“Cameron, you need to go back to Valhalla!”
Cameron couldn’t believe Stanley had the nerve to say that to him.
They both were in the middle of a brief standoff, with the corpse of the Paladin between them.
“Cameron, don’t you dare argue” Stanley’s eyes were red with anger and tension. “This is Thanatos we’re talking about!”
A gentle breeze was blowing, with the floor beneath them slightly glowing. It had suddenly become so cold that Cameron’s chattered slightly, partly because of the coldness, but partly due to the anger that had flared up inside him at those words, an anger that was barely in control.
“Well, then those are my friends there! I won’t escape off to Valhalla, and no way in hell will I leave them to face Thanatos alone.” Cameron yelled back, and felt his eyes water slightly from the now-strong winds that blew all over the underground camp.
While the fires started getting extinguished, it was becoming colder by the minute. Cameron only had a jacket on for protecting himself from the icy winds.
Stanley walked over and grabbed Cameron by his collar. Cameron uneasily glanced at Stanley, confused and somewhat scared by the Colonel’s sudden change in attitude.
“Of all the times you could have chosen to be disobedient, you pick right now?!” Stanley pushed Cameron to the ground. He pulled out his gun and pointed it at him.
Cameron gasped, seeing the weapon charging up, glowing with a brilliant orb of light.
The winds were now blowing fiercely, and visibility had reduced drastically. The buildings and tents were still visible, but the rest of the area, not so much.
“You will march right into the Scavenger, and I will lock the system in auto-guidance to Valhalla.” Stanley threatened, his face glistened with sweat even though the surroundings were brutally cold. The tension in the air had become painfully thick.
Cameron tried to get up, but Stanley slowly pushed the trigger in. A little further in, and Cameron would be blasted to shreds.
“Don’t force my hand, Cameron!”
“Colonel, if you do this, I’ll hate you for the rest of my life.”
Stanley was taken aback for a moment, but then quickly regained his stoic composure.
“I’d rather you hate me than you dying on me.” Stanley’s eyes were unnervingly ruthless, as if daring Cameron to act otherwise.
Cameron gritted his teeth. He wasn’t going to be scared anymore, nor did he plan on remaining to be a useless person, a burden on others.
But Stanley wasn’t one who could be taken down easily.
An idea suddenly appeared inside Cameron’s head.
“Okay, Colonel,” Cameron said in a defeated voice, “I’ll go back.”
Stanley’s features relaxed a little, and he inhaled deeply. He looked around, and raised his communicator. He clicked a button, and a brilliant green light shone in the distance. It was probably their transports.
“Good,” He picked up Cameron and forced him to walk to where the Scavengers were.
Cameron didn’t want to do anything until they were near where the transports were. As soon as they reached the parked vehicles, Cameron turned.
“I’m sorry for doing this, Cameron.” Stanley’s words were filled with honesty, but his eyes weren’t.
Cameron could tell something was up. He decided to ignore the matter and proceeded to climb onto the Scavenger. If he was to do it, he had to do it patiently.
As he seated himself, with Stanley still holding him to gunpoint, he motioned that he had settled in.
Cameron needed to time it perfectly and with control, or else Stanley would end up dead.
As soon as Stanley reached over to enter the command codes, Cameron swiftly smacked the gun out of Stanley’s hand, but Stanley caught hold of Cameron’s arm.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Stanley was about to say something else, but Cameron cut him short.
“Sorry, Colonel,” With that, he willed a strong current to flow through his body into Stanley’s, who had earlier taken off his gloves, as he fell to the ground, his whole body struggling to move.
He attempted to speak, but was barely able to open half of his mouth.
“Cameron…what are you-”
Cameron leapt down from the Scavenger, and picked up Stanley.
“Induced paralysis,” He muttered, and jumped onto the vehicle again. Cameron carefully placed Stanley’s immobilized body into the seat. He first turned on the heater of the vehicle. It would not bode him well if the Colonel was to die of hypothermia. He was nearly out of medicinal supplies, and as much as Cameron wanted to raid the camp, he didn’t have enough time.
Tyson had once told him that the daily blizzards that occurred during the night time were far worse underground than they were on the surface.
Cameron looked over to the command access fields. The codes were already entered.
Stanley, seeing this, cursed himself.
“Cameron!” He yelled, mustering all the energy he could.
“Colonel,” Cameron smiled, “I’d rather you hate me than you dying on me.”
Stanley tried to show his anger, but he couldn’t move more than half his body.
Cameron then leapt off, dashing back quickly to the HQ building. Now that he had seen where it was, he had no trouble finding it even as a the gale pushed him backwards, arriving at the HQ in a couple of minutes.
A long time ago, Tyson had told him that the Valdorian Intelligence Division kept their most vital information stored in a single system drive. System drives were large objects which could alter size and shape. They were usually stored in a single room at the maximum possible size adjustment. It was rumored to be in the Valdorian underground camp. If he could find it, then Stanley would not have come down all the way here for nothing.
He sped his way through the building, bursting through each and every room, until he finally found it. Located in a dark room on the first floor, it was locked in a transparent security vault. It was flat, slim and white colored, with the Valdorian insignia imprinted upon it.
