The uneasy tingling drained through his body, leaving the faintest discomfort at his fingertips and toes. Despite the numerous "jumps" he'd made, every teleport made him feel the same way. Disassembling a living thing's molecules and consciousness and then re-assembling them at a remote "receptor" was not natural, and he wondered how it might be corroding his body and his mind.
As the mist cleared from his eyes he took stock of his surroundings. He was in a pit lined with skin stretched from end to end, holding in place the spinal columns of some unknown beasts. The sky glowed a hellish red, as did the towering mountains from which a dense steam periodically erupted. At one corner of the pit was a patch of stretched tissue, which he guessed was a switch.
He pressed the switch, which opened up into a giant blue eye, and the ground on which he stood began to rise. Above the rim of the pit he saw the blood-red mountains rising into view, the sky occasionally flashing with lightning that was obscured by the steam and the clouds. In the near distance he saw a red stone gateway with skull switches set on either side of a massive wooden door. On the door was hung a cluster of bleached skulls, which belonged to the hideous creatures that infested this realm. The odor of sulfur was strong in the air, burning his eyes and throat.
Cpt. Vladimir Ivanovitch was not easily shocked or surprised, but what he saw made his jaw drop in dismay. He had fully expected that his crushing defeat of the cyber-demon lord on Deimos would finally bring an end to his nightmare. Finding himself in this Inferno was like a terrible dream from which he felt he was trapped forever.
He was shaken out of his stupor by a sharp and fiery jolt to his back. Whirling around he saw the fierce and demonic features of an imp, intent on hurling another fireball at him. By instinct he dove to his right, rolling to his feet in time to see another fireball whizzing by. This time it had come from behind him. He edged sideways, allowing him to keep the first imp in sight while searching for the second. As soon as he pin-pointed his second assailant he caught the movement of a third in his peripheral vision. Setting his jaw, Vladimir darted this way and that until he had lined up the three imps. Then, planting his feet in the spongy, organic ground he raised his service issue 9mm and rapidly squeezed off several rounds.
He saw the first imp stagger and hesitate, but keep advancing. He knew from experience that it took more than a few bullets to stop these brown, spiked demons. Calmly he fired off a few more shots, and watched with satisfaction as the imp's lifeless body thudded to the ground and twitched reflexively. He side-stepped a fireball that sped towards him, and took aim again. This time, however, he was unable to keep the remaining two imps in line, and as he drew a bead on the first one the second one stepped from behind its comrade and hurled a flaming ball of pain at the Marine.
Vladimir stood his ground, wincing in agony as the fiery projectile slammed into his left shoulder. But again he watched in grim satisfaction as his second assailant pitched over backwards, blood spurting from its mouth as the bullets tore through its tough hide. The third imp circled him warily, and then, quick as a striking snake flung its deadly sphere. He sought to dodge the attack, but tripped over the roots of one of the many thorny trees that seemed to thrive in that harsh environment. In a flash the imp had pounced on him, clawing at his face and throat with unnatural strength. The blood pounded in his eyes, his ears, his head as the imp squeezed the air out of his lungs, its foul breath sickly and nauseating. Must ..... do .... something! his brain screamed, and before he knew it his knee had shot up to slam violently between the imp's legs. With a hideous grunt of agony the malevolent brown creature released its grip on the hapless Marine and catapulted over his head to land on the ground, clutching its groin and howling in torment.
He staggered to his feet, his breath being forced through his throat in ragged gasps, arms hanging limply at his side. A haze of red had descended over his eyes, and a vein in his temple throbbed painfully. Getting his bearings he saw the imp curled up on the ground, whimpering. Lurching towards the beast, he raised his foot and brought the heel crashing down on its head. There was a sickening crunch as the military issue boot found its target. Again and again it came down, until the writhing figure on the ground was still.
Vladimir Ivanovitch was not a large man, perhaps even small by USMC standards. But he was tough as nails and a relentless adversary. Many a larger opponent had challenged him, and many a larger opponent had been brought to his knees, often spitting out broken teeth through split and bleeding lips. "PC" they called him, short for polecat -- for he was a fierce combatant despite his small size. He had earned the respect of the men and women that he commanded and his superiors alike, for he would never ask someone else to undertake a mission that he would not accept. Thus he found himself on a desolate planet, seeking to undo the damage wreaked upon Mankind by the scientists of the Union Aerospace Corporation.
