They say to live is to consume. They’re right. Trust me. I’m an Arc Angelus – the very top of the food chain. I’ve lived my life in hiding, killing only when I need to survive. But it’s a messy world that only keeps getting messier.
I live alone with my niece, an Arc just like me. We’ve only got each other in a twisted city that, if it knew we existed, would capture us and send us to the Army.
I won’t let that happen. No matter what I have to do. Even if I have to consume this city’s scumbags just to live, then that will be the just cost of surviving.
“Hey, get over here. I need you to take notes,” Farley says as he brings up a hand, cups his strong chin, and drums his fingers on his stubble. His bright green eyes are fixed on the body draped over the bed. From the way the arms are hanging limply over the mattress, to the dead, lifeless look in the poor son of a bitch’s eyes, the corpse looks arranged. Like he’s a well-placed dead rose in a bunch of flowers.
I’m still standing outside the main room, and I can only catch a glimpse of both Farley and the corpse through a gap in the bloodstained velvet curtain.
“Misa, get over here already,” Farley snaps. “I know you don’t like murder scenes,” his tone drops with momentary compassion before arcing right back up to the level V hurricane I’m used to, “but the corpse is still fresh, and we need to figure this out now.”
I don’t rush to his side. I stand there, arms held loosely by my sides, fingers brushing against my ill-fitting pants. No matter where I shop, nothing ever suits me without being taken in, and I don’t have the money to waste on getting anything tailored. I’m too short, tiny if you believe Farley. Ultimately, too small for the job.
A liability who just gets in the way.
Just before Farley can hit boiling point, I half close my eyes and as surreptitiously as I can, I breathe in the scent of death. Though my senses are more than sophisticated enough to pick up the smell of flesh starting to rot and blood congealing, that’s not what I’m interested in. What ignites the hunger within me is those last drops of light.
The last fragments of a soul ebbing away from the dead man only to be recycled through nature.
“Misa!” Farley loses his cool, jerks over with the sound of rubber-soled shoes squeaking against the carpet, and grabs the velvet curtain in a white-knuckled hand. He yanks it to the side and locks his fiery gaze on me. “I know you don’t like murder scenes, kid,” again his anger is stymied by a moment of compassion – but it’s one that can’t last as his jaw hardens and his eyes pound wide, “but that Angelus bitch is still out there, and we need to find her before she can strike again.”
Farley isn’t usually the kind to cuss. He’s one of those irritating upright men who got taught a set of behavioral rules from his daddy or some other trusted father figure. Act like a man, never show emotion other than anger, for God’s sake never hit a woman, and keep your nerve.
But the straitlaced, handsome, usually clean-shaven Farley has one complication. One thorn sticking out of his otherwise perfectly crafted persona.
His sister and mother were killed by an Arc. He never told me this – but you don’t work for the police department in Saint Helios without learning that. Farley is the best Angelus crime detective the police have. Singular minded, driven, and the kind of gritty bastard to track an Angelus down no matter how long it takes him and how far he has to descend into the cesspit that’s Saint Helios.
He has a little book on his desk that he writes in every day. The name of every registered Angelus in town is in it. If they commit a crime or are suspected of doing one, he writes a mark against their name.
You know who’s missing from that book? My niece and me. But if Farley ever found out what we are, he wouldn’t be the one to deal with us. They’d send in a full contingent of the Security Forces to capture us.
“Misa, come on, get your pad and pen out, for God’s sake.” He shrugs his shoulder toward the boudoir, his well-proportioned body catching the beading along the velvet curtain and making it jangle. “I’ll do the investigating. You just write down the notes. Okay?”
I catch it again. Just a glimpse of the compassionate Farley. A man who existed before he lost his family. But a man who is now under the tight control of the obsessive, dictatorial, driven detective.
“Okay, sir,” I say, voice small.
