Authors: Kelly Meding
She's died twice while protecting her city…and she'd do it again to save the people she loves.
Dreg City #5
After a deadly, artificial infection forces the vampire Families into a self-imposed isolation, the city's protective Watchtower forces are depleted by one third, leaving humans and shifters to shoulder the burden. Human enforcer Evangeline Stone is determined to find a way to help her vampire allies, but she already has her hands full—investigating an escalating series of goblin attacks, dealing with her half-werewolf lover, locating three missing werewolf teenagers, and learning to trust her non-human coworkers.
When a potential cure for the vampires' infection is given to her by an unlikely source, it's just as quickly stolen—collateral damage in a power play within the were-cat Clan that leaves one human ally dead and another horribly injured. With Wyatt Truman still adjusting to his new life as a half-werewolf, Phineas missing in action, and her shifter allies crippled by internal anarchy, Evy has to rely on her own strength and instincts to steal back the cure, stop a murderer, and to save the Watchtower before it's destroyed from the inside out.
Requiem for the Dead
Copyright © 2013 by Kelly Meding
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, 2013
Cover Art by Robin Ludwig Design, Inc.
Sunday, August 31
I don't like morgues. Never have, never will. My life started over again in a morgue, so naturally I have a pretty negative association with them—and with this one in particular, since it's where I was reborn. In the basement of St. Eustachius Hospital, not twenty feet from where I was standing, right behind that solid metal door.
Plus morgues smell to high hell and that's just never pleasant for anyone, especially a half-human, half-werewolf with an extra-sensitive sense of smell.
Not me. I'm completely human (well, kind of). The half-and-half I live with (he despised the word half-breed, so I gave him a nickname he despised just a little bit less) would be Wyatt Truman, my boyfriend, work partner, and also the guy creeping into the morgue with me late on a Saturday night. We never seemed to manage anything normal couples did together, like dinner and a movie, or even just a long walk in the park on a sunny afternoon. Our "dates" usually included any combination of hunting, capturing, questioning, killing, and breaking-and-entering. Normal has never been in our relationship description.
This particular morgue wasn't providing us with much of a challenge in regard to breaking and entering. The lower level of the hospital was nearly deserted at this hour, the corridor barely lit, and the only way I imagined we'd be interrupted during our little job was if a pileup on the city bypass resulted in a mad rush of casualties into the ER. And even then, our eyes and ears on the outside would give us ample warning.
Getting access to our objective was as easy as using the keycard we'd had copied for us the day before. In the dim corridor of the hospital basement, I slid the card down the door lock while Wyatt waited behind me, every muscle in his body tense and alert. Shadows made his black hair seem impossibly darker, and the telltale ring of silver around his otherwise black irises glimmered in the light of a nearby overhead. The silver was the only outward sign that he was no longer human—hadn't been for five weeks.
The lock light turned from orange to green, and something inside the door popped. I grabbed the handle, but didn't pull.
"Evy?" Wyatt said softly, his voice strangely loud as it burst the silence.
"Just reflecting," I said. "A few months ago, I was sneaking out of this place in sweats eight sizes too big and with every intention of stealing a lab tech's car."
"And now you're breaking back in."
"Yeah. Funny how life comes full circle." Usually right before it turned around and bit you on the ass, but I was trying to stay positive about tonight's adventure.
I pulled the door, and Wyatt and I slipped inside. The familiar smells stung my nose—formaldehyde and industrial cleaner and a deeper, darker scent of death. I felt along the wall to my right until I found a switch, then blinked as my eyeballs were assaulted with light. It took a minute for the room to come into focus.
Same plain gray walls and yellow tiled floors, with two beds on either side of a floor drain. Instrument tables stood clean and organized, waiting for their next victims to be brought in for autopsy. Just past those tables was the wall of doors that held individual trays, and some of those trays held bodies. My body had been in one of those for a few hours, until being put out for autopsy. Fortunately, I came back to life before they could cut me open, and I scared the hell out of a lab tech named Pat.
I was forever grateful I hadn't woken up still locked in one of those little cubicles; I'd have probably lost my shit completely and never adjusted to life in someone else's body. Or simply frozen to death before anyone knew I was back, and then Wyatt's sacrifice would have been for nothing.
The mental image of me, blue and cold, zipped up in a black bag, burrowed into my brain like a tick and refused to let go. I took a deep, steadying breath so the macabre thought didn't show on my face.
Keep it together, Stone.
"It's in number four," Wyatt said.
He crossed to the wall of doors and stopped near the top one, far right. He pulled the door lever and it creaked open with a hiss and burst of cool air. I waited a few feet away while he pulled the tray out, along with the black bag on top of it. It put the body at about chest-level.
"Evy, is this freaking you out?"
A snappy "no" resisted passing my lips. Wyatt would know I was lying. Even before he was infected by a Lupa bite and gained a few enhanced senses, it had been hard to lie to Wyatt. He knew me better than anyone, and despite all of the bullshit we'd dealt with in the last few months, he still loved me. And I loved him back in the best, fiercest possible way, so I decided to go against type and be honest.
"Yeah, a little bit," I said.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there when you woke up."
"I know. You've apologized for that already, and you're forgiven. It's just seeing everything again is giving me this bizarre sense of déjà vu."
"We didn't have to take this assignment."
"Yes, we did."
