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Stranger With Candy
By RD Rivero



“Stranger With Candy”
By RD Rivero
August 1, 2000

His feet splattered the mud of the deep, soggy pools that littered the
undergrowth.  Sometimes the brackish water would spray into the air to
land upon the crumbling barks of trees, sometimes it would hit him in
the face and he would stop to wipe it clean with his arm.
On his back he carried an overburdened sack, bulging with  hints and
outlines of the package that lay hidden, unseen within.
Alluro’s work, his self-imposed chore, was nearly complete, he just had
to find the right spot.  He stopped for a moment to rest, weary from his
last, nocturnal encounter with Chilla.  He set the bag on the ground and
then sat himself on it.  Above, he could see through the branches of the
trees that the sky was not as dark as it had been only minutes before
when he left the sanctuary of the underground ruins.
“To live for you,” he said facing the ever-brightening heavens.  “To die
--” his eyes roamed over the earth, the dungy earth.  Rotted, decayed --
perverted.
Surrounded by a receding, gray mist, he saw animals, slump around in the
stench of the humus, wallow in the infested mud, bloodied, beaten, skins
raw and peeling.  One of the smaller rodents lay across a rock and
flopped onto its side, ants and worms crawled out of its nose and
between its teeth -- its last gasp inaudible.
In sadistic pleasure he laughed -- then he was struck by a loud, booming
sound.  His ears perched, he arose to see the Thunder Tank approach from
a distant, murky path.  Alluro went back to his work -- and quickly.  He
did not want to be discovered, not before he was done, not before his
plan was complete.

[Part One]
>From a hollow trunk, burst apart by the violence of that night’s
torrents, birds and small animals scurried into the distance, into the
shadowy murkiness of the undergrowth.  Trees circled with luscious vines
and flowered foliage hung low toward the wet earth, soaked in a heavy
dew that trickled loudly around fallen, moss-covered logs.
The last great storm of summer passed early that morning.  The sun
ascended above the peaks of the tall, eastern mountains and flooded the
valley with crisp, yellow sunlight.  Thick, black clouds dissipated into
gray mist, convoluted by sputters of lightning.
The Thunder Kittens and Panthro practiced in an open, quiet clearing.
The crass was soft and ankle-high in most parts -- unicorns often grazed
there and travelers were known to stop for moments of peaceful, tranquil
bliss there.  The Amazonian women frequented the area during their
mating season, they believed their ancestors once held a strong
fortress, a castle long ago consumed by the earth, in or around those
grounds.
The youngsters had been given knumbchucks: a red one for WileyKat, a
blue one for WileyKit.  The boy fluttered his weapon in the air in a
mocking display for his sister’s amusement.  “Ah!” he winced -- one of
the carved ends hit his face above the right eyebrow.  In shock he let
the instrument fall.
A rustling came from the trees but none turned to see.
“Ha, ha, serves you right --”
“Will you two pay attention?” the panther called from behind -- he
appeared from the air, from nothing.  He then walked up front several
feet before them.
WileyKat reached down to pick up the weapon.  He stood close to his
sister, too close for comfort.  “WileyKit, move away from your brother
or else you two’ll be hitting each other.”
Satisfied that there was enough room to maneuver between them, Panthro
began:  “Now,” he said, “I want you to feel the knumbchucks in your
hands -- feel them, know them.”
WileyKat tried hard to follow the instructions.  WileyKit tried her best
to hold back the impending laughter.  “Snap out of it,” she scolded
herself.
“Weigh them --”
“Ha, ha ha,” she giggled and quickly covered her mouth with her hands.
Her weapon dangled, hanging limp between her fingers.  “WileyKat, stop
that!” she said to divert attention away from her.
“Me?  And what did I do?”  He looked at her and laughed and dropped his
weapon again.  She let out another giggle but that time it was forces,
noticeably forced.
“Can’t you two pay attention?” Panthro asked annoyed.
Eyes stared at them from the bushes -- a devious smile, too, but both
went unnoticed.
The twins practiced for several minutes getting to know their weapons.
