Read below for the first three chapters of ‘Shadow Dawn’, Book 2 in the Nightkind Trilogy.
Spending time in the sewer’s ever deepening gloom wouldn’t have been my first choice for a Saturday night but there I was, up to my neck in it, so to speak.
I grimaced as my boot squished something below the stagnant water and the stench of filth grew worse. Perhaps it was one of the many rat corpses festering in the tunnel or maybe it was a clue to the nature of the monster I was tracking but I wasn’t going to reach down and find out.
An icy drop of water fell from the slimy ceiling and found the nape of my neck with almost perfect precision. My curse echoed around me. It seemed whatever mean, sick God of the sewers existed in its depths was throwing everything he had at making my time as miserable as possible.
Was it my imagination or were the curved brick walls narrowing? It felt like they were slowly drawing in to crush me.
The place was almost silent and even the drips seemed to cease the further into the stinking labyrinth I got, as if the sewers were conspiring and waiting to make their move. And then something shrieked and I hoped it was just a distant blast of wind despite it sounding exactly like a cry of terror. Perhaps, I thought, it was my own scream from some terrible future event, echoing back through time to mock me with the news of my death…
My thoughts were growing darker by the moment and they didn’t feel like my own. It was probably just the atmosphere in these seemingly endless tunnels where unwanted things came to disappear. I hoped I’d be a part of that cycle myself because I was very much looking forward to leaving behind a fresh corpse in this dank maze, providing I could find my client’s assailant.
What a strange man he’d been. On the surface, the rat catcher had almost seemed normal but he’d had the same wildness in his eyes as a horse preparing to buck and flee.
Whatever creature had found him in this wretched place as he’d left his traps for the vermin, had almost destroyed his remaining strands of sanity.
When he’d first told me his garbled story, he’d said he hadn’t seen his assailant. But a few memories had returned to him since then, including a glimpse of a many-eyed creature that had dragged him to its lair, which had been stuffed full of corpses ‘like some morbid larder’. Thankfully for him, the beast had gone foraging and left him alone with the dead. He’d gotten lucky and had escaped but it had seemed as if he’d left something of himself behind in this unhallowed place.
I glanced back as I recalled the rat catcher’s eyes, half concerned he’d lured me into the sewers for some weird sinister purpose. The orb of light I’d conjured bobbed and fizzed over my head, throwing ominous shadows upon the mossy walls. I paused as I glimpsed movement through the thick, milky blanket of webs covering the entrance to a side tunnel.
As I pulled my sword, Eznárez, from my sheath and hacked at the webbing, I suppressed a shudder. Spiders weren’t exactly my favorite creatures…
Something stirred at the end of the side tunnel. At first it looked like a silhouette but horribly elongated, like a disturbed artist’s rendering of a puppet’s shadow. I strode toward it, my sword in one hand, my flashlight in the other. I moved like I wasn’t remotely concerned and swept the light over the tunnel’s end. Unfortunately, the flashlight’s power wasn’t bright enough to reach it, which meant walking further.
Something was off in this tunnel, even more so than the one I’d left behind. I felt eyes watching me but my instincts told me it wasn’t the monster I’d been employed to slay. No, this presence seemed tangential to my mission.
“Go!” I sent my orb of light floating across the thin black water to the end of the passage. It was empty but for a rusted grate and the shadows of an adjacent tunnel.
I recalled the orb and was about to head back when the water below my feet stirred. At first, it reminded me of bubbles in a natural spring rising from below the ground, but that didn’t make any sense… And then I saw them… Hundreds of bulbous black bodies skittering across the tunnel floor toward the grate at the end.
I shuddered, but held my ground.
The creatures scurried away at first but then slowed and gathered. No, not gathered; it was as if their furry forms were merging to become a mass. Gradually, they formed the shape of the puppet-like figure I’d glimpsed before. Only this one was physical. Real. Present in the tunnel with me…
It changed and transformed into the likeness of a cloaked woman, animated by the hundreds of scuttling bodies. The spiders reassembled again and brought the woman’s hand up to point at me.
“What the actual-” My words faded as the spider figure took a faltering step toward me.
I clenched the pommel of my sword and moved forward to meet her, doing my best to ignore my pounding heart and the icy water seeping into my boot.
Was this the rat catcher’s monster?
She was something else.
Someone howled and another shriek followed. The sound came from behind me. The spider woman faltered and as a third cry followed, the spiders fell like a house of jittering cards and scuttled for a nearby vent.