Cameron didn’t even bother checking for any traps. He simply blasted the vault with tendrils of electricity, and it shattered to pieces.
Cameron ran up the aisle of screens and grabbed hold of the system drive. Fortunately, it was still secure. But it was still as big as Cameron himself. He tried to activate its interface, and after a couple of tries, mostly wild guesses, a screen came floating right next to the drive.
It displayed several options of customizations, and Cameron scrutinized every modification until his eyes finally found the size option.
He quickly adjusted the size setting to minimum, and the system drive shrank to the size of a small screen. Grinning, he grabbed it and ran back as fast as possible.
When he reached back, he saw Stanley attempting to jump over the side of the Scavenger, nudging himself bit by bit to the right. Cameron shook his head as he leapt onto the vehicle with relative ease.
He placed a finger on Stanley and allowed a weak current to pass through. Stanley sat back, his eyes wincing in pain. Cameron then carefully place the system drive into Stanley’s lap, as he loaded up the auto-guidance mechanism. Since it was Stanley’s Scavenger, it merely did a retinal scan, before confirming flight path.
Cameron looked over as he heard Stanley making some sort of a sound. His eyes were fixed on the system drive placed on his lap.
“Yeah,” Cameron smiled smugly, “It’s the system drive. Safe journey, Colonel”
He leapt off for the last time, as the Scavenger took off.
Then the Scavenger went into N2 mode, and blasted out of sight.
Cameron sighed. If he ever got back to Valhalla, Stanley was going to bury him alive.
He then heard his communicator ringing, and he searched for it, only to realize he had left it in his Scavenger. He jumped on, and quickly strapped himself in.
Cameron switched on the communication channel.
“Cameron!” He heard Tyson speak into the communicator, his voice strangely calm.
“Tyson!” Cameron replied enthusiastically. He tried to avoid arriving directly on to the point that was Thanatos. He finished with the standard procedures and the Scavenger took off, flying at low speeds as Cameron didn’t want to crash into anything. The surroundings around him had become darker, forcing him to switch on the lights inside the cockpit.
Cameron had no clue as to where to go, but for then, he decided to at least be on the move.
“How’s Gia? Is she eating properly?” Cameron was happy to hear the concern in Tyson’s voice.
“She should be fine. I haven’t seen her in about a few hours.”
“Where are you right now?”
“Oh, nowhere special,” Cameron tried sounding nonchalant as he nearly dodged a huge fragment of ice sticking out of the ground. His Scavenger picked up signals of two other Scavengers, about a three hundred miles ahead, “I’m a couple of hundred miles behind you.”
For a few moments, there was silence on Tyson’s end.
“You’re down here?! What the hell, man?”
Cameron cringed slightly. Tyson could be really scary sometimes.
“Yeah?” He meekly replied.
“Wait a minute, what?” He heard Elizabeth exclaim. Apparently, Tyson had hooked the communicator that he had with the one installed in the Scavenger.
He went on to explain about how he and Stanley had encountered a Pyro-Paladin in the HQ area, and how everything was burnt to ashes, until of course the blizzard had come down upon them. He also told them how he paralyzed Stanley and sent him back to Valhalla.
“No way,” Elizabeth gave a chuckle. “You’re dead.”
The speaker crackled, and a bunch of static came out of it.
Cameron tried his best to adjust his frequency to a more suitable setting.
Then, the voices of the two came back on. They were arguing about something.
“Hello?” He spoke into the com, uncertain about whether or not he was audible to his friends.
“Yeah, where had you gone?” Tyson’s voice had a hint of annoyance.
“My stupid communicator got worked up. Anyways, you two should slow down a bit. If I enter N2 mode, I should catch up in a couple of minutes.”
“Wait, what mode?” Cameron was surprised. He expected at least Tyson to know about N2 mode, as he was always working with the Vehicular Maintenance Team.
“You really don’t know?” Cameron asked.
“No,” Tyson sounded even more annoyed.
“Okay,” Cameron responded. He punched in the necessary command codes, and the system for one last confirmation.
Cameron clicked YES on the screen that floated out from under.
For a second, he felt like he was forgetting to do something.
He then saw the screen. It was at max. Earlier, Stanley had only permitted thirty percent power.
Instantly, Cameron was pushed back into his seat he heard a large sonic boom go off behind and the vehicle raced forwards at a ludicrous speed.
His communicator was rattling as various types of screeches could be head coming from it.
A few minutes later, he turned off N2 mode. Cameron was luckily wearing his safety restraints, otherwise he would have been thrown out of the vehicle by the inertia and died almost instantly.
He checked his system navigator, trying to find out how far he was from his friend’s current positions.
Only a hundred meters.
Which meant that…
Cameron look out of the windows of his cockpit to see two Scavengers come and halt besides the one he was currently riding.
On his left, Elizabeth sat in her Scavenger, a faint smile playing on her lips.
“Feels good to be grouped again, huh?” Cameron turned his head to the right.
