She bit into a rat and snapped its spine with a sickening crunch. The traveler sucked on its fur and tasted rotting meat. Diseased blood. She spat and threw the carcass to the side. It rolled down the grassy incline and into a nearby stream. The animal bobbed to the surface and floated to the tributary.
The traveler cursed under her breath and followed the rodent to a nearby bridge that had giant bat statues guarding each end. She let the water rush through her gloved fingers and scooped the plague-filled rodent out of the stream.
"Well, well what do we have here? A little porker with a belly full of gold. Hand it over, fatty."
The traveler's ear twitched. She peeked over the bat bridge and saw three men. Ratty rags clung to their bony shoulders. They had surrounded a heavy boy bundled up in warm, luxurious linens. The glint of a knife flashed in the brigand's hand.
"Please, this is all I have." The pouch in the boy's hand crumpled between his fingers.
The leader poked the dagger under the boy's chin. His lips slowly pushed out to his cheekbones and revealed yellowed, grimy teeth. "You expect me to believe that? Hand it over before I gut ya."
"Just take it!" The bag slipped out of the boy's hand and exploded in a cacophonous jingle of coin.
"You're gonna make me pick up all those pretty little coins? Get on your knees, porker."
The boy burst into tears and fell to the cobblestone floor. One by one he swept each coin into his hand. The traveler smiled and pushed her thumb against the guard of her sword. It clicked.
A thief moved away from the two men to relieve himself. The traveler emerged from the bridge and moved with a light step, sword in hand. She struck. Her sword sliced across his neck and spilled his blood. His body fell lifeless into her arms. She bared his neck and bit into the tender flesh.
She dropped his body to the floor. The ensuing thud was loud enough to wake the dead. The thieves' skin turned a pale white.
The leader clawed at the boys collar. "What did you do? What did you do you fat little pig?"
"I didn't do anything, I swear!"
The traveler swooped across the street like a shadow. She grabbed the leader's accomplice and vanished into the darkness. The brigand whirled around and flourished his dagger in all directions. His friend screamed until blood drowned his voice.
The leader backed away from the boy and headed for the bridge. "I, I don't want any trouble. He can keep the money."
The boy curled into a ball and covered his ears.
"I was just playin' with him, I swear. I didn't mean no harm. A man's gotta eat, y'know? I'm just tryin' to survive this city gone mad. There's creatures you know? Monsters. I just want enough coin to disappear."
The traveler appeared behind the man. "Allow me to assist."
She drew out her blood soaked sword and thrust it between his shoulders. The blade erupted from his chest and lifted his feet from the ground. She bared her fangs and bit savagely into his neck. The blood gushed from his dying body and tasted oh so sweet. Animal blood was bland, thin and left her wanting. But human blood sweetened by fear? Decadent ecstasy.
She dropped the cadaver and ran her forearm across her mouth. The blood smeared across her cheeks and stuck to her leather bracers. She licked her fingers clean and looked at the boy. He scurried backwards and screamed. The traveler stared at the boy and approached. Sword bobbing in hand.
"Silence yourself," she said.
He continued to scream.
"I said, hush now." She slapped the boy with a light tap. He looked at her with wide eyes. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"You're going to eat me."
"You're a monster."
"And you've stolen too many pies from the pantry. You should treat your savior with more respect."
"Wha . . .?" The boy was dumbfounded. He took a moment and then shook his head. "I apologize. I meant no offense."
She grabbed his pouch and withdrew five gold coins. "This is for my fee."
"I wasn't lying when I told him that was all I had. It seems everyone is trying to kill me tonight."
"What nonsense are you speaking? Who are you?"
"I should ask you the same."
The boy stood up and brushed the dirt from his tunic. "My name is Leon, Leo if it pleases you. I am running from my father and took whatever coin I could find."
"Because he wants to kill me."
"Because I'm the oldest in my family, but my father thinks I am not fit to rule. I can't stand the sight of blood and I never fancied holding a weapon. He wants my younger brother to take his place, but that can't happen because of me. I told him that I would gladly step down and let my brother be a lord. That . . . infuriated him. He said that if I didn't leave right away, he would kill me and make sure my mother never found out about it."
The traveler thumbed three coins into her hand and gave them to the boy. "Fine, keep your coin."
"Wait, but there were . . . nevermind. Would you please tell me your name?"
Leo stood up and bowed respectfully. "Alina, thank you for saving my life."
He looked up. Alina was gone.