A General's Quest: IV

I would later learn that years prior when the plague broke out on the mainland and the sterile atoll of Altuna's Chariot became some sort of impromptu leper colony, the resident legionnaire corps of engineers dug in deeper than they had ever managed to go before.

The then starving and imposing undead lit the proverbial match under their collective asses. Once their keen senses, honed by Altima's hand sensed warm flesh beneath their shuffling feet they clawed through the narrow corridors after the terrified and all but abandoned legions of Isyr.

Our nation celebrated landfall here long before my birth. No one had ever reported in that long stretch of time Altima's ever probing and subversive mind. Whether or not she had laid dormant all these years while humanity tried to make sense of her mastery of technology I've yet to discover.

Maybe the engineers stumbled upon her lair while attempting in vain to escape the restless undead and somehow awakened her. Or maybe there was a grain of truth in her crooning voice. Maybe I was special.

I sure thought I was as I came to the end of the line. I almost missed it at first. The corridor was cleverly designed to loop back in on itself into a never ending labyrinth. I had no light to guide me, but I could feel his presence. I could smell the special type of decay that comes with Isyr soil and Altima's sickness.

He was a legionnaire in life. As I ran my bloodied and raw fingers over his breast plate I could make out the holy lion cub, their battle flag. It was crusty, I could feel excrement and blood flake off the exquisitely machined armor like paint off of an old barn.

The legionnaire, a corporal by the way his elaborate helmet protected his nose, was little more than withered muscles bound to broken bones. I stole his exhausted gunblade and discarded the long since dead power cell on the rubble strewn floor.

I had to rip it from his withered, dead hand but I managed to loot his last remaining power cell. I jammed it into the hilt and turned on the blade's search light.

I was blinded at first, it could have been days since Altima's invasion of my mind. She cackled as I allowed my shame to come into the light. I was still nude and much of the skin on my legs was chapped and red.

Shamelessly I clawed through the dead man's rucksack and feasted upon his long since disused rations. He stared at me with hollow eye sockets and chuckled with a slack jaw.

Before long as I continued toward her lair I saw more of them, the unlucky victims of the plague. They were all in military finest, armed and quite dead. Most of them had been feasted upon, but toward the end it was obvious what kind of dismal fear men succumb to in the dark with no escape. Eventually the blood soaked and shredded garb faded to neat, tidy bodies with single entry wounds. The kind born out of resignation and surrender.

I wanted to count them all and collect their badges. But their families were dead, and even though the light from my looted weapon kept the malicious voice at bay, she still teased me.

She seemed so sweet on the surface, but as I grew closer her malice shone through. I knew I should have looted what supplies I could from the dead and return to the surface, but even as she mocked me for the tears I shed over my countrymen I grew excited.

I stopped many times and succumbed to her pressure. Sometimes amongst the dead, their bodies stinking and cold. Sometimes I would manage to crawl away before she took my hands away from my control.

I tried to keep my eyes closed while I violated myself, but toward the end she forced them open. When I developed sores and began to bleed she laughed.

"Would you prefer the dark, Gabe?"

She'd toy and cause the looted light to flicker. When I grew defiant she conjured images I'll never be able to describe. After awhile the light failed and I was left blind.

I slipped into unconsciousness several more times. My body kept moving by her request. When I awoke the final time I could feel her engine. It purred and shook the ground like a jackhammer so hard I could feel it in my back teeth.

I feared what was to come. I had gathered certain expectations from her while she reduced my childhood memories to blackness. Lumbering beasts of burden that had once been men, horribly twisted mockeries of life. But through the fear I craved her. And above all, I craved to become strong. When I heard the sounds of the birthing chamber, I remember smiling. And when I could make out the noise of living human agony, I laughed.

I was home, at last.

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