Sand Man

Let’s get out of here, Sam. This place is fucking strange. After a militant attack on the archeological dig they protected in Iraq, Sam and Little Man found themselves in a bizarre ancient underground dungeon, one that Little Man would like to leave as soon as possible. Assuming there’s an exit. But no, the kid just stared at that mask he’d just picked up.

“You’re not keeping that are you? There’s no way this shit’s not haunted.”

Sam flipped it around, shining his flashlight on the interior. It appeared as the inverse of the smiling face on the front, all shiny grey metal. “It’s not quite the same,” he said.

“Huh?”

“It’s not quite the same. My brother, a techie, put a bunch of stuff on the inside of his, like a really good filter, some paddin’ so a punch to the head doesn’t beat yer face up, lenses to block out flares an’ shit, stuff like that. Made it all from scratch.”

“That’s a pretty diverse techie.”

“Nah, tha’ was his techie overdrive, when his power went apeshit an’ expanded to a bunch of other stuff for a bit.”

Pretty rare for that to happen. Like, once in a techie’s lifetime rare. From what Little Man knew, the overdrive would only last for so long, and wasn’t permanent. The techie would remember how to maintain and repeat what he or she built in that time, but no new information would come to them outside of their specialty. But during that time they could make damn near anything even tangentially related to their field.

Sam remained quiet for a bit, staring at the mask. Eventually Little Man said, “Come on, let’s find a way out of this place.” I’ve never known this kid to be quiet before.

“Yeah.” Sam put down the mask and helped Little Man hobble out of the dark stone room.

God, I’m a fucking invalid right now. This sucks many penises. Shrapnel from the explosion that got them into their current predicament burned in various parts of Little Man. Small bits, and while he’d managed to stop the bleeding before he’d woken Sam up, they still hurt like a bitch. His ankle remained swollen, and attempting to walk on it did not quicken the healing process. Probably sprained, maybe broken. Don’t care which, still hurts.

The general bruising and battering from plunging down with a rock slide after an RPG exploded left him dead tired. Also, the last five hours (at least I think it’s been five hours. Sam’s phone died an hour or so ago, and my watch and phone were broken) had been spent in a lifeless, dead silent ruin with only a flashlight for illumination.

As they resumed walking down the endless corridors at a hobbling pace, Sam asked, “Hey you ever think of somethin’?”

“What’s that?”

“Maybe we’re dead, an’ the door to purgatory or heaven an’ infinite blowjobs was behind us, but we missed it an’ we’re happily marchin’ our merry way to hell.”

Little Man snorted in laughter. Ah, what the hell? Might as well laugh. We’re going to fucking die in here. Both of them knew it, both of them refused to simply acknowledge it.

After another ten minutes of hobbling (I swear we’re going in circles, but we’ve only turned once this whole time and the hallways are completely straight), Sam asked, “How is any of this still intact? It sure as fuck can’t be magic.” Little Man knew that whenever the caster was killed, the magic would eventually dissipate within the hour. Longer, if the magic was particularly powerful.

“What did the pencil neck tell you? How old this-gah!” he said as he put too much weight on his bad foot. He continued regardless “-was?”

“What was it? 600 BC I think. So tha’ makes this ‘bout… twenty six hundred years old. No way there’s any magic left in this place.”

“We’ve come across some collapsed stuff, so whatever is holding this place up isn’t foolproof. An RPG did get us down here in the first place.”

Sam sighed. “Fuck if I know what’s goin’ on.” Right there with you.

They came to rest in the corridor. Sam passed the flashlight to Little Man, then stripped off the body armor, keeping only the essentials like the last of his water and two knives. He stuffed everything into his pockets and belt, then took the flashlight to let Little Man do the same. Why didn’t we drop this stuff before? Their unspoken intention was to get up and keep moving after that, but instead they just sat in the corridor in mutual exhaustion.

Sam took a swig of water, then passed the bottle to Little Man. He took a drink, the water turning the dry dust in his mouth into mud. It didn’t matter. Water was water and therefore delicious, especially in the miserable desert that was Iraq. It’s not even cold down here. Aren’t underground caves supposed to be around fifty degrees no matter what?

“You still got yer flashlight?” asked Sam.

“Yeah.” They had used only one to light the way forward. So this meant that only one was needed, so they didn’t need to waste the battery life of the other. Normally I’d be cautious, especially in a place like this, but I haven’t heard a goddamn thing besides the two of us. I don’t think anyone’s been down in a good thousand years or so. No, wait, two thousand. That’s twice as long.

“Jus’ makin’ sure. Sleep sounds good, actually.”

Little Man nearly made a point about how they needed to keep moving, but his intended statement sounded hollow in his head. He knew Sam would obey. Little Man was his sergeant and Sam said he would follow orders. After a full year Little Man had yet to see him disobey an order, despite the fact that one of Little Man’s dumber, more misinformed plans nearly got him killed one time. He’d get up and get moving, but let’s not waste anyone’s time here. And besides, we don’t have anything more productive to do than sleep.

“Sleep? Fuck it, why not?” he said. Sam laughed.

Don’t know how you still have such high spirits, but whatever works for you. Better than arguing with each other. It was hard to get Sam riled up over anything, he usually just sat back and let things happen when bullets weren’t flying. The only time Little Man could remember Sam ever getting angry was when another mercenary mistook easygoingness for weakness and started calling him a liar, just to get a rise out of him. Sam took him by surprise and stabbed him in the dick. Not easygoing, just relaxed. So much paperwork I had to deal with after that, though. At least Sam bought all of my alcohol for two weeks for letting him stay in the company

They settled down (ah, it feels good to sit down again) and got themselves as comfortable as possible, stretched out across the hallway.

“Hey,” said Sam, “maybe if we turn off the light some horrifying abomination will come an’ flay our souls from our bodies.” Sam flicked off the flashlight and the entire world went into absolute darkness.

“Thank you for that,” said Little Man, humoring him. “Don’t lose track of that flashlight.” He fingered his own, just for reassurance. The conversation trailed off.

Little Man eventually passed out to the sound of Sam snoring.

***

Little Man woke with an immense urge to piss. Right. Tomb thing. Fuck, I’m hungry. And sore. He fumbled around, blind, until he found his flashlight and turned it on. No idea what time it is. Need to take a piss. He limped a fair ways down the hallway, back the way they came, and relieved himself. He came back, trying to remember if they had any rations on them, when something shiny caught the beam of the flashlight.

