The Hunger and The Hunted
I awoke to the feeling of cold stone. Belly down, I struggled to get my arms under me to pick myself off the ground and into a kneeling position. I began to feel some pain from my sore muscles. I must have lain here for a while. I blinked a few times and realize that- damn it, my sand goggles were cracked.
As my eyes adapted to the gloom, I began to look around the large chamber that I found myself in. Dark but for the bioluminescence of what looked like a wall-hugging moss scattered around the room. In outcrops, strange glowing crystals that look quite natural if it not for the curious light they emitted. I’ve never heard of a crystal that produced light before, nor seen one until now.
A glint out of the corner of my eye brought my attention to my watch and I realize that I’d been unconscious for a couple of hours. An uneasy thought crossed my mind. I hoped my squad was alright and I contemplated on the events that have led up to my current situation.
My section; members of Her Majesty; Queen Elizabeth II’s, Special Air Service of Great Britain. The original and basis of every other country’s special forces. Forged in WW2 to fight against Hitler’s Afrika Korps in North Africa. We’d been sent out on a long range recon mission to recently uncovered ruins in the middle of nowhere. All had gone well until we had penetrated deep into the ruins only to find an unwelcome surprise.
The ruins had been crawling with insurgents, probably Taliban, trying to find anything value to loot or destroy.
“Savages”, I cursed through tight lips, nearly spitting on the ground. But I restrained myself from doing so. No need to waste my water.
The insurgents had no respect for their own history. Looting historical treasure or outright destroying them. But were these lot even from the local area?
The section had been forced to retreat from the enemy, if only due to superior enemy numbers and the disadvantage of the location and no cover to be had. As we’d tried to disengaged, we had come across another enemy patrol.
Our retreat route had been blocked by the enemy’s reinforcements. We’d needed another way out, and our search had led us to a large chamber. It had a tall ceiling and strange symbols on the wall. The chamber was lit by holes in the ceiling with shafts of light illuminating the area. It had four entrances, one of which we entered by, were in the cardinal directions.
Around the circumference of the room were about a dozen or so, black menhirs. I wondered if they were even stone, they had a glossy sheen to them like glass. They stood a little taller than an average man.
At the centre there was a pit about a metre down with steps leading down into it. At the room’s centre was a massive black monolith. Despite being lower set, it towered over everything else and nearly reaching the ceiling of the chamber. Just looking at it unnerved me for some odd reason. The thing just felt unnatural. The room had a myriad of crates and other objects stacked up in places. It looks like it had been used as a storage area.
Then everything had gotten confusing with the insurgents hot on our heels. The section had taken up positions behind the black menhirs to try and catch our pursuers in a crossfire. Nobody wanted to take cover behind the weather worn crates, we had no idea what they contained and no desire to find out the hard way.
The firefight that ensured was a blur. To be honest I couldn’t remember the details of the fight. I was too busy fighting for me and the section’s lives. But everything stopped, not from either side but from an unexpected source. One of the insurgents had broken cover and was making a run for a better position closer to us. Yelling and cursing at us in his barbaric tongue. Only for his brains to be blown out the back of his head by a 5.56 round travelling around six times the speed of sound. With his gore and brains decorating the massive black slab of stone behind him.
The monolith began to glow and then its little fellows did the same. A high pitched buzzing noise could be heard at the limits of my hearing. Lightning appeared to dance over the top of the monolith. The lightning then arced down to the other menhirs.
The insurgents began to turn and flee, the first sensible thing I’d seen them do. The section and I started to make for one of the entrances.
I was farther away than any of the other lads. I slipped on the loose sand and fell onto my side, due to the weight of my pack. That was when I was struck by lightning. I felt an instant’s discombobulation and nausea and my world faded to black.
As I continued to look around, I saw an almost exact twin of the same black monolith, in that God-forsaken ruin. The massive black stone has a crack running down one third of it from top to bottom. I can see a lot of rocks and debris around the base. As my eye travelled up I could see from where the mess had come; a cave in. That is what had probably broken the monolith, I’d reckon.
