Return to the Destroyer's Lair: Target, Caldath

Author's note: This fanfic is based on a "mod" called Zerstörer of the bestselling IdGames product, Quake. There are many references to the mod and to specifics of Quake which would be comprehensible only to those who
had played them.

Carpathian Conundrum

The seven combat veterans trudged groggily to the security clearance gate. It was a thicker-than-pea-soup foggy morning at the clandestine installation known even to its few visitors only as "The Conundrum." Situated in an almost inaccessible stretch of the Carpathian Mountains, The Conundrum more than earned its name, with its serpentine hallways snaking through hills and valleys, then abruptly vanishing beneath the craggy ground into subterranean caverns. The gate was a familiar site to the septet approaching it, its titanium arch pulsating with rings of multicolored phosphorescent light, emanations from the untold kilometers of transparent tubing for the femtosecond-pulse lasers that were in constant operation therein. The soldiers and the guard at the entrance reciprocally saluted as they prepared for business. "Nelson! Ha, it's been a while, old friend. How did you become afflicted with a job here, of all places?" "Base closings back in Charleston, you know, the usual," replied the guard to the soldier. "Besides, Nathan, I figured this was the only place that I could possibly ever run into the likes of you again, after the Minotaur incident." "You mean to tell me you guys knew about that? The Labyrinth of the Dead, the faked death—the little surprise for the Labyrinth Master when he opened the Thesean Gate? I thought they'd lobotomize anybody outside of the Chiefs of Staff who found out about that." "Trust me my friend, they've briefed us on you so extensively, I even know the horribly bad renditions of classic rock you sing in the shower each morning." "Now, that is a scary prospect." The group laughed in agreement at the words of the woman standing to Nathan's right. "You never miss an opportunity, do you Karen?" replied Nathan with gentle sarcasm. "Nate, even the guard dogs at the base perimeter try to fold down their ears when they hear you turn the shower handles!" came another voice behind Nathan. "You ought to be careful about criticizing someone else's singing, Leon. We've also been briefed on your little karaoke performances while on leave in Chicago last year," smiled Guard Nelson. "Oooh, man—I was afraid that might get out," responded Leon to the group's laughter.
"O.K., down to business," Nelson began laconically. "I know you all are probably still wondering precisely why you're here at such a wretched hour. You'll be apprised of the details once inside. We'll need a retinal scan, fingerprint check, and Shibboleth at the voice-recog console over there. Then we'll need you to swipe your orange keycards at the scanner and press in the entry code. Remember—you must use the orange keycard here, not the green as usual. If you swipe the green you'll set off all the alarms, and you don't want to be waking up General Morozevich at an hour like this—trust me, I know. OK, whenever you're ready..."

The group walked slowly in single-file to the array of security apparatus that festooned the walls at the gate. They each pressed their eyes to the aperture of the retinal scanner, then placed their hands in sequence onto the glass plate of the Fingerprint Identifier. Another guard then led them to the voice-recognition console. "The device will prompt you for the Shibboleth, and you should answer in an even tone in your normal voice. Don't skip any syllables or slur it; we just installed this system and it might electrocute you if you if it senses something abnormal."
"Such a comforting thought," muttered Nathan as he edged forward.
"They've been making you the guinea pig since boot camp, Nate," laughed Leon behind him.
The mechanical, monotone voice from the console prompted the Marine as he entered the hermetic chamber. "Your name please."
"Colonel Nathan Evans, Australian Division, Slipgate Marine Corps."
"Your Shibboleth please."
The Colonel paused as he attempted to ensure he got the wording precise. He'd listened to the tape in that locked container 20 times over before detonating it, to ensure that he'd know all 5 words of the sentence by heart, but the fatigue was making him second-guess. Juvenal, that satire from Latin class, he reminded himself. Who's watching the watchers, Latin, don't forget the first word. He drew a deep breath and spoke: "Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"
After a brief and nervous 5-second pause, the console replied in its usual monotone: "Visitor acknowledged. Please proceed to keycard console." Nathan heaved in relief as his colleagues-in-arms followed on his heels.
The group approached their next-to-last hurdle and Nathan prepared to insert his keycard.
"Whoa, brother—you're gonna get us all in the brig if you use that."
Nathan gazed downward and realized that he'd nearly inserted the red keycard, rather than the orange one. "Damn, it's hard to see anything at this hour in the mountains. I hope they've got some strong coffee in there. Thanks, Leon."
After proceeding past the keycard console, the group's members then punched in the entry code individually, at which point the 20-ft reinforced steel doors of the main gate slowly opened. "They shoulda just had us say 'open sesame' or something," offered a fourth voice in the group as the doors peeled apart.
"But Ravi, think about it—how could the MicronFlux corporation ever stay afloat without all the contracts they have with the military for these overdone security apparatus?" joked Karen in response.

The combat group was escorted by two guards to the windowless, soundproof conference room where their mission briefing would take place. As they moved, the members continued to grumble softly about their jarring return to combat when it had least been anticipated.
"Man, first truly long leave I've had in 3 years, chillin' on the beach, dancin' with the ladies in the island bars, and then out of nowhere those three sergeants actually come into the damn hotel to pick me up. No phone call, no page—so damn secret they gotta bust in on us in person."
"Tell me about it, Leon," replied Ravi. "I'd been accustomed to a Videophone relationship with Sandra and after 6 months I was finally with her again. Walking out of the movie theater—boom, there they are. Can't even take Sandra home; just collect my stuff and hop on the chopper."
"I still don't get what the heck this is all about," chimed in the voice of a 5th member of the group, as they rounded the corner to take their seats in the large conference room. "They were so terse in that taped message to us. Something about the Rho Base in the Quake Division Nine. Then they start recounting this rash of serial killings over the past two months. But what do a bunch of psychopaths going primeval in the big cities of North America have to do with a forward base in another dimension?"
"Everything, Captain Chou, everything."

