CHAPTER TWO

The stairs led downward for several yards. There was no light and soon after entering the passage it was cast into total darkness. Wilson removed a small flashlight from his pocket and turned it on. The beam from the light was a distinct amber color and provided barely enough light to see by. A handrail on either side of the stairway provided stability for descending the stairs.

Christine glanced behind her and saw the men following each with a flashlight with an amber beam. She smiled to herself. One of the safeguards that Crawley had mentioned. The demons were completely blind in the dark. And they couldn't see into the yellow spectrum so not even the flashlights would have afforded them any assistance.

At the bottom of the stairs the passage continued onward for several dozen more yards. It finally opened into a large cavern. The cavern was not natural. She could tell that from the walls. Covering the entire width of the cavern, perhaps 40' across, was an underground river. A single bridge, barely wide enough for one person to cross at a time, spanned the width of the river. Crawley walked across the bridge and Christine followed, in turn being followed by the armed men.

On the other side of the bridge Crawley stopped at a large metal door inset into the wall. The door sat in the back of a small depression in the wall, perhaps 10' by 10'. When all of the men had crossed the bridge, Gregory entered a code into a keypad on the wall. The bridge across the river slowly began to retract leaving no way to cross the river. Then Gregory entered another code and the door suddenly opened.

"Pretty smart," said Christine aloud. "Demons can't swim. Without the bridge there's no way they could get this far."

"Be quiet," Gregory ordered.

Christine looked at Gregory. No fear showed in the man's face. But there was no fear on her face either. He was bigger than she was, standing nearly a foot over her 5'6" frame. He wasn't unattractive but he was hardly what she would call handsome. He had a rugged appearance suggesting that he was no stranger to conflict.

"Take it easy, Sasquatch," said Christine. "I'm not a threat to you."

"That has yet to be determined," said Gregory. "And I don't know who this Sasquatch is but I told you. My name is Cruise. Gregory Cruise."

"Sasquatch isn't a who," said Christine. "It's a what. It's a . . . oh, nevermind. Lead on, Crawley."

Crawley proceeded through the door and they continued down another passage for perhaps one hundred yards. At the end was another metal door identical to the one they had just come through. Crawley pressed a button on the wall located directly beneath a speaker.

"Crawley, Cruise," he said into the speaker. He glanced back at Christine. "And friend," he added.

The door suddenly opened and Crawley proceeded through. Christine followed and got her first look at the main part of the underground complex. The door led to a large room that had passageways leading off in several directions. She could see doors down each passageway along both sides. People moved about the passageway and she even saw some children in the corridors. As they entered several more armed men stepped up surrounding the small group.

"Crawley," said one of the men. "We had almost given you up. You were supposed to have been back over an hour ago."

"I got some good samples," said Crawley, opening his bag to show the man what was inside. "Most have seeds in them. I'm hoping I can use them to replenish what we've lost. This is Christine. She saved me from a rogue."

"That's all?" questioned the man. "Just Christine?"

"Never needed much more than that," said Christine. "And you would be?"

"Parmon," replied the man. "Parmon Shanks. I'm in charge of security here. What were you doing outside by yourself?"

"That's my business," said Christine.

She looked Parmon over. He was just a couple of inches taller than she was. He had brown hair and wore a mustache. Small patches of grey could be seen in his hair. And he looked like a man who was used to being in charge.

"Look," said Parmon, "there are scavengers that roam the countryside. Human ones who don't care who they hurt and just take what they want. If you're not one of them then you have no reason to be afraid of us. I just want to make sure that you aren't a threat to the complex."

"I told you I wasn't," said Christine. She glanced around at the armed men surrounding them. "But where I come from and what I'm doing outside is my own business. It's got nothing to do with you."

"She hunting an Overlord," said Crawley. "And she can take care of herself, Parmon. Took care of a rogue in very short order, let me tell you."

"You'll have to surrender your weapons," said Parmon. "Only the security force is allowed to have weapons down here. It's purely a precautionary measure. Once we've ascertained you aren't a threat they'll be returned to you."

