We were deployed to the Valley of Kings, in Egypt, where a stable breach to another world had been discovered in KV62, or the tomb of Tutankhamun. Flying in from our impromptu outpost in Luxor, it was myself, Jefferies, Barry, and Tanner, along with a new addition to the team - an artificial intelligence we called Sprite. I have no idea where HQ got it from, but it reminded me a lot of the bomb from Thunderbird, which apparently salted the earth with cobalt-60, because the prevailing rumor was that most of these things were somehow vulnerable to gamma radiation. Anyway, Sprite was essentially a metal ball that floated, but it could split open and project wings from its sides to fly higher than its gravity propulsion would allow, and it was armed with dual laser cannons that could slice through solid steel in less than a second, so we didn't complain. We figured that BREACH was stealing tech from the other universe, but nobody ever told us anything more, and it didn't have anything to do with the Travelers.
I watched the green farmland of the Nile speed beneath us as I sat in the back of the osprey with the others, trying to shake off a hangover from the night before. Around that time, whiskey was the only thing that put me to sleep, and I can't say I'm any different today. When you're alone in the dark, and you close your eyes, everything that haunts you creeps out of the woodwork, and sometimes a good drink is the only thing that does the trick.
For me, replace sometimes with every time.
For this op, they managed to reproduce some of the Traveler's anti-gravity tech, and outfitted us with gravity boots, which essentially let you walk around on the ceiling. We didn't know why we would need these, but we quickly found out. Our objective was pure recon: explore the breach, and get the footage from our face masks back to HQ in one piece. We were to avoid combat at all costs until we better understood the connecting world, but by then, we knew that was the least likely rule to actually apply to us. They also modified the optics on our masks to give us a limited perception of the fourth dimension. What we would use that for, we didn't know, but we were told to switch to the new mode when we reached the burial chamber, and switch it off when we were ‘through.' We flew low over the valley, the Egyptian government cooperating with our efforts by sealing it off from tourists for the day. It was almost eerie, seeing so many tombs and ancient ruins completely abandoned in the desert.
We set down right before the tomb, the sandy, stone walls of the walkways surrounding us as we hopped out of the osprey, Sprite drifting in alongside Jefferies while the helicopter took off and left us to our work. Jefferies seemed to like Sprite, and treated it like a pet dog or something, even when it was probably a thousand times smarter than any of us. It's funny how an inability to converse changes your perception of something, even among the familiar; parrots and crows are smarter than human toddlers, but we don't see people locking their kids in cages ... much.
"Tanner, take point," said Jefferies, petting Sprite, who only beeped in either satisfaction or disapproval - I never really figured it out. Tanner moved up, activating his cloaking module as we all followed suit, making our way down into the stony tomb and into the antechamber. We took a right, and emerged in the burial chamber, the open sarcophagus laying in the center of the room with a pane of glass set over the top.
"Right there," said Barry, pointing at the western wall, which was painted with a grid of twelve baboons alongside several hieroglyphics. He stepped toward it, and raised a hand to his mask, switching to the new visual mode. He swore, stumbling back as he looked up at something that only he could see. We followed suit, and as soon as I hit the switch, my vision went dark, a wailing noise howling through my ears like the feedback of an amplifier. In the pitch blackness, I could see the white outline of a door where the wall had been, shuddering and twitching in and out of reality like a skipping film. The shapes of the others briefly flashed into focus before fading out again, like blotches of white paint had been smeared over my sight, briefly conforming to their bodies before falling away into darkness. The shimmering mirage of Tanner disappeared into the doorway, sinking into the trembling shadow. The others followed, and I went last, stepping forward into the void as it passed over my armor like a viscous ink. I could hear one of the others speaking, but their voice was muffled and filled with distortion, blaring against my ears until it was painful to listen to.
Then, everything was normal. I looked up to see Jefferies withdrawing his hand from my mask, having switched my vision back to default. We were standing inside a narrow and jarringly tall hallway, extending into the distance for farther than I could see, while only a solid wall stood behind us. The stone was completely lit, though no light source could be seen, and was painted with rows of golden, stylized ankhs, each inscribed with a dark, drooping sigil.
