Chapter 15: The Monolith

{Excerpt from Gremlin’s PDA}
[Audio enabled]
*The thunder outside booms loudly. Rain begins to trickle down the broken, dirty windows as the Stalkers are lead down a walkway on the upper level of the building alongside many old offices. Below them, to their right, the room opens up to the bottom level where the old lobby is now filled with countless men, all with the strange lights coming from them.*
Virtue: What is that light? Where is it coming from?
Jargon: I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Nimbus: I thought you said no one could have survived here.
Jargon: No one should have… none of this makes any sense to me.
Gremlin: Whatever the cause, we need to find a way out of here as quickly as possible… hopefully without upsetting them.
*Danilo and Petro walk together in near perfect synchronization, as if they are being pulled towards something rather than walking themselves.*
Danilo: It is not far now.
Petro: Soon we will rejoice in the splendor of the Monolith together!
*Danilo and Petro round a few more corners until they stop in front of what appears to be a large room. A bright blue/orange light filters from a source unseen ahead of them.*
Danilo: We have arrived.
Petro: Please discard your weapons and any other object that could inflict harm.
*The group looks at Gremlin for confirmation. He resigns with a sigh and nods to them; un-slinging his rifle and un-holstering his pistol, propping them up against the wall outside the room. The rest of the group repeats his actions, quickly creating a large pile. Danilo and Petro look on, emotionless. Once the group has finished, Danilo and Petro smile together and walk into the room, motioning for the group to follow behind them.
As they move into the room, they are immediately welcomed by a large, bright light-source in the middle of the room. The group squints to see through the light and make their way towards it.
The room appears to be the remains of either a town meeting place or church. Benches are strewn about the room, hastily laid on top of each other in a tangle of wood on the borders of the room to make space in the center.
As the Stalkers approach the light, they can begin to make out the silhouettes of several other men, gathered in a circle around the source of light.*
Petro: The gathering has begun. Let us take our places.
*Danilo and Petro take a position near the outside of the room, facing the bright light in the center. The rest of the group stands behind them, looking amongst each other in awe and confusion.*
Nimbus *whispering*: What happens now?
Gremlin *whispering*: I don’t know. Just stay alert.
*Men continue to filter into the room steadily, until a few minutes later, the large doors into the room are all closed. The room is quiet.*
Gremlin *whispering*: What happens now?
Danilo: Our leader speaks.
*Before Gremlin can ask, a loud voice echoes in the room:*
*The room rocks with the response from the several dozen men now occupying the room.*
Nimbus *whispering*: Who’s that?
Petro: Wladimir; our leader. You may call him Specter.
*The name seems immediately appropriate as a man on the stage at the front of the room steps forward towards the light, stretching his arms towards it as he does.*
Specter: Bask in the glory of the Monolith!
[All Stalkers]: WE ARE SHOWN THE WAY!
Specter: Feel the light pass through your body!
[All Stalkers]: WE ARE TOLD THE TRUTH!
Specter: Use the strength you are given!
*Specter lowers his hands. The Stalkers in the room kneel or sit as he does so. Gremlin and company follow their example and sit on the floor.
Specter closes his eyes and breathes deeply. He opens them slowly, turning his head as he does towards the newcomers.*
Specter: I sense we have some among us who have not yet seen the way of the Monolith. Let them come, and be welcome into the brotherhood, that they may be shown the light!
*Danilo and Petro stand up, gently leading Gremlin’s group to the base of the stage in front of Specter. Specter looks from person to person with a look that seems to read their individual thoughts as he does. When he finishes, he asks them all at once:*
Specter: Do you wish to follow the ways of Monolith?
*Gremlin’s group all confirm this, answering yes in their own ways. Specter accepts this.*
Specter: Will you do our Mother’s bidding as you are called upon to do?
*The Stalkers confirm his words again. Specter speaks again:*
Specter: And will you spread the message of the Zone along your path; redeeming believers and condemning all non-believers?
*Another confirmation. The Stalkers steal worried glances at each other.*
Specter: Very well! But the Zone does not leave it up to me to decide if you are true of heart. Let the light pierce you and uncover the darkness of your souls!
*A small group of Stalkers stands up behind them from around the light in the middle of the room, reaching into the source and pulling out several small objects – all of which contain their own individual light-source.*
Nimbus *whispering*: Those strange lights everyone has… they come from this room.
Jargon *whispering*: There must be dozens all clumped together there.
