On a hill in King’s Canyon, set with tall cliffs dividing the peak into high forking chasms, two figures huddled in the rocks while the sun loomed hot overhead.
“There are two together in a valley outbuilding, no sign of the third team.” Wraith clicked the zoom of her Longbow and held her breath patiently. “I can’t see them… but they probably have a third.”
“What makes you say that?”
“They’re not moving on the Respawn Beacon, they’re just… sitting.”
“We’ll do it here.” Caustic murmured popping the cannister of his Havoc rifle.
The mad doctor. “We’re in the center.” Wraith answered still peering down the scope. “We haven’t seen third team. We’ll be caught in middle and without Path-“
“Pathfinder was unnecessary.”
Caustic, more sensitive than most to Wraith’s penetrating ethereal energies, felt the air tighten with rage. But where most felt terror, Caustic could not be satisfied.
He leaned in. “And loud.” He straightened, pulling a fresh battery from his belt. “We have the high ground. We follow the plan.”
“We retreat to north valley and wait. We’re two now the plan is suicide.”
There was a short pause, then Wraith felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Wraith. In five minutes the two men you’re watching through that scope, and everyone else now alive on this island will die. They’re going to die on this hill.” He knelt down, bringing his sweat-stained mask to eye level. “I’m going to kill them, Wraith. Not Pathfinder, not you, I am going to kill every last one of them.”
Slowly Wraith turned from her scope toward him.
The doctor continued. “And you-“
Wraith felt a sudden explosive panic. She gasped. “Someone’s targeting me.”
Caustic threw his arm forward knocking Wraith to the ground, a bullet searing the space between them and exploding into the cliff wall with a burst of dust and debris.
Wraith rolled to her feet.
“Follow the plan!” Caustic jammed the battery into his Havoc. “Go!” He shouted. “Now!”
In the southern valley Bangalore spat behind a G7.
“You missed? How did you miss?” Octane crackled through her radio.
“I didn’t miss. Caustic shoved her.” She gritted her teeth. “I was too far.”
“Well now they know we’re here.” Mirage decoded. “So. What do we do?”
“Hard push.” Bangalore squinted through her scope. At 4x she could see their faces. “We’re downhill but it might be just the tw…” She paused. “What the…”
“…Bang? I love you, but if you want healthy relationships you need to communica-“
“Shh!” Bangalore hissed into the mic. “Wraith’s coming down the hill… moving on your position.”
“They’re coming to us?” Octane moaned. “Damn, I was hoping we would have to move a little bit.”
“It’s only Wraith, she’s coming right at you… she’s…” There it was, a streak of blue.”She’s drawing a portal. She’ll reach you before I do.” She leapt to her feet.
“Oh Rocketlegs and I can take Wraith, gg ez am I right Rocketlegs?”
Bangalore was in a dead run. “Wake up!” She shouted into her coms. “She’s going to drop the portal right on top of you and if a full team comes through you’ll be outnumbered until I reach you!”
“Oh thats… a little different, how long is that?”
“10 seconds!” A spark caught the corner of her eye, a shining tail of fire in a high arc plunging toward the valley. “Grenade incoming!”
In the northern valley, before the echo of Bangalore’s G7 had faded from the canyon, Gibraltar raised his hands toward the hills south. “We have an answer!”
“How exciting!” Wattson clapped. “The last two teams have begun the fight!”
“I say we spread out the approach.” Lifeline nodded confidently. “We’ll watch the walls, Gibby, you take the center. Call ya targets and when we close…” She turned and grinned at Gibraltar. “Light em up.”
“Can do, sister.” Gibraltar smiled shouldering a heavy Devotion. “Can do.”
The Plan: Part 1
Anything the doctor lacked in dexterity he overcame by concentration and precision. His grenade landed perfectly and a flash of thermite burst against the outbuilding door, the metal wailing and screaming as it burned away.
“Front door.” He growled into the radio.
Wraith surged left and up the steps, past an open window which immediately erupted with fire from inside. She kicked her feet and slid safely past, a pivot right, right through the burning door, right into the room where Mirage and Octane were reloading. She released the portal and swung hard, hurling a frag grenade against the wall behind them and they returned a hail of bullets. The tiny room crackled with the staccato of fire as both parties ducked and dove for cover, racing to empty their magazines. When Wraith’s R99 reached half-clip her shield crackled its last and broke open. Bullets tore through her, but the frag grenade exploded before she hit the ground.
