Hunting Shadows

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Chapter 6

The instructor was yelling something about the parachute. She nodded though she couldn’t hear him over the roar of the wind whipping through the cargo plane cabin. The adrenaline was singing through her veins, and the barest hint of her fangs showed. The dark spectre beside her grinned in easy expectation; and as the underside of the military cargo plane opened, she was one of the first people out.

There was something so wonderfully freeing about hurtling through the atmosphere at paramount speeds. With her adrenaline singing through her veins and her Reaper flying steadily beside her, she felt as if she were on the top of the world. She laughed from the pure blissful feeling of adrenaline and pounding air rushing past her body.

She growled her delight before locking her arms angled just slightly away from her body. The wind caught her immediately and filled her suit until she was drifting on the currents.

JB motioned to a large open field just south of the mountainside. A dark gaping hole that looked darkly ominous from way up in the sky; it gaped like a jagged scar on the side of the mountain. The wind picked up her sail taking her higher than she wanted.

She jerked the cord holding her, and her parachute ripped free, sending her plummeting to the ground at an alarming rate. The large gaping hole rose up to swallow her and she dropped through into the darkness.

She hit the ground hard, rolling until she was just at the edge of the rock ledge. She shook her head slightly groaning at the pain that lanced through it. Her leg was still hanging out into empty space and as she tried to move the rock under her began to crack. She stopped moving immediately afraid that if she did move any further the rock ledge under her would give and she would plummet into the waiting darkness beyond.

“JB, if you’re around, I need you.”

She spoke into the mike built into her helmet but there was no response.

It wasn’t unusual for him to disappear so suddenly, but usually he told her, this time however he didn’t. Sinking her metal claws into the rock she slowly dragged herself across the rocky floor of the cavern, gritting her teeth against the pain of small sharp stones digging into her palms. The rock beneath her continued to groan and crack under her weight as she moved as slowly as possible; she shifted her weight just slightly and that’s when she felt it.

The rock just above her fingers literally split apart with a horrific cracking sound. She scrambled for purchase, her metal claws sliding against loose rock. Growling, more animal than human now she dug her claws into the rocks as they shifted and broke apart beneath her.

For one terrifying moment, she hung over empty space as the last of the rock crumbled underneath her. Then she was falling in a mess of crumbling rock and terror. Her scream echoed around, bouncing off the walls in a cacophony of half human half animal sounds.

“Welcome Traveller. Are you feeling better?”

The voice resonated softly within her head; much like a whisper or a caress; meant not to scare but to soothe. She opened her eyes, expecting pain or to be badly damaged. She was more surprised that she was alive and for the most part unharmed.

She moved her fingers and arms, moving up and down her body assessing the damage done and if there was anything broken. Nothing felt out of place or broken so that was a good thing… she hoped.

Her enhanced vision gave the place where she was an eerie grey and black quality.

“Where am I?”

“You are in a safe place.”

Again, the voice responded in her head instead of with an actual voice. It was unsettling and it raised the hairs on the back of her neck.

“Where is this ‘safe place’, what is it called? Also show yourself and stop talking in my head.”

She bared her teeth, letting her canines extend just enough to show she meant business. A creature came out of the darkened shadows to her right. Pale and nearly translucent, it had two limbs with large webbed hands, except they had talons on the end of each phalange.

Its head was covered in tough scales that seemed to be pointed in two different directions; crisscrossing and overlapping themselves to make a sort of armour plating. She noticed that its nose was larger than its eyes of which it had two sets of.

Its back feet were large and webbed, as if it spent a great deal of time in the water and had adapted to its environment of no light and no color. The mouth was more like a small oval hole; that closed into a line nearly invisible against the rest of the creature’s body.

She sat up and leaned away from the creature, moving slowly into a crouch. The creature seemed to sense her movements and wariness more than seeing her movements. The eyes were so pale it looked blind.

“Do not be afraid. We do not wish you harm.”

“Alright, well, where am I? How is it you can talk to me in my head and I can understand you?”

The creature paused, and responded slowly. It seemed to be able to think clearly if a little subdued.

“This is how we learned to communicate with each other. And the telekinesis; we developed over time.”

“And, where are we?”

“We do not know the exact location of the safe place…. Only that it is safe. There are no other creatures that wish to eat us. But we have never seen sunlight.”

“I fell through a crevice, in a cave. Is there any way for me to get back to the upper world?”

The creature considered her question, moving its head from left to right in slow controlled movements. She noticed that it had large canals on either side of its head.

The good thing was that was her backpack was still within arm’s reach, and pulling out the small flashlight she always carried; she turned it on its lowest setting and shone it about the small cavernous space she was in.

The walls though damp and trickling with moisture were cold. She wondered how far down she was to be this cold without water running through the space. She watched the pale, white creature as it deliberated over her question.