The Briefing

The group stood at attention as the commanding officer strode into the conference room. Grizzled from decades of grueling combat in the various Slipgate battles, General McAllister had been one of the few survivors of Shub-Niggurath's invasion of the Delta Base two years ago, and he'd played an important role as a member of the vanguard that cleared the way for Sergeant Collins to collect the runes and telefrag Shub in her pit. He was dispatched repeatedly to unknown realms and somehow, to the surprise of his worried commanding officers, managed to return. If he was running the briefing, this was a serious matter indeed.
"Reporting for duty, sir" uttered the seven in unison.
"At ease," replied the general. "I know you all have been itching for a while to ascertain why in the world we would call you out here to some lonely secret base in Eastern Europe at this kind of hour. So I thought first of all I'd show you the wonderful fellow who's made all this necessary."
At this the general pressed a button on his desk and activated an image projector, which immediately displayed an immense, grotesque figure on the conference room's screen, a gigantic light-brownish beast with numerous pseudopods where his feet would be, and a visage that suggested an unfathomably deep well of rage and hate.
"That's one ugly mo'fo'. And if he's the one who interrupted my vacation, I'm gonna personally gonna take his sorry ass out," uttered Leon to the group's laughter.
"While I can sympathize with you, that won't be an easy thing to accomplish, Capt. Johnson," responded the general, his crusty laugh filling the room's air. "His name is Caldath in-Taleradun. He calls himself Zerstörer—the Destroyer. He's a demon of the Asmodar class."
"Hmm, they're some of the stronger ones in Hell, aren't they?" queried Ravi.
"Yes, they're one of the more powerful clans of demons, hailing as their name suggests from the realm of Asmodeus, who governs them and arbitrates disputes among them. Following the Icarus mission, several of the space marines in the original platoon were dispatched in mop-up operations once the area had been cleared and the demon-spawner had been taken out. One of the marines obtained a copy of the Brimstone Scroll Logs, basically the archives of Hell's main newspapers organized into capsule form. The Logs were translated and analyzed—all 3,100 pages of them—and we were able to obtain information on the Asmodar. That's how we learned of Caldath."
"So, is he, I dunno—one of the tribal leaders within the Asmodar?" asked the soldier seated on the general's far left side.
"No, Corporal Akbar, just the opposite, in fact. To the other demons, he's one of the most detested figures in the Asmodar or any other group." The general continued with his slides as he explained. "The Asmodar considered him an embarrassment, and the Asmodarean reporters must have been cringing every time they wrote about him. Like the others in his clan, Caldath was quite powerful, but in the decades preceding the Doom Incident, the other Asmodar began to notice something unusual in him. He was constantly distracted from his guarding duties, and in the annual Hellfire Tournament, he consistently underachieved. He was frequently vanquished by lesser demons in the Sim-Frag Arena. Rather than use his basic powers and simpler weapons to maximal effect, Caldath always seemed anxious to gib an opponent, and he often wouldn't fight intensely until he had a gibworthy weapon available—much to his detriment. In the team matches, he also showed a tendency to wander off and watch the rage of Pig- Demons biting at Imps, Revenants pounding on a Mancubus, or Hell Knights and Cacodemons whaling on each other—leaving himself fully vulnerable to whatever demon decided to target him. He amassed a terrible record, to the point that the Asmodar refused to allow him to compete anymore."
"OK, so he was a loser in the arena, a humiliation to the Asmodar. But why did the other demons despise him?" asked Nathan, looking quizzical.
"Well, once Caldath was evicted from the arena, he became a major troublemaker. He had a habit of starting fights between demons—pegging one with a fireball, hiding out-- not easy considering his size-- and accusing whatever hapless imp had been walking nearby. He somehow seemed to be fed by the bloodshed that resulted. It got to the point where he began doing some fragging himself, gibbing passersby as they rowed along the lava moats or walked the Firepaths. This wasn't too difficult—after all, one of the Asmodar's trademarks is the ultra-electrified flesh of their members. They have the ability to shoot out Megapulse Beams—basically, massive EM pulses that coalesce and interfere constructively on their target, and can even pass through teleporters. They don't ionize the air and so are invisible when separate, but as soon as the pulses interfere, the force is unimaginably strong, and it'll blow their target apart from the inside. Think of the BFG 9000 with Quad Damage, but even more powerful—that'll give you a faint sense of the force of the Megapulse."
"Don't think there's an armor that'll protect against that, is there?" mused Ravi.
"If you know a manufacturer, I'd definitely want to hear about it," laughed General McAllister. "Caldath was obviously not making any friends among his fellow demons, and his actions gradually became intolerable, yet he could not stop himself. Even when Baphomet himself punished Caldath, the Asmodar ne'er-do-well would not halt his ways. Caldath began to attack some Cyberdemons and Spider Masterminds, and the last straw came when he surprised a group of patrolling Archviles with a few Megapulses, gibbing them instantly. No matter how high a demon is, nobody frags an Archvile, much less a group of them. Enraged, the Archviles barely hesitated to avenge the insult. A group of 60 of them ambushed Caldath near Asmodeus's Temple, casting spells and scorching him relentlessly. Caldath was burned so mercilessly that he could not even manage to fire off a Megapulse. The Archviles nearly cooked him to a crust, until Baphomet quickly intervened. As much as he might have liked to allow Caldath to be burned to toast, Baphomet was at the time orchestrating the earth invasion. An Asmodar's electrified body, if blown to bits and scattered about, would wreak untold havoc on the Teleporter ships that had been arrayed to commence the invasion. So Baphomet grudgingly held back the Archviles' fury. At this point he, Asmodeus, and others quickly decided on Caldath's fate. In the midst of their teleportation experiments, the demons had managed to obtain access to one of the hidden Quake dimensions, utilizing a matter-and-energy transfer protocol similar to what would be employed in the Slipgates. At Asmodeus's suggestion, they banished him for good to this dimension. Baphomet was quite happy with this arrangement. After all they would be rid of Caldath's antics, and since the Quakespawn were natural enemies of the Hellspawn, they would only be too happy to see Caldath's bloodletting be carried out against the denizens of the Quake Dimension. Caldath was detested so much by Asmodeus and Ganel lar-Habired, a fellow Asmodar who'd been on the receiving end of some of Caldath's attacks, that they nearly surprise-fragged Caldath before his teleportation. But at Baphomet's behest, the rogue Asmodar was sent away to the hidden Quake Dimension—which happens to border Quake Division Nine, right where we've established the Rho Base."
"Ah, so that's why we care one whit about this asshole," uttered Nathan, staring at Caldath's bone palace being shown on the projection screen.
"Well, that's the primary motivation," affirmed General McAllister. "It's difficult to obtain information about Caldath's realm. He has a powerful reactor that generates a scattering electromagnetic shield, not to mention the effects of the electric field surrounding Caldath himself. There are occasional flutters in the shield's integrity—that picture of The Destroyer was taken during one of those fluctuations. They've occurred often enough, though, that we've been able to ascertain that Caldath is planning an invasion of the Rho Base. He's amassing his Quakespawn forces as we speak. Obtaining more specific intelligence has been difficult—without actually having someone within Caldath's realm, it's difficult to get much in the way of reconnaissance on the Destroyer's plans or his forces. Fortunately, just a week ago, we were able to obtain just that."
"Eh?" replied Karen. "You mean there's already been a mission to Caldath's realm?"
"Well, no, not intentionally, Major Allison. It was a break for us—someone acting on his own, who essentially reconnoitered the realm for us, unaware of the fact that he was doing it. "

