“Sh*t, the collapse has blocked the tunnel.”
“Calm down, soldier. We'll use the underground streams instead.”
“What about them?”
“Leave them. We don't have time. Let's move.”
Darrius was only aware he was being dragged when he was dropped uncomfortably on his back. His head slapped onto hard rock and the pain brought him back into reality. Taking a deep breath, and tasting the stifling dank air that could only exist trapped underground, he knew they were in some serious sh*t. Locust territory now.
“Sh*t, sorry Darrius!” Tiller whispered at him from above. Opening his eyes, he found he could barely see the young soldiers face. If it wasn't for the faint glow from his armour lights, Tiller's concerned features would be lost to him. Waving off his apologies, Darrius sat up and shook his head slightly, taking comfort from the slight pain it caused him. He was alive and that was all that mattered really. From the looks of things, they weren't far from where the tunnels had collapsed under the bunker. Chunks of steel and concrete had spilled from the new opening in the ceiling – removing any chance of climbing back up. The only way was going to be forwards... for good or bad.
“F*ck...,” Darrius said in a low voice and tried to get to his feet. “Tiller... give me a minute.”
“Rest, Darrius,” Tiller said quietly and gently pushed Darrius back onto his backside. “We won't be going anywhere for a little bit yet.”
“What? Why?” Darrius hissed. Did they not know where they were? If they were caught with their backs to the wall, they'd be dead. Tiller didn't respond but pointed off into the darkness. At first, Darrius couldn't see the outstretched hand but his eyes were adjusting to the low light. Squinting, he could make out armour lights some distance away. He assumed them to belong to Ben and Claire. One set was further away from the other and lower down... something was wrong. His concern overrode his own pain and Darrius forced himself to his feet, ignoring Tiller's protests. The darkness closed in around him and once or twice, he stumbled on the uneven ground he couldn't see to judge but he was finding it easier to focus as the seconds went by though the pain in his chest from his injuries were going to cause some serious concerns later on if they couldn't find help.
As he drew nearer, he realised he could hear crying- the grief racked sobs of a broken woman. Darrius crouched down near where Claire knelt and reached out to her. His hand brushed her neck and he adjusted so he gently gripped her shoulder. With his other hand, he followed her arm down till he found what she was gripping. Her father's body. He was still warm to the touch but utterly lifeless.
“Claire... look, I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry but...,” He struggled to say the words with out emotion. It might as well been his own father's corpse on the ground. “We can't stay here... we have to move.”
She didn't respond. Shoulders hunched, she seemed to concentrate on keeping her grief as silent as possible. He tried to lift her by her armpit but she resisted. Above, the ground raged and churned as the Locust tunnelled through it with little regard to the stability of the region. Tearing rock and earth-shattering booms still resounded in the stone and city above. Darrius wiped at his face and left the girl to her grief, at least for a moment. He went over to Ben.
“What happened?” He whispered.
“Sh*t, kid, I dunno. Once the floor caved, I lost grip on him and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor and he... he had a piece of rebar through the chest...,” Ben's voice choked to a halt and Darrius could sense the guilt in his words, even though it was no one's fault. “... F*ck.”
“We need to move,” Darrius said quietly. “I wish we could do more... but if the Locust reach us in the darkness, we're dead and he'll have died for nothing.”
“Don't you think I know that, you sh*t?” Ben spat with sudden venom. “We just lost a close friend. If you want to move now, then you can get her to move.”
“I swear to f*cking Christ....” Darrius muttered, leaving the irate Gear stewing in his own guilt. He stumbled back to Claire and crouched beside her. Without saying a word, he reached forward, tugged the Captain's COG tags from his neck and gently placed them in Claire's hands.
“We need to go. He wouldn't want you to die mourning him... he'd want you to live,” Darrius said. It sounded pathetic but it was something, anything to stir a reaction. He stood up and this time, Claire rose with him, hand still clutching the tags. He wanted more than anything than to be able to comfort her but he found his arms glued to his side and an awkward silence seeping between them. What do you say in a situation like this? Sorry?
