Her back bent like a reed in the wind, hands finding purchase against the cold alley stone beneath her as her legs followed after in a graceful arch and she drove the heels of her combat boots upwards into the leaping creature’s jaw. Thin bones cracked sharply as it withdrew with a squeal, falling onto all fours and scrabbling across the ground for a moment before righting itself.
Carrying the movement through to completion she crouched for a moment before lashing out with her Pantera Claw-blades, slashing open the parchment thin skin of the mummified bat-like face. Foul, clotted blood spilling from the four fresh wounds the Malformed screamed angrily at her and bared its fangs, backing away against the dead end as its red eyes darted left and right for any potential avenue of escape.
“Panic all that you like, there’s nowhere to run now.” A low warning growl rumbled in the back of its throat. “Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. No one to help you. Feels awful, doesn’t it?” She matched it step for step as it feinted left, then right, and ultimately fell back against the wall. A Leonean smile spread across her fey-like face, transforming her features into something predatory. “I’ll make every one of you bat-faced bastards suffer the way that I had to before-!”
With a wet hollow thunk the metal shaft of an arrow drove home right between its eyes, splattering her with a fresh coating of gore as the dissolving body slid down the wall. A perfect shot, made from the mouth of the alleyway and aimed straight over her shoulder; there was only one person she knew of who could accomplish such a thing so easily. “Alaric!” She spat, bristling as she turned sharply on her heel. “That was my kill! What are you doing?”
“Putting it out of its misery; there’s no need to play cat and mouse with them Kennina.” The tall, broad figure standing in the alley’s mouth lowered the longbow held in his hands, his Irish-blue eyes regarding her with his usual immoveable calm as he raised his free hand to run his fingers through his buzzed-down hair. “Torturing them isn’t a part of the job description. I understand where you’re coming from, believe me, but playing games won’t help anything.”
Kennina sneered at him, spitting on the alley floor. “What could you know?” Her long, thin fingers curled around the shaft of the arrow beneath the arching steel blades adorning her hands, the bladed head coming free of the skull with a sickening squelch glistening with dark red blood. She examined it with a look of marked distaste before turning to face him again. “You’ve certainly earned your title ‘Archer’.”
“And I can see why they gave you yours, ‘Lioness’.” He replied. “You know, for someone 4’6” and 100lbs even soaking wet you’re quite terrifying.” Her forest green eyes glowed owlishly out at him as she pushed her dark plum ringlets over one shoulder. “What form of martial arts did you say that you use again?”
His brow creased, eyes crinkling slightly around the edges. “And that’s…Thai?”
“Brazilian,” she replied archly, tapping the head of the arrow gently against his chest to prompt him into taking it; a moment passed before he complied, fingertips calloused by the string of his bow sliding the arrow back into the quiver slung across his back. “Where’s Etain?”
“Waiting for the two of us on the corner; you know how she is.” He replied with a blustery sigh. “You’re coming out drinking with us, aren’t you?”
“That all depends on whether she’ll start her drunken bitching about not believing she deserves to have only scored rank #2 on the final exam again.” Kennina replied as they started walking out of the alleyway and down the street.
“With her, who knows.”
“And what about you?”
Her friend and classmate, almost a full two feet taller than her, glanced down at her remark. “Me?” he repeated, obviously at least somewhat off-balanced by the question; his large hand, palm clad in the supple leather of a fingerless glove, came up to rub the back of his neck. “I’m happy with my place as #3, thanks. As a matter of fact, I was shocked that I managed to score as high as I did.”
“I’ve seen you shoot straight from distances that should be impossible with a gun! You don’t give yourself enough credit.”
“That depends on what I’m giving myself credit for; I may carry around this sword but I’m not very good at using it.” He gestured to the small hand-sword hanging at his waist. “The fact that I drop to near last in the class at close range kind of pulled down the score overall. But ranks really aren’t important, as long as we survive and protect all of the innocent people who have no idea what’s really going on.”
“You’re right.” That was, she supposed, what really mattered and, had it been a perfect world, that would have been enough. But it wasn’t a perfect world. Simply surviving, simply protecting, wasn’t enough.
After all, who had been there to protect them?
“So, are you going to come?”
It was still pretty early on a Friday night; she had time to spare before her appointment with Lord Kharon, leader of the Slayer’s Guild. Why not?
Kennina shrugged and smiled. “Sure. Where are we headed to?”
“Etain said something about wanting to go to that new club which opened up in Queen’s recently; the Black Dahlia, I think is what it’s called.” Alaric said. “The plan is, apparently, to spend the rest of the night there unless we get another call.”
“We’re not headed there right away, are we? Because I could use some time to clean up.”
“Show up to a club covered in Malform blood?” he snorted and shook his head. “That might be all well and good on Halloween night, but it’s almost the end of November now so I doubt it would fly well with the bouncer. Let’s say to meet up at the club in about an hour; that’ll be enough time, won’t it?”
“Should be, unless there’s a backup on the Subway.” She replied. “Let Etain know that I’ll catch up with you.”
Veering off the sidewalk into the subway tunnel and retrieving the small duffle bag from where she’d stashed it, Kennina pulled off her Pantera Claws and safely stowed them away before slipping the strap of the bag over her shoulder and proceeding into the terminal.
One thing that someone of her profession couldn’t help but love about New York was that it was the only city in the world with a 24 hour subway system. Fishing her wallet out of her bag and purchasing her ticket, Kennina made her way over to the correct subway and stepped on the moment that the massive metal serpent came chugging into view.
