Deep within the hideaways and crevasses of the world, the great god stirs. It calls, and its minions answer. The god does not feast on souls nor blood, minds nor essence, oh no. The dark lord Nyorloth feedsâ€¦ on stories. With a wave of one of its massive tentacles, its minions set about their mission to weave great tales of occult lore.
Its servants present the fruits of their labors to their god, but few prove worthy, and many have their minds devoured as punishment. Nyorloth the All-Seeing chooses but one as its champion and only a few more manage to escape its wrath. Nyorloth engorges itself on the tales of its servants before returning to its slumber, issuing but one, final command: bring the stories to the populace, teach themâ€¦ twist them.
You hold in your hand the stories that Nyorloth itself has chosen. Read them; embrace the eldritch knowledge contained within. Become one with Nyorloth, one with the lore!
The Future of Lordaeron
Tyler F. M. Edwards
Darionâ€™s helm revealed just enough of his face for her to catch the predatorâ€™s grin that spread across it. â€œYou fail to realize the key difference between the Ebon Blade and Argents.â€
â€œAnd what is that?â€ Sylvanas said, annoyed at his games.
â€œThey have something to live for,â€ Darion said, his voice as cold and desolate as the wastes of Northrend. â€œWe do not. We will gladly sacrifice ourselves to see you fall. And even if it is true that you are too strong for us to defeat, we will make you suffer. We will ravage your lands until you can no longer resist the Allianceâ€™s advance, and until Garrosh begins to wonder if you are even worth defending.â€
She took an involuntary step back, and now her hands did grasp her blades. â€œIf all that is true, then why have you not already struck?â€
Darionâ€™s shoulders slumped, and his expression softened, just a little. â€œBecause you and I, and your people and mine, share something that the Argents cannot understandâ€”perhaps not even Bartholomew, for he has been among the living too long. We all gave our lives to protect those we love from the Scourge. We understand suffering, and sacrifice, more so than anyone else in this world. We were comrades, you and I, in the service of the Scourge and then in our war against it. That bond is what has stayed our hand.â€
â€œThat blade is a symbolâ€”a powerful one,â€ Halduron asserted, glowering. â€œThe fact that you, and so many others, have lost sight of that is a clear sign that we have need of it now more than ever!â€
â€œOh, itâ€™s powerful all right, but it has nothing to do with symbolism,â€ Taeâ€™thelan sneered, reining in his frustration. â€œArtifacts, like Quelâ€™Delar, have no business being bandied around by incompetent mercenaries. They must be kept in the right handsâ€”the hands of those who know how and where they ought to be used.â€
Halduron gritted his teeth. â€œAnd who decides who the â€˜right handsâ€™ are?â€
The high examinerâ€™s eyes narrowed and he smiled knowingly. â€œIf youâ€™ll excuse me, Ranger General, I just remembered some business in the capital that requires my immediate attention. Good day.â€ He bowed with all the false humility of a seasoned politician, then brusquely whirled around, flourishing his cloak, and strode off.
Exasperation throbbed in Halduronâ€™s head. This had not been the day of hope and solidarity that it should have been, and he had seen plainly that it would take more than relics of bygone days to bridge the chasm between the disparate children of Silvermoon. A chill wind began to harass the ranger general as he watched Taeâ€™thelanâ€™s retreating figure, and he turned to look at the sinking sun, heralding the onset of twilight.
The horizon, Halduron noted solemnly, had never looked so bleak.
Daughter of Lordaeron
"I suppose you've come to shove a mirror in my face or rescue me, like the rest.â€ A few moments' reflection made her consider how absurd she must have sounded.
To her surprise, the stranger shook his head. "Too many folk in Deathknell these days have forgotten what it feels like to wake from the grave and find half their face once belonged to somebody else." The sound of his voice was gravel in her ears.
"Don't bother preaching at me with the farce that seems to pass for mercy among Scourge,â€ she snarled. â€œYour brethren have been more than keen to give it."
"You won't find Scourge or charity in Tirisfal," he spat back. His fingers tightened their iron grip on the handle of his axe, almost imperceptibly. "Best you learn that quickly." The man's words were masked in cold arrogance, but the cracks of wounded resentment in his tone gave her pause. Her implication had struck a nerve.
