This is a chunk of my first e-novel "The Caverns of Larne." It's on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and ITunes... Big deal. That doesn't mean a thing could publish a 880 word repetition of "3 blind mice"'s selling it that's difficult. It's soft scifi and I'd appreciate some construtive opinions. Maybe it's not your thing , but do you think it holds together as a story? Have you read worse? Much obliged

The Caverns of Larne
“Stop…There’s something ahead.”

Shelar the Sha-Elade, pointed to the dark outlines of two tunnels that continued on from the main cavern through which they were passing. She closed her eyes, scanning the tunnels, while Yent and the four young members of his Drage automatically took up their defensive positions around her.

Yent carried their most potent weapon, a battered pump-action shotgun, which he had nicknamed “Vanga…because it reminds me of my old aunt. She could be loud and scary…and almost as deadly” He stood close by Shelar, ready for instant action…as the Rewl, he was the undisputed leader, but he was expected to die defending her.

So were the others, because Elades were such a rare commodity and they outranked everyone else in times of crisis. Apart from her telepathic ability and her skill as a healer, Shelar was also the map-maker, advisor to Yent and unofficial mother to the young Drage. Together, Shelar and Yent were the bedrock, the difference between life or death for the untried teenagers.

Shelar exhaled and opened her large eyes. She turned to Yent and, as always, he was impressed, both by her simple, mature beauty and her clarity of thought. Most telepaths could zinn out to a distance of a hundred deks in the tunnel complexes, but he had seen Shelar easily zinn twice as far…she was a Sha-Elade well worth dying for.

Slowly and clearly, she outlined what her psychic probe was revealing.
“In the left-hand tunnel…I think there’s a Creeper…yes! It senses me it’s blocked me out…there’s something in the right-hand tunnel as well.” Yent could see she was clearly puzzled by what it might be. “It’s strange. It’s big and it’s angry...about 80 deks down the tunnel…round a bend I think.”

Yent gripped Vanga tighter. “There’s nothing else anywhere?”

Shelar turned back towards the left hand tunnel again. She closed her eyes again and refocused. “It feels like the tunnel slopes upwards and it’s possible it may be blocked by that large rock fall we saw on the upper level…It just doesn’t feel right.”

The young Drage checked their weapons, as they awaited orders. They were clearly very edgy and, for the first time since they had started the mission, Yent felt the weight of his responsibility for them bearing down on him.

He reviewed his options…“Something you say is strange, big and angry is not a good thing to meet in a badly-lit tunnel…particularly if it’s fast. The Creeper in the left tunnel we can handle if we have to. But, if the tunnel turns out to be blocked, we may have something strange, big and angry behind us…and nowhere to go.”

“We could always send Drax back to deal with it.” The speaker was Delt, tall, lean and quite muscular, his heavily tattooed arms cradling a lethal looking pole-axe. “She’s small strange and VERY angry…OOF!” Drax’s well-aimed low punch made Delt double up and the other young Drage members, Bree and Krena, snickered.

“The Creeper’s still blocking me out…the unknown thing in the right hand tunnel still isn’t moving.” Shelar stayed focused, waiting for Yent’s response.

Yent had made a decision. He pointed to the right hand tunnel. “We tackle the strange unknown…apart from anything else, I’m curious to know what is in there. If we’re lucky, it won’t sense us till we’re nearly on it.”

He turned to the two young males. “Delt…with me…Bree…cover Shelar. How many shells left for that big pistol of yours?” Bree signaled eight…“plus, another five in the small pistol.” He also carried an axe, smaller than Delts, slung across his shoulder and everyone, including Shelar, carried a variety of bladed weapons, in leather pouches around their waists.

Yent nodded. “Good. Use them if you have to, but make them count…we may never find any more.” He looked towards the two females, who each carried sturdy crossbows. “Drax and Krena…cover the rear. If anything moves, shoot it…particularly if it’s Delt and Bree running away. Shelar…get the carbide lamp ready…we need the brightest source of light we’ve got. Let’s go everyone”

They moved quickly and quietly towards the right hand tunnel. Most caves and tunnels were covered with Jrooms…ectomycorrhizal fungi, which has been genetically-engineered during the Great Move Underground…and these lived off the minerals on the cave and tunnel walls. They provided a life-supporting supply of food and air, as well as a barely-tolerable light source. But this tunnel was particularly dark.

They all had LED headlamps, which automatically recharged themselves from the bioluminescent-light from the Jrooms and they also had two manually-chargeable lamps. All these gave out a very low level of light but Sherans had naturally large vertical eyes, which enabled them to see quite well in subdued light conditions. Even so, Yent firmly believed in the deterrent value of bright light, which was why he was using the carbide lamp…even though they had a very limited supply of crystals.

Shelar zinned that the unknown creature was still motionless, about fifty deks down the tunnel and she still sensed anger…or was it pain? As they approached the entrance, a strong pungent odour, a sort of burnt-fish smell, made their nostrils twitch.

Yent signaled for Delt to enter the tunnel with him and for everyone else to stand back…he pointed to the carbide lamp and Shelar activated it. Water dripped onto the calcium carbide crystals in the bottom chamber, generating acetylene gas. Then she thumbed the flint striker and the spark ignited the acetylene.

