Tomorrow is publication day, so today we have a sneak preview of New Dusk. Hope you enjoy!
Six months, I think as my head slams into the concrete ground. Just six months more of this.
Stars burst across my vision, blinding me for a few long seconds. Fortunately, the Shade attacking me doesn’t rush forwards to finish me off, distracted by my Demon partner, Alf, who has taken a lumbering step towards it. The Shade is a large specimen - elongated arms, clawed hands, shoulders so broad its head disappears somewhere between them - but it’s still dwarfed by Alf. It doesn’t stop it launching at him, those orang-utan arms lashing out. Shades are like rabid attack dogs. They don’t think.
Alf parries blows from the Shade, the callused skin of his hands turning its sharp claws. There isn’t a lot of space in this little back alley. We lured the Shade here so it would be away from other people, but the setting has its downsides. Alf is restricted by the buildings that flank us, his movements slower, more clumsy because of it. The smaller, faster Shade has the advantage.
Alf rears to his full height, then slams a fist downwards. The pavement cracks and buckles under the force of the blow, vibrations thrumming in the ground all the way back to me. The Shade falls to the floor, but doesn’t stay down for long. It rises, flickering between solidity and its ghost-like state, unable to keep purchase on either.
It felt pretty solid when its oversized fist slammed into me, throwing me some ten feet backwards down the alleyway.
At least the distance, and the Shade’s current preoccupation, are buying me time to get myself composed. And to recall where I dropped my sword.
I’m right handed. I’d been thrown straight backwards. Logic and physics suggest the sword will be to my right.
I see the Shade picking something up in the corner of my eye. It throws it at Alf who, with a casual swing of his enormous arm, sends it flying through the air. Away from him. Towards me. With a lurch, I throw myself forwards to the right, rolling to my feet. My throat feels tight, shock and adrenaline combining. I’m not sure if I want to be sick or cry but, knowing that neither is a good defence against a Shade, I bite my tongue and try to focus.
A little ahead of me, Alf is roaring. It’s an unpleasant, guttural sound that makes the hairs on your neck stand up, an uncomfortable shiver run down your spine and your heart lodge itself somewhere in your throat - all at the same time. Most people would mistake this for anger, but they don’t spend as much time around Demons as I do. Alf hasn’t boiled over into angry yet. He’s just frustrated. He can only detain the Shade; keep it busy, not Deport it. Not when the weapon that will do it would burn his hand off if he tried to wield it. Deportation is my job, but stuck with my weak little human body as I am, my head needs to stop spinning first.
When my eyes find purchase on something, without rolling past or fading in and out of focus, it is the hilt of my sword, less than a metre from me. It looks innocuous, as swords go, lying on the floor like that. No markings line its long, curved blade, no talismans are tied about the hilt. Nothing at all suggesting it is more than a museum exhibit - a legacy from the days before battles were fought with guns.
Alf is grappling with the Shade, every muscle and sinew in his huge arms snapping and bulging. The Shade is smaller than Alf by at least half, but the centuries of exposure to whatever torments exist in Hell have twisted it, wound it up tight, until its animalistic rage and fury are enough to balance a Demon’s superior size. The Shade lets out a shriek. Worse than a Demon’s call, it’s a sound that makes you want to curl up and die. A mouth twists out of the shadows of its face.
People think Shades don’t have faces, but I’ve been up close and personal with enough to know that somewhere, lurking in the darkness of their bodies, is a face that’s startlingly human; eyes full of all the pain they’ve experienced on their journey from human Soul to Shade. Fortunately, if you’re close enough to see a Shade’s eyes, you’re likely to be dead in the next few seconds. There are images you don’t want to spend the rest of your nights dreaming about.
New Dusk © Liberty Gilmore, 2016