The concussion knocked the wind from Bangalore as she tripped up the stairs. Railing shook and the shallow water below rippled and quaked.
She scrambled forward, up the steps and through the door and into the smoky room. Bangalore swung her R301 forward but saw only the dark dust of the explosion. “Check in!” She shouted over the ringing in her ears.
“She’s down! I think.” Mirage answered from shallow cover with a painful wince. “We’re both up but not great.”
In the soft glow of the portal Bangalore caught the murky outline of Wraith struggling to crawl through her blood toward it. “I got her. Where’s Caust-“
Caustic answered her with a blast from his Peacekeeper, a thundering whump followed his exit from the portal and Bangalore caught it square in the side. She dropped behind a crate and loosed her R301, not a shot missed, but only a few rounds glanced off the mad doctor’s shield before he and Wraith receded into the portal.
“Move through!” Bangalore shouted.
Immediately all three leapt for the gate.
The gunfire sounded far, everyone heard it. There was no fighting on the hill, yet. Still the three moved forward cautiously and quietly, carefully advancing from cover to cover. Their wide formation tightened by the high and narrowing cliffs that crowded the the peak.
“I got a portal.” Gibraltar signaled, a corner of it coming into view between the rocks.
“Oh I must discover how she makes them!” Wattson whispered.
Bangalore knew there would be gas.
She understood that her squad mates were still damaged, as was she; she knew that there might be a third on the hill waiting for them; and that these things being true meant she was leading them to suicide. She knew all of it, and for a moment, while swirling through the strange and ethereal void these thoughts tormented her.
But she steadied and settled. Here is what else she knew:
She knew the location of the last team. She knew it because before descending into the gulley she’d seen Wattson in a far off field to the north. She knew that in less than a minute the the ring would close on that hill, swallowing the valleys, and that the third team will have been waiting, watching the hilltop, knowing the ring would take them there.
She knew Caustic might be alone. That Caustic alone is a large target, and that they were three guns together.
Bangalore was going to take that hill. In 20 minutes she’d freed 11 souls from the mystery of death. She would kill Caustic and Wraith. She would fill the hill with white smoke and strike the north slope from the sky as the ring swallowed the valley.
They would take the hill first. It was the only chance they had.
Caustic was not reviving Wraith. Already the portal was alight with thermite and swollen gas traps walled the tight passage; they burst with fumes the moment Bangalore and the others spilled out of it and an instant later Octane caught an arc star in his shoulder.
Caustic was close, bellowing with laughter beyond the gas traps while his Havoc spun up. Octane vaulted forward, past the traps toward him as the arc star squealed with energy. The hilltop erupted in dense white smoke, but through the gas and fog the mad doctor saw everything, he soaked Octane with Havoc fire until the explosion threw everyone back.
“It’s our time!” Gibraltar drew back his arm. “Heads up! I’m opening the sky!”
Bangalore and Mirage retreated from the smoke, blind and firing bursts down the chasm. The Havoc fire had subsided. They were both panting and bleeding, but they had the hill.
Mirage whispered under his breath and an eager hologram jogged forward into the fog. It was met with silence. “Bang I gotta heal.”
“Watch the smoke, cover my back.” Bangalore spun, airstrike beacon in hand. But as she reached the edge of the cloud an ominous siren brayed aloft and a bright flash of red light swept the hilltop, drawing their eyes skyward. Overhead a swarm of black specks were racing closer, wailing through the air toward them.
“No… ” Bangalore gasped.
But it was true. She caught sight of Gibraltar moving behind cover in the narrowing northern slopes. Her blood boiled, she could see it all now. They’d been bait, Caustic was gone, this was their end. She screamed with rage, firing a canister of smoke at Gibraltar’s cover and the airstrike beacon followed.
The sudden burst of smoke filled the northern approach blanketing all three in the final team from wall to wall. Each tensed but held their cover.
“Steady…” Gibraltar whispered into his coms. “Ears open, wait for the strike.”
