As some of you may already be aware, (especially if you follow me on Twitter or Bookstagram) The second book in my Fantasy series Changeling, is due out soon.
Following on from the first story, ‘Isle of Winds’, the second instalment is ‘Drowned Tomb’ and i’ve been posting teaser and promo pics on facebook, Insta and elsewhere for my own entertainment, (and also to break up the grind of constant editing).
For anyone who has read and enjoyed the first book, below for you is a short teaser excerpt from the second: looking forward to doing a cover reveal shortly too. 🙂
Drowned Tomb: Chapter Three
The Midnight Pool
It was midnight, and Robin, fully dressed and carrying a torch, padded silently through the quiet and moonlit corridors of Erlking Hall behind the shadowy figure of Henry, who had assured him he remembered the way to the old, boarded up pool room. Henry also carried a dark torch, as well as a large sack, which clinked ominously, filled as it was with empty jam jars he had earlier pilfered, at great danger of being caught, from Hestia the housekeeper’s pantry. He had a pair of swimming goggles pushed high up on his head. ‘Just in case’, he had explained to Robin as they had met after lights-out in the darkness outside his bedroom.
It was a strange feeling, stealing through the silent darkness, knowing that they should be tucked up in bed, and that everyone else in the house was sleeping. Hestia would skin them alive if she knew they were sneaking around in the middle of the night, exploring forbidden corridors and poking their noses into places she most certainly wouldn’t approve of. But the housekeeper was shut up in her own rooms for the night, playing reedy gramophone music, as was her habit.
At this late hour, their strange new guest, the enigmatic Madame Calypso had retired to the guest chambers which Henry’s father had arranged for her. Robin hadn’t seen her since they’d reached the house earlier in the day. Even Aunt Irene had turned in for the night, although Robin secretly suspected the old woman didn’t actually sleep. She always seemed too busy. She was probably locked away in a high study somewhere, scribbling away in one of her numerous ledgers by guttering candlelight.
Robin was just glad that it was the weekend, and Henry had been allowed to sleep over at the hall. It wouldn’t have been half as much fun on his own. He shuddered, remembering the monochrome rooms.
“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Robin hissed in a stage whisper as he followed the padding Henry around yet another corner, into a long dusty gallery which was filled with old suits of dull armour. He’d never been in this part of Erlking before. He wasn’t even sure what floor they were on. He was fairly sure it was the ground floor, but there were so many little steps here and there it was impossible to be certain. Erlking within had a way of turning you around.
The walls here were hung with heavy gathered swags of velvet, deep reddish-brown like old wine. They might once have been tapestries, before time, age and dust had erased whatever patterns they had.
“As sure as I can be,” Henry said reassuringly, leading his pale companion through the swags of velvety darkness. “There’s been no reason for anyone to come to this part of the house for years. Don’t know if you noticed, but your great aunt is not really the type to throw half-term pool parties.” He stubbed his toe on an unexpected and apparently purposeless step in the middle of the corridor and cursed inventively under his breath. “Even Hestia hardly comes near the pool room unless she absolutely has to, look, there’s dust and spider webs and stuff. Where else you ever seen those in Erlking?”
Henry had a point. Hestia considered Erlking her solemn duty, and though she couldn’t be said to do it without constant complaint, she kept the manor spotless.
“I’m sure this place gets bigger the more I explore it,” Robin muttered. “How long have I lived here now? It takes me about ten minutes to circle the place outside, but we can walk for hours inside. What’s that about?”
Henry shrugged ahead of him, a shadow in the gloom. “They say Erlking has a foot in the human world and a foot in the Netherworlde, don’t they? Well the Netherworlde is bigger than our world. Maybe a few of its Netherworlde toes are on the inside of the human world’s shoe, who knows?”
Robin couldn’t argue with this strange logic, so he didn’t.
They turned another corner in the dark corridor, only to find themselves suddenly and startlingly faced with two figures both leaning against a large set of double doors.
It was Karya, and with her, Erlking’s small blue-skinned faun, Woad.
