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I managed to shoulder my way inside the last Boneyard transport just before its deeply scarred doors slid shut. Breathless and relieved, I snagged a cracked strap and did my best to ignore the dull ache of a cramp throbbing under my ribcage. Then the crowded car pulled from the station with a lurch that sent me stumbling.
"Watch it, bitch!" someone snarled. A hard shove connected with my shoulder blades.
Cue face plant into greasy trench. Nice. I grimaced at the men in apology, backing away and trying hard not to gag while the vinegar of old booze and recycled sweat burned through my nose. Well, tonight certainly got off to a less-than-spectacular start. And it’s headed nowhere but downhill, Lane. You expected otherwise? I thought. I turned my head to watch Capitol City flash past the graffiti-coated windows.
The sun had just dipped below the crumbling skyline in a florid display of gauzy pinks and reds and oranges by the time my date had staggered drunkenly down the safe Old City sidewalk. I’d stopped to admire the nuclear watercolors even though I knew how quickly it could become dark. I hadn’t been in a hurry, not then; the vision had shown me what would be waiting on my stoop when I returned home.
As the rail car rocketed through the outer Wards, I tried to ignore the bittersweet tang of burnt chemicals and the twisted fantasies of junkies high on sparkler. Counted the pores, pockmarks, and whiskers on my neighbor’s face and felt someone\’s stale breath whispering against my neck. Wished desperately that I was anywhere but there.
Suck it up, you moron. You knew better than to be out so close to curfew alone.
I adjusted my weight, bracing myself against the door. When I brushed back the heavy edges of my coat, the gun and wakizashi strapped underneath did a bit to dissuade everyone from the idea I was soliciting. But it apparently didn’t discourage one very interested onlooker.
He’d moved to lounge on the tattered vinyl seat at my right, the rancid cologne of body odor and sparkler still an olfactory assault, his rumpled tweed suit stained from too many nights spent sleeping in cardboard boxes. Body swaying to the rhythm of the car, the man’s mouth gaped slightly, spittle drying on his chin. He loosened his grimy tie as he stared. Blew me a messy kiss before we disembarked at the end of the line.
The junkie then proceeded to stalk me for five blocks, but only because I didn’t bother to shake him.
Not altogether unusual or unexpected. Subtle, he was not. Perhaps he thought I couldn’t smell him. But even if I hadn’t been aware of his stench or his interest – my vision after dinner had prepared me well in advance.
At least the odds were in my favor this time. That I felt grateful for – the junkie wasn’t something much worse. Nobody’d seen a draugr in Cap City for a few months, and this guy certainly wasn’t a demon or revenant. A stupid, solitary human I could handle. Though the gaps in the vision had me worried. What happened during and after.
What I would do.
Dusk settled its heavy, shadow-laden mantle over Tenth Ward, over the empty storefronts and the vacant streets. Trash fluttered and swirled around my legs like tumbleweeds as I stopped in a pool of the streetlamps’ sulfuric light. I breathed in the faint, acrid smells of neglect and decay, tugged away a lock of hair stuck to my lips.
Heart rapping double-time against my sternum, I turned. My fingers moved to brush against the comforting weight of the short sword and .45 M&P from habit. Mortals not packing, day or night, courted disaster. I was well acquainted with danger, on intimate terms with catastrophe- but not entirely stupid.
Or maybe so. People have often told me otherwise. “Come on out,” I said. “I know you’re there.”
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