I could hear distant sirens, but response times in this part of town sucked. That was, of course, part of why we were here. And then I sensed the bird again.
“Give him to me,” its voice whispered, not human this time, but carrying with it layers and layers of wind and water.
“What’s he to you? A mortal junkie. Dying anyway, from poisons he’s put in his own body. Why care about such a thing?”
“Maybe I just don’t want you to get him.” I ducked inside, retrieved the sword. Looked around for a place to hide it when the paramedics came. “Or maybe I just want you to try and take him.”
I might not have wanted to use the guy as bait, but he’d given me an opportunity to take this thing down, the dim light glinting from the blade. It started to rain, water dripping out of the sky slowly, for now, but definite in its presence. Glinting off the blade.
It wasn’t natural rain, I slowly realized, and now the thing was in the alleyway. Except now it was neither bird nor man. It was dark green and smelled of weed and water and it resembled a horse, but with water plants twisted into its mane. “Give him to me.”
“Never.” I moved to stand between the two, feeling a tension between me. The desire to just let the beast take him. The desire to make some kind of trade. One junkie to get this thing out of the city.
The desire to kick its butt. The desire to protect. All of these warred within me but, for now, protect won. The blade was not wavering this time, lifted towards the chest and neck of the…now I knew what it was.
Kelpie. Water horse. Feeder on human flesh and, of course, human dreams. Nightmare.
“Your kind aren’t welcome here.”
“Plenty are willing to invite us in. It’s you who aren’t welcome. Or wouldn’t be. If anyone knew what you are, who you are, it would be you they’d be clamoring to expel. I could tell you the truth. Just let me have him.”
“Bargaining with what I have anyway? You can’t sell me what’s already mine.” Pretending I already knew. Using that pretense, I hoped, to knock some of the wind out of his sails.
“The hard way, then. He lunged towards me, I leapt to the side, the blade slashing his shoulder. He bled salty water, more like tears than blood. The junkie’s eyes were open, staring.
Staring and recognizing but, I hoped, not remembering. I whirled again, slashing at the beast’s legs as it reared, striking towards me with dull grey hooves. Then, it abruptly turned and fled into the night. Nobody seemed to see it. Nobody but me and one druggie aware of its presence.
And Thea, who was standing in the other end of the alleyway.