It was cold in the cave but not as cold as the icy terror that gripped their hearts as they prepared to enter the tunnel.
Blood from the hapless victim still dripped down the wall nearest the body, denoting that his death had been recent.
Pisky stepped carefully around the body. Footprints, both human and inhuman covered the sandy floor. "He was running for his life", the pixy
explained, pointing to the tracks that led back into God knew where. "They caught him here".
Erisian groaned and moved closer to Valerius.
KayEm followed her husband, treading carefully over the corpse. The stench of death was almost unbearable.
Unarmed as he was, the old slave had had no chance against the maddened creatures that had hunted him down like a hunting hound tracks a wounded deer.
The question was, how many were left ?
Valerius held tight to the shivering Erisian; "If the slave is here", he asked, "where's Helena ?"
"That's what we have to find out", Pisky replied and moved to lead the way down the tunnel.
A moan of terror reached the pixy's ears and dragged his concentration back to the cave. Erisian stood shivering in Valerius' arms, tears shining in
her eyes. " I can't go in there", she groaned softly, "Please don't make me go in there".
Valerius ruffled the girl's hair; "You'll be ok pet", the legionary said, "We won't let anything happen to you".
Erisian detached herself from Valerius' grasp. Shaking her head vehemently she stood her ground. Her mouth was clamped shut, the tears now pouring
down her face. "I can't" she whispered.
Pisky thought quickly. "Take a horse", he said, "Go back and tell Asala that the old slave's here". Erisian slumped in relief as the pixy spoke,
feeling that she had been reprieved from a sentence of death. "Tell her that Helena may be here and that we could do with some backup". The girl
nodded her agreement as Pisky continued; "And tell LC that we need Phoebe too. And a piece of Helena's clothing".
At that, Erisian flew out of the cave, her relief tangible in the foetid air.
"I thought only bloodhounds could track people by scent", Valerius said as he watched Erisian leave the cave.
"Feck knows", came the reply, "But it's worth a try".
"So are we waiting here for them ?", KayEm asked, hoping that the answer would be a positive one. The pixy nodded. "You pair stay here", he said,
looking down the tunnel and listening with his sensitive ears, "I'm going down there a way". He gestured to where the tunnel turned and headed
downwards. "Best to recce out the area before a group of us go in. Plus its easier for one to get there and back without being seen".
"Do you really have to go ?", asked KayEm, but she already knew the answer.
"I'd rather not", came the reply, "But there could be anything in this tunnel. Its best we know what we are getting ourselves into rather than
just charging in blindly".
With a pixyish grin, Pisky crept quietly towards the bend in the tunnel. He made no sound at all, a legacy of his pixy upbringing, as he moved along
the dust covered rock. KayEm and Valerius watched as the light from his flashlight got dimmer, eventually disappearing altogether as he rounded the
curve, then they rapidly left the cave to seek comparitive safety in the woodlands outside.
It seemed hours later when KayEm and Valerius heard voices coming from behind them, but it was probably less than one. Sighing in relief, KayEm strode
to meet the approaching group who turned out to be less than happy to be there. LadyCool dropped from her horse, muttered an almost inaudible curse
and waited, hands on hips, for Phoebe to catch up. From KayEm's position, the dog could be seen evacuating her bowels just beside a fallen branch
not far from where Sarah was now tying her horse's reins to a tree. "Ewww Gross !!!", cursed the New Yorker as she almost stepped in the dog's
steaming residue. Phoebe grinned happily, gave a yap of relief and rushed off to her mistress' side.
"Is that all then ?", asked Valerius as LadyCool and Sarah approached the cave entrance, "Sodding two
"Benjj and Pantha weren't there", LC replied, "They'd already started searching. Erisian was having a fit and crying her eyes out so Asala stayed
"What about the fecking Praetorians ?"
LadyCool glared nastily, "A couple wanted to come with us but that bastard Simplex wouldn't let them. Said they were needed in the village. What a
load of bollocks that was. Bunch of wusses !" LadyCool crossed her arms and sighed in annoyance. Phoebe sat down and began cleaning her nethers with
"No one best mess with me today either", Sarah exclaimed, "I ran out of cigarettes last night so I'm not happy. plus
these heathens don't
have any coffee !!!!". She let out a growl of annoyance and tapped her feet in expectation; "So is anyone going to tell us what's going on ?
Fecking Erisian was worse than useless. All we got was that the slave who took Helena was dead and that you needed help".
KayEm shrugged her shoulders; "That's about it", she explained, "Pisky is inside the cave taking a quick look. What happens next depends on what
"Bugger all, I hope", LadyCool said, ruffling Phoebe's ears. The dog wagged her tail and licked at LC's face.