WileyKat gained a little control over his clumsiness.  WileyKit wheelded
hers like a pro.
“The lighter one you’ll hold on to, the heavier one you’ll twirl in the
air.”
Panthro had them spinning their knumbchucks.
A cold wind.  Trees around the scene swayed and bent in the
bone-chilling current.  It was undeniable that the summer season had
come to an end.  Soon they would need to find a more temperate location
to drill their marksmanship.  Thankfully, after Skytomb's untimely
demise -- after the engines exploded near a pool of evaporating methane
-- and all the Lunatics had perished, much of Third Earth was safe to
enjoy again.
The chain on WileyKat’s weapon snapped and the heavy end was sent flying
into trees.
“Watch out!” he cried.
“It landed near those bushes,” Panthro said.
“I’ll go get it,” the boy answered.
He broke away from the triangle to the patch of forest that jetted into
the field.  He disappeared in the shadows within the green vegetation.
WileyKit had kept her eyes on him until -- she looked up in surprise.
Panthro had put a warm hand on her shoulder.
“Ah!” her brother screamed and she looked away from the older, studlier
Thundercat.  “Ah!” came a second shriek, then a third, then a fourth
followed.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“WileyKat’s spotted something.”
He ran into the forest, she was hot on his trail.
At the end the two found WileyKat on the ground on his knees throwing up
a noxious, yellow-red, runny substance, one streaming mouthful at a
time.  Little bits of white meat floated in the slick mess, in the
puddle that had formed on the ground between his legs.  Weakly, he
pointed to a nearby bush.
WileyKit stood still in shock, neither approaching, neither backing
off.  Only Panthro dared to approach.  The whole world was silent but
for the sounds of their collective hear beats that resonated through the
trees.
The broken part of the knumbchuck had slammed down through a thorny,
prickly bush, its leaves were unnaturally brown, crisp, barren even for
that pre-autumn weather.  Intertwined within the hedge were two naked
bodies, bloated and transfigured.  The hands and feet were tied together
over the backs.  The ropes had, in time, rotted through the green-gray
flesh of the skin while bulbous fungi grew from open scars.  The
stomachs had been cut open in an ‘x’-shaped incision.  Entrails had
flopped out onto the ground, petrified.  Parts of bones and organs had
been removed -- flies, beetles and crawling maggots had taken their
place, an army of ants scorched into the crisp, sunburned blood vessels.

The heads were covered in black, leather bags.
He did not want to, he would have turned and ran away but -- he was
driven irresistibly onwards to do it.  One bag was tied tightly in place
by a thin rope that came away cleanly to his sharp claws.  The bag
nearly shot out like a projectile, so concentrated were the waste gasses
that had accumulated inside.  A green haze evolved from the sorry
sight.  He gagged but he did not stop.  He grabbed the top of the bag
and in his fist he pulled off the cover to reveal --
“Ah!” he screamed, he darted back, he fell to the ground and crawled on
his hands to the youngsters who looked on wide-eyed.
The body he had disturbed turned and slunked forward involuntarily.  The
head had been skinned clean.  The jaw had been removed, the tongue
drooped lifeless.  An eye fell from its bare, open socket but did not
fall to the earth -- it was still connected, attached to the head by
thin, shriveled nerves and blood vessels, worms and maggots slithered
through the gore.
“Get back, get back to the Thunder Tank,” he said, he screamed like a
young girl, shrill-tongued, “get back at once!”

[Part Two]
The cluttered basement of Cat’s Lair was cast in perpetual shadow and
yet the vast room was not completely dark.  A clear bulb -- whose
single, coiled filament glowed softly -- swung  freely from a long chain
over a skeletal, metal table.  A red blanket was swept across the top
and dangled down the sides.  The cloth-cover hid well what textured
contours and deep wrinkles tried hard to give away.
“I haven’t finished the autopsy,” Tygra said, he was the first to appear
from the murky oblivion.  Cheetara, Liono and Panthro came out into the
open after him.  The four stood around the table in a tight circle.
