Hell in a box
A/N: Hello and welcome to a brand new story! For those who may not know me, my name is ImpulsiveWeaver, and I am an incredibly huge fan of both the Doom and Borderlands franchises. As a result, this story has been born. Please note that this story is actually a continuation of my fanfic "Universal Doom", so there may be some things that happen within that readers may not understand if they haven't read it yet. Also for reference, this story takes place during the events of Borderlands 2! Either way, I hope everyone enjoys the story! Enjoy, and remember: I own nothing!
UAC REPORT FILE LTRKN21B
During the initial days of The Lazarus Project, headed by Doctor Olivia Pierce, it was discovered that the transference of matter between Hell and Mars was observable and even quantifiable. Upon surveillance of space-time on the quantum level, it could be seen that bridges between the two realms, specifically gore nests, appeared to "pull" on the very fabric of reality when summoning demons from Hell. Upon further analysis, it was discovered that when a gore nest activates, its presence within space-time momentarily increases many times over, which generates a distortion in reality significant enough to pull demons from Hell to its location within this reality.
This discovery would have likely gone unnoticed for quite some time were it not for the selfless volunteering of Follower Williams, who requested to remain inside the containment chamber of a gore nest and continue taking readings as it drew demons from Hell. Follower Williams's will to further the progress of the Lazarus Project served as a shining example of self-sacrifice to all members, and it was through his actions that the method of which the gore nest summons demons from Hell was discovered.
It was also subsequently discovered that the greater the mass of a gore next, the greater distortion and pull it exerts on the fabric of space-time. This in turn allows it to summon more demons at a rate that is exponentially proportional to how large it is, and many have hypothesized that if a gore nest to were to grow substantial enough in size, it could potentially generate enough of a distortion in space-time to inadvertently reach across other dimensions besides Hell and draw forth their occupants and contents.
Maya shook her head in pity and disgust at her surroundings. She had known that Handsome Jack was cruel ever since he'd tried to kill her and the rest of the vault hunters on that train, but this was a new low, even for him.
She was speaking, of course, of the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve, Jack's own little twisted research lab for slag and its effects on Pandoran fauna. Everywhere around her, Maya was witnessing the full extent of Jack's insanity, and unfortunately for her, she'd had to fight her way through quite a few enraged and biologically altered beasts so far that had once been Jack's test subjects. Her thoughts then immediately turned to Bloodwing, and Maya felt her stomach drop at the thought of the poor bird sharing the same fate.
"It looks like you're gonna have to search further in," crackled Mordecai's voice over the ECHOnet, and though his voice carried a mild distortion from the device, Maya could still hear the worry in his tone.
"Sounds like a plan," Maya replied, hoping to sound as reassuring as possible. Ugh, growing up on Athenas had not helped in that department. "We'll update you once we find her."
Turning her head, Maya nodded once to Zer0 and Kreig, and the three of them pushed forward and further into the facility, looking for any signs of Bloodwing.
"Handsome Jack is cruel." Zer0 remarked, his helmeted gaze scanning over the corpses of feral skags and stalkers around them. "I look forward to his end. / He owes atonement."
May glanced at him over her shoulder as he spoke. Ever since meeting Zer0, she had quickly discovered that the only thing more mysterious than what lied beneath his suit was his reasoning for speaking in haiku all the time. It wasn't that she found it annoying, per se, but she had to admit that she sometimes found herself more focused on the haiku rather than the actual topic of discussion. The times that occurred were few and far between, however, as Zer0 tended to speak the least out of everyone in their group. Maya found it somewhat funny that despite all of that, however, as Zer0 did not even hold the title for "most difficult to converse with" when it came to their group of vault hunters. Nope, that title belonged to–
"Twice the faces to rip the tongues from!" came Kreig's deranged shout in response to Zer0, and Maya felt herself smile at his words.
Kreig, much like Zer0, was an enigma, though in an entirely different regard. Where Zer0 was quiet and mysterious, Kreig was loud and overt, and though the words that he spoke seemed like nothing more than raving nonsense to everyone else, Maya was more often than not able to discern the jist of what he was saying. That was what made him unique, for despite his status as a psycho and his nigh unquenchable thirst for all things violent, Maya could see clearly intelligent thought behind his eyes, or just eye actually, as the gas mask he wore obscured all but the left one from view.