Finally, it nodded a slow controlled movement that seemed somehow out of sorts with its normal range of movements. Turning the creature motioned with one of its taloned limbs. It began to move down a tunnel, the same tunnel she had assumed it appeared from before. She followed, keeping her ears perked for anything that was unfriendly. The creature led her down more dark rock tunnels that appeared to be hewn right out the rock itself.

Minutes ticked by, though that far below the surface time had begun to lose all meaning; and after what seemed like an eternity of crawling through pitch black tunnels they came out onto a wide platform. The world she had entered was like something out of a science fiction movie.

There was no sunlight but instead an eerie blueish white light bathed the scenery before her in something akin to moonlight. She glanced towards the sky but was unable to discern where the light was coming from.

The trees that stretched for miles all around were bluish white in color, and contained small white flowers instead of leaves. It was gorgeous in an eerie way. The creature watched her. Its head still making those small controlled movements, it motioned for to follow. After a moment’s hesitation, she did.

“Where are you taking me?”

“You fell from a great height and though I rescued you before you were seriously injured, your body still requires rest.”

He paused again in his speech before continuing and she guessed that he didn’t often speak to humans.

“I am taking you to our resting place. Your body and mind will need to heal after that fall.”

He looked back at her, and his nose twitched just slightly. She wondered if it was a trick of the bluish light or if he was making sure she was still following by her scent.

“What are you exactly?”

“If you are interested, we can tell you how we came to be down here. It is a good story; the elders tell the Youngers.”

“Alright, looks like I’m going to be down here for a while then.”

The creature nodded, and continued to lead her through the trees and the undergrowth. Though there was no natural sunlight, the bluish white light seemed to be sustaining life in such a way that the trees; when she touched them, seemed to be made of a spongy fibrous material. She wondered if it was a chemical reaction and that life in this world was cause of that chemical reaction. She continued to follow the creature that so far was helping her.

The resting place he led her to was a large nesting area in a copse of blue sponge trees and it was filled with more pale, translucent, blind creatures. All with a similar look to the creature who was escorting her. They didn’t appear to be threatened by her, merely curious about the newcomer in their midst.

The one thing that unsettled her most was that everything was very quiet.

But then she realized that this far down below the earth’s surface it would be very difficult and unnecessary to make any noise.

The creatures gathered around the one who had led her to the resting place. She watched fascinated that their means of communication was much like telepathy, combined with a few slowly controlled head movements.

The creatures gathered together and lay down overlapping each other and huddling together. The eerie bluish light cast strange shadows on everything and it made the beast in her wonder what came out at night.

As hard as he tried he couldn’t find her signal. Growling in frustration he circled the Cliffside where he saw her land again. Searching for the crevice that he had seen from the sky; she had disappeared and he had lost her signal. He knew was still alive, but he couldn’t get a lock on her. It made him anxious and worried. Landing in a clearing he forced himself to calm and focus. His phone beeped.

She was hiding in the shadows just above the creatures when she heard it. A slow thump… five second pause… thump… five second pause… thump.

She was wide awake, searching through the trees for the source of the noise. Her hackles were raised and before she realized it, she had transformed into a panther. Something big was coming their way, and she was undecided about whether she should stay or flee.

The creatures were still sleeping soundly. Thump… five second pause… thump… five second pause… thump.

She growled low in her throat and backed up further into the blue spongy trees. Thump… thump… silence. Whatever it was had found them. Just then a massive pair of sharp teeth crashed down into the clearing where the pale creatures were sleeping.

She watched horrified as the newcomer crunched through pale bodies and fragile bones. She scrambled backwards, falling into a dark crevice behind the resting area. She had to get as far away from that creature and the terror it brought. It wailed behind her crashing its head down after her. Her small flashlight bounced crazily off the walls showing her distorted pictures and images. The sound of rushing water assaulted her ears as she plummeted through the dark.

The water was freezing, knocking the breath from her chest as she hit the rushing torrent. Everything was black. And above the cacophony of the water she could briefly hear the screeching and snapping of the creature as it dove after her.

Something hit the back of her head and she just hoped she would survive as she lost consciousness. The water pulled her under and she disappeared into the blackness.

Her head was throbbing and there was something wrong with her eyesight. Everything seemed too bright and kept shifting in and out of focus. It was like trying to focus a camera lens on a tilt-a-whirl while the sun was shining in your eyes. Groaning she turned to the side and vomited river water, heaving until she was sure she couldn’t expel anymore. Still her head throbbed.

“Cocha del umr thra.”

The voice was garbled, and the response came back in a series of clicks and chirps. She opened her eyes again despite the pain that spiked through her skull like lightning. It had multiple eyes, pincers and wings. She launched herself up and onto the floor, metal claws unsheathed and fangs barred.

