XIX

Inconceivable, to be faced with something not of this world and hear it speak with the voice of a friend—incongruous that its words weren't the threats I expected, but instead a warning that took me absolutely and completely aback. In the seconds that ticked by after Ana's voice had faded I found myself staring wide eyed at the monster and unable to form a single coherent thought. The fact that it could repeat Ana's statement back to me meant that it had been in close vicinity at that time, and I felt my blood run cold to realize that perhaps the entire duration of my stay at this facility I was being observed closely by the hunter. A small part of me was unsurprised by this, unmoved, as though it was something to be expected. Expected …why? I found myself incredulously wondering this as the creature growled low in its throat. It lifted one hand and I cringed, but it merely pointed with one thick finger past me. The only thing there was the elevator, but my confusion was replaced immediately by dismay as I realized what it wanted.

I stumbled back two steps before it caught me again, wrapping one hand around my upper arm and snarling quietly in rebuke to my faltering attempt at flight. I tugged at its hold but realized I would have better luck freeing myself from stone. Again, the giant before me became unnervingly still, head tilted slightly to the side as it studied me from behind a mask frightening in its indifference. Unable to bear the weight of whatever gaze lurked behind the dark visor, my eyes moved upwards to the mark etched into the metal, a twin to what I bore on my cheek. From the depths of the forgotten a slip of memory struggled to resurface, and an instant later it came to me, a disconcerting flash of imagery and thought—

-I'd nicknamed him Scar, because of his own mark and the one he had wanted to give me--

I caught my breath, my eyes still fixated on the mark. I'd not only named the other creature, but this one as well …

Why?

No answer came, and instead the hunter—Scar—made a noise of what seemed to be impatience before stepping past me. He didn't loosen his hold, and so I found myself being hauled unceremoniously down the empty corridor, half stumbling and half running to keep pace and all the while clutching the black sheet to me with white knuckled fingers. As the elevator loomed before us I suddenly snapped back to myself, knowing that wherever I was being taken, it would most likely be unpleasant. I dug my heels in as best I could then, pulling hard against the hunter's grip and for a moment it seemed as though his hold loosened, as though maybe I could break away-

A fierce snarl reverberated throughout the hallway, almost razor sharp in the displeasure it carried, and I fell back as the hunter—as Scar—wheeled about to face me. Panic in the face of his ire drove me to desperation, and I wrenched back with everything I had. Rather than release me he caught hold of my other arm and swung me around a swift ease that left me breathless; he slammed me hard into the wall and held me there, lowering his head until his masked visage was mere inches from my own. I clutched at the sheet with both hands as a deep chittering rumble left him; he was close enough that I could feel the vibrations of the sound through his touch. His fingers on the bare flesh of my arm were exerting punishing force, and I knew instinctively that there would be bruising. It was a long moment under his scrutiny I stood; quite abruptly he pulled back, turned and began to walk again, dragging me with him. I was confused; those hands could have killed me and done so easily, and yet his actions had seemed more like that of discipline than punishment. I followed obediently this time, not wanting to further incite his wrath.

The elevator doors slid open as we approached, and the hunter tugged me inside with him. The elevator only went one way, and that was down; when we reached the ground floor I would try again to free myself, to raise the alarm, to find someone, anyone, to help me-

But who would help me? Here, in this base owned and operated by Reed Weyland, which of his lackeys would disobey orders and defy the giant that was their boss to aid me? I knew the answer to that with chilling certainty; I was entirely on my own. On one side I had Reed, who had used me and exploited my memory loss to his benefit; on the other side was this hunter, who terrified and confused me but to this point had done me less harm than Reed …

The elevator chimed and the doors slid open; I opened my mouth to scream, to alert the guards but the sound died somewhere in my throat. There were two bodies in immediate vicinity of the elevator, strewn out in unnatural positions. Their blood painted a macabre image across the floor, and I knew immediately who had done this. Scar gave me no time to gawk, pulling me with him out of the elevator and striding quickly down the corridor. As we neared my quarters I saw that the same fate had befallen the guard posted outside my door. I wondered dazedly why the alarms remained silent and realized it was only a matter of time before they went off; if what I suspected was correct, these killings had been done carefully, quietly as to not alert security right away. Sooner or later someone on rotation would discover these bodies and perhaps that of Reed, if he was, as I hoped, dead. The hunter and his comrades had wanted time to steal in and complete their tasks without being noticed …

As Scar slowed to a halt outside my door, I realized numbly that I was that task.

He let go of my arm, pushing me gently towards the door with a slight growl. I fumbled with the latch one-handed, refusing to release the sheet, and finally got it open. I entered the room quickly, turning once inside to face the hunter. He closed the door firmly and rather loudly behind him before turning to survey the interior. I had an inkling of why we had stopped here, and my suspicions proved correct when he pointed with two fingers to the closet and said in another's words—this time those of Dr. Taves—"Clothes."

I'd already decided that no matter what were to happen next, I would not be leaving this room without a wardrobe change. I made my way to the closet, conscious all the while of the other presence in the room, and removed a pair of dark sweatpants, a matching hooded sweater, undergarments, thick socks, and a light jacket. Turning with the pile of clothes in hand, I wondered how I was going to convey my need for privacy to Scar. I stared at him, hoping he would grant me that small privilege. He stared back, unmoving, and after a long moment of this he gave a distinctly impatient snarl. I swallowed hard and turned my back to him; what followed was the swiftest adorning of clothes in history.