Kreig was more than just a bloodthirsty psycho, and to Maya's satisfaction, the others were slowly warming up to having him in the ranks of the Crimson Raiders. Some were more hesitant than others, but Maya could see some of them already starting to come around. Just yesterday, in fact, Salvador had generously offered Kreig one of his guns after the big guy had accidentally broken his own against the skull of one of the bandits they'd been fighting. And though Kreig had rejected the offer and had opted to charge headlong at their enemies with just his buzzaxe, Maya could see the gratitude in his body language as he'd beheaded one of the marauders with his melee weapon of choice.
"Don't worry, big guy," Maya said reassuringly. "As soon as we get that upgrade for Claptrap from Bloodwing's collar, we'll be one step closer to getting the vault key and bringing Jack down for good."
"My porpoise spouts blood upon the clean upholstery!"
Maya gave a knowing smile and nodded in response, though she couldn't help but frown a bit as they entered another lab building in the facility. It was strange, but ever since the three of them had set foot inside the Preserve, Kreig had seemed somewhat…antsy. It was almost like the psycho harbored some sort of ill memory regarding the facility or the experiments that were conducted there. The plentiful amount of Hyperion bots and rabid creatures to kill seemed to ease his nervousness somewhat, though there remained a residual aura of caution from the psycho as they continued deeper into the facility.
A few buildings away, two Hyperion scientists were hard at work within a large operating room, all their efforts focused on an inert form that laid upon the large table in the center. The two of them were dressed in scrubs and masks, and one carefully observed the other as they made a wide incision in the neck of the unconscious beast. The cut was done expertly so that no arteries or vital organs would be damaged, and the large creature continued to breathe deeply in its medically-induced slumber as the two of them worked.
"Any reason why we're doing this again?" one of the scientists asked. "There are far easier ways to subdue a dumb bird like this besides putting a bomb in its neck."
"Orders came from Jack personally," the other scientist said, sighing at the end of the sentence. "I dunno what he's got planned for this thing, but if I were to guess, I'd say it's theatrical in nature."
The scientist subsequently gestured to the ceiling above them, which extended high until it ended at a large circular door that led to the surface. Immediately after the insertion of the bomb into the avion creature's neck, the two scientists had been ordered to leave the creature on the platform so that it could be raised up to the surface at a moment's notice. Their orders specified that they would need to complete their task expeditiously, though neither of them could quite understand why.
"I'll never understand why Jack cares so much about this stuff," the first scientist spoke again, gesturing to the large containers of pure slag that were stacked around the operating room. "Sure, it has its uses in genetic engineering, but every time we report our progress to him, he always seems disinterested. It's like there's something he knows that we don't about what this stuff is…"
"Who cares?" the other scientist said, finishing the incision before turning to grab the large explosive from the nearby table, the device not yet armed but ready for insertion. "I don't get paid to make those decisions, so I don't worry about it."
"Don't pretend you aren't the least bit suspicious about what's been going on lately," the first scientist continued. "There's something happening on this planet that Jack is not telling us, and I got a feeling that we're waist deep in it without even knowing."
The other scientist rolled their eyes before setting the bomb down on the table again and crossing their arms, turning to face their colleague and leaning against the table in preparation for the likely long conversation they were about to have.
"Let me guess, this is about the earthquakes, right?"
"Ok, two things: One, it's not just about the earthquakes, and two, don't act like it's something trivial! You know that nothing about those quakes is normal!"
"Look, Jack is mining Eridium from the planet, which is where slag comes from. Mining sometimes causes earthquakes. What's so hard to understand about that?"
"Maybe at first I believed that, but now they're happening almost daily! Not even deep drilling causes tectonic movement that frequently! And these quakes don't feel like your average ones! Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about."
"Just because they're a little shorter…"
"Just a little shorter? Are you kidding me? These quakes last maybe five seconds at most! Not only that, but they're stronger too! Way stronger than anything else we've seen from normal mining operations. They don't even feel like earthquakes anymore. It almost feels like, I don't know…like there's something underneath the surface! It's like a heartbeat or something…"
"A heartbeat. Right," the other scientist chortled with a roll of their eyes. "You know what? I think it's time you laid off the bottle a little bit."
The first scientist made to protest further as their colleague picked up the bomb again and moved to place it inside the creature's neck, but both of them were suddenly interrupted by a sudden rumbling as the very ground beneath their feet began to shift. Just as it had been described, the quake they were experiencing was far more powerful than what could be considered normal, and the two of them stumbled and grabbed for purchase as lab equipment shuddered and clattered to the floor from the magnitude of the phenomenon.
