You manage to avoid being shot in Level 3. The same black-clad enemies came for you and your two new friends, but they were fended off with ease. The man and woman seem to be dealing with the unseen masses with a dislocated calmness, and only three extra people enter through the door you defend. Eight masked characters stepped into the room on-by-one, and were felled before your handgun under a mess of red numbers.
Your task is so straightforward, that you notice a few peculiarities. Not only do these enemies do exactly the same thing every time they enter the room – creep in, walk forward stealthily, die – but they are all physically identical. They are all the same height, wearing the same armour, same black masks and handling the same pistol. They even drop the same number of rounds for you to collect.
Level 4 takes you by surprise. You were unprepared for three foes entering the room directly after one another. They sauntered into the room in formation, mimicking each other’s movements. You hesitate at the sight of this new encounter for a moment, and then rattle the trigger frantically. Two of the enemies collapse before the red numbers fade, but the third takes two swift, strafing strides into the room. They fire their pistol up at you, and for the third time you are shot. Burning pain snatches at your chest. You take the enemy off their feet a moment later.
As the unseen announcer confirms that level 4 is complete, and the sensation of pain subsides in an instant, you note how you stayed standing after being shot. You felt the same searing pain in your chest, and the same amount of damaged scored in your mind, but you did not slump to the floor this time. You struggle to remember if in the past you were knocked off your feet… or if you fell down because you were in pain… or if you fell down because that’s what you thought you were meant to do…
“Level 5. Primary Objective: Survive.”
The ringing, machine voice reminds you that these daydreams will have to wait. Clearly, this level will be more challenging. You will not be able to rely on these dim-witted, black-clad minions from waddling in one at a time anymore. You take two tentative, backward steps along the metal gangway and raise the pistol in readiness.
Your two allies begin to fire out across the compound. The noise of countless gunmen erupts outside. You watch the heavy fire exit door, waiting for each to swing open. After a minute, you begin to worry. The noise outside is louder than ever, but your first enemy should have entered by now.
Two minutes pass. The gunfight at the far end of the room is escalating, the exterior wall is being pelted by a storm of bullets, jangling and creaking with the force of invisible bullets. But no one has come through your entrance yet. You half-turn your head to try and view both entrance and exit at once, twitching your head back and forth.
You see the allies you met less than an hour ago. They are moving and firing less confidently now. They are spending shorter amounts of time leaning out into the open entrance, only occasionally firing at the people beyond. Your corner of the warehouse is still silent, but their fight is fiercer than ever. They are struggling now.
Should you go over and help them? Would you be able to see out of the entrance from up on the gangway? Climbing down would put you in a vulnerable position…
You then see the man on your team do something impossible. From his cover alongside the entrance, he drops his hands and his sub machinegun vanishes. He then reverses the motion, raising his arms, and an electric purple assault rifle blinks into existences in front of him. Even from this distance you can see the oversized, cylindrical magazine attached to the underside of the weapon and a neon lightning bolt etched into its side. The man turns and lets loose a stream of ammunition into the unknown assailants, a foot long cone of flame flickering from the muzzle end.
Two questions fight for dominance in your brain: where did that come from…and why wasn’t he using that to begin with?!
Then the fire exit bursts open. You were so focused on the weapon change that you almost forgot your role in this. You lift your pistol in both hands. Then, a feeling of dread seizes your core as a dozen enemies spill into the room in one awkward motion.
Their entrance is messy and chaotic, like the bursting of a broken damn. You don’t know why they have bunched up in this way. None of them fall over, or even stumble, but they shove and turn their bodies until they find their own space inside the warehouse. Once into the room beneath you, they simultaneously turn and point their pistols towards you. As they fix their sights on you, you envisage that large, red number ‘17’ blazing in your mind; being shot once is excruciating… but being shot ten… twenty times…
You fall. It’s the only thing you can think to do in the split-second before all those triggers are pulled. You fall to your knees, and then onto your side, sliding behind the mesh fencing and flattening yourself against the walkway. Your vision is overtaken with a rippling flash of gunfire. The metalwork around you clanks and crackles, as a hundred sparks snatch at the air beside you.
To your amazement, the waist-high fencing is your saving grace. Whilst a single bullet should be able to find a way through the gaps in the fence, the gunfire clinks and snaps of its surface. You don’t have time to feel safe though; you are unharmed, but this torrent of formless bullets is holding you in place, and from your prone position you can see two of the goons climbing the ladder up onto your platform. They climb slowly and steadily, but it won’t be long before they are able to kill you where you lie.
You crawl backwards on your elbows as the two figures ascend the ladder. You are about half way down the warehouse now. The group of enemies is following below you, firing uselessly into metal. Now that there is space on the ladder, a third fiend turns back to begin climbing. As they attach to the rungs at the bottom, you are alert enough to notice how strangely close the three people on the ladder really are; their arms and legs seem intertwined but working normally.
As the first climber begins to push themselves onto the platform, you raise your pistol. You point the handgun passed your feet towards the space where the first head will appear above the mesh fence. The top of the ladder emerges onto the platform on the end wall, and the attacker will have to dart around the corner to get a full view of you. You could get off a shot or two before they round the low fencing and head towards you.
