The morning was still and cold and I didn’t like it. Neither Samantha nor Finley had called out to me and standing on the rooftop of my own building, I couldn’t see anything wrong. But I still had an ominous feeling and I did not like the looks of things.
It was still very early. A few people were on the street. New York doesn’t seem to ever have empty streets. Ladies from the building down the street were walking to the bus stop, wearing jackets in the unseasonable cold. A man who sold hot dogs was getting his cart out, getting ready to push it to his corner, some twenty blocks away as he had for the last ten years, so Jack’s mother had mentioned once. Mrs. Schmidt was getting her paper from the stoop of Jack’s building, along with the four others. She was the building paper distributor, and had been since moving in.
The occasional car passed. A stranger would walk the block and continue on. More people began to come out, peeking out the doors and diving back in for coats they wouldn’t ordinarily need this time of year. Nothing amiss, all perfectly ordinary for a New York morning, but it felt wrong.
Slayers live a lot by their instincts. Unlike Jack, I’m not smart, at least not the right kind of smart – I don’t think strategically. Teri can beat me at chess and she can’t beat anyone else. I couldn’t say what was wrong – couldn’t see anything that was out of the ordinary – but my instincts were screaming at me and I knew better than ignore them. So I stood on the rooftop, glad I’d grabbed my coat instead of my jacket, and held Grace’s pommel in my hand, watching New York stirring from its slumber.
Night creatures are what I slay, but even night creatures can be active in the daytime. Slayers can be active any time. This Vinnie guy was supposedly a slayer, a black slayer. I’d never met one before, a slayer who kills not to protect but to harm. I’d read about them, heard about them, had a few nightmares about them, but never actually seen one. I’d never wanted to until five days ago.
Oh, I wanted to put a stop to all the attacks. I hadn’t forgotten that I hadn’t been here when a man died – or that another man nearly lost his life with Jack there. But the slayer behind it didn’t seem real to me. Maybe because we were guessing so much of the time, not knowing why this was all happening. Maybe because I wondered if it wasn’t the Hunt Master himself, behind all this. Or maybe because I just don’t have the knack for thinking strategically. Whatever the reason, he hadn’t seemed real – now, he was very real to me.
Finley had scared the crap out of me that morning – his booming voice felt like he was in the room instead of across the street, secreted in an attic. When I tell people what a sword said, I’m translating, a lot. They don’t talk like people – even when they use words, it’s a montage and not always in correct order. Finley was showing me what Arnie had shown him – a cat and a tube and a window and Jack in bed and the cat again. It took me a couple minutes to work out what Finley was telling me. Thank God Jack picked up the phone – it took me so long to work it out, I was afraid he’d already be…
But he wasn’t. He was fine – didn’t feel it, he told me later – well enough to catch the werecat responsible. Well enough to make adjustments to his plans and work out the details faster than I could even start to figure out. He lived; he was okay. My first official boyfriend and I almost lost him because I was slow figuring out what a sword meant.
More to the point, I almost lost him to some unseen schemer that evidently didn’t care about us, only about distracting the Mistress. I was mad at myself for being so slow – not being smart in the right way. But I was far angrier with the black slayer who tried to kill my friend and had reeked so much havoc on his friends and family.
I’m not smart. But I do have experience and I know when to listen to my instincts. Something wasn’t right. Grace chafed a bit, flustered by the lack of activity. I shushed her, concentrating on the feel of the street, the people, the atmosphere. It was edgy – like people expecting something to happen. Was that just me, projecting my own nervousness? No, it didn’t feel like that at all. Something in the chill morning air was not what it should be.
Gwen, still sheathed at my hip, stirred. I felt it too. Samantha was stirring now, something unsettling her and she was letting us know.
I’d put Samantha on the first floor initially but had moved her to the basement after the incident. She was showing me now a man, fiddling with the furnace. She didn’t mind that – she knew the man, had seen Mr. Scarlotti when he had helped me place her in the hallway ceiling. Something else bothered her – something she couldn’t see and wasn’t close to. Something – outside?
I moved to the corner of the roof top to look at the corner where Jack’s apartment was. I could see into the alleyway but didn’t see anyone or anything at first. My eye traveled up the side of the adjacent building. Halfway up, what was that? Tiny and dark – Ayami, maybe? No, cats can sit in windows but this was hanging off the wall.
Finley was further away, still in the attic, but I called to him. Did he feel it, too? Yes, there was a presence, not a slayer and not a creature, either. It didn’t worry Finley – it was just a familiar and those were no threat.
Swords can be a wealth of information – but they are dumb. Finley was on the look out for threats as I’d asked – it was my fault for not telling him to let me know about anything out of the ordinary. I sighed. I should have asked Jack how to phrase that request. He was going to think I was such an idiot.
I had him on the phone in seconds. I could still see the familiar, it hadn’t moved. I told him where it was. What did he want me to do about it? Nothing, he said – it was working for us whether it knew it or not. Cryptic to me, but the way he said it made me think this was not unexpected and not unwelcome, either.
The sun was getting higher now. More people milling about, more coming out, more going up and down the street. The familiar moved to a window sill where it could better hide from the human throng. I got a pretty decent look – a weasel, looked like. Yep, exactly the kind of familiar I’d expect from a rat.
But it’s extremely rare for slayers to have familiars. Witches have them, only rarely slayers. I felt sure Jack knew that but I texted him just the same. He came back telling me it was a good point. A few minutes later, he texted again asking about its movements. None, I told him in text.
As the sunlight hit the alley, the familiar had had enough. In a flash, it was gone and with it the unsettled feeling I’d had all morning. I texted Jack and sheathed Grace. She snorted a bit, still miffed we hadn’t killed anything. For once, I kind of agreed. I didn’t like letting that thing snoop around my neighborhood and my friends. But I’m not the strategist and I wasn’t going to mess up his work with my stupidity.
The street was getting busy now. Morning had officially come and with it, the start of the new day. I turned to go in, having my own day to start as well. I had a feeling I hadn’t seen the last of that little weasel. Gwen was thirsty now for weasel blood. I wasn’t inclined to disappoint her forever.