A/N: Howdy hey! I'm back! Sorry this one took a little while as well, but don't worry! I haven't forgotten this story yet! Enjoy! I own nothing!
Maya raised an eyebrow at the tense moment before her, as did most of the rest of the vault hunters. After getting away from the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve with little trouble, she, Kreig, and Zer0 had made their way back to Sanctuary. Mordecai and the hellhound had accompanied them the whole time, so any trouble given to them by any other bandit clans or Pandoran wildlife had been dealt with with extreme swiftness.
As it turned out, their little group had returned just minutes after Axton, Gaige, and Salvador had come back with the Slab King, whose real name was Brick apparently, and another newcomer that opened up an entire can of introductions that needed to be made. Maya decided it was better to wait on those introductions however, as the stifling tension between Brick and Roland would need to be dissolved first.
"Never thought I'd be back here again," Brick began, gesturing around to the control room that they all were cramped into. "Last time we talked, you didn't sound too eager to see me again."
"Times change, Brick," Roland replied. "We need all the help we can get if we want to take down Jack."
Brick crossed his muscular arms and snorted in response, looking down at Roland, who though not small by any means, still appeared diminutive compared to the hulking mass that was the Slab King.
"Even from a bloodthirsty psychopath?"
"Who called you that? Jack?"
"No Roland. You did. Three years ago. That was the last time we spoke until now."
"Oh," Roland replied, and though Maya could see a hint of shame in his posture, she noticed that it cleared up rather quickly.
"Well…sorry about that. It's good to have you back, Brick."
Brick glared for a moment, and then to Maya's complete shock, the brawler's hardened features softened, and he uncrossed his arms before holding a hand out to Roland.
"It's good to be back."
Roland nodded and shook Brick's outstretched hand, all previous animosity between them seemingly gone in a flash, leaving Maya to wonder if it had even existed in the first place…
"Aaaaaaand…kiss each other," Lilith joked from her own leaning position on the wall.
"Seriously," Mordecai added with a chuckle, though the sniper's posture portrayed a far greater amount of anxiety. Maya could easily understand why. As soon as they had all returned to Sanctuary, Mordecai had immediately headed straight for Dr. Zed's infirmary to check on Bloodwing, but Zed had shooed him away, as Bloodwing had just been prepped for surgery, and he didn't want to have Mordecai present while he "worked his magic".
With no status as to how his avian companion was doing, Mordecai continued to grow more and more restless by the minute, and Maya could see that he was almost to the point of pacing as he shuffled from one point to another inside the control center.
"Well, now that everybody's here," Roland began. "I think introductions are in order."
With that Roland gestured to the two figures in the room that stood out the most. The first was the hellhound, of which Maya was already semi-familiar with, but the second…
"Hello," came a sudden metallic but surprisingly pleasant voice from the main control console in the center of the room. "I am VEGA, an artificial intelligence originally created to oversee operations on a Mars Research Facility in an alternate dimension..."
As this "VEGA" spoke, Maya raised an eyebrow at the symbol the A.I. flashed on the holographic display. The symbol was nothing complex, and it consisted of a rotating circle with a few modern computery-looking design choices, leaving Maya to guess that it was some sort of avatar that VEGA used to visually represent himself on screens and holographic displays such as this.
As it turned out, however, this A.I.'s choice in visual design was hardly the weirdest thing about him, which was a conclusion Maya reached very quickly as VEGA began to weave an epic tale of demons, monsters, alternate dimensions, demons and monsters from alternate dimensions, gods, supersoldiers, zombies…the required suspension of disbelief only seemed to grow larger as VEGA continued to speak, and from next to her, Maya heard Axton snort as the A.I. brought them back to the present.
"So…wait, before my damn head explodes…you're telling us that you both come from a universe where demons are not only real, but also invade other universes? And that you and the Slayer over there got kicked out of your own dimension by a power-hungry robot, fought a bunch of random bad guys, picked up this weird, bony, flaming dog-thing from another dimension, and now ended up here?"
"That is a severely abridged summary of the events that bring us to this current moment, Mr. Axton," VEGA replied kindly. "It is not incorrect, however."
"See?!" Gaige nearly squealed over her own excitement at hearing VEGA's story. "I told you guys that multiverse theory was cool!"
"HA!" Salvador whooped, slamming his fist on the center console in an obvious show of high spirits. "Fighting all kinds of different bad guys from all across the universes?! You guys are living my dream!"
"A far-fetched epic," Zer0 began. "Dubious to say the least. / And still…I believe."
"Yeahhhh, I mean, the fact that you've got a flaming, teleporting, zombie dog is kind of unbelievable enough despite the fact that it's looking right at me…" Lilith chimed in, eyeing the hellhound as she spoke. "What's next, VEGA? You gonna tell us that you guys have met Santa Claus too?"
"I would hope that you do not think me untruthful," VEGA replied. "But the Doom Slayer and I have indeed encountered a being in our travels that by all intents and purposes matches the appearance and profession of Saint Nicholas."
