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BlackEagle Girls
The Sacred Secret

Chapter 17 - The Depths of the Secret

As the group levitated up over the rim of the cliffs they found Warragal standing near the BlackEagle observing Tommy, who was groggily climbing to his feet. Of course he couldn't see or hear any of them. All he could see was Shorty's pack and an empty cliff line stretching both right and left. 'Shorty!' he cried out, stumbling forward. Then, steadying himself he dropped to his knees and crawled cautiously to where he could look down at the ledge below. Catching sight of the two injured men he called out, 'Ay! Where's Shorty? What 'appened?'

'Your vicious thug of a mate tried his best to kill us, that's what happened,' shouted Jean-Michael, glancing up. 'Too bad for him that the eagles around here aren't very friendly, perhaps they have an eyrie somewhere nearby!

'Whaddaya mean?'

'I'm saying that he was attacked by a pair of them and went over the edge, your nasty chum found out what "The bigger they are, the harder they fall," actually means.'

'Shorty fell off here?' said Tommy incredulously. 'Eagles attacked him?'

'That's what I'm telling you. Now are you going to try to kill us too, or lend a hand to get us out of here?'

But Tommy wasn't listening, instead he was crawling backward, looking anxiously up at the sky, and to his horror he suddenly caught sight of two rapidly approaching birds; the smaller, with an affected wing beat, the other larger one, its white underbelly shining in the morning sun, its long, broad and powerful black wings beating slowly, deliberately in his direction. Yet it was the massive, grey and black tipped beak, that remained in Tommy's nightmares long after. Abandoning his pack, he leapt up and took to his heels, heading back the way he and Shorty had come, the larger eagle resolutely in pursuit.

With a flurry of loud, metallic honks, Adelle landed in one of those somewhat clumsy, hopping and running dances made all the more awkward by her damaged tail. 'I don't think he'll come back again Lovies,' she said, 'Gavin will see to that.'

'G... G... G... Gavin?' said Priscilla, her teeth chattering, since she was still soaked from her nearly fatal plunge into the sea.

'Mister Skewer, Lovey; best you get out of those wet things before you catch your death. Gavin will be along presently.'

Monique and the others wasted no further time and hurried Priscilla into the BlackEagle to dry off and change into warm clothing. Meanwhile, Skewer had abandoned his pursuit and came winging and honking back to land in that characteristic, unorthodox hop, run, twostep.

'Look at my poor rear-end Gavin,' said Adelle, waddling over to him. 'Still, I suppose I'm lucky to be here at all.'

Gavin Skewer cocked his head to one side as he studied Adelle's nether regions. 'Never mind dear,  it'll take a while to grow back properly, but I think in time you'll be able to shake your tail-feathers. Now I suppose you've been boring these folks with lines like "the eagle has landed" and such?'

'On no Lovey,' said Adelle coyly, preening at her damaged feathers.

'Mister Skewer, it is a pleasure to meet you,' said Fon Jien, with a slight bow, 'but for your intervention, things would have turned out for the worse.'

'That young fellow had much to do with saving those below,' said Gavin, indicating Warragal with a tilt of his beak, 'he risked his own life by revealing himself. A dangerous thing to do at any time, and even more perilous when faced with an armed human. It is also not permitted. Only the death of the man who saw you has avoided the return of everybody and a great deal of complicated business to set things right.'

'I saw you coming and had to give you time before he shot you like he had Missus Skewer,' exclaimed John Wynd. 'I didn't know that she was still alive, but I wasn't going to give him any chance of killing you. I know what I did was something that's forbidden, and I'm prepared to pay the penalty, because it led to the death of that man... '

'Do not feel any connection of guilt in that instance,' said Skewer, in a somewhat lofty manner. 'You helped save two lives.'

'And yet you took a life,' said Fon Jien softly, nodding toward the Sea-eagle.

'I am a Sea-eagle,' returned Gavin. 'I do not have the morals of human kind, which allow far too much leniency to those who transgress the code of creature behaviour. Yes, as eagles we are predators, and that we must practice if we are to survive, but still we would never kill for pleasure or for gain.'