The insectile creatures watched her, clicking to each other. There were three of them and she appeared to be in a room of some kind.

“Coja kiel unk tha…. Dol gez!”

The first insect motioned to the second insect clicking angrily at it. The second one turned and scuttled away through the door. God, bugs freaked her out. She needed to get out as soon as possible; but her head felt like it was splitting apart and the light was still far too bright.

Shielding her eyes from the glare of the overhead lights, she could see a little better, and what she did see made her scream.

The bug creatures stood close to five feet had metal carapaces that shielded their many legs and arms. The joints for the necks were corded and twisted with wires. But it was their heads that disturbed her most, they looked like roach heads with their clicking mouths. They weren’t doing anything, just observing. It made her skin crawl the way they watched her.

Just then a man in a white lab coat came in, followed by two more insectile robot creatures.

“Hello, welcome. How’re you feeling?”

He was looking over a clipboard in his hands and though he sounded friendly, she sensed there was something dark lurking beneath that cheerful demeanor.

“I feel alright… Who are you and where am I?”

“You’re in a different realm than you’re used to I’m sure. What’s your name, traveller?”

“Eryn; how did I get here?”

“I found you on the beach, you were very unconscious and near death. I brought you here.”

He smiled, revealing sharp oddly pointed teeth. It might have been the light, but for a second she saw his eyes become an odd golden amber color.

“Look, it’s been real nice of you to help me, but I have to go now.”

“So soon? But you have such incredible energy. Why not stay and have a bite to eat with us?”

He lunged at her, and as he did the human façade fell away like a shed skin and he became a huge reptile. She leaped over the bed, narrowly missing the jaws that snapped at her.

The roach like insects shivered until their carapaces fell apart to reveal more reptile lizard people. She turned the bed on its side and shoved it hard against the creatures that were advancing towards her.

Pinned against the wall the two lizards hissed and scrambled against the bed frame while the lizard scientist lunged towards her again, its jaws dripping saliva. She growled baring her own fangs in response and swiped at his head with her metal claws. He swung a taloned hand toward her which she took to the shoulder. His claws raked against her skin, tearing flesh. Snarling in fear and anger she lashed out catching him in the soft underside of his chest. He hissed staggering backwards.

His hands flying to his chest, as blood seeped through his fingers and he howled in pain.

Grabbing a scalpel and a syringe full of smoky blueish liquid off the table she bolted through the door into the compound beyond. Her shoulder stung and she could feel her arm and shoulder slowly going numb, as paralysis set in. She turned a corner, running half hazardly down a hallway, then another, and another. They were all grey and uniform with lights that seemed designed to irritate her sensitive eyes.

Finally, she burst through a doorway which led to a massive circular chamber with a heavy waterfall running directly through it.

Alarms began blaring and she could hear many shuffling feet. Holding onto the guardrail with one hand, she swung her legs up and over, nearly falling off the edge. She had barely any movement in her right arm, and the spray from the waterfall was making her hand slick and slippery.

The lizard men crashed through the door way just in time to see her launch herself into the waterfall. The head scientist roared in angered frustration pounding his fists on the guardrail.

The crevice she had landed in was barely wide enough to hold her and not for the first time she was afraid the water would drag her down and land her somewhere worse.

Gritting her teeth against the numbing ache of her shoulder and the sharp pain of small pointy stones digging into her fingertips, she dug her fingers further into the wet rock clinging to it for dear life. She would not die here. Moving slowly, she felt her way around the rock ledge, praying she wouldn’t fall. She just had to make to the top.

It was excruciating the pain in her right side and the slowness of her pace. She could still hear the alarms blaring over the roar of the waterfall.

She had made it a foot from the top when she missed the footing and slipped against the wet rock.

Not wanting to confront the lizard people again she dug her metal claws into the rock face, tears sprang into her eyes from the sudden pain of her body slamming against the rock wall. Glancing up through the wall of water as it cascaded brutally down on top her, she pulled herself over the edge of the waterfall; screaming into her clenched teeth against the pain.

Shivering and soaked to the bone, her teeth chattered in her head as she crouched just above the waterfall and the lizard creature’s compound. The cold light of the moon bathed the scenery before her in eerie white light. Somewhere along the way she had lost her pack and most of her gear. All she had on her were her clothes and a hunting knife.

She was leaning heavily against the base of a tree, panting in exhaustion. The paralysis of her right arm and shoulder had turned into a poison that was making her delusional and probably killing her slowly.

Over the course of the moon dropping lower towards the horizon, her breathing had become restricted and her eyesight was getting fuzzy. She was hoping someone would find her. Briefly her mind flashed to a memory of amber eyes with red and orange flecks, a candle lit dance and swirls of color as her head spun.

She blacked out.

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