Play Date: September 4, 2016
Campaign Setting: Dawkin’s Dive
Part 1: Break and Enter
The first pink rays of sunlight spilled over the jungled hilltop, as the barrel of a M13 sniper rifle poked from enshrouding foliage. Oriol, the group’s Tactician, eyed the entrance to the “K162” bunker warily. Their briefing, which had only occurred an hour before, had left them sparse on both details and reassurances. Something had gone wrong–deadly wrong–at this hidden research station, and it was up to his team to find out what.
Oriol’s eyes scanned the clearing ahead. While there were no signs of motion, he continued to hold back. The K162 bunker door had been rent open from the outside by something leaving deep claw marks, but that was not what gave him pause. There was also an overturned security contractor vehicle nearby; someone had already responded to the emergency beacon–someone they had not been informed of.
“Command’s keeping us really in the dark on this one,” he muttered to himself, finally giving the signal to advance. Taking the lead into the clearing was their resident Combat Medic, Kevin.
Each combat medic in Terra Venture’s service had been trained to be hardy; it would be up to them to wade into enemy fire and retrieve downed allies. The servitors of Kevin’s combat suit whirred quietly. His riot shield was held before him like a moving wall. And the M3 shotgun poking from behind it helped complete the message: there would be no dying today.
With Kevin prepared to take the brunt of any surprises, the four present team members made their way to the overturned vehicle. It seemed undamaged, if on its side, but blood splatters and signs of struggle marred the ground around it.
“There’s some drag marks here,” Kevin called out. “It looks like whoever was in this vehicle was dragged into–”
A sudden screech pierced the calm. From behind the vehicle and nearby undergrowth, four chitin-covered fiends abruptly appeared. Though they were roughly the size of large dogs, their legs tapered to wickedly-sharp blades. A thirst for blood filled their eyes, and they leaped towards the party eagerly.
Lee the Martialist was waiting for them. Practiced in ancient arts and traditions, his mind was clear and his senses sharp. As the four foul beasts sprang into the air, time for him seemed to slow. In a single smooth motion belying years of training, he leveled his M24 automatic weapon at the nearest creature, sending precisely three bullets straight into its mid-section. Then, as it faltered slightly from the impact, he burst forward into a sprint. The air flowed around his quick figure like a thick liquid, and he was at his opponent’s side in moments.
The Bladecutter howled in anger and swung a talon at Lee’s face. However, Lee was more than prepared, deftly sidestepping and catching the talon with both hands. A split-second and a sudden twist later, and the creature fell dead at his feet–impaled on its own claw. Lee allowed himself one small smile; it felt good to be back in action.
Things did not progress quite as smoothly for the fourth member of the team, Amy the Commando. Seeing her comrade’s luck, she too burst toward the vehicle, where two of the monsters crouched. Adrenaline poured into her veins, and her muscles tensed with expectation. Pulling her machete and her M9 pistol from their holsters, she yelled, “WHO WANTS SOME?”
Her machete found purchase in the body of one monster as they lunged towards her. Unfortunately, their blades found purchase as well, and Amy fell to the ground under their combined weight, blood gushing from slashed arteries.
“MEDIC!” Oriol yelled, but Kevin was already on the move. Stepping over the prone body of the commando, he braced himself behind the bulk of his riot shield. While fast and sharp, the blades of the fiends couldn’t hope to scratch its graphene-embossed surface. While he held down the fort, Oriol and Kevin behind him quickly brought down the remaining beasts with a combination of well-aimed shots.
Oriol raced to Amy’s side and placed his full weight on Amy’s wounds to staunch the flow. “Dennis, get up here now!” he roared into the trees.
The fifth and final member of their team, a Weapons Specialist, had been pulling security on their vehicle down the hill. He now raced to rejoin the group. With him he brought their weighty kits, which included a bandoleer, a stimpack, and a set of much-needed field bandages. It was with the help of these (and the expert attentions of their medic Kevin) that they were able to stop the flow of blood, seal the wounds, and get Amy back up on her shaky legs.
“Next time, wait a moment before charging in, okay?” Oriol admonished.
“Sorry, sergeant,” the commando grumbled. “I guess I let the excitement get the better of me.”
Part 2: Ye Who Enter Here…
As Oriol had suspected, the overturned vehicle belonged to “Task Force One,” a contracted security detail that the offices of Terra Venture used for high-profile or dangerous missions. They were known to be well-fitted with Gauss rifles, combat lasers, and advanced implants. The fact that Task Force One had already been called in–and that they had failed–gave Oriol great cause for worry. He reached for the radio in the rucksack.