The bright fog quivered to the roar of approaching ordinance, it grew louder and louder until consumed by a concert of impacts. The ground jerked and shook, chunks of earth and blasts of hot air rained around them, further darkening the smoke with ash and dust. Heavy thunder quaked in the canyon walls, carrying on dense and long.
As the rocks around them trembled Gibraltar laughed above the explosions. “I think they sent a little extra!”
“Gibraltar some of these are close!” Wattson cried.
Some of them were.
As the booming of explosions began to subside it was Gibraltar that saw them first. Fins, fins on a cylinder jutting up from the ground, still seeping with smoke. They could all see them, they were everywhere, hissing like snakes at the edges of the fog.
Gibraltar’s mouth fell open. He unhooked his dome-shield and hurled it frantically to the ground. “ON ME RIGHT NOW!”
In the gully south, in the small rattled building, Wraith looked up from the huddled corner where she lay bleeding out. A heavy step delivered Caustic back into the room and the portal collapsed behind him. She let out a sharp breath of relief, he had made it. He was bleeding and breathing heavily, torn through by arc star shrapnel, but with a Phoenix Kit in hand. She pulled herself up, reaching for him.
Caustic turned to her. But when he saw her, crawling, pulling herself on the floor through her blood, gasping for air and bleeding out, alive… dying. When he met her eyes for a moment the greater designs of the mad doctor receded, and the person of Caustic was stirred.
Slowly… Wraith’s face fell.
The heavy rumble of explosions began to roll from the hill above.
We’ll borrow no further dignity from Wraith, the warrior, the betrayed, by describing the agony and suffering visited on her in her last moments. Besides it was not to see her blood and pain that captivated Caustic. Who could know him? What twisted machinations compelled Caustic’s character? What could so drive a man to regulate and invent at the reaches of such savagery? The doctor himself could have conjured a thousand theories, and as ordinance shredded the hill above them, Wraith encountered them all.
He wasn’t saving her, he wouldn’t.
He journeyed with her through every confusion and revelation, every fury and horror. If he needed her he didn’t know it, if he hated her he didn’t show it. He stood as a stone, possessed, waiting for her to understand.
The building rattled in the tremor of distant explosions as her thoughts dragged screaming to the inevitable end, where he waited captive, his heart pounding. Suddenly it happened, and when it did the reasons why, the rage and betrayal all unraveled, irrelevant, insignificant, as the final revelation found her at last.
She would die, for certain, and in fleeting moments. He watched as it broke over her face… the horrible, drowning fear visited only on those at the edge of death, his yawning pupils edging wider as the darkness closed around her.
The explosions on the battered peak subsided just as the Phoenix Kit snapped its end. A distant siren hailed the close of the ring. Caustic’s neck turned, his eyes locked onto the smoking hill above and all the hairs on his arms and neck rose and stood on end.
When the earth stopped shaking Gibraltar stood alone in the glow of the dome-shield. His stomach sank.
Gibraltar the tank. While more nimble soldiers sought cover in the flanks Gibraltar thrived in the killbox, sponging fire and laying the field with massive damage. From the drop his pair of squad mates deferred the strongest armor and weapons to him with knowing smiles. He was their shield, he would draw fire, he would go down first for them, they knew, as he had, over and over again. Now he stood, armored and armed to the teeth, alone, wrapped in blankets of blinding smoke.
“Lifeline! … Wattson!” He called into his radio, his cries interrupted by the wail of the closing ring.
Gibraltar leapt from his flickering shield and into the fog, Devotion drawn, tripping through the mangled earth toward where he’d last seen Lifeline. She wasn’t far, she’d almost made it. She was battered and fallen, but alive. He pulled her up as the ring bore down on them.
“I’m sorry.” He said as she came to her feet.
But she was already past him, sprinting through through the blind dark toward Wattson.
Above the ring’s rising howl Gibraltar’s ear could faintly hear the scuffle of revival on the enshrouded peak. It was far from over. He lurched forward, Gibraltar the tank, up the hill toward the sound. As he approached the peak he saw a shape move in the clearing fog and Gibraltar clamped the trigger of his rifle. Light poured from the Devotion’s barrel with heavy thwops, tearing through the figure before him which burst in a crackle of light.
Another. They were everywhere. They had heard him.
