8276 AC (After Cataclysm)

" Two minutes to touch down Lieutenant."

" Thank you Biggs." Lieutenant Husker replied. " Make it smooth this time, OK, no damaged landing gear."

" Hey..that wasn't my fault !" Biggs protested. " How was I supposed to know that plateau was actually a giant camouflaged slug ?"

" It's your job to know Marine." Husker grinned and smacked the pilot on the back of the head playfully but hard. " I'm going to check the others are ready. No fake turbulence payback either when I turn my back."

" I'm a professional Lieutenant I'd never dream of it." Biggs smirked. " Oh before you go do we know what the hell we are doing all the way out in this uncharted galaxy landing on this turd of a planet ?"

" Same reason as always Biggs..cause we were told to ." Husker turned and as he left the bridge of the DMC Sabre Class Deep Space Dreadnaught he said over his shoulder."Don't worry old friend I intend to ask the good lady exactly why she's dragged us out here. I don't intend to go in blind."

" Amen to that buddy." Biggs replied as he returned to full sync with the dreadnaught's AI. Though not immediately until he heard Husker unleash a string of obscenities as the ship rocked suddenly from strong turbulence and there was a faint thud in the corridoor as if someone had fallen. With his mind the only thing not fabricated in a Techno-Shaman body shop, Biggs appreciated the smallest of pleasures where he could get them..no matter how childish.

" Fucking android.." Husker cursed getting up.

" Need a hand Lieutenant ?"

Husker stood up quickly, wincing a little from the pain in his left knee he bashed when he fell, and hid his embarrassment as best he could from the petite beautiful young lady looking up at him and trying not to laugh.

" No, Dr Voss, I'm good." He said putting on his best officer face.

" Glad to hear it. " She smiled. " Oh and please call me Ionna, Dr Voss makes me sound so old, like my father or something."

" Very well then..Ionna it is, though not in front of the troops as it's unprofessional and these misfits have unsavoury imaginations." Husker smiled slightly.

" Yes I know..I've met them." She shuddered. " Anyway..not to sound like a kid on a road trip but..are we there yet ?"

" Yes.." Husker laughed. " We'll be making our descent to the planet surface momentarily."

" Good." She smiled then turned to walk back towards the "Lounge" as the Marines called it. " Best get strapped in then."

" Before you do I need some answers from you." Husker said politely but in a tone suggesting he wasn't asking.

" OK.." Ionna said losing the playfulness from her voice. " Ask away."

" Our mission debrief was, to say the least, vague." Husker motioned for them to walk. " Basically all we know is that this is a search and rescue mission..that we are looking for a research team sent here a month ago under the lead of a Dr Hawkins and the protection of a small DMC Recon Squad. "

" That's right. " Ionna said.

" What it didn't say and what I really need to know is why they were here, what they were investigating..and basically anything else that I can use to prepare my team so we aren't just walking into this blind."

" Well..I can tell you what little I know, but to be honest.., I really don't know if it will help you be more prepared than you already are." Ionna looked at Husker and saw it didn't matter.

He sat down in the Officer's section of the "Lounge" which was partitioned off from the troops and had computers and monitors positioned around the three reclining pressure chairs. He motioned for her to take the one next to him.

" Ok.." Ionna smiled. " Here's what I know..." She stopped as the ship suddenly entered the planets atmosphere taking her by surprise. " Sorry..didn't think we'd feel it in a flash military ship like this."

" They skimped on the Silent Running that the commercial ships use I'm afraid." Husker smiled. " Something about not wanting us to be too comfy and have us lose our edge."

" Cheapskates ." Ionna smiled. " OK..Apparently about two months ago a small commercial scout ship working for Mining and Energy companies stumbled upon this planet by accident. They were doing the usual investigate a new dimensional corridoor, which they find out about through tip offs from friends in the DMC or other private sources, looking for planets or other celestial formations rich with natural resources to plunder as it is illegal to do so on Earth by law of the Global Government."

" I hear those guys get paid very nice commissions." Husker said.

" For finding rich planets for the plundering for the highest bidder..yes they do..but it's also very dangerous as they go into uncharted areas like this never knowing if they'll return." Ionna said, her tone expressing how stupid she thought they were. " Anyways, they were apparently scouting the new corridoor the DMC had just discovered a day before, when their small craft..a "Hopper" I think you call them.. was bombarded and thrown off course into this smaller side corridoor by sonic shock waves..the screams of a gigantic creature in the throws of giving birth . Apparently they captured footage of it too..which caused a buzz back at DMC Science and Research Division..who payed them of course for the footage."

