148 Orchestra of Horror
Once again Zoey experienced complete sensory loss for a moment before the three of them stepped onto solid ground on the other side of the portal.
The scene that greeted them was one straight from a nightmare.
They were standing on a hill, and all around them were hundreds upon hundreds of large, circular pits that were packed with mutated beasts. The miasma here was thick, covering everything in a haze that was hard to see through.
One thing that Zoey forgot was Max, who could sense the minds of the beasts, and feel what they felt. Right after they stepped through the portal, he suddenly clutched his head as the sensory input from the large amount of beasts here hit him all at once.
Zoey quickly supported him as he nearly collapsed, her mind whirling as she tried to form a solution. She knew very little about his ability to sense the thoughts of beasts. Was it psychic? Some form of telepathy? Was there a way to block it? Zoey was at a loss about what to do!
As Zoey was trying to think of a solution, Max grabbed her, took a deep, shaky breath, and seemed to calm down.
"Are you OK?" Zoey asked him in concern as Viridi licked his hand to comfort him.
He nodded to her, the pain still visible on his face, but now Zoey could see something else lurking inside his normally calm eyes.
"Let's put an end to this," he growled quietly.
For the first time since they met, Zoey could tell he was angry. The pain that he had felt from the beasts had not gone away, instead he had taken all the pain that he sensed, and transformed it into anger… raw, seething, anger directed at whoever was responsible for all of this.
Zoey had spoken with Max a few times about how he could sense the minds of the beasts, and through that she had understood that Max had a good heart. He did not want the beasts to suffer, and was determined find the source and end it. Zoey empathized with how he felt, because while Max had gone through his own suffering and pain, so had she.
Now that Max had seen and felt the suffering of the beasts here in this horrid dungeon, he was angry. Zoey could practically see the fury radiating off of him as he started off and led the way forward.
What Zoey saw in the pits that they walked past made her sick to her stomach. This area of the dungeon was huge, and had been repurposed into some form of disgusting breeding area for the beasts. The hundreds of pits that they could see were packed with mutated beasts, all of them driven into a mating frenzy by only the gods knew what… When they weren't repeatedly rutting or giving birth to more mutated beasts, they were gorging themselves on some disgusting looking gruel that was pumped into troughs along the sides of the pits.
Zoey could only assume whatever they were being fed was the cause of the frenzied mating and the obscene mutated beasts that were the outcome.
She found it disgusting and inhumane, a pit of horrors that should not exist! One way or another, they had to put a stop to this atrocity. Zoey could see that Max had his fists clenched tight ahead of her, a small indicator on the pain he was being subjected to.
Max let the way through the pits in the direction that he sensed that the pain of the beasts originated from while Viridi and Zoey followed. Zoey could also sense the corrupted creature in that direction, so she was on high alert as they went.
They traveled through a short tunnel into an area where they discovered a large amount of aether fueled equipment. In the center of the room was a massive aether crystal that numerous pipes and conduits originated from, directing the magical energy towards the equipment.
At first glance, Zoey did not know what this place was, but eventually she realized that it was a lab. The instruments and equipment they could see was meant for biological research, and whoever had been using it had clearly not been here for a long time. Most of the lab was in disrepair or completely broken, and none of it seemed to have been used recently.
Zoey did spot a dusty notebook on a table that she grabbed and put in her inventory. Perhaps it would shed some light on who was responsible for this mess.
Just as they entered a tunnel that led deeper into the foul, miasma-choked dungeon, they suddenly heard howls from ahead. They moved through the tunnel and found themselves in another huge area, this one filled with thousands of beasts as well. However, unlike before, these beasts were not in a frenzy of mating and reproducing, these were fully grown war beasts ready to be thrown at the bulwark in one of many beast waves.
Zoey could see a number of gates set up around the outer portion of the room. These she could only guess were set up as portals to send out the beasts to attack the Bulwark, but without seeing it in action it was only a guess.
Now, the three of them had a problem. Their target was through this room and deeper in the dungeon, and there was only one way through.
Zoey swapped her DAAC out for the Mk1 Prototype Armament, then looked at Viridi and max. They were both ready, and the fury in Max's eyes was burning hotter than before. The sheer amount of mental pain that he was sensing was almost maddening, but the presence of Zoey and his goal of stopping this horror show kept him focused.
With Zoey's signal, the three of them broke out in a dead sprint to the other side of the room. They made it only ten meters before they were spotted, which let to the entire room going into a frenzy of rabid beasts swarming at them in a wave of claws and teeth.
Despite the scene that would make most mortal men keel over on the spot, Max was not fazed. He led Zoey and Viridi directly into the wave of beasts, and this time, he did not wait for them to attack him first. His fists erupted with his barely contained fury, and the first beast that reached him was pounded into paste with one strike. He continued on, smashing any beast that came at him with raw strength and fury, taking their pain and freeing them from their torment.
Zoey could see for the first time what he had meant when he told her that the beasts were in pain, and just wanted that pain to end. Now that she was looking for the signs, and thanks to her link to Viridi, she could sometimes sense the pure relief felt by the beasts the instant their life was taken.
It was a sad and harsh realization, but at the moment they really didn't have any other way to save them except by getting to the source and destroying it.
Whoever was conducting this orchestra of horror had to be stopped!