The Journey of Michael

"This is where the link to all those serial killings comes in, the ones that have been splashed across US newspapers in recent months" continued the grizzled general. "You see, Caldath wasn't satisfied just gibbing Quakespawn in his little hidden realm. He needed to witness fights within his realm to derive sustenance from them. Blood drawn by a hateful hand within his domain, outside of his own efforts, was essential for him to continue thriving. He could provoke massive brawls among Fiends, Vores, Shamblers, Ogres, and the other inhabitants of his quake realm, but something was still missing—enemy soldiers, basically, who would draw the Quakespawn's attention automatically, without the need for provocation. This would draw the blood that would flow through Caldath's gib pools, the blood that was his most important sustenance. So Caldath managed to construct Slipgate-like devices, tenuous links to the earth where he would travel periodically. His powers were severely attenuated on earth, but that didn't matter—he was there to build and recruit soldiers. And not just any soldiers—bloodthirsty monsters, psychopaths with nary a hesitation to slaughter and gib and attack. He assumed human form as you can see here." The general advanced the slide to an amiable-looking, pleasant old man, with gentle eyes, mild gray hair, and a wispy moustache.
"That's Caldath? That guy looks about as dangerous as Mr. Rogers in his neigborhood, in those old TV reruns," averred Ravi.
"You're absolutely right, Corporal Venathan. And that's why Caldath assumed this disguise. An innocuous, kind elderly man. Nobody would pay him a second notice. One of our more literary-minded analysts codenamed him Magwitch, after the character in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Like Abel Magwitch, Caldath in human form helps little kids in dire need—although unlike Dickens's character, it's not unconditionally. Caldath finds street kids trapped in the worst state of desperation, hungry, homeless, and without a caretaker. From what we understand, he takes them in when they're quite young and rears them. His house is something like an orphanage, though with some key differences. He makes sure that his kids are fed well, clothed, and sheltered. He also ensures that they stay physically fit to the fullest, and from an early age he gives them training in weapons—and we're not just talking about your standard-issue shotgun, either."
"Soldiers from early youth," mused Nathan aloud.
"Yes—elite soldiers, in fact," the general continued. "As they become older, Caldath sends them off on special missions, generally involving Slipgate transports to various regions in the Quake dimension, both his own realm and outside of it. He then returns them back home when they're finished, their victories and hatred shedding blood and feeding Caldath as they go along. As Caldath's soldiers continue their battles, however, his very presence begins to corrupt them, to turn them into psychopaths whose very reason for living is to hate and to kill—much like Caldath himself. Eventually, inevitably, they snap, and that's when the serial killing begins. Those ghastly murderers of the past couple months have been baffling the media and psychologists right and left. What led Andy the Chainsaw to attack 55 people on the farms like that, until finally being shot by the cops in the Haybail Shootout? What provoked Thor the Thunderbolt to go zapping people in the street? What led Holly the Hateful to aim a double-barreled shotgun at a group of girls readying themselves for a college dance? There was no connection to the victims in any of the cases, no obvious motive. There were two things that all the serial killers had in common. One, they'd all come off the mean streets, just scrapping to survive early on. And two, they'd all been taken into the same man's abode when they were growing up—that of Magwitch, aka Caldath. Following the most recent spate of murders three weeks ago, some of our operatives became suspicious about the link, and so they brought in some of Caldath's trainees for questioning—at least, the ones who haven't snapped yet. They provided a treasure trove of information on Magwitch's operations, and their mission experience. One of them, when pressed, drew a picture of the beast that's appeared in her dreams periodically—unmistakably it was there, the figure of Caldath. When another of Magwitch's charges drew basically the same figure, independently, we realized immediately that Magwitch was Caldath in disguise."
"You said something about a guy who's done reconnaissance of Caldath's realm for us," interrupted Corporal Edward Chou. "What's his connection?"
"Well, he's used about 9 or 10 aliases, as is the custom for the soldiers that Caldath has reared. He's been codenamed Michael. Like Caldath's other projects, Michael was on the streets when Caldath took him in, feeding and sheltering him and generally putting him on his feet. Early on, Michael demonstrated unusual talent and drew Caldath's interest. He was physically adept and particularly adroit in the weapons training sessions. Like a boxing manager who's found a prizefighter, Caldath devoted special attention to Michael, strengthening him and making him into one of his most elite fighters. Caldath sent Michael on some of the more perilous missions, and Michael invariably returned tougher than before. Michael was Caldath's meal ticket, literally, as the blood shed by Michael's fury continually fed his supposed benefactor. Soon and surely enough, Michael began to slip into the psychopathic depths into which Caldath's other kids had fallen. Michael murdered a man in cold blood, initially reveling in the bloodlust. But then something unusual happened. Instead of slipping further, Michael began to be troubled by what he had just done, and his concerns did not simply go away. Like the others, he apparently started to have dreams in which he saw Caldath in his natural form, to hear Caldath's voice in the wind around him, but Michael refused to allow himself to be corrupted into a serial killer. At some point—we don't know when—Michael began to recognize that the old man who had aided him so much was actually the beast of his dreams. He'd done Slipgate missions to Caldath's realm before, and somehow he ascertained that Caldath's location was near Quake Division Nine. Since he was planning to confront Caldath, he did not want to use any of the Slipgates he'd taken advantage of before. He wanted to enter through a different route, although of course, Caldath would be immediately aware of Michael's presence upon entry into his realm."
"But how did Michael enter Caldath's realm?" asked a voice in the back. "He's nowhere near a Slipgate that would take him to the Rho Base, and we have no connection to Caldath's realm itself."
"Actually, Lieutenant Mendez, we do," replied the general to the puzzled faces in his audience. "A few months ago, some of our top scientists, using fragments of the coordinates obtained from flutters of Caldath's shield, were able to extract enough data to set a Slipgate to the entrance of his realm, the shipping complex where the reactor parts are delivered to the Bunker. I can tell you this is as secretive as we conduct an operation, but somehow Michael learned of it. He had been imbued with the essence of Caldath, after all, and so presumably he was able to detect the faint traces of the unique signature of the radiation from Caldath's realm that are emitted at the Slipgate, and thereby track down the Slipgate itself. At the time he entered, the Slipgate was virtually abandoned for maintenance the next week. The complex was being outfitted with more efficient transport and exit technology, and so nobody bothered to remain there with it."
"Are you telling me," Nathan interjected, "that you left a Slipgate to the Destroyer's Realm entirely unguarded?"
"It's located within an active volcano, Colonel Evans—not exactly the type of place that requires much in the way of guarding. And besides, the volcano base was cordoned off by a ring of special forces soldiers. Michael simply surprised and overpowered them. He's that tough."
"Wait a minute—a volcano?" asked a bewildered Karen Allison. "Those slipgate complexes don't come cheap, you know, and I doubt that Congress would want to allocate a couple billion dollars for an installation that would become lava seasoning as soon as the volcano decides to erupt."
"Well, that's the point, Major Allison. When the mission is accomplished, we want as little information to be ascertained about this particular Slipgate as possible. That means we'd have to detonate the thing, and what better way than to have the volcano do it for us? No mysterious explosion or facility dismantling to have to explain to the media."
"Sir, there's still one detail I'm not on top of yet," uttered Leon. "You said something about how this Michael dude did some reconnaissance for us, without his awareness of it. Is there something you've left out?"
"Glad you brought that up, Sergeant Johnson. About a year ago, our crack scientists developed the FAT—the so-called frequency-adapting transmitter. It encodes its transmissions in a cloaking, longitudinal interspace field that adjusts itself along its length. When the leading edge of the field torus encounters a Slipgate, its frequency changes to the one corresponding to the dimension which it's entering. The signal is carried in the lagging edge, so by the time the signal itself enters the Slipgate, the cloaking carrier field has changed its frequency to the one needed in the receiving location. This way, we don't have to worry even momentarily about the cumbersome manual transmitter frequency adjustments—the cloaking field does all the work for us. To facilitate the mission for our soldiers, the scientists outfitted the Slipgate in the volcano with an FAT device that would automatically insert itself into the helmet of any soldier who entered the Slipgate. It was a prototype and we weren't sure of its viability, but as soon as Michael entered the Slipgate, we began to receive vivid pictures of the Quake Dimension shipping complex at the analysis station set up to receive the signals. He was in. Since the FAT was installed within his helmet, we essentially got a first-person perspective of everything that Michael experienced within Caldath's realm, all the way to Caldath's bone palace itself. We'll show you just the highlights here. The full recordings will be installed in your map packs, for reference on the mission itself."
The general immediately activated the playback option on his projector. The assembled audience witnessed the brutal combat in the shipping complex, followed by the gib pool leading to the graveyard and the relentlessly gibbed zombies, with the Death Knights—materializing from statues— quickly following. They took note of the blood pool surrounded by ogres and grunts of one stripe or another, followed by the entry into the enigmatic temple housing the Sanguinoch. Then their attention became riveted as they lay eyes on the Bunker itself, housing the reactor that was so central to Caldath's realm. Then, finally, the entry into Caldath's central gib pool, with the teleportation to the bone palace, the brief conversation between Caldath and his protégé, and Caldath's quick gibbing of Michael, with the FAT's final transmission—undulating waves of blood in the gib pool where the FAT had fallen. With the cessation of the transmission, the general's voice became prominent again.
"That's what you'll be up against, team."
"This sounds like a suicide mission," retorted Nathan, brusquely. "Even if we make it to Caldath's palace, how in the world could we deal with the megapulse? Caldath megapulsed Michael and gibbed him as if he were wiping his brow."
"Well, odd as it may sound Colonel Evans, there is a defense to the megapulse, though it's not something we've made here. Shortly after his banishment Caldath, upset at his exile, decided to attempt a surreptitious entry into Hell with a stolen Slipgate. He was immediately met with 5 Cyberdemon lords. Naturally Caldath tried to megapulse his foes, but to no avail—the Cyberdemons were protected, and they promptly blasted Caldath right back to his dimension, sealing off the Slipgate connection. We learned all this from the Brimstone Scroll Logs, and we also found out how, exactly, those cyberdemons were protected. They used a special artifact, the Gauntlet of Baal. It protects against all manner of attacks of overwhelming force like the Megapulse although, curiously, it doesn't provide any shielding against weaker attacks. It wouldn't do a thing to aid you against a Thunderbolt blast, for example, although in conjunction with a Pentagram of Protection, it will extend the Pentagram's protective period 10-fold. Following the Requiem mission, a team of marines managed to recover artifacts from one of the strongholds of the cyberdemons and Barons of Hell. Among this stash was a number of fragments from the Gauntlet. Each fragment will endow full protection against Caldath's megapulse beams, but like normal armor, they too will wear away with repeated punishment. When you split a fragment along its width, you'll immediately notice a blue-green glow surrounding you and everyone else who touches the fragment at any point, before or after its cleaving. As the fragment's protection subsides, the glow will shift more and more to the green color. When its dissipation is imminent, you'll see a meshlike texture to the shield. That's a signal that you'd better activate another fragment if you've got it."
The general grabbed a sack from under his desk and removed a collection of smooth stone objects, varying somewhat in color and weight but all possessing the same basic design on the obverse and reverse sides, a pentagram with a large eye and two coiling snakes. "Take one, and pass it around to your neighbors. Not only will you observe the artifact up close-- you'll activate yourself for its protection later on, when you might need it. Oh, and there's one other artifact you might find helpful, this one appropriated from one of the Quake realms in the aftermath of Shub- Niggurath's demise. Shub had animated her zombies with an especially powerful form of Rune Magic. When Sergeant Collins collected the Four Runes, he had effectively decoded much of the Rune Magic, and he was later able to relate the rune spells that were responsible, for example, for zombie reanimation. One of the succeeding battalions to Sergeant Collins came across an etched tablet soon thereafter which, in combination with the Rune Magic, led to a cavern with some crystals-- powerful artifacts, as the case would be, with the capacity to reanimate not only intact bodies, but gibbed ones-- though only for about a day until they collapsed again, as intact bodies however, not gibbed. These crystals-- the Stones of Return-- also endow a reanimated body with the capacity to speak, not merely moan and groan. And their power is distributed. They reanimate upon contact with any part of a gibbed body. If you manage to place any one of the crystals into contact with body parts from two or more gibbed bodies, it will reanimate all of them."
"Why would these be of any use? We'd probably be the ones doing the gibbing in the first place," declared Ravi, skepticism detectable in his voice.
"You may need those zombies, Corporal Venathan. We learned from earlier forays into the Quake Dimensions that the zombies, upon being reanimated, also are endowed with some of the Quake magic—and knowledge of the guy running the realm. They might be the only ones who can tell you how to confront the Destroyer."
"Sir, might I ask a simple question?" uttered Leon.
"Ask away, Sergeant Johnson," came the reply.
"Are you suggesting here, that you have no idea how to actually beat Caldath?"
"Unfortunately, we don't. As you saw, Michael did not even fire a shot at his onetime mentor in the bone palace, and we don't know Caldath's vulnerabilities. Like other demons he can be wounded with weapons, and obviously the Archviles nearly slaughtered him. Yet those Archviles were scorching him for about half an hour before Baphomet finally stepped in. 60 Archviles, casting spells continually for a half hour—and Caldath still survived. I doubt that the heaviest weaponry in even an entire battalion could carry anywhere near the firepower necessary to take him out, even if they could somehow Slipgate right into the Bone Palace—and you'll have to fight your way through many other zones first. We don't have enough intelligence yet, but we don't have the time to dawdle on this. The Rho base officers believe that Caldath might initiate the invasion within the next week or so. We have to move immediately."
"So let me make sure I understand this correctly," interjected Nathan. "You haven't the foggiest idea how to take out this guy. You doubt even a whole division with enhanced BFG's and artillery could defeat him. And yet you want us, a little squadron of seven, to fight our way through a heavily-guarded Quake sector, filled with Shamblers and who knows what else, to get to a 150-foot tall behemoth that we haven't a clue how to overtake?"
"Precisely, Colonel Evans."
"I'm inspired by your confidence in us, general," a cautious Captain Sophia Chou opined. "But this kind of mission wasn't exactly in our training regimen."
Corporal Emmett Akbar, himself a grizzled veteran of special forces operations in forsaken hellholes of Central Asia, had always grasped that the best response to an offer for a suicide mission was a stoic acceptance, especially considering the lengths the military had taken to locate this specific group. Besides—on exceptional occasions, the members of such missions actually survived. Not often, but it did happen. "So, tell us sir, when shall we assemble for combat?"
"Ah, that's the spirit. Only a madman would accept a mission like this without vacillation, Corporal Akbar. I knew I could count on you," replied the general to the nervous yet raucous laughter of the others in the room. The seven elite fighters gazed back at their commander with mild anxiety as his crusty laugh and smile transmogrified into a gaze of the utmost sobriety.
"Right now."