Is that that mask thing? It rested on Sam’s shoulder as he lay on his back. Sam didn’t appear to have moved at all since they went to sleep, though he looked a bit more sweaty than usual. He gripped that knife that had been back there close to his chest. Through his sleepy haze he thought, Huh? Whatever, he wants a souvenir, that’s more for him to carry around. I’m going back to sleep. Not that it matters. He turned his flashlight off, and the last thing Little Man though before heading back to unconsciousness was, didn’t he say he would put it back?

***

The next time Little Man woke up, he could see just fine. Everything had a yellowish tint, but for once all of his surroundings were illuminated. Crudely carved stone without adornment, the same drab brown color everything in Iraq seemed to have, made up the walls. He could now clearly see the dusty earthen floor he lay on. It took him a couple seconds to process this.

“Hold up a sec,” he muttered to himself as he got up and looked around. Still underground. Of course this light isn’t from the sun. Globs of gold light were stuck at random intervals along each wall. The fuck? That’s magic, I think, but where did it all come from? I’m looking at about a dozen. Who can maintain that many?

He put a hand on his knife, the standard issue steel one. The rockslide down here having beaten the iron one into uselessness. He didn’t see anyone, but he could see the globs. This is going to suck. I’m in no condition to fight.

“Sam, wake up,” he said urgently. No response. He took a break from scanning the area, not that there was much to see, to look at the kid. Still asleep, gripping the dagger so tightly his knuckles had turned white.

“Sam!” Still nothing. Is he breathing?

Right before Little Man could confirm yes or no, Sam shuddered to life, taking a huge gulp of air. He grunted and rolled over. The mask against his shoulder clattered to the floor. He slowly got up, grabbing the mask as he went, facing away from Little Man. Sam muttered something.

“Sam,” said Little Man. I’m getting tired of saying that. “Look alive, some’s here.”

Sam again muttered something. It definitely wasn’t English. The fuck? Come on, you’re the only one in decent shape, and you haven’t cracked or choked before.

Little Man grabbed Sam’s shoulder, “Hey, you all there? You hear me?” Sam just jerked his head to stare at Little Man’s hand. Something’s not right. Little Man tightened his grip on his knife, slowly pulling it out of its sheath. In hindsight, I definitely should have noticed the mask thing. I’d be screaming at my own stupidity if this were a movie.

Sam must have noticed, because he said something incomprehensible, in a far deeper and more malicious voice than normal. Or possible. That was not his voice, and I’m going to go on a wild guess and say that that was Babylonian or some demon shit. Fuck. We were joking about the possession shit.

Right before Little Man could bring his knife up, not-Sam, in English, said, “I do not recommend doing that, soldier.”

Not-Sam turned to face Little Man fully as he talked, his stretched grin wider than should have been possible. He sounded more amused than anything else, drawing out his words deliberately, and Little Man swore his bones vibrated at that voice. Definitely not his voice. Gotta kill him, because I have no idea what else to do, and I doubt Sam wants whoever this is walking around in his body. Sorry about this, Sam. The light near not-Sam began to dim.

Not-Sam glanced at the rifle he’d left on the ground. “Much has changed, it appears. Such a strange language of yours, this is.”

Little Man lunged as best he could given his condition, knife held with the bottom of the handle towards his thumb, aiming down directly for Sam’s throat. Not-Sam’s attention snapped back to him, and barely managed to shy away from the blade. Little Man still left a nick on his chest. He brought the knife back in for another stab, when Sam took a step back, and all light vanished. Shit. He turned towards where the sounds of footsteps came, bringing his arms and knife up in a defensive position, doing his best to protect his chest and by extension his vital organs. He took a few steps away from the noise of Sam. Then something stabbed him directly in the heart. The lights returned. Dagger.

Sam stood five feet away, the maniacal grin had not wavered. He walked forward. Right before Little Man collapsed, he managed one last defiant swipe at not-Sam’s face. Not-Sam apparently hadn’t expected him to stay on his feet longer than five seconds, because he barely moved out of the way. Again Little Man left a shallow cut on his face, but not-Sam took no notice. The knife fell out of Little Man’s hands as he collapsed on his back.

Not-Sam casually knelt by Little Man’s head, blood dripping down his face like they were in some sort of cheesy book or something. “I told you not to do that. Though it is good to know that man has not grown weak in my absence.” How the fuck am I still alive. I’m looking at a dagger sticking out of my heart out of the corner of my eye right now. Even though the glowing balls did not change their luminescence, the light around Sam began to dim again.

“It is good to be back again. So much to do, now. The world has changed. Too chaotic for my liking, too lacking in direction.”

“Who… the fuck… are you?” gasped Little Man. Chest hurts, can’t feel limbs. Don’t know how… Still breathing, short rapid breaths that hurt a lot. No blood flow. Can’t move. Fuck this.

“Hmm?” said not-Sam, lifting an eyebrow. “This one,” he gestured to Sam’s body, “did not know me, but I perhaps thought he was an anomaly. Does the name Taauth mean anything to you?”

After a moment with Little Man not replying in the affirmative, Taauth said, “Unfortunate. I was the one who roasted the Assyrian king alive in front of his own city and court before I razed it to the ground. I exterminated the horse savages when they threatened civilization itself. I humbled the witch-queen, sent her scurrying back to, what do you call it now? Egypt. I had her severed arm preserved, it should still be around here somewhere if that room didn’t collapse. I am the god king of all mankind. And forgotten.” Bit of a… bit of a… megalomaniac.

“This one,” Taauth gestured to Sam again, “is an interesting one. I can see all he has seen, know all that he has known.” He chuckled softly to himself. “Smile, tomorrow will be worse. I like that. And… ah, his brothers. That is why he was drawn to my mask.” He lifted the mask he held to his face and let it go. It stayed over his face, despite the fact that nothing visible held it there.

He started laughing when the lights went out again. Little Man heard the mask clatter to the ground, followed by a body. Taauth let out a strangled sound. Am I dead yet? Did he just… die?

“Fuck, shit, cock, fuck,” said Sam, in Sam’s voice. “Fuck this, fuck him, fuck everythin’.” What… what do you know? Sam isn’t… isn’t dead. Sounds like he’s… suffering. Sam flicked on the flashlight with shaking hands. “Fuck. Sorry, Little Man. Fuck.”

From the light, Little Man saw Sam crawl over to the rifle on the ground. He grabbed it, then sat with his back against the wall. “Fucker’s in my head, fucker can’t get out, fucker’s strong. Fuck. He’s gonna do shit, too. World domination type shit. No time.” Some clicks.