“Roger, we confirm receipt of your message,” was mission HQ’s terse reply to Oriol. “Continue with your mission, and report back any progress.”
Oriol swore under his breath. HQ had confirmed his fears; he and his team were the “disposable” mop-up team. “To hell with HQ. If there was any other place on this world not overrun by monsters, I’d happily commandeer this vehicle and be done with them!”
Reality, however, offered far fewer choices. Seeing the expectant faces of his team, he steeled himself grimly. “There,” he said, pointing to where the bunker doors had been forced open by some unimaginably strong claws, “we’re going in.”
Only the emergency lights flickered on the inside of the structure. Again leading the way, Kevin shone the lights of his suit into the dark interior. A car port awaited them, along with the continuing trail of blood and dirt. Vehicles sat on either side of the bay, along with a number of crates and equipment bins.
Kevin saw a flurry of sudden movement in his field of view. His flashlight had startled a number of creatures residing in the bay–creatures that now turned their attentions towards him. Iron-backed, turtle-like creatures raced towards the entrance, while pitcher-plants balancing on four legs sputtered in the distance behind them.
“Sergeant, we got contact!” Kevin yelled, and Oriol steadied him with an outstretched hand. Wedged directly in the center of the doorway, Kevin may as well have been a human wall. The Phlegm Sprayers hurled acid against his shield to no avail, and the Rockbacks may as well have been snapping against a granite rock.
With some deft footwork and careful aiming, the team was able to take down all enemy creatures without so much as a scratch, drawing each into the line of fire. Truth be told, Kevin was far less worried about the acid running down the outside of his shield’s visor than he was about the bullet marks that occasionally appeared on the inside of his riot shield.
Only once the area was clear of movement did Oriol finally give the order to enter the structure. If they stuck together, and if they kept their heads–only then would the team have any chance of survival.
Part 3: Best Served Cold
A quick glance through the crates in the vehicular bay yielded a few useful items, including a crate of Fragmentation Grenades. Oriol smiled happily when he saw these, quickly fitting a few into the bandoleer around his waist. His team had been only outfitted with the most basic of supplies–likely because they were not expected to survive. As team leader, however, Oriol would make sure his team had every advantage possible.
A scrap of paper caught Dennis’s attention, and he pulled it out from underneath the crate that had landed on it. “Listen to this,” he alerted the others, “looks like a scrap from some scientist’s journal.”
...the spores are pervasive and can be found growing everywhere in Dawkin's Dive...from tree stumps to rocks to the backs of slow-moving fauna and the beaks of avian creatures. But none of the species seem ill-affected by the fungal invasion. In fact, they almost seem welcoming of it--perhaps not unlike how our own intestines welcome the microbes that aid in our own...
One last, unsettling element caught the party’s attention as they prepared to venture deeper into the structure. Next to the stairway leading down, someone had wiped a crude but obvious message across the wall in motor oil:
There was no further explanation or hints, and the five could only trade confused expressions before continuing on.
The emergency lights along the corridor walls were barely enough to navigate by, let alone bright enough to fill the shadows. When a large cafeteria appeared on the left of the corridor (identifiable by the signs along the wall), Kevin the medic motioned for a halt, then reached down to pick up a tin cup discarded on the floor. A cast into the deepest shadows of the cafeteria revealed sounds of movement and the overturning of a table.
“Definitely something in there,” Kevin whispered back to his team. “Larger than a mouse, smaller than an elephant. Can’t say much more than that, I’m afraid.”
Oriol nodded. “Kevin, Amy, Dennis, you three take point. Lee and I will stick right behind and provide overwatch.” With the plan set, the party stepped into the doorway, making sure to keep one wall at their backs.
The source of the noise quickly revealed itself. Standing atop three separate tables were wolf-sized apparitions, surrounded by a thick cloud of fungal spores. Their outlines were only barely visible between the dust and gloom, and ranged weapons would only hit them through pure chance. But that was not all.
Taking advantage of the temporary shroud, three other creatures–each nearly the height of a man–crouched atop elongated legs. As soon as the five soldiers had revealed themselves, these grasshopper-like apparitions sprang into the air, landing directly next to Dennis.
“Oof!” the Specialist cried, as he felt blades enter his ribs two separate times. “We got live ones, sergeant!”
Before anyone could counter, however, the creatures had already sprung back to the relative safety of the spore clouds. Even Lee had been taken by surprise, and his bullets only riddled the ceiling behind the creature’s flight.
Normally, the inability to use their rifles from range would have given the team a stiff challenge. However, their sergeant had recently made a lucky find.