I took a deep breath of rancid air before turning back the way I’d come.
I’d almost reached the main tunnel when something brushed the nape of my neck. It was like a ghostly tease of fingers and it instantly reminded me of the Hextress Parthenia. But she was dead, slain by my very hand.
“What do you see?” I asked Eznárez, as his eye opened upon the pommel of my sword.
“I know you’re not a man of many words, but-”
“I’m not a man!” He sounded furious.
“Right, well, you get the gist of what I’m saying. What’s down here with me?”
“And I’ll say it again; death. You should have come prepared.”
I bristled with anger. Being chided by a cursed sword wasn’t exactly helpful under the circumstances but he had a point. I should have taken Johnny Deadlock up on his offer to come with me, but I’d wanted to deal with the job on my own, mostly because he’d had the shit beaten out of him at the fort and he needed to recover. But then so did I…
Maybe, I thought, the day would come when I’d be strong enough to ignore the call of adventure but that day wasn’t today.
Another shriek echoed down the tunnel. I hurried across it to a side passage and followed the desperate plea.
I cupped my hand over my nose. The reek of decomposition was stronger.
Something thudded behind me.
I swept my flashlight into the gloom but whatever was there hurtled up into the shadowed ceiling. It moved fast and before I could track it with my light, it slithered into a huge, rusted pipe and vanished.
A yowl of terror, agony or both, came from ahead.
I splashed through the water into a narrow tunnel just in time to see three rat men racing into the shadows. Their lanterns bobbed in their furry hands and their eyes glistened in the murk. Usually they’d be a cause for concern but if they were fleeing something, then there were clearly worse things to worry about.
Something dropped from the ceiling behind me.
I spun around in time to catch sight of a thick, bulbous head, dozens of ruby-red eyes and a mouth that mostly filled the creature’s green, warty face. It growled, revealing spiked teeth and a long, slathering tongue. The tendrils on its back billowed like gray ribbons as it thrust one gangly arm down and splayed its sinewy fingers across the filthy ground as if feeling for my trail.
I took a faltering step toward my prey but before I could reach it, the creature sprang up from the ground and vanished into the shadows below the ceiling. I threw my orb of light after it but there was nothing to see but inky black gloom.
‘What the hell are you?” My voice echoed around me but brought back no response, not that I’d been expecting one.
The beast had smelled a lot like troll, but it wasn’t one. I’d never seen its like before. Of course, there were plenty of monsters I hadn’t encountered, especially in the hidden places below the city but this realization brought little comfort.
I walked on, listening for the sound of the creature’s approach but then my boots crunched on the mounds of bones littering the tunnel until it was all I could hear. They seemed to be everywhere, gleaming eerily in the gloom and while most appeared to be human, some were clearly not.
A soft, slithering sound came from behind me. It was gossamer thin, like a feather being trailed across a grainy wooden floor. I swept my flashlight across the ceiling but it was empty. It seemed my prey was as wily as it was repugnant.
The bones grew in numbers, and the air began to reek of stale meat and old coppery blood.
I stopped before a chamber with three rusted pumps resting in its center and a series of dull brass pipes snaking up into the ceiling. I stepped inside, mindful of the tunnel of bones behind me and whatever was following me.
Eznárez’s eye opened and I angled the sword so he could watch my back. Whether he’d warn me of an impending attack was another matter altogether. I’d lost my trust in him since my battle with Parthenia in the mausoleum and now considered him as much an enemy as an ally.
“Give me energy,” I whispered. Eznárez fed me magic right away. No hesitation. I cast a shield over my body just as Thaddeus had shown me and hoped it would hold because the monster’s claws had looked as sharp as freshly forged knives.
I swept my flashlight over the ground, revealing chunks of flesh, shattered skulls and part of a human face. There were also furred, bloodied torsos that clearly belonged to the rat men inhabiting the sewers. All in all, it was a treasure trove of vileness.
A body that looked like a fresh kill was splayed over the top of an old shopping cart that had somehow found its way into the sewers. It was a woman of indeterminate age, her limbs stained reddish-brown with blood, her head hanging limply from her gashed neck. Flies buzzed around her like a shifting, pestilent aura.
I spun around as something dropped from the ceiling in the tunnel behind me.
The creature struck the ground, spraying me with filthy water but that was the least of my concerns. The monster was larger than it had appeared before, easily the size of an adult lion and its gangly body was coated in moss and mud… or what I hoped was mud. Its ruby-red eyes stared from its huge bulbous forehead and blinked as one.
