Gale Rising (Part 55)

The interior looked less like anything official and more like a hunting lounge. Trinkets and niceties covered the opening, half decayed preserved hunting trophies, deer, alligator, and propaganda posters covering every available surface with all the schizophrenic intensity of someone who had been stranded there for years.

Op-sec will keep you safe.

Do not share codes with the uninoculated.

The Emperor is always watching. Are you?

The US does not suffer God Emperors. Buy War Bonds.

Our soldiers need better Math; ask about the experimental devisors division.

Loose lips sink ships.

Bullet holes sprayed from the distant base of the hill left well ventilated holes; dim light cascaded through in sheets; the air was caked with pollen and fungal spores.

“Alright, where the hell are they?” Colton hissed, turning on me. “They’re supposed to be here!”

I chanced a look back down the path we’d gone. They were approaching like ants, regrouping their ranks after their brush with zero visibility. Numbers reduced.

If I kept thinking about them like numbers, it wouldn’t hurt as much thinking on whether or not I was justified in taking them out. Colton’s hand jerked at the trailing edge of my right hand and I spun back into the hunting lounge’s lobby, ducking to avoid the shelf as he pressed me against the wall.

“Don’t focus on them, we need to put distance between us before they can flush us out!” Colton hissed.

It was a fair point, but my right shoulder ached. Not as much as the restriction on my left hand was starting to ache, but as long as I didn’t have to do something as spectacularly stupid as climb up a wall made of knives, it’d be alright.

Hero business rarely gave me that option, but it was remain hopeful or go insane

I drug myself back into looking about the hunting lounge, my heart thumping in my chest. All of that lovely blood made it difficult to focus for more than a few seconds on details instead of running and dodging.

But…

There.

I pointed, where the outer lick of my air senses felt a rough spot on the peeling paint. An arrow etched out of the wall with the point of a sword that never grew dull.

“They must’ve moved on to find a safe place,” I assumed, instantly.

Colton breathed out, his fingers unclenching. I could still see and watch his heart thump wildly, whether it be by the quirk of his pointed chin, or the way the veins pulsed in his neck.

Strong, protective. In another situation maybe-

“You’re right,” Colton said. “I’m still injured.” His eyes jerked down to his chest, and his breathing hitched up.

I didn’t look down. I didn’t want to know how bad it was.

Considering we’d be moving rapidly into the worst case scenario, a siege in a foreign place, I couldn’t afford to panic over his health. No matter how justified.

Keep everything level and relative.

I stepped past him into the next room. Primitive kitchen. Ancient fridge sat without power in the corner. Counters that had held blood and military secrets.

The entire compound sat without a lick of power, and the grim darkness settled in quick. Colton reached into his kit and pulled out a glow stick and snapped it to life, which didn’t do much other than paint everything an infernal orange.

But it was better than being blind.

Colton stepped forward into the room, and a distant explosion rocked the building.

“They found the heavier stuff,” I said, whispering.

“There’s no need to whisper, this already know we’re here,” Colton hissed, looking around. “Where the hell are they?”

The only problem with the kitchen was that, apart from the bunk beds strewn in bug eaten glory across the next room, and the tattered bathroom, there wasn’t anything else in the entire building.

I could hear our time ticking with the swing of the striker in a gun, with the drip of sweat down my neck at the thick humidity.

“Arrows,” I hissed. “Look for the arrows.”

Colton brought the glow stick up against the walls, and I stumbled towards the bathroom to look around, feeling across the walls. There had to be something here.

This couldn’t be just a hunting lodge that some paranoid lunatic had hid out with, not with all of the posters. Colton hissed from the other room, peering out the window. “Time’s almost up, brace for the attack.”

I took a step towards the mirror, squinting at the surface, the way it curled against the wall, windows showing the deeper crevasses of the swamp itself. Peered closer at the mirror.

Opened it up.

A hoard of cockroaches, terrified, scurrying about, dropped out of the cabinet like a pitter patter of rain.

It really was an automatic reaction that had me stepping back onto the tattered bathrug, off balance. I tugged at the tattered curtain to stabilize myself and for a single beautiful moment it held.

