The dim light offered by the electric lantern was just enough to create dancing warriors of shadow race along the walls of the catacombs. Water drizzled in from the cracks between the hewn stone slabs that composed the walls and floor, the moss green stone covered in alien script. The tunnel was four feet wide and five feet tall, enough for Professor Davis Nickel’s diminutive frame to walk down without complaint.
Those with him weren’t as happy with their current lot, especially as they were all sporting heavy packs full of supplies.
Davis paused to raise the lantern over a cracked section of stone, the lined face ending in a trimmed white beard. His eyes, rheumy and foggy from decades of life passed, studied the chisel marks, bringing a withered finger up to trace the work for a moment, before snapping his hand back as if burned.
“Professor?” Huan, a Chinese-American that stood six inches taller than the old man, asked. She had short black hair in a ponytail, a form fitting sleeveless top, and a series of runic tattoos climbing the right side of her body up her neck and under her clothes.
“I’m fine,” Davis gasped, shaking from whatever had flashed across his mind. “A brief vision, nothing more.”
“What was it?” James asked, his British accent coming in stronger than ever. Jacob stood behind him with another lantern, the Polynesian student-turned-necromancer shaking his head.
“I don’t like this place,” Jacob said to nobody. “It feels wrong, the air is thick with something… I don’t know what.”
“The dead, most likely,” Davis answered, shaking his hand back and forth. “Great suffering happened here. These tunnels hold a lot of bad memories.”
“Anything useful?” James asked.
Davis turned to look over his shoulder. “Just that there are a few things still breathing down here.”
“You saw that?” Huan asked.
“No,” Lisa, the blonde-haired agent from the Foundation of Supernatural Research, said. Her cool demeanor seemed to be strained due to the water dripping down onto her shoulder. “There are footprints, look. In the mud.”
James and Huan looked down at the muddy water at a single footprint, long and deep, settled into the muck. Davis lowered his lantern to study the track, looking over his glasses with a trained eye.
“It’s old,” Davis said after a moment’s study. “Look at the edges, they’re drying. Had to be made within the last few days though, otherwise the water would have washed it away.”
“Why do we care about a muddy footprint?” Jacob sighed.
James smacked him upside the head. “We’ve been trekking through these tunnels for hours, without a clue s to where we’re headed. This is the first sign of anything remotely worth investigating. If something is running around down here, it has to have a lair.”
“Exactly,” Jacob said. “Who says we want to disturb whatever it is?”
“I love how we’re assuming it’s something, not a someone,” Lisa chuckled.
Huan sniffed. “If we encounter a someone down here, I’ll conserve the ammo long enough to ask them where the fuck we are.”
“This is the Realm of the Dead, my dear,” Davis said, looking back at Lisa. “Ukhu Pacha is an odd place for someone to set up a residence, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’m just saying, maybe it’s someone we can ask directions from,” Lisa grumbled.
“And I’m just saying shut up,” Huan said. “We need to get our bearings and figure out where the damn exit is.”
“The vampires said that we’d know it when we see it,” Davis said. “I wager we’re going to find something that is a marker. These caverns can’t be as endless as they seem.”
“You wanna bet on that?” James laughed. “We only brought enough provisions for two weeks, so we better find somewhere we can get more supplies soon, or else we’re going to go hungry.”
“We still have four days’ worth of food and plenty of water,” Huan countered. “Even with my eating, we’re fine.”
Davis squatted to examine the footprint while his students argued, one hand braced against the wall, so he could balance. He paused when he heard it, a low moan echoing across the tunnels.
“Shush,” Davis said, holding up a gloved hand. “Listen.”
Everyone fell silent, allowing Davis to listen at the distant sound, a chorus of moans echoing along the stone walls up from the darkness. Shadows crept forward as Davis pulled the lantern back, forcing his eyes to adjust better to the darkness in front of him. His fears were confirmed when he caught sight of the first of many creatures.
“Incoming!” He shouted, drawing his heavy pistol from his chest holster. “Aim for the upper body, blast off the heads!”
A screech tore the air as a mottled creature leapt from it’s perch some fifteen feet in the darkness. Gangly limbs of pale white, open sores leaked clear fluids as a scarred head reared back on a multi-jointed neck. The face may have once been human, but if so, the features had long since been worn away until only stretched skin covered the cranium and throat, deep set glimmering pools of ink acting as eyes that locked onto Davis. The mouth opened wide, revealing swirling rows of teeth, more than any human would have ever had in five lifetimes. They grew from the roof of the mouth and beneath the tongue, which slipped out like an anteater to lick the air.
“Light it up!” James shouted, unsheathing his Persian sword, a crusted old blade with a patina scabbard.
Huan’s hand glowed for a fraction of a second as the ivory ring on her middle finger expanded and flexed, growing into a spear in the blink of an eye. Her flesh warped and rippled as her extra mass shifted into corded muscle, her demonically enhanced frame supporting the transformation with ease. Jacob pulled a sugar skull from a pack on his hip along with a Desert Eagle, while Lisa lined up a shot with an AR-15.
Five more of the creatures clambered along the walls and upside down from the ceiling, choking the tunnel. All huffed and moaned, dark eyes promising pain to any who would get within their bony grasp.