*The small group of Stalkers approaches the base of the stage slowly, each of them holding the small objects in front of them with both hands. It is impossible to make out any sort of shape due to the sheer intensity of the light coming from the objects.
The small group stands in front of the Stalkers, the six of them who picked out objects stand in front of each member of Gremlin’s group. Once in place, they slowly bring the objects closer to each member of the group, causing them to squint as it draws closer. Finally, the objects are touched to the bare skin on their foreheads. An immediate effect takes place on them.*
Nimbus: What’s… happening…?
Phantom: Thissss issss fuuuucked uuuuuup…
Virtue: I can’t feel my… anything… whoaaaaa…
*Specter looks on in satisfaction as the Stalkers twitch in front of him. The light from the objects appears to enter their heads, finding all of their deepest, darkest secrets.
Finally, they stop twitching and become accustomed to the effect. They can now see the objects in front of them.*
Enigma: They’re… they’re like little worlds…
Nimbus: I can see my thoughts! It’s like watching a movie! Wow!
*The Stalkers look on in awe as their thoughts are reflected back to them through the orb-like objects still in contact with their foreheads. They watch on in awe, shock, and amazement as their life story is replayed before their eyes within the strange orbs.
Specter watches on, processing all the information he sees like a supercomputer.
After a few minutes, the images catch up to their current state of mind, and all they see is the reflection of their own eyes in the glassy surface of the orbs – as if they’re seeing themselves outside of their own bodies.
Specter closes his eyes and breathes deeply again, opening them slowly and focusing on the light in the middle of the room.*
Specter: The light of the Moon has pierced your souls. It has shown us who you are and what kind of life you have lived. It has shown this to you also, in the purest form – away from bias and corruption. Tell me, did what you saw satisfy you?
*The Stalkers don’t answer, reflecting on the images of their lives they have just seen flash before their eyes.*
Specter: I will give you time to think on this as I meditate. You will be given your own rooms in order to prepare yourselves for the Monolith. When you are ready to join, we will initiate you.
*Gremlin is the first to snap out of his trance and respond:*
Gremlin: What if we… that is… what if the ways of the Monolith do not speak to us?
*Specter looks back in confusion, then retorts back; laughing heartily. The rest of the room joins him in an uproar of laughter. Gremlin’s group looks around inquisitively.*
Specter: The Monolith speaks to everyone! Surely you hear it?! All who do not follow the ways of the Monolith are undeserving of life!
*The laughter in the room dies down again as the absurd question is quickly forgotten.*
Specter: We will meet again tomorrow. Then, we will all rejoice in the Monolith together!
*The Stalkers in the room turn to leave, opening the doors and going back to wherever it is they came from. Specter looks directly into the light in the room, as unmoving as a statue.
The small group of Stalkers guide Gremlin and company out of the room.
Specter turns his head as they reach the exit of the room, and says:*
Specter: Partake in the gifts of the Monolith. Use them to reflect upon yourselves and rediscover your strength.
*With that, his gaze returns to the light, where he resumes his statuesque pose.
Gremlin and company are led out of the room, and down a hall behind the sanctuary. They follow a flight of stairs down to the main level where the fanatical men are still filtering out of the building towards destinations unknown. Once on the main level, they take another flight of stairs down into a basement of sorts where there are several bunk beds lined against the walls. The group is indicated to enter the room by the pointing hands of the man accompanying them.*
Jargon: So this is it? This is where we will meditate until the initiation?
*The men accompanying them stand at the entrance of the room and nod, staring lifelessly ahead as they do.*
Gremlin: Great. We’ll be fine by ourselves. You can go now.
*The men do not react at first. Then - as if by some unknown force - they are guided slowly out of the room, closing the door behind them. The Stalkers are left alone in the darkness, with only the light of the strange glassy orbs to illuminate the room.
The Stalkers sit in silence for a moment, taking in everything that has just happened. Then, Nimbus breaks the silence:*
Nimbus: That… was fucking weird.
Phantom: You said it…
Virtue: What exactly happened up there… who were those men, how did they survive here, what is this Monolith?
Enigma: And what are these strange orbs they gave us?
Jargon: I believe I can explain a little bit of that. This “Monolith” they speak of I believe refers to the legend of the Wish Granter.
Nimbus: Wish Granter?
Gremlin: Of course! Why didn’t I think of that…?
Jargon: Yes. You see… despite the countless stories and rumors about the Zone, there is one that rules them all – and that is the legend of the Wish Granter.