I stepped back further into the chamber, stuffed my flashlight into my pocket and held my sword with both hands.
The creature opened its mouth, exposing curved vicious teeth and hissed like a snake. It was a warning and as its eyes shifted to my side, I realized its concern lay with the corpse sprawled across the shopping cart.
“You think I want your food?” I shook my head. “It’s all yours. But have you considered using a little seasoning? A dab of Chipotle perhaps?”
The creature howled with fury.
“Nope? Maybe a dash of-” My words faded as the creature padded toward me, drool slithering down its tongue and falling into the water at its feet. It seemed I was about to become a part of its meat feast. “Are you with me?” I asked Eznárez.
He said it like it was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps he was eager to dine, which was at least one thing I could rely on.
I swung the sword as the monster leaped.
It parried the blow with a scaly arm and almost knocked Eznárez from my hands. I held my sword with one hand so I could summon a crackling red fireball with the other. I threw it into the creature’s face, causing it to howl and roll across the water.
Before I could flee back to the main tunnel, it sprang at me.
“Shit!” I almost retched as its long tongue shot out and licked my face, right across my eyes, gumming them up.
“Left!” Eznárez hissed.
I took his direction as the ground pounded beside me. “Where’s the cart?” I demanded as a hastily formed idea occurred to me.
“Three steps behind you.”
I wiped at the phlegm and managed to remove enough to see the blurry many-eyed horror advancing on me. I thrust the sword out and felt contact. It growled and backed away.
“One more step to your left.”
I followed Eznárez’s directions without question and reached out, bristling as my hand found what felt like cold, damp toes. I tracked my fingers from the corpse to the side of the trolley and gave it a good kick. It tumbled over with a great splash.
The beast howled again and as it leaped for its meal, it landed beside me. I stabbed it through the side. It gave a wretched cry and hobbled away. I might have felt sorry for it but as I un-gummed my eyes with my sleeve, I spotted the torn off face lying on the pile of bones beside me.
“Come on!” I gripped Eznárez with both hands once more.
The beast glanced down at its apparently ruined meal and charged like a crazed bull. I allowed it to come and raised my sword, letting it spear itself through the chest. Its many eyes blinked, drinking in the last sights they would see and then it slid down to the ground. It gave a soft, weak growl and its gangly limbs spasmed before finally falling still.
I was about to clean my sword, when I caught a reflection in the rippling water. Something huge was scuttling across the ceiling above me and it was preparing to drop.
As I leaped aside, my foot slipped and I stumbled, fell, and landed in the filthy water, which reeked of sulfur and the metallic tang of blood. I jumped up, swung my sword in a wild slash behind me and gripped it tightly as it glanced off the creature’s rubbery hide.
The monster’s hand smashed into the ground, almost striking me. I spun back to see it in all its hideous glory. The previous creature had been the size of a lion. This one was the size of a small dragon. It roared, revealing dagger-like teeth and gleaming eyes. It hissed and a blast of hot, noxious air hit my face and sent my hair snaking around my head.
I cast a spell to conjure a shield of protection and it had barely materialized before the beast’s claws raked through it, producing a shower of golden sparks. The second swipe destroyed the enchantment altogether.
The monster backhanded me before I could get out of the way, sending me colliding with the shopping cart. It hurt like hell but I didn’t have time to focus on the pain.
The creature’s monstrous tongue shot out, aiming for my eyes just as the other’s had but this time I was ready and I swung Eznárez in an arc, severing it. The tongue flopped in the water like a fat, grotesque snake.
A low moan passed through the chamber as the sea anemone-like flora on the beast’s back billowed like ribbons in a winter’s breeze. It clutched its bloody mouth.
I sent a hastily formed fireball sizzling toward the creature. The flames struck it in the forehead, right in its ruby-red eyes, and suddenly the air reeked of seared flesh.
The monster charged. I leaped aside with all the deftness of a drunken bull fighter but still managed to clear myself from its path. It smashed into the wall behind me like a wayward train, causing a troubling amount of brick dust to rain down from the ceiling and a low rumble that I hoped didn’t mean the entire place was about to collapse…
I swung Eznárez as the creature’s fist flailed toward me and hacked it off at the wrist. The sword vibrated and the painted teeth along the length of its blade chittered madly as the steel glowed green with power. Eznárez fed.
The beast’s many eyes swiveled to its wound and stared at it as if willing the missing hand to return. Maybe it could bring it back for all I knew; I wasn’t going to wait around to find out.
