By Gail Z. Martin
My new Night Vigil series (first book, Sons of Darkness) is set in Pittsburgh, and draws on a lot of history, legend and lore around that city and Central Pennsylvania. Mixing real and made-up details to make a believable framework for urban fantasy is a little bit of history, and a little bit of magic.
In Sons of Darkness, demon-hunting former priest Travis Dominick works with the misfit psychics of the Night Vigil to fight supernatural creatures and malicious paranormal activity. When a series of disappearances, suicides and vengeful spirits cause havoc and death along a remote interstate highway, Travis teams up with former special ops soldier and monster-hunter Brent Lawson to end the problem with extreme prejudice.
I lived in Pittsburgh for ten years, and I’m originally from north of the city, so I always enjoy the chance to use it as a fictional setting. This isn’t the first time—the Iron & Blood series I co-write with my husband, Larry N. Martin, is set in an 1898 alternative history version of the Burgh. And our Spells Salt and Steel series, starring Mark Wojcik as a mechanic/monster hunter, is set in Northwestern Pennsylvania. I’ve also used Pittsburgh—and the main characters in Sons of Darkness—in Dark Rivers and Lucky Town, written under my Morgan Brice pen name (urban fantasy MM paranormal romance). And my Deadly Curiosities series might not be in Pittsburgh (it’s set in Charleston, SC) but it still requires weaving fact and fiction to make a satisfying urban fantasy setting.
When I start a new urban fantasy, I begin with the history. What’s the back story of the real city? What battles, scandals, bloody uprisings, spectacular disasters or odd occurrences happened there? You can’t make this stuff up because it’s too amazing, and those details not only add authenticity, they can change the whole path of your story for the better.
Then, because everything I write involves the paranormal and supernatural, I look for the local ghost stories, hauntings, famous tragedies, urban legends and local lore. I have shelves of books of local and regional ghost stories, and I find a lot of good ideas online. I always check out what the local paranormal investigation groups are doing, where they go, what pictures they take. Ditto the urban explorers, who go where others fear to tread. It’s amazing what a few searches will turn up—and even if it’s not directly usable, it always gets me thinking of new possibilities.
In Sons of Darkness, I use a real ghost town—Peale, Pennsylvania. But the adjacent Cooper City is entirely my creation, based on bits and pieces of many little PA towns I’ve known in my life. Sometimes I will fictionalize a place, business, or person because I’m going to use it in a negative way, and don’t want to offend anyone or have legal repercussions. Mostly I do it so that I don’t have to worry about not getting a detail right—if I make it up, no one can tell me I got it wrong! I’ve used real historical figures in my books, mostly in a positive light (unless history documents their misdeeds).
Find Gail and her books
Sons of Darkness
The Night Vigil #1
A demon-hunting ex-priest teams up with a former FBI agent to solve a series of supernaturally-instigated deaths and disappearances.
Demon-hunting former priest Travis Dominick works with the misfit psychics of the Night Vigil to fight supernatural creatures and malicious paranormal activity. When a series of disappearances, suicides and vengeful spirits cause havoc and death along a remote interstate highway, Travis teams up with former special ops soldier and monster-hunter Brent Lawson to end the problem with extreme prejudice.
The abandoned warehouse squatted next to a rusting railway spur, the faded paint of its sign almost unreadable against the old brick walls. Too sturdy to knock down, too expensive to gentrify, the decaying building smelled of mold and dust, rats…and blood.
Travis Dominick moved silently through the shadows, intent on his prey. Moonlight and the distant glow of streetlights filtered through the dirty windows and skylights, giving barely enough illumination for him to make his way.
He knew his quarry had gone to ground here. The ghosts told him so, and the vision that woke him in a cold sweat showed him where to look. Travis blended in with the darkness, with raven-dark hair and black clothing that let him melt into the shadows.
There. He saw the creature’s matted brown coat as it eased around one of the pillars supporting the roof. In its beast form, the monster was the size of a large wolf, or even a mastiff. But that’s where the likeness to any normal canine ended. The nachzehrer was a vampire-shifter, a plague-carrier, and it had murdered—and eaten—an entire family. Travis had come to put an end to its killing spree.
He pulled a silver knife from the bandolier across his chest and hurled it. It flew silently, and sunk hilt-deep into the creature’s hindquarters. The beast gave a howl, not from the injury—which Travis knew wouldn’t be lethal—but from the shift the silver forced.