*The light of the orb shines on Jargon’s face, the shadows dancing off the ridges as he tells his story.*
Jargon: It is said, that deep inside the sarcophagus of Reactor 4, there is an object known simply as the Monolith. Nobody knows how it got there or what its purpose is, but many believe that it has the ability to grant a wish to anyone who touches it.
Phantom: That’s absurd! Who in their right mind believes this crap? Do they believe there’s a magical genie living inside that will just pop out and do whatever you ask him to?
Jargon: Nothing that elaborate; just that there is promise of wealth and knowledge beyond imagine.
Gremlin: I suppose that’s true depending on how you look at it… I mean look at us – we’re bound for the center for that exact reason.
Jargon: Exactly. Maybe the story has been exaggerated a bit over time considering how little we actually know about that part of the Zone now. Then again…
*Jargon holds the orb up in the air, rotating it in his hand making beams of light dance across the walls.*
Jargon: … the Zone still contains many unknowns. We have no way of knowing what’s really there until we actually get there and discover the truth for ourselves. It would be irresponsible of us to count anything out now.
Phantom: Yeah… well you’ll excuse me if I don’t share your enthusiasm for fairytales. I’ve heard enough of them in my life. I just want the truth… anything else means nothing to me.
Virtue: But that doesn’t answer who these men are and how they survived here.
Jargon: Right. I believe that they are some of the Stalkers who tried to enter the center of the Zone and were never seen from again. Many of them left specifically to be the first to find the Wish Granter, what we see here may be the aftermath of those Stalkers on their missions to the center of the Zone.
Nimbus: But how did they survive? You said yourself that all the food here must be contaminated and that the mutants would have killed anyone who might have survived here.
*Jargon hesitates for a moment, thinking upon the question.*
Jargon: I can’t answer that. The only thing I can think of is that they would have to be receiving outside help. Someone or something must be providing them with food and supplies to survive and fight back the mutants in the area.
Phantom: But this part of the Zone is completely inaccessible by airplanes or vehicles. There’s no way to enter besides on foot, and even then nobody knows if there’s still any way to get to the NNP.
Jargon: I know. None of this makes any sense to me either. The last time I was in this part of the Zone was over 20 years ago, and it’s changed so much since then. We just need to keep an open mind and be ready to accept anything as an answer.
*Phantom looks down, resolving his thoughts to himself.
Virtue holds up his orb in curiosity.*
Virtue: What about these? How were these able to see our thoughts? What are they?
*Enigma looks over at him in the darkness, her eyes shining in the light of the orb. Virtue smiles back, remembering the recent feelings between them that were forgotten by the events of the day.*
Enigma: I might know the answer to that one; I think these are artifacts - particularly rare ones by the look of them.
Jargon: Yes. Yes, I believe you are right. I have never seen an artifact quite like these before. An artifact that can read your mind must be powerful indeed! We should be aware of any other properties they may have.
Nimbus: Other properties?
Enigma: Yes. Many artifacts have multiple effects on them that can greatly increase your abilities.
*Enigma opens up a pouch on her belt and takes out a strange brown and blue rock-like object.*
Enigma: This is one such artifact. I’ve heard it called “Mica” before.
*She takes off her helmet and one of her gloves, using her bare hand to wipe some dried blood form where pieces of glass from her helmet cut her face. As she wipes away the blood, she reveals that there are no wounds or scars on her face from where the glass cut her.*
Virtue: But… you had cuts all over your face. The wounds couldn’t have healed that quickly!
Enigma: Thanks to this little artifact, my body can heal itself over 4 times faster.
Nimbus: Wow! Do you have any more of those?
Enigma: I’ve encountered a few over the years, but some of them have some properties that are undesirable if you do not have another artifact to cancel out the negative effects. One of the most common disadvantages is the ones that produce radiation. They will slowly kill you if you don’t have anything to negate the effect. I’ve seen a few Stalkers make that mistake in their haste to harbor the power of artifacts.
Nimbus: What other effects might these ones put out?
Jargon: There’s no real way to know until you start to notice yourself being able to do things you didn’t think possible. Things begin to become easier to do. You might be able to run without getting fatigued, heal faster, and become more resistant to the effects of anomalies such as electric shock and acid or radiation. I remember I once saw a man who walked directly into a highly-radioactive area and return with an artifact. We had to stay away from him until he got a good scrubbing, but he was completely unaffected by the radiation.
Phantom: I wouldn’t mind having one of those…
Gremlin: Nor would I. That could open up areas of the Zone nobody ever thought possible to reach again.