Fortunately for them, the quake lasted only a few seconds, and the two of them slowly regained their footing as the rumbling abruptly ceased. The scientists remained quiet for a few moments to ensure that the danger had passed, then the first one spoke up again!
"See what I mean?! Look me in the eye and tell me that w–"
The scientist was abruptly cut off as there was a sudden flash of red light from the corner of the operating room, and both of them turned their heads abruptly towards the source of the commotion as a loud hissing noise accompanied the sudden ambience.
Both the sound and noise abated quickly, and in their place, a form was suddenly thrust into view, its black shape landing in a heap on the metallic floor. The two scientists stared in disbelief as the shape rose to its feet, taking the form of a large wolf-looking creature with jet black fur and glowing amber eyes.
As the wolf recovered from its landing and took in its new surroundings, the two scientists continued to stare in stunned silence at the sight of the beast, as they were quickly realizing just how unnatural this creature was. One of the most obvious signs that this…thing was not normal came in the form of its snout, which was without any fur or skin, showing only stark white bone and a relatively gargantuan set of razor-sharp teeth. Another sign came from the fact that the beast itself was larger than any wolf or dog that either of the two scientists had seen, its size was comparable to some of the larger adult skags that could be found prowling on Pandora. It certainly wasn't larger than some of the most powerful skags that could be found on the planet (colloquially referred to as "badass skags" by the local populace), but it was still substantial enough to be intimidating.
These two things, quite strikingly noticeable on their own, were still overshadowed by the creature's fur, which appeared to be in a constant state of inferno. Unnatural flames burned strongly from the beast's hide, and despite the fact that the creature was on the opposite side of the room, the two humans could still faintly feel the heat that emanated from the blaze.
Despite the heat, however, the two scientists still felt a persistent chill down their respective spines as the creature laid eyes on them for the first time, its glowing eyes studying them with a keen intelligence that only added to its intimidating stature. The operating room fell silent for a moment save for the crackling of the creature's hide, then the two humans nearly jumped out of their skin when the large beast growled deeply at the sight of the bomb still resting in one of the scientist's hands.
The sound was far louder than any noise one could expect from a creature of that size, and in the next moment, the two scientists' survival instincts kicked in, causing them both to turn and bolt from the room as fast as possible in an effort to get away from the demonic creature. The explosive made a large thud as it clattered to the floor, forgotten for the sake of self-preservation.
The alpha hellhound tracked the two startled humans with its glowing eyes as they fled, though it made no attempt to follow them as they disappeared through a door and out of sight. The device they'd been carrying fell to the floor, forgotten, and the hound gave it one final glance before dismissing it in favor of the only other living creature in the room.
There, laying inert on a large table and breathing deeply in its unconscious state, was a large bird-like creature, each of its wings over twice the length of the hellhound and claws that looked like they could pierce even the toughest of hides.
The creature was a predator, of that, the hound could be certain, and the hellhound felt a slight twinge of excitement at the thought of what it might be like to hunt a foe as seemingly formidable as this one. Its sense of excitement only grew as it trotted around the large table to view the bird from every angle, and it paused in its examination as it noticed a large incision on the bird's neck, likely caused by the two humans that had been in this room previously.
An untrained eye might have missed it, but the hound could see clear as day that the incision was slowly growing smaller, not slow enough to be unnoticeable, but quickly enough that the hound surmised that it would be fully healed in less than an hour. From a hunter's perspective, this meant that the creature could engage its foe, wound it severely while taking damage of its own, fly away until it had recovered, and then re-engage at full strength while its prey was still injured, giving it the ultimate means of successfully hunting via endurance.
Whether this creature actually behaved that way was another story, as even though the hellhound did not fully understand the scope of what had been done to this creature, it could still see that its body had been heavily altered by the humans, meaning that it likely possessed capabilities that it was not fully accustomed to.
The hound saw that as a pity in its bestial mind, as it believed that dominating another predator was significantly less satisfying when it was not at the best of its ability, as there was little superiority to be gained at overpowering a creature unaccustomed to its own strength.
Similarly, the hellhound also knew that killing a fellow predator while it was unconscious came with no sense of satisfaction, as there was no thrill of competition and subsequent glory that came from defeating a foe and establishing oneself as the superior predator.
With that in mind, the hound inhaled deeply through its skinless snout, committing the creature's scent to memory before turning and trotting from the room, its mind turning once again to the confusing circumstances that had brought it here and where exactly here was.
