streets were filthy and smelled of decay and waste. The dreary
drizzle of rain could not possibly dispel the offensive odor.
Trash littered the entrances to run-down, crumbling buildings.
Ragged shelters of cardboard and tin were stacked in every alleyway,
every conceivable place, tiny cubicles for bodies with nowhere
else to go. Rats scurried through the garbage cans and gutters,
prowled through the basements and walls. Falcon moved through
the shadows silently, watchful, aware of the seething life in
the underbelly of the city. This was where the dregs lived, the
homeless, the drunks, the predators who preyed on the helpless
and unwary. He knew eyes were watching him as he made his way
along the streets, slipping from shadow to shadow. They couldn't
make him out, his body fluid, blending, a part of the night making
the watchers cautious. It was a scene that had been played out
a thousand times, in a thousand places. He was weary of the predictability
of human nature. Beast or man, there were few surprises left to
was making his way back to his homeland. For far too many centuries
he had been utterly alone. He had grown in power, had grown in
strength. The beast within him had grown in strength and power
also, roaring for release continually, demanding blood. Demanding
the kill. Demanding just once, for one moment, to feel. He wanted to go home, to feel the soil soak into his pores, to
look upon the Prince of his people and know he had fulfilled his
word of honor. That the sacrifices he had made had counted for
something. He had heard the rumors of a new hope for his people.
accepted it was too late for him, but he wanted to know, before
his life was over, that there was hope for other males, that his
life had counted for something. He wanted to see with his own
eyes, the Prince's lifemate, a human woman who had been successfully
converted. He had seen too much death, too much evil. Before ending
his existence he needed to look upon something pure and good and
see the reason he had battled for so many long centuries.
eyes glittered with a strange red flame, shining in the night
as he moved silently through the filthy streets. Falcon was uncertain
if he would make it back to his homeland, but he was determined
to try. He had left it far too long, already bordering on madness.
He had little time left, the darkness nearly consuming his soul.
He could feel the danger in every step he took. Not emanating
from the dirty streets and shadowed buildings, but from deep within
his own body.
heard a sound, like the soft shuffle of feet. Falcon continued
walking, praying as he did so, for the salvation of his own soul.
He was hungry and had need of sustenance and he was at his most
vulnerable. The beast was roaring with eagerness, claws barely
sheathed. Within his mouth his fangs began to lengthen in anticipation.
He was careful now to hunt among the guilty, not wanting innocent
blood should he be unable to turn away from the dark call to his
soul. The sound alerted him again, this time many soft feet, many
whispers of voices. A conspiracy of children. They came running
toward him from the three story hulk of a building, a swarm of
them, rushing toward him like a plague of bees. They called out
for food, for money.
children surrounded him, a half dozen of them, all sizes, their
tiny hands slipping under his cloak and cleverly into his pockets
as they patted him, their voices pleading and begging. The young
ones. Children. His species rarely could keep their sons and daughters
alive beyond their first year. So few made it, and yet these children,
as precious as they were, had no one to cherish them. Three were
female with enormous, sad eyes. They wore torn, ragged clothing
and had dirt smeared across bruised little faces. He could hear
the fear in their pounding hearts as they begged for food, for
money, for any little scrap. Each expected blows and rebuffs from
him and was ready to dodge away at the first sign of aggression.
patted a head gently and murmured a soft word of regret. He had
no need of the wealth he had acquired throughout his long lifetime.
This would have been the place for it, yet he had brought nothing
with him. He slept in the ground and hunted live prey. He had
no need of money where he was going. The children all seemed to
be talking at once, an assault on his ears, when a low whistle
stopped them abruptly. There was instant silence. The children
whirled around and simply melted into the shadows, into the recesses
of the dilapidated and condemned buildings as if they had never
whistle was very low, very soft, yet he heard it clearly through
the rain and darkness. It carried on the wind straight to his
ears. The sound was intriguing. The tone seemed to be pitched
just for him. A warning, perhaps, for the children, but for him
it was a temptation, a seduction of his senses. It threw him,
that soft little whistle. It intrigued him. It drew his attention
as nothing had in the past several hundred years. He could almost
see the notes dancing in the rain-wet air. The sound slipped past
his guard and found its way into his body, like an arrow aimed
straight for his heart.
noise intruded. This time it was the tread of heavier boots. The
sound of deadly conspiracy. He knew what was coming now, the thugs
of the street. The bullies who believed they owned the turf and
anyone who dared to walk in their territory had to pay a price.