“Or maybe you two dimwits just have no sense of direction and have been walking in circles for half an hour,” the small girl offered with a raised eyebrow.
“What are you doing here?” Henry grimaced, pretending he hadn’t just almost jumped out of his skin. “This is a top secret mission this is. Robin and I planned…”
“To get into the old boarded up pool room and extract some bile from the resident kraken?” Karya supplied. “Yes, amazingly I guessed you might. Believe it or not, your surreptitious looks earlier today and your whispered plan to sneak down here in the middle of the night wasn’t too difficult to figure out. You’re hardly the subtlest pair.”
Henry glared at the shadowy figure of Woad, who was sitting cross-legged on the floorboards before the heavily boarded-up doors, grinning. Woad was small and skinny, with a wild mop of hair and yellow, gleaming eyes. He was also electric blue, like all fauns, in possession of a happily swishing tail, and a neat set of small, sharp teeth, which were currently beaming up at them.
“You ratted us out?” Henry blustered in a loud whisper “Why, you little feral blue…”
“She’s the boss, Henryboy.” Woad cocked his head to one side. “Sorry, but she asked what you two were planning. Can’t lie to the boss. Wouldn’t be worth my tail to try.”
Robin clicked on his torch, sending a beam of dusty yellow light across the dark corridor into Karya’s face.
“Are you here to stop us?” he asked.
Karya rolled her eyes, pushing herself away from the wall. “Hardly, Scion.” She smiled. “I’m here to help out.”
Henry looked dumbfounded. He still didn’t fully trust the strange girl, especially since she had begun helping Irene with her little translation project. As far as he was concerned, she was fraternising with the grown-ups.
She noticed his look. “Believe it or not, I actually agree this is a logical idea,” she said. “If the Scion is going to start learning the Tower of Water tomorrow morning, it would be preferable if he didn’t drown during the first five minutes. If he did, it’s pretty unlikely his new tutor would leap to his rescue. She’s a nymph after all. She’d just watch with interest. This little expedition to collect bile could work out well.” She glanced at Robin. “Unfortunately, the Scion does not always have the best advisors. It might be useful to have someone in the mix who has actually seen a kraken before, rather than just a boy in a pair of swimming goggles and bag full of…?”
“Umm…jars,” Robin said, lowering his torch.
“Jam jars,” Henry said defensively. “For…the bile,” he finished lamely.
“And how, pray tell, are you planning on harvesting said bile?” Karya asked.
Robin and Henry exchanged looks in the darkness, Henry lowered his goggles onto his eyes.
“We…thought…” Robin began.
“We might…you know…squeeze?” Henry said vaguely.
Woad cackled merrily. Karya shook her head a little, unable to suppress a smile. She turned to the door which was criss-crossed with large nailed planks. “Let’s just get in there, shall we?” she suggested.
It only took a few moments for the four of them to wrench the old boards from the doors, the wood squealing off the rusty old nails as they pried them free. Before long they had removed enough of the barricade to allow them to shove open the doors a few inches, and squeeze themselves through into the stale smelling darkness beyond.
Within the long abandoned pool room, Robin found himself in utter darkness.
“Light, Woad, please,” Karya requested in a whisper, and the faun’s mana-stone, a small white opal on a thong around his neck flashed softly. A globe of watery bluish light appeared in his long-nailed hand, wavering like a glowing jelly cube. With a gesture he cast it upwards like a ball, and it floated high above them, casting its ghostly light down upon the four companions and their strange, stale-smelling, and silent surroundings.
The pool room, Robin saw by this pallid and spectral illumination, was a large chamber, with a long curved bow of a ceiling. There were tiered stone rows of seating around the edges of a large, almost Olympic sized swimming pool. The water which filled the pool was black and stagnant, like muddy oil. The light rippled off its surface opaquely.
“Well, this isn’t remotely creepy,” Henry whispered, looking around through his goggles.