Jargon: Yes. I’ve been to many of these areas myself during my time in the Zone.
Nimbus: If these artifacts exist, why does nobody ever talk about them?
Jargon: The rarer artifacts that contain these powers are usually in the more dangerous areas. In most cases, you’d be sacrificing your life to obtain one of these. But… if you do manage to get one and make it back out alive, you’d be lucky to survive long enough in the Zone to keep it. Most have been lost in places in the Zone nobody knows about, where these Stalkers have dared to venture and, unfortunately, live their final days as they were either killed, ran out of supplies, or worse. Entering remote areas of the Zone is not like going on a camping trip.
Enigma: I’m living proof of that. If it weren’t for the artifacts I found, I would most likely be dead now… like the rest of the Stalkers in Limansk.
*Enigma hangs her head in sorrow, her dark hair hiding her face in the darkness of the room.
The Stalkers take in all this new information, formulating their own thoughts and ideas about the possibilities before them. Gremlin looks to be distraught, shaking his head and fidgeting on one of the bunk beds.*
Gremlin: The closer we get to that God-forsaken tomb the more I feel like no matter how hard I try to keep my head on my shoulders, the more it just wants to float off again.
Phantom: What do you mean?
Gremlin: I’ve been playing the role of leader this whole time, but I realize now that I’m not the type of leader you all need. We’re all in this for our own reasons, and this mission affects us all differently. After all the effort I’ve put in trying to keep this group together the more I find that you never really needed me in the first place.
Don’t take this the wrong way… I’ve enjoyed being with you and don’t feel like I’m not needed… I’ve just come to realize that you all now have the skill to lead this mission yourselves if you need to. There’s no need for me to expend the extra energy worrying about the stability of the group… nothing is going to stop us from getting there.
Jargon: You’re right, Gremlin. There’s no doubt in my mind that each and every one of us will make it to the center or die trying.
*The Stalkers sit in silence again.
Suddenly, a loud explosion shakes the building above them.*
Phantom: What the hell was that?
Gremlin: I don’t know. Let’s go check it out. Make sure there are no guards at the door.
*Phantom creeps up to the door and puts his ear to it, listening for anything immediately outside the door.*
Phantom: It sounds clear.
*Phantom pushes the door open. No guards, just the darkness of the hallway. Monolith Stalkers can be heard running  through the building, yelling and babbling fanatical words and phrases that make no sense.*
Phantom: Shit… somebody pissed off the hornets’ nest…
Gremlin: They’re going crazy out there… I wonder what all the excitement is about. We need to get out weapons back quickly!
*Phantom quietly leads the group through the hallways, avoiding any Monolith running past them. Gunfire and explosions can be heard going off outside. From inside the building, it sounds like a war is going on outside.
They pass by the sanctuary on their way to investigate the noise. Specter can be seen kneeling in front of the light-source in the room, which is now much dimmer than the last time they saw it. It is now quite obvious that the source of light was nothing more than a huge pile of furniture stacked all the way to the ceiling of the room. Power cables lead off to a room below them where there must be a generator that powers the several lights pointing randomly out from the mock monolith.*
Jargon: So that’s their Monolith… a pile of chairs and lights, no doubt just a symbol of their faith representing the true Monolith, but a little under-whelming without the full effect of the lights to enhance it.
Phantom: Don’t forget the artifacts they pulled out of that thing. Under different circumstances I would have applauded the show.
*Specter stands and turns to face them, a look of disgust in his eyes.*
Specter: I have seen your true intentions, and now others have come who would seek to destroy and pillage our Mother’s creations. Your journey ends here, you will never survive.
*Specter raises his clenched fists into the air and yells at the top of his lungs. Moments later a crashing sound comes from nearby. The Stalkers look on in horror as two large mutants enter the back of the room. They turn to run but are immediately cut off by a group of Monolithians.*
Specter: Oh no. You will stay here with me as I watch your souls become one with the Zone.
*The Stalkers move together onto the stage in the front of the room. The Stalkers pull out the knives the Monolith guards failed to check for.*
Specter: Feed children. Feed!
*The two mutants rumble towards them. They are as big as Grizzly bears, each with two heads – the larger one in front, the other smaller and off to the left side of the first head, both oddly human-like. The claws on their enormous paws are sharp and threaten to take off their heads in one swipe.*
Nimbus: Uhh… what do we do now?
