Excerpt: The Iron Gate

By Marie Robinson

They descended deeper into the mine shaft. The yellow light overhead seemed like sunlight filtering through rain clouds. Despite being behind the display of her sunglasses, the constant squint was giving Roddie a headache.

Without her mask, she couldn't hear Sahger through her com. His deep voice came to her from her right. Just above a whisper. “Water ahead.”

She tipped her head down to look over the top rim of the glasses. A rippling sparkle of reflected light. “I see it.”

Whatever was in the private labs was messing with the communications systems, anyway. There had been some wild stuff in the public areas, but nothing putting off interference like what was coming through the ground right now.

Static in her display, and it didn't respond to her optic commands like usual. She was about to pull them off and stow them in her pocket. Make due with what God had given her.

A spot of digital color made her pause with her hand on the earpiece. “Can you confirm movement?”

Sahger planted his feet and leaned forward to look into the shaft ahead. “Affirmative.”

She held her fist up over her shoulder. “Hold firm.”

“Roger.”

She walked to the water's edge in a slow crouch. The blip of movement lit her display, again. She heard a faint splash from several meters out.

A scream from behind her made her heart hammer in her chest. Brought her up short before putting her foot in the water.

The lights exploded in a series of shattering sparks that started over the water. Raced over her head like a string of firecrackers. Her display brightened in the dark, and it filled with the red of enemy movement.

Sahger jogged to her side. “Do we hold or go back?”

There was not recognizable shape. Just a rolling blob of red. “What is it?”

Sahger grabbed her arm. “Stay or go? Make the call!”

The red formed into wavering rays coming from a rippling center. She pulled her glasses off and dropped them next to her left boot. “It doesn't matter.”

Sahger let her arm go, and he stepped back. The sound of his feet digging into the damp earth took on the rhythm of retreat. He was running away.

Like she should have been.

The light from her display cast a weak light across the water. It reflected off the droplets falling off glittering scales. The sinuous movement of a serpent. Or the glittering tentacles of a sea monster. Her mind refused to define it.

The first shape was joined by a second. More and more.

The limbs of an octopus, each made of the tail of a great snake. Clawed suckers at the tips dug into the wooden beams of the walls and ceiling. The oak creaked with the pressure.

Another tentacle landed in front of her feet. It sucked like the hissing swirl of cavitation in an emptying drain. Roddie spread her legs to plant her feet. Lifted her weapon, and the splashing drops were replaced by a rushing wave as the creature lifted its head.

It was the bleached skull of a huge deer. Antlers spread the width of the tunnel. Reptilian eyes glowed behind the sockets of bone, and a fanged mouth fell open under the skeletal jaw.

Its scream sounded like the acceleration of a fighter jet.

Roddie braced with a scream of her own, and her body acted on instinct. Her finger squeezed the trigger, and her SR6 sent burning plasma directly into the thing's open mouth.

Its howl cut off, and it reared back. The blue fire splashed against its scaled hide with little effect. Two tentacles slammed against her. They wrapped her in a tightening cocoon and lifted her into the air. Her head brushed the dusty ceiling, and her stomach rose into her throat as it plunged her into the water.

The pressure on her ribs eased as one of the tentacles let go and lifted back out of the water. The tentacle around her legs squeezed until she thought her hips were going to explode from their sockets.

Her feet hit the bottom, and she looked up, straining to keep her mouth sealed shut. The glow of her display on the water's edge showed she was only a few feet under. They must have been at the point where the shaft leveled off. Where the monster had been waiting.

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