The moonlight was broken up by thick branches of the trees as Will moved further into the small forest. He kept his eyes on the small opening that led into the thick undergrowth for fear of losing sight of it and not regaining it, so small was its appearance.
The two creatures that emerged from the hovel were now long gone and Will, with night vision goggles over his head and the green glow to light his way without bringing attention to himself, moved up to the opening and peered in.
Unsurprisingly there was nothing to see. It was a tunnel that led underground, he could do nothing but move his way in and hope for the best.
He had been in such hives before, they were scattered around various parts of Eastern Europe, some rather shockingly close to cities, some quite a way away. They served multiple purposes. Firstly, they were where the new creatures were born and cared for, so they were in effect nurseries. Secondly they were where the older but still inexperienced creatures learnt how to shape shift and use their powers. As far as Will could discern, not all creatures were capable of shape shifting, so in this bizarre version of a school system they would work out what they were capable of. If some were purely physical they would be trained as warriors, if they could shape shift they would be taught to take on the appearance of humans, then they would be moved to another area where they could begin interacting with humans so that they could learn how to mimic their actions and mannerisms, before finally they were used to infiltrate a business, boardroom, politicians office, or wherever they were needed.
The process took years, and the highly skilled shapeshifters were likely decades into their job. The beauty of their skills were that if they needed to stay as the same person for years, they had the ability to slowly change themselves, to age, so as to not arouse suspicion.
Will had discovered all of this when he raided his first hive. He had found documentation, actual documentation, paperwork, files, collected and sorted in this dirty underground maze. It painted a picture of the whole trail, where the recruits went, how many there were, how long they had been there.
He used the papers to follow-up on the other locations, other ‘schools’ within towns in cities where shape shifter were practicing with humans.
He had ambushed some of these schools, not just taking out the new recruits but also the teachers, well trained creatures with years of experience. It had no doubt put a major kink in their plans, but pretty soon the trails went cold, they had moved on when they realised what had happened, his intelligence had become redundant. He learnt something important that day as he strode through an apartment complex in Bratislava, Slovakia, it had been deserted for less than twenty-four hours, bedding, kitchen equipment lay about, but by and large it had been stripped bare. The lesson was clear, follow up leads quickly, they weren’t afraid to slash and burn in a hurry.
Well, no time like the present.
Will crouched down and moved into the tunnel leaving the safety of the outside behind. The smell of damp soil hit his nostrils instantly as all external light abandoned him and he was completely dependent on the green glow of his goggles. The tunnel was too small for him to stand up in, it was bigger than necessary for the four legged little creeps however, so that indicated that the tunnel was regularly used by bigger creatures.
That was the third use of the hives, for places to hide during the day for creatures who couldn’t shape shift, and that meant that if some were around now it wouldn’t be simply a nursery and a school he was attacking, there could be some ‘graduates’ around as well.
The tunnel gradually became bigger until Will could stand and had he extended his arms either way he wouldn’t quite touch the walls. This was partly comforting as it wasn’t so cramped, but also slightly alarming, as it meant that it was regularly used by bigger creatures. This was as far into enemy territory as he could go, there was no chance for mistakes in here, he had to stay alert. There was absolutely no light of course, the creatures could see in the dark just fine, and even with the goggles on, Will was not at his best, it was disorienting to only see through what amounted to binoculars with poor zoom. But he withdrew one of his crescent blades, his prefered weapon and gripped it firmly. Walking down the tunnel, he’d made it perhaps another twenty paces before it branched off. He had two ways to go, one went steeply down, likely into a second level, the other stayed even and seemed to go towards a room. It made sense to check out the first level on the way down, and so Will turned right and soon found himself in a relatively large area. It was large enough that if he stood at the centre of it he would be at least two or three large paces from any wall. Scanning it intently he was surprised to see that there were no creatures around, perhaps they were out? There were many footprints, or claw prints rather, and outlines in the soil that showed high traffic and a place where the creatures rested. So this was likely where the larger creatures came in to rest, so they were out for the night, that was to be expected. If he hurried, he could finish the job before they got back. He wasn’t surprised that there was nothing of note in the room, no furniture, no luggage, nothing. The creatures cared little for these things and certainly wouldn’t keep it lying around in a simple rest area.
Pulling out one of his explosives, he set the timer for one hour and buried it near the opening to the room. It wasn’t a huge explosive, but it would be enough to bring down the roof directly above the entrance. When combined with several others on the next level, it would render the hive useless and any creatures would be trapped inside until they starved.
Will gave a silent thanks to his friend Marius, a man who seemed to be able to acquire anything he needed for the right price.
He wasn’t looking forward to it, but now it was time to move to the lower levels. Will slid down the steep ramp, it wasn’t much longer than his own height, the soil was damp yet tough enough that he was sure he could clamour back up without any problem. The tunnel suddenly became much narrower, so it was not likely that the larger creatures ventured to the second level, that was an advantage, but it meant that Will now had to crouch as he walked. After a few paces, his legs were already feeling the burn from the unusual position and it gave him pause to add a mental note to do more squats in his usual exercise routine.