Sam laughed and murmured, “Seven six two millimeter. Full metal jacket.” Now? Really? He held the barrel to his head, finger on the trigger. Shit. A click. Nothing more. Sam laughed hysterically, banging the back of his head violently against the wall with each word. “Of course. Goddamn motherfuckin’ thing’s beat to shit. Fuckin’ jammed. Fuck. Ow.”

A sigh. After a few moments the lights came back. Oh… shit. Why the hell… am I not dead? He better… better turn me into a… kickass zombie. Can’t talk, barely think. Cold. Sam, now with the wide grin back in place, got up from where he sat and laughed, and Little Man swore the corridor shook. The dagger sticking out of his chest began to glow.

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Assemblage – Gears

Corn. Fuck corn. Endless fucking corn, as far as the eye can see. I know every goddamn American who has ever crossed the Midwest has said this, but fuck it. So fucking boring I can’t bring myself to give half a shit about originality. Oh, hey, a brown smudge on the horizon in the atmosphere. That’s gotta be it. Soon there will be buildings and mountains and not corn and not corn and not corn! Corn can suck all the dicks. ALL of them.

Rob’s truck rumbled over the highways, on the way to Westward City. His armor and tools lay in the back, covered by tarp. It’ll be fun working on the somewhat right side of the law. His brother said there were four others on this proto team, and not much else. There was Chris, the de-facto leader (poor bastard), Amanda, who was the easiest to mock, Miya, a violent Aztec chick, and Olivia, who had wings. Rob had no idea what Ben was talking about for that last one, and he had provided no more details than that about any of them. Something about…Red Bull? Maybe? But that was all Rob knew. That was verbatim what Ben sent me.

The city came into view. Rob stopped to fill the tank for what seemed like the billionth time since he set out from Pennsylvania four days ago. His brother offered him a job making an underground base four days ago, but Rob made double time when, the next day, Ben told him they needed to visit a Wendy’s when he got there. All of their most serious and important conversations happened at a Wendy’s. Rob knew whatever it was Ben wanted to talk about was important, though Ben told him it had no relation to why Rob drove to Colorado in the first place. So it’s not just because he wants to brag about being the one to kill Freedom Fighter.

He checked his phone at the pump; Ben sent him the address to go to about twenty minutes ago. He plugged in how to get there, then set off again. He eventually rolled up to an abandoned auto shop. It was fairly late, no cars passed by on the streets. He got out of the car and called Ben. Don’t want to make my debut in Westward breaking and entering into an auto shop for no reason.

“Yessah? You just pull up in the BAT? We heard somethin’ loud,” said Ben the moment he picked up.

“Yeah. Didn’t wanna go into the wrong buildin’ or somethin’,”

“Gotcha,” said Ben as he opened a door off to Rob’s right. Ben and Rob hung up simultaneously and started laughing madly. We still got it. Rob punched Ben in the shoulder, who repaid him in kind, then they both entered the shop.

“Rob, everyone. Everyone, Rob,” said Ben, introducing him to the four other people in the shop.

One girl sat at a desk, looking at him with barely restrained disgust. Amanda, if Ben has been doing his work well. A smaller girl, with distinctly Aztec features sat on the hood of a small red car in the shop. Miya. Behind her loomed another girl, who avoided eye contact once Rob looked her way. A feral. There has got to be a fantastic story behind her. Next to Amanda stood a big guy who nodded to Rob. I’m sure he’s always been described as a ‘big guy’, but like I said, fuck originality. I’ve been sitting in a car for four days.

Rob raised his hand in greeting, “Hey, everybody.”

They murmured their various greetings. Rob moved forward, brushing some contraption and accompanying tools off to the side of a desk, then hopped onto the desk. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Amanda grimace and close her eyes for a brief moment. Ben reached some boxes, and called out, “You want anythin’ to eat?”

“I thought you an’ me were grabbin’ Wendy’s tonight?”

“Tonight? Sure.” I made double time up here in a gas guzzling monster for Wendy’s, not to put it off for later.

“I’m not gonna put off Wendy’s, Ben.” Rob then said to the group at large, “Hi everyone! I hear you lot need a sort of solitary fortress of some kind.”

“Yes,” said the guy Rob pegged as Chris. Only other guy here that doesn’t look like me, so hooray for process of elimination. “Ben also said that you would be willing to stay with us in a combat role as well.”

“Yep. An’ you’re Chris, right?”

“Sorry, yes. My name is Chris.”

After a brief pause, Miya said, “I’m Miya.”

“Amanda,” Amanda said. She doesn’t like me already!

“I’m Olivia,” said the girl with wings studying the ground very intently once Rob looked her way. Apparently I’m terrifying.

“Alright, I guessed right! Jackass over here,” Rob motioned to Ben at his side, who snickered, ”told me almost nothin’ about everyone here. Like, maybe half a sentence worth of stuff. Anywho, this is where I tell you what I fight in, right?” This is basically the closest I’ll ever come to a job interview, but now isn’t the time to joke around.

Chris nodded, so Rob continued, “So I’ve got this kickass set of armor. It acts like power armor, but ain’t! It can take a bit of punishment, been shot quite a few times in it. It’s entirely mechanical, and amplifies my movements, so I can punch shit hard. Also, got a nice shotgun and crowbar attached to it, so there’s that. I’ve got a good range of motion, but I ain’t the fastest in it, though I can sprint in it pretty fast.”

There was an art to moving in that suit. Move too fast, and it would simply block your movements. Too slow, and it would lack the necessary force to move the slabs of metal that composed the suit. One day Rob got bored and decided to paint random sayings and quotes entirely out of context on random bits of it. He had a nice collection going, though he would have to repaint some of the old ones. ‘How do you fuck up a brick?’ is one of my personal favorites.

“Need anythin’ else?” asked Rob.

“Your power itself. Ben said it was ‘old fashioned shit’, but I was hoping you would be a tad more descriptive,” said Chris.

“Engineer, pretty generalized. But primarily it’s metallurgy an’ mechanics.” said Rob.

“What do you mean by generalized?” asked Chris.

“So, take metallurgy. I can only really make something strong or brittle or pliable. There’s a guy working for US Steel who specializes only in metals. He can turn copper into putty, make iron into the closest thing we’ve got to adamantium, and so on. He’s practically a fuckin’ wizard. I can’t do that. But he has no idea how to make a clockwork style machine that can tirelessly dig a substantial tunnel.”

“So I’m guessing that’s what you’ll be doing?” said Chris.

“You got it. There’s some other shit I’ve gotta research, but basically that’s what we’re gonna start out with. So, what can you lot do? I know Ben, don’t know the rest of you.” This goes both ways. If I’m going to risk my neck with these people, I better know what they can do too.