Maya shuddered once again as the three of them entered a building labeled as "Specimen Maintenance". All around them, cells containing miscellaneous creatures from around the planet ran up and down the length of the hallway, the only barrier keeping them at bay being bright orange walls of hard light that hummed with power while actively giving the vault hunters a good view of what was on the other side.
"Bloodwing should be in one of these cells," came Mordecai's voice over their ECHO devices. "Don't worry about the uglies in the other ones. They can't get to you."
"That is fortunate," Zer0 said as he took note of the creatures inside each cell. "Dark experimentation."
"Just get to Bloodwing, and you'll have what you need to upgrade Claptrap and get past that barrier guarding the vault key," Mordecai said encouragingly.
"The death wall? Indeed…"
Maya still considered the idea of a death wall to be ludicrous considering that it apparently only guarded one small access point to Control Core Angel, where the mysterious Angel A.I. was kept along with the key to open the Vault of the Warrior. Why couldn't Lillith just teleport them past the wall? It's not like she hadn't already teleported the entire city of Sanctuary from one side of Pandora to the other…
Maya shook her head as she remembered that Lillith still didn't have the best grasp over her teleporting abilities yet, and given their luck, the Siren could just as accidentally teleport them directly into the death wall itself instead of past it.
With that in mind, Claptrap was their best option, and Maya tried her best not to dwell on how truly desperate that made them.
As they continued deeper into the building, the vault hunters saw that multiple branching hallways spread out from the main entrance, each one lined with row after row of holding cells containing test subjects for slag experimentation.
"Any idea which way?" Maya asked into the ECHO, hoping Mordecai had some idea of which winding hallway they were supposed to venture down from his vantage point outside the Preserve.
"If I know my Bloodwing, they're gonna be holding her in one of the biggest and most reinforced cells they got in this hellhole," the sniper responded. "Try the furthest hallway to the right. It looks like they're keepin' the most dangerous creatures down there."
"The week is long, but my arms are longer!" Kreig shouted, and Maya detected the subtle indignance in his tone.
"Don't worry, big guy. He means the most dangerous creatures besides us. Ain't that right, Mordecai?"
"Heh, don't worry, buddy," Mordecai replied, speaking directly to Kreig. "After seeing you guys take down Wilhelm, I know there ain't nothing you can't handle."
"The stick stabs the heart clean and true! The birdman never bleeds without his wings!"
"Aww, Kreig says thanks for the compliment, Mordecai," Maya said. She had grown accustomed to acting as a sort of translator for Kreig when he spoke directly to the others, and truth be told, she actually enjoyed it a little bit, as being able to help him get his point across had done wonders for their group cohesion since teaming up with the Crimson Raiders.
"Actually, I think I understood that one a little bit," Mordecai replied. "He also said something about getting Bloodwing back, right? It sounded reassuring, at least."
Maya smiled and nodded despite the fact that Mordecai couldn't see them at the moment, happy to see that there were times when she wasn't always needed to translate for Kreig.
"Perfect calamity!" Kreig responded satisfactorily, his meaning crystal clear.
It was moments like this that Maya was glad that she'd offered Kreig the chance to join their group back when they'd all first met on that train. Despite his psycho demeanor, Kreig still made her life a little bit better despite living under the constant threat from Handsome Jack and literally everything else on Pandora. To say he could fight was the understatement of the century, and while he didn't possess the powers of a Siren or a death robot or a automatic turret to assist him in battle, he did possess an unending wealth of enthusiasm, and that alone placed him on par with the rest of the vault hunters when it came to lethality despite the fact that he would often forsake firearms for his trusty buzz axe in the middle of a skirmish.
That determination in battle also translated to fierce loyalty when it came to his friends, and such loyalty was demonstrated just the other day when Sir Hammerlock had requested his melee expertise in retrieving bullymong fur to adorn his hat with. Kreig had complied more for the sake of killing bullymongs than for anything else, but once Claptrap had caught wind of the situation, he'd insisted that Kreig deliver the fur to him instead, even sweetening the deal with the promise of a badass shotgun that he'd taken off the corpse of a dead vault hunter. Why Claptrap wanted the fur, Maya didn't know, but she could only guess that it was for some insanely unorthodox reason that wouldn't have made sense to her anyway.