Then ripped, sending me into the shower proper. My head cracked back against the shower, my mask providing minimal protection from the blare of hot stares across my vision.

Colton startled at the noise and stared over at me. “Are you okay?”

Bullets in the distance.

I held up a hand. Paused. Pointed at the floor below us.

Stomped down hard.

Hollow.

Stared over at the window on the other side of the room as Colton walked in, and put together the square layout of the lodge.

“Below us,” I hissed.

A bug fell off of the ceiling between us.

With a lazily waves of his fingers, the bugs on the wall died under a spray of tiny knives, not worth his time to even look at. They twitched and bled out their organs as I felt along the tile.

My head would knot after that hit, but it was better than not figuring it out at all.

Colton clicked against the tile with the hilt of a knife, closing his eyes to feel around. 

“Should we go through the tub?”

“No, no,” I said, grimly. “If we can figure out how to get to the other side without disturbing it… There’s gotta be a trap door around here.”

“It buys us more time,” Colton said.

My eyes, still speckled with stars from the hit, drifted across the open space, to the bunk beds next door.

Paused.

The entrance wasn’t in the bathroom.

It was in the bed room. Putting it in the bathroom would be stupid; how would you even hide it?

I slid out of the room, throwing out my air sense.

The soldiers were close now, I could hear their noises as they moved to surround the building.

Had to put my trust that ol’ uncle sam wouldn’t have cheaped out on a building they’d left on american soil.

“Down,” Colton hissed, and slammed the kitchen table down.

From the movement they spotted in the kitchen, the walls turned church like.

That is, they became holey.

A spray of bulletfire, hot, unwieldy. Windows exploded into shards of glass that bounced about. Sink turned into shrapnel and skeletal framework.

The table held as bullets hit it, denting. Colton closed his eyes for a moment. Why the hell weren’t the bullets going through?

“Don’t think, Move!” the knife master hissed, throwing himself back into the bed room.

Military steel; repurposed plating.

Hopefully, a hint of the armor to come.

The bunk room had seen better days; the cushions on every surface had died from years of exposure; of wild animals screaming dying and being born in this sheltered space.

But that didn’t mean that I knew where the hidden entrance was. Time was ticking. It wouldn’t be too long until they could just blow us out of here with their supplies, drag us kicking in screaming into the same coffins we’d just used as cover.

Colton gestured around the room. “Dammit, I don’t see anything!” Just book shelves, hunting trophies on the wall. Lights overhead, not turned on.

My heart thumped in my chest, and my vision blurred, glossed together. Fuzzed. Tried to focus.

But all I could think about was how little I wanted to die.

The hail of bullets had stopped as they came closer, reloading. Probably coming up with a makeshift plan.

They wouldn’t need a good one. We’d cornered ourselves.

I threw the couch to the side and felt around against the wall. Where the absolute hell could it be? How were we supposed to…

Boots on the ground.

Boots on tiled floors.

Open door screaming as it was blown off of the hinges, shattering distant glass.

“Grenades?” Colton asked, looking curiously over at me.

“Believe it or not,” I said, grim. “I don’t think using high explosives in a place this tiny is our best bet.”

“Better than bullets,” Colton said.

“There are a lot of things better than bullets,” I said, leaning back against the false wall. Where the hell was the entrance?

“GRENADA.” I didn’t speak Spanish, but cognates took no exception to it.

Time was up.

I watched as the fist sized ordinance threw itself in through the open door, and then I picked it up in the air to throw it back.

It even worked, sailing into the kitchen.

But the issue wasn’t the first grenade.

The issue was that they had us surrounded, and their position meant that they could throw well more than just one grenade.

Which was why I wasn’t terribly surprised when six sailed in through the windows they’d shattered. Bounced once on the ground and rolled to a stop by the entrance.

Colton slowly turned to look at me, the color draining out of his face, and stepped into my personal space. “This might be a bad time to say this, but-”

I looked at him, and then down. Where he stepped.

Hollow.

“There!” I yelled, slamming my foot into the edge of the trap door.

The opposite side popped up.

Military precision, Colton grabbed it, threw it half open. Every instinct screamed at me about the grenades. How long were the timers? How long did we have?

Colton didn’t hesitate, and he fell into the dark below.

I joined him.

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