'You and Adelle are more than Sea-eagles,' came Harry's voice from Fon Jien and Warragal's  hand Activators. 'You're not just birds, you're like me.'

'And as you do your dog thing, so we do our bird thing down here on the Tasmanian coast; watching and observing, flying offshore and inland, maintaining vigilance in this corner of the great southern continent. We are like you, and we are not. You are cloaked as a domestic pet, we as wild creatures, and as such we protect all things important to us. Speaking of which, Adelle tells me that you weren't smart enough to project a clear skyline on the underparts of the shield these people were holding to hide the men on the ledge from those above. If you had they wouldn't have communicated with them.'

'Nice speech,' said Harry, and after a moment's consideration he added, ''Well gee, I'm only Alien ya know! Better get on with it then.'

'Ah yes,' said Fon Jien, smiling his enigmatic smile, 'we still have the matter of the two injured men below to deal with. How can we aid them?'

'If it's not permitted for us to actually do anything like showing ourselves and throwing them a rope or something, what can we do?' said Warragal.

'It would seem to me that they require the means of communication to attract attention,' offered Gavin, standing on one leg and stretching out the other. 'I have just come back from the south-east and there is now a search party heading into that region. Even after they discover the vehicles it may take days or even weeks before they get here, and I doubt that fellow I just drove away will volunteer any information. More likely he will scuttle back to his friends at their timber harvesting site and tell what he knows to them.'

'In that case, I think his fellow conspirators will choose to ignore what has happened and leave the two below to their fate. Probably the Piners will lie low until the search is over, and if their "Hidden Valley" remains undiscovered they will return to continue their wanton destruction,' said Fon Jien.

'What's in these carry-things over here,' said Adelle, pecking and pulling at the straps of Shorty's back-pack.

'Worthy of a look, ' answered Fon Jien as the four girls spilled out of the BlackEagle, Priscilla looking concerned, but comfortable again in dry clothing and white coveralls.

'Monica and I have got to get back down to Dad and Jean-Michael. Harry, can we?'

'The levitation field is still operating,' came Harry's voice from several Hand Activators. 'I can't keep it going for too much longer without switching off to re-generate. You've got ten minutes safely.'

'C'mon Moni. Tsu, Terri, coming?'

'The other girls nodded and in moments the four of them went drifting from the cliff-line and vanished from view.

In the meantime, Fon Jien and Warragal busied themselves opening the abandoned packs of the two Piners, with the aid of Adelle's inquisitive beak and talons.

'Tinned meat and fish, cigarettes, bullets, a can of beer, soft drink; nothing much in Shorty's,' said Fon Jien, tipping out the contents.

'Their light tent, a fuel lamp, some more tins of meat, beans, cutlery, coffee,' said Warragal.

'Perhaps,' came Harry's voice from an Activator, 'what might be of use to Mathew and Jean-Michael could, sort of, be assembled and pushed off by two inquisitive eagles?'

Below, the girls hovered around the two men trapped on the ledge. It was a precarious situation with a sheer drop to the water far beneath.

'My friend, Mon Ami, can you hear me? Do you know where you are? Mathew?'

'I know where I'd like to be, home and in the garden playing ball with Harry and the kids. Jean-Michael?'

'Yes, my friend?'

'A while back there, before our violent visitor dropped by, I had the strangest sensation, thought I could hear a voice calling out... Sounded like Priscilla's... '

'Must have been the wind, and you were delirious. I was worried through the night that you might roll off this ledge.'

'Is that why you were cuddling me, and I started to think we might be a number.' Mathew managed a chuckle that ended in a wince as the action jarred his broken leg.

'Bon Ami, you are a dear friend, but I am a man with a wife and daughter; I have no inclination for the, how do you say it, affair. Besides it was very cold, and since your pack with our tent and bedding went over when the cliff broke away and you fell, I had no choice. Lucky for us my pack is still here, at least we have a little food and water to keep us going until a search party finds us.'