This one is different. "Who are you?" she asked.
He removed his helm, revealing the horror of his appearance in all its glory. Shreds of gore hung from his throat in putrid ribbons, and the pieces of skin that still stretched taut over his skull were a patchwork of open sores. Lilian covered her mouth in nauseated disgust, feeling the unwelcome stitches that had been woven into her own cheeks press up against her fingers. Her hands fell to her side like lead as she realized her own hypocrisy, and she wondered if she would ever be able to touch her own face again without recoiling.
"High Executor Derrington,â€ he said briskly. â€œServant to the Banshee Queen of the free undead.â€ He spoke his name and rank with a reflexive, punctuated tone that suggested his years as a soldier stretched back further than his years among the plagued. â€œAre you afraid of me?â€ he asked. His question had teeth, Lilian noticed, but they weren't biting quite yet.
â€œFear is just another word for survival." She snapped her fingers, and a host of violet sparks broke off the smoldering eaves, swirling on the wind between them like snow. â€œI could kill you,â€ she added. â€œIf I wanted.â€
The echo of a smile appeared in the corners of Derrington's eyes. "Spoken like a true daughter of Lordaeron."
Daughter. Lilian winced at his remark. "The old kingdom is dead."
"So are we, yet you and I still find ourselves picking through what's left of it like the orphans we are.â€
Grand Prize Winner
"You hear that? They're inside the wall."
The metallic booming sounds were barely audible over the swirling wind, but there was no mistaking them. The four men seated around the table huddled just a little bit closer, not so much for fear, but for warmth.
"Do you think so?" asked Prescott, not even trying to hide the nervousness in his voice. "I mean those walls, they're so thick. I didn't think-"
"Shaddup", Garrick grunted, turning over his next card. "He's screwing with you." Then, with a knowing glance across the table at his companion, a smirk crept over his face. "Or is he?"
They enjoyed scaring him, Charn realized. They were getting off on it. Watching the blood drain from Prescott's face was infinitely more entertaining than anything else they'd done for the past three days, and especially better than playing cards.
"If they're inside the walls it's all over", Holt said matter-of-factly, feigning an overly resigned sigh. "They'll chew out the power cables and we'll freeze to death down in this rathole."
Garrick picked up another card. "Nah," he disagreed. "They'll get to us way before we freeze. We're the warmest thing within 20 clicks. The bugs'll chew their way in here before they go anywhere else, and that will be that."
If there was one thing the old marine was right about, it was the bitter cold. Six hours ago the furnace had finally burnt out, and although they'd found many things in the old bunker, fuel wasn't one of them. The geothermal conduits running through the floor offered the only heat they had left, but it was abysmally inadequate.
"They can't be here yet," Prescott reasoned. "The ghost would've seen. He'd have called it in, and we'd be on our way out of here."
Garrick grunted his disagreement. "Not a ghost, kid. A spectre. Big difference."
The second part of the hand was dealt. Holt raked in the pot; six large washers, ten small ones, and a couple of chipped dominoes. Yesterday they were playing for meals and hot showers, but their futures had become way too intangible at this point. Too bad there weren't enough dominoes to play an actual game, Charn thought. It would be a welcome change.
"Maybe that sound we heard was him", Prescott offered hopefully. "Maybe he's getting ready to call it in."
"Maybe he's dead", Holt countered, shutting the younger marine right up. An uncomfortable silence followed. The veteran's words echoed what everyone had been thinking, but no one really wanted to say.
"I… I think-"
"No one cares what you think", Garrick cut him off. "The evac's not coming. If special ops took off, we're on our own. No one else knows we're here."
That was probably true, Charn thought. Orders had been pretty straightforward: they were to stay on the shell of the abandoned compound until the zerg were sighted. At that point the spectre assigned to their unit would call in a precision tactical strike, and then radio for the evac.
Put as simply as possible, they were bait.
Charn didn't like it any more than the others, but it was his first assignment. His first drop. He wasn't looking to break ranks or disobey orders unless they had no other choice.
The only problem was the spectre. They'd lost contact with him 26 hours ago. Hell, none of them had even seen him during the entire mission. He was nothing more than a choppy voice on the other end of a beat-up communicator, and that voice had gone eerily silent.