“I turn into liquid, Amanda is an electricity techie, Miya uses magic, and Olivia flies, and is bulletproof,” said Chris. Bulletproof? No fucking way. Suddenly her shyness seemed faintly ridiculous. “You’ll have to ask them individually, it is getting late.

“Gotcha,” said Rob. There were three sections blocked off with jury rigged curtains. Some people sharing beds or something? Rob didn’t judge, he’d slept in far worse conditions. Sleep is precious, sleep is sacred. “Oh, you. Olivia? You got a question?”

“Oh. Um…sorry. No,” she said, still looking at the floor.

“Yes you do. You’ve been shootin’ me questionin’ looks this whole time when you think I’m not lookin’. Then you open your mouth, then change your mind. Spit it out.” If it’s some bullshit emotional thing or dishonesty thing I’m going to be pissed.

She scratched the back of her head (she had claw fingertips, didn’t she), then asked, “Did you…drive a semi here? It sounded a lot like one.”

Rob shot a look at Ben. “Did you not tell them about the BAT?”

“It’s a surprise. Surprises are fun!” They both laughed. The others watched them warily.

“Come on, come on! I’ll show you,” said Rob. He got up, leading the way outside. The others hesitantly followed, Ben bringing up the rear. They reached the outside, and saw Rob’s truck.

“Voila! The BAT, aka the Big Ass Truck!”

The truck was enormous. In fact Rob usually had clearance issues in drive thrus due to the smokestack behind the cabin. It appeared normal on the outside, but underneath Rob welded slabs of metal as armor. It could function as a tank, should he so choose. Need different tires for that, though. He’d modded the engine with a mechanic friend of his, so the thing could actually move at a decent pace. Amusingly enough, this was his personal car, not one used for any criminal enterprises back east.

Painted a dull, matte grey, he’d resisted the urge to slap on some random paint jobs in the same style as his armor. No reason to be obvious, after all. He’d also had to resist the urge to add spikes to the front. And a Confederate flag. And blue flames on the hood. Maybe someday. The windows were heavily tinted, in fact made of bulletproof glass. He knew that the hood of the truck was about level with his chin.

“You drive this?” asked Miya.

“I drive this. I drove it all the way from the east coast to here, in part so you could bask in its magnificence.” It’s true. A very small part, but true.

Chris looked on with a faint aura of amusement. Amanda had rolled her eyes and gone back inside, while Olivia hung back in the doorway itself.

Rob asked Chris, “So do you need anything else from me right now?”

“One more thing. Do you have a place to sleep, or would you be OK with staying here?”

“I’ve just been sleeping in the back of the cabin, if you don’t have room for me in there.”

Ben laughed. “Yeah, tha’s kinda sketchy to do in a fuckin’ truck rest stop. Jus’ wake up, an’ ya got no second kidney.”

“Well how would you know?” asked Rob.

“It would fuckin’ hurt, tha’s how,” said Ben.

“Hey, you don’t know that. Maybe…maybe they used anesthetics or somethin’?” They both grinned now. They knew where this was going.

“One, even if they did, there’d be a huge fuckin’ scar on yer back. Two, what kinda organ thief uses anesthetics?”

“The decent kind. I mean, what kind of person would subject their fellow man to such pain?”

“Organ thieves. Tha’s who. They’re not known for compassion or empathy.” Miya and Chris stared, Olivia having gone back inside with Amanda a bit before.

“They’re still people, not monsters. Besides, if your victim wakes up on the operating table an’ starts thrashing in pain, they could get killed while you operate.”

“What? Why would they give a shit if you die? They’re already slicin’ out a bit of ya.”

“If they die, the organ might be useless before you get it out. See? Economic benefit as well.”

“So they don’ use anesthetics. They hit ya over the head or somethin’,” said Ben in mock exasperation.

“That isn’t a surefire thing. That could still kill someone, an’ now were back to where we started, aren’t we?”

“Anesthetics are expensive.”

“So are organs,” countered Rob.

Ben didn’t respond. Did I win? I think I won! Then Ben said, “Chloroform. It’s a lot cheaper than medical grade shit. Keeps em under so you can get yer merchandise too, but does nothin’ for the hurt,” We both know nothing about actual medicine, so we both could be, and most likely are, completely wrong.

Rob sighed. “Point” He turned to Chris. “Yeah, I’ll just sleep in the BAT for tonight. We can figure out this shit in the mornin’.”

Chris blinked, mouthed ‘what’ silently to himself, then recovered enough to say, “You sure?”

“Yep, me an’ Ben’ll be out late, got some catchin’ up to do. How long’s it been, three years? Four? Yeah, four,” he said, opening the door to the BAT.

“Alright,” said Chris. “Have fun, you kids.” Rob and Ben snickered, then left. Chris and Miya headed back inside the shop.

“So where we headin’?” asked Rob, once the engine started.

Ben told him, and Rob set off. “Fuck, man. It’s good to see ya,” said Ben.

“No kiddin’. This’ll be fun. Even on the somewhat right side of the law an’ everythin’.”

“Yeah, the fuck happened to you lot out east?” asked Ben.

Pricks. Pricks happened. “Wasn’t my choice. Jimmy an’ Sean’s egos eventually grew so large they couldn’t be in the same room together, an’ they basically said ‘it’s me or him’ to the rest of us. Me an’ Bri talked about maybe going together, but that kind of fell through, so here I am.”

“Sean? Tha’s that guy who called me cracker, right?”

“Yep. Same prick,” said Rob. Dammit. I just realized that without Sean I can’t say racist shit and then say it’s OK because I have black friends. It’s so fun to piss people off with that.

“Sucks,” said Ben.

Rob nodded. “So yourself. What is the average day in the life of a Ben? Take up skiing or somethin’? I hear that’s what Colorado people do.”

Ben chuckled. “I don’ have the fuckin’ money for that. Nah. What I’ve been doin’ is mainly just work at the donut place for a bit, dick around for a bit at my apartment or the local gatherin’ places, then patrol. Things have been fairly quiet since a bit before Christmas, so I’ve been bored anyway. An’ sleep, that too.”

“You still havin’ trouble sleepin’ too?” asked Rob.

“Yeah,” said Ben. Rob grunted in agreement.

To fill the silence Rob said, “I gotta ask, what’s with the feral? I’m expectin’ nothin’ but the most amusin’ of stories, by the way.”