Hammerlock, upon finding out that Claptrap was attempting to poach his bullymong fur, offered his own reward in the form of a sniper rifle, one of his finest, apparently. Now, everyone already knew that Kreig's favorite weapon would always be his trusty buzz axe, but when he did utilize firearms, his preferred type was shotguns, which was likely due to the close proximity it afforded him. In that respect, Claptrap's offer became the more desirable of the two to the psycho, and it came as a mild shock to almost everyone when Kreig still kept his original bargain with Hammerlock, delivering the fur to the scholarly huntsman despite Claptrap incessant nagging. He then promptly gave the sniper rifle to Zer0, as out of all the types of weaponry that existed on Pandora, sniper rifles were Kreig's least favorite.
Maya pulled herself from her thoughts as the three of them passed by a small laboratory on their way down the hall, and as they passed by the open door, she caught the sight of multiple slag containers with quite a bit of Eridium ingots stacked on the workbenches as well.
She pointed out the Eridium to Kreig and Zer0, and the three of them agreed to stop and collect as much of the Eridium that they could carry before pressing on. It was no secret that Eridium had its uses, and though it was mostly utilized by Lillith as a pick-me-up to augment her Siren powers when necessary, there was still a demand for the purple material from Dr. Patricia Tannis as well, as her research on the vaults and their origins were very tightly intertwined with the substance.
Personally, Maya felt a bit wary around the stuff. She knew that it had the potential to amplify her Siren powers if she were to use it, but she had seen how Lillith almost seemed to depend on the substance from time to time, and she was a bit skeptical about how the red-haired Siren's usage of it almost bordered on an addiction. As a result, Maya came to the conclusion that the best way to avoid any issues with Eridium was by simply not utilizing it at all, and it was with that mindset that she had yet to indulge in the strange substance.
Kreig volunteered to keep watch as Maya and Zer0 collected the purple ingots, and he remained at the doorway while the Siren and the Assassin went about filling their pouches with Eridium. It was then that Maya discovered something within a locked safe on the wall, something that chilled her to her core despite knowing next to nothing about it. There, glowing brightly, was an ingot of Eridium, but Maya immediately noticed that there was something incredibly different about it. This ingot, contrary to the sharp purple that typically emanated from the element, glowed with deep and sinister red, and beneath the crystalline surface, Maya could have sworn that she could see some kind of swirling current of energy.
Tentatively, Maya reached out and took the bar of red Eridium in her hand. The smooth surface felt the same as any Eridium she had touched before, but it still felt…wrong somehow.
Maya had discovered shortly after arriving Pandora that she felt connected to Eridium on some small level, and despite her abstinence when it came to using it to amplify her powers, she could still feel as though her and it were two pieces of a much larger puzzle, two clues to unlocking the grand secrets of Pandora and who she was.
But this…this red, and dare she say, tainted Eridium… It seemed like it was calling out to her, and definitely not in a fun comforting kind of way. It almost seemed like it was enticing her to it, promising to fulfill her desires if she'd let it.
Maya shuddered chillingly and quickly set it down on a nearby workbench, drawing Zer0's attention to the strange red ingot as well.
"How peculiar…/ This Eridium is red. / That…seems wrong somehow."
"No kidding," Maya replied, unconsciously taking a few steps back. "Hate to ask it, but would you mind taking it? That thing does not sit well with me."
"It is no problem," Zer0 said with a nod. He then picked up the red ingot, inspecting it closely before tucking it into his pack for safekeeping.
"Let's see if the eggheads working here stashed any notes on that thing," Maya said, turning back to the safe she'd found the red Eridium in. "I'm sure Tannis will have our heads if we leave anything behind."
"Dr. Tannis will be pleased. / Perhaps a breakthrough."
"Yeah, maybe…" Maya replied, doing her best to try and forget how it felt to have that red bar in her hands a few moments ago.
Kreig restlessly fiddled with his buzz axe as he looked back and forth down the hallway, daring something to appear so that he could rip it to shreds. The last thing he'd killed was a few slag-augmented skags and Hyperion combat bots over ten minutes ago, and his thirst for blood was beginning to itch more and more as time went on.
Just relax, man. Why are you so jumpy right now?
Kreig growled and shook his head at the voice. He'd hoped it would go away eventually, but it remained ever persistent in his head despite the number of times he'd told it to go away.
"There are fingernails in my ears!"
There's no point in ignoring me. You know I'll just get louder, right?
"Rrrgh! Your toast is burnt! No amount of scraping will remove the black parts!"
