IXI

It was as the three companions were preparing to go forth once more that the pyramid began to reconfigure. The world rumbling around them, they moved with simultaneous caution back to back, circling to see what surprises the temple would next reveal. Please don't let anything find us, Adele prayed silently, knowing that their chances of survival lessened with each minute they spent trapped down here. As the world around them stopped shaking, as Sebastian shouted out, Adele whirled about to find that her plea had gone unanswered. From a newly created opening in the upper wall adjacent to the humans poured forth two of the ebony creatures, creeping down the stone with a fluidic, animalistic ease. Even as Lex screamed a warning Adele was firing; a heartbeat later she realized that her shots were doing no damage, bouncing harmlessly off the armor-like chitin –an exoskeleton?- that encased both of the creatures.

"Run!" She screamed as the foremost of the beasts opened its maw and shrieked; it was close enough that she could smell its fetid breath. A gunshot rocked the newly formed chamber; from the corner of her eye she could see Sebastian close, his gun held steady in the Weaver stance. His blow set the creature furthest back on its heels, and as it straightened with a menacing hiss Adele could clearly see dark green fluid dripping from its underside to hit the floor, steaming. An instant later it was leaping for Sebastian; Adele whirled about to follow it in flight, finger flexing over the trigger in an attempt to knock it out of the air. Whether she succeeded, she didn't know, for quite suddenly something struck her from the side, a heavy weight that sent her skidding across the rough hewn floor.

She came up dazed on one knee in time to see something black hurtling towards her; without thinking she raised the Browning and fired, emptying the magazine. As the gun clicked empty, as the creature stumbled in its rush but didn't fall, she thrust herself into a roll, attempting to buy some time, some distance, in order to remove the MK HP5 from her backpack. The creature, carried by its own momentum, struck the wall with juddering force but was on its feet and facing her in an instant. Not daring to look for her companions but hoping fervently they were alright, Adele ripped the bag free from where it rode at her back and was fumbling with the zipper when she saw the tail of the beast she'd injured come hurtling towards her; too late she dodged back, and it struck her full force in the side. She staggered sideways, bag falling from her grasp; abruptly she found herself tottering at the brink of another newly created opening in the stone floor. As her arms wind-milled in an effort to retain her balance, she heard her name screamed once in desperation.

And then she was falling.

She curled in on herself, arms coming around her head, and seconds later she landed hard upon yet more stone. Her breath was driven from her by the impact and as her limbs twitched with the need for air, as she unfolded and turned onto her back, she realized that things had taken a definite turn for the worse.

The creature she'd wounded was suspended half in and half out of the hole she'd tumbled through some ten feet above, and as she willed her lungs to work it began to move with spider-like grace down the wall towards her. Her muscles decided to respond to her urging in the face of this threat; she gained her knees and was in the process of standing when the beast spilled onto the ground directly in front of her. As she came slowly to her feet, wincing, she allowed her eyes to furiously survey the surroundings for something –anything- that could be wielded as a weapon. The spear she'd attached to her belt had been jarred loose by her landing and lay some several feet away, and her pack with the submachine gun was far above in the chamber from which several gunshots suddenly emanated …

Her hand moved then to the knife she'd taken from her previous kill, thankful beyond belief that it had remained tucked where she'd put it. She wasn't completely unarmed, at least, but had a sinking feeling that even the knife of the powerful hunter wouldn't be enough to save her now. The lean, sinuous body of the alien tensed in preparation to leap, and with knife held in a reverse grip Adele let her breath leave her in a steady stream and felt her entire body going taut in anticipation.

The creature leapt, and Adele dropped to a crouch, ready to bring the knife up in a vicious underbelly slice-

Abruptly the alien was thrown backwards, body encompassed by something that looked for the entire world like a net … it struck the wall some several feet behind it and began to scream in fury, body thrashing and tail juddering stones loose. Adele came quickly to her feet, swivelling around to face the new participant in this brawl and hoping fervently it wasn't who she suspected it to be. Standing a few paces off, towering and imperious in the dirty light, was one of the hunters, the predators; she made a small sound of dismay, for she couldn't hold her own against it with only a knife. As he began to move she fell back into a defensive crouch, prepared to strike in any way she could. The hunter strode past her without a glance, however, completely focused on the prey writhing in the net fastened to the wall.

