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K2
By RD Rivero


“K2”
By RD Rivero
May 1, 2000

Outside the blue sky was framed by the three peaks of K2 Mountain.  Two
of the three impossibly steppe zeniths were up close together behind
while the third was before the camp and was smaller, rockier, astride
two wide openings.  The left orifice was really the edge of a cliff five
thousand feet high.  The right orifice led to a thin trail that wound
around the side to the flat ground of the surrounding forests.
The winds howled and swirled in the vast craterous pit, sprinkles of
newly fallen snow from the night before were sent up into the air only
to fall back -- slowly -- to form ghostlike auras.  The cold.  The
cold.  So cold even the heavy green tent shivered.
Inside Monkian and Jackalman cowered close together in the center in
front of a glowing, orange sphere that was suspended from the base by a
thin, metal pillar and that was surrounded by a rotundular wire mesh for
safety.  Hanging from sturdy, upper beams were two quartz lamps that
evolved a bright, natural light.  On the corners of the spacious
sanctuary were beds or cots, tables, chairs and small crates, small
yellow crates with black markings to supply weight and ballast.
Suddenly and unexpectedly the front ‘door’ -- rather a shiny zipper --
undid itself.  The split canvas fabric flopped in the tumultuous
currents.  Vultureman stuck his beak in first -- the rest f his body
followed quickly.  First, he put down several electrical instruments on
the floor -- frost and melting snow covered the black body frames.
Second, he began to take off the heavy coat that enveloped him.
“For the sake of all that’s evil close the tent!” one of the two huddled
mutants spoke through shivered words.
The avian complied swiftly though the task had escaped his mind in a
moment of passing, of fleeting attention.
“If anyone’s interested, this mission hasn’t been a failure after all.”
Jackalman arose and waddled over to one of the black boxes that
Vultureman had put down.  “More power!  Now we can light the other
heater.”
“Be careful with that.  It’s the only high-power battery we have left.”
The canine dragged the item across the green canvas of the floor toward
the side of a wooden support column.  Monkian then took the initiative
and brought forth the second heater and plugged it into the box.  Within
moments the room was warm and aglow in orange.
Vultureman turned on the radio that had been placed on an empty work
table.
“This is Vultureman, come in Slythe.  Come in Slythe,” he squawked into
the transmitter while he tweaked the knobs of the instrument panel.
“Come in Castle Plundar, this is Vultureman.”
“Plundar here,” a raspy reptilian voice sounded through the static
hiss.  “Vultureman?”
“I found where the Technetium mine shaft is located.”
“Excellent work.”
“There’s about twenty to forty tons of it.”
“When can we expect the rewards of this endeavor?”
“As soon as we can get the drilling machines here.”
“That will have to wait until next summer, Vultureman.”
“I understand.  Over and out.”
Slythe ended his transmission without a word.  Vultureman turned around
to see Monkian and Jackalman behind.  The two seemed eager.
“What’s the matter, Vultureman?” Monkian asked.
“We’re leaving tomorrow.”
The winds had eased since noonday but was the sun was inching ever so
closer to setting one form of bad weather was simply replaced with
another.  Snow fell softly though not noisily.  Larger fragments almost
about the size of hail but softer in consistency would hit and fall
across the outer walls of the tents to produce icy, shrill little
tones.  Some pellets were so massive that wet spots were left while the
liquid had time to soak through the heavy material of the fabric.
The three mutants sat around the wooden table.  Roughly around the
middle was one of the two quartz lamps.  The table was cluttered with
used and spend paper cups, plates and plastic utensils.  Dinner was over
and for the past half our they engaged themselves in a card game.
Monkian threw his cards down:  “I don’t have much use for numbers!”  The
others laughed at him.  “This game’s not fun anymore.”
“Well, in that case you don’t owe me fifteen,” Jackalman began, “it’s
thirty.”
Monkian grunted and continued on with the game.
After a few more hands passed:
“So how much do I owe you now, canine?”
Jackalman arose that time:  “I have to go out.”
“Yeah, yeah, count the cards, Vultureman, make sure he’s not cheating.”
“I’m not cheating!”
“No, he looses fair and square.”  Vultureman reshuffled the deck.
“Besides, he doesn’t have sleeves.”
Jackalman waddled over to the entrance and down went the heavy zipper
with a sort of telltale sound.  Outside the sky was darkening in a sort
of black-orange.  A cold breeze ruffled its way into the tent followed
by some of the flaky snow that precipitated in the twilight hour.  He
stepped out but only closed the zipper down part of the way.
