Five torches cast their light as their owners moved along. The decent was slow by necessity. Everyone was making certain every step was on sure footing and silent. As they continued, a light began to pierce the darkness from deep below. Euless called for them all to halt, switching off his helmet’s brilliant beam. The others followed suit, going off of the sonar reading to find the steps. There was no point in alerting anyone or anything that might be down below to the presence of a team of elite soldiers.
Slowly, the light grew brighter–enormously so–as the stairway opened up into a vast chamber directly beneath the monstrous cover stone close to a hundred meters above. The chamber itself was a monument to dust and rubble. Chunks of the ceiling had fallen in and yet the structure above was still strong enough to support quite a lot of weight. The light came from a series of bowls of oil, some on the walls, some on columns that stood in the open. Each one burned away gently. The walls were covered in intricate carvings, some purely for the aesthetic, some meant to tell a story. It was quite a lot to take in.
“Why the hell would someone build a power station on top of this?” Saito mused, half in awe and half in disgust.
Clearly she preferred her modern surroundings, as did most of the group. Rapid communication, flying transportation, reliable sources of safe food and water, and a wide assortment of television programs and films certainly beat living in an ancient, subterranean, stone temple.
“The descendants of the tribe that built this place probably did it as time moved on,” Link said while in a similarly stunned state, “They probably thought it was a good way to protect it. A secure facility with limited civilian access, it makes sense.”
“Okay fine, I can accept that, but then why did they just up and abandon it? From the looks of the schematics of the station, it should still be usable. Some of the outlying provinces could use the power.” Saito said.
Link turned to look briefly at her and the others.
“Well, these were fanatics protecting an ancient artifact of intense power. They went to some pretty outrageous lengths to secure the palace. Maybe something went wrong.” he replied.
“Something went wrong… comforting.” Saito said just before she slipped into a quiet string of indiscernible expletives common for her hometown.
Colorful language the people of Kakariko had. Euless squashed the conversation and Saito’s swears.
“Cut the chatter. It’s not helping,” the Commander said, “Link, you got us down here, where do we go next?”
The Lieutenant looked about the room carefully, gradually recognizing several perils. They wouldn’t be safe here and there was only one path to take. He lifted a hand towards the only open corridor, the vast one that led deeper into the palace’s core.
“They probably kept the shard in the deepest part of the structure. Keep on your guard. Do not touch any of the statues and don’t get any closer than a few meters to them or they’ll activate. Try to keep quiet and stay towards the center of the room. Trust me, you do not want to wake a swarm of keese. Those little bastards may not be much to look at but they’re small and fast, making them hard to hit.” Link explained.
Delicacy seemed to be the prevailing mentality. The team quickly took stock of the room, specifically the exits. There were only two aside from where they had come. Other than the path their resident expert had directed them to follow, the only remaining point of egress was the other stairway leading back up to the power station. Like the entry they had used, charges were planted but meant to collapse the bottom end of the stairwell in on itself. There would be no force field holding it open. The ceiling would simply fall in.
When the team’s back was secured–at least to a degree–they pressed forward towards the only other way out of the main shaft. It was a large corridor leading through to what appeared on the map to be the main chamber. The entryway was rather wide. All five of the unit could have walked side by side without touching the walls. It was imposing. The desire to ask Link why such a large corridor had been needed was never too far from anyone’s mind, but they figured such historical distractions could wait until after the mission was completed.
As they approached the stone archway, two pillars that were thought to be decorative sprung to life. The activation failed to catch the attention of the entire unit, but one of them did happen to notice. A single crimson eye shined forth near the top and the entire mechanism it sat upon began to slowly rotate. Link froze and grabbed the soldier nearest him as he recognized the sentry.
“Everyone get back!” the Lieutenant hissed.
The team, startled by the outburst, leapt backwards obediently. They all brought their weapons to bear as they all noticed the two red eyes on either side of the corridor. Those eyes both came to a stop and centered on a target. The red glow became a brilliant shine as the unsettling sound of a charging burst filled the room. Immediately, a ray of intense, burning light connected the eye to its target, Herne’s shoulder. He cried out in pain as he was struck and thrown onto his back. Smoke rose from the blast point as he was dragged away. The statue’s continuous fire chased the group until they were out of range.
