As Maxima twisted the clasps tight, engaging the brass lock and releasing the liquid nitrogen cartridge inside to keep the contents cool, she giggled to herself, which echoed around her softly.
‘Maximus will never believe me.’ She thought. ’Not in a million years.’
Maxima was sure one of the cocoons housed a Homo Erectus, an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pleistocene period or so evolutionists claimed.
It seemed impossible, yet, there it was, gift wrapped in white silk paper.
Even more fantastic, she suspected it could also mean a far longer life expectancy than originally assumed for humans when introduced or maintained with the spider’s venom.
‘We’ll be the new Messiahs.’ She thought energetically. ’A new religion where Maximum Pharmaceuticals will decide who shall live and who shall die.”
Maxima stared skyward, not seeing the cave but an open sky and a beam of light shining down upon her like a beacon from parted clouds. ‘Like Kings and Queens.’ She paused and corrected herself. ‘Queens and Kings.’ She smiled at the idea.
On her way back up to the main entrance, she passed back through the two hive chambers she had traversed earlier, warily stepping around the sleeping beast in the one.
Maxima could swear each chamber seemed to be filled with more sleeping monsters, even though she knew in her heart it was just nervousness.
As Maxima rounded the next bend, stepping over a large pile of rocks, she heard a small whoosh.
Maxima peered up, her light leveling forward and she walked right into the rubber treads of a foot pivoting out of the darkness, striking her right at the centre of her jaw, sending her snapping back face first into the rock wall, her teeth making a resounding crack, resulting with her dropping to the ground with her helmet falling between her knees.
Maxima twisted up and back onto her feet in an instant, grabbing her helmet and fearing the worst, one of the spiders were awake, not considering the fact most monsters don’t wear hiking boots.
Within seconds, Maxima slammed the helmet back on, raised her fists in preparation to defend herself when a second equally devastating punch leveled across her cheek. She tasted warm copper in her mouth as she staggered backwards again, not falling this time, but using the cave wall for support.
Maxima spun around, anger in her eyes, fury in her heart, but within those moments, the cooling shock of disbelief seeped into her veins as she found herself awestruck, her eyes widening, causing her to drop back a step in total astonishment.
‘Impossible.’ Maxima thought. ‘Fucking impossible.’
A slim shadowy female figure materialized out of the darkness, stepping into the glow of Maxima’s bulb.
With a flick of the switch on her head, the upper double lights flashed and Maxima found herself face to face with the smiling form of Doctor Danica Swift.
Danica stood before Maxima, her head tilting ever so slightly with a small little grin. “You know, I found standing in the dark, stepping out and putting the lights on at just the right moment very melodramatic.”
All Maxima could do was mutter, her fists lowering. “But you’re… you’re dead…”
Danica cut her off. “Then you can call me Lazarus.” She pressed back into a ready stance. Her shirt and pants were torn, dirty from the drop down the cliff. Her hair was askew, yet she still exuded attractiveness.
“I…I’…” Maxima repeated her words. “I stabbed you. I threw you over the side of the cliff. I watched you fall. I heard you land. I saw all the blood…..” She gasped. “You were dead.”
“Not quite dead really.” Danica smiled. “I was hurt, yes. Broken, also yes, but the blood pool you saw forming was not mine.” She turned, revealing her back which was soaked with a dark blue fluid. Danica gestured to two large holes just below her shoulder blades, rimmed with yellow.
Maxima knew immediately, Danica had been bitten by one of the spiders. ‘But how?’
Danica had turned back around. She lifted the bottom edge of her blouse where she had been stabbed. The blood was still moist as the material was partially stuck to the skin underneath, but the stab wound itself had vanished.
Maxima’s mouth was open wide. She snapped it shut fearing if Danica lashed out too quickly, she could lose her tongue.
“Marvelous stuff this venom is.” Danica added. “Not exactly how I envisioned the Fountain of Youth, but it’s not the only disappointment I’ve had to contend with recently.”
Maxima was too stunned to reply.
Danica added. “But I have to thank you.”
“Thank me?” Maxima sputtered.
“Yes.” Danica replied. “You see, while I was lying on the cliff’s edge bleeding to death, a few feet under the outcropping of rock was one of the Sentinels, making its way up to us to attack.”
“What the Hell is a Sentinel?” Maxima asked.
“Oh yeah.” Danica pivoted around to a better striking position. “A Sentinel is one of the spiders who stay conscious during the hibernation period to protect the others and keep the prey fed. It was stalking up the cliff towards us. In fact, had you not rolled me off when you did, chances are, we’d both be its food.”
Maxima was steadily regaining her composure.