“When we leave tomorrow will we have to take this tent back with us?”
“No,” Vultureman answered, “this stuff stays behind for the next time
that we’re up here.”
“Will it be all right?  Alone?”
“No one’s ever been up here that we’re aware of.  Not even the
Thundercats.”
“But what about the weather?”
Jackalman burst into the tent.  He was so erratic that he had not even
stopped to open the zipper up the rest of the way.  He nearly tore
through the fabric.
“What’s the matter, Jackalman?” Monkian asked more sarcastic than
concerned.  “Missing something down there?  Don’t you remember you lost
it to me on the last draw?”
“You dimwitted primate!  There’s something outside!”
“What are you babbling about?”  The other mutants rushed to the canine’s
side.  “Calm down.”
“There’s something in the snow outside.”
There was just barely enough sun outside for them to see clearly but
Vultureman took one of the quartz lamps with him anyway.  In the snow
everywhere they saw footprints, footprints that not only were none of
theirs but that were fresh as well.  The trails walked across most of
the vast, flat clearing where the tent was and in the dying daylight the
indentations on the snow-cover were eerily identifiable through the
elongating shadows of evening.
Jackalman stood precisely in between the two, tall peaks.  The walls of
the summits were white, gray white with ripples of rock formations
hidden beneath and though the sloped faces shimmered in illumination
past the heights the sky was black.  The canine pointed to an object on
the ground.
The three mutants hovered around it in a tight circle.  Monkian prodded
it with his fingers -- it reacted slowly, it wobbled a little and
corrected its previous posture.  When creature extended lower and
unforeseen limbs all darted back several feet but continued to examine
the object.
“It’s covered with a thick, coarse hair, it’s dense,” Vultureman said.
“Poisoned darts?” Monkian asked.
“Could be.”
The creature extended out two of the visible limbs.  Thin, awfully thin
almost to the point of see through thin.  A mixture of yellow and
orange, covered with more of the same dark hairs that covered the rest
of the body.  The long arms or legs or whatever was segmented into about
four sections.  The extreme segments embedded itself into the snow, what
muscles it had tensed and the creature lifted itself up and advance a
further step, a further step closer to where ever its destination was.
For a moment Monkian could actually see what there was underneath.  He
saw more legs, compacted in spiral cords.  He saw one large blue eye
that seemed to have yet another, smaller eye coming out of the center.
He saw two things that could have been teeth, bright and sharp.  He
could see no more.
“Let’s bash it in!”
“What, Monkian?” Jackalman asked.
“Let’s kill it!  Kill it!”
“We don’t know what kind of defenses it has -- or if there aren’t more
that can attack us.”
“No, Monkian’s right,” said Vultureman, “we have to get rid of it.”
Jackalman shook his head.  “Well, why don’t we move it to the edge, over
there, to the edge of the cliff.”
“Oh, that’s evil!” Said Vultureman.
“Let’s just bash it in!”  Monkian was about to strike with the club but
Vultureman stuck out his hands and stopped him.
“No, I like Jackalman’s idea.  Let’s push it toward the cliff.”
Jackalman and Vultureman immediately began to ease the creature toward a
different path.  One mutant would grab the body and twist it to one
side, the other mutant would then to the same in the opposite
direction.  Over time the object did begin to inch closer to the edge
but each time the two tried to ease it again it was harder and harder to
move the creature -- it was embedding its limbs into the snow, perhaps
down to the rocks beneath.
Monkian, after waiting a more than patient ten minutes, finally had
enough.  He dashed toward the small, brown object on the snow and gave
it one swift kick.  It gave a sound though it was a balloon deflating
while it swooshed into the air.  The kick had been to strong and
powerful that one of the creature’s legs was left behind on the ground
-- it flailed violently until at last it died.
“What have you done, Monkian?” Jackalman asked.
“Doing your job faster!”  He ran to the creature.  It had landed on its
side, it was extending its legs trying to right itself up when the
monkey gave it a second kick.  Once again it was sent hurting into the
air -- that time its odd noise was louder, sharper.
After one more kick it was sent across the edge of the multi-thousand
foot drop to its doom below.  The three mutants gathered around to see
the small creature fall.  Sometimes along the drop it bounced again the
rocky surface of the cliff wall -- to leave a greenish smear behind.
Sometimes, while a strong breeze swept across, the object would be
deflected into a small cloud of mist and disappear for a while.  But so
high above no one actually saw that thing hit the ground and splatter in
a pool of its own internal excess.
