From afar, I watched as the members of Omega took down any creature near the premise. I couldn’t help but be in awe.
The creatures that had driven us back, that had massacred the squad I’d been with, were wiped out in mere instants.
Right away a battalion of headquarters special forces set out and created a forward base, closer to the center of the signature.
Those guys weren’t doing things like I or any other normal exterminator would do them. No, they were employing freaking military tactics.
I looked around and found the Adjudicator.
“What’s the plan now? We were told to hold position until those guys arrived, right? I take it they can handle the situation on their own and don’t need us anymore.”
The words had barely left my mouth when I felt my body being pulled away from her. Almost in a trance, I set out and made my way towards the young, bald woman. My steps were light and my body was almost weightless.
“We received information that your companion has certain abilities. From your battle with Exterminator 5A00114, we learned he can ward off his mind.”
Her eyes went from me to Theodor, who stood alone, staring out at the giant, fleshy abomination growing at the signature’s center.
For a moment her hands went up, and I felt a wave of pressure erupting from her.
Theodor’s head jerked in her direction, shooting her an angry glance.
“Yes, there’s no doubt. He’s somehow able to hinder me from scanning or influencing his mind.”
Theodor spat at the ground, but the woman didn’t react to it at all.
“You’re to come with us. We might need your abilities,” she commanded him.
Theodor looked at her for a moment before he shrugged.
“And here I thought you’d be able to handle this incident on your own,” he said.
“It’s merely a precaution,” she said in a flat voice.
“Now hold on, what about me?” I spoke up.
“Low-ranking personnel such as yourself would only prove to be in the way,” she said in a condescending voice.
“Wait, no fucking way. I’m not letting you take Theodor there just to-“
I broke up when I felt her powers wash over me.
“You’re not needed,” she said with the slightest edge to her voice.
“Oh yeah? We handled the last A-Class in this city, and I’m pretty damn sure more of them are around! Do you even know what those fuckers are capable of, how strong they-“
“We’ve been briefed on your encounters. We’re more than prepared.”
Theodor began laughing. “Oh, so you’re prepared? You’ve got no clue what’s coming our way, none! You might not believe me, but you’ll need us.”
Finally, the guy who called himself Ares joined the conversation.
“If they want to come along, let them. But let me make one thing clear,” he continued, turning to me. “The moment you’re in the way, I’ll get rid of you.”
There was no humor in his voice. He didn’t grin or laugh. Instead, he just stared at me. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and nodded. This was no joke.
“Target is about eight hundred meters ahead of us,” Hades spoke up.
“What are we going to do? Not like there’re any civilians in the area, so we might as well blast it from afar,” Hephaestus suggested with a shrug.
Athena stared at him before she sighed.
“Ah, of course, just blast it away and be done with it.”
The big man shrugged. “Might be our safest bet.”
“We tried that in Estonia and you remember how that turned out,” she retorted.
The young woman’s eyes focused on the fleshy thing ahead of us. For a moment she closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she grimaced.
“What we see here, is not the origin of the signature, it’s something it’s constructing, growing. The true origin is deep within it and whatever is causing it has not entered our reality, yet. While a direct attack might damage or even destroy the structure, it will most likely not harm the creature that’s creating it.”
“Well, great, so what are you suggesting?”
“That we’ll have to make our way to the root and pluck it,” the one who called himself Hades spoke up.
“You’re saying we have to crawl into… that thing?” Hephaestus frowned, staring ahead.
“Considering your company of choice back in Varna, I’d think you’d be all over this,” Hades joked.
“And look who’s talking, want me to tell the rest about your little adventure back in Belgium? You know what I’m talking about do you?”
As I listened, I couldn’t help but staring at them. They’d been briefed about the incident, they knew what was at stake and those assholes… they were joking around?
I opened my mouth, tried to find the courage to speak up, but before I could Ares set out into the wasteland ahead.
“Let’s go, can’t be worse than what we were up against in Belarus.”
“Freaking hell, man, don’t remind me of that,” Hephaestus cursed as he followed him.
Hades and a quiet Athena soon followed.
“And here we have them, the heroes that are going to save the world,” Theodor spoke up.
“Just shut up, man,” I cursed and rubbed my temples.
As much as I hated to admit it though, those guys knew what they were doing.
