The Nocturnals, is a book I’ve been working on way longer than I’m going to admit. Enjoy the first chapter. (This is just a first draft, there are typos, and this version may not make it to the actual book.)
“’Leave the flamethrower at home,’ you said. ‘We won’t need it. It’s only one ghoul,’” Samantha mocked as she beheaded the nocturnal beside her, nearly slipping on the remains of their last victim. “Next time, I’m bringing the damn flamethrower, if we make it out of here alive.”
“I already said I’m sorry. There was only supposed to be one, a cake walk,” Roman said using his foot to hold down the body as he pried his ax from its remains. He slammed the ax down again, severing the head. Thick black blood oozed into a pool at his feet. “How was I supposed to know they have a nest?”
Pain seared down Sam’s back as claws sliced shoulder to hip. Bright crimson blood colored her white t-shirt, highlighting her wounds. Sam elbowed the nocturnal behind her and attacked the closest to her with her sword.
“The large number of missing people should have been your first clue, Sherlock.” She sliced at her attacker and tried to take stock of the situation. They’d taken down three so far. There were two more in the room and God only knew how many in the next room over. She didn’t like their odds. Decapitation would kill them, but they’d already died once and it didn’t seem to stick. So, to avoid any magical interference, they’d have to purge them with fire.
Roman didn’t reply. They had to focus on surviving. Sam planed to lecture him later and that would be an interesting role reversal. Roman had delivered so many of those chats to her the last few years.
“Duck!” Roman yelled. Sam hit the floor. Roman threw his ax behind her and unsheathed his KARMA daggers. Both were as long as his forearm and made of just about every type of metal that can kill the various nocturnals. He ran for the ghoul and used the daggers like scissors to cut its head off as it clawed at Roman’s throat leaving crimson lines in their wake.
“You good?” Sam asked blocking a hit.
“Yeah,” he said applying pressure to his neck.
Sam swept the nocturnal’s feet out from under it and rolled to her feet, slashing its head off. Roman wiped his daggers off on his leathers before sheathing and retrieving his ax. “Three to go,” she said glancing to make sure his neck wound wasn’t too deep, before heading towards the next door.
“Ma, Ma, Momma!” a girl shrieked. Sam’s heart tightened. Her thoughts went back to her darkest moment, causing her to hesitate, but only for a second. She took off, leaping over bodies, running as fast as she could. Her body strained to keep up the speed she demanded of herself. She had to save the child. She couldn’t have any more innocent blood on her hands.
“Sam, wait!” Roman shouted behind her trying to catch up. He slipped on a decapitated head and hit the ground with an earth-shattering thud. She wasn’t worried about him. He could take care of himself. The girl couldn’t. She rounded the corner, holding her sword with both hands. She came face to face with not three ghouls, but five. They surrounded the child, hissing. The girl was cut up like she’d been tortured. She was rocking back and forth clinging to a bloodstained rag that was probably her favorite blankey before she was taken by the Ghoul Nightmare Snack Brigade.
The room smelled like death, blood, feces, and urine in that order. There were bones and dried pools of blood scattered around the room. If she had to guess, based on the kid’s condition and the ghoul’s strength, she’d say the girl had been with them for a few days, waiting for her turn to be slaughtered. She couldn’t have been more than two or three years old. That thought drove Sam into a murderous rage.
She screamed as she charged them. She swung and missed her first attacker, but used the momentum of the missed swing to circle round to the next one. Black blood sprayed her, but she didn’t care. She viciously swung her sword leaving them in pieces in her wake. She stood panting, shaking from the adrenaline still flowing through her veins. She slowly walked towards the girl, trying not to scare her. The girl trembled and continued to cry, mumbling for her mother.
“It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. You’re safe now. We’ll take you back to your mom,” she said in her softest voice.
She began crying harder. “Ma, mama,” she wailed, waving the torn blanket towards Sam. She looked at the bloody rag in her tiny hands. She’d been wrong. It wasn’t a blanket. It was a torn piece of a woman’s blouse. She froze in horror. That little girl probably watched her mother being slaughtered alive as an all you can eat buffet by an entire nest of ghouls. The thought made her sick to her stomach. She dropped to her knees and held the little girl rocking her back and forth. “It’s okay, it’s okay. You’ll be okay,” Sam repeated over and over, tears streaming down her face. She wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince more, herself or the little girl.