" When they found themselves in this galaxy, Matthias and Marta Kemp, thought all their dreams had come true. Three planets ripe for all sorts of mining and exploitation, this one the richest, that promised them a commission that would see them set for life. They were celebrating when suddenly a alarm went off alerting them to an anomaly on the planet. A dimensional energy signature emanating from seemingly below the surface of a southern continent. They ran more intrusive scans but couldn't discern exactly what would be causing it and with their ship not designed for planet fall they could not land and explore themselves.So they logged it and presented it to the company that won the rights to their discovery. "

" Who was that ?" Husker asked. " Not Homeworld I hope?"

" No the Kemps are Church folk. No way would they sell to the Techno-Shamans. They are an abomination to God in their eyes with their pagan magic and scientific beliefs..and rumored genetic augmentation and manipulation..the illegal kind, not the commercial and military products they publicly present."

" Rumors.." Husker shrugged. " ..not so much without some credence with the discovery of what they call "Rogues ". Can't say I'm a great fan of the Church and their trying to influence the Government, the amount of power they have, but when it comes to the Techno-Shamans I don't think they are wrong in their concerns."

" There's good and bad in all societies Lieutenant, which is down to personal perception, and unless proven otherwise Homeworld and their people deserve the same rights as we do and not the dogged witch hunt they suffered at the Church's hands for decades. Faith is no excuse for ignorance, arrogance and persecution. The Techno-Shamans have through their magicks and science helped mankind , saved us so many times throughout recent history, that they deserve better than they have been treated by some."

" Anyways..getting back to the case in hand..the Kemps dealt with a company called Haven who sent their crews out to the galaxy to begin work and a team of their own investigators to this planet to see if they could find the cause of the anomaly.They traced the energy signature to the base of a mountain range which segregated a desert from a dense jungle..which is totally fascinating in itself as the climate is stable for the entire continent. Why the desert when the climate is supportive of the tropical jungle is a mystery. Anyways, Haven's investigators carefully began digging on the desert side and within a day unearthed what appeared to be a wide stone path, as wide as a road, which descended gradually down to a stone wall which had two metallic doors about thirty feet high and in the center an inscription which none could read."

" They tried many a physical attempt to open the doors but only ended up either damaging their equipment or nearly blowing themselves up. They ran the inscription through all historical, cultural, mythological, and The Art databases on Earth but came up empty on a match."

" Why didn't they try the Coven archives ? " Husker asked. " Surely a company like Haven have commercial dealings with the Techno-Shamans and therefore no moral hang ups in asking them for information ?"

" No they don't, and like all commercial ventures and most people, they do have contracts and products of Techno-Shaman origin..it's impossible not to." Ionna answered. " They didn't, however, because of one simple reason."

" What's that ?" Husker asked.

" If they asked Haven would have to tell them why which would mean the Techno-Shamans would probably want to join in the investigation..for historical, scientific and educational reasons of course. As you know when that happens they usually try and take over the whole operation and eventually try and coerce the other party into selling their claim of ownership to them if it proves to be in their interests. Haven did not want to risk that.So..to cut a long story short they contacted the World Governments leading expert on all things to do with ancient language, culture, religion and mythology, The Art etc..and offered her what ever she needed and wanted to come here and see if she could not gain entry where all other methods had failed. She of course jumped at the chance to discover and explore what possibly could be a whole new race and culture..to experience it first hand instead of just reading about it and studying thousands of year old relics and samples. Her name is Dr Elizabeth Hawkins, and she is damn good at what she does."

" So she prepped this mission, got what she needed, and she came here with your fellow DMC Recon buddies and a team of Haven scientists and engineers. Once here she got to work and after going over everything with a fine tooth comb, scouring all data, she came to the conclusion that the answer lay not in the physical, not in a puzzle solving scenario, but in simple hearts desire."

" Say what ??" Husker nearly laughed.

