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Several hours later, over Seattle airspace…

The sun had already begun to set over the horizon. It bounced a brilliant yellow glow upon a dead city, one that was once filled with life and luster. Old Seattle sat on the precipice of the Old United States, one another great city during the height of the Golden Age. Now, there was nothing to suggest that it could have ever been anything but an abandoned wasteland. Thousands of towering buildings laid there in the waning sunlight, with shattered glass and broken dreams. It was yet another location that the Collapse had claimed. It was another location that humanity had lost. It was here that somewhere, somehow a new Fallen House laid in wait. They plotted something, something that could very well lead to ruin.

A squad of six jumpships flew streaked across the amber sky. Six Guardians touched down upon a ruined plaza, with overgrowth of foliage and debris everywhere. Broken cars were parked in the street, with skeletons clinging to one another inside. Sylus stepped forth, holstering Voidwatcher over his shoulder. He surveyed the environment.

“There’s nothing here. The Fallen have already picked it clean.” Sylus commented, pulling Voidwatcher back into his grip. He clutched the auto rifle closely. Fallen were known scavengers. That was all they did, besides plot the constant demise of humanity. Not all Houses were like that, though most were.

“They’re parasites. Of course they wouldn’t leave anything behind.” Emperor-19 responded, treading forth with copious amounts of bravado.

“Granted, they could have at least left something behind. We’re just chasing ghosts at this point.” Brian added, before hopping up onto of an empty pick-up truck. With his extra height, he stared down the street and only saw much of the same. Thousands of cars lined along the road, trapped in time. “We don’t even know what we’re looking for.” Brian jumped down again, walking at Sylus’ flank.

“We’re just looking for suspicious activity.” Sylus replied. “If we find them, we eliminate them. It’s as simple as that, really.”

“Will we be able to take on a whole House by ourselves?” Brian asked, somewhat apprehensive of the whole situation. He had been eager to join the fireteam because he was such good friends with Sylus. He was beginning to change his opinion about the mission.

“We can handle it.” Arxus said, from the back of the group. “We got a hero on our team. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Whenever someone says ‘what’s the worst that could happen’, they completely jinx the damn thing. Please, please don’t say that.” Brian held his scout rifle to his chest, among the laughter of his fellow Guardians.

Emperor-19 touched upon the cold earth with gloved hands, feeling whatever residue was left on the ground. Whatever substance was left had caught fire, burning up into nothingness within mere seconds. This caught some glares from his fellow Guardians, but Emperor certainly knew what he was doing.

“What is it?” Sylus asked.

“It’s bone dust.” Emperor arose to a standing posture. “The Hive were here at some point.”

“The Hive is here too, really?” Brian asked. He shifted on his feet, holding a scout rifle at waist height. “The Vanguard really didn’t know what they were getting us into, did they?”

“Much of the western United States is still relatively uncharted.” Vandyn began to speak. “It surprises me that they would manage to know anything about this place, let alone figure that a previously unknown Fallen House could be laying in wait. Doing what, I could not know. Sylus suggested that they would be scavenging, but judging by just how clean the streets are, they could be amassing an army right beneath our feet. We would know nothing about it.”

“So we kill them.” Providence spoke, blunt and brief.

“I don’t think it’ll be that simple.” Vandyn replied.

“It is that simple.” Emperor added. “It is always that simple. The Fallen might not be the disease that the Hive are, but they still a vermin that needs extermination. So we’ll just burn them out of their holes. Besides, this dust is very, very old. If the Hive were here, they are no longer.”

“Were the Hive and Fallen having a feud?” Vandyn asked.

“I suppose it’s possible.” Emperor replied.

“I’ll trust your judgment, Emperor.” Sylus responded.

The fireteam headed further into Seattle, deducing of the possibility of Hive activity in the area. Emperor had suggested that the bone dust was old and there was a high probability that the Hive were no longer relevant. They had seen it before, with Hive and Fallen feuding over territory. There were the Devils and Hive in the Cosmodrome, and the Exiles and Hive on the Moon, just to name a few. Emperor was a Warlock, after all. They were knowledgeable about this sort of business. Emperor seemed to pride himself in that knowledge, as well.