Mission to Incognito

Gen. McAllister's seven protégés began to gather their combat gear and supplies as their hypersonic jet neared its destination, approximately five hours from the Conundrum, somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. Leon turned to the grizzled veteran. "I ain't never seen this island on a map, General. How many uncharted islands do you guys operate around here? Got a whole franchise?"
"We can't tell you that, Sgt. Johnson. That's why the islands are uncharted," replied an amused Gen. McAllister.
The transport jet approached a misty precipice with decreasing visibility, then activated its instrument panel to navigate. It coursed through an apparent cave complex, though smoky corridors and alongside warehouses holding vast stockpiles, into a central command post region. Strangely, in the middle of this desolate expanse, was a well-populated secret base, deep inside a mountainous cave complex. The jet slowed and activated its landing gear, alighting on a short but solidly constructed runway. "Gamma Team Airlines, express service, this is your captain, the one and only Lt. Byron Sanford. We have landed in paradise, friends. Stand up, stretch out, and hug your neighbor. Caribbean beaches and blue waters ahead," quipped the pilot, Lt. Byron Sanford.
"Byron, man, you should be running routes to Aruba with an attitude like that. Much better pay and less chance of getting shot at," quipped Nathan in response.
"Nah, our days'd be too boring without the getting shot at part, bud. Besides, in what other job can you tell your friends that you landed your own plane inside a cave complex housing an active volcano?"
"Well, you got me there, buddy," responded Nathan to wide laughter.
The group disembarked and was met at the gate of the base by a decorated officer. Soldiers hauled ordnance and research teams buzzed with industry in the background. "Brigadier General Alexander Lu, I presume," began Karen. "Quite an honor to meet such an august personage."
"No need to be so polite, Maj. Allison. I was a grunt just like each of you back when we entered the Vole Hive. But it's the grunts that shed the blood and get the job done. That's why all of you are here."
"And you can't imagine how happy we are to be here," replied Cpl. Venathan in jest. General Lu smiled and turned to his colleague. "Gen. McAllister, I presume you've briefed your elites here? "By all means, old buddy. As you can see by their disheveled looks and skeptical tone, they're more than ready for combat." "That's great to hear. I'd be a bit taken aback if you all weren't a bit rattled by what you're about to face." "Ya know, you guys ought to become motivational speakers. You just have a sixth sense on how to say all the most encouraging things," replied Emmett in sarcastic laughter. "I don't think that perk's in our contract, but I like the way you think," replied General Lu. "OK, down to business. We'll wine and dine you tonight in the lavish facilities of Ft. Incognito, aka the Mess Hall. You'll be roused at 0400 tomorrow morning and drilled on the basics, which my esteemed colleague I'm sure has already covered." The General gestured toward one of his fellow officers standing at a nearby wall chart. "Lt. Andrew Gaines, to your right, will be your point man here and will go over each of the details. At precisely 0730, you'll be led to the slipgate in the cone of the Mt. Nemesis here. The gate has been readied for your arrival, and will be opened at precisely 0745 for each of you to enter Caldath's realm. You will be able to beam signals back to us at least intermittently with your FAT's, but we will not be able to contact you. You're on your own once you step through the Slipgate field." General Lu stared downward for a moment, then looked back up solemnly. "I know I don't need to emphasize to you the gravity of your mission. The Rho base in Division Nine has become an indispensable security outpost since the Shub-Niggurath incident. Caldath is dangerous, and if he manages to take down the Rho base, we'll lose one of our most critical forward defense installations in Division Nine. Early intelligence reports suggest that there are some nasty forces gathering there; Shub-Niggurath was just a hint of their power, and even Caldath himself would probably balk at entering the Rho base region if he had any idea what he'd be facing. We know as little about Caldath's vulnerabilities as you do. You're going to have to draw on every ounce of courage under fire in your arsenal of experience to ascertain the knowledge that you'll need. As all of you know, Michael has done much of the work for us, but we still no precious little about how to take out Caldath himself. That's your mission. Good luck, and I hope to see each of you back here on this side of the slipgate." Gen. Lu turned and busily walked toward an engineering corps constructing a footbridge across a lava pit on the west side of the immense complex. At this Gen. McAllister himself began to turn toward his quarters in Ft. Incognito. "I'll see you in the morning," he said tersely.

