Venice clenched her jaw and held her breath as she heard the familiar cadence of the Malakin's footsteps growing near. It was January, and she couldn't risk the thick clouds of her frozen breath giving away her position. Also, the acrid scent of the demon seemed worse in the winter. It was heavier this time of year, clinging fiercely to whatever it might find to land on, and there was nothing more overpowering than that scent. As foul as it was, however, Venice was glad for it. Malakin were demons in human form and, if not for their distinctive scent, would be able to blend into society undetected. This Malakin was male and could pass for a middle-aged human. His physique gave the impression that he was weak, but Venice knew to be cautious. Generally, older Malakin were stronger, since it was the amount of human souls they ate that determined their strength.
Silently, she counted the demon's steps. Thirty-seven. Eleven more to go. She needed to be cautious, needed to stay hidden until just the right time, and needed her instincts to hibernate for just a few, short seconds.
Venice knew this alley well; she had tracked the Malakin for days now, memorizing every detail with precision. Painstakingly she planned the attack, knowing that her only hope of victory would be the element of surprise. The Malakin was much stronger than she and twice as toxic.
Her ears twitched as, suddenly, her prey stopped in his tracks.
"I know you are here, Scion," he said in a calm, deep voice.
The breath in Venice's lungs seemed to solidify. It was over. Without the element of surprise, she stood no hope of conquering her natural enemy. In less than a second, she would feel the icy burn of the demon's venom traveling through her bloodstream. She would feel the agonizing pain as, once his poison had taken effect and she was totally paralytic, he would thrust his hand down her throat, tearing through flesh and sinew until he reached the place just below her sternum, grasping her soul with careless severity. Forcefully, he would rip it out of her, the millions of threadlike tentacles that connected her soul to every cell she was made of would slice through her every organ, her every bone.
And no doubt he would take extra measure with her. She was a Scion, after all--the Malakins' natural enemy. He would want to make sure that Venice's experience was utterly horrific. She would not be a meal like the humans. Her soul was venomous to him and therefore inedible. No, there would be no reason for him to be careful as he field dressed her. He needed only to destroy her.
Venice had only one hope now, and it was grim. Flee. But just as she was about to run, another voice rang out, echoing eerily down the alley.
"Bet you say that to all the deserted alleys."
Immediately, Venice's heart sped up. Surely this other man was not of her species. For a Scion to waste precious time antagonizing a Malakin was unheard of, almost suicidal. Certainly his instincts could not be so controlled. Her curiosity getting the better of her, Venice inhaled, hoping to catch the mystery man's scent.
It was an enormous mistake.
While she did discover that the other entity in the alley was, in fact, a Scion, it was now obvious to Venice that what he was would make no difference. Her instincts overpowering her, she leaped out from behind the dumpster, the Malakin's scent too commanding to ignore. Catlike, her streamlined back was arched, her toned frame shivering with adrenaline. Her sleek, dark hair seemed to be keeping time with the rhythm of her pulse, tendrils of it rippling against her neck as if it, too, had a soul.
"Looks like you're outnumbered," the other Scion said playfully.
"Hardly. More like we're evenly matched now," the Malakin spit back acidly.
As he spoke, Venice's nostrils flared, the Malakin's acrid scent burning her throat. She could taste her own venom as it began flowing from the hollows of her teeth and swallowed it in hopes of drowning the burn.
She knew the Malakin was right. When fully prepared to fight, his power would equal that of two Scions, and Venice knew that unless she and the other Scion were in perfect sync, they wouldn't stand a chance.
She wanted to avert her eyes from the Malakin's just long enough to make eye contact with the other Scion--size him up--but she knew better. Not only could that one small movement be all the Malakin needed in order to kill her, she also had to worry about the mating instinct.
It had been only five years earlier that Venice discovered she was not entirely human. She'd never known her biological parents; she was adopted at birth and had no idea why they'd given her up. At fifteen, she'd run into a Malakin for the first time, and, having absolutely no idea what was happening to her, she lost control and attacked. Luckily, that particular Malakin was being tracked by another Scion, and together they succeeded in exterminating him.
Afterwards, the older Scion, a beautiful red-haired woman oddly named Raven, told a much shaken Venice exactly what she was--a descendent of one of the rarest clandestine beings in history, the Sentinel. With Sentinel blood running through their veins, the Scions were a rare breed, and whenever faced with a Malakin--the descendents of the Sentinel's only enemy, the Malefactor--their instincts took over.
The two Scions talked for hours, Venice asking questions and Raven answering them patiently. The legend was a long one, with many twists and turns. It was frustrating to Venice, trying to understand everything Raven was telling her, because it was obvious that every detail was extremely important to her survival.