'Better use it sparingly. That could be a long wait.'

'They will send up aeroplanes to look for us.'

'There's a lot of inland and coast line to cover, and we're just two little dots on the end of it all. You sure you can't manage to climb back to the top?'

Jean-Michael heaved a large sigh. 'No my friend, and even if I could, what then? I could not walk from here back to the tourist track with this infernal sprained ankle. I doubt that I could make it as far as where we hid our cameras and long range photo equipment. Besides, you would have no one to cuddle at night.'

'I'm sorry, Jean-Michael.'

'Whatever for, Bon Ami?'

'Landing you in this mess. I mean we'd done all the preliminary research for the Doco; people to talk to, those who would talk: Big Business, Politicians, Loggers and Anti-loggers, areas to try to gain access, gear and provisions required, and then I get sucked into this stuff about the Tiger.'

'But as you said, your man Kerrigan has some fairly reliable sources. People who claimed to have seen creatures like the Tiger over a number of years.'

'Yeah, although a lot of that was probably just hype for hicks like us. Anyway, Amigo, we're far off the mark as far as supposed sightings are concerned; two men, one with a gun saw to that. When they caught up with us we got herded into this Range, don't think I even managed to tell Kerrigan actually where we were before my mobile died. Now that's gone anyway. What about yours?'

'Battery is flat too, and even if it could be re-charged it is not very likely to work over such a distance,' said Jean-Michael, as he drew the phone from his jacket and optimistically switched it on. It gave a "battery needs charging" display and he shook his head.


'In your pack at the bottom of the sea.'

'Wish we had some flares or a C.B. radio or something.'

'We have prayer, Mon Ami, that's about all.'

Mathew nodded slowly, 'Let's just hope God hasn't ducked out for a coffee break. Now Jean-Michael, I have a very big favour to ask of you.'

'Anything within my power, my friend.'

'Could you help me to roll over so I can take a pee?'

'Errgh! That's it!' said Priscilla, her cheeks suddenly glowing, 'Let's get out of here! Time must nearly be up anyway!'
She began to ascend, Monique tugging at her sleeve as they rose. 'Did you see my Father's mobile phone?'

'Yeah, no!' said Priscilla, confused and embarrassed all at once.

'It is the same as your Father's, just like the ones he gave us!'

'Then the batteries are all the same!' shouted Terri, who was elevating close behind.

'Interchangeable!' said Tsuang Tsu, as they gained the heights and set down. 'Do you have your mobile phone with you Priscilla?' she asked as they joined the others.

'Oh, no! I left mine at your house,' Priscilla answered glumly, suddenly realising.

'But I have mine with me, and its battery is fine,' announced Monique, producing her phone triumphantly. 'Here! We can use this battery.'

'Well done! Now you're all thinking!' said Harry's voice from their Hand Activators. 'Take it out and stow it with anything of use into Shorty's backpack. Gavin, Adelle! You're going to have to make this look real! Shove the whole thing to the cliff edge and roust it about so that it looks like two sea-eagles tearing the pack apart looking for food, then, whoops! Let it fall!'

'It will look like two sea-eagles doing exactly that,' said Gavin, 'because that's exactly what we will be doing.' He flapped his wings vigorously, almost as if in exasperation.

'Yere, right,' said Harry, sounding somewhat deflated.

'I understand what you're all thinking here,' said Warragal, 'but have you thought it through? Drop them a battery to fire up their mobile and what? This end of Tasmania is so far from any communication towers. How could they ring anybody and get through?'

'They will get through, because the BlackEagle will act as the tower,' Harry interrupted. 'How do you think we are able to hold all these conversations? We Aliens have inscrutable ways, you know.'

In the end, Jean-Michael and Mathew, lying supine on the ledge below the fractured cliff-line, were attracted to a sight few humans ever get to see; high above where the sky met the fractured edge of the cliff, two superb white-bellied sea-eagles were tussling over something. At first the men thought it was another creature, until the birds, fighting and worrying and fretting at it, tugged the object to the brink and it suddenly slipped over the lip of the cliff and plunged down, to crash in a flurry of dust and debris upon the ledge where the two men cringed, protecting themselves from the shower of shale.