They were looking at the cut of his clothes, the fit of his silk
shirt beneath the richly lined cape and they were drawn into his
trap just as he knew they would be. It was always the same. Every
land. Every city. Every decade. There were always the packs who
ran together bent on destroying, wanting the right to take what
did not belong to them. The incisors in his mouth once more began
heart was beating faster than normal, a phenomenon that intrigued
him. His heart was always the same, rock steady. He controlled
it casually, easily, as he controlled every aspect of his body,
but the racing of his heart was unusual and anything different
was welcomed. These men, taking their places to surround him,
would not die at his hands this night. They had escaped from the
ultimate predator and his soul would remain intact because of
two things. That soft whistle and his accelerated heartbeat.
odd, misshapen figure emerged from a doorway straight in front
of him. "Run for it, Mister," the voice was low, husky,
the warning clear. The strange, lumpy shape immediately melted
back and blended into some hidden cranny.
stopped walking, everything in him going completely, utterly still.
He had not seen color in nearly two thousand years, yet he was
staring at an appalling shade of red paint peeling from the remnants
of a building. It was impossible, not real. Perhaps he was losing
his mind as well as his soul. No one had told him a preliminary
to losing his soul was to see in color. The undead would have
bragged of such a feat. He took a step toward the building where
the owner of that voice had disappeared.
was too late. The robbers were spreading out in a loose semi-circle
around him. They were large, many of them deliberately displaying
weapons to intimidate. He saw the gleam of a knife, a long handled
club. They wanted him scared and ready to hand over his wallet.
It wouldn't end there, he had witnessed this same scenario too
many times not to know what to expect. Any other time he would
have been a beast whirling in their midst, feeding on them until
the aching hunger was assuaged, until he dared not tempt the demon
roaring within for the ultimate. Tonight was different. It was
nearly disorienting. Instead of seeing in a bland gray, Falcon
could see them in vivid color, blue and purple shirts, one an
seemed vivid. His hearing was far more acute even than normal.
The dazzling raindrops in threads of glittering silver and gray.
Falcon inhaled the night, taking in the scents, separating each
until he found the one he was looking for. That slight misshapen
figure was not a male, but a female. And that woman had already
changed his life for all time.
men were close now, the leader calling out to him. "Throw
me your wallet." There was no pretending, no preliminary.
They were going to get straight down to the business of robbing,
of murdering. Falcon raised his head slowly until his fiery gaze
met the leader's cocky stare. The man's smile faltered, then died.
He could see the demon rising, the red flames flickering deep
in the depths of Falcon's eyes.
warning the misshapen figure was in front of Falcon, reaching
for his hand, dragging at him. "Run you idiot, run now,"
she was tugging at his hand, attempting to drag him closer toward
the darkened buildings. Urgency. Fear. The fear was for him, for
his safety. His heart turned over, a funny melting flip.
voice was melodic, that perfect blend that seeped inside his body
and wrapped itself around his heart. Need slammed into his body,
into his soul. Deep and hard and urgent . It roared through his
bloodstream with the force of a freight train. He couldn't see
her face or her body, he had no idea what she looked like, or
even her age, but his soul was crying out for hers.
again," the leader of the street gang turned his attention
away from the stranger and toward the woman. "I told you
to stay outa here!" His voice was harsh and filled with threat.
He took a threatening step toward her.
last thing Falcon expected was for the woman to attack. "Run,"
she hissed again and launched herself at the leader. She went
in low and mean, sweeping his legs out from under him so that
the man landed on his backside. She kicked him hard, using the
edge of her foot to get rid of the knife. The man howled in pain
when she connected with his wrist and the knife went spinning
out of his hand. She kicked the knife again, sending it skittering
over the sidewalk into the gutter.
she was gone, running swiftly into the darkened alleyway, melting
into the shadows. Her footfalls were light, almost a strain for
Falcon's acute hearing. He didn't want to lose sight of her, but
the rest of the men were closing in, furious for their fallen
leader. The man was swearing loudly, vowing to tear out the woman's
heart, screaming at his friends to kill the tourist.
waited silently for them to move in close, swinging bats and lead
pipes at him from several directions. He moved with preternatural
speed, his hand catching the lead pipe, ripping it out of astonished
hands and deliberately bending it into a circle. It took no effort
on his part and no more than a tenth of second. He draped it around
the pipe wielder's head like a necklace. He shoved the man with
his casual strength, sent him flying against the wall of the building
some ten feet away. The circle of attackers was more wary now,
afraid to close in on him. Even the leader had gone silent, still
clutching his injured hand.