“Commander! Report!” Roslin barked across the radio.
“Herne’s been hit! Stand by!” Euless shouted through his radio.
He moved quickly to the fallen soldier’s side to assess the injury. His armor was badly damaged, melted at the focal point of the blast. It wasn’t a large hole, roughly the size of a thumb’s width, but it had gone all the way through and burned his shoulder rather badly. Had he not been wearing the suit, he would have lost the arm, and possibly his life.
“Rudimentary optics, my ass!” Herne complained in a labored voice.
“It looks mostly superficial,” Euless reported, “His vitals readout doesn’t show any deep tissue damage, only skin burns. His armor’s been punctured. Whatever that thing is, it’s powerful.”
“Neutralize it, but try to keep it quiet,” Roslin replied, “Herne, we’re getting your readouts now. Your suit’s integrity has been compromised. Recommend you maximize your defensive screen in that area. Engineering is recommending you bring up your riot shield but they advise you don’t let that take a blast either. Sensors are showing that beam to have an intensity that can cut through most modern alloys.”
The injured man nodded and voiced his confirmation of the recommendations. He tried to stand up and shake off the hit but stumbled. Something didn’t feel quite right though. He was unsteady and his left arm was sluggish.
“I think it’s got some sort of paralyzing effect, I’m having trouble moving my hand and I’m a little dizzy.” Herne reported.
“It’s a Beamos,” Link interjected, “The laser is powerful but it has a secondary effect of nerve disruption. It was designed to be a one-hit kill, but just in case it only landed a glancing blow, it could immobilize targets and then zero in on them for the kill. We’re safe so long as we stay outside its radius.”
“How the hell did they build a laser sentry back when all they had was stone and iron!?” Euless growled, not sure how to lead his unit through such an obstacle without making noise.
He was rather irritated, taking the injury of one his men as a personal failing.
“Like I said earlier, these were fanatics. These weapons are driven by magic, not electricity or plasma. The one failing every model had was an inability to chase targets across the arc of its radius, it just can’t track fast enough at a distance because it can’t sense as well farther out. There’s also a delay in the firing mechanism. We can get past them if we move fast and go one at a time. Maybe even distract it.” Link explained.
“How do we neutralize it?” Euless asked.
“The iris, the eye. If you shatter that, it will shut down. It’s the power source, a magic stone that runs the whole thing.” the Lieutenant said.
That seemed to satisfy the Commander. He stood up and glared at the mindless device that had attacked one of his men.
“Then let’s just take care of this little problem.” he said, then raised one of his arms, pointing off to the side.
Instantly the plating surrounding his forearm began to reconfigure, yielding a long barrel that stretched out past the back of his palm and a casing to surround it. It quickly became clear he was interested in using the assault rifle integrated into his suit. The Commander took careful aim once it was primed, waiting for the red eye to spin back around into sight before taking his shot. A crack split the relative silence as a burst of light erupted from the gun, darting towards its target. It hit home, straight and true, but there was a distinct lack of the satisfying crunch or snap he was looking for. The red eye spun on, unharmed. How it didn’t draw the attention of the keese Link mentioned earlier was a bit of a mystery.
“Looks like they upgraded these models so they can’t be hurt by energy weapons. We’ll need to hit it with a solid projectile.” Link said with an unhappy sigh.
His news was not met with a terribly positive response.
“Yeah? What should we do!? Throw rocks!?” Saito fumed, doing exactly as she suggested.
A fist sized piece of debris found its way into her hand and she threw it as hard as she could, frustrated powerfully. The sentry swung about and fired, blasting the chunk of stone out of the air before it could hit its mark.
All that did was serve to infuriate her even more.
“See!? Even that doesn’t work!” she shouted, thankfully muffled by her sealed helmet.
“Wait, try that again.” Euless said.
He was having a brainstorm. He motioned for Saito to throw another piece of rock, which she did in spite of her confusion. As soon as the turret took aim on the new target and fired, Euless threw one of his own. The first was destroyed with ease, but the second hit its mark, bouncing off the crimson iris before it could adjust and fire.
