As I promised yesterday, here’s an excerpt from my upcoming SHADOWS AFTER MIDNIGHT (Demons of Saltmarch #2).
In this scene from Chapter 7, Peter (main character & narrator) and Company are looking for clues to the whereabouts of a friend they think has been taken by a demon. Their search goes awry when the demon Seirim attacks them by means of artwork hanging on the walls of a local café.
When last we saw Our Hero…
A spiky-haired form flew past me, heading for the café’s front door. I wondered what had happened to her drummer brother. Get Daniel, I thought at her, with no hope that Jas would hear me. Only hope that she would make it outside alive.
At Owin’s side, Anne pulled at the vines that held him, her fingernails scraping green plant flesh onto the floor. She glanced up at me and yelled my name again. At her feet, Holly sprawled in a spreading pool of blood. Kneeling at Holly’s shoulder, its posture that of a penitent worshiper, a cartoon bunny lifted its face from her throat and grinned at me over her too-still chest. Its fangs and muzzle glistened with her blood.
Three normals in serious trouble—and trouble of a nature I’d never even heard of, let alone faced. This is not how this is supposed to go. For once, I needed Daniel. For once, I needed my big brother.
I lunged forward—and stopped short as vines thrust past my head on either side and twisted around my throat. This time, breath cut off completely as the demonic plant jerked me backward. My right foot went out from under me, and I crashed to the floor. My head smacked into something more solid than my skull. Darkness bloomed in my vision.
With the little air I had left, I tried to yell Holly’s name. But I only made a thin whistle. Banegold in my hands, I grabbed the vines encircling my neck and pulled. Plant flesh sizzled, but the pressure only increased. More vines whipped down from somewhere above, replacing the ones I weakened. I couldn’t see the doll anymore—and then its face slid over the edge of the bar high above my head. Its bland expression hadn’t changed. But its eyes were different. Too large for a doll head, the emerald eyes of Owin Moran stared down at me as though a plastic surgeon with a sick sense of humor had excised the twin green orbs and stuck them in the doll’s face.
“Greetings, Peter,” said the doll.
The voice was jovial and scratchy, like that of a favored uncle in some piece of classical British literature. But it didn’t issue from the doll’s pouty red lips, which remained frozen in their perpetual, inane smile. As though exuded from enormous pores, the voice came from the dozens of fanged mouths studding the mother vine.
“This day has been so very long in coming,” it said.
Owin shouted. Anne screamed. The barista sobbed on the other side of the counter. I raised my hands, hoping banegold still stirred at my fingertips. Black blossoms splotched my vision, so I couldn’t tell for sure.
A staccato giggle issued from the mouths in the vine. “How’s your leg?” asked the demon Seirim.
I shot banegold. Shot blind—but I heard wood splinter and vine shriek. The demon’s grasp on my throat eased just enough for me to suck in a short breath. Like the black blossoms in my vision, pain flowered in my chest. I tried to roll away from the counter. Tried to roll away from the pain. The pain followed me. As I flopped to my stomach, the demon doll landed on my back, its weight much more solid and crushing than it should have been for its size. The concussion drove my precious, salvaged bit of breath from my chest.
Pain morphed into a vise as vine fingers dug their claws into my scalp and pulled my head up. I felt banegold spark like electricity at my fingertips, then fizzle out. A vine snaked around my head. I felt its weird, alien lips pressing against my left ear, almost intimate.
“Look, auguren,” the demon whispered. “Look on them, these ordinary humans, and see the chaos you have wrought.”
I had no breath left. I couldn’t have said no even if I’d tried.
On the floor ahead of me, Holly was conscious. Her dark eyes rolled wildly as she fought off the demon bunny with one hand and held the gaping neck wound together with her other. Blood flowed steadily through her fingers. The creature cackled and swiped at her hands with its claws, but it wasn’t pushing very hard to reach her. No. It was playing with her. It wanted to watch her struggle to get away while it came on a little bit at a time, relishing her panic and her pain. Her legs fishtailed on the blood-slick floor as she tried to slide backward away from the thing. But her back was pressed against Anne’s legs. Holly had gotten as far away from the bunny as she could get—and Anne couldn’t move to help.
Vines held Anne’s arms trapped at her sides. Though her feet remained on the floor, the vines strained to lift her up—and into the painting. Owin’s left shoulder and arm had already disappeared into the canvas. I had a weird moment of vertigo, seeing most of Owin real on the outside but part of Owin flat and two-dimensional in oil paint. Even worse, the flat part of him was moving within the painting, his arm flailing to avoid the crushing grasp of the circular plant maw that I now knew was a manifestation Seirim.
How? I wanted to ask. I’d never seen a demon manipulate inanimate objects this way. In Saltmarch, maybe, but not in our world. How is it doing this? And where was Daniel?
A huge flower the color of my own midnight opened one blinding petal at a time in the center of my vision. As I lost sight of Holly, Anne, and Owin, a scream sounded that could only belong to Jas. Jas—not outside? A shout of rage arose in response. Bryan? My ears were ringing, and all other sound was muffled. But still, I could distinguish the demon’s voice as its damp, spongy lips pressed against my ear.
“You can’t save them,” it whispered. “They belong to me now. I shall gulp their blood and devour their flesh and gnaw their bones. You cannot save them.”
No! You won’t—
In the confines of my thoughts, the words sounded powerless. My fingers tore at the vines around my throat, while the rest of me thrashed back and forth, bucking beneath the weight of the creature on my back. My body made these efforts without me, and I watched from somewhere far away. The only immediate sensations were the agonizing pressure in my chest and the horrible brush of the demon’s vine lips.
“But you can save the lodestone,” it said… . “You can still save her, auguren, if you are willing to pay my price.”
And in the most hideous moment I had ever experienced, a moment that out-hideous-ed every other awful memory I’d hidden away, the thinnest tendril of vine slipped into my ear, threaded its way into a cold pain that stabbed the side of my head like an iron icicle, squirmed past—through?—my eardrum, pierced my brain, and spoke to me with horrible intimacy as its tiny plant fangs gnawed at my gray matter.
That’s what it felt like, anyway.
“Yourself,” said the demon into my head.
Inklings, I hope you enjoyed this. Feedback is always welcome. : )