Shaking his head, Darrius focused. He had let his mind wander when only moments ago, he was mentally berating people for not having a sense of urgency to their situation.
“So what's the plan?” Ben said, stomping over. “In case no one has noticed, we're sitting in the f*cking dark. We don't have any light.”
And with that, the tunnel burst into illumination. Hovering over their heads, the spotlight moved and dimmed to reveal Doc, miraculously undamaged from the collapse. Absorbed in their own thoughts, no one had thought to look up and notice the familiar three glowing dots suspended in the dank air.
“Well sh*t,” Tiller said from what seemed like a distance. “That thing is indestructible.”
“That will make things easier,” Darrius nodded.
“Alright, back to the question, now what?” Ben said. As if overhearing his thoughts, the earth above creaked ominously. “We could have a Corpser drop down on us at any moment.”
“Well...,” Darrius glanced at Claire, who was staring into space, then at the wall of rubble behind her. “We can't go that way... we only have one way to go. Just have to hope one of these tunnels leads to the surface.”
“Okay, that's fair enough,” Tiller said, shrugging. “What about... you know...”
Everyone turned to follow Tiller's gaze. Behind Claire lay her father's fallen body. She was staring away from it resolutely but the tags still dangled limply in her hand, glinting in the light. Darrius was uncomfortable reminded of himself and how he knew that if he looked down, he would see the pendent dangling much in the same way.
“There's nothing we can do for him now, except get out of here alive,” Darrius said quietly and was thankful that Claire didn't respond.
“Claire? What do you want to do?” Tiller asked.
“Let's just go,” She muttered, tying the tags around her own neck and setting off down the tunnel without even a glance back.
“Doc, follow her,” Ben snapped at the bot. He turned to Tiller and Darrius “Everyone got a weapon?”
“I got a Gnasher here, you've got the Lancer... Darrius, what about you? You can't use a sniper down here, surely?”
“I could,” Darrius shrugged and started to follow Claire. He yanked his Snub Pistol out of it's holster. “I have this in any case. To be honest, Tiller, if we run into any Locust down here, we're f*cked anyway.”
Without another word, they set off into the darkness. They eventually caught up with Claire and she sank to the rear of the group with Tiller, which left Darrius leading, Ben muttering and swearing under his breath behind him and Doc floating cheerfully above them, whirring and twirping without a care in the world. The spotlight was kept mainly just ahead of Darrius but occasionally it pulled up to reveal the tunnel. There was nothing to indicate how far they'd gone or how far they'd have to go before a way out was found, only that the world above on the surface was still in it's death throes. Every creak and groan, every chunk of rock and bucketful of dust that fell from the ceiling was a just a gentle reminder that it could collapse down on them at any moment but if any of the group feared such a thing, they kept it to themselves. The darkness didn't bother Darrius too much, he'd always preferred the night because it allowed him to collect his thoughts and focus without the sun highlighting everything everyone had lost. He hadn't spent much time out of Jacinto or Ephyra but the few times he was operating amongst the ruins of nearby cities... he felt a sort of melancholy set in. A depression stemming from the disbelief that somehow, the world as he knew it was gone and most likely, would never be coming back. The dark hid all that.
His thoughts drifted to Kurt. Where was he now? Did he make it home or did he, along with Darrius' mother, sister and the other survivors, die in a ****ty sewer, alone and without hope? He couldn't imagine Kurt dying at all but then again, he thought his dad was invincible too but... what happened to him? He played the perfect hero and was buried under a collapsing building, body never to be found and that... that was what the world would think of him. Dead. A hot headed young Gear who sacrificed himself to the Hammer. A hero. Like his father. Would the world miss him out of the thousands of heroes who came before? No. So why should he care? Deep down, he felt like he didn't.
Yes you do
, he stubbornly told himself. He wanted more than anything to see Kurt and his family again but that would have to wait, he had more pressing matters. He wasn't the only one who'd lost someone close to them... not by a long shot. The darkness closed in on him once more and he lost himself in the tunnels of his mind as they walked.