In the last two weeks, we'd been monitoring and investigating a sudden rise in goblin-related attacks—not only on innocent humans, but also on the occasional Therian and half-Blood vampire. The goblin Hordes hadn't been a threat for months, not since a mountainside battle at an old nature preserve killed one of their queens and a huge chunk of her forces. No one expected them to go underground forever, but we hadn't been prepared for the sheer number and viciousness of the new attacks.
With the loss of the vampire Families and their support of the Watchtower, our combined forces had been drained by nearly a third, and we had a difficult time finding new humans and Therians to join our ranks and help protect the city. Adding humans meant finding trustworthy people who could keep their big mouths shut about the existence of shape-shifters, vampires, goblins, gremlins, and various kinds of Fey. Not to mention possessing the necessary skills to track, fight, hunt, and kill.
The Therians…well, they were dealing with a few internal crises of their own, which made it hard to get support from more than half of the thirteen Clans on the Assembly. And without Clan Elder approval, an interested shape-shifter wasn't allowed to join.
Assembly politics made my head hurt.
So what had once been five-person squads (four members and a squad leader) were shrunk into four-person quads, managed from the Watchtower by three people who'd become the brains of our operation: Astrid Dane, a were-jaguar and granddaughter of the Felia Clan Elder; Adrian Baylor, a former Triad Handler with the build of a linebacker and the temper-control of a Buddhist monk; and Rufus St. James, another former Handler who'd finally agreed to work with us instead of sulking over an injury that had left him unable to walk without assistance. The three of them handed out quad assignments, and they made decisions based on the intel we returned to them.
So far the system was working. A few of us referred to our three esteemed leaders as Cerberus, the multi-headed dog that guards the gate to Hades. Considering we basically worked to keep hell monsters from taking over the city, it fit. We just didn't call them Cerberus to their faces.
Quad Two (us) and Quad Four (not us) were assigned to the goblin issue, even though what I really wanted to be doing was looking for a cure for the illness plaguing our vampire allies. But I was a soldier, not a general, so goblins it was. Our two quads were chosen because between the eight of us, we had the most experience dealing with goblins. Wyatt, Milo Gant, and I had all partaken in the massive nature preserve battle in May that pitted us against a shit-ton of goblin warriors—plus all of our combined Triad-related experience in hunting and killing the nasty beasts. The fourth member of our quad, Marcus Dane, made up for his lack of goblin slaughtering hours with his sharp senses, strength, and the two-hundred-pound black jaguar he shifted into.
Marcus and Milo were waiting at different places in the hospital, acting as lookouts so Wyatt and I didn't get caught by any of the hospital staff. Marcus hated playing lookout, though, so thinking of him standing in a corridor somewhere, bored out of his mind, made me grin.
"What?" Wyatt asked. He was still watching me, one gloved hand poised to pull down the zipper on the black bag.
"Nothing." I moved to stand on the opposite side of the tray. "Let's do this and get out of here."
"Good plan." He pulled the zipper tab, its teeth snicking open with an ominous staccato, then pushed the sides of the bag out of the way.
The police report we'd intercepted said the teenage boy had died of an animal attack—like so many of the others. Sooner or later the explanation wasn't going to fly anymore, because we lived in a big damned city, not the middle of the Everglades. Cities had rats, pigeons and alley cats, not carnivorous beasts who could rip a human to pieces half-a-block from a busy street without a single pedestrian hearing the fight.
Unless you lived in our city. Then there was a good chance your neighbor could shift into an animal, that the tall, pale-skinned woman with the white-blond hair was actually a vampire, and that a gremlin really did screw up your wireless internet last night.
The body in the bag definitely looked like it could have been ripped apart by a wild animal. Or in this particular case, a couple of goblins. The teen's face was mostly gone, torn to ribbons of flesh and muscle, some down to the bone. His throat was slashed in several places. The majority of his T-shirt was gone, exposing a torso that looked like cubed steak, and a slashed abdomen with hints of exposed intestine.
And it only got worse the further down Wyatt pulled the bag's zipper. The teen's groin was covered in bite marks—too small to be a dog, but just the right size to be goblin teeth, which was our first big clue. Except for the deep bruising and scrapes on his knees, the front of his legs were mostly unscathed. Wyatt checked the backs of his legs.
"Thighs are pretty cut up," he said. He glanced up higher and his eyes narrowed. "Dammit."
I knew his tones too well. A surprised "dammit" would have prompted me to ask what he saw. The resigned, almost sad way he'd said it told me what he'd seen. I didn't need him to say it.
In goblin society, females are both rare and revered, much like the queen ant of an ant colony. It means only the most elite goblin warriors get to mate. And human bodies are not designed to handle hooked appendages of any kind. It was the worst kind of agony any human being could endure before they died, and I could say that from my own goddamn experience.
I closed my eyes against the visual and mental assault. Six months ago, I'd have shrugged at the torture and gone about my job hunting and killing the goblins responsible. But I'd been through too much this summer, changed too much to be so unaffected by the violence that permeated my life. Empathy for this boy—someone I didn't know, but who'd died so horribly by the same monsters who'd tortured and killed me once—choked me.
Warm arms wrapped around me from behind and I leaned against Wyatt's chest, hands coming up to squeeze his where they clasped over my heart. A heart that was pounding too damned hard. He pressed his chin to my left shoulder, and I inhaled the familiar scent of him—coffee and cinnamon, and the new earthiness of his werewolf half.