Hunting Shadows

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Chapter 37

The Manilla envelopes on the table promised adventure and excitement and she knew she needed another adventure to soothe the panic that had been building over the past few months. JB would be able to help her, especially now that their bond was stronger than ever, if she wasn’t too far away. She was drinking her morning coffee, watching the sun rise while she skimmed through what the museum wanted this time, finally settling on an ancient scroll that was said to lead to a talisman that would grant eternal youth.

JB was still sleeping when she went into the bedroom to grab her shower things. The hot water felt wonderful against her skin, and she could feel her body relaxing.

“You know, you always looked hottest with water running over your skin.”

JB brushed her skin with his lips, as his hands came around to knead her breasts. She could feel him getting hard as she pressed herself against him.

“Is that what you think?”

“It’s what I know.”

She leaned against him, luxuriating in the hard plains of his abs and his manhood pressed against the underside of her butt while his hands worked magic on her body. They made love until the water ran cold and Eryn was starting to shiver.

“So where are you going?”

“I’ll work my way through the list. Find as many artifacts as I can and then deliver them to the people who want them.”

“You know I’ll help you when I can.”

“I know.”

She was packed and ready to go by mid morning, and by mid-afternoon she was on her way to the last known location of the first artifact on her list. A knife long since lost to history. She had emailed blade smiths and weapons masters a week before about the knife, but none had seen it in person, only in pictures. It was said to suck the souls of those it cut into its depths. JB had a sneaking suspicion that it might be reaper related or imbued. Through their connection and training, she would be protected if she touched it, but other than that she would be on her own.

The sun was too hot and there wasn’t enough shade to offer protection. The plains of Africa stretched out for miles, as far as the eyes could see. Something glinted off the horizon, though she knew it wouldn’t be that easy, but the glint would be worth checking out.

She gunned the motorbike towards the horizon and pulled down her visor. Her mind drifted back towards racing down another track, pushing the limits of her bike while the vampire stayed hot on her heels. Banishing those thoughts before they could move forward, she switched gears and twisted the throttle. The bike roared and whined as she made her way over red, sun drenched savannah.

The gleam turned out to be an old lantern at the beginning of an abandoned mine shaft. She parked the bike and shook the sand and dust from her jacket. The flashlights beam cast an eerie white glow around the mouth of the boarded-up mine. She texted JB her co-ordinates so he could come pick up the bike, just in case she wouldn’t end up back in the same location. Ducking under a fallen beam, she entered the darkness. Bats squeaked and water dripped down the walls. The tracks were uneven and rotten making walking treacherous. The last time she was in a mineshaft she had been with David Workemshire’s crew. This mine however, seemed to run straight though and it ran an awfully long way.

It was quite some time before she felt the gradual slope downward of the mine as the tracks spiralled down. There was a section of rotted tracks that ran across a large gap in the ground. The way down was pitch black and the flare she threw down only shone for a moment before the darkness swallowed it. There was nothing for the grappling hook to hang onto, which meant she would have to cross on foot.

“JB; are you around?”

“Always, you know I won’t leave you.”

He appeared from the shadows beside her, though it was hard to distinguish where the darkness ended and he began, she shivered at the coldness that thought recalled.

“Can you help me across Hun?”

She held out her hand and smiled as he took it and she landed on the other side. His phone beeped, and he frowned.

“Go get ’em tiger.”

“Hades called a tournament of reaping. I think he’s trying to take away my position because I killed his daughter.”

“What does that mean?”

“Means, I have to fight other reapers, collect souls and complete every battle. Fuck me.”

She took his hand in hers, and brought his knuckles up to her lips. “Hey; it’s ok we’ll start training, you’ll win every competition, and at the end of the tournament – we’re going to take on Hades.”

“Eryn, Hades is a god; you technically can’t kill a god.”

“A human can’t kill a god, not on their own, but you’re not human; and what if there was a way you could kill a god?”

“What are you getting at?”

“What if there was a way to kill a god?”

“What have you found?”

JB was wary now, his expression guarded and his eyes darker than usual. He knew once Eryn was on a track, it was hard to deter her. The light in her eyes hadn’t been there for a long time and on one hand, he was happy to see that adventure and determination shining in her eyes again. On the other hand, he worried she didn’t quite understand the entirety of what she was proposing.

