Banjo led the small group to the edge of the mine workings where he once again went through the procedure of safety checks and preparations before heading into the mine. It would be the first time that Cass would go into the mine and although Banjo worried about her, he had a sense of thrill at her response to some of the majesty within the caverns. He looked across at her as she pulled on the overalls over her own clothing and smiled sadly to himself. He felt he had let her down...he had promised her that he would always do the best for her, he would always protect her, but here they were about to enter the cave system with the specter of her experience at the hands of Creed hanging over their heads. The thought of Creed caused Banjo to glance toward Lotti, the young girl who had been physically attacked by the man and he wondered at her resilience. She had come so close to being defiled by the man...and yet here she was resolved to continue her own course through blind faith...or perhaps was it duty?
"You do release Mr. Jax..." whispered Aston in his ear, "this could be dangerous"
Banjo looked at him, "we've been down their Father, we know what to expect"
The Reverend shook his head and looked over the horizon in the direction of the town, "I wasn't talking about the caves" he allowed his words to hang in the air between them for a moment before placing a white helmet on his head and pressing the small light at its peak, "shall we proceed"
Creed made no attempt to hide his appearance as he walked through the colony. People dashed for the safety of their home dwellings as he moved through the causeway, his clothing caked in the blood of his guards and Michael. The stains stared out of his clothing as a stark reminder of the brutality of his life. Creed neither noticed nor cared about the fear he instilled within the general populace, what he did care about was the power it gave him. The gun fell from his grip and splashed into the mud as he climbed the ridge which overlooked the mine. From his position on the ridge he could see the figures of Banjo and his small party entering the cave system and reflected that this would be the first time since arriving on the planet all that time ago that he had been in those mines. He had resolved then that he would never set foot within that system, but here he was now on the very precipice of his own future largely thanks to that damned vicar. The very thought of him caused rage and anger to course through his veins and pushed him forward down the slope toward the opening of the mine system.
Hope was quiet as Lorraine walked through the causeway, returning to the Central Dome after a quick inspection of the Watchtower records. She watched as life burst into view across the town as doors and shutters slowly opened. She frowned and mentally noted the time in her head as she walked, before checking her wristwatch and glancing up toward the morning sky. She found it slightly unnerving that despite half of the morning had already passed, a lot of the town still had not emerged from their homes. The work siren had sounded earlier, it was that which had risen her from her slumber and caused her daily routine of checking the monitoring station at Watchtower One. She dismissed her thoughts as wild speculation and broadcast her own wonderings inside her mind. She pushed the wooden clipboard under her arm and continued the walk down the long stretch of road. She could see the door of the Central Dome slightly open and frowned as a group of people huddled together outside staring through the gap.
"What's going on?" she demanded as she neared the building. People turned and shuffled awkwardly as she approached, "well...?" Lorraine pushed her way through the throng of people, "don't any of you have duties to attend to?" she snapped as she forced her way into the dome. The clipboard fell to the floor and echoed throughout the vast space inside. Two council members stood and moved away from the prone figure on the floor as Lorraine slowly took a step toward the body. "Michael..." she whispered as she looked at the upturned chair. Tears welled in her eyes and bit at her emotions as she slowly neared the body, "Michael" she begged, her voice tinged with a waiver which betrayed her true feelings. "Please..."
One of the councilors took a step closer to Lorraine and reached a hand toward her as he shook his head in solemn respect. "No!" she screamed and ran to the body. She collapsed on the floor by the body and lifted his head in her hands, resting it on her lap and she held it close to her body. "Michael, no..." she sobbed as she rocked back and forth, tears flowing across her face as the dam of pent emotion burst and shattered her demeanor. Blood streamed across her clothes as the fluids seeped from Michael’s lifeless body.
"Get out!" snapped Lorraine, "get out! get out! get out!" she screamed as tears flowed freely over her face and small splashes of saltwater stained the bloodied face of her husband. "Oh, my love..." she whispered as she lowered her head and planted a kiss softly on his forehead. She pressed her face against his and rocked with the sounds of her tears floating outside into the morning breeze.