But even this veteran of the Phobos and Deimos campaigns appeared to be at the end of his tether. For the longest time he knelt doubled over, retching and coughing, his body wracked by violent shudders. Finally, however, the tremors subsided and he reached into his pack to extract the air-pumped "syringe". Pressing it to his neck he pushed the switch with his thumb, feeling the medication surge into his veins, bringing his vision back into focus and the strength back into his legs. A few moments later he stood up steadily, his confidence returning. He picked up his sidearm, which had fallen a few feet away, and made his way purposefully to the wicked-looking doorway.
He gathered up the bullets from the cartons that lay scattered near the door and reached for one of the skull switches. The door rose with a creak and out of habit he back-pedaled to increase his margin of safety. The two cacodemons saw him immediately, and hissing with anticipation they floated out into the twilit courtyard. Vladimir weighed his options -- he had plenty of bullets to duke it out with the two gas bags and plenty of room to maneuver, but on the other hand the 9mm somehow seemed inadequate. Should he look for a more powerful weapon? He made his choice and darted through the doorway.
The passageway split into two, but a door barred the passage to the right so he continued sprinting along the left fork of the passageway. Almost immediately it opened into a small lake of lava that bubbled and fumed, bisected by a gray basalt path. His momentum carried him forward onto the path, and his heart gave a small leap when he saw the shotgun in the middle of the stony path. Then two things happened. First, he heard the path behind him crumbling and collapsing into the lava, sizzling angrily. Second, he had scooped the shotgun up and it nestled with comfortable familiarity against his shoulder. No way back!! his mind screamed, and no way forward!! -- the path ended against the walls that surrounded the lava lake.
Bracing for impact, he half turned to slam into the wall with his shoulder. Instead, he felt himself tumbling through a secret chamber in the rock. Immediately he was beset by three imps that were hiding there, their arms raised to slash and hurl their infernal fireballs. The blast of the shotgun reverberated through the chamber, deafening in its intensity. An imp was slammed back against the far wall, only to slide to the ground in a mangled heap. A fireball whizzed by his ear, scorching the hair on his temple. Another blast, and another imp lay twitching on the floor. The third imp circled around the centerpiece of the room, a tray of candles on which had been mounted the grinning skulls of some unfortunate humans. The imp flung a ball of fiery gas, and in the cramped quarters Vladimir could not entirely avoid it. It scorched his right arm, almost causing him to drop his shotgun. Then he loosed off a final shot, which blew the imp's head off.
He stumbled along the narrow passageway, realizing he could easily be trapped by the cacodemons. Picking up the medikit from the floor, he administered the life-giving drug on the run, and was soon outside in the courtyard. The cacodemons converged on him, but now he had the upper hand. Keeping them in line he methodically loosed off shots at the one in front, while stepping aside to dodge the blue fireballs that they belched. Darting forward so that he minimized the shot spread, he blasted away, only to step back while he pumped a fresh shell into the empty chamber. After several direct hits the cacodemon in front collapsed with an agonizing sigh, its flesh rapidly deflating like a punctured balloon. It was not long before the second cacodemon had suffered a similar fate.
Loping silently back through the doorway, Vladimir checked his ammo. He pushed the doorway that blocked the right fork of the passageway, and stepped back. The door lowered briefly, and he saw a throng of demons in a small courtyard beyond. Some imps surged through the doorway, flinging their red and yellow fireballs at the Marine. Dodging their multiple attacks he sent hot lead flying in their midst. One imp fell back, decimated, and then the door closed back. The door re-opened and the demons came swarming through. There were too many of them and there was very little room to maneuver, so he fell back, pumping shot as he retreated. Soon all that remained was a cacodemon that followed him into the outer courtyard.
The shotgun was hot in his hands as he blasted away into that leering visage with the single, vile eye. The cacodemon retreated, perhaps sensing that it was outgunned in the open. He had observed that most demons pursued their quarry relentlessly, with single-mindedness of purpose, caring not for their own injury or death. Cacodemons, on the other hand, often retreated and sometimes sought to come around behind their victims. Retreat in this case, however, served to prolong the creature's life for but a few short moments. Vladimir advanced on the flying demon, leaping forward to fire at it point blank and stepping back to reload. But the inevitable soon occurred, and the demon's carcass became a pile of rotting flesh on the ground.