Phantom: We need to get to our weapons. Some of us will need to get to our weapons while the rest of us distract them.
Enigma: I’ll help you.
Gremlin: You got me.
Phantom: OK. The rest of you, make for your weapons. Try not to tip off the Monolith to your intentions. They don’t seem like the type for fair play.
*The creatures roar at them as they near. The first group readies their knives and plant themselves in the ground, ready to jump out of the way at a moment’s notice. The rest of the Stalkers slowly back away towards the wall, ducking behind some of the benches still in the floor near the stage.*
Phantom: Get ready, here they come!
*The creatures lunge at them. The Stalkers drop to the floor, raising their knives as they do. Gremlin’s knife makes contact with the leg of one of the beasts. It roars as the knife slashes into it, spilling blood across the stage.
Specter has retreated back to the guards outside of the room to watch the display from a safe distance.*
Specter: Soon you will be rejoined with our Mother in the womb!
*The creatures crash into the wall opposite the Stalkers, making two large dents with the larger heads. Furious, they quickly slide around and double their speed at the Stalkers.*
Phantom: Shiiiiiiit… RUN!
*The Stalkers split up and run for cover as the beast’s claws scratch along the wooden floor. They duck behind benches, pillars and anything else they can find, attempting to throw off the mutants.
Phantom looks over towards the other group. They are still ducking between benches and other objects strewn about on the floor in an attempt to remain hidden.
The creatures split and take on the closest Stalker to them.*
Phantom: This one’s on me!
Enigma: I got the other one!
*The creature tracking Enigma lunges again. She side-steps behind a pillar near her as it soars by. She holds out her knife as it passes, opening a large gash in the side of it. The creature roars angrily, quickly hitting the floor and swiveling around again. Before she can even react it is in the air again, coming straight for her. She drops to the floor as it impacts the pillar above her, cracking it in half and continuing through it back onto the stage behind her.*
Gremlin: Hang on, Enigma!
*The creature on Phantom matches his movements as he moves from side to side in an attempt to confuse it. It steps over benches with ease as it closes in on his position behind a bench further away. It reaches him as he desperately decides what to do next. It swipes at him, making a whooshing sound in the air above him. Phantom pops up quickly and plants the knife in the other paw of the creature resting on the top of the bench in front of him.
The creature snorts, expelling mucus from both noses and quickly swipes with the paw, knife still planted firmly in the top of it. The paw hits Phantom in the side, sending him into an aerial cartwheel towards the side wall of the room. He hits the wall and slides down to the floor, landing with a thud.
The creature, satisfied with its work, turns toward the next moving target.*
Enigma: Phantom’s down!
Gremlin: OK! I’m splitting off to distract the other creature! Just stay sharp!
*Gremlin moves out into the open. Both creatures become instantly interested in him as he does so.*
Gremlin: Uh oh…
*They roar together, the two heads on each one drooling at the sight of an easy kill. They lunge together, landing right in front of him. He quickly dives out of the way as the first one swipes under him. He quickly retreats behind the benches near him, the creatures quickly running up to him. One of the creatures jumps on top of the benches, standing directly over him. It looks down at him, the teeth in both heads are bared and drooling on the floor beside him.*
Gremlin: Oh, fuck me!
*The creature swipes at him, taking off a chunk of the bench as he lays down flat on the floor. He quickly rolls under the benches, both of the creatures jumping from bench to bench, clawing and growling at him.*
Gremlin: Guys! A little help here!
*Enigma runs up and jumps on top of one of the creatures, planting her knife firmly in its back. It roars and bucks wildly, knocking her to the ground. She quickly stands up and attempts to retrieve the knife from the creature’s back. It spins around immediately and bats her away with a powerful blow, sending her flying off towards the pile of furniture composing the monolith in the center of the room. She crashes through it, coming to rest on the other side of the room.
Gremlin rolls out from under the last bench and runs toward the stage again. The creatures follow in pursuit as he attempts to dive behind the other side. He reaches the edge and jumps off.
The nearest mutant hits him mid-jump, taking him with it to the side of the room. His body slams into the wall, and then rolls off the mutant until he lands directly on his back next to it on the floor.
The creature looks down, grinning with satisfaction. It cocks its head back and opens its mouth, ready to tear Gremlin’s head form his body. Just before it gets to sink its teeth into his flesh, gunfire echoes in the room. The creature growls in pain as the bullets impact its body.*
Nimbus: Stay down, Gremlin!
The mutants head explodes in a cloud of red vapor, the smaller head looking over in rage.