“Name’s Olivia. An’ there’s no good story, actually. She kinda jus’ showed up one day. She doesn’t remember anythin’, so if ya do make a quip ‘bout her intelligence I’ll beat the shit outta you.”

Note to self: do not insult the intelligence of Olivia. “Fair enough. You said absolutely nothin’?”

“Nah. We’ve, well, I, have instituted movie night, cuz she hasn’t seen any of ‘em.”

“Huh.” Rob thought for a second. Doesn’t remember anything? “Which night?”

“Every night. Me an’ her an’ Miya have been fuckin’ bored, seein’ as we’re somewhat unemployed. Amanda’s been doin’ her own thing, Chris’s been gettin’ some stuff set up, but they show up every now an’ then. Gonna wanna turn here. I do still got a job, but it’s part time, an’ we’re goin’ for low profile right about now, so no real patrols.”

Rob turned onto the indicated road. “OK, even if there’s no good story behind it, how do you…just…how? She seemed fuckin’ terrified of me.”

“Don’ worry. She ain’t a huge fan of new people, tha’s all. I was actually the first to report her. Then Cyrus had me, Chris, and Amanda, who were in the MHU at the time, track her down. Then F.F. attacked, an’ she goes an’ kills a bunch of people.” Rob remembered something in the news about that, though overshadowed by the fact that a Central American terrorist was attacking a US city. They still didn’t know why, or at least if they knew they hadn’t announced it yet.

Ben continued, “Don’ piss her off, by the way. Gets all scary an’ hissy. But if ya do manage to get her inta that state, you deserve whatcha get. But anyways, she broke down once she came to, we took her to my old apartment to figure out what happened. Marcus says we’re workin’ with F.F., so we tracked F.F. down, an’ I killed him to prove Marcus wrong. Now you gotta come up with somethin’ awesome to do.”

He’s right. Their little game of one upmanship began when Ben found and raided an Overlord lab, and got his rifle to show for it. Then Sam sent them a picture of a loose feral he and his unit had killed while in Brazil. Then Rob and his gang looted the house of the state governor, tying him upside down to the refrigerator before making good their escape. Now Ben had killed a terrorist leader. What to do, what to do?

They pulled into the Wendy’s parking lot, taking up two spaces. It’s fun when someone tries to key the side of an armor plate. Although yes, they are fully justified in attempting to do so. I just don’t care. Ben and Rob got their food and sat down a discreet distance away from the other two people eating. Wendy’s was the one place they choose their words carefully, Ben would tell him what was up when he knew how to say it. They munched on in silence.

Eventually, Ben said, “You hear from Sam recently?” Uh oh.

They had lost contact with Sam about a year ago, he said something about being deployed to the Middle East. Probably doing some black ops shit there. Small wonder he isn’t talking to us right now. Probably still angsting or something, too.

“No,” said Rob.

“He sent me this.” Ben pulled out his phone, tapped the screen a couple times, then passed it to Rob.

Rob took it. It took him a moment to comprehend. “This is nearly gibberish. Is taauth even a word? An’ somethin’ about the underground?” Random letters of the text were capitalized, and a couple English words had spaces in the middle. The fuck? At the end it said ‘donT wOR ry’. “A code, maybe?”

“Not one that I can figure out. An’ that ain’t our style anyways,” said Ben.

“So either someone stole his phone an’ is screwin’ with us for some reason, or his fingers are all broken an’ he tried to type this with our characteristic attention to detail,” said Rob. I really don’t want to have to track you down, Sam. Because our best lead is Lock Corp. and I don’t think they’ll tell us willingly where you are. Or care. Which means we’d have to mess with a very scary organization.

“Tha’s what I thought. I wanted to check an’ see if you’d heard anythin’.”

“Nah, nothin’. He did say don’t worry at the end, so I’m guessin’ he’s got it under control. You text him back?”

“Yep. Three days ago. Hasn’t responded. Called ‘im too, also nothin’.” Ben sighed, and rested his forehead on his hand. “I’m thinkin’ he’s jus’ lettin’ us know he’s alive. We can jus’ keep doin’ what we’re doin’.” When they split up they had an agreement not to interfere with each other’s work. Should their paths cross and be opposed, rock paper scissors would decide who would go home. Anyways, this meant unless one explicitly asked for help, none would be provided or offered.

“That’s about what I was thinking. He said don’t worry, so let’s not worry,” said Rob reluctantly. I said that’s what I’m going to do, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Ben grimaced. “Right. Still don’t like it.”

“Point. I hear you, don’t worry.”

“Blurg. You’re right. Since you were coming up anyway I wanted to check it with you.”

“Thanks. You done? I’m done.”

“Yeah.” They got up, threw away their trash, and left in silence.

In the truck, heading back to the lair, Rob smiled said, “So now that we’re face to face, you actually want to give me some info on who those other fuckers are?”

Ben laughed. “I figured you’d hate goin’ in with no info whatsoever.”

“Yeah, fuck you. Get on with it.”

Ben snickered, then composed himself. “Alright. So ya got Chris. He’s the leader… guy? That little issue hasn’t been brought up yet but I don’ think anyone else really wants the job, so he’s stuck with it. I call ‘im Blondie. He did jus’ bury his girlfriend of… five years, I think he said.” … Ouch. I should probably figure out if condolences are needed or something. Never been too good at that the whole ‘emotions’ thing anyway.

Ben continued, “He’s alright now. Say whatever you like to him, within reason. It’ll be water off his back. Stoic fella. He’s alright at his job, so far as I can tell. The feral, Olivia, she’s fairly quiet. She’s super hesitant, so be patient.”

“Eugh. So she actually puts thought into what she says before she says it? That takes forever.” Patience. Meh. Ben and Rob knew they were anomalies as far as people went. That didn’t mean they couldn’t have some fun at peoples’ expenses.

“I know. Other than that, she’s jus’ a normal chick. I call ‘er Little Bird.” If Ben’s calling her Little Bird it’s not sounding like joking around will be a problem.

“She can fly?” How do the physics of that work? People aren’t the most aerodynamic of things.

“Yep. Been kinda cooped up with Marcus huntin’ her still, but I’ve seen it. She’s got fuckin’ super hearin’ and smell, too, so don’ assume she’s not there.”

“Ouch. I heard that there were some water restrictions going on here, an’ it didn’t look like you lot had showers in there,” said Rob.

“Nah. They’re still fixin’ the water treatment thingy, so water’s been tight. We’re drinkin’ outta water bottles, cuttin’ down on showers…” Ben trailed off. “Ooops. I know Amanda’s been lettin’ her use the shower an’ stuff at her place. Though in my defense, she never complained or anythin’.”