Hours later the sky above the tent in the flat plain of the crater,
above the triangular pillars that surrounded the crater, above the earth
itself the stars twinkled, the large moon hovered abnormally and
snakelike borealis illuminated in ethereal colors the elsewise
omnipotent, the elsewise oppressiveness of the night.  The mutants were
either in bed or readying themselves for bed.  The two quartz lamps were
extinguished, only one of the orange heaters was left on and then set to
its lowest power usage.  The zipper of the entrance had been secured
shut.  The crates and the supplies had been prepared for the hike back
home the next morning.
The world was eerily silent, the world was artificially still, large,
infinitely large outside of that small, trivial tent.  The green canvas
fabric was wet in large pools where the snow had melted in the warmth of
the heater and would often sway or ruffle gently in the course of silent
breezes that blew across the land.  In the background of audibility the
metal utensils that had been washed using the snow jingled while dangled
loosely up over a gray, metal basin used for the kitchen sink.  For a
while -- for countless hours -- that was it, that was all the sound that
enveloped that small, snippet of the universe.
Until --
It began with a low, dull howl.  Instantly Jackalman’s hairs stood on
end and he turned in his warm bed, his body covered to the point of
mummification by the dense, by the thick blankets.  He saw to his horror
that no one else was up, that no one else had been alarmed -- and then
the howl returned once more to die in mid-crescendo.  Not only that but,
being so close, so much closer to the unseen source outside, he heard a
soft treading in the snow around the tent.
He jolted out of bed, only partly free from the extreme tuckings he had
wrapped himself with.  He hit the floor with a loud dud which was enough
to rouse Monkian and Vultureman from their prospective dreams.  He
lumbered around the floor until at last his arms were free and amidst
the confused questions that his disturbance had cause he escaped
entirely from the grip of those sheets.
“What is it?  What’s the matter with you?”
“Sh!” he commanded Vultureman and just in time for then they all heard
it, they all heard the wail, the moan.
“Another creature!” cried Monkian.
“We don’t know that,” Vultureman tried to calm him down, “it could be
the wind.”
“No, there’s something treading in the snow.”
“That’s crazy!”
The wail -- it came from behind the tent’s entrance.
“Turn the heater off,” Vultureman said, Jackalman complied.
Even though the power had been cut off, the sphere continued to glow at
least for a while.  Afterwards there was only shadow.  The three mutants
stood before the door with their weapons in their hands.  Though there
was darkness, though the only light came from the stars trickled through
the tiny gaps between the fibers of the green canvas of the tens, they
were quite able to see that what ever was outside was pushing in the
tent.  When the material could give way no more the what ever it was
drew back and the tent returned to its original shape.  The same effect
happened elsewhere, elsewhere, elsewhere until the new creature had made
it all the way around.
“It’s testing the tent to find any weaknesses,” Vultureman whispered.
“Look!” Jackalman pointed up, the ceiling in the center began to cave
in, again by the action of that beast.  The support beams got in the way
and again the creature drew back.  A loud, a piercing scream followed
and the three within fell to their knees by the mere shock of the sound.

The creature outside began to run round and round and round in the
snow.  Every now and then it seemed to be going away, to their relief.
Every now and then it seemed to be getting closer, to their horror.
“No, we can’t just stay in here!” Monkian yelled.  “I’m going to find
out what it is!”
“Monkian don’t, don’t go outside!”  Jackalman cried.
“Coward!”
“I have to agree with Jackalman.  What if that thing we killed was this
thing’s baby?” Vultureman asked.
“That we killed?” Jackalman was somewhat shocked.  “Monkian kicked it
across the cliff.”
“Cowards the both of you.  I’ll take the blame, children.”  He grasped
his club firmly and in one swift stroke he unzipped the tent and burst
out into the night.  The other two mutants crawled on their hands and
knees to the open entrance.
Jackalman and Vultureman barely poked their heads out, only their eyes.
They saw Monkian walk across the snow swinging his club in the air --
the creature, what ever it was, was no where to be seen.
No clouds, no strange mist, no fog -- even the snow had let up.  The
ground was bright and shiny in the moon light.  What had been mistaken
for footsteps appeared then to be deeper, to be larger.
“Nothing --” Monkian spoke but he was so far, so far from the tent that
though the two could see his lips move only that one word was audible
for immediately following came a loud howl. The primate's mouth opened,
the club fell useless onto the snow.  The creature, that had been behind
the tent out of view began to run toward Monkian.
