Chapter 3: Present Situations
The gritty sound of claws against the rock face made her grimace as she clung to the Ravanian under her. There they were in the cave, hidden from the enemy the Ravanians called the Gatherers. They were a crude species with a cruelty and taste for blood and destruction. Chaos was their game and mayhem was the weapon of choice. Tearing down whole planets while destroying epicenters in one fell swoop.
The Ravanians had already come up against this species on their own home world and came away obliterated. Now, only a few handfuls of the Ravanians were left. Their Royal Family gone, wiped out before they had had a chance to react to the enemy, it had been a silent invasion that had caught the whole planet off guard. Chokan grimaced as he shifted, gripping the rock face as he supported both their weight near the ceiling of the cavern. The symbiote shifted with him, he had explained to Layla in the car that she resided within him in a mutual manner. He was her transport and protection and her his immune system and insanely fast ability to heal. Layla grimaced as Chokan’s claws carved deeper into the rock to hold their weight then stiffened as the sound of a familiar whiny hum filled the cavern. It was here, just at the opening of the cave and it sounded hungry for blood.
The thing at the entrance of the cave hummed enthusiastically as it sniffed the air with its tubular elongated nose. Its eyes were tiny beads of black on the sides of its head, shining with an acute intelligence. The things proboscis darting in and out, tasting the air for its next meal. The skin of of what Chokan referred to as a Gatherer was covered in parasitic creatures that scurried and danced across its body in rainbow colors and caused an eerie luminescence in the darkness of the cavern as well as against its own pitch black skin. Like a chameleon the parasites lent a kind of color camouflage to the creature, changing colors to suit the background when needed.
The beady eyes of the creature darted back and forth, scanning hungrily for any signs of life to devour. As Chokan stared into Layla’s eyes he grimaced when the enemy hummed louder and higher pitched. It was a tactic they had seen before, Ravanians had a keen sense of hearing and it caused pain when the enemy used this it. Chokan started to tremble as the crescendo of the hum from the Gatherer hit a peek, then started to sweat profusely as the hum plateaued over, hitting even higher in frequencies. Chokan grit his teeth and bore his primary claws down hard on the rock face, trying not to make noise. The symbiote shifted violently as his pain crested from intolerable to blinding waves of nausea inducing pain.
Layla frantically wracked her mind for a solution to alleviate the pain for him then it hit her. Of course, it was perfect. She reached around to her back pocket and pulled out two sticks of gum. Chokan glared at her for a moment before realizing what she meant to do with the gum. Layla slammed both pieces into her mouth and chewed quickly. Pulling the wad out of her mouth she split it into two pieces and stuffed one piece in Chokan’s right ear and the other in the left. He smiled as he shook his head in disbelief because it was working. It blocked the hum out just enough to make it tolerable to bear again.
Chokan grinned at her and nodded as she smiled back at him with a smart ass smirk that went from ear to ear. As Layla’s eyes darted past his left shoulder her grin waned significantly. It was standing right below them and sniffing vigorously at the air while that sickly proboscis darted back and forth, back and forth. Layla could feel her stomach churning with disgust, the smell that came off of this thing was like three month old decaying flesh.
She had never in her life smelled anything like it until running into one of these things 3 days ago and barely making it out alive. If it hadn’t been for Chokan stepping in between them she would have been another casualty. Either fodder for food or a slave to do their bidding. She had been told by him it was better to be food than a work mule for them. They were cruel and heartless, said to have zero emotion for the species they were destroying.
Layla gagged, it was bad enough her sense of smell could barely tolerate the stench but she wondered how Chokan handled it with his heightened sense of smell. Chokan glanced over his shoulder, following Layla’s line of sight then turned back to stare at Layla. She shrugged her shoulders while mouthing the words what do we do now. Chokan scanned the cavern ceiling for a crevice or rock landing, anything that he could use to his advantage. He grunted softly as his eyes fell upon a small rock face where the ledge came out just enough.
Grabbing Layla with one hand and clinging to the rock ceiling with the other Chokan launched Layla to the ledge. She landed with a squeak, her back to the wall. She had only enough time to blink as Chokan let go of the rock ceiling with his remaining hand, landing squarely on the enemy below him with both his secondary and primary claws at the ready.
He drove his secondary claws, glistening three in a row on each hand, into the Gatherer. It howled with rage while Chokan roared with triumph. Digging deeper with his secondary claws, pulling and shredding as he drove them deep into the back of his enemy. It howled again as he pulled his arms into opposite directions causing his claws to rip through the black flesh of its back sending a spray of green sludgy goo and multicolored parasites across the darkened cavern. Its double jointed legs crumpled as it collapsed in a sickening spray of slime that coated the cavern walls. Its beady black eyes staring at the Ravanian with pure hatred and contempt while the proboscis trembled then withered.