"Well, now, that's not going to happen," said Christine.

"If you don't surrender your weapons voluntarily, we'll remove them by force if necessary," said Parmon.

"You're more than welcome to try," said Christine, glaring at the man.

Parmon glared at her for a moment. It was clear he was used to being in charge. And to having his orders obeyed, usually without question. It was just as equally obvious that he disliked this young girl who appeared to be half his age defying him. Christine tensed, expecting at any moment he would make good on his threat to use force.

"Parmon, that's no way to treat a guest," said a woman, walking up to the group.

The woman was older than Parmon. Her silver hair was wrapped up around her head and she was dressed in a floor-length black dress. She was smiling as she walked up to the group. The armed men instantly parted to allow her to walk up to Christine.

"Matron Barrett," said Parmon. "She's a stranger. It's my job to ensure the safety of this complex. An armed stranger invites trouble."

"I seriously doubt if she were a threat she would have voluntarily walked in here," said Barrett. "And I understand she risked her life to save Wilson. It would appear we owe her a debt of gratitude. I'm Matron Trin Barrett. I'm one of the members of the Triad. The governing body of this complex."

"Christine," said Christine, looking over at Parmon.

"Welcome, Christine," said Barrett. "You must forgive Parmon. He has a great responsibility protecting those of us down here. And he's very good at his job. But sometimes he can be a bit overzealous in that respect."

"I can understand that," said Christine. "I've met my share of scavengers. But I won't give up my weapons."

"Well," said Barrett thoughtfully, "I don't suppose it would hurt for you to keep them. After all, Parmon, she's only one girl. Are you seriously saying she's a threat to your entire armed security force?"

"As you wish, Matron," said Parmon. "But the first sign of trouble and I'll deal with it."

"You might find that more difficult than you imagine," said Christine. "But like I said, I'm not a threat. I'm just passing through, so to speak. I'm not looking for trouble from you."

"Sees that it stays that way," said Parmon.

He nodded to the armed men and they all turned and left the entry area. Wilson excused himself, saying something about needing to get the plants to his lab, and left. Barrett just smiled at him as he left.

"Parmon isn't usually so combative," said Barrett. "He can be quite friendly. But he's very suspicious of strangers. I can't say I blame him. Many of them have no compunction in trying to take what they want."

"I can relate to that," said Christine. "I've met those kind before. What is this place? I've never even heard of a rumor about a place like this."

"It was originally a research facility," said Barrett. "Back before the cataclysm and the Demons. When the cataclysm struck we were protected from it. Because we're so far underground. Our ancestors decided to stay. We have everything we need. There's an underground river that provides us with all the fresh water we need. And we have some hydroponics labs where we grow most of our food. We even have some livestock."

"How many people are here?" Christine asked.

"Not quite 500," said Barrett. "We're very careful to keep our population within controllable limits. Our resources aren't infinite. If we were to grow too much we would easily overextend what we have. Now it's your turn. You said your name is Christine. So, Christine, what were you doing wandering the countryside all by yourself?"

"Just passing through, as I said," said Christine.

"But to where?" questioned Barrett. "There's not much in this part of the country. Certainly no settlements nearby. And a young girl all alone would be an easy target for any demons she might have come across."

"I'm not exactly defenseless," said Christine, patting one of the daggers on her thigh. "Actually, I'm looking for someone. An Overlord that goes by the name of Pol. I have business with him."

"Business with an Overlord?" questioned Barrett. "The only business the Demons have with humans is using us as a source of food."

"Oh, they have other interests," said Christine. "Pol murdered my mother when I was 7. I thought I'd return the favor."

"You're hunting an Overlord to kill him?" questioned Barrett. "That would be a difficult proposition at best. Demons are very difficult to kill. Their hide is extremely tough. Even bullets usually just bounce off it."