He decided that going in this blind was a bad idea and so decided to take a risk. He reached within himself and tapped into his power, with as little of it as he could manage yet whilst still maintaining the connection, he reached out and soon felt the presence of several nameless a little further down into the tunnel. There would be a room coming up to his right with several of the creatures inside. He cut his connection quickly, for although they weren’t likely to be worried about an intruder and even less likely that he ‘the one with their powers’ would stumble upon them, there was still a chance that if they were alert, they would detect him, but this information was enough to help him guide his way.
There was no sound at all, it was eerily quiet, but moving up to the next room which was ten awkward steps forward, he found a room which was slightly smaller than the previous one he had found, but nevertheless still bigger than the cramped corridor. Inside Will saw that there were in fact over a dozen creatures, all cramped together in the corner. Most were very small, about the size of a dog, but there were two bigger ones, slightly larger than the creep that Will had caught and left tied up with Chen.
He crept into the room slowly, the two creatures didn’t notice him, they had their attention on the younger ones in front, who seemed to be sitting, scuffling around and chattering to each other. Will had no clue what they were doing, perhaps they were having some kind of lesson, were these their ‘teacher’s then? It was hard to say in this surreal kind of place, it didn’t matter.
He was just wondering if he should leave, go further into the tunnel and leave these ones alone for now, when one of the ‘children’ looked up and saw him, it squawked, its eyes boggled in surprise. The whole group turned on him, frozen. It was clear that they weren’t well equipped to deal with this circumstance.
The two larger ones turned on him and raised themselves up onto their legs, their claws held out menacingly. They probably didn’t know who he was, but they knew he was human and that was all that mattered, humans never came here, therefore he was an enemy.
They lunged at him, Will held out his left arm in front of him, the first creature fell onto it and was surprised when it met with resistance the equivalent of hitting a brick wall. It was short-lived however as the crescent blade slashed the creature’s neck.
In the moment of hesitation, Will had drawn on his powers again and taken in just enough to put up his guard, the surprise had done the trick and the first creature was down. The second one was likely still confused but it saw that something wasn’t right and so came in more cautiously. It called to the smaller creatures behind it, they seemed to be frozen in fear, or wonderment.
Will realised that despite their lack of size and skill, there was still enough of the critters that in the cramped space he could be easily overwhelmed. He needed to finish the big one quickly. He was able to stand nearly all the way to his full height in the room, and thus it gave him the ability to launch himself forward with a powerful step, he did so and slashed the blade at the creature again and again, advancing to the back of the room. It slashed at him but kept backing away, he would have it when he got it to the back wall, just two more steps. But the creatures behind him were still a threat. It was awkward as hell trying to look around quickly with goggles on, but he saw that they were still frozen in place currently. He took the last two steps and with its back to the wall, the creature lashed out as best it could, its gangly arms and claws would have sliced Will up had he been any slower, but with constant training, Will was faster still and the creature’s claws lay strewn on the ground, it began to cry out in pain but was silenced by a slice to the throat, ending its existence.
Will turned to the creatures that sat in silence, looking at him. They were in fact children, in effect, they had no idea what to do, but Will knew what he had to do, they couldn’t be allowed to live. They looked up at him with their big black eyes, there seemed to be fear, uncertainty, as Will moved forward and began hacking away. They each cried out as he cut them down one by one, something stirred within him, was it remorse? It couldn’t be, they were animals, bred to kill him and his kind, they had to die.
Something seemed to snap however, they were creatures driven by a wild instinct and there was something different in the last one, it didn’t just sit there, at the last moment it jumped up and knocked Will to the ground, its claws flashing wildly over his body. He manged to get his knees up and launch it against the wall, it fell to the ground without injury, their hide was thicker than the packed soil. It came at him again, running low on all fours, Will crouched as low as the little creature and waited for it to jump at him. As it did so, he flattened himself out, grabbed one claw with his left hand, the other claw swung too high as he was now lower than before, he slashed with the crescent blade and kicked up with his legs all in one smooth motion. The result of which was the little creature was thrown, largely by its own momentum against the far wall, it slapped to the ground and lay there bleeding as the cut from the blade across its chest took its toll. Will walked up to it and pulled its head back, it whimpered in a pathetic fashion, he hesitated only a moment as he draw the blade across its neck, ending its life. He turned back around, scanned with his mind’s eye, detected nothing in the immediate vicinity, perhaps he hadn’t been too noisy after all.
He looked down and checked his body, the little power he had left had been an effective layer of defence, but the light armour underneath him had been cut up rather badly. He felt around but his skin had received no fresh wounds for a change. No doubt that would have been different had he encountered an adult.
After planting another explosive, checking his watch and making it 47 minutes to match the first one, he then moved further down the tunnel, crouching once more.