"Amenta," said Barry, looking up and down at the paintings. "The underworld, and the setting of the sun."
Tanner moved ahead, and we followed him in single file down the narrow hall as Sprite drifted above us, activating its own cloaking field that blended almost seamlessly into the background. I had never felt claustrophobic before, but if anything was to ever bring it out in me, that place was it. It seemed like the walls were slowly closing in on us, and I almost found it difficult to breathe, until the light of day began to shine from beyond. We picked up the pace until we reached the end, and Tanner stopped before what looked like a ledge, dropping down into an endless expanse of dark, thundering clouds.
"This job never ceases to surprise me," said Tanner. Above the sky, hung a vast desert of ash, as though we were looking at an upside down world. Rays of sunlight shone faintly through the storm, but what little could be seen of the sun itself looked like it was corroding to nothing, as though the world was slowly dying. Sprite drifted ahead, floating out into the void before looking back at us, a bolt of lightning flashing across the sky below.
"Turn your boots on," said Jefferies. "And whatever you do - don't jump." I reached down and turned on my gravity boots, which hummed to life as the ground beneath my feet suddenly felt heavier. We all began to walk up the wall until we were standing on the ceiling, and looking at the world as it should be. Tanner cautiously took the first step, carefully easing a foot onto the ash before finally committing, and walking forward.
"Bloody hell," he said, shaking his head. "You're not gonna' like this." The others followed suit, and I went last, stepping out onto the lifeless desert. My blood immediately rushed to my head, and I felt like I was being yanked up into the sky by my pack. As I gathered my bearings, I began to hear a distant sound upon the silence that dominated the world, like the high-pitched whine of a power saw cutting through metal, only for it to stop, and then resume once more, constantly alternating with a disjointed rhythm that made my skin prickle and burn.
"What is that?" I asked, looking around.
"Sounds like it's coming from over there," said Barry, pointing at an ashen dune in the distance that obscured the way beyond.
"Move up," said Jefferies. "Tanner."
Tanner slowly made his way across the desert, and we followed in his wake. I thought I could see the shapes of things stirring in the sky, moving faintly through the farthest reaches of the clouds, but it was almost imperceptible, like I was looking up at an invisible mass swimming through the darkness. It almost reminded me of the creature above the library, back in Operation Thunderbird. Eventually, we made our way over the dune, and immediately stopped dead in our tracks when we saw a vast expanse of fallen corpses, all clad in a black, metal armor of wicked blades. Between the rows, creatures strode upon long, pale, and slender legs that bent back upon the air with a monstrous elasticity. Like spiders granted a humanoid shape, their ragged, dark cloaks hung from their flesh, faces obscured beneath their hoods as they glided across the wasteland with a malign grace. Withered, vestigial wings drooped from their backs, and within their claws, they each gripped a violin of bone, strung with sinew and rotting meat as they drew their bows across their vile instruments in unison, producing the ear-splitting sound that reverberated against my mind like a painful feedback.
Beyond them all, in the center of the deathly plain, stood a narrow, black pyramid of obsidian, surrounded at each corner by tall, rune-marked obelisks. Far above the pyramid, an identical one hung from the thundering sky, and at its peak, an immense, blindfolded creature was perched like a praying mantis, as though hanging upside down in the void. Its slender, elongated limbs were wrapped in white, bloodstained bandages, barely revealing the writhing tendrils that swam underneath like a bed of worms, while its six arms remained perfectly still in the air, each ending in long, gnarled talons. Its maw of rippling, needle-like teeth stretched back across its face, as though its crawling skin had been stripped away.
"Jefferies?" Tanner asked, waiting for instruction.
"I'm thinking," said the sergeant as his eyes searched the bizarre landscape. "Okay. We're gonna' crawl past these things, and get a recording of the inside," he said, noting the dark entrance at the front of the pyramid. "When we get to the bottom, keep it low, and spread out so the trail isn't obvious. Boots in contact with the ground at all times. If somebody gets spotted, we abort. Understood?"