The little head shrieks and is no more. The body of the beast keels over and lands on the floor next to Gremlin with a *thud*. There is shouting outside the room:*
Specter: No! Stop them!
*The other mutant stops in its tracks, roaring in the direction of the gunfire. It sails through the air, landing on the ground somewhere unseen.*
Virtue: Nimbus!!!
*Rifles meet the creature, its body twitching as the bullets impact its body.
The creature comes to rest on the ground, a pool of blood forming under it.*
Specter: Kill them all!
*The room erupts into gunfire as Monolithians move in, taking aim towards the back of the room. Their gunfire is returned by two rifles in the back of the room.
Gremlin slowly peeks over the bench near the wall he landed next to. Jargon and Virtue are running through the back of the room returning fire as they go. They dive behind a pile of broken wood as the Monolithians pelt the back of the room with gunfire.
Enigma, who has managed to scurry from where she landed on the other side of the monolith, has also grabbed her weapon and joined in the battle.
Gremlin slowly crawls over to a stray Monolith Stalker coming nearer to him as the Monolithians spread through the room. As the Stalker nears, he grabs his neck, forcing him down to the floor where he sinks his knife in his heart. The Stalker twitches and gurgles a bit, as his weapon falls from his lifeless hands.
Gremlin stays down as he checks the weapon. The Monolith Stalkers are still fanning out, completely unaware of their fallen comrade.*
Gremlin: Over here you motherfuckers!
*Gremlin stands up and guns down everything in his line of fire. He drops most of the Stalkers on this side of the room as they had formed a nice line out from the doorway. The remaining Stalkers return fire, forcing him back into his cover. Bullets blow through the objects around him, sending wood and dust particles everywhere. One of the bullets hits him in the right upper arm. He yells out in pain.
Their fire is returned once more by the back of the room, sending the rest of them either to the ground in pain, or scattering throughout the room.
Jargon, Virtue, and Enigma quickly run up to the benches in the front of the room, popping up from the other side and finishing all of the Stalkers attempting to hide behind them as cover.
The last of the gunfire subsides, leaving the room eerily quiet for an unknown amount of time.*
Virtue *panting*: I think that was all of them…
*Specter emerges from somewhere behind the stage.*
Specter: I will commit all your souls to the Zone myself! Prepare yourselves for…
*A bullet pierces him through the forehead, dropping him to his knees, and then down onto his face. He lies on the floor with his arms raised towards the monolith.*
Enigma: Commit yourself…
*She smiles as she looks back at the group, slowly blowing the smoke away from the barrel of her rifle. The rest of the group looks back in approval.
Gremlin stands up, holding his bleeding arm in pain.*
Enigma: Gremlin’s hit!
Virtue: Where’s Nimbus?
*A muffled groan comes from nearby. Virtue runs over to where the second mutant is lying in a pool of blood.*
Virtue: He’s here! This thing fell on top of him. Jargon, I need your help!
*Jargon runs over to help Virtue as Enigma runs up to Gremlin. Gremlin grunts a little as he walks.*
Enigma: Hold on. Sit down a moment while I take a look at that.
*Gremlin complies and sits on the floor as Enigma rummages through her supplies. She finds the med kit she was looking for and opens it up, removing the section of armor around Gremlin’s arm and dressing the wound. She pulls a pair of pliers out of another zipper on her back pack.*
Enigma: Brace yourself.
*She probes the wound with her pliers. Gremlin squirms as she does. Finally, the pliers hit something solid – she pulls. Gremlin grunts in pain as the bullet is plucked out of his body. It falls with a clank on the floor next to him, rolling off into a crack in the floor.*
Gremlin: You must have done this a few times, eh?
Enigma: A few times long ago. Thankfully, I’ve never had to on myself. You should be fine, you’ll just be sore for a while.
Gremlin: Fair enough. Thanks.
*Enigma smiles and rejoins the other Stalkers who are now pushing the mutant off of Nimbus.*
Virtue: Almost got it!
Nimbus: Fuck it hurts! Gaaaaa…
*The mutant refuses to roll all the way off.*
Virtue: Enigma! We could use all the help we can get here! This thing won’t budge!
*Enigma joins the Stalkers and through their combined effort, they finally manage to roll the beast off of Nimbus, who scoots out from under it as it falls back down into place. The bottom half of his body is covered in blood and bodily fluids.*
Enigma: Oh my God…
Virtue: Nimbus… are you…
Nimbus: What?