Banjo continued through the tunnels with his small party following at a short distance behind him. He was conscious of the words whispered to him by the Reverend before they had entered the cave system and the worry was beginning to cloud his sense of direction. Twice already he had been forced to pause to gain his sense of direction, and twice had doubted his ability to find the large cavern again. He looked down at his hand as he felt the presence of a smaller, softer hand entwine with his fingers. His eyes rose from his hand and he stared into the eyes of Cass who was looking at him smiling.
"I don't blame you" she breathed in the darkness which surrounded her as she spoke. Banjo glanced at her as he continued to walk, feeling his way with his hands placed on the soft walls, "you know...for what happened" she lowered her head embarrassed by the statement.
"Cass..." he started and slowed to a stop, turning to face her. She looked at him waiting for his response. "I love you...I...err...well...I love you". She stood for a moment dumbfounded by the sudden admission. "I just wanted to tell you, so that...you know, just in case anything happens to us that I love you" he stammered and tripped over his words as he spoke.
Cass smiled at him through the gloom, her face lighting up even in the darkened conditions, "I know" she said.
"Is there a problem?" asked Aston from behind.
"Err...no" said Banjo and moved further into the tunnel contemplating Cass' response. 'I Know" he thought was that it? simply I know. If he was honest with himself he was hoping for a bit more than I know...just something, some sign. He sighed inwardly and wondered whether he had just made a fool of himself. He loved her so much, why couldn't she see that...surely she knew he would do anything for her.
"I feel as though I'm being watched", Lotti's voice broke the awkward silence that had descended over the party.
"I get that feeling too" agreed Cass. Banjo shone his torch back along the tunnel expecting to see the figure of Creed stalking them, but as the light touched the walls of the tunnel nothing could be seen.
"Mr. Jax..." started the Reverend, "can you shine the torch upward please" he requested and Banjo moved the beam of light in the direction which the Reverend was looking. The light swept over the roof of the tunnel and small circular nodules in the tunnel roof contracted under the sudden brightness. "Fascinating..." he breathed as they watched as the small nodes moved and traced the movements of the party beneath them.
"I don't remember those being there earlier" said Banjo.
"They weren't Mr. Jax" said Aston as he watched the movements of the nodes. The light from the torch cast an eerie shadow through the tunnel and the formation moved as it attempted to shield itself from the glare. The Reverend turned his attention to the members in his party, "do they remind anyone of anything?" he asked.
"Eyes..." whispered Cass as she watched in fascination as the circles reacted in the light.
"Precisely!" exclaimed Aston, "I believe that this creature is observing us through primitive sight and vibrations in the floor to ascertain our presence and limit the danger we pose", he touched the wall and placed his head by the rock, pressing his ear against the moist surface as though listening for a response. "Does anyone else have a headache?" he asked in general.
"Yes" replied Cass.
"A bit..." said Lotti, while Banjo found himself rubbing his temple at the thought.
"That little tickle in your mind..." said Aston excitedly, "I think it’s trying to communicate with us"
"I don't remember seeing them here before" admitted Banjo.
"Interesting isn't it Mr. Jax...but I think your right. These eyes defiantly weren’t here before...there new"
"How can that be?"
"There are many things in our universe which remains unanswered, but I believe the creature sense our presence and the non-hostile approach and is trying to communicate with us"
"Yes, the headache is the creature trying to communicate and the fact that we are all experiencing means the creature is using telepathic abilities as an attempt to talk to us"
"Why can't we here it?" asked Cass, "if its talking surely one of us at least should be able to understand it"
"No... I don't think it is that simple. The use of psychic tendencies can only be accessed by a clean mind, free of the clutter of worry...or bent through age or madness"
"This is what Robert was hearing" exclaimed Banjo, "the creature...and we all thought he was mad"
"None of you were to know Mr. Jax, sometimes an open mind can be as dangerous as a closed mind" he indicated further down the tunnel toward the light in the distance, "if we could...". Banjo nodded and pushed further down the tunnel. He felt a hand wrapping around his own and felt warm with the touch of Cass as they continued down the tunnel.
