146 Locating the Source
The second that Zoey heard the alert that there was a corrupted creature below them, she ordered 704 to stop their descent. They were only halfway down the sinkhole, but Zoey did not want to expose the Asurai clanspeople to another corrupted if she could help it.
"Alright, this is as far down as we go for now, something is down there," she said as the manipulated the map to see if she could locate the creature.
The drone had detected the corrupted's signature coming out of what looked to be a tunnel that led away from the sinkhole's floor. It was also exactly where the trail they had been following led to. Whatever was down there, it was the source of at least two corrupted that she knew of, and if she didn't put a stop to it, who knows how many more corrupted would crawl out of there.
While she was lost in thought, she felt someone grab her clothing. She looked down to find Max holding onto her with a determined look on his face. It seemed that he was not going to let her go down there by herself.
The others seemed to have mixed feelings. Zoey could see that they wanted to help, but they knew that they would only be in the way when facing a corrupted creature. So Zoey had them all head down to the cargo bay with their people while Max and her would stay on the bridge. It was time for the first test of the bridge-craft.
When Zoey had named the Stella Tenebris, she had chosen two names for a reason. Stella was intended as the name for the smaller bridge-craft, and Tenebris was the name of the bigger cruiser. Zoey intended on taking the Stella down to the bottom of the sinkhole while leaving the Tenebris in position where she was.
So with not a lot of ceremony, that is what they did. Zoey sat of the Captain's chair and started the sequence to separate the Stella from the Tenebris. It went smoothly, with the Stella gently separating from the cruiser and firing the RCS thrusters to gain some distance before beginning the descent to the bottom.
Zoey handled the ship as if she had been born to, gently piloting it down into the depths of the sinkhole. The Stella handled very well, and Zoey had no issues with the controls on the way down. Once they reached the bottom, Zoey deployed the landing gear and settled the ship on the ground and shut off the propulsion system.
She looked at Max and once again saw the determination in his eyes. She knew that he had wanted to put an end to the pain that was affecting the beasts of the wasteland, and this was their best chance to do so. There were a number of mysteries surrounding the wasteland, and Zoey hoped that they would find some answers down here.
They both donned their gear, and exited the Stella onto the floor of the sinkhole. Zoey instantly sensed that the air was foul with corruption, almost to the point where it made it hard to breath. If a normal human was down here, they would expire within minutes from the miasma and fumes. But thanks to her resistances and Max's strong constitution, they were both somewhat unaffected by it all.
Directly ahead of them was the tunnel where all of the filth was spewing out from, and Zoey could practically feel the corrupted creature's aura from where they were.
Max raised his arm and pointed towards the tunnel opening and said to Zoey, "It's in there... All of the pain from the beasts comes from there."
In response, Zoey pulled the DAAC from her inventory, cracked open the breach and loaded two shells laced with power from her Arbiter's Mark. She closed the breach with a snap, then nodded to Max. They were ready.
The two of them headed into the tunnel, ready and determined to put an end to whatever they found. Zoey was a little surprised when Max took the lead, walking in front of her as if to protect her. She didn't really need him to, but he seemed determined stay in front, so she let him be.
They stayed alert and ready as the progressed, but the tunnel was not very long. After they had walked for about half a kilometer, they entered into a large cavern and finally spotted the source of the miasma and fog in the sinkhole.
It was a portal, one that Zoey recognized as a dungeon portal, only this one was being held open by what looked like a series of anchors placed in a specific configuration around it. Each anchor had a wire of some kind that was connected to the portal's edge, preventing it from closing.
Somehow, someone had devised a method to keep the portal open and stable, leading to all the fumes spilling through it into the area outside.
Zoey and Max could both sense that the corrupted creature was inside the portal somewhere, the only problem was they did not know what else they would encounter inside. Zoey figured that they could probably destroy the portal anchors and let it close, but that would not be a solution to the problem.
Someone or something had set all of this up, and clearly was not wanting to be found, and while closing the portal would stop the miasma and fog in the sinkhole, it would accomplish nothing else. They had to go inside.
But before they did, Zoey called out Viridi from her inner world where she had been enjoying a short vacation. The large feline wrinkled her nose at the foul air and sent a grumbling thought to Zoey. She did not like the smell.
"Well, nobody else is gonna do this for us, so lets get in there. We should hold on to one another so we don't get separated on the way through," Zoey said as she patted Viridi's head.
Max nodded, and held out his hand to Zoey, who took it with a concealed smile behind her mask. Zoey then took hold of Viridi, and the three of them stepped into the waiting portal.
It was time to put an end to whatever was causing all of this!