Chapter 34: Below

Chuck went first into the hole and his light showed a grimy set of steps heading down into the earth. He'd been forced to abandon both the shotgun and rifle he was carrying in his swim to safety but still at least had the grenades on his chest for heavy ordinance. Down to the two handguns he had strapped to himself for firearms he kept one pointed at the floor as they moved forward and prayed it would still fire after being dunked. Carefully and with as much stealth as possible he crept to the next floor. It was a large, open room, larger than the one above but just as empty.

Waiting for the lights of his companions to join him at the bottom of the flight there didn't seem to be anything in the room except another set of steps on the opposite side of the room leading downward. It was almost too easy and Chuck didn't like it. He was also a little concerned that neither of his friends brought long range weaponry but he supposed they would have been lost in the storm too. He would have to hope that the Dark Man would make up the difference.

"Empty?" Julia asked behind him.

"Not for long. Keep going." Victor suggested. They waited for Chuck to move first as apparently the guy with the gun was doing the leading down here. At least he had kevlar.

Heading down the next flight of stairs he could see the soft glow of lamps coming from the bottom and motioned behind him to kill their lights. Slinking down to the room as a group this floor was identical to the one above except this had a single light in the center. Sitting at a table for two by herself was a disheveled blonde girl Chuck had seen before but could not recall from where. In front of her was a large caliber revolver and she was staring ahead as if they weren't there.

"Where do I know her from?" Chuck whispered.

"That's the crazy bitch from the hotel." Julia reminded him.

"Crap, you're right. What is she doing here?"

"Beats me."

"Use caution." Victor urged. "Something is amiss here."

They moved slowly forward and Chuck kept his pistol pointed away but ready. They came within fifteen feet of her and still the blonde didn't so much as look their way. The killer turned back to Julia and motioned with his head towards the unknown female but the pilgrim made a confused face. Chuck mouthed the word 'girl' overly exaggerated to her and Julia's eyes narrowed at him.

"Why do I have to do it!?" she whispered angrily.

"You're a chick!" Chuck whispered back.

"How does that count!? Like we have some kind of special bond because we both have girl parts!?"

The killer looked up in thought and jiggled his head a little as he determined that this wasn't terrible logic. Silently fuming Julia turned to Victor for support who shrugged in grudging agreement. "Bag of dicks..." she muttered before venturing forward out of their pack.

"Uh, hi, remember us?" she said to the girl.

"Don't come any closer." the blonde warned.

"Hey, we don't want to hurt you." Julia put up her hands but the girl didn't so much as flick her eyes towards them.

"This is between me and him. Murphy." the girl asserted defiantly.

"Well-" Julia started but the girl went for the gun and Chuck whipped his pistol up to point at her. Instead of aiming it at them the blonde put it to her own head and pulled the trigger. Chuck squawked involuntarily as the gun clicked on an empty trigger.

"Holy shit!" Julia blurted and backed up a little. Chuck didn't quite know what to do since it didn't make sense to point a gun at someone who was playing Russian roulette with themselves.

"Hey! Calm down!"

"Get any closer and I stand up." the girl spat.

"Uh..."

"You people already took the gun I had. Now I'm just down to one bullet."

"Well actually, we need that and we have it-"

"Shut up!" she snapped. "If I stand up the bomb under the table goes off. So don't even think of trying to stop us."

"Wha-what!?" the pilgrim balked and the three of them bent down almost simultaneously to see what looked like a bundle of dynamite taped to the underside of the table.

"Duck!?"

"Fuuuuuu-"

"Aaaaagh!" they reacted.

"You can't save him. We'll finish this." the deranged girl promised.

"Uh...okay...you know there's no one in front of you right?" Julia asked as she backed away from the table.

"Very funny. I'm looking right at the bastard who stole everything. Don't try to trick me." she said sarcastically.

"Um, all in favor of getting the hell out of here?" Chuck asked his friends.

