The rickety bench was cold and uncomfortable, still wet from the chilly downpour of rain earlier. Claire was studying the brick wall behind our bench while my eyes focused on the gang of thugs across the street. Sirens wailed in the distance, but they weren’t anywhere near us.
Because police didn’t typically patrol this part of town. They only came if someone called them, and even then, they would arrive armed with assault weapons, riot gear, and body armor. Gangs owned these streets. Police actually discouraged vehicles from coming to a complete stop at the stop signs, because gangs were known to target obedient drivers. Follow laws too closely here and you were liable to see the barrel of a shotgun pointing at your face from outside the window. New age highway robbery.
I took a deep breath, tucking some stray hair back under my hood. Even though the heavy rain had ceased, constant drizzle still fell from the leaden gray night sky.
I heard the hiss of air brakes from a nearby Greyhound bus and the heavy scent of exhaust was like a stale perfume in the air – almost enough to overpower the smell of wet trash and refuse. This part of town was neglected, forgotten. At least the rain attempted to wash away some of the grime. The beautiful skyline in the distance was a mockery of the poverty festering here.
Almost like this place wasn’t a part of Kansas City.
But it was.
I studied the street of leaning brownstone homes before us, marking the parked cars lining both sides of the street. Many of the bulbs in the lampposts were broken – whether they had burned out or been shot out by local hoodlums, I wasn’t sure. Regardless, they hadn’t been replaced. I clenched my fists as I watched the thugs breaking into the cars, stealing the stereos and any other valuables inside. They did this without shame, unconcerned with anyone witnessing their crime.
On the upside, the distant sirens wouldn’t be close enough to save these assholes from me.
“What is the… Chancery?” Claire asked thoughtfully, pointing at some graffiti on the wall.
I shrugged, continuing to watch the brazen thieves. “Someone really ought to tell them about an eye for an eye…” I mumbled.
“What about this one? Think it’s talking about Nate?”
I ignored her, not wanting to talk about Nate Temple. I leaned forward, gritting my teeth as the thugs shattered another car window, laughing as they congratulated each other. What if the owner of that vehicle had kids? That would fuck with their sense of security in the morning when they were getting ready to leave for daycare.
“Oh! I think this one’s talking about you—”
“Please stop, Claire,” I said in a tight voice, turning to face her. I was getting annoyed with her fascination with the graffiti. She didn’t seem concerned about the hoodlums across the street, just the shitty graffiti. She was pointing at a section on the brick wall behind us. It was a crude sketch of a fist – two blades extending out from between the knuckles. A halo floated above the fist, like some kind of logo.
I jolted in recognition. It was about me.
How had anyone heard about that? I had first used those blades months ago, but that had been in Rome, not here in Kansas City. It was pretty obvious the sketch was referencing me, unless we had an Angelic Wolverine in town that I hadn’t yet met.
Seeing that image, scrawled on a shitty wall in a shitty part of town made me uneasy. Like a sniper had me in his sights.
I stood hastily, my eyes latching onto one of the other graffiti tags Claire had pointed out. Chancery wuz here. I frowned, dismissing the street art. Stupid name, I thought to myself. “These assholes are pissing me off,” I said, openly glaring at the seven hoodlums.
Sinners… a soothing purr filled my ears.
My skin pebbled instinctively at the sensation, but I no longer flinched when they spoke to me. The Whispers were something to do with the Angelic blood flowing through my veins. They offered constant commentary to my life, like my own personal narrator. Sometimes they were pleasant, other times obnoxiously creepy. Like someone was staring through my eyes and passing judgment on these thieves. I muted them. I didn’t need them for what I had planned.
I felt Claire standing beside me, watching me with concern. I waved a hand and put on a shallow smile. “Just tired,” I said. “And pissed.”
Her breath puffed out before her face in a brief cloud. “Are they Freaks?” she asked, scrutinizing the thugs.
I nodded, tightening the straps of my small backpack so it wouldn’t be a hindrance in a fight. “Saw some fangs. And that one ripped a door off with one hand,” I said, pointing openly. Two of the thugs were now watching us, their predatory gazes full of warning. Two young women shouldn’t be out alone in this part of town at this time of night. And they definitely shouldn’t have any hobbies remotely related to the automotive industry.
It was a threat. They were strong, hardened, dangerous men. And we were two cute blonde women, obviously in the wrong part of town on the wrong night. We weren’t welcome.
Claire openly snorted at their silent threat and their eyes narrowed, lips pulling back into snarls. “I’m bringing Teddy,” she said, waving a small white teddy bear towards the dangerous thieves. “It’s only fair to warn them. Did you bring your scarf?”
“I’m not a Knight Templar,” I murmured disgustedly under my breath, not wanting to think about the scarf I had stolen from them in Rome. The one that blocked magical attacks.
