“It’s down there,” said the owner, tapping the door to the cellar.She was scared. He knew it and she knew that he knew. But one had to keep up appearances this far out. Otherwise no one would get anything done.”Anyone else been down there since he turned?” He reached for the gun at his hip, checking on the shells he had loaded. More for her benefit. To see him preparing.”Three. They were going to kill him after. Had it all planned out, but…” She stopped as an odd moan came from below, trailing off into clicks and scratches. The crack of a bone. “…The chains weren’t strong enough.””How long?” He closed the sawnoff, reaching for his lantern.”Two hours.” Her eyes avoided his. “We’re really lucky you passed through-“”Your really lucky it has plenty to eat, otherwise you’d all be dead.” He pulled in a breath. Felt his chest expand underneath his coat. In and out, in and out, steady rhythm. “And if I don’t come out of there, your best chance is to burn the place down and run for it. Clear?”She went white as a sheet, lips parted with unasked questions.”Are we clear?””Yes,” she said, hand shaking against the handle.He nodded and bade her to open it. In a second he was past the threshold and it slammed shut again. Bolted and latched. Leaving him alone with his lantern, casting long shadows down the stairs.The sound of tearing meat was everywhere. He took in a breath and smelled blood.The tearing stopped as his footsteps creaked on the stairs. He didn’t bother hiding them. The damned thing would smell him a lot sooner than he saw it, even with the lantern exposing more and more blood as he descended. A low, building growl filled his ears. By the time he laid eyes on the ghoul it was shaking.A man with a purplish wound on his arm that spiraled out black up his veins all the way to his eyes. He’d stretched too far for his clothes, leaving them ripped and dangling. His fingerbones had grown through his skin into claws. His eyes were pure white. He could see the beat of his heart in his chest, skin stretched so tight it was like a drum.It, he reminded himself. This thing was an it.”I don’t suppose you can talk?” he asked it, eyeing the pile of bodies on the ground. Dragged together and minced. The majority discarded as the new ghoul figured out its favorites.The thing screeched, high enough that the glass in his lantern rattled.”Thought not. No point in asking questions.”He brought his gun to bear and fired off one shell, flash and powder filling the room as buckshot tore through leathery skin. All along its left side, black blood appeared and it only made it how louder.It charged on all fours, leaping towards him with mouth agape. A hundred other faces flashed through his mind, the same wild eyes, the same jagged teeth. He caught it on his shoulder, flipped it over onto the stairs.He was slow in turning. Knew it would right itself faster. Did nothing to stop it as it shoved itself forward, fingers extended, plunging themselves deep into his belly.He felt the claws enter him. Felt skin break. Heard fabric tear. Saw confusion in a face that wasn’t quite made for it.”Sorry brother,” he said, putting his arm across its throat and the sawnoff directly against its heart.Fired once.—“We really are glad you were passing through,” the bartender said for what must have been the dozenth time. He drank the shot that was offered, just to be polite. Another one was poured as soon as it was gone.That was seven now. They really wanted him to like it here.”Just happy to help folks out,” he said, an easy smile on his face. It was an effort to slur his words. Pity he couldn’t bring a flush to his face or turn his eyes cloudy. He had to keep the brim of his hat low, avoided eyes. Kept one arm down and his coat closed so they didn’t see the holes in his shirt. They took him for a loner and didn’t press beyond that.They weren’t wrong.There was a party in swing by the time he stumbled off to the room they’d provided. A small bit of relief for the town. Not much. It was quiet. It was nervous. They still didn’t know how the ghoul had come about. Perhaps there was a nest nearby.Something he’d have to look into.He skipped the bed and went straight to the window, climbing out onto the awning. It was a simple thing to sneak around the side of the building. He passed nothing but a drunk pissing on the side. They didn’t even have a watch up. With no one else for miles, the town could get wiped off the map from one determined prowler.Supposed it was kinder for him. He didn’t have to go far to be alone.The alcohol came back up and spilled out over the ground. He felt ashamed. It smelled strong. Probably their best stock. A thank you for saving their hides and he’d let them waste it.Better than letting them know.The moon shone in the pool he left. By morning it’d be nothing but a faint smell. No one would find it. No one would think to look. No one would ask questions. He’d do the same with whatever breakfast they offered him in the morning. Leave it for the buzzards.He forced a breath just to have it, turning his eyes skyward. It was a half-moon. Blessed for undead. Bad luck to find a ghoul this night. Indicative of something. He’d be here a while. There might be problems.He turned back towards the town wondering if the breeze on his face was cold.https://www.reddit.com/r/FiresofFordregha/Thank you all for your interest, this got a lot bigger than I was expecting. Figured since everyone seems to be asking for more, I’d throw together a brief continuation. See where I can take things.Let me know what you think!https://www.reddit.com/r/FiresofFordregha/comments/f3e93n/ashes_and_spite_part_2/