Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Wolf In Shadow

Picture Source

I have not had much time for wargaming recently as I have been finishing a novel. It's an urban fantasy set in East London and is contracted to Baen Books. I am on the final edits. Below is a taster - The Prologue (titter ye not).


Prologue -The Wolf
Pools of light from irregularly spaced street lights formed isolated spots of civilisation like imperial border forts strung along a barbarian frontier. Rhian pulled her coat a little tighter and walked briskly, heels clicking on the concrete paving stones.
            An old hatchback pulled out of a side street and accelerated aggressively. Its small high-revving engine screamed in bursts as the driver worked it through the gears. The youth in the front passenger seat lit a cigarette illuminating the vehicle’s interior in a brief yellow flash that froze a moment of time. The driver stared intently ahead focussing on extracting the last possible horse power out of the modest motor. Two girls in crop tops displaying too much skin sat in the rear, large hoop ear rings swaying as they bent forward over a mobile phone. They giggled at something on the screen in the way of girls the world over.
            Rhian watched, feeling envious. The car was a cosy private bubble, separate from the dark cool street. She wondered whether the couples were on their way home from a night out or maybe they were going on to a club. The car disappeared leaving her an outsider, alone in the night.
            She walked on.
            Something trotted out from under the bars of a gate in the wall that enclosed Tower Hamlets cemetery. At first she thought it was a small dog but it had a long snout, pointed ears and a full tail.
            The urban fox paused and looked at her, its eyes shining green in the street lighting. Thats how the hill farmers hunted foxes at night in her native Wales. They shone a spotlight across the fields and shoot at green eyes hiding amongst the silver eyed sheep and lambs.
            The fox was so close that she could smell the rancid odour of its dank fur. The animal snarled, showing its teeth. Foxes had lost their fear of people since the government had introduced the hunting bans. They stood their ground when confronted by a human where once they would have fled. They had even started to attack children and Rhian, petite and slim, was little larger than a teenage girl.
            She lifted her lips and growled, the deep rumble belying her small frame. The fox put its ears and tail down and slunk back into the cemetery, vanishing noiselessly into the dark.
            Rhian turned into a narrow alley that curved between two buildings. Her foot slipped on something squishy on the paving but she didn’t care to speculate about the nature of the squishiness.
            She rounded a last corner onto the main road and the London night assaulted her senses in all its glory. It was like a stage musical revealed by the lifting of the theatre curtain. Brightly coloured light spilled from all directions. Noise surrounded her, the hum of car engines and the murmur of voices sliding over each other in layers. Burning hydrocarbons stung acidly on her throat. People spilled out of a nearby tube station from one of the last trains to run that night. Two men argued listlessly as if neither really cared about the issue. Tyres squealed and horns sounded as car drivers bickered over precedence.
            She could not face running the gauntlet of the drunks racing each other down the dual carriageway of the Mile End Road so she walked on a short distance to where a ramp dropped down to a subway. The local graffiti painters had been busy spraying tags on the white-tiled walls.  Council workmen occasionally made a half-hearted attempt to clean the mess off but they were only preparing an empty canvas for the next street artist and, unfortunately they weren’t all Banksys.
            The ramp was lit with white lights in strong plastic boxes placed high up on the walls. Enthusiastic stone throwers had cracked much of the Perspex. When she turned the right-angled bend down under the road, Rhian was dismayed to see that long stretches of the subway were in darkness. The few lights working seemed to be running on low voltage and, if anything, they added to the gloom.
            She dithered about whether to go back up to the street and take the long walk out of her way to an above-ground pedestrian crossing.  Muggers might lurk in the dark and she was frightened of what might happen if she was attacked, but her feet ached so she went ahead anyway.
            Rhian strode quickly with the determined air of someone going to the dentist. The sound of her heels on the concrete preceded her up the tunnel, echoing off the tiled walls and ceiling. She was halfway along when she saw movement at the far end.
            The street lighting behind the subway exit silhouetted two figures. Rhian paused, concealed in the dark, able to back out before the newcomers even realised she was there. The silhouettes moved slightly apart so that Rhian could see them more clearly. They were holding hands and one had the unmistakable curves of a woman.
            She relaxed and continued towards the couple. The closer she got the more relaxed and happy she felt, and a part of her mind was curious about that. Rhian was not normally a particularly relaxed and happy person.
            The subway lights illuminated the tunnel in a friendly pale light that swirled around her. She could not imagine why she had thought the tunnel dark and uninviting. She felt light-headed and warm, the night chill entirely dispelled.
            Each breath slid in and out of her mouth like a strawberry-flavoured hallucinogenic drug, the air fizzing the way a carbonated drink sparkles on the tongue. Tension drained from her body and she felt truly content for the first time in, well, she couldnt remember when. The wariness that was so much a part of her character evaporated like overnight frost in the morning sun.
