It was 10:00 AM local time when the battalion entered the mine. Chuck noticed that the ground was scorched brick, wetted near the entrance by weather but becoming dry soon into the mine. He imagined what terrible heat the dirt in the area had experienced, first by the nuclear weapons directed at it, and later by the direct heat of Diablo. A little inside the mine natural light from the entrance stopped illuminating, and the only illumination was from the many underslung flashlights of the battalion of soldiers. They walked slowly, quietly, and cautiously, guns loaded and set to automatic. There were obviously no snipers among them, and almost all carried with M27 in normal configuration, with just a few carrying the gun modified as a squad automatic weapon. There were also just two three-man minigun squads, and Chuck imagined that was because it would take a long time to set up a minigun and such a weapon would be impractical here. The mine didn't really go as deep as Chuck had assumed. Chuck thought that perhaps it would go all the way to bedrock and perhaps further, but really the mine was surprisingly shallow. It twisted and turned and even had a U-turn, such that Chuck realized though they had started off going west at the entrance, they were now probably going east, though ferrous deposits would play tricks with a compass if anyone bothered to check one here. After about ten minutes of walking, the tunnel made a 60 degree turn, and humans for the first time laid their eyes on the gate to hell.
It was a massive gate, as expected, and plenty tall enough for Diablo to walk out of. On an otherwise solid wall of rock was an area that shimmered and shifted with blue light. It was in the shape of a large triangle with two smaller triangles jutting out the top of it, and it looked like an upside down 5-pointed star with the bottom point cut off. And indeed, at five different points there were nodes of rock. Four of the nodes were at the points of the shape, with the fifth one being dead center between two other bottom-most nodes. It also exhibited geometric perfection, and Chuck mused that he couldn't make the shape any more perfect with a straight edge. Several soldiers lit flares so it could be seen without directly shining their flashlights on it.
Sergeant Albert Smith whistled. "So this is the gate that has caused so much hardship and pain for the last twenty years."
"I wonder if Justin Gatewood is in there," said Isaac, who had lit some flares to illuminate the area. He approached the portal closely and was looking at it.
"Don't get too close, or you might fall in and find out," said Chuck.
"Hmm," said Isaac. "I do wonder if the portal goes both ways, but I'm not THAT curious."
"Alright," said Sergeant Smith. "We've seen the portal. It's time to get back to the entrance and get a second team down here with engineers to figure out how to close it."
"Yes si..." said Isaac, before being drowned out by a quick, loud hiss, like a fire having gasoline poured on it. Out of the portal came a Demon. He grappled with Isaac, and though the Demon was much larger and stronger than Isaac, the small soldier tried his best to push the Demon off, and both off them tumbled back through the Gate to Hell, with Isaac never to be seen from again.
Next, a mixed force of Demons and Imps burst out from the glowing blue Gate to Hell, and soldiers raised their guns and began firing. Chuck Horner was much farther from the gate than Isaac was, and raised his M27 and began firing in short bursts. Four Imps went down in sequence, but when Chuck aimed at the fifth Imp and pulled his trigger, Chuck was horrified to find that he had used up his magazine. He pressed the ejector on his M27 and the empty magazine clattered to the ground. He got a new magazine from his vest and was about to insert it in his gun when the Imp closed with him, and with a swipe, hit the magazine, which went flying and hit the wall. Chuck looked face to face at the Imp, which was only a little shorter than he was, and as usual, looked like the Halloween costume version of the Devil. He back-pedaled and fumbled to get a fresh magazine out of his vest, but the Imp slashed at him with his long claws. One of the claws swiped at the nylon strap to the M27, slicing through it, and then the Imp grabbed Chuck's gun with both hands, yanking it away quickly, and the gun went clattering. The rest of the soldiers were busy with their own battles, some of which were failing battles as larger Demons absorbed enough small arms fire to get close to soldiers and kill them, but for the time being, without his gun's flashlight he could only see the Imp now by the light of the flares, the muzzle flashes, and the occasional flashlight beam that happened to play on the Imp. Chuck wasn't sure what to do, but took the opportunity as the Imp was flinging way his gun to take out his knife. He brandished it at the Imp, and had an impromptu knife fight. He slashed at the Imp, slashing the Imp's arm, but it was completely ineffective, and like slashing an armadillo's back with a knife. The Imp slashed back with its claws, and Chuck jumped back, and was only slashed on his chest. The new armor absorbed the slash, and Chuck wasn't hurt. He tried the same against the Imp's chest, missing the first time, and slashed a second time, which was also completely ineffective. He thought briefly about taking out his entrenching tool, but realized that would be completely ineffective against a slash-proof creature. So, he tried stabbing, and stabbed the pointed tip of the knife at the Imp. The Imp grabbed hold of Chuck's arm when he did, and holding it with both hands, bit into the bracer part of Chuck's right arm, which again was thankfully ineffective due to the new armor. However, the creature gnawed at it, and then spit out a bit of the new fabric, and was about to bite again into Chuck's arm when Chuck released the knife, slapped the Imp's pointy ear with his free hand, and then balled up his left hand into a fist and punched