We hadn’t gotten far before that fog bank rolled up out of nowhere.
I’ll admit, I didn’t think it was that weird to start with. Fog is fog. And we were all pretty good at nautical navigation that far into the float. I had my compass board on the gunwale, sure that I was holding course. So, we were fine. Sure, the night was supposed to have been clear. But who really trusts the weather forecasts in the “Situation” paragraph one hundred percent?
The fog got thicker, and I eased off on the throttle. Within a couple dozen yards, I couldn’t even see the boats on either side of us, though I could still hear them. I glanced down at the compass, which was still rock-steady. We were good. We just had to go carefully because of the reduced visibility.
At least, that was what I thought until we were still chugging through the waves, shrouded by fog, well after the time we should have been at the beach landing site.
I started to question my judgement, but it wasn’t like we had a lot of reference points in this soup. The bearing had been spot on since we headed in. I’d chosen to be patient. Maybe we’d slowed down more than I thought.
A sound… almost a moan.
My head came up, and I stared hard into the mists. Other heads came up off the gunwales, too. I hadn’t been the only one to notice something.
“You hear that?” Farrar was my RTO, and as usual, his voice was slightly too loud, even in a whisper. He’d never quite perfected the Recon quiet.
Santos shushed him. “We all heard it, moron. Shut up.” My assistant team leader wasn’t exactly the soul of tact, but Farrar brought out the acid in him fast, quick, and in a hurry. Especially when he couldn’t be quiet.
But the noise had been weird enough that Santos wasn’t going to ignore it just to spite Farrar, either. “What the hell was that? A whale?” His voice was still a low whisper that wouldn’t carry far.
“Never heard of a whale making a noise like that before, let alone on the surface.” I searched the mist around us again. I couldn’t see any of the other boats, but nobody had started yelling for help yet. If this had been a real-world combat mission, that might or might not be advisable, depending on the emergency, but since it was a training op, I figured that if anything went wrong with one of the boats, we’d have to go admin to fix it.
The fog was as thick as ever, and the darkness seemed to be even more impenetrable than it had been before. The radios were all in waterproof cascade bags in the rucks; immediate communications without visual contact would be limited to yelling.
And for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, after hearing that strange moan out in the dark, I didn’t feel like yelling was going to be a good idea.
“Rodeffer! Stanley! You see anything up there?” I kept my voice to a low hiss projected toward the bow where my point man and slack man were lying on the gunwale, their eyes forward, peering over their rifles.
Rodeffer shook his head, his NVGs sticking out under his bump helmet as he scanned the water around us.
Stanley then said, “Nothing, Staff Sergeant.” He was the low man on the totem pole, not only on the team, but also in the platoon. He’d just lat-moved from Supply to Recon and had finished the BRC—Basic Reconnaissance Course—pipeline just in time to join the workup for this float. He might be a Sergeant with six years under his belt, but he was a boot to us, even to Rodeffer, who had just pinned on his third stripe.
Stanley also still had some Big Marine Corps habits. One of the first things Santos had told him when he’d arrived at the Company was not to get a haircut for the next two weeks. Recon don’t do that screaming high-and-tight shit.
The moan came again, followed by a soft splash somewhere behind us.
Santos swiveled around and craned his neck to look behind us while still lying on the gunwale. “What the hell?”
I let off on the throttle. From the sounds of it, the other boats had as well. Which told me that we’d all heard it.
Letting us drift a little, I turned and looked behind us. Nothing but dark waves disappearing into the fog a few yards away.
Or was there something more out there? Something big and creepy?
I blinked, then stared hard. My NVGs didn’t have a lot of light to work with, and they need some ambient light to amplify. Even our PVS-15s couldn’t see squat in the pitch black. And the fog wasn’t exactly letting a lot of starlight down.
Then something broached the surface. Not by much, but just enough that I knew it was there. And it didn’t look right. It looked almost…human.
I blinked hard and stared at the empty stretch of water I’d just observed.
I couldn’t have seen it right. For a moment, I told myself that I’d just experienced the same thing the old sailors who said they’d seen mermaids had. They’d seen a sea cow and thought they’d seen a half-fish, half-hot chick in a shell bikini.
To be honest, I’d never quite bought that explanation. Ever seen a sea cow? Nobody who’s not high as a kite is going to mistake that for a hot chick. Didn’t make sense the first time I heard the theory, and I wasn’t buying it right then, either.
I was right not to.
Something hit the boat from underneath. Hard. We all froze for a second.
Then they were coming up out of the water all around us.
I caught a good look at the closest one as it grabbed the gunwale right next to me, avoiding the shrouded pumpjet propulsor on the outboard. Its arm was a little too long, its fingers slender and bony, with webbing between them running from knuckle almost clear to the claws at their ends. Its head was blunt and earless, its eyes too big for its head, luminous and practically glowing in my NVGs.
The thing had a mouth wider than the rest of its head, and when it gaped, I saw rows of glassy fangs that looked like they belonged on an anglerfish.
Thus begins the saga of Ice and Monsters, Book 1 of The Lost. A WarGate Books series about a Recon Platoon stranded in a world torn from myth and legend–or perhaps, a world dragged back into myth and legend.
I haven’t said much about this series so far, because we were waiting for all the stars to align–namely, to launch this story well. Well, it’s out today.
About a year ago, Nick Cole contacted me with an idea for a project. That got an advance copy of Forgotten Ruin into my hands, which got the wheels turning.
I’d initially thought that Nick and his co-author, Jason Anspach, wanted me to write in that universe. Instead, they wanted my own series, in my own universe, along similar lines.
The end result is The Lost.
Forgotten Ruin is described as “Tolkien meets Shock and Awe.”
The Lost is more “Swift, Silent, Deadly meets Tolkien by way of the myths that inspired him.”
They are few. They are outnumbered. They are in over their heads in a world that is far more savage and strange than anything they have yet encountered.
But they’re Recon Marines. They’ll adapt, overcome, and do whatever it takes to complete the mission.
I hope you’ll check it out. It’s out on Kindle, Paperback, and Audio today. The Kindle version is on sale for $0.99 for a limited time.