“Pat, do you have any medical tools?”
The doctor winced.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Then what do you suggest?! If there is our comrade inside, we have to rescue him! You have better ideas, I will listen to you.”
“We could search other places to find something…”
He was right. But they had to be careful with their time.
“Let’s split up, then. Me and Irfan will find some tools, you… I don’t know. You can search with us, or you can try to push this piece of metal out somehow.”
The doctor was staring at their backs as they were leaving.
“Argh, to the void with both of you! If I break it, you are buying me a new scalpel, or giving me money for one!”
“Mansion had some, no? Just pick it up there.”
“Whatever. Don’t stay on the light, move aside…”
Carefully and very slowly, moving it by barely an inch, he pushed the thinnest end of a scalpel’s blade into the lock. He managed to catch the sharp point of the metal piece and nudged it to the left.
The piece fell out of the lock. Pat wiped his forehead.
“I am not a rogue, Joseph. Never doing that ever again. Fortunately for you, my scalpel didn’t break. Next time, you better get some lockpicks for yourself.”
Now that was one brilliant idea. Joseph made a mental note for the future.
He pulled the door. It was still closed, but now when Irfan tried the keys again, one of them turned.
“In the name of the void!… Wait, whose key was that?”
The trio exchanged suspecting glances. Irfan sighed, put his hand on his forehead, and shoved them both away from the entrance.
“You are wasting time.”
The metal piece turned out to be another key. But that wasn’t the most interesting part.
The building was filled to the brim with explosives.
“Kon’jar take me, what in the void in this?!" Pat stepped back to the door frame, completely mortified. "Why is this still standing here?! One spark and the entire island will fly all the way to the Capital!”
“There is a body there.”
In the faraway corner, there was a silhouette of a human. Three of them dashed to it, avoiding shelves filled with red sticks with fuses.
It looked very grim. Almost the entire right half was burned down to the skeleton. A rib cage was partially sticking out, full of charred muscles and flesh. Joseph was pretty sure he saw some intestines too.
Worst of all, its face was untouched. And they knew this face all too well.
It was Rodger.
Pat immediately checked the pulse, the breathing end eye reactions. His hands fell down, before tightening into fists.
“Curses and Daemons! He is somehow still alive, by sheer miracle, but in a coma. The Inner State saved him, but he is completely untransportable in his current state. I might need a lot of time to prepare him. Go and search other places, quick, then report back here if you find anyone.”
Joe tilted his head.
“Inner State saved him?”
“Yes, it enhances most basic human functions to the limit even at the normal level. This is the only way he managed to stay alive. Go, don’t just stand there, move! I will handle this.”
They left the doctor behind. The fate of their crewmate was on the edge, but Joseph believed in both of them. Despite their… weird relationship that formed during those two days, he came to see Pat as dependable, when Joe was forced to rely on him. When not, well… Some opinions are best left buried.
The warehouse had another truck parked near it. Joseph was slightly mistaken about the purpose of the building, however, because when they entered inside, he saw a giant metal vehicle with tracks, with a drill on the front side. One didn’t have to guess much about what this machine was capable of.
“What is this? Metal building inside the building? Why the drill?”
“No, that’s just the basic tunnel drill… not really sophisticated, but, that mine had to come from somewhere.”
“And they used this to make it?”
“Absolutely correct. As far as I am aware, anyway.”
This at least three-story-tall machine has left Joe in awe. He kept staring at it for a minute, before Irfan lightly pushed him, knocking him out from the trance.
“You hear that?”
Joe concentrated. He did hear something scratching on metal.
They both looked up. The familiar face was hanging down from the top of the vehicle.
“People?… Hey… Lads!…”
Joe put his hand to forehead, to get a better look.
“Duncan! How the hell did you get all the way up there?!”
“No fucking clue… I can’t get down, my hand’s trashed… Curses… At least some familiar faces…”
The bard was insanely pale, his gaze was wandering around, being unable to keep attention on a single thing for long. He almost fell down, barely catching a handle on top in time.
Irfan jumped up on the back of the machine. There was a built-in ladder there. They climbed up.
Duncan looked comparatively better than Rodger. He lost his left hand because of the gas, he was tired, sleep-deprived, and hungry, but he was still awake and alive.
All questions had to wait until they get him to the doctor.
“Thanks, doc… shit… Even when I got a bullet in my guts, it wasn’t that bad…”
Rodger was now wrapped like a mummy, with only his nose sticking outside. Pat shook his head, stating that bandaging his extremely damaged spots in this crippled state was borderline medical malpractice, but there was no other way he would ever be able to apply extracts relatively safely. Joe asked if one wasn’t supposed to bandage a burned area, to which their doctor replied, that normally, yes - but not when their internal organs sticking out.
“Roth will kill me for this… I am good at pulling out bullets and such, but I just don’t have enough practice with more serious surgeries, like this one. Roth allows me to, but we didn’t have a lot of opportunities…”
“Weren’t you pirating around the entire year, and even three years before that, landing on dangerous islands and such?”
