The Earthborn were beginning to back off. Just as well. They were cowardly, but that wouldn’t stop them from going after their victim while their leader was occupied. But they seemed to be hypnotised by the bodies now strewn across the street.

The pack leader spoke, spitting out the words through his shattered jaw. “Malvec am I. You’re on Malvec’s patch. You’re between us and our meal.”

The stranger replied in the same language, the voice that of a woman. “Guess what - I don’t care whose patch this is. Get out of here.”

Malvec snarled. “You can’t slay us all.”

She raised one arm. Her forespines were still out, rustling with a steel sound. “Do you want me to show you just how wrong you are?”

Malvec glowered at her for a moment, then jerked his head at the others. She watched as they slunk away into the shadows, away from the unconscious man behind her.

The Earthborn leader didn’t leave. “Those who wander into Malvec’s patch are our prey. They belong to Malvec’s tribe.”

“Maybe in your rules, but not in mine,” the woman told him. “And if you ever come near him again, I’ll root your tribe out of its dank little den and wipe you out.”

“The Evinthei have promised to –“

“I’m not Evinthei,” she replied. “I’m banru, and you’re starting to get me angry. Now, for the last time - leave.”

Malvec seemed about to say something, but the drops of blood still falling from her forespines seemed to make up his mind. He turned and ran into the dark, after the others.

Alone, the woman let out a long sigh. Her arms slid back into normality, pale smooth skin now smeared with blood. She pulled the hood back, letting the cool night air onto her cheeks and revealing the face beneath. She wasn’t ugly, but the sheer strangeness of her features would be enough to earn her stares anywhere.

She turned back to the fallen man, kneeling beside him. Gently she turned his face towards hers and saw him clearly for the first time. She blinked. Damn. Wrong person. It’s not him.

Gently, she touched his face with two fingers, but there were just a few scratches there. His shirt had been shredded, though, and the wounds underneath were bloody. She was about to start cleaning them off when she saw something that wasn’t a wound, revealed under the remains of the shirt, dark against his skin.

“Ah,” she said, thoughtfully, shaking her head. “Poor boy.”


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