"Hope can sometimes come out of the shadows. We never knew when, and we didn't know how… until now."

ACT 2: Denizens

Confusion

The Locust Foot Soldier fell; just crumpled in a heap. Even as it was being filled with a myriad of Lancer powered bullets, the Boomer froze mid reload before he too seemed to lose all muscle control, knees collapsing out from beneath, out cold, one hundred percent sure to be dead. Another Drone further back, this one carrying the standard Gnasher Shotgun, and without there being any visible reason why, keeled over as well, followed by another, and another. The three wretches that'd made it out of the Emergence Hole, their lopsided gait suddenly ceased and desisted, the 'monkey-dogs' toppling over, still, lifeless, gone. Behind them, the Grub Hole closed, yet not one of the Gears had deployed a grenade, nor underground, as they were, could the Hammer of Dawn be made use of either.

To the human side of this 15-year-long war, using natural rock formations and the toppled over or still standing Grindlifts for cover, it was a moment that caused the first lot of confusion. The second came when a voice from behind asked a question, the enquiry itself not the reason for the deepest form of shock to be represented within every contour of his fellow Gears' faces. No, it was the previously witnessed fact that the Private was supposed to be dead; taken out by the Boomer, with a gaping hole in his chest! The wound was no longer there. The soldier was absolutely fine. They all were. Even the fatigue from travelling and fighting to make it, to stay alive, all the way from Jacinto to Landown was gone.

So, the question was a blatantly obvious one, what the hell was going on?

"Control, this is Alpha-Seven, do you read?" the Corporal spoke into the COG issued earpiece. "Something... Control?" he had to make sure the signal was being received before even bothering to continue.

"Alpha-Seven, Jace, this is Delta. Fenix here. There is a Seeder blocking any transmission to the surface. Alpha-One already has it in their sights," a familiar voice informed him, the plateau Delta stood upon looking out over the recent Grindlift deployment of more Gears, this time, and highly coincidental, Alpha-Two.

"Well… Marcus, that isn't what I wanted to here. Means we are not going to get the answers we need right now."

"Answers to what?" Marcus asked, exchanging a glance with his closest friend; Dominic, or Dom, following suit in raising an eyebrow. It was plainly obvious by the mere tone of their once fellow teammate's voice that something major was going on.

"Let's see, where do I start…" Jace's pause lasted for about half a second, "Grindlift deployment went smoothly," the hint of humor in the infection literally emanating relatively speaking, since no Grindlift ride was ever really smooth. "Ambush came even before we were all out! Lost Jennings almost straight away, damn Boomer came out of nowhere! Returned fire…"

To Delta-One, comprising of Sergeant Marcus Fenix; Corporal Dominic 'Dom' Santiago; Corporal Damon Baird; and Private Augustus 'Gus' Cole, these events were nothing new. They happened all the time, Baird rolling his eyes, on the verge of abruptly telling Jace to hurry the heck up and get on with it already!

"Then they just started falling. I'm talking freezing damn half way through whatever they were doing at the time and just, well, dying! Grub Hole closed up on its own too! That's…" and this is where Jace's eyes went to the Private that should have been dead, even though those on the other side of the comms device couldn't see him doing it. "That's not the most shocking thing though! Jennings, he's not… dead anymore. Freaking gaping hole in his chest is just gone, like it healed up instantly or something…"

"Seriously man, what are you on?" Baird interrupted disbelief palpable.

"He's telling the truth, Corporal Baird," another voice on the opposite end spoke up; Jennings himself. "I felt… okay, look, I was dead, nothing, then this warmth, like something was rushing through me…"

"Damn! I felt that too!" another Alpha team member interjected. "Almost like some sort of invisible energy wave, or… or…" he clicked his fingers, trying to remember, the sound heard but probably not understood as to what it indicated over the line. "Pulse! That's it! An energy pulse!"

"Exactly," Jace continued again. "Marcus, could Command or Control have put some type of deployable weapon out here and we just don't know about it?"

"Ain't got a clue , but it's possible," Marcus said, the usual gruffness of his voice holding no hint of emotion, nothing to give away that no matter how unreal Alpha-Seven's story sounded, they were all reporting in with the same thing, or similar. Every one of them knew if this was some sort of Locust trick, there was no way Jace would have been ordered to contact Control, not initially anyway. No, it was more than likely he'd have been forced to ask any nearby COG teams to come and check it out first, the Horde learning long ago there was no true way for their enemy to be able to tell if the distress call was genuine, not until it was far too late.

Then there was the other undeniable fact, the higher ups liked to do all kinds of things all the time, without actually informing the ones out in the field and risking their lives. Had something to do with them enjoying the term ''Classified'' far too much.

"Well, whatever it was," Jace began, still very stunned, yet, he couldn't help it, the modulation of his voice held a sense of pleasant surprise to it as well. "Let's hope it wasn't a one off, coz I thought we we're goners for sure."

"C'mon Baby, we all know you're better than that!" Cole put in. "Ain't no way yer'd have been taken out of the game by just one Grub hole!" to some, the large man's over-the-top enthusiasm for, well, just about everything, was a complete turn off.

For Corporal Jayson 'Jace' Stratton, once working side by side with the ex-Thrashball player, Cole's very personality, along with the rest of Delta, was just one of the many reasons he'd managed to make it this far, fighting a war for so many years that'd seen even the best of them crack under a pressure none of them had ever experienced before. He owed his life many times over to the four men he was now informing of this very strange and confusing event.

"Thanks Cole," Jace answered. "Not really sure what to do about this now, though?"