*Nimbus looks down at his legs and sees the extent of the damage.*
Nimbus: Oh shit… shit… am I going to die?
*Jargon takes a cloth out of his back pack and uses it to soak up the blood on Nimbus’ torso. He sighs with relief.*
Jargon: It’s superficial. It’s the mutant’s blood, not yours.
*Virtue, Enigma and Nimbus sigh with relief.
Nimbus tries to get up and grunts in pain.*
Nimbus: If it’s not mine why can’t I get up?
*Jargon pushes his fingers on Nimbus’ torso. Nimbus winces in pain when he hits a certain spot.*
Jargon: You’ve got some cracked ribs, possibly broken. It might hurt a little to walk. Just try not to put too much pressure on them, and DON’T land on them if you can help it.
Nimbus: Understood… I still can’t get up…
*Jargon and Virtue lift Nimbus up on their shoulders and set him on his feet. He walks forward a ways without their help, a slight limp in his walk.*
Nimbus: It still hurts a little, but I think I can manage. Thanks guys.
Enigma: Let me put some bandage on there to lessen the force of an impact just in case.
Jargon: Good idea.
*The gunfire outside comes back into their ears as the room becomes silent again. The fight outside is still just as intense as it was before they entered the room.*
Gremlin: We need to figure out what’s going on out there and get the hell out of here as soon as possible.
*The Stalkers agree and prepare to leave. Gremlin walks over to where Phantom is still on the ground, breathing, but unconscious.*
Gremlin *whispering*: OK buddy, you’ve pulled my ass out of bad situations, time to return the favor.
*Gremlin picks Phantom up, slinging him over his shoulder as they head towards the door to recover their weapons.
The gunfire and explosions continue to draw nearer, seeming to be coming from just in front of the building now.*
Jargon: That sounds awfully close now. We better keep down.
*The Stalkers carefully proceed through the halls. Most Monolithians appear to have cleared the building and have taken up position elsewhere outside. As the Stalkers near the window in the front of the building, the scene becomes all too apparent to them.*
Nimbus: Oh not… not them again…
*Stalin, Martha, Bubba, and Slayer are standing in the front of the building, taking fire from all sides. They return fire, lessening the amount of bullets they take as their top-of-the-line equipment and skill allow them to continue picking off targets as the bullets bounce off their armor like flies on a windshield.
When the occasional rocket is fired they dive for cover, getting back up and resuming fire once it has exploded near them.
The Monolithians have given up trying to get close as they are simply easier targets then. They appear to be formulating a plan but are as of yet unsuccessful in killing the intruders.*
Jargon: Everywhere those men go, death follows them.
Gremlin: The last thing we want to do is get caught by them again. They’re just too heavily armored and too well equipped… and now they want to kill us.
Phantom: That armor of theirs can’t last forever. It has to be taking some damage by now.
Gremlin: If it is, they’re sure playing it off like it’s not. They look invincible out there.
Jargon: I see a way out the back downstairs. Come on!
*The Stalkers hurry down a flight of stairs to the lobby below them. As they enter the lobby, they can see the first rays of morning light filtering through the dark clouds to the east. The light isn’t much, but it allows them to see the path ahead of them a little better than the darkness of night.
Ahead of them, the roads of the empty metropolis continue to stretch on. A large stadium can be seen down the road in the distance.*
Jargon: The stadium! I think we can go through there to get to the road that leads to Chernobyl – assuming it’s not blocked off, of course.
*A bullet whizzes by the group as a voice shouts from behind them:*
Slayer: There they are! Let’s get ‘em!
Gremlin: Shit… RUN!
*The Stalkers take off from the building, running through the broken panes of glass that used to be the lobby doors. As they exit the building, the large Ferris wheel in the abandoned park next to them looms over them as a point of no return.
Sniper fire sounds from rooftops nearby, as bullets ping off the concrete of the street near them.
The Stalkers break into a dead sprint down the road as the snipers attempt to compensate and aim their bullets in the path of the Stalkers – but to their surprise, the Stalkers don’t slow down, but instead speed up as they go.*
Nimbus: What the hell… how am I running faster? I’m not even getting tired!
Virtue: Same here… this can’t be natural.
Jargon: Bless our souls! I believe we found another effect of these “Moonlight” artifacts.
*The Stalkers continue to run at an ever increasing speed, the sniper bullets continue to hit near them, but none of them hit their targets. Eventually the gunfire stops as the snipers give up and aim for new targets.*
Enigma: Look! Behind us!
