Tag Archives: gunslinger

WULF sequel SLADE now available!

It’s my pleasure to announce that the next Fifth Place book, the sequel to the weird science fantasy western WULF, is finished and available HERE!

It’s called SLADE – it’s more irreverent, darker, crazier, more complex and twice as epic! This is where things really get going in the series. And if you want answers to all the questions raised in WULF, here is where you’ll find them!

 

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SLADE (The Fifth Place Book 2) finished!

I’ve been working on the crazy sci-fi adventure SLADE, the sequel to WULF, for god knows how long, but I’m so pleased to say that as of today I finally finished it! Well, sort-of. It still needs a careful read through and editing away issues and mistakes – and fervent praying that there’s no gaping plotholes… but still!

It’s currently 123,353 words long, making it longer than its predecessor WULF by 50,000 words, and longer than the longest novel I’ve written by 40,000 words. It just kept getting longer!

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written for numerous reasons. I really hope fans of WULF will enjoy this epic.  It answers just about all the main questions raised by WULF while still setting up the pieces for a future installment.

Can’t wait for you to read it!

Oh, and here’s the cover!

SLADE cover med-small

 

WULF #9

Following on from Part 8. You can find it in full on Amazon.

There was a rumble behind him, and he stepped out of the way of a carriage drawn by two huge yellow horses with long muzzles. The cart was roughly spherical, of a silver dulled long in the desert. In the centre was an opening covered by rich purple curtains. Only a hand was visible, clutching the fabric, as though the owner was undecided about pulling the curtain back. Jay heard raised voices coming from within, as it rolled past with spoked wheels the size of uppity mole-eyed clerks. A woman’s voice and a man’s; it was the woman’s hand, and it withdrew.

Jay saw he was back on the thoroughfare. He could just make out the rest house and the bar – Buha’s Tap & Griller – up ahead. That was another interesting thing: just like spoken words that immediately translated themselves into his thoughts, the words written on these signs were not any language he could recognise, nor alphabet, and yet . . . there they were, in plain English in his brain.

Griller. That meant meat, and meat meant food. He might only have four jackals to his name (his mind seemed unwilling or unable to call up an exchange rate, but then he supposed one would have little purpose here), but maybe Sav would lend him some money, at least for one half-decent meal. He figured that even though she might have been a . . . mercenary kind of girl, if you tried often enough the mercurial sometimes granted you boons, and surely a wilderness woman like her would know what it was like to go hungry.

Hungry? I’m starving. He suddenly felt lightheaded, feeling himself sway. He put out a hand on the side of a building to catch himself. When had he last eaten? A lifetime ago? When had Old Jay (as he had started to name the last owner of this body, and the imprints and voices left behind) last eaten?

He entered Buha’s. Sal was there, and she scowled at him when she saw him approach. ‘Yes?’ she said.

‘Hello again. You work here too, huh? Is Sav about?’

‘No.’

He sighed and sat down on a bar stool. ‘What can I get to eat, for four jackals?’

Sal turned her back on him. When she turned again, she had a wooden bowl that she placed in front of him. He looked in it. It was empty.

‘What’s this?’

‘It’s nothing.’

‘Ah.’

Sal dropped a spoon in the bowl. ‘Better than nothing, in fact. Nothing is what you deserve. For four jackals. Instead, you get a good bowl full of clean hearty air.’ She dropped a spoon in the bowl. ‘Eat up your air. Don’t let it go to waste.’

Jay looked forlornly down at the bowl. He stirred the spoon, while Sal shook her head slowly at him. He got to his feet. ‘I need to find Sav. It’s an emergency.’

‘You need her to buy you some food.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Well, she’s not here.’

‘Any idea where she might be?’

‘No. She left town.’

‘What? What do you mean she left town?’

‘She left town,’ Sal repeated.

‘Where to?’

Sal shrugged.

‘But . . . she said she’d be here today.’

‘And you believed her?’ Sal arched her brow. ‘She’s not much interested in keeping pets, not if they need looking after. And not if they’re always trying to hump her leg.’

‘Great,’ Jay said. ‘Just great.’ Sal looked at him without pity, folding her arms. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘I mean . . . I’m sorry. For how I was with you, that time. Times? I don’t remem- I mean, I’m just sorry.’

Sal sniffed and took the bowl from him. ‘Savvi was right, you have changed.’

‘For the better, I hope?’

‘That remains to be seen. Could hardly have got much worse.’

Jay smiled. ‘Fair enough. I’m gonna go and see what I can get in this town for four jackals.’

‘Right.’

He left the bar and headed further along the thoroughfare. The fruit of the stalls he had passed earlier did not encourage him; too much of that and he’d get the runs. He needed something substantial – bread or meat, ideally. There was a whole host of smells on the breeze, familiar and foreign, but after a hundred yards his nose picked up on the right one, and he followed it.

A stall selling what looked like bread. The loaves were cut into ovals and cylinders, and even spheres, and it looked rather soft and spongey, but the smell was good. The vendor – male or female? Or both? Neither? – had four breasts like shelves on the chest, and a black-and-white beard that was forked in all directions. The eyes were big and lidless and without irises.

‘Good morning, Rathian!’ the vendor said, in a high, squirrely voice, clasping two four-fingered hands together. ‘What good crust can I offer such a warrior like yourself on this fine hour?’

‘Um,’ Jay said, taking his hand out his pocket. ‘What can I get for four jackals?’

‘A host of loaf, Rathian!’ the vendor cried, arms sweeping the assortment of breads.

‘Oh, good. What do you recommend?’

The vendor picked up a big ball of bread, spotted orange. ‘A sunbursted loaf for a sunbursted man! A handsome Rathian, with such beautiful patterns! Four jackals, just for you!’

‘Thank you,’ Jay said, raising his eyes and handing over the coins. The vendor placed the bread in his hands as though it were the sword of Excalibur.