Adele watched as he approached the alien, watched as with the flexing of thick muscle one of the massive, slightly curved blades that rested against the outside length of its forearm sprang into an outright position, an effect that reminded her very much like that of a switchblade. Blood was pouring forth from the shrieking alien, and after a moment she realized, horrified, that the net that bound it was made of some type of unbreakable material, and as the net shrank said material was cutting through the alien chitin with a strength her bullets hadn't possessed. In a blur of movement the hunter struck, bringing his extended blade up in a brutal arc, eviscerating the alien. As the creature's innards spilled forth to lie in a hissing pool on the stone floor the large predator stepped quickly back to avoid being touched by what Adele knew now to be acidic blood. He then turned, prey successfully terminated, to face the lone human that regarded it with no small amount of fear.

Adele rose slowly, cautiously, her grip on the knife white knuckled as she studied with intense interest her new opponent. This hunter's mask, linear lines and curves, was more stylized than that of the one Adele had killed. He was huge, taller and broader than the other -his armor, however, was very similar. While some of his hair was tied back, several strands were draped over his shoulder and fell almost to his waist, beringed with metal. A device that was reminiscent to a small cannon was just visible over his shoulder and was pointed, unsurprisingly, at Adele.

For a long moment they regarded each other, human to alien; when finally the hunter began to move Adele found herself waiting with breath for the attack she knew was coming. The predator moved only to where the spear –the spear she'd taken from the his dead comrade- lay, and with a soft chittering he knelt and picked it up. He turned it over once, studying, and then in a blur of movement hoisted it as if to throw, aiming to what Adele was certain was the center of her chest. Faced with inevitable death, she found herself contemplating a charge, rushing the beast and trying to catch him off guard even though she knew that do so would unquestionably end her life. And so the seconds ticked by, both of their bodies tense with expectation, anticipation, and when the hunter cocked his head to the side with a growl before lowering the arm gripping the spear, the rush of relief Adele felt was almost tangible.

He issued a short bark, a sound undeniably inquisitive while at the same time being imperious; he wanted to know something, and wanted to know it now. Bemused, still a little apprehensive, it took Adele only a moment to realize what he was questioning. Letting the hand with the knife fall to her side, she gripped the length of hair she'd taken as a trophy from where it hung at her waist and raised it slightly while watching to see whether this was what the predator wished to know about. His head bobbed once, and then with one thick finger of his free hand he indicated the spear he held.

"Yes," she said, wondering whether her admission was going to get her killed in a decidedly unpleasant manner or not, "I took that from your friend."

A long, purring growl left the hunter, as if he were considering something. With two fingers he gestured to the knife she held, and she nodded again to affirm that yes, she'd taken it from his dead comrade. As though a decision had been made the hunter flipped the spear over and tossed it to her; stunned, Adele almost didn't catch it. Why hadn't he killed her? Without further ado he turned and strode to the dripping corpse of the alien, and one slice with his blade severed the net. The alien body fell heavily to the floor; as the hunter knelt beside it, carefully avoiding the pool of steaming blood, Adele took first one step backwards and then another before whirling in determination to leave.

She was in a long, rectangular room; she'd fallen through the ceiling at one end, the end where the hunter was now. Quickly she traversed to the length of the chamber, keeping a wary eye out for more threatening creatures, slipping the knife back into her belt while keeping the spear out for quick protection. She had to get back above, had to get her weapons, had to find Lex and Sebastian-

And as she realized there were no current exits in the room, she closed her eyes in utter dismay. She was trapped here for the time being with a hunter and a corpse. After a moment she began to move again, choosing the corner diagonal to the other occupant and settling down against it, bringing her knees to her chest and laying the spear across them. She kept her eyes on the hunter, watching as he systematically dismembered the corpse, noting the way he carefully did so as to avoid the harmful blood of his victim. He was taking more trophies, she knew, and found that she was only vaguely disturbed by this; the alien had, after all, been trying to kill her.