'Mathew! It's a backpack!' cried Jean-Michael, scrambling across to the fallen gear on his hands and knees.

'Boy or a girl? You sound like you're announcing a newborn baby,' said Mathew.

'I am, Bon Ami, it's our little baby! Look!' he said, his hands shaking as he pulled open the half broken clasp that was all left to hold the baggage together. 'There is food in here, and a tent, and some cans of soft drink and... oh... the lamp is shattered... but wait! What is this? Cigarettes, and no!'

'And no, what?' said Mathew, attempting to prop himself up without hurting his leg too much.

'This is, is this what I think it is Mon Ami? This is a battery for a mobile phone, Mon Dieu! One that I think fits my phone!'

'What would that pair have been doing with a mobile phone?' said Mathew, a tinge of hope in his voice.

'Who knows? They were involved in some kind of bad business with those big trees,' Jean-Michael answered as he fumbled out his phone and removed the battery inside. 'Maybe we will get lucky, we must try anyway... ah... go in! There! Now,' he panted, 'a dial tone?'

Mathew, his leg giving him a great deal of pain, clenched his teeth in apprehension, as the few seconds ticked by before his close friend nodded and began to hit buttons with fingers that seemed as big and awkward as baseball bats.

'Looks like Jean-Michael has gotten in contact with somebody!' shouted Priscilla, leaning over the edge of the cliff high above the two men. 'He seems very animated and is gesturing a lot with his free hand.'

'That is my Father,' said Monique, at her side, 'he talks a lot with his hands.'

'Even on the phone?' Terri asked, keeping a firm hold on Monique's waist so that she couldn't fall.

'Even in the shower, so my Mother tells me!' laughed Monique, much relieved that her father was communicating with someone who would be able to send aid directly to them.

'This is indeed a wonderful outcome to a desperate situation,' said Tsu, hanging on to Priscilla in like manner to Terri. 'Hopefully, help will come soon, perhaps before nightfall.'

'We shall have to wait and see what happens,' said Fon Jien, standing behind the four girls with John Wynd at his side. 'But now I think you need thank our friends Adelle and Gavin for their effort so far, and to consider the next part of this adventure. It is time for John, Warragal, to seek his destiny.'

'Yes,' said Harry's voice from their Hand Activators, 'but be advised, it is now an hour before mid-day, and everybody must be home again tonight for school tomorrow. You are all on borrowed time. Stay to observe, but nothing else. Warragal, what is your choice here?'

John Wynd turned to look at the others gathered together on the windswept cliffs, his hands open and empty. He bowed his head. 'I want... to find... No. I cannot say anything. I must be silent. I am forbidden.'

'Yes Lovey, we know that,' said Adelle, waddling forward to touch her beak to his fingertips. 'Perhaps if I just showed you where to go?'

'How could you know?' the boy asked, incredulously.

'How?' said Gavin, running Adelle's damaged rear flight feathers through his strong beak, 'because we have dwelt here for a long time. This is our domain. Here we observe as no other creatures can.'

'And you have the benefit of the BlackEagle,' said Harry. 'It will get you wherever you wish to go, while the rest stay here to watch over the men below.'

'I will not,' said Gavin, 'for it is needful that I take to the air and do what is my chosen task. I shall return when I sight humans on their way here.'

'Oh Lovey,' said Adelle, turning about and giving him a peck on his broad beak, 'do take care and come back to our nest. I think that I should go along with this young man to show the way. After all it's not somewhere that anybody but us could find. And when you've got a dog to wag its tail why bother flying?'

'You want to ride in the BlackEagle?' asked Harry.

'Can't hardly go far with these shot tailfeathers Lovey.'

'Very well, you'd better make haste John Wynd, time is important,' said Harry.