‘Treat it well, eat it well!’ called the vendor as Jay, thanking him once more, hurried off, munching into it as he left. It was soft, but it was very good, and with a bit of a . . . kick, too. It was bread-and-not-bread, just like so much else he had encountered: both known and not known.

He stopped at the side of the street, leaning against a wall, his mouth full, his jaw working avidly away. On the other side of the thoroughfare a grey-whiskered man in a tall black hat and red cravat was inspecting some trinkets from a stall. They flashed in the light of the sun as the man turned them over in his hands. Beside him was an attractive younger woman, in her early twenties perhaps. Her back was against the stall, and she looked around as she talked off-and-on with the man. By the age differences, and the familiarity and manner that existed between the two, Jay guessed that the older man was her father.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Truth be told, she wasn’t another Sav. With Sav he always felt like he shouldn’t be looking at her, that her appearance drew the male (and any other) gaze, much against its will, and it turned men like him – not me, Old Jay – no, you too fella, don’t kid yourself, you too – into, well, walking in dumb reverie: you had to make sure you kept your lips closed so as not to drool. Sav commanded attention from everybody, and rode all over anybody who gave it. Hmm, ridden by Savvi, now there’s a happy thought . . .

This girl was another matter. She wasn’t classically beautiful, not in that statuesque, instantly stunning way. But to Jay she was pretty, that kind of pretty where it wasn’t clear how others saw her, and who knew if she might only affect a handful, or him and him alone. Her hair was the colour of sand and sunset; a beach blonde kissed by ruddy swathes that seemed to move as she did. Her skin the colour of pinkened milk. She had a loose green dress on, wrapped around a body that was short and just shy of festively plump. Jay mentally slapped himself for the phrase.

Her eyes roamed the street, seeming to float all over before quickly darting to him. He looked away, but couldn’t help but look back up a few seconds later. She still had eyes on him. He was relieved to see she was smiling, in that quizzical do-I-know-you?-not-that-I-much-mind-you-looking way. He grinned back, really trying to avoid looking sleazy. She turned and gave her father a big hug, and then –

Oh god, she’s walking over. Finish your mouthful finish your mouthful.

Good for you, now fuck her and be done with it.

What?!

‘Hello,’ she said. ‘I saw you staring.’

Jay swallowed. ‘I’m sorry. I . . . couldn’t . . . didn’t mean to . . . I mean, hello.’

She laughed, and Jay couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard such a lovely sound. She had blue-green eyes like a tropical lagoon and they creased at the corners when she smiled. Old Jay was busy making being-sick noises.

‘Relax,’ she said. ‘For someone who looks the way you do, you’re awfully . . .’ She hesitated.

‘Awkward?’

‘You said it, not me!’ She looks so happy when she talks. Why didn’t I ever look that happy? She seemed to be waiting for him to say something, and when a couple of seconds of silence had passed, they both laughed.

‘Good, is it?’ she said, nodding to the loaf of bread Jay was holding with a series of big bite marks in it.

‘Aha, yeah. I was starving. I only had four jackals on me.’

‘Well, that won’t do.’ She gave him that curious look again. ‘Tell you what, if you throw that thing away, I’ll buy you a proper meal and a drink.’

‘Oh, no, I couldn’t accept that. Besides, I can’t just throw away good food!’

‘Of course you can. Plus, I insist. My father is boring me to tears, and most of the people in this town . . .’ She trailed off with an ominous tone. ‘But you. Well, I’m not sure about you. How you look and how you act are at odds.’

‘I’m not sure about me either. But you don’t need to spend money on me.’

‘Oh, stop talking.’ She smiled again, and he felt another sense of weight, another burst of warmth in him – higher up this time. ‘You can either gnaw on your loaf in the street like a beggar, or we can both go for a meal and a drink. Besides, you’re not putting me out one bit. Check this out.’ She reached into her dress and pulled out a wad of red-and-white notes from her cleavage.

‘That’s a lot of money,’ Jay said.

‘It’s a nice amount.’ She fanned her face with it.

‘Ain’t you afraid of getting robbed?’

‘My father wouldn’t like that. He’s quite the shot with his pistol, and he has some tough friends. Besides,’ she patted the top line of her dress. ‘It was hidden.’

‘First place I’d look,’ Jay said, immediately regretting it. I’d never have said something like that. It’s this body. It’s Old Jay making himself known.

No. Old Jay doesn’t live here anymore. It’s just you shaping yourself. Filling out in a new environment. A room, a house, catacombs . . . Swords and guns on the walls, bloodstains on the floorboards, and naked women on furs.

He hadn’t apologised, as he should have; he’d punctuated the line with a grin, and it must have worked, for the girl was laughing. With him or at him, it didn’t really matter.

‘I’m sure it would be,’ she said, still smiling, her eyes so perfectly creased. Part of him wanted to tickle her, just to keep it going, to push her smiles and laughter further and further.

‘Alright,’ he said at last. ‘Thank you. It would be my pleasure. I’ll owe you.’

‘The pleasure will be all mine,’ she replied. ‘And yes, yes you will.’

They started walking. ‘Do you need to tell your father you’re heading off with a stranger?’

‘I’m a big girl,’ she said simply.

‘Let’s go here,’ Jay said, as they approached Buha’s Bar & Griller.

‘You read my mind.’

‘I haven’t asked you your name.’

‘That’s right, you haven’t. It’s -’

‘Alexia!’ The man in the tall hat had run after them, panting slightly. ‘Alexia, my dear, I have been robbed!’

The girl clapped her hands to her face. ‘Father, no! Are you sure?’

‘It is as I have said. I am short changed, considerably so.’

‘Can you remember when you last had it?’

‘In the carriage, my dear. I swear, if that scoundrel Jerrens took it -’

‘Jerrens is a good man, father. You know he wouldn’t. Perhaps you should ask around everywhere you were from leaving the carriage up to now. Start with the rest house. Maybe you dropped it and somebody has handed it in.’

