The hallway was a chaotic blur of beating wings, investigators trying to avoid the aerial onslaught, and soldiers realizing they were involved in something far, far above their pay-grade. For every over-sized insect the group killed, three more seemed to take its place. Tommy attacked sagely with shotgun and sword as Tammy attempted to shield Ismene harm, forming a whirling defensive perimeter around her with her kopesh. Seth alternated between firing regular pistol-shot and magical blasts from his old pistol, and Roger stood impassively, a look of stern concentration on his face — any insect that flew too close to him seemed to erode and melt away, filling the air with a choking insect-dust.
Tripping over his own feet as he tried to navigate the battlefield, Seth landed heavily on the floor, his intended shot missing its mark by a wide margin — and instead funneling the full force of his magic into the wasps’ hives that caked the walls and ceilings. Though he became the insects’ primary target for the assault on their home, his attack seemed to stop more reinforcements from joining the fray. With eyes rolling back in his head from the venom coursing through his veins, he slumped into near-unconsciousness as the rest of the team dispatched the remaining insects.
Tommy and Roger knelt and tended to Seth’s wounds, using a combination of herbal compresses and antihistamines to help him back to his feet, as Ismene continued filming the remains of their viscous hallway battle. “This will make a great special episode,” she whispered to herself as she looked through the viewfinder, surveying the carnage wrought by the otherworldly insects.
Regrouping, Seth shook off the tunnel vision and other lingering effects from his injuries, assuring the team he was ready to proceed. Around the bend they saw another pristine door, free from the hive-like growths that covered most other surfaces. “Lab 2,” Tommy read aloud. “Do we go in or find our way straight to the bottom?”
“Let’s not leave hostiles behind us,” Roger suggested, not wanting to be sandwiched in future engagements.
“There are wards here — powerful ones,” offered Tammy, running her fingers across the sterile surface. “Words of power from Chinese traditions, hermetic magic sigils, runes, Arabic spells protecting against demons, kabbalah, and other arts from the ancient world.”
“They sure have their bases covered,” Tommy commented dryly.
One of the soldiers, James, was leaning heavily against a nearby wall, pointedly avoiding touching any of the intricate hive growths, his face ashen and clammy beneath his gas mask. “Soldier, are you okay?” barked Roger, trying to assess whether he had pushed the man too far.
“I’m allergic to bees, sir,” the man managed, looking up at the supposed man in charge. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
Narrowing his eyes, Roger jabbed a stiff finger back down the corridor. “Report back to the airlock and hold it with the rest of the team. Strength in numbers, soldier.”
Nodding with understanding, James ran back down the corridor.
Calling over his shoulder, Tommy addressed the group. “I think I’ve got it; the wards were familiar somehow. We should be able to open the door now.”
Readying themselves for whatever lay behind the reinforced bulkhead, Ismene signaled that the group was ready with a curt nod. With weapons raised, Tommy muscled the large door open, stepping out of the line of fire of his trigger-happy comrades. A yawning blackness greeted them, the pale corridor lights barely penetrating into the lab space. Roger gestured everyone forward.