The street they tread down upon was much of the same scenery, with any notion of landmark reduced to a mess of vines and trees. It wasn’t anything spectacular, not compared to the jungles of Venus or the forested areas of the European Dead Zone. By the time they reached the next intersection, night was beginning to fall. Crickets chirped and fireflies lit up in the darkness, flitting about without a care.

“We should find somewhere to camp for the night. I don’t enjoy stalking through the dark.” Sylus remarked, as he pulled to a stop.

“I completely agree with the sentiment. If there are Fallen about, they will definitely be able to catch us in the dark. Maybe we could use one of these many buildings about as shelter?” Vandyn seemed quite enthusiastic about things, which was a far cry from the attitude of his fellow Warlock.

“If anything, we’ll be easier to find if we stay idle.” Emperor retorted. “I wouldn’t advise it.”

“We may be super zombies, but even we need our rest.” Vandyn replied, adamant in supporting Sylus’ decision.

“Mr. Cruz is correct. We do need our rest.” Sylus didn’t feel too eager to trek about in the dark.

Briefly surveying the surrounding area, Sylus was able to locate what appeared to be an ideal location to settle down and plan for the next day. It was an old library covered completely in vines and debris, which prompted Providence to violently hack through the foliage with a knife. The fireteam entered this library and hoped that it would be an adequate location for resting.

Inside the library, it was cold and dusty. Thousands of books ran on different shelves of varying elevations, impressive heights were made within these walls. Another abandoned structure of the Golden Age, as it was, now just a shelter for these wayfaring Guardians. The fireteam entered further until coming to a stop at center of the first floor.

Brian rummaged through the various books, plucking out one that was covered with dust. “It’s a cookbook. Who reads this schlock?” He carelessly tossed it away, peeking across the rest of the shelf.

“This schlock is going to be our firewood.” Emperor collected a pile of books and tossed them out onto the floor, front and center. Striking it quick with Scorch caused the books to catch fire, lighting up the library.

Sylus sat himself down upon the floor before the fire, setting Voidwatcher right next to him. “Tonight is only the first night of our operation. I’m going to set up a schedule. Brian, you get first watch. The rest of us are going to try and get some rest. After 3 hours, Emperor will be next. We’ll keep going until morning.”

“Great, thanks. If something ends up attacking, I’ll just yell really loud.” Brian rolled his eyes, throwing his scout rifle over his shoulder.

“Oh, trust me. If anything attacks, we’ll know about it.” Arxus settled down onto the floor and laid back, hands placed behind his head.

Vandyn settled down as well, but Providence didn’t seem so keen with staying with the group. Instead, he remained nearby and leaned upon a bookshelf.

“You’ll stay up with me, right?” Brian asked Providence.

“Don’t talk to me.” Providence responded, coldly.

“Gee, okay. God.” Brian sheepishly moved away from the group and keep guard.

2 hours passed. Everyone was fast asleep by now, including the Exos, for some unknown reason. Brian alone stood guard at the entrance of the library, holding a scout rifle firm in his hands. It was the A.1F19X-Ryl model, with some slight markings on it. Scratches in the metal, a fading color scheme and a cracked scope suggested that it had been in use for quite a long time; years perhaps, maybe even decades. Brian calmly stroked across the exterior of the weapon, mumbling random things to himself.

“It’s fine. Nothing’s going to happen. I’m not paranoid. I’m not.” Brian sighed and turned away from the entrance. What he hadn’t anticipated was seeing some sort of… something. He didn’t know what it was he saw. Brian carefully stalked along the floor of the library, expecting something to pass by again. There was nothing. He was eager to blame it on his own paranoia.

That was, until that thing came back.

Brian felt a sharp pain rip through his shoulder, as time seemed to slow. He watched in horror as an electrified blade came from nowhere and stabbed him in his left shoulder. The metal went in and out in what seemed like only seconds, though the shock of the moment made it feel so much longer. When he finally regained his senses just mere seconds later, he stumbled back and fired blindly into the book shelves. Bullets tore through brittle hardbacks, causing quite a commotion. Commotion enough that it caused the others to awake.

Sylus was first up. “Brian, what the hell is going on?” He noticed now that Brian had been wounded. A specific sort of wound as it was, created by a specific weapon. “Everyone get up! We’re surrounded!”

Sylus was quick to jump to conclusions, but he wasn’t wrong. Cackling filled the air.

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