I patted down my desert-camo clothing, my Osprey body-armour and gear I have on me, looking for any damage and finding none. Noticing though, that my cap is no longer on my head. I give the area around a quick glance around. Finding it on the floor just beside me. I bend over to retrieve it, give it a shake and a few pats. Once I’m sure that most of the debris is off, I return it to my head.
Checking my side arm, my trusty Browning High-Power. Still faithfully in its holster, as was my combat knife which is securely strapped to me in its sheath. My backpack and my reliable rifle; a L119A1 Assault Carbine, a holdover from my time as a Pathfinder from the Paras’, lay off to my side.
Slinging off my backpack and taking a knee, I began to go through the contents of my pack and mentally began checking off the items.
Nodding as I finished, I started looking at the debris that had been brought with me. A few crates here and there. I looked to check the contents, I found a pair of crates with what appeared to be a number of RPG-29s and the launcher. A bewildering array of Kalashnikovs and loaded accompanying magazines to go with and assortment of other weapons. But I would have given them up for a crate of food and containers of clean water.
“You can’t drink a bullet, but I could eat one”. That was rather depressing thought that ran through my head. I had to keep my mind occupied with the task of surviving. It would be embarrassing to me and more importantly; the Queen. If I survived all that to die here like a dog or worse; a Frenchman.
“Still, could be worse,” I mumble to myself, trying to look on the bright side.
I could have had broken bones, wherever I was. I knew I still had a few days worth of rations on my person and in my pack. But this whole situation had just turned in to one of survival, not combat. I have to concentrate on remaining positive.
I have no idea where I am. I knew what got me here, but not where I was sent. But one thing was for sure, “I’m not in fucking Kansas anymore”, as the Yanks would say. But I couldn’t just sit here, I have to find a way out of here. Then again, how would I make it back to base and my section? No, first things first, get out of this place before I run out of rations. Or more importantly out of water. So finding a water source at least would help me considerably.
That meant leaving behind a lot of the salvaged equipment. I had no need of my body armour, so that was some weight off my shoulders, literally. I wouldn’t leave either of my firearms and the combat knife would be useful. I pondered on if I would have to destroy my abandoned equipment, but quickly rejected that idea. I would just hide them in a crevice or under some debris.
It took me awhile to sort what I was taking and leaving behind. I checked each of the entrances to see if I could find a breeze or light source other than the crystals or moss. Each entrance looked the same, I would have to pick one and head out and hope.
* * *
In a small sepulchre deep in the cavernous like structure,was a simple crevice in a wall. An ancient entity remained, the last surviving remnant of a bygone era, when the cavern had been a place of life, not the lifeless tomb it was now. For all appearances it looked like a mummified husk, covered in eons worth of grime and dust that had settled upon it.
But that appearance was a lie. The husk was not dead. It had been more fortunate than its fellows. Cave-in or simply the march of time had rendered them to dust. It had become this way due to a lack of subsistence, going in to a form of deathly stillness. Its body’s own life energies withdrawn from the rest of its being, to be stored for when most needed.
However, after an age of neither sleep nor full wakefulness, but rather a type of stasis, it stirs. Its passive senses could detect something, something that was needed. Life force. Its ancient body instinctively responded to the “scent”, using what remaining energies it still had remaining to begin the process of rejuvenating itself. Its need to replenish its own exhausted resources, bring forth a needful hunger.
As the being’s body begins to reform so did the mind and will. The new mind is disturbed by a need, a need so strong that it becomes an mind-consuming oppression…. a hunger. A need for prey.
As the remnant’s body finished restoration of itself from it time of inactivity. It began to test its body, instinctively moving each part of its anatomy in turn. Paying no conscious thought to the creaking of its restored flesh under its taut hide. Barely noting the changes in its restored body.
It rolled its head to and fro, not paying any attention to the clicks and creaks of its body. Then it began to rotate its head as if actively searching, and raised its head to use its inhuman senses to search.
It stops as it suddenly found what it had sensed before. It fastens onto the presence it has found and then takes off to begin its hunt. Like an infernal beast. Using what it senses and its own memory to direct it on an intercept course. Its need to find prey irresistible, to slake its hunger or die in the attempt.
