The last bastion of the.., p.61
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       The Last Bastion of the Living, p.61

           Rhiannon Frater
Page 61


  Following in her shadow, Denman motioned toward the approaching storm. “Not good. Visibility will already be an issue inside. ”

  “That’s what night vision is for,” Maria responded.

  The defense system buzzed as it came online when Cormier slid the door shut. The battered vehicle had seen better days, but it had held up admirably. Cormier joined the squad, her weapon at the ready.

  “Let’s do this,” Maria said in a fierce voice and headed toward the building.

  Chapter 30

  The glass crunched under her boot heels as Maria approached the empty floor-length windows that had been destroyed long ago when the gate had failed and the Inferi Scourge had rampaged through the valley. The white stone around the empty windows was discolored. Furniture and heavy objects that had once been stacked against the glass lay in rotting piles just inside the building. The menacing gloom within the massive lobby made Maria’s sluggish heart beat faster.

  Mikado and Cruz led the squad, quiet and graceful as they scanned for any sign of the enemy. They were the first to peer into the abandoned building before slipping over the windowsill and being absorbed into the darkness. The small lamps on their helmets switched on, beams of light streaking across the sad remains of a vanquished world.

  “Keep alert,” Maria said, trailing McKinney and Holm into the building. Denman was right behind her.

  There were signs of battle all around her. Bullet holes were punched deep into the interior walls. The once-white walls were moldy and streaked with dark blots. It didn’t take much of an imagination to know the stains were the markers where blood spilled long ago. The smashed remains of the lobby chairs and tables littered the floor. Bits of broken bones and a few shattered skulls were strewn about.

  “Must have fought like hell,” Cruz said in a soft, almost reverent voice.

  Cut off from the city, whoever had taken shelter within the building had been doomed. Maria wondered how long the windows had held before surrendering to the onslaught to the Scourge. The lights from the helmets cast shadows across the walls, mimicking wraiths.

  The squad spread out across the lobby. Every possible hiding spot was checked.

  One by one, seventeen different voices said, “Clear. ”

  The schematic on Maria’s visor altered to show the lobby free of the Anomalies. Next they would enter a corridor that opened to the offices of the administration of the facility. At the far end would be the stairwell that would lead down to the basement. The doors opening to the corridor were straight ahead. One was slightly ajar, the thin line of the blackness that dwelt beyond the doors an ominous sight.

  Maria signaled for Mikado and Cruz to advance. The rest of the squad fell back from the doors, staying out of the range of any possible fire.

  “Switching to night vision, “Mikado said, then took up his position next to the door. He silently counted down on his fingers with Cruz, then they shoved the doors open. Keeping in cover, they both peered into the darkness, their helmets illuminated in a ghostly glow.

  “We’ve got bodies,” Cruz said, her voice slightly wavering.

  “Gutierrez. ” Mikado’s voice as grim. “What’s left of him. ”

  “Advance with caution,” Maria directed.

  The small schematic on her screen altered to pinpoint the position of Gutierrez’s body. Flipping on her night vision, she watched the world fade to shades of blue and gray.

  With practiced perfection, the squad moved into the wide corridor. Closed doors lined either side. Breaking into smaller groups, the squad began to open each door. Every time a door yawned open and the darkness beyond faded to washes of blue to reveal its secrets, Maria felt her heart thud a little harder. The offices were trashed, the desks tossed against the walls, chairs shattered into pieces of plastic and metal. Computer terminals were ruined monuments of another time. Personal photos in broken frames were faded, moldering mementos of lost lives.

  One by one, the rooms were checked and secured. Meter by meter, they crept toward the door that would open to the stairwell. Gutierrez’s body lay at the far end, his face turned toward them on a shattered neck. Maria tried not to see the ravaged body, stripped of muscle and skin. As he neared the corpse, Denman cautiously crouched next to the dead soldier.

  “Entry wound is above his left eye. Exit wound is. . . ” Denman’s face was an eerie mix of various shades of blue and gray as he looked up at Maria. Gently he turned Gutierrez’s head so Maria could see the thin metal pipe sticking out of the back.