“Yet I’ve discovered plenty of useful information.”  He leaned forward
but stopped -- he looked at the others from left to right.  “I’m going
to pull the sheath back now.”
Panthro grunted, Liono stepped back a little.  Cheetara was nervous,
visibly nervous.  She kept one hand firmly under her chin, the other was
kept in swift, constant jerky motion.
Tygra reached out and grabbed the farthest corner of the blanket from
him and in one turn, by the wave of the arm, he exposed what was beneath
-- the two, grotesquely disfigured bodies he and Panthro had brought
from the clearing that noon.  Cheetara looked away but not in disgust,
she had been forewarned about what to expect.  No, something else,
something else that -- she caught sight of a withered leaf that had been
flung in the air.  Her eyes followed it while it swam violently in a
current until it came to rest soundlessly on the floor.
“These two are, in fact, Unicorn Keepers.  Their physiology, or what’s
left of it, indicates that.”
“So badly decomposed,” Liono said, he gagged for a moment then regained
composure.
“Would you like an open window?” Tygra asked.
“No, no, don’t be bothered.  Go on.”
“OK.  They have been dead for some time already.  One, two weeks,” here
he pointed to the inner edge of scar under the ribs, “I can tell by how
deep the maggots have eaten through the skin.”
The tiger removed a small pile of dirt and rubble that he had failed to
clean earlier.  He had been very careful, he had else been perfect.  The
rest of the Thundercats stood in disembodied silence, watching him while
he performed that most menial duty.
“The male is intact for the most part.  His face and jaw have been
removed, not hacked nor butchered.  Notice that the bones were not
traumatized or chipped and that the muscles, ligaments and connective
tissues are uninjured.  A very sharp razor or cutting instrument was
used to remove the flesh with the least injury possible.”
“Why?” Panthro asked, “Why be so meticulous?”
“He was careful, the killer, he wanted the parts he removed to come out
as cleanly as they could.  Now,” he said, refocusing on the conclusions
of his incomplete report, “the cause of death was this catastrophic
incision across the midsection.  It was not instant.”
He stopped and reached under the table.  He pulled out curved, metal
basin -- the kind used to catch vomit.  A blue, wafer-like cloth was
draped over it.  He set it next to the body and removed the napkin.
Inside was a stomach, shrived and dry.  Tygra had attempted to cut a
small slit along the side but the organ snapped in half.  The solidified
contents slipped out in a single, brown gooey mass.
“Vegetables, no meat, but, oddly, I found traces of candy.”
“Candy?” Liono asked stunned.
“Flecks of red and white.  Candy fruit, maybe, but I think it was
harder, denser.  Notice the upper, front teeth.  Bits of it are stuck to
the enamel.”
He waved them over to the female.
“Now her face was butchered -- with a serrated knife.  The skin around
the trauma is raw and burnt by the decay process and not by the sun --
remember that their heads were covered in leather bags.  The flesh has
been shredded in a random, chaotic manner.  They eyes have been popped,
the nose has been sliced in half, the cheeks torn into stringy threads.
Samples of skin were removed from her thigh and her entire left buttock
was amputated clear to the bone.”
“And the cause of death?” Liono looked at him.
“Blood loss, massive blood loss, even though she, too, had that deep
incision made to her abdomen.  It was postmortem, just like the
shredding of her face was postmortem.”
“She ate the candy, too?” Cheetara asked.  She was about to say more but
the tiger answered her quickly.
“Yes, I also found traces of that candy in her stomach.”
“What, what lunatic did this?” Panthro was incensed, angered more by his
earlier reaction than by he who cruelly killed two innocents.
“The only physical clue we have are several strands of long, white
hair.”  Again from under the table he pulled out a glass tube, topped
with a cork.  The fibers in question were within.  “It doesn’t
correspond to either of the victims.”
A collective pause followed.
“I can only tell you how it was done.  The killer removed those parts
that he wanted and left the rest alone.  In that I do see the hint of
purpose, but --”
“But?”
“I’m not a betting man.”
“Could they have known their killer?”
