Content Warning: Violence
The knock at the door interrupts my glazed stare at the motel ceiling that had thus far passed for sleep. My night was filled with images of burning flesh and screaming wererats. And there was that voice in the back of my mind, his voice, urging me to hurt them more as he eats their pain.
So a knock at 6 AM was a welcome distraction from all of that.
I throw on some pants but don’t bother with a shirt, running a hand through my hair as I throw the door open to reveal the stylish form of Mia Frencessa. The devastatingly gorgeous right hand of the enigmatic Roman, the man, the myth, the legend. The illustrious crime lord of New Orleans who had hesitantly, by proxy, suggested he may be offering me a job…possibly? It was all very nebulous.
“Good morning, Ash.” She smirks.
“Good morning…” I drawl lazily, leaning my elbow against the doorframe.
“Here’s the deal, kid,” She gets right into it, blowing past me and into the motel room, “consider this your audition.” She tosses a phone at me, which I catch, surprising myself almost more than the whole tongue of fire thing from last night. My dead bastard of an uncle would be so proud, seeing as how I never had any athletic prowess before the supernatural upgrade…on second thought, nah, he wouldn’t.
“Thanks,” I sputter awkwardly, looking it over.
“Don’t thank me. That’s business. We call you on that, you answer. Get it?”
“Got it. This mean I got the job?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” She laughs. “Roman will be the one to tell you that.”
“And when do I meet this Roman?”
“In a hurry, eh? He’ll come to you if you pass your first assignment.” She pauses, seemingly waiting for me to interject, but when I merely nod, she seems to approve. She smiles back and continues, “Now here it is. Last night, you rose above the riff-raff and showed potential. That is great. Now it’s time for that potential to show itself. The aforementioned riff-raff? We need you to eliminate it.”
“Last night officially doesn’t exist, so to ensure that, we need everyone there who wasn’t you or me also not to exist. On that phone you will find a list of the ten people I invited to last night’s showing, that’s your start. Find them, find those other losers they invited, and do what you do best. Burn ’em.” She winks.
“And after that?” I ask, meeting her eyes.
“If you pass, Roman will find you. We’ve paid off this charming establishment for a month.” She looks around the room as she talks with a look of sheer disgust. “After that? Do good work, and we’ll talk about nicer accommodations.”
“Bring boots. Most of these people think of the sewer as beachfront property.” She laughs on her way out.
Two werebats are down and one run-of-the-mill human, which was a breeze. I still have splashes of blood on my pants and boots, but that doesn’t really catch much attention around these parts, though. I shouldn’t have started with them. Finding their makeshift cave took forever, and when they took flight, they nearly gave me even more witnesses to take care of.
The next one will be a challenge in a different way. Debbie Torvald was a quarter Nephilim whose only real ability was incredible healing. The gangs had been using her as a human shield for a while now and never really taught her any kind of fighting skill. She was the easiest to track down for that same reason. They couldn’t kill her, and no one fully trusted her as they only trusted those they can do away with easily. That was the very same reason that allowed her to use her services for more than one gang, which will hopefully come in handy for me.
What won’t be handy is figuring out how to kill her.
I catch her just as she exits her apartment at 2:45 PM. It seems she just rolled out of bed, still actively fighting with her mop of hair that seemed to be so unruly that it was almost fighting back. I roll my eyes but given my post-uncle routine, who am I to judge?
I step in behind her with ease, blending in with the other pedestrians on the sidewalk as she scratches her way down towards the 9th Ward. Perfect. The moment I think it will go unnoticed, I take a double step forward, putting me right behind her. In a fluid motion, I grab her by the side of her neck and shove her into a back alley with all my preternatural strength.
“What the hell?!” she squeals. “Do you know who I’m with? My fam is gonna—”
“They’re gonna do jack squat. You don’t belong to anyone, Deb.” I laugh, but it’s not genuine. It’s a tool. It helps me feel like the kind of person who can do this. Who can kill like it’s not a big deal. The more I play the part, the more it will be me for real. The demon buried in my subconscious agrees with a purr.
She flails her arm towards me with an open slap that makes it easier to laugh at her. I grab her wrist and force her to look me in the eye. I light my hand aflame with a thought. She cries out, but with a tight smile, her skin begins to repair itself before my eyes.
She gives me a lopsided grin that highlights her poor dental care more than anything else. Fine, straight forward won’t work? Let’s get imaginative. I maintain my aggressive eye contact and think the word boil as hard as I can.