“So,” Robin whispered. “Where’s the kraken then?” He’d been expecting it to be filling the room after Henry’s description, monstrous giant tentacles wrapped around pillars and a gaping razor-edged beak snapping at them. The pool room seemed instead eerily still and completely deserted.
“I’d imagine it’s in the pool,” Karya said, inching closer to the slippery edge, her footsteps echoing on the slippery, unpolished mosaic tiles.
“Do you think?” Henry said sarcastically. “Hey, mind you don’t fall in. Get too close and there’ll be tentacles whipping out of that sludge and dragging you under faster than you can scream. I know what I’m talking about, I’ve seen Jason and the Argonauts every Christmas since I was born.”
“Your friend Jason sounds like a master kraken-battler,” Woad said, sniffing around the pool cautiously on all fours, “Why didn’t you bring him with us, if he’s such an expert?”
“It’s just a film, Woad,” Henry explained.
“There is indeed a thick film on the pool,” Karya agreed. “I think its moss. Looks like the surface hasn’t been disturbed in…well…years.”
They were all talking at cross purposes, but Robin agreed. He clicked on his torch, shining its beam out over the dark and sinister water of the pool.
“She’s right,” he said to Henry. “That’s a bit weird, isn’t it? I mean, if there was a big octopus thing in there, surely it would disturb the water’s surface often enough to break this up?”
“So, maybe there’s nothing in the water at all,” Karya concluded. “Although look.” She directed Robin’s flashlight to the corner of the dank pool, where a rusted set of pool ladders lowered themselves into the muck. The rungs of the ladder were thickly strung with a vile-looking tangled weed.
“Black kraken weed,” Karya said. “So it stands to reason, it must be here.”
Robin eyed the black water dubiously, wondering whether, deep in its silent depths, there lurked a still and vast monster, watching them, listening to their hushed whispers.
The surface suddenly rippled with a loud plop, making both Karya and Robin flinch in surprise, but it wasn’t a kraken’s undulation. Henry had just fished a coin out of his pocket and flicked it into the pool. They both stared at him.
“What?” he said innocently. “I thought it might get the thing’s attention.” He shoved his hands deep in his jeans pockets defensively.
“It’s not a wishing well!” Robin hissed.
“Unless,” Woad said, “Your wish was to be dragged to your death and rolled around by lots of squishy suckers.” He smiled happily, standing up and making squishing noises with his cheeks to amuse himself.
“I’ll harvest some of the seaweed,” Karya said, shaking her head at Henry’s idiocy. “I just wish there was a way we could know what’s in there. A cantrip or some charm, but I’m no good with water I’m afraid.”
“There is one way,” Woad said with glee. They turned to question him but, before any of them could stop him, the blue faun had taken a deep breath, and leapt majestically out into the water, his knees drawn up to his chest as he executed a most impressive cannonball.
The splash was deafening in the silent room. It echoed and reverberated around the walls as he disappeared beneath the surface, sending up a great spray of rank dark water.
“Woad!” Robin yelled in alarm, skittering to the edge of the pool. The tiles were so slippery his trainers squeaked, and only Henry grabbing his arm stopping him from plunging into the murky depths too.
“What the bloody hell?” Henry gasped. Karya whirled from the ladders, eyes wide and a fistful of rank seaweed clutched in her hand.
“Is he insane?” Robin said. “Woad!” He scanned the surface of the blackness, the sloshing water dancing under the panicked strobe of his torch, throwing reflections up onto the curved roof high overhead.
Moments passed, and the surface of the pool quickly calmed itself.
“Where is he?” Karya said, sounding panicked. “Why hasn’t he come up? That stupid, brainless…” She trailed off, her face ashen as the three of them stood frozen.
Henry dropped to one knee and started pulling off one of his shoes.
“What are you doing?” Robin asked.
“I’m going in after him, suicidal little monster, what does it look like?!”
Karya was holding her hand out over the water’s surface, her amber bracelet glittering faintly, a look of furious concentration on her face.
“Heroic, but then we’d just have two of you to worry about,” she said. “Bugger! There’s nothing in there I can use! Not a scrap of wood, not a spot of soil! I could probably make the moss grow thicker but what good would that do?”