We all agreed, and fanned out across the dune, carefully making our way down the incline before it leveled out onto the field of bodies. I dropped to my hands and knees with the others, and slowly inched my way forward, trying to leave as little a trail as possible. That was when I noticed that the bodies I passed between didn't seem to be bodies at all, or at least, not anymore. They were just empty suits of black armor, like a demonic legion had shed their carapace, and left it abandoned in the ash. Its occupants had either withered to absolutely nothing in the passage of time, or were utterly disintegrated by some malevolent force. I looked up at one of the looming figures that played its violin of bone, waiting for it to pass before continuing on. The sound was almost unbearable, being so close, and I thought I felt my ears beginning to bleed as a high-pitched ringing began to set in above the din. Our face masks had noise modulators that filtered the report of our guns, and of any explosive charges, but the grating scrape of the macabre instruments didn't seem to register.
"I'm almost there," said Tanner. "Where are you guys?" Barry and Jefferies responded that they were close.
"I'm falling behind," I said. "More of those things out here."
"Just keep it slow," said Jefferies. "Don't rush."
I crept through the field of discarded armor, eyes on the entrance to the pyramid as I carefully shifted through the ash. Then, I heard the stomping of footsteps nearby, looking to my right to see one of the tall, cloaked horrors surveying the area, drawing the bow across its violin while it sniffed the air. I held perfectly still, my vision locked on the impenetrable shadow beneath its hood as it seemed to be staring right at me. Then, it turned away, continuing on its aimless path across the barren wasteland. I waited for a moment, and then continued onward, moving slowly through the ash until I joined the others at the entrance, their blurs shifting against the nearby terrain.
"I'm here," I said, briefly glancing up at the immense, blindfolded creature that hung from the sky above us.
"Move up," said Jefferies. "Tanner, take point." We rose to our feet, and quietly entered the black complex, moving down the rune-marked hall, which was plated with dark, hexagonal tiles. The corridor ended at an intersection of two stairways, both looping down to somewhere beyond, and set astride a sigil of a weeping willow, engraved in the obsidian. We moved down the left-hand path, the steps beneath our feet following a chaotic rhythm of spacing, as though designed for something that spontaneously generated new limbs for every step it took. We then emerged within a vast, pyramidal chamber, four runic obelisks surrounding a circular pool of blood that seemed to tug at my mind, lulling me into a hypnotic trance. "Barry, Sprite, get a recording of each pillar," said Jefferies, snapping me back to reality. "They'll want to try and decipher these runes."
Barry and Sprite moved ahead, looking the obelisks up and down as we cautiously approached the pool of blood.
"Almost looks like more hieroglyphics - just wrong, somehow," said Barry. I could hear a whisper, then, rasping upon the air as I felt myself slip into the trance once more. I could feel myself walking, but I wasn't there, lost in the darkness of my own mind as a sense of overwhelming danger suddenly overtook me.
"Thane!" yelled Jefferies. I opened my eyes, and found myself about to crawl into the pool, the blood whirling infinitely below as it seemed to draw my consciousness into its depths. Overwhelmed with adrenaline, I tried to fight the malign impulse that had been forced upon me, but my muscles could only twitch and tremble, the cloaked blur of Sprite nudging against me, but to no avail. It reminded me of an angler fish, drifting through the abyssal trenches as it drew its prey in with its light, only to reveal the gaping maw that truly awaited them. I couldn't resist, and the painful, feverish warmth of the blood needled through my skin as my fingers sank into the pool. Tanner's arms wrapped around me from behind, and yanked me back onto the ground, the sensation violently tearing away from my mind and sending a numbing shock through my entire body.
"Stay back," said Tanner. "There's something down there."
"Barry, are you done?" asked Jefferies, retreating to the stairs as he shook himself back to reality, trying to shrug off the mesmeric power of the blood, but his resolve was quickly failing.
"Got it," said Barry.
"Get the fuck over here," said Jefferies. "We're moving out."
We regrouped, and quickly made our way back up the stairs, reaching the top, and then running down the long corridor as the sound of scraping violins returned, their cloaked bearers striding across the desert beyond. When we could no longer feel the influence of the pool, we got down to our hands and knees, and spread out once more.
"Stay low," said Jefferies. "We're almost home."