" Desire, heart and soul, the mind...the spiritual." Ionna smiled at his reaction. " Yes, I know...the Haven people and Recon boys had the same reaction too. She didn't care, having always been a little eccentric, and strode down the path towards the doors and seal. The Marines of course followed her as they were ordered to keep her safe and though they thought her a bit loony knew stranger things had indeed happened and she could very well prove to be right. A visual recording drone operated by Haven also followed them down. It recorded the last known events of their mission."

" She stood before the seal for a few minutes seemingly in meditation then reached out and placed her left palm flat against it. It disintegrated immediately and the doors slid into the sides of the entry slowly. She turned to the Lieutenant ..Edwards I believe his name was..and smiled and said it was a test. A test of spirit. The inscription itself meaningless. She then turned and walked without hesitation into the tunnel revealed. Edwards and his team rushed in after her and took up positions around her. She told them to holster or shoulder their weapons as they would not need them but of course they could not do that."

" After a while walking through the tunnel, which was decorated with pictographs and symbols illuminated by the Marines weapon mounted torches, they came to a dimensional wall shimmering and glistening like water. Hawkins charged ahead to the horror of her escorts and before any of them could stop her passed through the dimensional wall. The Lieutenant invented new swear words and rushed after her , then the rest of the team, and finally the drone. It was when the drone emerged the other side that the final piece of evidence we know was recorded and transmitted back to the Haven team on the surface. The image , spinning, believed to be taken as the drone was knocked to the ground after which it ceased functioning or was destroyed was of a vast land. A jungle or forest surrounding possible a gigantic city..though the picture was so blurred and degraded possibly by the falling motion and dimensional radiation and signal interference no one viewing could be sure. Sound was garbled too, except for a partial bite, believed to be Dr Hawkins. "..so beautiful..". Then there was unbelievable sounds..possibly voices, screams..it was horrible.Then the transmission cut out ."

" Finally about five minutes from the time the transmission from the drone cut out communications from the Haven team was lost as well as the DMC ship as well. Though both the DMC and Haven specialists tried numerous times to re establish communications but to no joy. DMC sent drones through but all they saw was desert and the opening to the anomaly and every time they tried to send a drone through to the other dimension it was lost immediately. The doors however remain mysteriously open. So, there you have it, that's why we're here and all I know."

"OK.." Husker said seemingly lost in thought. " One more thing. How did you become involved..and..why only you and not a team ? "

" A team was too risky.There isn't an endless supply of scientists and to be quite honest there weren't many who were keen to come here after the reported events." Ionna shrugged and smiled sadly. " Though I do have a plethora of drones to carry out the work they would've done. As for me..well I asked my father to get me on this mission."

" Dr Reginald Voss is your father ? " She nodded in answer to Husker. " Well that explains why Science and Research would send a twenty-five year old Archaeologist specialist, prodigy ranking aside, instead of an experienced field researcher. That doesn't explain however why you wanted it so bad to get your father to pull strings to get you here."

" Dr Elizabeth Hawkins is my mother Lieutenant Husker.." Ionna looked him straight in the eyes with determination and a certain strength which impressed him. " I'm here to find out what really happened, what is through that dimensional wall, and to find my mother and bring her home !"

" Sounds like a plan." Husker smiled. " Let me see to the others and we'll get to work."

" Two minutes Lieutenant." Biggs announced through the intercom. Best get the dogs to the kennel as I'll have to take this baby back into orbit. I'll transfer to my mobile suit once she's in full auto."

" OK Biggs. " He motioned to Ionna to follow him and then led her through to the troop lounge. " OK kids..into the family wagon quick smart , grab your favourite toys, cause it's play time."

" Yes Sir !!!" came the rather loud simultaneous reply from twenty-five men and women that made up his squad. They were a motley bunch, not exactly shining records in their careers in their interaction with their superiors, nor exactly all emotionally stable, but one thing for sure they were all fucking lethal soldiers who Husker was proud to call his own.

" Ionna.." He motioned for her to follow them. " Let's get this show on the road shall we ?"

Seven minutes later they were all filing out of the personnel carrier at the anomaly site. Husker's people busied themselves setting up a perimeter, placing automated sentries, activating both Dr Voss' and their own drones. When all was ready they gathered at the entrance to the anomaly.

" That's everything Lieutenant." Biggs now in his mobile armour reported." Drones are gathering information as we speak, area is well protected, and no signs of any hostiles.Area secure."

" Excellent." Husker turned to Ionna." Are you ready ?"

" I suppose so." she replied.