To make things worse, the spectre was also the only one with the evac transmission codes.
"Trying calling again", Charn told Garrick. "Raise him on every frequency."
"You think I haven't tried that?" the marine snapped back at him, disdainfully. "Nothing but static."
"Then we have to go to him", Charn stated simply. "We have to check."
Holt looked at Garrick, and wordlessly they shared a thought. Charn knew the two marines had seen long action, and he respected that. Together they'd been places and done things Charn hoped to one day experience for himself. It was why he'd enlisted.
For a long moment, no one spoke.
"One of us goes", Holt said firmly, breaking the silence as if he were in command. He wasn't. As a matter of fact, none of them were – not since the Corporal had disappeared.
Prescott looked confused. "One of us?"
Garrick nodded slowly in agreement. "Cherry's right. It's time to make a move."
"We play for it", Garrick said, gathering up the cards.
The compound wasn't huge, but it was big enough. The spectre had been holed up in the south tower, watching the horizon. There was no direct way of getting there without crossing the courtyard, and everyone knew the courtyard would be dark, immense, and freezing cold.
Charn watched as the big marine shuffled the dog-eared deck of playing cards that had kept them occupied for the better part of the last week. His broad hands swept nimbly over the table as he dealt, the backs of his fingers covered in scars.
"Low hand goes", the old marine confirmed. "No backing out, no 'two out of three'. You go out, you come back, and we figure out what to do from there. Agreed?"
Everyone nodded. Prescott was the last. Nothing else really needed to be said. Charn watched everyone pick up their hand before touching his own cards.
Two queens. Big. Huge.
"Three", Charn said, pushing the rest of his cards face down across the table. Everyone else discarded three cards as well, with the exception of Prescott. After some hesitation, the young marine turned over a single card.
"You only need one?" Garrick asked him. Prescott nodded almost apologetically. Garrick shrugged and dealt out the remainder of the hand. Everyone picked up their cards.
"You firstâ€ said Holt, looking directly at Charn. He turned his head and spat on the floor.
Wordlessly, Charn laid down his three queens. Garrick let out a low whistle.
â€œDamn. Youâ€™re lucky, cherry. Guess you ainâ€™t goinâ€™.â€
â€œIâ€™m not going eitherâ€, said Holt, turning over his own hand to reveal a pair of jacks. â€œAnd thank God for that, because Iâ€™m already freezing my balls off.â€
Everyoneâ€™s attention went to Garrick. He intentionally made them wait a few long seconds just for effect. â€œPair of ninesâ€, he finally announced. Then, more convincingly, the marine flipped his cards face-up on the cold metal table.
The game came down to Prescott. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, glancing from his own cards to the other playerâ€™s hands as if trying to make things work. Eventually he tipped his cards sheepishly forward, so everyone could see.
â€œYou got nothingâ€, Holt told him, scanning his hand. â€œAce high.â€
Garrick took Prescottâ€™s cards and laid them out on the table. â€œWhat the hell were you going for, anyway? Another inside straight?â€ He pushed the younger soldier's cards around with one thick finger. â€œYou remembered that this deck was already down a king when we found it, right? So stupid.â€
Prescott still hadnâ€™t said anything. Shoulders slumped, he was slowly shaking his head. His hands went up in a futile gesture of surrender, palms flat, fingers spread.
â€œWell, bundle upâ€, said Garrick, reaching for the cards. â€œCause itâ€™s gonna be-â€
Charnâ€™s hand suddenly slapped over Garrickâ€™s wrist and held it there. â€œHang on a second.â€
Annoyed, the marine jerked his arm away as if he'd been wounded. Charn let it go, nodding toward the cards in front of him. â€œLooks like you have two nine of diamonds.â€
All eyes fell upon Garrickâ€™s hand. It was true.
Holt burst out laughing. â€œOh man! Where the hellâ€™d you get that? All those one-way tickets… all those times weâ€™ve drawn straws together, I always though you were being straight with me!â€ He continued laughing, fingers closing around the offending card. Not only did it come from a different deck, the back was an entirely different color.
