Seema slunk down the alleyway, weaving through piles of soggy boxes and overflowing garbage cans. The hair on her neck stood up, her tendons strung like zither strings on her limbs. Examining the shadows instead of watching where she was going, she stepped in a puddle of icy water. She scowled and shook off the unctuous liquid.
God only knows what’s in that water. She wanted to clean herself off but knew now was not the time. She shook her leg again, the shaking travelling up her spine and into her ears. The temperature had dropped, and snow was starting to displace the rain. But that wasn’t why she was out of sorts. She knew that much even if she didn’t know the cause. Something just set her teeth on edge. She sniffed the air, cocked her head from side to side. A scent in the snow tugged at her memory. Something sweet and sour and sickly all at once. Something that didn’t belong.
A shadow to her left twitched, and she jumped right. Her heartbeat raced through her veins, but her senses soon told her it was a rat. An ordinary rat. Normally she would have thanked the gods for such a gift, a plump and juicy morsel. But tonight was not normal. Tonight her stomach jittered, the meal she’d eaten earlier burbling uncomfortably.
So Seema left the fortunate rat alone. She needed to get back to Mike, to protect her protector against the deepening night.
Slinking along the alley, she kept close to the brick and concrete wall to her right, not wanting to be startled by another rat. Or something worse. To her left, the passage widened, allowing glimpses of a busier street and the sky above. Grey clouds reflected the lights of the city, casting the sky in a nauseating orange and skewing her internal clock.
Seema picked up the pace, wending her way back towards the square. There was a whisper in the wind, like something she’d heard before, though she couldn’t make out any words. Tickling her whiskers, it told her something wicked this way cometh. All of it spoke of things better left slumbering in the abyss.
She rounded the corner.
And stopped short.
A body lay in the alley, its blood congealing on the cold asphalt. She craned her neck, trying to discern the manner of the wound without getting any closer. Failing that, she breathed in, inspecting the air for a hint as to the killer.
She crept closer, inch by inch, keeping as much distance between herself and the body as possible while still getting close enough to examine it. One lesson she’d learned the hard way – never trust a corpse to stay dead. She couldn’t smell any nascent putrefaction; this death was recent. But she did catch a scent she recognized. Disbelieving, she got close enough to see the face. The skin was ghostly pale, and the slack mouth revealed an impressive set of canines. Cautiously, she sniffed the dark pools that had formed between the ridges of buckled pavement.
Vampire. She skittered back against the wall and glanced left, right, up. But she saw no sign of the creature that took down the vampire.
She stepped gingerly forward again, one careful step after the other. This bloodsucker she didn’t know. She inched closer and sniffed. Over the stink of alley, blood and entrails, she smelled something else.
Seema spat. Gargoyle. The odour of death they left behind on their kills had filled her nostrils too much of late. She huffed to clear her nose of the metallic tang of blood mixed with rotting garbage.
Then something shifted in the shadows and Seema jumped, her ears twitching. But she didn’t run. Another lesson learned: it was running let the predators know where you were. Instead, she crouched low, and let her eyes absorb the dim light. A breeze stirred, carrying a whiff of another smell, one more familiar to her. It was an aroma of spice and warmth and kindness. She breathed in deep, taking in that scent. Her whiskers twitched. This time it was mixed with blood. Could this be the killer? The thought caused her supper to burp in her unsettled stomach. It seemed out of character if the owner of the scent was who she thought.
She was torn between investigating and going home to curl up for the night. She looked out to where the alley opened onto the welcoming square. Already she could feel the warmth of being nestled close to a beating heart. She glanced back down the dark alley, devoid of even rats. Huffing out a breath of air, she turned away from the square and towards the limp form, ignoring her mother’s voice in her ears saying something about curiosity and cats.
Sidling up to the body slumped against the brick wall, she moved sideways, hackles up. She got close enough that she could clearly smell it through the reek of garbage and unidentifiable detritus. Through the blood that splattered its clothes and hands.
This was the source of the scent she associated with warmth and caring, not with a killer. The new vampire, the woman who had been kind to Mike.
The one who was different.
If you haven’t read book 1, A Scarlet Fever, check it out.