A/N: This is not the complete chapter, nor will I be posting the complete chapter any time soon. I was just very tetchy with the beginning and wanted some feedback for when I edit after NaNo; I'd like to know if the present-tense is working out fine, or if I should drop it. There might be inconsistencies in tense. Rip it up, please~ x
London: August, 2013.
His name is Night Randalls and he is the slowest one of them to die. Blond hair slicked back with gooey crimson gel, his eyes vast yet empty, his pulse tripping on his temple in an incorrigible act of defiance—he is not easy prey. A smile flickers on his face. A breath issues from his nostrils, whirling before his face in a puff of blue smoke.
The others watch him, stiller than shadows, more akin to stone than trolls left to burn under the California sun. They are quiet. Eager. Waiting for him to be dragged under like the rest of them.
The clock strikes twelve. Night Randalls does not die.
It is dark in the pub above the bakery on 21st street, the kind of darkness that crawls along the edges of the room and clambers on tables and chairs. It is musky and sweet, dripping heavily into the gaping spaces between their ribs. The darkness intoxicates them, sends adrenaline coursing to their fingertips. They do not smile in their euphoria—nor would it matter if they did, really. These are people whose grins darken rooms rather than light them up, people who are cruel but beautiful, with faces you would always remember once you saw them, but never be able to recall with enough clarity to describe them.
Night Randalls, lying on the ground, watches as first one man, then another, steps on his chest and crushes his ribs into his body. He wants dearly to cough, or—even worse—to laugh. His pupils dart from face to face, drinking in the details of the room, whilst pinpricks of pain niggle at his mind. He cannot feel the movement in his eyeballs.
The room had been lit dimly four hours ago, but now the lamps are dead, the tables still gleaming in the moonlight that shafts in through the window. Their tops are glazed in honey, it seems, just like the wooden surfaces of the floor, the walls, and everything else within sight. It is like the whole room is emanating a soft glow.
The lamps are dead. And still Night Randalls is not.
The figures around him shift, like swathes of cloth in a light breeze, sometimes shadows when they dance in dainty circles around him. Even their breathing is rhythmic; not a gasp issues from their lips even as Night Randalls grunts audibly. His hand twitches. He wants to smile at the looks on their faces, the furrowed brows in the clear moonshine as it shines on those standing by the window. The rest of the figures’ faces are cast in shadow.
Outside the door, someone screams. Something heavy falls down the stairs. There comes the sound of quick, deep breaths, a sudden yell, and odd unearthly noises that are a cross between the rasping of boggarts and the shrieking of their illegitimate children.
Reapers' Inn is not haunted, nor is it plighted by an army of bedbugs.
It is a place where nightmares gnaw you alive.
The room Night Randalls is bleeding to death in is barefaced, wooden tables and chairs stacked up against the walls like tiny fortresses; the carpet is grey, steadily being stained red as the people lying around the room fade from life. Those who are alive barely have the chance to moan as they are wiped clean away. Night Randalls wants dearly to smirk, because he has all the chances in the world.
He emits a low, guttering noise, and he can see it affect them immediately, the sprightly Vampiric Morphs dancing around him, peering into his face. Vampeers, he wants to call them. Nothing else suits. They had lured him in earlier, past the false wall on the lower level, where all the strange folks of the neighbourhood gathered for a drink. Night has known this was going to happen. He had prepared for it. The Morphs wanted him, he had been informed, wanted him because of all the time he had spent in the past ten years walking them in circles, in an infinite loop of trickery and deceit. He had been willing to take the job; the risks were overwhelming, like a tsunami washing over his life, changing it forever … but the job had to be done. There is nothing else to it.
What Night had not expected is that other people would be involved as well. He feels a distinct emotion stirring in his chest—a strange, heavy kind of sorrow intermingled with pain, although he is not sure if the pain is physical in this case.
He barters with himself that it probably is.
The clock strikes twelve-thirty. Then twelve forty-five, ticking slowly—sometimes faster, it seems—and the Vampiric Morphs do not leave. They speak to each other in low tones, their voices surrounding Night Randalls like the whooshing of the wind on a pale night. He strains his ears; he cannot understand them, but two of the larger figures stand by the door, arguing, apparently, and he does not have to strain his ears to listen to them.
‘He’s not dying. You know very well he can’t be fully turned if he hangs in the middle—what if he—’
‘He won’t,’ the second voice hisses. This one is female, Night thinks, while he has been unable to tell the other voices apart. Most of the Morphs sound gender-neutral; it is part of what makes them so frightening. Although Night Randalls is not frightened. He has met and danced and killed too many Morphs to be frightened by them, of all things.
But as the blood seeps from his body, as the twanging in his head increases at an alarming rate and as the Morph’s whispers agglutinate in the air around him like hot, heavy honey, Night realises that he is two things: restless, and very much afraid that he will not survive the night.