Into the Slipgate

The crack team assembled, weary from an early rousing and fatigued from drills. Nathan gazed at his watch. "0729," he thought. "It's time."

Lt. Gaines began to lead the septet of soldiers and Gen. McAllister into a dimly-lit corridor with darkroom lighting on the ceiling. "My apologies for the accommodations," he quipped. "We're restricted to high- wavelength light in this corridor; there are deposits on the rocks that sediment and leach out into our water supply if we use anything but red lights here."
"It ain't like any red-light district I've seen," remarked Leon. Five minutes later, the team had reached an apparent impasse in the rocky corridor, at which point Lt. Gaines reached for a high-frequency sound wave emitting device in his knapsack and entered a code. A hidden panel on the rockface was activated, opening to yet another corridor which immediately led to an intimidating locked metal gate with a skull-and-crossbones painted on the surface. Lt. Gaines brushed a dirty panel and placed his left hand thereupon, then put his eye close to a scanner while inserting an orange keycard into a concealed slot on the right.
"They keepin' the country's gold bullion supply in here?" quipped Leon again, to smiles among his comrades.
The door slid to reveal a large, open-air courtyard with whirring electronic devices... and a large slipgate straight ahead. "Ladies and gentleman of Gamma Team Elite," began Lt. Gaines, "your mission begins ahead in T minus 6 minutes. Assemble your battle gear and prepare for Slipgate entry. Hope you've got insurance." The group laughed nervously. "Col. Evans, you are the commanding officer here, followed by Maj. Allison. Follow the chain of command as you always do on the other side of that Slipgate; you'll have only each other to depend on over there."
The seven soldiers lined up single file. Suddenly, at 0736, the Slipgate began to glow and generated apparent copies of itself to each side. "Don't worry folks," offered Lt. Gaines, "you'll want the one in the middle, straight ahead." The Slipgate entrance swirled and roared, as though beckoning the soldiers to enter.
"Good luck, all of you," said Gen. McAllister. "The Rho base is counting on your mission here." A minute later the soldiers were given the signal, and stepped through the Slipgate one-by-one. There were about to enter the realm of the Destroyer. Gen. McAllister looked on with stoic resignation. In his heart of hearts he doubted that any would return alive. But he knew, from his own past, that such impossible missions were also the most pivotal to accomplish.
"That's a courageous bunch, General," started Lt. Gaines.
"No need to tell me that, Lt.," replied Gen. McAllister. "I sure wouldn't want a job like this."

Blood and Guts

The soldiers had little time to catch their breath when they emerged on the other side, in an industrial zone manned by seething grunts and enforcers. Ravi, the last in the group to enter, already saw his colleagues blasting away from behind barriers as he emerged through the Slipgate. "Holy sh--!" He dove out of the way as an Enforcer's bolt, aimed at the Slipgate, nearly delivered him a rude awakening.
"Havin' fun there, eh, Cpl. Venathan," quipped an initially unseen Lt. Sandra Mendez, hiding behind a barrier.
"I've had better days," replied Venathan as he wheeled himself into firing position.
The elite soldiers, seasoned from experience, found little difficulty in clearing the area of adversaries, though Emmett sustained a smoking wound in his left arm following a scouting attempt of enemy positions. "All in a day's work," he said phlegmatically as he returned to the group.

Upon navigating their way through a maze of fuming barrels with an acrid odor, the group advanced up a corridor to a bend in the path. Nathan abruptly halted his colleagues and hushed them as he staggered backward. "Ambush!! Ambush! Back, around the East Wall of the processing plant! On the double!" The group fan furiously back as a swarm of Grunts, Enforcers, and Ogres swarmed from around the bend. "Fire from 2 o'clock!" shouted Sophia.
As the group took shelter behind the wall, they staked out defensive positions. "Damnit Nate, I don't think we got enough firepower for all of them. I mean, I didn't think we'd be toast this early," lamented Ravi. Suddenly, Leon and Sandra looked back into a small pool, at each other, and then back again. They dove in as the others watched in surprise, the swimmers pushing underneath the floor on either side. They emerged on two far corners, Leon with a nailgun, Sandra with a double-barreled shotgun. "We're alright now," shouted Leon. The two soldiers stood behind pillars and picked off the oncoming throng of Quakespawn as their colleagues frenziedly shot and hacked at any opponents who rounded the wall. As the soldiers struck down the Quakespawn, grunts and ogres began to pick fights with each other as each inadvertently struck the other with a gun blast, doing the Gamma Team's work for them. Soon the Special Forces soldiers were in mop-up mode, and proceeded to take out their remaining foes as they advanced around the heavily-guarded corridor.
"I been through these slipgates before, and I don't ever remember running into a crowd like that so soon on the other side," remarked Leon. "They're right about this place—it ain't your usual mission."
The group continued to fight various teams of grunts, ogres, and enforcers as they approached a mysterious room with bizarre carvings on its rocky doors. Emmett looked upward, noting a faintly lit symbol ensconced on one of the walls to the side, and shot his gun in that direction. Instantly the doors opened... to reveal a strange river ahead.
"Ain't like any lake or river I've ever seen," remarked Karen, shaking her head. The river flowed with blood, collecting in a central pool that led downward.
"Folks, we've found the gib pool," began Nathan. "You know what we've gotta do next." The colonel's colleagues nodded, attached a breathing apparatus to their noses and mouths, and jumped into the central well of the gib pool. They were promptly dragged downward by a strong current into a sort of drainage pipe which whirled quickly around, eventually depositing each member of the group into a chamber... in total darkness.