Jackalman tried to scream -- he was about to but Vultureman covered his
mouth a dragged him back into the recesses of the tent.  The flaps of
the open entrance wavered in the wind but there was no clear view of
what was happening outside.
Monkian screamed until the end when the sound of the great, big bite
silenced him.  Neither of the two mutants needed to see what had
happened for their minds provided the particular details.  There was
chewing, there was the sound of flesh ripping, tearing.
The treading resumed, the creature was walking to the tent, dragging
something behind in the snow.  It got right up to the open entrance --
they could see clearly the outline, no, the form itself of the legs,
yellow-orange and hairy.  They shut their eyes prepared for the end, for
the bloody end.  Something -- that something that was dragged across the
snow was sent flying into the tent.  The two screamed in horror wrapped
in each other's arms.  The treading -- the creature was leaving.
Jackalman began to cry, Vultureman began to giggle a little.  Both were
utterly relieved that the ordeal was over.  They opened their eyes, they
looked to the side.
There was something in the tent, there was something in the tent with
them.
Vultureman reached out for the one of the quartz lamps while Jackalman
was already on his way to inspect what the creature had discarded.  The
light was shone upon it -- the corpse of Monkian.  The arms, the legs
were intact, complete with unfettered and unbloodied flesh and fur.
Everything, even the nails were intact, but the torso, the abdomen was
completely eaten out -- only the bones remained and a thin, red tub that
ran down from the next into the hollowness of the rub cage.  It was only
then that the light was brought up to the skull.
The head, like the rest of the appendages, remained whole.  The eyes
were wide open, dry and shriveled.  A green pus had already begun to
form along the cornea.  The mouth was open, open from the great shriek
he had given at the moment of his death.  Blood had spewed forth from
the lips and inside the tongue and teeth were smeared in that
quickly-freezing liquid.
After several hours passed, when it was apparent that the creature was
gone, the dead mutant was dragged outside.  Jackalman began to dig a
hole in the snow with his hands until he reached the rocky ground.  The
earth was frozen and he could claw no further.  The body was situated in
the ditch on its side.  Vultureman pushed the mounds of snow that had
built up along the sides of the pit until the body was interred in the
most unusual sense.
The moon was not in the sky any longer and some of the darkness that had
cloaked the heavens had let up just a little.  The skies up above, ten
thousand feel up above the rest of the planet was the slightest tinge of
blue-gray.  The snaking borealis disappeared completely in the every
brightening ambiance.
“We’re not sticking around one second more than we have to.”
“Are you going to radio Castle Plundar?”
“I won’t even waste time to do that -- until we’re free from this
mountain.”
Back in the tent the two packed knapsacks and bags full of food and
water and miscellaneous supplies.  Jackalman carried on his shoulder one
of the batteries, Vultureman totted the heater and the radio.
Everything else was promptly and securely fitted into the crates and
into the boxes.  The tent was shut and secured with a special exploding
lock -- in case someone tried to break in.
There was nothing left to do but craw toward that orifice where the
thin, slippery, winding trail down the mountain began.  The ledge -- for
it was something like a ledge -- was only wide enough to accommodate
their feet.  It did not do so safely.  Jackalman clung onto the embedded
rocks along the cliff wall for dear life.  His fingers trembled, his
palms perspired.  His right hand had broken free from its grasp to send
that air flailing into the air, his body turned and he would have fallen
had Vultureman not by instinct reached out and held him back.  The two
remained in that precarious position for a few, for quite a long moment.

The intrepid duo continued onwards, the trail slopped down only
gradually though it seemed that there was no progress to be made at
all.  The two had forgotten that part of the ledge where the rocky face
edged and bulged outward to give them the perpetual sensation that they
would fall the instant their hold failed.
Needless to say the pace to go once around the back of the mountain was
slow and agonizing.  When at last Jackalman had reached the first
terminus of the ledge he stopped and he laughed.  His heart beat faster
while he realized the impending danger that remained for the cliff wall
was still bulging outward at a precarious angle.  Going up was easy,
going down was another matter all together.
He crouched down until he could not come lower.  He grabbed the edge of
the path with one hand and lower his legs until he reached the ledge
that was down on the level below.  Meanwhile Vultureman began to do the
same and then both mutants were on that new, wider ledge, safely on
board and once again continued to climb only a little faster than
before.
