The Wilds Part 2 of 2: Nightfall
by Wedge, Co-Creator
Several curious Zappers investigated the area drawn by Mata's energized shield. She powered it off and practiced slicing them apart with her boomerang kukri while she leaned against the tree, regaining her strength.
"Listen whatever these critters are paying you to let them eat me I'll double it," Hock said.
Mata let out a sharp laugh, "lets get that blood cleaned off you," Mata unrolled a medic kit stored in her thigh pouch, "everything here seems to want to get a taste."
"You've had your fair share of admirers, mind that elbow," Hock pointed to Mata's right arm which had a laceration running the length of her tricep.
Mata seemed to notice the cut for the first time and prodded it tenderly while flexing her arm testing its range of motion. For the next several minutes they busied themselves with dressing their wounds, re-hydrating,and Mata retrieved her weapons. The light was fading as they prepared to set out again for the crashed shuttle.
"Typically the nocturnal hunters are more dangerous than those that move around during the day, we should get going," advised Mata.
"What do you say we stick together this time?"
Mata assented with a slight nod, and the two set out at a sustainable pace.
A shift change overtook the alien jungle as they traveled, and the now familiar background noise of creatures large and small began to die away. An uneasiness began to settle across Mata's shoulders.
She had spent nearly her entire life in the uncharted wilds on dozens of worlds, but there was something different about this one. She could not give name to her growing concerns until the last deep throated groan died off, and an uncomfortable silence overtook the jungle which had been teeming with life moments before. Yes it was the silence that was so unnerving. Expecting to be surrounded by a chorus of unknown animals their absence was deeply troubling.
Hock's heavy footfalls behind her were booming in this transformed world and her own measured breath was disturbingly conspicuous. Even the wind seemed to have retreated, and the foliage overhead had stopped its endless rustling.
Making a gesture to stop Mata and Hock stood motionless. Mata quested out with her senses, ears rotating, nose twitching, trying to find any indication of life. The lightest wind still trickled through the tips of her hair and she could detect the faintest smell of smoke.
Not wanting to speak Mata pointed towards the source of the wind. Proceeding with calculated care they stalked through the muted jungle until the smoke led them to a scar carved through the wilderness. Shredded trees and undergrowth still smoldered in the wake of the crash site, and fires still burned bright enough to illuminate the dilapidated shuttle's carcass where it lay over 100 yards ahead wedged into the trunk of a ancient tree that now bowed forward at an unnatural angle.
Keeping a weather eye on the tree line, Mata danced over the fallen limbs and upturned earth making a path to the ship. The front half of the shuttle was now like a mangled accordion as it pancaked against the tree's broad trunk, but the back half seemed largely in tact. Creeping up she placed her hands on the ship, and ran them along until she reached a ragged hole opening into the pitch dark hull.
"Ripsis?" Mata whispered tentatively.
A deep bass groan emerged from the black, "Still alive; somehow," the tone sounded almost disappointed, "next time I'll take my chances in free fall."
Mata made a small smile to herself and from over her shoulder Hock said "I told you he would be all right."
"I could use a hand getting out of here, I spent the last of my energy reforming the interior bulkheads into a protective cocoon during the crash, but I didn't leave enough space to replace the charges, " Ripsis said.
"Don't worry big guy we'll spring you," turning to Hock she said, "give me a hand with one of those saplings cut down in the wreckage."
Scavenging around they found a likely candidate and Hock hefted the sturdy 9 foot long trunk while Mata helped guide it into the opening in the shuttles hull. Using it as a lever Hock put all of his weight onto the other end. The teeth grinding sound of metal on metal filled the unnaturally quiet night and the loosened bulkhead gave way slamming to the ground followed by the a tumbling form of a Lauxnaut curled into a tight ball. Ripsis rolled for several feet until his armor plated head came in contact with a stone outcropping jutting out of the jungle floor with a crack.