He wants so dearly to get up and walk away, to kick the door shut in the Morphs’ faces—but he knows he had to wait for them to leave before that can happen. After all, Night Randalls is many things—Class A detective, Class A+ warrior, but even he is not a Morph, and he would rather not have his cartilage ripped out and his head on a spear-fork before the night runs out.
His heart is like a rubber band about to snap in two. Night Randalls’ nails dig into his skin as he holds the rubber band in exactly the right way; if it stretches any further—it is obvious—he will die.
That is a possibility he is trying not to contemplate at this point in time.
‘Look, if it doesn’t go right—you know what we came here for, right?’ the taller silhouette says. He—or she—shift slightly, their shadow falling over Night’s knees. ‘It didn’t work out, he’s gonna be furious, and you can lead the pile-up because I sure as hell am not going to tell him we have a halfway on our hands.’ The Morph does not even bother to lower his voice anymore; the whispers buzz around him, the Morphs’ figures flitting around the room so that it makes Night dizzy just to watch them. If the blood loss doesn’t kill him, he thinks bitterly, then this will.
‘Then we leave him here,’ the female says. ‘There’re too many vamps out loose on the streets these days, anyway, how is he to know this one is ours?’ She lifts a hand and gestures at the other Morphs—nothing more than a flick of the wrist.
Then, they are gone. Night registers the clicking of a lock, hears the door shut behind them even though he had never noticed them open it in the first place.
Silence, but for the sound of his breathing. Slowly, he gets to his feet, the world around him spinning like a crazed top, the moonlight ricocheting off his retinas and the cold air pricking at his eyeballs with its long, sharp nails. He is unsteady on his feet, and he winces as he runs a hand through his hair. When he holds his hand up to observe it, he is not surprised to see that his entire palm is red. It is not a comforting sight. A groan escapes his lips, and the floorboards, too, choose that moment to creak. The wind seems to sigh resignedly. The bodies surrounding him seem to be part of the carpet now, as the skins of the Morphs’ victims turn grey; they wither like autumn leaves, or like old pages from older books in a bookstore filled with vile history.
For a while, Night stands there, until he can breathe without feeling as if something is wedged in his lungs. For a while, the entire building seems to creak and moan in protest, as if counting down the seconds until it will fall apart. Then, shaking his head, he stumbles towards the window, shivering as he places his hand against the cold glass. He flicks the latch and swings the window open, breathing in the smoke and faint scent of cheap drink that is this part of London.
It is raining now, and the rain, too, is light as it patters against the windowpane, droplets slipping down along the old wallpaper and forming a puddle on the carpet. Night is careful as he places a sneaker-clad foot onto the pane, looking back at the room before he leaves. He feels like he is forgetting something, but he cannot put his finger on exactly what it is. He checks his person once, feeling in the pockets of his jacket for everything he had on him when he arrived—his penknife, a laminated map of the London Underground, bits of lint and a wad of gum that looks more useless than it actually is. His gun, a S&W 642, is safely nestled beneath his numerous layers of clothing—he can feel the holster he has attached to the waistband of his jeans rustle beneath his clothes as he moves. The cold metal buckle is cool and reassuring against his skin.
In effect, a gun is useless in these parts, and Night knows it. But going out without a gun is as foreign a thought to him as having no teeth.
He is woozy as he clambers onto the windowpane, and the dizziness does not abate even as he manages to climb onto the ledge that runs along the building. He keeps a death grip on the window-frame, edging slowly towards the right. He remembers the staircase coming down from the roof of Reapers’ Inn—the incredibly conspicuous spiral-shaped one that he thinks he can reach eventually, if he keeps scooting along the building without falling down. Sweat trails down his spine and nervous chills wrack his body as the wind slams into him. His face is a mixture of sweat and blood—his own, as well as others’. When he stumbles suddenly, he is surprised to find that he is not falling, for his nails are digging at least an inch into the wall behind him. He did not notice he had such a death-grip on it.
In fact, it must be admitted that he has not been noticing much at all.
There is an odd, aching feeling in his limbs. The buildings across the street are abandoned, and in the darkness and the rain, they look like empty boxes wound with wire. His holster whimpers against him, and he pats it down with a free hand, the other still clinging tightly to the wall behind him. Its teeth scrabble against his skin and he hisses when they dig into his flesh. He thwacks his waist harder, and something nips at his hand. He yelps, and holds his hand up to the dim light.
When he sees the blood dripping from his fingernails—no, from the talons where his fingernails used to be, he swoons. His left hand curls into a fist; a chunk of plaster breaks free from the wall—it is taking up all the space in his palm—and he skids, trying to establish a firmer grip, trying to ignore the way the carton boxes from across the street have eyes and the way they are swaying, too.
But then the tiredness catches up with him and he goes vaulting down the side of a building, five floors above the ground.