After twelve hours of that sort of hike the mutant duo had managed to
descent just a tad over five thousand feet.  The trail ledge had become
so wide that they could walk it abreast.  Still they did neither ran nor
up-paced themselves for the ground everywhere was snow-covered and there
was the great danger that ice could be innocently hidden beneath that
powdery, that virgin cover.
At last and in time for a quick noonday lunch Jackalman and Vultureman
had reached that vast plain that stood directly under the three peaks of
K2 mountain.  The canine made a mad dash toward the interior for nearly
a hundred yards until he had a clear enough view of the summit up top.
The avian was slow to catch up but then he never really tried -- he got
to within fifty yards and no further.
Jackalman looked up:  the two, close-together peaks were in the far
distance, superimposed behind the smaller peak that in that extreme
angle seemed to be about the same size.  To one side of that central
summit he could the beginning of that trail he and his friend had just
survived.  To the other side was the edge of the cliff from which
Monkian had kicked the creature to its doom -- to its doom and to his
own.  The green smudges he had seen splatter on the snow were not there
-- perhaps the foul weather had eroded the traces.
“Hey,” he asked, “where did the small creature go?”
“What, Jackalman?”
Jackalman walked to Vultureman who was on the ground rummaging through
one of the bags he had carried.  The canine put down his own bags and
equipment but unlike the avian who was only interested in the food, he
wanted to see what had become of the creature that had hit the ground
that night before.  He looked around, he looked around for a time too
long that his friend began to worry but he could not find it -- only
some spare, thick hairs.  No blood, no green smudges, no unusual severed
appendages, nothing, nothing.
The two mutants began to eat over the glowing, orange sphere that had
been plugged into the battery.
“The creature’s not there, Vultureman.”
“Some animal must have taken it.”
“I can’t eat.”
Vultureman took the meat that Jackalman had put down and shoved it into
his friend’s mouth.  “You will eat, not because you’re hungry, not
because you have the desire.  You’ll eat because I won’t --”
“You won’t what?”
Vultureman looked away and said nothing.
“You won’t loose me, old friend.  All right I’ll finish the meal.”
“The smell of death surrounds us, Jackalman, it’s infused into our
flesh.  We can’t show any weakness, any weakness of any kind.”
“Do you think that thing from last nigh will return?”
The avian did not answer.
“Do you think that’s some kind of intelligence.”
A gust of air howled around them, frost and snow were whipped up into
the air around them.  All was quiet, all was cold and quiet.
“I don’t know, I don’t know.”
“We shouldn’t stick around here for long, but what will we do at night?”

“The same thing we’ll do in the day -- climb down this mountain.  We
won’t stop, if it won’t stop, we won’t stop.”
Once again no one radioed Castle Plundar, it would have taken too long.
Together the two mutants walked to the edge of the flat expanse.
Dropped down below them yet another five thousand feet was the great
forest of the Amazonian Kingdom.
A trail, too, that like the early one began tenuously and forbiddingly
at least for a little while.  Afterwards most of the snow and ice was
gone and the path had fattened even further -- so wide the two could
have walked all the way down hand-in-hand if they had been into that
sort of thing.  The mountain also widened the closer the two descended
to the base so it took longer and longer to make the lap around K2.
They were tired, they were breathless.  Their legs hurt, their heads
throbbed.
It was nearly sunset -- the sky was bright orange and red and shadows
everywhere began to lengthen, to elongate.
Vultureman stopped:  “We should rest for a while, at least for a while.”

“Not here, further down the trail there should be a flat outcrop.”
“I think so, too, I remember that we passed it quickly on our way up.”
Ten minutes passed and in the meanwhile the sky had amassed large clouds
that smashed and that rolled in to each other together in violent
upheavals.  Through thinner parts and through parts devoid of the misty
cover, the heavens were violet, ever gradating, ever dissolving into an
orange-red tint.  The sun was gone, down below the horizon it fell in
silence.
The two mutants reached the intermediate landing in that ledge.  It was
not level, exactly, but had the overall appearance of being flat.  It
was a hundred yards long and ten yards wide.  There was no ice, there
was no snow cover.
“It looks so tranquil, Vultureman, so soft.”
“What does?”
The canine pointed down, past the edge of the landing to the forests
that spread out from one end of the earth to the other.  The treetops
all blending into one, homogenous mass not only by the mere distance of
separation but by the darkness of night as well.  The moon was out, for
sure, but it barely glowed through the clouds and the starlight was
nonexistent all together.
“Everyone’s asleep,” the avian replied.  He looked up the side of the
cliff.  “Did we see that before?”
