Ruins of Haeju, Sinister Empire
As the rebels reached the outskirts of Haeju, they stopped to rest, and Mia was thankful for it. Their ambushers had given up the chase hours ago, far as they could tell. ChoA’s perceptiveness would have alerted them to even the best camouflaged soldier. There was no cover to hide in like there had been in the port. Despite that, they had not let up the pace as they marched through the desert. It would have been a hard trip in proper desert clothing at a measured pace, but marching through in hazmat suits had proven torturous.
The walls of the city loomed high above them, still standing despite the heavy damage they had sustained years ago. The city had been transformed into an Akkaba Citadel long ago. Luckily, the walls cast a shadow, and they were all grateful to get out from under the sun. Mia sunk to the ground, sitting next to Kurtis and his squad. She wanted to removed her suit and cool off, but the radiation levels had only increased as they approached the city. That had not come as a surprise, given that the city had been the site of Genocide’s death.
“Who was this Genocide guy again?” Mia asked Kurtis.
“He was Apocalypse’s kid, a living nuclear reactor.” Kurtis said. “There’s a bunch of different stories ‘bout how he kicked it. Important thing is that he did, and he did it here. Haeju was War’s city. If there’s any weapons out there, they’d be here.”
“We’ve rested enough,” Woojin said. “Let’s move on in. I want a good survey of this place done before the sun goes down.”
Mia stood up, stretching and looking at the wall for weak points. She slipped through a gap, Kurtis and the others following. She found herself in a rubble-strewn square, with the ruins of Haeju clearly in sight. Mia was certain that the city must have once been rather grand, once, but Haeju had not been preserved like the nearby port. It was a broken, ruined city, covered with soot and sand. In its own way, it was impressive, but Mia and the rebels were not there to be tourists gawking at artifacts of a bygone era.
Kurtis and Mia walked at the head of the squad, heading up the main street to the central building of the city. They had been charged with finding a way inside, a task for which Mia had volunteered. Kurtis, never one to flee from risk, decided to accompany her with his squad. The Akkaba city planners had evidently not been one for subtlety, as the building towered over the rest of the city. They ascended the large stairs that led to the building, stopping as they reached the large entrance.
“What now?” One of Kurtis’ squad, Taewoo, spoke up. “We can’t just knock on the front door.”
“Why not?” Mia said. She raised her hand, and let off a blast of channeled energy. The door clattered down with much clamor.
“Knock knock.” Kurtis said with a grin, and started walking inside. Mia followed.
“If there’s cannibal mutants living in there, I’m blaming you too when we get eaten alive.”
Mia was not surprised to find the inside of the building as filled with debris as the streets had been. Part of the building had collapsed in on itself, limiting their paths forwards. All the hallways, save one, were filled with wreckage. Meanwhile, a gaping chasm awaited directly ahead of them. The fallen ceiling seemed to provide them with a slope they could use to access the lower levels quickly. Mia looked at a knowing Kurtis, who nodded.
Carefully, Mia began to climb down into the chasm. Luckily for her, the wreckage proved fairly stabile. She descended a few levels, each appearing rather identical to the others. She shouted to Kurtis, who led his squad down after her. It was dark in the below, so flashlights were needed. They found themselves in what appeared to be some sort of trophy room. Statues of War, the Horseman of Apocalypse, were interspersed with broken pieces of equipment and torn costumes.
The trophy room exited into a long, narrow hallway. Mia found that heading left led her only to a blast door, so she and Kurtis proceeded right. There was the occasional side-room to distract them, but none held anything to keep them for long. A few sets of stairs took them even lower underground. Eventually, they found themselves in a large, dark, empty room, what seemed to be a dead-end. The room was long enough that shining their flashlights directly forward did not immediately illuminate the opposite wall. After about fifty paces, they were able to behold the wall, which was not a wall at all, but seemed to be the door for a massive safe.
“Get Woojin,” Mia said, assuming one of Kurtis’ squad would follow the order. “He’ll want to see this.”
Once news of the vault had gotten out, all the rebel squads converged on the central building. They were all relieved that something had been found; friends had died that day, and the discovery meant that their deaths had been for something. Debris was refashioned into makeshift furniture, with flashlights left on top to provide lighting. Mia paced back and forth as Kurtis worked on the locking mechanism under Woojin’s personal supervision. Despite the size of the door, the lock seemed to be a simple matter, or so he insisted.
“Assuming this’s the only door, its looking like War was counting on the city’s defenses to keep this thing shut,” Kurtis said. “The first lock would be open already if this electronic stuff weren’t broke.”