“You do know that I can already tell that she isn’t the type to speak up, right? An’ I’ve known her for all of ten minutes.”

“Yeah, well, hindsight’s a bitch,” said Ben.

After a moment, Rob said, “An’ the others…”

“Right! Miya seems normal at first glance, but scratch the surface somehow an’ she’s a raging homicidal maniac! You’ll probably get a chance to see it soon enough. She got caught by some of Overlord’s people, an’ so far as I can tell the only thing that got her through was revenge. On the flip side, me an’ her raided a slaughterhouse kinda thing for bones yesterday, cuz tha’s what she uses for her voodoo shit. Tha’ was pretty fun, actually.”

“Bone magic?”

“Yessah. I think she was born an’ raised in ‘merica, doesn’t have an accent or anythin’. An’ Amanda,” Ben trailed off with a laugh. “Thank you so much for tellin’ me tha’ techies hate bein’ called techies. She fuckin’ hates it, takes it way too seriously.”

Rob laughed. “I try.” What’s the point of making shit if you can’t have fun with it?

Ben continued, “She also hates bein’ called hon, so do that. An’ mess with her stuff, make minor inconveniences, she starts gettin’ all pissy, it’s great! It was great when she had to let me drive her car, too.”

Rob nodded. Ben was one of the better drivers Rob had met by dint of his powers, but he really didn’t know how cars worked. To quote Ben: ‘a car is jus’ a metal box to get ya from point A to point B, preferably as fast as possible’. Sacrilege I say.

“So how long do ya think it’ll take ya to make the lair of lairs?” asked Ben.

This had been at the back of Rob’s thoughts since he started driving to Colorado, but it was difficult to do any planning without any information. But he had a rough idea. “How long? About three months after we break the ground, on my own. If you lot help with grunt work, maybe two, then we start on the interior. But first we gotta get materials, find a good place to dump the dirt, and so on.”

“I’ve always wondered how ya know how to do this? It ain’t armor or shit like that.”

“I think of it as armor, an’ try to keep all the dirt out. We’re gonna need a lot of metal to do this my way. I’m not gonna go for economical, unlike every other structural engineer, so I figure more support is better than less. An’ in my googlin’ before I got up here it mentioned something about soil expansion here, so that’s somethin’ that’ll take a bit of work,” said Rob.

“Gotcha,” said Ben. They continued driving and talking.

***

“…and given those circumstances, it’s morally acceptable to kill baby seals until they die,” said Rob with a huge grin as they pulled up to the auto shop. They had driven around a bit before returning, catching up. Totally worth the gas.

Ben sighed and banged his head against the dashboard, not saying anything. Rob continued, “So, am I right? Am I right?” Fuck yeah! No worming your way out of this one.

“As much as I hate to say it, yer logic is flawless. Congratulations, yer kinda awful,” said Ben after a moment.

Rob did a small fist pump. “Fuck yeah! Also, we’re here.” Sleep time!

“Sleep time,” said Ben. “You good in here for tonight?”

“Yep. How ‘bout everyone else inside?” asked Rob.

“Amanda an’ Chris’ve got their own places. Miya an’ Olivia are probably sleepin’. Ya don’ fuckin’ wake up Miya, I’ll tell ya that for free.” Or the bigass feral. She didn’t look particularly scary in comparison to some of the ones that popped up, but ferals provoked that knee jerk ‘threat’ reaction from anyone. It’s like being concerned about a tornado.

“Alright. Get the fuck out of my car so I can sleep.”

“Bueno,” said Ben. “G’night.” He left. This’ll be interesting. Now: sleepy sleep time!

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Sand Box

Sam awoke to an alarm blaring. He quickly grabbed pants, a few random bits of body armor in easy reach, and his rifle. The rest of the men in his unit in the barracks were in a similar state. He rushed outside, accompanied by a couple other men, to defend the base.

He hit the dry, dusty air of the southern Baghdad suburb as the early Mesopotamian sun rose in the east. Fucking hot here. Though thanks to Uncle Sam, Lock Corp. can afford air conditioning. It was Sam’s understanding that the military had contracted Lock Corp. to provide 25% more soldiers and material to protect the archaeological team than had actually been provided. Sam couldn’t bring himself to care, he got paid well and Lock Corp made sure it’s employees were happy. He chuckled quietly to himself at that.

They moved to their designated position, Steve and Emma already on a machine gun, firing at figures around two burning trucks stopped haphazardly on the street. If the civvies know what’s good for them they’ll be getting far away from here as soon as possible. Another technical fired on them from behind the burning wrecks. Sam moved on behind the sandbag wall, keeping his head low and scanning for any militia attacking on foot from nearby buildings. Will ran behind him, Jacob brought up the rear.

Their NCO, referred to as Little Man Tate, already in position, called them over. They reached their destination and began firing.

***

After an action packed five minutes, they settled into a ‘fire blindly in the direction of other guys while they do the same’ tactic for a couple hours. Just enough bullets to keep them alert, not enough to give them a target to kill, going both ways.

They settled down during a lull, Will keeping watch, fingering the trigger of his rifle. Sam and the rest got comfortable. Will possessed a limited warning sense, on top of the general survival instincts all people possess.

Powers. Sam didn’t have any, though his brothers did. He almost found it funny. Almost. All three prided themselves on their honesty. When Ben got himself kidnapped in Baltimore saying something stupid to the wrong people, Rob and Sam set out to find him. Mom didn’t care, she hadn’t cared for two years since Dad died. The kidnappers apparently maintained good connections in the police and government; not much happened when they went to the authorities. After much frustration, dead ends, and general hopelessness, Rob triggered. Sam didn’t.

Did this mean that Sam didn’t truly care? He thought so, but on the other hand, he couldn’t do anything supernatural. Then Ben triggered when he escaped, so powers were obviously in their genes. They were identical triplets after all. So apparently Sam lied to himself, about his own brother none the less.

Rob and Ben didn’t judge him for not triggering, they told him as much. None of that ‘trying to figure out people’s feelings bullshit for us. Sam still had self doubts. When they decided to go their separate ways, he said he would go mercenary, Lock Corp. to be specific. Gotta get away somehow, and fuck the regular military.

There were four major mercenary companies. The oldest, the Freeman Company, actually had a reasonable reputation. It rarely if ever broke contract, usually followed the laws given to it, and got the job done. Sometimes the job didn’t even involve killing. They maintained a simmering rivalry with the Blackguard, who until the last couple decades, had been known as the least scrupulous company.