“Look out!” Roman yelled as he came into the room. Sam tucked the girl in her arms tight and jumped to her left landing on her injured back sliding out of harm’s way, causing her vision to go dark for a second. Something leapt onto the place she’d just moved from a second before. She scrambled to sit up and put the child behind her. Her sword was on the other side of the room, leaving her with only her KARMA issued dagger she removed from her boot. Not her weapon of choice when decapitation was involved, but she’d have to manage until she could retrieve her sword.
It grinned at Sam as he ran his claw through Sam’s fresh blood on the floor. He brought it to his lips and moaned as he tasted it, sending chills through Sam. A white-hot anger began to fill her.
This ghoul had to be one of the oldest she’d ever seen or heard about. It was bones with a layer of gray skin holding it together. If he’d lived long enough to be transformed so much he had to be a crafty son of a bitch. She could almost see his wheels turning in his sunken pitch black eyes trying to find the best way to supersize his kid’s meal.
“Hey, claws off the goods. I’m not on the menu and neither is the kid.”
“We’ll see,” his dry voice replied with a smirk. He was trying to get under her skin and he was doing a fantastic job. She tightened her grip on her dagger and tensed to meet him as he attacked her. Only he didn’t attack her. Moving almost faster than she could track, he knocked the ax out of Roman’s hand and pinned him against the wall.
“Drop your weapon.”
“Roman!” she yelled. He couldn’t respond. He was having enough trouble breathing as the ghoul’s grip tightened around his throat. “Let go of him,” she said glaring at the smirking bastard.
“No. Drop your weapon and surrender I might let him live. You, on the other hand, killed my family. I can’t let that go unpunished. I get to keep you and the child. He gets to limp home. What do you say? Do we have an accord? It’s more than you deserve.”
After taking a moment to think about it Sam said, “I have an amendment to your ‘accord’.”
“Oh, you do? What might that be?”
“The child goes free,” she said through gritted teeth.
“And?” the ghoul asked.
“Roman and I stay here, and light your sorry ass on fire.”
“Wrong answer,” he said still grinning. Sam couldn’t wait to knock that smile off his face. The ghoul quickly bent to the floor and picked something up before Sam could react. “I have a bone to pick with you,” he said, suddenly impaling Roman with a broken femur, pinning him to the wall.
“You blew his one chance at freedom. Now, after I devour your arms and leg, I’ll make you watch what happens to your friend and that tiny morsel behind you. I hope she puts up more of a fight than her mother did. I was quite disappointed with her,” he sighed and was lost in thought for a moment.
Sam didn’t have a lot of options and none of them ended with everyone still alive in the end. Glancing back she saw the little girl was in the corner rocking back and forth still clinging to the torn blouse, out of immediate harm’s way. She tried to think of anything that would increase their odds of survival, but she was drawing a blank. She knew she wasn’t going down without a fight. She owed that much to her lost family.
She needed a distraction so she could reach her sword. She saw a dull flash of light between Roman and the nocturnal. She didn’t want to draw attention to it. She quickly glanced at the area again and a plan quickly formed.
Before he could snap out of his recollection she threw her dagger, hitting him right in the neck catching him by surprise. Smoke slowly started to rise from the wound.
“Sorry, I couldn’t risk you starting another monologue. You’re seriously boring,” she said faking a yawn. She noticed he stopped smiling. She couldn’t contain her grin. Seeing her smile, he reached for the dagger embedded in his throat. His hand sizzled on contact like he’d stuck his hand directly in a flame. He grabbed it again and pulled with all his strength, smoke rising from where the blade touched his palms. As the air filled with a smoky burnt meat scent, she doubted she’d be able to eat barbeque anytime soon. When the blade was free he dropped it to the ground.
“A blessed KARMA blade, I should have guessed you two were from KARMA. Blithering idiots always trying to ruin my meal. Your kind’s hunted me before. I picked my teeth clean with their bones. You’ll be no different,” he said turning towards her.
“I think you’ve forgotten one tiny little thing,” she said still smiling, taking a step that he mirrored.
“What would that be?”
“We have more weapons at our disposal.” Sam took another step, hoping he would follow suit. Slowly inching him closer to her trap.
