Prologue: The Coat Pocket

"For as long as she can remember, humans have been her favourite playthings." Lir D'Arcy makes his way home, walking the streets alone. She lurks in the shadows, intent, waiting. It begins.

For as long as she can remember, humans have been her favourite playthings. There was a servant boy who she would call to her chambers as a child. Their guardian thought she wanted someone to play cards with, but they never played cards. She would give him a head start and then she would stalk him through the corridors. If he reached the centre courtyard before she caught him, he won. If not, she won and was allowed to claim whatever prize she wanted. She was a child; for many years, all she asked him to do was steal sweet cakes from the kitchens or take the blame for a trick she played on one of her siblings. But then, one day, she realised that the rules were hers and she could bend them as she wished, so when he reached the centre courtyard and fell down onto the ground, breathless and exhausted, she pounced on him and ripped his throat out. I win, she said to him, but obviously he didn’t hear her.
That was a long time ago. She can’t even remember that servant boy’s name and at the moment, she doesn’t want to. She can feel herself growing impatient. The weather in this country is vile and she is soaked right through to the skin, but she barely notices it. The buzz of the hunt is sizzling through her veins. Tonight’s hunt is special. She has specific requirements for this one. Young, pretty and female would be ideal for her purposes, of course, but that’s just aesthetics of it. The requirements go much deeper than that.
Her sights are set on the two-story house on the other side of the lane and down to the left of where she stands, hidden in the shadows beneath some evergreens. Loud music shakes the very foundations of the house, a symphony of voices, a dozen heartbeats. Balloons flutter from the gate at the end of the driveway. A party.
She has been standing there since they started trickling inside the house, watching, browsing. Though the strange dress code and stranger make-up distorted a lot of the guests, there were definitely a lot of young things, a lot off pretty things. And now they are starting to leave.
A mixed group are the first to go, boys and girls clinging to each other, raucous laughter and one case of uncontrollable sobbing. They cross the road at the end of the lane and pass right by her, so close that she feels dizzy with the effort of keeping herself in check, focused, in control.
The next group that pass by smell so strongly of alcohol that she feels her stomach twist. She steps back into the trees a little, until the bitter scent is muffled by the damp earth around her. She still has a clear view of the street and the groups of adolescents trudging noisily through the puddles on the sidewalk. Couples, trios, quartets, quintets. Always in groups, never alone. What do humans have against being on their own?
She can’t help but smile to herself. Of course, she knows the answer to her own question: humans actually have something to fear. Although never fully aware of this basic instinct, humans know. They sense the things that lurk in the shadows, the things that lie in wait for lonely humans, they realise the danger that being alone can put them in. On some level, humans know that they are prey as well as hunters and that their pack mentality is often the only thing keeping them alive.
Her attention is captured by a trio of boys coming down the driveway. They seem a little older than many of the others who have left before them, though she doesn’t think this is a bad thing. These boys are seventeen, maybe eighteen in human years. They are ideal. But there are three and she only needs one… She is very particular. The choice is always the hardest part.
The blonde one on the right is the most muscular, broad and sturdy, but not very eye-catching, blunt features, deep-set eyes. The middle boy is so drunk that his head has fallen forward onto his chest and is lolling limply as the other two carry him down the driveway. The thought of how he might taste with all the bitterness in his veins makes her feel sick to her stomach.
So, her eyes fall and rest on the last boy. He seems a little less intoxicated than the other two staggering idiots, managing to walk in an almost straight line. He is taller and slighter than his friends, like he hasn’t quite grown into his height. Dark-haired and a face not at all displeasing to the eye…
She watches the trio stop at the end of the driveway. They spend a couple of minutes saying goodnight, then the first two stagger off up the hill. The last boy, however, crosses to her side of the road and starts towards her — alone. Isolated now from the other two, she catches his scent on the wind, sharp with alcohol, yes, but underneath that is something else, something that makes a shiver of anticipation run down her spine.
He is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that she thinks his gender can be overlooked. Young and pretty will do just fine.
He walks, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched against the lashing rain.
She waits in the shadows, every cell in her body tingling with impatience and excitement. She listens to his heartbeat as it comes closer, thudding vibrantly behind his ribs, growing louder and louder as he nears the gap in the trees. She sinks into a crouch, her muscles coiling, readying herself for the leap. Her ears stay cocked for any signs of company, but there are none. It’s just her, the sound of his heartbeat and the hot blood rushing through his veins.
She feels the vibrations in the air before the boy realises that his phone is buzzing in his pocket. He stops in his tracks, just a few feet away, and he answers the phone. She grits her teeth, barely suppressing the growl of frustration that claws behind them.
‘I know, I know… Yeah, I’m leaving Erik’s now… No, I’ll get a taxi in town, go back to bed, Dad… It’s fine, I’m only moderately hammered and there’s a torch on my phone… Yes, I still have the money… Right. Night, then.’
A moment later, the boy hangs up.
She feels a faint smile replace her grimace and edges forward, nearer the opening in the trees. The boy shoves the phone back into his pocket and glances around, a little uneasily. When he starts walking again, he has picked up his pace, almost as if he can sense her watching him.
She closes her eyes, letting go, allowing her instincts to take control of her entirely. She doesn’t need to see him; the sound of his quickening pulse, his scent — so mouth-watering — being carried to her on the wind is more than enough…
And then, there he is, right in her line of fire.
She leaps from the trees.
She doesn’t give him a chance to cry out. The boy is pinned beneath her, shocked into submission. He stares up at her and she has just enough restraint left to take a look at him close up. Yes, he’s quite something for a human, those eyes especially, a pale amber colour, like honey… The boy, coming to his senses much faster than she anticipated, starts to struggle underneath her. She has admired her catch enough, she decides.
Just as he opens his mouth to scream, she grabs a handful of soft, dark hair and drives his head towards the pavement. There is a crack, the unique sound of a shattering skull, then the scent of the boy’s blood fills the air and she loses herself.
Her teeth tear deep into the soft flesh of his neck. The rich, savoury taste of his blood bursts into her mouth, washing away the thirst, killing the hunger, numbing the pain. She can’t remember the last time she tasted anything quite like him, that hint of sweetness, that tingle as it slips down her throat. She considers keeping this one for herself and waiting for another one to come along. After all, he is only one human…
But, no.
She gathers up the shreds of her control and lets the boy fall limply back to the pavement. She looks him over again, one last time, searching his face past the strange skeletal make-up. He will do nicely. She can taste it in him. Even if he does not serve his purpose, there is plenty of fun to be had with him, all that love and hope and humanity.
She runs a finger along her lips and licks the last of his blood from it, not wanting to waste a drop. Smiling, she kneels next to him to tuck the bottle clutched in her hand into the boy’s coat pocket. Then she leaves his body under the cover of the trees and she disappears.

The End

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