We were alone and isolated from Omega.
As I fought myself to my feet, I took out the transmitter Hades had handed me. One glance at the small screen told me they were still up there, and far, far away from us. I hit the communications channel, tried to hit them up, but was answered by nothing but static.
“Fucking shit,” I cursed.
Theodor walked up to me.
“Don’t bother, Dylan. They’ve abandoned us.”
“What? How are you so-?”
I broke up as Ares’ words came back to me.
‘The moment you’re in the way, I’ll get rid of you.’
Shit, so that’s what had happened. Athena had protected the rest of her team and ignored us. To her, we’d been unimportant, or not important enough for her to waste her energy. Still, I had to try at least.
As I continued tinkering with the small device, Theodor put his hand on my shoulder.
“Stop toying with it. They won’t answer.”
“So you’re saying they just left us here to die, is that it?”
Theodor shrugged, was about to speak up, but then he closed his mouth again and pushed me back a few steps.
I stared at him, but then I heard it, too. Something was moving in the tunnel ahead of us.
A moment later, a dark, reddish worm appeared and slithered towards us. At first there was only one, then another, then more.
When the first one slithered over my foot, trying to snake itself around my ankle, I brought my foot down on it. The thing burst open, drenching my foot in disgusting liquid.
Theodor didn’t focus on them, though, but continued staring ahead. A moment later, I knew why.
The ones we’d seen so far were only the small ones. What came slithering out of the tunnel ahead of us wasn’t. No, it was a giant abomination filling out almost the entire tunnel.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”
Theodor and I rushed away, down the tunnel, away from the thing. As we ran, I shot back at it, but it did nothing. The bullets plunged into the thing, leaving behind bleeding holes, but it seemed too big to even feel them.
As it came after us, more and more of the small worms joined it.
When I unloaded another bunch of bullets on it, the front part of the thing opened up. The disgusting outer skin retreated, revealing a mass of muscled flesh and a giant, gorging mouth. It opened wide as the thing roared at us.
Disgusting liquid and a plethora of the smaller worms shot forward. I pulled my arm up to protect my face and felt two worms crashing against it.
In an instant, they clung to it and tore through the protective armor. I felt razor-sharp teeth digging into my skin. A moment later, I felt them suck the blood from my arm. In a panic, while running, I tore them off me, leaving behind tethered, bleeding wounds. Blood was streaming from them, and I cursed when I saw the amount. If more of them would hit us, we’d been in serious trouble.
I ripped out a flamer grenade and threw it behind me. By now, though, the outer skin of the thing had pushed back, protecting the muscular mouth. Flames licked over the thing’s wet, outer skin, but did little. The flames burned the outer skin, leaving it blistered and sizzling, but that was it.
The creature roared in pain and pushed itself forward with full force.
When it revealed its muscular mouth again, Theodor turned and rushed it.
“Theodor, what the hell are you-?” I called out, but before I could even finish, the creature vomited another surge of smaller worms all over him.
Theodor didn’t even react. Instead, he ripped out his combat knife and plunged it deep into the thing’s muscular tissue.
A moment later, he was thrown back as the creature roared in pain. Right at this moment I threw another grenade I’d been holding. This time I made it and the grenade vanished inside its mouth.
I’d barely thrown myself to the ground when the creature behind us exploded. Burned flesh and worms descended upon us. A few of the worms were still moving, slithering all over me, but they soon died.
“Theodor, are you all right?” I called out to him.
He was on the floor, still covered in dozens of worms.
“Shit, we’ve got to get them off you!”
Yet, when he got up, the worms fell to the floor. They hadn’t been able to bite him, hadn’t even clung to him.
“How did you avoid them biting you?”
Theodor was busy trampling the remaining worms before he stared at me, puzzled.
“I think, they just didn’t attack me,” he said.
When we’d both caught our breath, we stumbled on down the tunnel. For a moment I stopped, wondering which way we should go, but then I thought about that damned worm. Wherever it had come from, there might be more of them. Even worse, I was running out as grenades, I thought as I stared at the measly dozen I’d left.
We hadn’t gone before another surge of mental energy hit us. This one was by far the worst so far. One moment I was walking, the next I was on the floor, pushed to the ground by its sheer pressure. I screamed as something dug deep into my mind, probing it and tearing at it.
With shaking hands, I rummaged through my pockets and injected a mind block, but it didn’t do a damn thing.
Images appeared in my mind. An image of the amalgamation of A-Class organism, Omega fighting them. Words reverberated inside my mind. Futile. Useless. And for a moment I heard their screams, saw Ares’ bloody, battered body. Then the assault was over.