It was disheartening to see that he couldn’t actually deal any damage to the machine, but it had the effect the Commander was looking for. He grinned and began building his plan based on the new information.
“I think we have the answer to our problem. Command, there appears to be a way to get past the sentries without disabling them.” Euless reported.
“We copy,” Roslin replied, “We’re still analyzing the data and trying to formulate a plan of attack for these things. You’re going to need to get back through when you leave. For now, proceed with your plan.”
Euless nodded and ordered the team to gather as many loose pieces of stone they could find. Link quickly came to understand the plan.
“When you throw, make sure it’s aiming as far away from the corridor as it can be pointed. If you’re behind it, it won’t detect you. It’ll take too long to spin back around just to find you.” the Lieutenant said.
The Commander nodded.
“My thoughts exactly. It’s a shame they’re not spinning the other way, we’d be able to just time when we run in,” Euless said, “Alright, Saito, you’re first. Make a close pass to the base to keep from triggering the other one. Don’t stop until you’re clear.”
“Copy that. Make sure you throw straight. I’ll kick your ass if that thing hits me.” she fired back.
A quiet chuckle passed through the group, quickly squashed by Euless who took up his position, as did the others.
“Everyone aim for the red. If we can shatter the eye, it’ll make this job a hell of a lot easier. I’ll throw first, then we just go right down the line,” the Commander said then looked to Saito, poised and ready to run, “Wait until you hear it charge before you go.”
With that, he threw his rock with as much power as he could muster. It sailed swiftly through the air only seconds before the sentry took notice. It spun about and the sound of its weapon charging whined away. In a flash, Saito was gone, racing forward with the power of her suit behind her. There was a flash of light as the laser struck its target, freeing it to lock onto another victim.
Before the Beamos could zero in on Saito, it found another rock hurtling its way. Without an intelligent mind behind it, the sentry simply targeted the flying rock instead. It was just a little too close though. The rock struck the iris and bounced off, still seeming to have no effect. By then, the third and fourth rocks were loosed, confusing its targeting system. Both hit quite firmly, doing only minor damage, chipping the stone lightly. By the time everyone had thrown their stones, Saito was clear of its range, standing in the darkened corridor just beyond.
“Alright, I’m through. Who’s next?” she asked.
Euless gave Herne a firm slap on his good shoulder.
“You okay to handle this?” the Commander asked.
The larger fellow nodded, coming out of the daze the blast had left him feeling.
“Yeah, I can do it. Just try to keep it busy a bit longer than that. I’m still not at a hundred percent.” Herne answered.
“Copy that. Everyone, round two.” Euless ordered.
The remaining group reloaded and began the assault. Again the sentry found itself too confused to hit more than one or two of the stones raining down on it. Herne pushed through his pain and moved clear to join Saito on the other side with as much speed as he could muster. The rest of the team took turns trying to get through until it was down to a single person, the Commander.
“Alright, so that worked well this far. How do we keep this trick going when the person throwing is the one trying to get through?” Bruno asked.
Link had the only idea anyone was willing to share.
“Look for a big rock you can throw, Commander. Try to find something the size of your head. When it gets hit, it should fragment and create a lot of dust.” the Lieutenant said.
“Right, and that should keep it busy for a while.” Euless replied.
He saw the plan in his head. It didn’t seem to have a high margin for success but it was all they had.
“That’s the idea. Just remember to run as soon as it leaves your hands,” Link said, “If you throw it hard enough, it will enter weapons range before you do.”
Euless snorted quietly in derision.
“Don’t gotta tell me twice. Alright, clear a path. I’ll be comin’ in hot.” He said.
The group moved to stand against the wall, each person leaning out slightly to watch. There was a silent concern that it might not work. The Commander searched for a moment and found a chunk of stone that would get the job done. It was unwieldy and heavy–an awkward weapon of choice–but it would have to do. With an audible grunt, he slung himself around to build up the necessary momentum and loosed the small boulder.