“No,” Cheetara said, “no, he was a stranger.  He lured them, trapped
them.”  She walked around the corpses.  “Darkness.  I see --”
“What is it?  What is it Cheetara, what do you see?”  Liono held her in
his arms.
“We know the killer.”  She glared into his face.  “I’ve sensed this,
evil, before only never like this.  Perverted, distorted, unnatural.”
“Calm down, relax.”
“Evil, the evil of something natural that went wrong, horribly wrong.”
“We should go back and comb the area,” Tygra said to Liono.
Liono held Cheetara’s arm and looked at the others.  “We should learn
more about what’s happened.  The Unicorn Keepers are out friends.  We’ll
go now.”

[Part Three]
It was late in the afternoon but it was not yet four.  Still the skies
were beginning to darken.  In the ensuing weeks the sun was doomed to
set earlier and earlier everyday, in a stone-gray, depressing aura.  The
air, that had at least been lukewarm since  morning, was now chilled in
a biting, stinging cold.
The trees rustled and yellow, brown leaves fell to the ground.
The area where WileyKat had first discovered the bodies was scoured by
Liono.  He saw the severed weapon exactly where it had come to rest but
he left it alone while swarms of hungry insects crawled over its
engraved surface.
Tygra and Cheetara worked the upper, northern boundaries.  The
underbrush was thicker there and he was amazed, stunned even beyond the
power of words by the amount of telltale evidence he found there.
Cheetara, on the other hand, roamed around though in search for
something, aware of something that the others not only had but continued
to overlook.
Panthro was left to search through the remained of the clearing -- the
south and western sections where the grass was tall up to his knees,
unkept and ungrazed.  It was his idea to keep the Thunder Kittens back
at the lair with Snarf.  The kids had seen too much already for one day.

Liono had better luck collecting bodies but Tygra found many himself.
Almost always the corpses were slain in pairs, one male, one female.
The killer preferred to dump his victims in the northern parts of the
grassy clearing.
The sun was a brilliant red-orange and falling, fading quickly into the
night.
After an hour finding nothing, an enraged Panthro left the hazy,
bug-swamped grass and rejoined the others.  Tygra had erected a large,
blue tent, the canvass flapped noisily in the breeze.  Within he had
arranged a makeshift morgue.
Twelve male bodies lined one side, eleven females were piled on the
other.  Not all were Unicorn Keepers, in fact, there was a surprising
even mixture of Wollo, Berbil and Amazonian.  The men were intact,
except for the skin -- each had a different part of the skin removed.
The women suffered a similar fate, except that along with skin, organs
and bones were removed.
“I ordered them in terms of how long they’ve been dead.  Of course it’s
not entirely scientific.  I don’t have the equipment on hand to make an
accurate determination.  These victims were killed maybe as long as half
a year ago.”  Tygra pointed to four bodies, so dark and so crisp that
they resembled pieces of over-burnt coal.
“Our killer is collector,” Panthro said.  He got the point quickly.
“The pattern is, clear.  He, because I believe it’s one man, hunts
pairs.  There should be another female, there, out there that we haven’t
stumbled upon yet.”
He looked at Cheetara.
“I detect a presence, I’ve felt it since, since I saw the bodies in
Cat’s Lair.  The man is still here -- look, this body is fresh.  He was
probably killed today, yesterday.”
“Not quite,” she was interrupted, “there was no blood in the area where
I found him,” Liono said.
“There was no blood, Liono, no blood anywhere.”
“He is around here, somewhere,” Panthro said sternly.
“These are people who are known to travel through this area.  I believe
he traps them here, kills them elsewhere, then returns to plant the
telltale evidence behind.  Cleaned and dressed with those black, leather
bags and free of evidence.  I think there’s still a female body left
undiscovered out there.  He’s taken one of every organ from the women
except for the sex organs,” Tygra said.
“Sex organs?” Cheetara wondered.
“From one of the males he skinned the external genitalia.”
“You say he cleans the bodies of evidence.  What evidence do we have of
the killer’s identity?”
“Not much except for the hairs, long, white-gray hairs.  No DNA
evidence’s left behind, he doesn’t rape the women or sodomize the men.