Minutes turned into hours and still not a word had been said. The only sound that could be heard was the scraping of boots against the uneven floor and the odd tremor from above as unseen horrors moved through Sera's crust. Only Doc seemed cheerful and that was only because the noises his processors sounded like something from a child's toy. Darrius wondered how long it's internal battery would last underground... hopefully long enough. He glanced over his shoulder at Claire, who trudged along with her head bowed, tags still dangling from her hand. She hadn't taken her eyes off them since they started walking and maybe she wouldn't even when the bullets started to fly. He'd definitely have to watch her once they were out from this place.
“Hold it,” Ben said, stopping in his tracks. Doc drifted closer and spotted him with the light. He was crouched on the floor, examining something he must have stepped on. Tiller and Darrius moved closer but Claire just went and stood at the edge of the light a few metres away.
“What is it?” Darrius asked, dropping to one knee. Ben's fingers traced what appeared to be wiring on the floor. The outer casing was rotting and flaking away, leaving the metal underneath reflecting in the light and trailing off out of sight down the tunnel.
“This doesn't seem to be Locust made,” Ben replied.
“So... what?” Tiller said.
“So, this tunnel might not be Locust made either,” Darrius said. Ben nodded his approval.
“Which means this might have a way out?” Tiller said hopefully.
“Perhaps,” Darrius muttered. “Doc, shine the light up at the ceiling.”
The bot obliged, revealing a trail of ceiling mounted lights trailing off into the darkness. Their power supply had obviously been disrupted by either the Hammer strike or the Grubs but they would still be useful none the less.
“So...,” Tiller trailed off, frowning at the lights. “So what? Dead lights aren't going to show us the way.”
“Well, no, perhaps not,” Darrius agreed. “But, it means that this tunnel goes somewhere, doesn't it?”
“What the f*ck were they doing digging around down here anyway? Look at the wiring – the casing, it's all rotting. Must be years old,” Ben said, squinting in the darkness. With a creak of shifting armour, Ben stood up. “Claire? F*ck.”
Darrius quickly leapt to his feet despite the pain of his wounds. Doc's light swept the tunnel but she was nowhere to be found. He signalled to the rest of the group and they set off at a jog down the tunnel chasing the sounds of scrapping boots that receded into the distance. Tiller went to call her name but Ben quickly nudged him hard in the back as they ran - they still couldn't afford to attract attention. Darrius started to panic a little. Where could she have got to? Did she slip off back to where they had fell, to her father's corpse? Maybe they'd already passed her? Why didn't they hear her move? The questions were still buzzing through his head when the tunnel suddenly veered sharply to the left. He ground to a halt and let the others catch their breath.
“How the f*ck did she get so far ahead?” Ben panted.
“Wait, is... is that light?” Tiller whispered. “Doc, switch the lights off.”
The lights blinked out and sure enough, there was a faint glow from what appeared to be the end of the tunnel. It wasn't particularly bright, and the source didn't seem large enough to indicate a way out, however. Darrius wasn't sure but his heart still sunk in his chest. After all this, they were going to starve in some forgotten cave under a dead city? He gritted his teeth and forced the negative emotions out. He'd been having a lot of those lately and he was tired of them. Instead, he decided to do something proactive. Pulling his snub pistol out of it's holster, he turned to the others.
“Okay, if Claire is going to be anywhere, it'll be by whatever is making the light. I wouldn't assume whatever is making it is friendly so until proven otherwise, stay sharp. Doc, lights again but keep it dim.”
The advanced towards the light but found themselves at a dead end. The light was coming from a roughly hewn hole in the wall, as though an existing crevice had been widened with whatever digging tools had been available. Gouges marked the opening and pieces of metal littered the floor. Somebody had obviously come through here recently. The problem was, Claire was nowhere to be seen.
“Great. Perfect,” Ben said, he glared at the hole in the wall as though it was the blame for everything that had happened in the last few hours. “Did she go through there?”