“Come on!” I snatched a skull from the ground and threw it. It clunked off the creature’s head, bringing another low, furious moan that built into a howl of rage.
It ran at me.
I thrust my sword before me, straight into its mouth. The sword juddered as it met a thick almost spongy resistance.
The monster backhanded me again, propelling me across the room. My entire body ached and tiny white dots danced before my eyes as I sought to recover.
I had to get out of this confined space so I stumbled through the chamber’s door back into the tunnel. One more hit like that and I’d be down for the count.
The creature stood poised, and it seemed like it was going to charge at me again but this time there’d be no escaping it. I was too dizzy to run, and too weak to cast a shield.
I glanced up as a chunk of masonry fell from the ceiling, and conjured a ball of flames. The poorly made result wasn’t my best but it was enough for what I needed. I sent it hurtling up. The fireball filled the chamber with a dusky orange light as it struck the ceiling just as the monster charged at me.
The beast was almost at the door; its warty face contorted with rage, its eyes narrowed, its mouth slick with blood and thick foamy saliva. And then there was a cracking sound, and its mouth fell open as it glanced up and the ceiling caved in. Hundreds of red bricks cascaded down, filling the air with a cloud of dust and burying the monster beneath them.
I backed away and glanced at the tunnel’s ceiling, wondering if the devastation would spread and bring the entire sewers down on my head. What a place to die in… My enemies would rejoice for years.
“You take too many risks,” Eznárez said. He sounded almost resigned. “You don’t value your life, Abadare, but I do.”
“That’s sweet of you,” I said as I hurried down the dark passage.
“I need you to live.”
I was about to come back with a pithy line when I realized I didn’t have one. His words weren’t touching; they were revolting. He needed me to live just as any other parasite needed its host for survival.
It took a potent spell to mask the stench of the sewers and I wasn’t convinced it had fully worked because my blinkered cab driver kept glancing into the driver’s mirror at me, his brow furrowing with concern. It was like he knew something was off, almost literally, but wasn’t sure what. On the plus side, he didn’t want to talk.
I walked the last block to my apartment above the massage parlor and wondered what I’d find at home, providing the entire place hadn’t burned down.
Johnny Deadlock had been my unofficial lodger for more days than I cared to consider. I liked the guy; he was one of the funniest people I’d met and seemed to possess an endless supply of effervescent charm… But it was like sharing a house with a giant, friendly tiger that could go off the rails at a moment’s notice and tear its surroundings to shreds.
I wondered what he’d been up to while I’d been battling beasts in the sewers. I half expected to find him sprawled on the couch, surrounded by empty beer bottles. Man, could he drink…
He had to get his own place. I’d rehearsed my it’s time to move out speech but I still questioned what had happened to him in the jail inside the fort. And what the demon or whatever the hell Rannulf Gaunt had been, had done to him prior to my arrival. For while Johnny was as affable as ever, there was still an occasional shadow in his gaze.
The lights were on as I approached the apartment so he was definitely home. I couldn’t hear music and there were no cop sirens or flickering orange flames… So far, so good.
I paused as I unlocked the front door and stepped into the hallway.
Something was off…
“What the hell?” I mumbled.
The place was cleaner and tidier than I’d seen it in a long time. A very long time. I didn’t even know it was possible given the place’s seemingly irremovable dust infestation.
“You stink,” Johnny said as he sat at the kitchen table sipping what looked like milk.
“Is that a White Russian?”
“Nope. It’s milk.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“I am.” I opened the fridge. It was empty. “No beers?”
“Nope. I visited the liquor store…”
Johnny shrugged. “I had to leave.”
“Too many choices. It hurt my head, so I came back and tidied up instead.”
“I saw that. You did a good job. Thanks.”
He shrugged. “I find it therapeutic. Unless there’s booze at hand.”
“Yeah, well, there isn’t. Or food.”
“I was going to get some.”
“Same thing as the liquor store. Too many choices. I don’t know how blinkereds deal with it. And then there’re the lights and the screens, and all that bleeping shit. Those people are insane.”
“Yep. Well,” I glanced back at the fridge. “I need to eat. How about a curry?”
“Sounds good. Are you going to use a spell on your phone to order a blinkered to cook supper and bring it here?”
“It’s called a takeout, and they’re paid for making and bringing them. It’s not magical. But no, I want to go and eat and get a couple of drinks while I’m at it. Coming?”
“Sure. On one condition…”
Johnny wafted his hand under his nose. “You shower first, Shit Lord.”
Get your copy of Shadow Dawn by clicking here!