The rain stopped, and rather it began to rise from the ground, spiraling into the sky back towards the clouds, and the ground itself began to shake beneath their feet. Not enough to throw them off their balance, but enough to stir up their need to stay still. The grass around them began to writhe as if they were bugs, sprayed with toxins and fumes that killed them, yet countless legs and wings clenched and spasmed for life and escape. Leaves carved their gruesome paths through their neighbors, cutting beheading roots and leaves as their roots pulled themselves from the ground just to slap and wrap against one another.
Then some began to pull themselves from the ground, then began to float, moving in a pattern.
Then it became clear that this was not levitation of any kind, nor some flinging of spasmed muscles like ants who's just could snap harder than their bodies weighed. Something they couldn't see was moving, a singular entity whose feet gathered roots and leaves as it encountered them, approaching from a stone's throw away. Each step gathered more, broken and stretched leaves and roots pulling upward on its legs that appeared to be broken and disjointed, full of holes that bore through itself over and over, they passed over one knee, then another, hole after hole, bend after bend, thorn after thorn. It was mishappened, an ugly twisted torso like a puddy toy wrought about too many times by careless hands of children, and a head that possessed a singular hole. Arms dragged down, claws scratching the earth to gather more leaves and roots that began to hang off it as veins pealed from flesh.
"Ignorant arrogant pulsing beat assumptions."
The words echoed from its general direction as if it couldn't manage to localize a source. They were old words, one without proper meaning, without vowels or syllables or syntax, they were garbled and wet and gnashed with things that should not be that had roots and fangs. Yet, despite the interference, with a pulse of hateful translation, each of them would understand it, though it was not comfortable to do so. At best a throb of pain, at worst the splitting strike of a headache.
"Each night you rested and slept and dreamt and believed that your beds would protect you, that your rooms would remain safe and your houses unbreached. You took for granted the fact that your beds and rooms and houses would not let you come to harm from the things that stood at the end of your bed, driving off the shadows that grew too tall and the edges that grew too sharp. This is not your world, and this is not your bed. Make no mistake wisps and beetles, I am not here to haunt you, you've haunted me for eons, and now you dare scratch at my door."
The earth began to give way, melting below them all as roots and leaves wrapped about their legs, holding them down as the earth claimed them all, sinking them as the hateful crooked thing glared at them with its empty face that echoed the sky beyond it. Even the flying drones of the reports were grappled and brought to the wet dirt by angry vines. All at once, the earth below claimed them, and all went black.
According to the drones and machines, six hours passed. Those that recorded video or data recorded a garbled mess of things, indistinct humming prevalent through all of the footage, the sounds of dragging and scraping and strange worlds that held no origin in the darkness and green flashes of something in the distance. At the end of the six hours, they would be flooded with new light, no visuals, disorienting as all came back, and the dampness of a cave greeted them all. They would all be fairly dirty, any illusion of cleanliness thoroughly stained by whatever brought them to this place. It was a large cave, and aside from the fairly flat sandy bottom that their feet would sink slightly into, it consisted of jagged angles and roughly walls and ceilings that doubled and tripled in on themselves.
It was dark, but they could all see at least silhouettes of one another, as the sand beneath them glowed a soft blue. Around them, aside from the horrid walls, their path went directly forward and directly back, the pathways nearly identical.
And it was quiet, the jagged walls refusing to echo sound, and the sand seemingly trying to absorb as much as it could. They were alone, and no signal pierced their prison.
Benji swiftly got to his feet. He began looking around trying to figure out where he was. As he took in his new surroundings he began to well up with fear. The kind of fear of waking up in an unknown place. "Hey? Is anybody else around?" He asked nervously, his accent sporting something of a drawl that indicated he was from Arizona Colony.
Whatever impotent anger Gut-Stripe still felt evaporated when the rain around them stopped and reversed, turning her head to and fro, then extending a hand to catch a few of the retreating droplets. "Something is wrong," the I'ee stated the obvious, steadying herself as the ground shook and drawing her sword again. She remained silent and watched the writhing grass with alarm, soon catching sight of the accumulating leaves and roots. As the amalgamation drew close, the warrior seemed confident enough that whatever force was responsible was far from benevolent and drew her side-arm without a word, letting out six, cracking reports as she dumped the magazine's contents at it. It was then that the thing spoke to them and Gut-Stripe let out a shriek of pain, dropping her firearm to the ground and clutching at her head, only just managing to keep hold of her sword.
The speech being shoved into their skulls seemed to particularly affect the I'ee, her knees trembling and giving way until she had slumped to the ground in a quivering, agonised mess. Such was her incapacitation that Gut-Stripe did not muster any resistance as the ground dissolved beneath her and bound her in roots, dragged into the earth without a sound. When, after hours of darkness, the party had come to, the I'ee still lay in a cloaked heap upon the luminescent sand, having lost her hat and her sidearm somewhere along the way. She had managed to keep hold of her sword, clutching it close to her chest. It was not clear if she was unconscious or not.