Creed pulled himself out of the shadows as the group moved away. He paused and looked up toward the ceiling at the small nodules which stared down at him. Creed shuddered under their scrutiny and he could feel the pressure of hatred pushed from the roof. Without the usage of additional lighting, Creed failed to notice many of the small nodules tremor and vibrate as he passed.
"Sir, we have a significant temperature drop". The mood in the Watchtower changed almost instantly with the information and the two tower guards leapt into activity within the confined space of the cabin.
"Explain" requested the tower commander.
"Atmospheric pressure indicates a massive pressure drop in temperature of seven...no eight degrees"
"Two seconds Sir" commented the guard.
"That’s not possible" breathed the commander, leaving his seat to check the monitors for himself. "A temperature drop of that nature, just isn't possible" he turned to his comrade, "is it?"
"Well Sir...we certainly have never experienced such temperature shifts before" he commented checking further readings. The commander crossed the cabin and stared through the open portal and up into the sky.
"No visible signs of a storm" he commented looking into the blue depths of the sky. "Not even a cloud..." he trailed off and looked at the sheet of paper which hung limp in his hand. "Better contact the other towers, see if they’ve had any readings"
"Yes Sir!" snapped the guard and stabbed a finger at the communication panel.
"Then prepare a potential Storm Warning...just in case"
"Wow!" gasped Cass as she stood in the center of the large cavern. "This is amazing". She spun on the spot, her arms spread out at her side and breathed in the majesty of the scene stretching before her. She marveled at the glistening sheen over the surface of the lake as light from the holes in the ceiling allowed sunlight to sparkle and illuminate in the dark water. She gripped Banjo's hand and pulled herself close to his body as she watched the water cascade from smaller tunnels above their heads and dive into the large lake, churning the surface and sending ripples across the water.
"What is this place?" asked Lotti, standing at the side of the Reverend.
"The stomach...or at least a stomach of sorts" explained Aston. "Those rocks are a mixture of calcium and fat deposits, while the lake itself is what we would define as digestive fluids"
Lotti nodded, "what does it eat?" she asked.
"Ah! now that I do not know" admitted Aston. "It certainly doesn't eat Humans...otherwise you wouldn't be here" he laughed as he looked at Banjo and Cass, "I would assume it could feed by osmosis or a similar way that whales feed upon plankton. But, I really don't know"
"And I'm afraid you will never have the chance to find out" the voice came from the tunnel entrance. The group turned to face the disheveled form of Creed standing framed in the gloom of the tunnel.
"You look like you've had better days" commented Cass. Creed looked down at his appearance at his blood stained clothing and smiled in their direction.
"They will clean" he said eventually. "Vicar..." he spat as his eyes locked onto those of the Reverend.
"Mr. Creed" acknowledged Aston. The two men stood in a silent standoff for a moment before Aston spoke softly and carefully toward Creed, "Please be warned about the path you are about to embark on"
"Like you give a fuck!"
"All life is sacred, even yours"
Creed roared with laughter before launching himself at Aston. He caught the Reverend in the mid-drift and lifted him off his feet causing the pair to crash into the soft muddy floor. His fist raised into the air and Creed brought it down hard onto the chin of the Reverend. The sound of skin connecting with skin brought a harsh sound around the cavern.
"Banjo..." urged Cass, "do something". Banjo moved forward under the request of Cass and grabbed onto Creed's arm as it raised above his head for a second time. Creed cast a look of pure venom in his direction, which caused the miner to release his grip and step back involuntary.
"Be careful!" snapped Creed.
"This is not your fight Mr. Jax!" shouted Aston as he struggled beneath Creed's weight.
"But nothing...get out!" he commanded. Banjo stood transfixed as he watched Creed, straddled across the chest of the Reverend and forcing his fist into the cheek of the Reverend. A swelling began to emerge from the side of the Reverend’s face as Creed brought his fist down for a third time, his legs pushed up against the holy man's arms. The Reverend spat blood from his mouth into the face of the dominate Creed as he lay helpless beneath him. Creed roared with laughter and thrust his hands around the Reverend’s throat, a twisted parody of a smile crossing his face as he placed pressure around the neck of the Reverend.