"Uh…wow. That was only supposed to be a joke…"
Across the room, Maya could see Gaige nearly falling over with excitement at that last statement. The young teenager was obviously the most excited out of anyone in the group to hear VEGA's story, so much so that she looked to be on the verge of hyperventilating.
"And just when I thought you guys couldn't get any cooler!" she squealed again. "Dude, we gotta set aside some time for you to tell me everything about your travels through time and space! I can't even imagine the things you guys have seen!"
"The nature of the tether system has made for many unexpected encounters and events in our journey," VEGA agreed with the Mechromancer. "Our inability to control our destination, combined with the virtually infinite timelines and alternate events that occur across different realities has made for a large variety in our experiences."
"Yeah, about that," Roland said, before Gaige could geek out any further. "You said you came here entirely by accident? Your 'tether' system just dropped you here in our dimension by chance?"
"Normally, that statement would be correct, Mr. Roland, however, our means of arriving in this dimension were not in keeping with our normal method of travel."
"How do you mean?"
"Instead of activating the tether system and using it to jump through interdimensional space, the Doom Slayer, hellhound, and myself were all pulled here by an external force of which I have yet to discern the source of. It is the first time in my memory that we have traveled across dimensional barriers without acting on our own intent."
"So this has never happened before?" Mordecai asked, still only half paying attention in favor of worrying more about Blooding.
"Not to my knowledge. I must inform you, however, that I was not online during the initial stages of our journey, so it is possible the Doom Slayer traveled between universes without the desire to do so before I was reactivated."
Nearly every head turned to the Slayer for confirmation, but the armored man made no move to confirm or deny VEGA's conjecture. Instead, he seemed more interested in steering the conversation in a different direction, and without a word, he stepped forward and loudly set a large glowing object down on the console, causing everyone's eye to move away from him and to the object in question.
Maya visibly shivered when she recognized it as a chunk of Eridium, though this specimen glowed a deep red instead of its usual purple, making this chunk nearly identical to the one she, Zer0 and Krieg had found at the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve. She had almost forgotten about it after all the excitement with Bloodwing, and if she was being perfectly honest, she would have definitely preferred it to stay that way.
"Whoa, is that…Eridium?"
"Gotta be, but, redder."
"Though I have not had much time to study Eridium and its properties," VEGA began. "I believe this specimen you see before you is indeed the same element, though it would appear that its properties have been altered."
"Ah! It would seem the conversation has steered toward something interesting at last!" came a chipper voice from the doorway, and Maya looked over to see the half insane yet brilliant scientist, Dr. Patricia Tannis, enter the room, carrying a second sample of the red-tinted Eridium in her hand.
"Tannis," Roland said in greeting. "What exactly are we looking at here?"
"A remarkable feat of science!" the mad doctor replied, her characteristic enthusiasm shining in full force. "Though it is quite unfortunate that it was not I who discovered it. Names and royalties will need to be discussed at a later date…"
"Feat of science, huh?" Lilith started, standing up from her position against the wall and drawing closer to the two glowing red chunks of Eridium. As she walked, a small trance almost seemed to come over her, and she slowly raised her hand towards one of the chunks until a sharp slap on her wrist from Tannis broke her from her stupor.
"Hands off, Lilith! I won't have you or anyone else's greasy unsophisticated limbs tainting my specimens!"
"Uh, okay then…" Lilith grumbled, recoiling slightly as she settled back against the wall, her eyes still darting back towards the Eridium every few seconds.
"Now then!" Dr. Tannis continued. "Without any more interruptions, I'd like to personally fill you all in on the initial results of my tests on the samples you brought back! Fret not, for I have dumbed down the language enough so that you all will be able to comprehend it!"
"Uh… we appreciate it, I guess?" Axton replied.
"Indeed! Now, as you all know, the purple Eridium that we all know and love does possess a specific degree of power within its crystalline matrix, power that can be used by Sirens…"
Dr. Tannis gestured to Lilith and Maya.
"...mouth-breathing vault hunters…"
Dr. Tannis gestured to nearly everyone else in the room.
"...and by yours truly as means to further my research into the history of this planet and its early inhabitants! I personally have found it quite invigorating to study such a material, so much so that I have managed to largely overcome my fear of personal interaction!"
Maya caught Axton's eye as he shook his head tiredly. It was no secret to all that dwelt within Sanctuary that Dr. Tannis's brilliance was matched only by her mental insanity, which quite often made itself known in her mannerisms and speech.
"But this!" the mad scientist exclaimed, gesturing to the red glowing Eridium on the console. "This is something entirely new! This Eridium is a far step from anything we've seen before. It's been changed on a fundamental level! Its energy signature has been altered so much that it almost cannot be even considered Eridium anymore! And its power…oh heavens…its power…"
Tannis suddenly looked as though she was about to faint from excitement, and she swayed for a moment before steadying herself.