Danica continued. “When I rolled off, I landed right onto it and my weight and our momentum crushed it on the rocks below. It actually softened my landing. And amazingly enough, as I fell, it bit me as its final act. Probably just instinct, but who’s complaining.” She flexed her energized body. “Though I feel fantastic, it’s still not worth the risk of letting these things into the world, but hey, all I’m happy for is being here for round two with you.” With that, Danica lowered to a crouch and launched her fist forward.
This time Maxima was better prepared, spinning out of the way, only getting an off swipe of Danica’s palm, which still sent rivulets of pain up her shoulder and down her lower back.
Danica came to rest behind Maxima.
Maxima quickly rectified the situation by turning to come face to face with Danica again.
“The kick was for stabbing me. The punch was for throwing me over the side of a cliff. The rest…” Danica was smiling. “The rest will be because I can.”
In those seconds, Maxima drew out her combat knife, still stained with Danica’s semi-drying blood, streaks following the blade as she pulled it free from her sheath. “We’ll see just how fast you heal a second time then.”
Danica spun and leveled another spinning back kick which hit Maxima mid-chest. She was focusing on using her legs this time to strike instead of the close quarters fistfight she had made the mistake of engaging in before. Never bring your hands to a knife fight.
Maxima fell back a few steps, taking the brunt of the blow, letting out a huge grunt as the foot impacted.
Danica pushed herself back and resumed her position.
The immovable object that is Maxima up against the unyielding force that is Danica.
Maxima turned and backed up, giving Danica less room to move, which she needed to deliver her energetic leg strikes.
Unlike the last time, Danica knew now that she needed lots of space to maneuver, to increase the momentum of her blows if she was to win.
Maxima stood back, gesturing Danica forward.
Danica turned and raced down the corridor, back into the main chamber to get more room. She froze in mid stride as she found her path blocked by the huge two sons still looking over the cubbies for a small Horror to capture.
They both turned, smiling and pumping their fists at Danica’s arrival.
Maxima raced in from behind, coming to a halt when she realized her boys had Danica cornered. She smiled. “Welcome to my web said the spider to the fly.”
Both boys chuckled, moving toward the surrounded Danica, each drawing their combat blades, licking their lips in tandem like lizards lapping for an insect, forming a triangular formation, blocking all of Danica’s means of egress.
Danica suspected that unlike Carlos, she only received one dose of venom, thus though she may heal for a short while, the effect would not be long term. That and as the Elder had made clear, ‘If the blood stops pumping, so stops the life.’
Maxima signaled to her two boys to hold their positions.
Max and Maxwell did, each waiting for their opportunity.
Maxima stalked forward with a grin which vanished as she stopped in her tracks.
Danica was standing steadfast, legs apart and in those seconds had drawn from behind the back of her shirt, inside her waistband and out of sight, an 1805 Harper Ferry Flintlock pistol. Within those same seconds, Danica pulled back and cocked the trigger with the barrel locked on Maxima’s forehead.
“Where the Hell did you get that antique?” Maxima asked, more surprised than frightened, genuinely impressed at Danica’s resourcefulness.
Danica replied. “I pulled it from Rios’ corpse. After I climbed back up from where you threw me, I snuck back here and retrieved it. Took me a while to ensure I avoided Fric and Frac here…”
Max and Maxwell growled at Hayden’s nickname for them.
“Amazingly enough, it had not been fired.” Danica had her finger inside and under the trigger guard.
Maxima laughed. “Do you honestly believe that weapon will still work after all these years?”
“The devil is in the details Maxima.” Danica mocked. “You obviously didn’t read the Serenade’s logbook in its entirety.” Without taking the barrel off Maxima, Danica rolled it enough for them all to see the holes lightly layered with an unbroken seal. “Rios put a dab of paraffin on the muzzle and the firing pin of his weapon to keep the elements away.” Danica remained focused. “And as I showed you, it’s still intact. So I’m willing to gamble it will fire. Are you?”
At this Maxima’s smile waivered and leveled out.
Maxima raised her left hand, letting the long silvery blade she held reflect the light of Danica’s eyepieces around the cave. “Go ahead. Pull the trigger. You have one shot at best, and whoever you get, you have two left to contend with. If it’s me you shoot, I’m instructing my boys to rape you until you’re so torn open, no miracle venom will close the wounds.”
Max and Maxwell could be heard snickering behind her.
Danica turned and saw Max rubbing his crotch area with his open hand, his eyes bloodshot and glittering with hope in his face, sporting an equally vicious erection under his pants.
Maxima offered a malevolent smile, hinting to her boys. “Of course Doctor Swift, if you happen to kill one of my boys, I’ll personally use my fist to invade your body far deeper than their genitals could ever reach.”