Sinew and slick muscle glistened as the dirty pelt stripped away into bloody ribbons, and the body reshaped itself when bones broke and knit with a disturbing snap and crunch. The monster hunched, no longer on all fours but not yet standing upright.
A burst of gunfire cut into the creature and pockmarked the pillar behind it. Fast shots from an automatic weapon. The beast bellowed, bloodied but not seriously hurt.
Then the bullets weren’t silver. Fuck. There’s a newbie out there who thinks he’s Van Helsing.
Travis peered out from where he’d retreated with his back to one of the pillars. The creature shook off the last gory remnants of its fur. In the half-light, Travis could make out the thing that had once been human, before it brought plague to its family and stripped their bones clean with the knife-sharp teeth of its changed form.
More shots tore into the monster’s head and body, but the creature did not collapse, needing more than steel to slay it. Then, with a burst of speed, it leaped into the shadows, intent on bringing down its assailant.
“Shit,” Travis muttered, taking off at a run. I could have done this the easy way, but no…some Buffy wanna-be has to fuck it all up.
Travis held a coiled silver whip in his left hand, and a Glock with silver bullets in his right. Silver and steel knives of varying sizes filled the bandolier and hung from sheathes strapped to his belt. He had come prepared to destroy the monster. Now, he had to save the idiot who had gone looking for trouble—and found it.
The creature moved fast, leaping for its attacker with its teeth bared and its sharp claws out. A man cursed, and the beast yowled in pain. Travis closed in on the scene, to find a powerfully built blond man going after the monster with a K-bar in each hand. Every time Travis moved to line up a shot with the Glock, the combatants pivoted, putting the man squarely in his sights. As annoyed as he was at the interloper, Travis couldn’t justify shooting him.
The beast stood half a head taller than its opponent, but whoever the dipshit was who had blundered into Travis’s hunt, the guy knew how to fight. Travis might have answered to a different authority for his own training, but he’d learned from some of the best, and he recognized the close-quarters moves as elite military, maybe special ops. So perhaps the fight was not as uneven as he had first suspected.
Travis circled, looking for an opening, figuring he and the mystery man could double-team the creature.
“Stay back! I’ve got this!” The blond man growled, slashing with the knife in his right hand and thrusting with the blade in his left.
Unless those knives were edged with blessed silver, Travis knew the other man could harry the creature all day without ever bringing it down.
“Get out of the way, and I’ll finish it,” Travis called back. He lashed out with the silver whip, flaying open a deep gash in the monster’s back. The beast jerked and turned, recognizing a second threat, but shifted its stance before Travis could get off a shot with the Glock, putting the man between them.
“I told you, I’ve got—” The reply broke off as the creature put on a press of speed, swiping its powerful clawed hand across the man’s shoulder and tossing him effortlessly through the air. The stranger hit one of the support pillars hard, but he staggered to his feet, ready for another round.
“Of all the stupid, asinine, fucking idiots,” Travis muttered as he tried to flank the creature, but although the beast remained intent on its injured quarry, it was clever enough not to expose its back to Travis.
The stranger didn’t wait for the beast to attack again. He came at the creature with kicks and punches in a flurry of expertly trained movement that would have had a human opponent down in seconds. The two long knives sank deep into the monster’s body, and the thing howled in fury and pain. It lunged, and claws tore into the fighter’s shoulder as the beast opened its maw and bared its fangs, lowering its head toward the struggling man’s throat.
Intent on fresh blood, the creature made a mistake. Travis dodged into position. He didn’t dare shoot into the back of the beast for fear the bullets went through and hit the man. But three side shots would do nicely—head, chest, and hip.
The monster roared and tossed the man aside. This time, he did not get up. Travis faced the beast, putting a silver bullet between the creature’s eyes and through its heart. It fell to its knees, covered in its own blood and that of its would-be attacker, and leveled a baleful glare.
Angry red blisters criss-crossed the monster’s pale skin as the blessed silver worked its poison, fighting against the unholy energies that animated the beast. Travis reached for a flask on his belt and sloshed a measure of salted holy water into the creature’s ravaged face.
Travis raised a hand in blessing. “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, let there be extinguished in you all power of the devil,” he intoned, making the sign of the cross. “Through this holy unction may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast committed.”
The nachzeher that had once been a man named Rick Kohrs collapsed in a bloody heap on the floor.