His legs were beginning to disagree with him in a bad way, a cramp was coming on, but there was little he could do. He noticed a smell of a pungent sort. He looked down but couldn’t bend his neck to look at the top of his chest, the goggles were in the way. He patted his torn shirt that hung over his armour and noticed blood, but it was thick and it stunk. His victim’s then, he moved on ignoring the smell. The tunnel became narrower and soon Will had to get down on his stomach and crawl, this section became constricting with his backpack, as small as it was and his breathing became shallow and a little bit panicked. He stopped, the soil around him was soft enough that he could keep moving without it crushing him, he tried not to think about the fact that he couldn’t turn around and was completely vulnerable from attack from behind, he took several calming breaths and moved on through the tunnel. He reached out with his power and scanned once more, there were a multitude of life forms coming from up ahead. Finally, the tunnel became slightly wider, not enough to stand, or even crouch, but the crawling became easier. He found the first room to the right. He peaked in and saw exactly what he expected. This far down it could be only one thing. It was a nursery, there were a dozen new born creatures laying on the soil, moving around like babies just figuring out that they can get onto their stomachs. It was a disturbing sight as their little claws floundered around trying to touch the strange things around them. It was grotesque and somehow Will found it even easier to set the next explosive at the entrance to their room, knowing that they would never see the outside world. Crawling further on he reached another room, this one was much bigger and was roomy enough for him to get up into a crouch, he breathed easier despite the stink from the creatures inside. There were another dozen, maybe more of the creatures, they seemed younger still, but this room had a minder. A creature about the size of an average creep. It looked up after a few moments looking groggy, it had possibly been asleep Will realised, but with surprising speed it came at him. Fortunately he had already made his way into a crouching position and was therefore able to slash at the creature, countering its attacks and hacking away at it until it lay cut, bleeding and whimpering on the ground.
He was about to rifle through his bag for his penultimate explosive when suddenly he was struck from behind. His goggles came off and flew somewhere out of reach. Suddenly, the room was completely dark, he was lost, and something was in here with him that could see in the dark as well as he could see in the light.
He rolled onto his stomach and brought up the blade, it was in just the nick of time as he felt a force of something landing on him. The gnashing of teeth, and the familiar smell told him what he was dealing with, he raised his knee up to the creature’s stomach as its claws flew at him, one caught him on the cheek drawing blood. He began to push the creature away with his leg but realised that the only chance he stood in the dark was keeping it close at hand.
Got to try something.
As counter intuitive as it was, he let the creature slash at him for another critical moment as he lunged the razor-sharp blade upwards, into the darkness. He felt a crack as it went through the hide and sliced the bone underneath. He had hit it in the head, and the creature’s blood poured down onto Will’s chest and face. He kicked out at it now out of reflex and struggled to a sitting position. There was no movement, he had killed it. He wiped the blood from his face and scrambled around until with great relief he found his night vision goggles. Putting them on however, his heart sank, they were smashed, gone, useless. He remembered with relief that he had packed a torch, retrieving it from his bag he flicked it on and inspected the goggles, they were gone for sure. But what now? This tiny torch would be useless in a fight, he was practically blind, and it would draw attention to him in an incredible way. He flicked it off quickly. He couldn’t go further into the hive like this, handicapped as he was, could he?
He crawled back out to the tunnel, looked further into the hive which was useless of course as he couldn’t see anything. The floundering movements of the baby creatures behind him drew his attention for a moment. What could he do? Crawl out now and hope desperately that nothing met him on the way out. The thought of crawling through the constricting passageway with no light at all sent his heart racing. Will wasn’t claustrophobic perse but the feeling of being crushed whilst in a tunnel under the earth with his enemies that were out for blood was enough to unsettle anyone.
He sniffed the air, was he imagining it? There seemed to be fresh air coming from further down the tunnel. That didn’t make any sense. A sudden thought occurred to him however. Damn a second entrance. That means collapsing the hive at one end would be pointless, he would kill a few babies, that’s it, he wanted to take this hive out of commission for good, one less breeding ground. That meant he had to continue on into the corridor and go further down. No doubt it would come back up again, the fresh air certainly indicated that, but that gave him very little relief.
The other issue in Will’s mind was that of his even bigger goal here. Meat, the little sneak that he had caught the previous night had said that he was waiting for orders, this place was supposed to be where he would meet a contact. That contact could lead Will directly to Derrick, he hadn’t seen any creature here that was out of place, they all belonged here, his experience with such places told him that.
So whoever, or whatever Meat was supposed to, well meet, could be in the other section of the tunnel waiting for him. But how could he possibly go on, blind as he was?
Will’s mind raced, he didn’t have many options, he could go back to the surface and then try to find the other entrance. That could take days, it was so well hidden, he wouldn’t have known to find this one without Meat’s information. Indeed, whenever Will did find a hive, it was by following nameless to it.
So what to do?
Will reminded himself of what he was doing and why, his sole motivation for now was to get Derrick, this man was evil, he had to pay, not just for what he had done to Will, but also what he would do to anyone else he thought was a threat, anyone who got in his way. His influence was right throughout Eastern Europe and spreading fast, he had to be stopped.
Damn, this day just keeps getting worse.
With that in mind, Will took a deep breath and began crawling further into the hive. He may regret this, but he felt he had no choice. He checked his watch, using the torch for a moment, he had 38 minutes left. He flicked off the light and the darkness covered him once more.
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Nameless Saga’ 2016