Pain pierces through me, it’s a familiar feeling but it’s been a while since I’ve had it this badly. I can feel flesh and bone shift, warp and knit back together as if I’m made of wax.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a jumper,” I manage to mutter as my jaw pops back into place and my vision begins to clear.
I’m right, of course. I’m lying alongside the road, the shadow of a bridge blocking out the moon above. For a harrowing second I think it’s the same bridge I was just on, but I realise that one was over a river, not a road. It’s also not a full moon back home.
Thank God for small favours. I grunt as my spine clicks back into place and feel around my body. I’ve lost a lot of blood, apparently, no wonder I’m dizzy. Damnit. It’s the face last, always the face. I sit still as my nose, lips and brow rework themselves, forming into a perfect imitation of whoever had just ended their life. And, thankfully, nothing like me. Not yet, anyway. I don’t feel too bad.
It’s not like they had a use for the body anymore, anyway.
Vaguely, I wonder what I look like and who this person was. A woman, I discover, as I run my hands down my neck and across a pair of large breasts. Then, pain receding, I try to take a few steps. I manage, but something in the corner of my vision has me spinning around.
No one. Something wavers in my other peripheral and I spin a second time, catching sight of something pale that disappears the moment I turn.
Standing incredibly still, I make no move as the pale thing slides into my vision once more to my left. And to my right. I tilt my head up and back until I can see the grey, leathery frame stretching above my head.
I reach out and tentatively run my hand across the thin material. A small sensation shivers through me as the wing twitches. My wing. Of course… I had forgotten what this place was like. The wings seem prehensile, and I doubt they’ll carry my weight. Upon further inspection, I realise they also end in sharp, metallic curves. They flex at my will. Well then… I’ll deal with that later. With any luck it’ll make this murder a lot easier if I get disarmed.
For now, I need a new change of clothes and to get an idea of what this place is like. I think I’ve been here before, but things get hazy after the first few trips and this isn’t the only place with winged patrons. Two places stand out in my memory, however – one bad and one worse.
As I begin my trek down the road I glance up a nearby sign, barely visible in the night.
Barning RoadForstmuth City Centre Ahead
The least my client could have done was warn me where I was going… No matter, I just hope this poor girl had the decency to take her wallet with her before jumping. Fumbling through the pocket of a long, baggy coat, I see that luck is on my side. Hotel, new clothes, get my bearings, then a nice spot of murder and I’m home free.
It’s usually not that easy but I’m an optimist, obviously.
So I trot towards the distant lights and hope the nearest hotel is only a few miles away. And that this place even has hotels…
The Arbiter is the upcoming series opening novel from Brhi Stokes.