The Graveyard

"This seems awfully familiar," remarked Sophia, as she gazed at her illuminated electronic map.
"You're damn right it is," replied Nathan. "Nice that Michael did the scoping out for us already. Let's blast ourselves out of this grave and get to work." Leon promptly aimed his double-barreled shotgun at the roof and pulled the trigger, revealing a rain-strewn landscape in a cemetery.

Meanwhile, in the dark surroundings of his bone palace, an enormous, scaly figure stared admiringly at a spectral screen between two bones. "Splendid. My meal has come early today," he said, watching the Gamma Team as it emerged to do battle in the cemetery. "As swift and lethal as Michael, each one of them. I shall feast heartily today." The visage of Caldath became apparent from the misty illumination of the screen. He was watching his guests earnestly.

The Gamma Team, soaking wet, advanced toward the gate of the waterlogged graveyard. Immediately, they heard an anguished groan in the distance. "Zombies, dammit," reacted Karen. "And we don't have a grenade launcher or rockets."
"Let's hope there's one around here somewhere," replied Ravi. "Look, we haven't gotten their attention yet, and it won't do much good if we all leave together—our weapons combined can't take them out. I'll go out and find what we need."
The group looked with concern at the young corporal, but they knew his courage and his reputation. "Go ahead, Ravi. Be careful out there." The corporal immediately charged through the gate running. Zombies, lining the walls, turned and tore off their own flesh to toss at the champion sprinter seeking out a weapon that could defeat them. Ravi eluded all shots at him as he coursed through two yards and turned next to a gate leading to a narrow set of graves near a brick wall. Nowhere to go as zombies closed in. As he looked around frantically, he felt a searing lump of zombie flesh pierce his left side, knocking him face down. "Owwww! Dammit! You mofos are gonna pay for that!" As he staggered, he noticed a discrepancy on the grave to his right—it had no stone. Ravi immediately stood over the grave and pointed his shotgun downward, to reveal a coveted weapon. He leapt down into the shallow pit and directed the grenade launcher upward against the encircling group of zombies. He fired three times, in three different directions—each deafening blast followed by a blur of flying flesh and blood. He cautiously peered out of the grave to pick off a straggler, then rushed back to his 6 colleagues still waiting in the first yard. They were under attack.
"What the hell kind of a fix did you get yourselves into," said Ravi as he joined the group.
"They must have tracked us down when you ran out there," replied Sophia. "Fortunately, they're not very good shots—no injuries yet. But we're glad to see you back here." Ravi strafed along the walls, firing off grenades while gathering the ammo that was strewn haphazardly around the yard. Quick work was made of the zombies in each yard. The Gamma team passed an unusually lifelike equestrian statue as they proceeded into a central edifice, when Nathan suddenly halted their forward advance at the threshold.
"The Stones of Return," he uttered. Leon nodded and reached into his sack, pulling out a glistening crystal. Nathan walked over to the gibbed remains of a zombie and made contact with the crystal. Before the group's very eyes, the zombie's far-strewn body parts collected and reformed into a humanoid body. Bloody, exhausted—but conscious and capable of communication. "I am Soleth of the north side," he said. "I thank you for assisting my return. How may I help you?" The group looked in perplexed astonishment as Nathan approached the reanimated figure. "Caldath," he began. "Does he have a weakness? Can we defeat him?" Soleth looked back with impassive eyes. "Caldath's fear," he said, "is of warriors so strong they refuse to kill. Beware the Sanguinoch." Nathan looked back in puzzlement. "Warriors so strong that... what does that mean, Soleth? And what is it about the Sanguinoch?" "I am sorry," Soleth replied, "I can tell you no more at this time. Though you have given me back my life, I am still much limited in my memory as I revive. The case will be the same with my brothers and sisters, but they will each know something different." Nathan nodded knowingly. "Thank you, Soleth." He immediately walked over to a pool of blood along a wall and touched it with the crystal. Two zombies reanimated. "That was the blood of two of 'em there," remarked Nathan. "A nifty device, these folks come up with." "I am Mayelzin of the Hills," began one. "And I am Locarn of the Abandoned Mountain," followed the other. "How may we help?" "I want to know more about Caldath," replied Nathan. "What does he fear? How can we beat him? "He fears our vengeance," replied Mayelzin. "He fears the face of those of whose blood he has partaken," added Locarn. Nathan again looked quizzically at his newly reanimated advisors. "Look, I know your all's memory is a bit fuzzy, but I just don't see what these clues mean." "You will," replied Locarn. "Tarry here no longer—Caldath watches you." Nathan looked at his fellow soldiers with concern. Yet he realized they had no choice but to proceed onward. Leon noticed a corridor along a side wall, to which he directed his colleagues. As the group walked inside, they heard the roar of a Shambler. "Damn, you never do get used to that sound," replied Emmett, shuddering. "Move it out, ahead!" yelled Karen. The septet ran through a chamber to be confronted by a pair of fiends. Surrounded on each side, Sophia dodged at the last second as a fiend lunged forward—and right into the Shambler, who reacted with rage. Meanwhile, Leon blasted away at the other fiend while deftly dodging around corners, as Sandra and Emmett blasted away at the Shambler that had just vanquished the fiend. They heard a groan as the Shambler fell back, then motioned for the group to run back out of the building.
They reassembled back at the central hall near the equestrian statue, where Nathan touched the door panel to proceed inside. As they moved through the shadowy hall, the group began to hear the carving of swords, followed by a ferocious growl of determination. "Hell Knights!" yelled Sandra. The group dispersed along the walls to spread out the Knights' dangerous fire. Leon and Karen sustained wounds from the Knights' sweeping projectiles, but emerged to strike down their opponents as their fellow team members took on some of the load. With the Knights out of the way, the group proceeded further inside, where a phantom-like specter began to descend.
"Get the f--- down and don't move!" hollered Emmett. "Remember from Michael's transmission—they freeze in place prior to any attack." The group stared as if facing down tigers, as Nathan gingerly reached for a perforator that he had managed to acquire in the building.
"1,2,3" he muttered—and shot a blizzard of nails out at the specter, which screamed and collapsed. After facing two more enemies of the same ilk, the Gamma team approached a lava pit with narrow wooden sticks as their only steps forward.
"Oh, no, I never was good at this kind of thing," remarked Sandra.
"Don't worry," replied Emmett. "Under conditions like these, you learn awfully fast."
Ravi nearly fell into the lava when he was grabbed and hauled back up by Leon. Slowly, the group traversed the lava pit and emerged from the building.