â€œShut up!â€ Garrick snapped, his words dripping venom. He delivered a scathing look in Charnâ€™s direction. â€œLittle cherry here got three queens. How cute. Only queens heâ€™s ever seen in his life.â€
Garrick stood suddenly and rose to his full height of six and a half feet tall. The marine slammed a booted foot on the table and drew back his torn leggings to the knee, revealing a wicked, jagged scar that ate away half of his calf muscle.
â€œSee that?â€ he said, pointing. â€œThatâ€™s where a zerg queen nearly took my leg off. Dinares sector. Lost eight hundred brothers that day, six the next.â€
Everyone was standing now, but nobody said a word. Prescott wouldnâ€™t take his eyes off the floor. Holt was still smiling.
â€œAnd thisâ€, Garrick said, jerking back his mop of filthy black hair, â€œThis is where a flak-pistol carved a groove in my skull.â€ He traced the gouge with a finger, probing it obscenely. â€œFriendly fire. Great day.â€
Charn stood his ground, but Prescott tried to step backward. Garrick grabbed his shoulder and pulled him face to face, yellowed teeth only inches away from the kidâ€™s nose as his lips curled back in snarl.
â€œYouâ€™re still goingâ€, he told him. â€œThis doesnâ€™t change anything. Iâ€™ve done my share, put in my time. I'm gettin' way too old for this crap. Itâ€™s your turn now.â€
Slowly, Garrick released his grip. Prescott sank into his chair, utterly defeated. It was pretty obvious he wasnâ€™t going anywhere, anytime soon.
â€œIâ€™ll goâ€, Charn said simply. It didnâ€™t even feel like the words were coming from him.
Holt turned curiously as if seeing him for the very first time. â€œYeah? You sure?â€
â€œPositiveâ€, Charn nodded, more to himself. â€œIâ€™m done sitting here. Letâ€™s get this over with.â€
— O —
The combat armor was as heavy as it was old. Theyâ€™d found the chestpiece in the bunkerâ€™s armory, and the leg-plates in a footlocker just outside the pressure doors. It was an ancient, unpowered strap-job that felt icy cold against Charnâ€™s skin, but at least it broke the wind.
The boots and gloves were long gone. Charn had almost left without the helm, too. â€œHereâ€, Holt had said as he walked away, tossing Charn the visor-less headpiece. â€œBraveâ€™s one thing. Stupidâ€™s another.â€ And with those words, the marine had disappeared under the awning and back inside.
Outside the bunker however, the wind was a driving force. Charn had to lean heavily into it to keep from falling down. The two remaining men were huddled beneath what was left of the awning, waiting desperately for their chance to go back in.
â€œThe south towerâ€™s that wayâ€ Prescott shouted into the wind, pointing. He was shivering from head to toe. â€œGo around the machine shop and past the third garage. When you hit the wall go left, and follow it down.â€
Charn nodded. Garrick handed him his Gauss rifle and slapped him on the shoulder hard enough to almost knock him over. â€œGood luck!â€
â€œRemember to reseal the doors once Iâ€™m goneâ€, Charn reminded them.
Garrick smirked, already holding a plasma torch. â€œHave no fear of that.â€
His comrades disappeared. Charn turned into the swirling wind, cursing the fact that it blew against him instead of with him. Step by step he cut his way into it, shielding his eyes with one hand and steadying himself with the other.
To get to the machine shop he had to cross the vast, empty expanse of the courtyard. This was the worst part of the journey; without any buildings nearby the wind felt twice as strong and five times as cold. It ran like liquid over his body, across his exposed face and down his neck and chest. Charnâ€™s hands were quickly frozen in position, fingers locked in a twisted salute as he tried to shield his eyes from the worst of the wind.
Still, he kept moving. Step followed step. Soon Charn found himself at the halfway point of the icy smooth courtyard. Looking around in all directions was like being in limbo. Behind him, he could only barely make out the vague shape of the low-slung bunker. Forward, the machine shop still seemed miles away. Beneath was nothing but smooth black ice, and much deeper, the frozen asphalt.
Charn gripped his Impaler even tighter and continued walking. It took a good ten minutes to cross the courtyard, and another two or three to get around the shop. He found the line of garages Prescott had pointed out on the bunkerâ€™s mini-schematic and began making his way toward them before realizing the second one was actually open.