  “Projectile weapons, Omondi said,” Maria remarked, keeping her voice as calm as possible. “Do you see this, Castellan?”

  “We see it. Proceed with extreme caution. ”

  Maria could hear the slight fear in his voice and her eyes flicked toward his small image.

  Denman stepped back into formation and the group pressed forward. Again, Mikado and Cruz were first through the new set of doors. One of the doors hit the wall with a harsh sound and an echo followed.

  They were at the top of the stairwell.

  The squad filed onto the landing. Maria stepped up to the rail and peered cautiously into the blackness below. The night vision displayed the long spiral of stairs and a blank square of concrete floor at the base. She was straightening when she saw something flash through her line of vision followed by a metallic clank. The sound of receding footfalls ricocheted up the stairwell.

  Immediately, she stepped back and thumbed off the safety on her rifle. “Watch yourselves. There are some below. ”

  Holm plucked a thin piece of pipe that had landed near Maria’s location.

  “Definitely armed,” McKinney said sourly.

  Mikado and Cruz stepped onto the stairs, keeping away from the railing, carefully heading downward. Their footfalls rang through the blue-washed darkness. The descent into the basement was terrifying. At least in the valley they could see the Scourge coming toward them and have some sort of idea of where an attack may originate.

  Scuffling noises from below brought the soldiers to a stop. Mikado quickly peeked over the rail. He barely dodged an object that shot up from below. Cruz sent a short barrage of gunfire into the darkness beneath the stairs before the attacker darted out of range.

  Holm reached down and picked up a long thin pipe. Though she couldn’t speak, her eyes said it all. The Anomalies were definitely armed.

  Continuing downward, they hugged the walls, trying to stay out of range of fire. Maria’s gaze stole upward when her hearing picked up a different sound. A shadow was leaning over the rail peering down at them.

  “They’re above us!” she called out.

  The sound of the Anomalies’ weapons discharging sent the squad into defensive positions. The pipe projectiles clanged against the wall and stairwells, missing their targets. Maria could see the thin objects hurtling at her from above and below. She dodged and ducked, trying to avoid them. The gunfire bursts from the Inferi Boon were deafening.

  The cold Anomaly bodies were registering as ghostly wisps on the night vision. Cursing, Maria darted around Mikado and fired down the final length of stairs. She could see the Anomalies at the bottom darting back and forth out of cover.

  “Move down!” she ordered.

  Maria fired at a shape ascending the stairwell and heard it scream.

  Advancing into the basement, she continued to pull the trigger of her weapon, scattering the Anomalies on the basement floor. Mikado and Cruz were right behind her, helping her pin down the Anomalies. Their opponents continued to attack, but the inaccuracy of the makeshift weapons gave the squad the advantage. Maria registered that a few of her people were hit on her helmet readout, but none were down.

  “Fuck! They hit my helmet! I’m blind!” Cormier screamed.

  “Get Cormier!” Maria ordered, ducking around a corner and firing point blank into the body of a man standing there. He staggered back as th
e bullets punched through him.

  “Hungry!” he screamed, then lunged at her.

  A bullet to the head stopped him cold and he fell to her feet.

  “Fuck! Fuck!” Cormier’s voice rang out. “Get them off me!”

  The cries from above became desperate. McKinney’s shouts of anger and the staccato of gunfire deafened Maria. Her helmet started to register squad losses.

  Screams and shouts filled the cramped space as Maria, Mikado, Cruz, Denman and Holm managed to find refuge behind a reserve generator. Maria could now see the Anomalies scurrying from cover to cover in the long corridor that led to the shelter that the Chief Defender and his squad were bunkered down in. The ambush was carefully thought out and the enemy had prepared. The only reason Maria and the others had found any protection was because the Anomaly she had killed had been overwhelmed with hunger and abandoned his position.

  “Vanguard Martinez, we have five people immobilized up there,” Denman whispered urgently.

  “I can see my readout,” Maria retorted.

  The gunfire from above was steady and purposeful.

  “Let them do their job, you do yours,” Maria added, firing again. “McKinney, report in. ”

  “Got rushed! Have some wounded. Cormier. . . I think they took her. . . Got two above me still firing. We’re moving down. ”
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