"...Its power is off the charts! Whatever it was that this Eridium has come into contact with, it has absorbed its properties entirely! Like a thirsty skag at a watering hole, the Eridium has completely lapped it up. This is, and as a woman of science I do not say this lightly, the BEST thing since sliced bread!"
The control room was silent save for Dr. Tannis's excited breathing for a few moments, then Roland spoke up again.
"How dangerous is it then? This Eridium?"
"Oh, extremely! Why, to even put two samples of them in close proximity is more likely than not to cause an explosion of incredible magnitude! We are all very lucky to have our limbs intact right now!"
Maya, as well as a few others, all shuffled a little bit closer to the doorway at that last statement, though Maya specifically frowned as Dr. Tannis's words churned within her mind.
"Hold on a sec, Tannis. You said this Eridium is different because it came into contact with something. Something potent enough to supercharge Eridium of all things…"
"So, what kind of substance, if any, has enough juice to do that?"
"Quite frankly, I have no idea!" Dr. Tannis replied. "Though I am sure the answer will both terrify and arouse me when I find out!"
"If I may, Dr. Tannis, I believe I can offer a theory as to the origins of this enigmatic Eridium," came VEGA's voice from the console.
"Ah yes! Our new A.I. guest!" Dr. Tannis replied, turning toward the console with obvious enthusiasm in her movements. "I must say that I have found my interactions with your kind to have been much more preferable than with humans, as you tend not to get angry or bloodthirsty when I remind you of your shortcomings. Additionally, it is certainly refreshing to see that I will no longer be the only individual with doctorate-level intelligence in Sanctuary!"
A loud and indignant voice cleared its throat from the doorway, and all heads turned to see that Dr. Zed had just arrived, Sanctuary's very own resident medical expert.
"That's a smidge inaccurate, don't ya think, Tannis?" Zed said, placing his hands on his hips and inadvertently showcasing his blood-stained medical apron. "Let's not forget that I have a medical license. Or at least I did…"
"If I have said it once, I'll say it a thousand more times!" Tannis replied immediately. "Medical science is the bastard step-child of all sciences! It will be a cold day in proverbial hell before I recognize your sloppy tired discipline as a true science worthy of a doctorate, Zed!"
"Hmph," Zed grunted. "Doubt you'll be saying that once you wind up on my operating table…"
"Zed!" Mordecai immediately piped up, crossing the control room in just a few short seconds, his anxiety at a fever pitch. "How's Bloodwing? Is she alright? Were you able to patch her up?!"
"Well, that's just it, Mordecai…" Zed said, scratching his chin without removing his surgical gloves, which were almost as equally blood-stained as his apron. "Truth be told, there wasn't a whole lot that I could do…"
Mordecai's immediate look of dread made Maya's stomach sink to her feet, but before she could try to say something to comfort the sniper, Zed continued.
"...at least, not a whole lot that she wasn't doing already."
"Huh? Zed what the hell are you talking about? What do you mean? What's going on with Bloodwing?!"
"Listen, whatever it was that Jack was doing to her in that Preserve, it altered Bloodwing's biochemistry from the ground up. Not only am I seeing cardiovascular respiration like I ain't never seen before, but I'm also seeing a metabolism that's been fed enough growth hormones to almost be considered its own separate organism."
"In English, Zed. Please."
"Bottom line: She's healing, Mordecai. And it ain't like the kind of healing that means taking two weeks off to get some bedrest. No, it's more like healing times ten. All her wounds are closing so fast that you can see it in real time! I'll be damned if I've ever seen anything like it!"
There was a moment of relieved silence as everyone processed Zed's words, then Mordecai let out a slow and careful breath.
"You're telling me that she's gonna be okay?"
"Better than ok! Matter of fact, she might be awake in just a few short hours!"
"Oh my god. Thank you! Thank you, Zed!"
Mordecai almost seemed to be on the verge of tears, and he placed both of his hands on Zed's shoulders to steady himself as the doctor reassuringly patted him on the back.
"Hey…hey…it's what I'm here for, right? She's resting right now, but you can go see her if you'd like. We had to move her over to Scooter's garage since we ain't got enough room in the infirmary…"
Mordecai was already out the door before Zed had finished talking, and he watched him go for a moment before turning back to the rest of the gathering.
"Well, guess I'd better follow him, gotta make sure he doesn't try to give her a hug or anything…"
"Thank you, Zed," Roland said with a grateful nod. "Glad to hear Bloodwing is going to be ok."
"You did good, doc!" Brick added, giving Zed a thumbs up.
Zed nodded once in return before chuckling.
"Heh, it almost feels like old times to see you back around here, Brick. Gotta say that I definitely don't mind it though."
With that, Zed turned to follow Mordecai, and once he had gone, Roland cleared his throat and got the conversation back on track, though the residual relief that Bloodwing was going to be alright settled comfortably throughout the room.
"Alright. Now, VEGA: you said you might know where this tainted Eridium is coming from?"