Almost. I'd managed to get undergarments, pants, and socks on before I heard footsteps approaching; I almost turned but decided against it, decided I didn't want to know what had drawn Scar from his vigil at the door. I felt the light brush of his thick talons against the scars that ran rivulet-like down the entire expanse of my back, felt his touch hover at the nape of my neck. I bowed my head, half ashamed, half proud and inexplicably bewildered by what was happening.

-when he reached out to run a gentle finger over the scars on my cheek I didn't stop him. He pointed then to his own similar scar and said, "Monster," before indicating again my marks and saying –in a man's voice this time- "Lex."-

Sucking in a breath I lifted my head then, turning it to look at the hunter over my shoulder. Despite his ferocious, feral appearance, despite what I'd seen him do … what little recollections that had returned didn't display Scar as a killing machine out for my hide. If anything …

If anything, in them he seemed more like a comrade, a companion.

Reed had said the hunters killed his father, but I couldn't remember that. For all I knew Reed was lying, as he'd lied to me in such great magnitude about everything else. Scar, while proving to have a short and volatile temper, had yet to inflict any real harm upon me. Reed was a manipulator, a liar—but what if he wasn't lying? What if Scar had returned for me in order to be able to complete his hunt and the hunt of that of the other hunters? What if his seeming demeanour of acceptance was merely a façade to lure me with him, to bring me with the least amount of resistance? Something—intuition, perhaps—told me that such an idea was idiotic, but there were too many holes in my current self to trust my safe being solely to intuition.

The hunter trilled shortly, a reminder that we were pressed for time, and I shucked the sweatshirt on quickly, sliding the jacket on over top. Scar returned to the door, and with what felt like an appraising glance in my direction he wrenched it open and beckoned me through. I did as directed, and once we were out in the corridor again, faced with the recently dead body of my guard, I was struck with the enormity of the situation. Scar grabbed hold of my wrist and began to move again, and I followed reluctantly. We headed back in the direction of the elevator, and I wondered where we were going. Surely not back to the second floor, where Reed's broken form lay? My ponderings were answered when we veered from the main corridor into a secondary one; another guard was slumped against the wall here, his blood forming a lurid pool in the dim light. There was a door marked with "Sub 00" to the right, and it was to that door that Scar led me. He shoved it open and pushed me lightly through it, and I found myself at the top of a staircase made of steel grating. The fact that the staircase descended into gradual dark made me suddenly despair.

I felt a hand on my back, and I moved away from it quickly, away from Scar and the bewildered fear he created in me, descending the stairs as quickly as I could in the poor light. My footsteps echoed but were soon drowned out by the heavier, louder steps of the hunter. The staircase was a square spiral; at every small landing there was a small light bulb set into the concrete wall that gave off enough light, barely, to be able to make it safely to the next landing. As we descended, I was highly aware of the presence behind me, and more than once I wondered what would happen if I attempted to bolt. Nothing pleasant, my common sense told me, and so I resigned myself to compliance. Perhaps when we got wherever it was we were going, I could slip away or hide …

Thirteen landings later, Scar called a halt to our descent by again laying a hand on my shoulder. I frowned, looking over the metal railing; there were clearly several more stories to descend before we reached the bottom. Reed had said that this facility was one built for the purpose of extracting oil and natural gas, and here in the basement I saw that he wasn't lying. Large pipes and flanges with chemical labels wound their ways in and out of the walls, intertwining with the stair case. There were gauges and meters attached to the pipes too, and I leaned in close to examine one when Scar's trill jerked my attention back around.

The air before me rippled, and out of the distortion two hunters appeared. And in that moment, faced with impassionate masks and creatures much larger than I, I wondered somewhat frantically if I had left the proverbial frying pan for the fire. I recognized Scale instantly, his armor fitting exactly as I'd pictured and recalled it would. He inclined his head slightly when he looked in my direction, a soft hiss escaping him, and I noted how he stood, leaning against the metal railing as though it were an effort to stand. My eyes were jerked from him to the other member of the trio as he approached, towering over myself and even Scar. His mask was somehow more fierce, more stylized than that of Scar or Scale, and as he bent low the mask filled my vision.

He made a sound that was more roar than growl, and it made my ears ring. This hunter looked spectacularly hostile, and I was terrified to be face to face with him. Despite myself I shied away; the hunter reared back after a moment, tilting his head in a manner that made me think that perhaps he was bemused. I watched, mystified, as he raised one hand, fisted it, and pounded himself twice on the chest-

-he instead gripped my shoulder while with the other hand lightly touched the mark on my cheek. Stepping back then, he thumped himself once on the chest and gave a bark of what I perceived to be approval-

-he looked about as fun to trifle with as a tank, and therefore that's what I would call him-

I shook my head, dispelling the imagery. I had named all three of these hunters, and had apparently, at some point, journeyed with them all …

As Scar gave a commanding bark, as Scale and Tank both turned and began to descend the stairs before them, I made a fervent prayer that Reed had been lying, and that I wasn't just prey to these creatures. If he had been telling the truth then I was most certifiably just a dead woman walking.

XIX