the other hand, was getting frost bit.
"Just ahead…around those jagged rocks," Raven said as she pointed ahead of them. She lifted the flare to get a better look of the rocky, cliff wall next to the dense forest.
"Ugh, about damn time…sh*t, its cold, can we hurry this up?" Baird complained, keeping his pace with Raven.
Raven sighed as she shivered,
"I'm…working…on it, Baird."
She moved along the wall over to a cluster of shard rocks before they catch a faint hole surrounded by immense boulders.
Baird moved up closer to Raven's position to get a better look at their destination.
"Wait…is that a cave?" Baird shivered.
"A shallow one, but yes," she replied.
She limped ahead while Baird followed with Cole and Sven close behind. Baird turned around and waited for the other two as he too huddled with them, trying to shield himself from the brisk wind gusting along the rock wall. Raven finally moved into the cave entrance as the flare lit up the walls inside. As the Gears follow Raven into the cave, they started to relax, relieved from the harsh cold breeze that was beating on their faces. They move in, following the flare to look around at the granite and marble contusions that glistened in the light, mixed with the solidified ice. They peered ahead to a faint pool of water as Raven carefully climbed up on a slope shelf, placing the flare on top.
The three Gears stare in awe as steam was lifting from the pool nearby.
"Holy crap…is that what I think it is…is that a hot spring?" Baird beamed.
"Yes it is, Damon," Raven replied in between shivers.
The three looked at it as if they we're going to faint. After three days of hiking and trekking through the harsh, bitter Frost, they could finally get a chance to soak in a hot bath.
"This is one of several hot springs located around the area…obviously I found this one more suitable since it is more concealed," Raven explained. The three Gears just stood there and drooled as Raven continued,
"Damon, could you light up another flare please?"
Baird shook his head for a minute before he looked down to pull out another flare and lighting it.
"Ok, now where did you want it?" he asked while Raven made her way down the slope to their position near the shore.
"Hand it to me…I can take it from here while I get a camp fire started," Raven suggested as Baird handed her the flare. Sven started to get antsy,
"Hey…can we…" Sven managed squeak out, shivering profusely before Raven interrupted him,
"Sigh…go ahead," she said.
Not even within a split second, Sven and Cole darted to the shore to start removing their armor and clothes as fast as their frozen hands would let them, throwing their attire to the wayside any which way. They were too cold to care.
Sven was the first get completely undressed before he staggered into the water,
"Whoa, yea…" he ran in, not realizing how hot the water actually was as he squealed, "…oh sh*t, it's hot!"
Raven rolled her eyes, walking down the slope to get a campfire going and to give the men some privacy.
Baird was the next to disrobe as he tried to pull off his attire with his ice, cold hands. Pulling off his boots while dropping his pants, he threw them to the wayside, peeling off his drenched socks shortly afterwards. His body felt a rush of relief the moment he was able to disrobe his cold, balmy attire that he had to endure ever since he fell into the frozen river.
Cole was the next to get all his clothes off as he too ran up to the slope shelf.
"WOOOO," Cole blurted out before jumping from the rock ledge into the hot spring, ass first. The waves of hot water wash over Sven, trying to brace himself from the stinging surf. As the water finally settled, Cole merged from the bottom of the pool to the steaming surface.
"Whoa, CRAP, that's hot," Cole shrieked as the heat stabbed him like a bunch of poking needles.
"Sweet, that was awesome, I wanna try that," said Sven.
"Nah uh, my turn," Baird interrupted before he too, hobbled off the ledge and jumped into the pool. Landing on his bare back, the splash caused a massive wave of water to rush over both Sven and Cole. Baird quickly emerged, cussing from the sweltering water stinging his fair skin.
"Sh*t, this water is hot…FERAL, you didn't say anything about this spring being scorching!"
"I said it was HOT!" Raven reiterated from a distance, still trying to set up a campfire.
"It's BOILING Feral…big difference."