* * *
As I travelled down different passageways at a sustainable pace, I began to notice the corridors I’m walking though are covered in a thick layer of dirt and grime. The sort you get when dust is allowed to settle and become compacted over time. That was rather worrying in of itself. If there’s not been any foot traffic in what might be years, what’s the chance of finding a way out?
The moss is rather widespread here, helping to light my way in this maze. I’m trying to keep my mind busy to stave off the creeping feeling of dread. Dread of being stuck in a rocky coffin for all eternity.
On occasion I’d come to junctions in corridors. I’d get my glock feldspaten; a field shovel. A nice, handy piece of kit that makes a good axe. I began to use this to carve arrows with the time and date. They’d help me navigate down here and not end up travelling around in circles.
Due to my training, I’m not making the marks at eye level but at knee level. Not in plain sight or next to any eye catching features that would draw attention. At times, I have to fetch out my torch when the corridors are not illuminated by growths of the strange glowing moss.
My continued exploration of this place led me to a number of rooms that I hoped might offer some clue of where I was and how to leave here. Some of these rooms were empty and devoid of any sign of life. I was hoping for a map perhaps, but I knew not to get my hopes up too high.
Judging from the metal hinges on room entrances and the pile of dust I kept finding on the floor, these had probably been wooden doors that had turned to dust. From what I could tell from this place it felt like it had been carved from the rock then built. Some rooms appeared to be barracks, containing stone beds and tables in them.
A little way down the corridor, there were entrances to more rooms. These had stone and metal doors blocking my entrance. I can’t see any handles and pushing on them did nothing.
The doors were as solid as the rock around it. Not having any idea how to open them. I simply shake my head and carried on down the corridor, making my marks along the way where I needed them.
* * *
It had been here, the prey had been here! The beast circled the chamber, nearly overwhelmed by the prey’s presence. The mark’s scent was everywhere. In its mind, it could almost taste the sweet rich meaty favour.
The smell of oils and sweat upon its skin. It picked out tracks left in the disturbed sand. Though its combined senses, it began to piece together more details about the prey it was stalking. Man-prey, adult, male, strong, healthy, fit and with a strong life essence. Drool would have been running down its chin from its salivating, if it hadn’t been constantly swallowing by reflex action.
The reaver’s excitement was now palpable, its limbs tremble with the need for the moment. To find this meal, drag it down and feast until the insatiable hunger was alleviated, at least for a time.
The hunger was always there, gnawing at the back of its conscious mind, never abating, always present. In its excitement and hunger the beast checked any nook and cranny to make sure the prey wasn’t hiding. A sensation of disappointment was felt when its search yielded no results, but confirmed that the remnant’s man-prey was not present.
There was a great assortment of unknown smells as well, but these went ignored as they had nothing to do with the man-prey and satisfying the hunger. The beast went past each of the entrances barring the one it entered though. After finding the right one that the man-prey had used, it resumed its hunt.
* * *
I was making good progress. I felt like I had been at any rate. That thought came to a crashing halt, a feeling of nauseating dread descended upon me. As I’ve been looking for a path to freedom from this crypt like labyrinth, I’ve come upon a widening of the corridors. Slouched against the wall was an unexpected surprise; two mummified cadavers.
The first one didn’t raise too many questions; human in what appeared to be some kind of war-plate armed with what looked like a metal spear. The other corpse though made me, a professional soldier, stop and look hard, as my brain simply refused to believe what it had in front of it. Before me, in a deadly embrace was not another human or animal I could recognize.
It was roughly humanoid, with four limbs and a head at the zenith of it’s body. But that is where the similarities it shared with its unwilling eternal partner ended. The head was longer and more pointed, almost an animal like snout. The jaw is over-sized with large beast like teeth. From its head rose what remained of a large white mane, still attached to the dried scalp. Its chest was broad and I could see the muscle mummified.
The forearms were long and thickly built like those of a great ape. Unlike an ape’s arms ended in three sharp and robust claws. One of those said forearms was embedded in the human soldier’s chest. Although its legs were shorter than a human’s, they appeared thicker and sturdier. At least from what was left of the mummified hide covering it.
