Dark Moon Rising

Chapter 1

“We believe in the Doom…”

 

The London night was cold, too blasted cold. I shrugged my shoulders back in my dense overcoat and trudged on. Need to project confidence. I had a job to earn, and I wasn’t in the most positive standing with the Council as it was.

I considered swearing to relieve my feelings on the weather (and the Council) but decided against it. The night was quiet, which I liked. Better not disturb it.

A rumble of thunder broke the quiet I’d agreed to maintain. I glared upwards and saw a brief, mesmerizing flicker in the clouds seconds before another groan shook the skies. 

Scowling, I drew a  crushed hat from my pocket and jammed it on my head. Maybe it would look jaunty instead of boorish. Maybe I should just hope that the emissary wouldn’t be one of those snotty vampires.

The rendezvous point was just around the corner now. I scanned the area - empty. Great. The cobblestones thudded dully under my boots as I walked quickly to the lamppost. Standing under its dull glimmer made me feel exposed, a feeling I hate. 

I had time to hope that the emissary wouldn’t be a cocky werewolf either before I saw him.

The undead emissary shambled forward in that awkward way all the fleshly have. No wonder he was late. I relaxed a bit under my coat. He was Dalazar’s. No need to impress, then. I ignored his turtle-like pace and eyed the slip of paper in his hand. When he finally got close enough, he held out my orders without preamble. 

“Hope ya like Italy,” he grimaced. It was supposed to be a smile. I refrained from returning either expression.

“Target?”

He jerked his head back and forth. “Investigation, no’ a hit.” His half finger gestured at the orders. “I’m ta give ya this - for ta journey.” His fumbling hands withdrew a small handful of coins from his pocket. Two clattered to the ground. “Bugger.”

I dragged them toward me with my boot, then squatted to pick them up, keeping my eyes on him. It never pays to let your eyes fall, even around the slowest of fleshlies - even ones that belong with good old Dalazar.

“Should be enough for ta train,” he shrugged, handing the rest to me as I rose. 

My eyes narrowed at the touch of cold, clammy fingers brushing against mine as we exchanged currency, but I kept my disgust to myself. Poor bloke probably didn’t know he was creepy.

“G’night,” I grunted.

“And ta you,” he grimaced again, then headed north, swaying unconcernedly.

I folded the paper and put it carefully in my breast pocket, buttoning it securely. I would read it at home. With some cheese.

The thought quickened my steps.

Several blocks down, I glanced casually around. Assured of my privacy, I ducked into a dark alleyway headed by the sign, “Desertous,” and trotted down the concrete steps leading to the boarded up door that appeared to be broken and ramshackle but instead opened to a double steel door with a retina scan. I checked the alleyway once more before pressing against the door and holding my eyelid open before the little red box. Piece of junk. Why did I apprentice to such a paranoid Hunter in my youth? Now this out-of-date hardware hardly worked, and I couldn’t afford to replace it. I jogged my foot in place, waiting for the light to quit searing my vision. It finally matches the image to the mirrored mechanism and tripped the lock on the inside. My left eye was dry as a bone when I finally heard the clunk that welcomed me home every night. 

I exhaled slowly and then choked in surprise. All the lights - including a couple lanterns from my disreputable closet - were blazing. A soft shushing sound, the sound of waves on a beach, filled the stale air, and - was that coconut I smelled? I sniffed tentatively. My fingers massaged the gun in my pocket.

“Isla?” I called.

She emerged from a big steel tub in the corner. “Yes, Leo?”

“A-uh, um.” I whipped my hands from my pockets and turned around, covering my eyes for good measure. “Eh…do you have a towel?”

“Would you like one? I’ll get one right away!”

I heard a gentle splish and squooshing as she crossed the living room to the bathroom. 

“Uh, no, um…”

“Here you are!” 

The towel flopped over my head. 

“No, Isla, what I meant was…could you put the towel on you?”

“OOOHH.”

The cloth slithered off my head.

“But Leo, it will get wet when I go in the water.”

I heard the puzzlement in her voice.

My tongue felt thick. “I-I’ll just stay over here on the couch. You can leave the towel.”

Another gentle splash of water on the floor. I cautiously opened my eyes and determinedly made my way to the couch. The hazards of living with a siren came often and unexpectedly. I pulled the paper from my pocket and studied it, willing my mind to focus.

Apparently Isla had been thinking as I got my brain on track. 

“Oh! I am not wearing clothes! Did I get it right, Leo?”

“Right,” I sighed. “Right. Humans wear clothes around other humans.”

“I remember now! I will wear clothes right now.”

I had just enough time to cover my eyes again before she leapt from the tub and pranced gaily into her room, leaving the door wide open, of course.

What had the orders said that I had just read? I couldn’t remember for the life of me. 

“I am covered in clothes now!” she sang out, returning to the living room and looking very pleased. 

I dared a peek and was rewarded with her sunny smile. Pale, teal hair cascaded down her shoulders almost to her hips. Dark green eyes sparkled. Caramel skin glowed under the hasty change of shapeless shirt and trousers - my old ones - that adorned her flawless body. 