Heâ€™d hoped to find a sheltered doorway in which to pause and drive some of the blood back into his extremities, but this was even better. Charn staggered out of the wind and into the open mouth of the darkened garage, righting himself as the momentum shifted.
It was hard to believe that just a few short months ago this outpost was active. Looking around, Charn tried to imagine the hundreds of people that busily manned its walls. They drove the machinery, manned the defenses, maintained the structures. They slept in the barracks, ate at the mess hall, grew their own produce and kept the generators humming.
But all that was before the zerg. Before the brood had arrived to screw everything up. As Charn stood flexing his hands and fingers, it occurred to him that this type of thing happened way more often than not.
Then, in the corner of the garage… something moved.
The movement was small at first, almost imperceptible. But as his eyes adjusted to the lack of moonlight, Charn began picking out details. Shadows began shifting around the figure, betraying its size and position. By the time he realized what it was, Charn had already leveled his Impaler and begun firing.
Starbursts from the Gauss rifleâ€™s barrel lit the room at the insane rate of thirty flashes per second. The zergling exploded instantly in a shower of blood and cartilage, wildly screeching as it died. Charn watched as its body danced strobe-like in the darkness, shredded literally to pieces by the hollow point rounds of his Impaler. He didnâ€™t stop firing until long after he needed to.
Zerg. Here. A shiver ran down Charnâ€™s spine even as his body flushed with the heat of sudden combat. The Gauss rifle felt warm and good in his hands. It felt heavy and alive – almost as if begging Charn to keep the trigger pulled tight. It beckoned to him, or maybe his body just wanted to send more warmth into his hands and fingers.
Charn flipped the gun lamp and illuminated what remained of his enemy. Bits and pieces of carapace lay scattered across the garage… blood, mucus, and only God knew what else was splattered all along the side and back walls.
The marine stepped forward curiously, poking what was left of the shattered zergling. He marveled at how small it looked now. How seemingly harmless. Charn stood wondering how such a thing could be so dangerous; how so many horrific tales could be told about something so small and insignificant.
Thatâ€™s when the second and third zerglings came crashing into him from behind.
Ironically, it was their speed that actually saved him. The zerglingsâ€™ impact threw Charn violently forward, knocking away the Gauss rifle as he went sprawling to the ground. His two attackers went skittering even further past him, claws and arm blades clacking noisily against the slick garage floor as they rammed sideways into the back wall.
The first zergling hit the wall hard. Leaping to his feet, Charn could see that it was stunned. It struggled to find footing on the icy floor, one of its shattered wings now hanging at an odd angle. Mesmerized, Charn watched it struggle. He could feel those frenzied eyes consuming him as it tried to regain footing, eyes that glowed like hot orange coals in the shadowy darkness.
The other zergling would be up and on him before he could reach his gun. Rather than try, Charn aimed a kick to the thickest part of bugâ€™s segmented chest. He got lucky with the timing and caught it mid-flight, just before the two jagged scythes swung together with deadly precision, right where he head wouldâ€™ve been.
The marine dove for his gun as the zergling recovered. Charn swung the Impaler around and fired two quick bursts without looking, just as the creature dove behind a pile of blackened debris. He wasnâ€™t sure if heâ€™d hit it or not. Charn fired again and again into the debris for good measure, shells kicking up clouds of dust, smoke, and bits of shredded metal.
Suddenly he remembered his other opponent. Whirling to his right, the marine was terrified to see that the first zergling had already disappeared. Backing slowly out of the garage, Charn begin looking around for those telltale eyes. In the smokey darkness, those eyes would betray his enemyâ€™s location… or so heâ€™d been taught.
The wind slammed into him the second he stepped outside. The now impossibly bright moonlight was spilling everywhere, in stark contrast to the shadows of the garage. For a few moments Charn fired blindly into the doorway, buying himself precious seconds in an attempt to get further away. He squeezed off burst after burst, stepping backward the whole time, frantically looking for his next move.
He only glanced down for a second. The LED on the Impalerâ€™s magazine was flashing the number â€˜01â€™. When he looked up again the creature was already through the doorway, the razor-sharp jaws of the zergling slicing neatly through the flesh of his upper arm. Charn felt it happen way before he saw it.