The door of the BlackEagle slid soundlessly open and Warragal stepped into its cool interior, Adelle somewhat awkwardly following. 'Wait a minute please,' said John, turning to look back at the others. 'I'd like it if you came with us,' he said, pointing to Priscilla.

'Me?' she said. 'Why would you want me tagging along?'

'You said yesterday that we had something in common... and you were right. Perhaps even more than you know,' he answered, holding out his hand. 'Please come with me, I want you to.'

Priscilla turned to Monique and the others with an expression of bewilderment on her face, 'But what about my dad and your father... ' she began, before Monique interrupted her. 'They will both be fine Cilla, you know we will call you if anything should happen. Don't worry, your sister is right here.' She gave Priscilla one of those wide, toothy grins of hers and hugged her. 'Off you go!' She turned Priscilla about and gave her a gentle push and before Priscilla new it she had taken Warragal's hand and the door was sliding shut behind her.

'Take a seat folks, Adelle, you'd better hold onto what's left of your tail-feathers, this will be pretty quick,' said Harry's voice.

'Now Harry Lovey,' replied Adelle, 'here are the directions,' and she began a series of numbers that Priscilla thought might be map co-ordinates.

'Umm... In that case we just might travel with all shutters up. Warragal and Priscilla could find this very interesting. Oh,' he added, 'you both can sit up and watch, this won't be a fast ride after all,' came Harry's reply.

Within seconds the BlackEagle began to lift off, though the acceleration was gentle in comparison to those Priscilla had experienced in the past. The sky loomed into view as all the windows around the interior slid open and further portals, both overhead and beneath, opened as well. They seemed to be flying inside a huge fish bowl, and they were the fish, staring out at a bright blue void with wisps of cloud tearing past. Below, the heights where the others stood staring up at them receded swiftly and soon they were speeding west, as Priscilla judged, along the cliff line, then over open sea, past green spans of flattish plains and white beaches, further ocean, shoreline, cliffs and then out across rolling combers that swept north.

Moments later, in a leisurely pace for the BlackEagle, they began to descend; a cliff-line rearing up on the horizon, the ocean looming closer below. In a few seconds, the craft dropped past the cliffs at a somewhat alarming rate, the water seeming to rush up toward it. 'Adelle, Harry, are you sure!' yelled Priscilla, looking over at Warragal's staring face, his eyes fixed upon the rolling sea.

Before anyone could answer, the BlackEagle submerged. White water surrounded them on all sides and cascaded over the roof windows. There came a muffled sound of bubbles and swirling eddies, and then a swaying motion as the BlackEagle began to halt its decent and move sideways. They were surrounded by the ocean, rocking in its currents, but slowly progressing underwater. Priscilla and John Wynd held their breath, while Adelle taddled about, honking out her guiding call to Harry.

Then the Black Eagle slowly began to rise.

After what seemed a long time, but was in fact only moments, they surfaced, water pouring from the roof and sides, and the BlackEagle glided free into a dark cavernous opening, dimly illuminated by millions of tiny dots high above and covering the soaring walls. The craft began to slowly skim across the water's surface then up over a stony rise that sloped higher, until they came to rest on a roughly level area somewhere along the walls. Priscilla and Warragal could still see the water below, glimmering with the reflections of all the tiny fairy lights.

'Glow worms,' said Harry, but I think you'd better each take a pair of night-sight goggles with you, and don't forget to re-fill your back-packs with food and water and anything else that you need. It's going to be rather cold when you get out, about seven degrees, so you'd better make sure your comfortable with what you're wearing under your cover-alls.'

'We're going out there?' said Priscilla, slightly alarmed.

'Of course Lovey,' Adelle answered, 'that's what it's all about. Looks interesting, never been in here before.'

'And are you coming with us?' asked John Wynd of the sea eagle.

'No Lovey, I can't fly properly and would only slow you down, but that's fine, Harry and I won't be with you every step of the way.'

'That's what I thought you'd say,' muttered Priscilla, selecting a pair of goggles.