Shadow Security & Solutions had come out of South Africa in the fifties; their past was a bit sketchy. Their abbreviated name, SSS, bore a striking resemblance to another scary set of people, which may have been intentional. They specialized more in private security than military contracts, and maintained a close relationship with de Beers.

Lock Corp. was the youngest, formed in the US in the late eighties. Lock Corp. didn’t care what you had done before, or usually what you did, so long as the job paid well enough. They took any contract, no questions asked. Business is easy without little things like human decency in the way. Besides, a little looting or organized crime never hurt anyone in the third world, right?

Sam’s unit had been contracted to defend some highly important archaeological dig. For whatever reason, the local militia didn’t like the idea of digging up some old Mesopotamian ruin; Sam didn’t know which civilization. I kinda want to know now. It’s not as though the research team talks to the plebes that guarded them.

“Whatcha smiling about now, Sam?” asked Jacob. An Afrikaner, Sam was mildly surprised he wasn’t working for de Beers or Shadow. Lock Corp. was an American owned company, a majority of their employees Americans. Recruits could come from anywhere, depending on the situation from nation to nation. Jacob had worked with Americans for five years since he was nineteen, so his accent was very faint.

“How stupid this is,” he responded.

Will ducked as a single bullet whizzed overhead. Something, probably a car, exploded off in the distance. He fired three lazy shots in the general direction the bullet came from, and things quieted down once more.

“Why is that?” asked Little Man. He was short and in his late twenties. What did you expect with a name like that, a huge guy?

“I don’ really know. We shoot at ‘em, they shoot at us, an’ over what? Some old rocks, some old bits of metal. Who gives a shit?”

Iraq had seen better days. In 1993, Overlord staged a coup of the local dictator after the Gulf War, and ran the country as his own personal fiefdom. In 1997, a NATO coalition invaded after years of resistance groups providing massive amounts of evidence of a great variety of crimes against humanity Overlord perpetrated. Overlord went underground six months later, a democracy was set up, and the majority of the coalition troops left after three years. Then the whole thing collapsed into civil war.

People talked of another intervention, but nothing came of it. People stopped talking after 9/11 happened, perpetrated by extremists out of Afghanistan. Iraq was old news then. Eventually, the extremists spread to Iraq, followed by American troops in 2009.

“The people with money,” called out Will over his shoulder. Four ugly scars across his face and throat marred his pretty boy looks. He’d been caught in a feral attack in Brownsville, Texas, not the nicest place in the world. He was close to Sam’s age, having been dishonorably discharged from the Army after a year.

“Yeah, but why do they give a shit?”

“I don’t give a shit why they give a shit, so long as they pay and I’m not dead. Now, keep your eyes open,” said Little Man gruffly.

More shots came at them, none coming close to hitting anyone.

Jacob laughed humorlessly. “Almost makes me miss Somalia. All the skinnies did was get hopped up on khat, close their eyes, and shoot in your general direction.”

The attack let up after a couple hours, and another group relieved Sam’s. After showers, they went their separate ways, and Sam set about cleaning his rifle. Sand and dust got everywhere and would ruin equipment if you didn’t take precautions.

He’d gotten a good look at some of the excavated ruins during patrols. Ancient stones, carved in the shapes of winged lions, worn away by the elements. Apparently the site was an old religious complex, and therefore blasphemous for violent zealous idiots who happened to be Muslim.

The motives of the researchers were somewhat suspect. No one hired Lock Corp. to calm things down, and their contract was with the military. Nothing but good things can come from this. Except for all the inevitable bad things. He would have to patrol in an hour or so, which in and of itself was fairly easy, though the attack earlier gave him a bad feeling about the whole day.

***

Sam and the squad walked at a leisurely pace around the excavation site, save Little Man. He argued with Doctor White, a strange and angry man.

“…your men need to be more careful, Sergeant. This site is in remarkable condition, but time is of the essence. The locals do not appear to have taken a liking to our presence,” said Doctor White

“You worry about your dirt, we’ll worry about the locals. And you’ll want to talk to the lieutenant if you don’t want to replay this conversation again in a couple hours. Now, go back to your hole.”

Little Man made a dismissive gesture towards the aforementioned hole, then terminated the conversation by turning his back and returning to Sam and the rest. The doctor huffed and returned to where the researchers had dug with some haste a pit, ignoring the buried ceramics, a small sculpture, and what Sam thought appeared to be a semi-precious gemstone set in bronze.

“Hey doc,” called Sam, “How old is this shit?”

The doctor turned around and fixed Sam with an icy glare. Fool. Sam could maintain a grin indefinitely. Sam won. “Go do your job, mercenary,” said the doctor after a while.

“Hey, I jus’ wanna know. Answer an’ I don’ talk anymore.”

“Fine. It’s Babylonian, from around 600 BCE.”

Sam, true to his word, did not speak further. He inclined his head and the doctor returned to his site. Sam rejoined his squad, who had walked a small distance away. “What? Jus’ curious,” he said as they watched him approach. They rolled their eyes.

“What? It’s true,” he continued. They started walking, a lazy circuit around the excavation site within the perimeter they had defended before. They weren’t overly worried about being attacked here.

“Why?” asked Will.

“Cause I told myself I’d find out. That guy seems to know smart people things.”

“Yeah, smart people things. That is definitely a commonly used phrase in the scientific community.” said Will. Jacob and Little Man had fallen back a bit in their own conversation.

“Yep. It’s not as though you’d know. Yer a bit of a dumb ass,” said Sam. You may laugh, Will, but it’s true. “You’d never get into those scientist only orgies that very probably happen in labs or whatever.”

Will laughed and mock shivered. “It’d just be a bunch of guys and nerdy chicks who wouldn’t know what the fuck they’re doing.”

“So? If we take this to its logical conclusion, you’d be the god of bonin’ there. If you didn’t spend yer alone time jerkin off inta tissues, that is.” Sam got a punched arm for that.

“Fuck you,” said Will with a grin. They walked for some time, then he said, “Hey, you said you had a brother in Westward, right?”

“Yeah, Ben.”

“Freedom Fighter’s attacking there right now.”

“Pft. I’m sure Ben’s fine.” Ben, I think I speak for both me and Rob when I say I don’t want to have to track down and kill F.F. if you go get yourself killed doing some dumbass thing.

“Oh yeah, no worries. Apparently F.F. got his arm torn off by a feral. Sucks for him,” Will laughed darkly. Sam smiled.