" OK Biggs take point... Hammersmith, Davis, Dixon, Snow, Kyoshi next. I'll follow with the Doctor, Fiori, Atkins, Owens, Ennis.. then the rest of you form a second squad and follow exactly one minute behind us. Severn and Klieg remain just inside the entrance and stand guard. I don't want our escape route compromised so call us if anything happens.

" OK..Biggs ..if you'd be so kind. " Lieutenant Husker made a sweeping motion towards the dark entrance.

" This is typical..just cause I'm 99% artificial I get sent in first. It's discrimination I tell ya." Biggs grumbled.

" You love it ya old fart." Husker said quietly.

Two drones flew in after Biggs, one armed one strictly research, Hammersmith and his team followed next. Soon they were all spread out walking through the tunnel ducking occasionally the busy research drone that was trying to record the pictographs and symbols along the tunnel walls. Voss was monitoring the information from the drone on a palm PC whilst also taking in observations of her own. They soon were all in the chamber where the dimensional wall still glistened and shimmered. Ionna went to move forward but Hammersmith, a giant swedish god of a man twice as imposing in his full armour, and Biggs blocked her way.

" Not a chance Dr Voss.." Biggs spoke quietly with respect." We aren't about to let you follow in your mother's footsteps. We do this the right way, OK ?"

" Yeah..sure whatever." Ionna replied coldly.

" Biggs..you and Hammersmith take flanks, ..Dixon ,Davis, Kyoshi point, Snow cover them. Dr Voss you're with me.Rest of you you know what to do." Husker scanned his team nodding when needed. " OK..let's do this."

Dixon, Davis and Kyoshi stepped through the dimensional wall first then Hammersmith, Biggs and the armed drone followed straight after.

" Oh shit..!!!" Biggs started then an explosion was heard.

" Get down!" Hammersmith shouted over his com.

" What the fuck hit them ?" Dixon asked

" Don't know..but the drone is fucking trashed." Kyoshi said quickly moving to what remained of Biggs. She keyed a a scanner device and passed it over the gutted mobile suit . " Lieutenant..can you hear us ?"

" Yes Kyoshi I can. Who or what attacked you? "

" Don't know sir..happened too fast. Drones exploded a second after it came through and Biggs was taken down straight after. I can't pick any brain waves up on the scanner so..um..I need you to contact the ship to.. um..see if Biggs was able to transfer out in time. His suit is pretty fucked up and it happened so fast.."

" It's OK Kyoshi I'm on it. " Husker signalled to Fiori their communications tech who nodded and ran back through the tunnel to the path for a clearer signal. " Fiori is raising the ship now. In the meantime.."

" Oh fuck me !!" Davis shouted and started firing , joined shortly by Hammersmith and Kyoshi.

" What's goin on?" Husker yelled. " Kyoshi talk to me damn it !"

" What the fuck do you think is happening Lieutenant.." Hammersmith's thunderous voice answered. " We're under attack and it'd be nice if you could be so kind as to fucking lend a hand!!"

" I need to know what we are up against soldier!!" Husker yelled back.

" Well give it two minutes and you'll probably find out first hand ..but if you fucking insist.. I think it's Techno-Shamans ! " Hammersmith yelled back. " Though it gets worse..it seems they're being chased by something else."

" What ?" Husker thought for a second. " OK everyone into formation, you know what to do, and be careful. Go !. Stick close Doctor." She just nodded.

When they stepped through they were on a temple terrace area, marble construction, with stairs running down to the ground twenty feet below. Hammersmith was targeting and tearing apart a nightmare hybrid of flesh bone and machine about nine feet tall and humanoid in shape. It's long limbs lashing out at attackers from the rear, lightning fast creatures striking too fast for the naked eye to track, yet the hybrid scored some hits against them of it's own. When stopped, however briefly, the attacking creatures looked like large, long, black dogs with fiery red eyes and lethal long claws and fangs. The hybrid was not alone, there were six others like it, some firing weapons both at the attacking creatures and at the marines. Husker knew they were only being targeted because they stood between the hybrids and their only means of escape.

" What's the plan boss ?" Ennis asked. An amazon with white dreadlocks and a gung- ho attitude. " Kill em all and let god sort em out ? Please say yes."

" I'm thinking more towards..." Husker started but was interrupted by Voss.

" If you have to choose a side Lieutenant choose the animals."