"Ain't much you can do with the comms down," Marcus began. "Just keep moving and make sure you let us know…" there was a sudden and extremely loud screeching sound, drowning out anything and everything around them, immediately bringing the four Gears to attention.

"Wretches!" Dom yelled.

"Fenix, OUT!" he emphasized, Stratton not even needing that to know there would be no more talking.

"Die, Groundwalker!"

"Contact!" came from Marcus even as they were already filling the approaching wretches with various sized holes.

"GRIND!" "

"Oh great! This is what happens when we waste time listening to fantasy stories!" Damon yelled over the battle, finding himself face to face with a wretch as he broke cover briefly to return fire on one of the Drones.

"You don't believe him?" Dom voiced, right beside him and sounding rather incredulous, bearing in mind what they knew about their friend.

Baird didn't get a chance to answer, the wretch pack closing in too fast. Raising the butt of his rifle to hit the one now flanking him over the head, he winced as it managed to rake its claws along his side once before a second blow put it down for good. "No," he finally got the chance to respond. "I think Jace is messin' with our heads, and his whole team are in on it…" and that was the end of it, because a growl from Marcus snapped both men's attention to their team leader and friend.

Chainsaw bayonet duel. Lancer to Lancer. Truly something to behold from a man who always seemed to know just what the hell he was doing! Problem was, for all his training, experience, and sheer determination, Sergeant Marcus Fenix could not watch every angle, could not possibly impede all that was coming at him at once, especially when it came to a melee, one on one confrontation like this. And that was why there were four of them, Dom hesitating none in performing a forward body roll in full gear, the momentum carrying him to a stand right behind the other drone coming at his friend from the side. There was no avoiding the chainsaw teeth making contact with its back, because the Grub never saw it coming!

By the time Dom had finished, so had Marcus, the latter turning around, catching his best mate's gaze and simply nodding. His eyes depicted the gratitude only those that knew him could read.

"Hello! A little help here?" Baird. Typical, the guy had rushed headlong into another personal battle of his own and found two additional wretches that had not been there when he'd initially made that decision.

"I've got yer back, Baby!" Cole's voice rang out, as did the sound of Lancer on Wretch once again.

"Bout time!" Baird criticized, only really half joking, because that was just who he was. A brilliant technician, a skilled soldier, held back from receiving and holding a promotion any higher than Corporal by just one thing… a very big mouth!

"Here comes some more!" Marcus' warning carried to all of them.

"GRIND!"

"Oh c'mon!" Baird yelled. "Hasn't someone dealt with you already?" the question was essentially a rhetorical one, since by now his Longshot scope was focused in. Two sniper round shots to the massive grub's head were all that were needed. One to knock off the thing's helmet and two, after ducking back behind the natural rock formation for cover whilst reloading, to bring it down. It fell as he pulled the trigger, the round hitting something in the far distance. "Well, that was a waste of ammo," regardless, even Damon Baird knew when to rein in that mouth. The grinder was dead, no matter whom or what had finally achieved it.

"I told you I had yer back, Baby!" it was like déjà vu all over again, the huge smirk on Cole's face saying it all.

"Nice," the blond haired Tech said, almost shrugging it off, like it meant nothing when deep down, all of Delta knew it meant a great deal. "That it?" he further inquired, blue eyes scanning the area briefly, before moving forward to collect some Lancer rounds and see what else he could scrounge.

"Looks like it," Fenix answered, in the process of bending at the knees to relieve the nearest drone of the shotgun in its hands. He already had one just like it magnetically held to the armour upon his back, nevertheless, the rounds were what he was really after.

Getting their hands on anything and everything while out in the field had become nigh near invaluable the more the years since E-Day had passed. It wasn't like there were workable factories, or a corner gun shop they could just walk on into and gather up everything they needed whenever they needed it, after all. At least, not ones heavily guarded and built in an area that made it very hard for the Locust to emerge into, and even harder for the COG soldiers to make regular use of.

"Better keep moving then," Damon just managed to finish saying, before another familiar voice came over the intercom and they were reminded yet again that this transient victory was just another in a long line of numerous successes prior and, with the survival of the human race depending on it, hopefully many more to come.

"Sarge? Sarge, can you hear me?"

"Carmine. What's your position?"

"Not really sure, sir. I think my lift went off course."

"Is Tai with you?"

"No. He jumped out before launch to face… to face that new Locust, did you see him?"

"Yeah, we saw It," although no sentiment showed on Marcus' face, it could be heard in his articulation, Dom especially understanding how hard it'd been for the both of them to watch Tai and Dizzy move to face this new and obviously very skilled adversary and neither of them being able to do anything about it. No matter how hard they'd tried to lift up the harness, to get out of what had fast become a place they no longer wished to be, despite the fact getting to that point had been their sole mission in the first place, the two friends had been stuck there, powerless to stop their Grindlift from closing completely and proceeding to cut through the bowls of the very earth that made up Sera.

"We saw the new guy too," Baird added in. "Didn't see... Tai… damnit," for once there was no sarcastic comment. Now they knew for sure their South Islander friend had not been with his jump mate, Damon was just as worried as the rest of them.

"I see another lift up ahead," the interlude of brief silence filled with Carmine's proclamation.

"Okay, head that way," Marcus began. "But don't engage the enemy, just defend your position."

"Wilco Sarge. Wish me luck!"

"Hang in there, rook. We'll be there soon," Fenix finished, releasing the Comlink. Gazes swapped between them all, blue eyes landing on brown for a few extra moments.

"Let's go find Carmine," Marcus finally said, bringing each and every focus on something other than the apprehensive thoughts running through their heads. That undeniable feeling they may never see Tai Kaliso, their squad mate, and friend, ever again.