‘Perhaps. I will do that now, I think. If I have lost it for good then . . . no harm done.’ He sighed. ‘It is just vexing. I seem to have been losing money as of late. I fear I am growing old.’ The man seemed to only just notice Jay, and he raised his brow. ‘And who is your friend?’

‘Do not judge on looks, father. He is a close friend of Cam, and I have met him before, back in Stoneswell.’

‘Then I say how do you do to him,’ the man bowed stiffly. ‘And now I must busy myself accounting for fallen money. Likely the wind has it now, if not ruffians. I will see you back at the rest house.’ He tipped his hat to Jay and departed, his long legs carrying him briskly along the thoroughfare.

‘That’s unfortunate,’ Jay said.

‘It is, isn’t it,’ Alexia said, fanning herself with the money once more, which had magically slipped away during the conversation.

Jay’s eyes widened. ‘You stole it.’

Alexia yawned. ‘Oh, come on. He’s got far too much money for one man.’

‘But he’s your father.’

‘And you’re not. Don’t be boring. Let’s go eat until we’re sick.’ She pushed open the door to Buha’s. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘What’s your name?’

‘I’m Jay. Jay Wulf.’ The name came naturally to his lips, without hesitation.

‘Pleased to meet you Jay.’

‘Likewise, Alexia.’

 

 

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WULF #8

Following on from Part 7. You can find it in full on Amazon.

 

FIVE

 

 

He woke up to the sound of melodious squawking and bright rays of white-lilac light. He’d left the window open, and a bird had pushed the curtains aside, letting in a stream of morning glare.

It hopped on the sill and continued to squawk, chirrup and yap to some kind of half-tune. The bird was about a hand high, purple-feathered with a hook beak and a tall, jagged white crest. It shifted feet constantly, cocking its head at him.

A trill, Jay’s mind remembered. Native to Appalia . . . Is that where I am?

He got up, stretched, and shooed the trill away. It yapped again, and then took off, the curtains left flapping behind. He opened them wider, letting in the expanse of the day. There were not many people walking the thoroughfare, and those that did blinked and squinted in the sun. He had slept early and he had woken early, and Nohaven was not a morning town.

A new day, a new world.

A big grin came to his face, and then turned into a grimace as he caught the smell of what could only be himself. He had slept in his clothes and he stank of sweat. He resolved to find a way to wash himself as soon as possible. For now, he removed his shirt and ran the tap, splashing water on his face, neck and pits.

A glint in the corner stole his attention. It was a mirror laid on the floor. He saw the hooks above the basin and realised it had been taken down for some reason. Perhaps the last occupant did not like their own reflection. He picked it up and put it back in place, then he stood and stared.

Whether he felt a chill or a shuddering warmth he could not say, perhaps both. A shiver certainly passed along his spine, but he would not say he felt unpleasant. Looking at a completely different reflection to what you have been used to your entire life is an experience some would call disturbing, others mesmerising, and they’d both be right.

He’d seen bits of him before, of course. He’d seen his arms, looked down at his torso, and been aware of his face in that vague, shadowy way people perceive themselves without a reflection, the blur of the nose and the cheeks and mouth with a presence so permanent to our vision that we forget they are there. He’d almost seen his face reflected in Sav’s eyes.

Here, though, was the full article, and minus the cracks in the mirror it was as clear and defined as it could ever be. He felt like he was looking through a window into another world, seeing another person mimicking his movements.

Then both of you are in another world, for this side of the mirror sure ain’t Kansas.

His face stared back at him, mockingly. A smirk lined his face, carrying up to the dark, glittering eyes. Stop laughing at yourself, he told himself sternly, but he couldn’t help it. His mouth opened in a rogue’s grin, and he shook his head. The man in the reflection did the same.

The same red markings, the tribal wine stains that careened over his body were present on his face. They lined his cheeks and brow like war paint, and yet the effect was more, well, wild, wild and mystical, than savage.

At least I don’t have a red nose.

He spent long minutes inspecting himself, dividing between marvelling at his skin design – the patterns made him want to call them extensive tattooing, but they were all-natural (just look at those hands), and miraculous for it – and his new face: a tough, dark-eyed and somewhat Middle-Eastern looking face, an on-the-dark-and-dirty-side-of-handsome face. He pleased himself thinking it possessed a kind of heroic villainy.

He resolved to let his hair, a stallion black mane on top, grow at the shaved sides, before he would untie the knot that held it back. Facial hair, too. A face like this needed some thick stubble. That’s razors off the shopping list, and good thing too, for a man with no money.

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out four tiny coins. Scratch that, I have four jackals. Something tells me they’re not worth a loaf of bread.

The coins were replaced, but the hand was found moving inward. One last thing to check.

Jay glanced at the door. There was no lock, but it was at least firmly shut. It wasn’t entirely reassuring, but he couldn’t see why someone would barge in on someone else’s rented room. Unless it’s Savvi? But then again – the voice continued, in a sleazy kind of way – maybe her catchin you pants down is exactly the kind of

‘Shut up,’ Jay said out loud. But he pulled down his pants anyway. He was, after all, still a man in a man’s body. And there are some things a man’s gotta know.

He stood there, no shirt and his pants around his ankles, a stupid smile plastered to his face (but it’s not so stupid, is it? It’s better than the last guy’s smile, remember that? . . . No) as he looked at and touched himself with investigative measure, inflicted with the kind of small amazement that beds well with amusement.

Fronting this amusement, however, there came first relief. Jay was relieved to see that his package didn’t look vastly different to what he was used to. The thing that struck him most, quite aside from the size (his grin increased, although his only comparison beyond the hints of Jay’s memories were those of Earth men), and the single (much larger) nut, was the bendiness; it was quite pliable even when hard, he noticed, and almost stayed in the positions you left it, like plasticine. It had that rubbery quality, both look and touch. The head was tapered slightly. Apart from that, though, it was both recognisable and appreciable as a cock and balls. Thank god for evolutionary similarities, and not giving me tentacles. The only immediate sense of alien was that the whole area was a dark, streaky red.

