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by P.M. Griffin
Tags serial killer, character development & relationships, combat
Release January 27, 2015
Content Editor Christine I. Speakman
Line Editor Greta Gunselman
Cover Designer Charlotte Volnek
The Fournations were ceded the immense Fograscher Plateau as a settlement in their abruptly terminated war with their Titan neighbours, but no one trusts the gift. Captain Cathal FitzGerald is sent there with a crack combat company to explore it secretly six months before the official take over. Causes for concern immediately surface. A serial killer stalking a village’s children and the corpses of a young woman, badly mauled, and her child are only the prelude. Once on the plateau, the company discovers more mysteries than answers with respect to the wildlife. Strange entities, some as old as legend itself, some utterly alien, soon begin to threaten the soldiers culminating in attacks by ravenous hordes of sorcery-summoned creatures aptly named land piranhas. As they battle to escape annihilation, they find themselves confronted by foes even more terrible and infinitely more powerful that imperil the entire Fournations population, human and animal alike. This prize of war has truly proven to be a fell conquest.
FitzGerald passed through the entrance but stood there, studying the beautifully worked arch.
Suddenly, he began to tremble, in his body and deep inside himself. In every other part of the building, he had been aware of the horror it represented, the terror, pain, and despair of so many victims over so vast a span of time. Here, he felt, and felt acutely, something beyond that, a cold, creeping evil that had no place anywhere in his battered world, not even in this house of torment and death.
He recalled himself with a start. The sergeant was looking closely at him, and he knew that he was showing the dread gripping his whole being. He attempted to move toward the arch, but his body seemed to be frozen in place. It would not obey him.
North touched his arm. “We’ve seen enough, Cathal. We could all use a breath of clean air.”
FitzGerald shook his head and took full hold of himself. “Taigue, Lem, do you feel anything in here?”
The Master Sergeant hesitated. “We’re not happy, sir,” he replied uncertainly after a brief pause.
“I haven’t been happy since we walked through that blasted front doorway,” the captain snapped. “Don’t you feel anything else?”
Both men shook their heads. “No, sir,” Taigue answered for both. “What are you feeling?”
Cathal’s head lowered. “I don’t know. I’ll have to think on it.”
Graems went over to the arch. “It’s a pity to waste such fine work—”
“Keep away from that!” The Science officer caught himself. “Sorry, Lem, but I’m nearly certain it’s the gate. It couldn’t be anything else.”
The other leaped back in alarm. “By the Rock!”
“Easy, Lem. I don’t think we can fall through it, but there’s no point in standing there like a worm dangling in front of a big fish’s jaws.”
“That’s an unpleasant way of phrasing it,” the private muttered, eyeing the dark arch warily and with great distaste.
“Are we going to destroy it, Captain?” North asked.
He shook his head. “We can’t at this stage, not without a great deal more study.”
“But to leave it—”
He sighed. “We don’t know enough, Taigue. Would we be sealing a portal through the Barrier, or whatever it is that separates our world from those things’, or would we be ripping open a vast breach in the dike?”
The other man shivered. “I’m glad we have a proper MD-S officer in charge of this one, sir.”
Cathal wished it were not himself, but he merely gave his sergeant a quick smile.
It was a strain to be in the room at all, but he made himself examine it thoroughly.
At last, the ordeal was over. He had done all he could, the little he could, and was free to quit the accursed chamber. “We’re done, I think. Let’s get out of here and lock up.”
All three hurried back into the bone room. FitzGerald glanced at the tiny remains piled beside the doorway. He frowned. “Wait up.”
There was an answer of sorts here, an indication. He had missed its significance before, but now he did see, and the realization sent a spear of cold through his heart and into his soul itself.
He started to bend but froze in a half crouch as a clanging cry reverberated throughout the huge hall.
The man whirled despite his compromised position. He fired straight into the fanged mouth gaping for him.
A volley could not have stopped the piranha at that stage. It was in full spring and struck him squarely, bearing him to the ground.
Dark blood spurted from the cruel jaws, but they closed fast and hard on his chest. Teeth ripped into his flesh, grated on bone that could never withstand their crushing force.
The captain fired again in desperation, unnecessarily. The killing pressure, the death bite, did not come. His first bullet had done its work. The creature lay dead on top of him.
FitzGerald fought to draw air against the weight pinning him and the pain every slight movement cost. No matter. He would not live long. He watched, as if from a distance, while a second animal leaped at him. It had been like that with Murph, too, he recalled. One had gone for the head, the other for the belly. His assailants had merely reversed the procedure.
Lem’s rifle spat fire. He leaped in, caught the piranha full in the stomach with his bayonet.
Graems was not a big man, but he was wiry and strong, and he was skilled with his weapon. He lifted and threw the creature as if it were a bale of fodder. Taigue’s shot followed fast to finish it.
“Lem, watch the door.” The sergeant knelt beside his commander. “FitzGerald?”
“The damn thing’s got its teeth in me.” It came as a gasp. Speech was difficult between pain and shock. “I don’t know how bad—”
North struggled frantically to release the beast’s jaws, but all his strength availed nothing. They were as firmly locked in place as if rigor mortis had already seized full control of the piranha’s muscles.
“Hurry up, North,” Graems pressed, looking back over his shoulder from his post at the entrance. “All this blood’s bound to draw more spooks.”
“I can’t pry its mouth open!”
Cathal’s eyes closed. “Leave me, then. Get out of here, you two. Lock that door.” He looked up. “That’s an order, Master Sergeant.”