Another very concerning thing was that before this creature had expired. It had ripped a chunk out of the war-plate of the dead humanoid was wearing. The end of the forearm was resting in the chest. This is very likely have been the blow that killed him. I took solace in the fact that the inhuman creature had been speared through the chest by the warrior. If this thing could be killed by a spear then another one of its kind would fall to a modern assault rifle.
That meant I’d be facing something inhuman and unknown. This unpleasant discovery, produced a shiver of dread from the most primitive part of my brain. I gave myself a mental slap to the face, to ground myself. A few breathing exercises and telling myself it was unlikely I would come across something like this thing.
I rested my rifle up against the wall and undid my sidearm’s holster strap, just in case. I began to search the human’s remains for anything that could help me out of this place.
On the right side of the waist was something of interest. It looked like a well made leather pouch that could fit in my hand with a cord that could be used to close or open it. Unlike its owner, barring a layer of dust, it seemed to be in good nick which was really surprising. If enough time had passed, to mummify a pair of corpses, then the leather bag should have started to fall apart.
Opening the bag, I saw black void like mist. As if the inside of the bag has smog in it. I knelt blinking and shook my head at the little mystery, it had more weight than an empty bag should and there was a small bump at the bottom of it. Turning the bag sideways and giving it a little shake… nothing came out. Frowning I put my fingers in to see if anything of value and pulled out a fistful of what appeared to be golden coins and silver ones too. The coins were no bigger than Pound Sterling coins, but there were too many to make such a small bulge.
Having a quick around, I placed the coins on the ground and search the bag again. I pulled out a dagger in a sheath. It was like an old bayonet, but not as long. Meant for thrusting and stabbing between plate-mail and into the joints. What really got to me was that the dagger was too long to fit in the bag in the first place. Another mystery; maybe magic?
I snorted at the thought but I couldn’t argue with what I had in my hand. I returned the dagger to the bag and the coins, as gold and silver are generally good for trading and the bag weighed very little.
Whilst I did my bit of grave robbery, I unconsciously started to pay more attention to my surroundings. Something may still be down here with me, I had to keep moving. I placed the bag into one of my jacket’s pockets for safekeeping. Before leaving, I turn to look over the scene one last time.
“Thank you, I’ll take good care of it, you were one hell of a soldier”, I offer the dead warrior a salute. I hope he would approve, he had done his duty. I turn to the creature and I gave it a measured look at.
Just looking at it caused a freezing chill of dread run down my spine. It was obviously not human. And I shuddered to think of facing a living one in a fight.
I put my head back into gear and carried on. That was all I could do at the moment. I refastened the strap for my sidearm’s holster and drank some water from my canteen. After a few swallows I refastened the lid and carried on walking, with a more cautious feel to my steps.
* * *
The beast had been following the trail left by the man-prey for sometime. It ran on all fours, like it once had, but its spine had been in pain for a while now. Ever since its body had regenerated itself, it had been stiff and its limbs moved differently. It would have been quite disorientating, were the creature not starving. Entering rooms and chambers and corridors that the man-prey had visited in search of it.
It was getting closer and closer, the scent was becoming stronger and all consuming, such a strong and distinctive life essence. It came upon something else, in a widening part of the passageway. The horror had come across a pair of bodies. One had once been prey; man-prey by the look of it, in its hard-shell skin. But the body was dry and shrivelled now. Any whiff of life essence had long since vanished. This man-husk thing was just bones, with dry skin stretched over them.
The creature remembered the tough fights that the hard-shelled prey had put up. The remnant hissed and spat at it with venom at the man-prey cadaver. Lying next to the prey’s body sat one of the beast’s kin, it had won and lost. It had found it’s prey, had brought it down, but not before the prey had struck a mighty blow, killing its kin. As the beast continued to sit, it gazed upon its kin, feeling some primal urge that temporarily surpassed the hunger. Almost without realizing the remnant straightened its back, lifted its head and let loose a long agonizing cry that echoed down the passageways.
After the noise had ceased the remnant lowered its head. A strange sense of puzzlement had entered the beast’s mind; questioning why it had reacted so. As the beast sat there contemplating this strange feeling, the hunger rose its ugly head. Rudely reminded of its hunt, the beast took off in hot pursuit, leaving the dead behind.