"That is correct," VEGA responded promptly. "If my theory is correct, it will also provide an explanation as to the unorthodox means that the Doom Slayer, hellhound, and myself arrived within your dimension. It is my hope that I am wrong, however."
"Huh?" Gaige asked in confusion. "Why?"
"As Doctor Tannis previously stated, these two Eridium samples were given their potent properties by absorbing them from another extremely powerful source. I hypothesize that the source in question was Argent Energy, which is to say energy originating from hell."
Silence reigned throughout the control room following VEGA's statement, broken by Zer0, who seemed to process its meaning first.
"Contamination. / From the hell you've known before? / How did it get here?"
"Meaty red blood spills onto the dusty sand!" Kreig growled, speaking for the first time since their meeting had begun, and though not everyone fully understood the psycho's words, the implication behind his tone was more than enough for the haunting realization to settle upon the shoulders of everyone present.
"The most likely probability is that hell is in the process of invading this dimension," VEGA continued, his metallic voice remaining level and relaxed despite the morbid weight his words carried. "I apologize for repeating your words if that was indeed what you said as well, Mr. Kreig."
Kreig's response was to cross his arms and grumble annoyedly, and despite Maya having just been told that the planet of Pandora was in the middle of being invaded by some supernatural force that apparently was ten times the threat Handsome Jack was…the Siren couldn't help but make a mental note the psycho's relative unease that had been present since their meeting had begun. At first, Maya had assumed that it stemmed from the presence of the Doom Slayer, which was understandable, for if VEGA's story was to be believed, then this guy was apparently more than a few millennia old. That alone made for an interesting vibe, and combined with the fact that he was also super powerful, Maya would be surprised if anyone in the room wasn't feeling some level of anxiety at him being here. Well, except for Gaige and Salvador…and possibly Brick…
Regardless, despite the Doom Slayer's silent intensity and the sight of his flaming hellhound companion, Maya had the sneaking suspicion that Kreig's distrust was targeted at VEGA instead. For some reason, the A.I. seemed to rub the psycho the wrong way, and Maya made another mental note to ask him about it later, as she couldn't help but feel that it might have stemmed from something in Kreig's mysterious past that she still had yet to fully uncover.
"Uh, ok. Whoa," Lilith suddenly said, holding her hands out in a halting gesture. "Forget the Eridium for a sec. VEGA, did you just say what I think you said?"
"If you believe I said that I hypothesize that this dimension is currently undergoing a demonic invasion, then yes," VEGA replied, his tone ever-informative and somehow not holding a single ounce of sarcasm or dread.
"And that's bad, right?" Brick asked, raising an eyebrow. "I mean, like, real bad?"
"If left unchecked, it is likely this dimension will be consumed," VEGA confirmed. "From what little data I have compiled, I predict that the relatively potent wildlife and human presence found on this planet is capable of delaying and perhaps even eliminating the invasion entirely, but only if action is taken before the demonic presence grows too large to successfully contain."
Dreaded silence reigned once again.
"So, now, in addition to Jack, you're telling me there's possibly another force out there trying to destroy Pandora and everything on it?" Roland finally said.
"That is correct."
The leader of the Crimson Raiders was silent for a few moments more, then took a deep breath.
"How certain are you that these demons of yours are actually here on Pandora? Are you basing all of this just off the fact that you're getting familiar energy readings from this tainted Eridium?"
"Unfortunately, I am not," VEGA said, and on the holographic display, the A.I.'s circular symbol flickered away and was replaced by a three-dimensional hologram of some sort of hellacious structure that could best be described as a "flesh plant". Made entirely out of bloody meat and bone, the plant was chilling to even look at, and Maya scrunched her face up in disgust at the sight of the thing. Hovering above the plant and pulsing with a mysterious red energy sat a transparent sphere. The sphere itself did not appear to be solid, but rather constructed out of the swirling red energy emanating from the plant itself, making the plant appear not just revolting, but supernaturally so as well.
"The display you see before you is of a structure known as a gore nest," VEGA began. "It functions as a gateway between hell and the dimension it is constructed in, serving the purpose of bringing demons from hell into the realm currently being invaded."
As if on cue, the holographic gore nest on the screen pulsed once with the dull red glow that surrounded it, and in turn a few red dots appeared on the display around the nest. Given VEGA's explanation, Maya could only assume that these dots represented demons from hell.
"During the initial stages of a demonic invasion, a foothold is gained and subsequently secured further by increasing the size and mass of the gore nest, which in turn increases the nest's capacity to summon more demons. These additional demons work to increase the size of the gore nest as well, which creates a positive feedback loop by exponentially increasing the rate at which demons are summoned from hell."
"Much like how a virus undergoes replication!" Dr. Tannis eagerly added. "Once a virus enters the body, it exploits the cells and resources within to produce more viruses, which allows it to increase its infection rate many times over until the host is eventually overwhelmed and killed! Ah…the miracle of life…"
Dr. Tannis then gave a small contented sigh, her gaze drifting off to nowhere before seemingly realizing that the rest of the control room was staring at her.