“What?”  The canine looked up to where his friend pointed.  “That’s a
cave, isn’t it?  No, I don’t remember that part.”
“We should spend the night in there.”
“Do you think it’s safe?”
“It’s safer than being out here, out of cover in the open.”
The climb up to the cavern opening very easily.  The shadowy orifice was
only fifteen feet above the ledge.  The air inside the cavern was warm
-- oddly warm.  The walls themselves formed the oval ceiling but the
floor was flat.  Everything was dry, everything was clean and tidy.
Convinced that they were safe they proceeded further within until they
reached what appeared to be the back wall.
The cave was so warm, in fact, that they felt uncomfortable in their
coats so they took them off.  The heating sphere was plugged into the
battery but set on the lowest level.  The orb barely glowed at all.
Vultureman took out the radio.  “Once more, one more time won’t hurt.”
He turned on the instrument and put the receiver up close to his beak.
“Come in. Castle Plundar.”
“Vultureman!  I’ve been waiting for your signal.”
“Slythe, there’ve been some unexpected developments.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s creature of some sort that lives up here, in the mountain.  It
killed Monkian last night.”
“Monkian!”
“We don’t know what it was --”
“Monkian.”
“We’ll need better weapons the next time we come up here.”
Jackalman’s eyes widened.  He got up from the floor where he had been
sitting before the glowing, orange sphere.  He was about to say
something but Slythe’s crackling voice cut him off.
“No, no, we’ll find another Technetium source.  Perhaps there’s another
mountain somewhere.”
“After all this work, Slythe --”
“There are so few of us mutants on this planet, I will not risk another
life.  Do you understand?”
Vultureman paused for a moment or two.  “With that radioactive material
we can destroy the Thundercats once and for all.”
“No!  Do you understand?  There are something’s that are a little more
important.”
Once again the avian said nothing.
The canine picked up the receive.  “We understand.”
“Get yourselves out of that mountain as soon as you can.  Over and out.”

“Over and out.”  He turned off the radio.
Jackalman put the radio back in one of the bags.  Vultureman meanwhile
had gotten up to walk around the inside of the cavern.  A prolonged
silence, a very prolonged silence lasted for perhaps too long a while.
“Jackalman, what is this?”  Vultureman stood with his back to his friend
in front of a thin alcove at the very farthest recess of the chamber.
His friend dashed to his side to find that unusual side-winding
passage.  “The warm air vents from it, perhaps there’s more to see
through it?”
“I don’t hear anything -- let’s go in.  And, no, I don’t think it’s
safe.  Would you like to stay behind?”
“I’ll go in, too, but you first.  You discovered the alcove first.”
It was a tight squeeze that never let up.  Along the way the two had to
crawl, crouched because the ceiling had dropped until there was only
four feet of headroom.  The walls, every so often, broke away into side
passages that were ignored because, unlike the main shaft, those new
openings were dark, darkened in a deep, absolute blackness.
Toward the end the crawl space seemed to have become more manageable.
The red light grew brighter and then the sound of burning came from the
distance.  There were other sounds, too, but they remained
unidentifiable.
The passage ended in an elevated balcony of rock.  Vultureman did not
hesitate to go further, Jackalman saw him stand and then drop back to
the ground.  He stuck his arms into opening to help his friend out.
“What --” the avian shushed him.  The two crawled to the end of the
balcony and poked their heads up above the two-foot stone wall the lined
the edge of that protruding alcove.
The chamber was vast, its dimensions beyond the capacity of
comprehension.  The walls were not rock entirely, imbedded in the shale
and sediments were the traces of marble columns, hundreds of feet high.
The ceiling, or part of the ceiling anyway, was formed from flat and
regular tiles.  The remained of the roof apparently had fallen and been
replaced by calcium deposits, by millennia of advancing, of encroaching
rock.  The fire, the great, red fire came from the floor below.  Upon
the marble were large sections of statues eroded and decayed, chunks of
the ceiling and further openings and passages that winding elsewhere, to
connect that room to the rest of the caverns and of the antechambers of
K2 mountain.
On the floor beneath them were more of those small, hairy creatures,
hundreds more, thousands more.  They stood still, they moved, they
roamed, they wandered.  They were everywhere and even that was not all.
Sitting around the perimeter of the chamber, pacing through and around
the central fire, coming into and out of those side openings -- climbing
up and down the rough rocks in between the smooth columns -- were the
adults, no doubt, the adults.