Whatever. It might be hard for you to believe, but I do actually care about your well-being…at least somewhat. I just want to know what's got you in a mood right now.
The sharp sticky things drive deep into the slice wound!
Well, I'm pretty sure nobody actually likes needles, so that's–wait a minute! Do you remember something? Something about who we were? How we got like this?
"Snap the bone at the base! Cast the splinters into the abyss!"
No, you do NOT get to back out of this. If you know something, then you have to tell me!
Kreig growled once again, but before he could retort, something caught his eye at the end of the hall.
There, curiously examining a genetically enhanced stalker through the orange energy barrier, was an enormous wolf-looking creature, its snout deprived entirely of skin and fur and its hide alight with some kind of supernatural fire.
Kreig was stunned, and as he processed the sight before him, the beast turned and saw him for the first time, revealing a set of glowing amber eyes that seemed to stare into his very soul.
What the HELL is that?
The demonic wolf then noticed the buzz axe in Kreig's hands, and it gave a low growl and crouched aggressively.
Such a posture was all Kreig needed to justify the need for violence to enter the picture, and his eye twitched for a brief moment before he burst forward, his buzz axe raised as he charged at the creature with murderous intent.
"Fetch me your soul!" he roared, leaping high once he was close enough to bring the buzz axe down hard on the creature's head.
Just before he made contact, a flash of lightning struck the creature from nowhere, and Kreig's axe passed through nothing but air as he was momentarily blinded by the brightness. The psycho blinked rapidly to clear his vision, but the wolf had disappeared, and Kreig gave a frustrated growl before scanning up and down the hallway rapidly, looking for where it had gone.
The thought that the creature possessed similar cloaking abilities to the stalkers crossed his mind, and with that working theory, Kreig thrust his back against the wall so that it could not attack him from behind. His eyes narrowed as he continued to scan up and down the hall, paying particular attention for the slight distortion that could be seen in the air when a stalker was cloaked. To his innate rage, there was none that he could see.
"Kreig!" came Maya's voice as her and Zer0 burst into the hallway, their own weapons raised in alarm.
"We heard your rampage. / Then what sounded like thunder. / Are you alright, Kreig?"
"There's an invisible wolf-demon in the hallway!" Kreig shouted, his voice gaining a severe boost in clarity like it sometimes did when his adrenaline was high.
Wow, of all the times that you chose to speak normally, it had to be the time where the truth sounds like gibberish?
Maya scrunched up her face in confusion at his words, for once trying to decipher something that did not need to be deciphered.
"Kreig, I…what? What are you saying!"
"There's meat inside the meat locker!"
"Wait, you were being literal just now?"
"The torch is lit! Let the slaughter commence!"
With the confirmation that there actually was something resembling a demonic wolf that could go invisible, the three of them immediately formed up back to back, searching for any sign of the creature. There was a tense silence for half a minute, then the three of them slowly relaxed when it became obvious that it wasn't there. Stalkers did not have the capability to remain invisible for that long.
"It may still be near," Zer0 said, slowly sheathing his sword as he did so. "We should proceed with caution."
"Sounds good," Maya said as their formation dissipated and the three of them continued down the hall. "Hopefully we scared it off."
"Yeah, that would be best."
Kreig did not share the enthusiasm of his companions. He could tell from looking at the creature that it was not the kind of beast that backed down from a challenge. He seriously doubted that it had left simply because it was scared. With that in mind, the psycho continuously scanned the walls and behind them as they continued down the hall, his senses heightened to catch even the slightest glimpse of the wolf again.
Shortly, the three of them arrived at the end of the hallway, and there, as if awaiting them, was a large blast door with a large sign above it that read the words: "BLOODWING".
"Looks like we found where they're keeping her, Mordecai," Maya said, speaking into the ECHO as Zer0 pressed a button on the nearby wall panel to open the door.
"You found her?" Mordecai immediately replied, his voice anxious. "Is she okay?"
The three of them entered the enclosure cautiously as the blast doors slid open, and Maya frowned when she noticed that the enclosure was…well…huge.
Extending back much further and with a ceiling much higher than any of them had expected, Maya thought that this enclosure was rather gratuitous for a bird that could land and sit comfortably on a person's arm. This looked more like an enclosure that one could keep an entire pack of bullymongs in.
"We're inside now," Maya said, the three of them moving with their weapons raised further into the enclosure. "No sign of her yet."