"Well what the hell did you expect; it's a hot spring,"
"It's a swelter, look at my ass, it’s f***ing red,"
"Well that's sounds more like personal problem Damon. You know they got ointments for that,"
"Yea, I got your ointment right here," Baird mumbled under his breath. He moved closer to the shallow part of the spring to find some relief from the sweltering water, revealing his beet-red mid-section. Cole started laughing,
"Damn, Damon, yo ass is red man, not to mention your…"
"Oh, shut up…HEY FERAL, move the flare more over to the right," Baird yelled, looking up to see if the light over the bolder was relocated. Noticing the light moving into the opposite direction, Baird bellowed out,
"Your other right!”
Raven growled, moving the flare yet again to the other side.
"There…is there anything else?" she sneered.
"Well, now that you mention it…"
"You know what…never mind."
"What…oh, c'mon, you didn't know what I was going to ask you…"
"You're just going to try to find some moronic reason for me to come over there, just so you can somehow humiliate me for your amusement."
"Who, Baird…nah," Cole mused.
"Ah ha, ha…ass," Baird said sarcastically, "…c'mon, Feral, it's nothing you haven't seen before," he conveniently reminded Raven.
"Just because somebody's seen the show doesn't make it spectacular, Baird."
Cole and Sven laughed out loud, nearly sinking into the pool, trying to brace themselves along the rock wall.
"Well, apparently they still pay to go see the sequel," Baird continued.
"Not in this life time, Gear," Feral responded.
"…you know I had to try."
"Whatever, shut up and scrub your ass. Other people need to use the pool too,"
"Well nobody’s stopping you from joining in," Baird continued while Cole and Sven kept laughing, almost to tears.
"Dude, ya think she'll do it," Sven beamed with glee.
"Like, dude, I don't think she would pose selling tupperware, much less jumping naked in the pool, especially with us three grunts," Baird replied.
"Man, that don't mean we can't dream," Cole mumbled before going down, submerging his head under the water, then racing back up.
"In it that that the truth," Baird muttered to himself as he looked over to view his red buttocks, not the least bit concerned about exposing his junk to the others while trying to orient his body to the sweltering water.
"Woooh, damn this is NICE! We need to come back here when this is over," Cole began to simmer as he leaned his back on the smooth bolder behind him. Baird too went under briefly and came back up, feeling the tension in his shoulders relax the moment he breathed in the steam to clear his sinuses.
"When and if this is ever over," said Baird as he sobered up to the idea of rest and relaxation.
"Like, when will it be over…I mean…do you think we're close to ending the war?" Sven asked. His optimism started to shy away the moment he caught both Cole and Baird just stare at him with discernment. Sven hadn't fought near as long or hard as these two had, and his naive outlook on the situation was only natural for the fledgling soldier.
"Hey, so how does this water get so hot," Sven asked, trying to deter the somewhat, sullen atmosphere.
"It's getting its heat from under the ground, right Baird?" Cole answered, scanning his filed away archive of when he last studied geography back in high school. Nevertheless, Cole diverted his attention to Baird in hopes that Damon could clarify further. Baird was still leaning his head back on the boulder before he looked up to notice Cole and Sven glaring at him.
"What am I, your personal encyclopedia?" Baird scoffed as the two continued to just glare at him.
"Sigh… the water is being heated by a geothermic heat source."
“Whoo! I knew I got it right,” Cole slammed his hand over the surface of the pool, impressed with himself for still retaining what he had learned in tenth grade science.
“What?” Sven was bemused.
"Oh for crying out loud…” Baird growled, “…there is a heat source under the damn ground, heating the groundwater…just like Cole said."
"Oh…ok," Sven acknowledged, although he still trying to envision the geology.
"So, exactly what is it underground that is heatin the water," Cole continued.
"The planetary core, or magma, or hot rocks."
"Like in volcanoes?"
"Probably…there's one not too far from here,” Baird elaborated, “… where do you think Vectus island came from? This whole area sits on the edge of a tectonic plate."