The inside of Tyson’s cockpit was filled with all types of screens. He was pushing all of them around, trying to organize them.
“I guess you guys know where we have to go?”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth cracked her fingers, “Tyson found a map of the entire underground system of Blue Moon.”
Cameron couldn’t believe it.
Blue Moon, artificial as it may be, was huge. To think that someone had managed to encompass the entire structure was beyond his belief.
Even the Valhallan Corps hadn’t been able to map the planet properly. They only had the old map which the humans from over a millennium ago had left when they had constructed the planet.
“Alright,” Cameron re-adjusted the settings of the Scavenger. He completely disabled N2 mode. Cameron didn’t want another bizarre supersonic flight.
“And how far are we from the core?”
Elizabeth brought up a screen into her cockpit, and signaled Cameron to do the same. As he did, the screen displayed the logo of Madak Inc., the company which had manufactured all these screens. Then, another screen attached itself to the first one. The screens brought up the images of Elizabeth and Tyson.
“There,” She said, “I was getting tired of looking right. My neck was starting to hurt.”
Tyson was still busy organizing. Cameron noticed how thin he had become over the course of the previous week. His usually calm eyes were filled with tension and exhaustion, but his expressions dared not to give a slight hint at his tiredness.
Even Elizabeth was the same. The girl who always preferred keeping short hair let them grow out, making her look much more feminine, but nevertheless fear-inducing.
Cameron himself wondered how much this journey had changed. Nothing had gone as he had expected. They had been broken apart by a hurricane, and even after amalgamating, Zade, the leader of the group decided to travel with the elite Sven siblings.
As if that much separation wasn’t enough, the four of them had been kidnapped and held in different places.
Even at that moment, only three of them were together. Gia was lying in a hospital while Zade was-
“Where is Zade?” Cameron asked, now realizing that he didn’t even bother to ask about the location of their group leader.
Tyson’s expression hardened slightly, while that of Elizabeth softened.
Cameron wondered as to what had happened while he was on his way down to the Valdorian HQ.
“Zade’s at core.” Cameron shook his head, smiling slightly. Zade was many things, being resilient one of them.
“Just as expected of him.” Cameron wondered what was wrong as Tyson’s posture stiffened, even if ever so slightly. Elizabeth tried to smile.
“I just hope that he and the Svens didn’t already try and approach the core. It would probably be filled with a couple of monsters.”
“What?” Cameron was bothered by the sudden change in Tyson’s behavior.
“Nothing,” Tyson muttered, having finally sorted the screens and the data on them displayed various types of information.
Cameron was not convinced. Tyson had been strangely around Zade even back in Venn, but Cameron had refrained from asking Tyson about it.
Tyson had developed an unhealthy habit of keeping things to himself rather than sharing them with Cameron and the rest.
Cameron looked outside. The winds around them were relentless, bashing against their windscreens. There was a tiny layer of ice forming on Cameron’s Scavenger.
A layer of ice…
Cameron suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to tell his friends something really important, the fact that Thanatos was at the core.
“Slow the Scavenger down!” He exclaimed out loud. Both Tyson and Elizabeth gave Cameron a confused look, but fortunately, they synchronized their deceleration, until all three Scavengers were moving at a very slow speed. Cameron noticed that the area had suddenly become smaller, with not much of a ceiling gap and that the walls were coming closer and closer.
“What happened? Why’d you make us slow down?”
Cameron ignored Elizabeth, turning to face Tyson. “How far away are we from the core region?”
Tyson calmly looked it up on his screen, and smiled. “A couple of miles away,” He sighed heavily, before slumping back into his seat. “Looks like we’re almost there.” Tyson, too, begun noticing how the surroundings had changed.
“So why did you make us stop?” Elizabeth sounded irritated.
Cameron could understand why she was so agitated. After having gone through so much, it was natural for her to be anxious to reach the destination, but if there was ever a good time for Cameron to tell them both about the impending doom that resided in the depths of the core, it was then, before they were too deep into the core.
“Guys,” He began. Cameron cursed himself for not having told them earlier, having made an excuse that Stanley was injured, which was why Cameron sent him back the way he did.
“What?” Tyson asked, “What is it, man?”
“There’s something you should know about who is inside the core chamber.”
“Who is it?” Elizabeth asked, her words filled curiosity.
Cameron looked at both the intercom screens, seeing his friends’ confused faces, before looking through the windshield. A little further ahead, the winds were getting weaker, and he could see a faint light. The walls were getting narrower, and the roof above their heads was lowering.
A mile or two, and they would be forced to land.
“Thanatos,” He muttered in a barely audible voice.
Tyson’s eyes went wide with shock and his jaw dropped. Elizabeth apparently hadn’t heard properly.
“Who?” She squinted her hazel eyes.
Cameron breathed in deeply. A few more seconds passed, and then, the Scavengers gave the ceiling limit warning and automatically descended. Cameron found it hard to believe how fast the wide open area had become so small and narrow.
“Thanatos,” Cameron finally said as he shut off other screens and picked up his weapon, getting ready to leave the vehicle.
“The person who awaits us inside the core region is Thanatos.”