" Why..?" Husker ." They're wild animals ..they'll probably try to tear us apart."

" And eat us.." Ennis interjected smacking her lips for effect.

" Because they belong here..those vile "things" don't. The animals are just protecting their territory..who knows what those nightmares are doing here." She stared hard at the hybrid trying to crawl it's way up the stairs. " Oh and by the way..that is not Techno-Shaman..."

" She's right.." Fiori said returning from the other side. " First of all though Biggs is OK!!! Dirty stop out transfered back to the ship via first the research drone then the family wagon. He'll be staying put though as he feels it was not any of these that destroyed his suit and our drone..it was something else, and that whatever is here does not want what exists here to be seen by outside eyes.Doesn't bode well for us now does it?"

" Now onto these hybrid things..Biggs said they are not Techno-Shaman..not Rogues or otherwise. They are actually Lepers. Walking, living breathing..rotting and decaying..carrion on legs. Insane fucked up creatures who'll do anything to live another day and if possible replace the shit parts of their bodies with new organic parts and or cybernetic.They're scavengers and predators of the worst kind because whether out of negligence or sheer cruelty and malice they deliberately leave one victim behind who've they've bitten and or infected with their blood, saliva and sometimes even semen, to spread their disease to the major population."

" Thank you Fiori ." Husker keyed his comm. " Listen up people. Target and destroy only the hybrids..do not shoot the dogs. Above all do not let the hybrids bite, bleed on, or spit on you..they are infectious. Exterminate with extreme prejudice."

With a definite target the Marines let loose with all they had, though it wasn't easy, as even though their bullets and grenades shredded, dismembered, and knocked the hybrids flying this way and that, their parts still kept coming. Flame units eventually came into use, Ennis and Hammersmith wielding them like kids in a candy store, and finally finished them off. The black dogs had fallen back, some circling at a safe distance , the rest sitting on their haunches staring eerily unflinchingly still.

" Good job people." Husker said happy not to have lost anyone. He turned to Ionna. " What do we do about this ?"

" The dogs..??" She looked at them, then after a few seconds, started to walk down the stairs.

" Doctor.." Husker moved after her ." Ionna..what are you doing ?"

" I know what I'm doing..just stay back. All of you." She slowly walked down the stairs and approached the giant black dog who was stock still standing over one of it's fallen pack staring straight at her, it's eyes never once leaving hers.

" It's alright.." She said softly and definitely more confident than she felt. " We mean you no harm."

It eyed her suspiciously, turning it's head from one side to the other, then it's face softened slightly. It made a soft growling sound then with it's snout rolled it's fallen comrade to her feet. It had been slashed and bitten around the face and stomach. The pack leader stared at her as if asking her to do what it could not. It wanted her to kill it without spreading the infection..something it could not do which saddened the creature greatly, it's emotion there for her to see plain as day in it's eyes. She reached out , hearing gasps from the marines behind her, and touched the side of the leaders face tenderly and it pushed gently against it. It looked at her on more time then slowly turned and walked towards it's own, barked a few times, then ran into the forest tree line. The others followed quickly. Ionna stood alone in the courtyard of the temple.

" Ennis..give me the flame unit will you." She said quietly.

" I'll do it Doc.." Ennis started.

" No..I promised him..it has to be me." She reached for the flame thrower. Ennis eyed her weirdly but gave it to her.

" Just ease the trigger back..don't need much to burn a dog and we don't want to start any forest fires." Ennis smiled and took some steps back.

Ionna turned the weapon , aimed and gently squeezed the trigger, and within seconds the dog was incinerated.Silently she handed the weapon back to Ennis.

" You did good Doc." Ennis smiled.

" Thanks.." Ionna said softly. Then suddenly something caught her eye at the tree line straight ahead. She wasn't sure at first..but then it stepped out of the shadows. A figure, dressed in black robes..skeletal thin, humanoid, feminine most definitely in frame..yet features hard to make out in the distance..possibly even intentionally blurred. It's face shadowed by what appeared to be a wide brim of a hat or even helmet, with material like sashes draped long and flowing around the brim obscuring the face even more from view ..yet glimpses suggested a bare skull.The body of the hat or helmet seemed metallic, covered with symbols and runes. There was something about it..it felt more than what it was..it felt ancient..powerful..yet she felt no personal intent from it whatsoever. It was unnerving yet non threatening t the same time.