Darrius knelt by the opening. A thin layer of dust, shaken from the ceiling, coated the ground but it failed to highlight the bootprints beneath. However, they were far too large to be Claire's, even taking into account how smudged they were from the tremors. Smudged? He blinked a few times and his vision cleared up slightly. Darrius hoped the blurriness would fade because it would cause some problems if it kept up.
“Well?” Ben snapped, breaking his thought stream.
“She didn't come through here,” Darrius replied wearily. “someone else did though and not too long ago.”
“How long is not too long ago?”
“I'm not a specialist in tracking, you know,” Darrius said. “But I imagine it was after the Hammer strikes but before the recent Locust tunnelling.”
“Not a specialist eh?” Ben said, shaking his head. “What about Claire?”
“Well, this tunnel is a one way system. She's going to be in the other direction,” Darrius said, tilting his head back the way they'd come. He declined to add the I hope on the end of his sentence.
“It works in our favour though,” Tiller said. “We can't get lost. We can simply go back the other way and pick her up.”
“True,” Ben said. “Let's go and get her.”
“We don't have much food, in case you haven't noticed,” Darrius said, tapping a container at his belt. “Just some rations that will last us a few days, if we push it. I think we need to speed up what we're doing. You and Tiller, take Doc and go grab Claire. I'll find the source of the light. Maybe I can find help.”
“You're in no position to do anything by yourself, Darrius,” Tiller said critically. “Why don't you go back and get Claire? There's nothing between here and there.”
“If Claire is having a moment, I won't be much help. Just go, I'll be fine.”
“Tiller, let's just go,” Ben said and stomped off with Doc in tow.
“Good luck, Darrius. Don't take any risks. Meet us here, okay? We won't be long.”
“Wilco,” Darrius said, shaking Tiller's hand. He watched them walk off into the darkness and sighed. Taking risks was becoming a bit of a career but if they didn't find some sort of help or resources, they wouldn't be lasting too much longer. He waited until Tiller and Ben's footsteps receded into the distance before stepping through the hole. The footsteps he'd found continued down the narrow corridor of rock. There were chunks of wall panels and grating sticking out of the wall and ceiling which suggested that this was part of an underground bunker of some description. The upheaval caused by the Hammer and the Locust must have destroyed most of the system. It boded well though. Perhaps some others escaped into underground installations like he had.
Cautiously, he staggered into the corridor. It wasn't really a hole he'd come through, but a door frame. Darrius walked over pieces of the door further in and they were blackened and burnt. Something had used explosives to come through here. Grubs? A body was slumped against the wall, hands limp at it's side, head leaning against one shoulder, helmet lights flickering faintly in the gloom. A Gear. Darrius knelt by the soldier and pushed it's head upright, where it lolled to the opposite shoulder. Something glinted under it's chin and it was then that Darrius noticed the knife jammed under it's jaw and up into it's skull. Grimacing, Darrius gently tugged at the blade by it's blood slicked handle and with a bit of wiggling, yanked it free with a wet squelch, spraying himself with flecks of blood.
It was a COG knife.
“Now, did a Grub stick this in you? Or was it a Gear?” Darrius muttered, frowning at the corpse and turning the blade over in his hands. It had been jammed in with almost surgical precision and seemingly barely any effort. He looked at the wound. Just a slit, no tearing. Would a Grub have just stabbed someone like that? They'd have rather beaten a human to death and tore their heads off with their bare hands than use a COG knife. It was far to small to use effectively in their leathery hands. The blade was barely seven inches long which was nothing compared to some of their serrated butcher knives he'd seen in the field. Why would a Gear kill a fellow Gear? Unless that person wasn't a Gear, but then only Gears carry this sort of knife. A mystery, but not an important one, not yet.
There was a far greater mystery. When did this happen? The blood stains on the man's uniform were dried and crusted, brown in the dim light. There were splashes of it on the wall behind the body and on the floor, both smeared by hands and feet respectively. There was definitely a struggle. A fight gone wrong? Darrius thought back to the blown door. A fight? Or an attack? He slipped the knife into his empty sheath and searched for the man's tags, finding them hanging the wrong way, pressed between the corpse's back and the wall. He unattached it and tucked them into a pouch.