“Kevin, push forward!” Oriol yelled, and the armor-plated Medic quickly obliged. In the free space now opened up, the tactician prepped a frag grenade, aimed carefully, and lobbed it directly at the nearest shrouded creature. He was rewarded by shrieks of pain amid the sharp blast; his training had taught him the best ways to puncture enemy armor, making it more vulnerable.
Over the course of the short fire fight, two grenades were all was required. Once the creatures had been sufficiently weakened, the others raced in to mop up what was left. The final round, in fact, was landed by Kevin the Medic himself, who simply walked up to the last two monsters and shotgunned them from point-blank range.
While there was nothing else to be salvaged in the remains of the cafeteria, the splatters of alien blood and baked beans made satisfying decorations along the walls.
(Lee made one unsettling observation as they turned to leave the area. A potted plant lay nearby, cast on the floor during the scuffle. Its delicate five-petaled flower faced him directly from the pile of urn and dirt, treating him to a vivid display of whites and purples. Lee remarked to himself that even in the darkest of times, beauty could always be found–a lesson passed on in the ancient traditions he’d studied. He followed the rest of his team, stepping directly over the flower without harming it.
Yet, as they proceeded down the hallway, he chanced one last glance back at it. Somehow, the flower still faced them directly…)
Part 4: A Delicate Affair
The party continued to follow the trail of blood, dirt, and carnage that led further into the heart of the complex. Amy held up her hand for a halt when she noted a few crushed pieces of paper against the corner of the wall. It was difficult to tell if they had simply fallen there in the chaos, or if they had been deliberately dropped for another to find.
Amy quietly read aloud the two torn letters as the others listened, still pulling guard in all directions.
...us not forget our discretion through all these matters. You know I love you dearly, Aidam, but ours is a love that must remain secret. The results of our studies, our impartiality as scientists, and even our very positions in this company would all be called into question if division executives were to ever learn of our deeper relationship. This is why I write to you solely physical means, as any message stored in our electronic systems leaves a trace that could one day be uncovered...
Amy traded intrigued glances with the others as she unfurled the next piece of the letter.
...while we lay together that night, I listened quietly to your soft breathing as you slept. And I heard something else as well. The creature that we had performed tests on that night-- it whimpered down in the lab. (You will laugh at me, I'm sure, for using such an unscientific word to describe the noise...but there is no other way to explain it). And I heard something more. A low bellowing noise, from somewhere deep in the jungle. And hearing this, the subject made one loud cry in answer and fell silent...
“Well,” noted Lee, “that raises more questions than it answers.”
“It seems there is definitely something unusual going on in this complex,” Oriol agreed. “But truth be told, I’m only interested in learning just enough to get us all out of here alive.”
The five filed the information away in their minds as Amy filed the letters away in her pocket. The group continued resolutely down the dark hallway.
Part 5: Hell’s Fury
Directly after the cafeteria came a rest area, where three bunk beds lined three walls. Unlike the previous rooms, where only silence or insect-like clicking awaited, a veritable din of buzzing could be heard. It reminded the five strongly of an angry hornet’s nest, ready to burst.
As luck would have it, their impressions were surprisingly precise. Perched on the walls, the beds, or simply hovering in air were seven gigantic wasp-like monstrosities. They were easily as large as the biggest eagles the party had ever seen, and they flicked razor-sharp mandibles in and out of their mouths. Seeing the humans nearby, they dove in for a quick feast.
Amy sprang to meet them. Placing herself directly in the path of three of the buzzing abominations, she executed a mind-numbing sequence of point-blank M9 shots and machete slashes. By the time she was forced to stumble backwards from loss of blood, two of the creatures lay dead at her feet, and the third wavered unsteadily in the air.
Luckily, Kevin was behind her to catch her as she staggered. A quick application of synthetic tissue, an injection of blood, and Amy had experienced little more than a temporary dizzy spell. Meanwhile, the damage to the enemies remained.
Still, there was little time for celebration. The party had noticed that as the bugs had siphoned Amy’s tissues from her, they grew bigger and stronger with each pulse. If they did not act quickly, the remaining insects could easily and quickly overpower them.
There was one poor occupant of the beds that had not roused in time when the attack came. His dry and bloodless corpse offered grim testament to the efficiency of the Hellswarm. The team shuddered as they inspected him; they could just have easily been the same, if they had not kept their senses.