"What? Even after VEGA's adequate explanation and my more than sufficient clarification, you all still don't understand?!"
"Pretty sure we all got it the first time, doc," Axon clarified with a snort. "Your choice of analogy didn't really help lighten the mood."
Dr. Tannis looked as though she wanted to argue more, but Salvador spoke up before she could speak.
"Either way, we get it! Demons are like viruses! Can we speed this up, please?! All this nerd-stuff is giving me a headache!"
"Of course," VEGA replied. By the A.I.'s unseen command, the gore nest on the hologram slowly began to grow in size, its shape changing from a stout and small plant into something that was nearly the size of a truck. Larger and larger it continued to grow, eventually surpassing the size of a house, then a skyscraper, then nearly an entire city block…
Maya resisted the urge to shiver as the nest eventually stopped growing, taking the shape of something out of her nightmares.
The gore nest, once the size of a large hedge, was now what Maya could only guess was the size of an entire town, large enough to perhaps rival even Sanctuary in size. Its gargantuan mass pulsed and writhed as multiple tentacles the size of buildings and teeth the size of swords protruded from the construct, making it obvious that the nest itself was very much alive.
"The UAC scientists on the Mars facility I originate from conducted extensive studies on the properties of gore nests and how demons use them to access the dimensions they invade. As previously stated, a gore nest increases its capacity to draw more demons from hell the larger it grows. If a nest grows to a large enough size, its effect on its surrounding environment increases exponentially. It is then classified as a super gore nest due to the stark difference in potency compared to its smaller counterpart."
The "super" gore nest on the hologram pulsed with the same red light that Maya had seen on the regular sized one, and this time, nearly hundreds of red dots began to appear on the display, each one again signifying the arrival of another demon. Maya frowned, however, when she saw that a few of the dots that appeared were different colors than the usual red that symbolized the demons. There weren't many scattered across the sea of crimson, but a few blues and greens stood out promptly as outliers.
"What about these ones here?" she asked aloud, gesturing to the differently-colored dots.
"The UAC scientists on Mars attempted on many occasions to allow a gore nest to grow large enough so that it could transition into a super gore nest for further study," VEGA replied. "But containment efforts proved difficult, and as such, no experiments were performed on a live super gore nest specimen. It is theorized, however, that should a gore nest achieve a 'super' status, it will produce such a large distortion in space-time that it may inadvertently draw matter to itself from other dimensions besides hell. These differently-colored dots on the hologram represent possible entities and objects from other dimensions."
"Duuuuude," Gaige cooed, her eyes nearly sparkling with excitement as she stared hyper-fixated at the hologram. "It's like a reality-warping box of chocolates! You never know what you're gonna get!"
"So, that's where you, the Slayer, and the hellhound all fit into this then?" Roland asked, standing up from his leaned position over the console. "You think that there's a gore nest here, and that it is now large enough to pull things into Pandora from other dimensions besides hell, and that it pulled all of you here by accident. Does that sound about right?"
"That is correct, Mr. Roland."
Roland paused a moment more in contemplation, then sighed in resignation.
"Your logic is sound, VEGA, but I don't share your confidence in this theory. Namely because of the fact that if a super gore nest did exist here on Pandora, we would have found out about it by now. According to you, this thing is almost as big as a town and it spawns hundreds of demons from hell to boot! Something that big definitely wouldn't have slipped under our radar."
"Yeah! I'm definitely going to have to agree with Roland on this one!" Lilith said, her tone fraught with relief that there was a hole in VEGA's super-gore-nest-ending-life-as-they-knew-it theory. "I mean with that big disgusting thing sitting around and that many demons protecting it, you'd think someone would have bumped into it by now. Unless they've all been hiding under a rock or something…"
"That…word choice isn't the greatest actually…"
Maya nearly jumped out of her skin when Angel's voice suddenly permeated the room, which she would then consider to be a bit of an overreaction given the fact that Angel always seemed to be talking to the Vault Hunters about one thing or another…
"Hey! Buzz off!" Lilith yelled, proving once again that Angel's mere presence once again enough to ruffle the Firehawk's feathers. "We're busy figuring out our plan to kill both you and Jack, so beat it!"
"Lilith, calm down," Roland said, keeping his voice level to try and placate the Siren.
"What do you want, Angel?" Maya said aloud, trying her best to keep her own irritation at a minimum despite the complex relationship they all had with the A.I.
"There's…something I have to show you," Angel began, her voice betraying something akin to the way a child would speak before showing a parent something that would get them into trouble. "It has to do with…well…the thing you were just talking about."
"Well, out with it then!" Dr. Tannis said impatiently. "Now is most certainly not the time for dramatic effect!"
"Roland, you said VEGA's theory wasn't plausible for two reasons. The first was that no one had seen such a thing as a gore nest despite how big it was supposed to be…"
"I remember," Roland said shortly, crossing his arms as he did so.
