For a time, there was only the roaring, the hiss of bubbles and echoes of fire reverberating through the hollows of the cavern, belated heralds of the fire that had swept the tunnel, consuming the very water and stone as it sent a deafening shockwave out through the narrow passages.
Yet, from above two of the dark reapers calmly released their holds on stalactites and arrowed through the roiled waters like blackened knives of death, utterly unfazed by what they had wrought.
Strong limbs propelled their ungainly but streamlined bodies effortlessly through the spreading cloud of bubbles and diffusing blood, webbed limbs stirring seeping hydraulic fluid from the ruined wreck of the gear into the mixture, their threshing motions of their passing and the convection of the flash-heated water disspipated the mist, as though the souls of their prey were for an instant tangible, but then banished and scattered by the mere presence of the reapers.
And as if they too verged on the noncorporeal, the hunters seemed to blur and weft into the darkness, merging with the black of the unlit tunnel and leaving the cavern an empty shell of death.
* * *
"Skt'ss, tsshss, ttk'ttk'sss." The foremost creature sibilated, squatting three-legged behind a stalagmite on the cavern beach, a blunt but menacing object not just held by, but melded and utterly merged with the fourth limb, and indicated a dim light ahead, a tiny glowpatch barely illuminating another worm-tunnel in the path.
Still, to the hunters, in the dimness it shone like a beacon. To eyes that were not eyes it shone in ways beyond sight, light drawing the darkness closer like the blood of a sentry attracting the glass sharks in the water behind the predatory shadows.
"Hsss't... sshshhss..." One of the followers responded, slithering sinuously from the water and toward the light like a creature born in nightmare, flaps and strange protrusions on its' back flexing and pulsing as it drew itself along the cavern floor.
At a distance of perhaps two meters from the feeble illumination, it paused.
Wordlessly, its three fellows undulated from object to object, slithering to rest near the edge of the illuminated pool, but venturing no farther, as if held at bay by the dim glow.
"Chk'chk." The follower clicked, then cautiously lowered its' forward half beneath the water, two of the other creatures grasping its' hind limbs in their powerful talons.
From beneath the water, dimly backlit by the glowpatch, the creatures' head seemed to change shape, a questing appendage sprouting from the side of it's pulsing visage, snaking down into the tunnel and peering into the darkness.
After a time, the creature kicked gently, signalling its' comrades to release it.
Like liquid oil it slipped silently beneath the glassy water, flowing through the short submerged tunnel with barely a motion before it reached the far end, a vertical opening into another cavern section.
Pausing just beneath the surface, it watched its' fellows enter the water behind it, sliding between air and water soundlessly, leaving only the faintest of ripples to mark their passage.
Turning to the surface above, a dim light visible faintly illuminating the cavern, the creature once more raised its' pseudopod, gently extending the tentacle above the surface, seeing in twinned vision as it relayed a view of what lay before them, signs of human habitation evident by the snaking power cables and dim lighting, and the stacks waterproof crates and boxes that filled the far end of the cave.
Dipping back beneath the surface, the creature furled its eyestalk, then made several slow gestures to the others, before suddenly darting upward, rapidly but silently sliding up to the surface and pulling itself into the air of the cave.
The three others followed, each soundlessly emerging from the water and mergeing with the shadows cast along the cavern walls and by the omnipresent pillars of stalactites and stalagmites.
Motioning to the largest of the followers, the leader and seeker converged upon it, tearing apart the chitinous hump-shell that covered its' back, withdrawing three black bonelike objects, coated with a viscous slime that dripped like blach ichor as the leader took and seemed to meld each object into its' followers limbs, the strange shapes formed to such precision the interface between tool and being disappeared, leaving them each with a swollen unlimb much the same as its' own.
* * *
From overhead on the catwalk Perrin heard the ominous sounds of his own doom. The whining tear of the grinder suddenly shrilling as a bolt was accidentally cut through, then the double splash of the severed parts were lost somewhere along the floor of the exit tunnel.
"Perrin, go get me a sixty-mil shear pin and two washers, now!" came the call, from that frigid bitch Marcella. It wasn't as if he didn't have better things to do, let alone act as her gofer. But with her constant bitching whine and sadistic penchant for dropping hot metal filings down on him when he was working on the leg actuators, he almost thanked her for giving him a momentary respite, rather than the all-too-frequent demand to hang off the scaffold lifting some damn thing up to or for her.
Someday... someday she was going to trip up he or somebody else would get a concrete excuse to break her fucking rat-nose. Maybe that'd teach her some fucking humility, he thought bitterly.
At least the storeroom was far enough away she'd get a chance to cool down. If she didn't fly into a fucking rage over how long it took him to get her another shear pin.
With that thought in mind, he hurried up a little. No use giving her more ammunition.
* * *
With the sound of approaching footsteps, the creatures seemed to freeze, their forms melting into shadow and stone as the human blithely approached, muttering to itself as it rummaged through one crate, then another, utterly unaware of their presence.
Then, with smooth and silent motions, one approached, calmly standing behind the unwary interloper, a menacing shadow looming darker than the blackness caused by mere absence of light.
* * *
There, damnit, Perrin thought bitterly, finally finding the appropriate bolt in the wrong damn crate. Looking at his watch, he cursed. Ten minutes if he hurried, and she'd probably only be bitching louder if he ran in. Something along the lines of "If you ran, why the hell did it take you so long?", probably.
Shoving the offending components into his coverall pocket, he cursed again and turned for the door.
Heavy Gear is © 2002, Dream Pod 9, Inc. All rights reserved. APAGear is not affiliated with Dream Pod 9 in any way. Submitted material remains the property of the creator.