"So that's why we haven't seen any grub holes lately...I thought it was because this valley is mostly made of granite, like Jacinto."
"The mountains are, but most of the valley is some form of limestone…this place is rich with metals and it was long rumored that there may have been some Imulsion depositories here as well," said Baird as he gave Cole a grin, "you’re finally starting to catch on, Gus…I'm impressed!" Baird mused while Cole flipped him the bird from the other side of the pool for being a smart ass.
"*****," Cole sneered. Baird could only smirk, blowing him a kiss to add to the fire.
As the three men soaked in the sauna, shooting the breeze and slapping their cocks around, Raven slipped over the boulder and took a seat, trying not to sit directly on her wound that had been numb from the cold. She quietly rummaged through Baird's nap pack before she uncovered a journal. Perfect,
she muttered before tip-toeing back to the campfire, occasionally looking over her shoulder to make sure the three men were still occupied in the pool.
Carefully turning the pages, Raven discreetly rummaged through the pages until she came across some of Damon’s less-than-prudent artwork, which mostly consisted of pin-ups of naked women. She turned the book on the side, shuddering as she inadvertently wrapped her head around his doodles. What a perv,
she said to herself, but continued to analyze the sketches more closely…wow, he's actually pretty good, despite the subject matter.
Curling her lip and scrunching her brow, she turned the page to read several extensive notes regarding the Kantus scrolls and something about the "Trinity of Worms," straining to read the material in the half light, fluttering from the campfire, especially since the asshole insisted the flare to be moved closer to the shore.
"From other writings I've found, I think I've pieced it together: This is something called the "Trinity of Worms," and it's probably the closest thing I've seen yet to a Locust religious symbol. They really worship worms…we so do not deserve to be alive.
As far as I can tell, there's some kind of mantra on the artifact, about the queen making drones, drones protecting Nexus…and I'll have to work out that last part a little later. I don't work well under gunfire." (GoW 2)
Reveling in her thoughts, Raven contemplated the worms Baird was referring to. He must mean the rock worms…but how does he know about them, they're not indigenous on the surface, or at least near Jacinto.
Turning the pages, Raven came across some more of his "creative doodles," only this time they were caricatures of some other squad mates. She stumbled upon a caricature of Colonel Hoffman, whom appeared to be rhetorically "yanking" his male appendage." Raven laughed to herself, trying not to do it out load before turning the page to find another hand drawn caricature of what appeared to be Sergeant Fenix, boinking a less-than-discerning Lieutenant Stroud from the rear. Raven raised an eyebrow, wondering if there was any truth to the cartoon. Turning the page, she approached some more of his entries regarding the Locusts. Trying to read Baird's somewhat legible handwriting, Raven squinted at the scribbled print,
"Why aren't there any Locust brats around here? Figured we'd see some grub's grub somewhere around this place.
Well, guess if the Berserkers are the females, maybe the males just wised up and quit laying the pipe to 'em. Man, that would be perfect... Locust go extinct due to the fugly, homicidal chicks they have to mate with." (GoW wiki)
Raven rolled her eyes at Baird's observation and what she perceived to be ignorance, but at the same time, she pondered; what place are they referring to, the Hollow, or Nexus?
She recalled the means she noticed when she observed how Locusts managed to mate with the Berserkers, but it wasn't from strapping them down in chains so the drone could procreate without being ripped to shreds, as it was also cataloged in the COG database.
On the contrary,
Raven scribbled to the side of Baird's notes, they use a song, or chant to "charm" her when she is in estrus…and that, from what I have observed only happens four times a year.
Among Ravens' surveillance of the Berserkers, from a safe distance, she found that their keen sense of smell was particular on whom they want to mate with. She had seen instances of Berserkers mating willingly with one drone while decimating another. She could only guess that Berserkers have a pheromone preference. With many of the Berserkers becoming few in between, this may have been one of the contributing factors as to why hardly anyone has seen juvenile Locusts.