Slowly and carefully, we began to shift through the barren field of ash, avoiding the discarded suits of armor that littered the wastes. Thunder rolled through the clouds above as I kept my eyes on the stalking miscreations, their chaotic music grating against the air. Then, it stopped.
"Fuck," said Tanner, fear in his voice. "Uh, guys - we may have a problem." I looked over, and saw one of the creatures staring directly at a blurry spot on the ground, where I assumed Tanner was laying. Every one of the cloaked figures raised their bows to their violins, and played a screeching, paralyzing note that cut through my mind, the taste of blood filling my mouth. As it ended, so did our cloaking fields, flickering away in a haze of distortion, and leaving us exposed on the ground as a surge of terror and adrenaline flooded through my senses.
"Get up, and fire as we move," said Jefferies. "Now!" I rose to my feet alongside the others, charging my railgun and taking aim at one of the creatures. I pulled the trigger, and the gun kicked back against my shoulder, the shot blowing a glowing hole through my target as it collapsed to the ground with a heavy thud. The others fired their own weapons, and we began running forward, the other figures rising above the earth and flying into the sky, their dark cloaks wisping upon the air. All they did, however, was observe, looking down at us from above. A low drone shuddered through the atmosphere, and the blindfolded nightmare dropped down from the pyramid in the sky, its limbs bending back and breaking its fall as it landed upon the ashen wastes.
Rising slowly, it unfurled to its full, towering height as its body twisted back into alignment with a series of sickening pops and cracks. Then, it raised its talons to its head while we ran across the field as fast as we could. We charged our railguns, and turned to unleash a volley on the looming horror, our shots cracking through the air, but failing to even affect our target, the slugs warping through its writhing bandages in a distortion of space.
Slowly, it raised its blindfold, revealing two empty, black sockets, and a third eye embedded upon its forehead that glowed with a burning light. The eye flared with a seething radiance, and the sky darkened to the shade of pitch, crimson shadows coursing through the ash as all the colors of the world grew vivid and sharp. Then, I was gone.
I was a child again, my life flickering through my mind as I witnessed every terrible moment buried within my memories. The death of my dog; the friends who betrayed me; the parents who kicked me out onto the streets, forcing me to join the marine corps when I had nothing else in my future but a bullet to the head. I saw the people I met in basic and beyond, and saw the moments when I learned that they were dead, killed by IEDs, or martyrs strapped with explosive belts and tins of shrapnel. I felt absolute despair in that moment, and wanted nothing more than to die. But then, I heard a voice calling me back, Barry screaming my name over the coms system.
I began to feel my own skin again, my consciousness flooding back to me as tears of blood dripped down my cheeks. A terrible, numbing pain radiated against my brain while I stared into the glowing third eye of the abomination, and I felt my eyes beginning to swell and bleed. Then, I heard a scream, and a cry of desperation. I looked up, just as Jefferies lost his footing in his delirium, and immediately fell up into the sky. Tanner and Barry lunged to try and save him, but were too late, their fingers passing through only air as Jefferies screamed and plummeted into the storm above. Then, a sickening crunch sounded upon the air as Sprite rammed into his falling body at full force, breaking his ribs, but just barely knocking him back up to us. I reached for him, and grabbed hold of his hand, his terrified breath trembling over the coms system as Tanner and Barry quickly secured me from behind, preventing me from being torn off the ground by the weight of Jefferies. With all my strength, I pulled him back down to the ash, the others assisting until his boots finally met the ground once more.
Jefferies coughed and wheezed for air through his splintered ribs, Tanner and I throwing his arms over our shoulders and walking him up the incline as quick as we could. As the looming nightmare observed our escape, the cloaked figures rushed across the sky, lashing tendrils of black shadow through the air that struck my back with a burning hiss, searing through my armor and nearly toppling me to the ground, but I fought through the pain and continued on. Barry charged his railgun, and opened fire on the drifting horrors while Sprite soared up into the sky, its wings expanding out from its shell and firing their twin lasers at the creatures. The beams and slugs cracked against the flickering barriers that now protected the flying nightmares, flashing with bursts of spark and flame, but failing to penetrate their shields. We reached the top of the hill, the hall to the tomb now coming into view as we hurried across the wastes. Another tendril of shadow whipped overhead, burning the ash like a sliver of acid while the sky flashed with lightning. We quickly took shelter in the hall, and Barry kept firing behind us, buckling over in pain as the cloaked aberrations slashed through his armor with their eldritch magic.