The forms of the children and of the adults were so completely different
the two were almost different species  -- fully grown, the creatures
were ten, fifteen feet long and not rolled up into little balls.  They
seemed to have no clear or visible head.  Indeed, the only indication of
where their heads might be was the fact that their legs were
concentrated nearer one of the ends opposed to the other.
The legs were thick, hairy, not thin, not clear.
“We’re not safe here, Vultureman.  Vultureman?”
“Yes, yes, back in the hole, back in, we might have been spotted
already.”
Jackalman was the first to enter the thin ventilation shaft.  The rocks
and the jetting stones brushed sharply against his fur.  He could not
see what was going on with Vultureman behind him.  He was so nervous, he
was so afraid that he lost the sense of direction.  He entered one of
the dark alcoves.
“Jackalman, what are you doing?  Come back to the main shaft.”
“I don’t know where I am.”
“Stay still.  Stay still, I’m right behind you.”
The ground was covered in a layer of powder half an inch thick.  He
coughed -- he had breathed in some of the particles that he sent up in
the air.  He could see nothing, but absolutely nothing in front of him,
though from behind him soft, red-orange light did seep through the
cramped crawl way.  At a certain point that was not enough -- the shaft
was no more.  It had opened up into new chamber.
“Where are you?  Where are you?” Vultureman cawed.
Jackalman reached out with his hands.  “Here.”
“Let’s get out of this place --”
“Vultureman.  It’s a cemetery.  It’s full of bones.”
“You can see in this?”
“You forget that I'm a dog, do you?  All over, all around us are the
corpses --”
“Of them?  Of those creatures?”  He could only hear Jackalman stand up.
He waved his arms around, trying to feel where his friend was.  “Where
are you, Jackalman?”
“These are the victims -- so many, so many different --”
“Jackalman!”  At last he was able to grab a hold of him.  “Snap out of
it!”
“They eat the organs, that’s why, the eat the organs, Vultureman.  The
arms, the legs, the heads of all of these bodies are intact -- only the
internal organs were removed.”
“For the sake of all that is evil --”
“Sh,” he said softly and both mutants were silent.  He whispered:  “The
bodies are stacked, one on top of the other in tight bundles wrapped
together in string.  Rats and roaches and other,” he shivered, “crawl
through them, around them, chew the tough, leatherized flesh.  Molds and
spores cover the heads.  Slime!”
Vultureman shook him:  “I’m taking you out of here --”
“Monkian!  It’s Monkian!  I can see his face -- the snow’s still fresh
-- the mouth wide open.  He’s screaming, he’s screaming in my mind!
Make it stop, make it stop, make --”
Vultureman’s eyes had adjusted to the dim light but even then he could
not see scarcely as much as his friend could see.  He had managed to
find his mouth was able to silence him by pressing his hand over his
lips.
For a while it seemed that only their breathing sounded in the room but
when one of the piles of corpses Jackalman had described was dragged
across the pebbled floor the two mutants knew they were not alone.
Vultureman could make out the faintest outline of movement through the
oblivion of the shadow.  He asked, he whispered:  “What do you see
know?”
“In front of us.  It’s standing on its legs, thick, heavy legs.  The
body continues up, flat, flatish, I can see pulsating veins and arteries
on the sides.  Hands!”
“Quiet!”
“Hands, no arms, no arms just hands coming off from the chest.”
“Slow, slow.”
“The body continues -- higher still -- but I don’t want to look at,
Vultureman, I don’t want to see what’s up there.  Please.”
“Tell me where to go.”
Jackalman turned his head to the side -- down on the floor was the
opening to the side shaft through which he and his friend had crawled.
Orange-red light evolved softly from it to lighten the ground
immediately around the orifice and no more.  The exit was only feet,
yards at most way but to him it was an infinite distance.  He began to
move his body toward it -- Vultureman followed closely, his arms were
wrapped around his body.  His movements were slow, sluggish.
Another creature appeared to block his path and he stopped.
Vultureman was about to say something, he opened his mouth but -- the
wail, the loud howl returned.  It echoed violently in the chamber, the
bones, the bodies shook and trembled.  The creatures then ran to the
mutants.
Hands, the hands felt them, their faces, their arms.  The bodies of
those creatures pressed up against them and they could feel the heat of
the blood and circulated through the protruding vessels.  They tried to
run but those legs did well to coral them, to trip them.
“Keep away from the mouths,” Vultureman yelled.
“I don’t know where the mouths are.”
“Fall to ground, crawl out from between the legs!”