Blood of the Sanguinoch

The group battled its way through another technological and industrial complex, laden with voles hiding in numerous corners, and a booby-trapped gib pool zone filled with underwater caves, teleportation sites, and dangerous obstacles before reaching a promenade in a mountainous region ahead. As they moved forward, suddenly their weapons were wrenched from their hands. "What the—" shouted Emmett.
"It's OK," replied Nathan. "This happened to Michael, too. This is some sort of subfield corridor that Caldath is able to access—he snatched our weapons from us because he wants us to use something else. I'm beginning to get some ideas here. Come on, let's go."
The group proceeded downward through a maze of caves and rocky corridors, battling ogres, enforcers, and others as they descended. Finally, they emerged in a vast underground labyrinth of platforms suspended above a small stream, teeming with enforcers perched in sniper positions. "I'm already getting' a feeling that those guys'll be seriously getting on my nerves," remarked Ravi wryly. The soldiers battled their way for what felt like miles, taking occasional hits which they were quickly able to repair with health packs, until they emerged into an eerie, pitch black-ceilinged throne room with pillars and a central altar. "The Sanguinoch!" yelled Karen as she focused her gaze on the altar. The soldiers were bombarded with whispered voices exhorting them to take the Sanguinoch, but they hesitated. "The zombie said the Sanguinoch was the key to figuring out Caldath somehow," recalled Nathan. "Whatever we do here... let's heed their advice." "We've got to grab it or we can't clear this place," remarked Emmett. "Remember from Michael's transmissions—the exits don't become available until we clutch the Sanguinoch." The rest of the group eyed him warily, then looked at the object on the altar. Emmett looked back nervously. "You don't expect me to snatch that thing, do you?" The others continued to stare. "Well, somebody's gotta do it. Everyone brace yourselves." Emmett nervously reached for the Sanguinoch, a bony contraption with a barrel that apparently fired out blood. As he made contact, the group heard the room shake as shamblers, fiends, and other enemies dropped in from the ceiling or emerged from walls. "Back! Back, behind the pil-uhh!!!" Nathan was zapped by the thunderbolt of a shambler and went down. Leon swept in and blasted the shambler with a shotgun to draw his attention anyway, then scooped up the young colonel behind a pillar. "No matter what we do, I always seem to be the one saving your pale ass, colonel!" said Leon. "And I'm much obliged for it, Leon," replied Nathan. Sophia screamed as she felt the claw of a fiend rake her back and draw blood. She dropped her weapon and turned around, fearfully awaiting the beast's next strike, before Karen and Ravi blasted the creature down. "I owe you one," said Sophia. Emmett, however, was oddly relaxed. Wielding the Sanguinoch, he rapidly blasted his adversaries down with little damage to himself using the powerful weapon. Nathan, still in a state of mild vertigo from the Shambler electrocution, awoke and looked around in heightened alertness. As Emmett knocked down the last shambler in the group, he edged forward to the deliver the coup de grace, as Sandra armed her electric gun for good measure. Suddenly, Nathan bolted forward and yelled at them to stop. "No, no, no! That's what he wants!" Emmett wheeled around indignantly. "Nathan, have you lost it? I know you're the commanding officer here but you're nuts. That's a shambler! He'll stand up again and rip us to shreds!" "No, don't you understand? It all makes sense now—that's what the zombies were saying. The Sanguinoch, and indeed all our weapons here; whenever we use them, we're just feeding Caldath. Look! Look at the tip of the Sanguinoch!" Emmett peered in astonishment at what he saw—blood was gushing off the tip, then disappearing as if into thin air. "That blood is going to the lair of Caldath, Emmett," continued Nathan. "Every time we kill here, we're providing sustenance for the Destroyer. Drop the Sanguinoch." "But Nathan," began Ravi, "what... we still have to face down enemies as we approach Caldath's lair. How are we going to make it through alive without blasting them back?" "Ravi, you remember that training session a couple years back on fighting pacifist style? It was designed to conserve ammo, but that's precisely what we need to do here. Shoot only if you absolutely must, but most of all just avoid our enemies here. Save your wrath for Caldath." At this the group reached mutual agreement and proceeded back outward from the altar room, when Karen and Ravi, in the rear, were blasted by the bomb- spike of a vole. On the ground and temporarily unable to move, they gradually lifted their heads in terror as the vole approached to finish them off... when the vole wheeled around to face a shambler that had zapped him. As the group ran to pick up and carry Karen and Ravi, they noticed that the Shambler nearly killed by the Sanguinoch had stood up from his original position. Dodging and weaving, swimming and running, but rarely firing, the group rapidly made good its escape from the labyrinth, emerging once again on the surface in a military base—Caldath's Bunker.

Caldath, observing the action in his spectral screen, began to furrow his massive brow angrily. "Have these fools gone soft? I deliberately provided them with all the weapons and ammunition they'd need to kill, kill, kill. Now they betray me like this? Insolent fools! I was hoping to eat well today."

"Damn—those SOB's got shields!" remarked Leon. The group blasted at several opponents resembling enforcers as they crossed a narrow footbridge to enter the military base, wounding but scrupulously aiming to avoid killing the Shield Enforcers. They entered the base and navigated their way through a massive industrial expanse with numerous gear-driven devices. After what seemed like hours, they emerged in an open patio region with shamblers and other deadly opponents, hustling to a gate left ajar ahead of them. Nathan blasted it open, and they emerged inside to find Caldath's reactor complex with a corporate signpost, "Nihilism Unlimited," posted above one of the reactors. "That's the small company that installed Caldath's reactor complex," noted Karen. "Smart guys, computer whizzes, all of them hired from earth. Unfortunately for them, Caldath didn't want anyone to know too much about the reactor specs—including the reactor complex's very designers. So he killed them as soon as the reactor went operational." "Can we take out the reactor, Karen?" queried Sandra. "Might help us to give Caldath a bit more of a surprise." "That's a negative, Sandra. That reactor is protected from top to bottom—the only way to disable it is to take out Caldath himself. "Can't wait to get the job done." The Gamma Team rushed down a hallway, clambering over a spike trap to advance to a central connecting room among the regions in the bunker. Waiting there was a Slipgate with a row of spikes on the surface. "The spikes marks the spot," observed Corporal Emmett. "Through that Slipgate, we'll find Caldath." Before they could cross the threshold, however, Nathan immediately reached for a pouch he kept carefully stowed in a pocket sewn into his flak jacket. He emerged with the Gauntlet of Baal. "Everyone listen up. As soon as we slip through that gate, we'll be in the Danger Zone—Caldath's megapulse can interfere anywhere within the Zone, whether in his Bone Palace or in the Gib Pool, and he could kill us with a single pulse." He continued, holding out the Gauntlet: "The Gauntlet of Baal will protect you against the megapulse, but it won't help against lesser attacks from any chumps that come at us without the Pentagram of Protection as well. Michael didn't face anything but Caldath when he went in, but we can't guarantee the same for ourselves. Remember, each fragment of the Gauntlet provides protection whether you touch it before its fracture or afterward. We've got six fragments, so I suggest each of you do a show-and-tell right now." Each member of the group rubbed the Gauntlet fragments and awaited further instructions from the stern-faced Special Forces colonel. "I'm going to split one fragment before we enter the Slipgate. We only have a couple minutes or so with each fragment, so we'll have to move fast and run through the gib pool to get to Caldath." "But Nathan," started Karen, "we still don't know what to do against Caldath when we arrive there." "Then I guess we'll have to figure it out pretty fast," rejoined the colonel. He split the first Gauntlet fragment, surrounding each group member with a blue-green protective aura. They immediately stepped through the Slipgate.

