Chapter 14: The Blood & The Death

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"Bad news," Tristan said. She'd been scouting the next room while Trent was watching her back. They weren't entirely convinced the strange cloud of darkness wouldn't come after them. "You'd better come in here and look at this."

Trent slipped in through the open door. They were back in a Cyr building, with awkward Cyr architecture. Curving rooms, too-white paneling, all of it much bigger than necessary. But what was waiting for them in the next room was more interesting and eye-catching. The thing that Trent had come to think of as the Flayer was back. Its handiwork was visible everywhere. Blood painted the walls, and the bodies...

Nearly a dozen and a half of them, all dumped on the floor in random positions, tossed aside like old, broken, skinless dolls. All of them perfectly without an inch of skin left on them. They could have been base personnel or Dark Ops.

He supposed it didn't matter now. At least not to them.

"Well," Trent said. He couldn't think of anything else to say.

He still had a good idea of the map in his head. They had to pass through this room, then down a long corridor, take a left and the door to the room they wanted would be somewhere in that corridor. He and Tristan began making slow but steady progress through the alien slaughterhouse. As they pressed on, Trent began to hear the low, heavy thud of what he imagined was a titanic heart, hooked up to machinery, pumping black blood.

"Do you hear that?" he whispered.

"Yeah," Tristan murmured.

"What is that?"

"I think it's the Presence," Tristan said after a long moment's contemplation.

Trent blinked in surprise. He honestly didn't know how he hadn't pieced that together for himself. It made perfect sense. But was it an actual heart? The sound of a base coming to life with dark, awful energy? Or something manufactured? A sound to make the place seem that much creepier? Trent wasn't sure which was worse.

They reached the far side of the room and passed through the door there. Trent went through first this time. They decided it would be best to switch off. So it was he who first caught sight of the terror that was waiting for them in the corridor beyond. For a second, Trent froze, his mind unable to comprehend, yet again, what he was seeing. That seemed to be happening a lot just lately. He couldn't do anything but stand there and stare.

"Is it clear?" Tristan asked from behind him.

He kept staring. This must have been the Flayer. There seemed to be some kind of dark central mass, though it didn't appear to be made of flesh. At least not any kind that he had seen before. It stood on four bent blades, where its legs should have been. A dozen, maybe as many as two dozen, silvery blades extended from the central mass of its 'body'. It was in the process of working on a corpse.

Trent watched in horror.

It held the corpse aloft by its feet. The body was naked. It ran several of its blades together in a disturbingly eager sharpening motion, then set to work. The work was well and truly horrible, and yet there was an awful eloquence to it. The blades moved with smooth, controlled precision. Once it began, the dance of the Flayer did not cease. Skin began to come off the body in smooth strips. As it did, it never touched the floor.

Instead, other blades fed the strips into the central mass.

This continued for perhaps thirty seconds, half a dozen blades sailing smoothly over the twists, the turns, the contours of the corpse, never nicking muscle, never cutting into bone. Just like that, it was done, and the body was skinless.

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