Slowly, as they all watched Weis poking about amongst the sticky remains, the ringing in Bodil's ears subsided.
She started to hear the movement of boots on the ground and the occasional random expletive from Ranger Weis.
"Well." Bodil ventured, testing her voice. It sounded odd. "That was interesting."
The others took that as some kind of cue and tension relieving conversation broke out. Well, except for Gregor of course.
However, when Weis returned to them, wiping his fingers down the legs of his trousers, his expression wasn't comforting.
"Problem?" Ellie asked.
"Yeah, could be, could be."
Hobbes was already turning back up the tunnel.
"Perhaps we should head back then?"
"What kind of problem?" Bodil put in while grabbing Hobbes by the arm.
Weis started with a sniff, something he always seemed to do.
"The thing is, all those little buggers we just shot up are all girlies. Some of 'em 'ave still got eggs attached. But some of 'em 'aven't though. An' that's the problem."
There was a general muttering along the lines of "Oh shit" as everyone understood the significance of Weis' words.
"'Course," Weis went on. "They might not 'ave 'atched yet. Might not. But if they 'ave then there's gonna be 'undreds of the buggers. Could be crawlin' with 'em down there.
" He indicated further into the darkness. "Depends 'ow long they've bin 'atched."
Ellie cursed under her breath but looked more annoyed than worried.
Bodil let go of Hobbes' arm. Hobbes thankfully stayed put so Bodil turned to Weis.
"Is there any way of knowing? How long they might have been hatched for."
Weis thought about it, screwing his nose up.
"My guess is a few days. All them females gather together to lay so they're all gonna be layin about the same time. 'Course that's just goin' by what we can see 'ere.
Might be there's others further on that have bin an' gone."
"You mean already laid their eggs and left?"
"Yeah." Weis paused and did some more nose scrunching before again sniffing. "If you pushed me though, I'd say no. See," He looked up at the ceiling and all around.
"This is like perfect for them, just here. Further up the way we came, it's too wet, rots the eggs. Further on the way we're going, it's gonna be too cold."
Ellie re-joined the conversation.
"How do you know that?"
"Vegetation innit? Makes it warmer, all that nice warm mossy shit. Not gonna be enough water further on. No water, no mossy shit, no bugs."
Ellie looked much less annoyed.
"Good. We go on. Weis, please take point. If you don't mind, I'd like Gregor up with you. Mister Hobbes, Professor Hill, you're next. I'll keep an eye out behind us."
Weis didn't look too happy at having his order of march changed, but a moment's thought showed him it made sense. The ticks could be behind them now as well.
They set off.
Archaeologist Hobbes now directed the party through several much narrower tunnels and then down a flight of stone steps, keeping up a nervous commentary as he did so.
"It's remarkable how so many ceramic tiles have managed to remain attached on these smaller passageways...
You can still feel a slight breath of air from the natural convection ventilation system... Down those steps are the Northern Line train stops.
The southbound tunnels have the flood defence gates still in place...."
Only professor Hill was paying any attention, and even for her, it was more to keep the oppressiveness of the narrow tunnels at bay.
The only other time the tense monotony was broken was when Weis cheerfully stomped several tick nymphs into mushy oblivion.
Eventually, the tunnel they were in opened up into a larger concourse, similar to the one they had emerged into after first entering the excavation but nowhere near as overgrown.
Hobbes stepped forward.
"Ah. Here we are."
The party gathered in a group facing him while looking around at the mostly intact walls and ceiling.
"Much better, isn't it? You can imagine our delight at finding this." Hobbes joined the rest looking around for a few seconds before going on.
"Unfortunately, that didn't last long once we started finding signs of more recent disturbance."
"Oh. Like what, mister Hobbes?"
Hobbes blinked. The Troy woman's question had been sharp, demanding even. At last, the penny started to drop. So that's what all this was about.
Not something they'd done, or not done, or damaged, or stolen, or any of the other possible reasons he and some others had dreaded regarding the unexpected visit by these people.
Hobbes felt a huge weight lifting from his shoulders.
"Well, erm, the damage for one thing. Whoever had made the entrance hole into the station had brought a whole lot of equipment with them.
" Hobbes gestured Ellie to follow him and led her, and the others, across the concourse. "Look here. Absolute vandalism."
Plascrete rails had been unceremoniously bolted into the ground, shattering ancient floor tiles in the process.
In other places, deep post holes had been drilled, and in the walls, there were similar holes for horizontal crossbeams. Hobbes pointed all of these out in an angry little dance.
"Whoever they were, they destroyed valuable archaeology just so they could build what was probably a storeroom of some kind.
We found cables, boxes of fastenings, broken electronics, all kinds of rubbish in just this area. Oh, and graffiti...
" Hobbes led them around a corner to a patch of undisturbed tiling on the wall. "... See?" He shone his torch onto the wall and the others followed his lead.
It was very faded.
Everyone looked at it. Only Ellie recognised it. It was a stencil, a spray paint image of a stylised bird inside a broad black circle.
The bird's head and sharp beak were seen in profile, but the body of the bird was a frontal depiction of its large wings folded down, cowl-like, to either side of it.
"Yes, Mister Hobbes," She said, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice. "I see what you mean. Quite shocking."
Hobbes was still looking at it, shaking his head.
"Disgraceful, isn't it? But you've yet to see the worst. You'll see, it's on our way."
The party moved off, leaving only Weis and his single torch beam looking up at the martial imagery. He was sure he'd seen that birdie somewhere before. He shrugged.
It would come to him, eventually. Not wanting his little flock of boffins to wander into anything he was gonna catch flak from the sergeant for, Weis hurried after them.