* * *
I had just heard a cry from some distance behind me. The blood-chilling noise set my skin crawling. In that instant I realized something; I’m not alone down here. That was not some stray breeze causing a whistling through the rocks. That was an intentional noise, created by something. I was instantly reminded of the mummified creature.
I brought my rifle to bear, pointing it back the way I came.
Nothing, not yet at least.
I took a moment to search around to find some defensible cover, dig in behind and wait. I found myself in a large room, to which the ceiling had been held up by a single lonely pillar. That had given out and collapsed to the floor. Causing a small cave-in in the centre of the room and the pillar partly buried underneath the debris.
Enough of the pillar’s length remained unburied for it to be used as a fortified cover. As I took up a firing position behind the pillar and pointed my weapon back down the corridor. The wait felt like an eternity. My wrist watch insisted that it had only been a quarter of an hour since I had awoken. A shuffling sound brought my attention back up to the passageway. I prepared myself to see what was following me.
A few metres back, something rounded the corner. It stood on two legs hunched over low. The bad lighting was making visibility poor. What looked like a shaggy dirty mane, obscured it. Making it difficult to see any more detail then its basic outline then that. Brought my rifle up, not pointing right at it. But close enough to have it in my crosshair in a fraction of a second.
My trigger finger lay straight along the barrel, not touching the trigger. My finger wouldn’t unintentionally squeeze the trigger until I wished to open fire. There was still a chance this thing would leave me alone if it realized I was armed and dangerous. I was trained to use lethal force only if necessary. That and I want to conserve as much of my munitions as I could.
No such luck. Now having seen me, it lowered itself to the floor on all fours. A low rumbling growl emitted from the beast and it began to stalk forward.
Fuck it, I thought. It’s made its intentions clear, time to put it down. My rifle centred on the thing’s head, flicking the selector switch from safe to semi-automatic and brought my finger to the trigger.
Then the thing begins to emit another noise, a terrible shrieking sound. The sound hit me like a brick. The sonic wave scrambled my senses not too unlike a flash-bang grenade would have. My eyes instinctively snap shut, protecting themselves from the perceived danger. My survival instincts kicked in and my tortured nerves caused my hand to clamp down.
My finger pulled the trigger, rather than squeeze it, as I meant too. The shrieking cut out and was replaced with another. This scream is one of agonies. I’m able to wrench one of my eyes open. The beast must have collapsed, as it’s picking itself off the floor and then dashing back the way it had come.
It was in full retreat, it must be in shock from the sudden pain, spooked by the noise and power of the weapon and the soldier it had been hunting. I was still too rattled to line up another shot at it and finish the job. Much to my annoyance, it took me over a minute for my uncontrollable shaking to subside.
“What the fuck”, I hissed to myself. I didn’t expect it to have some kind of supersonic screech attack. It was time for me to get going again. I would need to pay attention for any sign of that creature. That fucking thing had done a number on me. If I hadn’t already decided to put it down, it would have had me.
That sobering thought made me realize how vulnerable I was. Despite the fact I had driven it off. I can only hope that it would die from the bullet wound or shock. If it survived, it may come back and attack again and more cautiously next time. I could be a lot more vulnerable then. But I had to carry on, staying here was not an option. When I was sure the effects from that monster’s attack had worn off, I gathered myself and set off again.
* * *
The man-prey was strong! The thought kept going through the beast’s head as it retreated from its prey. It smelled blood and meat, but not that of prey, but of itself! The hunger had blinded the hunter to the dangers that the prey could offer and this prey was strong.
Even the Voice had not stopped it. That too was too shocking for the predator to contemplate. The beast dragged itself into a small alcove in the wall. Out of view from down the passageway. Using its dwindling strength to heal the wound that had been inflicted upon it. The remnant looked down at its thigh, to inspect the damage that it had received. It took notice of a small wound the same size a finger-claw. A frown came to the brow of the beast, a wound that small couldn’t hurt this much.