"umm ... LC ?" Sarah looked quite green.
"Guess what Phoebe was licking a few seconds ago ?"
"What ? ... oh my god !!!"
LadyCool pushed the dog aside and flew to her saddlebags. Returning with a bottle of water she meticiulously washed her face before giving the dog a
look of utter disgust. Phoebe did have the grace to put her tail between her legs and look
penitant, but the laugh in her eyes told a different
KayEm was still grinning when a sound from the cave entrance made them turn as one. The pixy was back, and he didn't look happy.
"This is getting weirder by the minute" said Pisky as the group sat some way away from the cave. Phoebe was in the doghouse so spent the time
snuffling around the undergrowth looking for something to eat.
"I was walking for about twenty minutes", the pixy continued, "when I saw what looked like a door set into the left hand wall of the tunnel. Well,
to be a door, I suppose. Now its just a piece of torn metal. In all the gap is about five feet by five feet. There's a control box on
the right but that's been smashed. It leads to some kind of a cavern. Its as dark as hell inside and the torchlight didn't show much. There's no
fecking way I was going in there - there was a strange sound too, like rustling. It's my guess that that's the chups hidey hole".
"Rustling ?", asked Sarah, "What's that mean ?"
"Like the noise animals make in their sleep. A snuffling sound. Anyway, I've seen all the 'Alien' films so there was no way I was going in there
alone to end up as some bastards dinner".
"What happened then ?"
"I planned to carry on for about another twenty minutes before coming back. I'd got about half way when I reached the end of the tunnel. Another
door. Same state as the last one, but this time there were lights. There was a small corridor like in a hospital which ended in a T junction. Strip
lights on the ceiling, tiles on the floor. Could be some kind of medical facility. Anyway, I was about to go in when I saw one of the chups drop from
the fecking ceiling and head my way. So I fecked off smartish, reckoning that if I blasted it away, the sound would carry and I'd moreas likely wake
the other bastards. I didn't fancy that one bit".
"So what next ?"
Pisky considered all the options. "The logical thing to do would be for the lot of us to feck off back to Stokesay and leave this place to the
chups. The problem is that we don't know where Helena is. We assume
that she is in there", said the pixy gesturing towards the entrance of
the cave, "But we can't be sure. That said, if she is
there - and she's still alive, we can't just leave her there".
"So we're going in" Valerius stood quietly and made sure that his pistol was loaded and his Gladius slid easily out of its scabbard.
Pisky nodded. "We go in very quietly, get to the end of the tunnel and into that facility, then see if Phoebe can track Helena. Assuming she's
there and also assuming she's still alive".
"I knew you were going to say that", LadyCool said in resignation, standing and checking her own weapons.
"One thing", the pixy explained, "We have to go very
quietly. That means Phoebe too. No chasing after chups and definitely no going into
that cavern. If we can get in and out without trouble we'll do it".
The tunnel was worse than Pisky had described. Dark and claustrophobic, the walls and ceilings seemed to press down on the travellers as they warily
trod the dusty rock floor. Both Sarah and LadyCool had turned white when they passed the dismembered corpse of the old slave but to their credit did
manage to do so without curses although Sarah did fall foul to an uncontrolled retch.
Pisky led the way, having already scouted out the area. KayEm followed, with LadyCool and Sarah in tow. Valerius took the last position, his eyes
scanning the walls and his ears alert for unnatural sounds. Phoebe was tucked tightly under LadyCool's arm to ensure the dog didn't disrupt the
proceedings by chasing after errant chupacabra.
On they went, the tunnel twisting and turning, until Pisky held up a hand and turned to face them. Leaning forward conspiratorially he whispered a
warning for utter quiet. "The cavern is just up ahead", he said, "No going in, no hanging around - just get past it as fast as possible".
Hearts beating like triphammers, the group moved as one towards the doorway embedded in the left side of the tunnel. There was a strange smell issuing
from the entrance and as Pisky had explained, there were noises reminiscent of many animals sleeping. Pisky took a deep breath and passed the gaping
hole where the metal door had been ripped open. KayEm followed. LadyCool swallowed, shivered, and put her hand over Phoebe's muzzle. Then she rapidly
crossed over and joined her companions.
Thinking how good a cigarette and cup of coffee would be right now, Sarah followed suit with Valerius close behind. Seeing that everyone was past, the
pixy continued the trudge through the tunnel. After about five minutes a definite upwards incline was obvious and soon afterwards, they reached the
The door had been ripped open from the inside. Jagged edges showed where something amazingly strong had slammed into one inch thick metal, tearing
into it like butter.