"Seconded." Julia held up a finger. The three of them gave the table a wide berth and practically ran to the next flight of stairs. Chuck glanced back once at the unstable female still focused on whatever imaginary person was in front of her but at the moment they were in no position to help. Saying a mental apology he hurried away from the explosive and down to the next floor.

They were falling over each other to get down the steps and burst onto the landing in a tactically unsound way. It didn't matter though as they stopped short from the macabre scene before them. The room had been some kind of operations center but it was a graveyard at the moment. The decomposing bodies of many mercenaries and a number of robed cultists were strewn about in eternal repose. At first Chuck assumed the Dark Man had taken care of it but when he examined them more closely they were missing the tell tale violence and inhuman force that marked Nothing's attacks. It would appear that many of them died from bullet wounds.

"Well damn." Julia said out loud.

"Something went wrong here." Victor added. "The soldiers turned on their employers."

"And themselves?" Chuck asked as he knelt down to one of the mercenaries' rifles. Holstering his pistol he picked up the black assault gun and started rummaging for more clips. As he searched among the dead he found few that had not met their end by bullets. The ones who hadn't bore horrific burns or giant holes certainly not made by any gun.

"Either bullets or...fire?" he spoke up as he stuffed another clip into his pocket.

"One of the Order's standard magical attacks." Victor explained. "Look at this."

They turned to the next stairwell which had a dead cultist on it. It was covered with thick metal doors and chained shut from their side. From the looks of it the cultist had died securing the chains for whatever reason.

"What do you think this is all about?" Julia asked him.

"No clue. We're going to have to get past these either way."

"Is that a good idea?" Chuck interjected.

"There's a crazy woman with a giant bomb a floor up. Do you want to get two floors away or what?" she asked.

Shutting himself up Chuck started helping Victor untangle the mass of metal keeping the doors together. When the the chains were off it took both men to lift the extraordinarily heavy door up and drop it to the side with a loud bang that echoed in the enclosed space. The killer winced at the noise but it couldn't be helped. Quickly retrieving his new rifle he again took the lead and went down another level in the surprisingly deep structure.

When the next floor came into view he stopped in his as soon as he reached the bottom. Gathered behind a barricade of flipped over tables and chairs was a group of the mercs. They ducked down out of sight when he saw them and with the rest of the room being a scattered mess of random furniture Chuck slid behind a washer dryer combo he wasn't sure would make for useful cover.

"Hold your fire!" a voice came from the other side of the room. With the other two staying back on the stairwell the killer had to hold the room down and risked putting his gun up just over the edge of the appliance. The men were holed up well but their fortifications looked almost as flimsy as his own.

"I'm coming out!" the same man said and out from behind the barricade. Older with a worn face and gray hair he was mean looking but had his hands up. Chuck could drop him right then and there but it was hard to justify shooting an unarmed person.

"What do you want?" he asked the merc.

"Just to talk. You're Chuck right?" the man said and only then did the son of Silent Hill recognize his voice. It was Hulme, the mercenary commander who he'd only talked to with a black mask over his face.

"You!" he hissed. "Your men tortured me!"

"I know. There wasn't much I could do to stop them at that point." Hulme said sadly. "They were scared, angry, losing hope. And you killed them all anyway."

"You would have done the same thing!" Victor called down from the steps.

"I would have. And I'd do it again to get my men out." Hulme admitted to the absent knight. "But we're all that's left."

"What happened?"

"Your old friends had something of an insurrection and my people got dragged into the middle of it. We had orders to shoot dissenters but they were offering a way out of town and triple what we were being paid. Some were against it, some for it, there was shouting and then someone fired a round off. All hell broke loose. They backed us up down here and locked the door. That lying bastard Stone put up some magic wall down below. We've been stuck here for two days with no food or water. I guess they were going to let us starve to death." the commander spoke rapidly.

"All right...what now then?" the killer asked.

"We just want to go home." Hulme said tiredly. "No more of this. We won't fight you."

"I should shoot you where you stand." Chuck threatened.

"If you will agree to let the rest of my men go, then do it. I will pay that price." the mercenary decreed.

"Let them go, Chuck." Julia called down. "There's been enough revenge already."