The Locusts must be trying to produce out of desperation by forcing the Berserkers to mate using confinement, similar to what the COG was doing with breeding farms. It seemed pliable in theory, but as one wise woman once said, there is a rhyme and reason for nature's selection. To deviate from those natural laws will lead to misfortune.
She turned over to another section of notes to what appeared to be printouts pasted on his journal pages. She started to read one of his note's;
"I think this thing's like the Locust equivalent of a calendar or a clock…it says something about "every season having it's opposite," and I also see some glyphs for "Nexus," "Queen," and maybe "Imulsion"…can't quite tell.
I'm guessing it has something to do with the ebb and flow of Imulsion, but I'd have to do a lot more research to confirm that.
Considering that I'm about, oh, three kilometers deep, right square in the guts of the enemy, you'll have to forgive my vast empirical skills aren't exactly at their finest right now." (GoW 2)
Raven stumbled upon a picture taped into the next page of what appeared to be a calendar dial. She tried to peer carefully to get a better look at the glyphs on the picture of the "calendar."
These look more like star constellations than glyphs, but how can that be plausible, they dwell under the surface…unless…
As she flipped to the next page, she noticed that Baird drew out the Locust "alphabet" along with part of the interpretation.
He has actually deciphered some of the Locust language?
Raven quickly reached down into her pack to pull out her own journal and a pencil, setting them down in front as she reached near her boot to take out her knife. Carefully placing Baird's journal next to her leg, she sharpened her pencil with the knife on the other side to avoid getting any shavings on the pages.
Over the slope near the pool shore, she could hear the three Gears frolicking in the water, doing whatever it was men did when they're naked in a hot tub, she could only guess. She carefully placed Baird's journal on her leg as she sat hers close by so she could quickly write down the "letters" of the Locust alphabet, still keeping a tuned ear in the Gears' direction.
How come I haven't seen any of this in the database,
Raven pondered, wondering the reason may have been perhaps because Baird wasn't done translating it all yet.
She turned several pages, trying to ignore more of his "pin-up" drawings until she stumbled upon a photograph taped to a page, faced down. She carefully lifted it up to see what appeared to be a "family" picture. She turned the journal upside down to get a better look at the photo and noticed that it was some picture of some outing or a vacation of sorts. She could see a man and a woman with a little boy in the middle of the two, posing in front of some ruins outside a historical site somewhere outside of Tyran. Raven tried to turn the journal more toward the fire light to make out the details. Is that Damon with his parents?
She could make out the scruffy looking blonde kid in a knit sweater over a dress shirt; a school uniform maybe?
Raven could recall the days she had to wear a school uniform, and it wasn’t the most comfortable attire, but it sure beat wearing a dress any day.
The pouting blonde kid was holding what appeared to be a notebook, posing grudgingly what looked like to be with his parents.
Raven laughed to herself, I don't know of any kid that liked to be photographed…I couldn't stand it.
Raven could recall during her childhood when her foster father would tickle her to get her to smile for the camera. She would have never thought that she would ever regret it now.
She sighed as she carefully flipped the photo over into place, turning a few more pages until she came across something peculiar. Trying to go back to the page of interest, she skipped over some "life" drawings of some women, posing naked. She rubbed the back of her neck, trying not to be impressed with his eye for detail, but she couldn't help but to take notice of the fineness in his work.
"HEY FERAL," Cole could be heard, blasting like an obnoxious, muted trumpet, which startled her. Oh good lord, now what?
"What doya girls think about a guy with big hands,"
Fumbling with the journal, Raven managed to place it on her lap before she looked over her shoulder before she shouted back,
"Well he probably wears big gloves, Cole." Raven yelled back, closing the journal carefully as to not wrinkle the pages.
"What about big feet,"
I can already see where this is going.
"Well Cole, I hate to bust your ego but just because a guy has some funky characteristics doesn't necessarily mean he's packing," Raven blurted out, hoping that it would be the last of Cole's musings.