"The second reason was that no one had encountered any demons yet, even though the gore nest was supposed to be summoning almost hundreds of them at a time."
"Get to the point, Angel."
"Well, you're wrong…about one of them I mean."
There was a pause, then the sound of ECHO static began from the hologram, indicating that Angel had begun playback of a sound recording, and what Maya heard next made nearly every panic alarm in her brain fire at once.
Nisha sat with her boots up on the desk, currently cleaning one of her pistols while the other sat on the desk, patiently waiting its turn. It, as well as the one currently being cleaned in her hand, were already spotless after already having been cleaned earlier that day, but Nisha still went through the motions of wiping a rag across the pristine surface of the revolver.
In truth, the lawbringer was bored out of her mind, having already executed a not insignificant number of bandits already today as well as a few of her own men for various minor infractions. That, surprisingly, had been all of her to-do list today, meaning that she had accomplished all of the things she had needed to do before lunchtime. Usually, being the Sheriff of Lynchwood kept her busier than that, but since the shipments from the Eridium mines had started to dwindle, there had been less and less of the precious material for the workers of the town to refine, bringing their entire operation almost to a halt as of late.
That simply wouldn't do for Nisha, as she'd only accepted the position as the sheriff of this craphole of a town because she knew it'd be fun. Between filthy bandits trying to steal their shipments or crazed slag-juiced Pandoran wildlife, Nisha had been having a hell of a good time running the town that Handsome Jack had so thoughtfully gifted to her as an anniversary present.
God, did she have the hots for that guy. The way his unpredictable personality always got them into some crazy situation for both of them to shoot their way out of, or the way he'd sometimes just kill people for the hell of it…Nisha would be lying if she hadn't considered her feelings towards him to be almost loving in that regard.
That was also why she was so pissed that their Eridium shipments had plummeted as of late. She knew that maintaining a constant flow of Eridium was one of Jack's top priorities, and the fact Nisha was in charge of the refinement and distribution of said flow made it somewhat her responsibility to fix it. Jack had trusted her to keep the Eridium coming for whatever the hell he used it for, and the thought of failing him rubbed her the wrong way.
Her annoyance flared even further when the large rotund form of the deputy of Lynchwood burst into the doorframe, his posture obviously winded and his face riddled with sweat.
His voice was promptly stifled as a bullet from Nisha's pristine revolver whizzed less than an inch past his ear and embedded itself in the wall beyond, his form stiffening and clenching lest he move at all.
"The next time you barge into my office like that, deputy, that bullet is going between your eyes. Got it?"
Nisha had not even looked up from her desk since firing her weapon, but now she slowly tilted her head upward to lock eyes with her second in command, whose terrified gaze met her own for a few moments before gulping and slowly nodding.
"Now, what the hell was so important that you had to come barreling in here like a fat man at a potluck? Did the posse figure out who's been attacking the mines yet?"
"That's just it, ma'am! The posse rode into town just a minute ago, but they're screaming and hollering and telling everybody to get ready because they're bringing a whole lot of hell with 'em!"
At the news, Nisha couldn't help but let a smirk appear on her face. Looks like today wouldn't be so boring after all.
"Get everybody in position for a showdown! I want snipers hidden on every rooftop and shotguns behind every corner. Stage 'em all around main street!"
"Do I really gotta do all the thinking around here, deputy!? I'm setting a trap you dumbass! I'm gonna call out their leader, lure 'em onto main street, then you and the rest of the idiots in this town are gonna fill 'em with holes! Any questions?!"
The deputy furiously shook his head, then quickly disappeared to carry out Nisha's orders lest she decide to utilize her pistol again. Once he was gone, Nisha finally lowered her weapon and stood up, taking some time to stretch her neck and breathe out a sigh of excitement.
If her posse had really found who had been behind the attack on the Eridium mines and had lured them back here, then not only would Nisha have cured her boredom for the day, but she would have also found out and subsequently eliminated the hiccup in her supply problems. The thought of telling Jack made her almost giddy.
Reaching down, Nisha picked up and holstered both of her pistols before turning and strolling outside and into the open air of Lynchwood. The hot arid atmosphere greeted her almost immediately, and Nisha inhaled deeply before walking out into the middle of the long main street that ran right through the middle of Lynchwood.
Houses and shops sat on either side of the large dirt road, and as Nisha came to a stop, her eyes scanned the nearby buildings with satisfaction as she saw that the deputy had disseminated her orders to the rest of the town already. Marshalls moved around on almost every rooftop and around every corner, armed to the teeth and ready to ambush whatever entered the town. The way Lynchwood was positioned with the landscape made it so that whatever approached the town had to come down a large ridge that sat right at the edge of the first buildings, so Nisha wouldn't be able to see her opponents until they were almost all the way in town. Thankfully, a guard was always positioned at the top of the ridge, and in the distance, Nisha could see him suddenly bristle and ready his weapon.