            The scent from the twisted posy in her buttonhole smelled of a summer’s herb garden. She hadn’t noticed that before. Enticing snatches of different perfumes intermingled but the aroma grew stronger and more alkaloid until it irritated her nostrils. She shook her head and pulled at the posy but it was stuck fast. Another wave of warmth flowed over her and she forgot the minor annoyance, her fingers and toes tingling as if she was pleasantly drunk.
            The couple walked towards her. She had almost forgotten them so distracted was she by the waves of pleasure curling gently backwards and forwards through her body but now she could see them clearly. They glowed with vitality, tall, slim and achingly beautiful. The man wore a dark tailored suit set off by a striking cream shirt and pink tie. The woman was draped in a long blue gown that clung tightly to her body in all the places a gown should cling. They were more than just beautiful; they were elegant, sophisticated.
            A small, still rational part of her mind wondered why a man and woman dressed for the opera or a club Up West should be walking under a road in East London but euphoria submerged the thought.
            Something stirred deep inside her, something uneasy at events, something immune to the enchantment of beauty, something indifferent to charisma, something predatory.
            The woman was raven-haired with astonishing purple-tinged eyes that shone in the gloom. Her face was perfectly symmetrical, her skin flawless, her teeth as even and white as a Californian game-show hostess. Her companion was also dark with knowing grey eyes. These people were so perfect, so metropolitan, that Rhian felt unfit to share the same world. She felt cheap, dingy and malformed in comparison. Rhian knew she was was spoiled goods, shop-worn and stained.
            The man beckoned her so she focused on him, drinking in his masculinity. He summoned her into his glowing presence, a prince showing kindness to the scullery maid. They understood, these beautiful people, and accepted her despite the grossness of her imperfections. She stretched out her arms walking into their embrace.
            The posy in her coat lapel caught fire, burning with a fierce green intensity that flung stinging vapour into her face. She inhaled in surprise and fumes seared her lungs. Rhian turned away, coughing fiercely, unable to catch her breath. The burning sensation spread through her body like nerve toxin - and the world twisted and changed around her.
            The man and woman were still beautiful but their beauty was terrible. They no longer looked entirely human. Their bodies were too thin, too tall, like cocaine-fuelled supermodels. Their arms and legs were too long, their skin impossibly white and the womans eyes shone with a lilac intensity that could not possibly be natural. They gazed at her hungrily without a trace of human compassion or sympathy.
            Alarmed, she backed away. The mans face twisted. He made a curious gesture with his left hand and Rhian froze like a bug in amber, her mind disconnected from her body. In her head she struggled, but her limbs refused to obey. The couple smiled cruelly and moved ever so slowly towards her, the woman reaching out to touch.
            A wolf howl rang in Rhian's head, reverberating through her mind, drowning out the world. Brutal power welled from within, freeing her. She slapped the womans hand away and aimed a kick at her knee. The woman grimaced angrily and made a twisting motion with her hand. Something invisible, something magic, picked Rhian up, slamming her against the wall and knocking the breath from her body.
            The woman laughed viciously. “This one is strong. Can you imagine how well she will taste?”
            After you, my love, the man said.
            The woman leaned towards Rhian with a wide smile of anticipation. Rhian gasped for air, trying to fend her off with an outstretched arm.
            There was a flash. The air in the tunnel thumped against Rhians chest like a car tyre had exploded. Rhian swallowed, trying to clear her ears. She smelt fireworks and an irrelevant thought curled around the edge of her mind that someone had let off a Guy Fawkes banger.
            The woman looked puzzled and uncertain, like the rules had changed halfway through the game. A trickle of blood welled out of the side of her mouth and ran slowly down her chin. To Rhian everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. There was another loud bang and the womans body jerked.
            A man in a long dark overcoat stood behind the glowing couple, right arm extended like an Olympic pistol shooter. Rhian could not work out where he had sprung from. He materialised out of thin air. The gun in his hand fired again and again. Rhian saw flesh torn from the woman by the light of the flashes from the discharging weapon. She pushed the injured woman away sending her spinning towards the shooter.
            The gunman was so fast that Rhian barely saw him move. He caught the woman’s hair and forced her head down, lowering his head over the back of her neck like a lover. Rhian caught a glimpse of canine teeth and heard bones crack. Her head lolled back and the gunman tore at her throat with long fangs before dropping the twitching body to the floor.
            The womans companion screamed in fury. He punched towards the gunman, not even trying to touch him. Nonetheless the gunman reeled back as if he had been hit by an invisible magical fist. His body spread-eagled against the wall tiles. His gun struck the floor with a metallic clang. The magician snarled and raised his hand while making a complex pattern with his fingers.