He enjoyed himself for a while manipulating himself into vague turns, revelling like a child with a toy snake or one of those bendable figurines. He had only meant to check himself out, but found himself quickly carried away.

There was a pressure, an insistence in his lower body that he hadn’t really noticed until its sudden absence. He felt clearer, and he did some stretches as he washed out the sink, wondering at how he could take the time to masturbate, given his utterly incredible situation, and all the things around to discover. But there’d been that urge. His body seemed to belong to that of a wild man turned teenager.

I’m glad red genitals don’t give rise to scarlet semen, or I’d be continuously paranoid I’d ruptured myself.

The stretching felt good. He’d always hated exercise before. But now his muscles were strong, and he felt powerful.

He put his clothes back on, gave one final, eager glance in the mirror – a glance that turned into a searching look – and left the room.

The clerk audibly sighed as Jay walked down the stairs. He was tight-lipped as Jay smiled at him in an attempt to be friendly.

‘Yes?’ the clerk said, raising his bushy eyebrows.

‘Good morning. I was hoping for a shower. Well, to wash myself.’

The clerk sniffed. ‘I am sure you need it. Well. The washroom is out that door.’

‘Oh, good. Is there hot water?’

‘Do we look like a Sturm chamberhouse?’

‘Um, no. I guess not. Thanks.’ Jay pushed through the door. Behind a curtain there was a series of bronze pipes that twisted in wheels before joining up to a spout that hung overhead. Jay found a valve and turned it. A crank increased the pressure until a steady light rainfall of water pattered down into a drain below. It wasn’t cold, more a lukewarm temperature that, if not exactly enjoyable, didn’t make his teeth chatter.

After his shower, he replaced his baggy brown pants (there had been no undergarments) and his boots (sockless, but something about the make of the boots made his feet feel just fine without them; even on his journey to Nohaven his feet had not sweated. In the shower he’d noticed a rubbery hardness to his feet. They were as red as his hands, making his only socks skin-deep). He gave his shirt a cautious smell, but it seemed okay; it had been only him carrying the scent. Perhaps in this world they actually made shirts that resisted odours, or just sweat. Not that the shirt smelled like a rose garden; it spoke to his nostrils of horse, and sand, and a slight spice that he couldn’t place, but felt oddly comforting in the same way home does.

The clerk was gone when he returned, and Jay left the rest house and emerged into the light. He was surprised at how quickly he was becoming accustomed to the colour, although the purple-ringed sun still sent a shiver through his body whenever he looked up. Everybody looked slightly different outside than inside – but then he supposed that was true on Earth, too. There was a transformative quality about it – something that lent a faintly mystical, secretive, almost furtive air to everything – although he had as yet little comparison, for he had not seen this outside world in Earth’s pale light.

He made to go over to the bar, but found himself wandering. After all, he reasoned, she might not even be up yet. He walked along the thoroughfare, and then aimlessly through the town, along dusty streets, turning corners, turning heel and walking back on himself. He drifted in a daze, entranced with no small measure of wonder. People stared at him strangely, for he looked at things like a man born anew.

As he walked his usurped memory offered up morsels, shadows of remembrance. There was the Bone Bin, a windowless establishment – if establishment would ever fit such a jumble of timber. It had been made with boards and bits of boards, stakes and sticks – all made from some kind of – the white gumba tree – and affixed all over with thousands of bent nails. The wood lay crooked off each other, broken planks attached more by spirit than strength to mere shards. It was a ribcage of a house, and seemed to come in layers: for there were many gaps between the bones, but inside he could make out a second shell, one that seemed just as pale and hapless. Inside, he knew, they smoked every kind of smoke there was, and the air within seemed to float with ghosts.

On his left now came the red doors of the brothel, The Drain (his nose wrinkled at the sign). Opposite was a throng of small black children arguing over a furry ball that rolled about on its own volition – a bracker-ball, livin games to some. The leader was taller than the rest, with a gap where his nose should have been. His sunburst eyes flared as he caught sight of Jay, and waved to him. Jay waved back. That’s Jonner, a ragman. He’s alright. He don’t wanna kill you.

There were Appalian mountain men, with their curly hair and square-cropped beards, and silver-haired wardancers with their long locks and naked, studded bellies. He was passed by a couple of cowpokes he knew only by name – Jag and Burl – and reputation as bad news to all sizeable women. There were stalls selling produce of all colours, some that smelled sweet, some like the soil, and some that stank like rotting fish (fasher beans). There was a pink, hairless creature like a bony mole rat the size of a greyhound – erm, somethin, a sab, saber, no, cather-, catmol, no, I’ll get back to you – that skulked past him with arched shoulders, led on a leash by a high-hatted woman with dangling earlobes. He was reminded of that dog from yesterday, that six-legged dog, except it was called a – a dog – oh, okay.

More than not, he simply felt déjà vu, and Jay’s catacombs of memory obstinately turned its back on his questions. If he remembered, it came naturally, in slices, pages so torn they might as well be shreds. He could not force it. Even when he knew a name, or a purpose to something, it was not a real understanding, not a memory he could connect to as though it was his own. It was as though reading about something in a book a long time ago – except the book was in him, and the long time ago only ended yesterday.

 

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WULF #7

Bad news in that How Not to Kill Yourself won’t come out in paperback this month as expected – the publishing company Microcosm found a load more zines to sell and figured to get through them before it came out. Good news is that gives us more time to get HNTKY shipshape.

Anyway, here’s the seventh lil part to the funny, sexy and bloody sci-fi/fantasy/western/adventure novel WULF.

 

FOUR

 

 

A gush of warm blood soaked his hand. He twisted the blade deeper, felt a sickening snag, and ripped through it with the saw-edge. His hand was almost inside, and the blood, eager in its will to leave the body, ran all the way to his elbow. There was a foul smell: a symptom of a rended stomach.