Danica found herself a bit shocked at Maxima’s crudeness. But then again, she was sleeping with her own twin brother.
Both men offered leering glares and sneers almost hoping if she killed one, the other would get to see their mother do it. It clearly implied the Thorne’s idea of entertainment was not the same as Danica’s.
Maxima dropped the gauntlet. “So you best make your shot count, because when we’re through with you, you’ll have wished you used it on yourself.”
Danica shivered inside, but holding the gun steady. As long as she had it on locked on Maxima, her finger on the trigger, Max and Maxwell were not prepared to advance and cause the killing of their own mother. But sand was slipping from the hour glass.
Maxima signaled and the three Thornes each took a step forward, readying their assault.
For a long moment, Danica wished Hayden was there. Besides evening the odds, his presence made her feel genuinely better, even safer. At least when he was not annoying the Hell out of her anyway. Even when they argued it did not feel that it originated out of anger. More out of a core disagreement between comrades, the kind only shared between two connected people. She hated to think she would never see him again. That and imagining these three faces would be the last she was forced to envision was heartwrenching.
Maxima, Max and Maxwell circled around her counter clockwise, the boys licking their lips, Maxima raising her eyebrow and exerting a feral smirk.
Danica for the first time ever felt true fear. Her self-defense was at best, good for one-on-one combat, and not with people of this size working as a team. She hated herself for getting caught in this position and worse, with these three predators having her trapped. All it would take was one wrong move and she would be at their mercy.
Without Hayden and Carlos, she was alone and outnumbered.
She needed to even the odds.
As the three Thornes closed in around her, Danica thought to herself. ‘What would Hayden do?’ She let her mind drift, imagining, thinking like an immature, if not intelligent child. ‘What would he do right now? Something crazy for certain.’ Then it came to her in a flash. “Yep. Right up his alley for insane ideas.’
The Thornes gave one another nonverbal cues of actions to take. They were about to attack.
Danica saw it and closed her eyes for a second, a full second, and prayed. ‘God? Allah? Flying Spaghetti Monster? I don’t much less care who is listening right now, but if it’s one of you, please don’t let this be my final stand.’
Max pointed to Danica’s feet for Maxwell to grab them so she could not use them to strike.
But Danica was already in action. She opened her eyes, stepped sideways and with one smooth gesture, thrust her hand down the front of her open shirt and pulled out the tribe’s cask from the night before and cracked off the seal with her teeth. Within seconds of that, she dumped the entire contents over her head, face, chest and body, to the quizzical stares of the three assailants. The thick oily goop, slightly warm, oozed down her body and into the openings of her clothes, skin and hair.
Maxima grimaced and pulled away, covering her face as the retched odour overwhelmed her nostrils.
Max and Maxwell looked at Danica like she was insane.
Maxima cackled as she held her nostrils tightly closed. “My God, did you plan to stink us to death in here? I think my boys can hold their noses long enough to finish with you, regardless of how fucking vile that stuff is.”
But Danica was not listening. She was in the moment. She was riding the wave of no return to its ultimate destination. Upon tossing the empty cask to the ground, she raised the Flintlock skyward and pulled the trigger.
The explosion sounded like a thunderbolt unleashed, like the skies had opened up and Zeus was yelling down for attention, rocking the entire chamber.
After several seconds, the two sons cleared their ears of the ringing. They laughed as they prowled closer, ready to start raping their prize.
Maxima shook her head as the echo vanished. “You stupid bitch! You wasted your shot!”
Danica tossed the Flintlock, now spent, to the ground. She lowered her gaze, locked on Maxima’s face and grinned maliciously, a look so cold, so malevolent, Maxima was momentarily frozen for words. “No.” Danica replied with superiority in her tone. “I didn’t…. BITCH!”
As Maxima and her sons were about to pounce, they suddenly heard it.
Groans, hisses, scratching, clicking, grunting, scurrying hair covered appendages on dozens of rock walls and caverns.
Hundreds of giant spiders awakening, moving and coming forth from their peaceful holes.
Maxima and sons stared up and outward, their lights sending beams in every direction, illuminating large portions of the cave.
The walls themselves looked like they were breathing, undulating with motion with all the moving forms.
Crowds of slumbering Horror, followed by the skittering feet and claws, coming forth along rocks, cracks and ledges, fast and furious, sounding like thousands of unintelligible voices.
Danica thought of how Carlos had described it in London. ‘My God. Carlos, you poor bastard.’
Like mankind, this was also a species who did not like being awoken early, especially in such a manner, thus they were extremely pissed.
The Horror had awakened.
Only one thought came to Danica’s mind.
’Ifthe Horror awaken, all is lost.’