“Careful Danny,” cautioned Bobby. “I’m pretty sure that Pete will be angry if you get scragged after he busted us in here.”
Danny nodded absently, not turning around to look at his friends as he scanned the passage for any sign of motion. “Of course. I have done this before you know. But nobody should be expecting us coming from this direction. C’mon, you know this is going to work. How many times have we done this?”
Bobby raised an eyebrow at his friend’s back. “With a controller? Hundreds. This is the first time I remember having an actual gun and a bagful of syringes.”
Pete punched Bobby lightly on the arm and grinned exuberantly. “I know! You have to admit it’s pretty cool!”
Bobby tried to look serious but gave up as his responding smile got away from him. “OK. It is damn cool. Especially since I’m not the one who had to blow himself up in order to get this far.”
“Shhh!” Danny finally turned his head around to study his companions. “We’re almost at the stairs. From here on out there’s a real risk of patrols. Operational silence is in effect, OK?”
“Sure Danny. Maybe you should use your suppressor then?” Pete pointed at the barrel of Danny’s assault rifle.
“Oh. Right.” Danny sheepishly grinned at Pete and patted a few spots on his bandolier before finding the long perforated cylinder. “I’m used to that being auto-attached at the start of the round.” He screwed the threaded tip into his barrel with a few deft twists and hefted the weapon briefly, assessing the shift in weight balance.
“OK. Now we’re in operational silence.” Danny nodded at Bobby and Pete who in turn nodded back. Danny pointed a his forked fingers at his eyes and then jabbed towards the door at the end of the passageway. He pressed against the wall and slid down to where he could reach the door controls. He slapped the dimly pulsing emerald pad on the wall and quickly poked his head and gun barrel around the frame even as the door finished sliding aside.
Danny scanned the landing beyond the door. A simple wooden staircase ascended there, going through three turns, each with a wide landing. Where the human base had positively gleamed from every possible surface the Fallen base looked on the edge of total collapse. The rotted wood swayed gently in the air current and Danny wrinkled his nose at the strong odor of mildew and rot that pervaded the room.
“No smell when we play at home either.” Danny muttered to himself before recalling his own call for operational silence. He straightened up and scanned what he could see of the first landing above. The Fallen that stay on defense usually congregate on the main floor, but Danny had encountered particularly canny patrols on these stairs in previous runs. He reached behind him and gestured his squad forward into the squalid room.
Danny didn’t wait for Bobby and Peter, instead opting to slowly creep up the stairs. He winced as a termite squished under his feet with a oily squirt. He stopped on the last stair before the landing and carefully scanned every inch of the wooden platform. A mere handful of times Danny had seen the Fallen trap this landing. The first time he encountered a snare here all three of the Grim Reaperzzz had gotten wiped by the claymore and Danny had sworn to never fall for that trick again. But the floor looked free of any devices this time.
Danny jumped in shock as Bobby bumped into his back. Danny spun around as he landed on the landed and glared at Bobby. “Jesus, Bobby. Be a little more careful!” Danny hissed.
“Sorry.” Bobby muttered as dropped his gaze to study the putrid, rotten timber balks underfoot.
The three boys made their way up the rest of the staircase without incident. Finally they reached the top and stood in a loose semicircle around the exit door. The green doorpad glimmered in the dim light streaming down from a filthy skylight.
Danny glanced at his friends and then pressed up against the wall before tapping the doorpad. It was virtually guaranteed that there would be Fallen present in the next room. If Danny was lucky they would all be expecting a frontal assault and looking away from the boys. Danny rolled through the door trying to be silent as he scuttled in and dove for the meager cover of a trio of rusty barrels that sat six feet to the side.
Today Fate smiled on the Grim Reaperzzz. Only two Fallen were in the room, a Wretch and a LeaDäemon. The Wretch was the standard Fallen grunt unit. The LeaDäemon was another story. It stood a full eight feet tall and was completely covered in spiked rusty iron armor. The entire torso was taken up with an enormous machine gun spliced into the Fallen’s tissue. A segmented robotic tail thrashed behind the LeaDäemon. The implanted gun was so large that in order to fire the Fallen had to rock back onto the tail and create a stable tripod with its two stocky legs. Danny drew a careful bead on the Wretch. He knew that Bobby would snipe the LeaDäemon and a careful headshot could still drop even such a large Fallen.