At first, nothing seems to happen, but then she starts to squirm more and more wildly, even to the point of knocking my grip off her wrist. Then I can see the bubbles forming under her skin and foam coming out of her mouth.
“I’ll heal from this too.” She almost sounds sad about that.
“I know.” She’s right, and I know she is, so what’s my next move? This will not kill her, but it is incapacitating her better than simple fire did, so that’s a plus. So I’ll use what I’ve got. I look around and think of every zombie flick I’ve ever seen, not to mention that last big-budget superhero flick that went wild, and I get an idea.
I reach up for a window on the building behind her and feel a vein twitch on my forward as I pull. The pane cracks and finally comes apart, the largest piece flying with an unnatural trajectory right into my hand.
“Thanks for the advice, Thanos. I think I will,” I say with a surprisingly sincere laugh as I bring the glass down on her neck.
I put the other six or seven down, plus the friends they brought along with them. I’d crawled all over this city, places never seen in the brochures, I’ll tell you that. I don’t even know where the hell I am anymore, but it smells like a septic tank. It looks like some kind of homeless encampment.
There are storm clouds overhead, and that’s not gonna help that stench.
I had one last name on the list, the wererat who had confronted me. I called him Rat Schneider, but now I know his real name is Edmund Moody. Well, Eddie, it’s showtime. Come out, come out, wherever you are.
I entered the address one of his little friends sobbed out as I’d murdered him. One of the larger tarped enclosures hiding behind a dive bar. I heard the whimpering before I ever saw them.
“Who’s there?” someone hisses. Not Eddy.
As an answer, I walk inside like I own the place, passing the loose fabrics draped over barely standing wood frames serving as their shelter. There are three of them, huddled in the corner. Eddy is in the center, nursing the gushing wound on the lower half of his face. Mangled as it is, I can still see the horror in his eyes.
“You!” he snarls.
“Me.” I smirk, advancing on them as I hear thunder crack above us. The other two get up, a surprisingly cute young woman and a much taller man. Why didn’t he invite this hulking guy to the shindig? He might have made out with his mediocre looks intact. Their faces flash that part rodent thing that wererats do just before they transform.
“Take him to Templeton’s, Jess,” the tall fucker snaps to the cute girl rat. She runs back to Eddy and practically drags him to his feet, pulling him toward the rundown bar that towers over their little makeshift village of tents. “I’ll handle this guy.” Gigantor flexes his arms dramatically as he begins to shift, fur crawling up his skin.
“That’s cute.” I smirk as I loose a volley of hellfire on the man. Mmm, the smell of singed rat hair. Delightful.
He’s now fully transformed, but his right arm and shoulder are burned all to hell. He lunges for me, and I slowly raise my arms out at my sides. Fire dances around them as I gesture inward, creating a bubble of flame in the air.
I see his eyes widen as he’s mid air and desperately trying to stop his own momentum. He hits my protective sphere of fire head-on and falls to the floor in front of me, writhing and screaming so loud it’s almost reaching dog whistle levels. His little ramshackle paper house goes up in flames, immune to the pouring rain as he continues to burn to death.
I walk past his soon-to-be charred corpse and kick in the backdoor to Templeton’s. Apparently, it is a wererat bar, completely empty and as dead as they are about to be. No ifs, ands, or buts, I’m finishing this shit. Again I follow the sound of whimpering and that Jess’s fruitless shushing as she desperately tries to quiet dear Eddy.
I barely think the word flip, and two tables rip from their studs and crash into the walls, revealing the two quivering wererats hiding behind them.
“Please let us go!” she screams as soon as she sees me focus on her.
“Sorry, lady, nothing personal. It’s just my job.” I shrug. I see Eddy in her arms, still holding onto what’s left of his face. Maybe it’s a bit of a mercy to do this. That’s it, Not-Tommy hoots at me. Lie to yourself.
It’s almost too easy now to raise my hand once more and drown out his voice using their screams. Then it’s just me and the sound of the rain and sirens. Company’s coming.
I walk out of the burning bar into the street and let the rain wash over me. The blood, ash, and sweat all trickling onto the pavement. For a moment, I just enjoy the rampant destruction. Not-Tommy is fully content and satisfied within me, but I’m not. This all still feels unfinished, but then…I see him.
He is a tall, handsome Latino man with groomed facial hair and the finest of clothes standing with his large black umbrella. He is the only thing untouched by the disaster around us. This must be Roman.
I see just the faintest hint of a smile, but I wait patiently to get my review.
“Well done. Welcome to the Augustine Cartel. Your new home, Ash.”
“Thank you, sir.” I nod with a smile. “The pleasure is all mine.”