“Can you fix it?” Woojin asked.
“Nope. But I can mess with the wires and skip it all.”
After a few months, Mia turned her head at the sound of a large thunk from the door as the first of three locks opened. Kurtis celebrated quietly, and began to work on the next lock. An obnoxious buzzing noise came to her ears, and she looked up just in time to see a series of lights flicker on. The light was dim and blue, and she did not have to shield her eyes. Mia and the others raised their weapons and surveyed the room.
Mia did not see where the first security mech came from, but soon they began filling the room. They dropped from the ceiling and came from holes in the walls. Some of them were old and rusty, and so easily dispatched. Others were fully operational and proved much tougher to take down. The rebels crowded around Kurtis in the corner, defending him as he continued to unlock the vault door. Mia grimaced, letting loose a blast of energy. She wasn’t sure how much longer they could hold this position.
Schultz’s face retained his slight grin as his men piled the last of the rebel bodies together. The pile was doused with gasoline taken from the rebel’s own supplies. His sturmgruppen had sustained a handful of casualties, but the rebels many more. At the bottom of the pile was their Abomination, who had proven too heavy to move. They had taken a photograph with the corpse, like a proud hunter did with his prey. Taking a matchbox from his pocket, Schultz approached the pile. He struck a match and dropped it casually, turning his back as the corpses went up in flames.
“Herr Oberscharfurher!” Ullrich Becker approached him, saluting. “Will you be readying your report for the Bureau today?”
“Of course. I pride myself on punctuality, Becker.” Schultz said. “Our long-range communication capabilities are limited. Who is the nearest Bureau contact in the peninsula?”
“HYDRA database says that Operative Curtiss Bentley is currently housed in Paju.”
“Paju? Must be hunting someone, then.” Schultz said. In his experience, Bureau agents rarely left the major cities except when they were chasing fugitives. “Be sure to send our surveillance footage along with my report. Perhaps he will find it of interest.”
“As you wish, Herr Schultz.”
“Hurry up with that last lock!” Mia said, crouching down behind a pile of fallen security droids.
“Shouting. Does. Not. Help!” Kurtis concentrated on the wiring, speaking slowly.
The assault had continued unabated for some time now. They had felled enough mechs to erect a barrier with their scraps, but Kurtis’ squad was beginning to run low on ammunition. The tide of robotic reinforcements was slowing, but they were expending ammunition at a faster rate than they could sustain. Woojin and Mia were the only superhumans in the room, and neither of their power sets were suited to taking bullets. Her energy discharge could only take out so many droids before they’d overwhelm her.
The final lock opened with the same thunk sound that the others had. The door began to swing out, breaking down the edge of their barrier but sweeping into the crowd of mechs at the same time. Momentary relief for the rebels turned to despair as the vault door revealed what appeared to be some sort of raw energy barrier. Mia, however, grinned. She could sense the energy, and tried to draw it out to her. Feeling bold, she stood and spread her arms, one towards the barrier, and another towards the crowd of droids.
“Get down!” Mia said.
A second after she shouted, Mia began repurposing the barrier as a weapon. The barrier was depleted as the security mechs were torn apart by the raw energy. The tide of the battle was turned, and soon Kurtis’ squad secured the room. They began venturing out into the hall, to see if the rest of the rebel force had need of assistance. Kurtis himself was enthusiastic, and gave Mia a strong hug. Woojin remained more serious.
“That was rather convenient. Not that I’m complaining.” He said. “Let’s hope this was all worth the trouble.”
When the matter of the droids was finally settled, a good deal of the rebels crowded in the vault chamber. The anticipation was palpable, and brought a sense of tension to the air. The vault had ultimately been what they had hoped to find in the first place, and many had died to get them to it. Woojin cautiously entered the vault, flanked by Mia, ChoA and Kurtis. The inside was large and spacious, lit by the same dim blue light. They found themselves on a bridge of sorts, leading to a platform in the center of the room.
The platform had a container on it, and as they approached it opened automatically, lifting the contents up. Displayed on a metal stand was a tear-drop shaped object, with dimly glowing orange spots along it. Mia could see surprise on ChoA’s face as she saw it. Woojin stepped up to it, and reached out a hand, but was hesitant to touch it. Mia turned to Kurtis, who seemed as confused as she was herself.
“Is that all there is?” Mia said. “What even is that?”
“That,” ChoA said, timidly. “is a War Seed.”