It bowed slightly then gestured for them all to enter the forest.

" Wait..come closer.." Ionna called out to it.

It stared back silently at her for a moment then just disappeared.

" What the fuck was that all about ?" Ennis asked.

" I think she wants us to go that way." Ionna said.

" What..we should just go waltzing into the woods on the suggestion of some skinny creepy bitch..?? You lost your marbles Doc ?"

" It's the way I was going to suggest anyways. " Husker said. All the marines now on the courtyard proper.

" Why that way in particular LT ??" Ennis asked.

" Look ahead, up, and to the distance." Hammersmith gruffed.

"Oh shit..with all the fun I was having shooting things I completely did not see that..damn fucking impressive!!!"

A giant black structure rose in the distance above the forest canopy, more a city made of many cities, wide yet as it seemingly climbed above the clouds each level became slightly smaller. Though black as night, lights shone from within windows and massive pyres, different colours which played off the black surfaces, and through what appeared to be stained glass windows. The many levels appeared to be a cross between gothic castles and cathedrals, giant statues and other art works adorning facades, iron works, spikes chains, bridges, battlements , pyramids and temples.Near the top of the forest canopy there seemed to be what could be the tops of a surrounding wall, towering in it's own right, that stood away from the city like a defensive or fortress wall. A face, or at least eyes and the top half of a face surrounded by leaves, could be seen poking, peering above the top of the canopy. It looked familiar to them all.

To Ionna, as an archaeologist and also on her own time an avid devourer of research and media involving religion and mythology, the face , the symbols..the statues, all meant something to her. She recognized them..yet..what they were doing here puzzled her immensely. There were two gigantic statues in particular..one higher up the seemingly infinite city reaching and looking up to the heavens, a female..yet not instantly recognizable. The other, lower levels, a horned beast which she recognized instantly..as well as the face on the fortress wall..both ancient, both pagan..why were they here. This both concerned and excited her. Would this be enlightenment or destruction?

Not only could they see the magnificent city, both frightening in it's glory and beautiful in it's darkness, but creatures flying high in the sky..majestic, swift, ferocious and beautiful, creatures both familiar and impossible, things of fantasy and faery tales, nightmares and monster movies. Dragons, griffins, serpents and giant eagles, hideous abominations and angelic beauty...mythological and from the darkest realms of the imagination..impossible yet real. Smaller beings and large alike moved throughout up and down the city itself, all wonderous, monstrous, incredible. Machines passed over bridges, flew through the air, and climbed up and down the levels. Some possibly with beings like themselves within..some seemingly alive themselves. She could see all these things where she was sure the others could not, yet she knew at this distance , she herself with naked eyes should not be able to either. Something here was at work..magical or evil, sinister or angelic..she was not sure and that frightened her a little. Ennis' brash voice snapped her out of her reverie.

" Yeah..I know if Dr Hawkins were still alive that would be the most obvious place she'd be LT..but c'mon..look at it.It'd be like looking for a needle in about ten thousand fucking hay stacks..seriously!! Just look at the fucking size of it..big ass evil looking place too if you ask me..and..and!!!..the fact that creepy skinny bitch wants us to go there don't exactly fill me with joy if you know what I'm saying."

" OK..OK.. Ennis..objections and points noted. " Husker laughed. " Regardless though..and if I'm wrong you can tell me you told me so..that's where we are going ."

" Damn straight I'll tell ya..that's if of course we're both still alive for me to do so." Ennis lit a cigarette and walked over to the others.

" What do you think Ionna ?" Husker asked. " To me it's the obvious choice..and yes I know they aren't always the right ones..but in this case I think it is."

" I think we should definitely go there..you're right. Even though we've just got here I don't see any other possible places to look..and knowing my mother like I do that is most definitely the place she'd go..she wouldn't be able to resist it." Ionna looked to the tree line where the mysterious female beckoned them and then back at Husker. " However, I also can't dismiss or disagree with Ennis' reservations either. I think we should be damn careful..the woman..that place..here in all it's wonder..there's something about it that both wants me to embrace it and explore all it's secrets and at the same time makes me want to run like Hell back to Biggs and get him to get me the fuck away from here as fast as he can. As ridiculous as it sounds..this place feel somewhat biblical to me..and that scares me a little."