Noticing how obviously anxious Venice was during their talk, Raven had calmed her down by giving her a few important pointers. Number one: when faced with a Malakin, she should never take her eyes off it. Number two: she should act fast; surprise it if she could. Number three, and perhaps the most important: if, for any reason, she should ever encounter a male Scion while fighting a Malakin, she should not make eye contact.
According to Raven, Scions had more than just fighting instincts. Being so rare, they had a very strong mating instinct, and that instinct, Raven told Venice, was so powerful it had the potential to override the fighting instinct, making a Scion absolutely vulnerable.
With this in mind, Venice fought the curiosity to steal a glance at the Scion who was now only a few yards away. Forcing the urge from her every cell, she kept her eyes on the Malakin in front of her, leonine in her stance, ready to pounce.
"I know it was you," the Scion said to the Malakin, malice apparent in his tone.
"You are wrong, Emrik," he answered coolly. "It was a traveler who knows nothing of the truce."
"Everyone knows of the truce!" the Scion called Emrik challenged, his voice a roar that reverberated off the brick walls surrounding the alley.
"Apparently this one doesn't," the Malakin said, his gaze turning accusingly toward Venice. "She's been tracking me for a week. Those who are aware of the truce know better. Your friend was killed only two days ago, five days after this one started following me, so obviously she wasn't hoping to kill me out of retaliation. Either she's a renegade Scion, or she's new in town. I don't believe you know this traveler any more than I knew the Malakin traveler who killed your Raven."
Venice stiffened, her eyes growing wide at the mention of her friend's name. "Raven?" she asked in a disbelieving whisper. "Raven is dead?"
"She was a friend of yours?" the Malakin asked, something similar to sympathy laced in his words.
She nodded, the softness in the Malakin's tone enough to abate her killer instincts for a split second.
"You are Venice," Emrik said matter-of-factly.
Without thinking, she turned her eyes toward him. He was tall, she discovered, with high cheekbones and a tight jaw. His hair was dark, reaching to his chin in messy waves that seemed to merge with his five o'clock shadow. He looked to be in his late thirties and was, as far as Venice was concerned, intensely handsome.
Could Raven have been wrong? While Emrik was unmistakably attractive enough to cause a thrilling sensation in her chest and her face to flush a brilliant red, it wasn't enough to distract her from the irresistible desire she had to kill the Malakin.
Quickly Venice switched her gaze back to the demon's, trying her best to act as if their conversation hadn't confused her. What was this about a truce? And how was Emrik controlling his instinct to kill this Malakin, especially after he spoke of Raven's death so casually?
"Seems I was right," the Malakin said, his eyebrow cocked as if intrigued. "You two really haven't met."
There was silence as neither Venice or Emrik were willing to admit he was right.
"Perhaps I should leave the two of you alone. It sounds like you have much to discuss."
"You do that, Faron, but we aren't through with our chat. I'll find you tomorrow evening," Emrik said, his eyes now glued to Venice.
"Same time, same place," Faron said with a sly smirk before turning slowly and walking down the alley.
When at last the demon was no longer in sight, Emrik spoke to Venice. "I've been looking for you."
"Why did you let him get away?" Venice demanded, trying to ignore her delight at Emrik's statement. He'd been looking for her.
"Why did you?" Emrik asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Because it was obvious you weren't going to do anything to help! I couldn't have killed him myself. And there you were, chatting him up like he's your best friend."
"Faron and I are able to communicate without killing one another, it's true, but I would never have let you fight him alone." Emrik looked her over now, inspecting her before adding, "Why, by the way, if you knew it couldn't be done without help, were you so prepared to take him on by yourself in the first place?"
Venice rolled her eyes in frustration. "I was going to surprise him," she answered, though obviously she now knew she would only have gotten herself killed. Faron had known all along that she'd been tracking him.
With that thought, something dawned on her. "Why didn't he kill me?"
"We have a truce. You could say that Chicago is the Scion capital of the world. There are almost four hundred of us here, and we outnumber the Malakins three to one. If they don't steal souls, we don't kill them. But if we catch them reproducing, deal's off. Any Malakin babies start popping up, we attack the lot of them."
Venice's eyes slanted in suspicion. "What's the point? If there are enough of us to kill them, what are we waiting for?"
Emrik walked closer and sighed as if defeated. "Look, Venice..."
Venice got the impression he was apprehensive about indulging too much information to a Scion he'd only just met.
"You hungry?" he asked suddenly, changing the subject.
Well, Venice thought, if he wanted to be evasive that was fine, but she wasn't about to be party to this truce without a good explanation. She would play along for now, try to soften him up in order to find out what was going on. In the meantime, however, she would not let another Malakin walk away from her without a fight.
"Yeah, actually, I am," she said with a shrug. "I've been pretty busy this past week. Haven't really had a chance to eat much."
Emrik nodded. "I thought so. Come on. We'll go to my place. I've got some leftover Chinese."