Pulling his Snub out of it's holster, he held it in front of him and made his way down the end of the corridor, pausing at the corner. Darrius was getting an uneasy feeling about this place. It looked very similar to the emergency bunker they had just left and the Locust found that with relative ease but as he moved through the hallways and empty, completely stripped rooms that were devoid of anything to indicate the purpose of the facility, Darrius found no reason to believe anybody was here at all. He reached the end of the line of corridors and found two doors, the one on the left was clearly for a lift, the other was a powered down automatic door. Probably the stairs. Darrius pressed the button to call the lift but no lights blinked on. He slapped it a few more times before giving up. There was barely enough power to turn the lights on, let alone run the lift, so Darrius moved to the door on the right. It was so quiet, he couldn't even hear the seismic activity that had been hanging over their heads for the last couple of hours and the dim lights and shadows did nothing to sooth the nagging voice in the back of his head. He fought the urge to keep looking over his shoulder because paranoia would do jack **** to keep him focused... besides, Darrius would know if someone was coming up behind him. There's just this certain vibe you can't ignore when something is creeping up on you.
The door was powered down, predictably but without electricity, there wasn't a lot holding the door closed either. Holstering his snub, he pushed his fingers into the groove by one side of the door frame and pulled as hard as he could. His aching muscles almost gave way instantly, but the door creaked and then scraped across the floor. An inch, then a foot and then enough space to slip through. As Darrius relaxed his fingers, he felt the door ready to spring back and quickly levered himself through the gap. The door slammed shut again and he found himself in near darkness. Near darkness, not total darkness. There was more faint light at the end of what appeared to be a short corridor.
All these lights at the end of tunnels. One after the other
, Darrius thought dryly to himself.
The door at the end of the tunnel opened up to a walkway that ran the length of a large cavern that had been mined away to form a large bowl shape expanse which then funnelled away to a man made tunnel at the far end. Darrius took one crouched step and then his jaw dropped. Here, in what felt like the bowels of Sera, was civilisation! There was well over a hundred people down in the cavern, most of them Gears and they were in a hurry to move, judging from all of the crates of supplies and weapons they were stacking neatly on one side. No one said a word, they just did what they had been told to do with driven purpose. Then one man spoke as he entered from below and he moved amongst the Gears with words of encouragement and light slaps on the shoulders, his voice barely carried to the catwalk Darrius was crouched on but it was deep and full of charisma. He talked about them being one of mankind's hopes and how they would rise from the ashes to reclaim their former lives one day and... and... they'd do it without the yoke of the COG regime? Darrius frowned. What did he mean by that? As quietly as he could, he went from a kneeling position to a prone one and pulled his Longshot from his back. He gently laid it before him and pressed his eye to the scope. The man in question was imposing, even for a gear but not in the way Augustus Cole was... more in the way of Marcus Fenix... though not as imposing; though like Fenix, he didn't wear his helmet, unlike the rest of his gears. He turned in Darrius' general direction and inspected one of the crates, lifting the lid and nodding at the contents. His head was shaved to his scalp and his face was scar ridden, giving the man a fearsome look indeed. It went against the friendly smile he gave to the men who came to collect the box he was looking in. He had the total respect of his Gears and from the civilians. It didn't take a genius to see they trusted him. One side of Darrius thought it would be an opportune time to make themselves noticed and get the help they needed. Another was wary, after all, why would someone talk about the COG with such a tone of voice and how did they get so far underground? He was suspicious but what could he honestly do? They were their salvation and Darrius had no choice.
Whilst he debated with himself over the course of action he should take, something else entirely also thought it would be a great opportunity to make itself noticed and with a massive roar, the wall on the far side of the cavern exploded into rubble. From the dust, a Corpser clawed it's way into the light, spilling hordes of Drones in its wake.