Jackalman got down on the floor, face down on the floor -- the dust and
the sedimentary powders made his nose itch and his eyes water.  Slowly
he wiggled through the massive legs of those creature but he could not
have been careful enough.  Before he could make it completely through he
was shaken, battered -- the legs lifted him up in the air then let him
drop though he was merely being tenderized for the second course.
When Jackalman was completely free he jolted into the shaft’s opening
but he stopped to look back.  Vultureman was still fighting the
creatures.  One of them held him from the back while the other attacked
him from the front.  There were yelling, there was screaming but the
avian could not see well where to defend himself.
The creature grabbed his arm and pulled off, ripped off the hand.  It
crushed what was left of the forearm.  It then went for the beak --
Vultureman had been pecking into the air, into nothing.  Those two
little hands crushed the beak, twisted it to the left, then to the
right, then to the left again until it came away in burst of blood mixed
with saliva.  The small, pointed tongue was left to dangle down the face
-- it jerked and it jolted, blood rushed down from the torn and rippled
flesh beneath it.
The crawl space of the tunnels seemed to have tightened in the
intermediate time that he had been away -- or perhaps he was in too much
of a hurry to escape to think rationally.  He heard them, those
creatures, feasting, slurping on Vultureman’s corpse -- the loud shouts
his friend had give had since been utterly muffled when the attacker
smashed his eyes out.  Fortunately, Jackalman thought latching onto at
least one good thing, the passage was too cramped for them to follow
him.
When the ceiling arose he got up to his feet and began to run.  Rocks
and pebbles pummeled him.  There was more light at the end of the
tunnel, he could see more and more details.  There was very little left
of the shaft at that point and suddenly he came back upon the alcove,
back into the large cavern chamber were the two had been so safe, so
safe not more than minutes ago.
The orange sphere was aglow, strangely brighter than the last time he
had seen it.  He picked up his coat, he got together some of the food
stuff and the radio and draped them over his back.  He unplugged the
heater and took the battery into his right hand.
The heater died slowly, but even before its heat was completely spent
the room was cloaked in shadow once again -- actually it had barely been
lit at all even when it had been on.
There was a slight, shuffling sound, far, distant.  There it was again
and again, then yet another time.  The sounds seemed to be coming from
all around the chamber.
Jackalman put down the bag that had the radio and opened it in the
darkness.  He fumbled around lightheaded but he was able to turn it on
at the lest.  The red power light was bright but not strong enough to
illuminate the room.  He tried to work the instrument but all that came
out was static hiss and the faint, the echoed transmissions from Cat’s
Lair or the Tower of Omens.
He looked up -- a shadow had moved across the wall.
>From the same bag he removed a quartz lamp.
The cavern was lit up in a way that it had never been before, in
full-color, in near daylight brightness.  He could see everything to the
last detail -- to the last crack and fissure on the walls, ceiling,
floor, to each individual rock and pebble that littered the ground, to
shapes and designs of the multi-hued, mineral patterns of the carved
formations.
The small creatures -- the children -- surrounded him.  Jackalman was
about to scream but stopped himself.  He saw something about that,
something about that behavior that intrigued him and that gave him a
plan.  The creatures were afraid of that bright light of the quartz lamp
and when he approached the things tumbled away to the corners, to where
ever there was shadow and darkness.
He began to laugh -- like had laughed before back in the tent all those
thousands of feet above.  He picked up most of the sacks, put the radio
back in the bag and began to walk to the edge of the cavern opening.
The ledge was only a quick jump below but he wanted to be careful so he
crawled down -- the lamp secure in his jaws.
In the coldness of the night ice had formed along the rocks.  Jackalman
was not aware of that, or of the snow that was falling at the same time
that he lost his grip.  The drop was only a handful of feet but he
tumbled none the less.  He lost his hold of the lamp when he screamed in
the shock -- it fell onto the ledge and shattered.  The radio, too, had
been badly damaged -- it rattled in the bag a haphazard pile of loose
parts.
Quickly he scrambled to get the other lamp but realized that it was not
in the sacks he had taken.  Either it was back in the cavern or it was
back in the tent and to neither was he prepared to return.  Without the
comfort and the protection of that artificial daylight he was at the
mercy of more than the elements.
He stood and regained his composure.  He was ready to continue the
arduous trek down the mountain.  Instead, looking out onto the silent
scene of the sleeping forests an eternity below, he stood frozen -- on
his left, on his right were tall, moving shadows, darting in to and out
of the rocky mountainside complete with the distant, muffled sounds of
howls.







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