"Oh, you got to be shitting me!" Despite her snarl of growing anger and frustration, the blond held her place and did not move. Did not breathe. Did not blink as she quivered in rage. For her, time slowed enough for the fiery hot edge of her temper to cool, and cool just enough that she didn't simply aim her replica antique pistol and empty its magazine or gaze it to death. She knew what this meant, and she hated every single moment of it. She hated the way it railed at them. The way the world trembled back with its own hate, and the way she was simply Punished, put in a corner and made to wait. And wait.
"GAH!" Bolting upright, flesh and machine melded as her mind reassembled itself. She hated the feeling. It was like being sliced in half before dragging herself back together. "That fucker," she cursed, her teeth grinding together with a rage that now simply smoldered like embers. "Screaming for somebody to come and throwing a bitch-fit when the wrong people arrive," Ylfa quickly checked over her pistol. Her hand had mechanically locked in place, refusing to let it go, but that meant it had been dragged through the dirt. And reputation or not, the truth of the matter was that this was a less than perfect design. "Yeah ,yeah, I hear you!" she snapped at Benji. "Hey, the rest of you assholes! Get up!" she scrambled to her feet, brushing away the dirt around the hammer before racking the slide and catching the ejected bullet mid-air. "Who's still alive? We gotta get off this rock!" Eyeballing the I'ee and seeing her state, Ylfa's smoldering anger was stifled. Finishing the function check and loading the mag, she holstered her gun and knelt by Gutstripe.
"Hey. Um, you ok?" she hesitantly asked, reaching out to gently nudge the alien.
She turned the words over in her head. The indignity. The offense. "There are two groups? One sending out a Siren's Call and the entity that is this place that does not want us here?" She mused out loud. "Are we food?" With a groan, she pushed herself up from the glowing sand.
"Strange reads. No signal either." TEC states. "Right..Well, I don't know if we are being eaten but let's not stay here for long." Marble states. TEC turns on its flood lights. The thicc-robot looks around the cave. Marble looks to the other members of the crew. "If you need food, water, medical supplies then ask Tec over there." Mable points to the big robot.
"That's me. Right here." TEC waves. "I always come packed."
The words of the thing echoed in his head. His pulse pounding in his head, he doubled over in pain. Each word felt like a needle being forced into his skull. As the darkness closed in around him, he tried to scream but nothing came. Dirt filled his mouth and he lost consciousness.
The next he knew he felt his face resting on something soft. He opened his eyes to find himself kneeling behind Ylfa with his face between her butt cheeks. His cheeks darkened as he scrambled to his feet and backed up against the wall. "Are we dead? Is this heaven?" Claude asked, looking around the damp cave with alarm.
Reaching into his vest he pulled one of the two emergency filters out and popped it in with another oxigen tablet letting out a sharp hiss before coughing before standing "i dont know turtle boy, can the short stack not piss off a planet to the point were it knocks us out for..." checking his cybered arm's pda "six hours !?! thanks alot you waste of space cyber tot, you might have just doomed us all." walking off twords gutstripe he asked "you ok?"
Their depth, or their location, was impossible to ascertain. Unless even more laws of reality were somehow bent and broken, it could be assumed that they were on the same planet that they had landed on just that day, though inexplicably deep within its confines.
The pain of intrusion for the I'ee was not a calm one, nor was it one that seemed to make any logical sense. It was pain, forced translation from something never meant to be translated, but more than that, it gave the warriors surroundings a different purpose, new definitions, a shifted perspective of what she was looking at. More than anything, though some things such as the sand and glow were too faint to define in this new syntax, one word would creep into her mind from something bent and broken beyond perception. The nooks and crooks and twisted bridges of hated stone that bent and broke in every conceivable way around them, above them, and almost assuredly, below them, beneath the silt they stood upon.
All at once, as they began to regain their senses, the tunnel pulsed with life. Ahead of them, in the winding tunnel, a soft blue glow, much like the sand, began to pulse out, filling the cave, barreling towards them lazily like the calm breath of a giant. The source of the glow hit them all at once, a cold mist that shared the glowing properties of the sand, like the cold lick of air as one climbed from a pool. Though it continued for several seconds, it quickly passed, the pulse of life, of faint blue in the great dark, vanishing deeper into the sandy tunnel they inhabited. More than this, however, as the pulse of mist ran past them, the sand beneath them sprang to life, the first layer shifting and flying with the breath, but among it, visible odd beetles took flight, hoping to catch the breath as it ran past, some succeeding as they buzzed off with it, others failing, instead plummeting back to the sand as if they dove to water, vanishing in its grain.
