Imoen blinked, her vision returning just as the car surged toward her. She leaped to the side as it roared past, clipping bumpers of other vehicles and leaving a cacophony of blaring alarms in its wake. She winced at the onslaught of sound and watched the car pause, its brake lights flaring in frustrated purpose. The driver looked back at her over his shoulder. Then the car began to move again.
She kicked off her shoes and vaulted over a sedan, her attention focused on the car as it proceeded up the next row. She began running to intercept, her bare feet ignoring gravel and bits of glass. Her skirt flowed around her legs as she accelerated, her heart pumping in a deceptive calm as she quickly matched the car’s speed. She caught the car just as it rounded the bend, heading for the exit. Her body curved gracefully while she turned inside it, sacrificing haste for balance. She applied one last burst of speed and drew alongside the car just as it neared the street.
Her fist shot sideways, shattering the glass and passing forcefully through toward the driver. He flinched away, hands turning the wheel with his sudden movement. The car veered right and rammed into a parked pickup truck. Imoen flung herself clear of the impact, feeling the bumper skid sideways past her while she sought to slow herself down. She lost her balance and rolled, coming to a tumbling stop on the sidewalk.
A hiss of steam rose behind her from a shattered radiator. She sat up in time to see the driver kick the crumpled car door off its hinges and slide out. He glanced briefly at her and began running. She rolled swiftly to her feet and gave chase, trying to keep him in visual range.
If I had worn pants, my pistol would be available and I could end this. Instead, it’s in my purse flopping around on my back. I may as well have left it at home.
She gritted her teeth and kept running, trying to close the distance. Her bare feet pounded the pavement in a rapid staccato. Her breath drew in and out in rapid pants from exertion, exacerbating the hunger she was already experiencing. She was vaguely aware of the passage of cars down the street as she kept her eyes focused on his fleeing form.
The man ducked suddenly between two buildings. Imoen slowed her pace with new caution as she drew near, her hearing tuned to the pursuit. She drew a breath of relief when she heard the continuing syncopated beat of running footsteps. She accelerated once more and veered into the alleyway.
Halfway down, she dimly registered a dark shape spring out at her from its concealment behind a dumpster. She ducked the knife and locked her hands on the arm holding it, using her momentum to pivot and throw the wielder hard against the wall. She turned to face her opponent, who grasped wildly for the fallen knife and rose up to meet her.
That’s not him.
The sight of the ragged haired woman in front of her had barely sunk in before she felt strong arms close around her from behind, locking her own arms at her sides. Warm breath panted against her hair as the woman in front of her lunged forward with the knife.
Imoen bent hard at the waist and brought her legs up high, scissoring them around the woman’s neck and twisting hard. There was a loud, wrenching crack and the sound of the knife clattering to the ground. A sigh like the wind was accompanied by a cascade of ashes across Imoen’s legs as the woman disintegrated. Her clothes seemed to float downward in a slow motion fall of fabric.
Imoen heard a shocked exhalation from the man who was still pinning her arms, his grip loosening slightly in his dismay. Her feet steadied as they settled to the ground. She felt one of his arms climb upward toward her throat as she bent forward to throw him off.
Two sudden shots rang out, fired so closely together they sounded as one. Only Imoen’s sensitive hearing distinguished their separate nature as they split the air close to her head before stopping with deadly finality. There was a dull thump like a melon being struck a blow, and then a spray of warm ashes against the side of her face. She felt the arms enclosing her lose their substance as the man behind her collapsed into ash.
She turned and watched a woman approach with steady steps from the other end of the alley. Barely older in appearance than Imoen, her blonde hair was secured in a single long braid. Her cool gray eyes appraised Imoen as she lowered her pistol. Imoen heard the faint click of the cocking mechanism of the Heckler & Koch P7 disengage.
“Thanks, Darya,” Imoen said.
Darya slipped the pistol into her waistband and tucked her shirt over it. “I thought you didn’t hunt renegades.”
“I don’t.” Imoen stared at the two piles of clothes. She kicked the knife away, hearing it clatter against the brick wall in the darkness. “He walked in while I was waiting for you. I gave chase without thinking.”
“Looks like he made a friend.”
Imoen exhaled heavily, her heartbeat returning to normal. She nodded, still looking at the forlorn clothes, empty of their former owners save for the scattered flecks of gray and powdered fine ash mixed among them.
“You know what he did,” Darya reminded her.
You know what you have done. Malcolm’s dead voice echoed back to her from the past, her first night in this life she had never asked to be born into.
She nodded again absently, her mind drawn away. And what has this one done, Malcolm?
The clothes lay together, almost touching, their emptiness speaking to her in voices partly remembered, partly forgotten.
Nothing. Yet. But then, you know her provenance.
She shook her head, trying to clear it, and looked away.
Darya walked forward and took her arm. “You’re bleeding.”
Imoen held her arm up and looked at it. Rivulets of blood were running down, the fragments of glass embedded in her skin glistening like rubies in the dim light. She flexed her hand, wincing a little when she did so. Feels like I broke something.
She ran her tongue in a light and sensuous ripple over her arm. She closed her eyes briefly, experiencing a small glow as she swallowed the blood. Her fangs descended slightly in reflex before she lifted her lips from her skin. She smiled and held her arm up.
“Hungry?” she asked Darya.
Darya shook her head. “You’re a mess, Imoen. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Imoen looked down at herself. Her clothes were shredded. Must have happened when I rolled away from the car before it crashed. She lifted each of her feet, examining the gravel and glass embedded in her soles.
“Where’s your pistol?” Darya asked, as they began walking toward the far end of the alley.
“In my purse.”
“That’s why you wear pants.”
“I prefer skirts. I always have.” Her tone was defensive, but she knew Darya was right.
She leaned forward and shook her hair, watching a rain of ashes fall away. “I’m going to have to take a shower now.” She brushed her fingers through her hair and stared at them. They were now covered with a fine and powdery residue. Her legs were coated with ash from the renegade’s companion.
Darya smiled now. “Would you prefer it be your own?”
Copyright © 2011 Matthew Lee Adams
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced without the written consent of the author.