The woman made a small imitation of a grunt, an echo of surprise. Her lips hung loose and her eyes were bright and looked right into his as she died.

With one aggressive pull his Rathian knife was free, and the woman slipped to the ground. Jay touched his side. He was bleeding himself; her sickle had been . . . provoking.  Unlike her, though, he would certainly live.

He wiped his knife (Ugly was its name, carved into the handle, for ugly was its work) on her breeches, and started to look through her pockets. He found what he was looking for: a drawstring bag of yellow jewels. They shone like bright little suns of piss.

Jay placed the bag in an inside pocket of his jerkin, scanned the horizon, and walked back to his horse. Khyber stood like a shadow under a small stunted alacia. There was a light pink summer blossom in the topmost branches, and it had decorated the ground around him. Some of the petals lay on his back and adrift in his mane, but he made no move to shake them off. His body was sleek black velvet and very warm to the touch, and the hair poured down his shoulders like lava.

‘That’s three down Khy,’ Jay said as he hoisted himself up. He needed no stirrups or saddle. ‘Three down, eight to go.’

Khyber made no noise in reply, but he lifted his head and trotted towards the horizon.

 

He remembered.

He saw faces of all the people he had killed, faces of the people who had tried to kill him. They were mostly the same, but not always.

He saw many women he had lain with, many women he had hunched against, thrust against, pulled forwards, bent over, women whose cheek he had touched and women who he had stripped: all those creatures whose morsels he had tasted. Women who had tried to murder him before, or afterwards. The men who had interrupted, to their shame and anger, and often to their mortal regret.

He remembered why Sal at the bar didn’t like him.

He pictured his laugh: part of him cringed, and part of him didn’t care; only the parts were blending, sipping at each other and spitting back.

He saw perfection, and as he did storm clouds gathered and the lilac in the sky darkened to a bruised magenta, and she became shadowed and lost to him.

Under the Circle’s Shadow . . .

He saw horses rearing in fire and flame as guns cracked around him and cannon fire threw up volcanos of dirt. He remembered scrabbling, coughing, trying to make out the shapes in the smoke and the sprays of blood, and the endless, endless cries.

He heard the kill, kill chant that rumbled through the very soil, rising to bounce back and forth off the high yellow rocks that looked down on them. Kill, kill, kill from hundreds of the lizard like things, the Grey Ark warriors crawling stickily over the stones and splashing in the twin streams that wound towards him.  He remembered a great brick of a man, dark red mottling covering his back in scenes of Hell, standing tall and beating his bare chest, screaming ‘KILL! KILL!’ back at them, raising fat double chambered guns wrapped in leather strips and firing slug after pounding slug at those grey-green fish-people that continued to chant, hurling spears like javelins and some firing their own guns: loathsome squid rifles and sharp anorexic weapons loaded with metal scrap.

He remembered hiding, waiting with a knife in his teeth and two cocked pistols pointing at the slip of daylight that broke the cave wall. Waiting for those filmed yellow eyes to block the light, the first reptilian gaze to be shattered into sunken yolks. Kill, kill, kill. As the others lay dead. Their Red Serant – his name was Babric Twofist, and he had really loved those guns, what had he called them again? That’s it: Bet Fist and Babby Fist. Bet & Babby, the Two Fists – his head was now no longer a part of his body. Not that he’d felt it: he’d already taken three harpoons through one way and out the other.

He saw Savvi, lit under the glow of a blue lamp, the light making her darker, and colder in that beautiful way, like an icicle. They were in a tent, drinking heavily, and it was warm, so warm, they had taken off their shirts . . . He saw himself pawing at her, leering and laughing and making crude come-ons into jokes, and jokes into come-ons. He showed her his new sword; a wicked thing, a saber as yet without a name, and perhaps too nice for one. He showed her his guns and he showed her Ugly. She seemed most interested in the knife, purring in his ear that she liked ugly things.

‘You won’t like me then,’ he’d said. She’d laughed at him and batted his hands away. When he came on too strong, pushing her to the ground, she explained to him, with a smile on her face, how very quickly and easily she could give his penis a snip – well, she added, serrated was a better word, or sliced.

The next day he had woken up with a saber without a name (he never did give it one before it broke, but then again nor did he with any guns; only Ugly carried the honour), two guns, his knife, some ammo, and a furious libido. He was minus all his money (and it had been quite a lot at that point), almost all of his food, the last bottle of vhiskat, and the tent.

At no point did Savvi appear to make him breakfast.

 

He dreamt, and he saw, and he heard, and he remembered. They were not pure memories, only their shades, their fragments – or more correctly their imprints, for they were left behind in the body, ghost copies for the new owner. Something inside was pushing them at him, aggressive but not hostile. He tried to grab at them, but there was so much, and all he could think was heat and sex and of two pistols thick with rust, chambers revolving slower and slower, never stopping. Then his mind saw a stream of gore, and of old friends with sightless black eyes. He thought The Eyes of Rath and he thought Grey Ark and he thought Alexia.

A ring of mountains, a swarm of peaks like the black hunch of crow wings.

Savvi the harlot that never gave.

A tapestry of fucks surrendered.

Cold winds and –

Alexia.

 

Much of what he had dreamt, much of those half-memories that had bubbled up from inside his brain (a brain that had long been used to another mind, and still carried its luggage, still had its pictures hung on the walls), in fact, almost none of it would be remembered the next day. At least not at first.

There was one dream that would keep coming, and it surfed around his other dreams, waiting for its turn.

Eventually it got impatient, and it swooped in.

 

He looked at his alarm clock after he’d put his book down and turned the light out. 3:32. The sheets felt unclean, just like they had felt unclean the night before. There was a faint glow in the corner of his room; he never knew the name of it, only that it didn’t need batteries because it charged itself with daylight. Tucked away as it was, away from the window, it never got much of the solar power it desired – but it was never going to provide enough light to read by, anyway.

Sleep came, as it always did, with excruciating delay. But, thankfully (and perhaps it had been that rare walk to the shops earlier), in an hour he was asleep.

