Excerpt from my upcoming novel. Content: PGR (low level violence and supernatural themes).
The Fear whispered, piercing the shifter’s consciousness like a thorn.
His name is Lucien… Save him…
There was no shutting it out. Even after a decades-long slumber. Even in the bedrock beneath the city. The whispering continued, driving the shifter up into the cold, stale streets above.
I know who you are, Ruksinubus… Listen…
The name sounded old, familiar. Ruksinubus? Hadn’t it been taken from a vicar when men and shifters were not yet enemies?
Ruk… Help him, The Fear demanded.
The Fear answered with a scream so harrowing that Ruk collapsed into shapeless mist and fled along the surface of an oily, rutted track. How large Forsham had grown. How dreadful the taint of humanity.
Ruk cowered in a gutter, then fled over rooftops of slate, rust, and soot. The Fear followed, as persistent as a wound refusing to heal.
Night deepened. Rain drizzled. Ruk floated between buildings, houses, hovels and taverns, watching and listening while humans talked, argued, coupled and slept.
“I’m hungry,” a child complained.
“I can’t sleep,” cried another.
“This headache will be the death of me,” said commoner after commoner after commoner.
Help him… The Fear howled.
Ruk found solitude in a wooded park. Eucalypts loomed, smelling sharply of years long past when industrialists had not yet arrived in steamships to poison the land with their city.
But still The Fear wheedled.
Go to the wharves… do not lose him…
Ruk could only head where the voice insisted, closer and closer to a place that seemed at once alien and familiar. There came a shout, angry and demanding.
“You! Foreigner! Freeze!”
Ahead, beyond a derelict pier, a young Cornican stood clutching a suitcase, his back pressed against a high blackened wall. Men blocked his escape.
Do not lose him! The Fear screeched.
The tallest – a guard – lunged at the traveller’s unprotected throat, opening it with a flash of steel.
Head thrust backwards; blood gushed. The Cornican sank to his knees. His killers bent over him. Then casually, as if no one would dare challenge them, they picked up his suitcase, rummaged through his pockets and moved on. Seeking what? Another throat to open? Another chance to steal?
The Fear remained poised, hovering at the edge of Ruk’s consciousness. Wear him.
Do not lose him!
The young man slumped forward, shuddered, stilled.
Wear him! The Fear shrieked, hollered, howled, and shouted all at once. SHIFT!
The scent of dying wafted through the air.
Life or death? Ruk asked.
The soul answered in the way of most souls in Forsham. Life!
As you wish.
The shifter swooped, enveloped the traveller and pierced his soul. Mist solidified into bones, organs, arteries, veins, muscles, sinews, skin. A creature of flesh now, Ruk released the dead man’s body, seeing it for what it was: a husk with a face that now mirrored his own.
Lucien. His name had been Lucien.
Water lapped the pylons beneath the wharf’s bloodied planks. Grateful for the cover of darkness, Ruk undressed Lucien’s remains as respectfully as the act would allow. He shrugged on the clothes, dragged the body towards the water, rolled it in and watched it sink.
Shadows hugged him like the darkest of cloaks. Lucien’s memories threatened. Too much emotion. Too much knowing. Ruk knew at once he shouldn’t surrender to them. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not one little bit. Through sheer force of will, he pushed them away until a single thought remained, so deeply implanted it wouldn’t go.
A face. A woman’s face. The one Lucien had been desperate to see.
Questions to be answered in later chapters:
Can Ruk reacquaint himself with being human? Or must he rid himself of The Fear first? Furthermore, how did The Fear know Lucien would die? And why does it care about Em?