After an unorthodox Accord court-martial, we join Alexis Briggs as she is swept into her new position as Lieutenant Colonel. Rather than starting her investigation of unknown threats in one of the Melding Pockets, she is ordered to explore strange reports close to home in New Eden. Something must be amiss to send her to Stonewall.
Lieutenant Colonel Alexis Briggs – Unofficial Report
At a distance, the scenic coastlines and spectacular beaches conjure warm memories of what Fortaleza, Brazil used to be. Underneath the picturesque façade however, New Eden is deceptively treacherous. Over the past few months, the Accord has been hit with a massive influx of Missing Persons Reports centered around the Stonewall region. On top of the collective disappearances, we’ve recently lost contact with an ARES supply team positioned at one of the outlying farmsteads in the area. Without a steady supply of fresh food and provisions for our troops, the Accord could very quickly become dependent on scavenged pre-war rations – an unsustainable long-term prospect.
Disappearances are far from rare within the borders of New Eden, but none the less disheartening. When the Chosen aren’t to blame, marauding bandits and packs of Wargrim are often responsible for terrorizing the people of Fortaleza. The terms “missing” and “dead” are regularly synonymous here; this land may be our home but it is a refuge of necessity not preference.
Despite a lack of information, the instances in question seem to share a thread of commonalities beyond the realm of mere coincidence. The Accord believes that these reports are peculiar enough to warrant an investigation and that is where I come in. If there is any chance that the Chosen are responsible for these abductions, it is paramount that we uncover the truth; exploring the Melding Pockets will have to wait.
Coasting over the jagged crags of Stonewall, the expanse of natural beauty stands in stark contrast to the churning turbulence of the Melding. Though oozing with foreboding, from the back of a dropship, its purple glow possesses an indescribable magnetism. Quaint farmhouses bathe in the ominous light and small villages’ dot the landscape in communal wonder. This little slice of New Eden seems to have been spared from the incessant afflictions plaguing the rest of Brazil, but the mounting Missing Persons Reports would suggest otherwise.
Far from the hustle and bustle of Trans-Hub or the glitz and glamor of Sunken Harbor, Bodega Farm sits in relative isolation, a modest edifice amongst the rolling hills and migrating flocks of Storm Kestrel. Serving as a food supplier for much of New Eden, on the rare occasion that Accord rations feature organic produce as opposed to items generated through the technological brevity of molecular printing, you can bet that it came from Bodega Farm or one of the surrounding homesteads. Though privately owned and operated, Bodega Farm contributes generously to the Accord by donating considerable produce and supplies. Many of the other farms in the area have jumped on the bandwagon of military aid as well thanks to Accord ‘encouragement’. Resource acquisition is vital to advancing the war efforts, often at any cost.
With uneasy rumbling, the vessel begins its descent. The dropship sways back and forth until settling comfortably on the ground. I reach into my back pocket to retrieve a folded Accord Intelligence ledger. Filtering through the brass jargon I refresh myself on the mission parameters. With a heavy hand of paraphrasing, my assignment is simple; to scout out Bodega Farm for anything out of the ordinary and to discover why food shipments have suddenly stopped coming.
After uncoupling a number of safety latches, straps, and restraints, I free myself from the chair, and stagger down the inclined cargo door toward my destination. A winding gravel road leads me toward my target with surprising ease. Approaching Bodega Farm, the tiny collection of animal pens, barns, and small tool sheds break the seemingly infinite expanse of countryside. In a nearby plot, corn stalks dance majestically in the breeze, plump tomatoes pepper the ground with splashes of red, and the air carries a faint sweetness from a nearby orchard. This truly is paradise.
I walk past a pair of clucking chickens, who scurry off at the first sight of my presence. Minus a few infrequent chirps, the ranch hinges on absolute silence. There are no workers toiling in the fields, no farmhands tending the pastures, where is everyone? Continuing my search I come across the first encouraging prospect of the day – a petite farmhouse with door ajar, enveloped in the faint hum of classical music.