There are other detectives in the room, and not a single one pays attention to me other than to shoot me the kind of looks that tell me I don’t belong. It’s not because I’m a woman; it’s because I’m small and I act even smaller.
There’s a purpose behind that. Arc Angelus – especially those who haven’t been found by the Army – are extremely rare. It’s critical for us to hide our power. No one expects someone as small and apparently pathetic as me to have strength, so they don’t look for it.
I’m hidden in plain sight, right underneath my colleagues’ noses.
I cram a hand into my pocket, pull out the thick, bent legal pad, grab my pen from my other pocket, and pause, looking up at Farley.
His gaze ticks toward the body on the bed. His face is all hard, angled, stiff with tension and barely concealed anger. I watch his lips pull back against his teeth, catching a glimmer of white enamel.
Once upon a time, Detective Farley Jones was on a career path right to the top. His life was magazine-perfect. A happy family, a gorgeous fiancé who was the daughter of a local senator, and a meteoric rise it looked as if nothing could stop. Then Farley’s family was murdered, and finally they found something that could stop his ambitions. The man himself. Though he’s been offered promotions, he never takes them. Farley wants to be out in the field – needs to be out in the field, physically running down Angelus, dealing with them with his own damn hands and seeing them get their just desserts with his own damn eyes.
That right there is all you need to know about my partner.
“The body’s been sucked dry,” Farley begins his assessment, walking over to the dead corpse and getting carefully down on one knee as he avoids the blood splatters covering the lush black carpet. He leans close to the victim’s face. “Definitely an Angelus attack.”
“It’s gotta be the proprietor. She’s a registered Succubus. Why are we even bothering with this investigation?” One of the younger detectives, Jason Wolf, pops up from the opposite side of the room, a brush in one hand as he dusts for fingerprints. “This is a waste of damn time. The bitch is out front. Why don’t we just go capture her now?”
“Because without evidence, she’ll just walk free,” Farley growls in reply. He remains exactly where he is, his body held at an uncomfortable angle as he locks his knees on the only patch of floor that isn’t covered in blood. He leans as close to the dead man’s face as he can without touching the corpse.
The case is already cut and dried in Farley’s head.
Problem is, he’s wrong.
I smell the air, the movement controlled so no one can guess what I’m doing. There, shifting around with the air currents, laced between the almost overpowering scent of death, I pick up the taste of a Necro Angelus.
There are many varieties of Angelus. The Arc Angelus are at the top of the food chain. We’re the only Angelus who can feed off our own kind. Below us are the Necros and Succubuses, the Majes and the Gills. All feed on varying stages of human life energy. A Necro must consume the blood and life force of a recently deceased corpse. A Succubus consumes sexual energy. A Majes partakes in emotional energy, and Gills consume the flesh of the living. And so the cycle continues.
“Misa, why have you stopped writing?” Farley snaps.
I lock my gaze back on the point of my pen as I scribble down Farley’s inaccurate conclusion.
I can smell the scent of a Necro all over the scene. In those plush velvet curtains, trapped in the tread of the carpet, laced along the walls, and more than anything, embedded in the bedsheets. If I had to guess, the victim died of a heart attack. The Necro was lucky enough to be nearby, smelt it, and came to feed.
Which is an illegal act.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t follow the strict laws that regulate Angelus. If I did, I’d crawl into the local Army barracks, offering myself up to a life of being used as a heartless weapon.
But while Arc Angelus are strictly dealt with by the Army, the other four classes get to remain in society. If they’re registered, and if they accept to play by the rules. The rules, as you can imagine, dictate that an Angelus cannot feed without permission. A Gill can’t stop someone on the street and take a bite out of their neck. They can, however, work for hospitals, eating limbs that need to be amputated or flesh that’s gone necrotic. A Necro can work for the local funeral parlors, consuming the bodies of people who die without family and without money – a cheaper alternative to the State burying them. Majes work alongside trained psychiatrists, feeding off the emotions of those who can’t control them. And Succubus? Yeah, boudoirs. They say sex with a Succubus is out of this world, and a hell of a lot of people are more than willing to pay for that pleasure.
