An extract from my adult sci-fi/fantasy/western novel The Wulf and the Tiger. This does not follow on from the previous part, but is a later extract. Please bear in mind it’s a first draft work in progress, and there may be mistakes not yet caught.
Jay bumped into Savvi, and Alexia into him. Savvi had stopped.
‘What’s going on?’ he said.
Nobody answered, and he felt a touch on his other shoulder that, if he was a lesser man than he was now, would have made him piss himself. It’s Dol Sander. It’s Dol Sander. He’s telling you to shut up.
Jay listened. The blackness around him seemed to swallow all noise.
There it was. A slight slapping sound, like wet leather. He could not tell how close it was, only that it was to his right. Perhaps there was a passage that intersected with this one. Or maybe they were no longer in a passage at all, but they were in a vast hall. He had no way of knowing. Maybe Dol Sander was leading them past the sleeping quarters of hundreds of ghoums. The First Ones . . .
They stood frozen for what seemed like forever. Time as a measurable concept disintegrated, swallowed up by a bubble of empty night. His fingers dug into Savvi’s shoulder, and Alexia’s nails dug into his. He almost cried out loud when he felt something brush past his leg. It’s the tiger. It’s the fucking tiger. It’s furry, it’s the tiger. Why the fuck is the tiger moving? STOP MOVING YOU FURRY FUCK!
The scrabbling had disappeared into the distance, but still they were motionless. Eventually (and who knows how long it was in the end? An hour or a mere minute?) Dol Sander must have moved forward, for Savvi began to move also, and then they all were, a motley line of beings entirely out of their depth, walking on fear.
At first he thought he was imagining it, or that it was a trick of his vision. But no, there it was: light. It was very faint and low, but there was a green glow coming from up ahead. As they approached he began to make out the outlines of the others, the hand he waved in front of his face. The relief was palpable, but it was not to last.
The glow came from the rocks, he found. Some luminescent mineral. It was still barely enough to see by, but that was enough. He felt Savvi’s shoulders relax, and he let go. Alexia’s hand fell away from him.
Some kind of cave system, he thought at first, but as he looked around he saw the work of a fallen civilisation: sharp corners and smooth stones, crumbled doorways, pillars disappearing above them into oily heights. The glowing substance crawled and climbed over the place like weeds. Maybe it’s not a rock at all, maybe it’s some imitative fungus. Either way I’m thankful.
He was reaching out to touch one when Dol Sander stopped in front of them, a dagger silently appearing his hands. Jay looked past him and saw the ghoum.
It emerged from between two rocks with a slick, wet sound, its bald head bobbing from side to side like a moored boat. It shuffled closer, each of them holding their breath, staring directly at it or straight ahead in fixed terror. Jay was the former; he couldn’t keep his eyes off the creature. Dol Sander was right: it had no eyes, and only a small slit for a nose, but its ears were like deep gills cut into the sides of its face, and they seemed to tremble in the glowing darkness.
Its entire body was thin and fleshy, skin stretched over wasted muscles. Its hands and feet webbed, extended arms hanging loosely at its side. The way it moved seemed almost boneless.
Jay didn’t know what sound alerted it; someone must have breathed. Its head jerked up and it flopped, slopped towards them with a terrifying burst in speed. Its mouth yawned open displaying dripping gums and hundreds of needle-like teeth.
Everybody’s hands went to their weapons, but Dol Sander got there first. He flashed forward and the creature’s neck split open. Thick goo oozed out and the creature dropped – but not before it had made a hollow, reverberating groan, a disgusting oooooom noise that seemed cavernous.
Oooom, came the replies. Oooom. Ooooom.
‘Where are they coming from?!’ Alexia cried. ‘It’s everywhere!’
‘Silence, Alexia!’ Dol Sander said, his thin sword now clutched in his hand.
‘Too late now,’ Savvi said. ‘They’ve found us.’
‘It’s never too -’ started Dol Sander, but ducked as a pillar shattered by his head. If the creature’s dying call had seemed loud, the gunshot that boomed and echoed could have filled the world. It temporarily drowned out the ghoum calls, but as it faded they returned, tripled in number and in intensity.
‘Who the fuck was . . . It’s them!’ Dol Sander said, and they all turned with him to face what was behind.
‘Think they’ll band together with us against the ghoums?’ Jay said. He reached for his rifle but Dol Sander put his arm out and stopped him, dragging Jay to behind the pillar where Savvi and Alexia had darted. The tiger was already there, Alexia aggressively stroking his back, more likely for her comfort than his.
‘What do you think?’ Savvi said, hoisting her bow.
‘This is good,’ Dol Sander said. ‘No, it is. They will summon the ghoums. This was the plan. I had just hoped we would not have been with them at the time.’
‘So what, we run and hide?’
‘How quietly can you run?’
‘Never measured. You?’
They heard now a thum-thum-thum, and knew it as the hulk loping towards them, picking up speed with the single-minded force of a battering ram.
‘Everybody,’ Dol Sander said. ‘Run and hide. In my general direction. Go!’
‘Ghoums versus bad guys,’ Jay said, in between breaths as he took off. ‘We’re staying out of it.’