"Lookout, what do you see out there? Give me some info," Nisha asked, speaking directly into her ECHO device.
"They're coming up fast, sheriff!" came the nervous reply. "I can't see 'em through all the dust they're kicking up, but there must be more than—"
The guard's ECHO went dead as he suddenly fell to the ground in the distance, his body immediately going limp as though he had been shot by their unseen opponents.
Nisha hardly felt one way or another about his death, but at the very least, she knew that if their enemies were close enough to shoot her guard dead, then they were close enough to hear what came next.
Switching the frequency on her ECHO device, Nisha activated the town-wide intercom system, her voice suddenly blaring over multiple speakers positioned in and around Lynchwood.
"Finally!" she began, her voice echoing all throughout town and into the Dust beyond.
"If you're the sons of bitches that have been robbing my boyfriend's Eridium mines and killing all my men, then let me be the first to welcome you to the town of Lynchwood!"
Nisha could now see the dust cloud slowly appear over the rise at the edge of town, meaning that the oncomers were still about thirty seconds away, meaning that they could definitely hear her and that she still had time to finish her speech.
"That being said, I'm sure I don't need to let y'all know that there's a debt that needs to be settled between us considering the amount of Eridium you've been stealing. Now, for you, it may not be personal, but for me…well, let's just say you've managed to touch a nerve. So with that, I am now personally addressing the leader of your little band."
The dust cloud suddenly began to dissipate, meaning that the attackers had now slowed to a stop, and from what Nisha could tell, they were positioned just below the rise, almost into town but not quite close enough to be within sight. A small smirk appeared on the lawbringer's lips at the sight, as she knew that she had their attention.
"As fun as a full-blown shootout between my men and yours would be, I'd be much more satisfied if you come out, meet me in the center of main street, and we settle this just between us. Now doesn't that sound like a much better idea?"
There was no movement from the rise, the cloud of dust dissipating into the surrounding air serving as an indication. A beat of silence passed, then another, and Nisha was about to speak into her ECHO device once again when a figure slowly began to emerge from behind the elevated ground, and though Nisha couldn't make out the details, her smile broadened further at the sight. Whoever that was, they had taken the bait, and all they needed to do was walk far enough into town for her and the rest of her men to render them into swiss cheese.
As the figure emerged completely, however, Nisha's smile faltered, and her brow furrowed as she saw the form take shape for the first time.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.
The control room was silent as the playback ended. No one said a word for a moment, then Angel's tentative voice spoke from the console.
"That was a recording from the most recent attack on Jack's Eridium mines. The investigative team also discovered that…there were no bodies left behind."
Another beat of silence passed, then Roland took a deep breath.
"VEGA? Does this prove anything?"
"I am afraid that this recording only further solidifies my theory," the A.I. replied, his pleasant mood entirely unaffected by the morbid contents of the playback. "It is now extremely probable that the demons have invaded this dimension, though a visual sighting of the gore nest or of a live demon would be needed to completely prove my theory as true."
"Christ…" Axton said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "So, any hope of this all being a fluke just went out the window, huh?"
"It would appear that / demon presence is confirmed," Zer0 replied with a nod before addressing the console and by extension VEGA. "What is their next move?"
"Given what I have seen so far," VEGA replied, "It would appear that the demons are not only searching for additional biomass to increase the size of their gore nest, but are also collecting Eridium and infusing it with Argent Energy. The volatile nature of both energies combined together likely presents a myriad of practical uses for the armies of hell."
"Indeed!" Tannis suddenly piped up. "It is with that in mind that I take my leave of this discussion. I wish to further my research as much as possible before all of our inevitable deaths at the hands of demonic creatures. Goodbye!"
With an enthusiasm that defied the morbid mood that lingered in the control room, Tannis gathered the two Argent-infused Eridium blocks and marched away, and as the mad doctor rounded the corner and disappeared from sight, Maya caught Lilith eyeing the two red-infused ingots, a slight frown lingering on the siren's features as though she was upset that they were gone.
After a moment, Lilith shook her head slightly as if to clear her head and addressed the group.
"If the demons are going after Eridium, then the mines are a great place to start. But those two blocks of Eridium we discovered were completely refined already…"
"Yeah…so?" Brick inquired.
"So that means the demons might prefer their Eridium to have already made it through the refinement process before they do…whatever it is they do to make it red. If I were them, then I would make my next target the source of all refined Eridium on Pandora…"
"Lynchwood," Roland said with a confirming nod of his head. "Home to all of Jack's Eridium refineries and distribution."
The Doom Slayer, who had been standing with his fists clenched ever since the recording had ended, turned his helmeted gaze toward Roland at the mention of the town, obviously interested in it.
"A lot of Eridium goes through that place," Gaige said. "It would probably be bad if the demons got a hold of it, right?"
"Most certainly," VEGA's voice said from the console. "In order to prevent the demonic presence from growing stronger, it is my recommendation that they be prevented from gathering any more Eridium. If this town of Lynchwood is the single source of refined Eridium located on Pandora, then securing it would be imperative."