Childlike curiosity causes it to push it’s finger-claw into the wound to see how deep it was. Unlike a child though, it ignores the stabbing pain. Deep, very deep! Only now, does the remnant begins to feel the wetness, running down the other side of it’s leg. A questing claw-hand reaches behind to investigate the enigma. What is discovered makes it freeze. The wound wasn’t just deep it had gone through the thigh and blown a larger ragged hole out the other side.
The damage to the limb was great, but not outside of the beast’s ability to heal. Had the damage been done elsewhere, to the belly, the chest or head… The man-prey was far more dangerous than hunter had believed. He could kill the hunter, easily. The shock at that realization overwhelmed both the pain and the hunger.
For the first time in an eon, the beast felt genuine fear. Could it avoid the man-prey? No, it did not have the means to go back into deep sleep. It would die. It would have to attack. But, how?
The beast sat there in its cold alcove and pondered the situation it found itself in. The injury has stopped bleeding and began to slowly knit together and heal. It needed to try something different, a new way to hunt, to attack from an unseen direction.
The remnant begins to feel exhausted. In this state of being, between wakefulness and sleep, mental connections are made that would not usually be considered. For the first time, realization dawns upon the beast, it is now more than it had once been.
Its endless hunger and the recent pain from its wound are temporaily forgotten. Or at least pushed to the side of its mind. As its body rests, the mind races with thoughts of how to hunt this new and more dangerous prey.
* * *
“Bloody tunnels”, I grumbled. I made sure to stop every now and then to make sure the beast wasn’t following me. I had found a number of other cadavers as well, both human and remains of beasts of the same ilk as the one pursuing me. Some looked as though they had been ripped to pieces and others remained intact. The human corpses wore a similar get-up to the first, and similar weapons. But no more of those weird bags.
I had finally located a tunnel with a set of steps leading upwards. The way up was dark and I can’t see how far the steps rise. Taking one last look around, I got out my flashlight attachment and mounted it to the rifle’s railings. Once I was sure it was on properly, I begin my climb upwards.
I must have turned around a hundred times to see if I was being followed by that creature. After a while, I emerged from the tunnel into a massive natural looking underground cavern with stalactites and stalagmites with both large crystals and fungus growths. I cautiously walk forward until I saw the ground give way to darkness.
A ledge. I stood looking over the edge into an abyss that my torch couldn’t fully penetrate. I gingerly back away, towards safety. I gave my surroundings a once over, looking for any way to continue onwards. I caught sight of a passageway carved into the wall, between a large boulder and large outcrop of glowing crystals. As I walk towards the passageway. I thought I could see movement out the corner of my eye. As my body begins to turn something dashes towards me and before I can do anything it was upon me.
* * *
Using its new found intellect, the hunter had caught the man-prey by surprise. Racing through adjacent corridors, climbing up many flights of steps- the ambush had worked! It had realized it needed to get in front of him. Then lay in wait, within the glare of the tall glowing things. Waiting for the right time. It had gotten close, so close, it could smell him and he was delicious. The plan had worked!
The hunter had jumped out from the glowing thing’s blinding glare. Smacking the weapon out of the man-prey’s weak hands, the hunter sent it clattering to the stony floor. However, the human didn’t stand around and accept his fate. He may have been slower and weaker, but the element of surprise was gone. As the beast tried grabbing hold of him, the man-prey managed to obstruct with his hands and arms- twisting and turning aside the beast’s strikes. It didn’t help matters that the glowing things were still partially blinding it, even though the hunter kept forcing him back.
It tries to use its Voice, but a solid blow from man-prey just below the ribcage put pay to that endeavour. Despite that strike, the hunter is forcing him back towards the ledge. He begins to lose his footing upon the uneven ground and the weight of the heavy pack on his back making it harder to hold his stance. Panicking, he throws out his arms to try and steady himself.
The beast lashes out with a kick, sending him flying backwards, towards the edge of the precipice. The hunter panics, fearing it will lose its meal if the man-prey goes over the edge. The beast leaps, aiming to land on top of him.
As it tried to land upon him, the man threw his legs up. Using the momentum of the lunge, his legs and back as a spring, he threw the beast up and over into the abyss. For several heartbeats the beast felt only confusion and weightlessness as it went on a one-way trip into the black abyss.