On our way, a multitude of creatures attacked us. Yet, none of them got even close to us. The moment Hephaestus saw them he made quick work of them with his energy weapon, incinerating them instantly. I couldn’t help but stare at his weapon. Shit man, if I had something like that myself…
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves under assault by proxy organism. The disgusting lumps of flesh were hiding between the rubble, sending out their powers unseen. With Athena around, however, they were powerless. The moment she felt a hint of their power, she ground them into nothing but bloody mist with the smallest of gestures.
I mouthed a ‘holy shit’ when I saw how easily she took care of them.
“That’s nothing,” she said when she noticed me staring at her.
At one point, I heard a sound to our right. It was small, and no one seemed to give it any attention. The moment I turned, however, I saw a group of humanoids, who’d most likely hidden between the rubble to ambush us. The fuckers were huge, nothing less than B-Class. I cursed, ripped out my gun, but before I could even pull the trigger, Ares rushed them.
Before I or even the creatures knew what was happening, he was right between them. I saw his strange, ragged blades flash through the air and a moment later, he stood admits heaps of gore.
Holy fucking shit, what was that guy? I remembered when Theodor, Sandra and I had encountered a single B-Class humanoid. It had almost killed us, and this guy cut down a group of them as if it was nothing.
“Ares has been enhanced,” a voice spoke up next to me.
When I turned, I saw Hades, who’d set in next to me.
“First Marcia and now you guys? Does the damned codex mean anything these days?”
“The technology developed in Bucharest was crude and cheap. All they did was to push alien flesh into the bodies of low-ranking exterminators and hoped they’d assimilate it and developed superhuman abilities. Ares, here, is much, much different. You could say, he’s lab-grown. Every part of his body has been enhanced since he was a child, muscles, tendons, bones, all of it. He’s faster and more powerful than any of us, but there’s not a hint of the infection the Bucharest types showed.”
I nodded while I stared at Ares.
“Guess I might have some fun as well,” Hades spoke up.
He activated one of his gadgets and seemed to listen to something I couldn’t hear.
“Seventeen signatures to our west, closing in,” he said more to himself than to me.
Then he reached into one of his pockets and brought out a handful of small metallic cubes and threw them beside himself.
I watched in wonder as the tiny sides of the cubes opened up, revealing pairs of sophisticated wings. A moment later they scurried away, vanishing between the rubble between us.
For a few seconds I wondered what I’d just seen, then explosions went up to our west.
Hades was quiet again before a satisfied smile showed on his face.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“AI controlled bombing drones. I reasoned the flying ones are best for this type of area.”
“Freaking hell, how come I don’t get any of the good shit?”
The guy grinned at me. “They are my invention and far too delicate and valuable.”
For a low-ranking exterminator such as myself, I added in my mind.
Before long, we continued unimpeded as no creatures attacked us anymore. Or, I thought, were being recalled to the disgusting, organic structure in front of us.
Now that we were closer, I knew what it had reminded me of, a hive, some sort of disgusting, organic hive.
As I stared at it, two more tentacles slithered from the ground, writhing themselves around it before they were incorporated in the structure.
Right at this moment, another surge of power erupted from the structure. This time, though, I felt it only for a moment. Athena’s hands were up, and she warded it off with little effort.
Or so I’d thought until I saw the small pearls of sweat on her forehead. Once it was over, she inhaled deeply.
“What the hell have we gotten ourselves into this time,” Hephaestus cursed and spit on the ground.
“That’s just the beginning,” Theodor brought out in a manic voice. “If you’re getting scared, you might as well run.”
In an instant, the big man walked up to Theodor. For a moment he just stared at him, but then I saw him ball one of his hands into a fist and brought it down on him. Theodor didn’t dodge, didn’t retreat, instead he caught the man’s fist, glaring back at him.
For a second Hephaestus was surprised, before he grinned at Theodor.
“Guess you aren’t completely useless,” he said before turning away again.
During their brief argument had lasted, Hades had sent out a few more of his drones and soon enough explosions went up all around us.
As if to answer it, the flesh of the hive burst open, revealing a disgusting small orifice. Thick, dark blood poured from it before a small ball of energy pushed itself outward.
For a moment I thought it would crash to the floor, but when it hovered in the air, I understood what I was seeing.
My eyes grew wide and my head jerked towards Theodor, who stared at the thing with a mixture of fear and contempt.