'There are some coils of nylon ropes in the locker by the toilet cubicles,' said Harry's voice. 'Better take them along too, and check the toilet while you're at it.'

'Good thinking,' said Priscilla, stowing her Hand Activator into her pack along with spare clothing and other supplies before vanishing into one of them.

'Got it all sorted out in your mind,' said Harry while Priscilla was absent.

'I think so,' said Warragal, calmly, transferring the contents of his leather case into his back-pack. 'I should like to thank you both for this miracle, I still can't believe it. I don't know what else to say... '

'Nothing to say. It is pretty crazy I suppose, being in an alien ship with a talking eagle and a dog on the other end of the line. Not quite the human picture of being abducted by aliens. Usually you don't get to choose where you're going,' said Harry, with something that sounded like a chuckle.

'Wow!' said Priscilla, emerging from the cubicle, 'I just can't get used to those toilets.'

'Speaking of ablutions,' said Harry, 'I'd like to run you both through Sanitization before you get out. Just stand on the pad by the door. This will only take a few seconds.'

'Gee, it feels kind of weird,' said Warragal, as wriggling sensations seemed to swarm over and through him.

'Yeah, but not unpleasant,' said Priscilla, squirming. 'Bit tickly though.'

As the two were about to step outside, Priscilla suddenly said, 'Look, I don't want to sound stupid or anything, but will someone tell me what's going on? I mean where are we going and what are we supposed to do?'

'Harry and I can't tell you that Lovey,' said Adelle gently, her very large beak stroking Priscilla's nylon-clad arm. 'It's not our secret. Best you get along with John, er Warragal, and see for yourself.'

Outside the BlackEagle, with the door sliding closed at her back, Priscilla turned to Warragal as she adjusted the night-sight goggles on her eyes. 'Well?'

'I can't tell you either,' he answered, tugging his goggles into place.

'Why not!' she shot back at him, feeling like the only one not in on the truth.

'Because I don't know. I don't know what to expect. And even if I did know, I am forbidden to speak. Come on, you can see for yourself.' He turned away and began to climb up a shallow rise that led into the

Frustrated, Priscilla swept her gaze down toward the water below, and by the aid of her night-sight goggles saw the scene there almost as clearly as if it were day. Around the washing sea, which was probably the high-tide mark, were piles of something she couldn't make out. At first she thought they were rocks, but something told her that was not so. They appeared to be hummocks, glittering in the soft glow-worm light. She turned to Warragal but he had already begun to climb the gradient and, still mystified, she followed.

After a time of scrabbling up the loose-shaled, sloping way, the pair came to the summit and peered down through a narrow opening into a glow-worm lit expanse, surrounded by cavernous walls reaching high above their heads. ' Phew! Now I can see why the BlackEagle couldn't go any further,' she said, peering back at the distant outline of the tree-house still perched below. 'What is this place?' whispered Priscilla, awed by the cathedral-like vault before them.

'I think it's a place no outsiders have ever seen,' said Warragal in a hushed voice. 'Come on, and be careful. Let me help you, it looks fairly steep here. Maybe there are better places to climb down but we haven't the time to search for them.' So saying, he slid himself through the gap and went ahead on rump, heels and hands, the weight of his pack holding him against the sharp slope, his shoulders supporting Priscilla's carefully descending feet as she followed.

By the time they reached a level surface, Priscilla was shivering.

'Are you cold?' said Warragal, feeling rather hot after the strenuous, and at times, slippery descent.

'No not cold, just overawed, and a bit scared,' Priscilla whispered. 'I mean take a look at this place, it's like being in a humongous church. See how high the roof is, way up there somewhere in the shadows, and the walls are... are... ' she stopped speaking, gazing with open mouth at something that had caught her eye. 'Warragal!' she hissed, does that look like a drawing to you?' She was pointing to a patch of light colour on the surface of the rock-face a few paces away.

Without speaking, Warragal quickly hastened closer to inspect the image.

