Chapter 4: Stir (Part 6)

Jade awoke, and immediately regretted it. 

For one, her body hurt like hell. A sharp burning sensation shot down her limbs, so painful that her violent thrashing reaction would have injured herself further if she had the ability to move. That was the second problem; no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t control her arms or legs. She was on her back, and could roll herself slightly, but her dead limbs were weights anchoring her down. She tried to look around to get her bearings, and realized that she couldn’t see anything either. So either it was really dark or…she tried not to think of the alternative.

The final problem, and just as worrying, was that despite being potentially blind and paralyzed, she could feel the ground moving underneath her back. Someone had placed her on some sort of cloth, and was slowly dragging her forward to some unknown destination. For all intents and purposes, Jade was helpless, and that was the thing that bothered her the most.

There wasn’t much to go on, but she could hear the slow, almost shuffling footsteps of the thing that was dragging the cloth. It was breathing heavily, but not from exhaustion. Jade couldn’t tell if the noise sounded human or not; it was slightly high-pitched like a girl’s, but also raspy…and wet. Every so often the thing would cough up some mucus and spit it off to the side. All in all, it didn’t give Jade a lot of confidence about her captor.

“Hey, so I’m not exactly sure what you’re planning to do with me, but you should know that somewhere out there is a very angry, very fat man who will beat you within an inch of your life when he finds out where I am.”

The thing didn’t seem all that threatened.

“Not to mention the fact that if you try to hurt me in any way, paralyzed or not, I’ll rip out your freaking neck. Spit once if you understand.”

It groaned and then spit again.

“I’m going to pretend that actually means something for both our sakes.”

She was relieved to notice that her eyes were slowly adjusting to the dark as faint rocky outlines appeared in her peripheral vision. They were inside a massive cave system of sorts, possibly deep underground.

“Hey, this doesn’t happen to be the same tunnel system as the one near the Oasis, right? Because that one had this nasty habit of occasionally filling up with fiery death sludge, and I’ve been burned enough for one day.”

To the complete surprise of no one, the creature didn’t respond.

Jade sighed.  “You know, my partner could take a lesson or two from you. Seems like he only speaks when no one wants him to.”

Just as the cave path began to get narrower, lit torches started appearing in small enclosures carved into the wall. At first there was only one or two scattered down the tunnel, but the further they went, the more torches appeared, until Jade could see clearly. To her surprise, the walls of the tunnel were engraved with an intricate pattern spiraling along the ridges of the stone. In time, it didn’t even seem like a cave anymore, but an ornate stone passageway, with columns and arches leading off into branching paths. Whoever or whatever had created the area was more civilized than anything else Jade had seen in this world so far, and yet the chamber was completely empty. In essence, it was a ghost town.

No, that wasn’t entirely correct. Jade could see things moving out of the corner of her eye, but they were too close to the ground for her to get a good look given her position. Whatever they were, they seemed to be crawling in the direction the creature was dragging her. The destination was clear; a large stone archway at the end of the area, shrouded in darkness. Jade felt the pit in her stomach grow deeper.

For the first time since Jade had woken up, they stopped. She felt the creature let go of the sheet and walk towards the archway, revealing itself as it grabbed a torch from the wall. At first Jade thought it was some sort of mole creature or zombie, but after a moment she realized it was a human woman. Barely.

The woman looked half-dead, her pale and almost rotting skin showing beneath the tiny remnants of what used to be clothing. She walked with a limp, as if she had just learned how, or hadn’t walked in years. Her hair was a patchwork of spots where it had either fallen out or been turned into a dread-like clump of dirt and grime.

Jade had seen her fair share of destitute peasants in the fantasy genre realms and would have written her off as some crazed rustic if it wasn’t for the gore covered New Balance tennis shoes the woman was still wearing. She looked at the woman’s face and belatedly recognized her as an older, and mildly decomposing, Diana Braunwald.

“Well, damn, I dunno if your parents are going to want you back now.”

Torch in hand, Diana grabbed the sheet and dragged Jade further into the chamber. The things that had been moving along the ground were much more abundant here, as if the floor itself was writhing. Worse, they were slimy, and some had begun climbing over Jade’s chest in their scramble to get to wherever they were going. They were red, almost like a chunk of meat, but moved like slugs.

“Diana, listen to the detective with years of experience. Rooms filled with hundreds of gross slime creatures is never a good thing, no matter what you think. Maybe we could turn around and…”

As Jade finally saw what was inside the chamber, she realized what the slug creatures were. The reason they looked like chunks of meat were because they were chunks of meat. Thousands of pieces of flesh and bone, crawling together and fusing themselves into large humanoid shapes that silently stood inactive throughout the room. In a far corner, she even saw the one they had blown up earlier, the one Eden had called “The Minotaur”.

In all her years of hunting them, Jade had never faced more than four or five at a time, even in the most dangerous conditions. There were over a hundred in the chamber.

Anomalies.

“Shit.”

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