We made our way down the corridor, overwhelmed with adrenaline, but I pushed through the pain, and carried Jefferies to safety as Sprite soared overhead, Tanner staggering in much the same way as his burns melted into his armor.
"We got company," said Barry from behind, his voice pained and weak. I glanced back to see one of the cloaked nightmares drifting down into the mouth of the hall, watching us intently from the darkness beneath its hood. Its cloak swept aside, and its body unfurled like a flower of meat and writhing worms as I felt its presence assault our minds, a numbing pain thrumming against my skull. We reached the end of the hall, and Barry fired at the rippling horror, but to no avail, his shot exploding against its shields with a thundering boom.
We activated the fourth-dimensional mode on our masks, and did the same for Jefferies, the world falling dark as the white outline of the door shivered before us in the void. Gripping Jefferies tight, we moved through the screaming shadows, emerging upon the ceiling of the burial chamber as Barry and Sprite followed behind us. Switching our vision back to normal, Barry immediately called in.
"Sierra, this is Sierra One," he said, coughing up blood beneath his mask. "We need immediate evac and medical outside KV62, over."
"Sierra One, this is Sierra. Is the site hot? Over."
"Site's secure. Over," said Barry.
"Roger. Evac is inbound, ETA two minutes, over."
"Roger out," said Barry, nearly collapsing as he made his way down the wall and back onto the floor, switching off his boots while we all followed suit. We quickly hurried back into the antechamber, and up the passage leading outside, looking back at every moment to ensure we weren't followed. The light of day met my eyes as we stumbled out onto the walkway before the entrance, the silhouette of the osprey shimmering upon the horizon like a mirage while my head thrummed with pain. Still managing to stay on our feet, we backed up as the osprey dove down, and slowly landed upon the weathered stone, its dual blades chopping overhead. We piled inside, the gunner keeping his eyes on the tomb, and we took off once more, the desert sands rushing beneath us.
That was the last thing that I remembered.
I woke up in medical, back at HQ, doped up on morphine as I tried to figure out what had happened. It almost felt like a dream. We were apparently all suffering from a collective stroke, and had to be rushed in for surgery to stop the bleeding in our brains. Jefferies had his ribs reset where they could be, and was practically in love with Sprite after that. We were all covered in chemical burns, and they treated them as best they could, but I've still got the scars to this day. I didn't realize how many times I'd been hit, but then again, that's usually how it goes when the adrenaline's flowing. They deciphered some of the runes from our video footage, which were an analog of ancient Egyptian, and all they roughly said was this: "born in blood, we give of the blood, and resurrect our Lord Bor-Geth, the Flesh that Walks."
As for what's happening now, they're considering hitting the Travelers with a nuclear strike, and I don't think I need to tell you what a colossally bad idea that is. I can only hope that they don't go through with it. Barry told me that another BREACH squad found a guy that they think is from the other universe, but he's not connected to the Travelers, or anything else we've run into. They were allegedly interrogating him with hydrofluoric acid, to the point that his skin looked like it was rotting off his bones. He was already pretty messed up, though, and all Barry could tell me was that he kept saying something about a Project Atlas, and some sort of void between universes, but there was never anything about a Project Atlas on record, and all of his knowledge regarding current or past events was completely scrambled, like he came from another timeline.
Our handler's telling us that we're being deployed with several other BREACH squads to that town in North Dakota that they first firebombed, in a full-scale assault on whatever it is that's still alive out there. People in neighboring communities were apparently cutting and mutilating themselves, walking blindly toward the town like they were caught in a trance, and any that were captured were completely incoherent no matter what we did to them. The footage from our UAVs shows them crawling into the old manholes that led into the sewer, but they never come back out, so we think that whatever's causing the roots of ‘meat moss' is taking shelter down there. In a way, I'm hoping I don't come back, but if I do, I'll give you all another update.
In either case, thanks for reading, and if you think they're watching you - they probably are.