“Oh, really? What magical weapon do you have that will defeat me? Oops, I mean non-magical weapon, since your kind are anti-magic.”
“The power of observation,” she said as Roman raised his blade and struck him, driving the dagger quarter ways through his neck. Startled he spun around and faced Roman. He drove his other dagger through his neck and removed it, ready to strike again. Glossy black blood coated the ghoul’s tattered shirt, slowly dripping to the floor. Sam rushed to her sword, scooping it up as she ran towards him.
He heard her coming and panicked. He jumped back trying to put more distance between him and Sam. Roman dropped the dagger to have both hands free to tug on the bone that pinned him to the wall. Sam couldn’t afford to take her attention away from the danger. She knew from experience that you can do impossible things when desperate and backed into a corner.
Roman finally managed to remove the bone and dropped to the floor trying to catch his breath. They stood between him and the exit. He was weakened by his injuries and the blessed blades, but not enough to affect his speed and strength.
Sam tackled him to the floor and held her sword against his throat. “Where is he? Where is he being held?” Sam yelled pressing the blade harder into his neck.
“What are you doing Sam?” Roman asked cautiously.
Ignoring him she asked again, “Where are they keeping him?”
The ghoul laughed. She applied more pressure to the blade and the nocturnal beneath her stilled. He whispered something under his breath. Sam leaned in closer to hear him and he threw her off him. She landed beside Roman. He dusted himself off and continued to laugh. Sam picked her sword up and moved between the ghoul and his exit again.
Raising an eyebrow, Roman slowly picked up his weapon and limped to Sam’s side ready to finish it.
He made a break for the door heading straight for Roman. Roman dove to the floor just as Sam’s blade sung through the air where he’d just been, slicing through the ghoul-like a hot knife through butter. She used more force than necessary, not taking into account the multiple neck wounds. His head turned a three-sixty before hitting the ground, rolling in front of Roman.
“Are you okay?” they asked at the same time and laughed together.
“I need to get patched up. I can’t stop the bleeding where the bone was. Let’s torch these bastards and roll,” Roman said, still out of breath.
“I’ll take care of the bonfire. Take the girl and raid the first aid kit. She’ll be hungry and thirsty. Don’t look at me like that, just do it.”
“I don’t like leaving you alone what if-”
“Just go,” Sam said.
Roman nodded and made his way to the little girl in the corner. “What’s your name?”
After looking him over she said, “Ava.”
“Come with me Ava,” he grunted, reaching for her. She started screaming, terrified of him.
“Roman! Quit it,” Sam said, kneeling down in the floor by her. “Hi Ava, I’m Sam and he’s Roman. He’s just cranky because he got hurt and he doesn’t feel good. Can you help him find the bandages? He really needs your help.”
She looked at Sam and Roman very seriously before getting up and reaching her hand out to Romans. He looked at Sam and she nodded. He took Ava’s hand and headed to the car.
Sam rounded up the dead into a gory pile. She realized she didn’t have an accelerant to make sure the ghouls were charred into a pile of ash. She looked around to see if she could find something lying around that she could use, a bottle of alcohol, a kerosene lamp, or anything even remotely flammable. She came up empty-handed after a quick search. She didn’t like it, but since she was out of luck and time, she was going to have to trust that they’d burn well enough without it.
She reached into her boot and pulled out her lighter. She flicked it open against her thigh and it lit. She was drawn back to her teenage years, to the first time she saw that trick.
“Sam?” a small voice asked.
“Yes Ava?” she said clearing her throat and wiping her eyes.
“Roman said you need this.” She waved a yellow bottle of lighter fluid.
“Yes, thank you,” she said taking the bottle. “ Is he okay?”
“He won’t let me help. I found a band-aid, but he yelled at me,” she pouted. “He’s mean.”
“I’m sorry. He’s not mean. He just doesn’t feel good. Go wait by the door and I’ll be right there, okay?”
Sam soaked the dead in lighter fluid and touched her lighter to the pile. Flames raced up the gruesome mound, filling the room with smoke. Covering her face with the collar of her shirt, she headed to the front of the house, grabbing her sword and dagger on her way. She’d be glad to see this day over. She knew she still had another battle to face before the day was through, but the Council could wait. She had somewhere else she needed to go after she made sure Roman and Ava were safe.