They were strange bugs, segmented and hard-shelled, the size of honeybees, at worst lazily bumping into whoever or whatever stood in the way of their abrupt flight path, buzzing as if annoyed by the setback before slipping into silt. Broader than they were deep, nine sets of jointed legs sprang them forward before their hard shells locked open to reveal paper-like wings of bronze. The bugs themselves were colored blue, much like the mist that they so desperately sprang to catch.
Minutes would pass, and another breath would come from the same direction, summoning more of the broad-eyed beetles to spring forth to catch the draft before it left their station. Quiet, though unmistakeable through the buzz of the odd bugs, a deep hum accompanied each breath, shifting and warping as if to form words, though none ever came.
"I am going deeper," Gut-Stripe declared suddenly after the second 'pulse' passed them by and set off down the tunnel, opposite to the direction the 'breaths' were travelling, seemingly intent on finding their source. The I'ee did not wait for the others to give their blessing, nor even for them to follow her. She seemed deeply focused, her earlier pain forgotten.
Taking one himself he bent it till it cracked and glew a green hue before slotting it in one of the bandoleer loops. "As bad as it sounds I'm a bit more excited I might get to see a answer for something I've been studying for a long time." Moving to fallow Gutstripe he shuffled through the luminescent sand every now and then shaking his mechanical arm to get any sand out of it.
"Hey, I wasn't reacting to everything with violence," she defensively replied to the turtle-man. As the gravel shifted and the strange azure breath came however, Ylfa couldn't help but tense, hand on her gun as she stared down the source of motion. However, as it quickly became clear just what was happening though, she relaxed just a little.
"Scarabs?" the blonde furrowed her brow. "That thing called me one earlier," she observed, running a finger along the crease of her bra to pick out stray bits of gravel from her cleavage."I know they're a kind of dung beetle, but does that mean this blue stuff is, well, something's shit?" the woman shuddered at the idea. Letting out a sigh, she followed the I'ee warrior. "I really hope this isn't a trap or something, though we got nowhere else to go." Looking back at Hope though, she finally replied, "I honestly don't know how many groups there were, or who was asking for what, or if there's more than one of those things, but all I know is that we gotta get the fuck out of here."
"Don't worry Sam, Tec has extra oxygen tanks in its steel pack, if you need." Marble notes. "Well, where we are going? Tec has a flood light to guide us in any dark and provides a nice buffer between whatever that wants to kill us. That is, if it can be killed with bullets."
Tec speaks. "Don't forget our small little bug friend. It'll be a waste, if she dies." Marble nods. "It would."
"Who's leading? I'm not, you don't trust me." Marble looks towards Tec. "How about Ylfa?" The robot notes as it looks at the pirate.
He looked up from the ground and saw that the others were getting ahead. Without a thought to whether or not proceeding towards the blue glow was a good idea, he quickly scurried after the other members of the expedition. Hope's discussion of sacrifices to the Gods got him thinking again. "Why leave us conscious? Maybe it feeds off of us in a more abstract sense." He suggested, somewhat hopeful. "I do think you're right, though - the being on the surface mentioned things haunting it. It could be that there's something else here opposed to the creature."
The absence of the Captain of the ship only made itself known to him when he was following behind Hope. "The Captain, Chance... Think she ended up somewhere else?" He asked. The other possibilities were too much for him to consider right now. Sure, he was brave and confident when civilization was just a shuttle away. Trapped beneath the dirt with a bunch of strangers and the possibility of actually dying? That was far different than any situation he'd been in as an adult.
Memories of his first days on Kowloon with no family to speak of came to mind. Months spent in the hospital with no clue where his parents were had been traumatizing. Even now he still refused to go anywhere near a hospital despite the views exploring haunted hospitals would bring in.
Benji took in the sight of the insects, rising to retrieve that glowing breath. Then shortly after more banter continued. Then another one of those breaths came down the tunnel. The light was important due to the fact that Benji did not have his PDA on him. He did, however, have a small clear trash bag in his jacket pocket. As the breath came on, Benji shook the bag loose and used it to swiftly catch some of that light.
No stretch of the strange cave seemed to go far, before another violent twist brought it out of view, the odd winding twists of the floors and ceilings making odd shapes out of the corners of their eyes, often appearing as if something dark, something grim was peering beyond the corner with sightless eyes. However such visions never moved, and when either approached or glanced at from even the smallest change in angle, they vanished as little more than the product of overactive pattern recognition. To each and every one of them, something rang out to them, subconscious, that this was not a place they were meant to be. Like the inner hallways of a school at night, when all the children and teachers went home. Wasted space, rooms and floors meant to be walked over and occupied but, for some odd reason, left bare.
For Gut-Stripe in particular, the gusts of the strange glowing mists held something other than brief respite to the stiff, warm air. Each gust held whispers, words, and shards of conversations that just barely touched the ear. Worried hushed breaths and quickened words as if they intended to get more into the air, only to be cut short as the lazy gust blew past, never hurrying, yet never caring to wait for either the bugs or the words. None of the others heard the words, but then again, perhaps none other would grasp their meaning.