Even at almost 10 o’clock the subway was still crowded enough to be bursting at the seams and so with no hope of finding a seat Kennina slotted herself into place between two other passengers and reached up to grab one of the metal grips hanging from the walls, ignoring the sidelong glances earned by her blood-slathered state.
The lukewarm stale air was heavy with the familiar scent of sweat, feet and curdled milk. The doors hissed closed with a quiet clatter, the darkness of the tunnel rushing by outside the windows as the subway began to move.
The wheels trundled against the track, the floor beneath her feet vibrating with a low distant hum which set her body swaying gently back and forth. As the train went through its familiar route of strung-together stops and slowly emptied out she allowed her mind the wander. And, as it always seemed to do, it wandered to a dark place.
The sound of something, wet and much thicker than water, dripping from another room. Red eyes glowing out of the darkness of the hallway. Her brother pushing her out of the window onto the neighbor’s roof, telling her to run.
The train rolling to a stop at her destination saved her from having the relive what had happened after that.
The walk to her Manhattan apartment was, after almost a year, a familiar one but all the same she tried to keep her mind focused on what she was doing; where she was walking; anything to keep it from returning down that dark well-traveled road. The sidewalk beneath her feet was badly cracked with age, some parts risen up while others had fallen down, the open wounds oozing with sickly-looking weeds; the night’s darkness had leeched out the color of the pavement, reducing it to a dusty blueish-white.
A street lamp stood sentinel along the edges of the road, a single man standing slightly crooked amidst the rank and file of his brothers, stretching its hollow neck over the crenelated row of cars parked up and down the mostly deserted street. The light that it cast was insipid and flickering, the open flame of a candle caught in a brisk wind, throwing a jaundiced puddle across the squared off trashcan-lid transformed into an ashtray by the countless daily passersby-and forgotten payphone which huddled for warmth beneath it.
Bare branches of black trees clattered together in a stiff breeze which blew through Central Park, clawing at the sky as the shadows frolicked gleefully beneath their barren bows. Clouds skated across the ice-rink of the sky, diaphanous and silver as they blocked out all natural light which might have been shed by the moon and stars.
The night air tasted like snow and Kennina shivered beneath the scant protection of her hunting gear, the matte black leather much more adept at turning claws and fangs then a frigid gust. Though still only mid-November, the beginnings of Christmas displays could be seen winking out at her from the front windows of multiple stores as she passed by.
It had been a long time since she’d actually enjoyed the holidays.
The doorman had just gotten off of work when Kennina arrived back at her apartment, hurrying into the doorway and through the lobby to the elevator and riding up to the 7th floor. Keys in hand she unlocked the door of the apartment, promptly dropping her bag to the floor once she was inside.
Her back clunked against the closed door with a small sigh, her hands resting palms down against the cold smooth wood. The apartment where she’d lived since graduating from the Slayer’s Academy, a little junior-four only a couple of blocks away from Central Park, was just as she had left it; dark and undisturbed with the fragrance of the cookies she’d incinerated in an effort to fill her day with something aside from sleep still lingering in the air.
“Meow!” Her eyes slid open at the demanding sound to find a pair of lamp-like green orbs glowing out at her from the darkness; flipping on the nearby light-switch revealed the culprit at her 6 month old Russian Blue, his tail twitching back and forth likely in anticipation of food.
“Hey, Sergio. You hungry?” she asked the tiny kitten quietly, crouching down and holding out her hand; the small fur-ball immediately came running over with another mew and Kennina scooped the purring little creature up off of the ground. “I’ll give you a few spoonful’s of cat food but don’t get used to this pretty boy. I fed you before I left, and if this becomes a habit you’ll wind up on the Kitty edition of Biggest Loser.”
“Meee!” The cold smooth pads of tiny paws came to rest on either side of her face.
“I didn’t say you were fat, only that you’d get fat.” Shifting the animal’s weight onto one arm, she pulled open the fridge and took out the half can of wet food left over from his earlier feeding. Setting Sergio down on the kitchen tile floor, she emptied the remainder of the can into his bowl and stroked him another few times before leaving the kitchen and proceeding to her bedroom.
Grabbing the first clean clothing that she could find out of her drawer, Kennina turned on the bathroom light and closed the door behind her. Peeling off her bloody sweat shirt and jeans, she hastily unbuckled the slayer gear concealed underneath and stepped into the shower.
The water hissed and squeaked as it made its way up the pipes hidden in the walls before spurting from the head; it was cold as it hit her chest but warmed quickly, swirling down the drain at her feet and taking the blood and filth with it. Pushing the dripping locks of her red hair back away from her face, she reached for the bottle of shampoo sitting on the edge of the tub; the lid opened with a small popping sound, filling the warm air with the scent of sandalwood.
The water cut off with a dull clank as the knob was turned to stop the flow. Stepping out onto the mat she dried herself quickly with the towel hanging from the rack before pausing to take in her reflection in the steam-distorted glass. At her wet hair, a tangled mess of color so reminiscent of the blood that was her line of work; at the countless silver scars spread across her skin which she couldn’t see in the hazed glass but knew full well were there.
Shaking her head to clear it of any cobwebs, Kennina reached out to plug in the blow drier and brushed and dried her hair before dressing herself in clean clothes. The clock sitting on the nightstand beside her bed declared the time as 10:23 pm with glowing red numbers; looked like she would make it just in time.
Grabbing her purse from its position sitting on a chair and excavating her false ID, she transferred her wallet and keys over from her duffle bag and bid a quick farewell to Sergio before heading back out of the door into the night.ns126.96.36.199da2