" Don't worry lass, with ole Hammersmith by yer side, not even God can hurt ya !!" The giant marine laughed. " So we ready to kick ass and take names, rescue the fair maiden, and ride of victorious into known space Lieutenant..or are we gonna wait till it's pitch black and get are asses wupped by every nasty in the woods which will happen cause in case you haven't noticed the sun is either setting or that big ass building is gonna block it out very very soon."

" Your right." Husker kicked himself for not noticing. " OK, gear up and let's get moving."

" Right you are then Boss." Hammersmith said. He then leaned in close to Husker and whispered. " Don't kick yerself too much lad..after all she is a wee pretty thing and I'd find it hard to focus too if she was in my care."

" Get outta here.." Husker pushed him away.

" Don't worry LT I got ya covered. " Hammersmith laughed. " OK boys and girls adjust yourselves and balls up , we're going in !"

" Gods help us.." Husker sighed. " The things I put up with."

With Hammersmith and Davis taking dual point they entered the forest and almost immediately felt a shift in atmosphere. Though still light in the courtyard behind darkness was quickly falling within the forest and sounds of movement in the shadows and a sudden chill in the air dispelled all inclinations to joke around. About ten minutes in they all felt many eyes upon them, some curious, some indifferent, some predatory, some fearful. They glimpsed creatures moving in and out around them, some as mundane as rabbits and deer, some amazing as centaurs, dryads , giant insects, and even unicorns. Horrors as well as weird, screaming infants heads hanging from the toes of snake headed sloths, white translucent skinned bird like beings being impaled and crucified by humanoid Pigs and Mice, mocking impish creatures screaming obscenities, and eight headed ferret like creatures with millipede bodies with legs with giant nails stalking them, and wailing disturbed spirits whispering and showing them all vile and unimaginable things. The deeper into the forest they went they harder it was becoming to keep their focus and their ability to tell the difference between the wonders and horrors that existed with the forest. A sight before them, one hour in, just minutes from the base of the fortress wall dragged them back to some familiar mindset freeing them from the cacophony of insanity the forest was trying to suck them deep into. Though still a disturbing sight it contained a element of the mundane their minds could anchor too and their training could govern their thoughts and actions. The sight of Homeworld Militia uniforms, Techno-Shaman shock troops, hanging from the top of the wall by chains with giant meat hooks impaled through their backs and out through their chests, some beheaded some disemboweled, some with their own weapons impaled in orifices, the ground littered with body parts both organic and machine and awash with blood and oils. To some of the marines it was possibly just another mind game of the seemingly alive and twisted forest..but to the others it was a warning that snapped them fully back to reality.

" So the Techno-Shamans did come here after all." Fiori said to no one in particular. " As twisted as these bastards can be..no soldier deserves this sort of death."

" That's a matter of opinion.." Davis said under his breath.

" It's an old fashioned warning is what it is..has nothing to do with race or belief." Hammersmith said scanning the surrounding trees with his mini-guns torch.

" How long have they been here? " Atkins , field medic and smallest of the male marines, butt of numerous red head jokes. " This blood isn't even congealed..yet from the state of decay of some of these bodies..it could be weeks."

" A more important question .." Husker interrupted Atkins." .. is who did this to them, and why ?"

" Because they are an affront to nature..and an insult to our Creators " A quiet, gentle yet sad female voice said from their left.

All swung into battle ready positions and shone their lights in it's direction yet revealed nothing but trees. Then without a sound two hands rested gently on Husker's shoulders and their owner spoke softly in his ear. " Tell your warriors to lower their weapons as they will not need them." He hesitated and she spoke again slightly louder with a slight disappointment in her voice. " Now Husker."

" At ease people..safety your weapons now!" He ordered and to his relief they did though he could see their confusion.

" Good.." the voice said and her hands lifted from his shoulders. " I would have hated to have to disarm them myself." They could all hear her again but could still not see her.

" Who are you? " Husker asked hesitantly. " Where are you ? Why don't you show yourself to us ?"

" I will when the two of your warriors cease to entertain the intention of harm to me if I do." As she said this Ennis and a private named Callais were illuminated. Hammersmith saw the look Husker shot him and quickly relieved them of their weapons.