"But I thought…well you know…supposed to know all dis breeding stuff, what do y'all chicks dig in a man," said Cole as the others started to laugh.
"I'm not a fertility counselor, Cole," she yelled back.
"Alright Feral, Cole wants to know if size matters," Baird finally had to say it. Raven placed the journal down before she let out a heavy sigh, contemplating if she should even amuse him with an answer.
"Are we seriously having this conversation right now?" she barked.
The three men responded in unison,
Raven grumbled as she placed the journal back where it was, just as Baird had left it before he stripped off his boots and pants. Speaking of which, what is taking them so long? Raven pulled out a watch from her pocket, it's been…almost an hour!
She got up to limp down to the pool shore, coming to the rock ledge the men were jumping off earlier. In a brief instance of borderline shock, she glowered at the men the moment she caught Cole and Baird wrestling in the deeper part of the water.
"Uh, sir…guys," Sven tried to intervene, all the while Cole and Baird ignored him as usual and continuing with their "dude fest", not even giving Raven a glance. As Cole tried to keep his footing, Baird strategically went under to snag the Thrashball player by his legs, lifting him up as Cole toppled over into the spring. All the while Raven tried not to look directly at their male bits between the unsettled steam and choppy water. Baird laughed out load as he started to goad his victory,
"Haha, c'mon Cole! I thought you said you can…oh," Baird cut himself short the moment his eyes met Raven’s stabbing blue gaze under her scowl. Raven stood on the shore with her arms folded, giving the men a grimacing look before Cole was able to emerge, itching for a comeback.
"That's it, white boy! You’re going…uh… oh," said Cole the moment he looked up and could already feel the awkward moment already emitting from the other two as if someone let out a loud fart during a eulogy. Whatever testosterone frenzy they were relishing in, it was over now.
"Wow…two guys wrestling naked in a hot tub…I should post this on my blog,"
"Yea, I bet that gets you all hot, doesn't it," Baird gloated to Raven's sarcasm.
Her brow shrunk over her eyes, as if she was going to burn a hole in Damon’s head.
"It's been nearly an hour…you’re done! OUT, now!" Raven ordered.
The three glared at her dumbfounded for a moment before turning to each other as they suddenly start to snicker, and before Raven could even get another word in, the three were already laughing hysterically.
"You know what? You three can go f*** yourselves! I'm going back to the campfire," Raven scoffed, unamused as she turned around to limp back over to the campsite.
"Aw c'mon Rav, you know you want some of this…" Baird reveled in banter as she continued to walk away. He turned his attention back to the other two Gears, "ok, the party poopers' right. We do need to eat and hit the hay," he resumed.
"Ah, we gotta go back out in the cold?" Sven moaned before he attempted to dash his way out of the pool to try and get his clothes on as quickly as possible. Cole followed close behind, attempting to do the same.
"Yea, now my dick's going to run and hide…SH*T, it’s cold," Cole whined. Both were shaking the water off while putting on their clothes. Sven slipped on his pants rapidly, but his hands were shivering so vigorously, he fell over onto the rest of his attire.
"Crap, man I can't find my shirt…" Sven groaned.
"I got yo shirt! Here..."
Cole tossed it over to Sven, whom was still rolling on the ground to quickly put on his clothes.
Damon finally dragged himself out of the warm water, feeling the sudden rush of the cold, crisp air, whisk right in between his legs. The moment the frost started to cling to his damp epidermis, he suddenly dropped his hands to shield his naughty bits with his warm hands.
"Ah, man, this feeling sucks," Baird griped as he teetered over the rock, staggering to his wardrobe to quickly put on his pants and undershirt.
Cole and Sven eventually got dressed before they made their way to the campsite, carrying their armor and boots. Plopping their armor near the campfire, Raven threw some more tree branches into the flames to keep the fire going. Baird too, jumped down from the shallow ridge, tossing his gear next to Raven.
"Oh damn…I missed," Baird snickered, hoping it would get a rise out of Raven, whom was already in a foul mood. Knowing that Baird was just being an ass for the sake thereof, she turned on Baird's frolics.