In all the victims I’ve found that candy -- well, almost all of them,
one of the women didn’t have stomach.”
“Stranger with candy,” Panthro said.  He turned away to face the opening
of the tent.  He did not need to know more.
“I’m convinced there’s another female body, we must find her, Liono,”
Tygra concluded.
“Should we go and search again?  I’m sure there’s plenty of sunlight
left,” Cheetara said composed at last.  “It wouldn’t be right to leave
her out there like that, alone.”
“It’s almost six, I think we have an hour or two before sundown.  We can
go on,” Liono concluded although not as eager as before.
Cheetara even more than Panthro wanted to run out of that hut of death.
Her stomach turned at the sight of those decaying corpses and she tried
hard to keep the revulsion to herself.  She could not help but think
that at one time those corpses had been living, breathing, that they
once had been standing, moving around like her, like her friends.
Thoughts, feelings, emotions, desires -- and fear, terror.  The
screaming, it rang through her ears, it echoes in her brain and it came
from them, from the bodies, from the horribly mutilated bodies.  Faces
shredded.  Violated.
She wanted to scream if only to silence the crying of the damned -- but
once again she held back.
The smell of death was upon her, it clung to her heavy fog.  On her
hands, on her face, embedded in her fur.  She scratched her skin and
rubbed herself raw but she could not escape the totality of its
presence.
Over the open, flat land of the clearing she looked up into the ever
purpling sky -- she saw vultures circling overhead, their calling
muffled by the distance.  She looked into out across through the
wilderness and wondered what horrors and unsettled terrors were hidden
in plain sight.
“Most of the bodies were in the northeast and I have a feeling that
place has been combed through entirely,” Tygra said.
“Then we’ll look in the west, northwest.”  Liono pointed the others
toward where he wanted them to search.
At first Cheetara stumbled around the area she had been directed to go
but then she began to wander.  Not consciously, no, her mind was lost
and unfocused.  She reeled at the thought of an unknown killer, a serial
murderer, lurking through the wilderness.  Had she stumbled upon him
before?  Did she know him?
When she returned to her senses she found herself at the end of a trail
she had trekked through only hours before -- before the grizzly
discoveries in that tent.  Starting where she had left off she decided
to trust her instincts and so she continued.
The trees thickened, the skies darkened.  She looked back -- the
landscape was unfamiliar.  She was lost but, undaunted, she did not let
that stop her.  Rocks, large boulders and small pebbled, stones rough
and dirty littered the ground.
She stooped and picked one up to look under it.  A red worm squirmed
into the loose earth and disappeared forever.  A long-legged, stick
insect crawled onto her hand and she screamed and flung the bug away
into the air.  It landed on the ground, broken in half.  The back legs
twiddled violently into the air, the front legs, still attached to the
head, walked about in circles, in an awkward gait.
Her heard settled and she dropped the rock with a dull thud -- she
looked at her hand, her fingers were covered in blood.  Panicked, she
turned around quickly and crashed into a tree -- five, long, deep
scratches were carved into the bark, a fingernail was embedded in the
wood and covered in fresh sap.
The cries of the victim were there, too, she could hear the horror of
the eternal wail in her mind.
Cheetara stepped back.  The ground was covered in leaves, far too many
leaves than normal.  Few crumbled under her feet since most of them were
green with fragments of thin stems and branches still attached.  The
foliage had been ripped apart recently and by someone experienced in
tearing life asunder.
She did not realize the trick until it was too late.  She stepped on
ground that was not solid -- a net.  She lost her balance, she could not
stop the fall and she screamed while she plummeted through the darkness
of the tunnel.

[Part Four]
When she awoke she found herself in a cold, dark chamber.  She was on a
floor, flat on her face -- her body ached.  She had been injured in the
fall, her shoulder dislocated, her leg broken.  She tried to stand but
the best she could do was sit up in an odd, acutely angled position.
That was when she noticed that her wrists and ankles were bound by
heavy, iron chains.