was distracted, his mind on the mysterious woman who had risked
her life to rescue him, risked incurring the wrath of the men
who owned the streets. He had no time for battle and his hunger
was gnawing at him. He let it find him, consume him, the beast
rising so that the red haze was in his mind and the flames flickered
hungrily in the depths of his eyes. He turned his head slowly
and smiled, his fangs showing as he sprang. He heard the frenzied
screams as if from a distance, felt the flailing of arms at him
as he grabbed the first of his prey. It was almost too much trouble
to wave his hand and command silence, to keep the group under
control. Hearts were pounding out a frantic rhythm, beating so
loud the threat of heart attack was very real, yet he couldn't
find the mercy in him to take the time to shield their minds.
bent his head and drank deeply. The moans from the men were jumbled
together in his mind. The rush was fast and addicting, the adrenaline-laced
blood giving him a kind of false high. He sensed he was in danger,
that the darkness was enveloping him, but he couldn't seem to
find the discipline and control to stop himself.
was a small sound that alerted him, and that alone told him just
how far gone he really was. He should have sensed her presence
immediately. She had come back for him, come back to aid him.
He looked at her, his black eyes moving over her face hungrily.
Blazing with urgent need. Red flames flickering. Possession stamped
are you?" The woman's voice brought him back to the reality
of what he was doing. Soft. Gasping in shock. She stood only feet
from him, staring at him with large, haunted eyes. "What
are you?" She asked it again and this time the note of fear
registered deep in his heart.
lifted his head and a trickle of blood seeped down his prey's
neck. He saw himself through her eyes. Fangs, wild hair, only
red flames in his otherwise empty eyes. He looked a beast, a monster
to her. He held out his hand, needing to touch her, to reassure
her, to thank her for stopping him before it was too late.
Marten stepped backward, shaking her head, her eyes on the blood
running down Nordov's neck to stain his absurdly orange shirt.
Then she whirled around and ran for her life. Ran as if a demon
were hunting her. And he was. She knew it. The knowledge was locked
deep within her soul. It wasn't the first time she had seen such
a monster and she had managed to elude it time and again, but
this time was very different. She had been inexplicably drawn
to this one. She had gone back to ensure he had gotten away from
the night gang. She had needed to see that he was safe.
Something inside her had demanded she save him.
raced through the darkened entryway into the abandoned apartment
building. The walls were crumbling, the roof caving in. She knew
every bolt hole, every single escape hatch. She would need every
one of them. Those black eyes had been empty, devoid of all feeling.
Just the terror of those odd red flames burning in them until
had looked at her. She recognized possession
when she saw it. Desire. His eyes had leapt to life. Burning with
an intensity she had never seen before. Burning for her as if
he had marked her for himself. For his prey.
children would be safe now, deep in the bowels of the sewers.
Sara had to save herself if she was going to continue to be of
any assistance to them. She jumped over a pile of rubble and ducked
through a narrow opening that took her to a stairwell. She took
the stairs two at a time, going up to the next story. There was
a hole in the wall enabling her to take a shortcut through two
apartments, push through a broken door and out onto a balcony
where she caught the lowest rung of the ladder and dragged it
went up the rungs fast with the ease of much practice. She had
scoped out a hundred escape routes before she had ever started
working in the streets, knowing it would be an essential part
of her life. Practicing running each route, shaving off seconds,
a minute, finding short cuts through the buildings and alleyways
over and over, Sara had learned the secret passageways of the
underworld. She was up on the roof running swiftly, not even pausing
before launching herself onto the roof of the next building. She
moved across that one, leapt a small fan and skirted around a
pile of decaying matter to jump to a third roof.
landed on her feet already running for the stairs. She didn't
bother with the rungs of the ladder, but slid down the poles to
the first story and ducked inside of a broken window. A man lolling
on a broken down couch looked up from his drug induced fog and
stared at her. Sara waved as she hopped over his outstretched
legs. She was forced to avoid two other bodies lying sprawled
on the floor. Scrambling over them, she was out the door and running
across the hall to the opposite apartment. The door was hanging
on its hinges, not even enough to slow her down. She went through
it fast, avoided the occupants as she crossed the floor to the
had to slow down to climb through the broken glass. The splintered
remains caught at her clothes, so that she struggled a moment,
her heart pounding and her lungs screaming for air. She was forced
to use precious seconds to drag her jacket free. The splinters
scraped across her hand, shearing off skin, but she thrust her
way outside into the open air and the drizzling rain. Sara took
a deep, calming breath, allowing the rain to run down her face,
to cleanse the tiny beads of sweat from her skin.