Caldath's Lair

No sooner had the soldiers emerged from the Slipgate than they were wading ankle-deep in the blood of the central gib pool of Caldath, the Destroyer. Body parts, heads, arms, feet dropped from the porous ceiling into the pool. The bloodstained walls glowed red as the Destroyer's sounds could be overheard in the distance.
"This crap is gonna ruin my perfectly good uniform, darn it," quipped Leon as the group rushed toward the Slipgate into Caldath's bone palace.
Soaked in blood and flecked with bits of gibbed flesh, the Gamma Team made way for the Slipgate ahead.
"Everyone ready?" shouted Nathan. "This is the Destroyer we're facing, here. We don't have much time left with the Gauntlet; we need to replenish our protection each time our protective shield turns green. It's only something that we can see as users of the Gauntlet; it can't be detected from the outside. Observe everything you can in there, cuz we gotta act fast."
"I just wanna take out this SOB so I can wash my damn clothes," murmured Emmett.
The group stood before the Slipgate of Caldath's bone palace, then stepped through.
They emerged on a platform surrounded by darkness. The Destroyer, in his bone palace, quickly approached them from the distance. He called out to his adversaries. "Do you fools really believe you could defeat me by simply quitting as warriors after you found the Sanguinoch? You have deprived me of a blood meal, but my power is vastly greater than any you could imagine, and I'm incensed enough at you to use it immediately. I suppose that you," Caldath said, fixing his hateful gaze at Nathan, "are the leader of this pathetic group?"
"Why yes, I am, C-a-l-d-a-t-h." He pronounced each syllable with deliberately heightened clarity. The Destroyer responded with a dismayed look. "So, you know about me, eh? It shall do you no good!" Nathan stealthily split another Gauntlet fragment. "As I told Michael when he arrived here, I am the Destroyer. I rewarded him with death, and I shall do the same for you."
At this, the Destroyer focused his gaze squarely on his opponents, then flexing rapidly as if starting a wave on water. The Gamma Team felt a sudden pressure on their shields, but suffered no damage. The Destroyer, so confident at every moment before, suddenly reacted with a hint of fear. He had issued a megapulse; it had done nothing to his determined adversaries. "Taken a page from the Cyberdemon's handbook, have you? You merely prolong the inevitable." At this, Caldath extended a pseudopod on his right side, after which a horde of ogres, voles, and shamblers suddenly materialized. "Your Gauntlet will do nothing to protect you now."
At this, Karen reached out for a Pentagram of protection which she'd acquired and stored for future use. She clutched its circumference and held it high, extending its protection to all members of the squad. "Let's go to work," she said. The Gamma Team members ran in circular paths to foil their opponents, who more often than not struck each rather than their common enemy, precipitating infighting and further confusion. Caldath watched amusedly as a spectator, his adversaries now occupied and vulnerable yet still protected by their presciently-stowed artifacts. Nathan split another fragment; his supply was now half used. As the battle carried on further, however, Leon noticed streams of power from Caldath's reactor resonating through the bone palace. As he fought off a trio of attacking ogres, he caught Lt. Chou's attention. "Sophia, look, in the bones."
"Yeah, they're nice and shiny. What about them?" queried Sophia as she delivered hits from her perforator into a shambler.
"This whole damn joint is electrified, just like Caldath himself. The current is moving throughout his body so he winds up with a magnetic field. He's magnetized—that's what's floating him up. If you"... Leon paused as he dodged fiends and Shambler lightning. "If you reverse the field polarity, he'll be brought down and trapped on the surface of the bone palace and the platform. He won't be able to move, and we can whale on him."
"Impressive, Leon—I didn't think you were into that kind of thing. But even if we trap him on the floor, we still won't be able to kill him.
Nathan saw the field turning green and split another fragment. As Sophia battled off a cadre of ogres, she pulled out her electric ray and aimed directly at a shining piece of bone near the base of the Destroyer's palace. She held the ray until a blast in the vicinity of her target abruptly changed the electric field of Caldath's palace. The Destroyer was abruptly forced to the ground of his palace and tumbled onto the platform, trapped on the surface. "Impertinent fools! Do you really think you can hurt the Destroyer like this? Your Gauntlet supply won't last forever, and my megapulse will rip you to shreds."
Nathan desperately sought for a solution to the impasse as he broke the group's next-to-last fragment. What did those zombies mean, he thought. Suddenly, he grabbed the last fragment and headed for the Slipgate. "Where the f—k are you going, Nate? We're still waging a battle here!"
"It's the only way to beat Caldath, Leon. That's what the zombies meant by the Destroyer fearing their revenge." With this cryptic comment, Nathan darted to the slipgate and, when through, tossed the last fragment of the Gauntlet of Baal, a Stone of Return, and a Pentagram of Protection into the gib pool. He immediately stepped back onto the platform to rejoin the fray. Suddenly, a roaring, hissing sound could be heard through the Slipgate on the other side. At this, the Destroyer reacted with horror. Within a minute, zombies, grunts, ogres, and other victims of the Destroyer, tossed into the gib pool, had been reanimated, invulnerable to Caldath's megapulse, and emerged through the Slipgate. They walked swiftly and with rage toward the Destroyer, still trapped on the surface of the platform. Among the avengers was Michael himself, approaching near the vanguard.
"No!! No! Nooo!" screamed the Destroyer as the gib pool dried up, its constituents all reanimated and bent on revenge against Caldath. Nathan ordered the Gamma Team to protect the reanimated Quakespawn and soldiers from attack by Caldath's newly recruited forces at all costs. "Keep them preoccupied with us," he ordered. The reanimated Quakespawn began to surround Caldath, at which point they reached in; the Destroyer's usually cocksure-confident visage had transformed into abject terror. The Quakespawn's hands reached through the flesh of the Destroyer and they walked into his body as he screamed. More and more reanimated Quakespawn joined in, either passing within the Destroyer's body or tugging furiously on the outside. The Gamma Team members stopped their combat and turned to Caldath with a stunned look. The Destroyer's body contorted and stretched as it was pressed and pulled by the enraged throngs within and around it. Caldath's body bulged outward and to the side until, suddenly, his body exploded and he was gibbed on his own platform. The Destroyer had been torn apart by his reanimated victims—a poetic justice that was not lost on the Gamma Team. The reanimated Quakespawn nodded in respect, then proceeded back through the Slipgate. Ravi noticed a crackling and vibration toward the back of Caldath's bone palace. "Folks, I hate to say this, but this whole damn place is about to fall apart on us. We gotta get outta here now!" "But we can't make it all the way back to the original Slipgate," retorted Sandra. "Where could we go?" "We don't need to," replied Nathan. "If Caldath's killed, his nuclear reactors are probably down as well and Systems Control back at Fort Incognito should be able to read our coordinates. They can turn just about any Slipgate here into a waystation back to Mt. Nemesis." "How will we know?" asked Emmett nervously. "Sys Control will send their electronic signature through the portal, to be read on our FAT's. We'll then know if that's a Slipgate we can use." Karen gazed around at the crumbling platform and bone palace. "Well, I think it's best we get out of here at least." The others assented without hesitation and proceeded through the Slipgate to the gib pool—which was now devoid of blood and gibbed flesh, following the reanimation. The group approached the next Slipgate where Nathan took a reading. "Damn, nothing here, either. We gotta pass further out, away from the nuclear reactors." The group, exhausted but still resolute, straggled back through the Bunker housing their foes, who had been preserved in the interest of denying Caldath his blood meal. While tempted to go a little more trigger-happy, gamma team maintained its restraint (and ammo). The Bunker began to crumble, and the group emerged on the mountain plateau again with the footbridge. They evaded their adversaries and headed straight for a Slipgate buried in rock, on the other side. Nathan held out his FAT. "We got a hit!" he proclaimed. The group stepped through, being instantly transported back to their original departure positions at Ft. Nemesis. Gens. McAllister and Lu were waiting with first aid teams, and the Gammas were rushed immediately to the Ft. Incognito field hospitals. As Nathan recovered on his stretcher, Gen. McAllister asked him how he was able to kill the Destroyer. "We learned not to play his game; we didn't kill gratuitously. Ultimately, the best soldiers are the ones who never fire a shot, and we followed that credo. But Caldath's demise came when we reanimated those he had killed; they took their vengeance upon him." "Good work, Col. Nelson. Rho base will be quite pleased to hear this." "General, if you don't mind my asking... what, exactly, is this terrible enemy who is currently menacing the Quake Dimension 9? Why's everyone on pins and needles?" "We're not yet sure, Col. Nelson. Something about 'Nehahra' or some such. But whoever or whatever it is, they seem to be scaring the folks there pretty well, " "Well, whatever it is, we're off that mission, understand? The only mission I wanna have now is a re-determination of my officer's status at The Conundrum." "Will do," laughed Gen. McAllister. "You've done enough in one day already."