I exhaled. “Were you missing the ocean today?” 

She nodded happily. “I made a sea for myself. Do you like it?”

“It’s very nice. Where did you find…”

“The sounds? You showed me the records, remember? I found this one today and I thought of home so I made the sea! It’s lovely, isn’t it?” She spun in a gay little circle.

“And the, uh, coconut, is it?”

She cocked her head. “What coconut?” Her hair swirled as she looked around, and the exotic smell wafted over me once more. 

“Ah,” I said, understanding. “Never mind.” It made sense that her smell would change with her, though I’d never noticed it before.

“How did it go?” she asked, gracefully sliding onto the couch beside me. “Did you get a new job?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Yeah, I did.” I read the small paper once more, this time with comprehension. “It’s in Italy, though. I’ll have to leave for awhile - probably half a moon phase or more. Will you be ok?”

She cocked her head again and thought a moment. “Will you leave food?”

I choked on the snort of laughter that almost escaped. “Yes, Isla. Yes, I’ll leave plenty of food.”

“Oh, that’s all right then,” she said, crossing her legs and beaming at me. “I will miss you, Leo.”

I was reading the paper again. 

“Will you have to kill anyone?” A concerned line etched itself across her brow.

“It doesn’t look like it,” I said. “I’ll be looking into why people are disappearing.” I glanced at her. “They think it might have to do with some undead - that’s why they assigned it to me.”

“Oh, that’s good.” She looked relieved. “Then your heart won’t be hurt. You have such a beautiful heart, Leo.” 

I shook my head. A little feeling of warmth flickered in my chest. I rubbed my eyebrows. Sirens.

“How will you get to I-ta-ly?” She pronounced it carefully, seeming to taste the new word on her tongue.

“The train. They gave me enough for the fare there and back.” I counted the coins again to make sure none had been lost in the exchange. “Certainly not first class,” I muttered. It would do. I was no soft socialite. 

Thinking of those snobby socialites, I studied Isla and felt regret.

“Do you ever wish someone very rich had rescued you instead?” 

“Rich? Someone else?” She looked dumfounded. “But you’re my Leo!”

“If you saw some of the mansions those rich vampires live in, you’d think differently,” I said. “You should have gowns and jewels and a huge swimming pool all to yourself.”

“A pool would be nice,” she agreed and then giggled. “You’re silly, Leo.”

A little kiss fluttered on my cheek, and then she was gone to the pull-down kitchen, where she extracted some brie from the little refrigerator and brought it to me on a napkin.

“Being silly makes you sad sometimes,” she said, patting my knee. “You can stop and sleep if you’d like.” She settled into the worn cushions beside me and laid her head on my shoulder. I pushed her curly black hair out of my face as the teal color receded slowly. It was impossible not to smile down into the green eyes that were slowly lightening with my mood. Seeing this, she sighed happily and began humming something that brought to mind the call of a whale and the white scudding clouds that raced with the sea current. I chewed the brie, feeling an unexpected peace flow over me. Before I knew it, we were both asleep, rocked into unconsciousness by the sound of ocean waves on a beach, far, far away.

 

When I opened my crusty eyes, I could tell that the remainder of the night had passed. I rolled my neck, feeling stiff, careful to keep from jostling the warm little person beside me. Her curly head had slipped down to rest on my chest sometime in the night. With stealthy movements, I dug my watch from my trouser pocket and studied it. I’d have time to catch the midmorning train if I woke Isla and had a quick breakfast. Hesitant to do the first step of that plan, I paused - and she stirred. 

“Breakfast?” I asked. My voice was scratchy. I wrinkled my nose: the stench of my breath covered the lilac smell of her hair.

“Yes!” She bounced to her feet and danced over to the kitchenette, leaving a small imprint on the cushion beside me. 

I dug in the cabinet for the coffee and dodged her as she retrieved water and salt for oatmeal. 

She handed me some leftover mozzarella, which I shoved in my mouth and savored while I measured the grounds and ignited the flame under the coffee pot.

“Gotta brush my teeth,” I mumbled and headed for the bathroom.

The oatmeal and coffee seemed a bit flavorless, probably due to my worry over leaving my odd siren home alone. This could turn out to be the longest I’ve had to leave her since I’d smuggled her here four years ago. The brutes I’d taken her from were still looking for her, so she didn’t get much chance to see the sun. Someday I’d find them first, and then there wouldn’t be anything standing between her and a new home: a perfect spot on the sea, far from conniving, slavering, depraved -

“I got your cut-lass for you,” Isla said, holding it out to me proudly.

“Isla, you really shouldn’t touch these,” I protested, taking it carefully. “I told you not to go in that closet.”

“It wasn’t in the closet, Leo,” she said, putting her arms behind her back and swaying gently. “It was on your bed.” 

Having nothing to say to that, I gulped the rest of my coffee, gave her some last minute instructions on keeping the door locked, and checked my weapons before parting ways with my little hole in the ground - and the kooky siren who lived there.

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