Night Reigns

By: Dianne Duvall
Chapter 1



It was not the cool breeze that made the hairs on the back of Ami’s neck rise, but the low bestial growl that accompanied it.

She froze, one arm extended in front of her, fingers tightening on the DVD case poised half-in half-out of the movie rental quick-drop slot. Gooseflesh broke out on her arms. Adrenaline surged through her veins and sped her pulse.

Swiveling to face the source of that disturbing warning, she surveyed the parking lot behind her and found it empty save for her shiny black Tesla Roadster. Orange and brown leaves swirled and tumbled across patched black asphalt that still glistened in places from a midnight shower. Whole Foods, Blockbuster, and the other businesses in the strip mall had long since closed for the night.

She glanced to her right. East Franklin Street was deserted ... as it should be. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was a college town. At roughly 3:20 on a Sunday night (or Monday morning), students and professors would be snug in their beds, catching Z’s in preparation for an early start to the work or school week.

Ami relaxed her death grip on the DVD and let it thunk down atop the myriad of other movies and games that had been returned. She took a step toward her car. The growl sounded once more, seeming to buffet her and ruffle her bangs alongside the northerly wind. Deep and full of menace, it was not the complaint of some irritable house pet left too long in the elements. No dog produced this rumbling. Something larger did, bringing it closer in tone and texture to that of a lion or a tiger.

Another growl answered it, not as impressive as the first, but nevertheless disturbing. Then another. And another. And another. Frowning, Ami reached into her jacket, withdrew the Glock 9mm Seth insisted she always carry, and approached East Franklin Street with caution.

It definitely came from the north. Not from the darkened businesses across the street, but from the bike trail to their right that veered left into the trees behind them. A snarling infused with such violence and fury one might think a lion were battling a pack of wolves.

Just as she reached the edge of the parking lot, odd shick, ting, and clang noises joined the fray.

Ami darted across the street and raced down the bike path. Tall trees formed spires on her right. A small meadow with a radio tower lay on her left, but soon surrendered to forest. When it did, Ami slowed to a brisk walk and entered the denser shadows. Her heart pounded. The babbling of a brook she couldn’t see teased her ears.

Ten or fifteen yards in, she left the path, headed into the trees, and began wading through the undergrowth. Fortunately, it had rained earlier. The autumn leaves beneath the canopy were still damp and muffled her footsteps.

Up ahead, small lights flickered like fireflies. Amber. Green. Blue. Silver. Sometimes individually. Sometimes in pairs. Moving and shifting. The length of time they remained visible varying.

Ami swallowed hard and questioned her sanity as she came to an area where the trees thinned. She paused, concealed by the denser foliage on the perimeter.

Ahead, too small to be called a clearing, lay a patch of land the size of a two-car garage that just happened to be treeless. In its center, a fantastical scene unfolded that—for many—would defy belief.

The flickering lights she had spied swam in and out of focus as the faces that housed them moved so quickly to and fro that they blurred. Men, who were clearly more than mortal men, engaged in a surreal battle that resurrected her first description: a lion facing down a wolf pack.

The lion—a dark, menacing figure in the center of the storm—bore glowing amber eyes and long black hair that floated around his head like tendrils of smoke as he spun, fought, and slashed at his attackers with a speed that brought to mind the Tasmanian Devil in the Warner Brothers cartoons Darnell had shown her.

Immortal Guardian.

No other creature could move so swiftly.

The pack of wolves—growling and snapping like their namesakes—also bore glowing eyes, theirs green, blue, and silver. Though they all, like the immortal, were garbed in midnight hues, their hair varied. Blond. Brunette. Auburn. Long. Short. Shaved. Spiked. Pulled back in a ponytail. They, too, moved faster than humans ever could, darting in and striking at the immortal with indistinct motions, then leaping back and pausing to gauge the damage and let their comrades have a shot, their blades dripping crimson liquid.

Vampires.

Though they couldn’t match their enemy’s speed and strength, the vampires outnumbered the immortal ... eight to one as best she could count. Ami could only make out individual features when the vampires paused between strikes.

She discerned none of the immortal’s features because he remained in continuous motion, his swords or sais or whatever blades he wielded defending him from assaults on all sides.

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