Cheetara mumbled to herself.  The whispers were inaudible even though
the sounds echoed crisply in the stone vault interior.  She looked left
to right slowly, letting her eyes adjust to the dim environment.  Light
-- a fire from wooden torches that adorned the nearer walls.  The sound
of the flames flickering was omnipotent.
A strong, musky odor was intermingled with the smell of death, decay --
horrified, she wondered in fear if she was not back in Tygra’s blue tent
morgue.
“Hello?” She managed to utter through the biting pain, the tremors of
cold fear.
No answer followed except for a hiss that then filled the air.
“Hello?  Who’s there?  Who’s --”
The hiss returned -- it was a signal to shut up she realized.
A misshapen, metal bowl was flung across the shadows, over the floor,
toward her folded legs.  It came to rest some feet from her.  She
crawled closer to it -- the plate was silver tinted green and
yellow-brown -- she gagged -- it was tarnished beyond repair.
Cheetara began to cry when she saw what was in the plate.
“Eat it,” a disembodied voice spoke.  “Eat it!”
Familiar.
A male voice began to laugh -- softly.
Familiar.
She turned white, pale, cold.  A brittle, glossy, candy cane -- red and
white -- lay on its side in the bowl.
“My friends will --”
“It doesn’t matter if you eat it!” the voice shouted.  The hidden figure
stomped on the ground and the chains that were attached to her body
retracted into the wall behind her.  She was dragged screaming in pain
until she came to rest, upright against the wall completely restrained.
The torches blew out, one at a time, while the stranger advanced to her
until only one firelight remained -- the one that hung right under the
ceiling, framed in the center of a wooden, spoked circular frame.
The advancing, approaching figure, cast in silhouette, stood before her
familiar in the deepest sense and at all levels.  Coldness came from
him, from behind him, his long, stringy hair waved in the darkness.
“Eat it!” he yelled, he jammed the candy cane he had taken from the bowl
into her mouth until she choked then took it out and smashed it across
her face.  Sticky fragments and shards of its substance flew into the
air, into her eyes.
“Yes!  Yes!  Mwahahaha, hahaha, hahahahaha!  I’ve got you now, my
pretty.  My other self is complete!”  Softly, so softly, so very
softly:  “You want to eat it, you know you want to eat it.”  He pressed
broken, pointed end of the stick over her quivering lips.  “It feels to
good on your lips, don’t be afraid, it’s different but don’t be afraid.
Give in to the fear -- your friends won’t be able to save you, you know
that, you know better.”
He nudged the sharp end in between her lips to her teeth to try to pry
her mouth open.  She resisted but the pain in her body was too great,
too much to bear.
“There, there, let me put it in your mouth, make it feel good, yes, just
like that.”
She smacked the sticky shaft with her wet lips -- the taste was sweet,
far sweeter than it should have been.  She felt an odd, tingly sensation
spread throughout her body.  Her pain ceased, her heart settled, her
breath was slow and paced.
“Oh, you know just what to do, ha, haha, hahahahaha, ha,” he spoke
excitedly and without restrain.  His motions were quick and violent.
“Oh, my pretty, you KNOW what to do,” he whispered into her ear while he
maneuvered the candy in her mouth, twirled around her tongue.
Calm once more he stopped, he stepped back from her.
He let the candy bar fall to the floor, he pulled out a weapon -- the
shiny glitter of the blade revealed a stinted fragment of his face.

[Part Five]
“The screams came from around here, Liono.” Panthro shouted into the
cold, night air.  His breath evolved a slight mist.  “Liono?”  He held a
bright, quartz lantern in his shaking hand, he brought it up to his face
while he looked around in the darkness of the woodlands.  Two other blue
lights, small and flickering, came through from within the trees.  Liono
and Tygra were coming to him, he could see them.  “Be careful, the
ground’s full of traps.”
Another scream -- a howl echoed up from the hole the panther had
discovered.
The Thundercats were by his side.  The world was quiet once more, eerily
quiet.  Deep violet clouds parted to reveal a full moon that glowed in
electric vibrancy.