He was dangerously low on shotgun shells, although he had an ample supply of bullets. Stepping into the smaller courtyard he looked cautiously around. There was a medikit but no ammo. At the other end of the courtyard there was a low doorway, and he walked through it to find some shells on the floor. He rushed forward to grab the shells, only to hear a deep growl from around the corner. He turned just in time to see a blur of pink muscle and teeth bearing down on him. Damn! he cursed. I've got to be more careful. The bulldog demon pounced on him, shrugging off the lead shot that ripped through its flesh, and burying its teeth deeply into his left forearm. A shaft of pure agony shot through his arm and to the rest of his body, blinding in its intensity. The creature was shaking him almost as if he were a rag doll, and Vladimir very nearly lost the grip on his weapon.
He could feel the life draining from his bleeding forearm, as though the fangs buried in his flesh were poisoned. With a supreme effort he raised the shotgun, and pressing the barrel against the creature's ribs he squeezed the trigger. The demon flew back with the force of the blast, nearly ripping his forearm off. Despite the fog of pain that enveloped him, he noted that the wretched creature was little more than a carcass, it's guts splayed on the dirt. He staggered back through the low doorway, and collapsed on the medikit. With quivering fingers he administered the maximum dosage, and gasped as the bleeding stopped and life returned to his mangled forearm. Pulling open a roll of bandages, he tied one expertly around his bloody flesh and stood up. He hefted the shotgun, and with his jaw set in grim determination he walked to the door.
Around the corner he was charged by another of the bulldog demons, but he was prepared. Waiting until it was almost upon him, he pushed the metallic barrel of his shotgun against its face and squeezed the trigger. It grunted in pain, but kept advancing. Vladimir back-tracked and waited. Again the beast lunged at him, and again he shoved the point of the weapon against its face before releasing a blast of shot. This time the demon's head flew off as its body fell to the floor, convulsing and writhing. But right behind it was a third demon, flailing its head so as to impale him with its horns. He stepped back in alarm, and loosed off a shot that only grazed the creature's skull. It lunged, but he leaped back in time and rammed the shotgun into its belly. The evil light in its eyes died as its intestines splattered against the far wall.
There was pandemonium as he was charged by a fourth demon, behind which a fifth demon paced impatiently. Thanking Providence and St. Nikolai for the narrow passageway that kept them from swarming around him, he yanked the shotgun so that it was level with his hip and blasted away at the rushing beast. Raising the barrel he pumped it to reload, but his heart sank when he heard only the clack of the empty chamber. Frantically he reached for his sidearm, firing almost point blank at the demonic face that was attempting to devour him. His assailant finally slumped to the ground, only to be replaced by the demon waiting its turn. But Vladimir had fallen into a rhythm, and he squeezed bullet after bullet into the advancing mass as he stepped lightly back, until the fifth demon was an unsightly pile on the floor.
The corridor ended at a door emblazoned with the face of a smirking satyr, its eyes demoniacally red. He entered carefully, and relaxed slightly when he saw the red-stone chamber empty of foes. There were six pedestals, and on top of the central one there was a skull, grinning obscenely. He scanned the room quickly, and swooped forward to pick up the shells. With a wicked gleam in his eyes he proceeded to the door at the far end of the chamber and opened it.
The snarling imp that leaped through the doorway died instantly, its evil sneer permanently plastered to its face. He nailed a second imp right between the eyes as it clambered over its dead comrade, and a third as it hurled itself at him. And still they came, pouring out of the antechamber, until he had expended his last shell and was forced to toss the shotgun aside. Whipping the pistol out of his holster he shot at an advancing imp and watched as the bullet ricocheted off the creature's skull. He ducked as another imp slashed at his face, and rammed his heel into its knee-caps. A fire-ball caught him between the shoulder blades, almost forcing him down to his knees. Staggering upright, he dodged another flaming projectile and fired at anything that moved.
Gone was any semblance of military discipline. In the ensuing melee he punched, kicked, and shot in every direction, hitting his target purely by luck more often than not. The air was filled with the maddening sound of hooves clattering on a hard floor, and the stench of a deep and enduring rot permeated the chamber. Claws raked his back and his face, and fiery balls charred his skin, but still he fought back until the last of his nemeses lay in a huddled heap on the granite floor. Then he too collapsed atop one of the spiked carcasses of his enemies.
Groggy and exhausted, he finally pulled himself to his weary feet. He stumbled through the doorway and past the antechamber to a small open area with a wicked-looking teleporter; defying the laws of gravity, its top was suspended in the air. He rummaged greedily through the medikits and medipak on the floor, recovering what he could of his health and his sanity. Then, gathering the meager store of ammo on the floor, he pulled up his boots and moved towards the teleporter. Closing his eyes he stepped on the pad, and felt the familiar, uncomfortable tingle as he began to dissolve into nothingness.