Love, Rehab, and Mutant Turtles (4) [2 of 2]
Disappointment and growing attraction battled in Nick’s gut. He got to his feet, brushing off the various aches and pains. I’m getting old. The simple fall was enough to shake loose deep soreness in his ribs and back that never truly seemed to go away. There had been a time when getting tossed around like a ragdoll by some horrifying beast would have been an ordinary day. Now, Nick wondered if his body could survive.
Cass tossed Nick a small, elastic headlamp.
Nick strapped it on, realizing that if he didn’t, he would be entirely dependent on her light. The sewers were nearly pitch black, with the only light coming from the grates above. He clicked on the small headlamp and followed Cass as she started moving down one of the tunnels. A powerful stink overwhelmed the baseline rot of the sewer almost immediately. Reptiles and amphibians carried a unique stench with them no matter what part of the world they were existing in. It was different from the rotting decay of a predator. The smell was something older, more primal, signaling that whatever process produced it was necessary and ancient. To a good monster hunter, it said: whatever creature lies ahead has been here since long before you were born and, in all likelihood, will be here when you are gone.
Nick fingered the trigger of his crossbow with a surprising degree of nerves. He scanned the floor, looking for any sign. They were traveling on a flat concrete path around five feet wide, leading to circular concrete walls that domed above them. In the small space, Nick was starting to feel cramped and claustrophobic. Turtles often lived in large groups. In such an enclosed space, it was a recipe for disaster.
“You’re awfully quiet.” Cass was calm. The beam of her headlamp stared straight ahead, and she held the launcher loosely at her side.
She doesn’t think there’s a threat. Nick sniffed at the air again, wondering if he was imagining things. Through the haze of human waste, he smelled it. If it wasn’t giant turtles, it was something worse. “I’m fine, just don’t like tight spaces.” It was mostly the truth. At that moment, he spotted a black pile adhered to the side of the tunnel wall.
“The consummate monster hunter. Let me guess, snakes are a pass as well?” Cass continued ahead, not noticing that Nick had stopped.
He shuddered at the memory of a massive serpent rising from the depths of The Amazon river and eating men alive. “Trust me, you haven’t seen the snakes I have.” He approached the wall and jabbed at the black pile with the tip of his crossbow. It didn’t take long to discover that the pile was indeed shit. At least we know we’re going in the right direction. He looked up to tell Cass, but her headlamp was already rounding the corner ahead. Why the hell is she so calm?
Nick scrambled to catch up to her. The sound of running water echoed around him. Ahead, the tunnel emptied out in a massive square pool where several pipes converged. Rainwater gushed through a struggling grate in the ceiling. Green neon lights from a bar above gave the chamber a strange, radioactive-looking glow. At least, Nick hoped it was from the neon. If not, they were in significant danger for far more mundane reasons than he liked.
Cass was standing on a platform at the edge of the water. “Well, we made it!”
Nick emerged from the tunnel and looked around. The pool at the room’s base was likely deep enough to hold a massive turtle or two, but he saw no sign of them. “Not sure this is the lair, Cass.” He hated contradicting her. Things had been going so well and monster hunters were a notoriously sensitive group.
“Well, maybe not the lair you were thinking of.” Cass grinned. Malice filled her eyes and her posture changed.
Nick’s mind pinballed between arousal and fear, unsure which was the right emotion for the situation. A hiss followed by a searing pain in his right ankle let him know. Ah shit. He tried to move, but his leg refused to cooperate. Looking down, he saw the shaft of a crossbow bolt running clean through it. He fell forward, and in a last-minute calculation, fired his own crossbow, aiming for the water. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The ground rushed up to him with a wet and painful slap.
A boot caught Nick in the ribs, flipping him over. Cass smiled down at him and kicked the crossbow out of his hands. “Sorry, guess I’m going to need to cut our date a little short.”