A light haze still surrounded them.

No sign of the rest of the squad.

Until ahead of them stood a man waiting. Dressed in olive green BDUs, he had a SCAR-16 slung low across his chest.

Karlajic and Lee covered him with their weapons.

“Who are you?” Karlajic asked.

The man raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture and said in a thick drawl, “Mike. I’ve been waitin’ for y’all. Come on, time’s a’wastin’.”

Karlajic noted Mike’s sanitized uniform.

“Who are you? Delta? JSOC?”

“Something like that,” Mike answered. “Just follow me, I’ll get y’all out of here.”

Lee shrugged.

In silence, they followed Mike.

A dank, rotten ass smell assailed them.

The walls had changed from painted concrete to old brickwork.

“Uh, Mike, where are we going? This looks like the sewer system,” Lee whispered.

“Where you guys need to be. Now get quiet.”

The walls no longer pressed in upon them. The sewer system opened up into a massive nighted vault. The air felt eons old, flat and dead. Off in the distance, just beyond the range of their lights, far off, there appeared faint outlines, something like squat tree trunks.

Karlajic blinked his eyes, sure they were just visual artifacts, an interplay between the battle stress and being boiled alive.

Mike lowered the twin night vision devices, his eyes burning green under the brim of his helmet. “Time to go dark, NVDs and IR only. This is their highway.”

Karlajic and Lee did as Mike said, and just before they killed their lights, they gave each other a “what the fuck are we doing?” look.

The air chilled.

Their breath was visible.

The three soldiers walked in a line slow and tense.

Mike paused.

Lee checked their six.

Karlajic and Lee strained at the grainy green static of the dark. Karlajic placed a hand on Mike’s shoulder and pointed in the direction Mike was looking.

Mike shook his head and swung back around, moving forward.

“We’re 200 yards south of a coal tunnel that leads to a safe zone.”

Karlajic kept his SAW at a high, ready, wishing he could see something definitive. Instead, it was just dark green, piles of rubble, and scattered urban detritus.

He saw a large hulk to his left. With care, he edged close to it. Ancient and rotting from another age, it sat among piles of old crumbling bricks. Someone had hauled a ‘65 Plymouth Fury into the sewers. Mike played an IR light over it and whispered, “Rust to rust, dust to dust,” then looking around, “many are strange the things down here. Most of all, the new inhabitants. Can you feel them? Out there in the dark. If it weren’t for the all the sewer gas, they could smell your blood.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Karlajic said.

Mike pointed at Karlajic’s chest, then back to himself. “It means whatever weird shit you see, focus on one thing: will it kill me? Got it?”

“Yeah, got it.”

Karlajic checked behind them as they moved along. In the distance was a faint line of light, like a pre-dawn horizon.

“Man, there’s a fucking tree here,” Lee hissed.

“Ignore it,” Mike said.

Karlajic looked over at Lee and saw it.

Rooted in the cement was, indeed, a large oak tree.

Somewhere overhead, the distant flutter of wings and the hoot of an owl echoed.

“Mike? Where are we?” Karlajic asked.

“A place that has worn thin. Please keep the chatter down, I—”

Karlajic swung the SAW on Mike. “How do I know you aren’t one of those fucking things?”

Lee leveled his M4 on Mike. “Put your hands up and don’t move them.”

Mike put his hands up and said, “If I were, you would’ve been lunched by now. But if it makes you feel better, check my pulse. The dead have no heartbeat.”

Karlajic reached forward and pressed two fingers onto Mike’s jugular and felt a pulse. “Okay, now the second question: who are you?”

“Can I put my hands down?

“Be my guest.”

“If I could tell you, you wouldn’t believe me. Think of me as your guardian angel, Jaroslav. Now, let’s go.”

“Fucking black ops bullshit,” Karlajic muttered under his breath.

Lee worked his way next to Karlajic. “Let’s just do what he says.”


“Why? Because I looked up.”

Karlajic searched for the ceiling, shining his IR light upwards, and saw nothing overhead except a few dim pinpricks of light twinkling light years distant.


“We’re almost at the wall,” Mike said, indicating with his weapon’s laser the direction of travel. They walked over soft, spongy ground until they came to an unbroken, titanic wall of some dark substance.

“I don’t see any portal, what is this?” Karlajic asked.

“Trust me, the coal tunnel is right there,” Mike said.

As they came closer, Karlajic noticed a swishing sound as they walked.

He looked down and saw dewy grass.

“Karl, do you see this?” Lee said.


Unwavering, they followed Mike, who formed the apex of the triangle. Then, there it was: a roughhewn entrance in the wall just big enough for a man to walk single file through.

Mike pointed. “Here it is, boys. You go in there and about 20 yards in is a ladder that will take you to street level.”

“Aren’t you going to lead the way?” Karlajic said.

“I’ll watch your guys’ six from here. Now, get going. It’s a long climb.”

At the ladder, Karlajic looked back to see Mike gone.

“Hold up?” he told Lee and went back to the tunnel’s mouth. He stuck his head out to find no sign of Mike. Karlajic flipped up his NVDs and took in an expansive view of a flat, grassy plain with the dawn just starting to break. Among the grassy hillocks spread out were people in the remnants of grave clothes watching the rising sun.

When Karlajic returned to Lee, Lee asked, “So where is he? Is he coming?”

“He’s watching our backs. Let’s climb.”


For all installments of “Milites Noctis,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2