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Dark Days: The Monster Within Early Preview

Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, Everyone!. The Monster Within is currently undergoing the editing process but I wanted to give you all a taste of what's to come. This is a couple pages from the early draft of the book:

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Olivia was reaching for the phone to examine the application, when we heard a loud crack that resounded across the road. I turned around and saw our driver lying on the pavement. I was still mentally identifying the cracking sound as a firearm discharge when a burning pain ran across my arm, closely followed by several more of the cracking sounds. Training took over and Olivia and I dropped to the ground as more shots passed overhead. Someone was shooting at us.

Shock was a heavy hand on my thoughts as I scrambled for cover. Bandits weren’t unheard of outside the cities, but I couldn’t think of a single good reason anyone would ambush a police unit in the open. The other voice in my head was screaming to attack. It saw the threat and railed to kill each attacker in the most direct way possible. My other half saw the incoming fire as a challenge to its authority and wanted to respond with the maximum amount of violence possible.

I wasn't going to give it the pleasure if I could avoid it. Instead I pulled my sidearm, a solidly built 9-millimeter Rutger, and flipped the safety off. A person, no multiple people, stood or kneeled at the tree line, firing at us in a ragged line that hugged the trees wherever possible. Olivia drew her own sidearm, a massive revolver that was almost comically oversize and sent a shot downrange. The resulting boom hurt my eardrums and a decently sized chunk of pine tree exploded, causing the man next to it to flinch and drop as wooden splinters flew into his side. The giant firearm barely moved in her hand as she fired again repeatedly, emptying the revolver but suppressing our opponents with a grim efficiency. As she reloaded the weapon, I reached into myself and gave my other half a little more access than I normally did. My vision became several factors more complex as the swirls of mana became overlaid with the bright sparks emanating from any decently sized living thing nearby.

I spoke quickly, “12 people along the tree line. 2 more flanking at 2 o’clock, headed to 3 o’clock.”

I squeezed off several shots of my own, hitting one man right in the center the bright spark of his soul. He doubled over and didn’t get back up. Jesus, I thought. I just killed someone. The other me celebrated the kill, but urged me to get closer to my targets. It wanted to feed on them, to let our claws and fangs sink into their flesh. My shoulder knotted up with each passing bullet and I was very aware that car we hide behind was nothing but cheap aluminum and fiberglass. It wouldn't stop a serious bullet. I loosed another couple rounds at one of the men hugging a tree for cover. They dropped to the ground, but I wasn’t certain if I had hit them or just made them dive for cover. This was getting intense.

Olivia seemed unfazed by the incoming fire. She calmly reloaded the revolver and rose from her sitting position to send three more rounds downrange with a quick Boom, Boom, Boom of her pistol. An answering round hit her in the shoulder and she spun as her body hit the ground with an oopmh. I reached out a hand to pull her back into cover, but Olivia just sat bolt upright and kept firing back. Another round entered her chest, but fly off with an audible ping sound like a rock bouncing off a tin roof. I wish I could say I didn’t stand their gaping for a moment, but it is not every day you see someone take a shot and just walk it off. There wasn’t any blood, but I was pretty certain Olivia wasn’t just wearing a fancy new bulletproof vest. A quick glance over at the van told me that driver had been pulled into the safety of the armored vehicle by his partner, who was taking maximum advantage of the bulletproof panels. I nodded me head over to the van, "Let's get out of here. I don't want to end up dead before I can report into work."

Olivia looked at the van the way someone might consider a stack of paperwork. She still didn't seem to be afraid of the massive number of bullets winging in the air overhead. "That's a lot of open ground, but you are right. I didn't bring enough bullets for this."

If we hadn't been in danger of imminent death, I would have rolled my eyes. The situation involved being outnumbered, outgunned, and needing to run across a couple hundred feet without cover and her sole concern was her ammunition count. Where in the hell did they find this woman? I decided to pretend I wasn't inches from pissing myself and gathered my legs under me for the sprint, "Alright. On 3?"

Olivia nodded, "1. 2...3!"

We took off like a pair of olympic sprinters. Unfortunately, we only got a couple feet before the flankers I had completely forgotten about opened up and cut us down. At least one round had torn right into my lower leg and I kissed the dirt under the sudden sideways impact. Olivia had been closer to them than I had and took several rounds simultaneously, including one right to the side of the head. The bullet didn't travel through, but she dropped like a puppet with its strings cut. I rolled on my side casting about for my pistol. The ever-closer crunching of boots told me the attackers continued to advance, and I kept trying to find my firearm. My other half was screaming wordlessly in my head, demanding that I give in and let it take over. I wasn’t ready to do that just yet. My pistol had to be somewhere nearby, but my blurred vision couldn't determine where it was. A sudden kick to my side rolled me on my back. I stared down the barrel of my attacker’s rifle and knew I had run out of time.

My blood pressure pounded as desperation flooded me. I didn't know where my sidearm was and even if I had, I don't think I would have lived long enough to use the damn thing. My vision tunneled in on the barrel of a rifle slowly lined up with my forehead. The other voice inside of my head screamed for control, and may God forgive me, I gave into it. There was a scream of triumph in my skull as I unleashed my willpower and the strange, unnatural nature of the creature flooded into my flesh. It didn’t push into my flesh the way a a real, physical thing did. Instead we became entangled, both inhabiting the same space, the same body. I felt impossible ripples under my flesh as my own body became something less real, something less a part of the natural world. Our voices merged and there was no longer Marcus Ward and his pet demon. Now there was only Us. We thought as one, we hungered as one.

The rifle barked, but hadn't been lined up properly and our dodge to the side had brought it out of line with our head.

The bastard had dared to challenge us and we responded in kind. A slap sent the rifle sprawling and we went for the attacker's throat. Blunt human fingers wrapped around the prey’s windpipe and crushed it, leaving them choking in the dirt. Before his companion could react, we pounced upon the second prey, driving his soft skull against a rock. Beyond what any of our attackers could see, our form reached out in the universe and sought the soft energies binding the man's soul to the meat of his body. We ripped them out and the unconscious man screamed in an agony most human would never experience in their short lives.

We feasted. The soul itself may be immutable, but the anchors tying it to mortal flesh were sweetmeats for our consumption. A roar of exultation escaped our lips as the energy from the second man died and was added to our meal. We hadn't fed, not truly fed, since finding ourselves in this world and it was like cold water washing over desert sand. Another bullet passed into our corporeal form, but our flesh was no longer entirely anchored in reality and the impacted flesh just rippled as the bullet passed through it. Another challenge, another attempt to kill us. Our course was clear. Challengers would be killed or we would be killed meeting their challenge. That was the only law of the void. The only law that mattered.

We ran at the challengers, right across the open ground. More bullets ripped by our form, tearing at the edges. Repairing the damage was a simple task, but drained the fresh energy gained form our feeding. The human half pulled us into performing a zig zag pattern, making it harder for the prey’s guns to aim at us. We leapt; feet propelled far higher than any normal human could have jumped. The enemy line broke in horror as we came down in front of them. One man dropped his firearm as he ran and we bounded after him. Unarmed prey would be the easiest to trap and consume....

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