“I haven’t found it yet… but there’s a sword on the list that I’ve heard rumours about that’s from ancient Greece that I believe might be a god-killer.”

“That’s a myth; it’s probably not even real.”

“You’re supposed to be a myth, and you’re real.”

“No; I’m mentioned in all religious texts as a Ferrier for souls. I’m very real. A god-killer sword is not.”

She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. The flashlight in her hands was pointed further down the shaft and was flashing off the gemstones buried deep in the earth.

“You don’t even know if it exists, let alone if it’s a god-killer.”

“That’s true, but that’s not going to stop me from finding it.”

“I know Hun; I’ll be here if you need me. Love you.”

“Love you too, be safe.”

JB disappeared, melting with the shadows of the mine. She breathed out, shivered and continued down the mine, following the tracks down their treacherous path.

It wasn’t long before the tracks sloped downward deeper than what she had been expecting. The tunnel leveled out after 3 miles of uneven and treacherous slope. Once at the bottom, she could see miles of dark tunnels and criss-crossing tracks. She picked a tunnel at random and continued further into the darkness, knowing that it would be far too easy to become lost within the twisting, convoluted maze of tracks and tunnels.

There was no sound, not even the trickle of water. She had reached the end of her tunnel, and had come across a large black hole in the floor. She shot a triangle hook and latch into the ceiling, making sure it would hold her weight before descending into the hole. Time seemed to stand still and the darkness was so oppressing she thought she would go blind from it. It seemed to take forever until she reached the bottom, and when she did, her feet hit metal not rock.

She tapped her foot, the echo seemed hollow and metallic. Reaching down, she felt along the top of the object she was on, she was on a circle and just outside the circle was a latch. Hooking her finger under it, she pulled and the bottom slid out from under her. She dropped another ten feet, her rope disconnecting from the rock and rushing down after her. She had 72.mm pistol out and ready before she landed, rolling to minimize the impact and was in a half-knelt position before her mind caught up to the rest of her movements.

“Movement Detected: Activating Auto Response System.”

The pre-recorded voice blipped over the speakers and filled the space. Lights came on, flooding the space she was in and momentarily blinding her. When her eyes adjusted, the first thought that ran through her head was Aliens; the second thought was oh… shit. She pulled on her gas mask, and let her left fingers become silver-tipped claws while the 72. came up to shoulder height, her finger barely above the trigger.

Nothing happened, though she could hear air hissing through a pipe somewhere. A light was blinking on the console she faced and though she wasn’t entirely sure she was safe, she was sure that nothing had jumped out to eat her. Cautiously, she made her way to the console, lowering her gun. Her breath was startlingly loud in the quiet but she didn’t want to remove her mask just yet. Clicking the button on the console she waited while the video loaded.

A man came onto the screen, panicked and sweating, he was leaning heavily against the door on the far side of the room. He was wearing a lab coat covered in dark stains.

“Final log, #29380. My name is Nathan Giles employee number #5960. I don’t have long before I’m gone, but I do need to warn whoever finds this.”

He gasped painfully and the camera shook. When it focused back on him again, he looked ashen and like he had lost a lot of blood.

“It has gotten out and I fear that if not contained; it could mean the end of the world as we know it. A beast of this nature, it feeds off fear and flesh; it has already torn through the entire staff here in this underground laboratory.”

He wheezed and blood flew from his mouth. His next intake of breath was whistle high and wet, like a lung had been punctured.

“The experiment was a success; however, I feel that we have gone too far. The creature is beyond our control. To whoever has found this; it’s not your fault, but you will die here….”

There was a noise just below her normal hearing level and she turned gun up, claws out as she waited for whatever creature had been released by these scientists. She’s wasn’t afraid, not yet but she was on high alert. Something breathed against her face and she nearly gagged at how awful the stench was. It smelled like rotten blood and flesh, mixed with something undeniably chemical and wrong.

She shot on instinct, the first bullet hit, the second and third went wide when the creature moved. Bright translucent purplish goo gushed from the wound she had caused and the creature let out a baleful howl of pain before it turned and fled into the rest of the lab.

At least now she could see part of the damn thing. She followed the trail of almost glowing blood into the hallway. Metal panels and wiring lay strewn all over the hallway, some pieces had been bent in half from having something slammed against them.

