Tentative release date of August 14th, 2018.
Sirens. Loud music. Decapitations.
The city of dragons and vampires was a raucous one during the night. Establishments large and small catered to their needs, from offering local micro-brews to the high-end imported liqueur that cost more for a shot glass than a teacher would earn in a month. Some of the populace chose to hold their fun solstice beneath the starry sky. The streets and alleys were full of people smoking, laughing, and drinking until beer blew out of their noses.
A small establishment far off the main roads offered the best of both worlds: an outdoor patio encircled by a tall wooden fence. Its clientele consisted of the young entrepreneurs and office workers that inhabited the city. They mingled and danced to the heavy beat of an electric drum. Alcohol flowed freely, and the prohibition on minors was relaxed as several of the patrons walked in with ‘guests’ picked up after high school classes.
The patio abutted a dark, dingy alley.
The party was shielded from prying eyes by an eight-foot tall wood fence topped with lattice. Strings of colorful lights cast strange shadows over the trash cans and empty crates.
One of those shadows tiptoed up to the fence. They stooped and picked up the crates one at a time and setting them atop one another until a small pyramid was formed. The figure climbed atop them and grasped the space between the lattice and the top of the boards. Their face came close to one of the lights, and Sarah would have found that face familiar.
It was Avery, the curious student of her school. He stood on his tiptoes and stretched his neck, but only the top of his head peeked over the lattice.
“Damn it,” he muttered as he jumped back onto the gravel alley. His feet made a hard crunch.
A corresponding crunch made him freeze. He whipped his head to his right where the alley stretched deeper into the block. The sound of voices floated to his ears. He dove into a nearby stack of garbage cans, but peeked out.
Three figures appeared from around the corner of the drinking establishment. There were two men and a woman, with the woman on the outside of the group being the youngest at eighteen. The other two were in their early twenties. The woman in the middle stumbled about, knocking into the other two.
“Whoopsie!” the person apologized. She let out a loud burp. “I think I need to go home.”
The other woman looked over her at their male companion and grinned. “What do you say? Should we take her home?”
He smiled and nodded. “That’d be just fine with me.”
Their inebriated companion draped her arms across their shoulders and turned them deeper into the alley. “It’s this-away.”
As they stumbled deeper into the shadows Avery pursed his lips and slunk out of his own. He ducked and dodged behind garbage cans, crates, and the occasional alley cat, always staying close enough to overhear the threesome. His prey were fifty feet from the end of the alley when the drunk woman tripped. She stumbled to her left and knocked her back against the brick wall of another establishment.
A laugh escaped her lips. “I think this is far enough.”
Her two companions glanced at each other before the girl looked back to her. “Far enough for what?”
The woman against the wall raised her eyes to them. They were a deep, blood-red color. Her smile widened and revealed sharp fangs. She pushed off the wall and took a steady step forward. “For a snack, of course. Now-” she tapped a finger from one to the other, “-which one should I start with?”
Her female prey glanced at her male companion and smiled. “Think we should tell her?”
He shrugged. “May as well. She said it was far enough.”
The vampiress leaned back and blinked at the pair. “Tell me what?”
The girl stepped forward and drew out a necklace on which hung a medallion. The medallion pulsed with light, and as it did a pair of leathery wings erupted from her back. She raised her empty hand and her fingers lengthened into dagger-like claws. Her muscles expanded and stretched her already tight clothing, tearing it in some places.
The dragon girl looked down at herself and frowned. “Damn. These were my favorites, too.”
The vampiress stumbled back against the wall with wide eyes. “W-what the hell are you?”
The man frowned. “Come on, Gerty. Get it over with. You know the boss doesn’t like them scared.”
Gerty dropped the medallion onto the front of her shirt and shrugged. “All right, don’t rush me.”
She strode up to the shocked vampire and raised her dagger hand. A clean swipe across the vampire’s neck and her head toppled from her shoulders. The head rolled back the way they had traveled and came to rest a yard from where Avery was hidden.
The eyes rolled toward him, and the mouth opened. “Please. Please help-” blood gurgled out of her mouth. Her eyes rolled back and her features fell limp.
The man was in the process of scooping up the blood that poured out of her neck when he heard the voice. He stood and narrowed his eyes at the spot where the head lay. “Did you hear that?”
The girl was in the process of studying her ruined wardrobe. “Probably just a cat.”
He shook his head as he pocketed the vial of blood. “A cat couldn’t help her.”
The man stalked toward Avery’s position. Avery ducked lower, but his movement caught the attention of the stranger. The man froze and whipped his head around at his girlfriend. “Gerty, we got a live one!”
Gerty looked up at him and frowned. “A what?”
Avery dashed from his hiding spot and sprinted down the alley. The man pointed at his retreating back. “That!”
Gerty frowned and spread her wings. “I’m on it!”
She flew into the air and after Avery. Avery grabbed everything within reach and threw it behind him. Garbage can lids flew like saucers and grazed her temple. Pieces of crates sailed at her and nearly impaled her wings. Alley cats flew like angry balls of fur and fangs intent on destroying the first thing they latched on to. One of them latched onto Gerty’s face and stuck there.
She shrieked and crashed to the grab as the furious feline clawed at her cheeks. “Get off!”
Avery reached the end of the alley and disappeared around the corner. The dragon yanked the cat off her face as her friend jogged up to her side. She threw the feline to the side. The creature landed on its feet, gave her a cursing hiss, and ran off. Her face was covered in scratches and her eyes burned green with anger.
Her boyfriend set his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll get him, Gerty.”
She shrugged off his hand and narrowed her eyes at where Avery had disappeared. “Yeah. Tomorrow. In class.”
Above them a near-full moon watched the scene close, and a new one open.
Sarah Renelle was many things. She was a friend, a school teacher, someone Cate could look up to. She was also late to work.
“How could Jenny unplug my clock with the vacuum?” she wheezed for the sixth time as she raced down the alley. “It has a battery!”
Such was one of many dilemmas for the heroine as she reached the end of the alley. Five minutes. She had only five minutes until class started, much less when she was actually supposed to be there.
“Please let Grendel be sick,” was her mantra as she tiptoed across the parking lot.
Sarah slipped inside and leaned her shoulder against the wall to her right. Before her stretched the endless hall, and on her left just a few doors down was her own domain. A few students lingered against the walls and at their lockers, but most were already inside their rooms. Grendel was nowhere in sight. She would make it.
Sarah slapped a smile on her face, unwrinkled her mussed clothes, and strode toward her classroom. She had to pass a janitor’s closet on the right. The door was cracked open.
A hand shot out and grabbed her arm. Sarah yelped as she was dragged into the dark, cramped interior. The scent of cleaners invaded her nostrils and her back hit the unforgiving handle of a mop and bucket combo.
“Quiet,” a voice whispered.
Sarah squinted in the dark and made out the pale face of Avery. She frowned. “Avery? What in the world are you doing in the closet?”
“I need your help.”
She pursed her lips. “If you need tutoring you need to speak with your teacher-”
“Not that.” He peeked out and studied the hall. His homeroom was down at the far end. Between here and there was another alcove that led outside. A figure lurked in there. “I need some professional help.”
Sarah glanced at her watch. She could just barely make out the minute hand. Two more ticks and she’d be late. “Then you’re going to have to go to the counselor and ask for a list of tutors-”
“Not that, either,” he told her as he shut the door and turned to face the confused teacher. “I need protection. Special protection. I need your dragon.”