Firing wildly, the marine swept his gun muzzle across the zerglingâ€™s body. Charnâ€™s last fifty or sixty rounds cut through the monster like tissue paper, tearing its body in half. The very last shot echoed loudly off the walls of the empty base, reverberating six or eight times before silence swept in and took over.
Blood ran freely down Charnâ€™s forearm and spidered outward over the fingers of his left hand. The flesh of his shoulder was in tatters. It stung instantly, like some vile poison were coursing through him. He dropped the rifle, which was now blinking double-zero and chiming an ammo alarm. Turning, he ran past the third garage and began looking for the wall.
Finding it didnâ€™t take long. The wall was immense, forty feet high and unreasonably thick. There were emplacements on top where turrets had once stood. Now only wires dangled from empty holes, dancing crazily back and forth with each gust of wind.
Charn took a moment to unbuckle his chestplate and fling it away. The upper part of the armor was now twisted, bent, and digging painfully into his neck with every step. Without the rifle or armor he felt naked, but also immeasurably lighter on his feet. He turned to the south and picked up the pace.
A hundred yards down he stopped. There was a hole bored into the wall twice the size of a large truck. The surrounding steel had been melted from the outside in, much of the ground now covered in pools of hardened slag. It couldâ€™ve easily been the work of an incendiary shell, only no shell could be that big.
Every ounce of self-preservation screamed for him to keep moving. Charn could see the tower now, rising ghost-like in the distance. The irony was not lost on him. He managed a nervous laugh that scared the marine much more than it made him feel better.
Charn was halfway to the tower when instinct made him turn around. Off in the distance something was running along the wall, and it was moving impossibly fast.
The zergling with the broken wing was coming for him.
His feet pounded hard against the cold asphalt as Charn broke into a run. Making the tower was his only chance. He had one shot to beat the creature before it could reach him, and there wasnâ€™t time to calculate whether or not it could be done.
Oddly enough, he was sweating. He was cold, frozen, bleeding… and hotter than heâ€™d ever been in his life. Charnâ€™s shirt soaked through with blood and sweat, and his lungs burned savagely from sucking in all the cold air. The tower loomed before him, a sleek metal spear thrust violently into the sky.
He reached the lift way ahead of the creature and punched the large yellow button. Nothing happened. Instantly Charnâ€™s heart sank. He punched it again, harder this time, and thatâ€™s when he realized it was never going to work.
The compound was on auxiliary power – life support systems and emergency lighting only. He knew this already of course, having spent the past week in the bunker. In the heat of the moment, it had slipped his mind.
Charn could hear the zergling now. It was screaming as it ran. That terrified him more than the actual visual; the creatureâ€™s inhuman screeching rose slowly over the wind, increasing steadily in pitch and volume as it got closer and closer. Eventually it would be right up in his face, right next to his ear. The sound would drive him absolutely mad… right before those jaws snapped shut around his throat.
There was a service ladder. Metal rungs were bolted into the far side of the tower, shooting up its entire length. Charn flew toward them, not daring to look back. He put one hand out in front of him, centered it on the highest rung he could reach, and ran for his life.
He had two feet on the lowest part of the ladder when the zerglingâ€™s claw finally wrapped around his ankle. The creatureâ€™s grip was surprisingly strong for its size, an unyielding anchor that bit bone-deep as Charn struggled to pull free. He kicked with his other leg and caught nothing but air. Below, the screeching seemed to shift from anger to triumph.
The zergling raked Charnâ€™s legs. The pain was excruciating. The creatureâ€™s bladed forelimbs swept back and forth, sending ribbons of blood scissoring across the base of the tower. Charn screamed through clenched teeth, pulling upward with all his might. Something popped in one knee, but he kept on pulling.
With a powerful jerk, the creature slammed Charnâ€™s body against the cold steel tower. The loud clang of metal on metal rang sharply, piercing through the cloud of pain in a moment of sudden, brilliant clarity.
With one shaking hand, Charn reached down and drew his sidearm. The C-7 wavered uncontrollably as he pointed it downward. He squeezed the trigger. Again and again he squeezed, ignoring the high-pitched shrieks and inhuman screams that followed. The sounds rattled his skull and threatened to drive him insane, but Charn kept on squeezing until all he heard was a series of hollow clicks.