the Imp as hard as he could in its face, hurting his knuckles slightly. It was like punching a rough latex mask, and the Imp's thick skin absorbed the blow and the second blow that came after it, but it was enough to get the Imp to drop Chuck's arm. Chuck shoved the Imp back, and with just a second of time to look around, he spotted his M27 to his right and the magazine close to it. The Imp used the opportunity to slash again, and Chuck brought up his right arm to defend against it. The armor again helped, and the slash bit gashes in his arm's armor rather than in his skin, but he also knew that another slash on his right arm would definitely draw blood, and he needed to end this fight quickly before he was maimed or ganged up on by more of the Imps and Demons coming out of the portal. So, he grabbed the Imp by the shoulder, and feel onto his back. Chuck and the Imp went tumbling, and next Chuck did an adult version of the children's game "airplane", and on his back, he laid both of his feet into the Imp's belly and propelled him with all he force he could muster over his head and behind him. The Imp's lesser mass assisted with the task, and it went sailing over Chuck's head and falling far away from him, giving him a few precious seconds. Chuck scrambled as fast as he could to his gun, grabbed the magazine and jammed it in. However, the Imp had recovered and ran and jumped on the crouching Chuck, biting at his thick helmet and spitting out pieces of its fabric covering while trying to claw at Chuck's exposed neck. It was only through luck that the demon didn't happen to successfully slash Chuck's neck, and Chuck stood up, with the Imp still on his back, spun around so his back was to the wall, and as hard as he could he slammed his back into the wall, hoping to crush the Imp between himself and the wall. It wasn't effective at first, so he jerked his head back so his helmet would smash the Imp's head into the wall, then still holding his M27, jerked his elbow backwards, and elbowing the Imp right in the stomach. But it still hadn't let go, and now Chuck could feel a small pain in his neck and realized his helmet was no longer securely strapped to his head, as one of the Imp's claws had sliced the nylon and some of his skin with it. He dropped the gun, took a step forward, reached behind him, crouched, and pulled the Imp up and over his head. A second time the Imp went flying, this time clutching Chuck's helmet and sending Chuck's protective glasses flying away as well. However, that gave Chuck the precious seconds he need. He picked up his gun again, which was loaded and ready, but just needed to be charged. The Imp turned around and was about to charge back at Chuck, ready to slash at his exposed head, when Chuck quickly pulled the charging handle, quickly pointed the gun in the general direction of the Imp, and fired point black at the Imp on full automatic. Not content to simply shoot a few times and let the Imp bleed out, and not caring in the heat of the moment that the over-penetrating bullets could hurt someone behind what he was shooting, Chuck emptied the entire magazine into the chest of the Imp. 30 rounds of 7.62x51 mm armor piercing bullets with tungsten carbide tips tore clean through the Imp, perforating it, and Chuck's gun followed it as it fell down.
His gun went silent, and the Imp, still clutching Chuck's helmet, created a small pool of reddish black blood on the ground. Chuck pried the helmet from the Imp's dead hands, put it back on loosely and didn't bother looking for the protective glasses or knife somewhere on the ground. Instead, he reloaded his gun as fast as possible and looked around. He realized that further back was a second line of infantry, which were shouting at Chuck and the few people remaining close to the Gate to Hell to get back to them, while firing in three round bursts to minimize the chances of friendly fire. Chuck sprinted back to them, keeping low as possible and with one hand on his helmet which was no longer as secure, and joined the fire team working to hold back the demons. As soon as everyone close to the Gate to Hell was either dead or retreated to the second line, half of the second line pulled back further to cover the retreat of the first half. Leapfrogging as they were, they made their way back to the mine entrance. It would have only taken around three minutes at a sprint to run from the Gate to Hell to the entrance, but leapfrogging like they were delayed the retreat. The pace of Demons and Imps coming at them was increasing, but a little natural light reaching back into the mine, and they could reach the entrance in two more leaps. It looked like the rest of the battalion's only choices were to stay where they were until the pace of demons coming at them increased to overwhelm them, or make the jump anyway knowing full well that some wouldn't make it back. They made the next leap, and indeed a few of the soldiers closer to the demons closed with them and were killed, but most got away to the second to last position to leap back to the mine entrance. When it was Chuck's turn to finally make the sprint to the mine entrance, he started running like something might be coming to follow him, glad that he didn't injure his legs in the fight with the Imp. A Demon gave chase, and he could see Kade in front of him, running as fast as he could for the entrance. A Demon close behind successfully slashed at a soldier behind Chuck, and Chuck knew he'd be slashed himself in a second if he stood between the Demon and the soldiers at the entrance, so he crouched down as low as he could while still running. Soldiers at the entrance took the chance of friendly fire, as he knew they would, and shot over his head at the large Demon pursuing him, striking the Demon down in a hail of fire that only missed his head by a few centimeters. Relieved, he finally got to the mine entrance, where he was greeted by masses of soldiers ready to shoot at anything humanoid but not human coming from the entrance.