Fortunately for the team, the dead man had a few items of note in his personal storage–not the least of which were several Stimpack Serums. “Regeneration” and “Frenzy” could both prove to be very handy, and Amy dropped them in her pouch. Armor-Piercing Rounds were also a lucky find, and Oriol quickly replaced his ammunition with these. He could already sense the weakest parts of opponents, and stacking the vulnerability couldn’t hurt. Finally, Dennis fitted a Laser Aiming Device to his own M77. It would help illuminate targeted enemy creatures and reduce allies’ fumbles.
Another, more faded message awaited in motor oil on the wall out: HURRY. Little did the party know that they would need every advantage they could muster for their next battle.
Part 6: Trampled Underfoot
The corridor finally ended in a large underground laboratory. Finally, the true nature of the K162 bunker revealed itself. Tubes, microscopes, and laboratory equipment adorned various tables. Vials bubbled oxygen and nutrients to enclosed, airtight terrariums. Computer screens displayed analyses and comparisons of results. To top it off, the entire area was set around a large, ceiling-high vivarium which grew various types of fungus and moss in an artificial environment.
What quickly demanded their full attention, however, were not the plants being studied, but the two tank-sized monstrosities that wandered the room. Resembling a vague cross between a centaur and a giant beetle, these abominations shook the ground as they walked. One jostled an equipment rack, easily sending it on its side.
“Okay, guys, let’s put our new equipment to use,” Oriol declared. At his signal, the five of them sent a withering hail of fire into the nearest monstrosity, spraying alien blood across nearby equipment.
Two points immediately gave them pause. First, the creatures’ hide was remarkably tough; only the most well-aimed shots were enough to break through its resilience. Second, as the target creature screamed in pain and lumbered behind the giant vivarium for cover, Oriol noticed its wounds beginning to close. The creature was literally healing itself.
“Keep after it!” Kevin shouted, breaking into as much of a trot as his combat suit would allow. If they did not press the attack, the creature would simply heal all damage that had been inflicted.
“Don’t run off by yourse–” Oriol’s admonishment suddenly faltered. Nearby, the second beast had flexed its limbs, lowered its head…and charged.
Oriol immediately realized his fatal mistake. By holding his group still to steady their aims, he had also grouped them as a perfect target for the creature’s attack. Only Kevin, who had run off by himself, was spared the beast’s fury, as Oriol, Dennis, Lee, and Amy were all flung against the wall by the force of the charge. Blood filled their mouths, and their vision clouded.
It was all the four could do to hold onto consciousness as the tank-like creature towered over them. Amy couldn’t feel her legs, and she used her arms to pull herself forward, out of the way of the crashing limbs. Then, suddenly, Kevin was over her with his med kit.
“We need to stop meeting like this,” he smiled grimly. “People will talk.” Two quick injections later, and Amy was scrambling back to her feet.
Luckily, Kevin was now not the only team member who could patch others up. Deftly inserting a vial into her own Stimpack, Amy stabbed Oriol’s quivering form. Regenerative fluids quickly began coursing through his system–a slower remedy, to be sure, but no less vital.
The situation looked grim. Everyone but Kevin and Dennis were pinned against the wall or under the creature, and couldn’t shift more than five feet at a time. While the medic and the commando worked to get others back on their feet, Oriol called for another quick volley. The strategy worked, and enough fire penetrated the beast’s shell to force it to back off and regenerate.
But not before Amy’s instincts again got the better of her. Jabbing herself this time with a “Frenzy” Serum, she used the extra adrenaline to vault directly onto the back of the retreating monster, jamming her machete between its plates to hold on. As it struggled to shake her off, she kept ahead of its natural regeneration by firing round after round into the back of its head.
Once the second beetle had moved off, and once they had a better idea of their foe, the team adapted their tactics. Kevin and Dennis moved ahead into the center of the room, while Oriol and Lee held back, forcing the enemies to divide their attentions. Though Dennis drew the short straw and was again flattened into a wall by the first beetle (who had circled the room), Kevin and the team were nearby to patch him back up.
In the end, the team was able to bring down both monsters with coordinated fire, while still remaining spaced-out enough to minimize damage. After the Medic’s med kit and the Commando’s Stimpack, the team’s next greatest asset was Oriol’s precise, armor-piercing rounds, which brought the targets’ armor down within manageable distance.
When the last shell casing had settled on the floor, and silence again remained, a crate at the far end of the laboratory opened. A scientist with white streaks in his hair–apparently a lead researcher, by his credentials–emerged shakily from his hiding place and greeted his new rescuers.
“Thank goodness you finally came!” exclaimed Dr. Aidam Malkovy. “I thought all hope had been lost.”
The five team members carefully eyed up their new ally, and each other. They had the sinking feeling that this was not the end, but only the start, of a long and harrowing day.
To be continued…