They were back where they started, near the entrance of the excavation site. Will opened his mouth to say something else, when a confused look crossed his face. “DOWN, NOW,” he yelled, throwing himself to the ground, followed closely by Sam. He’s never been wrong before. Jacob and Little Man, a couple paces behind them, followed suit. An RPG rocketed overhead, hitting a Lock Corp. truck parked near a building.

Something very large exploded near the main entrance. Sam, at the sight of the recently bombed out wreckage of a car, could practically hear the Allahu Akbars from the guy who just blew himself up. More gunfire, much more than before. The squad returned to their feet, rifles ready and aimed towards the entrance. Without a word they began getting off the streets and towards cover, firing at distant figures. They might be terrible people, and I suppose the term glass houses applies here, but they’re good enough squadmates.

After a minute “We’re gettin’ overrun. We get the research team. Move,” announced Little Man.

Jacob didn’t move, still firing at the advancing fighters. “Fuck that. I’m not risking my neck for those pricks.”

“And I’m not asking. Now move your ass,” barked Little Man.

Jacob got up with some grumbling. They ran towards the site, Will covering their rear. Some shouting preceded a man with some cloth wrapped around his head stumbling out a nearby building. Not one of ours. But fuck, they’re getting in. Sam fired, and they sprinted the last fifteen yards.

The doctor, along with a young man and an older woman, cowered in the shack thing they had set up. Little man was the first one in, the others in close behind. Will and Sam covered the door.

“Get the fuck up. We’re leaving,” said Little Man,

That prompted the woman to protest, “No, we’re so close. They’ll destroy everything…” she was cut short with a meaty clunk. Sam guessed that Jacob or Little Man had hit her in the head with a rifle. From his position at the door, Sam could see more and more militia. He had a sinking feeling they were surrounded. No idea when help is coming, or if. We probably don’t technically exist to the regular Army. He fired, killing one man who didn’t get to cover quick enough.

“You two, pick her up,” said Little Man to the two remaining scientists.

Will called out, “Hey, I don’t think they’re going to let us – grenades incoming! Out!”

They bolted for the back exit, Sam heard metallic clunks at their heels. He noted the scientists had neglected to grab the woman. With only one option that didn’t involve getting executed, they ran for the excavation pit. The mercenaries that is. Doctor White dithered once outside, taking a shot to the gut and going down with a scream.

The younger man had slightly better senses, throwing himself to the ground and covering his head a good distance away from the shack they had just exited. I almost wish that were an option, but the American public doesn’t care much about the life of a mercenary, so our lives are worth next to nothing to these guys.

They reached the bottom, slightly cramped. “Jacob, look for a way to go. The rest of you, shoot anyone who shows their face at the rim.” All they need is one more grenade at this point to kill us all.

So the three shot at several enterprising individuals for a couple moments, until Jacob yelled, “We’re all dipshits. This way.” He held open a plastic curtain. How the fuck did we miss that? Beyond it was a stone hallway, illuminated with lights the researchers had strung up. The hallway ended in a staircase.

They ran. “This better not wind up bein’ the fuckin’ Mines of Moria kinda shit,” said Sam. A grenade went off behind them, too far away to do any harm. The stairs ended a fair ways down, Sam didn’t keep track of how far.

They wound up in what appeared to be some sort of antechamber for someone important and long dead. All other hallways were blocked off. They spread out as much as possible, and mentally prepared themselves for what were no doubt their impending demises. Soon enough, some militiamen came rushing up, and were immediately cut down. One, however, managed to throw a grenade, causing Will and Jacob to dive away. It went off, and Jacob screamed.

Will and Little Man dragged him back to them. His legs were a bloody mess. Jacob gritted his teeth and drew his pistol. More men came down the stairs, only Sam was covering them. He managed to drop two, when he ran out of ammo in his magazine. “I’m out.” Jacob fired, but his aim was off.

“RPG,” yelled Will. Fucking lunatics! An explosion, something crumbled, then the world went black.

***

A bright light hovered just outside of Sam’s eyelids. He coughed out some dust, opened his eyes, and found himself staring directly into a flashlight.

“Gah, fuck.” He put his hands over his eyes.

“Good, you’re alive.” That was Little Man, sounding somewhat worse for wear.

He helped Sam get upright. Sam assessed, reopening his eyes and forcing them to see beyond the massive spot in his vision. Everything appeared to be intact, nothing broken, though his shoulder hurt. His rifle was even still attached to his chest, somehow. Cool. I’ll take it. Little Man hadn’t been so lucky in that regard. In fact, Little Man otherwise looked how Sam felt, beat, dirty, and cut up.

Sam noticed the only light came from the flashlight in Little Man’s hand. Of course, of course. Sam had a tac light on his rifle, he turned it on. “The hell happened?” he asked Little Man.

“Not sure. The RPG hit the wall. Something important collapsed, everything shook and we wound up down here. Will broke his neck in the fall, Jacob’s very likely dead, if not now, then soon.” He pointed to Will’s corpse, half buried under rubble. “I just came around, don’t know where we are or how we get back.”

Sam removed the flashlight from the rifle and pointed it in the direction of the new hallway they were in. “Well, that’s a good way to start.” He left the rest unsaid, that the chances were slim to none that they were coming out of this alive. “Hey, any chance we stumbled on an ancient curse or some sort of horrible disease?”

Little Man chuckled (holy shit he is desperate), “Almost one hundred percent. Let’s go.”

They set off, and Sam soon noticed Little Man had a bad limp. He offered his support, and Little Man surprisingly accepted. The hallway went on for some time. How the hell is any of this intact after thousands of years? At one point there were two sets of stairs leading upwards, both unblocked. They flipped a coin and chose the one on the right. As well, there were occasionally rooms carved into the hallway. They forced themselves to not weigh themselves down with some golden jewelry found in one room. Apparently we are in a dungeon crawl.

Then he noticed one room, much larger than the others. He stopped.

“Hey, what gives?” asked Little Man.

“That,” said Sam, walking into the room. Little Man followed, still limping.

Little Man considered it for a moment. “Sure, that’s probably one of the weirdest things about this place, but we should keep moving.”

“No, you don’ understand. You remember me tellin’ you ‘bout my brothers, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“They wear masks exactly like that one. An’ I mean exactly. I’m takin’ a look at it.”

It was true. At the opposite wall of the room was an altar of some kind. On it rested the grinning mask, right in front of a dull silver knife, the grip of which had long rotted away. There was nothing out of the ordinary otherwise about it.

“No, we can’t carry that,” said Little Man as Sam walked.

“I’m not going to take it, jus’ look at it.”

He grabbed the mask.

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