The man stood motionless on the steps of the National Bank Building, his expression as blank as the steel-grey sky. Around him flowed the pulses of the city street-the traffic chasing through the canyons of downtown, the masses of people buzzing along sidewalks-yet he stood alone, separate, apart, and noticed none of it.
Ordinary. He'd ceased taking notice of this ordinary world. He'd become used to the loss of color, of life, of sound. Everything had become monochromatic, but the greyness was more than an evening fog or a lifeless expanse of concrete city. It was a mist that soaked him through and kept him from feeling anything.
Not that it was a bad thing. Nearly two centuries of a desperate existence had accumulated more hard memories than good. The mercies of death, no matter how tenderly administered, were better off forgotten. And who was he if not an ambassador of death, bound for final death itself?
Marek snapped his collar up against the bite of cold and turned into the November wind. The numbing sting helped him hide deeper within himself and he crossed the sidewalk, reaching into his pocket for his car keys.
It was then that a tiny tendril of something sweet, almost tangy, caught his attention. It wasn't a scent, exactly, or a taste. It was a mental brush that grazed the edge of his periphery. After decades of grey isolation, the small sensation was enough to turn his head and capture his full attention.
Closing his eyes, he exhaled and spread out his power, a stealthy essence that evaluated each source of energy. The city streets teemed with life, a low-level hum he largely ignored. People consumed with their problems, their responsibilities, their trivialities. The only thing separating them from the buildings and the steel was that pulse, that unmistakable surge of blood that bounced through their bodies.
His needs were well-satisfied at the moment. The simple throbs of heartbeats weren't enough to distract him now.
Marek caught the tail end of the fleeting sensation somewhere north and swung his full attention on it. Pursued it. Strode through the grey columned city as if it were an empty field of monuments to a forgotten god and reached out his power toward that fluttering ribbon of brightness. Cobalt blue, it was, edged with gold brilliance, every bit a summer day on a breeze. Refreshing.
Odd, in fact. He drew his brows and narrowed his eyes. None of his kind had power signatures like this.
Calling up deeper instincts, the hunter within took over and Marek slid into predator mode. It was all too easy to be suspicious of an unknown power in his city, where he knew every corner, every street, every shadow. Slipping into a side alley, he scaled a building, finding finger holds and ledges no ordinary man could find. Free from the prying eyes of humanity, he used his speed to his advantage, sprinting across the rooftops. He became a shadow on the wind.
The distances between building were little more than gaps. He sailed, silently, pursuing the strange glimmer. And just as he almost had it, it was gone. The trail went completely cold near City Hall.
He clung to the railing, leaning out as far as his tall frame would allow, eyes sweeping the streets. Once more he spread out his power, thinner and thinner, to the very limits of his strength. It was to no avail. The light, that sweet tickle along the edge of his awareness, was gone.
Marek frowned and drew back from the edge of the train station roof, watching the dots of humanity and streaks of reds lights and traffic flow on through the streets. They were all oblivious to his overwhelming loss. Just as well. Those who deserved eternal punishment could not rightfully complain. It was just that...for a moment--maybe--
He drew a heavy sigh and crossed to the back section of the roof, dropping down to the empty alley way. His car was still parked near his office on Tenth Street and, in his sullen disappointment, he didn't feel like walking. Walking to the curb, he surveyed the nearby taxis. Finding an empty cab, he sent out a mental nudge to the driver, who darted to the curb where he stood.
Exhausting, this business of chasing hope. It was a race he'd never win.
He slipped into the cab, wordlessly compelling the driver toward his destination. Hunching in the back seat, he stared out the window.
Suddenly, that sensation bloomed again, unfurling like a silken sheet in the wind. Marek sat forward. There. On the corner. He compelled the driver to slow down and scanned the crowd along the curb. A frail, silver-haired woman spied the taxi, relief flooding her expression.
But the energy didn't come from her. It came from the slender brunette behind her who waved a hand.
Here is sufficient. Marek sent the thought directly to the man's consciousness. Pulling a twenty out of his pocket, he tapped the driver's shoulder. The driver took the money without looking and pulled over near the women. The brunette pulled open the door, looking back at the woman and cautioning her wait on the curb.
Marek got out of the car, startling the brunette and making her stammer. He stretched to his full height and peered down at her dark eyes, her lush mouth.
He wanted to laugh. This? This human was the glimmer of cobalt and gold?
Here, so close, it was no longer a tickle--it was a warmth that filled him like sunlight in an open field. It was color and the sound of rushing wind, the scents of wood smoke and apples and brittle autumn leaves. It was bounty and purity. He breathed her in, leaned closer. He wanted more.
She hopped up on the curb, alarmed, no doubt, by his intense scrutiny.
"Allow me," he said smoothly. Her anxiety was palpable and he used a small compulsion to dampen it. Her relief showed, a smoothing of her creased brow.
Holding out his hand, he steadied the older woman, gently settling her in the car. She smiled her gratitude and called him dear. He issued his silent instructions, making sure the driver would help her out at her destination before releasing him to drive away.
"Thanks. She needed the help." The young woman's voice was music and he turned to her, hungry for the sound. The bright colors were receding, fading like stars at dawn. She became as ordinary as every human streaming around them.
She could never be ordinary. He knew in that moment he would go to the end of the earth for her. "It was my pleasure."
She smiled suddenly, a wide grin that took him breath like a blow to the chest. "Glad to finally find someone else who isn't afraid to be a good person."
A good person? What a staggering pronouncement. No one had ever called him that before. Marek was at a loss for a reply. He'd never felt quite so off-balanced before.
Who was this woman?
"Well." She glanced around and then waved, a flutter of fingers. "Thanks again."
She turned and hurried away. She didn't look back.
No matter. Her scent lingered, its essence locked in and memorized. Only one word could describe that fleeting sensation.
There was a reason to hope. That woman was not ordinary at all.
Marek didn't bother with another taxi. This time, he struck off for Tenth Street on foot, distantly aware of the tinge of color that slowly bled back into his surroundings. Her face danced before him, an afterimage burned into his mind.
He knew he'd see her again. After a lifetime of searching, he wouldn't let a hope like this slip away.
YOU ARE READING
Scent of Hope: A Prelude to Bleeding Hearts (Demimonde #1)Short Story
"Scent of Hope" is a short story that precedes BLEEDING HEARTS (Demimonde #1). THE BOOKS OF THE DEMIMONDE: an urban fantasy series by Ash Krafton. Look outside your window. Same old town, same streets, same people, same stories you've lived all your...