*In the distance, 4 Stalkers the size of tanks can be seen running in their wakes, struggling to keep up as they attract the sniper file. The bullets can be heard ricocheting off their armor as they run.*
Phantom: Don’t these guys ever give up?
Nimbus: Apparently not.
Jargon: The stadium is just ahead! We’re almost there!
*The Stalkers continue towards the stadium at a remarkable speed, until before they know it, they are standing directly in front of it.*
Nimbus: Wow! I’m not out of breath or anything!
Jargon: I feel about 30 years younger, myself.
Gremlin: Let’s get inside before those bastards figure out where we went.
*The group proceeds inside the stadium. The rows of doors leading in are all smashed, some of the metal twisted around in odd shapes.*
Enigma: It looks like the metal frames here might have been warped by anomalies. Be careful where you step.
*As the Stalkers enter the depths of the stadium they are faced with the same darkness they encountered back in the car park. They turn on their head lamps and listen in anticipation, ready for anything to jump out at them.
They pass by abandoned ticket counters and concession stands, quickly scanning behind the counters. With the tension in the air, they half-expect the ghosts of old workers to be standing there haunting them.*
Nimbus: Man… I really hate dark buildings.
Jargon: It’s not far to the other side. Let’s just get through this and we’ll be out in the open again.
*The silence of the deep halls making up the ring of the stadium creates the illusion of several hundred voices somewhere further in… possibly the ghosts of the fans themselves on a busy day.
Finally, a dim blue light filters through the tunnel ahead, and they are in the center of the stadium – outside again. The field before them looks normal enough, despite a giant hole near the center. The grass is overgrown and several other plants have found their way into it, but nothing else remarkable strikes them about it immediately.*
Jargon: Good, it looks like the other side is still accessible. Let’s make out way there.
Virtue: What could have made that hole over there?
Jargon: I’m not sure, but let’s go around it to be safe.
Nimbus: You got my vote.
*The Stalkers continue around the ring of the stadium, tracing the side wall to the back exit. As they approach they can hear a noise from behind them. They stop in their tracks, turning around to find the source.*
Bubba: Ya really think they went in here?
Stalin: I sure as hell would have if I was trying to get away fast!
*The Stalkers look at each other in urgency.*
Gremlin: Let’s get the hell out of here!
*The Stalkers continue to run around the perimeter of the field within the stadium. As soon as they make it to the back exit their four favorite Stalkers emerge from the shadows across the field.*
Stalin: See, what did I tell you?
*Stalin shouts across the field:*
*Stalin’s group chuckles as they run across the field towards them.
Gremlin and company turn and run down the dark tunnel ahead of them, in search of the exit out the back side of the stadium.*
*Gunfire ricochets off the concrete in the dark tunnel before the Stalkers. They duck out of the way, rolling off to the sides once the hall branches off in front of them.*
Gremlin: I think we’re far enough in that they won’t be able to see us even with their night vision. We need to find the exit so we have open road in front of us, they won’t be able to catch up to us then.
*As the Stalkers continue down the dark hall, a deep booming sound comes from behind them. They glance over their shoulders as they run in time to see the four Stalkers in their wake get sucked up by a cluster of anomalies in the center of the field. They curse as they are spun and thrown across the hole, looking like the balls in a pinball machine as they are thrown out of one anomaly and into the next.*
Nimbus: Wow. I’m glad we decided to go around that hole.
Gremlin: No kidding. Good call, Jargon.
Phantom: That should slow those assholes down.
*Once again, light begins to filter through the end of the tunnel and the dim daylight filters into view again.*
Gremlin: There’s the street, let’s put some road between us and those guys.
Jargon: I know these streets like the back of my hand - follow me!
*The group takes off into a sprint, the Moonlight artifacts on them increasing their endurance to unknown levels.
They speed down streets, through intersections, passing by abandoned cars, bikes, baby carriages, discarded masses of paper, and a plethora of other abandoned belongings. They continue north-bound as the density of the city begins to gradually decrease, and they begin to see the sky and roads ahead of them more clearly without all the buildings in the way.
They round a few more intersections until they can see a large highway off to their right. Jargon comes to a sudden halt in front of them. The Stalkers gather up around him and look in the direction he is staring. Their jaws drop in awe of the sight before them.
None of them dare to speak. Even if they did, they wouldn’t have the words to describe the sight before them.*
Jargon: Oh my God. Chernobyl… what have you become?