Shit, I knew one of them was around. I fucking knew it. If there were proxy organisms, then one of them had to control them.
“A-Class,” I brought out in a shaking voice. “Another A-Class.”
In an instant, the creature began forming a body. Flesh and liquids were torn from the hive and gathered around the ball of energy. I watched organs grow, bones form, then appendages.
“What the fuck are you doing, if you don’t stop it now then-“
I broke when its powers spread out and assaulted me. Images were pushed into my mind, the hive extending, an opening forming… but then they were gone, pushed aside.
Athena was up in the air, pushing the thing’s powers back. Her eyes were wide and I could feel the ghastly creature’s anger, its outrage.
In an instant, Hephaestus unloaded his weapon on the thing. Even from where I stood, I could feel the blazing heat of the blast and for a second I thought he’d destroy the creature. But of course, things wouldn’t be so easy. This was an A-Class organism after all.
The creature gathered all its powers and diverted shot after shot.
As it did, I saw Hades grin slightly, before he released a dozen tiny metal balls into the air. They reached the creature in an instant. Bombs, I thought, but they created some sort of net that surrounded the creature.
I saw it push forward, send out surge after surge of power, but the need didn’t break, seemed to neutralize it.
“That won’t work,” Hades said. “Athena, you’re up!”
With that, the young woman stepped forward. She was in no hurry, approaching the creature step by step. The surrounding air crackled and for a moment it was hard for me to breathe. Then she sent an avalanche of mental power forward. The creature’s body was engulfed, pushed together and almost folded into itself.
She sent her hands forward, then down, and her eyes grew wider and wider before she smiled. The creature was writhing now, shaking, trying desperately to free itself from Athena’s powers, but it seemed futile.
Finally, the creature stopped moving, and I saw Athena’s face contorted in concentration. It was over within a moment.
“There’s more of them, in there. I can feel at last three of them. What they are creating here is not so much a portal, but a womb. We got all the information we need, Ares, you’re up!”
With that, the tall man rushed forward and pulled out his jagged weapons. The moment he was in front of the creature, the net that had trapped it vanished and I saw his weapons cut deep into the creature’s already battered body.
Flesh, organs, and appendages rained to the ground. Before he could annihilate it, though, the small ball of energy erupted from the body and vanished back into the hive. Or the womb, as Athena had called it.
As Ares walked back, a flash of annoyance washed over his face.
“It got away,” he said.
“Doesn’t matter,” Athena said, “it’s weakened now and won’t be much of a danger anymore.”
Once more, I couldn’t help but be in awe.
“Wait, this was an A-Class organism, wasn’t it? How are you guys able to, to… just like that? I mean,” I rambled.
“We’re used to creatures like that,” Athena said matter-of-factly.
I was about to say something else, but she’d already turned back to the rest of her team.
“All right, when I pushed into its mind I saw where we have to go. It’s below surface level, at the center of this womb, but the place is a labyrinth. Hades, can you send in some of your little toys?”
The guy shrugged and got out another bunch of small, airborne robots. He threw them into the air and they scurried away, entering the womb through the small orifice the creature had appeared from.
“Won’t do much, but it might give us a rough understanding of the place,” he said.
“Nah, we tried that before,” I started, “but with that amount of pressure and inference around, all drones will-“
“Those are made of a different technology,” he cut me off, slightly annoyed. “In case of mental pressure or other interferences, pure mechanics still work. They are sonar operated. Doesn’t matter if they get destroyed, as long as they get out a signal, we’re set.”
Freaking hell, how come I’ve never heard about any of this shit?
A few seconds later, Hades checked the screen of another small gadget.
“Got it. It’s rough, and incomplete, but it’s the best I can do.”
“Well, let’s get right to it,” Hephaestus called out. “Got a point of entry, Hades?”
Hades checked the screen, but shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”
Hephaestus grinned and before I knew what was happening, he began blowing apart the flesh in front of us.
“Hey freak, get going! Move it!” he screamed at Theodor, who’d spaced out.
As he set out to follow the group, Athena fell in next to him.
“When it first appeared, was the creature able to reach into your mind?”
Theodor shook his head.
“No, but there’s no need. Those things know what I’m capable of. It came to learn more about you.”
“What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t trying to stop you or fight you, it came to analyze your abilities,” Theodor set in a solemn voice.
“And it almost cost its life, it’s powerless now,” Athena reasoned.