she went very still, every muscle locked, frozen. A terrible shiver
went down her spine. He was on the move. Tracking her. She felt him moving, fast and unrelenting. She left no trail through the
buildings, she was fast and quiet, yet he wasn't even slowed down
by the twists and turns. He was tracking her unerringly. She knew
it absolutely. Somehow through the unfamiliar area, the crumbling
complex of shattered buildings, the small holes and shortcuts
he was on her trail. Unswerving, undeterred and absolutely certain
he would find her.
tasted fear in her mouth. She had always managed to escape. This
was no different. She had brains, skills, she knew the area and
he didn't. She wiped grimly at her forehead with the sleeve of
her jacket, suddenly wondering if he could smell her in the midst
of the decay and ruins. The thought was horrifying. She had seen
what his kind could do. The evidence of a monster's work. She
had seen the broken, drained bodies, white and still, wearing
a mask of horror.
pushed the memories away from her, determined not to give in to
fear and panic. That way lay disaster. She set off again, moving
quickly, working harder at keeping her footfalls light, her breathing
soft and controlled. She ran fast through a narrow corridor between
two buildings, ducked around the corner and slipped through a
tear in the chain link fence. Her jacket was bulky and it took
seconds of pressure to force her way through the small opening.
Her pursuer was large and he'd never be able to make it through
that space, he would have to go around the entire complex.
ran into the street, racing now with long open strides, arms pumping
so that her heart was beating loudly, wildly. Aching. She didn't
understand why she would feel such grief welling up, but it was
there all the same.
narrow, ugly streets widened until she was in on the fringe of
normal society. She was still in the older part of the city with
its century old buildings. She didn't slow down, but cut through
parking lots, ducked around stores and made her way unerringly
uptown. Modern buildings loomed large, stretching into the night
sky. Her lungs were burning, forcing her to slow to a jog. She
was safe now, the lights of the city beginning to appear, bright
and welcoming. There was more traffic as she neared the residential
areas. She continued jogging on her path.
terrible tension was beginning to leave her body now, so that
she could think, could go over the details of what she had seen.
Not his face, it was in the shadows. Everything about him seemed
shadowed and vague. Except his eyes. Those black, flame-filled
eyes. He was very dangerous and he had looked at her. Marked her.
Desired her in some way. She could hear her own footsteps beating
out a rhythm to match the pounding of her heart as she hurried
through the streets, fear beating at her. From somewhere came
the impression of a call, a wild yearning, an aching promise,
turbulent and primitive so that it seemed to match the frantic
drumbeat of her heart. It came, not from outside herself, but
rather from within, not even from inside her head, but welling
up from her very soul.
forced her body to continue forward, moving through the streets
and parking lots, through the twists and turns of familiar neighborhoods
until she reached her own house. It was a small cottage, nestled
back away from the rest of the homes, shrouded with large bushes
and trees that gave her a semblance of privacy in the well-populated
city. Sara opened her door with shaking hands and staggered inside.
dropped her soggy jacket on the entryway floor. She had sewn several
bulky pillows into the overlarge jacket so that it would be impossible
to tell what she looked like. Her hair was pressed tight on her
head, hidden beneath her misshapen hat. She flung the hairpins
carelessly onto the counter top as she hurried through to her
bathroom. She was shaking uncontrollably so that her legs were
trembling, nearly unable to hold her up.
tore off her wet, sweaty clothes and turned on the hot water full
blast. She sat in the shower stall, hugging herself, trying to
wipe away the memories she had blocked from her mind for so many
years. She had been a teenager when she had first encountered
the monster. She had looked at him, and he had seen her. She had
been the one to draw that beast to her family. She was responsible
and she would never be able to absolve herself of the terrible
weight of her guilt.
could feel the tears on her face, mingling with the water pouring
over her body. It was wrong to cower in her shower like a child.