"Banjo..." urged Cass.
Banjo hovered between Cass and the pair fighting on the floor. He looked into Cass' eyes and turned to the struggling pair. He couldn't let her down again...he just couldn't and with a final resolve he launched his weight against the pair. His body collided with Creed, knocking him off the Reverend and sending him sprawling across the floor. The Reverend struggled onto his side, coughing violently as his own hands traced his neckline.
"Thank you..." he whispered hoarsely.
"Banjo!" shouted Cass, but too late to warn the miner as a heavy booted foot of Creed connected with his back and sent him sprawling across the cavern floor.
"Fucking idiot!" spat Creed and delivered a second vicious kick into Banjo's stomach. The ferocity of the contact caused an eruption of blood to spurt from his mouth and Banjo curled, clutching his stomach. Creed stood over the prone body of Banjo and stared down at the miner, rising his foot again. "Weak fool" he spat, "you really should learn to keep your nose out of other people’s business". His foot connected with the side of Banjo's head and broke the surface tension of his skin. A violent rash of blood exploded from the side of his head and stained the heavy boot of Creed who stood over the body with his fists clenched. Creed spat on the helpless form beneath him and delivered another kick directed at the head of the miner. Banjo pulled his arms over his head just as the boot swung, making contact with his forearm. He felt a crack and screamed pain coursed through his body as the bone shattered in his arm following the savage attack.
"Banjo!" screamed Cass, tears welling in her eyes.
"You'll see your boyfriend die!" spat Creed, taking his attention off the injured miner and mocking Cass.
"No she won't" Aston swung his fist into the side of Creed forcing his weight into the man's kidney area and forcing Creed to grip his body in sudden pain. Creed sagged momentarily under the sudden attack and the Reverend seized the opportunity and placed a punch into his stomach, winding his opponent. "Is he alright?" he shouted above Creed's moans.
Cass rushed to the aid of Banjo and checked over his wounds. Blood gushed from a gaping wound on his skull, while superficial bruising swelled his face. As he sat, he clutched at his arm as it fell limply onto his chest and he grimaced with the pain. "Oh my Banjo" cooed Cass, kissing his forehead gently. Creed forced his forearms into the back of the Reverend and forced Aston onto the ground where he landed a kick into the Reverend’s stomach. Aston rolled under the attack and pushed himself onto all fours, breathing heavily under the attack. Creed placed a second kick into the stomach area of the Reverend which brought a stream of blood to emerge from his mouth. Aston rolled onto his back and gazed up toward his attacker as Creed thrust his fist down toward his head. His reaction speed shocked Creed as the Reverend grabbed at his arm and pulled him to the floor. The two men rolled in the mud for a few moments as each attempt to gain a superior position against his rival.
"The floor's moving" whispered Lotti into Cass' ear as they watched. Cass hadn't noticed before, but the young girl was right. The floor beneath their feet was moving...only slightly but it was moving. She looked about the cavern for the first time since Creed had arrived. The atmosphere had changed...defiantly. The entire floor was moving as the two men fought. The water in the lake was beginning to bubble and the walls and floor were contracting as the influence of the men fighting. Droplets of water were beginning to rise from the lake and the waterfalls which fed the depths of the pool had stopped flowing.
"Storm Warning!" shouted the Tower Commander as the first of the rain fell over the colony. "Activate the signal immediately!" he ordered.
"But Sir...the sky" commented the guard.
"I know son" his eyes drifted into the sky toward the cloudless blue sky.
The siren from the Watchtower screamed out over the colony as water fell onto the buildings. The sound from Tower One echoed and spread across the Hope, Prosperity and Faith as it signaled its warning to the other three towers. Soon four warning signals reverberated over the colony.