“She must have fallen into that hole,” Tygra said.  He went down on his
knees and called into the absolute blackness of the tunnel:  “We’ll be
right there, Cheetara, hold on!  We’ll be right with you!”
Liono restrained him:  “We don’t know what’s down there, Tygra.  We must
find another way in or we might be caught in a trap too.”
“Yes, yes,” he backed off and stood up, “I’m sorry.”  He looked down
upon himself.  “You’re right.”  He regained his composure.  “The
Amazonians believe that there was once a castle in this area.  Cheetara
could have stumbled into an underground ruin, a bunker.”
“Could there be more than one way in?”
“Tough luck trying to find it in the dark,” Panthro injected.
A slight, laughter -- the three Thundercats stared at each other in
confusion.
“That’s --”
“Sh!”
Tearing and ripping came from the hole along with a dull and muffled
wail.
“Cheetara!” Panthro shouted, he stuck his head into the darkness of the
opening.
“Wait, wait!” Liono tried to hold him back too.  “We don’t know what it
could be --”
“I see a light -- there’s a light down there,” he waved to the others.
“All right,” Liono was desperate to regain control over them, “all
right.  We’ll go down carefully.”
The tunnel had been dug into the earth by hand, built along a steep
angle to the ground.
The three Thundercats crawled in very close together.  Tygra was in the
lead, he kept his slow pace by carefully holding on to the crumbling
soil of the wall.  Dirt and vermin crawled across his fingers but he did
not have the time to worry about it.  The weather had eroded much of the
passage and at the verge of an impending drop Tygra stopped cold.
“What’s the matter?  Tygra?” Liono asked, he was at the end up against
Panthro.
“Nothing, it’s just gotten a little dangerous here.”  He nudged forward,
“Ah!”  He slipped and landed face down in a deeper part of the tunnel.
He angled up his head and saw that the other two were still above,
waiting.  He looked down.  The firelight was bright, brighter than he
had expected.  A warmth circulated through the tunnel.  “There’s a
drop.  Be careful of there.”
He slunked forward out of the way so that Panthro and Liono could make
the drop.
“Are you OK?” Panthro asked him.
“A little worse for wear but I’m fine,” Tygra answered.
After another fifty feet the three found themselves in an underground
chamber.  It was a stone hall with flaming lanterns built into the walls
between barricaded wooden doors.  Panthro forced one of them from its
bronze holder.  Liono and Tygra walked behind him while he treaded
through the passage until it ended in vast chamber.
“It’s a dungeon,” Tygra said, he reached down and collected an old,
battered whip from mounds of dust-encrusted spider webs.  “A chamber of
horrors.”
“What other surprises await us.”
>From one of the many barred cells came murmurs, from another cell, whose
door was open, came faint traces of motion, scarcely perceptible in the
shadows.
“It’s Cheetara!”  Tygra saw her through the iron bars of the door.
Panthro handed the torch over to Liono then charged.  The door along
with the stonework of the frame crashed onto the ground.  Inside the
cell the three ran toward the wall where they found her at last, held in
place by the chains attached to her body.
“She’s free,” Panthro said, he broke apart the restraints.
Liono took her into his arms then placed her on the floor.
“What’s this?” the tiger asked.   He found a shattered section of a
long, sticky bar.  He brought it close to the torch that he was then
holding.  It was a candy cane, wet and covered red -- he showed it to
the others.
“Look!  Look!” Liono shouted, he pointed between Cheetara’s legs where
her uniform had been torn and ripped, the fabric soaked in blood.  Her
entire pelvic region was hollow
A deep gash in the form of an ‘x’ had been carved into her stomach up to
the chest.
“It’s, it’s --”  The men were stunned silent by the sound coming from
her mouth.  Cheetara turned her head softly, her eyes opening, closing ,
her mouth quivering.  Liono pushed her hair back from her face,
splinters and flecks of the candy were stuck to strands of her mane.
“Ahh, ahh, el, ahel --” a last gasp of air followed, it would have been
a word, a name but she had lost the energy to go on.
She stiffened and her body grew cold rapidly.