As soon as it was airborne, he kicked himself forward, even using the thrusters on his back to propel him. The stone sailed towards the stone guardian. The sentry took aim and charged. When it fired, it struck the center of its target, shattering the rock into a shower of smaller fragments and a cloud of dust. With so much debris clouding the field of vision, it struggled to select a new target. When it was able to get a fix on something finally, it fired again. Just as had been hoped, it ended up only blasting the shrapnel. Euless darted past under a hail of pebbles and rocks bouncing off of him. He skidded to a halt and sighed in relief.
“Good thinking, Lieutenant. When in doubt, throw a bigger rock,” the Commander said joking, “Let’s keep moving troops. Time is short.”
The group followed the order, pressing on through the corridor towards the light beyond. As they reached the other end, they noticed they were steadily sloping downhill and a staircase led up to the floor in the next room, creating a relatively short run of trench just tall enough for their heads to be seen. The Commander stopped them as they approached.
“Is it my imagination or are we walking straight into a kill box?”
Bruno nodded and studied over the trench before them carefully, looking up along the edges of it. He expected something rather unpleasant. He found what he was looking for and lifted an arm to point.
“You’re right boss, more of those sentry things. I count four, but I wouldn’t put it past them to have more than that. No way we’ll be able to cover ourselves getting through there.” Bruno said.
“So what, we just run and hope for the best?” Saito asked, then turned to the Lieutenant now that he had proven reliable in their current situation, “Link? You got any brilliant ideas?”
The young man frowned, trying to think fast. There wasn’t much in the way of loose rock in their immediate area, so the idea for the previous set wouldn’t work at all. His frustration built quickly. He should know a way through this. This was what he obsessed over as a kid. Then it hit him. There was indeed a way through, he just wasn’t properly equipped.
“Commander, the room we just came from. There was a lot of debris, right?” Link asked, working his way through the logic aloud.
“Yeah?” Euless replied.
“What else did you see?” Link asked.
The rest of the team just looked at one another, not sure where this was going, but he had proven worth listening to so far, so no one questioned it.
“I dunno… dust? Broken pieces of wood? Some fire bowls?” Euless answered in uncertainty.
“And skeletons,” Link said, “There were people here who had died defending this temple.”
“You’d better have a point to this, Lieutenant, and it better be one that doesn’t involve us sacrificing ourselves.” the Commander said as he frowned.
“No! Didn’t you see what some of them were carrying?” Link looked around at the rest of his squad, receiving blanks stares, “Weapons! Some of them even had bows! Command! Can you access the Faron Police weapons cache?”
Roslin began to see where this was going, lifting an arm and pointing at one of the techs to get on it.
“We’re doing that right now, what do you need?” she asked.
“My old suit had some modifications to it, mods I made myself. Look for my gear and search for non-energy ranged weapons.” Link answered.
“We’re connected, searching,” the Minster called out over the radio, taking only few moments but it felt like an eternity, “We’ve got it. Pulling the whole file. What are you looking for exactly?”
“I entered the specs for a longbow. I need you to send me a fabricant of it. Full quiver.” Link answered.
Bruno blinked, “Wait, what? A bow!? Against these things!?”
“Our usual weapons have no effect,” the Lieutenant said, “We don’t want to draw attention to our presence down here so explosives are out. We need something we can aim, something with a lot of force behind it, and something that isn’t energy based. That’s an arrow. Command? What’s the progress?”
“We’re running it through the fabrication software now. Arrival in twenty seconds. You know how to use one of these things?” Roslin asked.
“Been practicing since I was eight.” Link said with a broad smile, finally feeling like he was actually able to contribute in a more meaningful way than just being a ‘tour guide’.
That earned him a few strange looks from most of the team, and a nod of approval from Saito. Clearly he had impressed her. He brought up the progress bar on the equipment transmission, watching it fill up slowly. As it approached the end, Nadia began to count down in his helmet.
“Three… two… one… here it comes.” the operator called out.
Link lifted his left arm. His hand, or rather the armor covering it, began to glow. The plating around his entire forearm began to reconfigure, revealing a nest of circuitry as it prepared to receive. Three intense beams of light shined out from the hidden mechanisms now showing themselves, connecting in a single point just in front of the Lieutenant’s hand.