            Rhian had no idea what was happening but it was manifestly clear who was her enemy. She leapt on the magician's back, grabbing at his hand to spoil whatever he was doing. The man responded by flipping his other hand back towards her like he was dislodging a fly. Invisible magic punched her hard in the face. She fell backwards, the cold unyielding concrete jarring her spine. Pressure built on her mind, the wolf awake, the wolf demanding to be set free.
            The gunman scooped up his weapon and pointed it at the man. Rhian saw him press the trigger but nothing happened. The gunman pulled desperately at the rear of the gun as the magician made a series of passes.  The air flickered, images forming like shadows from decayed films. Light gushed from the magicians hands, streaming away in coils, solidifying into a fluorescent purple cable.
            The magician lashed at the gunman, forcing him to roll over desperately to avoid the strike. Concrete exploded into dust and steam where the whip scoured the ground. The gunman half rose to his feet and leapt forward. He was inhumanly fast but the magician was faster, his whip catching the gunman in mid-air.
            Rhian realised with a cold clarity that left no room for doubt that the magician would kill the gunman and then her. 
            All right, you bitch, do it, Rhian said, folding her arms in across her breasts, fists clenched.
            The magician turned his head, giving her a curious look.
            The wolf exploded from within, its triumphant howl vibrating through her body. Rhian pulled off her coat, knowing what was coming. Her muscles contracted into tetanus, twisting her back like a strung bow. Her clothes ripped and shredded, corroded by the magic flowing over her body. She dropped onto her hands screaming with pain. Her head rotated back into her neck and an invisible hand pulled her face out by the jaw, the bones and ligaments realigning. Something terrible was happening to her legs and her skin writhed as if they were covered in burning napalm. She screamed and screamed but the sound that came out of her throat was a howl that filled the subway with throbbing sound.
            Her sight failed.
            When she could see, her world was monochrome and flattened. The pools of bright light surrounded by darkness were gone. Everything was at much the same level of illumination, as if she wasnt seeing with light at all.
            The world was alive with smells. Human traces were everywhere in the subway but her nose told the wolf that no people were near. The things in front of her were not people. Her hearing was acute, detecting even the low rumble of the cars through the roof of the subway.
            Rhian orientated the wolf on the man with the magic whip. The wolf did not intellectualise. To think was to act. She bounded forward, growling.
            The magician turned to her, grey eyes widening in shock. He started to make a gesture with his free hand but the wolf sprang. She clamped her teeth on the preys wrist biting down hard, her heavy body spinning him around until his arm broke with a satisfying crack. Bones crunched in the wolfs jaws and she heard the prey gasp.
            The magician lashed the wolf with his whip of light, scoring the animals fur and splashing blood from the hard-packed muscle underneath. The wolf howled in anger, pain only spurring her on. Gathering her rear legs under her body she pounced again, crashing into the preys chest, knocking him over backwards. The whip lashed the subway ceiling, smashing a light cover in a spray of sparks that cascaded over the combatants like wedding confetti.
            The damaged light strobed, freezing the wolf and the man in a series of stationary images like an old movie played at the wrong speed. Flashes of light freeze-framed shadows on the subway wall like echoes from another universe.
            The wolf chopped down on the prey’s throat. Strange, metallic-tasting blood sprayed into her mouth matting the fur around her head. The prey struggled but the wolf tightened her grip remorselessly, shutting off air and tearing flesh. The wolf worried and shook the throat long after the prey stopped moving, long after the last air gurgled from the bloody mess.
            The wolf dropped the corpse and stalked stiffly to where the downed gunman lay on the ground. He shuffled back on his bottom and elbows until stopped by the subway wall, where he ejected the clip from his pistol. Fumbling in his coat pocket he produced a replacement and rammed it home, pulling back the slide to ready the weapon. The wolf watched with interest, fascinated by the metallic clicks and machine-oil smell.
            The gunman pointed the pistol unwaveringly at the wolf. She ignored the weapon, moving closer to him, growling deep in her belly.
            Good doggy, said the man. Sit!
            The wolf sniffed at the mans wounds. They smelt healthy so he would probably survive. The man held his hand out for her to scent. The wolf considered killing him but he offered no provocation, sitting submissively like a cub being held to account by an alpha female. The wolf was bored. She licked the mans hand, tasting him.
            Thats a good doggy, he said, running his hand along her muzzle to scratch the fur behind her ear.
            The hand with the gun never wavered in its aim but the wolf did not seem to understand the threat posed by the weapon. Rhan pushed upwards like a swimmer surfacing from a dive into a dark sea-pool. Changes coursed through her body and the pain began. She screamed until merciful oblivion descended.


  1. I enjoyed reading that bit, it's rather timely for me as I just finished painting a werewolf mini. Here check him out.


  2. Dear Chris
    Glad you liked it. :)

  3. A great read, very enjoyable. But what happens next?!?

  4. Dear Ray
    Buy the book when it comes out and all will be revealed.

    1. How did I know you were gonna say that?!?

    2. Think of my poor starving waifs.