There was a battlefield of broken cars, all used wrecks, all grey and rotting with weeds that cracked and burst like dust when the birds landed.

The birds were diseased ravens with gristly red veins that throbbed over white feathers, and all of them would fly up silently wherever the green eyed man appeared.

The green eyed man was –

‘Wait,’ said a voice. The voice of a young woman. ‘How do I do this . . . Oh, it’s on. Well . . . This is weird, but here goes.’

The cars were all gone, so were the birds, so was the man. There was just the sand, and the lilac sky, and the words that were written as she spoke.

 

Under the Circle’s shadow

Inside the happiest hawk

Beds the key that is hidden

The key that unlocks the door

 

The wind took up as she chanted. Something somewhere rattled.

When she was done, there was a pause, broken only by the wind. Then the voice laughed, and said, ‘I expect you want more than that, don’t you? No problem, I’ve been meaning to fix this . . . I mean a whole year, what a waste of time . . .’

There was another pause.

‘Shit,’ said the woman. ‘Sorry, gotta go. Good luck, please don’t hate me.’ There was a click, and then the world exploded.

 

Red, green, black, blue

White, orange, yellow, purple

Faster and further

Distance travelled in colour

Sound as picture

Light as thought

The key that unlocks the door

Red green black blue

White orange yellow

Purple

Over hill and under stars

We’re going on an adventure

RED GREEN BLACK BLUE

This hurts

WHITE

ORANGE

Stop

YELLOW

PURPLE

We’re going on a

 

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SLADE extract #1

I’ve been working on the sequel to WULF, called SLADE. It’s been hard to find a suitable extract for this site that won’t spoil anything, especially for those who haven’t read any of WULF (but might do one day), but I think this will be fine…

 

He leaned closer, his back permanently hunched as his fingers skittered across the holographic keyboard, for all the world looking as though he was dancing puppets or playing the piano beyond mastery.

One of his hands reached down and plucked a piece of nojo from the desk, deftly peeling it between two fingers and sticking it to the side of his bald head at the same time as another hand did the same with another piece. His round amber eyes flickered for a moment, as he felt the rush. The drug kept his mind working as fast as his fingers.

Nobody could type as fast as a spider. Not with six long spindle-fingers for each thin and hairy arm. Six arms in full, sprouting from a fat, sunken body as black as pitch. Thirty-six fingers to dance across the huge array of holo-keys of every known alphanumeric character and symbol, thrice replicated. Thirty-six fingers to play with people’s lives.

There was a knock at the door and he paused, his hands arching in mid-air. ‘Come in,’ he said, his high voice like the screech of a child.

A woman walked in, her own hands stiff behind her back. ‘Spider, two of our men have been killed. The culprits are a man and a woman unknown to us. Their dress is strange and barbaric, and the man is covered in extensive tattooing.’

He did not turn from his screens. There was a camera in the room and he looked at the woman on the respective monitor. His vibrant orange eyes blinked slowly inwards from the sides like closing elevator doors.

‘Interesting,’ he said. He paused, letting the silence reign through the room, drinking in the woman’s tension.

‘Get eyes on them,’ he said. ‘And patch me in.’

‘Yes, Spider. Will that be all?’

‘Yes.’

The woman nodded her head sharply and left. Her relief was palpable in her step.

The Spider turned his attention to the rest of the screens that covered every inch of the wall. Zoomed out it might look like a compound eye, like that of a giant fly. In front of him were reams of scrolling data, data that would never pause, never stop.

He leaned in.

 

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Science fantasy western WULF now available!

Apologies for the delay, I’ve been waiting on the cover (which you can see below – well worth the wait!), but now I’m happy to say the science fantasy western WULF, the first book in The Fifth Place series, is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

You can find it here.

It’s also FREE for today  (19/12/2016) and tomorrow!

 

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WULF coming soon!

The sunken purple of the early evening was blistering itself red. A sky wounding itself. And the man had still not shown.”

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Watch this space!

WULF Part #6

The sixth part of my adult sci-fi/western novel WULF (previously called The Wulf and the Tiger). This follows directly on from the last part.  The full novel will soon be available as an ebook on Amazon (and about time too!).

Warning: Quite a bit of bad language here. Blame Savvi. That’s just how she is.

 

‘You took your time,’ Sav said, long fingers with close-cut nails the colour of chocolate curled around a wide mug. She looked amused.

‘You left me! In the middle of nowhere!’

‘Oh, nonsense,’ she said. ‘You got back alright, didn’t you?’

‘I nearly died! Why couldn’t you just have led me back?’

‘Because you know the way. Or should have done.’

‘Well I didn’t. I don’t.’

‘I see,’ she said, in a bored tone. ‘But you still made it.’

‘Only because of the tiger -’

‘A tiger?’

‘A tiger led me back.’

‘Of course it did. I don’t see one with you, though.’

‘It’s sleeping just outside of town. Or at least it was when I left it.’

‘Mhmm. Ah well.’ She took a gulp from her drink.

Jay took a deep breath. ‘I don’t think you realise the situation I’m in.’

‘Oh, boo-hoo. If I knew you were going to be such a little bitch about it I wouldn’t have saved your life this time. What gives?’

‘Look,’ he said, stopped, and then tried to start again. ‘Look.’

‘What am I looking at? If this is another one of your lengthy come-ons . . .’

‘I have no memory of who I am or where I am.’ He had quickly decided this was a better course of explanation than ‘I appear to be in a different body in a potentially alien land.’

‘That’s unfortunate,’ she replied, dryly. ‘You don’t remember me, then?’

‘I remember -’ he paused. ‘I remember scraps, just like half-formed ideas, or dreams. Many things seem faintly familiar. You, for instance. I feel I have this connection to you. That doesn’t quite explain it, and maybe it’s just that you saved my life, even though you didn’t exactly stick it through, but -’

‘That’s sweet honey, but you’re not the first man to tell me you have a connection to me, or whatever. I suppose you’ve also forgotten all the times you’ve tried to get into my pants?’

