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Chapter one —Seg learns what frightened me
Stumbling around at night in a jungle alive with ravenous monsters is not a pastime to be heartily recommended. Particularly when that jungle sprawls hungrily on the horrific if beautiful world of Kregen four hundred light-years from Earth.
The fetid stench of the place choked from rotting vegetation, putrid stink-flowers, decomposing —things —of indeterminate character. The darkness pressed down as black as the armpit of a demon from hell. All I wore was a scarlet breechclout and all I carried was a longsword. Those two items have seen me through many fraught adventures in the past. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind they will see me through many more in the future.
Each step was a probing forward venture. Dagger-sharp spines, a mass of corruption, a razor-edged leaf or a killer vine all could lie waiting for the next unwary step.
An incautious movement might precipitate me into a spiny-ribcrusher, and the spines would close with a meaty chunk and the juices would melt me down to a puddle.
Ahead in the pervasive darkness a faint line of pinkish radiance fuzzed into view and a coughing roar growled menacingly at my back.
Instantly, I was down on one knee, crouched, glaring back. To anything following me I would be silhouetted against that faint wash of moonlight. The sword snouted.
Breathing lightly, unmoving, poised, I waited.
Waiting, patience, silence, these spell survival in the jungle.
The coughing grunt smashed out again to be followed by a piercing scream and a thrashing crunching pandemonium of noise among the trees. Whoever or whatever had hunted,stalked, leaped and fastened fangs on his victim had seized a tougher prey than he had envisaged. Bad cess to the both of you, I said to myself, and cautiously rose and shuffled along to the slot of light.
Keeping bent over to make myself as small as possible against the radiance, I moved on and I did not press too close to any vegetation.
A tentacular looping horror, a spiny vine insensate with blind hunger, slashed. There was just time to see the whiplash against the rosy moonlight. The longsword switched up.
The killer vine coiled and thrashed and half of it swished back among the trees and the other half wriggled underfoot like an overturned can of worms. I stepped over and went on.
Shadows moved across that slot of fuzzy pink and golden moonlight. I stopped stock still.
Without a sound, without a movement, I peered from the blackness of the jungle out into the moonlight of the tangled clearing.
A face showed clear in the radiance. Sharp, in focus, the face turned directly toward where I stood.
The skull-face, covered by a tightly stretched pebbly skin of gray and green granulated texture, was blunt of jaw with the roots of the teeth exposed, the nostrils sunken slits, and the eyes, overhung by bony projections, of a smoky sullen crimson. The radiance of the moon fell full on that face, illuminating the rotting teeth, the decomposed nose, the crimson demon's eyes. Out of nightmare, that face, out of the deepest levels of subconscious horror...
I stepped out into the clearing.
"Hai!" I said. "Now I am mighty pleased to see you!"
The rotting teeth parted in a gasp. A sword flashed.
Then: "Lahal. I thought you were dead."
"And I, you."
"You are alone?"
"Yes. I was told a falling block of stone parted you from the main company. Your people are nearby, Skort?"
Skort nodded that ghastly head which was merely the normal head and face of a Clawsang, one of the many magnificent races of Kregan who are not made in the image of Homo sapiens.
Copyright © 1983, Kenneth Bulmer.