"Feck me !", muttered Valerius, "I didn't think they were that
"I don't think a bog standard chup did this
", LadyCool explained, "That one in the roundhouse cut through wood
but it would never
have got through this thing in a month of sundays".
"That reminds me", said Pisky, leaning though the hole and scanning the lighted corridor, "What day is it today ?"
"Bugger ! - I fecking hate
Sarah leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. "Are we going in or do we just wait around for a wandering monster to eat us ?"
"Well, I could always shoot a fireball at it and fry it", the pixy grinned.
" Sarah was not impressed.
"D & D"
"D & D ???"
"Dungeons and Dragons. Wandering monsters ? - Fireballs ?" Pisky shook his head and gave up.
Holding his pistol in front of him, the pixy stepped gingerly through the ripped open doorway. "Mind that spiky bit", Valerius enjoined, "Or
you'll never have any pixy babies".
Pisky grimaced and stepped higher.
The corridor was of standard medical build, all whitewashed walls and tiled floors. Strip lighting illuminated the area. A couple of the lights were
dead and the one at the very end near the T junction was flickering pitifully.
Listening carefully for any sound, Pisky crept towards the junction and peered out. To his right a wooden door had been torn off its hinges. To his
left, the corridor continued for about 30 feet before turning off. Gesturing to the others to follow, Pisky strode quietly to where the door lay in
pieces on the floor and carefully entered the room.
A single glance was enough to tell the pixy that there were no chupacabra in evidence. Unfortunately the same could not be said for human beings. Or
rather what used
to be human beings until they came up against an unnaturally alien force.
It used to be a guard room of some kind. That was obvious enough. A few tables were scattered around, a broken monitor hung from cables on the wall. A
rack of weapons lay shattered on the floor with the rifles scattered around. And all around was the stench of death and the remains of the facilities
"Corporate militia", the pixy said, pointing to the insignia on the body of one soldier. "The poor bastards didn't have a chance".
KayEm stepped into the room, heading towards where a pile of rifles lay on the floor beside the broken rack. Atter her shock of seeing the dead slave,
she had prepared herself for more horror. Feeling sick to her stomach, she nevertheless managed to keep it under control. Sarah and LadyCool stood in
the corridor looking white and wishing to be anywhere but where they were.
Most of the weapons were useless. Broken apart in a frenzy of destruction that left their original owners as torn apart as their rifles. KayEm picked
one up. "What's this thing ?", she asked, "I've never seen a gun like it".
"Must be new technology", Valerius replied as he entered the room and looked around.
KayEm dropped the broken rifle. "Here's one that looks ok" she said, stepping over a shattered chair and picking up another weapon. She hefted the
rifle and sighted along its barrel. Nodding appreciatively she approached a broken cupboard and began rummaging around for ammunition. This done, she
stepped gingerly around the bloodied coprses and left the room. Pisky and Valerius rapidly followed.
With KayEm and her new toy leading the way, the group of intrepid adventurers followed the corridor past the T junction and along to where it made a
ninety degree angle to the left. Another broken door, another shattered room. This time, however, there was no evidence of human habitation. Just
broken crates, shattered bottles and what looked like a hospital bed. On they went. Every now and then they would come across vandalised rooms and
dismembered ex-members of the Corporate Militia, but there was no sign of the chupacabras. "They must all be in that cavern", Pisky mused after
leaving yet another damaged room with the tell-tale marks of chupacabra claws on the wall.
It was KayEm who made the discovery. Something so utterly unbelievable that even if video evidence existed, people would insist it was just a hoax.
Yet another door. Yet another room. But this one was intact, as if the violent creatures who rampaged through this facility had halted in their
bloodlust and left this one room alone.
The door was steel with a security lock embedded in the wall beside it. The lock had been wrenched apart and the door stood slightly ajar, moving
silently as KayEm pushed at it with the barrel of her rifle. Inside, all was pristine. Immaculate. The only evidence of the chupacabras was outside,
with the damaged security lock. KayEm entered, followed by Pisky. LadyCool put Phoebe down and looked around. The dog stood stock still, sniffing the
air. Sarah shivered at the coldness, which was far lower than normal room temperature.
In the centre of the room lay a table. It was a standard metal affair usually used for autopsies. A figure lay there covered with a large green cloth.
Sinks lined one wall, with cupboards and racks on the other. Medical diagrams covered the otherwise empty wall and there was a door at the far left
KayEm walked over to the table. Grasping the edge of the covering, she pulled it away, expecting to see the face of yet another militiaman. Or maybe
that of Helena. She certainly was not expecting to see what she did.
Staring up at her were the large black eyes of an alien grey.