"Get over here!"
A minute in, the radio signal for Charlie went dark in a burst of static that petered out to a soft, unending hiss.
Two minutes later, the dropship touched down and Coughlin with Alpha team in tow stepped down into a salty muck. It might have once been like the rest of the marsh, a serene pool of sea water and mangrove trees, but not anymore.
They were standing in waist deep water filled with churning mud and far too much blood.
Bravo arrived seconds later, slipping through a small thicket of trees a dozen yards away.
"What've we got?" Kuroba whispered quietly as his squad rejoined theirs.
Coughlin looked around and considered.
The marsh was an absolute mess. Along with the churning stew of mud and blood, the surrounding area had been torn apart. Piles of trees and foliage had been blown apart by small arms fire or torn apart by some unknown force. There were massive, gaping holes carved out of what little solid ground there was and those were quickly filling in with sea water. Chunks of flesh and viscera were thrown this way and that but there were no obvious bodies from either sat of combatants.
And, probably about fifty yards away, there raised a wide cave opening jutting only barely out of a patch of solid ground. The sight of it made Coughlin think of a giant, gaping mouth.
"Well," she began, "at the very least we should be in the right spot. We've got Quinn's cave he mentioned over there."
She nodded towards the gaping maw set into the ground.
"As for what happened: based on what I heard and what I'm seeing, it looks like these things pulled their way out of the ground." she continued, motioning towards the quickly filling sinkholes. "After that though..."
The two fireteams watched her expectantly. All except for Dixon. He had his rifle butt to his shoulder and was slowly scanning the area, his eye to the scope.
Coughlin appreciated it.
"Alright, we can't presume anything, but dirty guess is that with these things coming out of the ground, maybe they're a fan of being under it. Everyone fan out, see what you can find, and then we're going to check out that cave. I'm not seeing any bodies so maybe our boys are just down there waiting for the cavalry to roll in."
"Sir." a few of them responded sharply.
Eight of the soldiers fanned out in different directions, their eyes downward as they searched the ground and the muck to try and find any signs of what they were facing. All except Dixon. He remained planted in place, slowly turning this way and that like he were some kind of automated turret.
Again, Coughlin was alright with it.
It didn't take the soldiers very long to find something though.
As it turned out, the reason that there were no obvious bodies had more to do with the nature of their environment then anything else.
"Got something." Brick called.
The massive man, waist deep in the marsh, strained as he grabbed something beneath the water. His face turned red and he snarled as he moved slowly towards the gathering marines. With a huff and heave, he pulled out the largest, ugliest son of a bitch Coughlin had ever laid eyes on.
"Jesus christ!" Ludwig exclaimed.
The monster was large. Even without pulling it completely out of the water, they could tell it could probably take on a Land-Master rover head-on and win. The ugly bastard was covered in natural, chitinous armor with a huge mouthful of teeth. Further inspection revealed large scythe like limbs and a lower torso that reminded Coughlin of the old stories of centaurs.
Despite its ferocious appearance, the thing was riddling with holes. Charlie wasn't caught with their pants down.
Dixon gave it a half an eye before focusing back on his scope.
"Least we know what we're looking for." he said quietly. "But if you like that, you're gonna love this one."
Coughlin glanced at Dixon and followed his line of sight and gasped in surprise that they had missed it.
There, mostly buried in a downed thicket of trees, was another corpse. However unlike the huge creature before them, this one was notably smaller and disturbingly human in appearance. While still monstrous in nature and covered in sharp edges and armor, there was no doubt that this was a humanoid.
"That one's different." Dixon observed.
"No shit." Coughlin agreed. "Alright, I want one more sweep before we hit the cave. Anything else, shout out; but more importantly I wanna make sure we're not following ghosts into the dark."
There was a grim nod. They knew what she meant. If Charlie team was dead and submerged in water like the big thing was, they'd rather not be going into the cave to rescue those that didn't need rescuing.
If Charlie was dead, Coughlin would have no apprehension to calling in some bigger guns to clear the tunnels.
The squad spent another few minutes searching, but didn't find anything substantial. Plenty of blood and one more of the dead humanoid monsters in one of the gaping holes, but no bodies from her squad.
Charlie was still alive.
And, as they made their way into the gaping maw of the cave system and stepped into the water in the humid, dark rock tunnel, that was the driving thought that pushed Coughlin forward.
Charlie was still alive.
And she'll be damned if she wasn't going to save them.