“Yes, but it was mostly something the crew could handle entirely on their own and without that many issues. Bullets, cut wounds, pieces of wood stuck in the body, of course. Sometimes few chemical and fire burns, bone fractures, nothing special. But nothing on the level of… of… this. We didn’t get enough people for this trip.”
Joe tried to come up with the right words.
“We were only supposed to scout, remember?”
Pat lowered his head. His voice was shaking.
“I remember… But I should have at least asked Xander to come with us right then and there. I thought about it, but then it slipped my mind, and I figured we would be fine…”
“Then demonic gas has risen from the earth. No way you could have predicted that.”
“I could. You don’t understand, Joe. I absolutely could. The Threshold is a world full of things that exist on the edge of human imagination, and sometimes even beyond. The black forest was screaming danger… but I was blind and deaf. Or rather - I chose to be blind and deaf…”
The doctor sat down on the floor, completely exhausted.
Duncan put his only moving hand on his shoulder.
“Spit and forget, mate. Life’s moving. We gotta get to the ship, and deliver this poor son-of-a-hoe, wrapped like a present, to Roth post-haste.”
“By the way, Duncan,” Joseph snapped his fingers as he put some pieces together. “What actually happened and where are the last two members?”
“Henry and Vas?… Shit, mate… it’s gonna be a long story… can you get me some water first?…”
Arid silently reached his hand out.
“Much appreciate, Irfan… Irfan, right? Right… Where were we… First day, everything was calm. We saw all these stains on the buildings, but we saw nothing and no one. Got some food from the kitchen, made a fire outside, climbed the drill…”
Duncan was closing his eyes, but then Irfan carefully shook him. The man shuddered, blinking rapidly.
“I’m here, I’m here… First night went fine… no ghosts, nothing. We saw that black daemonic goo coming from the hole, we thought nothing of it, as it didn’t do anything…”
The first night went fine for them? But why would Nature’s Bane focus exclusively on their trio? Just because of the campfire? That didn’t make any sense. But Joe kept listening.
“The second day… went like absolute horse shit. Vas heard some sounds in the woods during the sunrise… he went to check… something grabbed him and dragged him off. Poor bastard… the lizard never came back… We were going to leave, but a wall of trees blocked our way, so we were stuck-”
Duncan’s body has collapsed in convulsions. He was violently coughing. Pat immediately put a few spoons of blood-red extract inside his mouth, while Joe and Irfan were holding the injured man still.
He stopped coughing, and after a few minutes sat back down.
“Doc, you are a fucking Saviour… I have a bit left… At beginning of the night, we were attacked by shadows… suddenly… too many… we separated… Henry was forced to hide in the mine… many ghosts followed him… I ran to the drill, but one got my hand… I climbed up… and that’s it… yeah…”
He lied down on the floor. Pat had a bitter look on his face.
“He needs a lot of rest… Joe, Irfan, please carry him into the truck. He might need to run quickly.”
“What about Rodger?”
“A stretcher is needed… We can make one, I know how. We should have all the materials nearby. Did you check the second floor?”
“Details. Tools. Same as worker’s warehouse, but smaller.”
“Perfect. We need two long thin pipes or similar, a rope, some thick fabric...”
The man-made maw in the hill wasn’t giving Joseph any enthusiasm. Just like the mad gamble they were going to do.
Irfan offered to investigate the mine, using shades’ fear of fire. The idea was absurd, insane, and completely unnecessary. Even Joe, who was thirsty for any adventure, had a wagon of doubts about such stupidity.
Henry was definitely dead, he told to himself. No way he could have survived in the heart of the alien territory.
Yet the doctor suddenly took hunter’s side. Pat, who was shaken and scared out of his wits before, who was completely opting himself out each time they were going head-on into the danger, that exact same man was now supporting Irfan when Joseph tried to question such reckless move. His eyes were full of demonic determination. The doctor reminded them about Henry, then agreed with Joe that he is probably already dead (Then why?!), but still stood by Irfan’s suggestion that they should check what is inside.
At this point, all Joe could do is to send them off, think about it, then join them, because while he was scared, he also wanted to know what was there, and potentially, save Henry.
They prepared the best they could. Pat found two more lighters on the second floor of the building with explosions. Each of them got two torches, then they got two more for each by breaking chairs in the kitchen. Irfan was armed with the flamethrower (or rather, ‘improvised flaming oil thrower’, as Joe figured out the proper name after all this time). They replaced filters on their masks just in case.
Now they were looking at their last destination. Joe hoped it wasn’t the last one for their journey, only the island. Irfan put a lit torch behind his back and put on the mask. Pat and Joe did the same. Then, each with their own lighter torched the sticks and held them out to the sides.
Words were unnecessary. They glanced at each other and nodded.