The enemy doesn’t give you this chance. Rather than standing as they shift from the ladder, the first attacker moves out onto the gangway crouched. They half-crawl forward and hunker down at the inside corner of the mesh fence. They can now easily lean around the corner and fire down the walk way. Sure enough, you see a masked face and pistol peek out. There are three flashes from the gun barrel. One shot connects with the mesh fence to the left of your face, and you flinch away from the spark. The second shot connects with the wall behind (above) you somewhere at the other end of the warehouse.
The third shot bites into the sole of your foot.
The searing pain presses into the soft space below your toes. You cry out and fire your pistol in vain, the shots tapping against the warehouse wall above the gangway near the hidden attacker. The desperate situation you are in is a terrifying as the pain snarling up your ankle. You are fallen, surrounded by mystery enemies, at the mercy of a hail of gunfire.
You glare out through the mesh towards your two allies at the open entrance, hoping that they have seen that you need help. The man is still focused on the outside world, his electric purple rifle spitting fire. The woman is… not at the entrance… the man is on his own too.
The attacker on the gangway puts two more shots into the metal platform by your feet before tucking back into cover. The second climber is crouched on the platform behind him. You are seconds away from another shot of pain and ‘17’ damage.
Then you spot the woman. Having heard the torrent of gunfire from the back of the warehouse, she must have peeled away from the main door. She has snuck towards the group, keeping one of the large rack of shelves between her and them. You can just make out her broad frame hiding behind the lowest shelf. The group has no idea that she is within arm’s reach.
You are fixated on her next movements: she lets go of her over-sized shotgun with one hand. She leans back and pulls her arm back as if winding up to throw something. She pulls forward and throws empty air over the shelf. She then hunkers down behind her cover.
Whilst her hand was definitely empty, a small red cylinders appears in the air and follows the path that the woman ‘threw’ nothingness. The cylinder lands in the centre of the group, the noise of its landing lost amongst the thunderous gunfire. A second later, the group of enemies is bathed in light. A single violent crack makes your ears ring and you shield your eyes with your empty hand.
You expect to see the group lying dead on the ground as the light dissipates. Instead, you see the party of black-clad goons swaying gently with their arms at their sides. Their movements are almost comical; not only do they look drunk, but their motions are in almost perfect unison. They look like the laziest dance group every created. To cap off the silly scene, each gunmen has a new symbol above their head: a hand-sized, cartoon-like tornado spins above each of their masked faces.
The woman tears through the nonsense with her shotgun. From her cover, she fires a barrage into the group. Instead of a single, large number ‘12’ like the one your pistol produces, a nest of smaller, red number ‘7’s blink above the heads of several people at a time. Half the group falls after several pulsing blasts from the shotgun and the remaining enemy remain dazed and limp.
It suddenly dawns on you that you could probably be helping. The woman has saved you from the murderous crowd below. Even better: the three attackers on the gangway have turned their attention to the woman hidden behind the shelves. They fire from cover down at her, hiding behind the mesh fence as best they can.
You pull yourself upright and gingerly place weight on the foot that was hit moments ago. The pain still seers, but pressing down doesn’t seem to make things worse. You surge back down the gangway, keeping low (learning from your attacker’s movement). You intend to get as close as you can to the trio; if you can close the distance, you could shoot over the fencing on the walkway.
The three hunkered foes pay you no attention as you scuttle towards them. They are apparently dedicated to taking on the woman who did so much damage, no matter how close you are. You make a snap decision: summoning your courage, you pace the full distance to the corner of the gangway, so that you are standing over the completely distracted trio. You fire point blank down onto the unsuspecting enemy. You wrench the trigger until the counter in your mind’s eye runs down to ‘0’.
The tumultuous torrent of noise subsides as the three enemies cease their convulsions. You drop your arms to your sides at let out the longest sigh. You look up through the warehouse.
“Well… that could’ve gone worse, I reckon.” The woman’s voice calls up to you. She has eliminated the entire group, and is now poking her head through the space above the shelf, calling down the warehouse to where you now stand. You judge from her expression that her comments come from a sarcastic place. You look down to the three, lifeless enemy at your feet. How were you supposed to know they would come in all together like that?
You look back to the woman, but she has disappeared back behind the shelf. You suppose she has gone back to the man at the entrance. The gunfire across the compound has begun to ebb, but the occasional rifle blast tells you that a few enemies are still out there. Before you have reached the bottom of the ladder, hoping to snag some ammunition from the fallen foes, the unseen robotic announcer confirms that Level 5 is over.
As you pace the length of the warehouse, something new happens. The roof, and then the walls, and then the floor begin to discolour. You come to a halt and turn full circle, watching the colour drain from the metal shelves and metal walls. Next, the surfaces around you begin to fade entirely. The warehouse does not give way to reveal the world you saw when you entered however, but dissolves to reveal a vast cobblestone floor spreading out to the horizon in all directions. The sky (if you can call it that) is a dull, flat grey. It’s almost striking in its nothingness.
A small, jovial voice chuckles over your shoulder, “Oh! A new customer? How absolutely delightful!”
Slowly, tentatively, you turn yourself around to face the speaker. You’re not so sure are ready for another something new.
Thank you for Reading!
Chapter 4 coming soon!