A thermite grenade clacked against his shield and exploded, dousing him in liquid fire and rifle rounds followed. They weren’t far, he could see them now, it was Bangalore. Gibraltar’s jaw clenched.
Did Gibraltar flinch? Did he fall toward cover as he burned, scrambling for his health and wits? Did he call to Lifeline and Wattson, didn’t their lives depend on it?
But this is Gibraltar. Gibraltar the tank.
He charged forward with a wild shout, arm-shield up, still smoking and burning; Devotion roaring with energy, overwhelming Bangalore’s cover.
A heavy round caught him in the shoulder. Mirage, the wingman. Gibraltar loosed a grenade at Bangalore’s cover and spun toward him, spraying the hill with light. Mirage dove for cover. Another grenade for him. Gibraltar jerked the empty clip from his steaming weapon and threw it away, jamming another in as the grenades detonated. Above the ringing in his ears Gibraltar could hear the ring bearing down behind him.
They were there with him, Wattson scrambling to fence the gap between them, and Lifeline close behind her. Now it was a real fight. Mirage’s wingman threw a bullet into Wattson’s abdomen and she went down again, hardly alive as she was. Lifeline hosed Mirage’s cover, she caught him! Mirage had fallen! Lifeline’s shield flared forward as she quickly knelt to tend to Wattson. Sparks of fire from Bangalore’s R301 crackling against it. Gibraltar circled the shield and blasted Bangalore’s crumbling cover. She cried out. She was down! His heart leapt to his throat.
“Finish it Gibraltar!” Lifeline screamed.
He surged forward to close the kill, the looming ring and echoing roar of gunfire still throbbing in their ears so loud and full that no one heard the hissing canister clattering across the earth between them.
Heavy green gas burst at Gibraltar’s feet, swallowing him whole, engulfing the peak wall to wall and plunging them all into darkness again. It sent their lungs convulsing, eyes stinging and streaming with tears. Caustic had returned.
Bangalore was soaked with blood, already nearly dead. Caustic emerged from the fog beside her. She watched as he raised his Peacekeeper to meet her face. She wasn’t Wraith, she gave him nothing. The shotgun kicked and Bangalore was no more.
His heavy footsteps found Mirage fumbling in the gas, struggling with a syringe. “Just a minute doc. I just need a minute.” He said working to his feet. “Cmon… Cmon doc I’m almost there I’ll be right with you.” His voice raising as Caustic lifted his weapon. “No. Stop that. Don’t. Just… one minute doc just one… just one minute!”
Another eruption sent Mirage splashing against the cliff walls.
Gibraltar receded, hacking and drooling in agony, vomit rising in his throat, his eyes stinging like knives in his skull. At the edge of the ring where the gas was the thinnest he fell to the ground heaving, desperate for air. Gibraltar the tank, pinned at the edge of the ring as the reaching, suffocating mist wafted farther. What of Lifeline and Wattson? Their screams preceded the thunder of shotgun fire somewhere deeper in the sulking toxic cloud.
He unleashed his Devotion, firing into the gas, swinging wildly, continually, searching for him. He was answered with silence. The clip emptied and he yanked it free. Another. He heard a scuffle in the dark and sprayed toward it, the smoke swirling and blooming in the glow of his fire. His clip emptied again.
Another, the barrel of the Devotion still glowing.
A shotgun blast flew from the gas and ripped across him. Gibraltar poured energy toward it, finding nothing. Another blast sent him spinning, his knees buckled but he caught his feet. Helpless, still choking and gasping he screamed into the fog. “Coward!”
But Caustic was with him. He surged from the wall of gas, swinging wide. His heavy fist crashing into Gibraltar’s jaw, throwing him to the ground. His thick gloves grabbed Gibraltar’s neck and hair, pressing his face into the earth.
“A coward?” He snarled. “I brought you here. I brought you all here!” With a violent shove he threw Gibraltar back, through the ring’s edge and into the burning storm.
The long call sounded, the battle was over, the champion was found.
A sweltering sun pushed through the thinning gas and shone again upon the shattered mountain, its mangled martyrs, and the mad doctor who had designed their doom. What thoughts now coursed the corrupted mind of the creature Caustic as he stood alone at the peak?
Who could know?