"Let's just say I have an added advantage," said Christine, touching the sword across her back. "And I've killed my share of Demons before. Like the one that was stalking Crawley. It's a good thing I showed up when I did. If I hadn't he would never have made it back here."

"And for that we thank you," said Barrett. "You must be tired." She looked around and saw a young teenage girl passing through the hallway. "Jessica."

The young girl came over immediately. She bowed slightly to Barrett and glanced at Christine.

"Jessica, this is Christine," said Barrett. "She's going to be staying with us a few days. Would you show her to one of the empty quarters? And see that she's provided with whatever she needs." Barrett turned back to Christine. "Jessica will take very good care of you. I'm afraid I have some business to attend to at the moment. Perhaps we can talk again later."

"Sure, no problem," said Christine.

"Hello," said Jessica as Trin walked away. "You're new here. We don't get many new people."

"I'm just passing through," said Christine as they walked down the corridor.

"You sure have a lot of weapons," said Jessica. "Down here only the security forces have weapons."

"So I've been told," said Christine. "What do you do down here?"

"Oh, we all have responsibilities," said Jessica. "I help out in the kitchen. That's when I'm not going to school. We also help keep the common areas clean. And there's a really extensive library if you like to read. It's open to everyone."

"That's good to know," said Christine.

"Well, here we are," said Jessica, opening the door to Christine's quarters.

The quarters were rather Spartan but very functional. There was a bed, a small desk with a chair, an open closet to one side and another door that Jessica indicated went to a bathroom complete with a shower. Christine dropped her pack onto the bed and looked around.

"Very cozy," she said. "What about looking around? Is that permitted?"

"Sure," said Jessica. "Only you can't go into areas with a red door. They're clearly marked. They're restricted for one reason or another. And they're locked. Other than that you can go anywhere you want. The next meal will be in a couple of hours. There's a cafeteria straight down this hallway. Some people like to go in there and read or whatever. It's usually pretty quiet."

"Thank you," said Christine.

"Well, I need to get back to the kitchen," said Jessica. "Maybe I'll see you at the meal."

"Maybe so," said Christine.

Christine sat down on the bed and looked around the room. It was a comfortable room. But she had spent a long time roaming the countryside. She really wasn't comfortable in a place like this. But it was safer than staying outside. The weather was getting warmer. That meant that Demons would be roaming around.

This place intrigued her. Most survivors of the cataclysm lived in caves or small villages in out of the way places. She had run into a few that lived underground but nothing like this. Mostly underground caverns that afforded protection against the roaming bands of Demons that constantly searched the countryside.

This place was different. It had specifically been built underground. Probably near the underground river so they would have a constant source of water. It was probably what had saved their ancestors from the destruction that had covered the world. The climactic changes and upheavals would have been minimized so deep underground.

Jessica said the cafeteria was open to anyone. There were bound to be several people in there. She was curious about this place and the best way to get answers was to ask questions. She decided to head for the cafeteria and see what she could find out. She decided against taking her sword with her. It would probably make the denizens down here nervous since no one was allowed to carry weapons.

As she left the room she glanced up the hallway and saw 2 guards standing nearby. She imagined there were guards on duty all the time in case there was a problem. She turned and headed to the cafeteria.

As she entered the room she noticed it was quite large. Long rows of tables filled the room and against one side was a serving line. Behind the serving line must be the kitchen. Several people sat around the room reading or writing something or just talking. Most of the people were young people.

Christine took a look at the people sitting around the room. Most, she decided, were probably too young to know anything appreciable about the complex. They were probably still learning about such things in their school classes. She decided it would probably be better if she waited until there were some more adult people around.

She turned to leave the room and noticed the 2 guards she had seen down the hallway standing just inside the door to the cafeteria. She smiled slightly. Obviously they weren't some patrol as she had first thought. It was equally obvious why they were there. She headed for the exit.

"Come on, fellas," she said. "Maybe instead of following me you could give me a tour of the place."

The 2 guards looked at each other with a perplexed look on their faces as they followed her out of the room.