"Keep running!" he heard someone say, and was momentarily confused but did as he was told. He realized that the entrance of the mine wasn't the best place to make a stand against creatures that could only attack at close range, and that people were retreating from the mine entrance as fast as possible. A few hundred meters in a semicircle, the huge IBIS walkers loomed, and as soon as humans stopped coming from the entrance, they started firing their 12.7×99mm rounds at demons coming from the entrance, while minigunners also began spraying the entrance. Once soldiers were far enough from the entrance, he heard a mighty boom behind him and was showered with bits of dirt and rock. He kept running, and only when it was over 300 meters from the entrance and extremely winded did he slow his pace and turn back. IBIS walkers had engaged with their main cannons and were shelling demons right as they left the entrance, and foot soldiers at a safe distance were mopping up demons not killed by the shells and minigunners. Chuck jogged to join them and added his gun to the volume of fire. As expected, shortly afterwards a Greater Demon emerged from the entrance. But with the combined force of every soldier and IBIS walker sighted in on it, the Greater Demon died faster than any Greater Demon had ever been killed before, and it certainly set the record for the shortest and least bloody encounter the United States Army had with a Greater Demon. In due time, the pace of demons emerging from the entrance slacked and stopped, and quiet settled over Borborema. Immediately after, he saw a second battalion of soldiers, this time including some engineers with backpacks, clamber over the field of corpses and rush back into the entrance. Chuck waited, and while he waited found Kade, who informed him that Sergeant Albert Smith had been killed. Kade and Chuck waited, with the cut on Chuck's neck ceasing to bleed and scabbing over, and about an hour after the battalion went in, they came out. An engineer gave everyone a thumbs up, and a cheer went through the crowd, though Chuck wasn't sure precisely what the thumbs up meant at the time, and only later that afternoon got a firsthand account from one of the engineers of what had happened.
The engineers had gone back in with the second battalion, and before they did anything to destroy the Gate to Hell, took every kind of reading they could, with pages of detailed notes. As soon as they had every test they could run at such short notice, and under constant guard of nervous soldiers, they drilled into the rock of the lower left node, and planted C4 explosives. They detonated the explosives, shattering the node, and the portal stopped glowing. The rock face turned to just rock, and among the rock fragments of the shattered node was one rock a lot harder than the surrounding rocks. It was a completely regular lump of crystal in a shape the engineer described as a "small triambic icosahedron" that glowed brightly with the same blue light of the portal. It was found to not be radioactive, and the engineer willingly showed Chuck the crystal, glowing in a box he had used to carry it out in, and with bits of normal rock still stuck to it. The engineer said that he was sure the rocks would be kept and studied, and mused that they would probably eventually go back to the Siberian laboratories near Dmitry Laptev Strait. He wasn't certain what the crystals were made of, but was certain that without the rocks, the Gate to Hell would be completely useless.
Chuck asked the engineer if he could figure out why those first five Greater Demons had chosen Borborema to make the Gate to Hell, and wondered if there was any global or magnetic significance to the place. The engineer responded that he saw no evidence of that, and mused that the five crystals activated as such would probably form a Gate to Hell anywhere, and it wouldn't really matter whether it was on the earth's surface or the earth's center, or whether it was in Cairo or Borborema. The only reasons the engineer could see for the choice were tactical. By choosing somewhere already mined out, it created a place already protected to form the gate. Also, he noted that the rock face that had eventually been selected to form the gate had to be excavated before the stones were placed so that Diablo could eventually come to the world, but that the rest of the tunnels had to be slowly and laboriously excavated, which would explain why it took a few years between when the first demons came from Borborema and when Diablo first arrived on the scene.
Chuck finished talking with the engineer and looked out at the setting sun. It was done. The gate to hell was firmly shut, and while masses of demons still roamed the earth, every demon killed from this day forth was one that could never be replaced. He sniffed the air. It smelled like dead bodies and gun propellant but he reminded himself that now that was the last time death would perfume the air of this place.
He mused on unanswered questions. What was powering those Prophets that shattered American hopes and dreams at Khantayskoye Lake? What reason did Justin Gatewood have for using a weapon greatly more powerful than necessary and blowing up a large section of central India? Why did John Redmond summon Pharol the Black into this world, and how? And how had demons first been summoned to this world in the first place?
Chuck signed to himself. This journey had begun in mystery, and perhaps it would end that way.