'It's like a stencil of a hand!' said Priscilla, coming to his side. 'But it's got one of its fingers missing, see,' she indicated a stump where the index finger should have been.

'It's not missing,' said Warragal, 'com'on, this way,' and he began to follow the line of the wall.

Mystified, Priscilla hesitated for a moment then hurried after him, stumbling once or twice in her effort to catch up. 'Don't you leave me on my own in here!' she rasped, her words ragged with the effort and something creepy that seemed to be running up and down her spine.

Exactly at that moment a faint voice spoke. Priscilla, startled witless, grabbed hold of John's arm so that he stopped in alarm at the pressure of her fingers digging into his flesh. 'Let go! It's only Harry!' he muttered, prising himself free and reaching for his Hand Activator.

'Hi guys,' said Harry brightly. Better turn off the following buttons on your Activators: sight, sound, smell, especially smell, and taste. Leave touch on.'

'Why touch?' asked Priscilla, fumbling for her Activator.

'Because you need to feel your way, and turning off touch tends to do funny things with your atomic, molecular physical structure over periods greater than an hour or so, and I guess you'll be longer than that. By the way, no word on a rescue party for your dad yet.'

'Thanks for the update,' said Priscilla , slightly louder than before, having depressed the designated buttons and shown John which ones to use. 'O.K. What now?'

'Shh! Listen!' said Warragal, holding up his hand. 'Did you hear that?'

'Hear what?' said Priscilla, nervously.

'That,' insisted Warragal.

From somewhere far ahead there came a faint, husky sound that was clipped off at the end of its note like a door shutting on someone coughing. It was repeated several times, then there was utter silence. Except for Priscilla's withheld breath, which she expelled in one huge rush. She imagined the sound of her heart pounding and knees knocking might also be audible, then reminded herself that sound had been switched off. 'What in the world was that ?' she managed.

'Don't know. Wind through the caves maybe,' said Warragal, setting off in the direction of the sound, 'This way, stay close to me.'

'Wind in the willows just as likely! Stay close to you... ' said Priscilla, practically wearing him like a second skin. 'What the heck do you think I'm gonna do? Stop and have a picnic!'

They had only travelled a dozen paces when they saw a further splash of white on the wall ahead. It was another hand painting, but this time it was a solid image and the second finger was missing.

Without saying a word, John proceeded with Priscilla almost climbing into his back-pack behind him. The wall they were following bent away to the right and they came again to a narrow opening in the rocks. Together, the pair took a look at what lay within.  Glow worms covered the walls, but the night-sight goggles were more than ample to penetrate the gloom, revealing a fantastic sight to the onlookers. Below them lay a cavern through which water, at the lowest parts flowed, and above that meandering stream, were galleries of rock paintings: wonderful, wonderful vivid pictographs of animals and unmistakable stick figures that were hunting men, in many and varied stances. The enormity of the works made Priscilla gasp. 'Oh! My God!' she uttered, hanging onto Warragal's arm, her other hand to her mouth. 'Will you just look at this! It's incredible! I've never seen anything like it! Now I know why you brought me here! This is the most fabulous, magical, unreal place! Just think! Thousands of years ago people were here making all this. Woo! No wonder it's been kept as a secret! Of course I won't ever tell anyone, it's just too fantastic, and if you want me to stay shtumm, that's fine by... ' she halted, cut off by Warragal's uplifted hand.

Suddenly the air about them was filled with a cluttering of twisting, whirling, gyrating black forms, clicking and vibrating as they scattered about in clouds of massing and decreasing formations, to swirl off into the depths beyond.

' Were... were they bats?' said Priscilla, shaking from head to toe and hanging onto Warragal's arm like a leech.

'Yes, shut up!' came his instant reply. 'Look! Look down there!' he pointed, his free arm extended.

Priscilla followed his line of vision and choked. Far off, on the margins of their night-sight, she could see movement; vague forms emerging from the darkness of the depths, and with them she thought she heard a clipped, cut-off coughing sound that now resonated faintly through the cavernous depths.

Chapter 18 [next]

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