“Let the sight of my triumph over you be your last thing you see as you die my enemy” Chokan raged at the monster before him.
“Holy crap dude, talk about melodramatic,” Layla grunted from her not so prime choice line of sight, “dude I’m gonna bruise now and possibly puke. That’s thing is rank smelling.”
Chokan looked up and shook his head at her, humans seemed to whine about the smallest of injuries. She should have been grateful she was still alive to see the next battle. As these thoughts circled the Ravanian’s mind Layla screamed causing Chokan’s blood to run cold. It seemed the enemy was not quite vanquished and was making an attempt at a second coming.
Its slimy proboscis wrapped around his ankle and yanked Chokan’s feet from under him, sending him to the cavern floor in a crumpled heap. He cried out as the tendrils from the proboscis made their appearance to snake up his leg. While the tendrils carved smoky paths of acid across his left leg and toward his hip and stomach the Gatherer’s pitch black eyes stared into his with malice and greedy hunger.
In a raspy voice that shook the rocky cavern it howled with insane laughter. It was a voice not meant for verbal communications but rather grunts and hums, it was unnerving when it spoke with words, it lent a certain blackened horrifying air of evil to them.
“If I must die, then you come with me” the Gatherer grunted as the tendrils ran up Chokan’s left side, burning their acidic tracks deeper into his flesh. Chokan screamed in agony as one tendril buried deep into his side between two ribs, burning away his organic armor and his flesh. It was after the symbiote, going for a side door approach to kill her and subsequently him. It wanted Chokan to suffer long term and die slowly instead of quickly as it would come to it. Without the symbiote for his immune system Chokan was susceptible to every bacteria, germ and virus Layla’s planet had to offer. It would be a slow and agonizing death for him if Layla didn’t do something to stop the attack.
Layla searched first for a way down, finding a vine that ran along the wall she precariously leaned over to grab at it, nearly falling from the rock face the first few attempts. Finally grabbing it she tried to recall her days as a teenager sneaking out the second story window of her parent’s house and slowly made her way down the side of the cavern. She remembered it being a little easier than this back in the day, at 34 years old, not so much now. As her feet hit the sandy cavern floor she took off running in the direction of a large rock she had spotted in the back of the cavern near a natural water spring. Grasping desperately at the wet surface of the rock and yanking back she met resistance at first. Layla hadn’t realized it was half buried in the ground, again she yanked, desperate for a weapon to help her new found friend.
She yanked again as she started to panic and look for another source of defense when the rock pulled free with a force that knocked Layla on her ass. The rock slipped from her hands and landed in her lap on the way down. Great, more bruises to count she thought. Another roar of agony from Chokan prompted Layla to her feet quickly, newly found weapon in hand, to turn toward the scene of carnage before her.
The tendrils were now half buried in his side, his hands torn up from the acidic juices flowing from them and his desperation to pull them from his himself. The symbiote struggling beneath, roiling in terror as the tendrils were close enough to wrap around her. Layla let off a primal scream as she heaved the large rock over her head, nearly losing it over her shoulder. She launched forward at full speed ahead with her rock heaved over her and slammed it down on the left beady eye of the beast as it stared her down. Layla again heaved the rock above her own head and brought it down on the monsters over and over until she felt like her arms were jelly sacks of flesh. Her shoulders screamed in agony as she continued to beat the monsters head into a green bloody pulp. The black beady eye was gone, caved in with the rest of its skull from the rock beating Layla had administered to it.
Chokan’s hands stopped her, weakly catching the last thrust of her tired and weak arms in his hands, “The enemy is vanquished Layla” he whispered softly.
Layla stared first at the damage she had done then at the damage it had done. It didn’t look good for Chokan. The tendrils were still buried in his side and wrapped around his left leg. It seems the symbiote was okay, at least it looked like she was from the outside. Chokan stared back at Layla as she assessed the damage to his body, smiling softly at the courage she had displayed. It had surprised him as much as it had their common enemy. Perhaps he had underestimated the human species after all.
“Quite the little warrior you’ve become” Chokan chuckled, “I will heal eventually but this will slow us down quite a bit”
“You don’t say” Layla teased
Chokan shook his head and rolled to his injured side, gasping softly as Layla grabbed his uninjured side and helped him to a sitting position. After getting him into a tolerable position Layla moved to the back of the cavern going for the water spring. She pulled her bandanna off her neck and soaked it in the water. Trotting back to where he sat she began to clean the wounds and pull dying tendrils from his leg and side. The tendrils were no longer a threat, they were dying or dead now, shriveling into dust to her touch as she pulled them off of him. Layla’s mind wandered back to the beginning of her whole sordid journey to where they sat in the cavern. It was a long road they had come down and they still had a long way left. She looked up into Chokan’s eyes and shrugged her shoulders with a smirk. He returned the blasé gesture with a grin of his own and nodded his head softly. Boy, what a trip this had turned out to be she thought as she continued to clean Chokan’s wounds as gently as she could.
