Chapter 23: The Hard End

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Drake slapped a fresh magazine into his rifle and waited for anything else to show up, but, at last, nothing more stepped in through any of the open doors. Slowly, he lowered his rifle and straightened up. After another ten seconds, he promptly began walking towards the left doorway. He and Stacker had been fighting their way through the core of the facility. He figured they must be getting close, because Erebus seemed to be throwing everything it had at them, although it seemed to have run out of quality troops by now.

They'd put down probably fifty more meat machines and elementals between the two of them since their last run-in with the hunter-killer. Which Drake was extremely grateful to hear was dead, or at the very least tripped up long enough to keep out of their way. He seriously hoped it was dead and gone. He and Stacker had been ambushed in the room they were currently leaving, and given how close it was to the center of the core, Drake had to assume that it was Erebus's last hurrah in terms of forces. A last ditch defense effort.

Or really that's what he hoped.

Assuming was bad.

He was glad at least to see that Stacker was holding out well. He hadn't cracked or snapped, he was still holding his own against machine hybrid horrors. Hawkins had made a good pick. They were nearing the end of their journey. Well, hopefully not the end of it, but at least the end of this leg of the trip. Up ahead, down a short, broad hallway they'd stepped into, was another set of doors. Thick, vault-like doors that would take them into the central chamber where, he hoped and dreaded, Erebus itself would reside.

"All right, Stacker, we've got absolutely no idea what will be waiting for us on the other side. It's probably going to be a mainframe that we need to trash, but...well, who knows what Erebus has guarding it," he said, switching to his grenade launcher. He'd been saving it for just such an occasion. Stacker switched to his flamethrower.

They were ready.

Or as ready as they were going to be.

They moved up to the doors and Drake hit the access button. Surprisingly, they opened up. Also surprisingly, before they could get all the way open, a huge, malformed hand of bone and steel and meat shot out, grabbed Drake, and yanked him into the area beyond, then hurled him the length of the room. Drake screamed as he sailed through the air for a few heart-pounding seconds, then grunted as his impromptu journey ended abruptly as he slammed into a wall of screens, shattering several of them. He grunted again as he slammed to the deckplates.

Blinking rapidly, trying to regain his vision and his feet, Drake raised his grenade launcher. Or tried to. It was gone from his grasp and he couldn't see it anywhere. As he struggled to his feet, Drake caught sight of the thing that had assaulted him.

It was huge.

And intensely disturbing.

A three-legged, three-armed, skinless abomination bore down on him with a great, black, glowing cyclopean eye that took up a good portion of its face. Its mouth was a wide, lipless slash filled with metal shark teeth that oozed and dripped a corrosive purple substance. Each of the three arms ended in something lethal. The first being a huge, skeletal metal and meat hand, the one that had grabbed him. Another one ended in a bludgeon covered in serrated blades. The third ended in a long, narrow drill that was spinning madly.

"Specialist Winters. Specialist Stacker. You have arrived. I have been waiting for you," Erebus said, spinning the drill and clenching and opening its skeletal fist.

There was something ominously flat and dead in Erebus's voice now. It sounded more cold and calculating, like an emotionless machine. Its voice was deeper and resonated more. "I have constructed this body for myself. I thank you for the opportunity to test it."

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