"Take a look at that," Zer0 said, gesturing to what appeared to be a bare tree with large branches in the middle of the enclosure. "Feathers beneath the branches. / I see blood as well…"
Moving closer, Maya could see that Zer0 was right. There, beneath one of the largest and most horizontal branches, there were large feathers spread haphazardly among a dried patch of blood. The feathers must have belonged to Bloodwing, but Maya frowned when she saw how large they were. These feathers were huge, huge enough that a quill could be made out of one even. Bloodwing did not have feathers that large. Of that, Maya could be certain.
"It doesn't look like she's here, Mordecai," Maya said, bending down to pick up one of the feathers. "But there's something else going on here. It clearly says her name outside the door, but these feathers are–"
"Looking for Bloodwing, huh?" came a sudden and very unwelcome voice over the ECHO, and Maya immediately recognized the god-awful sadistic tone of Handsome Jack as he graced them with his voice over an open channel.
"Oh, sorry kiddos!" Jack continued, his sarcastic cheer sounding most unpleasant to Maya's ears. "I moved her out of that enclosure a little while ago! Someplace a bit more…dramatic."
"Bloodwing ain't there?" Mordecai asked, and Maya felt a pang in her chest at the slight desperation in his voice. "Dammit! Jack's playing games with us!"
"The candy man needs his sweet teeth pulled!" Kreig added angrily, his grip tightening on his buzz axe as he glared at the empty branch where Bloodwing most likely perched when she was kept in here.
"Waitaminute…hold on…" Mordecai said, his voice rushed. "I'm seein' some commotion in the observation wing just south of you guys. Maybe they moved her there. Just keep pushin' through the preserve, amigos. We'll find her."
"Let us continue," Zer0 said. "I grow tired of this game."
"Oh hey!" came Jack's voice once again over the ECHO, his mouth full of what sounded like pretzel sticks as he spoke between bites. "You know what I just remembered? It's feeding time!"
From outside the enclosure, the three vault hunters heard the ominous noise of countless energy barriers powering down, likely granting freedom to the numerous augmented beasts that they had previously contained.
"Oh…son of a bitch…"
Maya grunted and phaselocked a spring stalker that had chosen to dive for her face at that moment, giving her time to raise her SMG and target a few genetically enhanced skags that looked very hungry while the stalker remained trapped inside her bubble.
As she had dreaded, Jack had shut down all the barriers that were keeping the test subjects contained, and now, the specimen management wing was overrun with them, effectively pinning down the three vault hunters as they held the enraged creatures at bay. Unfortunately for them, they were still indoors, which meant that they would not be receiving much assistance from Mordecai at the moment.
Troubling as that was, they had formed up loosely in a battle formation with Kreig and Maya drawing the creatures to themselves while Zer0 hung back and picked them off with his sniper rifle. It was a good plan in theory, but unfortunately for them, the sheer number of creatures was proving difficult to contend with, and Maya found her stamina quickly draining from the amount of times that she'd used her phaselock ability in rapid succession just to hold them off. If this kept up, it would not be long before their group was overwhelmed.
Kreig seemed to be doing fine at the moment, as he was currently using his shotgun to great effect as the creatures had to get through the door to Bloodwing's enclosure where they currently were. The bottleneck forced them to clump together as they clamored through, and the explosive Torgue rounds that Kreig was utilizing brought down many of the skags and stalkers before they could get through.
The moment shattered quickly as a stray spine from a needle stalker arced through the air and struck Kreig square on his left shoulder. The force was enough to make his shield fail, and the psycho spun around from the impact with an enraged grunt.
"Kreig!" Maya shouted, laying down cover fire while moving to assist. Before she could get there, however, there was a sudden flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, and before her very eyes appeared a flaming hound-like creature with glowing amber eyes.
With speed that surprised everyone, the four-legged hound leapt into the fray, tearing into the enhanced horde that threatened to overwhelm them. Stunned for a moment, the three of them watched in awe as the hound dodged the enraged attacks of three skags at once before biting clean through their armored hides with a powerful set of jaws. The ferocity of the creature effectively halted the advance of the enhanced Pandoran fauna, and the first of the three vault hunters to fully recover was Kreig.
"Set the blender to liquify!" he shouted vigorously, throwing his shotgun aside and leaping into the fray with his buzz axe already awhirl. Alongside the flaming hound, Kreig began tearing into an enhanced bullymong, ducking its swings and driving his weapon deep into its flesh.
At the sight, Maya and Zer0 shared a glance before rejoining the fray, Zer0 setting aside his own rifle and leaping in with his sword this time.
