Every monster knows that it is a monster to its prey, and all prey know that they are food for the monsters. There is little room for conscience or hesitation at the moment of the fatal blow.
And yet Emma found herself frozen in a few never ending seconds of doubt and guilt, as her clawed fingers raced down towards the girl’s throat.
Her victim’s eyes widened. Disbelief and fear washed over them.
Emma’s own looked back, wild with indecision and inevitability.
Then the razor sharpness of those inhuman fingers flashed against the soft flesh of the girl’s jugular and Emma’s vision was painted in red.
The phone rang, loud and jarring in the quiet of the plush office.
Jeremy Hayde turned over on the couch and threw a careless hand at the device, wanting it to shut up and go away. His finger grazed the screen and for a blessed minute there was silence. Then it vibrated again, the ring tone spiraling up in volume the longer Jeremy ignored it.
“Yaaargh!” He yelled and snatched it up. “What?” he barked at the caller without checking their identity. Jeremy Hayde never worried about offending someone important. At one time or another he’d insulted every one of them.
“It’s Edison,” said the man on the other end. “I need to consult you about something.”
Jeremy rolled on to his back and yawned loudly, stretching his long limbs to shake off the tiredness. “Ah, Eddy. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve last seen my bed?”
“Three weeks? That was around the time you befriended Mary Peller. Is that over now?”
“It’s disgusting how well informed you are about my love life.”
“I could point out that it is what you pay me for.”
“I could point out that you are paid to run background checks on our patrons, not on my lovers.”
“Missing any small shiny objects from your office?”
Jeremy sat up and rubbed his hair into a greater mess than it already was. “I know not what you speak of.”
“Really? No rings, keys or…”
“My tie pin,” interrupted Jeremy. “I’m pretty sure it was attached to my tie when I took it off last Friday, but then…”
“A touch of kleptomania. Mary Peller has been under medication for it since age sixteen. She has a tendency to forget her pills in exciting situations.”
Jeremy grinned. “So what is this about?”
“I’ll tell you when you meet me.”
A slight hesitation before, “Astir Hall.”
“Goodnight, Edison,” said Jeremy and shifted the phone to end the call.
“It’s about Emma.”
Jeremy brought the phone back to his ear and said, “what?”
“Be here within an hour. Please, Jeremy.”
Jeremy clamped his teeth against the urge to refuse and said, “Fine.” Then he hung up and looked morosely at the soft dent in the couch where he’d expected to catch up on some sleep that night.
Duty before pride and well-deserved rest. This was Edison’s influence. He needed more morally corrupt friends.
Edison Gage stood in a brightly lit room, as clean as superhumanly possible, and looked down at the dead girl lying on an examination table.
They’d taken her blood soaked clothes off and left her lying under the neat folds of a green sheet that left her mutilated neck bare.
Five hours ago, after the body was brought in, the Academy mages and technicians had examined the girl, taken samples of blood and other fluids, run a check on her records, identified and classified her as Meera Guha/Human: Inert and sent off a report to Astir Hall’s nucleus, the Observers.
Unfortunately since sending that report there had been an unexpected development that left the mages utterly flummoxed. Namely, the lack of change in the girl’s state.
Rigor mortis was not setting in.
Adam Herring, the mage in charge of the mortuary at this time of the night had already explained to Edison why this was so confusing. A resistance to death might be common amongst the Night Kind, but for a human with no hint of the Touch to remain in the static state for so long was unheard of. They could only surmise that they had missed something during the examination.
They were off to re-examine every sample they’d taken from her again. It must be something in the girl they’d overlooked.
“I mean, it must be,” mutter Adam Herring as he walked out of the room. “Because it’s not like pishach‘s have a disease they can pass on to their victims.”
Edison could have corrected the man. It wasn’t a pishach or a ghoul that had attacked the girl. He’d never explicitly said what had attacked her. Just that it was a Night Kind crime. The mages had drawn their own conclusion from the brutal wound.
It was unsteady, wasteful and the wrong angle for anyone used to killing humans for food or survival. Their city had an unexpected number of reanimated, badly coordinated corpses hunting humans last spring and those wounds had looked very much like this one. Ghouls didn’t eat man-flesh after all, they were just after the fleeting but brilliant seconds of feeling that the touch of evaporating life could give them.
So Edison had lied by omission, knowing that it wouldn’t last because he would have to file a report come morning. Initially he wasn’t sure why he’d lied, but now he was beginning to think that his instincts had the right of it.
Now if only Jeremy would get here before Adam Herring figured out that maybe the answer lay in the attacker after all.
© 2013 Paroma Chakravarty