It was hard to argue with that. Even though he was still literally sore from what the mercenaries had done to him they had been paid back a hundred times over in terms of vengeance. The Dark Man and Victor had done their bloody work well and dozens of the mercs had died in the hospital where they had been kept prisoner. Chuck sighed and stood up as a relieved Hulme signaled to his men. His friends came down as the broken, fatigued group of mercenaries filed out past them out of the room. There were only seven left including Hulme and Chuck shuddered to think of how many had met their end here.

The last to go was the commander and his weary features spoke of the toll his stay had taken on him. "I warned you, Commander." Victor sneered. "Your actions have had the consequences foretold."

"Coming here was the biggest mistake of my life." The commander said in a state of exhaustion. "All I wanted was to get my people out. Now most of them will never leave. This is something I will have to live with...if I live at all."

"And I'd kill you if you were worth it." the knight simmered with uncharacteristic vehemence. "But even if the misty land doesn't take care of you, I want you to live with your decisions. I want them to haunt you until your last breath. Begone from here, before I change my mind."

The knight waved his hand contemptuously and the old soldier lowered his head as he dragged his feet away from them. When the trio was alone again Julia said, "Well that was a little harsh."

"Your clemency was hard enough to swallow. Don't expect me to be polite as well." Victor said irritably.

"Let it go, Vic." the killer said. "They beat my ass with bats and I agree with Julia. There's been enough."

Sullen but quiet the knight did not retort and they resumed forward progress. Picking their way past the mercenaries' make shift camp they came to the next flight hidden among their fortifications. Heading down to a well lit floor that was half finished the rest was a large cave opening still rough hewn from whatever cataclysm formed it. A massive, circular stone door had been set over an opening leading onward and blocked their entrance. The Order's signature symbol, that strange, circle within circle mark with unintelligible lettering had been carved into the entirety of the door. Some fifteen feet across and just as many high it must have weighed many tons. Standing in front of it contemplating the intricate design was the Dark Man with his bone spikes criss-crossing his back.

"What is it among men that drives them to attempt to seal their place in history?" he asked the door. "It so often forgets them despite their best efforts."

"We might ask that of you, Daniel Kewahqu. You're the one who took it upon yourself to alter the misty land forever." the knight said.

"Come now, Victor Rosencrantz." The shade purred. "Do you truly believe in the innocence of a place so wrapped around the Order's finger that the girl's wrath swallowed it whole?"

"And what about the people who had nothing to do with them? People like us who just happened to be somewhere else when you struck?"

"The ones living on land stolen hundreds of years ago?" The shade shrugged. "If they were pure of heart I doubt much changed at all."

"You unleashed something you can't control." Julia accused.

"You, dear pilgrim, say this as if I was meant to." the shade answered softly. "The misty land is greater than you or I. Its judgment is its own...things are as they should be. I am merely an extension of its will. And there remains one last threat to it we must purge."

Unstrapping his harness the ghost approached Victor with it held out in his hands. "Behold! The spears of Gloom, Void, Darkness, Despair, Temptation, Source, Watchfulness and Chaos." he rattled off. As the knight pulled the harness on over his kevlar Chuck inspected the strange lettering all over them. One read "HASTA SANCTAE MATRIS" and "VIGILANTIA" and these words were carved down the every inch of the deadly spike. The other were similarly decorated and gave the already intimidating weapons another irrational wrinkle.

"The conjurer will have an item on him tying him to this world." Nothing instructed. "I will retrieve it and together with these righteous spears, you will join it to his true flesh."

"What do you mean, true flesh? How will we know what it is?" Julia balked as the shade exerted himself against the door.

"You will know." The Dark Man grunted as he began to roll the massive slab to the side. He rotated it just enough to crack it for them to get through and the door came back to rest. "I cannot follow. When the time of reckoning is upon us, I will join thee again."

Victor went in first and Julia behind him. Chuck took a deep breath as he looked over at the impassive Dark Man who only nodded back. Going in last the killer entered a room bathed in the light of a thousand candles.