“It only proves that whatever we’re up against doesn’t mind sacrificing an A-Class organism to probe you guys. It might not have touched your mind, but it was able to deduce your abilities. And now, everything in there knows as well.”
Athena was quiet after that, but she didn’t seem worried. Her expression showed a clear ‘then let them know.’
By now, we’d reached the fleshy walls of the womb and the opening Hephaestus had created.
“Fucking stinks,” Ares brought out as he stepped inside.
The rest of the team followed him, and even Theodor didn’t as much as stop before he entered the flesh tunnel in front of us.
Fucking hell, what’s wrong with them all?
I almost cringed back as I stepped past wriggling flesh and through thick, syrupy blood.
Every single one of them is fucking insane!
As we followed the fleshy tunnel, I saw liquid being pushed and pumped through the surrounding flesh.
The occasional creature attacked us, but they seemed in a trance, almost as if they were lost.
Soon the tunnel branched off into a multitude of others. Before long, the entire thing felt like a labyrinthine mess. My head started to heart as I stared at the flesh all around us. It was shifting and seemed to grow as we went on our way. Tunnels seemed to distort, to bend around themselves in impossible dimensions. It almost seemed as if gravity and the laws of physics were different here.
Sandra’s words when we’d entered the ziggurat came back to my mind.
‘It’s a place that has been influenced, altered, it’s something that’s not entirely part of our reality anymore.’
My thoughts were interrupted when Hades approached me and handed me a small gadget.
“A transmitter. Might not be much use in here, but should we get divided, you can roughly pinpoint the others’ location.
I checked the device’s small screen. It was working and I could see six little dots all next to each other.
“It’s also got a communications channel, but with all the interferences here, there’s no telling if it will work,” he added, shrugging.
As we continued, I saw the flesh of the walls twitch here and there. When I focused on one such spot, I thought I saw a body, a face. Then I realized I was staring at a humanoid who seemed to have been incorporated into this disgusting creation. It twitched again and when the eyes stared at me, I pulled out my gun. Yet, the creature didn’t attack, it just stared at me in abject misery before its eyes fell shut again.
“Fucking hell,” I cursed.
If it’s using its own to grow this place, then all those people that had been dragged off… shit!
Following Hades’ rough map, we found ourselves in a wide open area. Dozens of tunnels seemed to branch out from it.
“What now?” Hephaestus asked, turning to Athena.
I saw her concentrate, felt her sending out her powers. She was quiet, then checked Hades’ map before she pointed to a tunnel to our right.
As our group set out, my eyes wandered around before I noticed something else, something above us. A tiny glowing thing appeared from one tunnel. I opened my mouth, but the words got stuck in my throat when another appeared, and then another. Within moments, more than half a dozen of the things had gathered.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” I could finally bring out.
When the rest of the group noticed it, flesh was already torn from the walls above us. This time, however, the creatures didn’t create individual bodies. This time, they created a single entity.
A moment later, an onslaught of mental powers hit us. Athena screamed up as she tried to ward it off, but I saw her being pushed back, saw blood streaming from her nose.
“God dammit!” she screamed up.
Hephaestus pointed his weapon and shot the amalgamation of A-Class creatures, but each shot was diverted and crashed into the walls and tunnels around us.
I saw Ares rush forward, watched as Hades sent out a multitude of his bombing drones, but both attacks were stopped.
Ares was restrained, pushed to the ground by another surge of energy while Hades’ drones were thrown aside against the fleshy walls around us. Flesh exploded, covering us in gore and disgusting liquids.
Seconds later, the entire area we were in seemed to be torn apart. Walls collapsed inward and the ground below is ripped apart. I felt Athena using her powers to protect the rest of her team, but she didn’t waste any on me or Theodor.
Before I could so much as scream, the two of us slithered down the gorge in the center of the room.
I crashed against wet flesh, washed through tunnels and almost drowned in blood and guts before it was over.
My entire body hurt and I felt sick to my stomach and vomited. Theodor near me spat on the ground and swatted pieces of the gore off his body. For a moment he stared upward before he turned to me.
“You know man, I always hated water slides, but this-“
“The fuck are you even talking about?” I screamed at him in anger. “We’re fucking lost! We’re lost somewhere in, this, this, whatever this thing is! What the hell do we do now?”
Fuck monsters, and fuck his goddamn jokes, I added in my mind.