A blush failed to materialise. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, in what he thought might pass for an abashed tone.

She stared. ‘Who the fuck are you and what have you done with Jay?’

He shrugged. ‘Am I right in thinking I can trust you?’

Sav laughed, the kind of unsubtle laugh that’s done right in someone’s face. That face being his own. ‘Trust me?’ she cried gleefully. ‘Listen my poor bitch, you can’t trust me an inch. And that’s an inch more than you can offer!’

‘But you must like me, surely?’

‘Not really.’

‘But then why save my life?’

She shrugged. ‘I suppose you amuse me.’ She banged her mug down. ‘Bar keep!’ she yelled. ‘Another!’

The bartender bustled over to her and refilled, smiling lopsidedly at Sav. She glared at Jay, then took the call from a woman chanting for what Jay’s mind translated as “black beer”.

‘You didn’t pay anything.’

‘Course not,’ Sav said, face half-hidden inside her mug. ‘She knows who I am.’

‘And who are you?’

‘Don’t make me repeat myself.’

Jay sighed. The woman was hard work, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. It struck him as funny – odd funny, not ha-ha funny – that he could consider himself a beggar when it came to a lady – a woman, he corrected himself, not a lady – of such looks. Erotic appeal dripped from her, right down to the semi-contemptuous expression she fixed him with.

‘People here are strange,’ he said, looking back to his glass and taking another sip.

‘Speak for yourself, cock-smith.’

‘Can’t you be nice? It’s already a really fucking hard and confusing day, and I’m completely by myself here.’

‘Poor baby.’

‘What I meant was that, well, when I came into town everybody looked at me. I mean everybody. Do they not like outsiders in this town?’

‘Honey, they looked at you because they know you. You’ve been in this town for months. That, and you look like shit.’

‘They can’t know me . . . A man with a big moustache pulled me out of the water trough and didn’t know me, he looked fixing to kill me.’

‘That’ll be Remembrance Ed. Edder Van Took. He’s only got the short term memory. And he hates just about everyone, least of all anybody darker or redder than him. Sometimes he remembers people, but only if he really, really hates them.’

‘Oh.’ Jay took another drink. ‘But if they know me, why all the stares? Just for looking a bit rough and thirsty?’

‘No. Because you were hauled outta here your hands behind your back kicking and screaming early this morning.’

‘By who! Oh. Ah.’ He tapped his fingers on his glass. ‘So they’re all dead then?’

‘Well, the three brothers are, yes.’

‘They were brothers? Oh.’

‘So it’s just the dad left.’

‘Shit.’

‘I’d say he’s old and won’t be a bother, but he got their mother pregnant at twelve. That’s him twelve, I should say. She was a lot older and dead now. And he’s still going, leading his boys.’

‘Can I talk to him about it?’

‘He’s a murderous cunt and his three sons have just died. He won’t have heard about it yet, but he will. You had a hand in one, he’s gonna believe you had a hand in all three. What do you think?’

‘I’ve really got enough to be worrying about. What did I do for them to want to kill me? I mean originally?’

‘You fucked their sister.’

‘Is that all? I mean, their sister? Christ, I bet she was a bit of a sight. I hope she didn’t have a beard too.’

‘I doubt it would have stopped you.’

‘You make me sound like an animal. Wait – she did want to be fucked, didn’t she?’

‘You tell me.’

Jay felt his shoulders slump. ‘I really don’t know anything.’

Sav clapped him on the back cheerfully. ‘There you go, you do know something! You have remembered that you know nothing. This makes you as complete as you ever were.’ She drained her cup and got up. ‘For crying out loud, finish your whiskey already, you wet fucking blanket.’

‘I have a feeling -’ he started.

‘Better stop it then,’ she interrupted, picking up the glass and tipping it to his face. Before he knew it the last mouthfuls of whiskey-substitute was speeding towards his mouth. He gulped twice and Sav let go of the glass; it bounced off his knee and hit the floor, smashing.

His throat roared with fire and instant bile that he struggled to push away. The broken glass hadn’t concerned the other patrons, but the bartender was already over, shouldering past Jay with a broom in her hands.

‘I got it Savvi,’ she said with a beaming smile that crinkled the corners of two rather beautiful big eyes.

‘Thanks, Sal,’ Sav replied. ‘Sorry about Jay Wulf.’

‘It’s fine, fine,’ Sal said, not looking at Jay. ‘Up to his old tricks, I assume?’

‘If you mean being a dick, then yes, why stop now?’ Sav put a hand firmly on Jay’s back and pushed him out the bar before he could respond.

‘I’ve seen you drink better men and women under the table,’ Sav muttered as they returned to outside. The lilac sky had deepened and reddened to a rich magenta. The sun was hidden behind the peaked two-floored building signposted REST HOUSE, giving the edges of the dwelling a vibrant purple glow. It was on the other side of the street, and she steered him in its direction.

‘Tell me something, Sav.’ When she didn’t reply, he turned to her. ‘Savvi?’

‘Uhuh.’

‘When you see me, what you see?’

‘Is this a test?’

‘No. Yes.’

‘I see a cunt.’

‘No, I mean . . . What am I? What . . . race . . . species . . .’

She looked at him askance. ‘You’re a Rathian . . . a human.’

‘A human,’ he repeated. ‘How interesting.’

‘Why is that interesting?’

Jay hesitated, and Sav pushed open the door to the rest house. It swung in with a long, coffin creak. ‘Where I’m from,’ he said under his breath. ‘They call me and people like me human, too.’

‘Have you always been this mad?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘More so recently. You better get used to it.’

Jay waited as the two of them stood by the door. A small spectacled man behind a desk was filling in some forms, and hadn’t investigated his new customers.

‘Well?’ Sav said. ‘What are you waiting for?’

‘Oh. I thought, I thought -’

‘Are you an invalid? Do it yourself.’