“She’s dead, Liono, she’s dead.”
Liono started to sob, the rest looked on in shock at what had befallen
--
“Yes!  Yes!” A loud, booming voice came from the distance, from the
nearby cell of  the open door.
Without a verbal cue the three arose and crawled their way forward out
of Cheetara’s crypt and into the mysterious chamber that remained in
shadow, even in the soft light of the torch Tygra held in his hand.
Still, they could see the clear suggestion of violent, rhythmic motion.
“Yes!”  A tall figure got up suddenly and stood before a table upon
which he had ridden.  He stumbled away toward an eerie, straw-covered
corner out of sight.
The table, there was someone on the table, flat and motionless.  The
body -- it was horrid, it was unthinkable.  The head Amazonian, the neck
from a Wollo, the flesh of the arms, of the legs, the breasts --
everything -- had been put together from pieces of others, from the
victims uncovered in the clearing.  And the newest and the last, the
bloodiest and the freshest, the ultimate, crowning achievement -- that
part -- came from none other than the fallen Thundercat.
The skins were preserved in a sharp, foul smelling liquid, but there was
no life, no life.
Liono turned his head and threw up, even Panthro was taken aback.
Only Tygra managed to keep his head, only for a little while.  He ran
his hands over the rough, jigsaw seams of stitches of the skin.  The
demonic work had been hacked, put together in utter and complete
randomness.  Under the slight pressure of his hand the makeshift
quilt-work came undone.  The patches of flesh and skin came apart to
reveal Chilla’s body beneath.
“It’s Chilla only from the chest up, along the abdomen is that same ‘x’
shaped scar.  It’s deeper, it cut her in half.”  He looked at the
others, then back at the table -- that he then noticed was constructed
from an amalgam of bones.  “No, it wasn't a cut, it was an explosion
that tore her apart and her missing body parts were reconstructed from
dissected equivalents, from the sacrificed females.”
The mouth was open, a thick, mucus-like substance smeared the lips,
flecks of red and white candy stained the teeth.  The crescent-moon
tattoo on her brow had been destroyed by the great heat of fire.  In its
place were the words, scribbled into the flesh:  “CHILLA!  TO LIVE FOR
YOU!  TO DIE FOR YOU!”
“What are you doing?  Get away from her!” a voice shouted from the
corner.
The killer stood before them.
“Who are you?  What are you?”
The Thundercats turned to see.  The figure, still in shadow, raised an
arm in whose hand he held a heavy club.  Panthro yelled and threw his
weapon at it.  The crystal-topped club fell to the ground, it shattered
on the cobblestones.
Panthro and Liono rushed him and tackled him to the ground in a fit of
rage and violence not incapable of Thundercats.  His skin was loose --
too loose.  Under the light of Tygra’s torch they saw that the figure
was cloaked in a costume, a disguise put together from the leathery,
preserved skin of the male corpses.  But unlike Chilla on the table,
less attention was given to the male ‘outfit’ -- the seams were sown
with thick hemp string.  There was no zipper, there were no buttons,
rather the costume was kept in place by knots tied from shredded,
finger-like flesh.
“Wait, Liono, I think he’s dead.  I think you broke his neck,” Tygra
said.
The man was unresponsive, his head tilted back at an unnatural angle.
Panthro stood in shock and terror -- he stepped back from the scene on
the floor afraid of what he had done -- afraid of what his young Lord
had become.
“I’ll break him in half!”
The pieces of the male outfit were torn asunder in Liono’s hands.  He
ripped the covering from off the face and head.  “Murderer!” the lion
yelled at the top of his lungs.  “Murderer!”  He threw the fleshy mask
and scalp to the side having revealed the stranger’s identity --
“Alluro?!”
“He must have gone mad, Liono,” Tygra said, “after her death.”
Liono did not answer.
“Liono?” Panthro asked in a glassy, child’s voice.  He was half in, half
out of the shadows by the open, iron door.
Liono looked at the tiger, then at the panther, his lips curled, fangs
sharp and wet.  He began to laugh -- softly.






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