All eyes turned to Roland then, who seemed to be deep in thought about the matter, and after a few seconds, the leader of the Crimson Raiders squared his shoulders and placed a hand on the console.
"VEGA's right, if these demons are as powerful as he says they are, then we need to make sure they don't gain access to the Eridium refineries at Lynchwood. However, we can't afford to take our efforts away from Jack either. If he manages to awaken the Warrior, then the planet is still doomed by him instead of the demons. I hate to say it, but if we're gonna win this war, we are going to have to fight on two fronts."
It had all happened so quickly after the figure had revealed itself from over the rise. Its shape had been humanoid, which had initially given Nisha a sense of normalcy, but once it had fully come into view, it became clear that it had been anything but human.
The creature itself was ginormous, taller even than the mutated badass psychos and goliaths that bolstered Pandora's bandit population. Its height was accentuated by its girth as well, for Nisha could see that even at a distance, the monster appeared to possess insane amounts of musculature.
Its skin was not so much skin as it was an armor formed out of hardened bone or carapace, giving the stark impression that the creature was born for battle and slaughter. Hardened spikes protruded from its form in various places as well, transforming an already terrifying sight into something from a nightmare.
All of this culminated at the creature's head, which was unnaturally oblong, sporting a row of vile teeth that protruded from its mouth, its eyes glowed with an intense orange even against the afternoon sun. Despite the heat, Nisha still felt the urge to shiver.
The lawbringer held her ground and narrowed her eyes as the large monster entered town, walking directly down the middle of main street towards where she stood. Some primal part of her brain screamed at her to get as far away from this thing as possible, but Nisha had always been good at stifling her sense of self-preservation. It all-too-often got in the way of her having fun, and judging by how powerful this thing looked, Nisha was sure she was in for a hell of a time. The feeling of dread persisted despite her excitement however, and Nisha annoyedly forced it back down, ignoring the fact that it took far more effort than usual to do so.
The creature slowed to a stop nearly ten paces away from where Nisha stood, and despite the distance between them, it still towered over her. Taking a deep breath, Nisha met the creature's glowing gaze with her own, once again resisting the urge to shiver as she saw harrowing intelligence in the eyes of a monster such as this.
"Well now, I gotta admit, I've never seen anything quite as ugly as you before."
The monster said nothing, though a deep growl reverberated throughout the town in response.
"Can't say I'm surprised though," the lawbringer continued. "It's pretty obvious you're not from around here, seeing how you actually came alone. Big mistake."
At an unspoken command from the deputy, every marshal on every rooftop and around every corner suddenly emerged, each leveling their weapons toward the creature in the span of a second. Seeing that many guns pointed at it alleviated some of the residual anxiety Nisha felt at just being within the creature's vicinity, and her smirk finally returned to her face as the large monster turned its head to see all of the firepower that was directed at it.
"Now again, I'd say this is nothing personal, but considering you guys have been a pain in my ass for weeks now, I wouldn't want to lie. So, any last words?"
The creature leveled its gaze back with hers, and Nisha clenched her teeth at the trepidation it incited by simply looking at her. She finally did shiver when the creature gave a low roar, the sound similar to air being forced through a large tube, though if Nisha was being accurate, she would have said it sounded like the air itself was screaming too.
The claws of the demonic being were suddenly alight with an unnatural fire, and before anyone could get a shot off, the creature roared again and raised its flaming appendages high into the air. Impossibly, the gravel beneath its hooves was suddenly aflame as well, spreading out in a wide circle around the creature itself, and in the time it took Nisha to draw her pistols, multiple red flashes appeared throughout the town, each one centered around the larger demon standing in the center and leaving behind a new nightmarish creature that immediately set upon the present humans with feral intensity.
In the span of a second, the entire scene was cast into pandemonium as monstrosities were summoned seemingly from thin air, and as Nisha turned to fire at the closest targets, her eyes caught the gaze of the larger demon one last time.
Still standing there with its claws raised to the air, it was obvious that the summoning of these creatures was by its doing, and across the blazing dirt that surrounded its form, its eyes met Nisha's own and gave a low rasp over the sounds of carnage surrounding it, almost as though it was laughing.
A/N: And there we go! Another chapter sealed in tight! I am sorry this took so long, but I did actually learn something about myself while writing this: ImpulsiveWeaver does NOT enjoy writing exposition. It's one thing I'm typically able to avoid when writing typical Universal Doom chapters since they're very short and don't build much on the story, but with a full fledged novel like this, wellll, I kind of have to set the scene a bit more. That being said, I'm glad to finally get this chapter out to you guys! As always, don't forget to let me know how much you love or hate this chapter with a review, and I will see you next time!
P.S. I didn't realize this until recently, but is it true that a lot of folks don't like the Pre-sequel? I actually enjoyed it when I played through it (mostly due to the inclusion of unique dialogue to specific characters), but apparently it wasn't as well received? I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this.