Kelsey ducked under an overhang at the edge of the cave, “Left or right, Goober?”
Her twin sister, Ana, looked between the two options and shrugged, “Right!”
Checking the GPS to ensure they were still being properly tracked, Kelsey led the way down the narrow passageway, the light from her powerful headlamp tripping over the striated walls.
“Remind me again why we’re trekking an uncharted set of caves in the middle of the fucking tundra, sis?” Ana said, innocently, “Oh, that’s right, you have a crush on your professor!”
Kelsey turned back to glare.
“Oh, Jessica, if I and my sister die charting this cave system will you cry at my funeral?”
“You’re like a child, Ana, shut up.”
Ana laughed and tripped on a rough bit of stone, tumbling into Kelsey.
Kelsey swore and braced herself against the wall, turning back to catch Ana by the arms and set her back on her feet, “You alright? Need a rest?”
Ana began to say she was fine, then stopped and nodded, “That’d be good, actually, maybe when we find a wider bit?”
Kelsey nodded her light towards what looked to be the edge of the current corridor, “Looks like it widens out a bit here, c’mon, anything hurt?”
“Nothing on the outside,” Ana grinned.
In a few moments they were in a medium-sized, roughly round cavern, their lights just barely able to reach the far side. Ana sat and began unpacking some food and water, sighing happily as the weight of supplies left her feet and shoulders for a while.
As Kelsey walked around, looking at the options for their next exit, marking down and features of the rock on the tablet that was creating a digital map as they walked, she felt something crunch under her feet.
Looking down, she frowned, then stepped carefully backwards. Littering the floor were bones of various sizes.
“Ana, get the camera would you?” Kelsey motioned her over.
Groaning as she stood, Ana handed the camera over, looking at the bones. Her own studies kicking in, she knelt to examine the find, “Looks like animals to me, not human. Some critters – rodents and the like. Some bigger, probably predators coming after food. Not sure why so many would die here…looks like something gnawed on the bones though. Sharp teeth, lots of them, large bite radius…nothing I recognise though.”
Ana stood, letting Kelsey finish taking photographs and aiming the camera attached to her helmet at anything interesting. Looking farther around the cave, she spotted a niche in the wall farthest from the passageway they had used to enter.
“Kelsey, here,” she moved closer, her headlamp picking out two large, pale, speckled eggs. “Dude, these are the size of my head!” Ana carefully picked one up and held it for Kelsey to photograph.
“You recognise these?”
Ana shook her head, “Not even a little. Can’t think of anything that lays eggs like this.”
“You, er, think we’re in the house of whatever it is?”
Ana looked around, “Well…bones, eggs in a kind of nest,” she reached in and pulled out a handful of feathers, “I’d say probably, and not all of those bones are old. Neither are all these claw marks,” she indicated the ground.
“Uh…so whatever these eggs belong to might be coming back?”
Ana stood, looking around nervously as she placed the egg back in its niche with its twin. “So maybe we should go, yeah?”
“Y- what was that?” Kelsey whirled at a scraping sound, looking for whatever moved.
Ana froze as a small stone bounced off her shoulder, and they locked eyes before slowly looking up towards the ceiling.
Their headlamps picked out a large, dark, feathered frame, with batlike wings and a long, pointed beak which opened to hiss at them, revealing double rows of needle-like teeth.
“Shiiit!” Kelsey grabbed Ana and turned to run, pounding through the caves, trying to escape the scraping sounds of wings and claws against stone.
The creature’s hiss turned into a howl of joy as its clawed hand reached out and snagged Ana’s backpack, yanking her out of Kelsey’s grasp and dragging her, screaming, back through the caves.
Kelsey turned to follow, but stumbled, tripping over Ana’s helmet and going down, her head and the side of her face slamming against the stone floor, her own helmet flying off as unconsciousness overtook her.
When she woke, it was pitch dark. The batteries on the headlamps had run out, leaving her with nothing but a deep, throbbing pain in her head, neck and left arm, and the feeling of dried blood down the left side of her face, neck, and clothes.
She felt around in the darkness, whimpering softly with pain, with fear, and with loss as she reached for the place inside her where her twin sister used to live and felt nothing.
Eventually she found the headlamp, and rooted through her pack for batteries. Her eyes shrank from the light, and then, when she could focus, from the trail of blood on the ground.
“Ana…” she sobbed softly.
In the distance, she thought she heard a low hiss and scrambled to her feet, grabbing for the GPS system attached to her waist. Fortunately the tough casing had kept it safe, and it was able to show her a way out. Whatever the creature was, it was too late for Ana, and too much for her. She needed to tell someone else.
“I’m sorry, sis,” she mumbled, swallowing painkillers with a swig of water. She sent a garbled message to her professor, telling her about the creature, asking her to send help, and then, staggering to her feet, clung to the wall until her head stopped spinning. “Here be fucking monsters,” she mumbled, and began the long trek back out.
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