She could hear it scuttling around in the air ducts and despite what her instincts screamed at her to do, she followed the creature through the broken maze of wires and metal. It wasn’t until she came to a door that was locked with a card swipe pad and barred with a broken beam that had fallen from the ceiling; that she had to turn back around. She made her way back to the room she had dropped into and began looking for a card pass.

The layout of the room and the whole scenario of a creature being experimented on and released reminded her of the Bioshock video games. She was back in the main room now, and the door shut with a whoosh. She couldn’t see any fresh purplish goo and there was no immediate smell of death and rot. But as she searched through the various things in the room, she always kept a wary ear open for the creature’s return.

“Hey, I might need you to grab my suit, the one with acid resistance and invisibility.”

“Did you want me to come get you?”

“Maybe, I’d like your help for sure, I don’t know what I’m dealing with here.”

“Alright, I’m on my way.”

JB dropped down through the doorway, his shadowed cloak billowing around him. When he stood up, she could see the shadows and nightmares that writhed inside of it. As king of the middle realm there was still so much she didn’t understand about his powers.

“Have you been practising your shadow form?”

“Yea, but I can only maintain it for short periods of time.”

“I know sweetie, so what are we dealing with here?”

“No idea, it’s an experiment that got loose, bleeds purple, is invisible, uses the air ducts to get around.”

“Alright, then let’s get this show started.”

JB grinned, full of malic and excitement, and he twirled his scythe. Eryn just laughed, and clicked her helmet into place. Once they were ready to go, JB slipped into the middle realm and Eryn followed him. They followed the trail of blood to the bottom of the lab. She wasn’t sure what she would find down there, but she was steeling herself for the worst.

“Are you ok?”

“Yea, I’m alright, I’m just worried…. That’s all.”

“Alright. Deep breath.”

He shouldered the door open, rolling and checked the corners before motioning her forward. Initially, there was nothing in the room, but Eryn’s scanners were picking up movement, and JB was staring at something in the corner. His dagger turned into a scythe, and he handed Eryn back her pistol. Sound disappeared and time seemed to slow down.

The creature uncurled itself, she could hear its labored breathing, and though she had wounded it earlier, it wouldn’t go down without a fight. Taloned claws flexed against the metal gouging deep furrows as it stood. She could tell it was watching them, waiting.

The intensity and hatred in it’s off-colored eyes sent chills down her spine. JB growled low, both a challenge and a threat.

Suddenly, the creature let out a baleful, terrifying scream and launched itself at JB. He caught it around the middle, but the momentum was enough to knock him to the ground. She had never seen JB struggle with an opponent that wasn’t another reaper. The creature had him pinned against the floor, and it looked like it was trying to snap his head off, even in reaper form.

She turned and ran towards the far wall; her anti-gravity boots allowing for ease of running up the wall until she was able to jump onto the monsters back, driving her dagger forward into its’ neck.

The creature screamed, it’s talons flexing into JB’s shoulder as it’s attention turned towards Eryn instead. She must have hit something that ended the creature’s invisibility because she was now sitting on top of a massive scaly beast that had pockets of soft squishy, bulbous flesh.

He moved right, then left shaking her off, and as he did so, wings unfurled from his body and ended in razor sharp points. Very similar to a dragon except smaller and narrower in body. The beast reared back and roared again, deafening in the enclosed space, and Eryn snarled back.

JB moved in front of her, planning to block the wyvern’s attack and instead ended up getting backhanded into a wall. The creature lunged at her, jaws snapping. She shot on instinct, six shots in succession before the creature’s massive talons hooked into her side.

There was enough adrenaline running through her system that she couldn’t feel it, though her helmet did let know that she had been hurt and was losing blood.

She screamed in defiance and emptied her clip into the underside of the wyvern’s head, JB’s scythe flashed and the creatures head thumped down beside Eryn’s while it’s body sprayed purplish glowing blood. JB’s strong hands pulled her out from the monster’s body, and he healed the gaping hole in her side before taking her back to his castle to recuperate.

She had been asleep for too long, and she was cold… too cold. Everything was dark and shadowed and felt like winter. Shivering she imagined her apartment and using her newly accessed powers she slipped from the middle realm to her own realm. Once back in her own apartment she put on coffee and went to have a hot shower. JB was no where to be found and hadn’t contacted her since he had helped her kill the wyvern at the hidden underground laboratory in Africa.

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