The ripples on the lake has almost subsided, and there hadn’t even been a bubble. What was Woad doing down there? Robin shone his torch around the room frantically. “Look for some rope or something we can tie!” he said. “We can lash ourselves together like mountaineers, that way…”
“That way, when the giant slithering death monster that’s probably squeezing the life out of our bloody reckless faun grabs one of us too, it can drag us all to our deaths with its massive scaly arms of doom?!” Henry yammered.
“Kraken don’t have scales,” Karya said, not dragging her eyes from the deathly still surface.
Henry stared at her wide-eyed. “Is that really the relevant point?!”
Robin gripped his mana-stone firmly in his fist. His panicked mind was trying very hard not to picture Woad being crushed to death by a chthonic nightmare. He had some half-formed plan to cast his mana into the water. Maybe a combination of Galestrike and Breezeblock and he could part the waves like a young Moses, at least letting them see what kind of trouble the creature was in. Karya glared at him, startled. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve got to do something!” Robin yelled. “He’s my faun!”
“He’s our faun!” Karya countered. “Scion, you have no idea what’s in there with him, you could make it even angrier. Woad could be…”
There was a sudden splash, which made both Robin and Karya jump and Henry, who was balancing on one leg hopping around trying to pull off his second shoe, fall on his backside.
A small, oily shape had just flopped bonelessly out of the water on the far side of the pool. It rolled a little and unfurled, revealing itself to be a slime-coated faun.
“…absolutely fine,” Karya finished, staring.
Woad sat up. He was covered in black, brackish goo, his hair plastered to his face and his coarse trousers squelching as he sat back. He looked like some horrible new-born monster.
“What…the…hell….!” Henry screamed at him.
Woad wiped his face into even more of a messy smear, his tail swishing back and forth behind him like a wet rope, throwing off spatters of goop.
“What were you thinking?!” Karya was practically shaking. “Of all the numbskull, idiotic stunts to pull, you could have been killed! I’ve seen ships attacked by kraken on the great river of Dis! Have you no common sense whatsoever?!”
Robin, letting his mana-stone drop to his chest, was too relieved to see the small boy unharmed to add to the fury. “What were you doing?” he breathed.
Woad stood, a little wobbly, and the three companions saw he was clutching something to his bare chest. It looked like a small Greek urn.
“Well,” the faun grinned. “Getting the kraken of course.”
They made their way around the water’s edge to his side, their dropped flashlights forgotten. The only illumination came from Woad’s floating light, which still hovered around up in the roof space, like an errant will o’ the wisp.
“Henryboy told us, kraken don’t stop growing,” the faun said, holding out the urn. “Well the room wasn’t full of squishy fish-beast when we came in here, and the pool wasn’t a tentacle-fest either. Turns out there’s all sorts of junk down there at the bottom of the water. That’s where I found it.”
They peered inside the urn, which Woad held out proudly in his sharp-clawed hands.
Deep within, wedged firmly in the bottom of the watery terracotta pot, and looking up at them with baleful, rage-filled eyes, was a slithering tentacled mass about the size of a small hamster.
“The mighty kraken?” Henry mused.
Robin stared at the tiny squid-like beast. It must have been stuck in there, he reasoned. It had grown to fill the pot, and then couldn’t grow anymore. By the light of the floating charm, he could just make out what looked like a very old, weathered collar below its eyes and tiny beak, which might conceivably once have been a powder pink, studded with glass jewels.
“Inky?” Karya whispered in disbelief. “Woad, you mad little psychopath. You’ve captured the mighty kraken of Erlking.”
“That’s…” Robin faltered. The kraken was fixing him with the stare of death with its milky eyes. Its maw opened as it gave a shuddering hiss. It was more of a mewl. He took the pot gingerly from the faun’s slimy arms. “That’s just…bloody adorable,” he finished.
Woad swelled with pride, and then, to a chorus of complaints and horror, he shook himself like a wet dog, drenching his companions in pond slime and sludge.