Unfazed Ripsis stood up measuring just a few inches shorter than Hock, but half again as wide as the him, and weighting in at over twice that of the fully armored soldier. Much of Ripsis's body was covered in naturally forming armored plates, and his exposed skin was a mix of the natural Lauxnaut grey highlighted with splotches and streaks of pallid green photocells. The modified Varigator armor suit covered the left side of his torso and arm. Three cylindrical discs studding his shoulder emitted jets of steam as they rotated counter clockwise to unlock - revealing the blackened cores of three fully discharged power cells. Removing the spent cells Ripsis gingerly retrieved two spare power cells from a canister on his belt and fitted them into the empty sockets. The power cores snapped to life emitting a pure white light and spun down clockwise locking in place hidden beneath the Varigator body armor. Almost instantly the green splotches on his skin turned from pale and washed out to a vibrant living color.
"Got any more of those?" Asked Hock indicating the power cells, "Spirit Crusher took a jolt and I haven't been able to get him online since."
"I'm running short," Ripsis's thumb jabbed to the shuttle wreckage "You may be able to dig one out of there."
"Lovely," Hock fished around in a pocket on his chest until he found a small light which he thumbed on as he stepped into the ruined ship.
Surveying the crash site Ripsis's gaze followed the low burning embers into the distance "So whats the status?"
"I think our ship got knocked out of the sky by coming too close to a swarm of mating bugs that vent electromagnetic waves from their asses," said Mata with a lopsided smile.
A deep gravely laugh escaped from Ripsis, "well I guess there's a first time for everything, whats the ETA for evac?"
"Should be a few hours from now... I was worried about the Zappers getting them too, but it looks like everything around here have gone to ground for the night." Mata eyed the shadows cast by the fire flickering across the stationary jungle canopy with trepidation, "I don't know whether to be relieved or concerned."
"Story of my life darling."
"Found one!" Exclaimed Hock as he returned form the shuttle's corpse gripping a fresh power cell in his hand. Depressing a pressure spot on the stalk of Spirit Crusher Hock ejected the old power cell which was charred and spider webbed with white cracks. Dismissively he flipped the dead cell to the ground replacing it with the fresh one. The plasma rifle hummed to life, and a familiar voice spoke inside Hock's ear.
"WJS Technology Model 209-C online, please input serial activation code."
"Damn, I think that bug fried more than the power cell," Hock said out loud, "I'm gonna have to let Dust take a look at it when we get back to The Overwatch. Still I feel a lot more prepared for the wildlife tour this time."
Punctuating Hock's words there was a strangled feral cry from the brush to the North of the crash site. Mata's senses snapped to alert picking up a rustling sound from a short tree nearby. The three held their positions perfectly still. A rasping sound came from the other side of the shuttle, like metal on scales. Hock smoothly panned the barrel of the Spirit Crusher towards the sound searching for its origin.
The silence resumed for another minute.
An unexpected thud vibrated up Hock's right leg and he looked down to find a foot long black serpent latched to the metal toe of his boot.
"I think you've bit off more than you can chew," Hock kneeled down and ejected the blade from his gauntlet severing the snake's head in a single motion. A viscous black fluid drained from the wriggling serpent.
Mata's nose wrinkled, "watch what you step in Hock - that reeks."
The tension broken, Ripsis began to stamp out some of the fires immediately surrounding the shuttle. Mata started searching the surrounding area for any more snakes. Hock pried the serpent's dead jaws from his boot and produced a cloth that he used to wipe the blood off his blade.
Mata had her back turned when the beast struck.
A startled yell was all the warning they had. Mata turned to find a massive beast descending upon Hock's crouched form. It was quadruped that must have stood at least 12 feet tall. Its back was a tangled mess of horns jutting out at random angles and its face was a writhing mass of the black serpents - the same as the one that had stuck to Hock's boot.
By the time Mata could call Ripsis and draw her kukri several serpents had latched onto Hock, lifted him off the ground, and were drawing him into its maw.
Darting forward Mata attempted to free him but Hock was already outside of her reach. Several more more hungry serpents struck out for her as she passed but she deftly dispatched them with her razor sharp blades. Ducking low Mata stepped under the beast and attempted to hamstring its front trunk like leg. Her kukri sliced through the matted fur on the back of the creatures leg but stopped short as it encountered some form of solid bone. The beast's back foot kicked forward at Mata with thick splayed claws and she leapt clear.