For long moments, I lay on the floor panting and shaking. Freaking hell, don’t tell me even they weren’t a match for this.
“Something’s happening,” Theodor, who stood over me, brought out.
“Is it… coming? Are we too late?”
“I… don’t know, but the tunnels, they are shifting, changing, it’s doing something to the place around us, warping it.”
Once I could push myself up, I noticed what Theodor had been talking about. The surrounding flesh was reshaping it as if they were alive. Flesh pushed outward before it retreated again.
As we walked on, Theodor mumbled to himself.
“I can see it Dylan. I can see what it’s doing. It’s not only reshaping it, it’s reshaping the laws of physics itself, the laws of our reality. Soon this place will be different, entirely different.
He shuddered before he laughed to himself.
We hadn’t gone far as another vision assaulted me, barged into my mind. I saw them again, the mountains rising from the sky, but this time I saw them closer. They were a writhing, teething mess and I realized what they were made of. Bodies, bodies that were still alive. As much as I tried to push the vision away, I couldn’t stop staring at the twisting, writhing hell that might have once been an entire civilization. I saw open mouths, wide with terror, perpetually screaming. This, this was waiting for us, this would-
I felt Theodor pushing me against the wall of flesh.
“Don’t look, Dylan! Whatever you do, don’t look! You will lose yourself if you do! Push against it!”
But then I felt something as Theodor stared into my eyes. The vision was pushed back, and I felt it becoming nothing but a distant, lingering memory.
“What did you just-?”
He let go of me without another word and continued on.
By now the surrounding tunnels had turned into pulsating masses of flesh and I saw it pumping strange liquids back and forth. Here and there they were leaking from pores and orifices.
As I stared at them, I saw movement all over the walls, noticed bodies being dissolved and incorporated into them. It was only after a while that I realized that those weren’t creatures like I’d seen before. It was people. That’s why they’d been after the people. It was adding them, forming and growing it from them.
Theodor’s eyes grew wide when he noticed it as well. He stormed to the wall, plunged his hand into the writhing flesh, and tore it open. The person trapped inside stared at us with half-empty eyes.
As Theodor started pulling him outward, his mouth opened, but whatever he was trying to say was cut off when his body started changing.
The man’s flesh burst open, spread out, forming into strange fleshy branches. Theodor and I cringed back in horror as his body was changing at a rapid pace.
The one arm that dangled from the wall stretched, and so did the person’s neck. The man’s mouth opened again, but no sound escaped from it. Instead, the head began bulging, becoming oval-shaped before the skull broke apart and his eyestalks pushed outward.
More and more his body grew, becoming a network of worm-like branches before it all stopped. The disgusting thing that had once been a human being grew limp before it withered away into a gray husk.
“What the absolute fuck…?” I brought out, still shocked by what I’d just witnessed.
Theodor didn’t say a thing, and had already turned to continue on his way.
At that moment, I felt air, no, a breeze blowing past me. My eyes darted around, thinking some sort of creature was breathing down my neck, but there was nothing.
“It’s this place, this womb, it’s alive, Dylan,” Theodor said when he saw me looking around.
I turned to him.
“Did you think this was just a heap of twisted flesh? No, there’s method to it. This, all this here, it’s a meticulous effort.”
“What are you…?” I started, but he just rambled on.
“This was its plan all along. The theoretical data was right. An organism like it can’t come through. It can’t bring its entire body here. That’s why it’s growing this womb. It’s creating a new body for itself, an avatar, a proxy.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked, stepping up to him.
“I-I don’t know anymore. What was I saying?”
He stared at me, his face empty and confused.
“You were saying this thing’s creating a new body for itself, an avatar or a proxy.”
“Oh,” was all he said. For a moment, he closed his eyes and shook his head before he took a deep breath.
We stumbled through tunnel after tunnel. We didn’t have a direction, no goal, but what else could we do.
Eventually, we noticed another creature in front of us. I bod Theodor to wait as I stared at it.
It was a twisted thing with a multitude of appendages. I saw how it pushed one of them into the wall of flesh. For a moment I didn’t understand what it was doing, before I saw the flesh bubbling and changing. It was working on the wall, shaping it.
And then, as we inched closer, I saw what he was working on. The creature had pushed its tentacled appendage into the mouth of a person trapped inside the fleshy wall. It was reshaping a person.
The gun was in my hand in an instant, and I lit the fucker up. Only a single bullet hit it before a surge of flesh pushed in front of it, protecting it. A moment later, tentacles spread outward, coming for us.