She knew it did no good. Someone had to face the monsters of the
world and do something about them. It was a luxury to sit and
cry, to wallow in her own self pity and fear. She owed her family
more than that, much more. She had hidden like the child she was,
listening to the screams, the pleas, seeing the blood seeping
under the door, and still she hadn't gone out to face the monster.
She had hidden herself, pressing her hands to her ears, but she
could never block out the sounds, she would hear them for eternity.
she forced her muscles under control, forced them to work once
again, to support her weight as she drew herself reluctantly to
her feet. She washed the fear from her body along with the sweat
of running. It felt as if she had been running most of her life.
She lived in the shadows, knew the darkness well. Sara shampooed
her thick hair, running her fingers through the silken strands
in an attempt to untangle them. The hot water was helping her
overcome her weakness. She waited until she could breathe again
before she stepped out of the stall to wrap a thick towel around
stared at herself in the mirror. She was all enormous eyes. So
blue they were violet as if two dark, vivid pansies had been pressed
into her face. Her hand was throbbing and she looked at it with
surprise. The skin was shredded from the top of her hand to her
wrist, and just looking at it made it sting. Fresh blood was oozing
so she wrapped it in the towel and padded barefoot into her bedroom.
Dragging on drawstring pants and a tank top, she made her way
to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea.
age old ritual allowed a semblance of peace to seep into her world
again and make it right. She was alive. She was breathing. There
were still the children who needed her desperately and the plans
she had been making for so long. She was almost through the red
tape, almost able to realize her dream. Monsters were everywhere,
in every country, every city, every walk of life. She lived among
the rich and she found them there. She walked among the poor,
and they were there. She knew that now. She could live with it,
but she was determined she would save the ones she could.
raked a hand through her cap of thick chestnut hair, spiking the
ends, wanting it to dry. With her teacup in hand, she wandered
back outside onto her tiny porch, to sit in the swing, a luxury
she couldn't pass up. The sound of the rain was reassuring, the
breeze on her face welcome. She sipped the tea cautiously, allowing
the stillness in her to overcome the pounding fear, to retake
each of her memories, solidly closing the doors on them one by
one. She had learned there were some things best left alone, memories
that need never be looked at again.
stared absently out into the dazzling rain. The drops fell softly,
melodically onto the leaves of the bushes and shimmered a silver
in the night air. The sound of water had always been soothing
to her. She loved the ocean, the lakes, rivers, anywhere there
was a body of water. The rain softened the noises of the streets,
lessened the harsh sounds of traffic so she could keep the illusion
of being far away from the heart of the city. She needed every
one of her illusions, it was how she stayed sane.
sighed and set her teacup on the edge of the porch, rising to
pace across the small confines. She would never sleep this night,
she knew she would sit in her swing, wrapped in a blanket and
watch the night fade to dawn. Her family was too close even with
all of her careful closing off of her memories. They were ghosts,
haunting her world. She would give them this night and allow them
stared out into the night, into the darker shadows of the trees.
The images captured in those gray spaces always intrigued her.
When the shadows merged, what was there? Waiting. Watching. She
stared at the wavering shadows and suddenly stiffened. There was
someone, no, something in those shadows, gray, like the
darkness, watching her. Motionless. Completely still. She saw
the eyes then. Unblinking. Relentless. Black with bright red flames.
Those eyes were fixed on her, marking her.
whirled around, springing for the door, her heart nearly stopping.
The thing moved with incredible speed, landing on the porch before
she could even touch the door. The distance separating them had
been nearly forty feet, but he was that fast, managing to seize
her, gripping her with his strong hands. Sara felt the breath
slam out of her body as she impacted against her captor, his body
hard, like iron. Without hesitating she brought her fist up into
his throat, jabbing hard as she stepped back to kick his kneecap.
Only she didn't connect. Her fist went harmlessly by his head
and he dragged her against him, easily pinning both of her wrists
in one large hand. He smelled wild, dangerous, and he his body
was as hard as a tree trunk.
attacker thrust open the door to her home, her sanctuary, and
dragged her inside, kicking the door closed to prevent discovery.
Sara fought wildly, kicking and bucking, rolling, despite the
fact that he held her nearly helpless. He was stronger than anyone
she had ever encountered and she had the hopeless feeling that
he was barely aware of her struggles. She was losing her strength
fast, her breath coming in sobs and it was painful to fight him,
her body feeling battered and bruised against his. He made a sound
of impatience and simply took her to the floor. His body trapped
hers beneath his, holding her still with enormous strength, so
that she was left staring up into the face of a devil