Ripsis had come around the corner of the shuttle and squared off facing the rampaging monster. The focusing crystals embedded in the knuckles of his three fingered left hand glowed red and he gestured to the dislodged bulkhead he had been trapped behind. The gigantic plate must have weighed a full ton but it rose up like a feather at his command. The bulkhead flung itself at the beast and its jagged edges sawed deep into the creatures flank. Its right rear leg went limp and the creature slowed considerably. One of the energy cells in Ripsis's armor ejected out with a hot jet of steam, the charge having been completely spent.
Struggling futilely Hock was nearly completely covered with countless serpents coiling around his limbs, drawing him deeper inside.
Mata slid the kukri back into their sheaths along her lower back and reached over her right shoulder to grip the cool handle bound tightly in a leather thong.
Pulling the long curved handle over her shoulder she gripped it two handed and activated the telescopic weapon to slide out forming a 5 foot long panabas. Whirling it in an over handed grip she set upon the wounded creature. Using her entire body's weight she lashed out with a devastating horizontal slash that severed the creatures front left leg at the knee. The animal collapsed under its own weight.
White hot energy jabbed out from inside the beast's chest cavity illuminating the dark night as Spirit Crusher's plasma beam roasted the creature from the inside out. Hock appeared in the breach riding out along with a wave of serpents all fleeing the burning corpse.
Mata looked on in horror no... it wasn't a corpse at all, it was some sort of nest.
Hundreds of jet black serpents of all sizes poured out of the once living nest seeking blood.
Scything through scores of them with her panabas Mata could only manage a fighting withdraw as the tide continued. Eventually the massive blade was fouled in a knot of thick snakes and she was forced to abandon it. Switch back to her kukri made her more agile but the enraged creatures beset her from all sides. Frantically searching for sanctuary Mata made for the tree line, leaping into the branches of a thick tree anchoring herself with her tail. She used both hands to cut down snake after snake as they slithered up the tree in pursuit. In a explosion of activity hidden animals who had taken refuge in the tree at nightfall fled in panic and fell to the jaws of the serpents. Scrambling to the top most branches capable of supporting her weight Mata eased out onto a limb restricting the paths the assailants could take to reach her. From here she was able to catch her breath and slay the diminished flow of serpents at leisure.
Looking down onto the crash site Mata found that Ripsis had devised his own way of handling the swarm of beasts. Having torn a yard long metal reinforcement bar from the shuttle he now used his Varigator powers to turn the bar into a spinning lawn mower blade churning around the jungle chopping snakes into tiny chunks.
The exodus finally subsided and the last of the serpents interested in Mata retreated.
She made her way back down the tree. Hock was laid out next to the smoldering nest struggling feebly with a few serpents that still held fast to his body. Mata deftly decapitated the last of those, and surveyed him.
It looked bad.
While his armor remained largely in tact shielding the majority of his body, bite marks covered Hock's exposed skin particularly around his neck and lower arms. Most of the wounds weeped with thick black poison.
"Hock can you hear me?"
Hock's eyes were unfocused and he seemed to be still attempting to weakly brush off snakes which were no longer attached to him, "I got in three stims before I was pulled down into that stinking gullet so I'm feeling pretty damn good right now," he managed a pathetic grin, "but I've got a sneaking suspicion that I'm not gonna be saying that when these things wear off."
"I think we are gonna need this," Ripsis stomped over gripping a squirming serpent tightly behind its head.
Mata emptied out her canteen and guided the snake in Ripsis's hand to the lip of the bottle. With a killer instinct the snake struck at the bottle, fangs extending inside, and Mata milked out the venom.
"Sit tight Cain, when Lady Baylen gets here she will be able to make an antidote," commanded Ripsis.
Hock was deliriously crawling back towards the smoking hive of dead serpents "Mmmm, that smells good, anyone up for some BBQ?"