Fucking hell, I cursed and threw a flamer. The flames had barely spread when pores opened all over the flesh, and the disgusting liquid that pumped from it extinguished the flames.
The thing giggled and for a moment the image of hundreds of similar creatures came to my mind.
“I don’t give a shit about the rest, but you’re going down.”
With that, I started shooting again, but at that moment, Theodor rushed forward. Shit, that crazy asshole!
Yet the tentacles recoiled from him, retreated. I watched in confusion as even the creature ahead seemed to push against the wall, seemed to make room for him.
“You motherfucker!” Theodor, in his rage, screamed at the creature and was about to attack it.
Yet he didn’t have to. The moment he’d screamed at the creature it was crushed against the wall, torn apart, leaving nothing but broken pieces behind.
Theodor came to a halt, staring first at what he’d done and then at me, not understanding what had happened.
“Did you just use… mental powers? How are you able to-?”
“I don’t know, Dylan. I don’t fucking know. Maybe, when we destroyed that creature, when Sandra shielded me,” but he broke up shaking his head.
“Theodor, what the hell’s happening to you?”
“My head, my mind, it’s all weird, all scrambled up,” he started, clutching onto himself. “Ever since then… those visions, those whispers, suggestions and… shit! Dylan, I don’t know!”
For a moment he pushed himself against the wall, taking a few deep breaths before he pushed himself onward.
Right at that moment, I heard something from the communications channel of the transmitter. So it was working! Between the static I could make out words, no, orders. I understood little, but I heard enough. One word, a single word, made me gasp for air.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I screamed at the thing, but of course, none of my words reached anyone.
Moments later, the device was quiet again.
Theodor turned back to me. “What did they say?”
“Not a damn thing apart from the order for a cleansing.”
“And what’s that?”
“Headquarters last resort. They are going to level the entire area with a giant energy blast. But we’re still here, we’re still fucking here!”
“You know it’s useless, don’t you? They can tear apart this womb, damage it, but they won’t be able to destroy it. Can’t you feel it, Dylan? Can’t you feel this place is not entirely here anymore? Don’t you feel how alien it is? It’s place in-between reality, an altered place. This thing, it will only emerge once its new body is formed. So this cleansing,” he broke up, shaking his head.
“Shit, if they are willing to go that far, it can only mean that Omega… fuck!”
“They are probably gone, Dylan,” Theodor said in an empty voice.
I ripped out the transmitter again, tinkered with it, trying to get the signal back.
At first there was only static again, but then I heard something behind it, screams, ghastly laughter and the tearing of flesh. Those screams, though. They were a woman’s. Athena’s. Then the signal vanished again.
“If even Omega can’t handle this, what the hell are we supposed to do? What the fuck can we even,” I broke up, as despair crawled into my mind.
“That woman, Athena, she might still be alive,” Theodor suddenly said.
“What are you talking about? If they called for a fucking cleansing, then-“
“No, Dylan, listen,” he cut me off, his face showing some sort of new understanding.
“People, they gathered all those people here because they need them. That A-Class organism did the same. I thought it was only to grow this womb, but it might need them, their energy to grow its body. With her, though, with someone as powerful as her,” he broke up again.
“Shit! So you’re telling me when headquarters sent Omega here, they might have ended up helping it?”
Theodor gave me a weak nod.
“It might have known that we’d oppose it with more powerful forces. Maybe that’s why it brought all those vassals here.”
But he said nothing. Instead, he walked up to me and pointed at the transmitter.
“It should show us where they are, where she is, right?”
I stared at the thing, but it showed nothing. Even after I tinkered it with, not a single signal was visible. Shit! Cursing in anger, I threw the thing to the floor.
After a few moments, Theodor closed his eyes and stepped up to the wall next to us. He reached out with his hand, touching the fleshy surface.
“Theodor, what are you doing?”
Instead of answering, I watched as he plunged his hand into the flesh. My eyes grew wide, and I cringed in disgust as he pushed his entire arm into the writhing mess of flesh.
Theodor’s body started shaking. I saw sweat coating his entire body before he retreated and crashed to the floor, vomiting. For a while he just lay there, panting, before he pushed himself to his feet.
“What did you just-?”
He didn’t answer, instead he only said one thing.
“Let’s go, I know where we have to go now.”
With that, he set out down the tunnel again. I stared after him in sheer disbelief and confusion, not understand what had just happened.
Still, what choice did I have? So I set out after him.
Fuck monsters and fuck whatever’s going on with Theodor.