Most people get into this kind of thing because of some sort of grudge. That wasn’t me. I’m not really the “settle the score,” type. The one thing I am–the one thing I’ve always been–is hungry. I don’t understand people who can just wander through their existence for seventy, or ninety, or a hundred years, contributing nothing, and be perfectly happy. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a twisting, gnawing, burning need to do something. I don’t remember caring much if anyone knew about it, whatever my “it” was. I just hoped that if I found “it,” then the smoldering thing in the pit of my stomach would finally calm the hell down. That I would finally get some peace. I guess you could call it selfish altruism.
At this point, though, I’m starting to think that my friends and classmates might’ve had the right idea. At least their “keep your head down and keep grazing,” philosophy never got any of them locked in a wine cellar with dried blood on the floor. So, score one for the grazers.
Of course, this wasn’t the plan. According to intel–i.e., Devon and about a dozen others listening in on a tapped wire from down the street–there was supposed to be one target. That’s why they sent me inside on my own, and let Tracy take the outer gates. I was supposed to come in the back window, scope out the target, wait until her back was turned, then drop myself inside and fire a dart dipped in rosewater at the center of her neck. Presto. One down, ten thousand more to go.
Getting in was easy enough. I’m pretty decent at picking locks, and Tracy made sure that the target wasn’t in the back hall before I tried to force my way through the window. I’d followed the target’s voice to a heavy oak door at the end of the main hallway. The door opened without any of the tell-tale creeks or groans I’d been stressing about– so far, so good. A head of long, red hair greeted me from the other side of the door. I had a straight shot.
The redhead hit the floor, white smoke hissing off of the back of her neck as the rosewater sunk into a vein… and I locked eyes with the woman standing in front of my target; the one that I hadn’t opened the door wide enough to see. The woman smirked, and I could just see the fine, sharp point at the end of her canine tooth.
“Of course, it’s smart to have a plan,” Devon’s voice comes back to me as I try to rotate my wrist inside the shackle anchoring me to the wall. “But in the end, it’s all about improv. You have to think on your feet. Base your moves on theirs. Keep the plan close, but never marry it.”
Tonight has taught me that some mistakes don’t allow you time for adjustments. I bite down on my bottom lip, trying not to cough on the dust and the smell of dry blood that’s currently making me glad that I can barely see the floor. I can hear soft voices at the top of the stairs. I think I hear the blond woman laugh.
She was the one who reached out, spun me around, and picked me up by my wrists, like a squirming mouse found under the cupboard, being held up by its tail. My wrists and shoulders are still stinging from her hospitality, but I’m damn lucky that she didn’t just drain me right there. I have a feeling that I really don’t want to know what she’s laughing about.
I pull on the chain one more time and wince as pain shoots through my wrist, then up my arm. Improvise. I scan the room, taking a deep breath and choking on dust, trying to clear my mind enough to think. They screwed up the plan–you revise it. Make the adjustment. More soft voices from the top of the stairs. A rush of cold, fresh air pushes down through a new opening as the top step creaks. Some mistakes leave you time for revisions. Some days you screw up big, and still have a chance to smooth things over.
Today isn’t one of those days.
When I open my eyes, rows of wine bottles point toward me like little cannons, stretching their necks straight out from the wall, their smooth, elegant shapes replacing the incoherent shadows of moments before. I can smell cool, damp earth, miles deep, beneath the floorboards. The scent of aged copper floods my nose and drifts down into my throat, faintly sweet, like newly dried flowers. I blink, and the blond woman from upstairs is standing over me. Her cheeks are a little fuller than I remembered, and her lips look warm.
A boy steps into my line of vision, and looks over at her.
“Do you want me to finish her off?”
He takes a step toward me, and she rests a hand on his forearm.
“No. She’s done,” she answers. “I’ve always wanted to collect a hunter. We’re going to have fun with this one.”
Every good plan leaves room for adjustment—or so, Devon likes to tell us. I guess this counts as an adjustment. But I don’t think this is the kind he had in mind.