”...Not enough for…” “...In the soot…”
“...Hurry it on…” “...Can’t feel my…”
“...Where is the…” “....Doesn’t feel right…”
“...What am I…” “Who are the…”
The words were familiar, yet not of voices or specific people, but of tone. Like I’ee that she hadn’t met, hives and colonies of distant families and the strange vocal tones they might take from such separation. Some sounded confused, breathy as if exasperated or exhausted. Others sounded panicked, on the verge of breaking apart into their episodes. More than anything, something strange is that it almost sounded as if they didn’t know what to say next, as if there was a pause between their final word and the final crux of the gust.
It also seemed that, despite the blank space in time, that the entity that had targeted Ylfa had not left her mind unbothered, stones unturned birthing something new in the pirate’s mind. One scarab flew too high in a gust, abruptly smacking against the bridge of her nose, for a brief moment, its spread wings and flattened face encompassing her vision like a bronze-blue blur. For a moment longer, despite it abruptly buzzing down to the ground, its outstretched wings reflected the upper half of a face, something impossible in the span of that mere moment, yet something she could not deny to have seen. It was as if something had rushed to her, pressing its temples to hers, its eyes a mere breath apart. She didn’t need expansive time or a clever eye to recognize the eyes, after all, they were the ones she looked at in the mirror every day growing up, until her new flesh encompassed her.
More solid than anything the others felt, the cameras of Hope and Claude would catch something strange, only under the illumination of the bursts of glowing spray. As the mist came and passed them by, obviously they caught the image of the small liquid drops hitting anybody in its way, like rain lightly tapping against people caught in it. However, they could count several spots each time where it seemed like the spray was hitting, and being stopped by, people who were not there. Invisible silhouettes who only appeared because, on camera, the spray refused to pass through them.
The further the focus of the camera was from those silhouettes, the more visible these ‘people’ were, with the ones at the very edge of the screens even having a dark, shifting shape to them in the mist, which solidified further if the eyes of those looking at the screens glanced back towards the focus of the image. Each figure was still, standing or sitting in different positions, all of them seemingly in some state of woe. Some stood with their heads tilted down, others were only vaguely humanoid, in some position that made it difficult to tell the orientation of, others sat with their heads between their knees, and more still huddled close to one another, as if bracing for a storm.
To add to this strange phenomenon, though neither camera showed that it held any signal at all, or was even broadcasting, the symbol for the broadcast still showed, with a single viewer on each feed.
A scarab would fly to catch the passing wind, and, seemingly purely by chance, landed in Benji’s bag. At first, it only seemed bothered, sliding against the plastic to try and reach the silt below, only to hit the bottom of the bag. Once it seemed to realize that it was stuck, even though it was in the caught mist, it began to panic. Its wings beat noisily against the inner folds of the back, segmented legs scrambling for grip and traction downward, twitching and buzzing with annoyance, agitation. While blocking their path or holding them briefly as the others had seemed to only annoy them, Benji had incidentally angered this one.
As Sam reloaded, something would occur to him, a memory that’s recent nature seemed to have hidden until he looked within his rifle and its spent rounds. Each shot had sped through the mass of vines and roots, burning and singing what it touched, but barreled right through the invisible entity as if it wasn’t there. Despite his firing upon it, it had not reacted and instead behaved as if he had done nothing at all. Moreso, his rifle held an unusual, light level of rust, as if it had been pressed into a light layer of water, then left to the environment for a day without maintenance, far more than six hours would procure. To add to it, the air in his oxygen tanks tasted sharply of iron.
The lights provided by Marble and Tec did not illuminate far, though it brightly brought about the shape of nearby jagged rocks and the odd color of the sand below, it seemed as if the air itself shortened its range, dimming their effectiveness within feet, and in the distant reaches of the tunnels they walked, doing little more than creating more strange shapes in the jagged rocks that threatened them with forlorn vague concoctions of their own brains making.
It was an address to the voices, carrying the promise of protection and comfort to them, if only they could rendezvous with one another.
The mystery of the single broadcaster, "I'm hardly getting a signal here but I have 1 viewer. Maybe the someone that did this is.. watching us? Like they do on that reality romance show Zombie Date?" She added, trying to hide the tremble in her voice. "The feed is showing.... others here."
He didn't see the viewer until Hope brought it up. "Interesting and unsettling. Could that thing from above still be watching us somehow? The cameras shouldn't know that... unless.." Claude trailed off, thinking about the two different Ylfas and his comment about a different version of her. "Could it be another me watching...?"
Benji opened the bag to release the beetle. "Sorry little buddy. I wanted to keep the light in the bag for light if I needed it, but holding you isn't okay.."