" Thank you..I truly wish not to have to harm any of you." Finally as she said this she appeared next to Ionna. Wearing a white hood bright blue eyes shone from a beautiful human woman's face, upper torso and arms also human, yet from mid stomach down she had a segmented moth like lower half..no legs human or other wise. From her back sprouted beautiful butterfly like wings, three pairs glorious in their colour , and a train of feathers made of the same genetic material as her wings just as rich in beauty and colour . Her skin deathly pale as if the sun's rays had never touched her skin." You may call me Shilo..and I am merely here to guide you..hopefully prepare you..for what may come upon you if you choose to continue the path you are on."

" Shilo, I'm.."

" Ionna..I know.." Shilo softly smiled. " You are expected..yet whether your path includes your companions..that remains to be seen and totally up to them. Now to answer the questions before I first spoke these abominations were destroyed not for any fault of their own but as a warning to their defilers. The one that controlled them escaped before I could deal with it using these unfortunate creatures as a shield to buy it the time to flee. A Techno-Shaman..a Rogue I see in your minds you would call it. Vile creature full of delusions and blasphemous ambition, orchestrator behind the atrocities committed against these creatures of metal and meat..here not through their own will, being what they are not through their own will..victims and mindless sacks of flesh and technology twisted by dark use of The Art and stripped of who they used to be and were meant to be."

" These horrors are merely the cages their torturer put them in..and I set what little was left of them free."

" What do you mean I was expected ?" Ionna asked.

" Just that it was foreseen." Shilo answered.

" By who ?" Ionna pushed.

" The Child.." Shilo started.

" What child ?" Ionna pressed again.

" The Last Child born of our Creators. He has the gift and he was certain more of your kind would come..and that one would share ties of blood." Shilo turned away and looked up at the soaring city. " We must go."

" Blood ties ?" Ionna reached out and grabbed Shilo's arm startling the creature. " My mother..you're referring to my mother aren't you ?"

" I never met the first of your kind..I only met these." She waved her hand at the Techno-Shamans. " I've said enough already, the answers you seek lay within the city itself..and others that in the end you may wish you never learned."

" One more question then.." Ionna started.

" No more questions..my task is merely to guide you not give you answers..answers you must earn." Shilo brushed aside Ionna's hand from her arm gently.

" Then let me see if I'm right about your Creators. The Horned God..the female statues..they are the likenesses of your Creators yes ?"

" Yes.." Shilo sighed a little with frustration at her persistence.

" I know the name of the Horned God..you can see it in my mind right ?" Ionna asked. Shilo nodded. " The lady..I'm not one hundred percent sure..the symbols, runes and writing on her head dress ..actually all over the city itself are what confuses me. They are unrelated and from different cultures and time periods on Earth..yet .."

" Ionna..like many things on your world..what you think are uniquely yours aren't, what you believe is truth isn't, and who and what you believe you know of The Creators is another example of how others have twisted truths and lies as a way to shape and control your species in the past..though due to your nature they've failed..yet their damage is still done.Just like you language.."English"..many words have different meanings, can be used different ways. Same with the symbols you speak of that you see here..not that they were ever your species symbols to begin with..just another element weaved into the control system implemented in your race's formative years."

" Again..I've said too much..it is not my place nor my task to tell you such things. If you wish the name of Her Holiness..just think it and if you are right then you will be on your way on your path to enlightenment far greater then you ever expect or dreamed."

" OK..I just say both names in my mind and my answer will lead me to more answers if I'm right? " Ionna reiterated.

" Doc..I'm gonna die of old age here..just think it so we can move on already ! " Ennis called out. The others laughed or grumbled in agreement.

" Her path is not necessarily yours.." Shilo spoke down to them. "..you'd do well to remember that before you speak or act."

Shilo turned then to Ionna and smiled. " You are indeed correct..though sadly only in name alone. Except for our Lords image and their names all you know of them is false..a fanciful yet fabricated tale at best, with some truths woven through to add a base of reality..and also to mock them. However..like I said..answers will be forth coming about many a thing along your path. Let us now go..no more questions or delays. Your companions for now may follow..though for how long is up to themselves."

She turned and they followed, slowly, and headed towards the giant face on the fortress wall.

" Ionna..hang up a second.." Husker ran to catch up with her. " What's going on ? "

" She's taking us into the city from where, apparently, I'll follow my path and eventually get the answers I seek , along the way..and I suppose The Creators themselves."

" And they are ?" Husker asked impatiently.

" Isis and Baphomet....."


Dedicated to