Already the less deeper wounds were healing before her eyes. The deeper ones would take Janka more time to heal, the symbiote was fine then. If he was healing, she came away from the fight unscathed and that was a good thing Layla thought.
“We will break for camp here in the cavern until I can heal enough to move on” Chokan said as he winced while Layla passed the bandanna across his ripped up side.
“Okay, we need a food source though” Layla answered back while jutting her hand over her shoulder and pointing at the water spring behind her, “We have a water source back there”
“Good and I can handle hunting for food as long as I do not come across another Gatherer” He grunted in disgust, “Another run in with them and I will not survive with the wounds I have at this moment”
“So don’t run into one dumb ass” Layla poked at him humorously.
“Smart ass” Chokan chuckled back as he waved her hand away while shakily getting to his feet. He limped toward the water spring in the back of the cavern. Using the reflection to survey the damage done by the Gatherer he grimaced and shook his head. It would take at least three or four days to heal enough to continue their journey and since they had lost what Layla called the car it would delay their trek through the rough terrain they were in.
He dropped to his knees as he dipped his cupped hands into the water. Drinking deeply then leaning over to dip his head directly into the cool waters of the spring. It felt soothing and cool to his scorched skin as he pulled pieces of his organic armor off bit by bit while drenching himself in it. Layla watched with curiosity as each piece hit the cavern floor, revealing more of Chokan’s naked flesh. When Layla realized that he meant to strip down completely she blushed as she let off a gasp of surprise.
“Why do you gasp in such a manner?” He grunted at her, “Have you not seen a naked male before?”
“Well, yeah but holy shit Chokan, you have no qualms do you” She blushed back.
“Qualms? What is this qualms you speak of?” Chokan inquired.
“It means you don’t care that you are naked in front of a person you only met three days ago” Layla giggled sarcastically.
“It is a body, what is wrong with being naked? You silly humans always making big moles out of little mountains” He retorted.
“It’s big mountains out of mole hills Chokan” Layla howled with laughter as she covered her mouth trying to hide her amusement at his mistake.
Chokan stared at her as he pulled the last piece of armor off and stood, giving her a Full Monty view from where she was in the cavern. As she blushed he grinned sarcastically while he turned his back to her to wash his wounds in the spring water. It was Layla’s turn to shake her head as she walked cautiously to the mouth of the cavern to inspect the waxing afternoon sun.
She wondered if his species was born abrasive as well as arrogant or was it culture that caused them to be so aggressive. It was a miracle that they even got along considering how rough he could be. She looked up at the orange and red horizon, night was falling quickly and they still needed to find a food source.
As if reading her mind Chokan appeared beside her fully dressed and ready to hunt. He nodded softly as Layla side stepped him to let him pass by her. She gawked at his armor, it seemed as if it too could heal from damage it had taken on. Layla would have to ask him about that later right now all she could think about was her grumbling hunger and tired aching body.
“You stay here, gather fuel for a fire” Chokan instructed Layla.
“But, I wanted to come with you” Layla said thinking nervously about being unprotected without him around.
“I will not be long Layla, you stay” he said harshly as he turned back to the mouth of the cavern. Trotting off at a moderate speed into the bush.
Layla grunted as she spun angrily on her heels toward the spring water in the back of the cavern. She figured it was her turn to wash up, at least she could have some privacy while doing it. Unlike him, she did have qualms about being naked in front of others.
She stripped down to her panties and knelled at the water, first dipping her hands into the pool of crystal clear waters and then her head. She cupped the water and drank greedily from her hands. When she was satisfied and felt cleaner she redressed.
Layla inched her way toward the opening of the cavern to peek quietly out. Looked like it was clear and free of danger so she decided to go hunting for some wood for a fire. There was some dry drift wood further up the beach and Layla headed straight for it. Picking a few medium pieces of drift wood she dragged them back to the cavern entrance.
Layla grabbed her hunting blade from her hip bag and went back out to find a few birch trees and some fodder for starting up the fire. She stripped the bark from a few trees that were growing in a tight circle at the edge of the bush. Trotting back to the cavern as quickly as she could. It made her nervous being in open ground for too long, almost too open and ready for the plucking, almost like a fish in a barrel.