Opening his eyes, he looked beneath him. The spike pistol had pinned the zergling to the frozen ground in a dozen places. Its crumpled body was struggling vainly to pull free, but it was broken and shattered in far too many places.
Charn climbed down a step. He turned the butt end of the pistol toward the creatureâ€™s head and smashed away. Then, slowly, he began the windy 60-foot climb up the tower face.
— O —
Inside, the tower was gratifyingly warm. Two steam furnaces were providing the heat, and Charn found both of them running full blast as he entered the upper chambers.
The hatch he had climbed through to enter the tower had been smashed open, presumably by the spectre himself. It was a good sign. Between that and the heat being on, Charn was feeling pretty optimistic.
He stepped onto the observation deck, and the view immediately took his breath away. A large glasssteel wall offered an unhindered view in almost every direction. Two white moons hung low to the east, lighting up a long and uninhibited view of the blasted landscape. It was both beautiful and desolate; pretty yet lonely at the same time.
Charn caught a glimpse of his reflection in the glass. Head to toe, he was smeared with filth and blood. His shoulder looked swollen and nasty, the gashes on his legs even worse. Silently he wondered if Garrick would still consider him cherry.
At the end of the viewing window stood a human figure. He was half in and half out of shadow, head tilted so that he was looking outward. It was the spectre. He stood absolutely motionless, and for a moment Charn wondered if he were indeed dead.
The spectreâ€™s head moved. He turned to look directly at Charn, as if sizing him up. Charn couldnâ€™t see anything of the manâ€™s face – the robotic eyes of his mask were glowing and empty. It was chilling.
Just as slowly, the spectreâ€™s head turned back to the moonlit landscape. He said nothing.
â€œHeyâ€, Charn said, removing his own helmet. â€œHey! What the hellâ€™s happening? How come we lost contact?â€
The spectre stood stock still, arms folded, gazing out over the darkness. Charn waited half a minute for a response, then worked up the courage to take a step forward.
â€œWeâ€™re done rotting in that bunkerâ€ he said, this time more assertively. After his ordeal outside, this was nothing. His fear was fading rapidly, anger taking its place.
â€œItâ€™s time to go. Call the evac. The broodâ€™s not gonna-â€
Something off in the distance caught Charnâ€™s eye. Without knowing it, he took another two steps toward the glasssteel window. He could see something down there, something way beyond the walls of the compound.
The marineâ€™s words caught in his throat. Something was moving down on the horizon. Something was churning. Swarming.
â€œThe brood!â€ Charn swore, awestruck. â€œThere it is!â€
There were hundreds, no, thousands of zerg gathered a good distance from the outer compound wall. They werenâ€™t advancing, but Charn could see they were buzzing with excitement. He saw whole colonies of zerglings, and larger bugs amongst them. Way out in the sky he saw mutalisks, swooping and flapping in slow lazy circles.
The spectre said nothing.
Charn stepped excitedly up to the viewing window. â€œThatâ€™s it, call it in! Call in the nuke right now and weâ€™ll get all of them at once!â€
Eerily, automatedly, the spectre spoke just two words:
Charnâ€™s eyes closed. Relief flooded over him in a euphoric wave. Finally the strike. Finally they could all go home. He breathed deep, wiping sweat and hair from his face. Off in the distance, he already imagined he could hear the engines of the incoming dropship.
Everything was fine now. Everything but the red dot on the floor.
The spectreâ€™s visor came up with a sudden hydraulic hiss. The eyes behind that visor were white, glazed, lifeless. He shifted forward with a mechanical jerk, and thatâ€™s when Charn saw the infestorâ€™s proboscis embedded cruelly into the manâ€™s spine.
â€œAlready doneâ€ the spectre repeated again, only his lips did not move. Instead, the muscles around his mouth began to curve into a smile. It was the sick, unnatural smile of something that never knew what a smile should be.
The spectre stepped backward into the shadows. The last thing Charn saw was the telltale shimmer of a cloaking device being engaged.
His mouth dropped open, all the blood draining instantly from his body.
The red dot on the floor blinked on, as the roar of the engines got louder and louder.