“So… These are the coordinates the client gave?” Sarge said, eying the round brick tower a couple hundred yards from them in the middle of a flat grass field. The side closest to them was slightly squared off, with a gap side wide enough for a barn door, although any such thing had rotted away by now, and about half as tall as the whole thing. The remains of wooden planks making a conical roof were visible. “Doesn’t look like much.”
“Which means something absolutely deadly.” Oak planted his tower shield and leaned forward, staring at the tower.
“Yup,” Sarge said, eying the field around and behind the structure. “How big were those crews?”
Pixie's hands twitched as she pulled up the info on her 'specs. “A five-person team, and then two different scouting parties, two each.”
“None of whom our client mentioned,” Yew griped, continuing to scan the horizen behind them all. Just in case anyone decided to sneak up on them. “So probably nine casualties minimum.“
“To be fair…” Pixie trailed off, still manipulating the AR interface. “He’s like the third client to try to recover this place, and I don’t think he knows about the other two.”
“That is NOT better,” Sarge muttered as he brought his binoculars up. Fiddling with the settings, he zoomed in as far as he could. The brick work still looked solid. He didn’t see any signs of fire or other extreme weather events… The gaps in the roof didn’t have anything coming out of them. The opening looked clear of obstruction. The sunlight reached as far in as he expected and the illuminated as much as he expected.
Shit. There was a ring of dead earth five feet around the tower.
"Ground Blight infection,” Sarge said handing over the binoculars. Pixie peered through them as Sarge dug in his backpack for that thermal scope he’d traded three books from the Civil War Surgery project for. There was still a little juice left in the battery. He hoped.
“Think we’re far enough back?” Pixie murmured as Oak pulled his shield back out of the ground and sidled back a few steps.
“Not dead yet.” The thermal scope did turn on, thank God. Training it on the silo, Sarge frowned and started a slow sweep out.
"What's going on?" Oak asked as Sarge slowly lowered the scope.
"About 20 feet out from the dead stuff is a couple degrees warmer than the rest of the ground. The dead area is a fewer degrees warmer than that. And the silo is warmer still. With several hot spots."
They all stood in silence for a few moments. The wind kicked up and whistled across the plain, then died down again.
"Brick's a thermal insulator... But that wouldn't account for hot spots or the ground..." Pixie muttered. “Think those casualties should have come out from the wind noise by now?”
“Or the open top creates enough whistling to keep them all in,” Yew ventured.
Sarge started walking. “Let's move west a bit, get a better angle on the doorway.”
All four of them maintained their distance away from the silo as they worked west. It was slow, not from having to watch their feet on the flat ground or anything, but from trying to keep an eye out for the usual dangers on top of maintaining distance, all while expecting casualties to start shambling out of the silo.
The silo remained silent.
Across from the opening, Pixie took another look through the binoculars for a solid two minutes. “Well, there's something in there. Contemplating just throwing a rock and seeing what shambles out…”
Sarge double-checked the safety on his gun and touched the second clip in his belt. Still there. Oak looked over at Sarge, touched Yew on the elbow, then hefted up his shield and placed a hand on his machete. Yew checked the string on his bow, then pulled a metal shafted arrow and strung it.
“Fall back point is the trees,” Sarge said, gun out but still pointed at the ground.
Pixie looked at him mouth agape. “A mile away? And I wasn’t serious!”
“I am,” Sarge said with a shrug. “Something is really wrong over there. I'm not approaching and that’ll still get us some intel.”
“I… Alright.” Pixie scanned the ground, then picked up a rock half the size of her fist. At Sarge's nod she let fly; the rock bounced off the left side of the opening.
A couple heartbeats of nothing happening later, Pixie brought the binoculars up again and trained then on the opening.
A casualty lurched into the edge of the building, staggering back half a step. A slight turn of the Blight covered hips and it shambled out the door. The shoulders remained tilted towards the door frame. The gait was wrong too.
“It's moving… awfully slow,” Sarge whispered as he shifted his stance and lined up the shot. Watching the casualty, one foot would go out as far as possible, stop like it'd hit the end of a rope, land, shift weight forward, and repeat with the other. It was a much more lurching style of walking than Sarge had ever seen. Even from a casualty.
“Hold up,” Pixie murmured. Sarge glanced over; she had the binoculars trained on the ground behind the casualty. “Oh fuck. Um, shoot it now. Please.”
Sarge took the shot. Dark brown sludge, white bone, and deep black Blight sprayed out from its head to spackle the brick silo. The casualty dropped, bonelessly.
Pixie waved him off and kept watching the completely-dead casualty.
It spun around on the ground until the feet were pointed at the silo. A pause. Then something pulled it into the darkness.
Pixie, Sarge, and Oak shared a horrified look, turned, grabbed Yew and started walking home.