With now three melee combatants tearing into the horde, Maya let herself fall into a supporting role, picking off creatures where she could and continuing to use her phaselock ability to halt any attempts there were at flanking the three fighters in the front.
With the assistance of the hound, the battle ended in what seemed like only a minute, as the hound ended up claiming most of the kills among everyone else in the group. Very shortly, the three of them turned and watched as the hound fell upon the last remaining skag, tackling it to the ground and ripping its throat from its neck in one smooth yet ferocious motion.
There was a moment of relative silence as the hound swallowed the spoils of its victory, then it turned to face the three of them, its body language still wary.
"Sheathe your weaponry," Zer0 said, slowly returning his sword to its sheath on his back as he spoke. "This creature means us no harm. / I think it's friendly."
"The bony bridge is held together with sinew!" Kreig replied, seemingly reluctant to lower his buzz axe.
"It's ok, Kreig," Maya said reassuringly. She made eye contact with the psycho and nodded encouragingly as she holstered her own weapon, and after a moment of deliberation, Kreig grunted and relaxed, lowering his buzz axe in the process.
Upon seeing this, the hound visibly relaxed and approached the vault hunters, taking the time to circle each of them and acknowledge their scent with its skinless snout. Zer0 and Kreig remained still as the hound inspected them, though Maya could tell that Kreig was still tense at the whole situation.
The hound seemed relatively intrigued by Maya as it approached her, and it took its time committing her scent to memory before staring at her contemplatively with its head cocked to the side. In an effort to be friendly, Maya held her hand out to the beast, but the creature made no motion towards it, giving her the impression that it was not partial to physical contact.
After seemingly satisfied with its examination, the hound disregarded the three of them and moved to the substantial pile of bodies that had accumulated around them. Taking its time, the hound began ripping portions of skag and stalker meat from the genetically enhanced bodies, seeking to eat its fill after the battle it had.
Seeing as the hound appeared to be comfortable enough with the three vault hunters to turn its back on them, Maya accessed her ECHO.
"Mordecai, got a situational update for you. We've run into…uh…some weird kind of hellhound-thingy. I don't know if it's a former test subject like the rest of them, but it's actually kind of friendly."
"Huh, a hellhound? What, you mean like a dog or something?" Mordecai asked over the net, and Maya quickly realized that this might be something that he would need to see to believe.
"I guess so," Maya said with a shrug. "Seems to act a lot like a regular dog apart from the demonic appearance and everything."
"Hmmmm," Mordecai said thoughtfully. "Hey you got one of Bloodwing's feathers, right? See if this 'hellhound' of yours can track where they took her. It's worth a shot."
Maya had no idea if the hound would even be up for something like that, but she acknowledged Mordecai's request before picking up one of Bloodwing's feathers and approaching the hound, who raised its head questioningly to her as she came close.
Holding the feather out towards the creature, Maya raised her other hand non-threateningly and tried speaking to the hound, having no idea if it could understand her or not.
"Heyyy there…uh, boy…girl…buddy? I know we just met you and everything, but do you think you could help us track down a bird?"
The hound took a few experimental sniffs of the feather, then seemed to perk up in recognition. In the next moment, a flash of lightning struck the hound, causing it to disappear from in front of Maya. Simultaneously, another flash of lightning struck near the entrance of the enclosure, revealing the hound once more. It snorted once, as if it wanted the three of them to follow, then turned and trotted out of the enclosure, the vault hunters quickly following behind.
"Not invisible," Zer0 remarked, and Maya could detect awe in his voice.
"Guess not," she said, though she too was stunned by the hound's sudden display of ability.
"Teleportation, it seems."
"The demon moves fast!" Krieg added.
"My thoughts exactly…"
Taking all this in, Maya realized that she was going to have a hell of a report to give to Roland when they got back to Sanctuary. First, the red Eridium, and now a friendly demonic hellhound that could teleport? Were there any other surprises she should expect today?
A/N: Boom, first chapter sealed in tight! I have to admit, writing the characters that I know and love from Borderlands is truly an amazing feeling. I don't know if I captured it properly, but writing Kreig's psycho-speak and Zer0's haiku quickly became one of my favorite parts of writing this chapter. With that in mind, please please let me know if any of the characters I add feel off in any way, or if there is anything with the story that you feel doesn't fully encapsulate either of these franchises! Either way, I'll see you in the next chapter!