None of that explains what happened here. Some Necros can’t control their urges. Plus, extremely fresh corpses are their preference, tasting 100 times better than the old stale shit they have to suck down at the local funeral parlors. My guess is the asshole was walking past and couldn’t resist.
“Why do you think she cut him up so badly?” Jason asks.
“To hide her tracks – to make it look like the guy was murdered. My guess is she took it too far and stole his life energy,” Farley spits, darkness lapping at each word.
I pause, pen on my pad once more, gaze locked on the middle distance as I throw my attention into the scents I’m picking up.
Beyond the thousands of different smells that have penetrated this room – from the dirt on Farley’s shoes from when he jogged this morning, to the scent of cigarette smoke on Jason’s breath, to the thousands of different colognes that have impregnated the mattress of the bed – I catch something. A scent unique to the Necro.
Orange spice, coffee, sulfur, and blood. A mix of all four. A unique tag. With one more breath, I draw it deep into my lungs and lock it in place, capturing it for later.
I haven’t fed in at least a month. My last catch, I gave to Mischa, my niece. She’s growing, after all.
She needs more than I do.
As it is, I can only find us barely enough to scrape by.
If we joined the Army? They’d keep us well fed. The more an Arc feeds, the stronger they get. And the Army needs their weapons to be as sharp as they can be.
“Misa, did you catch that?” Farley snaps.
I jump, pretending he caught me by surprise. As I let the pad of paper tumble from my hand, it strikes the floor, splashing into a puddle of blood.
“Goddammit,” Farley spits, pivoting on his knee, standing, scooping up the pad, and staring at the blood. Still grumbling, he grabs a tissue from his pocket, wipes it off, then shoves the pad back at me. I catch a glimmer of compassion in his eyes, but this time it can’t even last a second as he snarls, “Keep it together. You look like a fool. You’ve seen worse murder scenes than this, Misa,” he adds, voice lightening a touch.
Yes. Yes I have. So many. My whole damn life.
You see, I’ve been fending for myself since I was a child. Since that time, I followed one golden rule to stay alive. I don’t consume humans. Unless they’re the worst of the worst. Serial killers, rapists, the scum who keep kids locked up in their basements. Human traffickers, torturers. I’ve seen them all, and yeah, I’ve taken their lives.
It’s the same with Angelus. I only consume the worst of the worst. But unlike a human, taking the life force of an Angelus will help me last longer. They’re richer in energy than a human, even if said human has dedicated their entire life to brutality.
An Arc Angelus technically consumes sins. We partake in twisted life force. The chaotic energy of those who would destroy for pleasure.
If you believe some of the esoteric conspiracy crap you get on the Net about my kind, we were God’s original soldiers. A force to keep humanity in place, to ensure it never lost sight of its innocence. For if it did, the life force – the soul – it had been given, would be taken back.
Me, I don’t believe in any of that trash. It’s just a fancy justification for something that doesn’t need it. Arc Angelus are predators, top-tier carnivores. You see the same theme replicated throughout the rest of the animal kingdom, from sharks to big cats to birds of prey. Creatures who keep the rest of the food chain in check, ensuring they can never grow beyond their food source.
But none of this is the point. The point is that tonight I’ll feed. On the Necro who perpetrated this crime, to be precise. It’s by specifically targeting Angelus who have committed crimes that I’ve managed to stay under the radar this long.
Farley gets back to assessing the crime scene, but not after a lingering look my way. I say lingering – it lasts several seconds, but for the quick Farley, that’s practically an eternity. I wonder what’s ticking through his mind. I don’t for a second think he’s suspicious of me. No, just disappointed that he brought a weak little woman like me along to this case.
Well, tonight, this weak little woman will solve it.
The rest of Hell’s Angel Episode One is available from most ebook retailers.