She thought about the .22 pistol, wondering if she should pull it out but thinking better of it. What if she mistook Chokan for one of them, what if bullets he couldn’t heal from, what if she ended up shooting her own foot. She couldn’t heal the way he could and she doubted greatly that she wanted Janka near her insides a second time. Layla shivered at this last thought, she had felt violated but then grateful too. It was because of Janka that she was still alive but if she had been asked first she thought she would have preferred death to having that thing inside of her.
Layla started gathering rocks from around the cavern and beach to make a fire pit in the middle of the cave floor. No sense in burning themselves to a crispy cinder building their fire. When she walked back into the cavern her eyes fell on the dead Gatherer and she shivered. What the hell to do with this thing, she wasn’t about to touch it, it creped her out and the stench rolling off of in made her stomach roll violently.
She stared at it, her eyes running over the bulk of it’s blackened body. It’s head was all but gone from being beaten in by the rock Layla had used on it. It’s bug like arms short and grotesque, they reminded her of fleas with a side dish of fly. The rainbow of colors that crawled its body were dimming slowly, florescent little bugs were scrambling violently in droves off of it, as if trying to escape the dead flesh. Layla cautiously approached the carcass of the beast covering her mouth and nose with her wet bandanna. She nudged it with her sneakered foot and then passed around it eyeing it wearily for any signs of life.
As she pulled together the rocks she had gathered her eyes kept darting back to the Gatherer laying dead in the middle of the cavern. The light of the day was waning quickly now, turning from orange to red. The cavern was darker and Layla’s mind raced with horrifying thoughts of the Gatherer jumping up just like in the horror movies to make a second appearance. She shivered violently and tried to push the thoughts away but they kept creeping back like a bad case of the heebies.
Layla sighed, done with her task she laid down the pieces of drift wood into her newly made fire pit. She searched her hip bag for the matches she had slipped into one of its many pockets. When she realized they weren’t there she started to panic, then realized they were in the back pack. Layla stood up and searched for it, she couldn’t remember where it had gone and then realized it was still on the rock ledge above her head.
“Damn it” Layla grunted, “now what”
She looked at the set of vines she had used to scale down the cavern wall, there was no way she was strong enough to scale back up them. Not this exhausted anyhow. She stepped toward it with forced resolve, she needed that damned back pack and the matches that were in it. It was getting cold now, it was still on the cool side at night in Elliot Lake and with the winds off of Oompa lake it would be even colder soon enough.
Layla froze as a rustling noise caught her attention, her back was to the dead beast behind her and her mind raced sickeningly with thoughts of tendrils dancing around her body poised to strike the deadly blow from behind her. She turned around slowly, her heart beat deafening in her ears as it thudded away in her chest.
She nearly screamed when the furry thing jumped up to lick her face then started laughing wildly. Her laughter echoed across the walls of the cavern as she petted the grey hound that had snuck up on her. It was gray with black and white spots, eager to see another living creature and very happy with it’s long whip like tail smacking Layla’s thigh enthusiastically.
“Where ever you came from bud, I’m happy you did” Layla giggled as she pet the dog on the head. She turned back to the set of vines with a renewed vigor and grabbed at the first one she could reach. She began to haul her self inch by inch up the vines, it was grueling work and Layla’s arms began to scream their protest to the torture they were enduring.
She reached the rock ledge and grabbed at it, nearly missing the first attempt and falling. A second grab produced a more satisfying result and she was up on the ledge staring down at her new found companion while he barked and whimpered. He was running around in circles nervously as Layla began her trek back down the vines. She shook her head as she tossed the back pack to the ground hopping she hadn’t busted anything doing so and cautiously grabbed the vines. She shimmied her way down them at a slower pace than she had up them and when her feet finally hit the ground the grey hound bounced around her legs happily as he wagged his ass around in joy at having her back with him.
“Well don’t get all in a tizzy now, I knew what I was doing” Layla laughed as she patted his head again while he licked her hand.
“Well, you think we should start a fire bud?” Layla asked the dog. When the dog cocked it’s head to one side with an ear straight up and one flopped over Layla flew into a fit of hysterical laughter at the sight of him, “I think I’ll name you Mr. Gray, lets go start that fire before Chokan gets back huh”
With the dog at her feet with his new name and matches in hand Layla knelt down beside her makeshift fire pit to busy herself with the task of starting a fire for the three of them. She wondered how Chokan was making out and what he might think of the new comer to their little unlikely group. She sighed, if it weren’t for the Gatherers and the threat she found herself thrust into she could almost swear she was just camping in the rough, if only it were the case she thought wearily as she struck the first match to light the fire.