Yent and Delt edged cautiously into the tunnel. It curved round to the right, as Shelar had predicted, and the lamp’s beam danced on the walls at the tunnel bend. There was nothing yet in sight. Yent looked at Delt and they both pulled a face… the smell was becoming overpowering. Slowly, they edged forward.

“It’s coming…fast!”

Shelar’s shout echoed around the big cavern and the other Drage members flinched and instinctively took a step backwards, their weapons leveled at the tunnel opening. Yent and Delt back-pedaled furiously. As they did so, the creature appeared round the bend in the tunnel.
It was big…as predicted and, if it was angry before, it now looked furious….and even Shelar couldn’t have known about its terrible appearance. It was clearly amphibious, at least some of the time, but, judging by the speed of its approach, it was also just as comfortable out of water.

It ran on all fours towards them, in a very strange and frightening rolling-gait, made even more terrifying by the sheer speed of its approach.. As it got close, it suddenly reared upright and it seemed to smile, showing a terrible array of razor sharp teeth. It could see its meal….and it was ready to eat.

Delt groaned “We’re dead!”

“Not yet we’re not!” Yent grunted…and he fired once, from the hip, straight into the creature’s midriff. Even at point blank range, the thick scales on its body absorbed most of the shell’s impact. But it had the desired effect, slowing its forward rush enough to enable them to exit backwards out into the main cavern.

The suddenness of Yent and Delt’s rapid reappearance, coupled with the deafening shotgun blast, caught everyone else off balance, and they stared transfixed at the creature now emerging from the tunnel. Yent had the presence of mind to train the lamp full into the creature’s enormous eyes. The unexpected brightness dazzled it, and it brought its webbed claws up, to shut out the light. Bree immediately fired once, and the large slug ripped away most of the creature’s top lip, in a flurry of blood, gristle and shattered teeth.

The creature’s mood went from furious, to apoplectic. It uttered a high nerve-tingling screech, stood fully-erect and lunged towards Bree…who in blind panic, shot twice more. The first shot narrowly missed Yent. The second ricocheted off the cavern roof, because Bree had by now tripped and was falling backwards.

Shelar saved Bree from certain disembowelment. As the creature reached down for him, she zinned images into the creature’s mind that it just couldn’t ignore. “Eat me” she zinned “I’m soft and juicy…tasty flesh…sweet blood.” The creature hesitated, looked down at Bree again, then at Shelar. Delt swore later, that the creature smacked what was left of its lips. Then it lunged quickly at Shelar…but not quickly enough.

Delt swung his pole-axe high and brought it hard down onto the creatures head. “Wooogh!” The crushing impact caused the creature to sharply exhale, giving everyone a stomach-churning whiff of its burnt-fishy breath. Its legs buckled and froths of blood bubbled from its mangled lips.

Even though much of its brain now showed wetly through a gaping head-wound, it still tried to lurch towards its promised meal. Yent ran forward, jammed the barrel of his shotgun into the creature’s mouth and fired once. Flesh, greenish blood and bone sprayed everywhere and the creature crashed onto its back, on the floor. It twitched for a moment…then it was still, it’s hooked talons gradually sinking back onto its body.

There was a shocked silence, broken only by the hissing of the carbide lamp and the far-off drip-drip of water from the cavern roof. Bree got slowly to his feet and avoided looking directly at his Rewl…as Yent bent down and examined the creature’s body in detail. It was the young Drage’s first taste of real combat and they exchanged nervous glances with each other. Because of the shock of the encounter, they were still on an adrenalin-high and this made their normally large vertical eyes look quite enormous.

Yent turned the lamp off…they couldn’t afford to waste the precious carbide crystals. Delt spoke first. “Nice one Bree” he said tightly. “You managed to piss off fish-face…you nearly killed Yent…and you took a rock sample out of the roof…and you only used three of our few remaining bullets to do it.”

Yent moved away from the carcass. “The main thing is that nobody’s hurt…so stop the banter for now please. This creature looks a lot like a Razar…an amphibian that lived in one of the oceans on old Larne. There’s a picture of it in the library, back at the Haven. But this is a whole lot bigger…and it’s definitely twice as ugly…but I’d say it’s the same species.”

He moved across the Shelar and looked accusingly down at her. “What did you do to get the creature’s attention…you didn’t just smile at it.”

Shelar smiled weakly. “I invited it to dinner” she said calmly, but her eyes told Yent that she was as shaken by the encounter as the rest of them.

Yent touched her lightly on the shoulder. “Nice party trick Shelar…but a tad dangerous don’t you think?” He pointed to the creature. “There’s a chunk missing out of its upper right thigh and none of us caused that. No wonder it was angry…it was female by the way.”

“It was also pregnant…that’s why it was so hungry.”

Yent sighed. “So there might be a boyfriend nearby?”

Shelar didn’t reply immediately and Yent could see she was zinning the tunnel areas again. When she opened her eyes again she visibly relaxed. “It’s not all bad news” she said quietly. “The Creeper’s moving away…maybe scared off by all the noise. There’s nothing else near, in either of the tunnels.”

Yent reloaded the shotgun then turned back to the others..........................