The Blood Gate Offering

Summary: Their captor stood before the ancient portal, with his ruthless mercenaries holding their two opponents at gunpoint. Ritual sacrifice is needed to open the portal, and they think they know how this ends…

Rick Landon knew he'd die unmourned in a dark, stinking cave. He was chained before a stone ring in center of the cavern floor, but it was the man standing before him that commanded his attention. Mesmerized by the man's pacing, he watched the occultist strut before the floodlight like a star on stage. A chill crept up his spine, turning his brain into mush. The enmity that guided his actions hours ago vanished, and his mind filled with an unnatural tranquility.

Rick saw his personal items cast beside the portable generator, his brown leather jacket, his gladius machete, and his Broomhandle pistol propped up like trophies. Even without a gag or blindfold, he knew what followed would not end well. The sense of foreboding started when he and his friend, Doctor David Risona, fought their way through the mercenaries at the cave entrance. Once a cave-in separated them, they captured him while he reloaded. The frantic battle occurred with such alacrity, he scarcity remembered the details.

Rick shouted out, but his lips did not respond. He rattled his chains, but his arms did not move. He stood up off the cold floor, but his bound legs did not raise him. Goosebumps advanced up his exposed flesh as the cold stone seemed to leech away his body heat. His breathing slowed, as he saw his own breath condense before him like a wisp of escaping smoke. Before him, his enigmatic captive grinned wryly. An overwhelming aura seemed to radiate from the man at the center of the chamber, seeming to even to radiate more power the floodlight directly behind him.

For that long moment, Rick stared at his captor's face. The man who hired the mercenaries was far smaller and had a disarmingly jocose grin. His unkempt brown hair concealed a boyish face beneath. The ragged hoody and jeans he wore looked like they'd come from a vagrant rather than affluent occultist. He spotted four copper rings on the fingers of his left hand, but nothing else that seemed distinctive. He lost his gaze in the captor's emerald green eyes, which never shifted from his gaze. The moment dragged on, as though the unnamed man was examining his worth.

"We've captured the mad scientist," came the stentorian voice of the mercenary commander. "The men want to kill him slowly."

Both Rick and his captor turned to see a grim procession enter the cavern. A tall mercenary with a shaved head, unkempt beard, thickly tattooed neck, and worn tactical vest lead the others. Two smaller mercenaries, their eyes hidden behind night-vision googles, dumped a bloodied heap of a man on the ground. The prisoner's legs and wrists were similarly bound, and the mercenary captain placed his foot on the man's back.

Rick barely recognized the swollen, bruised face as Dr. David Risona, the crazed scientist perpetually affixed on some whimsical idea. His black, buzzcut hair and broken, black-framed glasses made him look more like soldier than scientist. His homemade body armor had been removed, as had the rebreather and miner's helmet he'd thought to bring into the mine. The mercenary leader ignobly poured out his backpack of weapons and gadgets onto the floor, giving Rick a few glances at them.

Rick saw Risona's black and blue eyes grow wide with horror, as his customized arsenal was so carelessly heaved onto the stone floor. His neurostimulation headset was dashed to bits, spilling circuitry across the ground. His Remington 1858 slammed against the floor, striking hard enough to damage the hammer. His kukri, still red with recent use, plunged out of its sheath like a lost climber. His holdout Imura Works Partisan revolver smashed to bits against the ground, his custom gyrojet rounds spilling out. His diving knife tumbled out next, only to be struck by a set of surplus night-vision googles and weighted gloves. Freshly acquired human brains, stuffed into plastic jars of preservatives, rolled onto the stone floor. A pen and notebook spilled out last, with the pages soaking in water condensed along the cave floor. Painstakingly written notes vanished into illegible mirk, as Risona muttered beneath his gag. His protests ceased once their captor's gaze fell on him.

"Like so many Atlantean artifacts, this portal requires blood sacrifice to open," the captor said softly. "Far more than these two."

"I'll go order the men to set up capture parties, then," the mercenary captain said. "We'll get as many as you know."

"That will be unnecessary, Captain," their captor said. "I already have all the sacrifices I need."

Rick saw the Captain and his two men draw their sidearms in a single, uniform movement. Their movements were like those of a simple automaton, rather than a war-honed reflexes. The long-barreled Beretta pistols pivoted towards the occultist, and then pivoted slowly and deliberately. From the look of terror on their faces, Rick immediately knew something was amiss.

"I thought it worthwhile to leave this world with a small improvement," their captor said nonchalantly. "This realm is better off without a few hired brutes in it."

Rick heard the simultaneous discharge of at least a dozen pistols echo through distant passages, causing him to involuntarily wince. Whatever spell commanded his attention before slipped in its influence for a moment, causing him to avoid seeing the three mercenaries before him blow their brains out. He heard the three bodies hit the floor at the same time, with their weapons clattering to the ground beside them. He almost wished he could throw up, but he inexorably found his attention drawn back to their captor.

"You have far more interesting souls than the dullards I hired," their captor said with a yawn. "As the Suzerain of Broken Stars, I leave this realm intrigued."

A flare of blue, unnatural energy swept through the room, casting their captor's shadow in the distant wall. An army of shadows seemed to recoil from the peculiar upswelling before them. Their captor grinned quietly to himself. "I know our next meeting will be far more interesting."

With that, Rick saw their captor vanish into the blue flame. An abject silence reigned over the cavern immediately afterwards, as all signs of the dancing flame disappeared. He struggled to move, but the shock of feeling his hands and feet again gave him a momentary hesitation. He saw Risona dash across the room with a sprinter's celerity, and he began to gather up his fallen possessions. No longer feeling the bindings on his own feet or wrists, he stood up and did the same.

Rick saw the dead mercenaries lying with a look of abject terror on their faces. The disgust he registered poured out, and he turned his attention towards he extension cables leading out. He hobbled forward, eager to leave the place behind him. Risona knelt down over the bodies, and he drew his kukri. He left his ghoulish companion to loot the dead and collect specimens. Forcing the terrifying memories from his mind, he staggered out the chthonic corridor, and into the light of a new day. As the sunlight washed across his face, his sense of curiosity took the better of him.

Rick descended once more into the stygian blackness, overwhelmed by the curiosity within. Forsaking common sense, he saw his companion concluding his ghoulish harvest.

"So, where now?" Risona asked.

Rick pointed before them, where a residual blue glow issued from the stone circle. With nothing but his instinct to guide him, he stepped forth, beyond imagination.