Claire shrugged. “It’s more for their benefit,” she said, waving her white teddy bear at them more blatantly. “To give them fair warning of what we really are.” I nodded absently.
The stuffed animal to let them know she was really a shifter polar bear.
She turned the bear to face her. “Right, Teddy?” she asked it, staring into its button eyes.
“Right, Clairebear,” she answered herself in a tinny voice.
I shot her a baffled look. “Really?” I shifted my eyes to study the bear, thinking. “If you’re going to talk to a stuffed animal, shouldn’t you at least make his voice deep and rumbly?”
“My bear, my rules,” she said defensively. She jerked her chin at the thieves, her green eyes twinkling with anticipation. I turned to see them now forming a line. Brass knuckles glinted in the dim lamplight on a few pairs of hands. Others sported outright claws, proving my point about them being Freaks, and that they didn’t have a sliver of concern that anyone might see them. People kept their heads down in this part of town. Even if they didn’t know about Freaks – supernatural beings – the Regular criminals were ruthless enough. The wrong look could earn you a bullet and a shallow grave.
I rolled my shoulders, plucking out my Crucifix necklace so it could hang freely before me. Maybe Claire had a point. It was only fair to warn them. Then I stalked closer, shoving my hands in the pockets of my Darling and Dear coat.
Claire chuckled at my necklace, matching my stride. “There. Now, they’ve been warned.”
I grunted. I wasn’t particularly religious – at least I didn’t attend Mass like a good little Catholic girl or anything. But… I had seen things. Been shown that I literally had some kind of bond with Heaven. My father had been a Nephilim, and I’d once had a minor Angel blood transfusion. So… it felt kind of childish to deny that the Crucifix didn’t hold power. Still, it made me feel like a poser.
Because I was no saint.
“Hey, boys. Like my teddy bear?” Claire asked, pouting her lips.
A tall, pale, gangly man stepped forward. Water dripped from the stubble on his chin as he sneered back at Claire, ignoring me. “The only teddy I want to see is you in skimpy lingerie in the back of my truck, where I can show you where a tiny woman like you belongs late at night. On her back—”
I shoved my fingers in my ears in anticipation, right before Claire exploded into a massive white polar bear. She was easily ten feet tall, and her roar threatened to shatter window panes in the nearby homes. Her thick, snow white fur whipped back and forth as she shook off the misty rain.
Like any woman should do in a similar situation, she slapped the offensive little prick.
I’m pretty sure he was a vampire.
And I’m pretty sure she broke his spine in three places.
At least, it sounded like muffled firecrackers had erupted under his skin before he flew back into one of the cars, shattering the windshield. He groaned in a very unmanly way, staring up at the misty night with wheezing, shallow breaths. Surprisingly, the car alarm didn’t go off. Then again, maybe the thugs had somehow deactivated them. Made sense. Hard to rob a whole street full of cars if all the alarms were going off.
The street was silent as the other thugs stared at us in stunned shock. “One Brokeback vampire, served cold. Sooo cold,” I chuckled.
Clairebear made an amused chuffing sound.
I pointed at the teddy bear – miraculously still gripped in Claire’s massive claw. “We’re not really into foreplay, but we did try to give you a heads up,” I said, shifting my finger from the teddy bear to Claire. “Practically a flashing sign, really.” I was mildly surprised that the werewolves in the back hadn’t noticed her scent. Maybe they hadn’t ever met a shifter bear.
“And what the fuck are you? A Ninja Nun?” a squat bald man asked me, his jowls quivering like a wet plate of tapioca Jell-O as he indicated my Crucifix. A few of his crew chuckled, but the rest frowned thoughtfully.
I let my hood fall back to reveal my unique white hair, and the single braid hair extension I had chosen for the night’s activities. Most Freaks in town had seen a video of me kicking demon ass with my long white hair and recognized me by it. Those who hadn’t initially laughed along with their pals froze, their previous hesitation now confirmed horror, but the leader just stared, not noticing their reaction or recognizing me. At least some of them recognized me.
“Have you heard about our Lord and Savior?” I asked in a soft tone, shaking out the thick, white braid. I had cut my hair off at the jaw recently, and the familiar weight of the extension made me feel more… me, I guess. I missed it, so had picked up an extension for nights like this when I was bored.
I took a casual step closer, my polite smile turning menacing as I flashed my teeth.
“Because he sure as fuck’s heard about you,” I said.
The three furthest away turned and ran. “It’s her!” one of them screamed as he fled, tossing his brass knuckles to the street in a sign of surrender.
Sometimes, it was nice for a girl to be recognized. To have a reputation.
Claire didn’t let them get very far before tearing after them on all fours, her teddy flopping in her paw at the sudden motion, splashing through the puddles and ruining the beautiful white fur. I smiled at the remaining hoodlums.
“Oh, no. Whatever shall I do?” I said in mock fear.
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