Bobby crouched beside the doorframe and listened carefully. When he didn’t hear a firefight he knew that Danny had reached cover and that he wanted something sniped. Bobby inched forward until he could peek around the corner. He nodded to himself with satisfaction as he saw the LeaDäemon and brought his sniper rifle into play. Bobby checked to the side and confirmed Danny was in position and waiting before he put his eye to the large scope. A quick alignment, a momentary squeeze of the trigger and the LeaDäemon dropped. A low cough from Danny’s weapon sounded and the Wretch fell as well. Danny advanced to an open hallway as Bobby crouched and dashed to the cover that Danny had just vacated.
Pete pressed himself against the doorway and peered into the room. He smiled at the sight of the Wretch and dashed across the space. He dropped his pistol on the ground as he took the heavier rifle the Wretch had clutched to its chest. There was one more room to clear and it was going to be a nasty fight. Usually they could scrounge a rifle for Pete before going for the flag. Pete hated the rare occasion where they couldn’t and he had to face down Wretches with just the pistol.
Danny looked down the hallway and then gestured with two fingers to another hallway entrance past him. Pete took up station on one side and then nodded curtly at Bobby who moved to the other side of Pete’s entrance. If the Fallen were using standard tactics there would likely be three or four warriors in the flag room, as well as some booby traps on the flag itself. Like a smoothy oiled engine the three boys advanced down their respective hallways to their final firefight.
As expected the final room held another LeaDäemon and two Wretches. Bobby knew this was a critical moment. He would really only get one shot at the LeaDäemon and if he missed it would be an tough fight. Standard tactics said to take out a LeaDäemon with grenades but the Reaperzzz had already used them all to blow the sewer door and sneak into the base. He took a deep breath then leaned out and took his shot.
Success! The LeaDäemon fell with a metallic clash. The two Wretches spun around, firing before they had any clear targets. Danny had removed his suppressor before advancing down the hallway and now he stepped into the room, his assault rifle barking a measured response to the Wretches’ panicky fire. One Wretch dropped even as the other got a bead on Danny. A round slammed into Danny’s shoulder and he cried out in sudden pain, the remainder of his burst spraying wide. Bobby dropped his sniper rifle and dashed forward, grabbing a syringe from his ba
g as he ran. Pete entered the fray and dropped the remaining Wretch with a sharp burst from his scavenged rifle.
Bobby injected Danny as Pete scanned the dais in the center of the room. Everything in the Fallen base reeked of decay and ruin except for this stand. A round platform made entirely of shiny metal rose in two steps to a golden stand and flagpole. The Fallen flag flew from the rod, a bilious green field embossed with a grinning skull. A small spotlight on the ceiling bathed the poduim and flag with soft white light.
Pete reached into a pocket and withdrew a small scanner. This device was about the size of a remote control and sported a cute little miniature satellite dish. The dish spun rapidly, completing an entire revolution in just under a second. He tapped a button on the scanner and a green cone swept out from the dish. As it covered the floor of the dais the laser cone revealed pale cylinders. The cylinders appeared limned in emerald but that glow quickly faded to a sullen crimson. Pete grunted with satisfaction and plucked a pair of wire clippers from his belt. He set the scanner down on the dais and swiftly clipped a wire on each cylinder. As he worked the clipped cylinders faded to a dull, leaden gray.
Pete nodded at his friends, breaking out in a huge grin. All three boys started forward to touch the flag at the same instant, the triumphant moment of the Grim Reaperzzz. Even as they touched the flagpole the world swam and went hazy and indistinct before fading into a thick gray fog.
“Thank you boys. The forces of Light will long remember this victory.” the voice of Puck rang out from the fog before everything faded to black.
“Boys? Time to wake up!” The voice sounded odd, like something halfway between Puck’s bellow and a motherly contralto.
The three boys shook their heads in eerie unison, each trying to determine if that had simply been an unusually vivid dream or if something much more significant had transpired.
“Boys! Come on now, I’ve made pancakes!” As she spoke the voice resolved into the tones of Bobby’s mother. The boys looked at each other in mute surprise and then studied the decidedly non-reflective walls of Bobby’s living room. Bobby shrugged at his friends as if to say “Who knows?” and tossed his blanket on the floor and stood up.
“Do we have blueberry syrup?” Bobby asked as he padded into the kitchen.
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