Demetri studied the wall next to his twin bed. It was covered, in dark gray smudges, remnants from years of fighting, and a calendar. June fifth was circled in red. From the window across the small room, blood-red moonlight poured onto the wooden floor boards. He pulled the tattered cover over his shoulder and waited. He listened to his breath, forcing it to slow until his body appeared to be lost in dreams. Still, he listened.
His spine tingled when the door handle turned. It won’t be long. Just breathe. The door pushed open, followed by the pungent odor of death. Slowly, he curled his fingers around the ivory handle of his obsidian hunting knife. Demetri counted breathlessly, “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.” The night walker crossed the seventh floor board from the door, and it creaked. He counted again. “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.” The hair on his neck stood on end, as the creature’s shroud brushed against his back. Still, he waited.
The night walker pushed against Demetri’s shoulder, turning him to face him. His long claws felt cold through Demetri’s thin T-shirt. Fear burned in his stomach, and he fought to keep his breathing slow and steady. The creature closed the distance, and he hovered inches above Demetri’s closed mouth. He felt the pull as the creature opened its mouth. Demetri shoved his obsidian blade into the creature’s chest until only the hilt remained.
The night walker shrieked and slashed at him with clawed fingers. The claws ripped his flesh, burning as if the fires of hell themselves had etched the four-inch gashes across his skin. Demetri stifled his scream, so as not to alert any lurking walkers. The creature’s body dissolved into wisps of smoke that poured into his blade. Demetri’s knife fell to the ground.
He jumped from the bed and retrieved his blade. He pressed one hand against his chest, where blood streamed from the wound, and glanced out the window. Night walkers littered the streets, searching for food. Demetri slowed his breathing, though this time it was much harder to control. Carefully, he slipped through the open door and snaked his way through the streets.
Esmeralda’s spice shop was situated on the corner of Howard and Main. It was a large brick building with heavy iron shutters. Demetri rested in the alley next to her store. His mind was jumbled, and he could feel the night walker’s poison creeping its way through his veins. He fought against his body, pushing himself to stay awake. But, as each moment passed it became harder. He eyes closed, and for a second he thought about giving into the pain. His pulse slowed, and he started to lose consciousness. A familiar sensation crawled up his back, and he opened his eyes.
A night walker stopped a few feet from Demetri, at the mouth of the alleyway. Demetri lifted his knife, waiting for the attack. The walker sniffed. Its shroud shook, as the creature tasted the air. Demetri stiffened. A shrill human cry pierced the night, and the creature turned away. Demetri released the breath he’d been holding. He watched the walker disappear from view.
Sweat poured from his forehead, as he sheathed his knife. Just a few more steps and I’ll be there. He crossed the alley and waved his hand in front of the thick wooden door of the spice shop. A small metallic scanner telescoped from the center of the door. Demetri leaned in to it. A green light scanned his retina. Satisfied, it retreated back into the door, and the door opened. Demetri fell through it.
“It’s okay, Demetri. Rest, my love.” She peeled his fingers away from her wrist and retrieved a damp rag from a small porcelain bowl. She dabbed his forehead with it.
Demetri opened his eyes, but the world was not much more than a hazy blur.
“You’ve got a pretty serious scratch there. And a fever.”
“Esmeralda? Is that you?”
A thin-lipped smile crossed her face, but deep concern colored her eyes. “Yes, dear, it’s me. You got clawed by a night walker.”
Demetri held the cloth against his chest as he sat up. “Oh. It hurts.”
Esmeralda retrieved a small paper bag from the nearby spice rack and placed a spoonful of white powder inside. “Put a pinch under your tongue, but no more.”
Demetri took the bag. And dropped the medicine beneath his tongue. He shut his mouth and sucked on its tanginess. “That helps.”
Esmeralda sat down beside him. “Good.” She squeezed his knee. “I was worried about you when you didn’t make it here before dark. What kept you?”
“I lost track of time. So, I ducked into a hotel room. Unfortunately, the night walkers found me.”
Esmeralda huffed. “I noticed. You’ve got to be more careful, Demetri. I don’t want to lose you.” Tears threatened to spill from her eyes.
He grabbed her hand and kissed it. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m here now. So, don’t worry.”
She nodded. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Me, too.” Demetri stared at the iron covering the store windows. “What time is it? How long have they been out?”
Esmeralda glanced at the antique mantel clock sitting over the fireplace. “It’s half-past midnight. I think they’ve only been out a couple of hours. I saw the first one walking the street about ten.” She shivered. “They’re causing all kinds of havoc tonight. Even the norms have noticed something’s not quite right. My police scanner has been going off like crazy. Every few minutes for the last hour. It’s getting bad out there.”
Demetri stood. His head spun slightly, but he felt his strength returning. He peered out of the peep hole in the iron shutter that covered the window. Night walkers mingled through-out the crowd of norms, hunting for those with the gift. He closed the hole. “The wards are holding so far.”
Esmeralda wrapped an arm around his waist. “Yes. So far.” She pulled him close. “How about a kiss?”
Demetri leaned into her and devoured her lips beneath his own. She tasted of mint and honey. His heart thrummed high in his ears, and he felt as though he might burst beneath the weight of her body against his. He took a step backward. “Not tonight, Esmeralda. We don’t have time.”
She tossed her hair over her shoulder. “I know.” She sighed. “Some other time, then?”
“Absolutely.” Demetri squeezed her hand. “We have to meet with the resistance.”
Esmeralda nodded. “They have gathered.” She handed a piece of parchment to Demetri. “It’s from Brosnan Cage. He expects you to attend.”
He read through the note. “His mansion is half-way through the city. It’s going to be a hard trip.”
“I know, that’s why I’m going with you.”