Lorraine lifted her tear stained eyes toward the ceiling of the Central Dome as the siren of the Storm Warning pierced the dome's walls. She knelt cradling the head of her dead husband and wiped the stains of her tears from her face. "Michael" she whispered in his dead ear and planted kissed his as she allowed his lifeless head to roll to the floor as she stood from her position on the floor. She slowly walked to the door of the dome and looked out onto the causeway and watched for a moment as the water splashed in tiny torrents on the mud beyond the door. She cast her gaze back into the room and the desolate scene of the upturned wheelchair and the broken body lying on the floor by it. She walked slowly to the body and bent, placing her hands beneath his arms and pulled the body across the floor. His feet dragged under his weight as Lorraine pulled him over the dusty surface and the marks from his legs left an indelible imprint on the dome's floor. "We will be together" she breathed as she forced his body over the cold floor.
Lorraine paused on the threshold of the door and stared into the street at the rain as it fell into the causeway. She cast a glance from her bent position into the blue sky and wondered about the cloudless sky before she pulled the body from the safety of the dome and into the street. "If I can't live with you..." she whispered as the first drops of water burnt through her clothing and bit into her skin. With bitter resolve she pulled Michael further into the street before collapsing under her own weight in the middle of the causeway. She grasped at Michael’s head and pulled it into her chest as the water cascaded down her skin, slowly dissolving her clothing and biting into her body. Vapour rose from the couple as water made contact with skin and clothes as it slowly ate through to bone. She bit her lip, determined not to scream as death placed its embrace around her and tears mixed with the rain as they played down her face. "We will be together" she cried as the final breath left her body.
Water erupted from the lake and torrents shot into the air of the cavern in gigantic geysers of liquid, covering vast areas of floor. "Mr. Jax!" shouted the Reverend over the noise of the water eruptions, "it is your responsibility to get the women out to safety!" he ordered as both he and Creed circled each other. "I hold you personally responsible for their safety"
Banjo struggled to his feet and took the arm of Cass for support and ushered her toward the main opening. "We can't leave him" said Cass.
Banjo shook his head, "you heard him" he spoke quietly and Cass could see from his expression that speaking was hard and painful for him. She took his arm and led him from the cavern, with Lotti trailing behind them as water spat from pools and into the air. Lotti paused on the threshold of the cavern and glanced back toward the two men who were locked in an embrace close to the lake. A grimace crossed the Reverend’s face as he held Creed fast in an embrace and threw the man over his shoulder with a great effort. Creed crashed the floor and traces of mud splashed upward into the air in a cavalcade of dirt and water. He sneered at the Reverend and rolled to his feet facing down the holy man as he approached.
"You’re not bad Vicar" he spat as he swung a fist in his direction, missing as the Reverend pulled his upper body back.
"I told you Mr. Creed, my past is checkered with things that I am not proud of", he planted his fist into the mid-drift of Creed as he spoke and caused the other man to cough violently as his fist sank into the fleshy stomach. Aston swung his fist again, connecting in the same place for a second time before pulling his body away from Creed who straightened from the blow and spat bloody mucus into the muddy floor. Creed snarled angrily at the Reverend and swung wildly, connecting only with fresh air as once again Aston easily avoided the contact. As Creed staggered forward under his own influence, Aston swung his fist into his face connecting with the nose of Creed. He could feel the bone shatter beneath his fist as blood spewed from Creed's nose and pushed his head back. Creed staggered and stumbled under the attack and he collapsed to the floor panting heavily from the sudden exertion leaning in the mud of the floor on all fours, facing downwards. "It is over Mr. Creed" said Aston firmly as he glanced at the geysers of water gushing high into the air.