A sphere formed where the three beams connected and quickly began to stretch out along a single axis, gracefully arching back towards the young man. In a matter of seconds, the light had perfectly taken the shape of the bow he sought. It then bulged outward to the side, stretching and growing to form what was no doubt the quiver he had asked for. When its shape was defined, the light faded, revealing the two parts of the package Link had been sent.
“Transmission complete. Confirm receipt.” Roslin said through the radio.
Link nodded with a huge grin.
“Confirmed. Stand by, gonna try to clear a path.” he replied.
The Lieutenant collected the bow and quiver as they hovered there before his hand. The canister full of arrows was swung around his right shoulder where it was strapped immediately to his back. The plating there shifted and clamped onto it as if it had always been designed to do so. With his right hand, he gripped the tail of one of his arrows, drawing it up and over his shoulder then down to the bow string. It was a great deal more modern than he had envisioned a ‘hero’s bow’ might appear, but he made no complaint. The notch of the arrow was locked into place on the string and he pulled back, taking aim as he had so many times before. In a single, swift, fluid stroke, he had knocked a single arrow and brought it to bear on his first target.
The team stood well back, unsure how well this approach might work. They waited silently as the Lieutenant took careful aim, breathing slowly to steel his nerves. When the sentry spun back around revealing its crimson eye, he exhaled and relaxed his fingers. The arrow disappeared from his bow, whistling quietly as it sped towards its target. The sound of metal striking stone rang out and the arrow bounced off the polished marble just half an inch from the edge of the iris. Link winced as he was able to actually feel the miss before it even hit.
“So much for that.” Herne half-growled.
Saito elbowed him in his ribs, making him cough.
“Hey! It’s his first time with this particular bow. Each one’s a bit different.” she explained, quickly coming to Link’s defense on the matter.
‘When’d you become an expert on archery?” the Commander asked.
Saito glowered at the comment.
“What!? A lady can’t go hunting from time to time? Besides, there are some fun fantasy VR sims that have archery in them. You’d be surprised how good the physics engine in those things happens to be,” she said defensively, then nodded to the Lieutenant, “Link, give it another shot.”
Strangely, one of the tougher cases to win over was standing up for him at this point. Apparently his performance had done more than he thought.
The Lieutenant nodded and took another breath before making the same smooth motion, bringing another arrow up out of the canister on his back and swinging it into place across the grip of his bow. Again he took his time, waiting patiently for the sentry to spin around once more. He adjusted his aim for the difference in the string’s tension. When the timing was just right, he loosed the arrow.
Like the first, the second vanished from his hand and streaked towards its goal. This time, instead of the sound of metal hitting stone, the crackle of crystal shattering filled the air. The shaft sank into the sentry’s eye, lodged there with great force. The rotating head slowed to a stop and the entire mechanism seemed to sink into the base at the top of the pillar. It looked as if it had locked into place, never to work again. The team cheered triumphantly, perhaps a little too loudly for their own good. They quieted themselves down as the Commander gave Link a firm nudge of the shoulder.
“Good job! Now, three more to go. Take’em out.” Euless said.
Link nodded and drew again, taking aim before striking the second sentry just as the first. The third fell just as quickly, as did the fourth. The way seemed to be clear. A quick scan over the area revealed no energy signatures matching the hateful mystical devices along the trench and they emerged with a bit more confidence. They pressed on to complete their mission, Euless directing them.
“Remind me to look into archery training. Lieutenant, I’d like a copy of that longbow file when we get back,” the Commander said, “Map shows this is the main chamber. There are three antechambers further down that are still accessible, the one in the middle is likely where the shard is housed. That’s where the strongest signal is coming from. Link, since you know more about this place than anyone else, you’re on point.”
The Lieutenant nodded and moved out to the front of the group, bow drawn and at the ready just in case the scans didn’t detect something truly nasty lying in wait. The team continued their exploration of the temple. The ping of the shard’s signal grew stronger as they entered the final corridor leading up to the room they sought. The pulses from Link’s hand had picked up in frequency as well. They were getting closer.