Jay approached the desk, and pulled out the rest of the money from his pockets. ‘Erm, one night, please.’

‘He’ll stay for as long as,’ Sav said. ‘And pay once a week.’

The man peered out at them like a mole. ‘Do I have your word on that, ma’am?’

‘No. If he doesn’t, kick him out. Just don’t come to me asking for money. You won’t get it.’

‘Charming,’ Jay said.

‘First week up front,’ the clerk said stiffly. ‘Ten queens. Plus five queens deposit.’

‘Steep,’ Sav said. ‘What’s this town coming to, that’s what I want to know.’

‘Feel free to take your business elsewhere, ma’am. You know how I feel about this one.’

‘What about me?’ Jay said. ‘Do we know each other?’

‘The gall to ask that,’ the clerk said, his eyes cold. ‘No, you do not know me, Mr Wulf, but I do believe you know my wife.’

‘Oh.’

‘He’s been saying that quite a lot today,’ chipped in Sav.

‘I’m sorry,’ Jay said. ‘I don’t remember anything. Where is your wife?’

‘Kept away from you.’

Jay took Sav aside. ‘I’m not a very nice person, am I?’

‘I told you you were a cunt.’

‘Do you not think it better to go someone where else? A place perhaps where I haven’t fucked the owner’s wife? Or sister, daughter, mother, horse, or any other relation of.’

Sav put her finger on her lower lip and pulled it down thoughtfully, showing the bottom array of little white stones. ‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘I’m not sure that gives us many options’.

‘Come on. Can’t I stay with you?’

‘Are you joking?’

Fifteen queens,’ repeated the clerk. ‘Please.

‘Stop faffing, my horny little beast boy.’ Sav pinched his side and he yelped, dropping a coin. ‘All he wants is the money. Pay up and trouble over.’

Jay picked up the coin and laid them all out on the desk. ‘This is what I have.’

‘You have five kings and ten queens,’ the clerk counted. ‘And four jackals,’ he sniffed.

‘Good. That sounds like enough.’

‘Well it isn’t.’

‘Really?’ Jay pawed at the coins. ‘How many queens to a king?’

‘There are five kings to one queen.’

‘Oh. Um. So I have . . . eleven queens. And four jackals. Which makes . . .’

‘Eleven queens and four jackals.’

‘Unfortunate,’ Sav said. ‘Give him your gun.’

‘My gun? Won’t I be needing that?’

‘You’ll just have to take your chances, until you find another.’

‘Whereabouts am I to find another gun, without any money?’

‘Perhaps you can wrestle one off the next person who tries to kill you.’

‘Sounds great,’ Jay said. He pulled out the gun and laid it on the table with the coins. ‘The gun for the deposit. The queens for the week.’

The clerk wrinkled his nose. ‘Not the finest specimen in the world.’

‘Will it do for the deposit?’

‘Of course it fucking will,’ Sav said. ‘It’s still a gun. People usually want their guns back.’

‘I know the feeling,’ Jay said.

The clerk stooped and placed the gun under the counter, inside a box that he locked with a click. Then he swept the coins off the counter and into his hands, before carefully depositing them one by one (counting all the time) into the till.

‘Your room is upstairs, last on the right.’

‘Do I get a key?’

‘No. There are no keys.’

‘How am I supposed to get in?’

‘You could try pushing,’ the man said flatly, in that kind of polite sarcasm aggravated service staff were so adept at the universe over. ‘That usually works. If that fails you could always try giving it a good hard ram. It seems to be your go-to move, don’t you think? It certainly served you well with my wife.’

‘I’ll be off now,’ Jay said. ‘Sorry again.’

‘Stop apologising for things,’ Sav said. ‘It’s getting boring.’

He turned and noticed she wasn’t following him up the staircase.

‘I’m going back to the bar,’ she said, noticing his expression. She was sat up on the desk; the clerk was trying to busy himself with his forms, and not lose himself in the contours of her lower back and sides that beckoned smooth and honeyed in the gaps in her clothing. ‘And no, I am not sharing a room with you. Not now, not ever.’

‘I didn’t mean -’

‘I’m sure you didn’t.’

‘Where will I find you tomorrow?’

‘Bar.’

‘Alright,’ Jay said. ‘And Sav . . . Thank you.’

‘Pft,’ she said, and she blew him a kiss, smirked, and was gone.

Jay trod with heavy feet up to his room. He still felt awful. He pushed open the door, worried for a second that he would intrude upon some barbaric couple mid-coitus who would nail him to the wall and make him watch.

Don’t be an idiot, he thought. They’d probably just shoot you.

The room was empty, though. He was going to consider that the room really couldn’t be much plainer, but that’s before he noticed the sink. A bed and a sink. That’s enough luxury for today. He rushed to it, turning the single tap on. There was a protesting groan, a rumble, and then to his relief came a trickle of not entirely lukewarm water. He cupped his hands and drank every time they filled up, until he had satiated himself and then some.

He lay on the bed. The door had closed itself. There was a flat white pillow on the bed, and a brown woollen blanket, but no sheets or duvet. He wasn’t about to complain. He got up only to close the curtains, barely registering the now bloody-red sky. What he did see was down on the street; the dog that he had seen from a distance yapping and rushing about was back.

Only it wasn’t a dog. For a start, it had six legs.

Jay shut it out of his sight, and fell back on the bed. The room was starting to lose focus, and he felt a great shuddering yawn run through him, a yawn that never left his mouth.

That creature wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before.

Those little black demon spots appeared again. They always danced away from him, seeming to be mocking him.

The sky was purple today.

He felt heavy, like he could sink right through the mattress. The bed propped him up only in the sense a still ocean propped up a floating body.

I’m on another planet.

I’m on another planet, and I’m not even me.

Jay felt the room spin, and his eyes closed, but whether it was by his own volition or not he wasn’t sure.

 

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The Wulf and the Tiger extract

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!’

Ooooooom.

‘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.’

 

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