As the minutes passed, Adele further studied the hunter, trying to understand why he hadn't struck her down. Was it because she'd slain one of his kind? She'd thought that by doing so she'd earned the rest of the hunters' instant hatred, but perhaps the fact that she'd done such a thing had earned her some type of respect. Obviously these creatures based a lot on strength, and judging from what Sebastian had deciphered of their culture they valued the prowess of the Hunt, of being able to bring down the most deadly of prey.

And Adele had done just that.

The hunter, having finished his carving of the corpse, had stood and was stringing what appeared to be a mixture of teeth and fingers onto a length of wire. At that precise moment the world began to rumble, and Adele shot to her feet as the pyramid started to shift again. She elongated the spear with a flick of her thumb and pivoted on the spot, preparing for whatever may stumble upon her. Her dread was confirmed when she heard an earth shaking roar; heart in her throat she wheeled about to find that a slab in the wall directly before her had risen, and looming in the new entry was yet another hunter.

She watched, poised to act should she need to, as the new predator came through the entry in slow, sure strides. He was, she saw, slightly shorter than the other that was also currently in the room, but was just as broad. As he halted to roar anew in a manner that was most certainly threatening, Adele found herself taking in other minute details. The upper right half of this hunter's torso was bare from armor, and beneath the mesh she could see a nasty mess of scars decorating the mottled yellowness of that portion of his chest. The rest of the armor it wore was much as she'd seen on the others, but the mask was decidedly different –it was highly detailed, curving lines and indentations, and rising from the bottom where two small, slightly curved tusks. It gave him most assuredly a bestial appearance. His hair was gathered into a thick topknot; the stray pieces fell over his shoulder to hang at markedly different lengths. Like the other hunter in the room, this one had a cannon over one shoulder, but in one of his hands he held a what seemed to be for all the world a glorified version of a scythe; the blade was sharply curved with a jagged toothed edge, and the haft was glistening metal.

As the roar of the new predator died away, he hefted his weapon in both hands and began to advance on Adele with a distinctly threatening gait. Bringing her spear up she began to back pedal, contemplating appealing to the other hunter for aid. She didn't have to, for suddenly said hunter was there before her, inserting himself in the path of his comrade with a snarl. Adele took the opportunity to quickly circle around the two of them, intending to make a break for the newly opened exit. She was halted in her tracks, however, as the first hunter, the one who had killed the alien, turned his head to fix on her with a commanding bark. As he turned his attention back to his comrade, the two of them began to converse in growls and chitters that sounded distinctly unfriendly. The predator that had saved her, the one she found herself thinking of as Tank because of his impressive arsenal, finally gestured with great emphasis at the spear she carried and then at the lock of hair suspended from her waist.

The newcomer turned his head to regard her; she could almost feel the disgust and pretension radiating from behind that savage mask. Face to face with this creature, a name surfaced for him, and it was apt –Tusk. With a noise of definite dismissal, Tusk swivelled about and began a path to the opening he had just entered from, apparently taking the word of his comrade that she was worth leaving alive. Tank followed him, and Adele watched them leave, amazed she'd survived this encounter while simultaneously wondering exactly how the hell she was going to find her way back to Lex and Sebastian. On the threshold of the entry Tank paused, half turning; with a toss of his head he beckoned Adele to follow.

Astounded, she stared at him a moment, and as he snarled at her hesitation she found herself moving forwards on legs that were slightly shaky. As she reached him he turned without further sound and began to walk, and she trailed a short distance behind him as they entered a narrow corridor. She didn't bother pondering how wise this decision was; she wanted to get out of this temple alive, and she stood a better chance with these predators –as violent and unpredictable as they were- than on her own.

IXI