"No... your wrong" sneered Creed as he stared into the turmoil of the ground beneath his hands. He clenched his fists, collecting great swathes of earth in his hands and rolling onto his back, Creed threw the dirt into the face of the Reverend. "It'll be over when I say it’s over!" stormed Creed as the mud struck the Reverend full in the face covering his eyes and nose. Aston staggered backwards clutching his face, desperately wiping the dirt from his eyes. Creed lunged forward, tackling Aston and forcing him to the ground. He swung his fists wildly bringing them down one after another in a furious tirade of blows against the body and face of the Reverend who struggled in vain to protect himself against the bigger man's fury. The ground buckled and contorted under their bodies as new holes opened across the cavern floor, and new torrents of water streamed upward into the stale air. Creed stood over the battered body of the Reverend and hauled him to his feet, dragging him over the uneven floor to a geyser. Aston pushed desperately against the body of Creed, but the loss of blood along with the exertion of his defense offered little resistance to the other man's influence. Creed pushed the Reverend face into the mud close to an exploding geyser of water and breathed heavily watching as the water rose through the roof and out into the atmosphere. he sat across the back of the Reverend and placed his hands around his throat, pulling his head back close to his. "Now it’s over..." he whispered and dragged the body over the final few feet of the surface toward the water spout. Aston clenched his teeth as Creed placed his hands either side of his skull and used his body weight to push Aston's head forward toward gushing water flow. "Goodbye, Vicar" he spat. Water splashed over the cloth surrounding the Reverend’s shoulder and trickled onto his naked skin. The water bit at his neck as it crossed his skin and burnt his flesh as the Reverend struggled beneath Creed's intense grip.
He could feel the warmth spread through his cheek and the pain seer through his body as the water from the geyser spread over his cheek. He could feel the floor of the cavern lurch and contract under his weight and he could hear his own screams force through the air...no... wait, that last one. Aston realised they weren’t his screams, they belonged to someone else. The pressure on his body had subsided and the pain, although still there was not as intense as it had been and the sensation of water on his face had ceased. He hazarded to open his eyes as he asked himself the question, 'is this death?'.
Banjo held Creed at arm’s length, subdued inside the spout of water, his face a torn a bloodied mess, his hands swollen from the earlier incursion. The scream which rang through Aston's mind came from Creed. He looked at the half submerged body and could see a contorted howl of pain as water from the floor covered and dressed his entire body. He writhed in agony under the pressure, and his face twisted into a malleable smile of defiance as water pushed its way every conceivable orifice. Aston watched in morbid fascination as Creed's hair melted and traced the lines of his head, running along the sides of his face, twisting and playing with folds of skin which travelled following the course of gravity as great swathes of bone began to poke through cartilage and skin. The water tinged with a deep crimson as the skin from his face slowly dissolved, leaving a skeletal grimace as Creed roared with pain as the water ebbed and flowed. An eye popped from the socket, free of the influence of a fleshy eyelid and slowly wandering the expanse of his melting cheek, before settling desperately on his cheek bone. Banjo released his grip over Creed and staggered backward, falling into the arms of Aston.
"Thank you" breathed the Reverend as he held the miner in his arms. Banjo nodded and gulped in deep lungful’s of the contaminated oxygen which spun around the cavern. He coughed violently from his exertion and used the Reverend’s body to support his own. The Reverend looked around the cavern floor at the multitude of water holes which had opened across the floor, "I think we had better leave, don't you" he said. Banjo once again nodded in agreement and allowed himself the luxury of being led away from the scene of beautiful devastation.
A voice from the cavern floor caused them to turn as they reach the edge of the cave system, "Vicar!" Creed screamed in a last singular effort of defiance, "I will see you in hell!" he promised. They could see a parody of a man still standing submerged in the geyser of water, most of his flesh had been replaced by bone and slight traces of clothing still hung limply around his skeletal body. With a massive effort the skeletal form of Creed took a step out of the plume of water and stood staring with his one good eye toward Aston and Banjo. He raised a decaying arm and pointed with his bony skeletal finger in their direction, before the body fell in the disorganized pile of bones on the cavern floor.
"It’s over..." breathed Aston, "finally". He looked at the miner and felt a twinge of sympathy for him. Banjo's face was twisted and swollen, his face bore the marks of the rivers of blood which ran trekked over his head and his hands bore burn marks from the water. He shuddered at the thought what he must look like and with a final glance into the cavern, hauled the miner away from the cave.