“Hello?” I mutter with an air of caution. Each footstep is countered by an eerie creak from the floorboards below. I move slowly toward the source of the music. An antique record player bellows dated tunes atop the kitchen table. Quickly silencing the musical torrent, I take a deep breath to disarm my swelling nerves. Without the melody to stifle my senses, I detect a muffled cadence coming from a double-door cabinet to the left. In one flowing motion, I unshackle the firearm strapped to my right hip and open the wooden door.
In an instant, the adrenaline-induced charge crumbles. Huddled within the hampered walls of the cabinet interior, a little boy – trembling, arms crossed, with tears rolling down his cheek – meets my gaze.
“Jeez ,” I utter, frantically restraining the weapon. I offer the child my hand, after a brief pause he accepts.
“What is your name?” He takes a shaky step out of the makeshift hideaway and perches on a nearby stool. Continuing to look in my direction, he remains silent for more than a few moments before muttering, “Paulo.”
“It’s nice to meet you Paulo, my name is Alexis, Lieutenant Colonel Alexis Briggs of the Accord. I’ve been sent here to help, where are your parents?”
He clenches his fist and looks away. “They were taken two days ago…along with everyone else. I’ve been hiding here ever since.”
The sanguinity promised by the beautiful scenery of Stonewall begins to fade in an ominous haze. “Who took your family and neighbors?”
“The shadow men came at night, dressed in black clothes. I hid in the closet when they came.” His legs dangle back and forth from the kitchen stool with the nonchalance that only a kid could truly capture. “I heard them walk into my house and carry mommy and daddy out, they must have been sleeping.”
I grumble to myself as the child paints an absolutely horrifying picture. What could infiltrate Bodega Farm and kidnap ten, no, twenty people in a single night? My mind dives into a pool of contemplation, flowing back and forth in a cerebral struggle between the logical and the fantastic.
“It must be the Chosen.”
Before leaving the boy in the back of the Accord dropship under the watch of the ARES pilot, Paulo points me in the direction that the abductors traveled after clearing out the village. Riddled with the incongruities of a child’s perception and muddled by the presence of nighttime, the recollection is discouragingly vague. But without any other leads, I set out on an exploratory mission into the wilderness; innocent testimony as my compass.
Whether through the good graces of luck, chance, or my favorite invisible decisive force, karma, the instructions led me right to the mouth of a cave nestled atop a mountain ridge just a few kilometers south of Bodega Farm.
I’ll have to thank Paulo after this is all over.
Bordering the Melding wall, the jagged crags of the rocky passage form an eerie pathway that seemingly enters into the Melding itself. Snaking into the earth with sporadic rhythm, the cave’s sharp outcrops and overhanging stalactites give the illusion of literally entering into the belly of a beast.
Trudging through the damp darkness of the mysterious cavern, the plip plop of cascading water droplets falling from above echoes in deafening repetition. My ears ring at the sound of each aqueous collision, but I trek onward. The rock walls gradually widen to allow a comfortable gait and within ten minutes of exploring, any essence of claustrophobia is entirely gone. Breaking the focused quintessence, the sound of people speaking jolts me to a standstill. Emanating from the clearing ahead, a collection of distorted voices and deep drumming permeates through cave walls.
“It sounds like some sort of…chanting,” I murmur as quietly as I possibly can. Moving with meticulousness, I silently edge over to the chasm entrance.
Clad in darkness from the ill-lit cave, I peek through the opening toward the source of the sound. Positioned above the large cavity, the vantage point provides a perfect view of the entire area. Spanning at least 30 or 40 meters, the open expanse starkly contrasts the cold, geological character at the shallower depths. Instead, this cavernous room echoes the aesthetics of some sort of ritual chamber. Crude tapestries embellish the walls, each with its own grotesque aesthetic; the corpse of a baby brontodon lies motionless atop a stone pedestal, and at one end of the chamber, two hooded shirt-less men pound on makeshift drums while tattered followers dance in trance-like ecstasy.
Painted with a faint touch of purple, the entire rift glimmers in the unnatural shades of the Melding. My eyes trace the malevolent hue to a large crack in the cavern roof where the tempest seeps through the broken rocks in slow, viscous globs; settling into a smoldering pool behind the dancers.
“Oh my God, these people are worshiping the Melding.”
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Originally written for Red 5 Studios during my time working there as Web Content Editor.