"Yea, that too sounds like a personal problem. How do you expect to multiply with your crappy aim?"
"Oooo…burn...hey Baird, I think you just got told," Cole coaxed as he resumed laughing. Baird picked up Cole's blanket to throw it at him before he returned a condescending smirk in raven’s direction.
"My aim is still better than yours," Baird mocked back, although she was not quite sure what he was referring to; whether it be her sexual orientation, or her lack of experience with a rifle. Either way, he was slowly trying to get under her skin.
"Oh, by the way, you can have the pool now," Baird continued gesturing a feminine pose to further his point, "…and be sure to wash out your gash. I'll stitch it back up when you're done."
"Gee, you’re too kind," Raven mumbled, still tossing in some branches and weathered pine needles into the fire.
"You better start being nice to me," Baird sneered, noticing that she was cursing under her breathe. Raven glanced up to exchange a grin of sarcasm before frumpily turning her grin into a frown, just before she got up to tend to other matters.
"So what's for grub?' Cole asked, pulling out a bag that the Feral gave him from the night before.
"Nuts, dried berries, and jerky," she said as she pulled out a piece of jerky and started to gnaw on it.
"Aw, for real? We got some beef jerky?" Cole beamed in excitement.
"Beef? I don't think so," said Baird, picking the jerky strands from his sack, trying to analyze it.
"How do you know it's not beef?" Cole asked.
"When was the last time you saw a cow, Cole?"
Cole ignored Baird as he took a bite into his strand, tasting the spicy meat. It tasted like a mix of cedar, honey, and cinnamon. Sven started to chew on his, relishing in the sweet taste that salivated in his mouth. For jerky, it was rather tender.
"Whatever it is, this stuff ain't bad," said Sven.
"Damn, this **** is good…what is this Feral?" Cole finally asked and then shoved the rest of his jerky in his mouth.
"It's Kryll, Cole," Raven answered. Baird suddenly threw the meat from his hand in disgust,
"Aw, gross…the ****, Feral!"
Cole stopped chewing for a moment, letting the info that Raven just informed him sink into his head. Sven turned to look at the others, wondering if that was actually a bad thing. They all then turned their attention to Raven who was just eating away at it, not thinking twice about it. She stopped for a moment before she caught notice of the immediate glares she was getting from the squad.
"What…it's good for you. It's a lot leaner, and more tender than beef…besides, it's rich in iron," she tried to justify the means.
"It's Kryll, Raven! I can't believe you chicks actually eat this ****," Baird griped. Cole shrugged and continued to finish up his jerky.
"It ain't that bad, Baird. Try some…it'll put hair on your chest," Cole chuckled while Baird gave him a dirty look.
"No thanks. You guys go ahead."
Raven finished up as she tossed her bag down on the ground,
"Well, I'm going to take care of business, so try not to screw anything up…and refrain yourselves from pissing in the campfire, please," she informed them before making her way over to the spring.
"You got it, baby…" Cole yells over his shoulder.
"We won't piss in the campfire as long as you don't piss in the pool," Baird added while carefully picking out the more recognizable nuts in his food bag. Raven let out a sigh, ignoring Baird’s commentary as she continued to limp over to the pool.
Meanwhile, the men took refuge in front of the fire, thawing out from the cold air still lingering in the cave. Although the night air outside was below freezing, the steam coming from the spring, mixed with the heat coming from the campfire kept the campsite tolerable. But just as the night air settled outside the cave entrance, the men resumed their bantering.
“So where are we supposed to go if we wanna take a piss?” Sven asked while chewing on his jerky stick.
“In the campfire, like she said,” Baird responded.
“I though she just said not to piss in the fire,” Sven protested.
"Hehe, I think she was really talking to you, Vinny," said Cole.
"Really?” Sven beamed naively, “…hey, you think she..." Sven began to contemplate, but before he could finish, Cole and Baird cut him off, barking in unison,